The Rising Page 55

“She told Daniel.”

“What? No. Why—?”

“You drew straws and you let her win.”

“Whoa, wait. No. I never told her that I let—”

“But you did, right?”

I paused. “Yes, because she was crazy about him.”

“And you weren’t. He was just a friend.”


Rafe nodded, as if it was what he expected. So why were we even having this conversation?

“Wait a second. Serena told Daniel that I let her win?”

He nodded.

“Why would she do that?”

“Because she knew he’d only go to the dance with her if he knew you weren’t asking him and that you weren’t asking because you didn’t want to.”

“I . . . I don’t understand.”

“Don’t you?” Rafe’s voice softened. “Daniel wanted you to ask him to the dance. I don’t know why he agreed to go with Serena. The obvious answer is that he hoped to make you jealous, but that doesn’t sound like him. I think he agreed because they were friends and it would be rude not to. That sounds more like Daniel.”

“No.” My heart beat so fast my words came out breathy. “It wasn’t like that.”

“Yeah, it was. He went to the dance with her because he felt he should. And maybe, a little bit, because you broke his heart.”

I looked up sharply. “No. I never—”

Rafe held up his hands. “Not on purpose. Corey said it wasn’t like that. Daniel didn’t go out with Serena because he was mad at you. He just . . . I don’t know. Corey figures he was killing time, maybe trying to show you he’d be a good boyfriend, maybe even hoping you’d realize you did have feelings for him. Only you didn’t.”

I thought of what Daniel had told me a few days ago, about his relationship with Serena. We were doing fine. But it wasn’t . . . going anywhere. When she first asked me to that dance, I didn’t feel right saying no. She was a friend, and—

And . . .

He’d stopped there. Just stopped and looked away.

And you didn’t want to ask me.

No, it wasn’t like that. Rafe was wrong. Corey was—

“Corey told you this?” I said. “When did he tell you? Why would he tell you?”

“It was at Salmon Creek, after you and I started getting together. He was trying to scare me off. If you dated summer guys, that was fine. But this didn’t look like a summer thing and he wanted me to know, in no uncertain terms, that you were taken. I ignored him. Sure, I could tell Daniel liked you, but if he hadn’t made a move, that was his problem. You snooze, you lose. I thought he couldn’t have been serious about it or he’d do something. But then, when we were hanging outside that helicopter, and I saw his face—he was going to hold on to you even if it meant he fell out that door with us. . . .”

Rafe shook his head, turned away, and took a few steps before stopping, his back still to me. “I realized I hadn’t seen things right. Daniel wasn’t sitting on the sidelines because he wasn’t sure how he felt about you. He was waiting. Waiting for a sign from you, because he was afraid to make a move and risk losing you as a friend. I felt bad for him because I was sure you didn’t feel the same way. And then . . .”

He turned now, slowly. “When I got back to Salmon Creek, it was just . . . this whirlwind of stuff. You were so happy to see me that I couldn’t doubt what you felt for me, especially after I confessed about being wired and it didn’t make a difference. You wanted me. No doubt. When you insisted on telling Daniel about the wire, I told myself that was the right thing to do, as a friend. Nothing more. But it was like turning on a switch. A little tickling doubt, and now every time his name is mentioned or I see you two together, I’m watching for signs. And I’m seeing them. Something changed after that helicopter crash. I notice you two looking at each other, whispering together, and maybe whatever I’m seeing was always there, but I don’t think it was like this.”

He took a deep breath and walked back toward me. I stood rooted, unable to move, much less speak. Rafe stopped right in front of me, then rested one hand on my waist.

“I need you to tell me I’m imagining things, Maya.”

“Wh-what?” I managed.

He leaned in and a strand of hair fell forward on his cheek. I stared at that strand. I wanted to reach out and tuck it back, laugh, and tell him he was crazy. But I couldn’t. Underneath the panic swirling through me was something harder. A tiny core of anger. Not just anger. Hurt. Confusion. Betrayal.

“Tell me I’m wrong, Maya. Tell me you feel absolutely nothing for Daniel except friendship.”

“Or what?”

He blinked at my tone. “I—”

“We are getting ready for what could be the most important meeting of our lives,” I said, brittle words snapping as I forced them out. “I have spent the last few hours struggling not to run behind the nearest tree and puke. We have to pull this off or I might never see my parents again. And you decide we need to do this now? No, you decide I need to do this now. Forget everything else. My boyfriend is feeling jealous so I need to reassure him?”

His eyes widened then. Sparks of panic. He said something, but I didn’t catch it. Blood pounded in my ears.

“—right,” Rafe was saying. “It can wait. I never meant to talk about this now.” He paused, then squared his shoulders. “But at some point we do need to talk about it. He’s in love with you, Maya—”

“No, he’s not.”

“Yes, he is, and everyone knows it. Not just Corey. That’s why Sam hates me. She thinks Daniel deserves what he wants, and what he wants is—”

“No, it is not!”

The words came out as a roar that had Rafe stumbling back. Tears filled my eyes, the forest shimmering through them. My chest tightened until I had to pant to breathe. Slowly I lifted my gaze to look at him.

“Why would you tell me this? He’s my friend. My best friend. And now every time I look at him, I’m going to know he wants more, and . . .” Quick breaths, gasping for air. “And it’ll never be the same. That’s what you wanted, isn’t it? To make sure that even if it is just friendship, it will end.”

A scent wafted past on the breeze. When I tried to catch it, it was already gone, but somehow it lingered in my brain and swirled with the anger and the hurt and I felt my hands start to throb. I clenched them into fists.

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