Moving Forward (Moving Neutral, Book Three) (7 page)

BOOK: Moving Forward (Moving Neutral, Book Three)
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Chapter Thirteen


I could have spent the whole rest of the semester analyzing that night over and over again, trying to figure out what I could do to change Blake’s mind. 

But, sadly, I had these pesky things called exams.

And then… two weeks of winter break.  Blake would go home to California without me, and I’d be stuck in Rockland, Connecticut, with our high school friends grilling me about my not-so-much-boyfriend Blake Parker and my definitely-not-at-all-boyfriend Tanner Cole.

Each day, I walked to Columbia’s huge student library by myself.  Madison’s classes
were all in acting and behind the scenes production, so she wasn’t stuck cramming for twenty hours a day like I was.  Liv wasn’t in school — whether she’d graduated already or just hadn’t gone, I never asked — and Darby had thawed to me a little bit, but we definitely weren’t study buddies yet.

And Blake… Blake
was nowhere to be seen.  At the beginning of the semester, he’d spent more time in the library than I did, but in the six straight days after our show, I didn’t run into him once.

Blake and I were only in one class together,
but we’d already had the last discussion session of the semester.  Our last assignment was a final paper, not a test.  It was due the final day of the exam period, so even when all my other tests were over, it would still be hanging over me.  But then, when that was handed in, I was done with the semester for good.

Lauren called three days into finals period, sounding chipper and excited.

“Happy holidays!” She exclaimed the moment I answered the phone.  ‘Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet?”   She changed to a singsong voice.  “I know something Santa’s bringing for you…”

“Hmm…” I played along.  “Is it…
an A in modern literature?”

“Casey,” her voice was
stern.  “Santa doesn’t cheat.  And neither does Casey Snow.  Let’s just hope the tabloids don’t get wind of that.”

—” I cut in, kind of insulted.  “I’d never cheat in a class.  That’s not even funny.”

“See, Case, that’s actually why it
funny, you know?  I wouldn’t use that joke on Lindsay Lohan.”

I shook my head, smiling.  “Happy to hear I haven’t reached that level yet.”

“So, your fitting for the event is tomorrow at 3pm, ok?  You’re going to have to go to the showroom, it’s in the Flatiron district, is that a problem?  I tried to get them to bring everything up to you, but there’s so much up in the air right now.”

“My… fitting?”  I racked my brain.

“For the Rolling Stone party on the 23rd?  Next week?  Case, you promised me you’d go

I thought back to the conversation we’d had about the party. 
It felt like it had been months ago.  “No, no, the party’s fine,” I said, trying to reassure her.  My last paper was due the 22nd, so the semester would be over by then, and it sounded like a good way to blow off steam. 

“Great, I’ll tell Tanner.  He’s been bugging me about you.”

I furrowed my eyebrows.  “I thought he, um… what about Emma Harris?”

stayed silent for a second, and then said, in a voice that gave away nothing.  “Oh, it’s too tough to keep up with all the girls he goes around with.  You know how it is.”

My face made an involuntary scowl.  I was glad she couldn’t see anything over the phone. 

“Ok,” I said, changing the subject.  “So who am I wearing?”

Lauren let out a
moan, and I wasn’t honestly sure if it was for dramatic effect or totally involuntary.  “Jenny Packham,” she said, her voice so soft it was almost reverent.

I racked my brain
— my knowledge of fashion designers wasn’t exactly prolific, but there were a few that I knew.  “Like Kate Middleton?”

Lauren sighed.  “Like Kate Middleton, on her most beautiful day, when she wants to show everyone how stinking gorgeous she is.  Like Kate Middleton, when she met Meryl Streep, wore Jenny Packham.”

“It sounds…”  I couldn’t find a word.  “It sounds amazing.”  It sounded expensive.

“If you do the red carpet, wearing this dress, and you get a lot of press,” Lauren paused for dramatic effect.  “She’ll let you keep it.”

My jaw dropped.  A dress like that would cost thousands of dollars.  It would be more expensive than anything I owned, by, like, ten times over.

“Do you, um
—”  I wasn’t sure how to phrase it.  Lauren often dressed me in designers who were her clients, since it was good PR for them if I got photographed.  “Do you work with Jenny?”

Lauren’s voice softened, and I sensed I’d hit something she wouldn’t have told me.  “Nah, kiddo.  This one was a favor.  But if you knock em dead, everybody wins.”

My breath suddenly caught in my throat.  Ever since we’d met, I’d thought that Lauren wanted something from me at every turn, thought she was everything I didn’t want about “Hollywood” or “celebrity” life. 

But the fact was, she’d done so much for me
— and most of it when she didn’t have to.  It wasn’t the clothes, and the appearances, and the parties — she’d actually become a friend. 

“When are you coming to New York?” I asked, changing the subject.

“When the temperature hits seventy degreees again,” she laughed.  “So I’m guessing May? More importantly, when are
coming to L.A.?”

“Well, maybe

“Oh, shit,” she cut me off.  “Case, you are coming to L.A., right? 
In January, for that denim photoshoot?”

I giggled. 
I’d been in Los Angeles only a few weeks ago, but I’d been so out of that world since I’d gotten back that I’d almost forgotten about the photoshoot.

“Right, when is it again?”

“First week of January, if that works for you.  We can fly you out right after New Year’s Eve.”

So much for my boring winter break in Rockland, Connecticut.

“That sounds perfect,” I grinned.  “I can’t wait.”


Chapter Fourteen


The last day of finals, I woke up at 8 in the morning to a text from Blake:

You know our paper’s due today… right?

I almost laughed.

Mine’s done
, I texted back.
Want to take me out to celebrate?

My paper
was just about finished—it just needed a quick read-through before printing it out and dropping it in the professor’s box. 

And the professor? 
Earlier in the semester, he’d accused me of taking the class to be near Blake.  But in the intervening weeks, I’d managed to change his tune (it probably helped that I’d started actually doing the reading and handing in the assignments).  Every lecture, I had something to say, and usually it was even halfway articulate. 

My last essay was
The Sun Also Rises
, by Earnest Hemmingway, which had been the last book on our syllabus.  At the beginning of the semester, Blake had told me that he’d already read most of the novels on our list — but this was the only one that I’d read before.

It was also one of my favorite books in the world.

On the surface, it’s about nothing.  It’s a drinking novel.  It’s about expatriates in Paris, fishing and bullfighting and fighting and having affairs.  Gertrude Stein said it was about a lost generation, moving and moving without ever finding their place.

It’s not, and it is. 
That’s what I loved so much about it.  It’s about living life so hard, so fast, up to the limits — and then finding out that everything holding you back was never really there at all.  It was always inside you. 

Jake says, at one point, “You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.”  He says, “Nobody ever lives their lives up all the way except bull-fighters.”  The movement, the motion,
the pushing yourself forward and ending up right back where you started?  It’s what we all have in common.  It’s the human condition.

The end of the book, it kills me every time.

“We could have had such a damned good time together.”

“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

More than Gat
sby beating back against the current, more than Faulkner’s stoic “They Endured,” this was the one that took my breath away, every reading.

hey recognize that the happy ending is a fantasy.  There’s no happy ending.  They just keep moving and moving and moving.


Chapter Fifteen


I had an hour till the deadline, so I wasn’t in a rush to get my printed paper across campus.  It was safely tucked away in a folder in my bag, so I figured I had time to stop at the student center for a coffee.

For the last day of finals, the coffee shop was actually pretty dead
— apparently everyone was finishing their work at the last minute or hitting the bars early.  There was no line in front of me as I walked up to the counter and ordered hot chocolate.

“Whipped cream?” The girl asked me politely, and I smiled at her. 

“I shouldn’t,” I said, smiling guiltily.  My first fitting for the dress had been incredible — all delicate satin and sleek, flirty curves.  They had pinned and adjusted until it fit me like a glove, making me appear about six inches taller and ten pounds slimmer than I’d ever looked in my life.  The peach color was luminous against my brown hair, and the sleeves bunched slightly in the shoulders and again at the waist, creating the illusion of a soft hourglass figure. 

It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever put on, and even when they took it back to start the alterations, I felt my fingers gliding over the soft, smooth satin, reluctant to give it up.

I was so lost in thinking about the dress that I didn’t realize the barista was still waiting for my answer.  “Um, no,” I blushed.  “No whipped cream.”

“She’s lying,” a familiar voice interrupted from behind me.  “Besides, if she doesn’t want it, I’ll lick it off.”

I immediately recognized the voice, turning around.  I shook my head exasperatedly, but couldn’t help smiling.

“Tanner Cole.”

“Casey Snow.” 

“What are you doing here?”  It was the only question I could ask.

“Saving you from imminent anorexia, it seems,” he raised an eyebrow at my newly-whipped-cream-topped drink.  “You’re not going all Hollywood on me, are you?”

I smiled, happy to see him.  Even
though Tanner seemed to be the source of half my problems, none of that was really his fault. 

nd, incessant flirting aside, I’d actually kind of missed him.

“I’m going all college-student-sleep-deprived, actually,” I said, gesturing down to my ratty sweatpants and battered North Face jacket.  “It’s the last day of finals.”

“Sweet—” Tanner’s face brightened immediately.  “Let’s get you some celebration shots.”

I laughed again, biting my lip to st
op myself.  “It’s not over yet — one more paper, then I’m free.”

“Then let’s turn that sucker in.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

“Then let’s get you changed

will go get changed—”


“Aww, Tanner,” I grinned, nudging his hip as we walked.  “Think you’re going to eek out an invitation to my dorm room using vocab words?”

“Hey, it seemed to work for Blake,
didn’t it?”

I groaned, shaking my head at him
.  “No, seriously, what are you doing in New York?”

Snow, I swear, the longer you spend on this campus, the more you lose touch with the rest of the world.  I’m here for the Rolling Stone thing tomorrow — the music fundraiser?  Lauren told me you’re my date.”

“I’m not your date,” I
corrected him.  “But yeah, I’m going — I’d totally forgot about it till Lauren reminded me.  Things got so crazy with exams and all…”

“If you’ve forgotten about the biggest party of the year, the situation is clearly dire.”  He grinned at me.  “Sounds like I showed up just in time.

I looked at him warily, trying to stop the smile from creeping across my face.  “Ok,
Tanner.  Let’s at least get my paper turned in before you let loose the corrupting influence.”

“I like to think of it as corrupting charm,” Tanner grinned.  “Lead the way.  You want me to proof it for you?”

“Not a chance,” I started to walk towards the English department, still smiling. 


Chapter Sixteen


With my English paper safely turned in, the semester was officially over.

“One semester down,” I smirked as we walked away from the building.  “Want to place
a wager on whether I get through number two?”

Tanner grinned at me.  “I’m not betting against you, Snow.  What do you take me for, a sucker?”

I led Tanner in the direction of my dorm, scanning the path around us for any photographers about to pounce.  I still wasn’t sure if someone had tipped off the press after our show with Liv — it seemed suspicious that four different magazines had all coincidentally managed to get photographers to the venue almost right after we’d gone offstage.  But I didn’t know who would have done it — only a handful of people knew that Blake and I would even be there.

“How’s Sophie?” I asked.  We’d talked on the phone once or twice since I’d gone back to New York, but I still missed her, a

“She’s good,” Tanner said, glancing down at me.  “
She said to tell you hi.  Glad it took a drunk girl pouring beer on you to bring you two back together, I guess.”

“It wasn’t beer,” I said,
giving Tanner a wry smile.  “And if you think that’s bad, you should see what they say about me on the internet.”   

“There’s an e
asy solution for that,” he said.  “Don’t read it.”

I looked at the ground.  “But then how do you know what they’re saying?”

“You don’t, Snow,” he said, swinging an arm over my shoulder.  Normally I would have shrugged him off, but I was in pretty dire need of a friend at that moment.  “They’re probably saying awful stuff.  But if you don’t read it, it doesn’t stick to you.”

“I guess…”

“Trust me, do you think every article about me replacing Blake Parker was positive?  It’s a tough business, Snow.  You need a thick skin, or you’ll get scared off at the first challenge.”

He pulled my body tighter to his, and looked down, gently.  “
But you won’t.  It’s been six months, you’re still here.   Casey Snow, I think you’re stronger than you think.”

I looked up at him, and for a moment, something flickered in his eyes, dark and
magnetic.  I felt his arm tighten around me, and I put a hand up to his chest, stopping him.

“Tanner, we’re in public

“And you want to go somewhere more private?  Lead the way.”

I relaxed, giggling and rolling my eyes.  “I want to go somewhere where a lone paparazzo isn’t going to claim we were canoodling on the Columbia Quad.”

Tanner’s voice lowered, and he leaned closer to my ear.  “So… canoodling somewhere else then?”

I snorted a laugh, taking a step back.  “No canoodling.  I’m going to change clothes, and then you can take me out for a drink to celebrate my exam.  And I’m inviting some friends, so we’re not in any photos alone.  Got it?

Tanner held up his hands, surrendering.  “You drive a hard bargain, Snow.  I always hated the word canoodling anyways.”

I grinned.  “Me too.  So let’s keep it G-rated, ok?”

Now it was his turn to snort.  “The word, Snow.
I hate the word. I’m still down for the meaning.”

“You never learn.”

“I make a point of it.  That’s why I’m not in college.”

It was a quick walk from the English building to my dorm, and I let Tanner in with my key card.

“Welcome to Columbia,” I said, as I opened the door to our concrete hallways, decorated with fliers for student activities and random photos people had pasted to their doors.

“What makes you think I’ve never been in a Columbia dorm before?” Tanner asked with a wink. 

I blushed, angling my head down the hallway so Tanner couldn’t see it.  “Sorry, I thought Emma Harris was more your style.”

“See, I
you were jealous.  You need a better poker face, Snow.”

“I’m not jealous,” I glared at him, pulling him through the hallway as quickly as possible to avoid getting spotted.  A Columbia freshman on a bad day could be as bad as any
of the Los Angeles paparazzi, I’d learned.  The last thing I needed was a grainy YouTube video of me dragging Tanner Cole into my dorm room.

Mercifully, probably because of exams, the dorm hallways were empty, and I unlocked ou
r door in one swift motion. 

“Get inside,” I whispered, to which Tanner let out another laugh.

“Jeez, Snow, you sure know how to treat a guy.”

“You’re not a
—” I caught myself and clamped my mouth shut.

Tanner looked at me curiously, eyes sparkling.  “I’m not a … what?”

I bit my lip, trying to stop myself from laughing.  “I was going to say,” I grinned, feeling a little silly, “that you’re not … a guy.”

laughed wickedly, bridging the distance between us in one long step.  “Well, that’s an invitation if I ever heard one,” he ran a finger down my arm.  “However are we going to prove it to you, Snow?”


Tanner and I both froze,
and I glanced across the room, eyes wide and terrified.

“Casey, you didn’t tell me we were going to have
,” Darby’s voice sounded stern as she stepped out of our shared closet.  She took a step into the room and looked around, her face landing almost instantly on Tanner. 

I watched as her eyes widened into saucers, and then
a giant smile flashed across her face. 

“Casey,” she lilted to me, walking across the room and linking her arm in mine.  “Who’s your friend?”

I took a deep breath, making plaintive eye contact with Tanner.

“Darby, this is Tanner,” I said, trying to keep my voice flat and even.  “Tanner Cole.”

Tanner caught my hint immediately, holding out a hand for Darby to shake.  “And you must be the roommate?”  While Darby smoothed out her dress, Tanner caught my eye and winked.  “I’ve heard so much about you.”

Darby’s smile faltered for a moment, but recovered.  “All good, I hope,” she singsong-ed, her voice betraying a hint of worry.

“Every word,” Tanner grinned, flashing a smile at Darby.  “Though she failed to mention your bewitching southern accent.  Is it… North Carolina?”

watched a smile spread across her face.  “Raliegh,” she said, blushing.               

“A southern belle.”  Tanner grinned.  “Snow, you could probably learn some manners from this one, huh?”

I shook my head at him, trying not to roll my eyes.  Darby was grinning ear-to-ear, though — it was the happiest I’d seen her in my presence since the first day of school.

“I just have to get changed and then we’ll be out of your hair,” I said, changing the subject smoothly.  “Congrats on exams, Darb.”

“Oh, thaaanks,” she drew out the word to accentuate her accent.  “What are y’all doing tonight anyways?”

“I’m taking Snow
—” Tanner started, but I cut him off with a withering glance.

“Something chill.  Drinks with a group of friends.  Low key.  With a group.”  I didn’t look at Tanner’s face, but I could see he was
enjoying watching me flounder as I tried to correct the mis-interpretation that we were going on a date.

ducked into the closet, pulling out the first dress I could find out and slipping it over my head.  “Does this work?” I asked, to no one in particular.

Tanner sucked in a breath.  It was one of the
dresses that Lauren had gotten for me, a white mod-style sheath that fit me perfectly, made of smooth, gauzy material that almost looked vintage.  I couldn’t imagine how much it had cost, in part because Lauren had smartly cut the price tags off of everything she’d sent me.

“Wow,” he said, the smile genuine this time.

Darby looked me up and down, but didn’t seem to disapprove.  “You’ll be cold,” she said, reaching into the closet.  “Do you want to borrow this?”

She held out a black A-line coat made of beautiful, shiny cashmere.  It was gorgeous. 

“Oh, it’s fine, I can totally wear one of mine,” I said, fishing around for the army jacket I usually wore to classes.

Tanner laughed, taking the coat out of Darby’s hands.  “When did you get all virtuous about borrowing clothes?  Alice said you mooched off her all summer.”

I gasped.  “Alice
let me
borrow her clothes because I was stranded on a tour bus for two months with one single backpack!”

Tanner started to laugh.  “So sensitive,” he
said sarcastically.  “Take the coat.”  And then to Darby, he flashed a perfect grin.  “We’ll bring it back in one piece, I promise.”

I saw her melt
— it was almost embarrassing to watch.  I’d never had any trouble fending off Tanner’s charms, but every other girl we met didn’t seem to share my immunity.  I smiled, thinking about Madison and Liv glibly informing me that he’d been one of People’s 50 Most Beautiful People the year before.

“Thanks Darb,
but we’ve got to run,” I said, trying to cut through the crush that was blooming on the other side of the room.

“Nice meeting you,” she called as we walked through the door and closed it.

“She doesn’t seem so bad,” Tanner stage-whispered once we were out of earshot.

“She’s in love with you,” I groaned.  “Oh my God, I am
going to hear the end of this.”

“Well, on the bright side,” Tanner grinned at me, holding up the jacket so I could slip my arms through the sleeves
.  “She seems to have good taste.”

I pulled the jacket over my shoulders and promptly shoved Tanner in the arm. 

“So where are you taking me?” I grinned, opening the door out of the dorm building.  “Or, um, us?”

Tanner grinned.  “If it was just you, that’s a different story.”  He looked down at me, the glint in his eye
unmistakable.  I looked away, already feeling spots of pink on my cheeks.  “But since it’s a group, how about the Standard?”

I smiled at him.  “Ok.  I’ll text Madison and Liv,” I smiled.  “You’re lucky we got out of there before Darby invited herself along.”

BOOK: Moving Forward (Moving Neutral, Book Three)
3.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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