The Art of Losing(7)

She shook her head slowly, genuinely shocked.

“You can’t tell anyone,” I warned her. “Even my parents don’t know.”

Cassidy pressed her hand over her heart. “I would never,” she said. “And I’m so sorry that he did that. That they did that. But she glanced away guiltily as she chewed her lip. “Okay, don’t hate me, but . . .”

“What?” I asked.

“Exactly where did they hook up?” she asked. At least she had the decency to look sheepish.

I had forgotten about that part.

“No, wait, I changed my mind. I don’t want to know,” she said, covering her ears.

But it was too late. I’d gone this far; I needed to unburden myself of this one last piece of awfulness. “Sorry, Cass,” I said. “You may want to wash your sheets.”

Disgust flickered across her face, but she took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “It’s fine.”

“Are you in trouble?” I asked her. “Do your parents know?”

“Oh yeah, they know. Mom’s on her way home now. I may not be allowed out of the house for a while.”

As I studied her face, I realized the circles under her eyes were as dark as mine. “How did they find out?” Her frown told me she’d been hoping I wouldn’t ask.

“Your mom called my mom,” she said.

Of course she had.

Rage boiled inside me. I could hear Mom justifying it in my head already. She’d tell me it was “her job as a parent.”

But Cassidy was already shaking her head, preempting my apologies. “Don’t worry about it. I got Ryan and those guys to take the keg with them and nothing was broken. As soon as word got out about what had happened, everyone quit drinking and cleared out fast.”

Ryan was Mike’s best friend. He had more patience for Mike’s drunken antics than I did and covered for him as much as he could. I bet Mike called him as soon as he got to the hospital, before he even called his mom. Not because Ryan meant more to him, but because Ryan could start smoothing over any potential fallout right away.

Mike would ask Ryan to find out who knew what and what people were saying, so he’d know what he could lie about and what he could cover up. I was surprised Ryan hadn’t called me to gauge my mood, but then I remembered I’d turned my phone off.

“So everyone knows what happened?” I said.

Cassidy nodded slowly, as if trying to ease me into it. “Yeah,” she said. “A few people texted when they saw the accident. The . . . aftermath. Mike’s car is so recognizable with that happy face sticker on it. As soon as someone snapped a picture, it just spread. You know how it is.”

I did indeed know. Ryan’s job got a lot harder then.

But I cared more about how many people knew about what had happened between Mike and Audrey. How many of them had seen me running down the stairs, out of the house? How many had seen me leave my sister and my boyfriend alone together in Cassidy’s room?

“I shouldn’t have left Audrey there with Mike,” I choked out. The brick reappeared, the one that seemed to have taken up residence in my throat. “It should have been me in that car—”

“Shut up,” Cassidy interrupted.

I blinked at her. She kept her eyes on mine as she turned her chair, facing me, wrapping my hands up in hers. Her thin fingers were chilly from the hospital air-conditioning. Every part of her seemed to be trembling.

“I know that you’re hurting right now. But if you say anything like that ever again, I will punch you. Hard.” A faint smile crossed her lips. “Harder than Batman would punch . . . um, the Joker?”

I couldn’t help letting out a small laugh. Cassidy had always been confused by my love of comics. Real life was her escape, including our friendship. Cassidy preferred being a force in student government and debate and Model UN. Not physically, though. In our kickboxing segment in gym class, sophomore year, the heavy bag barely moved when she hit it.

“Batman is probably one of the weakest superheroes, comparatively speaking,” I couldn’t help saying. “A better threat would be to punch me harder than the Hulk or Superman. Just scientifically, they both have super-strength. Batman just has gadgets and human muscles.”

Cassidy rolled her eyes. “Fine. I’ll hit you harder than Superman would hit the Hulk or whatever you just said.”

I snorted.

“Okay?” she pressed.

“Okay, okay, I won’t. I swear,” I said, pulling my hands from hers. “But I need you to do me a favor.”

She narrowed her eyes. “What?”

I held out my phone to her. “I need you to erase all of Mike’s messages. I don’t want to see or hear his apologies.”

She took it. “I’m deleting his number, too.”

I nodded. “Good idea.”

“I do have good ideas occasionally,” she said, glancing up from my phone with a wry grin. “You should listen to me more often.”

“You’re going to say you told me so, aren’t you? About dating Mike?”

She shrugged. “Can you blame me?”

“No.” I sighed. “But try not to blame yourself either, okay?”

Cassidy handed me my phone and scrubbed her hands across her face. Her eyelids were heavy.

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