Undecided, p.8

Undecided, page 8

 

Undecided
 



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  “Thank you.”

  “You’re welcome?” I have no idea what he’s thanking me for.

  “I suppose I should have realized this on my own, but Crosbie told me last night that you let them host my birthday party here, and I appreciate it. I know that’s not what we agreed, so…thank you.”

  “Ah. You’re welcome.”

  “And…” he adds, again halting my return to my bedroom. “I think we should go out.”

  I’m already stopped, but now I freeze completely, half an unchewed waffle in my mouth. “What?”

  He grins and reaches back to grab his foot to stretch. “As a thank-you. Let’s go out to dinner tomorrow. You know Verre Plein, the French place on the edge of town? What about there?”

  I’m so stunned I can barely speak. I’m pretty sure I have maple syrup on my face and my hair is a mess and I haven’t brushed my teeth and this—this—is when Kellan McVey asks me out?

  “Are you serious?” I try to swallow the enormous bite of waffle without chewing.

  “Yeah,” he says, smile widening. He’s the hottest guy I’ve ever seen. Confidence practically radiates off of him, never quite edging into obnoxious territory, unlike somebody whose name I will have forgotten by lunchtime. “It’s really nice,” he continues, when I don’t answer. “I went once with my parents—you have to wear a tie and everything. I mean, not you—just I’ll wear—I mean, you can wear—Fuck.” He groans. “I haven’t had coffee yet.”

  “You don’t drink coffee.”

  He laughs, embarrassed. “Right.”

  “Sure,” I say. “I’ll go.” I don’t want to read too much into this. Plus I feel…odd. Not like anything about his offer is untoward, it’s just that something is missing. That spark. The excitement that should accompany an invitation to have dinner with the hottest guy on campus. I’m flattered, but that’s all. Probably because it’s early, I tell myself. I’m only half awake. Maybe once I’ve eaten these waffles and had a shower, the momentousness of this occasion will sink in.

  “Awesome,” he says, just as there’s a knock at the door. “I’ll make a reservation for eight.”

  My heart starts beating double time, and I step into my room. “Tomorrow,” I say.

  He shoots me one last smile as he jogs toward the stairs. “It’s a date.”

  * * *

  I’m supposed to work from five until closing on Friday, but when I tell Marcela and Nate I have a date with Kellan McVey, they agree to cover my shift. Coffee shops in Burnham aren’t exactly booming on Friday nights, so they’ll be okay. They tell me so half a dozen times as they sit on my bed and mull over the outfits I’m considering.

  Verre Plein is a tiny French restaurant with a lengthy wine list, a pricey menu, and servers with long white aprons. It’s a far cry from mac and cheese and the fast food that’s available on campus, and my regular uniform of jeans and a T-shirt isn’t going to cut it. I rustled up a few dresses I’d buried in the back of my closet, and I have a whopping three pairs of heels—black, gold, and red—to pair them with.

  “Too prim,” Nate says when I hold up a retro blue dress with a Peter Pan collar. “It’s a date with Kellan McVey, not an Amish man.”

  “Hold onto that one, though,” Marcela adds, “in case you do get a date with an Amish man.”

  I put it on a hanger and return it to the closet. “Here’s hoping.”

  My next option is a strapless white dress with black leather straps crisscrossing the waist and black trim at the hem, which stops a good six inches above my knees.

  “No,” we all say at the same time. Is it sexy as hell? Yes. Is it appropriate? Absolutely not. Am I a little bit mortified that I once—maybe seven times—wore it out in public? Er, yeah.

  They quickly veto my four remaining dresses, calling them dowdy, boring, scandalous and offensive, respectively. My all or nothing problem summed up in one piddly wardrobe.

  “So I’ve got heels and nothing else.” I slump on the bed beside them.

  “On the bright side,” Marcela says, “that might be all you need.”

  “Get him to buy you dinner first,” Nate interjects. “At least pretend to play hard to get by putting on clothes.”

  I laugh. “Thanks, Dad.”

  “Okay, fine,” Marcela says. “I thought it might come to this, so I brought something for you.”

  She had her backpack with her when she came, but I assumed it was full of books. Now, however, she digs around until she comes out with a little black dress with tasteful lace cutouts. I know from last year’s clothing swaps that we’re the same size, so at her urging I take the dress into the bathroom, try it on, and return for their perusal.

  “Yes,” Marcela announces.

  “Try it with the red shoes,” Nate urges.

  I do, pirouetting in front of them so quickly I have to grab the wall before I fall down.

  “Gorgeous,” they say. “Perfect.”

  And, looking in the full-length mirror—propped against the desk, since I can’t be bothered to hang it—I have to agree. The dress is sleeveless and stops just above my knees, so it shows plenty of skin but not so much as to be inappropriate for an upscale French restaurant. The red heels make it youthful, and when Marcela comes up and twists my hair into a loose bun, it looks pretty and romantic.

  “I love it,” I say.

  Nate glances at his watch, then rises. “Text us and tell us how it goes. We have to get out of here.”

  “Spoilsport.” Marcela tucks another piece of hair behind my ear and nods, satisfied. “Do everything I would do,” she orders.

  I grin. “Promise.”

  No panties, she mouths as Nate drags her out of the room.

  “Oh my God,” Nate groans. “Wear panties, Nora.”

  I laugh and wave goodbye, then study my reflection some more once they’re gone. Kellan has class until seven, leaving me with a few hours to kill before our eight o’clock reservation. The dress doesn’t have a zipper so it has to come up over my head, and since I don’t want to ruin my hair, I decide to leave the dress on while I wait. I kick off the heels and grab my anthropology textbook to get in some reading.

  I doze off a bit when anthropology is no more exciting than I thought it would be, and wake up slouched on the couch. I check the time: ten after seven. Kellan’s class will be wrapping up, then he’ll walk home, which takes about twenty minutes. I hurry to the bathroom to wipe up my smudged mascara, then add another coat. A swipe of red lipstick and I’m doing my best approximation of effortlessly glamorous.

  I consider pouring myself a glass of wine while we wait, thinking I’ll look sexy and sophisticated if I’m sitting at the breakfast bar in my dress and heels, but we don’t have any wine and it’s hard to boost myself onto the stool in this dress.

  My hesitation from yesterday is nowhere to be found. All I needed was a little time to let the whole “Kellan McVey just asked me out!” news to sink in, and now that it has, I’m excited. Tiny butterflies flit about my stomach, and I pace around the living room, trying to calm myself.

  I didn’t exactly go on a lot of dates last year. I went out a lot, but always with Marcela. Parties, bars, raves—I never said no. And in my effort to make up for my lonely high school years, I said yes to a lot of things I shouldn’t have. Maybe that’s why tonight feels special—I’ve said no so long, saying yes actually means something.

  Saying yes to Kellan McVey—technically not my first time, but the first time he’ll remember—means something.

  I check the time. Ten to eight. He should be here any minute. I drop back onto the couch and switch on the TV, watching a bit of the news. We don’t see each other a lot at home so I’m really not sure what we’ll talk about. Maybe an update on current events is in order.

  When the news wraps up at the top of the hour, Kellan still isn’t home.

  No big deal. He has a car and it’s a ten-minute trip to the restaurant—who cares if we’re a few minutes late?

  Fifteen minut
es later, I’m definitely starting to care. And I’m really hungry. My stomach is growling its displeasure, and finally I give in and eat a cracker. I don’t want to spoil my appetite.

  By 8:40 p.m. it’s dread and disappointment that have my stomach twisting, not hunger. He wouldn’t stand me up, would he? I mean, I could text him, but what’s the point? If he was held up somewhere—or remembered at all—he would have texted me. Or called. Or made some effort to tell me I hadn’t been forgotten. Again.

  At ten to nine my phone beeps and I snatch it up like a lifeline, but it’s just Nate asking for an update. I blow out a heavy breath and don’t respond. I’m not in the mood to report my second romantic disappointment of the week.

  At five after nine I hunt around the fridge for something to eat, but it’s the weekend and I’m always out of groceries by Friday. All we have are cupboards full of Kellan’s stupid mac and cheese, a few containers of protein powder, and half a box of cereal, no milk.

  I eat a handful of dry cereal and try not to cry, the only thing that could possibly make me feel even more pathetic. I imagine Kellan walking in as I stand, mascara-stained tear tracks on my cheeks, a handful of dry cereal in my palm, my hair done, my dress borrowed, my pretty red heels pinching my toes.

  It’s that image that has me tossing the remaining cereal into the sink and kicking off the shoes. I stomp into my room and wrench the dress over my head as though it somehow played a part in this disappointment. My hair gets a little more tousled but I leave it, even as I grab a tissue to wipe off the lipstick, hurling it violently into the trash. As violently as one can hurl a tissue, in any case.

  My lower lip trembles as I pull on a pair of sweatpants and a tank top. My whole body feels hot, flush from head to toe with humiliation and frustration. I return to the kitchen and pour myself a glass of water, trying to calm down and think rationally. What should I say when Kellan comes home? Should I pretend that I also forgot about our date? Play it off like it was a casual “maybe we will, maybe we won’t” invitation? Or should I tell him how righteously pissed I am that he couldn’t even be bothered to text his roommate to tell her he wasn’t coming? I know his parents pay for his phone—all he has to do is use it.

  A knock at the front door has me lurching in surprise, and I choke on the mouthful of water I’d just consumed. A brief coughing fit later, I yank open the door expecting to find a shame-faced Kellan saying he’d been robbed, losing his phone and his house keys in the process, but it’s not him.

  It’s Crosbie.

  Of-fucking-course.

  “What?” I snap. I cross my arms, both because I’m angry and because there’s a sharp chill in the air. And because dressed in a gray T-shirt, jeans, and an open brown corduroy jacket, a satchel slung over his shoulder, Crosbie looks far more appealing than he should.

  “Ah…” His tentative smile disappears when confronted with my stone-faced scowl, and he darts a glance over my shoulder. “Is Kellan here?”

  I arch a brow. “No.”

  He shivers a little. “Can I come in?”

  “Why?”

  “Because we were supposed to play Fire of Vengeance and he has the game.”

  “Well, he’s not here.”

  Now he sounds annoyed. “I heard you. Let me come in and grab the game.”

  I don’t care enough right now to try to hold the game hostage. “Fine. Whatever.”

  I step aside and he comes in, kicking off his shoes. “Why are you so angry?” he asks as I follow him up into the living room.

  “I’m busy.” I’m the polar opposite of busy, but I’m not about to admit I got stood up. Especially when I’m pretty sure Crosbie Lucas never gets stood up.

  “What are you doing?”

  “Studying.” It’s the first thing that comes to mind, and the most believable. Even if it is Friday night.

  “Huh.” He hunts through the stack of games on the console, finding the one he’s looking for. “It’s quiet here.”

  “It’s supposed to be.”

  “Right.” He hesitates. “Do you mind if I hang out for a bit?”

  “I don’t feel like listening to you blow things up right now.”

  “Not to play. To study. It’s pretty crazy at my place, and I’m behind on my reading.”

  I snort. “Try the library.” I did not mean to say that. Saying “library” in my most snide tone of voice only gives more weight to Tuesday’s incident, and I’m supposed to be pretending not to care. Hell—I’m supposed to be forgetting not just the encounter, but Crosbie Lucas altogether, and here he is in my living room. As always.

  Crosbie winces. “I wanted to apol—”

  Oh fuck. I cannot handle an apology right now. Not when I’m hanging onto my composure by the very edge of my fingernails. “You know what?” I interrupt. “Do whatever you want. Just don’t bother me.”

  I turn and stalk back into my room, slamming the door. I’m not doing a great job of keeping my feelings under wraps, but at least I’ve put some distance between us.

  I’m sorely tempted to hide under the covers until this whole dreadful night passes, but I’m wide awake, my empty stomach won’t stop grumbling at me, and every word I write for my English essay is garbage. I feel like a tiger pacing in its cage, desperate to get out, not quite sure where I should go, and pretty confident I’d like to rip off someone’s head.

  A soft tap on my bedroom door has my head whipping around like the girl in The Exorcist, and even though I planned to ignore him, I still call out, “What?”

  “I ordered pizza.” His voice is muffled by the door, but he doesn’t turn the knob.

  My stomach jumps joyfully at the news. Food! Sustenance! And then it sinks, because Crosbie and Kellan order in their fair share of pizza, and they load it up with ground beef, anchovies and olives, all of which I find revolting.

  “I don’t want your disgusting pizza,” I mutter. “Thanks anyway.”

  “It’s only half disgusting,” he replies. “The other half is boring.”

  My stomach perks up again. We’ve had this discussion before: I like pepperoni and extra cheese, which Crosbie and Kellan unanimously declared the dullest pizza on earth.

  I get up and pull open the door, making Crosbie jump back like he’s been zapped. I look around suspiciously. “Is there really pizza?”

  “Yeah.” He points at the coffee table where a closed box awaits.

  “Are you lying about the boring half?”

  “I wish.” Even as he speaks I see his eyes flicker over my shoulder, and I know he sees the crumpled dress at the foot of the bed, the forgotten red heels toppled over beside it. Let him think whatever he wants.

  I shut the door and trudge out of the bedroom, grabbing a plate from the cupboard in the kitchen. There’s a two-liter bottle of Pepsi sitting next to the pizza and that looks good, too. I grab a glass and handful of napkins from some of Kellan’s leftover takeout, and head to the couch to take a couple of slices.

  I open the box and confirm Crosbie was telling the truth: one half is blissfully untarnished by his horrible toppings. I grab two pieces and stick them on my plate. He approaches, almost shyly, and sits on the couch with his own plate and takes a piece for himself.

  “Are you going to stay?” he asks when I pour a glass of Pepsi without sitting down. “Take a break and watch TV with me.”

  I glance at him from the corner of my eye. He’s got a smudge of tomato sauce on his upper lip and licks it away as he reaches for the remote.

  “There’s nothing on,” I say, if only to be disagreeable.

  “There’s always something.”

  Though this is the very opposite of my “avoid and forget Crosbie Lucas” plan, I’m not exactly eager to return to my room, so I take a seat on the far end of the couch and curl up my legs, tucking my bare toes between the cushions. My first bite of pizza makes my eyes roll back in my head a little bit.

  Crosbie flips through the channels until he finds an old true crime show, one th
at reenacts a decade-old mystery and its eventual conclusion. I tell myself I’m only going to stay until I finish the pizza, but the story of a young wife and mother murdered in her home on a sunny Sunday afternoon keeps me glued to my seat, my morbid side unwilling to leave without answers.

  “Totally the husband,” Crosbie says at the first commercial break. “He was having an affair and didn’t want to pay child support, so he killed her.”

  “It’s the helpful neighbor,” I counter. “The way he started that volunteer search party—he totally knew she was in the attic. Murderers always try to be involved.”

  “You know a lot about killers, huh?”

  I give him a look. “You’d be surprised.”

  He laughs and grimaces. “Jesus, Nora.”

  I don’t want to, but I smile. By the time the show ends, I’ve eaten three and a half pieces of pizza and I feel like a bloated, satisfied whale.

  “I can’t believe it was the kindergarten teacher,” Crosbie says, turning off the TV and looking at me. “What a psychopath.” She’d developed a dangerous infatuation with the oblivious husband and viewed the wife as unnecessary competition.

  “Yeah.” We fall silent, staring at the dark television screen. I pick at a loose thread on the hem of my pants and Crosbie drums his fingers on his knees.

  “Nora,” he says eventually.

  I don’t look at him. “What?”

  “I’m really sorry about the library.”

  Even though I half-expected him to bring it up, I still feel an uncomfortable tightening in my chest, all the stinging memories of that night surging to the surface. “Forget about it,” I say, though the instructions are more for me than him.

  “That was the guy from the coffee shop, right?”

  “So?” I make a move to stand, which seems to prompt him to ask, “Is he your boyfriend?”

  I try not to look to disdainful. “Nate? No. He’s in love with Marcela, like every guy who sees her.” I think of Kellan asking about her that night at the coffee shop. How every head turns when she walks by. How even though I live here and we had plans, Kellan still managed to forget about me. And how I suddenly care less about his absence than Crosbie’s unexpected company. How this keeps happening.

 

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