Chapter no 18

Better Than the Movies

“But, you know, the thing about romance is, people only get together right at the very end.”

Love Actually

“Thank you.” I took the bag from the McDonald’s employee, tossed it onto the passenger seat, and drove away. It was midnight, and I’d spent the past hour just driving around, cranking Adele and sob-singing, and trying to stay gone long enough for Alex to have left and for Wes to have gone inside. I would rather have done almost anything in the world than see either one of them, so I’d texted Helena and just cruised the city.

And my dad was the coolest person on the planet for not texting me a single word of warning when he knew I was driving around aimlessly after midnight. It had to be killing him.

I’d considered getting ice cream on my way home, but I hadn’t been up to actually getting out of my car, so I’d settled on the golden arches. I just wanted to go home and sad-eat, watch a movie, and try to forget how badly I’d humiliated myself.

A penny. Seriously? They’d probably laughed about me until they fell into each other’s arms and had perfect sex.

“Dammit.” I grabbed a 1stful of fries and jammed them into my mouth before pulling into The Spot. It wasn’t mine anymore—it was Wes’s forever— but at the moment I didn’t care. His car was in his driveway, so screw him.

Instead of getting out after parallel parking, though, I just sat there, wol1ng down my food and listening to the radio. Getting out of the car and walking across the street seemed like work at that tired moment, and I was also terri1ed of running into the happy couple. It would be just my luck to walk by at the

exact moment they decided to get hot and heavy in his driveway, or something equally nightmarish.

I 1nished my food and was drinking my chocolate shake with the seat half-reclined when there was a knock on my window.

“Shit!” I jumped, and my straw splattered milkshake onto Wes’s hoodie. I looked through the fogged-up window and could see a tall body in a letter jacket.

Someone please kill me.

I wiped my mouth with my 1ngers, put my seat back up, and rolled down the window. Gave him a cool smile. “Yes?”

Wes glared down at me. “What are you doing?” “Um… parking.”

“I watched you park ten minutes ago. Try again.” “Wow. Creep much?”

“I wanted to talk to you, so yeah, I was waiting. But now I think maybe you’re never going to get out of that car.”

I rolled my eyes and set down my shake. Apparently I was going to have to face him and my utter humiliation twice in one night. How awesome. I got out of the car and shut the door. Crossed my arms and looked up at his face. “What do you need?”

“Well, for starters, I need you to explain what happened earlier.”

My heart hurt as I looked at him. His hair was tousled, like he’d dragged his hand through it a hundred times, and he was wearing his untucked dress shirt and tuxedo pants under his jacket. He was an absolute mess, and my 1ngers itched to touch him.

I narrowed my eyes and acted confused. “Are you talking about when I lost my—”

“Nope.” He gave me a look of warning and said, “Do not say ‘penny.’” “Sorry.” I looked down at my shoes and muttered, “Lucky coin.” “Really? You’re sticking to that?”

I just shrugged and stared at my Chucks, clueless about what to say. Everything I’d planned to tell him during my whole be brave phase felt too hard to say after seeing him with Alex. Especially when he’d looked so unhappy to see me in the Secret Area.

I still couldn’t believe he’d taken her back there.

His nostrils Aared and he said, “Oh, well, that explains everything.”

“Why do you seem mad at me?” I raised my eyes to his face and waited for an answer. I was the one who wished to spontaneously combust. Why was he being salty?

His jaw Aexed before he said, “Because I hate games.” “What games?”

“What games?” His eyes were hot, and yeah—he was mad. “You won your precious Michael, but as soon as I looked twice at Alex, you’re burning me this unbelievable CD and rambling about lucky pennies in a way that makes me think I’m the penny in that particular scenario. While wearing my baseball hoodie. What are you doing to me?”

“You saw the CD?” I bit the inside of my cheek and wondered how much humiliation a person could take before it literally killed them. Because as I pictured the ketchup initials I’d put on the CD cover, I felt like I was close to combusting and gently Aoating to the ground as ash.

He stuck his hands into his coat pockets. “I’m not oblivious, Liz. I also saw the note, the soggy s’mores supplies, and the busted CD player.”

“Oh.” I took a shuddering breath as his dark eyes bore into me. Then I blurted, “So do you like her?”

His eyebrows furrowed together like he hadn’t expected the question, which was fair, because I hadn’t expected to ask it.

But I needed to know.

He swallowed and I thought he wasn’t going to answer, but then he said, “Alex is great.”

“Oh.” I hoped my face didn’t show how close I was to crying, how that one syllable was like a punch to the stomach. “Well, yay. I’ve got to go.”

I took a step around him, but he grabbed my arm and stopped me. “That’s it?

You’re not going to explain what all of that was?” “It doesn’t matter now.”

“It might.”

“It doesn’t, okay?” I tried to sound light and easy, like I was 1ne with everything as he dropped his hand. “I made the CD and set an embarrassing

scene because I realized that Michael isn’t the person I can’t stop thinking about, and I wanted to tell you. I mean, he’s great, but being with him is nothing like eating burgers with you, or sneaking out to the Secret Area to make s’mores and look at the stars, or 1ghting with you over a parking space. But it took me too long to 1gure that out, and now you’ve got Alex.”

He opened his mouth, but I shook my head.

“No. It’s 1ne—I get it. She’s Aawless and sweet, and as much as I hate to say it, you deserve someone like her.” I took a big, shaky breath as those dark eyes made me so sorry for everything I’d done to get us here. “Because I was wrong, Wes. You are the good stuP.”

He scratched his chin and looked past me, down the street. Then he settled his eyes on my face and said, “That’s not the only thing you’re wrong about.”

“What?” Leave it to him to kick me when I’m down. “What’re you talking about?”

“You’re wrong about Alex. She’s not Aawless.”

“Bennett, no one is totally Aawless—come on.” I couldn’t believe his nerve. “She’s pretty dang close, though.”

“I suppose.”

“You suppose? What on earth could she possibly be lacking? Do you want bigger boobs or something? Is she not—”

“She’s not you.” “What?”

“She. Isn’t. You.”

I shut my mouth and looked at him, scared to believe he was saying what it sounded like he was saying.

“She’s pretty, but her face doesn’t transform into sunlight when she talks about music.” He did that clench thing with his jaw and said, “She’s funny, but not spit-out-your-drink-in-astonishment funny.”

It felt like my heart was going to explode as his eyes moved down to my lips under the glow of the buzzing streetlight. He moved his face a little closer to mine, looked into my eyes, and rumbled, “And when I see her, I don’t feel like I have to talk to her or mess up her hair or do something—anything—to get her to swing that gaze on me.”

My hands were shaking when I tucked my hair behind my ears and breathed, “You haven’t messed up my hair in a really long time.”

“And it’s been killing me.” He took a step closer, which pressed me against the side of my car. “I fell in love with teasing you in the second grade, when I 1rst discovered that I could turn your cheeks pink with just a word. Then I fell in love with you.”

I’m pretty sure my heart was developing an arrhythmia with each word he said. “So you and Alex aren’t—”

“Nope.” He reached down and wrapped the drawstrings on my hoodie—his hoodie—around his hands. “We’re just friends.”

“Oh.” My brain was trying to keep up, but his handsome face was making it difficult. That and his sudden presence in my personal space, not to mention the gentle pull of him tugging me closer. I was muddled. “Well, why did you act like you wanted me to say yes to Michael’s promposal?”

“You’ve loved him since kindergarten.” His eyes were all I could see as he quietly said, “I didn’t want our kiss to get in the way of that if it was what you really wanted.”

How had I ever thought Wes was anything other than amazing? I didn’t even try to stop the lovesick smile from taking over my face as I set my hands on his chest and said, “What I really wanted was to go with you.”

“Well, you could’ve told me that, Buxbaum.” His voice was just a breath between us as he said, “Because just seeing you in that dress made me want to punch our very good friend Michael.”

It did?”

He yanked on the drawstring. “That’s not supposed to make you happy.”

“I know.” I was giving away my every emotion as I beamed up at him, but I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t hold back and be cool even if I tried. Because the thought of Wes being pissed at Michael—and jealous—over me, was just too wonderful. “But it does. It’s just so swoony.”

“Forget swoony.” He let go of the strings and slid his hands up the sides of my face until he was holding it in his big palms. I sucked in a breath as his mouth lowered, and my brain cued up the perfect song for this ending. Or rather, this beginning.

I’ve been searching a long time, For someone exactly like you

Our kiss was breathless and wild and Wes pulled away too soon. He wrapped his arms around me, picked me up, and moved me to the trunk of my car.

He smiled after plopping me down and said, “Do you realize we could’ve been doing this for years if you weren’t such a pain in the ass?”

“Nah—I didn’t like you until recently.” “Enemies-to-lovers—it’s our trope, Buxbaum.”

“You poor, confused little love lover.” A giggle shimmied through me before I set my hands on his face and said as I pulled him back to me, “Just shut up and kiss me.”

Cue the Bazzi.

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