Authors: Juliana Stone
That slow grin was back, and if my stomach tumbled before, it was now spiraling out of control. Whoosh. Not an entirely pleasant feeling, and in fact, I didn't like it at all.
“You're more complicated than that.”
I laughed nervously. “I'm not complicated at all.”
He grinned. “Well, lucky for me, I've got the entire summer to figure out if you are, in fact, a bitch or just a complicated girl who was having a bad day.”
I didn't know what to say to that, so I said nothing. I exhaled and glanced back up at the moon as if it was the most interesting thing in the world.
Oh no. Nope. That was so not going to happen. I did not need someone like Trevor Lewis on a mission to figure me out.
Mostly because there was too much that had to stay hidden.
It was Thursday afternoon. Everly and I (I couldn't call her Ever, just couldn't) had finished discussing due process of law and procedural due process of law, oh, and let's not forget about substantive due process of law. We were slowly making our way down an impressive list of things that she'd organized, and even though my brain was pretty much fried, I kind of liked this stuff. I just hoped that it stayed where it was supposed to stay. Deep inside my brain for when I'd need it later.
The nagging headache I'd woken up with was still hanging around, but whatever. I'd learned to deal with a lot more than a stupid headache in the last year, and it was totally worth the pain, just so I could be here and watch Everly.
Something about this girl intrigued me. Was it her smile? The way her eyes got really dark when she was concentrating and that little frown appeared between her brows? Was it the way she chewed on the end of her pencil (like now) when she was thinking?
Was it the fact that she'd punched Brett Smith in the throat and threatened to kick him in the gonads?
Or was it the fact that there was a piece of her hidden away? I'd felt it Monday night, and I felt it now. It was in everything that she wasn't saying, and everything she wasn't saying filled the silence up with little mysterious pieces of her. It was those little pieces that I wanted to explore. It was those little pieces that made her different from any girl I'd ever met before.
We'd been studying all week and had fallen into a routine. I showed up at her place just before noon, and we'd head to the library to study. If she wasn't meeting Hailey at the pool afterward, I'd drop her home around five.
We hadn't talked about anything other than government. I hadn't brought up the drive-in, and she'd not said a word either. Not even when she returned my Henley, smelling all fresh and full of Sunlight detergent.
But something was up today. She was distracted, and I'd caught glimpses of that sad look in her eyes.
My cell pinged and I reached for it, grimacing when I saw that it was Jess. For, like, the tenth time. She wanted to hang out later, but Iâ¦
I glanced over my laptop at Everly. She was gnawing on the end of a pencil again, tapping her fingers along the top of the table.
“Something up?” I asked.
Her head whipped up, and she studied me for a few moments and then shook her head. “No.”
Huh. She wasn't making this easy for me. I don't want to sound like an arrogant dick or anything, but yeah, this is totally going to make me sound like an arrogant dick. I'm not used to having to work to make a girl like me. It's just always been easy. Mom says that when I put my mind to it, I can charm the pants off anyone. Said I'd been doing it since the day I was born and Dad had to practically wrestle me from a couple of enamored nurses. Something about my rosebud mouth.
Apparently Everly Jenkins hadn't gotten that particular memo.
“What are you doing tonight?” I asked, watching her closely.
Everly's eyes were dark again. She cleared her throat, which was a delaying tactic, one I'd learned she used a lot when she was trying to figure out what to say. Or more importantly, what not to say.
“I have youth group.”
Her eyebrows shot up.
“Yes. Youth group. As in a bunch of teenagers, who would be the youth, who have nothing better to do on a Thursday night but get together, which would be the group, in the church basement.”
“What do you guys do?” I was picturing choirs and hallelujah and much praising of the Lord.
“We talk and stuff.”
Wow. She really was in a mood.
“That makes exciting seem lame,” I teased.
“It's not a joke, Trevor. It used to be a lot of fun.”
“Used to,” I repeated slowly. “So what changed?”
There went the pencil again. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. She shrugged. “I guess I did.” The tapping stopped. “Why are you asking me all these questions?”
I leaned back in my chair, happy that we were engaged on some level other than due process of law.
“Why are you in such a bad mood?”
She tossed the pencil. “I'm not.”
“You're full of crap.”
She leaned forward, elbows on the table, and for a second, my gaze dropped. How could it not? She was wearing this pale yellow blouse, and the top buttons had come undone. I could be a nice guy and tell her about it, but right now, I was about as far from being a nice guy as snow was from Louisiana.
Everly Jenkins had cleavage andâI grinnedâwas wearing a matching yellow bra.
doing tonight?” she asked, oblivious to the fact that the more she leaned toward me, the more of that creamy, smooth skin was exposed. I noticed little daisies decorating the bra straps.
“I don't know. That depends.”
This here. This was flirting at its best. The kind of flirting that a guy enjoyed, mostly because it was kind of like foreplay. There was something between Everly and me, and man, I wanted to explore it. Considering I hadn't been all that interested in any girl since my accident and breakup with Bailey, that was saying something. For the longest time I'd been afraid of rejection. I mean, what kind of girl wants to date a guy whose marbles aren't always intact?
“On what?” she asked, a little out of breath now.
I could tell she was surprised. “Me?”
Mrs. Henney shushed us, so I leaned closer and lowered my voice. “Let's do something tonight.”
Everly glanced over to Mrs. Henney, who was looking at us like we'd committed some sort of a crime or something. When Everly's gaze swung back to me, I felt like I'd been hit with something. It made me stop for a bit and think. Was this just a physical reaction to a pretty girl? Or something more?
“I've already told you I have youth group.”
I had to blink, because suddenly Everly was out of focus. Her big blue eyes wavered a bit, and my stomach rolled. Okay. I could deal with this. Sometimes my vision goes a little wonky. It doesn't happen that often, but the headache that had followed me around all day should have been warning enough.
I was an ace at acting as if everything was good. I took a moment. Shit. My stomach didn't feel so hot. I took another moment.
“So I'll come,” I finally managed to say.
I waited as the wave of nausea finally rolled away and then breathed out nice and slow, toying with my laptop case as a distraction.
“Yeah, to church. I'll come.”
“You won't like it.”
Okay, I was starting to get annoyed. That, coupled with the fact that all of a sudden, my head felt as if it was being ripped apart from the inside out, made my voice a little sharp, but shit, what was her problem anyway?
“How do you know what I like?”
Heat surged through me, and I had a weird moment when I felt as if I was standing outside my body. My mouth was dry, and I reached for the water bottle on the table beside my laptop.
Except my hand didn't do what I wanted it to. I stared at the water bottle, trying to figure out why I couldn't get to it. I'm not real sure how long I did that, but suddenly I felt Everly's hand on my arm.
She was talking to me but it sounded like she was talking from far away, like when you're in the city and just getting off the subway at night. If you shout, the walls make it seem as if your words can fly anywhere.
I tried to tell her that I felt like shit. I tried to grab the water bottle. I tried to tell her that I'd go to her stupid youth group meeting because for most of our study session, all I'd thought about was getting her alone. Which was kind of defeated by the whole youth group thing, but a guy would take what he could get.
But none of those words came out. My mouth was still dry, and my vision was really starting to freak me the hell out.
She leaned in real close, and I could smell that light summery scent that was all Everly. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't understand what she was saying, and I banged my knee against the table. Once. Twice. And as my anger increased, a third time.
God, I was hot.
I was hot and pissed and scared.
What the hell was happening to me? My skin felt too small for my body, and my brain felt like it was going to explode. Saliva was pooling in my mouth which (A) was gross, and (B) freaked me out more than the vision thing.
Mrs. Henney was in my face now, the bottle of water I wanted in her wrinkled hands. She offered it to me. I saw the bottle floating in the air like an astronaut, just drifting in front of my eyes. Why couldn't I grab it?
Then I was fading. Going away somewhere dark, and the last thing I remember thinking was that Everly was going to see something I was pretty sure would be the most uncool thing ever. And that maybe I was dying.
And that totally sucked.
It was Saturday morning, and I had the kitchen to myself. Mom was off to yoga class, her neon yellow pants still burned into my retinas. Seriously, no female over the age of ten should wear that color. I don't care if your butt is tight, it's just kind of wrong. But my mom was all about sunshine and happy, or at least the appearance of sunshine and happy, so yellow was her color of choice lately.
She'd done a drive-by, kissed the air near my cheek before grabbing her water bottle, and was gone. Dad was in his office, working on his sermon for tomorrow (thank God, because it was too early to play pretend), and Isaac was still in bed.
I'd been up for a while and had been sitting in the same spot at the table, staring into a cup of cold coffee, wondering what Trevor was doing. Was he still in bed? Was he okay? Was he still as freaked out by what had happened as I was?
My stomach rumbled just then, and I thought that maybe I should make myself something to eat. Something adventurous like a poached egg or French toast. On second thought, both of those choices seemed like too much work. Bagel and chocolate spread it was.
I was just about to get off my butt when my dad walked into the kitchen. He helped himself to the last bit of coffee in the pot and leaned against the counter. He was his regular Saturday self. Hair slightly askew, unshaven, and sleep still in his eyes.
He was beautiful, my dad, but we all know that beauty can hide dark and sinful things, because the reality was that my beautiful father was a snake. He just hadn't shed his skin yet.
“So how's Trevor?”
Funny. His voice still held that extra bit of warmth that wrapped every single word he uttered in a blanket of nice. Safe. Trustworthy. It was his secret weapon.
Too bad it was a total lie.
I shoved my cup away. Guess today wasn't the day he was going to come clean, which meant that today wasn't the day I could stop playing pretend. I'd thought about confronting him. I thought about it every single day. And every single day I thought
no, today isn't the day I want his lie to be real
, because once his lie becomes my reality, I'd have to face a whole lot of other stuff I wasn't ready for. It was a coward's way out, but right now, being a coward was getting me through life.
So I took an extra moment to get my game face on (go, Everly, go) before I answered him with the most epic answer ever.
“I don't know.”
And I didn't. The truth was I hadn't been able to stop thinking about Trevor since Thursday. The whole thing had been awful to watch, and thank goodness Mrs. Henney had been there. She'd shoved her sweater under Trevor's head and just held him. I'd never felt so helpless in my life, so I couldn't imagine what Trevor had been feeling. The ambulance had whisked him off to the hospital, leaving me to deal with all the kids who'd been there. Their questions had been stupid and I left without answering any of them.
“Did he, like, bite his tongue of
“Is he going to die?”
“I hope whatever he has isn't contagious, like a disease or something.”
“It was a seizure, wasn't it?”
Earth to Everly. Startled, I nodded.
“Hmm. I'll keep him in my prayers.”
“You do that.” The words fell out of me before I could stop them, and I tensed, fingers gripped to my coffee mug.
I heard his feet scuff the floor, and inside my head I said every single bad word that I was never allowed to say, and I repeated a few of them. The really bad ones. He pulled out the chair across from me and set his cup on the table.
“What's going on with you, Everly?” Again with the warmth. Even now when I knew that he was angry with me. The warmth. It was nauseating.
I glanced up and shrugged. “Nothing.”
My dad, who was in his early forties, was a cross between Jared Leto (I guess the Jesus factor was a bonus, considering he worked one of his day jobs from a pulpit) and the guy who played Superman. His hair was still as dark as mine, though when he forgot to shave, there were a few silver hairs on his chin. His eyes were blue, but not the dark blue that mine were. His were so light that when I was little, I thought he'd somehow trapped the sun inside them.
“Are we going to talk about what's been going on with you?” he asked. “You haven't been yourself, and Everly, I've got to tell you, I'm concerned.”
For one perfect moment I let the warmth of his voice wrap me in that blanket of “it's going to be okay.” For that one perfect moment it washed over me, and for that one perfect moment I felt some kind of hope.
But as much as a lot of folks in this town think that I live inside some weird, perfect world, I'd love to tell each and every one of them that there aren't any perfect moments that are real. Not really.
So this one passed, and as I stared into my father's eyes, the familiar pangs of hurt rushed up from my heart and crushed my larynx.
Again, I shrugged because I had nothing else. My throat was so tight I couldn't speak, so I grabbed my coffee cup and downed the rest of it, nearly choking on the cold, overly sweet remnants that hung at the bottom. Smart move. Wiping the back of my hand across my mouth, I glared at him, in this moment blaming him for every single crappy thing that I could think of.
“Everly,” he said slowly, so slowly that those three syllables could have been four.
“Why don't we talk about you?” I managed to squeeze out.
My dad cleared his throat. “Is there something you want to say to me?”
Man. There were hundreds of words inside me, dying to be heard. Thousands probably, and now that he was finally giving me the chance to say them, which ones would I pick? Which ones were the sharpest? The most brutal? Which ones would pierce through flesh
The only problem was that I was going to fall apart before I'd be able to get any of them out. It's just the way I was built. I, Everly Jenkins, am a crier, and an ugly crier to boot. I cried when I was happy. I cried when I was upset or angry. And I for sure cried whenever I was confronted with something like wanting to tell my dad that I knew about his secret.
Breathe. Just breathe.
“Everly, whatever this is, we need to talk about it. I'm here for you, sweets, you know that. I can help you. Does it have something to do with Trevor? Was he taking drugs? Is that why he had a seizure?”
Wow. I think I had to pull my jaw off the table.
“Just because he has long hair and tattoos, you think he does drugs?”
“That's not what I said.”
“It's what you implied.”
He frowned. “Everly.”
“Why do you go to New Orleans so much?” The words came out in a rush. They weren't sharp and they sure as heck wouldn't pierce through flesh and bone. But they were a start.
This was his chance to explain. His chance to be honest. His chance to tell me that everything was going to be fine and that he still loved all of us. His chance to maybe admit he was human after all and not this perfect, upstanding pastor who was nothing more than a big fat lie.
“Is that what this is about?” he asked.
He got up and set his coffee cup on the counter before reaching into the cupboard for his extra-chunky peanut butter. “I counsel a troubled youth group, Everly. You know that.” He grabbed a bagel out of the bread box, sliced it, and then tossed it into the toaster just like he'd done every single morning since
The tears, oh the tears, they were right there, like hot little bullets just waiting to spring from my eyes. But I forced them back, my body tense like a boxer's before a fight. When my father turned to face me, his eyes didn't hold the sun anymore.
I wondered if he could read my thoughts. I wondered if he knew that ever since
morning, I'd thought the same thing over and over again.
You're lying. You're a liar. You're a lying piece of crap.
“Right. The troubled youth group.” I pushed back from the table. “Can I have the car? Like, you don't need to go to
or anything today, do you? Can the troubled youth of
live without you today?”
The sarcasm, it was heavy, and I knew my father didn't know how to handle this side of me. I'd always been his angel. His good little girl. The one who believed all the bullshit and the lies. The one who still believed that her dad was a man above all others. A guy who lived by the words that he preached.
“Good,” I said abruptly. “I'm going to visit Trevor.”
I pushed past him, scooped the keys out of the little porcelain dog near the fridge, and ignored the silence that followed in my wake as I ran up the stairs, not stopping until I was in my room.
The face that greeted me in the mirror was angry. It was full of blotchy patches of skin and eyes that were too shiny. I yanked a brush through my hair and slipped into the first thing I grabbed out of my closet, a blue summer dress that was faded and old, but whatever. I was never going to be a fashionista like Hailey, so why should I care?
After slipping into a pair of flip-flops, I grabbed my purse and ran out the front door before he could stop me.
Twenty minutes later, I stood on the porch of Trevor's house, nodding like an idiot as his mother told me that Trevor didn't want to see anyone right now.
Mortified, I glanced down at my toes. What was I doing here anyway? Trevor and I weren't exactly friends. I'm not sure what we were, but I knew that I should not have expected him to want to see me.
“Oh, okay, Mrs. Lewis. I'm so sorry to bother you”âI glanced at my watch and wincedâ“so early on a Saturday morning. I guess I wasn't thinking.”
“Please,” she said softly. “Call me Brenda.” She stood back a bit, her brows furrowed. “Have you had breakfast? I'm just in the middle of making waffles and strawberries.”
“Oh, no.” I cleared my throat. “Thank you so much, but I've gotâ¦ahâ¦” Nothing whatsoever to do because right now, my life is sucking huge donkey balls.
“It's no trouble, really.” Her eyes were soft, the lines around her mouth deep. “I'd love to talk about how Trevor's doing with his studies. That's if you have the time?”
Time? That was a good one. I had all the time in the world, because Hailey was gone for the weekend on her family's annual camping trip, and there was no way I was going home. Not now.
“It's no trouble, Everly, really.”
I gave a half shrug, mostly because I had nowhere else to go and, well, the smell of cinnamon was making my mouth water. “I could stay for a bit.”
“Good,” Brenda Lewis said, her smile wide as she stood back and motioned for me to come inside.
She had a nice smile. A slow crooked smile. Kind of like Trevor's.