“Ninety-six days until UCLA!” Jules screamed out the window. When had she started in on our countdown? She rolled up the window, reached forward, and turned on the radio. Then she started dancing and singing. Claire laughed and shoved her arm.

I sent off a text to Hayden: I’m having extreme patience with my frenemy. Does this count as being a better person?


The same frenemy I met?

Yes.

Being a better person doesn’t mean taking abuse.

She’s not abusive.

I respectfully disagree.

Is there any other way to disagree?

Many other ways, but I think respectfully is the most appropriate in this instance.

I laughed a little and Laney looked over at me. “Are you texting your blind date boy?”

I smiled and she squealed.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you look so happy over a boy before.”

That statement wiped the smile from my face. “What? Of course I’ve looked happy over a boy before.”

“I know, but you’re . . . I don’t know. It’s different. You had a shine in your eyes.”

Claire teased, “Were you glowing, Gia?”

“What? No. I hardly know him. He just said something funny.” I tucked my phone away. Of course I wasn’t letting a boy get to me. Especially not Hayden. Our story was way too complicated to turn into something real.

“I don’t think you ever told us his name,” Claire said.

Because of how hard it was for me to earn his name, I felt a bit protective over it. I wanted to refuse to tell them. But I knew that was stupid. “Hayden.”

“Hayden?” Jules said. I wasn’t sure if she said it with a disgusted tone or if she always used a disgusted tone so it was hard to know when she truly was trying to express that emotion.

“Yes. Hayden,” I said. “I really like his name.”

“Me too,” Claire said. She pulled into the parking lot and I was glad to be out of the car. Had there always been this much tension when I hung out with my friends?

I had waited half a week to ask my parents about driving to UCLA with Hayden and Bec but I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer. The way my mom had said, “The decision has been made,” last time we talked about the ceremony was freezing me up. I rarely fought with my parents. I usually agreed with them. The more I thought of it, the more I realized that I rarely fought with anyone. I didn’t like fighting. I disagreed with people in my head a lot but rarely out loud.

But I couldn’t avoid it this time. I needed their permission. And the thought of a possible argument with my parents was making my stomach hurt.

We sat at the dinner table eating a Costco rotisserie chicken. This was a bad sign. It meant my mom had worked all day and didn’t have time to make food. And when she had worked all day, she was crankier.

“This is really good,” I said, picking the chicken off the bone with a fork, my stomach too tight to actually eat it.

“I’m glad you like it,” my mom said.

“How was work?”

“I spent all day with a couple and they still haven’t made a decision.”

“Buying a house is a big deal,” my dad said. My mom leveled him with a look and he added, “But they probably should’ve researched more online first.”

“Yes, they should’ve.”

I waited for my dad to come back with another counterargument defending the couple but he didn’t. He kept the peace. Both of them always kept the peace. I opened my mouth and the words, But it’s your job to show people houses, almost came out. They were so close to coming out that I had to swallow. Now was not the time to say something stupid. I wanted to go somewhere this weekend. I needed their permission.

“So . . . I was thinking and I know you two can’t go to Drew’s award ceremony but I was hoping I could go.”

“By yourself?” my dad asked.

“Remember my friends you met the other night? The girl that I studied with and her brother? They offered to come with me.”

My parents looked at each other like they could speak telepathically and were discussing their answer. My mom spoke first. “I thought we’d decided we were going to honor Drew’s wishes.”

“I think Drew just doesn’t want to inconvenience us. And you don’t have to go. It would just be me.”

“And your friends that we hardly know.”

“You can talk to their parents. I think you’d really like their mom. She’s very nice.” I pulled out my phone. “Let me just text Hayden and get her number.”

“Gia, we haven’t made up our minds yet.”

“I know but this will help you decide one way or the other.”

Hey, can I get your mom’s phone number?

My mom is already taken but I can see why you’d be interested.

Funny. No, it’s for this weekend. My parents need a little persuading.

My mom is really good at that.

He sent the number and I looked up, slowly. It took me a moment to realize I had a goofy smile on my face. I let it fall. “Got the number. Just think about it.”

“I don’t want to fight about this,” my mom said.

“We’re not, Mom. We’re just talking.” I understood Drew in that moment more than I ever had. I’d always thought he was trying to rock the boat when maybe really all he was ever doing was expressing a different opinion. Maybe it was time I started expressing mine.

CHAPTER 21

As I waited in the kitchen, looking out the window every minute to see if Hayden had arrived yet, I was happier than I’d been all week. I clutched the tickets to Drew’s awards ceremony in my hand.

My mom came in, all dressed up in what I call her realtor clothes, which today was a red jacket paired with a black pencil skirt. “I still don’t really feel comfortable with this. I don’t know these kids very well and your brother is not even expecting you.”

“Mom, it’s a surprise. Please don’t tell Drew. And you talked to Hayden’s parents. I thought you were okay with this.”

“I was. Now I’m feeling uncomfortable again.”

“When he gets here, you can meet him. It will help.”

She looked at her watch, probably wondering if she had time to meet him. Just when I was about to ask her schedule, the doorbell rang. My mom answered the door with me right behind her. I almost wished Bec would’ve stayed in the car because the calming effect Hayden might have given my mom, with his boyish hair flopping over his forehead and his disarming smile, was probably reversed by the anxiety Bec seemed to produce in her.

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