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(At The Party #4)
by Lauren Barnholdt
Copyright 2011 Lauren Barnholdt, all rights reserved This is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, is coincidental
I’m crouched outside of Emily Mulally’s house, trying to steal Aaron Randolph’s bike. There’s a party going on inside, but I have no interest in that. I came here for one reason, and one reason only. And that was to steal this stupid bike. (And when I say bike, I mean an actual bike. Not a motorcycle, or a scooter, or even something that’s only semi-cool but also kind of poserish like a Vespa. Aaron rides an actual bike. A ten-speed or twelve-speed racing bike that he takes everywhere. Aaron Randolph is very into the environment and being green, which is why he has this ridiculous bike, even though his parents are super rich and offered to buy him a car when he turned sixteen a couple of months ago.) I look around one last time to make sure no one’s looking, although it’s early enough that most people aren’t even at the party yet, so I don’t really have to worry. That’s the other thing that’s annoying about Aaron – he always has to get places early, even places where it doesn’t matter when you show up, or where you actually should be late, like a party at Emily Mulally’s house. I mean, what is he doing in there when no one’s even really here yet? Hanging out? Eating chips? Hitting on girls? Ugh. Anyway, I’m just about to pull out my big wire clippers and
get on with it, when someone’s shadow falls over me. I look up and shield my eyes from the sun (which is starting to set but is still high enough to get in your eyes), and mentally rehearse the story I have all planned out just in case I got caught -- that this is my bike, that I forgot the combination, that I borrowed some wire clippers from Emily’s garage. People should totally believe me, since I saw this Dateline special about someone trying to steal a bike once, and passerbys were, like helping the person with that same story saw through the chain. Watching that show is what gave me the idea to do this in the first place. “Hello,” the person says. I can’t see his face, because of the sun, but it’s a boy. I paste a nonchalant, nothing-to-see here look on my face. “Oh, hello!” I go back to my wire clippers. Which are actually having a hard time gripping onto the chain. Hmm. “What are you doing?” the boy asks. “This is my bike,” I explain. “And I forgot the combination. So I borrowed some wire clippers from Emily’s garage.” “That sucks.” He kneels down next to me. Oh, God. It’s Josh Noth. Josh Noth is so not the person I want to be catching me stealing someone’s bike. Josh Noth hangs out with Ashton Wagner and Haven Montessori and the whole entire popular crew that can never mind their own business and
thinks that everything has to do with them. “You’re trying to cut the chain with those?” Josh asks. He points at my wire clippers. See? He’s only been here two seconds and already he’s questioning my choices. “What’s wrong with these?” I ask. “They’re wire clippers.” I look at them. They look expensive. And they’re big. In fact, it took me a ridiculously long time to figure out how to hide them on the way to this party. Unlike Aaron Randolph, I don’t have a dad who works for Google and offered to buy me a car when I turned sixteen. So I had to ride over here with my dad, and he would have asked tons of questions if I had his wire clippers on the seat next to me. I mean, could you imagine? In the end I had to borrow this huge sparkly gold purse of my stepmom’s and stash the wire clippers in there. The bag looks completely and totally ridiculous with the hoodie, jeans and flip-flops I’m wearing. Luckily my stepmom wasn’t home when I took it, and my dad knows nothing about accessories and fashion, otherwise there definitely would have been questions. “Well, yeah,” Josh says, “But wire clippers aren’t going to cut a chain.” He says it matter-of-factly, like everyone should know that
wire clippers can’t cut a chain. Which pisses me off. “Well, they’re going to have to,” I say, “Since they’re all I have.” “Maybe you should try and pick the lock.” “I told you, I forgot the combination.” “That’s why I said to pick it.” He rolls his eyes like he can’t believe how stupid I am, and so I stand up. “You know what?” I say, “I think I got it.” There’s no way I need Josh Noth telling me how to steal a bike. He’s very cute and very popular and I doubt someone who wears Hollister everyday has ever tried to steal anything. Or knows anything about tools. “I don’t think you do,” he says, sounding cheerful. His green eyes sparkle, and I feel an attraction stirring in my stomach. He has dimples. I’m a sucker for dimples. Aaron had dimples. Aaron was a complete and total asshole, but he had dimples. Has dimples. They’re just not mine anymore. Not that owned him when we were going out. Or his dimples. “I do,” I say, but my voice is kind of faltering, because I’m beginning to realize that this was a terrible idea. Why did I think that I could come here and steal a bike without getting
caught? Obviously I don’t know the first thing about stealing bikes or chain cutters or not getting caught. I drop the wire cutters onto the street and then plop down on the sidewalk. And then I start to cry. “I’m a failure as a thief,” I sob. Josh Noth has the wherewithal to finally look nervous. Which he should. I mean, I’m obviously crazy. Who knows what I’ll do next? I’m brokenhearted and willing to break the law and he probably thinks I’m about one step away from picking up the wire cutters and using them on his face. “You’re not a failure as a thief,” he says, sitting down next to me on the curb. If he’s shocked that I’ve admitted to actually stealing the bike when a second ago I was claiming that I’d forgotten my combination, he doesn’t mention it. Which I appreciate. “Yes, I am.” “No, you’re not.” He reaches over and rubs my back tentatively, and another jolt of attraction zings through my whole body. “I am!” I say. “I can’t even steal a bike! It should be one of the easiest crimes ever, and I…I … I can’t even do it!” I’m really crying now. “Stealing a bike is not one of the easiest crimes ever,” Josh says. He’s still rubbing my back in slow, easy circles. His hands feel big and strong and just… good.
“It isn’t?” “No. They’re way too big. What were you going to do with it? Just ride away?” “Yes,” I say, “I was going to ride around the corner and hide it behind the Safeway.” “So you weren’t really going to steal the bike, you were just going to hide it?” “I told you I was the worst thief ever!” I start to cry again. “Whose bike is it?” “Aaron Randolph’s.” “Who the fuck is Aaron Randolph?” “My ex-boyfriend.” I reach into my huge purse and pull out a mini package of Kleenex. I threw them in there because I needed something to fill the stupid thing. I figured if anyone asked to look in my purse, I could open it and show them all the stuff that was on top of the wire clippers. I had no idea I’d be sobbing on the curb of Emily Mulally’s street while Josh Noth tried to comfort me. “Is he a freshman?” Josh asks.
“No. A junior.” “Then why the fuck is he riding a bike?” “He likes being green,” I say. Josh looks utterly baffled by this, so baffled that I can’t help but smile. “There you go,” Josh says, standing up. He puts his hands on my shoulders and leans the top of his body down so that he’s looking into my eyes. Wow. His eyes are really, really green. “See? It’s not so bad.” “Yes,” I sniff, “It is. I just… I wanted to get him back. Like, not back together, but get revenge on him, you know? For breaking up with me? I thought it might make me feel better. That’s stupid, right?” “Nah,” he says, “Sometimes doing something stupid does make you feel better. At least in the moment.” And then he leans in close to me, so close that I can smell the mint on his breath and the gel in his hair. My heart stops in my chest, and for one amazing second, I think maybe he’s going to kiss me. Bu all he says is, “Do you want to go to Home Depot?” “Ummm….I don’t get it.” “We can buy real wire cutters,” he says, “Or a pocket chain saw. Something that will take care of that lock in a second.”
I think about it. On one hand, I do want to steal the bike. On the other hand, I really don’t need to be going to Home Depot with Josh Noth. He’s obviously totally and completely crazy. What kind of guy just offers to take you to Home Depot so that you can steal your ex-boyfriend’s bike? “Do you even know my name?” I ask him. “Yes,” he says. “What is it?” “Brynn.” I think about it for another second. “Fine,” I say, finally. “But we can’t spend more than fifty dollars.”
Brynn is obviously off her rocker. Out of her tree. Batshit crazy. Whatever you want to call it. That happens to girls sometimes. They seem like they’re completely normal, and then the next thing you know, they’ve lost their minds and are doing something that’s completely fucked up. Like stealing Aaron whatever-his- name-is’s bike. Or hiding it behind the Safeway. That’s the lamest thing I’ve ever heard. “So,” I say once we’re seated in my car. “Why did you want to steal that dude’s bike?” I pull my GPS out of the glove compartment and type in Home Depot, then slide it into the holder that’s mounted on the windshield. ‘Drive to Golden Street’ the automated voice instructs. “Because he’s an asshole,” Brynn says. This probably means he did something she thinks is awful, like breaking up with her. But breaking up with someone doesn’t mean you’re an asshole. It just means that you wanted to break up. Of course, that doesn’t mean this Aaron guy isn’t an asshole. I’ve broken up with a lot of girls who think I’m an asshole because I broke up with them, and not because of millions of other, true reasons they could think I’m an asshole. “So wait,” I say, “He’s an asshole because he broke up with you?”
Brynn looks at me incredulously and then narrows her eyes into two little slits. “Noo,” she says. I raise my eyebrows at her. “Well, yes, he did. But that’s not why he’s an ass.” “Then why is he an ass?” “He conducted an opinion poll about me.” “An opinion poll about you?” I think about this. “You mean he asked is friends if you were hot enough for him?” That’s a terrible idea. Inevitably your friends either tell you the girl in question is super hot, and you can’t trust them because they might be lying just to be polite, or they tell you she isn’t hot, and of course you can’t trust that either because they might just be jealous. It’s one of those damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of things. Which is why I don’t do it. Anymore. “No,” she says, “And that fact that you said that just proves that you’re an asshole, too.” “Wow,” I say, then take one hand off the wheel and put it over my heart like she hurt my feelings. “Harsh. You shouldn’t be insulting the guy who’s saving your ass.” “You’re not saving my ass.”
“You were outside a party stealing a bike,” I say, “You could have been arrested.” “By who?” “The police.” “The police were going to just come along and see me taking a bike and arrest me?” “No,” I say, “Probably not. But I could have called them.” “The police?” “Yeah.” “You wouldn’t have.” “I might have.” It’s a lie, of course. I don’t give a shit that she was stealing a bike. Who the fuck rides a bike still anyway? I wonder if it’s because she’s a girl. That I don’t care that she was stealing a bike, I mean. I saw this Dateline special once where this bike was getting stolen in the middle of a park, and when a good-looking girl was stealing it, no one called the police. This one married dude even helped the girl steal the bike while his wife tried to stop them. Do I think that Brynn is good-looking? I glance at her out of the corner of my eye. Dark hair. Nice blue eyes. I run my eyes up and down her body, but she’s wearing a pair of jeans and a black hoodie, so I can’t really tell what she’s got going on.
Not that it matters. Brynn’s not my type. She obviously gets attached easily, and I tend to seek out girls that don’t need attachment. Like Kaci March, the girl I’m currently hooking up with. Kaci doesn’t need commitment. Which works out perfect for me, because like I said, I’m a no-commitment kind of guy. Brynn catches me checking her out then, and so I quickly look away. “So what’s your story?” she asks, turning toward me in her seat. “My story?” “Yeah, why are you taking me to Home Depot? Assuming that you are, in fact, taking me to Home Depot and not to some alley or something to have your way with me.” “Please,” I say, as if the thought of having my way with her is completely ridiculous. Although…I glance at her again out of the corner of my eye. She has very nice lips. And she’s not wearing lipstick or anything, which I like. Girls are always messing up their faces with tons of lipstick and make-up, when they look a lot better without all that stuff. I’m always suspicious of girls who look good with makeup on. Usually they end up looking like a big mess as soon as they take it off. Not that it keeps me from hooking up with them when they’re all made up.
“I’m not taking you anywhere scandalous,” I say, “And there’s no story. I just happen to like Home Depot.” The GPS tells me to take a left, and so I turn the wheel, guiding the car onto the highway. “You’re lying,” she says. Then she reaches over and picks up the bottle of water that’s sitting in my cup holder and takes a drink. “That’s mine,” I tell her. “I’m thirsty.” “You could have asked.” “Can I have a drink?” “Yes.” She grins and then takes another drink. When she’s done, a drop of water is still on her lip, and she licks it off. Something about the way she does it is very… hot. My stomach does this weird unfamiliar flip, and I find myself looking away quickly. Again. “So answer the question,” she says. “What question?” “About why you’re taking me to Home Depot, when you
were obviously on your way into the party.” I shrug. “I guess I just didn’t really feel like going in.” “Why not? Girl trouble?” “Josh Noth doesn’t have girl trouble.” “Anyone who refers to themselves in the third person must have girl trouble.” She takes another sip of my drink. I grin. “Fair enough.” “So why didn’t you want to go in?” “I don’t know.” I think about it, because even though she’s crazy, at least she’s being honest with me. I can respect that. And so I figure I owe her the same. “I guess I’m just over that whole scene.” “The whole getting drunk and high and hooking up with random girls?” “Yeah.” “Weird.” “Why is that weird?”
“Because you don’t seem like the type that would be over all that.” “You don’t seem like the type that would be stealing a bike.” She grins. “Fair enough.” “And anyway, you never finished telling me about the opinion poll.” “There’s nothing to tell,” she says, “It was an opinion poll to see if the student body thought I was a good fit.” “I don’t get it,” I say. “A good fit for what?” “Aaron’s student body president,” she says, “And he wanted to know if I was hurting or helping his cause.” “That was you?” I ask incredulously. I have a vague memory of someone walking up to me last week after lunch, shoving a piece of paper into my hands and asking me to rate Brynn DeLeo in a bunch of categories, like class, confidence, and sophistication. I had no idea it was to see if she was a good fit for her douche boyfriend. “You took the poll?” she asks. “Yeah,” I say. “Well, I mean, I saw the poll. I didn’t take it. But my friends and I talked about how much of a loser the person who took the time to do that was.”
“Yeah, well…” she shrugs and looks out the window. “That’s Aaron for you.” The GPS says, “Arriving at Home Depot, on right” and so I swing the car into the shopping plaza. “So that’s why he dumped you?” I ask. “Because some poll said he should?” It’s so ridiculous that I can’t help but laugh. I pull the car into a spot near the door, and put it in park. “Yeah, well, I know it’s not as scandalous as the reasons the people in your crowd break up, i.e., STDs and unplanned pregnancies and someone not having the right clothes from Hollister.” She unbuckles her seatbelt and looks at me, her eyes challenging. “Did you just say ‘i.e.’ in a sentence?” I take the water bottle from her and take a sip. She takes the water back, and when she does, her hand brushes against mine. Her skin feels soft, and that same weird unfamiliar feeling slides through my stomach. She takes a drink, then puts the bottle back in the cup holder. “Come on,” she says. “We’re going in.” She gets out of the car, and after a second, I follow her.
I am sharing a water bottle with Josh Noth. Josh Noth and I are sharing a water bottle. Something about this is very… disconcerting. Actually, what’s more disconcerting is the way my stomach is getting all weird and flippy at the thought of sharing the water bottle with him. I am obviously crazy. Stealing bikes. Getting all weird with Josh Noth. Josh Noth is so not a good idea. Josh Noth is a player and very hot. Which makes an extremely bad and dangerous combination. Plus he’s at Home Depot with me, which can only mean that he’s crazy, too. “Where are you going?” I ask as I follow him down the aisles of the store. I beat him out of the car, but then as soon as we got in here he took over, walking around like he owns the place. I guess maybe he does know about tools after all. Which just makes him sexier. I mean, a guy with tools? Like, fixing things? Maybe even shirtless? That’s a major fantasy. “We’re going to get a pocket chain saw,” he says. He has really long legs, and so I’m having trouble keeping up with him. I’m five foot seven, which is pretty tall for a girl, but Josh has to be at least six-one. “Did you forget we have a bike to steal?” “No,” I say, “I didn’t forget.” I think again about how we were
just sharing a water bottle, and my fingers go up to my lips, which feel kind of tingly now. “So here we are,” he says, bringing me down an aisle filled with tons of tools. Saws, pliers, screwdrivers, huge hammers…. “Wow,” I say, “I never knew there were so many different kinds.” They look a little scary. And like something you shouldn’t be using unless you know what you’re doing and/or want to lose a thumb. “You should get this one,” he says, picking up this huge saw that’s exactly like something you’d see in a horror movie. “I can’t handle that,” I say. “That’s way too big for me.” Then I realize I just said I can’t handle big things, which is realllly embarrassing, but luckily a Home Depot employee is walking by, a girl with short blonde hair that looks bored, and so I quickly say, “Excuse me, but I need some wire cutters.” “No you don’t,” Josh says. “You need a pocket chain saw.” “Oh, right,” I say, “Um, I need a pocket chain saw.” Although now that I’m thinking about it, a chain saw definitely doesn’t sound like something that should go in your pocket. What if you accidentally saw your leg off or something? Hopefully it comes with a safety of some sort.
“A pocket chain saw?” the girl asks incredulously. “What for?” “We want to steal a bike,” Josh says. “He’s just kidding,” I say quickly. “Haha. We…” I’m trying to think of something else you would use a pocket chain saw for. “We’re building a fence,” I decide. “Building a fence?” The girl looks even more skeptical now. “Then what do you need a pocket chain saw for?” What is up with her? Doesn’t she know we’re in a recession? I mean, seriously, she should just be thankful for the sale. Everyone knows that the retail sector determines when the market is going to bounce back. “Yes, a fence,” Josh says, rushing over to my side. He slides his arm through mine. “My girlfriend and I just bought a new house. And we need to cut down a fence. A chain link fence. Hence the need for a chainsaw.” I nod. I can’t believe he just called me his girlfriend. I can’t believe he slid his arm through mine. I can’t believe I like it so much. I look up at him, at his profile. He has a nice face. A really nice nose. I’m big on noses for some reason. Aaron had a bad nose, all long and angular. The Home Depot girl gives us a skeptical look. “She’s your
girlfriend?” Oh, for the love of… “Yes,” I say haughtily. “I am. And we need to cut down our fence. So chop chop to the pocket chain saws!” “Let me go ask someone,” she says grumpily. “Chop chop?” Josh asks, once she’s gone. He grins. “I didn’t know you were so bossy.” “We have a house together?” He shrugs. “I needed her to take us seriously.” He still has his arm linked through mine. Is he just doing it in case the Home Depot girl comes back? Or is he doing it because he wants to? Because, suddenly, I want to. Have my arm linked through his, I mean. It feels right. And perfect. He’s wearing a really soft gray sweatshirt, and I can just imagine snuggling into it. Of course, I’m obviously brokenhearted and crazy, which could definitely be messing with my head. I mean, it’s Josh Noth. There’s no way he could ever be interested in me. Plus I’m pretty sure he’s hooking up with Kaci March, this girl who everyone at our school calls The Ass. I mean, enough said. “Excuse me?” a man behind us says. He’s holding a clipboard and wearing one of those orange Home Depot vests. “Yes,” Josh says, turning around. “Are you here to help my
fiancé and me with the chainsaw?” Wow. Now we’re engaged? “Uh, no,” the man says, “But I couldn’t help but overhear that you two just bought a new house.” “Yes,” I say, “It’s a cute little bungalow.” “But not too cute,” Josh says, “And we’re planning on putting in an addition. You know, an extra bedroom and whatnot.” I nod. “Well, congratulations,” the man says, sounding genuinely happy for us. “Can I ask you a question?” “Of course,” Josh says. “How’s the kitchen in this cute little bungalow?”
Wow. Brynn is even crazier than I thought. When that man came over and asked us about kitchens, not only did she run with my whole fiancé/house idea, she took it to a whole other level and let him lead us back to the Home Depot kitchen supply center, where she proceeded to spend the next thirty minutes designing her dream kitchen. It had cherry cabinets and granite countertops and overhead lighting, and was way too extravagant for a “cute little bungalow” but whatever. It was pretty much awesome. They’re coming out to measure our fake house (located at our fake address, 90120 Main Street) next week. Luckily it’s all cancelable. The salesman will still even get some kind of finder’s fee, because apparently once the order goes in, he doesn’t get penalized for cancellations. We said we were the Watson-Campbells. Well, soon to be, once we’re married and all. I guess really rich people always have hyphenated last names. “So,” I say, once we’re back in the car, our new pocket chain saw tucked away safely in the trunk, and the brochures on how to care for our new Home Depot kitchen hidden in the glove compartment, “Back to the bike, Mrs. Watson-Campbell?”
“Back to the bike, Mr. Watson-Campbell.” When we get back at Emily’s house, Brynn takes the chainsaw out of my trunk and then, for some reason, things get awkward. I guess when we were goofing around at Home Depot it was like we were kind of on a break from reality. Now, back here, with people from school just a few feet away inside at the party, the rules are all different. But for some inexplicable reason, I don’t want them to be. I want to go back to messing around the way we were. It was the most fun I’ve had in a while. And most of all, I don’t want her to leave. “So,” Brynn says, “Um, I should probably do this myself. I don’t want you to get into any trouble.” She unzips the hoodie she’s wearing and then ties it around her waist. She’s wearing a plain white t-shirt underneath, and even though it doesn’t show any skin or isn’t even that tight, it’s somehow the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen. She looks up at me with her blue eyes, and I really, really do not want to stop being around her. “It’s not any trouble,” I say, taking the pocket chain saw from her. “I would never let you do this on your own, Mrs. WatsonCampbell.” “Are you sure?” She bites her lip, and all of I sudden I want to lean over and kiss her. “I mean, I don’t want you to get in
trouble on my account. You don’t even know me.” “Married couples are supposed to stick together,” I say, as we start walking toward the bike. I’m walking a little faster than I probably need to, because I’m all screwed up from the weird overpowering urge I just had to kiss her. I need to put some distance between us, asap. “And besides, stealing a bike wouldn’t be the most trouble I’ve ever gotten into.” “Are you saying you’ve been in a lot of trouble before?” “Not that much,” I say, shrugging, “Just normal stuff. Car racing, public intoxication, robbing banks.” She smiles. God, I really want to kiss her. But I won’t. It wouldn’t be fair. It’s one thing to go around kissing girls like Kaci March. It’s another to go around kissing girls like Brynn DeLeo. You can’t just kiss a girl like Brynn DeLeo. She’s too… I don’t know. Special. She’s not the kind of girl I usually go for, but for some reason, I just want to wrap her up in my arms and hold her. What the fuck is wrong with me? I never get like this about girls, especially not ones I just met. When we get to the bike, I pull the pocket chain saw out of the Home Depot bag and hand it to her. “You want to do the honors?” For a second, I think she’s going to chicken out, but then
she kneels down and saws until the chain falls to the ground. “Good job,” I say. “Now what?” “Now what what?” “Now what do I do with the bike?” “I thought you were going to steal it?” “I was… I mean, I was…I was going to hide it behind the Safeway.” “Oh, right.” “What?” she asks defensively. “It’s not like that’s chickening out or anything. Aaron will still flip out when he finds out his bike’s at the Safeway.” “I didn’t say anything.” “You were thinking it.” “It’s just that I expected more from you than hiding a bike at the Safeway, Mrs. Watson-Campbell.” It’s supposed to make her laugh, but instead of smiling, her face gets a weird look on it, and
before I know it, she’s sitting down on the curb, crying. “Hey hey hey,” I say. “No crying.” I sit down next to her and rub her back like I did before. “He’s not worth it. Some tool who still rides a bike?” “I know,” she says, “I know he isn’t worth it.” She’s looking at me and she’s so beautiful and I reach out and push her hair out of her face. “Then why are you so upset?” “Because I liked him.” “You’ll get over it.” “I will?” She’s looking at me, her eyes all shiny with tears. “Of course you will,” I say, “You’ll find someone better.” “I guess.” “Brynn,” I say softly, “You’re beautiful.” “You’re just saying that to make me feel better,” she says. But I’m not. She is beautiful. She’s pretty much the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen, which makes no sense because like I said she’s not wearing a low-cut shirt or a short skirt and she doesn’t have huge boobs. She’s just… beautiful. And smart. And then, before I know what I’m
doing, I’m leaning down toward her, and her lips are right there and I’m so close and I’m almost kissing her and I really, really, really want to, so bad that I don’t think I can stop myself. “I’m not just saying that to make you feel better,” I say, “Brynn, you are so, so beautiful.” She moves closer to me, just a tiny bit, and then I kiss her. Her lips are sweet and soft and I pull her closer to me and we’re kissing and her tongue is on mine and then all of a sudden, I hear a voice behind me. “What the fuck,” it says, “Did you do to my bike?”
I’m kissing Josh Noth. He told me I’m beautiful, and at first I thought there was no way he could mean it, but he was looking at me like he really meant it and then he said it again, and I couldn’t stop it, my heart was beating at like five million miles a minute and he is just SO HOT. And then his lips were right there, and I thought he was definitely going to kiss me and so I moved my lips just a tiny tiny bit toward his and then he kissed me and his hands were in my hair and the kiss was amazing. Perfect and soft and his fingers moved around from the back of my hair to my face and he slide his fingers down my cheekbone and – “What the fuck did you do to my bike?” someone screams. I pull away from Josh Noth and look up to see Aaron Randolph standing there on the grass, looking down at his bike chain and sounding pissed. That’s the thing about Aaron. He’s exactly like a politician – he thinks he’s cool even when he’s not, and he’s not afraid to make a big fuss about things. “Nothing,” I say quickly, and stand up from the curb. I smooth my hair. “We were just….” My brain is still all hazy from Josh’s kiss, and so I can’t think up a suitable lie. “Stealing it,” Josh says amicably, standing up next to me.
“Stealing it?!” Aaron walks over and picks up the now sawed-in-two chain. “We weren’t stealing it,” I say. “Haha, Josh is just kidding, aren’t you Josh?” Josh doesn’t say anything. He looks annoyed, and I start to panic a little, but then he reaches over and squeezes my hand, and I see Aaron’s eyes flick down and see my fingers intertwined with Josh’s. And before I even know what I’m doing, I quickly pull my hand away. “Someone,” Aaron says, “Better tell me what’s going on.” “Look, dude,” Josh says, sighing. “I was stealing the bike. Brynn had nothing to do with it.” “Why were you stealing my bike?” “Because I wanted it,” Josh says. “It’s a sweet bike.” I look at him, not believing it. He thinks the bike is stupid and ridiculous. But he’s taking the blame for me. Even though I just pulled my hand away from his. Who would have thought that Josh Noth was so sweet? “Well,” Aaron says, and he reaches into his pocket and pulls out his cell. “I’m calling the authorities.” “Not necessary,” Josh says, “Since no one actually stole the bike. It’s right there.”
“But you were going to,” Aaron says. But he hesitates, his fingers poised over his phone. “You can’t prove it,” Josh says. “Yes, I can,” Aaron says. “There are wire cutters right there.” “That’s a pocket chain saw,” I say. Aaron looks at me in confusion, then glares. Josh picks up the pocket chain saw, then opens his car door and tosses them in the car. “What wire cutters?” he asks, looking around in feigned confusion “I don’t see any wire cutters.” “Pocket chainsaw,” I say again. “Stop,” Aaron says. “Put those back.” “No.” Josh takes a step toward Aaron, and for a second, I see something flash in Josh’s eyes, like maybe he’s going to hit Aaron or something. Yikes. I mean, yeah, Aaron broke up with me and everything, but I don’t want him to get his ass kicked. “Josh,” I say, putting my hand on his chest. His very, um, hard chest. “It’s fine.”
Josh looks at me, and then he looks at Aaron. Finally, Aaron sighs and then he says, “Look, forget about the bike.” He turns to me. “Brynn, can I talk to you?” “Umm… “ I look at Josh. This is awkward. I was just kissing him. But Aaron is standing there looking cute and I just … ugh. I wait to see if Josh is going to say anything, if he’s going to say no, I’m coming with him, or something else that would happen in a good romantic comedy, but he stays silent. So finally I say, “Yeah, sure.” “You don’t have to talk to him if you don’t want to,” Josh says. But it’s kind of too late. “No,” I tell him. “It’s fine. Just… I’m fine. Thanks for everything.” He looks at me like he can’t really believe I’m blowing him off, and then he turns around, leaving me standing there on the curb with Aaron Randolph.
I can’t believe I kissed her. I can’t believe she blew me off. I can’t believe she likes that tool. What happened to her being cool Mrs. Brewster-Campbell, the girl in Home Depot who was sexy and fun? That girl would never have hooked up with a douche like Aaron Randolph. I’m furious, but there’s something else. It’s like… I don’t know, I’ve never felt this way before. I’m sad. And there’s a weird feeling of longing. I shake my head. There has to be something wrong with me. I don’t get attached to girls. Ever. As if to prove this point to myself, I pull my phone out as I’m walking away from the curb where Aaron and Brynn are sitting, then scroll through until I find Kaci March’s number. “Hey, cutie,” she says when she picks up. “What’s going on?” “Hey,” I say, “What are you doing?” “Out with my girls,” she says, “At Emily Mulally’s party. What are you doing?” Kaci’s not my girlfriend. She’s just…well, she and I have kind of an arrangement. Like, a hook up arrangement.
We’ve had it forever. It’s not really that sleazy. It’s just more that it works for both of us. “Wanna hang out?” I ask. “Yes,” she says immediately. “Where are you?” “I’m outside,” I say, “But I don’t want to go to the party. Can you come out? We can go to my house, my parents aren’t home.” Half an hour later, we’re in my bed. “How come you didn’t want to go to the party?” Kaci asks. She’s lying on top of my covers, in my arms. But it doesn’t feel right. For some stupid reason, all I can think about is Brynn DeLeo. I wonder what she’s doing right now, if her and Aaron are getting back together. I’ll bet that prick wouldn’t know the first thing about how to have fun in Home Depot. “Hello!” Kaci yells, “Earth to Josh!” “Sorry,” I say, “Um, I just didn’t feel like being around a million people.” “You wanted to be alone with me,” she says. She turns her head and starts kissing my neck, and I try to get myself to relax. Kaci’s hot. She smells amazing. She has long blonde hair and this tiny little waist and huge boobs and she
doesn’t expect me to call her the day after we hook up. According to most guys, this would make her the perfect girl. The fact that they call her The Ass is just a bonus. But I can’t stop thinking about Brynn. And about our kiss. It was a good kiss. Actually, it was a fucking amazing kiss. But I’m here with Kaci. And Kaci’s hot. Much hotter than Brynn. Well, not really. I mean, Kaci’s hotter in a more obvious way. But Brynn. Brynn is sexy. And adorable. And she does this thing where she bites her lip when she’s thinking that drives me crazy. Not to mention how she went along with the whole Brewster-Campbell thing. Which was kind of awesome. I wonder again about what she’s doing with Aaron right now. Is he yelling at her for trying to steal his bike? Did he see us kissing? Does he want her back? Are they getting back together? I should have given her my cell phone number before just taking off like that. What if she’s in trouble or something? Obviously she can’t be in a very good mental state if she was about to steal some dude’s bike. “What’s wrong?” Kaci asks after a minute or two. “Nothing.”
“Why aren’t you kissing me back?” “I am.” “No, you’re not,” she says. “I was kissing your neck and you were just lying there and then finally I moved to your lips and you turned your head away from me.” “I did?” I didn’t even realize I was doing it. “Sorry.” “So are we making out or not?” “Yes,” I say. I turn my head toward hers. But I can’t kiss her. How can I kiss her when all I can think about is Brynn? I have to find her. I have to go and get her. I have to figure out if she felt even half of what I was feeling. I know it’s crazy, but…I’ve never felt this way about a girl before, and I have to figure out what it means. “I’m sorry, Kaci,” I tell her. “I have to go.” “You have to go?” She sits up in my bed and tosses her hair behind her shoulder, and looks at me incredulously. “But we’re at your house.” “I know,” I say. I’m off my bed and sliding my feet into my sneakers. “I’ll drive you wherever you want me to, but I have to go.” She looks confused, and then finally, realization dawns on her face. “Oh, my God,” she says, her mouth dropping
open. “You met a girl.” “What?” I’m at my dresser now, looking at my reflection in the mirror. For some reason this whole seeing Brynn again thing is making me nervous. I pick up my cologne and spritz a little on my neck. “Josh Noth met a girl,” she says gleefully, clapping her hands. “Who is she?” “Brynn DeLeo.” “I don’t know who that is.” She frowns. “Oh, wait. I think she’s in my lunch. Brown hair, kind of mousy?” “She’s not mousy,” I say, “She’s gorgeous.” “Wow,” she says, “You have it bad.” She sighs and launches herself off my bed. “I’m sorry,” I say. “Are you mad?” “No. Just bring me back to the party.” She grins. “And make sure I’m invited to the wedding.”
He wants me back. Aaron Randolph is standing here, telling me he wants me back. He’s saying that he can’t live without me, that he’s been thinking about me the whole time we’ve been broken up, that he can’t imagine his life without me. Okay, he’s not saying all that. I won’t get into all the boring details, but basically he just said, “Brynn, I’m sorry and I want to get back together.” Which is what I’ve been praying for this whole time. So then why can’t I get Josh Noth out of my head? “Listen, I’m sorry,” Aaron says. We’re sitting in his car, outside of Emily Mulally’s house, and he grips the steering wheel. “I just…. I got too caught up in myself.” “Ya think?” “Yeah. Anyway, so are we good?” “I mean… we’re…. I want to get back together.” But as I say the words, I’m not even sure that they’re true. But that just has to be my hormones talking. Just because I was kissing Josh Noth doesn’t mean that there’s anything going on between us. Josh Noth kisses everyone. Seriously. Last year at the Junior Carnival there was even this joke going around that they should set up the charity kissing booth with
Josh Noth in it, since he was getting kissed so much anyway that he should at least use his skills to make some money for a good cause. “So then we’re all set?” Aaron’s asking. “Let’s go to dinner or something then.” He puts the key in the ignition. “Don’t you want to stay at the party?” I’m looking toward Emily’s house longingly because maybe Josh is in there. God, what is wrong with me? I like Aaron. Aaron is my boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend. Boyfriend. Whatever, Aaron is the one that’s here. Josh is the one that kissed me and then left. Although it’s not like I tried to stop him. God, why didn’t I try to stop him? I wanted him to be the one to suggest staying with me. And when he didn’t, I felt like I needed to pretend I didn’t want him to stay. But I did. More than anything. “No,” Aaron says, “I don’t want to stay at the party.” “Are you sure?” “Yes, I’m sure,” Aaron says. He starts the car. “And besides, we’re going to have to talk about how you were cheating on me by kissing Josh Noth.”
My mouth drops open. “I wasn’t cheating on you,” I say, “You broke up with me.” “Please, Brynn. We were broken up less than twenty-four hours and you had your tongue in some other guy’s mouth.” He’s right. My tongue was in Josh’s mouth. Ohmigod. It’s making me all… hot thinking about it. “But that’s okay,” he says, “You’ll just have to make it up to me.” “Wait,” I say, “You broke up with me and I’m supposed to make it up to you?” “Brynn,” he says, “You need to realize that if this gets out…” At first I don’t get what he’s talking about, and then my mouth drops open in shock. “Are you… are you still worried about that stupid poll? About stupid student body president?” “It’s not stupid, Brynn,” he says. “Student body president can lead to college president, which can lead to local assembly, which can lead to a Senate seat.” I stare at him. “So if people find out I kissed Josh Noth, then you won’t get a Senate seat?” “Brynn, what is this obsession with Josh Noth? He’s kind of an idiot.”
“No he isn’t,” I mumble, looking out the window. And then I realize Josh has nothing to do with this. Well, he does because I can’t stop thinking about him. But regardless of who else I kissed, I need to realize that things with Aaron are over. He’s a jerk. And I deserve better. “You know what,” I say, “I… I have to go.” I open the door to his car and step out onto the pavement. I think about going into the party to try and find Josh, but I don’t know what I would say to him, and I don’t really know where else to go, so I just start walking toward home. “Brynn,” Aaron says, driving his car next to me. “Don’t be silly. Get in the car, and we’ll go somewhere and talk about this.” “No,” I say, “Go away.” The air is staring to get a little chilly, and so I untie my hoodie from around my waist and slide my arms through. “Brynn,” he says, “Seriously. I swear to God, I’ll leave.” I don’t say anything, and then finally, he pulls away. Whatever. I don’t care. All I can think about is Josh Noth. And then suddenly, there he is. His car is pulling up behind me, and he’s rolling down the window. “Hey,” he says, and he’s smiling at me, that perfect smile with his amazing green eyes, and then he’s pulling over. “Do you need a
ride?” I walk over to the car, lean against the driver’s side door, and think about it. I want to be with him more than anything. But does he feel the same way? “I don’t know,” I say, “I’m having fun walking.” “But Mrs. Brewster-Campbell,” he says, “Shouldn’t we get you fed? I’m sure you’re starving after your long night of almost-thievery.” He’s stilling smiling, the cutest smile I’ve ever seen, and my knees get weak. “What will we eat?” I ask. “Something very posh.” “Like McDonald’s?” “Exactly like McDonald’s.” He takes me there, and we order Big Macs and fries and sit outside on the benches, something I could never do with Aaron because he doesn’t like transfats and also because he’s afraid of bugs. “So,” Josh says, “The thing with Aaron…” “It’s over,” I say.
He nods. “And the thing with us?” My heart beats fast, and I turn to him. “I didn’t know there was a thing with us.” “Brynn,” he says, and my heart speeds up. “Look at me.” I look at him, and he’s so gorgeous I have a hard time keeping my eyes on his. The connection between us is just too intense. And then his lips are on mine and they taste salty from the French fries and perfect and good and the kiss is amazing, even better than the first one. “How many girls have you kissed right here, on this bench?” I ask after I pull away. “On this bench? Just you. Now on that bench over there…” He trails off, a grin pulling at the side of his lips. “I’m serious,” I say, “I can’t be with some kind of kiss slut.” “I’m not a kiss slut,” he says, shocked. But then his face turns serious. “Brynn,” he says, “I swear, I can’t even think of kissing another girl right now. I know I hardly know you, but… something… I don’t know, there’s something between us. And I hope you feel it too.” I do. And so I kiss him again.
Don’t miss the rest of the AT THE PARTY SERIES, Telling Secrets, Falling Hard, and Getting Close, available now….
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