“Leave me alone!” someone shrieks from the hall, and I look up just in time to see a ball of fluffy pink tulle barreling through the double doors and into the kitchen. She turns around and gives me a shaky smile. “Do you mind if I hide in here for a minute?” Tears stream down her face, leaving sooty trails of mascara in their wake.
Shrugging, I drag my gaze off the girl in the ridiculous dress and focus on scrubbing the pan in front of me. “Don’t care,” I mutter. Scrub, scrub, scrub.
I’m aware of her walking toward me, but I don’t look up. I’m good at being invisible, and that’s all I want to be right now.
“I’m Brinley Knox. What’s your name?”
Brinley Knox, the guest of honor. Funny that she asked if she could stay. This is her house, after all.
I feel her gaze on me and realize she’s waiting for an answer. “Marston.” I tense, waiting for her next remark. I get all sorts of shit about my name.
Brinley sniffles, and despite myself, I’m aware of her eyes on me, of every move she makes to close the distance between us. “Are you new here? I don’t think I’ve seen you on staff before.”
Staff. Her family has staff. Of course they do. They live in a freaking mansion and are throwing their daughter a sixteenth birthday party fancier than most people’s weddings.
“I’m new.” I rinse the pan and set it in the rack to dry before pulling the drain on the soapy water. I grab a towel and dry my hands. “Why are you crying?” I can’t imagine ever crying if I lived in a house like this. But what do I know? Maybe her dad hits her. My mom always said dysfunctional doesn’t have an income bracket.
She pulls her bottom lip between her teeth, smudging her bubblegum-pink lipstick. “It’s my birthday,” she says, as if that’s any sort of explanation.
“Shouldn’t that make you happy? It’s your birthday, and your parents threw you this big party.” The sneer I intended to wrap around my words is nowhere in sight. Whatever her problems are, they’re real to her. I can’t believe I feel sorry for the spoiled little rich girl.
“My boyfriend broke up with me. At my party.” Her bottom lip trembles. When she meets my eyes, something hits me. She’s pretty underneath that makeup and ridiculous dress. Really fucking pretty. Her dark hair is pinned in curls on top of her head tonight, but I bet it’s long and soft when it’s down, and her blue eyes . . . Well, even full of tears, those eyes are like a sucker punch to the gut. “He said I’m uptight, and he doesn’t want to be with a girl who makes him wait for a kiss when we should already be doing . . . other things.”
Jesus. “What a douchebag.”
“You know what’s funny? I was going to let him kiss me tonight. I’ve been looking forward to it all week, but I don’t think he would have cared if I had.”
I toss my towel on the counter and lift my chin in the direction of the party. “Point him out to me. I’ll teach him a lesson.” Only assholes try to manipulate girls into sex before they’re ready.
Her watery eyes go wide for a beat before she smiles, and damn . . . That smile. She’s more than pretty. She’s take-me-by-the-nuts-and-own-me gorgeous. “You’d beat up Roman Humphries for breaking the heart of some girl you just met?”
She says his name like it’s supposed to mean something to me, but I shrug. “Sounds like someone needs to.”
She looks me over slowly as if she’s seeing me for the first time. The black oxford and matching dress pants Aunt Lori said I had to wear tonight are new and easily the fanciest clothes I’ve ever owned. This girl probably doesn’t wear anything from Target, and she sure as hell doesn’t know what it’s like to live on the streets. I feel my past written on every inch of my skin. Self-consciousness pricks at the back of my neck. “Marston, you said? You’re the boy who moved in with Ms. Lori. You’re on probation or something?”
I lift my chin. “What do you know about it?”
She treats me to another one of those soul-owning smiles, and my stomach hitches. “Only that you’re the most interesting boy in this town. Not that there’s much competition.” Her fluffy tulle skirt sweeps the floor as she closes the distance between us. She doesn’t stop until she’s a foot away, craning her neck to look up at me. She’s close enough that I could wipe the smudges of makeup from her cheeks. Close enough to kiss. “You’re tall.”
I bite back a laugh. “You’re short.” And without realizing it, I’m cupping her face in my hands and wiping away the tear tracks. She gasps in surprise, and I drop my hands. “Sorry. You had . . . makeup or whatever. From crying.”