Appealed, Page 8Emma Chase
on the dashboard. Like it’s the most natural thing in the world, I dip my head and press my lips against hers. They’re achingly soft and warm. I trace her lips with my tongue, but they stay tightly closed, and I laugh against her mouth.
She pulls back. “What?”
I look into the gorgeous eyes of the girl I’ve known my whole life, and my only thought is, what the hell took me so long to do this?
My thumb slides slowly across her jaw. “Have you ever kissed anyone before?”
The last time we talked about it, sophomore year, she hadn’t.
But she doesn’t blush or recoil at the question. Her voice is low and kind of panting. “Of course I have. Why? Are you saying I’m bad?”
I don’t know who the hell she’s been kissing, but whoever it was—they must’ve been piss poor at it. This pleases me.
“Nope. But you’re about to get even better.” I lean forward, brushing against her lips again. “Open your mouth for me, Kennedy.”
Then there’s only kissing—head-turning, lip-sucking, tongue-sliding kind of kisses. Her taste makes me feel a little drunk. And the whisper of my name from her lips makes me feel a little crazy.
Clothes find their way to the floor of the car. And every moment is easy and natural, and so fucking right.
Afterward, we’re pressed against each other in the same seat, boneless and spent. And I get why they make so many cheesy movie scenes that end just like this—because it just doesn’t get more perfect than right here, right now.
Kennedy smiles up at me and I kiss her forehead, and together we watch the sun rise.
• • •
The next morning, my parents make me get up early—drop me back at school early—because my father has some meeting to get to back home. They leave a message for the Randolphs at the front desk. It sucks that I don’t get to see Kennedy before we go, but I’m consoled by the thought that I’ll see her at school.
Everything is going to be different now.
When I get to my room, I hop in the shower. My thoughts helplessly drift to last night. The feel of Kennedy’s hands on me. The sounds she made—little moans and greedy whimpers.
Let’s just say it’s convenient that I’m in the shower.
I step out of the bathroom with a towel around my hips and water still trickling down between the grooves of my abs.
Cashmere is laid out on my bed—wearing my lacrosse jersey and nothing else. She’s all hooded eyes, pouty lips, tan skin, and teased blond hair—ready for a Playboy photo shoot. There was a time my dick would’ve led me straight to her and I would’ve happily followed—all our problems solved.
But not anymore. I’m done letting my dick lead me around—it’s time to start following my heart. And I know how corny that sounds, but I don’t give a shit.
“What are you doing here?” I slip boxer briefs on under the towel—it just doesn’t feel right to let her see me bare-assed anymore.
“Do I need a reason to visit my boyfriend?”
“Not your boyfriend anymore.”
Her eyes roll. “Of course you are.”
“You broke up with me, remember?” I pull my practice jersey over my head.
Cashmere crawls toward the end of the bed. “It was a mistake.” She purrs, “I’m sorry. Let me make it up to you.”
I’ve been with this girl for a year. Screwed her every way I know how, and thought that was love—but at his moment, I feel nothing for her. It’s almost scary. No guilt, no tender urge to protect her feelings. I’m not sure she has any. It’s really fucked up.
“If you didn’t, I would’ve broken up with you. We’re done, Cazz.”
Her eyes drop to the bulge in my boxers and she licks her lips. She rises to her knees and moves to wrap her arms around my neck. “You don’t look done to me.”
I catch her wrists and look at her hard.
“Trust me, I’m done.”
Anger flashes in her hazel eyes, sharp and vindictive and oh-so familiar. “I heard you hung out with your little freakazoid friend this weekend.”
My grip on her wrists tightens. “Don’t call her that.”
Her mouth twists into a nasty knot. “Did you fuck her? Is that what this is about?”
I drop her wrists and take a step back. “This has nothing to do with Kennedy.”
“Oh, please. You would never turn me down unless you already had someplace new to stick your dick into. I know you, Brent.” She slides off the bed and trails the tip of her finger slowly up my arm. “And that’s why I know when you’re done with your little trip into Loserville—you’re going to come right back to me. We’re too good together.”
Because she’s the hottest girl in school, I used to get a charge out of hearing her talk like that—a rush of confidence. Now it just makes me think that Cashmere is total bunny-boiling material.
“Take my jersey off. We have a game tomorrow night; it’s bad luck if you wear it. Leave it on the bed.”
And before she even starts to take it off, I’m out the door.
• • •
Lacrosse practice runs overtime. One of our starting defenders busted his ankle last week, trying to parkour between two garbage dumpsters. He’s kind of an idiot. The second string taking his place is a freshman—good but nervous—so Coach and I stayed after practice to work with him and to go over the opposing team’s game tapes. It’s dusk by the time I leave the gym.
Walking back to my dorm, my lacrosse bag over my shoulder, I’m in a great mood. I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling all day. I may even whistle a merry tune. My mother had a thing for Gene Kelly when I was a kid, and in my head, I’m totally doing the “Singin’ in the Rain” dance.
Three guys are standing on the dorm building’s steps. And even though I’m not the type who listens to other people’s conversations, two words zoom straight to my eardrums, like a nuclear missile: Kennedy Randolph.
And my mental Gene Kelly is struck by a bolt of lightning and bursts into flames.
“I told you she’d say yes, dumbass. I don’t know why you waited three years to ask her.”
That’s Peter Elliot. He’s a science kid—biology. He got a grant from the federal government last year to cross-breed poisonous caterpillars, I think. And he’s talking to William Penderghast and Alfonso DiGaldi. They’re on the brainier end of the spectrum too—quiet, kinda bland guys who spend most of the weekend in the library.
“You can’t rush these things. The timing had to be just right. But now the stars have aligned and Kennedy Randolph is going to the movies with me this Friday. Maybe I should rent a limo.”
William laughs for no reason. Smiles so big and bright it almost hurts to look at him—because he looks like how I felt just ten seconds ago.
I walk straight up to them, eyes on William. “Did you just say you’re going out with Kennedy Randolph?”
William puffs himself up a little bit. “That’s right.”
No fucking way.
“When . . . when did you ask her?”
He looks at me. “Like, a couple hours ago. Why?”
No fucking way.
“I . . . just . . .”
There’s only one explanation—there are two Kennedy Randolphs at this school.
I go with that.
“Kennedy?” I ask, using my hands to imitate her height. “Short, glasses, brown hair? My . . .” I swallow. “That Kennedy?”
And out of the blue, he starts to look pissed. Affronted. “That’s right. She’s smart, funny, and has the biggest heart of anyone I know. She’s also got a beautiful smile and eyes that are the most fascinating—”
I walk away. I can’t listen anymore. If I do—I’ll fucking lay him out.
I head straight for the girls’ upperclassmen dorm. I don’t think, I don’t stop to talk to anyone, and my jaw is so tight it’s a miracle my teeth haven’t cracked by the time I get there.
I pound on her door with the side of my fist�
��and I don’t stop until it opens.
Her eyes look shiny behind the glasses, her nose a little red—like she’s getting a cold. Her gaze traces over my face for a few seconds and then her back straightens. “What’s up?”
“Are you going out with William Penderghast?”
She steps out into the hall with me, closing the door behind her.
And then she blows my soul to kingdom come.
“Yes, I am. Why do you ask?”
For a second I don’t answer her. It takes me time to find any words.
“Why do I ask? Because what about last night?” I try to keep the devastation out of my voice, but I don’t know if I manage it. “I thought . . . I wanted . . .”
Her voice cuts, like a razor blade to the wrists. “Last night was fun. But it didn’t mean anything—I know that. I can handle fun just like everybody else. And now I’ll do my thing with William and you do yours with—”
“You’ll do your thing with William? Seriously? What the fuck was I—the warm-up act?” I yell, anger on full display.
Fury flashes in her eyes, turning them aflame. “What’s the matter, Brent? Did I hurt your precious boy-feelings? Did you expect me to follow you around like every other girl in school? Take your crumbs when you’re feeling charitable?”
I don’t really understand everything she’s saying—the haze of disappointment is too crushing. Because, yeah, it hurts. As lame as it sounds, last night meant something to me. She means something to me. And apparently I don’t mean dick to her.
So I do what comes natural. Cover it up. “I’m just surprised, is all. If I knew you were so easy, I would’ve hooked up with you years ago.”
Her cheeks go fire-flaming red—with embarrassment or anger, I can’t tell.
“I’m not easy.”
“You sure? You may not think you’re easy, but actions speak louder than words. William and I will have to compare notes to see. Because I didn’t even have to try last night. It felt pretty fucking easy to me.”
It’s a shitty thing to say. I wouldn’t be surprised if she slapped me—that’s what girls do when they’re offended. That’s why they call it a bitch-slap.
But, like I’ve always known, Kennedy Randolph isn’t your average girl. She doesn’t slap me.
She punches me. Right in the mouth.
My head snaps back and I taste blood.
But when I open my eyes, when I look back at her face, all the anger bleeds out, like a hemorrhaging artery. Because Kennedy doesn’t look furious anymore, or even angry.
She looks . . . crushed. Holding back tears—but just barely.
“I hate you,” she forces out, shaking her head. “I hate you.”
Her words reverberate in my bones, echo in my head.
In history, we watched a documentary on the Vietnam War, with actual footage of a battle from a reporter’s camera—of a soldier, a young guy who was shot.
And when it happened, his face, more than anything, looked surprised—stark white with shock . . . because there was suddenly a hole in his chest where his heart had just been.
When Kennedy turns her back and slams the door in my face—I feel the exact same way.
The present, in the pub
“I went to your room that morning. She answered the door in your jersey—said you were in the shower. She offered to let me wait, but she warned me that you two were back together. That I’d look really desperate just showing up at your room like that.” Kennedy swallows hard and breathes deep. Like the memory alone is causing her actual pain.
“She never told me—”
“No, she wouldn’t have, would she?” Kennedy looks into my eyes, smiling bitterly. “I was going to wait. I thought I at least deserved to hear it from you.” Her voice strangles at the end, her eyes shinier than they should be. “But then Cashmere asked me what I had really expected. She said you were a hero and I was a zero and nothing was going to change that. Did I really think you would leave someone like her for someone like me?” She licks her lips slowly.
“I was still reeling from the night before. From the excitement, the total fucking joy over what we’d done. But when she put it like that . . . I believed her. So I left. William stopped me in the quad on the way back to the dorm. He asked me out . . . and I said yes.”
I can’t speak; I’m too busy reliving those moments, seeing them now from her side. And realizing all the things I didn’t do, all the things I never said.
“I liked you,” I whisper to the table. Then I look at her. “I liked you so much.”
I still do. Behind those contact lenses, under makeup and designer clothes, she’s still her. I can still taste her, feel her on my fingertips, so smooth and slick. Fearless in the way she wanted me, clutched me close like she’d never wanted to let go.
Her forehead crinkles with confusion. “But you did get back together with Cashmere. You didn’t speak to me that whole year until—”
Kennedy obviously still doesn’t understand jack shit about men. Or boys—because back then, I was definitely a boy.
“You told me our hookup meant nothing to you. That I was nothing and you were dating William. When I got pissed about it, you told me you hated me.” I wipe a hand down my face. “I got back together with Cashmere because you didn’t want me and she did. She was a substitute. I didn’t want to look like a loser. And I didn’t speak to you because it was too fucking hard.”
“We were friends—”
“Not to me.” I shake my head, capturing her gaze and holding it tight. “Not after that night. I didn’t want your friendship, Kennedy—I wanted you. And if I couldn’t have you—I had to pretend you didn’t exist. Because then I could tell myself I wasn’t missing out on everything I knew I was.”
But I’d still thought about her. I’d dreamed about her.
And I missed her—all the time.
She gazes at the table, lost in her thoughts. Then she looks up, wetting her lips—seeming like she’s decided something.
“So that’s why you did it,” she says softly. “You wanted to get back at me, and hurt me. Congratulations—you succeeded.”
Something in her tone puts me on alert, and I lean in closer. “What exactly do you think I did?”
Her mouth is hard. “You set me up. You humiliated me. You . . . broke me that night, Brent.”
I double-check. “The night of the senior dance?”
This is it. This is what I’ve been waiting fourteen years to know.
I tell her, “Pretend that you’re a witness on the stand. Start from the beginning and tell me about the dance. Make me understand.”
Kennedy scrapes her lip with her teeth. “In April, I started getting instant messages when I was online. From you. They said ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I miss you.’ You talked about how you wanted to be with me, but you couldn’t break up with Cashmere right then. You said it was a family thing—something about a business deal between your fathers.”
She takes a drink of her beer, then goes on.
“I didn’t believe it was you, at first. I thought it was a prank. But the messages kept coming, and they sounded so much like you. So as a test, I asked you about our first kiss. Where it was.”
She pauses and I hold my breath.
“You said the roof, on New Year’s Eve, when we were nine. And that’s when I knew it was you. I was so excited. For so long, I’d wanted . . .
“Anyway, the week before the dance, you sent me an IM saying you wanted to see me. You wanted to dance just one dance with me. You asked me to meet you by the lake behind the auditorium. Vicki didn’t like it, but I was too far gone to care. I called Claire and asked her to come help me with my makeup and a dress. She was so happy—like a fairy godmother.”
Her voice cracks on the last word, and I feel sick. Because I know how this story ends.
“My dress was white—it was lovely, and it mad
e me feel lovely too. My hair was down, curled and shinier than I ever remember it being.”
She looks at my face with the saddest smile.
“And I wore contact lenses, for the first time in my life.”
My hands fist on the table; my throat so dry I can barely swallow.
“I waited by the lake—I could hear the music from the auditorium. I heard a sound, like a footstep, and I called your name. But no one answered.”
She takes a deep, slow breath.
“And then, I got hit in the chest with mud. There was more than one person and they were laughing. It seemed like it came from all directions, all at once. It was cold and gritty. It hit my arms, my dress, my face. A stone cut me.” She motions to a tiny scar on her cheek. “It only lasted a few seconds, but it felt like forever. I fell down and I begged them to stop. And I cried.”
She’s not crying now. Her eyes are dry and far away.
“I didn’t even realize it had stopped at first. I stayed there on the ground for a long time. I couldn’t believe you had done this to me—and I was so angry with myself for believing you. Eventually, I stood up, wiped myself off as best I could. I knew I’d have to walk past the auditorium. And of course, it was just my luck that the entire senior class was outside when I did.”
I remember seeing her—her eyes wild and wounded. I didn’t know what had happened, and she wouldn’t talk to me.
“You looked so horrified, Brent. So devastated—and when you wrapped your jacket around me, I almost believed you really didn’t have anything to do with it. But then Cashmere came up, offered me a tissue, and pretended to be so sympathetic. I could see in her eyes that she was laughing, but she sounded really convincing. So I knew you must have been a part of it too.”
I can still hear her, her voice a raw whisper when she told me, “You’re sick. There’s something wrong with you. Stay away from me. Just . . . stay away.”
“Then Vicki and Brian came and took me to the infirmary, then back to our room.”
And there it is.
Rage makes my hands shake on the table. So fucked up.
Did I say sometimes kids are assholes? No—sometimes they’re sociopaths. And apparently I was dating their queen.
“I should have followed you,” my voice scrapes out. More than anything, I want to go back in time and kick the shit out of my seventeen-year-old self. “That night—I should have gone with you to the infirmary. I’ve always regretted it.”
She says nothing.
“When I went to your dorm the next morning, you were gone.”
“Claire came to get me,” she answers quietly. “She tore into Headmaster Winston on the phone and convinced him to let me finish my classes online.”
“I waited for you—all summer, I kept going to your house. You never came home.” It’s important that she knows I looked for her.
“Claire and I spent the summer in Europe. The whole thing actually made us closer.”
“I didn’t know.”
Her head tilts to the side and she shakes it in doubt. “Brent, come on . . .”
I just barely keep myself from shouting. “Why would I lie? After all this time—all these years, what could I possibly have to gain from lying to you now? I wouldn’t do that to you. I didn’t know.”