Noah gave me a blank look. “I had a previous engagement. And she’s hanging in. She’s not going anywhere for a while, though. Whoever let her get that way ought to die a slow, painful death.”
Suddenly queasy, I swallowed hard before speaking. “Thank your mom again for taking care of her,” I said, trying to shake it off as I made my way to a picnic table. I sat on its pitted surface and opened the box of crackers. Maybe I just needed to eat. “She was amazing.” I bit the head off an elephant. “Just let me know when I should pick her up?”
Noah loped onto the picnic table and sat beside me, leaning back on his arms but staring straight ahead. I munched next to him in silence.
“Have dinner with me this weekend,” he said out of nowhere.
I almost choked. “Are you asking me out?”
Noah opened his mouth to respond just as a group of older girls burst forth from the stairwell. When they saw him, they arrested their breakneck pace and sashayed suggestively as they walked past us, tossing a chorus of “Hey, Noah”s behind them. Noah seemed to ignore them, but then, the tiniest twitch of a traitorous smile began at the corners of his lips.
That was all the reminder I needed. “Thanks for the invitation, but I’m afraid I must decline.”
“Already have plans?” His voice suggested he was merely waiting to hear my excuse.
I delivered. “Yeah, a date with all of the crap I’ve missed in school,” I said, then tried to recover. “You know, from transferring in late.” I didn’t want to talk about that now. Especially not with him. “The trimester exams are twenty percent of our grade, and I can’t afford to screw them up.”
“I can help you study,” Noah said.
I looked at him. The dark lashes that framed his gray-blue eyes weren’t helping my situation. Neither was the slightly mischievous smile on his lips. I turned away. “I do better studying on my own.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” he said.
“You don’t know me well enough to make that assessment.”
“So let’s change that, then,” he said matter-of-factly. He continued to stare straight ahead as a few strands of hair fell forward into his eyes.
He was killing me. “Look, Shaw—”
“We’re starting with the surname nonsense, are we?”
“Hysterical. Ask someone else.”
“I don’t want to ask someone else. And you don’t really want me to either.”
“Wrong.” I hopped off the table and walked away. If I didn’t look at him, I’d be fine.
Noah caught up to me in two long strides. “I didn’t ask you to marry me. I asked you for dinner. What, are you afraid I’ll ruin the image you’re cultivating here?”
“What image,” I said flatly.
“Angsty, solitary, introspective emoteen, staring off into the distance as she sketches withered leaves falling from bare branches and …” Noah’s voice trailed off, but the look of cool amusement on his face didn’t.
“No, that was lovely. Please, continue.”
I rushed ahead until another girls’ bathroom appeared. I pushed the door open, planning to leave Noah outside while I collected myself.
But he followed me in.
Two younger girls were standing at the mirror applying lip gloss.
“Get out,” Noah said to them, his voice laced with boredom. As if they were the ones who didn’t belong in the girl’s bathroom. But they didn’t wait to be told twice. They scooted out so fast that I would have laughed if I hadn’t been so shocked myself.
Noah directed his gaze at me, and something flickered behind his eyes. “What’s your problem?” he asked in a low voice.
I looked at him. Gone was the casual indifference. But he wasn’t angry. Or even annoyed. More like … curious. His quiet expression was ruinous.
“I don’t have a problem,” I said confidently. I took a step forward, eyes narrowed at Noah. “I’m problem-free.”
His long frame, accentuated by the spare line of his untucked shirt and slim cut pants looked so out of place against the ugly yellow tile. My breathing accelerated.
“I’m not your type,” I managed to say.
Noah then took a step toward me, and a deviant smile teased the corner of his mouth. Damn. “I don’t have a type.”
“That’s even worse,” I said, and I swear I tried to sound mean when I said it. “You’re as indiscriminate as they say.”
But I wanted him closer.
“I’ve been slandered.” His voice was barely above a whisper. He took another step, so close that I felt the warm aura of his chest. He looked down at me, all sincere and open and with that chaos hair in his eyes and I wanted and didn’t want and I had to say something.
“I doubt it” was the best I could do. His face was inches from mine. I was going to kiss him, and I was going to regret it.
But at that moment, I couldn’t bring myself to care.
I HEARD HE E-MAILED HER A PICTURE OF HIS—OH. Hi, Noah.” The voice stopped mid-sentence, and I could hear the coy smile in it.
Noah closed his eyes. He stepped away from me and turned to face the intruders. I blinked, trying to bring everything back into focus.
“Ladies,” he said to the openmouthed girls and nodded. Then he walked out.
The girls giggled, stealing sidelong glances at me while they fixed their melting makeup in front of the mirror. I was still slack-jawed and shell-shocked, staring at the door. Only when the bell rang did I finally remember how to walk.
I didn’t see Noah again until Wednesday night.
I spent the day mildly freaked out from lack of sleep, general malaise, and angst over what had happened between us. On Monday, he’d walked out on me like it was nothing. Like Jamie warned me he would. And I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting.
I had no idea what, if anything, I was going to say to Noah when I saw him. But English came and went, and he didn’t show. I dutifully took notes from Ms. Leib and loitered outside of the class when it ended, scanning the campus for Noah without understanding why.
In Algebra, I tried to focus on the polynomials and parabolas but it was becoming painfully clear that while I could coast in Bio, History, and English, I was struggling in math. Mr. Walsh called on me twice in class and I gave a grievously wrong answer each time. Each homework assignment I’d submitted was returned with angry red pencil marks all over it, punctuated by a disgraceful score at the bottom of the page. Exams were in a few weeks, and I had no hope of catching up.