And I’m definitely not the same girl who blamed herself for what Cody did.
The girl I am now knows better. Even though there are days when I still think about that night, each time Cody’s face enters my mind, I become more and more sure that I didn’t deserve what happened. A kiss, even one that I enjoyed, does not equal consent. I was not to blame for what he tried to do to me.
It wasn’t my fault.
It took me a while to believe it, and some days, it’s still hard, but I know Rowan was right when she told me I did all I needed to do when I told him that one word: “STOP.”
Before that night, I was broken, and after, I was destroyed. It was a broken girl who turned Joel away when he told me he loved me, and a broken girl who watched him leave Mayhem holding another girl’s hand. I’m still trying to put myself together, but I need to be able to think to do that, and that’s the last thing I can do when every single breath I take in this town pulls at the fissures of my completely broken heart. If my future doesn’t involve college or the only guy I ever gave my heart to, I don’t know where that leaves me, but I need to figure it out.
“It’ll get better,” Rowan says. “Next semester—”
“My mind’s already made up, babe.” The corners of her lips start slipping into a frown, but my voice stays sure. “I’m moving back home at the end of the month. I already talked to my dad.”
Rowan shakes her head, her blue eyes welling with unshed tears. “What about me?”
I smile and smooth her hair over her shoulder. “You’ll be fine. You’ll stay here with Adam and finish school and be awesome, and we’ll visit each other. And we’ll talk all the time.”
“Dee . . .”
I pull her in for a hug, and she squeezes me close. When the server stops by to ask how we’re doing, she takes one look at us and gives us another few minutes.
“What will you do?” Rowan asks when she pulls away. She wipes her eyes and sniffs in the rest of her tears.
“Call Jeremy, see what he’s up to.” She chuckles when I bring up the name of the lifeguard, and I force a smile even though I’m lying out of my teeth. I have no interest in seeing anyone, especially considering it’s taking all of my energy just to crawl out of bed in the morning.
Last week, Rowan told me Joel got his own place, and I asked her to stop giving me updates. She told me she didn’t think he was seeing anyone, and I told her I didn’t care.
I’m happy that he finally has a place he can call home, but I don’t believe for a second that he’s been alone all this time, and I hate that some other girl is the one who got to sleep in his bed first. Or at all.
“I actually got an email from Van last night,” I say, showing Rowan my phone to distract us both. This will make her happy, and hopefully that will help me block Joel from my mind for another five minutes. If I take life five minutes at a time, maybe I’ll never need to think of him again.
“From Van?” she asks.
“He wanted to let me know he finally got in touch with his marketing people. I got an email from them half an hour later with a contract attached.”
“Seriously?” she says, her face lighting up. “You’re going to make T-shirts for Cutting the Line?”
I force another smile, hoping it looks as excited and genuine as hers. Last night, when I got the email, I should have danced, screamed, called my best friend and freaked the hell out. Instead, I burst into tears.
All I could think was, This should make me happy. I should be happy. Why am I not happy? But there I was, crying into a box of tissues.
“Yep,” I answer. “Van actually came through.”
“How are you not freaking out?!” she asks.
“I did, believe me.”
“Did you sign the contract yet?”
“I wanted to sleep on it, but I’m going to.”
Rowan slides back into her own seat as we talk about the terms. Van told me not to be afraid to negotiate any I didn’t like, but the contract was more than generous. Based on the time it takes me to make the shirts, I’ll be making nearly triple minimum wage. My “brand” will also be featured on the band’s website and at their merchandise booth. They want me to send a picture and a bio and make it a whole big thing.
“I think I might also apply to fashion school,” I add, and Rowan’s eyes get big.
Nikki and Molly had been the first to suggest it, and Joel had been the last. “Yeah, maybe. I mean, it’s just something I’m thinking of. I—”
“I think you should do it,” Rowan says. “You’d be really good at it, Dee.”
“You think so?”
“I know so.” She presses the heels of her palms against her eyes when she starts getting choked up again. “I still don’t want you to go though.”
“I know,” I say, because we both know I’m going to anyway.
“I’ll miss you.”
I give her a weak smile. “Nah, you’re going to hate me when you realize what this means.”
She pulls her hands away from her eyes, and I manage a sincere smirk in her direction.
“You’re going to have to tell your parents about you living with Adam.”
OUR FINAL WEEK in the apartment, Rowan spends every night either in my bed or camped out with me in the living room. We build a massive fort out of pillows and blankets and leave it up until it’s time to pack everything away.