Sebastian had done that. Many, many times he’d come right through the balcony door unannounced, and sometimes it had been so, so awkward. Andre used to get so mad, especially when Sebastian would plop his butt right down on the bed and not leave.
“But when you broke up with him, it wasn’t just relief I felt. Hell no. I was happy. When I heard you and Abbi out here talking about breaking up with him, I remember thinking, ‘Now’s my chance.’”
Everything in me stilled. Everything. “But...but you were with Skylar—”
“It’s why I broke up with her. She was right about me caring more about my friends than her, but it wasn’t the way she thought. It was because I cared more about you,” he said. “I thought about you the way I should’ve been thinking about her.”
My lips parted.
“But I never believed for a second you felt the same way. I didn’t want to risk ruining our friendship.” Sebastian leaned close again, his head not very far from mine. “When you kissed me, I... Hell, I panicked. Kind of feel like a coward now. I should’ve said something to you. I can’t go back and change that, but I want you to know that I didn’t regret it. I regret not being the one to do it.”
Sebastian took in a deep breath. “I wanted to talk to you about this that night. That’s why I said I needed to talk to you. And looking back, I should’ve told Skylar she could wait. God, I wish more than anything I’d done that, because...because I don’t think you’d have been in that car. Who knows what would’ve happened? But I like you, Lena. You know that.” There was that self-conscious laugh again. “I... Well, I really like you and I wish I had kissed you by that pool. I wish I’d told you how—” he cleared his throat “—how badly I’ve wanted to kiss you for a long time. How I don’t look at you as just one of my friends.”
Was this a dream? It had to be, because this felt like one. These were the words I’d lived for what felt like forever waiting to hear.
“I think... I think I know how you feel, but I don’t expect you to say anything right now,” he said, his eyes finding mine again and searching intently. “I just needed you to know.”
I stared at him, unable to fully process what he was saying.
I mean, I got it. I did. He was telling me that he’d wanted to kiss me. Had been wanting to. That he liked me liked me. And had for a while. I was shocked, stunned into silence. I’d hit the jackpot of fantasies coming true, but now? Now? When I was so undeserving of having what I so badly wanted handed to me on a silver platter? Now, when one of my best friends was dead, and three more friends along with her, because I...I didn’t stop them?
I shook my head. “Why...why now? Why would you—” My voice cracked. “Why would you wait until after that, after everything that happened, to tell me this?”
“I shouldn’t have waited.”
“But now is, like, the worst timing in the history of timing.” I lowered my feet to the floor and stood, having to put space between us. The abrupt movement caused pain to lance across my ribs. “Really bad timing, Sebastian.”
“Or it’s the best timing,” he fired back, watching me walk around the chair. “And you know what? Waiting is too risky. There’s no bad time to tell someone you love them.”
Sebastian loved me. Like loved me loved me? There was no way. This wasn’t happening now. Not when it should’ve happened before.
I started backing up toward my door as he rose and followed. My back pressed against the door. I reached behind me but froze as he stalked around the chair.
Stopping in front of me, he planted a hand on the space beside my head. “The only better time to have told you this was the moment I realized I felt this way,” he said, lowering his head to mine. My heart turned into a jackhammer. “I’ve had a million moments since then.”
“I can’t even process this right now.” My voice was thick, my eyes wide as I stared up at him.
“You don’t have to. I just needed to get it out there.” Sebastian leaned over, pressing his mouth to my temple. My heart thundered as I closed my eyes. “What does waiting do? None of us are promised a tomorrow. We learned that, didn’t we? We don’t always get a later.” He kissed my temple again, then pulled back, his eyes finding mine. “I’m done living like we do.”
Normally I would’ve been on the phone with my friends immediately. The conversation with Sebastian was a five-alarm-fire-level emergency that I needed to hash out until I was just repeating myself over and over again, talking in circles.
But things weren’t normal anymore.
I wanted to call Abbi and Dary. I’d almost done it Sunday morning, but as I’d stared at my phone until my vision blurred, I couldn’t get up the nerve to do so. It didn’t feel like something I should do. I seriously doubted they wanted to hear about my boy drama, or whatever it was that had gone down with Sebastian.
Sitting on my bed Monday night, nibbling on my fingernail like it was dinnertime, I had other things on my mind.
I’d been cleared to return to school tomorrow. There was no fighting it, even though I knew if I told my mom I wasn’t ready, she would contact the school. But that would mean she’d call off work. There was no way she was going to leave me home alone right now, and Lori was back at Radford. That did leave my father, wherever he was, but she knew I wouldn’t be okay with that. Her boss was being amazing with all of this, but I didn’t want to put her job in jeopardy. So I would be going to school tomorrow. I would be seeing everyone. There was no more hiding.
Sebastian would drive me tomorrow morning and, oh God, I didn’t want to think about him, because when I did, I thought about what he’d said Saturday night.
That’s when I fell in love with you.
My heart skipped a beat.
I can’t think about that. I tried to push what Sebastian said aside, but that was as successful as walking down the stairs with my ankles tied together. A shiver curled down my spine. I turned to stare at the world map above my desk. Several years ago, I’d taken a blue marker and circled all the places I wanted to visit one day. Sebastian had grabbed a red marker and joined in. A lot of the places were the same. We were thirteen or fourteen when we did that.
He’d been in love with me this whole time?
I squeezed my eyes shut and, for a few seconds, just for a couple of heartbeats, let those words he’d spoken seep through my skin, invade my muscles and tattoo my bones. My right hand curled against the center of my chest and my stomach dipped like I was on a roller coaster. In those seconds, I envisioned what it was supposed to be—what my life was supposed to be like.
Sebastian would tell me he loved me. We’d kiss, this time deeper and stronger than before. I’d kiss him back, and maybe we’d get caught up in the moment. Maybe things would go further, and it would be glorious and perfect. We’d go out on dates. Hold hands at school. Travel to parties together. Everyone would smile and whisper “About time” to one another. We wouldn’t be able to keep our hands off one another and—
Reaching up, I swept my hand under my eyes, wiping away the wetness gathering on my cheeks. I scooted to the end of my bed and placed my feet on the floor. A few seconds passed and then I opened my eyes and stood. A sharp stab of pain shot out across my rib cage, snapping me back to reality. I drew in a shuddering breath.
Guilt settled heavily in my chest.
How could I even think about this kind of stuff? It felt so, I don’t know, self-absorbed. Wrong. I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel, how I was supposed to move on from this point, but I knew I didn’t deserve something good like this.
Maybe a hundred tomorrows from now.
But not now.
* * *
“Are you sure you’re ready to do this today?”
I looked up from the kitchen table, brushing the crumbs from my Pop-Tart off the tips of my fingers. I hadn’t been hungry but had forced myself to eat. The sugary breakfast coated my throat like sawdust. “Yeah.”
Mom stood by the sink, dressed for work in a light blue blouse and black slacks. Everything about her was well manicured on the surface, but her eyes were weary. “If for whatever reason you start to feel ill or worn-out, you call me immediately. I will come and get you.”