Now she hoists a bag on her shoulder, not seeing me. I smile, picking up the pace as I head down the stairs.

“Man, you’re a hard woman to track down these days.”

Her gaze moves to me, her eyes briefly scanning my body, but then she looks away, not a single shred of warmth on her face. She doesn’t even respond. She just fidgets with the strap of her bag, her gaze shifting around, everywhere but at me.

My steps slow. The flash of happiness I felt at the sight of her ebbs. Dread grows in the anxious pit of my stomach.

I hit the last step and we’re on even footing. This is awkward now. She’s still avoiding looking at me, and I’m standing right in front of her.

“How’s school?” I ask, since I have to ask something.

“Fine,” she clips.

This is where she could ask the same question back, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t ask because she doesn’t care.

I realize I should’ve expected this. I’m sure she knows I’m with Mateo now.

Suddenly I’m ashamed again. I remembered Cherie being nice to me before, when Mateo had taken me from Vince and I expected her to be mean, but she wrapped an arm around me and asked if I was okay.

Of course, that was when I was innocent. That was when I didn’t know better. When I was a hapless moth, mistakenly caught up in Mateo’s web.

It isn’t like that now. Now I’ve made a choice to be there.

I desperately want to get out of this interaction, but I haven’t seen her since Vince died, so I have to say something. I have to give her my condolences, even if she might not want them.

“I’m really sorry I haven’t reached out since…” I trail off, my gaze dropping to the floor. “I know I should’ve. It’s no excuse, but I just … I got lost in my own grief, and—”

Cherie laughs—a harsh, unkind sound, nothing like I’ve heard from her before. Finally she looks at me, her dark eyes hard with contempt. “Lost in your grief? Over Vince?”

“Of course,” I say, a bit tentatively.

“Huh,” she says, nodding with a frown. “Okay. So, fucking his murderer—which stage of grief does that fall under, do you think? Are you fucking kidding me, Mia?”

I could die, I am so humiliated. My stomach sinks and my body temperature shoots up instantaneously, but I know I deserve that contempt. “I know how it seems,” I attempt.

“Don’t. Don’t bother. You are the reason Vince is dead. No one else. You. You and your fucking games.”

“I wasn’t playing games—”

“Yes, you were,” she interrupts. “You were, and you played with Mateo. You know how he plays. You know he’s a monster. And you toyed with him and made him want you, and guess what happened to the person who actually loved you, the person in his way? He fucking died. For you. So you could start fucking the monster who killed him. Fuck off, Mia. You never loved my brother; you just used him and wasted his time. Vince was too good for you. You deserve Mateo. You’re a manipulative bitch and I hope he kills you, too. Now, get out of my face.”

I don’t want to further humiliate myself by bursting into tears in front of Cherie so I have to get away from her, but there are so few safe places in this house. When I need to cry now, I always go in my bathroom; it’s the only place Mateo can’t see me.

I don’t really make it this time. Normally I only have to make it from the bed to the bathroom, but coming from the foyer downstairs, and with a trigger like that, I can’t. I’m sobbing by the time I get to the bathroom, Cherie’s words washing over me, lacerating my broken heart.

It kills me that she thinks I didn’t love Vince. It shatters me. Maybe she was only saying it to be mean, but it’s not true. Maybe I was a horrible girlfriend, maybe she’s right that I didn’t feel it by the bitter end, but it’s not true that I never did. That’s so untrue. I dig my phone out of my pocket. I convinced Mateo to let me keep my old phone, so I still have my pictures. I scroll back through, going to the one of Vince in the booth beside me, the one with the goofy face. I blink so this new rush of tears will spill over and I can actually see, then I run my thumb over the picture, wishing I could touch his face again. Wishing I could apologize to him. Wishing I could protect him. I could’ve done more that night. I stayed out of the line of fire, but Mateo wouldn’t have hit me. Why didn’t I throw myself over Vince’s body? Why didn’t I do more to save him? Why did I think it would be enough to plead with Mateo?

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