A Different Blue Page 26

Mason was happy to oblige, as always. I liked the way Mason looked, and I liked the way he felt when I was beneath him. But I didn't especially like Mason. I didn't examine why I didn't like him, or even if that should be a consideration. And so when I found him waiting for me after school, pulled up on his Harley with his arms crossed so I could see the tattoos on his healthy biceps, I left my truck parked in the school parking lot and hopped on back of the bike. I slung my purse over my head and wrapped my arms around his waist as we roared away. Mason loved to ride, and the January afternoon was cold but pierced by a relentless desert sun. We road for over an hour, hitting Hoover dam and winding our way back as winter began to claim the light, pushing back the cowing sun, which retreated far too soon. I hadn't restrained my hair but let the wind whip it into a snarly black mass and slap against my face in a way that purged and punished, which was what I seemed intent upon.

Mason lived above his parents' garage in an apartment that was accessed by a narrow set of metal stairs that leveled off on a barely-there platform. We climbed into his apartment, cheeks windburned and red, blood pounding, invigorated by the cold ride. And I didn't wait for sweet talk or flirtatious foreplay; I never did. We tumbled onto his rumpled bed without a word, and I shut off my anxious heart and my nervous head as dusk descended into another night, another meaningless merging, another attempt to find myself as I gave myself away.

I awoke hours later to an empty bed. Music and voices bled through the paper thin walls that separated Mason's bedroom and bathroom from the rest of the space. I pulled on my clothes, wiggling into the jeans that I despised but continually donned day after day. I was starving and hoped Mason and whoever else was out there had ordered some pizza I could steal. My hair was an impossible tangle, my eyes a black-rimmed mess, and I spent twenty minutes in the bathroom making sure Mason's company couldn't make nasty insinuations about the evening's activities.

I finished in the bathroom and, out of habit, switched off the light as I headed across the room. I picked my way carefully around the bed, stepping around the strewn clothing and shoes. The light switch for the bedroom was by the opposite door, but the bathroom was all the way across the room, making negotiating the messy space treacherous in my high-heeled boots. I made it to the door that separated me from something hot and cheesy and was feeling around for the knob when I heard the outside door open and Mason greet his brother with a “What's up, Bro?”

I hadn't seen or talked to Brandon Bates since before the shooting. And I didn't want to. He hadn't even been at the school that afternoon, yet I blamed him entirely for the events that had transpired. I huddled by the bedroom door, hungry and indecisive, listening as someone else offered a greeting as well.

“Hey, Brandon? Anybody try to take you out lately?” It was Colby, my least favorite of all of Mason's friends. He was ugly, mean, and stupid. A triple threat. And he sounded drunk, which didn't bode well for the evening. I avoided him whenever possible. It seemed tonight it would not be possible.

“Not yet, Colb, but the night is young,” Brandon joked, always the friendly charmer.

“Mason says you got some pictures of that little senorita on your phone,” Colby slurred. “They didn't confiscate 'em, did they?”

Even though Graciela had admittedly sent Brandon the naked pictures of herself, Colby was being charged with solicitation and distribution of those pictures, and the rumor was that his parents were fighting tooth and nail for his exoneration. But everyone knew what he had done.

“Shut up, Colby, you dumbass,” Mason barked, but his bark lacked a certain bite, and I sighed, seeing the writing on the wall. I would be walking back to my truck, still parked at the school. He and Colby had obviously settled in for the night. Lots of alcohol and endless episodes of Ultimate Fighter.

“What? I saw that picture you have of Blue! Now that girl has a body that don't quit, know what I'm sayin' – not like some little ninth grader!” Colby chortled.

My heart skidded to a screeching halt.

Mason cursed and threw something, his words lost in an obvious tussle as something crashed and obscenities flew with several hard objects.

“She's in the other room, Colby, you freakin' idiot!” Mason spat, and Colby and Brandon started to laugh, obviously not worried whatsoever about the fact that I might hear them discussing my body or the fact that Mason had taken a picture of said body without my knowledge or consent.

“Man, I saw it, too!” Brandon howled. “The whole school saw it. In fact, I think that little Mexican chic saw it on my phone. Made it real easy to convince her that all the hottest girls send me pictures.”

“Shut up!” Mason hissed, his whisper as audible as Brandon and Colby's laughter. “What the hell were you two doin' lookin' at my phone?! Blue doesn't even know I took it!”

I stumbled back to the bathroom, unwilling to hear anymore. My stomach twisted, and the hunger that had growled at me moments before turned into a sour sledgehammer, and I wondered if I was going to be sick. Graciela had seen a picture of me naked on Brandon's phone. Manny had told me as much. But I had convinced myself it was just emotion, just a crazy rant, just him lashing out at me for standing between him and what he perceived as justice. I had said nothing to the police about what Manny had claimed. As far as I knew, nobody else had either.

I thought back to the evening when Graciela had been so angry with me. The night Manny and I had rolled our eyes and joked about hormonal girls and their crushes. And it suddenly all made sense. Graciela had looked up to me, had idolized me. And I had betrayed her. She thought I had sent that picture to Brandon, a boy I knew she liked. A boy everyone seemed to gravitate to, and who, for a moment, had let her bask in the light of his attentions. And so she had done it too.

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