Chapter 22

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T W E N T Y—T W O

ONE DEFINITE DIFFERENCE between women and men is shower times. For me, it usually took anywhere between fifteen to forty minutes, usually depending on my mood that day. From what I've learned about guys, they can finish a shower anywhere between five to ten minutes and come out looking like a god.

Ryder, on the other hand, took about twenty.

When he finally did come out, despite my slight distaste for him, I did notice how much his skin practically glowed. He'd managed to clean off all the body paint, whereas I'd gone to a different bathroom and took a fifteen minute shower of my own.

I also realized I'd never really noticed just how absolutely breath taking Ryder was. Whether it was the remaining gratefulness of him taking me home, or just the fact I'd never really spoken to him since I'd popped off, I couldn't help noticing what others did for once.

There he stood at the bottom of the steps in only a pair of ripped jeans, gray beanie in hand and a white T-shirt slung over his shoulder. He was definitely well built and tanned, bringing out the highlights I'd never noticed in his dark but currently damp hair. His startling gray eyes were outlined with dark lashes girls could only dream of having, and I noticed a splash of barely-there freckles on his cheeks and shoulders.

I was pulled from my thoughts as he pulled the shirt on over his head and spoke. "Any of you have any idea what day it is?" He asked, walking over to a rectangular mirror near some photos in the living room. He ran his fingers through his hair like a comb before tugging on the beanie and adjusting it until he was satisfied.

He turned and waited for a response, walking over to us and plopping down in a chair diagonal to the couch I was currently on with Tyler, Jay, and Cyrus.

I started to search my pockets for my phone before realizing it had probably died last night. I hadn't gotten the chance to charge it between my argument with the British guy and falling asleep on Ryder.

Wow, that's a sentence I'd never imagined thinking. Hell, if you'd told me a little over two months ago that I'd not only become friends with three of the biggest assholes at school, but find out that they're actually sweethearts, and be trying to make Ryder Williams of all people approve of me, I'd probably have called a mental hospital.

For you, of course.

Jay cursed under his breath, grabbing my attention. He was staring at his phone when I glanced over. "It's Monday," he spoke up. "As in, we have school today."

"Not anymore," Ryder stated simply. He leaned back with a shrug and crossed his arms over his chest. "What do you guys want to do?"

"We obviously can't just show up this late," Cyrus said. "Not all together, anyways. We might as well go out somewhere."

Panic spiked through me for a moment as I wondered what people might think. Just a few days ago I was pulled out of class by Jay, and now I'm missing school on the same day that they are?

I suppose it would be considered a coincidence if people even noticed I was gone. After all, no one really recalled my existence the majority of the time. The only reason they would is if they remembered Jay pulling me from class. Everyone forgot about me after the whole gossip about me going off on Ryder became 'old news'.

"I can't go with you guys," I finally added. They'd spoken more between each other, but I hadn't really heard anything they'd said besides mentioning going out to a diner of some sort.

"Why not?" Tyler asked, twisting in his seat beside me to face me. "Everyone we know is at school, and anyone who isn't would be too far in denial to actually piece together who you are if you were dressed differently. You said it yourself: it's called self-deception."

      I smacked his arm and he winced.

      "Besides," Jay added with a playful grin, nudging my shoulder with his. "You could wear a hat."

      I smiled and let out a small laugh. "I appreciate your attempts, but it's not a good idea." I sighed and bit my lip. "After Jay pulling me out of class, people are already talking about who I am. What if they remember me going off on Ryder? Granted, I was way in the wrong there, but it's still risky."

      Ryder looked surprised by my words. I hadn't really thought about the fact he assumed I still agreed with what I'd done. Yes, he could be an asshole, but that kid deserved it.

      Shocking me, as well as the other guys, Ryder sighed. "You're coming, and I have a way to keep you hidden. It's not the best idea in the world, but Tyler's right about the whole denial thing."

      I bit my lip in thought, considering their words. Eventually I nodded, saying, "Alright, what's the plan?"

•••••

      Ryder was right—his plan was a horrible one.

      Regardless of that fact, I still found myself wearing a white hat with my dark hair down and framing my face. I had on a white tank top with my leather jacket, and a pair of black leggings wrapped around my legs.

      I'd been against the leggings at first, self conscious about the thickness of my legs, but Tyler and Jay insisted they looked amazing and to quit worrying about my appearance.

      It still took a lot of convincing to keep them on and a wrestling match with Cyrus when he decided to kidnap my favorite gray jeans and hold them captive over his head, but I eventually gave in.

      "What do you want to eat?" Tyler asked me as we walked into a nearby Tudor's. We decided to just walk around with some breakfast to put my mind at ease.

      I glanced over at the glass container of sweets on the left side of the counter.

      Tyler laughed at seeing my sad and pleading look. Shaking his head with a smile, he told the worker, "One blueberry muffin, please."

      I glanced back at the other three to see Cyrus and Jay discussing what to eat as they stared at the menu above the counter. Ryder raised an amused eyebrow at my muffin begging and shook his head before focusing on the menu, as well.

      After getting my abnormally large blueberry muffin, Tyler's cinnamon role, Jay's egg and cheese biscuit, Cyrus's soda, and Ryder's chocolate muffin, we started walking around. We really didn't have a specific destination in mind when we'd started, but somehow ended up at the lake where I went skinny dipping with the guys.

      Now, I know that sounds pretty damn bad. What I mean by skinny dipping, to us, is underwear.

      I mean, originally we were planning to do it the old fashioned way, but it was too awkward and uncomfortable. Eventually we just decided we'd stay in our underwear. I mean, its not like you're showing any more than in a bathing suit. In fact, some bathing suits showed more.

      By now, we were long finished with our breakfast. If anything, we'd probably need to go grab some food later.

      By the time the lake came into view, and it was obvious that no one was around, I was already slipping off my jacket, boots, and socks. With a grin, I ran forward, hopping slightly as I slid off the last boot and tossed it to the big rock near a tree to my left. I slid off my leggings as I got closer, pausing just long enough to pull them off my feet and toss them aside. Then I tossed the hat, pulled off my tank, and dove off the dock into the slightly translucent water.

      When I came up for air , I pushed my hair back before grinning. I opened my eyes to hear the guys cheering and taking off their shirts and pants, all except Ryder.

     Ryder stood there gaping, switching his gaze between me, the guys, and the scattered pile of clothes that was quickly growing. After a second, he shook his head in astonishment, hesitantly tugging off his own shirt and pants. Each guy dove in one after the other, starting the long evening of swimming.

      If only I'd known before hand that coming to the lake was going to have been a very, very bad idea.

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