Home > One Small Thing(15)

One Small Thing(15)
Author: Erin Watt

Suddenly, I experience a teeny jolt of panic. Because, what am I doing hanging out with Rachel’s boyfriend? This feels weird and sort of like a betrayal and—

And he’s not her boyfriend anymore, I have to remind myself. Rachel doesn’t have a boyfriend, because Rachel isn’t alive. And I’m not really “hanging out” with Jeff. He’s doing me a solid tonight, and I appreciate it, but I don’t have any interest in starting something up with him.

Whether she’s dead or not, Jeff will always be my sister’s boyfriend to me.

Jeff returns, jangling a pair of keys. He changed into a loose-fitting blue button-down that’s only halfway tucked into jeans. He points toward the rear of the house. “I’ll be right back.”

“I can walk to the car with you.”

“Nah.” He waves me off. The ends of his shirt flap as he jogs away.

I look down at my own jeans and tight T-shirt. I wish I was wearing a skirt, but Dad wouldn’t have believed I was going to help out with building if I was dressed to go partying.

A minute later, Jeff pulls up in a nice four-door sedan. “Get in.”

I climb inside and glance around the tidy interior.

“Sorry about this piece of trash,” he says, “but I can’t risk my baby.”

Piece of trash? This car is as nice as mine. “Whose is it?”

“Debbie’s son’s.”

“Debbie?”

“Our housekeeper.” Jeff flips me a cord. “Jack in your phone and play some tunes.”

I hesitate, my hand on the door handle. Maybe we should take something else? There’s my perfectly good car sitting in the garage at my house. Jeff’s so good at talking my dad into anything, maybe the Jeff magic would work on my car.

I open my mouth to suggest it, but Jeff presses the gas and guns the car down the driveway.

“What happens if it gets boosted?” I ask as I buckle in.

“Not my concern. They should have insurance or something,” he says cavalierly.

I run a hand against the cloth interior. The car smells vaguely like lemons and the interior is spotless. Even the floor mats look like they’ve been recently vacuumed. Whoever the housekeeper’s son is, he loves this car.

“I hope nothing happens to it.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Jeff says. “If anything does happen, he’ll probably get a new one from the insurance company.”

I’m not certain that’s how insurance works, but Jeff’s so confident. Besides, he’d know the son better than me. I force myself to relax into the cushions. “Okay.”

Jeff reaches out and squeezes my shoulder. “Look at you being all thoughtful. It’s cute.”

I ignore the prickle of discomfort I feel at being called “cute” by Rachel’s boyfriend. Jeff’s doing me a favor. If he wants to call me cute, then I’ll deal.

We drive for a bit in silence. My mind drifts back to school and Chase. I wonder if it would be better if he left. This is Rachel’s school. Her name is actually on a tiny “in memoriam” plaque near the music room. The reminders have to bother him, right? I wish I could get away from all the memories, so it must be just as bad for him.

“Do you think Chase should leave Darling?” I ask Jeff. Jeff must be haunted by Rachel, too, although he doesn’t seem like it. His two years away must’ve helped a lot. If it was me, I would’ve stayed in London.

“Chase?”

“Charlie Donnelly.”

“You call him Chase?”

I squirm in my seat at Jeff’s incredulous tone. “He told me that was his name.”

Jeff heaves a huge sigh. “Lizzie—I mean, Beth, you’re a little too innocent for your own good. If you call him by a nickname, he’s going to think he’s forgiven for what he did.”

“And you don’t think he should be...forgiven, that is,” I tack on at the end.

“No. He killed your sister,” Jeff says, his tone flat. Unstated is the message that he shouldn’t even have to remind me of this.

I slink down in the seat, guilt pressing heavy on my shoulders. Yes, Charlie ran his car into Rachel. Yes, he’s responsible for her death. If I’d known that Chase was Charlie, I would’ve run in the opposite direction. Instead, I threw myself at him and now we both regret it.

Worse, I don’t think I regret it more than him, which means I’m less worthy of forgiveness than Chase. I should hate Chase. The same amount of loathing that colors Jeff’s words when he speaks about Chase should be in mine. I should’ve thought of the nickname Manson and I should be the one throwing spitballs at his back. I should be in the principal’s office every day demanding that Charlie Donnelly be expelled from Darling High.

But I’m not doing any of that. I can’t stop thinking about the party and our connection and then the sex. In Health, you talk about venereal diseases and other physical dangers. There’s no discussion about the emotional danger. And I didn’t get any talk of that at home. Mom gave me an American Girl doll book on sex ed and Rachel said that I was too young to even think about it.

“Hey, we’re here,” Jeff announces, breaking into my sex-crazed train of thought. “Wow, this place looks shittier than I thought it would be.”

He reaches past me and opens his glove compartment. A black shiny thing glints menacingly in the dim light of the interior.

“Is that... Oh my God, do you have a gun?” I gape at him.

He slams the compartment shut. “It’s Darling, Beth. Everyone has a gun. Your dad sells them in his hardware store.”

“Yeah, but he doesn’t have one in his glove compartment,” I mutter as I get out of the car.

“Look at this rat hole.” He joins me on the curb. “I should be bringing my piece inside.”

The image of preppy Jeffrey Corsen walking around with a handgun tucked into the waistband of his three-hundred-dollar Citizens of Humanity jeans is so unintentionally hilarious I bite the inside of my cheek so I don’t burst out laughing. I can’t believe he called it a piece.

“I’m glad you aren’t,” I manage to say civilly.

He scowls and pushes me forward. “This place looks like it should be condemned. Are you sure you want to go in?”

“We drove all the way here—it’s dumb to leave without even checking it out. And I don’t think it’s so bad.” The house is small, but tidy. The lawn is perfectly kept and there are actually window boxes in the front.

“You’re too nice.” He bounds up the stairs and jabs the doorbell.

The door opens and a beautiful girl appears with amazing hair and deep, dark eyes. “Yes?” An imperious eyebrow rises.

Jeff’s starstruck. He stammers. “I... We’re... Us...” He jerks a thumb over his shoulder.

I peek around his arm and offer an assist. “We’re here for the party.”

“Oh, come on in. No drinking in the house. No drugs and you have to blow into that before you can drive home.” She nods toward a small black machine sitting on a side table.

“Are you sure this is a party? There are more rules here than at the Darling Country Club,” Jeff jokes. “If you want to have more fun, I could find us something. What’s your name?”

“Us as in your friend and you? You don’t need my name for that.” With the flip of her glossy hair, she walks off.

“Wow, what a bitch,” Jeff says loudly.

“Jeff.” I tug on his arm, embarrassed. Fortunately, I don’t think the gorgeous girl heard him.

“Seriously. I was being nice. They wouldn’t let her into Darling Country Club if she begged.”

He might be right, but not because the girl doesn’t belong. Because Darling Country Club is primarily a bunch of old white men who grew up thinking segregation was the key to a successful society, at least according to Scarlett’s mom, who knits pink Pussyhats in her spare time.

“Do you want to leave?” I ask, because I’m growing increasingly uncomfortable standing next to Jeff. He looks like he wants to declare war on the people who are throwing the party.

“We’ll see. Maybe it’s better away from her.” He takes my arm and pulls me toward the hall where the noise seems to be coming from. We pass a living room and spotless kitchen and end up in the back on a deck.

There are about thirty people here and it feels like every one of them turns to stare at us when we step out of the house. Several are either in or crowded around the hot tub in the corner of the small yard. About eight guys, half of them shirtless, are playing a game of flag football. The rest are sprawled on the wooden deck or on the lawn.

“Oh fuck, it’s Manson.” Jeff’s voice rises to an obnoxious level. “What the hell are you doing here?”

Manson?

I spin in the direction Jeff’s pointing to see Chase sitting in a lounge chair in the back corner, smoking a cigarette. Another pretty girl, her hair all in braids, sits at his feet. It’s dark where they’re located, so that’s probably why I missed them the first time around.

I can’t believe he’s here. One of the reasons I wanted to come to this party was for a distraction, so I’d stop obsessing over the guy. But he’s here. How does he even know any of these Lincoln kids—

He used to live in this neighborhood, I suddenly remember. That’s what someone at school said, that Chase’s mom lived in Lincoln before she married the mayor of Darling. He would’ve spent all his summers here.

“Manson? There’s no one here by that name.” A tall, built boy climbs up the deck stairs. “Who’re you?”

Jeff ignores the question and keeps talking. “Charles Donnelley is right over there. He killed Beth’s sister three years ago and he just got out of prison. Isn’t that right, Manson?”

I flush all over. If a house could fall on me right this minute, I’d be happy. Instead, I watch as everyone swivels toward Chase. Again, because of me, he’s the subject of unwanted attention.

   
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