Undecided, page 9
“Oh. I thought maybe you were together.”
“Not in the way you and your…friend were together.”
“We’re not together.”
“Whatever.” This time I do stand up, snagging my glass and plate from the table and bringing them to the kitchen. After a second, Crosbie follows with his plate, standing next to me as I rinse mine and stick it in the tiny dishwasher. Kellan didn’t lie about this—he really does do dishes and take out the trash. He’s a decent roommate, just a terrible date.
“I feel like a jerk about it,” Crosbie blurts out. “I saw the look on your face and I just—”
The hurt I’m feeling about Kellan’s rejection twines with the burn of the reminder of Crosbie’s makeout session and when he doesn’t finish the sentence I snap, “You just what?” It’s possible I’m jealous and a little sexually frustrated.
He blinks, startled. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry,” he says awkwardly. “I’d had a bad day and she was a friend of a friend and…I don’t know. I thought I’d forget things for a bit. But I made them worse.”
“It didn’t seem like you felt ‘worse’ when I saw you.”
“Not then,” he says, meeting my eyes. “But after.”
I realize I’m clenching my hand around the dishwasher door and I force my fingers to uncurl. “You don’t owe me any explanations.”
Neither one of us moves, and the kitchen is small enough that it feels crowded with two people. “I think I do,” he says, scuffing his foot on the floor. For a long moment, we both watch our feet, his gray wool socks, my nails painted red in anticipation of tonight’s date. As much as I want to close the short distance between us and feel something—anything—besides this rejection and frustration and sadness, I don’t move a muscle. Because maybe my “forget Crosbie Lucas” plan has failed, but my “don’t fuck up, Nora” plan hasn’t, and messing around with someone who only knows how to mess around isn’t on the agenda.
He’s about to say something else when we hear the front door open, a car horn honk, and Kellan’s slightly drunk laugh from the entryway. Crosbie shoots me one last, meaningful look before retreating to the living room and grabbing his bag from the floor, putting plenty of space between us before Kellan comes up.
“Hey, guys,” he says with a grin. The smile falters a little as he looks between us. “What are you two doing here? Together? Alone?”
“Together alone’s not a thing,” Crosbie says, hefting the satchel over his shoulder and snagging his jacket from the back of a chair. “And I came over to get Target Ops: Fury.”
That is most definitely not the game he mentioned when he first arrived, and if I had any doubts about my memory, Fire of Vengeance is still sitting on the coffee table. I’m contemplating this when Kellan says, “You should have come to the game, Cros. It was epic. Huge brawl on center ice.”
At the mention of “ice” I remember seeing posters around campus touting a pre-season game between Burnham’s top-ranked hockey team and some other college. And that’s when it finally dawns on me: Crosbie didn’t come here looking for Kellan.
As though he knows I’m piecing this together, I see Crosbie’s ears turn red and he jogs down the stairs. I hear the rustle of clothing as he puts on his shoes and shrugs into his jacket, then the creak of the door as it opens.
“Dude,” Kellan calls. “We can play right now if you want. Don’t be mad.”
The only response is the front door slamming shut, an ominous chill wafting up the steps.
“Wow.” Kellan runs his hands over his hair. “Can you believe this? That guy has not been himself lately. I’m getting kind of worried.”
His eyes are glazed, his shirt is buttoned incorrectly, and suddenly I’m exhausted. Whatever heat had been brewing in this kitchen was extinguished by Kellan’s untimely arrival, and I don’t know if I’m relieved or disappointed. When I look at him, however, I feel nothing but tired.
“I’m going to bed,” I mutter, rounding the breakfast bar and heading for my room.
“Do you want to play Target Ops: Fury?” he calls. In all the countless hours he’s spent playing that stupid game, he’s never once asked me, and no part of me wants to join him now. Plus I’m pretty sure that if I agreed he’d find some way to disappear, anyway.
“No,” I say, tugging my bedroom door closed. “I don’t.”
The next morning I emerge from my room to find Kellan sitting on the couch, studying. “Hey,” he says.
I frown and swipe a self-conscious hand over my tangled hair. “What are you doing here?” Kellan never comes home on Friday night—or Saturday, for that matter—so even though I’d seen him, I’d somehow assumed he would vanish again before sunrise.
I shuffle into the kitchen, rubbing my bleary eyes and wishing my hair didn’t look like it had exploded over night. My plan was to grab a glass of water and some crackers—prison fare, or a perfectly normal breakfast if you’re a college student who doesn’t know how to meal plan—then trek to the grocery store before heading to work at three.
I close the fridge door and turn to see Kellan standing at the entrance to the kitchen, clutching a small bouquet of flowers wrapped in pink cellophane. “What’s happening?”
“I’m so sorry,” he says earnestly, my second kitchen apology in twelve hours. “I totally fucked up last night. I absolutely forgot we had plans—I made the reservation and everything—and I feel like such an asshole. I’m so, so sorry. Please forgive me.”
I stare at the flowers like they might be covered in anthrax. How many girls would die to get flowers from Kellan McVey? Okay, fine—a tiny part of me still wants to raise her hand. But standing here holding my crackers, the position is a stark reminder of last night’s disappointment and a few flowers aren’t going to fix it.
“That was really rude,” I say.
“I know. I’m so—”
“I waited for you.”
“And I felt like an idiot.”
“And I was starving.” Because I wasn’t expecting to see Kellan for a while, I really hadn’t decided how to handle this confrontation. It looks like I’m going with the direct approach.
He rubs his free hand over his face. “I was drunk when I got home and I didn’t even remember. I turned off my phone at the game and this morning I saw the call from the restaurant asking about the reservation and it all came back to me and—I’m sorry, Nora. Really. Truly. Please forgive me. I like you and you’re a good roommate and I’d never hurt your feelings on purpose. Or make you hungry, for any reason.”
I try to hold onto my anger, but even though I’m offended to have been forgotten—again—the truth is, Crosbie’s visit took away a lot of the sting of Kellan’s disappearing act. I let out the breath I didn’t know I was holding. “Forget about it,” I tell him. Unlike my “whatever” to Crosbie last night, this time I mean it. Those two events hurt on two wholly different levels, and I’m not about to risk taking the time to figure out why.
Kellan looks relieved. “Thank you,” he says, stepping in and folding me in an awkward hug. Apart from our initial handshake and one high five he insisted on after achieving a top score in Fire of Vengeance, I’m not sure we’ve ever actually touched. Except for that time we had sex and he forgot about it.
“No problem,” I say when we step back. “Now if you’ll excuse me…” I hold up the crackers. “I’m going to have breakfast, then take a shower.”
He eyeballs the crackers. “That’s breakfast?”
“It’s grocery day.”
“Do you want some mac and cheese instead? I have lots.”
My stomach roils. “I’m all set.”
Suddenly he points at me. “That’s it,” he announces, like he’s just solved all the world’s problems. “I’ll take you to the grocery store. I have a car, so we can go to Carters, not the place on campus.”
As much a
“Cross my heart,” he says, tracing an X on his chest with his index finger. And for once I don’t find myself admiring what a beautifully muscled chest it is—I’m wondering how much weight his words hold.
I guess we’ll find out. “Okay,” I say. “Give me twenty minutes.”
“I won’t move a muscle.”
My mind instantly fills with images of a sexy, muscled torso—but it’s not Kellan I’m picturing. “Make it ten,” I say, hightailing it out of the kitchen. No way I’ll be able to withstand a cold shower for longer.
* * *
Going to the grocery store with Kellan McVey is a lot like what I imagine it’s like to go to the grocery store with Zac Efron: it’s crazy. Everybody stares. It’s like no one has seen a handsome college kid before. And don’t get me wrong—Kellan’s super hot. But he’s wearing a ratty old T-shirt, sweatpants, sandals, and a baseball hat. He’s not trying whatsoever and yet every pair of eyes seems to follow him through the parking lot, into the store and down each aisle.
I can’t help but wish I’d dressed a little better for the outing. Because we were only coming to the grocery store, I’d opted for skinny jeans, ballet flats, and a baggy white button-up shirt. My hair is tied back and the only makeup I’d bothered with is mascara and tinted lip gloss. None of my clothes have holes in them, but you’d swear I was wearing garbage bags from some of the disapproving looks I get.
We’re in the cereal aisle when Kellan’s phone rings. He tugs it out of his pocket and glances at the display. “It’s Crosbie,” he says, then answers. “Yo.”
I can’t make out the words, just the muffled sound of Crosbie’s voice.
“Yeah,” Kellan says, scratching his ass and adding a box of granola to the cart. “I’m just at the grocery store with Nora. She was eating crackers for breakfast.”
A mumbled answer, then Kellan looks me over from head to toe. “I know,” he says. “I’m going to fatten her up.”
I make a face and he makes one back, and I can’t help but laugh.
“Actually,” he continues, “I’m trying to win my way back into her good graces. Remember how I told you I was taking her to dinner last night? I totally forgot about it and went to the game instead, so—”
I hear Crosbie’s frantic tone as he tries to interrupt. But it’s too late—I’d started to suspect as much last night, but now it’s confirmed: Crosbie knew Kellan stood me up. He knew we had dinner plans, he knew Kellan decided to go to the game—and he came over with some lame excuse about a video game then stuck around to “read” and order pizza. He saw the abandoned dress and heels in my room; he saw everything.
Maybe I should feel outraged or embarrassed. Maybe I should feel manipulated or fooled. But I don’t. Because despite how much I wish I could be invisible at this very moment, I’ve been complaining about how easily overlooked I am all the time, and last night Crosbie did his very best to make sure I wasn’t.
I’m horrified when my sinuses tingle and my eyes start to sting; it must be my period. There’s no way I’m about to cry in the middle of Carters because someone made up a reason to hang out with me.
“Okay, man,” I hear Kellan saying as I struggle to compose myself. “I know, I know. Want me to pick up anything for the bus ride? Yeah? What flavor? Okay, will do. Bye.”
He hangs up and though my heart is still galloping around my chest, I’ve managed to head off the embarrassing crying jag. “What, uh, what bus ride is this?” I ask, trying to act like I didn’t just connect the dots about what I overheard.
“Huh?” Kellan tosses in another box of cereal and resumes pushing the cart. “Oh, we’re heading out tomorrow for a week of ‘mock meets.’” We round the corner where two girls in dresses and heels—at the grocery store! In the morning!—giggle and wave, and Kellan smiles and nods back. Before my mind can start coming up with its own definition of “mock meets,” Kellan explains. “It’s for track. Like, we’ll travel around to different colleges just to square off against their teams. It’s not official; it’s more like practice. And motivation. We see what they’ve got; they see our stuff. Then we all know what to work for.”
I think of Crosbie. “We means the track team?”
An absolutely gorgeous blonde strolls down the baking aisle, shooting Kellan a dazzling smile. “Hey,” she says.
“Hey,” he replies.
They smile at each other, just two beautiful people being beautiful.
And that’s when it hits me: I’m not jealous. And I don’t really care that Kellan’s leaving for a week. It’s Crosbie I’m going to miss. Which is totally contrary to my plan. I should be ecstatic that the track team’s schedule is lining up with my agenda to forget him, but I’m not.
“You all right?” Kellan peers at me with concern.
“Totally fine,” I lie. I smile at him, but I feel like a dim bulb compared to the blonde.
“I thought you’d be stoked.” He considers a bag of flour, then, for some reason, puts it in the cart. “You get the place to yourself all week.”
“You’re not there that much as it is.”
“No way!” He laughs. “I’m there. You’re the one who’s always gone. You go to class, you go to work, you go to the library. You’re go-go-go. When do you just kick back and have fun?”
“I have fun.”
“Yeah?” He looks interested. “When?”
I bite my lip. “Okay, fine. I had fun.”
He shakes his head. And I have to give the guy credit—half a dozen other women have walked past, and now that we’re talking, his attention is undivided. “Had fun? Like, in the distant past?”
I laugh a little, feeling like a moron. “It feels that way.” I study the back of a box of cake mix, hoping he’ll drop the subject, but when I next look up he’s just staring at me with a look that says, “I can wait all day.”
I sigh and put the box back on the shelf. “I don’t study so much because I love school,” I admit, tugging the cart around the corner into the dairy aisle. “I study because I have a scholarship and last year I didn’t study—like, at all—and nearly lost it. In fact, I lost half of it. So this year I have to buckle down and do better. A lot better.”
He looks surprised. “Me too.”
I grab yogurt and add it to the cart, then follow that up with some eggs. Plenty of breakfast options now. “And I don’t go out to party or whatever because I did too much of that last year, and I don’t really seem to have an off switch. It’s just all or nothing. All partying, no studying.” I’m not going to mention getting arrested. “And if I didn’t stop, it would be ‘all living with my parents, no job prospects.’”
“I totally hear you,” Kellan says, nodding. “That’s why this arrangement is perfect.” He gestures between us. “You’re like this awesome role model. I come home and see your door closed, and I know you’re in there studying so I’m like, ‘Better study, Kellan, if you want to graduate.’ And then you go to work and I think, ‘Time to work out.’”
I squint at him. “Seriously?”
“Yeah. That’s why I posted the ad that I did. I wanted somebody like you; I just never thought I’d find it.”
You found me at the May Madness frat party, I think. But what I say is, “I’m glad it worked out. For both of us.”
He grins. “I’ll keep up my end of the bargain from now on, too,” he says. “Now that I know why studying is so important to you. And I’ll tell Crosbie to stop dropping by unannounced—he totally could have played one of his own games last night. He
Wrong game, Kellan.
“Crosbie’s not a problem.”
“You don’t have to be nice about it. He’s my best friend, but we can hang out at his place.”
Another slice of disappointment at the thought of seeing less of Crosbie. Who could have predicted this?
“Really,” I say. “He’s fine.”
And that’s the understatement of the year.
* * *
Unfortunately, Kellan is true to his word. I don’t see Crosbie before they leave for the road trip, and when they get back it’s mid-October, and I don’t see him then, either. He’s around—I hear Kellan talking to him on the phone, or sometimes he’ll tell me about something Crosbie said or did when they were hanging out that day, but he doesn’t come to the apartment. Not when I’m there, anyway. He doesn’t come to Beans, either, and though I try not to, I start to obsess. What did Kellan say to him? Stay away from Nora, she needs her education? Or does it have nothing at all to do with Kellan and everything to do with what didn’t happen in the kitchen that night? Is he embarrassed? Does he regret it? Does he hate me?
Okay, I really don’t think I’ve done anything to be hated for, but after exhausting all other avenues, that’s where my mind goes.
“Hey,” I say abruptly. I’m eating a plate of spaghetti at the dining table and Kellan’s watching one of the Die Hard movies.
“What’s up?” he asks, pausing the show.
“Do you know if Crosbie’s still interested in doing open mic night at Beans?”
Kellan frowns and rubs a finger between his eyebrows. “Has he been badgering you with his ‘magic’ again?” he asks with a heavy sigh. “I’m sorry. I’ll talk to him about it.”
“No,” I say hastily. “I haven’t even seen him, that’s why I’m asking you. I thought he was interested, but he hasn’t signed up and all the slots are almost taken.” That’s technically true, though I haven’t actually given open mic night or Crosbie’s “magic” much thought recently. I just don’t know how else to ask Kellan what the hell his best friend has been up to without fielding certain questions in return.
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