1. Game On
"Sweetie, he's not worth it."
My fingers wrap around a tube of MAC lipstick. It's Tuesday, so Hug Me is the shade I'd usually wear. It'd be on my lips if I hadn't been in such a rush this morning.
Daisy keeps sniffling. Her cute little nose turns red, and I'm still searching for the tissues.
My keys, a tampon, a pen, and then...bingo!
"Here, take this." I pull a tissue out of the pack in my hand and give it to the crying girl next to me.
"It's pointless, Tara," she utters, dabbing at her red eyes. "I'm making a huge effort, and he won't even notice."
A fresh teardrop falls on Daisy's cheek, and I wipe it off with my thumb. My gaze zeroes in on her long eyelashes. Many girls would kill to have them. Forget the extensions and the falsies - the girl can bat those lashes of hers, literally bat them, and guys would do whatever she wants.
The right guys. Not the jerk she's been trying to impress.
"Daisy," I say, placing a palm on her wet cheek to make her look at me. "You're making an effort for you. You'll look fabulous in your new pretty clothes for you. For you, not him. If he fails to notice how amazing you are, he's not worth it."
"I'm fat," Daisy cries.
I smooth a hand over her back. "Shush. Never fat. Maybe a little chubby, so what? You're beautiful, and you have to know your worth. He's just not your guy."
"Listen to Tara," Janet says, putting a glass of water on our table. "The girl knows damn well what she's doing. 'em boys will fall at your feet like those flies after a spritz of repellent. Look at me here. See the meat on these bones?"
Daisy looks at Janet and smiles. "You're pretty."
"Honey, I know, and so does my husband cause he's the right guy. That douche canoe you've been crying over isn't your guy." Janet notices a customer entering the coffee shop and winks at us. "Confidence and faith in yourself. Self-love, always."
"You'll look amazing in your new outfits," I tell Daisy when Janet saunters off to take her new customer's order. "Just remember that the dresses are for you. You have to wear them. Own them. It's you who owns the outfit, not the other way around."
Daisy downs her water and smiles. She has a beautiful smile and curly, shiny hair. What she doesn't have is confidence, but that might change with my help.
"Thank you, Tara."
I squeeze her hand gently. "Not at all."
"How much do I owe you for the coffee?"
"It's on me."
Daisy starts to thank me again, but I silence her, pulling her into a quick hug. "Send me a picture, okay? And tell me what your best friend thinks."
"Oh my God, she's gonna lose it." Daisy lets out a little squeal.
I smile at her enthusiasm and rise to my feet, snatching my purse from the back of my chair. "Have a nice day, Daisy."
"You too, Tara." Daisy beams.
Janet is back to her usual spot behind the counter. I walk up to her and retrieve my wallet from my Chanel tote bag.
"Those girls are lucky to have you." Janet points her chin at Daisy's retreating frame. "I wish I had my Tara when I was twenty and clueless. I saw the latest pictures you uploaded. That's not personal shopping, my sweet girl. That's art."
I shrug. "I like making people happy."
Janet smiles, and so do I.
"Working all day today?" I ask her while I pay for the drinks.
"You bet." Janet winks. "But it's okay. We're saving for that vacation, girl. I can't wait."
"It's gonna be fantastic."
Janet gives me her signature broad grin and waltzes off to another customer. I wave goodbye and make my way out of the coffee shop, quickening my step when I glance at my watch and see the time.
The mall I'm at is busy, and I'm more than sure, so are the roads. I'll hit the traffic and be late, but it's not like I could leave Daisy alone with her breakdown. She might've hired me to help her with her clothes, but she's a person who needed another person to reassure her, not just a customer who paid me.
Leaving her was out of the question, and as I get behind the wheel of my red Maserati, I hope the price of doing what's right won't be too high.
I park on campus half an hour later.
Five minutes. I'm only late by five minutes. Relief floods me as I clutch my textbook and folder to my chest and rush to the library. It's not my roommate's, Leah's, shift today. Another girl, Jenny, greets me with a wave of her hand when she hears the click of my heels on the hardwood floor.
Our college library is magnificent. Everything's made of wood, even the ceiling. Chandeliers hang from it, and the tall, springline windows allow plenty of sunlight in. Add the framed artworks that dot the walls and the smell of books, and you'll have the coziest place on campus.
It would be the coziest, if it hadn't been for the six-foot-something of The Nerd.
He's the small stone that gets in your stilettos and makes walking a living hell, the liquid eyeliner that leaks and stains everything in your makeup bag.
Also, my project partner.
Ironic as it is, we equally hate and need each other to pass Philosophy with a good grade.
The Nerd lifts his head off the textbook he's been perusing and gives me a smug smirk.
Yes, that's right.
He doesn't smile.
I suspect he doesn't talk, either, because all he ever does is snap at me.
And I try my damn best to return the favor.
"Barbie," he says. "Did you check your Rolex? Did the Swarovski shit fall off the face of your watch, and you couldn't read the time? Do you not own a phone?"
"Nah." The Nerd slams his textbook shut and jumps to his feet. After grabbing his stuff, he winks at me.
"Time is money, and I made it clear I wouldn't wait."
"It's been barely five minutes, you jerk," I hiss.
The Nerd, a.k.a. Sebastian, a.k.a Bast, spins on his heel and walks away, leaving me alone by the desk.
Murmurs reach my ears. I scan the library and spot a couple of students hunched over their notes. They pretend they didn't, but they surely witnessed our exchange and my humiliation.
My eyes land on Jenny. She gives me a sympathetic smile, and I hate it.
I hate him.
But here's the truth about The Nerd - he doesn't know me. He thinks he has Tara Van Doren figured out, but it's eons away from the truth.
I straighten my shoulders and smooth the front of my beige dress before lowering myself into a chair and opening my notes.
I won't fail. Not a chance.
You're in for many surprises, Bast.