Made of steel (made of s.., p.31
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       Made of Steel (Made of Steel Series Book 1), p.31

           Ivy Smoak
 

  Chapter 25

  Thursday

  I stood outside the Corner Diner until 10 o'clock. There was no reason why I should have waited so long. Eli had never been even a minute late to meet me. I pulled out my phone for what seemed like the millionth time. No text. No missed calls. He had stood me up.

  The longer I stood there, the less surprised I was. Of course he stood me up. Despite how much I liked him, I had pushed him away by not telling him the truth. It still stung, though. Even more so because he knew someone had hurt me. Why did he want to hurt me too? He had looked me in the eye and promised that he wouldn't.

  I turned my head and swallowed hard. The longer I stood here, the more nervous I got. No matter how many times I told myself no one was watching me, I couldn't shake the feeling. I felt paralyzed by the thought of walking through the city alone. My feet seemed frozen, firmly planted, waiting, hoping that Eli would magically appear. He made the eerie feeling go away. How was I supposed to face this city without him? I was terrified all the time when he wasn't by my side.

  It made me feel ridiculous, being scared to walk home alone. I stared down the street. It wasn't empty or anything, there were still people walking around. Everything just seemed more ominous at night. I'd be fine, though. I just needed to get safely back to my dorm before it got any later.

  After one last hopeful glance at my phone, I started walking down the sidewalk back toward my dorm. I knew that continuously glancing over my shoulder and looking spooked made me an easy target. I should have been walking with my head held high. But I couldn't stop. I picked up my pace. A chill ran down my spine. I glanced over my shoulder again. Someone ducked into an alleyway.

  Oh, God. I wasn't wrong. Someone was following me. My heart leapt into my throat. I started running as fast as I could. He's here. I ran across the street without waiting for the crosswalk to signal that it was time. A taxi beeped at me and tires screeched. Horns honked. But I kept running. He found me. I tripped on an uneven patch of the walkway and fell. My palms slid across the rough cement, biting at my skin.

  "Ma'am are you okay?" A man said from behind me. "Let me help you up."

  No! Stay away!

  He put his hand down in front of my face.

  I shrunk away from him. Don't touch me. My voice didn't seem to work. I got to my feet and ran from him. I ran as fast as I could without looking back. I threw open the door to my dorm, sprinted up the stairs, and burst through the door to my floor. And I ran straight into someone.

  Miles. I didn't even have to look up to know that it was his arms that I had fallen into. Because I didn't even flinch when his hands caught me. His touch didn't burn my skin. It comforted me. It felt like home. I pictured holding his hand for the first time. I pictured falling into the grass with him and laughing. I wanted his arms to stay wrapped protectively around me. I wanted him to be my rock again.

  "Whoa, are you okay?" Miles said.

  But he didn't remember any of that. He just thought I was some random weird girl on his floor. I quickly stepped away from his hands, no matter how much I didn't want to. It was easier to stay away from him if I held on to the anger. And I needed to stay away. No. I'm not okay. I haven't been okay since you stopped writing me back. "I'm fine." I wrapped my arms around myself. My body wanted to betray me. It wanted his hands back on my waist. It wanted to keep feeling that overwhelming sense of home.

  He didn't look like he believed me at all. "You're bleeding." He lightly touched my wrist.

  I looked down. The heels of my palms were scraped and bloody. "I'm okay." My voice sounded small.

  "Come with me." He gently put his hand on my elbow and guided me down the hall.

  I couldn't stop myself from following him. The fear that had been engulfing me was fading the longer his hands were on me. He steadied my heartbeat. He made my breath come easier. At the same time, he made my stomach twist into knots. It was the same feeling I used to have before I'd sneak over to his tree house at night.

  He opened up the door to his room.

  It was like I was being invited into his tree house for the first time. It didn't even feel real. Every part of this felt like I had been transported into the past. I looked around his room again and my eyes landed on the poster of the stars. I was dreaming. That's what this was. I was dreaming about the boy that I dreamed of every night when I was little. And that was a lie. I had never stopped dreaming about him. The pendant felt heavy on my chest. I told myself it was to remember that night, but it was to remember him.

  His fingers on my wrist brought me back to reality. "This is going to sting a bit." He sat down on his desk chair and looked up at me.

  "Okay."

  He poured a little peroxide on my palm. It didn't hurt. Whenever I could tell when pain was coming, I was good at mentally blocking it out. What I did feel was the roughness of his hands. It sent chills down my spine.

  He lowered his eyebrows slowly as he dabbed my palm with a tissue. "Do you want to tell me what happened?" He didn't look up at me at all as he grabbed my other hand.

  "I tripped." I could have stopped there. His gentle touch made me feel at ease, though, even though he was the last person I should be with right now. I was supposed to be avoiding him. "I'm just not used to the city yet," I said. "I usually have someone to walk me home after work and I was just a little on edge. I tripped on an uneven patch of sidewalk."

  He smiled out of the corner of his mouth. "It took me awhile to adjust to the city too. I'm from a really small town out west. But it really is pretty safe here."

  I wanted to ask him about his home. Did his family still live in the house next to mine? Were his parents well? Was there a new family in my old house? Did he ever think about me?

  "Do you get off at 10 most nights? I can walk you back if you want."

  "Oh, no, that's okay." Again, he was trying to help me five years too late. But this time when he offered, it warmed my heart instead of making my blood boil. He hadn't really changed. He was still the same sweet boy. I just wanted to know why he had stopped caring about me.

  He smoothed Neosporin on the scratches and placed a Band-Aid on top of them. "Well, if this is when you get off, it's about the time I head for the observatory anyway. I don't mind walking you home while I'm already out."

  For the first time, I noticed that there was a telescope sticking out of his backpack on the floor. "I didn't realize there was an observatory near here."

  "Yeah. It's above Grenada Hall."

  "Are you an astronomy major?"

  He laughed.

  It made my heart race.

  "No, I wish," he said. "My dad didn't exactly approve of that idea. But I do try to take one astronomy class every semester." He lifted up my other hand and slowly placed a matching Band-Aid on the heel of my palm. He didn't drop my hand when he was done. He just let it rest in his.

  "Is your class right now?" I didn't want him to let go of my hand. I wanted him to fix me like he had fixed my cuts. It wasn't a secret that I was broken. I could tell that he saw it. Why else would he be taking care of me right now?

  "No, it only meets once a week, but I still like to go to the observatory most nights. Honestly, I prefer to look at the stars alone anyway."

  That's not true. You liked to look at the stars with me. I nodded my head.

  He slowly let go of my hand. "Actually, I was hoping to run into you. I got something for you." He stood up and grabbed his backpack.

  He got something for me. For just a moment, it was like we were back in his tree house again. That night that he had given me the Sagitta keychain, I could have sworn it was the best night of my life. That moment was short lived, though.

  He handed me a brochure. I looked down at the picture of the support group. I didn't need to open it up to know that it was for abuse victims. The quotes on the front made that perfectly clear. "I learned that I wasn't to blame." "I learned to open up." "I learned to fight back."

  It definitely wasn't a Sagi
tta keychain kind of present. I looked up at him.

  "If you don't want to talk to me about it, you probably should talk to someone." There was sympathy in his eyes.

  I hated that look. I wanted to snap at him again and tell him it wasn't his business. But there was something else in his eyes that made me bite my tongue. It wasn't just sympathy. It looked like he honestly cared. I didn't know what to say. So I didn't say anything at all. I just stared at him and silently willed him to tell me why he had stopped writing. I silently begged him to tell me why he had broken my heart.

  "And the offer stands if you change your mind," he said, not seeing my silent pleas. "To talk or to walk you home. Or both." He smiled out of the corner of his mouth.

  For some reason, I wanted to take him up on his offer. I wanted to go back in time to when we were best friends. But I had to keep my distance. I needed to be avoiding him, not asking him to walk me home. I swallowed down the lump in my throat. "Thank you for offering, but I'm really okay."

  He nodded. "I should probably get going."

  It took me a second to realize I was blocking his path to the door. "Right." I turned around and walked back into the hall.

  "You're sure you're okay?" He lightly touched the back of my hand.

  I swallowed hard and nodded.

  "Have a good night, Sadie."

  I just stood awkwardly in the hallway until he disappeared down the stairs. I was terrified to face this city on my own. But that didn't mean Miles was the one I should be facing it with. I could still try to fix things with Eli. And I had Kins. Neither one of them knew the real me, though. No one knew me as well as Miles. I shook my head. He didn't know me anymore. I wasn't even sure I knew myself.

 

 
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