“Your dad . . . ? Or—”
“Joel,” I answer. “We can’t be friends. Not anymore.”
“Do you love him?” she asks, and I shake my head, tears falling between my knees.
She waits for a long moment, holding my gaze, and then says, “Are you sure?”
I shake my head again, and she sighs and brushes her thumb over the apple of my wet cheek. “When you told Joel to go home, what happened?”
“Did he say anything?”
He told me he wouldn’t get over me. He practically pleaded with me not to push him away. He told me I was crushing him.
I shake my head. “He just left.”
“Maybe you should call him . . .”
“And say what?”
She frowns, because we both know there’s nothing to say.
“I need a fucking drink,” I say, already feeling the sting of new tears and desperately trying to hold them at bay. I need a buffer, something to help me forget. Something to help me sleep until being awake doesn’t hurt so much.
Rowan stares at me for a moment, and then she nods. “I’ll be right back.”
A few minutes later, she returns with a bottle of Jack Daniels I’m guessing she stole from her parents’ liquor cabinet. She unscrews the cap and hands me the bottle, and I take a big swig before holding it back out to her. “Let’s just get drunk.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” she asks, not taking the bottle.
“Yes,” I insist, never so sure of anything in my entire freaking life. I push the bottle into her hand, and Rowan takes a little swig before handing the bottle back to me. I take a big swig, then another, before sending it back her way, and we keep going like that until my tears stop falling—until most of the whiskey is gone and so is the aching in my heart.
“Dee,” Rowan says later that night, waking me with a light touch to my shoulder that makes my head throb. “Dee, your dad’s here.”
I try to sit up, and the whole room spins. I feel big hands steady me as the world slowly comes into focus, and then there’s my dad’s face.
“What . . .” I mumble, not sure where I am or why I’m being woken up.
“Come on, kiddo,” he says, and then he helps me to my feet. The night seeps back into my consciousness in bits and pieces. Joel, crying, Rowan, Jack Daniels.
“I’m sorry, Dad,” I slur, my eyes thick with burning tears as we walk down the stairs into Rowan’s garage. He shushes me, but I turn under his arm and wrap my arms around him. “I didn’t mean it.”
“I know,” he says, holding me upright and rubbing my back. I hear him whisper something to Rowan, and she whispers back, but I’m too busy sobbing in my daddy’s arms to care. “Let’s get to the car, okay, sweetheart?”
I nod but don’t stop hugging him, and eventually he picks me off my feet and carries me the rest of the way.
I fall asleep sometime during the car ride home and don’t wake up again until four o’clock in the morning. The alarm clock on my nightstand glows an angry, fuzzy red, and I realize I’m still in my clothes, but my shoes and jacket are off and I’m snug under my covers. My eyeballs feel too big for their sockets—and my brain, too big for its skull. I press my fingers against my temples until I’m sure my head isn’t going to explode, and then I reach for my lamp and flinch away from the light when it smacks me in the face.
I lie in bed with my eyes squeezed closed for another few minutes before summoning the strength to roll out of bed. Then I lumber down the hall and rummage through the bathroom medicine cabinet until I find the aspirin. With three of them in my hand, I turn on the faucet and dip my mouth under the water; then I swallow the tablets down and brace my hands on the sink, lost in deep blue eyes and a voice I’ll never forget, words I’ll always remember.
I only know that I’m in love with you. Like seriously fucking in love with you.
I pat the back pocket of my jeans, closing my clammy fingers around my phone and pulling it out. I have missed calls from my dad and missed texts from Rowan and Leti.
Nothing from Joel.
Go home, Joel.
My heart twists, and I bite the inside of my lip to keep from crying again.
I did what needed to be done. I extinguished the fire before it consumed us both. Now I need to let it go.
After shutting off the water, I find myself walking away from my room instead of toward it. I slip into the guest room at the other side of the house and stare down at the unmade bed Joel was sleeping in less than twenty-four hours ago.
I feel like I’m keeping a secret.
Some secrets are better off kept.
I take off my jeans and crawl under his covers, wanting to be close to him even though I can’t be and won’t ever be again. My knee brushes against something soft, and I pull a T-shirt out from under the covers. Yesterday morning, he borrowed a clean one from my dad, and last night, he didn’t come inside to get his old one before leaving.
I love you.
You don’t have to say it back, but don’t tell me how I feel.
I lift the shirt to my nose—breathing him in, missing him, wanting to go back in time even if nothing could have changed—and then I tuck the shirt under my cheek and fall asleep alone.
“DO YOU WANT to stop at IHOP?” Rowan asks from the driver’s seat of my car. This afternoon, she drove my Civic from her place to my place and picked me up to head back to school. I didn’t bother offering to drive, and she didn’t bother asking if I wanted to.