Be Mine (9 page)

Eden stared at the tulips. Now that she knew they were from Dexter, they weren't as special as they had seemed. She pushed them to one side and pulled out her SAT exam book.

“Are you sure you're okay?” Dexter asked. “I feel awful. I didn't mean to upset you.”

“I'm fine,” Eden insisted. “Really. Start quizzing me.”

As Dexter started asking her vocabulary words, Eden wondered if her day could get any worse.

Right now, all she wanted was for it to be over.

Once she was finished with Dexter, she was going to go home, get into bed, pull the covers over her head, and cry her eyes out.

The smell of tomato sauce and garlic was heavy in the air as Jennifer walked into Marinelli's Pizzeria. She inhaled deeply and heard her stomach rumbling.

“Can I get you a slice?” Will asked from behind the counter. He stared at her stomach. “Sounds like you're hungry.”

Jennifer blushed in embarrassment. “I'll have a slice.”

“Pepperoni and mushroom?”

“Plain is fine,” she said as she reached into her shoulder bag for her wallet.

“Keep your money,” Will said. “It's on me.”


“Why don't you grab a corner table? I'll be with you in a couple of minutes.”

As Jennifer waited for Will, she looked around the pizzeria. It was warm and cozy, decorated to look like it was actually in Italy. The walls were made of brick and they were strung with tiny white lights. The tables were covered with red and white checked tablecloths and on top of them were melted candles stuck in wine bottles. There was an Italian flag hanging on one wall and posters of Italian soccer players on another.

Jennifer watched as Will twirled a ball of pizza dough around one hand. It kept getting bigger and bigger until it was a flat circle. Then he placed it back down on the marble countertop, tossed some flour on it, added a swirl of tomato sauce with a big spoon, and sprinkled a handful of mozzarella. Then he slid a wooden spatula underneath the pizza and popped it into one of the four ovens behind him.

Jennifer left her seat and walked over to the counter. “I didn't know you made the pizzas.”

“I'm a guy of many talents.” Will opened one of the other ovens and pulled out Jennifer's slice. “Here you go. Piping hot.”

Jennifer blew onto the slice so she wouldn't burn her mouth and then took a tiny bite. “Mmm. Good!”

“Want to try making one?” Will asked.

“How hard is it?” Jennifer asked, taking another bite of her slice.

“You won't know until you try.”

Jennifer studied Will. “If you can do it, I can do it!”

Will laughed. “We'll see! It's not as easy as it looks.”

Jennifer stepped behind the counter next to Will and tried to imitate what she had seen him do earlier. But she was unable to twirl the ball of dough covering her hand. It was so heavy! It kept falling off her hand with a thud, scattering flour everywhere.

“Can't I just flatten it out with a rolling pin?” she asked.

“You're making a pizza pie, not an apple pie!” Will stood behind Jennifer, holding her arm straight. “You're concentrating too much. Just go with the flow. Little twirls. As you keep doing it, the dough will start to grow and stretch.” Will began turning Jennifer's arm. “Pretend you're twirling a hula hoop around your wrist.”

Jennifer tried again and this time the ball of dough began to grow. “I'm doing it!” she exclaimed.

“Keep twirling,” Will encouraged.

Jennifer tried to focus on her twirling, but it was hard with Will standing so close to her. The space behind the counter was small and she could sense him right behind her.

“Very good,” he whispered in her ear.

Chills traveled down Jennifer's spine and she shivered. For a second, she wondered if Will was going to touch her, but he didn't. Instead, he stepped away to wait on a customer and left her to twirling her dough. When she had a circle as big as the one Will had made, she added the other ingredients. As she did, she watched Will talking to the girl on the other side of the counter. She was the same age as them, but Jennifer didn't recognize her from school. It was obvious that she was interested in more than just a slice of pizza. She kept batting her eyes at Will and asking him all sorts of meaningless questions. She was flirting with Will and he was flirting right back!

When she paid, the girl wrote her phone number down on a piece of paper and slipped it into the front pocket of Will's shirt. “Call me,” she said.

Will gave her a smile. “I love making home deliveries.”

Will watched the girl leave the pizzeria before turning back to Jennifer. “How's your pie coming?”

Jennifer stared at Will in disbelief. She couldn't believe what she had just seen!

“What was that?” she demanded.

“What?” Will innocently asked.

Jennifer reached into Will's pocket and pulled out the girl's number, waving it in his face. “This!” she proclaimed before shredding the slip of paper and tossing the pieces into the garbage.

“Hey!” Will protested. “What did you do that for?”

“In case you've forgotten, you now have a girlfriend,” she reminded him. “
Your days of playing the field are over.”

“I wasn't going to call her.” Will crossed his heart and gave Jennifer a sweet smile. “I swear.”

Jennifer was tempted to peek behind Will's back to see if he was crossing his fingers. Oooh, he was good. A natural-born charmer. Always ready with a smile. He knew how to wrap girls around his little finger, but she wasn't going to be one of those girls!

“If I flirt with the girls, they tip me better,” Will explained. “What's wrong with that?”

“You need to tone it down.”

“We've discussed your jealousy, Red.” Will shook his head sadly. “Not very attractive.”

“I am
jealous!” Jennifer exclaimed. “And don't call me Red!”

“You don't have anything to worry about,” he reassured her. “Until February fifteenth, I'm all yours.”

Jennifer wanted to scream. He was

“What's not sinking into that thick skull of yours?” she asked. “What I just saw makes it look like you were interested in that girl. And if
think that, then other people are going to think it, too.”

“You mean Claudia?”


Will popped Jennifer's pizza into the oven and led her back to the table she had been sitting at.

“Okay, no more flirting,” he said. “I promise. I want this plan to work just as much as you do. Tell me again about New Year's Eve and our first kiss.”

Jennifer gave Will a recap of what she had told Claudia the day before.

“What was the kiss like?” Will asked.

His question caught Jennifer off guard. “Huh?”

“Our kiss. What was it like? How did it feel?”

Jennifer shrugged. “I don't know.”

“Don't you think you should? In case she asks.”

“I-I-I suppose,” Jennifer sputtered.

“We need to work on that,” Will said firmly. “Maybe even practice. You know. Like research. So it feels real and you know what you're talking about.” Will popped a piece of gum into his mouth, smiling at Jennifer while he chewed. “Don't worry, my breath is always minty fresh.”

“R-r-research?” Jennifer asked, suddenly feeling like Little Red Riding Hood standing in front of the Big Bad Wolf.

“Do you have a problem with that? Obviously, if we're a couple, we're going to need to be affectionate with each other. Right?”

Jennifer hated to admit it, but none of this was stuff she had thought about.

“Right?” Will repeated.

“Right,” Jennifer answered firmly. So they were going to eventually kiss. Not a problem. It was all part of the plan.

“But we don't have to worry about that now,” Will said. “Let's get back to New Year's Eve. I was home sick that night so your story works. In fact, I had the flu during the holiday break and pretty much stayed home the entire time.”


“What did you do?”

“We visited my cousins in Pennsylvania and went skiing. We could say we met at the party that the ski lodge had on New Year's Eve. They really did have one.”

“What about afterward? Why haven't we been seen out together? You know she's going to wonder about that.”

“We wanted to take things slow,” Jennifer said. “Get to know each other. I was afraid.”

“Afraid? Of what?”

“I didn't want to be another one-time-only date. I fell hard for you, but I wanted to see how serious you were about me.”

“And am I serious?” Will asked, leaning back in his chair and stretching out his legs.

“You tell me,” Jennifer said. “Have you been dating anyone since New Year's Eve?”

“Lucky for you, I haven't.”

“What do you like to do for fun?”

“I've got my motorcycle. I listen to music. Play video games. Go to concerts. Work here. Pretty much the same as any other seventeen-year-old guy.”

Jennifer handed Will a sheet of paper.

“What's this?” he asked, looking it over.

“It's all about me,” she explained. “My birthday, my favorite color, favorite foods, foods I hate, favorite movies, favorite bands, favorite TV shows, the names of my cat and best friend. Memorize it. I'll need you to do a list for me and the sooner the better. We've only got tomorrow and Saturday afternoon to get ready.”

“That's like homework!”

“Do you want this to work or don't you? We're going to have a tough time trying to fool Claudia. We have to have our stories straight.”

“Okay, okay,” Will grumbled. “I hear you.”

“When can you get me a list?”

“Why don't you stick around this afternoon and take notes?”

Jennifer pulled out her cell phone and checked the time. “I wish I could, but I've got to get to my part-time job.”

“Where do you work?”

“DeVille's department store. I'm stuck in the bridal department. Not only do I have to deal with bridezillas, but also their stressed-out mothers and bridesmaids.”

“Have you been working there long?”

“Three months, but it feels like forever. And after working there, I don't think I'm ever going to have a wedding. It's too much work. I'm going to elope!”

“That's a shame,” Will said, studying Jennifer from head to toe. “I bet you'd make a beautiful bride.”

Jennifer's mouth dropped open. Where had that come from?!

“I mean, every bride looks beautiful,” Will rushed to explain. “After all, it's her special day. I've never seen an ugly bride, have you?”

Jennifer shook her head. “No, I haven't.” She got out of her seat. “I better get going.”

She had just reached the front door of the pizzeria when Will called out, “Red! Wait!”

She turned around as Will hurried up to her, staring into her face. He started to lean forward. For a moment, she thought he was going to kiss her and her heart began racing madly. Instead, he wiped at her cheek and held out his fingers. “You had some flour on your face.”

Disappointment washed over Jennifer. Had she really thought he was going to kiss her?

“What's wrong?” Will asked. “You look upset.”

Jennifer scowled. “I told you not to call me Red!”

And then she stomped out of the pizzeria.

“If you won't come shopping with me, I'll bring the shopping to you!”

Claudia walked into the Barneses' house with four garment bags.

“What are those?” Natalie asked as she followed Claudia into the living room, weaving around a path of toys. She'd have to clean up before Lisa came home.

“Possibilities for the Valentine's Day dance,” Claudia said. “I need a second opinion.”

Bonnie, who was playing with her Barbies, abandoned them and came running over to Claudia's side.

“Pretty,” she whispered as she watched Claudia unzip the bags and remove the shiny, sparkly dresses inside. “Like a princess.”

“You bought all those?” Natalie asked in disbelief, sitting down on the couch and lifting Bonnie onto her lap.

“Of course not! They're all on loan because my mom buys so much from this boutique.”

“We're going to have a fashion show,” Natalie told Bonnie as Claudia disappeared into the firstfloor bathroom to change.

“Yay!” Bonnie exclaimed, happily clapping her hands. She pointed to an opened box of chocolates on the coffee table. “May I have one?”

“Yes, you may.” Natalie opened the box and held it out to Bonnie. “Just one. Because you've been so good.”

Thankfully, there had been no temper tantrum when Lisa had left that afternoon. Bonnie had kissed her mother good-bye and gone off to play with her Barbies, leaving Natalie to do her homework in peace.

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