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Here we go. He’s already in surrogate-big-brother mode, even though he’s only two and a half years older and one grade ahead of me. “Been talking to my dad again, have you?”
A strained expression crosses his face as he starts messing with his knee pads. I follow his lead and take my remaining one off.
“Actually,” I say, mentally berating myself for not having the sense to fall back into my silent-treatment bubble, “I should be grateful you and Dad allow me to come here at all. Seeing as it’s so dark, and all sorts of scary, bad things could happen to my helpless little self.”
A muscle in Jeb’s jaw twitches, a sure sign I’ve struck a nerve. “This has nothing to do with your dad. Other than the fact that he owns a sporting goods store, which means you have no excuse for not maintaining your gear. Boarding can be dangerous.”
“Yeah. Just like London is dangerous, right?” I glare across the gleaming cars in the parking lot, smoothing the wrinkles from my red T-shirt’s design: a bleeding heart wrapped in barbed wire. Might as well be an X-ray of my chest.
“Great.” He tosses his knee pads aside. “So, you’re not over it.”
“What’s to get over? Instead of standing up for me, you took his side. Now I can’t go until I graduate. Why should that bother me?” I pluck at my fingerless gloves to suppress the acid bite of anger burning on my tongue.
“At least by staying home, you will graduate.” Jeb moves to his elbow pads and rips off the Velcro, punctuating his point.
“I would’ve graduated there, too.”
We shouldn’t be discussing this. The disappointment is too fresh. I was so psyched about the study-abroad program that allowed seniors to finish out their final year of high school in London while getting college credits from one of the best art universities there. The very university Jeb’s going to.
Since he’s already received his scholarship and plans to move to London later this summer, Dad asked him to dinner a couple of weeks ago to talk about the program. I thought it was a great idea, that with Jeb in my corner I was as good as on a plane. And then, together, they decided it wasn’t the right time for me to go. They decided.
Dad worries because Alison has an aversion to England—too much Liddell family history. He thinks my going would cause a relapse. She’s already being prodded with more needles than most junkies on the street.
At least his reasons made sense. I still haven’t figured out why Jeb vetoed the idea. But what does it matter at this point? The sign-up deadline was last Friday, so there’s no changing things now.
“Traitor,” I mumble.
He dips his head down, forcing me to look at him. “I’m trying to be your friend. You’re not ready to move so far from your dad . . . you’ll have no one to look out for you.”
“You’ll be there.”
“But I can’t be with you every second. My schedule’s going to be insane.”
“I don’t need someone with me every second. I’m not a kid.”
“Never said you were a kid. But you don’t always make the best decisions. Case in point.” He pinches my shin, popping the torn knit leggings with a snap.
A jolt of excitement runs through my leg. I frown, convincing myself I’m just ticklish. “So, I’m not allowed to make a few mistakes?”
“Not mistakes that can hurt you.”
I shake my head. “Like being stuck here doesn’t hurt. At a school I can’t stand, with classmates whose idea of fun is making cracks about the white rabbit tail I’m hiding. Thanks for that, Jeb.”
He sighs and sits up. “Right. Everything is my fault. I guess your eating cement in there was my fault, too.”
The strain behind his voice tugs at my heart. “Well, the slam was kind of your fault.” My voice softens, a conscious effort to ease the tension between us. “I would’ve already aced an ollie if you were still teaching the skateboard class.”
Jeb’s lips twitch. “So, the new teacher, Hitch . . . he’s not doin’ it for ya?”
I punch him, releasing some pent-up frustration. “No, he’s not doing it for me.”
Jeb fakes a wince. “He’d sure like to. But I told him I’d kick his—”
“As if you have a say.” Hitch is nineteen and the go-to king for fake IDs and recreational drugs. He’s a prison sentence waiting to happen. I know better than to get tangled up with him, but that’s my call.
Jeb shoots me a look. I sense a talk coming on about the evils of dating players.
I flick a grasshopper off my leg with a blue fingernail, refusing to let its whispers make the moment any more awkward than it is.
Mercifully, the double doors swing open from behind. Jeb scoots away to let a couple of girls through. A cloud of powdery perfume wafts over us as they pass and wave at Jeb. He nods back. We watch them get into a car and peel out of the parking lot.
“Hey,” Jeb says. “It’s Friday. Aren’t you supposed to visit your mom?”
I jump on the subject change. “Meeting Dad there. And then I promised Jen I’d take the last two hours of her shift.” After looking at my torn clothes, I glance into the sky—the same striking blue as Alison’s eyes. “I hope I have time to drop home and change before work.”
Jeb stands. “Let me clock out,” he says. “I’ll get your board and backpack and drive you to Soul’s.”
That’s the last thing I need.
Neither Jeb nor his sister, Jenara, have ever met Alison; they’ve only seen pictures of her. They don’t even know the truth about my scars or why I wear the gloves. My friends all think I was in a car accident with my mom as a kid and that the windshield messed up my hands and injured her brain. Dad doesn’t like the lie, but the reality is so bizarre, he lets me embellish.
“What about your bike?” I’m grasping at straws, considering Jeb’s souped-up vintage Honda CT70 isn’t anywhere on the lot.
“They predicted rain, so Jen dropped me off,” he answers. “Your dad can take you to work later, and I’ll drive your car home. It’s not like it’s out of my way.”