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“I can’t be,” Nick says.

“There are hurricanes," I say. "You forgot about the little area known as The Gulf of Mexico. But there aren’t any tornadoes.”

They both pause.

“There’s definitely tornadoes,” Gavin says as he rolls his head.

“No,” I say. “There’s no such thing as tornadoes, Gavin. Chuck Norris just hates trailer parks.”

There is a moment of silence before they break out in laughter. Eddie scoots closer to me in the backseat and cups her hand to my ear.

“He knows.”

I hold my breath, thinking back on conversations that might give me a clue who she’s talking about.

“Who knows? And what does he know?” I finally ask.

“Nick. He knows you aren’t interested. He's fine with it. There’s no pressure. We’re just friends tonight, all of us.”

I’m relieved. So relieved. I was already planning out how I would let him down.

***

I never did get to taste the pizza from Getty’s that I had delivered last night. It’s heaven. We had to order two, since Nick is eating a whole one by himself. I haven’t thought about being mad at my mother so far. I haven’t even thought about Will, (that much). I’m having fun. It’s nice.

“Gavin, what’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done?” Nick asks.

We all quiet down at this question.

“I can only pick one?” Gavin asks.

“The one. The stupidest one,” Nick replies.

“Hmm. I guess it would have to be the time I was visiting my grandparents on their ranch right outside of Laramie, Wyoming. I had to use the bathroom so bad. It’s not a big deal, I’m a guy. We can whip it out anywhere. The big deal was that it was my turn.”

“For what?” I ask.

“To complete the dare. My brothers used to dare me to do stuff all the time. They would do it first, and then I’d have to do it. The only problem was, I was younger by several years so they always outsmarted me somehow. This particular day, they told me my rubber boots were too wet to wear so I had to throw on my hiking boots. They, of course, wore their rubber boots. Well, they came up with the dare to see who would pee on the electric fence.”

“You didn’t,” Eddie laughs.

“Oh, just wait, Babe. It gets better. They went first, which I realize now that rubber absorbs electricity, so they didn’t feel anything. I, on the other hand, was not so lucky. It knocked me on my back and I was crying, trying to get up when I tripped. I fell forward and met the fence with my mouth. Saliva and electricity don’t mix well either. It shocked me so bad my tongue started to swell and my brothers freaked out. Both of them ran home to get my parents while I lay there, unable to move with my dick hanging out of my pants.”

Eddie, Nick and I are all laughing so hard we get glares from the other customers. Eddie wipes away a tear when Gavin tells her it’s her turn.

“I guess when I ran over you with my car,” Eddie says.

“Try again,” Gavin says.

“What? That’s it! That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”

“What about after you ran over me? Tell them about that,” he laughs.

“We fell in love. The end.” She’s obviously embarrassed by the aftermath of the swipe.

“You have to tell us now,” I say.

“Fine. It was the second day after I got my license. Joel let me drive his car to school so I was being super careful. I was focused. When Joel was teaching me to drive, he paid careful attention to how I parked. He hates people who double park. In fact, I knew he was going to have someone drive him through the parking lot just to double check my parking job, so I really wanted to be perfect. So, that’s what I was focused on. I didn’t like how I parked the first time.”

“Or the second, third or fourth time,” Gavin says.

Eddie smirks at him. “So on the fifth time, I was determined to get it right. I backed out extra far to get a better angle and that’s when it happened. The thud. I turned around and didn’t see anyone so I panicked, thinking I had hit the car next to me or something. I continued to back out of the spot and threw the car in drive and was looking for a better spot so that I could inspect the car for damage. I pulled over in the next lot and got out. That’s when I saw him.”

“You…drug him?” I ask. I’m trying to hold back the laughter.

“Over 200 yards. After I hit him the first time, I kept backing up and his pant leg got hung up in the bumper. I broke his leg. Joel was so worried they were going to sue, he made me take food to him at the hospital every day for a week. That’s when we fell in love.”

“You’re lucky you didn’t kill him,” Nick says. “You’d be locked up on a hit and run charge and involuntary manslaughter. Poor Gavin would be ten feet under.”

“Six feet under!” I laugh.

“I’d love to hear your stupid story Layken, but it’s gonna have to wait. We’re gonna be late,” Eddie says as she scoots out of the booth.

***

On our drive to the slam, Eddie pulls a folded up sheet of paper out of her back pocket.

“What’s that?” I ask her.

“It’s my poem. I’m going to slam tonight.”

“Seriously? God you're brave.”

“Not really. The first time Gavin and I went, I promised myself I would do one before I turned eighteen. My birthday is next week. When Mr. Cooper told us we could skip the final if we performed, I took it as a sign.”

“I would just say I did one, Mr. Cooper won’t know. I doubt he’ll be there,” Nick says.

“No,” Gavin says. “He’ll be there. He’s always there.”

The empty feeling in my stomach returns, despite being full from supper. I slide my hands across my pants and fix my eyes on a star outside the window. I’ll wait to join back in the conversation until the subject changes.

“Man, Vaughn really did a number on him,” Nick says.

I cock my head in Nick’s direction. Eddie sees the interest perk in me and she folds her paper up and puts it back in her pocket.

“His ex,” she says. “They dated their last two years of high school. They were the couple. Homecoming queen, football star…"

“Football? He played football?” I’m shocked. This doesn’t sound like Will.

“Oh yeah, star quarterback three years running,” Nick says. “We were freshmen when he was a senior. He was a nice guy, I guess.”

“Can’t say the same about Vaughn,” Gavin says.

“Why? Was she a bitch?” I ask.

“Honestly, she wasn’t that bad in high school. It’s what she did to him after they graduated. After his parents…” Eddie’s voice trails off.

“What’d she do?” I sound too interested, I know.

“She dumped him. Two weeks after his parents were killed in a car wreck. He had a football scholarship but lost it when he had to move back home to take care of his little brother. Vaughn told everyone she wasn’t marrying a college dropout with a kid. So, that’s it. He lost his parents, his girlfriend, his scholarship and became a guardian all in the same two week time frame.”

I return my gaze out the window. I don’t want Eddie to see the tears welling up in my eyes. This explains so much. It explains why he’s scared to take everything away from me, like it was taken from him. All this time I've been assuming his feelings just aren't as strong for me as mine are for him. Maybe I'm wrong. I fade out of the conversation as I become entranced with the falling snow as we drive toward Detroit.

“Here,” Eddie whispers as she lays something in my lap. A tissue. I squeeze her hand to thank her, then wipe the tears from my eyes.

9.

“A slight figure of speech

I cut my chest wide open

They come and watch us bleed

Is it art like I was hoping now?”

-The Avett Brothers, Slight Figure of Speech

Chapter Nine

When we enter the building, I immediately search for Will. Nick and Gavin lead us to a table on the floor, so much more exposed than the booth Will and I sat in. The sac has already performed and they are well into round one. Eddie goes to the judges table and pays her money and comes back.

“Layken, come to the bathroom with me,” she says as she pulls me out of my chair.

When we get in the bathroom, she backs me up to the sink and stands in front of me with her hands on my shoulders.

“Snap out of it girl! We’re here to have fun.” She reaches into her purse and pulls out her makeup bag. She wets her thumbs under the faucet and wipes mascara from underneath my eyes. She meticulously applies my makeup. She’s extremely focused on the task. No one’s ever done my makeup before besides me. She pulls a brush out of her purse and pushes me forward, brushing my hair upside down over my head. I feel like a ragdoll. She pulls me back up and does some fancy handiwork as her fingers twist and pull at my hair. She steps back and smiles as though she’s admiring her accomplishment.

“There.”

She turns me to the mirror and my jaw drops to the floor. I can’t believe it. I look…pretty. My bangs are pulled into a French braid that hangs loose down my shoulder. The soft amber hue of eye shadow brings out my eyes. My lips are defined but not too colorful. I look just like my mother.

“Wow. You have a gift, Eddie.”

“I know. Twenty-nine brothers and sisters in nine years, you’re bound to learn a few tricks.”

She pulls me out of the bathroom and we head back. As we approach our seats, I stop. Eddie stops too, since she has hold of my hand and is suddenly being jerked back. She follows my gaze to our table and sees Javi…and Will.

“Looks like we have company,” she says as she winks at me. She tries to pull me forward but I pull her hand back. My feet are weighted to the floor beneath me.

“Eddie, it’s not like that. I don’t want you thinking it’s like that.”

She turns and faces me and takes my hands in hers.

“I don’t think anything, Layken. But, if it really isn’t like that, it would explain the obvious tension between you two,” she says.

“It’s only obvious to you.”

“And that’s how it shall remain,” she says as she pulls me forward.

When we reach the table, all eight eyes are focused on me. I want to run.

“Damn girl, you look good,” Javi says.

Gavin glares at Javi and then smiles back at me. “Eddie got hold of you, did she?” He wraps his arm around Eddie’s waist and pulls her to him, leaving me to fend for myself.

Nick pulls a chair out for me and I take it. I glance up at Will and he gives me a half smile. I know what it means. He thinks I look pretty.

“Alright we’ve got four more performers for round one. Next one goes by the name of Eddie. Where is he?”

I look at Eddie as she rolls her eyes and stands. “I’m a she!”

“Oh, my bad. There she is. Come on up Ms. Eddie,”

Eddie gives Gavin a quick peck on the lips and bounces to the stage, her confidence pouring from her smile. Everyone takes a seat other than Will. Javi takes the seat to my left and the only available seat at the table is to my right. Will hesitates before he takes a step and finally sits.

***

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