His hand is warm on my bare back. Soothing. I bite the inside of my cheek to stop myself from leaning into it. Perched on the edge of the bed, I squint through the darkness and spot my shirt on the floor over the air vent, billowing up like a sheet drying in the wind. I slip it over my head and shiver, the cotton icy against my skin. His hand and the warmth vanish, along with any desire I had to remain in this room for longer than it’ll take me to get from the bed to the door.
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay a little longer?” Josh asks as I stand up. He props himself up on his elbows, his long body still sprawled across the bed. Party sounds filter upstairs and under the closed door, the steady unst, unst of the music pumping its way through beer-thick laughter.
In response, I toss him his shirt, straighten my still-buttoned jeans, smooth my hair.
“C’mon, Hadley.” His words blend into a soft slur as he drapes his shirt over his lap.
I crack open the door. “So, um, this was fun . . .” My voice trails off as the hallway light blazes into my eyes, bringing me back to reality.
“Hello? Name’s Josh. I’m in your English class.”
I turn to face him, his close-cropped hair coated bronze in the dim light. He tilts his head at me, his full mouth open a little, like he really can’t believe that I’m going to leave him here, half-naked and blue-balled. I force my lips into a smile. The one that pulled him toward me from across the room an hour earlier and had him whispering into my hair within ten minutes of hello.
“I know your name.”
And then I leave.
Alone in the hallway, I press my back against the door, my fingers gripping the handle, and close my eyes. I take a deep breath and wait for all the pleasantly blurred lines to sharpen again. I can still feel his fingers on my face, caressing it like he actually cared. Like I actually cared. As always, it’s a nice illusion. A break from the normal chaos going on in my head. I know it’ll all come rushing back later, when I’m lying in my bed, staring through the dark at the ceiling in my perpetually silent house, but for now, it’s nice to feel a hint of calm.
Down the hall, the bathroom door opens and Sloane Waters steps out in a denim skirt and a white top so sheer I can see the lace edging of her black bra. She freezes when she spots me, her top lip curling as if she smells something bad. Sloane had it in for me before I even officially met her. At her infamous back-to-school party a month ago, I made out with Isaac Jorgenson. Granted, Isaac was her ex and we might have ended up in her bedroom, but they broke up a year ago and she’s dated half the football team since then.
Sloane’s narrowed eyes roam over my rumpled hair and wrinkled shirt. I feel my cheeks warm, but I pull my expression into one of indifference and brush past her. She’s mercifully and unusually silent. As I pass, I get a whiff of her grape bubblegum smell, so cloying I nearly gag.
Downstairs, I swim through the sea of writhing bodies and into the living room of some guy whose name I can’t even remember. The music is so loud that I feel like it’s coming from inside my skull. Despite the crowd, Kat manages to find me seconds after I surface.
“So?” she asks. Her breath smells like orange Tic-Tacs. She slips a blue plastic cup into my hands.
“No, thanks.” I push the cup away, but she shoves it back with an eye roll.
“Lighten up. I’m not trying to get you drunk so I can have my way with you. It’s just water.”
I pinch her arm and she swats at me. The water is cool and clean and washes away Josh’s lingering taste of beer and spearmint gum. We make our way to the edge of the huge living room where it opens up into the kitchen. I lean against the wall and drain my cup, my heart rate finally slowing after having Josh’s lips on my neck.
“So?” Kat asks again. She tucks her short blond hair behind her ears and takes a sip from her beer. A couple squeezes past us, the guy’s hands on the girl’s curvy hips. Kat presses into me as if she’s afraid she might catch something.
“So what?” I look at her arched eyebrows. Kat was born and raised in Woodmont. We’ve been best friends since we were twelve and met in the swim class my dad taught. We’ve always lived a town apart until a few months ago, when my parents convinced themselves that a change of scene would help untie the massive tangle that is our family. They truly believed the move from Nashville to suburban Woodmont for my senior year would make the whole thing easier and bring my father’s little girl back from whatever pit I had banished her to. Four months later, Kat is still the only flower on the crap pile that is my new life.
“You’re not going to tell me anything? Come on, Josh Ellison? He’s cute. He’s supposed to be the best third baseman the school has had in, like, a decade.”
“Yes. God, Hadley. Don’t you know anything about him?”
“I know he plays baseball.” I move my eyes around the room, tucking its inhabitants into neat little boxes. Seventeen girls, eleven boys. Sweaty, scruffy, clean-cut. Bored, nervous, horny, drunk. My gaze lands on Matt Pavers, Josh’s best friend. He lifts an eyebrow at me and I look away, tugging my shirt lower over my hips.
“Do you like him?” She sticks out her forefinger, counting. “Henry was too cocky, Isaac was too Ivy League–obsessed and wore argyle socks and was, well, pretty much still Sloane’s. And Jeremy was . . . what? Didn’t he smell like soup or something?”
“Pot roast.” My correction slams into her granite stare. I cross my arms over my chest, my empty cup dangling from my forefinger, and shrug. “What? It was like kissing him right after he downed Grandma’s Sunday dinner.”
“So do you like Josh?”
I release a breath. “No, Kitty Kat. I don’t like him.”
“What’s wrong with him? He’s nice.”
“And a total player.”
“Well, yeah, I guess so, but—”
“Liking him isn’t the point.”
“Here we go.” She snorts and then coughs and I bite back a laugh. She’s never been good at disdain, no matter how heartfelt. “Well, what if he likes you?”