“I’m going to be fine.” I stood, crumpled up the paper towel and tossed it in the trash. “Don’t spend all day worrying about me.”
“I’m your mom. It’s kind of my job to do so.”
A faint smile formed on my lips. “But I’m going to be okay. The doctor said I was healing and he doesn’t expect there to be a problem.”
“I know. I was there. But he also warned that up to fifty percent of people who’ve suffered a collapsed lung can have a reoccurrence.”
“Mom.” I sighed, but before I could say anything else, there was a knock on the front door. A second later, we heard it open. Heart thumping heavily, I turned toward the entryway.
“Hey,” Sebastian called out. “It’s me.”
Mom smiled like the sun had just entered the house. Footsteps neared the kitchen and then Sebastian was standing in the doorway, hair damp and the worn cotton shirt clinging to his broad shoulders.
He looked good, really nice.
I smoothed my hands across my jeans, suddenly nervous for reasons that had nothing to do with going to school. Sebastian had come over on Sunday and hadn’t mentioned the conversation we had Saturday night, but it was there when he looked at me, in every brush of his hand or press of his leg against mine.
“Mornin’,” he said, striding into the kitchen. “You about ready?”
Nodding, I told myself to pull it together.
“I want you to do me a favor,” Mom said as he walked over to where I stood somewhat petrified in front of the sink. “Keep an eye on Lena.”
“Mom,” I groaned this time.
She ignored me. “I don’t want her overtaxing herself. This is going to be a long day for her.”
My eyes widened slightly as he draped his arm over my shoulders. The weight was minimal and he’d done it a million times before, but I shivered in response.
Sebastian felt it. I knew he did, because that half grin formed as he looked down at me. “Don’t worry, Ms. Wise. My eyes will be glued to her.”
The urge to lean into Sebastian, to press my cheek to his chest, was hard to resist, but I stepped out from him and picked up my backpack. Slinging it on my shoulder did not feel good, and I needed to remember that next time. “We better get going so we’re not late.”
“The world is your oyster.” Sebastian grabbed the armful of books that I would need to stash in my locker.
Mom followed us out the front door, stopping me before I went down the steps. She clasped my cheeks. “I love you,” she whispered fervently. “Today is going to be a long day.” Her eyes searched mine. “For a lot of reasons.”
“I know.” That burning knot of hysterical tears was back.
Slipping her hands off my cheeks, she turned and looked up at Sebastian. “I’m handing her over to you.”
Handing me over? I made a face, but neither of them saw me.
“I got her,” he promised, and there was a heavy meaning to those words, as if he was staking some sort of claim, accepting unspoken responsibility.
“Thank you,” Mom said, patting his shoulder.
I barely stopped myself from rolling my eyes as I hit the walkway. “We should get going,” I reiterated.
Chuckling under his breath, Sebastian came down the steps to join me. I waved goodbye to Mom and started across the driveway, through the tall hedges, toward Sebastian’s house.
“You know,” I said, shifting the bag on my shoulder, “you don’t ‘got’ me, whatever that means.”
Sebastian’s long-legged pace put him in front of me. “Yeah, I do.” He transferred his load to his other arm, opened the Jeep’s back door and placed the books inside. “I’ve had you for longer than I realized.”
My lips pursed as I glared at him. “I don’t even know what to say to that.”
“You don’t have to say anything.” His fingers slipped under the strap of my bag. I sucked in a soft breath as he lifted it off my shoulder. “You look good today.”
Not expecting that, I blinked and looked down at myself. I was wearing an old shirt, jeans and flip-flops that were days from coming apart. “Really?”
“Yeah.” He placed my bag in the back and closed the door. Facing me once more, he stepped out until his feet were nearly touching mine. I craned my head back as he looked down. “No bruises.”
I almost didn’t get what he was saying.
“They’d faded for the most part, but there was a little bit of it that was here.” His thumb brushed along the left side of my jaw, causing my breath to hitch. His deep midnight-blue eyes flicked to mine. “It’s gone now.”
“It is?” I managed to say.
“Yeah.” His thumb traveled the line of my jaw. “It was just a faint bluish color, but I saw it.”
His thumb skimmed my chin and coasted along my lower lip. His head lowered.
“Today is going to be rough,” he rasped out, voice deeper than normal. “You’re going to tire out physically...” His thumb made another sweep. “It’s going to wear you out emotionally. The first day for me... Yeah, there are no words.”
Everything inside me, every cell and muscle, tightened and loosened at once. It was hard to pay attention to what he was saying when he was touching me like this. Touching me in a way he never had before. In the way I’d always wanted from him.
“Sounds...sounds like you’ve been reading up on psychology again,” I forced out, sounding breathless.
His lips kicked up on one side. “Or I’ve been talking and listening.”
I tilted my head to the side, brows fitting together. I started to ask what that meant, but he suddenly pressed his lips to the corner of mine. It was brief—briefer than the one kiss at the lake—but it rocked me straight to the core.
“What are you doing?” I gasped out.
Stepping back, his heavy hooded gaze swept over me. “Doing what I said I was going to do.”
* * *
A note was waiting for me the moment I walked into homeroom. I didn’t even make it to my seat before the teacher waved me over and handed me a slip. A sympathetic look was etched into her heavily lined face. “You need to go to the front office, sweetie.”
Sweetie? Pretty sure I’d never been called that in my entire high school career, but I nodded, took my note and walked right back out of class.
I kept my head down—when I walked in and out, when I was out in the hall, and even at my locker, where Sebastian had helped unload my books and get everything situated before kissing me again, on my cheek this time, and leaving to head to his class.
Everyone was staring, they were whispering, and when I made the mistake of looking up as I closed my locker door, a girl who’d never spoken to me my entire life had rushed up to my side, awkwardly hugged me and spewed out this rambling paragraph about how sorry she was for me and how glad she was that I was okay. I had no idea what her name was. I was pretty sure she’d had no idea who I was before the accident.
I’d been left standing there, utterly confused.
Now the note crinkled in my hand as I made my way to the front of the school and pushed open the double glass doors of the main office. One of the administrative volunteers was at the front desk, an older lady who had the brightest pink lipstick I’d ever seen on a person.
I approached the desk. “I was told to come to the office. My name is Lena Wise.”
“Oh.” Recognition flared in the rheumy eyes. “You stay right there and I’ll let them know you’re here.”
Them? I stepped back from the counter, tensing. What was going on? I watched her shuffle down the narrow hallway that led to all the offices. I didn’t have long to wait. A tall silver-haired man came out just a few moments later.
“Ms. Wise?” He walked up to me, extending his hand. “I’m Dr. Perry. I’m with the team that has been brought in due to the recent events.”
“Let’s step back and chat for a few minutes, okay?” He moved aside, waiting. Not like I had much of a choice.
Swallowing a sigh, I trudged down the hall and followed Dr. Perry into one of the meeting rooms usually reserved for parent meetings. The kind filled with stupid motivational posters of kittens clinging to ropes, talking about teamwork.