Crushed Page 74

No, I damn well don’t.

“So he’s finally seen the light?” I force myself to ask.

Finally seen you.

“Well.” She fiddles with her little purse. “If you must know, it was very romantic comedy back in there. He asked if I wanted to get some air. We went outside. He told me I looked pretty. And then he told me I was the one. That I had always been the one.”

I hear a fierce roaring noise, and for an awful moment, I fear I’ve actually roared my protest out loud.

But no. It’s just my chest. Ripping.

“Sounds like you’ve got everything you wanted,” I say, impressed at the calm in my voice. “But I’ve got to ask. What the hell are you doing out here?”

“Well, that’s the funny thing, Beefcake.” She takes a step closer, and my heart is beating triple time now, but for a different reason. “I was all set to get butterflies, you know? I thought the heavens would part. Devon Patterson finally wanted me.”


“And … nothing.”

I clear my throat. Look away. “Okay.”


I meet her eyes, which are nervous as hell.

“I don’t really know how to do this,” she says, her voice coming out fast. “So I’m just going to tell you what I told him: I don’t want the guy who wanted the swan. I want the guy who wanted the duckling.”

A long moment of silence passes.

Then: “Chloe, I don’t know what that means.”

She stomps her foot. “Seriously? Do mothers not read nursery rhymes to their sons?”

“Well, I guess my mom probably did, but—”

“‘The Ugly Duckling,’ Beefcake. It’s a classic!”

“The ‘Ugly’—Chloe. Do you think you’re ugly?” My vision goes red.

“Well, not ugly,” she mutters. “But any idiot can see what’s been going on here. Devon cares about me. I absolutely believe that. But it took me losing weight and unsnarling my hair and wearing sticky lip gloss to get him to see me. You know, I almost wish that I had crappy vision so that we could really complete this cliché.”

I shake my head to indicate I’m not following her on this babbling track, either, but she sure is cute as she rambles on.

She sighs. “You know what I mean. Where the geeky girl with the glasses takes off her glasses at the end of the movie, and all of a sudden she’s gorgeous and gets the guy?”

“Sure,” I say. “Like Clark Kent.”

She digs her fingers into her hair and pulls. “No! I mean, kind of … just … never mind. You know, it doesn’t go this way in the romantic comedies. The girl doesn’t have to do so much explaining to the guy.”

To the guy. I’m the guy.

I want to fly. But then …

I take a step backward, my heart pounding again, half in elation, half in dread. “Chloe, don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

She steps forward, and I put up a pleading hand, but she keeps coming until we’re toe to toe, nearly eye to eye since she’s wearing heels tonight.

“Don’t say whatever you’re going to say.”

Her warm blue eyes blaze into mine. “That I love you?”

My heart flips over in my chest before sinking to my feet. “Well, don’t.”

Her chin snaps up, and I watch as my words literally force her backward. Watch as the hurt makes her shudder.

“Chloe, listen to me,” I say, my hands finding her shoulders, my eyes begging her to understand. “Go to Devon. Tell him you made a mistake.”

“But I don’t want Devon. I want—”

“Damn it. Chloe, stop!”

Her eyes fill and I hate it.

I let go of her, my hands dropping. “You know my story, Chloe.”

“What story? The one where you had a crush on you buddy’s girlfriend? Yeah, it happens.”

I grit my teeth at her flippant dismissal and start to turn away, but she grabs my arm.

Then her hands are on my face, forcing me to look at her. “Michael, listen. I get it. Nobody’s ever loved you first. You’re tired of being second choice. Or nobody’s choice. I get it. Because nobody’s ever loved me first, either. But I’ve been thinking about this, and Michael … I don’t think it’s about who loves you first. It’s about who loves you best. And that’s me.”

Her voice is urgent now, tears on her cheeks, as she whispers. “I love you best. More than I love anyone. More than you’ve ever been loved.”

I can’t speak. Can’t breathe.

She swallows. Licks a tear from the corner of her mouth. “Okay?”

I shake my head, my throat aching as I sink my hands into her hair. But it’s smooth and silky and all wrong.

“No, Chloe. It’s you who doesn’t get it. I don’t even know who I am. I have nothing to give, so I can do nothing but take. And I won’t take from you. Because I’ll take too much. I will crush you, Chloe.”


I drop my hands from her face like she’s burned me, because if I touch her much longer, I’ll pull her to me and take every bit of goodness and love she’s offering.

“Go to Devon, Chloe. Go to Devon, and let him love you, because I can’t.”

“Can’t, or won’t?” she asks.

I meet her eyes, letting my silence do the answering.

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