Authors: Amy Sparling
“What the hell is this?” Becca says. She holds up her hand. “Never mind. Don’t answer that. I don’t want to know.”
Emma scrambles past me, grabbing her dress from the floor. “You said we were alone here,” she hisses, not-so-quietly, as she clutches the fabric to her chest and glares at me. To Becca she says, “Sorry,” before running the hell out of here. I guess she’ll put her clothes on in the hallway.
I stand up, bite my lower lip. Only my shirt is off, but I feel about twenty times more naked than any human could possibly be. I lift my eyebrows and muster up a smile. “Don’t tell Mom?”
Becca rolls her eyes, bends down and grabs my shirt just so she can throw it at me. “You better hope I don’t tell
The hippie woman standing in the doorway is clearly trying not to laugh. I want to tell her to go for it, that I can’t possibly be more humiliated that I already am. But I don’t say anything because Becca isn’t done laying into me.
“Dammit, Jett.” She puts her hands on her hips. If she and Park ever have a kid of their own, she will make a terrifying but excellent mother. “I know you’re the heartthrob around here, but did you have to choose my storage closet?” Her arms wave wildly around. “Of all the places in this building, you had to hook up around my art?”
Now the hippie woman does laugh. I dart a look over at her daughter. I can’t remember her name. It starts with a K. The daughter is smiling, her dark eyes focused right on me. Her face looks a whole lot better when she’s not scowling like she was the first time I met her. I give her a quick wink.
Becca slaps my arm and groans. “Get the hell out of here, kid. Why can’t ya’ll just make out in cars like normal teenagers?”
I give her a sly look. “Because there’s a couch in here.”
Becca slaps me again, and I know it’s warranted. I put my hands together in front of her chest, an overdramatic prayer gesture to beg for her forgiveness. “Sorry, Second Mom. I won’t defile your storage space again.”
“Good,” she snaps, but then she grins and rolls her eyes. “Get out of here. And to think, I told Keanna you would be a good friend to have . . .”
I glance back at the girl and she smirks. Something tells me she’d be down for having a little fun. I tug my shirt on over my head. Becca starts telling the hippie lady about her art, leaving Keanna looking bored by the door. I seize the opportunity to do a little flirting as I walk by her.
“Give me a call if you ever want a late night tour of the place,” I whisper, meeting her eyes for just a second so she knows my intentions. I’m being slick as hell, or at least I think so. But my words turn her look of curiosity into a sneer of disgust.
“Never going to happen,” she whispers back.
Damn, I struck out.
Oh well, on to the next one.
Emma is long gone by the time I get outside. She’d met me here with her car, parked in the back so that no one would notice it. Who knows how long she’ll stay pissed at me this time.
I start walking toward home, debating if I should send her an apology text. I’m trying to decide if that’s a decent thing to do, or if it’ll seem like something a boyfriend would do. I am not a boyfriend. Boyfriends get held down and chained up in the bonds of a relationship. They only get to be with one girl. That’s just not my style. Dad says I’ll change when I get older, that I’ll wake up one day and suddenly want a real relationship. He’s told me not to burn any bridges with the girls I date now because I never know when I’ll suddenly grow up and my perspective on life will change.
Dad loves Mom and Mom loves Dad and they’re this perfect couple and all that, and good for them. Honestly, I love that my parents still love each other unlike most of my friend’s parents who are divorced. But that kind of life isn’t for me. I like fun and adventure. I like hot girls and no strings attached. A professional motocross racer doesn’t need some ball and chain holding him back. I’ve heard Dad’s lectures a million times. He’s always telling me I’ll change my mind someday.
And I’m always telling him that “someday” is not today.
Did that really just happen? Ultra-hot and super rich guy made a stupid comment suggesting that he and I could make out? There’s no way. Guys like that do not even look twice at losers like me.
Becca and Dawn fawn over the paintings for a little while, but I’m too busy being lost in my own thoughts to pay attention to the conversation. The most embarrassing part of the whole two second event is that I can’t stop picturing it.
Making out with Jett.
Sneaking around a business at midnight, looking for couches hidden away in the darkness. Getting undressed and crawling into his lap . . . Yeah, I can’t think like that. As if a guy like him would
seriously consider dating me.
But I guess he didn’t say the word “dating” . . . he just meant a hookup.
I’ve hooked up with plenty of guys before—always random flings and never anything bordering on a real relationship. Dating? I feel the blood rush to my cheeks just thinking it. Why would I even
that word? I’ve never been on a date in my life.
Unless you count the time Mom met some guy who took us both out to dinner because I was thirteen and she didn’t want to leave me alone. She’d thought it was so romantic that this guy let me come along, like he was already step-father material or something. After the date, he’d hooked up with Mom then found me sleeping in the next motel room over and tried doing the same thing to me. I threw a motel lamp into his face and he ran out of there, cursing and dripping blood everywhere.
I shake my head to clear it of thoughts like that. Once one of them slips into my subconscious, more always follow. And this is a good day, with an awesome place to sleep tonight so I refuse to let any bad thoughts come my way.
“I guess we should head back,” Becca says, yawning. “It’s getting pretty late.”
We drive back to Becca’s house and Mom tosses me her car keys, telling me to grab my suitcase from the trunk.
When I walk back into the house lugging my beat up old Samsonite, Mom holds up a finger like she just remembered something. “Honey, why don’t you get your bag, too? That way it won’t get messed up in Corpus Christi.”
I frown. Becca offers her a refill on her wine glass and I turn around, heading back to the trunk. Mom and I each have a suitcase and a duffel bag. The suitcase is for clothes and living essentials, while our duffel bag has all of our personal belongings. It’s not much; Mom’s has her tablet and all of her business paperwork along with a few knick-knacks I made her as a kid. The wind chimes and craft fair stuff go in the back seat of her SUV. My bag has a teddy bear from my childhood, a few pairs of sandals, two bottles of nail polish, my tablet for getting online, and a stack of DVDs to watch on Mom’s laptop.
I don’t know why I would need any of that for a one night stay at a stranger’s house, but I grab the stupid bag and carry it into the guest room.
From the living room, Mom calls my name.
I slip into the hallway and jog down the stairs, my hand sliding along the banister as if I do this all the time. A fleeting image appears in my mind; a daydream of being a girl who lives in a house like this with loving parents. A girl whose room is filled with clothes and friends and memories.
“You leaving?” I ask when my feet hit the first floor.
Mom nods. “Going to head back to the hotel for a couple hours of sleep. Then I’ll hit the road and make it there before noon.”
I glance around the room and notice that Becca and Park are gone. “Did you tell them you’re leaving?” I ask.
She nods, examining her hair for split ends. “They went to investigate a funny noise on the grill or something. Now come here, give me a hug.”
She spreads her arms wide, her bangles dancing down to her elbows. I kind of want to use this moment of privacy to ask about this weird job offer and berate her for not telling me sooner. Are we really settling down in a place called Lawson? Will I graduate high school here? Or is it just another one of her silly schemes to get rid of me for the night? For all I know, she met some guy at the craft fair and wants to get laid without a teenager holding her back.
I sigh and walk into her arms, returning her hug. She grabs onto the back of my head and holds me tightly, squeezing until I’m all out of breath and have to gasp for air.
“I love you, K-bug,” she says softly, using my nickname from my childhood.
“Love you too, Dawn.”
When the hug finally ends, she pulls back and holds me at arm’s length. Her eyes seem a little watery, but maybe it’s just a trick of the lighting. Mom doesn’t really get emotional about stuff like this. “You be good,” she says as if I’m a five-year-old. “Make me proud, okay?”
I lift an eyebrow. “I promise not to burn their house down in the next twenty-four hours.”
Her eyes soften, two clear gemstones without a care in the world. “Okay, well, I’m going to get out of here,” she says.
“Good luck with your interview.”
She nods, her lips pressing together in a thin smile. “Thanks, doll.”
She grabs me in another quick hug and then turns to leave. And maybe I’m just crazy, but it really seemed like her eyes were holding back real, genuine tears. It almost seems like she’s sad that she’s leaving me here. Or like maybe she thinks she won’t get to see me again.
I stumble into the kitchen the next morning, obeying my stomach like a starving zombie. Since tomorrow is the first little kid lock-in of the summer, and I’ll be supervising it, I’m off work today. I guess Dad thought he’d be nice to me before making me suffer at the hands of a dozen kindergarteners.
One thing about my new job at the family business: it is especially cruel how my body decided to wake up so early on my day off. I used to never get up this early unless it was race day. And even then, I’d wake up early only to crawl into Dad’s truck and sleep until we got to the track. But now after only a few days of having a real job, my body is up at freaking eight in the morning.
Mom’s chatting on the phone in the breakfast nook, her voice more animated than usual. “So you just let her stay over at your house? You’re not afraid she’s a robber?”
I lift an eyebrow, wondering who she’s talking to as I grab a cereal bowl and fill it to the top with Lucky Charms. Mom continues, “Seventeen year olds can be robbers! She could be a lookout, placed there to scope out your valuables and then alert her crew when you and Park leave the house.”
Now I’m curious. They’re talking about that girl from last night, Keanna. I glance at Mom and she rolls her eyes, pointing to her phone as if to say,
“You know Becca!”
I pour the milk and then wander over to the breakfast table, taking a seat opposite of Mom. “That girl didn’t look like a robber,” I say, and I’m not sure why I’m even defending someone I don’t know. She wasn’t exactly nice to me.
“Jett agrees with you,” she says, lifting her shoulders as she talks. “You should invite her over here. Jace is good at reading people and he’d know if there’s something shady going on.”
I dive into my cereal, mostly ignoring the rest of the conversation and trying to plan my day off in my head. I know there’s a party at the lake tonight, so I’ll probably stop by there. Maybe there will be someone other than Emma Clarke to kill the time with.
Mom’s voice gets higher. “Ooooh, that would be fun! Yeah, yeah, I have plenty of eggs. Give me five minutes to get dressed.”
I stand and grab the cereal box, readying to refill my bowl. “Jett, don’t eat anymore,” Mom says, shooing me away with her hand.
“What? Why? I’m starving.”
“Becca and Park are coming over with that girl,” Mom says, taking the cereal box and putting it back in the pantry. “We’re going to make a big family breakfast so you better still be hungry.”
“I’m always hungry,” I say, putting my cereal bowl and spoon into the dishwasher.
“What do you think is up with that girl?” Mom says, giving me this conspiratorial look. “I mean, what kind of mom meets a total stranger and then has her daughter spend the night with her? Park and Becca could be perverts for all she knows!”
I laugh. “I guess it’s a good thing they’re not.”
Mom takes the eggs, bacon, and cheese from the fridge and then hands me two canisters of biscuit dough. “There’s still something weird about it, ya know? I mean, I’d never leave you with some stranger.”
“That’s because you’re a good mom,” I say.
She grins and wraps an arm around me for a quick hug. “Aww, my boy.”
I roll my eyes. “What do you want me to do with this?” I ask, holding up the biscuits.
“Grab a pan and bake them, duh!”
Mom smacks the back of my head and then saunters over to the kitchen island to begin cooking.
I’m peeling apart biscuits and placing them two inches apart on a baking sheet when the back door opens. Since the front door is more of the formal entrance, the Parks always come in through the back. They also let themselves in because they’re basically family. That’s why I call Becca my “Second Mom” and I think she gets a kick out of it.
I focus on the task of setting dough on the pan even though my stomach is suddenly light and airy at the thought of seeing Keanna again. I know Mom will be judging her this whole morning, trying to secretly discover if Keanna is hiding something sinister in her reason for staying over. Though I think Mom is full of shit for being suspicious, I still wonder
Keanna is here. It’s definitely weird.
Dad comes downstairs when Mom calls for him and he and Park immediately get to talking about work. Becca introduces Keanna to Mom and friendly hellos are exchanged. I don’t know why I’m suddenly so freaking nervous to see her, but I also know that standing here staring at a bunch of raw biscuits kind of makes me look like a weirdo.
I turn casually, and I see her, standing there looking exactly as awkward as I’d expected. “Hey,” I say, giving her a friendly head nod.
She’s wearing cut off jean shorts short enough that the inside of the pockets hangs down the front of her thighs, and a plain black tank top. Her toes are curling on top of her flip flops, like she’s ready to bolt at any moment.
“Good morning,” she says, scratching her elbow. Our eyes meet for just a second and then she looks down, but not down to the floor. Her cheeks turn massively red and I realize exactly what she’s looking at. My bare chest.
She turns away, tucks her hair behind her ears. I turn back to my biscuits and put them in the oven, all the while hiding a massive grin.
She thinks I’m hot.
And I think she’s a mystery.
We’d taken breakfast outside to the patio, which is really like a room that happens to be outdoors. There’s a roof that extends across the patio, with ceiling fans and two TVs hanging from the ceiling. Only the long wall that runs along the backyard is open to the outside. The rest is kind of walled in with trellises and the natural stone fireplace and bar. It’s not until breakfast is nearly over that Mom decided to dig her claws into our guest.
Keanna had been pretty quiet all during breakfast, but I noticed she ate a lot, sampling from every dish Mom prepared. We had eggs, bacon, toast, my biscuits, fruit, scones and jams, sausage links, coffee and orange juice.
Keanna ate some of it.
I was just about to comment on it when Mom sets her coffee down with kind of a loud clink, and then smiles warmly at Keanna.
“So, Keanna. Becca said you and your mom just moved here?”
She shrugs. “I guess so. I never really know where we’re moving next.”
“So you move a lot?”
Keanna begins to nod but then she stops herself and puts on a forced smile. “Something like that.”
Mom takes a sip of coffee. “What grade will you be in next year?”
“I’ll be a senior, assuming my transcripts transfer okay.”
“Jett’s a year younger than you,” Mom says, somehow managing to look relieved for some reason. “He could show you around Lawson High, introduce you to some people.”
“Thanks,” Keanna says, reaching for another piece of toast. “I’ve moved so much in my life that I’m pretty good at making friends, though.” Her eyes meet mine. “You don’t need to worry about me.”
“Why do you move so much?” Dad asks. I guess he’s finally decided to join the conversation and stop talking to Park about track stuff. “Are your parents in the military?”
Keanna chuckles to herself. She shakes her head as she layers strawberry jam onto her toast. “My mom is the posterchild of wanderlust. She doesn’t like being stuck in one place for very long. I doubt we’ll be here past summer.”
My stomach tightens at the thought of this strange girl disappearing before I’ve had the chance to get to know her. Dad nods to himself and then says, “You don’t want to stay with your dad?”
She chuckles again and then she looks straight at him. “I don’t know my dad.”
Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like an awkwardness has descended. I have this sudden urge to rescue her from my parent’s questions so I blurt out the first thing I think of. “You’re really skinny for being able to eat so much.”
Shit. That was supposed to be a compliment (don’t girls like being called thin?) but the look in her eyes makes me wish I could rewind time and keep my damn mouth shut. Keanna stares at the piece of toast and then looks up at me, with something like deceit in her eyes. Or maybe it’s anger.
“Ignore my son,” Mom says, rolling her eyes. “Eat all you want, dear.”
Keanna doesn’t stop looking at me though. Finally, she pushes her chair back and stands up, shoving the rest of her food into her mouth. “Sometimes I go all day without seeing any food at all. So forgive me for eating when there’s actually food in front of me.”
A lump forms in my throat and I want to take it all back, rewind time until it’s just me and her meeting again for the first time. Her dark eyes are hiding so much more than she lets on and although it’s useless, I search them anyway, hoping to learn more about this girl. I suddenly need to know everything about her and I have no idea why.
Dad and Park started talking animatedly at the end of the table so they didn’t hear what just happened. At least I don’t think they did. But Mom and Becca heard all right, and they’re both looking at me like I’m the biggest jackass in the world.
“I’m—” I begin, wanting to tell her I’m sorry.
But Keanna looks at Becca as if I am no longer worthy of holding her attention. “Mind if I go back to your house and watch TV until my mom gets back?”
“Go right ahead, hun,” Becca says.
Mom narrows her gaze at me. “Jett.” I cringe. She’s using her pissed off voice. “Why don’t you clean the table?”
I’m in no position to object, so I start grabbing dishes and carrying them inside, loading up the dishwasher. Mom and Becca talk in hushed tones, somehow getting quieter when I walk back out there to finish cleaning the table. It’s obvious who they’re talking about. It’s the same girl who has taken control of my every thought.
Something tells me Keanna is not like the Emma Clarkes of this world. She’s unique and worldly. She’s like an iceberg, cold and beautiful. But part of her is hidden away.
When the patio is clean and the kitchen is spotless, I know what I need to do. I need to fix things with Keanna in a way that goes beyond just apologizing for calling her out on being poor.
I need to let her know she has a friend here in Lawson, Texas.