Isn't She Lovely Page 35

“Kidding,” I lie, trying to break the silence. “Made that one up. The third one was the lie—”

“Don’t, Stephanie. Just don’t,” he says quietly.

I let out a small breath. He’s right. Trying to take it back will only make things worse. Instead of backpedaling, I go for plan B: pretending it didn’t happen.

“So you mentioned that Andrea met a boyfriend at college in California. Have you met—”

“What happened?”

My ears begin to ring. “What?”

“Don’t play dumb.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Yes, you do.”

If he said it like a know-it-all jerk, I would have ignored him. But his voice is kind, and I don’t want him to be kind. I don’t want him to be anything other than a shallow mama’s boy who can’t tell his parents that precious Olivia has a trampy streak.

But the way he’s looking at me now, he doesn’t look like some superficial frat guy. He looks like a friend who cares.

And what can I say? Other than Jordan, it’s been a while since I’ve had one of those.

Correction: it’s been a while since I let myself have one of those.

And apparently I’m going to start with Ethan Price.

“His name was Caleb,” I say, exhaling a deep breath and staring out the window. “Or I guess I should say his name is Caleb. He’s still alive, as far as I know.”

“That’s a shame,” Ethan muttered.

I allow myself a tiny smile. “Yeah, I sometimes feel that way too. Anyway, we started dating the end of sophomore year. And although it kind of pains me to say it now, I really, really liked him, you know? I mean, I don’t know if it was like you and Olivia, where we were destined and all that, but we had fun together. He treated me well. Right up until …”

“Right up until he didn’t.”

“Yeah,” I say with a little laugh. “Looking back, I guess the change didn’t happen overnight. It’s not like he went from being some perfect guy to the jerk that gives his own girlfriend the date-rape drug.”

Ethan swears under his breath, and I wonder if I should stop, but I find I can’t. It feels good to talk about it.

“He’d been weird for a while. Hanging out with his brother’s friends from college. He went from being a valedictorian candidate to not really giving a shit, you know? It’s like all he wanted to do was drink and smoke and have sex …”

Ethan runs a palm over the back of his neck but doesn’t interrupt me.

“But I barely noticed,” I say, my voice going quieter. “I mean, on some level I knew, of course. Knew that he was changing, and not for the better. But my mom was sick. So sick. And I just couldn’t deal. I heard rumors that he was messing around with other girls, and I didn’t even care. Didn’t ask him. I figured it was my own fault for not sleeping with him when he asked me to.”

“Stephanie …”

“Don’t,” I say. “I’m not saying I was right or smart back then, but that’s just how it was. Everything was about my mom and my family, and I was just grateful to have someone whose house I could go to when the last of my mom’s hair fell out, or who would hold me when I cried when the doctor came back with that final ‘one month or less’ diagnosis.”

I glance down at the empty water bottle in my hands, surprised to see that it’s a crinkled, flattened mess.

“Then what happened?” he asks softly.

I open my mouth to respond, but the words don’t come out. To my utter horror, tears fill my eyes, and I realize that although it feels good—so good—to talk to someone, I’m not ready to go there. Not yet.

“I can’t talk about that night,” I say finally, unable to meet his eyes.

He shifts his hands on the steering wheel and glances at me, and for a second I think he’s going to push me. But then his face changes again, and he lets himself become the other Ethan.

First, though, he puts a hand on my cheek, and I lean into his palm for the briefest of moments. Then he pulls back, and just like that, he’s back to being the funny, cocky, mellow guy I met on the first day of class.

“Okay, so it’s my turn, right?” he says, as though we haven’t just taken a trip down my land-mine-filled memory lane. “Two truths and a lie.

“One: When I was in seventh grade, I went camping with a friend and his parents and tried to light my fart on fire and singed off all the hair on my ass. Two: I was a total porker as a kid. Like seriously fat. In fourth grade I ate most of the cupcakes that some girl’s mom had brought in for her birthday, and tried to blame it on the class hamster.…”

I turn my head to watch him as he launches into some ridiculous story, and I’m not thinking about whether this is one of the truths or the lie. I’m thinking that Ethan Price is putting on a damned good show in an effort to cheer me up. In an effort to make me forget.

But mostly I try not to think about what I’m feeling.

Because what I’m feeling has nothing to do with our charade.

What I’m feeling seems real.

Chapter Twelve


“So how long have you and Stephanie been together?”

I glance at Andrea, trying to figure out if it’s just a casual question or if she’s on to us.

I don’t see Andrea much—maybe once a year when she comes home from UC Santa Cruz. But she’s one of those people-reading types who just seems to skip over whatever you say to figure out what’s really going on.

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