Blaise: Who’s Miss Sandy?
Me: Your future worst nightmare.
Blaise: That sounds ominous. I’ll probably love her. Later.
He texted, informing me that Zeke was having people over to his house if I wanted to join. I told him about the sick lie, and that I was committed. I was hoping to have the flu all week. He wished me good luck, but said maybe he’d come to get sick with me.
I laughed, tossing the phone away, and went back to planning my next camping trip. Blaise was in my head, though, so I tried to use extra caution about ensuring my safety.
My mom called twice. Once before dinner, letting me know they were meeting my brother and some of his friends, because apparently Nate was in LA for some reason. Then she called back after dinner to tell me everything he was doing, that he was living with one of his best friends and talking about starting a company with his buddies.
I listened to her, my knees pulled up to my chest, and reached out to turn off my light. The moonlight still lit the room pretty well, but it felt right to me.
Hearing how Nate was doing, that he was doing well, was like a dagger to my heart.
I didn’t know why. I think it was my mom’s tone.
When the accident happened with Owen, it set everyone in the family on a weird course. It took us a long time to heal. But that healing had been the catalyst for them wanting to make things right with Nate. Life was short. My mom had started her hippie new lifestyle. My dad enjoyed his cigars more, and they’d changed their work focus. Instead of producing, they were directing more, which I knew they enjoyed.
Having Nate as part of the family had become a big thing for my mom.
She wanted him back in the fold, and she was trying. She and my dad were both trying, and I think things were better, but this was my older brother. He seemed to enjoy life away from us, and who could blame him?
It was all good.
I was happy my mom was happy, and I could hear in her voice that she was.
She said Nate had asked about me. “And of course I told him how great you’re doing in school—4.2 GPA, highest honors, and you’re never in trouble. Oh, and I told him how you’re still enjoying your little camping trips.” She sighed into the phone. “Oh, honey. He looks really good. He seems happy.”
That’s all my mom wanted.
“I’m glad for that, Mom,” I told her, keeping the tears out of my voice.
“You’re such a sweetheart. How’d I luck out getting you as my daughter?”
Then she needed to go because a producer was calling her, so we hung up.
The camping trip didn’t seem as much fun after that.
I texted Blaise, but he didn’t respond.
I didn’t expect him to. He’d said he’d be partying at Zeke’s for most the night, so when it got to be around midnight, I got ready for bed and crawled in.
Ten minutes later I snagged his shirt and put it on.
Aspen was hiding this week.
I knew that’s what she was doing, because I was doing the same—except from my family. I didn’t know why she was hiding, but I would find out. I was waiting for the right time to push for some answers, ’cause I’d gotten to know her a bit. The chick was a steel trap when it came to her family. I, on the other hand, needed to learn how to shut my mouth, so I was practicing.
My friends and I were at Manny’s this afternoon, a popular hangout pub/diner place. The owners were cool, and as long as we didn’t get into fights and kept ordering food, they let us chill here. The back room had pool tables and other games, but it was currently filled with Roussou kids, so our group took over the front section.
This was day three of partying.
Monday had been at Zeke’s. Tuesday, we went cliff diving. Not everyone dove, but I loved that shit. That’s mostly all I did, and I was almost thankful Aspen turned me down when I asked her to go. I was able to dive to my heart’s content and not worry about her being worried for me.
Now it was Wednesday, and it was turning into a full day at Manny’s. Kids from Fallen Crest Public were here too, but I didn’t pay attention to them. I had my boys, and I was holding true to my promise to Aspen. Until I knew what she and I were doing, my hands would stick to her and her alone. I was counting down the hours until I could head over to see her. I hadn’t been there since Sunday, and Sunday night to Wednesday is a long fucking time.
I was jonesing for some Aspen time.
I was also jonesing to leave Manny’s since the Roussou kids were getting rowdy. I saw two of my brother’s friends across the room, so I knew it was a matter of time before Cross and Bren showed up.
“Yo.” Zeke held up his hand, waiting for my fist to pound it before he slipped into the seat next to me.
I’d been nursing a mixed drink for the last hour—not that it was a mixed drink when I’d ordered it, but it became mixed at the table.
“What’s up?” I asked.
Zeke had been cool all week, but I knew he was curious about the Wagon chick. That’s what he was calling Aspen. I was prepared for that line of questioning when he threw me for a loop.
“Is your sister still good with that boyfriend of hers?”
“The fuck is that your business?”
I might’ve said that a bit more harshly than needed, and Zeke knew it. His knowing grin turned smug, and he nodded toward the parking lot.
“She’s coming up with her friends, and she’s solo. Your sister is hot. She’s going to get noticed.”
I was perplexed, but that was all he said. He slid back into his seat, but then leaned over again. “Oh hey.”
What now? I was still thrown by the sister comment.
“If you slide out of here before I see you again, I’m organizing a trip on my dad’s yacht. We’ll leave tomorrow after school, skip Friday since it’s a useless day for us, and come back Sunday morning.”
“Graduation is that afternoon.”
“I know.” He flashed me a grin. “It’s a really long end-of-the-year party. I think we’re due, right?”
“A yacht, huh? We have a limit on how many are invited?”
He cocked his head, side-eyeing me with a way more smug smirk than I wanted to see on his face. Ever. I was about to tell him to drop it or I was going to wipe it off him when he broke out smiling. “How about we do you, me, and your mystery girl, and I’ll make sure Conway and Ashlome don’t have Daniels as their plus one.”
“How many, Zeke?”
That meant they’d invite Penny, Ria, or one of the other girls in that group—all of whom had nails and were mean as hell.
I didn’t like what he was doing. I knew his dad’s yacht could only comfortably sleep eight. He was forcing me into a situation where I had to bring Aspen or go on a trip without her, and I didn’t want to do that.
“I won’t come unless I know who else is coming.”
“Come on.” He groaned, tipping his head backward.
Penny and Ria were heading over, and I knew this conversation was a waste. “I’m out.”
“What?” Zeke’s mouth dropped open before he caught himself. “You’re being a bitch, man.”
I was reaching for my wallet when I heard that. I was in his face in a heartbeat. “Don’t you fucking speak to me like that.”
A sudden hush fell around us.
Zeke’s eyes went hard, and a mask slammed over his face, but he didn’t move.
I was breathing on him, but he didn’t lean back.
His words were low, and I heard the warning in them. “Don’t do this, bruh. You’re disrespecting me.”
“You did this.” God, I wanted to tap his chest, but I refrained.
That was my crazy side, but I wasn’t one of his bitches, and according to him, that’s why he liked me.
“And you’re continuing to do this,” I added. “You don’t think I know what you’re doing? A yacht trip, and I’m supposed to bring my woman when you know the other girls will rip her apart? You think I like being in that place? Being put there by my ‘best bud’?”
He was quiet a moment. “Your woman?”
He threw me a crooked grin, the air around us suddenly easing up. “You called her your woman.”
Well, fuck. I did.
I growled. “Don’t put me in that spot.”
I’d known Zeke since first grade. We’d moved when I hit fourth grade, but I came back every summer to spend time with him and his family. I knew his little sister. I knew his mom. I knew his dad was a dick, but who didn’t have one like that? This asshole Zeke was not the guy I remembered from the last time I’d seen him, which was two summers ago. He’d come to spend time with me and mine in New York, and it’d been a fun month—a full fucking month. We’d spent that time on my non-bio dad’s yacht.
I got the significance of Zeke inviting me, but I still didn’t appreciate the parameters of the invitation.
He let out a sigh. “Fine. How about we do the trip after graduation, and instead, we go on a two-day bender at my house?”
“Yeah, man.” I tossed my cash onto the table, made sure the passing server gave me a nod, and turned back to him. “But if you ever call me a bitch again, you and I will be trading blows.”