“Why aren’t you in school right now? Is today a holiday?”
“No. I’m finished with high school.” It’s not a lie. Finished and completed are two different things.
“I’m twenty,” he says, moving his attention out his window. His knee is bouncing up and down and he’s tapping the fingers of his right hand on his leg. All his fidgeting has me questioning my decision to give him a ride to his sister’s house. I make a mental note to look at his pupils if he faces me again. It would be my luck to pick up a random stranger who is coming down from a high.
“How many dogs do you have?” He’s still staring out the window as he asks me this.
He faces me and arches a brow. I use the opportunity to assess his pupils. Normal.
“Why are you buying dog food if you don’t have dogs?”
“It’s for a dog at my house, but he’s not our dog.”
“Are you dog sitting?”
“Did you steal him?”
“What kind of dog is it?”
He grins. “I like black Labs. Where do you live?” I must make a face that indicates what I think of that invasive question, because he immediately responds. “I didn’t mean your exact address. I just meant in relation to where I’m going.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know where you’re going.”
“To my sister’s house.”
“Where does your sister live?”
He shrugs. “This way,” he says, pointing in the direction we’re going. He pulls his phone out of his pocket. “I have a picture of her house.”
“You don’t know her address?”
He shakes his head. “No, but if you can just drop me off somewhere in the general area, I can ask around.”
“General area of where?”
“The general area of my sister’s house.”
I press my hand against my forehead. I’ve known this guy all of five minutes and I’m already overwhelmed. I have no idea if I like him or if I can’t stand him. He’s a little bit fascinating, but in a slightly annoying sense. He’s probably one of those people that can only be tolerated in spurts. Kind of like a thunderstorm. They’re fun if they only appear when you’re in the mood for one. But if they show up when they aren’t wanted, like at an outdoor wedding, they ruin everything.
“How did you finish school already? Are you one of those people that’s better at everything than everyone else? Like Adam Levine? You probably play guitar.”
What does that even mean? “No, I don’t play guitar. And I’m not better at everything. I’m not as good at asking questions as you.”
“You’re also not good at answering them.”
Is he seriously insulting my conversation skills? “I’ve answered every question you’ve asked.”
“Not in the way you’re supposed to answer questions.”
“There’s another way to answer questions other than giving the correct answer?”
He nods. “You’re giving short answers, like you aren’t interested in having a conversation. It should be a two-man sport, like a Ping-Pong match. But with you it feels more like . . . bowling. Just going one way down the lane.”
I laugh. “You should learn social cues. If someone is answering your questions like they don’t want to answer them, maybe you should stop asking questions.”
He stares at me a moment and then opens his container of beef jerky again. “You want a piece yet?”
“No,” I say again, growing more agitated with him by the second. “Are you dumb? Like . . . are you a legit stupid person?”
He closes his container and sets it on the floor between his legs. “No, I’m actually very smart.”
“What’s your issue, then? Are you on drugs?”
He laughs. “Not any illegal ones.”
He’s smiling at me, taking this entire conversation in stride. This is normal for him? He’s completely at ease. It makes me wonder what other kind of people he’s encountered in his life for him to think what’s happening right now is normal.
I exit the highway and decide the best course of action would be to drop him off at the only gas station in our town.
“You got a boyfriend, Merit?”
I shake my head.
I shake my head again.
“Well, is there anyone you find intriguing?”
“Are you hitting on me or is this just you asking questions?”
“I’m not actively hitting on you, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t. You’re cute. But right now I’m just making conversation. Ping-Pong.”
I blow out a frustrated rush of air.
“You’re about to hit a turkey,” he says, matter-of-fact.
I slam on my breaks. Why would there be a turkey on this road? I scan the road in front and around us but see nothing. “There’s no turkey.”
“I meant metaphorically.”
What the hell? “Never tell a driver they’re about to hit something metaphorically! Jesus Christ!” I let off the brake until the car starts moving again.
“It’s a bowling term. Three strikes is a turkey.”
“I am so lost.”
He sits up straighter and pulls his leg up in his seat so that he can face me. “Conversation should be like Ping-Pong,” he repeats. “But conversation with you is like bowling. It’s a long, one-way lane. Three strikes in bowling is a turkey. And since you aren’t answering my questions, I used turkey as an analogy to describe your lack of . . .”
“Okay!” I say, holding up a hand to shut him up. “I get it. Yes. There’s a guy. Anything else you want to know before you start overexplaining metaphorical road kill again?”
I can already sense his excitement that I’m agreeing to participate in his conversation. Even if it is just to shut him up. “Does he know you like him?” he asks.
I shake my head.
“Does he like you?”
I shake my head again.
“Is he out of your league?”
“No,” I say immediately. “That’s so rude.”
But even though his question was rude, it does give me pause. When I first saw Sagan at the antiques store, I had a quiet fear that he was out of my league. But when I found out he was dating Honor, it never even crossed my mind that she was out of his league. I hate that I might have thought she deserved him more than I did.
“Why isn’t he your boyfriend?”
I grip the steering wheel. I’m a mile away from the gas station. One more stop sign and I can drop him off.
“Don’t hit the metaphorical turkey,” he says. “Why aren’t you dating this fellow you find intriguing?”
Fellow? He seriously just referred to another guy as a fellow. And his turkey metaphor doesn’t even make sense. “You use analogies wrong.”
“Don’t avoid the question,” he says. “Why aren’t you and this guy dating?”
I sigh. “He’s my sister’s boyfriend.”
The words are barely out of my mouth before Luck starts laughing. “Your sister? Holy crap, Merit! What a terrible thing to do!”
I give him the side eye. Does he think I don’t realize how terrible it is to be attracted to my sister’s boyfriend?
“Does your sister know you like him?”
“Of course not. And she never will.” I motion toward his phone. “Let me see the picture of your sister’s house. I might know where it is.” I’m more eager than ever to drop him off now.
Luck scrolls through the pictures on his phone. Right when I get to the stop sign, he hands me his phone.
You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m being pranked, right? I immediately throw the car in park. I zoom in on the picture of Victoria standing in front of Dollar Voss. The picture looks a couple of years old because the white picket fence my dad put up last year isn’t in this picture.
“Looks like it might have been a church at some point,” Luck says.
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