twenty-two

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Knowing that I had no other choice, I walked towards them, trying my best to keep my face as straight as possible not to let anything of what I was feeling transpire from my expression.

Joel smiled at me as soon as I reached them. "Hey Ray" he said, a bit more cheerfully than I would've expected him to, surprising me a bit. How could he manage to sound so normal, after what he'd done? If I hadn't already known the truth, I would've never expected him to be any different from all the other people surrounding us.

"Oh hey" I replied, sounding a bit quieter than usual, clearing my throat when I caught the look Indigo sent my way.

She'd been standing in front of me during the whole exchange, smoking in silence and looking at us as we spoke with an unreadable look on her face, alternating between observing us and the ground under her feet. It was clear that she was feeling the nervousness of my first conversation with Joel since knowing just as hard as I was.

Around us, people spoke to each other or sat around reading books, reviewing and listening to music, nobody wanting to sit inside the class before it was necessary to, nobody paying attention to our situation, nobody even guessing that we weren't three friends just talking.

"Where were you yesterday?" Joel said all of sudden, and I felt a sudden weight fall onto my chest, almost knocking the breath out of my lungs. "I passed by your house to see if you wanted to hang out since we haven't done it in a while, and you weren't there."

"Oh" I said, giving him a little nod, quickly thinking of a believable excuse. "I just went to my dad's again. I have the feeling he's starting to get a bit lonely, wanted to make sure he's alright" I told him easily, knowing that he had no reason to believe it wasn't true. "Why didn't you call me?"

He just shrugged, the relaxed look in his clear eyes telling me that my lie had gone by unnoticed. "I just figured you were busy, I didn't want to bother."

"Oh, alright" I replied, unable to shake away the feeling that I was fucking it all up in some way I wasn't aware of. What if he could sense I knew? What if I wasn't behaving as I normally did, without even knowing?

"Maybe we could do it later today?" Joel suggested all of sudden, and I brought my attention back to him.

"Oh, I don't think I can, sorry" I said without thinking, not missing the confused look he gave me, and the sharp gaze Indigo sent my way. "I have to study, I've been slacking off for a while and now I need to catch up" I added, hoping to cover it up.

Joel nodded, once again seeming to think nothing of it. "It makes sense" he replied. "So are you coming on Saturday?"

I gave him a confused look. "Where?"

"To my party." He looked at me as if it was obvious. "Indie and I were just talking about it."

I wasn't able to hide my surprise. "Another party?"

"They're never enough! Everyone needs to have some fun every once in a while."

"I guess" I said, not really believing him. I knew there was something under those parties, I just had to find out what it was. Maybe Harry could've shed some light on it. "I don't know, as I said I have to study." I definitely didn't feel like going to another of his hellish parties.

"Oh come on Ray, who studies on a Saturday? Have some fun" he insisted, and I knew I would've given up. I usually did, and it would've been weird if I hadn't done the same thing that time too.

"Alright."

He gave me a nod, seeming happy with my reply. "Good, that's more like my best friend." He looked at the time on the expensive watch around his wrist. "Well, I have to go. I don't want to be late for class" he announced, throwing his bag over his shoulder and leaving without waiting for us to say a word.

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