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Chapter 5

My mind struggled to make sense of the situation, but seeing Cedric standing in the dim glow of the back porch light, holding a red cup of his own, was like seeing an algebra problem in my English test.

I stared at him, wide eyed and stunned, and he stared back with an expression that probably mirrored mine.

Whenever we went to watch any of the football or soccer games, he would always get invited to the party by some of the few friends he had from the varsity teams.  We hardly won, but that never really stopped them from hosting parties anyway.

He never showed up to any of them.

Once on our way to our favorite diner, I asked him why he never bothered, and he made a face at me before saying, "I hate parties. You hate parties. It's not exactly rocket science."

"If you wanted to go, you can," I said. "You can just drop me off at home or something."

We stopped at a stoplight and he turned to me. "Where's this coming from?"

Almost immediately, my cheeks warmed. I wiped my sweaty hands on my pants. "I don't know. I just don't want you to think that you have to look out for me all the time," I said. "Because you don't."

"Hey." Over the console, he reached for my hand. He did that thing that he always did when he held my hand like this—tracing small patterns on the back of it with his thumb—and I looked up at him. "I'm not just hanging out with you because I feel like I need to. It's because I want to."

 I looked away. "You're just saying that."

"No, Kyla." The light turned green, but there were no cars behind us, so he didn't bother to drive right away. "Even if it's not a party, even if it's dinner with the president—whatever it can possibly—it doesn't matter. I'd choose this"—he lifted our joint hands together, as if that meant something—"in a heartbeat."

The sincerity of his words was enough to reassure me. I could feel myself begin to smile. "Even if it's a Beatles concert, if you were given the chance?" 

At this, he narrowed his eyes, as though he had to think hard about it, and I playfully shoved his hand away. He laughed, reaching for it again. "Of course," he replied. Then with a playful grin, he said, "But we might have to negotiate on that one."

So we'd never gone to a party together. And as far as I knew, he didn't go to any alone either.

Not until now.

It was like fate was playing a big joke on us, but neither of us was laughing.

"Fancy meeting you here," I said when I recovered, putting on another act even though I was still trying to figure out what he could possibly be doing here after all the times he claimed he hated parties.

Or had he been going to parties when I didn't know?

Whichever it was, it didn't matter. All I knew was that it felt like another betrayal.

I'd always thought that I knew him more than I knew myself, and now it felt like I never even knew him at all, and he could have punched me then, and it wouldn't hurt as much as the realization that he might not have been the person I thought he was all this time.

 He shook his head. "What—what are you doing here?"

I was about to answer, but then I saw his eyes stray from mine and settle on something behind me. I looked over my shoulder and when I saw Seth Everett looking impassively at Cedric, I understood why his eyes had suddenly hardened.

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