Right of way
Saturday, June 26, 10:03 a.m.
Siesta Key, Florida
I’m a traitor to my generation. Seriously. All we hear about these days is how we’re supposed to be strong women and not depend on anyone else and blah blah blah. And now look what I’ve done.
“Are you sure there’s no way you can come?” I say into my phone. I’m crouching behind some bushes outside the Siesta Key Yacht Club, which is not comfortable. At all. The bushes are prickly, there are bees floating around, and the ground is kind of wet. Which makes no sense. I thought it never rained in Florida. Isn’t it called the Sunshine State?
“I’m sorry,” my best friend, Brooklyn, says on the other end of the line. “I’m so sorry, but there’s no way I can come now. My parents found out, and they’re freaking out. And honestly, Peyton, I kind of think you should
just forget the whole thing. I mean, what if my parents call your parents?”
My heart leaps into my throat. “Are they going to?”
“I don’t know. My mom said she wouldn’t as long as I talked you out of it, but you never know what my mom’s going to do. She’s a loose cannon.” It’s true. Brooklyn’s mom really is a loose cannon. One time last year she came down to our school screaming about women’s equality on the wrestling team. It was pretty ridiculous, since Brooklyn is totally unathletic, and no girls were even trying out for the wrestling team. But her mom had read some article about Title Nine that had gotten her all riled up.
“But what am I supposed to do?” I ask. “My parents already left. I can’t call and tell them I don’t have a way to get back to Connecticut. They’ll be pissed.”
Brooklyn and I had this whole thing planned out. She was going to fly down to Florida from Connecticut, and meet me here, in Siesta Key, at my uncle’s wedding. Then we were going to rent a car and drive to North Carolina, where we were going to spend the summer. It was a very simple two-part plan. One, she takes a plane down here. Two, we rent a car and go to North Carolina. Leave it to her parents to wreck everything.
“You’re going to have to call your mom or something,” Brooklyn says. “It’ll suck, yeah, but what else are you going to do?”
I don’t say anything. My eyes fill with hot tears. There’s
a bee buzzing near my face, and I don’t even bother to swat it away. I really, really do not want to call my parents. And not just because they’re going to be pissed. But because it’s going to mean that I have to go home, and I really, really do not want to do that.
“Look,” she says finally. “Is there any way you can book a flight to North Carolina? And maybe get a ride to the airport?”
“I don’t have a credit card. Or any money, really.”
“Can you ask Courtney for help?”
“I could ask her, I guess, but I don’t know if she has any money either.” I stand up and scan the outdoor tables for my cousin. I don’t see her dark hair anywhere. I look for her boyfriend, Jordan, but I don’t see him either. In fact, I don’t see anyone I recognize. Most people have already left the brunch and gone home. The wedding was yesterday, and the festivities are over.
I guess I could call Courtney, I think, taking a step back toward the tables that are set up on the lawn of the yacht club. But who knows if she would tell my parents? Or her dad? I mean, I trust her, but—
My eyes stop scanning the crowd as they land on the only person I recognize who’s still at the brunch. The only person I don’t want to see. Jace Renault. He looks up from the table where he’s sitting, talking to some older couple that he probably just met. The old lady is laughing at something
Jace is saying. Which isn’t surprising. Jace is charming like that. Ugh.
He catches my eye, and I quickly turn away.
“Brooklyn,” I say. “Please, can you lend me the money for a plane ticket? I’ll pay you back, I promise.”
“Peyton, you know I would if I could, but my mom took my credit card away.”
“I can’t believe this,” I say. “I planned so hard so no one would find out, and now—”
There’s a tap on my shoulder. I turn around. Jace is standing there, a huge smile on his face. “Hello,” he says.
I turn and start to walk away from him. “Who’s that?” Brooklyn asks.
“That’s no one,” I say loudly, hoping that Jace will get the message to go away. But of course he doesn’t. He just starts to follow me as I walk through the grass of the club back toward my room. He’s doing a good job keeping up, since I’m having a little trouble walking. My shoes keep slipping on the wet grass.
“You really shouldn’t be walking through here,” he says conversationally. “I don’t think the groundskeepers are going to be too thrilled with all the divots you’re making.”
“Who the hell is that?” Brooklyn asks. “Is that Jace?”
“No,” I say.
“Yes, it is.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“Yes, it is!”
“No. It. Isn’t.”
“No it isn’t what?” Jace asks from next to me. He’s caught up to me now.
He really is like some kind of gnat that I can’t get away from. I knew there would be pests and bugs in Florida; I just didn’t expect them to be six foot two and of the human variety.
“I’ll call you back,” I say to Brooklyn. I hang up the phone and whirl around. “What do you want?” I ask.
He shrugs. “I don’t know,” he says. “I saw you staring at me, and you looked upset.”
“I wasn’t staring at you!” I say. “I was looking for Courtney.” I smooth down my dress. “And I’m not upset.”
“Courtney and Jordan left a little while ago,” he says.
“Do you know where they went?” I ask, my heart sinking.
“I’m not sure.” He shrugs like it doesn’t matter. And I guess to him, it doesn’t. He’s not the one who’s stranded at some wedding in Florida with no way to get to North Carolina. “Why?”
“None of your business.” I’m walking again, looking down at my phone, scrolling through my contacts. I wonder if there’s someone I can call—someone who might be willing to help me. Why didn’t I make more of an effort to get to know someone at the wedding? Why didn’t I befriend some nice old lady who would be able to take me somewhere—preferably a senile one who would be too
out of it to ask any questions? Because you were too busy with Jace.
“Do you need a ride or something?” Jace asks.
“What’s so funny?”
“I just think it’s kind of hilarious that suddenly you’re so concerned about my well-being after what you did to me last night.”
“Peyton—” he starts, his voice softening. But I’m not in the mood.
“Stop.” I hold my hand up. “I don’t want to hear it. And I don’t need a ride. So just go away.”
“Then how are you getting to the airport?”
“I’m not going to the airport.” God, he’s so annoying. How can he think that after what happened between us last night that I would get into a car with him? Is he crazy?
Although I guess when I really think about it, it’s actually not that surprising.
Anyone who is as good-looking as Jace is usually completely out of touch with reality. It’s like they think their looks give them the right to just go around saying whatever they want to say, and doing whatever they want to do. As if the fact that they’re six foot two and broad-shouldered with dark hair and gorgeous, deep-blue eyes gives them the right to get away with anything.
“If you’re not going to the airport, then where are you going?”
I keep ignoring him, continuing through the grass in these stupid high heels, trying to get back to my room. And he keeps following me, still not having any trouble keeping up. I glance down at his feet. He’s wearing sneakers. Of course he is. Jace Renault would never do anything as, you know, polite as wearing dress shoes to a wedding. Although technically he’s wearing them to the brunch the day after the wedding. But still. Proper attire should be worn. Proper attire that doesn’t include sneakers.
I’m so caught up in looking at his feet that I don’t realize that my own shoes are sinking farther into the wet grass, and so when I slip, I’m halfway to the ground before I feel his arms grabbing me around the waist.
He’s so close that I can feel his breath on my neck as he lifts me up, and it sends delicious little shivers up and down my spine. He looks at me, his eyes right on mine, and I swallow hard. If this were a movie, this would be the moment he’d kiss me, the moment he’d push my hair back from my face and brush his lips softly against mine, telling me he was sorry for everything that happened last night and over the spring, that he had an explanation for the whole thing, that everything was going to be okay. But this isn’t a movie. This is my life.
And so instead of kissing me, Jace waits until I’m upright and then he says, “Those shoes are pretty ridiculous.”
“These shoes,” I say, “cost four hundred dollars.”
“Well, you got ripped off.”
“I didn’t ask you.”
He keeps following me, all the way back to my hotel room. What is wrong with him? Like it’s not enough that he stomped all over my heart? Now he has to keep torturing me with his nearness? When we get to the outside of the suite I’m staying in, I unlock the door and push it open.
“Well, thanks for walking me back to my room,” I say, all sarcastic.
But he doesn’t seem to notice. In fact, he just peers over my shoulder into the sitting area of my room. “Jesus, Peyton,” he says, looking at the mound of bags that are stacked neatly in the middle of the floor. “How long did you plan on staying? A few months? I knew you were high maintenance, but that much luggage is a little crazy, don’t you think?”
“I’m not high maintenance!”
He shrugs, as if to say I am high maintenance and everyone knows it, so there’s no use denying it. Like he knows anything about me and my high-maintenance ways. (And yes, I am a little bit high maintenance. But not in a bad way. I just like to have things the way I like them.)
“Looks pretty high maintenance to me.” He steps into the room, then reaches down and picks up the bottle of water the hotel has left on the desk. He opens it and takes a big drink.
“You owe me four dollars.” Plus I wanted that water. But I’m not going to tell him that. Why give him the satisfaction?
“Don’t you mean I owe your parents four dollars?”
I narrow my eyes at him then hold out my hand. “Give it to me.”
“Fine,” he grumbles, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a bunch of crumpled up bills.
“Figures that you don’t have a wallet,” I say.
“Figures that you would notice something like that, being that you’re so high maintenance.” He grins at me sweetly.
“I am not high maintenance! So stop saying that!”
“Then why do you have a million bags for a weekend trip to a wedding?”
I feel the anger building inside me—he’s so damn arrogant I can’t even stand it—and before I even know what I’m saying, I’m telling him. “Because,” I say, getting ready to savor the look of shock that I know is about to cross his face, “I’m running away.”