I’ll never see her again, he thought and wanted to die.
IT WAS THE LAST DAY of summer school and Savannah watched from her post at the returns desk as Owen’s former girlfriend, The Cheerleader, got cozy under Garrett’s arm.
Garrett had a black eye that was fading to yellow and Owen had made friends with some new hoodlums on the other side of the computer bank. New hoodlums who were eyeing Savannah over their screens.
“I heard he killed a guy,” one of them whispered. “It was an accident, but still.”
“He’s like some hotshot architect or something. He was just pretending to be a gardener.”
“Shut up.” Garrett sneered. “Like Ms. O’Neill’s got a boyfriend. Give me a break.”
Shut up indeed, she thought, trying hard to block out the whispers as well as any thought of Matt. It was like a small electric shock every time she allowed a memory of his touch, or his laugh, or the look in those green eyes when he said he wouldn’t be back, to flicker through her head.
She was tired, so tired of resisting the pain.
Particularly when it all hurt anyway.
“Don’t you listen to what they say,” Janice whispered, bringing a pile of books from the oak tables to the desk for reshelving. “They’re a bunch of foul-mouthed jerks.”
“It’s true,” Savannah said in a clear speaking voice that sounded like machine-gun fire in the hushed atmosphere of the library.
Janice dropped the books.
“All of it.” Savannah kept talking, driven by some need to protect Matt from the fate she was drowning in. Her eyes met the astonished eyes of the high school kids. “Every single thing you’ve ever whispered about me, totally true.”
“Savannah.” Janice tugged on her arm. “Maybe lower your voice.”
“No!” Savannah said and the echo was so nice. So loud and hard and cold.
“You’re having some kind of psychotic break,” Janice said and Savannah laughed, the sound rolling and rolling and rolling through the library, filling the corners with its hysteria.
“Probably,” she said. “I am an O’Neill, after all. I slept with a married man and my mother is a thief and liar. My brother is a gambler and my grandmother—” she turned to Janice “—what would you call my grandmother?”
“A whore.” Savannah nodded as if they were all in agreement. “You’d call her a whore. And all of us, every single one of the Notorious O’Neills, is alone. We live alone and we die alone.”
“I’m calling Margot,” Janice said and disappeared.
“But Matt Woods didn’t murder anyone,” Savannah said, advancing on the teenagers who’d been whispering. They backed up, falling out of their chairs, astonished and terrified of Savannah.
Good, she thought, victorious. Let them all be terrified. Because what Savannah was feeling these days, this poisonous mix of grief and longing and anger at herself and her world—it was terrifying.
I let him go, the thought her constant companion. I let him walk away.
“If Matt Woods is too good a man for me,” she said, “then Matt Woods is far too good a man to be talked about by you.”
He’s the best man, she wanted to say.
“Honey,” Janice said softly, as though Savannah was a mad dog or a suicide threat. “Why don’t you come on into your office and have a seat?”
Savannah let herself be led away, but she turned back to the students. “Don’t talk about him,” she said. “Ever again.”
The kids nodded, mouths agape.
Satisfaction was a very dull candle against the blackness of all her grief, but it was something. One small thing.
Missing Matt was like carrying around a thousand extra pounds, and when she sat in her office chair, she collapsed, exhausted.
“Margot’s going to come pick you up,” Janice said, her chins wobbling, her hands clenched in front of that mountain of bosom.
“I think…” Savannah paused. “I need some time off.”
“That stomach thing again?” Janice asked, nodding as though she’d understood all along, and maybe she had. Who knew what kind of secrets Janice kept with her Fannie May sampler pack.