Burn for burn, p.3
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       Burn for Burn, p.3

           Jenny Han
 
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  I knew for a fact that Rennie would give Alex so much shit if she knew we hooked up. I was sure I’d get it too, from Rennie, from Reeve, from everyone. Not that either of us thought about that when we were going at it. But it had to have occurred to him afterward, the same way it had for me.

  And then he texted me.

  Welcome home party at my place. Stop by if you’re not doing anything.

  I pushed back my chair. Pat said, “What are you smiling about?”

  I barely heard him. I was thinking about my black lace top with my cut-offs, but then I was like, what if his parents are there? I should probably wear something classy.

  I sat back down. What was I getting so crazy over? It was one night. I needed to pump my breaks.

  I shut off my phone and told my brother to pour me another whiskey shot.

  Around one in the morning I was officially drunk. My dad had gone to bed and Pat was passed out on the living room floor. Our dog Shep was scratching at the back door with his paw, so I grabbed his leash and took him for a walk.

  Of course I ended up at Alex’s house. Even though White Haven was a good six miles from T-Town.

  There had definitely been a party, but it was long over. Plastic cups and trash were scattered around the path leading to the backyard. There was music on, the bad dance-y crap that’s always on the radio, but the volume was turned way down. The lights around the pool were off. There was food sitting out, bowls of chips and a plate of uneaten hamburgers, guacamole turning brown, cups filled with melted pink drinks and paper umbrellas. There were other decorations too. Fishing nets, tiki torches, conch shells. A rumpled-looking captain’s hat hung on a fence post. I heard Shep chewing on something he’d found on the ground. I had to wrestle it out of his mouth. A plastic pirate eye patch.

  I walked over to the pool house where Alex stays and peered in through a window to see if he was awake.

  He was asleep in his bed, lying on his side, on top of the sheets. Some of the copper in his hair had turned lighter, like the color of sand. And he was tan. Tan with freckles.

  He looked so cute, it took me a second to notice the small body curled up in the sheets next to him.

  * * *

  I pass the fountain on my way into school. Alex is there, standing with his friends. Rennie and Lillia are both dressed for the first day of school in some stupid movie. Lillia’s got a lollipop in her mouth. That GoodyTwo-shoes has a serious oral fixation. And Rennie. Just the way she stands in her heels, one hip out to the side, hand on her back, pushing her pathetically small chest out as far as it can go, I can tell she’s ready to own the school, now that she’s a senior. She’s been waiting for this moment her whole freaking life.

  Alex turns his head, and our eyes meet. I wonder for a second if he’ll pretend not to see me. Which would be fine. But he doesn’t. He comes right over, all smiles.

  “Kat,” he says. “Hey, happy birthday.”

  It catches me off guard, that he remembered. And that he celebrated it with another girl in his bed. I have no clue who it was. Not that it matters. “Sorry I couldn’t make your party. Did you have a good time?” I ask, trying not to sound jealous of the girl that he hooked up with instead of me.

  “Not really.” Alex shrugs. “I didn’t even know there was going to be a party. It was all Rennie. She was just looking for a reason to have a party.”

  Rennie? So Rennie was behind his party? It made sense. Those tacky ass decorations and crap. And it’s not like she could invite the whole school over to her mom’s two-bedroom condo.

  Alex keeps going. “Apparently she got Lillia to ask my mom if they could have the party at our house. She had my dad at the grill, cooking steaks. There were a ton of people there, and everyone was in costume. My dad was in a freaking scuba suit. You know how good Rennie is with parents.” Alex shakes his head, rueful. “She got pissed at me when I wouldn’t wear a sailor hat.”

  “Wait,” I say. “There were costumes?”

  “Yeah. Rennie was a mermaid.”

  I grit my teeth. Of course she was. The Little Mermaid was the only game Rennie wanted to play in Lillia’s pool when we were kids. “Sounds fun,” I say, really sarcastic, and then try to step around him.

  “Like I said before, not really.” He steps in my way and lowers his voice. “Wait. Are you mad at me? You did get my text, right?”

  I look him hard in the eyes and say, “Why would you invite me to one of Rennie’s parties?” He knows our history. Everyone does. And I’d like to ask a follow-up question, about the girl in his bed, but I get distracted by what I see over his shoulder.

  Rennie is watching us.

  “Al-ex!” she calls out in a singsong voice. “Can you come here for a sec?”

  “Alex is busy,” I say. “And you shouldn’t interrupt people who are tal-king!” I singsong back.

  Rennie sighs. She grabs Lillia’s hand and pulls her up from where she’s sitting on the fountain edge. “Come on, Alex. We need to talk to you.” But Lillia shakes herself free.

  Alex glances over his shoulder. Annoyed, he says, “How about I just call you later.”

  I wave him off. “Whatever.” Because I don’t want to get into this now, with everyone watching us.

  “I’ll hit you up after football practice,” he says as he walks backward away from me.

  I hear Rennie say to him, “What were you even talking to her about? Are you trying to hire her to clean your uncle’s yacht?”

  Alex starts to say no, but Rennie cuts him off. “You have to be careful, Lindy. I mean, you can’t just let whoever on his boat. What would happen if she took something?”

  I feel my whole body go stiff. Rennie’s the one who liked to shoplift. Mostly makeup from the drugstore, but sometimes a shirt or a bracelet from one of the Main Street shops. I used to be her lookout.

  Rennie has spread a hundred rumors about me over the years—how my dad is a meth dealer and he’s grooming my brother, Pat, for the family business; how I once tried to French kiss her at a sleepover; and how she looked into getting a restraining order because I stalked her when she stopped being friends with me. All kinds of lies, just so she could have something interesting to say. I didn’t even care enough to set the record straight. It was hilarious, what a huge liar she was. She actually believed her own bullshit. Anyway, it wouldn’t have mattered what I said. People were going to believe what they wanted to believe.

  Only now, for whatever reason, I don’t want Alex thinking I’m some low-life dirtbag.

  Over his shoulder Rennie gives me a pleased buh-bye wave.

  Before I can even think about what I’m doing, I’m running to catch up to them. Once I do, I lower my shoulder and bump into Rennie as hard as I possibly can.

  CHAPTER THREE

  MARY

  WHEN I WOKE UP THIS MORNING, I HAD BUTTERFLIES IN my stomach. Lots of them. This is the day I’ve been waiting for.

  I coast through Middlebury and pick up the bike path along the edge of the water where the shore turns rocky at the start of Canobie Bluffs. At the sharpest cliff the path curls into the woods. It’s cool here, under the pine trees, and I like the quiet sound my tires make slipping against the sandy trail.

  Aunt Bette was still asleep when it was time for me to leave, but luckily my old yellow Schwinn was in the garage and in pretty much perfect condition. Not even dusty.

  I wonder what will happen. When everyone else fades away and it’s just the two of us standing toe to toe.

  I could say, Hello, Reeve, calm and even.

  I could say, Didn’t think you’d see me again, did you?

  The possibilities spin around in my head faster than my pedals. I don’t even think about what he’ll say to me. It doesn’t matter. I’m gonna get my moment, and that’s that.

  The bike path lets out at the back of Jar Island High School. I skid to a stop. The high school stretches out just beyond the football field. I’m struck by how huge it is.

  I came here once, as
a kid with Mom and Dad, to see a theater company put on a musical version of The Secret Garden in the performing arts auditorium. I guess at the time I thought that was all there was, but now I see that the auditorium is a whole separate building from the school. There’s also one for the gym, and one for the pool. Kids are everywhere, hundreds of faces, swarming the place like ants. I keep thinking I’ll see someone I know, but I don’t. Everyone’s a stranger.

  I follow the flow of students down a concrete path until it opens up to a big central courtyard. A bunch of guys are playing Ultimate Frisbee on the lawn. There are a few benches, a couple of trees, and in the center, a big bubbling fountain that sends sprays of mist into the blue sky.

  Reeve is here somewhere. I know it. I can feel it.

  I smooth my hair and take a slow spin.

  A girl in cutoff shorts, a black tank, and a cropped black hoodie, dark hair blowing behind her, charges toward another girl, a smaller one with wavy brown hair, and slams into her hard. So hard I hear the smack from where I’m standing.

  The smaller girl stumbles on her high heels, and she almost falls into the fountain. She lets out a bloodcurdling scream. I recognize her now. I think maybe I met her once, a long time ago. Maybe at Sunday school or day camp or something.

  The one in the cutoffs says, “You were the klepto, Rennie! I’ve never stolen anything in my life!” Rennie. That’s right. That’s the small girl’s name. She was in my swim class at the Y in the third grade. The other girl gets up in Rennie’s face. A boy with auburn hair tries to hold her back, but she pushes him away. “And if I hear you spreading any more lies about me, I’ll kill you.” The way the girl says it, dead serious, gives me goose bumps.

  People all over the courtyard slow down to watch, like seagulls circling beach trash. I have this helpless feeling, this sick feeling. But everyone else looks entertained. Everyone except the auburn-headed boy.

  Rennie stands up straight. “Umm . . . you’ll kill me? Really?” She laughs. “Okay, no more lies, Kat. I’ll get real with you right now. Remember that time you came over in ninth grade, begging me to be your friend again?” The smile on the other girl’s face—Kat—disappears. “You were crying, and you kept trying to hug me? Just so you know, the whole time I was thinking how your breath smelled like shit. How it kind of always smelled like shit, even right after you’d brushed your teeth. And I was so relieved when you left that I’d never have to smell your shitty-ass breath again.”

  Kat’s mouth wrinkles up. She wants to say something but can’t. I see it in her face, in her eyes. She starts to cough, and at first I think she’s holding back tears. But then Kat’s head tips back slightly and she spits a huge loogey in Rennie’s face.

  Everyone watching cries out, “Eww!”

  The boy says, “Jeez, Kat!”

  “OH MY GOD!” Rennie screams, wiping at her face furiously. “You are such trash, Kat!” She looks around at everyone watching her, and her cheeks turn bright pink. “Oh my God,” she says again, this time a whisper to herself.

  Kat walks away. She makes eye contact with me as she passes. Her eyes are flashing, and I can barely breathe.

  I feel turned around, not sure which way is up or down, or where to go. Is this what life at Jar Island High is like? ’Cause if it is, I’m not sure I’ll survive the day.

  A pretty Asian girl comes to Rennie’s side and holds out a tissue, but Rennie doesn’t take it. Instead she wilts as a tall brown-haired guy scoops her up and offers her his T-shirt sleeve to wipe her face on. “Come here, girl,” I hear him say. “Fighting on the first day of school! Ren, you know you’re better than that. Don’t let DeBrassio drag you down in the gutter with her . . . But I have to say, watching you two throw down was kinda hot.” He tips his head back and lets out a laugh he must have been holding in.

  I don’t hear it. I don’t hear anything. Just the pounding in my ears. Everything else is on mute. Because it’s him. Right there in front of me, after all these years. It’s Reeve Tabatsky.

  I’d know him anywhere. He has the same brown hair, same Roman nose. And those eyes. Green like sea glass. He’s taller now, much taller. Broad shoulders, muscular arms. He’s wearing a white T-shirt and a worn-looking pair of khakis, and he has a pair of mirrored aviator sunglasses perched at the top of his forehead.

  When we were young, he was a good-looking kid. But now . . . he’s beautiful. He’s so beautiful.

  My legs start to quiver. I can’t do this. I want to run away, to hide, but I can’t move. I just stand there, rooted to the spot.

  The two of them walk in my direction, Reeve’s arm slung around Rennie’s shoulder. I hold my breath and wait for a flash of recognition, something, anything, as Reeve gets closer. But there’s nothing. He walks right past me, so close we nearly touch. He doesn’t notice me.

  I spin around and stare at his back. Did he not see me? Or could it be that he was too distracted by Rennie hanging all over him. Or maybe he did see me but I’ve changed so much, and that’s why he didn’t recognize me. I’m probably the last person he’d expect to see again.

  Dazed, I follow them inside the building. Reeve and Rennie disappear down a hallway together, swallowed up by a crowd of other students. I don’t know where to go. I wander around and end up ducking into the girls’ room as someone exits. I slip into the dwindling space of the closing door.

  My stomach seizes up. I hurry to the last stall and collapse at the bowl, the ends of my hair skimming the water.

  I take a couple of deep breaths. In and out. Maybe it wasn’t any of those things.

  Maybe I wasn’t worth remembering.

  CHAPTER FOUR

  LILLIA

  WE’RE SITTING AT OUR NEW LUNCH TABLE WITH THE regulars—me and Rennie, Ashlin, Alex, Reeve, PJ, Derek, plus a couple other guys from the football team. We inherited this table from last year’s seniors. It’s a tradition. Star table, center of the so-called action. The last day of school junior year, the coolest seniors call the coolest juniors over and invite you to have lunch with them. It’s like the passing of the popularity torch. Too bad it’s just the same as any other gross table in this cafeteria.

  Ashlin is being annoying, going on and on about the sauna her parents had installed. I finally say, “Ashlin, nobody cares,” and her mouth snaps shut, her brown eyes hurt. I feel kind of bad, so I add, “Just kidding.”

  Rennie snags a powdered sugar doughnut off my tray and pops it into her mouth.

  “I thought you weren’t eating carbs during cheer season,” I say, and I pull my lunch tray closer. I only have three left.

  Rennie makes a face at me. “I deserve some comfort after this morning. I should probably get an AIDS test or something. Who knows what kind of germs that skank is harboring.” She gags, and her tongue is white from powdered sugar.

  I can’t believe Kat DeBrassio spit in Rennie’s face. I mean, that was totally gross. But it’s not like Rennie didn’t have it coming. I just can’t believe someone called her out on it.

  Reeve pulls his chair up closer to us. I scoot away a little. He must have used half a bottle of cologne this morning. It’s giving me a headache. He drawls, “Rennie, honey?”

  “Yes, Reevie baby?” Rennie flips her hair around.

  “You know you’re my wifey, right?”

  Eww.

  “Of course.”

  “And a wifey has to make sure her man is taken care of,” he continues. I make a Gag me face at Ashlin, who giggles. Reeve sees me do it, and he waves his hand at me dismissively before turning back to Rennie. “Anyway . . . will you please make sure that I get a cheerleader who knows what she’s doing this year? I’m serious. I can’t have a girl up there representing number sixty-three if she’s just a pretty face. Whoever gets the job, she’s gonna have a lot of airtime, and she’s got to have the entire package.”

  “What’s the entire package?” Rennie purrs.

  Reeve ticks off his fingers. “Rhythm, good hand-eye coordination, flexible enough to do som
e of the more complicated moves. No cartwheel bullshit. I want back handsprings, pop and lock. Good variety. You know what I’m saying.”

  “I know exactly what you’re saying, Reevie,” Rennie says, her eyes bright. “Consider it taken care of.” Reeve reaches across the table and pinches her cheek.

  Rennie slaps his hand away, laughing. “What about you, Alex? Who do you want?”

  “I don’t care,” he says, and he goes back to talking to Derek.

  Rennie mouths to me, What’s his problem? I shrug back. PMS, she mouths.

  She leans forward and takes another doughnut off my tray. “What do you think about me giving Alex to Nadia? . . . I mean, it’s definitely true that if she nabbed a senior player, she’d be hot shit with her little freshman piggies.”

  I snatch the doughnut right back. “Yeah, whatever.” I still feel bad about what I said to Nadia this morning. Maybe this will make her feel better.

  “So you’re cool with that?”

  “Why wouldn’t I be?” I know what she’s getting at, but I refuse to play along. Like I’ve told her a thousand times, I don’t see him that way.

  “O-kay.”

  I get up from the table and walk over to the soda machine before she can say anything else.

  I’m trying to decide between grape soda and Coke when Alex comes up behind me. “Hey, Lindy,” I say, pressing Coke. It occurs to me that Rennie is probably leaning on Alex just as hard as she’s been leaning on me. I bet she’s telling him the same lies too. That I’ve been dreaming of him. That we’re supposed to be together.

  Flatly, he says, “That’s all you have to say to me? ‘Hey, Lindy?’ Have you not noticed that I’ve been giving you the cold shoulder since Saturday?”

  I stare at him, my mouth an O. What’s the matter with him?

  “I can’t believe you, Lillia,” he says, seething. “You and Rennie ambush my house for a freaking party and you make a huge mess with glitter everywhere, and then you dip out after half an hour to go to another party! What the hell!”

 
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