I slip my hand to the schedules lying on her desk and I back away with them. She’s tugging on her bottom lip, staring up at me with heated eyes. “Come back during lunch,” she whispers. “Will an hour be sufficient, Mr. Nash?”
I wink at her. “I guess it’ll have to do,” I say as I head out the door. I don’t pause until I’m down the hallway and around the corner, out of her line of sight.
The eighteen-year-old irresponsible side of me wants to high five myself for having apparently snagged the school counselor, but the reasonable side of me wants to punch myself for doing something like that to Charlie.
Charlie is obviously the better choice, and I hate knowing that I was putting that relationship at risk.
But then again, so was Charlie.
Luckily, the schedules list our locker numbers and combinations. Hers is 543 and mine is 544. I’m guessing that was intentional.
I open my locker first, and find three textbooks stacked inside. There’s a half empty coffee in front of the books and an empty Cinnamon roll wrapper. There are two pictures taped to the inside of the locker: one of Charlie and me, the other just of Charlie.
I pull the picture of her down and stare at it. Why, if we weren’t happy together, do I have pictures of her in my locker? Especially this one. I obviously took it, as it’s similar in style to the pictures hanging around my room.
She’s sitting cross-legged on a couch. Her head is tilted slightly and she’s staring directly at the camera.
Her eyes are intense—looking into the camera as if she’s looking into me. She’s both confident and comfortable, and although she isn’t smiling or laughing in the photo, I can tell she’s happy. Whenever this was taken, it was a good day for her. For us. Her eyes are screaming a thousand things in this photo, but the loudest is, “I love you, Silas!”
I stare at it a while longer and then place the photo back inside the locker. I check my phone to see if she’s texted. She hasn’t. I look around, just as Landon approaches from down the hall. He tosses words over his shoulder as he passes me. “Looks like Brian isn’t quite out of the picture yet, brother.”
The bell rings.
I look in the direction Landon came from and see a heavier crowd of students at that end of the hallway. People seem to be stalling, glancing over their shoulders. Some are looking at me, some are fixated on whatever is at the end of the hallway. I begin to walk in that direction and everyone’s attention falls on me as I pass.
A break in the crowd begins to shape and that’s when I see her. She’s standing against a row of lockers, hugging herself with her arms. Brian is leaning against one of the lockers, looking at her intently. He looks deep in conversation, whereas she just appears guarded. He spots me almost immediately and his posture stiffens along with his expression. Charlie follows his gaze until her eyes land on mine.
As much as I can assume she doesn’t need rescuing, relief falls over her as soon as we lock eyes. A smile tugs at her lips, and I want nothing more than to get him away from her. I spend two seconds deliberating. Should I threaten him? Should I hit him like I wanted so badly to hit him yesterday in the parking lot? Neither of these actions feels as though they’ll make the point I want to make.
“You should get to class,” I hear her say to him. Her words are quick, a warning, as if she’s afraid I’ve decided to punch him. She doesn’t have to worry. What I’m about to do will hurt Brian Finley a hell of a lot more than if I were to just hit him.
The second bell rings. No one moves. There are no students rushing to class to avoid being late. No one around me shuffles down the hall at the sound of the bell.
They’re all waiting. Watching. Expecting me to start a fight. I wonder if that’s what the old Silas would do? I wonder if that’s what the new Silas should do?
I ignore everyone but Charlie and walk confidently toward her, keeping my eyes trained on her the entire time. As soon as Brian sees me approaching, he takes two steps away from her. I look directly at him while I stretch out my hand toward her, giving her the choice to take it and go with me or remain where she is.
I feel her fingers slide between mine and she grips my hand tightly. I pull her away from the lockers, away from Brian, away from the crowd of students. As soon as we round the corner, she drops my hand and stops walking.
“That was a little dramatic, don’t you think?” she says.
I turn to face her. Her eyes are narrowed, but her mouth could pass for smiling. I can’t tell if she’s amused or angry.
“They expected a certain reaction from me. What’d you want me to do, tap him on the shoulder and ask politely if I could cut in?”
She folds her arms over her chest. “What makes you think I needed you to do anything?”
I don’t understand her hostility. It seemed like we left on good terms last night, so I’m confused as to why she seems so angry with me.
She rubs her hands up and down her arms and then her eyes fall to the floor. “Sorry,” she mutters. “I just…” She looks up at the ceiling and groans. “I was just prodding him for information. That’s the only reason I was with him in the hallway just now. I wasn’t flirting.”
Her response catches me off guard. I don’t like the look of guilt in her expression. That’s not why I pulled her away from him, but I realize now that she thinks I really am upset with her for being with him. I could tell she didn’t want to be there, but maybe she doesn’t realize how well I’ve learned to read her.
I take a step toward her. When she lifts her eyes to meet mine, I smile. “Would it make you feel better to know I was cheating on you with the guidance counselor?”
She sucks in a quick rush of air and shock registers on her face.
“You weren’t the only one who wasn’t committed to us, Charlie. Apparently we both had issues we needed to work out, so don’t be so hard on yourself.”
Relief probably isn’t the reaction a girl should have to finding out her boyfriend has been cheating on her, but it’s definitely what Charlie feels right now. I can see it in her eyes and I can hear it in the pent up breath she releases.
“Wow…,” she says, her hands falling to her hips. “So technically, we’re tied?”
Tied? I shake my head. “This isn’t a game I want to win, Charlie. If anything, I’d say we both lost.”
Her lips spread into a ghostly grin, and then she looks over her shoulder. “We should figure out where our classes are.”