“What do you expect me to say? I saw an article. I knew you were in LA that weekend. I’m sorry I thought all journalists were honest.”
“What I expect,” he says, leaning close, “is for you to ask me.” His eyes are so intense I want to look away . . . or never look away, I can’t decide.
My heart is pumping fast, and I’m so relieved that he is not with Sadie Newel that I almost throw my arms around him. Joke. I need a joke. Fast. “Maybe you should give me a list of all the actresses you’ve dated and in what year. That way I’ll know if it’s an old picture or a new one.”
“I can get you that list,” Lucas says.
I drag my eyes away from Xander and on to Lucas. “Could you include any heiresses or billionaires’ daughters as well? Anyone newsworthy, really.”
“It might take me a while. That’s an extensive list.”
I know he’s joking with me, but the words hit home, reminding me that I wouldn’t come close to making that list.
Xander sighs and leans back. “It’s not that long.” He puts his hand over mine on the seat between us. I try not to smile too big.
We pull up to the redbrick buildings of an expansive campus and I’m confused. “Where are we?”
“Is this your pitch for college?”
“No. You’ll see.” It’s so funny how excited Xander gets to take me on these career days. Maybe Xander should be a life planner or something. Does that career exist?
It takes me the whole walk through the sprawling campus to realize something. “You go to school here,” I say to Lucas.
“Yes, I do.”
It surprises me. Not that UNLV is a bad school. I just thought he would be at an Ivy League. I still haven’t figured out why we’re here, though.
After passing a lot of buildings that look similar to one another, we finally enter one. At the end of the hall he knocks on a door. A man with glasses answers with a smile. “Hello. Come in.”
I take in the room. Microscopes, burners, vials, glass cases, petri dishes. The science department. The man—a TA maybe?—says, “I hear you might be interested in studying science.”
My lungs feel close to bursting. “Yes.”
He goes on about all the different careers a degree in science can lead to. Medical, crime-scene investigation, research analysis, and on and on. Almost every one he mentions sounds interesting to me.
“Follow me,” he says, and leads me to a microscope. “I was just getting ready to analyze this blood sample. What I’m looking for is to see how many white blood cells per square unit there are. If you’ll just look through the scope and count for me I’ll see if my number matches yours.”
I do as he asked and relay my number. He writes it in a box on the paper next to the microscope. Then he goes to a glass case and pulls out a vial. He lets me inject a needle into it and drop a different drop of blood onto a slide and analyze that one as well. Next he shows me some different bacteria they were growing in dishes and tells me what each was taken from and the results. He also shows me some old police files that the students were working on to assess DNA and cause of death.
I know I must have an awestruck look on my face because when I glance over at Xander he has the biggest smile I have ever seen.
“Are you majoring in science, Lucas?” I ask.
“No. I’m an architecture major. This is just one of my classes. And Rick here is my roommate. He’s the TA for Dr. Fenderman.”
“Has Dr. Fenderman lured us here for future use as test subjects?”
“Yes, the next stop on the tour is the cage.”
“Cool. Does he happen to be testing any vaccinations? These boys need to catch some debilitating illness to get out of going to a benefit.”
“My sympathies,” Rick says. Has everyone in the world gone to a benefit besides me? Rick clips another slide in place and I peer through the microscope. Lucas and Rick start talking, and as I’m studying the slide I feel a tickle on the back of my neck.
“Are you having fun yet?” Xander asks. I feel him now, close behind me, the heat from his body sending a chill up my spine.
“Yes. This is amazing.”
“I’ve never seen you so happy.”
I’ve never felt so happy. I’m still looking through the lens at the slide, but I’m not seeing anything because Xander’s breath lightly touches the back of my neck. My body reacts to him, almost involuntarily, leaning back against his chest.
He wraps his arms around my shoulders. “You should major in science. Not necessarily here, but the field suits you. I could see you looking all cute in a white lab coat.”
I smile. “It’s a good idea. Maybe in a year.” I’m definitely taking at least a year off to help my mom.
“Caymen.” His voice is disapproving, like he knows what I am thinking. “That’s a mistake.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t have many options, Xander.”
“You have as many options as you give yourself.”
I laugh a little. He has as many options as he gives himself. The rest of us are stuck with what’s given to us. “Why do you care?” I whisper.
For a second I think he didn’t hear me because I’m facing away from him, his arms still wrapped around my shoulders, but then he says, “Because I care about you.” I close my eyes for one second and let myself feel those words, feel him.
I want to let this happen, but something is still holding me back. I thought it was his girlfriend. But that’s obviously not an issue anymore. It’s my mother. I haven’t told her. And I feel terrible for that. I didn’t want to be his dirty little secret, but I have made him mine. I’m glad my back is to him because I can feel the disgust for myself written all over my face. I wiggle my arms, forcing him to drop his, and look at the clock on the wall. “Is it really eight already? We better go, Xander.”
“Before we leave, there’s this little Mexican joint on The Strip that I have to take you to. It’s not far. Amazing food.”
“So he took you on a plane and flew you to a science department to give you a taste of college life and your rebuttal is . . . ?” Skye is trying to make me do something over the top for our next career day, but how am I supposed to top that?
“Um, actually, he’s coming over tomorrow night because my mom has this business associations meeting. . . .” I don’t know how to finish that thought and grab a small jewelry box off a shelf. It has fake jewels glued all over the wooden lid and is a perfect example of why I call this place Obvious Garbage.
Skye is busy arranging old books on a shelf, her back to me. “I don’t get it. How is that a career day? Are you going to take him to the meeting? Let him see how small business owners argue?”
“No.” I put the jewelry box down. “No, actually, I think my mom isn’t going to the meeting. I think she’s going out with some guy. A behind-my-back date.”
She turns around now, hands on her hips. “Wait. Are you saying that you and your mom are both dating people behind each other’s backs?” She laughs.
“No. I’m not dating Xander.” Yet. Not until I work up the courage to tell my mom. I’ve given myself one week to do that.
She rolls her eyes. “You two are the most in-love not-dating people I’ve met. Hold on.” She walks toward the back of the store and calls to Lydia, the owner. “The books are in order and the sign is flipped. Do you need me to do anything else?”
“No. Have a good night. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Skye hooks her arm around my elbow and leads me out the back door, cutting across the alley to the back of the doll store. “Where’s your mom?” she asks, pointing to the empty space where our car is normally parked.
“She ran to the store after we closed.”
“So anyway, back to career day. I don’t get what you’re going to do with Xander.”
“Neither do I. I was planning on spying on my mom. But I can see it’s a bad idea.”
“I had one other idea for a career day.”
We walk up the stairs to my apartment.
“I talked to Eddie last week and he said he’d teach us how to make his famous muffins.”
Skye makes a face. “Why?”
“Because Xander likes them. He likes all food, really. Everywhere we go we end up at his favorite restaurant. I thought maybe he could talk to Eddie, see if owning his own restaurant is something he’d enjoy.”
“Aww,” Skye says. “Now that’s thoughtful. And sweet.” She walks to the fridge once we’re inside. “And you pretend not to love the guy.”
I smile as she digs through the contents of the fridge. The light on the answering machine is blinking. I hit the button. “One new message,” the robotic voice says, followed by a lady. “Hi, Ms. Meyers, this is Tina from Dr. Saunders’s office. We went ahead and scheduled that ultrasound for you on the fifteenth. Please show up half an hour early and make sure you drink all the water we talked about. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to call.”
I hear the fridge close behind me.
“I didn’t know your mom was pregnant,” Skye says.
“Ultrasound. That’s what they do for pregnant people.”
My brain is just barely registering the words she said. “No, she’s not.”
“Oh, then why is she getting an ultrasound?”
There have to be other reasons people get ultrasounds. “I don’t know.”
“Has she been nauseous? Tired?”
I think back. She hadn’t been eating very well lately. Maybe it’s because she’s been sick to her stomach. And she has definitely been tired. I nod.
“So she’s probably pregnant.” She nods her head toward the answering machine. “Plus they asked her to drink all that water. That’s what they tell pregnant people to do so they can get measurements.”
I shake my head back and forth over and over.
“It’s kind of exciting, though, don’t you think? You’re going to have a little brother or sister.”
“Exciting? Yeah, right. No. She’s not pregnant. That’s ridiculous. She doesn’t even have a . . .” I realize I was about to say “boyfriend.” It’s very possible that she does have a boyfriend. “She’s not pregnant.” But if she’s not pregnant then what is she? Anxiety washes over me. Is something wrong with her? People don’t get ultrasounds just because. . . . Do they? Maybe once you’re older that’s a standard procedure.
Skye moves in front of me and pets my shoulders. I must’ve gone completely catatonic. “It’s probably not a big deal. Even if she is pregnant it’s not a big deal.”
“She’s not pregnant,” I insist. “She’s too old to be pregnant.”
Skye laughs. “She’s only thirty-five.” Her phone chimes and she pulls it out and smiles after reading the text. “It’s Henry. The band is hanging out at Scream Shout. You want to go?”