Getting schooled, p.18
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       Getting Schooled, p.18
 

           Emma Chase
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  "Well, well, well . . . Garrett Daniels . . . it's been a long time."

  Fuck.

  This isn't gonna be pretty.

  Callie stops singing and looks up at Becca--an open, innocent expression on her face.

  "And Callie Carpenter. I didn't know you were back in town. Isn't this just like old times."

  The last I heard, Becca had married a businessman and was living in North Jersey. I think she's a mortician or something.

  "Hello, Becca," Callie says.

  There's a wicked gleam in Becca's narrowed eyes, something sharp and dangerous. "How funny is this?" She hooks her thumb back towards the bar. "My husband's in real estate; we own the parking lot outside. I was in the area and decided to pick up the rent check from Sydney . . . and I run into you two. Are you guys like . . . back together again?"

  Callie smiles, cool, calm, and totally collected. "Yeah, we are."

  "That's adorable. God, Garrett, I haven't seen you since that night . . . up at Rutgers, remember?"

  Callie goes stiff on my lap.

  "We were so drunk . . . we got pretty wild that night. Good times." She tilts her head towards the door. "Well, I have to get going." Her eyes graze over me, and it feels cold . . . slimy . . . like an alien invasion. "Make sure you hold onto him this time, Callie. He is just . . . incredible."

  Her head swivels away from us.

  "Oh, hey, Dean."

  Dean dips his chin. "She-devil." He wags his finger. "You make sure you watch out for those priests now. One good splash of holy water and it's"--he waves his arms--"straight back home to hell for you."

  "Bye, Dean," Becca says dryly. Then she walks away.

  The table is silent then. I watch the emotions scatter over Callie's face. Her forehead scrunches and a little line appears between her brows that I want to smooth away for her.

  "Did . . . did you fuck her?"

  There is no good answer to that question.

  Okay--no would be a good answer . . . but that's not an answer I can give.

  "It was a long time ago."

  Callie turns away from me, staring down at her hands on the table. Then she stands up. "I'm gonna go."

  I rise from the chair, but Callie puts up her hand. "I don't want to be around you right now."

  And she walks the fuck out.

  I look at Dean, who waves his hand. "Go, Romeo . . . go. I'll take care of the tab."

  "Thanks, man."

  And I'm following Callie out the door into the empty parking lot.

  "Callaway! Hey, where are you going?"

  She doesn't turn around. "Home."

  "I'll drive you."

  The light of her phone casts her face in a pale, bluish glow.

  "No--I'll take an Uber."

  I snort. "That'll take an hour. The closest thing to an Uber around here is the back of Mickey Kadeski's bike." I step closer and she doesn't move away. "Come on, Callie. Get in the car."

  She looks up at me and it's all there in her eyes--anger and betrayal and so much hurt it knocks the breath out of me. But then she nods tightly and gets in my Jeep.

  ~

  Callie

  Breathe . . . just breathe . . .

  A part of me knows I'm being silly--stupid. I'm a thirty-four-year-old woman. An adult. This shouldn't be wrecking me like it is.

  Garrett slept with Becca Saber. He fucked her, touched her. His mouth kissed her; her hands touched him. All of him.

  I fold my arms around myself and a groan slips from my lips. Because it hurts. Hurts just as much as it would've if I'd found out when I was seventeen. And it's like that seventeen-year-old girl has possessed me--like she's running the show.

  "You lied to me."

  From the corner of my eye, Garrett shakes his head while he drives.

  "I didn't lie."

  "Oh, give me a fucking break!" I turn to him. "Do you think I'm an idiot? I brought up her name in the grocery store weeks ago! And you didn't say anything--that's a lie."

  His hands tighten on the steering wheel. "It doesn't matter."

  "It matters to me! And you knew that--and that's why you lied."

  "It was seventeen fucking years ago! You're being totally ridiculous right now."

  "Don't do that! Don't you dare minimize my feelings. You knew I'd be upset so you took the chicken-shit way out and you lied. I'm allowed to be pissed off about that."

  A minute later, we pull into Garrett's driveway.

  "You said you'd drive me home," I hiss.

  Garrett's eyes are two hard black stones and his jaw is granite. "We need to talk about this. That's not a conversation I'm going to have with your parents in the next room."

  Fine. Fine--I feel like yelling anyway.

  I yank open the car door and stomp up the walkway. Garrett opens the front door, and Snoopy's already there to greet us in the foyer. The little dog's presence gives me a moment of calm, of rationality. I pet him under his chin.

  "Hey, Snoopy. It's okay."

  Garrett walks to the kitchen and Snoopy and I follow. He opens the back sliding door and lets the dog out. Then he turns to me, and his eyes are softer. Regretful.

  "I'm sorry, Callie. You're right. I should have told you." He shakes his head. "It just . . . it didn't matter to me and after all this time, I didn't want it to matter to us. Not when we were happy and rebuilding what we have. I didn't want it to screw things up between us."

  My seventeen-year-old self is not impressed.

  "How would you feel if it was me . . . if I'd screwed Dean?"

  "That's not even the same thing! Becca wasn't your best friend. That would only be the same if I hooked up with Sydney."

  Something flashes on his face--a memory. Guilt.

  "Oh my God! Did you screw Sydney too?"

  Garrett shakes his head. "No! No . . . there was this one night when we ran into each other at the bar. And we talked--talked about you, actually--and it was late and we were drunk and there was this one moment when it seemed like . . . but nothing happened."

  I tear my hands through my hair and yell, "Jesus Christ, Garrett!"

  Then Garrett is yelling back. "Nothing happened! Why are you being like this?"

  "Because, every single time we were together, it was beautiful and it meant something to me. And to know, that after I left you just spread that around and became this . . . whore . . . that kills me!"

  He points his finger at me. "You don't get to do that! You don't get to call me a whore because of what I did to fix what you broke."

  My anger makes me jump up and down. "That's a line from Grey's Anatomy!"

  "It's a good show!" Garrett shouts. Then he shakes his head. "Except for how Derek went out--that was fucked up. It'll never be okay."

  And a part of me inside wants to laugh. But I can't.

  "Don't be cute," I tell him harshly. "Not now."

  Garrett's shoulders go loose, slumping. "What do you want me to do here, Cal? I can't go back and undo it. How do I fix this?"

  The air rushes from my nose, like I'm a scorned dragon.

  "Was she the first girl you were with after we broke up?"

  Garrett nods, stiff and tight, and the knife in my stomach twists in a little bit deeper.

  "When? Where? Where did it happen?"

  He grabs my shoulders and looks me in the eyes. "I'm not doing this with you--I'm not doing a play-by-play recap. It's useless and it'll only hurt you. It was after California, after we broke up. If I could go back and change it, I would, but I can't. The end."

  I let out a shuddery breath. And I know he's right; I know I'm being crazy.

  I close my eyes and breathe, my voice coming out small and thin. "It hurts that it was her."

  "I'm sorry, Callie."

  "Anyone else I could . . . but why did it have to be Becca?"

  His brow furrows and his voice is tight. Pained.

  "Because she was there."

  I shake my head at him. "You're you--lots of girls would've been there fo
r you. Why did you sleep with her? Did you . . . was it . . . to get back at me?"

  His brow furrows, like he's only now considering the question for the first time.

  "Maybe. Yeah."

  "But why? Our breakup was mutual."

  He laughs then . . . and it sounds bitter.

  "No, Callie . . . it wasn't. Nothing about it was mutual."

  The moments replay in my head. That morning in my dorm room in California, when Garrett and I said goodbye.

  "I don't understand. We talked about it. You agreed--you said the distance was too hard. That we'd grown apart."

  "What else was I supposed to say? What was I supposed to do? Cry? Beg? I wanted to--I could see you dumping me from a mile away. But I was an eighteen-year-old kid; I had some fucking pride."

  Then Garrett touches my face, his hand cupping my jaw. "When I came out to California to see you, you were happy. It was the first time I'd seen your smile--your real smile--in months. And I couldn't . . . I wasn't going to take that away from you. Not for anything. So, I lied, said it was better if we broke up--that it was okay for you to move on without me. And I'd do it again."

  When I left Lakeside for college I was depressed. I had been for a while. I didn't know it then, but now, as an adult, looking back, I can see the signs. And I had my reasons. Reasons that Garrett and I didn't talk about then. But we need to do it now--there are things I need to say. So I look up into his eyes and rip off the scab.

  "I wanted the baby. I wanted it so much . . . and I couldn't tell you that."

  "You could've told me anything."

  I got pregnant in January of our senior year. We didn't tell anyone--not Dean or Sydney, not our parents or Coach Saber, not Colleen or any of Garrett's brothers.

  It was ours. Our secret . . . and then, just a few weeks later . . . our loss.

  "No. I couldn't tell you that. Not after we lost it . . . and you were happy."

  "I wasn't happy, Callie." Garrett shakes his head, his jaw grinding.

  "Yes, you were."

  "No, I--"

  "I remember, Garrett! I remember what you said, in your room that day." I close my eyes, and I'm right there again. "I remember what the rain smelled like."

  The window was open in Garrett's bedroom and a curtain of rain was coming down outside. He was behind me, his warm, solid body pressed against every inch of mine--holding me, rocking me--his palm on my stomach. He kissed my neck and whispered in my ear.

  "This is a good thing, Callie. It's the best thing that could've happened. It's out of our hands. We don't have to decide if we're going to have it, or keep it, or give it up for adoption. We have our whole lives now."

  Tragedies are supposed to bring couples closer or tear them apart. That's not how it was for us. We didn't break up. We still went to prom, took graduation pictures, we still loved each other.

  But for me, it was like . . . that tiny shard of glass stuck in the most tender part of your foot--you can't see it, but you feel it there.

  "When you said adoption, I didn't know what you were talking about! It was like I didn't even know you. Because I had it all planned out, Garrett. You would play football and I would go to night school and our parents would help us raise the baby. And we'd get married and buy a house on the lake."

  It was the first time--ever--that I felt like Garrett and I were going in different directions. Like I couldn't count on him.

  On us.

  Our future wasn't set in stone. It could change. It could all go away in an instant, and what would I be then? Who would I be? I didn't even know who I was without him. If I wasn't Garrett Daniels' girl . . . I wasn't anyone.

  "Callie, look at me." Garrett's voice is raw and his eyes are red-rimmed. "I was an idiot. A young, stupid kid . . . who loved you more than anything in the whole world. And you were so sad. And there was nothing I could do . . . I just wanted to say something that would make it better for you. I didn't know it was the wrong thing. That's all it was, all it ever was."

  Hot, heavy tears streak down my face. For all we felt. For all the things we didn't say.

  "I couldn't shake it, Garrett. I tried, but I couldn't let it go. It was with me all the time." I grasp his wrists, holding on to him. "And we were so lucky--both of us . . . we didn't even know how lucky we were. We had everything--we were healthy and smart and beautiful, with amazing families and friends who loved us. We were blessed. And it was the first time that something bad had happened. Out of our control. And I couldn't let it go . . . it turned everything upside down.

  "And then, when my mom brought up going away to school, when I looked at the pictures and the sunshine and the buildings and so many different faces, it felt . . . better. Like I could do anything, be anyone. I didn't have to remember how much it hurt, or be afraid of losing you because I could be someone new, someone stronger . . . a fresh start."

  My chest shudders and my voice breaks. "And I had to go. I had to go, Garrett."

  He strokes my cheek, his voice aching.

  "I know. I know you did."

  "But it was never about not loving you. Not for a day . . . not for a minute."

  Garrett pulls me against him, hugging me, holding me, rubbing my back. And I feel relieved, lighter in his arms, to have gotten it all out. After all this time.

  Then Garrett presses his lips against my hair and rips off his own scab.

  "I bought you a ring."

  I feel my face pale. And I step back, looking up at him.

  "What?"

  "Remember when I sold my Joe Namath football?"

  "You said you were going to buy a new computer for school."

  He nods. "I sold it to buy you a ring." He looks into my eyes. "Because I wanted the baby too. And you. I wanted all of it, Callie."

  He takes a step away from me, his voice rough, weighted down with memories. "I carried it around in my pocket, waiting for the right time to ask. I didn't want you to think it was because of the baby--I mean it was because of the baby, the timing of it--but it wasn't just because of that."

  I nod, staring at him.

  "And . . . after . . . I didn't want you to think I was asking because we'd lost it." He shakes his head. "There was never a good time. I hesitated. And then . . . you were gone. And it was too late. And I still had that ring in my pocket."

  I wipe my face and push a hand through my hair, and focus on something simple.

  "What . . . did it look like?"

  "Do you want to see it?"

  The air rushes from my lungs.

  "You still have it?"

  The corner of Garrett's mouth inches up and he looks down at the floor.

  "Yeah."

  He waves his hand for me to follow, and we go upstairs to the spare bedroom. He goes to the closet, shifting boxes around, then takes one down from a shelf in the back. Inside, there are pictures of the two of us, cards and notes . . . the dried, brown-edged boutonniere I pinned to his tuxedo the night of our prom.

  Then he's holding a box--small, black leather, with "Zinke Jewelers" embossed in gold.

  Slowly, he flicks open the box, and holds it out me. And inside is a tiny, round diamond with a silver band. There are smaller gem chips embedded in the band--all the way around. Light-blue aquamarine and violet alexandrite--our birthstones.

  One hand covers my mouth, and my other hand trembles as I take the box from him--my vision blurring with fresh tears as I stare.

  "I used to wonder," Garrett says softly, "if you would've liked it. If you would've thought I was crazy." I feel the warmth of his eyes drifting over me, searching. "If you would've said yes."

  I inhale a shaky breath.

  "I would've loved it. I would've thought you were crazy." My voice cracks. "And I absolutely . . . would've said yes."

  I put a hand over my face as it crumples, and I cry. For all our years, our sorrows, and our joys. And I cry with a sweet, piercing relief . . . that somehow we found our way back to each other again.

  Garrett's str
ong arms come around me, pulling me close and safe into his chest. I press my face to him and twist my hands in his shirt . . . holding on to him with everything I have.

  "We're going to be all right this time, Callie. I promise. I swear."

  ~

  Later that night, Garrett and I lay bare beneath the blankets in his bed--him on his back, my cheek on his chest. Snoopy's curled up down near our feet and it's quiet and dark . . . and there are no more tears.

  Garrett skims his hand down my spine, and his deep voice splits the silence.

  "In the spirit of complete honesty, there's one more thing I have to tell you."

  I lift up on my arm, so I can see him. "Okay."

  He looks deep into my eyes. "Our entire relationship was based on a lie."

  I squint at him. "What?"

  Garrett looks up at the ceiling, smiling.

  "Remember when I asked you to borrow a quarter, for a soda from the vending machine?"

  "Yeah . . . ?"

  Garrett's thumb strokes my cheek. "I had like ten bucks in change in my pocket. I just wanted a reason to talk to you."

  A laugh bubbles from my lips. And I kiss his warm skin, right over his heart.

  "Well . . . you're forgiven. That lie was the best thing that ever happened to me."

  He leans up, pressing his lips against mine.

  "Me too, Callie. Me too."

  Chapter Nineteen

  Garrett

  After New Year's--the school year chugs forward, like a locomotive hurling towards spring. One early Saturday morning, in February, Callie pounces on top of me, in my bed, her bra-less tits bouncing beneath the fabric of one of my Lions T-shirts--her lips peppering my face and neck and chest with hot, quick kisses.

  Not a bad way to start the day.

  "Wake up . . . wake up, Garrett . . . wake up, wake up, wake up!"

  Snoopy hops up next to her and joins the party--licking my face and blasting me with the foul stench of his shit-breath.

  I turn my head. "Ah . . . dude. You been eating your turds again? I told you to stop that."

  He looks me dead in the face--regretting nothing.

  Callie stops kissing me. "Snoopy eats his turds?"

  I rub a hand down my face and my voice is scratchy with sleep.

  "Yeah. But only in the winter. He thinks they're frozen meat-logs or something."

  Callie gags.

  I don't know why she's up so early--the sun isn't up yet, and only a slice of light gray streaks the sky. So I take the opportunity to drag her back under the covers with me, pressing our lower halves together, ready to kick Snoopy out and take the kissing to a whole new level.

 
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