Authors: Amy Sparling
“Actually, I kind of wanted to talk to you about something,” she says, pushing away and leaning her head back so that she starts to float on her back.
Before she can say anything, Mom walks up. Damn, I hadn’t even heard her approach. It’s a good thing we weren’t doing anything inappropriate. Note to self: Keep an eye out for the parents. They’re not as loud as you hope they are.
“Hey,” Mom says, giving a little wave as she passes us on her way to the back door. “Will you be home for dinner?”
“Yeah,” I say and Mom nods. “Jacey, you’re welcome to stay, too.”
She slips inside and Jacey gives me a look. If we weren’t in the pool, her hands would probably be on her hips. “I feel like your mom doesn’t like me.”
“Mom likes everyone.”
Jacey’s eyebrows narrow. “But it feels like she doesn’t like me.”
“That’s because your name sounds like my dad’s name, Jace. She said it creeps her out.”
Jacey smiles, looking as if everything makes sense now. “So it’s not because I randomly make out with her son?”
“Nah, she doesn’t care about that.”
Speaking of, this might be the longest we’ve been without her jumping my bones. “So what were you saying?”
Her smile fades and even though she’s covered in water, she seems to look a little scared. “Well . . . I don’t know. Maybe it’s stupid.”
“Okay, now you have to tell me.” I lift my feet and dunk down into the water, tossing my head back so my hair will flatten when I resurface. “What’s going on?”
“Okay so, well. How should I begin?” Jacey bites her bottom lip and swims out across the pool, probably buying for time. “So there’s this guy.”
I lift an eyebrow. “You’re interested in a guy?”
She nods and her cheeks flush. “I know I spent my whole life saying I’d never get in a real relationship because that kind of shit never works out for my parents, but . . . I don’t know. I kind of like him.”
“Do I know him?” I ask. “And are you asking my permission to date him, or something? I mean, you and I are just a no-strings-attached thing. So why would I care?”
“We’re not even that anymore,” she says, throwing her hand through the water. “Emma made sure to put a stop to it.”
Is that why girls haven’t been calling me as much?
“So, about the guy,” I say, pressing for more info. “What do you need my advice for?”
“Okay, so don’t laugh. Because I mean yeah, we make out and all, but you’re still my friend, ya know?”
I nod and she seems to relax a little more. “So I guess I want to know . . . do you think a guy would like me enough to be my boyfriend? Like . . . am I worth it?”
“Of course you’re worth it, if that’s what you really want,” I say.
Jacey bites on her lip again and sinks down until just her head is above the water. “I guess I feel like I’m just some slut that no guy would ever really
, like. And I know it’s stupid but I
, like him. I want to tell him that but I’m not sure if I’m girlfriend material.”
I walk across the bottom of the pool and take both her hands in mine, making sure to meet her gaze. “You are not a slut. You can’t think that about yourself.”
She frowns and stares down at the water. “What the hell is wrong with me, Jett? Relationships are stupid! Ugh.”
I smile and let go of her hand so I can flick water in her face. She grimaces and flicks water back at me. “Dude, if you like him then go for it. And if he doesn’t like you then he’s a fucking jackass, okay? You’re awesome and I’m glad we’re friends.”
“Thanks.” Her frown morphs into something like a grin. “I may not be as hot as girls like Emma Clarke, but I’m a good kisser, right?”
I nod and give her a wink, “Totally.”
“Good,” she says, playfully splashing me with water again. “You taught me everything I know, so I should be good.”
“Psh, obviously,” I say. Then I grab her head and dunk her under water, just like we used to do when we were kids. She screams and tries to retaliate, but I’m too strong.
The sound of footsteps on the deck startle me again and I look up, expecting to see Dad. Only it’s not.
Keanna gives me the slightest scowl before she walks up to my back door and lets herself inside.
I guess I should be happy that it doesn’t faze me to see Jett playing around with some girl in his pool. It’s not like I have a crush on him. It’s not like I
a crush on him. It was one night, one kind deed on his part and then his epic ruining of the deed by being a condescending jerk.
Mrs. Adam’s house smells like clean linen when I step inside, grateful to put a solid brick wall between Jett and me. Every room seems to have one of those light up wax melter things and that’s where the clean scent comes from. There’s something really nice about walking into a house that’s not only clean and tidy, but that also smells nice. Motels smell like stale laundry and moldy carpets. Low income apartments smell like weed and fast food grease. Mrs. Adam’s house smells like perfection.
(I refuse to call it Jett’s house.)
“Hey there,” Mrs. Adams says with a kind smile. Becca had just talked to her on the phone and I was told to let myself in the backdoor and that’s just what I did. She’s wearing tight-fitting yoga pants with the word PINK written on one leg. Her tank top is neon pink and she looks like she could pass for someone in college and not the mom of a teenager.
“Okay, so Becca needs sprinkles?” she says, joining me near the kitchen island.
“Yep. She only had one jar of Christmas sprinkles and they expired two years ago.”
“Ew,” Mrs. Adams says, curling her nose. “What is wrong with that woman?” She shakes her head and turns toward a cabinet, her high ponytail bouncing as she walks. “Let’s see what we have here.”
“I really like your tank top.” The random statement startles me and I’m the one who said it.
She gives me this knowing smile. “It’s the sparkles, right? I love it. I have it in three colors.”
It must be nice to like something and be able to buy three of them. Of course I don’t say that . . . I just smile politely and hope that this moment is over soon. I’ve spent a week avoiding Jett and now he’s right outside the door. What if he decides to come inside and introduce me to his date? Ugh.
“So . . .,” I say. “Sprinkles?”
She turns back to the cabinet and starts taking out jars and bottles. “Here ya go,” she says, sliding four containers of sprinkles across the counter to me.
“Whoa, Mrs. Adams, you’re a sprinkle fan.”
“Yeah, I’m a little obsessed. Have you tried these silver ones? They look like real metal but they’re totally edible. I love them. Here, take them too.”
I take the jar of sprinkles that look like silver BBs. She’s pulled out star shaped sprinkles, little dots, stuff that looks like glitter, black and white, pink and purple . . . if it’s sold in the stores, I’m pretty sure she has it.
“Let me get you a bag for these,” she says, opening another door and pulling out a grocery bag. “Oh, and it’s Bayleigh. Don’t call me Mrs. Adams until I’m like, forty. And maybe not even then. I don’t want to be old.”
“Don’t worry, you don’t look old.”
The corners of her eyes crinkle. “Thanks, dear. You keep up those compliments. In fact, tell all of Jett’s friends to do the same thing. They’re always making fun of me.”
I don’t really have anything to say to that since I don’t plan on talking to Jett, like ever, for the rest of my life. So I focus on putting the sprinkles in the bag and then I thank her.
The walk from their house back to Becca’s seems to take a million years. Jett and his friend are still in the pool from the sound of the water moving around, but I make sure I keep my eyes forward and not on the pool.
Becca’s eyes light up when I show her the sprinkles. “Holy shit. Bayleigh is insane.”
“It does seem like an obscene amount of sprinkles for one household,” I say. The jar of silver sprinkles catches my attention. They are pretty cool.
Becca lines up the jars on her kitchen island, from smallest to largest. “Okay so, you’re probably wondering why I sent you on a sprinkle errand . . .”
I shrug. “You’re having a sugar craving?”
She points a finger at me. “Hell yes I am. I figured you could make some cupcakes with me, yeah?”
I nod and try to look enthusiastic about it. Becca’s been doing things like this all week. At first I thought she felt sorry for me and was trying to entertain me as if I were some little kid, but now I think she’s just genuinely a nice person.
“I always pictured having a cupcake making night if I ever had a daughter,” she says, her eyes far away as she daydreams about what hasn’t happened yet. “Park and I can’t have kids and I keep trying to accept the fact but it sucks, ya know?”
I stare at her.
“Well okay,” she says with a knowing nod. “I guess you wouldn’t know since you’re still a teen. Anyhow, thanks for hanging out with me.”
Now I’m starting to wonder if I feel as sorry for Becca as she feels for me. She’s a really nice lady and always seems genuinely interested in anything I have to say. Last night we’d spent hours in her studio while she painted and I watched. It was fun, if not a little awkward. Most of my stay here has been spent in my room, watching TV, but the few times we hang out I end up enjoying myself. Talking with Becca is the only time I’m not thinking about Jett.
Well okay. I’m always thinking about Jett.
Becca and I mix batter and pour cupcakes into every tray she has, making forty-eight in all. She has two ovens so we’re able to throw them all in there to bake at the same time. As the cupcakes cook, I help her clean up our mess.
“What are we going to do with all of these cupcakes?” I reach for another paper towel to wipe off my hands.
She gives me a sneaky grin. “Eat them, duh! We can rent a movie or something and have a girl’s night. I’ll make Park hang out in his man cave.”
“And what are we going to do with the other forty cupcakes?” I ask, laughing.
“We’ll give them to the boys. Jett can probably eat a dozen in one sitting.”
Though he’d been on my mind this whole time, the mention of his name out loud sends a dark shadow over my happy mood. Becca seems to notice because her smile fades and she tilts her head. “You okay?”
My heart is aching in my chest but I nod anyway. “Yeah, I’m good.”
“Is it your mom? Oh honey . . .” Becca frowns. That pitying look I’ve seen so many times returns to her face. “I wasn’t sure if I should tell you or not . . .”
The lump in my throat returns. “What? Tell me what? Did you hear from my mom?”
She shakes her head. “No . . . not yet. But, you know how her phone does that thing where sometimes it rings and sometimes it doesn’t? That has to mean her phone is on, right?”
I nod, my throat suddenly feeling like it’ll close at any moment. Mom’s phone has been driving me crazy. If it were dead, then it’d go to voicemail every time. But when it rings . . . is she ignoring me? That’s really the only explanation.
“So, what is it?” I ask.
Becca lowers her gaze and stares at her fingernails. “I hope you don’t mind, but I called around. I checked with every police department from here to Corpus Christi. She hasn’t been arrested or brought in or anything.”
“Oh.” I nod. Try swallowing the lump, but it doesn’t go anywhere. “I’m not mad.”
Three nights ago, Becca and I had called some hospitals to see if they had taken in my mom. No one had heard of her, so I’d been a little relieved. “I haven’t thought of that. That’s actually a good idea.”
She nods, her lips pressing together in a gesture that’s both caring and frustrated. “I don’t know what else to try.”
“She’s never done this,” I say, going through my memories yet again. Never, ever, has my mom just straight up left me like this. “I don’t understand and I swear I didn’t know about it. I had no idea she was going to do this.”
“I know sweetheart, don’t worry about that.” The timer dings and Becca grabs an oven mitt. I open the oven door for her and she takes out our cupcakes, which are perfectly baked and already look golden and delicious. The smell fills up the kitchen and makes my mouth water. I am eating like some kind of god over here and I love every second of it.
“I know I’ve said this before,” Becca says as she sets the trays down on fleur-de-lis trivets. “But I’d love having you here for as long as it takes. You really are a pleasure to have around and I don’t mind one bit. I hope this doesn’t sound crazy, but I kind of feel like maybe your visit is like a gift from fate. I’ve always wanted a child and lately I’ve been thinking that if Park and I had kids when we got married, that I’d have a teenager by now and . . .” Her eyes fill with tears and my mouth falls open. “God, Keanna, I’m sorry. Here I am crying like a lunatic! Oh my god, you must think I’m a freak.”
“No, I don’t. I think you’re a lifesaver.” The moment I say the words I realize they are true. “I’m a total stranger and you took me in and I’m really grateful.”
I’m afraid she’s going to hug me, but instead she takes off her oven mitt and wipes her eyes. “Tomorrow, let’s go shopping. I want to get you some clothes.”
“No way, you can’t do that. You’ve already done too much.” She waves her hand at my words but I keep going. “Actually, can I maybe work for you? Do some chores to help pay for my room and board?”
She considers this for a moment. “Okay my first thought is no, because you’re my guest but—actually, there might be something you can do. I work a couple days a week at the track but I’m looking at going to Louisiana for a few days to showcase my art at this huge craft fair they have there. You could cover for me. I’ll even pay you.”
“Working at the track? I don’t know if I could do that.” What I don’t say is that Jett works at the track.
She shakes her head. “Nah, you totally can. The front desk is easy. You can come with me tomorrow and I’ll show you the ropes. Cool?”
“Well, I do need to work off my debts here so, I guess I should.”
She smacks me with an oven mitt. “You have no debts here! The money you earn at the track will be yours. You can spend it going out with friends or something.”
I snort. “I don’t have any friends.”
“Sure you do. Jett’s your friend.”
Pain settles into my stomach again. “Yeah,” I say, turning so she can’t see the anguish in my eyes. “Sure.”