I SLIDE THE LOW-RISE, faded blue jeans to my hips and a contented sigh escapes my lips.
How I missed you, old friend. Jeans that hug a little too tight. Small rips on the thighs. The other pair, the pair I really love that has rips right below my ass, Scott would soak in gasoline. I carefully fold them on a hanger and store them in the closet.
For the first time in two weeks, I feel like me. Black cotton tee that clings to my waist.
Silver hoop earrings in my ears. I change the hoop in my nose for a fake diamond stud. As I check myself out in the mirror, I revel in the lightness because I know the moment I step into that kitchen, I’ll grow heavy again.
Right at six-thirty, I enter the kitchen. The red breaking of dawn splatters across the sky.
Scott fries bacon at the stove and the smell makes my mouth water. Allison is perfectly absent.
I take a seat at the bar that has a glass of orange juice and a plate. I assume the other place setting is for him. In between the plates is a stack of buttered toast and sausage patties.
“Is it turkey or tofu or whatever you try to pass off as food?”
Everything in this house is healthy. I pick up the toast and smell it. Hmm. White bread and it smells like butter. I stick out my tongue and barely lick it to see if it is. Scott laughs.
Embarrassed, I roll my tongue into my mouth and close my eyes in ecstasy. Mmm. Real butter.
“No, it’s not turkey. It’s real. I’m tired of watching you not eat.” He places a plate of bacon and eggs between us as he sits. “If you’d try Allison’s cooking, you’d see it’s not half-bad.”
I bite into the toast and talk between bites.
“That’s the point. Food shouldn’t be half-bad. It should be all good.”
Scott assesses my outfit before spooning some scrambled eggs onto his plate. “I like the stud. When did you pierce your nose?”
“When I turned fourteen.” I help myself to bacon and sausage while staring at the eggs.
Scott made great eggs when I was a kid. Too bad I told him I hate them.
“Your mom wanted one. She talked about driving into Louisville to get one several times.” Mom liked to talk to Scott while Scott raised me. She moved into Grandpa’s trailer when Dad knocked her up and her mom kicked her out. Scott was twelve when I was born.
My heart sinks. Mom never told me she wanted a nose ring. She never even noticed when I pierced mine. Why it bothers me, I don’t know. Mom doesn’t tell me a lot of things. I tap my fork against the counter. Screw it. I’m eating the eggs. Who knows when I’ll get another decent meal. Scott flashes a smug smile when I fork eggs on my plate.
“Is that a baseball thing?” I ask.
“Ryan has that same I-know-everything smirk when he thinks he’s one-upped me.”
Scott sips his orange juice. “Have you and Ryan been hanging out at school?”
I shrug. Hanging out. Annoying the piss out of each other. Same thing. “Kind of.”
“He’s a good kid, Elisabeth. It would do you good to make more friends like him.”
Noah’s a good guy. Isaiah is the best, but Scott doesn’t want to hear that. “I go by Beth.”
As if I hadn’t said anything, he asks another question. “How’s school?”
“I’m gonna fail.”
He stops eating and I shove food into my mouth. I’m beginning to hate these silences.
“Are you trying?” he asks.
I contemplate my answer while savoring a piece of bacon. On my last bite, I decide to go with the truth. “Yes. But I don’t expect you to believe me.”
He tosses his napkin onto his empty plate and stares at me with sincere blue eyes. We both have Grandma’s eyes. Dad did too, except Dad’s never looked kind. “I’m not smart. I can throw a ball, catch a ball, and hit a ball. It made me a rich man, but it’s better to be smart.”
“Too bad for me, I can’t do any of that.
“Allison’s smart,” he says and he holds up his hand when I roll my eyes. “She’s real smart. Has a master’s in English. Let her help you.”
“She hates me.”
Scott falls into one of his long silences again. “Let me handle that. You focus on school.”
“Whatever.” I glance at the clock: six forty-five. We managed to have a conversation without yelling for fifteen minutes. “Shouldn’t you be heading to work?”
“I’m working from home today. We’re going to do this every morning. I want you up at six and out here for breakfast by six-thirty.”
If he’s going to cook, I’m not going to argue.
Scott gathers his dishes and goes to the sink.
“About last night.”
And things were going so well.… “Let’s not discuss last night.”
“You were shaking.”
I stand, feeling suddenly fidgety. “I should get my backpack together.”
“Has someone hurt you? Physically?”
The dishes. The dishes should go in the dishwasher. I pick them up. “I really need help with Calculus. I want to drop it.” Why am I telling him this?
Scott takes the dishes from me and I don’t like being empty-handed. He places them on the counter and crosses his arms over his chest. “What happened after I left town? My dad was dead and buried. Did my brother take his place as residing bastard?”
I’m shaking again. It’s either that or we’re having an earthquake. My head jerks back when the reality of what I let happen smacks me head-on like a Mack truck. I’m an idiot. He maneuvered expertly around my walls. “Fuck you.”
I expect Scott to yell at me or reprimand me.
Instead, he chuckles. “You’re still as stubborn as you were at four. Go get your stuff ready for school. I’ll drive you in today.”
I hate him. “I’ll take the bus.”
Scott turns his back to me and loads the dishwasher. “I’m making pancakes tomorrow.”
“I won’t eat.”
He laughs again. “Yes, you will. Allison’s making goat cheese–tofu casserole tonight.”
I PULL MY JEEP into the student lot and park behind Chris’s car. He leans against the bumper while Lacy stands a good three feet away from him near the hood. She holds her books close to her chest and snubs me by angling her body toward the school when I shut off the engine. Not a good sign. I take a deep breath and ready myself. Lacy has a hell of a temper. My ears rang for two days after the last time I ticked her off.
Chris greets me when I open the door.
“She’s pissed at you, dawg.”
“I can see that.”
Before I can reach her, Lacy wheels around.
“A dare? You humiliated Beth in gym yesterday over a dare? I’m trying to make friends with her and you and Chris and Logan have made her the target of a dare?”
Dammit all to hell, Chris. “You sang like a little girl with her hand caught in the cookie jar, didn’t you?”
“Sorry,” he says, repentant. “Her tactics are brutal. The Marines could employ her.”
Lacy rushes between us, her hand waving in the air. “Don’t you laugh this off. You don’t know Beth. You don’t know what life was like for her. You don’t know what type of friend she was to me. You are ruining everything!”
I stare at her, shocked. Tears swim in her eyes. She’s not just angry. She’s upset. “It’s only a dare, Lace. I asked her out. She has the choice to say yes or no. I’m not hurting anyone.”
“Yes, you are.” She glances away. “You’re hurting me.” The girl I consider one of my best friends bolts into school.
“I gotta go after her,” Chris says.
“I know.” I want him to.
“She’s wrong about this. Don’t worry though, I think she’s PMS-ing.”
Yeah. Lacy is emotional at times, but a nagging in my gut tells me that she could be right.
Chris and I both turn to see Beth. My heart stops. It’s her. Skater Girl from Taco Bell.
Gone are the trendy clothes. Back is her own style. Skin-hugging black shirt, jeans with holes. All knee-dropping curves. She looks every bit as sexy as she did the first night I met her.
“Can we talk for a second?” Sweet and seductive, her voice purrs over my skin and I’m absolutely hypnotized. The girl must be a magician.
“Sure.” I wait for Chris to remember that he needs to go after his own girl, but he’s too busy admiring Beth’s ass to notice that Beth and I want him to leave. I give the blatant reminder.
“Lacy needs you.”
“Yeah,” says Chris like he’s waking from a dream. “Lacy. See you later, dawg. You too, Beth.”
She drums her fingers against her thigh as a dismissal. Chris wanders into the building while I try to understand Beth’s attitude switch.
Yesterday, the girl would have been the main suspect in my murder. This morning, she’s hot and friendly. Talk about mood swings.
Guilt becomes a whisper in my brain. I humiliated her at school. Time to make amends. “Yesterday, in gym—”
“Whatever.” Beth cuts me off. “I was thinking that you’re right. I should make friends and I’d really like you to be the one to help me.”
I suppress the smile edging onto my face.
No need to rub it in. Why couldn’t Lacy be here to see this? “You’ll go with me to the party on Friday?”
“Yes, but there’s a catch.”
“What type of catch?” I should be focusing more on the word catch, but I can’t when Beth nibbles on her bottom lip. I love those lips.
“My uncle is a little control-freakish and he’ll want to talk to you.”
This day keeps getting better. I win the dare and I get to talk to my hero. Plus, I get to spend time with Beth. Maybe Lacy’s right. Maybe there is more to her. “Sure. I can come by early on Friday.”
Beth readjusts the pack hanging on her shoulder. “Actually, I was wondering if you could come over tonight and meet him. Maybe we could hang out after.”
I love my life. The girl is asking me out.
“Yeah, sure.” Damn. My mind becomes chaos as I remember my plans. “Wait. I would love to, but I have ball practice with the team and then pitch practice in Louisville tonight.”
She lowers her head. “Oh. Okay, I guess. If you can’t, you can’t, but tonight’s the only night Scott’s going to be home.”
I am not blowing off this change of heart. If she’s anything like Lacy, she could have a total mood reversal in three minutes. “I can come over after ball and meet your uncle and then you could ride with me into Louisville. We could go out to eat after practice. That is, if you’re okay with sitting through an hour of me pitching.”
She raises her head and flashes this glorious smile. “If you don’t mind.”
Mind? I can’t think of anything I want more.
I just won the dare.
STANDING ON SCOTT RISK’S front porch, I yank the bill of my baseball hat and wipe my hands on my athletic pants. This is it. I’m about to walk into my hero’s home. Two knocks and the door swings open. Staring back at me, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, is Scott Risk.READ MORE >>