“Thanks for meeting me, Enz. I really wanted to talk to you. You know, without all the other guys around.”
Hester smiled at me. I’d been a little confused when she texted me if I wanted to hang out. I hadn’t spoken to her since the night when I stood up for her. I hadn’t been invited to go out with the guys, either.
“Of course. What did you want to talk about?”
Hester took a deep breath. “I just wanted to thank you for standing up for me the other night. You know, when Zack tried to… Well. He just doesn’t know when to stop sometimes, and I was glad you spoke up to him about it. Even though he got pretty mad at you for it.”
“He did?” I thought Zack had seemed pretty calm over the whole ordeal – especially considering that he’d beaten people up for giving him a ‘weird look’.
Hester scoffed. “You think it was a coincidence that they sent you out there to the dealer? That’s not how these guys work. It’s partly a punishment, partly a test. To see how easily manipulated you are.”
Pretty easily, I guess.
“So why haven’t they asked me to hang out since then? I did what they asked me to, didn’t I?”
“Because I told Zack not to. I told him you make me uncomfortable.”
I couldn’t hide the surprise on my face, and Hester smiled.
“Why would you do that?”
“Because I know you’re a good guy, Enzo. And I think you don’t quite understand how damaging it could be to hang out with Zack and his friends. You don’t want to go down the same path as they did.” I opened my mouth to say something – although I wasn’t really sure what – but Hester put her hand up and kept talking.
“I’ve seen your sister at school, and I know who you parents are, and I’ve seen your house. You have no idea how lucky you are. Your parents are happy together, you and your sister are both super smart, you can go to college without worrying about money, become anything you want… Don’t throw that all away for those jerks. Believe me, you’ll regret it.”
She looked at me, smiling, but I could see some tears welling up in her eyes. The honesty in her voice made me feel a little ashamed. She was right. My family was great and so supportive, I wasn’t stupid, I could do well in school if I just tried… And here I was, skipping class to sit in a dirty basement breathing in smoke and being forced to chug beer until I puked every weekend.
“I see I’ve given you something to think about.” Hester laughed softly, her eyes now dry but still a little red.
“You have,” I admitted. “But – why do you still hang out with them? You never do drugs and I’ve never seen you drunk. And why are you still together with Zack? I mean, you don’t love him, do you?”
She looked a little taken aback by my not-so-subtle question, but I figured that if she was warning me, I should be warning her as well.
Hester sighed. “It’s not so easy for me, Enz. I don’t have the same type of support system to fall back on like you. My parents and I… We don’t exactly get along. When I’m with Zack, at least I have somebody to take care of me when I need it. And he’s really not that bad. He can be pretty sweet when he’s not drunk.”
I scoffed. Trying to imagine Zack being sweet to anyone was difficult. “The point is,” Hester quickly continued, “I want you to think about those ‘friends’ and if they’re worth what you’re giving up for them.”
I sighed. “You’re right. Thanks for the talk, Hester. I appreciate it.”
She grinned. “I thought you would. You parents probably will, too, if you ever tell them about your little rebellious phase.” God, no. “I probably won’t see you again,” Hester said, looking at me. “At least, not if you know what’s good for you.”
I nodded slowly. Not hanging out with the guys obviously meant not seeing Hester, either. But I felt guilty. Could I let her go back to Zack, even now that I realized what a jerk he was?
She got up to leave, but I stopped her. “Hey. If you ever need anyone to talk to, or a place to crash, or… Or anything. You can call me. Really.”
Hester gave me a sad smile. “Thanks, Enz. I’ll keep that in mind.”
With that, she turned around and walked away. I put my hand up in a greeting, but she didn’t turn around. I just hoped she would be okay.