“I want another beer,” Ivy said as she looped her arm through mine and held on to me like she needed me in order to stand up. She had drunk two Dixie cups full of the beer that we had sitting in a keg on the back of Nash’s truck. She was maybe 110 pounds soaking wet. She didn’t need another cup of beer. Soon she’d be vomiting on my feet and gross shit like that. I wasn’t taking her home trashed.

“You’ve had plenty. Grab a bottle of water out of the cooler. Or a diet soda or something.” Anything but more beer.

She pouted, and her lips stuck out in an annoying way. I never really liked the pouty-lip thing. It was meant to manipulate, and that got on my nerves. I didn’t want to be manipulated. “You’ll puke, then pass out, and I’ll be left to explain all that to your parents when I take you home.”

Sighing dramatically, she glanced over at Ginger, one of the girls on the cheerleading squad, who was snuggled up to Ryker Lee. Ginger had been after him for weeks. He’d finally given her a notice tonight.

“He’s no fun,” she whined. “Come on, Ginger. Let’s go dance!” she exclaimed, already too tipsy.

Ginger wiggled her body against Ryker. “Want to dance with me?”

He winked at her and nodded his head in the direction of the music someone had blaring on their Beats Pill. “Go on, and I’ll watch.”

Ginger beamed at him, excited about being able to show off. “M’kay,” she replied, and sauntered off, swaying her hips like she knew she was being watched.

“Dayum girl’s begging for it,” Ryker drawled.

I chuckled. “Seems that way.”

Ryker shook his head, then turned his attention toward Willa, who was now standing up from the log she’d been sitting on while talking to West and Maggie. She looked like she might be about to go somewhere. As much as I’d like to make sure she didn’t want Gunner, I also didn’t want her going looking for him and seeing him and Serena going at it.

“You enjoy your view,” I told him. “I’m gonna go check on something.”

Ryker laughed. “Sure you are. I’d check on that too.”

I didn’t respond or look back at him. He knew where I was headed, and he also didn’t blame me. I could see it in his eyes when he looked Willa’s way. She was beautiful, but there were several beautiful girls in Lawton. It was the fact she was new. They all were attracted to the newness of her. A girl they hadn’t made out with or wanted to since they were in junior high.

Willa was a fantasy they hadn’t worn out yet. She also had an air of mystery around her that appealed to guys. We wanted to get past her barriers. See her smile. Gunner could never be the guy she needed. Willa seemed fragile now. Gunner was terrible with fragile. He’d break her too easily. I could keep her safe and make her smile again.

Willa was walking away from my cousin and West when I walked up to her. She had made her getaway and was headed for the woods behind the clearing. Through the woods was where all the cars were parked. Which meant that was where she would find Gunner’s truck and Gunner in a probably compromising situation.

“Willa,” I called out, and she stopped, then turned around.

She was dressed warm for the chilly late-fall evening, unlike the other girls here, wearing jeans and a dark blue hoodie. Willa hadn’t come to draw attention to herself. “Hey,” she replied with a small smile.

“You leaving?” I asked, hoping that wasn’t what she wanted to do, because her ride was definitely busy.

“Uh, well, it’s late, and I’m tired. I saw Gunner head back here earlier, and I was hoping I could find him and see if he’d mind giving me a ride back to Nonna’s.”

Uh, yeah. Bad idea.

“I could use some company. It’ll be hard to find him out there, and he did take Serena with him. Might not want to walk up on that,” I said with an apologetic smile.

Her eyes widened like she hadn’t thought of that.

“Oh, yeah. No I don’t.”

I could take her home, but that would mean leaving Ivy to get hammered on her own. I’d picked her up at her house, and her dad had met me at the door. Made me promise to take care of her and have her home on time. I couldn’t bring her home drunk and past her curfew. So leaving to take Willa home wouldn’t be possible.

“Want a drink?” I asked her.

She shook her head. “I don’t drink.”

“You don’t drink? Why haven’t you died from dehydration yet?” I was teasing her.

She rolled her eyes. “I don’t drink alcohol.”

“I wasn’t offering you a beer. We have water and sodas too.”

Her eyes lit up. “In that case, yes. My mouth is dry. I’d love a water.”

“Come this way,” I said, being sure to walk behind the crowd of people with Willa so Ivy wouldn’t spot me and swoop in to stake the claim she did not have on me.

We walked around the trucks that did park in the clearing of the field. We needed lights, somewhere to keep the keg, and extra seating, so a few drove their trucks right up in here. Ivy was dancing with Ginger and doing her best to entertain whoever was around. The Dixie cup in her hand made me mutter a curse. She’d be drunk and stupid the next time we spoke. Ivy had been comfortable and easy, so I’d let our relationship grow into something I never really wanted. I didn’t want to hurt her, and honestly, she had started feeling like an obligation. It wasn’t fair to her. Or me.

What Does Casual Mean?



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