Chapter no 4

Better Than the Movies

“You’re not as vile as I thought you were.”

10 Things I Hate About You

“So?” I looked out the windshield as he pulled away from the house, where cars lined both sides of the street. It occurred to me at that moment that Wes and his friends totally lived the Superbad life. “Did he say anything about me when I was changing?”

“He did, actually.” He Aipped on his blinker and turned the corner. “And it’s probably going to piss you oP.”

“Oh God.” I looked at Wes’s pro1le and waited for the awful news. “What?”

He accelerated and switched lanes. “It’s just very clear that he still thinks of you as Little Liz.”

“What does that mean?”

His mouth curved a little, but he kept his eyes on the road. “Oh, come on.” “Seriously. What? Like he still thinks I’m in grade school?”

He smiled an I-shouldn’t-be-smiling smile and said, “Like, he still thinks you’re a nice little weirdo.”

“Oh my God—are you kidding me?” I stared at his grin and wanted to punch him. “Why would he think I’m a weirdo now? I was charming as hell until your girlfriend puked on me.”

“It’s not that.” He reeled in his smile and shot me a quick glance. “It’s just that he assumes you’re the same person you used to be, because he’s been gone.”

“I wasn’t a nice little weirdo.”

His smile was back. “Oh, come on, Buxbaum.”

I thought back to the old days in the neighborhood. “I wasn’t.”

“Yes, you were. You made up songs constantly, about everything. Terrible songs that didn’t even rhyme.”

“I was creative.” True, I was less athletic and more dramatic than the rest of them, but I wasn’t weird. “And that was my theme music.”

“You lied about boyfriends all the time.”

That was true. “You don’t know they weren’t real.” “Prince Harry?”

Oof—I had forgotten about that one. “He could’ve been my boyfriend; there was no way of knowing for sure.”

He chuckled and pressed harder on the gas. “And the plays, Liz. Remember all the plays? You were a one-woman Broadway show every damn day of the week.”

Wow—I’d totally forgotten about the plays, too. I used to love creating plays and getting the whole neighborhood to act them out. And yes, I might’ve been the instigator, but the rest of them had always played along, so they had to have enjoyed it too. “Theater is a noble calling, and if you guys were too uncultured to recognize that, then I feel sorry for you.”

His chuckle turned into a laugh. “You begged Michael to be Romeo to your Juliet, and when he wouldn’t, you climbed a tree and fake-cried for an hour.”

“And you threw acorns at me, trying to knock me down!”

“I think the point here is that he sees you diPerently from other girls because of your history.”

I looked at him and wondered—holy God—had I been a little weirdo? “So I’m a weirdo to him forever and there’s nothing I can do about it?”

He cleared his throat. “Well, maybe not. But.”

He looked guilty, and I said, “What did you do, Wes?”

didn’t do anything, Buxbaum—you did.” He pulled to a stop at a red light and gave me full-on eye contact. “Michael and I were saying how bad it sucked that you got puked on, and he made a comment about your ugly uniform.”

My cheeks got hot as I remembered my beautiful out1t that was now ruined. “So?”

“So it was something about how it was classic Liz to wear a waitress uniform to a party and how you haven’t changed a bit.”

I sighed and looked out the window, suddenly feeling hopeless about ever getting a shot with Michael. “Awesome.”

“I told him that you’re completely diPerent now.”

I glanced across the darkened front seat. “You did?”

“Yep. I told him that you sing less now and that you’re kind of considered a

hot girl at school.”

My weirdo heart felt warm. “I’m considered a hot girl?”

“Probably. I mean, you’re not ugly, so it’s possible. I don’t know.” Wes kept his eyes on the road and sounded irritated. “I don’t make it a habit to discuss you unless it’s in the context of ‘Guess what my goofball neighbor did,’ so I actually have no idea. I was just trying to change his impression of you.”

I rolled my eyes and felt ridiculously bummed that he’d made that up.

“But here’s your problem.” He put on his blinker and slowed as we approached a yellow light. “As I was doing my best to convince him that you’re no longer a little weirdy, he took it the wrong way and said, like, ‘So you DO like Liz. I knew it.’”

“Oh no.” Shit, shit, shit!

“Oh yes.” He looked over at me after stopping for the red light. “He thinks we’re into each other.”

No!” I dropped my head back onto the headrest and pictured Michael’s face as he’d smiled and watched Wes and me. He thought I was into Wes, and it was entirely my fault. I’d started the rumor, for the love of God. “He’ll never ask me to prom if he thinks you like me.”

“Probably not.”

“Ugh.” I blinked fast, not wanting to get emotional, but I couldn’t help it as I kept picturing his face. He was supposed to be my fate, dammit, and now Laney would have him in her clutches before I got my foot-popping kiss.

And I got vomited on for nothing.

“He did say something about you when we were leaving, if that makes you feel any better.”

“What? When? What did he say?”

He accelerated around the corner and Aoored it. “All he said was ‘I can’t believe Little Liz has a tattoo’ when I told him we were taking oP.”

I gasped. “Well, how did he say it?” He glanced over at me. “Really?”

“I just mean did he say it like he was disgusted, or, like… like he thought it was maybe kind of cool?”

He kept his eyes on the road and said, “He de1nitely wasn’t disgusted.” “Well, at least there’s that.” I stared out the window and watched as the lights

of our neighborhood got closer. What am I going to do? If it were another guy, I might have just given up and called projectile vomiting a cosmic sign.

But this was Michael Young. I couldn’t give up.

Honestly, the thought of it made my heart feel a little pinched. There had to be a way.

I ran my teeth across my bottom lip and pondered. I mean, technically, regardless of the self-inAicted rumor about Wes and me, Michael had looked Airty when he’d looked at my tattoo. It wasn’t much, but it was something, right? It proved that it was possible to change his “little weirdo” assumptions.

I just needed a chance to make him see all the things about me that had changed.

I felt hope bubbling back up. I mean, it wouldn’t take long to open his eyes if I could just get some time with him, right? Time and perhaps some help.


“You’re so quiet, Buxbaum. Makes me a little terri1ed of what you’re thinking.”

“Wesley.” I turned toward him in my seat. With my winningest grin, I said, “Buddy. I have the BEST idea.”

“God help me.” He pulled his car into The Spot, took the keys out of the ignition, and said through a half smile, “What is your terrible idea?”

“Well,” I started, looking down at my hands and not moving to get out of the car. “Hear me out before you say no.”

“Again with this? You’re scaring me.”

“Shh.” I took a deep breath and said, “What if we let people think we’re dating, but only for, like, a week?”

My cheeks were hot as I waited for him to make fun of me. His eyes narrowed and he looked at me for a long second before saying, “What exactly would that solve?”

“I’m still working this out, so bear with me. But if we pretended to kind of be into each other for a week, then that could help Michael see that I’m no longer Little Liz. He already thinks we’re dating. Why not use that to show him I’m a perfectly viable romantic option?”

He drummed his long 1ngers on the steering wheel. “Why is this so important to you?”

I blinked and rubbed my eyebrow with my index 1nger. How was I supposed to answer that question? How could I tell him I was sure the universe had sent Michael back to me?

I hated that my voice was thick when I said, “I honestly have no idea, really. I just know that for some reason it really, really is. Does that sound silly?”

He stared out the windshield in front of him with an unusually serious look on his face. After a few seconds, I wondered if maybe he hadn’t heard me, but then he said, “What’s silly is that it doesn’t.”


“Really.” He cleared this throat and turned to look at me, his Wes smirk back in place. “Now what’s in it for me if I do this? Besides the joy of setting you up with the dude you want to bang, of course.”

“Gross.” I cleared my throat and was glad he was back to being the smart-ass I knew. Introspective, understanding Wes was kind of too much to take. I said, “You can have The Spot for another week.”

“That hardly seems like enough. I mean, are you going to expect me to take you out again?”

“Well, that would help, yeah.” I tucked my hair behind my ears and was hyperaware of how quiet it was in his car.

Wes crossed his arms as his mouth slid into a smug smile of satisfaction. “I’ve got it. I’ve got a brilliant plan.”


“Shhh.” He reached over and put his whole palm—which smelled like soap— over my face for a second before relaxing back into the driver’s seat. “I will pretend like I’m trying to get something going with you, even though you’re not that into me.”


“In addition to that, I will actively try to help you get Michael. Extol your many virtues to him.”

Even though I knew there had to be a catch, it was fun seeing Wes get into the idea. I asked, “What’s in it for you?”

If you successfully get him to ask you to prom as a result of my assistance, I get The Spot forever.”

I reached for the door handle. “Forever? Not a chance.”

“You’re not listening. I’m talking about me providing my expertise in getting him to prom you up. Our current arrangement was just for me to let you ride along to a party. What I’m talking about would be me giving you insider info, working on Michael for you, giving you helpful hints, fashion advice, etcetera.”

“Fashion advice?” I snorted.

“That’s right, fashion advice. Etcetera. For example, if you’re going to a party and you want Michael to think you’re hot, dress like it instead of a waitressed Doris Day.”

“A waitressed Doris Day sounds like an excellent aesthetic, for your information, but honestly, I can’t get over the fact that you know who Doris Day is.”

“What? My grandma likes Pillow Talk.

I loved that movie. Maybe there was hope for Wes yet.

“She also likes pickled pig’s feet and attempting to escape her retirement home.”

Ah. There it was.

He Aipped his keys around his 1nger. “So…? Are you in?”

I took a deep breath. If he could help me with Michael, I’d give him The Spot, along with the moon and the stars and possibly a kidney. I inhaled and said, “I’m in.”

“Good girl.” He got out of the car, slammed the door, and came around to my side just as I was closing mine. He leaned down a little and murmured, “I’m going to love my Forever Spot, by the way.”

I rolled my eyes. Incorrigible boy. “You don’t have to walk me to the door, Wes.”

He took the bag from my hand anyway. “Come on—it’s not every day that a guy has the chance to carry a girl’s sack full of vomity clothes to the door for her.”

“True.” That made me smile to the point of a laugh. “Although, I sure hope I can manage to hold up my own pants without your help.”

“I doubt you can—I literally saved your ass at the party.”

He walked beside me up to my house, and I could smell his cologne. It smelled good and fresh, and an ad exec would probably say it had “notes of pine,” but I nearly stumbled as I realized that I recognized it as his. That was Wes’s scent, plain and simple. So… when had that knowledge occurred? I must’ve subconsciously noticed it during our parking dustups, or perhaps he’d been wearing it since puberty.

But when we got to the porch and he handed me the bag, I looked up at his face and was overcome by the feeling that I was waking from a dream or something. Because how else did it make sense that I’d just left a beer party at the mansion of one of the populars and now Wes Bennett was on my porch—and we weren’t arguing?

But the most surreal part of it—by far—was that it didn’t necessarily feel wrong. It kind of felt like the start of something.

I said, “Thanks for the clothes and… well, everything. You were way cooler than I expected.”

“Of course I was.” He gave me a smile then, a smile that was diPerent from all the others he’d ever given me. It was a nice smile, genuine like the one he’d used with his friends at the party. I didn’t mind being looked at like that by him. He said, “Don’t forget to wash your dirty uniform before your next shift. I imagine The Diner probably takes great pride in their employees’ appearances.”

I smiled back at him. “I’ll kill you if you ever tell.” “My lips are sealed, Libby.”



The next morning at work, I was feeling positive about the whole outing as I replayed it in my mind. I mean, yes—I got vomited on, Mr. Right thought my adorable dress was a job uniform, and oh, yeah, he also thought I was still a

“weirdy” (I hoped that was Wes’s personal term and not one that had ever left Michael’s lips in reference to me)—but those were the only negatives.

Yes, I had an outrageously unrealistic optimistic nature.

Michael had also seemed fairly interested in attending prom, so I still had a chance. Especially with Wes helping to illuminate the non-weird, once-was-a-caterpillar-but-is-now-a-beautiful-butterAy Liz.

“JeP?” I said the name loudly, and a silver-haired customer in red suspenders and matching red sneakers walked in my direction with two books in his hand.

He stopped at the counter and held out his claim ticket. I grabbed it and said, “We can give you twenty-four dollars for your records.”

His furry eyebrows squinched together like two caterpillars, and his lips Aattened. “Twenty-four dollars? I know for a fact that the Humperdinck album is worth at least that much by itself.”

“You’re probably right,” I started, desperately wanting to roll my eyes. Old record dudes were the worst. They always knew what their LPs were worth to other old record dudes, and consistently argued with me when I oPered them half of what we could actually sell them for. “But at this store, we’ll only be able to get a fraction of that for it. You’re certainly welcome to hold on to it, if you think you can sell it online for more.”

He glared at me without saying a word. Just stood there and eyeballed me, as if his powerful stare were going to make me shrink and start throwing money at him. I’d been working at Dick’s Used Books for three years, and I could pretty much look at a person entering the store and know if they were going to try to haggle or not.

I stared back, with a smile, of course, and waited for him to grow tired of his Big Man games. A solid twenty seconds went by before he 1nally said, “I don’t need two copies. I guess I’ll take your oPer.”

Yes, I knew that you would.

I was ringing up his credit when the bell on the front door tinkled. “Good morning,” I said, not looking up from the cash register. “Can you tell me where your fart books are?”

I looked up, and there was Wes, looking as serious as a heart attack, and JeP the Old swung his gaze in Wes’s direction.

“Excuse me?” I had to distort my face to keep from laughing. I wasn’t going to smile at his childishness. Not in front of a customer, at least.

Wes was wearing basketball shorts and a SURELY NOT EVERYBODY WAS KUNG FU FIGHTING hoodie, his dark hair sticking up in the front like he’d showered and rubbed his hand over it instead of using a brush. I wasn’t sure when he’d gotten so long and lean and ropy, but honestly, it was a good look.

If you were into guys like Wes.

“Your fart books. Hello?” He said it with great impatience, like I was the one acting strangely for just staring at him. “I need some relief, ma’am. Where are the books on gastrointestinal emergencies?”

I handed Old JeP his money and receipt. “Thank you very much—have a great day.”

He muttered and put the money in his wallet before leaving the store. I glanced at Wes and shook my head. “What is wrong with you?

He shrugged. “I’m funny?”

“No, I don’t think that’s it. Why are you here?”

“Because I like books and…” He turned around and looked at the store behind him. “Records.”

“Is that so? What’s your favorite record?”

He pointed at the album I’d just bought from Old JeP. “That one. Engelbert Humperdinck.”


“Yep. No one raps quite like the Dink. I could listen to that Engelbert—or, as I like to call him, Big E—spit rhymes all day long.”

“Seriously, why are you here?”

He stepped closer to the counter. “I needed to talk to you, and your stepmom said you were here.”

Stepmom. It’d be normal for me to think of Helena like that, and to call her that, but for some reason, I never could. It was either “my dad and Helena,” or “my dad’s wife.” I’d lived with her for years now, but she was still just Helena to me.

“What’s up?”

“Michael texted me this morning.”

“He did?” My mouth dropped wide open, and I let out a squeal that should’ve embarrassed me but didn’t because it was just Wes. I tiny-clapped and said, “What did he say? Did he mention me? What’d he say?”

He grinned and shook his head at me like I was an over-sugared toddler. “So a bunch of us are going to the game tonight.”

“Would this be a ball game?” I turned the pricing gun to three dollars and started labeling the clearance books. I had told Joss I’d go dress shopping that night, mainly because I needed to create an opening to mention the party before she heard about the barf incident at school on Monday. If I could appease her on the dress, she might not give me too much grief about the party.

“Basketball, dipshit.” “How would I know that?”

“Because it’s basketball season and we’re in the playoPs…?”

I just gave him a shrug and kept labeling, which made him smile. “Anyway, me and Michael and some of the guys are going, and I thought it might be a casual way for you to hang without other girls stealing your thunder.”

I stopped tagging. “Did you seriously just imply that I’m invisible if other girls are in the equation?”

“No. God, you’re uptight. I—” “No, I’m not.”

“You’re not?”

I set down the gun and put my hands on my hips. “No, I most de1nitely am not.”

One side of his mouth slid up. “You’re wearing a dress at a thrift store for books, your planner is scarily organized, and every one of your price tags is perfectly straight. Up. Tight.”

I squinted at him while closing my elaborately color-coded and stickered planner. “This is a skirt and sweater, not a dress.”

I freaking adored my plaid kilt, ruAed cardigan, and nearly new, never-been-vomited-on patent leather Mary Janes.

“Same diPerence. When everyone else is in jeans, you’re skirted up.”

I rolled my eyes. “Just because I like dresses and I’m organized doesn’t mean I’m uptight.”

“Sure it doesn’t.”

I picked up the gun and started labeling faster, irritated that he seemed to disdain everything that I was. “So 1nish telling me about basketball before I hurt you.”

“That’s pretty much it. If you ride with us, you’ll have time to show how cool you are on the way to the game.”

I stopped with the tags again and imagined Michael and me, lost in smiles and in-depth conversation in the back of an intimate car. “A little one-on-one sesh of Liz coolness, huh?”

“God help us all.”

I ran a 1nger over the top of the gun and asked him, “That wouldn’t be weird, you bringing me?”

He did a no-biggie shrug. “Nah. It’s super chill.”

“Then, um, yeah.” I straightened and set down the gun yet again, excited about this unexpected opportunity. “Totally. Count me in.”

“Here’s the thing, though, Liz.” He pulled a set of keys from his pocket and Aipped them around his 1nger. “Don’t get all pissy with me for saying this, but I’d like to help you with your out1t.”

“Excuse me?” I tilted my head and couldn’t quite believe he had said that to

me. “I think I’ve got it, but thank you.” “Seriously, you need to listen to me.”

“If it’s about fashion, I seriously don’t. No oPense.”

“Some taken, but this isn’t about that. This is about the fact that no one is going to buy into the idea of you just casually watching some hoops if you’re wearing a ruAy dress and shoes with Aowers on them.”

I blew the bangs out of my eyes. “Bennett—I do own a pair of jeans, you know.”

“Color me surprised.” He put his palms on the desk and leaned on his arms. His face was closer, and I got distracted by the super-light freckles I’d never noticed and the way his eyelashes weren’t just long, but also perfectly curled. “But I bet they aren’t even normal. Like… um, they’re probably those weird-waisted trendy jeans, right? Or jeans with creases ironed into them and cuPs on the bottom?”


“Well,” he said, sighing like this was important, “I think if you’re serious about the whole Michael thing, you need to expand your closet.”

“Are you kidding me with this, kung fu hoodie?”

He grinned like I’d just complimented his out1t, and rubbed a hand over the lettering on his shirt. “Hear me out. I know what girls at our school wear. Girls like Laney Morgan—yeah, remember her?”

As if I could forget her. Good skin, good Instagram following, good dating history, and a doting mother. Enviable and unforgettable.

“Are you gritting your teeth, Liz?”

I released the clench and said, “No. Continue with your rambling.”

“If you want to land your man, you need to quit being stubborn and let me help you.”

“I just don’t think you’re capable.”

“Of coaching you to the win or picking out your clothes?”

“For sure the clothes.” I reached down and grabbed a stack of books oP the bottom shelf of the cart. Doubt crept in as he spoke like we were officially planning something. What was I even doing—trying to live-action my own personal version of She’s All That?

To be honest, though, the part of me that loved makeover rom-coms was a tiny bit intrigued.

But I liked myself. I liked my clothes.

I wasn’t a little weirdo, and I didn’t need Wes’s fashion assistance.

“Listen.” He grabbed a piece of paper oP the counter and said, “What if we just stroll through the mall and I point out things that look cool? You’ll be with me, so you don’t have to get anything you don’t like. But it wouldn’t hurt you to look like an actual high schooler when you’re trying to charm your long-lost love, right? Nothing wild or trashy, just something that doesn’t make you look like a librarian.”

I was clearly losing my mind, because all of a sudden it seemed like maybe it wasn’t a bad idea to go with Wes and see what he thought I should be wearing. I wasn’t about to change my looks for a boy—screw that thought forever—but if

he could point me to an out1t that I liked and he thought made me look less uptight, that wouldn’t be a bad thing, would it?

“I’m pretty broke right now, so I can’t aPord to go for rich hot girl. Is there a way to do a girl-on-a-budget, moderately-attractive look?”

He gave me a full-throttle grin then, the grin of someone who’d just beat someone else. “Trust me, Buxbaum—I got you.”

As soon as he left, I texted Joss.

Ugh—looks like I have to work a double. Can we dress shop tomorrow? SO SORRY.

I felt like a garbage friend. I knew I needed to stop putting her oP and just do the dang dress thing already, but I was really having a hard time forcing myself to step up.

Perhaps tomorrow.

You'll Also Like