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The Distance Between Us
  • Текст добавлен: 26 сентября 2016, 17:55

Текст книги "The Distance Between Us"


Автор книги: Kasie West






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Текущая страница: 7 (всего у книги 14 страниц)

Chapter 21

Two days later I stare at Xander’s camera bag on my bed. I had uploaded the pictures onto the computer and started working on the website. Anything to keep my mind off the fact that I haven’t seen Xander since Saturday night. I go over the night in my head. Him bringing over the French food, Mason showing up, me stepping back when Xander tried to touch my hair, our fight. I had been giving him the back-off signals all along, but apparently he didn’t take them until now.

I nudge the bag with my toe and sigh. For two days I had been contemplating whether to use the camera as an excuse to see him again. The whole “I just wanted to return your camera” bit. There are two problems with this. One, I have no idea where he lives. Two, I don’t have his phone number. There are also two solutions to this problem. One, I could call Mrs. Dalton and ask for Xander’s number. Two, I can show up at The Road’s End hotel and hope to run into him.

Solution number two wins. My mind spins this crazy idea that if I show up at the hotel he will just magically be there. I can say, “I was in the neighborhood,” and it won’t look so obvious or seem too creepy.

Things never work how I imagine them, though, so as I stand at the check-in counter in the fancy lobby of the hotel, talking to the clerk, I resign myself to the fact that this is not happening.

“I have his camera,” I say again.

“And like I told you before, if you leave it with me I’ll make sure he gets it.”

“If you can just tell me when he’ll be in or give me his address or something, I can drop it off.”

The look she gives me sends a pain through my heart. The look says, Do you know how many girls have tried to get Xander’s information? I take a step back from the look.

“You don’t want to leave it?”

I try to give her the look that lets her know I don’t trust her as I say, “It’s an expensive camera.” My look doesn’t seem to affect her as much as hers did me. The truth is if I were in her shoes, staring at me, I wouldn’t give me Xander’s info either.

I turn around and walk back the way I came, still clutching Xander’s camera. So on to option one, then. I’ll call Mrs. Dalton and get Xander’s number. I need to return his camera, after all. It’s really important.

The bag’s strap is tight around my hand because I have looped it several times to keep it from dragging on the ground. My fingers are turning more and more white the longer the circulation is cut off. Just as I reach the door I stop. Why am I doing this to myself? Why am I hanging onto this so tight? To him so tight? It shouldn’t be this hard. If it were right I wouldn’t be lying to my mother about it. I wouldn’t feel guilty about it. If it were right it would be easier.

I make my walk of shame back to the check-in desk and put the camera on top. “Yes. Will you give this to him?”

She nods and looks like she’s going to say something—thank you, maybe?—but then the phone rings and she picks it up and I’m forgotten. I take a deep breath and walk away. I can leave him behind, too. Here, where he belongs.

As I drive home I notice kids in costume fill the neighborhoods. How did I forget it’s Halloween? Old Town is empty of extra children, though. Not many people live in the business district. I park in the alley and come in through the back. The store is dark, just like I left it. It’s close to nine, and considering her habits lately, I expect my mom to be in bed already. I find her sitting on the couch watching a movie.

She looks over and smiles. “I thought maybe you went to a party tonight that I didn’t remember you telling me about.”

“No. I kind of forgot it’s Halloween.”

She pats the cushion next to her.

“What are you watching?”

“I don’t know, some Hallmark classic.”

I plop onto the couch next to her. “Let me guess, the lady has cancer and the man never knew but always loved her.”

“No. I think the little boy is sick and the mom is realizing how much time she’s spent at work.”

I pull onto me some of the blanket my mom has over her. We don’t say anything, just watch the movie, but it’s comfortable, familiar, and by the end of the movie, I feel much better. I’ve missed her. I’ve missed this.

The next day on my way into the store I brush by the mail carrier, who is on his way out. He nods a hello and I smile. My mom stands behind the counter sifting slowly through the mail. I wonder if she’s taking her time to avoid the bills waiting to be paid with money we don’t have. When she gets to the end she looks up at me. “Hey.”

“Hi.”

She holds up the envelopes. “Are you getting nervous?” she asks.

“Yes.” If only she knew how much.

“When do you think you’ll start hearing?”

“Hearing?”

“From Berkeley, Sac State, San Francisco, you know, colleges?”

“Oh right.” I’d have to send in applications first. “Not yet. By April, I think.” I knew, actually. I knew the deadline for most colleges was fast approaching. I still hadn’t told her my plan to delay for a year or two.

“April? That’s so far away.”

It feels like it’s just around the corner.

She smiles and adds the stack of mail to the drawer then turns to the too-big-for-our-pathetic-schedule calendar on the back counter. She rips off the top month, folding it neatly and tucking it into the cupboard below with the others for future generations to see that we had the most boring year ever. “It’s a new month,” she tells me. “Time to schedule our lives.” She holds her pen poised, ready to put my life back into little defined boxes where it belongs. “Any extra school things this week?”

“No. I have a big test tomorrow, so maybe I should study tonight.”

She blocks off tonight after five for me. “I have a business owners’ meeting next Wednesday night.”

She writes six o’clock down on the calendar without any other details.

“Where is it?”

“I’m not sure. We rotate stores.”

“Then how come we’ve never hosted one?”

“Our store is way too small for that.” She looks at the almost blank calendar. “Anything else?”

My eyes linger on Saturday, the day Xander and I had been doing our career days. It would be his turn. “No. Nothing.”

“Wow, we have an exciting month. I don’t know if we can handle such a full schedule.”

“No birthday parties?”

“Not yet.”

She puts away the pen and gets out some cleaning supplies. Throughout the afternoon I find myself staring at the calendar and the Wednesday night “meeting” written there in black. Why am I so suspicious of that? I had been lying to my mom for the past few months about who I was hanging out with. Is it possible she’s been lying to me as well? The name Matthew pops into my head and I quickly try to push it out. But it lingers there.

“Mom, who is—”

The bell on the door rings, cutting off my sentence. I look over, some silly false hope inside telling me it could be Xander. It’s not. It’s Mason.


Chapter 22

My mom smiles. “Hi. Mason, right?”

She remembers his name?

“Yes. Hi. Nice to see you again. I was hoping I could steal Caymen for an hour or two, if that’s all right with you, of course.”

“That’s perfectly fine. Where are you headed?”

“We have band practice and I wanted her opinion on some songs.”

“He doesn’t know my opinions on music are worthless yet,” I say to my mom.

“She has great opinions,” my mom assures him as if he’s really worried about it.

He walks by my mom and I see her eyes linger on his calf. She points. “What does it mean?”

He twists his foot to look at his tattoo as though he forgot it was there. “It’s a Chinese symbol. It means ‘acceptance.’”

“Very beautiful,” my mom says.

“Thank you.” He turns to me. “You ready?”

“Sure. Thanks, Mom. I’ll see you in a while.”

He puts his arm around my neck. I’m getting used to Mason’s need for human contact. I kind of need human contact right now, too.

I nudge him with my elbow. “You’re wearing shorts in November?”

“It’s not that cold.”

He’s right, of course. On the coast of California the beginning of November is fairly similar to the beginning of most months. “Where do you have practice?” I ask.

He points to a purple van.

“In a van?”

“No, we’re driving there.”

The side door to the van slides open, and Skye climbs out with a smile. “I didn’t think he’d be able to talk you out of that store.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re so responsible. But he assured me that he could. Apparently I underestimated Tic charm.”

More like she underestimated my loneliness. Mason smells good, and I lean into his chest a little more. “Well, my mom was in a good mood. It was really her that made the decision.”

Oh!” Mason says. “Check it out.” He opens the passenger-side door and practically dives in, retrieving something off the floor. He brings out a Starz magazine. “Another article. You should start collecting them. They’re like our claim to fame now, right?”

I grab the magazine and scan the cover until I find Xander under the caption Xander Spence and Sadie Newel spotted in LA over the weekend. The picture is him holding hands with a girl who has short dark hair and long tan legs. My stomach twists so tight I want to vomit. So Xander got more than a customer’s dress shirt last weekend.

I open to the article and read, “Xander Spence, the son of high-end hotel owner Blaine Spence, was spotted in Los Angeles last weekend outside the nightclub Oxygen with his longtime girlfriend, actress Sadie Newel, who has been filming in Paris for the last six months. . . .”

Longtime girlfriend? I can’t read anymore because my vision blurs. There is no way I’m going to cry over this. I had already let Xander go. I gave back his camera, I remind myself. That was my release. But secretly, deep down, I had been hoping he would come back around. I bite the inside of my cheeks and force back the tears. “Wow, exciting article,” I say. “Two people were seen walking. Now that’s news.”

Six months. She’d been gone for the last six months filming. I was his distraction. My mind chooses this moment to remind me of how platonic our relationship has been: how he never walked too close, how he pointedly called himself my friend when talking to Mason, how he never called our outings dates. They were “career days.” How he hadn’t even been by this week. Stupid mind. Why didn’t it tell me these things earlier? I had obviously misinterpreted his reactions to things. I feel stupid. He really just wanted to be friends.

I swallow the tears. Good. This is what I need—a clean break. A firm break. I look at the picture of Sadie Newel. She is beautiful and sophisticated and much more his type.

Henry appears from behind the van. “So are we ready to record our first single?” He’s holding up his phone. “Xander says the studio is totally free right now.”

“Are you okay?” Skye asks quietly. I’m smashed in the middle seat between her and Derrick, the drummer.

“I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?” And by “fine” I mean freaking out. We are going to see Xander. I am going to have to face him. This is not good. I consider flinging myself out of the van now that this news has sunk in properly.

“Because you just found out the guy you like has a girlfriend.” She points to the magazine that had been thrown back into the van and somehow ended up under my foot (I may or may not have purposefully ground my heel into Sadie’s perfect face).

“Was it that obvious?”

She shrugs. “Give me some credit. I am your best friend.”

“Yeah, well, I’m over him.”

“That was fast.”

“That’s because I’ve been trying to get over him since the minute I met him so I’m one step ahead of myself.”

She pats my knee like she thinks I’m in denial. I am not in denial.

Okay, so I’m totally in denial, but I need her to play along with me until all the feelings I am trying to convince myself I have are actually true.

I’m hoping the studio and Xander aren’t a package deal. Because I’m not ready to face him at the moment. It’s completely possible that he just called the studio and told them the band was coming. It didn’t mean he would be there. At least that’s what I tell myself during the fifteen-minute car ride where all the band members are talking excitedly over one another. We drive through a security checkpoint, past a wrought iron gate and onto a tiled drive. The second I see a huge fountain and a house with more windows than I can easily count I realize the studio and Xander are a package deal—they live in the same place.


Chapter 23

Xander meets us in the circular drive, and I try to stay hidden at the back of the group. I wonder how embarrassed I should be about my behavior over the last couple of months. Had he sensed my racing heart every time he came around? Had I looked at him with those stupid doe eyes? Skye had picked up on it. He probably had, too. And now he’s going to think I asked the band if I could tag along just so I could see him.

“The studio is around the back,” Xander says as the guys start to grab their instruments from the van. The sound of his voice makes my eyes sting again. I curse at myself. He continues, “And it’s totally up to you, but the studio has its own instruments if you don’t want to carry all this.”

“Awesome,” Mason says, putting his guitar back. Henry shuts the back.

“Follow me,” Xander says. It takes him a minute to notice me. I had hidden myself pretty well behind Skye and between the bass player, Mike, and the drummer, Derrick. He furrows his brow. “Hey. I didn’t know you were coming.”

“I didn’t either.” I know that sounds squeaky and wrong because my throat is so tight but I try to pretend like I’m perfectly fine.

He hesitates for a second, almost like he wants to say more but says, “Okay, let’s go.” He gestures for everyone to follow. I realize he expects me to catch up with him, walk next to him. I only know this because he glances over his shoulder a few times as we make the journey through his huge yard, past his built-in pool and basketball court. But I stay where I am, between two almost strangers, listening to them banter back and forth. I’m going to prove to him that I know we’re just friends. That we were always just friends. Not only that, but that I have other friends, too, and he doesn’t have to worry about me throwing myself at him.

“Okay, guys,” he says, opening the door and setting his keys and cell phone on the small table to the left. “Get comfortable with the toys. I’ll fire up the equipment.” The band immediately attacks the instruments while Xander stays on this side of the large glass window and starts messing with slides and buttons. Skye floats onto a couch behind Xander and I join her.

Xander shuts both the door that leads to the outside and the one that leads to where the band members are already playing, effectively shutting out the sound. He smiles at me on the way back to his seat, and I’m mad that my heart hasn’t gotten the update yet about his girlfriend because his smile still sends it racing.

“There are some sodas and things in the fridge if you ladies are thirsty.” He points to a stainless steel fridge in the corner then turns, holds a headset to one ear, pushes a button on the panel in front of him, and says into a microphone, “Go ahead and run through the song a few times, and I’ll let you know when we’re ready to record.”

He lets go of the button and spins in his twisty chair to face us. It would be so much easier if Xander were less . . . less what? Confident? Attractive? Flirty?

Yes, that last one would be nice. No matter what my brain had reminded me, Xander is a flirt. If he were my boyfriend and he was hanging out with a girl like he had been with me, I would be angry.

“What?” Xander asks.

“What?”

“You’re staring at me.”

“I am not,” I say.

“You were. Wasn’t she?” he asks Skye.

“Yeah, you were.”

“Well, I’m trying to decide what you have to live for.”

“Excuse me?”

I gesture around this amazing studio that is sitting in his backyard. “How do you manage to get out of bed every day with such a depressing future?”

“Actually, someone is working with me on that very problem. I hope she can help me figure out what my future holds.” That statement makes me remember why we had started hanging out in the first place. We were in the “same” situation, according to him. Maybe he just thought I understood him better than most. I didn’t. We were complete opposites.

The door to the band room opens, and Mason slingshots himself out and flies across Skye’s and my lap, laying his head in mine. “I think we’re ready,” he says to Xander.

“Okay.” Xander waits for a moment, probably thinking Mason is going to get up, then he nods his head toward Mason’s calf. “Nice tattoo.”

“Thanks. Speaking of.” Mason looks at me, grabbing a strand of my hair and twirling it around his finger. I’m grateful for his attention. It makes me feel less stupid about how I’d been acting with Xander. Like he’ll see I wasn’t just pining away for him. “Was your mom being sarcastic today or do you think she really likes it?”

“My mom isn’t the sarcastic type.”

Mason laughs. “Really? Then how did you master the art so well? Is your dad super sarcastic?”

As if sensing the worst topic anybody could ever bring up has been introduced, the entire band joins us in the room that already feels sweltering. My chest tightens with a longing to say, “I have no idea if my dad is sarcastic because I’ve never met the man.”

“She wouldn’t know,” Skye says, not helping matters at all.

“Really?” Mason asks. “You don’t know your dad? What’s the story there?”

I shift, wondering how I can joke my way out of this topic.

Xander looks at his watch. “Guys, I’m on a schedule here. Let’s get this thing pounded out.” He catches my eye for a split second, proving he did that just for me.

Mason rolls off the couch seeming to forget my dad as easily as he brought him up. I wish I could forget him that easily.

The band plays in front of us, like a silent movie, Xander wearing the headphones and making adjustments on the knobs and slides. I’m not sure what those adjustments do, but he obviously knows. Skye stands and helps herself to a soda from the fridge. “Want one?” she asks.

“I’m good.”

She rejoins me on the couch. “How’re you doing?”

“Fine.”

“I get it, by the way.”

“Get what?”

“Him. I get why you like him. There’s something about him.” She points at Xander’s back. Even though we’re not talking very loud and Xander has the headphones on I want to shush her.

“I told you. It’s over. His girlfriend is an actress, Skye.”

She rolls her eyes. “Actresses are overrated. Fight for him.”

I stand, needing to work off some nervous energy. “It’s not a competition when one person has already won.”

Xander’s phone rings from where it sits on the table next to the door. He obviously doesn’t hear it because he doesn’t react at all. I’m standing less than five feet from his phone, so I give in to my curiosity and look at the glowing screen. The picture is what I see first: a dark-haired girl laughing. I don’t need to see the name at the bottom to know what it will say, but I look anyway. Sadie. “See . . . ?” I say, raising one eyebrow at Skye.

“Seriously?” she says.

I nod and then, while looking at Xander’s back and the band still going strong behind the glass, I act on the strangest impulse ever, scoop up his phone, and answer it. “Hello?”

Skye’s mouth opens so wide that I fear her jaw might come unhinged.

“Hello? . . . Xander? . . . I can’t hear you very well. I’m in the car.” Her voice sounds so normal. I had seen Sadie Newel in a few movies, and this version didn’t sound like the sophisticated version from the theater.

I don’t know what to say now that I’ve done it. “This isn’t Xander. Let me get him for you.”

“I can’t hear you. What? Ugh. Listen, my connection is bad, but I need you to work your magic. I’ll call you back when I get to the hotel.” The phone goes dead, and I push it back onto the table as though it’s about to explode.

Skye giggles. “You’re crazy.”

“She didn’t know it was me. She’s calling back later.”

Xander spins in his chair, making me gasp. “Does anyone want to listen?” he asks, taking off the headphones and holding them out.

“Yes.” Skye jumps up and moves forward. When she’s settled into the chair next to Xander’s listening to the band he spins around to face me.

“So why not this?” I ask, sitting on the couch again.

“What?”

“Why wouldn’t you produce music for a living? It seems like a passion of yours.”

He rolls the chair forward until our knees bump. “My father would never front the money for something like that.”

I stare at our knees, wondering if I should use the wheels on his chair to my advantage and shove him away. I ignore the urge. “But he built this studio?”

“My older brother is a classical guitarist. This was to provide a creative outlet. A hobby. I spent a lot of time in here with him learning this stuff. But this is not a career in my father’s opinion.”

“I thought you didn’t care what your father thought,” I say.

He narrows his eyes as if considering the question. “I guess I care what my father’s money thinks.” He rubs the back of his neck. “Without it I can’t be free of him. It’s like a double-edged sword.”

I get what he’s saying: that he needs money to go to college, get his own career, so he can make his own money. But I wonder if Xander really only cares about the money. He seems to put a lot of effort into making his father angry. I’m guessing he cares a lot about what his father thinks.

On the other side of the glass Mason sings with his eyes closed. He looks ridiculous.

Xander taps my knee with a closed fist, bringing my attention back to him. “I’m glad you’re here. I didn’t think . . .”

I tilt my head, waiting for him to finish.

“After last Saturday . . . and you returned my camera without a word. . . .” His eyes bore into mine.

“What?” I ask, dying to know why he’s not finishing his thoughts. What he’s leaving unsaid. Did how we left things bother him as much as they did me?

“I’m out of town this weekend but next Saturday? Are we still on?”

I blink once. That’s what he wants? More career days?

Skye lets out a yelp, startling me. “That was so awesome.” She stands.

Xander stands as well, walks over, and pushes the Mic button. “That’s a wrap. Good job, guys.” He goes to the table and pockets his keys and cell then looks at me apologetically. “I didn’t know you were coming. I really am on a tight schedule.” He checks his watch. “I’m supposed to be at the airport in twenty minutes.”

“I’m pretty sure we can walk ourselves to the car.”

“So I’ll see you next Saturday?”

I want to say, “I don’t know, you better check with your girlfriend first. She just called; should we ask her?” But I don’t. I just nod. Because girlfriend or not, I want to see him on Saturday. Apparently I’m further from being over him than I hoped and I hate myself for being so weak.


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