“Dude, Brace Face is here,” one of the voices whisper-shouted over the bad music.
“You don’t gotta call her that,” the other groaned.
“Uh, have you seen her mouth? I think we do. She’s Shay’s cousin, right?”
“Yeah, that’s her. Eleanor,” the other replied.
He’d used my actual name. Most people called me Brace Face or Shay’s cousin.
“Go butter her up and get on her good side. Then Shay will see that I get along with her family. It will make her and me a sure thing again.”
I glanced over at the two guys, trying to act nonchalant, before looking back to my book.
Of course it was Landon Harrison trying to find his way into my cousin’s heart—or more accurately, her pants.
The two had been the leads in the school play the previous year. They’d hooked up during tech week while Shay was a bit intoxicated. After that, she’d made the most cliché mistake as an actress—she’d fallen in love with the fictional character the actor was portraying. Rookie mistake.
Landon was definitely no Mr. Darcy.
They’d dated for a week before he’d cheated on her on opening night of the show. Once she’d broken things off with him, he’d made it his mission to get her back, presumably mainly because he struggled with the idea of a girl not wanting him and his cheating ways.
Too bad Shay was too strong of a woman to put up with his crap. She hardly even looked his way, except when vodka was involved.
“Shouldn’t you be talking to her to make a connection?” the other guy asked.
I discreetly glanced up at him. Greyson East was one of the top-tier students in our class. He, like Shay, was loved by all.
Greyson was annoyingly handsome, well dressed, and, the star basketball player who could have any girl in the world. When I thought of high school popularity, Greyson was the one who always came to mind. I mean, it was his face on the homepage of the school’s website, after all. He was a big deal at our high school.
“Dude, I can’t talk to that thing. She creeps me out. All she ever does is read and wear those weird sweaters.”
I would’ve been offended by him calling me a thing, but I simply didn’t care. It was just a muggle being a muggle. They didn’t know any better. Sometimes they acted out in idiotic ways.
“What a waste of life,” Grey mocked his friend, sounding bored.
I almost smiled at the level of sass in his voice, but my hatred pushed away my grin.
“Just do me a solid,” Landon requested.
“I’m not doing that,” Greyson argued. “Just leave her alone.”
“Come on,” Landon persisted. “You owe me for Stacey White.”
Greyson sighed. He sighed again. Then one more long, dragged-out exhalation. “Fine.”
No, no, no, no…
I tried to absorb the words of my book, but my peripheral vision stared at his shoes as he approached. Of course, he was wearing Nike shoes, because everything about Greyson was a cliché. He might as well have been modeling them for an ad. When those crisp, not-even-creased-yet shoes paused in front of me, I reluctantly looked up.
Now his eyes were staring at me.
Those gray eyes…
They were the kind of gray you thought only existed in overwrought romance novels where the hero looked a little too perfect. No one truly had gray eyes. I’d been alive for sixteen years and I had never come across a boy with a gray stare other than Greyson. Light blue? Sure. Green? Yeah, sometimes, but Greyson’s eyes were so far from anything else I’d ever seen. I understood the appeal.
On the receiving end of his gray stare and that smile, I understood why most girls melted into a puddle of helplessness around him.
Oh, God, make it stop.
He gave me a slight wave when we made eye contact, along with a tiny crooked smirk, and it annoyed me. Those smirks might’ve worked on the Stacey Whites of the world, but they didn’t work on me. I looked down at my book, trying to ignore him.
But those shoes stayed in place. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him lowering, and lowering, and lowering his body before he was kneeling right in front of me. He waved again, with the same forced smile.
“Hey, Eleanor, what’s up?” he said, almost as if we’d always talked and he was just checking in to catch up.
I muttered under my breath.
He arched an eyebrow. “Did you say something?”
For the love of all things right in the world, did he not see my headphones and my book? Did he not know it was June 21, 2003? Why did no one seem to understand the importance of binge-reading a novel the second it hit your fingertips?
I hated this world sometimes.
“I said don’t.” I took off my headphones. “Just don’t do this.”
“This.” I gestured between us. “I know Landon told you to come talk to me to get to Shay, but it’s a lost cause. I’m not interested, and neither is Shay.”
“How did you hear what we were saying with headphones on?”
“Easy—I wasn’t playing anything.”
“Then why wear the headphones?”
There was nothing worse than when an extrovert tried to understand the deep corners of an introvert’s mind.
I released a heavy sigh. “Look, I get it—you’re trying to be a good friend and all, but I’m honestly just trying to read my book in peace and be left alone.”
Greyson ran his hands through his hair like a freaking shampoo model. I swore he did it in slow motion as the nonexistent wind blew through it. “Okay, but can I, like, just hang here next to you for a few minutes? Just so Landon thinks I’m doing him a favor?”
“I don’t care what you do. Just do it quietly.”
He smiled and holy crap, it was an easy smile to like.
I went back to reading my book as Greyson sat beside me. Every now and then, he’d say, “Just talking your way so Landon thinks we’re buddies.”
I’d respond with, “Just replying so you don’t look as ridiculous as you’re actually being right now.”
He’d smile again, I’d notice that smile, and I’d go back to my book.
Finally, Shay walked up with my Coke and held out a plastic cup with a frozen Popsicle in it. “I couldn’t find ice, but I figured a Popsicle could keep your drink cold for a bit. Plus it’s a cherry Popsicle so, voila! It’s a cherry Coke.” She shifted her stare to Greyson and raised an eyebrow. “Oh, Grey…hey, what’s up?”
“Oh, nothing. Just getting to know Eleanor.” He did that grin thing and Shay totally fell for it like a freaking gazelle in a lion’s den.
“Oh, how neat! She’s my favorite person in the whole wide world, so you’re in for a treat. I’ll let you guys keep chatting.” Shay waved to me as if she didn’t see the panic in my eyes that pleaded “Abort, abort! Save me.” She wandered off to be the social butterfly she was, and I was left stuck in my cocoon with Greyson.
“How long does this have to go on?” I asked him.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. As long as it takes for Landon to stop throwing the Stacey White situation in my face.”
“What did you do to Stacey White?”
He narrowed his eyes and cocked a brow. “What do you mean, what did I do to her?”
“It just sounds like something happened.”
He shifted around in his seat and broke eye contact. “It’s actually the opposite. Nothing happened, though, it’s not really anyone’s business.”
“It kind of feels like my business since it’s making you stare at me.”
“Yeah, I get that.” He went quiet for a moment then parted his lips. “Why doesn’t Shay give Landon another shot?”
“He cheated on her. After a week.”
“Yeah, I know, but—”
I shut my book. It was clear I wasn’t going to be getting much more reading done any time soon. “There are no buts. It just blows my mind that you guys think you can get a shot with anyone and everyone because of how you look. Shay isn’t an idiot, though. She knows what she deserves.”
Greyson pushed his tongue into his cheek. “Did you just kind of call me handsome in a roundabout way?”
“Don’t let it go to your head.”
“Trust me, it already did.” He started drumming his fingers against his legs. “So, what’s your deal?”
“I thought we were only pretend talking.”
“Yeah, but I got bored with that. So, you’re into…reading?” He nodded toward the book.
“Great observation, Captain Obvious,” I remarked.
He laughed. “You’re sassy.”
“I get that from my mother.”
“I like it.”
My face heated up, and I hated that it happened. My body was reacting to his annoyingly cute-without-even-trying personality, even though my mind had been taught to dislike him. I’d spent the past year observing guys like Greyson and the way girls melted in their hands without any thought process involved.
My brain never wanted me to be that girl, but clearly my heart didn’t care what the mind wanted.
I looked away, because my heart raced when we locked eyes.
“I’ve never read Harry Potter,” he said, and for the first time in my life, I felt bad for Greyson East. What a sad, sad life he lived.
“That’s probably a good thing,” I told him. “Because if you did read it, I would probably have to form a stupid unrealistic crush on you that goes against everything I stand for.”
“You’re sassy and straightforward.”
“The straightforwardness comes from my father.”
I liked it.
“So, books and dragonflies?” he asked me.
I cocked an eyebrow. “How did you know about the dragonflies?”