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But for some reason her supervisor, Nate Green, doesn't want her ...
But for some reason her supervisor, Nate Green, doesn't want her there. He thinks she's a self-centered rich girl who deserves to be in jail. After she's threatened by the kids who started the fire, Nate and Megan form a strange friendship, built only for her protection. But the more she feels for him, the more he pushes her away.
As they become closer, Megan knows Nate is attracted to her as well, but she also believes that he is hiding something. But she could never guess what he really is. Before she realizes what is happening, she becomes involved in a world she didn't know existed.
In this strange new reality, can she finally find a place where she belongs?
The Football Field
I remember the first time I realized I didn't belong in my family. The three of us were in the back of our limo, stopped at a stop sign, when my father noticed a family of four standing at a bus stop. "What's wrong with those people? how can they subject their children to public transportation?" he asked, his voice a mix of disgust and his usual arrogance. "It's dirty and crowded."
My mother nodded in agreement, her head bobbing up and down like the little bobble-head dogs you see on the dashboard of cars.
"Maybe they can't afford a car, Dad, did you ever think of that?" I answered, feeling shocked and embarrassed by my father's words.
"Maybe they should get a job, Megan. Did you ever think of that?" It was the first time, but not the last, that his voice was filled with irritation when he spoke to me.
I didn't respond to his absurd words. I was stunned silent—and I was ten.
I'm no longer shocked when either of my parents say or do something cold and insensitive. It's who they are, and I've long since accepted that.
When people tell me I look like my mother, I know they mean it as a compliment, but that's not how I take it. While she is beautiful, with long, flowing platinum hair, pale blue eyes, and smooth, flawless skin, the saying beauty is only skin deep definitely applies to her. My hair is more of a strawberry-blond, a lot darker than my mother's, and my eyes are green. It might not be a big deal to anybody else, but to me, It's a visible difference between us, showing that I am nothing like her.
I have always felt like an imposter in my own life, sticking out like a sore thumb amongst my friends and family. All anybody sees when they look at me is an eighteen-year-old girl, wearing designer clothes and driving a shiny red convertible. I'm a Banks, rich, spoiled, popular, and given everything I want. But that is far from the truth. How can I have what I want, when I don't know what that is?
For as long as I can remember I've felt something missing from my life, and sometimes believed it was a connection to another person. The closest I've come to that feeling was with our cook and gardener. Did that even count? Would they even be in my life if they weren't paid to be?
Of course I had friends, although I wasn't sure if they'd still be here if I had a different last name. Would I be a cheerleader hanging out with the captain and hunky football players if my father wasn't senior partner in his law firm? Would my friends want to visit me if we didn't have a pool, hot tub, and tennis courts? Sometimes my life felt so foreign, I expected to wake one morning to my true family. Go downstairs, have a real conversation with my parents, eating cereal and arguing with my siblings. My father would actually look up at me from behind his newspaper and smile as I stole a piece of his slightly burnt toast that my mother had made for him. Instead of the cook, who really was a substitute for my biological mother—who wouldn't be caught dead out of bed before noon.
"Megan, are you coming?" my best friend, Mandy, asked as she leaned into my bedroom doorway, disrupting my thoughts.
I was staring at myself in the mirror, brushing my hair, letting my mind wander, and I forgot she was waiting for me. "Yes." I stood up to grab my purse off of my bed. I turned once more to the mirror, and, satisfied that none of the lettuce from dinner was stuck in my teeth, I ran out of my room to catch up with her.
As I bounded down the long hallway, Mandy, who was ahead of me, slipped out the door and into the night. I didn't quite make it before I heard a clicking sound coming from behind me. I glanced over to see my mother heading toward me in her shiny, silver, spiked heels, wearing a skin-tight red designer dress.
God knows why she had to look as though she were a fashion model just sitting around her own house. But there was no point in trying to figure out why she did anything. I gave up a long time ago.
"Where are you going, Megan?" Her voice was like nails on a chalkboard, shrill and annoying. I wanted to say "like you care." They had been abandoning me for their charity events, spa trips, and eighty-hour work weeks, since I was a child. But even after all these years of neglect, I still hoped one day we could be a close family like we were when I was little.
I stopped in my tracks, whirling around to confront her. The overwhelming smell of her perfume struck me as much as her beauty. Too bad her attitude didn't match her appearance. I watched as her soft blue eyes narrowed and glared at me, waiting for me to answer the question. She leaned her hand on the door frame, her perfectly manicured nails tapping the trim impatiently. The sound reminded me of a drum beat.
"I'm spending the night at Mandy's." Without waiting for a response, I turned, and rushed out the door.
I heard her yell something about not giving me permission, but I left anyway. Since when was she so concerned about me? "So, where to?" I asked Mandy, who was waiting patiently, playing with the car stereo. She glanced up and smiled after I climbed into the driver's seat of my convertible. Since there was a chill in the air at night, the top was up. It was April and soon enough we'd be able to drive with it down.
"The football field. Brandon, Chris, Shane, and the rest of the team are meeting us there, but we have to pick up Jenny, her car is in the shop. Her father won't let her use his because she got two speeding tickets last time he lent it to her."
I laughed. Jenny didn't care about other people's belongings. To her it was her father's duty to give her whatever she wanted, simply because she was his child. She was a little shallow, self-centered ... and annoying. I asked myself often why she was my friend.
I pulled into Jenny's driveway, which was just down the road from my house, and honked the horn.
"Don't you want to go in?" Mandy asked me. Her hand was resting on the door handle, about to open it.
"No, if we go in she'll take forever. Do you want to wait or hang out with the guys?" I leaned over the stereo, flicking through the songs on the car's mp3 player.
"That's true. She isn't one to rush when people are waiting."
I rolled my eyes at that. She was the kind of person who would take her time because we were waiting.
Twenty minutes later, Jenny strolled out of her house. Like mine, hers was a mansion, but that was where the similarities ended. My family's home was old and understated. Beautiful gardens and landscaping wrapped around the classic architecture of the grey stone building. And Jenny's house screamed: "Look at me, I'm rich." The outside was a salmon-colored stucco. The gardens were beautifully done as well but were overshadowed by dozens of tacky sculptures. The worst was the cherub holding a bow and arrow. It stood in the center of their fake pond, peeing. Classy, I know.
"Hey, guys, I hope I didn't keep you waiting." Jenny's voice was sticky sweet as she climbed into the back seat. She shoved Mandy a bit harder than necessary when she pushed the front seat forward.
"Oh, of course not. We've only been sitting here for twenty minutes," I said coldly, annoyed with her already, and the night had barely begun.
"What's your problem? I didn't know you were here." Her tone took on a defensive whine as she looked into her small makeup mirror. She fluffed her shoulder-length blond hair and scrunched up her lips, adoring her reflection in the mirror.
"Yeah, right," I mumbled but decided to let it go. Mandy gave me a pleading look, begging me not to pick a fight with Jenny tonight. I nodded and pulled out of the driveway.
Jenny tucked her mirror into her clutch purse and asked, "So, where are we going?"
Mandy turned in her seat to face Jenny. "The football field with the guys. I told you already when I called you to say we were on our way. Remember?"
"Oh, right, I forgot. I got into it with my dad again. He's still refusing to pay to fix my car. He was going on and on tonight at dinner about being responsible if I want to have a car. This was my third accident, blah, blah, blah. I tuned him out after that. God, he's getting so annoying, like It's the end of the world that I've had three accidents. I can't believe he thinks I should pay to fix it."
I rolled my eyes. "Oh yeah, life is tough, isn't it? How can he expect you to take responsibility for your own actions?"
"I know, right?"
Apparently, sarcasm was lost on her. I opened my mouth to tell her off, but a look from Mandy silenced me. For some reason, she liked Jenny. And since Mandy was my best friend, and had been for ten years ago, I had to put up with Jenny—even if it killed me.
Five minutes later, I pulled into the nearly empty school parking lot, next to Shane's enormous black SUV. God, it was obnoxious, but then again, so was Shane. No wonder he and Jenny were a couple; they were perfect for each other.
I tossed my purse in the front seat of the car, locked the doors, and followed my friends through the back of the school to the field.
"Look who's finally here." Shane sauntered up to Jenny, wrapping his arm possessively around her shoulder. "It took you long enough. Let me guess, Jenny kept you waiting," he asked me.
His girlfriend started speaking before I could answer. "Don't encourage her. She's already pissed at me, just because I took a little extra time getting ready. I had to look my best for you." Her lips puckered into a pout as she leaned up to kiss him hungrily, almost making me gag. I had to turn away from their disgusting PDA before I hurled right there on the football field.
"Okay, that's gross," Brandon commented, walking over to stand next to me.
"Really, guys, if you want to be alone, go in the bushes. We don't need to see it." Chris approached us, wrapping his arms around Mandy. They had been going out for six months, and were so cute together. They even looked alike, with their black hair and blue eyes. There was quite a difference in size though. While Chris was almost six feet and broad shouldered, Mandy was short with a tiny frame. Her pixie haircut just made her appear smaller.
Shane pushed Jenny away but wrapped his arm around her waist. "Do any of you girls want a drink?" He gestured with his hand to a cooler with what looked like a twenty-four of beer inside. It was sitting on the grass in front of the bleachers.
I passed on the beer, climbing up the benches to sit down on the bleachers about four rows up. Jenny and Mandy helped themselves to a drink, choosing to sit down on the first row.
"Megan, you want one?" Brandon asked, holding a brown bottle up for me.
"No thanks, I'm driving," I replied, wondering why I came.
"So am I, but you don't see me being a loser and saying no." Shane twisted the cap off of a bottle, and tossed it onto the grass.
"You're right. I don't ever see you saying no." I stared at Shane coldly, unable to hide my irritation.
He glared at me, his face cold. "What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, taking a few steps toward the bleachers, his chest puffed out in a sign of aggression.
Brandon grabbed his shoulder. "I'm sure she didn't mean anything. She was just agreeing with you." He looked up at me, his eyes pleading. "Right, Meg?"
I decided it was a waste of time to give Shane a lecture on drinking and driving, so instead I gave him a fake smile. "Right," I agreed with a nod.
Jenny, ignoring her boyfriend's outburst, turned to glance up at me. "So Megan, did Mandy tell you that I changed practice from ten on Sunday morning to two in the afternoon? My parents are having some brunch thing for my father's work, so we can all meet at my place then, okay?"
"Whatever." I hated cheerleading practice. I joined first year with Mandy, but slowly grew tired of it. I wanted to quit a few times, but Mandy always offered an excuse as to why I shouldn't. The latest one was that I couldn't let the team down with cheer competitions so close. So I would stick it out, but come June—I was free. I hated dressing in our skimpy uniforms and shaking our butts in front of hundreds of people. I felt like I was putting myself on display, and honestly hated being in the spotlight.
"Will your shoulder be better by Friday, Shane?" Chris asked him while he sat down beside Mandy. Last Friday night at their weekly game of touch football with some of their teammates, it got a little rough.
"Yeah, I've been working on it, it'll be fine." He rolled his shoulder to demonstrate.
Jenny grabbed Shane and pulled him toward the corner of the bleachers so they could make out in semi-private.
Chris took Mandy's hand, leading her toward the school.
Great, I was alone with Brandon again. This was what usually happened when we all got together: we paired up. But the problem was—Brandon and I were not a couple. Not that he didn't want to be, I just didn't like him that way.
Brandon bent down and pulled out a beer. After opening it, he threw the cap in the cooler, it made a pinging sound as it hit a glass bottle. "Do you mind if I join you?" he asked, staring up at me. His voice was deep and in the silence sounded loud.
"Sure, but you know how I feel."
"I know, don't worry." He climbed the bleachers two at a time, plopping down on the bench next to me.
"Where's the rest of the team?"
"I don't know. We didn't ask them to come. Why?"
I shook my head, realizing Mandy had lied to me, knowing I wouldn't want to come if it was just the six of us. "Never mind."
"Why do you always push him like that?" he asked, leaning his elbows back against the bench behind him. He nodded his head to the back of the bleachers where Shane and Jenny were giggling.
I sighed. "I don't know. Both of them are so selfish and irresponsible, they drive me crazy."
"Then why do you hang out with them?" I raised my eyebrows at him. "Okay, let me rephrase. Why do you hang out with Jenny?"
I leaned my head back, staring up at the star-filled sky. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him gaze at me, waiting for my answer. "Mandy likes her. God knows why. And Mandy's my best friend, so I put up with Jenny's crap. Barely," I added when he laughed.
Looking away from the twinkling stars, I turned my head to face him. "Why do you hang out with him? You're not as obnoxious as he is."
He laughed. "As obnoxious? Was that a compliment?" he asked. I nodded with a grin. "The three of us have been friends since grade school. Shane started acting like this our second year of high school after his parents' divorce. Chris and I have been friends with him for so long it seems habit now. We just ignore him when he acts like an ass."
I knew they had been friends since they were young, but I never understood the dynamic. As I leaned my head back, staring at the stars again, I felt him lean against me. I pulled away and heard him sigh.
"Where are you going in the fall?" he asked, setting his beer on the bench beside him.
"Actually I'm taking a year off. I don't know what I want to do with my life, and I didn't want to waste my parents' money going to school with no major. What about you, what are you taking?"
"Pre-law. I'm going to be a lawyer, whether I like it or not. Just like my dad, and his dad." His father was a partner in my dad's firm. My father was his boss.
Watching Brandon, I wondered why I couldn't like him the way he wanted. He was very cute, with his wavy chestnut hair and deep brown eyes, his face filled with sharp lines and a strong jaw. He was always nice to me, but I just felt like there was something missing in my life, and I knew it wasn't him.
"If you don't want to be a lawyer, don't be. You shouldn't let your father dictate your life."
He sighed, leaning his elbows on the bench behind him. "Well, he says he won't pay for school if I don't follow in the family business. But I don't know what else to take, so I'm okay with it." He took a frustrated drink from his beer, downed it, and then threw the empty bottle on the grass. It rolled a few feet, stopping inches from someone's discarded backpack. Standing up, he turned to me. "You sure you don't want one?" When I only nodded, he stepped down the bleachers and pulled another beer from the cooler.
Mandy and Chris headed towards us, hand in hand, giggling to one another.
"Hey, I'll have one," Chris called out to Brandon. Brandon took two more out and tossed them one at a time to Chris. He caught one, handed it to Mandy, and then caught the second one. The bottle clinked against his class ring.
Excerpted from Riley's Secret by CHRISTINA SMITH. Copyright © 2013 Christina Smith. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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Posted March 17, 2013
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