“Have fun bailing yourself out of jail,” I say, laughing. He laughs along with me, his blue eyes lit up. I twist my ring around my finger.

“I’m gonna kick you out of my Crisco Cult if you don’t behave,” he flirts.

“It’s our first date and we’re already arguing.”

He studies my face, smiling. “That’s a good sign, I guess.”

“It is?” I laugh.

“My parents fight all day every day. This morning they got into it because Dad thinks the toilet paper roll should unravel from the top and Mom thinks it should unravel from the bottom.”

“Sounds serious.”

“Very serious.”

“I think it should unravel from the bottom.”

“The top.”

We laugh, and he ruffles his dirty blond hair and looks at the little appetizer flipbook sitting on the table. “We’re getting the bottomless chips with ranch dressing, right?”


I smile. “You’re as bad as my dad. He’s got serious blood pressure issues because he overindulges and now you’re all eating two helpings of ranch in one dinner.”

“Well, there’s nothing I can do about that,” he says. “Ranch dressing exists. Therefore, I must eat it.”

A waiter takes our drink and appetizer order, then a guy carrying a beer struts up to our table. “Brown!” He and Matt shake hands and do a guy hug, slapping each other’s backs.

“Who’s this?” the guy says, sipping his beer and staring me down.

“This is Kate.”

The guy squeezes Matt’s shoulder and grins down at him. “Nice, bro.”

Matt’s face goes red. “Nick, I’ll catch up with you later, okay?”

“You want to come to this party later? There’s supposed to be a nude Jell-O wrestling contest.”

“What?” I exclaim.

“Good-bye, Nick,” Matt says with a stern voice.

“Okay,” the guy says, heading back toward the bar. Beer sloshes out of his glass onto the floor and he nearly slips on it.

“Sorry,” Matt says, scratching his neck. “One of my frat brothers.”

“Is Nick a big drinker?” I ask quietly.

“It’s Saturday night. Everyone drinks on Saturday night.”

“Even you?” I ask. “I’m not really into that.” And I’m really not into the idea of nude Jell-O wrestling parties. He takes in my face and I find his blue eyes.

“I’ve had a beer before, sure,” Matt says. “But I like lemonade and hot cocoa too.”

“Me too…”

“Listen, I take it it really bothers you I’m in a frat, right?”

I nod slowly. I take my napkin off the table, unfold it, and stretch it across my lap. “I don’t know much about any of it. I’ve never been to a frat house or anything.”

He plays with a coaster, thinking. “Last month? My older sister, Leigh, had a flat tire on the interstate. My parents were on a mission trip and I was crashing for a final. Nick went and changed her tire and made sure she got back home safely. No questions asked.”

Last night, when I called Parker to ask for help, she didn’t ask any questions either. She showed up and did my makeup and gave me a great outfit.

“It’s good to have friends you can count on,” I say.

He points at me with a fork. “Our frat also raises money for charity. We do car washes.”

“Let me guess. Without your shirts on?”

“Uh…yeah. Obviously.”

I laugh. “What charity?”

“The ASPCA. You know, all those commercials on TV? With pictures of sad dogs and cats?”

“Awww,” I reply, making Matt laugh. He takes his napkin off the table and opens it in his lap.

“It’s weird,” I say. “I don’t know what to think about frats or other churches. I’ve never gone to another church besides Forrest Sanctuary and the only thing I know about frats is that they have wild keggers and sometimes people get naked and jump in pools. I saw that on TV.”

“Well, those kinds of things do happen occasionally, I guess, but you can’t judge all frats and people based on TV. All that really matters is what you think. And I care what you think.”

“You know what I’m thinking?” I say.

“What?” He leans across the table toward me.

“Maybe I’ll get the ranch burger too.”


We laugh, and that’s when another guy stumbles up and slides into the booth next to Matt. He whispers in Matt’s ear and gropes his chest.

“Stop,” Matt says, slapping the guy’s hand away.

“But I want your body,” the guy slurs. I can’t believe how drunk this guy is. It’s only 9:00 p.m. and he’s feeling up Matt!

“Dude, can’t you see I’m on a date?” Matt says.

The guy pinches Matt’s chest. Then he glares over at me. “Come on, man. She’s not your type. I’m your loooooooooovvvvvvvvvver.”

A group of guys at the bar are cracking up and pointing at us. I rub my face, hardly believing this is happening. Another boy comes over, sits down, wraps his arm around me, and checks out my cleavage. I shove him away, regretting wearing this dress.

“Can I get you a beer?” he asks.

“She doesn’t want a beer,” Matt blurts, looking horrified. “Come on, guys. Get lost.”

“But I want your body!” the guy whines again and rests his head on Matt’s shoulder.

“Ellie!” Matt hollers, and she flits over and forces the two guys back to the bar. For a girl who weighs a hundred pounds, she sure has a lot of control over those two.

The waiter brings our Cokes and chips. I’m so nervous, I suck down a bunch at once and stuff two chips in my mouth.

“What’s goin’ on, Brown?” Nick yells from the bar. “You gonna lavalier this girl?”

“Quiet, you!” Ellie says to him, and all the guys shut up real fast and focus on the Braves game.

Matt groans. “I shouldn’t have brought you here. My stupid friends…”

I eat another chip. “They seem…interesting,” I offer, laughing nervously. I slurp more Coke.

“They are, but I’d trust all of them with my life.”

“Do any of them go to your church?”

“Not a one of them. They’re all in my frat.”


“I trust the people at church too, but I have plenty of friends who don’t go to church at all.” He dips a chip in ranch and eats it. “I swear these things have nicotine in them,” he says again, shaking his head.

I grin and pop another chip. “What does lavalier mean?” I ask through a mouthful.

Matt stuffs a chip in his mouth. “It means that you give a girl your letters. Like, your frat letters?”


“If you let a girl wear your letters, it means you love her as much or more than your brothers. It’s a big deal.”

“It must happen a lot, right?”

“No way.” Matt laughs. “The last time one of my brothers lavaliered a girl, some guys tied him to a tree, naked. Then they threw eggs at him.”

“Wow. That’s terrible.”

“Yeah, it was over the top.”

I gaze over Matt’s shoulder at his friends. Half of them are laughing and messing around, but a bunch of them are staring at me. Like they’re sizing me up or something. I play with the napkin in my lap. If my car broke down on the side of the road, I wouldn’t have that many people to call. My parents. Maybe Will or Parker, but it’s not like they’d ask me to hang out afterward. At this point, I doubt I’d call Emily. I guess I’ll have to rely on AAA the rest of my life.

“Your friends are staring at me,” I tell Matt.

He looks over his shoulder. “They’re worried about me, I guess.”


He sips Coke from his straw. “I don’t date often. Hardly ever, really.”

“But you hook up, right?”

He smirks and shakes his head. “Are you always this up-front?”


“Naw, it’s okay.” He swirls his Coke with the straw. “Hooking up isn’t the same thing as a date, you know.”

“I wouldn’t know,” I say, deciding to tell the truth. “This is my first real date.”

“And I brought you to Chili’s?” he exclaims. He cracks up. “I’m such an asshole. I can’t believe I’ve ruined your dreams of a first date at a real restaurant. I’m not even wearing shoes.”

I peek under the table to find he’s kicked his flip-flops off.

“It’s kinda like I’m on a date with you and your frat.”

“I’ll do better next time,” he replies. A pause. “Tell me about your friends.”

Emily’s face flashes in my mind. I pull a deep breath. I don’t know that I want to talk about her right now, especially when I’m so happy. At that moment, cheers erupt from the bar and Matt swivels around to catch the TV for a sec. One of the Braves hit a homer.

When he turns back to me, I stretch a hand across the table. It’s comfortable, intertwining our fingers. It’s like it’s where they belong. Our eyes meet.

Another of Matt’s friends approaches us, and this time, I shake the guy’s hand and ask if he wants to join us, which makes Matt smile the brightest smile I’ve seen in a long time.

After Chili’s, Matt takes me to the Fun Tunnel at the mall, where we battle it out over Skee-Ball. He wins like a hundred tickets and I only get five.

“Wow, you are terrible at this,” he teases, and I swat him.

“I played soccer. I wasn’t a bowler.”

“Clearly.” He gestures at my five tickets. I use them to buy Matt a mini Tootsie Roll, which he pops in his mouth, smiling.

He uses his tickets to buy me a temporary tattoo of a fairy and a sparkly plastic mood ring, which he slips onto my pinky finger. It barely fits—my skin swells around the plastic.

We go over to the basketball free throw game where we take shot after shot, laughing and bumping into each other as we shoot. My hip brushes against his, and every so often, he’ll stare over at me like it’s hard for him to look away from my face.

“Another game?” he asks, slipping two quarters into the slot. Basketballs roll toward us and the game timer starts counting down from two minutes. The timer reminds me of life, and that I’ve never been on a real date before. I’m eighteen years old. The timer ticks down. Matt shoots while I stand there, not wanting to stay still, wanting to take a shot. The timer’s ticking.

I turn to face him. He takes a jump shot. The ball swooshes through the net. He grabs another ball, but before he can shoot I drag a finger down his arm, from his shoulder to his wrist. He drops the ball and twists to face me, his blue eyes finding mine. And before I can second guess myself or lose my nerve, I get up on tiptoes and steal a kiss. A quick peck on the lips.

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