No, Not You
“To be honest, Katie, you never were.”
I tore out of the room before she could say another word. My chest felt tight, overly squeezed and compressed, as though there was a big invisible weight sitting on top of it. It felt so unreal, like a good dream turned into a horrifying, twisted nightmare. ‘To be honest with you Katie, you never were.’ How could she say that to me? We were supposed to be best friends. Friends to the end. Forever. What about the friendship T-shirts we made for each other last year? The shopping trips, the camp-outs, the horrible sun burns at the beach, sleeping under the stars in the backyard those late summers’ nights? What about the laughs we shared? The tears we shed in the rain? What about the moments we cherished? What about us bonding over our shared pain? So none of that meant anything to her? None of it was real then? It was all just a game? A lie that had gone on for far too long?
I dragged my feet to the top of stairs but stopped short. She didn’t really mean that did she? I mean, I knew she was mad at me for our skipping school and getting caught. But it wasn’t enough to make her hate me right? All those things that she said weren’t true...were they? Did she really do all those things behind my back because I was never her best friend in the first place? Where did that leave me? What was I supposed to do now? I didn’t have anyone at my side anymore. I couldn’t run to mom for anything because she probably hated my ungrateful guts and I couldn’t run here because Hayden was no longer my friend. I didn’t have a reason to come here anymore.
No reason to come back at all.
I didn’t belong anywhere anymore. I wasn’t wanted by anyone. I placed a trembling hand over my throbbing heart. My body felt cold and hollow all over, empty and drained of anything it had inside. I was panting, releasing quick and shallow gasps into the air, swaying and stumbling in place. My eyes watered, my head pounded, my body weakened and fell against the wall. What was happening to me? Why was I acting like this? I knew where I stood with Hayden now. I knew what Hayden thought of me now. What she had always thought of me. So shouldn’t this be a good thing?
I was nothing but a goody-goody-two-shoes. A priss that wasn’t worthy of any boy’s affection. An insignificant, invisible, plain nobody in the world that no one cared about.
But was what I said to her what I really thought about her? Was it?
Sure, Hayden could be more the a little dramatic and she always liked to be in charge and the center of attention. But did I really think that about her or was it just because I was angry in that moment?
Suddenly I didn’t know anything about anyone anymore. Where was I supposed to go now? To who? For what? Why?
I hung my head as I slowly descended the steps toward the hall that would lead me to the front door. This would be the last time I would ever set foot in this house again. I would miss the pale pink walls, the brown leather couches, and the spicy, zesty odor of Mexican food that always lingered in the air. No more hanging out. No more late night chats on the phone. No more secret best friend hand shakes. No more anything. This was the end. The story of Katie Holm and Hayden Kelmer ended right here.
I sighed and hurriedly dried my eyes with the back of my quivering hand. Goodbye to everything then.
Now all I had to look forward to was a long and lonely summer in Texas with Uncle Jack and Aunt Paula—and that was assuming that they would even take me in after what happened today. I could only imagine what mom must’ve told them. ‘I thought this was a phase, but sadly our sweet little Katherine Kitten has turned into one of those rebellious juvenile delinquents now.’ Well she wouldn’t have to worry about putting up with my delinquency.
I’d go somewhere else then. I wasn’t sure where, but it wouldn’t be around here anymore. What was left for me here anyway? I didn’t have family and I just lost the only person I would ever call my friend. All there was left to do now was start over somewhere else. But where? Mexico? Canada? Where could I go without anybody noticing that I was underage? Chuck-E-Cheese? Argh!
“Katie.” I jumped and quickly grabbed hold of the stair rail to keep from falling down the stairs.
Hayden? My head whipped around, eyes darting back and forth to see who had called out to me. I knew she was just mad! I knew she couldn’t have meant those things that she said! She was just upset, but now she was okay and happy with me again! Now we could be best friends again and—
Instead, I was greeted by the worried, sulked expression of Ray Kelmer, Hayden’s older brother. He lowered his eyes to the ground and scratched the back of his head in discomfort. My heart seemed to sink down into my stomach. Why did it have to be him? What did he want now? To rub it into my face? I wiped my eyes dry again. It was his stupid fault Hayden wasn’t my friend anymore. Why did he have to go and open his big fat mouth anyway?
“Kat,” he said in a soft whisper. “Hayden...she...it sounded...I heard everything she said to you.”
Okay then. Congrats. What did he want me to do about it? Slap him a high five? Throw him a party? He should just mind his own business for once. Stupid jerk.
“So?” I snapped and turned my face away to blink another wave of salty tears from my eyes. “What do you want me to do about it?”
Ray frowned. “I just wanted to let you know that if you need to talk, then I’m just down the hall—”
I snorted and rolled my eyes. What, now he was this caring, kind brother all of a sudden? Since when did my problems matter to him? I always thought he saw me as a nuisance. An annoyance that he couldn’t get rid of. Now he sudden had a change of heart? Now he wanted to be a pal and ‘be there’ for me? Did I really look that naive and stupid to these people? Was I someone that could be fooled and manipulated so easily like a puppet? Was I a toy, an object with no thoughts or feelings? No emotions?
“Thanks, but no thanks, Raymond,” I hissed to clenched teeth. “You always thought I was a nuisance. Just an annoyance. But now after my falling out with your sister, you want to be there for me? A stranger that you don’t even know? Shouldn’t you be in there with...with her and comfort her? She might need to hear those words from you.”
But I knew that I was lying. About Hayden needing someone at least.
I bet she was on her laptop right now, blocking me from her LoveBucket account, spamming all of my emails in her email inbox, deleting all my text messages. She wouldn’t be sitting on the twisty slide at the park bawling her eyes out or trying to figure out how to go up after hitting rock bottom. If there even was up that is. But in the end, that was my problem and not Ray’s or anyone else’s to care about.
So why even bother to pretend to care? Why go through the trouble?
Ray sighed and raked a hand through his wavy, dark gold hair. “I never thought you were a nuisance or an annoyance. Sure, you guys squealing and jumping all over the place for a couple of guys you both idolize and barely know is irritating, but I never once thought that you were an annoying person.” He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair again before shifting his weight from one foot to the other and back again. I raised an eyebrow at him. What the heck was going on with him?
“Katie,” he said again. There was something in his voice that made me want to get closer, to lean in and hear what he would say.
“What do you want?” I asked, my tone not as hostile as before. “What?”
His cheeks darkened into scarlet and his dark, almond-shaped eyes slowly rose and locked with my own. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. What was this feeling? This weird movement in my stomach? Like something like crawling around in there. My hands had stopped shaking, but they were clammy, moist with nervous perspiration. Ray stepped closer, closer still, and kept his eyes trained on my own. I was glued to the spot, immobile and unable to move forward or back away. I was frozen, rooted to the ground, like a statue. Ray paused in front of me. Oh my god. My eyes dropped to his quivering lips, the lusting brown eyes, the tense shoulders of his body. His hands rose and came to rest on my shoulders.
“Ray?” I squealed. I was still unable to move.
Oh. My. God. Ohmygod! He wasn’t doing it right? He wasn’t going to do what I thought he was going to do was he?
Oh god. Not with Ray. I didn’t feel the same way! He was Hayden’s brother for crying out loud. It wouldn’t be right for me to kiss him. Was I even ready to kiss him? Did I want him to kiss me? Oh god. I never even kissed a boy before! Did my breath smell bad? Did I smell bad? I didn’t remember showering today! I must’ve looked horrible with my hair a coppery mess and my face all pale and makeup-less!
Hayden would totally flip out if she came out of her room and saw me lip-locking with her older brother. I shook my head and took a small step backward. Wait a minute. Wait one freaking second. Why did I always have to worry about what Hayden wanted or what she would say all the time? What about what I wanted? What about what I did or said? Why didn’t I ever worry about myself for a change?
Ray slipped a finger under my chin and lifted my head up. Ohmygod! He was doing it! Ray Kelmer was going to kiss me!
“Ray...” This was like a dream come true. Oh my god! My first kiss already? “What...are you doing?”
He leaned forward slowly, pausing only once to look into my eyes, as if trying to ask for permission. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Was this really happening? My lips parted and I let my eyes slowly slide shut. I could feel his hot breath fanning my face like a warm, spicy breeze. My arms reached up and wound themselves around his neck. He stepped closer and brushed his lips against my cheekbone and then dragged it down slowly to the corner of my lips. Whoa. My skin flared with heat. That actually felt nice...
Eden. My body tensed suddenly. What about Eden? The thought was so startling that I gasped and jumped back as if Ray had hit me or something. Ray pulled back as well, wide-eyed and trembling. I wrapped my arms around myself to calm myself down. Eden. Eden Sioux. My Eden. What the heck was I thinking? I couldn’t betray Eden! Not my golden-haired husband! I blinked my eyes a few times and glanced up at Hayden’s brother again. No. No way. I couldn’t go through with this. He wrecked my friendship with his sister after all. To make out with him here would mean that I was somehow betraying Hayden, even if we weren’t friends anymore. Not here. Not now. Not ever.
Ray reached for me again, but I stepped back and shook my head so hard that my curls whipped back and forth across my face.
“I-I’m sorry,” he stammered and ran his hand through his hair. “I-I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable or anything. I...”
“I’m sorry Ray,” I said and smiled sheepishly. “But I...I just can’t kiss you.”
I took off down the stairs before he could react to my words. What the heck was wrong with me? I almost kissed Ray when I didn’t even like him in that way. My cheek still felt warm and tingly where Ray’s lips had brushed against the skin. I almost betrayed Eden. How could I let this happen? What kind of a fan girl would I be if I let just any guy make me forget my love for Eden? What would Eden think of me if he knew about this?
I reached the bottom of the stairs and dove for the front door. I have to get out of here. I couldn’t let myself be tempted by him again. Jerk. How dare he try to kiss me after getting Hayden and I in trouble? I sighed with relief as I yanked the door open...
…and came face-to-face with my mother?
She looked like she’s been crying: red-rimmed eyes, puffy cheeks, tear-streaked face, tousled and wild hair. My heart skipped a beat. Ohmygod. Could this day get any worse? Why was she here? Did she want me back after all? Or was she here to tell me the bad news? Did Uncle Jack and Aunt Paula take me in for the summer after all? Or would I be locked up in some juvenile detention center somewhere?
I wrapped my hand around the door knob as tightly as I could and braced myself for the news. Be strong, be strong. Whatever she would say was for the best right? Even if it meant disowning me or something like that. I sucked in my breath and waited.
“Come along, Katie,” she said stiffly without looking at me. “We need to talk.”
I blinked. She wasn’t going to say it here? It wouldn’t be a say-and-go kind of moment? What was it that she needed to take me home to tell me? Was what she was going to say really thatbad?
My heart seemed to quicken its pace. Oh god. I hope it wasn’t the last time I’d ever see my mother again. I glanced around the house again once more before stepping out into the sunny afternoon and closing the door behind me without looking back. We walked to the car in silence. You know, the kind of silence that had you chewing on your fingernails and mentally imagining every worse case scenario possible. ‘We need to talk.’
Those were the words that people used when they were about to give you bad news right? Like when a doctor was about to tell you that your loved one passed away or when your boyfriend was about to tell you that he just wasn’t interested anymore. Not that I knew what either one felt like by the way.
I rounded the front of the minivan toward the passenger’s seat. Whatever it was that mom was going to tell had to be big because she wasn’t hysterical like she normally would’ve been, crying and yelling all over the place. She pulled the driver’s side door open and climbed inside before pulling the door closed again and starting the engine.
Okay...still no tears or screams. Something was definitely up. We pulled out of the driveway and sped off down the road, neither one bothering to ask the other anything at all. This was awkward. This was so out of character for my mother. She should’ve been having a crisis or a heart attack by now. But no, she was just cruising down the road like it was just a regular Sunday drive after church. If we actually went to church that is.
I sighed and looked around for something to distract myself with. And that was when I noticed two suitcases and a duffel bag in the backseat. Stuffed to the point where the zipper didn’t zip all the way up. I turned and shot my mother a quizzical look. Were we going on vacation or something? What was this all about?
“Mom?” I said slowly as I carefully studied her facial expression. Blank. Expressionless. “Where are we going? Why are there bags in the back?”
She didn’t reply at first. Instead, she just kept her eyes on the road. I sighed heavily and leaned back into my seat. It didn’t look like I was going to get an answer anytime soon. She was obviously still mad about what happened today. Not that I blamed her either.
“I wanted to tell you this at home,” she began in a monotone voice. “But I guess my trashing your room and your taking off like that made chatting with you nearly impossible. Your hating me and all.”
My heart sank into my stomach. I should apologize right now; tell her that it was not the way I truly fault about her at all. That I was acting like a spoiled baby who wanted to get her way all the time. But something told me instead just bite my tongue and wait. To hear her out first before I decided to jump in and defend myself.
Mom sighed and tightened her grip on the wheel. “So, what I want to say Kitty-Kat is that...that...”
Yay! She called me Kitty-Kat. That meant that our reconciliation was well underway. I turned and shot her one of my biggest, brightest smiles yet. Here it comes! Here came the turning point of this horror story!
“Kitty-Kat, honey, I’ve decided to go to Italy to write my next Shannon Monroe novel,” she said and peaked out of the corner of her eye to me. “I’ll be gone all summer with my editor so we won’t be spending much time together unless it’s over the phone or email.”
Wait. What? I blinked to make sure I’d heard right. She was going to Italy? Now? What about our bonding? What about us moving past this terrible situation and just being how we used to be before any of this happened? How were we supposed to bond and be on good terms with each other again if I would hardly talk to her for a good three months? What would I do at home by myself? It wasn’t like I had Hayden or anyone else to keep my company or anything like that. My stomach muscles tightened. Hayden. It wasn’t like she would need me anymore. Argh!
Why was I always to caught up in what she was doing? If she could duke out this whole summer without me, then I could do the same thing right? I didn’t need to depend on her for fun. Humph!I could have fun all by myself.
“The whole three months?” I asked in an unnaturally high voice. “What am I supposed to do at home by myself? Kick rocks?”
I expected her to laugh at my lame attempt at a joke. However, this just made her grip the wheel so tightly that her knuckles turned white underneath the fair, faintly freckled skin of her fingers.
“That’s the thing Kat,” mom replied without looking at me. “You’re not going to be home by yourself. I’ve made a phone call to your Aunt Josie earlier this afternoon and we have both come to an agreement that you will be spending the summer under her care in California. I’ve taken the liberty to pack your belongings in the bags in the back seat. Emergency contacts have been added to contacts list on your phone. Everything has been taken care of.”
I fell back against the seat, heavily stunned into silence. Aunt Josie? In California? As in, on the other side of the country? I hadn’t seen her in almost nine years! And mom thought it was okay to ship me off to the other side of the continent like a package or something? Was she being serious? Why couldn’t I just go to Italy with her? I love Italy! Why not consult me before making such a decision? I didn’t want to go to California! Why not just leave me at home by myself? I wouldn’t get into trouble. Or was she doing this because she thought I would?
The Lauren Holm I knew would never let me out of her sight for an instant let alone send me off with someone I hardly knew.
“Why can’t I just come with you?” I asked. “I barely know Aunt Josie.”
“Joey, honey,” mom corrected. “She likes to be called Joey and it’ll be fun. You’ll have a chance to get to know her and have her in your life again like before when you were little. I’m sure she’d like that too. You’ll have a great time there!”
Mom was a lot of things, but actress wasn’t one of them. The fake cheerfulness in her voice, stiffness of her body, the blank expressionless face. She and Aunt Josie hated each other. They were in two different worlds. Since when did she care about what it was that Aunt Josie liked? Or maybe she just didn’t want to put up with me this whole summer and decided that her sister was better suited for the job? Well, Aunt Josie was very impatient if I remembered correctly. She also had a huge temper too. I sighed and leaned my head against the window. And I didn’t even get a say in anything? Did no one cared about how I felt about this whole mess?
Well this was no point in complaining now. We were most likely on our way to the airport.
But still. She should’ve at least given me a heads up. What if Aunt Josie didn’t want me there in the end? Where would I go then? Somehow, that farm with Uncle Jack and Aunt Paula didn’t seem so bad after all.