Crushed Page 22

“Damn,” I say, torn between sympathy for the dude and perverse pleasure that my half brother was a total dork.

“Right?” she says. “He and I banded together out of sheer necessity, even though he was a year ahead of me. We’d have reading parties—”

I groan. “Chloe. No.”

“Oh, yes. Every time a new Harry Potter book came out, we’d go wait in line together—”

“It just keeps getting better,” I mutter.

“In costume,” she finishes.

I choke on a chip.

“Anyway, you get the idea,” she says, her voice a little wistful. “We were friends. Real friends, you know? He didn’t care that I was fat, and I didn’t care that he had cystic acne and sometimes got Oreos in his braces.”

I drop the chip I was about to eat back in the bag.

“Where was Kristin in all of this?” I ask.

“She was pretty much a mini version of what you see now. Tiny, refined, athletic.”

“Did Devon have a thing for her?”

She reaches her hand into the chip bag, pulls out a too-big handful, and munches. “Not at first. But by eighth grade or so, it was obvious that he was no longer coming over to our house to hang out with me. It was to catch a glimpse of Kristin’s newfound love for bikinis.”

Chloe’s voice never loses its peppy enthusiasm, but I’ve spent enough time with her to notice that her tone has taken on a slightly brittle edge. The girl’s not as immune to her sister’s superstar status as she wants to be.

“So what happened?” I ask. “When did you lose your Harry Potter BFF?”

“I didn’t really lose him, technically,” she says, probably trying to convince herself more than me. “It was just a slow transition. First his braces came off. Then he got contacts. Then his skin cleared up…. He started working out.”

“He became popular,” I conclude.

She nods. “High school was a fresh start for him. For all of us, really, but Devon’s the only one who managed to switch teams. Kristin was on the popular side and stayed there. I was on the dorky side and stayed there. But Devon … he left dorky for popular.”

And he left you for Kristin, I silently finish for her.

“His loss,” I say automatically, because it’s what polite people say, and manners were drilled into me as a kid.

But once the words are out of my mouth, I realize they’re truer than I realized. Chloe is …

I don’t know what Chloe is. But I hate that she sees herself as second-rate.

Chloe lets out a thoroughly entertained laugh. “Don’t even, Beefcake. You’re no different. You’re going to try and tell me you don’t know exactly what Devon sees in Kristin?”

I roll up the chip bag and put it back in its place, feeling irrationally irritated that she’s clumped me in with my superficial half brother.

“I’m here with you, aren’t I?”

“Sure, Beefcake. But as a friend. Not even a friend. As a carpool buddy, to help your nefarious plan of … what exactly?”

“How do you know I have a nefarious plan?”

She shrugs. “I just do. I thought it was as simple as you trying to break up Kristin and Devon, but I can’t quite figure out your approach.”

I pull two water bottles out of the cooler, twisting the cap off hers and handing it to her. “You know your sister better than anyone. You think she hasn’t had guys hit on her in the time she’s been with Devon? You think she doesn’t know exactly what she’s doing every time she winks and wiggles around me?”

Chloe glances at me with a little look of surprise. “So you know she’s playing games with you.”

“I know,” I say quietly. “I’m just playing them right back.”

She hands me back the water bottle after taking a sip, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel. “I knew it. On that first day I met you, I totally thought you had her number, but since then you’ve been acting just like the rest of her whipped dogs.”

I wince.

“Sorry,” she says. “But it’s true. Either shit or get off the pot, man.”

I can’t help my laugh.

“I’m serious!” she says. “You’ve got to make your move or move on.”

“What do you think this weekend’s about?” I ask, even though until this moment, I hadn’t really given much thought to the Kristin-Devon thing. I’ve been too focused on my father.

She looks at me wide-eyed. “You decided to come along to play home wrecker?”

I take a sip of water. “Don’t act so scandalized. Isn’t that exactly what you’re up to? I’ve seen you and Devon chatting it up whenever Kristin’s not around. Looking awfully chummy these past two weeks.”

“We’re friends. He wants to talk about law school.”

“Uh-huh. With you, but not with Kristin?”

“She’s mad at him,” Chloe mumbles.

Is she now? That’s interesting. Trouble in paradise could work very well to my advantage.

“I’m not a home wrecker,” she says very deliberately, as though trying to convince herself. “Even if I wanted to be, it wouldn’t work. He doesn’t see me. Not like that.”

I start to tell her that she just needs to give it time—that maybe Devon will see the light and revert to his nerdy, Harry Potter–loving self.

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