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TJ yanks me back, his bright blue eyes narrow with concern

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TJ yanks me back, his bright blue eyes narrow with concern. He looks from me, to Finch, to the deck. As soon as he spots James, his jaw clenches.

'I know you ain't that stupid.'

My nerve dissipates at his disappointment. The full impact of what I was about to do suddenly hits me and I exhale, shaking at the sudden onslaught of adrenaline.

'No,' I say, pulling my arm from his grip and rubbing the spot where his finger had dug into bare flesh. I feel his eyes still on me and look up. 'I'm not going to do it, ok? I probably never was.'

'Probably ain't good enough. It ain't you either.'

His voice isn't harsh, more concerned, but his reproach still brings tears to my eyes. He pulls off his jacket and holds it over the two of us, sheltering us from the rain.

'Jesus, England. TJ too? Two Whittinghams not enough?' Brody shouts from the deck.

Around him, letterman-clad upperclassmen laugh, several whistling. Brody's eyes are smiling, my drink still in his hand, but it's clear that TJ's sudden appearance has rankled him. It scuppers his plans for me – whatever they are - and Brody's bruised ego calls for me to be put down. One person that doesn't laugh is James. His dark eyes meet mine and, in that one glance, I feel his sure support as if it's him beside me and not TJ.

Stubbing out his cigarette, he shoves past Brody. My drink is knocked from Brody's hand and spilled over his pristine white trainers.

'What's happened?' he asks, dipping below TJ's jacket and wiping raindrops from my face. His hand stays resting on my cheek, tilting my face up to his.

'Exactly what we all knew would happen,' I stammer. 'He chased, I gave in and he backed off.'

Before he even has a chance to move, I grab James's arm.

'Punching him again won't help the situation. It'll be more humiliating for me than tonight has already been.'

'Again?' TJ splutters.

'Story for another time,' says James. 'All I can say is Finch has really excelled himself in his douchebaggery this time around.'

'And I've been the sucker that keeps going back for more.' My voice breaks.

James looks down at me, his eyes darkening. 'I really thought this time was different, Betty. That he was different.'

'Me too,' TJ says.

The three of us stand in silence for a minute as the rain pours down around us. My feet are sodden through my boots, my bare legs numb with cold. As my teeth chatter, TJ wraps his arm around my shoulders and leads me towards the kitchen, James falling in on my other side. He slips his familiar hand in mine, entangling my fingers in his. Without saying a word, he runs his thumb along the outside of my trembling, rain-soaked hand. The action is bittersweet; at once comforting me and ripping my heart apart.

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