Chapter no 3

Better Than the Movies

“You’re late.” “You’re stunning.” “You’re forgiven.”

Pretty Woman

It was seven 1fteen and Wes hadn’t shown up yet.

“Maybe you should walk over there.” My dad looked up from his book and stared directly at my tapping 1ngernails. “I mean, it is Wes.”

“Translation,” said Helena, giving me a smirk. “Your tapping is driving him to distraction and he thinks your date is capable of forgetting you entirely.”

“This isn’t a date.”

My dad ignored my comment, set his book down on the table beside him, and gave Helena a grin. “Actually, her tapping is driving me to distraction and Wes Bennett is capable of anything.”

My dad and Helena started doing their hilarious banter thing on the love seat, and I had to 1ght to hold in the eye roll. Helena was awesome—she reminded me of a blond Lorelai Gilmore—but she and my dad were sometimes a lot to take.

He’d met her in a stuck elevator—for real—exactly one year after my mother had died. They’d spent two hours in forced con1nement between the eighth and ninth Aoors at the First National building downtown, and they’d been inseparable ever since.

It was the epitome of irony that they’d had the ultimate meet-cute and seemed made for each other, because she was the polar opposite of my mother. My mother had been sweet, patient, and adorable, like a modern version of Doris Day. She’d loved dresses, homemade bread, and fresh-cut Aowers from her garden; that was all part of what my father had fallen madly in love with.

He’d said she was enchanting.

Helena, on the other hand, was sarcastic and beautiful. She was jeans and a T-shirt, let’s-pick-up-takeout, I-don’t-like-rom-coms, yet my dad was lost to her the minute that high-rise elevator malfunctioned.

In an instant, I’d lost my grieving buddy and gained a woman who was nothing like the mom I’d cried for every night.

That had been a lot for eleven-year-old Liz to handle.

I checked my phone—no message from Wes. He was 1fteen—no, seventeen— minutes late, and he still hadn’t sent a single Sorry I’m running late text.

Why had I even bothered being ready on time? He’d probably forgotten all about me and was already at the party with a beer in his hand. He’d texted me last night to say that Michael was happy to hear I’d be going to the party, and it’d killed me not to ask all the middle school questions.

Did he say anything about me? Tell me his exact words.

Ultimately, I’d refrained because Wes would only use that against me. My phone buzzed and I pulled it out of my pocket.

Jocelyn: What’re you doing?

I put it back without responding as guilt twisted around in my belly. I usually told her everything, but I knew she wouldn’t approve of me going to the party. Do you even know who Ryno is? Michael Young is NOT your racing-to-the-train-station dude. The minute she’d said that, I’d known she had no idea how much this mattered to me.

I was going to just go to the party, and I’d text her after I got home. My dad asked, “You’ll be home by midnight?”


“Not a second later, understand?” My dad looked more serious than usual and added, “Nothing good happens after midnight.”

“I know, I know.” He said those words every single time I went out. “I’ll call if—”

“No, you won’t.” My always laid-back father gave a shake of his head and pointed at me. “You will just make it a priority to not be late. Understand?”

“Honey, relax—she gets it.” Helena and I exchanged looks of understanding before she pointed out the window and started rambling to him about the grass.

My dad was only ever tense when it came to curfew, and it was only because of my mother’s death. His favorite thing to say if I ever dared to push back was If your mom hadn’t been out at midnight, that drunk driver couldn’t have hit her.

And he was right. And intense. So I pretty much always shut up about it.

I kept tapping my nails on the end table, shaking my crossed legs as nerves settled in. I wasn’t nervous about Michael; I was excited about that part. What I was nervous about was going to a party with the populars. I didn’t know any of them besides Wes, and my awkward self knew even less about how to act at a keg party.

Because I’d never been to a keg party.

I was more of a low-key girl. On a typical Friday night, Joss, Kate, Cassidy, and I went to a movie or hung out at the bookstore or maybe went to Applebee’s for cheap appetizers. Occasionally we went shopping and ended up at Denny’s or Scooter’s CoPee.

And I liked my predictable life. I understood it, controlled it, and it made sense to me. In my head, my life was a rom-com and I was living it like a Meg Ryan–type character. Cute dresses, good friends, and the eventual appearance of a boy who would 1nd me lovely. Keg parties played no part in that. They belonged in a Superbad kind of life, right?

“And the parents are home?”

I rolled my eyes and Mr. Fitzpervert jumped onto my lap. “Yes, Dad, the parents are home.”

Spoiler: they were not home.

But my dad and Helena were super chill parents. They trusted me, mainly because I rarely went out and never got into trouble, so they didn’t feel the need to call and check up on me when I was away from home. So yeah—I felt a little guilty about lying, but since I didn’t plan to do anything they wouldn’t approve of (except a best-case scenario that had me and Michael kissing on the back porch under a clear night sky with “ocean eyes” by Billie Eilish on a speaker in the background and his hands cradling my face as my right foot popped at just the right moment like in the movies), my guilt was but a fraction of what it could’ve been.

I scratched behind Fitzpervert’s ear, which made him purr and bite my hand.

He was such a dick.

He was currently sporting the gingham bow tie that I’d purchased on, so he looked dashing in an I-want-to-murder-you-but-I-eat-too-much-to-actually-move kind of way. The tie did accentuate his recent weight gain, so I wasn’t mad that he’d lashed out.

I got it.

I set him on the Aoor and walked over to the window, and there was Wes, as if my thoughts had summoned him. He hopped down his porch steps wearing jeans and a hoodie, and proceeded to walk across our front yard.

“He’s here. Bye, guys.” I grabbed my purse and reached for the door. “Have a nice time, sweetie.”

“Do you have money for a pay phone?” Helena asked.

I squinted at Helena, who shrugged and added, “I mean, you never know. You could get into a whole time machine, Back to the Future thing and need a pay phone to get home, and what would you do then?”

I did roll my eyes then. “Yes, um—I de1nitely have enough money to get back to this decade should we 1nd a hole in the space-time continuum. Thank you.”

She nodded and put her feet up on my dad’s lap. “You’re welcome. Now beat it, kid.”

I opened the front door before Wes could knock, and closed it quickly behind me. Which resulted in us nearly running into each other. He stopped just in time, looking a little surprised.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey.” He looked around me and said, “I don’t have to come in for a parental lecture?”

I couldn’t answer for a second because it was a bit jarring seeing Wes standing on my porch at dusk, smelling lightly of musky-manly cologne and looking freshly showered. He’d been next door my entire life, but it was surreal that our parallel lives were actually intersecting.

“Nah,” I said as I dropped my keys into my purse and started walking toward his car, which was, of course, in The Spot. “They know this isn’t a date.”

It only took him two steps, and he caught up to me. “But what if I wanted to declare my intentions to your father?”

“Your intentions?” I stopped beside his car. “Do you mean how you intend to irritate me for multiple hours in a row tonight?”

He hit unlock and opened the door for me. “I was actually referring to the way I intend on blowing oP the party entirely to use your body as a human shield at the paintball range.”

“Don’t even joke about getting neon paint on this dress.”

He shut my door, went around the car, and got behind the wheel. “Yeah, what’s with the dress? I kind of thought you’d wear something normal to a party.”

“This is normal.” I buckled my seat belt and pulled down the visor to check my makeup. As if Wes knew anything about fashion. I was in love my mustard jumper dress and its Aower buttons.

He started his car and put it in drive. “For you, maybe. I guarantee you’ll be the only person at Ryno’s wearing a dress.”

“Which will make Michael notice me.” I reached into my pocket—because of course my dress had pockets—and opened the tube of lipstick that was inside. My hands were shaking and I took a deep breath, trying to make myself chill. It was hard, though, when in mere minutes I’d be face-to-face with the boy I’d daydreamed about for more than half my life.

Deep breath.

“Yeah, that’s de1nitely true.” He pulled away from the curb and added in a cowboy voice, “Howdy, partner. Who’s the filly in the dress that’s blocking my view of the hot girls?”

“Oh, come on. Michael does not talk like that.” I snort-laughed in spite of myself, which screwed up the lipstick application as I looked in the visor mirror. “He speaks like the intelligent, charismatic guy that he is.”

“As if you even know.” He turned right on Teal Street, and his foot was heavy on the gas pedal. “The last time we knew him, he was a fourth grader.”

“Fifth.” I put the cap back on the lipstick. “And I can just tell.”

“Oh, you can tell.” He made a little noise that was the equivalent of him calling me a child. “For all you know, he’s spent the past few years torturing baby squirrels.”

“For all you know,” I said, Aipping the visor back up and reaching out to turn on his radio, “he’s spent the last few years bottle-feeding orphaned baby squirrels.”

“Well, if you ask me, that is no less alarming.”

I rolled my eyes and turned the station, mildly irritated that he, too, thought I was ridiculous. They didn’t understand how fated his reappearance was, so I was just going to ignore their negativity.

I loved Jay-Z, but I was feeling myself in my jumper dress so I scanned away from rap until I found a station playing a super old Selena Gomez song. That earned me another disapproving noise before Wes switched it back to “PSA.”

“Hey—I liked that song.”

“You like a song about Selena Gomez thirsting over Justin Bieber?” I looked over at his smirking face. “You are seriously disgusting.” “You’re the one who likes that seriously disgusting song.”

If my mom had been right about the whole your-eyes-are-going-to-stay-that-way rule, spending time with Wes was going to leave me visually impaired for the rest of my life.



“You’re not going to knock?”

Wes stopped with his hand on the front doorknob and looked at me like I was from another planet. “Why would I?”

“Because it isn’t your house?”

“But it’s Ryan’s; I’ve been here a hundred times.” He pushed open the front door. “And we’re going to a party in the basement, not a wine tasting in the formal dining room. The butler doesn’t need to announce our arrival this time.”

“I know that, you jag.”

He grinned and gestured for me to go ahead of him.

I stepped inside the fancy foyer, with marble on the Aoor and a glass chandelier overhead, and it was quiet. Too quiet. My stomach was full of butterAies, and I kind of wanted to go home, despite knowing that Michael was likely already here.

“Relax, Libby.”

Wes was looking at me as if he knew how nervous I was, and the tone of his voice told me he was actually trying to make me feel better. That seemed like a stretch, though, when he was probably just thinking how hilarious it was that I was such a nerdy mouse.

“No one calls me ‘Libby.’” My mom had, but since she wasn’t there anymore, I couldn’t count her, right?

“Aw—then I have a perfect pet name for you already.” “No. I hate it.” I hadn’t always, but I did now.

“Oh, you do not.” He nudged my arm with his elbow. “And you can call me ‘Wessy’ if you want.”

I couldn’t not laugh at that; he was so ridiculous. “I will not want to do that, like, ever.”

He walked over to a door and opened it, and noises came up from the bottom of the stairs. “Ready to party?”

Not at all. “Hey—don’t ditch me until I 1nd Michael, okay?” “Call me ‘Wessy,’ and I totally won’t.”

I snorted. “Fine. If you ditch me, Wessy, I will stab you with the keg tap.” “My little Libby is such a savage.”



“Where is he?”

Wes gave me a look as we stood near the keg. “We’ve only been here ten minutes—chill. He’s here somewhere.”

I held the red SOLO cup between my hands and looked around. “Up All Night” by Mac Miller would be the perfect choice if a camera were to pan out and capture the energy of the party. Because there were a lot of people in that un1nished basement, yelling and laughing and guzzling warmish beer. A small group sat around a table in the corner playing Presidents and Assholes, which appeared to be a game involving cards, drinking, and sporadically yelling, “Ooh-wee baby!”

But I didn’t care about any of that. I only wanted to see Michael. I wanted my reunited-and-it-feels-so-good moment with him, our childhood-coming-full-circle moment, and everything else was just background noise.

“Maybe you should relax and try having fun.” Wes pulled his phone out of his front pocket, checked messages, then put it back. “You do know how to do that, don’t you?”

“Of course,” I said, taking a sip of the beer and trying not to look like I found it as disgusting as I actually did. But I really had no idea how to have fun at a party like that; he was right.

Wes 1t in, though.

Since the minute we’d walked downstairs, his name had been shouted no less than ten times. Our entire high school class seemed to adore my annoying neighbor. Weird, right? What was even weirder was that so far, he hadn’t turned into the dude-bro I imagined him to be in a party situation.

He hadn’t left me by myself, hadn’t done a keg stand, and hadn’t discussed breasts and/or butts with his friends in front of me. I mean, he’d passed on beer and was drinking water because he had to drive, for God’s sake. Who was this guy? The guy I’d assumed him to be would’ve beer-bonged while driving.

Neighborhood friends were like that. You grew up with them, running over hot sidewalks and yelling to each other across fresh-cut lawns, but once you got older, you became acquaintances born of proximity with nothing but a surface level of basic knowledge. I knew he parked like an ass, played a ball sport— baseball maybe?—and was always laughing and loud when I saw him at school. I’m sure he knew even less about me.

“Wesley!” A pretty blond girl squealed and gave him a big hug. He looked at me over her shoulder as she very nearly jumped on him, and I rolled my eyes, which made him laugh. The blonde pulled back and said, “What took you so long? I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”

“I had to pick up Liz.” He gestured toward me, but she didn’t even turn around. The girl was standing, like, an inch away from him as she said, “You look really hot tonight.”

Was that how the upper echelon of my gender landed boyfriends at my school? If so, I’d never have a shot at Michael because I was a big fan of personal space. I actually felt a little sorry for Wes when he swallowed and took the tiniest step backward. He said, “Uh, thanks, Ash.”

“I probably shouldn’t tell you that.” She was kind of yelling over the noise, but Wes still looked uncomfortable, like they were alone in a dark room and the door was locked. “But what the hell, right?”

She didn’t move from deep within Wes’s space, so I tapped her on the shoulder. He was a childhood pal, I supposed, so it was probably my neighborly duty to save him at least once.

She turned around and smiled. “Hey.”

“Hey.” I smiled and touched her arm. “Listen.”

I leaned over and put my mouth closer to her ear, and I wanted to giggle when I saw Wes’s eyebrow go up like a question mark. I said to her, “Don’t tell anyone, but Wes and I are kind of… y’know…”

“Together?” Her eyes narrowed in confusion and then she smiled. Nodded slowly. “I had no ide—I’m so sorry!”

“Shh.” The girl was loud. “No worries at all, we’re just keeping it quiet.”

“I mean, I was going after him hard-core.” She gestured to herself with both of her pointer 1ngers and laughed. “I did not mean to make a move on your man!”

I shook my head and wanted that time machine Helena had mentioned, as everything clicked into place. She—Ash—was Ashley Sparks. Oh my God. Not only was she loud, but she was super popular and a terrible gossip. Every person in this building would think Wes and I were together in probably about ten minutes. I shushed her and said, “Shh… no biggie. He isn’t my man yet, so—”

“He will be, girl.” She nudged me with her shoulder and grinned at Wes. “You go get it.”

“Oh my God.” I muttered, “Shh. Um, okay.”

She walked away and I squeezed my eyes shut, not wanting to look at him. “Did you just tell her that—”

I opened my eyes. “Yep.”

He bent his knees so his face was level with mine, and his eyes were squinty when he said, “Why would you do that?”

I swallowed and looked down at my beer. “Well, I was trying to save you, um, from her amorous clutches.”

He started laughing. Hard. I raised my eyes to his face, and I couldn’t stop myself from joining, because he had one of those laughs. Happy and mischievous and full-on little boy; it was contagious. And really, it was ridiculous that I’d tried to save six and a half feet of Wes from the hot girl that clearly wanted to get with him. I had tears in my eyes by the time we got ourselves under control.

“Hey, y’all.” Michael came up beside Wes and said something about beer, but my heart started beating so fast that fainting became a distinct possibility and I didn’t hear anything he said. The noise of the party dimmed to a buzzing murmur as I squeezed my 1ngers around my red SOLO cup and drank him in. He was everything I remembered, but better. His smile was the same powerful weapon that made me feel both queasy and like I might spontaneously combust, all at the same time.

Wes and Michael kept talking, but I heard none of their words as I raised my cup to my lips, wishing so badly that I had headphones with me. Because “How Would You Feel” by Ed Sheeran de1nitely should’ve been playing while my eyes strolled over his thick hair, his pretty eyes, and those perfect teeth that were bared as he smiled at Wes.

Note to self: Create the Soundtrack of Michael and Liz after you get home.

“How have you been, Liz?” He turned his attention to me, and my insides melted all together when he smiled. “You look exactly the same. I would’ve recognized you anywhere.”

My voice wouldn’t work for a second and my face was on 1re, but then I managed to breathe the word, “Same.”

“So where do you work?” “What?”

He gestured to my dress. “Your uniform…?”

“Oh.” Oh no. He thought my adorable dress, the one that was supposed to make me stand out from the crowd to him, was a waitress uniform.

Kill me now.

I looked at Wes, and he gave me a Let’s-see-how-you’re-going-to-get-out-of-this look. I stammered, “My uniform. Yeah. Um, I, uh, pick up hours sometimes at the diner.”

“What diner?”

“The, uh, The Diner.”

Wes’s face opened into a huge grin. “I love The Diner.”

Sweat beads formed on the tip of my nose as I lied. “I barely ever work there.” Michael tilted his head just a little. “Where exactly—”

“I wish you’d moved back into your old house, Young,” Wes interrupted. “Because we could totally re-up our last epic game of hide-and-seek.”

I made a mental note to thank Wes later for the subject change.

Michael grinned and took a drink from his red cup. “Can you imagine?”

“I prefer not to.” I smiled at him and ignored Wes’s chuckle. “When our hide-and-seek games turned ‘epic,’ that usually meant that Wes and the twins were terrorizing me.”

“How many times do you think I snuck over and warned you?” Michael’s eyes ran over my face like he was reconciling the old and the new. “I saved you from so many bugs and frogs down your shirt.”

Wes said, “The twins used to get so pissed when you helped her.”

Michael shrugged and turned his attention back to Wes. “I just couldn’t let you do that to Liz.”

Ed Sheeran was back in my head as I watched Michael laugh with Wes. The three of us tripped back a few years to our 1reAy childhood, and it felt so good.

How would you feel,

If I told you I loved you?

“Every time I see a cheesy movie on TV, I think of Little Liz.”

Only, when he said it, Michael managed to make the word “little” sound sexy. Lil, but he sounded like a sleepy rancher when he said it, as opposed to someone referencing the newest mumble rapper, Lil Liz.

He lifted his cup and 1nished the last of his beer. “Remember how she always watched Bridget Jones’s Diary and got so mad if we made fun of it?” They’d never known it was because that movie had been my mother’s favorite.

“Do we have to rehash the past?” I pushed my hair behind my ear and tried to direct them to a topic that would show Michael how interesting I was now. “I heard—”

“Can you get me a beer?” Ashley was back, holding her cup out to Michael and smiling at me like we were besties. “I’m bad with the keg and always end up with too much head.”

Ugh—she said it in that way. You know the one.

Michael smiled but didn’t sound Airty when he said, “Sure.”

He turned his back to us and grabbed the tap while she turned her attention to Wes. “Are you going to prom, Bennett?”

Wes looked at me and raised an eyebrow, smirking. “I haven’t decided yet.” “Dream on,” I muttered, making him chuckle as Ashley continued, oblivious

to our exchange.

“A whole bunch of us are going as a group.” She was slurring pretty heavily now. I started to wonder if we should 1nd her friends. “You two should come. We’re getting a limo and everything.”

I glanced at Michael, but he seemed to have missed the comment, thank God.

Wes leaned closer to her and said, “Ash, did we do a little pregaming before the party?”

Ash giggled and nodded. “At Benny’s—his mom was gone.”

“I see. How about some water?” Wes grabbed her a bottle from the cooler of ice by the keg and gave her a nice smile that I realized he’d never given to me. Not once. I only received mocking grins, sarcastic smirks, and eyebrow quirks from my neighbor. “Well, I do love me some limo, so I’ll have to think about prom.”

Michael turned around. “When is prom?”

Everything stopped for me as Wes took the beer Michael had poured for Ashley and set it aside. She didn’t even notice. Wes said, “In two weeks.”

It was total slo-mo. Innnn. Twwooooo. Weeeeeeks.

Michael said to Wes, “It’s so bizarre, switching schools two months before graduation. Senior prom is supposed to be this really big deal, but I don’t even know any girls here yet except for Laney.”

You know me! Take me, my beautiful Michael, not the evil and vapid Laney! I’d have to explain the change in plans to Joss, but I could make her understand if my dream boy stepped up.

Michael gestured to Wes and me and asked, “Are y’all going?”

“Us?” My voice came out high-pitched, and I waved a hand wildly between me and Wes while making an exaggerated face, grateful Ashley had disappeared into the crowd. “Wes and I? Oh my God, no. Are you kidding me?”

“Yeah.” Wes shook his head and did the slashing motion with his hand. “We are not going anywhere together. Trust me. I wouldn’t go to the gas station with this one.”

“Well, I wouldn’t invite you to the gas station, so you can just shut your big mouth,” I said around a smile, following it up with a big old fake arm punch. “Believe me.”

Michael looked at us like we were funny. “Oh. I thought I heard you were a thing.”

“Yeah, well, you heard wrong,” I said, horri1ed as I realized that I was the one who’d started the rumor. About myself.

God. And how freaking fast was gossipy Ash? Honestly, I’d have been impressed if I hadn’t been so worried about her ruining everything.

“Way oP base, dude.” Wes tousled my hair and said, “No Little Liz for me.” I slapped his hand. “Nope.”

“Oh.” Michael did a slow nod of consideration and then looked at me. “Two weeks, huh?”

Twwooooo. Weeeeeeeeks. Huuuuuuuuh?

Goose bumps prickled up my arms as Sheeran Aoated back into my head.

“So tell me what’s happened since I moved.” Michael was apparently done thinking Wes and I were a thing and also 1nished making me light-headed by speaking the word “prom” in my presence. “Do y’all still hang out? How about the twins and Jocelyn?”

Wes and I looked at each other before I took over, mainly because I didn’t want him to say something embarrassing or unpleasant about me. “Wes and I see each other long enough to 1ght over the parking spot in front of our houses, but that’s pretty much it. And Joss is actually my best friend now, which even I 1nd hard to believe.”

He smiled at that, and he had the kind of smile that made you feel like you’d done something right. A million happy nerve endings were buzzing inside my body, and I wanted to bask in that smile and make it never go away.

Ashley reappeared and said something to Wes, making him turn his back to us to talk to her, which was 1ne with me, because it left Michael and me in oneon-one conversation. I said, “The twins, on the other hand, now attend Horizon High. They got sent to the alternative school after they landed in juvie for stealing a car.”

“What?” Michael’s mouth dropped open but his eyes were still smiling. “Their mom was super religious, wasn’t she?”

“Yep.” I took a sip of the warm beer and did my best not to gag. “She still teaches classes on Catholicism every Wednesday night at St. Patrick’s, but she has to wear a scarlet letter on her denim jumper.”

“Scandalous.” He leaned his head closer. “This is wild—I still can’t believe it’s you. Little Liz, all grown-up.”

“I know. And who would’ve thought Michael from down the block would return?” My cheeks were warm as I also leaned closer so he could hear me over the party noise. My heart was pounding as I went over the words—as I had been for the past few hours—over and over again in my head. The clock was ticking, so I needed to jump in with both feet. I said, “I don’t know if you knew it, but when we were little, I had the biggest crush on you.”

His lips slid into a dashing grin. “Well, I’ll be honest. I kind of—”

I don’t know if Michael 1nished his sentence or not, because just as I was having a tiny pleasure aneurysm at the next sentence’s possibilities, I heard a noise. Like, the kind of gurgle a garden hose makes when you turn it on but the water hasn’t quite made it out of the tube yet. I glanced in the direction of the sound, and Ashley opened her mouth wide and spewed chunky brown vomit all over my front, from my neck to my dress to my bare, exposed kneecaps.

Oh. My. God.

OhMyGod! I glanced down, seeing that I was covered in the liqui1ed remains of Ashley’s stomach. It was warm and thick and splattered across my out1t, making the top of my dress so drenched that it was sticking to my skin. In my peripheral vision I could see that there were wet chunks in the right side of my hair, over by my ear, but I couldn’t focus on that because I could feel a trail of hot vomit running down my leg.

Running down my leg.

I’m not sure if I made a sound or if I just looked victimized as I stood there with my arms extended, but Wes quickly handed the vomitous blonde oP to one of the girls standing nearby, and then he was at my side.

“I’ve got clean clothes in my trunk, Liz. Let’s get you up to the bathroom, and you can clean up while I run to my car and grab them.”

I couldn’t even formulate words. I just nodded and let him grab my elbow and lead me through the gaping crowd—who seemed to think my situation was both disgusting and hilarious—and up the stairs. I was 1ghting back my gag reAex and trying not to inhale that god-awful smell as I died of morti1cation.

Not only was I a puked-on laughingstock, but Michael had witnessed the whole gruesome ordeal.

Talk about the opposite of a meet-cute.

I was seriously going to die of embarrassment. For sure. It was, in fact, a thing. My death was imminent.

When we got to the top of the stairs, Wes steered me to a bathroom that was right oP the kitchen. He Aipped on the light, led me inside, and bent his knees so he was at my level. He looked into my face so I could see nothing but him and said, “Get out of these clothes and clean up, and I’ll be right back, okay?”

I still couldn’t formulate words so I nodded.

Michael appeared at the top of the stairs, looking at me with his perfect nose crinkled up like he wanted to puke too, but in a sympathetic way. He said, “At least you were wearing your uniform and not your own clothes.”

Now wanted to puke—and disappear—so I just said, “Yeah.”

“Is there anything I can do?” He looked queasy at the sight of me, but he still gave me a sweet smile and said in a Southern-comfort kind of way, “Need me to fetch you anything?”

Fetch. Aw.

I shook my head but felt—oh my God—something damp stick to my neck. I gritted my teeth and said, “No, but thank you.”

I closed the door and turned the lock. Looked around and cursed whoever had built this house for not providing a shower in that particular guest bathroom. “You have got to be kidding me!”

I glanced at the sink. And apologized to Ryno—whoever he was—for what I was about to do to his bathroom.

First, I tore oP every little piece of clothing I had on, including my underwear, letting them fall into a disgusting pile on the white marble Aoor. Next, I turned on the faucet and started shoving body parts under the hot running water. Left leg, right leg. Left arm, right arm. I had to do a near-backbend to rinse my neck and torso, spraying water all over the vanity and the Aoor, before jamming my head directly under the water.

Such a great idea, Liz, going to a beer party with Wes. Terrible judgement.

I could see the chunks slowing the sink drain as I rubbed my hair with a bar of soap, so I had to be careful to keep my head raised just enough to avoid re-contaminating my hair with sink-yack.

I straightened and wetted down one of the guest towels and slathered it with another fancy bar of soap before giving myself a full-body sponge bath.

I caught a glimpse of myself in the water-splattered mirror, wildly scouring my nude self in a stranger’s bathroom while humming tiny moans of disgust, and my brain added the next track to the album.

“Hello Operator” by the White Stripes.

The words weren’t particularly be1tting my uniquely horrible situation, but the guitar riPs while I manically and nakedly scrubbed would have been perfection.

“Liz?” Wes was at the bathroom door. “Do you want me to hand the bag through the door, or should I just leave it here on the Aoor and go back downstairs?”

“If you could leave it, that would be great.” The fancy bathroom was like a fun house, with big mirrors all over the place, so there was no way I was opening the door with Wes out there. I would for sure end up showing him my bits. “Thank you.”

“No problem.” He cleared his throat. “Everyone is downstairs, so if you just reach your hand out the door and swipe the bag, no one will see anything.”


“There’s a Target bag in the side pocket that you can put your dirty clothes in. And I’ve got your purse downstairs—do you need it?”

“No.” I’d totally forgotten I even had a purse. “Um—thanks. So much, Wes.” He was being very un-Wesley nice to me. Or at least what I’d thought was un-

Wesley. I guess the reality was that maybe I didn’t know who he was anymore. I mean, since we’d arrived at the party, he’d actually been… great.

“No problem. I’m going downstairs, then.” I heard rustling outside the door, and then it went quiet. I covered my front with yet another guest towel—totally didn’t cover enough, by the way—before I dropped to a squat, cracked the door, and stuck my hand through the opening.

I immediately made contact with the nylon string bag, thank God. I jerked it into the bathroom, then closed and locked the door. I needed to hurry and change if I was going to get another minute alone with Michael before Laney showed up and ruined everything. We’d been having a total movie moment before Blondie had rained her regurgitated foodstuPs upon me, and there was no way I was going to let that moment go.

I pulled the clothes out of the bag.

Aw, geez, Wes.

I don’t know what I’d expected him to have in the trunk of his car, but I was going to look like a goofball in his sports clothes. I stepped into the gray sweatpants and pulled them up, but they were huge on me. I had to roll the waistband down two times in order not to trip over the bottoms, and I still suPered from a likely-to-be-pantsed fate, as one tiny tug would send those babies right to my ankles.

I pulled the EMERSON BASEBALL sweatshirt over my wet head—again, huge— but it smelled like fabric softener and felt like a blanket, so I kind of maybe liked it a little.

A horri1ed giggle escaped me when I saw my reAection—a gray marshmallow in the soft, puPy, oversize Aeece ensemble. My buP-colored Mary Janes with the square heels were going to look amazing with the out1t, especially since they were also splattered with brown vomit.

I sighed and pulled my hair out of the sweatshirt hood. I was just going to have to text Wes that we needed to leave and I’d meet him in the car. I hated

leaving Michael and our Big Moment potential, but I looked too ridiculous to stay.

Only… where the? Nooooooo.

My phone was in my purse. My phone was in my purse, which was downstairs with Wes and Michael, not to mention the rest of the partiers. I rolled my lips inward and breathed through my nose.

Was I on a hidden-camera show?



I took a deep breath and opened the door to the basement steps. I’d ditched Wes’s hoodie, opting instead to knot the back of a ginormous T-shirt I’d found wrinkled up in the bottom of his bag. Since looking sophisticatedly adorable was no longer in the cards for me, I tried for the cool, casual, I-look-cute-in-my-boyfriend’s-oversize-clothing vibe.

It probably looked more like the middle-schooler-in-her-brother’s-hand-me-downs vibe, but since I was out of options, I preferred to be optimistic. I didn’t have a lot of time before prom, so I was going to have to stick it out and make Michael fall for me, vomit be damned.

The stairs were cold and dusty under my bare feet, and as soon as I reached the crowded Aoor, I looked around for Wes, desperate to get out of there before anyone noticed me. Something by AC/DC was blaring, but not loud enough for the words to be heard over the party sounds.

“Vomit girl!” Some bear of a dude wearing a too-tight Lakers jersey grinned at me. “You came back!”

Why? Why in God’s name would be “vomit girl”? Ashley should have been “vomit girl,” dammit.

I looked around the guy and spotted Wes. My handbag was dangling from his elbow as he talked to Michael next to the keg, and I forced myself to ignore all the looks I was getting as the newly crowned Vomit Girl and waved my hand in his direction.

Almost instantly, his gaze met mine. His eyes took a quick dip over my baggy sweats and T-shirt combo, and then his eyebrows went down before he walked toward me and pulled his keys out of his pocket.

“I’m assuming you want to go?”

“Yeah.” I turned my gaze to Michael, who’d followed Wes over, and I nervously ran a hand through my damp hair. But his eyes were looking directly at my belly button, not my hair. Oh God. The huge sweatpants hung so low on my hips that I’d just exposed a lot of my stomach to the entire party. I yanked down the bottom of the shirt, but it was too late.

He gave me a smile that turned my insides to mush and said, “I really like your tattoo.”

Oh God—he saw the tattoo.

At least he’d said it in a totally non-horny-bro way.

“Oh. Thanks.” I resisted the urge to tug on my top again as I desperately hoped he wasn’t being sarcastic.

Wes threw me a look of irritation, his jaw Aexing. “Ready?”

Before I could respond, Wes took a handful of my waistband and wrapped it around his hand, pulling it higher so my belly was entirely covered. “Liz’s clothes are falling oP, so it’s time for us to leave.”

I froze when I felt Wes’s hand on my skin. I looked at his face as he looked down at me, and I felt… oP-kilter. I wasn’t sure if it was in response to his touch or his sudden cavemannish protectiveness.

I also wasn’t sure why it wasn’t pissing me oP.

I remained tethered to Wes’s left hand as he and Michael shared a goodbye bro handshake, exchanging words I couldn’t hear over the noise. Once they broke apart, Michael gave me a little SOLO cup raise and a sweet smile before he turned and walked away.

“Bye,” I whispered under my breath, watching him disappear into the revelers.

“Come on, Buxbaum.” Wes hitched my handbag over his shoulder, passed the handful of my pants to me, and led me up the stairs. “Let’s get you home before you Aash anyone else.”

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