*Lesson In Love 101*
Chapter 3: This Kiss
“It isn’t your day to call,” I said into my cell phone, feeling my mouth stretch into a small smile.
“I know,” said Curtis. I could hear the grin in his voice. “But I was getting impatient, girl.”
I wrapped my arms around myself and bounced on my tiptoes, feeling disgustingly happy. So what if the first few days of Thornton had been a horror show, and I was currently on my way to school again? Curtis loved me, we’d been talking regularly for a week now, and although I still hadn’t gotten up the nerve to bring up death and my last day in Manhattan and the difficult parts of our relationship, at least I knew what was going on in his life. “I’m glad you did. I was getting sad about my second week.”
“Oh, yeah, you’ve finished a week at that fancy school now,” Curtis recalled, almost as if he’d forgotten all about it. Which pissed me off more than I’d ever tell him. “You’re a private school girl now, huh? I bet you look sexy in your uniform.”
I chewed my lip, feeling a twinge of discontent. I wanted to confide all my fears about Thornton and Linbury to him, but it seemed like he just wanted to flirt. Well, it wasn’t like I wouldn’t go along. After all, he wasn’t getting any sex lately – I hoped – so the least I could do was flirt back. “Not as sexy as I know you look in your basketball jersey.”
“Send me a picture so I can at least imagine being with you,” Curtis suggested, his voice warm. “Hey, Sum?”
“Yeah?” I gripped the phone tightly.
“Have you ever thought about, you know…” He dropped his voice. “Phone sex?”
I lapsed into silence. Shit. No, I hadn’t. I didn’t know if I could. I liked sex, but only when I had his physical presence around, the sweaty dark body that sent a whoosh of pleasure through me, the lips on mine that transmitted me into another darker, hazier world. But sitting on my bed imagining that world, when I hadn’t seen him in so long, it just seemed kind of…impossible for me to do.
“Summer?” Curtis said, the warmth gone from his voice. “Look, I’m sorry. Forget I said that – “
He shouldn’t have been apologizing. I should have been the one apologizing, because I was the one scared of not being able to do what he wanted me to do…what he deserved to have me do. “Curt, I’ve arrived at school. I have to go.” I kicked at the ground, wondering how I could have gone from ecstatically happy to disappointed, sad, and a little pissed off so quickly. “I’ll call you later, okay?”
“Summer, don’t – “
“Seriously, I have to go.” I clicked off and dropped my phone into the pocket of my black blazer. Squaring my shoulders, I marched past the security guard and into Thornton.
I’d spent my past week keeping a low profile. I dodged into classrooms when I saw the Champagne Gang approaching, ate Lunch in a corner of the dining room with a good book, got to homeroom after Mrs Montgomery herself, and tried not to talk to anyone, even the kids who looked harmless.
I didn’t know how long I could keep hiding, but I was determined to carry on as long as possible.
Lunches at Thornton alternated between informal hot dogs and pizza and other junk food served at the cafeteria on Mondays and Fridays, and the formal meals held at the grand dining hall upstairs on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Wednesdays. For my first week, I sat at the smallest table by the window, reading a book I borrowed from the library before classes started and eating lunches I packed for myself. The first day of my second week, however, disaster struck; when I got to the cafeteria late because I’d been talking to my homeroom supervisor about my schedule, my table was taken, and the only empty table was the one next to the coveted A-list table in the middle of the room the Champagne Gang was sitting at.
I sank deep into my chair and opened my book, hoping nobody would notice me. All Roxanne had been doing for my first week when she caught sight of me a couple of times was glaring, and all Nathan and the others had been doing was staring: I was afraid they’d pick today to be more active.
There was a reason I trusted my instincts: they were generally correct.
“Hey, Summer,” came the voice from the table next to me, just as I’d started reading the tenth page of my book.
I glanced up a little dazedly. Around The World wasn’t my favourite book in the world, but it was still pretty engrossing. I wished I hadn’t bother to tear myself away from it, because the voice that had called my name belonged to Nathan Wellington, who was grinning sexily at me from his seat at the head of the A-list table.
What did he want? To slice me up and toss my remains into the sea? Why wouldn’t he just do it, rather than continue to give me frighteningly thoughtful looks in class? Was he trying to find innovative ways of revenge?
“Yes?” I said frostily.
Nathan had clearly interrupted a conversation at his table. Roxanne, who was opposite him, was looking murderous. As if she didn’t hate me enough already.
“Why don’t you come sit with us?” Nathan offered.
This staggered me. I had expected him to let fly a veiled insult or a threat. Instead, he was offering me a seat at the table most Thornton students would have killed to have lunch at.
“I beg your pardon?” I said quietly.
Yes, I had been rude to Nathan the first two encounters we’d had, but after deciding to keep a low profile, I’d concluded that it would be suicide to go on doing it. I hadn’t really expected him to invite me to his table when I’d made that decision, however.
“Nathan.” Roxanne pronounced his name through gritted teeth, her tone icy. She was sitting far apart from Derek, who was flirting with a popular Asian senior named Karin Wu who I’d found out was allowed to sit with the Champagne Gang on Mondays and Thursdays.
Nathan ignored Roxanne. “Come sit with us,” he said to me, with one of his gorgeous grins.
The smile triggered my brain. There was one solution as to why he wasn’t taking a knife to my jugular vein yet : I didn’t want him and every other girl in the world did, and that angered him. The fact that I wasn’t in the least interested in him was what was interesting him in me. Why else would he even notice me? He would pay attention to me as long as I didn’t fall under his spell. I considered pretending to, just to get him to back off, because if he didn’t back off, not only Roxanne but every other girl in Linbury would be out for my blood.
It was a stupid idea. I couldn’t act, not even to save my life.
“I’m fine here, thanks,” I said politely.
There was a stunned silence. Then Roxanne got to her feet, her facial features twisted into a livid glare, and stomped out of the dining hall.
I looked back down at my book, hiding a smile that threatened to break forth any moment.
It was a premature victory, however; before I knew it, I felt someone sitting down across from me. Nathan again. Big surprise.
“What?” I snapped, annoyed into being rude again.
He held up his hands. “Down, girl.” He gave me a crooked smile. “If you won’t come to me, I’ll come to you.”
“Look, Nathan.” I put down my book next to my lunch tray. “I really don’t understand what you’re doing.”
“Oh, I think you do,” he said easily. “I’m trying to flirt with you.”
I blinked. Direct approaches always flustered me. “Okay…”
“Now that you understand, you could flirt back,” Nathan suggested.
I regained my composure. “I don’t think so.”
A slight pink tinged his cheeks. “Okay. Why don’t you like me?”
“Because.” I felt incredulous; was the guy clueless and callow or just completely thick-skinned? “Let’s see. The first time I saw you, you were making out with a girl who had a boyfriend – a girl who hates me, by the way. And the second time I saw you, the girl – your best friend, according to your other friends – had been dumped by her boyfriend because of you, but you preferred flirting with me to trying to comfort her.”
Nathan snorted. “You think Roxanne needed comforting? As if she cares dick about Derek. She just wanted the attention.”
“See?” I threw up my hands. “There you go again.”
Nathan frowned. “You’re a serious kind of girl, aren’t you?”
I closed my mouth. The one thing I absolutely could not do was let Nathan see what kind of a person I was. I picked up my book and held it up in front of my face, hoping he’d get bored and walk away.
No such luck. “A serious girl who likes to read,” Nathan said thoughtfully. “Interesting.”
Okay, so desperate times called for desperate measures. I would have to resort to desperate measures to peel him off: flattery. “Look, Nathan. This isn’t about you, this is about me, okay? I just like to be left alone, I have a boyfriend, and besides, you’re clearly out of my league.”
He didn’t take the hint. “A serious bookworm who likes to be left alone. Why is that?”
Oh, God. He was as persistent as a housefly. I got to my feet, deciding that from now on, I’d eat lunch in the stables. “Just back off, Nathan. I’m not interested.”
With that, I marched out of the cafetaria, ignoring the shocked whispers and muttering I left in my wake.
I was sitting in sixth-period homeroom that day when disaster struck.
Mrs Montgomery, our supervisor, was calling out our house points. My house, Cartwright, had the least number of points at the end of the first week, with Galloway House leading. Galloway House was the one the Champagne Gang, except for Roxanne, belonged to, which didn’t really surprise me, because they seemed to have the best of everything at Thornton.
“Dean House, fifty-six. Jameson – thanks to Lillith White’s efforts at collecting money for the UNBC, you’re in second place with seventy-eight points – “
“This is so not fair,” Roxanne Cartwright said petulantly. “I collected money, Mrs Montgomery. Why can’t Cartwright be a little ahead?”
Roxanne and I were in the same house. Oh, the irony.
“It’s just the first week, Rox,” Nathan Wellington said patronizingly. “You might even get enough points for Galloway to notice you by the end of the decade.”
“Too bad they don’t give out points for screwing everything with a dick in town,” said a guy’s sardonic voice from the entrance of the classroom.
An abrupt silence filled the room. Roxanne sat very, very still, her shock-filled gaze fixed on the door. The juniors and the Champagne Gang craned their necks to get a better look at the strange guy, but the sophomores and freshmen just seemed confused.
“It’s Zach Gellar!” said a junior girl suddenly, in a hushed, awestruck whisper.
The effect of her whisper on the class was electrifying. Stunned whispers broke out; some girls gasped; a guy with dyed black hair at the back cheered, and the preppy-looking blond guy next to him let out a hoot.Excitement was vivid as some new students were craning their necks to get a good look at him.
Roxanne’s jaw dropped open. “Oh, my God,” she whispered, sounding hysterical.
Something clicked in my mind. Shit. Zach Gellar. Roxanne’s partner in crime. The surly guy at the airport who’d asked for a hotter waitress. The guy who’d helped to ruin Jazz’s life, and God knew how many other people’s as well.
Zach Gellar, just when I’d thought things couldn’t get much worse.
I sneaked a glance at the rest of the Champagne Gang. Chris and Nathan were looking blankly at each other. Eve’s face wasn’t as indifferent as usual; something like disbelief and fear clouded her expression.
Mrs Montgomery was the first person to recover her composure. She gestured towards the door. “Come in, Mr Gellar.”
The tall, gorgeous guy I recognized from the day at Big Happy Family stepped into the room, shaking shaggy dark hair off his face. His intense dark eyes raked the room, meeting mine. A shiver of foreboding passed down my back.He was thoroughly attractive.
None of the Champagne Gang moved to greet him. They were still gaping, eyes wide.
“May I ask why you’re late, Mr Gellar?” said Mrs Montgomery. “I believe you were supposed to come back this morning, especially after Principal Cartwright was kind enough to give you the entire first week of school off.”
So this wasn’t just a visit. Zach Gellar was back for good, back from boarding school. I squeezed my eyes shut, unable to believe how incredibly unfortunate my life seemed to be getting.
“I didn’t feel like waking up,” said Zach, with a careless shrug.
Mrs Montgomery was stony-faced. “Why bother to come at all, then?”
Zach shrugged again. “Figured you might want to see me so you can imagine ravishing me at night, Penelope.”
A timid-looking freshman girl gasped in shock; she wasn’t the only one. A few boys, however, looked as if they were enjoying themselves thoroughly, and that included Nathan Wellington himself.
Mrs Montgomery’s expression didn’t change. “I’m married, Mr Gellar.”
“That’s what they all say.”
“And this period is going to end in precisely twenty minutes, so I suggest you leave now.”
Zach picked up a white vase with a single pink rose in it that was lying on Mrs Montgomery’s desk. “This come from your husband, Penelope?”
Roxanne got up swiftly and moved across to Zach. The next second, she had her arms around his neck and was clinging to him so tightly that I was sure she wanted to choke him to death.
“You’re back,” she said, and burst into tears.
Zach looked down at her with an unfathomable expression. “When you’re done with the melodrama…”
Roxanne ignored him. “What are you doing here?” she sobbed out. “You’re supposed to be at Andover! Are you back for good? Why aren’t you at Andover? I can’t believe you’re here! Where have you been hiding? When did you come back?”
“I got kicked out of Andover,” Zach said calmly.
The buzz, which had quieted down a little, started up again, as loud and strong as ever.
“I’ve been here for a month now – just haven’t felt like hanging out with you guys.” Zach pulled away a little. “You can let go now, Cartwright. My shirt’s soaked.”
Roxanne loosened her grip on his shoulders and gave him a tearful smile. “Asshole. You haven’t changed.”
Slowly, as if Roxanne’s movement had defrosted them, the Champagne Gang got to their feet. I could sense the tension hovering in the air as they walked up to Zach. I could sense that there were secrets between them, things they’d done, a lot of history they didn’t want to speak about. I could sense that none of them had expected Zach to come back, and that none of them really knew how they felt about it.
“Hey, man,” Chris said stiffly, his easygoing smile absent.
Zach nodded at him. “Hey.” He looked at Nathan, his expression unreadable, completely silent.
Nathan opened his mouth, then shut it again, watching Zach warily.
“Would you two hug already?” Roxanne demanded impatiently, sliding off Zach.
Neither of them moved. Then Nathan held out his hand, an awkward smile on his face. Zach looked down at it in silence.
“Welcome back, man,” Nathan said stiffly.
Zach smiled. It was a smile far more unpleasant than a frown could have been, because the bitterness in it exceeded all bounds. He took Nathan’s hand, but it wasn’t a friendly handshake. It was a grip that suggested enmity, hostility, antagonism. “Thank you, Wellington.”
Roxanne broke the tense silence. “Hey, what do you have for last period? Let’s cut and catch up!”
Mrs Montgomery, who’d been watching the drama unfold in intrigued silence, bristled. “Mr Gellar has cut enough, Miss Cartwright – “
Roxanne didn’t pay her any attention. “What do you say, Zach? Chris? Eve? Nate?”
“Sorry,” Zach said coolly. “I like US History.”
Roxanne shook her head. “Don’t tell me boarding school turned you into a geek!”
“Boarding school turned me into a lot of things you don’t want to know about,” said Zach quietly.
Another tense pause followed. This time, Nathan broke it. “So let’s do something after school.”
Zach shrugged. “Whatever. You know where I live.”
With that, he turned and strode out of the room as abruptly as he’d entered.