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Appealed: Chapter 7

Saint Arthur’s boarding school, junior year

“Kitty!”

“Mitzy!”

Our mothers hug like they haven’t seen each other in years. A Welcome Parents sign hangs across the entrance to the main building, the sun is shining, and the air is warm with a hint of early spring crispness. Eagle-Eye Cherry plays from a radio somewhere across the quad, and clusters of families dot the lush green grass.

“I feel like it’s been ages!” Mitzy says. “We should all have lunch together! There’s that fabulous little place down by the lake . . .”

As my mother quietly agrees, I take advantage of my dark, Risky Business–era sunglasses to check Kennedy out. She looks especially cute today. Her brown hair’s wrapped around the top of her head in a messy, kind of sexy bun. She’s wearing snug blue jeans and an open, oversized navy checkered flannel shirt, but the white tank top beneath it shows off her flat waist and sweet-looking tits. She got her braces taken off last month too. Bonus.

And at the moment, she’s doing that thing with her lip—clasping the plump bottom one between her teeth, sucking just a bit. That move gave me my very first boner when I was thirteen years old, and, damn, if it doesn’t hit me the exact same way right now.

Kennedy and I have always been tight . . . up until this year. When I became captain on the lacrosse team and started seriously dating Cazz. Seriously, as in—fucking her. These days, Kennedy hangs with her roommate, Vicki Russo, and I hang with . . . other people.

She adjusts her glasses and smiles up at me. “Hey.”

“Hey.”

Like a disapproving blond wraith, Kennedy’s sister appears at her side. “Would it have killed you to dress up a little bit? Honestly, Kennedy, Mother and Father drove all this way . . .”

I slip my hands into my pockets and rock back on my heels. “Hi, Claire. It’s good to see you.”

“Brent.” She smiles tightly. “You’re looking . . .” She takes note of my jeans, sneakers, and white-collared shirt under a navy blue sweater. “. . . typical.”

I put my hand up. “Claire, please—I realize I’m an irresistible specimen of male perfection, but your obsession with me is getting embarrassing.”

Kennedy snorts. The uncontrollable urge to laugh bubbles up from my chest and I don’t even try to resist it—because the sour look on Claire Randolph’s face feels so much more hilarious than it actually is. She turns away and follows our parents up the path, leaving Kennedy and me relatively alone.

“Are you high?” she asks me in a hushed voice.

I lean in close to her. “As fuck. It was the only way I could make it through this weekend.”

I know some guys who are major stoners, and I’m not one of them. But an herbal refreshment before a long, stressful day is totally acceptable.

She shakes her head and her nose wrinkles with exasperation. This too is also really fucking cute.

We fall in step beside each other, trailing behind our chattering parents.

“I see your sister still hasn’t elected to have that surgery yet.”

She comes right back with, “You mean the one that will remove the stick from up her ass? Nope, not yet.”

I laugh out loud. “Shit, Kennedy, it feels like we haven’t hung out in forever. Where have you been?”

I’ve seen her around—campus isn’t that big. But I haven’t seen her, seen her. Can’t remember the last time I really talked to her, and she’s a cool girl to talk to.

She turns her head, looking at me for a few seconds, and her voice is almost a sigh. “I’ve been right here the whole time.”

•  •  •

“Posture, Kennedy. Slouching is for girls with weak spines.”

“Why won’t you wear contact lenses, Kennedy? Your eyes are your best feature, yet you insist on hiding them.”

“Another roll, Kennedy? Tsk-tsk, those carbs are a dancer’s enemy.”

It’s been like this since we sat down. For the last hour, Mitzy Randolph has criticized Kennedy right down to her goddamn fingernails.

My buzz is gone and my head feels like it’s going to explode if I have to listen to one more bitchy comment from Mrs. Randolph.

So, of course she says, “Kennedy could have been a classic prima ballerina—if only she had managed to be taller.”

And I say, “Well maybe the rack will come back into fashion and we can strap her on for a nice stretch.”

All four parents stop. And look at me with blank faces.

Just as I’m about to tell them where to go, Kennedy starts to giggle beside me. It’s that forced kind of giggle—a signal to everyone else that a joke was told and they should laugh to be polite. And as long as you’re not her younger daughter, Mitzy Randolph is the epitome of politeness.

Same goes for my mother. “Brent, darling, take off those sunglasses. It’s rude to wear them at the table.”

I take them off and try to hide my eyes by looking down. My mother’s gasp is horrified, so that plan obviously tanked.

“My goodness, why are your eyes so red? Do you have an infection?”

Claire Randolph finally cracks a smile. I bet she enjoys watching worms squirm under a magnifying glass on a sunny day too.

“No, Mom, they’re not infected.”

“But they look terrible!” Her hand rests on my father’s forearm. “Donald, dear, perhaps we should have the doctor come look at Brent?”

“Allergies,” Kennedy pipes up—sounding like she just thought of it herself. “His eyes are red from allergies.”

“Brent doesn’t have any allergies.”

Kennedy smiles at my mother, and sounds so confident I’d believe her. “We all have allergies here. Something to do with the special species of trees in Connecticut. The pollen they . . . ejaculate.”

Ejaculate?

Then she sneezes for added effect.

It’s obvious Claire doesn’t buy it, but the rest of them swallow it like hundred-year-old scotch.

Then it only takes a few minutes before:

“Do make a salon appointment, Kennedy. I can see your split ends from here.”

I stand up so fast the glasses on the table rattle. “We’re going for a walk.”

My mother’s eyes are wide like an owl’s. “Why?”

Saying I’m on the verge of stuffing the tablecloth down her best friend’s throat probably won’t go over well. “I just spotted a . . . double-breasted blue robin down by the lake. They’re super rare. Kennedy and I need to study it for horticulture—”

“Horticulture’s plants,” Kennedy whispers frantically.

“—and winged wildlife class.”

I’m a lacrosse goalie—I’m all about the save.

And they go for it.

Five minutes later, Kennedy and I are walking on the bank of the lake outside. I pick up a rock and throw it hard into the water. “How do you stand it?”

“Stand what?”

Posture, Kennedy, split ends, Kennedy, fucking carbs, Kennedy . . . I wanted to jam my fork into my ear just so I wouldn’t have to listen to it anymore—and she wasn’t even talking about me!”

Kennedy smiles. And it’s not sad or fake or bitter at all. It’s just pretty. “She doesn’t mean those things the way they sound.”

“Then how the hell does she mean them?”

Kennedy shrugs a shoulder and tosses a rock of her own.

“She wants me to be happy. What she thinks happiness is. If she didn’t care, she wouldn’t say anything at all. She’d just ignore me. And that would be worse.”

Our eyes hold for a few seconds and I realize how much I’ve missed this girl. It’s not manly to say—but it’s really fucking true. The people I spend my time with, talk to every day—they’re not real. They don’t look at things the way she does.

They don’t look at me the way she does. Even today, after all this time of not hanging out, we don’t miss a beat. Because she knows me, beginning to end. All the pieces, good and bad, that make me who I am.

And no one else makes me feel the way I feel, right now, looking back at her. The ache in my chest, the clench of my stomach, the thrumming of my pulse.

“I’m surprised you’re not having lunch with Cashmere’s family,” Kennedy says.

That makes my gut clench for a whole different reason.

Cashmere’s the hottest girl in school, and things started out wild between us. Fun. But in the year we’ve been dating . . . she’s changed. She’s become clingy and bossy at the same time. Miserably jealous and insecure. That’s another reason Kennedy and I haven’t really hung out lately—Cashmere’s not too keen on her.

“We broke up.”

Kennedy’s eyebrows rise. “Really? When? Why?”

And going by the happy spark in her eyes, it looks like the feeling is mutual.

“Yes. Yesterday. I’m not exactly sure why.”

“You’re not sure?”

“There was a lot of screaming; it was hard to make out the actual words. It’s somewhere between I’m suffocating her and I’m not giving her the attention she deserves.” Palms up, I shrug again.

Kennedy swallows as we walk along the water. “Wow. You, ah . . . you don’t seem too broken up about it.”

“I’m not.”

A light breeze blows and she pushes a loose strand of hair from her cheek. “Do you think—”

“Kennedy!” Mitzy Randolph calls from up the hill to where we stand. “Kennedy!”

Her voice reminds me of Auntie Em calling for Dorothy as the twister was coming in.

She gestures for us to come up and reluctantly, we do.

Mitzy talks with her hands as she explains to us both. “We’ve all had the grandest idea! The Remington Hotel is just a few miles away—they have the most fabulous bar and casino—very exclusive. So we’re all going to spend the night there and we’ll take you back to school tomorrow. Doesn’t that sound like fun?”

I smile at Mitzy and throw an arm around Kennedy’s shoulders. This means solo time with Kennedy. “It sounds like a lot of fun, Mrs. Randolph.”

•  •  •

“Kennedy, are you awake?” I whisper.

I listen outside the door of the Randolphs’ suite, but I don’t hear any movement on the other side. Disappointment drops in my stomach. Because we spent the entire day with our parents, walking and talking and frigging talking some more. We had a late dinner in the “fabulous” restaurant downstairs, then our parents pretty much sent us to bed. While they hit the casino.

Ageism is a terrible thing.

But now it’s just after midnight, and I have an awesome idea.

Which only works if Kennedy is still awake.

I knock again, louder this time. “Kennedy?”

The door opens halfway, and Kennedy peers up at me. Her glasses are off and her eyes—I never noticed before, but they’re spectacular.

Thick, long lashes frame sparkling, golden-brown orbs. Soft and so . . . warm. The kind of eyes a guy would want to look down into while he’s moving above her—the kind you’d hope she’ll leave open while you kiss, deep and slow.

The rest of her? Well—I’ve always kind of noticed that.

Ever since she started wearing a training bra and I discovered the delicious sin of masturbation.

And I’d have to be blind not to notice her now. A thin-strapped silky pink tank top that’s kind of draped across her chest. It doesn’t show any cleavage, but if she moves just the right way, we’re talking a prime view. The bottom half is matching pink shorts that are swishy around her thighs, showing off killer toned legs.

And I’m not the only one noticing things.

Kennedy’s eyes slide across the chest of my sleeveless shirt and down the ridged muscles of my biceps. My skin is surfer-boy tan from outdoor workouts and afternoon practices. Then her eyes cut across to my waist, maybe picturing the six-pack beneath it, and then . . . lower. And I wonder if she notices how hard I’m reacting to watching her watch me.

The tinge of pink on her cheeks tells me she just might be.

Her gaze settles on my smiling face. She licks her lips and says, “Hey. What’s up, Brent?”

I hold up the keys to my father’s 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California. Also known as the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off car.

Less than a hundred were made and, just like in the movie, it’s my father’s pride and joy. And it’s parked downstairs right now.

I found out today that Kennedy doesn’t have her driver’s license. With her family’s chauffeurs, her mother didn’t see the point.

And I’m going to rectify that.

“Ready for your first driving lesson?”

•  •  •

“. . . then you ease your foot back at the same time.”

We’re in the big empty parking lot of a darkened building a few miles from the hotel. Kennedy listens to my instructions intently, brow furrowed, adjusting her glasses. She seems excited, determined, and totally adorable.

“Got it?”

“Got it.” She nods.

And she goes for it.

There’s a grinding sound as she moves the stick shift, and I mentally thank the clutch for his brave sacrifice. We start to move forward, bucking, inch by inch and I tell her, “Now gun it. Hit the gas.”

And then we’re moving.

Kennedy’s smile is huge and bright, like Christmas morning and the Fourth of July rolled into one.

The car gives a slight stutter as she shifts into second gear, but smooths back down after her foot is off the clutch. With one hand on the wheel, she grabs my arm with the other.

“I’m doing it, Brent!”

It’s awesome, and I chuckle. “Yeah, you are.”

•  •  •

“You need a nickname. Kennedy is kind of a mouthful to say.”

We’re parked at a picnic area high above the lights in the town below. It’s still and quiet. The top of the car is open, but the sky feels like a dark canopy above us, dotted with countless bright stars.

We didn’t crash into anything and the car is still running, so in my mind, Kennedy’s driving lessons were a roaring success. She said she wasn’t ready for the open road, but I’ll get her there eventually. The look on her face when she really got the hang of shifting—it was pure elation and gratitude. Seeing that expression felt just like when I block an opposing team’s goal—like something I was born to do again and again.

“My name is too long? Do you often have difficulty with big words?” she asks with a smartass smirk. “Maybe you should see someone about that.” Then she asks, “What’s your nickname?”

“BC.”

She frowns, trying to figure it out. “Because your middle name is Charles?”

I shake my head and tell her with the straightest face, “Big Cock.”

Kennedy laughs. “Did you think of that all by yourself?”

“The guys on the team gave it to me. It’s a lot to live up to—don’t want to disappoint the younger classmen. But in the immortal words of Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility.”

“Uncle Ben, actually.”

“What?”

She tilts her head. “Uncle Ben said that, not Spider-Man. Remember?”

I do. But the fact that she remembers . . . is pure fucking awesome. It does things to me—deep, thoughtful, serious emotion type of things.

But I’ve never been the serious kind of guy, so I tease, “How about Randy? Randy Randolph. Can I call you that?”

Kennedy frowns. “Not if you expect me to answer.”

We talk more, about everything and nothing in particular. And somehow, even though it wasn’t what I planned—or expected—my arm ends up around her shoulders, her head resting against my collarbone.

Slowly, I slide her glasses off and carefully fold them before placing them on the dashboard. Like it’s the most natural thing in the world, I dip my head and press my lips against hers. They’re achingly soft and warm. I trace her lips with my tongue, but they stay tightly closed, and I laugh against her mouth.

She pulls back. “What?”

I look into the gorgeous eyes of the girl I’ve known my whole life, and my only thought is, what the hell took me so long to do this?

My thumb slides slowly across her jaw. “Have you ever kissed anyone before?”

The last time we talked about it, sophomore year, she hadn’t.

But she doesn’t blush or recoil at the question. Her voice is low and kind of panting. “Of course I have. Why? Are you saying I’m bad?”

I don’t know who the hell she’s been kissing, but whoever it was—they must’ve been piss poor at it. This pleases me.

“Nope. But you’re about to get even better.” I lean forward, brushing against her lips again. “Open your mouth for me, Kennedy.”

Then there’s only kissing—head-turning, lip-sucking, tongue-sliding kind of kisses. Her taste makes me feel a little drunk. And the whisper of my name from her lips makes me feel a little crazy.

Clothes find their way to the floor of the car. And every moment is easy and natural, and so fucking right.

Afterward, we’re pressed against each other in the same seat, boneless and spent. And I get why they make so many cheesy movie scenes that end just like this—because it just doesn’t get more perfect than right here, right now.

Kennedy smiles up at me and I kiss her forehead, and together we watch the sun rise.

•  •  •

The next morning, my parents make me get up early—drop me back at school early—because my father has some meeting to get to back home. They leave a message for the Randolphs at the front desk. It sucks that I don’t get to see Kennedy before we go, but I’m consoled by the thought that I’ll see her at school.

Everything is going to be different now.

When I get to my room, I hop in the shower. My thoughts helplessly drift to last night. The feel of Kennedy’s hands on me. The sounds she made—little moans and greedy whimpers.

Let’s just say it’s convenient that I’m in the shower.

I step out of the bathroom with a towel around my hips and water still trickling down between the grooves of my abs.

“Hey, baby.”

Cashmere is laid out on my bed—wearing my lacrosse jersey and nothing else. She’s all hooded eyes, pouty lips, tan skin, and teased blond hair—ready for a Playboy photo shoot. There was a time my dick would’ve led me straight to her and I would’ve happily followed—all our problems solved.

But not anymore. I’m done letting my dick lead me around—it’s time to start following my heart. And I know how corny that sounds, but I don’t give a shit.

“What are you doing here?” I slip boxer briefs on under the towel—it just doesn’t feel right to let her see me bare-assed anymore.

“Do I need a reason to visit my boyfriend?”

“Not your boyfriend anymore.”

Her eyes roll. “Of course you are.”

“You broke up with me, remember?” I pull my practice jersey over my head.

Cashmere crawls toward the end of the bed. “It was a mistake.” She purrs, “I’m sorry. Let me make it up to you.”

I’ve been with this girl for a year. Screwed her every way I know how, and thought that was love—but at his moment, I feel nothing for her. It’s almost scary. No guilt, no tender urge to protect her feelings. I’m not sure she has any. It’s really fucked up.

“If you didn’t, I would’ve broken up with you. We’re done, Cazz.”

Her eyes drop to the bulge in my boxers and she licks her lips. She rises to her knees and moves to wrap her arms around my neck. “You don’t look done to me.”

I catch her wrists and look at her hard.

“Trust me, I’m done.”

Anger flashes in her hazel eyes, sharp and vindictive and oh-so familiar. “I heard you hung out with your little freakazoid friend this weekend.”

My grip on her wrists tightens. “Don’t call her that.”

Her mouth twists into a nasty knot. “Did you fuck her? Is that what this is about?”

I drop her wrists and take a step back. “This has nothing to do with Kennedy.”

“Oh, please. You would never turn me down unless you already had someplace new to stick your dick into. I know you, Brent.” She slides off the bed and trails the tip of her finger slowly up my arm. “And that’s why I know when you’re done with your little trip into Loserville—you’re going to come right back to me. We’re too good together.”

Because she’s the hottest girl in school, I used to get a charge out of hearing her talk like that—a rush of confidence. Now it just makes me think that Cashmere is total bunny-boiling material.

“Take my jersey off. We have a game tomorrow night; it’s bad luck if you wear it. Leave it on the bed.”

And before she even starts to take it off, I’m out the door.

•  •  •

Lacrosse practice runs overtime. One of our starting defenders busted his ankle last week, trying to parkour between two garbage dumpsters. He’s kind of an idiot. The second string taking his place is a freshman—good but nervous—so Coach and I stayed after practice to work with him and to go over the opposing team’s game tapes. It’s dusk by the time I leave the gym.

Walking back to my dorm, my lacrosse bag over my shoulder, I’m in a great mood. I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling all day. I may even whistle a merry tune. My mother had a thing for Gene Kelly when I was a kid, and in my head, I’m totally doing the “Singin’ in the Rain” dance.

Three guys are standing on the dorm building’s steps. And even though I’m not the type who listens to other people’s conversations, two words zoom straight to my eardrums, like a nuclear missile: Kennedy Randolph.

And my mental Gene Kelly is struck by a bolt of lightning and bursts into flames.

“I told you she’d say yes, dumbass. I don’t know why you waited three years to ask her.”

That’s Peter Elliot. He’s a science kid—biology. He got a grant from the federal government last year to cross-breed poisonous caterpillars, I think. And he’s talking to William Penderghast and Alfonso DiGaldi. They’re on the brainier end of the spectrum too—quiet, kinda bland guys who spend most of the weekend in the library.

“You can’t rush these things. The timing had to be just right. But now the stars have aligned and Kennedy Randolph is going to the movies with me this Friday. Maybe I should rent a limo.”

William laughs for no reason. Smiles so big and bright it almost hurts to look at him—because he looks like how I felt just ten seconds ago.

I walk straight up to them, eyes on William. “Did you just say you’re going out with Kennedy Randolph?”

William puffs himself up a little bit. “That’s right.”

No fucking way.

“When . . . when did you ask her?”

He looks at me. “Like, a couple hours ago. Why?”

No fucking way.

“I . . . just . . .”

There’s only one explanation—there are two Kennedy Randolphs at this school.

I go with that.

“Kennedy?” I ask, using my hands to imitate her height. “Short, glasses, brown hair? My . . .” I swallow. “That Kennedy?”

And out of the blue, he starts to look pissed. Affronted. “That’s right. She’s smart, funny, and has the biggest heart of anyone I know. She’s also got a beautiful smile and eyes that are the most fascinating—”

I walk away. I can’t listen anymore. If I do—I’ll fucking lay him out.

I head straight for the girls’ upperclassmen dorm. I don’t think, I don’t stop to talk to anyone, and my jaw is so tight it’s a miracle my teeth haven’t cracked by the time I get there.

I pound on her door with the side of my fist—and I don’t stop until it opens.

Her eyes look shiny behind the glasses, her nose a little red—like she’s getting a cold. Her gaze traces over my face for a few seconds and then her back straightens. “What’s up?”

“Are you going out with William Penderghast?”

She steps out into the hall with me, closing the door behind her.

And then she blows my soul to kingdom come.

“Yes, I am. Why do you ask?”

For a second I don’t answer her. It takes me time to find any words.

Why do I ask? Because what about last night?” I try to keep the devastation out of my voice, but I don’t know if I manage it. “I thought . . . I wanted . . .”

Her voice cuts, like a razor blade to the wrists. “Last night was fun. But it didn’t mean anything—I know that. I can handle fun just like everybody else. And now I’ll do my thing with William and you do yours with—”

“You’ll do your thing with William? Seriously? What the fuck was I—the warm-up act?” I yell, anger on full display.

Fury flashes in her eyes, turning them aflame. “What’s the matter, Brent? Did I hurt your precious boy-feelings? Did you expect me to follow you around like every other girl in school? Take your crumbs when you’re feeling charitable?”

I don’t really understand everything she’s saying—the haze of disappointment is too crushing. Because, yeah, it hurts. As lame as it sounds, last night meant something to me. She means something to me. And apparently I don’t mean dick to her.

So I do what comes natural. Cover it up. “I’m just surprised, is all. If I knew you were so easy, I would’ve hooked up with you years ago.”

Her cheeks go fire-flaming red—with embarrassment or anger, I can’t tell.

“I’m not easy.”

“You sure? You may not think you’re easy, but actions speak louder than words. William and I will have to compare notes to see. Because I didn’t even have to try last night. It felt pretty fucking easy to me.”

It’s a shitty thing to say. I wouldn’t be surprised if she slapped me—that’s what girls do when they’re offended. That’s why they call it a bitch-slap.

But, like I’ve always known, Kennedy Randolph isn’t your average girl. She doesn’t slap me.

She punches me. Right in the mouth.

My head snaps back and I taste blood.

“Damn it!”

But when I open my eyes, when I look back at her face, all the anger bleeds out, like a hemorrhaging artery. Because Kennedy doesn’t look furious anymore, or even angry.

She looks . . . crushed. Holding back tears—but just barely.

“I hate you,” she forces out, shaking her head. “I hate you.”

Her words reverberate in my bones, echo in my head.

In history, we watched a documentary on the Vietnam War, with actual footage of a battle from a reporter’s camera—of a soldier, a young guy who was shot.

Badly.

And when it happened, his face, more than anything, looked surprised—stark white with shock . . . because there was suddenly a hole in his chest where his heart had just been.

When Kennedy turns her back and slams the door in my face—I feel the exact same way.


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