Somewhere Above the Clouds

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Chapter 21 - Two birds with one stone

River - October 2006

We were two months into the school year and I'm not sure what Taylor said to Edie or Cayson to shut them up, but they hadn't looked my way twice since he spoke to them.

It was nice.

But being a senior brought up one hard reality for me.

Prom.

Graduation.

And my mom wouldn't be here to see any of it.

I missed her every day but lately, it was even worse.

"What's for lunch today?"
Taylor fell onto the cafeteria bench beside me.

I pulled my turkey sub from my bag and held it up and he smiled.

"Should've known. Mama hen Beau always hooks you up."

It bothered me to no end that he called him that. But at least his thoughts weren't on a less appropriate track.

A way less appropriate track.

But he was right. Beau always made sure my lunch was good to go every morning. I hated the cafeteria food and I only liked sandwiches if they were made with a specific type of bread. He called me a sandwich snob and I embraced the title.

"Yep."
I took a big bite out of it.

"Did you do the Chemistry homework?"

I didn't answer him, I just unzipped my bag and handed him my binder. Taylor was good at a lot of things, but science wasn't one of them.

"Thanks."
He said after he was finished copying my work.

"You need anything? I think I'm going to go sit with Anna-Kate."

Anna-Kate was a junior who looked a whole lot like Blake Lively which made her an instant star in this town. The fact that she wasn't interested in any of the attention sparked Taylor's interest and rightfully so. Not only was she beautiful but she was sweet too and that was exactly what Taylor needed.

"Sure thing, Casanova."
I winked and he shook his head.

With less than five minutes left in chem class and before the afternoon bell rang to signal the end of school, the secretary came over the speaker.

"Mr. Baker, could you send River Stafford to Principal Novak's office please?"

My teacher replied and I stood up while collecting my things and dodging the questioning stares from my classmates.

What the heck did he want? I didn't do anything wrong and if it was about my college prep classes then the guidance counselor would've called for me.

I walked down the long hallway until I made it to the office. The secretary greeted me and walked me to Novak's door.

Beau specifically told me not to be alone with him. But was that just because he tended to freak out? It had to be. Mr. Novack was kinda weird but he was a nice guy.

I knocked on the door.

"Come in."

I turned the knob and walked in.

"Have a seat Ms. Stafford."
He pointed to the chair across from his desk.

I took a seat but didn't take my backpack off, I didn't plan on staying for long. His blinds were open and I could see the loop where the cars pulled in the afternoons to pick students up. I had a perfect view and I'd know when Beau pulled in.

"I've looked over your grades. Your off to another great start this year."

"Thank you."
I forced a smile.

"I just wanted to give you a heads up, your GPA is far above your peers so it looks like you're well on your way to being Valedictorian."

Wait, what?

"Valedictorian?"
I whispered.

I never considered it.

"Yes."
He stood up and rounded his desk, standing right in front of me.

"You're very bright Ms. Stafford, far beyond your years."

I watched his eyes as they scanned my face and stayed way too long on my lips.

I felt nauseous until I saw a flash of white out of the corner of my eye.

I stood up and murmured a thank you under my breath before opening his office door and bolting out of the office and to Beau.

He wasn't even out of his Bronco yet when I made it to him. I slammed the door and tried to stop breathing as if I'd just ran a marathon.

"What's wrong?"

I shook my head.

"What's. Wrong."
He growled.

What could I tell him?

Novack didn't touch me. I didn't think I imagined the way he looked at me but technically he didn't do anything wrong.

"I uh- I'm Valedictorian. Well as of right now at least."
I managed to force the words out.

"Are you serious?"
He put his massive hand on my shoulder and shook me a little.

I nodded, still not making eye contact.

"Hey, look at me."
He put his finger under my chin and moved my head toward him.

"This is huge, River. Why aren't you more excited?"

Because I'm too creeped out.

I wanted to scream the words at him. But when I looked up and his eyes were filled with so much excitement, I changed my mind.

"It is, isn't it? Oh my gosh, Jackson is going to lose his mind!"

"Of course he is."

I knew my GPA was high but I never considered the possibility of it being the highest. And according to Novack, it was significantly higher.

A chill ran through my body at the thought of him and I shivered.

"Are you cold again? Maybe we should have your blood circulation checked."
Beau debated as he made a left turn.

"I'm fine."

"We could have a party. You know to celebrate."

I didn't want to have a party. They didn't feel right without Jackson anyway. But I wasn't about to tell Beau that.

"Or we could wait until my birthday. Let's just plan one for next month. Kill two birds with one stone, ya know?"

He nodded.

"You and I could celebrate."

I know he didn't mean it to sound suggestive. But to my ears, it did.

"How?"

"How about we order take out and we can watch that show you're always talking about."

"Greys?"
I clapped my hands together.

"I suppose."
He sighed.

"Sounds perfect."
I smiled over at Beau and resisted the urge to sling my arms around his neck.

After we got home I went straight to the shower. I felt dirty just from having Novack's eyes on me.

I was towel drying my hair when I heard the doorbell ring.

I walked into the living room in time to see Beau pay the delivery guy. He had on a loose-fitting pair of gray sweatpants and a t-shirt with his bases name across the back. He spun around with two bags full of Thai food and at that very moment, I was overtaken by a familiar feeling. That one that made me feel like I was watching an instant of my life playout from a different perspective. I took a few deep breathes as I came back down to earth.

"You okay?"
Beau smiled at me.

I nodded and we both sat down on the couch, on the same side for the first time in forever. Neither of us spoke until we were done eating.

"You know how proud I am of you? You could've easily come here and skated by but you excelled instead. You're so different than all the other people your age."

Different.

I liked that.

And I like that he noticed even more.

"Thanks, Beau. That means a lot."

"Your mom would be proud too."

I turned my head toward him slowly, barely believing what I had heard.

How did he know?

How could he have possibly known how bad I was missing her today?

How bad I wished Jackson was here to tell me stories about her that I couldn't remember.

I knew I was about to cry and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I'd been holding my emotions in for too long and they were about to burst through the barrier.

"Hey. . ."
Beau scooted closer to me and I buried my face into my hands.

"I'm sorry. I've just been missing her a lot lately. I know it sounds wrong but sometimes I wish I could just turn it off."
I confessed through my fingers.

He pulled my hands away from my face and I looked up at him with hot tears streaming down my cheeks.

"It's okay to miss her but you don't want to forget someone who gave you so much to remember."

"How do you do that?"
I whispered.

"Do what?"
He rubbed his hand across my upper back.

"Know exactly what to say."

He laughed humorlessly.

"I don't."

But he did.

"I know you've been keeping your distance. But is it okay if I hug you? Just once, it'll be quick."
I promised.

Neither of us had brought up the distance we always kept between ourselves. It had just become the elephant in the room.

He didn't answer with words. He grabbed my shoulders and tugged my body against his. I cried into his t-shirt and he stroked his hand up and down my back.

"I love you."
I whispered the words into his chest. His hand stopped moving and I felt his body tense against mine.

"River-"

"I know."

I was well aware that what I felt for him was wrong.

I was also aware that he was in no position to say anything back to me.

But deep down I had an overwhelming feeling that he felt exactly the same way that I did.

And he loved me enough to keep his mouth shut.
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