"Honest and constantly interesting.”—Kirkus Reviews
Sam is in love with her best friend Nick, but she can’t seem to tell him. So she decides to flirt with golden-boy Carter Wellesley, hoping Nick will see it and finally realize his true feelings for her.
On Monday, everyone at school is saying that Carter raped Sam. He didn’t, but Sam can’t find the words to tell the truth. Worst of all, she’s afraid she’ll lose Nick if he finds out what really happened.
As graduation approaches, Sam discovers that living the lie isn’t as easy as her new friends make it sound—and telling the truth might be even worse
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
~Sir Walter Scott
“Close your eyes.”
“What? Why?” Nick Davis, my best friend, gives me a freaked-out look that makes me laugh. He really is too easy to shock.
I lean back into the buttery leather bucket seat of Nick’s mustang. “Just do it.”
He lets out a big exasperated sigh and closes his eyes, leaning his head back against the headrest. I grab my backpack out of the back seat and unbutton my pants, glancing out into the darkened night. A group of girls pass by in the gravel not far from Nick’s car, their giggles breaking the silence. They’re heading toward the glowing house in the distance. There’s no way anyone can see me, but it still makes me nervous.
When he hears the zipper of my jeans, his eyes pop open.
I scramble to cover up my new lace-edged underwear. “No peeking! Geez!”
He purses his eyes shut as butterflies swarm my stomach. I can’t believe I’m going to change in front of him.If his eyes pop open again, I’ll never forgive him.
“What are you doing?
“Changing.” I struggle to pull my jeans off in the cramped front. This sounded easier in my head. Thank god for the darker-than-dark tint on his windows, because I’m still struggling to untangle the jeans from my ankles, panic welling up.
“Why?” His voice sounds weird, kind of breathy. My heart flutters before I force it back under control.
“It’s not like I could walk out of the house in what I wanted to wear.” I pull the skirt out of my backpack and slip my bare feet into it, then shimmy it up over my hips. When the zipper on the side slides up, Nick peeks again, with one eye at first, then they both flare so wide it’s like one of those cartoons, where the wolf’s eyes pop out of his head.
My heart goes kerthunk this time. Maybe I should have thought of this sooner, should have dressed up to look more like Reyna, his on again, off again girlfriend.
Right now, I’m pretty sure they’re on again. To my utter, heart-crushing disappointment.
He looks outraged. “What the hell is that?”
I roll my eyes and try to pretend it’s no big deal. “It’s called a skirt.”
“That is not a skirt. That is a Band-Aid.”
I snort. “You know as well as I do that Carter won’t take a second look at me if I’m dressed the same as always.”
I think he flinches when I say Carter. I also think I imagine it. This is the game in my head every time I’m around Nick these days. The does he, doesn’t he game. I hate it. And tonight it ends.
I realized I loved Nick the first time I saw him with Reyna, watched the way his lips curled upward when he looked at her, saw his eyes sparkle in a way they never had when it was just us two. And as she trailed her fingers down his arm, laughing flirtatiously, I realized I didn’t want to be just friends anymore, but by then it was too late.
Now all I ever do is watch them break up and get back together and break up and get back together and I can never seem to tell him how I feel. So I’ve enacted Plan B. I’ll make him think something’s going on with Carter Wellesley, the worlds biggest flirt, and once I see his reaction, I’ll finally know if Nick could ever see me like he sees Reyna.
He pulls the key from the ignition, the bulky key-ring jingling in his hand. The throaty rumble of his five-year-old mustang cuts off, plunging us into silence. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
I fight the urge to smile and instead slide deeper into the black leather bucket seat, trying not to fidget. Instead I smooth out the sequined teal mini-skirt as I peer out into the darkness, trying to make out some of the shadowy figures approaching Carter’s house. Carter is Mossy Rock High School’s golden boy, the one with the flawless smile and wicked fastpitch. In the twelve years we’ve all gone to the same school system, I’ve watched him flirt with every girl in school, including me, once or twice, which is why he’s the perfect one for tonight.
It’s barely nine, but the bash is quickly reaching full steam. Even from our curbside vantage point, I can tell most of the school is already here. Not that it means much—our whole senior class has forty-seven students. Forty five, if you nix the stoner twins who have hardly shown up at all this month.
“Yes,” I say, with fake confidence, the cheap sequins digging into my palms. I have to force myself to let go of the skirt before I ruin it. “We graduate in two weeks. If I don’t do it now, Carter will never even know my name.”
“He knows your name. We’ve gone to school together since Kindegarden. It’s impossible to not know your name.”
I shoot Nick a glare. “Sometimes he calls me Pam.”
“He probably does that on purpose. Besides, at least it rhymes with Sam.”
I narrow my eyes further. “Don’t be stupid, Nick.”
“Don’t be stupid, Nick,” he parrots back at me, in an annoying, nasally voice. There’s no way I sound like that. He’s pissed off , and I let myself hope that means something. Why else would he get riled up about me going for Carter? God let me be right.
Nick blows out a long, slow breath and leans his head back against the leather headrest, which will probably make his bed-head look even more attractive to the girls in the party. The messier his thick brown hair gets, the more they cling to him like Reynolds wrap. I bet if he used his graphing calculator, he could show the exact moment that he would get the maximum effect.
Must be nice. I spent forty-five minutes trying to tame my dark-blonde curls into something resembling Taylor Swift, but I look more like a Lady Gaga-inspired disaster. I’m struck again by the dull pain of thinking that maybe if my mom were still around, she could have helped me.
I stare Nick down, but now he won’t meet my eyes. I think I have a heart arithmia now, it’s spasming all thud THUD thud THUD.
He’s mad I’m going for Carter. He’s upset I’m dressed in a mini-skirt. He won’t meet my eyes. Please let this mean what I think it means.
“Your dad would kill both of us if he saw you in that,” he says, resignation in his voice.
“Which is why he’ll never know.”
“You know this is a bad idea,” he says, staring out the windshield.
“No, it is not a bad idea. Carter broke up with Tracey two weeks ago. The timing is perfect.” Why does he have to try so hard to talk me out of it? It’s not going to change my mind, it’s just going to make me nervous.
I grip the door handle.. “Seriously,” I say, “Stop trying to psych me out. I’m doing it.”
“Whatever,” he says gruffly. “ Let’s just go in.”
I nod, try not to visibly gulp. I climb out of the car and slam the door extra-hard, ignoring the wince Nick gives me. I grip my purse in one hand and use the other to adjust the miniskirt that seems to have ridden up so high I might be showing off my thong.
Thong. I can’t believe I bought one of these ridiculous things. But I’ve watched Carter for four years, and he doesn’t go for my usual look: t-shirts and Levis. Carter is high school perfection: a man’s man who actually opens doors; a guy who can fix a car but also knows to open doors and buys flowers for his girlfriend. Well, before they broke up.
I chose him because it’s easy. He’s single, and he’s flirty, and that’s all I need.
I take in a long breath and blow it out through my mouth as I stride across a lawn so well-manicured it would make a golf course proud, Nick trailing behind .
There are three guys sitting on a brick planter to my right, and I can feel their eyes boring right into me. The confidence I faked in the car disappears completely and I try to walk as if I don’t notice them watching me.
I totter my way to the front door, following behind a lanky redhead in a lace-edged tank top and jeans so tight they look painted on. When the leaded-glass and oak door swings open, a base beat rumbles out. It sounds like Flo Rida. Figures Carter would listen to this stuff. What’s wrong with a little country?
The crowd inside is thick, shoulder-to-shoulder. I have to turn sideways to squeeze in far enough that Nick can enter behind me.
Even with the cavernous, twenty foot ceilings, it feels a little cramped. I get caught in a stream of people, jammed in the mix, shoulder-to-shoulder, and it forces me to migrate away from Nick, toward the kitchen. I don’t know where Carter even found this many people. Maybe there are juniors here too.
I know I’m too smashed-in for people to notice me or what I’m wearing, but I feel like every eye in the room is on me. It’s warm and it’s as if every inch of my skin is already glistening with sweat. This was a bad idea. What had sounded brilliant while in the safe cocoon of my bedroom now seems ridiculous.
But this will work. I know it will. Nick will see me flirt, and feel that same twinge I did the first time I saw him with Reyna—a dull ache in that took up residence in my chest.
A long plastic trough filled with ice and bottles of alcohol is all the invitation I need. I grab the first thing I see-- hard lemonade -- and twist off the cap. I take a long, relentless drink, downing at least half of it in one swoop. I’m not a drinker, not normally. My dad’s a cop—the chief of police, in fact--and he’d kill me if I went out partying like this. As it is, he thinks I’m at a mock U.N. meeting. I don’t even think we have those at our school, but he doesn’t actually know anything about me, or who I am, so he didn’t think much of it.
I’ve only been drunk once, Sophomore year, when Nick and I were sneaking alcohol out of the cooler during a particularly busy Fourth of July barbeque at his house.
But right now the butterflies are multiplying too fast. I just need one drink. Maybe two. Then I can reassess this plan. Possibly ditch it all together.
The effect of the alcohol is almost instant. It’s like warm fingers unfurling inside my stomach. I guzzle the rest of the bottle, then toss it and pick up another, relishing the quieting of the butterflies.
Carter Wellesley is the closest thing this Podunk town has to a celebrity. He’s captain of the football, basketball, and baseball teams. I guess that’s not a huge accomplishment, considering anyone with the slightest athletic ability is practically drafted onto the team, but he makes it look effortless. He’s not brilliant, but he’s funny, and people are drawn to him like a moth to flame. Aside from dating Tracey for a record-breaking two months, he’s not into attachment, at least as far as I can tell. I sip the lemonade, finally turning away from the granite counter and looking back into the big great room. Finals are mostly over, and it seems like the entire senior class is here to celebrate. I guess that’s nothing crazy, in a town this small. This stifling. What else is there to do?
I scan the crowd, looking for Carter’s perfect shaggy blonde hair and intense blue eyes. It’s too warm in here for his trademark letterman’s jacket—the one positively filled with patches for every sport he’s mastered.
Instead, my eyes land on Nick. He’s stuck near the door, and already people are gravitating toward him, hive-fiving and slapping his back, trading jokes and barbs. You’d think he just won an Oscar for Best Motion Picture or something, the way everyone carries on.
He meets my eyes, nodding, and I tip my chin up back at him. And then the moment scatters as a tall brunette with exotic dark eyes flings her arms around him.
It’s Reyna, his ex-girlfriend. No, girlfriend, no ex any more. I think. She looks a little drunk, what with the awkward sloppiness of the hug.
Oh god, we’re wearing the same obnoxious, sequined mini-skirt. But she was smart enough to wear it with low gladiator sandals instead of sky-high stilettos. She looks beach chic; I look like a go-go dancer. I knew I went overboard.
I tear my eyes away from them, feeling my cheeks flame, and guzzle the beer in my hand until it’s empty, and the heat is no longer due to embarrassment.
The energy in the room seems to hum and change, and I realize Carter has walked in. Maybe walk is the wrong word. He seems to glide, floating into the room as if he’s above everyone else, as if he doesn’t need to touch the ground like us mere mortals. And people part like the
Red Sea for him, smiling, waving, staring. I’m surprised they don’t drop to their knees and bow.
He’s walking toward me. Straight toward me. I try to breathe in slowly, keep the pressure from squeezing my lungs too tightly. I need this to work. I need him to notice me, flirt with me, laugh with me. Nick is just across the room. If he saw Carter sling an arm around me, saw him tuck a tendril of hair behind my ear, maybe, finally, he’d see me.
When Carter meets my eyes, gives me that glowing smile of his, I’m like butter in a hot pan, and I think I might melt right into my terribly uncomfortable shoes. He’s dazzling. It’s no wonder all the girls are after him.
“Hey,” he says, stopping so near me that our toes seem to touch, and the presence of him is more intense than ever. I want to shrink back and lean forward at the same time.
I never realized how tall he is, almost as tall as Nick. He must be six-foot. And I’m five-three on a good day. “Hi,” I say, in my perkiest voice, smiling so widely he can probably tell I’ve had my wisdom teeth pulled.
Way to look crazy. I probably should have stuck with that flippant, bored look his ex, Tracey, has mastered. Does he like it if girls come on strong? It’s not like I am going to sleep with him. I’d never go that far. I just need to flirt with him, maybe get him to give me a playful pinch, tug on one of my curls, or something.
We share a long, silent moment. I smile demurely in his direction. I think. I’m not entirely sure what smiling demurely feels like. I try to find something intelligent to say. Something to break the ice, get us talking. Something flirty, that will let me know I’m interested.
Then he clears his throat and raises his eyebrows. My smile falters. I can’t read his look.
“Um, you’re blocking the beer,” he says. His voice is booming. So loud.
I think I hear someone snicker.
“What?” Every move I make is weird, jerky, mechanical. I have lost all ability to control myself. My heart lands somewhere in my feet. I’m making a fool of myself. This will never work.
I twist around and realize I’ve been standing in front of the beer trough. And since there are so many people gathered around, Carter can’t get to it.
I step back, knock right into someone else, and he reaches forward, grabbing two bottles by the neck and then stepping away from me.
“Thanks,” he says, and for one millisecond he meets my eyes and I feel the glow of his look, realize what it would feel like if he actually cared who I was. I suddenly get why other girls are enamored by him, would do anything to catch his eye.
But I can’t say you’re welcome before he’s already gone, vanishing into the crowd. This isn’t how I imagined it. It’s not how it would work in one of my books.
I pop the top off a beer and take another long, lonely drink.
I’ve lost Nick. He vanished at least an hour ago. And he’s my ride home.
I picture him flirting with Reyna and it stings. And that’s why I haven’t moved, haven’t gone to look for him. Because I don’t need to see it, don’t need to confirm it. The crowd has thinned out some, and we’re quickly approaching midnight. If I don’t get home soon, my dad will know the model U.N. excuse was a complete fabrication. There aren’t any schools we would compete against that are more than an hour and a half away. Which is impressive, I guess, since pretty much everything is an hour and a half away.
I’m thoroughly drunk. Not I’m going to puke right on my own high heels drunk, but dancing on a couch sounds like a really good idea drunk.
Ever since the epic fail with Carter, I’ve been sitting on a stool in the kitchen, sipping beer. Even though I’ve known all these people my entire life, no one really seems to care if they know me. A year from now, when they’re all in college in some farflung state, if someone asked them my name, they’d probably squint, tip their head, and try to remember me. But fail.
I wishing I had worn my jeans because the stool is sticking to my thighs and I can’t stop tugging at the too-short hemline. People keep glancing my way, as if shocked I’m wearing something other than jeans, and I want to snap at them to take a picture because it would last longer. But I don’t.
There are four bottles sitting next to me. Four empty bottles. Everything is so warm and fuzzy; I can barely muster the annoyance at Carter any more.
I guess I knew I wouldn’t have the guts to go through with it. Nick probably knew it, too. But now I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t give it another shot. Go find him, flirt with him, make sure Nick sees us. That’s all I need.
I get up, wobbling more than ever on the tall heels, and make my way down the hall. I’m pretty sure there’s a game room somewhere down here, as I’ve heard people talking about a pool table. The hall seems like it’s tilting just a little bit as I cross the space. It’s like walking across the deck of a boat.
Just as I round a corner, I see Carter. Tall, muscular, perfect, in that long sleeved cotton T that barely stretches across the muscles he’s gained from four years of non-stop sports. Normally guys like him stay here, waste away forever. Have two kids, find work at the lumber mill in Morton. Buy a house when they turn 20, and stay put forever.
I wonder what his plans are.
He slips into a bedroom, and my heart thumps even harder, wondering if it’s his. I need to flirt with him, get him to return to the party.
My feet seem to propel me forward on their own, following Carter as if magnetized. Somewhere along the way the hallway wall looms closer, and I have to put my hand out to keep from knocking right into it. Maybe I’m a little more drunk than I thought. I take in a deep breath to steady myself, then continue on.
I stop briefly at the door which he’s left open a few inches, my hand shaking as I reach out, resting my palm flat against the painted six-panel slab. It’s enough to nudge it open. It’s nearly dark inside, a small lamp on the desk in one corner illuminates the space enough that I can see shadows. Carter’s broad back is to me, and he’s rifling through a drawer in his dresser.
I step further into the room and look around. It looks exactly as I’d expected it to: masculine, filled with dark woods and navy blue, rumpled sheets, sports memorabilia adorning the beige walls. A big Seahawks penant hangs over his bed. I close my eyes and breathe deeply just to see how it smells. Fresh. Like laundry or pine sol, but something spicy, too, like after shave. Carter has a smooth, clean-cut jaw. Does he have to shave every morning?
My heels sink in the thick carpeting, and my eyes pop open as I wobble, putting a hand out to save myself. It lands on the door and slams it shut.
Carter whirls around, spooked.
“Oh, sorry,” I say. I clear my throat. My heart is galloping so hard in my chest it might break free and leave the room entirely. “I, uh, lost my balance.”
“What are you doing?” His words are so loud they seem to fill the room up.
I take in a long, slow breath. “I wanted to talk to you.”
“So talk,” he says. His voice isn’t harsh, but it’s not all that inviting either. In the darkness of the room, shadows fill his face and it’s hard to make out his expression.
I run a hand through my hair, and it tangles in my curls. “I just…” I step forward, the heels still sinking terribly in the plush carpet. The space between us diminishes, until I’m so close I could touch him.
I take the last step, but my heel lands on something uneven, something I haven’t seen in the dark. My ankle turns and my arms fly upward, and Carter rushes forward, but his dresser is closer. I hit my cheek on the edge of it and my body twists, and one of the knobs on the middle drawer catches the delicate lace strap on my tank top.
It rips as I hit the floor. My face could burst into flames at any moment. Probably should not have had that fourth beer. Or was it the fifth? There was that hard lemonade…
I feel myself being pulled upward, feel Carter’s strong hands under my arms. I teeter in front of him, staring upward at his intense, dark eyes. “Thank you,” I say. He hasn’t let go of me. My cheek pulses as Carter’s hands slide off of me, and I sway for a half a second until I regain my balance.
“What are you doing in here?”
“What?” my voice sounds ridiculous, high pitched and squeaky. Why am I so nervous? It’s not like I actually want to throw myself at him. “Uh, I don’t know. I just thought...” My voice trails off. I hadn’t actually thought this far in advance, as to what I was going to say to Carter, how I could break the ice. “I just thought....”
“Thought what? You thought I’d want you?”
I blink, my eyes finally adjusting to the darkness enough that I can see him. See his sneer and the cold, disgusted look in his slightly-glazed eyes. He’s drunk, like me, and the look of pure disgust isn’t even a little guarded.
Carter has never looked so ugly.
“Are you kidding me?” he asks.
My jaw drops. It’s like my tongue is swollen, blocking me from talking. I swallow two, three times. “No. Not at all. I just-”
“Look, your body isn’t bad,” he says, scanning over me, pausing at the place where my skirt barely covers the horribly uncomfortable thong I bought to impress him. “Nice legs, and all. But you’re like… a two-bagger. Get real.”
A tear runs down my cheek before I even feel my eyes moisten, my heart twisting in a vice as new heat blooms on my cheeks. Even drunk, I know what he’s saying. Once, at a football game, I heard two guys talk about how a girl was so ugly, if they wanted to sleep with her they’d have to put a bag over her head, and one over theirs, too, just in case her bag fell off.
She was a two-bagger.
I swallow a gag.
The room spins harder. I reach up to slap him but he’s faster, and grabs my wrist. He shakes his head, slowly, staring me straight in the eyes with a mocking look. It’s like he loves that I tried to hit him. My murky brain can’t seem to process that.
Then he steps back, away from me, and heads for the door.
I follow him. I want to scream, leap on his back, rip out his hair. I want to tell him, make him understand that I don’t even want him like he thinks I do, but that would make me seem insane.
I want to do something… anything… to make him understand he just shattered me, spoke the very things I always hear in my head, the things I always know Nick thinks about me. The reason I’m stuck firmly in friend territory. But I can’t get my legs to move any faster, and he’s stepping out of the room before I’ve figured it out.
I’m only a few steps behind him, and I step into the hall before I realize I’ve made a mistake. I should have composed myself first. My eyes are filled with tears now, shimmering, making everything dance. I rush to fix my top, but there’s nothing I can do. The strap just kind of hangs there, the weight of it showing off the edge of my bra.
“Oh my god, are you okay?”
I look up to realize I’m standing directly in front of Michelle Pattison. We did a project together, once. I can’t remember what it was. Her jaw is hanging loose, like it’s completely unhinged.
I blink rapidly, trying to clear my eyes. My cheek is pounding now, and I wince when Michelle reaches out, like she’s going to touch it. I step back.
“Carter Wellesley is a complete, total asshole,” I say. My voice wobbly and gargled. My lip starts to tremble as the hurt prevails over my attempt at composure. “I can’t believe him. He… he…”
A dark look passes over Michelle’s refined, ivory features. Her eyes sweep over me and then she looks over her shoulder, at the direction Carter went. “Did he…. I mean.. did he just…”
I nod my head, though I’m not really listening to her. Her words just float around me, land somewhere at my feet. I think she’s still talking. More tears slide loose and I nod again and then stumble past her, shoving her out of my way as I stagger down the hall.
I have to get out of here.
I knock into a couple making out in the hall and trip over their feet, which sends me careening into a closed door. I hit it so hard the sound seems to echo everywhere, even over the loud music.
Everyone is staring.
I rush toward the foyer and yank open the door and walk out into the night.
I don’t care if I have to walk all three miles home.