“See you Monday.”
Beth’s already broad smile stretched to its limit. She pul ed the door open, walking with renewed energy in her step.
“Public displays of generosity make me a little queasy,” Kim deadpanned.
“Why do you think I did it?” I asked.
“You’re sick,” she said, winking. “So, what do you think about Ryan’s note?”
“He wrote Josh and didn’t write me, that’s what I think,” I sniffed.
“I know,” I said, looking out the window.
“You don’t know. You thought he’d stick around, pine for you for years until he’d final y moved to the mountains, vowing to be a hermit until he died of a broken heart. He was in love with you; he did something drastic. Let it go.”
“I do not want him to pine for me. I don’t want him dying because I hurt him, either!”
Kim watched me for a moment, unaffected by my anger. “You don’t look as tired today. Did the dreams go away?”
“No,” I snapped.
“But you slept last night?”
“Yes. Jared left town, and it’s like I fel into a coma or something.”
“Interesting,” Kim said. I turned to look at her, but she was staring out the window as if she were searching for something.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she said, turning to face me.
“You’re acting weird.”
“So?” Kim said in her unapologetic way.
“You’re right. It’s no different than any other day.”
We gathered our things, and then Kim offered to drive me to campus. I nodded in Bex’s direction as subtly as I could, and then yanked on the passenger door of the Sentra. It opened just a crack, and then it was stuck.
“Real y?” I complained.
Kim patiently walked around the front of the car, shooing me out of the way. With a light tug, she opened the door without effort, and then returned to her side. We both fel into our seats, and I waited for Kim to go through her routine of a fake Catholic prayer before she started the engine.
“How this car stil runs is beyond me. How did it survive your summer road trip?”
Kim shrugged. “She stayed behind. I rented a car.”
“Oh yeah? That far? Pretty expensive. How’d you afford it?” I asked.
Kim slowed at a red light, and waited before answering. “I told you, I robbed a few liquor stores on the way.”
“The truth this time.”
“I just told you,” Kim said, stoic.
“You robbed a liquor store. Like with a gun,” I said, dubious.
The light turned green, and we rode in silence until we reached campus. Kim helped me with the door, and then we walked together, our first class being in the same building. As we walked, I felt a burning question bubble up inside of me. The answer was potential y something I would forever regret knowing. Regardless, I had to know.
“You didn’t real y rob a liquor store, did you, Kim?” I said, feeling ridiculous for asking.
“No,” she said, turning in the direction of her class.
I waited in the hal , watching her walk away. I had been so preoccupied with my dreams, I failed to realize Kim’s stories hadn’t added up, and I didn’t catch that she was using her sarcasm to hide something. But hide what? That was al I needed: Something new to obsess about.
Bex was waiting for me when I walked out to the parking lot, in the same spot the Escalade usual y sat. I was stil twenty feet away when Bex relieved me of my backpack, and escorted me the remainder of the way to the BMW. He watched me for a moment, with his big, blue eyes.
“Yes,” I said, opening the passenger door.
A large, boyish grin radiated from one side of his mouth to the other, and he enthusiastical y commandeered the driver’s seat once more. “Jared cal ed, but you were in class.”
“He wanted you to be updated the second you were finished. He hasn’t had much luck. A few leads, he’s carrying them out today, and He’ll be home tomorrow night as promised.”
“Why didn’t he call me himself?” I asked, unable to clear the venom from my voice. The anger stemmed from the pain of missing him. Ironical y, letting an emotion slip now and then made it easier to control them.
Bex sighed. “He misses you. He was afraid hearing your voice would make it worse. He didn’t want you to talk him into coming home.”
One corner of my mouth turned up, but I quickly subdued it. “I’ve got to stop by the office for a sec.”
“Yep,” Bex nodded, turning in the direction of Titan.
The evening consisted of homework and dinner. Bex proved to be an accomplished cook, no doubt learning from Lil ian as Jared did. He whipped up an amazing Pasta Chick Pea Salad, fol owed by Peppered Shrimp Alfredo. I was so ful by the time he served dessert that I didn’t have enough room to ful y appreciate the smal slice of cheesecake he placed in front of me.
“You’re spoiling me,” I said, leaning back in my chair.
“I happened to know Jared cooks for you al the time. I’m just trying to continue the lifestyle in which you’ve become accustomed.”
“If you say so….” I teased.
“And I like to cook,” he smiled.
“It’s a wonder I haven’t gained fifty pounds living with Jared,” I said, taking my plate to the sink.
“I got these. Go rest,” Bex said, pul ing the plate from my hands.
“Quit it. It’s fifty-fifty around here.”
“Yeah, but I can do them faster,” he smirked.
“True,” I said, yawning.
I trudged up the stairs. Gluttony, in addition to weeks without a proper night’s sleep, left me nearly debilitated. My sluggish arms struggled with the pink striped pajamas I’d managed to pul from the drawer, and once my body col apsed to the mattress, I was unable to open my eyes.
And then it was morning.
No Jack, no Gabe, no Shax. I had slept an entire night without a single dream, much less a nightmare. I remembered nothing. A ful night of sleep was less than a memory, and it was strange to feel rested.
The smell of bacon grease fil ed the air. I bounced out of bed, and trotted to the railing.