Storm Page 37

’’Thanks.’’ Quinn climbed onto the bleachers and pulled out her own Trig book.

Gabriel stepped closer, watching her. ’’Didn\ I see you sucking the face off Rafe Gutierrez last weekend?’’

He was quickly killing any of Becca\s residual feelings of gratitude.

’’Jealous?’’ said Quinn.

’’Maybe,’’ said Nick.

Quinn was suddenly blushing again. ’’Well, I came to watch him practice.’’

’’Good luck,’’ said Gabriel. ’’I think Coach sent him to fill the water jugs.’’

Quinn shrugged. ’’He told me to bring my homework, so I figured as much.’’

’’Why\d you come?’’

Chris\s voice. Becca snapped her head up. He was watching her, his eyes hard and daring.

When she didn\ respond right away, his expression turned cold. ’’Boyfriend busy?’’

’’He\s not my boyfriend,’’ she snapped.

’’Yeah,’’ said Gabriel. ’’There\s another term for that. Friends with benefits? Or do you just prefer f**k bud ’’

Becca hit him. Hard. Right in the face.

As soon as she did it, she wanted to go find Hunter and give him a kiss or write him a check or promise him her firstborn child. Because it was a solid punch, with power behind it, and Hunter had taught her exactly how to do it.

Nick and Chris were on their feet, but they hadn\ moved from the bleachers. She\d struck Gabriel hard enough that he\d rocked back, and she realized she should be counting her lucky stars that he wasn\ coming after her.

He touched a hand to his face, looking a bit stunned.

’’Holy shit,’’ said Quinn. ’’Would it be wrong if I applaud?’’

Becca glared at Gabriel, enjoying the redness across his cheek. ’’You\ e an ass**le,’’ she said, feeling strong for the first time in a long while. ’’I came here to apologize to Chris. I came here to thank you for helping me last night. I didn\ ask to be part of this. I helped your brother because he was getting hurt. I warned you guys at that party. I didn\ sleep with Hunter.’’

Skepticism flickered in his eyes. Becca shoved him in the chest, hard enough to push Gabriel back a step.

’’I didn\ ,’’ she cried. ’’I was scared, and he came over. That\s all.’’

’’Whatever you say,’’ he said. He glanced off across the field, as if he were merely enduring her theatrics.

’’Look at me.’’ Her eyes felt hot, but she ignored it. ’’I heard what you said to Chris. I heard your little warning. Do you have any idea what that feels like? To know everyone thinks you\ e something you\ e not?’’

He didn\ move, but now she had his attention. She had to get her breathing under control or she was going to go to pieces. Her cheeks felt hot, and she was deathly afraid she was about to cry.

’’Everyone\s willing to believe I\m screwing half the school, but no one wants to believe I\m not. I never slept with all those guys they say I did. Drew McKay was drunk, but I really liked him. I didn\ even know what he it was just his friends were there, and they\ e, like, ten times stronger than I am, and ’’

Then she was sobbing into her hands and this was the most humiliating day of her life.

No, the second most.

Arms wrapped around her. Quinn, holding her tight, murmuring the same reassuring crap Becca had been saying twenty minutes ago.

’’Merrick!’’ The coach was calling from the center of the field. ’’Quit screwing around.’’

’’Go on, kon***head,’’ said Quinn.

Gabriel didn\ say anything. Becca heard nothing but her own sobs, then a quick swish of cleats through grass.

She thought Gabriel was leaving, but Quinn muttered, ’’Oh, crap.’’

’’Come on, man.’’ Drew\s voice. ’’What are you wait. Becca?’’

Becca lifted her head. Her face felt like a punching bag. She wished, wished, wished she hadn\ used up that punch on Gabriel. Because now her rage was a puddle in the grass. And Drew was the one who really deserved it.

Gabriel still stood there, looking down at her. His eyes, that same blue as Chris\s, were cold and unreadable.

Drew punched him in the arm. ’’Let\s go, dude.’’ Then he gave Becca that signature smile, the one that used to melt her insides but now mostly made her want to puke. ’’Wait you\ e not breaking up with her, are you? You know, most guys don\ date her, they just ’’

Gabriel punched him.

Becca gasped. It was a good thing Quinn was holding on to her, because shock would have knocked her down.

Especially since Gabriel grabbed the front of Drew\s jersey, hauled him forward, and slugged him again.

Drew went down. His nose was bleeding. He couldn\ seem to get his joints to organize.

’’Merrick!’’ The coach was running. Other players were running. Nick was off the bleachers and he\d grabbed his brother\s arm.

But Gabriel stood back and didn\ try to take another swing.

They were ordered off the field. All of them. The coach was so furious he was almost incoherent. He was hollering about detentions and suspensions and something about needing a goddamn cigarette.

Becca grabbed her things and fell into step beside Quinn.

She almost stopped short when Gabriel fell into step beside her. His cheek was even redder now he was definitely going to have a black eye.

’’Sorry,’’ he said. ’’I didn\ know.’’

She shrugged. Quinn reached out and squeezed her hand.

’’That guy\s an ass**le,’’ he added.

’’Yes,’’ she agreed. ’’He is.’’ She paused. ’’Thanks for hitting him.’’

He grinned and touched his face. ’’Next time I\ll let you do it.’’

She smiled back a little.

Then she remembered something Chris had told her. ’’Wait I thought you wouldn\ be able to play all year if you got in another fight.’’

Nick snorted behind them. Gabriel laughed and dropped an arm across her shoulders, almost giving her half a hug. ’’You\ e sweet. I\m not worried.’’

Becca left his arm there. It felt good brotherly. Like when she\d played foreman in their driveway.

She looked up at him. ’’You\ e not?’’

’’Nah. Don\ you remember? They all think I\m Nick.’’

CHAPTER 29

Chris sucked it up and went to class on Wednesday. He hauled ass to make it to the room before Becca, but now he was doodling in his notebook, fighting not to fidget. He sketched a rather impressive pyramid before deciding it made him look like a complete tool. So he flipped to a clean page.

The Guide seemed to be lying low since they\d chased him off at the bridge or maybe he was plotting something bigger. Whichever, they\d had a peaceful night or as peaceful as it could be with Michael and Gabriel walking a razor edge of tension all evening. Once darkness fell and his brothers settled, Chris had relished the silence, replaying every moment of that scene in front of the bleachers.

Becca had come walking across the field, looking like a loud noise would send her bolting for safety. But she\d kept her head up and her pace even, determined as ever.

No, not determined. Brave.

She\d punched Gabriel right in the face something Chris wasn\ sure he\d try himself. Even before that, she\d stood up to Tyler and Seth had saved Chris without knowing the stakes. He couldn\ remember two words he\d spoken to Becca before that mess in the parking lot. Now he couldn\ make himself forget a single thing about her.

Seeing her tears on the field had almost been his undoing. He\d wanted to hold her. No, he\d wanted to kill Drew and anyone else who\d laid a hand on her. That guy was lucky Gabriel got to him first.

But no, Chris had just sat there and watched. He could kick himself.

He should have talked to her, after. He should have walked her to her car. Called her last night to check on her.

What had she said about Hunter? I was scared, and he came over.

Would she have wanted Chris to call?

Any minute now she was going to come strolling in here with Hunter. She\d sit down, smelling like almonds and vanilla, and Chris would pretend he didn\ notice. She\d think about World History.

He\d think about her.

God, he was going to drive himself crazy. He looked down at his notebook. He\d drawn a spiral, pressing so hard that the pen was going through the paper.

But wait hadn\ she asked for a new partner? So she wasn\ going to sit next to him at all. Someone else would drop into the empty seat, and he\d obsess over Becca from across the room.

That would probably be better.

Chris felt the air move as someone stopped next to his desk. He swung his head around as Becca slid into the seat beside him.

’’I thought you switched partners,’’ he exclaimed, before realizing he sounded a bit too frigging excited.

’’Beamis wouldn\ let me.’’

Oh. That explained it.

Chris flipped to another page in his notebook while she pulled her textbook from her bag. Had she walked in with Hunter? Chris hadn\ been paying attention and the new guy was already in his seat, staring at the board.

He had no idea what to say, so he pretended to listen as Mr. Beamis called the class to order.

’’Here,’’ Becca whispered, pushing a piece of paper his way.

Chris glanced down. The notebook paper was covered in her handwriting, careful cursive that looked nothing like the big bubble letters of the girly-girl set. Had she written him a letter? His heart tripped before catching itself. Then he read the words.

Class notes.

Figures. This was probably a subtle reminder not to cut.

’’Thanks,’’ he murmured. ’’I\ll copy them and get these back to you.’’

’’They\ e yours,’’ she said. ’’I took two sets so you wouldn\ miss anything.’’

He swung his head around. She wasn\ looking at him, but her cheeks were faintly pink.

’’Thanks,’’ he said again. He hesitated, then leaned the tiniest bit closer. Almonds, vanilla, torture. ’’You know, you didn\ have to ’’

’’Mr. Merrick?’’

Goddamn Beamis.

Chris flung himself back in his chair. ’’What?’’

The teacher raised his eyebrows. ’’Every student in my class deserves a chance to learn. Do you understand me?’’

’’Sure.’’ Chris didn\ have a clue what he was talking about.

Beamis clearly wasn\ convinced, either. ’’Are you harassing Miss Chandler?’’

Harassing her? Was that what this guy thought? After that kon*** two rows over had been tossing ’’notes’’ onto Becca\s desk? After what Drew and his friends had done? Beamis thought Chris was harassing her?

And now the whole class was staring at him. Half the school had probably heard what happened on the soccer field or some approximation of it. He wondered just what stories were flying around.

And where he fit in.

’’He\s not,’’ Becca said quickly. ’’He was just repeating a point I missed.’’

Beamis gave him another long look, then nodded and turned back to the board.

Chris didn\ dare say anything else to her. He sighed and looked at his notebook.

His eyes kept straying to the page of notes she\d written.

Becca tapped his arm and gestured to her notebook.

Sorry. I didn\ mean to get you in trouble.

He shrugged, then reached up with his pen.

Not your fault.

Then Beamis turned around, addressing the class, and she didn\ write anything else.

But the end of the period brought an activity, fifteen minutes for them to begin work on the semester project and design an outline.

Chris started a new page, fully expecting her to want to work exclusively on the project. But she put her hand over his to stop him from writing.


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