I didn’t know what to say. My knees felt like they were going to cave. Mom wasn’t angry, but it didn’t feel right. She should still be pissed at me.
I hurried up the steps before she said anything else. My bedroom door slammed shut behind me. I holed myself up in the room, pretending to focus on homework and coming downstairs only for dinner because I smelled fried chicken.
There was no way I was going to turn down fried chicken.
It was a little after seven when I changed into sleep shorts and an old tank top. Dragging a quilt over my legs, I fully intended to get back to the school stuff, but I dozed off without even cracking my History textbook open. It was a restless nap, one where I woke every fifteen minutes or so, but the last time I peeled my eyes open, I heard a door close. I turned my head toward the balcony. A surprising burst of chilly air rolled across the bed.
Sebastian entered my room without a word.
Groaning, I pulled a hand out from the quilt and rubbed the side of my face. “You know, what you’re doing is kind of like breaking and entering.”
“Nah, I don’t think so.” He sat down on the side of the bed. “I’m actually just being courteous.”
I lowered my hand, frowning at him. “How so?”
“You don’t have to get up and open the door.” He winked, and I hated that it was sexy. “I am only ever thinking of you.”
Rolling my eyes, I shifted so my legs were pointing toward him. “Whatever. Maybe I don’t want to see you.”
“You could’ve just locked the door,” he pointed out. “If you don’t want to see me, that’s all you have to do.”
I could’ve. But I hadn’t, because I wanted him to visit. I wanted him to be here even though I shouldn’t, but I wasn’t going to admit to it. “You’re impeding on my freedoms.”
Sebastian tipped his head back and laughed. Loudly. My eyes widened.
“Shh.” My head swiveled toward my closed door. “My mom will hear you.”
“Pretty sure your mom knows I’m here every night.”
That was pretty much what Lori had said. “But I doubt she knows you stay, like, forever.”
“Probably not.” He moved, stretching out on the bed, his head on the pillows beside mine. “Were you sleeping already? It’s only nine.”
“I was tired. Today was...” I trailed off. How in the hell did I describe today?
“It was what?” When I didn’t answer immediately, he persisted. “It was like what, Lena?”
I sighed heavily, loudly and obnoxiously. “It was rough. I feel like I’m ninety years old. I needed a nap by third period. My ribs ached all day, and I couldn’t take the pills the doc gave me, because I would’ve passed right out.”
“And?” he asked when I went silent.
“And...it was just hard.”
Sebastian didn’t say anything, and I knew he was waiting for me to continue. Several moments passed and I tried again. “I was supposed to have Creative Writing with Megan. It was...” I swallowed hard. “Not having her in the class or at lunch was weird. I kept waiting for her to sit down at the table. Not going to practice felt wrong. Like I was forgetting something all evening.”
“Same with the guys.” Sebastian crossed his arms loosely. “I expect to hear Chris throwing weights in the weight room. Phillip giving everyone a hard time. Cody standing next to me at practice.”
There was just so...so much loss, so many things that would never happen again. I ran my finger along the edge of my cast as I let out a shaky breath. “I had to meet with one of the grief counselors.”
“So did I,” he replied. “I think half the senior class did.”
I slid him a look. “I have to meet with that guy three times a week.”
There wasn’t a flicker of judgment on his face. “That will probably be good.”
I wasn’t so sure of that. “Did you talk with them? Like really talk?”
He was still for a moment and then nodded. “Yeah. It helped.” His gaze met mine. “It will help you.”
Except Sebastian didn’t have the kind of guilt I needed to talk about.
“What was going on with you and Abbi after school?” he asked, rolling onto his side so he was facing me.
My shoulders slumped. The familiar crawl of tears was making its way up my throat. “Nothing.”
“That wasn’t nothing that I walked up on,” he denied. “Looked like you two were getting heated with one another.” Sebastian lifted his arm and gently curled his fingers around my chin. He turned my head toward his. “Talk to me, Lena.”
My gaze dropped as the feeling of his fingers seeped into my skin. “She’s...she’s mad at me.”
“Why?” he asked, sliding his fingers off my chin. They traveled along my jaw, sending a shiver down my spine.
“Because I’ve...I’ve shut her out,” I admitted, closing my eyes. His hand was still on the move, fingers sifting through my hair. “I haven’t talked to her.” It wasn’t the only reason why she was mad, but it was the only reason I could cop to, especially when he was touching me. “I didn’t mean to. It’s just... I feel responsible.”
His hand stilled. “Lena, you’re not responsible. You didn’t get behind that wheel.”
God, he didn’t know. He didn’t have a clue. I started to turn away, but his hand tightened. My eyes opened. His hand slipped from my neck, falling in the scant space between our bodies.
Sebastian was on his side next to me, slightly raised on his elbow so his body almost hovered over mine. There was something wholly intimate about our positions, like we’d done it a hundred times. And we had, but what he admitted Saturday night had changed things. This wasn’t just two best friends lying in bed beside one another. He wasn’t just the boy next door anymore. We couldn’t go back to that no matter how we moved forward, and even though it was what I’d wanted for so long, it was terrifying.
“Lena,” he whispered my name like it was some kind of benediction.
“I don’t want to talk anymore,” I said. “I...I want you here, but I don’t want to talk.”
Understanding flared. The look in his eyes changed, switching from concern to something wilder, sharper. He bit down on that bottom lip. Everything in the room changed in an instant. It was that extreme. One moment I felt like I was on the verge of losing it and now I was standing on a totally different cliff.
He said he loved me—was in love with me.
And I’d been in love with him since...since forever.
I didn’t feel like I deserved that. Like I’d earned this opportunity or second chance. That I should be experiencing the quickening in my breath or the sudden heat that swept over my skin and flooded my senses.
And maybe he didn’t mean he loved me in that beautiful, endless way I read about in the books littering my room. The kind of love that was like a chain connecting two souls, an unbreakable bond that prevailed over the worst kind of circumstances, the most horrific decisions. He obviously thought he did, but people believed and felt all kinds of crazy things in the face of loss, but those feelings drifted away and lessened once life returned to normal and the pain of loss faded.
But right now, I didn’t want to acknowledge any of that or what led us to this point where things were no longer the same between us. I didn’t want to think. I just wanted to explore the heat building low in my stomach, the breathlessness in my chest that had nothing to do with my lungs or ribs.
Maybe it was going back to school today. Or it was the unexpected talk with Dr. Perry and knowing that he knew. It could’ve been the confrontation with Abbi and facing the fact that out of everyone, she knew I left that party...that party sober enough to...to fucking know better. It could’ve been the talk with Mom.
Maybe it was because Sebastian had said he loved me.
It was probably all those things rolled into one wrecking ball of a mess, but couldn’t I...couldn’t I just, I don’t know, pretend for a little bit? Play out the fantasy in my head? My pulse was all over the place as my gaze tracked over the sharp angle of his cheekbones, down to the scar in his upper lip.