“Hmm. Chicks.” Anders sighed, back to cataloguing the mess. “So much stuff, so high maintenance. Is it any wonder I don’t want to settle down?”
“I’m not high maintenance.” Girls like Kara were high maintenance. My small amount of stuff couldn’t even begin to compare to her gross displays of materialism. “You know nothing.”
The idiot was laughing so hard he clutched at his stomach.
“You want to walk?” I snapped.
Immediately his face sobered. “No, ma’am.”
“Tell me what’s going on with John. What do you mean by ‘a fucky mood,’ exactly?”
“Hmm, I don’t know.” He bit at a nail. “Feels kind of disloyal to be talking about him behind his back now. Anyway, you’ll see for yourself.”
Frustration had me revving up the engine and pulling out of the school parking lot, tires squealing just a little. Go, me. Happily, Anders kept his mouth shut for a while. If he wasn’t going to give me any useful information, then that was for the best. And here I was, reduced to giving veritable strangers rides just to see John again. Despite his superior status in the school echelons due to dealing, and his general attractiveness, the thought of us ignoring each other no longer appealed to me, if it ever really had. His fault. How could I not be curious after he appeared at my bedroom window in the middle of the night?
On the edge of town past the old cemetery was a park. Obviously neglected if the knee-high grass, scattered trash, and abundance of wildflowers were any indication. Graffiti in every color of the rainbow covered the wooden kids’ play castle and swings.
“What is this place?” I asked, pulling the car in beside a couple of others.
“Some city benefactors’ first attempt at a skate park. Problem is, it’s so far out, you pretty much need a car to get here,” he said. “Kind of defeats the purpose for most people.”
“Guess they didn’t want us young hooligans hanging around, messing up the place where the good citizens could see.”
“How’d that work out for them?”
He chuckled. “For them, not so good. They had to eventually build the one in town. For us, though, fucking fantastic. Come and see.”
I locked the car, then followed him down a well-trodden dirt path. People were gathered by the skate ramps, some watching, waiting their turn. Others were throwing back energy drinks and sucking on cigarettes. Music blared, almost obscuring the sound of a set of wheels thundering across the pavement. I pushed my sunglasses on top of my head. Only one person flew up and down the sides of the pipe, his body and board moving and looking like a dream.
John Cole dressed in only faded black jeans and Converse dazzled my eyes. Add in the hardness of his chest, shoulders, and arms, glistening with sweat courtesy of the late-afternoon sun, and I was on the verge of writing him bad poetry.
Cool girls clapped and called out to him from nearby. One of them noticed me watching and sneered as if he was her property and she was marking her territory. Sadly for her, dirty looks didn’t do much. Peeing might have worked out better. No one wants urine stains on their Docs.
“Hey,” said John, pulling up at the top of the low ramp we were standing on. One foot stayed on the board, rolling it back and forth. “What’re you doing here?”
“She gave me a lift. I invited her to come visit.” Anders passed him a bottle of water with a grin. “I spat in that, by the way.”
John drank without pause while I gave Anders a dubious look.
“Just joking,” he cried, holding up his hands. “I met my new friend Edie here in detention.”
“Yeah.” I stuffed my hands in my skirt pockets.
“You shouldn’t have brought her out here,” he said to his buddy.
“Why not? You know her.” Anders rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. “She’s a friend, right?”
John said nothing.
“But, yeah. Anyway,” babbled Anders, “nice day we’re having.”
John’s jaw had locked with tension.
“Okay. Sensing a mood coming on. I’m going to leave you two to talk.” Without another word, Anders wandered off to chat with the other people hanging out.
I took a deep breath. “We could definitely talk.”
His brow descended.
“I mean, if you wanted to talk about anything, that would be fine. With me.”
“No,” said John without hesitation. “Everything’s fine. What’d he say to you?”
“Nothing that made much sense.” I tilted my head. “You sure you don’t want to talk?”
Incredibly awkward silence.
“Sorry,” he finally said. “It’s good to see you.”
My whole body eased, relieved. “You too.”
John nodded, giving me a repressed half-smile. It consisted of wrinkled lips more than anything, and God help me, even that was attractive. In the light of day, his eyes were clear blue with brown flecks, his skin tanned, apart from the bandage on his arm. He was beautiful and I . . . I was nothing. An out-of-her-depth girl who wore too much black and feared the bulk of society. Yay, me.
“I’d better go,” I said, taking a step back.
“I’ll walk you to your car,” said John, flipping his board up to his hand, and falling into step at my side.
“You don’t have to do that.”
He didn’t respond.
I watched him out of the corner of my eye. My brain on high alert and my hormones and dreams on overload. Not once in my entire life had I ever been so curious about someone. What went on in his head, what was his life like? John Cole made for an enthralling mystery. I just hoped he’d been telling the truth and he was in fact okay. He did the stoic thing so well. It made it hard to judge.
Bees and other assorted bugs flitted around, the music fading as nature took over. It was nice out here, despite the cigarette stubs and occasional beer bottles hiding in the long grass. Summer had a smell, but so did he. I don’t think I’d ever wanted to rub my face in someone’s sweaty chest before.
Talk about unnerving. People shouldn’t walk around half-naked unless they were at a pool or lake or something. Nipple viewing should really be reserved for special occasions. Christmas, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, stuff like that. Also, with every step he took, the waistband of his jeans slid a little across his lean hips. Not saying I was drooling exactly, but close.