I dropped the mascara into my makeup bag, looking down at my watch to see what time it was. Erica would be here any minute now. She was always the timely one, and unfortunately, also the one I could stand the least. My pulse quickened as I made my way down the three steps in to the living room. I pulled open the curtains, dust pluming off of them as the room filled with light. I dropped onto the couch, leaning my head back against the pillows before finally deciding to turn the television on. I couldn’t remember the last time I actually turned the thing on. I flicked through the channels, looking down my nose at the screen until I settled on the home shopping network. There was nothing on anyways. I chewed the inside of my lip as I looked at the book sitting on the coffee table. It only took me two hours to finish this one.
My mind drifted back to Trent, and his dismissive attitude when I said I was doing something today. My eyes wandered over the room, reminding me of exactly why Dad wasn’t here and how crappy he looked. The doorbell rang, and I jumped as my heart pounded, the sound rushing through my ears.
“Ellie!” Erica squealed as I opened the door. She tackled me into a hug that crunched my spine.
“Miss me much?” I asked, my face tightening with the fake smile as I laughed awkwardly and closed the door behind her.
“Yes!” Erica said, clapping her hands before flipping over the back of the couch and staring up at me. “So Andrea and Morgan are going to be here in a few minutes, but I have no idea what we’re going to do! Did you have any plans?”
I shook my head, holding my arms to my side as I stared down at her. She was more comfortable in my home than I was. She looked at the ceiling, her hair spread out behind her and draping over the side of the couch.
“Your hair looks nice,” I finally said.
She spun around, patting the seat next to her and looking over her shoulder. “Blonde totally fits me, right?”
“Sure does,” I replied, running my fingers through my own honey blonde hair.
“I wish it was natural like yours, though.” She pouted before her eyes drifted passed mine to the window and widened. “Oh! They’re here!”
I opened the door as Andrea hopped out of her Jeep, linking arms with Morgan as she came around the car.
“Hey!” Andrea said, pulling me into a hug when she reached me. “You look so good! I love, love your outfit!”
“Thanks,” I replied, wondering if Morgan’s hug would be the one to break one of my ribs.
“You and your skinny jeans!” Morgan added, and I cringed as she hugged me, waiting for a crack. When she pulled away I was happy I could still breathe. “You were honestly made for them! My hips are just way too big to rock them.”
I rolled my eyes as I looked at her. She was curvy with thick brown curls that cascaded over her shoulders, enhancing her perfect caramel skin.
“I’m sure you could pull them off,” I replied, shutting the door behind them. Morgan sat down on the coffee table across from Andrea and Erica.
Morgan blinked at me, shaking her head. “They’re called skinny jeans for a reason, El.”
“By the way,” Erica said, turning and looking at me standing at the door still. “That shirt makes you look—” she used her hands to signal to my chest. “Nice.”
“Like seriously, El, how do you stay in such fabulous shape?” Andrea asked as I finally sat down on the armchair, pulling my knees to my chest.
“I forget to eat.”
They all laughed. “You’re so silly!” Erica said.
I sucked my lower lip in as I looked at my hands, running my fingers over the holes on my knees. “Yeah, I’m always the comic.”
“So!” Andrea began, flipping her straight black hair over her shoulder. “What are we doing today?”
“I’ve got an idea,” Morgan said, looking around the room and pausing for effect. “Go get coffee at the bookstore down the street.”
My head shot up. “Bookstore?”
Morgan leaned forward, “Yeah,” she dragged her teeth over her lower lip. “I had to go in at the beginning of the semester to pick up a book, and there’s this totally hot guy working there.”
“You think he still works there? It’s been months since you last went there,” I pointed out, my mouth drying as I thought of going to the store with them in tow.
“I drove passed this morning. He was totally there,” Morgan replied.
“That solves it!” Erica stood up. “I haven’t had a date a while!”
“What’s a while?” I shot back, grabbing my purse and following them out.
“Nope!” Morgan said, turning and walking backwards in front of us as she dangled her keys in our faces. “I called dibs by mentioning it!”
I slid into the backseat of the jeep, grinding my teeth as I looked at the three girls. What if one of them was more Trent’s type? I cringed. “How do you know he doesn’t already have a girlfriend?”
Andrea glanced over at me, fluttering her eyelashes. “That doesn’t mean anything, and” she glanced at the other girls; “as for dibs, I say whoever gets the guts up to flirt with him first wins.”
“I’m in!” Morgan and Erica answered in unison as I stared at the stitching of my purse. I rolled down the window, feeling hot even though I had a skimpy blue tank top on. At least I looked good right now. I let the breeze rush through my hair as the girls sang along to the song on the radio. I didn’t know the words, but I put my hand out the window and let it tap to the beat. When we got to the bookstore I froze, staring at the door.
“Ladies, let the games begin!” Morgan called as she jumped out of the car. She waited for me to get out, linking arms with me and leaning over to whisper. “This guy is gorgeous—all smoldering musician hotness.”
I laughed. “I’m sure he is.”
“Don’t you come here a lot being a literature major and all?” Morgan asked as she held the door open for me.
I shrugged, trying to keep the smirk off my face as Trent’s eyes slowly rose from the person he was cashing out at the register to me. His lips twitched at their edges, hinting at a smile before he handed the bag of books to his customer. He leaned back on his heels, sticking his hands in his back pockets as he looked from me to the other girls around me.
“I’ll do it,” Erica commented, fluffing her hair.
“Do what?” I asked, turning to face her.
She looked over my shoulder at Trent, narrowing her eyes at him. “I’ll talk to him.”
She pulled out a lip gloss, smearing the goo over her lips. I glanced over my shoulder as dizziness set in. I wasn’t sure if it was because I hadn’t eaten or the panic that was coming over me. Trent moved to the bargain books and was organizing the titles; he looked over from the corner of his eye before continuing to ignore us.
What if he likes her? What if he hates me for bringing them here?
“What are you going to say?” I asked looking back at Erica.
We were exact opposites, and I stuck my tongue in my cheek as I wondered what he would like better. She was busty, all soft curves and butterflies, while I was all hard edges and raw scars that never got the chance to heal. I was pretty sure I would pick posies over rose thorns.
She leaned over, whispering in my ear. “If he knows any good sex books.”
My eyes widened as my jaw dropped, and I had to reach for the bookshelf to steady myself. Trent looked up at me, his eyebrows drawing together as I fought the nausea rolling over me. Maybe she was butterflies and fifty shades of slutty.
“He’s already checking me out,” Erica whispered to me before sauntering over to him.
I squeezed my fists at my sides as I fought the urge to rush out the door and never return. I watched as Trent listened to what Erica was saying. His lips remained in a solid line as he nodded and then signaled to the other side of the store. Erica smirked over at me, giving a thumbs-up as she followed him.
I wanted to melt into the bookshelf. What had I done in a past life to deserve this?
“Erica might be making a move on smolder, but I,” Andrea commented, waving her cell phone in my face; “got rebel without a causes’ phone number.”
“Who?” I asked, laughing at her.
She nodded over her shoulder to the guy manning the coffee bar. His black hair hung in his eyes, curling around his ears in surfer curls. Visible tattoos crawled up his arms, disappearing under his t-shirt sleeves and reappearing at his neck.
“You don’t think that’s a bit much?” I asked, scratching my neck. “Maybe…like just a little?”
Her chest rose as she stared at him, shaking her foggy eyes. “Hell no, I want to know where else they go.”
My eyes crossed as I gagged. “Seriously?”
“Well,” she asked, running her fingers over the books and pretending to read the back of one. “When was the last time you got laid?”
My hand moved too quickly over a book and I swore as my finger burned. I stuck my finger into my mouth sucking on it.
“That long?” Andrea asked, smirking at me and holding out a book. “You might need one of these.”
I hit the book out of her hand and flopped back onto the shelf.
“Wow, a really long time,” Andrea continued, crossing her arms at me. She nodded behind me, and I turned to see Erica sulking back.
I was glad to change the subject from me. “Didn’t go well?”
Erica sighed. “Turns out he has a girlfriend. He wouldn’t stop talking about how beautiful she is.”
My pulse sped up, and I felt heat wrapping its way out of my belly to my limbs.
I was an idiot. Just like the friends who adopted me in my freshmen year of college.
“Actually,” Erica commented, cocking her head at me. “She sounded a lot like you, El—but he said she reads a lot, and you don’t do you?”
Morgan rounded the corner with several books in hand, and I wondered if she really wanted to come to the store to see Trent, or if she needed books. She held them to her chest as she looked from me to Erica and Andrea. “Do either of you pay attention at all?” she asked.
Erica leaned back, crossing her arms as she looked at Morgan. “What?”
Morgan rolled her eyes. “Ellie is a literary major—historic, I think, with a minor in graphic design.”
I nodded; flustered by the fact Morgan knew my major and had nailed it to down to the historical part.
“That means books, right?” Andrea asked as her and Erica shared a blank expression.
“No,” I snapped. “It means I’m studying to be an astronaut.”
“Whoa!” Erica threw her hands up. “Take the bitch down a notch.”
“She hasn’t been laid in a while,” Andrea commented, and my back straightened as I felt someone standing behind me.
“You finish the book I gave you yesterday?” Trent’s voice cracked into my skull, and the girls’ eyes widened as they stared at him behind me.
I turned slowly, looking up at him.
He leaned against the bookshelf, staring down at me as he tapped his fingers against the wood. His brows rose expectantly.
“Yeah,” I replied, breathless.
He ran his tongue over his teeth. “I figured as much, so I picked this one out for you this time.”
He handed me a book, and I mouthed the word sorry. His chest rose with a silent laugh, and I narrowed my eyes at him.
“You all set?” Trent asked Morgan, looking at the books in her hand.
“Sure,” she replied, the book covers hidden by her arms.
“You know him?” Erica hissed at me as we followed Morgan to the register.
“Maybe,” I replied.
“Why didn’t you say you were dating him?” Erica practically spit at me.
“I’m not!” I hissed back. “Just because he recommends me books doesn’t mean I know his life story.”
“So he didn’t tell you he had a girlfriend?” Erica asked, her frown tipping up into a smirk.
I grit my teeth as I shook my head, stepping up so Trent could cash me out.
“So,” he said as the girls walked away. “They don’t seem like a group you fit into.”
I looked at the ceiling, letting the breath I had been holding out. “You’re telling me.”
“Do you have to hang out with them again anytime soon?”
“I haven’t figured out a way to avoid it since my freshmen year…and I’m almost done with college, so you tell me.”
He handed me the book, receipt tucked into it. “You should stand up for yourself more often.”
“Then I’d have no friends at all.”
Trent looked over my shoulder and then back to me. “Just because you tolerate them doesn’t make them your friends.”
I looked over my shoulder at them.
Maybe he was right.