Just Friends


September 13, 2016
Series:
It’s the end of summer. Just before I start senior year with my two best friends in the whole world. Dustin and Emily are everything to me. We’ve been inseparable since middle school, and when we’re together, nothing can go wrong.

But things aren’t always what they seem. Em’s turned into a drunken mess who parties too much. Dustin and I have hooked up a few times—and now he’s ready to take our relationship to the next level. Yet I’m not sure I want things to change. I’m scared if I take it any further with Dustin, our friendship will be ruined forever. Then there’s Ryan. The new guy. He’s hot. He flirts way too much. And Em has totally set her sights on him.

So when my best friend betrays me in the worst possible way, guess who’s there to help me pick up the pieces of my broken heart? Ryan. But he’s so confusing. Annoying. Sweet. Sexy. I want to trust him, yet he makes it so hard. What I really want is for everything to go back to the way it was before.

Before I found out that best friends make the worst kind of enemies.
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Excerpt

Chapter One

 

I miss you so much!

I miss you too.

I have a surprise for you.

What is it?

When you come home you’ll find out.

But that’s not until next week!

It’s worth the wait. Trust me.

Does Dustin know the surprise?

Yes but he won’t tell you.

How do you know?

Cuz he knows I’ll kick his ass.

 

I stare at my phone screen, frustrated at my friend Emily’s secrecy. She knows I hate surprises. I always have. Surprises usually bring bad news, at least for me.

Surprise! Pop quiz.

Surprise! You’re failing Chemistry.

Surprise! He likes someone else.

Surprise! You’re getting a baby brother.

Surprise! You’re getting a baby sister.

Surprise! Your dad and I are getting a divorce.

Not necessarily in that order, but you get the gist.

Deciding to change tactics, I start texting Dustin.

 

What’s up?

The usual. What’s up wit u?

Bored. Lonely.

If you were here with me…

What?

I’d make sure you weren’t bored.

Or lonely.

 

I smile, trying to fight the butterflies that flutter in my stomach when he talks like that. Dustin and I have been close since we were young. He’s one of my best friends. I’ve told him everything. Confessed who I liked, who I’m mad at, how far I’ve gone with guys—which isn’t very far—and he’s admitted all his secrets too. He’s the first person I got drunk with. The first person I got high with.

He’s also the first boy I tongue-kissed. When we were thirteen and feeling like losers who’d never done anything, we at least had each other.

But it was forgotten. Kid stuff. Until last spring when we were at a party, got drunk together and started making out. Next thing I knew we were slipping our hands down each other’s jeans, getting each other off. It happened again—and then again, right before I left for my dad’s. I had to push him off of me before we took it too far.

I can still remember the pained expression on his face, and the memory of that night hurts my heart.

The memory also makes my heart flutter with excitement. Even though he’s my best friend and I don’t want to ruin our friendship, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we really were together. I trust Dustin. We’re close without being in a relationship-close. I can also admit—only to myself—that Dustin is a good kisser. And he knows what to do with his fingers.

My cheeks are hot just remembering.

 

Where are you?

In bed. Naked.

Dustin…

I know. Sorry.

 

I chew on my lip, mad at myself for looking like a prude via text. The problem with messing around with your best friend who happens to be a boy is that they form certain expectations. We’ve crossed the line. In his eyes, there’s no going back. He wants more. He wants it—me—all the time. I think I want that too, but I’m not sure.

 

What’s Emily’s surprise?

I can’t tell you.

Why not?

I was sworn to secrecy.

Come on D.

 

He doesn’t answer and I don’t push. But I’m frustrated. Being stuck at my dad’s for the summer is the worst. Mom and Dad split when I was eleven and at first, being divided between two homes was awesome. I went to Dad’s on the weekends and it was like one big party. We went out to eat, he bought me whatever I wanted, took me on trips. Summertime was even better. We’d go on vacations to the beach, or Disneyland, wherever I wanted to go. Birthdays I got twice as many gifts and the same with Christmas.

Mom’s house, where I’m at most of the time, is the drag. Homework. Clean my room. Help out since she works and isn’t always home to cook a decent meal. It’s like a cycle set on repeat. Do your homework, clean your room, do your laundry, help me, help me, help me.

Dad’s house was my escape. Until it wasn’t.

He moved from California to Oregon for a new job and met and married Christine, who’s much younger than my dad. Christine convinced him they should try for their own family. Now I have a little brother and sister named Dakota and Sierra—I know, I know, they sound like national parks—and trust me, they are a pain in my ass. Always getting into my stuff, always extra loud way too early in the morning.

No more epic summer vacations. I’m stuck in Oregon from mid-June to early August, where Dad works all day and Christine is at home, staring at me with obvious disappointment every time she spots me. So I hide away in my room, counting down the days until I can go back to Mom’s.

At least at home, Mom doesn’t really care what I do. As long as my room is clean, I help with chores, the homework is done and I come home by curfew, I can do pretty much whatever I want. She’s rarely home anyway. Between her job as a nurse and her new boyfriend, she’s busy. We talk on the phone once a week while I’m at Dad’s and we occasionally text, but it’s not the same.

I miss her when I’m not there and she drives me crazy when I’m home. But at least she’s around more than Dad. He can’t give me any time. He’s too busy working or with Christine and his new kids, the better kids, the ones he wants to stick around for. Playing family man like it’s some sort of show he’s putting on for whoever’s watching. I don’t even know why I come here anymore, but Mom put a guilt trip on me, claiming this would be my last summer visiting Dad before I graduate high school.

She’s right. So I’m suffering through one more summer before I can end this charade once and for all.

My phone buzzes and I grab it, reading the text from Dustin.

 

Check out E’s IG.

 

I do as he says, scrolling through my feed. I’ve ignored Instagram pretty much the entire summer because looking at it makes me sad. Pics of my friends having fun back home while I’m stuck here with no social life? No thanks. I don’t need to rub salt in the open wound.

But maybe Dustin’s right and his request is a clue. Maybe Emily’s account will show me the surprise.

I scroll and scroll, finally finding a photo of Emily with Dustin and another guy. A guy I don’t recognize. Emily’s standing in between them in a tiny lime green bikini, her skin red from the sun, chin-length dark brown hair tucked behind her ears and her lids lowered over her eyes at half mast, like she just took a hit or maybe she’s drunk, the sloppy grin on her face confirming it. Probably both. She has a cup in her hand and the guy I don’t know is looking at her like she’s the best thing he’s ever seen.

Huh. More like he’s the best thing I’ve ever seen.

The caption below the photo says:

 

Summer daze make me feel good. #justfriends #friendzone #zoned #owned #relationship #lies #heartbreak #friends #bullshit

 

I stare at the photo for a long time, then click on Emily’s user name—crazysexycool4uuuu—so I can check out her other photos.

And there are a ton of them. The ones from late June show her in various swimsuits. Considering her parents are rich and she has her own credit card with a huge limit, she buys what she wants and damn the consequences. She looks good. Em’s not curvy, but she’s fit. In the eighth grade she played volleyball and softball. Gave that up once we got into high school because, and I quote, “I don’t want anyone to think I’m some lezbo jock.”

Politically correct and sensitive, that’s my Em.

Early July photos show Em and her family visiting her grandparents, waving American flags and Em in a short video spelling her name out with a sparkler in her hand. Mid-July is Emily back at home, hanging with Dustin. Lots of photos of her and Dustin, always with their arms around each other, Dustin shirtless, Emily in a sexy bikini, their bodies pressed close.

Huh.

Frowning, I keep scrolling upward, since I went straight to June, wanting the surprise to ease up on me. Slow build, like the best kind of anticipation. But I’m starting to think there’s no surprise at all. Unless she considers that guy in the photos the surprise.

Talk about lame.

Around July 19th is when I start to see the guy in her photos regularly. He’s cute. Gorgeous really. Medium brown hair streaked with gold, sparkling light eyes—I can’t tell if they’re brown or green, or maybe they’re hazel. Definitely not blue. Nice body, which I’m seeing a lot of since he appears shirtless in pretty much every photo. Most are taken by Em’s pool and there are so many people there.

When did Em get so popular without me?

I close out Instagram and text Dustin.

 

Please don’t tell me my surprise is the guy.

More like he’s E’s surprise.

What do you mean by that?

They’re hooking up. But he’s a douche.

 

I lean back against my pillows, stunned. I can hear my little brother and sister squealing downstairs. I hear a bird chirping just outside my window and the next-door neighbor is playing his radio outside as he gardens, some easy listening station that makes me want to stab pencils in my ears.

They’re hooking up.

I’m a little…jealous? That guy is hot. And I’m also jealous over the photos with Em and Dustin. I miss them. I miss being a part of that friendship. The three of us against the world, it’s always been like that. And it always hurts when one of us is missing.

Most of the time I’m the one missing.

 

You don’t like him?

 

I sink my head farther into the pillows and close my eyes, waiting for Dustin’s reply. Everything’s changed this year. Last summer I was miserable and texting Em and Dustin every single day. And if we weren’t texting we were calling each other, though that was rare. What we loved to do most was FaceTime each other and watch movies together. Simple stuff.

Innocent stuff.

Now I’ve seen Dustin’s junk and he’s seen my boobs and we’ve swapped spit. It’s just all so…weird. Yet exciting. I sort of want to pursue more, but how do I tell him? How do we make this work without ruining everything? I don’t want Em to feel left out either…

I hear my phone and I open my eyes, grabbing it.

 

He’s okay. I guess Em needs the distraction.

What do you mean by that?

 

He doesn’t reply for a while and I start to get nervous, nibbling on my thumbnail, feeling like an idiot for even asking.

 

I’ll tell you when you come home. Hurry up. I miss you.

 

Aw. I miss him, too. A lot. We’ve known each other forever but grew extra close in fifth grade. I’ve been friends with Emily since middle school, when she first moved into the neighborhood. I love making friends with the new kids. It’s like a hobby of mine, one that Dustin used to make fun of.

“You take in all the strays,” he once teased me and I didn’t protest because he was right.

Looks like Em took over my hobby this summer and made friends with the new boy.

My phone dings again and I look at the screen.

 

When are you coming home? Em wants to throw you a party.

 

I wrinkle my nose. I don’t want a party.

 

Why? I don’t need that sort of thing.

That’s her surprise. She’s hanging with the popular crowd.

Really?

Yeah. They swim in her pool when her parents are at work.

 

Huh. They’re using her for her pool? That’s lame. I’m surprised she’d let them. Most of the popular crowd at our high school can be rude. Snobbish. I’m on the yearbook staff so I have to deal with them a lot. Some are nice. I can’t lump them all together as egotistical jerks, but a lot of them are. Em always agreed with me, saying she wanted real friends, not phony friends who only use each other.

Wonder when she changed?