Tears, tears start to sting my eyes. I wipe them before they can fall. “I get it. I was too young, Dad was too messed up, but I was scared.”
I close my eyes, hoping to make it go away with the darkness, hoping we’ll magically be in that tunnel again making out instead of me crying like a baby. I try to back away. She won’t let me get away with it, though. Not Ziah. She’s in front of me, standing between my legs. I can’t help but open my eyes to see her.
“Derrick actually came around first. He manned up like he always does and took care of me. Told me Mom was gone and we didn’t need her. That we’d be better off without her. Without any girls. We were so young and dumb making that lame pact, but we stuck to it because we didn’t want to be ruined like Dad was.
“Soon, Dad came around, too. He tried. We’re still lucky, ya know? He loves us. His Gibson boys.”
Ziah’s quiet for a minute and then finally speaks. “I didn’t know. Lora never told me… God, I’m so sorry, Dylan. That had to have been so hard. Do you know where she is?”
How is it I’m not more wrecked than I am? How is it that being by her kind of makes it okay?
“Hell no, and good riddance. I don’t ever want to see her again.” We don’t need her. How many times has Derrick said that to me? We’re all fine without her.
Ziah steps close to me. I feel her everywhere, inside and out, and there’s a part of me that wants to soak in it. But I can’t.
“That’s why I was so pissed at Derrick about the wedding. I know it sounds stupid, but we promised. He went back on that. I guess, I kind of get it, but,” I shrug. “I don’t want to lose him, too.”
She runs her hand through my hair, and it feels so good. “Dylan, you’re not going to lose him. He’s your brother.”
But my mom was my mom, and she ran away from us. As much as I hate it, I stand up. Ziah backs away from me. The words sound all wrong in my head, like they don’t fit or something, but I make myself say them anyway. I have to.
“So yeah, that’s why I don’t do the relationship thing. I don’t ever want to be like my dad was. And I know you’re the relationship kind of girl. I don’t want screw up our friendship.”
“So you’re just going to be alone forever?”
I don’t answer her question. That’s when I know I have to go. “Listen, I gotta run. I just wanted you to know. It’s not you. It’s me. And that’s really not a line, I swear.”
I should turn and walk away, but I don’t. Her eyes are all big and watery. She’s biting her lip, and I know she doesn’t want me to go. I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, but I have to.
“I like you, but…” I hold out my hand. “Friends?” I ask. “We can still hang out. Designated wedding planners and all. I have fun with you, Hanes.”
I try for light and know I’m not pulling it off. I see her chest rise and fall as she takes a deep breath. Gently she shakes her head, steps forward and holds out her hand.
~ Ziah ~
I’m wondering as I watch Dylan drive away how pathetic I am for wishing he’d have given me a hug. I want to scream, it’s so infuriating, but at the same time, I get it. He’s such a bad idea for me that I should be glad, but I also feel enough around him to know that it still sucks.
“So.” Lora bursts into my room. “The girls are coming in this weekend for some girl time and final dress fittings.”
“Okay. When does this start?”
“Now!” Karissa and Mardie burst in behind her.
“And,” Mardie jumps onto my bed, sending her short, black hair flying. It’s a little crazy since I’ve only met her once, but she’s like a ball of Asian crazy-fury. “I got you a fake ID so you can come out with us tonight.”
I stare at Lora with wide eyes.
Lora shrugs. “It’s Saturday afternoon. I want NO talking about homework or anything but fun.”
“Come on, Ziah.” Karissa gives me a big smile. Her hair’s red now, and I actually can’t remember what color it was last time I saw her.
I stand up off my bed, and set my American government text down.
“Now we need to dress you.” Karissa stands in front of my closet frowning.
“Um… If we’re just going to try on dresses, how does it matter what I wear?” I ask.
The two friends both freeze and stare at me. Lora laughs.
“Don’t worry, Ziah. You’ll get used to them. Best to just nod and smile.” Lora’s grinning and relaxed. Probably just glad not to be the only object of their attention.
Mardie turns to Karissa. “I think Ziah needs that blue halter top of yours.”
“Oh!” Karissa’s eyes widen. “Yes, and find some skinny jeans.”
I stand in my room in a daze, and by the time they’re all done primping, there’s no spot of carpet visible on my floor, and I don’t feel like myself. But I do think I might pass for twenty-one. I’m under this makeup somewhere, I’m just not sure where.
All of us are in our dresses, and standing together, I finally get it. Lora’s dress is that slim sheath of antiqued lace that drifts out around her—gorgeous doesn’t even begin to describe it. Me, Mardie, and Karissa are all in the same simple black heels, and our dresses are all very different but go together. Mine’s totally the best, and Lora even had them add some sheer lace to the top so I don’t feel too nak*d.
All the sewing is done, and they just marked Karissa’s for her lack of chest.
“So not fair.” Mardie shakes her head at me. “You and your sister have the same tall, lithe body. I’m stuck forever as ‘cute.’”
Karissa laughs. She’s not quite as tall as Lora and I, but she’s thin, almost too thin. Almost no boobs, and her red hair isn’t as shockingly red now that it’s pulled up. But it’s still shockingly red.
“Wow,” Mom says as she sits watching. “You girls all look so beautiful.”
Lora’s beaming. “I’m getting married. Like really, seriously, getting married.”
We stand in this awkward group hug of girlie elbows and perfumes and overdone hair.
“Let’s go get wasted.” Karissa laughs as she jogs in the shoes back to her dressing room.
“Ziah.” Mom gives me her stern look, and instead of being embarrassed, I walk carefully toward her in my stilt shoes while the girls head the other way.
I’m definitely going to need some practice time in these heels.
“I have no idea what these girls have planned, but here’s my credit card. If you need a cab home, just do it, okay?” She slides me her card.
“Okay. Thanks, Mom.” I have no idea what we’re up to tonight, but I’m not going to be the one who goes home early.
I’m done with James, there’s no Dylan, and I look like… Well, old enough to have some fun.
I’m floating. And laughing. And I’ve been hit on so many times, my ego’s probably almost as big as Dylan’s.
“The boys will be here any second.” Lora raises her glass before her and her two friends down another shot.
I’m drinking a margarita, and it’s amazing. I’m not sure how many I’ve had, but we’ve been here a long time. My lips are totally numb, so I’m thinking a way lot.
I knew Lora’s friends were fun, but I had no idea they were so hysterical. I’m laughing harder than I remember laughing in forever.
Derrick runs up behind Lora and grabs her around the waist. She screams but turns and falls into his arms.
“Wow. You got a head start.” He chuckles as she pulls away.
“You can’t keep up with me when we start at the same time.” She kisses his cheek. “I figure we’re even.”
Derrick laughs and some blond guy that must be a friend of his from out of town slaps him on the back, and in moments, Blondie and Karissa are dancing on the small corner of the bar that’s a sort-of dance floor.
And there’s Dylan. Who is staring. And I’m not afraid of him at all anymore. At all. Way at all. This is brilliant. He walks around the table, I’m assuming to say hi to me because we’ve been talking a bit since his whole big admission on why he’s such a chicken shit about relationships.
I giggle a little. Chicken shit. And when I stand up to greet him, the room tilts at such a crazy angle that I end up in his arms. My face is plastered against his hard, delicious smelling chest, and he’s holding me up.
“Hi.” He has this funny little smug smile.
I frown as I stand and find my feet again, staying way too close. “You’re not twenty-one. How did you get in?”
“My dad’s business partner owns the place.” Dylan still looks smug. “How did you get in?”
I ignore his question. “Do you think I look pretty?”
I’m only half aware this is something I’d never, ever, in a million years say. I even spin around so he can see my super-tight jeans and Karissa’s blue halter top, which might be a size too small, and my hair, which is in a perfectly messy pile on my head, leaving my neck exposed and my back bare.
“Of course you do.” His eyes dart around before he does his ear-scratchy thing.
“Wanna dance?” I reach out my hand.
“I’ll dance with you,” some guy says from behind me.
When I turn to face him, he’s pretty cute. Too old for me, but what the hell. One dance.
“Perfect.” I reach my arm up and slide it over his shoulder as his hands slide around the lowest part of my waist.
“I don’t think so.” Lora grabs my arm.
The guy looks between us twice and backs away.
“Ziah.” She puts a hand on either shoulder and looks at me way too closely. “How much have you had to drink?”
Her face is so scowly and hilarious. I start to giggle again. Derrick’s smirking behind her, and Mardie starts to duck away.
“Oh, no you don’t.” Lora turns to Mardie. “How many of these things has she had?”
Mardie shrugs. “I dunno. You were here, too.”
“But Mardie was sneaking them in.” I giggle again.
“Thank you.” Mardie’s eyes widen at me, which brings Lora’s attention to her and off me.
“It’s one thing to let her come, but she’s plastered.” Lora sighs.
I tug on my bottom lip, pulling it away from my face wondering if I can see it because it feels funny.
Mardie leans toward Lora. “We were curious, you know? You can drink like a fish and just keep on moving, but Ziah…”
“Can’t.” Lora puts her arm around me. “We should get you home.”
“I just got here.” Derrick slides his arm around her waist.
I get all warm and fuzzy again seeing them close together. I touch them both on the cheek and push their faces a little closer together. “You two are soooo beautiful. Your children will be almost as gorgeous as me.”