Home > One Small Thing(14)

One Small Thing(14)
Author: Erin Watt

Jeff grins. “No sneaking out required.”

“But I’m grounded.”

“Don’t worry about that. I’ll talk to your parents. I’m like the parent whisperer.”

“I want to go, too,” Macy declares, tugging on Jeff’s arm.

He flashes a regretful smile. “Sorry, my car’s a two-seater.” Jeff drives his dad’s old Audi TT, or at least he did before he left for England. “If Scarlett’s going, she’ll have to take her own car.”

“Forget it,” Scar says in a flat tone. “I’m out.”

“Why?” I ask in disappointment. It’s always more fun when Scarlett is around.

“I’d only be going to keep you company. So if Jeff’s going, there’s no reason for me to be there, too.”

Her explanation makes zero sense to me. Why can’t the three of us all keep each other company? But Scarlett picks up her phone and starts scrolling through it, making it obvious she doesn’t want to be questioned. So I let it go.

“Meet me after school,” Jeff tells me. “I’ll drive you home. I’ve gotta meet with my guidance counselor now.”

Jeff takes off, and the rest of us finish eating. Scarlett’s quiet for the rest of lunch. I can tell that for whatever reason, she doesn’t like the plan for tonight, so as we’re putting our trays on the conveyor belt, I assure her, “Jeff’s going. Nothing bad will happen to me.”

“It’s Jeff I’m worried about.”

“Ouch.”

She shrugs. “Sorry.” Only I can tell she’s not. “But you’re really all about yourself these days.”

That’s also painful. And I don’t think I totally deserve it, either. I might’ve asked Scarlett to cover for me last weekend, but I’ve always had her back, too. I used to cover for her all the time when she was going out with Matty.

“Jeff’s a big boy,” I retort. “But if you’re so worried about him, then come to the party with us. You’ll be able to keep an eye on him.”

“I already told you, I don’t want to.”

Shrugging again, Scarlett heads toward the cafeteria door. She doesn’t check to see if I’m following her, which tells me she’s done with this conversation. Unfortunately for her, I’m not.

“Scar, come on, wait.” I grab her arm just as she reaches the entrance.

Her expression is cloudy, and she flips her auburn-colored hair over one shoulder like some R & B diva. “What?” she asks tightly.

An unhappy groove digs into my forehead. “Why are you so mad?”

“I’m not mad.”

“You look mad.”

“Well, I’m not.” She flips her hair to the other side. “I just don’t like that you’re dragging Jeff to this party in Lincoln when it’s obvious he doesn’t want to go. I know you’re having a hard time with that asshole killer being back, but don’t take advantage of your friends.”

“I didn’t ask Jeff to take me,” I protest. “I wanted to go with you.”

Scar presses her lips together. “Whatever, Lizzie. I just think you could have handled that differently.”

“Beth,” I say irritably.

“What?”

“It’s Beth. I’ve told you that a million times, but you keep calling me Lizzie.”

“Sorry, Beth.”

This time when she stalks away, I let her go.

We avoid talking to each other in our afternoon classes. Chase shows up for Music History. I avoid him, too. At this rate, I’ll have alienated the whole school by the end of the day.

After class, I pay a quick visit to my locker and then head outside to the parking lot to meet Jeff. He’s already there, and his brown eyes sweep over me as I approach him.

“You look a bit pale,” he observes. “I’m gonna have to take you to get something to eat.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“That’s what you think now. Wait until I get a plate of Freddie’s nachos in front of you.”

“I’m really not hungry,” I insist, but Jeff’s not having it.

“We’ll grab some food after we go to the hardware store so I can talk to your dad. Then I’ll drop you off at home, head to my place to shower and change and come back to pick you up around seven. Party won’t get hot ’til about nine or ten, but your folks will be suspicious if I pick you up that late. We can grab some ice cream or something until we’re ready to go there.”

He has our entire night planned. I find myself both annoyed and impressed.

“Sure,” I finally say, because clearly arguing with this guy is pointless. He’s going to do whatever he wants anyway.

“I honestly don’t know how you’re going to convince my dad of this,” I say as I hop into the passenger side of his Audi. “They’re still pissed at me for sneaking out last weekend.”

Jeff grins. “Oh ye of little faith.” He starts the engine. “I’ve got this.”

After ten minutes at the hardware store, I have to concede—Jeff really is the parent whisperer.

“Thank you so much for the advice, sir.” Jeff transfers the box of nails to his left hand so he can shake my dad’s hand with his right. Under Jeff’s arm is a crowbar. I’m holding two screwdrivers.

“No problem, son. It’s good to hear that you’re working with your hands. Not a lot of kids your age have the patience for this kind of work.”

“I’m going to screw up so bad, but I know where to come if I have any questions.”

Dad beams, his chest puffing out. “My door is always open.”

Jeff wraps his arm around my shoulder. “And thanks for giving me a helper.”

“Hard labor will be good for her,” Dad declares with a hearty laugh.

I’m almost gagging at the sight of these two getting along so well. At home, Dad barely cracks a smile. Here with Jeff, he’s laughing like a giddy schoolgirl. I don’t get it—why can’t he be like this with Mom and me? Mom is worried and hysterical half the time, but at least she can still smile. She still laughs when she’s watching a funny show or if I tell a good joke. But Dad just walks around with a dead, vacant expression. It’s like the mere sight of us reminds him of Rachel’s death, and he completely shuts down.

As we stow away the purchases in the back trunk, I eye Jeff suspiciously. “Are you really building a garden arbor in your backyard?”

“What? You don’t believe me?” He snickers. “Of course I’m not building that. Why would I?” He holds up his hands. “These babies aren’t made for manual labor.” As we climb back into his car, he glances over with a broad smile. “Am I good or am I good?”

“You’re good, but I still have to be home by eleven,” I point out.

“I’ll be able to stretch it out. I mean, we worked so hard on the arbor that we decided to take a break before I drove you home, and then we fell asleep and woke up in the middle of the night, and I panicked but figured your dad wouldn’t have wanted us to drive at night.”

I roll my eyes. I think Scarlett has nothing to worry about when it comes to Jeff. He seems perfectly capable of handling himself in any situation. “That’s some story. Your parents aren’t going to narc on you about the unbuilt arbor?”

“Oh, there’s an arbor going up. I’m just not the one building it. And my parents aren’t going to talk to yours.” He looks over. “No offense.”

He means my parents aren’t rich enough.

“Not offended.” Although I slightly am, because it’s not like Jeff’s family is better than mine. Yes, they have loads more money, but money isn’t what makes a person valuable.

At least not in my mind.

Five minutes later, Jeff pulls up in front of the Mexican place. I’m still not hungry, but I doubt he’d listen to me if I told him. I wonder if Rachel knew how domineering Jeff could be. Honestly, I think it would bother me if my boyfriend was like Jeff, making all our plans and not listening when I said something that went against what he wanted.

I quickly push aside the negative thoughts. I’m making him out to be a monster right now, and he’s not. Jeff’s a good guy. He’s just very decisive. Decisive can be a good thing.

Besides, if it weren’t for him, I’d be stuck at home tonight, sitting in a bedroom without a door and staring at the wall because my parents took my phone away.

So when Jeff turns to me and asks, “We gonna split some nachos or what?” I muster up a big smile and say, “Absolutely.”

12

As planned, Jeff picks me up around seven and we grab some ice cream. He talks about England the whole time, but I’m okay with that because I don’t particularly want to talk about myself. While he blabs, I send Scarlett a text asking if she’s changed her mind about the party and she responds with a curt no. Okay then.

Before the party, we stop by Jeff’s house.

“I’ve gotta trade cars. This is way too expensive to take to Lincoln,” he explains as he drives past the gates and down the long driveway to his, well, there’s no other way to explain it—mansion. I don’t know what Jeff’s dad does, but they have lots and lots of money.

He bypasses the circular drive in front of the house and pulls up along a side entrance. “Wait here,” he says.

One side of Jeff’s house could fit the entirety of ours. I’ve never been inside, but Rachel says it reminded her of a house you’d see in a magazine and that when she talked, it echoed. I mean, she said that. Back when she was alive.

Toward the back, there’s an indoor pool with a slide and a hot tub. Despite all the extras, Jeff never has parties here. Rachel says—said that he’s very particular about who he allows in his space. I guess that’s why I’m waiting outside instead of being offered a glass of water or something.

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