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Authors: Rachel Hollis

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Humor & Satire, #Humorous, #Literary, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Contemporary Fiction, #General Humor, #Literary Fiction, #Humor, #Romance

Smart Girl (6 page)

BOOK: Smart Girl
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“Why did you do that?” we both yell at the same time.

He’s looking at me like I’m insane, and for once I can’t even blame him.

“I got dust in my throat. I didn’t think you’d mind if I had a drink of your soda. What was in that?” he says.

Oh Zeus, Athena, and all the other gods! How much did he drink?

“How much did you drink?” I demand.

“I don’t know—a few gulps, why?”

His panic is starting to catch up with mine.

Crap!
Think, Miko!

“Uh, it’s just been in my bag for, like, two or three weeks. I’m worried it might make you sick.”

Oh crappity crap, is it going to make him sick?

“Is that all?” His shoulders relax, and he chuckles a little. “You scared me. I thought it was something really bad.”

Really bad, as in medicine to make you puke that I got from some website called Moon Goddess Homeopathics? My laugh comes out a little maniacal. He throws me a curious glance before heading back over to the plans.

Should I tell him? Should I warn him in some way? The bottle said it wouldn’t take long to kick in, so I was going to ask him for a ride back to the office and “get sick” on the way there. But now . . .

“So are you thinking that we’ll get this marble façade from a local artisan?”

He sounds totally fine; he looks like a Nautica ad. Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe the Moon Goddess’s potions don’t work on someone the size of a linebacker. I walk over to stand next to him, eyeballing him for any signs of distress.

“Actually, there’s an artist down in Mexico I’d love to use,” I tell him carefully.

“Of course there is.” He rolls his eyes playfully.

You probably can’t roll your eyes if you’re on the verge of total stomach failure, right? I let myself relax a little.

“And this here.” I point out the seating areas. “I’m imagining it will be a sort of mix and match of Old and New World.”

The smallest wrinkle appears between his brows. He rubs the frown away with his fingertips. Maybe he doesn’t like the idea of mix and match?

“I mean, we could do it as one or the other, but I just thought—”

He rubs a hand across his stomach.

I curse internally in two languages and some elfish I learned last summer at the Renaissance faire.

“Are you . . . ?”

My voice trails off as the look on his face grows sort of panicked.

“I am so sorry,” he says abruptly. “I think I have to go.”

He hurries off towards the door, and I hurry after him. Oh man, what if he gets sick while he’s driving and wrecks his car? Should I tell him what happened? Should I call poison control? Oh gods, this was so stupid!

“Liam, maybe I should give you a ride.”

He whirls around, clutching his stomach with both hands. His eyes are wild, and his face is covered with sweat. If only the beautiful unisex bathroom with its antique fountain turned hand-washing station and the toilet stalls I fashioned after a confessional booth in an old church were already installed. But they’ve only plumbed the water main, and the fancy toilets are still in crates lining the back wall.

“I think your Sprite was bad,” he groans. “I think I’m going to be sick!”

OK, I need to take control of this situation before it gets worse.

“Stay right there!” I yell and sprint back to grab my bag. I don’t even get the plans or any of the items off the table. I just grab my purse and my car keys and race to him. He’s leaning against the wall by the door, and his face is nearly green. He’s covered in sweat, and he keeps swallowing.

I am going to burn in Hades for this.

I grab his elbow and tow the sick giant to my teeny tiny British car. He doesn’t even protest when I tuck him into the passenger seat, which really shows just how far gone he is. Once I get him inside and myself in the driver’s seat, I pull out into traffic like a bat out of hell. It’s only then that I realize I don’t actually know where he lives.

“Where do you want me to—?”

My sentence is covered up by the sound of him gagging. I fight the bile in my own throat.

“Oh God,” he moans into the hand covering his mouth. “I am so sorry. I just can’t stop—”

He gags again, louder this time. I drive faster.

He groans painfully. “Maybe it was the Indian food I had for lunch.”

Sweet merciful baby angels, not Indian food!

“Oh God.” His eyes go wide in panic. “You have to pull over!”

I look around wildly. “I can’t pull over, Liam. We’re in the middle of rush-hour traffic!”

Crazy eyes stare into mine. “You have to!”

I reach for my neon-green shoulder bag with one hand and dump the contents into the backseat. I shove it into his lap. To his credit, he does manage to look even more disgusted by the suggestion.

“It’s your purse,” he groans.

“It’s from Target!” I yell back hysterically.

Apparently that was all the convincing he needed. Between one blink and the next, Liam buries his head in the oversize tote and starts puking up his guts. At the first sound of his retching, my gag reflex kicks in like Pavlov’s dog.

I will not puke! I’m the one who made this mess, and at the very least I can try to get him somewhere where he can throw up into a toilet like a human being. I roll down my window as fast as the vintage crank will allow to get air into the car, which now smells like the worst parts of—no! I will not think about what it smells like in here!

I look over at him in concern. Sadly his hair, which I love so much, keeps sliding forward into the bag along with his head. Two seconds later we’re at a stop sign, and I pull the hair tie off my wrist and gather his now sweaty locks into an awkward bun at the back of his head. For a year, all I’ve wanted to do was touch his hair. I never thought the first time would be to hold it back so he could projectile vomit into my favorite bag.

I rub his back in small circles like my mom used to do for me when I was sick. “I’m so sorry.”

“I’m so sorry,” he moans back to me.

“We’re almost to your parents’ house, OK?”

I’m not sure where he lives, and Charlie and Viv are closest. At the very least the housekeeper will be there to open the door for us.

He nods slowly, still clutching the sides of the purse around his face like a protective shield. When I think about the fact that his head is trapped in the same synthetic leather as his puke, I gag again, only this time it’s not just a gag. This time I throw up along with him.

By the time we make it to Charlie and Vivian’s house, I’ve ruined my favorite white jeans and he’s ruined my purse. I’m not even sure I can ever air my car out long enough to get rid of the smell. When Maria opens the front door, she’s so flustered by the sight of us that she starts speaking rapidly in Spanish. Liam stumbles to the closest bathroom, and the sound of him in there almost sets me off again. Honestly, I can’t even believe he has anything left to throw up. I sneak up to Max’s old bedroom and commandeer a T-shirt and some old sweatpants that fit me once I roll them at the waist a hundred times. The dirty clothes go into a trash bag Maria so helpfully provided. My purse goes into the garbage. Rest in peace, old friend.

When I walk into the hallway, I can hear the sound of the shower next to the boys’ old bedrooms. Liam must have found his way up here.

I sneak over and knock on the door.

“Liam? Can I get you anything?”

“Miko,” he groans over the sound of the shower. “If you have an ounce of pity in your soul, you will leave here right now. I promise I will call you tomorrow, I’ll have your car detailed—I’ll give you a hundred million dollars. Just please,
for the love of God
, don’t make me embarrass myself any more in front of you today.”

I wince and move away from the door when I hear him dry heave.

Like I said, I am going to burn for this one for sure.

When I tell Landon about everything that happened on the phone that night, she is laughing so hard that she almost hyperventilates. When she calms down enough to ask if Liam is OK, and I assure her that I received a text from him verifying that my rotten Sprite hadn’t killed him no matter how hard it tried, she starts laughing again.

“You’re really not helping me here.” My exasperation must be evident, because she finally stops laughing.

“I know, girl. I’m sorry.” She chokes again, takes a deep cleansing breath, and starts throwing out words rapid-fire. “Hairless cats, mom jeans, growing out bangs, paying back my student loans, forgetting to shave one armpit—”

And people act like I’m the weirdo in this friendship.

“What are you doing?” My demand makes her pause.

“I’m thinking of things that make me sad,” she tells me seriously. “You told me to stop laughing, and it’s the only thing that works.”

“Oh—well, you’re right. Hairless cats are really upsetting.”

“So are hairless dogs,” she adds. “Like when they shave off all of a dog’s fur just because it’s summer. It seems so rude. How do they know he wouldn’t prefer to have hair even if it makes him hot?”

I nod, even though she can’t see me. “Some allowances must be made in the name of looking good.”

“Exactly!” She pauses long enough to take a sip of whatever she’s drinking. “I do like it when they shave Pomeranians to look like a lion, though. Now
that
is adorable!”

And just like that we’re off on the topic of dog haircuts and her aunt’s cousin who once got bit by a Doberman and lost a finger but still plays a beautiful dulcimer even with the nine-finger limitation. And I’m laughing and considering dulcimer lessons, and even though we never get around to figuring out what my next—hopefully much more subtle—plan is with Liam, I feel so much better than I did before I called her. Which was her exact hope all along, I’m sure.

Chapter
FIVE

In
Twilight
there are so many great options to choose from that it was difficult to narrow it down to one for the list. So I didn’t. I added several different choices and figured that when the opportunity presented itself, I’d know which one to choose. When Landon suggested something with an activity involved, I remembered that scene where Bella almost gets jumped by some street thugs and Edward rescues her. Sure, the rescue is heroic and he’s battling the urge to go vampire on everyone, but my favorite part is their drive back home. Being locked in a car together for a lengthy period of time has a way of drawing out conversation. I’m just hoping a conversation goes better this time than it did the last.

As for our last interaction, I will be the first to admit that mistakes were made. Nearly poisoning Liam to death and ruining my favorite purse are definitely cause for concern. I recognize now that I made a bad choice with the whole syrup idea. I mean, in the book Marianne Dashwood clearly had a respiratory problem, and I decided to go rogue with something gastrointestinal. I consider the fact that my car still reeks of chicken tikka masala as a justified penance for a badly thought-out plan.

This time I’ve got a great plan. This time I’ve got a whole slew of ideas, and whether he likes it or not, my brother, Tosh, is at the center of most of them.

I throw him a side eye, but he’s too distracted by whatever is on his phone to notice it.

“You have to put that away when we get inside,” I say as we walk slowly towards the Ashtons’ ornately carved front door.

His fingers are a blur as he types out instructions for whichever of his poor underlings are being forced to work on a Sunday.

“I know, Koko. You’ve said it at least twelve times.”

“Because it’s rude to openly flaunt your obsession with your iPhone in front of new people. If they were old acquaintances or your lifetime best friends—”

“Or an annoying younger sibling.”

I point at him emphatically. “Yes! Exactly. But otherwise it’s just—”

“Rude. I get it.” He puts the phone in the pocket of his jeans and then crosses his arms to stare me down. “You know, some people might concede that it’s also rude, or at least slightly selfish, to insist a person accompany you to an event when said person is horrendously busy at work. To go so far as to beg and plead and send a hundred text messages demanding they come along—”

I shake my hair out in agitation. “Well, I—”

“And
then
, when said person finally relents, to spend forty-five minutes instructing them on what to wear.” He raises an eyebrow in annoyance, and I tuck my hair back behind my ears demurely.

He has me there. I did possibly spend a little too much time figuring out my outfit tonight, and when I finalized what it would be, I had nowhere to turn my frenetic energy except to what he should wear. For Sunday Supper this week I chose an empire-waist baby-doll dress, which would feel like summer were it not for my Kelly-green old-man cardigan and my tan Frye boots. The dress and cardigan say
casual
and
innocent
, and the
noticeable
is all in my hair. It’s a gorgeous blowout with plenty of shine and body. My dress might not be trying too hard, but my hair came to play.

“It’s just that they’ve never met you, and I wanted you to look right.” I ring the doorbell, a distraction tactic that doesn’t work.

“And what is the
right
way to look, exactly?”

I give his outfit a once-over: good jeans, form-fitting dress shirt with a button-down collar, casual blazer, and Converse. He also styled his hair into an awesome fauxhawk, but only after I threatened to burn his beloved beanie if he didn’t. It’s not that he doesn’t have great style—he does. But given his workload and his annoyance at my forcing him into this, chances are he would have opted for something super casual. Because he works in tech, people who don’t know him sometimes don’t take him seriously, and when he’s dressed like a Seattle teenager circa 1992, it doesn’t exactly help his cause. The truth is that Tosh is one of smartest and most accomplished businessmen I know. I’d be willing to wager he’s got as much money in his bank account as the Ashtons do, if not more. I just don’t want anyone judging him unfairly.

But I can’t say any of that without embarrassing him, so I change the subject rather than answer.

“Did I tell you they bought this house from Tom Selleck? Apparently he’s still totally loaded from all that TV in the eighties.”

He looks over the grounds as if noticing how palatial everything is for the first time. “Do you remember the time Dad dressed up like Magnum, P.I., for Halloween and Mom was Higgins?”

A college professor and a copy editor, our parents could not be nerdier if they tried. But they’re also two of the happiest people you’ll ever meet and thoroughly comfortable in their overall weirdness. I get that from them. Their themed Halloween costumes are the stuff of legends. I get that from them too.

I smile at the memory. “Gods, he loved wearing those short shorts. It was so inappropriate.”

“And his fake mustache kept falling half off his face, but Mom thought it was so funny, she wouldn’t tell him to fix it.”

The memory has us both laughing so hard we’re nearly in tears, which is how Liam finds us when he opens the door. He looks radiant once again; all signs of his bout with forced bulimia are nowhere to be seen.

Tosh has hung out with both Brody and Taylor before, so he must realize who this is. His laugh dies instantly.

Liam extends his hand before I can introduce the two of them.

“Kitoshi, right? It’s nice to finally meet you.”

They shake hands like they’re going to be graded on it later. As we walk through the house, Tosh makes polite conversation but doesn’t engage with Liam the way he normally would when meeting one of my friends. He’s usually personable and friendly. With Liam he’s all one-word answers and indifference. Man, these two are going to laugh about this meeting someday years from now when we’re all on a family vacation together.

I follow them back to the kitchen, and I’m surprised to find Viv and Charlie busy at work and the smell of fajitas filling the space. I’ve never seen them cook before; I actually didn’t even think they knew how. Maybe their chef got mono or something.

“Oh, you’re here!” Viv calls, already wiping her hands on a kitchen towel and hurrying over. “You prefer Tosh, is that right?”

Tosh reaches out to shake her hand, but I could have told him Viv would have none of that—she’s a hugger.

“We’re so excited to finally meet you,” Viv says cheerfully. Charlie has to wait for her to unclench before he can shake Tosh’s hand.

“Thank you so much for having me over,” my brother tells them politely.

I drop my purse on a chair and go around to each person, giving hugs and kissing cheeks, with Tosh following behind. I don’t bother to get anywhere near Liam since technically we should have hugged hello when he opened the door, but he didn’t offer and I’m not going to throw myself at him—at least not without some alcohol in my system.

“Can I help with something?” I ask.

“No.” Viv waves me away with a perfectly manicured hand. “We’re almost done with the tacos. Grab yourself a drink, and have some of that queso Landon brought. It’s got to be five hundred calories a bite, but it’s worth every one.”

I follow the direction of the knife she’s using to point down the counter. Brody and Landon are drinking beers near an elaborate spread of chips and salsa and a giant bowl of melted cheese that Landon considers one of her specialties. Liam walks around them and goes to work next to Viv chopping vegetables.

Oh gods, please don’t let him be good at cooking too! I can’t make a meal to save my life, and if this man has some culinary prowess on top of everything else, I might actually just have to kidnap him. A Stockholm syndrome kind of love is still love, right?

I force myself to look away and find something else to focus on. As usual, Max is whipping up some kind of cocktail, and Taylor is . . . I’m not really sure.

“Taylor, what are you doing down there?”

His voice comes out muffled from where he’s half bent under the kitchen table.

“This table wobbles a little,” he calls back. For good measure he shakes it to prove his point.

“It drives him insane,” Max tells us as she lines glasses with salt. “You want one of these?”

Both Tosh and I nod in unison.

“It doesn’t drive me insane,” Taylor says.

“It does. He’s been fretting over that table for weeks, but he doesn’t want to offend Mom and Dad, so he hasn’t offered to fix it,” Max says with a smile.

Taylor unfolds himself from beneath the table, his height and muscles and tattoos in direct opposition to the sweet smile he gives Max and the lazy drawl of his accent.

“Jennings, you know I’ve never
fretted
about anything in all my life.”

“Even when we did events?” Landon asks. “I seem to remember you rewiring an alarm once during a blizzard at Sundance.”

“Ugh!” Max scowls at her. “Don’t bring up Selah—it’s bad juju.”

Both Landon and I yell mostly incoherent things at the mention of our horrible former boss, and Brody throws a handful of tortilla chips at his sister.

“Dude, you know you’re not supposed to use her name. She’s like Voldemort!”

I take a sip of the margarita she just handed me with a scowl on my face. Fresh citrus hits my tongue, covering the fire from the tequila almost completely and wiping out some of my annoyance at the mention of my former boss.

“It doesn’t matter now.” Max hands Taylor his drink and accepts his kiss on the cheek. “Taylor no longer works there as of Friday.”

Landon gasps and I squeal. It’s loud enough that everyone stops what they’re doing to look at us.

“This is so great!” Landon says, standing up on tiptoes to give him a hug.

I follow suit while Taylor chuckles self-consciously.

“Yeah, well, all the cool kids are starting their own businesses, so I thought I’d follow suit.”

“You’re not just starting.” Max fits herself against his side. “You’ve been successfully designing furniture for years; now you’re just doing it full time.”

“That’s awesome, man.” My brother taps glasses with Taylor. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”

Taylor grins.

“Beyond the order you just placed for forty-three desks for your office, you mean?”

Now it’s Tosh’s turn to look embarrassed.

“That’s entirely on Koko. You know she’s the arbiter of style. I just do whatever she tells me to.”

I sigh dramatically. “If only every man was so easy to tame.”

I’d meant it as a joke, but if I’d thought about it for even a second, I wouldn’t have said the words at all. There are way too many people in this room who know way too many things for me to make a joke like that. Unfortunately Viv isn’t one of those, so she doesn’t resist an opportunity to tease.

“Oh really? And is there a particular man you’ve set your cap for, darling?”

Charlie turns off the burner on the stove and comes to stand behind her. Everyone in the room is looking at me with varying degrees of interest, but I feel Liam’s gaze the most.

“Of course.” I try to sound breezy. “And as soon as Prince Harry will condescend to answer one of my love letters, I’m sure we’ll be very happy together. You know I’ve always wanted to be a princess.”

The sound of everyone’s laughter is punctuated by the front door slamming.

“We’re here!” Malin yells from the front room.

The baby of the Ashton family apparently has little regard for the craftsmanship of the front door, because she slams it with a crash. Malin is blonde and carefree in a way only gorgeous girls in their early twenties can be. She comes waltzing into the kitchen with Casidee Taylor in tow. In quick succession she’s kissed both her parents and purloined a drink from Max.

“Is it time to eat yet?” she asks between sips. “We’re starving!”

“It is.” Viv jumps into motion. “I’m just lining it all up here on the butcher block, and you can make your plates buffet-style. We’ll sit in the dining room.”

Malin is first in line to make her plate, a whirling dervish in blue cashmere. At first glance she’d be easy to dislike—that much beauty and energy usually is. But once you get to know her, you can’t help but find all that enthusiasm charming.

“How did the apartment hunt go?” Charlie asks his youngest.

“I hated most of them,” Malin says, adding some rice to her plate.

“Why am I not surprised?” Brody teases.

“Cas hated one of them too,” she hurries to add.

Casidee pushes her glasses up on her nose.

“There was a half-naked man sitting out front,” Cas says by way of explanation.

Malin bumps her with her shoulder. “Come on. He was kind of cute.”

“He was dirty and covered in faux fur.”

“I know,” Malin says, popping a chip in her mouth. “It was, like, sexy John the Baptist.”

Charlie chokes on a swallow of beer while Viv throws Malin a chiding look.

“That comment seems inappropriate,” Viv tells her.

“No, I totally get it.” Landon grabs a plate from the stack and starts to assemble a taco. “The first time I saw Brody, my brain sort of short-circuited and I kept thinking he was like Jesus in human form.”

Brody’s laughter comes out as a bark. “What?”

Landon looks up from her plate and bites her lip nervously, apparently only just realizing how odd the statement sounded. Then she shrugs happily and keeps piling on the cilantro.

“I can’t help it. You’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.”

Brody’s response comes out quietly on an exhale. “Ditto.”

It’s only one word, but it’s filled with emotion loud enough to melt every heart in the room. There is a single beat of silence, but it’s broken when a kitchen towel flies across my field of vision and hits Brody in the head. Everyone else piles on with boos and gagging sounds, and it’s only made worse when Brody comes around the bar and gives Landon a kiss not in any way appropriate for a family dinner. They’re both laughing when they come up for air.

BOOK: Smart Girl
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