OPERATION EMOTION:PHASE FEAR
We were stuck.
Between my friends and I, none of us could think of a single thing that would inspire fear in Alex—at least, none that weren’t illegal or fucked up.
Jules, who was more comfortable with “fucked up” than the rest of us, joked about pretending to rob him at knifepoint—at least, I hoped she was joking—until Stella pointed out Alex would likely turn the situation around and kill me before he figured out it was a prank.
I was too young to die, so we scrapped any ideas that would involve a physical confrontation.
In the absence of any lightbulb moments, I turned to my last resort, Josh.
We video-chatted every week, catching each other up on our lives, and right now, he was telling me about his new “friend with benefits.”
Trust Josh to find women even in the middle of a tiny Central American village doing medical volunteer work.
“How is that possible?” I demanded. “There’s less than a hundred people in that village!” I knew because I’d Googled it after Josh announced his placement.
“What can I say? I’m charmed,” he drawled. “Wherever I go, women follow.”
“I think she was there before you, dickhead, and I hope you’re not neglecting your work to make out with your new ‘friend’.”
“Da fuck? Tell me you’re kidding.”
I waved my hand in the air. “I am, I am. Don’t get your knickers in a twist.”
As much of a horndog as my brother was, he took his work seriously. Whereas I had to bust my ass for my A’s, he was one of those annoying people who didn’t have to study much to excel in school. But he loved medical work and helping people. Even when we were young, he was the one who’d bandaged me up after I scraped my knee and looked up ways to help me with my nightmares while our father threw himself into work.
It was why I let Josh get away with his overprotectiveness. He could be annoying as hell, but he was still the best brother.
I’d never tell him that though. If his head inflated any more, he’d have trouble walking.
“By the way.” I tried to sound casual as I fiddled with the sleeve of my shirt. “Halloween is coming up, and I was thinking of pulling some pranks. Is there anything Alex is scared of? Clowns, spiders, heights…”
Suspicion crawled into Josh’s face. “Halloween is more than two months away.”
“Yeah, but it sneaks up on you, and I want to prepare.”
“Hmm.” Josh tapped his fingers on his thigh. “Hmm…”
“Any time before I’m eighty would be great.”
“Shut up. You know how hard it is to think of something Alex is scared of? I’ve known him for eight years, and I’ve never once seen him afraid.”
My face fell. Well, shit.
“You could try the usual stuff people hate, but I doubt you’d get anywhere.” Josh shrugged. “One time we ran into a bear while hiking and the fucker didn’t even blink. Just stood there looking bored and annoyed until the bear wandered off. Jump scares don’t work either. Trust me—I’ve tried many times to prank him in the past and failed every time.”
“Good to know.”
Perhaps this phase was a lost cause. If Josh, who knew Alex better than anyone, couldn’t scare him, none of us could.
The suspicion returned to Josh’s eyes. “Is this your idea, or a certain redhead’s?”
“Bullshit.” Josh scowled. “Don’t tell me she’s still infatuated with Alex. He’s a lost cause when it comes to relationships—won’t ever get into one, and he only fucks certain women.”
I was dying to ask who these “certain women” were, but I couldn’t without sounding like I was interested in Alex. Which I wasn’t.
“I don’t think Jules was ever infatuated with him,” I said. “She just thinks he’s hot.”
“Whatever.” Josh raked a hand through his hair. “Hey, I have an early morning tomorrow, so I’m gonna crash. Let me know if you succeed in pranking him and take a video of it for me. I could use the laugh.”
“Sure.” Concern replaced my earlier discomfort at hearing about Alex’s “certain women.” I could tell Josh was worn out despite his jokes and wiseass comments. There were dark circles beneath his eyes, and lines of tension bracketed his mouth. He’d begged off early our last few calls, and usually, he could stay up all night talking about the dumbest stuff.
Once, he’d waxed poetic about his new sneakers until three in the morning.
“Get some rest. If I have to fly down to Central America to kick your ass, I’ll be pissed.”
“Ha.” Josh snorted. “You wish you could kick my ass.”
“Don’t call me that,” he grumbled. “Night.”
After I hung up, I took out my notebook and scratched out phase three.
PHASE FEAR STATUS: ON HOLD (INDEFINITELY)