There’s a special place in hell reserved for those who wake me up before noon on a Saturday.
And Brett Pederson was on that list.
I’d forgotten that he was on my preferred contact list, so his call came through the Do Not Disturb feature on my phone. Two weeks of a school project with him and now he was ruining my first day without Junior, the mechanical mutant baby that had been the bane of my existence.
The phone wouldn’t stop ringing, so I was forced to pick it up. “Give me one reason not to make you the topic of my next blog post.”
“Aw, Lexi, you wouldn’t do that.”
“Don’t call me that, and yes, I would.”
After all, I was Alexis Wyndham, the Queen Bitch of Eastline High School. My blog, The Eastline Spy, was notorious for taking members of the in-crowd down a peg, and as the hottest guy in school, Brett would be an easy target.
Too bad he’d somehow earned a soft spot in my heart. It was not something my cruel, hard image as the Queen B* would allow, and even though I’d convinced him we were better off as friends, I’d started second-guessing my decision the moment he walked away.
“I was calling to make sure you were ready to go to the senior class carwash. I’ll swing by your house in ten minutes to pick you up.”
Before I could protest, he hung up.
I glanced at my alarm clock.
A) Where does Brett get off thinking that I want to have anything to do with the idiots I refer to as “classmates”?
B) Why in hell would he think I’d want to go to this event, let alone with him?
But the butterflies in my stomach overruled my brain. As much as I loathed the idea of getting wet all in the name of raising money for a stupid class gift, the idea of Brett picking me up was enough to make me crawl out of bed.
Besides, if I arrived with him, it would piss off my nemesis, Summer Hoyt, to no end. She wanted him, but he wasn’t interested. In fact, he seemed more interested in me. At least, if I believed yesterday’s conversation behind the scoreboard.
Brett wanted to be more than friends, but I wasn’t ready to go there.
At least, not yet.
I’d spent three years building a rep as the hardest bitch in school, and if the star quarterback started dating the Queen B*, then both of our positions in the high school social hierarchy would suffer.
But if we weren’t at Eastline…
My thoughts wandered to a few days ago, when we’d hidden in a janitor’s closet to keep Principal Lee from catching us in the girls’ locker room together. Brett had taken the opportunity to kiss me, and before I knew what was happening, I’d lost my shirt. At least now I understood how my best friend, Morgan, could lose her head over so many guys and end up naked in bed with them. Teenage hormones were powerful things, especially when you factor in a great kisser like Brett.
I rummaged through my drawers until I found the perfect T-shirt. The mid-September day promised to be warm and sunny, but the hickey on my shoulder prevented me from wearing a tank top, so I paired it with a pair of shorts and threw my frizzy hair up in a ponytail.
The doorbell was ringing as I ran down the stairs. I opened the door and pulled Brett in before someone could see him. “You must have some kind of death wish.”
“Just want to make sure you show that Eastline pride,” he said with a charming grin. “After all, I am SGA president.”
Brett was so perfect, I had to force myself to stay angry at him. He was more than a hot bod, although I’d seen enough of the muscles under the shirt to want to run my hands over them. He was more than a handsome face, although there were times I could lose myself while staring into his warm brown eyes. He was more than the star of the football team, although I admit I was beginning to have new appreciation for the sport since watching him play.
He was an annoyingly all-around good guy with a sharp mind and a personality that seemed to put everyone at ease, including me. He was the only person who could get past my prickly outer shell and make me swoon.
Of course, I’d never let him know that.
He handed me a rolled-up T-shirt. “I brought you one of my Eastline shirts.”
“Why?” I unfurled it and made a show of wrinkling my nose as though I were disgusted. It was a standard Eastline football shirt with a number on the back—one I’d seen dozens of players on the team wear around town. But then I caught a whiff of his scent, and my pulse cranked up a notch. Dear God, the shirt smelled like him. I resisted the urge to cuddle with it, especially since the source of the scent was standing right in front of me.
“So when you’re sitting in the stands next to Richard, you’ll at least show some school spirit.” He winked before he closed the gap between us. “I thought you weren’t going to come to the game last night.”
“Richard needed a ride,” I lied. In truth, I’d been the one to offer him a ride. I’d become a Brett addict over the last two weeks, and I couldn’t decline a chance to watch him play. Thankfully, Richard—my other best friend next to Morgan—was a huge football fan.
“I could’ve sworn I saw you cheer when I threw that touchdown pass.”
“I think you may have suffered a concussion when that lineman buried you into the turf.”
He chuckled, but continued to inch closer until his lips were a mere breath from mine. “Brushing up on your football slang?”
“Only because I have to listen to Richard.” My mouth was dry. My voice was shaking, and I wasn’t even sure I could form a coherent sentence, but I refused to give in to him. If he knew how attracted to him I really was, he might use my dark secret against me.
After all, that was what my former best friend, Summer, did to me in junior high.
A hint of a challenge danced in his eyes, making the golden flecks in them appear brighter than before.
My head swam, and my knees wobbled. Even though my mind was screaming Danger! I couldn’t look away. If he kissed me again, would I fold?
His grin widened as though he’d glimpsed my moment of weakness, and he backed away. “If you want to change into that for the carwash, I can give you a minute.”
“As opposed to helping me into it?”
Shit! Where did that come from? I was trying to fight my attraction to him, not invite him to help me get naked. Besides, his shirt was big enough to expose the mark he’d made on my shoulder a few days ago.
He sucked in a sharp breath. “Is that an offer?”
“No!” I managed to blurt out before I did something stupid. I added a few more steps between us, and my mind immediately cleared. “You’re such a hornball.”
“I’m a seventeen-year-old guy, and you just propositioned me.”
“No, I didn’t.” I flung the T-shirt he’d given me on the banister and pointed to my own shirt. “Read this.”
“ ‘No Means No,’ ” he recited, squinting as he studied the words.
“Exactly, and that includes this stupid carwash.”
I started to head for the kitchen, but within the span of a few heartbeats, Brett’s hand clamped over mine.
“You’re not getting out of this, Lexi.” He tried to pull me toward the door, but I dug my heels in.
“How many times do I have to tell you not to call me that?”
“At least a dozen more times.” When he realized he wasn’t going to pull me outside that way, he lowered his head toward my stomach. A second later, he had me draped over his shoulder like an oversized duffel bag. “Come on. We’re going to be late.”
“Put me down.” I wiggled in the hopes he’d lose his grip, but all it earned me was his hand on my bottom as a means to brace me.
“No way. You’re going to the carwash, and you’re going to be a member of our class, and you’re going to have a great time today.” He dumped me into the passenger seat of his 4Runner and buckled my seatbelt.
If I’d even been remotely threatened, I would’ve punched him in the nuts and made a break for it. But this was Brett, and as primitive as his caveman way of handling things was, there was a little part of me that secretly enjoyed it. I crossed my arms and blew out an exasperated sigh as he got in the SUV. “This counts as kidnapping, you know.”
“Then you have your exposé for the week,” he replied as he started the engine.
His mellow attitude infuriated me. I balled my hands up into fists. “What makes you think I’d be welcome at the carwash?”
“You’re with me.”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh, yeah, I forgot. You’re the Golden Boy, and everything you touch is sacred.”
“I got to touch your ass today, and my genitals are still intact, so that’s something.”
I reached over to smack him, but he swerved out of my reach with a laugh. “One of these days, Brett…” I warned.
He turned out of our neighborhood and got on the main road that led to our school. “Admit it, Lexi, you liked it.”
“Keep dreaming.” I turned to look out the window before he saw the heat that flooded my cheeks. “And seriously, why do you keep calling me Lexi? It sounds like some sort of porn star name.”
“No, a porn star name would be Cherry Poppins.”
I couldn’t contain the snort of laughter that escaped.
“Besides, Lexi sounds more like Lex Luthor, only hotter.”
His geek side was showing. As far as I knew, I’m the only person who’d seen the inner sanctum of his room. Computer-nerd central. No one would’ve ever suspected the hot jock was a closet hacker. “Oh, gee, you see me as an evil mastermind.”
“Aren’t you?” His gaze flickered to me as he drove, and he raised one finger to his lips. “Don’t worry—your secret is safe with me.”
“Whatever.” It sounded so ridiculous, I wanted to call him on it. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized he might’ve been on to something. My Lex to his Superman. Two opposite ends of the social spectrum, and yet, always entwined. “So why did you wake me up and drag me out of my house?”
He stared straight ahead, his fingers tightening around the steering wheel. “I already told you.”
The vague answer grated on my already sleep-deprived nerves. I opened my mouth to press the issue, but he spoke before I could.
“I’m trying out this friendship thing, and friends give friends rides to things, especially when they live around the block from each other.”
His answer hit me like a punch in the gut. Just yesterday, I told him I only wanted to be friends. I’d even admitted that I was scared to go any further than that. But he’d taken it better than I expected. So why did I still doubt the sanity of my decision?
“You know you’re going to catch all kinds of shit for being seen with me.”
“I’ll tell them that we’re tolerating each other’s company and carpooling for the sake of the Earth. Your idea, of course.”
“If it had been my idea, we would’ve taken my car.” My Prius used only a quarter of what his gas-guzzling beast used.
He shrugged. “Next time.”
“Next time?” Was he kidding me?
“We can start carpooling to school in the mornings.”
“Are you kidding me?”
I banged my head against the back of my seat. “Because once we pull up into that parking lot, you’ll see why.”
I didn’t have to wait long to prove my point. As soon as we got on campus, the in-crowd recognized Brett’s SUV and moved like a herd to surround it.
More than one jaw dropped when I got out.
Summer pushed her way to the front of the dumbfounded crowd. The head cheerleader was clad in a bikini top that highlighted her surgically enhanced cleavage and a pair of designer denim cutoffs that were so short her pert little butt cheeks were hanging out. She tossed her expertly highlighted dark hair over her shoulder and looped her arm through Brett’s. “What is she doing here?”
Summer didn’t have to point or even look in my direction. The whole crowd knew she was referring to me. “I was taken against my will,” I replied.
Brett glared at me, but Summer waved me off. “Then leave, Alexis. No one wants you here anyway.”
Of course, that made me want to do just the opposite, if only to piss her off.
Brett replied before I had a chance to fire off a witty comeback. “I did.”
Summer choked on a hoarse cough, which brought me a measure of satisfaction, and narrowed her eyes at me once she caught her breath. “I have no idea why.”
Brett shook his arm free from her. “Alexis is a member of our class and should pitch in on our fundraising projects. Now let’s go.”
With the crowd all following him, he started for the collection of hoses and soapy buckets reserved for the popular kids, but stopped after a few steps to look at me. “You coming?”
It would’ve been so easy to go along and make every single person in that group uneasy. After all, most of them had been highlighted on my blog before, and I’d be sure to dig up some more dirt on them if I spent all morning in their company. But that meant I’d have to listen to their brainless bullshit for hours.
I spied a group of band geeks with their own washing station. “I’ll go hang out over there.”
His face was a hard, emotionless mask as I turned and went in the opposite direction.
The band geeks responded the same way the popular kids did when I walked over to them—stunned silence mixed with a hefty dose of fear.
Good to know my Queen B* powers hadn’t waned during my ride with Brett.
A Mercedes rolled up, and I grabbed a sponge from one of the buckets. “What?” I asked, daring any of them to challenge me.
Jing, the drum major, took an uneasy step toward me. He was a virtuoso on several instruments and, from what I’d heard, had already been accepted into Juilliard, but at that moment, he looked like some skinny kid who’d been offered as the sacrificial lamb. “Um, do you have something against us?”
“Nope.” I marched over to the car and started on the windows. “If I have to endure this carwash, I can at least surround myself with intelligent people.”
They all waited for Jing’s nod of approval. The problem with high school was that everyone wanted to belong somewhere, but in order to belong to a certain clique, you had to obey the leader. The popular kids deferred to Summer and Brett. The band geeks deferred to Jing.
I deferred to no one. Hence, the twinge in my gut as I prepared for him to tell me to get lost.
But he didn’t. His shoulders relaxed and relief flooded his face. “Sure.”
Half a minute later, the rest of the seniors on the marching band joined me in soaping up the Mercedes, the driver of which donated a hundred dollars to our class gift in exchange for a shiny set of wheels.
As the morning went on, I scanned the parking lot and took note of the different groups. The popular kids were front and center, flanked on either side by groups of second-string jocks and fashionistas. The nerds had their own group, as did the drama kids and artists. The goth kids like Morgan wouldn’t have been caught dead at something like this, and the stoners were too stoned to be up this early. Everybody had their place, their circle of “friends” that offered them protection and companionship so long as they assimilated.
High school was the friggin’ Borg.
But the band geeks seemed to tolerate my presence, and I kept my mouth shut as I helped them wash one car after another. As I listened to their conversation, I learned they had dirty minds that would make my best friends blush. I heard phrases like “tongue harder, finger faster” tossed out, and I prayed they were referring to playing an instrument and not some sort of kinky game they played at band camp.
Someone had procured a white board, and each team’s tallies were posted on it, turning the fundraiser into a bit of a competition. Summer’s group was at the top of the rankings, which only drove me harder to help the band geeks out. By noon, we were within ten dollars of the Queen Bee and her mindless hive.
Jing ran over to speak with the owner of the car we were working on and nodded toward the board. The man pulled out his wallet and handed over a twenty-dollar bill.
We were in the lead, and Sanchez didn’t like that. The star wide receiver was the epitome of everything that was wrong with dumb jocks, from his sexist jokes to his constant bullying of others. He grabbed a hose and aimed the spray at Jing. “Losers!”
I waited for the other members of marching band to rally around their leader and defend him, but they all lowered their heads.
I threw my sponge into the bucket and yanked the nearest hose out of one of my teammates’ hands. Since I was one of the few people in the school who could make the wide receiver’s testicles retract, it was time to use my Queen B* powers for good. “Hey, Sanchez, shut up!”
I blasted him with the hose, aiming first at his face then lowering it to the center of his swim trunks.
He sputtered something incomprehensible but angry and turned around, dropping the hose to cover his groin.
The other band members took my act as a rallying cry, and those with hoses turned them on the popular kids.
Summer’s shriek marked the beginning of an uprising.
The band geeks were striking back.
The minutes that followed were a blur of water and soap suds, of attacks and evasive maneuvers, of screams and giggles. And I had no idea which side they were coming from. I dodged a soaked sponge the size of my head and immediately turned the hose in that direction to get the person who’d thrown it. A jet of water struck me from the side, and I ran to find cover and launch another attack. My heart pounded, my lungs burned for air, but I didn’t want to call a time out. The parking lot turned white from bubbles, and the high school senior class played like a bunch of kindergarteners at recess.
Someone grabbed me from behind and whirled me around. The hose fell from my hands. My limbs stiffened and braced for impact. I was certain I was about to be tackled to the pavement. Instead, I remained upright, flush against a hard-muscled body. A set of fingers tickled me under the ribs until laughter burst free from my chest.
“I knew you’d have fun today, Lexi,” a warm, familiar voice whispered in my ear.
My breath froze, and the chaos around us subsided for a moment. I looked up and confirmed that my worst fears were coming true.
Some people had that recurrent dream of coming to school naked or puking all over the person they liked. My nightmares now involved people finding out about everything that had happened between Brett and me in the last week.
Dozens of eyes stared at the scene we made, but Brett made no move to release me. He kept his arms around my waist, holding me close like we were some kind of couple.
Which, of course, we weren’t.
But that wasn’t what the rest of the class was thinking.
Horror dried the spit in my mouth, and I wrested free from him. A quick jab of my elbow had the desired result, and he released me. As much as I would’ve liked to have stayed in his arms, I couldn’t. I refused to let the in-crowd know my weakness. And I couldn’t let them think I’d gone soft, especially over Brett Pederson.
Summer’s glare was as sharp as daggers, and the scowl on her lips signaled that she was three seconds away from ripping my hair out in a catfight of epic proportions.
So I did what I had to do.
I picked up the hose and fired at the center of Brett’s chest.
He stepped back from the impact and raised his arms to shield his face. When I finally relented, he looked at me with those sad, puppy-dog eyes. An urge to apologize welled up in my throat until it almost choked me. The only thing he’d ever done wrong was like me, and I was too much of a bitch to appreciate it.
But I had to be the bitch. If I acted soft, I’d lose everything I’d worked so hard to gain over the past three years.
I threw the hose down and turned for the main road. “I’m out of here.”
Footsteps sounded behind me, but halted as soon as Summer said, “Let her go, Brett. Like I said before, nobody wants her here anyway.”
I winced from the ache forming in my chest. It only intensified when Brett said nothing in my defense this time.
My pride isolated me, but it also kept me from being hurt. And right now, I was glad I hadn’t depended on him to do what a true friend (or even a boyfriend) should do.
I pulled my dripping wet phone out of my pocket and prayed it still worked. After shaking the water from it, I was able to dial the number of someone I could count on.
Richard answered with a sleepy, “I love you, Alexis, but not before noon.”
“Well, I’m in luck because it’s 12:01. Now come rescue me from hell.”
“What happened?” His voice was tight with worry, and the ache in my chest eased. This was my true friend.
“Brett dragged me to the senior carwash, and I’m making a break for it, but I don’t want to walk all the way home, so please, can you give me a ride?”
“Brett? Oh, this I gotta hear. I’ll be there in a jiffy.”
He hung up, and I plodded on. My shoes squelched with each step, leaving little puddles on the sidewalk. Water dripped from my hair and camouflaged the lone renegade tear that managed to escape.
As much as I wanted to be Brett’s friend, the reality was that I couldn’t trust him. And if I were to open myself (and my heart) up to someone, I needed that person to stand up to Summer and the rest of her cronies, not be one of their sheep.