Anna and the french kiss, p.24
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       Anna and the French Kiss, p.24
 

         Part #1 of Anna and the French Kiss series by Stephanie Perkins
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  “Anna? Anna are you in there?”

  My heart seizes. The voice is English.

  “Are you all right? Amanda’s downstairs, talking complete bollocks. She says you hit her?” He knocks again, louder. “Please, Anna. We need to talk.”

  I throw open the door. “Talk? Oh, you’d like to talk now?”

  Étienne stares at me in shock.The whites of my eyes are still red, I have a two-inch scratch down my cheek, and my body is poised for attack. “Anna?”

  “What, you didn’t think I’d find out you went to Ellie’s?”

  He’s thrown. “Wh-what?”

  “Well?” I cross my arms. “Did you?”

  He didn’t expect me to know this. “Yes, but . . . but—”

  “But what? You must think I’m a complete idiot, right? That I’m just some doormat who’ll wait for you on the sidelines forever? That you can keep running back to her every time things get difficult, and I’ll just be okay with it?”

  “It’s not like that!”

  “It’s ALWAYS like that!”

  Étienne opens his mouth but then snaps it shut. His expression flips between hurt and fury a thousand times. And then it hardens. And then he storms away.

  “I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO TALK!” I say.

  I slam my door.

  chapter forty-one

  Let’s see. Yesterday, I: (1) made out with my best friend, even though I swore to myself I never would, (2) betrayed another friend by that same make-out session, (3) brawled with a girl who was already out to get me, (4) earned two weeks of detention, and (5) verbally attacked my best friend until he ran away.

  Correction. Until he ran away again.

  If there were a contest to see who could do more damage to herself in a single day, I’m pretty confident I would win. My mother spat fire when she found out about my fight with Amanda, and now I’m grounded for the entire summer. I can’t even face my friends. I’m ashamed of what I’ve done to Meredith, and Rashmi and Josh have clearly taken her side, and St. Clair . . . he won’t even look at me.

  St. Clair. Once again, he’s no longer Étienne, my Étienne.

  That hurts worse than anything.

  The whole morning is hideous. I skip breakfast and slip into English at the last possible second. My friends don’t acknowledge my existence, but everyone else whispers and stares. I guess they’re taking Amanda’s side. I just hope they don’t know about the St. Clair situation, which is unlikely considering how loudly I shouted at him in the hallway last night. I spend the class sneaking peeks at him. He’s so exhausted that he can barely keep his eyes open, and I don’t think he’s showered.

  But he’s still beautiful. I hate that. And I hate myself for desperately wanting him to look at me, and I hate it even more when Amanda catches me staring, because then she smirks in a way that says, See? I told you he was out of your league.

  And Mer. She doesn’t have to turn her body away from me in her seat like St. Clair—although she does, they both do—because her waves of hostility crash into me, again and again, all period long. Calculus is an extension of this misery. When Professeur Babineaux hands back our homework, St. Clair passes the stack of papers behind his head without looking at me. “Thanks,” I mumble. He freezes, just for a moment, before settling back into a rigid state of ignorance to my being.

  I don’t try talking to him again.

  French is predictably bad. Dave sits as far from me as possible, but the way he ignores me is strange and purposeful. Some of the freshmen pester me about it, but I don’t know what Dave’s problem is, and thinking about him only makes me feel gross inside. I tell the annoying classmates to shove it, and Madame Guillotine gets mad at me. Not because I told them to shove it, but because I didn’t say it in French. What is wrong with this school?

  At lunch, I’m back in the bathroom stall, just like my first day.

  I don’t have an appetite anyway.

  In physics, I’m grateful we don’t have a lab, because I can’t bear the thought of St. Clair finding a new partner. Professeur Wakefield drones on about black holes, and halfway through his lecture, Amanda gives an exaggerated stretch and drops a folded piece of paper behind her head. It lands at my feet. I read it underneath my desk.

  HEY SKUNK GIRL, MESS WITH ME AGAIN & I’LL GIVE YOU MORE THAN A SCRATCH. DAVE SAYS YER A SLUTBAG.

  Wow. Can’t say anyone’s ever called me that before. But why is Dave talking to Amanda about me? That’s the second time Amanda has said something like this. And I can’t believe I’m being called a slut for just kissing someone! I ball up the note and chuck it at the back of her head. For better or worse, my aim is so abysmal that it hits the back of her chair. It bounces and catches in her long hair. She doesn’t feel it. I feel the slightest bit better. The note is still stuck in her hair.

  Still there.

  Still th—whoops. She shifts, and it falls to the ground, but Professeur Wakefield chooses this moment to walk down our aisle. Oh, no. What if he finds it and reads it aloud? I really, truly don’t need another nickname at this school. Next to me, St. Clair is also eyeing the note. Professeur Wakefield is almost to our table when he casually slides out his boot and steps on it. He waits until the professeur strolls away before retrieving the paper. I hear him uncrumple it, and my face flushes. He glances at me for the first time all day. But he still doesn’t say anything.

  Josh is quiet in history, but at least he doesn’t switch seats. Isla smiles at me, and incredibly, this singular moment of niceness helps. For about thirty seconds. Then Dave and Mike and Emily huddle together, and I hear my name thrown around while they look back at me and laugh. This situation, whatever it is, is getting worse.

  La Vie is a free period. Rashmi and St. Clair sketch for their art class while I pretend to bury my nose in homework. There’s a tinkly laugh behind me. “Maybe if you weren’t such a little slut, Skunk Girl, you might still have friends.”

  Amanda Spitterton-Watts, the biggest cliché in school. The pretty mean girl. Perfect skin, perfect hair. Icy smile, icy heart.

  “What’s your problem?” I ask.

  “You.”

  “Excellent. Thank you.”

  She tosses her hair. “Don’t you want to know what people are saying about you?” I don’t answer, because I know she’ll tell me anyway. She does. “Dave says you only slept with him to make St. Clair jealous.”

  “WHAT?”

  Amanda laughs again and struts away. “Dave was right to dump your sorry ass.”

  I’m shocked. Like I’d ever sleep with Dave! And he told everyone that he broke up with me? How dare he? Is this what everyone thinks of me? Oh my God, is this what St. Clair thinks of me? Does St. Clair think I slept with Dave?

  The rest of the week, I flip-flop between total despair and simmering rage. I have detention every afternoon, and every time I walk down the halls, I overhear my name spoken in hushed, gossipy tones. I look forward to the weekend, but it ends up being worse. I finished my homework in detention, so I have nothing to do. I spend my weekend at the movies, but I’m so distraught that I can’t even enjoy it.

  School has ruined cinema. It’s official.There’s nothing worth living for.

  By Monday morning, my mood is so foul that I have the reckless courage to confront Rashmi in the breakfast line. “Why aren’t you talking to me?”

  “Excuse me?” she asks. “You aren’t talking to me.”

  “What?”

  “I never threw you from our table.You stopped coming.” Her voice is tight.

  “But you were mad at me! For . . . for what I did to Mer.”

  “All friends fight.” She crosses her arms, and I realize she’s quoting me. I said it last autumn after she fought with St. Clair about Ellie.

  Ellie. I’ve ditched Rashmi, just like Ellie.

  “I’m sorry.” My heart falls. “I can’t do anything right.”

  Rashmi’s arms loosen, and she tugs one of her long braids. She’s uncomfortable, an unusual emoti
on for her. “Just promise me next time you attack Amanda, you’ll actually break something?”

  “I didn’t mean to!”

  “Relax.” She shoots me an uneasy glance. “I didn’t realize you were so sensitive.”

  “You know, I still have another week of detention for that fight.”

  “That was a harsh punishment. Why didn’t you just tell the head what Amanda said?”

  I nearly drop my tray. “What? How do you know what she said?”

  “I don’t.” Rashmi frowns. “But it must have been something seriously nasty to make you react like that.”

  I avert my eyes, relieved. “Amanda just caught me at a bad time.” Which isn’t entirely untrue. I place my order with Monsieur Boutin—a large bowl of yogurt with granola and honey, my favorite—and turn back to her. “You guys . . . don’t believe what Amanda and Dave are saying, do you?”

  “Dave is a jerk. If I thought you’d slept with him, we wouldn’t be talking right now.”

  I’m gripping my tray so tightly that my knuckles are turning white. “So, um, St. Clair knows I never slept with him?”

  “Anna. We all think Dave is a jerk.”

  I’m quiet.

  “You should talk to St. Clair,” she says.

  “I don’t think he wants to talk to me.”

  She pushes her tray away. “And I think he does.”

  I eat breakfast alone again, because I still can’t face Mer. I’m five minutes late to English. Professeur Cole is sitting on top of her desk, sipping coffee. She narrows her eyes as I creep into my seat, but she doesn’t say anything. Her orange sundress sways as she swings her feet. “People. Wake up,” she says. “We’re talking about the technical aspects of translation again. Do I have to do all the work here? Who can tell me one of the problems translators face?”

  Rashmi raises her hand. “Well, most words have different meanings.”

  “Good,” Professeur Cole says. “More. Elaborate.”

  St. Clair sits next to Rashmi, but he’s not listening. He scribbles something fiercely in the margins of his book. “Well,” Rashmi says. “It’s the translator’s job to determine which definition the author means. And not only that, but there could be other meanings in relation to the context.”55

  “So what you’re saying,” Professeur Cole says, “is that the translator has a lot of decisions to make. That there are multiple meanings to be found in any word, in any sentence. In any situation.”

  “Exactly,” Rashmi says. And then she cuts her eyes at me.

  Professeur Cole laughs. “And I’m sure none of us have ever mistaken something someone has said or done to mean something else, right? And we’re all speaking the same language. You can see how challenging this gets once things like . . . figures of speech are added. Some things just don’t translate between cultures.”

  Misinterpretations swarm my mind. Toph. Rashmi. St. Clair?

  “Or how about this?” Professeur Cole strolls over to the tall windows. “The translator, no matter how true he thinks he’s staying to the text, still brings his own life experiences and opinions to the decisions he makes. Maybe not consciously, but every time a choice is made between one meaning of a word or another, the translator determines which one to use based on what he believes is correct, based on his own personal history with the subject.”

  Personal history. Like because St. Clair was always quick to run back to Ellie, I assumed he did it again. Is that it? And did he? I’m not sure anymore. I’ve spent my entire senior year suffocating between lust and heartache, ecstasy and betrayal, and it’s only getting harder to see the truth. How many times can our emotions be tied to someone else’s—be pulled and stretched and twisted—before they snap? Before they can never be mended again?

  Class ends, and I stumble in a fog toward calculus. I’m almost there when I hear it. So quiet, it could almost be someone clearing his throat. “Slut.”

  I freeze.

  No. Keep moving. I hug my books tighter and continue down the hall.

  A little louder this time. “Slut.”

  And, as I turn around, the worst part is that I don’t even know who it’ll be. So many people hate me right now. Today, it’s Mike. He sneers, but I stare past him at Dave. Dave scratches his head and looks away.

  “How could you?” I ask him.

  “How could you?” Mike says. “I always told Dave you weren’t worth it.”

  “Yeah?” My eyes are still locked on Dave. “Well, at least I’m not a liar.”

  “You’re the liar.” But Dave says it under his breath.

  “What was that? What did you say?”

  “You heard me.” Dave’s voice is louder, but he’s squirming, blinking at his friend. A wave of disgust rolls over me. Mike’s little lapdog. Of course. Why didn’t I see it before? My hands clench. One more word from him, one word . . .

  “Slut,” he says.

  Dave slams into the floor.

  But it wasn’t my fist.

  chapter forty-two

  Arghhh!” St. Clair cradles his hand.

  Mike lurches for St. Clair, and I jump between them. “No!”

  Dave moans from the floor. Mike pushes me aside, and St. Clair throws him into the wall, his voice filled with rage. “Don’t touch her!”

  Mike is shocked, but he bounces back. “You psycho!” And he lunges toward St. Clair just as Professeur Hansen steps between them, bracing himself for blows.

  “Hey hey HEY! What is going ON out here?” Our history teacher glares at his favorite student. “Monsieur St. Clair. To the head’s office. NOW.” Dave and Mike simultaneously proclaim innocence, but Professeur Hansen cuts them off. “Shut it, the both of you, or follow Étienne.” They shut up. St. Clair doesn’t meet my eyes, he just storms away in the direction told.

  “Are you okay?” Professeur Hansen asks me. “Did any of these morons hurt you?”

  I’m in shock. “St. Clair was defending me. It—it wasn’t his fault.”

  “We don’t defend with our fists at this school. You know that.” He gives me a wry look before departing downstairs to join St. Clair in the head’s office.

  What just happened? I mean, I know what happened, but . . . what just happened? Does this mean St. Clair doesn’t hate me? I feel my first surge of hope, even though there’s a chance that he just hates Dave and Mike more. I don’t see him for the rest of the school day, but when I arrive in detention, he’s already sitting in the back row.

  St. Clair looks weary. He must have been here all afternoon. The professeur in charge today isn’t here yet, so it’s just the two of us. I take my usual seat—it’s sad I have a usual seat—on the opposite side of the room. He stares at his hands. They’re smudged with charcoal, so I know he’s been drawing.

  I clear my throat. “Thank you. For sticking up for me.”

  No reply. Okay. I turn back to the chalkboard.

  “Don’t thank me,” he says a minute later. “I ought to have punched Dave ages ago.” His boots kick the marble floor.

  I glance over again. “How much detention did you get?”

  “Two weeks. One per arsehole.”

  I give a small snort of laughter, and his head jerks up. My own hope flashes at me, mirrored in his expression. But it disappears almost instantly. Which hurts.

  “It’s not true, you know,” I say bitterly. “What Dave and Amanda are saying.”

  St. Clair closes his eyes. He doesn’t speak for several seconds. When he opens them again, I can’t help but notice how relieved he looks. “I know.”

  His delayed reaction irks me. “You sure about that?”

  “Yes. I am.” He faces me for the first time in over a week. “But it’s still nice to hear it from your own lips, all right?”

  “Right.” I turn away. “I can only imagine.”

  “And what, exactly, is that supposed to mean?”

  “Forget it.”

  “No. Let’s not forget it. I’m sick and tired of forgetting it, Anna.”
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  “You’re tired of forgetting it?” My voice shakes. “I’ve had to do nothing BUT forget it. Do you think it’s easy sitting in my room every night, thinking about you and Ellie? Do you think any of this has been easy for me?”

  His shoulders drop. “I’m sorry,” he whispers.

  But I’m already crying. “You tell me I’m beautiful, and that you like my hair and you like my smile. You rest your leg against mine in darkened theaters, and then you act as if nothing happened when the lights go up. You slept in my bed for three nights straight, and then you just . . . blew me off for the next month. What am I supposed to do with that, St. Clair? You said on my birthday that you were afraid of being alone, but I’ve been here this whole time. This whole time.”

  “Anna.” He rises and edges toward me. “I am so sorry that I’ve hurt you. I’ve made terrible decisions. And I realize it’s possible that I don’t deserve your forgiveness, because it’s taken me this long to get here. But I don’t understand why you’re not giving me the chance.You didn’t even let me explain myself last weekend.You just tore into me, expected the worst of me. But the only truth I know is what I feel when we’re together. I thought you trusted those feelings, too. I thought you trusted me, I thought you knew me—”

  “But that’s just it!” I burst from my chair, and suddenly he’s right on top of me. “I don’t know you. I tell you everything, St. Clair. About my dad, about Bridgette and Toph, about Matt and Cherrie. I told you about being a virgin.” I look away, humiliated to say it aloud. “And what have you told me? Nothing! I know nothing about you. Not about your father, not about Ellie—”

  “You know me better than anyone.” He’s furious. “And if you ever bothered to pay attention, you’d understand that things with my father are beyond shite right now. And I can’t believe you think so poorly of me that you’d assume I’d wait the entire year to kiss you, and then the moment it happened, I’d . . . I’d be done with you. OF COURSE I was with Ellie that night. I WAS BLOODY BREAKING UP WITH HER!”

  The silence is deafening.

  They broke up? Oh God. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t—

 
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