How to Date a Nerd(4) by Cassie Mae

Ugh. Let’s not think about that perv right now.

Dad’s leaning against the fridge, which has tilted off the ground slightly. His face is scrunched, and it looks like he’s been holding his breath for the past few minutes. Mom is elbow-high in soapy dish water. They’re more upset than I thought. We have a dishwasher so Mom only hand washes when she’s pissed about something. Or when she’s really hurt.

And Dad only gets purple when Mom is hurt.

Crap.

“Care to tell us what happened this morning?” Dad’s voice is calm, though his stance tells me he’s trying to keep his anger in. Mom slops around in the sink.

“I don’t know what happened,” I say to the floor. “Sierra sent me this text and I didn’t want to be late for class, so I thought if I sent Zak—”

“Gibbons?” My eyes click up to see my dad’s furrowed brow. “You were skipping class with him?”

His confused expression slaps onto my face now. “Huh?”

He rubs his hand across his forehead. “Zoe, I won’t tolerate being lied to. Give it to me straight please. Don’t you care at all about what you did to your sister?”

“What?” My high-pitch screech was probably heard a hundred miles away. “What I did? I didn’t do anything!”

“Don’t lie to me!” I cower under his tone, and I know I’m about to go into hysterics. Dad, like, never yells.

Mom whimpers over the sink, and my dad stops leaning against the fridge. It slams against the floor as his weight leaves it. He curls his arms around Mom’s waist.

I hate seeing her like this, and I know my dad hates seeing her like this, but I’m so confused I don’t know what to say.

“Zoe.” It’s Mom’s shattered voice that sends the tears cascading from my eyeballs. “I trust you to look after your sister, and you let her drive your car? What were you thinking?”

I feel the blood rise in my face. I’m probably as purple as my dad now. I ball my fists up and suck in a small wisp of air. Sierra!

“I didn’t let her,” I growl through my teeth. “She stole my car and took off before I even woke up. I had to get a ride with Zak today. You can check with him if you don’t believe me.”

My parents look at each other, eyes swapping questions. After a minute or two of this silent conversation, my dad snaps the phone off the wall. I hear Zak’s house phone ring through the window.

“I need to speak with your boy, if that’s okay, Maddie.” His voice is kind, but you can totally tell he’s in a hurry.

I plop down on the bar stool and wait. Even though I know there shouldn’t be anything to worry about since I’m telling the truth, my heart still whacks against my breastplate.

“Zak, this is Mr. Livingston… thank you, that’s why I’m calling. Did Zoe go to school with you?” My dad’s eyes burn into mine as he waits for Zak to answer. He’s quiet for a while.

“Thank you. You’ve helped clear up the issue. Have a good night.” Dad clicks the end button and stands frozen for a minute. Both Mom and I hold our breath.

Then without warning, Dad takes two long steps and wraps me into a hug. He never apologizes… never. So I’m not expecting him to say anything, but this is fine. I smile into his chest, and I can hear my mom fighting back more tears.

When I pull back, Mom takes Dad’s place. “I’m sorry, honey. Sierra told us differently.”

Of course she did.

“It’s okay, Mom. I’m sorry I didn’t stay at the hospital with her. I… you know… school stuff.”

She nods and pats me on the cheek. My dad still hasn’t said anything, but that’s just how he is.

***

Back in my room, I yank on my baggy pajamas. I’m really in no mood to be fake or pretend. It’s not like I have anyone to impress in my bedroom. And after what happened today, all I need is my X-Men book.

With flashlight in hand, I jump into the pages, wiping away stupid tears. I have no idea why I’m crying. Even though she stole my car, wrecked it, and then told my parents I was the one who did everything, I still can’t help but feel guilty for leaving her in the hospital with tubes hanging out of her.

I’m a horrible sister.

I hear Zak’s window slide open, and my stomach flutters.

Ugh! I hate the effect he still has on me.

I whip the comforter off my head, and my hair pops with all the static. Zak chuckles as he leans out his window. I quickly run my hand through my hair, turning red.

“Your sister get home okay?”

“Yeah.” I crawl off the bed, trying to look sexy about it, but I’m not sure if I pull it off. I duck out my window so I can hear him better. Our property lines are so close, if we both extended our arms, we could hold hands.

“You’re not in trouble are you?”

I shake my head, but drop my gaze to the bushes below us.

“What’s wrong, Zo?”

I shake my head again, pursing my lips. No way am I confiding in him. That would send me down a very dangerous path resulting in a drop on the social ladder.

“Come on. We used to talk about everything.”

I cringe. “I know.”

“Didn’t know you hated it so much.”

I look up at him. His hair has fallen in front of his eyes, but I can see the hurt behind them.

“I didn’t hate it. Things are just,” I pause, trying to find the right word. When he meets my stare, I finally find it. “Different.”

He nods and chuckles. “I guess you could say that.”

An awkward silence spreads between us. I blow up my cheeks but stop when I see Zak smirk at me. But then his smile fades, and his brow furrows.

“Zo, why…?” He doesn’t finish, and I don’t prod. I don’t want to know what’s going on in his head.

“Thanks for covering for me.”

“I just told him the truth.”

“Well, thanks.”

Awkward silence again. He tosses his head back, sending his hair in a flurry. My stomach does a pancake flip as his dark eyes rest on mine. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He slams his window down and shuts the blinds.

I reciprocate, nearly breaking the glass.

On top of being a horrible sister, I’m a horrible neighbor.

My bed looks comfortable, but I plop down on the floor. I grab the edge of the comforter and wrap it around myself.

Stupid boy and all the jacked up feelings I get when I’m around him. He’s a friggin’ loser! He wore a Stars Wars shirt today. He invited me to watch a documentary this weekend. And the worst part is: I’m jealous of him.

I can’t help but feel the same things I had when we were… friends. I suppose that’s the best way to describe the relationship we had. But there are reasons why we aren’t that way anymore. We’re just so…

Different.

But that isn’t his fault. It’s mine.

I throw the comforter over my head and close my eyes to escape the pain growing in my chest.

I’m a horrible person. Period.

Chapter 4

I’m covering my mouth with duct tape next time I’m at the salon.

Best way to cure self-inflicted pain? Go back to routine. Starting with the monthly trip to the hair salon with one of my popular buds, Hope.

“What’s it gonna be this time, hon?” Missy totally has a hairstylist’s name. I think it’s a requirement for every student when they go through cosmetology school. If you don’t have one, get one.

“Can we make it darker?”

“Darker red? Or black?”

“Red.” Ahem… Jean Grey.

She nods and goes to prepare the dye. I run my fingers through the crispy strands. I used a cheap box last time and got a disproving look from Missy when she saw it. Gosh, it’s not like I can poop out eighty bucks every month.

I mean, I give the impression I’m pretty loaded. Like I’ve got a million bucks shoved down my bra everywhere I go, but truth is, Mom and Dad work their butts off for half a paycheck. They don’t ever complain about it, and so I try not to be the bitching teenager who begs them for money all the time. They don’t know about the clubs, but the cl**vage is my ticket in anyway. As for the alcohol—whenever I do drink—someone usually pays for me. Again, thank you cleavage! Who knew, right?

But the salon? Yup, I gotta save up for this stuff. Image people, image.

Clicking my tongue as I wait, I try not to think about Sierra who has been locked in her room until she dies. She hasn’t talked to me since the hospital. I’ve tried to make amends, but really, shouldn’t she be the one groveling for my forgiveness? The more I think about it the more upset I get. I’m tempted to turn my head to the side and slap my ear to get rid of the train of thought.

Hope swivels around in her chair, texting her latest boy toy. She giggles every time the phone vibrates.

“Is he taking you to the club tonight?”

She nods and continues to clack away on her keyboard.

“Hey!” I kick her hard in the shin.

“Geez, what?” She laughs and rubs her leg as she tucks her phone away.

“Girls’ day, remember?” Hope is usually good at the girl stuff, which is why I always pick her over Keira. But today she totally sucks at it.

“Okay, okay. Sorry.” She rolls her eyes and throws me a huge grin. “You know how it is though. New flame and all.”

Gosh, I thought she’d be used to the new flame crap since she has a new boyfriend about as often as she changes nail polish. Hope’s one of those girls who is gorgeous and nice… most of the time. I mean, she’s nice to your face, but the second you piss her off, she’s firing off nasty crap all around school. Like the rest of us I guess.

She’s also fun. Like, I can almost be myself with her.

“Alrighty, here we go.” Missy stands behind me with the bowl of the perfumed dye. I close my eyes and let her go to work. The process has become so natural I don’t even feel the burn in my nose anymore. After a good twenty minutes of slathering the stuff on my head, Missy leads me to the dryer and hands me a few magazines.

“I’ll come check on you in a few minutes.”

I won’t open the magazines. Unless one of them is an Entertainment Weekly on the next Avengers movie, then I may take a peek. That’s okay to look at in public because that movie is all the rage right now, but if anyone found out I dissect it to death, researching the characteristics of the actors picked to portray each superhero to make sure they got the casting right… yeah, that’ll be curtains down on Popular Zoe. And of course, the only magazines they have are ones I only pretend to be interested in.

Hope’s now getting slathered herself. Probably going blonder. Damn girl is perfect. Nice rack, pretty face, skinny waist, and long blonde hair. Like Galadriel from Lord of the Rings.

I yank out my cell in the side pocket of my snug jeans, and slide it open to a text.

From Cody.

I miss u.

Gag me. He really needs to take the implied breakup hint. I don’t want to ever see that jackass ever again. I blow up my cheeks and let the air come out slowly as my fingers fly across my keyboard.

Stay the hell away from me.

There, if he doesn’t get the hint from that, he’s an idiot.

My phone buzzes.

Bitch.

Nope, not an idiot. Just a horny prick. Things have never been that way with any guy ever. And I don’t want him to look at me, or touch me, or anything. If he tries it again he’s losing a testicle.

Hands are suddenly on my shoulders and I jump back in the seat.

Missy giggles. “Sorry, hon, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

I clutch my chest and try to laugh it off.

“Looks like you’ll need a few more minutes,” she says prodding my scalp. She plops the dryer back over my head and smiles. “I’ll make sure to wave in front of your face or something when I come back.”

“Ha ha.”

Ten minutes later, it’s like my face is on fire. Missy shuts off the dryer and the cold air hits me in a soothing wave of relief.

“Ooo!” she squeals. “It’s gonna look real pretty, Zoe.”

I nod and she leads me to the sink. I close my eyes and involuntarily moan as she washes my hair. Oh my gosh, this is the best part. Her fingers massage my scalp and the warmth of the water sends me into an intoxicating state of bliss. Ah yeah. No Sierra, no Cody, no persona. Just me in a luxurious bath.

Then a face snaps behind my eyes. I’m not alone in my paradise here, and I’m not sure if I’m happy or upset to see his dark eyes, his dark brown hair falling slightly in front of them, his boyish grin as he strokes my lips with his thumb, the muscles in his arms flexing as he moves his hand to wrap around the back of my neck, his long eyelashes brushing underneath his eyes as he closes them, his lips parting and coming closer…

The squeak of the water faucet jolts me back to the salon. My face is warm, actually my entire body is flushed, and I have to calm my breathing.

What is wrong with me?

“Did you enjoy that?” I look at Missy who is stifling a huge grin, and I gaze around the salon as I hear several sniggers. Hope is keeled over in a fit, wiping her eyes.

I don’t know if it’s possible to send all the blood in your body up to your face, but I’m sure that’s what happens to me.

“Um… yeah.” Oh man. How loud was I moaning?

“Come on.” Missy giggles and pulls me to the styling chair.

I plunge into an agonizing hour of being locked in the seat while several people whisper around me and steal amused glances in my direction. Hope keeps winking at me, and I’m ready to sock her perfect nose in.