Authors: Ali Dean
Tags: #Romance, #Young Adult
YouTube videos of me collapsing at State. I’ve watched it several times already. I’m jogging along in the middle of a pack of girls when I start to weave back and forth. I continue trying to run, but I stumble, sway from side to side, and wham! I’m down. I lie there for a good thirty seconds or so before sitting up. In total, I probably lost a minute before I started running again. That’s pretty hard to come back from in a race where the winning time was 17:45.
I cut myself off from reading the YouTube comments and other runner discussion forums, and instead focus on getting my homework done and staying healthy for Regionals in less than two weeks. I spoke with the school physician and he said I probably just fainted.
fainted? Who does that! I’d never fainted before.
Coach thinks I put too much pressure on myself and that the collapse was mentally induced. He doesn’t think anything is wrong with me physically, and I agree. This week, it’s only been me and Ryan at practice, and, while I can’t exactly keep up with
, I feel pretty good. I feel myself again.
I’m lying on my bed doing physics homework one night the week after State, when my cell phone rings. It’s not a number I recognize, but it’s local. “Hello?”
“Pepper. Hi.” It’s Wesley.
“How’d you get my number? I got this cell phone after we were friends.”
Wes sighs. “Look, Pepper, it sucks that we stopped being friends. I don’t want to get into the reasons for it now. Maybe someday. I really want to talk to you. Can we meet up?”
“Tonight? It’s 9:30.” Wes might go out on weeknights, but I don’t. It’s almost my self-imposed bedtime. “What’s this about?”
I ask skeptically.
That’s all he says.
Aside from a short text on Saturday after the race, I haven’t heard from Jace since he came by after Districts and dropped off the bracelet.
“I’ll borrow Bunny’s car and meet you at your house.” I tell Gran I’m heading over to Wes’s house. She looks like she wants to ask questions, because this is out of character for me, but she doesn’t.
I pull the car into Wes’s driveway. The house is mostly dark. The front door opens before I’ve reached it and Wes stands there in sweatpants and a tight fitting cotton tee shirt. I’m wearing the same outfit and I’m glad I grabbed a zip up hoodie on the way out because I forgot that I’m not wearing a bra.
“Thanks for coming, Pepper.” He holds open the door. “Do you want anything to drink?”
“Let’s go up to my room.” I follow him up the stairs. I haven’t been in his room in years. It’s huge, and he has his own walk-in closet and attached bathroom. A flat screen TV is on the wall across from his bed and it’s playing a college football game. Wes picks up a bottle of beer from his desk and takes a sip.
“So?” I cross my arms over my chest.
He gestures to an armchair and I take a seat. Wes hops onto his desk and puts his feet on the desk chair. “I’m worried about Jace.”
My eyes widen. “
worried about Jace. Isn’t that ironic?”
Wes studies me. His jaw works back and forth. “At first, I thought maybe something was happening with you two,” he says. “You looked cozy at my house a month or two ago. I thought maybe it ended and that’s why he was acting crazy.” Wes glances at my expression and amends, “Well, crazier than usual. But then I saw you and Ryan together. So maybe it’s Ryan that has Jace all worked up.” Wes shakes his head. “But now, now I wonder if it’s something else altogether.”
Wes pierces me with his blue eyes, studying my reaction. “Either way, it has to do with you. You’re the only one that gets to him.”
I swallow hard. That actually might be true. But it’s not about me. It’s about control. It always is.
“Let’s not worry about the why for now.” I echo Wes’s comments from earlier about the abrupt end to our friendship. “I want to know what you mean that he’s acting crazier. Jace isn’t the kind of guy people worry about. So what’s going on?”
Wes runs a hand through his blonde hair. “Look, Jace’ll kill me if I get into it. Just, he’s not himself. And it’s not healthy. I want to know what’s going on so I can try to fix it. Or help.”
“Boy, this is ironic.” I roll my eyes. “You two are something else. Your ideas about ‘helping’ each other,” I air quote, “seem to get you both into more trouble. Maybe you should just stay out of it. Jace can handle his own problems. He always has.”
Wes narrows his eyes and runs his finger along his bottom lip. It’s so weird that he still has the same familiar mannerisms. “What did Jace tell you, Pepper?”
“That you dealt drugs and Jace jumped in to ‘help’ you,” I air quote again with my fingers, “with some sort of trouble and now he’s a drug dealer, too.” Maybe I’m not supposed to tell Wes what I know, but Wes dragged me into this and, at one time in our lives, we were close.
Wes clenches his jaw and looks away. “I could have figured it out without Jace.”
“I don’t care, Wes. I don’t like it. Any of it. Whatever reasons you or Jace use to make it sound okay, it’s not. You both have so much going for you. I don’t understand why you’d risk it all. It’s stupid.”
Wes nods thoughtfully. “I take it that’s what you told Jace?”
Wes hops down from his desk and starts pacing around his room. “Does he know about Ryan?”
“What about Ryan? Jace doesn’t control my life, Wes, even if he likes to think he does.”
“Yeah, well, that’s the problem. Or part of it.” Wes continues pacing before sitting on the edge of his bed. “You can’t shut him out, Pepper.”
I shoot to my feet and point my finger at him. “Don’t you start telling me what I can and can’t do.”
Wes stands up and holds my pointed finger in his hands. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just, if you don’t want Jace to ruin his life, you need to be there for him.”
“I am here for him. He knows that. I just can’t hang out with him like everything’s okay. Because it’s not. It’s not okay. I’m so angry with him.” I refrain from stomping my foot like an angry child but my eyes start to burn with unshed tears.
“It’s not the same. He needs you around. You ground him, Pepper. He might still be a little crazy. Knowing you are seeing that Ryan guy,” Wes says in a dismissive tone. What’s
problem with Ryan? “But he’ll cope. He’ll keep it under control. Cause right now, he’s outta control. And it’s not good, Pep.”
“What do you mean?” I force out.
Wes keeps holding my finger between his hands. “I know you don’t like it, but Jace is smart about the stuff we do. He’s totally business. He knows how to handle the guys we work with,” Wes pauses when I give him a doubtful look. “Occasionally he’ll party a little, but he never parties too hard. He’s managed to keep his focus on football. If he gets caught, or starts using the shit we’re pushing through, he’ll lose any chance with football.”
. Tell me something I don’t know. “And right now, he’s not being smart about dealing with people. He’s acting like a hothead.”
“Jace is always a hothead, Wes.”
“Well, yeah, true. But I mean, shit . . . I shouldn’t be telling you this.”
“When did it start?” I ask.
“I guess I noticed the first time he got all crazy was that night I saw you at Remy’s place,” Wes says.
“And by get all crazy you mean, get super fucked up right?” I know what Wes was trying to say. Time to stop beating around the bush and get to the point.
Wes’s eyes widen. I don’t curse much. But I’m pretty wound up.
“Yeah. It was coke that night. I only started hanging out with him again last year, after football season. He never gets real fucked up though. He’ll chill, have some drinks, and stayed in control you know?”
I nod solemnly. “Oh. I know.”
“Anyway, the dudes we work with, they trust him. At least, as much as you can trust with this shit, but Jace is acting different. And it’s not going to be good if he keeps this up.”
I don’t really know what Wes is talking about exactly but it makes me feel queasy. “What do you want me to do?” I whisper.
“Just, hang out with him again. Do your thing. Whatever it is you guys do.”
I stare blankly at Wes. He invited me over here past my bedtime to give this explanation about things I don’t want to know about, and
“I really don’t think it’s going to help, Wes.”
“It will.” Wes pulls me in for a hug. I’m so angry with Wes for pulling Jace in, but I can tell he really cares about Jace too. I allow myself to relax in his arms. But then I pull away, suddenly skeptical. I’d almost forgotten that I don’t know this Wesley. I frown at him.
“You’re only doing this because if Jace fucks up, you’re screwed too.”
Wes looks stricken, and I instantly regret saying it. “What? You think I don’t care if Jace throws his life away? I know we haven’t been friends for a while, but I care about Jace. I care about you, too. That never changed.”
“But I don’t know you anymore, Wes. You started dealing drugs. The Wes I knew wasn’t that dumb.”
“Jace started dealing drugs too, Pepper. And Jace isn’t dumb,” Wes points out.
I clench my teeth. Good point. But that’s exactly why I feel like I don’t get Jace anymore.
“You don’t have to believe me. You don’t have to like it. I want to be friends with you again. I probably won’t, because Jace is volatile right now and it will set him off.” I frown at that statement. “But I do know that you can’t abandon your friendship with him right now. If you care about him, be that rock for him, you know? As best you can.”
Rock? I’m Jace’s rock? That’s a heavy burden.
“Fine. But I’m watching you, Wesley Jamison.” I point my finger at him. Wes grins and I can’t help it when my lips lift into a small smile.
“Now, are you going to come with me to pick him up?” Wes asks.
“Pick him up? Right now?”
“Yeah, he’s at Madeline’s house.”
“Uh, why does he need to be picked up?” I do not want to walk in on something. Definitely not.
“Emma and Serena are there too. They’re rolling. He’s been doing it a lot lately and it’s gotta stop. That stuff is not meant to be used regularly. It’s a party drug. For occasional use.” Thanks for the information. Why do you sell it to people who can abuse it then? I want to ask.
“Maybe it’s not supposed to be used ever,” I say angrily. “What’s rolling mean, anyway?”
“Ecstasy. He’s taking ecstasy. At least, I was under the impression that’s what was going down tonight,” Wes says as he zips up a fleece.
“Why in the world would he leave if we show up?” If he’s at one of those sex parties with three hot girls all over him I want nothing to do with it.
“He needs to know you care. That you’re worried about him.” I raise my eyebrows. Jace knows this already. He’s known it his whole life. Wes continues, “If I bring you there, and say you came to me worried, he’ll be pissed at me, but it’ll hit home that what he’s doing is wrong. He needs to see how you feel about it.”
. . .” I start to explain, but Wes cuts me off.
“Yeah, he knows how you feel about it, but he won’t change unless he really knows, you know?”
Maybe. Disapproving of his actions while we sit comfortable in his bedroom certainly isn’t the same thing as interrupting it while it’s happening. But I’m not entirely convinced.