Authors: Colleen Hoover
I look back at the road, wondering if this is who Miller Adams is all the time. Random, nosy, maybe even hyper. Our school isn’t massive, but he’s a senior, so I don’t have any classes with him. But I know him well enough to recognize his avoidance of me. I’ve just never been in this type of situation with him. Up close and personal. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this isn’t it.
He reaches for something tucked between the console and his seat, but before I realize what it is, he already has it open. I snatch it from him and toss it in the back seat.
“What was that?” he asks.
It’s a folder with all my college applications, but I don’t want to discuss it because it’s a huge point of contention between my parents and me. “It’s nothing.”
“Looked like a college application to a theater department. You’re already sending in college applications?”
“You are seriously the nosiest person I’ve ever met. And no. I’m just collecting them because I want to be prepared.”
And hiding them in my car because my parents would flip if they knew how serious I am about acting.
“Have you not applied anywhere yet?”
“Yeah. Film school.” Miller’s mouth curls up in a grin.
Now he’s just being facetious.
He begins tapping his hands on my dash in beat to the music. I’m trying to keep my eyes on the road, but I feel pulled to him. Partly because he’s enthralling, but also because I feel like he needs a babysitter.
He suddenly jolts upright, his spine straight, and it makes me tense up because I have no idea what just startled him. He pulls his phone out of his back pocket to answer a call I didn’t hear come through over the music. He hits the power button on my stereo and pulls the sucker out of his mouth. There’s barely anything left of it. Just a tiny little red nub.
“Hey, babe,” he says into the phone.
I try not to roll my eyes.
Must be Shelby Phillips, his girlfriend. They’ve been dating for about a year now. She used to go to our school but graduated last year and goes to college about forty-five minutes from here. I don’t have an issue with her, but I’ve also never interacted with her. She’s two years older than me, and although two years is nothing in adult years, two years is a lot in high school years. Knowing Miller is dating a college girl makes me sink into my seat a little. I don’t know why it makes me feel inferior, as if attending college automatically makes a person more intellectual and interesting than a junior in high school could ever be.
I keep my eyes on the road, even though I want to know every face he makes while on this phone call. I don’t know why.
“On the way to my house.” He pauses for her answer and then says, “I thought that was tomorrow night.” Another pause. Then, “You just passed my driveway.”
It takes me a second to realize he’s talking to me. I look at him, and he’s got his hand over his phone. “That was my driveway back there.”
I slam on the brakes. He catches the dash with his left hand and mutters “Shit” with a laugh.
I was so caught up in eavesdropping on his conversation I forgot what I was doing.
“Nah,” Miller says into the phone. “I went for a walk, and it got really hot, so I caught a ride home.”
I can hear Shelby on the other end of the line say, “Who gave you a ride?”
He looks at me for a beat and then says, “Some dude. I don’t know. Call you later?”
Somebody’s got trust issues.
Miller ends the call just as I’m pulling into his driveway. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen his house. I’ve known whereabouts he lived, but I’ve never actually laid eyes on the home due to rows of trees that line the driveway, hiding what lies beyond the white gravel.
It’s not what I expected.
It’s an older house, very small, wood framed and in severe need of a paint job. The front porch holds the quintessential swing and two rocking chairs, which are the only things about this place that hold appeal.
There’s an old blue truck in the driveway and another car—not as old but somehow in worse shape than the house—that sits to the right of the house on cinder blocks, weeds grown up the sides of it, swallowing the frame.
I’m kind of taken aback by it. I don’t know why. I guess I just imagined he lived in some grandiose home with a backyard pond and a
four-car garage. People at our school can be harsh and seem to judge a person’s popularity on the combination of looks and money, but maybe Miller’s personality makes up for his lack of money because he seems popular. I’ve never known anyone to talk negatively about him.
“Not what you were expecting?”
His words jar me. I put the car in park when I reach the end of the driveway and do my best at pretending nothing about his home shocks me. I change the subject entirely, looking at him with narrowed eyes.
?” I ask, circling back to how he referred to me on his phone call.
“I’m not telling my girlfriend I caught a ride with you,” he says. “It’ll turn into a three-hour interrogation.”
“Sounds like a fun and healthy relationship.”
“It is, when I’m not being interrogated.”
“If you hate being interrogated so much, maybe you shouldn’t be tampering with the city limit.”
He’s out of the car when I say that, but he leans down to look at me before he closes the door. “I won’t mention you were an accomplice if you promise not to mention I’m adjusting the city limit.”
“Buy me new flip-flops, and I’ll forget today even happened.”
He grins as if I amuse him, then says, “My wallet is inside. Follow me.”
I was only kidding, and based on the condition of the home he lives in, I’m not about to take cash from him. But it seems like we somehow developed this sarcastic rapport, so if I suddenly become sympathetic and refuse his money, I feel it might be insulting. I don’t mind insulting him in jest, but I don’t want to
insult him. Besides, I can’t protest because he’s already walking toward his house.
I leave my flip-flops in the car, not wanting to track tar into his house, and follow him barefooted up the creaky steps, noticing the rotting wood on the second step. I skip over that step.
When we walk into the living room, Miller discards his tarred shoes by the front door. I’m relieved to see the inside of the home fares better than the outside. It’s clean and organized, but the decor is ruthlessly trapped in the sixties. The furniture is older. An orange felt couch with your standard homemade afghan draped over the back faces one wall. Two green, extremely uncomfortable-looking chairs face the other. They look midcentury, but not in a modern way. Quite the opposite, actually. I have a feeling this furniture hasn’t been changed out since it was purchased, long before Miller was even born.
The only thing that looks fairly new is a recliner facing the television, but its occupant looks older than the furniture. I can only see a portion of his profile and the top of his balding, wrinkled head, but what little hair he does have is a shiny silver. He’s snoring.
It’s hot inside. Almost hotter than it is outside. The air I’m gently sucking in is warm and smells of bacon grease. The living room window is raised, flanked by two oscillating fans pointed at the man. Miller’s grandfather, probably. He looks too old to be his father.
Miller passes through the living room and heads toward a hallway. It begins to weigh on me, the fact that I’m following him to take his money. It was only a joke. Now it feels like an extremely pathetic show of my character.
When we reach his bedroom, he pushes open the door, but I remain in the hallway. I feel a breeze sweep through his room and reach me. It lifts the hair from my shoulder, and even though the breeze is warm, I find relief in it.
My eyes scroll around Miller’s room. Again, it is not reminiscent of the condition of the outside of his home. There’s a bed, full-size, flush against the far wall.
He sleeps there. Right there, in that bed, tossing about in those white sheets at night.
I force myself to look away from the bed, up at a huge poster of the Beatles hanging where a headboard would normally be. I wonder if Miller is a fan of older music, or if the poster has been here since the sixties, much like the living room furniture. The
house is so old I wouldn’t doubt it if this was his grandfather’s room as a teenager.
But what really catches my eye is the camera on his dresser. It’s not a cheap camera. And there are several different-size lenses next to it. It’s a setup that would make an amateur photographer envious. “You like photography?”
He follows my line of sight to the camera. “I do.” He pulls open the top drawer of his dresser. “But my passion is film. I want to be a director.” He glances at me. “I’d kill to go to UT, but I doubt I can get a scholarship. So community college it is.”
I thought he was making fun of me in the car, but now that I’m looking around his room, it’s sinking in that he really might have been telling me the truth. There’s a stack of books next to his bed. One of them is by Sidney Lumet called
. I walk over and pick it up, flipping through it.
“You’re really nosy,” he mimics.
I roll my eyes and set the book down. “Does the community college even have a film department?”
He shakes his head. “No. But it could be a stepping-stone to somewhere that does.” He walks closer to me, holding a ten-dollar bill between his fingers. “Those shoes are five bucks at Walmart. Go crazy.”
I hesitate, no longer wanting to take the money from him. He sees my hesitation. It makes him sigh, frustrated; then he rolls his eyes and shoves the bill in the front left pocket of my jeans. “The house is shit, but I’m not broke. Take the money.”
I swallow hard.
He just stuck his fingers in my pocket. And I can still feel them, even though they’re no longer there.
I clear my throat and force a smile. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
He tilts his head. “Was it? Because you look hella guilty for taking my money.”
I’m usually a better actress than this. I’m disappointing myself.
I walk toward his doorway, even though I’d love a better look at his bedroom. “No guilt here. You ruined my shoes. You owed me.” I back out of his room and begin to walk down the hallway, not expecting him to follow me, but he does. When I reach the living room, I pause. The old man is no longer in the recliner. He’s in the kitchen, standing next to the refrigerator, twisting the lid off a water bottle. He eyes me with curiosity as he takes a sip.
Miller sidesteps around me. “You take your meds, Gramps?”
He calls him Gramps. It’s kind of adorable.
Gramps looks at Miller with a roll of his eyes. “I’ve taken ’em every damn day since your grandma skipped town. I’m not an invalid.”
,” Miller quips. “And Grandma didn’t skip town. She died of a heart attack.”
“Either way, she left me.”
Miller looks at me over his shoulder and winks. I’m not sure what the wink is for. Maybe to ease the fact that Gramps seems a little like Mr. Nebbercracker, and Miller is assuring me that he’s harmless. I’m beginning to think this is where Miller gets his sarcasm from.
“You’re a nag,” Gramps mutters. “Twenty bucks says I outlive you
your entire generation of Darwin Award recipients.”
Miller laughs. “Careful, Gramps. Your mean side is showing.”
Gramps eyes me for a moment, then looks back at Miller. “Careful, Miller. Your infidelity is showing.”
Miller laughs at that jab, but I’m kind of embarrassed by it. “Careful, Gramps. Your varicose veins are showing.”
Gramps tosses the water bottle lid and hits Miller square in the cheek with it. “I’m rescinding your inheritance in my will.”
“Go ahead. You always say the only thing you have worth any value is air.”
Gramps shrugs. “Air you won’t be inheriting now.”
I finally laugh. I wasn’t positive their banter was friendly before the lid toss.
Miller picks up the lid and fists it in his palm. He motions toward me. “This is Clara Grant. She’s a friend of mine from school.”
I give Gramps a small wave. “Nice to meet you.”
Gramps tilts his head down a little, looking at me very seriously. “Clara Grant?”
“When Miller was six years old, he shit his pants at the grocery store because the automatic flusher on public toilets terrified him.”
Miller groans and opens the front door, looking at me. “I should have known better than to bring you inside.” He motions for me to head outside, but I don’t.
“I don’t know if I’m ready to leave,” I say, laughing. “I kind of want to hear more stories from Gramps.”
“I’ve got plenty,” Gramps says. “In fact, you’ll probably love this one. I have a video from when he was fifteen and we were at the school—”
” Miller snaps, quickly cutting him off. “Take a nap. It’s been five minutes since your last one.” Miller grabs my wrist and pulls me out of the house, closing the door behind him.
“Wait. What happened when you were fifteen?” I’m hoping he finishes that story, because I need to know.
Miller shakes his head and actually seems a little embarrassed. “Nothing. He makes up shit.”
I grin. “No, I think
the one making up shit. I need that story.”
Miller puts a hand on my shoulder and urges me toward the porch steps. “You’re never getting it. Ever.”
“You aren’t aware of my persistence. And I like your grandpa. I might start visiting him,” I tease. “Once the city limit is moved, I’ll order a pepperoni-and-pineapple pizza and listen to your gramps tell embarrassing stories about you.”
?” Miller shakes his head in mock disappointment. “You aren’t welcome here anymore.”
I walk down the steps, skipping the rotted one again. When I’m safe on the grass, I turn around. “You can’t dictate who I get to be friends with. And pineapple on pizza is delicious. It’s the perfect combination of sweet and salty.” I pull out my phone. “Does your gramps have Instagram?”