Chris Marie Green, Paranormal & New Adult

 

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Vampire Babylon
Bloodlands
She Code
Jensen Murphy Terror Island

Excerpt

YES GIRL - September 2013

A She Code Rule: Friends always protect other friends from party/dating/basic social disasters.

1

They say “no” is a simple word. Two letters, one syllable.

N. O.

Easy enough, right? But maybe not so much if you’re a “yes” person like me—and if you have friends who’re as persuasive as mine.

Catie and Amber had hauled me in front of a dressing room mirror in the Lola West boutique, where we were all working for the summer. No one was in the shop, so the girls were up to monkeyshines, as usual.

“Take a break from doing the website for once,” Amber said.

Catie hung a bundle of clothes on a wall hook. “No kidding, Steph. Minimum wage shouldn’t make you this much of a working stiff.”

“Guys, Mrs. Salisbury wants the updates done by tonight.” Nope, not going to be tempted by the Trouble Twins. Not now.

Catie totally ignored me as she measured me and my beige sheath against a chic, moss-green ballet dress that would’ve looked great on them but only made me look like I was trying too hard.

“Holy crap,” she said, “you look amaze-o.”

Amber was already twisting my hair up, trying a fancier ’do that went with the dress. All I could do was stare in the mirror at the sight the three of us made: me, with my long brown hair and dark eyes between the two redheaded sisters who lived with me in the Dover Arms apartments near campus. We’d all decided to stay in Spring Ridge during the summer to tackle a couple of general ed courses and to rack up some hours at the boutique, where we worked during the school year, too. The twins’ parents wanted them to get as many classes out of the way as soon as possible so they could graduate early, but I’d stayed up here because it was way better than listening to my mom and dad tear into each other during one of their daily spats. There wasn’t a reason for me to go “home” to San Diego, because I wasn’t even sure that label applied, anyway. I wanted out—and I didn’t just mean out of college.

As Catie joined the hair-a-thon, finger-brushing a few tendrils around my face, I gave them a suspicious stare. “What’re you guys up to with this makeover?”

They shrugged at each other, almost like I couldn’t see it in the mirror or something.

I rolled my eyes and Amber came clean. “You’ve been dragging around for a week now. We’re a little worried.”

“You’re getting the post-breakup-blues treatment,” Catie said more specifically, hanging up the green dress and bringing down a polka-dotted blue and white one, pasting it against me. It went right back on the wall hook. “I know you’re the one who did the breaking up with Nicolas, but...”

I took over. “But I’m the one who’s the most affected. You’d think after three years of dating, he’d make a peep of protest.” He hadn’t. It didn’t hurt me all that much—I’d realized a few months ago that our relationship was going nowhere and I’d been thinking of how to break up ever since—but still. He’d even seemed relieved.

I didn’t like to mull over how that made me feel. And maybe that’s why the girls were making me over.

Amber leaned back against the wall, her sleek side ponytail model-cool. “God, three years of a long-distance relationship. Three years of getting laid only when he drove over from Santa Barbara one weekend a month. No wonder it got old for you guys.”

“Now that you put it that way,” I said, “I feel so much better.”

Catie gave me a nudge. “She’s just sayin’.”

“I know.” Everything had just faded with me and Nicolas. We’d thought we were each other’s futures in high school. We’d clung to that notion way longer than we should’ve, and it’d taken me until now, the summer before my senior year of college, to catch a clue that Nicolas and I were bored to tears with each other. And, during all that time, I’d missed out on so much because I’d been “taken.”

I hated to admit it to Catie and Amber, but I’d been dreading the breakup. I hadn’t wanted him to get hurt.

People pleaser, I thought. Because that’s what I was, through and through. During the psychology survey course I was taking this summer, I’d realized I’d probably gotten that way because I’d grown up pleasing my parents, an only child trying to distract Mom and Dad from hating each other by putting the spotlight on me and my willingness to do anything I could to keep them from hating each other. Life is just easier when you make people happy.

Anyway,” Catie said, taking down the last dress she had in her arsenal, something pink and very New Girl-ish, “me and Amber thought it’d be fun to get you out of the sweatshop here and out into the real world again, where there’re actual boys.”

“Everyone is having sex,” Amber said. “It’s time you got some, too.”

“Whoa,” I said. “It’s not like I’ve been a vestal virgin.”

She snorted. “Pretty pseudo-close, you know?”

Catie waggled her eyebrows. “So there’s this party tonight...”

I scrunched my face and backed away from the latest dress. “Master Chef is on.”

“There’s this invention called the DVR?” Amber said.

“Besides,” Catie said, “there’ll be a bunch of yummies there. I know this because the guy, Ty, who’s throwing the shindig, is in my philosophy class, and he was inviting everyone. And everyone happens to include some total hotties.”

Yummies and hotties? A blip of interest tweaked my belly. When was the last time I’d looked at the world like a single girl? I’d watched Catie and Amber get their libidos on ever since we’d all been in the same brick dorm freshman year, and I’d refrained because of Nicolas. But I was one of them now.

Yummies, just like in a candy store. My candy store?

“She’s so up for it,” Amber said to Catie.

“Thank God.” Catie took all the dresses down and folded them over her arm. “And when she hears that the hot guys include Boyd Anderson, I wonder just how much more interested she’ll get? He’s one of Ty’s buddies.”

What was that? Boyd Anderson? Rahr. He’d been the golden boy in our dorm, and I’d caught glimpses of him on campus ever since—not that I was totally looking. But I was only human enough to gape an extra second or two at his lean water-polo-playing body and sun-kissed hair across the student union whenever I got a chance. Who wouldn’t?

Amber sing-songed, “You’re single now, Steph...”

“Imagine,” Catie said. “Boyd. Kissing you. Making you naked.”

Something in my tummy spun, but...Well, it was all fun to tease about this kind of thing, but I wasn’t like Catie and Amber. Sure, everyone was having sex on campus, yet I guessed I was a little slower than most. Hooking up at a party seemed...cheap. I don’t know. But they were right about this being a good chance to meet other people. Like Boyd.

Then I remembered that I had a prior commitment.

“Sorry, guys,” I said, already walking out of the dressing room and into the empty store. “I’ve got the site to do.”

“Work, work, work,” Amber said, flipping her side ponytail back. “You have the rest of your life for that kind of thing, after we all graduate. Then we’ll put our noses to the grindstone with Catie and I designing our clothes and you marketing them.”

“Then we’ll drink martinis and paint the town red on the weekends,” Catie said. “Like responsible career women.”

As much as I would’ve loved to have gone tonight, I liked our boss, Mrs. Salisbury, and I didn’t want to bail on my work. Honestly, I hated the thought of disappointing her.

Catie rolled her eyes, reading me like a textbook on predictable behavior. “Steph, you’ve got to ask for a raise or something, because Salisbury would pay three times as much for a marketer who’s out of college.”

“True,” I said, shrugging.

I was weakening by the second, mostly because Catie and Amber were standing there with their own cutting kind of disappointment on their faces. And their reactions were much more immediate than Mrs. Salisbury’s.

“Look,” Amber said, “she’s coming around.”

Catie pulled me over to a rack with some hoochie halter tops. She plucked a sexy, strappy red blouse from the colors. “Live a little. Don’t be a lu-lu.”

After she made a “loser” sign on her forehead, I took the blouse and held it up to my chest. It made me feel a little wicked, a little bit like the girl I should’ve always been in college—not the “taken” girl or the drag I’d become in the last week.

Besides, Boyd Anderson. Even if I just got to gape at him for one night, it’d outweigh the disappointment in Mrs. Salisbury’s eyes, right? Also, I only had one year left in college, and I’d never experienced life as a grown-up single girl here.

Suddenly, “yes” seemed like the only way to go.

 

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A noir-mystery-fantasy series by Chris Marie Green