Chapter no 5

Better Than the Movies

“Just because she likes the same bizarro crap you do doesn’t mean she’s your soul mate.”

500 Days of Summer

“Seriously, Wes?” I looked around the store and couldn’t shake the guilt. It was one thing to blow oP shopping with your best friend to do another activity, but blowing oP shopping with your best friend to shop with someone else? It felt like crossing a big old line. “You are ridiculous.”

He grabbed a red tunic from a display rack and threw it into the cart. “Ridiculously smart. Now you only have to go into the 1tting room once.”

I looked at the heaping cart and wondered if he knew that you could only take in six items at a time. I didn’t say anything, though, because the man was on a mission. He’d picked me up from the bookstore when my shift was over, sped the two blocks to the mall, and nearly pulled my arm out of its socket every time I failed to keep up with his brisk pace.

Apparently Wes hated shopping.

We were in Devlish, the high-school-trendy-worldwide-franchise store that I usually avoided. I was all about buying vintage clothes online or hunting through thrift stores for the perfect throwback pieces; Devlish wasn’t my game. Wes had asked me my size when we’d entered the three-level store, and since then he’d been hurling items into the cart like he was on some kind of speed-shopping game show.

We had 1nally taken a pause in the middle of an aisle, between the sequined and revealing formal dresses and the faux-business attire. Wes looked through the contents of our cart, holding up a few items to reconsider them, either nodding or shaking his head thoughtfully. Finally he said, “I think we probably have enough.”

I tried not to sound sarcastic when I said, “Probably.”

He pointed a 1nger at me and said, “But I know you well enough to know this is my only shot.”

“True.” He’d tossed in jeans, T-shirts, some supercute tops, some not-so-cute tops; the boy was de1nitely covering all of his bases. “But why so much white?”

He pushed the cart toward a huge rack of folded shirts and said, “People with red hair look good in white. Shouldn’t you know that?”

I just followed, trying not to smile at his con1dence in his own fashion beliefs. “I missed that memo.”

He grabbed a handful of shirts and added them to our pile. “White and green, dude. Those are your go-to colors.”

I couldn’t stop the laugh. Dude. “Noted.”

He stopped manic-shopping for a second and smiled down at me, his eyes warm as they traveled over my face. It reminded me of the look Rhett gave Scarlett in Gone with the Wind when he attempted to tie her new bonnet for her. It was a look that admitted he knew nothing about what he was doing, and that he knew he looked foolish.

But he didn’t care because he was enjoying himself.

It was weird, but part of me thought that might be the case with Wes. Not that he like-liked me, but I felt like he enjoyed our verbal sparring. Honestly, I did too, when he wasn’t saying things that made me want to choke him out.

He reached out and grabbed a plaid Aannel shirt from a rack. That wasn’t going to work for spring, but I didn’t say anything. I just tucked my hair behind my ears and let him 1nish. It didn’t escape my notice that our makeover-ish shopping trip was exactly like I’d imagined, but it was more The Ugly Truth than She’s All That. It was so reminiscent of Mike taking Abby shopping that it was almost funny, only Wes wasn’t the leading man and I wasn’t falling for him.

“Think we should head to the 1tting room?” he asked. “Oh, praise the Lord, you’re 1nally done. Yes.”

He charged toward the 1tting room, leaning his big body on the cart, and I was a little impressed by his focus. He hadn’t checked out anyone since we’d arrived at the store, and there were a lot of girls in that place. Trendy girls that were just his type.

But he was all about the shopping. “Liz?”

I glanced up and—holy shit—there was Joss, exiting a room. JOSS? Crap, crap, crap—what were the odds? What were the freaking odds? There was nowhere to hide, nowhere to hide Wes, as she looked at me with confusion on her face.

“I thought you were working.” She walked over and glanced at Wes before saying, “A double, right?”

Shit. I felt like I’d been caught cheating, and I wanted to disappear.

But at the same time, I looked at her and realized I’d much rather be nonsense-shopping with Wes than dress shopping with her.

Because there were no ties with Wes, no connections to anything painful. Prom dress shopping, on the other hand, was layered in melancholic bindings that made me feel a world of things I didn’t want to feel.

First—there was the fact that by watching Joss and her mom shop for dresses together, I got to hyperfocus on the fact that my mom wasn’t there to shop with me. Next, the event we were buying them for made me dwell on the reality that my mother wouldn’t be there on prom night to help me get ready or take too many pictures.

And then, of course, there was the dress itself. My mother had been smitten with formalwear, and trying on dresses with her would’ve been a fashion show of epic proportions, complete with homemade lookbooks and jewelry pairings.

“I got oP early.” I was a horrible person. I saw her glance into the heaping cart and I said, “And when I got home, Wes’s car was dead, so he asked if I could give him a ride to the mall. He’s buying a present for his mom.”

What was happening? It was alarming the way the lies were just pouring out of my mouth.

“I know how to speak, Buxbaum. Christ.” He gave me a look and then shook his head at Joss while my heart raced. He asked her, “You got any ideas on what to get my mom for her birthday? Liz has pulled a cart full of clothes, and I’m not convinced.”

“I’d trust her if I were you.” Joss draped the shirt she was holding over her arm and told him, “No one is as good at gifting as Liz.”

“Are you sure?” He gave me side-eye. “Because she’s wearing a kilt, Joss.”

She started laughing, and I felt like it might be okay. She said to Wes, “She’s got her interesting style thing, but it’s by choice. You’re good.”

“If you say so.”

She adjusted the shirt that was hanging over her arm and said, “Call me later, Liz. I want to do the dress thing tomorrow, and I swear to God I’m going to get for-real pissed if you ghost me again.”

“I won’t.” “Promise?”

I felt grateful enough that she wasn’t pissed about my Wes shopping trip that I genuinely meant it. “Promise.”

She said goodbye and headed for the register, and the second she was out of earshot, Wes said, “Your pants are so on 1re.”

“Shut it.”

“I thought you guys were besties.”

“We are.” I rolled my eyes and gestured for him to push the cart toward the dressing rooms. “It’s complicated.”

He stood still and said, “How?”

“What?” I wanted to push him and physically get that big body going, as he still wasn’t moving.

“How is it complicated?” He looked genuinely interested. Could it actually be that Wes cared?

I sighed and groaned a little, running a hand through my hair. Part of me wanted to tell him about all of it, but Wes wouldn’t understand my grief any more than Joss would. “I don’t know. Sometimes I keep things to myself and it causes tension.”

Wes tilted his head. “Is everything okay? I mean, you’re okay…?”

His face was—I don’t know—sweetly concerned? It was a little unnerving, how sincere he looked, and something deep inside me didn’t hate it. I waved a hand and said, “It’ll be 1ne. And thanks for going along with it.”

“I got you, Buxbaum.” He watched me for a minute, like he was waiting for more, but then he winked and leaned on the cart. “You’re on my team now.”

“God help me.”

He finally wheeled the cart into the 1tting room area and proceeded to drop into one of the waiting chairs, stretch his legs out in front of him, and cross his arms.

“What are you doing?”

His eyes narrowed a fraction. “Sitting.” “But why? I’m not trying these on for you.”

“Oh, come on, Liz. If I’m responsible for making you over, I need—”

“Oh my God, you are not making me over. Are you serious with that?” Sometimes he was beyond infuriating. “I’m taking your opinion into consideration, but I’m not pathetic and I don’t need Wes Broseph Bennett to make me over.”

He looked up at me with laughing eyes. “I think Michael was right about you being high-strung.”

“You’re impossible. Please go somewhere else.”

“How’re you going to know how they look if I’m not here?” “I have eyes.”

“Eyes that okayed a waitress uniform for a party, remember?” “That was an adorable dress.”

“Debatable. And does the use of the past tense mean it wasn’t salvageable?” “No, there was vomit in the pockets. I said my goodbyes last night.”

He smirked at that and his dark eyes crinkled at the corners. “Well, I’m sorry.

It was an ugly dress, but it didn’t deserve to die.”

I rolled my eyes, and the 1tting room attendant walked out from the back. “How many?”

“A few,” Wes muttered at the same time I said, “How many can I take in at a time?”


“Only eight?” Wes’s voice was loud in the tiny dressing room area. “Come on, that’s going to take forever.”

I ignored him and took eight items to a 1tting room. The third top I tried on, a slouchy white Aeece thing that fell oP one shoulder in a way that would look adorable with a tank underneath, was actually cute. I paired it with faded jeans that had shreds all over them, and I was glad Wes had suggested this.

He’d managed to 1nd me something trendy that I liked; I couldn’t believe it.

Just as I was switching into an emerald-green sweater, I heard him say, “Can you possibly change a little faster? I’m falling asleep out here.”

“Don’t you have some shopping to do while you wait for me? I think I saw a sale on obnoxious jock costumes in the back.”

“Ouch.” He whistled. “You’re so mean.” “Give me two minutes and I’m done.” “Seriously?” He sounded shocked. “Seriously.”

“But you’re only on the 1rst eight.”

I pulled oP the sweater and put my shirt back on, sliding my feet into my shoes while straightening my hair in the mirror. “I got what I needed, so there’s no reason to keep going.”

He seemed doubtful when I came out, like he didn’t trust my answer, but when we got to the register, he looked like he approved of the items I’d selected.

“I still can’t believe I’m taking fashion advice from you. I feel like this is some kind of rock bottom.” I handed my debit card to the cashier and looked at the small stack of clothing on the counter.

I pointed at the shoebox sitting right beside my clothes. “Those aren’t mine.” “I have great taste. I’m like your own personal fairy godfather.” Wes gestured

to the shoes. “And those are my contribution.” “What?”

He leaned an arm on the counter and gave the cashier a smile that said, See what I’m dealing with? “I know you don’t have any Chucks, Libby, and you de1nitely need some.”

“You bought me shoes.” “Not shoes. Chuck Taylors.”

I looked at his funny smirk and had no idea how to react so I reached out and opened the box.

Wes Bennett had bought me shoes.

No boy had ever bought anything for me, yet here was Wes, the antagonistic neighbor boy, spending his own money because he thought I needed Chucks. I touched the white canvas. “When did you even have time to do that?”

“When you were in the dressing room.” He looked sweet as he smiled down at me and said, “I asked Claire to take care of it.”

“Who is Claire?”

“The dressing room attendant. Pay attention.”

The cashier handed me the receipt and my bag, and I was still fumbling around with how to react. It was sweet and thoughtful and so un-Wes. “Um, thank you for the shoes. I—”

“Quit gushing, Buxbaum.” He smiled big enough that his eyes squinted. “It’s embarrassing.”

We left the store, and before we hit the mall exit, I made him go into Ava Sun with me, my favorite store. It was like Kate Spade style on a T.J. Maxx budget, mostly dresses and skirts and delicate accessories.

“Holy balls, it’s like a giant version of your closet.”

I knew he meant it as a dig, but as I headed toward the sale racks in the back, I said, “Thanks.”

“I meant that this feels like a nightmare.”

I ignored him and started Aipping through the racks.

“Like an actual nightmare. Monsters and goblins and god-awful Aower dresses.”

“Shhh. I’m trying to shop.”

I found a sale shelf and started digging while he leaned against the wall and looked at his phone. Part of me wondered if his incessant teasing was his way of Airting. I mean, from another guy it so would be, but this was Wes. He’d always teased and tormented me, so why would I take it any diPerently than I had in the past?

It was his way.

“Wow. That dress is so Liz Buxbaum.”

“Hmmm?” I glanced up, and he was pointing at a mannequin. “That dress. It is so you.”

I followed his point to the mannequin and was totally taken aback. Because to clarify, he wasn’t pointing at just any mannequin. He was pointing at my mannequin, the one who was wearing my houndstooth sheath, the dress I’d fallen instantly in love with when it had arrived two weeks before.

The one I’d looked at online no less that twenty times since then.

It was pricey, so I was forcing myself to wait until I could ask my dad to buy it for my birthday, but there was something about the fact that Wes looked at it and thought it was “me” that was… something. It made me happy.

“I actually love that dress.”

“See? I’m incredibly intuitive for a fairy godfather.”

I readjusted the shoulder strap of my bag and said, “Let’s go before I throw up on your uniform.”

As soon as I got into his car, my phone buzzed. It was a noti1cation that Insipid Creation’s new album had just dropped. I must’ve made a little sound of excitement, because Wes said, “What?”

“Nothing. I just saw that the album I preordered is shipping today.” “Shipping, grandma?” He put his key in the ignition and said, “You don’t

stream music like the youths?”

I slammed my door. “Of course I do, but some things are meant to be played on vinyl.”

He glanced over as he started the car, and I buckled my seat belt. “Have you always been so into music? I mean, I think I see you with headphones on more often than not.”

“Pretty much.” I shoved my phone into my purse and looked out the window. “My mom put me in piano lessons when I was four, and I fell in love with it, and then she used to play this game with me where we created soundtracks for everything.”

“Seriously?” Wes looked over his shoulder before backing out of the parking spot.

“Yep. We would spend hours and hours selecting the perfect songs to go along with whatever event we were soundtracking.”

I realized as I said it out loud to the interior of his car that I’d never told that to anyone before. It was a memory that’d solely belonged to her and me, and I’d always found it to be terribly sad that I was the only one on the planet who knew about it.

Until now, I guess.

I smiled but sounded like a frog when I said, “I made one for summer camp, for Christmas vacation, for the six-week swimming course that I hated and never passed; anything and everything was worthy of a soundtrack.”

Wes looked away from the road long enough to glance at me, and then it was like he sensed I didn’t want to talk about my mom anymore.

“So that’s what it was!” His mouth slid up into a grin. “You made a soundtrack for you and Michael.”

“What?” I turned a little in my seat and knew my cheeks were insta-red. “What are you talking about?”

How in God’s name did he know about that? “Relax, Miss Love—your secret is safe with me.” “I have no idea what you—”

“I saw the paper.” Wes looked like he was trying not to laugh as his entire face smiled. “I saw the paper, so it’s pointless to deny it. It was sitting on your planner this morning and it said ‘The Soundtrack of M&L.’ Oh my God, Buxbaum, that is freaking adorable.”

I laughed even though I was morti1ed. “Shut up, Wes.” “What songs are on it?”


“Seriously, I want to know. Is it all boot-knocking songs, like Ginuwine and Nine Inch Nails, or is it cheesy romance? Was Taylor Swift on the list?”

“Since when is Nine Inch Nails boot-knocking music?” “I’m the one asking questions here.”

I just sighed and looked out the window. “Well, can we make a soundtrack?”

“I hate you.”

He said, “Oh, come on.”

“Don’t you have better things to do than this?” I gestured between the two of us, teasing but also kind of interested in his answer. Was it all about the Spot, or was it maybe a little about me? “Seriously?”

“Of course, but I’d sell my own grandmother for The Spot. This,” he said, mimicking my gesture, “is all about moving Wessy’s car closer to Wessy.”

And there was my answer.

Such a disgusting nickname.” I kept my gaze 1xed on the windshield but I could hear the grin in his voice when he said, “So back to the soundtrack of W&L. What should we put on it?”

“You’re an ass.”

“I’m not familiar with that little ditty, but you’re the audiophile here, not me.

I was actually thinking of something more like the love theme from Titanic.”

If we were making a soundtrack,” I said, pointing at his face, “and we’re not, it would be all about the parking war.”

“Ah, yes, the parking war.” He put on his blinker and came to a stop at the red light. “What song would accompany that glorious battle?”

“Not Titanic.” “Okay, so then…?”

“Hmm.” I closed my eyes and thought, not caring that he was being sarcastic. This was my favorite thing in the entire world to do. “First we need to decide if we want the song to be an accompaniment to the scene, or if we want it to be a juxtaposition.”

He didn’t answer, and when I opened my eyes, he was watching me. He swallowed and said, “Juxtaposition for sure.”

“Okay.” I ignored that and kept going. “So if we’re thinking about the day that you taped my windshield like a total miscreant, I would select something that celebrated you. You know, because you were remarkably unworthy of celebration.”

“‘Isn’t She Lovely’ by Stevie Wonder?” he suggested.

“Ooh—I like that.” I hummed the 1rst bar before saying, “Or. The Rose Pigeons have a song called ‘He’s So Pretty, It Hurts My Eyes’ and it catalogues how sweet and amazing some dude is. So that’s totally the juxtaposition of you in the parking war, right?”

“I did what I had to. All is fair in love and parking.”

When he pulled up in front of the bookstore so I could get my car, I thanked him and grabbed my bags. He said he was going to text Michael and mention I was coming, and he also said he would throw in some good words about me. I wanted to help him craft the perfect adjectives, but I bit my tongue. I stepped

out of his car, and just when I was about to slam the door, he said, “You should maybe straighten your hair for tonight.”

“I’m sorry—it sounded like you just told me how I should wear my hair.” I knew that he was trying to help me win Michael, but did he realize that it made me feel like total shit when he acted like my style was a joke? I was 100 percent good with my fashion choices—I dressed for me and me only—but it still didn’t feel good to know that he didn’t like the way I looked.

My hair was in a braid at that moment, and though it wasn’t particularly cool, it also wasn’t like I had hair down to my ankles that had never seen a brush, either. “Since that can’t be right, what did you actually say?”

He held up a hand. “That came out wrong. All I meant was that instead of just changing up your clothes, you should give Michael the full-on hot-girl treatment. He still thinks of you as Little Liz, but if you show up looking like the kind of girl he’s dated since moving away, it might be a good start.”

I still didn’t like it, but he had a point. “So what’s the plan for later?” “I’ll pick you up at 1veish.”


“Wear the Chucks.”

“You’re not the boss of me.” I said it with a teasing childish pout, but I was still confused as to why he’d bought me the shoes. Everything else that he’d hand-selected for my “new Liz” wardrobe, I’d paid for. So why had he gone to the trouble of paying for them while I’d been changing? Why had he paid for them at all?

He put his big hands together as if praying. “Can you pretty please wear the Chucks?”

“We’ll see.”

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