Go ahead, give yourself a moment for a well deserved Nailed it! dance.
Okay, back to business: your reward. I promised a sneak peek inside My Last Kiss, and I was planning on teasing you with a couple paragraphs, but since you so epically rose to the occasion, I am bestowing upon you an exclusive look at a FULL CHAPTER.
I think that calls for another dance moment.
|Yes, that is Mario Lopez & Tiffani Amber Thiessen circa Saved By The Bell days. You're welcome.|
“Did you hear they’re breaking up?”
Sugary grape vodka goodness slid down my throat, warming my chilled bones as I straightened the Birthday Princess tiara that Madison bought for me (and I really didn’t want to wear since my birthday technically already happened two days before), half-heartedly eavesdropping on the girls behind me. It was warm for this early in March, but it was still March. The heat from the bonfire couldn’t reach me at the drinks table, so I took another sip to warm up.
“Who?” The other girl asked.
Girl number one lowered her voice. “Birthday girl and E.”
My head reflexively jerked toward them so fast that my tiara flew off my head into the snow about a foot away. I dropped to my hands and knees half looking for it, half hiding so they wouldn’t see me.
“Omigod, Carly, you can’t call him E.”
“His friends do.”
“And you’re not his friend.”
“Friend of a friend then.”
“You aren’t that either.”
“Could be real soon. He’d make a certain non-friend so jealous,” Carly said with a giggle that made grape-flavored bile clog my throat.
“Can you please get over Mica already? Besides, Ethan seems so sweet. He would never cheat.”
“I heard that’s why they’re breaking up. She had some meltdown and he cheated or she cheated—something. Anyway, point is, there’s trouble in Paradise, which means he’s soon-to-be available.”
“Happy birthday,” Madison singsonged as she walked up beside me with Aimee. I sprung to my feet so fast I almost spilled my drink on Madison’s furry white boots. She jumped back with a yelp, and Carly and the other girl stared at me in stunned horror.
“Someone’s jittery.” Aimee reached out to steady my drink then slid her hand into my coat pocket to borrow my watermelon lip gloss the same way she did at least six times a day. I didn’t bother playfully swatting at her hand like usual. “Isn’t this surprise snowfall so festive?”
“Who are those girls?” I pointed an accusing finger at Carly and friend as they skittered away into the crowd around the bonfire.
Madison brushed her long bangs down so they shaded her eyes, sipping her green apple jolly vodie through a bendy straw. “Dunno. Why?”
“You made the guest list,” Aimee reminded Madison while she returned my lip gloss and zipped my pocket.
Madison fluttered a hand at me and Aimee. “I’m sure they’re just freshmen tag-a-longs. What’s the big?”
“Never mind.” I looked around me. “Have you guys seen Ethan?”
Aimee started to motion toward the bonfire, but Madison interrupted her. “Just saw him go inside with Drew. Ice or something.”
I pushed past them without another word and made a beeline for the house.
Aimee called after me, “We made you a birthday s'more. There’s a candle in it and everything.” I didn’t answer, didn’t even really hear her. She added, “Stay with your girls!”
I twisted to give her an apologetic wave and saw Caleb Turner and his stoner crew huddled in the back corner of the yard. They were not invited guests. Without thinking, I changed course and marched up to him.
“What are you doing here?” It came out sounding a lot more get-out-of-here than I meant, but considering what I overheard from those girls, it was merited.
“Hi,” he replied with his standard laid back smile.
Three weeks ago I would’ve rolled my eyes, three days ago I would’ve laughed, now I wanted to forget he existed. “Seriously? Hi? That’s what you say after I specifically asked you not to come?”
He shrugged. “It’s rude not to say hello to the host, don’t you agree?”
I glared at him. “I’m not the host, Aimee is.”
“That should be interesting, but okay. Where is she?”
I stopped him from walking toward the drinks table with a hand on his chest. “What have you been telling people?” I must have looked as enraged as I felt because his circle of guys quickly dispersed, snatching up their twelve pack of cheap beer on the way.
Caleb answered, “That the Beatles are bigger than Jesus?”
I glanced over my shoulder to make sure no one was watching, then pulled him behind a thick oak tree and crossed my arms. “Get serious, Caleb.”
“Y’know I don’t do serious.” He flashed a coy grin at me.
“What about Thursday at your house?”
His cool exterior faltered for a second. He looked away from me then reset his expression. “That wasn’t serious, that was inebriated.”
A ball of rage burned in my belly. “I’m surprised you can pronounce a word with so many syllables,” I spit at him. He looked at me like I’d trampled over his second grade crepe paper piñata (which I had, accidentally, back when he was my seat partner in Ms. Peterson’s class), and his eyes glazed over with visible resignation. An apology started to rise up my throat. I swallowed it down.
“People are going to believe what they want, Cassidy.”
“Especially if you give them a reason to talk,” I accused.
“What do you want from me?” He held his hands out, palms up.
He pulled his stupid smile back up. “That’s not what they pay me for.”
“Can you be serious for one minute? You might not care what people are saying about me, but I could lose everything.”
“Dees?” I peeked around the tree and saw Madison standing with her head tilted to one side like a confused, drunken puppy. She thrust a red plastic cup into my hand. “Twinsies photo op—you and me.” She tucked my hair behind one ear so our hair matched not only in color, but in style too, then snapped a picture with her camera. When she spotted Caleb, her head tilted further to the side, asking a million silent questions.
Fabulous. Now I’d have to think of a lie for why I was being anti-social at my own party. For a brief moment, I thought about telling her everything. Then she opened her mouth.
Excerpt from My Last Kiss © 2014 by Bethany Neal. Used with permission from FSG Books for Young Readers.