Authors: Hannah; Kay
Tags: #Young Adult Fiction
I cut him off before he could even say it.
“Julie.” I nodded, rolling back on the balls of my feet thoughtfully. So this was Krista and Mike’s little friend. He didn’t seem to fit with them, so formal and awkward. “You work with my dad.”
He nodded slowly before frowning. “Wait, how do you know that?”
I laughed quietly. “I met your friends, Mike and Krista, earlier. They mentioned it.”
“Oh, that makes sense.” He looked up, nodding. “Well, nice to meet you.”
I nodded in agreement. “Nice to meet you too.”
With that, he walked around the corner to check out and I sighed. If that wasn’t awkward, I’m not sure what is. I made a mental note to text Krista when I got home to see what Lucas’ problem was. For now, though, I forged on through the store.
* * * *
With the counter cluttered with bags, I realized I had to throw out everything in the fridge. I shuddered, wondering what exactly Dad had been eating for the past eleven years. I quickly located the box of spaghetti, can of sauce and garlic toast from the mess of groceries.
My phone vibrated angrily against the tile of the counter as I put the spaghetti on to boil and poured the spaghetti sauce into one of the shiny new pans from the cabinet under the sink.
“Hello?” I inquired, pulling the phone to my ear, balanced on two clean fingers.
“Hi!” Krista’s voice was ever chipper. “I hear you met Charlie.”
My noise wrinkled in confusion. “Charlie?”
She laughed, a trickling noise. “Sorry, Lucas.”
“Charlie Brown?” I asked, stirring the spaghetti sauce.
“Yes,” she replied with a little laugh.
I nodded, leaning against the counter. “It was awkward.”
“I’m not surprised.” She was quiet for a moment. “He’s a bit of an introvert.”
I laughed. “I’ll say.”
“Give him a chance, will you?” she asked and I could almost see the sly look on her face. “He’s not a great Romeo.”
I rolled my eyes. “Well, that’s great, because I’m no one’s Juliet.”
She took an even breath. “I didn’t say anything of the sort.” She was holding back a laugh.
“Good,” I answered, smirking myself. I heard the gravel of the driveway crunch. Dad was home. “My dad’s here. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Sure. But, Julie, think about what I said,” she interjected just before I disconnected.
I shrugged. That was something about me. I made friends easily, but I didn’t trust in matters of the heart the same—or maybe at all. I wasn’t sure yet.
“What’s that I smell?” Dad asked, seconds after stepping through the front door. He looked stunned to see me in the kitchen, cooking away like a housewife. “Are you cooking dinner?”
Smiling, I said, “Yes, I am.” I was pouring the sauce into a bowl and checking to see if the spaghetti was done. I looked up at him. “Did you know all the food in this house was either past its expiration date or so moldy it was unrecognizable?” I asked as I pulled the toast from the oven.
He chuckled uneasily. “I usually eat at the Diner.”
“Mom always said you couldn’t cook to save your life.” I’d said it without thinking. It was the simple truth. Plus I didn’t believe in not talking about the dead. The idea that when you’re gone from earth people drop your name from conversations and force your existence into a drawer at the back of their minds out of convenience disgusted me. It was simply morbid. So I talked about her. I thought about her. I missed her. Yeah, it was hard, but I think it’s better than pretending she’d never existed. That would hurt more.
Dad’s eyes focused on the wall in front of him. “Yeah, I don’t cook much.” From what I’d seen that was an understatement, but I let the subject drop.
“I made some friends today,” I offered, wanting to cease the perpetual silence for a little while.
He nodded. “Who are they?”
Because inevitably he’ll know them,
I realized with a sideways glance out of the window. The idea had its pros and cons, but there was no getting around it.
“Krista Harris and Mike Walker.”
He nodded. “Walker. His mom works at the paper.” Back to the paper. It was an endless swinging pendulum, always torpedoing the conversation to its focus.
“Interesting,” I answered, fixing two plates and setting them on the table. I looked at him. It was going to be a long dinner. I bit back a laugh despite myself. It was going to be a long summer. “Dinner’s ready.”
I’d blown it. Surprise was the killer, and I the victim. Krista’d told me she would smooth things over, but she couldn’t dig me out of the grave I’d dug myself. It was embarrassing, the whole situation. I’d acted like a vegetable when I’d met her for the first time. I’m an idiot.
There was a knock on my door and I groaned quietly, looking up to find Clara standing there wearing a pair of skinny jeans and a tank top. Her blonde hair was pulled into a knot on the top of her head as she stood across the room with a sneer. “Big brother, you’re a mess.”
I rolled my eyes, standing from where I’d been sitting on the edge of my bed and quickly tousling a hand through my hair. “What of it?”
She shrugged, leaning against the door frame. “I heard about you and the new girl.”
“She has a name,” I said automatically.
Her head dipped back with laughter. “You’ve got it bad.”
“Did you need something, Clara?”
She smirked. “I would be nicer to me. I came to help.”
“Help?” I bit back a laugh, eyebrows lifting involuntarily. My little sister was actually standing in my room, claiming that she wanted to help me get a girl. My little sister who hardly talked to me. My little sister who kept secrets from Dad. My little sister who bickered with me like we were still four and five years old. She was taunting me or mocking me—maybe both.
She grinned, plopping down on my messily made bed. “Yes, big brother, I came to help.” She popped up again, making a beeline to my closet. “First, you’ve got to stop dressing like a dweeb.”
“I don’t—” I began, but she held up a finger.
“Now this won’t work if you don’t shut it.” She turned from the closet, crossing her arms. “Are you going to listen to me?”
I looked her over, trying to decide whether she was serious or playing me. That girl had a great poker face. There was no way to know without being direct. “What’re you playing at, Clara?” I spat her name, but she merely laughed.
“I’m not ‘playing at’ anything, Lucas.” She smiled a bit. “I’m trying to help.” Her eyes looked sincere. The bad thing? She was an actress. “Okay fine,” she declared, tossing her arms to her sides and crossing to the door once more. “Never mind.”
I exhaled. “Clara, wait.” At this point, I had nothing left to lose. I’d already made a fool of myself in front of her. This couldn’t hurt. “What’s wrong with the way I dress?”
She laughed. “It’d be easier to say what isn’t wrong.”
I just looked at her. Silence was the easiest way to handle my sister. Eventually she’d make her way to her point.
She exhaled, approaching the closet and yanking out a hanger. On it was a Polo shirt. “This is not cool.” She pulled out a pair of khakis. “This is not cool.” She proceeded to rip my entire wardrobe apart.
* * * *
organized the pillage of my closet?” I asked Krista the next day when we were at the Diner for lunch.
She rolled her eyes. “Pillage is such a strong word.” She sipped her coffee. “I merely asked her to help out.” She was wearing a white sundress and cradling the cup of coffee lovingly. She practically lived for black gold, just like my mom and I. Comically, Mike couldn’t stand the stuff. Patterns? It just might be. Inwardly, I wondered if Mom and Dad were on and off again once upon a time.
“Who said I needed help?” I was being targeted for ‘cool guy’ training when all I really wanted was to be me. I was a writer. I used big words and talked in Shakespeare-esque textures. Why was she suddenly wanting me to change?
She sighed, crossing her arms and biting her bottom lip. “Lucas, I love you and all your little quirks. Believe me, I do.” She paused, calculating and taking a long drag of her coffee. “I just want you to be happy.”
I laughed. “I am happy.” I knew what she meant.
“You know what I mean,” she answered, leaning back against the booth behind her and picking up one of the fries from her plate. She bit off the end, watching me watching her.
I sighed. “Look, Krista, I know you’re trying to help, but it’s okay. I’m okay,” I implored, smiling at her. “You don’t have to worry about me, you know?” I grinned. “I’m a big boy, remember?”
She rolled her eyes, tossing a French fry at me, but I dodged it. She laughed.
“Whoa, what did I miss?” Mike asked, grinning as he bounded back from the restroom at the onslaught of the Epic Battle of Fries.
Krista smiled. “Nothing, Mikey.” She kissed his cheek and winked at me.
I shook my head. For some reason, I knew the conversation wasn’t over.
Saturday I woke up to Mike throwing a pair of blue jeans and a white T-shirt on me. “Get dressed.”
The next thirty minutes were a blur of getting dressed, eating with my mom and Mike at the sunny breakfast table then hopping in Mike’s white compact car to hit the pavement hard. He wouldn’t tell me where we were going or even why. We just drove, one of his hands on the wheel and the other fiddling with the radio dial, trying to find a station. “Man, we must’ve hit a dead spot.”
We were driving north, into the wild brush of Georgia soil, and I was at a loss as to where we could be going. He popped open the glove compartment, fishing around and grabbing a CD. Its cover was black and red, but I didn’t have time to notice any more before he slid the CD in and forced the case back into the cramped compartment. The first track seemed like a soft rock ballad—an oxymoron in itself.
“Do you plan on telling me where we’re going any time soon?” I questioned, pulling my cell from my pocket to check the time. It was eleven-twenty-three. He’d woken me at nine-o-six. We’d left my house at ten-sixteen. We’d been driving for over an hour.
He laughed. “Nope.” He glanced over at me, a slow smile forming on his lips. “It shouldn’t be much farther,” he insisted, but I merely sighed, looking out of the window. Trees danced in the wind, following our trek up the map. It was nowhere I recognized. To be fair, though, I mostly stayed in town unless we went to see a movie or to grab a pizza.
Time was a mental game. I became increasingly interested in our destination and the moments began dragging. Feet turned to miles as seconds to minutes. The scenery blended together to be nothing but green and the occasional road sign. The back road we’d taken was barren, marked only by a single yellow line down the center. We hadn’t passed a car in thirty-eight minutes.
My fingers tapped uneasily against the dash of the car. I let out a little chuckle. “You aren’t bringing me out here to kill me, are you?” I joked. It was an extravagant question, but one that needed to be asked, even if just in a joking way.
He grinned over at me. “I probably shouldn’t say, should I?” He was clever, that Mike.
I rolled my eyes. “Mike, this is ridiculous. We’ve been driving almost two hours.”
“That isn’t true! We’ve only been driving an hour and a half,” he retorted, but I sensed the car braking slowly. “Calm down, man. We’re here.”
He pulled up a winding road that led into more trees. I was skeptical. It was practically a hole in the road that seemed to go on to infinity without really going anywhere. We rode in silence for a few minutes, listening only to the sound of steel guitars rumbling through the radio. Then the road bottomed out at a house. The old, rustic kind you see in movies, snuggled into the trees like a quaint hideaway. “What
this place?” I asked as we poured from the car.
He grinned, opening the trunk of the car and pulling out a bag. “This, my good man, is the Getaway House,” he answered me, trudging forward through the dirt walkway toward the wooden porch.
“Could you be more vague?” I was still standing at the car, waiting for someone to jump from the shrubbery with a machine gun and take down the only-born son of the Grant family. Maybe that was a bit dramatic, but this all seemed so strange.
“It’s my grandpa’s old house,” he told me, glancing back with a grim smile. Mike’s granddad died a few months ago. They’d been close and he hadn’t really talked about it since it happened, so the fact that we were here at his house—which, for the record, I’d never been to—surprised me. “He left it to me in his will.” This, on the other hand, wasn’t a surprise. Mike’s dad, Mr. Fisher, and Mike’s granddad hadn’t been on the best terms. “So, I figured we could use it as a kind of a getaway.”
I nodded, walking to meet him where he was standing on the porch. “Oh.” The word fell flat because I wasn’t sure what to say.
He grinned, sliding the key in the lock. “Ready for the grand tour?” His mood was back up to par, along with that excited gleam in his eye that gave me the distinct feeling that he was up to something.