Chaps & Cappuccinos (High School Clowns & Coffee Grounds #3) - A.J. Macey


January 28th

School was weird. No words to describe it.

#StopStaring #IAmNotAMuseumExhibit #TickedOffTuesday

It was freezing, flurries swirling around us in a fresh dusting of snow as the three of us stood in the parking lot. First day of school after the trial. Kingston and Jesse flanked me as we stared at the stone building. I wished Reid could have been with us but shoved the useless hope away knowing he had another day before he could return from his suspension. Ugh, if only Assistant Principal DeRosa didn’t have a grudge against us, I thought glumly. Taking a deep breath, I readied myself for what the school day could possibly bring.

You can totally do this, Emma.

I hope.

The blast of the heater in the entryway felt good, thawing my shivering Cali born body, but the eyes I felt on me only emphasized the goosebumps that had pebbled on my skin. Kingston’s hand migrated to my lower back, Jesse’s gloved hand clutching mine tightly as we walked over to our usual table. It was clear everyone knew what had happened at the trial yesterday, but the majority of the school glared, obviously unhappy about the outcome.

Well, screw them because Brad deserved to be locked up for a long time, that way he couldn’t do to anyone else what he had done to me.

With that sentiment, a thought that had crossed my mind several times since testifying came to the forefront—had Brad done something like that to other girls? If so… I shoved the thought away, a shiver working through my body at the idea. I could contemplate that kind of thing later, maybe even talk to Kaleb about it if I feel it may be true.

“Hey, Emma!” Zoey greeted brightly, her smile wide as she waved. “I love your hat. Is that the one Kingston got you for your birthday?”

“Yeah, it is,” I told her with a shy smile. Even though it was unintentional, just Zo and Aubrey being themselves, I couldn’t help but appreciate that they always distracted me, keeping life moving as normally as possible.

“It looks good,” Aubrey added with a thumbs up.

“Good?” Kingston countered with a brow raise, his warm coffee eyes shifting to meet mine. “I think she looks beautiful.” Despite the gazes and glares on my back, the butterflies soared, my cheeks burning with a blush at his laidback grin.

“I have to agree,” Jesse murmured, barely loud enough for me to hear him, but the sparkling within his nearly onyx irises and his soft squeeze of my hand was loud and clear.

“You guys are going to give me diabetes,” Carter teased, “too sweet.” Sticking my tongue out, I felt the tension of what the school day would be like start to mellow.

“Oh, hush, it isn’t like Aubrey and Jason aren’t the same way,” Zoey joked, nudging Aubrey with her elbow where she was curled under Jason. Two pink patches bloomed on Aubrey’s face, a shy smile growing at the teasing that gave away the happiness beneath the slight embarrassment. It seemed that Jason wasn’t ashamed either because, with a cocky grin that reminded me of Reid, he kissed Aubrey hard and unapologetically.

“Yes, yes, we get the point,” Brayden playfully whined, covering his eyes to hide from their show of affection. Our group broke out in a fit of laughter, the mood bright and cheery despite the early hour. Before anyone could say anything else, the bell rang, and everyone started to migrate to their homerooms.

“See you soon, Babydoll.” Kingston cupped my face, kissing me softly before going with Zoey, Carter, and Jason.

“Come on, Em,” Jesse said with a gentle nudge on my arm. Following, I tried to keep my mind from wandering back to the feeling that a piece of my day was missing, but it was difficult. Jesse and Brayden chatted the short distance before the latter broke off and headed down the hall to his own classroom.

“You all right, Em?” Jesse questioned as we took our seats. Guess I hadn’t been as discreet about my mood as I’d thought.

“Yeah,” I assured him softly, but based on his brows knitting together and his pursed lips he could see right through me. Sighing, I tried to figure out how to explain what I was feeling. “I miss Reid, and I just feel… I’m not really sure. Like a piece of my ‘normal’ is out of order. It’s not that I can’t go through my day and be totally fine, but it just feels ever so slightly off.”

“I’m sorry, Em. Is there