By the end of the day it’s clear that what started at lunch has spread like a venereal disease throughout the entire school. Guys are smirking at me and girls are looking speculative. No one but Sinclair Pennington has the guts to talk to me. Sinclair’s a sophomore and has had a few classes with Charlotte but I never knew that they were friends.
She stops me after last period before I’m headed home. Nick is waiting for me by the exit doors and by waiting, I mean he’s got one hand on same random’s ass while his head is buried in her neck. I can’t tell from this distance who it is nor do I care. Dad told us to respect girls. As far as I can tell Nick’s version of respecting females is giving each one the same amount of attention.
“Um, hey Nathan,” she says as I pull my jacket from my locker.
“Yeah?” I fish around the side pocket for my keys. Flipping them in my hand, I whistle. Nick pulls his head from the girl’s neck and gives me a nod.
After seeing my acknowledgment he returns to his girl, this time plastering his mouth against hers. She tries to climb him like a tree so I guess it’s all good.
“Is Charlotte better? Rumor has it she’s coming back to school soon.” She trots alongside me because I don’t make any effort to regulate my pace to match hers. Sinclair’s an awkward girl, all limbs, braces and terrible haircut. She trips right when we reach Nick and falls into his back. Even I cringe at this. Grabbing her arm, I set her upright. Her face is bright tomato red and I choke back a laugh because the last thing this poor girl needs is anyone snickering at her.
Nick catches his balance and tightens his grip on his companion who I now see is senior Abby Halifax. She’s a friendly sort of girl and one that probably doesn’t mind that Nick’s attention is shorter than the lifespan of a lightning bug. They both turn to look at Sinclair whose eyes in pinned to the floor. She wishes that it would swallow her.
“Watch were you’re going,” Abby spits out clearly unhappy that her time with Nick has been interrupted.
“Sorry,” Sinclair mumbles into her shoes.
“No worries.” Nick gives Abby another quick kiss and a pat on the ass that is clearly designed to signal her departure but she sticks around, leaning against his body as if he’s her personal resting post. But her eyes aren’t on Nick; they’re roving over me and I feel a little uncomfortable as she rubs herself against one Jackson while stripping the other mentally. I allow my jacket to fall forward, covering half my chest and my crotch.
“Spoilsport,” she mouths.
Shaking my head, I brush by all three of them. I want to get home and see Charlotte. Behind me I hear murmurs and then two sets of footsteps. Christ I hope Nick isn’t bringing Abby home with us. Spinning around, I open my mouth to confront him only to see Nick and Sinclair. There’s a worried look on her face and since she mentioned Charlotte, I figure I better find out what it is.
“Did you have something you wanted me to tell Charlotte?” I ask.
Sinclair grimaces and blurts out, “It’s all over school that she’s pregnant and doesn’t have cancer at all.”
Nick and I exchange looks filled with equal parts anger and alarm.
“She’s not. And the assholes that say she doesn’t have cancer are sick in their heads.” Other words, ones that were more profane sit on the tip of my tongue. The rumor mill at North Prep is crazy. From Charlotte and I having sex to her being pregnant and faking cancer in under three hours? That must be some kind of fucked up record.
“I just thought…” she trails off.
“Yeah?” Nick prompts, not so visibly angry like me. Sinclair melts under the heat of his smile so before she turns into go, I snap my fingers. They both jerk to attention.
“What?” I bark. This flusters her again and Nick glares at me. I gesture for him to take over.
“He’s more bark than bite,” Nick tells her in soothing tones. “But we all care about Charlotte. What’s going on?”
“I know Charlotte would never lie about anything like this but some girls are jealous of how protective of her you are. How both of you are so careful with her and that maybe now that everyone is older she’s worried she’s losing you so she made up this story to tighten her hold.” She barely takes a breath through the whole…what. Confession? Warning?
“Her hold?” I stare at her incredulously. This conversation is over. Behind me Nick is thanking Sinclair and telling her that everyone will get their turn with him. That makes me laugh.
“That’s pretty fucking strange,” Nick comments as he catches up with me. “You telling Charlotte or you doing it?”
“I’m not telling her jack.” I shake my head. There’s no reason for Charlotte to ever find out about this crap.
Nick frowns. “If we don’t tell her she’ll hear it from someone else and it’s going to be even more distorted.”
I hit the locks and we both climb into the Audi that is designated for our use. Dad has told me a hundred times this isn’t my car. He thinks we’re going to end up completely worthless if we are given everything but since we’re the only ones that drive this car, it seems like an empty lesson. But I get it. Ever since I was a sophomore people have been asking me where I’m going to college but a degree in business has never held any interest for me. There’s a way for me to live up to my dad’s expectations but it doesn’t involve more school when I graduate.
“No.” I’m emphatic. “She’s got three more weeks here. By the time she gets back from Switzerland, they’ll have moved on to something else. I want her to be able to enjoy her last years at North Prep without this hanging over her head.”
Nick screws up his face but while he might disagree with me, we’re a unit. He’ll back me one hundred percent. “I’ll keep my ears open. If anything changes…”
“Agreed. If something changes then we tell her.”
At home, Nick starts in on his homework and I open my emails.
I’ve made contact with your local recruiter. He’s expecting a call from you. Appreciate it if you’d let your parents know. Don’t like keeping this from your old man.
I send a quick response.
Thanks! I’ll call ASAP. Situation with Charlotte tense. She leaves in three weeks. Will tell them after.
“Why not tell us now?” I whirl to see Nick standing slightly behind me and obviously reading my emails.
With an apologetic smile, I say, “Because if I tell mom and dad, they’ll tell Bo and AM who’ll tell Charlotte and I’m not ready for her to know.”
“Because she’ll go ballistic.”
“Yeah.” I grab the football and throw it to Nick. He catches it, settles back into his chair and tosses it back. This is how we think. “I figured I’d have all this time with her but with her going away, the most I’ll have is seven weeks. Three now and four when she comes back.”
“If she comes back by then.” He points out.
There’s a little more heat on the return pass I send Nick’s way and he grunts when the ball thuds against his chest. “When she comes back.” Because if she doesn’t come back by her birthday in May I might not see her until I’m done with Basic. And from there I’ll be shipped out to who knows where.
“I’ll be here.” Nick reminds me.
“But I want to be.” I hold the ball and flip it in the air and catch it myself.
“Then don’t go.”
As if it’s so easy.
“I don’t want to go to B school. I’m not interested in sports like you. Serving like Dad did or Bo or Gray is the right way for me to do something meaningful. Otherwise I’m sitting on my thumb taking advantage of everything that Dad and Mom worked so hard to achieve.”
“You could do AmeriCorps or volunteer for a year instead of doing something that might end up with you dead. Not easy to protect Charlotte if you’re not around.”
I scoff. “Not gonna happen to me.”
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