After Molly and Hayden walked away, Cindy raised her gaze, flinching at the hurt on Mike’s face.
“It… it was just a blind date. I wanted to tell you. I d-didn’t know…” She swallowed the lump in her throat.
“Didn’t know I’d find out?” He crossed his arms. “Who is he?”
Cindy sniffled and her stomach filled with the weight of a thousand dead butterflies.
“He’s the son of Mama’s friend. They set us up and Mama made me go out with him and—”
“Made you.” He shook his head.
“I didn’t want to, but it would have upset Daddy and I didn’t want him to—”
“Daddy? You were more worried about upsetting him than your boyfriend?” Mike pushed a hand through his hair. “Jesus, Cindy. You went on a date with someone else because of your daddy?”
Cindy clenched her fists. “If you’d just listen and quit interrupting me, I’ll explain.”
Mike glared at her. “This should be good. Let’s hear your excuses. No, wait let me guess.
Your mom is too scary, and you can’t tell her no because she’ll bake you into a cake. Or Elijah might get wasted if you don’t go out with Tavis instead of me. Or maybe your little brothers will spontaneously explode if they find out you’re dating a white boy.”
“You’re making a stupid scene.” A girl nearby giggled and Cindy turned to her. “This isn’t the freaking movies.”
The girl grabbed her friend’s arm and rushed away.
But Mike waved his hand. “See, you stand up to complete strangers because they piss you off, but you can’t stand up to your parents to fight for me. I don’t matter.”
She narrowed her eyes. “That’s not true.”
“I don’t see you sacrificing anything for this relationship. I’m the one who gives up everything so you can stay safe in your world, hiding away from the truth. And I don’t even know why!”
Dammit. He was right, sort of. He had no reason to hide, and only did it for her because God knew she had to. But there were things she gave up, too. Like her integrity and self-respect.
Not to mention her own happiness because she couldn’t be with Mike like she wanted to.
She glanced in the direction of her parents, thankfully out of ear shot. They’d made it to the other side of the track but with slow progress in the grass due to the wheelchair. All she needed was for Mama to turn around and see her arguing with Mike.
“Come here,” she said, grabbing his hand. They had to get somewhere more private before all hell broke loose.
She pulled him away from the track and over a grassy hill filled with more spectators.
Opening the door to the metal storage shed where they kept the track equipment, she stepped inside and turned to him with her hands on her hips.
“Mama surprised me yesterday by giving me permission to date. Then she said she’d set me up with Tavis and told me he’d be there soon. She gave me one hour’s notice, and I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Do?” He held out his arms then pointed to himself. “How about saying no because you already have a boyfriend?”
“I couldn’t. My dad—”
“This isn’t about your dad. You cheated, went out with another guy. What am I supposed to do with that?”
“I didn’t cheat.” She reached for his arm and he pulled away. Her stomach fell to her knees. “It wasn’t a real date.”
“Really?” Mike scoffed. “So, I can take Jenny to dinner and you’d be okay with that?”
“That’s different. Jenny likes you, so going out with her would be cheating.”
“You went on a date with some random guy, but it isn’t cheating because he doesn’t like you?” He closed his eyes and rolled his head between his shoulders. “God, Cindy. Do you hear how pathetic that sounds?”
“It’s not pathetic.” She narrowed her eyes. “What’s pathetic is that you don’t trust me.
And you won’t let me explain what happened.”
Mike crossed his arms, leaning a shoulder against the wall of the shed. “Fine. Tell me how it’s okay for you to go on a date, keep it secret from me, let our friends know it happened, and blame me for not trusting you.”
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