I Bet You (Page 10)
“I know it’s hard to say, but you can do it, buddy. Jock.”
“S**t!” he squawks in his high-pitched mimicry.
I roll my eyes. “That’s not what I said, but I like where you’re going.”
“I want a cigarette!” he says, and I shake my head regretfully.
“No, and I apologize again for your previous owners who taught you those words. I just hope they never actually gave you a cigarette. Say, Ryker is a jock.”
He rolls his eyes at me and pecks at his soft gray feathers.
I sigh and we have a stare-off. He wins.
“Fine,” I say, reaching for the box of Ritz crackers. He positively bristles in excitement, bouncing his feet on his perch.
“Oh? You asked for the meaning? Of course, let me get to it.” I clear my throat. “A jock is a guy who thinks he’s the best athlete in the world, but in reality he’s going to end up selling used cars or pumping gas. Go on, say it: jock.”
He moves his head around, studying me as if I’m the crazy one here.
I pull out a golden cracker and wave it at him. “Say it. Go on.”
“Jock! Ryker! S**t!” he squawks, and I hand over the Ritz.
“I’m glad you came along when you did, Vampire Bill. You make my days happy—even if you don’t like me.” I grin at him, and he uses a claw to grab some food pellets out of his bowl and fling them at me. Psycho bird.
My phone pings with a text, and I glance down at it.
Please come to dinner this weekend? You can see Cyan.
My fingers tighten around the cell. I definitely know who this sender is. The message is from my dad, and Cyan is his new baby. I stare at the words, imagining my father typing them out, sitting at his desk in his office at Waylon, dressed in his nice suit. My teeth grind together until I make myself stop.
After Mom passed away three years ago, he retired from the NFL and moved back to Magnolia. He said it was for many reasons: to get back to his roots, to teach at Waylon, but mostly for me. So I wouldn’t be alone. So I’d have family around.
Liar. I don’t believe him.
He came back because his knee was blown out, and he had contacts here to get a teaching job. Something hard twists inside me, and I suck in a sharp breath. I can’t forgive him for not having a life with Mom while she was alive. They were college sweethearts—the cheerleader and the quarterback—but after she got pregnant their senior year, he left her to play for the Seattle Seahawks.
Magnolia is my town, the place I grew up.
Why did he have to come and mess it all up?
“OMG, are you still trying to teach that dumb bird the word of the day?” Charisma says in her drawn-out New York accent as she bounces into the room. Petite, curvy, and sassy, she’s the product of an Italian family from the Bronx. She was my first friend in college, and we’ve been inseparable ever since.
“Crazy is here! Crazy is here! S**t! Give me a cigarette!” Vampire Bill belts out along with a screech that’s halfway between a wolf howling and a cat being murdered.
She flips him off. “I am not crazy. You are, bird.”
“Be nice to him. His species is the most intelligent in the parrot family.”
“I am nice to him. I gave him the pineapple off my pizza last night and still, this is how he treats me.” She throws her hands up in exasperation.
“You ready to go to the meeting?” she asks a few beats later as she grabs her purse. “I don’t want to be late for the first one of the year,” she adds, and my eyes flare as I realize she’s wearing slacks and a cute pink sweater. I check my watch and see we have five minutes to get there—ten if they start late. Crap. I haven’t even changed clothes.
“Dammit!” I call out as I fly past her and run to my bedroom to grab my pink jersey that bears our Greek letters, pairing it with my red skinny jeans. I slap on some lipstick and throw two-inch suede booties on my feet to dress it up. I check my hair in the mirror, and it’s a riotous mess. Oh well. It’ll have to do.
Better to be on time than to look good.
Two minutes later, we’re crawling into my car, an older model Toyota Camry I inherited from my mom. Also parked in the driveway is a brand new, white-silver metallic convertible Volkswagen Beetle—a gift from my dad a few months ago on my birthday. Boy, talk about an uncomfortable moment when he took me outside and presented my gift in his driveway, dressed up with a big red bow on top just like in the commercials. Confused, I looked from him to the car, trying to figure him out. Did he think a car would fix the fact that he abandoned me when I was a baby and now has a whole new family? Never going to happen. My pride refuses to enjoy it.
I pop in some Eminem and we peel out.
I break the speed limit driving the few blocks over to where sorority houses dot the street, all in a line. Pulling up to the curb, I manage to find a small parking spot and squeeze in after a bit of maneuvering.
“I’m glad you know how to parallel park,” Charisma says quickly as we get out and dash for the Chi Omega house, a two-story mansion constructed of red brick with four Doric columns on the front. Built in the late 80s, it’s got everything you could ever want in a grand house in the South: big front porch—all the better to dance on—and huge trees in the front yard with moss hanging from the limbs.
We rush inside to the large den and have barely taken our seats on one of the long benches in the back when the side door opens and our president waltzes in.
Made it! We fist-bump each other.
My gaze goes to the front. Everyone please welcome Margo Whitley, the Barbie at the top of the heap. From the top of her shiny, shoulder-length blonde hair to the little pink cardigan she wears around her shapely shoulders, she’s the epitome of the perfect Chi Omega girl. She points her button nose toward the ceiling as she walks toward the podium at the front of the room. Definitely a snooty patootie.
She’s also my new-ish stepsister.
My dad met her mom in a whirlwind romance and married her a year ago. Baby Cyan arrived six months later. Yeah, you do the math. The only thing that reverberates through my head is that Margo’s mom was good enough to marry but mine wasn’t.
She passes me as she walks down the aisle, but then backs up, her gaze critical, taking in my jeans.
Feeling defiant, I glare back at her. At one point during our freshman year when we were pledges together, we were friendly, even though we’re obviously complete opposites: I’m fun and colorful; she’s an uptight know-it-all.
She tilts her head toward me. “No casual attire.” She looks pointedly around the room at the other girls in sundresses, skirts, and dress pants.
I send her a tight-lipped smile. “You’re right, and I apologize. I was running late because I worked today. It won’t happen again.” My eyes dare her to say anything else. Sure, she has the rule on her side, and she could ask me to leave, but it wouldn’t look good to start off the first meeting by kicking out a sister. Plus, I did say I was sorry—and I truly am.
I make a note to set an alarm on my phone for meetings. I’m a bit of a daydreamer, and deadlines do get away from me. I blame the mystery man who texted me.
She narrows her eyes. “Fine. Consider this a warning.”
“Power-tripping,” Charisma mutters as Margo continues down the aisle.
I nod my agreement and watch her as she maneuvers behind the podium, taking in the hair that’s pulled back with a simple black headband. She looks perfect.