Page 26

Author: Cora Carmack


I took a drink and set my glass on the counter.


He shrugged. “Well, you could start by telling me how it was.”


I saw red, and was halfway across the room before he cried, “Whoa, man! Kidding!” My ears were roaring, and Milo was standing on the futon with an arm stretched out between us. “I think I’ve proved my point about this being a big deal.”


I exhaled slowly and rubbed a hand across my face.


“You want me to say I’m miserable? Fine. I’m miserable. Are you going to make me take some more dumbass shots? Because that’s not going to cut it. Just drop it.”


Milo whistled. “It’s about time you got angry.”


“And getting angrier by the second.”


He asked, “Did you go after her?”


I took a deep inhale and exhale, but that only made me think of Max.


“No, I didn’t go after her. What’s the point?”


“The point is to call her on her bullshit like I’m doing for you.”


I shook my head. “I think her leaving was a pretty clear indication of how she feels.”


She knew I wouldn’t go after her. She knew I didn’t chase people. And she’d left anyway. That was a pretty glaring indication that it was over as far as I was concerned.


I was done with this conversation. I returned to the kitchen and took a long drink of my water.


“She was crying, Cade.”


Time stuttered.


“She what?”


Milo stood in the door to the kitchen, his face serious. I couldn’t have heard him right. He said, “That’s why I’m here. I’ve been trying to catch you all week. I came home when she was leaving the other night. The girl was torn up, sitting at the top of the stairs waiting on a ride. It looked like she’d been crying for a while.”


Something twisted in my chest, and even now I wanted to find her and comfort her, even if I was the problem.


“Did she say anything to you?”


“Just to tell you that she was sorry.”


I sank onto the end of the futon and buried my head in my hands.


Milo continued, “All I’m saying is . . . whatever is between you guys isn’t nothing. Girls like that don’t cry over nothing.”


It hurt to get my hopes up, and they hadn’t even been shot down yet. The crash would be infinitely worse.


If I fought for her and lost . . . I just . . . I couldn’t. She couldn’t stay and I couldn’t go after her. We were both crippled by our pasts. And for once . . . I needed to think about myself first.


“You’re overthinking this. I’m not saying you need to lay it all on the line, tattoo her name on your ass, or write I love you across the sky. Just talk to her. Feel it out. If you never see her again, you’ll always wonder.”


If I had overthought a few more things where she was concerned, maybe I wouldn’t be in this situation. Besides . . . crying didn’t mean she had feelings for me. It could have just been the guilt getting to her. If she had really been upset, she would have come back. She would have called. She would have done something.


“I have to go, Milo. I’m working with the after-school program today.”


Volunteering was the perfect antidote to how I was feeling. Most of those kids had it infinitely worse than I ever had. One afternoon with them would kick loose all of the self-pity that I couldn’t seem to shake. Those kids lived in a stark reality, and it was time I woke up and realized I was there, too. Hoping for the impossible with Max was only going to mess me up more.


“You’re being stupid, hermano.”


No. I thought it was the smartest damn thing I’d done in ages.


30


Max


It was a shit storm of an idea, but somehow I’d managed to bury all of my concerns until I was facing down his door. I had a completely legitimate reason to be here. My parents had already bought the plane tickets, so he might as well have his. Or maybe I just wanted to see him so badly that I didn’t care about how it could go wrong.


He had to be angry. I’d slipped out without a note. I hadn’t called. I didn’t do well with fights—too messy. Fighting was for people who cared, and I made it my policy not to.


So then why was I more worried about the possibility that he wouldn’t be angry? That he wouldn’t care at all?


I raised my hand, and before I could change my mind, I knocked. My heart slammed against my rib cage, and my mouth went dry.


I was going to see him. If I thought I’d wanted that, craved it, before, the feeling paled in comparison to the spike of anticipation I felt in those silent, waiting seconds. He was under my skin, buried in my thoughts. I could still see him, smell him, and feel him as if it had happened moments ago instead of days. A week.


How could I go so freaking crazy in a week? I’d lost all direction, all sense of what I wanted. My compass just kept spinning and spinning with no true north in sight.


The thought of Cade was the only thing that made me feel steady.


If I could just see him, things would be easier. Closure. That’s what I needed. If I could just see that he was okay, I could stop feeling guilty. I could stop obsessing over whether or not I’d made a mistake.


After a few moments, I knocked again.


No answer. Not even a sound on the other side of the door.


He wasn’t here. The influx of emotions rocked through me, and I couldn’t tell whether I was more devastated or relieved.


“You just missed him.”


The voice came from behind me, and I spun so fast that I lost my balance and had to steady myself against the door. It was his neighbor, Milo. The same one that saw me leaving a week ago.


My eyes widened, and my mind blanked.


“I’m just . . . I . . .”


He held up a hand and said, “You don’t have to explain it to me.”


That was good because I didn’t have an explanation. I was hoping I would miraculously know what words to say when I saw Cade. That I wouldn’t just hold out the tickets and then run for it. Hell, I still didn’t even know exactly what I wanted out of all this.


I cleared my throat and fixed my eyes on his forehead so that I didn’t have to look him in the eye.


“Is he . . . how is he?”


Milo leaned against the doorjamb and crossed his arms casually over his chest.


“He’s good. Really good, actually.”


“Oh.”


This was so bad. I needed to get out of here. I turned toward the stairs, and Milo stepped in front of me.


“You could ask him yourself. He’s at the rec center on campus for that after-school program he does.”


I couldn’t.


“That’s okay. I’ll just see him another time.”


Milo laughed. “No, you won’t. If you don’t do it now, you’ll never do it.”


“What makes you think that?”


“Because I recognize a kindred spirit. It took all you had to do this once. It won’t happen a second time. Believe me, I’ve been there.”


I squirmed under his gaze, and he grinned at me. He was so smug with his assessment of me that I was surprised he didn’t suffocate under all that arrogance.


“You don’t know what you’re talking about. I just came to give him something that belongs to him.”


Milo didn’t look like he believed me. I didn’t know if I believed myself.


“I’ll just come by another time.”


I turned and bolted down the stairs. For the second time, I ran away from Cade’s apartment. And even though I wouldn’t admit it to Milo, I knew he was right. So, I turned north toward the Temple campus. I had the whole walk there to either gather my courage or change my mind.


The rec center was easy enough to find, but finding Cade was a different story.


There were so many kids. Hundreds of them. Of all ages and genders and nationalities. They played chess and basketball and learned to dance. The building rang with their cheers and laughter. A group of kids ran past me, screaming excitedly, and I was nearly trampled in the process. I watched them, smiling. Their stumbling feet led my eyes right to Cade.


A large group of children surrounded him and a pretty blonde. Cade and the girl were wearing red T-shirts with the word VOLUNTEER stamped across their backs, and the children hung on their every word.


Cade had his arm stretched in front of his chest, pulling it back with the other arm. The T-shirt he wore was just snug enough to hint at the curve of his chest and shoulders. You could tell from looking at him that he was in shape, but not even I had expected his body to be as gorgeous as it was. Just closing my eyes, I could call it to mind all too easily.


He shook his arms out and said, “All right, guys. Now that we’ve stretched out our bodies, we need to stretch out our faces. Your facial expressions are very important as an actor. So, let’s do a little Lion Face/Lemon Face. Pretend that you’ve just tasted the most sour lemon in the history of the universe.”


The kids puckered their lips and scrunched up their faces. Cade walked around the circle, making a funny face with them.


He stopped beside a boy, maybe seven years old, who was concentrating extremely hard on the face he was making.


“How sour is that lemon, Jamal?”


The boy hopped from one foot to the other, shaking his head, and said, “SO sour, Mr. Cade.”


I smothered a laugh into my hand.


“Okay, now I want you to get mad that that lemon was so sour and roar like a lion.”


The kids dropped the squished expressions and stretched their faces wide. Their eyes bulged, and their lungs bellowed, and it was kind of terrifying. Such stuff as horror movies are made of.


Cade then proceeded to shout, “Lemon Face! Lion Face!” in quick succession, and the kids switched back and forth with glee. After a few rounds the kids were jumping around and screaming whether they were making lion or lemon faces.


Cade made eye contact with his girl partner and chuckled. The girl looked at him from beneath her lashes in that universal “I want you” way. He stood next to her, and she bumped his shoulder with hers.


Watching them, I felt like the floor had given way beneath my feet.


Milo had said that Cade was good. Really good.


Was this why he’d wanted me to come here? My stomach twisted. I looked back at the blonde and wondered what Really Good’s name was.


This was a mistake. This was his world. All laughter and good deeds and sunshine. This was exactly the reason I’d left. My life was dark, depressing, and decaying in comparison. I don’t know what I was thinking coming here.


Had I expected our lives to just fall together? Did I really believe that all our differences and all the baggage piled up between us would just melt away because . . . What? Because I missed him?


Or did I think we could pick back up with our friendship like nothing had changed?


Everything had changed.


I’d never thought of myself as naive, but I supposed there was a first time for everything. I took one last look at him. His smile was so gorgeous that it was painful to watch. I was seconds away from turning. I just wanted to soak up a few more moments. Then his eyes met mine.


He blinked, like maybe he was seeing things, and his smile disappeared. That was all the insight I needed. I turned just as I heard him say, “Amy, can you take over?”


I darted between two rows of tables with kids playing chess.


“Max!”


I picked up my pace and pushed through a set of double doors. I could hear him behind me, and I contemplated darting out into traffic. That would have been easier to face. Instead, I took a deep breath and made myself turn south and continue as calmly down Broad Street as I could.


The next time he said my name, it was quiet, and it sent a quiver down my spine. “Max.” I had a feeling I would regret it, but I didn’t have it in me to keep running. I schooled my features and turned to face him.


“Hi, Cade.”

P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com

***