Isn't She Lovely Page 68

And Olivia’s right about something else too.

I don’t just care about Stephanie.

I love her.

And I f**king turned away from her because I didn’t like what she was wearing.

“I’m an ass,” I mutter.

“Totally,” Olivia says back with a small smile.

But I’m already climbing over the boat rail, running down the dock, and bounding up the steps toward Stephanie’s room.

It’s empty.

I find my mom in the kitchen, where she’s arguing with the caterers about how they used the wrong champagne flutes.

“Where is she?” I interrupt.

My mother raises an eyebrow. “Who, dear?”

“Stephanie. The next jitney’s not for another forty minutes. She should still be here.”

Mom’s eyes scan my face, and her features soften a little at what she sees there. “Mike and Michelle offered to give her a ride back to the city, sweetie.”

I slump against one of the counters. “Did you catch where they were going to drop her off?”

“Mmmm?” Mom’s already turned back to the caterers. “Oh, I think she said NYU. Something about moving in early to the dorms.…”

I close my eyes. It’s not a surprise, of course. Turning my back on her hadn’t exactly reaffirmed last night’s suggestion that she stay. At my place. With me.

But NYU is huge, and the perfect place for someone who doesn’t want to be found.

I push back from the counter, propelling myself up the stairs to grab my bag before heading toward my parents’ garage. They’ll be pissed, seeing as they need the car themselves to head back to the city in a few days, but hell, maybe a little exposure to the “riffraff” on the Hampton Jitney will do them good.

I call Stephanie as I’m pulling out of the driveway and am totally unsurprised when it goes to voicemail. I text her just in case: Where are you?

I make it back to Manhattan in record time.

She still hasn’t responded.

Chapter Twenty-Seven


Okay, I’ll admit it.

North Carolina’s not nearly the hell I’ve been making it out to be in my head. Even if it were, it’d be worth it for the look of surprised pleasure on my dad’s face when I showed up unannounced.

It was worth it for the way he hugged me to him and held me on the front porch for five minutes past awkward.

And then, because he was predictably Dad, he wanted to know about my classes.

I didn’t bother to correct the impression that I’d given him earlier by explaining now that I had been taking just one class.

“Oh, turns out everything’s been pretty flexible,” I’d demurred. “Just have to turn in my final project in a week, and then I’ll have a week off before the regular year starts up again.”

By project, of course, I meant the screenplay. I haven’t touched it since before the Hamptons trip, but I suppose I’ll have to face it at some point. God knows I don’t trust Ethan to finish the damn thing. He’d probably end it with Kayla wearing a cotton-candy-colored dress while changing her major to communications and declaring that she really did like pearls.

No freaking way am I going to let that happen.

Our screenplay is going to be based on real life. In which our pigheaded, stick-up-the-ass Pygmalion realizes showing someone how to pretend to be something won’t make them that way.

And yet …

Something’s wrong. Because although I’ll probably die happy if I don’t see another pair of four-inch heels for the rest of my life, I feel off in my clothes. And I’m not talking about my new stuff. I mean my old stuff.

I expected to feel like I did before. Sort of comfortably invisible.

But my endless supply of dark pants? They’re hot and not at all comfortable in the middle of the summer. I tried to put on my usual Midnight Sky nail polish but hadn’t applied it to more than two fingers before I removed it and opted for the pale yellow I’d purchased during the charade.

Yes. Pale yellow. And not because anyone expected it, but because I wanted to. Because I liked the way it looked against my summer tan, and the way it matched the polka dots on my favorite dress.

Because yeah, I’m wearing dresses now. Not every day, of course, but I threw one on when I let my dad and Amy take me to a welcome-home dinner. I paired it with my boots, which probably wasn’t in fashion, but I kind of liked the contrast. And although I haven’t gotten rid of my dark eye makeup—truthfully, I kind of like the way it makes my blue eyes stand out—I’ve eased up a bit, so now the look is sort of edgy rebel instead of gothic scary.

The symbolism of all this isn’t lost on me. The old Stephanie and the fake Stephanie had collided, and now I’m new Stephanie. And it feels right.

Even if I’m lonely as hell.

I don’t know why I didn’t expect that I’d miss Ethan. I shouldn’t miss him. He’s a shallow, superficial little boy who was scared that hanging out with creepy old me might dull some of his upper-crust shine.

I should be angry. And I suppose that I am.

But more than that, I’m hurt.

That look on his face when he saw me that horrible last morning in the Hamptons? That horror on his face?

I hope to God I never feel like that again, ever. It burned.

He didn’t just reject my admittedly ugly outfit. He rejected me.

And the worst part was, I didn’t see it coming. I really thought he cared beyond what I looked like, beyond what people thought.

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