Stupid Girl

By: Cindy Miles

Within a half hour I had the oak shelves assembled and atop my desk. Quickly I arranged all of my astronomy books, and stepped back to inspect my work. Deciding to hang my own inspirational poster, I knelt on the floor and fished in the toolbox for my tacks, found them tucked into a small corner, then grabbed the rolled poster I’d taken off my wall from home. Toeing off my boots, I climbed onto my bed and stood, then slid the rubber band off the paper. I’d tacked up two corners when a knock at the door startled me.

My mind scrambled as I stepped off the bed and made my way to the door. I knew absolutely no one at Winston. Except for my roommate, and she wouldn’t be knocking. Maybe it was the dorm monitor for Oliver Hall. Tessa mentioned earlier she might be stopping by to introduce herself. Or, it could be someone looking for Tessa. Pulling the door open, I blinked in shocked surprise. I felt my gaze widen. Not the dorm monitor.

Brax Jenkins’s peculiar eyes stared down at me from the doorway. His forearm rested against the jamb in a cocky stance. His pitch-dark hair fell in soft messy curls that had no pattern or symmetry and brushed his collar. A phantom smile tugged at his lips. What in the world was he doing here? I wanted to ask him just that, but I didn’t. Didn’t need to.

“Seems I can’t get that kiss out of my head, Gracie.”

Instead, I shook the surprise from my head and shrugged, trying to hide my embarrassment. “What do you want, Brax?”

Brax’s lips spread. “Is that something you really want me to answer?”

My face flamed, and I started to shut the door. His hand and quiet laugh stopped it.

“Calm down, Sunshine.” He glanced over my head. “What’cha doin’?”

I folded my arms over my chest. “The same thing I was doing the last time you saw me.” I forced myself to look at him. “Seriously. What do you want?”

“Last time I saw you, Gracie, you were in the grass and I was lookin’ down at ya. After you kissed me, that is.”

His sharp accent and cocky remark took me off-guard, but I bounced back quick, trying to mask my awkwardness. Something about Brax made me lose all wittiness I’d accumulated over the years, scrapping with my sarcastic brothers. But Brax wasn’t my brother. He was a strange guy I knew nothing about. I corrected him. “You kissed me. And the last time I saw you, you were right where you are now. Leaving.”

Brax laughed, thoroughly amused, and the sound came out raspy and husky and as completely male as his speaking voice. Although he made me nervous, I was surprised to find I liked hearing that laugh, his voice. Now he leaned against the door jamb, crossing his tattooed arms over his chest. It didn’t appear that he was going to leave anytime soon. “Yeah, got me there.” His gaze moved over my face, lingered on my mouth—the scar on my lip, I imagined—and then lifted. I waited for him to ask me about it, my scar, but to my surprise, he didn’t. “Who’s that?” he asked instead, inclining his head to the poster I’d been hanging.

I glanced over my shoulder in the direction of his stare and turned back to him. “Maria Mitchell. One of the first female astronomers. You agreed to leave me alone, remember?” He really never had, but I’d hoped to convince him otherwise. I couldn’t even begin to imagine why he was here. I’d been pretty blunt before, just trying to get my point across. I wasn’t one of those giggly girls who swooned as Brax Jenkins held a door open for me. Hadn’t I made that clear enough? “Did … you forget something?”

“No, but you did.” Brax reached into the back pocket of his jeans and held out a cell phone.

My cell phone.

My hand flew to my pocket where I’d earlier stuffed my phone. Empty, of course. He handed it to me, and I looked at him.

“You must’ve dropped it when I sacked you on the lawn,” Brax said. He rubbed his jaw with his thumb, and my stare was drawn to the black inked letters on his knuckles. I still couldn’t read them since they were upside down. His brows pulled together. “I picked it up with your other things and forgot about it until I sat on it.”

My eyes flew to my phone and flipped it open, to see if it still worked. The backlight flashed green. I breathed a sigh of relief. The last thing I wanted to do was spend the money for a new one.

Brax laughed. “Where the hell did you get that thing anyway? A fuckin’ yard sale?”

I snapped the phone shut. The way Brax said fahkin’ yahd was kinda funny. Crude, but funny. Suddenly, I felt a little self-conscious. “It’s fifty dollars cheaper per month than an iPhone.” I shrugged and stuck my old fossil phone into my back pocket. “I pay my own extra-curricular bills, so I save where I can.”

An appreciative light glimmered in Brax’s eyes, almost making them lighter than they already were. “Smart girl. Kinda figured you were different than the others.”

The others? He’d already summed me up? Only fair, I suppose, since I’d summed him up pretty fast, too. That I was even on his mind once he left here took me off guard. Well, no, I guess that wasn’t completely accurate. He had to return my cell phone. That’s all. Again, I tried to throw off my slight anxiety of him being here by diverting the conversation off of me. I nodded to his black and blue eye. “What’s the other guy look like?”

Brax’s mouth lifted at the corners, a sly smile, and I couldn’t help but be drawn to his mouth. It’d been on mine, after all. To my horror I noticed how perfectly shaped his lips were. The one feature on his entire face that wasn’t frightening or threatening or beat up or scarred. And my gaze zeroed in on them. What was wrong with me? Clearing my throat, I hurried and shifted my eyes back to his, only to find a knowing gleam in those strange blue irises.

“A lot worse than me,” he answered. His eyes again settled on my mouth, then rose, looking me square on, and pushed off the door jamb. His tall, broad shouldered frame leaned toward me. “So you gonna leave me standing out here, Gracie, or let me in so you can tell me how you got that scar?” His eyes dipped to my hand. “And why the hell you’re wearin’ a wedding band.”

Brax’s bluntness stunned me for a second. I knew he’d seen my scar. It was kind of impossible not to. From being in the sun most days, my skin had tanned, and the scar that slashed through my top lip had turned white over the past year, and was about a half-inch long. Not exactly disfiguring, but it stuck out like a white silky sore thumb. Instantly, I pulled at my lip with my teeth, trying to cover it. How many more times would I have to tell the lie about how I’d gotten it? Usually, no one bothered to ask. It’s not something I’d ask a virtual stranger, yet Brax and Tessa had both pointedly and bluntly asked me about it.

The ring, though? I’d never tried to hide it. I just didn’t have too many people ask about it, either. The kids back in Jasper had known exactly why I was wearing it. Again, this was a new place with new people. And one of them now stood in my doorway, waiting for me to answer. I knew he saw the hesitation in my face. I didn’t even know him. I only had Tessa’s point of view, which had been a pretty crappy one. But with a known reputation and a black eye to boot? Not to mention the bold kiss he’d planted on me? I definitely didn’t want to be alone in my room with him. This isn’t high school, Olivia. You’re not drinking, this isn’t a party, and you’re not with a pervy deceptive boyfriend who wants to get in your underpants. You’re in total control. Get a grip.

“I brought your phone back, don’t forget,” Brax urged. Fahget.

Sheer curiosity and something else I couldn’t explain drove me to create my own point of view of Brax Jenkins.

“Just for a minute,” I offered. I forced an air of irritation into my voice that I was pretty sure didn’t quite measure up. I didn’t want him thinking he put me on edge, although that’s exactly what he did. Now that the words were out of my mouth, I wished I could take them back. Glancing around, I searched for … something. A weapon, just in case? I wasn’t sure what, but just that thought sounded absurd as I looked at him. All I knew was that being alone with Brax made me jumpy.

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