Isn't She Lovely Page 4

“Look, it’s Stephanie, right?” I ask, grabbing her backpack again when she tries to zoom off, and pulling her to a stop like she’s a little kid. “Do you wanna meet and talk about our project now, or do you have other plans? Killing cats, or getting another piercing?”

Her eyes flit from side to side like she’s looking for a weapon, but then she sighs and shakes free of my grip. “Maybe we have the option to work on our own if we want to,” she said. “I’m not really the social type.”

I lay a hand over my chest. “You, not social? I’d never have believed it.”

She gives me a dramatic eye roll.

“Come on, give me a chance,” I say. “How about a little get-to-know-each-other? I’ll start us off. True or false: you keep a shiv in your boot.”

For a second I think she’s going to smile, but instead she narrows her eyes and gives me a condescending once-over. “True or false,” she shoots back. “You usually have a pastel sweater tied around your shoulders.”

I don’t answer. I do technically own a pastel sweater, but only because my mom bought it for me. And I’d never wear it around my shoulders.

“Whatever,” she says. “I’m going to ask Holbrook if we have the option to work independently.”

I give her a fake sympathetic smile. “Trust me on this. Martin’s a good guy, but he’s not going to grant you any exceptions because you’re socially challenged.”

She raises an eyebrow at my use of Martin’s first name, and I make a mental note to start calling him Professor Holbrook on campus. I already feel guilty enough that he let me into a class that had a mile-long waiting list.

She chews on her lip, looking completely unconvinced.

“Look, this doesn’t have to be painful,” I coax, rapidly losing patience. “How about we just go grab a coffee and figure out our game plan.”

“Fine,” she says finally.

“Starbucks good?” I ask. “Or does their paper cup supplier kill too many dolphins or something?”

She gives me another of those baby-owl looks. “Exactly how many clichés do you have in your back pocket?”

“You started it,” I say, slowing my stride when I notice that she’s struggling to keep up. “You think I didn’t notice that you and everyone else assumed I arrived at that classroom by yacht?”

“You didn’t? I mean, Manhattan is mostly surrounded by water.”

I study her for a second, trying to figure out if she’s for real right now. I can’t tell, so I default to my usual sarcasm. “Nah, you’ll only find me on the yacht on weekends.”

This time she’s giving me a look, trying to figure out if I’m serious. This is almost enjoyable, in a warped, I’d-rather-be-dying kind of way.

“Stephanie, huh?” I ask, when she doesn’t respond. “You go by Steph?”

“No. Not Steph,” she says as we cross the street to the familiar green-and-white Starbucks logo. “My ex-boyfriend called me that, so I’m kind of over it.”

God, someone actually dated this cranky little midget? Then my eyes skim the perky cle**age beneath the tiny tank top. Right. There is that.

“Bad breakup?” I ask, holding the door open for her.

“I guess. I mean, I walked in on him exploring someone else’s vagina, and I can’t say I was exactly understanding.”

I choke back a little laugh at her description. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a girl use that word so casually in a sentence. It’s a little … alarming. “Got it. So no on Steph, then.”

For a second I feel a little stab of envy at her method of moving on from a bad relationship. I wish Ethan had an easy nickname so that I could erase … everything.

“Let me guess: you’re going to get something with soy,” I say as we get in line.

She lifts a shoulder, apparently resigned to this particular stereotype. “Grande soy mocha, no whip. And you’re going to go for a manly drip, right? Or maybe straight-up espresso?”

Even though I know I’m the one who took us down the path of trading clichéd stereotypes, I’m starting to hate that our assumptions about each other are mostly right, so instead of my usual tall drip, I get to the counter and throw out every fluffy word that I can think of: white chocolate, whipped cream, caramel, almond spice. “Oh, and don’t forget the sprinkles,” I add.

The barista gives a nod, clearly trying to figure out where to find room to write that on a paper cup already covered with the trademark black Sharpie scribblings. It’s a little emasculating, but I roll with it. I’m happy to be “metro,” or whatever it is they’re calling guys who actually brush their teeth and clip their toenails.

“You ordered that just to prove me wrong,” she says as we grab our drinks and head for a table.

“Just like you let me pay for yours because I was assuming you’d insist on paying for your own.”

“That, and it was hard to miss the wad of twenties in your wallet.”

“Drug money,” I lie, taking a sip of my drink. I wince at its painful sweetness, and Stephanie smirks, showing off a really cute dimple I haven’t noticed before. Probably because the girl’s not exactly throwing grins around for free.

“Tell me you understood some of that babble from class,” I say, shoving my drink aside. “What in God’s name is a ‘common film narrative’?”

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