* * *

“Oh, my God, I look like an extra on a horror movie!” I complain, closing the small-mirrored compact in disgust and shoving it back into my bag on the floor. “I can’t believe I stood here talking to Hot Guy looking like this. And you didn’t even have the decency to wake up and save me.”

Emma Jo laughs softly and shakes her head at me.

“You look beautiful, Payton, stop it now. I still think you were dreaming and none of that actually happened. I don’t have any male friends, and certainly none I’d refer to as Hot Guy,” she informs me with a smile.

“I’m telling you, he was here a few hours ago, scared the hell out of me, spilled coffee all down my shirt, said he was a friend of yours, and then left,” I explain to her again, having gone through all of this with her when she first woke up a little bit ago. “I don’t know when they started making men like that in Kentucky. He must be a transplant from somewhere else. Like heaven. Hot guy heaven.”

Emma Jo laughs again and seeing the smile on her face just makes my eyes move around to the mess that it is right now. The bruising around her eye that is more black than purple, the popped blood vessels in that eye from the force of the punch she took, and the red, angry mark on her cheek where that same fist shattered her bones.

Our eyes meet and I see hers fill up with tears, mine quickly doing the same. When Emma Jo woke up and saw me sitting next to her bed, she turned her face away from me quickly in embarrassment and softly cried. Instead of starting right in on her with a hundred questions and kicking her when she was down, I diffused the tense situation by yammering on and on about Hot Guy until she pressed a button on her bed to lift herself upright. Sharing my humiliating morning got her to smile and laugh and that made me feel good. But fun time is over and we both know she needs to start explaining things.

“I just can’t believe you’re really here. I can’t believe you came,” Emma Jo whispers, swiping away at a tear on her cheek and wincing when her fingers brush over a bruise.

“Honestly, I can’t believe I did either. I realize that makes me sound like a shitty person, but I haven’t talked to you in years, Emma Jo. What in the world made you put me down as your emergency contact?”

She looks away from me and stares down at her hands folded together in her lap. Even with a battered face and twelve years of time that has passed since I’ve seen it last, she still looks just like she did the last time I saw her, on her wedding day, a week after we graduated. Even looking like she went ten rounds with Mike Tyson, I can see she still has a flawless completion. No wrinkles or crow’s feet around her eyes and her long, thick auburn hair doesn’t have one strand of gray in it. She’s still just as slim as she was back then, and though we’ve only been sitting here talking for a few minutes, her voice is the same quiet, timid one it was when we were eighteen.

“Who else would I put?” she whispers, still staring down at her hands as she clasps and unclasps them nervously. “It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since we’ve talked, Payton. You’ll always be my best friend no matter where you are or how much distance separates us. I knew you were the only person I could trust about this.”

When you live in a small town, your best friend options are pretty limited, but I always knew I’d lucked out with Emma Jo. Our mothers were friends, and when we were born a few days apart from each other, there was no question that we’d be joined at the hip as soon as we could talk and walk. Everyone in Bald Knob liked to joke that we cancelled each other out because of how different we were. When Emma Jo was too shy or scared to try something new, I gave her confidence and dragged her into whatever crazy idea I got in my head. When we would inevitably get caught for that crazy idea, Emma Jo would sweetly talk our way out of it so neither of us got in trouble. She was the calm to my storm and I was the push in the ass she needed to break out of her shell every once in a while.

I never realized how much I missed her and her friendship until right this minute, sitting here next to her in the hospital. I can’t help the guilt that overwhelms me, wondering if I’d been a better friend, then maybe this wouldn’t have happened to her.

“So, Jed did this?” I ask her quietly.

She nods without saying a word, and I watch as another tear falls down her bruised cheek.

I didn’t really need to ask her to confirm my suspicions, but I needed something to say before I broke down in tears right along with her. Emma Jo admitting that I was the only person she could trust with this was all the confirmation I needed. All those pushes in the ass I gave her growing up, pushed her right into the arms of Jed Jackson our sophomore year of high school. Jed was two years older than us, a senior at the time, and I never liked him. He was a popular jock and a bully, but for some reason, he made Emma Jo happy. When your best friend tells you she’s getting married the week after high school, you keep your mouth shut and wish her the best, because you just want her to always be as happy as she is right in that moment.

My mother keeps me up-to-date with all the latest Bald Knob gossip whenever we talk on the phone, so I already knew Jed Jackson ran the town and everyone who lived there was halfway in love with him. Because of his good looks, fake charming personality, and how he’s the seventh generation of Jacksons to rule over Bald Knob, I understood why Emma Jo thought I was the only person she could trust. I’m not under Jed Jackson’s spell now, nor have I ever been.

readonlinefreebook.com Copyright 2016 - 2024