I’M SORRY, GEORGIA, IT’S just, just . . .”
I waited, staring at his handsome face and too white teeth, feeling an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. I chafed my suddenly sweating palms against my jeans and told myself it wasn’t possible.
This was how the conversation started when Harris broke up with me months ago. The only difference in this scenario was that this guy wasn’t Harris. Not even close. Joshua wasn’t my boyfriend. We’d been on four dates. Four. So why was he looking at me with that familiar pitying expression? And speaking in that condescending tone? And using those words?
This couldn’t be happening. Not again.
I shifted on the plush leather seat of his car and played with my pearl necklace, wishing suddenly I was anywhere but here. Since our first date, I’d known there weren’t any sparks, but I agreed to a second date and a third because he was the kind of guy I wanted. On paper anyway. A senior at Dartford, he was already accepted into optometry school. He came from a good family. His father was a church deacon. Joshua volunteered at the local food bank. I couldn’t have found a better guy. I convinced myself that chemistry wasn’t everything. Lasting relationships weren’t built on chemistry. Common interests. Like goals. Similar backgrounds. That’s what counted.
My phone rang inside my purse. I quickly peeked inside. Mom. I pushed it to silent and returned to the hot awkwardness of the moment. I’d call her back later. After whatever this was wrapped up. I refused to think of it as a breakup. I wasn’t invested enough.
I wasn’t being dumped again.
Joshua leaned in closer, sliding his arm along the back of my seat. Like he had to get closer to impart whatever he was about to say. A cloud of expensive-smelling cologne engulfed me, stinging my nostrils.
“I’m sorry, Georgia,” he uttered, making a tsking sound with his tongue. “You’ve got marriage written all over your face.”
My cheeks went hot.
He continued, “I’m just not ready for that kind of commitment yet.”
I pulled back until the back of my head bumped the cold glass of the passenger window. Suddenly the pasta primavera I’d had for dinner felt like acid in my stomach. I turned my gaze to stare out the windshield at the lawn of dead grass bordering my dorm. The last of the snow had melted a few weeks ago, and the grass hadn’t quite recovered yet.
I took a long, pained blink and focused on his face again. “Okay,” I began, clearing my throat. “Let’s forget the fact that we’re not even officially a ‘thing,’ but . . . are you breaking up with me?”
He nodded sagely. “Yeah. I am.”
“Is this because I haven’t slept with you?” God knew he’d been trying since the first date. After dinner tonight, he’d invited me back to his apartment. I’d declined. Had he known he was “dumping” me then? If I had slept with him, would he still be “breaking up” with me? Jerk.
His face flushed, his tanned skin turning ruddy. “You have a high opinion of yourself.”
“No more than you do.” I snorted. “I mean, you think I want to marry you after four dates.” I shook my head. “Ego, much?”
“Look. You told me yourself that you were with your last boyfriend since high school and you thought you were going to marry the guy.” He shook his head and gave me that pitying look again. “I’m not up for being his replacement.”
I fumbled for the door handle. “I’m not looking for a replacement.”
“You should lighten up, Georgia.” He gave my shoulder an obnoxious squeeze. I looked back at him. “C’mon. You’re a pretty girl. Stop being so serious and have some fun.”
I flung open the door and swung my legs out onto the curb.
He grabbed my wrist, stalling me. “Don’t you ever just want to get laid? Try it out with a guy you haven’t been with forever?”
Heat swamped my face. Yeah, I’d thought about it. I’d thought about it a lot since Harris dumped me. Especially since both my roommates were having marathon sex with their hot and fabulous boyfriends. Unfortunately Joshua’s sloppy kisses and pasty palms hadn’t exactly turned me on. I just kept agreeing to go out with him when he asked, telling myself I was being too picky. Too superficial. That sex was overrated. And now I was angry with myself for not trusting my instincts.
Leaning across the console, I toyed with the corner of his crisp collar. His eyes went fuzzy.
“What about it, Georgia?” His voice got all husky. “Want to knock the cobwebs off it?”
“Yeah,” I breathed against his lips. “I think about sex . . . hot sex . . . a lot. I think about doing it with a guy until my eyes roll back in my head and I forget my name.”
He groaned and tried to close the tiny bit of space between our lips, but I pulled back, releasing his collar. “So I better go find that guy, huh?”
Feeling somewhat mollified by the stunned look on his face, I pushed out of the car and slammed the door. Without looking back, I marched up the sidewalk to my dorm and punched in the numbers on the keypad, muttering to myself the entire time, vowing that I was done. Finished. No more dates. No more falling for guys who looked good on paper. They all said the right things at first but after a few dates—poof. The prince turned into a frog.
I stopped in front of the elevator and punched the button. I tapped my boot heel impatiently, eager to get in my room and in a pair of comfy yoga pants. I had the place to myself tonight. Both Pepper and Emerson were with their boyfriends and probably would be all weekend. Sadness pinched me at the thought. Then I instantly felt guilty. If two girls ever deserved happiness, they did.
Ironically, a few months ago I was the one with the boyfriend and they were single. I didn’t begrudge them their happiness, but . . . I was lonely. No Harris. My best friends busy with their own lives. I could only study so much. My grades were better than ever. I’d already finished my Econ project and it wasn’t even due until the end of the semester.
As I waited in front of the elevator, the building’s outside door beeped open and then clanged shut. Annie strolled in wearing a loose, low-cut blouse and tight cropped pants.
“Hey, G.” She stopped beside me, slurping from a ridiculously large iced coffee piled high with whipped topping. She eyed me up and down, taking in my outfit. I was dressed to go out in jeans, boots, and a light cashmere sweater. “You already go out?”
“Yeah. I had a date.”
“Must not have been a very good date. It’s not even nine and you’re headed home.”
I shrugged. Annie wasn’t my favorite person. She hung out with us a little at the beginning of the year. Until we all figured out she was one of those girls who would tell you to wear an unflattering sweater just so she could look better standing next to you.
“It’s still early. You should come out with me,” she suggested. My mind shot back to when Annie abandoned Em at a biker bar. She wasn’t the kind of girl to have your back when you went out.
The elevator doors slid open and we stepped inside. “Thanks, but I’ve got work to do.”
“On a Friday? Lame.”
“What are you up to?” I went for changing the subject back to Annie—always one of her favorite topics.
“Oh, you know . . . going to a certain club.” She lowered her voice to a whisper as she toyed with her straw, even though it was just the two of us in the elevator. “It’s going to be funnnn tonight. There are supposed to be some interesting games.”
“You mean your kink club?”
“It’s not my kink club. No one owns it.” She rolled her eyes. “It’s a place to go if you want to really live and experience whatever you want, whatever you feel like without judgment. A safe place to let go and lose control.”
A safe place to lose control? For some reason, an image of my mother frowning and shaking her head rose up in my mind. “There’s no such place,” I said.
Life was judgment. We lived. We made choices. If we weren’t judging ourselves, then others were. That’s just the way the world worked. Self-control was everything. It’s what kept us civilized.
Annie chuckled. The elevator slid open and we stepped out. “God, you are repressed. You have my number. Text me if you want to join.”
I watched her for a moment as she turned and headed down the corridor in the opposite direction from my suite. Somewhere on our floor someone was playing the latest Bruno Mars at full blast.
I entered my room and closed my door. Bruno fell to a low muffle. Emerson’s side was a mess, littered with clothes. She might have fallen in love and started taking life a little more seriously now, but her indecision regarding what to wear and her inability to hang clothes back up had not changed.
I flipped on the television and changed clothes, neatly folding and putting away my sweater and jeans. After tucking my boots into the corner of the closet, I reached for my phone to call Mom back. She hated it when I didn’t call back on the same day.
Sitting cross-legged on the bed, I watched a cop chase a bad guy across the screen as the phone rang in my ear. On the final ring, Mom picked up. “Georgia, hi!” Her voice was full of energy. Reminiscent of how she sounded on the intercom all those mornings in high school.
Attending the school where your mom worked as a principal had been less than fun. Thankfully, she adored Harris—everyone in my hometown did—or I never would have been asked out on a date. Not too many guys wanted to date the principal’s kid. Harris had been confident enough to not let it intimidate him. I’d loved him for that. Of course, his father was a city councilman then . . . and happened to be the current mayor now. My mother loved him for those reasons, too.
“How are you? How’s school?”
“Did you change your password? I was trying to get online and look at your current GPA.”
“No, Mom, I haven’t.”
I might be twenty years old, but my parents were footing the bill for school and still expected full access to my life—that included online viewing of my grades at any time during the semester.
“Hmm. Maybe I hit the caps button. I’ll try again later.” She took a breath and slid into the next topic. “Have you thought more about your summer plans? I’ve been talking with Greg Berenger, and he can get you on here at the bank. It would be a great way to get your foot in the door for when you graduate.”
And there it was. The expectation that I’d come home. Eventually. I’d finish college and start my career back in the bustling metropolis of Muskogee, Alabama.
“Um. I’m not sure yet. Still looking into a few things . . .”
“Georgia Parker Robinson.” She must have heard something in my voice because hers just got all principal-mode on me. Not to mention she was whipping out my full name. “This is your future. You need to take this seriously and not wait until the last minute.”
“Of course, Mom. I know.”
A pause fell. “Is this because of Harris? He won’t be here this summer, you know. His mother said he took an internship in Boston.”
“You spoke with his mother?” I couldn’t help it. My voice escaped in a squeak.
“I saw her at the store. What was I supposed to do? Ignore her?”
“Sorry,” I mumbled.
“We both agree that this is just a phase he’s going through . . . this other girl is just a fling—”
“Mother! You discussed us . . . her?”
Her is a girl I’ve never even met, but someone Harris started fooling around with a few weeks before he dumped me. It was such a cliché. But then wasn’t there truth in clichés? That’s why they existed.
“Don’t get upset. You and Harris will work this out—”
“I don’t want to work it out with him, Mom. He cheated on me. He broke up with me.”
“You’re both so young. You don’t understand yet. This will only make your relationship stronger down the road.”
“Mom, this might be hard to believe, but I don’t want to be with Harris anymore.”
“Oh, this is so unlike you, Georgia. You’re not the type to hang on to pointless anger.”
“What do you mean? Why is this so unlike me?” What was I like then? The kind of girl who would let a guy stomp all over her heart and then ask for seconds?
“You’ve never disappointed me before.”
And not marrying Harris would disappoint her? Was that her implication?
She continued, “You always make the right decisions. We raised you to be reliable.”
Boring. Harris’s word drifted through my mind just then. He’d called me boring when he broke up with me. Oh, there had been other words. Other accusations laid at my feet, but that one stuck in my head the most.
I sighed and rubbed at my suddenly aching forehead, like that accusation was still lodged in there, an annoying pebble I couldn’t shake loose. “I’ll let you know about the job.”
“Please do. The position won’t be available forever. Mr. Berenger will hold it as long as he can as a favor to me. I could have expelled his son that time when he stole the test from Mrs. Morris’s desk and sold the answers to everyone, remember? I only gave him on-campus suspension.”
“Okay, Mom. Tell Dad and Amber hello for me.”
“Good night, honey.”
“ ’Night, Mom.”
Ending the call, I fell back on my bed. Law & Order was starting over again, the familiar theme music racing over the air.
Restlessness—and a low undercurrent of anger—hummed through me. Mom. Harris. Joshua. Their voices overlapped in my head, making my stomach churn. All three of them thought they knew me so well. Boring. Reliable. Serious.
All words to describe me. All words I wanted to fling to the floor and stomp on until they were dust beneath me. Holding up my phone again, I scrolled through names, stopping at one at the very bottom. My thumb hovered over the keypad before reaching a decision and typing.
Me: So what does one wear to a kink club?
Annie: Something you can easily take off . . .