Chapter no 17

Better Than the Movies

“Here’s the deal. I love you. I know I do. Because I’ve never been so scared in my entire life. And I once shared an elevator with Saddam Hussein. Just me and Saddam. And this is way scarier. I love you.”

Long Shot

“I was wrong about everything. I am so incredibly glad Michael came back, but only because it allowed me to get to know the real you. All this time you were right here—next door—and I had no idea how amazing you are,” I whispered to myself. I was shaking, shivering with cold when I heard Wes’s car pull into the driveway.

“Showtime.” I shook out my cold 1ngers and quit practicing my speech. I inhaled slowly, through my nose, as I heard him cut his engine, and a second later I heard his car door slam shut.

I tucked my hair behind my ears and got into a supercute-yet-really-casual pose on one of the chairs and waited for him to 1nd my note.

After Helena’s epic movie quote about going big, I decided she was right and got very busy. First, I Aipped on my music computer and looked through the desk drawers until I found a blank CD. There was something about holding the tangible product of careful music curation that I still loved, technology be damned.

I took the Wes and Liz playlist that I’d made after the kiss and I burned it to the CD. It had all the songs we’d ever discussed on it, and all the music we’d experienced together. I quickly made album cover art—our initials inside a heart made of ketchup—and printed it, then carefully cut it so it 1t in the case just right.

As soon as it was done, I changed into jeans and Wes’s huge hoodie, which had somehow ended up in my vomity clothes bag (and that I’d been sleeping in every night). My hair and makeup were still fairly intact, so I pulled on my freshly-bleached-and-perfectly-white-again Chucks, scribbled out the words MEET ME IN THE SECRET AREA with a Sharpie on a piece of printer paper, and 1lled a boot box with the necessary supplies.

I’d sprinted over to his porch to leave the note before hurrying to the Secret Area, where I’d set up the portable CD player, started a 1re, organized the s’mores stuP, and gotten everything in place.

Then I’d snuggled into a blanket and waited. And waited and waited and waited.

And dozed oP a couple times.

But now he was 1nally home. Oh dear. Oh God, I was so nervous. And then

wait, what?—I heard the slamming of a second car door.

I sucked in my lips. Crap, crap, crap. Maybe he just grabbed something from his car. Maybe there wasn’t someone with him.


I heard the giggling yell, and it might as well have been the laugh of an evil clown for what it did to my pulse. I tried peeking around the bushes, but I couldn’t see anything. The voices were getting closer, so I stepped up onto my chair to see if I could see better from a higher vantage point.

Holy balls. I could see by the light of the full moon that Wes and Alex were walking through his backyard toward where I was stationed with my pride fully exposed and a sack full of embarrassing goodies.

“Shit!” All evidence had to be erased. I kicked the box of s’mores supplies, intending to knock them into a bush and out of sight. Panic exploded inside me as the box went Aying and sent the graham crackers and marshmallows spilling out into the water, so they were Aoating on top of the fountain.


I grabbed the CD player and dropped down to my knees, desperate to be hidden by the darkness. But the ancient machine slipped out of my hands and landed on the ground, causing eight D-size batteries to be ejected.

Screw it. I ditched the mess and scooted over to the big bush, crawling on my hands and knees toward the other side. If I crawled all the way around to the other end of the Secret Area, maybe I could cut through—


I closed my eyes for a second before slowly straightening and climbing to my feet. I pasted a smile onto my face as Wes and Alex looked at me. “Hey, guys. What’s up? Fun prom, right?”

“Right? Oh my God.” Alex, bless her, acted like it wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to be crawling around in the darkness behind Wes’s house. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack when Ash was crowned.”

“I know,” I breathed, smiling like I knew what she was talking about while taking in the stoic, serious expression on Wes’s face. “Total heart attack moment. Like, whaaat? Ash was crowned?”

“What are you doing out here?” Wes asked, looking at me with an unreadable expression that made the tips of my ears burn hot. He was probably pissed that I was in the way of a potential seduction.

Had he brought her there for that? Were they waiting for me to leave so they could get to it? For some reason, the thought of them together was a hundred times worse when it involved the Secret Area.

“I, um, I followed my cat out here earlier and…” I pointed toward my house as words failed to make sense to me. “I dropped something and thought it might’ve rolled under this bush.”

And I pointed to Wes’s forest like a distraught toddler. “Your cat doesn’t go outside.”

I made a face and said, “Yes, he does. Actually, no, you’re right. He ran out.” “Really? And what did you drop?” He didn’t look amused at all.

“Um, it was money. A penny.” I cleared my throat and said, “I dropped a penny and it rolled away. So yeah. I was just out here, looking for my penny. It was lucky.”


“Penny. Yep. But it doesn’t matter. I don’t need it.” I cleared my throat again, but the tightness just wouldn’t go away. “The penny, y’know? I mean, who needs a penny, am I right? My stepmom throws them away, for God’s sake.”

They both just stared at me, and the hard lines of Wes’s face made me homesick for our before, for his laughing eyes before I’d ruined everything. “It’s weird how sometimes there can be a penny that’s, like, always there, and you think you don’t need it and don’t even like it, right?”

Alex tilted her head and scrunched her eyebrows together, but not a single thing on Wes’s face changed as I rambled.

“Then you wake up one day and your eyes are opened to just how amazing pennies are. How had you not noticed before, right? I mean, they’re like the best coins ever. As in, better than all the other coins combined. But you weren’t careful and you lost your penny and you just wish you could make your penny understand how much you regret not cherishing it, but it’s too late because you lost it. Y’know?”

“Liz, do you need to borrow some money?” Alex looked at me, and I was a little bit close to crying again.

I shook my head and said, “Um, no, thanks, I’ve got to run—even though I’m penniless, ha ha ha—so you guys have fun.” I took a step backward and did a tiny wave thing. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Stop talking, you dipshit!

I sensed—without looking—that they were still staring at me as I climbed over Wes’s fence and ran through my backyard.

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