I’m going to be sick. I’m going to be sick. I’m going to be—

“You’re not going to be sick,” Matt says, and I didn’t know I was talking out loud, but I don’t care because my best friend is dating Toph. She’s dating

Toph. She’s dating Toph. She’s dating—Toph.

Toph’s here.

Right in front of me, in the parking lot. His slender body is relaxed, and he leans his blue plaid h*ps against his car. “What’s up, Annabel Lee?”

He was never interested in me. She said that.

Toph opens his arms for a hug, but I’m already bolting for Matt’s car. I hear his peeved, “What’s with her?” and Matt replying something in disgust, but I don’t know what, and I’m running and running and running, and I want to be as far away from them, as far away from this night, as possible. I wish I were in bed. I wish I were home.

I wish I were in Paris.

Chapter twenty-seven


Anna. Anna, slow down. Bridgette’s dating Toph?” St. Clair asks over the phone.

“Since Thanksgiving. She’s been ly-lying to me this whole time!”

The Atlanta skyline is a blur outside the car window.The towers are il uminated in blue and white lights. They’re more disjointed than the buildings in

Paris; they have no relationship. They’re just stupid rectangles designed to be tal er, better than the others.

“I need you to take a deep breath,” he says. “Al right? Take a deep breath and start from the beginning.”

Matt and Cherrie watch me in the rearview mirror as I relate the story again. The line grows quiet. “Are you there?” I ask. I’m startled when a pink tissue appears in my face. It’s attached to Cherrie’s hand. She looks guilty.

I accept the tissue.

“I’m here.” St. Clair is angry. “I’m just sorry I’m not there. With you. I wish there was something I could do.”

“Wanna come beat her up for me?”

“I’m packing my throwing stars right now.”

I sniffle and wipe my nose. “I’m such an idiot. I can’t believe I thought he liked me. That’s the worst part, knowing he was never even interested.”

“Bol ocks. He was interested.”

“No, he wasn’t,” I say. “Bridge said so.”

“Because she’s jealous! Anna, I was there that first night he cal ed you. I’ve seen how he looked at you in pictures.” I protest, but he interrupts. “Any bloke with a working prick would be insane not to like you.”

There’s a shocked pause, on both ends of the line.

“Because, of course, of how intel igent you are. And funny. Not that you aren’t attractive. Because you are. Attractive. Oh, bugger ...”

I wait.

“Are you stil there, or did you hang up because I’m such a bleeding idiot?”

“I’m here.”

“God, you made me work for that.”

St. Clair said I’m attractive. That’s the second time.

“You’re so easy to talk to,” he continues, “that sometimes I forget you’re not one of the guys.”

Scratch that. He thinks I’m Josh. “Just drop it. I can’t take being compared to a guy right now—”

“That’s not what I meant—”

“How’s your mom? I’m sorry, I’ve hogged our entire conversation, and this was supposed to be about her, and I didn’t even ask—”

“You did ask. It was the first thing you said when you answered. And technical y I cal ed you. And I was cal ing to see how the show went, which is what

we’ve been talking about.”

“Oh.” I fiddle with the stuffed panda on Matt’s floorboard. It’s carrying a satin heart that reads I Wuv u. A gift from Cherrie, no doubt. “But how is she?

Your mom?”

“Mum’s . . . all right.” His voice is suddenly tired. “I don’t know if she’s better or worse than I expected. In some ways, she’s both. I pictured the worst—

bruised and skeletal—and I’m relieved it’s not the case, but seeing her in person . . . she’s stil lost loads of weight. And she’s exhausted, and she’s in this lead-lined hospital room. With all of these plastic tubes.”

“Are you all owed to stay with her? Are you there now?”

“No, I’m at her flat. I’m only all owed a short visit because of the radiation exposure.”

“Is your dad there?”

He doesn’t say anything for a moment, and I’m afraid I’ve crossed a line. But final y he speaks. “He’s here. And I’m dealing with him. For Mum’s sake.”

“St. Clair?”


“I’m sorry.”

“Thank you.” His voice is quiet as Matt’s car pul s into my neighborhood.

I sigh. “I need to go. We’re almost home. Matt and Cherrie are giving me a ride.”

“Matt? Your ex-boyfriend, Matt?”

“Sofia’s in the shop.”

A pause. “Mmph.”

We hang up as Matt parks in my driveway. Cherrie turns around and stares. “That was interesting. Who was that?”

Matt looks unhappy. “What?” I ask him.

“You’l talk to that guy, but you won’t talk to us anymore?”

“Sorry,” I mumble, and climb out of his car. “He’s just a friend. Thanks for the ride.”

Matt gets out, too. Cherrie starts to fol ow, but he throws her a sharp look. “So what does that mean?” he cal s out. “We aren’t friends anymore?You’re

bailing on us?”

I trudge toward the house. “I’m tired, Matt. I’m going to bed.”

He fol ows anyway. I dig out my house key, but he grabs my wrist to stop me from opening the door. “Listen, I know you don’t want to talk about it, but I just have this one thing to say before you go in there and cry yourself to sleep—”

“Matt, please—”

“Toph isn’t a nice guy. He’s never been a nice guy. I don’t know what you ever saw in him. He talks back to everyone, he’s completely unreliable, he

wears those stupid fake clothes—”

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