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It Girl #10: Classic
A WAVERLY OWL IS ALWAYS FILLED WITH A SENSE OF JOY UPON RETURNING TO WAVERLY.
The cold February wind whipped across the snow-covered Waverly Academy fields, cutting right through Easy Walsh’s thick Patagonia jacket. He pulled his Hugo Boss scarf tighter around his neck. It was much colder in upstate New York than it had been in West Virginia, where he’d spent the past few months of his junior year suffering through military school. He was going to have to get used to a real Yankee winter all over again, and it had been hard enough the first time, when he was a freshman. As he followed the salted and scraped pathway across the quad toward Richards, the boys’ dorm he’d never expected to live in again, he decided he’d much rather freeze his ass off than drop and give some blowhard twenty push-ups.
Easy threw the butt of his cigarette under his boot and blew out the last of the smoke, watching the cloud form in the frigid night air. The ivy and brick Waverly campus—more brick than ivy this time of year—seemed unusually quiet all around him. Tonight was the last night before classes started for spring term, and historically that was a time of widespread revelry for Waverly’s hard-partying student body. Instead the night seemed hushed—from the dark sky alive with stars above him to the empty stretch of fields and lawns still covered with ice and snow. The uncharacteristic quiet was probably due to the harsh punishments everyone had been given after the big party in the new dean’s house a month ago. Particularly strict probation, he’d heard, and he knew from personal experience that meant the Waverly Academy version of being grounded: stricter rules about coed visitation, early lights-out, and the generally clueless teachers paying much closer attention to the social lives of Waverly Owls than usual. In short, it sucked.
Easy’s eyes scanned the lit windows of the dorms that ringed the quad. Owls were probably stuck in their rooms going stir-crazy while they waited for classes to start and probation to be lifted.
It had been some party.
Easy had sneaked back onto campus that night to visit his horse, Credo, who was stuck at the Waverly stables thanks to a transportation snafu, which Easy’s stern, corporate father had naturally decided was Easy’s fault. As if Mr. Walsh needed any more reasons to find his artistic, underachieving youngest son exasperating. Easy was pretty sure his father had been annoyed with him since the day he’d been born.
Easy had planned to spend a little time with his horse and then disappear again. He hadn’t planned to walk into a totally illegal party at the brand-new dean’s house, much less to save the dean’s daughter, Isla, from breaking her neck. But she’d been falling, so he’d caught her. What else could he do? When Dean Dresden had revoked his expulsion, readmitting him to Waverly as a personal thank-you for saving Isla’s life, Easy had been thrilled. He’d gone directly to see Credo, as originally planned, and had pretended not to think about his ex-girlfriend Callie Vernon at all—until she’d walked into the stables in the middle of the night and found him there.
He’d been forced to finally admit to himself that Callie was the real reason he’d hopped a bus to Rhinecliff, New York, and Waverly Academy when he was supposed to be headed back to military school a few days early. Despite the fact that Callie had lost the promise ring he’d given her and had mercilessly dumped him on top of the Empire State Building over Thanksgiving, and despite the fact that, when he’d seen her at the party at Dean Dresden’s house, she’d been holding hands with Brandon Buchanan, Callie was still on his mind.
Callie. It was always about Callie, one way or another, and it was always complicated.
He hoisted his battered North Face duffel high on his shoulder and took the steps of Richards two at a time. He shouldered his way through the heavy outer doors and then ran up the familiar stairs inside to the room he’d shared with Alan St. Girard before his expulsion. Home, sweet Waverly home.
He pushed the door open and looked inside, not really surprised to see that Alan had done very little with his unexpected single besides throw his dirty laundry on Easy’s empty bed. Alan was the most laid-back guy Easy knew—a condition Alan carefully maintained by smoking huge quantities of the pot his liberal, hippie professor parents grew on their New Hampshire farm. The faintest scent of pot smoke and incense clung to the hardwood floors and emanated in bursts from the ancient heating pipe that rattled and clanked in the corner. Alan had been in the room recently, though there was no sign of him now.
Knowing Alan, he was probably sacked out in the common room, sleeping through another Godfather marathon or watching Family Guy on DVD.
Easy thought about taking the time to throw Alan’s laundry back on his side of the room so he could unpack his stuff, but he just couldn’t deal with it. He felt restless, as if there were an electric current running through him, keeping him off-balance. He threw his duffel in the general direction of his bed and ran his fingers through his almost-black hair. He was still surprised to find it so short. His hair had been the first thing to go when he’d arrived at military school, but for some reason he still expected to feel the longer, curlier hair he’d had the last time he’d lived in this room. The truth was, he still didn’t quite recognize the guy he saw when he looked in the mirror these days.
Easy blew out a deep breath. He felt as if the walls of his old, familiar dorm room were closing in on him. And there was only one way he knew to make that feeling go away. Only one thing he could think of that would help him make sense to himself.
He turned around, walked out the door, and headed back down the stairs, nodding absently to a couple of freshman boys whom he passed on the way. He heard them whisper his name as he went, but he didn’t turn back around. He forgot them the moment he pushed open the outside door and felt the winter slap him in the face again.
The night outside was still so cold, it made the denim of his beat-up old Levi’s feel stiff against his legs, but a big, bright moon was rising, peeking over the bare branches of the trees and reflecting off the dark waters of the Hudson River as it quietly wound its way past the Waverly campus. Easy didn’t have to think too hard about where he was going. He let his body lead the way, moving him across the campus like it had its own GPS and autopilot, until he found himself back where he always seemed to end up: beneath Callie’s window.
Her window was lit up from within and cracked just slightly to let the typical Waverly radiator-heat overkill out into the night. Or maybe because she’d been smoking a cigarette earlier.
He kicked around in the ice and snow at his feet until he scraped out a handful of pebbles. He jiggled them in his palm for a second, calming himself down. Then he stepped back and took aim.
Callie Vernon lay across her bed in Dumbarton 303 with her MacBook propped open on her stomach, twirling a strand of her strawberry blond hair around her index finger. The laptop felt like a hot-water bottle against her flat stomach, and her plaid flannel Juicy pajama bottoms felt equally cozy. They were her favorite—so good at keeping out the winter chill on long, cold nights like this one.
She read Brandon’s latest e-mail for the second time, smiling. He’d gotten in the habit of e-mailing her every night before he went to sleep, counting down the days until their Jan Plan probation period ended. Or the prohibition period, as some people were calling it. Whatever you called it, it had been a loooong month of way too much studying and far too little partying.
Callie was actually looking forward to classes starting the following day, which was unusual. Mostly, she was tired of all the enforced single-sex bonding that was all she’d had by way of entertainment throughout the cold, boring month of January.
She slid the hot laptop off her stomach and stared across the room, with its dark wood floor and high ceilings. But she barely saw any of it—not the riot of clothes (mostly hers) tossed across the extra bed, which was shoved against the wall from back when 303 had been a triple, or even her roommate Jenny Humphrey’s bright bohemian-print bedspread and cheerful pink and yellow pillows. All she could think about was what had happened after the party at the dean’s house. That single, amazing kiss she’d shared with Easy Walsh out in the stables—the one that, even a month later, made her pulse pound and her stomach twist.
Callie swung her legs over the edge of her bed and let her bare feet slide against the cool wood beneath her, absently admiring her pale peach pedicure. Easy had disappeared after that kiss. She hadn’t told Brandon about kissing Easy—at first because she’d been holding it close to her heart like some kind of lucky charm, but then because she had known that it would hurt Brandon’s feelings. And the more time she spent with Brandon—even the supervised, practically Amish time that was all they’d had in the past month—the less she wanted to hurt him any more than she already had over the course of the past few years.
Part of her wondered if it had all been a dream—Easy appearing in the middle of the party like that, his lips against hers in the dark of the stables…
Callie froze when she heard the clatter of pebbles against the foggy window. Was she asleep right now? But no—a few seconds later, she heard the same noise again.
She was on her feet before she knew she meant to move, drawn to the window by the irresistible force that always seemed to pull her to him, no matter what. She couldn’t see through the fog on the glass, so she wrenched the old, rattley window open and leaned out—
And there he was.
Callie drank him in. He seemed so different, his deep blue eyes glittering in the night, his dark curls shorn short, somehow making his eyes that much more intense. Callie couldn’t seem to say anything, even though she’d thought she’d saved up a thousand things to tell him if—when—she saw him again. She could only stare down at him. His months in military school had changed him. He didn’t smile. He was bigger—more muscular-—and he stood straighter. But none of that mattered; if anything, it made her itch to discover how else he might have changed.
“I’ll be right down,” she whispered into the dark. He nodded.
She turned from the window in a kind of daze, her thoughts and emotions too much of a jumble to make any kind of sense. She pulled on the nearest pair of shoes she could find, an ancient pair of Uggs, and threw a fleece the color of daffodils on over her sweater. It might even have been Jenny’s fleece, but for once Callie didn’t care what she looked like. She didn’t even glance in the mirror. She just zipped the fleece up as she left the room and hurtled down the steps toward the outside door.
She skidded around the side of the building and saw the dark figure, waiting.
He coughed. He was really there. She wasn’t dreaming.
Callie made herself breathe and moved toward him.
“Hey,” he said when she was close. Callie tried to search his face for a clue to what he was feeling, because with Easy she could never be sure. But it was too dark.
“Hey,” she whispered. Her throat felt dry, and she realized that she was nervous. She didn’t know why he’d come to find her tonight—or how long he was staying. She rocked on her heels and shoved her hands in the pockets of the fleece. “You’re back.”
Did he still dream about her? Was he mad at her? The last time they’d seen each other had been so fast and crazy, but the time before that was the awful night Callie had broken up with him. She could still remember the crushed look in his blue eyes. She shivered.
“I kind of thought I made up that whole night,” Callie said softly. “Kissing you in the stables.”
The corners of Easy’s mouth turned up, and, at once, Callie’s heart felt a teensy bit lighter. It wasn’t quite a smile, but he reached down and tucked a stray strand of her strawberry blond hair behind her ear, his fingers brushing her cheek in that old familiar way.
“You still with Brandon?” Easy asked quietly, still holding on to that one lock of her hair like it was the only thing anchoring them together, and he was afraid to let go.
Callie bit her lip slightly. She liked Brandon. She cared about him. But she’d never stood in the frigid cold of a winter’s night looking at Brandon, thinking she might die if she didn’t touch him soon. And she didn’t think she ever would.
“I guess,” she said. Easy’s face hardened, and she hurried on. “I mean, sort of. It doesn’t really mean anything. We’ve barely been let out of our rooms since the dean busted up that party, anyway.”
“Callie.” Easy’s voice, and his soft sigh, sent a delicious shiver through her, and Callie didn’t wait for any more clues. She reached over and slid her hands against his chest.
She couldn’t tell who moved then, but she was finally in his arms, and his mouth covered hers. Callie wrapped her arms around his neck and tried to get even closer to him, kissing him again and again, until the whole world disappeared.
“I missed you,” Easy murmured shyly, pulling back to look down at her, his dark blue eyes warm.
“I missed you, too,” she said, happier than she ever remembered being before. It was like her whole life had been in black-and-white, and now Easy had brought in the color. Not to mention HD with surround sound. She looked up at him and smiled, reaching over to hold his cold face between her hands. “I’ll make sure things are over with Brandon,” she said. “I promise.”
“Good.” Easy nodded. And then he smiled, finally—his full, real, crooked smile, the one that showed her he was the same Easy Walsh she had been in love with forever.
Excerpted from It Girl #10: Classic by Excerpted by permission.
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