Why did I agree to this?
That was the fourth time I asked myself that question since walking to the south side of campus to find this stupid lawn theater thing. Apparently, it was popular because, since Ashton brought it up on Wednesday night, Samantha had mentioned it before leaving for work last night, and ShawnNicole asked me if I was coming this morning when I passed her in the hall on my way to my class. This shit felt like peer pressure.
Walking toward a gigantic projection screen, I saw concession stands. People were walking away with popcorn, drinks, candy, and other foods I couldn’t make out. Dag. This was a real thing. Once again, I was out-cultured at this school. I’d never been to a movie on the lawn. And what made it more awkward was the sea of people sitting on the grass in fifty-degree weather, wrapped in blankets; some were looking my way. I had no idea where I was going and hated being seen outside of the ring.
“Hey, Tori!” A shout from the right had me stopping and desperately searching.
When I found Samantha’s waving arms, I felt stupid. I should have known the only female voice calling me from the West Beverly High crew would have been ShawnNicole’s, and hers was brittle and whispery.
I waved back and tried to add a smile, but deep inside I was hella annoyed. In the next ten seconds, I was going to turn around and head back to my dorm.
Twenty, nineteen, eighteen, seventeen, sixteen, fifteen, fourteen—
“McNabb, you look like you’ve stepped in shit!” someone howled, then a chorus of laughter followed.
I rolled my eyes, knowing I’d found my destination. Al stood on his knees and waved his thick arms in the air like I belonged on a short bus. Andrea and Karmen laughed their heads off, Karmen even pointed my way. So immature. After rolling my eyes, they landed on a tight face gaping back at me. Ashton tapped the blanket which was an empty space to the right of him, then flapped his fingers for me to come. So ready to get out of the spotlight, I moved quickly, being sure not to step on legs or knee the backs of heads on my way.
My body froze when I made it to him. What I couldn’t see from a distance was Aivery’s head on his left shoulder as she tapped away into her phone.
“McNabb,” Ashton called out. “Have a seat.” His eyes pulled my attention down to the rolled out Panthers sleeping bag next to him.
“Hey, Tori!” ShawnNicole rasped from the other side of Aivery.
She sat in between Karmen and Andrea. Of course, Karmen sat by mean girl Aivery. That’s when I noticed magazines spread out between the girls, and they played with their phones, too.
ShawnNicole reached over Andrea to show Karmen a hairstyle. How they could see with just the light from the projection screen and a few posts around was beyond me, especially to have study-like focus.
“You want something to eat or drink for the movie?” Ashton’s deep voice broke my attention. I shook my head, rejecting his offer that stung my skin. “Yirp, Alex!” he shouted over my head. Seconds later, a guy was at our shoulder, kneeling over.
Ashton pulled out his wallet and counted off a few bills. “Aivery, you want something to eat?”
“Cheese pizza and Canada Dry.” Aivery’s head whipped away, going back down to her phone.
“Get me popcorn and a Sprite,” Ashton requested. His eyes lifted to me. “What do you want?”
I shook my head, declining again.
The Alex guy snorted. “Pizza?”
“Nah. She ain’t gone like that previously frozen shit,” Ashton mumbled, dismissing that idea with a quickness. “Get her popcorn, water, and Skittles.”
Alex tossed me a look, asking for approval. I lifted one shoulder, wanting him to just go away. I was uncomfortable and didn’t want to be here. Relief washed over me when he finally left, jumping over legs to get out of the bed of blankets.
“That’s what all you girls do?” Al asked me, tossing his chin to the other side of Ashton where the girls were still busy with their phones and magazines. “Or just girlie girls?”
“What’re they doing?” I asked.
“Y’all find y’all little outfits yet?” Al’s country accent cracked me up, even if I didn’t show it.
“Shut up, Al!” Andrea rolled her eyes. “How about you focus on what you’re gonna wear in case you run into Brielle backstage.”
“Brielle would throw the fuck up,” Aivery hissed, and the girls laughed.
Al took it on the chin, shaking his head. “Y’all putting a lot into something so small. Just have fun with it. Wear something you can get drunk in, ‘cause that’s exactly what y’all gone do.”
“Stop hating, Al!” ShawnNicole warned.
“Tori…” He was even louder this time. “You ain’t answer. You do all this to get ready to go out?”
“Only to get walked to the curb to take a poop?” Aivery asked.
My head whipped over to her. As her friends—except ShawnNicole—laughed, she ignored their reactions and kept at her search.
“Knock it off, Aiv,” Ashton mumbled, sitting back on his hands, face toward the movie screen.
His scent annoyed me, reminding me of an inappropriate proximity to him I’ve had too many times.
“You going to the concert, Tori?” ShawnNicole asked.
“You know she’s not,” Karmen snorted.
“You don’t know,” ShawnNicole snapped. Her eyes swung back to me as she leaned over her crossed legs to see me. “I’m asking because I’m almost booked for next Tuesday.”
“Oh, shit!” Andrea’s eyes were wide as beach balls. “Are you going to the concert?”
I only heard of this concert here a few seconds ago. Why did I feel pressured about going? And they weren’t inviting me to go with them. They were just being nosy to see just how poor I was. These stupid humans were different. The shit I saw in movies about snobs in school cliques was true. They were so superficial! Who cares about a concert—
“Y’all wake me up when your high goes down,” Aivery coughed into her hands.
Such a bitch…
And just when I was about to say so, I caught the full lips of her boyfriend next to me, and my pussy literally pulsed. There was no way I could fight with her when I’d been kissing him. And liking it.
“No.” Andrea looked puzzled. “Like…really?”
Was she still asking if I was going?
“Well, just let me know,” ShawnNicole rasped. “If you tell me what you’re wearing, I can do something that would work with it.” She winked before her attention dipped back down into the magazine on her lap.
“So…” Andrea’s eyes squinted. “…you are going?”
“The fuck, Andrea! Would you stop!” Aivery screamed on her friend. “You know the girl hardly got two pennies to rub together to afford ShawnNicole’s campus prices. What makes you think she can afford to go to a Brielle concert?”
Among the snickers from Andrea and Karmen, ShawnNicole demanded, “Don’t do that, Aivery. Not that it’s your business, but Tori has an account with us. It’s never in the red or low. She has a nail allowance, too, just like you. So don’t go there.”
That’s it. It was time for me to go. When my eyes met Ashton to tell him I was out, his said something different. Then his head dropped to one side.
“Why do you always do this?”
Offensiveness building in my chest, I asked, “What?”
“Why do you keep mute about something so simple that could have avoided all this bullshit chatter?” My face went tight, hella confused. “Tori’s man is taking her to the concert.”
Gasps ignited all around me. Even Al and the guys to the left of him reacted to that announcement.
“See!” Andrea cried. “That’s what I meant. Her dude is a fucking baller! How do you think she’s still poor?”
“Shut the hell up, Andrea,” Aivery hissed.
“Shhh! Shhh! Shhh!” Ashton demanded. “The movie’s about to start.”
Sure enough, the random BSU logos popping up on the screen had ended and darkened, then the usual Paramount Pictures introduction rolled. Uncomfortable, I sat tightly, legs crossed, trying to slow the anger stirring in my belly. I was still deciding if I would stay.
“Here ya go!” a loud whisper sounded over my shoulder. The guy, Alex, had returned with a tray of food. Ashton turned and plucked popcorn, a bag of Skittles, and a water bottle, handing them over to me. Then he took the whole tray from him and placed it on his lap. “And here’s your change.”
Ashton’s hand went into the air. “Keep it.”
I turned my attention back to the screen when Ashton began speaking to Aivery about her pizza. Ashton lied to these people, which meant I was forced to lie again, too. I didn’t want to do the whole fake boyfriend thing again. It was exhausting. But this crew. They made me fight for my pride. Their stuckupness was hard to ignore. How was this going to work? Just when I thought I’d struggle with needing to leave, my attention got lost in the movie. Africa. I always wanted to visit there. People said it wasn’t as wild and uncivil as seen in movies and pictures. And these Africans were rich.
Suddenly, I couldn’t remember if I’d seen this old movie before.
I had to—
A big, hot hand covered mine. I didn’t realize, I’d stretched back, sitting on my hands like Ashton earlier. It was him. His face to the screen, but I caught his eyes rolling over to me. I whipped my head back ahead. Why did heat flash through my whole body at that simple touch?
This was messed up.
And I…liked it.
But I’m not a whore…
Publisher’s Note: Our Muted Recklessness will not be available in the Kindle Unlimited library. It will, however, be available exclusively on Kindle for purchase via Amazon.
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*Release date subject to change without notice