There is nothing more humiliating than being topless in the backseat of your boyfriend’s car when someone decides to throw an egg at the windshield.
Wait. Scratch that.
Having your boyfriend jump off you, climb out of the car, and chase after the guy, completely forgetting that you’re still half-naked—that trumps it.
And there is one thing even worse than that.
Having it happen repeatedly.
I rolled onto my stomach and reached an arm down to the floorboard, searching for my tank top and praying the windows of Randy’s new Buick Skylark were as tinted as the ones on his old Cougar, the one he’d wrapped around a telephone pole last month. The Buick was older and used, but Randy considered the bigger backseat an improvement over his other car.
Not that it was being used at the moment.
I pulled on my top and climbed into the front seat. This was the third time the car had been vandalized—with us inside—since Randy and I had started dating sixteen months ago. The other two times had happened last fall, when the rivalry was in full swing, and both times I’d been left in the car, humiliated, while Randy chased after the culprit. Not exactly my definition of a good time.
It had been almost a year since then, though, and I’d hoped to avoid the embarrassment this time around, but apparently, I was too optimistic. Here I was again—forgotten, alone, and fighting back tears.
Part of me knew I should be mad, but I was mostly just hurt. After more than a year together, I hoped I came first to Randy. But the fact that he forgot me so easily because of a stupid egg on his car? It stung.
I shut off the sexy R&B CD Randy had been playing and flipped through the presets on his stereo, stopping at a crackling Oldies station to hear the last few seconds of “Night Moves” by Bob Seger while I pulled my messy make-out hair into the elastic band I wore around my wrist.
Thirteen and a half minutes later, Randy returned.
“Soccer fags! I’m gonna kill those assholes.”
I shot him a look. He knew I hated it when he talked like that.
“Sorry,” he muttered, falling into the driver’s seat with a thud. He stared at the egg-splattered windshield, grinding his teeth. “I just can’t believe they did that.”
“Well, okay, I can, but I’m pissed.”
“That’s going to be a pain in the ass to clean off.”
He turned to face me. “I hate those assholes. God, I can’t believe I didn’t catch the guy. Shane and I are going to have to get them back good for this.”
I didn’t say anything. I’d tried to explain the whole “cycle of violence” concept to Randy before, but it just didn’t stick. He didn’t seem to understand that retaliating against the soccer players would lead to them attacking him again. He was giving them what they wanted. Feeding into this stupid rivalry. It would never end if he kept fighting back.
Logic wasn’t Randy’s strong suit, though. He was the spontaneous “act now, think later” type. That was part of the reason I loved him. The whole “opposites attract” thing was way true in our case. But sometimes Randy’s impulsiveness was more stressful than sexy.
He sighed dramatically before turning to me.
“So,” he said, a suggestive grin sliding across his face. He tilted his head forward, letting his sandy blond hair fall into his eyes. “Now that that’s over with… where were we?”
“We,” I said, pushing him away as he leaned in to kiss me, “were at the part where you take me home.”
“What?” Randy sat back, looking wounded. “Lissa, it’s only ten thirty.”
“Look, I know that guy ruined the moment, but we can start over. Please don’t be pissed at me. If anything, be pissed at the guy who threw the egg.”
“I’m not pissed, I’m just… frustrated.”
“It’s not my fault,” he said.
“It’s both of your faults.”
“Come on, Lissa. What was I supposed to do?” he asked. “He egged my car. He ruined our moment. He could have been spying on us—on you. A good boyfriend wouldn’t let some jerk get away with that.”
“He did get away with it,” I reminded him. “They always get away with it. Whether you go chasing them or not, they get away. So what’s the point?”
I wanted to be honest with Randy. To open up and tell him how much it hurt when he left me alone like that. How worthless and cheap it made me feel. We’d been together for so long; we loved each other; it should have been easy to tell him the truth. To let it all out.
But all I could make myself say was, “I’m not cool with coming second to this stupid rivalry all season.”
“You aren’t second, babe.”
“Prove it,” I retorted.
Randy stared at me. The corners of his mouth twitched a little, like he was going to spit out a cute answer and then thought better of it. His eyes perked up once before going blank again. He had nothing.
I turned away from him, messing with the dials on his radio again. “Just take me home, okay?”
“Lissa,” he murmured. His hand closed around mine, gently pulling it away from the radio and lifting it to his lips. He kissed my knuckle, whispering, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that jerk ruined our night.”
That wasn’t what I wanted him to apologize for.
“I know you are.”
His hand slid down my wrist and danced its way back up my forearm and shoulder, stopping when it reached my neck. His fingers cupped my cheek and turned me to face him. “I love you,” he said.
He moved forward, and I let him kiss me this time. Just a quick, light kiss, not the kind I knew he was hoping for.
“You still want me to take you home, don’t you?”
Randy shook his head, half laughing as he reached into the backseat and blindly attempted to locate his own shirt. “You amaze me, Lissa Daniels. Most girls would cave as soon as I gave them the puppy-dog look with these amazing eyes.”
“Sorry. I like boys. Not dogs. You should’ve dated a different girl if you wanted someone to bend to your will.”
“That’s all right,” he said, pulling the shirt over his head and turning to fiddle with the keys, still dangling from the ignition. “I like having a girl who can keep me in line. You’re tough and smart and sexy and—”
“And you’re still taking me home,” I said, giving him a sweet smile.
“Yeah, I figured. But, hey, doesn’t make it any less true.”
I shook my head, unable to hold back a little bit of laughter now. “Oh, just drive me home, you brownnoser.”
And, just like that, the night’s drama was almost forgotten.
Almost, but not entirely.
“Dad!” I called out as I walked down the stairs the next night. “Where is Logan? He should be home already.” I paused in the doorway, staring at my father. Or, more accurately, at the big bowl of ice cream in his lap.
“Hey, honey,” he said, trying to conceal the bowl from my line of sight and failing oh so miserably. “I’m sure Logan is—”
“Dad, what are you eating?”
I walked over to him and jerked the bowl out of his hands. “I can’t believe you,” I said, taking it into the kitchen. I could hear the wheels of Dad’s chair squeaking across the carpet, rounding the corner after me as I dumped the remaining chocolate-swirl ice cream into the garbage disposal.
“Oh, come on, Lissa.”
“You heard what Dr. Collins said. You’re supposed to be watching your diet.” I ran the water to rinse out the bowl. “You need to lose some of the weight you’ve put on since the accident or you’re going to have more health problems. Eating this isn’t going to help you with that, Dad.”
“One bowl of ice cream isn’t going to kill me,” he argued.
“You don’t know that.” I reached for a paper towel and turned to face Dad as I dried the bowl. The look on his face tore at me a little. The one that said he knew I was right but didn’t want to hear it.
This wouldn’t have been an issue five years ago, before the accident; his construction job and love of sports kept him in great shape. But it all changed on the January night his car slid on a patch of ice and sent him and my mother careening into the opposite lane. Even after Mom’s funeral, with all the food no one could touch; after he started his new job as a counselor at the elementary school; after he began smiling again—he was still in the wheelchair.
No more biking. No more football. For some paraplegics these things were possible, but we couldn’t afford any sort of special chair or bike that would keep Dad active.
So it was my job to watch out for them. For him and Logan. Without Mom around, they needed someone to take care of them. That was my responsibility now, even if it meant being a little harsh sometimes.
“So why isn’t Logan back?” I asked again, glancing at the clock on the microwave. “He usually gets in right at five thirty-two. He’s almost ten minutes late.”
Dad laughed. My muscles relaxed a little at the sound, even if it was my neurosis he found amusing.
“Lissa, are you really stressing over him being less than ten minutes late?” Dad asked.
“Maybe,” I admitted.
“Well, don’t,” he said, rolling his chair up to the kitchen table. “I’m sure he’ll be home before Randy gets here. Randy is coming over to watch the game, right?”
“Yeah,” I said, turning around to put the bowl back into one of the cabinets above the sink. “He’ll be here at six.”
Randy came to my house every Saturday night. First he’d watch whatever game was on ESPN with Dad, then we’d hang out for a couple hours before he went back home. In the year and a third we’d been together, he’d never missed a date. Even when I was mad at him.
Behind me, I heard the front door open and shut. I turned around and walked past Dad into the living room. “Where have you been?” I demanded as my brother untied his sneakers and tossed them into the pile of shoes next to the door.
“Um, work?” Logan said. “Where else would I be?”
“You’re late,” I told him.
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are.” I pointed at his wristwatch. “Look. You’re eleven minutes later getting here than usual. I was getting wor—”
“Lissa,” my brother said, reaching out and putting his hands on my shoulders in a way that was so belittling I wanted to scream. “Chill. I was talking to my boss after work.”
“About what?” I asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, patting my cheek and stepping around me to walk into the kitchen. “Anyone feel like ordering a pizza? If Randy’s coming over we should probably make it a large, right?”
I scowled and bent down to straighten up the pile of shoes on the rug. Why couldn’t Logan just answer my question? I hated that he had to make me feel like a child. I was ten years younger than him, but I wasn’t a baby—and eleven minutes may be nothing to him, but that’s enough time for anything to happen. I had a right to worry.
Mom was killed in less than thirty seconds.
“Lissa!” he yelled from the kitchen. “What kind of pizza do you want? I’m ordering now.”
I stood, having aligned the shoes and feeling happy that at least some part of this house was in order. “Sausage and ham. But Dad has to have a salad.”
“Oh, come on!” I heard Dad whine as Logan laughed and began reciting his order into the cordless phone.
Through the living room window, I saw Randy’s Buick pull into the driveway. Right on time. That was one of the things I loved most about Randy—he was always punctual, unlike my brother.
I opened the door for him as he made his way up the front steps. “Hey, babe,” he said, leaning in to kiss me.
I let his lips brush mine for just a moment before pulling back.
“Still mad?” he asked.
“Not mad. Frustrated, remember?”
Randy ran his fingers down my arm, lowering his voice so Dad and Logan wouldn’t hear. “I can un-frustrate you if you want.”
I swatted him away, my whole body stiffening. “You sure you won’t be too busy cleaning your windshield?”
“I’m never too busy for you, baby.”
“You were last night.”
He tilted his head to the side, batting his long, perfect eyelashes at me. “You’ll forgive me. I know you will.”
“We’ll see.” I meant it to be teasing, but it came out sounding cold.
“You always do!” he called over his shoulder as he strolled into the kitchen.
I shook my head, knowing he was right. I always forgave him, and I was sure I always would. I knew as soon as he walked into the kitchen. As soon as Dad smiled at him. As soon as Logan clapped him on the shoulder. I would always forgive Randy because he was part of my family. He had been since the moment I first brought him home.
Watching them now, as I stood in the kitchen doorway, I knew I’d fallen in love with Randy that first night, when he’d walked right up to my father as if he didn’t even notice the wheelchair and shook his hand. He made my family happy, and after all we’d been through over the past few years, seeing them smile like that… well, it made me happy, too.
I forced myself to relax, to loosen up a little, as I walked into the kitchen and sat down at the table next to Randy. There was no need to be on edge right now. Not with my family. Not with Randy.
“So how’s the season starting up?” Logan asked as he took a seat across from Randy. “The soccer assholes giving you hell yet?”
“Yeah.” Randy sighed, leaning his chair back on two legs and folding his arms behind his head. “But whatever. We’re giving them hell right back.”
I bit my lip. “Randy, can you put your chair on four legs, please?” I asked. “You’ll fall that way… and hurt the chair.”
“Yes, Miss Daniels,” Randy said, rolling his eyes as he let his chair fall back into its proper position. “But is it me or the chair you’re worried about?”
“I plead the Fifth.”
Randy gave me a look of mock heartbreak.
“My senior year,” Logan said, ignoring my deliberate change in conversation, “we gave all the freshmen soccer players swirlies in the boys’ bathroom.”
“Dude, that’s so lame.” Randy leaned forward, grinning. “There’s actually a plan for tomorrow night that—”
“That you’re not going to be a part of,” I snapped before I could stop myself. Randy, Dad, and Logan all turned to stare. “I don’t think you should be involved in all that, Randy. It’s stupid. What kind of school has a rivalry between two of its own teams? Plus, what if someone gets hurt?”
“Oh, come on, Lissa,” Logan scoffed. “It’s harmless. No big deal.”
“Maybe when you were in high school, but the fighting has gotten worse since then. This time last year, Randy and the football team busted all the windows out of the soccer goalie’s car. They could have gotten into some serious trouble,” I informed him, then turned back to Randy. “You won’t participate, will you? Leave it to Shane and the others if they want to be idiots, but you don’t have to do it.”
Randy hesitated for a second, looking between me and Logan.
I gave him a nice hard glare. A wordless warning of what might happen if he didn’t side with me here.
“Fine,” he said. “I won’t be a part of it.”
“You’re so uptight, Lissa,” Logan grumbled.
“Leave her alone,” Dad said. “She’s looking out for people. It’s sweet.”
Sweet, I thought bitterly as the doorbell rang behind me. God, it was so condescending. Like I was an overly sensitive little kid. Couldn’t they see how ridiculous the rivalry was? How continuing to retaliate would just make it go on forever? Soccer, football—they were just games. Neither sport was worth this much drama.
I went into the living room to get the door. The delivery boy handed me the large pizza and Dad’s salad. From the kitchen I could hear laughter and cheers as the boys discussed the game they’d be watching that night. Betting on who would win and lose, the topic of torturing freshmen dropped and forgotten.
The rivalry wasn’t brought up again until later that evening, when Randy and I sat out on the front porch steps, the game having ended and my dad and Logan already off to bed.
“I’m sorry about the other night,” Randy said quietly, his arm sliding around my shoulders, pulling me against him. “Sorry those assholes had to show up and ruin everything.”
I had to bite back a sigh of frustration. He still didn’t get it. Didn’t get that running off and leaving me was the part I was upset about, not the fact that someone had egged his car. But at least he was trying, I guess.
“Shane’s got a plan to get back at them,” he continued. “A good one.”
“You’re not going to help, though,” I pressed. “I know I probably shouldn’t have called you out in front of Dad and Logan, but I’m serious. I don’t want you involved in all that.”
Randy gave me a hopeless look. “Shane and the guys are going to give me hell for backing out.”
“Aw. Will they pick on you, sweetie?” I asked. “Should I call their parents?”
“I’m serious,” he said. “They’ll call me a pussy.”
“And if you help them, I’ll call you a dick. So no matter what you do, you’re going to be some form of genitalia.” I grinned up at him. Finally, I was feeling relaxed enough to joke around. It had taken all night. “Shane and the boys may rag on you a bit, but will that be any worse than what I could do to you?”
Randy stared down at me for a second. “What would you do to me?”
“I obviously can’t tell you. That’d ruin the surprise.” I poked him in the chest. “But I can tell you that it wouldn’t be this.” I glanced around to make sure there were no cars coming, no neighbors staring out of windows, no one to see. Then slowly, tantalizingly, I leaned up and pressed my lips against his. The kiss was long and hot, but before it got too deep, I pulled back, leaving Randy with an awed, hungry look on his face.
And leaving my cheeks on fire.
“I bet Shane can’t do that,” I said.
“Maybe he can. You don’t know.”
“How do you know I don’t know?”
Randy blinked at me, and I laughed. “Kidding. I’d never hook up with Shane. You’re the only Neanderthal I can deal with.”
“Thanks. I’m flattered.”
I kissed him on the cheek and rested my head on his shoulder. “Seriously, though. Please don’t mess with the soccer players. Just let it go. For me?”
Randy let out a long sigh. “Yeah… I guess.”
His fingers wrapped around mine and I snuggled against him. Now that he seemed to be listening to my entreaties, I was sure we would get through this autumn; we’d survive the rivalry. I was sure it would all work out. We fell into a comfortable silence, staring up at one of the last starry nights of the summer.
I know that most schools have rivalries with other schools, but that’s not how it worked at Hamilton High. Nope. Our biggest battles were fought on the home front.
It all started back when Logan was a junior in high school. That’s when the school board decided to start an official school-sponsored soccer team. I don’t know all the details—I was in second grade, and anything that didn’t involve ponies just wasn’t worth my time—but in a small town like ours, taking away half of the football team’s funding to create another fall sport was pretty scandalous.
Apparently the football players got pissed at having to share time in the workout room, and the crowds that usually filled the stands at games began to dwindle as more and more people started going to watch the soccer team play. Hostility rose between them—and between the teams’ coaches—and eventually a full-on war broke out.
Now, you’d think the drama would fade over time, right? Like, after the teams graduated and new players came in, it would die.
So not the case.
A decade later, the rivalry was still going strong. Every fall, when sports season started up, the battle would rage again. And the dumbest part was, I don’t think the boys even knew why it had started to begin with. I’d asked Randy once and he’d just shrugged.
“Does it really matter?” he’d asked.
To me, a girl who had to share her boyfriend with the war every autumn, it did. But not to the players. They just knew that they hated one another. That was enough.
“Dickhead!” Randy yelled across the cafeteria as Kyle Forrester, the soccer team’s goalie, gave him the middle finger.
I cringed at the volume of the obscenity in my ear, and I tapped Randy on the shoulder. “Hey, would you mind lowering the volume a little? I’d like my hearing to last a few more years.” He flashed a quick smile at me and hooked an arm around my waist as he turned his attention back to the soccer team’s table.
I was glad he didn’t notice the way I tensed.
I sat at the lunch table, sandwiched between Randy and my best friend, Chloe. Though Chloe was too busy flirting with Michael Conrad to notice the stares we were getting from the rest of the student body. This was so not what I needed on a Monday.
I already had a headache from staying up too late the night before. That was the fatal flaw in my weekend schedule—with Randy over on Saturday nights, I didn’t get to do any homework until Sunday. With three AP classes on my plate, that meant lots of homework and late-night studying. Having people yell insults over my head the next day, while I was still exhausted? Not fun.
And also completely embarrassing. I rapped my knuckles against the table in a fast, anxious rhythm.
“Hey, could you keep it down? Seriously,” I said to Randy just as one of Kyle’s buddies yelled, “Fuck you!” back at us.
Randy shot him a glare before giving me an apologetic nod. “You okay?” he asked.
“Fine. I just have a headache.”
He put a hand on the side of my head and smoothed back my hair, pushing some of the straight black strands from my eyes. “Anything I can do to help?”
“Well, you can—”
And that’s when the glob of mashed potatoes landed in a disgusting mound on the table, right in front of me. They’d been flung, undoubtedly, by one of the soccer players at Kyle’s table.
“Gross,” I said, scooting my chair away from the table. “Randy, can you please put an end to this?”
But he wasn’t listening. He was too busy glaring at the soccer team’s table, a look of deep concentration on his reddening face. For some reason, it reminded me of a caveman contemplating how to make fire. Only Randy didn’t want fire. He wanted a way to get revenge without getting detention—or, worse, suspended—in the process.
I stood up just as his best friend, Shane, picked up an orange and pulled back his arm, aiming for one of the soccer players’ heads.
“Where you going, babe?” Randy asked, turning away from his enemies and reaching for my hand.
“Library,” I muttered, wrenching my hand from his grasp without even meaning to. I let out a breath and rolled my shoulders, willing myself to relax. It was just Randy, after all.
He wrinkled his nose in disgust at my words. “Library? Why?”
“I need to finish some homework.” I gave his shoulder a quick, reassuring squeeze to let him know I wasn’t pissed—this embarrassment wasn’t entirely his fault; Kyle had been the one to start it, really—before scooping up my tray and edging around the table, heading to the front of the cafeteria so I could dump my barely touched food and hurry away from the madness.
At least, that was the plan.
Running into Cash Sterling kind of ruined it.
One minute I was clearing off my tray and returning it to the rack, thinking of how quiet the library would be, and the next I’d spun around—without checking behind me, of course—and slammed into something hard. For a second I was totally dazed, the top of my head pounding from the impact with something very solid. When my senses came back, I realized that the thing my head had hit was Cash’s chin, and the only reason I was still standing was because one of his arms had wrapped quickly around my waist, keeping me from falling backward into the trash cans.
I knew it was him without even looking up. I blushed, embarrassed by the way I knew his scent. Hating that I remembered.
“You okay?” he asked in his bass voice.
I pulled away from him, hurriedly putting a few feet of space between us. “I’m fine.”
Cash was still rubbing his chin where we’d collided. “Sorry. I didn’t even see you.”
“It’s no big deal,” I told him, pretending I didn’t care if he noticed me or not. “But you shouldn’t stand so close behind people. Maybe remember personal bubbles next time or… or something.”
He shook his head, half laughing, and ran a hand over his buzzed brown hair. “Personal bubbles, huh?”
I almost laughed, too. That really had sounded lame. But I forced myself to keep a straight face, to stay cool and aloof. Cash Sterling would not make me smile. I wouldn’t let him.
“Yes,” I said stiffly. “It’s, like, a three-foot radius for most people.”
He smiled, his green eyes crinkling at the corners. “Would it surprise you if I mentioned that I barely passed geometry?”
“Oh,” I said. “Well, a radius is the distance from any part of a circle’s perimeter to the direct center of the circle. It’s half the diameter. So if a circle is six feet across the middle, the radius is three feet and…” And I was rambling. I shifted my feet and took a breath. “And I got an A in geometry.”
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “Seems like I should have hired you as a tutor, huh?”
“I doubt even I could have saved you if radii are beyond your comprehension.” The joke slipped out before I realized it.
“True,” he said, stepping a little closer to me. “But if I’d been smart enough to hire you, maybe I would have been smart enough to learn the material.”
I was fighting off a smile when I saw Randy coming up behind Cash. That killed the smile. And in a weird way, I was grateful. It made me uncomfortable to be so comfortable around Cash.
Though I also didn’t want to be present for the drama that was about to unfold.
“Hey, loser,” Randy snapped. “Leave my girl alone.”
Heat flooded my cheeks as Cash’s face darkened and he turned to face Randy. “Sorry. I didn’t realize Lissa was your property.”
“Don’t get an attitude with me,” Randy said. “I’ll kick your ass right here and—”
“Randy, stop,” I hissed, sliding around Cash to stand between them. “Don’t do something you’ll regret. There are teachers around.”
Randy glared up at Cash, who was at least two inches taller. “If he’s messing with you, I’ll beat the shit out of him.”
But I knew it wasn’t about me. Had Cash been any other guy—played any other sport—Randy wouldn’t have left his seat. He really wasn’t a jealous or possessive boyfriend most of the time. This was one hundred percent about the rivalry and the fact that Cash played soccer. I was just serving as a good excuse for a fight to break out.
And I certainly wasn’t okay with that.
“I wasn’t messing with anyone,” Cash said. “I was coming up here to get a fork”—he pointed at the silverware container by the tray rack—“when I accidentally bumped into her.” He used the same hand to gesture to me. “I was just making sure she was okay. Didn’t realize that was crossing the line. Next time, I’ll just let her fall into the trash cans, if that’ll make you feel better.”
“You being a smartass?” Randy growled.
“Randy, come on,” I demanded, tugging at his arm. “You’re embarrassing me. Just let it go.”
Randy resisted for a second before finally relenting and letting me pull him away. “Prick,” he muttered after we’d taken about three steps.
“Yeah, he is,” I said, though I was sure we had very different reasons for thinking so.
“Randy, hold up.”
Despite my efforts to keep dragging him forward, Randy turned around to face Cash again. “What?”
I glanced over my shoulder and watched as Cash took a step forward. “I don’t know if you heard, but Pete went to the hospital last night. Tore his ACL after that stunt you and your buddies pulled yesterday. He won’t be able to play all season. Hope you’re proud of yourself.”
I froze. What?
Randy shrugged, and Cash turned and walked away.
“Come on,” Randy said to me. “The library can wait, right? Let’s go sit down and—”
“What ‘stunt’ did you and your buddies pull?” I asked. “What is Cash talking about? How did Pete tear his ACL?”
Randy looked away from me, his eyes darting around for a second before finally coming to rest on the floor. “Nothing,” he said. “I mean, we didn’t do anything to the kid. It’s his own fault. He should have known not to run through the woods when it was so dark, and—”
“We?” I repeated. My hands balled into fists at my sides. “Randy, two days ago you promised me you weren’t going to get involved with that stuff.”
“Lissa, lighten up. It’s no big deal,” he assured me.
“You promised me,” I whispered. I wanted to yell—I was angry enough—but my voice just wouldn’t rise. “You promised me you wouldn’t get involved. Now that kid won’t be able to play all season because of you.”
“I swear it isn’t a big deal. Besides, it’s his own fault. He got hurt when he tried to run away from us.”
“What were you going to do to him if he didn’t get away?” Randy started to open his mouth, but I quickly shook my head. “Never mind. I don’t want to know. It doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is that a poor freshman is in the hospital now, and no matter how you try to excuse it, you lied to me.”
“He’ll be fine,” Randy said, shrugging. “I don’t see why you’re freaking out so much.”
I just stared at him. After more than a year, I thought we were past this. Past the lying and promise-breaking. After more than a year, I thought he understood me better than anyone. Maybe I was wrong.
An injury kept my father from ever playing sports again. Rationally, I knew that Pete’s situation was nothing like Dad’s, but to me, it didn’t matter. The fact that Randy’s actions—the entire football team’s actions—had hurt someone, ruined someone’s season, made me sick. This was bigger than just an egging or a few shouts across the lunchroom. This was dangerous.
And Randy, the one person I trusted to understand my feelings on this, thought I was “freaking out.” That was the worst part of all. Worse, even, than having him break his word to me.
“I’m going to the library,” I murmured, scooting past him and heading toward the cafeteria doors. The whole place suddenly felt too loud, too chaotic.
I could feel the familiar panic setting in as I fought to restrain myself. I needed to get out of there.
“Come on, Lissa,” I heard him calling after me. “Don’t be mad. I’m sorry, okay?”
But I just kept walking.
“You really expected otherwise?” Chloe asked over the phone that night when I told her about Randy and the hazing. “Come on, Lissa. That rivalry has been going on for, like, ever. Promises or not, there’s no way any of those boys are going to miss out on a chance to torture the soccer team.”
“Someone got hurt, Chloe,” I said bitterly. “Bad this time. And for no reason. There will never be a winner, so what’s the point? There is none. The fighting is stupid.”
“Maybe. But there’s no use complaining about it. It’s not like it’ll ever end.”
When I first became friends with Chloe Nelson last year, after Randy and I started dating, I wasn’t sure what to think of her. I heard she’d slept with two-thirds of the boys on the football team. I’d thought she was kind of a slut at first—that’s what everyone called her—but we became friends fast. Faster than I did with any of the other football girlfriends.
Don’t get me wrong—the other girls seemed okay, but I hadn’t entirely trusted any of them. Not with my secrets and not with my boyfriend.
But in a weird way, I’d known I could trust Chloe.
I also knew that she was right.
This stupid little war would never end on its own. But I had to do something. I just had to.
“I’m sorry for bitching,” I told her. “It’s just… It’s getting out of hand, you know? It’s too chaotic. Too out of control. And even before that kid got hurt, it was getting in the way of my relationship. I mean, he just forgets about me anytime the feud comes up. I hate it.”
“Have you tried telling him that?” Chloe asked.
Chloe sighed. “Lissa.”
“I know. You don’t have to lecture me.”
“Too bad. I’m going to anyway.” She took a deep breath. “You need to tell Randy how shitty this whole thing makes you feel. I know you like to be Little Miss Ice Queen and stay cool and aloof and whatever, but he’s your boyfriend. You need to relax for once in your life and just let him know that this hurts your feelings.”
“I know, I know. It’s just… It’s hard. I want to, but I always seize up. I mean, we just got back together a few weeks ago.”
“Maybe you two broke up because you weren’t open enough with him.”
That so wasn’t why we broke up. But I would never tell anyone, not even Chloe, the real reason.
“God damn it, Lissa. You know, you are the only person who can make me sound like a fucking Hallmark card. Just talk to him, all right?”
“Good. He’ll probably be nicer to you than I am, anyway.”
“I like it when you’re mean.”
“Meow,” Chloe said. “Oh, baby.”
I laughed. She was really the only person who could get me this loosened up. If anyone else made the jokes she did, I would get so uncomfortable. Not with Chloe, though.
“I hate this, Chloe. Instead of it being just me and Randy, lately it’s been me and Randy and the entire soccer team.”
“Bow-chika-wow-wow. That sounds like a good thing to me.”
“Sorry. I couldn’t resist.” She giggled.
“You know what I mean, though, right? It’s—”
I frowned and stood up from my desk chair, carrying my cell phone with me to the window.
Excerpted from Shut Out by Kody Keplinger Copyright © 2011 by Kody Keplinger. Excerpted by permission.
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