‘WHY THE HELL ARE WE HERE, CAL?’ RAE asks as she hands me a beer. ‘I didn’t like these people when wewere in high school. And I still don’t. Nothing’s changed.’
But something has changed.
I sit on the tailgate of my truck, taking a few gulps, and casually scan the crowd, clustered in the predictable groups they were in when we graduated last year: the athletes, the dramatics, the tokers and, of course, the elites.
They’re why I’m here. Sort of.
‘I’m giving this one hour, and then we’re out of here,’
Rae declares, taking a sip of her beer. She slowly lowers her cup, staring across the field. ‘Holy shit. Is Heather Townsend walking over here?’
I look up just as Heather appears in front of me, twisting a strand of blond hair around her finger.
‘Hi, Cal. I’m glad you showed up,’ she says, wearing a flirtatious smile.
‘Hey,’ I respond. She takes a step closer, moving between my dangling legs.
‘Partying in the woods is so . . . high school.’ She exhales dramatically. ‘I mean, you’d think we would’ve grown up a little since we left for college.’
‘Yeah, but we still have parents who won’t willingly let us drink and trash their houses,’ I note. She laughs like I said the funniest thing she’s ever heard.
Rae groans. ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’
Heather leans in so I can feel her breath on my mouth, ‘I think we’re going to have a fun summer together.’
I swallow, unable to back away any farther without lyingdown.
‘I’m only here for the week,’ I tell her. Her lower lip juts out in a sulk. Not attractive.
‘Where are you going?’ she asks, setting a hand on my knee. My entire body tenses.
‘Oregon. I’m working for my uncle for the summer.’
‘But you just got here, like . . . today.’
I hear Rae grumble something under her breath.
‘Sorry,’ I say with a shrug. ‘So, umm. Where is everyone? I don’t see Nicole with you guys.’
Heather steps back with a roll of her eyes, crossing her arms. I’ve struck a nerve.
‘I don’t know. I guess she thinks she’s better than us now that she’s at Harvard.’
I pry a little more. ‘Have you heard from her since graduation?’ I can feel Rae staring at me.
‘Not even a stupid text. I mean, we were her best friends for like . . . ever. And nothing. Bitch.’
My eyes widen at her hostility. ‘Heather.’ Vi is standing behind her with her hands on her hips. ‘The party’s over here.’ She nods toward the other elites, all clustered around Kyle’s BMW.
‘I’ll be right there,’ Heather responds to Vi; then she looks back to me. ‘Maybe we can do something before you go.’
‘Maybe,’ I reply, knowing we won’t. Heather turns and walks with Vi back to where she belongs. I slide off the truck and watch them walk away, back to the crowd that never gave us a second glance before today.
I’m forcefully bumped forward by a shoulder and end up spilling beer on my pants.
‘Not for you to look at,’ Neil Talbert threatens from behind me.
I close my eyes and take a breath to restrain myself, wanting so badly to turn around and punch him in the face. My fist clenches with just the thought of it.
‘You’re such a dick,’ Rae snaps when I finally face him.
I look past Neil – who’s trying to make himself look
bigger, flexing his arms at his sides – to Rae and give her a quick shake of my head.
‘Still having girls fight for you,’ Neil scoffs. ‘You really haven’t changed, no matter what you look like.’
I don’t say anything. There’s no point. He’s as much of an ass as he was in high school, and nothing I say will make a difference.
‘Neil!’ yells some guy from a distance. ‘Where the hell have you been? We’ve been waiting for the Beam for like an hour. Get over here.’
The tension in my shoulders eases when he starts walking toward his brother’s BMW.
‘Cal, I don’t know why you still let him treat you like that. Hell, you’re bigger than he is now. You know you could take him,’ she says, still glowering over my shoulder.
‘He’s not worth it.’ I lift myself back up onto the tailgate.
‘And what the hell was that about with Heather Townsend Seriously? Sure, you grew three inches, ditched the glasses for contacts and somehow put on muscle I didn’t know your scrawny body could handle, but you don’t look that different. You’re still you.’
‘Thanks for keeping my ego in check, Rae. I appreciate it.’
She continues, ignoring me. ‘And Nicole Bentley?
Really, Cal? I thought you gave up on her years ago.’
‘But don’t you think it’s weird she didn’t come back this summer?’
Something felt off when I didn’t see her walking alongside the girls earlier today. And it still does. She’s the reason I’m here.
I look over as Ashley straddles Kyle, kissing him like she’s marking her territory. Kyle was Nicole’s boyfriend throughout most of high school. And Ashley, Heather and Vi were supposed to be her best friends. I was never convinced she belonged with them, even if she was at the top of their hierarchy. She always seemed uncomfortable with the attention. Or maybe I was the only one who thought that. I stopped trying to defend Nicole’s ice queen reputation a long time ago because it pisses Rae off.
‘Why do you care?’ Rae questions. ‘We haven’t been friends with her since Richelle moved away in eighth grade. Nicole chose them, remember?’ There’s a bite in Rae’s tone. I know it’s to cover up the hurt that she still feels from losing two of our closest friends in one summer. We don’t talk about it. But we never do. I’ve known Rae my entire life, so I know her, even when she doesn’t say anything.
The four of us grew up together in the same small-town California neighborhood. Rae lives next door, although she’s pretty much an extension of my family at this point.
Nicole and Richelle were neighbors a few houses down the street. When we were kids, we were inseparable. But things changed as we got older.
Richelle moved away. We stayed in touch for a while. And then we didn’t. Nicole chose popularity over our friendship soon after. Rae never got over Nicole’s betrayal. And I never got over Nicole. I will never admit this to Rae, or to anyone else for that matter, but I miss them. I know I can’t do anything about it now. It’s been too long.
I look to Rae. ‘Isn’t it strange that the most popular girl in school hasn’t been heard from in over a year and no one seems to care?’
‘Besides you?’ Rae counters with a scoff. ‘Get over her, Cal. She became the queen elite bitch, and now Ashley has taken over her reign. They don’t care about her. They never did. I don’t know why you do.’
‘It’s like she just . . . disappeared,’ I say quietly, staring unfocused at the ground.
Within the recesses of a faded memory, I can hear
Nicole screaming. It was the last thing I heard before no one saw her again.
‘You can’t make it go away by pretending nothing happened.’
Get The Full Story Below