Authors: Gwen Hayes
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Teen & Young Adult
“You threw it away, not me.”
“I didn’t kiss anyone. I didn’t bring anyone else into the mix.”
“You were the one who brought her into it, not me. It was a dumb kiss during a dumb game of spin the bottle. If our relationship was so good, you would have laughed it off. But no, you were looking for a reason to break up.”
“Well thank you so much for giving me such a good one, then.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“Believe me, this is the last time I hope to ever talk about it. And Foster?”
“Where are our dates?”
At some point during our tirade, they must have taken off—undetected by the two top investigative journalists of our school. We waited another ten minutes just to be sure they didn’t go to the restroom (and that gave me the willies thinking they went together) and we left too.
I felt sick and full of anger and maybe something close to regret.
Foster may have come closer to the truth than I cared to admit. Maybe I had been looking for a reason to break up. One that was easier for me to accept than I was just scared.
And one that didn’t include the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
: What are you wearing right now?
I smiled at my monitor.
: A coat made from the fur of one hundred and one puppies. At least that is what the reporter whose column I’m editing probably thinks.
: Fine. What are you wearing under the coat, then?
Micah made me laugh.
: What are you doing?
: I’m standing on the street corner texting you IMs.
I jumped up and rand to my window. Sure enough, two houses down and under the streetlight, a boy in a hooded sweatshirt waved to me, the light glinting off the studs on his belt.
I punched his digits into my cell.
He answered with, “You don’t look like you’re wearing a fur coat.”
“Why are you skulking around my street, skaterboy?”
“I was kinda hoping you’d come out and play with me.”
My toes curled into the carpet. “I’m pretty sure my parents would object. It’s a school night, you know.”
“Just for a little while?”
I hadn’t sneaked out of the house since…well, since I used to swap spit with Foster. And even then, we didn’t usually get too physical when we were on our forbidden dates. Neither one of us had been ready to test our boundaries yet. We saved that kind of stuff for stolen moments when our parents knew where we were. Safer. No getting carried away.
I’m not sure if Micah worried about getting carried away.
“I just want to talk. I promise. I’ll keep my hands in my pockets the whole time.”
The clock read after midnight. My parents turned in at 10:30 sharp and slept like the dead.
“I’ll be down in a few.”
A bitter wind bit at my face as I got closer to the corner. Maybe it would have been more of a
wind to me if I really wanted to be out there. But that was my problem. I didn’t want to be
. Out in the dating world. I hadn’t since Foster, and knowing that made me angry that I’d cloistered myself away like a nun all these years.
So, I was going to take a walk with a hot boy who liked me. Whether I wanted to or not.
Micah tentatively reached for my hand. His was warm, comforting, and despite my misgivings, gave me a slight thrum of excitement in my belly.
“How many more dates do you still have to go on?” he asked as we began walking, hand in hand down my street.
“Six.” I shuddered from disgust as much as from the chilly wind. “I don’t think I can do it.”
“Sure you can.”
“It seems to me you should be trying to help me get out of them.”
“Nah. I’m not worried about the competition. The more of them you date, the more you’ll like me. It’s Jimmy Foster I wonder about.”
“No reason. Are you cold?”
He started to take off his jacket, but I stopped him. “No, don’t. I’m okay. Why are you wondering about Foster?”
A rock under his shoe suddenly became very interesting, and we came to a stop as he toed it back and forth. “It’s just that he comes up a lot.”
“You mean when you ask me about my day and I tell you it sucked so you ask why and he’s always the reason?”
“It’s just…nothing. It’s dumb.” He started walking again, but there was some really huge, big, dumb, ugly elephant in front of us that we pretended wasn’t.
“This walk isn’t going the way you planned, is it?”
Micah smirked and squeezed my hand. “Not exactly.” He stopped again and reached for my other hand. “It’s no secret that I really like you, right?”
He played with my fingers so he wouldn’t have to look into my eyes, I think. How reassuring that even a guy like Micah had reservations about his prowess sometimes.
But I wasn’t sure I was the best candidate to restore his confidence either. “It’s no secret that I’m really a sandwich short of a picnic when it comes to feelings and emotions and…stuff, right?”
He puckered his lips into a wry little smile. “I’d like to go on a real date when you are done with the undates. Is that even remotely likely?”
I wanted to reassure him. I wished I was the girl who could smile and bat her eyelashes and say just the right coy thing to make him glad he expended the effort to spend time with me.
Micah looked so handsome in the moonlight. Nothing was stopping me from wrapping my arms around his neck and kissing him. He’d be a great kisser. He’d be a good boyfriend. Nothing was stopping me except the heavy weight of an anvil pressing on my chest.
“If I said it’s not out of the realm of possibilities, would that be enough for you? At least for tonight?”
We resumed walking, me holding my arms tightly across my chest. What was wrong with me? Who replaced my blood with ice water? A dozen times I tried to make something light and witty come out of my mouth, but there was nothing I could think of to say. I don’t really know why I could feel so attracted to Micah, but at the same time, that attraction made me feel claustrophobic.
There must be something I could say to lighten the mood. “I’m not normal, Micah.”
So much for light and witty.
“What are you talking about?”
“I really like you too. I do, I swear. It’s just…it’s like…”
“Relax.” He ruffled my hair. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Why?” Not that I wasn’t glad. I just didn’t understand why he’d want to hang around.
“I can see you have issues. I’m not sure even you know what they are. But I’m not the kind of guy who drops out of a race because I see a hill. Challenges turn me on.” From the corner of my eye, I watched him form his next sentence as if a thought was just dawning on him. “I think you’re worth it, Layney.”
He kissed my hand when he delivered me safely to my door.
I think my blood was defrosting.
* * *
“If you plan to be alive to walk at graduation, James Theodore Foster, you will fix this now.” I thrust the dreaded pink invitation in his face and didn’t bother to try to hide the sheer terror shining in my eyes. Let him see my weakness.
He unballed the paper and started laughing hysterically.
“There is nothing funny about this situation. And you won’t be laughing when you’re dead. Fix this.”
“They set you up for karaoke? This is priceless. God, I can’t wait.”
“No no no!” The line is drawn. I refuse. I am not singing karaoke. Call your staff. The story is dead.”
I stormed away but he caught me at the door. “Now, just wait. The story is not dead. We can find a compromise.”
“There is not a compromise in the universe that will get me on a stage to sing. Not happening. I’m tired of being in the center ring of your circus, Foster.”
He squared my shoulders with his hands. “The staff chose the venue. I swear I didn’t set this one up.”
I closed my eyes, suddenly very tired. “Maybe not this date, but all of this is your doing. I’m not sure why you felt the need to manipulate me with all these games, but it stops now. I’m done.”
I opened my eyes.
“You’re overreacting. I know you weren’t completely on board with this story, but you would never have agreed if you didn’t feel it had some merit.”
Something clicked inside, or more like clunked, and I slumped over, hanging my head between us. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This was supposed to be the best year ever. I don’t know if we can pull this off anymore.”
“Whoa,” he replied, succinct yet full of wonder. “Um. Are we still talking about karaoke?”
I lifted my head and squinted at him. “I’m not doing it. And I’m not doing this stupid story, and I don’t think I’m doing this stupid paper either.”
Cupping my chin with one hand, he nodded my head for me while he said, “Yes you will.”
We stood too close. I could see the flecks of color, golds and greens in his eyes, and I was sure he saw the unshed tears caught in mine. The moment bore down on us, heavy, like the feel of the air right before a thunderstorm. A little sigh escaped my lungs, and my chin tilted just a bit. His palm smoothed a small path from my chin to my cheek, and his fingers feathered into my hairline. We were powerless to stop, and our lips inched closer.
The first brief pass of his mouth shocked me even though I had known it was coming. I clutched his arms for support and kept my eyes open. He hesitated, his forehead wrinkled in bewilderment, and then he swooped in again, both hands in my hair, and the bottom of my world dropped away.
We kissed with the same parry and thrust that we did everything. An answer to a taunt. Vying for what seemed to be the same thing, the clash of wills and lips.
I’d never kissed anyone I despised before. Madness. Nothing else could describe it. Neither one of us wanted to be kissing the other, yet I don’t think any amount of force on Earth could have pulled me away from him just then.
I hated him for making me want to kiss him. If we had been any two other people, the kissing might have put a cease-fire on the war. Instead, our lip lock incensed us further. Four years of hurt feelings and bruised egos met with a longing we’d both done our best to deny. It wasn’t pretty. Movie kisses never looked like this felt.
He rubbed my heart raw.
The bell rang, and we stumbled away from each other, reeling as if we’d just gotten off a carnival ride. I resisted the urge to touch my mouth, though it felt bruised and swollen. I blinked several times, but the room seemed slow to right itself.
Foster cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck absently. “I guess we’ll figure out a different venue for tonight’s date, and I’ll get back to you. I know you’re scared of singing in public.”
Wait a minute. “I’m not scared. I just don’t like to.” With ever fiber of my being.
“I’m not scared.”
“I just agreed with you.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“I said ‘right.’”
“But you didn’t mean ‘right.’ You meant ‘sure’ in a patronizing way.”
“This is the most ridiculous argument ever.”
“We aren’t arguing,” I said, even though it sounded ridiculous to me too.
“For Christ’s sake. I’ll fix it so you don’t have to sing karaoke, okay?”
“Don’t do me any favors, Foster. I’ll do the stupid karaoke date. I’m not scared of singing or dating.” As I turned heel and fled the room, I realized I was pretty much my own worst enemy.
* * *
I really hated Foster.
Wanting to crawl out of my skin, I clutched my microphone in a death grip. He was out there somewhere, watching. I just couldn’t see him. Thankfully, I couldn’t see anyone. A sea of black—either that or I was unconscious. Which was preferable to standing on stage waiting to humiliate myself.
Interspersed with the nausea and feelings of rage, there was also an aberrant thought tickling my mind. All evening, when I least expected to,
I kissed Foster today.
Okay, at first it was
Foster kissed me today.
But I participated in the kissing, and what’s more, it was good kissing, in an oddly ugly way. I simultaneously wanted to do it again and wash my mouth out with soap.
Of course, if I killed him, I could just choose the soap and get over it.
Mr. July stood next to me. Ben Something-or-Other. I know, bad reporter. I just couldn’t be bothered with facts just then. He was nice, I think. Polite anyway, but the night had been out of control for me since before I got there. I tried to respond to his small talk, but knowing I had to sing before the hour was done wigged me out. He probably thought I had a problem with crack. I emptied all the sugars into my water glass so I could make a chain with the empty wrappers. I picked at invisible fuzz on my shirt. I rambled about how much I love journalism. Basically, I was a big, fat mess.
Which lead to the magic moment—sharing the stage with my new guy, getting ready to sing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” Except that the DJ dude put “Hakuna Matata” on by accident, so we had to wait for a minute while he figured out which track our song was. I actually would have preferred to sing the mistake just to get off the stage faster.
I hate Foster
“Yeah, you’ve said that a couple times already,” Ben said.
I didn’t realize I had said it out loud. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay. I have a surprise for you after we’re done.”
I couldn’t get a question off before the music started. If anything good could be said about the song it would be that I knew all the words. I’d watched the movie a bajillion and seven times. And then Ben surprised me by turning into a complete cornball.
He was magnificent. I tried to keep up, but it was hard over the giggling. Right before my eyes, Ben Something-or-Other turned into an aging Vegas act. Winking at the ladies, hamming up the lyrics—all he needed was a powder blue leisure suit. All the pressure was taken off me and I actually enjoyed myself. I sang along, though not loudly, whenever I was able to get my laughter under control.
The audience ate him up like ice cream. He swaggered and waggled his eyebrows. He pulled out a bunch of
moves, closing his eyes, reaching for the sky. The girls all played along, wolf whistling and blowing kisses. At one point, they were all standing, waving their arms above their heads to the music.
Near the end of the song, he reached for my hand and placed it on his heart, serenading me. He even winked at me right before the crowd went crazy with the hooting and hollering.
I thought that was my surprise. That he threw himself under the bus to save my dignity. It would have been enough, Lord knew. I owed him my firstborn already. But no, Ben S. had something else up his sleeve. Something so potent that if he ever decided to use his powers for evil, we were all doomed.
Ben slipped the DJ a bill—I couldn’t see the denomination. As we exited the stage, the DJ called out the next act, “Is there a Jimmy Foster in the house? Jimmy, we’re ready for your number.”
Foster poked his head out of the swinging door to the kitchen and then tried to duck back inside.
“There he is,” said Ben, pointing so that all eyes in “the house” turned his way.
All we could see were his shoes. They turned slowly and a hand clasped the top of the door and pushed it open agonizingly slow. He stood for a second, looking to me like he might bolt, but then a spotlight found him and he surrendered. Foster walked his green mile to the stage, questioning me as he passed us.
I shrugged. I really didn’t know.
The DJ handed him a mic, pointed to the screen, and started the music. Foster glared at me, but not a thing in the world could have wiped the smile off my face.
Because few things were funnier than watching James Theodore Foster sing “Like a Virgin” at Shel’s Coffee and Karaoke Klatch.
Looking back, I didn’t know what “lily-livered” meant, exactly, but I heard it in a cartoon once, and that was
what I was. As in lily-livered, spineless coward hiding behind the door of the girls’ room because I knew Foster was standing outside of it. I hadn’t been alone with him in two days. Since all the kissing.
I checked my watch. Shit, I was going to be late for class. What was he
out there? I cracked the door again. He was still standing with his back against the lockers. The hall emptied of all but a few students. Shit, shit, shit.
I paced the worn linoleum. The windows were specifically designed to keep students in, so there was no help there. Not that I was desperate. Who was I kidding? I would gladly have jumped out a window to avoid being alone with Foster right then. Even if the windows were on the second floor.
The door opened so I ducked into a stall. My jittery fingers had trouble with the lock, and the door pushed against me.
I pushed back. “Occupied.” God, it wasn’t like there weren’t three other stalls.
“Then unoccupy it or I’m coming in with you.”
You have got to be kidding me.
“This is the girls’ room. You can’t be in here.”
“You haven’t given me much choice, Logan.”