“Are you still thinking of going to WCU in the spring?” I bark out a little laugh. “I wouldn’t recommend that school.” But trying to make a joke at my own expense fails as tears fill my eyes.
“Yeah, that’s the plan. This . . . girl I’ve been seeing . . . we’ve been thinking about San Francisco, though. You know how I love California.”
I wasn’t prepared for that—Noah dating someone. I suppose I should have been, but it feels so weird that all I can think to say is, “Oh?”
Noah’s blue eyes shine under the fluorescent kitchen lights. “Yeah, it’s been going pretty well. I’ve been trying to take it in stride, though, you know . . . because of everything.”
Not wanting him to finish that thought and make me feel even more guilty about how we broke up, I ask, “Uhm, so how did you two meet?”
“Well, she works at Zooms or something, a store in the mall near you, and—”
“You were in town?” I interrupt him. It feels strange that he didn’t tell me, didn’t stop by . . . but I get it.
“Yeah, to see Becca. I should have called you or something, but everything was so weird between us . . .”
“I know, it’s okay,” I assure him and let him finish. That name, Becca, rings a bell . . . but the fragment of memory drops from my mind as he continues.
“Well, anyway, I guess after that, we got pretty close. We had some problems here and there, and I thought I couldn’t trust her for a while, but we’re doing pretty good now.”
Hearing about his woes brings me back to my own, and I sigh. “I feel like I can’t trust anyone anymore.” When Noah frowns, I hastily add, “Except you. I’m not talking about you. Every single person that I’ve met since I arrived at that school has lied to me in some way.”
Even Hardin. Especially Hardin.
“Is that what happened last night?”
“Sort of . . .” I wonder what my mother told him.
“I knew it had to be something big to bring you home.” I nod, and he reaches across the table to clasp my hands in his. “I missed you,” he murmurs, sadness clear in his voice.
I look up at him with wide eyes; I can feel the tears coming again. “I’m so sorry that I haven’t called about your grandma.”
“It’s okay, I know you’re busy.” He leans back against the chair with soft eyes.
“That’s not an excuse, I’ve been so terrible to you.”
“You haven’t,” he lies, shaking his head slowly.
“You know that I have. I’ve treated you so poorly since I left home, and I’m so sorry. You didn’t deserve any of it.”
“Stop beating yourself up; I’m okay now,” he assures me with a warm smile, but the guilt doesn’t subside.
“I still shouldn’t have done it.”
Then he surprises me with something I wouldn’t have expected him to ever ask. “If you could do it all over again, what would you change?”
“The way I went about things. I shouldn’t have strung you along and gone behind your back. I’ve known you half my life and I dropped you so suddenly, it was terrible of me.”
“It was,” he starts, “but I get it now. We weren’t good for each other . . . Well, we were perfect together,” he says with a laugh. “But I think that was actually the problem.”
The small kitchen feels more spacious now as my guilt begins to dissolve. “You think so?”
“Yeah, I do. I love you, and I’ll always love you. I just don’t love you the way I always thought I did, and you could never love me the way you love him.”
I choke on my breath at his mention of Hardin. He’s right, he’s so right, but I can’t talk about Hardin with Noah. Not right now.
I need to change the subject. “So Becca makes you happy, then?”
“Yeah, she’s different than you’d probably expect, but then, Hardin isn’t exactly who I expected you to break up with me for.” His smile isn’t harsh as he chuckles softly. “I guess we both needed something different.”
He’s right, yet again. “I guess so.” I laugh along with him and we continue to lighten the conversation until another knock at the door interrupts us.
“I’ll get it,” he says, standing to his feet and leaving the small kitchen before I can stop him.
Watching the clock change from minute to minute is slowly murdering me. I’d rather pull my hair out piece by piece than sit here and wait in this goddamned driveway until five. I don’t see Tessa’s mum’s car. There are no cars in the driveway except Tessa’s, which I’m sitting in. Landon has parked on the street, having followed me here so I get a lift back. Luckily he cares about Tessa’s well-being more than anyone except me, so it didn’t take any convincing.
“Go knock on the door, or I will,” he threatens through the phone.
“I’m going to! Fuck, give me a second. I don’t know if anyone’s here.”
“Well, if not, leave the keys in the mailbox, and we’ll go.” That’s exactly why I haven’t done that already—I want her to be inside. I have to know that she’s okay.
“I’m going up now,” I say and hang up on my obnoxious stepbrother.
The seventeen steps up to her mum’s front door are the worst of my life. I knock on the outer screen door, but I’m not sure if it was loud enough. Fuck it. I knock again, this time much harder. Too hard, too hard. I put my hand down when the flimsy aluminum bends, snapping a couple pieces of wire from the screen. Shit.