"Feel better?" I ask.
She comes to stand behind the chair I’m sitting in. "Yeah. How about you?"
I nod my head while I move around some of the little pieces to find what I’m looking for.
"You tore the whole thing apart, Jay."
"I know." I look up at her and wink. "Trust me. I can get it back together again."
"I know you can."
Her words do something funny to my chest. Make it sort of tight or something, which makes me feel like an idiot so I ignore it.
"Do you want to take a shower?"
Unable to hold it back, I grin at her. "Are you offering?"
She rolls her eyes, but I swear there’s a smile hiding in them. "Perv."
Now I’m the one smiling because there’s definitely some kind of happy in her voice. I know it doesn’t mean anything because even if she wasn’t over me, I’m not sticking around, but I can’t help reveling in the way it feels. I want to hold onto the good because it usually only happens with the three people on this trip with me.
"You like it. Don’t pretend you don’t." I dodge her fist and jump out of the chair.
"You’re such a boy. Stupido.” She adds and I’m laughing.
Just to keep giving her shit, I wink at her, before I grab my bag and head into the bathroom. I take a quick shower, brush my teeth, and then I’m back in the room a few minutes later. I’m really wanting to take my shirt off because it’s sort of hot and I don’t usually sleep in one, but I’m not sure if I should.
"I’m going to call my parents to check in. Did you call your mom?" She doesn’t look me in the eyes as she speaks which is a total dent to my pride. Does she feel sorry for me? Is she thinking about what I said to her last night? That’s exactly what I want to avoid, why I don’t want to talk about the fact my whole life the man that lived with me called me a piece of shit and my mom didn’t do anything about it.
"I’m cool. I’m gonna go grab us a drink and some ice." This time, it’s me avoiding eye contact with her as I head over the connecting door and bang on it.
Sebastian jerks the door open. "What the hell, Jay. You’re killing the mood over here. I was trying to romance my girl."
"Don’t listen to him, Jaden!" Aspen calls to me. "I’m reading and he was passed out!"
"Whatever." Bastian scratches his head. "Was just getting a little rest before the action started."
I laugh at him. "Come on, Romeo," I toss his word back from earlier. "Come get a soda and some ice with me."
"Aww, the next thing we know they’ll be going to the bathroom together, too!" Priscilla yells.
Aspen starts cracking up. "You guys are such good girlfriends!"
"Thanks, man. You just turned us into girls." Despite his words, Sebastian is pulling a shirt over his head and then following me.
"Ma wants you to call her," Sebastian says as we start down the hall. "She said she tried your cell, but it’s turned off."
I forgot I’d done that. I pull it out of my pocket. There’s a missed call from Courtney, but no one else. "I will."
"She said to tell you to keep that shit on. She wants to be able to be in touch with you."
"Did she call it shit?"
We get to the soda machine and I buy myself a Cherry Pepsi and water for Priscilla. "You want anything?"
"I got it."
I don’t know why, but his words bug me. "I can buy you guys a soda, a**hole."
"Dude, I totally just missed something. I never said you couldn’t, but I also think I’m pretty capable of putting a dollar in the machine, too."
So I might have overreacted. Whatever.
"I really wish you’d quite being all ‘I am island’ and talk to one of us about whatever the hell you’ve got going on, Jay. Seriously." Sebastian leans against the wall, opens his soda, and takes a drink.
His words not only shock me, but I’m sort of grateful for them at the same time. I’m not sure which emotion to focus on. "Love has turned you into a sap. Since when do you want to talk about what’s in your heart or whatever?"
"Since I started to grow up. You should consider it sometime. Makes things a whole lot easier, Jay."
The last person I need a lecture on growing up from is Sebastian. "Are we living on the same planet? You never take anything seriously."
He takes another drink before replying. "I take Aspen seriously. My mom. Pris. And your dumb ass. Seriously, man. We’ve had fun the past few days. Are you really going to bail? It’s supposed to be the four of us. Don’t pretend you’re not having a good time with Pris."
"You’re the one who says I need to grow up. Maybe this is how I’m doing it. You’re not supposed to be with your best friends forever. That’s not the way the real world works, Sebastian. Life might be easy for you, but it’s not for the rest of us." But I want it to be. I want to stay with you guys. I want to be someone.
"You’re nothing but a waste of space. A loser. One of these days everyone is going to wake up and see that, you piece of shit."
Is it so wrong to want to walk away before they do it? Before Priscilla’s parents decide they don’t want me around their daughter for more than just a stupid graduation party?
Sebastian shakes his head. "You’re right, man. I couldn’t possibly know what it’s like to have a hard time. There’s no way I could actually be there for you or some shit. You might as well keep it all locked in. It’s better that way."
My body is tense. Anger sweeps through me.
But it’s also twined with the stupid feeling to open my mouth and talk to him. To tell him I don’t feel right. Don’t feel as good as them and that I can’t shut up Mike’s voice in my head. That I can’t stop wondering if my real dad threw me away too.
That I don’t want them to do the same.
"Shit," Sebastian pushes his hair out of his eyes. "I feel like a freaking girl here. We’re fighting like crazy. It’s just…" He shrugs. "Never mind. Come on. Let’s go back to the rooms. I want my girl and I’m pretty sure she’s missing me. I’m sure you want to get back to Pris, too." Sebastian winks.
I shake my head. Of course he had to get that last jab in. I don’t bother to set him straight, but I also can’t stop wondering what he was going to say.
I’m still pissed when I open the door to our room. It all gets forgotten when I see Priscilla standing with her back to me and hear her arguing on the phone.
"It’s my choice. You promised. It’s too late now."
It might be a janky thing to do, but I stand in the doorway, listening. It’s not like I’m eavesdropping. She can turn around and see me at any second, and it’s not like I snuck in.
For a few seconds she holds the phone, listening to whoever is on the other end. "Don’t worry. I get it. I know it’s not what Daddy wanted. You don’t have to keep reminding me."
This time her voice has an added sadness that I don’t like. It makes me open my mouth and say, "You okay, Priscilla?"
She whips around to face me, but she doesn’t speak, obviously listening on the phone again.
"It’s Jaden," she says, giving me a small smile. I close the door behind me and that’s when it starts. Her voice is raised and she’s speaking in Spanish, which means she doesn’t want me to know what she’s saying.
I’ve never heard her talk so fast. Her free hand is flying through the air, which means she’s really mad. When she tries to smile at me I know whatever is going on, has to do with me. How stupid am I? I never should have opened my mouth and said something without knowing who she was speaking to.
She locks herself in the bathroom for a few minutes, making me wonder what’s going on. Are they giving her a hard time for hanging with me? Telling her I’m all the things Mike told me I am? There’s no way I’ll let her get in trouble for me. I’ll leave before I let that happen.
When she finally emerges, I’m sitting on the edge of my bed, leg bouncing up and down like I’m on something. My heart is doing the same thing, banging around because I don’t like to see her upset.
Priscilla is pacing the room back and forth like I’ve never seen her do. She’s controlled and steady. She’s supposed to have it together and it kills me to see her unsure. I want to make it better.
"Dios! That makes me so mad!" she says, still with the back and forth.
"You wanna talk about it?" Those words feel weird coming out of my mouth because I never want to talk about anything, but I don’t want her to be like me. I don’t want all that shit trapped inside her until she wants to explode.
As though my same train of thought is driving through her head, she looks at me with this funny expression on her face. Her eyes are bigger and browner than I’ve ever seen them. It’s hard to read her face. Anger, maybe? Confusion? And then pain.
That’s when it happens. Like a trick of the eye, someone snaps their fingers and tears start pouring down her face. I don’t think, don’t even pause before I push to my feet, walk to her, and pull her in my arms.
Priscilla’s face buries into my shirt as she lets go; big, sobbing cries that vibrate through me. Wetness seeps through my shirt, but I don’t care. All I want to do right now is make it better. Take care of her. That’s what you do, right? When someone is important to you, you take care of them. You try to take their pain away, pull it into yourself if you can, because it’s easier to fight her demons for her than to risk someone scarring her.
I would take them all on if I could.
Nothing else matters right now so I shush her and rub her back and let my hands go through her hair. I’d do anything to make her feel better. Cut myself open and let her see all the secrets inside me. Whatever it takes. Whatever she needs.
But she keeps crying and I wonder if I’m doing something wrong. Not saying the right things. When her legs weaken and she goes slack against me, I stand for her, holding her against me as I back us up to the bed.
I lay down with her and pull her to me like I have a right to her or something. Like she’s mine when we both know she isn’t and never will be.
My lips actually f**king tingle, wanting to touch her forehead, her hairline, down until I find her lips. Which totally isn’t what she needs right now, and makes me feel like a dick for thinking it.
"Why won’t I ever be good enough for them?" she asks into my shirt.
I try to pull away so I can look at her, but she doesn’t let me. Her hand is knotted in the back of my shirt and it feels incredible to have her hold me this tight.
"There’s no one you’re not good enough for, Priscilla."
This just makes her cry harder and I wonder how I screwed that up.
"Shit… I’m sorry. I just mean… You have to be wrong, ya know? They’d do anything for you. You’re good at everything. There’s no way you’re not good enough for them. Maybe it was me? Because I’m here?"
This makes her pull away enough to look at me. "I don’t care what they think about you. And they may be willing to give me anything, but that’s not the same as doing anything for me, Jaden. It always comes with strings. Do you know the only reason I got to come to New York is because I agreed to one year of what I want to do, and then I have to go pre-law?" Some of that fierceness is coming back into her voice, but it’s all wrapped up in the pain.
"You don’t want to be a lawyer." She doesn’t. I used to think she did because of her dad and because she’s so good at arguing, but it’s not her.