THE RIDE TO Adam’s place takes forever and no time at all. When my brother parks in a long line of cars on the street, shuts the ignition off, and turns to me, I’m pretty damn sure this is the dumbest idea I’ve ever had. I’ve lost count of how many telephone poles and streetlights have separated me from home.
“Okay, listen,” Bryce orders with his eyes flitting between Kale and me, “if the cops break this thing up, I’ll meet you at the big oak by the lake, okay?”
“Wait, what?” Kale says, like it just occurred to him that we’d be at a party with underage drinking and a record-breaking number of noise ordinance violations.
“Okay,” I agree for both of us, and Bryce studies my twin for a moment longer before letting out a resigned breath and climbing out of the car. I climb out too, wait for Kale to appear at my side, and follow Bryce toward the sound of music threatening to crack the asphalt under our feet. The party is already in full swing, with kids swarming all over the huge yard like ants harvesting red Solo cups. Bryce walks right into the mayhem inside the front door, and when he disappears, Kale and I share a glance before making our way in after him.
Inside Adam’s foyer, my eyes travel up and up to a chandelier that casts harsh white light over what is most definitely a million freaking bodies crammed into the space. I maneuver my way through a sea of shoulders and elbows, through hallways and overstuffed rooms, to get to the back patio door, the music in my ears growing louder and louder with every single step I take. By the time Kale and I emerge outside, it’s beating on my eardrums, pulsing in my veins. A massive pool flooded with half-naked high schoolers stands between me and where Adam Everest is belting lyrics into his microphone. Joel Gibbon plays the bass to Adam’s left. The new guy, Cody something, plays rhythm guitar next to Joel. Mike Madden beats on the drums at the back.
But all of them are just blurred shapes in my peripheral vision.
Shawn Scarlett stands to Adam’s right, his talented fingers shredding lead guitar, his messy black hair wild over deep green eyes locked on the vibrating strings. Heat dances up the back of my neck, and Kale mutters, “He’s not even the hottest one.”
I ignore him and command my feet to move, carrying me around the pool to where a huge crowd is gathered to watch the band. In my combat boots, torn-up jeans, and loose tank top, I’m severely overdressed standing behind bikini-clad cheerleaders who wouldn’t know the difference between a Fender and a Gibson even if I smashed both over their bleach-stained heads.
The song ends with me standing on my tippy-toes trying to see over bouncing hair, and I turn on Kale with a huff when the band thanks the crowd and starts packing up their stuff.
“Can we go home now?” Kale asks.
I shake my head.
“Why not? The show’s over.”
“That’s not why I came.”
Kale’s gaze burrows under my skin, digging deep until he’s swimming in my brainwaves. “You’re seriously going to try to talk to him?”
I nod as we walk away from the crowd.
“And say what?”
“I haven’t figured that out yet.”
“Kit,” Kale cautions, his navy blue Chuck Taylors slowing to a stop, “what do you expect to happen?” He looks at me with sad dark eyes, and I wish we were standing closer to the pool so I could push him in and wipe that expression off his face.
“I don’t expect anything.”
“Then why bother?”
“Because I have to, Kale. I just have to talk to him, even if it’s just to tell him how much he changed my life, okay?”
Kale sighs, and we both let the conversation go. He knows that Shawn is more than just a teenage crush to me. The first time I ever saw him play guitar was at a school talent show when we were both still in junior high. I was in fifth grade, he was in eighth, and he and Adam put on an acoustic performance that gave me goose bumps from my fingers to my toes. They both sat on stools with guitars on their laps, with Adam singing lead vocals and Shawn singing backup, but the way Shawn’s fingers danced over the strings, and the way he lost himself in the music—he took me with him, and I got lost too. I convinced my parents to buy me a used guitar the following week, and I started taking lessons. Now my favorite thing to do will forever be linked with the person who taught me to love it, the person I fell in love with that day in the junior high gym.
Love, as much as I hate to admit it. The kind that makes me ache. The kind that would probably be better kept secret since I know it will only break my heart.
I know I’m fucked, and yet an undeniable part of me still needs him to know what he did for me, even if I don’t tell him what he is to me.
With my body on auto-walk and my mind a million miles away, Kale and I find Solo cups in the kitchen and head toward the keg out back, my thoughts slowly drifting back to the present. I’ve had beer with my brothers before, but I’ve never operated a keg, so I watch a few people fill their cups before me to make sure I don’t make myself look like an idiot when it’s my turn at the tap. I pick it up with twitchy fingers, fill my cup and Kale’s, and then wander Adam’s property while my brother and I begin our underage drinking. Adam’s yard is big enough to be a public park, surrounded by a wrought-iron fence that protects the pool, a few large oaks, and enough teenagers to fill the school gym. I spare a glance at my twin and follow his gaze to a group of guys laughing by the side of the pool.
“He’s cute,” I offer, nodding my head toward the one that Kale is now pretending not to have been staring at, a cute tan boy in Hawaiian board shorts and flip-flops.