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Claire Geiger slowly became aware that her fingernails were digging into the soft skin of her palms. The sharp pain brought her vision back into focus. She'd thought for a second that she was hallucinating.
The possibility that Aaron Mendel, the love of her life, was at that moment passionately kissing a girl other than herself had seemed out of the question. But Claire's eyesight was 20/20. And she was looking straight at her boyfriend. And he was sticking his tongue so far down another girl's throat that he was probably able to taste what she'd had for dinner. So much for Valentine's Day.
Out of the corner of her eye, Claire saw Zoey Passmore and Lucas Cabral exchanging worried glances. "Claire?" Zoey said.
"Don't talk to me," Claire answered softly. "No one talk to me."
"Claire, please--" The pity in Zoey's wide blue eyes made bile rise in Claire's throat. Or was it the fact that she'd been fool enough to pine away for a no-good, two-timing sleaze-bag that was making her gag?
When she felt Zoey's hand close around her upper arm, Claire twisted from her friend's grasp. "I mean it, Zoey. Keep your mouth shut."
Claire stared at the girl in Aaron's arms for one more second, allowing the sight to imprint itself on her brain. Because the girl's back was to her, Claire couldn't see much but her long red hair. Her fingers ached to pull out one of the tramp's springy curls, but Claire forced herself to remain calm.
She turned away from the gruesome sight. She wouldn't talk to him. There would be no shouting or crying or lame excuses. Claire wasn't about to degrade herself further by creating a pathetic scene for the amusement of abunch of boarding-school geeks.
She felt the muscles in her neck and back tighten as she walked sedately down the hallway. The stairs seemed to wobble under her feet as she descended to the first floor, and for a moment she thought she would faint. But Claire kept her gaze fixed on the front door, silently counting down the seconds until she would reach the exit and make her escape.
Outside, a cold drizzle had started to fall. Claire breathed in the damp air, filling her lungs with oxygen. Although her first instinct was to collapse on the grass and sob herself into oblivion, she resisted. She knew Zoey would be trotting after her any second now, and she wanted to avoid sympathetic pats on the back at all costs.
Claire headed in the direction of the Mercedes she'd parked down the street earlier. Had that been only ten minutes before? She felt as though a year had passed since she'd pulled the key out of the ignition and checked her lipstick one final time in the rearview mirror.
Don't think, Claire told herself. Just get out of here. She continued toward the car, clutching her sleek leather jacket to her chest like a security blanket. Drops of rain created large stains on her blouse, and the heels of her platform shoes were collecting bits of wet grass and mud. But Claire didn't notice--or care.
She just wanted to get in the Mercedes and go somewhere. She needed to be away from Aaron and his beautifully shaped mouth. Away from Zoey's worried face and Lucas's uncomfortable grimaces. Unfortunately, Claire knew, even her iron will wouldn't save her from her own tortured thoughts. The sting of humiliation and heartbreak, she realized, sucked the big one.
Jake McRoyan stared at the rain falling outside the front window of Ernie's Grill. From where he stood, the nearly empty streets of Weymouth looked almost eerie. He ran a hand through his short dark hair, wondering how he'd gotten to this bizarre point in his life.
A few weeks earlier, Jake would have thought a cold, wet night was a perfect backdrop for getting a couple of six-packs or a bottle of vodka and drinking until he passed out on the floor of his bedroom. Despite the fact that he was fanatical about his place on the football team in the fall and the basketball team in the winter, he'd been willing to punish his body on an almost daily basis.
Sometimes a few weeks could constitute a lifetime.
"I'm ready," a soft voice said in his ear.
"Great." Jake turned to look at Louise Kronenberger. Tall, blond, and busty, Louise was the kind of girl that guys like Jake spent years joking about in the locker room after football practice. The K-Burger had been the "first" for more than a handful of guys in Weymouth High's senior class. Including Jake. He'd lost his virginity to Louise in a drunken stupor at a homecoming party the previous fall. Now it was winter, and they were attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to gether. Life was funny like that. Not funny ha-ha. But funny weird.
Jake opened the door and waited while Louise struggled to get her umbrella open. "I'll walk you to the water taxi," she offered.
Along with the rest of the kids he'd grown up with, Jake lived on Chatham Island, which was about four miles off the coast of Maine. Since he'd already missed the last ferry, he'd have to shell out forty bucks for a water taxi.
"Thanks," he said, taking hold of the umbrella and positioning it over both their heads.
As they walked down the street Jake was silent. He still hadn't figured out whether going out for a Valentine's Day dinner with Louise after their AA meeting had been a friendly let's-support-each-other thing or a more serious this-is-our-first-date thing. Furthermore, he wasn't sure what he wanted the night to be. Who would've thought that he'd ever be totally sober, walking in the rain with the K-Berger, trying to decide whether or not he should make a move?Making Out 14: Aaron Lets Go. Copyright � by Katherine Applegate. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.