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Cross Country

Summary

"Hold on. Let me get this straight. You and Jasper, while still
having childish arguments, have agreed to go on some kind 
of road trip? When you have a wedding to get to by Saturday,
and you two are the second most important people in said 
wedding? When you're also-kinda-sorta broke 'cause you're 
using your mother's money?"

"When you put it that way...," I begin. "Yeah, that's exactly it."

"Girl, are you crazy?"

"Oh, definitely."

~~~~~

June's sister, April, is getting married. The lucky guy? A
businessman who's cousin is Jasper King, the art maniac
loner of her high school. The two are thrown together into an 
old, rundown car and forced to drive down to Florida together
for the wedding. Sparks fly and ignite, and what happens next 
will go down in road trip history.

Chapter One: "You've got to be kidding me."

As far as information bombs go, my sister wins the award for the worst timing. For one, it's seven in the morning, last night was a disaster, and maybe I'm feeling a little hungover.

I'm not a morning person—my sister, April, is. She knows I don't wake up until most of the morning has already gone by. But does that mean she's waited for a better time to call?

No, it doesn't.

Instead, she called my phone five times before I woke up and answered. The time was 6:58 in the morning, so it wasn't even seven yet.

The information she dropped on me was not welcome for a night owl who's also hungover.

I clench the phone in my hand, pressing it closer to my ear. "What!"

Across the living room, my friend, Georgia, is still trying to sleep on the couch. At my screech, she lifts her head and glares at me. I wave my hand and exit the living room for the kitchen instead, heading for the fridge. Not that Georgia won't be able to hear me in the kitchen. It's too late, anyways. She's awake now too.

"Shh, June!" my sisters says. Over the line, she starts to whisper. Maybe her fiancé is also trying to sleep. Only freaks like April get up before seven in the morning. She goes on, "I know. I know, I get it. But mom wants the car—"

"Then she should've taken it when she went down!" After I yell, I mumble 'shit' after, because I've dropped the milk carton I was reaching for in the fridge, and now the milk is all over the kitchen floor.

Could the morning get any worse?

Yes, it can. My cat, appropriately named Adam, has immediately noticed the spill and is already paws deep in the mess. I curse again, louder this time, and press the phone between my ear and shoulder, crouching down to Adam.

"Then you wouldn't have had the car," April is saying now. Then there's a pause. "June? Is everything okay? Why do you keep swearing?"

"Shoo, cat." I push Adam away. He gives me a look that says he's not above clawing me if I try to take him away from his milk.

"June."

"Yeah. I'm fine." I pause, remember what April was just saying to me, and shout, "Wait, no! I'm not fine!"

"Stop yelling in my ear!" She shouts. Apparently she's given up on whispering. "God, why do I have to have you as a sister?"

"If you didn't love me you wouldn't be having me as your maid of honor."

"I can still change that."

"But you wouldn't."

"Look," she moves on. "Bottom line is, mom wants the car. You're driving it down. It will only take a day!"

For April, there's not a lot of things I wouldn't do. As far as siblings go, we're pretty close to each other. That wasn't always the case, especially because of our six year gap in age. She's twenty-three. I'm only seventeen. We've always been in different life stages, but ever since she moved out to go to college when I was only twelve years old, we've developed that close, sisterhood bond that only siblings can relate to.

And, ever since she announced her engagement to her long-time boyfriend almost a year ago, I've tried especially hard to make sure I can do anything she needs help with concerning her wedding.

Her wedding—which is next weekend in Florida. I'm supposed to fly down Monday morning from Boston, where we're from. Do I want to take a car? No, I really don't. Would I if it was for April? Sure, except for the fact that I suck at driving.

"April," I say now, voice dry. "You've been in the car with me when I'm driving. Do you really think it's safe for me to drive?"

There's momentary silence. "I'm sure you've gotten better."

"I hit a curb last week," I deadpan. "Did mom tell you? She had to send money so I could get the tire replaced."

April sighs. "June."

"And only a day?" I ask. "We live in Boston, April. It'll take me a day to get to Orlando if you want me to go sleepless! Also not a smart idea. I'd have to stay in a hotel or something for a night, and I'm not doing that when flying down could be so much easier."

Over the line, I hear my sister groan. It's a long, drawn-out groan that tells me just how tired she is, like how any bride would be among all the excitement and work there is to do before a wedding. "June, please."

I feel bad. I really do. I want to make the last remaining days of April's bachelorette days go smoothly as possible, but I'm a horrible, anxious driver. Even worse, mom's car that I've been driving the last week is a rundown, ancient silver Honda.

"I'm not driving," I say. "Absolutely not."

There is no hesitancy in my voice. No sign that I'm going to relent. I'll just keep telling myself that and it'll be true. April can't break me. Not this time. Nope.

"Mom's already canceled your flight."

"She what?"

I drive a hand through my hair, completely frustrated. I don't even care any more that Adam has come back to the milk, or that the milk has soaked into my socks and my feet feel extremely gross. This is a problem. I don't like traveling. It's bad enough being in a car all day, but I'm confident that I would never survive a road trip if I'm the one driving.

April has gone full soothing mode. She takes on the soft tone she's always used on me in order to get what she wants. "It's not a big deal. Mom's going to send you some money. You don't even have to pay for anything."

"I can't drive for two days. I can't. I'll die."

"Don't be overdramatic."

I'm not being overdramatic. I'll crash. I'll pop another tire. It's inevitable. I'm seventeen and I suck at driving. It's just how it is.

"Why can't you rent a car?" I ask, desperate. My hand is tugging on the ends of my hair. "Isn't your new husband rich? Can't he afford it?"

April huffs. "He can't buy cars just because we need one for a month!"

"Okay, then let's go with the renting idea."

"It's less expensive for you to drive down the car than it is to rent one for a month and a half."

"Then I'm not coming down," I tell her, though even I hear the doubt in my voice when I make that statement.

"Don't be a baby."

"I am not being a baby!"

"You wouldn't miss my wedding."

I don't say anything. I don't have to, because my sister knows she's right, and she knows that I know she's right. Because I wouldn't. I would never miss my only sister's wedding.

I hate sisters sometimes.

"Isn't there a way I don't have to drive down?" I ask. I hear the defeat in my voice. Another tug on my hair and I know my hair is about to fall out.

"Mom canceled your flight, and you know mom," April begins. "She wants you to do this and she won't budge. She wants her car. So no, you can't get out of this. You're driving down to Florida, June."

I stare at the empty milk carton on the kitchen tiles. I can't believe this. I can't believe I'm being forced to drive down the entire east coast of America, just so my mother can have her car for the next month.

"June..."

"Fine," I grumble.

"What?"

"You heard me."

"I don't believe I did."

really hate sisters sometimes.

"I said fine!" I shout. I take comfort in the fact that I've probably made her half-deaf by now with all my yelling into the phone. "I'll drive down mom's stupid car!"

"Jesus, June!" April yells.

"You better get me a huge thank you gift for this," I tell her. "That is, if I don't kill myself driving down there."

"You'll be fine," April says, then adds, "but, um, there's something else."

Excuse me?

"You've got to be kidding me," I say. I can hear her hesitance over the phone. It's in the tone of her voice that says this new news won't be any better than the one she's already handed out.

"It's not that bad."

"Doesn't sound like it."

Then, all of a sudden, April is gushing out words faster than the speed of light. "Carlisle's cousin has a fear of airplanes and he lives in Boston, too. He needs a ride down to Orlando because he doesn't have a car. So we've—well, mom did first—kindly told him that you'd be willing to give him a ride down."

I blink. I process this information. Then I say, slowly, "Carlisle's, as in your fiancé's, cousin."

"Yes. He's afraid of heights."

"I heard that," I say drily.

"June, please don't be mad." April sounds like she's trying to smooth talk me again, but there's a bump in her words, like her hesitancy about how I'm handling this new piece of information is making her too anxious to smooth talk effectively.

"I am not giving a stranger a ride."

"He might not be a stranger. You might know him. He just graduated from the same school you go to."

No way. "Who?"

"His name is Jasper," April says. "Jasper... King, I believe."

Immediately, I draw back. I recognize that name. It's just my rotten luck that Jasper King—Jasper King—is the cousin of my sister's fiancé. How is that even possible in this huge world, populated by seven billion people? I can't believe it.

"No," I say, finding my words after long seconds of silence. "I can't. I am not giving Jasper King a ride to Orlando."

"June—"

"No, April. Don't try to smooth talk me. I'm not doing it. I will not be in the same car as Jasper King."

"June—"

"I said no!"

"June!" April shouts, and this time I'm the one flinching away from the phone. "Calm down. Jesus, you'd think I'm asking you to give a ride to a serial killer. I've met Jasper. He's a nice kid."

"Kid?" I ask. "April, you're twenty-three."

"What's so wrong with him?" she demands.

Everything is wrong with Jasper King. Especially for me. Melonie has had it out from him the day we started high school. Likewise, he's had it out for us for just as long. We hate each other. It's not just me. The dislike is mutual.

"He's just..." I try to find the right words, but don't think I can. "April, we don't like each other."

That's an understatement. Jasper King, who's arguably the best artist in the entire, three-thousand student population—I'll give him that—has a hobby of painting other classmates. Sometimes they're flattering, even beautiful. Other times, they're ugly. It depends on how he views the person, and if he doesn't like you, he paints a monster version of you.

I've seen the painting he's made of me, and I hate it.

In short, he's a freak.

"Have you ever even met him?" April asks now. "Your school is big."

"I've never personally spoken to him..." I admit, "but you wouldn't get it, April—"

"He's Carlisle's best man, June," April interrupts, and something inside her must erupt because her tone has taken on a layer of stone. "You're not getting out of this. You're giving Jasper a ride down to Orlando with you. I don't want you to argue. It's as important he gets down here as it is for you, since you're both standing by my and Carlisle's sides. Please, be mature, June."

"I am mature."

"Prove it to me."

This is blackmail. "It's bad enough you want me to drive to Florida. Now you want me to bring a freak with me?"

"June," April snaps. "What is wrong with you? Jasper isn't a bad person. He's a sweet guy. I think you'd benefit from being around him. He's definitely way more mature than you."

"That's so not true."

"Oh my God," April mumbles. "I'm not arguing with you anymore, June. You're giving him a ride. That's final. You wouldn't want to ruin my wedding, would you?"

Sisters! What is it with them? Of course I don't want to ruin her wedding.

It'll only be for two days, I try to tell myself. I'd be doing it for April. She's important, and it's her wedding. I really don't want to ruin it. After two days, I wouldn't ever have to see Jasper King again. Just two days of agony. That's it. I can do it. I can. Really, I can.

I'll just keep telling myself that.

"Okay," I say aloud. "Okay, fine. I'll do this, but you better not have any more surprises."

I can hear April's sigh of relief loud and clear. She must've been holding her breath. "Thank you, June."

"Yeah, right."

"I mean it," she says. "I really, really appreciate it."

She's basically forced me into this, and now she's thanking me.

"I have to go now," she tells me. "Mom wants to do some more shopping for the wedding. It seems there will never be an end to it all."

April and I hang up. Then it's just me, my phone in hand, standing in my kitchen alone. Except for Adam, who is still licking up all the milk on the tiles. I stare down at the floor, knowing that after I've cleaned up all the milk and have gone out to buy more, I'll come home to my cat whining because his stomach hurts.

"So you're driving, huh?"

I jerk. Shit, I forgot Georgia was still in the living room trying to sleep. Now my friend is standing in the threshold that connects the living room to the kitchen, wide awake.

"I'm sorry," I say. "I didn't mean to wake you."

Georgia shrugs and brings her palms to her eyes, rubbing them. "Is it just me, or are we all starting to get hangovers?"

"I think the days of being hangover free are gone," I agree.

She sighs. "Alright. Tell me about the bombs April dropped on you and then I'll help you clean up your house."

Not only did I have to talk to my sister at seven in the morning, but I also only got three hours of sleep and now I have to clean up the house so that, when my aunt comes to check up on me, it's not obvious that I had a party in my mother's absence.

Today is really going down hill, and it hasn't even really started

Chapter Two: "I think a truce is in order."

Four hours later, when my aunt “unexpectedly” shows up at my door, the house is clean and Georgia has been gone for over an hour. I’m waiting in the living room, playing around on my phone, waiting for her when the door bell rings. She acts surprised when I almost immediately open the door.

When my mother left me over a week ago to go meet April in Florida and help her with the last minute details of the wedding, she told me to behave and threatened a life of being grounded, just before she wished me a happy few last days at school before summer break.

My mother is a whirl wind of emotions who has never trusted me. I was surprised when she decided she could leave me alone in the house for ten days.

I shouldn’t have been.

For one, although April denies it, my mother and I both know that my older sister is the favorite. So of course our mother needed to be down in Florida to help her out with last minute wedding errands.

Two, she has my aunt check in on me almost every day. That’s almost as good as my mother being here in person. In ways, it’s almost like she never left.

“Good morning, June!”

My aunt is the most cheery person you’ll ever meet, in my opinion. She’s all yellow, flowery dresses, heeled sandals, and light make-up complimenting the huge smile that never leaves her face. For a lot of people, she’d be too much for them.

Not for me, though. I love her.

I even get my bright red hair and green eyes from her. My mother has a darker shade, but my pale green eyes are the exact same as my aunt’s.

“Morning, Hannah!” I throw my arms around her shoulders. If I’m mostly influenced by the fact that yes, I forgot about a beer can that I just remembered is tucked between a couch pillow and the couch arm, I’ll never admit it. Better for my aunt to be distracted by my face than what the mostly clean house looks like.

My aunt shuffles into the house, closing the door behind her. I ignore the way her eyes roam around the living room, like they do every time she’s come over the past ten days. I trail into the kitchen, asking if she wants a glass of water.

She says yes, pauses, and then asks, “What’s wrong with Adam?”

“He’s just grouchy,” I say. When I turn around from the sink after filling the glass, my aunt is by the kitchen island. “I spilled milk this morning and he drank some before I could get it all cleaned up.”

She frowns.

“He’s fine,” I say. “It’s his own fault. I tried to push him away.”

As I push the glass of water towards her, my aunt pulls out a thick envelope and exchanges that for the glass. When I open it, there’s money inside.

“It’s for gas and more than enough for a night in a hotel room,” my aunt explains. “There should also be enough in case there’s an emergency. Your mother said she told you about driving down to Florida this morning.”

“April told me.”

My aunt gives me a sympathetic smile. “I’d drive down myself, but I can’t get there until the Thursday before the wedding.”

She’s a nurse, and she can’t stay away from her job for more than a couple of days. I try not to glower. An argument bubbles up, but I push it back. I already told April I would do it, and for her, I won’t go back on my promise.

Even if it means I have to take Jasper King with me.

I wave the envelope of money in the air. “Thanks, Hannah.”

“You have Carlisle’s cousin’s number?” she asks.

“April texted it to me a little while ago.” Have I called or messaged Jasper? Nope. We’re supposed to leave tomorrow morning, and April told me already she had already told him my address. I don’t need to talk to him before I have to.

My aunt only stays for another ten minutes. I can tell she doesn’t like checking up on me every day almost as much as I’m anxious to hide that I’ve had friends over almost every night since mom left. Besides, she’s on her lunch break and she has to get to work. It was a good guess on my part that’d she show up during her half hour for lunch.

As soon as she’s out the door and her car is out of the drive way, I find the beer can beneath the couch pillow and throw it away. When I’m back in the living room, Adam is tucked into the corner of the living room chair and glaring at me.

“Don’t judge me,” I tell the old cat. “Besides, it’s your own fault you don’t feel good.”

I pull my phone out of my jean pocket and text Georgia that the coast is clear.

Good! She texts back. I’ll see you at eight?

I text back an affirmative. There’s a party that one of the seniors that just graduated from our high school is throwing for all the other seniors. I just finished my junior year, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to stop me from going when my mother isn’t home to make sure I’m back by eleven.

Still, I remember what happened last night and anxiety pools in my stomach.

I’ve made the most out of having the house to myself for over a week. How could I not? I’ve played loud music, stayed out as late as I want, and have had my two closest friends, Melonie and Georgia, over for a girls night multiple times. We’ve drank and been loud and rejoiced in the absence of a parent. Melonie has especially needed it the past week.

But last night everything went wrong. Melonie stormed out, as angry as I had been, and she hasn’t answered any of my calls or texts that I’ve made this morning. She’s supposed to go out to the party with Georgia and me tonight, but all I’m getting is the silent treatment.

I tell myself it’s fine. It really is. I’ve gotten the silent treatment before and it always blows over sooner or later.

I tell myself this time can’t be any different.

~.*.~

Nine hours later, I meet up with Georgia at Ryan Stoltzman’s party for his fellow new high school graduates. It’s in a relatively clear area of the forest, in a spot that hasn’t been busted yet by the police, but if it happens, everyone already knows the best trails out of the area.

As soon as I’m within hearing distance to Georgia, I blurt out, “Have you heard from Melonie?”

One more text message and another call, and I still haven’t heard from her.

Georgia pats my shoulder, though it’s less comforting and more sarcastic. She intends it to be that way too. I just catch her rolling her eyes. “She said she’s going with Kylie tonight.”

I don’t say anything. It’s a calculated move on Melonie’s part. Georgia and I have been friends with her since our middle school days. I know Melonie well enough that she’s trying to punish and hurt me by going out with another of our mutual friends instead of us. Years ago, it would’ve worked. Now it’s just annoying and only hurts a little bit.

“June, she’ll get over it,” Georgia says. “Just have a fun time tonight.”

“It was a bad fight,” I say.

“You guys fight all the time. She’ll get over it.”

Georgia and Melonie never fight. For some reason, nothing Melonie says ever gets on her nerves.

“Come on.” Georgia links her arm through my own. She starts to drag me towards the fire at the center of the forest clearing. “You’re leaving tomorrow and I want to have fun.”

I groan just thinking about it. I’ve had to mule over the new change in plans all day. When I told Georgia after I hung up with April about driving, she’d said I probably wouldn’t die driving. I took the probably as a compliment. A few months earlier I have no doubt she would’ve agreed with me. She’s been in the car with me enough times to witness how horrible at driving I am.

Minutes later, after I’d told her about Jasper King, she’d laughed. Actually laughed. Then she said, “I take it back. If Jasper is in the car with you, you’ll see red and crash. You will die.”

I agree with her. I’m dreading it.

“Alright,” Georgia says now. “Here’s some beer. Drink up.”

She shoves a red plastic cup into my hands and the beer almost sloshes over the edge. “Georgia!”

“What? You’re pouting!” she defends. “Have fun! Come on.”

I run my free hand through my hair. “I can’t stop thinking about tomorrow.”

She taps the underside of my cup. “That’s why you need to drink up.”

So I do. Georgia is the kind of friend who’s always in a good mood. It seems like nothing gets to her. She’s calm. She sees the good in the bad. She’d rather have fun instead of dwelling on the downside. That’s probably why we get along so well. I’m too anxious about everything around me. I’m careful. I make sure she doesn’t do anything too crazy or dangerous.

As soon as I take a good first gulp of my beer, Georgia says, “There you go, girl!”

I laugh and shake my head.

“King’s cup?” She flashes her cards at me. She brings them everywhere.

It’s supposed to be a senior’s party. By the looks of the packed forest clearing around the fire, a good number of the seniors who have graduated have shown up. Then there’s other students like Georgia and I who have come along for the ride. It’s so loud that I’m almost positive that the police are going to finally find our new hang out spot. No one really cares tonight though.

Georgia and I find a bench at a table to settle on. There’s one guy who I vaguely recognize as being on the cross country team last year who’s already at the table. I never talk to people I don’t really know, but Georgia has no problem inviting him to play with us. As she’s preparing the cards, I go to grab a can of beer. When I get back, two of the guy’s friends have already joined and there’s another girl—Michaela—who’s also a junior.

An hour later, there’s twelve people squeezed onto the benches around the table playing. One of the seniors has already downed a can of beer. I lose next. As soon as that beer can is downed, the alcohol has made me more relaxed than I would normally be.

By the time we’re playing a third round of king’s cup, I move on to play beer pong with a senior, Howa, who I used to play varsity soccer with. We’re against two guys I don’t know and we’re winning.

When we lose, we cry and laugh and hug anyways.

“I’m so sad you’re leaving!” I cry-laugh.

“Hey, you’ll be a great soccer captain next year!” Howa says.

I give her a crooked smile. I can only hope that’s true.

As we secede our side of the beer pong table to the next two friends who want to play the winners, I spot her.

I don’t know how long Melonie has been here, but true to what she told Georgia, she’s with Kylie.

I have nothing against Kylie. Kylie’s hung out with the three of us on multiple occasions. I like her. It’s just that Melonie uses her when she’s mad with me.

I know that and I let it get to me anyways.

“Hey,” I say to Howa, “I’m gonna go get another beer. I’ll see you later.”

She waves a hand and points in a different direction. “My boyfriend is finally here. I’ll see you around, June!”

Instead of heading for another beer, I make way for Kylie and Melonie. Before I get within a few feet though, Melonie spots me and moves in a different direction.

I stop. Then I sigh.

If she wants to give me the cold shoulder and the silent treatment, nothing is going to stop her. There’s not anything I can do but give her time to blow off steam. I did say mean things to her last night, in the heat of the moment. It’s not like she doesn’t have a right to be angry with me anyways.

Beside me, someone whistles. When I turn around I find it’s Georgia.

“She’s really going to milk it,” Georgia says. She’s pointing at Melonie. “I’ll talk to her tomorrow when she’s sober and see what I can do.”

“Thanks,” I say.

“Let’s get another drink?”

I want to agree whole heartedly, but I know I can’t drink anymore tonight. “I can’t. I have to drive. But let’s get you another one.”

Despite the damper seeing Melonie has put on my mood, I’m still having fun. Georgia’s hilarious when she’s drunk. She’s all awkward limbs and loud voice anyways, so when she’s drunk she’s just that more outrageous. Everyone can’t help but love her.

So I don’t think tonight could get any worse.

Until Georgia says, “Uh oh.”

I turn to her. I’m just grabbing a beer from one of the piles for her when she says that. “What?”

She grimaces. “It’s King.”

I look in the direction she’s looking, and sure enough, I spot the tall guy standing near the campfire, standing with some other seniors he’s just graduated with. He doesn’t hold a plastic cup. Instead, his hands are stuffed in dark baggy jeans. He’s wearing a long-sleeved black shirt and his hair is cut short. The fire makes his blonde hair look white, but I know from seeing him at school that his hair is a darker shade of blonde that’s bleached because of how much time he spends swimming.

“He must be hot,” I say.

Georgia raises her eyebrows.

“Um, no,” I begin. “Not in that way. Gross. No, I meant that it’s near the fire and he’s wearing a long sleeved shirt and jeans? Even without the fire, it’s hot out tonight. He’s got to be overheating.”

“Don’t I know it,” Georgia agrees. I look at her. She is wearing black leggings and, although I know she’s wearing a light blue shirt, she’s got a dark navy sweater on over it. Georgia loves wearing dark clothes. Melonie hates it, but even I have to admit Georgia always pulls it off.

I frown and turn back to Jasper King. “I can’t believe I have to sit in a car with him all weekend.”

Georgia starts waving.

“What are you doing?”  I hiss.

If it was just anyone waving in a huge crowd, a lot of people might not notice. But it’s Georgia. Everyone loves her and the way she waves is wild and carefree.

Jasper King notices.

As soon as she has his attention, she gestures for him to come over.

“Georgia,” I say. “Stop.

“Hey.” She turns to look at me, and the expression she wears is sympathetic. “I’m here for you, girl, believe me. But you gotta get the first meeting with Jasper over with. It’ll be better if I’m standing next to you, right?”

“No.”

She shrugs. “Well, it’s too late always.”

It doesn’t take very long for Jasper to make his way over. He looks wary. For me, although I’ve had two cups of beer, all I feel is anxiety rising.

I’ve never actually had a conversation with Jasper King before. I’ve had classes with him, yes, but I’ve never personally taken the time to talk face to face with the guy. Yes, he’s the schools loner. Yes, I’ve made fun of him through out high school, but who hasn’t? I’m surprised he even showed up tonight. The few friends he’s managed to have at our school are almost as much of a recluse he is. The school body sees him at school and nowhere else. He’s just there, darkly brooding, painting ugly pictures of people he hates.

He’s just so weird, and I have no desire to talk to him.

But before I know it, Jasper King is standing just feet away from Georgia and me. He looks at us wearily. I glare at him. I’m sure Georgia has a smile plastered on her face.

“Um…” King clears his throat, though it’s the only indication that he’s uncomfortable. Everything else about him screams that he doesn’t have a care in the world. His hands are still in his jean pockets. He leans slightly back in his stance, relaxed. His dark eyes stare a hole into mine and I glare right back.

He clears his throat again. “So… June Pierce, right?”

My name snaps me back to attention. I manage a, “Yeah.

It comes out more haughty than I mean it to, but it’s how I feel anyways. He obviously knows who I am. I’ve seen the picture he’s painted of me. I’m a monster. He posted it on social media only a few months ago and it’s been going around the school ever since.

King’s eyes narrow.

I’m silent.

Georgia says, “So, I heard that you’re also going to June’s sister’s wedding.”

Oh, Georgia. I can always count on her to be the ice breaker.

Not that I want her to be one in this case.

“Yeah,” King says slowly. His eyes lazily go to Georgia, but a moment later they’re back on mine. “Thanks for giving me a ride.”

The words sound painful, like he has to rip them from his throat to actually say them.

“Oh, sure,” I say. I can’t keep the scowl from my face. “Yeah, not a problem.”

His expression remains relaxed, though his eyes are hard. They’re almost a glare like mine are.

I can’t help it. I have to say it. “Why the hell would you ever paint something so ugly of someone?”

“It matches your personality.” His reply comes easily. He throws it at me almost as soon as I finish asking, almost as if he was waiting for me to say it. Like he knew I was going to.

Beside me, Georgia groans.

“You don’t even know me,” I retort.

“Are you sure?” he asks. He leans forward, his scowl matching mine, his hard eyes boring into my own hard ones. “You talk at me almost every day, June Pierce. I hear you. I think I know you enough.”

I only say what’s true. He’s weird. He stares at people. He draws in a notebook at lunch and no one knows what they are. He wears dark clothes. Almost no one talks to him because he gives everyone a cold shoulder for no reason.

“You don’t,” I reply simply. “You’re just an asshole.”

“At least I’m not a stuck-up, spoiled bi—”

Okay.” Suddenly, Georgia is standing between us. Both of her hands are spread out, one facing me and one facing Jasper, palms up.

“Alright,” she says. “I hope that’s out of our systems. How about now we make a truce?”

Georgia,” I hiss.

I hear King mutter, “I definitely have more to say.”

I open my mouth to shoot words back, but Georgia gives me a fierce glare.

I stay silent. Reluctantly.

“Okay,” Georgia starts again. “So both parties—the Pierce party and the King party—know that for two days, starting tomorrow morning, you both have to endure each other’s presence. If the last two minutes are anything to go by, you’re both going to strangle each other before you can even leave the Boston area. So, I think a truce is in order.”

“Really,” King says, dry. “You think so?”

“Oh, I know so,” she bites back. “So here’s the deal: this painting that Jasper has made of June is not going to be spoken of for the next two days. Better yet, maybe until the wedding is over next weekend.”

We both glare at Georgia. I don’t think either of us agree.

“Also,” she adds. “If you two have nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. Got it?”

I stare at Georgia, wondering how just minutes ago she was waving Jasper King over, confident that she was doing the right thing. Now she’s standing between us, laying out the terms of the next two days like she’s going to be there, right along with us.

“Georgia,” I say. “Are you serious?”

“Completely.”

“This is ridiculous,” King says.

Georgia turns a stern glare on him. “Do I need to repeat myself, or are the terms understood?”

I’m going to retort a loud no, but then I think of the next few days, and I think that I’d rather have silence than be forced to talk to Jasper King in my passenger seat. Hell, if he opened his mouth to say one word, I would probably try to knock him out and lock him in the trunk, assuming I could lift him.

Besides, I have to do this for April and I’ll have to do anything to get through two days in a car with Jasper King.

Seconds later, party going on around us, people laughing and drunk and generally having a good time, I cross my arms and grit out, “Fine. I get it.”

Georgia looks pointedly at King.

He looks like he’s going against his very being as he grumbles, “Understood.”

“Shake on it.”

King and I glare at each other, but in the next moment we’re moving closer than we’ve ever wanted to be near each other and reluctantly shaking hands on this little, stupid truce.

My friend claps her hands and says cheerily, “Now that that’s settled.”

Jasper King and I lock eyes and it’s a staring match to see who can glare at each other the strongest. One thing is clear between us though.

Nothing is settled.

Chapter Three: "His cousin is marrying my sister."

The next morning, Georgia and I stand at the top of my driveway, where we’re waiting for Jasper King to show up so we can get this road trip over with. She’s trying to comfort me.

“If you think about it,” she’s saying, “it’ll only be, like, two days, and then you and Jasper will never have to speak to each other again.”

I’m not sure I’ve forgiven her for last night yet, so I say shortly, “We have to walk down the aisle together at the wedding.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

“Oh, yeah,” I mumble under my breath.

“Hey, I hear you.”

I glare at her.

She gives me a lopsided grin. “After the wedding, though, you really won’t ever have to talk to him again. You’re going to be in Florida for a whole month! I mean, yeah, it’s going to be crazy hot down there, but at least you can go swimming in warm ocean water every day.”

She does have a point.

“I wonder if he’s painted me yet,” Georgia suddenly muses.

“Trust me, you better hope he hasn’t.”

I’m not sure when Jasper King started his paintings. It was sometime during my freshman year of high school, when he was already a sophomore. The first painting I ever saw was the one he did of Melonie. Her painting is even less flattering than mine is, and that’s putting it lightly. In the painting, she’s all pale skin, yellow crooked teeth and has claws for hands.

Ever since Melonie saw that painting she’s been relentless in her gossip about him. But what she says is true, anyways. Even more, what gives him the right to paint horrible pictures of people?

It really does make him an asshole, even if not all his paintings are gross distortions of what people look like in reality.

I’m also not too sure that if he ever decided to paint something of Georgia it’d be flattering. Everyone loves her, yes, but he probably thinks she’s tainted by just being friends with Melonie and me.

“Look, June,” Georgia says now. She draws her gaze away from the road and puts them on me. Her expression has softened. “Just forget about the paintings for the next two days, girl. You and Jasper don’t need to say anything to each other. Just get on the road, play the music real loud, and keep your eyes forward. If it gets bad, you can call me every hour and I’ll pick up and listen, okay?”

Georgia and I met in the first grade, when she stuck a crayon up my nose because I’d apparently stolen the last sheet of drawing paper from her. Friendship blossomed. Georgia is as fierce and outgoing in her nature as much as she is fiercely loyal. We couldn’t look more different—brown hair to orange and brown eyes to green, with her obnoxious clothing choices to my up-to-date fashion—but we couldn’t be more closer or the more perfect friends.

“Thanks, Georgia,” I say, and I mean it.

She shrugs. “Of course, girl.”

We turn our gazes back to the road and sure enough, at almost nine o’clock on the dot, I see someone walking up the street. It’s the black clothes and the lazy nature of the person that tells me it’s definitely Jasper King.

And then, I remember his cousin is marrying my sister. It clicks.

I groan.

“What?” Georgia asks. “What’s up, June?”

“His cousin is marrying my sister.”

“Yeah, I know.” She eyebrows furrow. “We established that yesterday morning.”

“No,” I say. “I mean his cousin is marrying my sister, Georgia. That means I’m going to be related to the freak.”

Georgia’s mouth makes an “oh” shape, her head rising and falling in a small nod. She gives me another sympathetic look. “At least he’ll only be… well, what would you call it? Cousin in law?”

“Oh, no.” I stare at King’s form getting closer to my driveway. He’s close enough now that I can make out his bleached hair and tanned skin. I can even make out his bored, unamused gaze looking at Georgia and me.

“I can’t do this,” I say now. “I can’t drive down with him to Florida. I won’t survive.”

“You’re overdramatic. April’s right. You do exaggerate.”

I’m back to glaring at her.

She raises her hands above her shoulders, palms facing outwards. “Don’t look at me! Look, it’s not the end of the world. And like I said, I’m here for you. Melonie’s there for you, even if she’s mad at you right now. But you’ll get through it, June. You’re that kind of person.”

“What kind of person is that?” I ask, unamused.

“Strong minded,” Georgia replies easily, letting her hands fall back down to her sides. “Stubborn.”

“Are you complimenting me or insulting me?”

She pauses, then says, “Both.”

“Hey.”

Georgia and I both jump. We turn back to face the driveway, and sure enough, there Jasper King is, standing only a few feet away from us. I can’t tell if he’s glaring at me or just has a hard glint in his dark brown eyes normally. There’s an unlit cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. I glance at Georgia, who returns the look.

The time has come.

Still, I’m so uneasy and unenthusiastic about this trip that I’m not sure what to say.

“Hey, Jasper,” Georgia says. She elbows me.

I start. “Hi, King.”

“Jasper is fine,” he says, voice muffled because he’s talking around the cigarette. He gestures to the silver Honda sitting in the driveway. “So… that’s your car?”

“It’s my mother’s car.”

He stares at it, then takes the cigarette from his mouth and says, “Is it even going to make it past the state line?”

Did he just insult my car?

It doesn’t matter that it’s actually my mother’s car, or that I’ve actually thought and said aloud the same exact thing.

It just matters that he insulted the car that I took my driver’s test in, the one that’s gotten me to and from school and has never broken down while I’ve driven. It’s the first car and only car I’ve driven.

And I’m the only person allowed to insult it.

“Better yet,” I say, tone on edge, “it’ll get us to Florida.”

“You sure?” He looks at me. “How old is it?”

I don’t respond, but Georgia does cheerfully. “It’s sixteen years old.”

“Look… you’ve got this window duck-taped.” He’s pointing to one of the back seat’s windows. After he takes a closer look inside, he adds, “Is the seat belt duck-taped too?”

“It’ll get us to Florida.”

He looks at me doubtfully. “Should we risk it?”

“Watch it, King,” I bite.

His eyes narrow. “I’m just telling you the truth.”

“It’d be better if you’d just shut up and get in the car.”

“I don’t think I want to risk my life in this.”

“You’ll be fine.”

“Carlisle told me about your driving. The last thing I need is for you to kill me.”

Excuse me?” I say. “Are you blaming me or the car for your imaginary death?”

He stares at me. “Probably you.”

Okay.”

And like a replay of last night, Georgia is standing between us again. She glares at both of us in turn. “What happened to don’t say anything if you’ve got nothing nice to say?”

Jasper says something under his breath, and I think it’s something about how easy it is to make me angry.

I’m going to start seeing red.

“Guys?”

I press my lips together, the urge to say he started it strong. But all I say aloud is, “It can start now. Right, King?”

Jasper,” he says. “And yeah, sure. Now works.”

Georgia looks at me pointedly.

I let out a breath, try not to roll my eyes, and add, “Are you ready to leave, Jasper?”

Eyes still narrowed, he just nods.

Guess he didn’t have anything nice to say.

Georgia throws her arms around me. “I’m going to miss you, girl. You better call me when you’re in my name state.”

There’s an interesting story as to why Georgia was named after a state, but I won’t get into that. I hug her back. “Make sure you feed Adam, okay?”

“Of course! I love that cat.”

“Your cat is named Adam?” King asks.

Something about the way he says that gets to me. I detach from Georgia and glare King down. “Problem?”

He spreads his hands out. “If there’s nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all, right?”

My eye twitches, and I’m really not sure if I’m going to make it through the next two days with him in close proximity.

~.*.~

After saying some final few words to Georgia, I open the trunk of my mother’s car so King can throw his small bag of belongings next to my suitcase. Then we both pile into my car—me behind the wheel and him in shotgun. I wave to Georgia as I back out of the drive way.

For the most part, Jasper King remains silent, and like Georgia suggested, I turn the radio on and try to ignore his existence.

It’s pretty hard to do that when he winces and takes sharp intakes of breath every time the car comes to a hard stop or I make a wide turn that makes it look like I’m going to hit a car in the other lane.

Yes, I suck at breaking. Yes, sometimes I don’t slow down easily before a red light.

Sue me.

“Look,” I finally say and I can’t help that my annoyance shows through in my tone. It hasn’t even been an hour and we’ve just barely gotten through the traffic that’s leaving Boston. “We’re not going to get in an accident. If my mom really thought I wouldn’t be able to drive to Florida, she wouldn’t be making me do this.”

Wow. All I needed was someone I strongly disliked in the passenger seat and suddenly my confidence in my driving skills doubled—no, tripled.

Jasper King barely spares me a glance. “You’ve never been in an accident?”

I’m silent.

“Well?”

Are my hands squeezing the steering wheel too hard?

“Not with another car,” I answer. The look I just catch out of the corner of my eye is pained, maybe even a little fearful. I clench my teeth. “Is there a problem?”

“I’m not going to say anything.”

But I know what he means loud and clear and suddenly, without a doubt, I know the deal Georgia made us swear on is going to be useless. But for April, I have to try. I need to be civil.

I also need to concentrate on the road.

So I turn up the music and try to ignore the fact that I have someone in my passenger seat.

But for the next hour, King doesn’t stop wincing. This time it isn’t because of my driving, but I’m pretty sure because of my music choice. Apparently, he doesn’t like pop. At first, I try to be a better person and change the radio channel, but if anything, his winces get more frequent.

When a new song by a popular singer comes on and I turn up the radio because I like it, I catch out of the corner of my eye King wincing again.

And there goes my shit. I can’t take it any longer.

“Will you stop that,” I demand.

“What is this crap?” he immediately demands.

I glance at him. “It’s the pop radio station. It’s new music by the top artists.” When he doesn’t respond, I add, “Cardi B.”

He looks lost.

“Cardie B?” I try again. Still nothing. “Oh come on, King. Even if you don’t like her songs I find it hard to believe you’ve never heard her name.”

He blinks. “She’s friends with Nicki Minaj.”

“What? No.”

“I thought she was.”

“What are you talking—“ I pause. “King, her and Nicki Minaj hate each other. Everyone knows that.”

King looks a little irritated, most likely due to my patronizing tone. “I thought we weren’t going to talk to each other unless we had something nice to say.”

“I wasn’t saying anything mean or insulting,” I respond. It’s really hard to keep my tone light and not strained. “I was just… saying.”

“Well, you could work a little on your people skills then.”

“Didn’t you just say ‘if there’s nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all?”

“I didn’t say it exactly that way, but yes, that’s essentially what I was getting at.”

“Now who’s being patronizing?”

He snorts. “It doesn’t hurt to have a little bit of that in your life.”

“Trust me, my friend does that enough,” I tell him, and it takes me a second to realize what I’ve just said.

“Who? Melonie?”

“No.” But the look Jasper King gives me tells me he knows he’s right. Irritated, I add, “That painting you did of her was horrible. You can say she’s a mean person, but that doesn’t make you any better.”

He looks at me for a moment. I don’t know why. Then he says, “In your opinion. I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever done.”

I look over at him. “What is your deal? Who does that? You criticize people you don’t even know. That doesn’t make you a good person like you think it does.”

“It’s not—” he cuts off, eyes growing wide. “Eyes on the road! Eyes on the road!”

I jerk my eyes back to the road, hands gripping the steering wheel. I’m drifting into the next lane on the highway. I’m about to crash into the side of an eighteen wheeler. I’m probably in its blind spot.

“Shit,” I sputter. I jerk the wheel in the opposite direction. A car blares its horn at me. I’ve almost rear ended the car in the other lane. More cars blare their horns. I jerk the car back into the middle lane, breathing hard.

“What the hell,” King breathes. He’s gripping the jesus handle, which is just hanging above the window, held together by duck tape. “How did you get your license?”

“You don’t even have one.” It’s my best defense.

“Now I wish I did, just so I don’t have to be in this car with you.”

“It’s not like I want you here, King.”

He leans closer to me, suddenly, obviously irritated. “My name is Jasper. Jasper.

I’m about to make a retort, but then I notice that the car isn’t moving so smoothly anymore. It’s making an unhealthy sound. Actually, it’s more like there’s a lump making the car not so balanced, with a burning rubber smell. I swear again. As King glares at me, I pull onto the side of the highway and get out of the car.

One of the tires is flat.

Just my dumb luck.

“Good job,” King mutters, coming around to my side of the car. He’s eyeing the flat. “Great job.”

“Shut up, King.”

He throws his hands in the air. “It’s Jasper!