Love, Life, and the List(9)

By: Kasie West


“Hi, everyone. Great race, Coop.”

Amelia looked at my sign. Cooper was studying my sign now too. He read it out loud: “‘Cooper is number one.’ Yes, I am.”

I pointed to the part he was ignoring. The smaller words inside a pair of parentheses. “Or number two.”

He shoved my arm. “But I wasn’t.”

“I like to come prepared.”

“You also like to come covered in paint, I see.”

I looked at my outfit to make sure I had, in fact, taken off my paint shirt and left it in the car. “Do I have paint on my face?”

“Yes, you do.” He ran a finger down my right temple, then my left cheek, sending tingles down my arms. I shook them out.

“Cutting it close today?” he asked.

“I made it,” I said, wiping at my face. “I saw your whole race and brought a sign.”

His dad patted his back. “You did so good today, son.” Cooper’s parents hadn’t always been so supportive of his racing, but when they realized how much he loved it, they started coming to more events.

“Thanks, Dad.”

“Should we get your quad loaded up on the trailer?”

“Sure.” He gave me a nod and patted the seat. “Come on, Abby, you want to go for a ride?”

“Nope, I refuse to get on that death trap.”

His sister laughed. “I’ve ridden it.”

“You must trust your brother more than I do.”

In a loud whisper behind his hand, Cooper said, “Abby is a huge wimp.”

“I will ignore that comment and take you out for a bacon burger to celebrate your win,” I said.

“My parents are taking me out to celebrate this time, but come with us. That’s okay, right, Mom?” he asked.

His mom smiled, but I couldn’t tell if it was real. “Yes, of course.”

It wasn’t that I thought Cooper’s parents hated me. In fact, much like him, they liked me as a friend. I knew they were happy we weren’t a couple, though. They wanted something different for Cooper—better. Not the girl with the hand-painted signs, weird mom, and always-gone dad. Cooper had never said that’s how his parents felt, but I could see it in the way they reacted to stories about my life, about my art, about my mom.

“Okay,” I said, not sure if I should accept the invitation, but wanting to celebrate with him.

“We’ll be at Cheesecake Factory at five,” his mom said. “That will give us all plenty of time to go home and clean up.”

She meant that would give me plenty of time. But she was right. I didn’t need to show up at a restaurant with paint face. “Yes, okay . . . I’ll see you all there then.” I walked away, but Cooper caught up with me.

“What?” he asked.

“What?”

“You have your sad face on. What happened?”

“Nothing. I’ll see you in a little bit.”

“Fine. Don’t tell me.” He jogged back toward his family.

“Don’t be a baby,” I called after him.

“But being a baby is my favorite.”

I knew I’d have to tell him what Mr. Wallace had really said eventually, but right after he won a race didn’t seem like the right time. Maybe after dinner.





FIVE


Or maybe I’d never tell Cooper about Mr. Wallace. The denial thing was working out okay too.

I had put on my nicest sundress, pulled my bleached-by-the-sun hair into a loose braid, and put on makeup, even though I rarely wore more than a swipe of mascara in the summer. It was too hot for more than that.

Cooper’s mom kissed my cheek when I arrived at the table, and his sister patted the empty chair in between her and Cooper.

“I love it when you dress up for my parents,” Cooper whispered when I sat down.

“Shut up,” I mumbled back.

Cooper wore shorts and a faded blue T-shirt that made his eyes look even bluer. His skin was bronzed to a perfect tan from all his time outside. His blond hair, still slightly damp from his recent shower, curled up on the ends. Yes, he was still as adorable as ever. I scolded myself for noticing, then opened my menu and looked over the options.

I was so busy trying to distract myself from Cooper’s cuteness by burying myself in my menu that I didn’t notice someone was standing over me until I heard a “Hey, Abby.”

I looked up and saw a guy I recognized from school—Elliot Garcia. “Hi. I didn’t know you worked here.”

“Just for the summer,” he said.

“Awesome.”

“Hi,” Cooper said to Elliot. “Why don’t I know you?”

I punched his shoulder. “You don’t know everyone in the world.”

“You know what I mean,” he said. I did. Cooper and I knew the same people, and they knew us. It was Cooper, Abby, Justin, and Rachel. Or Rachel, Cooper, Justin, and Abby. Whatever the order, usually people didn’t know one of us without knowing the others. But we did have separate classes, so occasionally, like with Elliot, I knew people they didn’t and vice versa.

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