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By Kate Perry
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Kathia Zolfaghari
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTo Do:
Add hard drives to personal server Compile and install new Linux kernel at work Remind Matt about class tomorrow Buy tampons Dump Barry (for real this time)
I didn't have to wait by Barry's black BMW long before he strolled out of the gym and toward his car.
His eyes lit up when he saw me, and he hurried over eagerly. "Mena, I thought I was supposed to pick you up for our date. Am I late?"
"No." He was never late. Actually, he was quite predictable, which was part of the problem. "I just needed to see you and I couldn't wait-"
"I know what you mean." He dropped his gym bag and grabbed me by the waist. "I've been thinking about you all day."
"Barry-" Before I could say another word he plastered me to his chest and laid a big wet one on my mouth.
I sighed in resignation and tried to give the kiss a chance. But it did nothing for me-not even the smallest tingle of warmth. It was too soppy, too limp. Utterly uninspiring and, well, gross.
As much as I wanted to blame his kisses, that wasn't why I needed to break up with him. Fact of the matter, we just weren't right together. Yes, he was convenient and my parents liked him but,truthfully, we didn't really get along. We didn't click.
And the more I hung out with Barry, the more I realized I couldn't settle. I wanted a soulmate. I wanted someone to understand me and like me despite that.
Barry deserved someone who liked him more deeply than I did. He was a great guy, for the most part. He deserved to be loved as much as I did. Just not by me.
The problem was that even if we broke up, the chances that we'd get back together were high. Precedence had been set-in the year we'd been dating, we'd separated and hooked up again dozens of times (like I said, it was convenient), and that was doing us both a huge disservice.
So this time I was calling it quits for good. I'd been thinking about it for days, and I'd plotted just the way to end the madness.
Trying not to gag as he slopped his tongue all around the outside of my lips (his specialty), I pushed on his chest and pried myself loose. "Barry!"
He lifted his head and frowned. "Huh?"
"Stop." Wiping my mouth, I took a step back. I'd procrastinated long enough. It was now or never. "Barry, we need to talk."
"Talk?" He combed his hair with his fingers. Like always, his blond hair flopped back into place perfectly.
Actually, everything about Barrington Emery Wallace III was perfect-his looks, his clothes, his job, and his background. He was a Ken doll come to life.
A Ken doll who kissed like a Saint Bernard.
With renewed purpose, I took another step back so I was pressed against the passenger door of his car. "Yeah, I have something I want to say."
"I'm all ears." He gave me the crooked grin that had attracted me to him in the first place.
Oh, this was going to be tough. "I think we should stop dating."
His grin widened and he reached for me again. "I think you should come over here and give me another kiss."
"Barry, I'm serious."
"So am I." He took a step toward me. "Come on, Mena. Let's skip breaking up and get on to making up."
I held my hand out to hold him back. "No. We're breaking up for good this time."
"We always break up for good. It's our favorite game," he said, taking my outstretched hand and crowding me against the car. "Did I tell you how beautiful you look tonight?"
Beautiful? I looked down at the rags I'd put on instead of my usual colorful, funky clothes. A potato sack would have been more flattering.
"And your hair." He fingered a lock that'd slipped loose from my intentionally messy ponytail. "Like spun wheat."
I didn't think wheat could be spun, but that was beside the point. Batting his hand away, I said, "Barry ..."
"I love it when you get impassioned. Your eyes get stormy." He leaned in. "Are they blue-gray or gray-blue?"
"Barry!" Damn him, why wasn't he listening? I tugged my hand out of his and shoved him back. "I'm totally serious. This is it. We're over."
His grin faded and he crossed his arms. "Why?"
I blinked. Usually when we broke up, we respected the other's wishes. It was clean with a minimum of fuss. Barry questioning the process was a new phenomenon. "This isn't working. We aren't working out."
"Because," I grabbed the first excuse that came to mind, "I can't stand your kisses."
He frowned. "Excuse me?"
"Your kisses. I hate the way you slobber all over my face. They gross me out." Then I thought I should clarify. "Just the mouth-to-mouth ones. When you kiss anywhere else it's fine."
"Good to know."
He sounded shell-shocked, but I wanted to make sure I nipped this relationship in the bud, so I went on. "And we don't rock each other's boats. Essentially, you, um, don't turn me on."
His face drained in shock.
I crossed my arms to keep the guilt at bay (no, it didn't work) and considered what to say next. It had to be something that would bruise his ego enough to never come back to me. I took a deep breath, told myself that this was in Barry's best interest, and went in for the kill. "When we have sex, I think of other men to get excited."
"What other men?"
"MacGyver," I blurted without thinking.
Actually, that wasn't far from the truth. I've had a wicked crush on MacGyver since I was eight. MacGyver is my idol. A guy who can solve any problem with a paper clip and a stick of gum? Shiver.
Barry would believe it too. My best friend Matt always teased me about the posters of Richard Dean Anderson I had pinned all over my office.
"I have to confess, Barry, I agreed to go out with you because you kind of look like him." Outright lie. He didn't look anything like MacGyver. "Only you lack the, um, inventiveness. In bed."
He frowned. "How do you know what MacGyver's like in bed?"
"Oh, I know. It's all in the hands." I glanced disdainfully at Barry's. At least I hoped it was disdainful-I'm not a great actress. "Your hands are kind of, um, small. And you're not spontaneous. I mean, don't you think it's overkill to lay out all your clothes for the week? What if the weather changes? You know how mercurial the weather is in Portland. And why do we have to go to the same restaurant all the time? I know the food at Hurley's is supposed to be the best in Portland, but there are hundreds of other restaurants we never go to. What if I feel like Lebanese for a change? What if I want McDonald's?"
Even though it seemed like I'd given him enough reasons for never seeing me again, I was on a roll and it was impossible to stop. Before I could control my mouth, I heard myself say, "And your feet smell."
Barry blinked and staggered back.
I'd never been deliberately mean in my life. Well, okay, except for the time I washed all my sister Daphne's whites with a red T-shirt. On purpose. Oh, and that time in high school when Aaron Jackson (who I'd had a crush on) called to ask Daphne (who was visiting from college) to the winter formal and I "accidentally" lost the message.
I tried not to feel bad over how I was undoubtedly making Barry feel. I was justified-this was for his own good. And if I told myself that another, oh, couple of hundred times, I might actually believe it.
"You know what, Mena? I think you may be right."
I tripped, which was no small feat considering I was standing still. "I am?"
"Yes." He nodded. "I've been thinking the exact same thing."
"Oh, you have, have you?" Then why did he look so angry?
He must have missed the doubt in my voice. "I've been thinking of breaking things off myself. You're a great woman, Mena, but the sex is rather lackluster between us, isn't it? I've found myself fantasizing a time or two myself. About, uh, Cameron Diaz."
Which is why two seconds ago you were trying to give my face a tongue bath? Can we say defense mechanism? And I was positive he picked Cameron Diaz because he knew I couldn't stand her. "At least MacGyver has brains."
"Cameron's got ingenuity," he countered. "Like in that movie when she used sperm for hair gel. You couldn't come up with something like that."
Well, he had me there. If that was the difference between inventive and unimaginative, guess which I'd take.
But that was beside the point. This was my breakup scene. He had his turn the last time. I glared at him. "Can't you have any original thoughts?"
His brow furrowed. "What?"
"You're just repeating everything I've been saying to you. Haven't you been listening?"
Barry's eyes narrowed. "No need to get snippy. Can't we end this on a friendly note?"
I gaped at him. He wanted to end this on a friendly note? He'd just told me I was boring in bed. No one had ever said that to me. In fact, I'd been complimented a time or two. Not to brag, but I've got skills.
I was just about to give him a piece of my mind when I realized my objective had been achieved. Barry and I were on the same page. There was no chance we'd get back together in a weak moment. Not after these revelations.
Somewhat appeased now that I had the situation in hand once again, I blinked hard enough that my eyes teared. I looked up, pouting a little. "Fine."
"Fine." He stared at me. "Will you be okay?"
He looked like he didn't believe me but he nodded.
"Is everything okay here?"
I looked up to see Barry's friend and boxing instructor, Rio, not two feet away and watching us with concern. I didn't know Rio except in passing, and I was glad he hadn't arrived sooner because I didn't want him to get the wrong impression of me. I really wasn't heartless. Or sexually unexciting.
Not that I liked Rio or anything. I mean, sure, he was Latino-hot with thick ropey muscles, latte skin, and sky blue eyes. Not to mention his melted Snickers voice. But he was Barry's friend and, therefore, out of bounds. Plus, he wasn't my type. I went for brainy, not brawny.
My eyes drifted down to the bag Rio held in his hands. MacGyver hands. I blinked. How come I'd never noticed before? Maybe I needed to take brawn out for a test drive.
Barry cleared his throat. "We're fine," he said. "Just talking."
Rio nodded. "See you tomorrow evening then, Barry."
With another searching look at both of us, he continued around the building to the back parking lot. I supposed that was where the employees parked. Not that I cared beyond the fact it gave me the opportunity to ogle his jeans-clad butt as he walked away.
"Can I walk you to your car?"
"Huh? Uh, no." I gave Rio's retreating figure one last look and turned to Barry. "I'll be fine. I'm just a couple of cars down."
He nodded. "Goodnight then, Mena."
"See you, Barry." I took the keys out of my pocket as I strode to my Prius, unlocked the door, and headed home.
My house was in a trendy part of Portland, off NW 23rd. The entrance to my home was on the porch level, but then you had to walk up a flight of stairs to get to my spacious, sunlit flat. I rented out the ground floor (an almost subterranean unit).
The first thing I did when I got in was call my best friend Matt.
It rang three times before he picked up, breathless. "'Lo?"
"You aren't masturbating to Tomb Raider again, are you?" He had a full-blown framed poster of Lara Croft wearing a skimpy bikini-the video game Lara, not the Angelina Jolie one-in his cave (aka home office).
"I just walked in from racquetball. And I've never masturbated to Tomb Raider."
"Although I'm not saying Lara Croft isn't hot."
I grinned at the smile in his voice. "You're such a geek."
"You're one to talk. So why are you calling me? Shouldn't you be breaking Barrington's heart right about now?"
"Mission accomplished. It wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be." I winced thinking of the mean things I said to Barry. Then I pictured Rio's hands again and felt my face flush. Well, it was where I pictured them that made me burn.
"Am I to understand he wasn't crushed by the thought of never again touching your fair skin?"
"He said sex with me was lackluster!"
Matt chuckled. "You can't be that bad."
I held the receiver out and crossed my eyes at him.
When I put it back to my ear, he was laughing. "Doc, didn't your mother ever tell you your face could freeze like that?"
I harrumphed. "How'd you know what I was doing?"
"I know you."
True. Matthew Turner and I had been best friends since junior high. We'd had computer lab together. He'd been patronizing, implying that I didn't know half what he knew about computers. To show him, I cracked into the school system and changed his D in P.E. to a B. We'd been friends ever since.
And he's called me Doc from that day on. I'd thought he had a Bugs Bunny fetish but it turned out he was just shortening my name, Philomena Donovan (no, I have no idea what my parents were thinking), to PhD. Ergo, Doc. Yeah, he's odd.
"So what happened?" he asked me.
I gave him all the details, including the slimy tongue down the throat just to giggle at his reaction. When I was done, he simply said, "You got what you wanted."
I knew that. Still.
"You did what you thought you had to do. Get over it, Doc."
"Jeez. Thanks for the compassion."
"Any time." He chuckled. "You want to come over?"
"Tempting. But I think I'm going to stay in. It's late and I have to be at work early tomorrow."
"When? At ten?"
Wise ass. "So I don't like to wake up at dawn."
"Nothing wrong with that." He sighed. "But I was hoping you'd bring takeout with you."
Notice how he didn't ask me to cook for him. Boiling water taxes my culinary abilities. "Sorry. You're on your own."
"Damn. I'm hungry."
As he was always hungry, I didn't feel any real sympathy for him. "Order a pizza. You know you'll be happier not sharing with me. I'll see you tomorrow, right? At class?"
I sighed. Sometimes I was tempted to pin notes to his clothes. "Yeah. Remember? Kung Fu?"
"That's tomorrow night?"
"I'm surprised you remember to put on clothes before you leave the apartment."
"I can't help it. I have important things on my mind."
I could concede that point. He designed software for an aeronautics firm. Sometimes in the middle of a conversation he'd drift off and you knew he was working on whatever bit of code was giving him trouble at the moment.
"And I didn't forget about class. I just didn't realize tomorrow was Wednesday."
"Uh-huh." Likely story. But before I could rag on him some more, my call waiting went off. I moved my cell phone away from my ear and looked at the screen. Wince. My mom. "I gotta go, Matt. My mom's on the other line."
"See you tomorrow, Doc."
Taking a deep breath, I switched to my mom's call. "Hey, Mom."
"How are you, Philomena?"
"Fine." She was the only person who called me by my whole name. "How was Belize? You're back, right?"
"I had a good time. I did some work at an orphanage while your father was hunting for his beetle." She sighed. "He didn't find it."
Uh-oh. "He didn't cause any kind of national incident, did he?"
My parents often headed out to weird locations so my dad could hunt down an elusive bug. The whole bug collecting business had always struck me as odd. My parents were the ultra-earth conscious, grow-your-own-organic-veggies, make-a-difference types. They lived outside of Portland in the Willamette Valley and had a practically self-sustained farm. Collecting rare insects seemed like an oxymoron to me, but when I'd point this out to my dad, he'd reply that he was actually protecting them from the environmentally callous.
On top of it all, Dad didn't take failure well. The last time they went on a bug hunting expedition, he was foiled from capturing his specimen because his guide-a hapless boy barely out of puberty-handed him a net that had a hole from a mishap the previous day. Fortunately, the boy was a great runner and managed to escape. I don't think it comes as a surprise that Dad isn't allowed entrance into that African province any more.
Mom sighed again. "I managed to convince him a Central American jail wasn't a place he wanted to spend any amount of time. But that's not why I called. Have you talked to Daphne?"
Daphne is my nemesis. And my sister, but that's secondary.
Excerpted from Project Date by Kate Perry Copyright © 2007 by Kathia Zolfaghari. Excerpted by permission.
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