Undecided, page 21
“Tell me you filmed it.”
“I wish. My favorite is the two times the turkey just disappeared.”
“Yep. There was just an empty roasting pan in the oven and a wishbone sitting on the counter. I wished for a turkey.”
I lift a shoulder. “Point is, it’s not worth the trip.”
“What about Christmas?”
“I’ll take the bus on Christmas Eve and make up some excuse about why I have to come back on Christmas Day. They know I work—they’re usually pretty willing to believe me. That way they don’t have to keep up the ‘functional, friendly, former’ charade any longer than necessary.”
“That’s really sad, Nora.”
“The distance helps.”
“I couldn’t help but overhear your turkey sob story,” Marcela says, flitting over and collecting the empty plate.
“You’ve heard it before,” I say, recognizing the glint in her eye and hoping to end whatever it is she’s plotting before it can get underway.
She barrels ahead. “Since I’ll be in Mexico for Thanksgiving, why don’t we make our own post-Thanksgiving turkey dinner? You and Crosbie, me and Kellan. A double date.”
She says “double date” unnecessarily loudly, and entirely for Nate’s benefit. Not that the raised voice is required, since he’s clearly hanging onto every word she says, anyway.
I shake my head and start to stand. Break’s over. “I don’t—”
“The more turkey, the merrier,” Crosbie says, oblivious of my murderous stare. “Why don’t we do it right before the Christmas break? That way everybody gets some turkey.” He glances at me and must interpret my glare as more turkey terrors, because he just pats my hand reassuringly. “Don’t worry, Nora. I’ll keep an eye on it the whole time. That turkey won’t go anywhere.”
Since he’s immune, I turn my glower to Marcela, who smiles smugly.
It’s time for this little emotional tug-of-war she and Nate have going on to come to an end. “You know,” I say, tapping my chin thoughtfully. “A whole turkey is a lot of food for just four people. Why don’t we invite someone else?”
Her eyebrows shoot up when she realizes where I’m going with this. “No—” she begins.
“Nate!” I call. “Turkey dinner at my place. You and Celestia are invited.”
He’s polishing silverware, and I see his mouth quirk up. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he says.
I beam at Marcela. “That settles it.” I do my best to pretend her fulminous glare isn’t legitimately frightening. “And would you look at that? My shift’s over.”
She hustles after me into the kitchen when I retrieve my coat. “Why would you do that?” she demands. “Are you trying to be the queen of terrible dinners?”
“Maybe I’m trying to be a grown up,” I counter, swapping my flats for rain boots. The weather has finally eased up a few degrees, the snow rapidly transforming into slushy puddles and soggy grass. “If you can’t fake a relationship with Kellan for a few hours three weeks from now, why don’t you just call it off?”
“It’s not a fake relationship!”
“It’s incredibly fake. If he was the one dating Celestia, you wouldn’t bat an eye.”
She makes a face. “He would never date her.”
“Yeah, because he learned her name.”
I shake my head. “Never mind. Take notes while you’re in Mexico—you’re going to need to stuff a turkey soon.”
She rolls her eyes and huffs as I leave, meeting Crosbie up front and calling goodbye to Nate before heading outside. The morning’s rain has let up, though the clouds are still gray and heavy overhead, making three o’clock in the afternoon look and feel much later.
“Ready for your chem lab tomorrow?” I ask Crosbie, stepping over an especially large puddle. He’d walked over straight from class so he doesn’t have his car.
“A couple more hours should do it.”
“Seriously? That much?”
He shrugs. “I want to do well.” He’d been studying at Beans for the past three hours while I worked, getting Nate, Marcela and I to quiz him on each section he reviewed.
“You’ll do fine,” I assure him. “I feel like even I know everything there is to know about cell division by now.”
“Yes,” he says, elbowing me. “But you’re a nerd.”
“Better than being the girl who lost her scholarship and had to return home to work at a gas station for the rest of her life.”
“There’s no way you were that bad.”
“It wasn’t good.”
I exhale. “I guess it’s a matter of perspective. For me, pretty bad.” I think of the moment the flashlight beam cut across my bare knees while I squatted naked behind the compost bin. The moment of unbearable shame as I slowly lifted my eyes to face the cop who had found me.
“What’s bad, though?” he presses. “B minus? Because I’d take that, any day.”
“Ha.” I scoff. “B minus was something to aspire to. I skipped a lot of classes, drank too much, did stupid stuff.”
“Yeah?” He looks intrigued. “Like what?”
I try to hide my flinch. We were at the same parties.
“Just…” I don’t want to talk about frat parties. I don’t want to talk about the mistakes I made there, one in particular. “I got arrested,” I blurt out. If I sound guilty he’ll think it’s because I’m embarrassed about the arrest—which I am. But I’m only telling him this to throw him off the trail of the real source of my guilty conscience.
Crosbie stops in his tracks. “Come again?”
I scrub a mittened hand over my chin. “You heard me.”
“Nora Kincaid got arrested? For what? Wait.” He holds up a hand when I start to reply. “I want to guess. Hmm. Shoplifting?”
We resume walking as he ponders. “Vandalism?”
“Is this really what you think of me?”
“I’ll be honest, Nora. I don’t care what you did—the thought of you in an orange jumpsuit is totally turning me on.”
I laugh in spite of myself. “Shut up.”
“Fine. What’d you do?”
I sigh and hold up two fingers.
He gasps. “You got arrested twice?”
“Once. Two charges.”
He covers his face. “Nora!” He’s practically squealing with joy.
“Don’t tell Kellan,” I say sternly. “Don’t tell anyone.”
“My parents. The Dean. The probation officer who monitored my community service.”
“This keeps getting better.”
“One night in May…” I try not to laugh at Crosbie’s enthusiasm. As many times as I’ve replayed that dreadful night, I’ve never once found it funny. But now I suppose I can sort of see it from where he’s standing. I clear my throat. “It was the morning I learned I’d failed two of my five classes and was borderline failing the other three. To cheer me up Marcela suggested we go to this party she’d heard about. The point, of course, wasn’t the party, but the free booze. We drank everything we could get our hands on, danced around, and acted like idiots.”
“Or college students.”
I smile ruefully. My parents certainly hadn’t seen it that way. “Anyway, we decided we simply had to have donuts and left the party to go to Beans. Marcela had keys and we knew Nate would have already locked up, so we walked into town. Then we realized Main Street was completely deserted. It wasn’t quite eleven, but the street was empty. So we decided to go streaking.”
Crosbie’s mouth falls open. “Naked?”
“Yeah. We dropped all our clothes right there—” I point behind us to the barber shop on the corner, “and sprinted as fast as we could toward the other end.”
“And you were naked? Together?”
“Well, we were together for the first few blocks. Then Marcela stepped on a rock and stopped and I ran ahead.” I pause. “Then the police came. We both hid, but they only found me. I was hiding behind a compost bin near the hardware store—”
Crosbie’s laughing so hard I’m not sure he can hear me.
“The policeman had to get a blanket from the trunk so I could sit on it in the backseat. They’d found our clothes so they knew there were two of us and he kept asking where my ‘friend’ was. I said I didn’t know and eventually he drove me to the police station.”
“And they charged you?”
“I was the only person in the holding cell! They had nothing else to do.”
He gives up the pretense of walking and bends over to hold his thighs as he roars with laughter, tears gathering at the corner of his eyes. My parents had had a very different response.
“Anyway,” I continue primly, “they charged me with two misdemeanors: public intoxication and indecent exposure.”
Now he just kneels on the wet sidewalk and laughs his ass off.
“I got three hundred hours of community service and had to collect trash on the side of the highway all summer. That’s why I stayed at Burnham.”
I kick him when he doesn’t stop laughing, and eventually he sobers up and gazes at me, almost worshipfully.
“I like you so much more now,” he says, slowly getting to his feet.
“Funny. I’m liking you much less.”
“I mean, don’t get me wrong—I really like the cardigan-wearing, library-obsessed Nora who doesn’t jump on beds, but this… Well, I like the criminal side of you. It’s hot.”
“I mean, the Burnham Police Department also saw it…”
He teases me the rest of the way back to the apartment, even though it means passing the Frat Farm so he’ll have to double back later. We’re not at the point where we spend every night together, and I’m definitely not ready for a sleepover at the frat house, anyway.
“Remember,” I say, sticking my key in the lock. “Not a word to Kellan. This is a secret.”
“Got it.” He mimes zipping his lips. “Top secret.”
Suddenly the door is wrenched open and Kellan’s standing there. “What’s a secret?”
“How long have you been waiting?” I exclaim.
“I saw you through the window. Come in here—I want to show you guys something.”
Crosbie and I exchange bemused looks but follow him inside, stepping out of our boots and climbing the stairs to the living room…where Kellan has erected a giant easel with a huge sheet of paper with the numbers forty through fifty printed on it. There are eleven spots for entries: seven have actual names, four have descriptors. That bathroom wall is burned onto the back of my eyelids: the last time I saw it, forty-one and forty-two were blank. Now forty-two reads “BJ at May Madness party” and forty-one reads “Red Corset.”
Fuck. Me. Aka “Red Corset.”
“What’s this?” I ask, trying to hide my terror.
“I’ve eliminated sixty-two through fifty-one,” Kellan answers. “They’re all clean. This is the next batch.”
“Good job,” Crosbie says, studying the list. “You’re making progress.” He taps the blowjob entry. “I’d forgotten about this.”
“Me too,” Kellan replies, as though that’s totally normal. As though getting a blowjob while a bunch of your friends look on is par for the course. “Except then I remembered that she—” number forty-three, Karina (brunette), “mentioned it when we hooked up the next week. Which made me remember that right before the BJ there was a chick in a closet.”
I want to die.
“A closet or a corset?” Crosbie asks, squinting at the writing.
“Both. I banged her in a closet, and she was wearing a red corset. I remember watching her tits bounce as we fucked.”
“It’d be hotter if I could remember her face. I was so drunk, man. I’d messed up at finals, coach put me on probation for the team… I was just doing everything I could to forget.”
Crosbie looks wholly unconcerned with this reasoning. “Looks like it worked.”
I try not to gag. It’s absolutely nauseating to have your roommate and your boyfriend discuss your most regrettable sexual encounter like it’s nothing. Like you’re nothing. Which, if “Red Corset” is anything to go by, is entirely accurate.
Crosbie pulls out his phone and scrolls through, muttering, “Do you have contact info for any of them? I might have Karina in here somewhere.”
I look at him sharply.
“Dude,” Kellan whispers.
“What?” He finally clues in. “She’s in my chem lab,” he says hastily. “That’s it.”
Kellan tries to change the subject. “I’m pretty sure Susanna still works at The Sling. I can drop by there tomorrow.”
Susanna has been written in alongside her scratched out descriptor, Smells like French Fries. The Sling is a campus greasy spoon, known for serving late night breakfast to drunken revelers. And possibly STIs. This sounds bad, but I hope it’s her. Then the search is over and “Red Corset” stays in the closet, both literally and figuratively, because now that I think about it, I know exactly where that tacky thing is.
“And Purple Hair still has purple hair and sits in the front row of my English Lit class, so I can talk to her on Friday.” Kellan thinks. “Assuming it’s not another girl with purple hair. I never really looked at her face.”
“Oh my God,” I mumble, running my hands over my heated cheeks. “Oh my God, Kellan. Did you ever look at their faces? Ever ask their names? Even once? Did that not matter? Did they really matter so little that you can’t remember more than the color of their hair or that they smell like grease or they blew you at a party? Is it really that easy for you?”
He looks startled.
“Nora.” Crosbie puts a hand on my arm. “Calm down. It’s—”
I jerk away. “Why don’t you see how many of their numbers are in your phone, Crosbie? Do you have an entry for Sparkly Green Shirt or Parking Lot at Grocery Store or Walks with Slight Limp?”
“I mean, they’re people, you jackasses! Blowjob at May Madness? That’s a person! Red Corset? That’s a person too! And they have names and they have feelings and it’s so fucking infuriating to hear you talk about them like they don’t matter.”
I swipe angry tears from my eyes. “Maybe it’s a big deal for them. Maybe they loved it. Maybe they hated it. Maybe they regret it. But maybe it’s more than some stupid game or some bathroom wall or some list in my living room.”
“I can’t,” I say. “I can’t look at this. I can’t look at you.” I storm into my room and close the door, slumping against the wall before sliding down onto the carpet. So much for playing it cool. So much for putting last year behind me. I’d tried my very best to not be the non-entity I’d been in high school, the invisible girl hiding behind baggy clothes and tangled hair. And now here I am, hiding behind cardigans and library books and nowhere closer to knowing who the hell I am. “Red Corset” is the most exciting girl I’d even been, and all that got me was a bi-monthly meeting with the Dean, three hundred hours of community service, and not-so-prime placement on Kellan McVey’s “Did she give me gonorrhea?” sex list.
I grind the heels of my hands into my eyes, willing myself to get a grip. I’m just barely hanging on when there’s a tentative knock on the door. It slowly eases open and Crosbie sticks in his head, spotting me on the floor.
“Hey,” he says softly.
“Sorry,” I mumble, twisting my fingers. Sorry you think “watched her tits bounce as we fucked” is hot. Sorry I’m Red Corset. Sorry, sorry, sorry.
He joins me on the floor. “You don’t have to apologize. All that stuff you told me outside—I mea
My breath snags in my throat until he clarifies: “The gonorrhea girl.”
The heart attack I was about to have subsides. “Oh. Right. Her.”
“And I’m going to ask them to paint over my name in the Student Union building. All that meaningless shit isn’t worth boasting about. The best girl I’ve ever known is sitting right here, and I’d die before I saw her name on some list like that.”
I’m about to start crying again.
“On my list,” he adds, making it all so much worse. “How bad would that be?”
I can’t speak, so I just shake my head.
“Are we okay?” he asks. “I don’t want to go if we’re not okay.”
“We’re okay,” I mumble. “I’m just tired.”
“Sure. All this gray weather makes people depressed. I saw a thing about it. Did you know they sell lamps specifically designed to give you vitamin D?”
“I did know that.”
“Should we get you one?”
I laugh helplessly. “I’ll be fine tomorrow. I just need to sleep.”
“Of course.” He leans forward and kisses my forehead. “Feel better.”
He stands to go, putting his hand on the knob. “And please don’t kill Kellan in his sleep. He’s a jerk sometimes, but he’s my best friend. I’d hate to have to help bury him.”
“I can hear you,” Kellan calls from the living room. “And I keep mace under my pillow. Just FYI.”
* * *
At two-thirty in the morning, I’m still wide awake. At some point I’d ventured out of my room and apologized to Kellan, who promised to keep the easel turned facing away in the corner of the living room, as though it were being punished. Now, however, it’s an entirely different kind of guilt keeping me awake.
Try as I might, every time I close my eyes I see that stupid red satin corset, the one that cinched up so tight I couldn’t take a full breath. Paired with a leather mini-skirt and a pair of Marcela’s stilettos, I’d thought I was the pinnacle of high fashion. Certainly not the invisible girl whose high school yearbook photo is a large question mark, since the school accidentally misplaced my picture and only realized it an hour before the book was set to be printed.
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