She shrugged. “I may be old, but I’m not blind.”
I ignored that as I climbed the stairs, and it wasn’t until much later, when I was lying in my bed clutching the stupid bear to my chest as I stared at the closed window, that the thought from earlier—the one about the tree and roof—popped back into my head.
There was a reason why I knew anyone could climb that tree and make the jump to the roof. After all, it had been done so many times in the past that I’d lost count.
When I was younger and it was way past our bedtime but we wanted to hang out, Jensen would sneak out of his house and scale the tree like a little monkey. He’d land on the roof and shuffle right up to my window.
He’d taught me how to do it.
He’d also taught Gavin.
And he’d taught Penn.
“I don’t know about this,” Penn called out. His thin arms were practically glued to the trunk of the tree that was at least five sizes wider than him. “I don’t think that limb is strong enough.”
Gavin groaned from where he stood at my bedroom window. “Dude, Jensen and I both just walked on it and we’re bigger than you.”
“Everyone is bigger than me,” Penn shot back. “But that doesn’t mean it won’t break.”
I poked my head out the window. “The tree’s been there longer than this house. It’s not going to break.”
“How do you know it’s been here longer than the house?” he challenged. “Did you count the tree’s whorls?”
“The what?” replied Gavin, his forehead wrinkling.
Penn shook his head. “The whorls on the tree trunk. Counting them will tell you how old a tree is.”
“Who knows that?” he retorted. “No wonder you get picked on, dude. Seriously.”
I smacked Gavin’s arm even though Penn appeared largely unfazed by the comment. Behind us, my bedsprings creaked. I glanced over my shoulder. Jensen was standing, all long limbs and hair.
“I know what whorls are,” Jensen said, crossing my bedroom and joining Gavin on the other side. He waved at Penn. “Do exactly what I showed you. It worked for Gavin.”
Penn glanced down.
“Don’t do that,” Jensen ordered. “Don’t look at the ground. Look at us.” When Penn lifted his gaze, Jensen nodded. “Just pretend . . . I don’t know, that you’re walking to your telescope or something.”
“I wouldn’t put my telescope on a branch or a roof.”
Gavin sighed. “Look, I’ll come out on the roof.” He reached up, gripping the top of the window as he put a knee on the windowsill. The moment his head hit the sun, his hair turned a burnt reddish color. “Does that make you feel better?”
“No! I don’t trust you!”
“I mean, if I fall, you aren’t going to be able to stop me,” Penn added. “You’re not much bigger than me.”
“Geez. Thanks.” Gavin glanced back at us. His eyes were wide and the center of his cheeks pink. “Did you guys hear that?”
I smashed my hand over my mouth to stop from giggling.
Jensen grinned at me before he shouldered Gavin out of the way. He placed one hand on the windowsill and hopped up, agile like the neighbor’s cat. He dipped through the window and then straightened once he was on the shingled roof.
Biting my lip, I watched Jensen tread carefully toward the edge of the roof, where the thickest branches met the gutters. “I really hope my mom doesn’t come home soon. If she looks up and sees Jensen and Penn, she’ll die.”
Gavin nodded. “You’re going to be in so much trouble.”
“It’s all Jensen’s fault,” I reasoned. “He started this.”
Jensen looked over his shoulder. “I can hear you two.”
I crossed my eyes and stuck out my tongue.
He laughed as he turned back to where Penn was still clinging to the tree. Extending an arm, he wiggled his fingers. “Come on, Penn. You can do this. I know you can.”
Time seemed to have stopped as Jensen and Penn stared at one another. I really didn’t think Penn was going to do it, and I started to panic. Because there was no way he was going to climb back down that tree. We were going to have to call 911 and they’d bring the fire truck. Instead of rescuing kittens, they’d be rescuing Penn.
I was going to be in so much trouble.
“Okay,” Penn announced, and then he let go of the tree trunk. I held my breath as he reached up and gripped the branch above where he stood. He took a step forward, his gaze trained on Jensen. “I trust you.”
Linds met me inside the school and immediately wrapped her arm around mine, drawing me out of the stream of students, to the side of the hall. “You look like crap.”
“I feel like crap.”
“No sleep?” she asked, concern pinching her expression.
I shook my head. I hadn’t told her about what I saw last night, or at least thought I saw. Maybe Mom and the police were right and it was stress. Or maybe it had been the creeper.
Trying and failing to suppress a shudder, I let Linds lead me down the hall, toward the stairwell. I told her about my self-defense lessons and when I got to who was teaching them, she almost fell flat on her face in the stairway.
“Jensen?” she whispered, her dark eyes wide as she pulled me to a stop. “Are you serious?”
I smiled apologetically to the guy who almost slammed into Linds’ back. “Yeah, he’s going to be helping me. I guess.” Last night, around two a.m., I’d added his number to my phone. It felt like such a major step. “Yeah, so . . .”
“So? So!” She tugged on my hand and her tight curls bounced. “Wow. I was so not expecting you to break that kind of news to me.”
“It’s really not a big deal.” I pulled my hand free.
Linds darted around me, almost sending a small girl flying down the stairs, and blocked my path. “This is big,” she said, her voice barely audible above the conversations surrounding us. “This is huge. You guys are going to make up. Like after all this time, you’re going to—”
I turned, spying Shawna and Wendy behind me, obviously waiting for Linds and me to move out of their way. Besides the fact they could easily walk around us, it was pretty damn ironic considering they had blocked the entire hall yesterday.
“I’m sure there’s enough room for you to walk around.” Linds gestured at the empty area next to us. “So walk around.”
“Or you could just move?” Wendy snapped back.
Linds came down a step, folding her arms. “Or not.”
Knowing that this was going to escalate as quickly as a rocket ship, I stepped aside. “Come on, Linds, we’re going to be late.”
She didn’t move.
Wendy’s bright blue gaze snapped toward me. “You really should cover up your face.”
My eyebrows flew up. “Excuse me?”
“Your face.” She pointed at my face as she moved her finger in a circle. “It’s gross. It looks like you shoved a vacuum hose against your cheek.”
As I stared at her, I kind of wondered what the hell Jensen was smoking when he dated her. “Wow,” I said, because really, what could I say to that? I mean, that wasn’t even a really good insult. It was kind of stupid.
Linds had something to add. “That’s funny, because at least the ugliness will fade from Ella’s face. That shit on yours is forever.”
“Oh!” someone shouted from below us.
Wendy’s cheeks flushed pink, but before she could reply, Linds leaned over, shoved her middle finger right in her face, and then spun around. Gripping my arm, she all but dragged me up the stairs.
“God, I have no idea what crawled up her ass, but I am so not dealing with it,” Linds then yelled over her shoulder as the doors swung shut. “Not today, Satan!”
I glanced behind me, but I didn’t see Wendy or Shawna. It was weird—her attitude toward us. Without Monica by their side, they were usually like little fluffy bunny rabbits, especially Wendy. I didn’t get a chance to put a thought to it.