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Mr. Whitaker didn't hold me after class or do anything out of the norm today. I was thankful, because my mind was now getting amped for going out with Rachel. Although we only just went to the beach a short while ago, I didn't count that as true fun in my book. It was more of her type of fun.

The final bell rang, so everyone hustled for the door. Rachel and I discussed the details on the way to the parking lot. She was going to pick me up at three-thirty to give us both some time to clean up. I sped home way too quickly, my thoughts weighing dangerously heavy on the gas pedal.

Once I'd gotten home, I switched my jeans and patterned blouse for a knee-length blue dress. My hair was looking a little flat, so I tossed it around until it gained some personality. By the time Rachel's was calling me, I had slipped into my white peep-toe booties. I slung my purse over my shoulder and ran outside.

My stomach dropped. As expected, Rachel was sitting behind the wheel of her little old sedan. Unfortunately, the girl hanging out of her passenger window was not expected.

"Hey, girl!" Grace hollered at me. "Ready for some girl time?"

I forced a smile and pulled open the rear passenger door to slide in. Looking through the rear view mirror, Rachel sent me an apologetic look, which I returned with a squinty-eyed scowl. While my mind reeled from this discovery, I realized she was trying to be nice by including Grace. It wasn't that I didn't want to be nice, but the girl liked to mock me. I wouldn't have minded, except this was supposed to be a night for just me and Rachel.

We headed to downtown, Grace mostly chattering about everything while the radio blared the top fifty. I tried to engage in her conversations, not wanting to let her presence drown my mood, but it was not an easy or enjoyable thing to do. After we parked on one of the cobble streets, the three of us gathered on the neighboring sidewalk. A warm summer breeze washed over me, and I welcomed it with a deep breath.

"Where to first?" Rachel inquired, her eyes bouncing between me and Grace.

"It's hot," our third remarked. "We should get ice cream or Starbucks or something."

So we started at Starbucks like the typical white girls we were. Then we walked around, mostly window shopping though we'd occasionally poke inside one of the stores. Grace was the star of the show in her denim shorts, and everywhere we went people's eyes followed us. It made me uncomfortable. I kept my eyes trained forward, avoiding the probing gazes I felt.

Rachel and Grace led the way practically the whole time. Although their conversations were two-sided, Rachel did try to include me. I spoke up enough to placate her. Grace didn't antagonize me like I thought she would, thankfully. We ended our late afternoon in a pub for dinner. The place was crowded, especially the bar. We squeezed into a high top in the back corner of the eatery by the band. Grace complained about the sound—that the music was too loud—but I liked it that way. It saved me from having to make conversation.

I felt partly guilty for dreading this because of Grace. She wasn't a bad person. She was just annoying. If I had known she was coming along, I would have better prepared myself and not gotten my hopes up so high. Rachel and I would have a talk about surprises like this later.

Halfway through dinner, I left my companions at the table to go to the bathroom. I was just about to reach the door when a figure stepped out of the men's restroom and right into my path. My pulse jumped in surprise at the sight of Mateo. His eyes were a piercing black pitch in the dark hallway.

"M-Mateo?" I blinked twice to make sure I wasn't hallucinating.

"Don't look so surprised, Hazel," he scoffed while stuffing his fists into his hoodie pocket. In fact, he was wearing the same hoodie I'd left on his car this morning.

"What're you doing here?" Crossing my arms, I tried to appear more casual than worried. I was worried, though. A bad feeling had stirred in my gut.

Mateo didn't reply immediately. Rather, his eyes darted around for a moment until they landed back on me. Then he took a step closer. I had to tilt my head back to maintain eye contact, and although my instinctual impulse was to step back, I didn't want to look weak.

"Look," he hissed, stunning me with his abrupt anger, "I don't like whatever has happened between us. Hazel, I love you. I'm not okay with you just breaking up with me."

My mouth popped open and close. What was I supposed to say to that? We'd already had this discussion! I took a deep breath to summon some courage.

"I'm sorry," I began softly. "I'm sorry that you love me and that I...don't want a relationship right now. That sucks, so I'm sorry."

"Stop apologizing!"

His tone made me jump, which then made his face soften in regret.

"Okay, sorry," he murmured. "I just don't want your apologies. I just want you."

Confused, I studied him through scrunched eyebrows. How could he bounce so quickly between being angry and sweet? He didn't used to be like this. It seemed he was more co-dependent on me and our relationship than I'd realized.

"I don't know what you want me to say," I told him. "We aren't getting back together, Mateo. I'll keep your secret, I promise. You know I will. But—"

"I don't care about the secret!" he snapped.

We stared at one another for a second before I shook my head and turned around. This was a waste of my time. I was jerked back by his hand on my wrist. He reeled me into his chest with remarkable strength and pressed his lips against my ear. The violent gesture took me completely off guard.

"We aren't done here, Hazel. I have somewhere I have to be, but this isn't over."


Skimming the underside of my ear with his lips, he warned, "Tell anyone about this and you will regret it. I love you, Hazel."

As soon as he released me, I spun around. He'd already vanished back into the men's restroom. My heartbeat thundered in my ears. Did he just threaten me?

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