“I know you don’t. I’ve been thinking about this all week. All month. I’m not going to let them, or anyone else, treat you like that anymore.” I wasn’t sure what look I had on my face, but Weston suddenly seemed nervous. “What?”
“I don’t know . . . I mean . . . you still haven’t said why?”
He sighed. “I know. We’re two months away from grad, and they’ve been torturing you since grade school. I can’t go back, but I can make it up to you.”
“That’s it? That’s your reason? You suddenly grew a conscience?”
He winced. “Ouch.”
I crossed my arms. “Frankie has a long line out there, so let’s get to the point. You’re like a different person. You’ve turned against all of your friends and are hanging out with me, who you’ve barely spoken to since kindergarten. I think it’s fair for me to ask why.”
“I’ve talked to you as much as I could.”
“As you could?”
He coughed into the crook of his arm. “That’s not what I meant.”
“I don’t need you to save me, Weston. I’ve handled things on my own for a long time. I’m not a charity case.”
He frowned. “I never said you were.”
“We’d both probably be better off if you just returned to life as normal, and left me alone.”
He winced, like my words had physically hurt him. “That’s bullshit. You don’t really feel that way, do you?”
“I don’t know how I feel!”
“Neither do I!” he said, wheezing. He pulled his inhaler from his pocket and took a puff. After a few moments, he began again, this time calmer. “I don’t know what I want to do with the rest of my life. And I feel like . . . I feel like you’re the only person in the world that doesn’t expect me to. What I do know is that I wasn’t happy about the direction my life was going until you got into my truck that first night. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, Erin. I’m just . . . I’m winging it. I was kinda hoping you would wing it with me.”
Despite every negative thought running through my head, my lips curved up.
He slowly pulled me against his chest and hugged me. His muscles were both soft and hard. My head fit perfectly beneath his chin. We stood like that for what seemed like a long while. He smelled like sweat, but the good kind of sweat. He could have smelled like the weird stuff that was fermenting in the floor drain, and I still would have liked it.
“I better get back up there,” I said, my cheek still against his chest. He was a whole head taller than my five foot three inches, and I was glaringly aware of his fingers on my back, wrapping around to the side of my ribs. We had never been this close, even though I’d imagined what it must have felt like many times before.
He pulled away. “I’ll see you later?”
“I have homework.”
“Bring it with you.”
I tucked my hair behind my ear. “I guess I can do that. If you leave me alone and let me finish.”
“You won’t even know I’m there.”
He pushed through the door, and when it slammed behind him, I ran to the front, nearly smacking Frankie in the face with the swinging door.
Weston jogged to his truck, climbed in, and sped off, pausing for only a moment before pulling out onto Main Street.
Frankie watched me expectantly.
“So he’s your knight in shining armor, now?” she asked.
My face screwed up into disgust. “No. I told him I don’t need to be saved. And you should already know that about me by now.”
She smirked. “But it’s kinda nice to be defended.”
I tried not to smile, but lately it was impossible not to.
“I like him,” Frankie said. “And so do you. But in a completely different way.”
I made a face. “You have a vivid imagination.”
“You’re different since he started hangin’ around.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” I said, rolling my eyes and reaching for the closest rag.
“Well, you don’t hate him.”
I scrubbed the sink without actually paying attention to what I was doing. “Not today.”
When we closed the Dairy Queen and walked out the back door, the red pickup wasn’t parked in the back. It wasn’t anywhere.
“I thought y’all had plans?” Frankie asked.
I shook my head and walked home. My hand touched the handle on our dirty screen door. I waited for the sound of his engine, but heard nothing. Soul Asylum drifted through the walls, and I was glad. If I was going to be stood up by Weston, I didn’t want to have to deal with Gina, too.
I pushed through the door and headed straight back to my room. It felt lonelier than usual. A loud knocking came from the front door, and I rolled my eyes, assuming it was one of Gina’s friends or her dealer, coming over to party. A few seconds later, Gina appeared in my doorway, her heavy mascara was smeared, the whites of her eyes bright red and glassy. She was still in her supermarket apron and her name badge was hanging crooked from her white polo shirt.
“It’s for you.” Her face mirrored my confusion.
I nodded and stood up, walking into the front room. I stopped in the middle of the carpet. Weston was standing in the front doorway, his hands in the pockets of his letterman jacket. The body of the coat was maroon-dyed wool, and a big Chenille B was stitched to the left side, outlined in white. Weston’s jacket was almost too busy with everything he’d lettered in during his high school career, especially with the numerous patches on his leather sleeves. I’d never wanted a letterman, and it was weird to see someone wearing one in my living room.
Gina stood next to me, gawking at him. She scratched her arm and nodded toward him. “Who is he?”
Weston held out his hand. “Weston Gates, ma’am. I’m a friend of Erin’s.”
Gina hesitated, but she finally shook his hand then looked to me. “Are you going somewhere?”
“Erin was going to help me with my homework.” He lied seamlessly, as if he’d done it a thousand times before.
“Oh,” Gina said, satisfied. That probably made sense to her, because she couldn’t fathom someone like Weston Gates wanting anything else from me.