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Good Girl Complex: Chapter 15

MACKENZIE

“Three days in a row, this boy lets the door slam in my face at the smoothie place. Not once does he apologize. I’m startin’ to think he’s doin’ it on purpose. I’m old-fashioned, okay? I value manners. Open a door for a lady, will ya? So the fourth day, I see him comin’. I’m ready for him. I’m inside and grab the door before he can open it. I flick the lock. This whole smoothie joint is held captive because I ain’t letting this guy in. Over my dead body.”

It’s Monday morning, and Bonnie and I are both dragging ass. She shouts from the bathroom, putting on makeup, as I make us coffee in the kitchenette. I’m only half paying attention and manage to spill milk on my shirt.

“How long did that go on?” I call from my room while I change shirts. I’m supposed to meet Preston for lunch at his house later, so I have to make sure my outfit is appropriate. Not for him, but for his mother. She likes me fine—I think?—but she’s very … particular. A tank top and jeans are not going to cut it with Coraline Kincaid.

“Long enough that the manager jumps in demandin’ I let people out. And I’m all, I’d love to—as soon as this guy apologizes or leaves. Well, eventually he must realize I’m not playin’ around, so he takes off. Next day, he locks me out of the sandwich shop until I agree to go on a date with him. So he’s pickin’ me up Friday night.”

“That’s great,” I shout, only to turn and realize Bonnie is standing right behind me with our coffee in two travel mugs. “Sorry.”

“You seem edgy.” She stares at me. “You have a secret.”

“No, I don’t.”

Her eyes burst into wide, blue saucers. “You kissed a boy.”

Witch.

“Who is he?” she demands.

There’s no use denying it. I’m entirely convinced of Bonnie’s otherworldly powers. She’ll berate me until I give her what she wants.

“Some townie,” I say. Technically, it’s true. She doesn’t need to know the townie in question is Cooper.

Ugh. Just the thought of his name quickens my heart rate.

What in the world have I done? The kiss at the festival? I can blame that one on the sugar high. But the full-on make-out grope session at his house afterward?

There’s no excuse.

I’m a horrible person. A horrible, selfish, awful girlfriend who doesn’t deserve a stand-up guy like Preston.

There is absolutely no coming back from what I did on Friday night. I know this. And yet despite the whirlpool of guilt currently foaming in my stomach, one stupid little butterfly continues to flutter inside me, flapping around and churning up memories of Cooper’s hungry lips and heated gaze.

His tongue in my mouth.

My fingers skimming the defined muscles of his unbelievably ripped chest.

And it’s not only the physical stuff that lingers in my mind. It’s everything that came before it. Talking about our families in his workshop, running around the boardwalk like a pair of rowdy kids. When I’m with him, I don’t need to put on a front. I don’t have to pretend to be the proper, well-behaved lady I’m expected to be. I feel like I’m my true self when I’m around Cooper. And that … scares me.

“That’s it?” Bonnie’s voice jerks me from my unsettling thoughts. “Nuh-uh, I don’t think so. I require more details.”

I shrug awkwardly. “There’s not much else to say. It just sort of happened.”

“Is it going to just sort of happen again?” Her expression tells me she’s hoping the answer might be yes.

“No. Definitely not. I feel terrible. Preston—”

“Doesn’t need to know,” Bonnie finishes for me. “Nothin’ good will come of telling him. If it was a mistake, and even if it wasn’t—a girl has a right to her secrets. Trust me.”

I know she means well, but I’ve already kept too much from him. This whole thing with Cooper has gone too far. I’m not a liar, and I never, ever thought myself capable of kissing someone other than my boyfriend. It’s a humbling experience, discovering you’re not as morally virtuous as you once thought.

Bonnie’s wrong. Preston needs to know what I’ve done to us.

The right thing to do now is tell the truth and accept the consequences.


Later that afternoon, Pres picks me up from class for lunch. All day, I practiced what I would say. How I would tell him. But when he kisses my cheek and wraps his arm around my waist, I lose my nerve and keep my mouth shut.

“You look great,” he says, nodding in approval.

Relief flutters through me. Thank God. I went through three outfits before I decided on a silk blouse and navy pixie chinos. My own mother doesn’t give me this much anxiety.

“Freddy is preparing lamb shank,” Preston adds. “Hope you’re hungry.”

“Famished,” I lie.

He steers his Porsche into the parking lot of Garnet’s football facility and pulls into a spot. Like the gentleman he is, he hops out of the convertible and runs over to open my door. Then he extends a hand, I take it, and we walk toward Preston’s helicopter.

Yup. His helicopter.

Most days, it’s how he commutes to school. His family had the helipad installed behind the football stadium his freshman year. It’s a bit ridiculous, even for our circle of society, and the sight of the gleaming, white aircraft makes me wonder what Cooper would say if he saw—

No. Nope. Not going there. Today, I come clean.

It isn’t long before we’re flying in over the Kincaid estate, a massive piece of gated property on the coast. Endless lawns and oak trees stretch out for acres, the property divided from the ocean by an expansive white mansion. There’s a pool, tennis courts, basketball court, and flower garden. All maintained by at least a dozen employees at any given time.

On the back patio, his mother greets us. As always, she’s impeccably dressed. Head-to-toe Prada. I’m not sure why she bothers, seeing as how most days she has little reason to leave the house. Like my mom, Coraline doesn’t work and employs a personal staff that handles every aspect of the home and her affairs.

“Hey, Mom.” Preston leans in to kiss his mother’s cheek.

“Hi, darling.” Smiling, she shifts her gaze to me. “Mackenzie, honey.” She hugs me, but with the light touch of someone who might shatter if you squeezed too hard. She’s a slight woman. Fragile, not frail. Just don’t make her angry. “You look lovely.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Kincaid. Your new roses around the gazebo are gorgeous.”

I learned long ago that the easiest way to keep her happy is to find something new on the estate to compliment on every visit. Otherwise, she spends the entire time commenting on my split ends or the size of my pores.

“Oh, thank you, honey. Raúl planted them just this week. He really is an artist.”

“Are you joining us for lunch?” I inquire. Please say no, please say no—

“I’m afraid not. I’m meeting with my architect soon. He’ll be here any minute. Did Preston tell you we’re building a new pool house?”

“No, he didn’t. How exciting.” Really, the only exciting thing about any of this is that she’s not having lunch with us.

And it’s a good thing she doesn’t, because lunch ends up being hella awkward. Not that Preston notices. In the formal dining room among the lamb shank and fine china, he goes on about some professor he insists has it out for him, while I pick at my food and work up the nerve to confess my sins.

“Of course, I could go to the dean and have the whole matter sorted out. He’d be out of a job. Then I thought, well, where’s the fun in that, right? I’ll come up with something more creative. That’s the thing with those people. You give them a little respect, and suddenly they forget their place. It’s our job to remind them. Another refill, Martha,” he says to the maid. “Thank you.”

Finally, I can’t stand the pit in my stomach any longer.

“I have something to tell you,” I blurt out.

He sets down his fork and pushes his plate away for Martha. “You okay?”

No. Not even a little. It isn’t until right now that I realize I do care about Preston. Not only because we’ve been together so long. Not because of some sense of loyalty.

Cooper might draw out my “true self,” whatever the hell that even means, but Preston does exactly what I told Cooper the other night: He keeps me grounded. He’s a stable presence in my life. He knows this world, knows how to handle our parents, which is important in maintaining our sanity. Around him, I’m not a ball of anxiety and dread.

And what I’ve done to him isn’t fair.

I wait until Martha leaves the dining room before releasing a shaky breath.

Now or never.

“I kissed someone. A guy.”

He waits, watching me, as if I might say more.

I should. I will. This seemed the most expedient way to begin. Except now I’m regretting not waiting until we were somewhere more private. If his mother decides to walk in right now, I might not make it off the estate alive.

“Is that all?” Preston prompts.

“No. I mean, yeah. We only kissed, if that’s what you mean.” I bite my lip. Hard. “But I cheated on you.”

He gets up from his seat at the far end of the table and comes to sit beside me. “Do I know him?”

“No. Some local I met at a bar when I was out with Bonnie. It was a stupid thing to do. We were drinking and I wasn’t thinking and…” And I can’t help myself from softening the blow with another lie. I was going to tell him. Everything. Now, looking in his eyes, I can’t hurt him that way. He is taking it better than I expected, though. “I’m so sorry, Pres. You don’t deserve this. I was wrong and I have no excuse.”

“Babe,” he says, squeezing my hand. He smiles, almost amused. “I’m not mad.”

I blink. “You’re not?”

“Of course not. So you had too much to drink and kissed a townie. Welcome to your freshman year of college. Guess you learned a lesson about handling your liquor.”

Chuckling, he kisses the top of my head, then offers his hand to help me up from the table.

“How are you taking this so well?” I’m absolutely dumbfounded. Of all the ways I thought he might react, this wasn’t one of them.

He leads me out to the back veranda to sit on the porch swing, where the maid has already put out two glasses of iced tea. “Simple. I can see the big picture. You and I have a future together, Mackenzie. I’m not interested in throwing that away over some minor indiscretion. Are you?”

“Definitely not.” But I thought there’d be some groveling involved, at the very least.

“I’m glad you told me the truth. I’m not thrilled about what happened, but I understand, and I forgive you. Water under the bridge.” He hands me an iced tea. “Not too much sugar, just the way you like it.”

Okay, then.

For the rest of the afternoon, I expect Preston to pull away. To be cold, unhappy, even though he insisted he was fine.

But that isn’t the case at all. If anything, he’s more affectionate. This whole ordeal has only brought us closer together, which in a way makes me feel worse. I can’t say precisely how I would’ve handled it if the situations were reversed, but I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have shrugged and said, “Water under the bridge.” I guess Preston is a better person than I am.

I need to follow his lead. Be better. Focus harder on our relationship. The big picture, as he’d phrased it.

So that night, when Cooper texts me, I’m ready for it. I’d been waiting all day, all evening, for him to reach out. I knew he would, and I know what I have to do.

Cooper: We should talk.

Me: There’s nothing to say.

Cooper: Let me come get you.

Me: I can’t. I told Preston about the kiss.

Cooper: And?

Me: He forgave me. I can’t see you anymore.

There’s a very long delay, nearly five minutes, before Cooper sends another message. By then, I’m on pins and needles, practically jumping out of my skin.

Cooper: Is that really what you want?

I stare miserably at the screen, a lump rising in my throat. Then I force myself to type.

Me: Yes. Goodbye, Cooper.

Part of me hates cutting him off so abruptly. It isn’t his fault that I messed up. But I can’t trust myself around him, and this is the decision I should have made weeks ago. I was stupid. I thought I could have him as a friend. I thought I could play both sides. Now, I’m choosing.

I’m choosing Preston.


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