Better (Too Good series) (23 page)

BOOK: Better (Too Good series)
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“What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing. So why can’t she?”

Cadence shrugged.

“I don’t think this has anything to do with instrumental hip hop,” Michael said. He waited.

“Mark and I aren’t . . . in a good place right now,” Cadence whispered.

“So you take it out on Avery?”

She nodded automatically.

“That doesn’t seem very fair.” He leaned forward and picked up her pen. She watched him draw stars on her notebook.

“I know.”

“Perhaps you oughta be nice to her. She
is
your best friend.”

It was good advice, but it sounded like it came with a price. She coul
d hear it underlining his words—weighty and wanting, and she couldn’t give him what he wanted.

“So what’s going on with you and your boyfriend?” he asked softly.

No, Cadence
.

“He kept a secret from me,” she replied.

Shut up, Cadence.

“What secret?” Michael asked. He spread her hand out on the page and traced it slowly, winding the pen up and over each tiny finger.

“A big one,” she breathed. She was mesmerized watching the pen glide along the page. Up down. Up down. Up down and all around.

Pull back your hand.

“Like what? He’s a murderer or something?” He barely whispered it.

“No,” she said.

“Then what?” he urged. He rounded her pinky finger then started all over, tracing her hand in the opposite direction. He was a snake charmer, she realized, but he used a pen instead of a flute.

Wake up, Cadence. Wake up!

“I’m not sure,” she breathed.

Michael dropped the pen and glided his fingertips over the top of her hand.

Pull back your motherfucking hand!

Cadence jerked her hand away.
She looked at Michael’s face. He stared at her confused.

“What’s wrong?”

She shook her head.

“What did I do?”

She continued shaking her head.

“Are you mute now?”

“No!”

“Give me your hand again. I wasn’t finished.” He reached for her.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s not right.”

“What are you talking about? I was just tracing your hand.” He snorted. “Don’t be so self-absorbed, Cadence. I wasn’t trying to flirt with you.”

Fucking. Jerk. She knew precisely what he was doing, but he made her feel foolish. He made her feel like she was imagining it. Why did she even hang out with this guy? She should have listened to those warnings in her heart—those tiny alarms that went off the day she met him. The day he said he’d steal a kiss from her.

“You really think you’re something, huh?” he asked, staring her down. He was trying to intimidate her.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes, you do. You think I like you. You think I just can’t stay away from you.
” He chuckled. “Girls. They’re something else. Hey, guess what? Tracing your hand meant nothing. It was something to do before class.”

All she could think about was how happy she felt that she didn’t reveal
Mark’s secret. Who knows how Michael would have twisted it and used it to his advantage?

And just like that, his tone changed completely.

“You eating lunch here before you go to work?” he asked casually.

Who was this guy?

“Um, no.”

“Okay. I’m meeting Carrie if you change your mind,” he said.

Students filed into the room, and Cadence sighed with relief as Michael turned around in his seat. Class started shortly after, and she was happy for the distraction. She looked at the back of Michael’s head from time to time, though.

S
he imagined putting her fist through it.

***

Only one positive outcome to her weird conversation with Michael earlier that day: She wanted to make things right with Avery. She texted her on the way to her car.

 

Cadence: I’m sorry.

Avery: Seriously?

Cadence: What?

Avery: You’re seriously texting your apology?

Cadence: lol

Avery: No, you little bitch. No “lol.” You owe me a phone call.

Cadence: I’m walking to my car.

Avery: ? You can’t walk and talk?

Cadence: I don’t know.

Avery:
OMG. I hope you run into a tree.

Cadence: There’s no emoticon for eye rolling.

Avery: @@ (Will that work?)

Cadence: LOL!

Avery: Oh wow. Now it’s an all-caps “LOL.”

Cadence: I’m going to give you a proper apology when I get in the car.

Avery: What does that mean?

Cadence: I’ll call you.

Avery: You better. You were a straight-up bitch.

Cadence: I have an excuse!

Avery: Go be a bitch to Mr. Connelly, not me.

Cadence: I’m already doing that.

Avery: Poor Mr. Connelly…

Cadence: Are you for real?

Avery: His wife died.

Cadence stared at her phone screen. Yes. Poor Mr. Connelly. She should run home and tell him how sorry she was for treating him like crap for the past two weeks. But she couldn’t. And it wasn’t because she didn’t feel pain for him over the loss of his wife. It had everything to do with those words. She couldn’t shake them. They drilled down deep into the marrow of her bones, used the marrow for nourishment to grow her resentment, feed her bitterness. Warp h
er image of him.

He wasn’t a mean person. He was a person who said mean things, and he apologized. But his apology sounded shallow, and she knew it was because the resentment had already set in. Everything he said was shallow. The only words with any weight were spoken during their argument: “I fell in love with your non-history. You’re a blank slate. Easy.” Those were the ones that dragged her under and drowned her in despair.

Her cell phone rang.

Avery.

Cadence smirked. The girl couldn’t wait thirty seconds for her to call.

“Avery, I said I’d call you.”

“Well, I didn’t want you to forget,” Avery replied.

“Understood.”

“So let’s have it. And I want groveling,” Avery said.

Cadence s
ighed pleasantly. “You got it.”

***

“Things better?” Drew asked, casually strolling into Mark’s classroom.

He kept forgetting to close and lock the door after his last class. It became a daily routine for her—visiting him at the end of the day. Chatting and chuckling when all he wanted was to go home. Didn’t matter that hi
s home life sucked. He’d choose a moody, petulant Cadence over an aggressive Drew any day.

“They’re great,” he lied. He hoped he sounded convincing.

Ever since the after-work drink, he carried around the tiniest bit of guilt. And concern, too. He was concerned that he’d shared too much with this wily woman, and now she sat waiting, poised like a lioness, ready to pounce on him as soon as he showed her the slightest vulnerability.

“So Cadence has let it all go?”
Drew asked.

He cringed. He didn’t like the sound of his girlfriend’s name in her mouth. It lacked the rhythm and song
. It was flat, almost offensive, and he regretted sharing her with Drew.

“In time,” he said truthfully.

Drew perked up. “So things
aren’t
really better, are they?”

“We’re working on it,” Mark said.

“It’s the age thing,” Drew replied thoughtfully. “I think that’s what’s really going on here.”

She said the same thing
the evening they had drinks. Was she trying to convince him of it? He already recognized the obstacles he and Cadence faced with the age difference, but how else could he expect Cadence to react to his news? She was closed up. He accepted that because he understood her need to work through her emotions alone. What he couldn’t understand, however, was her lashing out at Avery.

“You listening?”
Drew asked.

“Uh, yeah,” he replied. “I know the age thing is a little road bump.”

Drew shook her head. “We’re not talking about road bumps here, Mark. We’re talking about huge differences in the way you both think and react to things. I mean, I’m sure if she were older, she wouldn’t be giving you so much grief over it. It’s not like you killed someone. You had a wife, and she should respect that.”

Mark tensed. Didn’t he, though? Didn’t he kill her? He put the baby in her, after all.

“She respects it,” he mumbled.

“Doesn’t sound like it to me. No
t from what you explained the other night.”

He knew it was time to end the conversation.

“I just wish she would ease up on you a little. I mean, you’re a great guy, and it must have been awful having to relive that day when you explained to Cadence what happened. I can’t believe she walked away from you.” Drew walked over to the front desk where Mark sat and leaned against the side. “She should have held you instead,” she whispered.

Mark cleared his throat.

“I appreciate your help, Drew. I do. But things are fine between us. And I think Cadence’s reaction was justified. I didn’t exactly say the nicest things to her.”

“You were up
set. She was drudging up all those bad memories.”

Mark scratched the back of his neck. “Still. I should have been kinder.”

Drew sat on the corner of his desk. It felt like Ms. Gibbons all over again, and he expected Cadence to burst through the door at any moment. He almost wished she would.

“I just moved,”
Drew said. “It’s a little apartment right around the corner from here.”

Mark nodded.

“I’m having a housewarming party this Friday night. I wish you’d come. It’s gonna be a lot of fun. I have some really fun friends.”

Yes. It was Ms. Gibbons all over again. Time to leave.

“That’s our movie night,” Mark said. “But thanks for the invite.”

“Are you really gonna be watching a movie with her?”

He didn’t like the way she said “her.” It was accusatory, and it immediately put him on the defensive.

“I watch movies with Cadence every Friday night,” he said. “So yes.”

“What if she’s not home?” Drew asked.


Drew?” Mark said carefully. “Stop.”

“Stop what?”

“You’re not being helpful now.”

“I’m sorry,”
Drew whispered. “I just . . . I just thought it’d be nice if you stopped by.”

“No.”

He watched her reaction to his word. He didn’t intend to embarrass her, but she was relentless. And she was pretty. And she knew it. So he had to be forceful with her.

Drew
sighed. “I think your girlfriend is really lucky. Hope she realizes it one day.”

Mark stood up and packed his bag. He didn’t know how to respond, so he didn’t.

“Why do guys always go for younger girls?” she asked abruptly.

Mark shrugged. “My wife was older than me.”

Drew thought for a moment. “And that didn’t work out so . . .”

He ignored the callous tone in her voice.

“I didn’t fall in love with Cadence because she’s young, though she makes me feel young.”

“Then what was it?”

“It was just her. I connected with her.”

“How can you connect with someone ten years younger than you?”

“I don’t know. But it works.”

Drew
shook her head. “Is it because women my age put pressure on you guys to get married and have kids? So you wanna date younger?”

“I can’t speak for other guys, b
ut for me, settling down has nothing to do with it.”

She bit her lower lip.

“I plan to marry Cadence.”

“And have kids with her?”

Mark stiffened. No. He had no such plans. He wasn’t losing another wife.

Drew
noticed. “Did I say something wrong?” And then her face lit up with realization. “Oh my God, I’m such a bitch,” she breathed.

Mark shook his head.

“I’m so sorry,” she went on.

“It’s all right.”

“I’m really embarrassed,” she said, “about this whole conversation. I hope you don’t think I was trying to make the moves on you or anything.”

Backtracking. He didn’t blame her. He felt mildly embarrassed for her, too. But it’s not
like she didn’t know he had a girlfriend.

BOOK: Better (Too Good series)
8.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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