Miss Me Not (Page 9)

Chapter Nine

Dean was waiting for me by Ms. Jones's class when I arrived at school the next morning.

"Hey," he said.

"Hey, how was the reunion thingy?"

"Crazy, hectic, mass chaos, overeating extravaganza. You get the idea," he said laughing. "I think there was close to sixty of us there all together," he added, all blasé like having sixty family members wasn't a big deal.

"Sixty?" I gasped.

"Well, not everyone could make it. Usually, there's closer to ninety of us," he boasted.

"Ninety? Is your family part rabbit or something?"

He sniggered. "Almost. Nah, my grandparents on my dad's side had six kids, all boys, which translates into a shitload of aunts, uncles, cousins, stepcousins, blah, blah, blah."

"That's insane," I said, trying to wrap my brain around the idea of that much family when mine was barely hanging on by a thread. My grandparents on Donna's side of the family had died six months apart the year before I was born. Like my dad, Donna had been an only child, which pretty much left me SOL in the relative category. Of course, the fact that Donna wanted to stab my dad's mom made that relationship all but obsolete. I didn't care. I was good all alone. Alone was simple. It didn't require any baggage.

"That's one way to put it. Next time we get together, I'll bring you with me."

"Right, I'm sure they'd love it if you brought a complete stranger to a family gathering," I said sarcastically.

"Are you kidding? My papaw is old school. His theory is pretty much 'the more the merrier.' Someone always brings a friend. So see, it's all set. Next time you'll get to see the crazy, hectic, mass chaos, overeating extravaganza firsthand."

"Uh, sure, maybe," I answered vaguely. The chances we'd still be friends by his next family reunion were slim to none anyway.

"Sweet, I better head to class," he said, checking the time on his phone. "Meet me at our tree for lunch."

The morning passed swiftly as I mulled over his demand. I should have been pissed that he didn't give me a chance to argue. I'd be damned if I let some guy boss me around. If I wanted to eat lunch with him it'd be my decision, not because he all but demanded my attendance. I was pissed. Well, sort of. I'd meet him at our tree because the idea of having lunch in such a magical place appealed to me. Not because he told me to.

I ran into James outside my fourth period class. "Hey, I'm studying in the library during lunch." My white lie slipped out on its own accord.

"Really?" he asked, knowing my aversion to schoolwork.

"Yeah, no reason to give Whore Cat a reason to call Donna," I said, looking down. I felt uncomfortable lying to him. I was sure he knew I was hiding something. I hated lying in general, and with him it just felt wrong. He was bound to find out, but at the moment, I just wanted to keep my new friendship private as long as I could. It was silly.

"Right," he said, not probing. Our friendship was based on secrets we'd never divulge. "I'll catch you later."

"Truth," I said, heading down the opposite way before I could change my mind. Having lunch with James was the safe bet. I knew my existence was safe with him. Dean was a different story. I could already tell he expected more from our friendship than James ever had. He was bound to be disappointed. I disappointed everyone.

I headed to the far side of the campus where "our" tree was located. The grass beneath the giant tree was empty. I plopped myself down, waiting for Dean to show up. After ten minutes had passed with still no Dean, I finally pulled out the bag of chips I'd bought from the vending machine after second period and began munching them to help calm my stomach that was twisting into tight knots with every second that passed. He wasn't coming. I wasn't surprised, I'd been expecting it. Really, I had.

With five minutes of lunch to spare, I finally crumpled up my empty chip bag and stood up. No one was around to watch my walk of shame, but the pain was still staggering. I'd gone years closing my emotions off and within a week of meeting Dean I'd become a sniveling idiot. I should be grateful he'd given me the out I'd been looking for. Thanks to his no-show, I could now return back to the life I'd been living before he showed up.

My resolve was set. I willed back the emotions bubbling up through my stomach. I was halfway to fifth period when my cell phone chirped in my book bag, but I waited until I sat down in class before checking. Only one person knew my number, so I wasn't surprised when I saw a text from Dean.

Hey sorry I was a no-show. Coach Smith was a complete asshole today. He made the whole basketball team run laps since a couple of guys from the team gave him lip. D

What a relief. He didn't stand me up. His excuse was legitimate. Coach Smith was notorious for his arrogant attitude. He'd played college ball as a third-string player, but liked to make it seem like he played for the NBA. I was lucky enough to escape his narcissism for the last four years, but had heard him plenty of times in the hallways. If bragging was an Olympic sport, he'd have a gold medal.

I reread the text one more time, liking the way he ended his message with a simple D, like I wouldn't know who the message was from. I stowed the phone back in my bag. Texting was still foreign to me, and I was pretty sure it'd take me a half an hour to figure out how to send a simple text. Maybe I'd call him when I got home. Probably not though, reaching out was not my forte.

I was almost home when a familiar jeep pulled up beside me. "Can I give you a ride home?" Dean asked, leaning over the passenger seat.

"My house is right there," I reminded him, pointing down the street at my house.

"I can at least save you a few steps," he cajoled me.

"Seriously?" I asked, raising my eyebrows at him as he pushed the passenger door open.

"Come on, please? I'm bummed we didn't get to have lunch together."

"What? Laps weren't your idea of a fun lunch?" I asked, climbing into the front seat.

"Ha, you're a crack up. I'm thinking of quitting the team. Smith is such a pain."

"Really, what will your parents say?" I asked, wondering about the dynamics of a regular family.

"Oh, they'll support me. My dad and Coach Smith have gotten into it over the last few years. There's definitely no love lost between them," he said, chuckling as he parked his car in my driveway. "Besides, it stopped being fun after we left junior high. It's not like I planned on going pro or anything. Is my jeep okay here?" he asked.

"Sure," I answered through a sudden dry mouth. It was obvious he planned on coming inside.

"Figured we could do some studying," he said, grabbing my book bag and trailing behind me as I made my way up the walkway.

"No need. Thanks to you, I'm now squeaking out a passing grade in world history. Whore Cat's happy and off my back, so it's all good."

"Whore Cat?" he asked, plopping down on the sofa.

"Yeah, kind of a nickname. She's always nosing into my business like a cat in heat that's always sniffing all the other cats' asses."

He threw his head back laughing at my words. "You have a point," he finally said once he could talk again. "So what are some of the other teachers' names?"

"What makes you think I've nicknamed anyone else?"

He raised his eyebrows at me knowingly.

"Okay, maybe I do," I finally caved. "Uh, well, I call Mr. Fick, Fickhead, though it's not very original. Principal Wilson is Douche Bag, for obvious reasons, Ms. Sommers is Smokefest, since she always seems to be jonesing for her next cigarette and Mr. Perry is PerryPervert, since he's always messing with his junk when he calls us girls up to his desk to go over a paper or something else asinine.

"Shut up, seriously? I've never had him, but that's just wrong."

"It's gag-worthy for sure."

"Is that it on the teachers' nicknames?" he asked, leaning back against the sofa.

"Yeah, pretty much."

"What about the students?" he asked.

"All your names bleed together. For the most part, everyone is just one big blob that I try to avoid."


I glared at him, hoping he'd get the point that I didn't like to talk about this crap.

He waited for me to answer, unfazed by my death glare.

Sighing, I finally answered. "Look, Jockstrap, I don't talk about this shit," I said, placing him back in his category so he'd know his place.

"You're not going to get me to shut up by labeling me," he said dryly. "Friends talk to each other, so spill it.

"Gah, you're a pain in the ass. I don't talk about this shit, even with friends," I said, emphasizing the word like it had a bitter taste.

"Well, there you go. Maybe that's your problem. Maybe it's time you start trusting someone," he answered flatly.

"Trust gets you nowhere," I said stubbornly.

"When was the last time you trusted someone? Or have you ever trusted anyone?" he fired back, seeing through me so acutely that panic clawed its way up my throat. How was he able to see through my shield?

"You've got to stop trying to save me Sport-o. Just because you couldn't save Mitch doesn't mean you can save every person you meet," I said meanly.

He flinched at my words. I looked down, trying to convince myself that I was glad. Maybe now he'd back off. I didn't care that he looked hurt. Well, maybe I did. I knew my words were cruel. Surely he wouldn't stick around for my verbal barbs. I didn't apologize though. Instead, I kept my head down, waiting for the inevitable. Several minutes passed and he didn't move. Finally, no longer able to resist, I looked up through my curtain of hair that obscured my face from view.

"You might as well know, Mads, you're not going to scare me away. So stop trying."

"Why? What is about me that you find so goddamn appealing: my lack of fashion sense, my monk-like behavior or the fact that I'm a social leper? I mean, seriously. I'm a void. When are you going to realize that?" I asked in a raised voice.

"I don't think you're a void," he said quietly.

"Well, then you're in the minority because everyone else does. They always have and always will."

"They're wrong. You're anything but a void."

"You don't know me. Being a void is a small price to pay for all the bad things I've done."

"What bad things?" he asked, leaning forward on the couch with his hands clasped together in his lap. His whole demeanor suggested interest in every word I uttered. The attention was unlike any I'd ever received and prickles of unease ran up my arms. He was slowly chipping away at the wall that surrounded me. A wall no one had ever bothered to scale before.

"I'm sure you've heard them all," I finally answered, meeting his eyes.

"Why don't you tell me your version."

"I can't," I whispered.

"Why not?"

"Because, I don't talk about my past. Ever."

He sat back slowly on Donna's awful couch and stared at me intently for a moment. "Okay, fair enough. Let's study instead," he said, patting the spot next to him.

"Gah, studying sucks ass," I griped as a ploy while I worked to control the emotions raging a silent battle inside me.

"Nice try. I could tell last week during tutoring that you're a lot smarter than you let on, so no excuses. I need to study anyway."

"So, study at home then," I said.

"I want to study with you, although the quietness of your house is a little unnerving. I'm used to chaos, courtesy of the Terrible Two."

"Terrible Two?" I asked.

"My twin sisters. They're three and holy terrors," he said with obvious affection.

"Twins?" I asked enviously. I would have loved one sibling, but two would have been amazing.

"Yeah, the beauty of fertility drugs, which my parents thought I needed to know at the tender age of thirteen. Believe me, no thirteen-year-old boy wants to hear about fertility drugs, let alone his parents' sex life. They're lucky I didn't need counseling."

The corners of my mouth twitched, pulling up slightly at each side. Dean's open attitude was unlike anybody I'd ever met. I couldn't help responding. Thankfully, he was looking down at his backpack and missed my lapse.

"What time do your parents get home?" he asked conversationally as he pulled out a chemistry textbook.

"Why?" I asked sharply, suddenly aware of how alone we were. Maybe he was hoping to score as payment for paying attention to me. I knew girls put out for a whole lot less, so I wouldn't have been surprised.

"I need to know if my jeep is in the way," he said, looking puzzled at my sharp tone.

"Oh," I said feeling like a complete dip. "My parents are separated, and you'll be long gone by the time Donna gets home."

"Donna? You call your mom by her first name?"

"Uh, yeah, it was a sort of a compromise we made when I was thirteen."

"Does she always work such late hours?"

"She goes right to church from work every day," I said, reaching for my phone. "You want a snack? I can order a pizza," I asked.

"Sure. I'm a guy, I'm always hungry," he said, patting his flat stomach.

I nodded like I knew all about the appetites of the opposite sex, when in actuality I didn't have a clue. My dad had been a stranger before he ever moved out. All my other experiences with the opposite sex hadn't involved food.

Pulling my thought away from the road I didn't want to travel down, I dialed Al's Pizza Palazooa.

"Al's Pizza," a familiar voice answered.

"Hey Al, can I get a large pepperoni?"

"Sure thing, Madison. Chuck just walked in, so your order will be the next to go out. Do you need me to send a couple cans of Coke?"

"No, I have some. Thanks."

"No problem, sugar."

"Family?" Dean asked when I hung up the phone.

"No, I've just been a loyal customer. I order from Al's a lot."

"So your mom really goes to church every night? That's effed up," he said, sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table.

Foreign laughter bubbled up in my throat and erupted before I could cap it off. Hearing someone else justifying my feelings about Donna's obsession with her church was gratifying. I clamped a hand over my mouth to cut off my laughter.