Chapter 31

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T H I R T Y—O N E

THE FIRST HALF of the ride to Tyler's remained completely silent. I couldn't help wondering what was going through Ryder's head—about last night, about what all I'd told him recently, what he'd told me . . . I wondered if he regretted all of it. I was this random, hot-headed girl who'd barged into this movie he called life without his permission and took a permanent seat in the front row.

I shifted my attention from the trees out of the open car window to the driver. He stared straight ahead, knuckles so tight on the steering wheel they were white, his jaw clenched. I didn't understand why he felt so tense, but I was worried that any noise at all would break him from his thoughts so quick he'd cause a wreck; I wasn't too keen on that happening.

My eyes shifted up to the beanie on his head and memories of last night flashed through my mind, like how he'd taken it off and put it on mine for warmth, along with his jacket. I remembered the terrified concern on his face and that feeling in my stomach returned abruplty.

Shaking my head to clear my thoughts, I sighed as a thought occurred to me. "Hey, Ryder?"

"Hm?" he asked, raising his eyebrows and turning his head just barely towards me, his eyes remaining on the road.

"Where are you going to drop me off?" My eyebrows furrowed as he switched on his blincker and started pulling over on the side of the road. "What are you doing?" Surely he wasn't planning to drop me off here. We were miles away from Tyler's.

Not a single sound slipped from between his lips until we were safely pulled off to the side of the road. He shut off the engine, pulled the keys from the ignition, and shifted in his seat until he was facing me. One hand resting on the steering wheel as his eyes locked with mine for the first time this entire ride.

They looked unsettlingly serious.

"I'm not."

"Excuse me?" I asked, confused by his statement. Just as I processed his words, though, he spoke again.

"I'm not going to drop you off."

My eyebrows furrowed as I thought about what he'd said. If he didn't drop me off somewhere, Selena would see me. Or, worse, somebody else. Everyone who knew anything at all about Ryder, Jay, Tyler and Cyrus were already on a man-hunt for the mysterious girl from the lake. It didn't take a genius to guess that the boys would prefer I stay a mystery. "Why not?"

His fingers started to thud against the steering wheel as he continued to stare me down. My hand twitched in my lap with a need to place mine over his to stop the tapping, but it was too far away to be subtle. Besides, he didn't seem to be in much of a touchy mood at the moment. "Why should I?"

"Because," I started, speaking slowly as if explaining to a child. My eyes shifted to his fingers as the volume of the tapping grew louder and faster, "people are already suspecting that the four of you are involved with somebody new. If they saw me with you—"

"So, what?" he cut me off, irritation clear in his tone, surprising me. He typically shut down and built up walls during a stressful situation. "Say that somebody finds out about your secret, who cares?" His fingers ceased their tapping when he noticed my staring. He dropped his hand into his lap. "You're a part of our lives now, and everyone else can learn to live with it."

"It's not that simple." I shook my head, wishing that it was despite my fear of judgement and attention from the others around me. My main concern was my involvement in foster care and breaking the law. If I ended up getting caught, there was no way Roger wouldn't have me sent away to another home as far away from here as possible. "If anyone finds out, I'll be sent away within seconds," I simplified. "What good does it do me for everyone to know I'm with you four if you're going to lose me just as quickly as I showed up?"

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