I clenched my jaw shut. It should’ve been obvious the moment Skylar walked through those doors that she was here about Sebastian, because why else would she be talking to me? Yeah, she was sugary sweet, but we didn’t operate in the same circles at school. Half of the time I was invisible to her and her friends.
Which was okay with me.
“I don’t know.” That was a lie. Sebastian was supposed to come home from North Carolina on Saturday morning. He and his parents were visiting his cousins for the summer.
A twisty pang lit up my chest, a mixture of yearning and panic—two feelings I was well acquainted with when it came to Sebastian.
“Really?” Surprise colored her tone.
I fixed a blank expression on my face. “I’m guessing he’ll be back this weekend sometime. Maybe.”
“Yeah. I guess.” Her gaze dropped to the counter as she fidgeted with the hem of her slinky black tank top. “He hasn’t... I haven’t heard from him. I’ve texted and called, but...”
I wiped my hands along my shorts. I had no idea what to say. This was so incredibly awkward. Part of me wanted to be a total bitch and point out that if Sebastian wanted to talk to her, he would’ve responded, but that just wasn’t me.
I was the kind of person who thought things but never said them.
“I think he’s been really busy,” I said finally. “His dad wanted him to check out some of the universities down there and he hadn’t seen his cousins in years.”
Someone out in the BMW slammed on the horn and Skylar looked over her shoulder. My brows rose while I silently prayed that whoever was in the car stayed in that car. A moment passed, and Skylar tucked bone-straight hair behind her ear as she turned back to face me. “Can I ask you one more thing?”
“Sure.” Not like I was actually going to say no even though I was picturing a black hole appearing in the diner and sucking me into its vortex.
A faint smile appeared. “Is he with someone else?”
I stared at her, wondering if I lived through a different history of Sebastian and Skylar.
From the moment she moved to Clearbrook, population meh, she’d attached herself to Sebastian. Not that anyone would blame her. Sebastian came out of his mom’s womb stunning and charming everyone around him. Those two got together in middle school and had dated all through high school, becoming the King and Queen of Coupledom. I’d resigned myself to the fact I’d have to force myself to attend their wedding at some point in the future.
But then spring happened...
“You broke up with him,” I reminded her as gently as I could. “I’m not trying to sound like a bitch, but what does it matter if he’s with someone else?”
Skylar curled a slender arm across her waist. “I know, I know. But it matters. I just... Have you never made a huge mistake?”
“Tons,” I replied drily. The list was longer than my leg and arm combined.
“Well, breaking up with him was one of my mistakes. I think, at least.” She stepped back from the counter. “Anyway, if you see him, can you tell him that I stopped by?”
That was the last thing I wanted to do, but I nodded because I would tell him. Because I was that person.
Skylar smiled then. It was real, and made me feel like I should be a better person or something. “Thanks,” she said. “I guess I’ll see you at school in a week or so? Or at one of the parties?”
“Yep.” I fixed a smile on my face that felt brittle and probably looked half-crazed.
Wiggling her fingers goodbye, Skylar turned and walked toward the door. She reached for the handle but stopped and looked over her shoulder at me. A strange look crossed her face. “Does he know about you?”
The corners of my lips started to turn down. What was there to know about me that Sebastian didn’t already know? I was legit boring. I read more than I actually talked to people and was obsessed with the History Channel and shows like Ancient Aliens. I played volleyball, even though I really wasn’t that good at it. Honestly, I would’ve never started playing if it hadn’t been for Megan conniving me into it when we were freshmen. Not that I didn’t have fun, but yeah, I was as stimulating as white bread.
There were literally no hidden secrets to uncover.
Well, I was scared to death of squirrels. They were like rats with bushy tails, and they were mean. No one knew that, because that was super embarrassing. But I doubted that was what Skylar was talking about.
Jarred out of my thoughts, I blinked. “What about me?”
She was quiet for a moment. “Does he know you’re in love with him?”
My eyes widened as my mouth dried. I felt my heart stutter and then drop to the pit of my stomach. Muscles locked up in my back and my gut churned as that wall of panic slammed into me. I forced out a wheezing-sounding laugh. “I’m...I’m not in love with him. He’s like a...like a brother I never wanted.”
Skylar smiled slightly. “I’m not trying to get up in your business.”
Sort of sounded like she was.
“I saw the way you would look at him when we were together.” There was no bite to her tone or judgment. “Or maybe I’m wrong.”
“Sorry, you’re wrong,” I told her. I thought I sounded pretty convincing.
So there was something that I thought no one knew about me. One hidden truth that was just as embarrassing as being afraid of squirrels but completely unrelated.
And I’d just lied about it.
I lived about fifteen minutes from the center of downtown Clearbrook, in a neighborhood that was within walking distance of the elementary school where I used to spend my time daydreaming. The streets had a mixture of small and large homes and all sizes in between. My mom and I lived in one of the medium-size ones—a house that Mom could barely afford on her own with her insurance-agent salary. We could’ve moved into something smaller, especially now that Lori had gone away to college and I’d be doing the same in a year, but I didn’t think Mom was ready to let go of the house. Of all the memories and all that should have been instead of what was.
It probably would’ve been for the best for all of us if we had moved, but we hadn’t, and that was a flood under the bridge now.
I pulled into the driveway, passing the used Kia that Mom had parked on the side of the street. I turned off the engine and breathed in the coconut-scented interior of the decade-old silver Lexus that had once belonged to Dad. Mom hadn’t wanted it, and neither did Lori, so I ended up with it.
It wasn’t the only thing Dad had left me.
I grabbed my bag off the passenger seat and climbed out of the car before quietly closing the door behind me. Crickets chirped and a dog barked somewhere on the mostly silent street as I looked over at the larger house next to ours. All the windows were dark and the limbs of the thick maple in the front swayed, rattling the leaves.
A year from now I wouldn’t be standing here, staring at the house next door like a bona fide loser. I’d be away at college, hopefully at the University of Virginia, my top choice. I was still going to carpet-bomb other colleges in the spring just in case I didn’t get in on early admission, but either way, I would be gone from here.
And that would be for the best.
Getting out of this town. Moving away from the same old same old. Putting much-needed distance between the house next door and me.
Tearing my gaze away from the house, I walked up the flagstone sidewalk and went inside. Mom was already in bed, so I tried to be as quiet as possible as I grabbed a soda from the fridge and made my way upstairs to take a quick shower in the hallway bathroom. I could’ve moved into Lori’s bedroom at the front of the house after she left for college. It was larger and had its own bathroom, but my bedroom had privacy and it had an amazing second-story deck that I wasn’t willing to give up for a multitude of reasons.
Reasons I didn’t want to think about too much.
Once inside my bedroom, I set the soda on the nightstand and then dropped the towel by the door. I pulled my favorite sleep shirt of all time from the dresser and slipped it over my head. After turning on the lamp on the nightstand and flooding the bedroom with soft buttery light, I picked up the remote and clicked on the TV, turning to the History Channel with the volume on low.