“I don’t know, Lucy . . . I’m a terrible liar,” Brooke protested.
“Brooke, please. I probably won’t even be late, but you’re my fall back plan, okay?”
Brooke groaned. “I don’t see why you can’t just tell Alex that you’re gonna be late. He’s supposedly your boyfriend.”
“He is my boyfriend,” Lucy corrected, rolling her eyes. She did not need to get into that argument with her best friend again.
“Fine, but he’s an athlete too. He should understand why you can’t skip swim practice. It’s not like soccer is more important than swimming.”
Lucy laughed. “Try telling Alex that.”
“Tell me again why you’re still dating him?” Brooke asked.
A whistle blew in the background and Lucy winced. She needed to get back to the pool before her coach noticed she was taking an unnecessarily long break. “Brooke, you owe me. Just cover for me if I’m late.”
“Fine, but if you’re not there when Alex comes running over for his pregame kiss all bets are off. I draw that line at kissing jock-wads!”
“Brooke! Please just stall him.”
“I don’t care, just come up with something!”
“Like you’re in line buying unicorn farts?” Brooke cracked.
“Brooke, can you just do this?”
“It’s never gonna work.”
“Yes it will!”
Brooke was silent for a beat and Lucy had a sneaking suspicion what her quirky roommate was up to. “Brooke, I swear to God if you’re consulting your Magic 8 Ball I’m gonna scream.”
“But it’s never wrong!” Brooke grumped.
Lucy sighed. “I gotta go. I’ll do my best to get there in time. But if I’m late you better lie your ass off!”
Brooke set her phone down when Lucy disconnected their call. She had a bad feeling about this. She hated lying almost as much as she hated her roommate’s soccer star boyfriend, Alex Alvez.
Lucy was a sweetheart and Alex was a fame-whoring control freak. For the life of her, Brooke couldn’t figure out why Lucy was still dating him. But right now, she had more pressing matters, like how the hell to lie to his face if Lucy got stuck at swim practice.
Brooke was a notoriously terrible liar, and she was doubtful in her abilities to deceive the short-tempered Brazilian soccer-god if it came down to it. She glanced down at the Magic 8 Ball resting in her lap. Lucy knew Brooke too well, because she was most certainly going to consult her favorite fortune telling system.
Brooke took a deep breath and gave herself a pep talk. “I can do this for Lucy. Everything is going to be just fine, right?” She shook her Magic 8 Ball for good measure and turned it over, letting out a little gasp of horror as the answer materialized through the blue liquid.
Magic 8 Ball says: Outlook not so good.
“I’m going out for a run!” Jaxon called as he battled his way to the front door of his uncle’s house trying not to let the dogs escape. Two yellow labs barked enthusiastically, tails wagging like whips. “Not today, boys,” Jaxon said giving his dogs a pat. They gazed at him with their sad chocolaty eyes. “Oh don’t look at me like that.” But they continued pulling his heartstrings with their pathetic whining. “I know, I know, but I’m going too far for ya today. And besides, it’s not like our old neighborhood. You have to stay on the sidewalks here and all the yards are fenced off so there’s no territory for you boys to mark.”
Jaxon was busy reasoning with his dogs, while scratching their heads when Uncle Steven popped into the hallway. “I’ve gotta go into the hospital tonight and your brother’s on nightshift. You got your father?”
Jaxon nodded. “Yeah, I got him.” He swallowed back the bitterness that suddenly rose up within. “How is he today?”
“He’s trying,” Uncle Steven replied solemnly.
Not hard enough. Jaxon swallowed the smart remark on the tip of his tongue. He knew his uncle was just trying to make things better. But that was the problem—he shouldn’t have to. That responsibility lay with Jaxon’s father, not his brother who took him in, or his sons who had to take turns babysitting him.
Sometimes Jaxon didn’t know why he bothered asking about his father at all. He already knew the answer. Especially since he’d seen him last night, looking glassy-eyed at a bottle of Jack he’d drank his way through.
“It’s gonna take some time,” Uncle Steven intoned, placing a hand on Jaxon’s shoulder.
That was the one thing Jaxon didn’t have. In a few short months he’d be graduating and moving on to college. That was the plan anyway. But if things didn’t get better with his father soon, all bets were off.
Jaxon knew putting off college was a real possibility since someone had to look after his father. He wanted to be bitter about it, but it was hard when Jaxon felt responsible. If it weren’t for him, maybe his father wouldn’t be drowning his unquenchable depression in endless bottles of booze. If it weren’t for Jaxon . . . well, everything might be different.
“Want me to order you something for dinner before I leave?” Uncle Steven offered.
“Nah,” Jaxon replied. “I’ve got it covered.” Which meant he’d order pizza and try to catch up on his never-ending homework while keeping an eye on his father.
“How about something healthier than pizza?” Uncle Steven asked as though he could read Jaxon’s mind.
“What’s wrong with pizza?”
Uncle Steven crossed his arms. “It’s not the healthiest choice you could make.”
“Hence the running.” Jaxon gave his uncle a salute, then he slipped out the door and started his run. Being able to eat anything he wanted wasn’t the only reason Jaxon ran so much. His uncle probably knew that, but thankfully he didn’t push.
Ever since Jaxon moved to LA, running was the only way he could keep his emotions leashed. Some days were worse than others. And today . . . today was a bad day.