Other Side of Beautiful (A Beautifully Disturbed #1) (2 page)

BOOK: Other Side of Beautiful (A Beautifully Disturbed #1)
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Elle

 

The moment we pass over the threshold, Kelly shoves her clutch in my hand as one of her teaching major buddies shoves a champagne glass into her hand. Not a flute, but the other kind, the one Zena insists has been formed after Marie Antoinette’s breast. No way would King Louie have been satisfied squeezing breasts that small. I call shenanigans.

The nausea relents when my good friends Errol and Sabrina wave me over to an empty spot on the wall, giving me a sense of protection, at least enough to relax somewhat and take time for one of my favorite activities—people watching. These two are
that
couple, the ones with the relationship we all secretly envy, a real, true ‘til death do us part’ kind of love. She’s a natural beauty. Being of Puerto Rican ancestry, she has gorgeously tan skin that I will forever be jealous of. Looking at her always makes me crave a caramel Frappuccino. We like to joke I come in two colors—Casper and burned. Another wonderful side effect of her heritage? Her hair. She loves to wear it like Bettie Page and loves to dress rockabilly. Tonight she wears a bright red flower, a poppy maybe, pinned behind her ear to contrast her long, flowing black waves.

I feel underdressed. Errol, he’s so cute—but not like that all-American boy kind of cute—especially wearing his thick-rimmed Buddy Holly glasses and his blue-black hair slicked back tonight. He and Bri are perfect for each other, as he’s as obsessed with Buddy Holly as she is with Bettie Page. Although unlike his idol, his neck and arms are covered with ink, and instead of a 1950’s suit coat, he’s sporting a white button down with the sleeves rolled to the elbow and a gray vest and slacks. Hence the feeling underdressed.

“You’ve gone to the dark side? I almost didn’t recognize you. Swear to god if you start wearing platforms and miniskirts—” We all look over at Kelly. “—I will seriously have to reconsider our friendship.”

“She looks gorgeous,” Sabrina says, slapping Errol’s arm.

About half the people at the party are teaching majors, the other half, my half, are writers. Some of my half plan on applying to MFA programs after graduation, while others like me just want to write.

“DeWitt’s class kicked my butt.” Errol wraps himself around Sabrina, nudges her cheek with his nose, and kisses her, eliciting a ridiculous schoolgirl sigh from her. “Ever since taking flash with Kendrick,” he looks up, smiling, like a cat caught eating the canary, “I can’t seem to write a god dammed story longer than a thousand words.”

“I know, right?” I tip the rest of my soda into my mouth. “Maybe instead of a novel, I’ll try getting in an anthology. Still lots of querying.” I turn to go refill my drink, stopping short right before slamming into Benton Hayes.

He jumps back quickly to avoid the ice spilling, which lands all over the floor and his shoes. Really nice shoes. “Whoa. Play nice, now,” he teases as he squats down to help me pick up the ice chunks, dropping them back into my empty cup. He stares at me, then looks down at the cup he’s holding, shakes his head, and then his eyes find mine again. “It’s a good look on you, Brontë.”

Benton Hayes. The second hottest man on campus. Rugged but beautiful Benton Hayes. Handsome just isn’t a strong enough adjective to describe him. And tall—a good seven or eight inches taller than my five foot five stature if I had to guess. Broad shoulders, narrow at the waist, a perfect inverted triangle. Messy, thick brown hair the color of roasted chestnuts dusts along his forehead, resting just below his eyebrows. Strong, sharp features—cheekbones, straight nose, squared jaw—invite women to look. Yet, those extremely kissable lips and expressive eyes, aquamarine like the color of the deepest part of the ocean—not kidding—tell his story should anyone get close enough to read it, invite women to touch. Or so I’ve been told.

Always a good guy, always my friend, and, unfortunately, always my crush. My writing crush since our first class together freshman year,
nobody
on the GHU campus can turn a phrase or shape a sentence like Benton Hayes.

“Just heard Kendrick and had to make my way over.”

“We’re talking about how he’s ruined us all,” Errol says back, still holding tight to Sabrina.

“Hell, that flash shit is infectious.” He grins, showing off an absolutely adorable dimple.

I hear what he says, but am lost in that dimple tucked safely between the strong line of his jaw and deliciously kissable lips, which I can’t get myself to stop staring at until he snickers at me under his breath. Well hell if his laugh isn’t enough to drag me back into the awkwardness of the moment.

“But not for you, right Brontë?” Always with the nickname. I swear he doesn’t remember I have a first name. Kelly is Kelly, Errol is Errol, Sabrina is Bri or Sabrina, but me? Brontë, or Dinninger, my last name. “That piece you shopped in group last week was pretty solid.”

A compliment from Benton Hayes? “Well, thanks. The sun has to shine on a dog’s ass sometimes, right?”

He sputters out a laugh through his devilish little smirk, sadly concealing that dimple once again. He opens his mouth, probably to respond, until Kelly sloshes up to us, vodka and champagne fumes radiating off her so strongly I swear I can see the ripples in the air.

“Hey, what’s e’rybody laughing ‘bout?” Kelly slurs her words, draping her arms over me and Benton.

“Kendrick,” Sabrina says.

Kelly had taken a few lit classes with me because they were required by both our majors, but she thought it would be fun to take a writing class with me to see what all the fuss is about. That semester we all took Kendrick’s flash fiction and prose poetry class. She really didn’t understand the concepts. If you can’t craft a normal short story, crafting a flash piece is damn near impossible.

She rolls her eyes. “Who wants to read a story so short? Where’s the skill?”

Where’s the skill? Really? Sometimes she makes it difficult to be her friend. Looking around, I sense the rest of my friends are thinking the same. But she’s drunk, so it is no use arguing. I bite my lip to keep my mouth shut. Besides, Benton has this.

“Those who can’t, teach, Kel.”

“Keep telling yourself that living in your car after graduation.”

His little smirk appears, which means he is ready to spar, and really, all of us prepare for a show that never has a chance.

“Kel.” Someone calls out from across the room, and she stumbles away to get more of her drink on.

It occurs to me that just four short years ago I would never have been able to picture a night like tonight, even with all my awkwardness. And the thought allows me to relax. That is until Zena motions for the DJ to turn down the music, calling our attention.

Five minutes to midnight, she claps her hands. “All right, everybody. Game time. I’m going to turn the lights out. It’ll be pitch dark in here. You have to move around the room. We count down, and when the ball drops, you stop moving and kiss your first kiss of the New Year with the person you’re standing next to.” Serious groans sweep around the room in surround-sound. “No getting out of it, even you, Elly.” Because being singled out before a kissing game isn’t my most awkward moment of the night. “I’ll flick the lights back on,” she continues, “and everyone gets to see who they’re kissing. It’ll be fun.”

She and I clearly have different ideas of fun. Yet just as promised, the room goes dark. I move around the floor, stepping on feet and bumping into bodies, whispering “sorry” more times than I care to think about. Then the counting starts. “
Ten…nine…eight…seven…six…
” we all chant together. “
Five…four…three…two…
” I take in a deep breath and swallow back my fear as hands grip my waist, then move slowly up the contour of my body until they reach my face. “
One. Happy New Year!

Lips, strong, supple lips press against mine, and I gasp out my shock. Although it shouldn’t come a surprise, because this
is
the game, executed exactly as she’d explained it. Something breaks loose inside me, some super-charged primal urge which realizes I have a man kissing me. I don’t mean to, but it has been so long. My heart beats rapidly, I’m worried my deodorant won’t keep the funk away from my awkward nervousness, and I still can’t get myself to think rationally. Before I can stop myself, I kiss back. I mean, I really kiss back, tugging on his bottom lip until his mouth opens up to me.

Maybe it’s because of the dark, but in this moment I become a different woman, the woman I’ve always wanted to be. Beautiful. Sensual. Even though I know she’ll disappear the moment the lights come back on, right now they’re off, and I let her lead the way. Pulling him snug against my body, I deepen the kiss, using my tongue to explore his mouth, tasting him until our tongues tangle together. A soft moan escapes me, causing him to groan low into my mouth. This stranger has me shuddering in his arms. Of course the moment I let awkward Elly go with reckless abandon would be the moment the lights blink on, bringing me face-to-face with Benton Hayes. I just tongue assaulted my
friend
, Benton Hayes, still standing with his hands on my cheeks. Kill. Me. Now.

“Happy New Year, Brontë.” Happy New Year? Happy New Year? My skin is fricking on fire from humiliation, and he has the nerve to say Happy New Year, and with his fingers still holding my face? What he must think of me now. An overly aggressive bad kisser who moaned, fricking
moaned
from his touch. And I remain standing too close to him, my breasts pressing against his chest for several seconds longer. “That was…” He clears his throat. “
Interesting
.”

I won’t let him see how stupid I feel. I can’t show that to Benton Hayes. So I pretend I didn’t hear him, pretend he doesn’t exist, except that I still cling to him, arms around his neck.

“Uh, Dinninger? I’m going to charge a transportation fee if I have to carry you.”

“Oh, sorry.” I drop my arms right away and step back. “Blonde moment.”

“I don’t mind, but just so you know, I don’t come cheap.”

“Not what I hear.” I wince, wishing I hadn’t said that to him of all people.

But he only chuckles and says, “Touché.”

Thankfully the distraction I’ve silently been praying for shows up, as all eyes turn to the center of the floor. Only four bodies, or two couples away, Zena’s boyfriend Garret stands as red-faced as I’ve ever seen him while our friend, Benton’s best friend Collin stares at him in the most breathtaking ‘I’m the man’ stance I’ve ever seen. He holds the devil in his smile and a gleam in his eye. I can’t blame him. Garret is good looking in that metrosexual straight boy way. A little too manscaped for my taste; I prefer distinction, like Errol’s tattooed body armor, or Benton’s, well, everything.

When I said Benton Hayes is the second hottest man on campus, Collin bares the blame for his silver medal status. The man really has no reason to even be in college. Just one day in Hollywood is all it would take for him to be plucked off the street and pushed into a whirlwind courtship with stardom. The only reason he hasn’t been voted sexiest man in the world is because that magazine hasn’t discovered our Collin yet, which makes me proud for some odd reason my brain hasn’t quite figured out yet. Because I clearly had nothing to do with the angel-kissed gene pool he swims in. On top of that, the man has talent. While not as prolific as Benton, he certainly can craft a story.

I like to think of Collin as the Ken to Kelly’s Barbie, in the ultra-blond hair and big blue eyes way. But unlike Barbie’s Ken, our Collin stepped free from his closet a long time ago, hence the devil in his smile. Because back to our red-faced friend, I wouldn’t distrust the notion that at least a part of him liked it—the kiss—and it probably makes him really uncomfortable to admit to himself. But what guys like Garret don’t understand is that it’s never about gay or straight, it’s about a kiss and Collin. The man radiates hotness like a sun gone supernova. I doubt a person exists who knows him and doesn’t want to be on the receiving end of those lips just once, except maybe Benton. Those two are like brothers, and incest is just wrong.

“Your girl looks to be having a good time again.” Benton points over to the other side of Collin. Only in Kelly’s world would that be considered a good time. She can hardly stand and is swaying half out of her clothing, hanging all over some guy named Haas, I think, another teaching major, and who’s currently getting an eyeful of boob. He most certainly counts as a regret waiting to happen. Tall, skinny, day-walking gingers don’t get the slumber party invite in Kelly’s world. It’s time to call it a night.

“Well,
shit
.”

He stands behind me snickering while I push my way through the compacted group to get to her. “Come on, Kel. Tell the good people nighty night.” But Kelly couldn’t tell anyone anything, passing out the minute I wrap an arm around her waist. It looks like I’m feeling her up, tucking her boobs back into her dress. Dragging each other from a regretful situations is what friends do, I remind myself. My little Barbie, she’s significant dead weight for being such a wisp of a thing. I slap her face several times. “Kel…Kelly, wake up.” Thankfully, her eyes, though no more than slits, open for me, which makes her a little less drunk than the last time we did this. She still can’t walk though. With a good grip on her arms, I swing her around, shifting her onto my back to drag her toward the door. “Night, everyone,” I call to the crowd behind me.

BOOK: Other Side of Beautiful (A Beautifully Disturbed #1)
13.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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