Hayden had waited until I started the car before he set down his drink, and pulled off his shirt, his tight abs making it hard to pretend not to look. That had been my whole reasoning for him to do it before, I was hoping I would be distracted trying to start my car versus having nothing to do but, watch as he peeled it off. If Gavin were here he’d tell me to go take a cold shower and cleanse my soul. When Hayden finally got in the car, I was laughing. “What’s so funny?” He had asked.
“Just something I had been thinking about.” I said truthfully. He gave me a sideways glance but shrugged and turned up the radio. It was Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball. I turned it up louder. By the time we pulled into the clinic the both of us were singing together, completely out of tune. When I parked, we got out.
“I love that song.” He laughed.
“Me too but,-”
“I don’t like her.” We said together. He stifled a laugh, and I hurried to unlock the door. Neither of us said anything after that until we were about to clock out. Today we had spent most of the day filing and scanning client/patient paperwork into our new system. We finished a little earlier than I expected so I let him hang out with Count for a bit. I even convinced him in giving Count a bath not too long after the two of them hit it off. Compared to yesterday, Hayden seemed in control of the situation. Count even let him brush his teeth. We were putting him back in his room when I made a joke that if he was lucky, I might share Count with him but, that I doubted it.
He laughed at that for a while before asking why I kept him here rather than taking him back to my house. So I told him. “My parents wont let me have any pets.”
“How come?” He asked in earnest.
“I guess it has something to do with this scar.” I smiled at him. He had stopped laughing. “Calm down won’t you?” I said at the same time, I playfully pushed him.
“What’s wrong with you?” his words hit deep in my chest. “Ouch.” I said, and then stood up. He probably hadn’t meant for it to come out like that but, still.
“No, I-” he paused. Put Count back in his room, and then shut the door and locked the latch. “I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just, I never really heard what happened.”I nodded my head but, the pain didn’t subside. Weird.
“I was born with Aortic Stenosis.” I began. As does everyone else who firsts hears that, he gave me an upturned face, his brows furrowed. “Basically it means I had a bad valve.” I added.
“Oh. So they just replaced it?” He asked. I smiled unsure as to why he was being so curious. I wouldn’t have thought Hayden would be curious. Most guys like him see it, and then tend to avoid me.
“Sort of.” I smiled. “At first, they just repaired it, in a way when I was almost two. Then, I was fine up until this year. I went in for an annual check-up, and boom, the next thing I know, I was being rolled into emergency surgery. Now I have a cow valve.”
“Damn, that sucks.” He said matter of fact-ly. I laughed.
“Yeah, it did. I couldn’t eat burgers for weeks. The scary part though was when my Doctor told me I should consider myself lucky. The way my valve was deteriorating, I could have died anytime I went to sleep.” I had been leaning against the walk talking. Hayden stood in front of me. I shivered thinking about how close I came to dying. I had never been so scared in my entire life. Hayden noticing, changed the subject.
“Hey, I’m sorry about yesterday.” I met his eyes. I hadn’t expected him to bring that up. I had thought he was hiding something the way he was acting but, I hadn’t wanted him to know. What did I expect? For him to change, and join our group after one day? No, I knew better than that. Kicking off, I shrugged my shoulders.
“Hey if your busy, your busy. Sometimes plans can change.” He stared at me for a minute longer before smiling, and then pulled out his phone.
“Something like that.” He whispered underneath his breath. Then shoved his phone back in his pants. “Hey don’t you know it’s the middle of winter?” he laughed but I hadn’t understood what he meant. I just nodded yes. “Then why were you wearing shorts?”
“Oh.” I laughed for a second, and then kicked off the wall. “I love those shorts.”
“I didn’t hate them either, I was just wondering. That’s all.” After that we walked back to clock out. I wasn’t sure if he realized what he had said but, I wasn’t about to point it out. When we got back to Wal-Mart, I made the effort, and asked him if he wanted to join us at IHOP. Like yesterday, he declined but, at least he didn’t try to make up some silly lie in an attempt to hide the truth. The truth was he didn’t want to hang out as friends, and I got that.
“See you in class?” he asked when I hadn’t said anything yet. I smiled, and then nodded. “Cool.” I waved bye when he was out of the car and waited until he got in his truck before I drove off. After IHOP, I had arrived home and changed into my pj’s when I receive the call from Gavin telling me to hurry and get dressed. Apparently there was a party tonight, and we just had to go. I agreed only after I found out what kind or party it was.
A bonfire; complete with tents, smores, and other outdoorsy activities. I missed the one a few weeks ago, and I had been waiting for that one all year. Tonight, I decided to dress up. So I put on one of my purple sheer sweaters, and threw on a different pair of jean shorts. I definitely couldn’t get away with wearing my favorite pair again. What if Hayden was there? He would notice especially after what he had said. When I was ready I was surprised when I hadn’t noticed my scar was showing. It was already looking better, not by much but, still. Outside my window, I saw Gavin’s lights flood the yard. It would have to do.
Four drinks in, and unfortunately it was my turn to go get refills. Of course, who would I run into along the way other than Hayden and his group of popular misfits. Laurie was the first to say something. “Ew, can’t you cover that thing up?” she reared back as if I had a disease and was threatening to give it to her.
“Were you raped?” Kyle yelled in my face. His breath smelled of liquor and mouthwash.
“Did one of your parents try to murder you because you cried too much as a baby?” Scott, Hayden’s other friend, asked next.
“Alright, cut it out!” Hayden moved aside giving me a way out. ”God you guys, she had open heart surgery. Chill out.”
Suddenly a few of his friends started laughing. Then I heard Gavin’s voice behind me as he came up and took my hand. Hayden’s eyes shifted, and his jaw clenched. “Is there a problem?” Gavin asked stepping between me and Hayden’s friends. Okay, just to clarify, Gavin may be my best friend, and I love him, but the kid was pretty squatty compared to Hayden and his group. They were all on the Varsity team in baseball at our school, and Griffin plays chess. Not an even match up but, I had to give it to him. He had chops.
“No there’s no problem.” Hayden was quick to respond. Gavin nodded, and then together we walked over to the drink station.
“Those guys are such jerks.” He sighed. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I smiled. “Plus, Hayden was there. He tried to stop them.”
“Hayden is one of them,” Gavin corrected me. “He may not show it but, deep down he would throw you under the bus in no time in order to keep his popularity.”
“I don’t know, there’s something-”
“Seriously Ree, trust me.” For the sake of not ruining the rest of our night, I dropped it. Gavin was always going to protect me, and if he believed something, it’s like I said the other day. He was too stubborn to change. The next day at school, people had been giving me weird looks all day. When I walked into Mrs. Goldblum’s class, Hayden wouldn’t meet my eyes, and I could tell by his body language he was uncomfortable. When the bell rang, I was grateful I was done with school. I began my walk out to my car as usual when I could see Hayden was following me.
“What’s up?” I asked finally.
“I just wanted to make sure knew you I couldn’t make it today. To the clinic I mean.”
“Yeah? You have practice during the week.” I recited verbatim from what he had told me Sunday when we were making up the schedule.
“Yeah but, I can come Wednesday after-”
“After practice because you get out earlier than usual?” I finished for him. Suddenly he shifted his weight, and scratched at the back of his neck. Was he nervous about something? Did I do something?
“Ree, come quick.” Jordan, my friend from English called from the back door. “It’s your car.”
I turned back to Hayden, had he been distracting me on purpose? Then, turning over my foot, I walked to the parking lot exit, and stepped out. There in the lot where I parked my car, someone had used window paint to draw cows all over the windows. When I got closer, I could see the words "got valves" written in between the drawings. Tied to my mufflers, there were even cowbells strung and positioned in a pattern so that no matter how I drove, one of them would go off.
“I tried to stop them.” I heard Hayden’s voice from somewhere behind me. Without saying anything, I got into my car and drove straight home. I knew who's fault this was. I had only told Hayden and my friends, and I knew they wouldn't say anything. Not because having a cow valve was something to be ashamed of but, because they knew stuff like this would come from people knowing the truth. I had to remember, these were high school-ers after all.
Really I couldn’t blame Hayden, I had told him openly. I didn’t swear him to any secrecy or make him take an oath of silence, so really he hadn’t done anything but, tell them the truth. His friends were the ones who took that, and made something cruel out of it. When I got home, my brother Mick was outside working on his car when I pulled up. I hadn’t wanted to stay and chat since I could feel my eyes tearing up. It was meant as something humorous but, that didn’t change the fact that they had gone to the lengths of putting it on my car. As if bearing a scar didn’t make me enough of a freak.
“What happened to your car?” Mick had asked. I shrugged, and then walked inside. I know I shouldn't let it bother me but, for some reason, it did.
At dinner he offered to fix it, I told him not to worry about it but, he insisted. “Thanks.” I said grateful. The next few days Gavin had picked me up. As usual Hayden was late Wednesday, already blaming his practice while he walked over and clocked in. He was carrying a bike helmet. I didn’t know he owned a bike?
“Hey,” he smiled at me, set down his helmet, and then joined me at the desk. “What are you doing?” I was about to show him how I was ordering inventory through a company when Gavin came rushing into the back room. He looked clammy, and ready to collapse.
“Ree, come quick. Count got off his leash again. We lost him behind the creek.”
“Shit.” I heard Hayden mutter. “I got a bike; I can take the trails along the creek.”
“Good Airee, why don’t you-”
“I’m going with Hayden.” I told Gavin. “Count will come to me if I call him.”
“Airee, the bike will be rough, and your-”
“I don’t care, I’m coming.” I interrupted Hayden before he could tell me no. Both guys nodded in agreement, and then Hayden and I left.
“Here let me help you.” He offered after a few minutes of my failing attempts to put on the helmet.
“Thanks,” I whispered. My eyes were adverted off to the area near the creek, looking for anything small and black hiding but, the only thing I saw were the shelter cats from the across the street.
“Look,” I heard Hayden say after turning back around, and starting the bike. “About your car, I-”
“Hayden I cant talk about this right now.” I said, and then took a deep breath trying to stop thinking about Count being hit by a car or worse. He nodded knowingly and slid down the clear part of his helmet over his face.
“Hold on Airee, and let me know if you want me to stop.” He called out over the motor. I held a thumbs up in front of his face, and then we were off.