From the couch, Jensen tipped his head up in greeting. “What’s up?”
The atmosphere shifted the very second Gavin spotted Jensen, whose lazy, arrogant sprawl on the couch suddenly felt very misleading, as if he could pop to his feet at any given second and without warning.
“Hey,” Gavin said slowly, and then glanced back at me. Confusion flickered across his face. “I didn’t know he was here.”
“Yeah.” I stepped around him, looking back and forth between the two guys. “He stopped by not too long ago.”
“Oh,” Gavin said.
And that was all he said.
I shifted my weight, turning my attention to Jensen, expecting him to do or say something, but he just raised his brows.
God, it was so weird, the three of us being in my living room. It was like jumping back in time, except . . . well, Gavin and Jensen wouldn’t have been eyeballing each other like they were now.
Which made this all kinds of awkward.
But when we were younger . . . well, we teased each other mercilessly and we laughed all the time. The three of us—Jensen, Gavin, and me—had been inseparable from elementary school until eighth grade. Jensen had been the one to bring the box for the turtle with the cracked shell we’d rescued. He’d dressed up as the hill, using cardboard boxes, grass clippings, and a ton of superglue, when Gavin and I went as Jack and Jill. And Jensen and I had shared the shameful guilt from the weekend the whole landscape of our town changed. So yeah, the three of us.
Not the three of us.
The four of us.
The half smile was back on Jensen’s face, but there was no humor in the smug quirk of his lips. “So, what’ve you been up to, Gav?”
Gav. I winced, remembering how much Gavin hated that nickname. Hell, when he ticked me off, I’d call him that.
Gavin’s shoulders tensed. “Nothing much. Just going to school and helping out with Mom and Dad.”
“Ah, yeah, the cleaning business thing.” There wasn’t any arrogance in the way he said that, but Gavin’s cheeks flushed.
“Do you want anything to drink?” I asked, hoping to defuse the situation.
Gavin’s lips were thin as he nodded. “Sure.”
“How about you?” I asked Jensen.
Sliding his arm off the back of the couch, he dropped his hands on his knees and turned his pale eyes on me. “Thanks, but I’m going to go ahead and get out of here.”
“You don’t have to leave,” I said quickly.
Gavin crossed his arms. “Yeah, you don’t have to leave.”
His tone was so not welcoming, and I shot him a look he largely ignored. Jensen chuckled under his breath as he rose. He brushed past Gavin, not paying him any attention.
“I’ll be right back,” I said, trailing after Jensen. “You really don’t have to leave, you know.”
“No. I think I kind of do.” Jensen stopped at the door, not even looking at Gavin. “Tomorrow after school? Same place.”
I nodded. “I’ll be there.”
“Good.” Only then did his gaze flick behind me. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Gavin was standing in the center of the living room when I returned, arms still crossed across his chest. “What was he doing here?”
“Um, like he said, he was just stopping by.” I walked past him, determined not to be too irritated. Gavin and Jensen hadn’t been friends for a long time either, but I had to believe they missed that friendship too. “And I told you he was helping with the whole self-defense thing.”
He followed me into the kitchen. “Is he teaching you at home?”
“No.” I sighed, reaching into the fridge. I handed him a Coke. “But we were just setting up a time to meet again.” He was silent as I hopped up onto the kitchen counter, letting my legs dangle off the edge.
“You know what I don’t get?”
His forehead crinkled. “Where did Jensen learn self-defense?”
I opened my mouth, but I really didn’t have an answer for that. Good question.
“I mean, that’s not something you just know how to do, so shouldn’t you be learning from someone who knows what they’re doing?” he asked, popping the tab on his soda. The liquid fizzed. “Instead of someone who just says he knows what he’s doing?”
“He knows what he’s doing.”
“Really?” He took a long drink.
Forget trying to not be irritated. My scalp started to tingle. “What’s your deal?”
“Okay.” He placed the soda down on the table and walked over to where I sat. Placing his hands on either side of my legs, he leaned in. “You just went through some pretty traumatic shit.”
I folded my arms across my chest, narrowing my eyes at him. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“I’m just saying that you’re in a . . . vulnerable spot. Hey—” He held up his hands. “Don’t give me that look. You are. And that’s totally normal, but do you really think this is a good time to entertain the idea of anything with Jensen?”
My stomach soured as I felt heat spread across my cheeks. “Having him teach me self-defense and talking to him isn’t entertaining anything,” I said, and oh crap, that was a lie, because I’d so been entertaining the idea of kissing him.
Gavin raised his eyebrows. “Don’t you remember what happened last time?”
I drew in a ragged breath as my fingers curled around the edge of the counter.
“Look, I’m just pointing that out. He has a history of making shit worse.” He pushed off the counter and straightened. “I don’t want to see you hurt, and he hurt you last time, at the worst possible moment in your life.”
As much as I wanted to, there was no denying the truth to that statement. My gaze dropped and I shook my head. “It’s not like that. I mean, it’s not the same situation.”
“You sure about that?” he asked quietly.
Gavin leaned forward, wrapping his arms around my shoulders. He dragged me forward, off the counter and to his chest as he hugged me. It felt good—maybe a little longer than I expected, but I soaked up the warmth. As wrong as it was, I took from him what I had wanted so badly from Jensen. I closed my eyes and breathed in the scent of fresh laundry.
“I know Jensen might be acting like he has some common decency right now, but just be careful around him,” he said, squeezing me. “He’s changed. We all have, but him especially. Just don’t forget what he did to you.”
GAVIN LEFT SHORTLY after Mom came home, and I hung out in the kitchen while she cooked up some fatty cheeseburger Hamburger Helper, and afterward, while I cleaned up the kitchen.
“I talked to Dr. Oliver today,” she said as I loaded up the dishwasher.
It took me a few seconds to remember what she was talking about because my mind was so wrapped up in what Gavin had said. Closing the dishwasher, I turned around with a sigh and then dropped into the chair. “So, when’s my appointment?”
“Next Friday, after school.” She wiped a dishtowel across the table in front of where I sat. Admittedly, I was a messy eater. “I can go with you if you want.”
That was the last thing I wanted. “No, thank you.”
She wrinkled her nose at me as she tossed the towel into the sink. “You don’t have to make it sound like it’s the worst idea ever.”
I laughed. “Well, it’s not the greatest idea.”
Mom narrowed her eyes, but then she tilted her head to the side, studying me. “Honey, you look terrible.”
“Wow.” I laughed again. “Thanks a lot.”
Walking over to me, she placed cool hands on my cheeks. “Have you been sleeping?”
She tsked softly. “You’re a terrible liar.”
That I was. Sighing, I pulled free. “It’s been a little hard sleeping.”
“Maybe I should see if he could get you in sooner. Or I can get him to order a prescription for sleeping pills,” she offered, turning to where she’d tossed the dishtowel. “They worked last time.”