"You left your clothes in the dryer this morning. Make sure you don’t forget them anymore, okay? Your dad had to take them out for you."
Oh no. Wouldn’t want him to have to lift a finger when it comes to me. "I’m sure that was a real hardship for him. You know, moving clothes for his son, and all."
"Jaden." She doesn’t get a chance to finish speaking because the front door slams.
Great. He’s home. I hoped I wouldn’t have to see him today.
He struts over to her and grabs her by the hips. I think he steps hard on purpose, like it makes him sound strong or something.
"How’s my woman today?" he asks before kissing her.
"Wonderful. Did you have a good day at work?" She’s actually smiling at him.
He doesn’t spare me a glance as he talks to her. Doesn’t say excuse me as he pushes around me, his shoulder hitting mine.
And she doesn’t call him on it. Not that it would matter if she did. And not like I wouldn’t rather him pretend I’m not here anyway.
Neither of them notice or care as I walk out of the room.
Chapter TwoI stand in front of my mirror. It’s stupid but it still feels weird to see my hair light brown. I stopped bleaching it this year. Without thinking about it, I take out the ring in my eyebrow. I don’t know why I do it, but I put on the one Priscilla got me for my birthday last fall. It’s a silver bar with studs on each end. It’s nothing special, but it’s one I mentioned liking months before. She could have afforded to get me anything, but she got me a ten dollar stud that she remembered I liked because she knew it was me more than anything else.
Which shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is. I swear I’ve suddenly turned into a sentimental sap that I would have made fun of two years ago.
"Aww, aren’t you pretty wearing all that jewelry. Are you sure you don’t want to wear a dress, too?" Dad’s voice is low, steady.
My whole body stiffens as I try to ignore him.
"Too good to answer me like you’re too good to fold your own clothes?"
I can’t even say his voice is slurred because he’s been drinking or anything like that. The fact is, he just hates me. He always has. Too bad I don’t know why. "It’s really not that big a deal. It was an accident. It won’t happen again."
He laughs. I look behind me to see his beefy arms crossed over his chest as he leans in my doorway. My fists tighten. What would it be like to punch him? To physically repay him for all the words he’s jammed into my skull for all these years?
"That’s right! You think you’re going to New York with your friends soon, right? How are you going to do that? Mooch off them? I know you don’t have any money and you sure as hell aren’t getting anymore of mine. Eighteen years is enough of that. Pretty soon they’ll get tired of picking up your slack, kid. It won’t take them long to realize what I’ve always known. You’re not worth it. You’re not worth anything."
His words hit home everything I already know. They fill me up, echo in my head until I want nothing more than to break something. Anything. Everything. "They won’t have to pay my way. I can get a job, and for school they’re called scholarships. Maybe you’ve heard of them?" I never used to talk back to him. Never. Last year when things started to get worse though, I realized it didn’t matter. Nothing I did would change him. I would never be good enough regardless, so why take it silently?
"Watch your mouth, boy."
This time, I ignore him. It makes him madder than when I talk back.
But the shitty part is, he’s right. I’m not going into this situation the same way my friends are. The beater died which means I don’t even have that one thing Bastian used to need. My parents didn’t put money away for me like Aspen and Sebastian’s. Mine don’t have more money than God like Priscilla’s and if they did, they wouldn’t share it with me. How long will the couple grand I saved last?
I fight to shake those thoughts from my head. It’s not like he’s telling me anything I haven’t known forever. Funny how you can fool yourself. I used to think everything would work out. We would all make the trip and things would change for me. I would be more than the Jaden I am now. The older I get, the more I know that’s not gonna happen. How long will it take me to get a job? The scholarships I applied for, I didn’t get. I’m not like the rest of them… I’m not even sure what I want to do yet.
He steps into the room. He’s never put his hands on me. Sometimes I think it would be easier to deal with than his words that still rot inside me long after physical wounds would heal.
"You think you have all the answers, don’t you, smartass? One of these days you’re going to wake up and realize you’re nothing. You think you’re a man, but real men don’t put holes in their faces and dress like bums. You’re nothing but the product of—"
"Mike. Do you want to come watch a movie with me? I made some popcorn for you," Mom’s voice cuts him off. Not ‘don’t talk to my son that way.’ Not ‘get the f**k out of my house.’ It’s ‘I made you popcorn. Come hang out with me.’
I turn away from them. My nails bite into my hand because my fist is so tight. I can’t f**king wait to get out of here.
Once in a while our foursome becomes a threesome. We always used to go to parties together, but now Pris goes with Craig and I get stuck with the love doctor and Aspen. Totally not my idea of a good time. Especially when you can tell they’re trying to be extra friendly to me like they’re afraid I’m going to break down and cry.
And they wonder why I haven’t talked to them about what goes on in my life. Not that I don’t think they get it on some level, but I’m already sick of the poor-Jaden looks. Add to it that I’m pretty sure they both know the Pris thing makes me want to go all Incredible Hulk and tear stuff up, and yeah…so not doing the talking thing.
"I hear there’s going to be a ton of people here tonight," Aspen says. "Should be a good time."
"Definitely looking forward to having some fun and meeting a girl or two."
I don’t need a light in the car to know she’s giving me a sad look. Whatever. For once I’m being totally honest. I’m done with the monk routine I’ve been playing the past few months. I’m done with it all. It hasn’t done me any good anyway. I turn my hat around backward. Girls are always talking about my eyes. Might as well show them off.
We get to the house about five minutes later. Sebastian does his park-a-block-away thing, because it’s always easier to bail that way if the cops break up the party, and we start for the house.
"Do you realize this is probably one of the last parties we’ll have here? We’re about to graduate. After that, we’re going to New York. We def need to go out with a bang." Bastian nudges me.
"You’re such a douche," I tease. He’s always been into everything being epic, huge. It’s gotten us into trouble more times than I can count and while I’m totally down with what he’s saying, I also have to give him crap about it too.
Well, I agree with the going-out-with-a-bang part. The New York gig I both dread and can’t wait for.
A slap-boxing match suddenly breaks out between us before Aspen jumps in the middle to make us stop. Sebastian pulls her to him and gives her a kiss, and I just stand there like the douche I just called him. This used to be where, instead of kissing, they’d get into a silly argument. And then Pris would start in on me. Now I’m sitting here like an idiot who is totally getting annoyed with his own thoughts. Why does everything always go back to her?
"You gonna let me in on that?" I pretend to try to pull Aspen away from him. "I’m a much better kisser than he is."
She swats me. "And how do you know that, huh? Is there something I need to know about?"
"Sebastian couldn’t handle me." I put her in a loose headlock and mess up her hair.
"Jaden!" She easily slips away from me. "You just messed up my hair!"
"That was the plan." Both Sebastian and I start to laugh and then we’re heading for the house again.
"Pris just texted. She wants us to meet her by the back door for the PPP." Aspen slips her phone into her pocket.
We started the pre-party plan a few years ago. We always had a plan for who would drive, what time to have meet-ups, etc. We may give each other crap a lot, but we always had each other’s backs. Even when she went to a party with Craig, we made sure to have the PPP. Only tonight…tonight, I don’t know why, but I can’t deal with it. Can’t deal with seeing her.
My dad’s words beat down on me, "you’re nothing…" If I’m not even good enough for that prick, there’s no way I’d ever been good enough for a girl like her. I’ve always known that, but somehow the words feel more real tonight.
"I’m cool. I’ll text you guys if I need you." I start to walk away, but Sebastian grabs my arm.
"Umm…you’re screwing with our mojo here. We always do this."
I shrug and pull my arm away. "We don’t really need to anymore. Aspen has you to take care of her and Pris has Craig. Bases covered." I don’t look back to see his reaction.
Pushing through the door, I start to shoulder my way through the crowd. It’s packed. So crazy busy it’s hard to even walk through the place. Just what I needed. I head straight for the kitchen, find the keg and hand over my cup fee to the keg monitor. I give him enough for two cups, which he marks so everyone knows I purchased, fills them, and hands them over.
I drink both cups before getting two more. I’m good and buzzed not long after getting here. For a second I let myself wonder if they met up with Pris and got the PPP out of the way. No matter what I said, I definitely don’t want to leave her in the hands of Craig.
And, on that note, it’s time to move on. I’m heading toward the living room, where the music is playing . People are dancing on couches, tables, the floor. I stumble a little when someone runs into me. I turn to tell whoever it is to watch out, but big, green eyes look up at me and a pair of thin lips stretch into a smile.
"How’d I get so lucky to have you run into me?" Yeah, I know. I’m laying it on thick and it’s actually ridiculous, but her smile grows wider.
"Hi." Her cheeks turn a light shade of pink.
"I’m Jaden. What’s your name?"
"You here with anyone?"
"Just my friends."
"Definitely." She starts to lose some of her shyness when I pull her into my arms and start to dance with her. Is it a slow song? Nope, but what’s the point in dancing if you’re not close when you do it?
Samantha and I move together to the music. Her arms wrap around my neck and sit under the bill of my hat. Her waist is small, thin, and for a second Pris pops into my head. They’re so different, these two. She’s got that smooth, dark skin where this girl is lighter. She’s curvier. I remember her and Aspen arguing about it once. Pris was doing that girl thing of thinking she was fat.
I wanted to tell her, screw that. Curves are hot. But yeah…of course, I didn’t.
"Do you go to school here?" I ask Samantha against her ear. "I don’t remember seeing you."
"No… I’m one town over."
We keep dancing until the song ends and keep moving into the next one. Once it’s over, I reach for her hand and lead her to the quietest corner we can find. It feels wrong, but I’m trying to move on, so I lean forward, cupping her cheek with my hand. But then…she gives me that sweet smile. The one that says she’s looking for a boyfriend and I’m totally not looking for a girlfriend.