Authors: Juliana Stone
We didn't study Tuesday because Trevor had an appointment with a specialist at the hospital. He didn't elaborate on what the specialist needed to see him about, and since it was none of my business, I didn't ask. Besides, I was mortified every time I thought of how my mother had acted at dinner.
She'd been drunk. My mom, Terry Jenkins, who only drank the occasional glass of wine, had gotten drunk and acted weird in front of Trevor. And if that hadn't been bad enough, I'd fallen into his arms like an emotionally unstable crazy person who'd cried her eyes out and then hiccupped most of the way to his house.
But it had felt good. Not the embarrassed part or emotionally unstable part or crying part either. The holding part had felt amazing. His arms around me had felt better than good, and I'd spent a lot of time thinking about it. Comparing him to my ex-boyfriend, Jason. So much so that when I met Hailey down at the pool, she'd known something was up pretty much right away.
I waited for her shift to end, and then we walked over to buy some ice cream. As I pondered my choices, she turned to me, eyebrows askew.
“Why are you so distracted?”
“Yes, you are.”
Annoyed, I made a face. “Why would you say that?”
She ignored my question and ordered us both a chocolate cone with chunks of peanut butter.
“Is it Trevor?”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I'm sure.”
“Then why are you blushing?”
“I'm notâ¦” I started, but I totally was. In fact, the longer she stared at me with that half smile on her face, the hotter my cheeks felt.
“Did he kiss you?” she asked, handing me my ice cream cone.
“What? No, we're just study buddies.”
I licked the top of my cone. “He's pretty intense.”
She got this “duh” expression on her face. “Of course he is. Trevor Lewis is an artist. A guitar player. Those dudes are all intense. Link's the same.”
“Really?” I replied. “So you and Link are dating?”
“Dating?” She looked horrified. “No one dates, Everly. Geez, what is this middle school? We hang out.” Her grin widened. “A lot.”
“So you're hooking up.”
“No, it's more than that.”
“Then what is it?”
She giggled. “I don't know, but I'm having fun finding out. He's so artistic, you know? Like he paints and has even done some sculpting. He's got this thing at his house, it's this bigâ¦” She laughed, holding her arms wide. “I don't know what it is exactly butâ¦hello! Sculpting? What guy does that? And oh my God, does he know how to kiss.”
Great. I had to listen to a detailed account of Link's fantastical tongue and this technique he used with hisâ¦ I'm not sure what she was talking about, because my mind was wandering into uncharted territory.
The Trevor Lewis kind of uncharted territory.
“So do you like him?” Hailey asked.
“Trevor, you idiot.”
By this time we were nearly done our cones. “He's intense.”
“You already pointed that out and I agreed, remember?”
I knew Hailey well enough to know she wasn't going to let this go.
“I don't think it matters if I like him or not.”
Hailey grabbed my arm. “Why?”
“He's leaving when the summer is over, Hales. He's heading off to New York City to hook up with Nathan Everets. He's got his life planned, you know?”
“And you don't? You're going to college in the fall and so am I. So what? That doesn't mean we can't have fun this last summer. In fact, it means we're supposed to be having the best summer of our lives. This is it, Everly. Our last blast of fun before the next phase. And who's to say that a relationship can't survive college?”
“Relationship?” I snorted. “So that's what you have going with Link? You guys just started hanging out last week andâ¦”
Did I have to spell it out? “He's Link. I don't think he's ever had a serious girlfriend.”
“People change, Everly.”
I thought of my parents. When had things changed for my father?
She hugged me. “Besides, we're not sixteen-year-old kids anymore.”
“No.” I shook my head and tried not to laugh. “We're a whole year older.”
“I'm serious,” she said with a giggle. “Our lives are about to change forever, and right now is the time for us to experience anything and everything. If we don't grab what we want now, it might pass by and we'll never know.”
“Never know what?”
She shrugged. “Well, for starters, you'll never know if Trevor Lewis is the best thing that could have happened to you right now, in this moment.”
“Wow. You've been reading too many John Green novels.”
“And you're being way too pessimistic for a teenager.”
“We're teenagers, Hales. We're supposed to be pessimistic.”
We reached my place, and I noticed that my mom's car was in the driveway, which was strange since normally she didn't get home from volunteering at the old folks' home until at least five o'clock.
“What's up with your mom?” Hailey asked as we paused at the end of my driveway.
Okay. That wasn't how our conversations ever went.
“What do you mean?” Instantly, I was on high alert. I'd not said one word to a soul about what was going on at home. I knew the cracks were starting to show, but still, the only one who'd witnessed it had beenâ¦
“Did Trevor say something to Link?” I asked hesitantly.
“Trevor? No, why would he?”
“Well, what do you mean?” I asked, not answering her question.
“Nothing, really. I ran into her at the coffee shop this morning, and she just looked, well, honestly she looked like she'd been crying.”
I didn't know what to say, so I shrugged and said nothing for a few moments. I hadn't come down for breakfast until Mom had left for work and Dad left for his part-time job at the local community college.
“PMS?” I offered up.
“God, she must be as bad as my mom is. Man, she's brutal lately.” She scrunched up her face. “I bet they're going through menopause. My grams told me she was like a witch when she went through it.”
I eyed my mom's car again. Why was she home already?
“I'd ask you to come in, but I have a feeling her PMS is still hanging around.”
“That's all right. Mom and I are heading to the city for a bit of shopping, remember?”
Oh. Right. I passed on that when she'd asked me the day before.
“Are you sure you don't want to come? We could swing by and scoop you up in half an hour.”
“I'm really not in the mood for shopping. Go have fun with your mom.”
“Yeah, while I have a PMS-free window,” she said with a giggle. She paused. “Has Trevor said anything to you about the big party Friday night?”
I shook my head. “No.”
“Oh.” Hailey looked surprised. “I'm sure he will. Link and I are going and so are the rest of the guys from the band. I heard that Nathan might be home for the weekend, and Brent is back too.”
Something hot twisted inside my chest. It felt like everything was changing way too fast. Like I was spinning in circles and everything that meant anything to me was disappearing.
“Don't worry about it,” I said with a tight smile. “Trevor and I aren'tâ¦well, we're not anything. Like I said earlier, we're just study buddies.”
Hailey gave me a big hug and whispered, “But you guys would be so good together. I bet he asks you.”
“I'm not exactly Trevor Lewis material.”
Hailey stood back and frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Hailey. He dated Hannah Modar, and we all know she's been having sex since the eighth grade, and then he moved on to Jade Dearling,”
Hales rolled her eyes and nodded when I mentioned Jade.
“And he just broke up with Bailey. I'm nothing like any of those girls.”
“No, you're not. You're just you.”
“Yeah. But why would Trevor be interested in someone like me when he can be with someone like Jess? Or any of those other girls? They're playing at an entirely different level than me.”
“Who's Jess?” I repeated loudly. “She's the girl who was all over him at the drive-in.”
“Oh,” Hales replied, dragging out a one-syllable word until it sounded like four.
“I still don't get why you think those girls are somehow above you. That's just ridiculous.”
“Well, it doesn't feel that way,” I muttered.
“Is it because they're having sex and you're still a virgin?”
“Um, yeah. That's a pretty big difference between me and them, don't you think?”
“What I think is that you're overreacting. Sex is a big deal, and it's supposed to mess with our heads, but you can't let it rule your life. Either you're doing it or not. You just have to be true to yourself. You'll know when the right time and the right guy comes along.”
“But isn't that what most boys think about? Like 24/7?”
Hailey made a face. “Well, yeah, but that doesn't mean girls aren't thinking about it 24/7 either. That's kind of a sexist comment.”
I shook my head. “Not me.”
She squared her shoulders. “You're full of crap. You don't honestly expect me to believe that you've been hanging with the very hot and very available Trevor Lewis and not once has sex crossed your mind.”
I opened my mouth but nothing came out.
“See? You can't lie to me, Everly Jenkins.”
She was right about that.
“Sure, I've thought about sex, butâ¦”
Her eyebrow popped up as if it was a little soldier standing at attention. “But?”
“He hasn't even tried to kiss me.”
She elbowed me. “I bet you'll find out this weekend.”
Hailey's expression was comical, and I couldn't help but giggle with her. “I guess we'll have to wait and see.”
She gave me another quick hug. “You sure you don't want to come with us and buy something super trashy to wear to the bush party?”
“No, go and have fun with your mom.”
“Okay,” she said, taking a few steps backward. “I'll text you pics later so have your phone handy because I might need your opinion. Lord knows my mom has no fashion sense.”
I watched Hailey until she rounded the corner and then pushed past the gate, only then spotting my brother sitting under the large oak tree, picking at the grass.
“Isaac, what are youâ¦”
But my sentence remained unfinished because it was then that I heard the raised voices. Or rather, raised voice. My mother's. I couldn't make out the words exactly, but did it really matter? My parents never fought, or at least they'd never fought in a way that we noticed. But maybe the polite ignorance they'd been dancing around for the last year wasn't good enough. Maybe a loud in-your-face fight is exactly what they needed.
Or maybe this was finally the end.
I slowly slid into the grass beside Isaac and tried to ignore the butterflies diving around in my stomach. They were nervous butterflies. Anxious and unsure. And man, did they make me feel yucky.
“Has that been going on for a while, buddy?”
His skinny shoulders hunched a bit and then he nodded.
“We should probably hang out here for a while then,” I said gently, feeling hot tears prick my eyes as Isaac slowly nodded. He didn't say a word. He inched closer to me and rested his head in my lap as he continued to pull at the grass and send it flying.
I glanced up at my house. My perfect, beautiful, and well-maintained house, with the neat driveway and clean, respectable vehicles parked there. Our grass was lush, the flowers vibrant, the paint fresh.
As I listened to my mom's voice get loud and then fall again, I couldn't help but wonder. Why couldn't they maintain our family the way they did their things? Why was the picture they presented to the world so much more important than the people behind the portrait?
And why was my dad living a lie?
Pretty heavy questions, and I wasn't naÃ¯ve enough to think that I'd get answers anytime soon. In fact, I had a feeling things were going to get worse before they got better, so I should get used to it.
This was my so-called perfect life.
We decided to continue studying at the library, and though it was hard that first day, with Mrs. Henney and her 101 questions, I got through it. Not because my skin was thick like an alligator's or slick like Teflon, but because I knew Everly didn't want to be home.
So I sucked it up, and after the initial stares and whispers, things settled down. Wednesday and Thursday went by quickly, but today had been slow as hell. Something was definitely up with Everly. I tried to ask her about it, but she shut me down with one of her looks.
This Everly was closed off, and normally I'd be up for a challenge, but not today. Today I had a lot of stuff on my mind, and having the headache from hell didn't help. My eyes hurt, and after an hour, I told Everly that I was done. I could tell she was pissedâabout what, I had no ideaâbut then again, so was I. After texting my dad for a ride, I scooped up my laptop and books. I asked her if she wanted a lift home, but she shook her head. Said she was going to hang at the library for a bit and that I'd see her next week.
At that point I set my books back down on the table and shoved my hands into my front pockets because they were fisted and angry.
“Did I do something to piss you off?” I asked, watching her closely. In the space of a few weeks, I'd learned that Everly was a crappy liar. I'd also learned that when she was upset or angry, her eyes looked glassy and much darker. Kind of like they looked right now.
“Nope,” she answered crisply. “Just make sure you study the Fifth Amendment rights because I'll be grilling you about them Monday.”
“No, I'm not.”
What was it with girls? Why can't they just say it like it is? Girls get pissy or whatever, and it's a big thing that carries on for days or weeks. Shit, when guys have a disagreement, they get in each other's faces, have it out, and go back to being buddies.
“Everly,” I said carefully, not wanting to leave until I'd at least scored a smile out of her.
“What are you doing this weekend?” she asked abruptly.
Okay. That was out of left field. Surprised, I shrugged. “Nothing.” A pause. “Why?” I asked slowly. “Do you want to hang out?”
“No.” Wow. No hesitation there.
She stared at me for a long time, and I tried like hell to think of what I could have said or done to warrant this mood, but I came up with nothing. I decided to let it be. Lord knows my dad had certainly done that many times over, because like he said, girls are strange animals, and we'd be fools to try and figure them out.
“Okay,” I said, scooping up my bag. “I'll talk to you tomorrow.”
“We study on Monday.”
“I know, but I'll talk to you tomorrow.”
That had been hours ago, and it was still bugging me when our doorbell rang. Friday night in my house is date night for my parents, so they'd left around six, heading to the city for dinner and a movie. Taylor was still grounded, so her bitchy scowl was intact as she flipped through the TV channels like a madwoman.
And me? I'd been sitting at the kitchen table texting with Link and Nathan for the last hour. The two of them were trying to convince me to go to this big summer bush bash, but I didn't want to. Everyone would be there and I justâ¦
Summer parties in my corner of the world consisted of bonfires, drinking, and music. The drinking I could handle. I wasn't doing it these days, especially not now that I was taking new meds since Tuesday.
It was the music thing. I knew that Link would be there with a couple of acoustics, and I'd be expected to play. Shit, I could barely keep my concentration going long enough to run a few easy scales. How was I supposed to play and sing with everyone watching?
The doorbell went again.
“Language, Taylor.” I mimicked my mother perfectly and shot a look into the family room. I was teasing, but if looks could kill, I'd be dead.
“I hate you.”
“Well, can you get that? We both know it's not for me. It's not as if I'm allowed to go to, like, the hottest party of the summer.”
I headed for the front door, but I knew who it was, and before I had a chance to answer it, it flew open and my best friend walked through as if he'd never gone away.
“Dude,” Nathan grinned, hauling his girlfriend Monroe in behind him. “I'm not taking no for an answer. Link's already out there, and I'm not leaving without you.”
I grabbed his shoulder the way guys do and then pushed him back before smiling at the small girl beside him.
“Trevor.” She reached up and kissed me on the cheek. “You look great,” she whispered.
That wasn't surprising, considering the last time she'd seen me, I'd still been weak and kind of broken. Too skinny and too slow from all the time I'd been in a coma. It had been a tough haul, getting my muscle memory back.
Nathan was quiet for a few moments, and I saw Monroe squeeze his hand. Something flickered in the depths of his eyes, and I knew he was thinking back to another party. Back to another night when our world had exploded into shattering glass, twisted metal, and for me, scrambled brains.
“Trev, I've only got tonight, man. Tomorrow we're with my family and then Monday we're heading back to New York. You gotta come. It will be like old times. The whole gang back together.”
“Hey!” Monroe punched him in the shoulder, a big smile on her face. “What about me?”
He laughed and kissed her. “New friends too.”
They looked like they had the world by the balls, and watching them, I realized that for the first time ever, I was jealous of my buddy.
Jealousy didn't taste so good.
“New York looks good on you,” I managed to say.
Nate grinned. “It's so much better than we even thought it could be. Dude, I busked in Times Square last week. Times Square! The vibe, the sceneâ¦it's what we thought it would be but way better.” He slapped me on the shoulder. “When you finally get your ass out there, you'll see. We're going to rule, man.”
I nodded, tried to smile even, but it was hard to ramp up my enthusiasm level when I had no idea if my head was going to explode.
“Are you okay?” Monroe asked softly, her hand on my arm.
I hadn't told Nate about my seizure and instructed Link not to say anything either. I was still dealing with what it meant, what it could mean, and I didn't want to deal with Nate's guilt too.
I knew he felt it.
I knew he felt it twist like a knife, but I was exhausted enough, and taking on the burden of his guilt would probably send me over the cliff I'd been straddling for days now.
“I'm good,” I replied, fake smile pasted to my face.
“So are you coming or what?” Nate asked.
I glanced toward my sister. She was watching some stupid bachelorette show, the volume level was at eardrum-damage, and her everybody-hates-me scowl was getting old.
“What's up with Taylor?” Nate asked.
“What did she do?”
“Nothing that Trevor hasn't done before,” she shouted from the family room. Man, my sister had some ears on her.
Taylor pretty much made my decision. “Let me grab my cell.”
The ride out to the bush party didn't take long. We lived in the middle of nowhere, yes, but bush parties always took place in the forest behind the old abandoned drive-in on the edge of town. The cops usually knew what was up and kept an eye out, but unless things got out of control, they left us alone. Wasn't like there was anything else to do.
By the time we got there, it was dark and the glow off the tops of the trees could be seen from the road. That meant some kind of bonfire.
“Lots of cars,” I said as we pulled up beside a beat-up and rusted Chevy. I recognized it as belonging to Brent, our old bass player. A year older than us, he'd already graduated and surprised the hell out of everyone when he up and joined the army. I hadn't seen him in ages.
“He's on leave,” Nate said as we piled out of his car. “And he's gonna be stoked that you came out.”
I was happy to see the guys. It was the other stuff that I was concerned about. Already stressed, I worried that my words would come out wrong or even worse, there would be whispers behind my back about the seizure.
I had no idea who knew and who didn't other than Link. What if I had another one? That thought made me sick, and I tried to ignore how my stomach was all twisted, but it was damn hard.
“Come on. There's Brent.” Nate nudged me.
I could leave right now. I know Nate would take me home if I asked him to, and he wouldn't ask questions either. But that sucked almost as much as being here and being afraid.
“You coming?” he asked.
I glanced toward the bonfire and immediately caught sight of Brent. He was waving his arms in the air like Superman, and I could see his grin from here. I couldn't chicken out, not now. I needed to man up and just deal.
I put my game face on and followed Nate toward the bonfire.
The night was warm and pretty muggy, but it was the kind of night that I loved. The sky was bright, lit to the heavens with stars, and the air felt alive, full of possibilities.
It took a while, but eventually I relaxed a bit, mostly because Nate, Brent, and I were treated like gold. Everyone was in a good mood and the atmosphere was chill. One of the guys on the football team had speakers set up on the back of his truck, and an odd mixture of country and rock filled the air. This was my scene, and it had been too long.
Jackson Byers, a guy from school, had the balls to ask me about what had happened at the library. Said he'd heard that I'd been taken to the hospital in an ambulance. I told him it was an exaggeration. He didn't give up.
“But dude, an ambulance?”
“Do I look like there's something wrong with me?” I stared him down, flexing my fists as I did so.
“Nah. You look as badass as ever.”
Someone offered me a beer, but I shook my head, and after it happened the second time, I grabbed a can so I could have something to hold and ward off any more offers.
I was getting into some vintage Green Dayâ“Jesus of Suburbia” is epicâwhen someone nudged my hip and two warm arms slid around me from behind. My first thought was Everly, which was crazy. The girl had pretty much blown me off today. Whoever it was giggled and stumbled into me, obviously loaded.
“I've mad at chu.”
She circled around so that she was in front of me, though her arms were still wrapped around my waist. “I've been texting you all week about this party.”
Any other time, I would have been all over this. Jess was cute, nice, and obviously ready to party. But these days, Everly Jenkins was the only girl I was interested in, and even though I wasn't sure she was interested back, I wasn't going to take what Jess was offering.
I wasn't that guy anymore, which maybe should have surprised me. I'm damn sure it would have surprised half the guys I knew. I was single, so it's not like I was cheating on anyone. And let's be serious. Guys our age think about sex all the time, and to say otherwise is an outright lie.
But Jess wasn't Everly. End of story.
“Sorry, been busy.”
She pouted, hands falling to my hips, which was awkward because now parts of us that shouldn't be touching were touching.
“Whoa,” I said, trying to disengage, but the girl had talons for fingers and she was dug in but good.
“I'm glad you came,” she said, talking real slow, drawing out each syllable in what I called alcohol speak.
I looked around. Where the hell was everyone? I spotted Nate by the fire, picking up an acoustic and strumming a few chords for his girl. Brent was close by, chatting up the Murdock twins, which wasn't surprising. Other than Caleb Martin, Brent was the biggest player this side of the Mason-Dixon line.
My stomach did that weird tumble again, and I carefully picked Jess's claws from my hips as I stared across the clearing. Link sat on a log beside the fire with Hailey on his lap, and a few feet from them was Everly.
She was nodding to the guy beside her, and he was leaning down, so close that I didn't have to see his face to know exactly what he was thinking. And it wasn't how awesome she smelled, though I'm sure he'd noticed that. It wasn't how nice her hair looked either or how shiny her eyes were.
The guy was looking to score, and who could blame him?
His hand was at the small of her back, and from my vantage point, I saw a whole lot of skin on display. Soft skin. Soft skin that he shouldn't be touching. I wanted to smash my fist into his face. Total Neanderthal move on my part, but there you have it. At the moment it appeared that I was a knucklehead.
“Trevor, hello! I'm right here.”
I pulled back from Jess and finally got her hands off me. “Look, Jess, I'm sorry. Thisâ¦usâ¦it's not gonna happen.”
She followed my gaze and glanced over her shoulder. “Everly Jenkins? Really? I heard she's got her V pin stuck to her chest like glue.”
But I was already walking toward the one girl who mattered. The one girl who'd given me nothing but attitude today. The one girl I wanted to touch and kiss and throw my arms around.
She was the only girl I wanted, and I frowned as the guy beside her straightened and looked up, right at me before he offered his hand and Everly took it.
Caleb Martin. Damn.
They headed into the night.
“No effing way,” I muttered, dodging a tackle from one of my old teammates.
“Where you going?” Nate asked, holding up his guitar. “Let's jam.”
Caleb Martin didn't belong anywhere near Everly Jenkins, and I had no problem letting him know it. Some might argue that because I hadn't come to the party with Everly, I had no right to get up in her business. Maybe I didn't, but I was pretty sure about one thing.