"Bryce was the worst."
She looked up with tears in her eyes and gulped. "Bryce was the worst. He saw through everybody. He was the worst."
I was floored, but I shouldn't have been. She was right. Corrigan and I gave people their chances, but Bryce always knew what they'd do. He'd always been right, and he'd always been quiet when it came to Grace.
I snapped back, "Bryce and I might not be together, but he's not out of my life. I have no doubt that you'll get your penance from him too. Sucks to be you and anyone who's your friend."
The group shuffled around her. People moved away. It was an initial reaction, but I knew it struck deep. Grace was done when it came to friends. I had no doubt she'd be cast out of the house. No one wanted Corrigan as an enemy. And now, they wouldn't want me against them either.
Then Denton stepped forward. "You've made your point. If they're here, then the banquet is done and Corrigan will be wondering where you are."
Grace seemed to have shut down. She knew she was done, and she was crying in the corner now. When I looked at Carolina, she had a different look in her eyes. I wasn't sure if it was a good look or not, but she knew what I'd been there for. I hadn't planned on ending Grace's social life, but that's what had happened. Now that I'd said my piece, I sighed and followed Denton to the car.
As we left, I felt detached from everything.
I'd lost a friend, and I'd had my revenge on her. That was how life went. Or did it? Why did I feel so empty? I felt cheated for some reason.
Denton didn't say anything until we got home. When we pulled up, Corrigan's car was parked outside my house and when we went inside, he was there in a flash. With a growl, he slammed Denton against the wall. "What the fuck were you thinking, taking her out?!"
Denton shoved him back. "What the hell?! She went to a sorority house. What's the problem?"
"I asked you to stay here and keep her company. She wasn't supposed to go anywhere. Asshole. She was supposed to stay put. You know someone is after her. She's safe here. She's safe with one of us—you were supposed to just stay here with her, keep her company, keep her distracted…" Corrigan trailed off. He ran a hand through his hair. His shoulders jerked upwards and he fisted one of his hands tight. I couldn't look away. I half expected to see blood drip to the floor, but it never came.
Denton cleared his throat and looked between the two of us. "What is it with you two? You guys are insane. She went to a sorority prank. I didn't think it was that dangerous. I was by her the whole time—"
Corrigan got in his face again. "Who do you think it is that's after her?"
"I…" Denton looked at a loss for words. Then he shoved his hands out, in surrender. "I don't know. I guess, I don't know, someone who looks dangerous. I would've known. I would've stopped it."
"You think I knew it was Marcus? He was a dork. I never thought in a million years he could do what he did. You never know who could hold a knife to your gut." Corrigan's eyes flared in the moonlight. I could see his rage, but when he looked at me, it deflated.
Then a wall slammed down. He didn't want me to see into him.
And that pissed me off. "Hey!" I advanced on him and shoved him back. "Don't do that!"
"What you just did. You don't put a wall there. You don't get to shut me out. You don't get to do that." I flinched when I heard my voice, but it didn't matter. I heard it at a distance and I heard the outrage. It grated against my ears, but I couldn't do anything about it. Something deep was coming out, something I'd never looked at inside of me, but it was rising to the surface.
"Hey—" Denton lifted a hand.
"Leave!" Corrigan gestured out the door.
Then he gripped my arms and reversed our positions. My back was now against the wall and he was in my face, breathing on me. "What am I not supposed to do? Put a wall between us? You tell me why I should let you see into me. Why I know you're not going to trample on whatever is in there. You tell me why it's safe for me to let you in."
"Because…" I opened my mouth, feeling full of promises, declarations of how he could trust me, but then I heard my words. I heard myself when I taunted Grace. I remembered times when I had hurt others. Corrigan was right. I wasn't someone that I'd trust. How could I ask him to trust me?
"I'm sorry. You're right. I wouldn't trust myself."
Corrigan expelled a sigh of frustration and almost fell against me. He pounded his fist into the wall. "What the hell do you think I'm talking about? You think I'm asking if I can trust you?"
"Well, aren't you?"
"Of course I trust you! My god, Sheldon, after the hell we've been through?! Of course I trust you. You're one of the few I do." He turned away and clamped his hands on his head. His shirt lifted up, revealing how his jeans had fallen low on his hips.
"You've lost weight."
"Fuck yes, I've lost weight. What do you expect from me? I can't sleep. I can barely eat. I'm working out constantly. Don't you see what this is doing to me?" He laughed then. "Of course you don't. You have no clue, no clue at all. This is why I hate you sometimes and why I love you sometimes. A lot of people are clueless. A lot of people are only concerned with their lives, but you, Sheldon, you—you look at life only with the viewpoint of you and Bryce together. You only see the world with you and him together. Have you ever considered that the two of you would break up? You're so blind. You—I'm always your friend, your best friend. You look at me like I'm your sidekick. You have no reasoning of anything different. Even if your parents were to suddenly show up and want to be a part of your life, you wouldn't let them. The only way you can navigate ahead is with Bryce beside you and me behind you."
I looked at him dumbfounded. Some of it made sense, but some of it was fuzzy. His words were out of reach. I was trying to grasp them, but they kept evading my fingers at the last minute. Giving up after a moment, I shook my head. I needed to clear it. I knew Corrigan never lied to me. I knew he was telling me the truth, but it wasn't clicking that moment. So I looked back up, and I gasped.
I saw a different Corrigan. I didn't know if it was the sidekick thing he had mentioned—maybe that had been jarred out of me—but I saw him in a different light. He'd been standing with the opened doorway as his backdrop, but his head was bent now, his hands in his front pockets.
He looked like he had the world on his shoulders.
My mouth went dry.
"You have been working out," I noted, trembling. His shoulders were more defined, his stomach muscles looked cut and molded, even his neck looked leaner. He looked good. He looked damn good…and I never thought I'd think that about Corrigan. He'd been right. I'd always think of him as my best friend, but … I closed my eyes briefly. I couldn't think about that.
"You make me go crazy some days." Corrigan cussed and shut the door. We were cloaked in darkness again. Neither of us turned a light on. Then his voice drifted to me, "I used to be a womanizer, Sheldon. I used to play with girls because it was easy for me. I didn't want anyone in, but when are you going to drop the fucking veil and see what's going on? Why do you think Bryce bailed? You think he's actually with that other girl? You think he fell out of love with you? Are you that stupid?!"
I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. He'd robbed me of that ability, and I could only close it as I felt a sob rip out of me.
Tears dropped on my hand—I didn't know when I started to cry, but I bent over now, feeling my insides wrenched out. I felt like I was bleeding, like the tears were cutting me from the inside out.
Corrigan stood above me. "I always know what to say to you, but I don't right now. I'm tired of it. I'm tired of lying. You need to own up to some things. You have to start admitting to some stuff. I know it's in there. You have to start looking inside of yourself. You owe me that, at least."
I felt him leaving and reached out. Grabbing his leg, I tried to pull myself up. "Don't. Please don't leave. I can't—" I choke
d off. I couldn't say what I'd been about to say. Then I heard his words, more clearly this time. "Bryce isn't with that girl?"
I had been holding onto him, but in a flash Corrigan lifted me and shoved me against the other wall. I felt his ferocity and strength, but there was more. Closing my mouth, I waited for him to say what he wanted to say. I felt it. I knew it was there.
He took several breaths to calm down. And a moment later, he managed out, "You shut him out. In Spain, you put up a wall to him. Bryce left because you chose me. If I left a room, you were in a panic, but if Bryce left, you were relieved. You didn't want him to touch you, but all you could do was hold onto me."
I bit down on my lip. I wasn't sure I could handle this.