“Oh, kid.” Public space or not, Mom wrapped me up in her arms. “Things have been hard for you lately.”
I attempted a smile. It didn’t quite work.
“I’d like to meet your new friends sometime.”
“Sure. Sometime.” No way did I want to know what her reaction to John would be like. If there ever came a time in the future when he felt like talking to me again. Mom had watched him get taken away in cuffs from the Drop Stop, just like I had. She’d also heard about his former life as the friendly neighborhood drug dealer.
Nope. Even if I managed to pull a miracle and win him back, Mom and John didn’t need to meet.
“I did kind of mess up something last night,” I said, sort of needing to talk about it. God knows it owned my poor alcohol-damaged mind. My fingers knotted all on their own. Talk about a guilty conscience.
“What do you mean?” asked Mom.
“I jumped to the wrong conclusion about one of my new friends and might have slightly been a complete ass to them.”
Mom’s nose wrinkled and she took a step back. “Damn. Did you apologize?”
“It didn’t fix things, huh? Well, if they’re important to you, you keep apologizing,” she said, patting my cheek with her cool hand. “And find new and varied ways to apologize. Bake them brownies, write them a song, build them a cabin in the woods, go wild with it.”
“You know I’m here for you, don’t you?” she asked, eyes bright.
“I know.” I grasped her hand.
“Whatever you need to talk about, I want to hear it. The robbery, your new school, how things are going with your therapist, relationships, friends, boys, girls, anything . . .”
“It’s okay, Mom. Really. I’m fine.” If you overlooked the insomnia, occasional panic attacks, and general crazy going on in my head. “Things are calming down.”
“Oh my God, we’re in public. Do not cry,” I ordered. “This is not a moment.”
“Of course it is. We’re hugging it out in the middle of a department store.” Mom squeezed me tight. “It’s a beautiful mother-and-daughter moment. Let’s ask that passing stranger to take our picture.”
I rolled my eyes. Then a mark on her neck caught my attention and I squinted. “Mom? Is that a hickey?”
“What?” Her hand flew to the tiny bruise below her ear. “No, of course not!”
“It is.” My mouth, it gaped. “You’re seeing someone.”
Guilt was pinched lips and wide, panicky eyes. “Of course I’m not. Don’t be silly. When on earth would I even get the time?”
“Between you and work, my hands are full.” She smacked a kiss on my cheek and smiled. “I pinched a bit of skin taking off a necklace last night, that’s all. The lock caught.”
“You know I wouldn’t mind,” I said, watching her carefully. Not quite believing. “You’re allowed a life. Just disregard my disgust at the thought of you getting it on with anyone.”
“I appreciate that, honey.” She gave me a dry look. “But Edie, I’m not seeing anybody.”
Slowly, I let out a breath. “Okay.”
“Coffee and cake-pop?”
“Would be potentially lifesaving right now.”
She grinned. “A girl after my own heart. C’mon.”
And all was well again. Mostly.
On Monday, I put a bag of homemade cookies on John’s desk in English. He raised a brow, then stowed them in his backpack. We didn’t talk.
On Tuesday, I handed him a cupcake as we passed in the hall. The word sorry hadn’t quite fit on top, but I thought the S done in green icing said a lot. We still didn’t talk.
On Wednesday, out of both baked goods and money, I slipped a haiku titled “I’m the Worst” into his locker. Writing a song was out. At first I’d attempted a sonnet, until the realization that I sucked at poetry struck home, and anyway haikus were shorter. I didn’t actually see him that day.
On Thursday, in English once again, I placed a small, neatly wrapped brown paper package on his desk. Tired shadows lay beneath his eyes. He cocked his head, curious or confused, I couldn’t say.
“Lettuce, ham, Swiss cheese, and pickles,” I supplied.
“You made me a sandwich?”
“You don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to.”
“No,” he said, placing a proprietorial hand on the sandwich. “I want to.”
“Okay.” With that settled, I turned in my seat, facing the front of the class.
I looked over my shoulder. “Yes?”
“You’re forgiven,” he said. “You can stop with the presents.”
I exhaled slowly. “That’s good. I’m running low on ideas. Tomorrow it was probably going to be me offering to carry your books.”
“You were gonna carry my books?” Amusement filled his eyes.
“Sure. Why not?” I asked. “If it went on into the weekend, I figured I’d wash your car or something.”
He paused. Then shook his head, long hair falling forward to hide a grin. “I should have held out.”
“John, I don’t think you’re a bad person—and I do trust you.”
He just stared at me. “Thanks.”
Suddenly, breathing came easier. Like my now healed ribs had shrunk, but now returned to their normal size. If John had decided I’d been too much drama, I’d have survived. I know this. Forgiveness felt much better, though. The clip-clopping of heels announced the arrival of our teacher. I faced forward with a smile.
That night . . .
Me: You awake?
Me: What are you doing?
John: TV. You ok?
Me: All g. Want to study?
John: there in 15
Guess he was antsy because as soon as he arrived, he suggested a drive instead. We went to a roadhouse out on the highway leading into the state forest. It was a long, cabin-type building with a big Bud sign lit up on top. Bet they hung dead animal heads on the walls. Even in the middle of the night, a few trucks and bikes were out front.