Chapter 2: Plotting
It felt like forever since I’d last snuck through the modest wooden fence separating Noah’s and my houses.
It wasn’t that I had anything against the family or the house. I loved Aunt Grace and Uncle Matt; they were the nicest people I knew. And Noah’s little sister Ella was the sweetest twelve-year-old I’d ever met. And the house was beautiful, just like ours: two storey with large shutters and elegant trellises and white Victorian trimming.
I remember when I was six and they’d moved into the house behind us to be closer to my mom and dad; they were like teenagers, totally inseparable. I’d been so excited to hang out with them more. And it had worked perfectly for the first seven years.
And then, after the fight, things got awkward, and I almost never came around. Even when our families had our monthly barbecues. I always said I had dates with Logan or a study date or plans with friends.
I always felt bad about not coming around. Ella was always asking to see me and I missed Grace and Matt, but Noah had been a complete arrogant jerk, and I didn’t want to spend any more time in his company than I absolutely had to; school was most definitely enough Noah-time for me.
But now I was back again, doing the same things I had done since I was seven. Going through the gates and climbing up the familiar, rickety wooden ladder into the tree house where Noah and I had agreed to meet to devise a plan.
When I finally made it to the top, I slid into the spacious tree house Matt and my dad had spent three months building when we were little kids during one summer. It had to be in Noah’s backyard, because he had a large, stable elm tree that was perfect for a tree house.
Noah was already waiting for me, arms crossed over his broad chest as he arched an eyebrow expectantly. “You’re panting already and you’ve only been in here with me for three seconds.”
I rolled my eyes. “Knock it off, Noah. I’m winded from the ladder climb.”
“That’s even more pathetic.”
“Hey! You of all people know I’m not good with exercise!” I defended, brushing my jeans and trying to keep as far away from Noah as was possible in the cramped space. Noah and I both knew I was terribly unfit and horrible when it came to keeping fit. It was lucky I had a fast metabolism, otherwise I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to fit into the tree house any more.
“It’s ten rungs, not a mountain climb.”
“Can we just get to the point of this visit?” I asked, eyeing the tree house warily. It still seemed in pretty good condition, and I couldn’t see any rotting wood, but still.
He sighed. “You’re going to have to be a lot nicer to me if you want me to do this.”
I scowled harshly. “Go screw yourself.”
He started to crawl to the door, dropping a nonchalant shrug. “Well, if you don’t need my help…”
I grabbed the sleeve of his thin, black, cotton t-shirt desperately. “Wait, Noah. I’m sorry.”
He sat back down, looking like the bird that got the early worm. I wanted nothing more than to slap it right off. “Okay, Marley. First, we need to figure out how to go about this.”
I tucked my overgrown bangs behind my ear and leaned my head back against the wood, shutting my eyes and taking in a couple of deep yoga breaths. “I think we should start tomorrow at school.”
“First, you’re going to need some pointers,” he advised me, snapping into a serious mode.
“Me? What do you mean I need some pointers? What about you?”
“I will be able to handle this just fine, Mar. Don’t you worry about me. You on the other hand…”
“What about me?” I huffed impatiently, turning my brown eyes to him and glaring at him.
“Well, let’s just say you aren’t exactly the world’s best actress.”
The worst part of what he said was that it was completely and utterly true. I sucked at acting. I had no idea how I was going to be able to play this off. Especially since Noah was like my sworn enemy, and I had to act like I was hopelessly in love with him.
“Fine,” I finally said. “What pointers?”
He scooted closer to me, and immediately I shrunk back. “First off, this,” he said, gesturing to the uncomfortable position I was now in in my haste to get away from Noah. I was like some contortionist. “You can’t shrink away whenever I come near you, Marley. It’s just not gonna work. Couples don’t try to get away from each other, they try to get closer.”
Once again he moved closer to me. I gritted my teeth and stayed stock-still as he glided smoothly into a position next to me and draped a warm, masculine arm around my shoulders. He ducked his head until his breath fanned across my cheek, stirring the hairs, and whispered, “Like this.”
I cleared my throat and pushed his arm off me, creating some distance. “Okay, you know what? Never mind. I don’t think I need the help anymore. Thanks, anyway.”
I started to veer towards the opening, but stopped at the sound of his deep, calm voice. “Okay. I guess you’ll just never have the chance to get back at Logan, then.”
I swallowed. He was right. Noah was my only hope. He was basically the only guy I could trust to go through with this. Any other guy might give it away, and Noah despised Logan, meaning he wouldn’t talk to him willingly if he didn’t have to. If I left, then Daisy Hawthorne would win. And I refused to let that happen.
Slowly, I slid back into the space and plopped back down next to him unceremoniously. “Can we try to take this slow?”
He dropped his arm on my shoulder and pulled me closer, and I ignored all of the nerves in my body screaming, Run, Marley. Run. And never turn back.
“How do you feel right now?” Noah asked me.
I forced a cheery tone. Might as well get used to lying now. I was going to have to get good at it if I was going to fool the school into believing I had feelings for Noah Fordman.
“Fine. Perfect, actually.”
He snickered. “You suck at lying, Marley. I have no idea how you’re going to pull this off.”
I blushed, but snorted in an attempt to hide my embarrassment. “I’d like to see you try, big guy.”
He cleared his throat and stared at the opposite wall as if it were an actual person, and not, in fact, just a sheet of wood. “Actually, Marley and I have been friends for a long time and over the years I guess it just… developed. I think she’s the most beautiful girl in the world. I must be the luckiest guy alive.”
I stared up at him with wide eyes. The weird thing was, I almost believed him. He looked down at me and chuckled. “Don’t get your hopes up, babe. I’m just an amazing actor.”
I snapped out of my daze and slapped him on the arm. “That sucked,” I said lamely. We were both aware I was lying. His acting skills were top-notch.
“I guess I’ll just handle this fake relationship, then,” Noah said, tightening his arm around my shoulders. “Don’t worry. I’ll get us through it, babe. Just try not to screw it up for me.”
I froze, barely comprehending the thinly veiled insult he threw at me. “D-Don’t call me babe.”
“Because I don’t like it.”
“All the more reason to call you it, babe,” he said tauntingly, his voice holding a sneer. “We needed a cute pet name, anyway. And now that I know you hate it, I guess it makes it even better. Now I can watch you squirm every time I say it.”
“Then I’ll just call you…” I searched for an embarrassing pet name. “Snuggly-pie.”
He narrowed his eyes dangerously. “And ruin my masculinity? You wouldn’t.”
“Oh, I would,” I responded easily, glad I could one-up him like this. “Never call me babe again, and I’ll never call you snuggly-pie.”
“I hate you sometimes, Marley,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Then the feeling is completely mutual,” I replied. “Snuggly-pie.”
He narrowed his eyes to slits. “Don’t call me that.”
“Don’t call you what, snuggly-pie?” I asked innocently, batting my eyelashes at him.
“Stop what, snuggly-pie?”