“Please, Emily,” her mom interrupted.
Emily’s words stuck in her throat.
Her mom sighed. “There are just so many cultural differences with…her…and I just don’t understand what you and Maya have in common, anyway. And who knows about her family? Who knows what they could be into?”
“Wait, what?” Emily stared at her mother. Maya’s family? As far as Emily knew, Maya’s father was a civic engineer and her mom worked as a nurse practitioner. Her brother was a senior at Rosewood and a tennis prodigy; they were building a tennis court for him in the backyard. What did her family have to do with anything?
“I just don’t trust those people,” her mother said. “I know that sounds really narrow-minded, but I don’t.”
Emily’s mind screeched to a halt. Her family. Cultural differences. Those people? She went over everything her mother just said. Oh. My. God.
Mrs. Fields wasn’t upset because she thought Maya was gay. She was upset because Maya—and the rest of her family—were black.
Friday evening, Spencer lay on her maple four-poster bed in the middle of her brand-new converted barn bedroom with Icy Hot slathered on her lower back, staring at the gorgeous beamed ceiling. You’d never guess that fifty years ago, cows slept in this barn. The room was huge, with four gigantic windows and a little patio. After dinner last night, she’d moved all of her boxes and furniture there. She’d organized all of her books and CDs according to author and artist, set up her surround-sound, and even reset TiVo to her preferences, including her brand-new favorite programs on BBC America. It was perfect.
Except, of course, for her throbbing back. Her body ached as if she’d gone bungee jumping without a ripcord. Ian had made them run three miles—at a sprint—followed by practice drills. All the girls had been talking about what they were wearing to Noel’s party tonight, but after the hellish practice, Spencer was just as happy to stay home with some calc homework. Especially since home was now her very own little barn utopia.
Spencer reached for the jar of Icy Hot and realized it was empty. She sat up slowly, and put her hand on her back like an old woman. She’d just have to get some more from the main house. Spencer just loved that she could now call it the main house. It felt terribly grown up.
As she crossed her long, hilly lawn, she let her mind return to one of her favorite topics du jour, Andrew Campbell. Yes, it was a relief that A was Andrew and not Ali, and yes, she felt a billion times better and a zillion times less paranoid since yesterday, but still—what a horrible, meddling spy! How dare he ask such intrusive, gossipy questions in the reading room and write her a creepy e-mail! And everyone thought he was so sweet and innocent, with his perfectly knotted tie and his luminous skin—he was probably the type who brought Cetaphil to school and washed up after gym class. Weirdo.
Shutting the door of the upstairs bathroom, she found the jar of Icy Hot in the closet, pulled down her Nuala Puma warm-up pants, twisted around to see herself in the mirror, and started rubbing the balm all over her back and hamstrings. The Icy Hot’s stinky menthol smell instantly wafted around the room, and she closed her eyes.
The door burst open. Spencer tried to pull her pants up as quickly as she could.
“Oh my God,” Wren said, his eyes wide. “I…shit. I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right,” Spencer said, scrambling to tie her waistband.
“I’m still confused about this house….” Wren was wearing his blue hospital scrubs, which consisted of a V-neck draped top and tie-waist wide-leg pants. He looked all ready for bed. “I thought this was our bedroom.”
“Happens all the time,” Spencer said, even though it obviously didn’t.
Wren paused in the doorway. Spencer felt him looking at her and quickly looked down to make sure her boob wasn’t hanging out and there wasn’t a glob of Icy Hot on her neck.
“So, um, how’s the barn?” Wren asked.
Spencer grinned, then self-consciously covered her mouth. Last year, she’d had her teeth whitened at the dentist and they’d come out looking a little too white. She’d had to purposely dull them with tons of coffee. “Awesome. How’s my sister’s old bedroom?”
Wren smiled wryly. “Um. It’s rather…pink.”
“Yeah. All those frilly curtains,” Spencer added.
“I found a disturbing CD, too.”
“Oh yeah? What?”
“Phantom of the Opera.” He grimaced.
“But aren’t you into plays?” Spencer blurted out.
“Well, Shakespeare and stuff.” Wren raised an eyebrow. “How’d you know that?”
Spencer paled. It might sound sort of weird if she told Wren she’d Googled him. She shrugged and leaned back on the counter. A shooting pain exploded through her lower back, and she winced.
Wren hesitated. “What’s the matter?”
“Um, you know.” Spencer leaned against the sink. “Field hockey again.”
“What’d you do this time?”
“Pulled something. See the Icy Hot?” Holding her towel in one hand, she reached for the jar, scooped some into her palm, and slid her hand down her pants to rub it into her hamstring. She groaned slightly, and hoped it was a sexy-sounding groan. Fine, so sue her for being a teensy bit dramatic.
“Do you need some help?”
Spencer hesitated. But Wren looked so concerned. And it was excruciating—well, painful, anyway—to twist her back that way, even if she was doing it on purpose.
“If you don’t mind,” she said softly. “Thanks.”
Spencer nudged the door a little more closed with her foot. She smeared the Icy Hot goop from her hand onto his. Wren’s large hands felt sexy all slimed up with balm. She caught sight of their figures in the mirror and shivered. They looked awesome together.
“So where’s the damage?” Wren asked.
Spencer pointed. The muscle was right below her butt. “Hang on,” she murmured. She grabbed a towel from the rack, wrapped it around herself, and then slid off her pants under the towel. She motioned to where it hurt, indicating that Wren reach below the towel. “But, um, try not to get too much on the towel,” she said. “I begged my mom to order these special from France a couple years ago, and Icy Hot ruins them. You can’t get the smell out in the wash.”
She heard Wren stifle a laugh and stiffened. Had that come out way too uptight and Melissa-ish?
Wren slicked back his floppy hair with his goop-free hand and knelt down, slathering the Icy Hot on her skin. He reached his hands under her towel and began to rub slow, gentle circles across her muscles. Spencer relaxed and then leaned into him slightly. He stood but didn’t back away from her. She felt his breath on her shoulder, and then on her ear. Her skin felt radiant and fiery.
“Feel better?” Wren murmured.
“Feels amazing.” She might have said it in her head, she wasn’t sure.
I should do it, Spencer thought. I should kiss him. He pressed his hands more firmly on her back, his nails digging in a little. Her chest fluttered.
In the hall, the phone rang.
“Wren, dear?” Spencer’s mother called from downstairs. “Are you upstairs? Melissa’s on the phone for you.”
He sprang backward. Spencer jolted forward and pulled the towel around her. He quickly wiped the Icy Hot off his hands onto another towel. Spencer was too panicked to tell him not to. “Um,” he murmured.
She looked away. “You should…”
He pushed the door back open. “I hope that worked.”
“Yeah, thanks,” she murmured back, closing the door behind him. Then she draped herself over the sink and stared at her reflection.
Something flickered in the mirror, and for a second, she thought someone was by the shower. But it was only the flapping shower curtain, lifted by a breeze from the open window. Spencer turned back to the sink.
They’d spilled a few globs of Icy Hot on the counter. It was white and gooey, sort of like frosting. With her pointer finger, Spencer spelled out Wren’s name. Then she drew a heart around it.
Spencer considered leaving it there. But when she heard Wren stomp down the hall and say, “Hey, love. Missed you,” she frowned and rubbed it out with the heel of her hand.
ALL EMILY NEEDS IS A LIGHT SABER AND A BLACK HELMET
It was just getting dark as Emily slid into Ben’s green Jeep Cherokee. “Thanks for convincing my parents that my punishment starts tomorrow.”
“No prob,” Ben answered. He didn’t give her a hello kiss. And he was blasting Fall Out Boy, who he knew Emily hated.
“They’re kinda pissed at me.”
“I heard.” He kept his eyes on the road.
Interesting that Ben didn’t ask why. Maybe he already knew. Bizarrely, Emily’s father had come into her room earlier and said, “Ben’s going to pick you up in twenty minutes. Be ready.” Okay. Emily had thought she was grounded for life for denouncing the Swimming Gods, but she had the feeling they actually wanted her to go out with Ben. Maybe he’d talk some sense into her.
Emily heaved a sigh. “Sorry about practice yesterday. I’m just under some stress.”
Ben finally turned down the volume. “It’s all right. You’re just confused.”
Emily licked her just-ChapSticked lips. Confused? About what?
“I’ll forgive you this time,” Ben added. He reached over and squeezed her hand.
Emily bristled. This time? And shouldn’t he say he was sorry too? He had, after all, stormed off into the locker room like a baby.
They pulled through the Kahns’ open wrought-iron gates. The property was set back from the road, so the driveway was half a mile long and surrounded by tall, thick pines. Even the air smelled cleaner. The redbrick house sat behind massive Doric columns. It had a portico with a little horse statue on top and a gorgeous all-glass sun room off to the side. Emily counted fourteen windows on the second floor, from one end to the other.
But the house didn’t matter tonight. They were going to the field. It was set way off from the property by high, British-racing-green hedges and a stone wall and went on for acres. Half of it housed the Kahn horse farm; on the other side were a huge lawn and a duck pond. Surrounding the whole yard were thick woods.
As Ben parked the car in a makeshift grass parking lot, Emily climbed out, hearing The Killers blaring from the backyard. Familiar faces from Rosewood climbed out of their Jeeps, Escalades, and Saabs. A group of immaculately made-up girls took cigarette packs out of their little chain-link quilted bags and lit up, talking on their tiny cell phones. Emily looked down at her worn blue Converse All-Stars and touched her messy ponytail.
Ben caught up with her and they cut through the hedges and across a secluded stretch of woods and entered the party zone. There were a lot of kids Emily didn’t know, but that was because the Kahns invited all the it kids from the area’s other private schools, in addition to Rosewood. There were a keg and a drinks table by the bushes, and they’d set up a wooden dance floor, tiki lights, and tents in the middle of the field. On the other side of the field, near the woods, there was an old-school photo booth lit up with Christmas lights. The Kahns dragged it out of their basement for this party every year.