Wicked Sexy Liar: Chapter 10


Luke

“NO THANK YOU,” Grams says as Mom carries the serving dish to where she sits. “No asparagus for me, Julie. Those white ones make me feel like I’m eating tiny penises.”

Dad chokes on a sip of wine and Margot’s eyes shoot up to the ceiling while she struggles to keep from laughing.

Our dining room is bright and expansive, with thick cream wallpaper and a large chandelier hanging over a hand-carved cherry table. The décor is way too nice for the kinds of conversations that go down in here when my grandmother is around.

I smile adoringly at my grandmother. “You’re a poet, Grams.”

“Mom,” Dad says in warning, and then looks at me. “Don’t encourage her.”

“What?” Her milky blue eyes widen innocently at him across the table. “Have you looked at them, Bill? It’s been forever since I changed your diaper or wiped your butt, so I’m not suggesting it looks like your—”

“Can you pass the bread?” Margot interrupts.

Grams picks up the bread bowl with a shaky hand and passes it to my sister. “Honestly.” She shakes her head. “Penises are the strangest-looking organ. If being a lesbian had been an option in my day, I would have definitely gone that direction.” She waves a hand. “Not that I didn’t love cleaning up after my feral children and cooking for your father for fifty years.”

“Oh boy,” Margot mumbles.

“Female bodies are so much more pleasant,” Grams muses. “With the breasts and legs and whatnot.”

I laugh into my water glass.

“You should laugh,” Grams says, pointing a delicate, withered finger at me. “You love your penis more than anything in the world.”

I raise my brows as if to say, Well, you’re not wrong, but Mom lets out a tiny squeak. “Anne,” she says quietly, “Luke doesn’t . . .”

The sentence hangs there and the silence bounces around between us.

“Doesn’t what?” Grams asks into the abyss. “Love his penis? Don’t be thick. Margot tells me Luke hasn’t had a girlfriend in years, but look at that smile.” She points at me again. “No boy his age smiles like that without a lot of willing ladies around, if you catch my meaning.”

“She has a point,” I say.

“Luke Graham Sutter,” Mom whisper-hisses. “Honestly.”

“There may be a change happening,” Margot says, and then slides a stalk of asparagus between her teeth, biting down savagely. I wince. Chewing, she says, “Remember that text I sent you the other day? Luke has a crush on a girl.”

Time stops. Forks go silent. Jaws drop open and dust settles.

“Jesus Christ,” I groan, stabbing a bite of chicken.

“Watch your mouth, son,” Dad says under his breath.

I glare at my sister. “You’re on a tear lately, Margot. Are you trying to push me out of this state?”

“Well, what do I have to lose?” she asks. “You’re running out of willing sexual partners in Southern California. Unless you just cycle through them again and forget their na—”

I cut her off with a low “Margot.”

“Luker?” Mom asks me, ignoring this. “You have a girlfriend?”

“No,” Margot answers for me. “There’s a girl who refuses him, but he loooooves her.”

“Are you twelve?” I ask.

My sister winks at me.

“Bubbles?” Mom addresses me again and the delicate hope in her voice makes something between my ribs grow tight.

“You guys,” I say, putting down my fork. “Can we all agree it isn’t healthy that you’re all so invested in me settling down? I’m twenty-three. I graduated last summer.”

“You were just so happy with Mia,” Dad explains.

“Of course he was happy!” Grams crows. “He was seventeen and having premarital sex!” She cackles and slaps the table loudly.

“Mom,” Dad says more forcefully this time. “This isn’t helping.”

“Can we just stop talking about my love life for once?” I ask.

“We,” Margot says, gesturing around the table, “have literally never talked about your love life.” When I don’t argue, she continues: “At least not with you in the room. I just thought everyone might want to know that you’ve got your eye on someone. And, given that you’ve lost your sea legs, so to speak, maybe you could use some advice. After all, Mom and Dad have been married for twenty-seven years. And Grams was married to Papa for fifty.”

“Fifty-two,” Grams corrects her.

“See?” Margot says, smiling at me victoriously. “Fifty-two. I’m sure they would love to give you some pointers.”

Mom’s hopeful smile is back in place. “You want some advice, Bubbles?”

I smile at my sister through clenched teeth and nod. “Sure, Mom.”

Dad pats his napkin against his mouth and sets it down beside his plate before leaning back in his chair and studying me. Oh boy.

“Be straightforward,” he says, lacing his hands behind his head.

“Straightforward,” Mom agrees with a decisive nod.

“My best advice,” Dad says, “is don’t beat around the bush.”

Margot snorts. “I agree. Luke tends to beat around the bush way too much.”

Dad opens his mouth and then closes it, sliding Margot a disapproving look. “If you like her,” he continues with emphasis, slowly looking back to me, “then ask her out.”

“But this isn’t the one who he asked out and she lied about working, is it?” Mom asks Margot.

“It isn’t really that simple,” I say before Margot can answer for me, and for a heartbeat I can’t believe I’m actually engaging in this. But as both of my parents lean in, encouraged, I realize it’s too late. “We went out a couple of times.” I glare at Margot when she lifts a finger to correct the inaccuracy, and she drops it, looking—for once—like she’s going to lay off. “But I’ve been . . . playing the field a bit,” I say, delicately. “And I don’t think she likes that about me.”

“Well, of course she doesn’t, honey,” Mom tells me sweetly. “Girls want to feel special.”

“Take her to a dance,” Grams suggests with a wide smile.

I break it to her gently: “We don’t really do that anymore, Grams.”

“Well, then take her somewhere she likes,” she says. “Does this gal like the movies?”

Dragging a hand through my hair, I admit, “I have no idea if she likes the movies. She’s a bartender at night and surfs all day.”

Mom’s hand drifts in for a trembling landing on her throat. “She went to college, though?”

“She graduated with my class at UCSD,” I reassure her. Mom visibly relaxes. “I think she’s just figuring out what she wants out of life.”

“Well, there you go,” Dad says with a firm palm to the table. “You’re directed and driven. Maybe you can help her find her way in her career, and she can help you get your head on straight about how to get back in the saddle.”

This time my sister’s snort is so loud I’m worried a sinus broke off.

“I can’t believe you actually said ‘back in the saddle,’ ” I tell him.

He nods, wincing apologetically. “I . . .” He reaches for the wine and pours another glass.

I’m practically vibrating inside, needing to escape the scrutiny. As if spring-loaded, my legs push me to stand and I kiss my mom’s forehead, kiss Grams’s dust-soft cheek, pat Dad’s shoulder, and smack Margot on the back of the head. “Thanks for dinner, Mom. The chicken and penises were delicious. Love you guys.”

I grab my sweatshirt from the back of the couch on the way out, feeling like my heart is going to punch its way out of my body. I’ve given Margot more trouble in her lifetime than I can ever hope she’ll repay, but I do like London. I like her a lot, and having it all reduced to a joke, or an amusing conversation over the dinner table, is starting to wear on me.

It bothers me that she felt she had to lie about working, but I get it.

It bothers me that I have no clue how to undo her perception of me, because it isn’t entirely wrong.

It bothers me to see her so obviously worrying about what Mia, and Harlow, and Lola would think of us together.

It bothers me that she’s so clear that nothing else will happen between us, but if all I can get from her is friendship, I like her enough to want to work for it.

But even though I know she was working last night, I didn’t go to Fred’s. I felt like I owed her some space.

“Hang on, Luke.” Dad catches me on the porch, stopping me with a hand wrapped around my elbow. The sun is setting over the horizon and it’s a dizzying mix of oranges and reds framed by long, delicate palms. Some days I feel like I would be insane to leave this town and move somewhere else.

“I wanted to say a few more things to you about . . . your dating life.”

And then sometimes I think I can’t escape fast enough.

“Dad,” I say, rubbing a hand down my face. “I know you guys mean well. It’s just . . . so incredibly unhelpful.”

It’s an odd thing to register that I love my dad’s laugh, but I do. It’s so unlike the rest of him—delicate and girlish—because he’s this tall, brooding dude with a pretty impressive beard. His love for literature combined with his career as a chemist earned from me the nickname Chemingway at an age when I was old enough to make the joke but not yet appreciate how great it was. Several of his colleagues have since claimed to have come up with it, but in my family, we all know the real score.

“I know it’s not helpful,” he says. “The last thing you need is the four of us butting in on your relationships status. But it’s just what family does.” Scratching his cheek thoughtfully, he adds, “You can’t imagine how much joy your mother, sister, and grandmother derive from interfering in your love life.”

“I think I have some idea.” I look past him, down the porch, and back to the ocean.

“My family did the same thing to me,” he admits. “I hated it, actually.”

This makes me laugh, and I nod, looking back to him. “I bet.”

“If you think Grams is bad now, imagine her when she was fed up with her four children and Papa, and on a tear.”

“Whoa, yeah.”

“You see what I mean?” he says, nodding. “So here’s what I wanted to tell you: Before I met your mother—”

I hold up a hand and start to turn away. “Nope. I can’t.”

Dad laughs again, catching my shoulder. “Oh, just listen. Before I met your mother, I . . .” He fidgets, blinks away from me. “I mean, I dated.”

Oh, Christ, that’s Dad’s code for Bedded a lot of ladies.

He bobs his head, laughing nervously. “Quite a bit, actually,” he adds.

I close my eyes, fighting the urge to shudder. “Dad, I get it.”

“It was the eighties,” he reasons. “Casual sex was fine; encouraged, even. But when I met Julie, I just knew she was it for me. It didn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy sex anymore—”

I groan.

“—or that I would have married the next girl who came around. It was her.” Dad leans in, forcing me to meet his eyes. “So don’t let your mother or sister or even grandmother bully you into thinking you need to settle down if you don’t feel it.” He pauses, adding, “You’ll just fuck it up if you don’t mean it.”

I feel my eyes go wide. My dad doesn’t swear. I mean, this man is the only one in our family who goes to church every Sunday, says “dang it” instead of “damn,” and winces when Margot swears at the television during Chargers games. To say he’s polite is an understatement.

“Thanks, Dad.”

But he’s not done. “In the same vein,” he continues, “if you do really like this girl, then tell her. Try to win her. I met your mom when I was your age, and I never looked back. Not for a single second.”

I look up at Dad and try to imagine a younger version of him, one from my early childhood when he would get up at dawn and surf for a few hours before work. One who would come up behind Mom while she cooked and whisper something in her ear that made her giggle and swat at him. Even as a kid, I knew my parents had something good. I think of him now, his easy hand on her thigh while he drives, how he’ll never go up to bed without her, the way he listens to her talk about her day while she cooks, with absolutely no ­distraction—no phone, no television, no newspaper. He sits at the breakfast bar and listens with intent while she rambles on about whatever happened that day in the world of oceanography at Scripps.

They’re more than two people who had kids together—I honestly can’t think of them as lovers, it just makes something curdle in my gut—but they’re also best friends.

I want that.

I want someone who makes me laugh, who challenges me, who listens to me. I want that leg within reach while I drive. I want to wait until someone is done futzing around the house before we head to bed. I need to be someone who a woman can respect and trust enough to spill the details of her day.

I blink, shaking my head. What the fuck is wrong with me?

 

“DO YOU LIVE here?” I pull out a stool at the bar and sit down, placing my phone facedown in front of me. I drove here on autopilot, and when I parked, I told myself it was because Fred’s is only a mile or so from my place and my parents’ place—it’s convenient.

It’s not that I was hoping she was working again and wanted to see her.

I just want a beer. And I’m not tired. And I didn’t feel like going home.

But of course I’m full of shit.

London looks up and gives me a wan smile. “I could ask you the same question.”

“Touché.” She smirks at this, and I lean in, adding, “That’s one of the things I like about you, Dimples.” I slide a dollar bill into her jar.

“That I live in a bar?” she asks. Her dimples flash when her smirk turns into her trademark playful smile, and something strange happens inside my chest.

“I like that you never let me get away with shit. And I like that you’re never actually mean when you call me out.”

This surprises her. I can tell in the way her eyes widen and her dimples vanish.

“Well,” she says when she’s recovered, “maybe the amount of shit you try to pull is so epic it’s easy to pick the low-hanging fruit.”

“Again,” I say, laughing. “Touché. But remember: I wasn’t actually here last night.”

London nods as she wipes the bar in front of me and then drops a coaster down. I try to interpret her expression; was she disappointed? “Can I get you a beer?”

“Actually,” I say, perusing the bar behind her, “I think I’m turning over a new leaf. I’ll have an amaretto sour. Dylan swears you make the best ones on the planet. I’d like to learn to appreciate them.”

She gives me a skeptical look. “That’s a pretty sweet drink. Are you sure?”

“I’m trying to get in touch with my feminine side.”

Laughing, London shakes her head as she turns. “There are so many possible responses to that, I don’t even know where to start.”

I watch as she pours, shakes, and serves up an orange, frothy glass. I’ll admit, it looks amazing, and reminds me of getting Orange Julius with Mia after school our freshman year.

For once, a memory of Mia doesn’t make me feel tight and restless.

Taking a sip, I immediately register my mistake. It’s so sweet I almost don’t want to swallow. “Nope,” I manage once I’ve forced it down. “Still not my drink.”

The bar is dead and London leans forward on her elbows, thinking. “Well, what can I make you instead? Do you like gin?”

“Marginally.”

“Scotch?”

I sigh, wincing because I actually hate this question. “I feel like I should, because it’s such a manly drink and I have such an amazing penis”—London snorts—“but sadly, no. I don’t like scotch.”

She pats my head with a little smile before standing. “I’ve got you. Hold, please.”

It takes every muscle in my body clenching to keep from launching from the bar chair and hurling over the bar to kiss her. It’s like I’ve opened the back door and let the swarm in.

Burst the dam.

Turned on the fire hose.

I’m completely into this girl.

But the problem with Dad’s advice is that I know London isn’t into me the same way, and that asking her out, or even trying to convince her to come home with me, would only send her packing.

The other problem with Dad’s advice is that I don’t know that I want to date London. No, that isn’t exactly right. I don’t know that I should date her. I feel too close to my nightmare hookup from last week. I don’t want my brain to lump London in with the masses, to fall back onto easy, casual patterns with her. It’s claustrophobic to feel the immediacy of all the other girls I’ve slept with even when I’m sitting just a few feet from a girl I genuinely like.

I’m covered in a film of my poor decisions, and even though I want to blast it off, I’m starting to fear it will be a more gradual process of wearing it down, filing it away. Learning from it.

I watch her work, mixing up one, then two, and then I see five drinks lined up on a tray. She lifts it, turning, and carefully slides it down on the bar in front of me. “We’re doing this the scientific way,” she says. “Close your eyes.”

I close my eyes, and then something occurs to me: “You’re not going to dump these over my head, are you?”

Her husky little laugh makes an entire body’s worth of blood rush to my dick. “No, Luke, I am not going to dump perfectly good liquor over your head.”

“Because I’m having a good hair day, Logan.”

“I see that.” She places a tumbler in my hand. “Sip.”

I lift it, smell it, and immediately shake my head. “I can’t do tequila. I did a bazillion body shots junior year and I think I lost my spleen one night in a toilet.”

“God, you’re a catch,” she says dryly, taking the glass from my hand and replacing it with another.

I sip this one. “Jack? Even with the Coke, it’s all I can taste. This is a soft pass for me.”

“Let me guess: drunk, bad-decision sex followed by an epic hangover?”

For once, I wish that were the case.

“No, just a lot of associations . . .” Mia, I don’t say. The first night we ever got drunk, it was on Jack and Cokes. When I open my eyes and look at London, smiling apologetically, I can already see that she’s read my mind.

“I think your Jack Daniel’s is my Jägermeister,” she says quietly.

Scrunching my nose, I tell her, “People don’t really drink Jäger, do they?”

“You’d be surprised. Okay, close your eyes again.” I do what she tells me and feel my skin grow tight when her hand accidentally brushes mine. “You’re a tough customer.” London places another drink in my hand. “Try this.”

7-Up and some kind of orange-flavored booze. Vodka, maybe. I feel my face pucker at the sugar. “Way too sweet. Worse than the amaretto sour.”

She hands me another and when she speaks, her voice is confident, if a little distracted. “Okay, okay, sorry, that one was a joke. Time to end this. This is your drink.”

I lift the glass and take a sip. It’s smooth as glass on my tongue, heavy and viscous, tart with lime. Fuck, it’s good. “What is this?”

“Vodka gimlet.”

I open my eyes and look at her. She’s already cleared away the other drinks and is watching my mouth with a glazed look on her face. When she realizes my eyes are open, she blinks away.

“Belvedere and lime juice over ice,” she adds, swiping a towel over the bar in front of me again. And then she turns, leaving me with my new drink to go take the order of a couple who just sat down.

It’s impossible for me to not watch her while she works. London approaches the couple with a smile—that wide-open one that makes my heart kick at my breastbone—and as she tosses two coasters down, I can see she’s already made them laugh. It’s oddly hot to watch her pour from bottles without even really looking at what she’s doing. Once or twice she glances my way and catches me staring at her, and instinct tells me to pretend I’m reading something behind her, or watching the game on the television just to the right of her shoulder, but I just can’t move that fast, be that blasé. I’m fucking fascinated with the way she looks tonight, hair up in a messy bun, red-framed fake glasses matching her red lipstick, black off-the-shoulder shirt, and cutoff short-shorts doing dangerous things to my libido.

Finally, it’s like I’m a puppy dog she can’t stand to leave outside anymore and she slumps her shoulders playfully, walking back over to me with a teasing, exasperated look on her face.

“Do you need a buddy or what?”

Instead of answering this, I ask her, “How did you know?”

“How did I know you need a buddy? You look totally ­patheti—”

“No,” I interrupt quietly. “I mean, how did you know that the last one would be my drink?”

She shrugs, straightening. “It’s my job to figure those things out.”

This feels like an evasion—the truth feels more impor­tant than this—but I let it slide, taking another sip. “I’m a little tipsy now, though.”

Laughing, she leans in and gives me my favorite smile, the one that feels like it’s been tailored just for me. “Careful, now. Don’t let your true colors show.”

I feel my brow pull together. No matter how gentle she puts it, no matter how much her smile tells me she’s not trying to be mean, I hate her image of me. Hate its accuracy. “You mean my manwhore flag?”

She looks a little guilty when she straightens again, and turns away. Shit. My words came out sharper than I meant them to, and now I seem like a manwhore and an asshole. “Shit. Don’t go,” I say, rubbing my face.

London turns back to me, putting away a few glasses beneath the bar. “I can’t go far. I work here, goose.”

“I just want to be your friend,” I say.

She straightens, eyebrows lifting in surprise. “Wow, you are drunk. How did you survive college being such a lightweight?”

I catch her hand when she reaches to tidy a stack of cocktail napkins. “I’m serious. I like being around you.”

God, I’m realizing how much I suck at this. She was right, there’s no in-between for me, nothing in that no-man’s-land between sincere and slick.

She tries halfheartedly to pull away and then goes lax in my grip. “Luke—”

“Please.” I rub my thumb over the back of her hand. “Let me show you that I’m not the guy you think I am.”

“The problem is there’s no chance of that,” she says softly. “I like you, too. But not for me. You’re exactly the guy I think you are.”

I watch my finger move over her skin. Even after surfing in the harsh salt water every day, her hands are so much softer than mine. “I don’t want to be,” I say, surprising myself a little.

She gnaws her lip, looking away. “What we did was just for fun.” Finally, she frees her hand, and lowers her voice. “It wasn’t ever going to be something more than that. I’m surprised we did it twice.”

“Three times, Logan. Three separate times,” I add and she fights a smile. I duck, chasing her attention. “But I’m not even talking about that.” And, oddly, I’m not. “Just hang out with me.”

Finally, she looks back and meets my eyes. “Not dates? No sex?”

I feel my smile all the way to my chest. “Whatever you want.”

“No sex,” she repeats, and I don’t miss the way she wipes her hand on her shorts. “It won’t ever be romantic with us.”

My heart warps a little at the finality of her tone, but fuck. It really isn’t about that, not with her. “No, I mean . . . ­totally,” I stutter. “No worries. I just want to be your friend.”

She studies me, eyes flickering back and forth between mine, as if one of them would lie while the other told the truth. “Just hanging out?”

“Yes.”

Her nose wrinkles a little, like she might growl at me. “And you promise to be entertaining, not some sad-sack puppy like this?”

Laughing, I tell her, “I promise.”

She grabs a bar towel, wipes down the lip of the sink in front of her. “Fine,” she says, watching her hands. “Saturday afternoon.” With her head down, she lifts her eyes to me, and fuck, it’s the most amazing look I’ve ever seen on a woman. And here she just wants to be friends. “I pick what we do.”

I blanch when I look up at the devious grin she’s wearing.

Oh, fuck. We’re going surfing.


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