I couldn’t concentrate.
I’d been sitting on my bed with my book open to page two hundred and nine for several minutes, yet I hadn’t been able to read. My mind kept replaying Jordan hitting my sister. The shocked expression on Cheryl’s face as his hand made contact. The loud gasp that fell from her lips.
I shut my eyes.
“You okay this evening, Magnet?” Brooks said, standing in my bedroom doorway later that night with a backpack hanging on his shoulder. My eyes opened and I took a breath of relief. He never knew how perfect his timing was, but he always showed up when I needed him.
I closed the book in my grip and sat cross-legged on my bed, looking up at him. His shaggy brown hair was getting long—his rock star style—and was touching the bottom of his eyebrows. Every now and then, he’d slightly flick his head back to move the hair from his eyes. Sometimes he’d pucker his lips together and puff hard to move the strands, but never—and I mean never—did he use his fingers to guide his hair. He always smiled so wide whenever he looked at me, which in turn brought smiles to my lips. I didn’t always feel like smiling, but Brooks? He made me feel as if smiling was all I ever wanted to do.
“Can I come in?” he asked.
The answer was yes. The answer was always yes.
He sat down on my bed. I reached for the notebook and pen on my nightstand, opening it up to the first free page. Beside my bed was a trash can filled with balled up pieces of paper from the nights before when Brooks came to visit. It was the way we communicated the best. In the mornings, we just listened to music, but in the afternoons, he’d speak and I’d write. I’d tried the same form of communication with Mrs. Boone, but she had told me she wasn’t going to aid me in killing trees. Plus, she said I had a voice and should be able to use it.
“I hear Mrs. Boone and you had a fight,” he said. I rolled my eyes and he snickered. “She means no harm, you know that, right? I went over to her place to drop Muffins back off, and she told me everything she said to you. I’m not saying her delivery was right, but her heart was in the right…” His words faded off as he saw my annoyed glare.
“She was right.” He snickered. “You are grumpy.”
I started writing on the paper. She called me Jessica.
He frowned. “Yeah.” He shifted his body slightly and looked up.
I cocked an eyebrow.
He pretended not to notice by looking higher up. My fingers nudged his shoulder. “I’m not supposed to say anything, Maggie.”
I nudged him again.
He sighed. “Okay, but you have to promise not to tell anyone, all right?”
I scrunched my nose. Who would I tell?
He laughed and tapped my nose twice. “I forgot I’m talking to the one girl who’s perfect at keeping a secret. So, my mom said Mrs. Boone’s been struggling with her memory. She found her wandering around last weekend, and Mrs. Boone was confused about her whereabouts. Mom said she thought it was maybe the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and she wanted Mrs. Boone to get checked out, just in case.”
He frowned. “You know Mrs. B, a bit stubborn, to say the least. She said she was fine and didn’t need anyone meddling in her affairs.”
A worrisome feeling grew in my gut as I imagined something seriously being wrong with Mrs. Boone. Even though I hated her, I loved her so much. The idea of anything happening to her made me nauseous.
As I went to write a few more words to Brooks, he blocked my hand from the paper. “Wait, I got something for you. For us.” He took off his backpack, unzipped it, and pulled out a huge dry-erase board with a new pack of markers. “I figured this is an easier way to write and not waste all that paper. Plus, if we ever have to tell secrets, I don’t have to speak out loud, and then we can just erase the evidence.”
I took a marker and began writing, but before I could write anything, he spoke.
“I broke up with Lacey today.” My marker dragged across the board as my mouth dropped open. He laughed nervously and shrugged. “Yeah, I know.” Lacey and Brooks had been dating for about nine months—nine months, two weeks, and four days to be exact—not that I’d been counting.
“Well, she kind of broke up with me, I guess. She said she couldn’t handle being the third choice in my life.”
“Music…and, well…” He gave me a grin that was more of a grimace. “You.”
My chest tightened and I sat up straighter. He continued speaking. “She thinks I spend too much time with you, seeing you every day. She’s a bit jealous and has this crazy idea that you and I have something going on.”
Did we? Was there something going on between us?
He rolled his eyes. “Which of course, we don’t. I told her you and I are just friends, because we are.”
Right. Of course. We had nothing going on. I held the anchor necklace I wore around my neck each day in the palm of my hand and squeezed it lightly.
Brooks and I were just friends; why did that feel like a punch to my gut?
“Anyway, I thought I’d tell you before anyone else did. It kind of sucks because I spent all that money on my tuxedo for prom tomorrow. Whatever, no big deal.”
I knew it was a big deal to him, though, because whenever Brooks was hurt, he chewed on his right thumb.
I’m so sorry, Brooks. I’m sorry you’re hurting.
“Yeah, me too. I liked her, you know? Lacey was great. But…” He frowned at the words on the dry-erase board, then took the palm of his hand and erased them. “See? With one swipe of the hand, the hurting is gone.”
He stood up and started walking around my room, running his fingers across the spines of all of my novels. I knew the hurting wasn’t gone, because another thing Brooks did when he was sad was pace and thumb through my books.
The tiny bookshelf I’d had since I was a small kid was now stacked high with novels, and those that didn’t fit on the shelves were standing up around the perimeter of my bedroom.
Unlike most people, my books were not grouped together by genre or author name. My books were placed together based on the color of their binding. All reds sat beside one another, while all the purples stayed close together. So, when one walked into my bedroom, they saw a rainbow border wrapping around the space.