Chapter 55

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Here's the chapter you guys asked for. It may be a while before the next update. I'm having some issues writing out the next few chapters. No matter what I do, it just feels sloppy and not very well thought out, so bear with me for a bit.

F I F T Y—F I V E

AS SOON AS the door shut behind Selena, the waterworks kicked in and I was a sobbing mess. Ryder was quick to my side, arms wrapping comfortingly around me like a cocoon with reassuring whispers.

I cried for hours. I cried for Selena, and what she must have gone through in her life all because I was born. I cried for my mom, who died because she loved a terrible man too much. I cried for the boys, one of who already felt betrayed by somebody he thought he knew everything about. And I cried for myself, at the center of all the trouble and terrible happenings.

Ryder's mom didn't question me or judge me when she arrived home to a crying mess of a girl. She just quietly made me a warm drink and told us she was close by should we need her. I has calmed down significantly by the time Emily made it home, who made me laugh and feel better with her bright smile and bubbly personality. Ryder's mom wasn't very keen on having a girl Ryder's age stay the night, so he borrowed the SUV to take me to Tyler's, where he saved me the trouble of explaining my dim attitude. Cyrus admitted he knew Selena was keeping a secret, but didn't know what or how severe. Jay was enraged by the idea of somebody hurting me, but I chalked it up to his protectiveness. Tyler leant me a shoulder to dry on after Ryder's Mom called and said it was getting late, and the other two stayed by my side at Tyler's for the night, keeping a close eye on me the next morning at school.

They kept their eyes on me all weekend, making sure I wouldn't break down or launch myself into another panic attack. It was in between classes on Monday, when they couldn't keep a constant eye, that things went even more downhill. By this point, I was used to having my binder shoved from my hands or being tripped walking down the hallway, so when somebody decided it would be fun to do the former, I wasn't surprised. I was, however, completely appalled when the breath left my lungs in a huff and my back slammed against the cold lockers.

I clawed against the arm pressed against my throat and stared with wide eyes at the boy grinning in front of me. "Not so tough without your little bodyguards, huh?" he taunted. A few students behind him snickered at the comment, not at all bothered by the idea of a teenage girl being choked out in front of them. I kicked out a leg and nailed him in the shin, but he only grunted and pressed harder. Black spotted my vision, but the harder I fought, the weaker I felt.

      "Hey, man, take it easy," I heard somebody say behind him.

      I saw another take a step forward cautiously. "Dude, I don't think she can breathe."

      I was sure I was going pass out, but a hand grabbed the back of my captors shirt and yanked him away before I had the chance. I collapsed to my knees with a gasp, hand against my throat to try and ease the coughing and wheezing. A loud bang to my left caught my attention, and with a start I realized my captor was thrown into the lockers.

      And then it hit me. Ryder's suspension ended Friday.

      Ryder's forewarn pressed against the guy's throat in the same fashion I'd been held in. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Kyle?"

      Kyle pushed Ryder off of him, but Ryder retaliated and shoved him by his shoulders back against the lockers again. Kyle rotated his shoulder with a wince. "I was having some fun."

      A nerve in Ryder's jaw ticked. "Some fun?"

      I quickly grabbed my bearings and stood, determined to get to Ryder before he ended up with another suspension on his hands. Or worse, a murder charge.

       Ryder took slow, calculated steps toward Kyle. His voice was low when he spoke. "If you ever lay a hand on her again—"

      "What's so important about a pathetic nobody to you, anyway?" He snorted shoved at Ryder's shoulders to give himself some space.

      Ryder's eyes flashed, but I quickly stepped in between him and Kyle. I placed my hands gently on his chest and pushed as a sign for him to step away. "Ryder, please," I whispered. "Just leave it alone."

       His eyes shifted to mine and softened at my command. He looked back up at Kyle. "She's worth more than your ever be."

A few whispers crowed the hallways at his unexpected words. As far as anybody else knew, Ryder and I had nothing to do with each other. We were virtually strangers, not really close enough for the close proximity I now realized we were in.

I was starting to feel like my world was unraveling around me, and I had no one to blame but myself.

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