Page 20 of Hefty

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For the millionth time in an hour, the scene in the school hallway replays behind my eyelids. The way she smiled up at Miguel, right before he asked to her homecoming.

Of course she accepted, though I didn’t stick around to hear her answer.

Of course she did.

Her association with me caused people to laugh at her in the hallway. Did I think she’d want to go anywhere with me after that? Especially a school dance?

I’d definitely have to gain a few pounds.

Just knowing she heard that comment makes my throat close up. Why? My size has never been a secret. She didn’t magically forget. It’s probably part of the reason I was so safe for her. She didn’t have to feel self-conscious around someone twice her size.

Honestly, that doesn’t seem like Jill at all, but then again, I never expected her to cut me off, begin completely ignoring me over a few wisecracks in the hallway. If she’d talk to me, I would apologize for bringing her that kind of negative attention. It’s the very thing I wanted to avoid. I’m supposed to protect her.

With a gulp, I shove to my feet and throw open my closet looking at the garment bag hanging in the corner. The tuxedo I rented Monday night, hours after she gave me her virginity. I must have been fucking delusional practicing how I was going to ask her in the rearview mirror of my truck the next morning.

A movement of color outside captures my attention.

It’s the girls outside in their dresses, greeting the guys as they arrive, and I can’t help but drift toward the window, starved for the sight of Jill. I’m already in hell, might as well descend even deeper by seeing her with Miguel.

After a few seconds of searching for her blonde hair with no results, I frown.

Where is she?

Still in the house?

I hesitate only a moment before leaving my bedroom and searching the rooms, just to make sure she’s okay. But she’s nowhere. And my pulse starts to spike, bolts tightening on either side of my neck.

Harper sticks her head back in through the open front door to grab her keys off the entry table and I stomp toward her. “Hey. Where is Jill? I don’t see her outside.”

My sister blinks. “She’s not coming.”

“Why? Where is she meeting Miguel?”

“She’s not. She turned him down gently.” Harper looks in the mirror and pokes at her hair. “Miguel is going with someone else.”

“What?” Confusion grips me, along with a deep sense of foreboding. “Are you telling me Jill isn’t going to the dance at all?”

“Yes. That is what I’m telling you.”

No. No, that’s not right. Jill is supposed to be at homecoming. She’s even on the ballot for homecoming queen, as she should be. Dressing up and dancing and being with her friends…those are things she’s supposed to experience, even if they’re not with me.

Even if it kills me.

“Why?” I rasp, shaking my head. “I don’t understand.”

Something in my tone causes Harper to look over sharply. Her expression turns sympathetic and a little indecisive. And that sense of foreboding triples, making my palms sweat. “Zach…” She sighs, firms her shoulders. “Seriously. How do you not know that Jill has been in love with you since we were kids?”

My heart holds its beats. No way I heard that right. “No. That can’t be true.”

“Oh no? Think about it. Have you seen her date anyone? Do you think people just haven’t been asking out the drop-dead gorgeous cheerleader?” My sister throws up her hands. “She was waiting for you.”

A blade drives into the center of my chest.

I’m suddenly standing on shifting sand, my legs unstable.

Jill Harding? In love with me?

“She told me you guys kissed, you know.” Harper runs a finger under her eye, fixing her makeup. “She was so excited. Thought maybe you were starting to have feelings for her.”

“Starting to?” I claw at my throat, trying to relieve the terrible crowding sensation. “Goddammit. Why are you only telling me this now?”

Harper shrugs. “Honestly, I didn’t know if you felt the same way about her. You play everything so close to the vest. She’s my best friend and I didn’t want to risk making things awkward for no reason.” She raises an eyebrow. “Do you feel the same way about Jill?”

I plant my hands on my knees, doubled over from the repeated blows. “I’ve loved her my whole fucking life.”

“Oh,” Harper breathes, stricken. “I’m sorry, Zach.”

Every single smile Jill has ever given me suddenly looks different. Now instead of just seeing a sweet girl being friendly to the big boy, I see the hope in her eyes. I see her knuckles turning white around her backpack straps and her stuttering my name. I see her running to catch up with me after football games when she could have been with her popular friends.