She sat up, gasping for breath, and she saw that Alex had thrown Aiden onto the ground. He stood over him, holding Aiden by the collar of his shirt, and he punched him twice, hard enough that she heard his fist smashing into Aiden’s face.
“Don’t you ever touch Gemma again,” Alex growled, his arm still cocked. Aiden tried to say something, but he just ended up sputtering out blood from his lip. “Do you hear me? Never touch her again.”
“I hear you,” Aiden mumbled.
“Good,” Alex said, and then he punched Aiden once more.
“Alex!” Gemma scrambled out of the car. “Don’t kill him.”
Alex let go of his shirt, and Aiden fell back on the ground. Alex stood up straight and slammed the car door shut. Aiden got to his feet as quickly as he could, and as he got in the car, he swore at Alex and Gemma under his breath.
They both watched as Aiden sped out of the driveway, his tires squealing. Despite the heat, Gemma wrapped her arms around herself. Alex shook out his hand, which must have ached from how hard he’d hit Aiden.
“Thank you,” Gemma said quietly after a few seconds.
“What the hell is going on, Gemma?” Alex asked, and she was surprised by the anger in his voice. “What were you doing with that guy? He was a dick!”
“I didn’t realize he was such a dick when I agreed to go out with him,” Gemma said.
“This doesn’t make any sense.” He shook his head and growled. “I’m so pissed off.”
“It’s over now, and you should go home,” Gemma said.
“You don’t get it.” He turned back to face her and ran both his hands through his hair. “I wanted to kill him because he was hurting you. But I hate you.”
She lowered her eyes and nodded to keep from crying. “I’m sorry.”
“Why do I want to know you’re safe if I hate you?” Alex demanded. “Why do I worry about you? Why am I scared that you’re going to die without knowing how I really feel about you, when what I feel is contempt?”
Gemma struggled to keep her composure, and when she spoke, her words were barely audible. “I don’t know.”
“You’re lying, and I know you’re lying.” He stood a few inches in front of her, practically yelling in her face. “Don’t lie to me, Gemma. Please. Don’t fucking lie about this.”
“Alex, you’re better off just going home,” Gemma said, still refusing to look up at him. “Forget you ever met me.”
“I can’t forget!” Alex shouted, making her flinch. “I dream of you every night. Do you know what that’s like? In my dreams, we’re still together and I still love you. And then I wake up every morning, and I hate you, and I hate me, and I hate everything.”
“Of course I know what that’s like!” Gemma lifted her head and looked up at him with tears in her eyes. “I do the same thing, every day! Except I don’t hate you.”
“Why not?” Alex asked, almost plaintively. “Why don’t you hate me? Why did we break up?”
She looked away again. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Why not? If I dumped you, why wouldn’t I understand my own reasoning? What the hell happened, Gemma?”
The front light switched on, and Gemma took a step back from Alex. She heard the screen door creak open as her dad came outside.
“Gemma?” Brian asked. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, Dad.” She sniffled and wiped at her eyes. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
“I’ll wait,” Brian said. She hadn’t turned around to look at him yet, but he couldn’t be standing more than a few feet behind her.
“Dad, I’m okay,” she insisted, but Alex was already backing away.
“You need to keep her on a short leash, Mr. Fisher,” Alex said as he took steps backward. “Your daughter is hanging around with some very bad guys.”
“What does that mean?” Brian asked. “Gemma? What does that mean?” He walked over so that he was standing next to her once Alex had gone into his own house.
Gemma shook her head. “It’s been a long night, Dad.”
“Why is there blood on my driveway?” Brian pointed to the small puddle of blood that Aiden had left behind.
Gemma sighed. “Aiden got too frisky, and Alex beat the shit out of him, okay? I had a bad, bad night, after a bad, bad weekend, and this is turning out to be the worst summer of my entire life. So if I could just please go inside and go to bed, I would really like that.”
Brian stared at her with bleary eyes. His hair was disheveled from sleep, and he wore his old football T-shirt with matching sweatpants. He was not prepared for this conversation.
“Okay,” he said finally.
“Great, thank you.” She turned around and stormed into the house.
She raced up to her bedroom looking for solace, but it seemed like everything in it was taunting her. It was all remnants of her former life, of things she’d loved that she could never love again, of someone she could never be.
The Michael Phelps poster on her wall she ripped down, actually tearing it in half in the process. There was a picture of her mother on her bedside table and she picked it up and flung it against the wall, shattering glass everywhere. On the ceiling were fading glow-in-the-dark stars that Alex had helped her put up years ago.
Gemma jumped up onto her bed, trying to pull them down, but she couldn’t reach them. She kept jumping and failing, and by then she was sobbing in frustration and anger and sadness.