Isn't She Lovely Page 63

Trying to take her out to a nice dinner, me in my suit and her in her scuffed battlefield boots.

I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see any of it.

“Ethan, do you want me to change?”

I feel a flood of relief at her suggestion. God, yes. “I think you look great in your new stuff,” I say, patting myself on the back for being diplomatic.


Oh, shit. Her question hadn’t just been a question. It had been a test. A test that I’d failed.

I’d never seen anyone’s expression so cold. The hurt I could fix. The anger I could deal with. But this numb, don’t-give-a-shit Stephanie?

This was bad. Really bad.

“Stephanie …”

She holds up a hand. “Get out.”

My own temper spikes at her cool dismissal, as though we don’t owe it to each other to have a conversation about this. “You’re regressing, Kendrick.”

“Regressing to what, exactly?”

“The old you. The version of you that was wary, scary, and maybe a little mean. The version that was mad at everyone and scared of everything.”

She takes a half step closer, her eyes flashing. “There is no old me, Ethan. There’s the real me, and then there’s the made-up Barbie version that I’ve been faking for the past month.”

I shake my head, not buying it for a second. “You’ve been happy the past few weeks. Don’t deny it.”

“I’m not denying it! But it wasn’t the new clothes or makeup that made me happy, Ethan.”

I get what she’s trying to tell me, I do. And I should be mollified by the fact that it’s me that’s made her happy. Not my money, or my lifestyle, or the fact that there’s legit marble in my bathroom. Isn’t that what every dude wants? A girl who likes him for him and not his image?

But then she tucks her hair behind her ear and the morning light catches her earrings. All seven of them.

She won’t last a day in my world. Everyone from my parents to my friends to my colleagues will talk about her behind her back. I can’t ask that of her.

But neither can I ask her to change.

I meet her eyes, and I know the second she understands. This isn’t going to work.

But I want it to. Hell, I’m determined. Maybe she just needs to see that she doesn’t have to wear that shit. Maybe then she’ll get rid of it for good.

And if she doesn’t … well, we’ll work it out. I think.

I extend my hand. “Let’s go to brunch.”

She looks surprised at the offer, and I feel a little pang that she thinks I wouldn’t want to be seen with her like this.

And it hurts a hell of a lot more that for a second there, I actually didn’t want to be seen with her like this.

“Ethan, are you … I can change.”

For a second, I’m tempted. For her sake as much as mine. But her eyes are vacant and lost, and I know that if I ask that of her, she’ll be lost to me.

I shake my head. “Let’s do this.”

Chapter Twenty-Five


Everyone is staring. I mean, I knew they would, but …

It’s worse than I thought.

Not that I have anyone to blame but myself. I knew when I’d dressed up like a character out of The Nightmare Before Christmas in this group that I’d be getting some looks. That I’d fit in about as well as a mutt among purebred poodles.

But I needed to know. Needed to know how Ethan would react. If he’d even see the boots and the eyeliner, or if he’d see me.

The answer was heartbreaking.

He was holding my hand now, but the gesture felt empty. Cold. As though my black T-shirt with the name of some random rock band I don’t even like printed across the front was slowly erasing everything that happened last night.

I give him credit for trying to pretend like we’re okay. I really do. But the words we exchanged when he first entered my room are hanging between us, and I know we’re both guilty. Me for not trusting him. For waking up this morning with the paralyzing fear that I’d just given my virginity to a real-life Pygmalion—a guy who’d fallen for his creation instead of the real deal. For testing him. And him for making me right. Because he did look at me differently now that I’m not dressed up like an Easter egg.

Just like it’s as clear as day that he’s uncomfortable right now, holding the hand of someone who’s so clearly not one of them.


We both turn around, grateful for a distraction from the stares. From the silence between us.

There’s a well-dressed older man whom I remember seeing at the bonfire but haven’t met yet. He’s wearing a white polo and khaki shorts. The guy is solidly middle-aged but looks more tanned and fit than most of my social circle of twentysomethings. In fact, the guy could be Ethan in several years. Or what Ethan might be if he quits hanging around me.

“Hey, Pat,” Ethan says, giving the older man a friendly if slightly strained smile.

“Just wanted to meet your new girl. Didn’t have a chance earlier in the weekend.”

Ethan hesitates, not enough for Pat to notice, but I notice, and the tightness in my chest is back.

“Sure. This is Stephanie Kendrick. My girlfriend.”

I should feel mollified that he says it out loud, but there’s no enthusiasm there. Certainly no pride.

“Pat Middleton,” the guy says, shaking my hand. “My daughter and Ethan grew up together.”

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