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“If my Dad finds out that I cut—”

“He won’t, Mari. Who’s taking attendance right now? All the teachers are in the hallway buzzing about Trystan. No one is going to file a cut slip on you.” Her venom for Brie drains as soon as we’re outside. Katie tugs my arm. “Come on. Let’s walk to the deli and grab some grub. Katie hungry.” She says the last few words like Cookie Monster.

I can’t help but wonder what this means for Trystan, but I bet he’s dreading it. For someone that shines so brightly in the spotlight, he really doesn’t like being in it. The main road isn’t too busy right now. A few of the news vans drive past us. Others stayed and are interviewing Trystan’s teachers. By tonight, it will be on every channel—Trystan Scott is Day Jones. They’ll all think Trystan wrote that song for Brie and I’ll get shoved aside.

Katie glares at me. “You planning on answering anything any time soon?”

“Sorry, what’d you ask?”

Katie makes an overly dramatic noise and stomps her combat boots. She’s wearing a floral print skirt, knee highs with skulls on the side, and a lacy white shirt with a big sparkly belt. Her hair is slicked back into a ponytail and swishing high on her head. I feel frumpy standing next to her in my flannel shirt and jeans.

“I said what’s up with you and Trystan?” All the color drains from my cheeks. I can’t hide it. I’ve been blindsided too many times to mask my emotions and keep them off my face. “Okay, let’s pretend I didn’t see your reaction. Come on, use your words, Mari. Tell me what happened.” Katie says it like she’s talking to a toddler.

My gaze is on the ground when I answer. “I love him, okay. He spent the night last night. The reporters couldn’t find him, because he was with me.”

Katie stops in her tracks, and grabs my arm. When I turn, her eyeballs are still expanding in shock. “What the hell? You tell me you’re over him and then you sleep with him? As in you guys had sex?” She makes a shrieking noise and spins in a circle. It looks like an angry chicken dance. “How could you not tell me that!”

“Shhh!” I shove her past the store front. There are people inside looking out at us. “Damn, you’re loud. And no, Miss Dirty Brains, it wasn’t like that. He needed a place to stay. Trystan’s been coming over for a while, but last night was the first night he stayed.”

“And your parents—Mr. and Mrs. Rodup D’Ass—didn’t have issues with this?”

I smile sheepishly. “They don’t know. Trystan was in the closet when Dad came home this morning. I thought we were going to get caught.”

Katie squeals and slaps her hands over her mouth. “Shut up! Mari Jennings turned into a bad girl. We need to stop at the pet store and buy you a big fat dog collar—the kind with the spikes. Your Dad would so shit himself when he saw you wearing it.”

Katie makes me smile even though I’m a bunch of tangled nerves inside. “I can’t even imagine what would happen then.”

“You should totally do it. They take you for granted. It’d serve them right if you went all nutso on them for a while.”

I tuck my hands under my arms. “Probably not a good plan. My Dad would sue me or something.”

“God, your father is a douche. I need to tell him that the next time I see him. I’m pretty sure that your dad and my dad went to Douchiversity together, because they’ve both got that bastard thing nailed. Hey, isn’t that Sexbot’s car?” All of Katie’s sentences flow together, but my gaze follows her finger to an old muscle car running in the parking lot when we finally reach the deli.

I smile to myself. “It is.” I see Trystan sitting in the front seat with his arm over his face. “Go grab us something. I need to talk to Trystan.”

“Fine, but if me and Seth come back and you guys are all making out, he’s probably going to want to watch. He’s a perv like that.” Katie laughs and disappears inside before I can say anything.

I walk over to the car and wonder what I’m going to say. He’s got to be coming unglued. Too much has happened to him, too close together. I walk over to his side of the car and tap on the window. “Hey stranger, or should I call you rock star?”

Trystan smiles when he sees me. He opens the door and pulls me into the car. I fall onto his lap and he holds on like I’m an anchor. “I prefer kiss ninja. I’ll always prefer that.” Trystan’s hands wrap around my waist and he pulls me in for a hug. Being on his lap makes me so excited and nervous at the same time, but his hands feel good so I don’t wriggle away. He kisses my cheek lightly and the sensation shoots a current through my veins and a soft smile spreads across my lips.

“So, I see that I’ve corrupted you. It’s not even second period yet and you’re already cutting class.” The smirk on Trystan’s face is so cute that I want to lean in and lick it off. That cocky arrogant smile excites the butterflies that are ravaging my stomach.

“Ha! As if I could be so easily manipulated by you.”

“So, it’s Katie that’s the evil force at play here? Hmmm. I’ll have to study her methods.” Trystan beams and I swat at him, needing him to be serious for a moment.

“Are you all right?” I ask. After everything that’s happened, I doubt it. Trystan tried so hard to hide this, and now it’s exposed.

“Of course. You’re here, now. Everything will be fine.” His confident smile falters and his voice loses the token Trystan Scott vibrato.

“Everything will be fine. You’ll see.”

He smirks at me. “It sounds better when you say it.”

“Because I believe it. This can be a good thing, Trystan. You’ll never have to hide from anyone or anything ever again. You just have to be brave this one time, and take whatever crap comes your way, but after that you can live your own life. You don’t have to enlist. Your life is yours now.” As I speak, Trystan’s fingers run through my hair.

“They’ll know you were there. They’ll know what you did. People will talk, they’ll say things about you and me. I don’t want them to.” His eyes are on the dashboard, like he can’t look at me.

Tilting his chin up so our gazes meet, I say, “They’re only words, Trystan. Let them say whatever they want. I owe you that much—”

His blue eyes lock onto mine, confused. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m the reason the reporters where there. They found out you’re Day because of me.”

Trystan stiffens and his hands fall to the seat. “You told them?”

“No, but I might as well have. Brie was in my room, she found the song and recognized your handwriting. I’m sorry. I didn’t—”

He pulls me to his chest and it’s all I can do to keep the tears from falling. I know Trystan didn’t want this and it’s my fault it happened. “Shhh, it wasn’t your fault. You’re not the one who called them. Why the hell were you hanging out with Brie, anyway?”

“I wasn’t. I was forced to apologize so her dad wouldn’t sue my father. My mother left her in my room for god knows how long. Brie saw the song.”

Trystan holds me tighter. “Brie’s my fault, I—”

Seth chooses that moment to materialize next to the open window with Katie in his wake. They say in unison, “Brie’s a bitter skank.” The two of them stop and this awkward thing happens. Seth looks down at the juice in his hands with a weird expression on his face.

Katie gapes at him like a docked fish. “Stop stealing my thoughts, perv.”

Seth comes back to himself and snaps, “It’s not like it’s a novel idea, G.I. Hoe.”

Trystan groans and slams his head backward into the seat. “I’ll jump out of the car right now if you two are going to fight all day.”

Seth sees me on Trystan’s lap. “She is not staying. You got some, now you can get out.”

Katie shoves Seth aside and slips into the backseat. “That’s a suckie idea. I’m not walking home and Trystan isn’t going to let you talk crap about Mari, so keep your disgusting comments to yourself.” Katie opens the bag and holds it out to me. “Bagel?”

“No! You two are not coming with us!” Seth stands with the door open and is pointing, like we’re bad dogs for climbing on his seats.

“Yeah, I’m not leaving.” Katie bites into her bagel. “Did you guys get bacon? I swear to God, I smell bacon.” She lifts her nose to the air and sniffs.

Everyone looks at Seth. He shifts all his weight to one foot and surrenders. “Fuck, yeah. I got bacon and if you get grease on the upholstery, I’ll take it out of your ass.” He holds the bag out to Katie.

She snatches it from his hand. “Yeah, I’m not into that, but thanks for the offer.”

Trystan tries to hide a surprised smile, as Katie inhales a strip of bacon before handing us the bag. He asks me, “Is she always like this?”

“Only when she’s wearing those boots. She goes all Combat Katie and thinks she can kick ass.”

“She’s got a great ass,” Seth smirks and slips into the car.

Katie glares at him as she glances at her wooden handbag. “I should hit you with my purse.”

“What? It was a compliment.” Seth’s smiles in the rearview mirror.

“Then, you suck at compliments. Why can’t you just learn to secretly leer like everyone else? Damn, Seth.” Katie smiles crookedly and munches another piece of bacon.

“Who said I wasn’t doing that too?” Seth looks at her in the mirror again. I expect more pointed comments from Katie but she just eats her food like she doesn’t care who’s watching.

Seth grabs his breakfast, unwraps it, and takes a huge bite before looking over at Trystan. “Where are we going, Scott? The next move is your call.”

CHAPTER 5

~TRYSTAN~

Mari tenses in his lap as soon as Seth and Katie get into the car. Trystan knows she wants to slide in the seat next to him, but he isn’t ready to let her go yet. His fingers lace together around her narrow waist as Seth and Katie attempt to verbally castrate each other. The familiarity makes his raging pulse slow to normal—well, almost. Mari is in his lap. If he lets his mind wander, it’ll go back to her bedroom and run through the things he could have done with her last night if he didn’t have a conscience. Telling her no seemed like the right thing at the time, but now Trystan’s worried that she’ll slip through his fingers.

There’s no way to hold onto Mari, not with the world going up in flames around him. He can’t even bring Mari with him, assuming he signs with one of the deals that he’s been offered. Mari’s a minor and is stuck living with parents who don’t love her for another year, while he does what? While he becomes famous and she forgets all about him. There’s nothing Trystan can offer her, not if he doesn’t step up and change something.

The idea of publically professing what happened at home makes him sick. Telling everyone about it seems unbearable, but it’s one barbed hurdle and the reward on the other side is worth risking impalement. Trystan isn’t accustomed to telling people his secrets, but he’s guessing that everyone in the car already knows most of them.

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