“People are so stupid. They think they've got the whole puzzle figured out, but they're really so far off.”
“You could call him,' Wes suggests. 'Why be a spectator in the game of love? Take charge. Don't wait around and let the boy call all the shots.'
'As cheesy as all of that sounds,' Kimmie adds.
'Cheese or not,I know what I'm talking about.' He sulks. 'I've lived it. I've learned it.'
Kimmie lets out a laugh. 'With who,Romeo? That Wendy girl you paid to date you?'
'Oh, and because I don't have a dating history as big as your mouth, it doesn't quite measure up?'
'I hate to break this to you, but that isn't the only thing of yours that doesn't measure up.'
'Wouldn't you like to know?' He grins.”
“Wait,” Wes says. “Are you to imply that our dear Chameleon is once again having premonitions by way of pottery?”
“I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t call me reptilian names,” I say.
“Would you prefer it if I called you a freak?”
“I’m just really glad to hear that things are going well.”
“Wait, you’re not getting ready to hang up on me, are you?” he asks. “We’ve only been talking for a couple minutes.”
“Well, I don’t really have much else to say.”
“Are you kidding? The possibilities are endless. For starters, you could tell me that you’ll call me again. Or, better yet, you could ask me out for coffee or a slice of pizza. Of course, letting me know that I can call you whenever I want is always a good possibility. Or, if you’re feeling really generous, you could tell me that you miss me, too. I mean, I wouldn’t even care if it was a lie.”
“I’m serious,” I say. “I don’t want to lose him.”
“Then maybe you should go away for a little bit. After all, absence makes the heart grow horny, right?”
“That’s not exactly how the saying goes.”
“But it should, because you know it’s true. If you go away for a couple of days, Ben won’t know what to do with himself.”
“Maybe you’re right,” I say, tossing more candy corn into my mouth (therapy in a bag).
“Damn straight, I am. Now, the biggest question: Can I fit into your suitcase? Because I really don’t feel like staying here by myself.”
“To my complete and utter surprise, the writing on his door is gone.
“What happened?” I ask.
It takes him a second before he realizes what I’m asking. “I washed it off,” he explains.
“I wasn’t going to, but I didn’t want the super to give me a hard time. Plus, I thought it might freak out some of my neighbors. You have to admit, death threats on doors can be pretty offensive, generally speaking. Not to mention the sheer fact that it made me look like a total asshole—like some old girlfriend was trying to get even.”
“Did you take pictures at least?”
“Actually, no.” He cringes. “That probably would’ve been a good idea.”
“But Tray saw the writing, right?”
“Um . . .” He nibbles his lip, clearly reading my angst.
“You told me he was with you last night. You said you called him.”
“I tried, but he didn’t pick up, and I didn’t want you to worry.”
“So, you lied?” I snap.
“I didn’t want you to worry,” he repeats. “Please, don’t be upset.”
“How can I not be? We’re talking about your life here. You can’t go erasing evidence off your door. And you can’t be lying to me, either. How am I supposed to help you if you don’t tell me the truth?”
“Why are you helping me?” he asks, taking a step closer. “I mean, I’m grateful and all, and you know I love spending time with you, be it death-threat missions or pizza and a movie. It’s just . . . what do you get out of it? What’s this sudden interest in my life?”
My mouth drops open, but I manage a shrug, almost forgetting the fact that he knows nothing about my premonitions.”
“P.S.” Kimmie continues, nodding toward my sculptor of Adam’s lips, the assignment was to sculpt something exotic, not erotic. Are you sure you weren’t so busy wishing me dead that you just didn’t hear right? Plus, if it was eroticism you were going for, how come there’s no tongue wagging out of his mouth?”
“And what’s exotic about your piece?”
“Seriously, it doesn’t get more exotic than leopard, particularly if that leopard is in the form of a swanky pair of kitten heels . . . but I thought I’d start out small.”
“Right,” I say, looking at her oblong ball of clay with what appears to be four legs, a golf-ball-sized head, and a long, skinny tail attached.
“And, from the looks of your sculpture,” she continues, adjusting the lace bandana in her pixie-cut dark hair, “I presume your hankering for a Ben Burger right about now. The question is, will that burger come with a pickle on the side or between the buns?”
“You’re so sick,” I say, failing to mention that my sculptor isn’t of Ben’s mouth at all.
“Seriously? You’re the one who’s wishing me dead whilst fantasizing about your boyfriend’s mouth. Tell me that doesn’t rank high up on the sik-o-meter.”
“I have to go,” I say, throwing a plastic tarp over my work board.
“Should I be worried?”
“Acting manic and chanting about death?”
“I didn’t chant.”
“Are you kidding? For a second there I thought you were singing the jingle to a commercial for roach killer: You deserve to die! You deserve to die! You deserve to die!”
“But I’m not letting you off so easily. Did you hear something that I should know about?”
“No,” I say, suddenly feeling more self-conscious than I ever thought possible.
“So, then, is this just an excuse you’ve devised to call me? Because, trust me when I say that you need no excuses. I love hearing from you.”
“Did you and dad eat the raw-violi I left in the fridge?”
“Sort of. I mean, we considered eating it. It made its way onto the table. But we ended up having the rest of the rawkin’ raw-sagna instead. (Rawkin’ raw-sagna: a sorry excuse for a real lasagna made with uncooked squash slices, tomatoes, and cashew paste, and served on—what else?—Elvis dinner plates). I don’t have the heart to tell her that dad chucked both dinners and ordered us a pizza.”
“My mother grimaces, clearly on to my BS. She’s what you’d call a health fanatic times one hundred, from the raw-ful cuisine she makes us eat to her handmade sanitary napkins (no joke: the woman actually uses kitchen sponges), and so, pepperoni-and-cheese-laden pizza ranks right up there with what fur coats are to PETA.”
“He’d wanted to accompany her, but both of them knew it’d be smarter for him to stay home.
In other words, neither of them trusts me.
And who can really blame them?
The last time they both went away together, a stalker broke into our house, our basement turned into a scene out of Fright Night, and I nearly gave my boyfriend a concussion.”
“Hey,” I say, taking a seat on an island stool. “Did anyone call for me?”
“Your dad and I had a great day; thanks for asking.” Mom smirks.
“How was your day? Did anyone call for me?” I smile.
She dumps a gob of coconut oil into her raw-ful mixture. “Anyone meaning Ben?”
“Am I that transparent?”
“It’s just that I was sixteen once, too.”
“Right,” I say, shuddering even to think of her pre-forty, pre-me, pre-Dad, when it was just her hippie self, burning incense, going braless, and dating poets.”
“Oh, and because I don’t have a dating history as big as your mouth, it doesn’t quite measure up?” he asks.
“I hate to break this to you, but that isn’t the only thing of yours that doesn’t measure up.” She waggles her pinkie at him.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” He grins.
“I think I’m all set,” I interrupt, zipping up my bag.
“Don’t forget this.” Still cuddling my sweater, Wes purrs a couple of times before tossing it my way.
“Yeah, I can’t imagine why your dad thinks of you as feminine,” Kimmie mocks.”
“I clear my throat, realizing how little I’ve accomplished during this conversation. “So, everything with you is great?” I say in a final attempt to get some scoop. “No problems? No demons in your closet? Nothing weird going on?”
“What’s up with you?” he asks, double-dipping a fry. “You were like this on the phone the other day, too.”
“Just making conversation.”
“Psycho conversation, maybe.”
“Speaking of psychos,” I half joke. “Anyone in your life I should know about?”
“Just one,” he says, giving me a pointed look.”
“Piper reminds Adam once again about their study session later, and then, within sixty seconds, all of them are gone.
“Well, that was about as pleasant as having my ass waxed,” Wes says.”
“What’s the verdict?” Kimmie asks, peering back at me.
I stare down at the jumble of words. “I can’t quite tell yet.”
“Give us a clue,” Wes says. “I love puzzles.”
“That’s because you are one,” Kimmie jokes.
I read them the list of words: ARE, ALONE, YOU, NEVER, EYE, WATCHING, ALWAYS, AM.
Not five seconds later, Wes has the whole thing figured out. “YOU ARE NEVER ALONE. EYE AM ALWAYS WATCHING!” he says, making his voice all deep and throaty.
“Wait, seriously?” I ask, completely bewildered by the idea that he’d be able to unravel the message so quickly. I look at the individual words, making sure they’re all included, and that he didn’t add any extra.
“What can I say? I’m good at puzzles.”
“Are you good at making them, too?” Kimmie asks. “Because it’s a little scary how you were able to figure that out so fast.”
“Do you think it matters that the “eye” in the puzzle is the noun and not the pronoun?” I ask them.
“Since when is it a requirement for psychos to be good in English?” Wes asks.
“Only you would know.” Kimmie glares at him.
“Plus, it’s a puzzle,” he says, ignoring her comment. “You have to expect a few quirks.”
“I don’t know,” I say, still staring at the words. “Maybe there’s some other message here. Maybe we need to try unscrambling it another way.”
“Such as ‘EYE AM NEVER ALONE. YOU ARE ALWAYS WATCHING,’” he suggests. “Or perhaps the ever-favorite. ‘YOU ARE NEVER WATCHING. EYE AM ALWAYS ALONE.’”
Kimmie scoots farther away from him in her seat. “Okay, you really are starting to scare me.”
“Ever since what happened last fall, my dad has made a feeble though still earnest attempt at safeguarding our place. He’s put stickers on all the windows and poked yard signs into the lawn, both of which claim that we have a security system (we don’t). He’s also installed motion-detector lights that go on and off pretty much whenever they feel like it.”
“Will you call me first thing tomorrow?”
“I must say, if I knew all this creepy stuff was going to elicit this much attention from you, I’d have gotten myself harassed weeks ago.”
“Adam, I’m serious.”
“I shrug, suddenly remembering how Adam never called me this morning, even though he said he would. “I should probably go back to Adam’s apartment to have a look at his door.”
“Want some company?” Wes asks. “I can bring along my spy tool. I’ve got a cool UV-light device that picks up all traces of bodily fluids.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Kimmie asks.
“You know you want to give it a try.” He winks. “I’ll even let you borrow my latex gloves.”
“Say no more,” she jokes. “I’m in.”
“Hi,” I say, stopping right in front of him. “I missed you today in chemistry.”
“I got to school a little late.”
“But you left my house early,” I say, wondering what time he did in fact leave—if he waited until I fell asleep or stayed until the last possible moment.
“I still overslept,” he explains.
“I’m sorry if that was my fault.”
“I think it was your fault.” He smiles wider. “Once I got home, I couldn’t really fall asleep. Too wound up, I guess.”
“Because of all the drama with Adam?”
He shakes his head and touches the side of my face, raising my chin slightly to kiss my lips.”
“What about Melissa?” I ask. “She’s angry at you for ending things with her. Maybe this is her way of teaching you a lesson.”
“A total possibility. I’m definitely sweet and studly enough to drive a girl literally insane, wouldn’t you say?” He flexes his biceps to be funny.
“Can we please try to be serious here?”
“It’s all so confusing.”
“Only to you it is. Wes and I tend to see things a whole lot clearer than you do. And, as luck would have it, he just happens to be here with me, hiding out from his dad. So why don’t you get your confused ass over here, too?”
“Why is he hiding out?”
“Because his dad paid Helga to come onto him.”
“Helga the cleaning lady?”
“Believe it. That woman may be sixty years old and carry her teeth around in a Dixie cup, but apparently she still has game.”
“To put it mildly.”
“Better wash up,” mom says. “We’ll be eating in a few minutes.”
I glance toward her mixing bowl, in which she’s blending something resembling Cat Chow.
Dad grimaces at the sight of it. “What do you say, Camelia?” he says. “Maybe after dinner and I can head over to Flick-tastic to rent a couple videos?”
Translation: Let’s save ourselves from this swill by hitting the drive-through of Taco Bell.”
“Wes knocks a couple of times, but Adam doesn’t answer. “Jackpot,” he says, kneeling down to examine the lock. He takes the bundle of wire from his pocket and proceeds to make a key of sorts.
“You’re not going to break in?” I ask.
“Well, um, yeah. Kimmie rolls her eyes, as if the answer’s completely obvious.
Wes sticks his key into the lock and starts to jiggle it back and forth. A moment later, the doorknob turns.
Only, Wes isn’t the one turning it.
Piper then whips the door open. “Oh, my god,” she says, smacking her chest like we’ve scared her, too.
“We were looking for Adam.” I peek past her into the apartment.
“He isn’t here,” she says, glaring up at Wes, no doubt annoyed that he’s attempting to pick the lock.
“Would you believe that I dropped the contact?” he asks, before finally getting up.
“Not likely, since you’re wearing glasses.”
Kimmie bops him on the head with her Tupperware purse.”
“What are you doing here?” I ask, stepping out of the car.
“Waiting for you.” He closes the car door behind me. “I called you earlier and your mom said you’d be home around nine. You’re two minutes early.”
“Should I go away and come back?”
“What do you think?” he asks, encircling my waist with his arms.”
“Ben stands just behind me, and we begin to wedge out a fresh piece of clay. I try my best to concentrate, to ignore the fact that my heart is beating at five times its normal speed. I watch his arms as he kneads the clay—almost a little too hard—and as the muscles in his forearms flex. “That’s good,” I say, in an effort to stay focused. I dip a sponge into a bowl of water and squeeze the droplets down over his hands to keep things moist.
After several minutes, Ben lets me take the lead. I place my palms over the clay mound and close my eyes. Meanwhile, Ben’s chest grazes my shoulders, and his clay-soaked fingers stroke the length of my arms.
“You’re doing great,” he whispers in my ear.
We continue to sculpt for another hour, working the mound down into a flattened surface—until we have a total of four tiles.
And until I can no longer hold myself back.
I turn around to face him.
“Camelia?” He squints slightly.
I bite my lip, wishing that he could read my mind, and that he would kiss me until my lips ache. “What are you thinking?” I ask, slipping my hand inside the waistband of his jeans and pulling him closer.”
“After Ben leaves, I head back upstairs to my room, only to find Dad in the kitchen. He has his back toward me, sneaking a bag of Bugles from one of the baskets above the cabinets.
“Caught you,” I say, switching on the light, making him jump.
“Shouldn’t you be in bed?” he asks, keeping his voice low.
“Shouldn’t you?” I give him a pointed look.
“Probably, but your mom actually feel asleep tonight—probably the first night all week. Meanwhile, I’m too hungry to nod off.”
“So, where does that leave us?” I ask, eyeing his bag of Bugles.
“Can you be trusted?”
“That depends. Are you willing to share?” I smile. “Good hiding spot, by the way. Nobody ever uses those baskets.”
“That’s what you think.” He gazes down the hall to make sure the coast is clear and then snags a bag of Hershey’s Kisses from one of the other four overhead baskets.
We park ourselves at the kitchen island and rip both bags open. Five full minutes of lusty devouring pass before either of us speaks.”
“And what did it say?” I ask, almost expecting to hear him tell me, “Soon.”
“Check the bed.” His voice cracks saying the words.
“That’s what it said.”
“And what’s it supposed to mean?”
“Call me crazy, but I think it might mean that I should check my bed.”
“Who’s laughing? I’m paranoid about going home now. I’m having major flashbacks to summer camp. You know, itching powder in the bedsheets, snakes under the pillow, getting your hand dipped into a bowl full of water while you sleep—”
“On the drive home, Adam glances at me several times, clearly wanting to talk about what’s happened.
But I can barely look up from the door latch.
Exactly six pain-filled minutes later, he pulls over at the corner of my street and puts the car in park. “Do you hate me?” he asks.
“More like I hate myself.”
“Yeah.” He sighs. “Kissing me tends to have that effect on women.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he says, still trying to make light of the situation. “It’s my fault. It won’t happen again.”
“I let it happen.”
“Yes, but only because you couldn’t help yourself. I must admit, I’m far too irresistible for my own good.”
“I wouldn’t go that far.” I can’t help but smile.”
“Maybe we should do some more homework.”
Homework had been their code word for making out before they’d realized that they hadn’t been fooling anyone.
But Jay was true to his word, especially his code word, and his lips settled over hers. Violet suddenly forgot that she was pretending to break free from his grip. Her frail resolve crumbled. She reached out, wrapping her arms around his neck, and pulled him closer to her.
Jay growled from deep in his throat. “Okay, homework it is.”
He pulled her against him, until they were lying face-to-face, stretched across the length of the couch. It wasn’t long before she was restless, her hands moving impatiently, exploring him. She shuddered when she felt his fingers slip beneath her shirt and brush over her bare skin. He stroked her belly and higher, the skin of his hands rough against her soft flesh. His thumb brushed the base of her rib cage, making her breath catch.
And then, like so many times before, he stopped, abruptly drawing back. He shifted only inches, but those inches felt like miles, and Violet felt the familiar surge of frustration.
He didn’t say a word; he didn’t have to. Violet understood perfectly. They’d gone too far. Again. But Violet was frustrated, and it was getting harder and harder to ignore her disappointment. She knew they couldn’t play this unsatisfying game forever.
“So you’re going to Seattle tomorrow?” He used the question to fill the rift between them, but his voice shook and Violet was glad he wasn’t totally unaffected.
She wasn’t as quick to pretend that everything was okay, especially when what she really wanted to do was to rip his shirt off and unbutton his jeans.
But they’d talked about this. And, time and time again, they’d decided that they needed to be sure. One hundred percent. Because once they crossed that line…
She and Jay had been best friends since the first grade, and up until last fall that’s all they’d ever been. Now that she was in love with him, she couldn’t imagine losing him because they made the wrong decision.
Or made it too soon.
She decided to let Jay have his small talk. For now.
“Yeah, Chelsea wants to go down to the waterfront and maybe do some shopping. It’s easier to be around her when it’s just the two of us. You know, when she’s not always…on.”
“You mean when she’s not picking on someone?”
“So the researcher’s central dilemma exists in an especially acute form in psychology: either the animal is not like us, in which case there is no reason for performing the experiment; or else the animal is like us, in which case we ought not to perform on the animal an experiment that would be considered outrageous if performed on one of us. Another”
“While Molly and Joseph Anning suffered materially that winter, with many days of weak soup and weaker fires, Mary barely noticed how little she was eating or the chilblains on her hands and feet. She was suffering inside.”
“Life is more fun if you play games.”
“Okay, maybe I don't have to solve every problem with my fists...but every once in awhile, a situation arises that is substantially improved by the judicious application of force.”
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