Authors: Katja Millay
Tags: #teen, #Drama, #love, #Mature Young Adult, #romance, #High School Young Adult, #New adult, #contemporary romance
I manage to get all of the water down in addition to the ibuprofen he hands me with it. Then he takes the mug, without a word, and goes back into the kitchen, returning a moment later with it refilled. He makes me drink that one, too, which I’m none too happy about, because I really just want to get out of here. I look like crap; I feel like crap; and I have no idea how all of this is going to play out on Monday. But I’ll deal with that thought later, when my head isn’t exploding and I’m not on Josh Bennett’s couch.
I stand up to leave, looking down at myself and wondering if I should even ask.
“It’s on the bathroom floor.” He’s smiling at the carpet, not at me, when he says it. “You seemed really disgusted by it for some reason. Ripped it out from under your shirt, through your sleeve, in one fluid motion and flung it across the room. It was pretty impressive.” Wonderful. Last night’s dinner, the charred remains of my dignity, and apparently, now, my undergarments, too. What else did I leave on Josh Bennett’s bathroom floor? I have to admit that, even in the midst of such utter degradation, I think it’s funny that he can’t seem to say the word bra.
He points me in the direction of the bathroom and I walk as gingerly as I can. Every step sends shockwaves rippling from my feet up into my brain. When I get there, my bra mocks me from the tile floor in the corner between the bathtub and the toilet. At least it was a cute black lacy one, because ugly underwear is the only thing that could make this morning any worse. I kneel down to retrieve it, and in the process, wonder if I can possibly scrape up the discarded dregs of my self-respect. I may need them.
Josh doesn’t need any directions this time. He says nothing at all on the way home and I can’t decide if I’m grateful for that or not. He drops me off at Margot’s with thirty minutes to spare before she gets home from work. It’s just enough time for me to shower and change and pretend all is well before she walks in the door.
“Feel better, Sunshine.” He’s not looking at me, but I can still see one side of his mouth turned up when I shut the door.
I think about the fact that he let me sleep on his couch when Drew obviously dumped me there. He held back my hair, cleaned up massive amounts of puke, brought me painkillers and stood over me while he forced me to drink a half-gallon of water so I wouldn’t get dehydrated. There’s nothing sunny or shiny about me, but after last night, he’s earned the right to mock me this morning. So yes, I think, at least for a little while, Josh Bennett can call me whatever the hell he likes.
At 4:00 on Sunday the doorbell rings. When I open it, I find Drew’s mom on my porch with a plastic container in her hands.
“It’s Sunday. I made sauce. Drew said you weren’t coming for dinner so I wanted to drop it by.” She knows I can’t make spaghetti sauce to save my life and it pisses me off, so she always brings me some.
“Thanks.” I step aside and push the door open so she can come in. “You could have had Drew bring it to me. You didn’t have to come all the way over here.”
“Drew disappeared somewhere this afternoon. Probably to see whichever girl he’s chasing now.” She raises her eyebrows questioningly at me and I keep my expression blank, wondering if I know exactly which girl that is. I take the container from her and turn to put it in the refrigerator, while she sits down on a barstool at the kitchen counter, in front of the plate of cookies that appeared at my front door earlier today. “Besides, you know I like to check on you and interrogate you on your life every now and then. Even if I know you won’t answer.” She smiles, picking up a cookie.
“Thanks,” I say for the second time in as many minutes, not sure what I’m thanking her for: coming by, checking on me, not expecting me to answer. Any of a number of things. I could probably thank Mrs. Leighton all day long, but she wouldn’t expect me to.
“You could make it easy on me and just move in with us.” She doesn’t even try to hide the smirk on her face. She’s asked me to move in with them every week since I found out my grandfather was leaving. She always gets the same response, but she never stops asking. I’m not sure how I’d feel if she did.
“Thanks,” I say again and now we’re up to three. I don’t need to refuse anymore.
“I’m just being selfish, you know. I need you to be a good influence on Drew. Someone needs to save that boy from himself. I’m not old enough to be a grandmother.” She looks knowingly at me.
“I think you give me too much credit.”
“Josh, I love my son, but some days I think you may be the only good thing about him. You are, quite possibly, the only reason I keep him.” She shakes her head and I know she’s not being serious. Drew is a mama’s boy, through and through. He just also happens to be a huge pain in her ass most days. “You’ve been holding out on me. When did you start baking?” She turns the half-eaten cookie over in her hand, examining it.
“I didn’t,” I pause, looking at the plate. Now that part of the bottom is visible, I can see the blue paisley pattern around the edges. I wonder if it’s part of a set and if I should return it. “Someone else gave me those.”
“Someone else?” she says suspiciously. I can tell her interest is piqued. She got tired of asking Drew about the girls in his life because they come and go so fast that there’s never any point. But she’s never stopped questioning me, waiting for the day when she might actually get an answer. “Well,” she takes another bite of the cookie. “
can bake. These are delicious.”
“I’m not being evasive,” I smile, answering the question she asked without asking. “I don’t know who it was. They were on my porch this morning.”
“Oh,” she says, pulling the cookie away from her mouth, her smile gone.
“I have a good idea who it was. I think you’re safe.” Her expression softens to slight relief. I do have a good idea who it was but I can’t know for sure. There was no note with them when the cookies showed up but I couldn’t help the feeling that they were a thank you of sorts. And really, there just isn’t anybody else it could have been. “Besides, I’ve eaten like six of them already. If someone wanted to poison me, I think we’d know by now.”
We talk for a few more minutes and she gets up to leave, asking me one more time if I’m sure I won’t come to dinner. I won’t and she already knows that. I’m still pissed at Drew for Friday night and I don’t feel like dealing with his shit yet.
“I waited for her in the parking lot this morning,” Drew says when I run into him before the warning bell Monday morning. He called me last night but I didn’t pick up and I deleted the message without listening to it. I haven’t spoken to him since he showed up on Saturday afternoon, wondering what happened with Nastya after he dumped her there. I could say he dropped her off, but we both know that’s not what happened. It would be one thing if he was actually concerned about whether or not she made it home ok or how she was feeling, but his primary concern was finding out how pissed she was at him and I didn’t do anything to try to ease his mind. I hope she’s pissed at him. She should be.
“She won’t talk to me,” he laughs as we make our way to first period. “Well, you know, she won’t make distinctive facial expressions at me. She did make one expression involving a finger but it could have just been a tic or some sort of muscle spasm.”
“Of course,” I reply.
“Are you still pissed at me, too?”
“I’m over it.”
“You should be. Come on, I dropped a really hot drunk girl, who doesn’t talk, off at your house. That’s like a gift.”
I stop walking and look at him, wondering, yet again, why we are friends. I know him well enough to know that he’s not being serious. Drew is an ass and a whore but he’s not a complete douchebag. Still, I can’t help but call him on it. He deserves it this time.
“Sorry,” I apologize with an utter lack of conviction and keep walking. “I thought you were just asking me to clean up your mess. I didn’t realize you were being a friend and giving me an unresponsive drunk girl to rape. Next time, be a little clearer for me so I don’t miss such a golden opportunity.” I can’t hide the sarcasm in my tone and I don’t try.
“You know I was kidding.” He has the grace to at least sound like he feels bad. “I left her with you because I knew you wouldn’t do anything.” Now he makes me sound like some sort of monk and I don’t think I like that any better.
“She doesn’t know that. She probably thinks you did exactly what you said you did. Dumped her with some strange guy without thinking twice about what would happen.”
“What did happen? You were so pissed at me on Saturday you wouldn’t tell me shit.”
“Maybe because I was up half the night cleaning up vomit.” I stop walking and look at him so he realizes that I’m not joking. There is nothing at all funny about the amount of puke I faced on Friday night. I may never be the same again. “You want to know what happened? She threw up. A lot. She passed out. She woke up. I took her home. That’s it.”
“Dude, I so owe you,” he says, still cringing from the discussion of vomit.
“You have no idea.”
When I get to shop on Monday, Margot’s blue paisley plate is sitting on the counter in the back of the room where I usually sit. Josh isn’t at his regular table but he must have put it here. I see him on the other side of the shop where all the power tools are. I don’t want to stare at him long enough to figure out what he’s doing, so I shove the plate in my backpack before he gets back to his seat. The bell rings and he slides onto his stool without a glance in my direction and things are normal again. The normalcy doesn’t last long, which shouldn’t surprise me. I don’t think anything is normal where Josh Bennett is concerned. Though, I really shouldn’t be judging him on normalcy, especially when I’m watching him from the confines of my own, very precarious, glass house.
“Hey, Bennett! Is it true you got emancipated?”
I look around to see who’s asking the question. It’s some punk-ass skater kid whose name, I think, is Kevin, but I haven’t paid enough attention to know for certain. Mostly what I’ve picked up is that his hair is overlong in the front, his pants are always baggy and he thinks he’s pretty awesome. I really don’t care who asked the question but I’m definitely interested in the answer.
Josh nods, but says nothing. He’s looking down, working on the scale drawing we were assigned Friday. He doesn’t bother to lift his head and acknowledge Kevin or anyone else whose attention is now on him.
“So that means you’re, like, free to do whatever the hell you want?”
“Apparently so.” He turns the ruler and traces a line along the edge of it with a pencil. “Of course, I can’t murder anyone, so it has its limits,” he adds dryly, still not looking up. I have to stifle my own smile, especially when Kevin soldiers on, completely oblivious to the innuendo.
“Man, that’s awesome. I’d be having parties every night.” Kevin doesn’t seem to take the hint that Josh has nothing to say to him and keeps pushing. I’m kind of wishing Josh would give this kid the fuckuppance he so richly deserves, but I think that’s more my style than Josh Bennett’s.
I hear someone tell Kevin, in a hushed voice, to shut up. The kids around him look anywhere from curious to uncomfortable to downright astonished by his line of questioning. I’m in the curious camp myself, but I’m trying to act disinterested. I can tell Mr. Turner’s picked up on it, too, because he keeps glancing in that direction. He’s not going to interfere, but he damn sure wants to know what’s being said. He looks almost disgusted. I know that I’m missing some vital piece of information here and I can’t ask anyone what it is. Why has he been emancipated? Are his parents abusive? Dead? In jail? Out of the country? Maybe there’s a top secret spy mission involved.
My mind turns while the conversation continues. I’m still trying to figure out why Josh has been emancipated and what it has to do with the fact that everyone stays the hell out of his way. We’ve been sitting here for all of forty-five seconds and yet I almost feel like the air in the room has gotten heavier.
I can see their expressions without looking. Usually everyone ignores me, but the times when they don’t are worse. Like now. You either get the ignorant crap spewed by morons like Kevin Leonard or you get the sucks-to-be-you stares. Especially from the girls. The girls are the worst. Drew says I should use it to my advantage; that I waste the shitty cards I’ve been dealt and that I should at least get something out of being such a tragic figure. But there’s something about being pity-fucked that just doesn’t sit well. It’s hard to want a girl who looks at you like you’re a lost puppy she wants to take home and feed or a dejected child who needs to curl up in her lap and be coddled. There’s nothing hot about a girl feeling sorry for me. Maybe if I was desperate, but probably not even then.
The adults are even worse because they love to make their dumbass comments about how well I’m doing; how well adjusted I’ve become; how well I handle everything. As if they have any clue. The only thing I’ve learned to do well is avoid, but everyone would rather believe it’s all good. That way they can crawl back under the shelter of that rock they live under. The one they think death can’t see them through.
It’s even the same with the teachers. I can get out of almost any assignment I want if I play the death card. It makes everyone uncomfortable, so they’ll do just about anything you want to get you to go away so they can pretend it doesn’t happen. They get to convince themselves that they empathize and that they’ve done their good deed for the day. When I’m lucky, they just ignore me because that’s easier for all of us anyway. Easier than having to acknowledge death.
One death card might be more than enough to play for a missed assignment or copping a feel on some girl, but I’m racking up a full deck at this point, and I can probably get away with almost anything. People started looking the other way a long time ago. Maybe I did, too.