Into the Deep Page 57

Chapter Twenty

The overbearing nosiness, teasing, and coddling of my family helped Claudia get through the rest of the winter vacation with me in Indiana, but the hurt and confusion in the back of her beautiful eyes never quite disappeared. When she finally told Beck what happened, the guy jumped on a bus to Indiana and spent the night on my parents’ couch. To my surprise, my parents loved Beck. I’d thought he’d scare them off with his tats and his devotion to a guitar pick, but it turned out Beck was a lot like Jake. He could turn on the respectful charm in an instant.

After Beck took her for a walk around town to talk, Claudia came back with a glimmer behind her eyes. Whatever he’d said to her had her calling her parents as soon she returned. Dad was at work and Rick and Andie had gone back to Chicago, so Beck, Mom, and I sat in the sitting room pretending to ignore Claudia’s raised voice as she yelled into the phone in the kitchen.

Twenty minutes later she stepped into the sitting room with a tight smile on her face. “Well, he didn’t exactly apologize.” She shrugged but I could see the hurt she was trying to conceal. I knew by the way Beck’s fingers curled into fists that he could see that too. “But he upped my credit card allowance and offered to book me and my friends on a vacation before we return for classes.”

My mom looked horrified. “That’s … nice?”

Claudia rolled her eyes. “It’s whatever …but …” She grinned at me. “I was thinking we’ve got four days before classes begin when we get back to Edinburgh. Why don’t we all take a trip to the Highlands? I mean, we’re in Scotland and we’ve barely stepped outside Edinburgh.”

“All of us?”

I still hadn’t answered Jake’s attempts to contact me. Although I was dying to know why he broke it off with Melissa on the first day of Christmas vacation, I was also terrified to discover what he wanted from me. Confused as I was, I wasn’t sure I could handle it if he still wanted to be “just friends.” And yet I knew I wasn’t sure I could handle being anything more. The original reason for me backing off was apparently no longer an issue, but still … I was afraid to be around Jake. Me. Afraid? How crap was that?

Thus, I didn’t really want to be stuck on a minivacation with him.

Claudia nodded and hurried over to where she’d dumped her laptop. “Like a cabin or a lodge somewhere.”

Beck nodded. “I’m sure Lowe and the guys will be up for it.”

“I was thinking us, Lowe, Matt, Denver, Rowena, and Jake. I’d invite Maggie, Lauren, and Gemma, but I really don’t think we hang out enough for that not to be awkward. Plus, Maggie has a whopping big crush on Beck. It’s a little irritating to be around.”

“For who?” Beck smirked and relaxed into my dad’s armchair. “Definitely not me.”

The two of them bantered back and forth but I was too busy trying to control my racing heartbeat and the cold sweat prickling over my skin.

Okay, so I hadn’t exactly told Claudia of my plans to avoid Jake. He’d texted a couple of times since her arrival and he’d called when I didn’t reply to the texts. Claudia had been baking with my mom so she didn’t know about those, but she knew I’d been avoiding contact with him. Gauging me well on the subject, and still in turmoil over her own actual drama, she hadn’t badgered me about it.

Two hours later Claudia had found a lodge in a place called Fort William, a town on a loch about a five-hour train journey from Edinburgh. The lodge accommodated ten people and was in a place that did look beautiful and not too isolated, but I couldn’t really appreciate the beauty of it. I was too busy trying to work out ways to get out of it, even though I knew in the end, I’d go along since the whole idea had put a spark back in Claudia’s eyes.

“I’ll call the guys,” Beck said, ducking out of the room.

“You’ll all be careful outside of the city?” my mom asked, worry creasing her forehead.

Claudia nodded. “Of course, Delia Mom. We can get a train from Edinburgh straight there and we’ll get a taxi to the lodge. And we’ve got all the guys with us. We’ll be fine.”

Oh, yeah. We’d be freaking awesome.

I pretended to bury my nose in the site images so I didn’t have to fake a smile both Claud and my mom would see right through.

Five minutes later Beck walked back into the room smiling. “Most of the guys are up for it. Denver is emailing Rowena to see if she wants to come with us but Jake said he’s not sure.”

Yes! There is a God!

Trying to hide my grin, and suddenly feeling very excited about our trip north, I shrugged casually. “That’s cool. We’ll still have fun without him.”

I deliberately ignored Beck’s burning gaze, sensing he was desperate to ask what my problem was. Thankfully Mom was there, so he didn’t get his chance.

Beck returned home that night and Claudia successfully avoided talking about his sudden white-knight appearance for about two days, just as I successfully avoided talking about Jake.

We were lounging around the sitting room watching a Disney Pixar movie when my cell rang. It was on the floor near Claud and she lifted it absentmindedly to me. “It’s Jake.”

Feeling that unwelcome churn in my gut, I took it from her and hit the disconnect button.

Claudia glanced up at me over her shoulder. “You didn’t answer? Again?”

I pinched my lips together and threw the phone beside me on the couch.

In response, she paused the movie and turned around. “You’re ignoring him? Since when?”

“Since I got home. I didn’t want to say anything because you’re going through something serious. My drama with Jake and Melissa doesn’t even matter.”

“Of course it matters,” she scowled at me. “And remember … there is no longer a Jake and Melissa and I think we can all guess why. Don’t you want to find out for sure?”

“I’m not ready to. I can’t be his friend and I’m not sure I can be anything else. So … for now, I’m happy with avoidance,” I replied softly.

Claudia’s eyes melted with concern. “You’re a mess.”

I nodded. “Yeah.”

“So … you’re just ignoring him? You’re not even going to talk to him about it?”

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