“Hey,” Noah says, lips curling around the word. He brushes back a piece of hair that has fallen into his eyes. I track the movement, taking note of his damp and disheveled hair. I almost laugh when the disobedient hair falls back to nearly the exact place it was just moved from.
I straighten.“Hi.” My voice is too soft. So different from the way it sounded when he first pulled me from the water. I was mad he’d interrupted me. That was before I realized he’d thought he was saving me. Before I saw the uncertainty on a face that had only ever looked certain.
We’re quiet. I move the bracelets on my wrist up my forearm until they are stuck in the thicker circumference of my arm. Noah looks down at the ground and then back up at me. Three times.
Since when is the king of Northmount nervous? He plays in front of packed stadiums. By now his nerves should be numbed by screaming fans and bright lights.
He tilts his head to the side and grins. “You come here often?”
I can’t help it. I laugh.
“I expected way better from you.”
He pretends to be hurt. “What do you mean? Why?”
“Gee, I don’t know. Because you have plenty of practice delivering pickup lines.”
The muscles in his face shift, he blinks twice, and I wonder if I could stuff my foot in my mouth any further. The hurt in his expression isn’t pretend anymore.
Way to go.
“I’m sorry.” My apology rushes out, the words tripping over each other. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I’m not a player.” His voice grows deeper when he says it, full of conviction, as if he’s willing me to believe him.
“That’s not what I was saying.”
He raises his eyebrows.
I lift my hands. “Okay, it kind of was. But I didn’t really mean it. Not in a bad way.”
He pulls a strand of hair from my shoulder, looking at it. “I like the color of your hair. It’s special. Unique. Like you.”
At this I get angry.
I yank my hair from his hand, ignoring the pain in my scalp.
His eyebrows draw together, the confusion in them clear.
“You have a girlfriend,” I hiss.
He opens his mouth to speak just as a vibrating sound comes from his pocket. Sighing, he pulls out his phone. “It’s my coach. He asked me to run here to give a message to Ms. Crenshaw. He wants to know what’s taking me so long.”
Noah takes two steps away from me. I hate those two steps.
Even though he has a girlfriend, I hate those two steps.
Even though he’s a Sutton and not the kind of guy I should like, I hate those two steps.
“Ember,” he says, eyes burning as brightly as my name. “Meet me tomorrow. After school?”
I’m stunned, and it ties up my tongue until all I can say is “Uh…”
“The lake… That can’t be it for us.” He shakes his head quickly. Another step back. I hate that one just as much. “There’s more to us, Ember. When I’m with you, it feels like…” He trails off, a faint pink appearing on his cheeks. “You feel it too. I know you do. There’s no way you couldn’t.”
I swallow hard.
“Five o’clock. At the same spot at the lake. Okay?”
He looks so hopeful that I say yes.
His grin is worth the lie.
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