Page 22 of Mayhem (Mayhem 1)

“—don’t like me, but this is between me and Rowan.” A long moment of silence passes where I have no idea what to say. Should I just hang up? “Hello?” Brady says.

“It’s me . . .” I shoot a glare at Dee and then step away from her car, swallowing my nerves. “Sorry about that,” I say as I walk back to her trunk, leaning against it because I need the support.

“Rowan . . .” Brady says. He sounds hollow, like he never expected to hear my voice again. An awkward silence passes where we both have no idea what to say. Finally, he simply asks, “How are you?”

“I’ve been better . . .”

He could apologize, which would irritate me. He could say “me too,” which would irritate me. He could plead his case, which would irritate me. Instead, he asks, “How is school?”

“It’s alright, I guess.” When another awkward silence begins, I offer, “I really like my English professor. And my French professor isn’t too bad either.” This is weird . . . This is so normal, it’s weird.

“That’s good . . . You’ve been staying with Dee?”

I spare a glance back to the car, where Dee is turned in her seat, listening to my every word with an agitated look on her face. If anyone should be irritated here, it’s me. I push off the car and walk back to the gas station, circling around the side of the building for some privacy. “Yeah.”

I hear Brady sigh, almost inaudibly, on the other line. “Rowan . . .” His voice sounds pained. “You can always come home. I—”

“I know, Brady.” I take a deep breath. “I know.”

“I miss you.”

“I miss you too.” I say it before thinking and immediately regret it. I do miss him, but I never intended for him to know that. I don’t know why I told him . . . Why did I just tell him?! Before he can respond, I say, “Look, Brady, I have to go. Dee is waiting on me in the car.”

He takes a minute, and then he says, “Can we talk again? Tonight?” When I don’t answer, losing myself in the imperfections of the white paint on the side of the gas station wall, he adds, “Please?”

“Not tonight . . .” I sigh and rub my fingers over the center of my forehead. “But . . . soon, okay?”

He replies with “okay”—because we both know there’s really nothing else he can say. The ball is in my court, and he knows it. And while that thought should probably make me feel empowered, it makes me feel weak. I want to wrap my arms around him. I want to forgive him. I want to forget what I saw that night and everything that has happened since.

“I love you, Rowan,” he says.

“I’ll see you later, Brady.”

I end the call and rest my forehead against the cold brick of the building. Tears cloud my vision until I blink them away, letting them fall to the overgrown grass stretching around my bare ankles. I didn’t think talking to him would affect me this much . . .

Wiping my tears away and sucking in a deep breath, I somehow manage to pull myself together. I walk back to Dee’s car and climb inside, not looking her in the eye.

“I’m sorry,” she says, her hand resting at the ignition but not turning the key. “I shouldn’t have—”

“No,” I interrupt, “you shouldn’t have.”

We drive most of the way back to school in silence, but after an hour or so, she pulls an open bag of Cheetos from the center console and holds it out to me. I stare at it for a moment, recognizing it for the olive branch that it is, and then I reach my hand inside and take one.

“I told him I miss him,” I finally say.

Dee says nothing, and I know it’s taking all of her willpower to keep her mouth shut. I don’t even know why I told her . . . Do I want her to say something? Do I want her to yell at me and tell me what an idiot I am?

Because I’m pretty sure I already know.

Chapter Nine

THAT NIGHT, I lie in bed thinking about Brady, trying to figure out why I’m so dead-set on avoiding seeing him. It’s not because I’m still angry—I am, of course, but that’s not the real reason.

The reason is that I don’t know how strong I’ll be if I have to look into his bright blue eyes again. I feel strong enough on the phone to hold my ground, to say goodbye. But if I need to say goodbye for good . . . can I do that with him standing in front of me, telling me he’s sorry, telling me he loves me?

I miss being loved. Because I’m weak, and pathetic, and . . . God, I wish I didn’t still miss him. I wish I was still as angry as the night I found him cheating on me. That night, he took my heart and tore it in two. Now, half of it still loves him, but the other half would rather struggle to beat on its own than mend together for the sake of a trust-abusing cheater.

If I talked to him now, I know I’d cave and tell him I forgive him, even if in my heart I never do. I’d hug him and kiss him and lose myself in him. And if I let myself do that once, I know I’ll let myself do it again and again. And I don’t want to be that person.

I’ll talk to him. I will. Just . . . not yet.

The next day in French, Adam is a no-show. No surprise there. Some of the girls up front stand up and leave as soon as Dr. Pullman arrives, realizing that Adam won’t be in class today. Leti laughs as I try to make them self-combust with my nonexistent superpowers. Dr. Pullman doesn’t look happy either, his jaw working as he steps to the podium.