And that’s what breaks the spell.
Breathing hard, I drop my hands from his broad shoulders and let them dangle at my sides.
Dammit. Dammit, what’s wrong with me? I’m no clairvoyant, but I don’t need to be one to see how all this is going to play out.
I go back to his place.
I lose my virginity to him.
He rocks my world for one amazing night.
And then next week I’m just another sad sap raising my hand along with his other conquests when asked who there has hooked up with him.
“Taylor?” He’s still watching me. Waiting.
I bite my lip. Easing away from the heat of his body, I slowly shake my head and say, “Will you drive me home?”
I can’t get a read on Taylor. Outside the bar I thought we had a connection. I might be a fucking idiot sometimes, but I know when a girl is kissing me back. She definitely felt something. But the moment we stopped, she shut down again, slammed a door in my face, and now I’m driving her home with the distinct impression she’s mad at me again.
I can’t figure out what she wants from me. I’d leave her alone, stay out of her life, if I believed that’s what Taylor really wanted, but I don’t think that’s the case.
“Did I make a mistake kissing you?” I ask, glancing over at the passenger side.
She put her sweater back on, which is a damn shame. The silky top she had on before was hot as hell. My dick is still aching for her.
She’s silent for a long time, looking out the window like she can’t get far enough away from me. Finally, she spares me a quick look and says, “It was a nice kiss.”
Well, fuck me. That’s the most lukewarm response to a kiss I’ve ever received. And I’m not sure it answers my question.
“Then what’s wrong?” I press.
“It’s just…” She lets out a sigh. “I mean, think about all those people at the bar looking at us.”
Frankly, I didn’t even notice anyone else. When I’m with her, I’m only watching Taylor. Someone about her reels me in, and it’s not just the fact that my body is primed for her. Yes, I’d love to bang her brains out, but that’s not the reason I showed up at the diner uninvited earlier.
Taylor Marsh has no idea how cool she is, and that’s a fucking shame.
“I’m sorry if I embarrassed you,” I say gruffly. “That wasn’t my intention.”
“No, I know. But come on, you have to know what people would say about someone like you with someone like me.”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Damn it, Conor, don’t act like it isn’t obvious. I get it, you’re trying to make me feel better and that’s sweet, but let’s be real. People see us and they think, what is he doing with her? We’re a punchline.”
“Bullshit. I don’t believe that.”
“Oh my God, you heard it yourself at the banquet! You heard all the shit Abigail and her douche army were saying about us.”
“So what? I don’t give a shit what other people think.” I don’t live my life on the basis of other people’s opinions or to please anyone but myself. If she’d just fucking let me, I’d like to try pleasing Taylor, too.
“Well, maybe you should. Because I can assure you, they’re not thinking nice things about us.”
There’s ice in her voice that I’ve never heard from her before. Hatred, even. It’s not directed at me, but I’m starting to get a sense of how deep her insecurities go.
My next breath comes out ragged, frustrated. “I’ll keep saying this until it sinks in, but there’s nothing wrong with you, Taylor. There isn’t some arbitrary hierarchy between us. I want you. I’ve wanted you since the moment I watched you cross the room at that party.”
Her turquoise eyes widen slightly.
“I mean it,” I say. “I have a thousand filthy thoughts about you a day. That night in my room when you were running your fingers through my hair, I had half a hard-on just lying there.”
I pull up outside Taylor’s apartment building and throw the Jeep in park. I angle my body so I’m facing her, but her eyes remain fixed forward.
The frustration builds again. “I get it. You have body issues. Whatever you’ve experienced in your life, it’s made you hate the way you look and hide yourself in leggings and baggy sweaters.”
Finally she turns her head. “You have no idea what it’s like to be me,” she says flatly.
“I don’t. But I think if you tried, just a little, to accept yourself, you might figure out that everyone else has their own insecurities too. And maybe you’ll believe a guy when he tells you he’s wildly attracted to you.” I shrug. “Wear whatever the hell you want, Taylor. But your body is incredible and you should be able to flaunt it, not live your life in a paper bag.”
She abruptly rips off her seatbelt and grabs the door handle.
“Goodnight, Conor. Thanks for the ride.”
Then she’s gone, slamming the door.
The fuck did I do?
I want to hop out and run after her, but I recognize the internal voice that’s urging me to do that. It’s that voice in the back of my head where all my really dumb ideas come from. The self-destructive, self-deprecating jackass who takes anything good and easy and pure and just fucking starts tearing at it with his teeth.
Truth is, Taylor doesn’t actually know me at all. She has no idea the shithead I was back in LA or the shit I did to fit in. She has no idea that most of the time I still don’t fit—here, there, or anywhere at all. That for years I’ve been trying on masks until I’ve almost forgotten what I look like underneath. Never satisfied with the result.
I keep trying to convince Taylor to go easy on herself, appreciate her body and who she is, but I can’t even convince myself. So what the hell am I doing getting wrapped up with a girl like her—a good person who doesn’t need my bullshit—when I haven’t even gotten myself figured out?
Sighing, I reach for the gearshift. Instead of running after Taylor, I drive home. And I tell myself it’s for the best.
I’m relieved when my mom drives in from Cambridge on Thursday to have lunch. After two days of dodging calls from Conor and questions from Sasha about what happened the other night, I need a distraction.
We hit up the new vegan place in Hastings. Partly because my mother grumbles at the idea of choking down another greasy meal at the diner and mostly because eating carbs in front of her always gives me anxiety. I look like Mom’s “before” image in the Before and After shots of some European med spa commercial. Iris Marsh is tall, skinny, and utterly gorgeous. She’d given me hope during puberty that any day I’d wake up and look like her younger clone. I was sixteen before it hit me that wasn’t going to happen. Guess I only got my father’s genes.
“How are your classes going?” she asks, draping her coat over the back of her chair as we sit with our meals. “Are you enjoying your co-op?”