From Chapter Four:
“So, eighteen this weekend,” Riley muses, leaning back in his chair. “You must have big plans for celebrating?”
“Nope.” I take a sip of my iced tea.
“So that means your family is coming to town and you’re keeping it tame.”
He’s teasing me, but he wouldn’t be if he knew my family. “Nope,” I say again.
I can tell he wants to ask me another question. It’s time to make something up before he can start digging.
“My aunt and uncle can’t get away from Boston this weekend because of some family thing going on there,” I lie. “I just didn’t want to go back for it.”
“Your aunt and uncle?” he asks, looking confused for a second. Then he shifts his eyes away from me. Yup. He remembers now. “Do you miss your parents on your birthday?”
I take another sip of my drink while thinking about how to answer him. I have to be careful with this, since it’s clear that death isn’t a subject he’s comfortable with. Not that I can blame him, really. It’s the same for most people. I release my straw from my lips.
“My parents are always here with me, celebrating my life from above.” My voice is gentle, but his cheeks still flush.
“You had to miss them growing up, though, didn’t you?” he asks after a moment.
“I loved them growing up, or at least my memory of them.” I watch him swallow, even though he hasn’t taken a sip from his glass. He looks away from me again, focusing on something I can’t see on the sidewalk. Fail. We’ve veered straight into awkward.
I try to think of a way to change the subject, but he turns his head back to me and speaks before I can.
“If you’re not doing anything for your birthday, I’ll take you out.”
Like on a date? I think, freezing as the d-word pops into my mind. I don’t date, or at least I haven’t since I was Anna. It just doesn’t make sense to let anyone get attached to me. It makes even less sense now, since I won’t be here in a couple of months.
I’m about to answer him, when I realize he’s still talking. “You have to celebrate your birthday. You know that, right?” he asks. Looks like Riley is one of those persistent people. Super.
I set my elbow on the table, propping my head up with my hand. I’m not sure there’s a way out of this one. If I’m here to help him with something, that probably means I have to spend time with him. It would just help if we didn’t spend that time on something that sounds like a date.
“I’m over birthdays,” I finally say. I’m not sure if that answers his question or not.
Apparently not. “You’re too young to be over birthdays,” he informs me. Great.
Our food shows up before I can come up with a good argument for that. Riley reaches for his sandwich but keeps looking at me. His eyes dare me to challenge him.
“Wisdom of the ancient one?” I finally offer. I catch him mid-bite, and he can only smirk until he swallows his mouthful of food.
“Are you always this sarcastic?” he asks.
“I usually save it for family.” I give him my most innocent look.
“You should be,” I agree. I pick up my panini and take a bite.
If I add up the years of life I’ve had in The Before as both Anna and Cassidy, I’m more than justified in my feelings about birthdays. This isn’t something I can explain to Riley, though.
“Think about where you want to go on Saturday,” he says. I can tell that he’s not great at taking no for an answer. Well, we sure have that in common.
“Won’t your girlfriend be jealous?” I ask. It’s a joke, but there’s an odd look creeping across Riley’s face. It tells me that was a bad choice of words. Interesting.
He looks away from me and lifts his glass to his lips. After taking a drink, he sets it back down on the table.
“I’m not really a girlfriend kind of guy.”
He gets really quiet, then. Even though most people are quiet when they eat, this feels more uncomfortable than when we were talking about death. Someone has to break the silence here, and clearly it’s going to be me.
“Was that the wrong thing to bring up?” I reach for my fork so I can spear a cucumber from my side salad.
He blinks a couple of times before my words register. “No.”
He’s lying. He knows that I can tell, or I think he does, because he opens his mouth to speak again.
“I live inside of my head sometimes.”
“Me too.” I go for a tomato this time.
“You’re seventeen. Get out of your head.”
I make a face at him. “You’re nineteen, lead by example.”
He laughs, picking his glass up again. “What’s that old saying? ‘Do as I say, not as I do’?”
“I think we just call that hypocrisy in Boston.”
“Consider me schooled.”
He’s studying me, I notice. I pretend to be occupied with eating my salad. When I’ve taken a few bites and see that he’s still watching me, I can’t pretend to ignore him anymore.
He grins at the impatience in my voice. “Just curious what brought you out here.”
“Life.” I put my fork down.
“Let me guess. You’re an actress?”
I try not to choke as a mouthful of iced tea slides down my throat. No, but I was in my last life. There’s something I sure can’t say out loud. I shake my head after a moment.
“Model?” he tries again.
This time I do choke on my iced tea, but it’s because I’m laughing. I reach for my napkin and hold it over my mouth while I cough a couple of times, putting it back down on the table when I think I’ve recovered. At least the iced tea didn’t come out my nose.
“Maybe when my long-anticipated six-inch growth spurt happens, but I’m not holding my breath,” I tell him. “I’m a little too short for the model life, if you haven’t noticed.”
“It was a compliment, actually. You don’t take those well, do you?”I feel my cheeks getting warm. He must notice it too, because I see glee in his eyes. He’s found the weakness in my armor and he knows it.