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Pants on Fire

Chapter Two

"The Gull 'n Gulp just so isn't Morgan Castle's kind of place," Sidney was going on, into my cell phone. I grunted in response. I was trying to work some leave-in conditioner through my wet hair with a comb.

I'd had to wash it three times after my shift in order to get the smell of fried quahog out of it.

Seriously, I don't know how Seth can stand to make out with me when I stink so much of clams.

But the stink is pretty much the only downside of waitressing at one of the most popular restaurants in town. Especially when you pocket forty-eight bucks in tips, like I did tonight.

Not to mention the added bonus of getting kissed by Eric Fluteley at the soda station. "I mean, shouldn't she have been over at the Oaken Bucket?" Sidney asked.

"Totally." I don't know what's going on with my hair. I have been trying to grow it out ever since an unfortunate bob incident midway through sophomore year. It's almost shoulder-length now, with a lot of layers (because he stick-straight thing that works so well for Sidney doesn't work at all for me) and gold highlights to make it less aggressively brown. According to Marty over at Supercuts, I'm supposed to let it dry naturally, then scrunch it with curl enhancer to make it fuller and give it bounce.

But that only seems to work when it's humid outside, or I'm in the vicinity of the Gull 'n Gulp's kitchen. Sidney was right, of course. The Oaken Bucket, the vegan café across town, is much more Morgan's scene than the Gull 'n Gulp. I mean, the Bucket serves stuff like falafel in a pita with hummus and avocado, and tofu stir fry over brown rice.

You won't find a single item on the menu made with quahogs over at the Bucket, that's for sure.

"There's only one reason she'd go there," Sidney went on, in her most malevolent tone. "And we all know what it is."

I nearly dropped my phone. Right into the toilet, which is where the comb ended up. Fortunately, I'd remembered to flush earlier. I caught the phone at the last minute and pressed it to my ear.

"W-wait," I stammered. "What? We do?"

How could she know? She couldn't know! No one had seen me with Eric --- had they? I knew I should have slapped him. Oh, why had I kissed him back? I wouldn't have, if I'd thought there was any chance that Seth --- or Sidney --- might have seen us.

But the soda station is totally hidden from view from the corner booth. And from where Morgan Castle was sitting. So instead of slapping Eric Fluteley when he started kissing me, I melted, exactly as if I'd been one of Mrs. Hogarth's birthday candles left to burn too long.

Well, what else was I going to do? I mean, Eric's just… hot.

When Eric finally let me up for air, though, I said, very indignantly (though admittedly through delightfully tingly lips), "What are you, crazy? Did you see who's sitting in the corner booth? The entire Quahog football team!"

Eric had replied, "Not all of them. Don't exaggerate, Katie."

"Well, the ones who'd totally pound your face in, if they saw you doing what you just did." I really couldn't believe it. I mean, what had he been thinking? You do not just go up to a girl and start kissing her behind the soda station. Especially when her boyfriend is sitting just a couple yards away.

Even if, you know, she really likes it. And wants to do it some more.

"What's he doing here, anyway?" Eric had wanted to know. "I thought you said the fire was gone, and you were finally breaking up with him."

Had I told Eric that the fire was gone between me and Seth? Probably. It had gone out pretty soon after we'd become a steady couple, and the excitement that Seth Turner, the most popular boy in school, had picked me --- ME! --- as his steady girlfriend had died down.

But how can you break up with a guy who's just so… nice? I mean, what kind of awful person would do something like that? Break up with her boyfriend of nearly four years because he's just… boring?

I must have told Eric that Seth and I were breaking up. Oh, God, what was happening to me? I couldn't even keep all my lies straight anymore.

"Yeah," I'd said. "Well, I haven't gotten around to it yet. Obviously."

"Katie." That was when Eric reached over to take my hand and gazed meaningfully into my brown eyes with his gorgeous blue ones --- the same blue as the Long Island Sound on a cloudless day. "You've got to break it off with him. You know you two don't have anything in common. Whereas you and I --- we're artists. We have something special. It's not fair of you to do this to him."

The thing is, Eric was right. Well, not about him and me having something special --- except, you know, that I think Eric's totally hot, and a dynamo kisser. I meant about the part where he said that Seth and I really don't have anything in common. We don't.

Well, except that I think Seth's totally hot, and a dynamo kisser, too. I've thought that for as long as I can remember --- well, the hot part, anyway. I didn't know about the kissing part until the end of eighth grade, which is the first time Seth ever laid one on me, during a game of spin the bottle in Sidney's basement rec room after a mid-summer pool party. It was like a dream come true for me --- the boy every girl in school wanted actually wanted ME. We've been dating ever since.

But even so, Eric was one to talk.

"What about Morgan?" I demanded. "How are you being fair to her?"

Eric didn't even have the dignity to look embarrassed.

"Morgan and I aren't a couple," he'd said. "So I can't exactly be accused of doing anything wrong."

"Neither can I!" I'd insisted, even though I'd known at the time that this was sort of untrue. "I so didn't do anything.

I'm just trying to take Mrs. Hogarth her birthday cake!"

"Yeah," Eric said sarcastically. "Just like you so didn't do anything today before your shift started."

Oops. Well, yeah, okay. I had sort of made out with Eric at the employee bike rack behind the emergency generator before work.

But whatever! That didn't mean he could kiss me while he was out with another girl!

"You get back to Morgan right now," I'd said. "This is a terrible thing to do to her. She's so sweet, too. I don't even know why you brought her here. She's a vegan.

There's nothing she can eat here, except salad."

"I was trying to make you jealous," Eric had said, his hands going around my waist. "Is it working?"

It was right then that Peggy rounded the corner holding an empty iced tea pitcher. She'd stopped dead at the sight of us. Because, of course, patrons aren't allowed in Employee Only sections, such as behind the soda station. Or back behind the emergency generator, by the employee bike rack, either.

"Is there a problem, Ellison?" Peggy had asked in an astonished voice.

"No," I'd said quickly, as Eric sprang away from me.

"He was just looking for --- "

"Salt," Eric had said, grabbing a nearby salt shaker from the tray by the soda dispenser. "'Bye."

He'd hurried back to his table while Peggy, meanwhile, narrowed her eyes at me.

"Ellison," she'd said in a suspicious voice. "What's going on?"

"Nothing." I'd grabbed Mrs. Hogarth's cake and held it out. "Do you have a lighter?"

"I thought you were going out with Jake Turner's little brother," Peggy had said in the same suspicious voice, after reaching into the pocket of her khakis and pulling out a lighter, then lighting the number nine and seven candles.

"I am," I'd insisted. "Eric's just a friend."

A friend I like to make out with when I get the chance, I'd thought, but didn't add aloud.

Peggy had rolled her eyes. She's been managing the Gull 'n Gulp for ten years. I guess she's seen it all. Heard it all, too.

"I knew I was wrong not to make you go home and get a sweater," was all she'd said.

Like if my bra straps hadn't been showing, I'd have somehow managed NOT to get caught kissing Eric Fluteley behind the soda station?

But Peggy wouldn't have told Sidney about what she'd seen me doing. Peggy doesn't gossip (and she busts her employees' chops when she catches them doing it).

So how had Sidney found out?

Could she have seen me outside by the bike rack earlier today?

No way. Sidney doesn't even own a bike. She never goes anywhere at all unless it's in Dave's Camaro or the white convertible Volkswagen Cabriolet Sidney's dad got her for her sixteenth birthday.

"I'll tell you why Morgan was there," Sidney said knowingly into the phone. "She's spying. On the competition."

Oh, God! The competition for Eric's affections? That's totally me!

Except that if Sidney knew, why hadn't she said anything to me? I mean, Sidney's not exactly reticent with her opinions, and if she found out I've been macking behind an emergency generator with Eric Fluteley, you can bet she'd have a few things to say about it. Sidney thinks Seth and I are the perfect couple, and is looking forward to her and Dave and Seth and I being the It Couples of our senior year. My getting caught macking with Eric Fluteley would totally ruin Sidney's plans for the prom, et cetera.

"I mean, her sponsor's the Oaken Bucket," Sidney went on. "How much do you really think they're contributing to her campaign? Whereas you actually work for your sponsor, so they've got, like, a vested interest in actually promoting you. . . ."

Oh. Oh my God.

I sagged down onto the side of the bathtub in relief.

Okay. So that was what Sidney was talking about. Not Eric. Nothing to do with Eric.

"And, seriously, does she really think anyone's going to vote for a Quahog Princess who doesn't even eat quahogs?" Sidney wanted to know.

I can't believe I almost forgot. That there's another type of quahog. I mean, besides the clam and the football team.

There's the town's annual contest for Quahog Princess.

Which I'm running for.

And so is Sidney. And so is Morgan.

Which is why Sidney can't stand Morgan, even though Morgan is really sweet once you get to know her.

Which I did, because Morgan, who has been taking ballet since she was, like, four and is a shoo-in for the Joffrey Ballet Company in the city someday, danced Laurey's dream sequence in the drama club's production of Oklahoma! last spring (Eric played Jud. And let me tell you, he was the hottest, most brooding Jud ever. A lot of girls --- like me, for instance --- thought Laurey should have gone with Jud instead of that stupid Curly, who was played by Brian McFadden, who is kind of a girl), and I had to photograph her for the yearbook and the school paper.

Morgan was super nice about doing her grands jetés over and over, since I couldn't quite get the shot right with my digital Sony, and her legs kept blurring. (I finally got an excellent shot of her in midair, with her legs perfectly parallel to the stage. It looks like she's flying, but she's got this calm expression on her face, almost bored, like "Ho hum, I defy gravity like this every day.")

Morgan's doing that same dance for the talent portion of the Quahog Princess pageant.

And can I just say that one of the things Sidney dislikes most about Morgan is the fact that Morgan's talent is way better than Sidney's, which is singing a Kelly Clarkson song --- not to mention mine, which is the worst beauty pageant talent of all . . . playing piano?

Although, the fact that Morgan's got this long, skinny neck and no body fat and never talks to anyone doesn't exactly endear her to the Sidney types of the world, either. It isn't that Morgan thinks she's better than everyone, as Sidney insists. She's just really shy.

It's scandalous that Eric was trying to use her to try to make me jealous. I am fully going to have a talk with him next time we make out behind the emergency generator.

"Oh," I said to Sidney, laughing with relief when I finally realized she was talking about Quahog Princess, and not Eric. "I don't think she was there to spy on us. I think that's just where Eric took her. It wasn't like she could say anything. He had to have made that reservation a week ago."

"Yeah, and what is up with that, anyway?" Sidney wanted to know. "Who makes a reservation at the Gull 'n Gulp?"

Sidney, I knew, wasn't dissing the Gulp. It's just that no local would ever deign to make a reservation there, unless it was a special occasion, like Mrs. Hogarth's birthday party.

Or a guy who wanted to make the girl he was currently macking with behind her boyfriend's back jealous.

"Maybe he wanted to impress her," I said, carefully fishing my comb out of the toilet, just as there was a thump on the bathroom door.

"I'm in here," I called to the thumper, who I knew was my brother, Liam, just getting home from the video arcade at Duckpin Lanes, where he'd spent most, if not all, of his nights this summer. No one else in my house was awake, since it was after midnight.

"Yeah, but since when are Eric Fluteley and Morgan Castle a couple?" Sidney demanded. "It all seems a little too convenient, if you ask me. She's running for Quahog Princess, and needs an escort for the evening gown event, and she just HAPPENS to start going out with the best-looking guy in school? I mean, besides Seth and Dave? And then just HAPPENS to show up at the Gull 'n Gulp on a night when we're both there?"

"I'm at the Gulp almost every night, Sid," I pointed out. "So are you, for that matter. I really don't think Morgan was there to spy on us."

"Oh, God, Katie," Sidney said. "You are such an innocent."

Sidney always calls me an innocent because even though Seth and I have been going out forever, I'm still a virgin, and Sidney lost hers to Rick Stamford two summers ago in his room while his parents were out attending the Eastport Towne Fair.

But I just don't think it's a good idea for a girl who can't seem to stick to kissing one guy at a time to start sleeping with them, too. I mean, at least Sidney was sure she loved Rick (and thought he returned the feeling). I think the fact that I can't stop kissing Eric Fluteley is a pretty good sign that, as hot as I've always thought he is and all, I'm not in love with Seth . . . and the fact that I can't stop kissing Seth means

I'm most likely not in love with Eric, either.

Although, I kind of wonder if Sidney would still think I'm so innocent if she knew why Morgan Castle had really been at the Gull 'n Gulp tonight --- because Eric Fluteley brought her there to make me jealous.

Not that I'm going to tell her --- or anyone else --- that.

Liam thumped again. I flung the comb into the sink, turned on the hot water in hopes of killing whatever germs were now growing on it, thanks to its toilet plunge, and yanked open the door.

"I'm in here," I said to my brother, who, just this past summer, grew six inches in three months and now towers over me, even though at five seven, I am three inches taller than Sidney, and, in fact, one of the taller girls in my class. Especially when my hair is doing what it's supposed to, and fluffing up.

"I know that," Liam said sarcastically. "I need to --- "

"Then use the downstairs bathroom," I said, and started to close the door.

"I wanted to tell you something," Liam said, putting a hand to the door so I couldn't close it. "If you'd quit yakking on the phone long enough to listen. Who is that, anyway? Sidney?"

"Hold on, Sid," I said into the phone. Then I turned off the hot water --- I'm not sure how long it takes to sterilize toilet germs off a plastic comb, but I don't want to waste water, either --- and said to Liam, in an impatient voice, "What?"

"Who is that?" Sidney wanted to know. "Liam?"

"Yeah," I said into the phone. To Liam, I repeated,


"Oh, nothing," Liam said with a shrug. "It's just that I saw someone you know tonight down at Duckpin Lanes."

"That's thrilling," I said to him. "Now go away."

"Okay, fine," Liam said, turning to continue down the hall to his room. "I just thought you'd want to know."

"Who?" Sidney chirped in my ear. "Who did he see? Oh my God, ask him if it was Rick. If it was Rick, and he was with Beth Ridley, I'll die. Martha said she heard Rick and Beth hooked up at Hannah Lebowitz's Fourth of July barbecue --- "

"Liam," I said. I didn't say it loud, because I didn't want to wake up Mom and Dad, who were downstairs in the master bedroom they added on off the laundry room two years ago, so they could be away from us kids. "Who was it? Was it Rick Stamford?"

"You wish," Liam said with a snort.

"What do you mean, you wish?" I demanded.

"I mean, you wish it was Rick Stamford, and not who

I'm about to tell you it was. Because when I tell you, you're going to freak."

"Was it Rick?" Sidney wanted to know. "What did he say? I can't hear him. Your phone gets the worst reception.. . ."

"It wasn't Rick," I said into the phone while Sidney, on the other end, shrieked, "It must have been a celebrity, then! Was it Matt Fox? I've heard he's buying a summer place over in Westport. Was it Matt Fox? Ask him if it was Matt Fox!"

"It was Tommy Sullivan," Liam said flatly.

At that, I did drop my cell phone. Fortunately, however, not into the toilet. Instead, it landed on the floor.

Where it broke into three pieces.

As it was falling, I could hear Sidney going, "Wait, I didn't hear him, what did he --- "


Then … silence.

Liam looked at the pieces of my cell phone and laughed.

"That's what I was trying to tell you," he said.

"Tommy Sullivan's back in town."

Pants on Fire
by by Meg Cabot

  • Genres: Fiction
  • hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • ISBN-10: 0060880155
  • ISBN-13: 9780060880156