“Logan!” Lucy and I yelled at the same time.
Dad picked him up, threw him over his shoulder and left the kitchen.
Mom entered, cordless phone in hand, palm covering the receiver. “It’s for you,” she said to me, then lowered her voice. “It’s Laney.”
I snatched the phone from her and started running to my room, ignoring Lucy’s shouts about finishing up the dishes. Twelve steps on the staircase and fourteen (eleven-year-old) steps to my room later, I was shutting the door behind me and trying to catch my breath. Not because I was exhausted, but because I was nervous. Slowly, I raised the phone to my ear. “Hey,” I said.
“Hey, it’s Laney.”
I bit back a smile. “You calling yourself Laney, too?”
She giggled. “I figure you all do now, so I wasn’t sure if you’d know it was me if I said it was Lois.”
“I’d know.” Even if she didn’t introduce herself, I’d know. I’d recognize her voice anywhere.
“So how was your weekend?” she asked at the same time I said, “What color did you paint your room?”
“Green,” she said.
“Pretty good,” I answered.
Then we both laughed.
“I don’t really know why I called,” she murmured. “I guess I’m just used to seeing you every day and I miss you.”
“Is that lame?”
My heart skipped a beat. “No. It was weird not having you here.”
She asked, “What did you do over the weekend?”
“My best friend, Garray, was here.”
I smiled as I sat on the edge of my bed. “No.”
“No.” I then went on to explain how he got his name. She cracked up at the part about my family calling him Dumb Name, even though she agreed it was a little mean.
“I’m sorry I made you run the whole time you were here,” I admitted. “You probably hate me.”
“I’m at your house every day, Luke. I don’t expect you to give up what you normally do just because I’m there. If I didn’t want to hang out with you, I wouldn’t have done it.”
“What would you like to do, I mean, besides going swimming in our lake? Is there something else? We can do it. I don’t mind.”
She thought about this for a while, the static in the phone and the usual background noise of my family the only sounds I could hear. Finally, she said, “I like playgrounds,”
I laughed. I probably shouldn’t have, but I did. “Aren’t we a little old for playgrounds?”
“Name one time a playground hasn’t been fun.”
“True. There’s one close by that Mom lets me and Lucy go to on our own.”
“We could bring your brothers. I like them. Well, maybe not Logan. No offense… he’s just so…”
We spent three hours on the phone that night—longer than I’ve ever spent on the phone with any other girl, but not as long as I’ll spend with Laney in the future. I fell asleep with the phone to my ear—her light, quiet breaths lulling me to slumber, letting me know she’d done the same.
And so without meaning to, without wanting to, I started to fall in like with a girl who would become my best friend.
…A girl who would later crush my heart and destroy me.
Lucas’s dad practically shoved us out the front door, thanking me for breakfast and telling me that I’d helped enough and the rest of them would finish the clean-up. I had my license, but I didn’t have a car, so Luke did all the driving for us. He got his license the exact day he turned sixteen. His dad had taught him how to drive on their property from the time he was twelve. His dad taught me to drive the same way, too.
Luke didn’t have a car at the beginning, so he drove the minivan whenever it was available. Then later, his dad gave him the keys to the oldest, most beaten-up truck they had in the company fleet. Lucy was given their mom’s old car when she got her license. He’d also built her a cabin on the property her junior year so she could get some space away from all the boys. But, just like Lucas, she worked whatever available Saturdays they had doing jobs for their dad to “pay it off.” Luke worked construction and Lucy did admin work in the office. When Lucy went off to college and didn’t need her car anymore, she passed it down to Leo. Even though there was no monetary value to pay off, Leo (without being asked) still worked construction—the same amount of hours as Lucy—because he knew, like all the Preston kids, that it wasn’t about money. It was about the principal. The thing I learned quickly about the Prestons is that while they had money, they didn’t flaunt it or throw it around like it meant nothing. The kids weren’t spoiled, and because of their dad, they knew the value of hard work.
“I gotta get gas,” Lucas says, pulling into the gas station.
I reach into my purse. “I got it.”
“Shut up,” he mumbles, already halfway out of the truck. He fills the tank, and when he returns from paying, he hands me a Snickers bar. Without thinking, I break it in half and give back his share.
The drive is easy—Lucas permitting me to connect my phone to his Bluetooth so I can play my music, which is Justin Timberlake’s Justified album on repeat. He says he’s not a fan, but I often catch his lips moving along with the lyrics.
Forgetting that all calls go through Lucas’s car speakers, I don’t hesitate to answer when Dad rings. “Hey, Dad,” I say in greeting.
“Your mom called,” he says, and Lucas’s eyes snap to mine.
“When?” he mouths.
I can already feel the sweat forming on my brow because I recognize the tone in Dad’s voice—the anger mixed with worry. “When did she call?” I ask Dad.
He doesn’t answer me. Instead, his voice rises, the anger overpowering his worry, and I wonder how much he knows, how much she had told him even though I begged and pleaded for her to let me be the one to break the news. “Did you forget to mention that you had dinner with her last night?”
Luke slams on the brakes so fast I have to extend my arm to catch myself on the dash. I glare at him, but he’s too focused on pulling the car over in the middle of a busy fricken highway of all places. “Luke!” I shout, trying to grab onto his arm as he steps out on the road.