I stiffen. Heat rips through my body like someone injected it into my veins. It starts in my chest, cracking and crystalizing my insides as it spreads. There’s a part of me, the smart part, that knows I’m being an idiot. I’m freaking out when I don’t have a right to. But there’s the other part, the one that hides deep inside of me so I can pretend it doesn’t exist, that knows it should be me sitting with Priscilla right now. My hand in her hair. My lips on her neck. I should be stealing food off her lunch plate and saying something stupid because it’s so like us for her to be pissed at me.
I’ve been making her mad ever since that time in kindergarten when she yelled at me for Sebastian’s lame ass pulling Aspen’s ponytail. Aspen started chasing Bastian like she was supposed to, since he’s the one who did it, but Pris narrowed those dark eyes at me like it was my fault, before she charged.
I let her catch me.
I like it when she catches me.
But last summer, she stopped chasing. It sucks.
So does my internal monologue every time I see her. It’s really starting to piss me off. I’ve gone soft and I hate it, but I can’t seem to make myself do anything about it, either. Instead I grin, talk shit to Bastian, tease Aspen, and pretend it doesn’t tear me up every time I look at her. That I don’t know it’s my own damn fault, and that there’s nothing I can do to change it. It’s for the best.
In case you haven’t caught on, it’s been a long school year.
The Pris dating Craig thing is new, but it doesn’t feel like it.
I want my fist to meet his nose. Multiple times.
Aren’t I just peachy?
I’ve become a serious buzz kill. Priscilla, Sebastian, Aspen, and I have been tight forever. It’s always been the four of us, but last summer Sebastian fell for Aspen. It was only a matter of time anyway and it’s cool. I’m happy for them and all that, but it’s made stuff for Priscilla and me tough because I want to be with her, too. I want her way more than I should, but I also realize it’s a no go. She deserves way better. For her sake, I hate that it took her so long to realize it.
Someone slams into my back, making me stumble. I whip around and take a swing at Sebastian, which he dodges, bouncing on the balls of his feet to try and look like he’s some kind of heavyweight boxer.
"Don’t make me take you out, Doc," I tease. The whole thing with him and Aspen started because Sebastian ran some stupid, anonymous business online where he called himself the Hook-up Doctor. Aspen contacted him to hook her up with this idiot who used to work at the pizza place with them, only he didn’t know it was her and she didn’t know it was him. He started to fall for her and everything was all set for a movie-ending happily ever after until he pulled a bonehead-Sebastian move.
It all worked out in the end because if he wasn’t so blind, he would have known they wanted each other probably since that day in kindergarten. Priscilla and I were his only failed hook-up.
I slam the door on those thoughts.
"Please, I could take you with my eyes closed—shit, ouch," Sebastian limps after accidentally stepping on Aspen’s foot.
"Hello? You stepped on me. I should be the one saying ouch!" She pushes a strand of her light brown hair behind her ear. Sebastian buries his face in her neck the same way Craig just did with Pris. Aspen’s hand threads through his black hair.
"Sorry, baby,” Bastian leans forward. "Gimme a kiss. My lips have healing power."
Aspen swoons and I almost vomit in my mouth. "Healing power? Did I mention I fell on my ass this morning? It hurts right here.” I turn and point to my left cheek. Sebastian tries to kick me, but I jerk out of his way, laughing.
"Ha, ha." He smirks. He knows that was a good joke. He just doesn’t want to admit it.
"You’re just jealous I thought of it."
We fall in line together as the three of us head toward Priscilla at our table. Pris sitting with her boyfriend at the table that’s belonged to the four of us since our freshman year.
Seriously, it’s like I can’t stop those little comments from body-slamming their way into my brain. This isn’t supposed to be the way it works. I’m not sure how it was supposed to work since I’ve always known I couldn’t go there. Not with her, even though she makes my pulse jack-hammer. But before, I could ignore it. After all the shit went down with Aspen and Sebastian last summer—after I found out she tried to find a way to make me see her in a different light—it makes things a whole hell of a lot harder to ignore.
I’ve always seen her. Always.
I’ve just been trying not to.
"What’s up?" I fall onto the bench across from them. I give her a little nod, but don’t pay attention to the douche. Really? Craig? He’s always been a clown. I don’t know what she sees in him.
After twisting the top off my Cherry Pepsi, I down a drink.
"Hey, Jay," Pris replies, but gives her attention to Aspen. "Did you finish your math homework?"
"Pris, you realize we graduate in two weeks, right?" Sebastian cuts in. "I’m pretty sure there’s a coolness rule that says you’re not supposed to do homework anymore. It’s expected and shit."
Aspen nudges him. "I did my homework."
"Guess Jay and I are the only cool ones, then."
We hit fists. "Not really a newsflash, B." We both laugh while the girls roll their eyes like they always do. Craig’s on his phone playing whatever his game of the week is. He’s always on his phone when he’s around us. It might or might not be because Sebastian and I don’t really pay any attention to him. Probably not a very cool thing to do, but I seriously can’t stand to look at the guy and Bastian’s just tight like that. He’s my boy and it’s in our code to always have each other’s backs. I’m sure he’s cool to Craig when I’m not around, but just like I never would have been tight with Mattie, the guy Aspen got with for a little bit last year, Bastian wouldn’t hang me out to dry either.
Plus, I’m pretty sure Craig dislikes us as much as we dislike him.
Something catches my eye and l look over to see Craig pull out a pack of gum and push a piece of spearmint into his mouth.
"Want one, Priscilla?" He holds the pack out to her.
Hearing him call her Priscilla makes me want to go nuts.
The way Sebastian smirks and turns his head to look at me, I realize I must have said that out loud. Oops. Not.
"Jaden!" Priscilla’s voice is tight. It’s different when she’s mad at me now. Before it was just us and it was never real anger and now it’s…hell, I don’t know. It’s just different.
She turns to Craig and takes the piece of gum he offered her. I can’t believe she actually puts it in her mouth, just to spite me.
Yep. That’s my clue to get out of here.
I push to my feet. "See ya after school, Bastian." I turn to Craig. "Ever since she got sick off Peppermint Schnapps last year, Spearmint makes her feel like she’s going to puke."
I shove my hands into my pockets. Without another word, I’m out.
"What was up at lunch today?" Sebastian asks as I lean the seat back in his SUV. After everything went down last summer, his mom made him keep the job at the pizza place. He’d been saving for a car, but a couple months ago his mom and her new husband Roger bought this for him. They want him to save his money for New York this summer. He’s going to school for music and the girls are going to NYU. For years we’ve planned for all of us to go out there after high school.
My gut clenches thinking about it, but I push it aside and focus on the fact that it’s cool Bastian gets to cart my ass around now instead of the other way around.
What did he ask me? Oh, yeah. Lunch. "Umm, I ate it? That’s typically what happens at lunch. In fact, I hear it’s the whole concept." I smirk as I play with the ring in my bottom lip. I have one in my eyebrow too, a fact that my a**hole of a…dad hates. I hate even using the name "Dad" for him because it’s not what he acts like.
It’s part of the reason I like the piercings.
"You know what I’m talking about, Captain Avoid-an-Answer. The whole calling Pris’s boyfriend a douche and then bailing."
I look at him. "He is a douche."
"He is, but you gotta pick the time and place to call him on it. All you’re doing is pissing off Pris."
I want to bang my head into the glass. It shouldn’t be this way. Sebastian isn’t supposed to be the level-headed one who actually sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. But I know he’s right. It’s like I can’t stop myself though.
Why the hell did everything have to go down like it did last summer?
Bastian realizing he loved Aspen.
Finding out Priscilla wanted to try and hook-up with me.
And that it didn’t change a thing.
Sebastian takes a right, heading toward my driveway. "Dude… You like her. You won’t admit it, but I know you do. Seriously, why don’t you just—"
"Not going there." I feel his eyes on me and it makes me feel like a p**sy. "Sorry, not all of us want a ball and chain at eighteen. There are way too many girls out there to—"
"When’s the last time you hooked-up?"
"Huh?" His question surprises me. He’s not usually one to talk about hook-ups.
"You heard me, Goldilocks. When’s the last time you kissed a girl? Hooked-up at a party? Went out?"
I drop my head against the headrest and close my eyes. Damn him for falling in love with Aspen and suddenly wanting to talk about important stuff. The fact is, I’m not really feelin’ it anymore. I mean, it was cool when it was the two of us—when I didn’t know who it hurt, but it doesn’t feel the same anymore.
I’m not gonna lie; I did meet a girl at a party right after Priscilla got with Craig, but it didn’t feel like it used to. Ever since that party on her birthday last summer, nothing has felt the same. I pretend it does. Do a pretty good job of it, most of the time.
"Maybe I just don’t tell you about it since you’re all happily married and stuff."
Sebastian laughs. "I’m being real, Jay. What’s up?"
Luckily we pull into my driveway right as he asks me that. "Nothing’s up. Maybe I’ll have to rectify my lack of hook-ups tonight." I get out of the car, slamming the door behind me.
Each step I take toward my house makes my gut churn more. I hate this place and can’t wait to be out of here. Again, that makes me think of New York—how we’re supposed to take this huge road trip out there in a couple weeks. It used to be all we talked about, but I think everyone knows it’s going to be different now. I’ve always been a little more on the outside with my friends. I mean, not really, but Sebastian has this kickass mom. Aspen’s parents are a little nutty, but they’re cool. Priscilla’s parents aren’t around as much as the others, but they give her everything she wants. Stuff she probably doesn’t want, too.
Me? Let’s just say when the group went camping—it was always with Aspen’s parents. When we got something cool, it was because Priscilla’s parents got it for her. When we need a place to stay or even something as small as a cooked meal, we went to Sebastian’s mom.
My parents have never been in the equation.
Now Bastian and Aspen are together. Priscilla has the douche.
And then there’s me.
I push the front door open and close it quietly behind me. Mom’s in the kitchen washing dishes. I’m not sure where my dad is.
"Hi. How was your day?" she asks.
"All right." I don’t bother telling her I’m going out tonight, because I know it doesn’t matter. I’m sure things are easier on her when I’m not around anyway.