I turned off the music and sat there in front of him in a black tank top with a shelf bra and loose cotton sleep shorts covered in little rainbows. Way too much skin on display.
What was it about this guy always catching me in my pajamas?
In my defense, the clock read almost midnight. I grabbed a pillow and placed it across my lap, reducing the amount of thigh exposed. Next, I smoothed a chunk of hair across my forehead, tucking it in place behind my ear. Hopefully covering the ugly scar.
He, of course, despite the unusually warm night, looked cool. Blue jeans, a gray shirt, long hair hanging loose. I’d never had the opportunity to really observe him up close before. The man/boy was intimidating. Hang had been right about his face. It was something special with the sharp angles of his jaw and cheekbones, the smooth high forehead, and those damn perfect lips. John Cole was stupidly beautiful, in that he was so beautiful it made me stupid. Not that I was staring or anything.
“Sorry about not going to Isaac’s funeral,” I blurted out. “And the stuff my ex-best friend said on TV about you, if you heard it. We both know things didn’t happen like that. I never said—”
“Ex?” His voice cut across my babble of an apology.
Leaning his head back against the window frame, he nodded thoughtfully. “Sorry if I surprised you,” he said. “Showing up like this. I wasn’t going to come, but . . .” His voice broke off and his eyes flitted around my room. Thankfully, I’d insisted the hot-pink walls and matching lacy princess bedspread go a few years back. I’d painted my room a pale blue-gray and begged a fancy old-style white iron bed out of Grandma. Books were still everywhere; some things would never change. But Barbie’s mansion was long gone and only my favorite soft toy remained on display, a battered old bear called Sugar. I refused to be embarrassed. In my younger days, Sugar had seen me through all sorts of trials and tribulations.
John’s gaze returned to me and he took a deep breath, his frown turning into a determined scowl. “I wanted to thank you for telling the cops I wasn’t involved, and that I tried to get us all out of there alive.” He shifted his weight on the window ledge, balanced half-in and half-out of my room. “That’s what I wanted to say when I called.”
I cocked my head. His short words had launched a host of questions. I asked the last one first: “You called?”
“Yeah. A couple of days after. I talked to your mom.”
Huh. “She never told me you called.”
“Oh.” He grabbed the back of his neck, rubbing at the muscles there. “Okay.”
His face went neutral. Sometimes it was next to impossible to tell what was going on behind it. Why the hell hadn’t Mom told me about him calling? Guess she’d been brainwashed by the cops and the drug-dealing accusations. Which still didn’t make it okay.
Meanwhile, Mom would have a meltdown if she knew I had a boy in my room. Though technically, he wasn’t in my room, just sitting on the windowsill. Highly doubt the technicality would get me out of being grounded, however.
“Sorry about that. That’s kind of you to check up on me. It would have been good to talk.” I tried to meet his eyes, but settled for staring vaguely at his shoulder. “I would have called you back—”
“Not a big deal, Edie.” He shrugged off my concerns. “I just wanted to say thanks. It really made a difference.” He nodded to himself, satisfied, as if in conveying his thanks he had done what he set out to do.
“How did it make a difference?”
Silence answered me. His eyes fixed onto mine, and for a moment his aura of badass cool deserted him, and he looked lost and alone. And young. Despite the sharp angles of his face and the scruff on his chin. “Isaac wasn’t my friend,” he said, taking a deep breath. “I was his dealer. I was selling that night at the Drop Stop. He was there because of me.” He swallowed and looked away, scowling out into the night. I waited him out, and eventually he returned to my question. “The cops found two ounces in the back of the Charger. But they gave me a pass on it. They said there was a witness talking about me being a hero and saving her life. You must have been pretty persuasive. I’ve never had a cop cut me any slack before.”
“Well, I’m glad it helped,” I said, “but I was only telling the truth—you did save my life.”
The trace of a sad smile flitted around the corners of his mouth.
I pulled myself forward on the bed and gathered the sheets up around my legs. “Why did you tell yourself not to come here?”
“Because I’m poison.” His eyes fixed on mine. “I don’t want to drag you down. That’s why I didn’t speak to you at school. If the teachers even see us talking they’ll slot you in the ‘don’t bother’ category without a second thought. There’s no coming back from that. And the morons at school are no better. They’ll just think they can use you to score some cheap weed.”
“Yeah. That’s happened already, actually.”
John frowned. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “Nothing I can’t handle.”
“Let me know if that changes.” He frowned some more.
“It’s fine,” I repeated. “I couldn’t care less about any of it.”
“You should,” he chided. “Especially the teachers. I tried showing up to a math study group during lunch a week ago, and the teacher wouldn’t even let me into the room. Just thought I was there to deal or cause trouble.”
“That’s so unfair.”
“No, it’s not. I earned it.” His voice dripped with bitterness, and his lip curled into a sneer. Whoa. Some serious self-loathing going on there. “But it would be unfair if any of it rubbed off on you. You don’t deserve it.”
His legs coiled up beneath him, and his body tilted away from me, as if he was about to slip off the edge and into the garden below.
“Do you have trouble sleeping?” I blurted. “Since it happened?”
He stopped mid-movement, as if surprised by my question. Then he settled himself firmly back on the windowsill, shifting around a little, getting comfortable. Facing half-away from me, his head tilted in a slow nod.
“Nightmares, too?” I asked.
“Every night,” he said. A sudden smile flashed across his face, as if something in him had lightened at my words. He looked down and away, hiding his expression.