Lucas (Preston Brothers #1)(16)

by Jay McLean

We get a corner booth. She orders two desserts. I order a steak sandwich and loaded fries, and she hands me her phone as soon as the waitress leaves because she knows I need to work out how many calories I’m about to devour to calculate how many miles I need to run to burn it off. I type in her PIN number, the same code she uses for everything, a code I memorized from her bike lock when we were twelve. Then I glance up at her. She’s too busy, focused on marking the items off the list, which gives me a little time to go through her phone and look for any interaction with guys she may have dated/had monkey sex with.

I go through her text messages first. An invasion of privacy? Maybe. A way to placate my insanity? Definitely.

The first three sets of messages are from who I’d expect. Me, her dad, her mom.

Then there are a bunch with numbers but no names linked to those numbers. Are we still on for tonight? one reads, dated last Saturday. What the fuck?

“Having trouble?” she asks.

I drop the phone, caught red-handed, even though she would’ve never known if it wasn’t for my guilt-ridden overreaction. Her eyes narrow, her gaze dropping to the phone now on the table, a clear view of the message I’d just read.

She smiles.

That’s good. At least she hasn’t picked up the fork and threatened to stab me in the eyes. “Was that an accident, or are you curious about something and don’t want to ask?” she says.

I push the phone aside. Stupid thing gave me away. “What do you mean?” I ask, feigning… I don’t even know.

“You seemed to have a reaction to me telling my dad that I’d dated. I’m surprised you haven’t brought it up yet.” She says this so casually, like she’s asking me about how many calories might be in the brownie she just ordered and not the copious amounts of sex she’s having in our bed. Okay, it’s not ours, but it may as well be. Now she’s ticking off items on the list.

Tick.

Tick.

Tick.

My damn jaw is ticking with the visions blowing up my brain. Stop having sex in our bed! I clear my throat and lean back in my seat, one arm on the table, the other balled at my side. “How many guys have you dated, anyway?” Good question. Good start.

She shrugs. Casual Laney is as unpleasant as Sneaky Laney. “A few.”

“A few?” I ask, leaning forward. “A few like, between three and five, or a few as in… there’s a number but you’ve lost count?”

She smiles again.

She ticks. Again.

I wait.

She looks up at me. “Why does it matter?”

“Why keep it a secret?”

“You’ve never asked before.”

I sigh. “Do I know any of them?”

“Again,” she says, her smile spreading. “Why does it matter?”

“I do know them, don’t I? Am I friends with any of them?”

Her coffee arrives the same time my water does. She waits until I take a sip before saying, “Dumb Name and I went out a few times.”

I spit out my drink. “What?”

She’s laughing, wiping at the list now splattered with my post-mouth water. Luckily, I missed her recently-purchased items. “We didn’t want to tell you in case you were all excited about the prospect of your two best friends dating. Needless to say, it didn’t work out.”

“You’re serious right now?” Why is my chest tight? Why is my fist tighter? I’m going to punch something. Not here. Not now. But I will. After I drop Laney off. Yeah. I’m going to drive to Dumb Name’s house and punch him right in his dumb face.

Laney shrugs. “It was toward the end of freshman year. He came up to me after school all nervous and he said he always thought I was beautiful but I was always your girl, you know? But then you dated a bunch of girls that year so he figured it was just in his head—you and me—so he asked me out, and I don’t know… for a moment, he made me feel beautiful, so I said yes and we went out a couple of times. He was my first kiss.”

I can’t speak, too busy stewing, replaying her words over and over.

She goes back to her list. Tick tick tick.

Then our food comes and we eat and she talks and I barely listen.

She pays for our food, makes another joke about not needing money for college anymore, and as she packs her stuff back into the paper bag, a girl approaches, around the same age as us. “Hi,” she says, smiling brightly between the two of us. She kind of looks like Grace, the forgotten girlfriend, the girlfriend whose hands don’t feel anywhere near as good as Laney’s. Only the girl in front of us has brown hair, wider hips, bigger breasts than Grace. “Are you guys leaving?” she asks, reaching into her pocket.

Lane smiles.

I nod.

“Oh,” says the unnamed girl. She reveals a piece of paper from her pocket and slides it across the table toward me. It has her name, Kate, and her phone number. She’s grinning when I look back up at her, but I don’t look at her long. Instead, I’m drawn to Lane, to her reaction. She’s focused on packing up her things. Too focused. Like she’s avoiding the situation completely.

“Um…” I look up at Kate, at her waiting expression. “I have a girlfriend.”

“Oh,” she says again, then focuses on Lane. “I’m sorry, I thought—” She covers her face, as if embarrassed. She’s not, though. Any girl who has the confidence to approach a guy who’s shown absolutely zero signs of noticing her can’t possibly be embarrassed about getting turned down. “I thought she was your sister.”

Lane finds her voice for the first time since Kate approached and uses it to say, “Oh, I’m not his girlfriend. Definitely more like his sister. It’s cool.”

You know that phrase… sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?

It’s bullshit.

Words hurt.

Sticks and stones may break bones, but words dig and dig and dig deep into your heart until the hurt resonates, and your heart fails to remember the reason it beats in the first place. For a moment, almost for an entire day, Laney was that reason. Until those words: Definitely more like his sister.

I drive home in silence.

She sits in the passenger’s seat. In silence.

I drop her off at her house. Still silent.

Then I drive to Dumb Name’s house so I can punch him.