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The Year I Became Isabella Anders, Page 8

Jessica Sorensen

  "You're still going to help me, right?" I ask. "You promised you would."

  "I told you I'd look into it, and I will, but I really think the best thing to do is talk to your father." She pats my back. "Take a few days and let the trip wear off then call me, and we'll figure something out."

  I nod, hugging her one last time before stepping away. "Thank you. Not just for the trip, but for everything."

  "I just want you to be happy, Isa." She rounds the car and opens the driver's side door, calling out, "And remember, I'm only a thirty minute drive away."

  "Aye, aye, Captain," I holler back.

  Laughing, she gets inside the car.

  I'm about to start up the driveway when the passenger window rolls down and Indigo sticks her head out.

  "You know, I'm going to be visiting at least once a week to make sure you don't go back to your baggy clothes, caterpillar eyebrows, and furry beast legs look," she warns. "And if you're not living up to your full potential, you're in deep shit. I'm talking hours and hours of reading beauty magazines."

  My face twists in disgust and I give her a salute. "Yes, boss."

  "And don't you ever forget that." She leans out to hug me. "I can also take care of your sister if you need me to. Seriously. I'm an expert in taking bitchy girls down from their pedestals."

  I smile to myself, thinking about how mafia her words sound, kind of like the last thing Kai said to me.


  I scrunch up my nose. He never did text me back after I sent that photo. I'm not sure why, but it really started to bother me. Not in an oh-my-God-it's-the-end-of-the-world sort of way, but more in a why-did-he-bug-me-for-a-photo-if-he-was-just-going-to-dis-me way.

  My gaze drifts to the house next door and then to my own oversized home. It's weird being back, so close to Kyler, Hannah, and Kai, when I no longer look like Swamp Thing. But changing my looks wasn't about any of them. I just felt an overwhelming need to change into a person who is more confident, and didn't base her looks on the negative comments her mother gave her over the years.

  After Grandma Stephy and Indigo pull out onto the street, I hike up the driveway, towing two of my four bags with me.

  I can do this. I'm Super Confident Girl, who fears no evil, who skinny-dips in the hotel pool late at night, and who dances at overcrowded clubs and kisses guys on Ferris wheels.

  By the time I reach the backdoor, though, Super Confident Girl has turned into Freak the Fuck Out Girl. I let go of the bags and stare at the door.

  "You can do this, Isa. Just walk on in and tell them to go . . ." I bite down on my lip as fear pulsates through me.

  "Tell them to go what?" Kai's amused voice sails over my shoulder.

  I sigh. Great. Just what I need right now. Intense, jokester guy next door who never texted me back.

  "I was going to say go fuck themselves," I answer, turning around to face him.

  He's rocking his typical look--a pair of shorts with no shirt. His blond hair's a hot mess, and an amused grin is playing at his lips. But the smile vanishes as he presses his lips together. His gaze skims across the boots, black floral dress, and leather jacket I'm wearing, lingering uncomfortably long on my bare legs. When his eyes land on my face, I feel like that poser again, the one who stepped out onto the streets of Paris wearing that red dress. The feeling has faded over the last few months, but it was easier to be confident with who I am now when I was in a club full of strangers who didn't know about my let-my-clothes-swallow-me-up-and-fade-me-into-the-background-of-my-sister's-shadow phase.

  "You look . . ." A somewhat perplexed, somewhat intrigued look crosses his face, and I seriously get a little excited over what's about to come out of his mouth. "Weird."

  "Oh, for the love of God." I turn back to my suitcases. Seriously. Seriously? All that changing and shaving and tweezing, and I get weird again.

  "Hey, I didn't mean that in a bad way," he says, but I can hear him chuckling. "Seriously, Isa. I'm sorry."

  I hear a thump and then the sound of footsteps heading my way. I spin back around then stumble back when I realize Kai is way up in my personal space.

  "It sounded a lot better in my head," he says to me as I regain my footing. "But hearing it aloud . . . yeah, I'm thinking weird might not be a compliment."

  "It's fine." I brush him off. "But, just for future reference, maybe you should repeat your compliments in your head a few times before saying them aloud."

  "Duly noted." He smiles again, going right back to his goofy, jokester self. "You know, that photo you sent me didn't do you any justice. I mean, I could tell you looked different, but not this different."

  I consider asking him why he never texted me back, but don't want to give him an opportunity to crack a joke about me obsessing over him.

  "So, was the trip everything you hoped it would be and more?" he asks lightly.

  I get whiplash from his sudden shift to formality, but whatever. "Yeah, it was pretty great. I seriously wish I could've stayed longer." Forever maybe.

  "Where did you even go? You said overseas, but that could be a ton of places."

  "That's because we went a ton of places." A smile touches my lips as I remember all the places I saw, all the people I met, how great I felt while on that trip. "But my favorite was probably Scotland."

  He goes all bug-eyed. "Holy shit, you went to Scotland? I thought when you said you were going with your grandma that you'd go somewhere cliche like Paris."

  "I did go to Paris too, with my grandmother and my cousin, Indigo, along with an entire old folks home," I say, shooting him a smile when he raises his brows like what the hell? "And FYI, Paris is awesome, and so are old people."

  "Maybe it was just you that made the trip and Paris cool," he teases with a cocky grin.

  I stick my finger into my mouth and pretend to gag. "That line was sooo cheesy."

  "So what? Admit it. You missed my cheesiness."


  "Not at all?" He fakes a pout. "Wow, way to crush my ego."

  I want to tell him no, but can't bring myself to do so. Deep down, I might have missed it just a bit. "Your ego needs crushing."

  He beams. "I knew you missed me."

  I roll my eyes. "Cocky much?"

  "I'm cocky all the time." He pauses, studying me in a way that makes me squirm. "You know, I don't think I believe you that Paris was awesome. I think I need proof." He makes grabby hands. "Let me see some pics so I can decide for myself."

  "I already sent you one," I remind him. "You didn't seem that thrilled about it."

  "I was too thrilled," he says. "You looked so content in that photo. It made me want to be there with you. I even made it my screensaver."

  I resist another eye roll. "You so did not."

  "I did too." He traces an x across his heart with his finger. "But I lost my phone, so I need new one."

  "Are you being seriously? Because sometimes I can't tell."

  "You think I'd lie to you?" he questions, jutting out his lip. When I stare at him, unimpressed, he sighs. "Look, I promise I'm not lying. I was at a party when you sent me the photo. I looked at it and remember thinking how great of a photo it was. Totally screensaver worthy. So that's what I did with it. Then I went back to the party, totally planning on texting you back and telling you how awesome of a photo is was. But then I got drunk and lost my phone." He shrugs. "Sorry. I really did like the photo."

  He seems like he's being genuine, but considering our past, trusting Kai is complicated. I attempt to get a read on him, but he's doing that smoldering stare thing that makes him hard to read.

  "Are you being serious right now about wanting to see all of my photos?" I ask. "Or is this like the time you asked to see my sketches then when I showed them to you, you told me you were just kidding and looked at me like I was a spazz."

  "I never said I was joking around, and I don't think you're a spazz," he says, sounding appalled. "I said I was just teasing you."

  "There's a difference?" I ask

  He shakes his head, his lips twitching. "Isa, there's a huge-ass difference between joking around with someone and teasing them."

  "Yeah, teasing's way, way worse."

  "No, it isn't," he insists. "Teasing is a compliment. It means I like you enough to tease you."

  "Well, if that's the case, then you must like me a freaking ton. Because you pretty much use all of your teasing energy on me. With everyone else, it's all," I flutter my eyelashes, "look into my eyes and swoon."

  "First of all," he aims a finger at me, fighting back a laugh, "I never flutter my eyelashes."

  "You might not think you do, but I've totally seen you do it before." I feel oddly gratified that I'm finally getting the upper hand in our conversation. Usually, he always gets me so flustered that I give up. But this time, he's the one getting all squirrely.

  "Name one time," he says, his eyes burning with fierce determination.

  "How about at Hannah's seventeenth birthday party?" I cross my arms and smirk as he grows fidgety. "You were trying to get her attention while she was swimming and you knelt down on the side of the pool, leaned in, and did this," I bat my eyelashes, "while whispering something to her. God knows what the hell you said, but it made her giggle, and you acted like a cocky asshole for the rest of the day."

  His lip twitches, but more out of annoyance. "That was a long time ago, and I was really, really bored that day and trying to piss Kyler off, because I thought he had a thing for Hannah. But I'm not that guy anymore."

  I choose to be completely ignorant over what he said about thinking Kyler had a thing for Hannah, and let Indigo's words about Kai replay in my mind. Maybe he feels bad about blowing you off. People do change a lot from when they were thirteen.

  "Are you saying you don't flirt with Hannah anymore?" I ask. "Or you don't flutter your eyelashes anymore?"

  "Both," he says, sticking out his hands again. "Now, let me see the photos of your trip."

  Sighing, I retrieve my phone from my purse and search for the folder labeled Trip. "My cousin actually took most of the photos. She's into photography, but I did take some." I tap the folder to open it then hand him the phone. "They're not great or anything, but there's some decent ones."

  After getting situated on the bottom step of the porch, he starts skimming through the photos, but stops on one of me standing with Indigo in front of a wall of skulls that form a heart. "Where's this?"

  "That's the catacombs," I answer, sinking down on the stair beside him. "Which are all these tunnels that go under Paris."

  He nods, browsing through a couple more photos then stops again. "Who's this guy feeding you a cupcake?"

  "That's Nyle. He lives in London, and he's friends with this guy, Peter, who my cousin knew from here."

  It was right after I kissed him. We'd gotten off the London Eye and stopped at a bakery. The photo was to be silly, but it still makes me smile as I look at it.

  Kai doesn't say anything else as he finishes looking through the photos. Then he hands me back my phone, rests back on his elbows, and stretches out his long legs. "Okay, so I didn't want to ask, because I thought it'd be rude. But I can't stop thinking about it, so I'm going to ask; otherwise, I'm going to either lose my mind or my head's going to explode. But before I ask, I just want you to know that I'm not trying to be rude. I'm just curious," he says then stops talking. Just like that. After that long-ass speech.

  "Dude, are you going to ask, or did you just say all that to drive me crazy?" I ask, stuffing my phone into my pocket.

  His eyes sparkle mischievously. "I was just trying to show you how I was feeling. Do you feel like you're losing your mind yet from not having the answer?"

  I pinch his side. I don't even know why I do it. Okay, maybe that's a lie. I've seen Indigo use the move on a couple of guys she was flirting with.

  Holy shit! I'm flirting with Kai.

  What the fuck is wrong with me?

  "Wow, you're violent." Kai chuckles, rubbing his side where I pinched him.

  "Sorry, I'm just impatient." I clasp my hands in front of me. "Would you please, please ask your question before I either lose my mind or my head explodes?"

  "Fine, I'll tell you." He mockingly rolls his eyes. "Geez, Isa, there's no need to get overdramatic." He flashes me a playful grin when I glare at him, pretending to be more annoyed than I am. "So, what's up with the new look?"

  "That's your question. Really?" I frown disappointedly. "I have to say, after all that build up, I thought you'd ask me something way more intense and awkward."

  His brow cocks. "Like what? If you're a virgin or something?"

  My cheeks flush, and I hate that he can see it. "No, that's not what I was thinking at all."

  He grazes his finger across my cheek. "I forgot how cute you are when you blush."

  The movement is so quick I barely register it, but my heart accelerates, my pulse pounding against my wrist, my neck . . . everywhere.

  My body is a damn betrayer, though, and my mind is yelling at me to be pissed off at him. He's talking about the past, back when we used to hang out, and he has no right to talk about those moments he decided to pretend never happened.

  "You've never seen me blush before," I lie, my voice a little shaky. I run my fingers over my hair, smoothing it into place. "And I decided to change my look. It's not a big deal."

  "There has to be a reason behind it, especially since I know you hate dresses and makeup and all that girly shit."

  "I've never hated girly shit. I was just confused . . . back then." Back when you stabbed me in the heart. "And I'm not that girly." I lift my feet and tap my boots together. "See. Totally not girly shoes."

  He bites back a smile. "Still, you're way different, and usually there's a reason why someone does a complete flip of the switch."

  I arch my brows. "You mean, like you?"

  He grimaces. "Yeah, I guess so."

  I consider his question, but the idea of telling him what I discovered about myself and my family while I was on the trip terrifies me. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours."

  His lips quirk, and his eyes darken. "What exactly are you talking about, Isa? Because when you say shit like that to me, my mind automatically goes right to the gutter." His gaze sweeps up and down my body, causing me to shiver. "But I'm more than happy to show you mine."

  I roll my eyes and shove him, but laugh. "Don't be gross."

  "Hey, you're the one who said it," he says with a grin.

  "I meant I'll tell you why I changed if you tell me why you changed."

  He considers what I said, but not for very long. "All right, keep your secrets then."

  "Okay, I will." I'm only a tiny bit sad he didn't tell me, because I'm curious why he decided to go from jock to this laid-back, I-don't-give-a-shit-about-anything version of Kai. But mainly, I'm glad, because I don't want to tell him my secret.

  He juts out his lip, pouting again. "You're really not going to tell me?"

  "You know that doesn't work on me, right?" I push to my feet, brushing the dirt off the backs of my legs. "I gave you a chance to know, but you didn't want to take it."

  He rises to his feet and stretches out his arms.

  I try not to stare as his shorts ride lower, but I stare a little. Unlike Kyler, Kai isn't muscly. Toned, yes. Lean, absolutely.

  "Well, maybe I'll change my mind," Kai says, crossing his arms over his chest and stealing my view from me. "Maybe I'll decide to tell you all my secrets, and then you'll have to tell me yours."

  "When that happens, then that happens." I give a nonchalant shrug.

  "Okay, well . . ." He struggles for words, seeming a little unsure of my blase attitude.

  I smile, like a full on, evil villain, I-just-kicked-your-ass smile. He's so used to getting his way, and I can tell it's driving him crazy that I'm not caving to his charming smiles and adorable pouts.

  "Smile all you want. Just know that I have tricks up my sleeve. I'll get you to tell me when you least
expect it."

  I raise my hands in front of me and dramatically gasp. "Oh no. Whatever should I do? Kai Meyers has got tricks up his sleeve and he's going to use them on me." I lower my hands as he glares at me. "You forget I know the side of you that had magic tricks up his sleeve and dreamt of being a magician."

  "You promised you'd never say anything about that," he warns, aiming a finger at me. "And that was, like, when I was twelve. I outgrew that fucking weird phase."

  "For your information, I liked that phase," I say, reaching for my suitcases. "You may think it's weird because it's different, but different is so much better than normal." When he gives me a confusedly intrigued look, I ask, "Why are you looking at me like that?"

  He shrugs, scuffing his boots against the concrete. "It's nothing."

  "It's something." I tug on the bags and start dragging them up the stairs. "You're looking at me like I'm . . . I don't know, funny or something. And I wasn't trying to be funny."

  "It's not that." He snatches a bag from my hand. "I was just thinking how you still sound like . . . you."

  "I am still me. Just in different clothes. So, stop being weird." I move to grab my bag back, but he dodges out of my reach and somehow manages to steal the other one from me.

  "Isa, for God's sake, let me try to be a gentleman," he says, heading for the backdoor with my bags.

  "I didn't know you knew what that word meant." I chase after him, smirking.

  "I learned it ten seconds ago when I took your bags," he quips, flashing me a haughty smile from over his shoulder as he opens the door. "Don't think this is all out of the kindness of my heart, though. I'm mostly doing it so you'll give me my present." He pauses, waiting for me to confirm if I got him a present like he asked.

  I want to tell him no, just so I don't have to witness that cocky smile I know he's going to give me, followed by an Ah-ha! I knew you liked me.

  But I did get him something while on my trip.

  When I remain silent, his face lights up. "I knew you'd get me one." His grin expands. "Just like I knew you liked me."

  "It's not that great of a present," I try to sidetrack his attention off the meaning of my present. "So don't get too excited," I warn, but then sigh when he continues to bounce with excitement. "Fine. Take my bags upstairs, and I'll give it to you."

  "Wow, that's pretty forward of you." He bites on his bottom lip, trying really hard not to laugh at me.