“Fuck no. God those were terrible,” he said with a grin tugging at his lips. He had really good lips.
“Little Gunner Lawton always tried to please his momma and did all he could to get his dad’s approval. Guess I didn’t expect that to change with puberty.” I was pushing him. But I liked thinking about his past instead of mine.
Gunner finished off his lemon pound cake before looking back up at me. I could see the indecision in his eyes. There was something there. He wanted to tell me, but he wasn’t sure if he should. His expression had always been so telling. Lying when we were younger was never his thing. Brady had been able to call him out on his shit with ease. As had I.
“I don’t want to be my parents. I don’t want their life. Maybe Rhett does. I just want out of here” was what he finally said. But it wasn’t what he was hiding. That was still there in his eyes. I wasn’t going to push though. If he tried to find out why I was here, he wouldn’t get that answer either. I understood secrets and his need to have his own.
“Why are you back?” His question wasn’t even hesitant.
I knew this was coming. I expected it.
“Made some stupid choices and Mom kicked me out.” That was as honest as I was going to be.
Gunner leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest as he studied me. He thought he knew me well. He had no idea how much he didn’t know now. “Drinking? Weed? Sex? Which one was it? Or was it harder shit?”
I stood up, taking my glass with me. I would need to wash it and put it back in the freezer before Nonna got home and saw two glasses dirty. She didn’t need to know Gunner had been here. I knew she wanted me to keep my distance, but it had been Gunner who came to me. I hadn’t sought him out.
“Leave it at that,” I said, walking over to take his empty glass and crumb-covered plate.
“All three?” he asked, raising his eyebrows as if he was impressed. God he was so naïve. Nothing about my story was impressive. It was life changing but not in a good way.
“You want to tell me why you suddenly decided impressing your folks wasn’t important?” I snapped back, glaring at him in warning. He closed down. All expression from his face void. That’s what I thought.
“Exactly,” I replied. “Same with me. Let’s leave it be.”
Gunner sighed, then nodded. “Okay. Fair enough.”
Hell yeah it was fair enough. He had secrets and so did I. We both would have to deal with those secrets and what was eating us up inside alone. The friendship we once had where we told each other everything was that of children. Our secrets now were bigger. More important.
When my feelings were hurt or I had a nightmare that bothered me, I told Gunner. Never Brady. I didn’t want Brady to think I was a baby. But Gunner I trusted to be there no matter what. He and I had a bond that only two kids with parents who didn’t want them could have. Brady didn’t know what that felt like. But for Gunner and me, it was a reality we lived with. We always knew we weren’t alone. We had each other, and that helped through the hardest times.
“Want a ride to school tomorrow?” he asked, standing up.
Was I allowed to ride with him? Nonna probably wouldn’t like it. But then she was at the big house when I would have to walk out to the main road to catch the bus. Would she even know I was riding with Gunner?
I wanted to.
Having someone my age to talk to was nice. I missed that.
I was lonely. I had been for over six months.
“Yeah, I would. Thanks.”
He grinned. “I’ll be by around seven thirty.” He nodded outside to the now darkened sky. “Your nonna is probably cleaning up and getting ready to head home. I better go.”
“Yeah,” I agreed.
“Thanks for the food,” he said, then turned and headed outside.
For the first time in a long time I smiled. A real smile. One that I actually felt without the heaviness on my chest that had become a part of me.
I finished cleaning up all evidence of his being here, then went to my bedroom to pick out a book from our required reading list I had been given today. After school I had stopped in the library and grabbed the first three books I found on the list. I was a fast reader. I figured I could knock out this list of fifteen books in a few weeks, even if I was behind.
Escaping into books had been my only relief in life since that night my world changed. I had read anything I could get my hands on while in the correctional facility. Before that I hadn’t been much of a reader. I had read Harry Potter and Twilight, but that had been about it for me.
The Great Gatsby, A Passage to India, Under the Volcano, Lord of the Flies, and Lolita were all some of my favorites now. One thing I’d learned was good literature was good literature no matter what genre or year it was written. It was the only positive thing that came from my time spent in juvie.
I sat down on my bed, crossed my legs under me, and picked up the copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. This was on our list to read for the year, and I figured since I had actually heard of this one, then I’d start with it. The other two I had picked up at the library I wasn’t so sure about. A Town Like Alice and 1984 would have to wait until I finished this one.
Maybe I’m Not a Good Friend Then
Ivy was saying something. I think I heard the words Friday night and maybe something about a party. My attention wasn’t on her. Instead it was completely directed at Gunner’s fancy-ass truck and the girl climbing out of the passenger’s side.
After the way Willa ignored us both yesterday I didn’t expect to see her riding to school with Gunner. I wondered if Ms. Ames had set this up. Gunner stopped at the front of the truck and said something to Willa that made her laugh. My chest tightened with what felt like jealousy at the sight, and I felt my hands fist at my sides.
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