She looked way different. Her long brown hair was down and wavy, and she was wearing tight black jeans, a thick pair of boots laced up to her knees, and a plaid shirt over a fitted tank top.
I assessed her as she waited for Luna to finish talking to her mom. The clothes weren’t flashy, but Willow usually wore loose-fitted jeans, baggy T-shirts, glasses, and her hair was always in a ponytail. She looked so different that it was kind of wigging me out.
When the two of them headed up the stairs, I hopped off the wall to meet them halfway. The closer I got, the more I noticed that Willow had gotten taller, and she filled out her clothes more. She looked good. Really, really good.
I quickly shoved the thought away. No fucking way was I going there. Getting a crush on my best friend would be stupid. And there were plenty of other girls around, ones who wouldn’t destroy my life when we broke up. And that’s what would happen if I dated Willow and we broke up. I’d lose the only person who knew most of my secrets, who knew how crappy I felt when my dad told me I was a screw-up, who knew I secretly cried during sad movies sometimes, who knew I got lonely a lot. Who would break just as much if she lost me, too. Because Willow needed me as much as I needed her.
Clearing my head of Willow’s sudden hotness, I continued down the stairway straight for her. When Willow spotted me, her eyes lit up as she bounced and threw her arms around me.
“I’m so glad you’re back.” She hugged the crap out of me. “I missed you.”
I hugged her back, spinning her around until she laughed. “I missed you, too.” And I was so worried about you while I was gone.
Wynter glowered at me as I set Willow down on her feet. “Why didn’t I get that kind of hello?” she asked.
I shrugged, and her eyes narrowed even more. I didn’t have an answer to give her, not one I was going to share.
The truth was, ever since the day Willow confided in me about her home life, I felt an overpowering connection to her, enough that I told her some of my secrets, too.
“So, how was Paris?” Willow asked me excitedly. “Was it as cool as it sounds? Because it sounds pretty cool.”
“It was okay.” I stuffed my hands into my back pockets. “It would’ve been more fun if you were there.”
“See? Again, he’s nicer to Willow,” Wynter whined to Luna. “Why can’t we get that kind of treatment?”
“Beck is nice to us,” Luna said, fidgeting with the collar of her turtleneck.
Ignoring them, I pulled out a small box from my backpack. “I got you something.” I handed the box to Willow. “I saw it in the airport, and it kind of reminded me of you.”
“You didn’t have to get me anything.” But she smiled and opened the box. “Oh! Cool.” She picked up the miniature snow globe and gave it a shake. Then her eyes met mine, her smile practically glowing, which made me feel like I was glowing. “Thanks, Beck. You’re the best. Seriously, you spoil me too much.”
I shrugged, playing it cool, but really, I felt super proud that I got her to smile. “I figured you could add it to that collection your dad gave you.”
The happiness in her eyes faded to sadness as her eyes traveled to the snow globe. “Yeah, I could.”
Crap. I didn’t think it through very well. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to remind you of your dad.” I reached for the snow globe. “I can get rid of it if you want.”
She tucked it behind her back, shaking her head. “No way. I love it too much. Plus, it’s from Paris.”
I relaxed, wondering why I was so nervous. “Good. I’m glad you like it. My mom tried to talk me into buying you a bracelet, but I told her you weren’t a bracelet kind of girl.”
“No, I’m definitely not.” Willow fell into step with me as we headed up the stairway, staring at the snow globe in her hand. Luna and Wynter followed, lost in their own conversation.
“So, how was your summer?” I asked, hoping to distract her from thoughts of her jerk of a father who bailed on her and her mom. “You didn’t have any problems, right? I mean, with your mom?”
“I guess not … Her new boyfriend moved in with us about a month ago … He has a cat …” She sighed, rotating the snow globe in her hand. “I think I’m allergic to cats. I wake up every day sneezing, and my eyes are always red.”
“Aw, Wills, I’m so sorry.” I draped an arm around her and steered her to the side as I maneuvered the door open. “What can I do to make you feel better?”
“I don’t think there’s anything you can do.” Her frown deepened as we wandered down the busy hallway with Luna and Wynter still trailing behind us. “You know how my mom gets … And it’s just a cat.” Another stressed sigh. “It just sucks because her stupid boyfriend doesn’t even like kids. He told me that when he moved in, that he hates kids and that I need to make sure I stay out of his way or he might have to send me off to boarding school.” She shook her head, folding her fingers around the snow globe. “Like he could really do that. He doesn’t even have a job.”
I hated that her mom put her boyfriends above Willow and that she brought such sketchy guys into the house. I once offered to let Willow live in one of our five guest rooms so she could get away from her mom’s creepy boyfriends. I doubted my parents would notice her living with us, considering they were hardly ever home. But Willow declined like she usually did when I tried to give her things. Even when she needed my help, she had a hard time asking.
I massaged her shoulder. “I should get you a dog, one that’s well-trained and will keep that guy away and the cat, too.”
“My mom would probably get rid of it.” She tucked the snow globe into the side pocket of her backpack then looked at me, forcing a smile on her face. “Tell me more about Paris. Did you see the Eiffel Tower? Oh, please tell me you went to the catacombs.”
Noting the desperate subject change, I started telling her about my trip, even though I really didn’t want to talk about it.
By the time we reached my locker, I noticed quite a few people, particularly guys, glancing in our direction. I figured they were looking at Wynter because that happened a lot. And sometimes guys would come up and ask me about her, see if she had a boyfriend. Later, when I was doodling in math class, I found out that the staring wasn’t about Wynter after all.