This is the second installment of my YA Fiction novel. If you missed the first excerpt, you can find it here. Enjoy!
Charlie turns the radio down, and Van Halen fades away. Charlie looks over at Milly but can’t catch her eye.
“If he was that bad, you could have just come over earlier,” he asks.
Milly shakes her head, but she won’t look at him still. “It’s not a big deal. I’ve avoided him most of the morning.”
After a while Charlie asks, “Are you okay?”
Milly plays with the bracelet on her wrist, rolling a circular bead over and over again, counting under her breath. One tire, two tires, three, four, five. “I already know what you’re thinking. It’s not that big of a deal.”
“You always say that.”
“Because it’s always true, Charlie. I’ve lasted this long. I just have to finish school, and I’m gone. Another year isn’t going to kill me.”
Charlie takes a deep breath. “You sure?”
“Yes.” Her eyes fixate on the road, away from Charlie’s gaze.
Charlie’s mouth opens to say something else, but he quickly shuts it again. Milly straightens her back and puts on a smile. “Would you just calm down? Stop worrying about me.”
“I won’t let this go.”
“Oh what do you know, Junior?”
“Hey! You say it like it’s a bad thing. ”
“It is,” she teases. “Just give it a rest. I can’t handle another lecture this summer.” Her smile remains plastered to her face, but her eyes aren’t wrinkled up like they are when she’s actually happy, and her knuckles turn white as she holds onto the bracelet.
Charlie focuses back on the road, taking a deep breath. It doesn’t matter how much this bothers her. Eventually, she’ll listen, he thinks.
“Maybe if you moved with your aunt, you’ll have to go to another school. But at least that way you won’t have to face everyone after last year…”
“Drop it, Charlie.” The smile leaves Milly’s face. “I’m not moving, and I’m not running away from anything or anyone. Last year is no one’s business: including yours. You promised.”
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“No one’ll remember what happened last year anyway,” she says. The pitch of her voice rises. “I’m sure a lot of things happened over the summer for everyone; they won’t even care about me anymore.”
The car is silent. They pull off the freeway. Palm trees spring up every few blocks, and front yard after front yard sports brown lawns. Charlie turns the air on. It feels like a boulder sits in his stomach—he shouldn’t have pushed it. Everything changed last year, even Milly and Charlie’s friendship. She won’t admit it, but Charlie knows she thinks about last year a lot. She shifts in her chair and plays with that stupid bracelet, rubbing it like a genie that can fix all her problems. He slows at a red light. The only noise comes from the traffic of the overpass and the incessant click-click-click of his blinker. He can’t stand it anymore.
“Nova?” She looks over at him, holding his gaze before the car has to move again. He pulls off the freeway. “Please let me do something. You’ve taken enough hits for me to last a lifetime.”
Milly lets out a deep breath and turns to face the window again.
When they were younger and Charlie’s parents were out of town—which was very frequent—they left him at her house. It was Nova and Charlie against the world ever since the time Milly was five and Charlie was four. The broken vase was one of their many adventures gone awry.
“You know, I wouldn’t have to protect you if you lived somewhere safer.”
“Charlie…” she says as a warning.
“I know, I know, but there’s got to be somewhere—someone—better.”
“We’ve been over this a thousand times; there is no one besides you.”
“And why can’t you ask your aunt?”
“Maybe I don’t want to live with her? I know it doesn’t make sense to you, but that’s home to me—”
“God knows why,” he says while rolling his eyes. She glares at him. “Sorry,” he says quickly as he pulls off the freeway.
“I know it’s really hard for you to understand, but I’m going to ask you one last time: don’t bring it up again. This is my senior year, and I’m not moving before it even starts. I feel really good about this year, and nothing that happened last year is going to stop me from having a good year. Just drop it, okay?”
“All right, all right. I just really hope you’re right,” he says.