“Okay. Drive safe.”
“Thanks, Mom.” I hung up.
Bec said, “He knows?”
I checked my phone to make sure I didn’t have any missed calls from him. “Not yet. But he will.”
An hour later, after dropping off Nate, we pulled up to Hayden’s house and I met his eyes once again, confused as to why he wasn’t taking me home.
“Out,” he said to Bec.
I got out too and pulled her into a hug before she could go in the house. “Thank you for coming today and for trying to make me feel better.”
She squeezed me once. “I said I didn’t want to strangle you. That doesn’t mean I want to hug you.” I could hear the smile in her voice when she said it. “Thanks for helping me with Nate,” she said right before she was gone.
Hayden had stepped out of the car too and he gestured for me to follow him. He led me to a swing on the porch. “Sit,” he told me.
“You still think you’re in charge of me?”
“I don’t like the words ‘I’m fine.’ My mom tells me those two words are the most-frequently-told lie in the English language. And I don’t need her to tell me that. There is no way you are fine after what happened tonight.”
“Hayden, I appreciate what you did for me today. So much. But I really can’t talk about this right now.”
The look he gave me then made my heart ache. He felt sorry for me . . . again. “I’m worried about you. And I can’t send you home like this because you’ve told me how little you talk to your parents and I know the kind of people your friends are. And now I’ve seen your stellar brother. This is going to eat you alive. I just want you to talk it out. Let it out.”
“That’s not how I deal with things.” For a small space of time I’d thought I understood my brother. I thought I’d discovered this great mystery about why he fought with my parents—that he was just trying to express his opinions. But if this was how expressing opinions made the other person feel, I was perfectly fine with going back to the strategy of keeping the peace. Keeping everything inside.
Hayden sat on the porch swing and it was obvious he wasn’t moving until I said something. I wasn’t sure what was left to say. Nobody had ever tried so hard to get me to open up before. Maybe if I just started talking about other things, he’d realize I didn’t want to dwell on this. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to contain my emotions. I sat down next to him. “We’ve never had a porch swing. Do you sit out here a lot?”
“Not as much as you’d think a person with a porch swing should.”
“I don’t know that I’ve ever analyzed how much a person with a porch swing should use it.”
“Well, I have and it’s underused.”
I smiled. “Is it a surfboard?”
He paused for a moment as if confused then nodded. “Yes.”
“That was eighteen.”
“No, because you didn’t answer the sport competition one. You just analyzed it.”
I brought my knees up onto the swing with me. “Do you like to surf?”
“I was just surfing the other day.”
“I know. Bec said she saw you out there.”
Bec had told him she saw me out there. I wondered if she told him how badly my friends had treated her. How badly I had treated her. I had been so proud of myself that day over nothing. I had done nothing for her, only for myself. I wondered if Hayden was starting to add up all the negatives he was collecting on me.
He didn’t seem to be thinking about the injustices delivered to Bec when he said, “That’s what made me think of a surfboard for the game. Very anticlimactic, I know.”
He looked at my mouth, and just when I thought he was thinking about other things, better things, things that were going to make me forget tonight completely, he lowered his eyebrows with a frustrated sigh.
“That’s a good thing, right?”
“Gia.” He paused and took my hand. “It’s not how you’re feeling.”
“I don’t cry, if that’s what you’re waiting for.”
“What are you thinking about?”
“I was thinking about surfing. Now I’m thinking about the fact that your hand is warm.” And that I really like holding it.
“That’s it. You’re talking to my mom.”
He didn’t answer me, just stood up and went inside. He couldn’t have been serious. I was not talking to his mom. And yet a couple of minutes later, Olivia came outside and joined me on the porch swing.
I spoke first. “I’m so sorry. Your son is overreacting. I really just want to go home.”
“Okay, let me drive you.”
It’s like Hayden knew that his mom was the easiest person in the world to open up to because after I told her where I lived and before we had even made it down the block I was rambling on about how that video made me feel. “I’m the most shallow person on the face of the earth, I’ve decided. I have absolutely no depth. And I don’t know how to get it. My life is normal. My parents are together. They don’t beat me or anything. Death has never taken anyone close from me. I do well in school. We’re not poor but we’re not rich either. I’ve never had a life-threatening illness or injury. I’m devoid of tragedy and therefore have no wisdom or insights to offer.”
Olivia laughed. Not the mocking kind of laugh but just a warm, gentle laugh that lightened my mood a bit. “Oh, Gia, honey. You’ll have enough trials to get through in life without wishing them upon yourself.”
“But I’m flawed. I’m flawed because I haven’t experienced anything to teach me any valuable life lessons that make me a better person. My brother captured that so well and easily.”
Olivia was quiet and I was convinced it was because I was a lost cause. She had no advice to offer the naive, shallow girl. But then she gave a small hum and said, “We rarely find depth by looking inside of ourselves for it. Depth is found in what we can learn from the people and things around us. Everyone, everything, has a story, Gia. When you learn those stories, you learn experiences that fill you up, that expand your understanding. You add layers to your soul.”