The tires rolled to a slow stop on the gravel parking lot and Jenna thumbed her ignition off. But her hands were back to clenching and unclenching the steering wheel.
I hung my head out my window and said up to the dark sky, “So are we going to do this?”
“Do you think Janey will be there?”
“But does Jack like Janey?”
I puffed my lips toward the stars, then ducked into the car again. “Jack, Jenna, Janey. Make it a threesome of J’s and just get it over with already.”
“What? He’s not that big of a deal.”
He was kind of a big deal.
“You just say that because you’ve already had him for a year and now you’re over him.”
I rolled my eyes. “Obviously that’s why I say that. Can we get out of the car yet? I’ve never been to the caves at night and I hear the scene is amazing.”
Jenna fluffed her hair and reapplied her shockingly bright lipstick in the rearview mirror as she muttered to herself, “I’ll make the scene amazing.”
I yanked my hood up as soon as I popped the door shut behind me. Jenna pulled her short skirt down and slid her arm through mine. As we headed up the foot of the hill to the first cutback ahead, a handful of shadows huddling together came into view, chatting and roughhousing as they waited for the rest of the party to arrive. I looked longingly over at the orchard sprawling around the base of the hill, but plowed on upward beside my friend.
Just before we reached the group Jenna whispered, “Are you sure it’s not weird?”
Of course it was weird. But I played it off as if I didn’t know what she was talking about and she went back to complaining about Janey, the bombshell blonde. I knew Jackson actually preferred black hair and large, mixed-race eyes that tilted up at the edges, so all Jenna’s worries were for naught.
And that baked pudding she’d splurged last night? Not a problem for Jack either. The more pudding on a girl’s hips the better.
Not weird at all, though. Stupid.
Jenna rushed ahead and was immediately enveloped into the group. I pushed my hands into my hoodie and kicked a rock. But of course the rock wasn’t one that moved and my toe jammed into the end of my steel-toed boot.
Curses vomited from my mouth and those closest to me burst out laughing.
“Har, har,” I snarled through clenched teeth, which of course only spurred them on more.
More curses. Stupid. “It’s Rosa.”
“Rosa. Right. What are you doing here?”
“Something about caves, something, something.” I plastered on a bright smile and chirped, “Isn’t that why you’re here?”
Jackson ducked his head and put his hands in his pockets, looking anywhere but at me. By the general smell clinging to the group, I would wager it wasn’t water they were carrying up in their canteens. And I was pretty sure some of said bottles were close to empty.
I had known that would probably be the case, though, and I wasn’t really here for the hike. As soon as the rest headed up and I knew Jenna wouldn’t be alone, my plan was to sneak back down to the orchard and find a different kind of party.
“I thought you weren’t up for going out lately.”
“I’m not. I’m here for Jenna.” I waved toward where I heard her giggling near the middle of the cluster.
“Jenna,” Jackson echoed, not following my gesture.
“Yep. So I’m just going to go over here.” I thumbed behind me. “You should go over there.” I pointed the opposite direction.
“Cause I have to pee. Over here. So don’t follow me.”
Jackson frowned and watched me back away. When he turned and shouldered into the party again, I spun and ran down the hill. I couldn’t get to the orchard fast enough. Any tree would do. Any tree that had a piece of fruit I could bite, and I searched frantically for an orb in the dark, but I was so close to crying and I just.
Oh, I was so mad. And so hurt. My heart had never stopped feeling like it would explode whenever I saw his stupid, perfect face. I leaned into the rough bark of a tree, sucking in deep breaths.
A tiny green apple hung off a twig on level with my gaze and I gratefully picked the little ball, then plopped the whole thing into my mouth. Size didn’t matter. I closed my eyes and smiled, relief washing over me, but just as I crunched into the hard skin I felt a hand tug my hoodie and heard Jackson say, “Roo? What…?”
Dizziness washed over me, along with panic. As soon as I surfaced into the new dimension I spun to yank Jackson’s semi-materialized hand, and then he came stumbling into the Bimkian borders with me. Stumbling, and then rustling on the ground, and I shoved him off and was on my feet before he even had time to squeeze his temples and blink around.
“Pizza!” Beetje cried from the lowest branch of the tree we’d just fallen through. The gate on this side had a door, because Bimkians were a lot more open to cross-dimensional travel than humans, so they generally left their doors open.
“Beetje, I need you take him directly back please.”
The little bimkin pouted down at me, then grinned wickedly at Jackson. “But he’s just as yummy as I remember.”
“Whoa.” Jackson squinted incredulously up into the tree. “Is that real?”
Sprawling out on the tree branch, Beetje hooked a finger at him and purred, “Come to me my sweet pizza. I’d be delighted to show you how real I am.”
I rolled my eyes. “I feel like we’ve been here before.”
“I’ve never been here before.” Jackson rose, but then bent over again, hands on his knees. “Think I’m going to be sick.”
“That’ll happen the first few times.” First few hundred times. I was still trying to get the hang of interdimensional travel and I’d forgotten what number I was on.
“Seriously, though. What’d they put in those drinks?”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “When did you start drinking?”
“About the time we broke up,” he said straightening , staring directly back at me, “and I felt like I had a reason to.”
“What happened to your straight edge, never going to try drugs or drink, thing?”
Jackson looked like he could care less. “Life got sloppy.”
“You are so not the person I thought you were.”
“Likewise, your highness,” he smirked and spread his arms wide in a bow that probably wobbled more from the dimension change than it did from drink.
“Now see, Jack, that’s actually a lot funnier than you think it is.”
“Eee!” Beetje clapped, straightening on her perch. “What does he know?”
She slapped her boney knee and lit off the branch. “Raspberries! This is going to be fun! Do I really have to take him back?”
“You just showed your age, Beetje. That slang made sense maybe a hundred years ago.” I scowled up and down Jack, who was perfectly charming even when tipsy it would seem, then shrugged and turned. I shoved my hands into my hoodie and growled, “Stay or go. Doesn’t matter to me.”
He took this as a challenge. “Okay, I’m game.”
“Good,” Beetje took his hand and dragged him quickly past me. “Cause if you weren’t going to be game you were going to be gormandized soon.”
I looked over my shoulder and swallowed down a lump of sudden panic.
(This is what you were supposed to picture when Beetje yells out, "Raspberries!" Sort of. Close enough, anyway):