Love Me Never

Page 16


There’s a long quiet. She reaches out her hand.
“Let’s start over? I’m Kayla Thermopolis.”
I shake her hand. “Isis. Isis Blake.”
“You’re really good at that history of the planet thing.”
“World history.” I smile as she repeats our first exchange at Avery’s party. Speak of the horned red-guy with a trident - Avery walks in at that moment. Kayla clearly sees her, but unlike most times she doesn’t scurry away to Avery’s side. She stays in front of me, and keeps talking.
“I’m…I’m having a party tonight. My parents are out of town, so. It’s just a little get-together. It’d be really awesome if could be there. There’ll be pretzels. And a piñata. You could even punch someone! But only if you really have to. Like, really really really have to. Like, if your life depends on it.” She thinks on that for a moment. “Actually, can you just not punch anyone there at all?”
“I’ll try,” I laugh.
“Okay! It starts at eight, so be there.”
I glance at Avery, who’s glaring swords at me. Claymores. Axes.
“Is Avery coming?” I ask. Kayla shrugs.
“No. She said she had something to do.”
“Are you sure you’re okay with her seeing me and you talking?”
“I’m – I don’t know. She doesn’t like it, but I owe you an apology, so. She’s really awesome and stuff, but I’m not gonna let her stop me from being polite.”
“Right. Cool. I’ll see you tonight, then.”
Kayla rushes back to Avery’s side, and Avery rips into her with snapped, quick words and barbed glances back at me.
After school, I rummage through my closet for something badass to wear, and settle on a black shirt with a red flannel over it, and a black skirt with tights. I used to not be into clothes. It’s hard to be into clothes when the only thing people see about you is the fat, not the fashion. After losing all that weight I couldn’t help but cultivate a newfound joy in dressing the body I’d worked so hard for.
“Are you going out tonight?” Mom peeks into my room and catches me applying eyeliner. I grin sheepishly.
“Uh, yeah. Kayla invited me at the last minute.”
“And who’s this Kayla?”
“The first person at school to call me something other than ‘New Girl’.”
Mom makes a little applauding motion. “I like her already.”
“Are you…” I trail off. “Are you gonna be okay alone, here?”
“I’ll be fine, don’t worry about me. When are you coming home?”
“I…I don’t know. Before midnight, definitely.”
“The cop will still be out there, tonight, so you don’t have to worry.”
She sweeps over and kisses the top of my head. “I know. I’m sorry for scaring you like that. It was just me being silly.”
I’m about to argue that it isn’t silly, but she pats my hand.
“Hurry now. You don’t want to be late.”
“But I do! It makes me seem important and busy!”
She laughs. I pull my hair into a side braid and grab my purse. Gum – check. Cash – check. Tampons – check. You never know when someone will start their period or when I’ll punch somebody and make their noses bleed. At least with tampons I can be considerate to my enemies.
Speaking of enemies, I have no idea if Jack will be there or not, and frankly I don’t care. I’m still not feeling the whole war thing, and I’m just barely in the mood to party to begin with. I throw together a hearty beef casserole and stick it in the oven for Mom before I go, and she waves as I pull out of the driveway. Halfway to Kayla’s house, she texts me to pick up red plastic cups. I make a haphazard u-turn and gun it to the nearest supermarket for the timeless keg party staple. I’m still feeling like crap, so I grab a jar of frosting to snack on. After losing eighty-five pounds, putting on two or three because of my still-shitty comfort eating habits is small time crime.
“Speaking of crime,” I whisper as I look into the rearview mirror. Two someones stroll along the sidewalk across from the supermarket, coming out of a fancy Italian restaurant. The guy’s messy but-way-too-perfectly-messy-if-you-get-my-drift hair and towering height gives him away – Jack Hunter. But he’s smiling. A warm, sincere smile decorates his angled cheekbones and makes him look more human than ever. A young woman in a to-die-for fur coat clutches his arm. I know the people of Northplains are mostly rich, but this woman looks Columbus-class rich. She belongs in the capital, in Seattle, LA, not here – her hair perfectly red and her lips soft and pouty. She can’t be more than four years older than me. Probably some rich guy’s daughter.
It hits me just then; Jack’s working. That would explain the smile. He’s getting paid to smile. I fight the urge to leap out of the car and follow them, and in a record time of point four seconds I pull my hood up and bolt out of the car and follow them. It’s a romantic walk, I have to admit. The streetlamps are wrought-iron in an old Victorian style, and the warm glow they produce drives off the chilly October night. Little tourist-trap shops filled with stained glass animals and soulless watercolors of the lake crowd the avenue. I duck behind potted plants and café signs whenever Jack or the lady’s head swivels too far. I’m so nervous and excited I uncap the frosting and dip my finger in it, eating it as I follow them. It’s like watching a movie with popcorn except a hundred times funnier, because it’s watching ice-pole-up-his-butt Jack try to be nice. Also, it’s intensely disturbing. Seeing him smile is as unnatural and weird as remembering your parents had to have sex in order to make you.
“I didn’t know your dad was an idiot,” Jack says. His voice is…teasing. Light. Nothing about it is boredly flat, like it usually is. The lady punches his arm playfully.
“Don’t make fun of him. He’s the one paying you, technically.”
“Ah, but I’d do this for nothing. That’s how beautifully distracting you are, Madison.”
I shovel more frosting in my mouth before I rip a hole in the space-time continuum with my explosive laughter. The lady finds it much more sincere, and giggles, leaning her beautiful head on his shoulder as they walk.
“Do you want to go back to the hotel?” She asks, quieter. “I bought new rope that needs breaking in.”
I yelp as I bite my own frosting-covered finger. Madison looks behind her first. Her expression gets flustered and confused. Jack turns around, and his face goes from a faintly-smiling mask to deadly-angry not-mask in less than point two seconds. I swallow and raise a sticky hand in abrupt greeting.
“Uh, hello! Don’t mind me! I’m just walking behind you. Not following you.”
“You’re really close,” Madison says warily.
“I’m just…watching so I can manage things!”
“Manage?” Madison raises a brow. Jack’s ice-blue eyes are colder than a snap frozen mountain river in December.
“Yup! I manage stuff! I’m a…manager! I’m his manager!” I point at Jack and wink and put on a corny-old-timey voice. “You’re going to Hollywood, kid!”