Page 53 of Riot (Mayhem 2)

“Razor and pen.”

My dad chuckles. “I bet your mom was thrilled.”

Something flashes across Joel’s expression, something I’m guessing was too quick for anyone but me to catch, but then he smiles.

I bet his mom couldn’t have cared less.

“Are you going to your parents’ for Easter tomorrow?” my dad asks, and I find myself wondering the same thing. Where does Joel go for Easter? Where does he go for Thanksgiving and Christmas? I pick at a cold breadstick left over from the pizza lunch we ordered, waiting for his answer.

He shakes his head. “We’re not close. I’ll probably go to my friend Adam’s. Last year I just ordered Chinese and played video games. It was pretty awesome.”

My dad frowns, mirroring my expression. “Would you want to stay here and have dinner with us?” he asks, not bothering to ask for my approval.

Joel turns toward me like he’s hoping I’ll have the answer, and my dad adds, “It’s usually just Dee and me, but we’d love to have you if you want to stay.”

“Yeah,” I say after it feels like I’ve been silent for too long, “you should stay.”

Joel studies me for a moment, but if he’s trying to figure out how I feel about him spending Easter with us, I’m pretty sure he’ll have to wait until I figure that out first. Ever since my mom left, it’s always been just my dad and me. My insides twist, and I’m not sure if it’s because of the possibility of Joel spending the holiday alone or because of the possibility of him spending it with me and my dad.

“I’ll think about it,” he says, and then he thanks my dad for the offer.

Later, after lunch, my dad leaves for the grocery store to get ingredients for tomorrow, and Joel finds his way into our hallway of misfit pictures. This morning, my dad told him all sorts of personal stories about me as a baby, me as a toddler, me as a mouthy child, me as a mouthy teenager. Now Joel gazes up at a picture on the wall and asks, “Is that your mom?”

He’s staring at a picture that was taken when I was around three. I have little chocolate curls everywhere, and my mom is holding me on her lap. My dad is standing behind her with his hand on her shoulder, smiling and looking as handsome as ever. But my mom is the one shining bright at the center of the photo, wearing my olive skin, my high cheekbones, and my smooth lips.

“Yeah,” I answer, because what else can I say?

“You look just like her,” he says, and I inwardly cringe.

“I know.”

“Are you ever going to tell me about her?” Joel asks, turning on me.

“Do I have to?” I ask. It’s a smartass question, but he answers anyway.

“I’d like you to . . .”

When I walk out to the living room, he follows me. I flop down on the couch, and he sits beside me.

“I told you about my mom,” he says, and I know, I know he did. I know I should open up to him like he did to me. And it’s not that I can’t. It’s just that I don’t want to. I didn’t plan for him to show up at my house, or for him to become best friends with my dad, or for him to get invited to Easter dinner. I didn’t plan or want or ask for him to be here.

“Mine isn’t worth talking about,” I say.

“So she’s alive . . .”

“Unfortunately.” Guilt hits me the minute I say it. I don’t actually wish she was dead, but I’ve gotten used to ignoring the shame I feel every time I wish it on her. It’s always been easier than missing her.

When Joel starts to speak again, I cut him off. “Joel, look. You’ve seen my house. You’ve slept in my bed. You’ve met my dad. Can’t that be enough for now?”

I know he wants to get to know me. I’m aware that what’s going on between us is more than just sex now. But I didn’t ask him to come here, and it’s not fair for him to expect that I’m going to bare my soul to him just because he showed up at my bedroom window in the middle of the night.

He searches my face for a long moment, and then he sighs and sits back against the couch, tugging me against his side. “I like your dad,” he says after a while, and I could kiss him for changing the subject.

“I can tell.”

“He loves you.”

“I know.”

“We have a lot in common.”

I tilt my chin up to search his face, to see if he just implied what I think he did, but he kisses my forehead and turns on the TV and it’s like he never said anything at all.

Chapter Nineteen

WAKING UP IN my old room is always kind of strange. Like waking up in a past life. It’s easy to imagine that moving away for college was a series of dreams. That the people I’ve met are all just characters my subconscious invented to teach me life lessons.

Leti, to teach me to be more open. Adam, to teach me that anything is possible. Cody, to teach me to always go for the eyes.

And Joel, who seems to be teaching me a lot of things.

Last night, he agreed to stay for Easter dinner, and my dad set him up in the spare room. When it got late, we all went our separate ways, and I lay in bed for what seemed like forever wondering if Joel was actually going to stay in his own room all night. I waited for him until my eyelids got too heavy to hold open, and then I drifted off.

I was sleeping when my door creaked open and he slipped into my room. He closed it silently behind him, and the mattress behind me sunk low.

“I thought you weren’t going to come,” I whispered into the dark as his arm wrapped around me and pulled me tight.