Page 6 of RoomHate

God, he cleaned up nice.

Justin had changed out of his camouflage shorts from earlier into dark jeans and a gray shirt with black stripes that hugged his chest. He’d done something to his hair that I couldn’t pinpoint. Maybe washed it? Whatever it was, it brought out the blue in his eyes—eyes that were now gazing into Jade’s.

She ran her fingers through his hair then kissed him. “I missed you, babe. Guess what? We both got jobs at this restaurant on the beach.”

“Did you tell them you could get called back to New York anytime?”

“The guy said it didn’t matter. He said I could basically just work whenever I want.”

“Really. That sounds a bit shady to me. But whatever. You sure he doesn’t just want in your pants, Jade?”

“He said the same thing to me,” I interrupted.

“Well, then it can’t be that.”

It took me a bit to realize that he’d just insulted me.

Jade intercepted before I could muster up a comeback. “It’s mild out. How about we all have dinner on the upstairs deck tonight. We could barbecue that steak I have marinating in the fridge.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her I don’t like red meat, so I just kept quiet. He would probably think I was looking for an excuse not to have dinner with them.

Kill him with kindness.

“I’m not that great of a cook, but I can make a big salad.”

Justin smacked the counter. “Great. I’ll start the grill while Amelia tosses her big salad.”

He started to walk outside when I yelled after him.

“You know what Nana would say to you right now? She’d tell you to go wash your dirty mouth out with soap.”

He turned around and lifted his brow. “Soap wouldn’t cut it.”

I suppose I should have been happy that he was talking to me as opposed to pretending I wasn’t there. I guess we were making progress?

After chopping up lettuce, carrots, red onion, tomatoes and cucumbers, I dressed the salad with homemade honey mustard vinaigrette.

I carried it upstairs where Justin and Jade were already sitting down at the table. Jade had poured three glasses of Merlot, and Justin was sipping one as he looked over at the waves, which were rough tonight.

Once we started eating, Justin wouldn’t look at me or make conversation. I filled my plate with salad and bread, and it took a while before anyone noticed that I wasn’t eating anything else.

Jade’s mouth was full when she said, “You didn’t even touch the steak.”

“I don’t really like to eat meat.”

Justin chuckled. “Is that why you can’t find a man?”

I dropped my fork. “You’re a prick. Seriously. I don’t recognize you anymore. How were we ever best friends?”

“I used to ask myself that all the time before I stopped giving a shit.”

I got up from the table and went downstairs. Leaning against the kitchen counter, I breathed in and out slowly to calm myself down.

Jade came up quietly behind me. “I really don’t get what’s going on between you two or why he refuses to talk about it. Are you sure you guys never dated?”

“I told you, Jade. It wasn’t anything like that.”

“Will you tell me what happened?”

“I think he should be the one to explain it to you. Honestly, I don’t want to piss him off any more than I already have by overstepping my bounds. Besides, I can honestly say that if he’s mad, it’s because of the way I left…my running away. Anything that happened before that is irrelevant now. He’s pissed because of how I handled it.”

“Let’s just go back upstairs and try to have a nice dinner.”

Back on the upper deck, Justin was stone-faced, pouring more wine into his glass. A part of me wanted to slap him across the face, but another part felt guilty that I had caused so much anger in him. He said he didn’t care, but I refused to believe he would be acting up like this if he didn’t.

I touched his arm. “Will you just talk to me?”

He whipped his arm away. “I’m over it. I’m not talking about anything.”

“Will you do it for Nana?”

His head flipped up, and his beautiful blue eyes darkened. “Stop fucking bringing her into this. Your grandmother was a wonderful woman. She was the mother I never had. She never turned her back on me like pretty much everyone else in my life. This house is a representation of Mrs. H., which is why I’m here. I’m not here because of you. You want me to talk, but what you don’t seem to understand is that I don’t have anything to say about anything that happened almost a decade ago. I’ve erased it all. It’s too late, Amelia. I don’t care if you and Jade become friends, alright? But don’t bother trying to get through to me because we’re not gonna be friends. You put me in a shit mood, and I don’t want to spend this whole summer in a shit mood. We’re roommates. Nothing more. Stop pretending there is something more to it. Stop pretending to like the goddamn coffee. Stop pretending everything is just great. Cut the shit and see things for what they are. We don’t mean anything to each other.” He got up and took his plate. “I’m done, Jade. I’ll see you in the room.”

Jade and I sat in silence, listening to nothing but the sound of the waves crashing beneath us.

“I’m so sorry, Amelia.”

“Please. Don’t, okay? He’s right. Sometimes, you can’t fix things.” Despite the complacent words that had come out of my mouth, a tear fell down my cheek.

***

Eleven Years Earlier

Mom had left to go out again. Lord knows where she went or with whom. I could never count on my mother, Patricia, for anything. There were only two people I could depend on in my life: Nana and Justin.

The one good thing about Mom leaving me alone most nights was that it allowed me to sneak out of the house and go wherever I wanted. Nana assumed my mother was home half of the time, so she couldn’t stop me.

Justin and I were planning to meet in fifteen minutes. We were going to the mall to hang out with some of the other eighth graders from school. These kids were part of the cool crowd that Justin and I had been trying to break into. Because the two of us mainly hung out with each other, we really weren’t associated with any one clique.

He was waiting at the corner with his hands in his pockets. I loved when he wore his baseball cap backwards and the way the dirty blond strands of hair peeked out of the sides. I was starting to notice little things like that more and more lately. It was hard not to.

He walked toward me. “You ready to go?”

“Yeah.”

Justin started to run. “We have to hurry up. The next bus is in five minutes.”

I didn’t know why the thought of hanging out with these kids was making me so nervous. Justin didn’t seem nervous at all. He was more confident than me in general.

When we stepped inside the mall, the fluorescent lights were a sharp contrast to the dark winter outside. We were supposed to be meeting these kids at the food court, so we made our way to a map of the three-story building.

My heart was pounding as we approached the two boys and a girl who were standing outside of an Auntie Annie’s pretzel stand. Justin could tell I was on edge.

“Don’t be nervous, Patch.”

The first thing I remember hearing out of Chandler’s mouth was, “What the hell is that?”

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