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Authors: Dee J. Stone

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BOOK: Cruiser
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Chapter Thirty

Lex

 

I
slip on my shoes and head downstairs for breakfast. Yesterday morning, I expected to see some changes after telling off my parents the night before. But things were the same as any other day. I told myself to give it time, that my parents will start making changes soon.

But just like yesterday, I don’t smell Dad’s waffles. I don’t hear happy chatter floating out of the k
itchen. I toss my schoolbag on the bottom step and storm inside. Rosie’s the only person at the table.

Mom’s voice comes from the guestroom next door. I hear “doctor
” and “program.” She’s doing it
again
.

“Where’s Dad?” I ask Rosie. Please tell me he’s outside getting the morning paper.

“He left for work,” she says in a “duh” voice.

“God, they were supposed to…
Grr.” I slam my hands on the back of an empty chair and squeeze.

“They were supposed to what?” Rosie asks, circling her spoon around her bowl of cereal. “What’s wrong
?”

This is ridiculous
. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. I thought they needed time, not that they weren’t even
planning
on listening to what I said. Dad should be standing at the stove making his special blueberry waffles because he cut back hours at work now that Mom gave up on her searching-for-the-miracle-doctor-that-will-help-my-baby-walk-again parade.

Mom walks into the kitchen
. “Oh good, Lex, you’re up.” She slings her bag over her shoulder. “I have a meeting with a doctor. Put Rosie on the bus, please.”

Steam shoots out of my ears. “Mom! What about what I told you?”

Her eyes scan mine with confusion. “Sorry, honey. What did you tell me?”

I glance at Rosie. She’s watching us with her ears perked.

“That we’re going to be making some changes around here? That things will go back to how they used to be?”

Mom shuffles to the door, then checks her bag and takes out some papers. “Okay, I have everything I need.”

“Mom!”

“Lex.” Her eyes snap to mine. “I don’t have time for this. You know we’re so close to finding answers.” She peeks at her watch. “I really need to go. Will you put Rosie on the bus?”

No, Mom, we’re not close to finding answers to Rosie’s paralysis. You’re like a little puppy chasing her tail. Not moving forward, but just stuck in the same spot.

“Yeah,” I mutter. “I’ll put her on the bus.”

She walks back over, pecks my cheek and does the same to my little sister. “Have a good day at school, both of you.” And she leaves the house with Rosie playing with her cereal and me seething.

I watch Rosie pick at the letters. She doesn’t look like a miserable kid, but she doesn’t look like an energetic one, either. She
’s just…there. Like she’s passing through life with half a heart.

Is that the child my parents want to raise? I wish I
could
do
something.

“Rosie, finish your breakfast. Your bus will be here soon.”

I munch on a cereal bar and wash Rosie’s bowl when she’s finished eating. Then I wheel her down the ramp and onto the sidewalk.

“Lexi?”

“Yeah?”

“You know Jamie?”

I glance at her. “Of course I know Jamie. What about him?”

“Well…” She looks down at her knees and her cheeks grow red. Her hands twist in her lap. “I think I want to ask him to come over after school.”

I fight the urge to sing and dance around. A few days ago I was practically on my hands and knees begging Rosie to try to befriend the boy. And now she wants him over? More than that, it looks like she
likes
him! The day’s picking up already.

I’m about to answer w
hen Rosie yells, “Hi, Cruiser!”

Cruiser shuts the door after him and runs down the steps.
“Good morning.”

He smiles at Rosie and then at me, but something isn’t right. His smile doesn’t reach his eyes—like he’s forcing it.

My heart clenches. Rey must have not taken the news as well as we hoped.

“Cruiser, I’m gonna invite Jamie over to my house!” Rosie is beaming.

Cruiser forces another smile onto his face and ruffles her hair. “Got a little crush there, do we?”

“No!” Rosie smacks his arm. “I do
not
.”

Cruiser chuckles, but there’s no hiding the sadness in his eyes. My entire body fills with guilt. I really didn’t want to hurt Rey. But I guess that was inevitable.

Our gazes meet. I search his eyes, asking if he’s okay. But it only makes them sadder. My throat clogs.

“Tell us a joke, Cruiser,” Rosie says.

Cruiser’s shoulders are bent forward. But he raises them and musters a smile for Rosie. “Okay. Hmm, I think I told you all the jokes I know.”

“Aw. Isn’t there at least one you didn’t tell me?”

Rosie’s bus pulls up. Cruiser ruffles her hair again. “Maybe another time.”

“Okay. See ya!”

I wheel her to the bus, stealing a quick glance at Cruiser. His expression is one I haven’t seen before, like his heart is breaking into a million little pieces. I wish I could hug him tight and take the pain away.

After loading my sister onto the bus and wishing her a good day, I head back to Cruiser.

Just then, the front door opens and Rey walks out. He ignores Cruiser and me and marches toward his car. I watch the way Cruiser stares after him, a longing look in his eyes.

My stomach tumbles when I realize the extent of what I caused. Rey isn’t only hurt—he’s pissed and won’t even acknowledge Cruiser’s existence. The Dalton twins never fight.
Well, I mean of course they do—what brothers don’t? But they never
fight
.

Rey gets into his car and drives off.
Cruiser continues to stare after him, like he’s hoping Rey will change his mind and return and they’d make up. But no such luck. His car disappears around the corner.

When I glance at Cruiser, I see the tears gathering in his eyes. But he battles them, and they’re gone
.

I step forward, wishing I
could hug him, but not sure he wants that. Then I notice his swollen eye. Rey
punched
him? “Cruiser,” I say softly, reaching for his face.

“I need to get to school,” he mutters, heading
for the garage.

It feels like every inch of my body is being pricked with nails.
I’ve never seen Cruiser this hurt before. Tears roll down my cheeks. This is all my fault.

After a few minutes, h
e emerges with his bike. When he gets closer to me and sees my face, his expression changes. He grabs me and pulls me to his chest, wiping my tears with his thumbs. Then he lays his forehand on mine. “Please don’t cry.”

“What’s going on? Is he upset?”

I feel his chest heave. “You can’t imagine.”

“I’m so sorry, Cruise.”

His fingers rake through my hair. “Don’t worry about it, okay?” He draws back and climbs onto his bike. He’s about to pop on his helmet, but he peers at me. “Do you need a ride?”

I shake my head. “Dani’s picking me up.”

He nods. Then he swallows.

“Are you okay, Cruiser?”

He puts on his helmet, then raises the visor. “Don’t worry about me, okay? I’ll talk to you later.” He zooms off.

I hug my upper arms
. This is all such a mess.

The last thing I wanted was for
this to happen. I hurt Rey and feel horrible about it. I jeopardized the Dalton twins’ relationship. They mean so much to each other. Should I have stuck with Rey? They would be best friends again.

I run my hand through my hair. But I couldn’t have stayed with Rey. It
wouldn’t have been fair to him.

Someone honks and I jump. Dani pulls up in her convertible. “What’s wrong?” she asks.

I touch my cheek and realize I’m still crying. After wiping my eyes, I step forward. That’s when I realize something is different about her.

She’s not dressed in her usual dreary gray and black. She’s wearing a
soft blue shirt and white pants.

“Dani?” I open the door and climb in.
I study her face. No more heavy mascara on her eyes. She has a touch of blush on her cheeks, some blue eye shadow, and light red lipstick. She looks just like the Dani before Jimmy Fuller.

“Why the change?
” I ask. “Do you have any idea how pretty you look?”

She rolls her eyes. “No mushy shit
.”

I smile.
“Okay, okay.”

She drives toward school.
I can’t stop thinking about Cruiser and Rey and everything I caused. If Cruiser never came back, none of this would have happened. But I’m so glad he came back. I wish he never left to begin with.

“Lex?”

I snap out of my thoughts and glance at her.

“What’s up?”

I’m not in the mood for talking about the twins, so I steer the conversation toward her life. “Is the change to impress a guy?”

She purses her lips
when she realizes I changed the subject, but she lets it go because she says, “Why should my change be attributed to a guy?” She stops before a red light and sighs. “Fine, I have a date with that guy from the store near my karate.”


Simon?”

“Yes.”

“That’s great.” My voice isn’t as excited as I intend.

We
’re quiet for a little while. Then Dani says, “How’s it going with Cruiser?”

I still don’t want to talk about
them, but I know it’ll make me feel better if I do. It’s not healthy to hold everything in. I take a deep breath and release it before saying, “I screwed everything up.”

“How?”

I tell her what happened. She’s quiet for a few seconds. Then she says, “You can’t drive yourself crazy worrying about Rey. You guys were having problems and needed to end it. This won’t be his only heartbreak. He’ll have to learn to get over it. You can’t base your life on other people’s happiness, Lex. You need to do what’s best for yourself.”

I play with the keychain on my bag. “I know. It still sucks.”

“Yeah, it does.”

I bang my head against the back of the seat. “Rey and Cruiser are in a fight.”

“They’ll make up.”

“I don’t know.”

“Rey will meet another girl. He’ll move on. You need to move on, too. You can’t let this hold you back.” She parks the car in the parking lot and turns to me. “I’m not saying this to be cruel. Sometimes a person needs to think about herself before other people. You need to do what’s best for you. What makes you happy. Staying with Rey wouldn’t have made either of you happy. You know that.”

Yeah, I do.

We get out of the car and head into the building. Dani makes her way to the bathroom while I stop at my locker. I scan the hallway for Cruiser or Rey, but none of them are around. I sigh. I know Dani’s right. But it doesn’t make it hurt less.

After a few minutes, someone stands next to me. I close my locker and come face to face with Rey. A lump forms in my throat.

“Can we talk?” he asks. His eyes look so defeated.

“Sure
,” I say, my voice hoarse.

He rubs the back of his head. “Um…”

“How are you?” I ask.

“Honestly? I feel like crap.”

I bite down on my lip.

“Look.” He touches my
arm, making me raise my eyes to his. “I know he fed you lies. He’s great at that. He knows how to make girls melt in his arms. So I don’t blame you for falling for him. But he’s going to keep away from you.”

I stare at him. “What are you talking about?”

His hand that’s on my arm moves lower, until his fingers interlock with mine. “I know I’m not as smooth as him. I don’t have any experience being…you know, sexy.” His cheeks turn bright red. “So I get that you were tempted. But all that’s going to change. Once we’re back together, he’ll get the message and find some other girl.”

“Wait.” I hold out my palms and step back. “Rey, I think you’re misunderstanding—”

“He can’t stand that you’re with me. But I don’t give a crap what he thinks. Not anymore. I’m not going to let him anywhere near you. Hopefully, he’ll move back to New York. Then we won’t have to worry about him.”

Back to
New York
? What’s he talking about?

He makes a move to hug me, but I
stumble back. “Rey.”

“I got you first. You’re mine. He can’t take you away.”

“Rey, we’re over. I talked to you about this. I told you—”

“No, you just thought we were over. You were confused about what you felt. But you know I’m the right guy for you. The only one.”

BOOK: Cruiser
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