Undecided, page 16
Teenagers walk by and holler “Get a room!” breaking us apart. We’re both breathing hard, the windows only starting to steam up, advertising our activities without actually obscuring them.
“Hi,” Crosbie says, smiling.
I can’t help but smile back. “Hi.”
He reaches over to tuck a piece of hair behind my ear. “Did you get in trouble at work after we left?”
It takes me a second to remember what he’s talking about. “Oh, Nate?” I shake my head. “Nah. He’s all bark and no bite. And there’s very little bark to begin with.”
“He seemed pretty upset.”
I think about Marcela giving Kellan her number. “It was nothing. He was just trying to seem authoritative because his girlfriend was there.”
“Ah.” He’s quiet for a second. “What do you think about Kellan hooking up with your friend?”
I roll my eyes. “They’re not going to hook up. She was just…” I wonder how much I can say before I’m a bad friend. “Things are weird between Marcela and Nate and she was just doing that to show him she’d…moved on.”
Crosbie’s brows raise. “They’re hooking up.”
“How do you know?”
“How do you think I know?”
“They just met this afternoon! She got off work twenty minutes ago.”
“And Kellan’s got the apartment to himself.”
“You said he needed to ice his foot. And he promised not to bring people home.”
He shrugs. “So you’re not okay with it.”
“I’m—” I stop myself. Crosbie’s studying the steering wheel with far too much focus. Belatedly I realize he wasn’t just gossiping, he was testing me. I think back to that first conversation we had, right after I’d gone by to view the apartment. How he told me not to expect happily ever after with Kellan McVey, assuming I’d be like every other girl on campus, desperate for his attention. He hadn’t been entirely wrong then, but he’s wrong now. “Crosbie,” I say seriously. I repeat his name when he doesn’t look at me, and finally he turns his head. “I don’t have a thing for Kellan. Honest.”
“He’s a good roommate,” I add. “He cleans up after himself and so far he’s upheld his end of the bargain about only using the apartment to sleep and study.”
“But he eats way too much mac and cheese.”
Crosbie huffs out a laugh.
“And I think he steals my shampoo.”
“He loves that stuff.”
“He should love it. It’s expensive. The point is—we’re just roommates.”
“You seemed pretty annoyed when he got your friend’s number.”
“That’s because she’s just doing this to hurt Nate, and I’m going to be stuck in the middle and work will be awkward. That’s it.”
“Positive. Can we see Kill Glory 3 now?”
“Will I be able to follow along if I haven’t seen the first two?”
“Probably not. But I expect you’ll have your eyes covered most of the time anyway, so it won’t matter.”
He pushes open his door. “You’re buying your own popcorn.”
* * *
Two and a half hours later, we’re sitting in the adjacent chain restaurant, sharing a plate of nachos. “For the hundredth time,” Crosbie is saying, “that wasn’t a yelp. I stubbed my toe. It was a manly grunt of pain.”
I stare at him earnestly. “You know you can tell me anything, right? I absolutely won’t re-enact it for Kellan.”
“You’re a monster.”
I twist a chip until the string of cheese connecting it to the plate gives up the fight and snaps in half. I’m on a date with Crosbie Lucas. I’d met him tonight expecting some frenzied, cramped sex in the backseat of his car, but here we are, movie, dinner, the works. I know I’d vowed to do this year completely differently, but this isn’t exactly the “different” I’d envisioned.
“Have you given any more thought to open mic night?” I ask, steering the subject away from his fear of scary movies.
He sips his orange soda. “That hasn’t passed already?”
“It’s in two weeks.”
“You should do it. I liked that trick you showed me.”
He smiles. “It was an illusion.”
“Do you know any more illusions?”
“Of course I do.”
“Let’s see one.”
He stares at me for a second. “Do you have any change?”
“Are all these illusions going to cost me money?”
“This way you know there’s no shady business going on, Nora. Two pennies or two dimes, whatever you have will do.”
I fish around in my purse until I find two dimes, then place them in his outstretched hand. He moves the plate of nachos to the side so the center of the table is clear, then holds out both his hands, palms up, a dime in the center of each.
“Two coins, one in each hand,” he says. “Got it?”
He flips his hands over and I hear the clack of the coins hitting the table, hidden from view. “Pick a hand,” he says.
I hesitate, then tap the right.
“Good choice. You know why?”
“Because that’s where the money is.” Slowly, dramatically, he lifts his right hand to reveal two dimes. I gape as he lifts the left, which has nothing underneath.
“How did you do that?”
“Crosbie, seriously. Tell me.”
“Do it again.”
He slides the dimes across the table and eats another nacho. “Don’t be greedy. There are other things I want to do to you instead.”
I’d really like to say that those other things won’t be happening if he doesn’t tell me how he did that trick, but I’ve told enough lies for one day. I really want to know the secret, but even more than that, I want Crosbie.
“Just give me a hint.”
He laughs and scoops up guacamole with his chip. “Forget it.”
“How about—” The words fade as the doors open and a group of guys wearing Burnham hockey team jackets struts in, the standard cluster of fans trailing in their wake. Crosbie has his back to the door but turns to follow my horrified stare. Slowly, he shifts back to face me, eyes narrowed.
I swallow and watch with relief as the hostess leads the rowdy group to the opposite side of the restaurant. I don’t personally know any of them, but their names occupy more than a few bathroom stalls, and I know at least two of those girls have black markers ready and waiting. If I’m spotted eating nachos with Crosbie Lucas, the rumors will start. And even if they don’t care enough to learn my name, I’ll be another blank space next to a double-digit number on another guy’s list, which is quite possibly even worse.
“No,” I say, as my plan to quit lying dies a quick death. My appetite has fled so I push the nachos in his direction and finish the last of my drink. “Are you ready to go?”
He arches a brow. “Do you know them?”
“Then what’s the problem?”
There’s obviously a problem so I exhale and study my fingernails. “I don’t want to be a Crosbabe.” I glance up through my lashes to see his jaw tense as he watches me.
“You know I’m not in there updating that list, right? Your name’s not even on it.”
“I don’t want it to be.”
I shoot a pointed look across the room and he finally clues in. “You’re being paranoid,” he says. “What do you want me to do? Put a bag over your head and lead you out of here through the kitchen?”
“Look—I promise you won’t wind up on the list, okay? Like you said the other night, there aren’t even any new names on it. People aren’t pay
My face is hot and I feel stupid and embarrassed. I know it’s not fair to blame Crosbie for being himself, especially when the only thing he’s done tonight is pick me up from work and take me to dinner and a movie. I just can’t stomach the thought of sitting across from Dean Ripley as he gives me another stern sex talk.
“Who was it?” he asks.
I snap out of my reverie. “Who was what?”
“That did this to you? Made you so worried?”
“What are you talking about?”
“When we hooked up, that wasn’t your first time. So who was it? A bad experience last year? Tell me and I’ll deal with it.”
My eyes bulge. “There’s nothing for you to deal with!” I snap. And I’m definitely not telling him about my ill-fated Kellan hookup. “There wasn’t—I didn’t…” I sigh. “Look, I know you think I’m boring.”
“I didn’t mean—”
“No, you’re right. I’m trying to be. I want to be boring. Do you know what my nickname was in high school? Nora Bora. You know what I did? Graduated. Then last year I partied a lot, trying to make up for being such an invisible loser in high school, and nearly got kicked out. I lost half my scholarship and now I have to have these meetings with the Dean and…”
“And turning up on my list will make you look bad.”
“It will make it look like I’m not taking all their threats to expel me seriously. And I am.” It’s half the truth, but it’s the only half I’m willing to share.
“I get it.”
“It’s not you, Crosbie.”
“I know that, Nora.”
We stare at each other, hurt and confusion roiling between us.
“Free refill?” The server’s shrill voice pierces the tension and we both jump.
“No,” Crosbie says, eyes on me. “I’ve had enough. You?”
“I’m fine,” I tell her. “Just the bill.”
“Sure thing. You want the rest of these wrapped up?” She gestures to the half-eaten plate of nachos. Seconds earlier it was a platter of cheesy goodness, and now it’s just a soggy mess. I shake my head.
We sit in unhappy silence as we wait. After a strained minute Crosbie reaches across the table to take back the two dimes I’d forgotten.
“Watch,” he says, placing a coin on each of his upturned palms. I pay close attention as he flips his hands, the coins pinging as they connect with the table. “See that?” he asks.
I frown. “I don’t think so.”
He does it again, slower. This time I see him toss one dime into his left hand, so that hand has two coins and the other has none. It’s so fast I’d miss it if I blinked. Or even if I was watching very, very closely, apparently.
“That’s the whole trick,” Crosbie says, sliding the dimes back in my direction. “You see what I want you to see. And sometimes you see what you want to see.”
“Look. I don’t want to get you in trouble with the Dean. I just thought you were a nerd. A hot one, but still a nerd.”
“And if you want to keep things quiet because you and Kellan have some ‘no fun’ policy in place, and you don’t want the Dean breathing down your neck and you want to keep your name off that fucking list, then that’s fine. But I’m not doing this if you’re embarrassed to be seen with me.”
“I’m not embarrassed—”
“If your name shows up on that wall, I’ll head up there with a bottle of whiteout and get rid of it, okay?”
His shoulders are hunched, his cheeks pink. He’s trying. The good-time party boy who has women flocking and makes it look like everything comes easy to him, works harder than anyone I’ve ever known. And anyone I’m pretending to be.
The server brings the bill and Crosbie sticks some money underneath and pins it in place with a salt shaker. “I can pay,” I offer, but he shakes his head and stands.
“Let’s just get out of here.”
We shrug into our coats and head for the door. Crosbie holds it open and from behind us I hear a few voices call his name. He returns the greeting but doesn’t stop, and I hurry out into the cold night, my breath condensing in the air. We’d walked here from the theater, and now we make the quiet trek back to his car, the parking lot mostly empty.
The car door locks aren’t automatic so I linger as he unlocks mine and pulls it open, waiting until I’m seated before closing it. His manners, his unexpected honesty—it unnerves me and my hands are shaking a little as I reach over to pull up the plastic lock on his side. He drops into the seat, sticking the key in the ignition and turning up the heat to high. Chilly air bursts out of the vents and I stick my hands between my knees for warmth. Crosbie rubs his palms together, and when the thin film of fog on the glass has cleared, he puts his hands on the wheel.
“You good to go?” he asks.
“Anything else you need in Gatsby?”
“I’m all set.”
We drive in silence until we reach the freeway, more of an uncomfortable I-don’t-know-what-to-say quiet than an angry one, and Crosbie finally reaches over to turn up the volume on the radio. An old pop song fills the air and I think about one time last winter when a freak snow storm blew through and Marcela, Nate and I were trapped in the coffee shop over night. Marcela played this song on her phone and showed us the dance she’d done to it in her third grade talent show, where she’d come in second. I remember watching Nate hand her a star-shaped cookie and telling her she would have gotten first place if he’d been the judge. He’d done so many sweet things for her and she’d been entirely oblivious.
“I’m sorry I hurt your feelings,” I blurt out when Crosbie turns onto my street.
He’s quiet as he parks beneath a tree a couple of doors down. The streetlights are blocked out and we’re cocooned in darkness. He flexes his fingers on the steering wheel. “It’s fine. You didn’t.”
“I think I did.”
He glances at me. “You didn’t.”
“Thanks for the movie. And the nachos.”
“And the illusion.”
He laughs roughly. “Any time.”
I unbuckle my belt. I should get out of the car and let this strange thing between us melt away, but I don’t. Instead I shift onto my knees and lean over the gear shift to kiss him. I hold his face in my hands and press our lips together, waiting for him to stop me like he’d waited for me that first time, but he doesn’t. I stroke his ears and his hair and the stiff muscles in his neck, all the things I’ve been wondering about. His hair is a cropped mess of unruly curls but it’s surprisingly soft, and when I trace my nails along the back of his ear I feel him inhale. I sink my teeth lightly into his lower lip and he groans deep in his throat and parts his lips. I slip my tongue into his mouth and he finally lifts one hand to cup the back of my head, the solid pressure of his fingers the only indication he needs this as much as I do.
But I want so much more than this, and if the increasingly frenzied intensity of our kisses is any indication, so does he. My heart is pounding as I unzip my jacket and shove it over my shoulders. Crosbie opens his eyes, the whites just visible in the darkness. “You want—” He doesn’t finish the sentence before I’m kissing him again, undoing his jacket and unbuttoning his shirt. I scrape my nails across his chest and he unbuckles his seatbelt and turns as best he can in the close quarters. I want to straddle him, fuck him, ride him, but there’s no room for both of us in the driver’s seat.
“Nora,” he gasps.
“I want,” I breathe against his lips.
“You…” He looks around quickly, assessing the situation. “All right. Hang on.” He lifts my hips so he can raise himself over the gear stick and slide into my seat instead. He reclines the back and I come down over him, hands and lips and heat everyw
“You’ve gotta get these off,” he mutters, fingers tangling in the waistband of my jeans. I mumble incoherently as I try to kick off my sneakers without kneeing Crosbie in the crotch, then we both work my jeans and panties down my legs until I get one foot free to properly straddle him.
He keeps his eyes open, locked on mine, as he unbuttons his own jeans and frees his erection. It’s too dark for me to fully appreciate it, but I see his arm move and know he’s stroking himself. He’d done this last time, too, and I never even got to touch.
“Let me,” I whisper against his lips. My hand replaces his and we both groan. He’s thick and hot and hard, everything I want and need. Even before he slips his hand between my legs I’m moaning, and the stretch of his fingers inside me, teasing, preparing, makes me want to seize up and explode. It’s freezing outside but I feel sweat on my back, see it beading on Crosbie’s temple, reflecting in the tiny bit of moonlight that filters in.
“Let me get a condom,” he grunts, straightening up to reach into the glove box. He gets one open and rolled on in record time and moments later I’m slowly easing him in. My breath catches at the feel, perfect and satisfying. An enormous relief after the tension at dinner. My muscles go weak and my thighs shake as I try not to impale myself too quickly, shuddering when he’s finally buried and I can catch my breath.
“Nora,” he murmurs, cupping my face and kissing me. Our chests press together and even through my shirt I can feel the heat of his skin, the rapid thud of his heart. He kisses me deeply, wetly, like it means something, and though I wanted to fuck him, my body has other ideas. Instead I shift and slide slowly, the movement slick with friction and heady arousal, reaching places I didn’t even know existed.
Other author's books:
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