Downward Spiral Rising
I phoned Warren that night but my call went through to his voice mail. He didn't respond the next morning when I texted him either. I guess it was his way of saying How do you like being ignored? Which I thought was kind of petty. It was also kind of effective.
Connor was ignoring me too. By the time Claire and I returned home, he was already at Ryan's place and, as far as I could tell, he spent the rest of the weekend there. Which wasn't technically odd, since that was his usual MO, but lately they'd been hanging out here instead of across town at the idiot pervert's house. I didn't even see him until Mom and Alec called an emergency family meeting late Sunday night.
I almost had a panic attack when Mom padded into my room to get me. My immediate thought was that she was going to air her completely absurd suspicion that Connor and I were a thing. I made some excuse to stall for a minute or two so I could gather up my nerve. I wasn't really looking forward to gut wrenching humiliation.
Mom and Alec were sitting beside each other at the kitchen table when I finally wandered in and took a chair. Claire padded in behind me and shot me a questioning look as she slid into the seat next to mine. I shrugged. I didn't know why they'd called us there either. Kyle sat placidly across from us, head buried in his PS console. He barely looked up as Connor slid in beside him. The ass didn't even bother to glance at me.
Alec cleared his throat. "As you know Becky, Kyle, and I are going down to the house in Barbados for the first few days of winter break. As usual, the whole family is invited, but I know you two," He nodded at Claire and Connor, "normally choose to stay here and have your little get-together during that week."
A little get-together? Was that what they called it? The Barton winter bash was major. Seriously, how naive was Alec?
Alec looked at me. "Chloe, the twins told me earlier that you wanted to stay too." That was before my life imploded and I knew Barbados was an option, but I nodded anyway. "Elizabeth Hummel, the kids' last nanny, usually stops by to check in on things every few days while we're gone. She chaperones the party and makes sure nothing gets out of hand. But Becky and I," he paused to take my mom's hand in his, "have decided that, in light of recent developments, it would be best if Liz stays here for the duration of our trip."
There was a pregnant pause.
"That's it?" Claire asked.
"You called us in here just to tell us that Liz is going to be sleeping over? Seriously?" She threw her hands up in the air. "I thought Becky was pregnant or you were dying or something, Dad. What a let down."
"Sorry to disappoint you," Alec replied drolly.
"What developments?" Connor suddenly cut in.
"You said 'In light of recent developments,'" Connor replied. "So: What developments?"
Mom's eyes darted from Connor to me and she shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
Alec cleared his throat. "Well, your fight yesterday, for one. That's concerning. And we want to make sure that Chloe doesn't have any problems her first time staying here without her mom."
"Why don't you just take Chloe with you then? Or better yet let her stay with the Davises?" His eyes locked on mine for the first time all evening. "I'm sure she'd love that." My heart squeezed painfully.
"Hey," Claire said, "Chloe's staying here. We decided already."
Connor folded his arms across his chest and leaned back into his chair, his lips turned down into a menacing scowl. "Whatever."
"Liz is cool, what's your problem?"
"I don't have a problem. I was just saying."
Claire shot me a concerned glance. "You are such a brat, Connor."
Connor ignored her and turned to his dad. "Can I go now?"
Alec sighed. "Yes. You can all go."
Connor nodded sharply and stalked off. I felt sick inside as I got up from my chair. Somehow I felt horrible.
Connor left the house early the next morning, so Claire gave me a ride to school. In a way I guess it was good to confirm that, despite my recent troubles, I didn't want to die. The bargains I made to God that morning as Claire went into the curves are between me and the Lord. And maybe Elton John.
Christmas was less than ten days away and it was a half week of school, so there was a constant buzz of excitement in the air. Ian was sitting by himself beneath my locker when I turned down the hallway. He scrambled to his feet when I said hello.
"Where's Warren?" I asked, turning the combination on my lock. Miraculously it opened on the second try.
Ian shrugged and ran a hand through his overly gelled blond hair. "He said he was taking the day off. You know, Since Connor kicked his ass and all."
"He told you?"
He shifted awkwardly and shoved his hands in his front pockets. "I saw her with Ashley when I came in this morning."
"Of course," I said, nodding to myself.
"Are you okay?"
I shot my friend a weak smile. "I'm hanging in there." He wrapped me in a one armed hug. For once my heart didn't skip a beat.
"It'll be all right. This will blow over," he assured me.
I wasn't so certain about that, but Ian was always hopelessly optimistic. At least I was glad to know we were still okay, despite everything else.
Nikki was definitely avoiding me but I finally cornered her after Spanish class before she could get away.
"We need to talk," I said, blocking her path in the crowded hall between classes.
"Oh, now you're suddenly interested in talking to me?" she scoffed.
Nikki tightened her grip on her book-bag strap. "Fine," she said tightly. "Let's talk." The second bell rang. On some level I took it as a good sign that she was willing to be late to class for me.
I ushered her into the nearest girl's bathroom and locked the door. Fortunately all the stalls were empty.
"Nicole, I hate this. You're one of my best friends."
She let out a hollow laugh. "Really? If we're such good friends, why didn't you even bother calling me after I broke up with my boyfriend?"
I gaped at her. I didn't think that was a fair question, considering what she'd said to me on Friday. Still, it never even occurred to me to call her, so she might have had a point. But just a small one.
"Would you have answered if I had?" I asked. I was sure she'd have hang up on me if I tried, but I guess the effort would have been appreciated. Girls are weird.
Nikki shot me a withering glare. "We'll never know, now will we?"
"Look, I'm sorry I didn't call. I should have," I conceded. "I just didn't think you wanted to talk to me. Please. Don't let a boy get in the way of our friendship."
Nikki considered me for a long moment. "Fine," she said. "If you're really my friend, then you won't hang out with Warren any more."
"What?" It felt like a kick to the gut.
Nikki folded her arms across her chest. "You heard me."
"If you're really my friend you wouldn't ask me that." Maybe Warren and I couldn't be friends after this, but it wouldn't be because I chose Nikki over him.
Nicole's chin wobbled. "I guess we have our answer then," she said softly.
My eyes stung. "I guess we do."