Rebecca’s eyes widened in horror. She ran her hands up and down her sides, pacing back and forth. When her body froze, she shook her head. “This is your fault!” she screamed at Ryan. “Y-you set a bad example for your sister with your devilish ways!”

“Rebecca!” Henry roared, looking at her as if she were a monster.

“It’s true! He killed his father and now he’s trying to kill his sister!”

“Shut up!” I screamed, unable to contain myself from the hateful words she’d just spit at Ryan.

The room reached its peak for the evening.

Ryan’s shoulders fell in a world of dismay at his mother’s words. He started to clap slowly, a sad grin on his lips. “And there it is, folks.” He took a final bow and walked out of the front door, slamming it shut.

We all stood there, the words of hate echoing off the walls.

“How could you?” Hailey whispered. “Dad’s death already destroyed him. He was already terrified that you blamed him.”

She followed after Ryan, and I was quick to travel to the front porch, too.

He was sitting there with his fake cigarette box in his hands, tapping it against his knee. “I’m fine, girls.”

We each took a seat on the porch next to him, the cold winter air biting at our faces. Hailey’s red nose kept sniffling and Ryan wrapped his arms around his little sister, trying to warm her up. But the sniffles weren’t from her cold. They were from the tears.

That night, we each lit a fake cigarette. For past hurts and present pains.

Chapter 25

Never lose sight of the things that make sense.

~ Romeo’s Quest

December came with a heavy supply of snowfall. Ryan and Rebecca hadn’t spoken a word to one another since the big fight. It’d been weeks since Ryan’s been tapping his fake cigarette box against his leg.

Jake was having a party tonight, and I wasn’t looking forward to it at all. But I was going for Ryan, who hadn’t stopped talking about our fake IDs since we’d gotten them. Plus, he really needed a night out, even though he was technically grounded.

Then there was my big issue that didn’t seem so big in the scheme of things, but in my heart, it was gigantic.

I missed Daniel. I hated the fact that I missed him so much, but I did. I cried in the shower sometimes. Other times I cried into my pillow. I also cried because I was certain he wasn’t tearing up over me.

Before heading home to meet Hailey and Ryan for the party, I stopped by the library to return my books—and I picked out another one to read in a corner at Jake’s house.

As I searched for my next read, I heard my name being called. “Ashlyn?”

I looked up to see a familiar face that made me want to cry even more because it was linked to Daniel. “Hey, Randy. How are you?” I whispered, hoping not to draw too much attention to the librarian.

He leaned his back against the bookshelf and I watched the novels rock slightly. My throat tightened at the idea of all of the pages and pages of stories crashing to the ground. “I’m good.” He held a book up. “Just picking up some song material. I haven’t seen you around lately. Did Dan and you get into a fight?”

No. More of a, ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ type thing.

“We aren’t seeing each other anymore.”

Randy looked generally surprised. “What?! He didn’t say anything about y’all breaking up.”

My heart twisted harshly in my chest.

That hurt.

“Yeah, well…” I gave him a strained grin. A bad taste developed in my mouth as I stood with Randy. I didn’t want to talk to him about Daniel. Especially about how Daniel wasn’t thinking of me.

Randy crossed his arms and leaned in toward me. “You misunderstood me, I think, Ashlyn. When Dan is hurting, he doesn’t talk about things. He closes himself off. And since his parents passed away, you have been the only thing that has been able to open him back up… Is it because of the student-teacher thing?”

My eyes shifted. How did Randy know about that? I thought Daniel didn’t want to tell anyone. “I don’t think we should talk about this.” For the first time since I’d met Randy, I really looked at him. His shaggy hair danced across the top of his eyebrows. His thin lips curved only halfway when he smiled, and his eyes were darker than a cave.

Randy narrowed his cave-colored eyes and pursed his lips together. “Ashlyn, are you all right? You look like you’re going to pass out.”

My knees almost buckled, but I placed my hand on the bookshelf to keep me steady. “I’m fine.”

He hiked his thumb back toward the library exit. “I can give you a ride home if you need it?”

“No, it’s fine.” I looked around, feeling extreme anxiety. He received another forced grin from me. “I gotta get going.”

“Yeah,” he said, holding up his books. “Me too. We have a show tonight. Take care, okay?”

Take care. Yeah right.

Heading back toward Henry’s house around four thirty, I narrowed my eyes when I saw Hailey crying on the steps while Ryan spun around on the front lawn in the snow.

“What’s going on?” I wondered out loud, moving in toward the house.

Ryan laughed when he saw me approaching him. He tossed his hands up into the air with the biggest smirk on his face. “I’m a walking statistic!” he screamed, racing over to me.

I gave him a short grin, not knowing what he was talking about but loving his overreacting nature. “What do you mean?” I asked, watching him jump up and down. He tossed my hands into his and started to spin me around, forcing me to jump up and down. I couldn’t help but laugh. “What the hell is going on, Ryan?!”