“Are you sure you just don’t want me to drive you?” Sue asked, a worried look spreading across her face when she glanced out the window at the threatening grey clouds. “What if it starts raining when you get back?”
“Then Jake will drive me,” Kiralee answered simply, shrugging into her Washington State hoodie that Rachel Black had given her for Christmas the previous year. “He got a new truck, y’know.”
Kiralee headed for the door. “Bye, Mom.”
“Be safe,” Sue called back.
Kiralee hopped on her mountain bike and sped off towards the Black’s.
Once she reached the familiar red wood house, she parked her bike on the lawn and started towards the back of it, where the garage was. She opened the heavy door.
Jake, already below the bike and working hard, wheeled out from under it at the sound of her entrance. He smiled.
“Hey!” he said, pulling himself up and brushing himself off. “You made it.”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” she said, taking off her sweatshirt and throwing it on the oak desk nearest her. “What are we working on today?”
“Well, my chains need some work, and my rear brakes are totally busted.” He said, shaking his head at the bike.
“Chains,” she smiled. “My specialty. I’ll get started on that.”
“Perfect,” he smiled back.
For the next couple hours, Kiralee and Jacob worked on his bike, chatting occasionally about random topics—the deaths of celebrities, conflicts in the town, and personal issues. Jake started to get into a conversation about how he wanted to start college and build a mechanic shop of his own, which Kiralee applauded.
“Wow, Jake,” she exclaimed in pure astonishment. “You definitely should. I’m proud of you,” she added, and leaned over to ruffle his hair—his short hair, actually. He decided to get another dramatic hair cut. It felt like peach fuzz to her now.
He laughed and playfully shoved her away. “Oh, look at you, Miss Big Shot,” he chuckled. “You always make me feel like I’m the toddler and you’re the adult.”
“Hey!” she complained, shoving him playfully back. “I’m not a toddler.”
He rolled his eyes. “Okay.”
a toddler,” she repeated, folding her arms and trying to hide her smile. “And you think you’re an adult, huh? Sorry to rain on your parade—you might
be the size of one, but you definitely need to catch up on the maturity scale. If anything, I’m more mature than you are.”
“Oh, really?” he said, grinning, his eyebrows rising.
“Okay. We’re gonna let you think that.”
She laughed. “Oh, shut up.”
He chuckled, standing up.
“That reminds me,” he said, heading over to one of the shelves in the garage near the tool box. “I brought some food.”
“Good. I’m starving.”
“Same here,” he said, tossing her a can of soda. She caught it, opened it, and guzzled.
They continued this pattern of playful shoves and chatter for a bit while munching on cold pizza, potato chips, and warm soda. All the while, Kiralee totally forgot about the mess with Ginger and the issues with the pack—she only focused on her friendship with Jacob. It was so natural, so simple. It was like they were meant to be best friends.
“Y’know, it’s Billy’s birthday in a couple weeks,” Jake mentioned. Kiralee nodded.
“That’s right,” she said. “Do you know what he wants?”
“Nothing,” Jake shrugged. “He won’t tell me honestly. He said he wants to be around his friends and family for his birthday.”
“Well, that’s sensible,” Kiralee smiled. “Are you having a party?”
“Of course,” Jake said, and his expression turned confused. “Didn’t Ginger give you the invitation?”
“No,” Kiralee shook her head. “We didn’t get one.”
“Oh,” he said, “she probably just forgot. I’ll remind her tomorrow.”
Kiralee didn’t answer. Instead, she looked outside at the pouring rain.
“Jeez,” she said, and got up to get a closer look out the window. “I didn’t even realize it was raining that hard.”
“I didn’t either,” he said, making Kiralee jump. She also hadn’t realized he’d followed her towards the window.
“Sorry,” he said again, placing a warm, firm hand on her shoulder. She smirked.
“Do you think you could drive me home?” Kira asked. “Call me crazy, but I don’t think I want to ride home on a bike when it’s pitch dark out and raining.”
He chuckled. “Sure thing. Let’s go…it is getting a little late.”
“Oh, I know,” she said, and faked a yawn. “It’s past my bedtime. You know, it’s not considerate when you deprive a toddler of sleep by forcing labor upon her.”
He laughed. “Sorry again.”
“It’s alright. Look, you can redeem yourself if you just drive me home. Deal?”
“Deal. Let’s go,” he said, throwing her the sweatshirt. She put it on and opened the door.
“Here we go,” she said, ducking her head. She braced herself and ran through the rain.
When they reached the truck, her grey sweatshirt turned a smoky color and her red sweatpants were now maroon. She hopped in while Jake threw her bike into the truck bed, then joined her in the cab.
She shivered and turned on the heat. “I like the new ride, by the way,” she said, sitting back and looking around the truck.
“Thanks,” he said, backing out. “I saved up half from my salary and Ginger helped me pay the rest.”
Kiralee hid her grimace. “Oh.”
They pulled off down the road.
“Y’know, Ginger made friends with a girl she works with and now they’re roommates,” he said casually, and Kiralee knew he was leading up to something.
“Okay…” she prompted. “And?”
“And the girl—her name is Taylor, by the way—has a younger brother, about your age. His name is Braedon. He’s very good looking. You interested?”
“Jake!” she cried, and then giggled. “What is
this? First you’re some kind of grease monkey, and now a matchmaker? Is there something I don’t know about?”
He laughed. “No, no. I was just wondering.”
She giggled again. “Okay then, Jake. No thanks.”
“Alright,” he grinned.
The next couple minutes consisted of Kiralee placing her palms face up in front of the heater, her teeth chattering from the rain. Jake cranked up the heat more.
Before she knew it, they were in her driveway.
Jake shut the truck off and opened his door. Just as Kiralee went for her door’s handle, Jake was already there, opening it for her.
“Thank you,” she said. She wasn’t used to Jake moving this fast.
He put his arm around her shoulder and hunched over, speeding her towards the door and out of the rain. He let her go when they reached her mother’s farmers porch.
“I had a good time tonight, Jake,” she said, smiling. “Thanks for inviting me.”
“Same here,” he said. “I had a really good time.”
“I better get inside,” she said, glancing at the front window. She looked back at Jake. “Thanks again.”
“You’re very welcome. See ya.”
She walked into her house and heard Jake’s truck pull away. She jogged up the stairs to her room.
Turning on the lamp, she heard a knocking at the door downstairs. Frowning at the clock and how late it was, she curiously and cautiously walked back down the stairs to the front door. She felt nervous because no one else was home—Seth and Leah were phased, and her mother was on a business trip for a couple days. She would be sleeping in the house alone for a few nights. She checked one of the side windows.
No one was there.
Another knock came from behind her.
She looked through the hall to the kitchen, where she saw a somewhat tall figure standing outside the screen glass door. She walked over to it and opened it.
“Collin?” she asked the figure, stepping out of the way so he could come in. Collin stepped into the kitchen.
“Hey, Kiralee,” he said awkwardly, rubbing the back of his head. “Um…you were just at Jake’s, right?”
“Sam wants to make sure you didn’t mention anything about Ginger. Not just yet.”
She frowned again. “I didn’t.”
He nodded and turned to leave.
Right when he was about to close the door behind him, he paused and looked back at Kira.
“Look, Kiralee,” he said. “I know you probably are really stressed about this whole thing, but I want you to know that we’re here to protect you, and nothing bad is going to happen. I promise.”
She smiled lightly. “I know. Thanks, Collin. I appreciate it.”
He smiled lightly back. “Okay.” He glanced back at the forest. “Alright…I gotta go, but…I’ll see you tomorrow?”
For an odd reason in which she couldn’t explain, her heart fluttered. She caught her breath.
“Um…y-yeah,” she said, smiling and nodding, breathless. “Yeah, I guess.”
He smiled. “See you later.”
“Bye,” she said, closing the door behind him and leaning against it. She took a steadying breath and bit her lip.