The International Kissing Club (8 page)

BOOK: The International Kissing Club
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Oh God, any minute now her mom would dig out Mei’s Mulan doll to comfort her, and her dad would kiss her on the forehead to make it all better. Sometimes it was easier for them to pretend she was still a little girl who didn’t truly understand what it meant to be adopted.

“I know you do, Mom,” she said with exaggerated patience. They were never going to get this. “It’s not about that. It’s just that I realized I want to know more about where I come from, culturally.” Though she considered the people in front of her her real mom and dad, she knew nothing about her life before the age of two—and it didn’t help that she was the only Asian at Paris High.

“You don’t have to go all the way to China to do that. That’s why we have the Internet.” Mei could tell her mom was doing her best to remain calm, but her fingers gripped the stem of her empty wineglass like a lifeline. “And you haven’t even used that Rosetta Stone DVD we got you.”

Nothing like a DVD to put you in touch with your cultural heritage. But she didn’t say that to her mom. “China’s where I’m from,
Mom. I’m your daughter, but I’m also Chinese … and you’re not. I need to understand what that means.”

“You know, Mei, your mother and I planned on taking you to China when you graduated from high school,” her dad said. “Why do this now?”

“I feel like this is something I have to do on my own. So, today I talked to Ms. Vogel, the guidance counselor. It’s only a ten-week trip, and I would be home in time for Christmas. She said doing this would be a great addition to my college applications.” Mei smiled brightly, hoping her parents didn’t notice the nervousness underneath. She’d been thinking for a while that she’d like to visit China, and now that the opportunity was right in front of her, she couldn’t let it pass. She only hoped throwing in the college application would sway things in her favor.

Not even close.

“You talked to the guidance counselor before you talked to us?” Her mother dropped all pretense of composure.

“Calm down, Susan.” Her dad pried the wineglass out of her mother’s hand before she broke it. “Mei, what is this really about?” They both pinned her with a searching look.

For the briefest moment, she considered telling them the truth. But … she just couldn’t. Not yet, anyway. Instead, she pulled out her ace in the hole: the only-child card.

“Piper, Izzy, and Cassidy are all going to be exchange students. We thought it would be fun to do it together—you wouldn’t want me to be left here alone, would you?”

“I should have known Piper was the instigator. Ever since y’all were kids she’s been the ringleader in one crazy scheme after another,” her mom said, exasperation in her tone. “That girl is going to end up just like her mother if she’s not careful.”

“This isn’t about Piper, Mom.” Mei clenched her hands in her lap. Had she toed the line so carefully all her life that her mother couldn’t even imagine she’d want to step off the path? “This is about me and a
great opportunity. Just promise me you’ll think about it before you answer, please.”

“Of course we will,” her dad said. And after he nudged her with his knee, her mom nodded, too.

Knowing she’d done all she could, Mei rose from the chair. “Okay, then. I’m going to go practice now.” She gave them both a kiss and climbed the stairs to her room. But instead of playing her guitar chords, she stood on the landing and listened to her parents. They were keeping their voices deliberately low, but if she held her breath, she could hear what they were saying.

“I don’t want her to go,” her mom said.

“Susan, she has a point: we can’t provide her with the answers she’s looking for. Maybe this is what she needs.”

“Yes, but why does she have to do it now? I’m not ready for this yet.”

“You’re never going to be ready, honey.”

“Rick, what if she’s looking for her family?”

her family, Susan, and nothing is going to change that. We always said we’d be supportive if she wanted more information about her birth parents …”

“I know, but saying that and facing it are two different things. Those people abandoned Mei, and I don’t want them to hurt her.”

Mei heard a muffled sob from her mother. It made her chest tighten.

“It’ll be okay, honey,” her dad said comfortingly.

Guilt made her slink to her room and silently close the door. Mei had played down and dirty and she knew it. Part of her wanted to tell them to forget the whole thing, but she didn’t. Instead, she sat on the bed and hugged her knees to her chest as tears slipped silently down her cheeks.

This was one time she couldn’t be the good daughter.

Chapter 5

“What do you think of these?” Piper asked, holding up a pair of skinny jeans. They were the exact shade of faded blue she liked, plus they were ripped in all the right places.

“I think they look exactly like the last three pairs you held up,” Cassidy answered with a grimace. “I’m so
the person to be asking. Come on, Izzy, help me out. Just pick a pair and let’s do this. I’m starving.”

“That’s easy for you to say—you already bought what you needed for the trip.”

“Because I’m a normal person.” Cassidy held up her lone bag, then gestured to the five Piper had been lugging around for the last hour. “You already have more clothes than anyone in Paris—Texas
France. Why do you need more?”

“We can’t all get by on a new pair of Vans and a cute sundress, Cassidy.”

,” interjected Izzy. “You just

Piper giggled. “Can you even see me in a pair of Vans?” She held up her foot, which was currently encased in her favorite pair of high-heeled sandals. “These are much more my speed.”

“I don’t think speed has anything to do with those,” Cassidy said.

Mei snorted. “Yeah, God forbid you should actually need to run.”

Piper looked pointedly at Mei’s Doc Martens. “Yeah, because you can win a marathon in

“I could if I had to,” Mei answered with a grin. “Which is more than you can say.”

“Seriously, Piper, are you going to get the jeans?” Cassidy asked. “Because I’m going to gnaw off my own arm if we don’t get some food soon.”

“Okay, okay.” Piper dropped the disputed jeans back on the table. “Let’s go. I don’t want to be the one to cause our star basketball forward to die of malnutrition.”

“Thank God,” Cassidy said. “Let’s hit the food court.”

A few minutes later they were all seated at a table, chowing down on chili-cheese fries and chocolate milkshakes. But after a few bites, Piper was all but squirming with excitement again.

She couldn’t believe that in just a few weeks, she would be walking along the banks of the Seine.

Strolling through French museums.

Studying art in the place where so many of the masters had lived.

Kissing boys in the city of love.

Her lips tingled at the thought. She
couldn’t wait for October to get here. In her mind, she was already there, racking up points with one lip scorcher after another. If things went according to plan, it wouldn’t be long before she would finally be able to get the feel of that whiskered snout off her lips.

Now, if only Germaine could see it. Stuck back in Paris, Texas, she’d die of envy.

“So, are we done here?” Izzy asked after taking a long sip from her milkshake. “Because it’s getting late and I want to hit the REI before we head back to Paris. I need to get some stuff, too.”

“Don’t you ever get sick of wearing clothes made from recycled bottles?” Piper teased her friend with a grin. “I mean, they look cute on you—especially the hemp stuff—but really, Izzy, it’s not like they’re the most fashionable things in the world.”

“Because fashion is so much more important than saving the environment,” Izzy snapped. “God, Piper, could you be a little shallower?”

Piper froze, a french fry halfway to her mouth, feeling a little bit like she’d been slapped. She and Izzy had been bickering back and forth about each other’s clothing choices since Izzy had moved to Paris in sixth grade. It was a time-honored event, one no trip to a Dallas mall would be complete without. She hadn’t meant to hurt Izzy’s feelings—she’d just been following tradition.

But one look at Izzy’s face said traditions were the last thing on her mind. For the first time, Piper wondered if something was really wrong with Izzy. She’d been extremely touchy lately, and everything set her off. At first Piper had thought it was because River was gone, but now she couldn’t help wondering if something had happened between them before he’d left. Not that she would dare ask right now—Izzy looked pissed, really pissed, and the last thing Piper wanted was for Izzy to jump down her throat again.

As she sat there trying to think of something to say to gloss over the tension, a little shiver of nerves worked its way down her spine. Even as she was looking forward to their international escapades, she couldn’t help feeling like everything was changing. Like maybe when they got back from this trip, things would be different. Not just with Germaine, but with the four of them as well.

At first, she’d thought that was a good thing—she couldn’t get rid of the Kiss the Pig moniker soon enough, after all—but now she wasn’t so sure. She wanted to change everything about herself, wanted to experience all the things she’d missed by being stuck in Paris, Texas, for sixteen years, but at the same time, she didn’t want everyone else to change, too. It might be selfish, but after the summer she’d had, she was terrified of losing what little she did have—namely, the three best friends any girl could ever ask for.

She wanted this trip badly. They all did, but now that it was slowly becoming a reality, Piper realized just how much she would miss them.

She’d miss Cassidy’s sarcasm, the way she always called things like she saw them. With her long blond hair and lean, athletic body Cass might look like Sporty Barbie, but she was so much cooler than that.

And Mei, who seemed so prim and proper on the outside with her always perfect black hair and flawless skin but who, inside, had the wild soul of a rock star.

Even Izzy, whose behavior had been strange and erratic lately but whom Piper always knew she could count on when she needed her. She had a feeling she would miss Izzy most of all. When she was in France, who would make her laugh so hard she was in danger of spewing?

She glanced at Izzy, realized her friend’s chocolate-brown eyes were completely spaced out. Even though she was sitting at their table, drinking her milkshake and twirling a lock of her hair around her finger, she was a million miles away. Maybe she needed someone to remind
for once that everything was going to be okay. “I’m sorry, Iz,” she said, even though she wasn’t really sure what she was supposed to be apologizing for. “I was just joking. You know I love your style.”

Izzy sighed, and it wasn’t until she relaxed that Piper realized how tense her friend had really been. Reaching out, she rubbed a hand between Izzy’s shoulder blades. “I know,” Izzy answered. “Sorry—I shouldn’t have jumped at you like that.”

“This much shopping would make anyone irritable,” Cassidy said, though the glance she exchanged with Mei told Piper that the two of them were also weirded out by Izzy’s strange behavior. “I’m pretty close to losing it myself.”

Izzy laughed and Piper shot Cassidy a grateful look—thank God her friends were so good at smoothing over the rough edges when she stuck her foot in it. Cassidy grinned back and Piper couldn’t help thinking that of the four of them, Cassidy looked the least like she was going to lose it. In fact, she was practically glowing, as if just the thought of getting out of Paris, Texas, for a while was enough to light her up from the inside.

Not that Piper blamed her. She’d had it rough ever since the Cotton Festival a few months before, but Cassidy had had it rough from the very beginning. Even though it was the twenty-first century, things in Paris hadn’t changed so much that people didn’t look down on Cassidy because her mom had gotten pregnant in high school. It was stupid and bigoted and enough to drive Piper crazy, but there it was.

That’s how the two of them had become friends, in fact. In kindergarten, one of the older kids had been teasing Cassidy about being a “bastard” while he walked by their table in the cafeteria. Piper hadn’t known what the word meant, but there was no mistaking the mean sneer on the boy’s face. Plus Cassidy had looked like she was about to cry, and Piper couldn’t stand that, so she’d picked up the huge bottle of ketchup on the table in front of her and squirted it all over the little jerk.

She’d spent the next week sitting on the bench at recess, but it had totally been worth it. Especially since Cassidy had sat with her every day. They’d been inseparable ever since, and every once in a while Cassidy still referred to the boy’s shirt as Piper’s first canvas.

As she looked around at her friends, Piper realized that she wasn’t the only one with a semiurgent reason to get out of Paris. Even Mei had a motive for going. Her entire life she’d been on the outside looking in. Sure, that had changed a lot when she and Cassidy had saved Piper from drowning before swim class when they were in second grade (they’d become fast friends), but it was still hard for Mei sometimes. Especially since her parents bent over backward to make sure she didn’t feel different—which usually ended up making her feel exactly that.

BOOK: The International Kissing Club
6.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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