Collision Course Chapter 18

Me and My Big Mouth

I closed my eyes as icy comprehension flooded me. Oh, crap. She'd taken my words towards Brittany and correlated them to our intimate encounter. I hadn't caught the warning signs in time, and had stuck my foot in my mouth, or up my ass...or maybe both. I'd made it seem like fondling a woman's breasts was as casual an encounter to me as shaking a woman's hand - meaningless, trivial and mundane. But what Sawyer and I had done together, that moment couldn't have been farther away from those words.

I heard her sniffle and choke back tears and then I felt the velvet of her dress brush against me as she stormed past. I opened my eyes and grabbed for her elbow, but she pulled away and turned the corner, out of my sight.

"Shit. Sawyer, wait," I called after her as I sprinted to catch up.

Turning the corner, I glanced at the far end where kids were still loitering around the bathrooms. Sawyer was only a step or two in front of me, so I caught up easily, running around in front of her to make her stop. She paused well before touching me and made a move to the right, which I blocked. She tried the left and I blocked that as well. As I repeatedly asked her to stop, she finally sighed and stood still, looking up at my face.

I swallowed when I saw the slightly black tear streaks down her cheeks. I reached out to wipe one away. "I knew you were mad at me for that. I knew you were more upset than you let on."

She pulled away from me, swiping her fingers under her eyes to dry her own cheeks. "Of course I'm upset, Lucas. I want to be with you. But I don't know what you want." I tried to touch her again but she brushed my hands away. Her cheeks flushed as her voice trembled. "You think I'm pretty, and I obviously turn you on." She gestured at my pants and I felt heat and embarrassment creep through me as she continued. "But you won't be with me." She raised her hand to indicate where Brittany had disappeared down the hallway. "And now I know why."

She lifted her chin, trying to look strong, but it trembled and at that moment she looked more like a heartbroken little girl than the wise woman I was used to seeing. While her next words brought more tears from her eyes, they broke my heart. "It obviously didn't mean to you what it meant to me. You obviously don't feel the same as me. I was obviously 'no big deal'."

Her tears released and I couldn't take it. I grabbed her and held her tight to me. She struggled for a moment against my embrace and then stopped, sagging against me. "No, Sawyer. I promise it wasn't like that...not with you."

I felt a light sob in her body as I pressed against her and I had to swallow my own tears at hurting her. Wasn't I just vowing to protect her from all the jerks and assholes of the world? Who knew I'd be the biggest one.

"No, I was just a release for you because you were having a bad day - that's all I've ever been to you," she cried into my shoulder.

I held her head to me and kissed the top of it. "No, no that's not true...well, it is true but that's not-"

Her head broke away from my grasp as she pulled back to look at me. "It is true?"

Her freshly re-streaked face tore me and my hands came up to brush the black, smudgy tears aside, trying to fix her beautiful makeup. "You and I are nothing like what Brittany and I were." I grabbed her cheeks again, making her keep eye contact with me when she tried to turn away. Swallowing, I let my heart pour out - not conscious of my words, only needing her to know how I felt about her. "It's true that I find comfort in you, Sawyer. So much comfort...if you only understood how much. But it's more than just peace that I find in you...I care for you. You mean so much to me. You mean everything to me. I like you. Really, I do like you."

She pulled back from me, grabbing my wrists and lowering my hands from her face. Slightly shaking her head, her brow furrowing in puzzlement, she softly said, "You like me?" Confusion swept through me, but before I could ask her why she questioned my statement, she clarified. "You tell me that you love me...again, and then you kiss me...again."

I looked away when I realized that in pouring out my feelings for her, I'd understated them. I'd told her on several occasions that I loved her, the most recent a few moments ago on the dance floor. But now, here, when it really mattered, I switched it to "like". I could see how that was confusing. Hell, it was confusing to me and I'm the one that said it. "Sawyer..."

She interrupted me, ducking down to meet my wandering gaze. "And I can see it your eyes that you mean it, and that you're not talking about the friendship kind of love either. But then you pull back, and I don't understand why." I gazed at her helplessly, not sure what I could possibly say to make her understand. She still held my wrists in her hands, almost like she was trapping me. And I did sort of feel that way, trapped by both her body and her words.

But then she switched her grip so our fingers laced together. Still standing a good foot apart from me, she shook her head and whispered over the sounds coming from the busy end of the hall, "I know you've been through a lot, Lucas, and I try to not take it personally when you pull away, but I'm confused." She shook her head more, the loose strands of her messy up-do brushing across her shoulders. "I don't know what you want from me or even how you really feel about me." She shrugged her shoulders and spoke the words that I didn't know how to fix. "You're confusing me."

"Sawyer, I..." I had nowhere to go with that sentence and let it die between us.

She looked at me expectantly, her eyes flicking between mine, almost willing me to tell her why we weren't together. I wished I could. But how could I explain why there could only be friendship between us? Especially when I pushed the limits of that friendship so often.

In my silence, she came up with her own excuse, one that tore me. "Are you using me? Just like that asshole at my old school?"

That jerked me out of my turmoil as a surge of anger sliced through me. How could she compare me to that lowlife? I'd never hurt her like that. The anger spike died down when I realized that I did hurt her. Maybe unintentionally, and maybe not as directly as her jerk-off ex, but I did hurt her. Tenderly, I brought one of our laced-together hands up to stroke the back of her cheek. "No, Sawyer, never."

She swallowed and took a step towards me, closing the distance considerably. "If you're not using me, then why do you pull away? If you like me, then why can't we be together?"

Her lips trembled when she spoke, and another tear dropped to her cheek. I think it was that tear that finally broke me. I felt my own eyes water as I felt the horrid words rising in my throat. The words that I knew would hurt her and confuse her even more. The words that I knew would hurt me and confuse me even more. The words that I knew would make me sound like a lunatic and forever change her opinion of me. They were coming was too late to hold them back, much like the tear rolling down my own cheek.

"Because I'm cheating on Lillian, and I can't let that happen anymore." A light cry escaped me and I swallowed harshly to hold it inside.

Sawyer's mouth dropped open as confusion clearly showed in the crease of her forehead. Her tone was low and flat when she spoke. "What? What do you mean?"

Feeling her pull away from me, even though she wasn't, I dropped her hands and grabbed her forearms, my fingers digging into the soft velvet encasing them. "I'm sorry, but I'm in love with Lil. I don't want to hurt her anymore. Either of you."

She stepped back from me, her eyes searching my face, confusion still clear on her features as she tried to understand what I was telling her. I wanted to rewind the conversation. I wanted to rewind the night. I'd never have kissed her on the dance floor. I'd never mislead her again, and then none of this would be happening right now. Then she wouldn't be looking at me like I was damaged. Then I'd never have to hear the next words she spoke to me.

"You're saying that in the present tense. She's gone, Lucas. You know that...right?"

Feeling more horrid tears slide down my skin, I nodded and took a step towards her. Even though she stayed where she was, I felt her pull farther away. "I know. I do know that, but I still love her." My words came out faster as I watched her face get even more confused. "I dream about Lillian, about what it was like to be together and it feels...just like it used to be. I've found a way to still be with her." My eyes searched hers, frantically, willing her to understand. "Don't you see? It's not that I don't want to be with you - it's that I'm still with her. She's still my girlfriend."

Her face took on a look of incredulity and concern, and I hated seeing it. "But...that's crazy, Luc. That's not real."

Desperation crept into my voice at the thought of her looking at me differently from now on. "It feels real." I shook my head as my hands tightened their grip on her arms. "Who's to say what's more real, if life and dreams feel the same?"

Her hands came up to grab my face. Her grip was tight too. "You can't think like that. You can't live like that."

I smiled, and it felt odd for me to do so, but I wanted her to see that I liked my dream life and I wanted to keep it. "I do think that." Her thumbs started stroking my face, the metal of her ring feeling cool against my tear-streaked cheeks. I shook my head and felt my odd smile getting wider; I probably looked as crazy as I sounded. "I've found a way to spend time with her again, with all of them. I almost always know it's a dream now and I can almost control them. I'm getting really good at it, well, better anyway, but I think with more time I'll be good."

She looked about to protest, her face a mask of concern now, but I beat her to it. "No, I know what you're going to say, but you're wrong. I can live this way. I can try. I have to - it's better than anything out there." I nodded my head over to the rowdy laughter I could hear building on the other side of the hallway from where we were standing.

Her face paled and she dropped her hands from my cheeks. "Even me?" She took a step back from me.

I closed my eyes. Once again, I'd stuck my foot in my mouth. Once again I'd forgotten that she didn't realize how important she was to me, that she was lumping herself in amongst the people I could barely even look at anymore. She was so above them all to me, that it was a little startling that she couldn't see that.

Opening my eyes, I gazed at her heartbroken face. "No, Sawyer. I...I didn't mean it like that."

I stepped up to her, wrapping my arms around her waist, drawing her in for a hug that I felt we both needed. She didn't resist me, but she didn't hug me back either. I swallowed back some awful tears, praying that my callus words and actions tonight hadn't permanently damaged us. So much for giving Sawyer a memorable experience, although, maybe I had succeeded on that point, just not in the way I'd originally intended.

Resting my head on her shoulder, I exhaled into the crook of her neck. "Honestly, Sawyer, you're my only reason to wake up."

Just as I felt her arms come up to my back, the laughing that had been going on at the far end of the hall was suddenly right next to us. I raised my head from Sawyer's body, wondering who was bugging us now. I felt my grip on her tighten when my eyes received their answer.

Josh. Josh had decided to disturb our heart wrenching moment.

Swiping a hand across my wet cheeks, I glared at him, not in the mood for any more tormentors tonight. I hadn't actually sustained eye contact with him in awhile and he seemed amused that I held his stare. From behind him, I heard Will chuckle. My glare switched to Will when I heard him seductively say, "Hey juvy. I like your dress." He eyed Sawyer up and down and I pulled her slightly behind me.

Sawyer didn't exactly need my protection though. From over my shoulder she told him to fuck off. His eyes on her turned mean and I put even more of my body in front of her.

"What do you want?" My eyes flicked between the two of them, but also took in the crowd gathering behind them, clearly expecting a showdown.

Josh crossed his arms over his chest and sneered at me. "Did you like the punch? We made it just for you."

I wasn't too surprised that my suspicions were correct over the punch bowl, so my expression didn't change any. My words took on a heated tone however, as I spoke loud enough for everyone in the hall to hear. "You drugged me and now you spiked the punch? You trying to get kicked out of here?"

Josh smirked, his dark eyes glancing behind him at the gathering masses. Will beside him shifted uneasily, glancing down at Josh and then the crowd, before looking back up to me. Josh took a step towards me and a hush went over the tittering crowd. I could hear a flush from the bathrooms in the distance it was so quiet. Keeping his voice low and cold, Josh said, "No, I'm not trying to get me kicked out."

Taking another step into me, his finger came up to poke my chest. I stood still, making myself not react to his goading. "But you need a little punishment, so, yeah, I had you drugged by poor, stupid Randy...and you can't do anything about it, because no one here believes a God damn thing you say." He was whispering heatedly, right in my face. I could see the crowd behind him bunch their brows, trying to catch a few words, but they weren't. His confession was only being heard by me, and I already knew it.

I roughly pushed him away from me, my control momentarily slipping. His size was nothing compared to mine, so I ended up shoving him back into Will. The crowd made a 'here we go' noise as Will helped right him. Then Will took a step forward, like he was gonna wail on me in Josh's place, but Josh held him back with a hand on his chest. Will was more my size and a fight between us would be more evenly matched strength-wise, but he seemed to be letting Josh take the lead on this fight. Maybe he understood that this was something Josh and I needed to work out. Or maybe he just had a follower mentality and wasn't up to taking the initiative. Yet another reason he sucked as quarterback.

Sawyer behind me was not a follower however, and tried to sneak around me to put her own two cents in. I twisted slightly to put my hands on her shoulders, stopping her. Josh glared over at her, his eyes narrowing at the evident bond between us. One thing that always seemed to flare Josh's temper was Sawyer and I, like he wanted me wallowing in darkness, struggling to hold it together each day, and any glimpse of happiness that I showed was disdainful to him.

Keeping his hard eyes on Sawyer, Josh sneered, "Even your girlfriend thinks you're a drunk." His tone inflected harshly on the word girlfriend and he almost looked like he wanted to spit at her feet. I think he would have, if we were outside. Sawyer bristled in my arms and I held her still, wondering how to get us out of this without fists flying. Where'd all the chaperones go anyway?

Josh held his hand out and stared at it, like he was reading a letter. "You were...impaired. I understand." He looked up at me, his face gloating. He was talking loud enough for everyone to hear now and a buzz went through the crowd.

I looked back at Sawyer as his words triggered a memory. He was miming reading a letter and he was implicating my girlfriend, which the school assumed Sawyer was. Recognition flared in Sawyer's face at the same time it did in mine. Sawyer had written that in the note we'd passed back in forth in English, the day after our "incident" on the couch. She hadn't meant it like Josh thought she did, but it sounded bad, really bad.

He'd seen that? Where had he seen that? Didn't Sawyer have that note? I searched her face while she furrowed her brow and stared out over the hall, her eyes flicking back and forth like she was trying to remember what had happened to that incriminating evidence.

Anger flashed through me at the thought of Josh's eyes on that intimate conversation, which probably meant a good chunk of the school had read it too. Sawyer looked back at me, color flushing her cheeks, and I knew she'd just realized that too. I tried to remember what that note had said, but all I could remember was what we were talking about - our moment of near-sex. I cringed at that sacred moment flying around the school.

My self-imposed rule of not ever engaging Josh again, vanished in my anger and embarrassment. But more than that, it vanished because I knew how much Sawyer would be hurt be the idea of those words swirling out of control. I didn't want Sawyer hurt or harassed by Josh. I'd do anything to prevent that.

Releasing Sawyer, I walked up to Josh and shoved his chest again. He was more prepared for that and shoved me back. The crowd behind him buzzed with energy and tightened ranks, effectively cutting off Sawyer's and my escape to the gym. Irritated at the entire evening I yelled, "I wasn't drinking, Josh!"

Everyone in that hallway knew exactly what I was talking about. Everyone knew I was talking about the night of the crash. The room silenced, expecting an answer to the questions I always dodged. Aside from Josh and me scuttling back and forth, you could have heard a pin drop.

"Oh, come on, Luc - no one buys that!" Josh shoved me again, pushing me into Sawyer. She stumbled and I twisted to prevent her from falling. I turned my head back to Josh when he added, "There's a witness anyway, Luc. Someone saw you slamming back beers, so you can stop acting like such a fucking innocent!"

A buzz of noise went through the crowd and Will beside Josh crossed his arms over his chest and met Josh's eye, nodding. Several other heads were nodding too. Not all, some faces looked surprised, but the majority were not startled by Josh's proclamation. This was apparently something most of the student body had already accepted about that night. I was surprised by it, as I'd yet to hear it.

My face felt like all the blood had rushed from it as I stepped away from Sawyer and up to Josh. He ran a hand through his dark hair but didn't back away.

"What...who?" Even before I said it, I knew. Who else in this school would spread lies and gossip about me, all in the hopes of bringing me down a peg? Who else, but that jealous little bitch. My face twisted into a sneer as I answered my own question. "Brittany."

Josh smirked. "Do you remember seeing her there now?"

I ran both hands through my hair and grunted in frustration. I heard Sawyer say something behind me, something about Brittany being a cunt, but my focus was all on Josh and that damn smirking smile on his face. "God, Josh! She's lying! You know she's a liar. She's always made up crap about me, trying to start shit. She wasn't there! She's mad at me for ignoring her or something. She was jealous of Lil, because I wouldn't touch her anymore!" I knew I was ranting as I practically yelled at Josh, the entire crowd listening intently, but I couldn't hold it back anymore. "She wasn't fucking there! No one from school was there!"

Josh stepped up to me, his face as dark as the black on black outfit he was wearing. He poked a finger in my chest again. "How convenient for you."

I ran my hand through my hair, ruining any semblance of order, and gestured at my chest that he seemed to love poking. "Damn it, Josh, you know me." I frantically patted myself as I shook my head. "Do I drink? Have I ever been a drunk?"

He shoved me back, his hands clenching like he wanted to do more. "That night - yes! There was beer spilled all over you, Luc! My cousin was at the hospital - he says you reeked of it!"

"It was open in the car, Josh, but it was Darren's, not mine." I threw my hands up in exasperation and felt Sawyer's come up to rest on my shoulder, trying to calm me down. It worked a little bit and in a quieter voice I said, "Why...why do believe the rumor and not me?"

Josh stepped right into my face, his eyes wild with fury and hatred. I barely even recognized the kid I used to know. Seething, he screeched, "Because you got away with it! You got away with killing them all! You didn't even get so much as a fine for the open beer can! You got away scot-free and everyone knows why!"

Feeling tears sting my eyes, both from anger and sadness, I yelled back, "What the hell are you talking about?" Sawyer's hand tightened on my shoulder and I heard her say something about leaving, but Josh was in my face and that's all I could focus on.

Not backing up an inch, he yelled back, "Your mom, Luc! You got away with it because your mom is fucking the sheriff! He covered for you, fixed your test at the hospital - all for his whore!"

That was when I saw red. That was when I didn't care about getting kicked out of this school. That was when I didn't care that Sawyer was standing right behind me or that Will was on the other side of Josh, looking ready to assist if needed, or that a large mass of witnesses was behind them. That was when I didn't care that I'd made myself a promise to never let Josh get the better of me.

That was when Josh got the better of me.

My fist came around and solidly connected with his jaw. I had size and strength behind me, and his scrawny frame was no match. His head jerked around with the hit and he collapsed to the floor. My hand throbbed from the connection but I ignored it, keeping a tight fist for when he stood back up, for when we finally finished this. I stood over him, breathing heavy, as pure venom poured through my veins.

"Fuck you!"

He looked up at me, slightly dazed but grinning broadly, a trail of blood dripping from a cut across his bottom lip. He'd wanted a fight with me for awhile now and he was finally gonna get one. He was small, but he was fast. He sprinted back to his feet and socked me in the gut before I could block it. The crowd behind us started chanting for a fight and I knew this was gonna end with me being evicted from this school forever.

I pushed him back as the wind was knocked from me. He made to tackle me, but he was suddenly grabbed from behind. As I panted to get my breath back, I looked over at Randy holding Josh's arms behind his back. Will glared at Randy but made no move to separate the two of them. Josh cursed and tried to pull away from the large linebacker, but if he wasn't a match for me physically, then he definitely wasn't a match for Randy.

Ignoring the look from Randy that clearly said 'get the hell out of here', I stepped right up to Josh's seething face. Rage drove me to my next words and I wasn't even aware of saying them.

"Fuck you and your lies!" I glanced up at the sea of faces watching, always watching. As hatred filled me, I didn't even see the distinctness that made them individual people. I only saw a blur of gossiping, heckling, cruel, humanoid blobs in various shapes, sizes and colors. My mind flicked back over the countless times they'd laughed at me, stared at me, tormented me...I was sick of all of them.

"Fuck all of you and your lies! You want to hear what truth sounds like?" I stepped back from Josh and gestured my hand over the quiet crowd. "Here's some truth - I wasn't drunk that night and I remember the whole fucking thing! It wasn't alcohol that screwed me up, it was the stupid weather. The God damn rain ruined everything." My voice cracked and the indistinct shapes watered as my enraged eyes filled with tears. "That damn rain came out of nowhere and hit hard, like someone turned on a fucking shower. I slammed on the brakes to stop and lost control of the car. I fucked up - completely sober and they all died because of it!" I gestured at myself with both hands while I screamed at the crowd. "And I wish every day that I'd died with them!"

Josh had stopped squirming against Randy as I'd begun my rant, and stared at me blankly, his anger seemingly sapped. Mine wasn't yet. I stepped in his face again and Randy dropped his arms from Josh and brought those long arms around Josh, to my shoulders, warning me to stay back.

"You can't hurt me, Josh...because I already wish I were dead."

I backed away from him as icy realization hit me. I'd said too much. I'd said way too much. I felt Sawyer's hands on my back and her sweet voice finally reentered my head. She was begging me to leave with her. I took another step back and looked at Josh again and then the hushed crowd. "So just leave me alone," I whispered. "All of you."

I turned to head to the locker rooms, needing to run away from this mess and hide for awhile. Immediately Coach stepped out from around the corner. His arms were crossed over his school-colored polo shirt and his hard eyes took in me and then the crowd behind me. I knew I was busted. I knew he'd heard and probably seen that entire fight. My face fell as I realized I was about to be tossed out of here, for good this time.

He narrowed his eyes at me as he barred my way. "Problem here, West?"

"No, Coach, I was just leaving." I knew he wasn't going to buy that, but what else could I say to him?

He nodded and pointed through the crowd to the gym. "Exit's that way."

My mouth dropped open as I stared at him. There was no way he hadn't heard me yelling, and there was no way he'd missed the crowd chanting "fight". Plus, he'd already looked over at Josh, and his cut lip was a dead giveaway. Was he really just going to let me walk?

As I stupidly stared at him, Sawyer tugging ineffectually on my arm, his eyes softened. He put a hand on my shoulder. "I'm so sorry I misjudged you, Luc," he whispered. I could only blink away tears and nod, as I finally let Sawyer pull me through the crowd that had started to disperse at the arrival of a teacher.

She pulled me past a confused looking Will and a sympathetic looking Randy. I heard Randy mutter something as I passed, but I was too dazed to register the sound and only kept staring at Sawyer's heels in front of me, leading me to freedom from this horrid night. Before we disappeared into the gym, I heard Coach's booming voice yell, "Not so fast, McCord. I'd like a word."

As we hit the loud music and swirling lights of the gym, I was a little startled to see the party still going strong. I felt like my entire world had just started rotating the other way. Josh's words seared my brain, and I could hardly focus on placing one foot in front of the other as I followed Sawyer.

She stopped mid-gym and turned to me, her hands coming up to cup my cheeks. Her eyes were wide and concerned as she flicked between mine, but my head was swirling with so much residual anger and pain that I couldn't tell her I was fine. I couldn't tell her anything at all. Her mouth moved and I heard vague speech, but heated words echoed in my head and I couldn't hear hers.

"Your mom is fucking the sheriff! He covered for you...for his whore!"

Sawyer's face directly in front of me started to get hazy around the edges as I started sucking in faster and faster breaths. I could see her mouthing "breathe, Luc" over and over, but still couldn't hear her over the music and Josh's voice in my head. Her image started to swim, and panic started to take me. I backed away from her hands holding my face and looked around the gym, looked for something to ground me. All I saw were faces I didn't know - staring at me, laughing, talking, and whispering.

Their imagined voices filtered into my head - "See him throw up...drunk...loser...saw him pounding beers...his mom screwed..." I put my hands over my ears to stop the flood of whispers that I was translating into horrid gossip.

I turned, and ran right into Ms. Reynolds. Her wide eyes took in my expression and she grabbed my shoulders. "Luc? What's wrong?" I could only shake my head, barely able to breathe, let alone speak.

I broke away from her grasp...and ran. I bumped into quite a few startled couples, but it didn't stop me. I didn't stop until I burst through the main doors of the gym and darted out to the parking lot. I sank to my knees on the concrete, letting the cold, crisp air fill my lungs. It burned painfully, but felt good as I gasped it down. My breath finally evened out as my panic attack started to subside.

Grief welled in me and I put my head in my hands and let the tears fall. What a mess I'd made of tonight. I'd only wanted to show Sawyer a good time and here I was, dramatically bawling on my knees in the parking lot. I don't know how long I stayed there, my slacks getting wet from the cold ground, but eventually I heard two sets of feet hurrying my way.

One paused behind me while the other ducked down to my side. Arms encircled me and Sawyer's comforting smell hit me. My hands dropped from my face and reached around her waist. I exhaled heavily as I rested my head against her shoulder. She kissed my head before leaning hers against me. I swallowed repeatedly, sucking in the guilt and grief while she rocked me and urged me to let it out.

When I felt more in control, I raised my head to look at her. Her eyes glistened with sympathy as she returned my gaze. "I'm so sorry I ruined your night," I whispered.

She shook her head and kissed my temple. "Don't...don't worry about it. Are you okay?"

I choked back more tears and shook my head. I wasn't sure what I was, but I was nowhere near okay. From behind me I heard, "Do you want some help getting him home, Sawyer?"

I looked over my shoulder and saw Ms. Reynolds standing behind us, shivering in her light dress as she vigorously rubbed her bare arms. Sawyer glanced at me and I gave her a wide-eyed, pleading look. She understood and shook her head at Ms. Reynolds.

"No, I can handle this, thank you."

Ms. Reynolds didn't look convinced, but only nodded her head as Sawyer helped me stand up. Wanting her to leave us, I tried to throw on a smile. Ms. Reynolds frowned even more, so I stopped trying to look happy. She sighed and looked over at Sawyer. "Call my cell if you need anything, Sawyer. Oh, and tell your parents I'll come over next week sometime."

I furrowed my brow at that and Ms. Reynolds shifted her attention to me. She patted my arm, but looked like she wanted to hug me. "Everything will be okay, Lucas. Have a good break...all right?"

I nodded stupidly and she turned around and briskly walked back to the warm gym.

Turning to face Sawyer, I couldn't think of anything to say to her but, "Do you know Ms. Reynolds?"

She turned her lip up that that was the first thing I'd choose to comment on, and sighed, understanding my vague question. "She's my mom's second cousin...or something. She agreed to keep an eye on me for her."

I looked away and nodded, finally seeing why Ms. Reynolds always seemed to put so much personal attention on her, calling her parents if she skipped pep rallies, frequently keeping her for a few minutes alone after purity club. Sawyer had a spy.

Sawyer's hand grasped mine and she pulled me toward her car. I glumly followed, hating just about everything that had happened tonight. The pounding music from the gym had faded to nearly nothing once outside, and by the time we got to her car, the night was quiet. I handed her the car keys, having held them for her, since that fabulous dress didn't have any pockets.

She opened my door and helped me in like I was a toddler. I hated that she felt the need to mother me after everything that had happened between us, but I silently sat there as she buckled me in and then got in on her side.

She took her corsage off her wrist and looped it around one end of her rearview mirror. I watched as she adjusted some of the bent and broken flower petals, thinking those crushed flowers summed up our night pretty well. Melancholy swept over me and I stared out the window while she started the car.

She didn't move the car though, and I looked back over at her after a few long seconds idling in the parking lot, the heater on high. "Sawyer?" I said quietly.

She didn't answer me at first, only warmed her hands with the blasting heat before turning it down to low. She plucked at a sleeve of her dress and then twisted in her seat to face me. Her expression serious, she calmly said, "Did you mean it?"

Not knowing what part of the evening she was referencing, I gave her a questioning look and shook my head. "Mean what?"

She looked down for a split second before lifting her eyes to mine again. There was moisture in the grayness and I hated seeing it again. I started to reach out for her face, but her words froze me solid. "Did you mean that you wish you were dead?" Her eyes flicked over mine as my stomach dropped. "Do you really wish that you were dead every day?"

That moisture built, welling into a small sea before breaking over the dam and trailing down her cheek. I watched it slither down her skin, wondering how to answer her question in the most honest and vague way. Whenever anyone asks that, the answer they expect to hear is "no". No, of course I didn't mean it. I was exaggerating, or it was a heat of the moment thing. But for me...

I pulled my gaze from her cheek and met her eye. Shaking my head, I whispered, "No. I didn't mean it. I don't wish I were dead..."

Not every day...

That was the defining point for me, but it wasn't one I was about to share with her. The fact was, I did think about death. How could I not after what I'd endured. Immediately after the crash, I had longed for it. I hadn't wanted to live in a world without my friends. I never shared that desire with anyone, but it was in me...buried. And on bad enough days, it sometimes resurfaced.

Sawyer nodded and a light smile lit her lips. She exhaled and her head came down to rest against mine. Her hand came up to grasp my cheek and she nodded again. My hand came up to the back of her head and I shifted her to my shoulder, pulling her to me for a tight hug.

As we embraced in the pinkish light of the fluorescent bulb above us, the sound of her radio softly playing the only noise, a nagging thought crept into the back of my head. A remembered conversation with my counselor, a feeling that somehow I was missing something horribly simple and all this suffering...didn't need to be happening.

But as Sawyer pulled away from me, saying that she'd drive me home now, the feeling passed and a rolling wave of intense anger hit me. I had no desire to go home. Not when my beloved mother...was possibly a lying whore.

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