"Exactly," he said. His shoulders relaxed, and he popped his neck, relieved that I understood where he was coming from.
I nodded. "That is fucking ridiculous, Brody. It's rifuckulous."
His brows knitted. "Are you drunk?"
"No," I yelled, "I am operating on almost zero sleep because my ex-boyfriend moved my deadline because I broke up with him so I could be with you!"
He huffed out a sigh. "I know, Harper. It's just that you said you were going home after the game, and Grace and I have been friends for a long time. She asked if I wanted to hang out. We came here and talked about that guy from Florida State, and I told her he's too old for her. I said guys from college trolling for girls from high school are usually up to no good. She got mad. That's when you drove up. She spotted some guys from the University of Miami and left with them. The end."
I wanted to believe him. I sort of did believe him, but I felt like I shouldn't. I felt like I was being taken advantage of, and that he'd been taking advantage of me the whole week, and everybody at school knew it but me.
"I shouldn't have done it," he said. "I'm just . . . friends with people. I'm not with girls. I figure we can go out, or sometimes make out, and later we can still be friends and hang out. It's the girls who don't agree to that plan."
I understood now why there always seemed to be a girl shouting at him in the hallway.
"I knew you were different," he said. "When Grace wanted to hang out, I said okay because that's what I'd normally do, but we hadn't even reached the edge of the school campus before I realized I'd done the wrong thing. I've worked on this-my mom made me go to counseling after my dad left-and I have this checklist in my mind and these things I'm supposed to say to myself, but they take a few minutes to kick in. I have an impulse-control problem."
"You sure as hell do," I grumbled.
"Harper," he pleaded.
"No," I said. "I came here with Sawyer because Tia was mad at you and egging me on. I was trying to make you jealous, but not because I want you back. I don't. When you cheated on Grace with me and said you didn't owe her anything, I should have known you would treat me exactly the same way you'd treated her." I reached for the handle of the door.
He put his hand on my arm-gently, or I would have bashed the shit out of him. When I glared at him, he put up his hand in surrender.
"Harper," he said, "give me another chance. We haven't even been on a real date."
"What does it matter, when you say people aren't meant to be in exclusive couples? I don't want to be with a guy who thinks that way."
He opened his hands. "I thought that because of who I was with
. Harper, I don't want this to be about Grace. I want it to be about you, and me. I don't want to lose you. You-" His voice broke. He cleared his throat. "You make me feel smart, and funny, like there's more to me than a good arm."
I drummed my fingers on my bare knee, halfway to a delirious decision. "You have to understand something. If we date, we're a couple. We're not the Perfect Couple That Never Was. We are a couple. There's no never. And it's not okay for you to go out with Grace." Hearing myself, I shook my head. "No, never mind. I shouldn't have to spell that out for you. I'm done." I reached for the door again.
"Hey," he said. Wisely he didn't touch me this time. His voice was quiet. I paused to listen.
"You said we would catch each other tomorrow," he said. "I'd really like to come over then. That can't hurt anything, right? We can talk again when you've had some sleep."
I gazed out the windshield. I couldn't see well enough to discern Sawyer, but I could see his truck, still waiting for me. Sawyer had my back. He'd acted like Brody and I had a claim on each other. Even Tia, in her warped way, had led me here to Brody. Somebody in our school-a lot of people, apparently, though I didn't know who-thought Brody and I were perfect for each other. And because my feelings for him were so strong, I wasn't ready to throw away that possibility just yet.
"You can come over tomorrow," I muttered. "But if you ever pull something like this again, you won't get another chance with me."
He said, "I won't need one. I promise."
* * *
My alarm went off at six a.m. I got up, showered, helped Mom serve breakfast, got quietly scolded for dropping a basket of orange rolls in a guest's lap, stomped back to my house, and crawled into bed. The talk at breakfast was that the hurricane had petered out into a tropical storm and was headed farther west into the Gulf, so we wouldn't get a lot of straight-line wind damage or flooding from the tidal surge-only a lot of rain, and possibly tornadoes on Tuesday, when my parents were scheduled to get divorced. I closed my eyes, listened to the light rain from a band of showers far in advance of the storm, and wished I could go back to sleep. I knew it would never happen with my mind spinning about Brody.
At eleven a.m. I woke again, smelling cinnamon. Something was very wrong. Mom seldom cooked for me, and she was never in the house on weekends. She spent all day every day cleaning and repairing the B & B. Taking the precaution of putting on a bra first in case criminals had broken into my house to fix me cinnamon toast, I wandered into the kitchen and saw it was Brody.