Lucas (Preston Brothers #1)(10)

by Jay McLean

“Lois, why didn’t you tell me?” Dad barks.

“Dad, it’s—”

“What happened? What did she have to say to you?” Okay, so she must not have told him the why we met up. Just the how. And as stupid as it sounds, I’m grateful to her for that. And gratitude, especially for her, isn’t something that forms easily.

“Nothing,” I rush out. “She was just nearby and asked to meet up. That’s all. It’s not a big deal, Dad. She just wanted to see how I was doing.”

I give him lie.

After lie.

After lie.

Dad says my name. Just once. And I know him well enough to know it’s because he has too much to say, too much insight into how my mother works. But he’s built enough strength over the years to keep his thoughts to himself so I don’t end up hating her as much as I know he does. But it gets worse, Dad.

“I have to go,” I tell him, hanging up and opening the door so I can get to Luke. At least he’s on the passenger’s side now, away from the oncoming traffic of the highway. His arms are outstretched, hands resting on the hood, head lowered because he finally remembered. I try to touch him, to comfort him, but he steps back, his hands raised. “Don’t,” he says.

“Luke,” I say with a sigh. “It’s fine.”

He shakes his head, refusing to meet my gaze. “It’s not fine!” he shouts above the noise of the dozens of cars that seem to pass by. “I’m such an asshole, Laney. You told me about the dinner. You asked me to be there for you. You even specified a time to meet you at the diner and I—”

“Forgot,” I finish for him.

He starts to pace, his strides long, toes of his sneakers kicking at the loose gravel beneath our feet. “You should hate me right now. I hate me right now.”

I shrug.

I did hate him.

For the hour I spent sitting in an almost empty diner on a Saturday night waiting for him, I hated him. But I realize now that maybe my hate wasn’t directed at him, my heart was just full of it and he wasn’t around to redirect it.

“This is a deal-breaker, Lane.” He stops two feet short of slamming into me. “I don’t even know why you’re standing here right now. With me. You should’ve shut the door in my face last night.” His eyes search mine for a long time, and when I don’t respond, he asks, his tone solemn, “What did she want?”

I offer another shrug, which apparently is the wrong answer because he’s grasping his hair, kicking at his tire. It’s not the tire’s fault he was an ass. “I wanted to hate you,” I yell. A car honks its horn, the volume rising and fading as it drives past us and to its destination. I wait for the sound to dwindle before adding, “I think for a moment, I actually did. And when you showed up last night, completely unaware of the hurt you caused, I wanted to be done with you… with this entire friendship.”

“And you had every right to!” he yells.

“But—”

“But what? What could’ve possibly happened to make you change that?”

“You skipped your run!”

He steps closer. “What?”

“You never skip your morning run and you did! And you lay with me and held me for four hours because you knew something was wrong, you were just too stupid to know what!”

He shakes his head. “That doesn’t excuse what I did, Laney!”

I want to push him. Shove him hard. Do something to physically hurt him because a part of me is still in that diner, waiting, wanting him there. But I’ve already forgiven him, so there’s no point. “It doesn’t matter,” I tell him.

“Of course it does!” Now he just wants me to hate him, but I can’t.

“You’re my best friend, Luke, and you’re standing here right now on the side of a highway telling me I should hate you while driving to a store an hour away. For me!”

“But—”

“It doesn’t matter because you’re human and you’re flawed and you make mistakes.” I step to him and hug him quickly, afraid he’ll pull away again. But he doesn’t. He just holds me back, his chest rising and falling harshly against mine. I look up at him, at his normally bright blue eyes now filled with guilt. “And when I felt like my own mom had turned her back on me, you gave me yours.”

PAST | LOIS

Garray, aka Dumb Name, was an idiot. A moron. A pig.

This, I worked out, after spending five minutes with him and Luke. Why Luke was and is still friends with him is a mystery wrapped in an enigma covered with puzzles.

It was halfway through the summer when I first met him. His greeting words were: “Four-eyes dresses like a boy.” So I left him and Luke to play out in the backyard and went inside the house.

Kathy was sitting at the kitchen table with the twins, crayons and paper sprawled all over the place. She looked up when she must’ve heard the back door open and smiled at me. “Dumb Name—I mean Garray,”—she corrected quickly—“already got to you, huh?”

“I think he must be an acquired taste,” I mumbled.

She laughed loud and free and so contagious, even the twins joined in. Once settled, she said, “Is there something else you’d like to do, Laney? Maybe with me instead of the boys?”

I shrugged, feeling a little awkward. “I see you knitting sometimes. I wouldn’t mind learning that.”

“Oh, yeah?” She smiled, surprised. “Well, let’s go.” She left the twins at the table and moved to the living room where she sat down on the couch, patted the spot next to her. I sat while she reached into a basket between the couch and the recliner and pulled out two knitting needles and a ball of yarn. “It looks harder than it is,” she told me, positioning the needles in my hands. Her touch was soft, as soft as her voice. “There are only two stitches. Knit and pearl. I’ll show you knitting first.” Her fingers guided mine as she spoke and even though I tried to focus on her words, on what she was showing me, I couldn’t stop watching her. And I tried to remember the last time my mother sat down with me, talked to me the way Kathy was. The last time she showed interest in me at all. I couldn’t remember, but it didn’t stop me from missing her and wishing that she was more like Kathy.

I spent the rest of the summer between messing around with Luke and being taught by Kathy how to knit, crochet, cross-stitch, and scrapbook. To be honest, I enjoyed the time with Kathy the most—maybe because I enjoyed the activities, so much so that I begged Dad to let me get my own supplies, even though I knew we couldn’t afford it. Or, maybe because Kathy was a mother-figure when I felt like I didn’t have one. I hadn’t spoken to my mother since I got in the car with Dad and drove away. If Dad had spoken to her, he didn’t mention it. If he missed her, he didn’t act on it. If he hurt, he didn’t show it. So I made a choice early on that I wouldn’t either. I spent a lot of days lying to him and lying to myself.