He had to admit being concerned about their age difference. Technically she was jailbait for anyone over eighteen, but when she'd kissed him it hadn't mattered. He still polished that memory like precious treasure, obsessing over the whole weekend like Gollum with his ring. It had left him edgy and horny. Ordinarily he'd just hook up with Gillian to get it out of his system, but his crazy fixation on Lauren made him doubt it would work this time.

He pulled open the library door, adjusting the strap of his heavy backpack as he stepped through. The air in the library was cool, with the vanilla scent of books hanging in the still air. He passed by the front desk to make his way down the center of the building to their private study room. The door was open and three of his friends were already there.

"Hey," Gillian said when she saw him come in. "Missed you this weekend. I thought you were going to the soccer game with Kevin."

"Something came up," Josh said as he sat and began pulling out his laptop to plug it in. He nodded at the others. "Abdul. Maria."

"Hey man," Abdul said as he lifted his chin. "My sister said you made quite a splash Saturday night."

Josh swallowed past the lump in his throat. Abdul's sister, Adria, went to his old high school. Gillian raised an eyebrow and shot him a questioning look. "I took a friend of the family to her Prom after she got dumped on Saturday."

"Oh, that's so sweet," Maria gushed. "Who is she?"

"Lauren Michaels. She's been babysitting my sisters for years." Josh felt the heat rising in his face as he waited for his laptop to boot. He risked a glance at Gillian and saw her trying to suppress a smile. Maria began typing and clicking on her laptop.

"Damn," Gillian murmured. "You old softy, you."

"It wasn't a big deal," Josh lied. It felt like a big deal. He'd been unable to get her off his mind for more than ten minutes all week.

"Oh, she's cute," Maria spun the laptop around to display Lauren's online profile to the others. It featured a picture of her standing alone in front of a fireplace wearing her red Prom dress. Just then Markus and Steph came in together.

"Who's cute?" Steph asked as she bent to look closer at the laptop screen.

"Josh's Prom date from Saturday," Maria teased. "A family friend got dumped and he swooped in to the rescue." She spun her laptop back around and resumed clicking.

Steph shot Josh a look of surprise. "Since when does Jaded Josh do something like that?"

"Jaded Josh?" he asked and looked around the room. Their reactions struck him hard. Maria and Steph both chuckled in obvious agreement. Abdul and Markus shrugged at him, but both nodded. Gillian just sucked in her cheeks while avoiding his eyes. "I'm not jaded."

"You're so jaded," Steph said. "It's like you're made of teflon. Nothing ever sticks to you."

"What the hell does that mean?" Josh asked. Even though he didn't understand her accusation, it still stung for some reason.

Gillian turned to Steph with a wave and said, "You started this."

"Well," Steph stalled as they all sat around the table. "I've known you for most of a year and still have no idea what makes you tick. You're smart, but detached in a way. You've broken the hearts of a handful of friends since school started and you don't even seem to notice. And the weirdest part is they all still like you." She let out a short laugh and shook her head.

Hot rage boiled up, then immediately steamed into confusion. Josh frowned, trying to come up with a rebuttal, but couldn't argue her point. He didn't allow people outside his family to get close. Most of his relationships were based around something specific, like playing soccer or school work. His best friend Kevin was the only person he trusted enough to bring across all the different parts of his life. He looked around at their expectant faces. Why didn't he trust them the same way?

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