Splintered Page 90

Great. I’d forgotten that we haven’t hashed this out yet.

When I don’t answer, he continues. “Because there’s something I need to tell you, something that’s changed.” He repositions the bandana’s knot at his nape, looking nervous.

Before he can say another word, Taelor’s Mustang convertible rips into my driveway and screeches to a halt, as if materializing at his mention of her.

Jeb curses and presses his forehead against the doorframe.

Slamming her car door, she stomps up to the porch. She slides her Fendi sunglasses to the top of her head. Rumor has it those shades are worth over two hundred bucks. More than my entire wardrobe of secondhand outfits.

“Figures you’d be here.” She looks Jeb up and down after noticing the roses in my hand. “What, did you spend the night with your little virgin after our fight?”

My jaw drops. Prom obviously didn’t turn out well.

“I just now got here, so don’t go spreading any rumors, Tae.” He rubs the iron labret on his chin. I hadn’t noticed until now that he’s not wearing the garnet one. My pulse kicks a beat faster, knocking against the key at my sternum.

Taelor taps her pedicured, sandaled foot. “So, you haven’t told her yet?” Her eyes flick to mine. “He broke up with me last night. At prom. Then he left me there alone. Classy, right?”

The pained edge in her voice triggers a weird mix of pity and empathy.

Jeb grinds a knuckle into a place where the mortar’s crumbling between some bricks on the porch. “You had your chauffeur.”

“Oh, and I’m supposed to dance with him? The guy’s like ninety years old.” She clenches her designer lime green handbag against her matching wrap dress. “You weren’t home after the dance, because we drove by. If you weren’t here, where were you?”

“I went over to Mr. Mason’s.”

“Our art teacher?” Taelor and I both ask simultaneously. We give each other scathing glances while waiting for his response.

“You told me I was fired from Underland,” Jeb answers, studying where his knuckles graze the bricks. “Mr. Mason once mentioned he could get me a job at that art gallery on Kenyon Street. He’s good friends with the proprietor.”

“Wait, why do you need a job here?” I ask, confused. “I thought you were leaving for London this summer.”

“He can’t, now that he turned down my dad’s offer to rent him a flat. He has to save up money before he can have a place to live.” Taelor sneers in my direction. “Because of you, he’s giving up his career.”

Jebediah I-must-have-structure Holt is altering his life plan for me? “You can’t do that,” I say, forcing him to look at me.

Apprehension tightens his features, but so does resolution. “I’m just veering off course a little. I’m not giving anything up. Once I get the job at the gallery”—he steals a glimpse at Taelor—“which is as good as in the bag, I’ll be able to sell some of my paintings there. I can make connections in the art world, help Mom with Jen’s senior-year expenses, and still save money while I attend community college.” Then his focus tightens on me. “You know, until after you graduate. Then we’ll go to London together.”

Go to London, together . . .

I crinkle the tissue paper between my fingers, unable to pin down the wonderful emotions rushing through me.

“Well, how sweet.” Taelor’s voice shakes. “Maybe you can sell that crap I found in your car the other day and buy her an engagement ring from the thrift store.” Digging into her purse, Taelor tosses three rolls of paper inside the door at my feet—skinny cylinders bound with rubber bands. “Keep your rabbit eyes on him, Alyssa. He’s an SOB, just like his sicko dad. He can’t be trusted.”

She starts to leave.

Jeb’s shoulders droop, a blush tinting the tips of his ears. My blood catches fire. No way am I going to let her talk to him like that. No way is she going to make him second-guess who he is.

Chucking the roses to the floor, I step out onto the porch and catch her by the elbow.

She jerks free and twirls around.

With me on the step and her on the ground, we’re eye level. She starts to open her mouth. I shush her. “My turn to talk. And you’re going to listen. Then I never want to hear another word from you about Jeb or anything else again.”

Her jaw clenches, but she waits.

“I’d trust Jeb with my life. He’s everything his dad never was. And you know it, or you wouldn’t be so busted up over losing him. He treated you with respect . . . and he never wanted to hurt you. Why else do you think he put up with your attitude for so long?”

Her gaze intensifies behind a sheen of tears.

Jeb stands there in stunned awe.

“And you know what?” I continue, unable to stop what I’ve unleashed. “Neither one of us has a perfect family. We could’ve been friends or at least tried to get along. But you killed it. Things suck for you sometimes—I get it. But you can’t use that as an excuse to treat people any way you want.” My cheeks burn hot at the purging of emotions I’ve suppressed for too many years. “Tearing down the rest of the world won’t make you happy. Look inside yourself. Because finding who you were meant to be? What you were put into this world to do? That’s what fills the emptiness. It’s the only thing that can.”

It’s dead quiet all around other than a few chirping birds. Even the white noise has gone silent, as if the bugs and flowers stopped to listen to me for once.

Looking down at her feet, Taelor sniffs and runs the back of her hand across her cheeks. She turns her gaze up to mine, and in that moment, I see it. A connection. I got through to her. Thoughtful and quiet for once, she stumbles to her car and peels out of my driveway without so much as a wave.

“Holy wow,” Jeb mumbles.

I spin on my heel and we’re face-to-face. Alone . . . finally.

Staring at me with that same reverent expression as when he first saw my wings, he moves his lips to say something. A screen door opens across the street and interrupts him. Mr. Adams picks up his hose to water his yard. The old man scowls when he notices the empty spots on his rosebush.

“Jeb, you’re about to get busted.”

He gives me a sexy, sideways smile.

Grabbing his wrist, I tug him through the doorway before Mr. Adams looks in our direction. I close the door and press my back against the wood to hide my wing scars.

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