Chasing spring, p.6
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       Chasing Spring, p.6

           R.S. Grey
 
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  The streetlights loomed overhead, drawing every flying insect within a 100-mile radius. I meandered around the square, enjoying the peace and quiet. I loved walking around my small town in the early morning hours; it meant that I could wander free from pitying gazes and conspicuous whispers. Everyone in town knew my past and everyone was eager to see me return—not so they could welcome me back with open arms, but because they needed someone to pity, someone who had a worse life than they did. A busted radiator seemed manageable when compared to a dead mother.

  I walked past windows with well-dressed mannequins and a new candle shop that had opened while I’d been away in Austin. My aimless journey eventually ended outside the Matthews’ repair shop. The old red sign in the window read ‘Closed’ and it was tilted off balance, as if someone had been in a hurry to turn it and leave. Out front, piled on the sidewalk against the front door, there were a half dozen boxes and packages left unclaimed.

  Dust and dirt had accumulated across the tops of the mailing labels, so I wiped some of it away to confirm that they were all addressed to Mr. Matthews. They’d clearly been sitting out for a few days, but no one had bothered to steal them, which didn’t speak highly of the crime rate in our small town; rather, it spoke poorly of the amount of foot traffic the town square usually produced on any given day. Most of the shops didn’t stay open longer than a few months; the Matthews’ repair shop was a rare exception.

  I glanced around to confirm that the square was still deserted and then turned to check the lock on the door. Mr. Matthews used a simple cable lock and when I shined my cell phone’s light at the keyhole, I discovered why. There was a key broken off inside that he hadn’t bothered to get out. Instead, he’d looped a cable lock between the door handle and a hook on the doorframe. It looked like the work of an overzealous eight-year-old trying to keep his parents out of his room. Anyone with a pair of nail clippers could have torn through the cable.

  I tried two combinations on the lock; the first was Hannah’s birthday, and the second was Chase’s birthday. The lock popped open on the second try and I pulled the door open, covering my ears in anticipation of a blaring alarm. Of course he doesn’t have an alarm, this is Blackwater. The shop stayed silent as I worked quickly to shove the boxes and packages inside. I was careful not to damage any, but as I stepped back and reviewed my work, I wasn’t happy. The boxes were stacked haphazardly on the welcome mat inside the doorway, and more than likely, Mr. Matthews would trip on them when he arrived at work in a few hours. I sighed, checked around me once again, and then walked into the shop.

  It felt like stepping into an old memory. The smell hit me right away, that slow decay of old carpet, chipped paint, and air filters in need of replacing. The shop was bare and ugly, but repair shops aren’t supposed to be pretty.

  I started the arduous task of carrying the heavy boxes from the doorway to the small area behind the counter. I stacked them from heaviest to lightest and pushed them out of the way, into a corner. I thought about leaving a post-it note explaining how I’d broken in and left the boxes, but that would only lead to more questions. He didn’t need to know that I was the one to put the boxes inside. If anything, maybe it’d convince him to finally put a proper lock on his front door.

  When I was finished, I turned to leave and caught sight of a small photo framed next to the cash register. The colors were faded and a yellow tint had started to creep in near the corners, but I recognized the children in it right away. It was a photo of me and Chase when were little kids. It was a terrible shot, out of focus and shot too close to distinguish anything but our bucktooth grins. Chase had four missing teeth and I had dirt smudged across my cheek. He was squeezing my face to his and I was laughing, my eyes squeezed shut and my smile big and toothy.

  I picked up the photo from the counter and stuffed it into my backpack before leaving the shop.

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chase

  Every Friday, Mr. Jenkins passed out a problem set to a chorus of pre-planned moaning. He challenged us on purpose. The problem sets were always based on the material he’d gone over earlier in the week and usually it took the whole period to complete them. I’d forgotten to warn Lilah to bring her graphing calculator with her to class, but by the time I’d pulled out mine for us both to share, she’d already slid a piece of paper across the table. It was the problem set, completed with all of her work shown step by step.

  “How’d you do it so fast?” Connor asked with wide eyes.

  She bent down to retrieve a textbook from her backpack. “He posted the questions on the class website last night.”

  “Sweet,” Connor said, grabbing his pencil so he could start copying down her answers without hesitation.

  “You know we’re supposed to work on them together,” I said, daring a glance in her direction.

  She was flipping through her physics book, turning to the section on electricity and magnetism that we weren’t due to start for another two weeks.

  “Yeah, well, I’m not really a group project kind of girl, especially when I can solve them all on my own.”

  I smirked and shook my head. “Almost all of them...”

  Her pale eyes slid to me as she tried to gauge whether or not I was bluffing.

  “You got number one wrong. It’s okay to ask for help—”

  Her brows furrowed as she reached across the table and yanked the problem set out of Connor’s hand.

  “Hey! I was copyi—er, reviewing that!”

  “It’s not wrong,” she protested, scanning over her work.

  “You forgot to count the energy lost to friction. It said we could neglect air resistance, not friction.”

  She scanned the word problem, groaned, and then reached for her pencil so she could start erasing her work. Connor followed suit, and soon Lilah and I were working together to tackle the problems. I would read the problem, figure out which equation to use, and Lilah would confirm my guess or argue her point. Connor offered overenthusiastic encouragement and copied down whatever we wrote. Even without his help, we were the first group to finish.

  Mr. Jenkins studied us over the rim of his glasses as we dropped the papers on his desk.

  “Stay quiet while the other students finish,” he said before going back to grading.

  Lilah returned to her textbook as soon as we reached our seats, but I was too anxious to keep working; there were only fifteen minutes until the weekend.

  Apparently Connor felt the same way because he leaned forward and tried to get Lilah’s attention across the table.

  “Psst, Lilah.”

  She ignored him and flipped to the next page in her textbook.

  “Lilah, I have two questions for you.”

  She finally glanced up.

  “What’s your favorite color?”

  She smirked. “The color of avidly anticipating your second question.”

  I laughed under my breath, but Connor pushed on full steam ahead.

  “That’s not a color. Why did you leave Blackwater?”

  Idiot. I kicked him under the table. He’d been begging me for details about Lilah all week. He’d felt like everyone was in on a secret but him. I would have told him had I known he’d try and go straight to the source. I turned to Lilah, expecting to find her completely shut down, but she shrugged off his question like it meant nothing at all.

  “It’s a shame,” she said, tapping the physics textbook with her pencil. “A part of me hoped you would be better at asking questions than you are at answering them.”

  The bell rang and before I could try to smooth over Connor’s mistake, Lilah stuffed her textbook into her bag and walked out without looking back.

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Lilah

  Connor had a lot to learn. He wanted to know the secret every student was whispering about in the hallways, but he wouldn’t be learning it from me. Secrets aren’t projected over loud speakers; they’re whispered in the hallways between classes like a commodity. A
secret for a secret. Had he approached me in the hallway before class with a good trade, maybe I would have told him. I could have regaled him with the whole wretched tale, but I knew he didn’t have any good secrets. It’d be a waste of memories. He’d have to just ask someone else.

  As soon as I walked out of physics, I headed for the closest exit and pulled my headphones out of my backpack.

  “Lilah!”

  Chase’s voice boomed over the chatter near the parking lot. Students were waiting for their rides to pick them up at the curb, but I cut through without stopping.

  “Lilah!”

  I cursed under my breath and turned in time to see Chase running to catch up to me. He'd left his group of friends behind—two baseball guys and a few cheerleaders—and they stood watching him with shocked expressions. I crossed my arms over my chest as my gaze met Kimberly’s. For a brief second, I wasn't sure what expression I saw behind her crystal blue eyes, but then she smiled and offered me a small wave.

  I waved back just as Chase fell into my line of sight. His unruly blond hair was standing up in every direction, his chest hidden beneath a fitted white t-shirt. His eyes were locked on me and his smile—the smile that unwound my world—was effortlessly genuine. I’d sat next to him for the last forty-five minutes and I’d successfully avoided it. Now, it was too late.

  “What are you doing?” I asked, my tone harder than I'd intended.

  “Walking home with you.” He tugged on his backpack, repositioning it on his shoulders. “No practice on Fridays.”

  “Your friends probably aren't happy about you ditching them,” I said, turning toward the sidewalk, knowing he'd fall into place beside me.

  “Well you're my oldest friend, so you get top priority.”

  “Priority?” I asked with a quizzical brow.

  “Yup. Premium walking-home privileges. It's a coveted spot.”

  “Well, I’d hate to take that away from someone who actually wants it,” I said, pressing play on my iPod.

  I couldn't hear his reply, but my music wasn’t loud enough to drown out his smile.

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Lilah

  I didn’t want to walk home with Chase. I didn’t want to stand at the threshold of my room, staring at his door in the darkness. The night before, I’d almost knocked to ask him if he needed someone to talk to, if he still missed his mom as much as I missed mine, but that hallway was blocked with the barbed wires of our past and I couldn’t conjure the courage to step over them.

  “Is that what you’re wearing?” Ashley asked, tugging me out of my thoughts. I sat in her room, watching her get ready for the party I’d grudgingly agreed to attend with her and Trent.

  I glanced down at my skinny jeans and Black Keys t-shirt. The t-shirt was snug and fit my frame well. I hadn't thought about the party when I'd gotten dressed that morning before school, but it would have to do.

  I looked up at Ashley and shrugged. “It's not like I have time to go home and change.”

  She reached into her closet and pulled out a black leather miniskirt. “Here, put this on at least.”

  I caught it as she tossed it over to me and decided that caving and wearing the skirt would be easier than fighting about it. I had to pick my battles with her. She'd already been annoyed when I’d told her I was done taking Molly.

  “Where'd you get those pills anyway?” I asked as I unzipped my jeans and slipped into the skirt. I wished it had another inch or two of fabric, but I just tugged it down a sliver and then knotted my shirt above my waist so it looked like an intentional outfit. I ran my hand across the sliver of exposed stomach, fighting an intrusive curiosity: what would it feel like to have Chase's hands there?

  “I don't remember. I got them a while back. I'm still going to take one even if you aren't,” she threatened as she layered on her mascara in the bathroom mirror.

  “Be my guest,” I said, making a mental note to keep track of her at the party.

  “Any updates about Chase? Does his holiness even bother acknowledging your presence?”

  “He mostly keeps to himself,” I lied.

  She dropped her mascara on the counter and then spun around to face me. She'd redone the pink streaks in her blonde hair earlier that day so they were even more vibrant. I focused on them as she spoke.

  “I just don’t see how you can live across the hall from him. That would be so weird.”

  Her words were scraping at scabs I wasn’t ready to pick. “Whatever. Are you almost ready? Trent is picking us up in like five minutes.”

  She smacked her lips and reached back to grab a bag of little white pills from her purse.

  “Time to roll,” she said before popping two into her mouth.

  I watched her swallow them and tried to fight away thoughts of my mom clawing their way to the front of my mind. Why was it so hard for her to turn down a high? I watched Ashley inhale those pills and I felt no desire to join her. If it was so easy for me to turn them down, why could my mother never manage it?

  “Last chaaaaaance,” Ashley announced, shaking the little bag. I had to fight the urge to grab it and flush the pills down the toilet. “You sure you don’t want some?”

  I pushed off her bed and headed for the door. “Positive.”

  “All right, Miss Priss.”

  My phone buzzed in my hand before I could respond.

  Trent: Outside.

  Perfect.

  “Trent just got here. I'm going to head down,” I said, leaving her room before she could follow after me. I headed outside to find Trent sitting behind the wheel of his silver Camry. His friend Duncan sat in the passenger seat beside him. Duncan had a thing with Ashley—or as she explained it, they “liked hooking up with each other while drunk.”

  “You look sexy, babe.” Trent whistled as I hopped into the backseat. Duncan twisted around to inspect me and his smile made me want to gag. He reminded me of a snake with his sunken cheekbones and chin that tapered off at a sharp angle.

  “Yeah Calloway,” Duncan added. “You really came into your own since you left.”

  His dark gaze had a way of making my skin crawl.

  I shifted my gaze to Trent and took him in. A tattered t-shirt covered his thin build and his jet-black hair hung low over his forehead, purposely disheveled. He flashed me a crooked smile and his dark eyes held mine.

  “Where's Ashley?” he asked with an arched brow, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel impatiently.

  I shrugged. “She was supposed to head out right after me.”

  Duncan rubbed his hands together greedily. “She better bring the Molly with her. I hooked up with Sasha last week and I can’t face her unless I get fucked up.”

  I ignored him and turned to stare out the window. I chewed on the inside of my cheek and found myself wishing I was with another group of people—or better yet, at home reading with Harvey.

  A few minutes later, Ashley finally fell into the backseat with two water bottles in her hands.

  “Sorry, I had to raid my parent's liquor cabinet. Sasha always runs out,” she said, shaking the water bottles, which I then realized were full of vodka, not water.

  “Nice,” Duncan complimented, grabbing one of the bottles and taking a swig.

  Trent met my eyes in his review mirror and gave me a small smile. I shrugged and smiled back, praying he'd be an ally. If Duncan and Ashley were both drunk and high, they'd be a handful.

  Sasha Olsen was a junior at our school with very rich, very neglectful parents. They left her every few months to jet off to some exotic location, and she used the opportunity to throw parties at their ranch out on the edge of town. Trent explained that she’d stepped up her game even more while I’d been away. There was usually a bonfire and a few kegs, and unlike other parties around our town, Sasha's parties weren't exclusive to one clique. Everyone at our school was welcome.

  When we pulled up along the line of cars that were parked outside of her ranch, I knew the party was going to be huge.
There was nearly a quarter mile of cars leading up to the front drive. The four of us started the trek up to her house, passing tipsy teenagers as we went.

  Trent fell into place next to me, skimming his hand along the bare skin between my shirt and my skirt. His touch was warm, but it reminded me of Chase. Why? Why? Why was he suddenly so impossible to forget? I tried to push him out of my mind, but I knew he'd be at the party.

  The music from the house grew louder as we made our way up the cobblestone path. Trent kept me tucked close to his side as he greeted people we passed.

  “What's up?” I asked, glancing down to his hand clamped around my waist.

  He flashed me a confident grin. “You just look so good, I don't want you getting swooped up by another guy.”

  I hadn't been expecting such an honest answer from him and for some reason it didn't sit well with me. I didn't want to date Trent, I hardly knew him, but giving in was easier than fighting him, and pissing him off would mean I had no ride home.

  We stepped inside and he bent down to whisper in my ear.

  “You want a drink?”

  In that moment I glanced across the room and made eye contact with Chase leaning against the kitchen counter. He was surrounded by friends, but his hazel eyes were on me and his brows were cocked in question.

 
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