I had sunk lower in my chair, not a fan of being the poster child for his mocking take on society. I could feel both Hayden and Bec staring at me, but I was now focused on the red velvet of the seat in front me.
Drew’s professor came back on the stage. “Thank you, Drew. And good news—if you want to see this or any of the pieces from tonight in their entirety, please visit this website.” The address for a site appeared on the big screen. I didn’t want to see Drew’s piece in its entirety but I memorized the address anyway.
When the lights in the theater turned on, I jumped.
Hayden put his hand on my shoulder. “What do you want to do? Do you want to talk to him?”
“I want to punch him,” Bec said.
“Bec, this isn’t about you,” Hayden said.
Nate raised his hand. “I want to punch him too.”
“He edited it a lot.”
“You don’t have to explain it, Gia.”
This was why Drew didn’t want us here and I should’ve listened.
“I’m fine.” I stood up and looked down at Drew, who was surrounded by friends and his professor.
A college-aged girl behind me said, “Hey, that was you in that film. And you had your phone out all through the ceremony. So ironic.”
I flinched and Bec snapped her teeth at the girl.
I forced a smile. “I just want to go home,” I said to Hayden. “I’ll talk to him tomorrow when he’s less busy.”
“Can I talk to him now when he’s surrounded by people’s opinions that he values?”
Bec gave her brother a shove. “Yes. Do.”
“No. I just want to go home,” I said again.
After we’d made it through the crowded theater and out onto the campus, I took a deep breath. Hayden, Bec, and Nate were all eerily quiet. I just wanted them to talk and act like everything was normal. If we pretended for now it hadn’t happened, this would be a whole lot easier.
When we got to the car, I settled into my seat. My first thought was to pull out my phone and distract myself from the reality of what had just happened, but I couldn’t do that right now, not with the image of me doing that very thing still playing over and over in my mind.
Hayden started the car and drove out of the parking lot. “If it’s any consolation, I don’t think he was singling you out. He was just using you as an example to illustrate his point. He was saying it’s a generational problem, not specifically your problem.”
Bec punched his arm. “That’s not a consolation. That was her brother. He shouldn’t have done that. Period.”
“I know,” Hayden agreed.
“That’s not the problem anyway,” I said in a voice I wasn’t sure they could hear.
“The problem is that it’s true. I am that person.” I did care what other people thought about me. I did delete pictures or tweets that didn’t get enough likes. I did measure my worth in those terms. I was possibly the most shallow person on earth and I was just now discovering it.
“We’re all that person, Gia. That’s why he won the award. It was relatable.”
Maybe Hayden was right, but for whatever reason I felt like it applied to me the most. I leaned my head against the window and let my eyes drift closed.
When I opened my eyes, the car was still. Bright overhead lights made me squint and blink a few times. I sat up and stretched.
Bec cleared her throat. “You’re awake.”
“Where is Hayden?”
She pointed out the window where Hayden and Nate stood at a gas pump.
“Oh. Gas.” I reached to the floor, picked up my purse, and dug for my wallet. Pulling out a couple of twenties, I stuck them in the cup holder in the center console.
Bec stared at them for a moment then said, “I’m going to tell you something and I’m mostly telling you because I feel sorry for you after what happened tonight but I’m also telling you because it’s true.”
“Okay,” I said, wary. That didn’t seem like the kind of lead-in that would result in something I wanted to hear.
“You said that the reason you were so upset is because you are that person, the one your brother was railing against in his stupid film.”
“And it’s true. You were that person.”
“I said ‘were.’ You aren’t anymore.”
I understood what she was trying to say, how she was trying to cheer me up, but I knew better. I was no less shallow today than I was when my brother filmed me six months ago.
She must’ve sensed I didn’t believe her because she went on. “You seem to be trying harder lately. You said hi to me at school in front of your friends. You helped my brother out with Eve. And we’ve been together for eight hours now and I don’t want to strangle you. That’s got to mean something.”
I gave a short laugh. Her list of my supposed good deeds was painfully short.
Hayden got in the driver’s seat and his eyes found mine. “You okay?”
“I’m fine.” That was the third time I’d said it and the third time it wasn’t true. I pointed to the cup holder. “Thanks.”
He looked at the cash sitting there. “What’s that for?”
I made myself smile. “A good time.”
Nate snorted a laugh and Hayden smiled but it looked forced as well.
My phone rang and I gasped, remembering I’d forgotten to call my mom when I got in the car like I promised. I answered immediately. “Sorry, Mom, I’m on my way home. We’re, like, an hour away.”
“I was worried.”
“I know, I’m sorry. I forgot to call.”
“Well, I thought maybe you went out to celebrate with your brother afterward, so when I couldn’t get a hold of you, I called him.”
“You did?” I squeaked. “What did he say?”
“He didn’t answer so I left a voice mail. He must’ve been busy.”
“Yes. I’m sure he’s out with friends or something. . . . What did you say in the voice mail?”
“I just asked if you were with him because you hadn’t checked in even though you promised you would.”
“I’m sorry,” I said again, but all I could think about was that my brother now knew I had been there. I wondered how long before he listened to that message and what he’d say when he called me. “I’ll see you in a little bit.”