“Are you following us?”
“What? No. It’s half-off Slurpee day,” I said, reading the sign in the window. “I always come here on Wednesdays.”
She glanced over her shoulder at the door then back to me. “Really? Huh. Well, we just thought you were following us. Guess not. Enjoy your Slurpee.” She reached for the handle.
“Wait. You’re not going inside?”
“You’re going home?”
She opened the car door.
“Fine, I never come here on Wednesdays. I was following you,” I blurted out. “I just want to see him again.”
She leaned her hip against the door and gave me a slow once-over. “Yeah, not happening.” And with that she got into the car and they drove away.
Since when did I chase things? This was pointless. I was done. I didn’t need to find him to forget him. It was over. I was moving forward. A big weight lifted off my shoulders with that thought. One Bradley down, one to go.
His outgoing message ended, followed by the loud beep. I took a breath and said, “Hey, Bradley, it’s me. Call me back when you get a minute.” I wasn’t going to tell him in a voice mail that I wasn’t regretting our breakup.
I pressed End and threw the phone on the passenger seat. When I pulled up to my house, Claire’s car sat out front and she sat in it, waiting for me.
“Hey,” I said as we both stepped out of our cars.
She held up a cup. “A few days late, but here it is.”
I joined her. “What is it?”
“A milk shake.”
I smiled and gave her a hug, holding on for a couple of seconds too long before pulling away. “You’re the best. Let’s go inside.”
“I can’t, I’m going surfing. Wanna come?”
I laughed. “Are you going to ask me that every time you go? It’s as though you like to hear me say no.”
She smiled. “I just feel like you’re missing out on one of the true joys in life.”
“What’s that? Super-freezing water, gross salty hair, and washing away sand for days?”
“Well, when you put it like that, it sounds bad.”
She swatted my arm. “It’s fun. Peaceful.”
“You know what’s also fun and peaceful? Drinking a shake.” I took a big sip from mine.
“That’s true. Or eating brownies.”
“Guys,” we both said at the same time then laughed.
Well, normally guys are, I thought. Not so much lately.
“We are so the same person,” she said. “Well, except for that surfing thing.”
“Yeah, come on, get past that so we don’t have this wedge between us.”
My smile turned a little forced as I thought about the only wedge between us and who had put it there.
“So how did your make-up tests go yesterday?”
“Make-up tests?” I remembered one moment too late that she was talking about the excuse I’d used to stay behind on campus and talk to Bec. “Yeah, they went well. . . .”
“That doesn’t sound like they really did. Are you worried you’re failing something?”
Our friendship. I couldn’t tell any more lies. I was turning over a new leaf, starting fresh. “I wasn’t taking a make-up test.”
“Okay . . . what were you doing?”
“I had to talk with someone on campus.”
“Her name is Bec. I just didn’t want the whole gang coming. She hangs out by the portables.”
“With the stoners?”
“I’m pretty sure they’re not stoners.”
“Well, they act like—” Her phone chimed and she stopped mid-sentence to check it. “They’re waiting for me. I probably better go.”
“Who’s waiting for you?”
“Jules and Laney. Remember, I told you we’re surfing.”
“I thought you were surfing by yourself, peacefully.”
She laughed. “No, they wanted to come this time.”
She shrugged. “She wants to learn.”
It took everything in me not to run inside and put my suit on like I now wanted to. I wasn’t going to change my mind just because the three of them would be there without me. And I also wasn’t going to rush telling her about prom right now. I’d tell her when she had more time. “Have fun.”
As Claire got in her car I yelled out, “Thanks for this,” and held up my shake.
“May it bring you peace,” she said with a smile, then drove away.
In Government the next morning as I sat down, Bec immediately turned around in her seat. “Change of plans. It’s time to pay up.”
“Uh . . . what?”
“You owe my brother a favor and I’m here to collect.”
She wanted me to do something for her brother when I’d just banned him from my brain? “I can’t.”
“You owe him.” She pulled something out of her bag and slapped it onto my desk. It was an envelope, its top edge jagged.
“What is it?” I asked without picking it up.
“It’s not going to bite you.”
“And you didn’t poison it?”
I picked it up and took out the single page inside. An invitation, printed on gold-bordered paper. “Are you inviting me to your birthday party?”
“You’re just a regular comedian this morning, aren’t you?”
I read the invitation. You’re invited to a graduation party for Eve Sanders. Saturday, May 7th at 7pm. “Am I supposed to know who this is?”
“My brother’s ex.”
My eyes zeroed in on the address included on the invite. Eve lived only, like, twenty minutes away. Bec and her brother had moved from across town?
Bec continued, “I found it on the counter last night and then I heard him calling her to confirm that he is actually going to that thing. She invited him. And he is going. She’s trying to sink her claws into him again when she is the one who left him. She is awful, Gia. Worse than you.”
“You’re just clueless. She’s intentionally mean.”
“Was that supposed to make it better?”
The bell rang and Mrs. Rios stood in front of the class, her eyes narrowing in on me. Bec turned around to face the front. My attention drifted to the invitation still on my desk. When Mrs. Rios turned to write something on the whiteboard, I leaned forward. “So, I don’t understand. What do you want me to do about this?”