I shrugged. “Okay. It doesn’t seem right without her.”
Gabriel stared straight ahead. “Nothing does. It’s getting a little easier, but that just makes it all the more painful when I remember she’s gone.”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to. He knew I felt the same way.
“Diane Davies has started a self-defense course for girls.”
He turned his head to look at me, but I couldn’t see his eyes behind the dark lenses. “The cop?”
“Yeah. We had the first one Thursday night. She’s doing it at the dojo.” Gabriel had been the one to get me into aikido in the first place, but he hadn’t been there in a while.
“You’re taking it?”
“You sound surprised.”
“I am. I thought you hated her. And you already know how to kick ass.”
“I was mad that she couldn’t make the four of them pay for what they did. I guess now I know it wasn’t her fault—like you said.”
“It’s good that she’s doing something. Did many girls show up?”
“A few. Hopefully we’ll get more.” I plucked a blade of grass and shredded it between my fingers. “Jason Bentley’s having a party on Saturday night.”
His back stiffened. The tightened muscles in his arms were like smooth stone beneath his skin. “Are you going?”
“I don’t know.”
This time when he turned his head his gaze lingered on me. “Yes, you do.”
I don’t know how he did it, but he always seemed to know when I was lying. “Okay then, fine. I’m going.”
“Because if Drew Carson tries to drug and rape another girl, I want to be there to stop it.”
“And just how do you think you can do that? Are you going to stand guard outside the bedrooms?”
“If I have to.” My voice was sharp and belligerent.
“What if he takes that as an invitation? What if the girl he targets is you?”
“That won’t happen. I’m not going to let him get anywhere near me.”
“That won’t matter if the four of them gang up on you. Even you’re not capable of fighting off four guys.”
He was right, and I knew it. I also hated him for it. “I’m not going alone. I’m going with another girl.”
“I’m coming with you.”
My heart jumped in fear. “No. You can’t do that. If you walk in there, the four of them and all their friends will jump you.”
“My odds of not being raped are significantly higher than yours.”
“My odds of not being beaten to death are significantly higher than yours. You can’t go.”
“If you go, I’m going.”
“You’re such an asshole.”
He rolled onto his side so that he faced me, bracing himself on his forearm. “I could say the same thing. What are you thinking, Hadley? What are you planning to do that you don’t want me to know about?”
Could he see the pulse at the base of my throat pounding beneath my skin? “Nothing. I’m not stupid.”
“I know you’re not. Sometimes I think you’re too smart for your own good. Your intelligence isn’t the problem. Your impulsiveness is. Your anger is.”
I snorted. “Don’t you lecture me on anger. I was there when you went after Drew. I know what you would’ve done to him if those guys hadn’t pulled you off. And I know what those guys would’ve done to you if there hadn’t been an audience.” I remembered how bruised and bloody he’d been, and how much worse Drew had looked. Most people went through life not knowing whether or not they could kill somebody, but Gabriel knew.
“You’re not going without me.”
“Fine. I won’t go.”
We stared at each other, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses. I was lying, and he probably knew it, but I was still going to try to sell it. If he was stupid enough to show up knowing what would happen to him, then let him. Him getting beaten up was more of a given than me being attacked.
We sat there in silence. Usually, we spent the time talking. Mostly we talked about Magda, but sometimes we talked about other things. This was the first time that neither of us had anything to say.
A little while later Gabriel rolled to his feet. “I have to go to work.” He brushed grass off his jeans and picked up his backpack.
I stood as well. “Gabe...”
He looked at me. “Yeah?”
“I...I don’t like feeling like you’re mad at me.”
His shoulders slumped. He dropped the backpack on the grass again and stepped across his sister’s grave to stand directly in front of me. I wasn’t prepared for him to wrap his arms around me and pull me close. He smelled like sunshine and fabric softener with a touch of sandalwood. I wound my arms around his waist, pressing my hands against his back. Holding him was like holding strength. I could feel it seeping through my clothes, slipping beneath my skin and into my bones. The sadness and helplessness that usually threatened to overwhelm me disappeared. I couldn’t even find any anger in my heart.
He rested his cheek against my head. “Please stay away from those guys. I can’t lose you too.”
Tears burned my eyes, but I blinked them away. I wasn’t going to cry on him again, and I wasn’t going to let him see how much his words affected me. I couldn’t let him see my feelings for him, because I was his little sister’s best friend and I knew the love he felt for me was only friendship. I didn’t want to lose him. He wasn’t just all I had left of Magda. He was all I had left period.
* * *
Like most of the wealthier families in our town, the Bentleys lived on Smith Street. It might have a common name, but Smith Street was one of the oldest streets in town. You could tell how old the houses were by how they were built. The newer houses were large and sprawling, usually white or bluish gray. The older houses—the ones that had been there for a century or more—were red brick or gray stone. The Bentleys lived in a house that was brick that had been stuccoed over.
Zoe and I arrived there around ten o’clock Saturday night. I didn’t live on Smith Street, or anywhere near it. My family lived in one of the newer suburbs of town. My mother was an accountant and my father was an engineer. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t the Bentleys. Mags and I were top of our class in our old school, and we were able to get scholarships. Our parents somehow managed to scrape together the rest of the money for tuition. Magda’s grades had slipped after the rape—to the point where the school was going to kick her out. Her suicide saved them the trouble, the unfeeling bastards.
“Are you ready to do this?” Zoe asked. “I mean, it’s gotta be painful.”