Until friday night, p.8
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       Until Friday Night, p.8

         Part #1 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  MAGGIE

  I woke up with my phone on my pillow. Then I had lain there and just stared at it for several minutes. I’d talked to West for more than three hours last night. Until I’d fallen asleep. Hearing my own voice when I knew he needed me to talk to him wasn’t hard. Yet the idea of speaking to someone else terrified me.

  For so long I’d thought hearing my voice again would send me back into the corner, screaming uncontrollably. But it wasn’t doing that. I was talking to West with ease. Last night I had actually talked about things I’d thought I never wanted to talk about again. And I hadn’t had a panic attack or curled up into a ball and whimpered.

  But was I ready to talk to other people?

  No. I’d given them the only words I was going to give them.

  I didn’t want them asking me things like West had. I didn’t want them making me speak in a courtroom where I would have to face my father. The man who had never missed seeing me cheer. Who’d clapped the loudest at my school play when I’d walked out as a bear instead of Goldilocks, which was who I’d really wanted to be. Who’d sung “Happy Birthday” to me dressed in a Superman costume with my Marvel comics cake in his hands the year I was obsessed with superheroes. That man was dead to me now. He had made every good memory a bad one. He had become something else. Someone else. Someone I couldn’t talk about or see.

  If I talked, they’d want me to talk about him. About what I saw him do. About how he begged me to forgive him as I screamed for my mother to wake up. And I couldn’t do that. I wasn’t ready. I doubted I ever would be. I had watched him verbally and sometimes physically abuse my mother most of my life. Then he’d buy her jewelry or flowers and tell both of us over and over how much he adored us. Remembering the way he would refer to us as “my girls” made my stomach churn.

  Climbing out of bed, I began to get dressed and put those memories that were threatening to break through back in the tightly shut box I kept them in.

  Brady parked the truck in front of school, but instead of getting right out, he looked over at me. I’d been lost in my thoughts all morning.

  “West has been my best friend since we were little kids. I love him like a brother. I hate that he’s gone through all this with his dad alone, but it’s also so like him. He doesn’t let people get too close. He’s never been one to trust people. He always trusted me, though. Until this.” He paused and sighed heavily. “He’s decided to trust you. I think he’s being honest about wanting to just be your friend. But I also worry about you getting attached to him. You’ve been through your own pain, Maggie. I don’t want him to use you. He won’t mean to, but I’m afraid he will. Please guard yourself. Understand he needs you right now. Maybe having someone to talk to that doesn’t talk back is what he needs, and you fit that bill. But just don’t let him hurt you. Okay?”

  I thought about my attraction to West. He was hard not to be attracted to. But I wasn’t going to take his need to have someone who understood the pain of losing a parent as something more. I knew he didn’t look at me that way. Heck, he didn’t even act like we’d ever kissed. It had been no big deal to him, and I had forgiven him for the harsh cruelty I’d seen in him before. I understood he’d been acting out because he was hurting. He pushed everyone away. But he wasn’t pushing me away anymore, and now it was hard to remember to keep him at arm’s length.

  I just nodded. I appreciated that Brady was trying to protect me.

  He reached for the truck door and opened it. That was the end of this conversation. I grabbed my book bag and headed into school.

  I would be lying to myself if I said my stomach wasn’t all fluttery about getting to see West. Last night had been as special as it had been difficult. Even after Brady gave me a warning I really needed to listen to, I couldn’t help but feel very giddy about being near West. Having him look at me and talk to me.

  When I saw our lockers, I paused. The giddiness and fluttery feeling in my stomach was snatched away instantly. West was there, but so was some girl. She was a cheerleader. I knew that from watching her at the pep rally. Her long blond hair was curled and styled to perfection as she bit her bottom lip and batted her eyes up at West. Then there was the way West was looking at her. The way he never looked at me. Like he wanted to eat her up.

  My stomach twisted, and my throat tightened. The girl put her hand on his chest and he reached up and covered it with his own. Then he winked at her. That was enough for me. I would just carry all my books to first period, and I’d make do with one of my other notebooks.

  I hurried to class, trying not to think about my reaction to seeing West and another girl. Sure, I had seen him with Raleigh a bunch of times. But this time it hurt more. I was being unfair and probably ridiculous, because as West’s friend I should be glad he was smiling and winking at a girl rather than being sad. But as the girl currently secretly crushing on West, I was a little cracked around the edges.

  Brady’s words came back to me as I sat down at an empty desk. I needed to be careful. West just wanted my friendship. No more thinking about him any other way. And I had to find the off switch to the flutters in my stomach. Maybe the blonde was just the off switch I needed.

  Mr. Trout came in the room, and everyone who was still standing around outside in the halls began to file into the classroom. Gunner Lawton, one of Brady’s friends, came in last, along with Ryker Lee. Ryker glanced over at me and smiled before heading to the back of the class to sit beside Gunner. The football players always stayed together.

  Next class I had to face Charlie. After yesterday’s lunch fiasco, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that. But I didn’t have a choice. At least in this class no one ever spoke to me or acknowledged me. Mr. Trout was one of the teachers who thought he needed to yell so I could hear him. I always did my best not to draw attention to myself so he wouldn’t try to tell me something.

  My phone vibrated in my pocket. I continued to get my notebook and textbook ready for the lecture when it vibrated again. After checking to make sure Mr. Trout was still eating his breakfast and reading the newspaper at his desk, I pulled my phone out to check to see who it was. I didn’t normally get texts at school. The last time had been when Nash was trying to talk to me.

  I didn’t see you at your locker this morning. Brady said you were here. You okay?

  It was from West. He wouldn’t have noticed me at my locker this morning. He’d been too wrapped up in that cheerleader. Dang it, I was doing it again. I couldn’t be this way if we were going to be friends. He needed a friend. But this was so hard. I hadn’t imagined being West Ashby’s friend would be this difficult. Why I hadn’t thought this all through, I don’t know. I knew how he was. I knew how he acted out to deal with his inner turmoil. But still . . . this wasn’t easy.

  I’m here. I didn’t need anything from my locker, so I came on to first period so I would have a chance to go over my homework.

  Now I was a liar. Fantastic.

  I slipped the phone back into my pocket before I got caught, and made a mental list of things I should work on. Things that had nothing to do with West. Like I should start practicing the piano again. My mother used to love hearing me play. She would have wanted me to keep playing.

  By the time Mr. Trout had polished off his Egg McMuffin and drunk his coffee, I was in a better place. I had goals, and I was not going to get attached to West Ashby.

  She Didn’t Belong to Me

  CHAPTER 16

  WEST

  When first period was over, I headed straight to my locker to wait on Maggie. Not seeing her this morning had made me edgy. I should probably get a grip on my need to have her around, but right now I had too much other shit to deal with. I was attached to her. It wasn’t a bad thing.

  As I walked down the hallway, an arm wrapped around mine, and I felt tits press into my arm. I knew it was Serena before I even glanced down at her. She was determined to move in on me now that it was really over with Raleigh. Serena and Raleigh had been competing with each other
for as long as I could remember.

  When Serena had met me at my locker this morning, I had considered letting her distract me. She was sexy as hell, and all that blond hair was hot. But in the ten minutes she’d flirted with me at my locker, she’d already started getting on my nerves. Her voice was too high-pitched, and she batted her eyelashes so damn much, I was afraid they’d come off because those jokers were too long to be real.

  “We have next period together. Sit by me. I’ll make class so much more enjoyable,” she said as she leaned into me.

  I knew the kinds of things Serena did in class to make it more enjoyable. I’d seen it in action more than once. But I wasn’t feeling it. Not today. I just needed to see Maggie.

  “I’m sure you could,” I replied. I wasn’t going to be mean. I just needed to get her to back off.

  She giggled and held on to me tighter. It was making me feel claustrophobic. I didn’t like the feeling of not being able to take a deep breath. And where was Maggie?

  I scanned the crowd as I walked to our lockers. Serena was talking, but I wasn’t listening anymore. Maggie wasn’t at her locker again, and my edginess was getting worse.

  I stopped and looked back to see if she was anywhere in this hallway. But no sign of her. “Who you looking for?” Serena asked, still locked on to me.

  I wasn’t telling her. She’d be on Maggie fast. I knew how girls like Serena worked. She’d make sure Maggie understood she was claiming me, and sweet Maggie couldn’t say a word back to her. Serena didn’t understand guy-and-girl friendships. She’d assume I was moving in on Maggie. Not that the idea of kissing Maggie again and holding her didn’t appeal to me . . . I thought about it often enough. It was just that I wasn’t good enough for what Maggie needed. I couldn’t be that guy. I didn’t do relationships well, and Maggie deserved the best.

  But I could be one hell of a friend.

  Glancing back at the locker and seeing there was still no Maggie, I shook Serena loose. “I gotta go. I need to do something. I won’t be in next period,” I said distractedly as I kept searching the halls. Then I moved toward Brady’s next class, because he’d know where I could find her. It wasn’t like Maggie not to go to her locker. What was she doing? Just carrying all her books around today?

  As soon as I turned the corner, my eyes locked on her. She was bent over by the far wall, pulling books out of her overstuffed book bag. My relief at just seeing her should worry me. I’d started needing her too much.

  For the first time all day a smile pulled at my lips.

  She was biting her bottom lip, and a frustrated frown was wrinkling her brow. She let out a huff and stood up to tuck the hair that had fallen in her face behind her ear. Just as she slipped the strands back and sighed, her eyes found mine.

  Her eyes briefly flashed with happiness and only made my smile bigger. But then she shut it down fast and gave me a tight smile before bending back over her book bag and quickly jamming all the books she’d just taken out back in. What was the girl doing?

  I made my way over to her and dropped to my haunches until we were at eye level. I watched her study my feet for a moment before she slowly lifted her gaze to meet mine. Her cheeks turned pink.

  “They have these things called lockers. It keeps us from having to carry around a shit ton of books all day. You should check yours out,” I teased, wanting that tight fake smile to become a real one.

  Was she feeling weird about us talking until we’d fallen asleep last night? I couldn’t figure out how the girl I’d gone to sleep talking to was now avoiding me. Because now that I’d found her and saw the way she was trying not to look at me, I knew she hadn’t come to her locker because of me.

  “Seriously, Maggie, let me take this bag to your locker and unload this stuff. It’s too heavy for you to be carrying around. I’m gonna have to take you to my chiropractor if you do this all day.”

  She zipped up her bag and then stood up. I did the same. But before she could pick up her bag, I grabbed it. “Come on,” I said, putting my hand on her lower back and moving her through the crowd toward our lockers.

  She let me guide her, and I liked the way it felt to put my hand on her this way. I’d put my hand there on other girls before, but it had never felt like this. Almost as if I were making sure everyone knew Maggie was mine. Which was ridiculous, because she wasn’t mine; she was my friend. She didn’t belong to me.

  Though, the idea of her being mine apparently appealed to me enough to make my heart speed up thinking about it. But no. I had to shut this down. I was emotional and messed up. Maggie was my peace in the storm. I couldn’t confuse that with something else and ruin everything.

  I had her combination memorized from helping her last week. I’d committed it to memory without even realizing it. I got her locker open quickly, then started filling it with the books from her bag. “Which ones do you need to keep out?” I asked, glancing back at her.

  She stepped closer to me, and the scent of vanilla came with her. I didn’t move. I stayed where I was and inhaled. There was no perfume smell. Just . . . Maggie.

  Maggie took a textbook from her locker and reached into the book bag I was holding. She took out a notebook then stepped back. Her smell lingered, and I finished putting her book bag away while telling myself I had to draw a line with her. Wanting to take a sniff every time I was near her was not going to be cool.

  Once I had her books in there, I closed her locker and turned back to her. “You gonna tell me why you didn’t come to your locker this morning?” Still not sure if she’d talk to me here. Where people could see.

  She ducked her head and reached for her book bag. When she finally looked back up at me, she shrugged.

  She wasn’t talking.

  That was okay. If she just wanted to talk to me when we were alone, I could deal with that. I’d just need to be alone with her more. Which, given how much it appealed to me, might prove difficult. Knowing how her lips felt and trying to get close enough to inhale her scent were two reasons that being alone with Maggie wasn’t going to be easy.

  Shit. I had to get a grip. Maybe Serena was a good thing. She knew the score. She wasn’t in it for anything more than sex and bragging rights.

  I reached over and tucked the lock of hair that had gotten loose back behind her ear. It only teased me. When I looked at her or touched her, it was hard to want someone else.

  “I missed you this morning. I look forward to seeing you at the lockers. When you didn’t come, it messed with my head,” I explained.

  A new softness in her expression transformed her face back to the Maggie from last night. The one who trusted me. I liked that look.

  She took a step toward me, and her hand gently brushed mine, not once but twice, before she smiled up at me. My chest tightened. Then she turned and walked away.

  West Was Showing Me I Wasn’t Broken

  CHAPTER 17

  MAGGIE

  I was sunk. This thing I felt for West had vaulted right over the crush I was afraid of and gone straight to full-blown feelings for him. He was being too sweet. How was I supposed to deal with not getting attached to West Ashby when he was being so dang nice?

  He hadn’t been at our lockers after second period, but he rarely ever was. His classes were on the other side of the building, and coming back in between would make him late for class. I didn’t go to my own locker between third and fourth periods for the very same reason.

  So it was lunchtime before I saw him again. Walking into the cafeteria, I let my gaze go directly to his table. I had to remind myself he was just my friend when I saw the blond cheerleader beside him. He liked her. It was obvious. He liked her the way he didn’t like me. My flutters weren’t there now; they were more like an ache in my chest.

  Maybe if West hadn’t kissed me, if I didn’t have to face the fact he’d tried me out and not liked me that way, it would be easier to deal with this. But when I saw him with another girl, it served as a reminder that I hadn’t been to his liking
. Plain and simple, he just wanted me as a friend because I understood what it was like to lose your parents and still survive.

  His eyes moved away from the girl and locked on mine. Then he winked. God, why did he have to wink at me? I forced a smile I hoped looked real and moved to get into the food line. Charlie hadn’t talked to me in second or fourth period today. He’d smiled at me awkwardly, but that had been it. So I figured he wouldn’t show up in line and ask me to sit with him today.

  All I could do was listen to the conversations around me. I found out from the girls in front of me, who kept looking at West’s table, that the girl was Serena. Everyone expected her to be the girl West moved on to after Raleigh. I also overheard that Raleigh had been in the bathroom crying over Serena and West this morning.

  I genuinely felt bad for her. It had to be hard to lose West Ashby.

  By the time I got my tray, I’d also learned that Serena and Raleigh were archrivals. So this was probably going to end up in a catfight in the hallway. . . .

  I didn’t even glance at West’s table when I went to go find a seat. I wasn’t going to be pathetic, looking like I was hoping for him to invite me over. Truth was, that was the last thing I wanted. Watching him and Serena while I ate didn’t seem appealing at all. So I made my way to the back doors and went to sit outside at one of the picnic tables.

  This wasn’t a popular place to eat. It was hot out. Alabama didn’t start to cool down until October. Everyone seemed to want to stay in the air-conditioned cafeteria. Only the loners made their way out here. I was a loner, so this fit me. Although when it got colder, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stick it out.

  There were five picnic tables outside, and four of them had one person each sitting at them. And on the patch of grass underneath each of the two large oak trees was a student with a sandwich in one hand and a book in the other. This seemed to be my place. I went to the one empty table and set my tray down. Then I pulled out the library book I had stuck in my bag. I could read while I ate.

  “What’re you doing out here? It’s ninety degrees, Maggie.” West’s voice startled me, and I jerked my gaze up from my book to see him standing on the other side of the table.

  He was so tall. Especially when I was sitting down. He had his arms crossed over his wide chest, and his jeans hung low on his hips. The snug-fit T-shirt he was wearing did little to hide all the wonder that was West’s body.

  I just stared at him. I wasn’t going to answer. He should know that by now.

  “Come inside. We have room at our table,” he said, nodding back toward the door.

  I wasn’t going in there to eat with him and Serena. No way. It may be
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