Moving Forward (Moving Neutral, Book Three) (9 page)

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

 

By the time I woke up the next day, the dorm was already almost empty.  Everyone had taken off for the airports or the train, but I wasn’t planning to go home to Connecticut until the next day.  Madison and I had planned to Rockland together — the two-hour train ride was a little more bearable with company. 

Darby wasn’t leaving until late afternoon, but she wasn’t in the room when I woke up.  I grabbed my army jacket out of the closet and headed out for coffee, scrolling through the list of missed calls on my pho
ne as I took the elevator to our dorm’s ground floor.

Three calls from Blake. 

I deleted the voicemails without listening to them.

One missed call from Madison.  I pressed the button to call her back, but it went straight through to voicemail.  I typed a quick text message, trying not to let my mind wander to
where I’d left her last night.

Still on for the train tomorrow?
  Say good morning to Tanner for me.

My phone buzzed back a minute later, just as I was opening the door to a snow-covered campus, the pathways freshly shoveled but everything else glowing white.

Train = yes.  Tanner = no.  He left 20 min after you did.

I couldn’t help but feel a little relieved.  The last thing I needed was Tanner Cole dating my best friend. 

I tried to tell myself that was the only reason.

His loss
, I typed back. 
See you tomorrow.

I took off down the freshly-shoveled path,
squinting into the blinding snow.

 

 

I got back to our room twenty minutes before my hair and makeup team was supposed to show up to get me ready for the event.  Basically the last thing I wanted on earth was to
spend tonight in the same room as Blake, but I’d promised Lauren I’d go and I wasn’t going to back out.

Darby was just closing her suitcase when I got to the room.

“Hey,” I said tentatively, wondering if last night’s Tanner-inspired truce was going to hold.  “So, um — when do you leave?”

“Ten minutes,” she said, trying to use her body weight to force the suitcase closed.  “If only this stupid
—”

“I can help,” I cut her off, coming up next to her and tugging at the zipper.  “You push, I’ll pull.”

She shoved it closed using as much force as she could, and I tugged on the zipper until it gave, sliding across the side of the bag.  I stepped back, smiling.

“Thanks,” Darby said
, almost shyly.  “When do you go?”

“Not till tomorrow,” I said, walking back across the room and sitting on my bed.  “I have a thing tonight, and then I’m taking the train.”

“What’s the thing?”  She said, a flicker of interest obvious on her face. 

“Just a party
— no big deal.”

“Right,” she looked down, her hand trailing on the suitcase.  She cracked a smile.  “I can’t believe Tanner Cole was in my dorm room,” she giggled.  “
No one’s even going to believe it when I tell them at home.  Everyone’s going to be so jealous.”

“Don’t tell him that,” I smiled.  “I don’t think his ego will fit in the door next time if you do.”

“He doesn’t seem so bad.”

“No, he’s
— he’s not.  I mean, he’s just different,” I said. 
Different from Blake
, I thought to myself.  Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing.  “By the way, Darby — I’m so sorry, I left your coat last night.  Can I give it back after break?”

She shot me a confused look.  “I know,” she said, cocking her head at me.  “Blake brought it by while you were gone.”

I bit my lip, trying not to let my surprise show. 


Are you guys—” She looked at me curiously.  “I mean, he didn’t say anything, but—”

A knock on the door interrupted us.

“Come in,” I said reflexively. 
Don’t be Blake, don’t be Blake.

“Casey?” The face of
a twenty-five year old redhead peered into the room.  “I’m here to do your makeup?”

I gave Darby a look that I hoped conveyed that the conversation was over, and she seemed to take the hint.

“Thanks,” I said to the girl, gesturing for her to sit down at my empty desk. 

“I better go,” Darby said, grabbing the handle of her suitcase and lugging it off the bed.  “Merry Christmas?”

“See you next year,” I said, giving a little smile.  This semester had been rough, but it was over.  It was almost January.  New Year, New Casey Snow.

Yet again.

 

Chapter
Twenty-One

 

By the time my hair and makeup was done and I was dressed, the butterflies in my stomach had sparked a full-on case of impending nausea.  There was a car picking me up in twenty minutes, but the idea of walking into a huge music industry party by myself was completely terrifying.

I took out my cell and dialed Tanner’s number.

“Snow,” he said, his voice more hesitant than I was used to.  “Calling to apologize?”

I cocked my head.  “What would I apologize for?”

“Seriously?  You totally ditched me — all of us — last night.”  He sounded kind of annoyed. 

And
… he was probably right.  One text from Blake, and I ditched three of my friends in a second.  It was a pretty jerky thing to do.

“I’m sorry
,” I said quickly.  “No, really — I really am.”

“Too bad,” Tanner said, flirtation making its way
back into his voice.  “I don’t accept your empty words.  You’ll have to find some
other
way to make it up to me.”

I snorted. 

“I can come up with a list, if you want.  Number one—”

“Tanner
—” I raised my voice to stop him, but he could hear the laughter in it.  “Listen, um — actually, I need a favor.”

“Snow, if you just murdered a homeless person…”

I giggled.  “Not that kind of favor, thankfully.”

“What kind of favor
, then?”

“It’s about tonight,” I hesitated. 
“What time are you doing the red carpet?”

Something I’d learned from Lauren
— rather than just showing up for an event, most of the time celebrities would get a ten or fifteen minute window, spaced out so they could do press without overwhelming the journalists and photographers.  Generally, the bigger a celebrity you were, the later your time slot was.

“Eight thirty,” Tanner said.  “Why?  Planning to sneak out the back door with Blake after you make an entrance?”

At the sound of Blake’s name, I felt my lip quiver. 
Definitely not
, I thought silently.

“No, I, um…”  I hadn’t quite thought this far ahead when I’d called him.  I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t really want to ask for it.  “Um, Lauren was supposed to have one of her
interns go with me, but the girl got food poisoning or something,” I lied, not even bothering to feel guilty about it.  “I don’t really want to go in by myself, so…”

“Sure that won’t set off the ball and chain?”  Tanner’s voice sounded more curious than suspicious.

I jutted out my chin.  “It’s not up to him,” I said quietly, my voice determined.  “We’re allowed to be friends.”

To his credit, if Tanner read anything into my response, he didn’t let it show in his voice.  “Pick you up at eight,” he said, sounding a little amused.  “But seriously, if you ditch me after twenty minutes again, I’m expecting
more than empty words in return.”

“See you then,” I said, purposely not responding.

“See you then.”

 

Chapter Twenty-Two

 

“Casey, you look gorgeous, who are you wearing?”

I smiled at the television host and told her the name of the designer, trying not to squint as the bright, artificial red carpet lights attempted to blind me.

“Your new song, Love’s Not Enough, has become a YouTube sensation — any plans to turn it into a single?”

I smiled at her.  “Who knows?  It was just an off the cuff moment, but I’ve been amazed at all the attention it’s gotten.  If people want to hear more, I hope that I’ll be able to put more out there.”

Her eye glinted like I’d said something juicy.  “You?  Not you and Blake?”

Lauren and I had prepped for
questions like that a hundred times.  “Again, who knows?  I’m figuring this out as I go.”

She looked a little disappointed.  “You’ve been in the tabloids for
your love life as often as anything else,” she said, and I felt my stomach cringe at the description.  “Care to comment on the love triangle?  I know everyone is curious to hear what’s going on… especially straight from you.”

It was an easy trick — trying to lure me into making a statement by making
it sound like all I had to do was clear the air.  But I knew as well as anyone that words could be twisted, and I wasn’t going there, not tonight.

I smiled, deflecting the question.  “Nothing to tell, really,” I smiled sweetly. 

Without thinking, I glanced ten feet to my left, where Tanner was talking about Moving Neutral’s new album. 

Something flickered across her face, and then she smiled brightly at the camera.  “There, guys
— you’ve heard from Casey Snow, who looks totally gorgeous in Jenny Packham tonight.  Thanks for chatting with us, Casey!”

I smiled, not sure whether to look at her or the came
ra, when suddenly the recording light went off and she let out a deep breath.

“Thanks for that,” she said, her voice about half as perky as it had been a moment before.  I smiled.  “You’re so popular with our teen view
ers — everyone loves a Cinderella story, right?”

“I guess,” I said, glancing over to see if Tanner was finished yet.  She followed my eyes and smiled conspiratorially.

“So now that we’re off the record,” she leaned in and lowered her voice.  “Who’s the mystery girl?”

I looked at her,
uncomprehending, and then looked back over at Tanner.  “What girl?”

“Oh, not Tanner,” she grinned like it was the juiciest piece of gossip she’d heard all night.  “The girl Blake brought.”

My breath stopped short.  “Blake brought—” I swallowed, trying to recover some of my composure.  “A date?”

She suddenly looked like she regretted telling me, and I thought I saw something sincere in her
expression.  “Yeah — the girl over there?  In black?”  She cocked her head across the room, gesturing to where we’d come in.  There were several dozen other journalists, publicists and handlers between us and the door, making the room so crowded that I could hardly see. 

Finally, I
spotted Blake at the end of the red carpet. 

I’d never had a heart attack, but I knew the symptoms.  First your arms go numb, then it feels like a pickup
truck is parked on your chest. 

At that moment, I felt them all, like a ton of bricks hitting me at once.  L
ike I couldn’t even breathe. 

Like Blake had finally succeeded in completely breaking my heart.
 

Blake
was standing at the edge of the red carpet, maybe fifty feet away from me.  He was facing a camera, his body turned partially away from me, but he was unmistakable.

And he had his arm around another girl. 

I could see him talking to the interviewer, looking relaxed and happy, gesturing with one hand while the other rested around the shoulders of a petite brunette, her hair long and shiny.  I couldn’t see her face because she was leaning into Blake, like she was hanging on his every word.

I felt my hands involuntarily clench into fists.

“So who is she?” The girl who’d been interviewing me prompted me, still looking half sorry she’d even asked.

I closed my eyes for a minute,
willing the tears to stay back, and took a deep breath.  I relaxed my fingers, my hands still trembling with anger.

I tried to keep my voice as calm as I could make it.  “No idea,” I chirped, hopin
g that I came off as unaffected.  “Never seen her before in my life.”

I took one last glance, and then forced myself to turn around.  Blake was still engrossed in his interview, still with his arm around this girl.  But I could see her face in profile this time,
porcelain skin and giant blue eyes. 

She was absolutely stunning.

I bit the inside of my lip as hard as I could, and looked around the room, desperate for something to take my mind off what I’d just seen.

And then, suddenly, I felt an arm slip around my waist. 

“Had enough?” Tanner’s voice whispered into my ear, and I looked up at him gratefully.  He smiled easily, and it felt like a lifeboat.  I could see flashbulbs all around us, like someone had just turned on a strobe light, and I wanted to shield my eyes.

“Can we please get out of here?” I whispered, looking up at him desperately. 

Concern flickered across his face for a moment.  “Of course,” he said softly, leading me in the opposite direction of Blake and the girl.  He didn’t seem to have noticed them, and for the moment, I was grateful. 

As
we started to move, a different photographer came up alongside us, holding the camera up to his face.

“Can we get a picture?”

“Can you guys stop for a second?”  Another one joined in.

I looked
up at Tanner nervously, and then caught myself.

It didn’t matter anymore whether Tanner and I were photographed together
— after I’d tried so hard to show the world that Tanner and I were just friends, Blake had turned up here, tonight… with a
date.

We were over.  I gritted my teeth.  It hurt to think that it was true, but it was the only way I was going to finally start moving forward.

Facing the photographers, I squared my shoulders and plastered on a bright smile. 

If Blake
Parker had brought a date — well, so had I.

BOOK: Moving Forward (Moving Neutral, Book Three)
2.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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