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The Charade: Chapter 10


THE NEXT HOUR was spent listening to our teacher, Mrs. Johnson, as she went over the course curriculum. The class seemed interesting enough. The Adult Roles class was only offered to seniors at our school—a class that was supposed to prepare us to go out into the world and act like upstanding, responsible citizens.

I’d mostly signed up for this class because I wanted an easy A to buffer the rest of my intense schedule. But who knows, maybe learning more about building healthy romantic attachments, and the responsibility of raising children later, might come in handy a few years down the road when I would be settled into my future position at Hastings Industries and would have more time to think about these things.

After the final bell of the day rang, Ava turned around in her seat and slid a folded-up piece of lined paper across my table. ‘This is for you,’ she said with a wink. ‘Wait until I leave to read it.’

Before I could even open the note, she left the room with her skirt swishing around her long legs.

When I looked sideways at Mack to see what he was thinking about Ava’s shenanigans, he had a stunned expression on his face. ‘Now, what exactly did you two do at lunch?’ The way he swallowed told me that he too had noticed the sexy way Ava’s hips had swung as she’d walked away.

‘We just ate enchiladas and worked on our assignment,’ I said, knowing I probably looked as stunned as he did.

‘Well, either you’re remembering it very wrong, or she just interpreted things differently because that girl’s not being subtle at all.’

‘Yeah.’ I blinked as I flicked the edge of the note she’d given me. ‘I think she’s just trying to help me out with Sofia. But who knows, maybe she’s crazy.’

I really didn’t know the girl yet.

Mack chuckled. ‘Well, if that’s the kind of crazy the new girls are bringing with them, sign me up.’

I shook my head and decided I might as well satiate my curiosity by reading what she’d written in her note.

Inside, in the same flowing cursive that she’d used on my hand and on my contract, was a note that read:

To Mr. Haughty McHot-Hot,

Pretty sure Sofia was trying to burn a hole in the back of my head all throughout class with her death glare. So…you’re welcome. We’ll talk more about how I want you to return the favor in the library.



And in a smaller script with an arrow pointing to the word ‘haughty’ was a note that said: Yes, I spelled that right.

Oh Ava. You’re going to be quite the handful, aren’t you?

I MADE it to the library first.

Apparently, for all of Ava’s antics in front of our class, she hadn’t actually been as excited to meet up with me as she’d pretended.

While I waited for her to show up, I pulled out my AP Psychology textbook to get started on the reading assignment my teacher had given us for chapter one.

I had only made it through the first page before I noticed Ava appear at the entrance to the library with Nash at her side.

She laughed at something Nash said to her, and then after another short exchange where they smiled more than I ever could without it tiring my underused smile muscles, she handed him her phone to type what I assumed must be his phone number. And then she waved goodbye to him.

I set my psychology text aside and opened my math notebook to the page I’d written the answers to our interview questions earlier as she walked toward me in the back corner of the room.

‘Looks like Nash didn’t buy your little production from last period,’ I commented when she took her seat in the chair beside me at the small round table.

‘I think it was more your side of it that he didn’t buy.’ She shrugged. ‘He knows all about the no-dating clause in your contract and somehow figured out that you’d only flirt back with me if it was already known that nothing would ever happen between us.’

‘Huh,’ was all I could say in response. I guess Nash was more observant than I’d thought.

And apparently, I’d also been correct when I suspected that he’d been the one to mess with my contract in the first place.

‘So, from the way you just got his number, I’m assuming that you have a favorite Hastings brother already.’

‘I don’t know… You both have provided a lot of fun entertainment for me so far,’ she said with a sly look on her face. ‘But it’s refreshing to be around a Hastings boy who is actually socially capable and genuinely good-natured.’

I had to chuckle at her ripping me a new one. ‘Being pleasant all the time takes too much energy.’

‘Maybe you should try drinking some coffee for an energy boost,’ she said. And then I thought I heard her mutter under her breath, ‘Being hot can only get you so far, ‘ as she dug into her bag for the skull-and-crossbones notebook she’d used earlier.

I couldn’t help the smirk that lifted my face after hearing her disgruntled words. ‘So you find me attractive?’ I asked.

She looked up from her bag, her face going pale as she realized she’d spoken the words loud enough for me to hear. ‘I-I didn’t say that.’

‘Yes, you did.’

‘No, I didn’t,’ she insisted, even though we both knew that she had.

‘Ava,’ I said in a chiding tone. ‘Didn’t your parents ever teach you it’s not okay to lie?’

‘Fine.’ She let out an aggravated sigh. ‘So you’re hot. You obviously already know that, so I shouldn’t be ashamed for thinking so.’

‘Thanks for the compliment.’ I shot her a smile. ‘I mean, your ‘Haughty McHot-Hot’ compliment was nice earlier. But it’s always great to hear how good-looking I am in person.’

Her eyes widened and she sat up straighter with a hmph. ‘I wasn’t compli—’

‘It’s nothing to be embarrassed about,’ I cut her off. ‘In fact, I was about to say that you yourself have the most captivating eyes.’

Which, despite my teasing tone, was actually true.

In fact, they were really pretty—a lighter amber color that kind of surprised you.

And as I studied the flecks of gold in her irises, I could tell the moment she realized I’d just complimented her because her eyes went wide with shock.

She blinked a few times, like she was having to switch gears with whatever retort she’d planned to say and instead said, ‘Th-th-thank you?’

I shrugged. ‘Of course.’ Then leaning closer so our faces were mere inches apart and her sweet perfume filled my nose, I decided to see how far I could take things by tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. In a voice just above a whisper, I said, ‘Not only are your eyes captivating, but I also find your personality enchanting and your wit positively charming.’

She swallowed and just stared at me, probably completely stunned by my words and the intimate way I’d just traced my fingertip across her smooth skin.

As her questioning gaze studied my face for signs that I was being facetious, I worked hard to maintain a straight face. But not nearly the actor my brother was, I was only able to keep in character for another second before the corners of my lips betrayed me and the smile I’d been fighting forced its way across my lips.

It only took another second for her eyes to narrow and her jaw to drop as she realized that I’d just complimented her with all the qualities she’d listed at the bottom of our contract.

‘Ugh.’ She pushed her hand against my shoulder, forcing more distance between us. ‘You think you’re so funny, don’t you?’

I shrugged. ‘Sorry, I’m really great at reaching for the low hanging fruit.’

I mean, how could you not when it was just sitting there?

But though I’d only done it just to get a reaction from her, it was strange how my fingertips still burned a little from touching her cheek. It had been a long time since I’d had any sort of reaction like that with a girl.

Ava shook her head, her silky brown curls bouncing slightly with the movement. ‘Anyway, since I know how anal you are about your schedule and that we only have forty-five minutes before you probably have a workout or something else planned, I wanted to briefly talk to you about what I hinted at in my note.’

I leaned back in my seat, resting one arm across the table in a relaxed pose. ‘I’m listening.’

‘Okay,’ she said. ‘So I’m guessing that you might be a little curious about why I decided to put on that whole charade during our last class after we’d just gone through that whole contract thing during lunch.’

‘Just a little curious.’ I drummed my fingers on the wooden tabletop. ‘You might say that you totally flirting with me after signing a paper saying that you wouldn’t try to date me was kind of the opposite behavior that I expected.’

‘So I may have had a little fun.’ A little smirk lifted her lips, like the memory of the whole debacle was hilarious to her. ‘But I guess after everything today, it got me thinking that maybe we could make an arrangement that’s mutually beneficial.’ She studied me, and for the briefest moment there was a glimmer of vulnerability that showed through the mask of confidence she’d been wearing all day. She looked down as she smoothed her hands along her pleated skirt. After releasing a heavy breath, she met my gaze again and said, ‘I know that during lunch I joked a little over the fact that I needed a tutor in order to even attend this school in the first place, but—’ She shifted in her seat and tossed her long hair over her shoulder, as if trying to get more comfortable for an uncomfortable conversation. ‘—it’s actually something that I’m really embarrassed about.’

She trained her gaze to the side, as if admitting her weakness took a lot of bravery. Then she said, ‘And I guess that since I really don’t want everyone at school to know that I need help with math and you seem eager enough to make Sofia regret breaking up with you, then maybe we could kill two birds with one stone and pretend like we’re spending our afternoons together for less scholarly reasons.’

‘You want people to think we’re romantically entangled?’ I asked, not sure I was understanding her correctly.

‘Well, maybe not exclusively,’ she said. ‘I’d still like to have a fun senior year with guys.’

‘Like my brother Nash,’ I offered since she’d just been with him.

‘Sure, him and others.’ She shrugged. ‘It’s my first day, there are still a lot of guys to meet.’

I knew it was insane to feel the least bit possessive of this girl whom I’d just met twenty-four hours ago, but for some strange reason, her talk of dating lots of other guys caused an unusual jolt of jealousy to rise in me.

But I pushed the feeling away since caring about who or how many guys Ava spent her time with really shouldn’t affect me at all.

‘So anyway,’ she continued, ‘I was just thinking that while neither one of us is officially dating anyone else, it would be a nice arrangement for me to save face and for you to get back a little at Sofia.’

I strummed my fingers on the table as I thought over what Ava was proposing.

I hadn’t exactly wanted to mess with the drama that dating and girls brought with them this year, so pretending to flirt with Ava wouldn’t hinder any of that—in fact, it might even help fend off other girls who might otherwise try to flirt with me. And then, of course, making Sofia believe I’d moved on and was completely over her was also a very appealing idea—especially since I could do that without the less desirable side effects of having to actually be invested in a new relationship.

Plus, this plan of hers wouldn’t even add an extra time constraint into my schedule since I’d already planned on our Tuesday and Thursday tutoring sessions for the rest of the school year.

The only thing I’d really need to do differently was more of what we’d done during last period, which—when I thought about it—had actually been kind of fun.

Maybe Nash and Cambrielle weren’t the only Hastings siblings with a future in the theater?

‘So, what do you think?’ Ava asked.

‘You think it’ll actually work?’ I pressed my lips together as I looked at her.

‘I think so,’ Ava said with a shrug. ‘I mean, I guess I’ve heard that you only date supermodels, which yeah, obviously I’m not one, so maybe that simple fact will make it unbelievable to anyone who knows you. But if you’re not too worried about looking like you’re slumming it with the new girl, I think it could help us both in our own ways.’

‘I don’t think anyone would think I was slumming it,’ I said, not wanting her to think that my lack of interest in dating her had anything to do with the way she looked.

‘Why, Carter Hastings!’ Ava put a hand to her chest in a show of surprise. ‘I think that may be the nicest thing you’ve said to me yet.’

‘Well, I do what I can.’ Then after thinking about it for a moment longer, I said, ‘How about we nail down a few particulars for how this would even work, and then maybe I can give you a better answer?’


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