"I've driven it alone before. I'll be fine, Millie. Finish up the semester and have fun with Brent."
Millie's mouth is open, but she doesn't say anything else. When she changes the topic, I feel blindsided. "Where's Dr. Granz?"
"I don't care." My grip tightens on the steering wheel.
"What should I tell him when he comes looking for you?"
I glance at her, suspicious. "When he comes looking? What makes you think he's coming?"
"Brent was with a group of guys on the Intramural Field last night. He said something happened, that Dr. Granz was there. The university said he broke up a fight." She swallows hard. "Rumor has it that you were the reason they were fighting."
I grab my head with my hands and close my eyes. I pinch out all the light, the dorm, the noise, and try to let it roll off. Of course people would think that. Everyone thought I was screwing my teacher all year. Fine. Whatever.
"Sidney—" Millie starts.
I cut her off and take her hands through the window. It's a normal gesture, something I do to keep Millie focused when I'm telling her something important. I don't even think about it. "It wasn't like that, okay? Believe whatever you want, but it wasn't—" The words dry up in my throat when Millie takes my wrists and turns my palms over.
Her eyes have that knowing look when her gaze meets mine. "Sidney, what happened? It looks like you tried to claw your way through a brick wall."
I snatch my hands back and push my hair out of my face. "Nothing." My jaw locks. I want to leave. I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to tell her anything. There's no single explanation. One answer makes twenty more questions, and I don't want her to know what Dean did to me.
"That's not nothing."
"I fell, okay? Last night when I came out of English, I fell."
"Then what about Granz? People are saying he—"
"Millie." I cut her off. "I have to go. I'll call you and fill you in, okay?"
She nods, which makes her blonde curls bob back and forth. "Fine, but I think you're being stupid." She leaves it open-ended, as if I'm stupid for so many things.
"I'll miss you, too. See you in time for Summer Session, okay?" Millie nods and steps away from the car. We are supposed to take a class on feminism together this summer. I begged her to take it with me, which means if I'm not back with my butt in a chair in twenty-two days, Millie will kill me.
"You better. Otherwise I'll turn into a feminazi and you'll be my bitch." She winks at me in a distinctly southern way, which takes the bite out of her words.
It makes me laugh. "I will. I'll call you once I get going."
"Fine, but don't text me while you're driving seventy-five miles per hour. I don't want to tell everyone in my eulogy that you act really stupid sometimes. And, Sidney…"
I resist the urge to roll my eyes. "Yeah?"
"No matter what's happening with you, I'll always have your back. You know that, right?"
Aw crap. Millie gives me big, fat doe eyes. Between my hands, my mood, and the rumors about Peter, she knows something's going on. "Fine," I grumble. "Get in, but if you ask to pee every five seconds, I'll leave you on the side of the road." Millie squees and bounces into the seat. "Don't you need clothes?"
"Psh." She waves a hand at me and grins. "They're already in your suitcase. You seriously think that I'd make you do this by yourself? Get real." Millie pulls her seat belt across her lap as she scolds me.
"Nice nineties verbiage."
We both start laughing as I pull away. I'm so emotionally fried and really want to be alone, but Millie's right—I shouldn't try to do this on my own. Maybe it will help to have her along.
It's strange—at one time this little town was my refuge, but now it's strangling me. I want to put distance between me and Peter as fast as possible. My stomach twists thinking about him. I can't believe he's a Ferro. I can't believe my life has gotten so messed up so fast. Seeing Dean was bad enough. I can't wait to hit the interstate and get the hell out of here.
There's a long strip of nothing between the college and the next town. I'm lost in thought when Millie finally says, "So are you going to tell me what happened last night?"
I glance at her out of the corner of my eye. "I really don't want to talk about it."
"Okay, then tell me something else. What's up with you and Professor Hottie? I mean, I'd wanna get with that—"
"Oh my God!" I roll my eyes. I can't help it. Clutching the wheel tighter, I think fast. Maybe I should just tell her. That's better than talking about Peter. Damn him. I still can't believe he lied to me. I let out a huff of air. "Fine. Last night my ex-asshole-boyfriend showed up and tried to drag me away. I fell and the pavement didn't agree with my palms, okay?"
Her jaw is hanging open. "Fuck, no! Not okay. What boyfriend? Why'd he drag you across the parking lot?" She spews a ton of other questions at me until I cut her off.
"Dean. We dated back in high school. Dated is the wrong word." I swallow hard. My throat is so tight. Memories come rushing back, and it's all I can do to force them down and control my voice. "He raped me. I don't want to talk about it, but I thought you should know." Odds are Dean and Sam are following the same route out of Texas, unless they took a farm road, which is doubtful.
Millie's jaw is hanging open. Slowly, she closes it as her eyes get glassy, and she presses her palms into my arm. "Sidney, I had no idea…"
If she cries, I'll cry. I snap at her without meaning to. "Don't apologize. I hate it when people apologize. It doesn't change anything. That's why I never talk about it, okay?" She looks as if I slapped her with a board, sitting rigid in the seat, bobbing her head in a yes motion.
"I'm sorry, Millie. I just don't know what to do. Dean was everything. I thought he loved me. I don't know what happened. One minute things were fine, and then they weren't. It sounds stupid, but I wasn't even sure if it happened. Not until a few times later.
"When Dean found me last night, he was here with my brother. I told my family back before I came here, but they didn't believe me." I wonder if she believes me. It makes my jaw clamp shut and my words stop. I can't spill my guts to people who don't have faith in me. I can't trust them at all. Not after everything that happened. It feels like there's a sack of sand on my chest. I can barely breathe.
She gives me a sad smile and looks out the window. "I kind of know what you mean. It's not the same thing, but I dated a guy when I first got here. He wanted too much, too fast. I didn't want to keep going, but he wouldn't let me stop." She makes a face and I know she's remembering it.
"Uh, Millie. That is the same thing, unless you didn't tell him no."
"I told him no." She's quiet again.
I want to punch something. I can't believe this happened to her. All this time I thought I was alone. But I don't understand how she flirts and acts like it's nothing. My reaction makes me shut down and push people away. I want them at a safe distance. Millie is all smiles and giddy giggles. She acts like nothing bad ever happened to her. Holy crap, was I wrong. The urge to say sorry hits me, but I don't say it because I hate it when people say it to me. "Did you see him again?"
"No. He didn't think I was worth the effort."
"What an asshole. Did you report it?"
She gives me a weird look. "And say what? I was almost having sex with some guy when he decided to have sex with me? No, I didn't report it. It was my fault. I shouldn't have gone out with him in the first place. I led him on."
"Millie, are you serious? It's not your fault. How is it your fault?"
She smiles softly and glances at me out of the corner of her eye. "Are you seriously asking me that question? You know how it feels. Logic doesn't exactly take over, and it's easier to admit I made a mistake than to…" She shakes her head and looks out the window.
I'm quiet for a moment. Everything between Millie and me shifts in a matter of moments. She understands this in a way no one else does. "I know what you mean, but it's harder to admit to being overpowered like that. I used to think that women and men were equal in every way, right up until that started happening. My mom loves Dean and looked the other way. My whole family did. My brother thought I was just trying to get attention. This morning Sam seemed to actually wonder if I'd been telling the truth."
"What made him do that?"
"Peter. Peter did it. He has a way of saying things." Peter Ferro, not my beautiful Peter Granz. Peter Granz doesn't exist.
I feel Millie's gaze on the side of my face and look over at her. "You've got it so bad."
"What?" I squirm in my seat and laugh nervously. "I don't—"
"Deny it all you want, but you have a serious crush on Professor Peter. Mr. Swingdance. Mr. Sexybuns." She grins wickedly at me and makes a rude gesture.
"Millie! I can't believe you just did that!"
Millie laughs hysterically and leans into the door. "Dude, you realize that you have no gas, right?"
"I was going to get some when we got to Dallas."
"Well, I'm not pushing the car when we run out of gas. You better stop at the next exit. Besides, I want a snack. I'm starving. I skipped lunch to keep my lunatic roommate from driving cross-country by herself. She's so crazy. You have no idea."
"And you need to pee."
"And I might need to powder my nose. You're so crass, Sidney."
I shake my head and pull off the interstate. There's not much between the college and Dallas except flat, dead land and scattered cattle. Mesquite trees jut up from the dry ground periodically with their branches looking like withered fingers. There aren't many places to stop, and my tank isn't full, so I decide Millie's right and pull off. Pushing the car in hundred-degree heat would suck.