Dirty Scoundrel

By: Jessica Clare



“That’s where you’re wrong. Everything in this world is run like Hollywood. It’s a game of who you know and what face you wear.”

I bite back my retort and clutch the Stanford letter desperately in my hand. Is he right? Is this what Clay wanted? To trap me into a marriage so I’d stay at home and have kids and just . . . hang around and cook him dinners? Yesterday, I wouldn’t have even minded if he’d said that! But to give me no other options, like I can’t make my own mind up? That hurts me deeply. “I need some time to think, Dad.”

“Of course. Take all the time you need, and then when you’re ready, we’ll talk Stanford.” As I stand, he turns his chair a little and holds a hand out to me. That’s what Dad does—he doesn’t hug—he just takes my hand and squeezes it. I know my Dad loves me in his weird, eccentric way, but right now I really, really need a hug.

Clay would hug me.

The thought hurts so much that I break into a sob.

“Now, now,” my father says in a soothing voice. “Trust your daddy to know what’s good for you.”

I nod through my tears. Dad may want us all to dance to his weird little tune, but I know he’d want what’s best for me. I give him a teary-eyed smile, and then when I can’t hold it in any longer, I rush up to my room, tears blurring my vision. I can’t bear it. It hurts too much. I curl up on my bed and bawl my eyes out, and I don’t even get up when Jenny, the maid, slips in and places my phone on my desk. What do I need a phone for anymore? Clay’s the only person I ever want to talk to. He’s my only friend and my boyfriend—everyone else in this stupid town hates me.

And now it seems that Clay—my sweet, loving, handsome Clay—thinks I should just stay home and be his little woman.

Maybe . . . maybe I should go to Stanford.

I cry until someone comes and knocks on my door an hour later. “Miss Natalie?” It’s Jenny, the maid. “There’s someone at the front door for you.”

“Tell them to go away,” I call out, sniffing.

“I told him you were unavailable but he says he won’t leave.” Her muffled voice is worried. “Should I call the police?”

I fling myself off the bed, suddenly furious. I know exactly who’s waiting at the door, and how dare he think he can come over here and just try to smooth things over after dropping that bomb in a conversation with my father? Stay home with him? What about what I want? Did he never stop and think that maybe he should ask me how I feel? I storm past a bewildered Jenny and down the stairs, heading for the carved double doors that lead to our covered front porch.

When I fling them open, sure enough, Clay Price is standing there.

His hands are stuffed in his pockets and he’s wearing an oversized dress shirt that’s now wrinkled, and his hair—always a bit wild and unkempt—flies about his head. “We need to talk,” he says in a flat voice. His face is blank. That’s the thing with Clay Price. He never shows you what he’s really thinking.

My back goes up. “I don’t think there’s anything to say,” I tell him icily.

“So it’s true, then? You’re gonna go off to Stanford?”

He sounds pissed. Good, I’m pissed, too. I’m hurt and angry that he’d think my opinion matters so little that he could decide my future for me. “I just might,” I say lightly. “What, you think I should stay here and marry you?”

The moment I say it, it feels like a mistake. The knot in my throat increases, and I can see him visibly flinch as the words come out. And I’m surprised, because it seems like for the first time, Clay looks vulnerable.

“No,” he says softly. “I guess not.” He puts a pair of fingers to his forehead and gives me a mock salute. “Have a nice life. I’m heading to West Texas with my pop.”

“Bye,” I tell him in a flat tone. “I’m going to Stanford.” And I turn around and slam the door behind me.

The moment I do, I burst into tears again.

* * *

Hours later, I’m all cried out. I realize we’ve both been acting childish and I want to talk to him. Maybe we can work things out. Maybe I can make him see that my education is important, and what I want is just as important as what he wants. Maybe we can still get married and I can go to college part-time while we make a home together. Sniffling, I pick up my phone to text him even though it’s late.

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