“What’s the deciding factor?”
That was a good question. He should’ve been gone. I didn’t need to call him for him to be gone. “I don’t know. I shouldn’t be deciding at all. He left me at prom. In the parking lot. I wasn’t expecting it.” I was talking aloud without filtering my thoughts at all, so I shut my mouth before I said other things I didn’t mean to.
He raised his eyebrows, but I couldn’t read his expression. A large bug hit the windshield with a thump. He turned on the wipers, spraying water to clear it away. “You wanted it to end on your terms?”
“Yes. I mean, no, I didn’t want it to end . . . maybe. What about you? Bec was right, wasn’t she? You really do want your girlfriend back.”
He let out a breath. “Possibly.”
That was as close to “of course I do” as it got for guys, I thought, but I played along. “What’s the deciding factor?”
He tapped the steering wheel with his thumbs, took a deep breath, and said, “Tonight, I guess.”
He laughed as he turned off the engine. “Are you just saying it to say it again or do you actually have something to say this time?”
“Mostly I’m just saying it because I can, but I do have a question.”
“Are you studying acting?”
“Good. You’re very talented at it.”
He met my eyes. “Thank you.”
“And what about poetry? Your mom named you after a poet. Did you come to appreciate it?”
“Are you nervous about getting out of the car?”
“Unlike you, I am not an actor.” I was afraid I’d ruin his ploy to get back with Eve due to my terrible acting skills.
“No need to be. We’re here as friends, right? No acting involved.”
He reached for the car door handle.
“Wait! Let me fix your hair.”
“Seriously. You want her to want you, right?” I thought he’d leave but instead he turned toward me with a tired look on his face. I quickly grabbed the gel from my purse before he changed his mind. “The key is to only use a little.” The gel was blue and claimed “Super Support,” so I squeezed out a dime-sized drop onto my palm, rubbed my hands together, then pushed them through his hair.
“You actually have really great hair. It just looks like your mom cut it.”
“You don’t even know my mom.”
“Well, any mom.” The front of his hair was drooping a bit so I gave it one last pass then smiled. “There.”
“Your work is done?” he asked.
I met his eyes and realized my styling process had closed the space between us. I backed up. “Yes, she’ll be all over you by the end of the night.”
“Who knew hair was that powerful?” He kept his gaze on me, the one that seemed to search my soul, then a smile spread across his lips. My heart gave a jump that surprised me and I quickly dropped my gaze.
I took my cell phone and lip gloss out of my purse and slipped them into my pocket while he opened his door and got out. By the time I’d tucked my purse with the rest of its contents under the seat, he was on my side of the car opening my door. He gave me a hand out. After he shut and locked the doors, he faced the house and I could see him visibly take a breath, the air flowing into his lungs causing his shoulders to rise and fall.
“Are you nervous?” I asked, a little surprised.
“Maybe. Thanks for coming with me.”
“Okay, here we go.”
“Nothing. I just wanted to say your name.”
He smiled, which was what I was hoping for. He just needed to relax. I knew Bec wanted me here to keep him away from Eve, but who was I to stop him if that’s what he really wanted? He led me up the walk and around the side of the house to a gate that was propped open.
“Oh. Look at that. Your ex-girlfriend’s house backs up to the ocean.” I had known we were close to the beach—I could hear the waves and smell the ocean breeze—but I hadn’t realized we were this close.
“Pretty cool, right?”
The secluded beach was full of people eating, talking, dancing. Hayden scanned the area and I could tell when he saw her because he went still. I followed his gaze and went still myself. It wasn’t that she was drop-dead gorgeous or anything, but just looking at her, I could tell she had more quirk and personality than I’d ever have. Her hair was a shockingly white blond that she wore choppy, one side longer than the other. Mine was brown and boringly all the same length. She was short and curvy while I was tall and lean. She wore a T-shirt that said something on the front I couldn’t read but I was sure it was funny or odd, just like Hayden’s were. They belonged together and after tonight they probably would be back together. He wanted it, and from the way she was now looking at Hayden, her eyes lighting up with joy, it was obvious she wanted it too. Bec was going to kill me.
Eve waved and he nodded.
“I’m just going to take off my sandals. I didn’t realize we’d be on the sand.” Wedges were not right for this. I should’ve worn flip-flops. No wonder Bec had given me that look.
“Can I just put them back in your car?”
“Of course.” He handed me the keys but didn’t offer to walk me.
“Okay, then . . . I guess I’ll see you in a minute.”
I walked back to his car, unbuckled my sandals, and threw them in the backseat. Normally I was so confident walking into a new place. Why did I feel so nervous now? Maybe I shouldn’t have come. All I’d wanted was to see Hayden again, find out his motivations for going to prom with me so I could stop obsessing about it. So that things could go back to normal. I’d done that. But I was here now. I could stay for a little while for Hayden’s sake. We were only twenty minutes from my house. Maybe once Hayden and Eve got back together, I could call my brother or Claire for a ride and head over to the other party.
I followed the path back to the beach. Hayden had moved about twenty feet farther into the party but was now talking to Eve and another guy. I had several options—a food table across the way, a makeshift dance floor, or a group surrounding a bonfire. Or, of course, I could go see how Hayden was faring. I chose that option.