Isn't She Lovely Page 32

And I want to know what.

“Olivia cheated on me,” I blurt out.

Aaaannnnd … there it is. I’ve just spilled my guts to someone who I’m not entirely sure won’t take said guts out on the back deck and barbecue them.

She was about to crawl off the couch and retreat to her bedroom, but she pauses and sets her bottle on the table. “Well … shit. Speaking from experience, I know how much that sucks. Although admittedly David and I weren’t betrothed from the womb, like you and Olivia.”

I smile grimly. “It’s worse. She cheated on me with my best friend. The Price/St. Claire/Middleton clan I was telling you about? You mentioned we sounded incestuous … let’s just say that the youngest Price and the youngest St. Claire have officially ‘shared’ the youngest Middleton.”

She puts a hand over her mouth. “Gawd, Ethan. Sorry. When I said that, I didn’t mean …”

“Sure. But you were right.”

“Wait—if she cheated, then why is she still coming around your parents’ house? I mean, you shouldn’t need a decoy girlfriend if your old one has, um … moved on.”

I fiddle with the bottle. “Well, see, I’m not sure Olivia has moved on. She texts me about five times a day apologizing. Says it was a mistake.”

“And you won’t forgive her.”

I suck in a deep breath, considering. “I could. Maybe I should. I mean, we’re young, and we’ve been together forever, and I know these things happen. But I can’t get the mental picture out of my head, ya know?”

Her eyes bug out. “You actually saw them?”

For a second I’m tempted to clam up. To blow off her questions the way she blew off mine when I asked about her mom. But if we’re going to make this believable, even on a charades level, she’ll need all of the information. Especially when she meets Olivia, which will be unavoidable at my parents’ party in a few weeks.

“Michael, my best friend—” I break off. “Former best friend. The two of us were inseparable. I know that’s not the cool-guy thing to say, but we grew up together. Our parents were the same, our education was the same, same sports, same activities …”

“I get it. Classic bromance.”

“Right. So anyway, I’d gotten box seats for the Yankees from my dad, and I swung by Michael’s place to see if he wanted to go. And …”

She covers her eyes like a little kid watching a scary movie. “They were together.”

“Oh, yeah. I walk into his bedroom, and there’s my best friend and my girlfriend—”

Stephanie holds up a hand. “God. Stop. I get it.”

I tilt my head. “Really? Because I haven’t even gotten to the good stuff yet.”

Although honestly, I don’t mind that she’s cut me off. The mental image of Michael and Olivia is ingrained enough in my brain without having to plant the picture in someone else’s head.

Still, Stephanie looks revolted by my revelation, and I wonder if it’s because she’s remembering the moment when that douche boyfriend of hers cheated on her. For some reason I never made the comparison before, but it occurs to me now that in certain ways we’re not that different.

Of course, our similarities are limited to the f**ked-up kind: being cheated on, taking classes during the summer in order to avoid something else in our life, and then being so unwilling to actually face the shit that’s staring us down that we’ll invent a fake relationship.

“Your turn, Kendrick,” I say, keeping my voice light. “Give me at least a hint of the home situation. At least help me understand why you talk about North Carolina like it’s a leper colony.”

Though she hesitates, my own confession must have had the desired effect, because she reluctantly slumps back down onto the couch and starts fiddling with the label on her bottle.

“Short version?” she asks.

I shrug. “I’ll take what I can get.”

“After my mom died, my dad remarried this total … well, I don’t get along with my stepmom. At all.”

I nod, and wait for her to continue, but she doesn’t even try to meet my eyes.

“And …?”

“What do you mean, ‘and’?”

“Come on, you’re not the first person to resent a stepparent. There’s got to be more to the story.”

“Why?” she asks, her expression going petulant.

“Well, because you’re twenty-one, not eleven. Adults don’t begrudge their parents their happiness. Especially not widowed parents.”

I don’t mean to be harsh, but she looks like I’ve slapped her, and I instantly feel like I’m missing something major.

“It’s not like that,” she whispers.

I lean forward. “Then what is it like?”

But she clamps her lips together before setting the beer on the coffee table and standing. “Don’t worry about it, Pygmalion. As long as your ivory statue keeps performing to spec, that’s all you need to worry about.”

She’s right, of course. She’s fulfilling her end of the bargain.

But as I hear her bedroom door shut with a decisive click, I find myself wanting to punch something.

Why is she so damned closed off?

And, more important, why does it bother me so much?

Chapter Eleven


“Your turn,” Ethan says, using the driver-side controls to roll down the passenger-side window that I just rolled up because it was wreaking havoc on my hair.

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