Burnt Brownies and Unrequited Love

I say bye to Sam and take off running, rippling as soon as I get to the end of the driveway. I can still feel the heat from where our lips touched. Even though mine are invisible, I swear I still feel it. But I never should have kissed Samantha Ruiz. She didn’t like it. Which means it was one ginormous mistake.

What was I thinking?

I race the distance from Sam’s house toward the cabin, speeding past the only two cars on the road. To one side, the sun flames out, slowly sinking below the horizon. Another couple minutes out here and I’ll be officially breaking my promise to Mick to stay off the roads after sundown. It’s a ridiculous rule. It’s not like a car can do anything to me when I’m invisible. And it’s not like I’d be stupid enough to run solid on this stretch of highway in the dark. Not when everyone ignores the “Slow to 15 MPH” signs.

I feel an irrational burst of anger at my sister for treating me like a kid. My grasp on the invisible basil in my invisible hand tightens and I stop. Then, deliberately, I turn away from Mick, the cabin, dinner, the whole thing. I don’t want to face my sister tonight.

Not now. Not when the one thing I thought I had just became the one thing I’ll never have. No matter how bad I want it. Want her. Sam.

Sam doesn’t like me.

I feel the trace of what would be tears if I were solid right now. It’s pointless to swipe at them, but I do it anyway.

Sam doesn’t feel the same way I feel. I waited weeks—no, months—before letting her know how I felt, because I wanted to be sure she liked me back. And I was sure. Sure right up until the moment she rippled to get away from me. Af first, I even thought she was kissing me back, but that was obviously wishful thinking. Or was she, like, too polite to not kiss me back? Is that a thing?

I shake my head at myself. It doesn’t matter if it’s a thing. All that matters is this: I like Sam, and she doesn’t like me back.

I don’t just like her. I think I might love her. How pathetic is that? I find the one girl in the world that I don’t have to hide my Rippler’s Syndrome from, that I can be totally honest with, only guess what? Joke’s on you, Will Baker. She doesn’t want to be with you.

I swear I can feel more stupid tears trickling off the side of my face. I pick up my speed, racing faster and faster, back and forth between Sam’s house and mine.

Eventually I can’t feel the invisible tears anymore. Eventually I admit it’s time to head home. Mick’s gonna kill me. Like that’s new. She’s always saying she’s going to kill me. Crying wolf, much?

But then I start feeling bad, because scaring my sister on purpose is pretty low, even for someone who just got their heart rototillered. My sister’s got enough to worry about without me throwing a tantrum because I kissed a girl who didn’t want to kiss me back.

The ache of Sam’s rejection has dulled now, like the time I twisted my ankle and they gave me Tylenol with codeine. Could someone maybe invent something that mends broken hearts?

I give myself a few extra minutes outside the cabin to make sure I’m chill before I pass invisibly through the door. Inside, Mick’s chewing her nails. She looks ten years old, and suddenly I feel awful. I come solid.

“Here’s the basil,” I say. “I’m sorry it took me so long—”

“Where were you? You scared the bejeezus out of me. Don’t you ever do that again, do you hear me?”

I stare at my shoes, pretty sure she doesn’t really want either of those questions answered.

“Sorry, Mick.”

I set the basil on the counter.

“Want me to chop this for you?” I ask, pointing to the basil.

Mick gets up and walks to the kitchen counter, reaching for a knife and muttering under her breath about thoughtless younger brothers who can’t be bothered to do what they promised.

“Geez, Mick, I’m like fifteen minutes late. Give me a break.”

I see her shoulders, which are hunched up to her ears, do this little shiver. And then I feel even worse. I walk over to her and put an arm around her, letting that be my apology. I feel her shoulders relax. That’s her accepting it.

“I know I’m being paranoid,” she mutters. She stack up the basil leaves like I showed her, to make it easier to chop them. “I just let my imagination run away with me sometimes.”

“I know. It’s okay. And I should have texted you.”

“Except I had the phone.”

“I could have used Sam’s to let you know …” I break off, because there’s no way I would’ve texted Mick that, due to my heart getting shoved through a shredder, I was running late.

“Wish we still had Mom’s old Cuisinart,” Mick says.

“When we’ve got a perfectly good set of knives? Please.” I shove her out of the way and start chiffonading the heck out of those poor basil leaves. When I’ve got a cup chopped up all fine, I pass it to her. “Work your sorcerous ways.”

Mickie smiles at me and commences turning the basil into pesto which, in all honesty, is pretty magical. I start the pasta, and we just fall into our regular routines. Well, minus the part where Mick basically avoids the kitchen unless it’s pesto night.

“I bought more of that dark chocolate you like,” Mick says.

“For cooking?” I ask, trying to clarify if she got me a candy bar or if she wants me to make brownies.

“For cooking. Bridget Li sold it to me at cost. She didn’t look happy about it.”

“It was her choice. She didn’t have to sell it to you at all.”

“Yeah.” She pauses and then adds, “Honestly? I can never tell if she likes me or not.”

My heart gives a sympathetic nod. I know Mick means she couldn’t tell if Bridget thought she was an “okay person” or not, but all I can think about is how I thought Sam liked me, only I was wrong.

Mick finishes up with the pesto just as the pasta hits a perfect al dente, and we sit down to eat our “celebratory” dinner. Neither of us talks about Dad going back behind bars. We don’t talk about anything. Mick because she’s pounding back pesto like it’s her last meal and me because I’m not in the mood.

After we clean up, I start a pan of brownies, popping them in the oven while Mick sits at her desk working on some report she’s got to file. An hour later, I’m in my room, moping like a loser, when Mickie shouts an obscenity that she would definitely be all over me for saying.

I jump up and rush into the main living area. “What is it?”

“The brownies.”

The room is filling with smoke.

“I got the alarm,” I say, already reaching for the smoke alarm to detach the 9-volt battery before it starts screaming. Bridget, who’s also our landlord, keeps making noises about putting in a hardwired system, but thankfully the state of California hasn’t forced her to do it yet.

“Okay,” says my sister, fists on her hips, “you want to start telling me what’s up with you?”

Do I want to? Uh, no. What I want to do is lie.

“Nothing’s up with me.” I cross to the oven. “I just didn’t set a timer.”

“Will. Please. You never set timers. You can literally smell when brownies are done.” She frowns. “Or is that a lie? Have you seriously been fooling me about the brownies all this time?”

I shrug. “It’s not a lie. Anyone can tell by smell when brownies are done.”

“Anyone freakishly obsessed with baked goods,” mutters my sister.

I shrug.

“Come on, Will. What’s with you?”

“Nothing.” (Still lying, obviously.)

“You’re lying.”

“Come on, Mick. I’m just tired.”

“You’re not tired.”

The fact that I have just picked up an eight pound weight and started doing curls is probably giving me away. That, and my sister can sniff out a lie faster than a dog can sniff out a dead animal to roll in.

She stops staring at me and goes to examine the brownie pan, sitting in the sink.

“Oh, hey,” she says, “looks like maybe the center isn’t burned to a crisp.” She looks over at me. “Want to share?”

I say okay because otherwise she’ll really be on me about what’s wrong. We share the approximately four inch by four inch square that didn’t burn.

Mickie sighs and licks her fingers. “Yours are better than the ones at Las ABC, no matter what anyone says.”

She means Gwyn. Even before Gwyn thought I was an ass-hat girl-hitter, she still said her mom’s brownies were the best. Not that it stopped her sampling mine, just to make sure.

Um,” says my sister, “this is where you usually say ‘Damn straight they are.’”

I look at her blankly.

“Your brownies. Are better.”

I respond with an indeterminate grunt and start picking at the possibly-not- completely-burned remains in the pan.

Ew!” says Mick, snatching the pan away. “Isn’t charred food, like, carcinogenic?”

When I don’t try to grab the pan back, Mickie’s frown deepens. She sighs and then speaks in a softer voice than normal.

“It’s just … you seem sad, Will. And I’m your big sister. You know you can always talk to me about anything, right?”

I consider making a grab for the pan to stop the conversation from going any farther. But then something in me just gives up.

“I kissed Sam.”

I can tell, even without meeting my sister’s face, that she is trying super hard to look completely neutral about this. Also that she is trying out and rejecting about a thousand responses before finally deciding it would be better to wait me out.

“She didn’t kiss me back,” I say at last.

My sister exhales like she was holding her breath. She probably was.

“I’m so sorry, Will.”

“Yeah. Whatever.”

“Will. Come on. This isn’t a ‘whatever’ thing.”

I feel the backs of my eyes burning again. I’m so not crying in front of my sister.

“I know,” I say at last.

“Did she, um, do anything else besides not kiss you back?” asks my sister. “Like, did you guys talk about it?”

“She rippled to get away from me.”

My throat tightens remembering it. How just a second before she’d rippled, I’d thought she had kissed me back, but obviously I got that wrong.

“Oh. Will, I’m so sorry,” says Mick. “So … no talking about it, then?”

“We didn’t really talk. I mean, I told her that I got it if she didn’t feel that way and that I wanted us to still be friends no matter what.”

“And she said okay?”

I shrug. I don’t remember what she said or even if she said anything at all. But then I remember her face, sort of sad and trying to smile anyway. I remember how she gave me a peck on the cheek.

“She still wants to be friends. Pretty sure anyway.”

“That’s not going to be easy, now,” Mick says.

I laugh bitterly. “Yeah. Because life has always been so easy for me.”

“Hey.” She holds her arms out like I’m four. “Come here.”

I don’t. But my sister scoots her chair and puts her arms around me and I don’t pull away. Eventually she lets go, giving my shoulder a squeeze.

“You’ll get past this,” she says.

Will I? I don’t know what that means, getting past this. I blurt out, “I swear if you say there’s more fish in the sea or something—”

“Will. This is me. No lame-ass speeches about fish.” Her brows pull together. “I actually thought … I mean … Dammit. The two of you seemed like, perfect, basically. And I even liked her.”

“Don’t hate her for this,” I say.

Mick’s brows practically meet as she murmurs, “You’re my little brother. I’m allowed to hate her a little for breaking your heart.”

“I’ll be fine, Mick.”

She looks at me like she’s not buying it.

“Seriously. It’s fine. I’m fine.”

We’re both quiet for a couple of minutes. Eventually my sister clears her throat.

“There was this time,” she says, “when I thought … when I thought maybe someone liked me.”

I look up. She’s deliberately not naming names. Like, she was about to say who, only she decided not to.

“And, yeah,” she continues, “I did the same thing as you, pretty much. I went in for the kiss and … well, let’s just say that my feelings were not reciprocated.”

I meet her eyes. “That must’ve sucked.”

She nods.

“The family curse,” she says after a moment of silence.

“Our family has a curse?”

“No. Not like that. I just mean, maybe we’re like Mom. Unlucky in who we choose to love.”

“Well, that’s not depressing as hell or anything.”

We’re both quiet for a minute. But then she laughs. And then I laugh. And then we’re both laughing and every time one of us manages to stop, the other one mutters, “Not depressing as hell at all,” and we start back up laughing. It takes us a few minutes to stop and finally catch our breath.

“Come on,” she says, standing up and grabbing the Jeep key.

“Come on, what?” I ask.

“We’re going to Las ABC and getting some of those second-rate brownies and eating our way into a chocolate coma.”

I stare at the door. And then at the pan of brownies I burned. And then I think I see my sister blinking back tears. I sigh and put an arm around her. She gets me. And I get her. And maybe, given ungodly amounts of Las Abuelitas Bakery Café brownies, that will be enough.