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“Shut up,” I barked at them. I had sought this table out to get away from that shit. Another hush fell over the tables, but it was from surprise. I could sense the interest. All eyes turned to the table and a few girls in our class recognized Marissa. They started whispering to each other, and I was beyond caring what would happen because of this. I turned back to Marissa. “I really just want to sit. I don’t want to talk. There’s no drama at our table in class. I didn’t think there would be drama at your table during lunch either.”
“Oh.” Concern filled her eyes, and she bit her lip. “Oh man.”
The third girl had crawled back onto her seat. She was watching me like I was a lion ready to tear into her. She was cowering. The other girl was just watching me. Her eyes kept darting from Marissa to me. After another few minutes, she was the one who broke the silence. She cried out, “Oh god, Marissa. Let him sit.”
“Paige, I don’t know.”
The friend leaned across the table and whispered, “Damage is already done. People are already looking.”
Marissa gazed around the room and sighed, nodding to me. “You can sit.”
I frowned at them. Did they really think I would hurt them that bad? I didn’t take the seat next to them. Marissa was on the end. Her two friends were across from her. I sat at the other end of their table, keeping three chairs between Marissa and myself. All three of them watched me but they didn’t talk to me. After a few more minutes, I realized they had taken me literally. They really weren’t going to talk to me, so I turned and began eating. When I was done, I glanced up and was surprised again. They were still watching me. As I thanked them for letting me sit there, I took my tray and stood up. People turned away and I realized they had all been watching. It wasn’t just those three.
When I put the tray away and turned for the exit, that’s when I glanced at the other side of the cafeteria. All my friends were on that side. They were confused, but I saw Kate standing, glaring across the room. Her arms were folded across her chest as she pinned Marissa down with near-hate in her gaze.
Walking over to her, I stood in front of her.
Kate looked up. The dark look in eyes didn’t leave. “Why were you sitting over there?”
“Because I can.” I narrowed my eyes. “Stop looking over there.”
“You’re lunch friends with her now?”
“You don’t get to have an opinion. Remember?”
She moved to the side and the glare was directed back to them.
I moved to block her again. “Stop it, Kate.”
She gave me a tight smile, but her eyes were cold. “You don’t get to have an opinion.”
I glanced to Logan and saw him watching. He was frowning, gazing at where I had been sitting too. When his gaze caught mine, he nodded and stood from his table. Walking to us, he stood next to me, blocking Kate’s view again.
She let out a disgusted sound. “So because the big bad Kade brothers are standing up to me, you think you can tell me what to do?” She turned that chilly smile to me. “All you do is preach about how I have no claim on you. Every time I’m dumb enough to f**k you, you leave me with the same message. Message received, Mason, but it goes both ways.” She glanced to the guy whose lap she vacated. “I’m with Tim now and I won’t be coming around anymore.”
I didn’t care. “Yeah, okay. Whatever makes you feel better.”
Tim didn’t stand up. As Logan and I looked at him, his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he swallowed. When he wiped his palms on his pants, I told him, “Relax, Cosello. I have no beef with you.” Then I lowered my voice, “Kate, leave the girl alone. All I did was sit with her at lunch.”
She lifted her chin up. “Like I said before, you have no business telling me what to do. I’ll do what I please.”
I sighed. Tate was standing too, but she remained at her table. Recognizing the gleam in her eye, I suppressed a curse. If I said anything more, I’d make it worse. Tate saw a new victim. Kate was distracted. As I stood there, my jaw clenched. I hadn’t realized this would happen, but both groups were looking at Marissa like she was prey they could both enjoy.
I turned around. Marissa was watching us, her face pale.
Kate started laughing. “Christ, look at you. What’s wrong? Don’t tell me you actually care about the girl?” I thought the only person you care about is standing next to you. He’s all you protect. Even Monson gets the shaft sometimes. She gestured to the side where Nate had stood, but he was waiting for my call. I shook my head. If he came over, it would be worse. Kate would become even more determined and Tate would be even more relentless, seeing a distraction from her own torment. Then Kate distracted me when she said, “Don’t beat yourself up, Mason. It’s not the first time that girl’s stepped out of place. We had a little round with her at the beginning of school.”
“Stop this, Kate.”
She laughed and shook her head. “Not your problem. Remember? Those are the terms you’ve always set. What I do is none of your business.” Then she walked away.
A sick feeling took root in me, but I didn’t know what to do. Kate controlled the girls. She had for a long time and I knew things went down that the guys never knew about. When I glanced to Tate, she was smug. Her gaze collided with mine and I knew she was remembering my promise. I was going to break her how she had broken Logan, but still I hadn’t done anything.
Logan was following my train of thought. “She doesn’t care.”
He glanced at Marissa too and frowned, then turned back to me. “Tate. You told her that you’d hurt her. She’s going after that girl because of that now, to hurt you back.”
“I haven’t done anything to her.”
“Yeah, you have. Kate wouldn’t have gone after Tate if it wasn’t for you. People know what happened, Mason. They know she came onto you. It was obvious even though we didn’t say anything. They figured it out. Tate blames you for what Kate’s been doing to her.” He nodded in Marissa’s direction. “If you want to help her, distance yourself from her. The girls will do what they always do. You can’t stop them.”
He was right.
Then he said, “Mom called last night.”
I stopped thinking about Marissa. “What?”