Thursday, April 7, 2011

This Thursday Brought to You by the Letters F & G...

This is a bit of a long one...sorry about that :)

“What letter?” Now, it was Truman’s turn to be shushed by Lucky, who rolled his eyes dramatically as if to ask, “And, what rock have you been living under to not know about the letter?”


Owen slammed his elbow into his twin’s side and cut a fierce look Lucky’s way. “Quiet,” he growled.

“Harper, what letter?” Grace persisted, oblivious to the three eavesdroppers on the other side of the door.

Shrill laughter escaped as her lips curved in a wry smile. “You know what letter, Gracie Lou. The one you’ve been holding onto for more than week without one word to your best friend. Yeah, now, I’ve got your attention. What’s the matter? Surprised I found it? I mean, it wasn’t like you were hiding it very well. The damned thing was sitting right on top of your desk, propped up for the whole freaking world to see. So, when were you going to tell me? While you were boarding the plane to freaking England?”

“It wasn’t like that.”

“Really?” Harper sneered, her eyes turning into dark, jaded shards of broken glass. “Funny, but now, I don’t believe you.” The chair scraped loudly across the floor as she shoved to her feet and stomped over to where the spoon had landed on the floor by the sink. “It doesn’t matter anyway. None of this does. I don’t know why you’re even bothering trying to pretend you care about what did or didn’t happen at party you weren’t even invited to.” A bitter laugh escaped as the spoon clattered into the sink. “This time next year, you’ll be off on some archeological dig thing, discovering prehistoric bongs or something. This place and the people in it will be nothing more than a distant memory for you.”

Grace stiffened, hurt and disbelief slowly giving way to anger and an overwhelming sense of betrayal. The hated, burning moisture surged up to her eyes, ferociously working to break free and take a jaunt down her cheeks. She wouldn’t let it, though. No, Grace Monroe never cried, and especially not in front of Harper. Grace was the strong one. She had to be, for she now realized that she had no one left. Harps, her best friend since the first day of kindergarten, had just joined the ranks of those she loved most...but that she’d lost for good.

“I see,” she gritted out. “That’s how it always is with you, isn’t it, Harper? It’s got to be all or nothing. Yeah, I didn’t tell you about Oxford, but did you stop to think that maybe I was worried about how it would affect you and our friendship? Christ, I hadn’t even decided if I was going to go or not, but you just—“

“You lying sack of shit! Don’t try to feed me that line. I know you’re going, Grace. It’s something you’ve wanted to do since we were kids, and you found that arrowhead. Ever since then, you’ve been out playing in the dirt every chance you got. I’m not stupid.”

“Then, quit acting like it!” Grace screeched. “Only someone completely brain-dead would pretend like nothing happened after she was raped—“

“I wasn’t raped. I told you—“

“Nothing happened,” Grace mimicked in a scared little girl voice. “Well, let me tell you something, Harper. Just because he didn’t actually get in your pants doesn’t mean it was okay. But, my real best friend would know that, and you’re not her.” Her gaze swept down to Harper’s feet and then back up again, a slow perusal that had Harper instinctively wanting to cover herself. “You’re just some cheap, plastic imitation that I don’t want anything to do with.”

Harper didn’t stop Grace as she swept past her and out of the kitchen. She just stood rooted to the spot, staring sightlessly while Grace pushed through the door, knocking into the guys who Harper had known all along had been clustered just outside the door.

A moment of shock passed over Grace’s features as she took in their guilty expressions. Then, surprising them all—herself included—she looped her arm through Lucky’s and smiled brightly. “Now, how about that pie?”

He slanted a questioning glance toward his brother before nodding. “Never thought you’d ask. I’m suddenly starving.”

No one uttered a word for several minutes. Situated in an awkward triangle in the middle of the spacious kitchen, the three of them stood stock-still, listening intently to the sounds of Lucky steering Grace through the house and out the front door, whistling a soft, disjointed tune under his breath as they went. After the door clicked into place behind them and Frenchy belched out several agonized moans before finally turning over, a collective breath was expelled.

But, the big, pink elephant that had assembled them all together was huddled in the corner, unmoving and noisy enough to shatter a few dozen eardrums.

Forcibly pasting a relaxed, unaffected look across her face, Harper turned to Owen. “I’ll take you home.”

“Harper—“ Truman began.

“Not now, Tru.”

“We can’t just ignore this, Harp. Just because you and Grace had a little argument doesn’t mean—“

“I said,” she whirled on him, her words turning frozen and bitter with each millisecond that skipped gleefully by. “We’ll talk about this later. Right now, I’m taking Owen home. End of discussion.”

His mouth dropped open. Who was this angry, bitter creature wearing his sister’s skin? Grace was right. This girl, standing before him with her eyes flashing, her face contorted into a ferocious mask, and her arms folded across her chest like she was trying to keep some wide, gaping hole closed, was nowhere near the bright, effervescent girl he knew Harper to be. More importantly, how could he get his sister back?

But, by the time he snapped out of his dazed musings, she’d already grabbed Owen’s hand and dragged the boy out of the house. Small consolation though it was, Truman had not missed Owen’s reaction to Harper’s waspish behavior. It had mirrored his own.

Ten minutes of uneasy silence later, Harper pulled the car to a stop in front of the Lancaster house.

“Uh...thanks for the ride,” he mumbled as he unfastened his seat belt and reached for the door handle, unsure as to what else he could say. There were many things that he itched to just throw out there, but after the fireworks in the Simonson kitchen, he figured that maybe enough was enough for one night.

“Owen, wait.” Harper caught hold of his hand and squeezed lightly, her cold fingers curling into his much warmer palm. “I just…I want you to know how sorry I am. For everything. I mean, it wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Not for us, anyway.”

“You got that right,” he muttered under his breath.

“What?”

He shook his head, a ghost of smile flitting across his face as he shifted in his seat to face her fully. His other hand lifted up, reached out to skim gentle fingertips over her cheek, along the bridge of her nose, and then finally to her slightly parted, partially chapped lips. “I know that, Harper. Believe me. I know.” His grin turned rueful, and his fingers continued to dance over her mouth. “You know, I had it all planned out…the night of the party. I knew exactly what I was going to say, how I was going to say it. I was determined to make some grand gesture, and by the end of the night, you’d be my girl.”

A light laugh flounced out of her, and she leaned forward as his fingers left her lips so his palm could curve around her cheek. That small connection was both exhilarating and comforting all at once. She never wanted it to end. “That was kind of my plan, too,” she admitted on a sigh. “That was the whole point of the outfit, the hair, and the makeup.”

His hand on her cheek was like a lifeline, slowly reeling her in to safety even as he swam across the distance to her, bringing with him all the reassurance she could ever ask for.

“You did look hot,” he agreed. “But, you know what? I prefer the jeans and t-shirts and hoodies. I don’t know if you noticed, but I seem to have a weakness for skinny little brunettes who always keep their hair tied in weird knots on top of their head and wear glasses they don’t really need.”

“Hmm, I think I might know someone like that.”

Now, their faces were so close, she could practically taste the minted gum he always seemed to have tucked in the back of his mouth. He chuckled, blowing hot, flavored waves over the lower half of her face. A thrill shimmied up and down her spine as his nose rubbed lightly against hers.

“Think you might put in a good word for me?” he asked.

“I-I could do that…probably.” Her eyes were trained on his mouth, hovering so very close hers. Would he kiss her? Did she want him to? Well, of course, she wanted him to, but what would happen if he did? She stiffened, remembering her epic freakout just last night when their knees had accidentally knocked together. An innocent enough touch to which she’d over-reacted majorly.

“Probably, huh?” Another deep chuckle, and he surprised her by shifting yet again. This time, he pushed up, just enough to press a kiss to her forehead and then slid back into his seat. He brought their still-clasped hands up to his lips and pressed another light kiss to her knuckles. “I think we might have gone about our little intervention tonight the wrong way.”

“You think?” she snorted after a beat in which she hurried to collect her wayward senses.

He nodded, casting a look toward the soft glow of his house. “We shouldn’t have ganged up on you like that, Harp. That’s not going to help you deal with all this…whatever it is.”

“And, you think you know what will?”

He glanced at the house again. “There’s someone I want you to meet...to talk to. I think you’ll have an easier time getting this all out if you had a completely sympathetic ear.”

She looked around him, catching the faint outline of someone walking past the front window. “Your mom?” she asked, incredulously. “How would she be a sympathetic—oh. Owen, I didn’t know. What, I mean, when did this—“

“Come on,” he urged. “Come inside. Let me introduce you.”

She swallowed, looked up again at the figure moving around in the house, and then slowly nodded. “Okay.”