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Perfect Couple


Page 15


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With as deep a calming breath as I could draw without him noticing, I gathered the courage to ask, "Would you mind if I tried to sell this picture to the newspaper?"
He eyed me mischievously and asked, "Are you going to pay me?"
I smiled. "No."
"Are you going to pay me half?"
"No."
He tilted his head, perplexed. "Are you going to pay me a fourth?"
"No." His interrogation had gone on so long that I wondered if he really didn't want me to sell the picture. That was fine. It was his image, after all. I was profiting from his free services as a model. But I'd thought he was so happy-go-lucky that he wouldn't care.
"Harper!" he burst out. "I'm kidding."
"Well, I couldn't tell!" I took the camera back from him, my mind spinning. I wanted to get Will and Noah's permission too. Will was gone and I hadn't seen Noah since the end of the race. I'd never find him now in the milling pedestrians. I could text them both later and then e-mail the photo to the local paper.
All that was easier to work through than one tall guy standing in front of me, too easygoing for me to decipher.
Brody wasn't mortified about our misunderstanding like I was, though. He was still grinning as he said, "I guess you're going to take our photo for the yearbook sometime soon, like you took Will and Tia's."
"Right, like Will and Tia's," I echoed faintly. When I'd shot their picture for Biggest Flirts, they'd shared an unplanned kiss, which had gotten Will in trouble with his sort-of girlfriend Angelica. It had all worked out in the end. Will and Tia were dating now.
I stammered, "Um, I mean . . ." I lost my verbal abilities because I was at eye level with his nipples. This was distracting.
I forced my eyes up to his face. "We have to take the photo," I said. "We need to take it soon, because Kennedy's deadline for the whole section is in a week and a half. He kind of jumped down my throat about it Friday."
Brody raised his eyebrows at the idea of Kennedy scolding me. He'd been trying to flirt with me, and I'd ruined it by bringing up my boyfriend.
Exactly. "Setting up the picture is touchy when we're both dating somebody," I muddled through. "I've been taking photos in the courtyard at school because it's convenient and the light is good, but anyone can look out of the classrooms and see us. I found that out the hard way when I took Tia and Will's Biggest Flirts photo and there was a big fight and a fallout. Also, I don't have an inspiration for how we'd pose. Do you?"
"I was planning to do what you told me."
"Oh, really?" I exclaimed, stressing my excitement. This was my only success at flirting for our entire conversation . And when his mouth curled into a sly smile, my heart sped up.
"Here's a thought," I ventured. "I know the football team is practicing a lot, but if we could figure out a time . . ." I sounded like I was trying to get out of our meeting before I even proposed it.
He watched me like he was thinking the same thing.
I made myself continue, ". . . we could go on a date and take a picture of ourselves. It would be ironic, see, that we're the Perfect Couple That Never Was, except we would be a couple for the photo. It will be hilarious to, like, the five or six of our friends who would actually give a shit."
He laughed so hard that he took a step back. The space between us was wide enough that a couple of little kids dashed through, chasing each other.
Laughing uneasily along with Brody, I said, "Well, I didn't think it was that funny. Maybe seven or eight friends."
He stepped toward me again. "No, it's just funny to hear you say 'shit.' "
"Oh." Tia had told me this before. I was so prim and proper, apparently, that a curse coming out of my mouth was as charming as a potty-mouthed toddler on a viral video. I felt myself blush as I always did when people said that kind of thing to me, like I wasn't a real person but a wholesome caricature.
Not knowing or caring that he was poking me in the tender parts of my psyche, Brody said, "I like this idea. Would we be going on a real date, or a fake date just for the photo?"
Well, of course it would be a fake date, and of course he knew this. We were both in other relationships. But the very idea of us going on a real date was so deliciously outrageous that I heard myself saying, "Whatever."
"I'll be at the beach with some friends this afternoon." He nodded toward the curb where Sawyer had sat, as if his friends were standing there, but I didn't see anyone I knew.
A lot of my friends, including Tia and Kaye, would be at the same beach. I was supposed to join them. I'd been thinking I should stay home instead and upload the race photos to my website. A delay was okay-the runners wouldn't expect their pictures to be available instantly-but I needed to get them online a.s.a.p. so I could turn my attention back to the yearbook photos.
Suddenly, Labor Day spent in front of the computer seemed like the world's saddest pastime compared with going to the beach with Brody. Or, not with Brody. The same beach as Brody. A photo of a fake date with Brody, more fun than any real date I'd ever been on with Kennedy. I said, "I'll be there too."
"So, I'll catch up with you there?"
"Okay."
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