My phone rang at the precise time Trevor said he’d pick me up.
I predicted our conversation’s outcome without any special abilities.
“I hate to cancel on you so last minute, but—”
“You have to,” I finished.
These types of calls were becoming more frequent. I’d asked him what was wrong, but he said it was nothing. He was happy in our relationship. He wasn’t bored of me. And there was no one else. I’d worded the questions different ways to see if the answers changed. They didn’t.
And how could I force the answer? I didn’t have anything to go on, but there was something going on. There had to be.
“I’ll call you as soon as I can. If it doesn’t take too long, we’ll still go to Zach’s party tonight. Or we’ll get together tomorrow.”
“Really?” he asked hesitantly, obviously expecting a fight.
“Yep,” I said. I meant it too.
I had to pretend it wasn’t a big deal for him to cancel our plans for the second time this week—pretending was the fastest way to end the conversation. I knew I couldn’t change his decision to cancel once “something came up.” It didn’t matter if I complained, begged, or bargained. I just ended up looking as pathetic as I felt. Whatever this “something” was that he was always taking care of, it was more important than plans with me. I had contemplated following him, or hiding a GPS on him, or hiring a PI to tail him. But thinking those thoughts and following through were two different realities. It made me feel like a paranoid girlfriend. And what high school girl hired a PI to tail her boyfriend anyway?
I sighed and stared at my phone. Another Friday night cancellation. I pulled my long auburn hair into a ponytail while contemplating my next move. I was grateful my dad’s company had landed a big new contract and my parents were out celebrating. I was spared their questioning looks about Trevor’s cancellation. I was an only child, too, so I didn’t have any brothers or sisters to harass me either. The only one home with me was my dog, Roxie, and I knew my secret was safe with her.
The thought of showing up to the party alone made his rejection worse. Elyse, my best friend in the world, and her boyfriend, Jared, were out celebrating their one-year anniversary and would be at Zach’s later.
My resolve solidified. Normally I would wait for him, which usually meant I wasted an entire evening at home. But this time I would stick to our plans, even if it meant I drove to the party alone. I really hoped it didn’t, though. I sent a group text to see who hadn’t left yet and could pick me up on their way.
I pulled my flat, dark grey boots over my jeans and fought with the left zipper until it reached the top. I loved the comfortable boots too much to accept that it was time to retire them.
My phone chimed. I glanced at it, wondering who responded to my plea, grateful to whoever it was. Lauren and Samantha were on their way. I smiled.
I grabbed my favorite hoodie from the front closet—it matched nearly everything I owned. I left it in there because I used it as more of a jacket than anything else. The bright flecks of color in the fabric stood out like confetti against the cream background. I hated the thought of covering up my favorite two-toned purple v-neck, but I’d want the hoodie when the temperature dropped. Fifteen minutes later, I was on my way.
The open sunroof let in the cool night air. The radio blared Sirius radio’s BPM, our favorite dance music channel. My mood lifted as we entered the small downtown of Lake Orion. This was definitely better than moping at home.
Lauren pulled her straight blond hair over a shoulder while we waited at the only light. She looked so petite in the driver’s seat of her Explorer. “Did you see they’re adding to the mall?” she asked.
The next city over had our go-to mall. A few years ago, they had built a sprawling outdoor complex with big-name stores and small boutiques. It had a variety of restaurants and a movie theater. We spent a lot of Saturdays there.
“I did! And the list of new stores is awesome!” Samantha said, no doubt wanting to add to her impressive collection of high heel shoes. Running shoes didn’t cut it with her.
“I hope they’ll have it done by the end of summer,” I said. “We can all go together. I know Elyse can’t wait.”
We passed through Lake Orion’s small historic district. Businesses had rented out both buildings and houses, creating an eclectic look that matched the vibe of the area. The costume shop occupied the space next to the upscale hair salon, and the natural health store was next to the tattoo parlor. The town was casual and relaxed, yet dressing up at night worked too.
Just like the downtown, our entire city was a mix of new and original subdivisions. My friends lived in houses that ranged from historic to new. It didn’t matter where anyone lived; there was only one high school.
We turned into Zach’s sub, which had been built around the same time as mine. It had both sprawling ranches and two-story colonials, with big yards separating the houses. It’s funny that, in movies, when the parents are away, students always throw elaborate, loud, bass-pumping, parking-on-the-lawn parties. In reality, it was much more subdued, with instructions to scatter the cars throughout the sub. Like there wouldn’t be enough to answer to if the house was trashed. Like there weren’t neighbors. As if the parents hadn't asked the older couple across the street to keep an eye on things.
Lauren parked six houses down, on the opposite side of the street. I set my feet onto the curb, safely reaching over a puddle, and walked along the curb until I reached a driveway. It had been a rainy May week, and it was still soggy. Lauren and I waited for Samantha to walk through the shallow water with her three-inch heels, then we crossed the dark street.
The rule was that if you wanted to keep getting invited to parties, you had to keep showing up. And I liked being with my friends. I knew I’d miss them next year after we graduated and went in different directions. The distance might be too great to maintain some friendships, but hopefully we’d adapt to fit our new lives.
I shook myself. Enough thinking about things out of your control, I thought.
Music and voices drifted to us as we walked up the side path to Zach’s backyard. Small patches of water were scattered like dark pools over the uneven lawn, and it wasn’t a surprise to find everyone on the sprawling, multilevel patio. I smiled as I remembered how much Zach had complained about all the gravel he helped his dad shovel into the space for the foundation.
The sun hadn’t officially set, but it was low enough that the surrounding trees and houses obscured its light.
Lauren, Samantha, and I joined Kayla, Brittany, and Paige on the highest level of the patio. We sat on the comfortable, oversized furniture. I checked my phone and read a text from Elyse while they talked about their weekend plans. She said Jared had just parked on the next block and they were walking over.
When they arrived, Elyse sat next to me while Jared went to talk to Zach, Logan, and Wayne. Zach greeted Jared with a nod and his usual wide smile. Zach had sculpted his thick, dark hair into a faux Mohawk.
“You look cute, E,” I told Elyse. She had curled her highlighted hair into soft ringlets around her oval face and wore the heeled sparkly sandals she bought for the occasion.
While the boys talked, Elyse told us that Jared had showed up with a dozen of her favorite flowers, fire-and-ice roses. Then she showed us the small gold heart dangling from the dainty necklace Jared had bought her. They had gone to a local, family owned Italian restaurant for dinner.
My phone chimed. It was Trevor, texting to say he was free. I responded to meet me here.
I caught Elyse’s eye as I put my phone away.
She raised her eyebrows.
I nodded. “He’s on his way. Something came up.”
“Oh, well, I’m glad he’s available now,” she offered. I knew she was just as upset as I was about his behavior. She didn’t like seeing me hurt.
Just before the sun set, the fire pit roared to life—the result of using a bit too much lighter fluid. I roasted and ate marshmallows until I was full, then rejoined the group. I felt the absence of the heat from the fire when I walked away, and I picked up my sweatshirt. I threaded my arms through the sleeves and prepared to pull it over my head when movement in the shadows at the far edge of the property caught my eye. I froze with my arms in the sleeves, my hands holding the neck open. The light barely reached the dark trees. My eyes strained to distinguish shadows from branches. I blinked.
The silhouette of a person stood between the trees.
“Hey, Brynn! Your man’s here,” Elyse taunted.
I spun around.
“Decided to come without me?” Trevor teased.
I mumbled something and turned back toward the tree line, scanning for the shape. Of course I couldn’t spot it…him?…again. It seemed like the shadow of a guy.
“I thought you’d be happier to see me.” I felt Trevor’s arms go around my waist as I turned to face him.
I reached up on my tip-toes and gave him a quick kiss. “I am. I just thought I saw someone back there.”
Trevor’s hands grabbed my shoulders and gently pushed me back so he could see my face. His medium build frame was strong enough to hold me without letting me fall. “Back there, just now?” he asked, inclining his head to the back of the yard. I noticed his hair. Usually he kept his sandy hair slightly wild, but it was short. It made him look older, more sophisticated.
I nodded and finished putting my sweatshirt on. “Your hair cut looks good. It’s a nice change.”
Trevor brushed past me with fury in his blue eyes.
I trailed after him to the lowest section of the patio; it curved out into the yard. He scanned the trees and stared hard where I had spotted the lurking figure.
He started to step off the dry patio onto the water-logged lawn, but I grabbed his arm.
“Trev,” I said.
He turned around.
“I have to check this out, Brynn,” he said.
“Don’t you think it’s weird someone’s out there?” he said, using his other hand to remove mine.
“I do, but why is it up to you to check it out?”
“It just is.”
His footsteps made soft, squishy sounds on the grass, and his jeans absorbed some of the standing water.
I started after him.
“Stay here, Brynn. I’ll be fine,” he shouted over his shoulder as he stalked toward the spot.
“This is ridiculous,” I said. “You’re not going by yourself.”
Trevor continued walking, but it was his voice that froze me in my spot.
I stood on the very edge of the patio, rooted in place, watching him walk toward the dark corner and disappear from view. I blocked out the music and voices behind me. I needed focus to hear if there was a struggle. I couldn’t let anything happen to him.
I don’t know how long I stood there—it seemed like an hour, but only minutes passed before he sauntered back into the clearing.
I kept an eye over his shoulder since he didn’t seem to care to watch his back. He shrugged a shoulder. “It was just a neighborhood kid who wanted to sneak away from his house and smoke. There’s nothing to worry about.”
I gave the area a last glance. The profile had seemed much bigger than a kid. “Is he going to come out?”
“He’s not invited.”
We rejoined the group. If anyone noticed what Trevor did, they didn’t bring it up. I pretended to be invested in the conversation. His explanation seemed reasonable, even if it didn’t sit right with me. I’d always known how Trevor felt, whether he was anxious, happy, stressed, or deceitful—like he was in this case. It had been a natural evolution of our relationship, and he’d teased me relentlessly about it…part out of resentment of invading his emotions, part out of curiosity of how I could. Plus, with his recent behavior, I no longer took what he told me without question, and I constantly checked what he said against how he felt.
I checked the woods multiple times that night. I couldn’t be positive, but I was pretty sure I spotted the form back there a few times, trying to blend in with the shadows. Quiet. Still. Observing.
Not once was there the unmistakable glow of a lit cigarette anywhere around his body.
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