The International Kissing Club (5 page)

BOOK: The International Kissing Club
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Izzy scrutinized the glossy jungle photos, her eyebrow cocked dubiously, but Cassidy could see she’d struck a chord.

“Guys, listen to Cassidy. This could be awesome, the experience of our lives!” Piper gushed, capitalizing on the moment. “There’re a ton of great places out there to visit. Like I said, I’m going to Paris. The brochure talks about this amazing art academy there that takes exchange students. I’m going to paint, and see the Louvre, dye my hair, and drink coffee in quaint bistros on the Seine. And pretend the last four months
never
happened.”

“What about you, Cass? Where do you want to go?” Mei asked.

“The farther away the better, but someplace where they speak English—I don’t have a flair for language,” she said with an exaggerated redneck Texas drawl, making them all laugh. At the bottom of the brochure pile was one with a cheesy picture of a koala in a graduation cap sitting on top of Ayers Rock.

Australia.

Cassidy grinned. You couldn’t really get any farther than the whole other side of the world.

She held it up for the girls to see. “This is it; this is where I’m going.”

Izzy took it out of her hand and flipped it open. “It’s eighty-nine
hundred
dollars, Cassidy. If you’re worried about paying for college, how are you going to afford this?”

Cassidy kept her face deliberately blank, hiding her shock. Eighty-nine hundred dollars was more than triple what she’d guessed it might cost. “I’ll have to figure something out,” she said, more to convince herself than her friends.

“Maybe you don’t have to go so far, Cass,” Mei said, rifling through the brochures.

“No,” she said, not about to back down now. “I say, ‘Go big or stay home.’ I’ll get the money.”

“What are you going to do? Rob a bank?” Izzy asked.

“Ha-ha.” Cassidy paused. “I’m going to ask my dad for the money.”

Izzy, Mei, and Piper exchanged a glance.

“What?” Cassidy asked when no one spoke.

Piper answered. “Nothing, Cass. We just didn’t know you were talking to your father again.”

“Sure, I talk to him. I mean, we’re not best friends or anything, but we talk. He’s got the money, so I’ll just ask him. It’s no big deal.”

The tinkling of the bell above the glass doors interrupted them. The Paris High offensive line crammed into the little shop, a veritable tsunami of unruly testosterone in blue-and-white letterman jackets.

The guys spotted the four of them at once.
Crap, here we go
, Cassidy thought.

“Hey, dude, I didn’t know they served bacon-flavored yogurt here.”

“Nah, pigs don’t eat their own kind; they love slop.”

“Suuueeey!”

Piper looked like she was going to cry. Cassidy jumped to her feet.

“That’s real mature, dickheads. I didn’t realize the numbers on your jerseys were also your IQs.”

“Whoa, Cassidy, I didn’t know you liked kissing pigs, too,” Jackson Grosbeck, the resident dumb ass, taunted her. “I thought you were only into kissing other girls.” He sauntered over to her, trying to intimidate her with his bulk. “ ’Cause that’s hot.”

Yuck. She could smell the Copenhagen chewing tobacco on his breath, but she didn’t back away. Why would she? Even wearing her Vans she was taller than he was.

He raised one eyebrow in challenge. “Or at least that’s what Jason told me.”

Cassidy had gone out with Jason Cairns, a varsity baseball player, for two weeks at the beginning of sophomore year. Their relationship had come to an abrupt end when one night in the cab of his truck he’d rounded second base and tried to steal third. She’d almost broken his jaw. He’d told everyone it was because she liked girls.
Ah, life in a small, bigoted town.

Was Australia really far enough to get away from crap like this? She prayed it was.

“You guys run around in skintight pants playing grab ass all day, so I’d say kissing girls is a better option. Besides, if what Marissa Haliday says about you is true, Jackson, then your height isn’t the only thing about you that’s small.”

That wiped the smirk off his tobacco-stained mouth. The other guys guffawed behind him like the juvenile asses they were. Cassidy took Piper’s arm and led her and the others from the shop.

They all loaded into Piper’s purple Honda Civic and pulled out of the parking lot back onto Clarksville Street.

“That was epic, Cassidy,” Mei said, and laughed.

Izzy joined her. “Yeah, I thought Jackson was going to pee his pants right there.”

“Thanks, Cass,” said Piper. “You’re the best friend ever.”

Cassidy sat in the passenger seat, arms akimbo, still fuming. “That, ladies, is why we need to do this. We need a break from Paris, Texas. The sooner, the better.”

“Damn straight! I am
so
sick of the guys around here,” Izzy agreed.

“What about River?” Piper reminded her.

“Don’t you remember? He went to college. We’re on a break.”

“Didn’t look like you were on a break at the party,” Mei said.

“Trust me. We’re. On. A. Break. So, Costa Rica, here I come. I mean, why not?”

“Well, I’m not going to be the one left behind,” Mei said. “I guess I can take the SAT next semester. It’s not like it’s going anywhere.”

“Yay! I can’t wait,” Piper said. “I promise this is going to be the best thing we’ve ever done.”

Chapter 3
Izzy

Izzy slinked out of her room, hoping to escape to freedom unnoticed by any of the family members she’d rather avoid. Which, typically, was all of them.

She paused outside the bedroom of her younger brother, Shane. She could hear him in there pounding away on his keyboard. Oh, she couldn’t hear the music he was playing, of course—he had the headphones hooked up—but she could hear his fingers flying across the keys. She used to love listening to him play, back when he’d merely been very good, back before he was a prodigy. Before her mother had decided to sculpt him into a virtuoso. The better Shane had gotten, the crazier their mother had become, channeling more and more of her energy into her youngest son. No one else in the family seemed to think it was absurd for a teenage boy to spend eight hours a day practicing Liszt, but Izzy sure did.

She skipped down the stairs before she could contemplate breaking Shane out of jail.

The sounds of a football game roared from the den, along with a wash of football-fueled aggression. Her older brother, Linc, and half the football team were in there watching the tapes of their opponent for next week. Probably her father, too, since he was the high school football coach. There weren’t enough Jane Austen adaptations in the world to counteract that much testosterone.

Ducking down the hall toward the back of the house, she sniffed the air and caught a whiff of scorched poultry. Five years as a stay-at-home mom and her mother still burned to a crisp anything that passed within six inches of her gourmet cooktop. The woman should have stuck to litigation. Unfortunately, there weren’t many job opportunities for high-powered attorneys in Paris, something her father hadn’t considered when he resigned from his position as assistant coach for the University of Texas football team, picked up the whole family, and moved them from Austin to the desolate boondocks of northeast Texas. He’d been fostering John Wayne–like delusions of ranching. Her mother had been thrilled to devote herself full-time to Shane-the-musical-wunderkind, so really, Izzy was the only one who hadn’t benefited from the move.

Izzy bypassed the kitchen and ducked out through the side door. Once free, she dropped down on the steps outside the sunroom. For a moment, she felt a pang of something in her chest. Regret maybe. She fought against the stupid urge to go back inside to talk to her mother. To tell her everything that had happened with River the other night at the party. Mothers were supposed to be good at this sort of thing, right? True, hers probably wouldn’t be, but it was worth a try.

She considered it for about ten seconds. Then the smoke alarm went off in the kitchen. With a sigh, Izzy sent a text message to her mom explaining that she’d be at Piper’s for the night. Her mom probably wouldn’t check the message for hours. There were moments, like this one, when Izzy didn’t quite mind being invisible.

Slipping her cell into her back pocket, she headed for her car but stopped when she saw the overflowing garbage can by the garage. Taking it out was Linc’s job, and he’d once again thrown the recycling in with the trash. The jerk.

“It’s two feet away,” she grumbled as she transferred the aluminum cans into the recycle bin. “Would it kill him to walk the extra few steps?”

Her irritation with Linc made her clumsy, and one of her mother’s
Diet Coke cans bounced off the edge and rolled down the driveway, coming to a rest somewhere under Izzy’s flaky and unreliable Kia, Brittney.

Dropping to her hands and knees, she peered under the vehicle, then scooched on her belly and started wiggling. She’d just grabbed the can when she heard the rumble of a truck pulling into the driveway beside her.

Great. Someone was here: either a random delivery guy or another one of her father’s flunkies. And her father’s flunkies were precisely the kind of bully who made fun of a girl for crawling on her stomach for the betterment of the planet. And would possibly take pictures.

“Please be UPS. Please be UPS,” she muttered under her breath as she scooted out from under her car.

It wasn’t UPS.

She nearly groaned when she saw the familiar bright red of Tanner Colt’s gas-guzzling Dodge Ram pickup. Tanner leaned against the passenger-side door, legs stretched out in front of him, arms crossed over his chest, looking for all the world like he’d just settled in to enjoy the show. One eyebrow was arched and a smug smile curved the lips that Piper could rhapsodize about for hours.

“Hey, Isabel.”

“Well, if it isn’t Tanner Glock,” she snarled.

“Careful, Isabel. One of these days you’re going to run out of guns to make fun of my last name with.”

“Oh, I don’t know. With rednecks like you here to fuel the demand, I’m sure the gun manufacturers will keep me in supply. By the way, why are you always at my house? I mean, I know your parents live outside of Paris, but don’t you have family of your own around here?”

Ignoring her jab, he nodded toward the car. “You taking auto repair this semester?”

Izzy flashed the aluminum can. “Recycling, actually,” she quipped, trying to sound cool and collected. Suave even. As if she hadn’t just been crawling around on her belly.

She pitched the can toward the recycle bin, sending up a silent prayer that it would actually make it. It didn’t. Once again, the can rolled down the driveway. This time, Tanner grabbed it and sent it sailing straight into the tub. The show-off.

“You going to watch the movie with us?”

“What movie?”

“Your brother invited the team over to watch some slasher flick.”

“Absolutely.” She smirked, then wrapped her arms around her chest and faked an exaggerated shiver. “That explains the sudden temperature drop. Hell has actually frozen over, and I’m going to spend my free time hanging out with the baboons my brother calls friends.” Then she cocked her head and pretended to think about it for a second. “Nope. Still not cold enough.”

“Then I guess I’ll catch you on Monday.” He flashed her a wink and sauntered off into the house.

“I’ll be all shivery in anticipation.” But he was already gone.

Why was it that she spent most of her time being Invisabel Isabel—the girl no one noticed—but whenever she was doing something embarrassing, the most popular guy in school was there to witness it?

Not that she cared what Tanner Colt thought about her. But she
would
like to retain the last shreds of her dignity.

Still, as much as she wanted to, she couldn’t blame her bad mood on Tanner. That rested solely on River’s shoulders. The jerk hadn’t called her since the party out at Mike’s barn. Which might not have been such a big deal, if that hadn’t been the night they’d slept together for the very first time.

She was purposefully late to Piper’s. She didn’t want to be alone with anyone for fear of spilling her guts about River. What would have been the point?

BOOK: The International Kissing Club
11.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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