“I don’t like her boyfriend,” I say to Falkor.
The beast stares up at me with gray eyes and pants, his long tongue hanging out the side of his mouth.
“Next time he comes over you should pee on his leg,” I suggest.
I’m talking to a dog. I feel like that movie where the guy is stranded on a desert island and ends up talking to a volleyball as if it’s his best friend. I sure as hell hope this isn’t a sign that I’m destined to have Falkor as my only friend while I’m living in Chicago. That would suck more than being stuck in Headmaster Crowe’s office getting lectured for an hour.
When we get to the beach, I look out over the calm water. The shoreline is tame compared to Cali, where sleeper waves can take your feet out from under you without warning. I stand at the water’s edge and look across the moonlit water with Falkor at my side. I wonder how my dad feels being surrounded by nothing but water. He told me once that living in a submarine is like escaping the outside world and living in your own bubble. While some guys enlist for money or education or to find themselves, my dad says being in the military makes him feel useful. Everyone has a purpose in life, he once told me. Finding out yours is crucial to knowing who you are and who you want to be.
What’s my purpose? I haven’t told my dad that I’m going to enlist after I graduate, in an attempt to find my purpose in life.
As I jog along the shoreline, I come across a small crowd hanging around a fire listening to music and laughing. I recognize Ashtyn immediately. She’s sitting next to her boyfriend, but they both look miserable. The dude’s holding a beer in one hand and is leaning on the other. If she were my girlfriend, I’d have one hand tangled in that long blond hair of hers and the other on her waist, pulling her close so our bodies were pressed against each other as I kissed her until she was breathless. But I’m not him.
Falkor barks, attracting the attention of more than a few people. Including Ashtyn. Shit. Her distrusting eyes meet mine before she looks away and pretends I don’t exist.
I end up taking a detour and jog the rest of the way back to the house. I wish the workout made me stop thinking too much, but seeing Ashtyn reminds me of all the crap I have to deal with.
“Ashtyn isn’t all that,” I tell Falkor.
This weird sound, kind of like a groan, comes out of the dog’s mouth.
“She’s got a boyfriend. And she can’t stand me livin’ in her house, right?” But she’s got full, kissable lips. And these eyes that seem to change colors with her moods. I can’t shake her from my mind.
I stop and look down at the dog for confirmation, since he knows her better than me. He’s looking up at me with droopy, clueless eyes.
“I’m talking to a damn dog, and I called her crazy.” I laugh to myself.
Back at the house I’m trying to find a comfortable position on my air mattress, but it’s not easy. On top of that, I keep imagining Ashtyn’s lips as if they’re some kind of artwork to be admired and analyzed. When I’m finally so beat and bored I can sleep soundly even on this crappy blowup, Falkor jumps onto the bed with me. I’m waiting for the mattress to puncture and explode, but it doesn’t. Within seconds, the beast is snoring.
I’ve been dozing for at least an hour when someone bursts into the room. “Why are you sleeping with my dog?” Ashtyn demands.
“I’m not,” I respond in a sleepy moan. “He’s sleepin’ with me.”
“Isn’t it enough that my sister and nephew worship the ground you walk on? You want to steal my dog, too? I saw you at the beach with Falkor. I don’t want you thinking he’s your dog. He’s mine.”
“Listen, Sugar Pie, Falkor snuck into my room. I didn’t invite him. You got issues with your family, keep me out of it.” I sit up and note that she’s changed into a hockey jersey and baggy flannel pants with skulls and crossbones on them. It’s a drastic change from what she wore on her date. “Just take your dog and go to bed.” I lie back down and expect her to leave, but I feel her gaze on me. I wish I wasn’t tempted to reach out and pull her close, to shut her up with a kiss that would make her forget that boyfriend. “What?”
“If you call me Sugar Pie again, I’m going to knock you out.”
I’m tempted to say the word on the tip of my tongue. Promise?
I’ve been curled up in bed for the past three hours with my eyes closed tight, wishing my life would stop spinning out of control. Landon and I didn’t get along last night at all. I don’t even know where things stand now.
I look at my phone to see if he’s called or texted. He hasn’t, although it’s Saturday. He’s probably still sleeping.
I slowly head for the bathroom. I’m about to sit on the toilet when I’m suddenly off balance and feel like I’m going to fall in. The damn seat is up. I cringe as I set it back down, silently cursing Derek and fully intending to call him out.
First I need to eat. Then I can confront Derek and head to the field to practice. Though Dieter doesn’t have official practice on the weekends, we don’t want to lose our momentum.
Derek walks in the kitchen a few minutes after I do, wearing shorts and a T-shirt. His long hair is messed up and he looks sweet and innocent. I know guys like Derek, who look innocent but are just the opposite. Falkor, who’d disappeared from my room in the middle of the night, comes prancing in on Derek’s heels.
“Did you lure my dog back in your room last night?” I ask in an accusatory tone.
“He kept scratching on my door and whining like a baby until I let him in.”
“You’re stealing him.”
He shrugs. “Maybe he’s sick of you and wants new company.”
“A dog can’t be sick of his owner, Derek, and I’ll have you know that I’m great company. My dog loves me.”
“If you say so.” He rummages through the fridge, pulls out some eggs, then grabs a loaf of bread from the pantry. “What happened at the beach between you and Loverboy? Looked like you two were havin’ one hell of a night,” he says in a lazy drawl as he makes himself scrambled eggs and toast.
“What happened to my rule about not leaving the toilet seat up?” I counter.
The side of his mouth quirks up. “I’ve got this condition, you see. It prevents me from being ordered around.”
“Uh-huh. A condition, you say?”
“Yeah. It’s real serious.”
“Ooh, I feel so bad for you. You poor baby, being told to do something by a female. That must’ve threatened your masculinity.” I pull out a bag of Skittles from the pantry and sort out the purple ones like I always do, then start munching on the rest.
Derek leans close and whispers in my ear, “Nothing threatens my masculinity, Sugar Pie.”
A tingly sensation zings up my spine when his warm breath touches my skin. I’m momentarily paralyzed.
He opens the fridge again. “Besides eggs and toast, you got anythin’ in here besides junk and processed food?”
I pretend he has no effect on me. “Nope.”
Derek sits down with his eggs and toast, but stares at my collection of purple Skittles with those clear blue eyes that belong on someone who doesn’t leave the toilet seat up on purpose.
“Nutritious,” he says.
“It’s comfort food,” I tell him.
He quirks his eyebrow, clearly amused. “If you say so.”
“Ugh. Don’t tell me you’re a health nut.”
He scoops up a forkful of eggs. “I’m not a health nut.”
“Good. Here,” I say, pushing my collection of purple Skittles toward him. “You can have the purple ones. I’m allergic to them.”
He raises a brow. “You’re allergic to purple Skittles?” he asks, skepticism laced in his voice.
“I’m allergic to purple dye.” I grab an orange one and pop it into my mouth. “But I’m not allergic to the rest of them. I love Skittles.”
“I’m good with my own breakfast, but thanks.” Derek takes bite after bite of eggs and toast. When Julian walks in, Derek focuses on my nephew. “Hey, buddy,” he says. “Want some breakfast?”
“I can help,” I quickly tell Derek. I need to redeem myself so Julian doesn’t think I’m the worst aunt who ever lived. If I have to work hard and long for that hug, I’m gonna do it.
I start to get out of my chair, but Derek holds up a hand. “I got it.”
After my mom left, my dad never made home-cooked meals. I had to fend for myself and ate what he brought home from the store: frozen, microwavable food and junk. Obviously Derek’s mom spent more time with him than my mom did with me. While it’s not his fault, I’m overwhelmingly jealous.
Julian sits in the chair next to where Derek had been sitting. Derek’s presence in my house makes me feel insignificant and unneeded. I might as well be invisible.
“Want some Skittles?” I wave the bag in front of my nephew’s face in a lame attempt to get him to bond with me. I’ve never seen a kid who didn’t like candy. “It’s super good breakfast junk food.”
He shakes his head. My nephew wants nothing to do with me.
My nemesis puts a plate of steaming scrambled eggs and toast in front of Julian. My mouth waters from the smell of freshly toasted bread. Julian eats, humming enthusiastically with each bite. The tune reminds me of our school fight song, which is chanted by the fans during halftime at our games.
Thinking of our fight song reminds me that I didn’t look outside to make sure my house hasn’t been tp’d by Fairfield. It was all clear when I went to bed last night, but Falkor slept in the den and might not have heard anything. I pull back the curtains in the living room. My hand flies to my mouth as I take in the sight of my entire front yard.
No! No, no, no, no, no!
It’s worse than being tp’d. Worse than I could have ever imagined, and completely humiliating.
Toilet paper isn’t hanging down like white flags waving from branches of every tree. Instead, hundreds of maxi pads are stuck to the tree trunks, and tampons are tied to the branches like a bunch of little Christmas ornaments fluttering in the wind.
As if that wasn’t sick enough, all of the pads and tampons have fake bright red blood marks on them. Even my mailbox has pads stuck all over it.
I seethe with anger and burn in embarrassment as I rush to clean up the yard, then suck in a breath when my eyes focus on my driveway. In big letters are two words written in a multitude of pads: FREMONT’S BITCH.
Ashtyn cursed a bunch of times, then rushed out of the house like a zombie was chasing her. I find her in the front yard, staring at the mess littering the lawn and the trees.
“Go away,” she cries as she frantically lifts the pads that are stuck to the driveway spelling FREMONT’S BITCH. She’s got what looks like ketchup all over her hands. It gets on her hockey jersey as she piles pads in her arms.