Chapter no 14

Better Than the Movies

“I am not running away.” “Bullshit.”

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

“I’m going for a run,” I called as I jogged down the stairs. I rounded the corner to the living room and found my dad on the couch with his feet propped up on the coPee table, watching the news. I was all tied up in knots and didn’t know what to think about anything, so instead of torturing myself, I was going to visit the cemetery.

No less torturous, right?

I looked toward the kitchen, but the only movement I saw in there was Mr. Fitzpervert, rolling on the rug under the table and kicking his catnip mouse with his back paws. “Where’s Helena?”

“The second I walked in, she said she had to go. Had an errand or something like that. Are you okay?”

I had no interest in a heart-to-heart, so I said, “Yep—just tired. Think I might be coming down with a cold.”

He nodded, looked at me like he knew something, and said, “Helena said the same thing.”

“Oh yeah?” I put on my headphones. “Bummer.” He sighed. “Be careful.”

“Will do.”

After turning on my Garmin, I took oP down the street, intentionally avoiding laying eyes on his car. I mean, what was with that, anyway? Why did I feel something like nostalgia when I laid eyes upon Wes’s beat-up old car that seemed to have survived our accident without any visible damage?

Nostalgia that made me want to take a bat to his car à la Beyoncé in the Lemonade video and cause some visible damage. I’d been replaying everything in my mind, every awful second of what’d happened, and Wes’s rejection was starting to piss me oP.

Because it wasn’t just that he’d rejected me. No, it was the fact that he’d known my end goal was Michael, yet he’d still pushed hard on the charm with his dinner date and his Secret Area teasing and his straight-from-The-Notebook kiss in the rain.

He knew I was susceptible to romance, and he’d used it against me. And for what?

He was moving on to Alex, so what’d even been the point?

As if that wasn’t bad enough, every time I thought of Jocelyn, my stomach hurt so intensely that I wanted to puke. How was I ever going to earn her forgiveness? I’d been a lying weasel lately, and no matter how much I justi1ed it, I couldn’t 1nd a defense to make it okay.

I turned into the cemetery and was glad it was getting dark, because I didn’t feel like being polite or talking to anyone who might be nearby. Sometimes there were other people there, doing the same thing as me, and sometimes they liked to small-talk. I just wanted to sit by my mother, spill the details of my latest debacle, and then bask in the imaginary feeling that I wasn’t alone.

But when I got closer, I could see a 1gure standing right where I wanted to be. And just like the time when Wes showed up there, I was instantly—and illogically—irate. Who was in my spot?

The person turned around as I approached, and I saw that it was Helena. Her face was serious, and she was still wearing those paint-stained pants.

“Liz. What are you doing here?” she said.

I raised my hand toward my mom’s grave marker. “No oPense, but what are

you doing here?”

She looked startled by my appearance, almost like I’d interrupted something. She dragged a hand through her hair and said, “I guess you could say I needed a word with your mother.”



I inhaled through my nose and tried to stop this unexpected rage from escaping. “You didn’t know my mother, so I don’t understand why you would need a word with her. You never spoke to her or heard her voice or even watched a silly romantic comedy with her, so call me irrational, but it just seems really weird that you’re camped out where she’s buried.”

“I was hoping she might know how I can get through to you.” She blinked fast and pressed her lips together, crossing her arms over her chest. “Listen, Libby, I know—”

“Don’t call me that.” “What?”

“Libby. It’s what she called me, but that doesn’t mean that you need to, okay?”

“What is this?” She said it in a tired voice that had a bit of an edge to it. “I feel like you’re trying to 1ght with me.”

I blinked fast. “No, I’m not.” I totally was. Nobody who I wanted to 1ght with was speaking to me. So why not Helena?


“Yes, really.”

“Because you just got mad that I called you by the nickname that I’ve heard your dad and the next-door neighbor call you. I don’t see you having a problem with anyone but me saying it.”

“Well, they actually knew her.”

She looked at me, exuding disappointment at the brat I knew I was being. “I can’t help that I didn’t.”

“I know.” It wasn’t about whether or not she knew my mom; it was about the infringement of my mother’s memories. Her legacies. I mean, it wasn’t irrational to try to keep those pure, was it?

She sighed and dropped her arms to her sides. “You do know, Liz, that your mother’s memory won’t disappear if you get closer to me.”

Excuse me?” The words felt like a physical slap because—God—she’d just lent voice to my biggest fear. How would it not disappear if Helena got closer? Because no matter what he said, it’d disappeared for my father. When he talked

about my mom now, it was like he was referencing some historical 1gure that he was incredibly fond of.

Her place in his heart was gone, and she only lived in his head now.

Helena tilted her head and said, “It won’t. You’ll still remember her exactly as you do right now, even if you let me in a little.”

“How do you know that?” I blinked back tears and said, “What if it does disappear? I know that you’re great for my dad and supercool, and I know that you’re here to stay. I know all of that, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re here and she isn’t and that feels sort of shitty.”

Her mouth snapped shut. “Of course it does. I would’ve been lost without my mom. I totally get that it feels awful. But pushing me away is not going to bring her back, Liz.”

I sniAed and wiped at the tears on my cheeks. “Yeah, I think I know that, Helena.”

“Maybe if we—”

“No.” I gritted my teeth and wished she would disappear so I could cry and lie on the soft grass. But if she wasn’t leaving, I’d have to. I put in my earbuds, scrolled to “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, and said, “Maybe if you just leave me alone and let me live my life without trying to 1ll her shoes every time I turn around, we’ll all be happier.”

I didn’t wait for her to respond. I started running the way I’d come, only I pushed my legs to sprint as fast as I possibly could. I swiped at my cheeks and tried outrunning the sadness, but it stayed with me all the way home.

I was almost to my house when I saw Wes getting out of his car.

He slammed the door and started walking across the street, to where I was, before he noticed me. He gave me a chin-nod and said, “Hey.”

Hey. Like we hadn’t kissed, or texted, or talked on the phone, or eaten hamburgers together. Just hey. Wow—he really was a jerk, wasn’t he? I stopped running and yanked out one of my earbuds. “Hey. By the way, thanks for helping me get Michael.” The words spilled out. I was aware of my own horribleness as I racked my brain for something to say that would make him hurt as badly as I did, and I couldn’t seem to stop myself.

His eyes moved over my face before he said, “Sure, although he does still have that pesky Laney around. I think you’ll have to deal with that before you officially ‘get’ him.”

“Nah.” I waved a hand and swallowed down my emotions with a smile. “He told me that he’s not going to make a move.”

“He did?” He rubbed his eyebrow and looked past me for a minute before his gaze returned to my face. My breath caught as I looked at the same eyes that had been hot and wild for me in the front seat of his car, and he said, “Well, you’re just about to get everything you’ve ever wanted, then, aren’t you? Why didn’t you tell me that before?”

Um, it was hard to talk when we were driving off a cliff and then you were eating my face. I inhaled through my nose. I was so pissed at him—at myself—so damned disappointed, and I wanted to make him feel some of that. “Like I’m really going to share all my secrets with the person who was just doing me a solid and 1lling in for Mr. Right.”

He swallowed and crossed his arms over his chest. “Good thinking.”

“Right?” I expelled a fake laugh and said, “I mean, no oPense, but you guys couldn’t be more diPerent. He’s like a gourmet restaurant, and you’re a super-fun sports bar. He’s a limo, and you’re a Jeep Wrangler. He’s an Oscar-winning 1lm, and you’re… a car-racing movie. Both good, but good for diPerent people.”

Those dark eyes narrowed marginally. “Is there a point to this, Buxbaum?” “Nah.” I reached up, pulled out my ponytail, and dug my 1ngers into my

hair. It felt like a victory, the way he was visibly irritated. “Just grateful to you for everything you did for me.”


“Yep.” I did my best to force my mouth into a giant happy smile. “You should ask Alex to prom, by the way.”

“Yeah, I was already planning on it.”

I felt that one in my heart. Picturing him smiling at Alex made the backs of my eyelids burn. I said through that fake smile, “We should all go as a group— that’d be fun.”

He looked pissed when he said, “Don’t you think it’s a bad idea to mix ‘gourmet restaurants’ with ‘super-fun sports bars’?”

I shrugged. “Alex is like a very nice restaurant, so I’m sure if you two stick together, you’ll level-up to, like, a trendy sushi place.”

He looked at me like I was scum, and he was right. He Aipped his keys around his 1ngers and said, “Even so, I’d rather go solo with Alex.”

Then his eyes moved down to my T-shirt and running shorts, and his face got a pitying, I-know-all look to it. “Oh. You just saw your mom.”

I blinked. “What does that have to do with anything?” He gave me a look like I should know what he meant. “What?”

“Come on, are you that lacking in self-awareness? You hold on to this notion of your angelic mother and the romantic comedy like her greatest wish in life was for her daughter to be swept oP her feet in fucking high school. Just because she liked those movies doesn’t mean that if you live your life like an actual teenager, you’re disappointing her.”

“What are you even talking about? Just because—”

“Come on, Liz—at least be honest with yourself here. You dress like her, you watch the shows she watched, and you do everything in your power to behave as if she’s writing the screenplay of your life and you’re her character.”

My throat ached and I blinked fast as his words came at me like blows.

“But news Aash: you’re not a character in a movie. You can wear jeans sometimes and straighten your hair if you feel like it and curse like a sailor and honestly do whatever you want, and she’d still think you’re amazing because you are. I guarantee she would’ve found you charming as fuck when you were smoking a Swisher in the Secret Area—I know I did. And when you attacked me in my car. Talk about out of character. It was—”

“Oh my God, I did not attack you. Are you kidding me with that?” It was official—I was dying of morti1cation. Because while I’d been humming along to love songs since the make out session in his car, he’d been considering it terribly “out of character” for me.

He ignored me and said, “But you’re so caught up in this idea of who you think your mom wants you to be, or Michael, or even me. Forget me! Be who you want to be. Just do it, and quit playing games, because you’re hurting people.”

“Shut up, Wes.” I was crying again, and I hated him at that moment. For not understanding, but also for being right. I’d thought, regardless of the prom situation, that he was the one person who had understood about my mom. I wiped my cheeks with the backs of my knuckles. “You don’t know shit about my mom, okay?”

“God, don’t cry, Liz.” He swallowed and looked panicked. “I just don’t want you to miss out on the good stuP.”

“Like what—you?” I gritted my teeth. I wanted to howl and kick things over.

Instead I said, “Are you the good stuP, Wes?”

His voice was quiet when he said, “You never know.”

“Yes, I do know. You’re not—you’re the opposite of everything I want. You’re the same person you were when you ruined my Little Free Library, and you’re the same person my mom thought was too wild for me to play with.” I took in a shaky breath and said, “You can have the Forever Spot and let’s just forget this whole thing ever happened.”

I turned and walked away from him, and I was just opening the front door when I heard him say, “Fine by me.”



I fell asleep before eight that night, listening to “Death with Dignity” by Sufjan Stevens on repeat. I slept the entire night with my Beats on, and that soft song haunted my ears until morning.

Mother, I can hear you And I long to be near you

I dreamed of her. I rarely did anymore, but that night, I chased my mother in my dreams.

She was trimming roses in the front yard and I could hear her laughing, but I couldn’t see her face. She was too far away. All I could make out were her gardening gloves and her fancy black dress with the ruAed collar. And no matter how much I walked, or how fast I ran, I wasn’t close enough to see her unblurred face.

I ran and ran, but she never got any closer.

I didn’t wake up with a gasp like in the movies, though that might’ve made me feel better. Instead I woke up with a sad resignation as the song continued its soft, solemn loop.

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