Authors: Juliana Stone
The boy who stood on the porch was sweaty and half naked and not the old guy I was expecting. At all.
I suppose he was going for some kind of badass look with a red bandana wrapped around his head and his jean shorts hanging so low off his hips I could see the top of his boxers, but seriously?
Did all guys think us girls really gave a crap what brand of boxers they wore? Personally, I thought the whole look was ridiculous and couldn't imagine what it felt like to walk around with your pants falling off. Uncomfortable maybe. Ridiculous for sure.
He wasn't wearing a shirt either, and I'm sure that's why my eyes automatically focused on his tattoo. It was interesting to look atâexotic symbols in black inkâstarting from the top of his shoulder and traveling down to just above his bicep.
I had never wanted a tattoo, but the summer before my world went into the toilet, I'd wanted a belly ring. Badly. All the girls at school were getting them, and I didn't think they came close to tattoos on the trashy scale, maybe a seven out of ten, but my mother was horrified at the idea. Her comeback had been, “that's something you can think about when you're old enough to vote.”
End of story, because my dad is a wuss and always sided with her.
“Hey,” he said.
I didn't answer at first and moved so I could peek around him, but there was no old guy, and he seemed to be alone.
“Are you here for the fence?”
His eyes narrowed slightly, most likely because I came off sounding rude. But in my defense, he was late and had interrupted my nap. And these days, napping was a pretty important part of my day. Too important, according to my parents, which was one of the reasons they'd sent me to Gram's for the summer. In the city, they were at work and I was aloneâfree to sleep as long as I wanted to and free to spend my days in pajamas.
Gram didn't let me hang in my pajamas. She might not have figured out how to make me brush my hair every day, but she sure knew how to guilt me out of my pajamas.
“Who are you?” he asked instead of answering my question.
“Who are you?” I shot back.
“I asked first.”
Okay, what are we, like, five?
He scrubbed at his chin and sort of sighed. I got the impression that he wasn't exactly in a great mood, but then I wasn't either, so I guess we were even on that count.
I'm not sure how long we stood there, staring at each other with only the buzzing of the bees in the honeysuckle to fill the space between us. I shifted my weight, suddenly aware that my hair hung down the back of my neck like a limp rag. A limp, tangled rag that hadn't been brushed in days.
“Monroe,” I finally answered.
“Monroe,” he repeated, as if he didn't believe me.
I tugged my cami strap back into place.
“You have a problem with my name?”
He shook his head, “nope,” and ran his hand across the back of his neck. I'm sure he did it because it pushed his chest out.
Pushed his chest out and emphasized his abs. Not that I was looking or anything, but it was kinda hard not to notice when he was soâ¦naked.
“I'm just here to do a job.” He stood back. “Do you know where the family bones are buried or not?”
I considered lying, but what was the point? Gram wouldn't be impressed, besides, it's not like I had to stay out there and keep him company. The sooner I showed him where the crypt was, the sooner I could get back to the important business of having a nap.
I pushed past him and waited for the door to slam shut behind me before heading down the front steps and out to the back of the house. His supplies were set on the back porch, and I waited for him to grab themâa paint can and a couple of brushesâbefore following the stone path that led into the fancy gardens.
Gram's plantation is one of the fanciest in Louisiana. A Greek revival, it's been used in movies a few times, and while I don't find the house all that impressiveâit's oldâI've always loved the gardens. There is a maze to the left of the house, one I used to spend a lot of time in when I was younger, playing pretend or reading a book. And beyond it, set back on a small hill surrounded by mature oak trees, is the family crypt. It doesn't look as though it's far from the house, and I suppose it isn't, but by the time we reached it, I was breathing heavy.
Which was embarrassing, because I'm Soccer GirlâI'm in good shapeâor at least I used to be back before I started taking naps every afternoon and not caring.
I turned and felt my cheeks flush when I found his eyes already on me. After clearing my throat and attempting to sound as normal as I could, I spoke. “What's your name?”
“Nathan,” he said.
“Does Nathan have a last name?” Crap. Now he was going to think that I actually cared.
A hint of a grin touched the corner of his mouth, and God help me, but my cheeks stung even more. I bet they were as red as the apples in the bowl on Gram's table.
“Last name is Everets, and you?”
He tossed his brushes on top of the paint can at his feet. “Where are you from, Monroe Blackwell?”
Nathan approached the iron fence, which was faded and chipped and looked like a black and white cow had exploded all over it.
I shoved my hands into my back pocket and blew a curl out of my eye.
“And you're here becauseâ¦”
I'm here because no one knows what to do with me.
“Look, I don't really want to do this talking buddy thing, so I'm just going to let you get started, okay?”
He shrugged but didn't say anything, and for some reason that irritated me. I wasn't used to being dismissed like that. I was used to being under a microscopeâused to having every action analyzed and picked apart. I was used to my parents, teachers, and friends hanging onto every word that came out of my mouth as if it was gospel.
Of course, the gospel according to Monroe isn't exactly full of rainbows and unicorns, but as long as I was talking, they were happy. Because a talking Monroe wasn't as scary to deal with as the nonverbal version I'd been several months ago. Back then, I was almost straitjacket material.
Back thenâ¦I shuddered. Nope. Not going there today.
Once more, I yanked on my cami straps, pulling on the material a little so that it wasn't plastered to my chest. Even though there was shade from the oak trees, I thought that it would be pretty awful to spend the afternoon out here painting. Because it wasn't just hot, it was oppressive.
It made me wonder about Nathan.
His shorts were Abercrombie, his boots Doc'sâhis aforementioned boxers, again Abercrombie. He didn't talk like an idiot even though the bandana was hick, and he looked like he came from money. It made me wonder why he was stuck out here painting some old lady's iron fence on an afternoon meant for pools or beaches. Or anyplace other than here.
He glanced back at me, and I turned quickly, because even though it looked like I was staring at himâI wasn't. Well, I wasn't staring at
“What does your tattoo mean?” I said in a rush.
“I thought you didn't want to talk.”
“I don't,” I stammered, hating how flustered I felt.
He didn't say anything for a moment; in fact, several moments passed before he looked at his shoulder and shrugged. “It's Celtic.”
Wow. Wasn't he just brimming with information?
“Celtic, as inâ¦”
He cleared his throat in that way my dad does when my mom grills him about something and he doesn't want to answer. For whatever reason, this Nathan was more closed off and unfriendly than I was, which made me even more interested in himâor rather, in why he was like that.
“As in I don't know what it means, I just thought it looked cool.”
I didn't believe him. You don't get ink for no reason.
“Well, at least you didn't get your girlfriend's name on your skin becauseâ¦”
His head snapped up.
God. Now he was going to think that I was fishing to see if he had a girlfriend, and I wasn't. My cheeks stung and I knew they were even more red than before. Well, crap. Now he was really going to think I was into him,
Instead, he looked at me as if I was a retard. “That would be stupid.”
Okay, so the girlfriend thing was a sore subject, and he totally didn't care what I was thinking. In fact, he seemed kinda pissed. “It's been known to happen,” I retorted.
His eyes narrowed as if he was trying to figure me out, and that's when I realized it was time to go. I was sinking out here, and suddenly the effort to stay on solid ground was too much. I felt a little woozy and thought of my bed.
I took a step back. “Okay, I'll leave you to it.”
“Sure. Nice meeting you, princess.”
“It's Monroe,” I shot back with the voice of a five-year-old. Hello. What was it about this boy that turned me into an immature child with no filters?
Nathan bent over to open up his paint can without saying another word, and I hurried back to the house. Not once did I look back. Not even when I reached the maze and could have snuck a peek without him seeing.
I marched straight into the house and, once inside, drank two glasses of water before the weariness of my lifeâmy very existenceâpulled me down. It took way too much energy to be anything other than apathetic.
It was a heavy feeling and one I was used to, so I did what I always did when it hit. I trudged upstairs, flopped onto my bed, and thought longingly of the little blue pills that were no longer mine to enjoy.
I closed my eyes, turned and snuggled into my pillow, and prayed for sleep.
Thank you for reading
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