Chapter no 6

Better Than the Movies

“When I’m around you, I kind of feel like I’m on drugs. Not that I do drugs. Unless you do drugs, in which case, I do them all the time. All of them.”

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

At four forty-1ve, I tied my Chucks—which, I had to admit, looked pretty cute with my whole sporty ensemble—and went downstairs. They were comfortable, and something about them made me kind of soft, but I wasn’t going to waste a minute trying to 1gure that out.

My dad had taken my grandpa to the driving range, so it was quiet in the house. Helena was around somewhere, but I wasn’t sure where.

The doorbell rang, and I couldn’t believe it. Wes was early?

I walked over to the door, but when I pulled it open, it was Jocelyn, not Wes. “Oh. Hey.” I’m sure my face totally showed my shock at seeing her instead of

Wes, and I tried hard not to look shook. “What’re you doing here?”

Her mouth dropped open for a sec, and she looked me up and down. “Oh my God, who did this to you?”

I glanced down at my clothes. “Um—”

“I want to tongue-kiss them—you look incredible!”

She walked through the front door, and my mind was racing as I shut the door behind her. I still hadn’t told her about the party, or the game, or Michael or Wes or any of the questionable things I was doing with my personal life. And Wes was going to be there any minute now.


“Did you buy this when you were with Wes?” She was still smiling, so she wasn’t pissed at me.


“Yeah—that jag actually found a couple of nice things.” My cheeks were hot and I felt like the guilt was all over my face. I was a garbage friend. “Go 1gure.”

“Oh, hey, Joss.” Helena came out of the kitchen looking way cooler than me in jeans and a hockey jersey. “I thought I heard the door. Do you want a pop or something?”

God, Wes would be there any second with his big mouth. No pop!

“No, thanks—I only have a second. I’m on my way to get my little sister from soccer, but Liz won’t respond to my texts, so I had to stop by.”


Helena smiled and said, “She’s the worst, right?”

Jocelyn smiled at Helena but also leveled me with a look. “Right.”

“I, um, I’m about to leave too.” I swallowed and hoped I could get her out of there quickly. “In 1ve minutes.”

“Where are you going?”

Helena had asked the question, but they both stood there, staring at me as I tried to come up with something.

“Um, Wes from next door is going to the basketball game and he, um, asked if I want to go. I mean, it’s a casual, no-big-deal thing—I was just bored and it sounded less boring, y’know? I totally don’t want to go but I said I would. So.”

Jocelyn’s eyebrows shot up. “You are going to a basketball game.” She said it like I’d just professed myself a triceratops. “With Wes. Bennett.”

Helena crossed her arms over her chest. “Didn’t you call the parking police on him a few days ago?”

“No, I, um, I said I almost did.” I spit out an awful fake laugh and shrugged. “Yeah, honestly, I have no idea why I said I’d go with him.”

I knew exactly why.

“Did Bennett make you buy those Chucks, too?” Jocelyn was staring at my shoes. “Because you hate those shoes.”

It was true. I’d always thought Converse high-tops were ugly and utterly lacking in arch support. Now I had a weird affinity for them that made me question my own mental fortitude.

“They were on clearance, so I said, ‘What the hell.’” Again with the terrible laugh. “Why not buy some Chucks, right?”

Jocelyn did a little head shake, like she had no idea what she was witnessing. Same, girl. Same.

“Well, person I used to know, I only swung by because my mom needs to know which day we’re going dress shopping next week.”

Ironically, after I’d 1nally agreed earlier to go shopping with her, her mom had had to reschedule for a diPerent day. Initially I was relieved to put it oP longer, but now it felt like the universe just wanted to torture me. At this point, I kind of just hoped for a dress to be stuPed into my closet so I could stop hearing the phrase “dress shopping.”

“Ooh—I love dress shopping.” Helena tilted her head and added, “I rarely wear them because sitting like a lady sucks, but every spring I want racks and racks of Aoral dresses.”

“This is prom dress shopping.” Jocelyn was still looking at my clothes as she said, “Liz and I are going together, and my mom said she can take us dress hunting.”

“Oh.” Helena blinked and glanced at me for a second, and I felt like a monster. She’d mentioned multiple times that she thought I should go to prom because I’d regret it if I didn’t, and she’d also mentioned multiple times that she could take me dress shopping and we could “make a whole day of it.”

She’d thought it would be so fun.

But that had been, like, a month ago, and I’d kind of forgotten. Kind of.

My feelings about Helena doing the things my mom should’ve been there to do with me were tricky, and most of the time I just avoided them until they went away.

Or until this happened.

“Well, I’m sure that will be a blast.” Her eyes were sad, but she said, “Just don’t get anything too revealing, okay, guys?”

Jocelyn grinned. “We’ll do our best, but no promises.”

The doorbell rang—it had to be Wes this time, right?—and I felt nauseous as both of their eyes landed on me.

I squeezed in between them and stepped toward the door. “That’s probably Wes.”

I wrapped my 1ngers around the doorknob and braced myself. What were the odds that Wes would keep his mouth shut and not sic Jocelyn and Helena on me with talk of our collusion?

I pulled the door open. And tried to communicate the situation with only my eyes. I hoped they were saying Don’t make this worse, but it’s likely that I just looked twitchy. “Hey,” I said.

Wes was smiling, but as he looked at me, his smile changed into a weird thing, like the smile of someone who’d just discovered something. It slid up into a wide grin, and he said, “You’re a good listener.”

I slammed the door.

“Um?” Joss pursed her lips and Helena furrowed her brows. “What’s the plan here?”

Sighing, I opened the door again and held up a hand. “Don’t talk. Seriously.

Can you just not say a word until we’re in your car? Or maybe, like, ever?”

“Hi, Wes.” Helena gave him a little wave. “I take it you found Liz this morning?”

He gave me a look that was the equivalent of a tongue stick-out and beamed at Helena. “I did—thank you. I don’t think Liz appreciated my presence at her workplace, but I got there just the same.”

Jocelyn tilted her head. “So you went to her work to ask her to go with you to the game tonight?”

“I did.”

A casual observation: Wes had grown into a pretty attractive guy. I mean, I wasn’t personally attracted to him, but the faded T-shirt he was wearing showcased some well-de1ned biceps. Combine the muscles with his mischievous smile and heavy-lidded dark eyes, and he was pretty 1ne.

Just not my type at all.

“Liz?” Joss gave me a loaded look. “Can I see you in the bathroom for a minute?”

Not a chance. “We really have to go, actually, but I’m sure—”

“I’ll wait.” Wes came fully inside the foyer and swung his keys around his 1nger. “Take your time.”

Jocelyn grabbed my elbow and pulled me all the way to the tiny bathroom that sat just past the kitchen. As soon as the door closed behind us, she said, “I thought Wes’s car was dead this morning.”


She sighed. “You told me that he needed a ride to the mall because his car was dead. But Helena just said that he drove to Dick’s to 1nd you.”

Holy crap—Helena said that? Was I so distracted by Wes that I’d totally tuned them out? Craaaaap. I cleared my throat and said, “No, his car died at Dick’s.”

“That’s not what you told me at the mall.”

How was I supposed to remember what I told anyone anymore? Not only was lying an uncool thing to do, but it was also hard to keep on top of. “Yes, it is.”

She sighed. “Whatever. The bottom line is that you are about to go on a date with Wes Bennett, girl.”

“It’s really more—”

“Nope.” She shook her head. “For someone super into love and shit, you’re kind of clueless. Now listen to me. Wes came to your house this morning, and when you weren’t here, he drove all the way to your work to ask you to go to the game with him when he knows you are clueless about sports.”

Oh no—no, no, no. She was getting the wrong idea, and if she heard the rumor that actually, you know, started at the party and hadn’t had the guts to tell her about yet, I was screwed. “Hey—”

“You know it’s the truth. And then he pretended to need your shopping help.

This is a date, Liz. A date.”

I wanted to tell her what was really going on, but I was a coward. I knew she’d act like I was Michael’s obsessed stalker, and I just couldn’t hear it. I liked Wes’s description better, anyway; Michael was my long-lost love. I said, “It isn’t a date, but I agree that it has date potential.”

Finally, something that wasn’t a lie. It did have date potential. Just not regarding Wes.

“So do you want that?”

If I’d referenced a certain boy in a way that was easily misconstrued, well, that wasn’t my fault, was it? I gave a shrug and said, “I don’t know. I mean, he’s gorgeous and fun sometimes, y’know?”

“Well, yeah, of course I know—everyone loves Wes. I just thought you hated him.”

Was that a thing? Did everyone love Wes? I mean, it’d seemed like the attendees of the keg party adored him, but it hadn’t occurred to me that it went beyond his social circle. I lived next door to him and we went to the same school. Was it possible he was loved universally without my ever knowing?

I said, “Oh, I do. But hating him is fun sometimes. So.”

That made her laugh and open the door. “I don’t get it, and we’re going to have to talk tomorrow about this new look of yours, but I just wanted to make sure you weren’t misleading our boy Wesley.”

When we got back to the front door, Helena was making Wes laugh as she shared her take on the dating reality show that had had its 1nale the night before.

“I mean, the woman actually said the words ‘I want a man who will put Aower petals on my bed every single night if he thinks it makes me happy.’ If that isn’t a red Aag, I don’t know what is.”

“Because who would ever want that, right?” Wes gave Helena one of his best smiles. “Someone has to clean that stuP up.”

“Thank you, Wes.” Helena threw up her arm in appreciation of his commiseration. “And wouldn’t you have to dust the petals oP the bed before boarding, anyway? I mean, nobody needs Aower petals sticking to their parts, am I right?”

Wes said, “I know I don’t.”

Joss lost it, and Wes was laughing; I mean, it was pretty funny. But Helena was purposely missing the point of the romantic statement. Yeah, it maybe was a little cheesy, but there was something to be said for making the grand gesture.

My mom would have understood.

“You ready to go, Buxbaum?” Wes turned his attention to me, and my face grew hot as his eyes did a trail over my hair and out1t. I hated the way my

complexion always showed the world what I was feeling, and I desperately wished there was a way to turn down the heat on my cheeks.

Alas, no such luck.

“You de1nitely look ready for some hoops,” he said with an eyebrow raised, “but I’m still not sure you can pull it oP.”

“My vote is no.” Jocelyn leaned in and lowered her voice. “Care to make a wager, Bennett?”

“You guys are hilarious. Ha, ha, ha—Liz knows nothing about sports.” I opened the front door. “Now, I’m going to go watch the team sprain some ankles. You coming or not, Wes?”

“It’s break some ankles.” He gave Jocelyn and Helena a skeptical look that made them both chuckle as he said, “And I’m right behind you.”

Helena said, “Don’t forget that your dad and I are going to the movies tonight and won’t be back until late.”

“Okay.” I pulled the door closed behind us, stressing about whatever the hell Joss was thinking now, and said to Wes, “God, you need to chill with the charm, okay?”

His eyebrows went up. “Excuse me?”

“I had to let Joss think I might like you, so cool it. Those two are your target audience; they totally go for your boy-of-mischief vibe.” I gave him knock-it-oP eyes and pointed at him as we approached his car. “So for the love of God turn it down, or they are going to be all over me to actually date you.”

He opened the door for me and leaned his arms on the top of the window while I got in. “That would be the worst, right?”

“The absolute worst.” He slammed the door, and I buckled my seat belt as he walked around the car. He got in and started the engine, and I couldn’t help but notice that he smelled really, really good. I couldn’t stop inhaling.

“Is that soap or deodorant?”

His big hand landed on the shifter, and his eyebrows crinkled when he looked over at me. “Pardon?”

“You smell really good, but it isn’t your usual scent.”

He didn’t put the car in drive but instead just looked at me. “My usual scent?”

“Don’t act like I’m weird. Your normal cologne is kind of, like, piney, but tonight you smell more… I don’t know… spicy.” The image of him shirtless and putting on deodorant popped into my head, and I cleared my throat, sending it away.

His voice was deep and kind of rumbly as he gave a throaty chuckle. “Holy shit, Liz Buxbaum knows my scent.”

“Y’know what? Forget it.” I was glad he’d just put the car in gear and was pulling away from the curb, because if he looked at me, I was certain my cheeks were crimson. “You smell like ass.”

That made him slide into a full-on laugh. “Spicy, piney ass, you mean.” “Hilarious.” I turned on his radio in hopes of a subject change.

It seemed to work because he said, “I can’t believe you’re actually wearing the clothes.” He turned on his blinker and slowed for the corner. “I fully expected to see you in a grandma dress when I showed up.”

“I spent money on them—of course I’m going to wear them.”

He glanced over and looked directly at my out1t before returning his gaze to the road.

What the hell? I toyed with one of the threads on my shredded jeans and wondered what he thought. Not that I was thirsty for a compliment from Wes Bennett—because I so wasn’t—but you couldn’t look directly at someone’s out1t and not comment on said out1t, right?

It was totally disconcerting. Did it not look good?

I scratched at the crisscrossing shreds and said, “I suppose I owe you a thank-you. Not for trying to make me over, you asswad, but—”

“Still not over that, I see.”

“Because I like this out1t. I never would’ve noticed it on the rack, but I like it.”

“See? I’m good—”

“Nope.” I leaned forward and started scanning radio stations. “That’s all the props you’re getting from me today. Unless you want me to spew like your blond friend.”

“No, thanks.”

I glanced into his empty back seat. “Where are ‘the guys’?”

“They’re at Adam’s house. We’re all going to load into his minivan, and he’s driving.”

Just like that, my stomach was a ball of nerves. I didn’t know his friends, so that was stressful enough, but the thought of sitting in the back of a minivan with Michael brought out all the worries.

Because I wanted—so badly—for him to see I wasn’t Little Liz anymore. “Everyone is super chill, so don’t worry.” It was like he read my mind, but

before I could give it too much thought, he said, “Ooh—I like that song.”

“I do too.” I stopped scanning, surprised that Wes and I agreed on anything. It was “Paradise” by Bazzi, which was pretty old and pretty poppy. But it was one of those songs that just had a feel to it, like along with the notes, you also received a healthy dose of summery sunshine that kissed your shoulders as you walked downtown at dusk.

His phone buzzed at that moment, and we both glanced down at where it sat in the cupholder. The top of the little noti1cation box said “Michael Young.”

“Looks like your boy is texting.”

“Oh my God!” I pictured Michael’s face, and my heart speed picked up. “You look. I don’t text and drive.”

“How very responsible of you,” I said as I grabbed his iPhone. Holding it felt oddly personal, like I was holding the book of his social life in my hands. I wondered who was saved in his favorites, who he texted on a regular basis, and— God help me—what images lived on his camera roll.

“Not really. I just hate death and prison.”

“Understandable, although I must tell you, I’m utterly fascinated by someone so casual about having their phone in someone else’s hands.”

“I have no secrets,” he said, and I wondered if that were true.

“Passcode, please.” His lock-screen picture was a shot of his dog, Otis, which was pretty dang adorable. He’d had that old golden retriever for as long as I could remember.


“Thank you.” I opened his messages and looked at what Michael had sent. Michael: So did you talk Liz into coming?

Holy crap—he asked if I’m coming!” I turned down the volume on the radio and said to Wes, “Does that mean he’s hoping yes?”

“Since he’s texting me,” he muttered, giving me side-eye and a jaw Aex, “I’m going to go with no.”

“He might.” I didn’t like that answer. “You don’t know.”

“Sounds like he’s just taking a head count, Liz.” He looked over at me and pointed to his phone. “Want to answer him?”


He gave a shrug. “Why not?” I inhaled. “Um, okay. Uh…”

“You’re pathetic.” Wes turned down a wooded street. “I think a solid answer would be ‘Yep,’ don’t you?”

I said the words out loud as I texted. “Yep. We are almost there.” Send.

I was about to set the phone in Wes’s cupholder when it buzzed in my hands. Michael: Sweet. I’ll put in a good word for you.

Wes (me): Awesome, dude. I glanced over at Wes, then added: Btw, I love your hair. You have to tell me what product you use in it.

I bit my lip to hold in the smile. Michael: You’re joking, right?

I glanced at Wes again before quickly adding: Dead serious. You’re my hair hero. See you in a few.

I put the phone in the cupholder and gave Wes a full smile when he pulled in front of a house and looked my way.

“This is it,” he said as he put it in park, his eyes going up to my hair before returning to my face. “Ready?”

“As a heart attack.”

“You know that’s not right, right?”

“Yeah.” Sometimes I forgot that not everyone was in my head. “I like mixed metaphors.”

The side of his mouth hitched up. “How very rebellious of you, Elizabeth.” I just rolled my eyes and got out of his car.

We didn’t even go up to front door. I followed Wes as he walked around the house and opened the fence gate.

But he stopped short of going into the yard, causing me to run into his back. “God, Wes.” I felt ridiculously awkward as I rammed my breasts into his

back. “What’re you doing?”

He turned around and looked down at me, the tiniest hint of a smile on his lips. There was something about his smile, the way it not only showed oP perfect teeth but also made his dark eyes fun and twinkly, that made it impossible not to smile back. “I just want to remind you that Michael thinks I’m trying to make ground with you. So if he doesn’t seem into you, don’t take it personally. He’s a good guy, so he’s probably going to keep his distance until he knows we’re not a thing. Cool?”

I didn’t know if it was the slight breeze that was doing it or the fact that he was so close, but his masculine cologne (or deodorant—he’d never answered my question) kept 1nding my nose and making it really happy. I inhaled again and tucked my hair behind my ears. “Are you trying to reassure me?”

His eyes squinted like he wanted to grin, but he gave his head a shake instead. “God, no. You’re on your own, emotionally speaking. I’m just in this for the Forever Spot.”

The smile took over my lips, whether I wanted it to or not. “Okay, good.”

He tousled my hair like I was a little kid—the jag—and then started walking toward the unattached garage in the back. His sudden physicality had been jarring—familiar and strange all at once—and it took me a minute to fully recover. I could see three people standing next to the 1rst door, and I quickly 1nger-combed my hair as I followed, my pulse quickening as I-don’t-know-these-people nerves slithered through me.

I took a deep breath and there was Michael, talking and leaning against a rusted silver van in jeans and a black Aeece jacket that made his baby-blue eyes pop. So, so pretty.

“Don’t be nervous.” Wes said it out of the side of his mouth and nudged me with his shoulder before immediately launching into introductions. “This is Noah, Adam, and you know Michael.”

“Hey,” I said, my face burning as they all looked at me. I was terrible with names, but nicknames would help. I committed Smirky Face (Noah), Hawaiian Shirt (Adam), and Mr. Right with the Perfect Butt (Michael, of course) to memory. Everyone was friendly enough. Hawaiian Shirt said he remembered me from middle school because we’d had the same homeroom teacher, and then he and Noah started discussing how cool Ms. Brand had been in seventh-grade reading.

It was all very bland and uninteresting, so I tuned them out and tried to look everywhere but at Michael. Tried and failed. No matter what I told my brain, my eyeballs continually searched him out and took a stroll all over his handsome face.

Wes was totally onto me, and when he made eye contact, he shook his head. Which made me stick out my tongue.

Smirky Face tilted his head—totally saw the tongue—but Wes saved me by saying, “Are we going or what?”

We all loaded into the minivan, and just as I was about to grab a seat in the middle row, Wes pushed me toward the back and muttered, “Trust me.”

He pushed around me and plopped into the left window spot, which left me the open seat right between him and Michael. I looked at Wes as I sat down, and he gave me a Go for it eyebrow raise that made my nose get warm as Adam started the van and pulled out of the alley.

Wes started talking to the guys in front, leaning forward to talk over the second row, kind of giving me and Michael a tiny bit of privacy. I cleared my throat and was hyperaware of how close his leg was to my leg. What to say? My mind was a complete and total blank, sending a solidly Aat EKG line as my mouth ceased to function.

Time of death: 5:05.

In all the times I’d imagined our magical 1rst moments, I’d never once considered that I would be awkwardly staring at my knees, totally mute, hoping whatever smelled mildewy in the car wasn’t somehow me, while a terrible song by Florida Georgia Line twanged in the speakers behind our heads.

Michael was looking down at his phone, and I knew I was running out of time. Say something clever, Liz. I opened my mouth and almost said something

about the party, but I closed it again when I realized that reminding him of the vomit incident—and conjuring the image of hurled-upon me for him—was a terrible idea.

Oh my God—say anything, you loser!


My eyes jumped up to his face, but looking at him made my stomach do wild things, and I lowered my eyes to his jacket zipper to steady my nerves. Even though my face was on 1re and I was pretty sure there were tiny beads of sweat on the tip of my nose, I tried to act breezy and teasing by saying, “Michael.”

He smiled. “Can I tell you something?”

Oh God.

What was he going to say? What could he possibly say when he’d only been back for mere days? I braced myself for his confession that my perfume made him nauseous or that I had something disgusting sticking out of my nose. “Of course.”

His eyes went up to my hair for a tiny second before they landed back on my eyes and he said, “You really look a lot like your mom now.”

Was it possible to feel your own heart stop? Probably not, but there was a catch in my chest as I pictured my mother’s face and had the realization that Michael still remembered her face too. He could still picture her. I had to blink fast to keep it together, because in the whole of my entire life, that was the most important compliment I’d ever received. My voice was froggy and pinched as I said, “You think so?”

“I really do.” He smiled at me but looked a little unsure, doubtful in the way people always looked when they wondered if they’d made a mistake by mentioning my mom’s existence. “I’m sorry about the, um, the—”

“Thank you, Michael.” I crossed my legs, shifting so I was facing him a little more. The truth was, I liked talking about my mom. Bringing her up in casual conversation—putting words about her out into the universe—felt like keeping a piece of her here with me, even though she had been gone so long already. “She always liked you. I mean, it was probably because you were the only person who didn’t hide under her birdbath and trample her daisies during hide-and-seek, but it counts.”

His blue eyes sucked me in as he smiled and gave an incredibly pleasing deep chuckle. “I’ll take it. Is that what your tattoo is about? Your mom’s daisies?”

My heart for sure stopped then, and all I could do was nod in response as happy tears sprung up in the corners of my eyes. I turned my head away from him, blinking quickly a few times. He’d seen my tattoo, and without any explanation, he’d gotten it. He might not have known that my mother had loved the line in You’ve Got Mail about daisies being the friendliest Aower, but the Aowers had made him think of her. Wes looked over at me, and his eyebrows pulled together as he went to speak, but I just shook my head. For some reason, the van began slowing even though we’d only been on the road for a few minutes.

“Why are we stopping?” Wes called up to Adam. “This is Laney’s house.”

My head whipped to the left, and just past Wes’s face I could see Laney through the window, exiting a big, white colonial-style home. She skipped down the steps in her dance out1t, a sparkly black leotard that would have illuminated my Aaws but was coming up empty on hers, and I felt queasy as I watched her pull open the van’s sliding door.

So that’s why there was an open seat.

My moment with Michael and the happy memories of my mom disappeared as Laney stepped into the van and pulled the door shut behind her. Had Michael invited her? Did he want me to move so she could sit in my spot? Was she, like, his date? And I was Wes’s?

“Thank you so much for coming back for me.” She sat down in the seat in front of Michael, and her subtle perfume wafted back to where I was sitting, an olfactory reminder that she was amazing down to the smallest detail. She glanced back at us and said to me, “Oh, hey, Liz—I didn’t know you were coming. I would’ve assumed you didn’t like sports.”

I forced a smile, but it didn’t feel like my lips were fully extended as I seethed inside. Of course she was right, but why would she assume that about meBecause I didn’t wear a silly letter jacket? And I was pretty sure it was no accident that she was pointing it out in front of Michael. I tried to sound breezy for the second time that night when I said, “Yet here I am.”

And dammit—she’d made me forget to look and see what Michael’s house looked like.

She faced forward and said to the guys in front, “Well, there was no way I was going to be ready by the time Michael left, but in my defense, he didn’t have to put on stage makeup and squeeze into a costume either.”

Everyone laughed—of course—as Laney launched into a cute diatribe about what it took to get dance-ready.

“I had no idea she was coming,” Wes said, surprising me. His mouth was so close to my ear that I literally shivered. “I swear.”

Whatever Wes said about the Forever Spot, in that moment I couldn’t help but think that he was also helping me out because he was genuinely nice. Joss’s words echoed in my head. Everyone loves Wes.

I was starting to see why.

I leaned closer to him so he could hear me when I murmured, “You were right about the whole thunder-stealing thing, though. I am actually invisible now.”

He gave me a No-you’re-not look, but I wasn’t even going to try to convince myself otherwise. Laney had turned around in her seat and was giving the play-by-play directly to Michael, and a lightly sick feeling settled in my stomach. How was this fair? The girl was wearing heavy makeup, a bedazzled catsuit, and a ridiculously huge bow smack-dab on the top of her head. She should’ve looked like Queen of the Clowns.

But she looked cute.

And the worst part was that she was unbelievably charming. She somehow managed to bury her rancid soul and totally pull oP that she was a genuinely delightful human being.

It was witchcraft, that.

There was no way to compete with a one-woman perfection show, so I gave up and got out my phone to read. I’d started a really good book that morning, so I picked up where I’d left oP and tried getting lost in the joy of Helen Hoang.

Joss texted me a minute later.

Joss: Hey. Did you go to Ryno’s party?

Shit. My stomach sank as I typed: Wes invited me at the last minute, and it was a total nightmare. I was going to tell you about it earlier but Helena interrupted.

Joss: WTH? I always invite you to my stuP.

Me: I thought about it, but you said Ryno’s parties were immature bullshit, so I knew you wouldn’t want to go.

Joss: I just think it’s weird that you wouldn’t tell me you were going. You’re sketch all of a sudden.

I glanced up from my phone, searching for excuses, but all I got was the impression that Laney was brainwashing all of the boys into joining her cult of adorability. Nothing to save me from the fact that I was being a crappy friend.

Me: I was just trying to rescue you from a wholly terrible time. Joss: Whatever. I gotta go to work now.

I sighed, telling myself I’d make it up to her somehow, and went back to reading. But I’d only read about three paragraphs when Wes said, “Mind if I read over your shoulder? I’m bored.”

I gave him side-eye. “You wouldn’t like this. Trust me.” “Will you shut up so I can read?”

My mouth wanted to smile but I cleared my throat and said, “Sorry.”

I tried getting back into the book, but now I was hyperaware that he was reading every paragraph of the Airty, sexy-sweet book as well. I kept scrolling, but the words were diPerent now, cartwheeling over each other with new tumbling context as the main characters started having a mildly sexual conversation.

I turned oP my phone when they went into a bedroom together.

“Your cheeks are so red,” he said quietly, his deep voice rich with restrained laughter. “Why’d you stop reading?”

I coughed out a laugh and faced him, his dark eyes mischievous as he gave me a knowing smirk. I said, “It’s just too bumpy to read in here.”

“Ah, yes.” He gave me a slow nod as his lips slid into a full smile. “It’s the bumpiness that made you stop reading.”

“I might get carsick and vomit on you if you aren’t careful.”

“Oh, Liz.” Laney leaned through the space between the two seats and said, “I heard about that—about Ash getting sick on you. That is so terrible. She feels

soooo bad.”

My smile went away as she put a hand over her heart and gave me an empathetic pout. Was she bringing it up on purpose to make me look bad? I shrugged and said, “What’s a party if you don’t get puked on?”

I heard Michael chuckle beside me and felt like I’d won that point. Laney jumped right back into her nonstop chatter, so I put in my earbuds to let the sounds of Wicked Faces drown out her nonsense. Before I hit play, I paused to oPer Wes an end. He took it, and we listened in silence until we made the turn into the school parking lot.

As Adam put the car in park, Laney 1nally said something that made me happy. She pulled open the sliding van door and said, “Thanks again for the ride, Adam. I’ve got to go 1nd the team. And don’t forget—I’m riding the bus back.” That meant I would have all of the basketball game to talk to Michael— without the distraction of dreading the ride home. No one actually watched the

game at sports functions, right?

Wes handed me back my earbud, but when I tried to catch his eye to silently communicate how thrilled I was at the good news, he was too busy texting someone to notice.



As it turns out, high school basketball games are incredibly loud.

I sat between Michael and Wes, and the others sat in the row in front of us. The pep band was to our left, and they seemed to be all hopped-up on deafening enthusiasm. They blasted out a constant stream of tunes that made it impossible to converse. It looked like the hope of making Michael see the real me was going to have to wait until after the game.

I was kind of okay with that, though, because I liked the vibe of the gym. The place was teeming with energy, like every single person in that gym was about to explode with their uncontrollable excitement. The team was warming up, and it felt like something big was about to happen.

Balls bounced, students climbed the steps of the bleachers looking for their friends, minutes ticked down on the giant scoreboard, and cheerleaders danced in time with the band. I looked at Laney and watched for mistakes, but of course

there were none to be seen. She did every choreographed move like she’d created it, her smile never wavering as she kicked, spun, and cheered in perfect unison with the other girls.


I glanced at Michael, but thankfully he was talking to the guy next to him.

Wes nudged me with his shoulder. “Having fun?” He kind of yelled it into my ear. “At all?”

I laughed into his ear. “The band is on their third performance of ‘Uptown Funk,’ so I really feel like it’s gearing up to be a special evening.”

That made him smile. He leaned in closer, but his face remained 1xed on the basketball court. “All right, Buxbaum—let’s make this interesting. If that guy right there,” he said, pointing to number 51 on our team, “outscores number twenty-three on the other team, you win 1fty bucks.”

“What? Why?”

“No questions. Do you want a 1tty or not?”

“Er, of course.” I was 1fty dollars short on THE dress, after all. “But what if he doesn’t?”

“Then you wash my car.”

I pictured his car. “Your car seemed pretty clean earlier. What’s the catch?” “No catch.” He gave a tiny shrug, crossed his long arms, and said, “I mean, I

may or may not be oP-roading in Spring1eld tomorrow, but I wouldn’t call that a catch.”

“You’re such a cheater.” I looked at his teasing face as the band started playing “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” and I said, “But you’re on. What’s 1fty-one’s name?”

“Matt Kirk.”

I watched number 51 hit a shot from behind the white line, and I turned to smile at Wes. But he wasn’t watching the court. He was looking at me— smirking, actually, in a way that made my stomach do a little stutter thing. I blinked, turning back to the court, hoping he didn’t notice whatever little blip that was. Then the buzzer went oP, and thankfully jolted me back from whatever weird place that moment was all about.



“I had no idea y’all were so into basketball.” Michael looked a little impressed by my fanhood as we walked past the concession stand and down the hallway, following Wes, Noah, and Adam.

I owed Wes a huge thanks for the 1fty-buck bet, because not only had it caused me to get into the basketball game to the point that I forgot about Laney and everything else in the world, but apparently it had raised my value in Michael’s eyes.

“Well, um, it’s the playoPs.” I knew Wes would smile if he heard me using his words. It was halftime, and we were about to sneak into Lincoln’s practice gym so we could shoot around until the game restarted. By “we” I meant everyone but me.

“I take it you’re pretty good friends with Matt?” “Who?”

He looked confused, even though he was still smiling. “Number 1fty-one?

You were all over his game.”

Duh. “Oh, yeah. Matt. We’re… buds.”

Buds? Really? Say something cool for once in your life! Something that elevates you beyond Little Liz. I cleared my throat and added, “We dated for a while, but ultimately decided that we’re better as friends.”

Yeah, lying definitely makes it better.

I didn’t know what I was doing anymore with all the lying, to be honest. I’d always considered myself a pretty truthful person, but now I’d lied to Joss, to Helena, and to Michael. When was it going to stop?

Wes was the only one I hadn’t lied to lately, and that was because I wasn’t trying to please him or impress him. He knew the mess that I was, so there was really no point.

“Yeah, I get that.” Michael’s shoulder bumped mine in a casual yet—I was 99 percent sure—purposeful way. I was pretty sure my unnecessary lie had just scored me a point. He said, “I’ve had girlfriends like that.”

“Come on.” Noah was holding open a door and gesturing for us to hurry. “Get in before someone sees us.”

We followed him through the door and into the practice gym. Adam found a ball over by the corner drinking fountain while the other guys decided teams.

“You playing, Buxbaum?” Wes gave me a look like I should say yes, but I knew my skill level would do nothing to help me.

“I’ll watch, but thanks.” I pulled the earbuds out of my front pocket—I always had at least three pairs on my person at any given time—before clicking on my music. I dropped to the Aoor and sat crisscross applesauce as I popped the earbuds in and watched the boys play.

And just like that, they were all-in on their halftime game. Wes and Noah were one team; Michael and Adam were the other. Noah talked nonstop shit, and his verbal sparring with Michael and Adam made me laugh because it was brutal and cocky and hilarious.

Michael made some shots, but he was overshadowed by Wes, who seemed really, really good at basketball.

This was going to be fun.

I’d never created a soundtrack for a sporty event—and my running playlists didn’t count—but I always thought there was a speci1c magic to them. I mean, the soundtrack to Remember the Titans? Stone-cold ridiculous. The curator had managed a masterpiece that left the songs forever changed for every person who’d seen the 1lm.

Who could hear “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” without picturing Blue singing in the locker room after that nightmarish practice at training camp? And James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” was completely reincarnated by that movie. I couldn’t remember what I’d imagined when listening to that song before I’d seen the movie, but for the rest of my life I was always going to picture the car accident that left Bertier paralyzed.

I watched Noah dribble down the court. He bounced the ball with the con1dence of one who knew the ball wouldn’t be stolen from him. Inspired, I scrolled for something loud, because the game I was watching was all about noise. It was a cacophony of voices, grunts, sneaker squeaks, and bounces.

I cranked “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys. It wasn’t original, but it was perfection. I kept raising the volume as Ad Rock set the perfect backdrop for this sweaty matchup. Noah smirked as he juked around Adam, and right after

the 1rst set of record scratches, he stepped back and let go of a shot that arced high into the air before swishing into the basket. Nothing but net.

So-so-so-so listen up ’cause you can’t say nothin’

Michael passed the ball to Adam, who was fast and sprinted down to the corner, but Wes was already there with his hands up. Adam bounced it over to Michael, who dribbled underneath the basket and just put it in, like it was easy.

Listen all y’all it’s a sabotage…

Adam passed the ball right at the song’s middle scream, and I was buzzing, alive in the way that I only felt when I got the matchup exactly right. If life was a movie, this song was meant for this moment.

Music made everything better.

When Noah popped a three-pointer to win the game, I totally sat up and yelled. Only, I was cheering my own little victory, not theirs.

Everyone instantly relaxed once the game was over, talking and casually taking shots at the basket. I scrolled to Joe Cocker’s “Feelin’ Alright” as I watched the sportsmanship in front of me. Noah was arguing—loudly—with Adam as they both laughed, and Wes was doing some terrible dance move beside them, also laughing.

There was something sweet in the way they moved from foes to friends, from athletic rivals to simple teenage boys, the minute that the metaphorical whistle blew the game over.

“Whatcha smilin’ at?”

I jumped and my hand Aew up to my heart before yanking the buds from my ears.

I turned my head at an awkward angle to see Michael standing beside me and looking down at my face.

“You scared me!”

“Sorry.” He gave me a little smile, and my stomach Aipped all the way upside down. His blond hair was sweaty on the outer fringes, but it was like the sweat worked as a gel and held all the spiky parts in place. His eyes were warm as he said, “You looked so happy, just sitting there with your earbuds in. I shouldn’t have disturbed you.”

“Oh, that’s okay.” I tucked my hair behind my ears and said, “I, um, I just love…”

Lord knows I didn’t love sports, so I waved my hands, gesturing around the gym, hoping that would suffice and save me from another 1b.

“Wanna shoot around?” He was smiling down at me, and I noticed that he really did have great hair. He actually could be a hair hero if that were a real thing.

“I’m terribly uncoordinated,” I said, and I caught a glimpse of Wes in my peripheral vision. I made the mistake of turning my head in his direction, and he gave me a double thumbs-up with a cheesy smile and eyebrow waggle.

Oh, for the love.

Michael dribbled and said, “You can’t be that bad.” I returned my attention to him and said, “I so can.”

“Come on.” He stopped dribbling and held out a hand to pull me up. “I’ll help your shot.”

I grabbed his hand, and warmth shot through my every molecule as he pulled me to my feet. I followed him as he dribbled toward the open hoop, and as soon as we got close, he let a shot Ay and it went in. I got the rebound and he said, “Let’s see your shot.”

It hit me at that second that we could be about to have a movie moment. I gave him a smile and said, “Here goes nothing.”

Of its own accord, “Paradise” by Bazzi started in my head.

This shit feel like Friday nights This shit make me feel alive—

I released, and watched my hard-core airball fail majorly. As in, the ball Aew many, MANY feet short and to the side of the basket. When I started to laugh, Michael just smiled at me, and the look on his face was so charming, it made me want to write a poem.

Instead I said, “Are you biting the inside of your cheek so you don’t laugh?” He narrowed his eyes. “You can see that?”

“I see all, young Michael.”

He gave me an adorably playful look and said, “It’s actually ‘Michael Young.’”

“Oh, yes,” I said, “That’s right.”

“Well.” He retrieved the ball and bounced it through his legs, giving me a half smile that made me a bit light-headed. “If you can see all, you can probably see that Wesley kind of has a thing for you.”

The song stopped with a record scratch.

“Pft—whaaat? No,” I stalled. Even though I knew this was the angle we were playing, I pictured Wes on the day when he’d dragged a rusted old truck bumper into The Spot just so I couldn’t park there. If Michael only knew the half of it.

“I’m telling you, Liz.” He passed me the ball, and I actually caught it. “The boy told me.”

Oof. Suddenly the lie wasn’t as easy to manage as I’d thought it would be. Wes had already talked to him? What was I supposed to say again? I bounced the ball, focusing on not letting it get out of control. “Oh. Um. I like Wes, but only as a friend.”

“You should reconsider—he’s a really good guy.”

I smiled at him, trying not to beam like a lovesick fool as he stood there looking like the poster boy for everything I’d ever wanted. “Wes is not a ‘really good guy,’ Michael—come on. He’s…” I stopped dribbling. “Wes is fun and unpredictable and the life of the party. He’s got good qualities, but he is not good.”

But as I said it, I didn’t quite feel it anymore. That was how I’d always thought of him, but it was becoming clear to me that either he’d changed or I’d been wrong all along.

Michael gave a small nod as if recognizing my point. “Still.”

I raised the ball to shoot, but Michael came behind me and moved my hands so I was holding the ball a diPerent way. It felt like his 1ngertips burned their every groove into my skin, and I had a hard time remembering how to even use my appendages. His tanned hands were spread around my pale 1ngers and chipped turquoise polish, and in spite of that somehow-romantic image, I still managed to release the ball and actually send it through the hoop.

“Did you teach her that, Young?” I turned away from the basket, and there was Wes, walking up beside Michael. “Because she damn sure didn’t know how to do that before.”

I picked up the ball. “How would you know?” “I know all, Buxbaum.”

I rolled my eyes and dribbled in the other direction.

“I may have given some pointers, but that shot was all Little Liz,” I heard Michael say. I cringed. “And by the way, about my hair.”

I stopped dribbling and glanced over my shoulder. Wes’s eyebrows were quirked like he was both confused and interested to hear what was about to follow. Michael touched the front of his hair and said, “I use Ieate styling pomade on the front, to get it to hold but not look rigid, and then I just put a little gel on the sides.”

“I see.” The corners of Wes’s mouth looked like they wanted to smile, but I could tell he wasn’t sure if Michael was seriously talking about his hair or being a smart-ass.

“Your hair would probably do the same thing, honestly, if you grew it out and got a good cut.”

I almost laughed when I saw the change on Wes’s face as he realized that Michael was dead serious. “You really think so?” Wes said.

“For sure.” Michael gave Wes a pat on the shoulder, Aashed an adorable grin, and said, “You can be your own hair hero.”


“Um, Michael?” I had to step in and shut it down. “Yeah?”

Shoot—I had to say something. “Erm—have you given any more thought to prom? If you’re going to go with someone? Maybe a friend or whatever.” Oh, for the love of Nora Ephron, that seemed way too forward. I cleared my throat and added, “What about you, Wes—are you going? It just seems like a lot of people are skipping this year. I heard.”

Michael’s eyes were on me, like he’d considered me for the position, and I felt electric. He said, “I’m still—”

At that same second, I heard Noah yell, “Heads up!”

Which was a half second before a hurtling basketball slammed into my face and knocked me Aat on my ass.



“I am so sorry.”

I tried to look at Noah but couldn’t see him through the wadded shirt over my nose and because of the way my head was tilted all the way back. The only things I could see were shirt and ceiling. “Stop apologizing. It’s 1ne.”

It wasn’t 1ne. I mean, it was in that I wasn’t mad at Noah. Apparently he’d been goo1ng around and had tried to violently chest-pass the ball to Adam, who hadn’t known and had moved out of the way at the most inopportune time.

Things had been going so well with Michael just before that ball had pounded into my nose. One minute we’d been having a potential movie moment, and the next there was blood gushing from my face.

And it couldn’t have just been a tiny bloody nose. Nope. Not for me, not in front of Michael Young. The moment the ball hit, it was like a faucet had been turned on. Wes pulled oP his shirt, shoved it against my nose, and helped me sit up while Michael squatted beside me, asking if I was okay, with concerned eyes.

My new white shirt was covered in blood, and my jeans were pretty splattered too. I was glad I didn’t have a mirror; I was sure I’d die of embarrassment if I could see myself. No one in the world had ever looked attractive with blood pouring from an ori1ce.

No one.

And as I sat there bleeding, I couldn’t help but wonder if the universe was sending me a message. I mean, I was more optimistic than most and I wholeheartedly believed in destiny, but I’d be lying if I said red Aags weren’t poised to raise.

Because both the vomit and the blood had happened right when I’d been having moments with Michael. Both times, it’d felt like we were connecting, and then BOOM. Bodily Auids.

“Still okay, Buxbaum?”

I couldn’t see Wes’s face, but his deep voice made me relax. Probably because I knew him better than the rest of them. He’d dropped to the ground beside me

after shoving his shirt against my face, and the smell of him, combined with his unexpected nurturing side, kept me calm.

“Noah, you broke the girl’s face.”

“If you would’ve actually caught the pass, you bum, poor Liz wouldn’t be on the transplant list.”

I was starting to sightlessly recognize their voices because they never stopped jawing.

Adam said, “How can I catch something I didn’t know was coming?” “How can you not?” Noah said it around a snort. “It’s called instinct.”

Is there such a thing as a nose transplant?” That sounded like Adam again. “Just curious.”

“Listen to you with the good questions.” Michael sounded like he was laughing and bouncing the basketball. “Because that’s certainly relevant to this situation.”

Not going to lie, it was kind of alarming how Michael was so loose and relaxed while I was practically bleeding out.

Adam said, “I can’t help it if I’m a curious boy.”

“You’re such a nerd.” Noah sounded like he was kind of laughing too. “I still need an answer,” Adam said.

“I think yes.” My voice sounded weird and muAed behind the shirt. “There was a lady who got her whole face ripped oP by a monkey, and she had a face transplant.”

“For real?” Adam sounded fascinated. “Her whole face?”

“I’m pretty sure.” The small talk was a nice distraction from my anxiety over potential nasal damage. I mean, didn’t people who got their noses broken end up with massive bumps on them? Was my nose broken?

I tried squinching it up, and it freaking killed. Shit.

Wes’s face popped into my line of sight, something to look at besides the gym ceiling. “You okay?”

He looked really concerned, and for some reason I felt compelled to reassure him. I blindly reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze. “I think it’s 1ne. As soon as the bleeding stops, we’ll probably be good.”

“She’s so much tougher than you, Bennett,” Adam said.

“No shit.” Wes adjusted one side of the shirt so I could see a little better, and I felt his big, warm hand squeeze around mine. “I’d be bawling.”

Michael added, “Same.”

“Oh my God, what happened?” An adult appeared in my line of sight, a blond woman with a severe bob, looking worriedly down into my face. “Are you okay, sweetie?”

I repeated what I’d said to Wes, and she suggested I try removing the shirt.

She said in a knowing voice, “I bet most of the bleeding is done.”

As she took a second to lecture the boys on how they shouldn’t be in the practice gym, I steeled myself for moving the shirt. Even though I knew it was really immature, part of me didn’t want to, because surely there were blood smears on my face. And ewwww, right? I didn’t want Michael—or anyone—to see me like that.

But I took a breath and lowered Wes’s shirt, glancing up at everyone. And… The expressions on the boys’ faces were not good.

Michael coughed a little and said, “Well, it doesn’t seem to be bleeding anymore.”

I looked at Wes. He was perpetually tactless, and I knew he’d be honest with me. “What’s wrong?”

I stared at him, waiting. He was shirtless, having donated his shirt to my bloody nose, and I got momentarily distracted by the sight of his chest. I mean, I wasn’t usually one to ogle anyone’s physique, but my neighbor was wicked de1ned.

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Adam said, answering before Wes and yanking me out of my pectoral revelry, “but your nose looks kind of like… Mrs. Potato Head’s nose.”

“Holy shit, that’s it!” Noah nodded emphatically. “Not the rest, but for sure the nose.”

Michael didn’t even hide his laugh, but it was at least a warm, friendly laugh. “It does resemble a potato nose. And it’s bleeding again.”

He was right—I felt a warm trickle on my upper lip. “Oh my God!” I recovered my nose.

“No, it doesn’t; don’t listen to them.” Wes lifted my chin in his thumb and fore1nger, and his eyes dropped down to my covered nose. “Your nose is just a tiny bit swollen.”

Noah muttered, “Tiny bit?” at the same time the lady said, “You should probably go to the ER, dear. Just to make sure it isn’t broken.”

The ER, really? What about my Laney-free ride home with Michael? I said, “Um—”

But Wes interrupted with, “Nope, no objections. I’m taking you to the ER, and you can call your parents on the way. Cool?”

Adam said, “Dude, you didn’t drive. And quit being so bossy to the missus.”

My nose was throbbing but I couldn’t stop the smile. Wes’s friends were ridiculous. “I don’t need you to take me to the hospital. I’ll call my dad.”

“But Helena said she and your dad would be at the movies.” Wes looked worried, which made me feel a little warm and fuzzy. Which meant I probably had a concussion. He looked up something on his phone and said, “The hospital is literally right down the street.”

“Oh yeah.” He was right about my dad and Helena, and probably about the hospital, too.

“I’m sure they can meet us there if you call them.” Wes gave me his hand to help me up. “Think you can stand?”

“Of course.” I let him pull me to my feet.

“You better shirt up, man.” Adam made a face. “You look like a perv in just jeans, like an underage stripper.”

I pressed the shirt tighter against my face as Wes grabbed his jacket from the Aoor and put it on over his bare chest. My cheeks were on 1re—I felt like I was watching something dirty—and I shakily managed to say, “Let’s go, you pervert.”

But as we exited the gym, it occurred to me that Wes had donated his clothes to me twice now. Either I was on a hidden-camera show and Wes was pranking me, or he was seriously the nicest guy.



“Hair hero. Oh my God, I don’t even have words.” Wes’s face was serious as he walked with me down the steps on the side of the school, but there was that mischievous twinkle in his eye, the one that never went away. “You think you’re pretty funny, don’t you?”

“I mean, yeah, I think I’m a fairly amusing person.” I grabbed the metal railing and wondered how I’d ended up alone with Wes at the end of this night, instead of making magic with Michael. I was a little surprised that I didn’t feel more disappointed, but perhaps that was just my body’s defense mechanism to keep me from dying of embarrassment.

“What if Michael tells everyone that he’s my hair hero?”

It hurt to smile but I did it anyway. Wes was acting like my nose hadn’t just exploded in front of my forever crush, and I loved him for it. He was picking up right where our convo would’ve headed if not for my accident. “He won’t.”

“Because I could do so much better.” He started naming people as we walked down the dark sidewalk. “Like, Todd Simon—that guy’s got some good hair. And Barton Brown—you could get lost in Barton’s shiny mane. Those guys are worthy of hair heroism. Those guys are worthy of follicle adoration. But Michael Young? Puh-leeze.”

“You could never get Barton Brown; be realistic.”

“I so could get Barton. He’d probably lose it if I asked him to be my hair hero.”

“You would never ask him, Wes, and you know it. He’s in another hair league.”

“Why are you hurting me like this?”

“Sorry.” I tried not to stare as we walked under a streetlight, but I realized as I looked at him that his face was always fun. He almost never looked pissed or like an asshole, and I couldn’t imagine him being legitimately angry. “I guess I’m projecting.”

He glanced over at me and gave me a closed-mouth pity-frown. “How is the honker feeling?”

“It doesn’t really hurt now. Except when I touch it.” “So don’t touch it.”


He shrugged and put his hands in his jacket pockets. “Seems logical.”

I was getting sick of holding that shirt over my nose. I pulled out my phone and Aipped the camera to make a mirror, then stopped walking and slowly removed the shirt from my face. “Oh my God, I am Mrs. Potato Head.”

The bridge of my nose was so swollen that the entire thing looked wide. It was like my nose blended in with the rest of my face.

The good news: when I tilted my head back, it didn’t look like any more blood was waiting to fall.

This whole thing was just gross.

“I’ve broken my nose twice, and it’ll heal fast.” He put his 1nger on my phone screen and unAipped the camera so I could no longer see myself. “You might look like a child’s toy for a day, but after that you’ll barely be able to tell.”

I glanced at his pro1le in the dark and didn’t see any bumps or knots in his nose. But I said, “De1ne ‘barely.’”

He ignored me and said, “Call your dad.”

“Oh yeah.” I exited the camera and went into the actual phone. “Thanks.”

I called my father as Wes stood beside me on the sidewalk, scrolling on his phone, and after I told my dad what’d happened and then retold Helena, they said they were headed toward the hospital and they’d 1nd us when they got there.

“By the way, thanks a lot.” I put my phone into my pocket and looped the disgusting shirt over the strap of my bag, and we started walking again. With every step I tried to 1gure out what was up with Wes’s sudden-onset niceness. The guy was apparently all-in on getting that parking spot. “You didn’t have to escort me.”

He nudged my shoulder with his and teased, “My luck, you’d bleed to death and then my guilt wouldn’t allow me to enjoy the Forever Spot.”

“Wait—you’d still take it, even after having a hand in my untimely demise?”

I attempted to give him a playful punch, but he caught my 1st in his huge hand. He grinned at the little noise I made and let go.

“Well, it’s right there, Buxbaum—how could I not?”

We stopped at a red light when we reached the corner, and he turned and looked at me. We were quiet for a moment, our smiles slowly simmering, and

then he asked in his deep-and-gravelly voice, “So were you making any headway with Young before you got bashed?”

I don’t know why, but I was hesitant to tell him for a second. We’d been having fun and I didn’t want to get serious. But then I reminded myself that it was my let’s-get-Michael teammate, Wes. Why wouldn’t I tell him? “You know, I think I was. He was being a little Airty before you walked over to the small court, and he physically moved my arm to help me shoot better.”

“Sweet Lord, he touched you?” His eyes widened like this was a really big deal.

“He did.” I proudly raised my chin.

“Like, how did he do it? Was it coachy and clinical, or…?”

“It was like this.” I reached over and moved his elbows from their position at his sides to a few inches higher in the air. “Only maybe lighter and more 1ngertippy.”

“Holy shit, Liz.” He gave his head a little shake and his mouth was wide open. “That’s huge.”

My lips slid all the way up into the beamingest geek smile ever, even though it sent a jolt of pain through my nose. “It is?”

“Oh my God, no. It isn’t.” Wes put his hands in his pockets and gestured for me to walk, as the light had turned green. “That was sarcasm. I thought you knew that until you said ‘1ngertippy.’”

“Oh.” I cleared my throat and said, “Well, it felt like something.” “Like something fingertippy?”

As he mocked my words and my Michael obsession, it hit me that everything was all wrong. Wes was the one walking me to the hospital, and it was Wes’s shirt that’d staunched the Aow of blood from my face.

Wasn’t it supposed to be Michael?

He glanced over again, his expression unreadable as we walked up to the entrance of the ER. Just before the doors opened, he said, “You don’t seriously think his 1ngertippiness was a thing, do you?”

“How should I know?” I shivered in the cold and wondered why Wes all of a sudden seemed a little cynical. “It could’ve been.”

He let out a noise that was a cross between an exhalation and a groan. “How are you so bad at reading signals?”


“Liz.” My dad stepped out through the hospital doors and rushed at me, his face harsh with worry. “We were literally at the theater across the street. How’s the nose?”

We went through the doors, and Helena, waiting beside the check-in desk, glanced at Wes and gave me a funny smile. Which immediately stressed me out on top of everything. The last thing I wanted was my dad to be looped into the false narrative of me and Wes being a thing.

Wes was nice to them and did the small-talk thing for a few, but he didn’t really even look at me the rest of the time. When he left, he said, “Later, Buxbaum,” and just kind of threw his arm up in a wave before disappearing.

I wasn’t sure what to think. He couldn’t be mad at me, could he? Why the weirdness? Was it all in my head?

I texted Joss about my nose (leaving out any Michael references, of course) while we waited for the doctor, because I knew she’d appreciate the ridiculous story. Her response:

Joss: Wes Bennett took you to the hospital??

Me: Yeah, but he was my ride so it was no big deal.

It felt good to text her about my nose, probably because it was safe territory. It had nothing to do with senior year—her obsession—and nothing to do with my Michael scheme.

Joss: SO?? OMG! Methinks Mr. Bennett has a crush…

So much for safe. I knew it was weird, but as I sat there on the paper-covered exam table, I missed my best friend pre–senior year. I missed being silly and obnoxious and 100 percent myself without having to dodge unwelcome emotional conversations.

Me: Shut up—I have to go.

Joss: Will Monday work for dress shopping since there’s no school?

See? I missed being able to text more than one sentence before stress and conAict came into our conversations. I felt like the total worst, but it didn’t stop me from texting:

Me: I think I have to work—SERIOUSLY—don’t be mad. Joss: Shut up—I have to go, loser.

Ugh. I really needed to do the shopping thing before her feelings got hurt. Joss was a strong person with a lot of opinions, but underneath her stubbornness she was sweet and extremely sentimental.

Which was why we usually got along so well—we both were.

The doctor 1nally came in, and after poking and prodding my tender beak, she determined it wasn’t broken. She said it would look normal in a day or two, so I only had to Potato-Head it for a couple days. By the time we got home, it was eleven and I was exhausted. I showered and crawled under my covers, and was almost asleep when my phone buzzed.

I rolled over and looked at the screen. It was a text from a number I didn’t know.

Unknown: Hey, Liz—it’s Michael. Just wanted to check on you.

Oh my God.” I fumbled for my glasses and turned on my lamp. Oh my God! I stared at the phone. Michael Young was texting to see if I was okay. Holy shit. I took a shaky breath and tried to think of a response that didn’t make me sound like a dweeb.

Me: Well, my Mrs. Potato Head nose isn’t broken so it’s all good.


Him: Haha glad to hear it. Wes told me you refused all pain meds at the hospital because you’re a badass, so I 1gured that was the case.

Note to self: thank Wes for that one. I smiled and rolled over onto my stomach. It was like I could hear his rich, drawling voice speaking his texts aloud. It made me feel like rolling on the bed and kicking my feet like when Julia Roberts freaked over three thousand dollars in Pretty Woman.

Me: He’s right about my badassery, by the way.

Him: Um, I seem to remember a girl who cried when she got wet. I rolled my eyes and wished he could forget that little girl.

Me: That girl was left behind a LONG time ago. Trust me when I tell you that you don’t want to mess with the new Liz.


Him: Is that so?

Oh God—was he Airting? Was Michael Young actually Airting with me? I was beaming like the nerd I’d always been, as I typed, That is most de1nitely so.

Him: Well, I guess I might just have to get to know this new Liz.

I died. I don’t know how I managed to text from beyond the grave, but I was cool.

Me: I guess you might have to. If you think you’ve got the coconuts for it. Him: What?

Aw, geez. What was he whatting? The coconuts? I was such an awkward texter.

Me: I meant that you might have to, if you think you’re up for it. Him: Got it.

I didn’t want to ruin the chance to have a text conversation with Michael, but once again I was drawing a total blank on what to talk about. School, basketball, nose… hmm.

Me: So what are you doing right now? Him: Texting you.

Well, that wasn’t much of a help. Me: Sounds exciting.

Him: What does?

Was this for real? Was I really this awful at textual chitter-chatter? Shit. Me: Nothing. On a random side note, I’m starving. Send food. SOS.

Him: I have to go get my pizza out of the oven because the smoke alarm is about to go oP and wake my parents, but put me in your contacts. I’ll text you sometime.

I was going to pass out. Me: You got it.

Him: Night, Liz.

I slowly set down the phone on my nightstand. Um… I was pretty sure I was excited. But what did it mean? Was I back in the game? I wasn’t sure, but he’d cared enough to get my number—I was guessing from Wes—and to personally text and see how I was feeling.

So even though it’d been awkward, it was still a good sign, right?

The love theme I’d written when I was seven suddenly came back to me full blast. Liz and Mike, love and like, together forever in all kinds of weather.

After I came down from my emotional roller-coastering, I got tired again and my nose started throbbing.

And I started worrying.

Because I had no idea what’d happened with Wes at the hospital. One minute we’d been walking there, doing our usual schtick, and the next it had seemed like he was mad.

And I hated the thought of him being mad at me, especially after he’d been so nice since the moment he’d picked me up that night.

I grabbed my phone from the nightstand and dialed his number, unaccountably nervous as I heard it ring. I thought it was going to voicemail when he picked up on the 1fth ring.

“Hey, Libby Loo.” Wes sounded tired, or like he hadn’t used his voice in a while. It had that gravelly thing going on. “What’s up?”

I pulled my covers up under my armpits and ran my 1nger over the stitching on my comforter. “Did I do something to piss you oP at the hospital?”

“What?” I heard him clear his throat before he said, “No.”

“Because you seemed… um, terse…? When you left?” I sounded like a nervous middle schooler, and I rolled over onto my side. “I’m just sorry if I said something to upset you.”

“Wow.” I could hear the smile in his voice. “I had no idea you cared so much about making me happy.”

“Okay, stop that.” I laughed—which hurt my nose—and I said, “I just wanted to make sure we’re cool.”

“We’re cool, Lib.” His voice was deep as he said, “I promise.”

I rolled over onto my other side, trying to get comfortable. “Did you give Michael my number, by the way?”

“Yeah, I did. He wanted to check on you.”

“And he did!” I was smiling again and squealing a little. “He texted me to see how I was doing.”

“And? How’s the honker?”

“It’s okay.” I rolled onto my back and looked up at my ceiling fan. “Sore, but I’ll live. I still look like a freak, but the doctor said the swelling will go down soon.”

“That’s good.” Wes cleared his throat and said, “If I tell you something, you have to promise not to ask me more than three questions.”

Oh God. What could he possibly want to say that I wasn’t allowed to give him the third degree about? “What are you talking about?”

He sighed, and I could hear a TV in the background. “Just promise, Buxbaum, and I swear you’ll fall asleep smiling.”

I didn’t know why, but something about Wes saying those words made my stomach dip. I swallowed. “Okay, I promise.”

“Okay. So when we were playing basketball earlier, Michael mentioned your look.”

“What did he say?” I kind of shouted it as I sat straight up in bed. “What did he say?”

“I don’t remember his exact words—”

“Come on, Wes, you’ve got one job and it’s—”

“—but he essentially said that he could see why you’re so popular.”

Oh my God. I glanced at Fitz, who was curled up in the corner on top of a crumpled Barnes and Noble shopping bag, and I hoped it wasn’t all about my look. “What did he say, exactly?”

“I already told you that I don’t remember his exact words, goofball. But the general sentiment was that he gets it. You’re no longer Little Liz.”

“Oh.” I Aopped back down onto my back, conAicted. A tiny part of me was uncomfortable with that. Like, before I straightened my hair and put on a cookie-cutter out1t, he couldn’t understand how Wes could be interested in me? When I looked the way liked looking, it was inconceivable to him that Wes would 1nd me attractive? That kind of stung.

I pictured Michael and told myself not to get hung up on it. The bottom line was that he had noticed me. “Did he say it cute, like, ‘Ooh, dude, I totally get it now,’ or was it more matter-of-fact?”

“We were playing basketball. He was panting and grunting.” “You’re terrible at this.”

“No, you’re just a weirdo.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about this earlier?” I glanced toward my window, where all I could see in the darkness was the side of his house. It was a little

surreal that I was talking to Wes like he was a friend, when he’d always been my neighborhood nemesis. “There was plenty of time when you were walking with me to the hospital.”

“I was distracted by your Potato Head face and the concern that you were going to pass out from lack of blood.” He cleared his throat. “As soon as the image of your ginormo-nose left my mind, I remembered to tell you.”

I tried to picture him on the other end of the phone. Was he still fully dressed, or was he wearing adorable pajamas and snuggling with his dog? “Where’s your room?”


I sat up in bed and crossed my legs. “Total random curiosity. Your house is outside my window, and I just realized that I’ve never been upstairs, so I have no idea what side your room is on.”

“Put the binoculars away because my room faces the back. You’ve got no shot of a peep show.”

“Yeah, because that was what I wanted.” My mind instantly conjured the image of his half-naked body in the practice gym. When he’d taken oP his shirt and I’d nearly swallowed my tongue. You know, while also bleeding out.

“And I’m not in my room. I’m in the living room, watching TV.”

I got up and walked over to my window. My bedroom was the only one with a window on the side of the house, and when I looked down, I could see the light glowing out their living room window.

“I can see your light.” “Such a creeper.”

That made me smile. “What’re you watching?”

“I think the proper line is ‘What are you wearing?’”

I couldn’t stop smiling—that was so incredibly Wes. It was weird how talking to him was so easy—way easier than texting with Michael. I wasn’t sure if it was because I knew Wes better, or perhaps it was because Wes knew me better. He knew I wasn’t cool—he’d always known that—so maybe that was why it felt so relaxed.

I didn’t have to try.

I said, “Maybe if I cared it would be, but I’m actually curious about what you’re watching.”


I crossed my arms and leaned against the wall, looking out at the side of his house where there were Aowering bushes moving in the breeze under his lit living room window. “Probably a game of some sort. Basketball?”


“Okay. Is it a movie or a TV show?” “Movie.”

“Hmm.” I grabbed my beanbag and slid it in front of the window. I felt like I needed to be looking at his house. I plopped down and asked, “So, I need to know. Did you select it, or did you just happen to stop by when remote-Aipping?”

“Remote stop-by.”

“Hm. That complicates things.” Mr. Fitzpervert jumped onto my lap and put his front paws on my chest so I would scratch his head. I approved of the paisley bow tie that Helena must have selected for him, since I’d left him tieless when I was in a hurry that morning. “Um… Gone Girl?”

“Nope. But decent guess. I thought Emily Ratajkowski was brilliant in that Aick. Her scene with AAeck is still embedded in my brain.”

“You’re disgusting.”

There was laughter in his voice as he said, “I’m just messing because I knew

you’d know what I meant. My little Libby is just so easy to get riled up.”

I ignored his comment, the incorrigible boy. “Well, the book was amazing, even without Miss Ratajkowski’s assets.”


“Okay.” I tried thinking about what would make Wes stop and watch. “Um, maybe The Hangover?”

“Nope.” “American Pie?” “Not even close.”

“In what era,” I started, wondering if maybe I had him pegged totally wrong, “did this cinematic masterpiece come out?”

“I feel like you’re assuming that I only like boob movies.”

“Um.” His assumption about my assumption was correct, but now I was having doubts. The more I knew about Wes, the more he proved my preconceived notions wrong. “Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”

“I’m watching Miss Congeniality.

“What?” I almost dropped the phone. “But, Bennett. That’s a rom-com.” “Yup.”


“So, I stopped because it looked funny.” “And…?”

“And it is.”

“I love that movie. What channel?”

“Thirty-three. Wait—your parents still have cable too?”

“Yes. My dad is afraid to cut the cord because he isn’t sure if he’ll get all the good boxing matches if we switch to streaming.” I Aipped on my TV and turned it to the movie. It was the beginning, where Sandra Bullock’s character was eating steak with Michael Caine at a restaurant. “The thought of losing them terri1es the man.”

“It’s soccer for my dad. He’s convinced that all you can watch on Hulu are movies and NBC shows.”

That made me smile. Wes’s dad was a super-nerdy college professor who I never would’ve pegged as a fan of anything athletic. “Do you think we’ll be technology-challenged when we’re old too?”

“Oh, for sure. You’ll probably be one of those old people who doesn’t even have a TV. Every day will be the same. You’ll play the piano, drink tea, and listen to records for hours, then take the bus to the movie theater.”

“You make aging sound incredible. I want that life now.” “So do you sing when you play?”


“I’ve always wondered. When you play the piano, do you sing?”

He’d “always” wondered? Did that mean he’d thought of it often? When we were kids and I practiced with the windows open, he used to howl like he was a dog and it was hurting his ears. I guess I hadn’t realized he knew I still played.

I hadn’t heard him howl in a lot of years.

“It depends what I’m playing.” It seemed incredibly personal, sharing this with him, but it also didn’t feel wrong. Probably because I’d known him so long. I glanced over at the piano book sitting on my desk. “I don’t really sing when I’m doing scales or warm-ups, and I de1nitely don’t sing if I’m playing something super challenging. But when I play for fun, look out.”

He said around a laugh, “Gimme a song that makes you belt.”

“Umm…” I giggled. I couldn’t help it. Sharing private things about myself while sitting in the dark made me feel… something. Some kind of way.

Maybe I was just feeling introspective, because—out of nowhere—I realized that my life for the past few days had felt diPerent. I was suddenly living this stereotype of a high school life. I’d gone to a booze party, and the following night I’d loaded into a car with a bunch of people to watch a high school sports game.

And my love interest had texted me.

Not only that, but I was talking on the phone to the boy next door as if it was a thing.

Those things were normal, but not for me.

And it was fun. All of it. Even with the vomit and the bloody nose. And it kind of made me wonder if I’d been missing out. Most of the time, I preferred staying home and watching movies. That was my happy place. Joss had her softball friends that she went out with, and even though she always invited me, I always chose to stay home with my rom-coms.

But now I was questioning that decision.

Wes jerked me back out of my head. “‘Umm’ is not an answer, dipshit.”

“I know, I know, I know.” I laughed and admitted, “I actually pretty much turn into Adele when I play ‘Someone Like You.’”

“You do not.” He was full-on laughing now. “For real? That’s a big-voice song.”

“Don’t I know it.” I pulled the blanket from my bed, lifted Fitz from my lap, and wrapped us both up in it. “But when no one’s home, it feels amazing to totally shatter glass with my pipes.”

“I would pay money to hear that.”

Fitz gave me a deep-throated growling meow and ran up my body, jumped oP my shoulder, and escaped from my room. I said, “You’ll never have enough.”

He made a comment, but I didn’t hear what it was because I got distracted by the fact that his living room light went out. Was he still in that room? Was he getting comfy on the couch? He didn’t sound like he was walking. “How come you turned oP the light?”

My hand went to my mouth out of habit—that was a nosy question to be embarrassed about—but then I remembered it was just Wes. I could say these un1ltered things to him because he didn’t care. Wes Bennett knew what a mess I was underneath it all, and there was a little bit of joy in knowing he saw the real me.


I would never ask Michael why he’d turned oP his light (if he lived next door).

That would be a total creeper move.

“I knew you were staring in my windows, Buxbaum.” Wes did a deep chuckle thing that made me laugh too. “I never would’ve guessed someone so uptight would be such a pervert.”

I stared out at his dark window. “I’m not that uptight, for the record.”

“I will say that you’ve been pretty cool about the disasters that have befallen you since you started hunting Michael.”

“Um… thanks? And I’m not ‘hunting’ him. I’m just trying to…”

I blinked—what exactly was I trying to do? Michael was it—the guy. Just like in the book we were reading in Lit—The Great Gatsby—he was the green light across the bay, the symbol of the dream, the cohesive-thread-come-full-circle love interest that my mom had written into all of her scripts. I guess I was trying to put the happy ending on my script, so to speak. I said, “I just need to know that happily ever after really exists.”

He was quiet for a minute, and then he said, “I think your cat is out in my yard.”

I was grateful for the change of subject. “It isn’t Fitz. He never goes outside.” “Smart cat—my dog would probably use him as a chew toy.”

“As if Fitzpervert would let him.” I looked back out the window and tried to see a cat, but all I could see was a dark yard and the white Aowers on my mother’s

bushes. “So where are you? Did you go to bed, or are you sitting in the dark like a complete Patrick Bateman?”

“Oh my God, you’re so obsess—”

“Will you just shut up and tell me?” I was laughing—hard—and it made my nose throb a little. “I need to go to bed.”

“And you can’t sleep until you know where I am. I see you.” “So delusional. Just forget it.”

My face literally hurt from smiling, and out of nowhere I wondered what things were going to be like with me and Wes when our deal was over. Would he go back to only thinking of me as his weird neighbor, only noticing me when he felt like messing with me? Would we return to just being classmates who didn’t particularly like each other?

The thought of that made my stomach get a little heavy. I didn’t like it.

He laughed and the lights Aashed in his living room. On-oP, on-oP. “I’m still here, Liz. Just messing with you.”

“Okay, well, good ni—” “Your turn.”


“Flash your lights. It’s my turn to know where you are.”

Fair was fair. I leaned over and Aicked on my desk lamp, wondering if he was going to walk over to the window in order to be able to see up to my room.

“So that’s your room, huh?” Apparently yes. “It is.”

Could he see me? I didn’t think so—my beanbag was pretty low—but I still felt exposed.

“Wow.” He let out a low whistle. “Not gonna lie, there’s something about knowing that that is where Mrs. Potato Head sleeps. I mean, damn, you know?” I leaned forward and waved into the darkness. “Damn, indeed. Good night,


He gave me a deep, rumbly chuckle but didn’t say anything about the wave. “Good night, Elizabeth.”

Instead of going back to bed, I went over to my dresser and grabbed the pink photo album. Talking about happy endings and staring out at my mom’s favorite bushes had given me the mom-feels.

Although, lately everything had been giving me those.

I spent the next hour looking at pictures of my mother; her wedding photos, shots of her holding me when I was a baby, and the funny surprise takes my dad liked to snap when she hadn’t been expecting them.

When I got to the photos from one of the neighborhood picnics, I squinted and smiled at the group shot. My mom had been dressed in a paisley sundress and pearls, while everyone else looked like shoeless summer slobs. So on-brand for her, right?

My eyes scanned to the front row, where we kiddos—probably age seven at the time—looked eerily similar to our current selves. Not in appearance, but in expression. The twins were looking away from the camera with their mouths wide open, clearly up to something. Michael was smiling like a perfect little model, and I was beaming at him instead of looking at the photographer. Joss was making an adorable little smirk, and Wes—of course—had his tongue all the way out.

Something about that photo album made me feel good about the present, but I was getting too tired to analyze it. Also my Potato Head nose was aching. I put away the pictures, shut oP the light, plugged my phone in, and went back to bed. But just before I fell asleep, I got one more message.

Wes: Make sure you add “Someone Like You” to the Wes and Liz playlist.

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