Chapter 26

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I washed away my guilt for ditching Blake with a raspberry Italian soda. Sure, Jack had given me one job and one job only, but it wasn't like I could follow Blake home and stare at him while he slept. Still, despite my inclination to keep my distance, I sent him a text asking if he was okay. I checked my phone every few minutes while we waited for our pizza to arrive.

No response.

My parents, thrilled that their daughter had made friends who would want to hang out with her on a Friday night, insisted our Veggie Labyrinth pizza was on the house. I sat with my elbows on the table, head resting on my hands, thinking about Dakota's seeming connection with Ethan and Zeke, and how Blake tied into all of it. I knew for sure now—Ethan had made up the rumor about me lusting after Blake. He'd told it to Dakota, and she'd spread it all over the school, just as Ethan knew she would. What was he playing at?

I couldn't wait to tell Jack about it. He'd have some sort of insight. Slumping against the booth, I remembered my cruel new reality—Jack might not be there to tell my news to when I got home. He might never be there again.

"Mazie," Vanessa nudged me. "Did you even hear anything we just said?"

"Hmm?" I looked up at three expectant faces. "Sorry, I'm just tired. The dance was quite the shitshow."

Kayla caught my eye and nodded. What a relief it was to have a friend who was in the know. "Well, what we were saying is that we got out of there just in time. Ace texted me and said they shut the dance down after the fight and questioned a lot of kids about what happened."

I snorted. The only people who knew what happened, or rather, why it happened were not going to tell the teachers a damn thing. "Good luck with that. We've been trying for... how long now, Kayla?"

Darren looked over at Kayla. "What does she mean?"

Kayla narrowed her eyes. "Can I talk to you a minute, Mazie? Like, alone?"

I shrugged. Vanessa moved out of the booth to let me up and Darren did the same for Kayla, who then dragged me over to the side near the swinging doors leading to Mazzeria's kitchen. "What is wrong with you? I love Darren and Vanessa, but they aren't exactly ready to hear about Jack. Why are you acting this way? Is it about Blake?"

"Not everything is about that boy," I scowled. "But also, yes, it is." I recounted to her what had happened when Blake came to whisk me off to the dance. I rubbed at my eyes trying to keep the waterworks at bay. "So, there you have it. Jack is gone. Maybe forever. And the last thing he asked of me is for be to watch out for Blake, which I absolutely am not prepared to do."

Kayla stood silently for a moment, then nodded. "You're catastrophizing again. Jack will come back. Blake got into a fight with Ethan because they're both stupid boys."

"Blake isn't stupid."

"Don't defend him. He has issues, and one of them is that he was stupid enough to date Dakota, which is probably what this is all about anyways. Dakota most likely decided to slum it one day and had a roll in the hay with Ethan, hence the tension between them."

I stood a little taller. "Oh my god."

"See, it's a logical theory."

"No. I mean, yes. It's a great theory, only..."

"Only what, Mazie?"

"I have to go home to see if Jack is there."

"I get that." She patted my shoulder. "Of course, you're worried about him, but our pizza hasn't even arrived yet."

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