“No,” I said, frowning.
“Then why can’t we be together?” He angled his body toward mine. “What just happened in there tells me that you’re interested—that you feel the same way. The way you touched me last week... How mad you got when you thought I was going to kiss you but threw you in the pool... You don’t feel like that unless you want that person.” His hand touched my lower back, and I fought the urge to lean into him. “Unless...unless it’s just about feeling good? Is that all you want out of this?”
I could’ve said yes because that would’ve shut this whole conversation down, but I didn’t. “No. It’s not about that.”
“Then what is this about?”
Running my hand over my cast, I couldn’t believe I had to really explain this. “It just doesn’t feel right. We get to move on and be happy? This soon?”
Sebastian was quiet for a moment. “But that’s...that’s life, Lena.”
“Wow,” I muttered, floored.
“What? Yeah, that sounded blunt as hell, but it’s the truth. You can’t stop living just because others...others died.”
I understood that, but the thing was, he didn’t get it. What I felt wasn’t just survivor’s guilt. I felt more rancid. More bitter. “It’s not that easy.”
“Yes.” He curled his hand around my chin, bringing my gaze to his. “Yes, it is, Lena.”
Exhaling roughly, I pulled away and stepped back. “You don’t get it.”
“You keep saying that.” Frustration flared in his voice as he stared at me. “And I’m trying to get everything. To understand. To be patient. To be there for you. But you aren’t talking about anything going on in your head. Not really. And you keep forgetting that I’m going through this right beside you. I know how you feel.”
I snapped my mouth shut as I crossed my arms.
“What happened to our friends was a huge wake-up call for me. As cheesy as it sounds, there’s no guarantee on tomorrow, or next year—”
“You tell me I need to move on! That I need to just deal with—”
“That’s not what I’m saying! Not at all.”
“You don’t have to say it in those exact words, but the meaning is the same.”
“Oh my God, are you kidding me?” My voice was nearing code-red shrill level. “You’re standing here like you’re now doing everything you want to do, because you have this whole new outlook on life, and that’s crap. You know that’s crap.”
“That’s not crap.” His voice was low.
“You don’t want to play ball anymore, Sebastian. Right? You told me you don’t want to do it.”
His back went ramrod straight.
“What about that?” My hand curled into a fist. “You don’t want to play football, but I bet a year from now you’ll be doing it at college just because you don’t want to face your dad. So don’t stand there and act like you’ve changed so much since this accident, and grown so much, and faced all your problems head-on.”
He lifted his head and a moment passed as if he was trying to collect himself.
“This isn’t about football. This is about us.”
“How can you even be thinking about us right now?” I demanded. “Our friends are dead. They just died. They’re not coming back, and all you care about is getting laid—” I sucked in a sharp breath.
The moment I said it, I wanted to take it back. I’d gone too far.
Sebastian’s eyes flared with shock and then his jaw locked down. “I can’t believe you said that to me. I really can’t.”
I couldn’t either. I really couldn’t.
Swallowing around the knot in my throat, I willed my heart to slow down. “Sebastian, I just—”
“No.” He held up his hand. “I’m going to unpack that statement for you real quick. And you’re going to stand there and listen.”
Closing my mouth, I stood there. And I listened.
“Our friends are dead. Yes. Thank you for reminding me that I lost three of my closest friends and almost lost my best friend—the girl I fucking love. I’m not trying to spend every waking moment thinking about it like you...and you know what? That doesn’t make me a terrible person. None of them would’ve wanted that from us. Not even Cody, with his ego.” He took a step toward me. “Their deaths do not mean that I die alongside them, or that I put my entire life on hold. Yeah, it’s only been about a month and no one—no one—is expecting anyone to just get over it. But living your life and loving someone is not getting over it. That doesn’t mean anyone is forgetting them. I can live my life and still mourn them.”
I opened my mouth to speak, but he wasn’t done.
“And how dare you insinuate that I don’t care about them or that I don’t think about them every damn day. What we were doing in there—” he gestured at the door “—it isn’t a disrespect to them. And you know what, I am partially at fault for this. Obviously you’re not ready for this. You’re not in the right headspace and I thought that... I don’t even know anymore, but I sincerely apologize for that. I’m sorry.” His voice turned hoarse as he thrust a hand through his hair. “What I feel for you, what we were doing in there, what I want to do to you is not about getting laid, and I...I can’t believe you would even think that about me.”
I squeezed my eyes shut against the building tears.
“I’m not sure you can blame grief for that,” he said, and I felt my heart crack. “Because no matter what has happened, no matter what is going on in our lives, you should know me better than that.”
Those tears burned and no matter how hard I tried, the tears snuck through. I lifted my hand to wipe at them. I stood for several moments before I opened my eyes.
Sebastian was gone.
I hadn’t even heard him leave.
It was almost like he hadn’t even been there.
* * *
I didn’t go to school on Tuesday.
In the morning I told Mom I wasn’t feeling well. She didn’t ask the reasons why, which was good, because there were plenty. I had no idea if Sebastian had shown up to drive me to school. I’d turned my phone off, not wanting to deal with the world. Wanting nothing more than to hide.
If Sebastian never spoke to me again, I wouldn’t blame him.
Staring up at the map above my desk, I knew I’d created a mess out of things with him. I wasn’t being honest or open, telling him what I really felt or why my guilt was different from his. I wasn’t being honest or up front with anyone, and I was a coward because of that.
I was just like my dad.
But I didn’t want to be, so I lay there for hours thinking about everything.
It was a little after one o’clock when I heard my mom coming up the stairs. “I wanted to check on you,” she said as she entered. “You obviously have your phone turned off and I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“Sorry,” I murmured from my pathetic prone position on the bed.
“Where is your phone?”
I gestured at my desk with a limp hand and watched Mom walk over and pick it up. She turned it on and tossed it on the bed by my legs.
“When you’re not feeling well and staying home, you will never turn your phone off again. I have to be able to reach you.” Her voice was stern, and her eyes sharp. “Do you understand?”
Her shoulders tensed as she crossed her arms. “Lena, I know why you didn’t go to school today.”
“Mom,” I groaned, rubbing my hand down my face. She probably thought I was ticked off about everything with Dad, though I still wasn’t sure what to think about that.
She sat on the edge of the bed. “Sebastian stopped by this morning to take you to school. He looked like he had very little sleep last night and didn’t seem surprised when I said you were feeling unwell.”
My stupid heart swelled. He’d still shown up to take me to school even after I really, truly insulted him.