Perfect Couple

Page 30


Cathy was still walking and Ellen was still staggering in our direction, but Grace had stopped where Brody stood. His head blocked her face from view. I couldn't tell what they were saying or how intense it was. All I saw was that he had one hand on either side of her bikini bottoms. And the pavilion where we'd just spent a very interesting half hour together was in his direct line of sight. That's how much our meeting had meant to him.
"Fuck everybody," I murmured to Tia, "and that's not a quote from Sawyer. Catch you later. I'm going swimming." I jumped up, ran across the sand, and plunged into the water, swimming way out and diving deep. This had been my coping mechanism for countless school gatherings and birthday parties when interacting with others became too much for me. None of that-really nothing about me-had changed just because I'd made out with Brody.
I floated on my back in the warm ocean. Here on the Gulf, the waves weren't high like they were on the Atlantic coast. Occasionally a big one would crash over my face and I'd snort salt water, but mostly the tide rocked me, lifting my head and then my toes like I was a strand of seaweed or a kid's floating toy.
After a while, I turned on my stomach and did the dead man's float-or dead chick's float, in this case-and tried to return to the me I'd been this morning before the race, the one who wanted nothing more than to dot i's and cross t's with nobody bothering her. That me wouldn't mind when Brody had his hands on Grace's bikini. That me would accept Brody returning to Grace as the natural order of things. That me would know his kiss with me had been an impulse, like his four speeding tickets last year, and another ticket for toilet papering the football coach's yard. My stomach hurt.
I felt something flutter against my stomach. This time I wasn't fooled. It was no fish brushing against me. A boy had crept up on me and thought it was funny to pretend to support me as I levitated in the water. I knew it wasn't Brody, who didn't do anything halfway. He would have wrapped his whole arm around my waist and scooped me up. This touch, so light I could barely feel it, was Kennedy.
I surfaced, letting the water stream down my face, careful not to rub my eyes. Kennedy smiled smugly in front of me like he'd really surprised me that time! I laughed drolly just to keep the peace.
I wouldn't have felt so indifferent about him last week. One interlude with Brody had ruined my relationship with Kennedy-without Kennedy even finding out!-and I wasn't sure I cared.
"Do you want to leave?" Kennedy asked.
Together? I almost asked in an astonished voice. But I wasn't going to prolong my argument with Kennedy when Brody was all over Grace . I hadn't glanced toward the beach since I entered the water, but I imagined Brody had taken her into the pavilion. That was a euphemism all Brody's love interests could use, the Brody's Fling Club. Did he take you to the pavilion?
"This isn't fun," Kennedy said. I'd gotten so lost in my own thoughts again that I'd almost forgotten he was there, complaining. "Funny how one jock turns the entire vibe into a fraternity mixer."
There were two jocks here, counting Noah-three if you counted Will, even though our school didn't have a hockey team. I assumed Kennedy was referring to Brody.
"No, I'm not ready to leave," I said. "The sun hasn't even set."
"We have school tomorrow," Kennedy said. "Are all the Superlatives pictures ready for me?"
"Not yet."
"I need them."
"It's a holiday, and we still have a week and a half until the deadline."
"What's the matter with you?" Kennedy asked. "You're so crabby. Do you have PMS?"
I whirled to face him. The movement of my shoulders made a spiral wave like I was a hurricane. The wave sped toward him and hit him in the mouth as I said, "Listen. Never ask a girl that. It's offensive."
"That answers my question," he said.
A female could never win this argument. I said anyway, "I don't see how you can claim to be such a progressive thinker but make that kind of comment to a woman."
"Sor-ry!" he exclaimed.
"You know what?" I asked, my voice rising over the noise of the surf. "You offended me Friday with your meltdown about my friends and my cupcakes, for God's sake. Now you've decided I've been punished enough, and you're not mad at me anymore. Well, maybe I'm mad at you. And I deserve an apology. Not a 'sor-ry!' but a real one."
He gaped at me. I stared right back at him. A large wave smacked me in the back of the head and threatened to knock me down. I dug my heels into the sand and held my ground.
Kennedy sighed. "I wasn't saying anything against gays, just that I'm not one. I hear my dad in my head a lot. You haven't met my dad."
I shook my head.
"My dad doesn't approve of my piercing, and he doesn't like my hair." He reached back to grip the ponytail at his nape. "Or enjoy indie films. You should hear what he calls me."
I nodded. I didn't have to meet his dad to identify the type. Plenty of men with this attitude had made their beliefs known during breakfast at the B & B, assuming everyone else agreed with them. Little did they know that gay couples had slept in their beds a few days before.
"At our age," Kennedy went on, "what your dad says should roll off you, right? But for me, it doesn't."

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