Chapter Four

The next time I woke up was not, thankfully, as alarming as the last time. But it came in as a close second.

Something large and soft hit me in the face, and I jerked into a sitting position, successfully colliding into a hungover Josh. My fingers instinctively went to my now-bruising skull. "Ow! Wait," I said, squinting groggily, "what're you doing here?"

"Shh," he groaned, clutching his head. I noticed with minimal guilt that his nose was in a . . . splint? Cast? I didn't know what they called them. "God, I'm never drinking beer again. Fine, I am," Josh grouched, seeing my disbelieving look. "But hell, this is one monster of a hangover."

I snickered, momentarily feeling a somewhat mutual affection with him. The illusion of friendship was swiftly erased when I took another look at his broken nose. My smile disappeared, and I got to my feet. "So what're you doing here?" I asked again, crossing my arms.

He glared at me, rubbing his bruising forehead. "I should be asking you the same thing. In case you hadn't noticed, I live here." Josh waved a hand around, and for the first time, I realized that I wasn't in my room. Or even my house.

Oh, dear.

Glancing warily at him, I said to Josh, "Any idea how I got here?" while bracing myself for the worst. Because seriously; when you woke up in a strange house with a boy from school, that was what you had to expect: the worst. Especially when your name was Jocelyn Katrina Leigh.

"Beats me," said Josh, shrugging. The door swung open to reveal a disheveled-looking Jude.

Ah, yes, Jude. Now I remembered. I'd given him a ride home at one in the morning and had ended up crashing at his place. I'd forgotten in my sleep-deprived state that Josh Vaughn was his brother. How convenient.


"Hey, Jude," I said wearily, rubbing my eyes. "Your jerk of a brother threw a pillow at me; you should punish him. What's the time?" I got to my feet and muttered a curse word under my breath when I looked down. I was wearing the same thing from yesterday; no doubt I'd be the talk of the school today.

Josh noticed my profanity and my sleep-rumpled clothes. In an unexpected act of kindness, he said, "I've still got some of Stella's stuff here, you can borrow it. I guess you could fit into it, except you're a bit . . ." He gestured. "Shorter."

"And that's why we have shorty-shorts," I pointed out. "They fit you if you're tall or short, and I'm sure your ex-girlfriend has an abundance of trashy shorts. Lead the way, Vaughn." I bowed mockingly.

He looked at me crossly, but led me to his room nevertheless. "It's not like you don't wear shorts like that every day. In fact, you're wearing them right now." Josh pointed at my shorts while turning the knob of his door with his other hand. "So there."

"Never said I had anything against 'em," I pointed out, going straight to his drawers. I opened the first one and wrinkled my nose. "You have pink boxers? Don't you have some man-mojo rep to hold up—?"

"Hey!" yelled Josh, quickly snatching the offending pair of boxers and stowing them away. His face was bright red. "My aunt gave me those for Christmas, I've never worn them." He swiftly opened another drawer, this one full of girls' clothes. "Don't tell anyone about those boxers," he warned. "Here's your stuff. I got some old stuff in the one below from when I was a kid, they might fit you, too. I'll just . . . go."

I smirked as he left. Who would have known that Irvington High's star QB had pink boxers? This was new.

I ended up picking out a pair of faded denim short-shorts and one of Josh's old T-shirts with a Nike 6.0 logo. Hurrying downstairs after a quick shower, I was met with a blond woman in her mid-forties to fifties, who had an explicitly displeased expression on her face.

"Josh's one-night stands don't usually stay till morning," she said in a sniffy voice, as if it were illegal for girls to stay over.

It took several moments for my sleep-deprived brain to mull that bit of information over. After those few moments, my mouth flopped open rather unnattractively. "Wait, what?" I said, blinking. Ah, me and my intelligent comebacks. As you might've noticed, I was not a morning person.

"You heard me," the woman said, sneering at me. Whoa there.

"Um, I'm not with Josh," I said warily, glancing around the room for a way to escape. "I came here with Jude."

Oh, bad idea, Leigh. The woman's eyes nearly popped out of her head, and she practically screeched at me, "You're with Jude?!"

"Not in that way, Mom," groaned a male voice. Josh. "Get your mind out of the gutter, Leigh 'n him are just friends. Besides, it's not like Jude could get a girlfriend if he tried. In fact, I can't even imagine that happening." Josh groaned again and flopped onto a sofa. "Leigh's okay, don't worry about her. And keep quiet, I got a hangover."

Okay. Second unusually nice act of the day from Josh. Something odd was going on; Josh obviously wanted something badly. Hell, it was seven in the morning—two nice acts so early in the day? The world had probably stopped spinning.

"Hey, Josh, mind if I talk to you for a sec?" I said sweetly, smiling my best no-I'm-not-going-to-kill-you-once-we're-alone look. He gulped and nodded nervously. "Great." I grabbed his arm and flounced outside with him.

"Yeah?" he said once we were out of his mother's hearing range.

I narrowed my eyes at him. "That's two nice things you've done for me today. Something's off, so spit it out. What do you want from me?"

He was instantly on the defensive, although I didn't know why he even tried. I had a prize-worthy lie detector, and an uncanny ability to make people squirm. "I don't want anything. Can't I just be nice if I feel like it? Besides, no one should be on the receiving end of my mom. Not even you."

I snorted. "She's not that bad. Anyway, I'm the girl who broke your nose. To hell if you're feeling anything close to pleasant towards me, because I know you're not. So spit it out. What d'you want?"

"You didn't break my nose, your thugs did," Josh pointed out. I bristled at the word "thugs"; Lucas and Hayden weren't thugs. They were friends. "And fine." He looked defeated. "I need you to go out with Travis. Please," he added, just as I was about to declare bloody murder on him. "I'll buy you ice cream."

Shooting him and affronted look, I said, "You're going to have to do a hell of a lot better than that. You think I'll go out with Travis for ice cream? You wish. Anyway, why d'you want me to? Trav obviously put you up to it, but you don't strike me as the messenger pigeon. More like the 'hell, I'll just take the girl for myself' type." One of the pros of lacking a thought filter; having an endless database of random thoughts that sounded good once they were out of your mouth.

Josh bit his lower lip, which was a disturbingly attractive gesture. "It's because he'll tell y—never mind. Just—please, Leigh." A thought seemed to strike him, and his blue eyes widened. "Oh. I'll let you and your friends move to the center of the A-list table, and I'll kick Stella and her sycophants out. Please?"

Deciding to make him squirm for a bit, I frowned thoughtfully. "I dunno—"


"Okay, deal," I agreed, grinning widely and high-fiving him, laughing at his relieved expression. "One date, though. That's it." My face turned speculative then. "Wonder what Stella's face will look like when she gets kicked out of the center?"

The answer to that question was something along the lines of, "hellishly ugly" or "identical to a hag." Maybe I was biased, but there was no denying that Stella was not looking like a piece of gold when she got booted out.

"Sorry, Stella," said Josh, not looking extremely sorry at all. "You just don't seem to be living up to A-list centerpiece standards. But that's okay, the right side has room now." He nodded to where my crew and I used to sit. "Feel free to take up spots there."

"But—but . . ." Stella looked at him, wide-eyed. I noticed thoughtfully that her eyeliner was much too heavy. "But I'm your girlfriend."

"You look like a raccoon," I noted rather unnecessarily. She shot me an icy look.

"I'm, like, talking to my boyfriend. Shove off, loser."

Hey, that was my line! Oh, no she didn't

"Ex-boyfriend," Josh corrected, sitting down next to Travis, who was shaking with silent laughter. I grimaced a bit when I remembered my end of the deal—a date with Travis, ugh—but not even Travis could deflate my exuberant mood. The Queen Bi-otch had just been sacked. One-zero Leigh.

Stella gave a wordless shriek of rage and stomped on over to the right side of the table with her friends. She was making an awfully big deal out of this, but I didn't mind; I was loving every second of it. Sitting across from me was Kyle, rolling in his seat with laughter and clearly enjoying this as much as I was. Kylie patted her brother on the back, looking like she, too, was holding in a laugh.

"Great job," Hayden whispered into my ear, sliding his tray next to mine. He and Lucas had gotten off easy for the broken nose thing; they'd just been put in for anger management counseling. "Score one for the little people. I like the view," he added thoughtfully. "It's like I'm seeing a whole new cafeteria."

I took a look around, frowning to myself and thinking. "Huh. You're right, it does look different."

And then I realized that it looked different because all of the students in it were gawping at us and Stella. No wonder . . . I pointed this out to Hayden, and he nodded solemnly in response.

"Irvington's newest celebrities," he said serenely. His face broke out into an entertained grin. "Smile for the camera, Leigh. You look bad enough in your yearbook photo, no need to look terrible on Facebook, too."

Elegantly (not) sticking my tongue out at him, I found myself distracted by Josh, who was currently tapping my shoulder. "Yeah, Vaughn?"

He cringed a little bit at my calling him "Vaughn," but I pretended not to notice and waited for him to speak. Josh put a grin on his face. It looked genuine, but I had a gut feeling that he was faking it. "Well, aren't you going to introduce us to your friends, Leigh?"

A huge smile made its way up to my lips. We right-side A-listers (now centerpiece A's) had a special tradition when it came to introducing ourselves, and it was always fun. "Hear that, guys? Josh here wants us to introduce ourselves," I said brightly, ignoring Josh's mutter of "What did I just get myself in to?"

All of my buddies grew smiles just as large as mine, and all the other senior centerpieces looked nervously from them to me. "This'll be fun," said Kayla, smirking widely.

I winked at her. "True dat, Kayla. I'll start us off. JOCELYN LEIGH!" I shouted for all the cafeteria to hear. Then I promptly dumped all of my Gatorade on the person to my right, who was (coincidentally, of course) Josh Vaughn. Oh, this was so fun.

Josh nearly choked on his pizza, spluttering and nearly jumping out of his seat. I burst into laughter, as did the rest of the table, as he pushed his dripping blond hair (now tinged with red from the Gatorade) out of his laughing blue eyes. He good-naturedly laughed along with us, then said to Hayden, "Your turn."

"Mm-hm. Sorry 'bout the nose, by the way." Hayden motioned to Josh's broken nose, which was currently in white bandages, and yelled, "HAYDEN CHASER!" Seconds later, the entire contents of his one-point-five liter bottle of Mountain Dew splashed down the shirt I'd borrowed from Josh. After the laughter died down (Josh was still wiping tears of laughter from his eyes—or maybe it was Gatorade) Damien Ashton happily emptied his bottle of lemon-lime Gatorade onto a centerpiece boy named Bradley after a shout of "DAMIEN ASHTON!" The process continued until the bell rang.

"That," said Josh, dripping from head to toe with red fruit punch Gatorade, "was the most entertaining lunch I've had in years."

I smirked, wringing out my soda-soaked, dark blond hair. "No kidding. But you won't be saying that by the end of the day. You'll be sticky as hell and practically crying when you get home to the shower. And you'll have to clean out your car afterwards." I punched in the combination to my locker and retrieved my Trig book. "Sitting next to each other in Trig?"

Josh smiled. "I was just about to ask. Lemme get my books, we'll go together." Once I'd nodded affirmation, he hurried over to his locker and grabbed his book for Trigonometry. "'Kay, let's go." He flashed me a dazzlingly white grin.

"Okay." We walked in silence for a bit, leaving trails of Gatorade and Mountain Dew wherever we walked. I noticed a couple of younger kids staring at us, so I flashed them a two-fingered peace sign and a cheerful smile. They quickly looked away and started to get to class.

I took a seat behind Lucas and Hayden, and Josh sat down next to me. We struck up conversations, all dripping with various soft and energy drinks. It occurred to me that Josh was acting awfully buddy-buddy with the guys who'd broken his nose, but I brushed it off. Hayden had apologized, anyway.

"Quiet down, quiet down," our teacher, Mrs. Mickey, said, waving at us to be silent. She gave Josh and our group an odd look, as if she couldn't believe that we were actually talking to each other. Or maybe it was just because we were dripping from head to toe with sweet drinks.

Glancing down at my soda-soaked self, I supposed that it was a perfectly valid reason to stare. I was starting to get sticky; PE would be an hour of pure hell. Sweat and Mountain Dew? Ew.

"So," I said, cringing slightly from the stickiness of the soda on me. "What are we? Friends?"

Josh hesitated. He brought his light blue eyes down to mine and shrugged slightly. "Yeah, I guess. If you want to be . . ." He unlocked the door to his car. "You left your car at home, right? D'you—d'you need a ride?" His smile was wary, but slightly hopeful, too.

I raised an eyebrow and glanced around the parking lot. "Where's Jude?" I asked, not spotting him.

"Jude?" Josh looked at me blankly for a moment, then blinked. "Oh, Jude. Right. Er, I'll call him up." He pulled his sticky phone out of his pocket (now I was feeling a bit guilty about chucking the Gatorade on him; it'd suck if I'd broken his phone) and speed-dialed Jude. "Hello? We're in the parking lot. Bye."

My mouth fell open. That was so rude. "Josh!" I said accusatorially, smacking him on the arm and scowling at him. "You didn't even let him talk! That's so mean, who even does that? He's your little brother, doofus!"

Josh stared at me cluelessly. "Er . . . come again?"

"You can't just say a few words to your little brother and hang up on him," I reprimanded him, glaring sternly at him, even though he had about a foot of height on me. "What if he can't make it? Then what happens?"

Snorting, Josh said, "He can always make it. Besides, in case you hadn't noticed, Jude's a crap conversationalist. He says about two words for every hundred that you say." He stuck his phone back in his pocket. "You want the backseat or the shotgun seat?"

"Doesn't matter," I said indifferently, then went back to pestering him about Jude. "And Jude is perfectly fine when it comes to conversation. We talked last night, and he spoke about as much as I did. Stop exaggerating, it's not nice."

"And you are?" Josh retorted, earning himself a scowl from me. "And I doubt it. I've known the kid for fourteen and a half years, and he probably has yet to say a hundred words to me. Jude's autistic, remember, Leigh?"

"Dude! Don't say stuff like that in public," I said sharply, glancing around to see if anyone had heard. "What if he doesn't want anyone to know? You don't just tell it to the world, dork, you keep it quiet—"

"It's okay, Leigh, I don't mind," came Jude's muted voice from behind. I gave a shriek of fright and whipped around to see his face, sighing when I realized that it wasn't a mad axe-murderer. Josh stared at Jude in surprise, but for a different reason.

"That's gotta be the longest sentence I've ever heard you say," he said, blinking in surprise. I shot Josh a don't-be-sarcastic look, and he protested with a, "No, really, I'm not kidding."

Jude shrugged. "Car door?"

"'S unlocked," said Josh. Jude nodded and pulled it open, getting into the backseat. I sighed and chose to ride up front with Josh. He turned up the radio, and Justin Bieber's single, "As Long As You Love Me" came on. Josh surprised me by humming along to it quietly.

"You're a fan of the Biebs?" I said, amused by this fact. All the other guys I knew proclaimed that liking Justin Bieber would demean their manly appeal. "That's a new one. I'm learning all sorts of new things about you—pink boxers and Bieber fan. You're full of surprises, Vaughn."

"Josh," he corrected quietly, so low that I didn't think that I was meant to hear it. He raised his voice slightly. "Besides, I've seen you and your friend, Kayla, singing 'Boyfriend.' You can't deny that you like JB, it's a proven fact."

I snorted. "Yeah, well, I'm a girl. All the guys I know hate JB."

"Haters gonna hate," Josh pointed out, smirking as he drove. "And sexist much? Guys are allowed to like Justin Bieber. The guy's pretty boss."

"Yeah, it's just that most guys don't," I said, smiling lopsidedly. "Right, Jude?" I remembered to tack it on at the end; I'd almost forgotten about him. A flash of guilt passed through me—I always preached to Josh about being nice to Jude, but if I couldn't even remember him, what kind of hypocrite would I be?

A hypocritical one, the smartass part of my brain told me. I smirked and rolled my eyes.

Jude gave a noncommittal grunt and kept looking out the window. Odd, he was usually more talkative. Maybe Josh's comment had put him off or something. His brother wasn't very nice to him, it seemed.

I sighed quietly and shifted uncomfortably in my seat; the soda had long dried, and it was explicitly uncomfortable sitting down. The ritual was fun, but the consequences weren't. "Half of the time, I love whoever created the dump-your-drinks game, but at times like these, I hate whoever made it with a passion."

"No shit, Sherlock," Josh said sarcastically, slowing to a halt in front of my house. "See you tomorrow, Leigh."

"Will do, Vaughn," I said, saluting him and shouldering my backpack. Then I made a dash for my house—finally I'd be able to take a shower. "Bye, Josh! Bye, Jude!" I hollered, waving as I ran for the house. I heard Josh's laughter from behind me, and nothing from Jude.

I picked up my phone as it vibrated, then groaned when I saw who was calling. Nevertheless, I picked up. "Yes, Travis?"

"So, I'm guessing that Josh told you that you're going on a date with me?" came Travis's voice, sounding infuriatingly amused. "Since there's no way in hell that you would've picked up that call if he hadn't already given you the notice."

"Unfortunately," I grumbled. "What day and what time?"

I could just imagine Travis shrugging as he spoke. "Dunno, it doesn't really matter. My schedule is pretty much nonexistent, yours? Any day I should avoid?" he said.

"Nah," I said, glancing at my calendar. "I'm free anytime. How about on Friday? You can come up with where to take me. Knowing you, it'll probably be a club." I snorted, amused, and waited for his reply.

His voice was thoughtful when he answered. "That's actually not such a bad idea. I was thinking more of the movies and dinner, but if you're up for clubbing, that sounds good, too."

"Er, I'll pass," I said, cringing when I remembered all those hangovers. Liquor was heavenly when you were consuming it, but not so much in the aftermath. "I can go clubbing when I like. So, movies and dinner? Original . . . Friday, what time?"

"Dunno, is five good?" yawned Travis, sounding tired. "Or five-thirty, if you want to see less of me."

"Five-thirty," I answered him, smirking and finishing up the last of my homework with a flourish of my pen. "What else did you expect?" I glanced at my alarm clock and noted that it was twelve-thirty in the evening. "Hey, it's getting late, Trav. I'll see you tomorrow, alright?"

"Yeah, sure. Bye." We both hung up, and I felt the oddest sensation bubbling up in my stomach. Something like . . . anticipation?

But that's silly, I thought to myself. You've never been interested in Travis O'Donor whatsoever, and you never will be. It's just going to be one date, and then you'll be able to go back to hating the kid.

Suddenly, I wasn't so sure if that was what I wanted anymore. Travis was . . . nice, almost, and I hated to admit that I minded him less than I said I did. He would make a decent friend, but as for a partner?

I shook my head. Yeah, right. Anyone who decided to date Travis had to be crazy.