“Sorry, Ziah. For whatever.”
I shake my head.
“Can I take you to a friend’s house or something?”
And then I shake in a sob, one I hope I can keep from turning into more. “No. She’s… This sucks so bad, I can’t even say it.” My body’s doing this weird quivering thing, and I pull in another breath, and I can’t believe I have to do this with HIM because I have no one else to talk to. “I think, since your party. She’s been weird and so has James, and…”
“Oh, shit.” He knows. Of course he does.
They’ve been weird for like two months, and I didn’t see it. But in just a few words, he’s caught on. I’m such an idiot.
I shake my head and wipe my face again. “Don’t. It’s just. It is what it is, but it makes the whole wedding thing…”
“Even worse.” He shifts in his seat and starts the car. “And Lora doesn’t know?”
“Pre-occupied.” And as I breathe in again, my body relaxes. Not a ton. But a bit. Enough that I think I might be able to hold myself together for a while. I hate that my own sister hasn’t looked past her wedding since she’s been home.
Dylan runs a hand over his hair. “That’s one way of saying they barely come up for air.”
I start to put a foot on the dash like I always do but stop and pull my knees to my chest instead. “I’m sorry. I just… I mean, he just left, and I just found out. And…”
“Nah. It’s cool. I got screwed out of pizza the other day, so we’ll get pizza. If we get around to the bullshit museum thing they want us to do, we’ll do it. If not, we can both claim bonding time or some stupid shit like that. Cool?”
“Bonding shit, huh?” I almost laugh. Almost.
“You’re about to crack a smile already. Damn I’m good.” He flicks on the radio.
The Neon Trees. “I love that song,” I say at the same time he says, “I love this band.”
“Jinx,” he says as his thumbs tap the steering wheel to the beat.
“Wait? What? You can’t say jinx unless you say the exact same thing!” Everyone knows that.
“Um, yeah I can. Dylan’s Hummer. Dylan’s rules.” His blue eyes find mine, and he gives me a ridiculous smirk.
I shake my head. “Okay, then you can’t say jinx unless it’s 1995. Dork.”
Maybe I can just hang with hot party guy. And maybe I’ll be able to function even though the guy who should be my boyfriend is with my should-be best friend. I wipe the last few tears off my cheeks.
“Shh. My rules, remember? You can’t talk until the song is over.”
And we just sit and listen. Mary’s seats are so wide I can pull my legs into cross-legged position. It’s not perfect and my chest still feels a bit caved out, but I also feel like I’ll survive it.
“Okay, are you kidding me?” I ask as we stop. The pizza place is sandwiched between a laundromat and a pull-tab convenience store.
“Don’t ya trust me?” he teases.
“I… Not really, no.” But I am totally distracted.
“Come on.” He opens his door.
“Your car is taking up two parking spaces,” I point out.
He shrugs. “Yeah. We were lucky to get two close together.”
“You can be such a jerk.” And I can breathe, which is more than I thought I’d be able to do an hour ago.
He chuckles. “It’s parking spaces, Ziah. Don’t be such a drama queen.”
He shuts his car door and starts around the front of Mary for mine. I jump out before he gets to my side. I’m not sure why I didn’t just let him get my door. It feels like I forced him on a date or something—though, really it’s our brother and sister who have forced us on a date, or an outing, or whatever this is.
I follow him inside, and the cashier leans his elbows on the counter. “S’up, Lil’ D.”
Lil’ D? I’m trying to hold in my laughter, but my body’s shaking anyway. This is so perfect. The crappiness from earlier is fading away fast. I’m sure it’ll come crashing in again at some point but not right now.
Dylan cringes. He turns toward me. “This is my brother’s friend Hank. And I don’t even let my brother get away with calling me that.” He tags Hank in the shoulder across the counter without looking.
“All right. Dylan.” Hank rolls his eyes at me. “What can I get for ya?”
“Do you trust me to order for us?” Dylan asks. “We could get my favorite.”
Crap. I’m chewing on my lip, and he’s staring. He must think I’m crazy. “I’m curious to see what Lil’ D gets on his pizza.”
He shakes his head. “I’m only lettin’ you get away with that because…”
I wait for a moment and then finish for him. “’Cause I’m a mess?” I offer.
Hank leans forward. “I’m guessing you both want a drink?”
“Yeah.” I nod.
“That’ll be twenty.” Hanks pushes a few buttons on the register.
“What?” Dylan chuckles. “How about you hook me up since you just gave her some ammo with that stupid-ass nickname my brother started.”
Hank laughs. “The problem here, Dylan, is I run a small pizza place, and you live in one of the biggest houses in Portland. I’m totally exploiting you, and you’re lucky you can get a pizza for less than fifty bucks.” He turns and hands the order through the window to the kitchen. “And you have to move that ridiculous beast of a car you insist on driving. I can’t have you taking up two spaces.”
“I’ll move my car when I get my pizza.” Dylan laughs. He grabs me a Dr. Pepper from the fridge and himself a Pepsi. He holds the soda out to me. “I guessed ‘cause it’s what your sister drinks.”
“Thanks. This has been very informative, Lil’ D,” I tease, as I take my soda from him.
He lets out a dramatic sigh. “Please, not you, too.”
“O-kay.” I mimic his dramatic sigh. “But just remember it’s back there for blackmail.”
“You gonna cut me any slack?” His crooked smile is one of the many things that melted me at the party, and no guy should be giving me happy tingles just after I slammed the door in James’s face.
“I don’t know. Maybe.” And we’re standing here, and I’m lighter every minute.
“Perfect.” His voice is dry, but a corner of his mouth pulls up. Dylan holds open the door. “It’s not raining, we should be outside.”
“Agreed.” I follow him out the door.
Our legs are stretched out on Mary’s hood. Bits of sunshine paired with the black surface makes it feel almost like summer. The Willamette River is in front of us, and we have a view of a few of the bridges that stretch across the water.
Dylan’s favorite pizza is pretty awesome—double pepperoni, ham, and olives.
“So.” He takes another bite. “I’m assuming you’re a college girl. Where you headed?”
“Undecided. I’m pre-med, and there are a lot of places I could go. I’ve applied like, everywhere.”
“Cool. I’m, um…pre-law.”
I choke on my bite of pizza. “Pre-law? So, really you’re a brainiac like me, but you’re disguised as a hot party guy?” My cheeks heat up the moment the words are out. I drop my pizza and put my hands on my cheeks, hoping to cool them down.
“Wow, Hanes, was that a compliment?” He nudges my arm with his elbow.
“Oh, come on.” I shake my head. “You’re not going to argue with me on that point, are you?” Maybe if I play it off as his conceit rather than how I feel, it won’t be a big deal.
“Let’s just say I’m holding onto that one for blackmail.”
Of course he is.
“But seriously? It’s what my dad does, and I get it. It’s like the law is this strict guideline. But really, it’s so bendable, you know? If you’re smart about it. I like the idea of all the motions, and the back and forth that happens between firms working on the same case.” He takes another bite, so relaxed. “Plus, I’m kickass at arguing and getting my way.”
I have to laugh at his honesty. And I’m sort of in shock because a part of me felt he’d be a guy who did nothing. I bet his dad has enough money for him to get away with it, too. But he’s not going to do nothing—he’s going to do something big.
“I’m getting into medicine because of my dad. He decided to teach instead of practicing. I want to practice. Probably pediatrics, but I’m not sure yet. I have a way long time to think about it.”
“So, we’re both after the big degrees,” he says.
“Yeah.” We both are. “But on opposite sides of what they offer.”
“Maybe.” He shrugs.
It sort of sums up Dylan and me. Not that there is a Dylan and me. But it’s like we’re similar, and we’re not. I’m okay to cry in front of him, although I’m still embarrassed about it, and we’re both unhappy about this wedding. Then he’s the big mansion, hot party guy with the model friends, and I’m…well, the opposite of that. Before I have a chance to process how much time’s gone by, the city’s turning dark, and I’m not sure what to do.
“I’ll take you home,” he says.
“You’re looking around like you’re trying to figure out how to get rid of me,” he teases as he slides off the hood.
He stands underneath me and holds his hand out to help me down. My heart starts to beat all crazy, which means I’m completely ridiculous because it’s just a hand. I take it and land way too close to him. And his blue eyes are too close and his warmth is too close and he smells so, so good. And when he steps away, it’s like my legs are weak, proving that I really need to be careful around this guy.
“So, today we call bonding time, and maybe we’ll get together again for the museum, cross something off that stupid, damn list.” He sucks in the last word. “Sorry, I know it’s your sister’s.”
“Her lists are ridiculous. No worries here.”
“I know you don’t know me or anything, but you really should talk to your sister about all this mess with the friend and the guy and everything.”
I blow a loose strand of hair off my face. “Maybe.”
I know he’s right, and I know I’m stubborn and want her to come to me. But I’m also stubborn enough to wait on her for a while longer.
Dylan pauses looking at me more intently than I expect. He shakes his head like I do when I’m trying to get past one thought into another.
“No maybe. Dylan knows his shit. Besides, if you’re able to get them to separate for longer than a bathroom break, I’ll call you a miracle worker.”
It sounds like a challenge. “You’re on.”