Cover of Changes and Chocolates with blonde girl in a red striped shirt and jeansChanges and Chocolates

170 some odd days left in my senior year and everything has changed. I went from untouchable to dating my best friends to making out to being betrayed. Why can’t they understand humiliating and controlling me doesn’t say I care?

Could this get any worse?

We’ve all crossed lines. Broken the rules.

Ian had asked me to Homecoming.

Jake spent the night in my bed.

Coop and I had made out on the sofa.

But Archie? Archie and I had blown past all of them.

Now?

I had to get out of here more than ever. Change was inevitable. College was coming. That was where my focus needed to be. Not on the four guys I adored. Our friendship was everything and there wasn’t enough chocolate in the world to salvage this situation.

Losing them for a few months hurt.

Losing them forever might be inevitable, but it would be unbearable.

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Read Chapter One

Super cool party people.

Mom’s new boyfriend was Archie’s dad. Archie’s married dad. The guys knew. Had known. I—I couldn’t deal with this.

“Wait,” Archie said, tightening his arms around me. He pitched his voice low, probably a good plan to keep it from carrying out to the pair still locked together below.

Acid churned in my gut, and I think I threw up a little in my mouth. As much as I wanted to storm out, I didn’t dare draw attention to myself. Not if it meant I had to talk to Mom right now in front of all of them.

The fact they’d known was bad enough.

My legs wobbled, and if not for Archie, I probably would have landed on my ass. As it was, I pushed away from him and crossed to one of the chairs they’d abandoned. They were farther back, invisible from below. There were four open beers on the table.

Well, good to know they started the party early.

Grabbing one, I took a long pull from it and grimaced.

That was so foul.

“Easy,” Jake said as he crouched next to me. When he put a hand on my leg, I jerked my knee away, and he lifted his hands in surrender. One by one, the others sat down, and I tipped the bottle up and drained the rest of it, then shook my head at the horrible taste.

“Are they gone?”

Archie was the only one not sitting or crouching. He glanced over his shoulder, then back at me. “Almost.”

“You knew.” It wasn’t a question.

“Caught them last week,” he admitted.

Last week.

Caught them?

“That’s why you weren’t at school on Monday.”  I wiped the back of my hand against my mouth. The air was still cool, even if the sun was warm. The covered deck added to the chill racing over me. Had to explain the goosebumps somehow.

“Pretty much,” Archie admitted.

“And when did you tell everyone else?”

Coop sighed. “Tuesday—when you were at lunch with Mathieu.”

Okay. That fit.

My mom was having an affair with Archie’s dad.

She wasn’t out of town at all.

“Your parents were supposed to be out of town.”

“Yeah well, not the first time Edward and Muriel made different plans.” Archie crossed over to a small outdoor bucket I hadn’t noticed. He pulled out a bottle of wine.

It looked pretty familiar, and heat scorched through me.

It was the same kind we’d had the night before. He retrieved a glass and carried it over.

“If you’re going to drink, drink something you like. And give me your keys.”

Ian had said nothing; he just sat forward, elbows on his thighs and hands clasped together as he stared at me. When I caught his gaze, he gave me a small smile. “I’m sorry we didn’t tell you.” I’d gone to his place on Tuesday. We’d…made out in the pool. “I didn’t tell you later because—Frankie I have no idea how to tell you something like that about your mom.”

Bottle open, Archie filled the glass halfway and held out the wine. “Keys.”

If I took the wine, I was staying.

If I stood up right now, I could just leave.

“I know you’re mad,” Jake said quietly. “You can be as pissed at us as you want to be. We deserve it. But stay… we can cancel the stupid party. Just don’t go away angry and having to choke on this.”

“We’re still your friends,” Coop added. “Maybe not the best of friends right now, but we’re yours, and you shouldn’t be alone.”

“For what it’s worth,” Archie said. “I got really blitzed, and I was hungover as fuck on Monday. I knew Edward was cheating. It’s not like it’s new. He’s a serial cheater. But Muriel puts up with it. They left together. He came back alone, took a different bag and left again.”

Mom had been dating for months. The whole time, I hadn’t been talking to the guys. I stared at the wine glass for a beat longer. Shifting in the seat, I dug my keys out of my pocket and handed them to Coop. The corners of Archie’s mouth tightened, but he gave me the wine.

“It’s a little late to cancel the party,” Archie said as he grabbed a fresh beer out of the bucket and popped the cap. “But the fact we’re having it means they’ll go, so it’ll at least be a safe space here.”

“I’m not sleeping in the pool house.” The thought made my skin crawl.

“No problem,” Archie said. “You can have my room.”

“Hey,” Ian said.

“I said she could have my room,” Archie told him. “Not that I’d be in there with her. Course,” he continued, glancing back at me. “That’s entirely up to you.”

My stomach bottomed out, and I took another swallow of wine. It was sweet, but more, it seemed to help calm down my jangling nerves. “You only found out last weekend?” Did I have that right?

“Yeah,” Archie said. “I knew he had another—one.” One was not the word he’d planned to use. He was editing himself for me. “But I didn’t know it was her, Frankie. Bubba’s right, I didn’t know how to tell you.”

But they’d all been so keenly aware of Mom’s absence.

I scrubbed a hand over my face, and Jake tried again, this time just touching my arm. “Can I just hold you for a minute?”

The request floored me. Was he serious?

“Why?”

“Why?” He raised his eyebrows. “Because you just took your second sucker punch of the day—and I was part of one of them. You need a hug.”

I snorted. “Yeah, that was what Marsha said.”

“Her boss,” Coop said, probably answering Ian or Archie, but I didn’t look away from Jake. His pale blue eyes implored me to believe him, and the damn thing was, I wanted to believe all of them. But how was I supposed to do that? Really?

“This sucks.”

“Yeah,” Ian and Coop exhaled almost on the same breath.

“That’s a word for it.” Archie cut his gaze to Jake, and so did I.

“Okay,” I told him and stood. When I set my glass on the table, he surged upward. He took the chair, and when I settled in his lap, he wrapped his arms around me. It was nice, and I sighed as I leaned my head against his. “Are they gone yet?”

Archie pulled out his phone and sent something. A minute later, his phone vibrated. “Jeremy says they’ve left.”

I blew out a breath.

Jeremy knew.

This was… “I don’t even know what to do with this.”

“You don’t have to do anything,” Archie told me. “This isn’t on you. It’s on them.”

That sounded a whole lot simpler than it was.

“Frankie,” Ian said, drawing my attention to him. “You were right—you’re worth a lot more than having us make some plan to get rid of a guy you liked. I’m not going to defend it. But…”

I raised my eyebrows.

“But hear me out this time?”

I nodded as Jake gave me a light squeeze. Since I was sitting with my back to his chest, his hands were over my abdomen, and I had mine resting on his. What had been nice a moment earlier set my nerves jangling. What was I doing?

“We like you. All of us.” There was a small round of nods, and there was something absolutely unsettling about having this conversation with all four of them. “A lot,” Ian continued. “But we don’t want you to date someone else if you’re dating us.”

Us.

“Plural? All of you, plural?”

“Told you, Frankie,” Coop said gently. “We like you.”

“What happens if you decide you don’t want me to date anyone but one of you?” I locked gazes with Archie though, because Jake was behind me. Last night, Archie and I had crossed and then torched the line between friends and what—lovers? Did we qualify as that? The bracelet on my wrist suddenly took on a whole new weight.

The silence was telling as the guys glanced at each other, and then Archie shrugged. “It’s not a problem yet.”

Yet.

I tapped Jake’s hands, and he loosened his grip. It took me a minute to stand, and the wine I’d drunk along with the beer had already gone straight to my head, but I didn’t stagger. I needed the distance.

“Hey…” Jake said, catching my hand, but I pulled free. “It’s not a problem. We argue. Some of us do stupid shit.” He glared at Archie. “But we all agree on one thing.”

It was all just too much.

“You,” Coop supplied as he snagged a fifth chair and pulled it over for me. Perching on the edge of it, I was violently aware of the silence surrounding me.

“You hungry?” Ian asked.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I don’t know how to do this.”

“Well, that makes all of us,” Jake told me, reaching out again, but he pulled his hand back when I shifted away. “Since it’s us, I say we just do what feels right to us.” 

What did that even mean?

Coop glanced at his watch. “Party starts in thirty minutes. If we’re feeding Frankie, we need to do it now.”

“Yep,” Archie agreed, his phone in his hand. “Jeremy is bringing food up.”

My phone buzzed in my pocket, and I shifted to pull it out.

Mom: Breakfast tomorrow? Just you and me?

I didn’t know how to do any of this.

“Want me to do the honors?” Coop offered, but I shook my head. She was my mother.

Can’t. Have plans with the guys.

Which was technically true, even if this had suddenly become the last place I wanted to be.

I waited for a long minute, the phone matching the silence of the guys around me. When it buzzed again, I almost dreaded whatever message she’d send. What new lie she’d spin.

Mom: Are you planning on being out all night?

It felt like she was judging me. There was a lot to judge at the moment.

Or maybe she was trying to decide if she could bring the boyfriend home.

The thought made me shudder.

Don’t know. At Archie’s for a party.

There. Suck on that news. Not that I planned on staying here. Not long. But if I went home, that meant seeing her. I had no idea how ready I was for that at the moment.

Mom: Dinner?

Have you ever wished you didn’t know what you did?

I could feel Jake’s gaze on me, and I slanted a look at him. Then I sent. Have plans. Gotta go. Talk later. I had plans every night this week. And into the weekend. Like a neat little box I’d walked into.

His smile was almost blinding, but I put the phone in do not disturb and shoved it back in my pocket. I still hadn’t read all of their messages. Jeremy arrived with a tray of sandwiches and chips. He dropped off the food and didn’t comment on the alcohol.

“You know what,” Coop said. “Tonight—let’s just be us. We’ll party, maybe dance, have a few laughs, and when we kick everyone out, the five of us can crash and watch a movie. No pressure. No expectations.”

“I don’t know that I’m staying.” I didn’t want to go home. I had no idea where I could go. Maybe just get in the car and drive.

“I’ll set the alarm,” Archie said. “One of us can go with you to feed the cats and you don’t have to see your mom alone if she’s there.”

If. That of course was the big question.

“Does she know you know?” Did I really want the answer to that question?

Archie shook his head slowly. For some reason, that helped. God only knew why. Mom had to know Archie’s dad was married. Why?

Beyond that—the guys had still lied to me. They’d gone behind my back. I wasn’t…

“Stay, Frankie,” Coop said, a quiet plea in his voice. “You don’t need to be alone, and I know it may not feel like it, but you’re not…”

I glanced around at them. “Yes, I am.”

“Frankie…” Ian began but I shook my head.

“Don’t. I—really can’t do this right now.” I’d come over here with a plan. Establish boundaries. Make it clear I would not put up with this crap.

“Nothing has to happen,” Jake said. “Coop’s right, we’re here for you. We’re friends first. No pressure. No expectations. Don’t—don’t walk out.” At the moment, walking out was pretty much my only option. I’d already surrendered my keys.

“To be perfectly clear, I’m game for more,” Archie told me bluntly. “But you can put on the brakes at any time. Last night’s rules apply.”

Heat licked up my spine at that memory. He had let me dictate the speed and whether anything happened. Then again, he’d been playing with all the cards. If I’d known—if I’d forced the issue about Mathieu—and he’d told me the plan the night before? Would I have had sex with him?

Probably not. We’d probably have had the fight then.

“Guys, lay off,” Ian said.

“Excuse me?” Archie slanted a look at him.

“You heard me, lay off. She’s in shock, she doesn’t need us telling her what to do.” The firmness in Ian’s voice got to me. Yeah, he was standing up for me, but… “Just—let her breathe.”

“We’re not doing anything,” Jake said. “We’re allowed to tell her we want her here. All of this started because we assumed she didn’t want us, and now we know differently.”

I twisted to look at Jake, but he was focused on Ian. Were they really…?

“Whether she wants us or not, she needs a moment,” Coop said, apparently landing on Ian’s side of the line. “She just found out about her mom, and I needed a shower after Archie told us.”

I closed my eyes. If I’d known about my mom? God, had they been in the pool house while Archie and I were in the hot tub? Nauseated didn’t begin to cover it.

“Her mom’s a bit—” Archie cut himself off, but the sentiment echoed clearly. “It’s another reason she should stay here. As long as the party is on, Edward and Ms. Curtis will be scarce. If she goes home, she’s going to see her. Maybe. If Ms. Curtis went there…”

“C’mon, Arch,” Ian said with a sigh.

Yeah. C’mon Arch… I opened my eyes, but none of them were looking at me.

“Seriously, Frankie,” Ian said, finally meeting my gaze. “We want you here…I don’t know if you can have fun. You can blow off the party and just go play video games or something inside. But, stay…”

“Ditto,” Coop told me and bumped my shoulder. “Besides, you still have to meet your rose admirer.”

Jake scowled. “You had to bring that up.”

“Because we’re her friends,” Coop stressed. “And we’re all here. So Frankie can feel safe about meeting them.”

Not very zen, but also not subtle.

I wanted to laugh, but there was no humor in any of this. It wasn’t funny. If I went home, and Mom was there… I’d have to face her knowing what I know. But here? With all of my friends? I had to face what they’d known and chosen to do. The rose guy had been the last thing on my mind, and now… He was going to find me here, if I took off, I left him hanging.

Granted, I didn’t owe him a damn thing but those roses—they were bright, untainted spots in my week. What if meeting him ruined all that? My thoughts were like balls in a pinball machine stuck between two bumpers in a machine racking up crazy points, because I had to ask, “What are the chances none of you is going to hit him?”

With a groan, Jake said, “As long as he isn’t a douche and doesn’t expect anything, fine. He gets handsy, and I’m not promising I won’t break them.”

“C’mon,” Coop said. “We won’t punch the guy.” The last he said to Jake. “Or try to set him up.” That went to Archie. Then he looked at me. “You know you wanna. Besides…you gotta stay and dance with us, Frankie. Show off the bikini maybe?”

“She doesn’t have to show that off to anyone else. We can save that for swimming later when people are gone,” Archie suggested. “But if you decide you want to, you’re just going to have to deal with a little more protectiveness. You’re hot, and I don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea.”

It was like talking to four brick walls. “You know that’s not as cute as you think it is.”

“It’s not about being cute,” Archie retorted.

“He’s not wrong,” Ian said slowly. “You’re stunning, Frankie. Absolutely stunning. People are gonna drink even if we don’t supply it. So—we want you safe. Fair?”

“In what world is that fair?” I eyed them each, one at a time. Shoving the chair back, I stood. “I’ll stay, but not for you. Not for any of you. I’m staying because right now, I can’t go home. And I don’t know what I’m going to do. But you’re going to leave me alone.” I snagged one of the sandwiches off the tray and looked at Coop. “Give me back my keys.”

“You said you weren’t leaving…”

“Not right now, I’m not. But I want the option to go when I decide, not you.”

Hurt flickered in his eyes at the last comment. “Promise you’re not leaving.”

Promises meant something to me. “Like I said, I’m not leaving right now.  Now give me my keys.”

“You’re being stubborn to be stubborn,” Jake snapped.

“Well, stubborn is better than being an ass. I’ve never lied to you. Or tried to sabotage any of you. Not that you four can say the same.” I shook my open palm at Coop, and he slid the keys out of his pocket before setting them in my hand. “Thank you.”

With that, I walked away from them. Every step hurt. Not just because of what they did, but because everything had changed—again.  I didn’t see Jeremy or anyone else on my way to the patio doors. The hot tub was running, the water bubbling happily, and the lights were on in it again.

My gut knotted as I went wide around it and headed for one of the patio lounge chairs. The music was louder down here, and I pulled my sunglasses down as I finished my sandwich, aware that four sets of eyes were on me from above. The wine gave me some distance, but it didn’t do a damn thing for the way my gut churned. The food helped soak up some of the mild buzz, but it served as a distraction for far too short a time.

The patio door slid open and Ian walked out, he was in swim trunks and an unbuttoned short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt. Beer in hand, he circled the pool to drop onto the lounge chair next to mine. His sunglasses shielded his eyes, though I only peeked at him as he passed me.

Neither of us spoke, and I couldn’t figure out how I’d gone from magical Friday to miserable Saturday. Worse—I couldn’t figure out how I was going to make it through the next hour, much less the whole party.

I already wanted to get the hell out of here. But high school parties were part the experience, right? I clung to the lame excuse, because I really had no idea where else I would go right now. The closest thing I could think of was to go back to Mason’s and see if Marsha was there.

How humiliating would that be?

“Frankie,” Ian began, and I held up a hand.

“Don’t.”

“You’re mad…”

“Am I?” I crossed one ankle over the other. “Want to give me more details on my feelings and behaviors since you four all appear to be the experts on deciding what I get to do and to feel as well as know?”

He sighed. “Fine, maybe we deserve that.”

“No, maybe about it.”

That seemed to shut him up. “Accepted. We deserve that.” Not for long apparently. “I want to make excuses, but you were right. I knew that they were planning something, and I didn’t say a word. I’m sorry.” Well, at least he was talking for himself and not the others.

Not that it helped much.

The sliding door opened, letting the other three out, but I shifted my gaze to where the gate had opened and the first partygoers began arriving. Jeremy wasn’t sending them through the house, but around it. I was almost grateful for the new arrivals and the distraction they offered.

The first couple of people were kids I recognized, but I didn’t know them. Not far behind them were several members of the football team. Ian rose after a long moment and brushed my shoulder gently before he headed over to greet them. The sun had begun to dip, and the lights added a kind of moody glow over the area. In a little over thirty minutes, there must have been fifty people who’d shown up, including—and unsurprisingly—Rachel Manning and her little posse of girls. Maria, Patty, and Sharon arrived at some point.

I probably wouldn’t have noticed, except Laura Zaverman came over and claimed the lounge chair Ian had abandoned. Holding a can of soda in one hand, she perched on the edge of the chair and the only way to avoid looking at her would have been to turn my back.

I’d made it thirty minutes.

Thirty more, and I’d ditch. I still had no idea where I’d go, but driving around in the car had to be better than this.

“Hi,” Laura said.

“Hey.” To be honest, I didn’t know Laura. We had a grand total of maybe two classes together in the last five years. Maybe. That was a stretch. The only thing we had in common, I think, was Coop. Not really a way to open a conversation. Especially since a little over a week ago, she thought they were still dating.

Yeah. Cue uncomfortable silence. Particularly when the best thing I could think of was at least her sitting there was better than Patty or Maria who were both pissed at me, or Sharon, who probably wanted to punch me.

She lifted her soda and took a drink, her gaze skipping past me briefly then back. “I know this is kind of awkward, I don’t think we’ve really ever talked before.”

“Not much, no,” I said, then because I didn’t want to be more of an asshole than I already felt like, I dredged up a smile. “How are you?”

“I’m—confused.”

Fuck. I just invited this conversation.

“I’m sorry. Confused is not fun.” There, door closed.

“No,” she said, then glanced past me again. The hopeful smile on her face was painful. More, it told me what, or more precisely, who was there. “Hey Coop.”

I did not sigh or roll my eyes. He dropped to sit on the lounge chair next to me. “Hey Laura,” he said, his tone cool. “I didn’t know you were coming to the party.”

“I didn’t know I was coming either.” She glanced from Coop to me, then back again. “But I’m glad I’m here. Do you think we can talk?”

“We’re talking.” Oh, I knew that tone. He was going to be an ass. “What’s up?”

“I kind of meant…” Laura hesitated, glancing between us, and I elbowed Coop.

“I can take off if you two need to talk.” But before I could go anywhere, Coop latched onto my arm.

“No, you don’t need to go anywhere,” he said, then looked at Laura. “You can say anything you need to say in front of Frankie.”

Oh. God.

I was going to kill him. “No, she can’t, don’t be a douche.”

The harshness in my tone must have warned him, because he stared at me.

“Really? You aren’t dense, Coop. If she wants to talk to you it’s not because she feels like spilling her guts in front of me. So stop being a dick.” This right here was what I’d meant.

Laura’s eyes widened, and she wasn’t alone. Coop frowned. “I’m not being a dick.” But he cut his gaze to Laura. “Am I?”

“I think I should just go. I wasn’t sure if you broke up with me because of Frankie, but now I think you did. Which—” She actually threw me an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, I wouldn’t have bothered you if I’d known, but Sharon said you were with Bubba and Maria insists that it’s Jake, so—I had to be sure.”

“About what?” The tone shift in Coop’s voice dipped toward a warning.

“Nothing,” Laura said as she stood.

Dammit.

“Good job,” I said with a sigh as she walked away.

“What?” Coop twisted to look at me. “I’m not going to go off and talk to her, we’re done. I told her that. I came over here to talk to you.”

Maybe he meant well. Maybe he didn’t. “I don’t want to talk to you.”

He frowned. “C’mon, Frankie…”

“No,” I said, then tugged my arm out of his grip. “I’m going to walk around.”

I didn’t wait for him to follow me. I didn’t want him to. I felt bad for Laura. Folding my arms, I circled the pool to get away from not only him, but from where Ian was talking to his friends from football. I didn’t see Archie or Jake, but I wasn’t trying to find them either. Unfortunately, my path took me right past the pool house.

Last place I wanted to be. The music around the pool cranked up, and a handful of the kids ended up in the water. Sharon cut a look from me to where Ian stood, then dove in the water. Call it an intellectual exercise, but I didn’t miss the way she swam right over to where he was standing and asked for assistance getting out of the pool.

Rolling my eyes, I turned away and smacked right into Jake.

“Going somewhere?”

“Taking a walk.” I side-stepped to go around him, and he hooked my arm.

“Frankie,” he said, his voice low. “Come on, seriously? Don’t—”

“Don’t what? Make a decision for myself? Decide I’m worth more than you guys plotting behind my back? Decide that you keeping an epic secret from me because—what? You thought it would hurt me? Did it hurt me less finding out how I did?”

“First—I’m not apologizing for the Frenchy thing. I don’t know that guy and more, I don’t want to know him. I’ve wanted you for years. The first inclination you show toward dating, and you’re going out with some other guy? Not happening. Not without making it clear I care, and I think I made it pretty damn clear and so did you.”

Heat flooded my face. Yes, he had made it clear.

“That said, I’m glad we didn’t have to do it. I never want to hurt you.”

I scoffed.

“You think I’m lying…”

“I think you already hurt me.”

He slid his hand down my arm and then closed over my hand, even as I curled it into a fist. “I’m sorry that it hurt you. That I can say sorry about. Hurting you wasn’t the intention.” Sighing, he glanced past me toward the pool. “Can we get out of here? Just you and me? I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”

I almost crumpled, right there. I just—I needed a hug. I needed someone to tell me this was all going to be okay. I wanted to go back to that floaty feeling I had that morning before Archie told me about the plan and before I’d seen my mom and Archie’s dad.

“You missed us this summer,” he reminded me. “We missed you. Please don’t make me miss you again standing right there…”

My resolve wavered. I was mad but…

“Hey, Frankie.” Rachel Manning calling me was probably the second to the last thing I wanted to happen right now. Jake scowled, but the other girl was a lifeline—whether she knew it or not—and I was drowning.

“Hey, Rachel,” I said, turning and trying to tug my hand out of Jake’s grasp. “What’s up?”

She was solo. Where had her posse gone? Cheryl and the others were by the pool with Maria. Sharon was standing right amidst the other football players, dead in front of Ian, but his arms were folded, and he stared across the pool to where we were. Coop wasn’t on my lounger, he’d moved to the patio and looked to be arguing with Archie.

What were they fighting about?

You know, no, I focused on Rachel, and finally Jake let me go, because I think he got the point that I wasn’t going to stop. His sigh spoke volumes, though.

“Just thought I’d see if you had a minute. I know it’s a party—but you think you have time to go over some poetry with me?”

Seriously? Homework help?

“It’s a party, Manning,” Jake said, scowling. “She’s not your private tutor.”

“I don’t think I was talking to you, dickhead,” Rachel retaliated. “And since she was trying to get away from you, maybe you should take a hint.”

And okay… “Sure, I can give it a few minutes, but it’s a party, and everyone else looks like they’re having fun.”

Rachel shrugged. “You’re not, and I think you could use the break.”

Well, she wasn’t wrong.

“Frankie…”

“I’m going to talk to Rachel,” I told him firmly and tried not to drown in those pale eyes. Jake never let me get away with anything, and he had to know I was bolting. It was written all over his face.

“Don’t leave,” he said, then added. “Please. Just don’t take off?”

“No promises.” It was the best I could do. I folded my arms again and faced Rachel. “Want to take a walk out in the garden? It’s quieter. Probably be able to hear ourselves think.” Because someone had cranked the music louder.

Jake loomed over us both, but Rachel ignored him. “Sure, sounds good. See you, dickhead.”

“Bitch,” Jake muttered under his breath as we walked away, and I shot him a look over my shoulder. Seriously? The impatient look he gave Rachel before he met my gaze answered that question. I wanted to reassure him, but Rachel bumped me, and I glanced at her.

“He’s cranky. Sulking will do him some good. Besides, you really do look miserable.”

I really was miserable.

Didn’t mean I wanted to talk to her about it.

“Thanks,” I said, not bothering to hide my sarcasm. “This is my best hair shirt look.”

She grinned as she pushed open the gate. “Huh, maybe you need more Elizabeth Barrett Browning in your life,” she said as I followed her into the low-lit garden, and the music faded behind us.

I needed something.