A Jeep zoomed past us, braking suddenly and wheeling into the house’s driveway. All four doors opened and out streamed Nacho, Dent, Nicole, and Lisa. Bags of food were in their arms and they were starting to head to the house when Lisa looked up, saw our truck, then saw me. Her eyes narrowed, and she paused in mid-step, but a second’s hesitation and she kept going.
Stone leaned forward. “The fuck?”
But Dent, who noticed Lisa’s hesitation, looked over. And his eyes lit on Stone immediately, then went round. His eyebrows shot up and his arms opened in a flash. His bag of food was shoved into Nacho’s chest, who took it as an automatic reflex.
Dent was already walking toward us, his head back. “Dude! Dude!” He saw me. “Dudette!”
A big smile came over Nicole’s face, which seeing that relaxed me a little. If anyone could be mad at me, it’d be her since the big ol’ ditch day. I never got the chance to apologize before the whole coma thing. Nacho, Dent, Nicole all came over, but Stone and I didn’t move.
Lisa remained by the house, even after the front door opened and Wyatt and Noel came out. Savannah and Mia weren’t far behind, but as I watched, both girls remained beside Lisa. Savannah’s face was blank, but Mia still held a grimace.
The guys were rounding to Stone’s side, but he waited, and when I looked back, he was watching me. “You and me. We got a few new things to talk about.”
“Hey, man!” That was Dent, waving at Stone.
I just sighed, reaching to open my door.
All the guys went around to Stone’s side. Nicole was the only one at my side. She stepped back as I got out of the truck. “Hey.”
Another knot of tension loosened. She looked and sounded friendly.
She hesitated, her smile still big. “Can I hug you? How are you feeling?”
A hug? That was a good sign.
I nodded. “You can hug me.”
She opened her arms and I stepped in, hugging her back.
Savannah broke from Mia and Lisa, crossing the lawn. She gave me a small grin and wave. “You’re feeling better?”
I nodded, stepping back, and then Mia was moving in. Her hug wasn’t as tight as Nicole’s, but still. She seemed friendly-ish, too. More a lukewarm friendly, but I was taking it.
“Yeah.” I spoke after we both stepped back, just continuously nodding. I’m surprised I wasn’t getting concussion symptoms, at least being dizzy, so I stopped and tucked my hands behind my back. “No hospital stay after that last time.”
The guys were still on the other side of Stone’s truck, he was surrounded by them all.
Savannah glanced over, and stepped closer. “You’re still at his place?”
I glanced, too, noting that Stone was waiting for me to look at him. He was talking to Wyatt, but his eyes were on me. He raised an eyebrow in question, and I nodded. I was okay. I didn’t need him to step in. That’s what he was asking. And how I knew that, I didn’t know. I just did.
“Yeah. For the next two weeks until my head is better.”
“That accident was so scary.” Nicole touched my arm. “You have no idea. I’ve had nightmares. You were backing up and boom, the truck hit you and then you were gone in the ambulance. They were done for the day so they were speeding out of the alley.”
“Yeah. I’ll never look at a moving truck the same.”
I almost grinned.
“Stone said he asked you guys to pack a bag the other day? Is there more of my stuff downstairs?”
Nicole said, “Mia threw a bunch of stuff into a bag for you, but I’m sure she didn’t get everything. Are you… Well, Mia and Sav mentioned you kept asking if you could live here. You know the room’s yours. Are you staying? Going back home?”
Did they not know? I would’ve assumed they had heard Stone that night.
Nicole further clarified, “Yeah. Your parents. Were they mad about your car?”
Savannah was shaking her head, her eyes wide. “My dad would’ve freaked if I trashed my car. My mom would’ve gotten mad at him for getting mad at me.”
Nicole laughed. “And you’d have a new convertible in about a week.”
Savannah’s eyes lit up. “Yeah. Probably.”
I felt the back of my neck growing warm and looked, more from reflex. Stone was coming around the truck. I recognized the look on his face. It was set in a pissed-off expression, his eyes flashing and hard. He was going to say something. Either about my dad and Gail or about Lisa seeing me and trying to pretend she hadn’t. Either way, Stone was done with this little side-trip.
And I didn’t want to deal with the aftermath.
I stepped to him, my hand on his arm, and I spoke before he could, “Uh.” I shot him a look, saying to the girls, “Yeah. My dad was furious about the car, but he was more concerned that I was okay.”
Please. I was trying to convey to Stone. Please don’t say anything.
I didn’t want to see their pity. I didn’t want to be treated with kid gloves, or worse, with extra cruelty. I just wanted the status quo to remain. Those blogs hadn’t found out about my dad and Gail. They only talked about my car accident.
His jaw clenched, but he drew to a halt next to me. He stepped in, so my shoulder was brushing against his chest, but he didn’t touch me otherwise. He was just there if I needed him.
“Oh, good. That’s good, right? So you think you’ll stick around?” It was one of the guys talking. His eyes were more on Stone, but his question was directed at me.
Stone shifted back, taking point behind me.
It was now all on me to steer the rest of the conversation.
It was a move he did when we were kids. I’d forgotten about that, and the memory almost brought tears to my eyes. Another sense of familiarity, and I was starting to cling to every moment of those.
“Will you?” That was from Savannah.
“Uh.” I couldn’t stay at Stone’s forever, and I’d come to Texas for a reason. And I’d have to see about Jared, but was I a horrible person for wanting to stay? Wanting to keep going with my studies?
I didn’t know.
“I’m not sure, but I’d like to hold onto to the room until I know for sure?”
“Of course.” Nicole reached forward, squeezing my hand. “All semester. That was the original deal, and we can see later what you’re thinking, too.” She was looking from me to Stone, a slight gleam there, and it hit me then.
She thought Stone and I were together together.
“Oh—OH!” I stiffened, jackknifing away from Stone. “He and I, we’re not like that. No. No way.”
Stone started laughing behind me.
Nicole was frowning.
The guys mostly had blank expressions on their face.
Had I been wrong?
Nicole clarified, “No. I know. I was just letting you know the room is still considered yours.”
“Wanna come in and have a beer?” That was from Wyatt.
Stone looked at me, waiting.
“I need to get things from my room.”
I started to push through the crowd until I felt Stone’s hand on my shoulder. “I’ll come with, make sure you don’t pass out on the stairs or something.”
I glared at him. “I’m not that bad.”
“Last seventy-two hours begs to differ. Don’t know if you’ll come back from the room with a kid in tow.”
I shot him another glare, huffing and pushing forward.
Stone was half-guiding me, but he didn’t need to do that either.
Once inside, I said over my shoulder, “You know I actually lived here. I know how to get through the house. You don’t have to ‘guide.’” And I stepped left into a hallway, when I should’ve gone through the kitchen.
I paused. Cursed. And backtracked.
Stone started laughing again. “You were saying?”
“Shut up. Concussion, remember?” I hissed right as the guys were all coming in behind us.
Stone threw them an easy grin. “Don’t mind us. Apparently, Dust knows exactly where she’s going, but just in case we take another wrong turn, how do you get to the basement again?” He poked me. “You know how to get to your room once we get down those stairs, right?”
“I said shut up!”
I swung through the kitchen, wrenching open the door, and huffed all the way to the basement until it hit me what he’d done. He was needling me, knowing I’d get mad, and then I’d forget all the extra stuff I felt around those guys. Insecure. Doubt. Self-conscious. Embarrassed. That was the general smorgasbord of emotions for me.
He waited until we were in the game room and I was opening my door before he asked, “Those two always so welcoming to you?”
I breathed easier at the sight of my bed. My blanket. My books, not just my textbooks which most were at Stone’s. The rest of my clothes. My shower caddy.
My picture frames…
“Holy shit. You have this?” Stone was pulling out the yearbook I stashed.
But he was already opening it, falling to my bed. “Wow. This was your senior year?”
I knew what page it was on.
And I knew it, but I couldn’t stop him, and a part of me didn’t want to. A part of me needed one more person to read what was written on the very back page, the one page I kept just for her.