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Chapter no 10 – CLARA

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Everyone thought Jonah would be back teaching his classes on Monday, but he wasn’t. Mom said Jonah would pick up Elijah on Monday, but it’s Wednesday now, and he didn’t.

I don’t know what’s going on because my mother won’t tell me anything, so when Lexie comes to my locker after last period and says, “What’s going on with Uncle Teacher?” I have no idea what to say.

I close my locker and shrug. “I don’t know. I think he’s having a breakdown. He dropped Elijah off with us Sunday night, and all I heard him say before he stormed out of the house was, ’I can’t do this. I’m sorry.’

“Shit. So your mom still has Elijah?” The way Lexie is chewing her gum makes it seem like we’re chatting about going to the mall rather than Jonah possibly abandoning his infant son.

“Yep.”

Lexie leans against the locker next to me. “That’s not good.”

“It’s fine. He’ll probably pick him up today. I think he just needed to catch up on sleep.”

Lexie can tell I’m making excuses. She shrugs and pops a bubble with her gum. “Yeah, maybe. But fair warning. My dad has been ‘catching up on sleep’ for thirteen years.”

I humor her with a laugh, but Jonah is nothing like Lexie’s dad. Not that I’ve ever met her biological father. But Jonah would never do something like that to Elijah.

“My mother said it was the day after Christmas when he stormed out of the house and yelled, ’I’m done!’ He never came back.” She pops another bubble. “If there’s one thing my dad is good at, it’s being done. He’s been ‘being done’ for thirteen years.” She suddenly clamps her mouth shut and looks over my shoulder. She’s focused on something else now. Or someone else.

I turn around and see Miller heading this direction. His eyes land on mine, and for a substantial three seconds, he holds my stare. His entire focus is on me so hard he has to crane his neck a little as he passes us before he looks away almost forcefully.

We haven’t spoken since that night over text. I like that he’s not pursuing me, but I also hate it. I want him to be a good human, but I’d also very much like it if he didn’t care so much about his current relationship.

Lexie whistles out a breath. “I felt that.” I roll my eyes. “No, you didn’t.”

“I did. That look he gave you . . . it was like . . .”

“Back to Jonah,” I say, pushing off my locker. “He’s a good dad. He just needed a break.”

“Fifty bucks says he doesn’t come back.” Lexie follows me toward the exit to the parking lot.

“Back to where?” I ask. “To school? Or to Elijah?”

“Both. Didn’t he only move here because Jenny was pregnant? He probably had a life outside of this town that he’d love to get back to. Start over. Pretend the past year never happened.”

“You’re terrible.”

“No. Men are terrible. Dads are the most terrible,” she says.

My shoulders shrink a little at her comment. I sigh, thinking about my father. “Mine wasn’t. He was the greatest.”

Lexie pauses her steps. “Clara, I’m so sorry. I’m a dumbass.”

I step back and grab her hand, pulling her forward with me. “It’s fine. But you’re wrong about Jonah. He’s like my dad. He’s one of the good ones. He loves Elijah too much to just up and abandon him like this.”

We make it another five feet before Lexie stops again, pulling me to a stop with her. I turn around, my back to the parking lot, my eyes on her. “What’s wrong?”

“Don’t look right now, but Miller just pulled up next to your car.” My eyes widen. “He did?”

“Yes. And I need you to take me home, but I don’t want to make it awkward if he’s wanting to talk to you, so I’m going back inside the school. Text me when it’s safe to come out.”

“Okay.” I’m nodding, my stomach full of nerves.

“Also, you’re full of it. You are so into him. If you use the word

inconsequential one more time in reference to him, I’ll slap you.” “Okay.”

Lexie walks back toward the school, and I take a breath. I spin around and head for my car, pretending not to notice Miller’s truck until I’m at my driver’s-side door. His windows are up and his truck is running, but he’s just sitting in it, staring ahead with a sucker hanging from his mouth. He’s not even paying attention to me.

He probably doesn’t even know he parked next to me, and here I am assuming it was deliberate. I feel stupid.

I start to turn around and open my car door but stop short when he unlocks his passenger door.

That’s when he lazily turns his head and looks at me expectantly, like I’m supposed to get in his truck.

I contemplate it. I like the way I feel around him, so even though I know I shouldn’t give him the satisfaction of being able to summon me into his truck with one simple look, I get in his truck anyway. I am that pathetic.

When I close the door, it feels as if I’ve trapped a live wire inside the truck with us. The silence between us only makes the feeling more noticeable. I can actually feel my heart beating from my stomach all the way up to my throat, as if my heart has swollen to fill my entire torso.

Miller’s head is resting against his seat, his body is facing forward, but his eyes are on me. I’m looking at him much the same way, but I’m not as relaxed. My back is straight against the leather of his seat.

He does have air-conditioning, despite what I assumed last time I was in his truck. It’s on high, and it’s blowing my hair into my mouth. I flick the vent closed and then pull a strand of hair away from my lips with my fingers. Miller’s eyes follow my movements, lingering on my mouth for a moment.

The way he’s looking at me is making it really difficult to inhale a proper breath. As if he can tell I’m having a physical reaction to just being in his presence, his eyes fall even more to my heaving chest, albeit very briefly.

He pulls his sucker out of his mouth and grips his steering wheel, looking away from me. “I changed my mind. I need you to get out of my truck.”

I’m dumbfounded by his words. And also very confused. “Changed your mind about what?”

He looks at me again, and for some reason, he looks torn. He drags in a slow breath. “I don’t know. I feel really confused around you.”

He feels confused around me? That makes me smile. My smile makes him frown.

I don’t even know what’s happening right now. I don’t know if I like it or hate it, but I do know that whatever it is that makes me feel the way I do when I’m around him is a feeling that can only be fought for so long. He’s looking back at me like he’s almost at the end of his fight.

“You really need to figure out your shit, Miller.”

He nods. “Believe me. I know I do. That’s why I need you to get out of my truck.”

This entire interaction is so bizarre I can only laugh about it. My laugh finally makes him smile. But then he groans and grips his steering wheel with both hands, pressing his forehead against it.

Please get out of my truck, Clara,” he whispers.

I should hate that he’s battling some sort of moral struggle right now. I like this feeling—thinking he might be attracted to me—a lot more than thinking he hates me.

I try to keep Shelby at the forefront of my mind. Knowing he has a girlfriend that he loves and cares for keeps me from climbing across this seat and kissing him like I want to. But I know I’m not doing anything to help prevent him from having the same urge, because I’m still sitting in his truck, despite him asking me to get out no less than three times.

I might even make it worse when I reach over and pull his sucker out of his grip. “Miller?” He tilts his head, still pressed against the steering wheel, and stares at me. “You’re confusing me too.” I put his sucker in my mouth and grab the door handle.

Miller keeps his head tilted just enough so that he can watch me exit his truck. As soon as I shut the door, he locks it, then puts the truck in reverse like he can’t get away from me fast enough.

I get into my car, fully convinced that Aunt Jenny was wrong about one thing. She said girls were more confusing than guys. I don’t believe that for a second.

I back out of my parking spot after Miller is gone. When I pull onto the road, my phone rings. It’s Lexie.

Shit. Lexie.

I answer it. “I’m sorry. I’m turning around.” “You forgot me.”

“I know. I’m the worst. Coming back now.”

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