“I take them.”
“They’re yours? I didn’t know you were a photographer.”
“I try. We went on this three-week trip around the States. That’s where I took most of them.”
“Hayden told me about that trip.”
She smiled. “That’s right. I’m sure he said it was like a trip to the underworld or something, and I like to pretend that too, but we both loved it. He forced us to play his stupid games. We fought a lot and laughed a lot and learned a lot.”
“I think it sounds fun.”
“‘Fun’ probably isn’t the right word, but it was an experience.”
In the quiet that followed her statement, I felt awkward, like I hadn’t earned the right to be here asking for her help. We hardly knew each other. “So . . . are you doing anything today? Hanging out with Nate?”
She sighed. “No. It’s hard to just hang out with him. Nate is just . . .” She shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s just Nate.”
“Do you want him to be your boyfriend?”
“Sometimes.” She picked up her pillow and flipped it over then patted it a few times. “And sometimes I want to strangle him. I think I might need to get the second impulse under control before I work on the first.”
“Why do you want to strangle him?”
“Because he’s clueless. He has a crush on this other girl who is totally out of his league.”
My head snapped up. The accusations Jules had made of how big a flirt I was, the angry look Bec had given me when I first met her, all came to my mind.
Bec caught my eye. “Oh, please. Not you.”
“I didn’t think it was me.”
She rolled her eyes. “You totally thought it was you.”
My cheeks went hot from the accusation.
“Whatever. You were right to think it because you do represent the type of girl he likes. It’s why I hated you at first. Well, that and you crushed his band.”
“That was his band?”
“He’s the drummer.”
I sat back in her desk chair. “Maybe you should scream that.”
“That I hate you?”
“No, that Nate is clueless.”
“Nate, you’re clueless!”
“You have the most awesome girl standing right in front of you and you’re busy being blind!” I screamed.
The door creaked open and Hayden poked his head in. “Should I be worried about what’s going on in here?”
Hayden hadn’t seen me yet but my cheeks still went red. His eyes were on his sister, a small smirk on his mouth like he really wasn’t surprised at all the screaming coming from her room.
“We’re exorcising our demons,” Bec said, looking at me.
That’s when Hayden’s gaze drifted to me and his eyes went wide. “Gia. What are you doing here?”
“I just told you,” Bec said. “We’re expelling evil from our bodies.”
“Wait, you were screaming too?” he asked as if he didn’t believe that.
“Yes, she was,” Bec answered for me. “Now leave us be. We might need to scream about you next. Do we need to scream about him?”
“No, we don’t,” I said.
“Too bad. I had some good ones,” Bec said.
Hayden crossed his arms. “I’m so confused.”
“Her brother’s a jerk. Her parents are proud of that fact. We’re screaming about it. What’s so hard to understand about that?”
“Your parents weren’t upset?” he asked me.
“Not even a little bit.”
“Ouch. I’m sorry.”
I shrugged one shoulder. “It’s not a big deal.”
Bec sighed. “Gia, it is a big deal. We’re angry about it. That’s why we’re screaming. Aren’t you mad at your parents for denying their feelings? Stop doing what they’ve taught you so well.”
Hayden smiled. “You came to the right place. We don’t hide feelings around here. There’s a bucket of baseballs in the backyard if you’re interested.”
Bec sat up. “Ooh, yes. Let’s take them to Will’s place.”
“Will’s place?” I asked.
Hayden looked at his phone, probably checking the time.
“You don’t have to take us anywhere,” I said. “If you’re busy.”
“He’s not busy. Let’s go,” Bec said.
“I am, actually,” he said. “But seriously, it helps. You two should go.” He gave me a small wave and left the room, disappointment taking his place.
“What’s he busy with?” I asked, trying to sound casual.
The look Bec gave me proved I’d failed. “Who knows? Maybe he’s going out with his friends or something. He does have a couple of those.”
“Right.” I ran my finger along the rim of the jar that held her sea glass. “Do you know if he’s talked to Eve since the party? Or did our efforts pay off?”
“Are you worried about that?”
“No . . . I mean, yes. I met her and you were right—she’s not good for him. But I know his going to her party with me really did make her jealous. I guess I’m worried it did the opposite of what you were intending.”
“You think she broke up with Ryan to pursue Hayden again after seeing the two of you together?”
“I don’t know.”
“Hmm.” She scrunched her lips to the side. “Then we better make sure he won’t want her back. Tomorrow after school. You, me, and Hayden throwing baseballs at Will’s place.”
I shook my head. “Bec, I’m done scheming.”
“Scheming? This isn’t scheming. It’s just spending time with my brother. Where’s the harm in that?”
Spending time with her brother. I could feel the tug in my heart at the thought and knew that any more time spent with her brother might lead to a lot of harm on my side. I was starting to like him. Too much. And I usually didn’t let myself do that with so little assurance that the feeling was mutual. But I found myself saying, “Okay.”
We had driven a good twenty minutes and had reached a country neighborhood where every house looked in need of a face-lift. Hayden pulled up a long dirt drive. The property was lined with large trees and even more junk. Rusted-out old cars, broken appliances, large pieces of farm equipment.
Dogs, several of them, ran up to the car as we drove, barking and chasing us.