“We’re not buying sex toys!” I sputter, then turn redder than a beet when I notice every head at the neighboring table swivel my way. I glower at Foster. “You’re the worst.”
“Or am I the best?” he counters.
“No, you’re the worst,” Hunter confirms, grinning.
“If you must know, I need some new clothes,” I reveal with a sigh. “Conor’s going to help me pick some out.”
“What, and we can’t tag along and help too?” demands Bucky. I can’t tell if the wounded look on his face is for real. “You saying we have no style?”
“Oh, I got style,” Hunter declares, crossing his arms over his chest.
Foster dons the same macho posture. “I’ve got so much style, you don’t even know.”
“You’re right, I don’t,” I say dryly, shooting a pointed look at Foster’s T-shirt, which appears to feature a cartoon image of a wolf riding a dragon over a sea of fire. Whether it’s dragon fire is undetermined.
Foster polishes off the rest of his sausage. “All right, crew. Let’s do this shit.”
And that’s how I end up at the mall a couple miles from the hotel, with four towering, imposing men standing outside my dressing room at Bloomingdale’s throwing clothes at me like it’s a timed collegiate event.
I barely wiggle out of one pair of designer distressed skinny jeans before an avalanche of shirts and dresses come cascading over the door.
“I think we’re reaching the singularity here, guys,” I call out in dismay.
“Change faster,” Conor shouts through the door.
“Foster just found a whole wall full of sequins,” Hunter adds like a threat.
“I don’t think I have much need in my wardrobe for—” Another tidal wave of dresses falls to the floor. “That’s it. We need to lay some ground rules.”
I step out of the dressing room in a long-sleeved plaid shirt that cinches under my boobs and flares at the waist and a coordinating pair of dark wash skinny jeans. It’s not a bad look, managing to hide the parts I’d rather not share, without looking like I hopped out of bed wearing my duvet.
Conor pops an eyebrow at me. Hunter and Bucky give polite golf claps. The three of them are standing there in full albeit ill-fitting tuxedos.
I gawk at them, too stunned to even laugh. “Wha—why—why the hell are you wearing tuxedos?”
“Why not?” is Bucky’s response, and this time I can’t stop the gales of laughter that pour out. Jeez. How did these clowns even have time to change clothes while burying me in fabric?
“You’re getting that outfit,” Conor tells me, and there’s all sorts of intention behind his eyes. It’s downright indecent the way he drags his gaze over my body. With an audience, no less.
And yet, under his scrutiny, I don’t feel self-conscious the way I do with others. When Conor is with me, he puts my nerves at ease.
“Yeah, I like this one,” I admit. Then I frown. “With that said, I’m up to my knees in here, you maniacs. Let’s try to restrict it to two outfits each, shall we?”
“Aww, come on, we haven’t even discussed evening wear,” Bucky pouts.
“Or scarves. How many scarves do you think you’ll need?” Hunter asks.
“Is statement jewelry something we should be looking at?” Foster weaves his way to the front of the group with two armfuls of cocktail dresses.
“What’s your cup size?”
Conor smacks Bucky on the back of the head. “You don’t get to ask my girlfriend her cup size, dickhead.”
My heart does a little flip. That’s the first time he’s said the G-word since our fight. I wasn’t sure we were still doing this, so hearing it does confusing things to my head.
“Here.” I gather up the piles at my feet and push them at the boys. “Restriction measures are in place.”
I close the door to someone muttering “fascist” under his breath.
After we’ve done all the damage Bloomingdale’s can handle, we move on through the mall, Conor carrying my two shopping bags.
It’s interesting to see the difference in styles each of the guys picks out. Conor seems to know me the best, or at least our tastes fit most closely together, as he picks the more casual options. Very California. Hunter tends toward an edgier look with a lot of black. Bucky has some sort of preppy fetish that I quickly steer clear from, and I’m not sure Foster understands the assignment. What I do learn, however, is that hardly any of them agree on which looks were their favorites. Not at all what I expected in terms of engineering their ideal version of a Taylor Barbie.
At one point, Conor’s teammates drag us into the toy store where they challenge a couple of middle-schoolers to a lightsaber fight before getting us kicked out for scaring customers with IT masks. After lunch at the food court, the guys have exhausted their enthusiasm for the mall and head out to find new trouble, leaving Conor and me alone for the first time all day.
Our first stop is a surf and skate shop. Seems only fair that I get to play dress-up with him too, so with a dozen boardshorts I shove him into a dressing room.
“What’s your plan for summer?” he asks through the door.
“Back to my mom’s house in Cambridge. She only has one seminar for summer semester, so we were thinking about taking a trip somewhere, maybe Europe. You going home to California?”
“For a little while, at least.” There’s a heavy sigh in the dressing room. “This is the farthest I’ve ever lived from the water. I used to go to the beach and surf just about every day. I’ve tried to get out to the coast a few times since I transferred to Briar, but it isn’t the same.”
Conor steps out in the first selection of boardshorts.
It takes every ounce of willpower not to throw myself at him. He stands there shirtless, leaning against the door of his dressing room and looking absolutely edible. The deep ravine of muscle that disappears into his waistband is doing things to me. It isn’t fair.
“Not bad,” I say flippantly.
“Orange isn’t my color.”
He goes back inside, tossing the discarded trunks to me as he changes. “You should come.”
“Where? To California?”
“Yeah. Come out for a long weekend or something. We can do tourist shit and hang out at the beach. Just chill.”
“Teach me how to surf?” I tease.
He emerges in another pair of shorts. I’ve stopped caring about the colors and patterns of the fabric and given in to blatantly gawking at his leanly muscular physique and the way his abs clench when he talks.
Would it be inappropriate to lick him?
“You’d love it,” he tells me. “Man, I wish I could go back and get stoked on my first wave all over again. It’s the best feeling in the world, lining up for a wave, feeling it rise beneath your board. When you get to your feet and you’re both connected—you and the power of the ocean—it’s symbiosis. It’s freedom, baby. Perfect alignment of energy.”
“You’re in love.”
He laughs at himself with a boyish grin. “My first love.” Again he steps back into the dressing room stall. “Last summer I spent a month with some volunteers canvasing the coast from San Diego to San Francisco.”