Chapter Twenty-Two

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            Over the following week, things were unnervingly quiet.

            I’d yet to work out whether I was imagining it, or if there really was a heightened sense of anticipation in the air, as if everything could kick off at any moment. It was all hanging in the balance; surely it could all go up in flames at the first spark. As for me, I was on constant edge, teetering on the brink of – well, something. If only I could find out what.

            Luke had been absent from school the entire week. Every morning I scanned for his car in the parking lot, or a head of blonde in the cafeteria at lunch, but by Wednesday my hope was beginning to waver. I was itching to speak to him, to finally tackle it all head on. At least then the words could be out in the open, instead of swarming around in my head. But even his cell phone kept up the wall of silence, remaining switched off at all times of the day, no matter how much I cluttered his voicemail inbox.

            Naturally, I expected the worst. Visions of him lying in a hospital bed – or even worse, at home – buzzed stubbornly around my mind, growing to an extent so unbearable I almost headed over there. But each time I began slipping my arms into a jacket, half-ready to walk out the front door, I remembered the call I’d made, and how it had changed everything.

            It wasn’t intentional, but I soon became drawn into myself, too easily caught up in my own thoughts on the situation. In class, I could bring myself to do nothing more than stare out the window, the teachers’ voices reduced to background noise, though I was supposed to be taking notes. At lunch, I took my usual seat at Kim and George’s table, but shied away from most conversation, picking at my food instead.

            They noticed, of course. I guessed at first they assumed I was having a bad couple of days, and didn’t ask many questions.

            By Friday, however, I could sense Kim’s irritation even through my haze of disinterest.

            “Corey?”

            I looked up from the sandwich I was picking apart; I’d lost most of my appetite over the last few days, but dodging conversation meant something had to keep me busy. “Hmm?”

            “Are you even listening?”

            My eyes met hers, detecting the challenge within them. Beside her, George ducked his head, sensing it was something best to keep out of.

            “What’s up with you?” she asked outright, her tone caught somewhere between concern and exasperation. I couldn’t work out how I felt about it. “You’ve been acting strangely all week. Is there something wrong?”

            My answer, of course, was plainly obvious, especially to somebody like Kim. And yet with so much still hanging in the air, everything unclear, it felt wrong to talk about it. How could I even begin to explain what I couldn’t grasp myself?

            So I did what I’d always done. I shook her off.

            “Nothing,” I said. “I’m fine.”

            “Well, you’re obviously not fine,” she continued, setting down her fork. Over the weekend, she’d got a new haircut: bangs that covered her whole forehead, cut in a line so straight they must’ve used a ruler. Her dark eyes peeked out from underneath, almost scrutinizing. As if I were a mathematical problem she was trying to figure out. “You’ve barely said two words to us all week, and all I see you do is pick at your food. Did something happen with Luke?”

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