Chapter 37

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November 2014

"This is awkward." Max laughs and walks over to me from the bar. He's now the only person moving in the room. Taking the plate from my hand, he replaces it with a drink. "I believe you ordered that." He looks over his shoulder at Jared who looks completely mortified and is hastily pushing Nina off of him. "I think you're going to need this."

I take the drink and try to breathe, composing myself, before walking over and taking my place beside Derrick. I can feel him staring down at me, probably checking to see if I'm okay, but I don't look at him; I don't look at any of them. I concentrate on my drink, taking a big sip and almost choking as the liquid burns its way down my throat. I frown, wiping my lip. Max has made the drink stronger than necessary. Why am I not surprised?

"So Ellie, just to catch you up; Nina was demonstrating to Jared how he was fair game now since the two of you have broken up. It would have been very entertaining had Jared not looked so freaked out by the whole thing." Caroline slurs from her spot lounging across the love seat. I appreciate her filling me in and am not surprised that Nina jumped at the opportunity to stake claim on Jared.

"Whatever Caroline! Ellie's obviously moved on!" Nina shoots a look over at Derrick and me. Derrick takes that as his cue and fumbles to put his arm around my waist, pulling me into him and causing my drink to slosh onto the floor. He doesn't notice but Jared does. I catch him looking at me as I hold the glass with my other hand and discreetly shake out my wet arm. Half my mouth arches up in a smile. He sees it; I can tell. I turn my attention back to the girls.

"You can't monopolize everyone Ellie," Nina continues.

"Why are you even here?" Caroline asks rudely.

"Your mother told me to come back here." Caroline suddenly sits up and by the look on her face she did it a little too quickly. It takes a minute, but she seems in control of herself again.

"Are you like her spy?" Caroline is only joking but I can't help think about the possibility. Nina catches me staring at her and snaps at me.

"What?" she challenges.

"Nothing," I laugh, not even bothering to waste my energy on this trivial girl.

"Okay this is getting a little too intense. It's Thanksgiving!" Max says plopping down in an overstuffed chair. "Let's relax a little." He takes a swig of his drink, apparently the only one able to relax in this group. I'm not surprised; he seems to thrive off situations like these. I take a deep breath and look him square in the eye as I take Derrick's hand and pull him down next to me on the last available couch. Max smirks with approval. "That's better."

"Do you want to leave?" Derrick whispers as he leans down to me. I shake my head; I can't leave Jared alone here with Max and Nina. He may not be fragile but I still am. I quickly glance over at him. He looks as annoyed as everyone else, but otherwise okay.

"So...holiday plans anyone?" Max asks, amused by how uncomfortable everyone seems to be.

"We're going to Mexico, Cabo San Lucas," Nina states matter-of-factly.

"Maui," Caroline adds; they go every year.

"What about you Jared?" Max asks.

"Colorado. I'm spending Christmas with my mom." This draws my attention away from my drink. I didn't know this. Of course it makes sense that he'd spend the holidays with his mother, I just never thought of him leaving me until it was time.

"And you Ellie?" I answer Max with a glare. He knows perfectly well that I'm not flying to some exotic location to spend my holidays. "What?" he asks feigning innocence.

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