Schooled

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Chapter 9

Monday morning Dylan and Ava were waiting for me downstairs to give me a ride to school. “Want me to look at your car later?”

I looked at him warily. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but have you done this before? Or is this just some macho guy thing?”

Ava intervened. “Dylan’s actually pretty good with engines. He pretty much rebuilt the Mustang from the ground up, and he used to fix Ethan’s bike all the time.” Dylan looked slightly surprised she’d backed him up, but it seemed like they were on better terms lately. He turned to me expectantly and I nodded.

“Great. Thanks.”

Sure enough, Dylan knocked on the door at eight at night. Ava alerted me to his arrival by shouting up the stairs.

“I’ll be right there!”

I pulled on shoes and wrapped a soft sweater around me and went down. Dylan was taking up most of the doorway, and I almost stopped in my tracks at the sight of him.

He was less Abercrombie than rebel today, in a threadbare black hoodie and dark jeans. The combination was striking. With the sun almost down and darkness creeping in, he looked like the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to run into in an alley at midnight. But his dark looks didn’t scare me. It would be better if they did.

I grabbed my keys off the hook in the foyer and squeezed past where he was standing in the door frame.

“You’re like a magic genie. Giving rides, fixing cars.”

“Don’t get used to it. You’ll owe me big time for this.”

“I thought we were friends!”

“We are friends. But having been friends for all of four weeks, this goes beyond the call of duty.”

“If you can get it running again, you can have anything you want.” I said it flippantly. He walked around to the front of the car where he’d left a toolbox.

“Let me at it.”

I popped the hood for him, tried starting it. Nothing.

Dylan leaned over, bracing himself with one strong arm as he started fiddling under the hood. I stepped out of the car and closed the door. The stupid convertible had been a bad idea, me rebelling against my mom and Grant as much as buying something I wanted. Another reason not to go with impulse buys. It occurred to me out of nowhere that kissing Dylan that first night had been another stupid impulse.

Thankfully it was fading from my memory the more time we spent together. I could enjoy almost an entire hour in his company without fixating on his hands, or mouth, or anything else. It was progress.

I leaned against the side of the car while he worked. If he didn’t know what he was doing, he was a hell of an actor.

Dylan’s face was a mask of concentration. His hair fell across his forehead, but for once he ignored it. His hands were strong and sure as they moved.

“Are you just going to watch me?” His voice in the darkness surprised me. I could watch him all night but wasn’t about to say it.

“Yup. Consider it my insurance.”

I thought I saw a corner of his mouth quirk up, but it was hard to tell in the low lighting. “In that case, will you at least entertain me while I work?”

“Maybe you should be entertaining me. This car fixing stuff isn’t my thing.” I smiled sweetly as he glanced in my direction.

“What’d you have in mind?”

I thought for a moment. Still not sure he was going to grant me an all-access pass, I figured I may as well start somewhere. I chose my words carefully.

“You said at the party that I didn’t know you. If we’re going to be friends for more than four weeks, which I think I’d like, what else should I know? I mean, I know you’re smart enough to be here on scholarship and you made prom king despite … whatever it was that ultimately landed you in rehab.” I know you’re a pretty decent guy, and hot enough that you should have a warning label tattooed on your forehead.

He let out a breath that might’ve been a laugh or a sigh. “I’m glad you think my academic and social status define me. You also know I can fix a car.” He stood up and scratched his neck, leaving a smudge of black across it.

“Actually, I don’t. So far all you’ve done is move some things around, make assessing noises, and get dirt all over yourself.”

He looked over, his eyes thoughtful, and gestured to me. “Oh yeah? Come here.” I moved over to join him at the front of the car and looked down into the engine. But instead of focusing under the hood, he turned and took a step toward me. In an instant, Dylan’s body was nearly pressed up against mine, dark fathomless eyes looking straight into my soul in that disconcerting way they did. My traitorous mind switched into hyperawareness, feeling the warmth of his body, his hard planes so close. Every inch of my skin was instantly and intimately aware of every inch of his. I wanted to sway toward him and bring us into contact. Instead I swallowed.

To anyone who happened to be looking our way, which I prayed to God there wasn’t, it would’ve looked like we were in some kind of embrace. This was not helping my Dylan detox plan.

Dylan slowly reached out to touch my face. Ran a thumb gently from near my ear, down my jaw to my chin. My eyes dropped to his lips and I shivered all the way to my toes. My mouth fell open, needing to tell him—what? To stop? To hurry the hell up and take me against the side of the car before my brain caught up with us?

Then he flashed an uncharacteristically broad smile and my trance was broken.

“There. Now we’re both dirty.” Huh? My brain finally clicked on again. Forcing my legs to move, I walked around to look in the driver’s side mirror. Saw a smudge of grease that ran the length of my face.

Ass.

I tried to rub it off on the back of my hand and only proceeded to make myself dirtier in the process. He was making fun of me. My own sexual frustration converted smoothly to anger at his antics. “Clearly you’re doing just fine yourself. I’m going inside. Let me know if you need anything.”

“Oh come on, Lex,” he implored. “It was a joke. Stay. I can’t help it, you’re just so teasable. Besides, I might do something stupid if left to my own devices.”

I paused.

“Sorry if that was against the rules. Remember the whole ‘start fresh’ thing? I’m still trying to figure out who I am. Cut me some slack.”

I huffed out a breath and he continued. “We were having a conversation. In fact I think it’s your turn.”

“What do you mean? You didn’t answer—”

But he plowed on.

“I know your dad left when you were young. I know you want to start a clothing line with my sister. I know you’re a pretty great kisser. What else should I know if we’re going to be friends?” He was so matter-of-fact I almost thought I’d misheard him. I flushed, but his eyes seemed focused on the car. If he’d turned them on me at that moment I probably would’ve gone an even darker shade of red. But the very fact that he’d snuck that in did something to soothe my hurt ego.

“There’s not much to know about me. I’m an open book.”

“Bullshit. You’ve got more layers than an onion.”

I didn’t know whether to be pleased or irritated. “Oh yeah? Well you have more secrets than the FBI.”

“Then I guess we’re even. That guy. Jake, right? Tell me about him.” Dylan smoothly switched topics.

“There’s not much to tell. We started dating in high school.”

“And he was dreamy?” He drawled the last word.

“Yep. Jake was the golden boy. Most girls in high school are drawn to that.”

“You don’t strike me as ‘most girls.’” He said it with imaginary air quotes around the final two words.

“What do you mean?”

“Just that you’d get bored with a guy like that. One who’s too straight-laced and predictable.” I’d never thought much about it before. Was there such a thing as too perfect?

“I still couldn’t resist at seventeen.”

Dylan grunted with effort as he unscrewed something under the hood. The sound made my body tighten. Down, girl.

“And what about now?” he asked, his voice tight from the muscles working in his arms and chest.

“What do you mean?”

The bolt came free and he glanced toward me as he unscrewed it without looking. “What can’t you resist now?”

“Caffeine.”

“No. You know what I mean.” It felt like he was testing the friend boundaries again and I didn’t know why. Particularly after he’d been so careless about our proximity a few minutes before.

“Alright. I guess I can’t resist guys who know who they are, and what they want. Most people don’t.” For some reason I rushed to add, “but like I said, I’m not dating.”

He seemed to think about it for a minute but went back to work on the car. I took the opportunity to jump in.

“My turn again. Why do you have such a bad reputation?”

His voice sounded more guarded when he spoke again, but it might have just been muffled by the hood. “I don’t know.”

“Really? I get that the rehab thing might have been …” I searched for an appropriate word. “… polarizing. But what about the rest? The partying, the girls. Why does everyone think you’re such a player when you’re not?”

Dylan’s hand paused for a moment, but he didn’t look up. “People see what they want to see.”

“Maybe for a while. But don’t people eventually see you as you are? People you’ve known for a long time? Friends?”

“Sometimes. Not always.”

“How can your friends think you’re partying, sleeping with everything in a skirt, and doing drugs when you’re not?”

“It’s complicated. I never said I was a saint. Just that I didn’t do some of those things.”

“Maybe it’s because you act the way people expect you to act.” I was being more ballsy than usual and didn’t know why.

“Or maybe because they’re not real friends. They just want to be friends with the person they think you are.”

“Is that why you wanted a clean slate? Not because of the whole rehab thing, or what people knew about you, but because you didn’t have any friends you actually cared about? Or who cared about you?”

Finally he twisted something off, looked inside. “Can you get me a cloth or something?”

I ran inside and brought back out a floral hand towel. He raised his eyebrows as I handed it to him. Our fingers touched, but I pretended not to notice. “I’m afraid we don’t do much auto repair in these here parts,” I added in my best southern belle accent. Taking the cloth, he scrubbed at the part he’d twisted off, replaced it in the engine.

“Try it again.” I slipped behind the wheel and sure enough, it started. Dylan closed the hood with a thud.

I raised my eyebrow.

“Distributor cap,” he said, putting his tools back into the toolbox. He walked around to the trunk to drop them back in his car. “No big deal.”

“Wait,” I called. “You didn’t answer my question.” The more I found out about him the more I realized I didn’t know. And the more I wanted to know. Guys were not supposed to be this mysterious at his age. I know Jake hadn’t been.

Dylan was walking to the driver door when he shot me a half-smile. “I know. Rain check.” He closed the door after him and leaned his head out the window. “And Lex? You still owe me.”

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