“You know that whole hoes before bros rule only work if there are bros to brush off in the picture,” Morgan said from the bathroom.
“We’re effectively of brushing off the bros, also known as fuck boys, by not having them in the picture at all.”
Morgan laughed. I smiled and continued to do my makeup. We were getting dressed for a Halloween party – we were both going as pink ladies, the bad girl versions, with skin tight black jeans, black bodysuits, and killer heels. I had a feeling that my mother, who was a huge fan of Grease, would be proud. If I was on speaking terms with her right now, I’d send a picture. Not that she’d receive the picture being that she was sailing around the world right now with her new boyfriend. I felt my excitement dwindle as I thought of her. I set my make-up brush down and walked to the kitchen, picking up one of the Jello shots we’d made for the occasion – orange and green. After two years of partying hard, Morgan and I had decided that this year we’d tone it down and be good girls, the kind who focused on school instead of boys. So far, we’d succeeded, but tonight was looking a little bit like the former years.
“Morg, did you already take a shot?” I counted the little cups. There had been fifteen and we were down to ten. “Or five?”
She laughed, walking toward me. “I couldn’t taste the alcohol in the first two.”
“So you took three more to make sure?” I raised an eyebrow and turned to her. She shrugged, plucking another one from the counter and squishing it into her mouth.
“Tonight’s about having fun.”
I lifted a little cup up in the air. “To having fun.”
Two hours later, we were in the Meatpacking district with Morgan’s boyfriend and a few of his friends and their girlfriends. I would’ve felt like the sixth wheel, had it not been for Adam, whom I’d just met and was keeping me laughing the entire time.
“Why in the world would you want to become a politician?” I asked.
Adam shrugged, smiling. “I want to change the world.”
“I’ve known a lot of politicians in my day,” I said, “My own father included though he only did it for a short time, and the only thing it changes is your morals.”
“I’ve heard that before. I’m up for the challenge.”
The way he said it, with a warm gleam in his eyes, made me feel like maybe he’d be the one to survive politics. Maybe he’d be the one to change the world. Who knows? When he smiled at me, I felt like genuinely smiling back.
“I guess I’ll be on the lookout. Maybe I’ll vote for you if you get on a ballot. If I feel you’re a good fit, of course.”
“Maybe I should take you out and prove that I’m the perfect fit.” His eyes twinkled as he said that and I found myself smile wider.
“Maybe you should.”
Two of the guys and their girlfriends stood up and one walked over and clapped Adam on the shoulder. “We should head out.”
Adam nodded and looked at me. “You should give me your number so we can set something up next weekend.”
I tapped my number into his phone and waved goodbye as Morgan saddled up in the seat beside me.
“Well, well, well,” she said.
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t start.”
“I won’t.” She laughed. “I knew you guys would get along though. He’s one of the good ones.” She turned to her boyfriend Mark. “Right?”
Mark nodded, taking a sip of his beer. “He’s the only guy I’d trust to date my sister.”
“Did he?” I asked. “Date your sister?”
“No.” Mark laughed. “I just meant, he’s that good.”
“Well, I don’t even know if he’ll call or if we’ll go on a date and if we do, if we’ll hit it off for real.” I shrugged, sliding my drink toward me. “I’m going to take it one day at a time.”
“He’ll call,” Mark said.
“And you’ve already hit it off,” Morgan added, raising an eyebrow.
We were sitting near the bathroom, but had a clear view of the front door, which I was still looking at since Adam left through it. So, when it opened again and a new wave of guys came inside, I watched Nathaniel as he walked in. My stomach clenched, the way it always did when I saw him. It was built-in annoyance. At least that was what I told myself. I’d seen him around campus and parties for the last two years. He’d graduated with his degree the year I became a freshman, but he’d been working on his masters, something that I knew my father was proud of and also paying half of. Dad saw Nathaniel as an investment, as someone he could groom into a business man. Never mind his tattoos and bad boy image, Dad didn’t seem to see any of that and if he did, he didn’t mind it.
“Holy cow. He looks so fucking good with that haircut,” Morgan commented.
I blinked away from Nathaniel and looked at her. “Who?”
“You know who.” She shot me a look. “I don’t know why you insist on being so mean to him.”
“First of all, he’s mean to me first and then I can’t seem to help myself. I fire back.”
“He likes you. It’s classic boy-likes-girl, therefore boy is mean to girl elementary shit.”
“No.” I glanced over at Nathaniel again.
He seemed to command the room everywhere he went. He wasn’t even the best looking guy in his group of friends, but that didn’t matter. His arrogance and the way he carried himself spoke for itself. He was the epidemy of “fake it till you make it”, but he’d definitely made it all right. He’d made it and earned all the love from my father that I only hoped one day could be for me. Maybe when I started answering his phone calls and actually visiting him. I lifted my drink and took a big gulp, hoping to wash away the guilt that I felt seeping into me.
“I can’t believe you don’t see it,” Morgan said. “I bet you if you made a move on him, he’d break down and tell you he’s in love with you.”
I scoffed. “He’s too full of himself to be in love with anyone other than himself.”
As if hearing my words, which was impossible over the loud music playing in the restaurant slash bar, he looked up and looked at me. As our eyes locked, I felt my heart pound harder. He lifted his glass to me, and I did the same in a far-away-cheer before taking a sip and tearing my eyes from his. By the time the restaurant shut down and the DJ got louder, more friends had joined us and I was too busy talking to Danika about her Russian upbringing to look for Nathaniel again, though there was no use in lying, I was definitely wondering if he was still here. Morgan’s words had really struck me. Never in a million years would I ever have considered he was attracted to me. He wasn’t.
I set down my second drink and decided to not have another. Between the Jello shots and these drinks, I’d definitely met my quota for the night. I wasn’t normally a lightweight, and even if I was that was something I’d never admit aloud. My father owned a beer company, for goodness sakes. I couldn’t be a lightweight, and yet I knew my limits.
“Let’s dance,” Morgan shouted over the music.
Danika stopped talking, mid-sentence. I shot her an apologetic look. “We’ll continue this later. I definitely want to hear more about the church seating arrangement though.”
She smiled. Morgan tugged my hand and pulled me out to the dance floor. “Oh my God that girl doesn’t shut up.”
My mouth fell open. “Morgan.”
“She doesn’t.” She moved, swinging her hips side to side.
“She’s interesting.” I looked around. “Where’s Mark, anyway?”
“Getting me another drink.”
“Stop worrying and start moving.”
I shrugged and did as I was told, letting the music drown out my thoughts and worries. I’d think about my parental troubles and my unfinished macroeconomics paper tomorrow. Mark came back with Morgan’s drink, which she offered me and I turned down. As they started dancing together, I backed away a little and danced with the guy behind me, then another. Somehow, moving around had led me to a spot right beside Nathaniel. We looked at each other at the same time, and he stopped talking to his friend, mid-sentence, when he saw me. His eyes ran down my body and back up slowly, and he smiled when he caught my gaze again.
“Grease?” He asked. I nodded, blushing, grateful that it was dark in here. “It looks good on you.”
I felt myself frown a little. “You’re saying something nice to me?”
“Oh, come on.” He chuckled. “I’m not that bad.”
“You are, actually.”
He reached out and pulled me toward him. I felt every single nerve ending explode inside me. What was he doing?
“Have you spoken to your father lately?”
I rolled my eyes. “Seriously? That’s what you want to talk about?”
“He’s worried about you,” he said. “I told him I’d check up on you but I didn’t want to be . . . creepy about it.”
“Creepy meaning what?”
“Showing up at your apartment at midnight.”
“Is that why you’re here? Because you knew I would be?”
“No.” He frowned. “Clint dragged me here.”
“Right, you don’t do the party scene.”
“I have too much to prove,” he said, “I don’t have time for the party scene.”
“Some would say you’re wasting the best years of your life working. Do you even date?”
“You’re worried about my love life, princess?”
“Just asking a question.” I groaned. This was why we didn’t get along.
“Well, don’t you worry about me. I definitely date.”
“Hey, we’re going to head to Erica’s party. Do you still want to skip that one and go home? We can drop you off on the way if you – “ Danika stopped talking when she saw that I was standing with a guy, or maybe it was the guy I was standing with that made her words catch. Either way, her clear green eyes looked about ready to bulge out of their sockets.
“I’m good. I’ll take a cab home from here.” I smiled.
Danika nodded, still looking at Nathaniel. I rolled my eyes and moved to block her from continuing to make a fool out of herself. Nathaniel looked perplexed and amused by this.
“You don’t like your friends looking at me?”
“I don’t like my friends making a fool out of themselves,” I said. “And there’s not much to look at.”
His mouth twitched. “Is that why you were staring at me when I got here?”
He hadn’t even looked at me when he got here, because he was right, I had been staring, so how he knew that was a mystery to me. I wasn’t going to admit that though, so I shrugged it off.
“I was just trying to figure out the easiest way to get out of here without having to talk to you.”
“Yet here you are.” His barely there smile turned into a full-on smile that made him look stupid handsome.
I wanted to slap myself for thinking that. It was the alcohol, I told myself, not that I was drunk, but it had to be the effects of alcohol in my brain. That was it.
“Do you like me?” I blurted out. Definitely the alcohol.
His expression turned serious. “What?”
“Do you like me, like do you think I’m attractive and like me, like me?”
“I’ve never thought about that before.”
“Ever?” There was a hint of disbelief in my voice because I truly couldn’t believe that he’d never thought about whether or not he found me attractive. I was attractive.
My eyes narrowed. “I don’t believe you.”
“You think real highly of yourself, princess.” He laughed.
“Don’t call me that.”
“Then stop acting like a brat who needs to get her way even in this.”
“I’m not, I’m just asking a question.”
“Which I answered. Twice.” He raised his glass to his lips and took a sip, his eyes never leaving mine. He brought it back down slowly, still watching me. “It’s not my fault that you don’t believe that someone in this world wouldn’t find you attractive.”
“Whatever.” I turned away from him and started walking toward the door.
I wasn’t going to continue to make a fool of myself in front of him. If he didn’t like me, he didn’t like me. It stung, but what could I do? I sighed, taking my phone out to text Morgan. Maybe I should go to that party after all. After I sent the message, I brought it down and started to wave for a cab. How could he not find me attractive at all? God, I was starting to sound like a narcissistic idiot, which was probably why he didn’t like me in the first place. How could I be stupid enough to believe that there was a chance he did? The guy called me a princess and a brat every chance he got.
“Need a ride?”
His voice startled me. I glanced at him briefly. “Nope, I’m good.”
“I’m heading out anyway. You might as well let me take you.”
I looked at him again. “Did my dad let you keep one of his cars? Is that what you’re driving?” Now I was really being a brat, but I really didn’t care.
“No, actually, I turned him down on the car note.”
Of course. I rolled my eyes. It didn’t surprise me in the least that my dad would offer to buy Nathaniel a car. Even with mom’s ridiculous alimony payment, dad had money he didn’t know what to do with. He wasn’t flashy or anything, but he definitely liked to make sure his people were living comfortably, and no one was more his person than Nathaniel.
“Come on. Let me take you home, princess.”
The way he said those words made my face burn. Let me take you home, princess. He made it sound like an explicit promise. I shivered, because of the wind, not the words. I brought a hand up again to hail the next cab, but not fast enough. He drove by with no means to slow down.
“You’ll be here all night,” Nathaniel said. “They’re not allowed to stop here anymore. You’ll have to walk to the corner over there and try from there.”
I started walking in that direction.
“I’m right around the corner, you know.”
“Presley, stop being so stubborn for one second and accept the ride.”
When we rounded the corner, I was stumped to see a large mass of people dressed in costume congregating in the area and I knew for sure I’d be there for at least another hour if I didn’t accept the ride from him.
“Fine. Can you please take me home?”
He smiled. “Gladly.”
“I don’t even know why you drive in the city. It’s completely unaffordable to park a car, if you can even find decent parking establishments.” I walked alongside him toward his car. “A friend of mine got his Maserati keyed pretty bad in one of these lots.”
“I can’t even afford to look at a Maserati, Presley, let alone be stupid enough to park one here.” He glanced down at me.
A part of me felt bad for talking about money to him, but another part of me didn’t care. That was the way the world was, and who cared that we were from different social backgrounds? The guy outsmarted me and would probably be worth much more than me someday soon. I looked forward and kept walking, wondering what he drove. I could easily picture him in any car, but I tried to think about older models. My very first car had been a used Honda Accord. Dad thought it would be best not to spoil me more than I already had been. I drove it most of the time, but every so often I would borrow one of his cars from the garage and drive that instead. The lesson hadn’t been lost though. I knew I was much more fortunate than my cousins and I generally didn’t take it for granted. I did, however, take my parents for granted. I knew I did, and even knowing it didn’t stop me from continuing to do so. I was so messed up. It was probably another reason Nathaniel didn’t find me attractive. He saw the real me. The ugly me. He saw past my porcelain, albeit freckled skin, and my luscious red hair. He saw past seductive curves and hip hugging designer clothes. I couldn’t tell you what it was he saw when he got past all of those things because I didn’t know who I was beneath those layers and the thought of asking scared me like hell.
“What do you drive?” I asked after a moment. He stopped walking in front of a motorcycle and handed me a helmet. I could only mouth, “Oh. Oh.” I plucked the helmet from his hands and put it over my head. It was a little big for me, but it would do. “What do you think my dad would do if he knew you were taking me home on your bike?”
“I don’t know, princess. Maybe lock me up in the dungeon? Do you really want to find out?” His eyes twinkled in amusement and it was hard to fight a smile.
“No, I don’t.”
“Okay then.” He turned and swung a leg over the bike, then looked at me over his shoulder. “You coming?”
“Don’t you need a helmet?” I was shouting so that he could hear me over the rev of the bike and one I had over my own head.
“You’re wearing it, princess.”
“Can you stop calling me that for one night?” I walked over, held on to his shoulders and swung my leg over like he had. “Where am I supposed to put my feet?”
“Right behind mine.” He brought his hands to my calves and positioned my feet, and then to my thighs and squeezed them on either side of the bike. “Get as close to me as humanly possible.”
My pulse quickened as I followed his instructions wrapping my arms around him. I shouldn’t have been surprised at how muscular he was beneath his clothes, but I was. I held on for dear life as he rode through the streets. He wasn’t going as fast as I imagined we would, but it was fast enough that I yelped a few times and each time I did he laughed. I couldn’t hear it, but I could feel the sound on his stomach. He slowed when we got to my building and pulled into an empty spot across from it. I pulled my helmet off as I got off the bike and wobbled unsteadily for a moment. Nathaniel reached out and grabbed my arm.
I blinked up at him, startled at how close his face was to mine. Even more startled at how much I wanted him to kiss me in this moment, though I couldn’t imagine why. I blamed Morgan and her stupid words for making me feel this way around him. His jaw clenched as he sat there, on his bike, helmet in one hand, my arm in the other. My heart pounded harder and harder as I leaned forward.
“Presley.” His voice was low and gravelly as his hand tightened around my arm, stopping me from completely closing the gap between us. Instead of kissing me, he placed his forehead against mine. “You have to know that this is not something you want.”
“How would you know what I want or don’t want?” I pulled back.
“Because I know you. You may think I don’t, you can stomp around and yell and scream that I don’t know you, but I do, and you don’t want to do this.”
“Because you’re not attracted to me and you’d leave and pretend it never happened,” I whispered.
His eyes flashed and he swallowed. I thought he would say something to refute my statement, but instead, he nodded, “That’s right.”
“Okay.” My chest felt like it was caving in as I stepped back, jerking my arm out of his grasp. “Thanks for the ride.”
“Take care of yourself, princess.”
I turned around and walked into my building without looking back. Why the hell had I done that?