Burn for Burn Page 2

Main Street is packed. Hardly any of the stores are open at this hour, but it doesn’t matter. Tourists just aimlessly mosey along, stopping at the windows to peer inside at the crappy Jar Island–branded sweatshirts and visors.

I hate August.

I groan as I push past them and make my way to Java Jones. If I want to be awake for the Puppy Ciao encore set, I’m going to need caffeine.

Puppy Ciao is playing at the music store where Kim works, a place called Paul’s Boutique on the mainland. Paul’s Boutique has an attached garage space where they have shows, and if it’s a band I want to see, Kim lets me stay the night at her apartment. She lives right above the store. The bands usually crash there too, which is cool. The singer in Puppy Ciao looked pretty hot on their album cover. Not as hot as the drummer, but Kim says that drummers are always trouble.

I take the stairs up to Java Jones two at a time. But as I’m about to push the door open, one of the workers twists the lock.

I knock on the glass. “I know you’re closing, but could you hook me up with a quick triple shot to go?”

Ignoring me, the worker unties his apron and unplugs the neon sign. The front window goes dark. I realize that I probably sound like one of the rich a-hole Jar Island tourists who think store hours don’t apply to them, the kinds of entitled snobs I’m forced to deal with all day at the marina. So I flick my half-smoked cigarette to the curb, push my hands deep into my pockets so my cutoffs sink low on my hips, and throw in a desperate, “Please! I’m local!”

He turns and stares at me like I’m a huge pain in the ass, but then his face softens. “Kat DeBrassio?”

“Yeah?” I squint at him. He looks familiar, but I can’t place him.

The guy unlocks the door and opens it. “I used to race dirt bikes with your brother.” He holds the door open for me. “Careful. Floor’s wet. And tell Pat I say ‘what up.’”

I nod and walk on tiptoes in my motorcycle boots past another employee pushing a knotted mop back and forth. Then I heave my bag up onto the counter while the guy makes my drink. That’s when I notice that Java Jones isn’t completely empty. There’s one last customer left.

Alex Lind is sitting alone at one of the back tables, hunched over a small notebook. I think it’s his diary or something. I’ve caught him secretly scribbling things down in it a couple of times, when he thought he was being stealth. He’s never showed it to me before. Probably because he thinks I’d make fun of whatever is inside it.

The truth is, I probably would. It’s not like hanging out for a few weeks makes us actual friends.

I’m not going to interrupt him. I’ll just get my drink and go. But then his pencil grinds to a halt in the middle of a page. Alex bites down on his lower lip, closes his eyes, and thinks for a second. He looks like a little kid concentrating on his nightly prayers, vulnerable and sweet.

I’m going to miss the dude.

I quick rake my fingers through my bangs and call out, “Yo, Lind.”

He opens his eyes, startled. Alex quickly slides his notebook into his back pocket and shuffles over so he’s next to me. “Hey, Kat. What are you up to?”

I roll my eyes. “I’m going to Kim’s to see a band. Remember?” I told him not five freaking hours ago, when he stopped by the marina on my lunch hour. That’s how we started hanging out. We met at the yacht club in June. I knew who Alex was before then, obviously. It’s not like our high school is huge. We’d never actually talked to each other. Maybe once or twice in art last year. We roll with very different crews.

Alex came by one day with a new speedboat. As he tried to drive away, he stalled out.

I threw him out of the driver’s seat and gave him a quick lesson. Alex was impressed with how I handled his boat. A few times, when I really gunned it, I saw him grip the sides, white-knuckled. It was kind of cute.

I was hoping he’d hang out with me today for the rest of my shift so work would be less boring. And because I knew he was heading out tomorrow for his fishing trip. But Alex left me to meet his friends at the beach. His real friends.

“Yeah,” Alex says, nodding. “That’s right.” Then he leans forward and rests his elbows on the counter. “Hey, tell Kim I said thanks again for letting me stay over, okay?”

I took Alex to see Army of None play at the record store in July. He’d never heard of them before we started hanging out, but now they’re his favorite band. I was embarrassed, because Alex wore a Jar Island country club polo shirt, cargo shorts, and flip-flops to the show. Kim gave me a look as soon as we walked in, because he was dressed so corny. Alex bought one of the band T-shirts and put it on right away. People who wear the shirt of the band they’re going to see play are lame, but it was better than his polo shirt for sure. Once the show started, Alex blended in just fine, bobbing his head along to the music in time with everyone else. And he was super polite at Kim’s apartment. Before he got into his sleeping bag, he grabbed the empty beer bottles and put them out in the alley for recycling.

“Do you want to come with me? The show’s sold out, but I can get you in.”

“I can’t,” he says with a heavy sigh. “Uncle Tim wants to set sail at dawn.” Alex’s uncle Tim is a balding perma-bachelor. He doesn’t have a family or any real responsibilities, so his money goes to toys—like the new yacht he and Alex and his friends are taking out on a bros only deep-sea fishing trip.

I shrug. “Well, then, I guess this is good-bye for real.” I salute him like a navy officer. “Have a good trip,” I say, sarcastic, because I don’t mean it. I wish he wasn’t going. Without Alex coming to visit me at work, this week is going to completely suck.

He straightens up. “I can give you a ride to the ferry.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

I start to walk away, but he grabs the strap of my bag and pulls it off my shoulder. “I want to, Kat.”

“Fine. Whatever.”

As he drives down toward the ferry landing, Alex keeps staring at me out of the corner of his eye. I don’t know why it makes me feel weird, but it does. I turn to the the window, so he can’t see me, and I say, “What’s with you?”

He lets out a big sigh. “I can’t believe summer’s already over. I don’t know. I feel like I wasted it.”

Before I can stop myself, I say, “You wasted it with your loser friends, maybe. Not hanging out with me.” And I hate myself for sounding like I care.

Usually, Alex defends his friends when I make fun of them, but this time, he doesn’t say anything.

For the rest of the ride, I think about what’s going to happen when school starts, if Alex and I will still be friends. Sure, we’ve hung out a bunch this summer, but I don’t know if I want to associate with the kid at school. In public.

Alex and I . . . we work best like this. When it’s just us.

Alex pulls into the ferry parking lot. Before he has a chance to park, I make a split-second decision and say, “I can bail on the show, if you want to hang out tonight.” It’s not like I’m some Puppy Ciao groupie. Plus, they’ll probably come around again. But me and Alex? This might be it for us. Our last night. And I think, on some level, we both know it.

Alex grins. “Seriously? You’ll stay with me?”

I open my window and light up a cigarette to hide the fact that I’m smiling too. “Yeah, why not? I want to see this Richie Rich yacht for myself.”

So that’s where Alex takes us. We pull up to his uncle Tim’s mansion, where the thing is docked. As we walk toward it, I immediately start making fun of how gaudy it is, but what I’m thinking is, Holy crap. This yacht is bigger than my freaking house. It’s definitely the nicest boat I’ve ever seen. Better than any of the other yachts in the marina.

Alex climbs aboard first, and I’m right behind him. He gives me a quick tour, and it’s even more posh on the inside. Italian marble and about a hundred flat-screen televisions, and a wine cellar filled with bottles from Italy, France, South Africa.

I think of Rennie. She’d die over this place.

Just as quick, I push her out of my head. It hardly happens anymore, but I hate that it happens at all.

I’m trying to figure out the stereo when Alex comes up beside me. Really close beside me. He pushes my hair off to one side. “Kat?”

I freeze. Alex’s lips brush against my neck. He grabs my h*ps and pulls me toward him.

He’s not my type. Not even close.

That’s why it’s so crazy. Because as soon as I turn my head, we’re kissing. And I suddenly feel like I’ve been waiting the whole summer for it to happen.

ONE WEEK LATER

CHAPTER ONE

LILLIA

I’M SITTING ON MY BATHROOM COUNTER, TRYING TO remember what the makeup lady at Saks told me about how to do eyeliner on Asian eyes. Only . . . I can’t think straight.

I think she said to wing it just the tiniest bit. I do my right eye first, and it looks okay. I’m finishing up my left eye when my little sister, Nadia, bangs on the door so loudly that I jump.

“Lil! I need to take a shower!” she yells. “Lilli-uhh!”

I pick up my hairbrush and then reach over and unlock the door. Nadia rushes in and turns on the water. She sits on the edge of the tub, in her big soccer T-shirt with her shiny black hair mussed up in the back and watches me brush my hair. “You look pretty,” she says, her voice scratchy with sleep.

Do I? At least the outside is still the same.

I keep brushing. Twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five, done. I brush my hair twenty-five strokes every morning. I’ve done it that way since I was little.

Today will be like any other day.

“But I thought you weren’t supposed to wear white after Labor Day,” Nadia adds.

I look down at my sweater. It’s new—white cashmere, soft and snug. I’m wearing it with my white short shorts. “Nobody follows that rule anymore,” I tell her, hopping down from the counter. “Besides, this is winter white.” I swat at her butt with my hairbrush. “Hurry up and get in the shower.”

“Do I have time to curl my hair before Rennie gets here?” she asks me.

“No,” I say, closing the door behind me. “Five minutes.”

Back in my room I start filling my brown saddlebag with my school things, like I’m on autopilot. My new pen and the leather planner my mom got me as a back-to-school gift. Lollies. Cherry ChapStick. I try to think if I’m forgetting something, but nothing comes to mind, so I grab my white espadrilles and head down the stairs.

My mom is in the kitchen, wearing her robe and drinking an espresso. My dad bought her one of those fancy espresso machines for Christmas, and she makes a point of using it at least once a week, even though she prefers tea, and even though my dad is hardly ever at home to see her use it. He’s a doctor, the kind who does research. For as long as I can remember, he’s been working on some new drug to cure cancer. He spends part of the month working at a lab in Boston, and he gets sent all over the world to present his findings. He was on the cover of some science journal this summer. I forget the name of it.

Gesturing to the plate of muffins, my mom says, “Sit down and eat before you go, Lilli. I got those sugary ones you love.”

“Rennie will be here any minute,” I say. When I see the disappointed look on my mom’s face, I take a muffin and wrap it in a napkin. “I’ll eat it in the car.”

Touching my hair, she says, “I can’t believe you’re a senior in high school. One more year and you’ll be away at college. My pretty girl is grown-up.”

I look away. I guess I am grown-up now.

“At least I still have my baby. Is Nadi getting ready?”

I nod.

“You have to look out for Nadi now that you’re at the same school. You know how she looks up to you, Lilli.” My mom squeezes my arm, and I swallow hard. I do have to look out for Nadia better. Not like how I did on Saturday night, when I left her at Alex’s party. She was with her friends, but still.

I should have stayed.

Rennie’s horn honks outside, and I stand up. “Nadia!” I yell. “Rennie’s here!”

“Just one more minute!” Nadia shrieks back.

I hug my mom and head for the garage door.

“Take a muffin for Rennie,” she calls out as I close the door behind me. Rennie wouldn’t eat it anyway. She goes off carbs at the start of every cheerleading season. She only lasts about a month before she gives in, though.

In the garage I slip on my espadrilles, and then I walk down the driveway to Rennie’s Jeep.

“Nadia’s right behind me,” I say, climbing inside.

Rennie leans over and hugs me good morning. Hug her back, I tell myself. And I do.

“Your skin looks awesome against the white,” she says, eyeing me up and down. “I wish I could get as tan as you.”

Rennie’s wearing tight jeans and an even tighter lacy scoop neck top, with a nude cami underneath. She’s so tiny, I can see her rib cage. I don’t think she’s wearing a bra. She doesn’t have to. She’s got a gymnast’s body.

“You’re pretty tan too,” I say, clicking my seat belt.

“Bronzer, baby.” She puts on her sunglasses and starts talking a mile a minute. “So here’s what I’m thinking for the next party. It came to me in a dream last night. The theme will be . . . Are you ready for this? The roaring twenties! The girls could wear flapper costumes with, like, a feather headpiece, and long beaded necklaces, and then the boys could wear zoot suits and fedoras. Hot, right?”

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