He leans his head over my shoulder to peer down at me. “Your protests of innocence are wearing very thin at this point.” He says this lightly, but I hear the strain in his voice. Is he upset that I left him behind?
Those people didn’t come to see me. So why do I feel guilty for doing it? The back of my neck grows tighter. I force a smile. “All right. I’ve earned your skepticism. But you’ll soon be sorry for it.”
With slow care, he eases a lock of my hair back from where it dangles over my forehead. “I trust you, Jones.”
“Come on,” I say a bit too thickly. “We’re headed to the second floor.”
Drew’s expression goes flat and distant. And my heart skips a pained beat, but then I realize it’s not for me. He’s not even looking my way. It’s to get us out of here quickly. Because he simply strides forward, his hand just touching the small of my back, and not a soul comes forward. In truth, they part for him like the Red Sea.
“How do you do that?” I ask out of the side of my mouth. “It’s like a super power.”
He snorts. “You learn fairly quickly how to broadcast ‘back off’ when you need to.”
Unfortunately, some people are always going to be oblivious. And to my horror, a familiar face breaks from the crowd. I haven’t seen Whitney Summers since graduating high school. In truth, I didn’t know she went to this university. Not that I’d have cause to keep track of her whereabouts—we hate each other.
Thin, toned, and tan, with long blond hair that hangs in a thick sheet down the middle of her back, she’s always reminded me of Barbie. An unfortunate stereotype, but there you go. She beelines straight for Drew.
Having no option other than walking into her, Drew stops.
Whitney’s big blue eyes blink up at him. “Drew Baylor. I thought it was you.”
“You were correct,” Drew says.
She ignores me completely. Not surprising. She’d been a world-class bitch to me for years. Smiling wide, she offers Drew her hand. “Whitney Summers. I know your friend Thompson.” Her smile grows. “And Rolondo.” A giggle now. “And Simms.”
Jesus. Is she implying what I think she is? Drew and I exchange a look, and it’s clear he’s wondering the same thing. His mouth twitches. “Um. Yeah. Well, nice to meet you.”
He moves his weight onto the balls of his feet, as if he intends to walk around her, when she leans closer to him. “I just thought I’d introduce myself,” she says. “You know. Say hi.”
Whitney flips a long length of her hair behind her shoulder and continues to smile at him. “Maybe we can grab a cup of coffee sometime.”
Great. Perfect. I get to witness Drew being propositioned in living color. I don’t dare look up at him. I don’t want to see his expression. I just can’t react. Not when Whitney treats me as though I’m not here.
Looking at her, I feel the same impotent rage as I did in high school. How was it that someone like this, someone petty, shallow, and boring could hold the student body in the palm of her hand? And what was so lacking in me that I had been shunned? I was never unattractive or a jerk.
In truth, I don’t understand how the world works the way it does. Grandpa Joe used to tell me that meanness never pays off. But I’m pretty sure whoever made up that saying never went to high school.
Standing next to Drew, I grit my teeth and fight the urge to run away. Or smash my fist into Whitney’s pug nose. Maybe he’s aware of my annoyance, because he touches the small of my back. I feel it like a brand of heat along my spine. “If you’ll excuse us,” he says to Whitney. “We have somewhere to be.”
Her smile falls flat. She catches my eyes, and a calculating look twists her face. “I know you.” Her head tilts as she peers at me. “I think.”
Oh, very nice. “You do. We went to high school together.” And junior high, and grade school, but whatever.
“Oh. Ann, right?” She laughs a little, like she’s embarrassed by her gaffe, but she isn’t fooling me. And she’s looking up at Drew, not me. “Some people aren’t as memorable as others.”
I tense, ready to lay into her. But Drew halts my response by laying an arm over my shoulder. The hold is proprietary and clearly marks us as a unit.
“Well, I don’t think I’ll forget you now,” he tells her, his tone not at all nice.
Not that Whitney notices his sarcasm. No, she beams.
And though I know Drew means well, I hate that he has to witness this. That he has to defend me. The way people react to us are as polar as true north and south.
Heart hurting, I stand rigid in his embrace and stare down Whitney. “Considering you’ve called me Anna Banana-pants since the third grade,” I add coolly, “you’re either extremely dense or a liar.”
Her mouth falls open as a flush works over her face. She hadn’t expected honesty.
Drew gives my shoulder a light squeeze as he looks at me. “Weren’t we going somewhere?”
He guides me around Whitney, neither of us saying goodbye to her. A muttered “bitch” follows us as we walk away, and Drew leans close, his breath buffeting my ear. “Kind of the pot calling the kettle, eh?”
A reluctant smile pulls at my lips, even as I step away from his hold. “You’d never convince her of that.”
“I’m sorry she was rude to you.” He frowns, concern darkening his eyes. I hate that.
I shrug. “Likely, she was flustered by your grand presence.”