Isn't She Lovely Page 7

I’m dragging Jordan down, and I know it. She’s always coming onto my turf, playing by my rules. I owe her at least this.

Plus she’s probably right. Maybe I should try to get out more. This whole housing crisis has made me painfully aware of how few friends I have. Hell, how few acquaintances I have. Maybe this stupid party will be the first step in avoiding a future of living on canned beans and having a thousand cats.

There’s some Greek symbol on the door of the thumping house, but I have no idea what it means … guys, girls, whatever.

But the smell is painfully familiar. Booze, sweat, too much cologne.

I take a deep breath through my mouth and try to block out the memories. You can do this.

Jordan is immediately mobbed by a pack of squealing girls who largely ignore me, despite the fact that Jordan’s still holding my hand. It’s cool. I don’t belong. I get it.

I pull my hand away gently and she gives me a questioning look, which I return with a quick smile: I’m good.

And I am. Because I’ve totally figured out how these parties work. Avoid the keg cups, and you’re good. Pick the wrong keg cup, and your life is turned upside down.

I walk past a handful of couples making out and ignore the way a group of guys in the corner ogle my boobs. The kitchen’s even worse. It’s a shit show of bottles, kegs, and pitchers of some neon liquid.

I move on. Although I don’t know what I’m looking for, really. A quiet corner to stand in, I guess. A tall redheaded girl who looks sort of familiar spots me and gives me a wide smile. “Hey, Steffie! Can I get you a drink?”

Steffie. I hate that name. I only allow Jordan to call me that for old times’ sake, but apparently some of her friends have picked it up, and I can’t think of a way to correct this girl without sounding like a total bitch. And at least this one acknowledges me.

“I’m good,” I say, giving what I hope is a friendly smile as I move on.

I mentally scold myself as I walk away. That could have been the opening I needed to start a conversation and maybe see if she knows somebody who knows somebody who’s looking for a roommate for the summer. But my knack for small talk evaporated a long time ago, and now nobody is even looking at me, much less talking to me.

I have to turn sideways to slide along the crowded hall leading to what I hope’s a living room, or maybe a side door or even just a giant hole in the ground that will swallow me up and get me the hell out of here.

I’m almost through the hallway when one of the meatheaded dudes in front of me stops suddenly and lifts his hand to give his friend a high five. He inadvertently catches my chin with his elbow as it goes up.

“Shit!” he says, looking down at me. “Shit, my bad—”

His voice breaks off, and I forget all about the fact that my teeth are still rattling. It’s him.

“Ethan Price,” I say, gingerly rubbing at my jaw. “How is it that I’ve made it through three years as an undergrad without seeing you, and now I can’t even go a week?”

I wait expectantly for one of those glib comebacks that seem to roll off his tongue like witty diarrhea, but all I get is an awkward silence.

I look at him more closely, and it takes me all of five seconds to realize that this isn’t the same too-charming guy who crashed my film class and bought me coffee.

It’s still Ethan Price, but he’s … different. This version is closed off. His jaw is tight and his brown eyes are wary. His walls are up for some reason.

He’s still gorgeous, though, even though he’s glaring at me. Hell, maybe he’s more gorgeous because he’s glaring at me. The Ethan I met earlier in the week put me on edge with his cutesy comebacks and easy grin. This version is more like me. Guarded. Maybe a little bit angry.

Oddly, I find I want to know why.

I see him scan the crowded hallway nervously, and suddenly it clicks. This Ethan is painfully aware of his image, and a girl like me is not going to help his manly rep. It was okay to talk to a weirdo like me when he was amid a bunch of other weirdos. But these beefy jocks and skinny sorority girls are his people. In his world, people like him don’t talk to people like me. And we both know it.


It’s not like I care. Not really.

But still, I want to snub him before he snubs me, so I start to shoulder past.

His fingers find my arm before I can move; it’s a little more caveman than I would expect from someone who probably gets manicures.

“You okay, Goth?” he asks gruffly, his dark eyes searching mine.

For a second my stomach flips at his question. When was the last time somebody asked me if I’m okay?

Then reality sets in, and I realize he’s not asking if I, Stephanie Kendrick the person, am okay. He’s simply making sure I didn’t lose a tooth when he elbowed me in the face. Probably making sure I won’t take revenge with some sort of voodoo trick.

I’m startled by my own disappointment.

“Sure, I’m good,” I say in response. And I really am. Now that my teeth have stopped rattling, it doesn’t even hurt anymore.

Then it happens.

Someone jostles me from behind, pushing me into Ethan so I’m pressed up against this macho jock, my boobs landing softly against his chest and my hands finding his shoulders.

Shit. Awkward.

Move, Stephanie

But I don’t.

He feels safe somehow, which doesn’t make sense.

My nose barely reaches the middle of his chest, and I try to order my hands to push against him so I can regain my balance. I tell myself that I am not registering how firm his broad chest is beneath my palms. But I’m a liar, because I definitely notice.

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