LAUREN PARKER-LEE was a satanic tease. She detached her lips from mine, fastened her long black hair—which I’d just had my hands in—with a clip at the back of her head, and grinned at me. “Learn to conjugate future perfect tense and you’ll get a bigger reward next time.”
Dammit, she knew how to make my heart go boom. Or maybe it wasn’t so much my heart that exploded at this incentive as my imagination. Her body was just as exotic as her Thai eyes and always a pleasure to explore. But today her lacy underwear still covered all the good parts, which meant I hadn’t studied hard enough the past week. We were in the same Spanish class, both seniors at Grover Beach High, and since we’d started seeing each other for noncommittal fun under the cover of her tutoring me, my grades had shot straight up to a solid B.
I reached for Lauren’s cell on the nightstand and swiped my thumb across the display. It flashed ten past four—time to run. Detangling from her mile-long legs turned out to be a tough job. When I’d finally managed, I climbed out of bed, finding my shirt and jeans on the parquet floor. Basketball practice on Monday was something I wouldn’t miss—not for any of the girls I occasionally hooked up with, and not for a smoking-hot Spanish lesson with Lauren either.
“Remember that we have a test a week from Friday,” she cooed, slowly sliding the dark red satin sheets over her body just far enough to touch the curve of her rack. Jeez! With my jeans pulled up halfway, I stumbled and caught myself on the backrest of the swivel chair in front of her desk. That girl knew how to tempt an eighteen-year-old for sure.
Well, two could play this game.
I buttoned my pants as I prowled back to her bed. Hands braced on the pillow at either side of her head, I leaned down so she had to roll from her side onto her back. Merely an inch separated our noses. Lauren squinted at the bright sun scratching at her window above her bed. A smirk on my lips, I drawled, “Guess that means I’ll be seeing you a little more often the next two weeks.” Without giving her the goodbye kiss her flirty pout demanded, I pulled my t-shirt over my head, slipped on my shoes, and was out of her room before the testosterone in my body got a chance to object.
Her voice caught up with me. “You forgot your textbook, Chris!”
Right. Rolling my eyes, I skittered to a halt in the hallway, turned around, and headed back into her room. The book lay on the desk, pretty much untouched the entire afternoon. I shoved it into the duffle bag that held my jersey and shorts, gave Lauren a tight-lipped grin, and was gone the next minute.
Lauren lived so far out of town that it took me fifteen minutes to get back to Grover Beach. It was a shame when half a year before your graduation you still didn’t have your own car. But Mom’s black SUV was good enough for now. And hey, look at that, my brother’s car was parked two spaces down in front of school.
What was Ethan doing here so late? As far as I knew, he should’ve been home, in his room with his lonely self. At least that’s what I’d seen him doing for most of this fall. The complete opposite of me, my identical twin wasn’t what one would call a social guy—at least not anymore.
Until last spring, he too had been part of the Dunkin’ Sharks, our basketball team. The two of us had hung out with the rest of the gang every minute of the day. That changed when one of the guys started rumors about Ethan. Rumors of the really bad kind. At some point, it just got to be too much for Ethan to cope with. He should have shoved a fist into Will’s mouth—that’s what I would have done. But my brother, much to my irritation, simply quit the team instead of retaliating.
Frankly, that sucked. On the other hand, I could kind of see why he’d rather avoid a confrontation that would be happening under the header: Dude, are you gay?
I didn’t care if he was or wasn’t. Gay or straight, Ethan had been one of the best players on our team, and giving up basketball because of dickhead William Davis was a stupid thing to do. But who was I to tell Ethan how to live his life?
Abandoning thoughts of my brother altogether, I snatched the duffle bag from the passenger seat, headed into the changing room, and got ready for my favorite ninety minutes of the day.
“Chris!” my mom yelled through the door. “Dinner!”
I slammed my books closed and jogged down the hallway, pleased with my diligence. After basketball practice, I’d engrossed myself in Spanish and studied real hard. I had every intention of seeing Lauren after school tomorrow and getting laid for being such a good student. At the thought, my lips stretched into a grin.
As I entered the kitchen, I saw Ethan had already laid out the dishes, so I took a seat to his left at the dark, round table. We didn’t have a separate dining room, our one-story house was just too small for that. But the kitchen was big enough, and even with the island unit, there was plenty of space to move.
“What’ve you been doing at school so late?” I asked Ethan around a mouthful of chicken salad. “Don’t tell me you got in detention, because even that would have ended way before”—I glanced at my watch—“thirty minutes ago.” I’d checked the time when I heard my brother parking in front of our house. Him coming home at seven in the evening was almost as spectacular as me staying home on a Friday night. Mom, on the other hand, didn’t care about the reason. She was just happy to see Ethan being social again. Her beaming face said as much when she turned in my direction.
“Had something to discuss with Hunter,” Ethan explained, munching on some salad. “He asked me if I was interested in playing on his soccer team.”
“Oh, Ethan, how wonderful!” That was my mom being supportive, hoping Ethan would find a hobby outside his room—which, in the long run, would help him find a girlfriend, too. Of course, she hadn’t been oblivious to the signs that her other son might be interested in boys more than girls, but she would never call him out on it, and neither would I. However, “a mother can hope,” she’d told me once.
Deep in my gut, I had this feeling that her hope was in vain.
Subtly, I shook my head at her to tell her to drop pestering Ethan, but he replied casually as if talking about the weather, “I trained with them today and it was kinda good. It’s actually a co-ed team. Didn’t know Grover Beach High even had one.”
Hmm. I didn’t know that either. Then again, I’d never been interested in anything outside basketball activities, least of all something as boring as soccer. It would be good for Ethan to socialize a little more, however, so who cared if he played soccer, badminton, or pin the tail on the donkey? I’d be there at his first game for sure and cheer him on until my vocal cords got sore. That’s a favor I’d happily return, because he and Mom had come to every one of my basketball games this season. The very last one before Christmas was this Saturday. Mom had marked the day in her calendar in the kitchen. Frankly, I couldn’t wait to kick some Clearwater High ass. They were a damn good team, but we were better. It could be an epic finish for the season.
Mom wouldn’t let the topic go now that she knew there were actually girls on a team that Ethan might or might not join, but I didn’t get a chance to listen to their conversation. My phone rang in my pocket. Since I’d finished my meal, I carried my plate to the sink and then answered the phone on the way back to my room.
It was a call from Tiffany 6. She was a blonde I hooked up with last summer. The number next to her name was an indication that I’d like to hook up with her again sometime. I saved all girls to my contacts list with a number from one to ten, which was a ranking of “doable” in my own books. Six was good. Lauren was better. She had a solid 10 next to her name. And since Tiffany wanted to go out with me on Saturday—the Saturday my final basketball game of the season took place—she lost a number in my personal ranking right this minute. If she’d known me at all, she wouldn’t have suggested going out but instead would come and watch me play ball. After I hung up, I changed the 6 to a 5 and tossed my phone onto my bed. Time for more Spanish studying. Future perfect tense it was.
As I slipped into bed later that night, Spanish verbs spiraled through my brain. Honestly, studying alone wasn’t half as much fun as studying with a hot Thai girl on my lap. Actually, studying alone wasn’t fun, period.
I closed my eyes and tried very hard not to dream in Spanish. Whether I managed that or not, I couldn’t tell, because when the alarm woke me in the morning, I didn’t remember any dreams at all.
Running through my morning routine—which was a quick shower, no breakfast, hunting for some clothes to wear that my twin brother didn’t own too, and begging him for a ride to school—I repeatedly went through the one line I’d learned by heart yesterday before going to sleep. I was going to find Lauren before first period, and I was going to impress her. That was my plan for today.
When Ethan let me out in front of school to find a parking spot around the corner, I ran into my friend and captain of the basketball team, Tyler Moss, who most people called T-Rex because he played one hell of an aggressive style. His girlfriend, Rebecca Evers, was with him. “Hey, Becks,” I said to her and slung my arm around her shoulders in a casual greeting as I walked along with them. “Have you seen Lauren today?” The two girls were best friends, and I didn’t want to wait for fourth period to see Lauren in Spanish.
Rebecca, who I knew was secretly hoping that her friend and I started dating seriously so the four of us could hang out on double dates, raised her brows, the edges of her lips curling into a smile. “Eager to see her, are we?”
“Quite,” I whispered into her ear, but removed my arm from her a second later when we walked through the glass doors and entered the building.
Rebecca tossed her thick hair, blond as mine, over her shoulder and wrapped her arm around Tyler, but glanced my way. “She’s got biology first period. Let’s see if she’s already there.”
Tyler chuckled at his girlfriend’s high hopes when he knew as well as I did that Lauren and I dating for real was never going to happen. We shared a quick look over Rebecca’s head as she led the way to some biology classroom, but neither of us dared to pull her out of her mission.
Lauren was a bombshell, all right, and two years ago, I might have considered a relationship with someone like her for sure. I’d actually had a girlfriend before I started hooking up with random girls. But a lot has happened since, and for me to be exclusive again meant there had to be a girl who wouldn’t flirt around—or worse, dump me for my best friend. I still gritted my teeth at the memory of Amanda Roseman telling me on the phone that Michael had replaced me as her boyfriend during spring break in tenth grade. I doubted there was a girl in this town who could make me fall in love again. However, if there was, I challenged fate to send her my way right this minute.
As we rounded the corner, the only girl I saw was Lauren. Apparently, fate had a screwed up sense of humor, and I silently laughed to myself, shaking my head.
We joined Lauren and the two guys she was talking to, Allen Stone and Wesley something. I wasn’t really friends with Wes, but he seemed cool enough to hang out with sometimes. His elephant-like ears were the one thing I always noticed about him first. Right now, he was leaning with one shoulder against the line of lockers in front of Lauren, who had her back to me, and said something that made her laugh. He straightened the moment I stepped up to them, giving my presence away to her.
Pearly white teeth appeared in a lazy smile as she turned around. “Hey there, handsome.”
“Hello, beautiful.” I might have placed a kiss on her mouth, too, but she’d used a shiny red lipstick this morning, which I couldn’t stand. I’d kissed her with glossed lips before—and other girls too, in fact—but it always filled my mouth with a plastic taste I couldn’t get rid of for hours afterward. Lauren knew that. It was the reason she never wore makeup when we met to study.
“What brings you to my biology class?” she mocked with a lifted chin and a real spark of interest in her dark eyes. “Did you miss me?”
Confidently, I placed one hand against the locker next to her head. “How about you wipe off your lips, and I’ll show you just how much?”
“I thought I made myself clear yesterday.” Lauren held my gaze with a taunting smirk. “That’s not going to happen until you learn to conjugate future perfect tense.”
That was my cue. Leaning in a little closer, I purred into her ear, “Al final del día…yo habré quitado tus bragas.”
Lauren sucked in a soft breath at my pledge that I would have pulled her panties down by the end of the day. “With my teeth…” I added in a dangerously low tone, enjoying the light blush my promise put on her usually pale cheeks. Catching her off guard was something that happened like twice a year and always made me feel a little more sure of myself around her.
“Ah, I see you actually took a look at your textbook for once.”
“I’m up for some case studies later. What do you think?”
She gave me a cocky look. “I’ll be home alone until four thirty.”
Unfortunately, that collided with my plans for the afternoon. “I’ve got basketball practice right after school today,” I told her, dropping the bedroom voice and speaking normal again. “But you can come to my place after five.”
“Hey.” A soft voice behind me made me turn my head before I got an answer from Lauren. Next to my right shoulder stood a girl for whom no name was in my memory. Her honey-colored hair was in a modest ponytail, and she shoved her glasses farther up her pert nose as she looked me directly in the eyes. “Expecto Patronum” stood in a Harry Potter font on her left boob, with the white outline of a bunny flashing out of a magic wand standing out against the pink of the shirt. A calculator also stuck out of her right breast pocket. She had to be one of those kids who dressed up for comic cons and calculated the three-hundredth digit of pi or something for fun. A poster child for the nerd club.
“Um, I brought you the CD,” she continued, while I was still trying to figure out if I should know her. But I didn’t hang out with girls from the geek squad, so who the hell was she?
The weirdest thing happened then. She offered me a CD case. What on earth was I supposed to do with that? I took a step back from Lauren and fully turned to the strange girl. Instead of taking what she held out to me, I shoved my hand into my pocket and tightly wrapped the other around the strap of my backpack. Being chatted up in the corridors of my school was normal for me—just not by strangers. I knew all of the senior girls and probably up to sixty percent of the rest. This face was new to me. My gaze roamed down her body and back up to her eyes.
My being quiet must have made her uncomfortable, because she cleared her throat. “Listen—” It was almost a croak. There was nothing left of the confidence she’d showed ten seconds ago. “I can’t meet you at three today, something’s come up. So maybe we can postpone the date until a little later? Would five work for you?”
I tried very hard to keep my composure, but a surprised laugh escaped me anyway. I certainly wasn’t one to decline a date so easily, but this was ridiculous. With my arms folded, I asked, “Sweetness, what made you think you and I would be going out together?”
She gulped. Oh boy, had I embarrassed her? My friends chuckled behind me while I bit the inside of my cheek to keep a sober expression. Claimed by a nerd; it was too funny.
A moment later, the girl sucked in a breath that sounded like bravery and squared her shoulders. Was she going to summon her magic wand to blow me up now? “Obviously I got it wrong. Sorry, my bad,” she stated in a wry voice. As she spun on her heel and stomped away, she flipped me the bird.
Holy cow! I didn’t know if I should be offended or impressed.
There was no time to think about it because as soon as she was gone, Lauren smacked me on the chest. “What was that?” she demanded. Like the others, she had to control her giggles. “Are you dating that girl?”
If I said yes, even just to mock her, she wouldn’t be coming to my place later today. Instead, I feigned being hurt by her words and clutched my chest. “Ow, you’re breaking my heart, Lauren! You’re the only one I’m dating tonight. I don’t even know who she is.” Then I wound a tendril of her straight black hair around my finger and grinned at her. “See you after five?”
Lauren looked after the stranger for a moment, then she turned back to me and cracked a smile. “Sure.”
MY ROOM STILL smelled of Lauren’s perfume the next morning. No matter what hot memories that scent brought on, I was getting sick of the sweetness. As I came back in after a shower, I had to open both windows to get some fresh air inside. I should have done that right after she left last night.
The late November wind brought a morning chill to my room, but that was as cold as we got here in California in the winter. In a couple of hours the sun would be so strong again that a jacket wasn’t even necessary. I put on a white sweatshirt and the same ragged jeans from yesterday. As I packed my school bag, Ethan knocked on my open door.
“If you want a ride, hurry up. But just so you know, I’ll be training with Hunter and the guys again today, so you’ll have to walk home after school,” he informed me.
Soccer practice again? Did that mean he was part of Ryan Hunter’s team now? Ryan was a good friend of mine, and apart from sitting behind him in trig and him being my lab partner in biology, I had already spent countless nights at his house when he gave those epic parties. Since I wouldn’t see much of Ethan today—we had no classes together whatsoever—I might ask Ryan what the deal was with my brother suddenly being so interested in soccer.
“You go ahead,” I told Ethan, finishing up with my school bag. “I’ll borrow Mom’s car.”
“All right. See you later.”
Grover Beach had the crime rate of a convent, yet our bungalow made it kind of easy for interested thieves to take the opportunity. From an early age, my brother and I had been drilled by Mom to close the windows when we weren’t home. There was actually something very dear to me in my room that made me heed her advice extra carefully.
Backpack over one shoulder, I checked my perfectly chaotic hair in the bathroom mirror and went looking for my mother in the living room. “Morning, Mom. Do you need the car today?”
She swiped her brown hair off her forehead as she looked up from rearranging the pillows on the couch and gave me a smile. “I don’t have any clients. You can use it.”
Her not having any clients for an entire day was rare. She was a real estate agent and spent a lot of time on the road, meeting people in and outside town to show them pretty houses up for sale. The job didn’t make her a millionaire, but it made her happy. She earned enough that we never had to worry about bills, and she didn’t have to ask my dad—who’d replaced her with his secretary when Ethan and I were twelve—for support either. Only a new car for me wasn’t in the cards, and since I’d refused to work like Ethan last summer, the amount in my bank account was missing a digit needed to afford a decent one.
On the plus side, Mom’s black SUV was easy to handle and great for off-road trips when we went camping in the woods.
I parked the car next to Ethan’s in front of school, but he’d already gone inside and none of my friends were around, so I went to first period alone. In the hallway, I bumped into Ryan. Since I’d completely forgotten to ask him about the soccer thing yesterday in trig—or biology for that matter—and my brother told me jack shit these days, I stopped him for a moment.
“Hey, what’s the deal with Ethan and—?”
I didn’t get to finish my question, because Ryan grabbed my collar with a mixture of hysteria and relief. “Man, you’re just the one I wanted to see. Would you let me copy your trig homework? I totally forgot to do that, and Mr. Swanson’s quite an ass when it comes to undone stuff.”
“Sure, no problem. It wasn’t that much. Come to trig early and you’ll have plenty of time to do it.” But Ryan not doing his homework? That was indeed a little strange. “What got you so distracted?” I asked, even though I had a good idea of the answer.
Ryan shoved a hand through his black hair and gave me a smug smile. “Lisa had free run of her house the past few days. Homework wasn’t my top priority, to be honest.”
“Ah, dude, you’re so shitty!”
“What? Don’t tell me you would’ve done anything less in my place.”
“Probably not.” We both laughed at the truth. “You owe me, though.”
“Whatever you want.”
I was about to tell him that our next trig assignment would be his to do, so I could get an afternoon off and copy it in the morning, when I saw her. The geek girl. She rounded the corner and came straight for us—no, straight for me. Her determined stride awoke the urge in me to back away a step. Yet I stood my ground, even when her nose was almost in my face. A soft coconut scent came off her skin. Utterly forgetting what I wanted to say to Hunter, I simply stared at her.
“Okay, explain,” she snapped at me.
Equally surprised, Ryan turned toward to her, but her hard glare rested on me alone. What in the world did this girl want from me?
“Explain what exactly?” I asked in a somewhat condescending tone. But hey, she asked for it. And then something dawned on me. This feisty little thing probably had a crush on me. That was just cute. Especially when the nerdy girl had no idea how to handle her hormones at age…what? Seventeen? With a slight tilt of my head, I tried to sound flirtations, even if the geek squad wasn’t—and would never be—a place I hunted in. “Sweetness, are you stalking me?”
“Oh my God! What’s wrong with you?” she barked in all seriousness, her eyes bright with anger.
Uh-oh. Did I misread her? But there was no reason to get loud with an audience around. “Excuse me? You’re the one who keeps chatting me up.”
Steam was nearly blowing out of her nose. Fascinated with the weird girl for a moment, I barely registered Hunter’s chuckle. But when he said her name—Susan—I wondered where he knew her from. It took him putting an arm around her shoulders and calling her name again for her to finally notice him. Annoyed, she turned to his side and growled, “What?”
Jeez, someone was cranky this morning. Her chest rose and fell under that lemongrass-green t-shirt with her angry breaths. She might start stomping an impatient rhythm with her slender legs any moment.
Ryan grabbed her firmly by her shoulders and turned her around to face me again. “Meet Chris.”
So it was introduction time. Fine with me. But all she snapped was, “Chris who?”
“Donovan,” I told her, a little miffed.
“Ah, right.” With her arms now folded over her chest, she staked me with a cynical look. “And you’re Ethan’s alter ego, or what?”
Alter ego? Was she crazy? “Brother,” I answered with a sly grin, adopting the same cynical stare as her.
Susan’s face turned pale. “Brother…”
Much too amused by this whole damn situation, Ryan leaned closer and whispered the word “twins” in her ear.
“Twins,” geek Sue reiterated in a stunned whisper. Then she blurted again, “Twins?” like such a thing meant we were two horsemen of the apocalypse. What she did next was just sweet, and it coaxed a smile from me. She spun to Ryan and knocked her head against his chest, whining, “Nooo…”
Shit, was that it? She’d confused me with my brother? It had to be, and now I could hardly stand upright from rippling laughter. “So you met Ethan? Hell, now I get it.”
She didn’t bother talking to me again, which was a shame. Almost. In a low huff, she told Ryan, “See you later,” and stalked away with her head held high. My gaze was still fixed on her. To say she’d made an impression was quite the understatement. A few steps down the hallway, she came to a sudden stop and whirled around. My laugh died in my throat, my attention wary in an instant, as she stormed toward me once more.
Without a word, she fished for something in her backpack until her hand reappeared with a pen. Next she grabbed my wrist. I was too stunned to object when she shoved up the sleeve of my sweatshirt and started writing something on my inner forearm. What the hell?
Motionless, I watched her until she lifted her head again and locked her smug gaze with mine. “Tell Ethan to call me.”
I glanced down. A series of blue digits glowed on my skin. The damn little geek spun around, about to head off. However, she changed her mind without a warning and had already fetched something else from her bag when she faced me a third time. Somewhat forcefully, she shoved the CD from yesterday against my chest with another order. “Give him that and tell him thanks for the latte.”
Pushy. Weird. And cryptic. The dictionary doubtlessly held a picture of her next to each of those words. Slightly out of breath and out of things to say, I blinked several times in wonder. And why the heck was Hunter so quiet? Now would be a good moment for him to shelter me from this crazy attack. If only. The moron just grinned and watched me struggle for a reply.
Oh, this girl wouldn’t get the better of me. After a cough to find my voice again, I drawled the word “pleeease” with a smirk at Susan, to show her that nothing from me was free.
“Pleeease,” she repeated nicely, even mirroring my smile—fake of course. I wouldn’t have expected anything less. Then she headed away, for good this time. Well, she would have, if she hadn’t bumped into Hunter’s girlfriend. Her schoolbag slipped from her shoulder, and though she reached for it with a good reflex, she missed it and the backpack dropped to the floor. Both girls squatted down and whispered to each other. Hunter’s girl cast me a quick glance. I returned it with a slight lift of the corners of my mouth, just to say hi. We hadn’t yet had the pleasure of talking to each other, even though Ryan had been in a relationship with her since last summer.
When the little geek rose to her feet again, she threw one last crabby look at me over her shoulder. I didn’t know why, but I couldn’t seem to bring myself to be the one who looked away first.
“So you know that crazy chick?” I asked Hunter when Susan was gone and his girl came toward us, flinging her arms around his neck. She turned to me and flashed me with a smile I’d only seen from a distance so far.
“I’m Lisa, actually, his girlfriend,” she said with a funny look, holding out her hand to me. “And you must be Chris Donovan.”
I let go of the laugh she stirred in me with her introduction and shook her hand. “Nice to finally meet you. But I meant her, in fact.” I nodded in the direction geek Sue had disappeared and put her CD in my backpack to give to Ethan after school.
“Yeah, I was getting to that part,” Ryan explained, rubbing his neck. “Lisa told me yesterday there was something odd going on between Ethan and Susan. Some confusion over a missed date apparently.”
“Yes, your brother asked her out, but then she ran into you, and you pretty much threw her off balance,” Lisa clarified.
I chuckled. “Off balance?” I’d been known to do that to girls from time to time.
“Yeah. In the absolutely worst sense of the word, you know,” she muttered, clearly not impressed with my hookup successes.
Remembering my first meeting with Sue yesterday morning, when I’d had no freaking idea what the girl wanted from me, I could just picture how easily I’d rattled her. But had Ethan really asked her out? Weird. For the first time in months, I wondered if I’d been wrong about him liking guys. Was he really just shy with the chicks?
Though I was dying to hear more about this girl and my brother, the bell ringing sprang our little group apart, and I made my way to history. Maybe I would get some answers from Ryan later in trig. Only, I forgot about our deal with the homework. There was no time to speak with him before the teacher came in for second period and silenced the class.
Biology then, I decided, while Mr. Swanson started writing a problem on the blackboard that we were supposed to solve by ourselves in the following fifteen minutes. It took him some time to copy everything from his notes. My mind started to wander out of class and back into the hallway where geek Sue had nearly bitten off my head this morning. Leaning back in my chair, I let go of a breath and replayed the strange encounter in my head.
Ethan’s alter ego. Hah! The girl was quick with a comeback. How charming. It made her sweet somehow.
I pulled back my sleeve. The number she’d written on my skin flashed like a celeb’s signature on a crazy fan’s arm. My thoughts wandered off to how cold her hands had felt on my skin. Too damn cold. Tracing the numbers on my arm one by one, I frowned. Her eyes had been really sharp. I’d half expected her to vaporize me with them like Superman. As to their color, nope, I didn’t remember if they were brown, green, blue, or even a glowing red.
Did Ethan really have a date with that cannonball of a geek?
That meant my first assumption hadn’t been so far off after all. She might not be crushing on me in the precise sense, but she obviously found my brother quite likable. We looked exactly the same—she proved that herself by talking to the wrong twin, twice. Ergo: She found me attractive, too.
Worshipped by a geek. That one was missing on my dating record as of yet. I laughed quietly, because it was kind of cute.
A chalk piece hit me straight in the chest and landed on my desk, ripping me out of my musings. “Mr. Donovan,” my trigonometry teacher said, standing in front of the class with his arms folded and his inquisitive look pinned on me. “Would you care to answer my question, since you’re already using your arm as a cheat sheet?”
Question? Cheat sheet? Dammit! I swallowed, at a loss for words, looking down at Susan’s number, which surely wasn’t what Mr. Swanson wanted to know. Clearing my throat, I slowly pulled my sleeve back down. “I—umm…”
He cocked his head. “Can it be that you, for once, don’t have an answer, Mr. Donovan?” he mocked, implying, correctly, that I was usually a little smugger than right now. Some of the kids around me snickered.
“Yeah, I’m obviously below par today,” I admitted, to the amusement of my classmates, throwing a smirk his way.
“I can see that.” Mr. Swanson liked me, because he was also the basketball coach and I was one of his best players. No one else would have gotten away with a sigh and a grunt in trig. He gave me one last pointed look and then turned to my neighbor, Alice. “Miss Hart, would you give us the right answer then?”
I aimed a sheepish look at her. Alice returned my glance with a smile and was soon blabbering away about Pythagoras and stuff, but I didn’t listen. I caught Ryan’s entertained gaze on me, as he’d turned around in his chair. I gave a helpless shrug, then lowered my eyes, and started working on the problem.
Once I concentrated on the subject again and banned a pert geek from my mind, I had the answer before everyone else. The rest of the class would certainly need a few more minutes, so I leaned back in my chair and relaxed. It didn’t take long for Coach Swanson to nail me with a speculative look.
“Twenty-seven,” I mouthed the result. I promptly received his approving nod in return. Free to my thoughts again, I started reveling in the memories of Lauren and the things she’d done to my neck with her teeth yesterday. A pleasant shudder traveled down my spine. I was so up for a repeat of that.
Dammit, the geek girl’s eyes were gummy-bear green.
I swallowed, dragging my hands down my face. Why the heck had my brain spit out that bit of information when I was thinking about a vixen in my bed?
Because she gave you her number, a twisted part of me pointed out. Yep, she had. The edges of my lips wanted to curve up. Girls had given me their phone numbers on countless occasions, but never like that. Much to her credit, Susan had style. If Ethan really liked her, he’d actually missed out on something this morning.
Before everyone else was done with the math problem, I pulled out my cell from my pocket and hid it under the desk. Twisting my arm so I could read the digits there, I saved the number in my contacts. There was already a Susan on the list, so I typed Weird Geek instead.
Because I had gym next and didn’t want to look like someone had printed a barcode on my arm, I made a detour to the restrooms with Hunter on my heels. While he went to the stalls in the back to take a leak, I dropped my backpack on the tiled floor and started rubbing my arm under the faucet.
Water alone wasn’t enough to get rid of the scribble. By the time Hunter returned to the sinks, I was scrubbing at the ink really hard with soap and paper towels. “What’s wrong with this stuff?” I muttered. “Did she use a fricking sharpie on me?”
Was that her name? Susan Miller? Suddenly it seemed too innocent a name for a little beast like her. “Yeah, the girl with the charming personality,” I gritted out as the skin on my arm turned a vibrant red under the remaining smudges of blue ink. Great, now I looked like an idiot who’d wiped his arm across wet ink rather than a supermarket product with a barcode. Not a hell of a lot better.
“You just got on her bad side. She can be really nice.”
I made a wry face at my friend. “When she’s sleeping or someone duct-tapes her mouth shut, right?”
He laughed but gave me a commiserating look for my hurting arm.
“Any idea how to get this off?” I groaned.
A shrug rolled off Hunter’s shoulder. “Turpentine?”
Ah, too funny. “Don’t you have an English class to go to?”
“Sure. See you after lunch.” He left with an amused chuckle.
All my fighting against this resistant ink merely led to a burning forearm, so at the point that only fine hues of blue were left, I stopped scrubbing and rushed to the gym. I didn’t know if the red or the blue was now more apparent, but Justin Andrews, an old friend, was the only one to comment on it as we did a hard workout according to the lesson plan.
“Try to graffiti yourself?” he mocked.
“If only. I got badgered by a stray member of the geek squad this morning.”
“By what?” Choking with laughter, he almost fell off the bar on which we were both doing pull-ups.
“Weird girl. Weird story. Maybe I’ll tell you one day.” I pulled myself up once more, chin over the bar, let out a lungful of air, and lowered myself back down. When I was done with my twenty-five reps, I hopped to the ground and wiped the sweat from my forehead with the front of my muscle shirt. If nothing else, the sweating today would take care of the remnants of geek Sue’s ink on my skin.
At the teacher’s whistle, the two of us moved on to the next station. Skipping rope for three solid minutes. This was pretty hard cardio, so we didn’t talk during that task.
I showered quickly after gym and practically ran to Spanish class. I wanted to catch Lauren before fourth period started to ask her for an extra lesson later at her place.
Her face split with a smile when she saw me coming. She skimmed her soft, slender fingers over my temple. “Your hair is still wet. I like that.”
Yes, I knew that from after-shower experiences with her, but that was not the reason I hadn’t toweled it thoroughly. There just hadn’t been enough time. “Say you’re free this afternoon, and I’ll have it wet for you again,” I offered with a smirk. Then something behind Lauren’s shoulder tore my attention away from her.
Twenty feet down the hall, Susan Miller slammed the iron door of her locker shut and disappeared around the corner. It was her plain ponytail and glasses set against the slender move of her hips clad in tight-ass jeans that snagged my brain into a temporary knot. Could there actually be sexy geeks? Because that girl clearly walked the border.
“Hey?” I heard Lauren’s voice and felt her fingers on my chin. She turned my head back to her and waited until I looked into her dark eyes. “Are you listening?”
“Sure.” I knitted my brows. “Umm…what did you say?”
Suspicious now, she looked down the hallway but of course found nothing that explained my distraction. “Are you all right, Chris?” She laughed her flirtatious laugh, though it sounded somewhat abrasive.
“You seemed a little sidetracked for a moment.”
If we included trig in my record of mental absence today, it was not just for a moment, it seemed. “It’s nothing,” I lied, not intending to ruin a possible date with Lauren by mentioning another girl. “So, this afternoon?”
Head tilted to the side, she deliberately cleared her throat. “I just said I can’t this afternoon. How about tomorrow?”
Tomorrow. Right. Not as good as today, but at least it was something to look forward to. “Tomorrow then.”
“Chris…are you really okay?”
“Absolutely.” I shook my head with a grin, mostly to forget the swaying hips of geek Sue, slung my arm around Lauren’s shoulders, and steered her to our seats in the back of the classroom.
At the beginning of the lesson, Mrs. Sanchez returned our homework assignments, dropping the papers on everybody’s desks. When she gave me back my homework, she nodded, positively surprised. “I knew it was a good idea to team you up with Miss Parker-Lee as your tutor,” she told me with a proud smile.
I couldn’t stop wondering whether her smile would waver just a tiny bit if she actually knew how much body contact was involved in that tutoring. Subtly turning my head to Lauren, I waggled my brows and knew by her suppressed giggle that she was thinking exactly the same. Yep, definitely a good idea to team up with her.
After Spanish was lunch. Finally. I took a relaxing breath and walked to the cafeteria to eat with my friends. A table behind the swing doors to the right was dedicated to the geek squad. Walking extra slowly, I checked them out and tried to catch what they were talking about. Their excited chatter had never made it to my attention before, mostly because nerds didn’t do it for me, and now that I was actually listening in, they bored me to hell. All about Newton and theories about freezing milk. Because that was so important when you were a teenager trying to spend the undoubtedly best years of your life in an unforgettable way.
I watched them for another minute, silently munching my burger as I sat with my team around a table close to the entrance. Strangely enough, the nerd table was full, but Susan Miller wasn’t with them. Maybe she was on a different schedule and her lunch break was an hour later or even earlier than mine.
The idea irritated me. I would have loved to catch a glimpse of her interacting with my brother, and lunch break was the only time of the day that Ethan and I were in the same room. Curiosity killed the cat, all right, but seeing them together could help me solve the to-be-gay-or-not-to-be-gay riddle about him.
Well, no such luck. She wasn’t sitting at his table, and I didn’t see her for the rest of the day either.
Since I didn’t have basketball practice on Wednesdays, I went home after seventh period, changed into black sweatpants, practiced some dunking in the backyard, and started doing homework an hour later. It wasn’t until I’d finished my English essay that I remembered the CD in my backpack. I hadn’t even taken a closer look when Susan had given it to me, so I was curious what she wanted Ethan to listen to and rummaged around between my books to find it.
Volbeat. What the hell was that?
I put the CD into my computer. Moments later, a few rocky chords blasted from the surround sound attached. A metal band. And they were actually good. If that was geek Sue’s taste in music, she had me just slightly impressed—again.
The second song hadn’t finished when I heard my brother coming home from his newly found after-school activities, aka soccer practice. I paused the CD and headed out into the hallway. Leaning against the wall while he slipped out of his shoes and tossed his sweaty shirt into the laundry basket in the bathroom, I said, “Hey, E.T.”
“Hi, bro,” he replied with as much interest as he had in turnips. Well, he didn’t yet know what stunning news awaited him.
“Who’s Susan Miller?” There was just a hint of teasing in my voice.
“A girl from school.”
What? That was all? No looking up, no curiosity, no emotion whatsoever? He so wasn’t into this girl.
“Wow. I thought you’d have a little more to tell about her.”
Now he did look at me, head cocked, interest spiked just a little. “Why? Do you know her?”
“Ran into her yesterday. And again today. Wild little thing, isn’t she?”
“Maybe. I don’t know her that well.” He shrugged it off and that was that. Ethan actually passed me in the hall and went to his room.
“Wait!” I shouted after him. “Don’t you want to know what she said?”
His look more skeptical than nonchalant this time, he turned around once more. “Should I want to know? Since she ran into you, I guess you’re hooking up with her now.”
What the hell? “No, I’m not. I thought you were.”
The next words he mumbled so low that I couldn’t be sure if I’d heard him right. “She stood me up.”
“Well, she gave me her number today. Said I should pass it on to you.”
There was a definite lift in his gloomy look. “Really?”
“Yep. And she gave me a CD, too.”
“Cool. Can I have it?”
“Umm…in a little while. I started listening to it while you were gone, and I’d like to finish.” Ethan couldn’t help that. If he wanted the CD now, he would have to fight me for it, and I was simply the stronger brother. However, I wasn’t a complete asshole and added with a grin, “But I’ll turn up the volume extra loud so you can listen as well.”
“Why did I know it would go something like that?” He laughed and went to get fresh clothes from his room to take with him to shower. When he came back, he asked, “Are you going to give me her number then?”
“I have it on my phone. I’ll send it to you in a minute.”
“Okay.” He slammed the bathroom door in my face, and three seconds later the sound of water raining down on the tub drifted out.
I turned around, about to walk back to my room, but instead I faced a beaming, red-cheeked mom.
“Is that true?” she whispered. “Is Ethan dating a girl?”
Oh man, the momster was awake. “No, Mom, I don’t think he’s dating anyone. But that girl seems to be interested in him, and she told me to tell him to call her.”
“Oh! At long last!” She clasped her fingers together, very obviously trying not to clap her hands in excitement.
“Get a grip, Mom!” I laughed, not bothering to be as quiet as her. But then I pushed her back into the kitchen, where she’d emerged from. “The girl’s weird. I’m not sure you’d really want her as Ethan’s girlfriend.”
The edges of her mouth sank. “What do you mean ‘weird’?”
“Well, I talked to her today, and she was really…unfriendly.”
“Oh.” She pivoted to the sink and wiped her hands on the dishtowel lying on the counter, even though her hands weren’t wet. “But maybe that was just a mistake. What if he really likes her?”
“Maybe he is interested in her. But that doesn’t mean you should get your hopes up. Don’t push him, Mom,” I warned. Especially since he hadn’t seemed in the least concerned about Susan Miller five minutes ago.
As I opened the fridge and retrieved a can of Sprite, a random thought journeyed through my mind. Would he have been be a little more excited if I’d told him about a guy wanting him to call? That was probably a topic neither of us would ever stop speculating about. Not until he told us the truth about him being gay—or came home with a girl on his arm, for that matter.
I popped the cap and took a long drink, then wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. “You know how he’s going to crawl back into his shell if you bring it up again.” We’d had silent Ethan long enough after Will’s accusations last spring. I really didn’t want a brother who wasn’t talking to anybody again. Things had just gone back to normal in the fall. Comfortable. “I want to keep happy Ethan.” The brother who loved playing basketball with me in the yard, not the mulling and hiding one.
Mom needed to accept that she couldn’t help him make a decision in this. Whatever that decision was going to be, she would love Ethan all the same. And if this was only about the grandchildren Mom hoped for one day, I would give her a barn full, if it made her happy. Just not before I was forty, I decided, as I abandoned the mother ship and returned to my room.
“I’m off to work in half an hour. Last-minute call from a client,” her voice drifted after me. “You guys have to fend for yourselves tonight, but I’ll leave you some pizza money.”
“Okay!” I shouted back before closing the door. My finger on the computer mouse, I was about to restart the CD when I remembered I still had to send Ethan the nerd’s number.
I flung myself into the dark purple, comfy chair in the middle of the room and scrolled through the entries on my contacts list down to Weird Geek. Hmm, what would Ethan talk about with this crazy little imp? I’d never actually seen him do it, so I just couldn’t picture him flirting with a girl. And snappy Susan Miller could definitely do with a little flirting to loosen up.
In fact, she also deserved a little something for stamping her graffiti on my arm today and forcing me to almost scratch my skin off.
Here was her number—who said I couldn’t use it?
I chuckled to myself and, instead of sending Ethan her number, pressed the call button.
SUE’S ANXIOUS VOICE drifted through the line. “Hello?”
“Hey, sweetness,” I drawled in greeting, knowing she’d recognize me straight away with that form of address. Talking to her this time would be fun, but I wanted her to know who I was and not confuse me with Ethan again.
Her disappointed groan, though, cut the fun immediately. “Why are you calling me, Chris?”
Really, it should’ve been obvious. “Because you gave me your number.”
“I didn’t give it to you.”
“No?” I stared at the faint blue remnants of her phone number on my skin. “The handwriting on my forearm objects.”
A pause, followed by a deep sigh, then she elaborated, “Fine. I didn’t give it to you to call me.” Yes, that much I’d figured, but it didn’t matter. I enjoyed speaking to her. Probably more than I should. “Where’s your brother?” she demanded.
“Last time I checked, he was in his room.”
“Get him on the phone, please, will you?”
Nuh-uh. She wasn’t getting rid of me that fast, not when I hadn’t had a chance to bring up the painful scrubbing of my arm as of yet. “That means I have to get up and walk over there. I don’t think I’m in the mood to do that just now.”
“Then why did you call me?” She sounded close to giving up and tossing the phone out her window.
Her sweet frustration made me laugh. “I told you, because you gave me your number.”
“Not that again,” she whined.
“Fine…” Lowering my tone, I reverted to a seductive voice. “Then maybe to ask you to go out with me?”
“What?” she screeched into the phone. Then, in an exasperated huff, she added, “You must be kidding me!”
Of course, I was. What would I do with a nerd on a date? But taunting her was fun. “Nope. Why would I?”
“Because I want to talk to your brother and not you, to begin with. And aren’t you supposed to be dating Lara?”
“Hmmm, who’s Lara?” Did she think I had a girlfriend? Because I didn’t.
“Asian supermodel?” Sue snorted. “Long black hair?”
“Oh, you mean Lauren?” I concluded. “Well, I did date her yesterday. And I might again sometime.” Although the word “dating” probably had a different meaning in my books than in hers. “But there’s always a free spot in my calendar to squeeze you in, sweetness,” I kept teasing.
“Are you actually mental?” she blurted, putting real emphasis on the words: are, you, actually, and mental.
“I hope not.” Biting back a snicker, I said in the most serious tone I could manage, “Why? Are you not a safe girl to date?”
“I’m the perfect girl to date, just not for you, dumbass!” she barked into the phone.
Dumbass? Really? Now I couldn’t hold back the chuckle any longer. “Aw, don’t say that, little Sue. You don’t know me yet.”
“And God willing, I never will. Please, go get Ethan now and stop wasting my time.”
Oh, so curt and professional. She could be a great lawyer in a few years. “All right, you win.” I laughed and added just for good measure, “But tell you what. If it doesn’t work out between you and Ethan, which I know it won’t”—because he just doesn’t seem interested in girls the way you’re hoping for, Little Miss Sunshine—“you let me take you on a date. Deal?”
Sue’s voice was stone-cold as she told me, “When hell freezes over.”
As far as that went, last summer Theresa Alber had asserted that she’d only let me do her when hell froze over, too. Since I slept with her on Halloween, I supposed hell was a chilly place by now. “That happens more often than you think, sweetness,” I drawled. Rising from my chair, I walked out of my room and knocked on Ethan’s door.
Without waiting for an invitation, I entered and tossed him the phone. “Call for you.”
Ethan, who seemed to have started his homework after the shower, leaned back in his swivel chair and held the cell to his ear, giving me an odd look. “Hello?” he said somewhat curiously into the phone.
“By the way, she said thanks for the latte,” I shouted over my shoulder before I left the two sweethearts to themselves. Pulling the door closed behind me, I couldn’t bring my legs to move. Normally not big on eavesdropping, this time I just couldn’t resist. My possibly gay brother had a girl on the phone. I needed to know what was happening. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear much because Ethan spoke so low. Did he suspect I was listening in? Nah, doubtful.
When the door suddenly opened, my heart gave a start. I stood guiltily frozen in the hallway and met Ethan’s gaze as he came out of his room. He studied me for a moment. Then he cracked up laughing and held out my cell. “Are you spying on me?”
“Umm…” At least he took it in good humor. “I was—”
“Snooping?” Ethan finished as I tucked my phone into my pocket. “I can see that. So to make it easier for you, Susan is coming over now.”
My eyes grew wide with surprise. “You invited her?”
“To do what?”
Ethan shrugged. “Hang out. Watch some TV maybe. Why? What do you do with the girls you have over?”
Oh, brother… I pursed my lips, arched a brow, and let Ethan figure out the answer for himself.
“Ah, right. Well, I’m not going to mack on her all evening, if that’s what you want to hear.”
“Not even a little?” I heard myself say, even though that was not what I wanted to ask. Or it was, but it was also the wrong thing to say.
Once again, Ethan surprised me by laughing, totally untouched by my probing. “No, I don’t think even a little. Susan’s a girl I met just this week. You do know that boys and girls can hang out and have fun without dropping their pants, right?”
“I’ll believe it when I see it.” I was serious. When I wanted to play foosball or watch a movie without making out in the dark, I invited one of the guys over, not a girl. How could Ethan—the person I’d shared a womb with for nine months—be so much different from me? But I didn’t quite yet believe he had absolutely no intentions with this girl, so I gave it one last try. “You really aren’t interested in her in any way?”
“She’s a friend.”
Right, let’s put that theory to the test. “And if, let’s say, someone else asked her out?” Tucking my hands into the pockets of my sweats, I shrugged. “Would that bother you?”
He gave it serious thought for exactly two seconds. Then he shook his head. “Nope. She’s free to pick whoever she wants.”
That was fairly disappointing news. I spun around and walked back to my room, but he called out my name, making me glance back. “Can I have Susan’s CD now?” he asked, still amused from our very disillusioning conversation.
Like he had, I gave it two seconds of serious deliberation, then said, “Nope,” and grinned. “But I’ll turn up the volume again, so you and Sue can listen, too.”
Ethan rolled his eyes, slightly less amused.
With the music blasting from the speakers, I popped a mint, which I had a box of sitting on my desk, in my mouth, sprawled out in my comfy chair again, and opened my Spanish book to prepare for next week’s test and the informal lesson with Lauren tomorrow. Gee, learning Spanish was so not what I wanted to do right now. Estoy aburrido. Estas aburrido. Es aburrido. Snorting, I continued to conjugate in my mind how bored everybody was. When I had that down pretty well, I tried to conjugate how lame my brother was next.
A loud bang jerked me out of my studies a little later. I looked up and was completely stunned. The textbook nearly slipped from my fingers. It took me a moment to catch myself, then an intrigued smile pulled at the corners of my mouth.
What the deuce did Susan Miller want in my room?
I couldn’t even ask her because the music was so loud, but since she’d shut the door, I was sure she’d sought me out for a reason. My eyes fastened on Sue’s shy face, I rose from the chair, dropped the textbook, and went to turn down the volume. Her gaze followed like it was glued on me—and it was focused on my bare chest for a good deal of that time.
“Um, hi,” she croaked when we could hear our own words again.
The first thing I noticed was the absence of her glasses. Her eyes really were a vibrant green. They were beautiful. Big, warm and, right now, a little insecure.
“Sorry for breaking into your room.” Her shoulders twitched with a reluctant shrug as she grimaced. “Sort of.”
I prowled toward her. Where was Ethan? Did he send her for the CD?
Since she stood there, all lost and lonely in my room, I took a moment to let my gaze roam over her body. She wore the same lemongrass-green tee from school. Not exactly revealing, that rag. The girls I usually spent time with made an effort to show as much of their curves as possible. Sue presented nothing. At all. Her collar was cut wide and loose, but she wore it so that it showed more of her bare shoulders than the upper curves of her breasts. It left a lot of room for imagination. Weird how that imagination kicked in right now.
After taking a deep, encouraging breath, she told me, “Your mom let me in.”
And there I knew. She hadn’t even seen Ethan yet. Once again, she’d found the wrong twin, and she was totally clueless. I suppressed a chuckle as she explained, “She called you, but with that noise fending off the cats and dogs of the neighborhood, I get it that you didn’t hear—”
This time, with a little mercy, I placed a hand over her mouth before she could shoot herself in the foot again. Science club or not, this girl had lips as soft as cotton candy. Putting my index finger in front of my lips, I made it plain to her that she’d said enough.
Deep breaths through her nose feathered against the back of my hand. The shock in her eyes was priceless. Having her in my room like this, I just couldn’t resist teasing her. I took my hand away from her mouth and said in a low, seductive voice, “I didn’t expect you to jump at my offer so fast.” My lips stretched into a smile. “Especially after you turned me down so mercilessly on the phone.”
First she just stared at me, incredulous. Then she moaned. “Nooo. Chris?”
“The very same.”
Sue took a step back to distance herself from me and demanded with fierce reproach, “Why are you listening to my CD?”
Oh, that was a good question. “I could tell you, but you might not like the answer.”
Completely ignoring my good intentions, she arched her eyebrows, demanding I tell her anyway. So I closed the distance between us again and leaned down to speak softly in her ear. “Because you gave it to me.”
When she sighed with exasperation, her breath tickled my bare chest. “That, as well as my number,” she snarled, emphasizing every word, “you should have passed on to Ethan. Why didn’t you?”
Well, her annoyance, if nothing else, spurned me on to taunt her a little more. I rubbed a strand of her hair between my fingers, feeling the silky softness. It made me think really strange things. Things that I’d never done with a nerd before. “I wanted to learn what taste you have in music, so I know what to put on when we make out on my bed.”
Sue swatted my hand away. “In case you haven’t figured it out all by yourself, let me make it clear now: You have a screw loose.”
To put it mildly, I thought as I pictured how I was going to silence that girl with a hot kiss she certainly wasn’t used to from her former geek boyfriends.
“More importantly, it’s considered rude to hit on someone who actually came to see your brother.”
No worries about that, sweetness. Ten minutes ago, he was totally fine with you hooking up with someone else.
“Why? You think he’ll be mad?” I teased, grinning at her obvious and unrequited interest in my twin brother. My possibly gay twin brother, to be clear. “You think he’ll date you?”
For the first time, worry crept into her eyes. “Why, don’t you?”
At this point it was really hard to say, but I doubted it very much. I couldn’t say that straight to her face, of course. That was Ethan’s job. I wasn’t going to out him to anyone. What kind of brother would that make me?
Deliberating a respectful retreat, I stroked my chin with my thumb and forefinger. “In fact, I think I’ll just watch for a while and let myself be entertained by how things go from here.” Should be quite an interesting show. I winked at her, then took her by her shoulders, and turned her around to face the closed door. Gentleman that I was, I even leaned forward and opened it for her.
Sue let me steer her out of my room and five steps down the hall to Ethan’s door. I opened that for her as well, because by now I deemed her too shocked to manage by herself.
Ethan lounged on his bed, playing Wii. He looked up when I gently pushed our guest into his room, but his smile was noncommittal. They really were only friends—at least as far as he was concerned.
“You’ve got a visitor,” I told him and left Susan to her fate. Oh, this was going to be a priceless show. Fits of laughter rocked me as I retreated, and Susan slammed the door shut behind me.
Back in my room, I turned up the music so the two of them could listen with me as I picked up my Spanish textbook once more. It was hard to say how long I’d been engrossed in studying, but at some point my stomach started to rebel with hunger.
In the kitchen, along with the emergency numbers, was also the menu of Lou’s Pizza Oven and a twenty-dollar bill from Mom. Before I made the call to order, I went to ask Ethan what he wanted. Outside his room, I halted. It was quiet in there; Sue had probably gone home by now. I gave a quick knock on the door before I walked inside. “Hey, E.T., I’m going to order pizza—” My heart skipped a beat, and I stopped dead in the middle of the room.
Sue was trapped underneath Ethan, on his bed, her leg angled, their faces inches apart. He was about to kiss her. Fricking kiss Susan Miller!
“You’re shitting me!” Damn, it was too late to censor my words. The scene had obviously knocked all sense out of me. My throat went bone-dry, and all I could do was stare at them, open-mouthed.
Both pale from shock, they scrambled up. Whatever had been going on in this room, I’d effectively ruined it.
When my gaze met Susan’s and I saw the fiery reproach in her eyes, I felt a slight sting in my chest. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were still here,” I apologized in a voice that sounded strangely raspy to me. To save them and myself a last bit of dignity, I spun on the spot and strode back to the kitchen without another word.
“Pizza sounds good,” Ethan’s voice followed me. Probably his attempt to rescue an irremediable situation.
Gah! I rubbed my hands over my face, shaking away the vision of them lying on his bed. Now I had a pretty good idea of how embarrassing it must have been for Mom to walk in on Lauren and me a couple of months ago.
While I dialed Lou’s number, leaning against the island, somebody stormed past the kitchen and made me look up. It was Susan dashing to the front door, Ethan close on her heels, whining, “Look, if it’s because of what—”
“No, it’s not,” she cut him off.
Had they started fighting in the ten seconds since I’d left them alone? I refused to walk into the hall to witness it, but I could do nothing about the fact that their conversation carried clearly back into the kitchen.
“Mom needs the car,” Sue explained, “and I’ve got about three minutes to make it back home.”
Ah, considering that new bit of information, she should actually be happy that I’d interrupted them. Otherwise, she might have gotten in trouble with her mother.
When Ethan’s hesitant “oh” drifted to me, however, I felt really sorry for him.
“Hey, it was nice. We should totally do that again,” Susan suggested, but next she got caught in a light stutter. “I mean—I—”
Okay, that was it. Now I just had to poke my head into the hall and watch what was happening. Her back to the front door, Susan spotted me over Ethan’s shoulder, but other than a disapproving frown marring her forehead, she decided to ignore me and said to him, “Ah, heck, I guess I’ll see you.” She turned around and opened the door, but Ethan didn’t let her slip out just yet. He held her back by her wrist. Good boy. I would have done the same. Was he going to kiss her goodbye?
No, he didn’t. Instead, he told her with a hopeful edge to his voice, “It was nice, Susan. Come over again tomorrow? Or let’s go have that soda we talked about.”
It was a shame I couldn’t see Sue’s reaction, because she stood hidden behind the open front door as she told Ethan, “Okay. Call me after school.” Then she leaned around the door and fixed me with a scowl. “Give him my number, dickhead!”
Swallowing, I nodded, and she was gone.
As Ethan trudged back through the hallway, I stepped out of the kitchen and blocked his way. “Hey, man, I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, right.” He rolled his eyes. A moment later, he shrugged it off, though. “Maybe next time wait until I invite you in.”
“I thought she’d left already,” I rushed to explain. “It was so quiet in your room.”
Now he laughed. “Guess why!”
Shit, I was such an idiot. With a grimace, I groaned, “Not gonna happen again, I promise.”
Ethan slapped me on the shoulder and grinned as he passed me. “No worries. I suppose there will be other chances.”
To kiss her? Two hours ago, he’d assured me he wasn’t interested in that girl. Just friends—those had been his words. What in the world had changed his mind in there? Then again, there had been a lot of popcorn on his bed when I’d stormed in on them, and his mouth hadn’t yet been on hers. What if I’d read it all wrong?
I spun around and blurted, “Did you kiss her?”
My brother’s answer was deadpan. “Now wouldn’t you like to know?”
I DIDN’T GET any more information out of Ethan while we ate pizza in the living room that evening, and as much as it disappointed me, I felt even worse for Mom. The moment she got home from seeing her client, she burst into my room, about to explode with curiosity.
She closed the door, pressed her back against it, let out a long, girly breath that she was much too old for, and demanded, “Tell me everything!”
Playing dumb, I left her drowning in her personal torture a second longer. “Umm…about what? How my Spanish is going…or how the pizza we had while you were gone was?”
“I’m warning you, buddy,” she threatened with a finger pointed in my direction as she suppressed a laugh. “Don’t make me ground you for the rest of the month. You know I’m talking about Ethan’s female visitor.”
“Why don’t you go ask him yourself?”
“Because you always tell me not to push him. Now spill, buddy, or I’m going to wash your favorite shirt with my pink socks next time. What do you know?”
This woman knew no limits. I cracked a smile. “Don’t run off to buy a dress for a wedding just yet. Ethan said they’re only friends. But if you ask me, they were close to making out in his room.”
Mom crossed to my bed and sat down on the edge. I turned in my swivel chair to face her. “Close to?” she asked, pulling my pillow into her lap and hugging it.
“Yeah.” I scratched my head with a pen. “I kinda walked in on them and stopped whatever was going on, though.”
Instantly, Mom stiffened, and her brows shot upward. “You did what?”
“I didn’t know it was the wrong moment,” I defended myself as the pillow barreled straight for my face. Catching it, I threw it back at her. “Believe me, I really wish I hadn’t.”
With a deep sigh, Mom put my pillow back in place, stood up, and walked to the door. With a mocking glance back at me, she snarled, “I really should ground you for that, you know. For an entire year. With no basketball ever again.”
“It was a flipping mistake, Mom.” Biting back a chuckle, I swiveled back to my computer and finished my email to Dad. I hadn’t written him in a while, and since I was the only one in this family who still kept in touch with him, I thought it was okay to give him an update on Ethan’s dating life. He would like to hear about Sue.
“So…” I began, as Ethan drove us to school the next morning. “Are you going to tell me what happened yesterday?”
An annoying smirk tugged at his mouth. And like I expected, he didn’t respond.
My dear brother enjoyed tormenting me by holding back the information I tried to squeeze out of him a little too much. Did I deserve that for being such a nice older brother? Because, yes, twenty minutes of a head start in life made all the difference.
“Know what?” Ethan finally said as he parked in front of school. “I’ll tell you whether I kissed Susan if you give me your autographed Lakers ball.
My basketball signed by Kobe Bryant? “Dream on, E.T.” Laughing, I climbed out of his car, slammed the door shut, and headed into the building. It was my holy treasure. I wouldn’t give that ball away for anything in the world.
However, Ethan’s stubbornness left me no choice but to come up with another strategy. Two mornings in a row, I’d met Susan Miller in the same section of the school this week. Odds were she had first period close to my history class. With watchful eyes, I walked down the corridor, hoping to glimpse a girl with a honey-blond ponytail and glasses. But damn, she didn’t show up.
Tyler and Rebecca caught up with me before I reached history, giving me an excuse to hover outside class a little longer. “So, are you and Lauren going out again today?” Rebecca asked as I kept sweeping the hallway with my gaze.
“She’s coming to my place later,” I told her absently. I didn’t know if this counted as going out in Becky’s book, but from the grin on her face, it made her happy enough. A moment later, I mirrored that grin, yet for a totally different reason. “I need to talk to someone. See you guys later.” I darted away, following the red backpack that zigzagged through the crowd.
Within a few seconds, I caught up with Susan Miller, matched her stride, and casually put my arm around her shoulders. “Hey, Sue.”
She looked at me, and the first thing I noticed, apart from her surprised smile, was how perfectly she fit under my arm. She was a little smaller than Lauren, which made walking with her like this just…comfortable.
Unfortunately, her delighted face crunched as fast as it had come, and her back went stiff. “And you are…?” she demanded with a wary edge to her voice.
I rolled my eyes. “Chris.” When would she finally be able to tell us apart? It wasn’t that hard, really. I was the charismatic ladykiller, and Ethan was the…ah, whatever.
“What do you want, Chris?” Sue snarled. She made every effort not to touch my hand more than necessary as she lifted it off her shoulder with only two fingers and dropped it behind her back.
Seriously, this girl had the charm of an enemy tank.
Suppressing an irritated groan, I slid in front of her, making her stop, and leaned against the row of lockers to my left. Little Miss Sunshine wouldn’t get away from me so fast. “I’m curious,” I said with a smirk and cocked my head. “Did you and Ethan kiss yesterday?”
Obviously shocked by my bluntness, Sue opened and closed her mouth twice before any sound came out. “Keep your drool in, Spike,” she snapped eventually. “What happens between your brother and me isn’t any of your business.”
That meant: No fricking kiss! “I knew it,” I blurted, laughing out loud now. If they’d really been making out, she’d be eager to brag about it, especially in front of me, if only to make me leave her alone. Ethan had been serious when he’d told me he didn’t intend to mack on her all evening. “He didn’t have the guts.”
That elated comment must have stabbed Little Miss Sunshine’s feelings, because she just stared at me with frank annoyance. Then she strode off, smacking her shoulder against mine, which certainly hurt her more than me.
I turned around and shouted after her in my sweetest voice, “Have a nice day, little Sue.” Her retort was her middle finger high up in the air, which I deemed as enough attention to assume she was starting to take a shine to me.
With a broad smile on my face, I went to history, and the grin didn’t vanish until the end of third period. Only when Lauren sank more gracefully than anyone into the chair next to mine before Spanish and scrutinized me with curious eyes did I realize I wasn’t behaving quite like myself this morning.
“Why are you grinning? Can’t wait for your extra lesson later?” she asked with a knowing look.
I cleared my throat. “Always looking forward to seeing you, Parker.”
Lauren gave me her You want in my pants? smirk and slowly traced the bold letters on the textbook in front of her with her pen. “I hope you’ve been a good boy and studied your grammar.”
Oh, I’d been a good boy, and studied really hard. “My brain is so full of Spanish crap, I was dreaming of it last night.”
“Full of crap? Yeah. Spanish? I doubt it.” She giggled, then we both fell silent with the rest of the class as Mrs. Sanchez entered the room and greeted us with her ever so cheerful, “¡Buenos días!”
After class, I headed off to the cafeteria for lunch while Lauren went to gym for one more period before her lunch break. At the buffet, I met Cody Giles and Tyler, and immediately we started hollering and plotting how we were going to kick some Clearwater High ass when they came for the game on Saturday.
Sitting down in my usual spot at the basketball table, my glance swept the room for another try at catching Susan Miller with the geek squad. Again, there was no ponytail among those kids. Well, actually there were several, but not the one I kept an eye out for. Eating the apple first, the only item on my food tray that wasn’t dripping with fat and mayo, I leaned back, stacking my feet on the empty seat beside me. It was reserved for Rebecca, but she hadn’t shown up yet.
“Where’s your much prettier half?” I mocked Tyler, tossing one of the French fries next to the burger on my plate, hitting him right on the forehead. He was lucky the thing wasn’t dipped in ketchup. His answer didn’t register, however, because my gaze caught on a girl standing near the seated crowd around my brother. Nervously, Susan Miller twirled a strand of her ponytail around her finger and gave him a small smile.
As she wiggled her fingers at him and headed off, I expected her to walk to the food counter and get something to eat, but she sauntered empty-handed across the cafeteria to the table farthest away from ours. The one also known as the soccer table. What in the world was she doing there?
“Ow!” I winced when something stung my left eye and tore my attention away from Susan taking a seat. The grape that rebounded from my face hopped away on the floor. I rubbed my sore eye, considering fishing the pickle out from my burger and starting a food fight with Tyler for catching me off guard. But one of the lunchroom monitors had just walked past our table, saving T-Rex from a pickle attack. My clean record of no detention in my senior year couldn’t be ruined with something as stupid as gooey food hitting the wrong person.
Taking a bite of my burger instead and stuffing a handful of fries into my mouth, I listened to my friends with only half an ear. Ninety percent of my attention was nailed on the soccer table. The Bay Sharks had never interested me much, so it was probably normal that I’d never noticed the bunch of girls sitting with Ryan and his team. Of course, I assumed they were team members’ girlfriends, but how did Little Miss Sunshine fit in with the gang?
A brief conversation she was having with Alex Winter made everyone at that table burst out laughing. The sound drifted to us from the other side of the room. Sue turned a horrible shade of pink. Okay, it wasn’t really horrible but quite sweet for a girl. She busied herself peeling a kiwi and chopped it into bite-sized pieces.
I wondered what they found so funny.
And then I wondered why I actually wondered…
That girl was on my mind way too much these days, and no one but Ethan was to blame for it. I couldn’t even enjoy my burger without sneaking peeks at her every so often. This wasn’t just weird, it was annoying, especially when another grape hit me in the face.
“Dude, are you listening?” Tyler asked, the next grape at the ready.
Opening the top of my burger and fishing out the pickle slice, I answered his tilted eyebrows with a smirk and countered, “Try it, and you’ll have this splattered on your forehead.”
Tyler’s hands lifted in surrender. “White flag, man!” He popped the grape into his mouth with a big grin. A truce was fine with me, as long as no more fruit nailed me in the eye.
After lunch, as everyone started off in different directions, I caught up with Ryan and walked with him to biology. Curiosity was a curse that I couldn’t seem to shake off today. “What’s the deal with Miss Snappy and Rude sitting at your table? Thought she’d be friendly with the volcano-builders.”
“Miller? She’s cool.” Ryan glanced at me sideways. “Why? Are you interested in her?”
“No. She’s hanging out with my brother, and that’s just a little strange, considering we’re talking about”—I shrugged and frowned at him—“Ethan.” Ryan was the most discreet person I knew and one of the few people who also knew about my brother’s supposed preferences. When the rumors had almost made it outside the basketball team and Ethan quit playing, I talked to Ryan quite often. One of his cousins was gay, too, so he could talk a lot about it with me.
“Give Ethan a chance. I think they’d make a fine match.” Hunter chuckled and slapped me on the shoulder. “While you, my friend, don’t seem to be healthy company for the book lover.”
I lifted both eyebrows. “Sorry, what?”
“For the first time in—I believe her entire life—she’s been put in detention.”
Thinking that news over, I walked through the door into biology, but then stopped when Hunter didn’t follow. “Where’re you going?”
With a grin, he explained, “Done with school for the day. Got some class president stuff to do.”
A meeting? Oh, the lucky dude. Now that he mentioned it, I remembered that this was also the reason for Rebecca not joining us at lunch. She was his VP, and Tyler had said something about that before he nearly blinded me with a grape. Before Ryan could head off, I shouted after him, “What got Miss Snappy in detention?”
He laughed, cutting me a quick glance over his shoulder as he walked away. “As if you don’t know.”
Heck, should I? Dumbfounded, I stood on the threshold to biology until the bell rang half a minute later and Mr. Murphy shoved me into the room as he came around the corner. The stout man, who always wore a white lab coat with big white buttons on it, pushed his glasses up his nose and coughed.
“Have something better in mind than listening to my lesson, Mr. Donovan?” he asked in a voice that broke on every other word, sounding like he was stuck in a pubescent voice change for the rest of his life. Everybody liked the teacher, who had the face of a koala, mostly because we couldn’t do bad enough at any of his tests for him to give us a grade worse than a C, ever.
“You’re lucky, Mr. Murphy, I think I’m going to stay today,” I bantered back and walked to my seat by the window. Shrugging out of my leather jacket, I made myself comfortable for watching yet another film on the dissection of a human brain, which laid free all the slimy stuff. It was one of the most disgusting things they showed in high schools but most of my classmates enjoyed the view. For me, it was easy to zone out and let the hour pass without registering much.
Carefully, so as not to be seen by koala Murphy, I threaded the cable of my headphones under my Dunkin’ Sharks jersey from bottom to top. At the collar, I fished them out and plugged them in my ears from behind my neck. The volume on a minimum, just loud enough so it tuned out the sound of the nasty documentary, I leaned back, scooted lower in my chair, and focused on the clock above the blackboard instead of the TV.
My music always on shuffle, I counted the minutes ticking away to my favorite song, “Take Me to Church.” When that song was over, a random band came on next. It took me a couple of seconds after the first few beats to recognize the group. The album was new on my iPod, only downloaded yesterday from a CD. Susan Miller’s CD, to be exact.
A smile crept to my lips at the memory of Sue standing in front of me in my room, checking me out from head to toe. I would bet my soul that she liked what she’d seen.
She was an awkward case. A geek sitting with the Bay Sharks. And then a girl like her in detention? I just couldn’t picture that. But Ryan wouldn’t lie about it, so what the heck was that last comment of his supposed to mean? Should I have any clue as to why Miss Snappy got in trouble? I didn’t think so, but suddenly it was all I could think about. She didn’t look like the typical troublemaker to me, and Ryan said she’d never had detention.
Kneading my bottom lip with my thumb and forefinger, I wondered which of the guys I could ask about it as I watched the minute hand on the clock move way too slowly. Ryan was busy for the rest of the day, and none of the soccer team had English with me next period. I could ask Ethan after school. He might know.
Suddenly a much better idea took hold, and my leg started bouncing impatiently under the table. Maybe it was time to break my clean record of detention-free days and find out for myself.
With the ringing of the bell, I shot up from my seat and out of Mr. Murphy’s class. I had a plan and only five minutes to put it into action.
Trevor North, Jake Olsen, Tyler, and Brady Baker, all guys from my basketball team, stood gathered by Jake’s locker. Coming here was a detour through half the building on the way to my next class, but I knew I’d find some of them here and needed them all for Operation Detention.
“Gentlemen, I need your help,” I told them, a little out of breath, shoving Jake aside and reaching into his open locker. Usually, he kept a basketball in there, and today was no different.
Jake raked a hand through his black hair before he put his ball cap back on. “What’s up?”
“I need detention, and you have to help me get there.” All four questioned my sanity with incredulous expressions, so I explained, “I want to meet a girl there.”
Tyler narrowed his eyes at me. “Lauren was put in detention?”
“No, it’s not about Lauren.” I started bouncing the ball on the floor. “Remember the girl from the other morning? The one who thought she had a date with me?”
He took the ball away from me and spun it on his finger, chuckling. “Right. The cute nerd. So now you actually are dating her?”
“Nah.” I rolled my eyes. “Turned out she’s friends with my brother. Confusion. Long story.” I waved a dismissive hand. “The thing is, Ryan said she’s in detention this afternoon, and I want to find out why.”
“Thought about asking her?” Trevor suggested, leaning his burly shoulder against the locker next to Jake’s.
“I will.” A smirk pulled at the edges of my mouth. “Why do you think I want detention?”
“But you could just ask her now or after school.”
“Sure, I could. But you haven’t seen that kitty in lion-mode yet. I don’t want to give her a chance to escape. An hour in the same classroom as her seems like just the time I need.”
T-Rex slapped my shoulder, barking with laughter. “That, I have to see, dude. Count me in.”
“What about Becks?” I reminded him. His girlfriend would wait for him after school just like every other day.
“I’ll text her later. Bros before hoes, you know it.”
When Jake slammed his locker shut and faced me with a wicked grin, it was settled—they all had my back. “Well then, let’s play some ball!” He stole the basketball from T-Rex, bounced it against the wall above his head, and then jogged down the corridor.
As I raced after him, a familiar excitement crept up my spine. I intercepted the ball, bounced it twice, and passed it back to T-Rex as we hollered above the crowd around us. Everything went exactly to plan, and we didn’t even last a minute.
A woman I didn’t know by name, but who looked much more like a nursery teacher with her petite figure than somebody dealing with teens, stopped us at the corner, slamming her small fists on her hips.
I grinned down at her reprimanding face. Detention was settled.
“Hey, Mr. E.,” I greeted my English teacher once again at the beginning of eighth period—after actual English—with the basketball still clasped under my arm. The classroom started filling with random students, all finding seats in corners, fishing out Game Boys or their phones to while away the next fifty minutes.
“Mr. Donovan? I was wondering when I’d finally be seeing you in detention again.” He snickered, putting his newspaper down. “Mr. Moss, Olson, North, and Baker, no surprise to find you here either.”
The guys saluted Mr. Ellenburgh as we sauntered to the window side of the room and huddled in a group of chairs that we moved together. There were only three girls here so far, and none of them was Susan Miller.
“So which of these chicks you want to talk to?” Jake asked in a low voice, sweeping the classroom with a glance. I shook my head at Jake, keeping a close watch on the door. Randy McDowell from my history class entered next and, after him, one particular girl with glasses.
“Here we go,” I drawled with a grin. In response, my friends all turned to look at who had arrived.
“Geek squad,” Brady and Jake deadpanned at once.
“Funnily enough, soccer table,” I informed them, even though I had yet to find out why. That, however, among other questions, was the reason I’d come here, right? “Apparently, she has a crush on Ethan.”
“And that pisses you off why?” Tyler chuckled and poked his elbow into my ribs.
I glanced at him sideways. “Not pissed at all.”
“Yeah, right. Our friendship is older than dirt, dude, and I know that frown. What did she do to stomp on your ego?”
I did frown now, deliberately. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about you having always been a sore loser. If she prefers your identical twin over you, you must have done something to fall right through her cracks. What was it?”
Yeah, what was it indeed? Sue was still talking to Mr. Ellenburgh in a hushed voice, and she seemed to be really friendly with my English teacher. She was also nice to a lot of other guys I knew. So why did I, of all people, bring out this kitten’s claws? “Actually, I have no idea.” She could hardly hold our first encounter against me. That was just an unfortunate moment.
Susan scurried to an empty seat in the back of the room as if it was her personal walk of shame. Her chin was dipped so low, she wouldn’t notice a street lamp in front of her, let alone any of the students in this classroom, me included.
Quietly enough to not draw anybody’s attention, she took a couple of books from her schoolbag and started doing homework. Her ponytail fell over her right shoulder, and she kept tossing it backward every so often. Sometimes she chewed on the end of her pen, but not once in all that time did she look up or around the classroom.
The guys had to feel the unsociable vibe radiating off her, because no one goaded me to walk over and talk to her. Yet, if I waited any longer, detention would be over without me being any wiser. With the basketball under my arm, I finally rose from the chair and sauntered over. She didn’t notice me coming. What a huge surprise.
If I said something now, I’d probably make her jump in her seat. Instead, I put the ball down on her desk and gave it a gentle push so it rolled over her math book. Mystified, Sue watched the ball roll until it dropped over the edge and bounced on the floor. That was the moment she got a real start. Her tiny squeak was so out of place…but kind of sweet.
While she bent down to pick up the ball, I stepped in front of her, greeting her with a smile as she straightened again. “Hey, Sue. Never seen a basketball?” I reached for Jake’s ball in her hands and let it spin on my finger. A quick glance at the back confirmed, yep, the guys were avidly observing each of my movements. Nosy suckers.
Sue followed my gaze and was rewarded with a bright grin from T-Rex and the rest. “My name is Susan,” she snarled at me when she turned back.
Ah, Miss Finicky today, was she? I chuckled. “I’m wondering…does my brother know that his girlfriend is in detention?”
“If you tell him, I’m going to shoot you,” she fired back at me, as if I’d hit a nerve—which, on second thought, I probably had. In a slightly lower voice that was no less annoyed, she added, “And I’m not his girlfriend.”
“Yeah. I know that.” The non-kiss yesterday was evidence enough. Sue gaped at me for a tense moment and then turned her attention to the math stuff in front of her, deliberately ignoring me. Maybe that was what Tyler had meant about her stomping on my ego because, frankly, it annoyed me like hell. Girls didn’t normally brush me off, and I didn’t have to do much to get their attention either.
But with Sue, it was like crashing into a brick wall. Over and over…
From the corner of my eye, I saw the guys snickering, so I glared at them before lowering myself into the chair next to Sue. I’d come here for some answers, and she wasn’t going to get rid of me until she provided them. Stacking my feet on the table, I balanced the chair on two legs and spun the ball on my finger. “So, what got you in here?”
After a long moment, in which she said nothing at all, she put down her pen and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “You, in fact.”
“Me?” I caught the spinning ball, staring at her in surprise. “Wow.” So Hunter wasn’t kidding. If I got her in here, I should know why. Only problem was, I had no clue. “How?”
“My history teacher saw me flipping you off this morning.”
I cracked up. So it really was not me who landed her in detention. She just had to be careful about her indecent gestures in public. But I feigned a hurt look anyway. “Yeah, that was actually rude.” I wiggled my finger in her face. “We really need to work on your manners if you’re going to keep going out with my brother. Speaking of which…” I resumed spinning the ball and looked innocently at her from under my lashes. “Are you two going to meet up again today?”
“Why are you so interested in your brother’s privacy?” Sue whined. “You should stop poking your nose where it doesn’t belong. Especially when it’s also concerning my privacy.” She arched her eyebrows. “Because I’m not going to tell you shit.”
“Ah, such a cute mouth and such bad words,” I teased her. “Now I get why you’ve been put in detention, Miss Miller. Must be a soccer thing with the language, eh?”
Sue frowned at me as if she had no freaking clue what I was talking about. I shrugged and went on, “It was a surprise to see you sitting with the Bay Sharks at lunch today. I assumed you’d be with the geek squad.”
She cut me a sharp glare. “Why would you think that?” Quickly enough, her face lit with understanding. “Oh, no, let me guess. The glasses, right? You really think because I’m wearing them I’m a nerd?”
“Hmmm. That was the idea, yes.” And the ponytail, and the Harry Potter shirt, and the modest clothes, and… Hey, hadn’t Ryan even called her book lover today?
“And Ethan didn’t tell you that I was”—she interrupted herself with a sweet eye-roll—“am on the soccer team?”
Whoa. She was? Sexy, Miss Miller. I was impressed. Just envisioning her in a soccer jersey… Hmm, that thought had a lot more potential than imagining her with the volcano-builders. Now why hadn’t Ethan told me this?
Remembering how he was maintaining a low profile lately and how much it annoyed me to be left guessing, I murmured, “Ethan doesn’t say much these days.”
Sue leaned back in her chair, frustration etched on her face. “For good reason. It’s none of your business.”
“Maybe.” Probably. “But now I’m curious. Why does he suddenly go to soccer practice?” Was it because of her?
“If you must know, he’s taking my place for a while because I hurt my knee.”
“Is that so?” Chewing on my bottom lip, I contemplated this new bit of information. Eyes still focused on hers, my mind strayed, and I wondered which knee it was.
“Yes, that is so,” Sue imitated my drawl. “And for your information, just because someone’s wearing glasses doesn’t mean he or she is a geek. I only need them for reading, not for playing. And now, if you don’t mind”—she waved me off with a dismissive hand—“go and grate on someone else’s nerves. I’ve got homework to do.”
No one could say I didn’t get a hint when it was slammed in my face. With the ball tucked under my arm, I tipped the chair forward until all four legs were back on the floor and rose to my feet. It was an awkward new feeling to be brushed off by a girl. Any girl. It stabbed me right in the gut.
Just as a form of protest, I contemplated actually weaving my charm around her now. See how long little Sue was capable of keeping me at a distance when I decided to really woo her instead of just teasing.
But then there was my brother. Even though he’d claimed not to have a romantic interest in her, I couldn’t be sure after walking in on them yesterday. This was a tricky situation. I wasn’t going to steal Ethan’s girl simply to prove that no chick could resist me.
About to head off, I cast Sue a pensive look. “Just tell me if he kisses you. I’d really like to know.”
“The hell I will. Now go away.”
Like I said, the charm of a tank. Unfortunately, something about her abrasive attitude worked like a damn lasso on me. It must’ve had to do with her “when hell freezes over” statement on the phone yesterday. Every cell in my body rebelled at the thought of retreat. Like I was a slave to my own damn ego.
Since the guys were observing our conversation like it was the most entertaining daily soap, I tossed T-Rex the ball with a hard look at them all so they’d mind their own business. Then I let my ego get the better of me and did something rash and really stupid.
Deliberately slow, I leaned across the table toward Sue. When she glanced up at me, I pulled her spectacles off her nose and stared into her gummy-bear eyes. “My offer for a date in a week is still on.” Until then, I wouldn’t know for sure if Ethan was into her or not. Once he was out of the way, I could teach this little kitten a lesson.
“Give them back, dickhead!” she hissed, reaching for her glasses, but I moved my hand out of her reach before she could grab them. Susan put on a glare so hard it could’ve cut holes in concrete. “And I’ll never go out with you. Not today, not next weekend, and not in ten thousand years.”
Oh, wanna bet? A slow smile tugged at the edges of my lips. “You will go out with me, sweetness. And I’ll show you how fast hell can freeze over when I want something.”
Sue gulped. I could see it, I could hear it, and I knew I already had one foot in the door. “You see?” Capturing her gaze, I carefully laid her glasses back on the desk. “The fire’s already reducing to a soft glow.” Since her mouth hung open so sweetly, I couldn’t resist closing it gently with my finger. The satisfaction of having the last word made me grin as I walked back to my friends.
“Dude, what are you? Five?” Tyler snickered as I straddled my chair, folding my arms on the backrest in front of me. “For a minute there I thought you were going to push her to get her attention. Is that how you talk girls into dates now?”
“Shut up. I told you she’s difficult.”
“But you didn’t say you wanted in her pants,” he teased.
A humorless laugh left me. “Because I don’t.”
“Sure.” Brady rolled his eyes and made air quotes with his fingers. “You will go out with me?”
“It’s just to teach her a lesson,” I defended myself.
“In what? Charming the pants off a girl, kindergarten-style?” Tyler mocked me. Would it also be kindergarten-style if I smacked that stupid grin right off his face? “Anyway, I thought she was into your brother. Do you really want to steal her from him?”
“Ethan said they’re just friends.” He’d practically given me permission to hit on her yesterday. If that changed, he’d have to tell me straight.
“Hey, Chris!” Susan’s saccharine voice made us all immediately turn our heads in her direction. A gloating grin took form on her lips. “It takes a little more than a cute smile to get on my good side. And luckily your brother comes equipped with the whole package.”
Whoa. That was a shot below the belt.
Abandoning some of the sugar in her voice, she added, “You want to freeze hell? Go ahead and try. It’ll get you nowhere with me.”
I could do nothing but stare at her for an endless moment. The thoughts running wild in my mind during that time ranged from wanting to walk over and prove her wrong with a kiss, to laughing out loud, to telling her she was messing with the wrong guy.
When I’d finally stomached the surprise of her boldness and came around, I licked my lips, never taking my eyes off hers. The left side of my mouth tilted up in a challenging smirk. Everybody’s eyes were on me, even Mr. Ellenburgh’s. The entire room waited for my next move, and I wasn’t going to disappoint.
“Game on, little Sue,” I told her in a wicked drawl that rendered her silent.
Her shocked stare amused me. Chuckling, I turned back to my friends, who studied me with open mouths. Until Brady shook his head and burst out laughing. “No freaking way, dude! You don’t stand a chance with that girl.”
Oh, was that so? I cocked my head, pursing my lips, then cast them all a brilliant smile. “Watch me.”
If you want to relive the whole story through Chris’s eyes, you can grab the book from Amazon now! 😉