Chapter 51

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Woot, woot. Another chapter. Sorry for the wait. Get ready for another one . . .

F I F T Y—O N E

BY THE TIME we made it upstairs, my nerves nearly ate a hole in my chest. Tyler opened the door to his room, light flooding from the hallway into the dark room.

      Jay didn't bother to look up from his video game. "Turn on the light, will you?" he asked Tyler. He did as instructed, but the collective groan around the room said the boys clearly weren't prepared for the strain on their eyes. "Skye?" he asked when he noticed me.

      Cyrus seemed to notice the flowers in my hand before anybody else did. "Flowers," he observed. "Who are they from?"

      Jay's eyes followed Cyrus' to the artificial tulips in my hand and his face dropped. Everybody looked to Ryder, but his expression gave nothing away.

      Tyler looked at me. "You want to tell them, or should I?"

      Way to make dramatize things. I sucked in a breath. It was now or never. "They're from Julian," I blurted out.

      Jay tensed, Cyrus seemed unfazed, and Ryder's expression remained unreadable. I wasn't surprised by any of their reactions, and I found it relieving. I was mentally prepared with expectations, and if they'd exceeded those expectations, I wasn't sure what I would do.

      "They went on a date," Tyler clarified, staring at me for some sort of an explanation.

      "It wasn't a date." I said it more to convince myself than them. It wasn't a date, was it? Julian had asked me to hang out with him for some time, and I finally gave in. It was all platonic. It wasn't my fault he bought me flowers and pizza, or that he was standing just a little too close to me on the porch. Besides, nothing actually happened.

      Ryder stared at the contents of my hand. "You have flowers." His eyes raised to meet mine. "Sounds like a date to me."

      My stomach twisted. For once in my life I could see through his stony expression, and what I saw wasn't the emotion I'd expected. Instead of anger, all I saw was hurt. I felt the instant need to defend myself and tell him it wasn't true, but I didn't think anything I had to say would change his viewpoint. Even still, I found myself speaking up—more to him than to the others. "He's been bugging me to hang out with him for a while, so I finally gave in. We played twenty questions in the car and he asked my favorite food and flowers, and nest thing I knew, he bought me pizza and tulips."

      He fixated his eyes on the screen where Jay and Cyrus had paused their game upon my entering. I didn't miss the irritated tick of his jaw. "It's not my business what you do in you're free time."

      That frustrated me. I wanted to make it his business what I did in my free time. If I was honest with myself, I wanted him to fill my free time, but I could never admit that out loud. "It wasn't a date," I repeated. "We drove around and he dropped me off here when I told him to."

"You don't have to explain yourself to us, Skye." It was Cyrus who spoke this time. "He's right. It's not our business."

"It could be, if you involved yourself in my life anymore," I said in a very matter-of-fact way.

Cyrus' eyes widened in surprise. I was as shocked by my comment as he was, but it was too late to take it back now. "What?"

"All four of you have been avoiding me," I accused. "I've already talked to Jay and Ryder about it, but I still have a bone to pick with the two of you." I sent pointed looks between Tyler and Cyrus, trying to ignore the memory of my night at Jay's. Anything between us was in the past, and I needed to remember that. For both our sake's. I wanted to be with Ryder, and I didn't want to do anything to wound Jay any more than I already have.

Tyler sputtered. "What did I do?"

I raised my eyebrows in challenge. "You've both been avoiding my calls and texts since Ryder's suspension started."

"We don't like Julian," Cyrus admitted. "He's trouble, and he's going to wind up being bad for you."

"I didn't like him either," I admitted, "until everybody besides Julian dropped out of my life. If anyone's to blame, it's you four." I directed my attention back at Cyrus. "If you think he's bad for me, don't run out of my life. Do something about it. Make me believe it. Anything, as long as you guys don't—don't abandon me again," I said, the word leaving a sour taste in my mouth.

Several expressions around the room softened as encouraging words left heir mouths, Ryder being the exception.

After a while, the Cyrus and Jay went back to playing their game, Tyler cheering Jay on and then switching side when he started to lose. I discarded the flowers onto Tyler's bedside table and took a seat next to Ryder on the bed, to which he shifted slightly to the left to give me more pillow behind my back. "Thanks," I said.

He didn't respond. He didn't look at me, either.

I lowered my voice so the others couldn't hear me, leaning forward slightly to catch his eyes. "It wasn't a date," I assured him, not sure why I was doing so.

His eyes softened slightly. "Does he know that?"

I opened and closed my mouth a few times before leaning back with a side. No, I didn't think Julian knew that. At all.

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