I hit end. The palms of my hands are red from where I beat them against the steering wheel. My eyes sting. Rain starts pelting my windshield as hard as when I was outside the restaurant with Ziah. Ziah… I still have someone left. Someone who hasn’t pushed me aside. Who wants me and doesn’t keep things from me. When the voicemail picks up, I end the call and dial her again. Pull it together, Dylan. Don’t freak out. Come on, Ziah. Pick up the phone.
I clear my throat, trying not to sound like I’m having a nervous breakdown. “Hey… I… Can I come over?”
“What’s up? I’m kind of in the middle of something right now.”
She’s in the middle of something? Doesn’t she know I need her right now? “Can’t you break away?”
“Is everything okay?”
Then I hear a different voice. A male voice with her. “Hurry up, slow poke.”
My heart is going crazy now. I feel all jittery. “Who is that?”
She stalls for a minute, and I know. I know who she’s pushing me aside for.
“It’s James. We were just—”
I hang up.
Wrong. I was so wrong. She left me, too. Just when I started to trust her. When I needed her. I throw my phone in the passenger seat. I’m not cracking anymore, I’m shattering. She’s just like the rest of them. When push comes to shove, she bails on me, too.
Slamming the Hummer into drive, I jerk into traffic, needing to be anywhere but here.
~ Ziah ~
I hit send and it cuts straight to Dylan’s voicemail. My legs collapse beneath me, and I’m suddenly sitting on the sofa.
“Ziah!” James yells. “I need help in here!”
“Quiet for a sec!” I rest my head in my hands. I hit send again. Voicemail. My heart drops.
Why do I feel like something just went really, really wrong? Dylan’s voice sounded so… hollow. What happened? It’s not like him to call and be so desperate to come over. At all. And if he was “trying” like he said he would, he’d have made a joke about his awesome boyfriend powers or something, not sounded so weird.
And why, why did he have to call when we were studying? Why did he hang up and not let me explain? Something happened. Dylan likes a good banter, the fun back and forth. But maybe now that we both want more, things have changed.
My hands go to my stomach. “Oh, God,” I whisper. “I never even told him James and I were talking again.”
“Told who what?” James asks as he steps into the living room. The rest of our study group isn’t here, and now I wonder if he even invited them.
“Dylan.” I let my eyes find James’s. “I didn’t tell him we were speaking.”
“Who’s Dylan?” he asks, folding his arms.
“He’s…” How do I describe Dylan? “I really don’t want to talk about this with you, and I think I just completely let him down.” My phone is still clutched in my hand.
“So is that why we can’t be together anymore?” James’s voice is filled with irritation.
I don’t have time for this. “James? Get over yourself. We were friends who turned into something more because we have so much in common. But we’re done. We were done before Dylan and I started, and we wouldn’t have lasted anyway, not after Alyssa.”
“Didn’t take you long to find a replacement.” He sounds all sulky.
“You didn’t even wait ‘til we were split to find a replacement!” I shriek. “I think I might have somehow just really screwed up something I care about! It’s not about you!” Wow. I’m completely freaked out.
He stands way too still for a moment. “We’re really, totally over.”
My insides feel all antsy. Something’s wrong, and it’s part me and part something that happened before Dylan called me. I run my hands over my head, my phone still clutched in one of them.
“What do I do?” The words just come out.
“Go find him.” James’ arms drop to his sides.
I throw my arms briefly around James and run out the door, leaving him alone in my house.
I pull into Dylan’s driveway as a BMW pulls out. My eyes catch the woman’s face. Dylan’s blue eyes look back at me. His aunt or something? I’m not sure. Lora said some of their family was coming to town.
His driveway is practically a parking lot in front of his house, and coming here in Mom’s beat-up Subaru makes me feel like sort of an outsider in the life of Dylan. His dad jogs down the front steps.
“Mr. Gibson?” I can’t believe he didn’t notice me right away.
“Hey, Ziah. Bad timing.” He glances around so nervously making me feel even more panicky.
“I got a weird phone call from Dylan, and—”
“When?” He takes a few jogging steps toward me and rests his hand on my arm.
My chest drops again. “What’s going on?”
His dad pushes out a hard breath. “When did he call?”
“I don’t know. Thirty minutes ago? Traffic was bad, and…” and now I’m having a hard time breathing.
“He was already gone when he called you.” He releases my arm and stands back.
“If I knew that, I wouldn’t be about to leave you alone in my driveway.” He begins walking away. “I waited for him to come home, and now…”
“Wait!” I plead as I follow. “What’s going on?”
“Family stuff, Ziah.” He reaches into his pocket. “Here’s my card. Please call if you hear from him, okay?” He continues toward his car.
I stop in my tracks. “Tell him I’m worried!” I call after him. “Or I’m sorry!” Or I’m an idiot…
Mr. Gibson leaps into his car and peels out of the driveway. I’m left standing beside my mom’s car with his business card in my hand in front of their monstrous house. And in that moment, it all comes together in my mind—family stuff, Dylan’s mom, the blue-eyed woman. The reason he needed me.
He must think I bailed on him, just like everyone else. I didn’t listen closely enough to him when he called, and that was all it took—the end of Dylan and Ziah. I barely make it back to the car before slumping in the driver’s seat and sucking in shaky breaths in a failed attempt to not cry.
The drive back to my house is dark, long, and slow. Mr. Gibson never came back, and nothing happened. I waited for hours, alternating calling Dylan’s phone and Lora’s. Mom has a big banquet tonight at the restaurant, so I can’t call her. I don’t know why Lora isn’t answering me. I’m still not sure if I want to tell her what’s happening between Dylan and me, though I’m probably past caring what she knows. I slide low in the old flowered chair Dylan and I shared yesterday and wish for things to be different.
Lora bursts through the front door with Derrick right behind her. I almost leap out of the chair. “Have you heard from him?” I ask.
They both slump. “We were hoping you had,” Derrick says.
“Why didn’t you answer my calls?” I ask.
“Lost my phone.” Lora shrugs. “I keep changing bags, and…”
Derrick sits on the ottoman and rests his elbows on his knees. “I screwed up, Ziah. If Dylan calls, can you pass that on?”
“Did you know?” I ask.
Derrick and Lora exchange a glance. Do they think I haven’t caught on?
“I saw her, Derrick. It was your mom, right?”
“Dylan told you about Mom?” Derrick sits back watching me.
“Yeah, when…” but I let that trail off, not wanting them to know all the details.
“What’s going on between you two?” Lora asks.
Derrick waves his hand between us. “You don’t have to answer, Ziah.”
“We just…” I think about kissing him, about him teasing me for burning popcorn, and about us watching movies. “I guess we were trying for more than friends.”
Derrick closes his eyes for a second. I don’t know if this is good or bad or irritation.
Actually, he doesn’t get to be irritated. “Did you know your mom was coming? Isn’t this something you should have warned him about?” I ask.
“Ziah!” Lora snaps.
“No.” Derrick holds up his hand. “It’s fine. I tried, and he didn’t want to talk about her. I let it go because I wasn’t sure if we’d even find her. I had no idea she was coming or if I’d even found the right person. She knows where we live, obviously.”
I start blinking because I hate knowing Dylan probably feels like I shafted him the way everyone else has, and I’m mad at him for not giving me two more seconds to explain.
Derrick rests a hand on my knee. “Relax, Ziah. Dylan tends to be overdramatic.” He sounds like he’s trying to convince himself, not me. “It’s not your fault.”
But it is. “When he called…”
Now my voice won’t work, and I feel like a ridiculous, whiny girl. Lora sits on the arm of the chair next to me and rests her hand on my shoulder. It really just makes me feel worse.
“James was here because we were studying. It was something we set up way before Dylan and I were trying, and Dylan didn’t give me a chance to explain. I just made it all worse.” This time when I blink, the tears spill down.
“You’re a cool girl, Ziah. I’ll find him and get it all straightened out, okay?” Derrick stands up, and I realize he’s going to be around a lot. Like he’ll answer Lora’s phone sometimes, and when they have kids, he’ll be there. He’s going to be my brother-in-law. Crazy.
“Ziah, I’m gonna stick with Derrick for a few more minutes, but I’ll be back later, okay?”
I nod as they start for the door. “I’m glad you’re marrying my sister.”
Derrick stops, turns, and smiles. “So am I. Let’s hope we find my little brother in the few days before the wedding.”
And this time he’s not able to hide his worry from me.
My body’s tired as I flop onto my back on the bed. I’m both hopeless and desperate to make things better all at the same time. Even though I’ve really screwed up, I’m not going down without some sort of fight. At least he’ll know how I feel. I pull out my dying phone, plug it in, and start a series of texts.
ME: OK. I DON’T CARE IF YOU WANT TO HEAR FROM ME OR NOT.
ME: I MESSED UP. I SHOULD HAVE READ UR VOICE AND KNOWN IT WAS IMPORTANT. I SHOULD HAVE TOLD YOU JAMES AND I WERE TALKING & STUDYING. HE KNOWS ABOUT U. HE KNOWS I DON’T LIKE HIM.
ME: I FEEL LIKE SHIT, DYLAN. I GO FROM FEELING LIKE THE WORST PERSON ON THE PLANET TO BEING PISSED B/C U WON’T ANSWER ME.
ME: PLEASE JUST, IF UR 2 MAD OR IF THINGS SUCK 2 MUCH FOR U TO TRY TO BE W/ ME, I GET IT. I FEEL THAT THOUGHT CRUSHING ME, BUT I GET IT.
ME: NO MATTER WHAT, WILL U SEND A MSG 2 ME, THRU MY SIS OR A TEXT SO I KNOW UR OK?