“You think I’m hot?”
“What? No. I was just making conversation.” My face heated. Mental note: Duct tape mouth at first opportunity. “Geez, the ego on you.”
Huffing out a laugh, he shook his head. “So you are or you aren’t supposed to have boys in your room? I can’t keep up.”
“Boys are definitely not allowed,” I confirmed. “Actually, I’m also not supposed to have anyone over while she’s at work. Not without permission.”
“I’m here to study.”
“That would still be a hard no.”
Lines filled his forehead. “You want me to go?”
“No, of course not.” I smiled. “I like you bugging me. I like it a lot.”
He laughed softly.
“Got it. Bit of a rule-breaker these days, aren’t you?” Pulling back his hair, he secured it with a rubber band he’d had around his wrist.
“That’s not good for your hair. Use this.” I grabbed him a hair tie off my bedside table and he took it with another one of those looks. Lips drawn wide in a vague smile, yet his brows drawn down. Interestingly enough, he used the look a lot around me. As if he didn’t quite know why he was going along with what I’d said or something. Like I amused and confused him both at once. The feeling was pretty much mutual.
“Would your parents mind?” I asked, curious. They weren’t something he tended to talk about.
“Doubt it. I only talk to them on the phone now and then since they moved a year ago. Dad got offered a job in Anchorage. Dillon was of age and the money was good, so they moved,” he said, like it was no big deal. “I had the business to look after and I didn’t want to change schools, so I stayed.”
“I know you’d said they moved up north, but Alaska?”
“Never occurred to you to change your mind after the Drop Stop?” Escaping to an icy land of few people sounded pretty appealing to me.
He pursed his lips. “I never thought I’d miss not having my parents with me. When they said they were thinking of moving away, all Dillon and I cared about was freedom.” He shook his head. “But no, I didn’t want to leave here. My uncle, he’s pretty good, and he’d been on me to work for him for a while. Moving in with him for my senior year’s a lot easier than starting over up north. And it still gives me some space from my brother.”
“Even when Mom and Dad were down here, things weren’t much different. Mom didn’t like the people Dillon had hanging around, but she sucked at saying no to him. Plus she had church groups and stuff going on. Kept her busy,” he said. “Dad was working just about around the clock and was dead tired whenever he was at home, so we tended to keep any friction away from him.”
“Did they know about the dealing?”
One side of his lips drew out a ways. “Mom definitely had to. I think she was just really good at not seeing anything that didn’t suit her, you know?”
“I’m not sure about Dad. Can’t remember me or Dillon ever having to ask for permission,” he said. “As soon as Dillon hit high school he was always going out somewhere. Most of the time he didn’t mind me tagging along. He had this piece-of-shit truck that was always breaking down and I was better with engines than he was.”
“I can’t believe your parents moved away, just leaving you with your brother,” I said with more bite than intended.
“Think they’d pretty much given up by then.”
Just the thought made me furious. And yet . . . “Now here you are, wanting to study on a Saturday night. They were wrong.”
His gaze lingered on me, assessing. “Sure you don’t want me to go? I don’t want to cause trouble with your mom.”
“No, stay,” I said, answering the earlier question. “You know, I have a theory that most of the rules we’re given are nonsense anyway. I’d rather make up my own mind about things. Take for instance you being here. There’s nothing for my mother to worry about. Nothing’s going on. Nothing’s going to happen.”
“Only I just happened to sneak in your window to hang out with you on your bed.” He scratched at the beginnings of stubble on his chin.
“Now you’re thinking like my mother. Don’t do that.”
“How old are you?” he demanded.
“See, you’re not even legal yet. Practically a baby.”
“Please.” I scoffed. “You’ve only got a couple of months on me.”
“Beside the point. Edith Millen, you are under the age of consent and living in your mom’s house,” he said, pushing on. “You’re smart and you’re nice and you’ve got no fucking business being alone with someone like me and you know it. I’m an ex-drug dealer, for Christ’s sake. Apart from math and technology, I’m failing everything. Oh, and PE—I’m passing that too. Seriously, though, you couldn’t have picked a worse friend if you tried. Your mother would freak.”
“Don’t put yourself down like that.”
Nothing from him.
“And don’t call me Edith.” I stood tall, angry all over again. “So what if you’ve got a history? That’s what it is, history. You’re trying at school and you’ve got a proper job. You’re also the sort of person who risks his life for a complete stranger. How many people do you think would do that?”
His mouth stayed shut.
“I’m honored to be your friend. You idiot.”
“I was just pointing out that your mom cares about you,” he said with a hint of a smile. “Considering how pissed you were at my folks for giving up on me, her rules aren’t so bad.”
“Even if we are breaking them.”
“To study,” he clarified. “But thanks. Grab your books.”
“I’ll get my math textbook too; I think I’m failing,” I said. “You said you could help with that, right?”
“Absolutely, I’m great with numbers. Ran a successful business for years, didn’t I?”
“You mean selling dope?”
Wide-eyed, I looked him over. John as an entrepreneur. An illegal one, but still. “Guess I never thought of it that way.”