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Like This and Like ThatA Boy Shopping Novel
By NIA STEPHENS
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Parachute Publishing L.L.C.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneParty On!
"Your perfume smells so good," Nick Simmons slurred as he reached under Gemma Williams's shirt. Gemma pushed his hand back down to her waist and twisted her head to avoid his beer breath. Nick reeked of liquor-no wonder he thought she smelled good, even though she wasn't wearing a drop of perfume. Downstairs, the Black Eyed Peas blared from Bose speakers. The party was rocking and Gemma was sorry she was missing it for this.
How can I get out of this without hurting his feelings, assuming he has any? she wondered. When Nick Simmons had asked her out, she was thrilled. At six foot one, he was one of the few boys at J. Marshall who were as tall as she likes, and he was among the even fewer who were tall and attractive. Nick was beyond attractive: physically, he couldn't be hotter. And she'd liked the way that Nick was always quiet in class, not joking around like the rest of the jocks. She liked to think that that meant he was deep. She'd tried for months to get him to notice her. But here, now, with his oversized, calloused hands groping her, all she felt was disgust. His clumsy, tired moves were just played out.
Gemma felt like she was wrestling with an octopus-shehad to watch out for both his hands and his nasty, reeking mouth trying to connect with her own. She couldn't believe he didn't get the memo that, hey, she was not interested anymore. Ten minutes ago, when he led her up the stairs away from the party, she figured they would make out a bit. She was thinking about what it would be like to be in an actual relationship with him. Now that they were in the throes of hooking up, she wanted to run screaming from the room.
It hit her like a missed pass, like a basketball crashing into her chest, about ten seconds after he shut the bedroom door: Nick Simmons, the strong, silent type, star quarterback at J. Marshall High School, the best high school football player in Laguna Beach-in all of Orange County, California, for that matter-wasn't "The One." She didn't care anymore about his chocolate skin and dark eyes, or his athletic awards. At first she thought their love of sports was something they could have in common-football star meets queen of the court. She was still basketball royalty, at least at J. Marshall, but he was just a drunken fool.
He leaned over and kissed her again, this time coming within inches of her lips. This guy was just not giving up.
One of Nick's hands slipped around her waist and down the back of her jeans. Uh oh, Gemma thought. Someone thinks we're going all the way. Gemma had messed around with guys before, but not one of them had slam dunked it yet. No way was her first time going to be at a party with a toasted jock who didn't seem to notice she had checked out ten minutes ago.
Sensing her hesitation, Nick looked at her. Finally. See, I really do have eyes, Gemma thought. And a face. And a brain.
"What's wrong with you?" Nick growled. "You know you want it."
She stared at him, an astonished smile spreading across her face. She burst out laughing.
"You're kidding, right?" Gemma gasped, trying to control her giggles. The last time she heard a guy tell a girl she "wanted it" was on an episode of Law and Order. "Get your hands off me, Nick."
"You females are crazy." He lifted his mammoth body off hers. His gold football ring caught the collar of her shirt. Riiiiiippp. Without so much as a "sorry," he stood up unsteadily. "You are such a tease!" he said, and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
Gemma glanced down at the tear in her favorite black and gold Juicy T-shirt. Man, this date just kept getting better and better.
Gemma sighed. She couldn't blame anyone but herself. There were just too many clues indicating Nick was not for her, yet she chose to ignore them. Earlier tonight, when Nick had picked her up and told her they were going to a diner for dinner, she should have known. When all his football buddies showed up and he took off to play an impromptu scrimmage on the restaurant's front lawn, she should have known then too. The next clue should have been his chugging down three beers in rapid succession. And the last straw? Smashing his fourth empty beer can against his forehead. No one bothered to inform him that the beer cans used in movies were props, and Nick's forehead was left with a nasty gash.
Clearly, Nick wasn't quiet at school because he was deep. He was quiet because he was too dumb to think of anything to say.
Eventually, when he sobered up, he'd realize he probably needed stitches. But for now he had more drinking and partying to do.
Maybe it was just her, but there was something about making out with a drunk guy with a leaking Band-Aid stuck to his forehead that was a complete turnoff.
Gemma swore this really, really was the last straw. She was so done with guys. She would found an order of nuns that played basketball instead of praying. And you wouldn't have to be religious to join-just be sick of guys. She figured she would have to take over the USC campus to have room for all of the Angry Sisters of the Court.
She lifted herself from the bed and headed downstairs to the rest of the party. She found her best friend, Maria Alonso, in the corner flipping through stacks of CDs.
"Have a nice trip?" Maria asked, noticing the tear in Gemma's T-shirt. Maria always ribbed Gemma about her clumsiness. Gemma was as famous for her awkwardness off-court as she was for her graceful moves on the court, but only Maria dared to tease her about it.
"Mauled by an octopus," Gemma told her.
"Nick?" Maria asked.
"Yup. Sir Drunk-A-Lot himself."
"Oh, Gemma, that really sucks." Maria cursed in Spanish for a full minute. When she calmed down she said, "On the other hand, that shirt was so last season." She looped her arm through Gemma's and squeezed.
"What's wrong with me?" Gemma wailed. "Why can't I find a decent guy? Am I repulsive or something?"
At five feet, seven inches, Gemma towered over Maria, though her curves were nicely proportioned and her skin was a silky brown, like a melted Frappuccino. According to Maria, Gemma's best feature was her eyes because they gleamed whenever she laughed. Gemma would have preferred if her best friend had said her booty, or even her brain. Gemma didn't know too many guys their age, not even geeks, who cared about how much a girl's eyes gleamed in the moonlight.
"No way," Maria assured her. "You're a supermodel. That's why you attract all the hot guys-the mere mortals figure you're out of their league. It's not your fault that hot guys are mostly pigs."
"Thanks. I think," Gemma grumbled.
Maria had been Gemma's best friend forever, even though Gemma envied Maria's tiny, curvaceous figure. Of course, Maria always said she would rather be tall and lean, like Gemma and Maria's own Costa Rican mother. Mrs. Alonso really could be a supermodel.
Gemma always told Maria that she looked like Jennifer Lopez. Maria, in turn, told Gemma that she reminded her of Iman, the African-born model married to David Bowie. "So I can look forward to doing Tommy Hilfiger ads with an exrockstar husband twice my age? Gee, thanks," was always Gemma's joking response.
"I'm going home," Gemma declared. "I can't tell you how sick I am of all this." She flipped back the flap of her ripped T-shirt. "We are graduating from high school this year and I have never had a real boyfriend. All the guys who ask me out are either jackasses or idiots dressed up in jackass clothing."
Maria laughed sympathetically. "Oh, chica, chica, chica. Don't be like that. You'll find a great guy someday. You've just been so busy with basketball you haven't found the time to date. Now that you have your hoop scholarship, you'll find that guy. Watch, you'll see."
"Au contraire," Gemma replied. "I have been dating. You've seen the guys I've gone out with. How about Xavier Banks? Remember him? His breath was so rank I felt sorry for his toothbrush."
"You're exaggerating," Maria said, laughing. "It hasn't been that bad."
"Have you not been around me the past few weeks? Yeah, it's that bad."
"That's only one terrible date. You never give guys a second chance," Maria challenged.
Gemma grimaced. "The guys I date don't deserve a second chance."
"What about that blind date I set up for you?" Maria demanded. "Jamal is really nice. Besides, his dad is co-owner of Pearl, the hottest nightclub in OC."
"His father could have been the Sultan of Arabia and that would not have changed the fact that his son was two inches shorter than me and talked with a spitting lisp. Halfway through the night, I thought I was going to disappear in a pool of saliva, never to be heard from again."
There was a roar outside by the pool, where several partygoers stood in a circle, watching some sort of spectacle.
"Oh, please. It's not that bad," Maria said after the cheering stopped. "Besides, what can you expect from a high school that boasts only, like, one percent minorities? If you only date brothers, the dating pool at J. Marshall is more like a Jacuzzi."
"Not exactly. Jacuzzis are hot."
Again the crowd by the swimming pool cheered. A few more people had gathered around to see what was going on.
"I guess we can't all have a Manny," Gemma sighed. Manny Rodriguez was the perfect guy for Maria-smart, funny, and very, very patient. They had been going out for over two years. Why couldn't Gemma find someone like him? All she wanted was one decent guy. Was that too much to ask for? Apparently.
Thunderous applause came from outside. "What the heck is going on?" Maria asked. "Come on, chica." She grabbed Gemma's hand as they made their way through the crowd.
"What's that smell?" Gemma scrunched up her face. "It's like a brewery on fire."
When Maria and Gemma finally pushed their way to the center of the crowd, Gemma wished they hadn't. Nick and two of his football buddies were standing in a circle. Each one took turns chugging from a bottle of tequila. First Jake Willis, J. Marshall's wide receiver, then Lawrence Johnston, took their turns, and chugging about a third of the bottle. The crowd went wild. Then it was Nick's turn and he tipped the bottle like an old pro. The crowd cheered again.
Gemma didn't know which was worse, the fact that they played this stupid drinking game or that people actually stood around and watched. Gemma turned back to Maria. "Do you still think I should give him another chance?"
Maria scowled, and then they headed inside. "This is exactly what I'm talking about, Maria," Gemma complained. "I spent months lusting after a guy that drinks way too much and will probably pass out-only to wake up and start the binge drinking all over again. Those are precious moments I'll never get back."
The crowd outside began to disperse. Nick emerged from the center of the group of spectators and stumbled toward the house in a soaked T-shirt. As soon as he walked through the door, he headed straight for Gemma.
Gemma's eyes widened in disbelief. What was he thinking? Was he going to try to pick up where he had left off upstairs, or was he going to start yelling that she was just a tease? Either way, this wasn't a confrontation she wanted to have. She seriously regretted going upstairs with him.
Luckily, a girl jumped in his path. "You looked great out there, Nick," she said, batting her tarantula-like fake eyelashes. Thank goodness the buxom freshman, wearing a too-tight T-shirt, was enough to divert Nick's attention from Gemma. While she had the chance, Gemma grabbed Maria's arm and pulled her into the kitchen. She'd feel a lot better after a Diet Coke.
Gemma poured two glasses of cola and ripped open a bag of chips. As she fished out a handful, she noticed Maria studying her.
"What?" Gemma asked. "Did Nick mess up my makeup?"
"Yes, but that's neither here nor there." Maria reached into her pocket and pulled out a small flyer.
"What's that?" Gemma asked, trying to see her reflection in the toaster. She wiped off her smudged lipstick.
"Your ticket to finding Mr. Right. They were handing these out around school. I wasn't sure if I should just toss it, but since your date with Nick went so wrong, well ..." Maria handed Gemma the flyer. "A few kids in the county started a dating website for high school students. All screened to avoid pervs."
Gemma took the flyer from Maria and started to read.
It's all about choices! We'll size 'em up and find you the perfect fit!
"Is this a joke?" Gemma asked.
"No. It's for real," Maria said. "I logged on before I came to the party just to check it out."
The site seemed intriguing, but no way did Gemma want to sign up and let everyone in Orange County who owned a computer, which was probably everyone, know how desperate she was.
A loud giggle followed by Nick bellowing for more beer sent shivers along Gemma's spine-and not the good kind.
"I think I'll decline," Gemma said, laying the flyer back down on the kitchen counter and taking a swig of her soda. "I'd probably just end up with another Nick."
"That's exactly why you should try it. This weeds out guys like him," Maria said. "The best part is, you choose the guy and decide whether you want to ask him out. It's all about girl power, baby."
"Hmmm." Gemma nodded, and picked up the flyer again. "I do the choosing, instead of waiting for a guy to ask me out? And they weed out the bad seeds?"
Maria grinned, her dark eyes sparkling. "If I were single, I'd go for it myself. Shopping for boys. What could be better?"
"You've got a point," Gemma said. The more she thought about it, the more she liked this idea. And if none of the guys on the website appealed to her, she could just drop the whole plan.
"And when you find that hot guy, I'm taking all the credit, and I'm going to throw it in your face whenever I can," Maria teased.
Could this actually work? Gemma wondered. Fortified by caffeine, she and Maria wandered out of the kitchen with their sodas.
"Yo," Nick called out to her over the loud music. Pretending she couldn't hear him, Gemma shoved the flyer into the back pocket of her low riders. Someone please remind me what exactly it was I saw in that guy?
As if reading her mind, Maria slipped her arm through Gemma's. "This website is going to restore your faith in dating, chica," she promised.
Gemma winced as she watched Nick drunkenly weave his way toward her. "I don't know if that's possible." She sighed. "But I guess it's worth a shot. Now let's get out of here before Nick gets any closer. I can smell the beer from here!"
Chapter TwoAction on the Court
"Isn't your game against East Wellington today?" Gemma's father asked. He buttered his wheat toast with the light margarine he loathed, but her mom loved. "Make sure you stay on your defense. Don't want those Wellington Wailers to score on you."
Her father was her number one fan. While she was still in the crib, anyone within earshot was forced to hear her dad proudly declare that he knew she would be a star basketball player. Then he would go on about how, in his daughter's first game at summer camp, she had scored eight points. Michael Jordan, watch out! he yelled at every single point she scored. It had gotten so bad, Gemma thought the counselors were going to escort him off the premises.
"Got it covered, Dad," Gemma replied.
"How was the party last night?" her mother asked from the stove.
"Fine," Gemma mumbled. She knew neither of her parents wanted to hear about the underage drinking and the hooking up that regularly occurred at these parties, so she kept her responses to a minimum.
"Are we going to see Nick again?" Dr. Williams asked, passing behind Gemma. She nudged Gemma's shoulder. "He was a hot one. And he seemed like such a gentleman, too."
Gemma almost choked on her orange juice. If she only knew, she thought.
"So will Nick be taking you to that beach shindig thing?" her mother asked, setting down a plate of scrambled eggs.
Gemma sighed. As if sensing her frustration, LeBron, Gemma's black and white shih tzu, scrambled under the kitchen table and nuzzled his wet nose against Gemma's bare foot.
That "beach shindig" was the most highly anticipated event of the year. J. Marshall held it every spring, and usually around this time-right after Christmas break-her mom would ask about it. Gemma hated this subject.
Excerpted from Like This and Like That by NIA STEPHENS Copyright © 2007 by Parachute Publishing L.L.C.. Excerpted by permission.
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