“Where do you see yourself a year from now?”
“I don’t know.” What did that even matter? “At college, I guess.”
“Studying history and anthropology?” he clarified. “I talked to your guidance counselor. They filled me in on your interests.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’ll be doing.”
“Where do you see yourself five years from now?”
Annoyance flared. “What does this matter?”
“It matters because if you don’t start working at this, you will still be dealing with this in five years.”
My shoulders slumped. Five years was forever from now.
“Do you want to get past the trauma and the grief? Do you want to feel better than you feel right now?” he repeated.
Closing my eyes, I nodded even though I felt terrible about it, even though it felt so wrong to want to feel better.
“Then we have to get past the trauma to get to the grief, and I promise you, once we do that, you will feel better.” He paused. “But you have to work with me and you have to be honest, no matter how uncomfortable the truth makes you.”
I opened my eyes and his face blurred. “I don’t...don’t know if I can.”
“This is a safe place for you, Lena. No judgment,” he insisted quietly. “And getting better starts with rewinding time back to the party. It starts with you talking about what you remember and what you know happened.”
* * *
“You’re not hungry?”
Blinking, I slowly lifted my head and looked at Sebastian. He was sitting sideways in the seat beside me. One arm was resting on the table, the other hanging in his lap. Just the tips of his fingers touched my thigh. My body immediately reacted to his touch. A rush of warmth flowed over my skin, but my brain recoiled from the want and the need and the anticipation soaring through my veins. We hadn’t kissed since last Tuesday, but he’d been at my house every night and drove me to school every morning even though I could drive myself. He sat with me at lunch and he touched me more, a little here and there. A brush of his hand on my arm or waist, a soft touch to my lower back or the nape of my neck.
And I thrived on those little moments even though I knew I shouldn’t.
“What?” I said, having no idea what he’d just asked.
“You haven’t touched your food.” He glanced pointedly at my tray. “Well, if you consider salad food.”
Salad? I checked out my plate with a frown. Yep. The plate of leafy greens was definitely a salad. I didn’t even remember grabbing it when I was in the lunch line. That wasn’t exactly surprising, though. After meeting with Dr. Perry this morning, knowing that on Wednesday I was going to have to rewind everything, my head was not where it needed to be. The morning had been a blur of going through the motions.
I was going to have to really, really talk about it, and I didn’t know if I could. But Dr. Perry knew. Abbi suspected as much. It was all I could think about when I looked at my friends. It was all I heard in my head when Sebastian showed up at night and did his homework alongside me. It was what I saw when I spotted Jessica in the hallways between classes—the girl who was back together with Cody. She never saw me, but I saw her.
Dary laughed now, snapping my attention back to the present. “I was wondering what was up with the salad. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you eat one without a ton of fried stuff on it.”
“I don’t know.” I looked across the table at Abbi. She, like Dary, had a slice of pizza and what appeared to be coleslaw on her plate.
Abbi’s pizza was half-eaten. She was sketching a rose in bloom on the cover of her notebook. She’d barely said anything to me in our Chem class and at the start of lunch. She wasn’t ignoring me or anything like that. I wasn’t even present enough to be ignored, to be honest.
I glanced around the table. It was a weird mixture now. Normally it would just be us—Abbi, Dary, me and...and Megan. There’d be other students we didn’t know, but it was just us, really. Now it was us and Sebastian and several ball players.
He was sitting next to Abbi, as quiet as I’d ever seen him. He’d changed, too. He wasn’t loud and in everyone’s faces like he used to be. He still played ball, and I heard Abbi telling Dary during lunch this week, before Keith sat down, that he’d gotten reprimanded during the game last week for getting too rough on the field.
Right now his dark head was bowed, and every so often, he leaned toward her and whispered something to her and she’d respond.
Were they together?
I didn’t know.
I hadn’t asked.
Sebastian shifted closer, his knee pressing into mine. His voice was low as he asked, “Are you all right?”
“Yeah.” I cleared my throat and forced a smile. “Just tired.”
His eyes searched mine, and I knew he didn’t believe me, and I knew I would probably hear about it later.
“Are you going to work at Joanna’s this weekend, since you’re not going to have a game or anything?” Dary asked.
I shook my head. “Um, no. Normally I wouldn’t, because of volleyball.”
“So you’re going to go to the away game this weekend?”
I shook my head no again. Coach had given me space last week, but I knew that wouldn’t last much longer. He expected me to show up today.
“Wow.” Dary pushed her glasses up as she looked across the table. “I cannot think of a weekend when you didn’t have a game and weren’t working at Joanna’s.”
“Yeah.” I watched Sebastian cut his roasted or baked chicken in half. He cut it up into slivers. “They’ve all been really understanding. They’ve been really good.”
“Who?” Dary asked.
I cleared my throat. “Coach—Coach has been really understanding.”
Sebastian took the pieces he cut up and unloaded them onto my salad. My eyes widened. Did he seriously just cut up my food like I was a two-year-old? “There,” he said. “Now your salad appears to be almost edible.”
“Still not fried,” commented Dary, grinning. “But that is possibly the sweetest thing I’ve witnessed in a very long time.”
It was so ridiculous.
But it was sweet, because I knew it came from a good place.
The corners of my lips turned up as I reached for the fork.
“Are we having to hand-feed Lena now?” Abbi asked.
My head shot up as heat burned my cheeks. Abbi was staring at me, one eyebrow raised.
“Come again?” Sebastian said.
Abbi shrugged a shoulder as her gaze flickered to Sebastian. “I mean, she has to be driven to school. Can’t go anywhere by herself. We have to watch what we say around her. So, I’m just wondering if we have to hand-feed her, too?”
I froze. Heart. Lungs. Brain. Everything.
“What the hell, Abbi?” Sebastian’s voice sharpened.
Across from me, the hard look on Abbi’s face cracked a little, only a fissure. Her voice was hoarse. “I just think it’s a valid question and I can’t be the only one wondering it.”
“Abbi,” Keith said, speaking loud enough for me to hear for the first time at lunch. “Come on.”
Dary stiffened beside me.
“What? She’s an adult, right?” Abbi swallowed. Her lower lip trembled as her gaze met mine again. “She can’t speak up for herself? Can’t step in and stop this?”
Flinching as if I’d taken a gut punch, I knew exactly what she was referencing. She wasn’t talking about this conversation. She was talking about that night.
And I was done.
Standing, I reached down and grabbed my bag off the floor. I heard Sebastian say my name, but I didn’t stop. Straightening, I stepped back from the table and turned without saying all the words burning through my skin.
I hurried out of the cafeteria, mouth clamped shut so I didn’t lose it. I had no idea if losing it meant screaming in rage or having a complete meltdown.
I made it halfway down the hall before Dary caught up to me, grabbing my good arm. “Hey, hold up,” she said, forcing me to stop. “Are you okay?”