Chapter 34 - "Do you ever regret it?"

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The locker room was half empty by the time Carter sank down onto the bench to tie her Converses. The bell had rung minutes before and girls were hurrying to be free of the school. Locker doors were slammed shut, as friends called out to each other, their voices ringing off the tile floor. Footsteps pounded and reverberated off the walls. The rushed pace of the occupants around Carter did nothing to affect her movements.

By the time she was finished the locker room was almost silent. The last sound came from hushed whispers of the girls who lagged behind, using the time to share gossip. Pulling her bag from her locker, Carter closed the door and walked out. The hallways were thinning as everyone moved to the fresh air, the volume rising as they broke free.

Across from the locker room Donovan leaned against the wall, his hands hidden in his pockets. Link stood beside him. Carter walked over to them, giving them a nod and a questioning frown.

"We wanted to see if you needed a ride home," Donovan said, answering the question Carter felt weighing down her tongue.

"Thanks, but I can't stand to go home at the moment." Her gaze drifted off, as her thoughts wandered away. She looked back at them, her eyes jumping between the two of them. "What are you two doing?"

They glanced at each other, then back at her. Link shrugged.

"Going home. Want to come with?"

She stuffed her hands into her pockets. "Yeah."

They moved towards her and they all headed for the parking lot. Outside the air was filled with the purring of engines, crunching of wheels on the pebbles and the hum of voices. A chill sat in the air while the sky looked deceptive in a clear blue. The trio walked to the car in silence, the pounding music of their classmates spilling from car windows. When they reached the Mercedes, Carter took the backseat and slid in, sinking back against the soft leather.

She stared out the window, her mind mulling over Donovan's words. She tried to put it together with her father's current state. Donovan and Link exchanged conversation on the drive, after realizing Carter didn't care to join in. The words floated around her, their meanings lost to her as her own thoughts grew louder.

They drove through downtown D.C. The sidewalks were overrun with pedestrians who were dwarfed by towering buildings. The sound of crowded streets died away as they turned into a dim parking structure beneath the apartment building. They pulled into a spot and Donovan cut the engine as Link reached for his bag, already moving to leave. Donovan twisted to the back seat.

"Carter," he said, his voice dragging her from her thoughts.

She blinked and realized they had stopped. She looked at Donovan. They both pushed their doors open and stepped out into the chilly parking structure. The sound of their car doors slamming shut bounced off the concrete walls and floor.

Looking to Link, he nodded to an elevator across the way. They moved to it, their shadows trailing behind them. After a brief ride the doors dinged open on the familiar hallway and Link led the group to his apartment.

Everything was as neat as it had been the last time Carter was there. The faint smell of orange scented cleaner lingered in the air. Carter wondered by how many minutes they had missed the cleaning person. The spotless windows displayed rows of buildings and she could see small glimpses of other lives. The light of the late afternoon sun streamed into the apartment and fell across the floor, elongating the shadows.

Link took off his glasses and tossed them onto a table beside the door. Carter walked in and made a slow circle, really taking in the apartment this time. Donovan moved past her and settled his bag down on the ground near the couch. Carter met Link's hesitant gaze, as he realized he was the host. She waved a hand at him, noticing his uncertainty.

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