Iggy waits for me outside on the front steps of the library. I push open the door and groan. A wave of moist heat hits me, instantly making my skin damp and sticky. I squint against the bright sunshine.
It’s hotter than Satan’s butt crack in August, but Iggy isn’t sweating. He never sweats. His spiked blond hair is always perfect, his GQ clothes never wrinkled and a perfect fit for his six-foot muscled frame. Always cool and collected, like he made a deal with the devil to look good and avoid the effects of the heat.
He points at my Honda Civic shining in the sun. “You drive.”
“Fine.” Reaching into my pocket I pull out my key. “But you buy the ice cream since I have to pay for the gas.”
“Deal,” he says, and we get into my car.
Kids from school swarm the outside patio at Northside Dairy. One last day of freedom brings everyone to the hot spot in our little town. My stomach clenches. Adding me to large groups of people is a recipe for disaster. And I’m already… off after whatever happened at the library.
“No way, dude.” Iggy unhooks his seatbelt. “Let me out. I’ll order while you park. You aren’t getting out of this.”
I roll my eyes but stop near the ordering line. “I want—”
“I know. The usual.” Iggy opens the door waving at the immediate flood of greetings.
The usual. Yeah. Good old boring me.
By the time I circle the lot and park, I find Iggy sitting with his cone and a few people from school at one of the cement picnic tables situated under the twenty-five-foot umbrella that shades the patio.
I slide onto the bench next to him and grab the turtle sundae Iggy pushes toward me on the table. Nobody acknowledges me—except for a few pity grins. I busy myself with my sundae and glance around, wiping the sweat from my forehead with a swipe of my hand.
The icy vanilla-chocolate-caramel mixture freezes my tongue, and the view freezes my body.
(Note to self: Staring at Piper Duke while she eats makes you look like a creeper.)
Like everyone else, I ignore me. At least she doesn’t notice me staring. Heart pounding in my throat, I watch her cross the dusty gravel lot to her used Toyota, a huge ice cream cone in one hand, a divided drink carrier of milkshakes and her keys balanced in the other. She licks the chocolate as she walks and my stomach flips.
Fumbling with her keys, she bobbles the cone for a moment, steadying it and the cardboard carrier before they fall to the ground. She widens her eyes, sighing, and I grin.
The sun burns the skin on the back of my neck, and I ease the heat with a swipe of my hand. Piper’s dark ponytail waves behind her like a flag, glinting almost blue in the light and commanding my attention. Like I need a reason to look at her. I clutch my icy sundae cup, imagining what would happen if I walked over and offered to help her.
Not that I have the balls to do that.
It’s too late anyway. She balances her cone, then sets the shakes on top of her car, leaving me with that familiar swooping-gut feeling of another missed opportunity.
Chomping my pecans, I stir the mush at the bottom of my cup and sneak another peek at Piper. She spins her cone in front of her mouth and traces the side of the melting ice cream with her tongue.
Did the temperature go up? I exhale. For a moment my head spins then it happens again, that disembodied feeling, and my cup falls… up. For one heart-stopping second, it hovers above my still curved fingers. The next second, it’s back in my hand and I jerk, spilling ice cream on my shorts.
(Note to self: Stroke or out of body experience?)
Iggy kicks my foot. “Dude, you still with me?”
Hands shaking, I toss my cup into the trash can next to the bench where we sit. What the hell is happening to me?
“Sorry, I, uh, spaced out for a sec.” Understatement of the century.
“Whatever.” Iggy glances from me to Piper with a grin I’ve seen too many times. “Come on.”
He stands and my stomach drops. “What?”
“I want to say hi to Duke.” He takes a few steps backward. “Let’s go.”
“Why?” My stomach contracts but I try to act cool. I stand and slam my knee into the picnic bench in front of me. Pain shoots through my leg but at least it distracts me from the freakish event still flooding my head.
Iggy shrugs, lifting blond eyebrows over his too-innocent blue eyes. “Just being friendly.”
“No, Iggy…” He turns toward them, and I swallow, bracing myself for another one of Iggy’s set-my-nerdy-BFF-up-with-a-girl-out-of-his-league plans. As I’ve never been on a date, his plans obviously don’t work. My heart pounds in my ears. I didn’t think it possible to sweat more, but someone can ride a canoe down my spine.
Iggy points at my head. “Better pat that shit down. How can you have static in your hair when it’s this humid?”
“Special talent I guess.” I run a hand through my hair.
Following Iggy, tightness settles around my ribs and I swear I can feel my skin stretching. Any second, I’ll split open like some weird snake shedding its scaly carcass. That’s sure to catch Piper’s attention.
(Note to self: Quit watching B-rated horror movies in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep.)
“Hey, Duke,” Iggy calls out, walking toward her. She salutes him with her cone and smiles.
Iggy makes life look so easy. He’s smart, but nobody thinks of Iggy as the nerdy kid. He talks to everyone and they listen—the jocks, the brains, the potheads, even the teachers. He doesn’t belong to one group; he fits into them all.
Nobody listens to me. I’m the Watson to his Holmes. The Samwise to his Frodo. The Sheldon to his Leonard. I’m side-kick material, and he’s the blond-haired blue-eyed hero all the way.
We stop next to the two-foot brick wall separating the patio from the parking lot. The pecans from my sundae squirm like cockroaches in my gut.
“Hey, Iggy. How was summer? Hot enough for you?”
“Always,” he laughs. “What’s up, Duke?”
“Same old thing,” Piper says. Her gray eyes settle on me and she grins. “Hi, Zaidyn. You look… different.”
It’s ninety-five degrees, but her gaze, and the fact that it’s on me for once, sends shivers down my back. I open my mouth to answer but nothing comes out. My head pounds with the beat of a drummed death toll. Iggy bails me out. Again.
“Yeah,” he says. “He took a magic potion and grew half a foot this summer. Never thought I’d have to look up to him.”
They laugh, and I suck in a deep breath, trying to tame the restless pecans.
I catch Iggy’s smile from the corner of my eye and want to throat punch him. Piper shifts from one foot to the other. She looks at me and raises her eyebrow.
“Looking forward to school, Duke?” Iggy asks.
“Sure.” Piper raises a fist in a mock cheer. “Ready to get back to higher education.”
“Spoken like a true teacher’s kid.” Iggy laughs, pointing to the shakes. “Drowning your sorrows in ice cream tonight?”
“No,” Piper glances at me and then back to Ig. “Student council is meeting. I’m trying to convince them we need to institute a mandatory recycling program at school, but negotiations have stalled. Everyone wanted a sugar break.”
I grin despite my churning stomach. Piper’s motto; always looking out for the environment. Her dedication is one of the things I like about her. And her face. And her body, but those are bonuses to her personality.
“Got plans for tonight? I hear Melody is having a back-to-school bonfire.” He jerks his head toward me. “We can pick you up.”
Her eyes widen a little and my already hot face explodes with heat. Really? What, is he my dad setting up a playdate?
(Note to self: Operation Embarrass Zaidyn complete.)
“Thanks, but uhm… I can’t.” I cross my arms over my chest and rock back on my heels. “I’ve gotta get home early tonight. My mom said she needed my help for something.”
It’s kind of true. Mom always makes a back-to-school-meal. She says it’s for me, but I think it’s to make herself believe that I’m not growing up and still like to play with Matchbox cars and Legos. Not that I’d tell Iggy that. He gives me enough shit about being a mama’s boy already.
“Yeah, same here.” Piper’s face turns red. “I-I mean I’ve got stuff to do. For my dad. Anyway, the shakes are melting. See ya at school tomorrow.”
Piper frowns, nodding to Iggy then darting her gaze at me. I twitch my lips, but she looks away before I can smile.
Iggy sighs as she drives away. “What was that? I set you up perfectly.”
“Set me up for what? Looking like an idiot who needs his friend to do all the talking?”
He laughs. “No, for you to make a move and get your game on. Never know. You could have been making out around the fire later. Or more.”
“Is sex all you think about?” We step over the wall into the parking lot and head for my car. He probably thinks I’m sabotaging him. But too many failed missions have eliminated my ability to feel guilty. Iggy will get over it. “I’m not just after sex.”
“You’re such a liar.” Iggy laughs. “You’re just afraid to get laid.”
“Not every guy just wants to get laid.”
“Yes, they do. They don’t want to admit it because they think it makes them look like a pig.”
“Well, sorry.” I click the locks to my Civic. “I don’t want to look like a pig.”
The inside of my car feels like Satan’s butt crack. I turn the key and crank the air-conditioning on the highest fan setting, angling the vents toward my dripping face.
Iggy adjusts his sunglasses. Leaning his elbow on the passenger door, he clicks his tongue. “Someday you’ll change your mind. When the right girl comes along and juices you up.”
Gritting my teeth, I pull away from Northside and head through town toward Iggy’s house. Piper, the right girl, turns me into a freaking Mott’s Juice factory. But it doesn’t matter. She wouldn’t want me even if I grow two more feet, gain fifty pounds, and learn to fly.
Later that night after I showered, I pick a Dean Koontz book from the pile on my nightstand and lean back on the feather pillow behind my head. Maybe some blood and gore will help me relax.
Ten pages in, my mind wanders to the disaster at Northside Dairy. Piper said hi and acted friendly, but I can’t forget the oh shit look on her face when Iggy suggested she hang out with us at her best friend’s party. Her wide gray eyes looking everywhere but at me, because she’s too nice to do what other girls do—laugh at the thought of hanging with the nerd.
College may beckon with its boundless possibilities of hiding from myself because nobody will know me, but first I need to get through my last year of high school. I look different, but everything will still be the same. The same teachers. The same kids. The same bullshit.
The weirdness at the library and my ‘floating’ sundae cup… that’s all it was. Weirdness. My weird book-brain making me think I had something special going on. What a bunch of bullshit.
My stomach tightens. Shaking my head, I return to my book, hoping to get lost in the story and forget about my boring life. Same old same old.
I know better. I’m ordinary. No, worse than that—I’m stagnant. As much as I’d like it to, nothing ever really changes around here. Least of all me.
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