LESSON IN LOVE 101... CHAPTER FOUR, SIDE 1 AND 2
Chapter 4: I'm Moving On
Lesson In Love 101
I'd gone to the Spring Formal at WHS with Curtis my freshman year. Rachael, who'd gone with a seventeen-year-old punk rocker from the Meatpacking District, and I had spent the day of the dance getting facials and manicures done, and the week before the dance shopping for dresses at vintage stores. Dad and Ann had been home when the punk rocker and my boyfriend arrived at our apartment; he'd offered them Cokes and discussed basketball with Curtis and Eric while Erica had watched us get ready. Afterwards, Ann had taken a zillion pictures and teased Cutis. At the dance, we'd spiked our punch with brandy and goofed around on the dance floor before Curtis had all but carried me into our limo to make out to Frank Sinatra. It had been one of the best nights of my entire life, and I'd kept my midnight blue dress as a memento.
As I slipped into it for Chocolate Hearts in my room, I sighed, remembering how I'd laughed and laughed as Rachael had tried on increasingly tacky dresses at Strawberry that cost a lot more than either of us could have afforded to pay. This time, I hadn't gone shopping because I had no best friend to poke fun at dresses with; I was going not with Curtis as a date but with a raving lunatic with weird hair; when I got downstairs, the house would be silent and empty and sad; and the fundraiser itself would be full of kids who hated me and loved to torture me. Why was I even bothering to go?
Because not going would be conceding defeat to Roxanne. And I would rather have killed Neil myself than do that.
My phone rang. Curtis was returning my call. After two days. "Hey," I said, leaping to answer it anyway.
"Hey," he said. "What's up?"
What's up. As if I was just some casual acquaintance he was calling to say hi to. As if I wasn't the girl who'd been sitting around wondering if he'd been killed or if he was out with some other girl for the last forty-eight hours. I felt a sudden spurt of anger. I couldn't even blame myself for it. For once, the anger felt seriously, seriously justified.
"There's this dance at our school," I said, keeping my tone even. "I'll actually be leaving for that in ten minutes."
Curtis didn't say anything for a while, and when he did, his voice sounded forcedly casual. "Yeah? I thought you didn't like going to dances alone."
I almost backtracked – why make things even worse with him than they already were? – but I forced myself to reply, "Actually, I'm going with this guy. My friend."
There was a silence. "Oh, that's great," Curtis said finally. Now there was no mistaking the anger in his voice. He could demand phone-sex and go off to party with Lance Redford when I needed him, but I was supposed to stew in my bedroom and wait for him to call? I didn't feel so good, all of a sudden. I loved Curtis. I wanted things to go back to the way they'd always been.
But…I was mad at him.
Still, what could I do? I was mad at him, but I didn't want to lose him. "It's a compulsory thing. A fundraiser." I chewed on my index fingernail. "I don't want to go. I'd really rather…" I took a deep breath. "Stay here and talk to you."
To my astonishment, Curtis responded in a nasty, sneering tone. "I'm sure."
"I would." I choked down the rapidly rising anger for the third time. "Really."
"What about your friend?" Curtis said scathingly. "The guy you're going to the dance with? He's some rich movie star kid, isn't he?"
"Curtis," I said. I couldn't believe him. I'd just opened up and told him I preferred talking to him to going out, and he was…mad? Jealous? He had no right to be. Not when he had barely talked to me all week. "We had a draw thing. This guy picked my name from a bunch of paper chits. Seriously."
"Is this dance in some five-star place, Summer? Are you going to go get wasted and then go home with this guy?" Curtis sounded furious now.
If I hadn't been feeling so angry myself, I would have laughed. It was just so ridiculous. He could go without returning my calls for two days, but I couldn't go to a fucking compulsory fundraiser because he'd finally deigned to call back. What was his problem? "You're the one who went off to celebrate with Lance Redford just because I wouldn't have phone sex with you," I said.
And then immediately, instantaneously wished I hadn't.
"Are you crazy?" Curtis exploded. "What, I can't have any fun because you're having problems adjusting to that place? I mean, God. A lot of people would kill to go to that fancy school, you know? I bet they don't think about canceling their athletic programs because they can't afford to have a gym. I bet they don't –"
"I'm sorry," I interrupted quickly. I hadn't known about the gym thing. I felt some of my anger fade away. Okay, so he was worried about his basketball scholarship. He didn't need to yell at me about it – he could just talk to me. Instead of saying that, however, I apologized again.
"You're fucking sorry," Curtis spat. "Great. That helps a lot." He breathed loudly. "So. This guy you're going to the dance with. Are you cheating on me with him?"
I counted to ten. I told myself that Curtis was under stress. I told myself that I had nobody except for him in the whole world. I told myself that I was mature and responsible and looked before I leaped. I told myself that I loved him. But none of that could stop me from responding, "Are you cheating on me? Is that why you're asking me, Curtis? Because you have a guilty conscience?"
There was a silence. And then, in my ear, there was the dial tone.
I wondered drearily what that meant as I put my phone down and sank into my bed. Was that an assent? Was Curtis confessing that he was cheating on me? Was there just a network failure? Or was Curtis just too angry to talk to me any longer?
Mentally, I squared my shoulders. So what if I'd had a fight with my boyfriend? I had a bunch of rich kids to piss off. And a whole lot of responsibilities I couldn't neglect.
Michael, my brother, was downstairs, in front of the TV. He quirked an eyebrow when he saw me. "Going out?"
I shrugged. "I'm not going on a date." I didn't want to talk to Michael, really, but it wasn't like I had a lot of options. "Our school had a lucky draw kind of thing, where the guys draw the names of the girls and take them out to a fundraiser."
"And the girls don't mind?" Michael wanted to know.
I blinked. It was a good question, actually. It was okay for Roxanne, who would probably seduce her own father if she ran out of males to rub herself against, but for other girls, now that I thought about it, the system seemed kind of…sexist. I wondered how Michael, being a guy, had realized that when I hadn't. "I guess it's tradition," I said thoughtfully.
"So was the custom of child marriage and widows jumping into funeral pyres when their husbands died, in India," Michael pointed out, his tone as uninterested as if he was discussing the effects of England's Glorious Revolution in history class. Not bored, simply…uninterested. Expressionless. Classic Michael.
"I guess," I said, not really wanting to go into it. Because that was classic me. Avoiding arguments. The doorbell chimed through the house. I sighed. Rufus. "It's probably my date. I'll be back as soon as possible."
Michael looked at me. "Ann's in the kitchen."
My heart sank. "Crap."
Then again, it was just Rufus. He would probably think Ann was strange because she'd been kidnapped at Area 51 and impregnated by some alien from Jupiter. So instead of rushing into the kitchen and hiding Ann in the pantry, I had time to grab the Miu Miu-knockoff bag Rachael had given me for my fourteenth birthday and my black flats – I didn't dare wear sneakers at a Thornton Academy formal event – before going sedately to the door. I did manage to get there before Ann did, but my stepmother got in a glance at the guy standing outside before Michael pulled her away.
Which sucked.Because it was not Rufus standing at the door, but Nathan Wellington.
I should have guessed. I should have known that Rufus drawing me instead of Nathan was just too good to be true. But maybe he'd gotten the wrong house, or he wanted to introduce me to his date, or…something. Fate wouldn't be cruel enough to send him here as my date. I stepped outside, slammed the door shut behind me, and faced him.
"Can I help you?" I said politely, in spite of the nervousness threatening to send vomit spiraling out of my mouth.
Nathan looked fantastic. His blond hair, which was combed back neatly during school, was left in its natural shaggy, wavy mess; the glitter in his green eyes matched the dazzle of his smile; and his broad shoulders looked delectably perfect in his black tuxedo.
Nathan was so hot. And he knew it so well.
"You look great," he grinned, ignoring my question.
Liar. I hadn't made much of an effort. I'd worn the dress and half-heartedly applied a bit of kohl eyeliner and clear MAC lipgloss, but that was all. I hadn't even blow-dried my hair and I'd almost put it in a severe ponytail before deciding that it would be too much work and just running a brush through it. Why try to attract attention? It wasn't like I could turn into some babe just by doing something to my hair – makeup wouldn't change me from a Plain Jane to an Audrey Hepburn or a Roxanne Cartwright. I discarded politeness and went back to my customary rudeness with him. "I thought I told you to leave me alone."
"I thought I told you I wouldn't," Nathan retorted smoothly. He smelled as fantastic as he looked. Damn him.
"Aren't you getting late for Chocolate Hearts?" I said pointedly.
Nathan checked his watch. "I am, actually. But rules are you can't show up without a date."
"My sister doesn't go to Thornton, so she can't go with you."
"You have a sister?" Nathan looked interested. Damn. Major slip.
"By which I mean, your date doesn't live here," I said quickly.
"Yes, she does." Nathan's grin grew. It was a boyish, mischievous grin, almost a smirk. I hated how well it worked on him. "See, there's just a little problem with my date. She seems to be missing." He touched the wall near my arm. "Word is that she went to the Regency a bit early with a junior called Rufus Cummings."
Fuck. No way. No fucking way was this happening to me.
"So." Nathan held out his arm. "Do you want me to come inside and wait while you say your goodbyes or do you want to walk me to the car?"
I closed my eyes and leaned against the closed door for support. "Neither."
"Well, I could carry you to the car, I guess, or I could walk you to – "
"What the hell are you doing?" I cut him off. "What do you want from me?"
"I think it's obvious. I want you to stop hating me."
"And you think paying my date to go with someone else will make me like you?" I asked incredulously.
"I didn't pay him," Nathan said, shrugging. "I just lucked out. I picked Karin Wu, and Rufus likes her almost as much as he likes his mother. And Karin owes me."
I gave him a cold stare. "That still makes you a manipulative lying scumbag."
Nathan shook his head. "You know what I like about you?"
"You know how much I don't care?"
He didn't look perturbed. "That's why I like you. Because you don't care. Because you don't let the exterior influence your opinion about what's inside. That's kind of refreshing, and more than kind of rare."
I crossed my arms over my chest, trying not to let my shock show. "Manipulative, lying scumbag," I muttered again. I looked at him defiantly. "Wrong, Nathan. You 'like' me because I don't swallow your bullshit, and you want to prove to other people that you can get me to."
Nathan grinned. "In other words, you think I'm manipulating you, too."
"Trying to," I countered.
"Don't be so sure," Nathan said, his grin teasing. "Maybe I want you to hate me right now because hate is a form of sexual attraction when a hot guy is involved."
I gaped at him. "What?"
Nathan burst out laughing. "You should see your face right now, Summer. Your jaw looks like it's going to fall off your face." He touched a strand of my hair casually. "Roxanne read that to me once when we were holed up in a cabin in Aspen because of a snowstorm. I was bored enough to let her."
He was so casual about sharing details of his life, so easy about making conversation. It was so unlike me. I was constantly guarding the words I let out of my mouth, so careful about not disclosing anything that would give away my personality or memories or the things that had happened in my life. Didn't he have secrets he was afraid of giving away like I did? I envied how it didn't seem to matter to him.
"Didn't you and Roxanne have better things to do?" I enquired acidly, to hide my thoughts.
"Nah. We were just eleven." I envied his honesty, too, the fact that he didn't modestly try to hide that he knew what things I was talking about. "Besides, our friend Tammy was there. It was her chick lit, actually. She was thirteen, so she was giving us sex education."
"I'm not going to the fundraiser with you," I clarified, thinking it was high time I got the conversation back to more impersonal grounds.
"I don't think you have a –" Nathan was cut off by a resounding crash from inside the house. I stiffened, feeling goosebumps erupt all over my bare shoulders. This couldn't be happening to me. Shit, shit, and shit. It was.
"Fuck!" Hadley cried inside. It was an eloquent and succinct expression of my own feelings. I calculated the odds of Nathan not finding out who the girl in Roxanne's video was and made a quick decision.
"Let's go," I said briefly to Nathan.
He was squinting down at my door, his gorgeous green eyes narrowed. "Shouldn't you – "
"Let's go," I repeated, clenching my teeth.
Nathan looked at me. Evidently, the guy had some insight and some regard for other people's feelings after all, because instead of arguing, he let me take his arm and hurry him down the path to his car. As he started the engine and we moved down Rochester Lane, I let out the breath I'd been holding. Yes, I was going to the fundraiser with Nathan Wellington, but at least…at least I'd managed to stop him from meeting Hadley Keller.
I glanced at his sharp, handsome profile and sighed. It seemed as if he could even manipulate Fate. And the Gods.
"So," Nathan said, breaking the uncomfortable silence, "Can I ask you why you were suddenly in a hurry to do what you'd evidently rather skin yourself than do?"
"No, you can't," I snapped.
Nathan flicked me a quick glance. "Well, at least I'm getting what I want."
I crossed my arms over my chest. At least I could make getting what he wanted as unpleasant as possible. "Be careful what you wish for," I said quietly, then lapsed into silence.
Nathan didn't seem to mind. He jabbed a finger at the car's sound system and the sound of violins in a smooth, haunting song filled the air. The lyrics seemed to leap out at me. "I'm moving on, At last I can see…life has been patiently waiting for me…and I know there's no guarantees, but I'm not alone…" It was a beautiful song, and it made me shiver slightly.
"There comes a time in everyone's life…when all you can see are the years passing by…And I have made up my mind…that those days are gone…"
I stared at the sound system, spooked. The song seemed to be directed at me.
"Rascal Flatts," Nathan said, his eyes trained on the road. "I'm Moving On."
I nodded slightly by way of acknowledging his explanation.
"I went on a college tour last spring. It was shit-scary. I mean, there were all these guys there, they all totally belonged, you know? It was their home. I stood out, and all I could think about was how this is my home, this is what I know, and the whole idea of leaving made me want to run away and get a job as someone's nanny here so I could stay. But then I heard this song, and I couldn't get enough of it. It made me feel a lot better."
There it was again, that easy ability to let people in. And scarier than that was the fact that I could actually relate to what he was saying. "It's a beautiful song," I murmured, because I know what you mean seemed too personal.
"I thought you'd agree. You've left home, too, right? Chris told me you lived in Manhattan."
I nodded. I was uncomfortable that he knew that, but I felt I was being ridiculous – just because he knew I lived in Manhattan didn't mean he would suddenly find out everything else about me.
"How come you told him and not me?" Nathan said, only half-joking.
"Maybe because he doesn't want me to fall for him," I said briefly.
"Touché." Nathan grinned roguishly. "So. You're a city girl."
I looked at him, hesitating. After he'd told me about the college tour thing, wasn't it fair to let him know a teensy, weensy, little thing about me? "I've moved, but I don't know if I've moved on," I blurted, then kicked myself mentally. Why couldn't I just have said something inconsequential, like, "I love Central Park in the summer?"
"Meaning?" Nathan questioned.
His interest frightened me. If he'd looked bored, maybe I'd have said more, but him being ready to listen made me recede back into my shell. Heck, I hadn't wanted to talk to him in the first place. "It's actually none of your business," I said, keeping my tone polite.
"Come on," Nathan pressed. "I'm not exactly going to spread your private thoughts around Linbury. And if I do, you can always retaliate. Imagine if Sophia Thorpe found out that I'm scared of college. She would tell the administrators of Thornton and I'd be roped in for counseling forty-eight hours a day."
I looked down at my bitten nails. "I just miss the city," I began cautiously. "I don't like it here." God, it felt good to finally admit to someone that I wasn't feeling incredibly lucky to be living in a wealthy neighborhood and going to one of the best schools in America.
"That's understandable. People here haven't exactly been nice to you."
I met his gaze. "Including you."
"Hey. I've tried."
"Only to further your own interests."
"True," Nathan admitted. "So. You're not moving on because circumstances are preventing it."
"Kind of," I said. It was well put.
"Was life in Manhattan really all that good?" Nathan asked.
I nodded without hesitation. "It's my home, it's what I know, and it's where I belong."
Nathan hit the brakes, and I realized that we'd arrived at the Regency. It was a large pink sandstone building with a pretty well-manicured garden and a pond next to the gravel driveway lit by Chinese lanterns. Fairy lights were draped over the bushes, and a spotless white board over the entrance proclaimed 'The Regency' in elaborate calligraphy. The whole effect was quaintly impressive.
Inside, however, the slightly Disney-ish air faded. Hordes of high school students stood at the circular, dark wood dance floor, moving to Beyonce's more upbeat tunes. The bar to the side was packed, and the tables all had candles and red roses in what were probably priceless vases. Almost every single waiter was effortlessly gorgeous and efficient. To me, the room reeked of money.
"Nathan!" Roxanne, who looked gorgeous in simple red, flung herself on my 'date, not bothering to acknowledge me at all. "Sweetie, you are so fucking late! Where have you been?"
Eve, beautiful in a strapless pearl-gray gown, followed her. She coolly air-kissed Nathan and stood back, her shoulder against a blond, athletic-looking school Prefect, who shared a fist bump with Nathan. Both of them ignored me. I felt awkward and angry with myself; what on earth had possessed me to trade confidences with Nathan Wellington, of all people?
"Summer, hi!" Chris wore a huge grin that made him look less threatening than the girls. "Who did you come with? Zach said it was that Rufus dude – "
"I think you really bored him," Roxanne said smugly, pointing at Rufus Cummings, who was following Karin Wu around the dance floor like her personal Tinkerbell.
"Actually," said Nathan. He touched my shoulder, and for once, it made me feel grateful rather than pissed off. "She came with me."
Roxanne turned a stunned expression on me, then abruptly knocked down the cranberry martini she clenched in her right hand and grabbed the blond guy's arm. "Let's go make people jealous, honey."
"There goes your date, Eve," Chris laughed, shaking his brown hair off his sweet, innocent-looking face. Roxanne thrust the blond guy into the dance floor and began shimmying seductively against him.
"She can have him," Eve proclaimed in her polished, well-bred accent. She looked around. "Where's Zach?" Her tone was hopeful.Did she had a thing with him?
"He's being a spoilsport and deciding to pay the stupid two hundred-dollar-fine for himself and his date, rather than come here." Chris rolled his eyes. "I think he went to the library. He used to be a hell of a lot more fun before he left – "
Eve looked pointedly at me, and Chris clamped his mouth shut. I suddenly felt tired – the library sounded a lot more inviting than this place; I'd always loved to read, and I'd never particularly enjoyed being around beautiful people my age. Maybe I should just leave. Staying for hours wasn't mandatory, after all : I'd just needed to put in an appearance, and I'd done that.
"Hey," Nathan said, turning to me and breaking the terse, uncomfortable silence. "You want to dance?"
No, I didn't want to dance with him. I opened my mouth to say so, but then I caught the narrow-eyed look Roxanne was giving us from the dance floor, challenging me to agree. I smiled back politely. "Sure," I said to Nathan, accepting the challenge.
Nathan looked surprised, then hid it with one of his quick grins. "I kind of thought you'd tell me you'd rather stick pins in your ass."
"Why would I do that?" I flicked another glance at Roxanne. The 'raven-haired siren', as Michael would probably refer to her, looked stony-faced, but her eyes flickered icily.
"Well, then." Nathan held out his arm with exaggerated grandiosity. "Let's burn up the dance floor."
I had expected to dance to 'Stars Are Blind', the Paris Hilton song I hated. That was cool. I would have jiggled around and stayed far away from Nathan at all times, taking advantage of the staccato beat and the fact that it was more upbeat than soft and slow. As we stepped on the dance floor, however, the song segued into 'I'll Be' by Edwin McCain, arguably the most romantic wedding song of the decade. Nathan wrapped his arms tightly around me and I inhaled the scent of his cologne involuntarily, my cheek pressed against his muscular shoulder. It felt good. Too good. Shit.
"So tell me something," Nathan murmured into my hair.
I tried to pull away so that his sexy, husky voice wouldn't affect my senses quite so much, but though his grip was almost unbearably comfortable, it was sure and tight. Damn him to hell, he was hot. "What?" I demanded, trying to sound rude and not drugged.
"Did you just agree to dance with me to piss Roxy off?"
It was tempting to close my eyes and drift into blissful Fantasyland. I resisted the urge. "Duh," I said rudely, raising my chin so that I was facing him.
He grinned. "But this isn't quite so bad after all, is it?"
Jesus, no. It was alarmingly good, in fact. The air that surged between us was fraught with intimate possibilities, and the effect of the undeniable physical attraction I felt towards him made me feel lightheaded. It was all right in his car, with the distance between us; it was all right in school, when he seemed like a brainless jock; it was all right when he was kissing me, because only his lips were touching me; but now, in his arms, with his whole body wrapped around mine, the possibilities felt…magical.
"Yes, it is," I struggled to say, stubbornly.
Nathan tapped my forehead with his knuckles. The gesture made me catch my breath – he was crowding me, invading my personal space, wasn't he? "You're so pigheaded."
With a strong effort, I managed to tear myself away a little. His hand remained on my waist and mine on his shoulder, but with his face and chest a slight distance away, my head felt clearer. I gulped in some air and looked at him defiantly. "Look who's talking."
"Would you look at that," Nathan said, grinning again. "You and I have something in common."
" You're pigheaded, Nathan. I'm simply…honest."
"Keep telling yourself that," Nathan said amiably.
I snatched my hands away from his shoulders. Physical attraction was all very well, but this was leading into dangerous territories. "I don't think I want to dance anymore."
His hands slumped to their sides and abruptly, relievingly, the uneasy electricity in the air lifted and eased up. I took a deep breath, remembering once again that he was just a handsome womanizer trying to get into my pants. He was hot, but that was it; the dance had been yet another stupid idea on my part.
"Aw, look what we have here!" Roxanne Cartwright's mocking voice drowned out the fading refrains of Edwin McCain's song.
I looked at her, hackles rising as I recognized the slurry way she spoke. Hadley spoke like that. When she was very, very drunk.
"Hey, Roxy," Nathan said. His voice was light, but his eyes were darting around the room, presumably searching for something. All over the dance floor, girls nudged their partners and stopped moving to stare at the commotion. Before I could even blink, Eve and Chris sidled up and flanked Roxanne, Chris looking anxious and Eve indifferent.
Roxanne looked at me, her catty dark eyes baleful. "What do you think you're doing?"
I looked back at her calmly. I knew what she was capable of, but I'd given up on the idea of making friends at Thornton; what, then, did it matter if Roxanne humiliated me publicly a few more times? "I'm just dancing. Which you would understand if you weren't so wasted."
Roxanne looked as if she'd been slapped. "What did you just say to me?"
I instantly regretted my words. I hadn't intended to say more than, "I'm just dancing."
"You little bitch!" Roxanne shrieked. "Who do you think you are?"
Nathan intervened. "Hey." He said putting his arm around Roxanne's. "Roxy. It's okay. She's trashed," he added in a low undertone to Chris.
"Nathan, what are you doing?" Roxanne demanded, confusion clouding her face. "Why are you hanging out with her? You know what she did to me and Derek! I know what you want to do, but you don't have to dance with her when I'm around!"
Jeez. She was babbling. Somehow, drunk and babbling, she didn't seem very formidable.
Then she looked at me, and I blinked, surprised. Her expression was coherent. Furious, but coherent. She didn't have Hadley's glassy-eyed lost look at all. But for some reason, she was…pretending to be drunk. How was it supposed to help her? Then she looked away and I felt doubtful – had I really seen the coherency or was I hallucinating?
Nathan took her hand. "Roxy, baby, calm down, okay?"
Roxanne wrenched her hand out of his and flung her arms around him instead, snuggling her glossy black head into his neck. "You love me, don't you, Nate? More than – her?" she whimpered into his shoulder.
Nathan let out a sigh and stroked her hair gently. "Of course I do," he murmured soothingly. She relaxed a little, and he caught my eye, his expression frustrated. "You're my best friend. I would die without you. You know that."
Chris moved forward. "I'll take her home."
Nathan opened his arms, and Roxanne fell into Chris's instead, her eyes closed, breathing heavily, Chris staggering slightly under her weight. Thornton's sex bomb had gone under – or was pretending to have, anyway, for whatever plan she had up her sleeve. Because I was sure she had one, in spite of her very convincing imitation of a wasted passed-out teenager. Some guys rushed forward, eager to help Roxanne. Within minutes the dance floor had cleared out, leaving me and Nathan to stare at each other.
"You okay?" Nathan asked.
Instead of sniping at him, I nodded cautiously. "I think I'll go home now."
"Okay," said Nathan. "Let's go."
I frowned. "You don't have to drive me home. You should go check on Roxanne."
Nathan shook his head. "Bad excuse."
"Meaning…" Nathan took my arm, his grin back on his face. "You can't get rid of me so easily."
I rolled my eyes and pulled my arm back to my side. "I'm serious. She could be in trouble."
"No, she won't be. She's done this a zillion times before. She waits till I deposit her on her bed and then starts trying to seduce me. I don't think I'm up for a lap dance right now."
Well, that explained why she'd been acting drunk. "That's a nasty thing to say about your best friend, Nathan," I deadpanned innocently, starting to walk out of the Regency.
"I love her to death, Summer." The same words Chris had used. What exactly did Roxanne do to make people love her in spite of her…foibles, to put it gently? She was a nasty, callous, spoilt, pitiless, malicious bitch. And yet, somehow, she was the most powerful girl in school. Was it the boobs? The legs? The money? The social status? I just didn't know. "But even I can't help noticing how over-the-top she is."
"You're pretty over-the-top yourself."
"Maybe," Nathan conceded. "But it's different."
"Because you're a guy." I laced my tone with disgust.
"Or maybe because I know when to stop. And because I'm honest about what I want."
"I beg to differ," I said pointedly. "You know what I don't get? She knows you're just trying to seduce me because of your reputation. So why –"
"Maybe that's changed," Nathan interrupted.
I looked at him, unable to pretend to mistake his meaningful expression. "Bullshit," I proclaimed.
"Come on. Seriously. Maybe I actually want to get to know you now that I've found that you love my song as much as I do."
"Or maybe you're still playing with me."
"If you believe that," Nathan challenged, "why aren't you running away like you always do? Why are you still walking with me, talking to me, instead of sneaking out the moment the coast was clear?"
"Because I forgot my wallet to pay for a cab," I said glibly. It was the truth, anyway. "And I don't want to walk. But if you flirt with me again, I will."
Nathan stopped and looked at me, his face truly perplexed. "Who are you, Summer?"
I furrowed my brows. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"I mean, what's the big mystery about you? What are you hiding?"
I sighed. "Nothing. I'm just a girl, okay?"
"Yeah, right. If you were just a girl, we wouldn't be walking right now. Or talking."
"Okay, so maybe I want my privacy. You could try respecting that."
We were in his car by then. Nathan turned his key and the engine roared to life. "I can't help being curious."
"You can help acting on your curiosity before I decide to walk instead." It was good to have the power sometimes. I'd never had my way with Curtis.
Nathan sighed. "Fine. But just so you know, it's a huge sacrifice."
"I'm sure," I muttered.
We drove the rest of the way in silence. At my door, Nathan stopped the car and I turned to look at him. "You know, you're not always who you seem to be either. Or maybe you seem to be who you're really not sometimes."
Nathan arched an eyebrow. I felt my cheeks grow hot from embarrassment and hurried to say, "The only difference between you and me here is, I don't really care who you are."
Nathan said, his eyebrow still arched, "Well, at least you're wasting some thought on me."
I gave him a businesslike smile. "Thank you for stopping Roxanne from tearing me to pieces."
"Hey," Nathan said easily. "What else are friends for?"
"We're not friends, Nathan."
"We're not, huh?"
"No. I mean, I had a nice time. Surprisingly. But that doesn't mean I'm going to trust you now."
Nathan shrugged, another grin spreading across his face. The guy was a veritable reservoir of grins. "That doesn't mean I can stop trying to make you." Before I could react, he leaned over and kissed my cheek softly. "See you on Monday, future friend."
I watched him take off into the night and touched my flushed cheek. In one night, I'd fought with the boyfriend I loved more than anything else on the planet, discovered just how smart my brother was, seen the school queen drunk, and slammed the door shut in my stepmother's face…
And all I could think of was a random kiss from a guy I thought I'd had figured out when I really hadn't.
Why did Nathan Wellington have to be so confusing?