Page 23


I sigh. “Okay.”
There’s no point in arguing.
Mel always gets what she wants.
Bryce’s arm is around my shoulder and he’s pulling me close to his side. I was worried about having to deal with Blade, but to one up me, he brought Peyton along. She’s giggling like a schoolgirl every five minutes when he whispers things in her ear. Mom and Jake are cuddled up to my left, on a blanket. Ripley and Brody are sitting on a log to my right and Melanie is in front of me, legs tucked to her chest, eyes on the fire.
It’s a beautiful, crisp night. There’s a cool breeze blowing past, occasionally rustling my hair. Bryce takes those chances to tuck those strands behind my ears again. An affectionate, yet subtle move. It helps take my mind off Peyton and Blade. I feel a certain level of calm sitting here, I must admit. Everyone seems at ease, and happy. I haven’t felt like that in a long time.
“So Aria,” Peyton says, causing my head to jerk up, “Blade told me you’re studying.”
I nod. “Yes, Medicine.”
“What kind?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
“That’s cool,” she says, snuggling into Blade. I want to smack her face.
That isn’t even warranted. I’ve lost it.
“Did you have a boyfriend back home?” she goes on, as if Bryce isn’t sitting beside me with his arm around me.
Classy, Peyton.
“Ah,” I say, letting my eyes flick to Blade who is watching me closely, “not really.”
“There was a guy,” Melanie pipes up. “But he was a complete twat.”
“Melanie.” Mom laughs softly.
“He was, Nancy. Not to mention his problem . . .”
I want to kick her.
“Problem?” Ripley asks, suddenly intrigued.
“He has an exceptionally small penis.”
She’s shooting daggers at Blade, who is shooting them at me. Everyone bursts out laughing, even Mom. Her and Jack stand, announcing they’re going to get more drinks. This isn’t a good thing, because it means Blade is free to fire back at me like the asshole he is. And he does.
“Maybe you were just sloppy and clingy,” he mutters.
Ripley glares at his brother. “Ease up, Bro.”
“Or maybe,” Blade goes on, “you were just too damned easy. No man likes a girl who just opens her legs.” He turns to Peyton. “You wouldn’t be so loose, would you sweetheart?”
My heart twists. It twists so hard it fucking burns. His words are like a slap to my face. Melanie fires back, because even if I wanted to, there are no words. “She’s got a whole lot more class than you, fuck face.”
Brody actually snorts, which makes everyone go silent.
I’d laugh, I’d even cheer that he made some sort of sound, but I can’t. My heart is aching so much I want to vomit.
“Leave her alone, dude,” Bryce finally says. Oh, it takes him this long to defend me. Well done, Bryce.
“What’re you goin’ to do?” Blade snarls.
“Excuse me. I’m not feeling well,” I whisper, pushing to my feet.
I rush up to the house, not looking at any of them. His words hurt, because they were true. I was easy. I just jumped into bed with him, for my first time, without hesitation. All because I didn’t want to be the virgin in college. Now I’m a joke. He was looking for an easy lay and a weekend of fun, and I gave it to him.
“Where are you going?” Mom calls and I jerk.
I didn’t even see them heading towards me. “I’m not feeling well. I’m going to bed.”
She stops when she reaches me and takes my shoulders. “Are you okay?”
I nod, avoiding her eyes. “I think a lie down will help.”
“Okay, call me if you need.”
I nod and rush past and up into the house.
When I reach my room, I lock my door and climb into bed. There, I cry myself to sleep for the first time in a long time.
Damn Blade.
He’s breaking my heart all over again.
I wake up panting. The sun is shining through the window and heating my blankets. I kick them off and sit up, clutching my chest. I had a nightmare, the same one as always but it was intense. It was so real. As if I were there all over again. Distressed, I get out of bed and rush out of the room towards the bathroom. I lock myself in and splash my face.
It’s really upset me, which is unusual. I’m not saying it doesn’t upset me when it happens—of course it does—but this one has really shaken me. My nerves are shot, my hands are trembling, and I can’t seem to control my breathing. I think a walk might help. After last night, I just need to clear my head. I get dressed quickly, and tie my hair before heading out into the living area.
I stop suddenly when I hear hushed voices and the mention of my name.
Unable to help myself, I press up against the wall and listen.
“It happens quite a bit,” Jack is saying. “Nancy said she’s been having them since she was a little girl. Some nights are worse than others.”
They’re talking . . . about me.
“She was screaming on and off all night,” Ripley mutters.
“Fuckin’ freaked me out,” Blade grumbles. “Why is she havin’ dreams like that?”
“Look, what I’m about to tell you stays between us. If she hasn’t told you already, she isn’t ready for you to know so you keep this to yourselves. I’m not sure if you’ve wondered what happened to Nancy’s husband and other daughter. I know you’ve heard them mentioned.”