“Actually, tomatoes are a fruit,” Dad responded flatly, knocking me off my pedestal.
Laughing, I put the cup down and picked up a pencil to continue my outline for the essay we were assigned on Henry Kissinger. “No worries, Dad. I’m eating fine. Soup just sounded good tonight.”
“Alright, I’ll back off. I just worry. You inherited my eating habits. Your mom would freak if she saw the things I let you eat.” Dad frowned, and I knew he still missed Mom like it was yesterday. We both did.
After a moment, he continued, “You’ve got August’s bills all paid, right? And you have plenty of money in your account still?”
“I haven’t blown my entire trust in a week. Everything’s under control.” He did this every time we talked. I had complete access to the life insurance my mom left me, and he still always asked if I had enough money. It was like I was going to go ballistic with my college fund without him looking, and he knew better. Maybe he thought he was doing his job as a parent the best he could from so far away.
My phone buzzed with a text, and I grabbed it off my bedside table.
Be there in 5.
“Oh, Dad? I forgot K.C. is stopping over. Can I let you go?”
“Sure, but I’ll be leaving tomorrow for a day or so. Taking the train to Nuremberg for some sightseeing. I want to chat with you in the morning before I leave and hear about the Science Fair prep you’re doing.”
Ugh, shit. No prep had been organized, because I hadn’t even come close to deciding my project.
“Ok, Dad,” I mumbled, leaving that discussion for tomorrow. “Call me at seven?”
“Talk to you then, sweetie. Bye.” And he was gone.
Closing my laptop and tossing my book onto the bed, I walked to the French doors and opened them wide. School had ended for the week three hours ago, but the sun still cast a radiant glow around the neighborhood. Leaves from the maple outside my doors rustled in the subtle breeze, and a few tiny clouds sprinkled the sky.
Turning around, I slipped out of my school clothes and into a pair of plaid pajama shorts with a white and gray fitted raglan t-shirt. I let out an overly dramatic sigh. Of course, I would be in my pajamas at six p.m. on a Friday night.
The doorbell echoed from downstairs, and I jogged to answer the door.
“Hey!” K.C. breathed, stepping into the house with her arms loaded down. What the hell? We were just doing my hair, not a makeover.
My eyes watered at her perfume. “What’s that scent you’re wearing?”
“Oh, it’s new. It called Secret. You like?”
“Love it.” Don’t loan it to me.
“Let’s go up to your room. I want to have access to your bathroom when we do this.” K.C. insisted on coming over to give me a honey hair treatment she read about in Women’s Day. It’s supposed to soothe sun-damaged hair, which she says is a danger with all of the outdoor sightseeing I did this summer and with the cross-country practice.
Okay, so I didn’t really care. I thought my hair looked fine, but I wanted to catch up with her after the busy first week.
“Can I take the chair to the window? There’s a nice breeze coming in.” The honey would be messy, but the room boasted dark hardwood floors, so it would be an easy cleanup.
“Yeah, sure. Just take your hair out of the pony tail and brush it out.” She handed me a brush, and I positioned myself in front of the doors, enjoying the serene evening.
“I’m going to put some olive oil in, to thin it out, and a bit of egg yolk for protein.”
“Whatever you say,” I accepted.
As she mixed the ingredients and brought me a towel to protect my clothes, I caught sight of Jared backing up his car from the garage into the driveway. My stomach fluttered, and I realized my teeth were clenched together like glue.
His black t-shirt rode up as he got out and popped the hood. Grabbing a towel out of the back pocket of his jeans, he used it to unfasten something under the hood.
“So you like the view?” K.C.’s voice made me blink as she appeared at my side. I quickly looked down.
“Back off,” I mumbled.
“It’s fine. For an ass**le, he’s pretty.” She began dampening my hair with a water bottle, while running her fingers through the wet strands.
“But he’s still an ass**le.” I looked for a change of subject. “So, how bad is it? The talk at school, I mean?” I had stayed far away from Facebook, Twitter, and the cheer team’s secret blog. Seeing pictures of myself in a towel, photos that everyone in town had probably seen, would only make me want to jump a plane back to France… or murder someone.
K.C. shrugged. “It’s already dying down. People are still circulating this story or that, but it’s lost its momentum. I told you, no prank or rumor will keep the guys away this year. And with this hair treatment, you’ll be absolutely fabulous.” I couldn’t see her face, but I was sure she was kidding around with me. Absolutely Fabulous was a British television show we watched on Comedy Central a couple of summers ago.
I tossed around the idea of telling K.C. about the things Madoc told me at Jared’s party—the date sabotaging and the rumors. But the drama that followed me every year was embarrassing. I had no interest in being one of those friends always caught up in trouble, so I tried to act like it all bothered me less than it really did.
As she started brushing the syrupy mixture onto my hair, my eyes darted to Jared, who was now pulling his shirt over his head. His amazingly toned arms were put to shame when he turned around, and I saw his chiseled torso.My mouth went dry, and chills shot out like needles over my body.