A Perfect Ten
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I scowled because he suddenly sounded too serious. “Oh, she’ll get it. She’s like overqualified. She has to get it.”
He moved in close, not only serious now, but worried-looking. “Yeah, but what if they’ve heard some of the rumors about her and Noel?”
I straightened, shocked senseless by the question. “You know about that?” I had no idea he knew about that.
With a snort, he rolled his eyes. “I’m fourteen, not stupid. Of course I know she was fired because of him. I was there when her old boss came to his hospital room after he broke his collarbone and threatened to expose them. Remember?”
“Yeah, but...” I sighed. He was right; he was fourteen, not a little kid anymore. Shit yeah, he understood what was going on, and he knew exactly how much trouble dating a student had gotten Aspen into.
“Well, even if they do somehow, miraculously catch wind of it, maybe it won’t be such a big deal since she ended up marrying the student she had an affair with. Besides, they were both legal adults, and...and it had been at the college level. I mean, come on. Surely they’d know she wouldn’t do anything like that with a piddly high school kid.”
“Hey.” He lifted his hands in offense. “I’m going to be one of those piddly high school kids, thank you very much.”
“Exactly,” I said. When he punched me lightly in the arm, I laughed. “Honestly, if they don’t hire her...then we’ll just have to kill off another English teacher somewhere else to get her another opening.”
Aspen was a Gamble now, and we Gambles looked after our own...at least this generation of Gambles did. We weren’t above stooping to devious measures to get what we wanted, either. We wouldn’t honestly commit murder for Aspen, no, but we did appreciate the power of a good lie.
After all, one well-placed lie had gotten “Kelly” away from Oren’s bedroom last night so I could take her place.
I swallowed nervously, letting my mind wander back to him. I wondered what he thought of his Kelly impersonator. I wondered—
“Oh, yeah. I like the way you think.” Brandt’s voice snapped me back to the present. Holding a fist up for me to bump, he nodded his approval. “I’ll come up with a way to take out the next teacher...if we have to.”
I clashed my knuckles with his. “Just don’t make it too bloody.” He knew I had an aversion to blood.
He laughed and started talking about different poisons and ways to “accidentally” electrocute someone. I shook my head, wondering how boys got into such gory things so much. I’d grown up around it, so I was used to it by now, but still. I could never think up some of the strange shit that had at one time or another entered all three of my brothers’ heads.
Brandt and I were halfway through our breakfast when Colton finally stumbled into the room, rubbing his bleary eyes and yawning.
“Morning, sleepyhead,” I called to the nine-year-old.
I was continually stunned by how much he’d grown in the last year. He’d been a frail waif of a thing back home, and he’d gotten sick a lot. I’d been worried about him making it to ten. But ever since we’d moved here, he’d bloomed. Under Aspen’s guiding influence, he’d become so healthy and happy, I started to think he might end up being the biggest Gamble brother of the three.
Which just went to show how awful I’d been about taking care of him. And Brandt too. Brandt hadn’t gotten one black eye from being in a fight since we’d come here, whereas he’d gotten in them constantly back home. I must’ve had the worst motherly instincts ever to let the three of us fall to such depths.
Noel liked to reassure me and tell me that I’d done a fine job, that compared to our mother, I’d been amazing. But the truth remained, he was so much better at being a caretaker than I’d ever been.
That was another reason I wanted to impress my big brother. I’d felt as if I’d failed him. If only I’d taken better care of Brandt and Colton, he wouldn’t have had to rearrange his entire life to scoop us up and move us to Ellamore with him.
As much as I blamed myself for that, Colton didn’t seem to hold it against me, though. After glancing around, probably looking for Aspen—his first love—he padded over to me and crawled into my lap. He was getting way too big for me, but I didn’t care. I curled my arms around him and cuddled him close as I slid his waiting bagel and favorite strawberry cream cheese over to sit before us.
“I had a nightmare last night,” Colton told me, his voice accusing. “But you weren’t in your room.”