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“Great concert, guys! We rocked it!” I skip into the room and casually brush one finger along the back of Jarod’s neck as I pass the table. He shivers at my touch and glances up at me. His jaw drops when he notices my outfit, but I pretend not to notice.
I fill the kettle with water, and then I set it on the stove to boil before I grab a package of Oreos from the cupboard and pull a chair up to the table between Jarod and Laina. “I don’t see how you can eat ice cream when it’s, like, fifteen degrees outside. What’s wrong with you two?” I shiver and my knee “accidentally” brushes against Jarod’s leg. I feel his body stiffen next to me, and I bite my lower lip to stifle a smile. “Don’t you guys know ice cream makes you colder?”
Laina laughs and reaches across the table to squeeze Jarod’s hand. “We always do this,” she says. “It’s tradition.”
“Do you remember,” Jarod asks, carefully avoiding my eyes, “when we were freshmen?” They launch into a story all about how they thought the juniors and seniors were going to the Dairy Shack for ice cream after their first concert, so they came back to our house to make ice cream sundaes. They thought they could tell everyone that they went out for ice cream and pretend they were a part of the cool kids, but then it turned out that everyone was really going out for brownies and hot cocoa instead.
The kettle whistles and I jump up to make my hot cocoa. I take a careful sip and return to my seat between them. “Really?” I ask. “You guys eat ice cream when it’s freezing out because you were stupid when you were freshmen?” I lift my steaming mug and stare at Jarod over the cup as I take a sip. “I think I’d at least put a warm brownie with the ice cream.”
“Oh, we have brownies and hot cocoa every year after the spring concert,” Laina says. She’s barely paying attention, and totally oblivious to the real conversation taking place right in front of her.
I pull my chair closer to Jarod, close enough that our legs are touching, and I eat the last bite of ice cream out of his dish. I lick my lips slowly, and then casually dunk an Oreo in my cocoa. “So the brownies and the ice cream are both because of Laina?”
Jarod squirms in his seat and glances at my sister, but she’s a million miles away, absently rubbing at a sticky spot on the table with that vacant look on her face.
“It’s just our thing,” he says. “Because we’re friends.”
I give him a you-must-think-I’m-a-freaking-idiot smile and trace a figure eight with my index finger on his leg. He reaches under the table to grab my hand and looks at me with thinly veiled terror. I laugh and cock my head to one side, as if I’m only making casual conversation. “So, you would never, ever, for instance, eat brownies and ice cream together because Laina wouldn’t approve?”
He blinks, and every trace of color drains from his face. His eyes plead with me to stop, and he squeezes my hand. But if he didn’t want me to say anything in front of Laina, he shouldn’t have avoided me all week.
“Or would the brownies and ice cream combination be a dangerous declaration that you wanted something way more than friendship?”
Jarod gulps and looks at Laina, who is still tracing hearts with her finger on the table. She nods absently.
“That’s silly,” he says. “It’s a dessert. No symbols. No hidden meanings.” He drops my hand and slides his chair away from me.
I take a deep breath and exhale slowly, folding my arms across my chest. “So when you eat them separately, the brownies and the ice cream are symbols of your enduring friendship. But when you eat them together, they mean nothing?”
“Sometimes a dessert is just a dessert,” Jarod says.
I twist open an Oreo and slowly lick the cream filling. “What about kisses?” I ask. “Do those mean anything?”
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