The Hating Game Page 31

Patrick is thinking the same thing. “RSVP right now. Mindy needs to know. For such minor details as catering. Seating.”

“I’m busy at the moment,” Josh tries, but Patrick cuts him off.

“Imagine how it’ll look if you don’t turn up.”

Josh says nothing and Patrick perseveres. “I know it’s going to be hard.”

“You expect me to walk in there like nothing happened?”

Patrick is confused. “But you’d bring Lucy, wouldn’t you?”

I ponder this in the dark. Why on earth would it be hard for Joshua to attend his own brother’s wedding?

“She’s not my girlfriend. We work together.” Josh sounds irritated. I wish that didn’t give me such a punch in the gut, but it does.

“You could have fooled me.”

“Yeah, well, she’s more on the market for a nice guy. Aren’t they all.”

There’s a loaded silence. “How many more times do I have to say—”

“No more times.” Josh is the king of shutting down a conversation. There’s more silence. I can almost hear them both looking at my bedroom door.

Patrick’s voice is lowered now and I can’t hear anything except huffy arguing. Hating myself desperately, I climb silently out of bed, careful to keep my feet in the shadows. I’m a disgusting little snoop.

“I’m asking you to come to my wedding and make your mother happy. Make me happy. Mindy is stressed as hell thinking there’s some sort of family feud happening.”

Josh sighs, heavy and defeated. “Fine.”

“So, that’s a yes? Yes, please, Patrick, I’d love to come to your wedding? I accept your gracious invitation?”

“Yes. That.”

“I’ll mark you down with a plus one. If she survives the night.”

I grip the wall in horror until I hear Josh say sarcastically, “Ha-ha.”

IT’S NOW SOME time before dawn and my room is ice blue. I’m propped into a sitting position, gulping messily what I realize is lemonade. Did he go to the convenience store across the road? The sweet-sour taste of childhood nostalgia and homesickness makes me almost choke.

He takes the glass and eases me back down against the pillows with his arm behind my shoulders. His touch was uncertain yesterday, but now he smoothes his palms and fingertips across me with no hesitation. He looks wrecked with tiredness.

“Josh.”

His eyes flicker with surprise. “Lucy.”

“Lucinda,” I whisper archly. He turns away to smile, but I catch his sleeve.

“Don’t. I’ve already seen it.” I’m never getting over his smile.

“Okay.” I can tell he’s confused. He’s not the only one. I’ve been staring at Joshua for so long, he’s become a color spectrum unto himself. He’s my days of the week. The squares on my calendar.

“White, off-white stripes, cream, non-gender-specific yellow, disgusting mustard, baby-blue, robin’s-egg, dove-gray, navy, black.” I tick them off on my fingers.

Josh is alarmed. “You’re still delirious.”

“Nope. Those are the shirt colors you have. Hugo Boss. Haven’t you ever been to Target?”

“What the hell is the difference between white and off-white?”

“Ecru. Eggshell. They’re different. There was one single time you surprised me.”

“And when was that?” He asks the question as indulgently as a babysitter. I kick my heel in temper against the mattress.

Why aren’t I draped in a black negligee at least? I have never been this unattractive. I’m wearing SLEEPYSAURUS. I look down. I’m wearing a red tank top. Holy shit. He changed me.

“The elevator,” I blurt. I want to reroute this moment, back to a time I was halfway attractive. “You surprised me then.”

He looks at me carefully. “What did you think?”

“I thought you were trying to hurt me.”

“Oh, great.” He sits back, embarrassed. “Clearly my technique is a little rusty.”

I snatch his sleeve with superhuman strength and sit up a little. “But then I realized what you were doing. Kissing. Of course. I haven’t kissed in ages.”

He frowns. “Oh, really.” He stares down at me.

I elaborate so forcefully my voice shakes. “It was hot.”

“I never heard from HR or the cops, so . . .” He trails off, looking at my lips. I’m twisting my hands into his T-shirt. It stretches around my fists. It’s so soft, I want to wrap my entire body in it.

“Is my bed everything you imagined?”

“I wasn’t expecting so many books. And it’s a little bigger than I pictured.”

“What about my apartment?”

“It’s a tiny little pigsty.” He’s not being mean about it. It’s true.

“Do you think Mr. Bexley and Helene make out in the elevator?” As long as he keeps answering my questions, I’ll keep asking them.

“Guaranteed. I’m sure they have vicious hate-sex after each quarterly review.” His eyes are tipping into black and he unravels his T-shirt from my hands as I catch a glimpse of half an inch of stomach—hard and hair. Now I’m sweating more.

“I bet when you shower, water pools right up . . . here.” I put my finger into his collarbone. “I’m thirsty. I’ll dehydrate.” He lets out a breath and it blows right through me.

“Let’s be just like them when we grow up, Josh. We could start a new game. Imagine. We could play games forever.”

“Let’s talk about it when you’re not crazy with fever.”

“Yeah, right. When I’m not sick you’ll hate me again, but for now we’re good.” I take his hand and put it on my forehead to hide my sudden despair.

“I won’t,” he tells me. He smoothes his hand away, over my hair.

“You hate me so much, and I can’t take it much longer.” I’m pathetic. I hear it in my voice.

“Shortcake.”

“Stop calling me Shortcake.” I try to roll onto my side but he presses the heels of his palms lightly against my shoulders. I stop breathing.

“Watching you pretend to hate that nickname is the best part of my day.”

When I don’t reply, he almost smiles and releases me. “It’s time to tell me about the strawberry farm.”

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