San Francisco isn’t known for its sunny days, but a massive cloud has been hanging over my life since the night I met Grant Moore.
Darkness closes in and I resort to bargaining. “Get me through tonight without seeing Grant and I’ll never eat another Oreo again,” I promise the ceiling.
It doesn’t answer back.
“But only the regular ones. The birthday cake flavor is still on the table,” I renegotiate our deal.
The room is brightly lit, but shadows linger in each corner. In my mind they reach out for me like long distorted hands of an unknown beast. The action figures lined up in neat rows on the walls stare at us, their blank eyes tracking each movement. Well… for what it’s worth I’m pretty sure Hellboy is supposed to look demonic.
A loud tapping sound heralds the end to my privacy on the couch. Aspen barks out an order for no whip on her hot chocolate and I sigh, not ready to socialize. I squish my butt into the cushion of the orange couch hoping for it to swallow me up and then deposit me elsewhere. Far away from Cosmo’s Comics and Café and the ladies I’ve come to call the RDA girls. Luck is not on my side as Simone, the tall blue-eyed blonde happy member of the group plops down on the couch beside me.
There goes my plan of remaining unnoticed.
“Clare, I’m so glad you came.”
I’ve used many excuses over the last few months to get out of various RDA girl gatherings, but when it came time to bow out of tonight, my mind ran blank. The party to celebrate Aspen’s one-year anniversary of moving to San Francisco isn’t one I could miss. Aspen is too nice and the date too special. Even I’m not that cold-hearted.
“Yeah. I’m ecstatic,” I reply and put on my biggest fake smile.
Simone frowns. “Your expression says otherwise.”
“Oh this?” I circle my face with a single finger. “This is my over the moon face.”
“Don’t quote Veronica Mars to me.” She shakes her head, her eyes squinty. “I’m the one who made you watch it.”
I groan at her reminder. Veronica Mars is what happened the last time I couldn’t think of an excuse in time to bow out of a planned activity. I showed up for a simple Sunday brunch, which quickly turned into an ongoing Veronica Mars marathon. Do you have any idea how long it takes to watch three seasons and a movie with Aspen and Marissa constantly arguing over who’s cuter, Duncan or Logan?
Somehow every event one of the RDA girls plans has a habit of turning into an all-day excursion. It’s like magic. But black magic that makes my mission to avoid Grant harder and harder with every turn. In order to watch Veronica Mars without a Grant interruption I continuously thought of meeting places I wouldn’t expect one or more of the guys to show up. Trust me, it’s harder than it sounds.
There’s an entire process to this whole avoidance game. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy dodging Grant Moore the last two months. It wasn’t easy. Fake meetings, work emergencies, and faux illnesses. Once I had the flu… in May. I’m pretty sure no one bought it, but I was desperate. It’s a known fact; desperate people… think of horrible excuses.
I’m sure Grant’s a nice guy, but there’s an unwritten agreement when you have a one-night stand — you don’t have to see them again. Two months ago after consuming more alcohol than an elephant at a kegger, I threw caution to the wind and had a very… productive one-night stand with Grant. The sex was off the charts hot, but I didn’t consider the fact I don’t do rich guys and he’s a founding member of the RDA group. A group that is hell bent on adding me as a new initiate regardless of how many times I try to blow them off.
Marissa twists her long brown hair into a messy bun and sits on the couch across from us. “Word on the street is Grant will stop by later, but we got your back, Clare.”
“Exactly. I don’t care who the guy is. No one has a one-night stand with one of us and doesn’t call her again,” Simone says patting me on the knee.
“That is the definition of a one-night stand.” I leave out the part where I’m the one who bailed on Grant. I’m ashamed enough that I, Clare Cunningham, slept with a rich guy. I don’t want to keep hearing reminders.
In my defense the topic never came up officially in conversation. The girls assumed Grant never called me and that’s why I’ve been cagey and concerned with being in the same room as him. From his past behavior of forgetting the names of women he slept with, it’s a logical jump for them to make. Which is reason number 398 why I do not belong with Grant Moore.
Funny, sweet, and kind, but forever the bachelor of the group, Grant Moore.
“Plus, I don’t want to mess up your group dynamic here. Of the two of us, I’m the one who doesn’t belong.” Maybe they’ll take pity on me and let me go home?
“What makes you say that? Of course you do.” Simone’s concern is touching. I wish I could be a better friend, but if I open myself up now, their future rejection will hurt that much worse.
“You’ve known one another forever.”
“Pssft,” Marissa spits the sound. “We picked up Simone a few months ago when she was broke, homeless, and two days away from living in a cardboard box. And look at her now.”
“Thanks, guys,” Simone says in sarcasm, smacking her lips together.
Marissa shakes her head. “We’re getting away from the point.” She waves a hand in front of her.
“Men are stupid. Sometimes they don’t realize how stupid they’re being so we have to tell them. It’s our job.”
Aspen scoffs and then whistles and does a horrible job looking innocently at the ceiling. She balances her coffee with one hand and picks a seat on the last empty couch.
“Says the married woman,” Aspen retorts.
I don’t think Aspen’s over Marissa’s surprise elopement to Vegas. I couldn’t be happier. Not only are Marissa and Ryland adorable, but her escapade took the focus away from the one-night stand thing. At least for a while.
Marissa leans on the edge of the couch engaging more in the conversation. She’s invested now, which normally leads to trouble. “I tell Ryland all the time. Just because I’m married doesn’t mean I’ve gone soft.”
“Yeah, but then he calls you Kitten and you swoon. You old softy,” Simone says clearly baiting Marissa.
“I do not.” Marissa falls for it so quickly I’m forced to pinch my lips together so I don’t laugh. “Watch. Ryland!” she yells at him where he stands at the café counter talking to Jason, the owner of Cosmo’s.
“Yes, dear.” he answers back, but there’s a smirk to his smile, which has me concerned. Even the smell of the brewing coffee can’t cover up his overly sugary expression.
Finn steps over my legs to take a seat next Aspen right as Marissa yells back, “Stop being stupid.”
Ryland laughs. “I’ll get right on it, Kitten.”
Marissa turns back to my conversation, a Cheshire cat grin on her face to match her kitten nickname. It turns to a scowl when she sees us looking at her, and she’s only half successful as one side of her left lip is still turned up in the corner.
“Don’t call me Kitten!” she yells back at him, but it’s a wasted effort. The girl is madly in love.
Finn leans in placing a hand on his knee and joins the conversation. “Your logic is nonsense. You’re crazy.”
Aspen shushes him. Her grey shirt with a faded image of Mario throwing a red turtle shell at Bowser is obviously from Finn’s half of the closet. “You guys are only allowed here if you stay in your area and don’t interrupt girl time. We’re dispensing valuable advice today.”
Finn looks appalled. “We were here first. None of you would set foot in a comic shop if we hadn’t shown you the cool factor.” He looks pointedly at her with his head tilted.
Aspen smiles rubbing his shoulder. “Yes, but now we are here. So sit there and look pretty.”
“A good girlfriend tells you when you’re being stupid. But if the guy is being an asshole, we’re on that too. We like Grant, but he’s a dumbass, Finn.” Marissa explains it to him again, hopeful he’ll change his mind now.
Finn adjusts his black-rimmed glasses. “In his defense, Grant doesn’t think he’s stupid.” Even I know it’s the wrong thing to say with this crowd.
Aspen pats his knee. “Shhhh. What did I say?”
Marissa’s been very vocal about her feelings on the Grant issue. The situation is messed up, but it’s nice having someone willing to pick up a sword for me. Even if it’s theoretical. At least I hope. My roommate, Drew, is my best friend in the entire world. We ended up in the same foster care home at fourteen and connected, but he doesn’t understand girls at all. Drew believes any problem can be solved with a meat heavy dinner, a side of bacon, and a beer to drink.
My phone rings, and “We Used to Be Friends,” the theme song from Veronica Mars fills the room.
What? It’s a damn good song. I swipe my finger along the screen and pretend to read the text, but I already know what it says.
DREW: You are lame.
He may not agree with my approach to handling Grant, but Drew is always there when I need to fabricate an emergency.
I slip my phone back in my pocket, cover my face, and prepare to deliver the bad news. Four years of foster care taught me how to lie. “It’s Drew. I need to go home. I’m sorry, girls.”
Marissa looks at me, her head to the side. “But you just got here, Clare.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just… this thing… I promised him I’d do.” I stand from the couch and start edging my way to the door. It is early in the night and I feel horrible leaving so soon, but I can’t see Grant. I made an appearance, and that’s the important part.
“You’ll be at girls’ brunch tomorrow, right?” Aspen asks.
“Oh yes. Definitely. Wouldn’t miss it.”
I’m definitely going to miss it.
They can’t rope me into another TV show binge so soon. Last week Marissa texted asking how I felt about Buffy Summers.
I give everyone a smile and a short wave before I step out the door of Cosmo’s Café and Comics to my freedom. With a deep breath of city air, I relish another successful event without running into Grant. Only another fifty or sixty years of this to go. No problem.
I’m not more than three feet down the block when Grant steps into the middle of the path. “Leaving already?”
He’s dressed ridiculously as usual. My eyes start at his leather pair of work boots (totally for show), travel the tan colored pants, and then stall when they reach his grey undershirt with a red flannel top buttoned halfway. Does he wake up in the morning and plan to dress like a hipster or is it his natural environment? Does he have an extra gene that makes it possible for him to throw on a random assortment of clothing and somehow make it look good?
Grant Moore is a total prep. One of the guys we would’ve called a douche in high school. Hell, if I hadn’t slept with him, I’d still call him a douche, but I have a rule. I don’t sleep with douches.
Therefore he’s just a moron.
Sadly, I have a history of sleeping with morons.
I glance to the sky for a brief moment. I’m keeping the Oreos since this counts!
“Emergency… my house… I have to go home,” I answer Grant’s question.
He crosses his arms, still blocking my path. “Really? You’ve had a lot of emergencies lately. Everything okay?”
I could walk around him, but in an odd way taking that route feels like losing. And I refuse to lose to a pretty boy on the streets of San Francisco. This is my town. “What are you, my stalker now?”
“Consider me a curious onlooker.”
“That sounds like rich boy terms for stalker. I bet a judge would agree.”
Grant laughs off my comment. “Not if the judge is a rich old white man who’s been in love before.”
“Whatever.” I take two steps forward ready to barrel past Grant and be on my way.
He takes a step to the side blocking my new path. “Why do you hate me? Did I do something wrong that night?”
I’d like to answer yes, but the lie dies on my lips unspoken. A thousand emotions splash across Grant’s face, but the one I notice is of true puzzlement. The guy really cares. It’s not easy to hate someone when they’re a genuinely nice person.
“No.” I sigh the word, tired of running. “I don’t hate you, but we aren’t good together.”
“You’re crazy. We were amazing together. Seriously hot.” Grant shakes his head in disbelief. “I get we were drunk, but sparks flew that night.”
“I mean us.” My hand flies back and forth in the space. “We live in different worlds, Grant.”
“I’m pretty sure we both live in San Francisco, Clare.”
“You live in a hotel. One I couldn’t afford to stay a night at and I live in Hunter’s Point. That’s pretty far away.”
His expression falls, becoming the most serious I’ve ever seen it. “Let’s cut the bullshit. You’re saying you won’t date me because I have more money than you?”
“Exactly.” Why does he think it would ever work? My physical being is proof it wouldn’t.
“I have to say,” Grant chuckles but it’s missing all humor, “I’ve never had anyone turn me down for a date because I have money.”
“So you understand then?” I search his blue eyes for acceptance.
“No, it’s the dumbest excuse I’ve ever heard, but that’s okay. Keep thinking that way. I enjoy a good quest.”
His cocky tone pisses me off. “I’m not a quest in one of your video games, Grant.”
“No, you are so much more.” He takes a step back, opening the space for me, and then walks into the comic shop never sparing me a backward glance.
RELEASING JUNE 27TH, 2017