“You’re not funny,” I say to the football player. “And you wish you could pass for Zach.”
He snorts. “I’d definitely have to gain a few pounds.”
Zach steps into the hallway on the heels of that pronouncement, his stride slowing to a stop. He assesses the scene with a sweep of his eyes, his expression betraying nothing. But I know he heard. He had to have heard otherwise my heart wouldn’t be weeping. I mouth his name but no sound comes out.
He seems to hear it anyway, his attention landing and me and falling away quickly, his head dropping forward. But not before I see the flash of sorrow in his eyes. Everyone is silent as he continues to his locker, opening it and swapping his books.
I start to go to him, the rules be damned.
I’m going to claim him in front of the whole school, because that’s what my heart is telling me is the right thing. The only thing.
But Miguel breezes into the hallway at that exact moment, seemingly oblivious to the tension around him, and blocks my path.
“Hey. Jill Harding.” He laughs, flashing his perfect white teeth. “Finally. I was starting to think you switched schools.”
I’ve managed to successfully avoid this moment for weeks and now is the time my luck chooses to run out? The thing is, Miguel is a really nice person. Everyone loves him and it’s not just because he’s the high school quarterback. If I wasn’t in love with Zach, I would be really lucky to go with him to homecoming. The fact that he’s genuinely nice is also the reason I can’t just blow him off right now in front of everyone and embarrass him.
Zach and I briefly lock eyes over Miguel’s shoulder and I swallow the sack of nickels in my throat. I watch him interpret what is about to happen—another guy is about to ask me to homecoming—and his features tighten, nostrils flaring. His grip flexes around the strap of his backpack and I think of how possessively that hand touches me. I want that side of him to come out now. To come get me, ask me to homecoming himself.
But the other students are still whispering. They’re almost gleeful, looking between me and Miguel and Zach, speculating on what’s going to happen.
One thing I know is that I cannot go to the dance with Miguel.
I just can’t.
I would feel unfaithful and miserable and I don’t want to let this nice guy think I could ever date anyone but Zach. But I can’t tell him that in front of everyone. I have to find a way to spare him the awkwardness of being turned down.
“So, uh…Jill,” Miguel says, ducking his head to grab my attention. “I wanted to ask you…”
Before he can say the dreaded words, I shoot forward and cup my hand around his ear. “Can I talk to you outside for a second?”
He’s a little thrown off by the request, but he nods. “Of course.”
I smile at him. “Thanks.”
When I glance back at Zach’s locker on the way out the front entrance, he’s gone and my heart drops into my stomach.
Was I stupid to think he was beginning to like me?
Ever stupider to think he’d ask me to homecoming?
He was probably watching all of this dumb high school drama playing out, counting the moments until he could move on to bigger and better things. Smarter girls. I’ve been pining for him for years and I’ve been super obvious about it. Maybe I’ve just been embarrassing myself. Maybe he was just being his usual Zach self offering to help me appease my hormones.
And now…maybe he’s done.
If he wanted more, he would have told me.
He would have fought for me.
So…I guess it’s time to sweep up the pieces of my broken heart and accept reality.
* * *
I sit on the edge of my bed, head in my hands.
Pulling on the strands of my hair until it hurts.
My insides feel like they’re on fire one minute, then the next, I’m hollow.
I can hear the excited voices out in the living room, Harper and her friends taking homecoming pictures, waiting for their dates to arrive. I haven’t heard Jill, but they have Dua Lipa on full blast, so the sweet, individual notes of her voice are probably being drowned out.
This has been the worst week of my life.
Jill no longer even looks at me.
She still lets me give her a ride home after school, but she just hops out without saying goodbye. Doesn’t even wave when she reaches the door. In the hallway, she moves past me like a ghost, her scent torturing me, my arms aching for her.
I know I should be grateful for the time we had together. It was more than I ever expected. Better than I ever dreamed. Worth feeling like I’ve had my heart ripped out through my mouth. But Jesus, I miss her so much. Not just her body and the privilege of touching her, but the way she used to look at me with so much trust. If all else failed, at least I had that. Her faith that I’d always be there, always rescue her. Now it feels like I have nothing.