Chapter 23 - Betrayal

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"What did she want?"

My gaze snapped left to where Joe was leaning against the classroom doorway, his head tilted to the side, green eyes sparkling with curiosity.

"You didn't have to wait," I muttered.

I winced at the harsh tone to my voice, not how I intended at all. I was just so damn frustrated. Well, at least my frustration was a perfect mask for the nerves shaking in my stomach like a rattlesnake. If I got below a C on the retake test Mrs Mable was making me do on Thursday, just two days from now, then she was going to put me in detention to give me time to study and contact home. A shiver ran down my spine at the thought.

Joe shrugged, "Nothing better to do."

Charming.

"So what did Mrs Mable want?" He pressed. I followed as he led the way to the cafeteria for lunch.

My turn to shrug, "Same old."

"Which is?"

I forced myself not to roll my eyes. Joe was- how do you say nosy without being rude- very curious, especially around me. I often had to remind myself that he was just being a good friend, I never really had any, so talking to people about anything and everything was very new to me. But recently, since the whole slapping incident, it felt like I couldn't catch a break without him following me around everywhere at school, to the point that he would actually wait outside my classes he wasn't in. I didn't think much of it, in fact, despite it becoming a little obsessive, my heart warmed at his compassion.

"I have to retake the test on Thursday and get above a C or I'm dead."

"She's a bitch, don't worry about it," he said with a grin, a very contagious grin. Nosy or not, Joe was a smile in a bottle and never failed to cheer me up.

A rueful smile tugged on my lips, "Until my brothers find out."

His eyes fell to his shoes and his fixed smile faded into an emotionless tight-lipped expression that sent unsettling anxiety dripping down my spine. I hastened my step to keep up with his suddenly accelerated walk.

"Did they say something to you?" I asked. The only explanation for his sudden shift in attitude.

My heart raced, thumping against my chest. It wouldn't have surprised me if the twins had noticed he was following me around, in fact, it surprised me more they hadn't said something already. Still, they had absolutely no right. At Joe's silence, a flash of irritation ripped through me. I paused in the hallway, forcing him to come to a stop next to me.

His hand scratched the back of his neck, "No, no they didn't," he said. Then why was he purposefully avoiding my gaze? "Maybe you should just try really hard on the retake and then they don't need to know?"

My eyebrows creased into a frown as I looked into those darting eyes that were usually filled with emerald joy. Those guilty eyes. The irritation flared and festered inside me at my brothers, temper sparking.

"Are you sure? You can tell me," I asked, pushing my frustration down. This wasn't Joe's fault.

Except, if my brothers threatened him, what was he doing still following me around?

"Jesus, no, they didn't, it's fine," he said harshly, his mouth set in a hard, thin line.

My breath caught and I lowered my head. My cheeks reddened. I was such a hypocrite. Complaining that he was nosy and pressing him about his own business. "Sorry," I said quietly.

He shook his head. "No, I'm sorry, I'm just tired," he said, raking his fingers through his dark hair.

When my gaze met his, my pale blue eyes filled with sympathy. I knew exactly how exhaustion felt, but I didn't want to press him if he didn't want to share. He knew I was here. After a moment, Joe turned his eyes from mine and started down the hallway again. I picked up my feet a little faster to match his speed.

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