“It’s fine, babe,” I said to him. Then I looked at her. “I never get mad when people hear my name wrong because I think to myself, Maybe they have hearing issues, excess earwax or something.”
Hayden coughed once and I could tell it was to keep himself from laughing. “You might want to get that checked out, Eve.”
Eve’s expression had gone ten degrees cooler. “I don’t have wax in my ears. Sometimes you just mumble, Hayden. Like last year in the school play when the whole audience thought you said, ‘I want to kill you,’ when you were supposed to say, ‘I want to kiss you.’”
Hayden, who had been pretty stoic since we came, cracked a smile. “Well, my line was better anyway.”
“I know. Why wouldn’t Sky want to kill Sarah, right?” She laughed.
Ryan looked as lost in this conversation as I was. Great—inside jokes.
“Kill me, baby,” Eve said in what sounded like a New York accent.
I was willing to kill her if that’s what she was asking. Hayden didn’t seem like he was on board with that plan, though, his smile still lingering. Ryan put his arm around Eve and Hayden moved back an inch, his face going hard again. I grabbed his hand and he turned to me. He brushed a kiss to my cheek so I closed my eyes.
When I opened them he said, “I want to dance with you,” using that husky voice he sometimes did.
I let him take me to the makeshift dance floor across the sand. I let him wrap my arms up around his neck and then rest his hands on my hips. For one moment I forgot we had an audience and it was for them that we were performing this show. He made me forget I had come here to try to get him out of my head.
He leaned down and I thought he was going to whisper something sweet in my ear when he said, “You’re a better actor than you give yourself credit for.”
Those words jolted my thoughts back into the right place. “I am, aren’t I?”
“So, what’s the story? Who’s Ryan?” I nodded back toward the table where he and Eve still sat, her head on his shoulder.
“He’s my best friend . . . well, was my best friend since the fifth grade.” A line formed between his eyes with this admission.
“Ouch. I’m sorry.”
“That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck when it does.”
“We exchanged a few black eyes. We’re good now.”
“Really? You’re still friends?”
“No, not at all, but I don’t want to beat him senseless every time I see him now, so that’s a step forward, I think.”
His still-tense jaw made me wonder if that statement was true at all¸ but I didn’t mention this. “I’d say that’s a very good step.”
He squeezed my hips and then put his forehead to my shoulder. I couldn’t help but notice I was a great height for him to do that. He wouldn’t have been able to do that comfortably with Eve.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I told you that we’d come as friends and then I pull this. I guess I just thought . . .”
“That she’d beg for forgiveness tonight?”
“Yes. Is that wrong? I just wanted a little justice. Some karma or something. Instead, I’m playing a stupid game. I don’t do this. I don’t play head games with people.”
I twirled the hair at the nape of his neck, hoping that Eve was watching because his story had made me feel completely justified in playing head games. “Maybe just this once you can give yourself permission to give her a taste of her own medicine. And it’s not like I’m unaware of what you’re doing. You’re not preying on some random, unsuspecting girl to make your ex jealous. I’m fully aware and wholeheartedly in support of making this girl feel at least one small twinge of regret tonight.”
“And then tomorrow we’ll both be better than this, right?”
I laughed. “Absolutely.”
He wrapped his arms around my waist and picked me up, spinning me around once. “You’re the best.” He put me down and offered me his smoldering stare that he had unveiled at prom. “So, are you ready for this?”
I laughed, not really sure that I was, if he was going to pull out all the stops like that. “Yes.”
He took me by the hand and led me in the opposite direction of Eve, toward the beach.
“We’re going the wrong way,” I said.
“No, this will drive her nuts, seeing us sneak away from the party.”
“There’s a place over here that’s a little more private. Hopefully it’s not taken.” He maneuvered us around some large rocks and then glanced over his shoulder, probably to see if Eve had noticed.
He was right, this was very private. A semicircle of rocks blocked us from the view of the party but gave us the perfect view of the ocean. He’d probably spent a lot of time here with Eve. He plopped down in the smooth sand and pulled on my hand for me to join him. I did. We sat shoulder to shoulder facing the ocean.
“So, you didn’t tell me your sister dressed like . . .”
“A drug dealer?”
“That’s not what I was going to say. But that’s why I didn’t recognize her at prom. She looked so different from the way she does at school.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s just a phase she’s going through. She’ll be on a new kick in a couple of months.”
“I’m not sure. I think it might be her way of not letting anyone get too close. She likes to keep the world at an arm’s length.”
“Has she been burned before too?”
He tilted his head in thought. “No, actually. Maybe she learns well from those around her.”
“But you two seem close.”
“We are. We have a close family, but maybe that’s been a disservice to her because she thinks no one could possibly love the real her as much as we do.” He picked up a handful of sand and let it slowly trickle between his fingers. “What about you? Are you close with your family?”
“Yes,” I said right away, but then I paused, Drew’s words about how my parents hadn’t really been there for me after I broke up with Bradley coming into my mind. I shook my head to get rid of the thought and then nodded. “Yes.”
Hayden raised his eyebrows. “You sure about that?”
“I’m close with my parents, but my brother—I don’t know—he’s always trying to stir up trouble. He went away to college, though, so it’s generally pretty quiet at home.” I thought about how Drew had come home this weekend and offered to help me find out if Bradley was cheating. “But I think he has good intentions. He wants to be a good brother. He just doesn’t do it in the best ways sometimes.”