Isn't She Lovely Page 65

My own trite phrase almost makes me wince, but throwing out clichés is easier than saying what I want to. That I’m hurt. That I’m scared. That I love him.

“Stephanie, let’s talk about this. I know this morning has been rough, but maybe we can compromise.”

I feel like he’s just landed a karate chop on my solar plexus. “Compromise? You want me to compromise who I am?”

“Maybe this isn’t who you are!” he says, his voice rising enough to draw a few looks. “I’ve got nothing against the color black, but you’re just trying to prove some point that nobody cares about but you!”

Wait, what? That catches me off guard.

He thinks I’m doing this because I’m protecting myself? I’m doing it for him.

Aren’t I?

I push away the seed of doubt. “I’ve gotta go.”

He tries to grab my hand, but I snatch it back.

“Don’t leave me,” he says, his eyes pleading. “I just need a minute. Let me think for a minute.”

I hold his gaze. “Think about what, Ethan? Whether you want your golf games and your country club, or me?”

“Who says I have to choose?”

“Because I don’t belong here! How do you think this will work, you doing your upper-crust shit on weekends and me doing my goth agenda on mine, and we see each other … when?”

“We do go to the same school.”

“A school with over thirty thousand students, Ethan. We don’t have any of the same classes, none of the same friends. We’re on opposite sides of campus.…”

His hand reaches out for mine, but I snatch mine back, ignoring the pain in his eyes.

“You’re pushing me away.” His voice is flat.

Am I? Maybe.

But staying isn’t an option. If I stay, I’ll become whatever he wants me to be. I know I will.

And if the time I’ve spent with Ethan over the past month has taught me anything, it’s that I’m done letting other people shape me. Done getting piercings because I want to push away my dad. Done getting a tattoo because I want to separate myself from that foolish girl who was Caleb’s girlfriend. Done wearing all black because I want to be that troubled girl who just lost her mother.

I’m not entirely sure what I want anymore. But I need to figure it out.

And I can’t do that as Ethan’s puppet girlfriend.

“I’ve got to go, Ethan.”

“You mean like … you want to get back to the city? I can take you—”

“That’s not what I meant.”

I see the second he realizes it. His eyes turn from gold to black and his features are completely blank.

He looks mad. But he also looks relieved. And that burns more than anything else.

I stand, almost turning over my plate in my clumsiness, and hating that I can’t meet his eyes.

“Stephanie,” he says hoarsely.

I meet his eyes. Silently, I beg him to beg me to stay.

He looks away. “You accused me of being Pygmalion … of falling for my own creation, or whatever.”

I swallow. Nod.

His eyes clash with mine again as he stands to tower over me. “You may be right, but that’s not the whole story.”

“No?” My voice is pathetic. Barely a whisper.

He leans in slightly, bracing his arms on the table. “I may be the Pygmalion in the story, but you’re the statue. All that black shit you hide behind? That’s just your version of ivory. You have the chance to come alive, Stephanie, and you’re choosing to be a lifeless piece of rock.”

I feel the color drain from my face.

Is he right? I know he’s right. Yet I still can’t speak.

Because being the statue is easier.

He straightens, and right before my eyes, I watch my Ethan fade away. His expression is blank, his eyes vacant, and just like that, he’s the don’t-give-a-shit jock I met on that first day.

Before I can run the other way to lick my wounds, he catches my eyes and flays me with one more cut. “I’ll be in touch about the screenplay. I’m thinking we might have to reconsider the female lead. God knows we can’t base her on you. We need someone with guts. Someone not afraid to bleed a little. So go back to being the statue, Stephanie. But don’t expect me to be the one to bring you back to life next time. I’m done.”

And then he walks away.

Chapter Twenty-Six


I’m dimly aware of making small talk with a handful of people after I walk away from the table—walk away from Stephanie.

Every instinct is screaming at me to turn back. To take her in my arms and tell her that we will find a way to make this work.

But I don’t.

She’s f**king bailing on me. On us.

After everything, after last night, she’s ready to call it quits because I didn’t swoon over her boots and her creepy makeup.

So I walked away first, thinking it would hurt less that way.

But I’m wrong. Because turning away from her feels like I have a knife in my chest.

And probably in my back too, if I know Stephanie.

Although I’m no longer sure that I do. That scared, indifferent creature isn’t the feisty, gutsy girl I know. I meant what I said to her: she really is turning into the statue. I mean, I know why, of course. To protect herself and all that shit.

But does she really think she has to protect herself from me?

Well, you did flip your shit because she had more earrings than you’d prefer. Why the hell should she trust you?

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