“Hey,” Sonny said. “We need to talk.”
“I have nothing to say to you,” I said, gripping the black, nylon straps of my backpack so tight my fingers hurt.
Alder smirked. “Maybe not, but we have a lot to say to you.”
Brady grabbed my arm and flipped me around. “Don’t be a f**king cunt. Let her speak.”
I yanked my arm away, and just as the Erins were approaching me, a big, red truck pulled in next to us, the front tires climbing the curb with ease.
The driver’s side door slammed, and Weston ran around the front, wedging his shoulder between Brady’s hand and my arm.
“What are you doing, man?” Weston said.
Brady’s expression turned severe. “What am I doing? What’s wrong with you? Why are you busting my balls over this skank?”
“Just leave her alone, man,” Weston said, trying to keep his voice calm.
“Weston,” Alder said, reaching for his fingers. She looked like a beautiful, poisonous snake as she lithely crawled up Weston’s side, rising on the balls of her feet. She kissed the corner of his mouth softly.
I had to fight a sudden bout of nausea.
Weston pulled away from her. “Go, Easter,” he said quietly over his shoulder.
I turned on my heels and kept walking, refusing to look back. For the next five blocks, I tried to push the revolting image of Erin’s toxic lips touching Weston. It was common knowledge that they were each other’s firsts, but I tried not to think about it, and had successfully read all signs of oncoming PDA between the two for the last five years.
I slipped into the back door of the Dairy Queen, tying on my apron as I walked to the front.
“Hey chickiedoo! How was your day?” Frankie said, closing the window after her latest customer walked away.
“Weston got kicked out of class for taking up for me. The Erins and some of the guys were waiting for me after school.”
“Aw! Wait . . . what?”
“You heard me,” I said, crossing my arms and leaning my butt against the counter.
A minivan pulled into the parking lot, and several kids filed out. The mom came to my window, already looking worn. I took each of their orders, three of them changing while I was making them, and sent them on their way. After that, the lines formed and people kept adding to them until dark, so we didn’t have much time to talk. When baseball practice let out, Weston’s truck took off down Main Street, without stopping at the DQ. None of the players did..
We cleaned up, closed the shop, and walked outside. “Ride?” Frankie asked, but then stopped, mid-step.
Right outside the back door was Weston’s red Chevy, towering over us. He was smiling down at me from the driver’s seat. “Wanna take a drive?”
Frankie looked back at me, pleading with her eyes for me to say yes.
I nodded, and Weston disappeared, leaning over to pull the lever of the passenger door and pushing it open. I walked around the truck, but not without noticing Frankie’s cheesy grin. I climbed up into the seat, and shut the door.
“I’m sorry about earlier,” I said. “I just kind of left you there to deal with them alone.”
“Stop. Don’t you dare apologize to me.”
When I didn’t respond, he pulled the truck into gear and pulled away, down my street and past my house, straight out of town. I knew where we were going, and I was glad. It felt better than going home, or to school, or even the Dairy Queen. It had become the one place where I could relax and be at peace.
The Chevy’s engine turned off, letting the silence of the night surround us. Weston opened the door and walked directly to the tailgate, pulling it down. This time he waited for me and held out his hand.
I stared at his fingers. They were long, and the nails had been bitten down to the quick. “I’m not . . . helpless.”
“Oh, I know. I just think you’re due for a little special treatment.”
I looked at his outstretched hand.
He shrugged. “Just let me be nice to you.”
I let him help me to the tailgate and watched as he climbed up and sat next to me.
“Oh,” he said, leaning back and opening the cooler. He handed me a Fanta Orange, and he ended up with a Cherry Coke.
“Thank you,” I said, taking a sip. “What did your parents say? About today?”
“They don’t know.”
“What do you mean? Didn’t the school call them?”
“They didn’t call Brady’s, so they didn’t call mine.”
I sighed. “Well, I’m glad. I guess they didn’t give you detention, either?”
I nodded. “Why did I even ask?”
He laughed once, without humor.
“When I got home, after practice, my dad had an acceptance letter in his hand. He was smiling from ear to ear. I wanted to puke.”
“Because it was from his alma mater. Duke University. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good school. My sister loves it there.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“Another acceptance was in his other hand, from the Art Institute of Dallas.” I waited while he took a sip of his Cherry Coke. “He didn’t know I’d applied, and I tried to beat him home every day to check the mail so he wouldn’t find out what I’d done.”
“But today you didn’t beat him, because you were standing on the corner with me.”
“It’s not your fault. He didn’t even mention it. He didn’t even care. He was too amped about the football scholarship, and even if I didn’t get one, his mind was made up. It didn’t even matter that I applied behind his back.”
“What are you going to do?”
Weston pulled a wadded-up piece of paper from his letter jacket pocket. “I fished it out of the trash can.”
I felt my eyes light up. “You’re going to go?”
He stared at the paper. “I worked my ass off getting that application together.”
“You’re avoiding the question.”
He looked at me. “What do you think? My parents won’t help me with the tuition, much less an apartment.”
“So you work and go to school. You’re not the first student in the world to do that.”
“I’m not scared of doing that. I’m just . . . that’s a pretty big slap in the face to my parents. It’s a big deal.”