Joyride Page 23

Arden leans back against the driver’s side door. “Proof that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

“You really are Mr. Shackleford’s nephew.” It sounds like something he would say.

“He would approve of this exercise in wisdom. He’s the one who thought it up.”

“Be serious.”

“No, he did! He used to take me and Amber to do it all the time.”

“Amber? Who’s Amber?”

“She was my sister. She died.”

“I’m sorry.”

“What for? You didn’t kill her.” With this, he smirks. It’s getting harder and harder not to like Arden. “Well, my half hour is up. But on a scale of one to ten, how entertained were you?”

Ten. Hands down. “About a seven. And a half.”

“Maybe next time we’ll get that up to an eight.”

“Next time?”

“Yes, next time. And the time after that.”

“I didn’t peg you for an optimist.”

He scratches the back of his neck. “Come on, Carly. You don’t think we had a moment today? A tiny sliver of a moment that gave our acquaintance status room to blossom into friendship status?”

I tilt my head at him. “I guess so.” I mean, we watched people dig through a shitty purse together. We seem harmonious enough.

“Great. So, now that we’re friends, I have a very important question to ask you. I’d like to know if you’d do me the honor of being my accomplice.”

I wonder if everyone else notices how weird Arden Moss actually is.


Arden waits at their picnic table, trying not to appear as antsy as he feels. Also, trying not to dissect why he thinks of it as “their” picnic table instead of “the” picnic table.

And where is she? She said this morning she would meet me here at lunch.

Arden’s stomach growls. Waiting for a girl is an exhausting experience. All this Will she show? Will she be pleasant? Will she be armed with whole or 2%? business. But he’s willing to go through all that again. He’s willing to do what it takes to woo Carly.

He didn’t realize until yesterday just how much he has missed having an accomplice. It’s so much better to share the enjoyment of giving someone their comeuppance. Of course, Amber was the perfect sidekick in every way. Actually, compared to Amber and her creativity, he was the real sidekick. Carly will never be Amber, he knows. And it’s not like he’s looking to replace Amber—no one could ever do that. But Carly has undeniable potential. And loneliness has taken its toll on him.

Carly shows up late, about ten minutes later, hauling a heavy backpack, a rare grin, and a light lunch tray. Chocolate milk.

She takes the seat across from him, wasting the next two minutes carefully arranging her homework in front of her and her backpack on the bench beside her. She opens her chocolate milk with the finesse of a lunch lady. “What?” she says.

“Lunch is almost over.” Arden’s stomach growls again. “You might as well have stood me up.”

“I had some questions about our assignment,” she says. “You act like this is a date.”

“It’s a meeting.”

She picks up her pencil and scribbles something in her notebook. Arden doubts it has anything to do with him. She doesn’t look up when she says, “So I’ve thought about your, uh, proposal.”

Not a good sign.

“And first I just want to say I did have a fun time yesterday…”

Yep, this is what he says when he’s about to reject a girl. Nope, it doesn’t feel good to be on the receiving end. Funny that he ever thought it was gentle.

“And being your accomplice in all this prank stuff sounds fun…”

She keeps saying fun. Fun is now the most neutral word in the world.

“But I kind of have to work for a living. Like, I have a job. It’s this thing where they pay you to do stuff…”

Wait, what? Is she mocking me?

“Like, you exchange work for money, then you buy your own things. You don’t even have to ask your parents. You should try it sometime…”

“Screw you.”

She smiles. Hugely. Beautifully. Arden wants to hate that smile. It’s evidence that she’s entertained by his anger, after all. But the smile is just so … gorgeous. “I was just messing with you,” she says. “It looked like you zoned out on me.”

“Oh. Well. I didn’t.”

“But I really can’t be your accomplice.”


“Because of work.”

“So what part were you messing with me about?”

She blinks. Her mouth tightens into a pout. “You said we would be doing things after school. At night. I can’t. I have to work. At the Breeze Mart.”

“What do you make there, minimum wage?”


“I’m just saying, it doesn’t seem like a job worth keeping.”

“Have you ever had a job, Arden?”

“I’ve worked for my uncle a few summers.”

She rolls her eyes. “I’ll bet that was backbreaking. You probably overdosed on your aunt Dorothy’s lemonade.”

Maybe. “About as backbreaking as doing homework on the clock, I guess.”

She folds her hands in front of her. “I need that job. It’s not something I’d expect someone like you to understand. In fact, I need more hours.”

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