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Tiffany Schmidt

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chest. Her dark curls are twisted into a careless knot and anchored with a swizzle stick. The outfit probably took her ten seconds to throw together and makes me self-conscious about the hour and a half it took me to get ready for school and the fact that I dont, and never have, measured up to Evy in interest factor. Yeah, thanks and all that. Want to help me unpack? she asks. This will translate into me unpacking and organizing while she sits on her bed and tells me stories about all her college friends and college adventures. Its our typical routine, and Im about to agree when her eyes light up. Or maybe you have other plans. Whos the guy? Hey, handsome. I look to see what shes grinning at: Jonahs standing in the still-open doorway. Hi, I say. It takes all of my effort to keep my feet planted on the foyers Oriental carpet instead of fleeing up the stairs. Looking directly at him is out of the question; I aim my gaze over his left shoulder at his car parked halfway down the driveway. You forgot your cell. Jonah hands it over and is gone before I even manage, Oh, thanks. I stare at the back of our front door until Evy puts a hand on my shoulder and spins me around to face her amused grin. Wait. Wait. Wait! I thought you were babysittingwho was the guy? Did my little sister finally learn to lie to Mom? Im so proud. And, nice choice: he sizzles! What? No. Thats the couples son. And did you tuck him into bed and read him a story?

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She raises her eyebrows and pulls her lips into a scandalized smirk. The older brother of the baby I was watching. Why did I inherit all of the insta-blush genes in our family? Its nothing like that. He doesnt like me at all. Wasnt that obvious? She winks and nudges me with an elbow. Sounds like grade-school flirting. Next hell be pulling your hair and calling you dorkhead and cootie-face. Ha. Not likely. I grab one of her suitcases from the foyer floor and trudge toward the stairs. What do you have in here? It weighs a ton. Shoes. Theres another knock on the door. See, this is when the hair pulling begins, Evy says as she reaches around me for the knob. I knew he couldnt resist my little sister. She pulls the door open with a flourish so Im face-toface with a scowl. I drop the suitcase, flinching at its thud. Did I forget something else? I locked my keys in the car. His scowl deepens. Accidentally? Evy asks, laughing. His eyes drift past me and land on my sister. Shes assumed an audience position, leaning against the green wall of the hallway. Im sure all he sees are her chest and long, tanned legs crossed at the ankles. I wouldnt have spent the past two minutes cursing at the car door if it was on purpose. But he says this with a smile. She gets a smile. Im Jonah. Evy. Smart idea not to curse in front of The Innocent. It makes her so damn huffy. It does not!

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They share a look like theyre on some exclusive team. I hate feeling like an outsider. Ill drive you home to get a spare key, I offer. Im blocking you in. My phones in the car; can I use yours? Ill call AAA and be out of here. Sure, I answer. Evy points to the cell in my hand. Genius, if youd figured it out sooner, you couldve saved yourself a trip to return hers. I hand it over with an apologetic look. Dont be mean. He was probably busy worr Busy being a moron and locking my keys in the car. He fishes a AAA card out of his wallet and turns to face the door while he dials. I stand watching until Evy hooks her fingers in the back of my collar and drags me backward into the kitchen. Let go of me! She does, and I stumble until my hip hits the counter. Whats wrong with you? Wrong with me? Whats up with the Miss America act, B? She assumes a pose thats straight up and down, feet at a forty-five-degree angle, fluttering lashes, and head tilt. I did not stand like that! You did! And youre broadcasting puppy-dog affection on every channel. Back off a bit, B, make him work for it. I do not like Jonah Prentiss, I hiss in a whisper. And I do not need guy advice. Just listen, she orders, and as usual I shut up. Whether or not you like this guysomeday theres going to be a guy or girl you do. The smile-and-nod routine you were doing back there? Thats not going to get you anywhere with anyone

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whos worth your time. And for the record, I approve of this guyhe doesnt treat you like youre made of porcelain like your usual fan club. So drop the act, okay? She stands there, hands on hips, eyebrows arched, waiting for my nod of agreement. Im not going to give her the satisfaction. She doesnt get to waltz home and tell me what a failure I am at dating and life in general. She tilts her head toward me and clears her throat. Over her shoulder, I can see Jonah approaching from the foyer. If I dont concede now, shell make me regret it. Fine, I say, and she smiles triumphantly. Jonah hands me my cell. Its going to be at least an hour. They gave me some crappy excuse about how since Im not in any immediate danger or stranded, Im not considered a priority. Im sorry. That stinks. An hour? I want him to go sit on his car, or pace the driveway, or do anything but be in my sight. I want away from how anxious he makes me and how much he makes me second-guess. Evy sits down at the kitchen table and uses her toe to push the chair next to hers toward him. Of course youre welcome to stay, I add, but my own invitation is a weak, awkward echo of hers. Thanks. Jonah sits and scans the kitchen. Ours isnt as immaculate as his. There are fingerprints on the stainlesssteel surface of the fridge. Evys left a plate by the sink and a soda can on the counter next to a stack of mail shes gone through and an open catalog shes doodled on. All of this will have to be cleaned up before the memorial tomorrow. I look stupid and out of place standing, but dont feel

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invited to join them. Which is ridiculous. Evy is my sister, Jonah is my babysitting charges older brother. Who hates me. But I can fix thisIll use this hour to make him like me. Once he does, Ill get him to come volunteer on Sunday. Then Ill never have to think about him again. Decision made. So, by Dads logic, Im 80 percent closer to him liking me than I was a second ago. Funny how I still feel totally unwelcome in my own kitchen. I keep standing, trying to make it look like I want to by leaning against the marble countertop. Everything looks better when youre wearing a smile. I flash some teeth, trying to find a balance between the Miss America of Evys accusation and the grimace Id like to wear. Can I get you anything, Jonah? A drink? No, he says, then adds, Sorry if I ruined your plans. This is addressed to Evy. Apparently my plans dont matter. No worries. Im in for the night. I was going to make tea and wait for my boyfriend to call. Brightons about to walk the dog. You can go with her. Never? No. If I had been sitting, Id have bolted to my feet in protest. Um, Ill wait by my car if walking the dog is a private task for you. Jonah gives me a look of curious disdain. No, thats not what I meant. But my words are overpowered by Evys opening the French doors to our back porch. She whistles and shouts, Cmere, boy! Wheres my baby? Nearly two hundred pounds of drool lumbers into the kitchen. Jonahs chair is forced back when Evys baby

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pushes his way over to inspect him. Jonah tolerates the sniffing and even scratches behind the demon dogs ears. Saint Bernard? I dont think so. Who loves me? Never loves me. Good boy, Never. Such a good boy, Evy coos, and the dog turns his attention to her. Jonah stands up to avoid being beaten by the dogs tail, which immediately overturns his chair. Never? Jonah asks. Thats some dog. See, I wasnt saying you couldnt come Never: Not Eves Replacement. My mom got this big, beautiful boy right before I left for college. Didnt she, buddy? Evy scratches his chin, and he rewards her with a lick that leaves visible slobber across her cheek. Gross. And he never listens to anyone but her, so its appropriate. I scowlnot that either of them notices. Theyre too busy lavishing affection on the beast, who has a habit of chewing up my shoes and jumping on me when I sit on the couch so I cant get up until he decides to move or someone bribes him with a cookie. Im not walking him. I cant. He was just in the backyard, Im sure hes fine. As soon as the word walk leaves my lips, Never bounds over, jumps up, and knocks me down. Then he proceeds to lick my face. Get him off me, I beg, but Jonah and Evy are too busy laughing. When Im near tears, Jonah does, by holding up a leash Evy mustve given him. He manages to get Never to sit while he fastens it. I hate the dog and she knows it. The thing weighs nearly as much as the two of us combined, but he listens to her.

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I cant walk him, I repeat. I put my headband on the counter and pull my hair into a ponytail so I can splash my face with water from the kitchen sink and remove the drool. All my makeup comes off along with it. My first instinct is to run upstairs and fix it, but Jonah will hate me with or without mascara and sandstone eye shadow. Dont be a baby. He needs a walk Her cell rings. And look, theres Topher, so I cant do it. Have fun. Ill listen for the AAA guys. Evy zips out of the room, cell phone to her ear, cooing to her boyfriend in a tone similar to the one she used for the dog. I cant, I say to Jonah. Hes just a dog. Youre the owner. Tell him what to do and hell do it. Like its that easy. Never hasnt listened to a command from me since he was actually lap sized. The woman at obedience school kept correcting Mom and Evy, telling them to speak softerthat my normal-volume instructions wouldnt be effective if Never got used to obeying commands at a yell. But they didnt listen and she was right. By the time he was knee height, all the cookies, cheese, and peanut butter in the world couldnt convince him to sit or stay for me. Jonah holds the leash out, but I just shake my head. Fine. Ill walk him then. Whats a good loop so I dont get lost? Everything in this town looks the same. Hes wrongof coursenot only do things not look the same, but all the streets in Cross Pointe are laid out in a grid. I dont understand how it would be possible to get lost. I open my mouth to give him a route, then change my mind.

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