Icing on the Lake, page 15
“No—see…we are going away for the weekend, but it’s not…like that. I mean, it is like that, but it’s only a little trip,” I said.
Conor shook his head. He looked a little disgusted by me at that moment. “No, you can’t have it both ways. You’re either with him or you’re not. And since you’re going out with him, and then going away for the weekend, I’m thinking you’re with him. I don’t know why you’d want to be, but that’s your problem.” He stepped away from the minivan. “Look, can we go now?”
“Yeah, okay.” I started to walk around to the driver’s door. But instead of getting into the car, Conor followed me around it.
“So what was the plan, exactly?” he said as I opened the door. “You needed a guy for the weekend? Were you comparing us or something?”
“Conor. Please,” I said. “I didn’t have a—a plan. Things just happened.”
He raised one eyebrow. “Things don’t just happen,” he said.
“But they did!” I protested. “Sean and I just sort of…we kept running into each other. And he seemed to like me, and you…you didn’t. I mean, you mocked me half the time, and ignored me the other half.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Conor said. “I’ve been nice to you since day one, since the day you got here.”
I had to shake my head at that. “Wait a second. Wait a second,” I sputtered. “Are you talking about you? Nice to me since day one? Have you listened to yourself lately?”
“What,” Conor said. “What are you talking about, I’m nice.”
“Yeah, now you are. Maybe. But how about the time you called me stupid? No, wait, that was like five times. Maybe if you had been nice to me, like you claim, I wouldn’t even have looked at Sean.”
“Sure you would have,” Conor scoffed. “Every girl does.”
“Okay. Maybe I would have looked.” He had a point there. “But I definitely didn’t sense any interest coming from you.”
“Wh—what? Are you serious? How about when I made your coffee all those times? How about when I always made sure I bagged your groceries?”
I laughed. “But those are your jobs!” I pointed out.
He seemed a little stunned by that news. “Well, how about when I went along sledding that night, and to the mattress race to make sure you were safe with those guys?”
“You didn’t need to come along just to protect me. I can take care of myself!” I said.
“Fine. Then do it,” he said. “And have a really great time spending the weekend with Sean. I don’t know how you could, but—”
“Don’t be like that,” I said. “Okay?”
“Sorry. Apparently I am like that,” Conor said.
We stood there for a second, glaring at each other. “Look. Let’s go. I need to get Brett home, and you probably have to work somewhere—”
“I’ll get home by myself. Thanks but no thanks.” He started to walk away, across the parking lot.
“Conor!” I called after him. “Come on, you live practically next door. Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Sorry, that’s just me being me,” he said as he threw up his hands and did his best helpless look.
I sighed. “Come on, please. I don’t know the way.”
“No kidding,” he muttered. “Don’t you think you should learn your way around if you’re going to be here for a few months?”
“I don’t know how long I’m going to be here,” I said. “Maybe not that long.”
“Fine. Get a map then,” Conor said.
“Conor. I promise, it’s the last favor I’ll ever ask you. Could you please show me the way?” I asked.
“All right. Whatever.” He reluctantly trudged back to the minivan and climbed into the passenger seat.
The whole way home, all Conor said to me was, “Right here. Go left. Left. Right.”
Fortunately for Brett, he slept right through it.
I couldn’t tell Conor that in many ways, I actually liked him more than Sean. That I liked the way that lately (at least until just now in the parking lot) he always looked after me, made sure I was doing okay. That he’d come off a little rude and standoffish at first, but that he’d grown on me. That I’d rushed into asking Sean and made a huge error in judgment because of my dumb timeline, because I needed to prove to everyone—including myself—that I could get a great guy.
Which was so superficial, when you got right down to it, that it could almost make me sick. Or else make me Gretchen. Here I was, set up to attend the big dance with Mr. Popular. The Gretchen in me was thrilled; the Kirsten in me would maybe rather take a rain check.
When we got home, I pulled over in front of Conor’s house. He jumped out and slammed the door behind him. “Yeah, it was nice hanging out with you, too!” I called after him as he ran up the walk to his front door.
Fortunately, the windows were closed so he couldn’t hear me.
When I carried the still-sleeping Brett into the house and put him in his crib, Gretchen was nowhere to be found. That was strange.
No more strange than what had just happened with Conor, but still strange.
I was tempted to call my friends right away and ask them what to do, but I had a feeling this was something I’d have to sort out for myself.
That night, I awoke with a start. Something was hitting my bedroom window. At first I thought it was probably sleet, from the sound of it. But after being awake for a minute, I realized it wasn’t sleet—it was rocks. Or pebbles.
Conor! I thought instantly. Maybe it was Conor coming to apologize.
Wait. Coming in the middle of the night didn’t seem like Conor’s style, exactly. Besides, he did sort of hate me right now. I didn’t see him as the kind of person who would smooth things over that quickly; he seemed like the type to hold a grudge for eternity.
I pulled a sweater on over my PJs and slid my feet into my furry boots, then I went to the front door. I peered out the little window on the door to make sure I knew who was throwing pebbles at the window.
Yup. I knew him, all right.
“Hey,” I said, opening the door.
“We just got back!” Sean wrapped his arms around my waist and gave me a big hug.
“It’s nice to see you,” I said.
“You, too. I really missed you,” he said, giving my waist an extra squeeze. And then a little pinch, as he came into the house.
“Mmm,” I said. Had I missed him? I hadn’t really thought about him much. That wasn’t a good sign, was it? He was acting like he was really excited to see me. Coming over in the middle of the night?
“Love those PJs,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Here, I got you a little gift.” He handed me a small white box, which I was almost afraid to open. Not that I don’t like presents, but it seemed like an odd time to be giving me one. Maybe that was why he’d come over in the middle of the night?
I opened the box. Inside was a strange-looking food product. “What is…” I picked up a little slip of paper from the candy company that explained things. “Chocolate-covered potato chips. Huh.”
“Yeah, aren’t they cool?” Sean asked.
I put one in my mouth and crunched it. “Surprisingly yummy,” I said.
I held the open box out to him, but he shook his head. “No thanks, I ate a box on the bus ride home.”
I laughed. “Well, thanks for these. That’s so sweet of you. How was Fargo?”
“We had a great time. Played like two games a day, plus we met with coaching scouts from different colleges. I think I really impressed them.”
“What have you been up to?” Sean asked.
Spending time with your brother. And completely alienating him, I thought.
“Not much,” I said. “The time went by kind of quickly, actually.”
“Oh yeah? That’s good.”
And then we awkwardly looked at each other for a few seconds. Sometimes I wondered what he was do
“So do you want to hang out by the fire for a while? Maybe have some hot chocolate?” Sean asked.
“With our chocolate chips?” I wrinkled my nose. “I don’t know. I don’t actually want any hot chocolate. I don’t think.”
“No?” He seemed disappointed.
I shook my head. “No.”
“What’s wrong?” Sean asked.
“I…I don’t know. Just sleepy, I guess.” I stretched my arms over my head and yawned, for effect.
“Okay, I’ll leave you alone.” He smiled and gave me a little kiss on the cheek. “Snow Ball in two days, are you ready?”
“Not yet.” I pictured the latte Conor had made, with the special foamed milk snowball on top. “But I will be,” I said with a faint smile. “Now would you let me go back to sleep?”
“Okay, okay. See you later!” Sean leaned down to kiss me goodnight, but I turned at the last second so that he kissed my cheek instead.
“I asked Conor to deliver Brett’s birthday cake today. I figured we’d be too busy blowing up balloons and so forth.”
“I did,” Gretchen said.
“You asked Conor to deliver it here?” I nearly shrieked. “Gretchen! I could kill you right now.”
“Why?” she asked.
That’s when I remembered that she didn’t know about the whole Conor situation. All she knew was that I was going to the Snow Ball with Sean, and she was beside herself with excitement about that.
Wait until I told her we were going away for the weekend together. I hadn’t told her yet, because I was dreading her reaction. She knew I had plans to go on a trip with my friends that weekend, because I’d arranged that as soon as I got to her house.
“Why are you going to kill me?” she asked. “I was trying to do you a favor by not asking you to go pick up the cake. I figured you’d be busy enough getting ready for tomorrow night.”
“Well!” I cleared my throat. “That’s just it. I mean, first of all, you’re taking over this whole thing and acting like it’s your party, not mine.”
Gretchen had been jumping for joy—almost literally, almost bouncing off her crutches—ever since I told her that Sean had invited me to the Snow Ball. She’d read about the party in the newspaper’s society sightings page and had been curious about it ever since.
“I knew he’d ask you. This is so perfect! This is great!” she kept crying when I finally told her about it.
I had to tell her to back off. “Gretchen! I’m not like your protégé. You’re living through me or something weird like that.”
“Can’t I be excited for my little sister?” She looked very hurt.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I’m a little stressed out about all this.”
So today, we’d spent the morning at a few malls, searching for the perfect dress for me. Finally we’d found something we both liked: it was strapless, a cool gold color, very classic and wintry looking. And according to Gretchen and the saleswoman (basically clones of each other), it looked great with my hair and slightly golden skin.
Gretchen had sprung for the gown, to thank me for everything I’d done to help her out over the past few weeks. But of course she’d also sprung for new shoes to match it, and a wispy scarf to wear over my shoulders, and some new gold nail polish that would match it.
And of course, a gown for herself. She’d lost ten pounds and was pretty excited about it, not to mention the fact she couldn’t go shopping without buying something for herself.
“Come on, forget about Brett’s silly birthday cake. Let’s talk about the party some more. Right now I’m going to teach you how to waltz,” she announced.
“What?” I cried. “I’m not going to have to waltz!”
“Yes, you are,” she said.
“How would you know, you’ve never gone to this thing,” I snapped. “Sorry. I’m just feeling a little, um, stressed. I won’t know anyone else there, you know?”
“Don’t worry about it. But that’s why you should learn to dance, because it never hurts to be ready for any situation. Emily Post, page 341.”
“Seriously?” I asked.
“Well, it’s in there somewhere.” Gretchen put on a CD of classical music. Then she hopped over to me, swinging on one crutch. “Come on, take my hands,” she said.
“Gretchen, they’re going to have a band. Like, a band that we’d all actually want to dance to,” I told her. “Music from the twenty-first century. I’m not waltzing with my sister, on crutches no less.”
“Do you want to look silly, or don’t you?” she asked.
“Hello? Look at us right now,” I said, laughing.
“Come on. Follow my lead,” she urged. “One-two-three, one-two-three…”
Suddenly Gretchen’s eyes widened.
“What? Did I step on your toe?” I said. “Did I hurt your broken leg? Oh no.”
She shook her head, still staring over my shoulder.
I turned around and saw Conor standing in the doorway, large white bakery box in hand. “Sorry. I knocked. But no one answered, so…”
“It’s okay!” I said. “Gretchen was, uh, imparting some of her dancing wisdom.”
“Where should I put this?” He skillfully closed the door behind him with his foot.
“In the kitchen,” I said. “Come on, I’ll, uh, help you.”
“It’s all right, I’ve got it,” he said as I trailed him down the hall to the kitchen.
I didn’t care if he had it, or not, I wanted to talk to him for a second. “So. How have you been?” I asked.
“Busy,” he said. “You know.” He carefully set the cake box on the counter, sliding it toward the wall so it couldn’t be knocked off by a small child or a dog. Or a very klutzy eighteen-year-old named Kirsten.
“Can I look at it?” I asked.
“It’s nothing special.” He shrugged. “Kids’ birthday cakes, you put a big number on them, decorate a little…”
“Did you do the decorating?” I asked.
He nodded. “Check it out after I leave,” he said.
I heard Brett’s shrieking before I heard his footsteps thundering down the stairs. He was chasing Bear. And my new golden dress was draped over Bear’s back, and my scarf was wrapped around his neck tightly, like a fancy collar.
Brett, of course, was wearing one of my new shoes.
“Connnnnnoooorrrrrr!” he screamed, right before he slammed into Conor’s legs.
“Hey, buddy. How’s it going?” Conor asked.
“Let’s make a snowman!” Brett cried.
“I can’t today. I don’t have time. Sorry,” Conor said.
“Please?” Brett begged.
“Brett, I have to get back to work,” Conor said. “Anyway, aren’t all your friends coming over soon? For your birthday party? That’s why I brought the cake.”
Bear was still racing around with my gown on his back. Gretchen was hopping around after him on her good leg, trying to pull it off with one of her crutches.
“Bear. Bear,” I said. “Come here. Bear!”
Conor grabbed Bear’s collar on his way back down the hall. He got Bear to stand still, and removed the dress and scarf. He held them out to me. “Yours?”
“Uh, yeah. Thanks.” I was standing there, doing nothing, completely stupefied.
“Sure. Hope it’s still wearable. Well, good luck with the dancing. Rock on.” He tipped his baseball cap to me and Gretchen, and went out the door.
“How embarrassing,” I said as I peeked out the window to watch him drive off in the bakery’s delivery van.
I walked back into the kitchen and went over to investigate the birthday cake. We hadn’t had cake in the house since I got here. If Brett’s friends didn’t show up on time, there would be a piece missing.
I opened the box. To my surprise, inside were two boxes: one large, and one small. I opened the large one first. It was a large layer cake with strawberry frosting and a snowman saying, “Happy Birthday, Brett!” and a giant number 4. It was perfectly decorated.
Then I opened the small box. Inside was a chocolate cupcake, with chocolate icing, and chocolate sprinkles on top. And a note that said:
Here’s your favorite, and Brett’s favorite.
See you at the party tomorrow night?
I smiled and felt this incredibly happy glow come to my face. He didn’t hate me anymore. He was going to the Snow Ball, without me, but he was still going. So I’d know someone else—I’d have a friend there.
Or maybe more than a friend.
I quickly grabbed the little box and took it upstairs to my room without showing Brett and Gretchen, where I could gaze at—and eat—the cupcake later, while I reread Conor’s note a few more times.
“How does the cake look?” Gretchen asked when I walked back down into the living room. She was perched on the sofa, watching a video of her wedding.
“The cake looks…wonderful,” I said. Especially the little cupcake in my favorite flavor.
As I sat down beside her on the sofa, I wondered what to do next. Should I cancel my date with Sean? Probably. But it was so last minute—that seemed mean, even if Conor had assured me that Sean would get over it.
I wasn’t sure what to do. I couldn’t talk it over with my sister. If I broke the date with Sean, nobody would be more upset about it than Gretchen. But it wasn’t as if the shoes and the dress would go to waste…though the waltz lessons definitely would.
So I’d go to the dance with Sean. I’d have as nice a time as I could, but at some point during the night, I’d have to tell him that things had changed. That we wouldn’t be going away for the weekend after all, because, as Conor pointed out, I couldn’t have it both ways. I wasn’t sure how to tell him that I might be falling for his brother. That wouldn’t go over well. But I wouldn’t be fake about things, either.
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