Stupid Girl

By: Cindy Miles

A ghost of a grin, barely there, pulled at Brax’s lips as he pushed my door open wide, resting it against the wall. Shamelessly, he swaggered into my room. He must've felt my trepidation and thought to let my dorm door stay open. Still, there was something in his eyes, his body language that made me leery. My room suddenly felt crammed full. Crowded. Smaller, just with him in it. He passed by me, then glanced briefly over his shoulder. “Scar?”

Scah. “An accident.” I answered.

“What happened?” Those strange eyes were fixed on mine. Waiting.

I tugged at my lip again with my teeth. “I was thrown from a horse into a barbed-wired fence.” God, please forgive these stupid lies I keep telling!

“No shit,” he said, his mouth pulling into that sly side grin. “Tough girl, huh? You don’t look it. Now Southie girls? You can tell right away they don’t take no kinda shit. From any damn body.” Those eyes regarded me curiously, and for far longer than felt comfortable. “But braids and freckles don’t usually stir the fear of God in people, Gracie. Or horses, for that matter.”

It struck me odd, his comment. Although my mom never talked bad about our estranged father, she’d told me something not too long ago. Something he’d said, before deserting us all. I need more, Sadie. This braids and freckles life on the ranch? It’s sucking me dry. It’s just not for me. It’s not enough. It’ll never be enough. I vaguely remembered my father, but the thought of his weak cowardly retreat from our family and his responsibilities made me angry, filled my mind with a blazing red color that heated my cheeks. I shook the thought away and inclined my head toward Brax’s scar. I needed to veer the conversation away from me. “What about you?”

His eyes changed; hazed over. “Broken bottle.” Just that fast, the glimpse faded, and his lip curled up. “Just a little scuffle with a guy who had one too many lagers. As you probably have noticed, I’m not from here.” Lahgas.

“Kinda hard not to,” I said. I already knew where he was from, but I didn’t want him knowing Tessa and I had been talking about him. “Where?” I asked, avoiding his direct stare.

“South Boston,” he clarified. He inclined his head to my hand. “Married?”

Instinctively, I twirled my ring with my thumb, then sighed. “No, not married. It’s personal.”

Brax shrugged. “It’s an easy question, Gracie. Just answer it.”

Easy it definitely was not. I stared at the thin band of silver on my finger, then the clear blue of his odd eyes. I lifted my chin. “It’s a pledge ring. A vow I made.”

His eyes widened, his face shocked. “Jesus Christ, you’re a fuckin’ nun?”

I blew out a breath. “I’m pretty sure you’re going to hell for saying all those words in the same sentence. No, it has nothing to do with the church. It’s a personal vow. Of virginity. My decision.” I made my gaze stay on his, forced it, unafraid and unashamed. Well, that last one was another lie. Shame crept into every corner and crevice of my being, filling me like some dark silhouette that shadowed me, no matter where I went. But no one here would ever know that about me. Not if I could help it.

Brax studied me hard for several seconds. Haunted eyes penetrating mine. One side of his mouth lifted into that cocky smirk. “Well, at least you’re not a fuckin’ nun.”

He moved toward my bed, and glanced up at my half-hung poster. “Got any more tacks, Gracie?”

And just like that, it was done. I'd guessed then he didn’t want to talk about his past, and he must’ve gotten that I didn’t want to talk about mine, either. A person doesn’t get gashed and scarred by a broken bottle—or anything else—and not have a dark history behind it all. I decided not to pry. I’m glad he decided the same. At my desk, I grabbed two more tacks and handed them to Brax. When he smoothed the poster against the wall, I read the letters inked into his big knuckles. On his left hand, g o i n. On his right, d o w n. Goin’ down. He pushed the tacks in and stood back to look at it.

“Maria Mitchell, huh?” He looked at it for a second, glanced over his shoulder at Tessa’s Calvin Klein poster, then turned and held me still with his gaze. “I already knew that about you, Gracie. I could tell just by comparing you and your belongings to your roommate’s.” He moved to my bookshelf, and ran his forefinger over each volume as he read the titles. He looked at me. “Even without that ring I’d have guessed you’re a virgin. But an astronomy student? You got me there, Sunshine.”

Panic and shame rose from my stomach and into my throat, and suddenly my past felt splattered all over my face. I didn’t want him to know, to guess, or to even stay on this conversation anymore. I knelt by my toolbox and started straightening its contents. “I can see why you have a black eye.” My voice had dropped to a low pitch.

Brax’s chuckle interrupted my thoughts. “Sorry—it’s a God given talent that I have.”

“Your rudeness?” An angry blush crept up my neck. If only he knew.

Brax grinned, unaffected, and wandered over to my tool box and squatted down, lifting a wrench. “Nah, that’s been a long work in progress. Did I mention I’m a Southie? Rude is part of our DNA.” He shook his head. “No, me. Spotting a virgin. It’s a talent of mine.” He shrugged and set the wrench down, and stood. “I haven’t encountered many, unless you count the ones I knew in kindergarten, while I was still in kindergarten.” His stare seared me. “But in your case it’s a little hard to hide, Gracie. It’s stunning on you.”

The sharp realization that I was even having this exchange with a guy I barely knew blazed my insides further. Not to mention he was so way, way off. “I don’t try to hide it, or advertise it,” I answered in a quiet voice. “It’s no one’s business but mine.” I closed the toolbox and stood.

With one hand, Brax reached toward me and flipped my braid. “Be proud of it. Not many can claim it at your age, ya know.”

I wanted to melt into the floor of my room. Humiliation of the truth—and my own lies—swamped me. “I … think you need to leave now, Brax. Thanks for returning my phone.”

Brax pushed his tattooed hand over his heart. “I’m not trying to embarrass you. I said be proud. You wound me, Gracie.”

“We’re not friends, and we don’t know each other like that. So could you just leave, please?”

His gaze pinned me, and there was a light that sparked there, and I couldn’t tell if it was mischief or admiration. “We’ve already known each other now for, what? Several hours? We’re old friends now.” He stepped closer, his body angling toward mine. “We’ve kissed. That makes us something, yeah?”

“Not even close.”

Brax rubbed his bottom lip with his thumb as he studied me. “I plan on changing that.”

I looked at him skeptically. “Somehow I don’t think I fit into your crowd.”

“Who said I was gonna share you with mine or any other crowd?”

The heat from my blush stung my skin and I felt it rising like mercury in an old thermometer.

“That’s cute, Gracie. Damn cute.”

Exasperated, I breathed out, lifting my gaze to his. “Thanks again for returning my phone,” I said. I felt trapped, caged in like a big cat at a carnival, and I wanted him to leave. “I’ve got to go, though.”

Brax cocked his head. “Where ya headin’?”

Grabbing my boots, I sat on the bed to pull them on. Brax was borderline pushy. An irrational, irritating, irresistible kind of pushy. “To meet my boss and go over my work schedule. I’ve got a job at the observatory.”

Brax leaned his shoulder against the book shelf and crossed his tattooed arms over his chest, regarding me. His mouth pulled up at one corner. “A job, huh? Are you kicking me out, Gracie Beaumont?”

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