Me: Busy right now
Then I put my phone aside and turn back to my cousin, who is currently scrolling through her own phone. She quits as soon as she realizes I’m done texting and then says, “Tell me the truth, Grace. Do you like Jaxon?”
“Like” is too insipid a word for the emotions Jaxon stirs up in me. There’s something about him that calls to me on a soul-deep level, something broken in him that somehow fits with what’s broken in me.
I know Macy doesn’t see it. She’s too busy being afraid of his darkness and social status to pay attention to what’s under the surface. But I see it—all the grief and pain and fear roiling around in him just beneath the blank face and empty eyes. I see him in a way I don’t think anyone else at this school does.
I don’t tell her any of that, though—it’s not my place to share Jaxon’s suffering. Instead, I answer, “What does it matter if I like him or not?”
“That’s not an answer.”
“Because I don’t have an answer!” I groan. “I’ve been here three days, Mace. Three days! Everything feels upside down and backward, and I have no idea what I think about anything…or anyone. I mean, how am I supposed to know how I feel about a guy I barely know? Especially when he ignores me one minute and carries me home the next. He’s different than anybody I’ve ever met and—”
Macy’s snort interrupts my diatribe.
“What?” I beg. “Why do I get the feeling you know something you’re not sharing?”
“I have no idea. Go ahead.”
I narrow my eyes at her. “It sounds like you know something.”
“Sorry.” She holds her hands up in very obvious surrender. “I just…agree. Jaxon is definitely not like anyone you’ve ever met before.”
“You say that like it’s such a bad thing. I get that you don’t want me to like him—”
“Hey, I told you to stay away from him because he’s not an easy guy to be around. Or at least, he never was before. But with you…”
“I don’t know.” She shrugs. “It sounds like every cliché in the book, but he’s different when he’s with you. He’s somehow less intense but also more intense, if that makes sense.”
“It doesn’t. At all.”
Macy huffs out a laugh. “I know. But you’re the one who asked. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m wary about you and Jaxon doing whatever it is you’re doing, but I’m not totally against it. Not like I would have been if I hadn’t seen him with you today.”
I want to push her on that, want to ask her exactly what she means. But there’s a part of me that’s sure I already have a pretty good idea. She’s talking about the Jaxon I saw in the hall that first day, after Flint carried me up the stairs. Or the Jaxon I saw at the party, the one who looked so cold, so grim, that it sent me running in the opposite direction. Literally. If that’s the only Jaxon she’s ever seen, no wonder she felt the need to warn me off him.
“I still don’t know what we’re doing,” I admit, slumping into my pillows. “Or even if we’re doing anything. I just wish I knew what he thought about me, you know? Like, is he playing with me, or is he having some of the same thoughts I’m having?”
“What thoughts are you having?” She asks it so casually that I answer without thinking.
“I feel like I am obsessed with him. I think about him all the—” I break off when I realize what I’m saying. “You tricked me.”
Her look is all mock innocence. “I just asked you a question. You didn’t have to answer it.”
“You knew I was preoccupied and wasn’t thinking about guarding my words.”
“Good. I’m glad you weren’t censoring what you say. You don’t have to do that with me.” She reaches out and grabs my hand. “Seriously, Grace. Things are going to be weird here for you for a while. But we’re not going to be weird.” She gestures between the two of us. “Even if you can’t trust anybody else, you can trust me to have your back—even with Jaxon. We’re family.”
Suddenly, there’s a lump the size of Denali in my throat, and I swallow a couple of times, trying to clear it. I didn’t know how badly I needed to hear those words until she said them, didn’t realize how much I was missing having someone I can just count on—no questions asked—to be in my corner.
“You know that goes both ways, right, Macy? You can trust me, too.”
She grins. “I already do. I just want to make sure you remember what I said. And that I’m here, no matter what, on your side.”
There’s something intense in the way she says it—and the way she looks at me afterward. Like she’s trying to warn me and reassure me at the same time. It’s so bizarre that a frisson of unease runs down my spine, taking away the toasty warmth that comes with lying under my blanket and replacing it with a chill that has nothing to do with Alaska and everything to do with the feeling that I’m in way over my head here, even if I don’t know it yet.
I try to ignore the feeling, tell myself I’m probably just being paranoid. I’m smart—and honest—enough to acknowledge that lately I tend to expect the worst in every situation.
But instead of dwelling on the discomfort, I just nod and say, “Good. I’m glad.”
Macy grins. “Now that we’ve got that out of the way, there is something I want to talk to you about.” She gets up, crosses to her mini fridge. “But I’m pretty sure you’re not going to like it.”
Ice Cream Scoop
to a Gun Fight
I eye Macy warily as she opens up the fridge and rummages around. “Exactly how much am I not going to like it?”
She holds up a pint of Cherry Garcia with a triumphant sound.
My stomach drops. “It’s so bad that we need Ben and Jerry’s?”
“To be honest, I always need Ben and Jerry’s.” She pulls the top off the brightly colored container, then grabs two spoons out of the bright-purple utensil cup on top of the fridge. “This just seems like a good time to indulge.”
I take the spoon she holds out to me. “I didn’t even know they sold Ben and Jerry’s up here.”
“It’s ten bucks a pint at the closest store, but they sell it.” She smiles at my look of horror.
She grins. “Welcome to Alaska.”
“Guess what you have to talk about really is serious if it needs ten-dollar ice cream.”
She doesn’t say anything to my blatant fishing attempt, just holds out the open container so I can take a spoon of it. Which I do. She does, as well, and we do an ice-cream toast—mostly because toasting with the first bite of ice cream is a ritual we created the summer we spent together when we were five—before taking a bite.
I wait for Macy to tell me whatever’s on her mind, but she just scoops up another spoonful of ice cream. Then a third and a fourth, until I give up and do the same.
We’re about halfway done with the container before she finally says, “I need to warn you about something.”
Okaaaaaay? “Haven’t you already warned me about Jaxon? I thought that’s what we just did.”
“This isn’t about him. Or, I mean, I guess it is, but not like you’re thinking.” I must look as confused as I feel, because she takes a deep breath and blurts out, “If you like Jaxon—and I’m cool with it if you do, honest. But if you like him, Grace, you can’t keep hanging out with Flint, too. It won’t work.”
That’s so far from where I expected her to go that it takes me a second to actually assimilate her words. And even after I decide I understand them, they still don’t make any sense. “What do you mean, it won’t work? I’m not actually dating either one of them right now, and even if I was…surely I can be friends with the other one?”
“No.” She shakes her head emphatically. “You can’t. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.”
I’m half convinced she’s messing with me—because how could she not be?—but she looks so serious, I have to ask, “What do you mean I can’t? What is this? The Breakfast Club?”
“Worse. Way worse.”
“Obviously, because even in The Breakfast Club, they figured out it didn’t matter what group you belong to.”
“Isn’t The Breakfast Club also the movie where Judd Nelson sexually harasses Molly Ringwald by reaching up her skirt when he’s hiding under her desk?”
When she puts it that way… “Okay, so maybe it’s not the best example.”
She rolls her eyes. “You think?”
“Even so, this whole Jaxon and Flint can’t be civil to each other because they head up different groups argument you’re making is ridiculous. Do you know how many people have been nice to me since I got here?” I hold up four fingers and tick off the names as I say them. “You, Jaxon, Flint, and Lia. That’s it. Four people. Which is why telling me that I can’t talk to one of the four people in this entire place who doesn’t treat me like I have the plague is total bullshit.”
“Oh, Grace.” She looks heartbroken. “Has it really been that bad?”
“Well, it hasn’t exactly been a picnic—even without the near-death experiences.” Still, she looks so distraught at my words that I can’t help but walk them back a little. “Don’t worry about it, Mace. I haven’t even started classes yet. I’m sure people will loosen up and stop staring once they have a chance to get to know me.”
She jumps on the walk-back. “They will, Grace. I swear. They just need to spend some time with you. We don’t get a lot of new people here, and most of us have been together a long time, even before Katmere.”