I took two steps in his direction and my foot landed on something sharp. With a quick breath between my teeth, I checked to make sure it wasn’t glass. It was just a piece of a shell and it was only a surface scratch. I brushed off my foot and then joined Hayden.
“So the second I took off my shoes, I stepped on a—”
“Gia,” Hayden interrupted, grabbing my hand and pulling me to his side. I stumbled slightly but he held me firm. “I want you to meet Eve and Ryan.”
“And, guys, this is my girlfriend, Gia.” He slid a hand down my back and gave me a lingering kiss on the cheek after the announcement.
Whoa. What? In the two minutes I’d been gone, something had changed and I wasn’t sure what. I turned on a smile and held out my hand. “Nice to meet you.”
The guy grabbed my hand. “Good to meet you.” When he let go he took Eve’s. Oh. And there it was. Bec was wrong. It was option number one Eve was interested in. She wanted Hayden here to make sure he was still pining over her but she was still very much attached to whoever this guy was.
Eve’s brilliant smile had faded just a bit as she took me in. From this close I could see her T-shirt. It said, I like turtles. I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be funny or if she really did have a thing for turtles.
“You brought someone,” she said. “I didn’t realize you were . . . dating anyone.”
Hayden in all his smoothness said, “I hope that’s okay. The invitation said plus one.”
The invitation said plus one? And here she looked like she was in shock that he had actually brought someone.
“Right. It did. I know how close you and your sister are so I thought . . . But yes, of course it’s fine. Come get something to eat. I’m sure you want to catch up with some people you haven’t talked to in a while. Everyone is here.”
“Yes, I’d love for Gia to meet everyone. You ready, hon?”
I took his offered hand and squeezed it. “Yes.” We started to walk away then I turned back. “Oh, and thanks for inviting us, Eve. This looks amazing. Happy graduation.” She nodded me a thanks and then walked the other way.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Hayden mumbled under his breath as we walked toward a long table full of food by the patio of the house.
“Don’t be. I owe you.”
We stopped in front of the table and I stared at the food spread before us. “Are you hungry?”
His gaze was on the ocean in the distance, his jaw tight. It seemed as though he hadn’t heard my question at all.
I put my hand on his back. “You okay?” I didn’t know why I asked him that; it was obvious he wasn’t. He had come here tonight thinking his ex-girlfriend had invited him because she wanted to get back together with him and he had just found out she hadn’t.
“What? Yes, food. Let’s eat. Are you hungry?”
“We can leave. We don’t have to stay.”
“We’re staying.” He said it like I had dared him not to and he was rising to the challenge.
“Okay. We’re staying. You have other friends here, right?”
“Then let’s have fun.”
We each filled a plate with food and then found two empty seats at a round table. He greeted several people then scooted his chair extra close to mine. While he ate with one hand, his other was always resting on the back of my chair, or on my shoulder, or playing with the ends of my hair. I knew it was for show and I had to keep telling myself that as chills radiated down my spine every time he touched me.
“Where have you been? I haven’t seen you at school lately,” a guy from across the table asked.
I was grateful for the distraction because Hayden moved both elbows to the table and leaned forward as he spoke. “I’ve been around. Busy with graduation stuff.”
Busy being a recluse, according to Bec.
“Well, it’s good to see you. Where are you going to school next semester?”
“San Luis. You?”
“Me too.” The guy looked at me then. “You put up with this guy, huh?”
“You don’t go to school with us, do you?”
I started to say no, but Hayden beat me to the answer. “She goes to Bec’s new school. We met through her.”
In a way, I guess we kind of did. He was dropping Bec off for prom. I dragged him in to be my date.
“Cool,” the guy said, then he stood, gave a head nod, and walked away carrying his empty plate.
Hayden pointed at the olives I had picked off my pizza. “What’s going on there?”
“I’m not an olive fan.”
“There were other options without olives.”
“I like the flavor the olives leave on the pizza. I just don’t like the texture of the olive itself.”
He laughed then popped one of my discarded olives into his mouth. “Weirdo.”
“I like weird. Normal is so boring.”
“Right.” The problem was that I was the very definition of normal. He’d probably just learned the most interesting thing there was to know about me. I was not Eve. Not that it mattered.
I looked around and realized we were the only two sitting at the table now, leaving plenty of room for when Eve and her boyfriend wandered over and joined us.
“I’m so glad you came,” she said again when she sat down with her own food in the chair right next to Hayden. So close she could put her hand on his knee when she talked. And she did. It was obvious Hayden had been trying to make her jealous and it was obvious it was working. Maybe he’d get his wish by the end of the night after all.
“I didn’t think you would,” she continued. Her hand finally came off his leg. I wondered if my death glare had anything to do with it. She had no right to waltz around messing with Hayden’s head. He may have wanted her back, but Bec was right. This girl was bad news. I was suddenly on board with Bec’s plan of keeping this girl far away from Hayden. I leaned my shoulder against his.
“Why didn’t you think I’d come?” Hayden asked, meeting her stare. I was proud of the way he didn’t react, just gave her a look that seemed innocent.
“I should’ve known you would,” she said. “You’re such a nice guy. Isn’t he a nice guy, Mia?”
“Her name is Gia,” Hayden said.