The next day is Sunday and I sleep in til about one o' clock. I would sleep longer, but when the door to my room flies open with a slam, I sit bolt upright and Tanya dives under the bed with a little yip. My heart is in my throat and I have to blink several times before I can actually see who it is.
It's Melissa. Her face streaked with tears.
“Hey, what's wrong?” I get up and walk over to her, grateful that I don't sleep in my boxers.
“I – ” She tries to start, but can't.
We sit down on the edge of the bed, and I put a comforting arm around her. “Hey, Mel, it's me. It's all right, you can tell me.” I'm so worried now, I don't even care that I haven't put on deodorant yet.
“It's – It's Rock, he – ” She bursts into tears and can't go on.
“Shh, it's okay...is he all right? Did anything happen to him?”
She shakes her head and pulls out a phone, moving her thumbs rapidly over the keyboard. A few times, she has to stop and wipe her eyes so she can see, but when she's finished, she hands the phone to me and buries her face in my pillows.
I read what she typed. I was with Rock this mrning and i had his phone and i ws looking at my messages 2 him and i found a bunch from Gina and they wer planning to “meet up and make out” this weekend...
“Oh no...” I murmur softly, setting the phone down and putting a hand on her back. Rock is my buddy, my best friend...he wouldn't do something like this! I mean, sure, we can all get a little stupid sometimes, but... “Did you talk to him about it?”
She shakes her head. For the first time, I notice how cold she feels and realize she must have run all the way here from her or Rock's house...poor girl...
Still, I know Rock isn't this malicious. “Mel, I'm sure he had a good reason...”
She props herself up on her elbows and glares at me, face red and hair mussed. “SIX. MONTHS.”
My brow furrows. “What?”
“I went through the rest of their messages...and...and that's how long it's been going on,” She takes a deep, shuddering breath. “Six months.”
Now that I think about it, that's about when Rock started acting weird. He must have hooked up with Gina over the summer. I don't know much about Gina, except that she's very quiet and doesn't attract much attention. Why would Rock go for her? Why would Rock ever do anything to hurt Melissa in the first place?
“If he...he had just l-let me go...” She sits up and hiccups. “I would have been...been sad, but I'd be...be over it by now. Ins-stead, he lied to me for half...half a year...” She clamps a hand over her mouth, but not fast enough to muffle a loud sob.
“Oh, Melissa...” I wrap my arms around her and let her cry into my chest, allowing myself one small feeling of victory that she is now available.
Tanya pokes her head out from under the bed and looks at me with curiosity.
I shake my head emphatically.
She ignores me and climbs onto Melissa's lap.
Melissa doesn't even notice anything odd, though, just hugs Tanya and cries harder. I wince, expecting Melissa to lose an arm or something, but Tanya just licks her hand and snuggles closer.
My initial panic is gone, replaced with total shock.
Tanya gives me a smug look. It's only you I don't like.
My shock is gone, replaced with the usual exasperation.
After Melissa calms down a little, she notices Tanya for the first time. “Is this the stray dog you were talking about?” She strokes the animal's head. “Why does she have four tails?”
I start to get nervous again. “Well, she's uh...a different kind of dog.”
“She almost looks like a fox.” Tanya closes her eyes and purrs.
“It's just the breed,” I hurriedly try to change the subject. “Did you see Wood when you came in?”
Melissa shakes her head. “What's her name?”
I sigh. Clearly, there's no chance to get off the topic. “Tanya. After...after my mother. And she's not a dog, she's a Nonextant.” I don't know what I'm saying. The words are coming out of my mouth before I can stop them.
“A what?” Melissa moves closer. “And your mother?”
I shrug. “What about Rock? Do you wanna talk about him?”
Her face hardens and she shoves the phone she's been holding into my hand. “I don't ever want to talk about him again. Give him his phone back so I don't smash it with a hammer.” She sets Tanya on the floor and puts a hand on my shoulder. “I wanna talk about you now, Dash.”
I literally get lost in her eyes for a minute.
Then I blink and clear my throat. “Ab-About what?”
“You! How you found the animal, why you named her after your mother...” She moves her hand to rest on mine. “Just about you! Whenever we talk, we talk about me and I feel bad.”
My throat is suddenly very dry and my hand tenses up involuntarily. This girl has a strong effect on me. “I – I like talking about you!”
She fixes me with one of her don't-argue-with-me looks.
I sigh. “I found her a couple of weeks ago, outside the gym – ”
She gasps. “Were you at a fight?!”
I wince. “Kind of.”
“I thought you hated them!”
“I did! I do! I just – ” I sigh again. “Anyway. There was a raid and – ”
I catch her wrist before she can hit my head. “Look, just let me tell the story, okay? I know I could've gotten arrested, but I didn't, so relax, okay?”
She narrows her eyes, but lets me go on.
“Anyway, I found her, and I couldn't just let her die out there, so...I brought her home and I'm taking care of her...Rock brought all this stuff, and we found a little park where I take her occasionally and she seems to be kind of happy...” She still looks skeptical and I start to feel indignant. “Well, I couldn't just let her die!”
She opens her mouth, then closes it and smiles. “I know. You're not that kind of person. You didn't get arrested and you're careful with her – right?” I nod. “So it's okay. And she doesn't seem that dangerous anyway.”
Tanya rubs her head against Melissa's leg.
“But...why your mother?”
I instinctively fall silent. I can't help it...the words just won't come out.
She puts an arm around my shoulders. “Hey, Dash, it's me. It's all right, you can tell me.”
I chuckle, recognizing my words from before. “I know. It's just...”
“Hard to talk about?” She gives me a sympathetic squeeze. “I'm sorry, we don't have to...”
I shake my head. “No, it's fine.”
She looks at me expectantly.
I take a deep breath. “My parents were both scientists, really smart, famous scientists and they loved Nonextants. And even though the government was already pushing for Nonextants to be outlawed, my parents protested whenever they could… they knew that the animals could be useful.” This is the first time I've actually said what I thought and I have to admit, it feels pretty good. “But one day, when I was about three, they were killed on a field expedition by a Nonextant, which pretty much made up the government's mind. Wood – he's my dad's brother – doesn't like to talk about them...and he hates Nonextants more than anything. So far, he doesn't know about Tanya, but...” I trail off.
She's silent for a minute. “So, if your mom was alive today, you think she'd be okay with you keeping it?”
I nod. “She'd be ecstatic. And so would my dad.”
“So I think it's a very good name!” She hugs me. “And I'll help with her if you need me to.”
I love this girl. I LOVE this girl.
Before I can even hug her back, though, the front door to the apartment slams.
We both stand up quickly and Tanya darts under the bed again.
“That's probably Wood.” I open the door and let Melissa go into the hall ahead of me. “He had a hot date last night.”
“Hot, nothing. Scalding.” Wood grins at us. “Hi, Melissa. Finally give up on Rock?” From behind her, I wave my arms and shake my head frantically, but he doesn't see me. “It's about time.”
She doesn't seem to mind. “Yes I did. And I'm surprised it took me this long.”
He just laughs and flops down on the couch. “So are the rest of us, girlie.”
I shake my head, losing what little faith I had in my clueless uncle. “So where were you this morning? It took a pretty long time to take her home.”
“She um...lives on the other side of town.” He winks.
Melissa giggles. “So was she nice? You think it's gonna go anywhere?”
He nods. “I'm crossing my fingers...but she seems to like me and we had such a good time...” He sighs happily.
Melissa echoes his sigh. “Wood, I really hope it works. That would be great.”
“I gotta go now though. See ya tomorrow, Dash!” She waves and is gone.
We stare after her and then speak at the same time.
“You should've kissed her.”
“I should've kissed her.” I shake my head and punch myself in the leg.
He gets up and starts to make himself some coffee. “So what's up with her and Rock?”
“Rock's been cheating on her for the last six months.” I'm still punching myself. “She found out today and he doesn't know that she found out.”
He whistles. “That's pretty bad. What are you gonna do?”
“Um.” Punch. “Be there for her as a friend?”
He rolls his eyes. “Casanova, you need some serious romance lessons.”
Before he can give me Lesson No. 1 though, there's a knock on the door. We glance at each other.
“Did she leave something here?”
“I don't think so...” I cross the floor and open the door.
“Hi!” Rock grins at me and looks over my shoulder. “Melissa cut our date short, so I thought I'd drop in.”
Wood slips out the still-open door. “I'm leaving before the fireworks. Try not to break anything.”
Rock watches him go, then turns back to me. “What does he mean, fireworks? And – ”
All the emotion I've been bottling up for the last year flies out with my fist. I feel it connect with his jaw and it feels good.
He straightens. “What was that for?”
I hit him again. I know it's a stupid idea – he's bigger than me and has pinned me before – but I'm so angry, I don't care. “You fucking bastard! You – told – her – you – loved – her!” With every word, I smack him with the closest thing I can grab, which, luckily for him, is a couch pillow. “You – told – me – to – stay – away – you – told – me – she – was – happy! You are the biggest fucking idiot I've ever met!”
He's on the floor and I stare at him, panting, while he gets to his feet, rubbing his chin. “How did you know?”
“She told me.” My voice is cold.
“No. The other one. The one you said I couldn't have because she was your ‘soul mate.’”
“Dash...” He takes the pillow out of my hands and puts it back on the couch. “I can explain, all right? I can explain.”
I fold my arms. “Go.”
“I...I just...” He drums his fingers on his collarbone and sighs. “I thought I could get away with it.”
“Great explanation, Rock.” I turn away.
“Here's your phone,” I toss it over my shoulder without looking, but I don't hear a crash so he must have caught it.
There's a long pause.
“Can I just see – ”
“No, you can't see Tanya. She loves Melissa even more than I do, if that's possible, and she won't be afraid to really hurt you.” I'm almost on the brink of crying. “God, I hate you, Rock. Not so much because you did this, but because you lied to both of your best friends about it.” I'm glad I'm not facing him; my eyes are full of tears. “That was six months I had without her, six months being the awkward third wheel and not getting a date for the dances.” I stop myself before I sob. “You suck.”
I hear the noise of scuffing feet. “I know. I'm sorry. I don't deserve her. Or you.” He starts to walk away.
“And I'm telling Gina.”
He stops. “What?”
“She deserves to know too. If you don't tell her, I will.”
“I can't just – Dash, please! I won't have anyone!”“Then you'll know how I felt.” I stalk to my bedroom and slam my door as hard as I can.