Authors: Hannah; Kay
Tags: #Young Adult Fiction
I smiled anyway. “Sure, man.” He grinned, shoving the door open.
I’m not sure what I was expecting to find on the other side of that thin wooden door, but it definitely wasn’t the huge room we now stood in. It was large and spacious with a big white couch directly across from a flat-screen—Grandpa Fisher
like football—and there were big armchairs on either side. That was just half of the room, though. The other side of the room was some sort of study. The walls were lined with books, and there was a large oak desk in the corner. But the center of the back wall was a massive fireplace directly across from a deep red loveseat. Beside that was a chair of the same hue.
“Whoa,” I mumbled, looking over at Mike with a lifted eyebrow. “I seriously didn’t expect this.”
Mike laughed, nodding. “Doesn’t look like an old man, does it?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“You didn’t have to say it. I knew what you were thinking” he answered, striding across the room and down the hall. It was small and full of chipped white paint—the first sign of the house’s age. He pointed to the first door. “That was Grandpa’s room.” He didn’t open the door, just walked past it. I imagined it was like a portal to a different time—probably the only thing in the house that hadn’t been updated through the years. Even if it wasn’t, I was sure that Mike hadn’t changed a thing. He might not ever have opened the door. “This is the Captain’s Suite,” he joked, popping right back into his old expressive self and opening the door. It was a bedroom with navy blue walls and two light-colored wooden beds, one on each side of the room. He tossed the bag he’d been holding on one of the beds. “That’ll be your bed.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “Is that my stuff?” I asked, walking over and unzipping the bag to find my clothes. I looked at him, but he was laughing. “When did you get my stuff?”
“Don’t worry about that,” he answered before strolling back down the hall. He gestured to a door across from ours. “That’s the girls’ room.” He said it quickly, like when you’re a kid and your mom rips off a bandage, then he was walking down the hallway into another open room. It opened onto an extension of the porch. The back yard wasn’t overgrown. It was carefully cut and there was a fence outlining the property line. It was a simple wire fence, nothing fancy, but it marked the difference between the house and the forest around it. Outside the fence, the trees were overgrown and surrounded by tall, unattended-to grass. He ambled through the room I now noticed was the dining room and kitchen and out onto the porch. Once we were both outside, he nodded to the corner of the porch and I lifted an eyebrow. He grinned. “Yes, my friend. That is a hot tub. Yes, it is.”
I laughed, grinning at him. “You had some cool granddad, didn’t you, Mikester?”
He smiled, nodding. “He was the coolest old guy around,” he agreed, extending his arm to point into the trees directly behind the yard. “There’s a lake back there.”
I nodded. “This place is great.”
“Isn’t it?” he asked, turning to me with a grin. “I thought it’d be a good place to come to unwind after a long, hard week at work.” He grinned pointedly at me.
Honestly, Mike wasn’t happy about my internship. Guess he missed me. I wasn’t going to complain. After all, if he’d been thrilled at the prospect of not having to deal with me all summer, I’d feel like that trampled pair of jeans on the floor of a thrift shop that no one would buy.
I grinned back. “’Course it is, man.” I patted him on the back, smiling.
“Come on. Let’s go watch some sports.” It was comedic, of course.
Sun blared through my windows and I dragged my covers over my face as a shield. I’d stayed up late the night before—even later than usual. The clock by my bed read eleven-twenty-four in painfully bright numbers. I honestly felt like the lying dead with heavy eyes, a tight chest and a clouded mind.
I groaned as my stomach turned. It’d been over nineteen hours since I’d eaten but I couldn’t force myself to move. My limbs felt like a hundred angry pounds.
Note to self—don’t stay up until four in the morning ever again.
That was when I heard a startling ringing that bounced off the walls of the house. I groaned, slowly blinking my eyes in my barricade to adjust to the blue-gray of my own personal oasis. Then there was that noise again—sharp, darting daggers through my head.
I sighed, pushing the blanket off my body, but shuddering at the light that assaulted my senses.
Groaning, I stumbled forward from my room into the shady hallway, exhaling at the darkness. I blinked the sleep from my eyes and slowly became aware that there was no one home. Silently, I walked to the door. My fingers reached forward through my other-worldly haze and wrapped around the brass knob, turning it then opening it to the blinding sunlight.
Vision black, I merely heard her voice. “Oh, Julie, did I wake you?”
I must have looked awful. I laughed. “No, why do you ask?” I countered, fraying sarcasm over my embarrassment.
She laughed with me. “Oh, no reason.” She was coming into focus now, standing in the middle of the sidewalk wearing jeans and a soft gray T-shirt. She was grinning at me like we were old friends. She wrapped her arms around her body, leaning back on her heels. “I wanted to invite you to come out to my boyfriend’s Getaway House thing for the weekend.”
I made a face. “Krista, that’s nice of you, really, but I don’t want to be the third wheel on…that,” I answered, imagining me, Mike and Krista getting down in the woods all weekend. Even the thought screamed
She laughed, blonde hair tossing as her head jerked back. “No worries, Jules. It’s just a girls’ weekend,” she told me, slipping her hand in her pocket and holding up a key. “See?” She grinned widely at me. “Come on. It’ll be fun.”
I laughed, nodding. It really did sound fun—a weekend without the awkwardness of my dad’s ever-silent behavior. I hadn’t had a girls’ night, much less a weekend, since Mom died. “Sure, okay,” I answered, glancing down at my appearance. I was wearing my shorts and mismatched socks, along with my by now majorly wrinkled T-shirt. I could only imagine how terrible my hair looked. “Come on in.”
Half an hour later, I was dressed, wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and a white T-shirt under my coat. My hair had been flat ironed, drifting to the small of my back in a perfect straight line, and I’d bent over the kitchen counter, scribbling out a note to my dad in shorthand. I grinned, sticking it to the fridge with the obnoxious ‘Editor of the Year’ magnet—the single thing on the fridge, mind you—and turned to the living room where Krista was waiting, watching TV on our black couch.
She glanced up and grinned. “Ready?”
I nodded, holding up the bag I’d packed with my night stuff and extra clothes. “Ready.”
She smiled, flipping off the TV and standing. “All right, then let’s go. Do you want to drive or navigate?” she asked, lifting a well-manicured eyebrow.
I laughed. “I’d better drive. I’m awful with maps. I’d have us lost in five minutes.”
She laughed, nodding. “Sounds good.” She smiled, linking her arm with mine and steering me from the house. She walked on to get her things from her car and waited at my car while I locked the door.
Soon we hit the pavement, driving north out of the hole-in-the-wall town that was Carltonville and toward some cabin in the woods that I quickly learned used to belong to Mike’s now-dead granddad. “Mike and his grandpa were really close.” She smiled when she talked about Mike, which made me smile. It seemed like they were happy. “Mike used to come up here every Sunday after church and watch football with him.” She laughed a bit as she looked over the map in her hands. “I’ve only been here once,” she admitted, folding the map carefully in her lap. “It was just after he died and Mike wanted to come up. He was crying the entire time.” She sighed, glancing at the road sign just down the road. “Oh, let’s pull off at this next exit and get some pizza.”
I nodded, following her directions to a pizza place. It was a simple red brick building with a sign out front reading
. “People around here are really creative.” Sarcasm at its finest.
She laughed. “Oh, I know.” She opened the car door, grinning over at me. “I know it doesn’t look like much but, Julie, they make the best pizza in a hundred-fifty mile radius.”
Skeptically I replied, “That’s encouraging.” Slipping from the car, I looked through the window. The inside walls were painted yellow, and I could see black tabletops.
“Oh, come on,” she urged, pulling me behind her to the door before pushing it open.
I gasped when the smell hit me. It was like a bulldozer, pushing me over, and yet it pulled me in like a moth to a light at the same time. The room was surprisingly crowded for the middle of nowhere, but the smell seeped through the bodies and to my waiting nose, sending my senses reeling. It was all freshly baked crust and mozzarella cheese and garlic. “Whoa.”
She grinned from beside me. “Pick a seat, any seat, and I’ll get us a slice,” she announced to me and I nodded, sitting at a table right beside the fountain drink machine—easy for me to pop over to it every few minutes for refills. Did I mention I’m a soda junkie?—and pulling my phone from my pocket. Dad’d texted.
Have fun, honey!
I shook my head in response, stuffing the phone back into my pocket.
“Drum roll please…” Krista’s voice called as she walked up with a red plastic tray and set it down. “I now present Al’s ‘Piping Hot Fresh Pepperoni-oroni Pizza’.” On the tray were two paper cups and two paper plates, both with a single huge slice of thin crust pepperoni pizza on top.
“That was fast,” I commented as she slid into the chair across from me.
She grinned, nodding. “Al’s always ready. Try it.”
I smiled, slowly picking up the huge slice and biting off the tip. My teeth sank into it in slow motion, and I tasted each individual layer separately—the molten hot cheese, the light layer of tomato sauce and the crunchy pie crust that tied it all together. I sighed in content, devouring another bite and chewing slowly, savoring the grease that flooded my taste buds. I’d never been a girl particularly obsessed with counting calories or only eating salads. I loved food and my mom and I appreciated all types of food—greasy or leafy, leafy or starchy. So, this was like a little triangular slice of heaven.
Krista laughed at my expression. “You like?” She was taking her first bite to my third, but I really didn’t care.
I nodded wholeheartedly. “I love.”
She laughed, grinning broadly at me. “I knew you would.”
I smiled, standing up. “What do you want to drink?” I asked, picking up both cups.
“I’ll take a Sprite, thanks,” she told me with a little smile and I nodded, turning to the soda machine. I filled her cup first with clear bubbles and ice before fixing it up with a top and a straw then filling my cup to the brim with Diet Coke—I’d never been able to stand the taste of regular Coke. It tasted like battery acid to me—and I gave it the same treatment.
I sat down once again and we finished our pizza in pleasant silence. I was beginning to be really glad I’d met Krista. She was nice and fun and seemed to actually like me. She also seemed like one of those people who was friends with everyone—not to diminish our friendship… I mean, like, I figured she talks to everyone she sees in the halls at school and never leaves someone with no one to sit with at lunch, which would make things easier on me when school started in August.
Soon we sat there with empty plates, sipping our drinks, and she looked at me. “Wanna get one for the road?”
I grinned back. “Do you have to ask?”
The pizza’s deadly aroma penetrated even through the trunk, intoxicating scent wafting to our nostrils once again as I sipped my Diet Coke slowly from the front seat. The road was lined with trees. We’d been driving for almost an hour and a half—excluding our excursion to the Pizzeria from the Gods—and that was when Krista told me to pull off onto the long, winding driveway right off the deserted road. A few minutes later, we arrived at a cabin nuzzled into the trees. I smiled. It was quaint.
“Here we are,” Krista said with a little smile, grabbing her bag from the back and pulling it onto her lap. “I’m excited.”
I laughed at her excitement, nodding. “Me too.”
We slipped from the car and I got the pizza from the back, slinging my bag across my shoulder. Side by side, we ambled toward the house like a couple of grinning schoolgirls until the door swung open as we stepped onto the porch. Standing there in a white T-shirt and jeans was Lucas, who for today had ditched his glasses. He looked between us, confused. “Krista! Julie…” He trailed off, eyes roaming from the pizza box in my hands to the bags on our shoulders before lifting back to the pizza box. “Well… You two aren’t the pizza guy.”
I was silent. In one moment I was looking at both of them at the same time, seeing double, until Mike’s head popped around Lucas’ shoulder and the three of them looked at me. I groaned inwardly. It was all a big set-up.
“You brought pizza!” Mike exclaimed, grinning at Krista who—I now noticed—was glaring at him.
“Mike, what did you do?” Her accusing eyes told the entire story like CliffsNotes of a novel. He’d told her she could use the cabin for the weekend then brought himself and Lucas up as a little ‘surprise’—one surprise she obviously wasn’t expecting and also didn’t approve of.
Mike laughed. “I didn’t do anything, beautiful.” He pecked her cheek, grinning. “Good to see you again, Julie,” he said to me, but my mind was reeling too much to respond.
Krista huffed quietly. “We need to talk, Michael.”
He nodded, wrapping his arms around her frame and grabbing her behind the knees, jerking her into his arms, bridal style. “Yes, dear.” He then toted her into the cabin, leaving the door open and leaving the chill of air conditioning seeping through the mug toward us.