Joyride Page 24

“Here we go again. The silver platter talk. Let’s skip that today, okay? I get it. I’m privileged and that makes me a bad person.”

A glint of remorse flashes across her face, giving him hope. Until she opens her mouth again. “I don’t think you’re a bad person. I’m just not, well, in the same position you are. It’s not that I didn’t have fun with you. I did. I just have things that I have to do and they’re more important than what I want to do.”

Arden runs a hand through his hair. Obviously this is a bigger deal than he’d originally thought. He knew she was different from all of his friends but he thought it was by choice. Now he can see the differences as if a flashlight were shining on them in a dark room. All of his friends have their own cars, where Carly rides a bike everywhere—even to the next town over to work the graveyard shift at a dumpy convenience store. She wears T-shirts and jeans—something he thought was preference—and as far as he can tell, she only owns one pair of shoes, which happen to be filthy off-brand Converse. What girl would wear dingy shoes every day if she could help it? But it’s not that she doesn’t care about her appearance. He can tell Carly would be girly if she had the chance. Even now she has a complicated-looking braid in her hair and her nails are painted a deep purple.

How he missed these things before, Arden is not sure.

So, Carly Vega is poor. But, unless she’s lying, she wants to have fun with him. She just has an obstacle in her—and therefore his—way.

There’s got to be something I can do. “I’ll pay you,” he blurts. “I’ll pay you for your company.” Whoa, that sounded way wrong. And other people heard it. It’s like the air actually gasped.

Tables of kids around them stop eating. Stop talking. He’s in danger of a chocolate milk bath, he can tell. Carly’s eyes flash with the ferocity of a starved predator. He wouldn’t be surprised if she bared her teeth.

At this moment, there is no amount of salt that would make his foot taste better.

Carly rises from the bench seat. She gathers up her homework in a neat pile, tapping the edges straight, shutting her book with a deliberation so cool it could chill a deep fryer. She tugs at the strap on her backpack and eases it up, onto her shoulder, which is squared perfectly with the other despite the added weight.

“Carly, I—” Arden chokes out. I what, exactly? I’m sorry falls infinitely short of what it will take to get her to speak to him again. Miles short of what it will take to make it up to her. Years short of what it will take for everyone to forget that he said that today.

Carly turns and walks away. Before she opens the cafeteria door, she wipes her feet on the floor mat, as if symbolically. And then she’s gone.

*   *   *

Out of the corner of his eye, Arden feels Deputy Glass glance at him. Once. Twice. Again. Arden shifts in his seat, slumping even farther down. “Aren’t cops supposed to keep their eyes on the road?”

Glass takes it in stride, bringing the car to a halt at a stop sign, then slowly turning right. Classic patrol driving. “You’re quiet tonight. Having girl problems? Thinking of that little Mexican girl?”

“Why does she gotta be Mexican?”

“Uh, because apparently her parents are Mexican?”

“I mean, how do you know they’re not like Puerto Rican or something?”

Glass shrugs. “So what if she is? So what if she isn’t? Is there something wrong with being Mexican?”

According to the mighty Sheriff Moss, that’s a big unofficial yes. He might center his campaign around deporting undocumented immigrants, but the truth is, he doesn’t care if they’re documented or not. Glass knows it. Arden knows it. Sheriff Moss treats racial profiling like a hobby.

And Arden knows Glass doesn’t feel the same way. So what Arden says next is unfair. “Why does she have to be anything? Why couldn’t you just say ‘short girl’ or ‘girl with the long eyelashes’? Who cares what race she is?”

Glass grins wide, exposing a rarely seen dimple and the fact that he’s not as old as he looks in that nerdy uniform. If Arden had to guess, he’d say he’s only about twenty-four, maybe twenty-five years old. “Girl with the long eyelashes huh? That ‘short girl’ has Arden Moss squirming in his little ol’ panties, eh?”

“It’s not like that.” Arden turns to face his friend, feeling a deep scowl embedded into his expression. “I insulted her today by accident. And now she won’t talk to me about it. Not even to let me apologize.”

Glass gives him a charitable shrug. “Your specialty is girls. You’ll figure it out.”

“Not this one,” Arden grumbles, but Glass is turning up the radio. Dispatch issues a call for domestic violence. The address is close to them.

Glass rolls his eyes. “Copy that,” he says into the mouthpiece on his shoulder. He rolls his eyes at Arden. “It’s Rose again, beating up on Henry. This’ll be her third offense so I’m going to have to take her down to the station. You want to come or you want me to drop you here?”

Glass knows Arden hates coming to the station; there’s always the chance he’ll run into his father there. But tonight, he doesn’t want to be left alone with his own thoughts. Tonight, he could use some entertainment drummed up by someone else for a change. “I’ll come.”

Glass nods and flips on the blue lights, which illuminate a hedge of rosebushes outside the window. People dread the sight of the flashing blue lights. Those lights may mean a hefty speeding ticket or possibly jail. That’s what they mean to Arden too. But there was a time when Arden loved them. It meant that his father had come home from work—back when his father was just a deputy. Back when Arden actually wanted his father to come home.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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