“Did you see Vic?” Bree asks me as I walk up to my locker in the morning.
At the mention of his name, my heart skips a beat. “No. Where is he?”
“Right there,” Bree says, gesturing across the hall.
Vic is standing with Jet and Derek. He looks like his usual, confident self except for the dark stubble growing on his jawline that just makes him look more tough and masculine.
Vic and the guys are talking as if they’re in a serious conversation. Well, Derek and Vic look like they’re in a serious conversation. Jet doesn’t know how to be serious, so I’m assuming he’s joking around to avoid anything that would make him feel something besides his happy-go-lucky persona.
The boys turn around and look at us.
“Hey, look who’s back!” Jet announces excitedly.
Vic seems surprised that Jet is genuinely happy to see him. Derek, who’s only known Vic for a few months since he’s a transfer student from California, pats Vic on the back. You can tell the two have a mutual respect for each other.
With long, lean strides, Vic walks over to us. “Hey,” he says, as if we haven’t seen each other for a while.
“Hey,” I say back nervously.
Ashtyn, who just walked up with her mouth open in shock, gives Vic a big hug. “I missed you,” she says.
“I missed you guys, too,” Vic says. “But listen, if you and the team don’t step up your game, I’m not rejoining the football team.”
Ashtyn and the guys look shocked. “You’re playing football? With us?”
“I talked to Finnigan. She said as long as I promise to start comin’ to school every day without fail, she’ll let me play.”
“Where were you all this time?” Bree asks.
“Yeah,” Jet chimes in. “We thought you fell off the face of the earth. Derek and I left messages on your phone every day. Monika told us you’d come around when you were ready. To be honest, man, it was hard enough losing Trey. Losing you also made everything worse. Truth is, we need your ugly mug around us, Vic.”
“I was sorta hidin’ out,” he tells them. “But I’m back.”
He captures my gaze for a brief moment, those chocolate depths revealing so much about his inner struggles. I’m glad he’s here, even if my video meant nothing to him.
“No more hiding, man,” Derek says to Vic. “Promise me you’ll come to us when you want to hide out again.”
Vic looks stunned that we want to be so involved in his private life, even if it’s full of crap and heartache.
“Why do you care so much?” he asks.
“Duh!” Ashtyn says. “We’re your family.”
Vic smiles like a kid whose been given his first ice cream cone. “Thanks. That means a lot.”
The first bell rings, signaling that we have five minutes to get to class. Everyone disperses, leaving me and Vic staring at each other in the hallway.
“Did you get my text last night?” I ask him.
He nods. “I did.”
He obviously doesn’t get it, that I did it to show him that I’m changing. I declared my love for him.
“I, um, need to tell you something. Trey was using drugs, Vic. He told me to leave him alone about the drugs, and I did. If you think I don’t feel guilty about it, you’re wrong. I feel guilty every single minute of every day.” I wipe a tear from my eye and pray that I can stay strong. “You weren’t responsible for his death, Vic. If anyone was, I’m responsible because I never told anyone.” A huge weight is lifted off my chest.
I look at him, hoping to see some sign of warmth or forgiveness.
Instead, Vic has a stoic look on his face.
“Look, Monika, I gotta go,” he says, obviously preoccupied.
“Yeah. Sure, no problem.”
He rushes down the hallway, and my heart sinks.
Mr. Miller’s class fills up quickly. Our teacher is sitting on the corner of his desk as the late bell rings.
Vic isn’t here.
I can hear people whispering quietly, gossiping about Vic’s return to school. I briefly wonder if he’s ditching class, preferring to avoid Mr. Miller and his lectures.
“Okay, class.” Mr. Miller glances at Vic’s desk. “I was told we’d have our missing student back, but obviously that’s not—”
The intercom beeps twice, altering us to an announcement.
“Hey, Rebels, it’s your very own rebel Victor Salazar.”