Summary: “He . . . likes you? Yeah, that’s good. He’s likes you.” Alex is so good at winging things. Clueless AU.
Word Count: 11,500
Disclaimer: I don't own anything and am not profiting off of this, unless giving the internet something it has been sorely lacking counts as profiting.
“Daddy, please,” Alex begs. She hands him a cup of coffee and pouts, sticking her lip out as far as she can, eyes wide.
Jerry takes a sip and scowls. “Where’s the crème and sugar?”
“You know you’re not supposed to have it.” Alex rolls her eyes. “And don’t try to change the subject. When will you teach me?”
“You’re not old enough to drive.”
“Am too!” Alex crosses her arms. “I have my learner’s permit and everything.”
“I’m, uh . . . busy.” Jerry sets the mug on the counter and starts to storm off before stopping abruptly. “Justin’s coming home for dinner tonight.”
Alex scrunches her face together. “Justin?”
“Dad, come on. He’s not even your son. Can’t you just donate a can of soup and be done with it?” Alex hates Justin. He thinks he’s better than her because he goes to Columbia and was accepted to Princeton. But whatever, Harvard rejected him. And everyone knows that’s the only one that counts. And like, Yale, or whatever.
The point is she hates him.
“He’s my stepson. And your stepbrother.”
“Not anymore. Don’t you know how divorces work?”
“Alex, I have work to do. Sandwich shops don’t run themselves.” He looks at his coffee, reaches out as though he’s actually thinking about drinking it before sighing. “Go to school.”
“I always do.”
Jerry narrows his eyes.
She puts her hands up in surrender. “I’m going, jeez.”
Like, it’s not Alex’s fault her dad won’t teach her how to drive.
She’s 15, really cool without having to try (trying is not cool), and he taught Justin when he was her age.
But he always refuses, stumbling out excuses about accounting and the new sub station on the upper west side as his face turns red and splotchy.
So Alex takes matters into her own hands. She’s resourceful that way.
The breaks squeak when she pulls into a spot at school, but only seven cars honked at her on the way, which is two less than the last time she snuck the keys. She swerved so she wouldn’t run over a squirrel, and she only sped through one stoplight, so if that’s not improvement she doesn’t know what is.
So what if she’s late to first period? She’s going, isn’t she?
“I’m angry enough to swallow a horn-toad backwards,” Mr. Laritate says.
Sliding into her desk in the back row, Alex frowns. “Okay?”
Mr. Laritate narrows his eyes so Alex presses her lips into a straight line and avoids eye contact until he starts lecturing about dead white dudes.
She doodles in the margins of her notebook and tries to think of ways to mess with Justin tonight. He hasn’t come around in two weeks, and it feels like an eternity since she’s seen him. Justin usually hangs around the house helping her dad balance the books and ruining her fun because he had to go to college in New York City and he has to be super annoying about how he’s all mature and stuff.
Please, she’s seen his doll collection. And Alex is pretty sure all his friends are imaginary because who wants to sit around talking about volcanoes and robots and books? No one, that’s who.
She draws a zombie on the corner of the page and thinks about stealing Justin’s towels when he’s in the shower.
“Justin, you’re not my brother.”
“I know,” Justin says, voice pinched in that perpetually condescending tone of his.
“So hog the TV at your own house instead of mine.” Alex crosses her arms and stares at him.
He doesn’t even look up from the documentary he’s watching about some war from millions of years ago. “I’m helping Dad go over accounts payable after dinner.”
“Justin, he’s not your dad.” Alex is getting real tired of this. All she wants is to watch Night of the Halloween Sorority Party Disaster TV spinoff.
“Being a dad isn’t just about biology, Alex.” Justin rolls his eyes and, god, he’s the worst.
She sits down on the arm of the couch and shoves him, reaching over his body and digging her hand into his shoulder to keep balanced as she wrestles the remote away. Justin almost puts up a fight, but he’s smart enough to know he doesn’t have a chance.
She flips the channel and elbows him so he’ll scoot over. “I missed the first five minutes,” she whines.
“You’ve seen this one before,” Justin says.
He doesn’t get up to leave though, and at the first commercial break he tries to act like he’s not super into it, saying, “The history channel is actually educational.”
“War is boring?”
“Too many old people talking on those shows. Not enough explosions.” Alex turns her body to look at Justin instead of the insurance commercial with the lizard. “War isn’t about old people talking.”
Justin looks at her blankly. “Well, I mean it kind of . . .”
“Oh, be quiet.”
He smiles like he won something.
Alex ignores him because the show is back and a vampire is trying to drink the chapter president’s blood.
Mr. Laritate finds her in the hallway and Alex says, “I did not put all your furniture on the roof.”
“You what?” He knits his eyebrows together, confused.
“Oh, nothing.” Alex shakes her head, tapping her foot. “I have to get to . . . math? Spanish? Class. I have to get to class.”
“Miss Russo, are you aware that you’re failing three of your classes?”
“Only three?” Wow, Alex is pretty impressed with herself.
“If you don’t get your grades up you’re going to have to attend summer school.”
“Summer school?” Alex raises her eyebrow and gasps. “Mr. Laritate, I can’t go to summer school. I have plans. I have a date with my couch and a bowl of popcorn. I have to terrorize the little pimpled man who runs the ice cream shop. There’s just no time.”
Mr. Laritate looks at her, face set and stern. “I’m sending a notice home to your dad soon. I would give it to you, but I don’t trust you to deliver it.”
“You don’t trust – yeah, that’s probably smart.” Alex nods. “What classes do I have to retake?”
“History, Spanish and P.E.”
“P.E.? That’s not even a real class.”
“If you had gone more than once, maybe you’d know that it is a real class, Miss Russo.”
She’s going to have to do something about this. No way is she spending her summer sitting in a desk, doodling, and trying not to learn the same material for the second time. She was very serious about those plans, even though she’s not Justin and doesn’t have them marked in a calendar.
Alex goes to her P.E. teacher first, explaining her very serious condition that means she cannot do any sort of physical activity because she might actually drop dead if she has to hit a tennis ball.
“Really?” The teacher looks skeptical, like she’s trying to remember if she learned about this in one of her learn-how-to-be-a-P.E.-teacher classes.
“Duh,” Alex says. “I would never lie to you. You’re my favorite teacher.”
She pulls out a doctor’s note made from a template she found on the internet and scribbled illegibly on. Her P.E. teacher squints at it before filing it away in her binder. “You should have given this to me before.”
“I forgot,” Alex says.
Her Spanish teacher is even easier. Their conversation goes like this:
“Hola, Alex. Cómo estás?”
“Look, I don’t know what you just said. But if you fail me you have to put up with me aaaaaaall summer.”
“Mr. Laritate refuses to raise my history grade,” Alex groans.
Mason shrugs. “That really blows.”
Mason is British. He’s artistic and has good hair. He has a whole crew who follow him around, and one time he even painted a portrait of Alex. He’s also Alex ex-boyfriend. They went out before she realized he’s kind of clingy and terrible in large doses, before she decided high school boys suck and she’s over them as a species.
She has standards, okay?
That doesn’t mean Mason isn’t cool. He’s one of the most popular boys in school, so, they’re cool.
“I don’t know what his problem is. I’ve been to his class twice this week! What more does he want from me?”
She tried promising to watch the history channel, tried to convince him that history really is useless when it has nothing to do with the world today, and she even offered to buy him another bolo tie. She’s pretty much out of ideas.
“He’s just a lonely, miserable wanker who misses the Wild West,” Mason says.
“Wanker,” Alex laughs. “I love when you get all British.” Mason grins at her, she takes a bite of her sandwich, and then she has one of those things in Cartoons where a light bulb goes off above someone’s head. “That’s it!”
“What’s it?” Mason asks.
“I need to bring the rodeo to Mr. Laritate.” Alex grabs her bag and slings it over her shoulder. “God, I’m a genius.”
She spends a few hours – okay, almost an hour, but who’s counting? Math is lame – painting a picture of a saloon, a horse, and two cowboys having a duel, guns drawn and hats askew on their heads. She convinces Zeke, the lame kid who gives the morning announcements and runs the Alien Language League now that Justin has gone and created a chapter at Columbia, to play old Western soundtracks over the intercom. It’s not that difficult; she says it’s for Mr. Laritate, and he agrees to do it before she even finishes asking. She also uses her father’s credit card to mass orders cowboy hats and boots for people to wear.
What? She’s going to send them back when she’s finished, and then the money will be back in the account and no one has to know. It’ll be fine.
After Mr. Laritate comes into school, sees everyone dressed like cowboys and cowgirl, and hears the music, he grins and he lets out a bellowing, “Howdy!”
“Here Mr. Laritate,” Alex says, handing him the painting. “This is for you.”
He stares at it for a long time, and Alex is starting to worry he’s having a heart attack, but just as she’s beginning to think that could actually work in her favor, he blinks and says, “It’s perfect.”
“I just wanted the school to appreciate the importance of the American West’s history.”
“Your appreciation for history is inspiring. Sudden, but inspiring. I’m going to hang this up in my office.”
Alex smirks as he retreats, crossing her arms over her chest in victory. She leans back against the lockers and knocks the hat off her head, but whatever. He’s totally going to pass her now.
“Way to go, Alex,” Zeke says, coming up to her and raising his palm for a high five. “Mr. Laritate is jazzed!”
“Yeaaah, I don’t really care about that,” Alex says, walking away.
There’s a new girl at school. Her hair is bright red and she wears food and stuffed animals as clothes.
Alex thinks she’d be a good project.
And okay, Alex doesn’t mean project in a do-work-to-accomplish-something way. She means like, she’s feeling pretty good about the Mr. Laritate thing and the new girl – Harper – makes her laugh. So why not mold her into acceptable friend material?
She can’t walk around school with a girl wearing a Pokémon on her head, is what she means.
“Hey, Harper,” Alex says, smiling down at her.
“Oh. Am I in your seat? Because I could move.” Harper starts putting her papers back into a folder. “I don’t want to start anything I didn’t—”
“Sit down.” Alex rolls her eyes. But Harper does what she says, which Alex thinks is useful information. She’d make a note of it, but that’s the kind of thing Justin does and she makes fun of, so instead she just continues, “I noticed you were new to school, and I’m kind of the most awesome person here. So we should go to the mall today.”
Harper’s eyes are wide and she looks conflicted. “The mall?”
“Yeah, we can shop at Suburban Outfitters. I have my dad’s credit card.” Alex keeps forgetting to give it back. Might as well still use it while she has it.
“Oh, okay.” Harper smiles, her shoulders relaxing and the color returning to her face. “You’re Alex, right?”
“Yeah, but don’t say that too loud. Don’t want anyone to know I’m here. I told them I had a dentist appointment.”
Harper bought Alex one of these big cookies, and Alex has convinced Harper, well, mostly convinced her, that food is made to be eaten and not worn. So things are going pretty good – pretty well? Oh, whatever – if you ask her.
“What do you think of Zeke?”
“Who?” Alex asks through a mouthful of chocolate chip cookie.
“Zeke? He does the morning announcements. He’s really nice.”
Alex swallows. “Nice? Yeah, I guess.” Alex thinks that might but true, but then she thinks of him walking through the halls speaking some made up alien language and laughs. “Oh! We could sneak into the office and edit the announcement sheet so he says something about farts.”
“Alex, that’s mean.” Harper frowns. “He’s really cool.”
“Cool? Do you know what that means? I’m not the best at word things, but I’m pretty sure Zeke is the opposite of cool.”
“Oh.” Harper sighs. “Being your friend seems complicated.”
Alex quirks an eyebrow, glares and takes a bite of her cookie.
“But fun? Being your friend seems fun?” Harper corrects.
“That’s right,” Alex says, lightly hitting Harper’s arm. Harper rubs it as though it hurt and Alex rolls her eyes. “Come on, let’s go make fun of the dumbies at the makeup counter.”
“Can I get my face done?” Harper asks.
Alex eyes her and says, “Sure. But if I stop making fun of the stupid makeup girls and start making fun of you and your face after, posting a picture online to mock you, it’s not my fault.”
“Okay?” Harper scrunches her eyebrows together. “Maybe I won’t.”
Alex pats her head and walks away. Harper needs to learn that she is what she wears, and if she wears a stuffed dog on her head, people are going to treat her like one. It’s just a fact of life.
Alex whistles. Harper rushes to her side, and Alex laughs.
She’s not sure why, but she really likes Harper.
Alex’s progress report comes back with mostly C’s and D’s, and the gym teacher even changed her grade to a solid B.
“Alex, you’re getting D’s in history, Spanish and science,” Jerry says, his face turning red.
“Pretty awesome, right?” Alex says, legs crossed over the table as she flips through the television channels.
“No, not pretty awesome. The opposite of pretty awesome.”
“My grades last semester were pretty awesome,” Justin interjects from the armchair where he’s reading some dumb textbook.
Alex frowns. “I worked really hard for those grades, Daddy.”
“It says you’ve been truant more than you’ve been in school.” Jerry shakes the paper as though it’s one of those magic eight balls and the grades will change if he tries again.
“I’m a very honest student.”
“Truant, not truthful,” Justin says. “It means you’ve skipped class.”
Alex huffs, indignant. “I do not.” She waits a beat, and Justin and Jerry look at her. “Yeah, neither of you are going to buy that.”
“You need to get these grades up, young lady,” Jerry says, waving the progress report around again.
“Maybe if you teach me how to drive I’ll be motivated to get my homework done.” Alex smiles innocently, fluttering her eyelashes.
“I – you – what – NO.” Jerry’s face gets blotchy and he stomps out of the room into his office, slamming the door shut.
“Why won’t he teach me how to drive? He taught you,” Alex says, incredulous.
“It’s just because you’re his little girl.”
“That’s totally unfair. I’m not a baby.”
“I know,” Justin says, and there’s no hint of sarcasm, no joke about how she sure acts like one sometimes. “I could teach you.”
He shrugs. “Yeah, I’ve got nothing better to do.”
“Let’s go loser.” It sounds more endeared than anything, but Alex isn’t going to think about that.
“You missed the stop sign.”
“I . . . paused,” Alex sputters, loud and indignant. The truth is she didn’t even see the stop sign because she was too busy thinking about ways to get out of her science test on Tuesday. She doesn’t know the difference between ionic and covalent bonding, and frankly, she’s not sure she wants to.
“You have to stop,” Justin says.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Rules and safety.” Alex waves a hand around absentmindedly. “I got it.”
“When you actually pay attention you’re not half bad at this.”
Alex turns her head to look at him. He’s got one hand taping nervously against the center console. Other than that, he doesn’t look tense, doesn’t look like he’s worried she’s going to run the car into New York Harbor and accidentally kill them both. “Thanks. When are you going back to Columbia? Seems like you skip more classes than me.”
Alex doesn’t really care, okay. She’s just . . . making conversation.
Normal people stuff.
Justin laughs. “No one skips more classes than you.”
“Thank you,” Alex says.
“Not a compliment.”
“I’m going to go back tonight. The Alien Language League and I are trying to get Junot Diaz to come and speak.”
“What?” Alex asks. “That’s so stupid.”
“No it’s not! Science fiction is a very important medium in today’s society. It’s hard to find someone respected who can come and talk about it.”
“That pregnant girl from that movie, homeslice?” For someone who thinks he’s pretty smart, Justin isn’t making any sense at all. The light ahead turns yellow and Alex presses on the gas, speeding through it.
“Alex, you can’t do that,” Justin says.
“Alex, you can’t do that,” she mocks, voice high and nasally. “But I just did. So clearly I can.”
“You should have slowed to a stop. And Junot Diaz is a Pulitzer Prize winning author who understands the value of science fiction.”
“Doesn’t mean he values your made up language.”
“At least I care about something other than myself,” Justin says.
“I’m not that selfish. I made Mr. Laritate very happy by bringing the Wild West to school.”
“Yeah, to raise your grade,” Justin points out. “If you ever did anything truly selfless hell would freeze over.”
“I’m totally selfless.” Alex almost gets it out without laughing. Hey, no one’s perfect. “Yeah, who am I kidding. But I’m not like, a monster.”
She sees Justin shake his head in her periphery, and she can’t tell if he’s smiling or not. “We need to get back. You want to practice parallel parking first?”
“No, valets park cars.”
Justin laughs, and Alex lets it go.
She really hopes he doesn’t think she’s a selfish monster, though.
She’s not sure what that’s about.
But she tries not to linger on it as she makes an abrupt U-turn, heading back to Waverly Place and causing Justin to scream her name, voice going high-pitched and squeaky as he shrieks, “Alex, you can’t do that!”
“Zeke offered me a spot on the dance committee.” Harper smiles, hands clasped together like she’s desperately trying not to clap and start jumping up and down.
“Ugh, school dances. Lame.” Alex drops her bag onto the ground with a thud and sits down at the table. “You’re not gonna do it, right?”
“Why not?” Harper asks.
Alex thinks about it for a second – literally a second, no more, maybe less. “Because Mason might get jealous.”
“Yeah, you know Mason. Popular. Has hair.”
“Has hair?” Harper raises an eyebrow and worries her lip between her teeth.
“British,” Alex adds. She hopes Harper gets it soon, because she can’t think of any other way to describe him.
“Oh, yeah, I think I know who you’re talking about.” Harper nods her head and Alex waits for her to process the entire conversation. “Wait, why would he be jealous?”
“He . . . likes you? Yeah, that’s good. He’s likes you.” Alex is so good at winging things. This is perfect. Harper will forget about that loser Zeke and date someone socially acceptable, and then she can still be Alex’s best friend. It’s a fool proof plan. “We just have to make sure he doesn’t lose interest and start going with someone like Gigi.”
“Oh no, is he losing interest?” Harper asks, eyes going wide.
“It’s possible. You’ll have to work for it.”
“What do I do?” Harper pulls a notebook and pen out of her backpack. She writes How to Make Mason Fall In Love With Me, Harper at the top of a page and underlines it three times. “Do I make him a werewolf hat?”
Man, this is too easy.
Alex likes to paint, so she rounds up the people she can stand and sketches their portraits in the sub station – because Jerry got angry about the credit card thing and she’s supposed to be working as punishment. But pfft, Alex doesn’t do work, he should know that by now.
When she’s painting Harper, Mason walks over and leans his chin on Alex’s shoulder. His breath smells like the onions on the sandwich she gave him, because he gets grouchy when he’s hungry. She grimaces.
He laughs in her ear, pointing at the picture. “This looks really good.”
“Harper’s very pretty,” Alex says.
“Yeah.” He pauses and Alex rolls her shoulders back because his chin is pointy and annoying. “Can I hang this one in my locker?”
Alex smiles and looks at Harper, raising an eyebrow. “Yeah. Definitely.”
Mason grins at Alex before sauntering away and wow, matchmaking is so easy. Alex thinks she could probably be the next Millionaire Matchmaker, move over Patty. Bravo should definitely give her a show.
“He wants my picture in his locker?” Harper asks once Mason is out of earshot, a blush starting to creep up her face.
“Yeah,” Alex says, “He totally likes you. I knew it.”
“Yeah, you told me that already.”
“Right,” Alex says, “It was true then, too.”
They’re going to a party in Jersey.
So, of course, Harper called in a panic, asking what she should wear because she had a feeling the penguin dress would be a bad choice.
So Alex has spent time rummaging through her closet trying to find something for Harper to wear, redoing Harper’s makeup, and now they’re in the living room and Alex is telling Harper to calm down. It’s just a party. She doesn’t have to drink or get a temporary tattoo if she doesn’t want to.
If this doesn’t prove that Alex is seriously super selfless, she doesn’t know what will.
“You won’t leave me alone with the detention kids?” Harper asks, her breathing still heavy.
“Harper, I promise. And they’re not that scary anyway.”
“The other day one of them was wearing their pants below their butt.”
Alex rolls her eyes.
“Hey, Alex, did you eat the leftover Chinese? Because Jerry—” Justin asks, coming into the kitchen. He stops and waves when he sees Harper. “Hey.”
“Hi,” Harper says, her voice shaking and too loud. “Harper.”
“Justin.” Justin smiles and looks at Alex, eyebrows inching toward his hairline, which Alex has decided is receding. She shakes her head and glares at him so he’ll leave them alone. Justin ignores her and addresses Harper: “Nice to meet you.”
Alex sighs. “Dad ate the rest of it. Don’t let him order more because the doctor said it’ll cause . . . his cholesterol will . . . it’ll be bad.” Alex gets up and goes to the fridge, searching its contents before pulling out a bag of baby carrots, pinching the corner and holding it as far away from her body as possible. “Give him these.”
“He’s never going to eat these,” Justin says, taking the carrots anyway.
“Whatever.” Alex crosses her arms and leans against the counter. “What are you doing here anyway?”
“Dad’s trying to figure out if he has the funds to open a new sub station.”
“Another one?” Alex raises her eyebrows. “Wow.”
“Where, uh, where are you two going?” Justin asks. His face goes all weird like . . . well, Alex doesn’t know what it’s like, but it’s weird.
“No, really?” Justin mocks, raising his voice higher.
“Yes,” Alex says, pushing off the counter and walking out of the kitchen. “Let’s go Harper.”
“Are you sure it’s safe because—” Harper starts.
“Yes!” Alex shouts, grabbing Harper’s arm and pulling her off the couch and out the door.
The party is in full swing when they finally get there. They got lost a few times and had to walk fifteen minutes from a bus stop. Alex totally should’ve stolen the car, but to know to steal the care would have had to google directions before leaving, and that just seemed like a lot of work.
Whatever, they made it. No one got mugged or murdered, so Alex counts it as a win.
“Now remember,” Alex says, “Keep track of Mason at all times, flirt with other guys so he gets jealous, and don’t do the sprinkler.”
“What about the microwave?” Harper asks, bobbing her head back and forth, raising her hand to open an imaginary door and pretending to stick a plate inside.
Harper just shrugs.
The music is loud so Harper is shouting something about Alex not leaving her alone when Alex spots brownies in the kitchen that may or may not contain pot – she really hopes they do. She could use some – and starts pushing people into each other to get there.
She’s swaying to the music, pot brownie – thank god – half-consumed when she spots Harper smiling and laughing with Zeke, her face doing that blushing thing again as she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear.
For the love of –
Oh good, there’s Mason.
Alex stomps over to Harper and pulls her away from Zeke, mumbling through the last bite of her brownie about how Harper should know better by now. Seriously.
They dance in the corner of the room, well, Alex sways back and forth and Harper bobs up and down doing weird things with her arms. Alex keeps trying to see if there are any cute, older boys here, because matchmaking is difficult and she’d really like to find a boy to dance with by the time Harper and Mason are swaying a foot apart – Alex knows Harper, so she knows Harper will flip out if Mason gets too close too soon.
Then Mason is grabbing Alex’s arm, shouting “Come on, suck and blow” in her ear, so Alex is grabbing Harper and dragging her with them.
Max, some strange kid Alex recognizes from that time he tried to sell her a plate of trash in the cafeteria, has the card and passes it to Harper successfully. He pumps his fists in the air and shouts something about the ace of spades and his next trick before running off. Alex thinks Harper liking Zeke isn’t that bad, she could be into that.
Then, Harper’s sucking the card to her mouth and heading toward Alex, which is totally unproductive, so Alex grabs Mason and shoves him between them. Harper looks totally panicked, but Alex nods reassuringly. Harper closes her eyes and then Mason has the card and Harper totally should have dropped it, but too late now.
Alex is super great at this game, but it doesn’t matter because fucking Mason drops the card an inch from her mouth, and then he’s fucking kissing her and his hand has appeared on her neck from out of fucking nowhere.
Alex pulls away. “What the fuck?”
“It’s just a game,” Mason says, his hand still on Alex’s neck, his fingers threaded through her hair.
She pushes him away and shakes her head, annoyed, before heading for the kitchen. Alex needs another magic brownie.
Boys are so stupid.
Harper accidentally slips in a puddle of pee or alcoholic lemonade in her hurry to follow Alex, hitting her head against the entryway. She shrieks, “Ow, oh my goodness!”
Alex turns around and sees her, eyes screwed shut, body leaning awkwardly against the doorjamb. Alex reaches for Harper and drags her back the way they came, sitting her down in one of the armchairs. “Harper, are you okay?”
“What happened?” Mason asks. “Are you okay?”
Alex can work with this.
Maybe he’s trying to make up for his stupidity.
“Harper hit her head. You should probably make sure she’s okay,” she says, winking at Harper before shimmying away.
When her phone rings she’s just finished her second brownie, rolling her eyes as Max does a terrible impression of Mr. Laritate. “Hi Daddy,” she answers, pressing one hand to her ear so she can hear better.
“Alex, you need to be home in thirty minutes.”
“Me and Harper are at a party though and—”
“Now! I got my second credit card bill and—” Alex misses the next part of his sentence as her cell beeps. Great, it’s dying. “—young lady.”
“Phone’s dying, be home soon, bye,” Alex says as quickly as possible, turning off her phone and cringing.
This is not going to be good.
She finds Harper with Zeke – again – and drags her outside. “Shit, I don’t have enough money to get back.”
Harper looks through her bag and frowns. “Me either.”
“Shit,” Alex repeats.
“I can drive Harper home,” Zeke says. “She lives a few blocks down from me.”
“I can take you, Alex,” Mason offers, appearing out of fucking nowhere. Alex wonders if that’s a thing with him.
“No, I can ride with Zeke. Harper can go with you, Mason.” Alex smiles and nods. Really, no one should underestimate how smart she is. This is the best plan.
But somehow, and maybe it was because she was too busy thinking about how Justin shouldn’t call her stupid ever again, she ends up in Mason’s car while Zeke drives Harper home. And this is the opposite of what she wanted.
She’s leaning her head again the window, pouting, when Mason asks, “You okay?”
“Yeah. I’m good.”
Alex sits up a little straighter. “Good. I know our breakup was really hard. But I want you to be happy, Mason.”
“I knew it,” Mason says, grinning.
“I really care about you and – why are you pulling over?” Alex knits her eyebrows together as Mason pulls into an empty parking lot, putting his car in park, unbuckling his seatbelt and turning toward her.
“I knew it,” he repeats.
Before Alex can even ask what he knew he’s kissing her again. Alex grips his shoulder, fingers digging into his skin hoping to cause him pain as she shoves him away. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“We still like each other,” Mason says, as though it’s obvious and not absolutely absurd. She can’t even understand what he’s saying half the time because of his stupid accent, why would she want to get back with him?
“No, we don’t,” she corrects.
“We do.” He’s leaning into her space again, lips puckered.
So Alex shoves him away. Again. He’s really not getting the hint. “What about Harper?”
“What about Harper?” he asks, confused.
“I’ve been trying to set you two up! You have her picture in your locker!”
“The picture you took, Alex. And besides, I could never go with Harper.”
“Why not?” Alex asks. She’s confused now. And annoyed. Mostly annoyed.
“She’s weird and dorky. My parents would never approve. Her family is full of circus people.”
Alex scowls and unbuckles her seatbelt. “You are the worst. You are . . . the most elitist asshole I’ve ever met.” She opens her door and stumbles out of the car.
Mason rolls down the window. “Alex, get back in the car.”
“Come on, Alex.”
“No!” She crosses her arms over her chest and starts walking through the parking lot.
Mason says, “Fine,” and then he’s speeding away.
And now she’s alone.
In New Jersey.
With a dead cell phone.
Alex wobbles across the street to an empty gas station with a payphone illuminated by a streetlamp outside of it. She’d go in, but the attendant has greasy black hair, a thin mustache, and he looks like he’d probably murder and eat her. She only has enough change to make one call, and she can’t call her dad, so she does the only thing she can think to do.
“Hi, Justin. It’s Alex. I’m stranded in Jersey and need you to pick me up.” She feels like such an idiot.
“Are you okay?” Justin asks, voice thick with concern.
“I’m fine. Will you come get me?”
“Yes,” she huffs.
“Then why should I?” She can see the condescending smirk on his dumb, condescending face.
“So I don’t get murdered by the creepy gas station attendant.” She doesn’t want to say it, but she does: “Please.”
“Fine,” he sighs. “But you owe me one.”
Justin picks her up, and a girl with dark hair broken up with colored streaks and really cool clothes is sitting in the passenger seat.
This night keeps getting worse.
“I have to drop Miranda off first,” he says.
“Fine,” Alex mumbles as she gets in the back.
Justin and Miranda spend the next twenty minutes discussing Nietzsche and Einstein’s theory of relativity. And Alex has never been more bored or annoyed in her whole entire life. This was supposed to be a great night where Mason and Harper got together, and now she’s going to have to tell Harper it was all a misunderstanding. After Alex finds someone else for Harper to make up for everything, she’s never going to think about matchmaking again. Cross her heart and hope to die.
Alex shakes her head and hears Miranda say, “Like when Mercutio said, he jests at scars that never felt a wound.”
“Mercutio didn’t say that,” Alex says, sitting forward and leaning her cheek against Justin’s headrest.
“I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t misquote Romeo and Juliet.” Miranda laughs quiet and low, rolling her eyes.
And god, Alex hates everyone. “And I’m pretty sure I know what Leo said in that movie where he falls in love with Claire Danes and gives that speech about how looking at her is like staring into the sun.”
Justin laughs, but unlike Miranda’s, his laugh is loud and appreciative.
Justin offers to buy her takeout and watch a movie. Naturally, she says yes. Because she’s feeling shitty and because Alex never says no to free food. It’s not like she wants to hang out with Justin, okay? Don’t look at her like that.
“So, is Miranda, like, your girlfriend?” Alex asks, moving her fork around her empty takeout container.
“We went out a couple times, but I don’t think it’s working out.”
“Oh.” Alex worries her lip between her teeth and watches one of the sorority girls fall down a flight of stairs.
“What? No snarky comment about how no girl would ever date me? Even if zombies had destroyed all other males?” Justin nudges her with his elbow, and Alex can tell he’s smiling at her.
She shakes her head and looks at him. “They’d take their chances with the zombies.” The score get louder, scary and tense, and some dude with an ax jumps out at Ruby Donahue. Justin buries his head in Alex’s shoulder when Ruby screams. “You’re such a baby,” Alex says.
“I just have good survival skills.”
“Sure.” Alex laughs, rolling her eyes.
They keep watching the movie, but Justin doesn’t move back, even when he goes to get a bowl of popcorn for them to share. He’s got his thigh pressing into her knee, and each time he reaches into the popcorn bowl their arms brush.
It’s kind of weird, but also kind of nice. So Alex doesn’t say anything.
She sneaks a look at Justin when the girls are hiding in the shower, and it’s strange, but she’s having a better time here, watching this movie she’s seen a thousand times with him, than she did at the party. He looks tired, but happy, and apparently he can feel her looking at him because he turns and asks, “What? Is something on my face?”
She raises an eyebrow. “Do you really want me to answer that?”
He smirks. “Right.”
“Their survival skills are very utilitarian,” Alex says.
She’s not sure why she says it. She just keeps thinking about Justin and Miranda in their own little bubble, talking about boring, smart people things while she felt completely inadequate and clueless and something else she’s not going to name.
Justin looks at her for a long moment and Alex looks down, pretending she’s trying to pick a piece of popcorn to eat. “Do you know what that means?” he asks.
Alex looks up, watches him through her eyelashes. “Does it sound like it?”
“Kinda, yeah.” He shrugs and his arm brushes against hers again.
“Then . . . yes.”
“You have no idea, do you?”
She laughs because it’s after one and she thinks she needs a reason, so her reason is it’s after one. “Not at all.”
Justin laughs, too.