"You're tired," Oliver bellowed. "You told her you were tired and you wanted to go to sleep?"
"Something like that."
"Are you insane?"
Oliver stared at her across the table. Amber and Ashley had long since headed up to the pier to talk, no doubt dissecting everything Lilly had said to Ashley, adding unnecessary drama to a situation that probably should have remained private. With Ashley, though, there was always drama. She had the sudden sense that the summer was going to be a long one.
"I am tired," Lilly said. "Aren't you?"
"Maybe you didn't hear what she was suggesting. Me and Amber, you and Ashley? Her parents place at the beach?"
"She mentioned it."
"And we're still here because...?"
"I already told you."
Oliver shook his head. "No...see, that's where you lose me. You use the 'I'm tired' excuse on your parents when they want you to wash the car, or when they tell you to get up so you can make it to church. Not when it comes to an opportunity like this."
Lilly said nothing. Though Oliver was only a year younger, he'd be a senior at Laney High School in the fall, he often acted as if he was Lilly's older and wiser brother.
Except that night at the church.....
"See that guy over there at the basketball booth? Now him, I get. He stands there all day trying to get people to play the game so he can earn a little money and buy himself some beer and cigarerres at the end of his shift. Simple. Uncomplicated. Not my kind of life, but one I can understand. But you, I don't get. I mean....Did you see Ashley tonight? She's gorgeous. She looks like that chick on Maxim."
"My point is, she's hot."
"I know. We were together for a couple of years, remember?"
"And I'm not saying you have to get back together with her. All I am suggesting is that the four of us head over to her place, have some fun, and see what happens."
Oliver leaned back in his seat. "And by the way? I still don't understand why you broke up with her in the first place. It's obvious she's still into you, and you two always seemed perfect together."
Lilly shooked her head. "We weren't perfect together."
"You've said that before, but what does that mean? Is she, like....psycho or something when you two were alone? What happened? Did you find her standing over you with a butcher knife, or did she howl at the moon when you went to the beach?"
"No, nothing like that. It just didn't work out, thats all."
"It just didn't work out," Oliver repeated. "Can you even hear yourself?"
When Lilly showed no signs of relenting, Oliver leaned across the table. "C'mon, man. Do this for me, then. Live a little. It's summer vacation. Take one for the team."
"Now you sound desperate."
"I am desperate. Unless you agree to go with Ashley tonight, Amber won't go with me. And we're talking about a girl who's ready to 'Romance the Stone.' She wants to 'Free Willy.'"
"I'm sorry. But I can't help you."
"Fine. Ruin my life. Who cares, right?"
"You'll survive." She paused. "You hungry?"
"A little," Oliver grumbled.
"C'mon. Let's get some cheeseburgers."
Lilly got up from the table, but Oliver continued to pout. "You need to practice digging," he said, referring to earlier volleyball games. "You were sending the ball in every direction. It was all I could do to keep us in the games."
"Ashley told me I was as good as you are."
Oliver snorted and pushed up from the table. "She doesn't know what she is talking about."
After standing in line for their food, Lilly and Oliver moved to the condiment stand, where Oliver drenched his burger in ketchup. It squeezed out the sides as Oliver put the bun back on.
"That's disgusting," Lilly commented.
"So get this. There was this guy named Ray Kroc and started this company called McDonald's. Ever heard of it? Anyway, on his original hamburger, in many ways the original American hanburger, mind you, he insisted that ketchup be added. Which should tell you how important it is to the overall taste."
"Keep talking. You're just so facinating. I'm going to get something to drink."
"Get me a bottled water, will you?"
As Lilly walked off, something white flashed by her, heading in Oliver's direction; Oliver saw it, too, and instinctively lunged out of the way, dropping his cheeseburger in the process.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Oliver demanded, spinning around. On the ground lay a wadded up box of French fries. Behind him, Teddy and Lance had their hands stuffed in their pockets. Rico was standing between them, trying and failing to appear innocent.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Rico answered.
"This!" Oliver snarled, kicking the box back at them.
It was the tone, Lilly would later think, that made everyone around them tense. Lilly felt the hair on his neck prickle at the palpable, almost physical dislocation of air and space, a tremor that promised violence.
Violence that Rico abviously wanted.....
As if he were baiting her.
Lilly saw a father scoop up his son and move away, while Ashley and Amber, back from the pier, froze on the outskirts. Off to the side, Lilly recognized Galadriel--she called herself Mikayla these days--circling closer.
Oliver glared at them, his jaw clenching. "You know, I'm getting sick and tired of your crap."
"Whatcha gonna do?" Rico smirked. "Shoot a bottle rocket at me?"
That was all it took. As Oliver took a sudden step forward, Lilly pushed her way frantically through the crowd, trying to reach her friend in time.
Rico didn't move. Not good. Lilly knew he and his friends were capable of anything...and worst of all, they knew what Oliver had done...
But Oliver, in a fury, didn't seem to care. As Lilly surged forward, Teddy and Lance fanned out, drawing Oliver into their midst. He tried to close the gap, but Oliver was moving too quickly, and suddenly everything seemed to happen at once. Rico took a half step backward as Teddy kicked over a stool, forcing Oliver to jump out of the way. He slammed into a table, toppling it. Oliver caught his balance and balled his hands into fists. Lance closed in from the side. As Lilly forced her way forward, gaining momentum, she vaguely heard the wailing sounds of a toddler. Breaking free of the crowd, she veered toward Lance when all at once a girl stepped forward into the fray.
"Just stop!" the girl shouted, thrusting her arms out. "Knock it off. All of you!"
Her voice was surprisingly loud and authoritative, enough to make Lilly stop in her tracks. Everyone else froze, and in the sudden silence, the cries of the toddler sounded shrill. The girl pivoted, glaring at each of the brawlers in turn, and as soon as Lilly saw the purple streak in her hair, she realized exactly where she'd seen her before. Only now she was wearing an oversize T-shirt with a fish on the front.
"The fight's over! There is no fight! Can't you see this kid is hurt?"
Challenging them to contradict her, she pushed her way between Oliver and Rico and stooped to the crying toddler, who had been knocked over in the commotion. He was three or four, and his shirt was pumpkin orange. When the girl spoke to him, her voice was soft, her smile reassuring.
"Are you okay, sweetie? Where's your mom? Let's go find her, okay?"
The toddler seemed focus momentarily on her shirt.
"This is Nemo," she said. "He got lost, too. Do you like Nemo?"
Off to the side, a panic stricken woman holding a baby pushed through the crowd, oblivious to the tension in the air. "Jason? Where are you? Have you seen a little boy? Blond hair, orange shirt?"
Relief crossed her featuresas soon as she spotted him. She adjusted the baby on her hip as she rushed to his side. "You can't run off like that, Jason!" she cried. "You scared me. Are you okay?"
"Nemo," he said, pointing at the girl.
The mother turned, noticing the girl for the first time. "Thank you, he just wandered off when I was changing the baby's diaper and...."
"It's okay," the girl said, shaking her head. "He's fine."
Lilly watched the mother lead her kids away, then she turned back to the girl, noticing the kind way she smiled as the young boy toddled off. Once the'd moved far enough away, however, the girl suddenly seemed to realize that everyone in the crowd was staring at her. She crossed her arms, self conscious when the crowd began to part for a rapidly approaching police officer.
Rico quickly murmered something to Oliver before melting back into the crowd. Teddy and Lance did the same. Mikayla turned to follow them as well, and surprising Lilly, the girl with the purple streak reached out to grab her arm.
"Wait! Where are you going?" she called out.
Mikayla shook her arm free, walking backward. "Bower's Point."
"Just head down the beach. You'll find it." Mikayla turned and rushed after Rico.
The girl seemed unsure what to do. By then the tension, so thick only moments before, was dissipating as quickly as it had arisen. Oliver righted the table and headed toward Lilly just as the girl was approached by a man he assumed was her father.
"There you are!" he called out with a mixture of relief and exasperation. "We've been looking for you. You ready to go?" The girl, who'd been watching Mikayla, was obviously unhappy to see him.
"No," she said simply. With that, she strode into the crowd, heading for the beach. A young boy walked up to the father.
"I guess she's not hungry," the boy offered.
The man put his hand on the boy's shoulder, watching as she descended the steps to the beach without a backward glance. "I guess not," he said.
"Can you believe that?" Oliver raged, pulling Lilly away from the scene she'd been observing so closely. Oliver was stilled hyped up, the adrenaline surging. "I was about to pound that freak."
"Uh....yeah," she responded. She shook her head. "Im not sure Teddy and Lance would have let you."
"They wouldn't have done anything. Those guys are all show."
Lilly wasn't so sure about that, but she didn't say anything.
Oliver took a breath. "Hold up. Here comes the cop."
The officer approached them slowly, obviously trying to gauge the situation.
"What's going on here?" he demanded.
"Nothing, officer," Oliver answered, sounding demure.
"I heard there was a fight."
The officer waited for more, his expression skeptical. Neither Oliver nor Lilly said anything. By then, the condiment area was filling with people going about their business. The officer surveyed the scene, making sure he wasn't missing anything, then suddenly his face lit up with recongnition at the sight standing behind Lilly.
"Is that you Robbie?" he called out.
Lilly watched him stride off toward the girl's father.
Ashley and Amber sidled up to them. Amber's face was flushed. "Are you okay?" she fluttered.
"I'm fine," Oliver answered.
"That guy's crazy. What happened? I didn't see how it started."
"He threw something at me, and I wasn't going to put up with it. I'm sick and tired of the way that guy acts. He thinks everyone's afraid of him and that he can do whatever he wants, but the next time he tries, it's not going to be pretty..."
Lilly tuned him out. Oliver was always a big talker; he did the same thing during volleyball matches, and Lilly had learned long ago to ignore it.
She turned away, catching sight of the officer chatting with the girl's dad, wondering why the girl had been so intent on getting away from her father. And why she was hanging out with Rico. She wasn't like them, and she somehow doubted she knew what she was getting into with them. As Oliver went on, assuring Amber that he could easily have handled the three of them, Lilly found herself straining to overhear the police officer's conversation with the girl's father.
"Oh, hey, Pete," the father said. "What's going on?"
"Same old stuff," the officer responded. "Doing my best to keep things under control out here. How's the window coming?"
"That's what you said the last time I asked."
"Yeah, but not I've got a secret weapon. This is my son, Jackson. He's going to be my assistant this summer."
"Yeah? Good for you, little man...Wasn't your daughter supposed to come down here, too, Robbie?"
"She's here," the father said.
"Yeah, but she left again," the boy added. "She's pretty mad at dad."
"Sorry to hear that."
Lilly watched the father point toward the beach. "Do you have any idea where they might be going?"
The officer squinted as he scanned the waterline. "Could be anywhere. But a couple of those kids are bad news. Especially Rico. Trust me, you don't want her keeping company with him."
Oliver was still boasting to a rapt Amber and Ashley. Blocking him out, Lilly suddenly felt the urge to call out to the police officer. She knew it wasn't her place to say anything. She didn't know the girl, didn't know why she'd stormed off in the first place. Maybe she had a good reason. But as she saw the concern crease her dad's face, she recalled her patience and kindess when she'd rescued the toddler, and the words were out before she could stop them.
"She went to Bower's Point," she announced.
Oliver stopped talking in midsentence, and Ashley turned to her with a frown. The other three studied her uncertainly.
"Your daughter, right?" When the father nodded slightly, she went on. "She's going to Bower's Point."
The officer continued to stare at her, then turned back to the father. "When I finish up here, I'll go talk to her and see if I can convince her to go home, okay."
"You don't have to do that, Pete."
The officer continued to study the group in the distance. "I think in this instance, it's better if I go."
Inexplicably, Lilly felt a strange wave of relief. It must have shown, because when she turned back toward her friends, each of them was staring at her.
"What the hell was that all about?" Oliver demanded.
Lilly didn't answer. She couldn't, because she didn't really understand it herself.
Under normal circumstances, Miley probably would have appreciated an evening like this. In New York, the lights from the city made it impossible to see many stars, but here, it was just the opposite. Even with the layer of marine haze, she could clearly make out the Milky Way, and directly to the south, Venus glowed brightly. The waves crashed and rolled rhythmically along the beach, and on the horizon, she could see the faint lights of half a dozen shrimp boats.
But the circumstances weren't normal. As she stood on the porch, she glared at the officer, livid beyond belief.
No, change that. She wan't just livid. She was seething. What had happened was so...overprotective, so over the top, she could still barely process it. Her first thought was simply to hitchhike to the bus station and buy herself a ticket to New York. She wouldn't tell her dad or her mom; she'd call Joannie. Once she was there, she would figure out what to do bext. No matter what she decided, it couldn't be any worse than this.
But that wasn't possible. Not with Officer Pete here. He stood behind her now, making sure she went inside.
She still couldn't believe it. How could her dad, her own flesh and blood father, do something like this? She was almost an adult, she hadn't been doing anything wrong, and it wasn't even midnight. What was the problem? Why did he have to turn this into something far bigger than it was? Oh sure, at first Officer Pete had made it sound like it had been an ordinary, run-of-the-mill order to vacate their spot on Bower's Point, something that hadn't surprised the other, but then he's turned to her. Zeroed in on her specifically.
"I'm taking you home," he'd said, making it sound as if she were eight years old.
"No thanks," she responded.
"Then I'll have to arrest you in vagrancy charges, and have your dad bring you home."
It dawned on her then that her dad had asked the police to bring her home, and there was an instant when she was frozen in mortification.
Sure, she'd had problems with her mom, and yeah, she'd blown off her curfew now and then. But never, ever, not even once, had her mother sent the police after her.
On the porch, the officer intruded on her thoughts. "Go on in," he prompted, making it fairly clear that if she didn't open the door, he would.
From inside, she could hear the soft sounds of the piano, and she recognized the sonata by Edvard Grieg in E minor. She took a deep breath before opening the dor, then slammed it shut behind her.
Her father stopped playing and looked up as she glared at him.
"You sent the cops after me?"
Her dad said nothing, but his silence was enough.
"Why would you do something like that?" she demanded. "How could you do something like that?"
He said nothing.
"What is it? You didn't want me to have fun? You didn't trust me? You didn't get the fact I don't want to be here?"
Her father folded his hands in his lap. "I know you don't want to be here...."
She took a step forward, still glaring. "So you decide you want to ruin my life, too?"
"Who cares!" she shouted. "That's not the point! You're not going to monitor every single person I ever talk to, so don't even try."
"I'm not trying...."
"I hate being here! Don't you get that? And I hate you, too!"
She stared at him, her face daring him to contradict her. Hoping he'd try, so she'd be able to say it again.
But her dad said nothing as usual. She hated that kind of weakness. In a fury, she crossed the room toward the alcove, grapped the picture of her playing the piano, the one with her dad beside her on the bench, and hurled it across the room. Though he flinched at the sound of breaking glass, he remained quiet.
"What? Nothing to say?"
He cleared his throat. "Your bedrom's the first door on the right."
She didn't even want to dignify his comment with a response, so she stormed down the hall, determined to have nothing more to do with him.
"Good night, sweetheart," he called out. "I love you."
There was a moment, just a moment, when she cringed at what she'd said to him; but her regret vanished as quickly as it had come. It was as if he hadn't even realized she'd been anngry, she heard him begin to play the piano again, picking up exactly where he had left off.
In the bedroom, not hard to find, considering there were only three doors off the hallway, one to the bathroom and the other to her dad's room, Miley flipped on the light. With a frustrated sigh, she peeled off the ridiculous Nemo T-shirt she'd almost forgotten she was wearing.
It had been the worst day of her life.
Oh, she knew she was being melodramatic about the whole thing. She wasn't stupid. Still, it hadn't been a great one. About the only good think to come out of the whole day was meeting Mikayla, which gave her hope that she'd have at least one person to spend time with this summer.
Assuming, of course, that Mikayla still wanted to spend time with her. After dad's little stunt, even that was in doubt. Mikayla and the rest of them were probably still talking about it. Probably laughing about it. It was the kind of thing Joannie would bring up for years.
The whole thing made her sick to her stomach. She tossed the Nemo shirt into the corner, if she never saw it again, it would be too soon, and began slipping off her concert shirt.
"Before I get too grossed out, you should know I'm in here."
Miley jumped at the sound, whirling around to see Jackson staring at her.
"Get out!" she screamed. "What are you doing in here? This is my room!"
"No, it's our room," Jackson said. He pointed. "See? Two beds."
"I'm not going to share a room with you."
He tilted his head to the side. "You're going to sleep in dad's room?"
She opened her mouth to respond, considered moving to the living room before quickly realizing she wasn't going out there again, then closed her mouth without a word. She stomped toward her suitcase, unzipped the top, and flung open the lid. Anna Karenina lay on top, and she tossed it aside, searching for her pajamas.
"I rode the ferris wheel," Jackson said. "It was pretty cool to be so high. That's how dad found you."
"It was awsome. Did you ride it?"
"You should have. I could see all the way to New York."
"I doubt it."
"I could. I can see pretty far. With my glasses, I mean. Dad said I have eagle eyes."
Jackson said nothing. Instead, he reached for the teddy bear he'd brought with him from home. It was the one he clutched whenever he was nervous, and Miley winced, regretting her words. Sometimes the way he talked made it easy to think of him as an adult, but as he pulled the bear to his chest, she knew she shouldn't have been so harsh. Though he was precocious, though he was verbal to the point of annoyance at times, he was small for his age, more the size of a six or seven year old than a ten year old. It had never been easy for him. He'd been born three months prematurely, and he suffered from asthma, poor vision, and a lack of fine motor coordination. She knew kids his age could be cruel.
"I didn't mean that. With your glasses, you definitely have eagle eyes."
"Yeah, they're pretty good now," he mumbled, but when he turned away and faced the wall, she winced again. He was a sweet kid. A pain in the ass sometimes, but she knew he didn't have a mean bone in him.
She went over to his bed and sat beside him. "Hey," she said. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. I'm just having a bad night."
"I know," he said.
"Did you go on any of the other rides?"
"Dad took me on most of them. He almost got sick, but I didn't. And I wasn't scared at all in the haunted house. I could tell the ghosts were fake.
She patted him on the hip. "You've always been pretty brave."
"Yeah," he said. "Like that time when the lights went out in the apartment? You were scared that night. I wasn't scared, though."
He seemed satisfied with her answer. But then he grew quiet, and when he spoke again, his voice was barely above a whisper. "Do you miss mom?" Miley reached for the covers. "Yeah."
"I kind of miss her, too. And I didn't like being here alone."
"Dad was in the other room," she said.
"I know. But I'm glad you came home anyway."
He smiled before looking worried again. "Do you think mom is doing okay?"
"She's fine," she assured him. She pulled up the covers. "But I know she misses you, too."
In the morning, with sunlight peeking through the curtains, it took Miley a few seconds to realize where she was. Blinking at the clock, she thought, You've got to be kidding me.
Eight o'clock? In the morning? In the summer?
She plopped back down, only to find herself staring at the ceiling, already knowing sleep was out of the question. Not with the sun shooting daggers through the windows. Not with her father already hammering on the piano in the living room. As she suddenly remembered what had happened last night, the anger she felt at what her father had done resurfaced.
Welcome to another day in paradise.
Outside the window, she heard the distant roar of engines. She rose from the bed and pulledaside the curtain, only to jump back, startled at the sight of a raccoon sitting atop a torn bag of garbage. While the strewn garbage was gross, the raccoon was cute, and she tapped the glass, trying to get its attention.
It was only then that she noticed the bars on the window.
Bars. On. The. Window.
Gritting her teeth, she whirled around and marched into the living room. Jackson was watching cartoons and eating a bowl of ceral; her dad glanced up but continued to play.
She put her hands on her hips, waiting for him to stop. He didn't. She noticed that the picture she'd thrown was back in the place atop the piano, albeit without the glass.
"You can't keep me locked up all summer," she said. "It's not going to happen."
Her dad glanced up, though he continued to play. "What are you talking about?"
"You put bars on the window! Like I'm supposed to be your prisoner?"
Jackson continued to watch the cartoon. "I told you she'd be mad," he commented.
Robbie shook his head, his hands continuing to move across the keyboard. "I didn't put them up. They came with the house."
"I don't believe you."
"They did," Jackson said. "To protect the art."
"I'm not talking to you, Jackson!" She turned back to her dad. "Let's get one thing straight. You're not going to spend this summer treating me like I'm still a little girl! I'm eighteen years old!"
"You won't be eighteen untill August twentieth," Jackson said behind her.
"Would you please stay out of this!" She whirled around to face him. "This is between me and dad."
Jackson frowned. "But you're not eighteen yet."
"Thats not the point!"
"I thought you forgot."
"I didn't forget! I'm not stupid."
"But you said.."
"Would you just shut up for a second?" she said, unable to hide her exasperation. She swiveled her gaze back to her dad, who'd continued to play, never missing a note. "What you did last night was..." She stopped, unable to put all that was going on, all that had happened, into words. "I'm old enough to make my own decisions. Don't you get that? You gave up the right to tell me what to do when you walked out the door. And would you please listen to me!"
Abruptly, her dad stopped playing.
"I don't like this little game you're playing."
He seemed confused. "What game?"
"This! Playing the piano every minute I'm here! I don't care how much you want me to play! I'm never going to play the piano again! Especially not for you!"
She waited for more, but there was nothing.
"That's it?" she asked. "Thats all you're going to say?"
Her dad seemed to debate how to answer. "Do you want breakfest? I made some bacon."
"Bacon?" she demanded. "You made bacon?"
"Uh oh," Jackson said.
Her dad glanced at Jackson.
"She's a vegetarian, dad," he explained.
"Really?" he asked.
Jackson answered for her. "For three years. But she's weird sometimes, so it makes sense."
MIley stared at them in amazement, wondering how the conversation had been hijacked. This wasn't about bacon, this was about what happened last night. "Let's get one thing straight," she said. "If you ever send the police to bring me home again, I won't just refuse to play the piano. I won't just go home. I'll never, ever speak to you again. And if you don't believe me, try me. I've already gone three years without talking to you, and it was the easiest thing I've ever done."
With that, she stomped back to her room. Twenty minutes later, after showering and changing, she was out the door.
Her first thought as she trudged through the sand was that she should have worn shorts.
It was already hot, the air thick with humidity. Up and down the beach, people were already lying on towels or playing in the surf. Near the ier, she spotted half a dozen surfers floating on their boards, waiting for the perfect wave.
Above them, at the head of the pier, the festival was no more. The rides had been disassembled and the booths had already been hauled away, leaving behind only scattered garbage and food remnants. Moving on, she wandered through the town's small business district. None of the stores were open yet, but most were the kind she would never set foot in anyway, touristy beach shops, a couple of clothing stores that seemed to specialize in skirts and blouses that her mom might wear, and a Burger King and McDonald's, two places she refused to enter on principle. Add in the hotel and half a dozen upscale resturants and bars, and that was pretty much it. In the end, the only interesting locales were a surf shop, a music store, and old fashioned diner where she could imagine hanging out with friends....if she ever made any.
She headed back to the beach and skipped down the dune, noting that the crowds had multiplied. It was gorgeous, breezy day, the sky overhead was a deep, cloudless blue. If Joannie had been here, she'd even consider spending the day in the sun, but Joannie wasn't here and she wasn't here and she wasn't about to put her suit on and go sit by herself. But what else was there to do?
Maybe she should try to get a job. It would give her an excuse to be out of the house most of the day. She hadn't seen any "Help Wanted" signs in the windows downtown, but someone had to be hiring, right?
"Did you make it home okay? Or did the cop end up making a pass at you?"
Looking behind her, Miley saw Mikayla squinting up at her from the dune. Lost in thought, she hadn't even noticed her.
"No, he didn't make a pass at me."
"Oh, so yuo made a pass at him?"
Miley crossed her arms. "Are you done?"
Mikayla shrugged, her expression mischievous, and Miley smiled.
"So what happened after I left? Anything exciting?"
"No. The guys took off and I don't know where they went. I ended up just crashing at Bower's Point."
"You didn't go home?"
"No." She got to her feet, brushing the sand from her jeans. "Do you have any money?"
Mikayla stood straight. "I haven't eaten since yesturday morning. I'm kind of hungry."
Lilly stood in the well beneath the Ford Explorer in her uniform, watching the oil drain while simultaneously doing her best to ignore Oliver, something easier said than done. Oliver had been haranging her about the previous evening on and off since they'd arrived at work that morning
"See, you were thinking about this all wrong," Oliver continued, trying yet another tack. He retrieved three cans of oil and set them on the shelve beside him. "There's a difference between hooking up and getting back together."
"Aren't we done with this yet?"
"We would be if you had any sense. But from where I stand, it's obvious you were confused. Ashley doesn't want to get back together with you."
"I wasn't confused," Lilly said. She wiped her hands on a towel. "That's exactly what she was asking."
"That's not what Amber told me."
Lilly set aside the towel and reached for her water bottle. Her dad's shop specialized in brake repairs, oil changes, tune ups, and front end alignments, and her dad always wanted the place to look as though the floor had been waxed and the place just opened for business. Unfortunately, air conditioning hadn't been quite as important to him, and in the summer, the temperature was somewhere between the Mojave and the Sahara. She took a long drink, finishing the bottle before trying to get through to Oliver again. Oliver was far and away the most stubborn person she'd ever known. The guy could seriously drive her nuts.
"You don't know Ashley the way I do," she sighed. "And besides, it's over and done. I don't know why you keep talking about it."
"You mean aside from the fact that Harry didn't meet Sally last night? Because I'm your friend and I care about you. I want you to enjoy this summer. I want to enjoy this summer. I want to enjoy Amber."
"So go out with her, then."
"If only it was that easy. See, last night I suggested the same thing. But Ashley was so upset that Amber didn't want to leave her."
"I'm really sorry it didn't work out."
Oliver was dubious. "Yeah I can tell."
By that point, the oil had drained. Lilly grabbed the cans and headed up the steps while Oliver stayed below to replace the plug and dump the used oil into the recycling barrel. As Lilly opened the can and set the funnel, she glanced at Oliver below.
"Hey, by the way, did you see the girl who stopped the fight?" she asked. "The one who helped the little boy find his mom?"
It took a moment for the words to register. "You mean the vampire chick in the cartoon shirt?"
"She's not a vampire."
"Yeah, I saw her. On the short side, ugly purple streak in her hair, black fingernail polish? You poured your soda over her, remember? She thought you smelled."
"I'm just saying," he said, reaching for the pan. "You didn't notice her expression after you slammed into her, but I did. She couldn't get away from you fast enough. Hence, you probably smelled."
"She had to buy a new shirt."
Lilly added the second can. "I don't knwo. She just surprised me. And I haven't seen her around here before."
"I repeat: So?"
The thing was, Lilly wasn't exactly sure why she was thinking about the girl. Particulary considering how little she knew about her. Yeah, she was pretty, she'd noticed that right off, despite the purple hair and dark mascara, but the beach was full of pretty girls. Nor was it the way she'd stopped the fight in its tracks. Instead, she kept coming back to the way she'd treated the little boy who'd fallen. She'd glimpsed a surprising tenderness beneath her rebellious exterior, and it had puqued her curiousity.
She wasn't like Ashley at all. And it wasn't that Ashly was a bad person, because she wasn't. But there was something superficial about Ashley, even is Oliver didn't want to believe it. In Ashley's world, everyone and everything was put into neat little boxes: popular or not, expensive or cheap, rich or poor, beautiful or ugly. And she'd eventually grown tired of her shallow value judgments and her inability to accept or appreciate anything in between.
But the girl with the purple streak in her hair......
She knew instinctively that she wasn't that way. She couldn't be absolutely sure, of course but she'd bet on it. She didn't put others into neat little boxes because she didn't put herself in one, and that struck her as refreshing and different, especially when compared with the girl's she'd known at Laney. Especially Ashley.
Though things were busy at the garage, her thoughts kept drifting back to her more often then she expected.
Not all the time. But enough to make her realize that for whatever reason, she definitely wanted to get to know her a little better, and she found herself wondering whether she would see her again.