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"That’s just great," Will mutters.

"Let it go, Will," I say as I stand up and walk to my backpack. "If she asks me about it, I'll just tell her you were upset because I said asshole. And jackass. And dickhead. And bastar-"

"I get your point!" he snaps.

My hand is on the doorknob when he calls my name again. I pause.

"I also want to say I'm sorry-about last night," he says.

I turn toward him as I speak. "Are you sorry you let it happen? Or sorry about the way you stopped it?"

He cocks his head and shrugs his shoulders as if he doesn't understand my question. "All of it. It never should have happened.”

"Bastard," I finish.

***

The engine of my jeep purrs its' familiar sound when I crank it, and that pisses me off too. I slam my fist against the steering wheel, wishing so many things. I wish I never would have met Will the first week I was here. It would have been so much easier if I'd have met him in class first. Or better yet, I wish we never would have even moved to Ypsilanti. I wish my dad were alive. I wish my mother wasn't being so vague about her errands. I wish Caulder wasn't at our house every day. Seeing him just makes me think of Will. I wish Will would never have fixed my jeep. I hate that he does considerate things like that. It would make it so much easier to hate him if he really was all those things I called him. Oh my god, I can't believe I called him all those names. Wait, no regrets.

***

I pick the boys up from school and drive home. I beat Will home today, but I won’t be waiting at the window. I’m done waiting at the window.

"We'll be at Caulder's," Kel yells as they slam the jeep door.

Good.

When I walk inside, I hear my mother talking to someone in her bedroom. I pause outside her door. It's a one-sided conversation so she must be on the phone. Normally, I would never eavesdrop on one of her conversations. However, her behavior lately warrants a little nosiness. Or maybe my behavior warrants a little rebellion. Either way, I cup my ear to the door.

"I know. I know. I'll tell them soon," she whispers.

"No, I think it will go over better if I tell them alone…"

"Of course I will. I love you too, Babe."

She's signing off. I quietly tiptoe to my bedroom and slip inside. I shut the door behind me and slide to the floor.

Seven months now. It took her all of seven months to move on. She can't be seeing someone else already, but her words on the phone couldn't have been more clear. I'm in stage one again: Denial.

How could she? And whoever he is, he already wants her to introduce us to him? I already don't like him. And her nerve! How could she accost Will like she did, when what she's doing is just as deplorable, if not worse? Stage one is extremely brief. I'm back in stage two again: Anger.

I decide not to bring it up right away. I want to find out more before I confront her about it. I want the upper hand in this situation, and it's going to take some thought.

"Lake? Are you back?" She's knocking on my door. I have to roll forward and hop up to get out of the way when she opens it. She sees me stand and her eyebrows raise as she watches me jump up.

"What are you doing?" she asks.

"Stretching. My back hurts."

She doesn't buy it, so I clasp my hands behind me and stretch my arms upward, bending forward.

"Take some aspirin," she says.

"Okay."

"I'm off tonight, but I have a lot of sleep to catch up on. I didn't get any at all today so I'm going to lie down. Can you make sure Kel gets a bath before he goes to bed tonight?"

"Sure."

We both start down the hallway. "Wait, Mom?"

She turns back to me, her lids dragging over her bloodshot eyes.

"I'm going out Thursday night. Is that okay?"

She eyes me suspiciously. "With who?"

"Eddie, Gavin and Nick."

"Three guys? You aren't going anywhere with three guys."

"No. Eddie's a girl. She's my friend. Her boyfriend is Gavin and we’re double dating. I'm going with Nick."

Her eyes brighten a little. "Oh. Well, good." She smiles as she opens the door to her bedroom. "Wait," she says. "I work Thursday. What about Kel?"

"Will has a sitter on Thursdays. He already said Kel could stay there."

She looks pleased, but only for a second. "Will agreed to pay a sitter? To watch Kel? So you could go on a date?"

Crap. I didn't realize how this would look. "Mom, it's been weeks. We went on one date, we're over it."

She eyes me curiously. "Hmm." She returns to her room, still unappeased.

Her suspicion brings me a small sense of gratification. She thinks I'm lying about something. Now we're even.

***

"I'm not going to third period," I say to Eddie as we exit history.

"Why not?"

"I just don't feel like it. Headache. I think I'll go sit in the courtyard and get some fresh air."

She shrugs as we start to part ways in the hallway.

"Layken." She grabs my arm. "Does it have anything to do with what happened at lunch? With Mr. Cooper? Is everything okay?"

I smile at her reassuringly. "No, it's fine. Mr. Cooper just wants me to refrain from my colorful choice of words in his class."

She purses her lips together and walks away with the same unappeased look my mother had last night.

The courtyard is empty. I guess none of the other students need a breather from the teacher they're secretly in love with. I sit at a bench and pull my phone out of my pocket. Nothing. I've only spoken to Kerris once since I moved. She was the one friend in Texas I was closest to, but she was actually best friends with another girl. It's odd when your best friend has an even better best friend. I chalked it up to the fact that I was too busy for best friends, but maybe it was more than that. Maybe I'm not a good listener. Maybe I'm not a good sharer.

"Mind if I join you?"

I look up as Eddie takes a seat on the bench across from me. "Misery loves company," I say.

"Misery? And why are we miserable? You have a date to look forward to tomorrow night. And your best friend is me," she says.

Best friend. Maybe. Hopefully.

"You don't think Will is going to come looking for us?" I say.

She cocks her head at me. "Will? You mean Mr. Cooper?"

Oh god, I just called him Will. She's already suspicious. I smile and come up with the first excuse that pops into my head.

"Yeah, Mr. Cooper. We called teachers by their first names at my last school."

She doesn't respond. She's picking at the paint on the bench with her blue fingernail. Nine of her fingernails are green, just the one is blue. "I'm just going to say something here," she says. Her voice is calmer. "Maybe I'm way off base, maybe I'm not. But whatever I say, I don't want you to interject."

I nod.

"I think what was happening at lunch yesterday was more than just a slap on the wrist for inappropriate verb usage. I don't know how much more, and honestly it's none of my business. I just want you to know you can talk to me. If you need to. I'd never repeat anything, I don't have anyone besides Gavin to repeat stuff to."

"No one? Best friends? Siblings?" I hope this changes the subject.

"Nope. He's all I have," she says. "Well, technically. If you want to know the truth, I've had seventeen sisters, twelve brothers, six moms and seven dads."

I can't tell if she's making a joke, so I don't laugh in case she isn't.

"Foster care," she says. "I'm on my seventh home in nine years."

"Oh. I'm sorry." I don't know what else to say.

"Don't be. I've been with Joel for four of those nine years. He's my foster dad. It works. I'm content. He gets his check."

"Were any of your twenty-nine sibling’s blood related?"

She laughs. "Man, you pay attention. And no, I'm an only child. Born to a mother with a yearn for cheap crack and pricey babies."

She can see I'm not following.

"She tried to sell me. Don't worry, nobody wanted me. Or she was just asking too much. When I was nine she offered me to a lady in a Wal-Mart parking lot. She gave her a sob story about how she couldn't take care of me, yada yada, offered the lady a deal. A hundred bucks was my going rate. It wasn’t the first time she tried this right in front of me. I was getting bored with it, so I looked right at the lady and said, 'You got a husband? I bet he’s hot!' My mother backhanded me for ruining the sale. Left me in the parking lot. The lady took me to the police station and dropped me off. That's the last time I ever saw my mom."

"God, Eddie. That's unreal."

"Yeah, it is. But it's my real."

I lie down on the bench and look up at the sky. She does the same.

"You said Eddie was a family name,” I say. “Which family?"

"Don't laugh."

"But what if I think it's funny?"

She rolls her eyes. "There was a comedy DVD my first foster family owned. Eddie Izzard. I thought I had his nose. I watched that DVD a million times, pretending he was my dad. I had people refer to me as Eddie after that. I tried Izzard for a while, but it never stuck."

We both laugh. I pull my jacket off and pull it on top of me, sliding my arms through it backwards so that it warms the parts of me that have been exposed to the cold for too long. I close my eyes.

"I had amazing parents," I sigh.

"Had?"

"My dad died seven months ago. My mother moved us up here, claimed it was for financial reasons, but I'm not so sure she was being honest now. She's seeing someone else already. So yes, amazing is past tense at the moment."

"Suck."

We both lie there pondering the hands we were dealt. Mine pales in comparison to hers. The things she must have seen. Kel is the same age now that Eddie was when she was put into foster care. I don’t know how she walks around so happy, so full of life. We're quiet. Everything is comfortably quiet. I silently wonder if this is what it feels like to have a best friend.

She sits up on her bench after a while, hands stretched out in front of her as she yawns. “Earlier, the thing I said about Joel-and me being a check to him? It’s not like that. He’s really been a great guy. Sometimes when things get too real, my sarcasm takes over.”

I smile at her in understanding. "Thanks for skipping with me, I really needed it."

"Thanks for needing it. Apparently, I did too. And about Nick? He’s a good guy, just not for you. I’ll drop it. But you still have to go with us tomorrow."

“I know I do. If I don’t, Chuck Norris will hunt me down and kick my ass.” I flip my jacket around and ease my arms in as we walk through the door and back into the hallway.

"So if Eddie is something you made up, what's your real name?" I ask her before we part ways. She smiles and shrugs her shoulders.

"Right now, it’s Eddie.”

8.

“I wanna have friends

that will let me be

All alone when being alone

is all that I need.”

-The Avett Brothers, The Perfect Space

Chapter Eight

“Where’s mom?” I ask Kel. He’s sitting at the bar with his homework out.

***

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