Crushed Page 17

Chloe leans back against her seat, and though she doesn’t rub her stomach, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she patted her belly in a satisfied manner. She has the look of a well-satiated woman.

“Let me know when you’re over it,” she says.

“Over what?” I ask, distracted by the way her shirt strains across her chest. Jesus, am I actually checking her out?

Yes. Yes, I am.

“Your stoic phase,” she says. “You move in and out of these waves of mute alpha and caustic charmer. I can work with the sarcastic version, but the cranky mute is no good to me.”

I take a bite of cornbread and chew slowly, not saying a word.

Chloe huffs. “How about you just give me the TV Guide version?”

“The what?”

“You know, like sum up your life thus far in a sentence. Example: Mine would be ‘Fat yet clever girl patiently waits for the guy of her dreams to realize that he’d rather have a lifetime of laughter and conversation than a lifetime of great sex with a twig who doesn’t appreciate him.’”

“You’re not fat,” I say automatically. And I’m pretty sure she’d be great at sex if the way she’s licking the BBQ sauce off her finger is any indication, but I’m not going there. Not even in my head.

She ignores me. “Okay, so your turn. I’ll give you a prompt. How about: ‘Sexy bad boy from wrong side of the tracks flees rough life in the Bronx to find himself in small-town Texas’?”

Chloe snags a corner of my cornbread at the end of her pitch. “How’d I do?”

Her assessment is so completely off base I almost laugh. And she forgot the most important part: She made it seem like it was about where I was fleeing to, when really it’s what I’m fleeing from.

Who I’m fleeing from.

“Pretty close,” I say, tilting the beer bottle back.

“Well,” she says, slurping the rest of her soda through her straw. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but since I’m a big nerd at heart—”

“Just at heart? Not on the outside, too?” I interrupt.

She makes a face. “Anyway … have you thought about going to college? I mean, assuming you don’t want to be a bartender and personal trainer forever, of course. But if you do, that’s totally fine—”

“I went to college.”

That shuts her up.

“Oh! Cool. Did you, um … finish?”

“Yup.” In three years, no less, but I don’t tell her that.

Ethan, Olivia, and I had always been the golden children of Manhattan. Kids of the richest parents, good students, good athletes, all with easy admittance to NYU—together, because that’s how we’d done everything.

But of the three of us, only two graduated (Olivia dropped out before senior year thanks to yours truly), and only Ethan walked across the stage at graduation.

Me? I took the coward’s route. After the shit went down at the end of junior year, I knew there’d be no going back to the way things were. I knew that Ethan and I couldn’t go back to being roommates, and Olivia and I couldn’t go back to being platonic friends.

And my being around campus that last year would have been unbearable. For all of us.

So I crammed what few remaining credits I needed into the summer courses and then slunk away into the night with a degree I no longer was sure I wanted.

I tell Chloe none of this.


But she prods anyway.

“So is it like a personal health major, or …?” Chloe prods.


“Finance?” Chloe grabs the table dramatically like there’s just been an earthquake. “What the hell are you doing pouring shots of Fireball on Friday nights when you have a finance degree from …?”

“NYU,” I say reluctantly.

Chloe slumps back in her seat. “My world has been rocked. Beefcake, honey … not that I’m not grateful that you’re trying to banish the wobble from my butt every morning, but don’t you think you’re a little overqualified? Couldn’t you get a job in business?”

I pick up another rib even though I’m not hungry. Anything to prevent me from having to actually talk with the nonstop chatterbox.

Her eyes narrow and she leans forward. “You didn’t even try to get a job in business, did you?”

I take a bite of rib and chew unenthusiastically.

Said eyes narrow even farther. “Where are you from, Michael?”

“Told you. New York.”

“No, I mean, where are you really from? What part of New York?”

I set the rib aside, relenting. “Manhattan.”

“Dodgy hole-in-the-wall Manhattan, or uppity brunch-set Manhattan?”

Another sip of beer.

She lets out a huge laugh. “Dude. You’re not from the wrong side of the tracks; your family probably built the tracks, huh?”

Now is probably not the time to tell her that I’m loosely related to the Vanderbilts on my mother’s side.

“Beefcake,” she hisses in a whisper. “Are you a rich kid?”

“Recovering rich kid,” I say, giving her a firm look to indicate that the conversation’s over.

She ignores this. Of course.

“Cool,” she says in an awed voice. “Did you do some dastardly deed to get you cut out of the family?”

For years, I’ve been good at hiding my emotions. It’s sort of a necessary acquired skill when you’re secretly in love with your best friend’s girlfriend.

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