“Yeah, but I don’t have just me to worry about,” she mutters, her hand twitching underneath mine, but she doesn’t pull back.
We sink into silence as Willow stares out the window, lost in thought, probably stressing over her car, her mom, school, bills. At eighteen years old, she has more responsibilities than most people have in a lifetime. I wish I could take some of the burden away for her, but she rarely accepts my offers to help. I love helping her. I wish she’d stop being so stubborn and let me fix her car so I wouldn’t have to worry about her getting into another situation like tonight. Until she does get her car fixed, I’ll spend my nights worrying about her safety.
Then again, at this point in my life, I should be used to it.
Ever since grade school when we first became friends, I felt a need to protect Willow, like when other kids teased her because she wore old clothes and glasses that were too big. Plus, she was so shy and rarely stood up for herself. That quickly became my job, and I spent many recesses warding off anyone who dared come near her on the playground. During middle school, though, my warding off days diminished, mostly because Willow changed.
So did the way I looked at her.
I remember the moment clearly. My mom had dragged me to France with her for the entire summer, and I didn’t see Willow for three months straight. By the time I returned, I was excited to go back to school, to return to normalcy, to eat a cheeseburger, and to see my friends, particularly Willow. Partly because I wanted to check up on her, and partly because I simply missed her.
I didn’t get a chance to see her until the first day of school, but a couple of our other friends, she, and I all agreed over the phone to meet out front so we could walk in together.
Wynter showed up first. She looked pretty much the same as she had at the beginning of summer. Her blonde hair was a little longer, and she was wearing a dress like she usually did.
“Hello, Beckett. Long time no see.” She plopped down beside me on the short wall that ran down the side of the stairway that led to the school.
“I wish you’d stop calling me that.” My lip twitched. I hated when she called me Beckett. My dad used my full name when he yelled at me, telling me how much of a screw-up I am. Wynter knew I loathed the name, but she loved getting under my skin.
“Why?” Her eyes sparkled mischievously in the sunlight. “It’s your name, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but you know I hate it.”
“Which makes it even more appealing.”
I blew out an exasperated breath, keeping my lips sealed. It was too early in the morning to argue with her, something we did a lot. Some of my friends said we acted this way because we were so much alike. Perhaps that was true. Wynter came from a wealthy family like me, and our parents could sometimes be neglectful. But they made up for their absence by showering us with gifts. Still, I thought Wynter acted more spoiled than I did.
She crossed her legs, fiddling with her diamond bracelet. “So was Paris any fun? I bet it was. I wish my parents would take me there. They hate taking me on trips with them, though. You’re so lucky your mom takes you places sometimes.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” I didn’t mean to sound grumpy, but going on trips with my mom meant sitting in a hotel room while she went shopping. The only reason she brought me was because my dad didn’t want to be responsible for me.
I sat back on my hands and stared at the people walking up and down the stairway in front of us. “The food kind of sucked, though.”
“Whatever. I bet it didn’t. I bet you were just being … well, you.”
I shot her a dirty look. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
She gave a half-shrug. “That sometimes, you don’t appreciate the finer things in life.”
I shot an insinuating look at the bracelet on her wrist. “Isn’t that like the pot calling the kettle black?”
She covered the bracelet with her hand. “That’s different. I appreciate my parents for getting this for me.”
“And I appreciate my mom for taking me to Paris. That doesn’t mean I have to lie and say I liked the food or say I had a blast when I didn’t.”
“God, you’re so spoiled.”
I resisted an eye roll, biting my tongue. Again, it was too early in the morning for this shit.
“Do you know what time Willow and Luna are supposed to be here?” I glanced at the parent drop-off section at the bottom of the stairway. “I really want to go see where my locker is before the bell rings. Oh, yeah, and I met this guy—Ari—the other day when I was hanging out at the skate park. He just moved here. He seems pretty cool. I told him he could hang out with us.”
“What’s he like? Is he cute?”
“What do I look like, a girl?”
“Sometimes, you act like one.”
God, I really need more guy friends.
“And you can be such a brat sometimes, but you don’t see me pointing it out every two seconds.” I waved at Levi and Jack, two of my other friends, ignoring Wynter’s withering gaze.
Levi cupped his hands around his mouth. “Yo, Beck, you coming in?”
“In a bit,” I called out. “I’m waiting for Luna and Willow to show up.”
“So, which one of them are you dating now?” Levi teased, and Jack laughed.
I flipped them the middle finger, and they howled with laughter before pushing through the entrance doors.
“I can’t believe people are still giving you crap for hanging out with girls,” Wynter said, frowning. “They really just need to get over it.”
“You mean like you just did?” I questioned.
She shrugged. “That’s different.”
“How do you figure?”
“Because I’m your friend.”
I didn’t even bother trying to understand her logic. Instead, I asked her what classes she was taking, which seemed like a safe topic.
Wynter and I talked until we spotted Luna’s mom’s van pulling into the drop-off area. The side door rolled open, and Luna hopped out. She was wearing a godawful yellow turtleneck and baggy jeans. Poor girl. I didn’t know why she dressed in such hideous outfits. I figured her mom made her. I didn’t know for sure, though. Other kids made fun of her a lot, and I stuck up for her when I could, but it never felt like enough.
Slinging her backpack over her shoulder, Luna moved to the rolled down passenger window to talk to her mom while Willow jumped out. Well, I thought the tall girl without glasses was Willow, anyway. I wasn’t so sure.