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She shouldn’t text him. She really shouldn’t.

She could draw up an extensive list of reasons why not, and the fact that he broke a liquor bottle over Nate Jacobs’ head like it was nothing wouldn’t necessarily make number one…but it’d be up there.

The real danger isn’t Fezco’s fists or rage. It’s the unsettling calm he wears like a second skin, the unrepentant look in his eye when he’s done disfiguring your face.

Even more unsettling is the way he doesn’t even look guilty.

No one else saw it; the glance they shared after he was pulled off Nate.

His eyes instinctively found hers in the crowd. Lexi was frozen to the spot. Because even though there was blood on his knuckles, Fezco looked, for lack of better words, innocent. Good. Like a character in a Dickens novel that exacts revenge out of the purest of reasons. An anti-hero.  

That’s really bad. That’s fucked up. The way he can be the wolf and the sheep in the same breath.

And she is scared not of him, but of his power to transform, to shift so quickly, and still be the same. She is scared that she’s not that scared, even after seeing all that. That a part of her still trusts him to be decent. 

The fact that he looked at her one last time before taking off his sweater and marching off towards Nate, the fact that he looked at her again and only her when the deed was done – these seemingly disparate actions that involve her when they didn't need to, they do things to her head.

Lexi needs to understand. She likes to pick things apart. Why did you pay attention to me?

For a split second, she entertains the thought that he might have ulterior motives. But she’s nobody. She’s no one’s way in.

And he sounded genuine. He sounded like he gave a fuck about her inane trivia.

More importantly, she wants to believe him.

Still, she shouldn’t text the soft-spoken drug dealer who would’ve probably killed Nate Jacobs if given the chance.  She shouldn’t even think about him.

He’s what suburban moms would call “trouble”. And since her own mother never bothered to instill a sense of self-preservation in her, Lexi had to educate herself.

She’s smart enough not to make this mistake.

So why the fuck did she pick up his sweater?

She’s sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at its dark shape on the back of her chair.

She has to fight the urge to touch it again. It’s really soft and comfortable and even a little dorky. The sort of thing she’d wear. There’s a clean smell to it, in spite of the cigarettes. He looked nice in it. She feels like an idiot.

She sleeps, or tries to sleep, but she wakes up near dawn when Cassie comes back from the hospital and crashes in her own bed. Lexi figures from her dried-up tears and incoherent mumbling that Nate is going to make it.

She waits for Cassie to fall asleep before she grabs the sweater and stashes it under the bed. Not because her sister would notice. But it somehow doesn’t feel right to leave it out in the open. And it feels hers, this secret.

God, I’m such a creep, she thinks, but she can’t help the strange flutter in her stomach, like she’s fourteen again and Rue is trying to teach her French kissing. That’s another secret that feels only hers, except sometimes she suspects Rue knows how weak Lexi is for her, how willing she is to submit at every turn.

Lexi has always wanted others. She’d like to be wanted, for a change. But that’s not how it works. The more you want, the more you’re denied. It’s what she’s learned to live with.

That's why her dream that night is so insidious. 

In the dream, she's wearing his sweater. His smell is on her. Foreign, but comforting, lulling her into an embrace she should probably resist. His voice speaks right in her ear. 

"I like it better on you," he murmurs, as his thumb pulls on the collar until one of her bare shoulders is revealed. His mouth ghosts over the sensitive skin. 

His thumb leaves a small smear of blood in its wake. That's how she wakes up. 

She wakes up around noon, feeling buzzed and ashamed. She cleans her half of the room, takes a shower, scrubs her shoulders raw, checks on Cassie, gives her an aspirin, lets her go back to bed, goes down to make dinner for her mom and Cassie, goes for a short ride on her bike, comes back, takes another shower, eats, reads, scrolls through her phone, pointedly ignores all the posts in her feed about Nate. Has a stilted conversation with Cassie that mercifully ends when Cassie says she has to meet up with Maddy.

Keeps herself busy until she wants to scream.

Until it’s too much. Until she finally texts him.

Hey. I have your sweater. Lexi.

The reply comes ten minutes later.

Hey Lexi.

That’s real nice of you. Could you hold on to it for a little while?

Lexi scrambles for a cogent reply, but the only thing she can come up with is, Sure.

I’d come pick it up but…well, you know, he writes.

Lexi nods to an invisible presence in the room. I get it.

Besides, I kinda like that we have a reason to meet again.

Lexi can’t help the dumb smile that lights up her face. Me too, she types like a moron with a crush.

Really? Didn’t expect that after last night.

Lexi chews on her lower lip. Even Fezco thinks she shouldn’t have texted him, probably.

I’m glad, though. Real glad, he adds.

Lexi notices that he doesn’t abbreviate his words. He doesn’t “text”. He’s writing full sentences, like he’s taking this seriously. His hands must hurt. They must pulse angrily with the aftermath of violence. It must not be easy to type right now.

How are your hands? she asks, too curious for her own good. 

Better than his face, he replies instantly, and she can’t help a mean little laugh.

But thanks for asking. Can I ask you something?

Sure, she sends, because she can’t seem to stop herself.

Why did you pick up the sweater?

Lexi mouths a small “fuck” at the phone. Her warm palms fog the screen. This isn’t a test, but it feels like one. She’s always aced tests. Usually, even when she doesn’t know a question, she can find a way in, an angle, a loophole.

I figured you cared about it since you took it off before the fight. I thought you didn’t wanna get any blood on it.

He doesn’t type anything in response for a few minutes and she begins to panic. She begins to type, ‘Sorry, hope that wasn’t creepy’, as if she were the one who’d committed a crime.

But he spares her the embarrassment. His next message makes her stomach flip.

You really are the coolest girl I ever met, and I mean that, Lexi.

Her knee-jerk reaction to such statements is to scoff. But she can’t do that this time, because he wouldn’t let her off the hook. He clocked her so fast at that party, like he’d known her for ages. Doubting yourself and shit.

So, she represses the need to dismiss the compliment. She types, You’re pretty cool too.

I’ll be seeing you soon. F.

It sounds like a promise. Lexi puts the phone down and buries her face in her pillow. This is really bad. Really fucking bad.

When her sister comes back that night, she tells her that the police will want to talk to everyone at that party and Lexi’s heart beats so fast, but she shrugs her shoulders in faux-innocence, cuz what would she know?

“God, what a fucking maniac,” Cassie spits out, sitting on the bed. “Nate’s in a fucking coma because of that monster.”

Lexi wants to say something in his defense, but she knows it would look suspicious, and she is surprised by the thrill that runs through her at her sister's words. No, Fezco is not a monster or a maniac. He just beat one up. There’s a difference. But the anger and fear in Cassie's voice excite her.

Because her sister doesn’t know, and no one knows.

It’s hers. This thing. This bond. Whatever it is. And she will hold on to it. She’ll keep his sweater.