One Tiny Lie Page 2

After I hung up, I remember smiling, sure that he would tell Kacey that I was fine and well adjusted and she could continue her witch hunt for the mentally unstable elsewhere.

When that same Chicago number appeared on my phone the following Saturday morning at ten o’clock sharp, I was more than surprised. But I picked up. And I’ve been picking up every Saturday at ten a.m. ever since. I’ve never seen a bill or a patient record or the inside of a psychiatrist’s office. Both of us have danced around the word “therapy,” but we have never used it before this conversation. Perhaps that’s why I refuse to acknowledge Dr. Stayner for what he is.

My therapist.

“Fine, Livie. I’ll let you go. We’ll resume our chat next Saturday.”

I roll my eyes but don’t say anything. There’s no point. I’d get farther dragging a mule through a hay field.

“Make sure to have a shot of tequila. Break dance. Whatever it is you youngsters do nowadays during frosh week. It’ll be good for you.”

“You’re recommending addiction and life-threatening dance moves for my well-being?” It was pretty obvious from that second phone call that Dr. Stayner had decided to take on the task of “treating” my awkward shyness with a weekly course of absurd, often embarrassing, but ultimately harmless assignments. He’s never admitted to what he was doing, never explained himself. He just expects me to comply.

And I always do.

Maybe that’s why I should be in therapy.

The surprising thing is that it has worked. Three months of harebrained tasks has actually helped calm my nerves around crowds, free my inner thoughts, and arm me with enough confidence that sweat doesn’t instantaneously erupt from my pores when an attractive man walks into the room.

“I suggested tequila, Livie. Not crystal meth . . . And no, I’m not recommending tequila because you are only eighteen and I am a doctor. That would be highly unprofessional. I’m recommending that you go and have fun!”

I heave a resigned sigh but smile as I say, “You know, I was normal. I think that you’ve turned me into a head case.”

My ear gets a blast of laughter. “‘Normal’ is boring. Tequila, Livie. It makes wallflowers into butterflies. Maybe you’ll even meet”—he gasps for dramatic effect—“a boy!”

“I really have to go,” I say, feeling my cheeks flush as I climb the concrete steps to my stunning Hogwarts-style residence hall.

“Go! Make memories. This is a happy day for you. A victory.” Dr. Stayner’s voice loses that playful lilt, suddenly turning gruff. “You should be proud.”

I smile into the phone, happy for the moment of seriousness. “I am, Dr. Stayner. But . . . thank you.” He doesn’t say the words but I hear them. Your father would be proud.

“And remember—” The lilt is back.

I roll my eyes at the phone. “I got it. ‘Girls Gone Reasonably Frisky.’ I’ll do my best.” I can hear his chuckling as I press “End” on the call.

CHAPTER TWO

Jell-O Shots

This must be what Cinderella felt like.

If, instead of gliding gracefully around the dance floor of the royal ball, she was flattened against a wall at a college house party, getting jostled by drunks from all angles.

And, instead of dazzling everyone in a glamorous ball gown, she was furtively tugging on her toga to ensure all vital body parts were covered.

And, instead of a fairy godmother granting her every wish, she had an obnoxious older sister forcing Jell-O shots down her throat.

I’m just like Cinderella.

“A deal’s a deal!” Kacey yells over the DJ as she hands me a tiny cup. I accept it without a word and tip my head back, letting the slippery orange substance slide down my throat. I’m actually enjoying these things. A lot. Of course, I won’t admit that to my sister. I’m still bitter that she blackmailed me into making my first night at college also my first night to get drunk. Ever. It was this or have her walk into my residence hall wearing a T-shirt with my face on it and a slogan that reads, “Liberate Livie’s Libido.” She was serious. She actually had the damn thing printed.

“Stop being such a sourpuss, Livie. You have to admit, this is fun,” Kacey shouts, handing me two more shots. “Even though we’re wearing bedsheets. I mean, seriously. Who throws toga parties anymore?”

She keeps on talking but I tune her out, sucking both shots back in quick succession. That’s how many in the last hour? I’m feeling fine right now. Relaxed, even. But I’ve never been drunk before, so what do I know? These can’t be too potent. It’s not like it’s tequila.

Freaking Stayner! I should have known he would enlist Kacey in his dirty work. He’s been doing it all summer. Of course, I have no solid proof for tonight’s escapade. But if Kacey busts out a bottle of Patrón, I have my answer.

With a sigh, I lean back against the cool wall and let my gaze drift over the sea of heads. I’m not exactly sure where we are, aside from the spacious basement of a booming house party just outside campus grounds. A well-planned one, too, complete with a DJ catering to a crowd of people—some dancing, most stumbling—in the center of the big open space. Regular house lights have been replaced with colored, flashing ones and a strobe, making the place look more like a club than a home. I’m assuming the owners normally have furniture in here. Tonight, every single piece has vanished. All except for a bunch of tables lining the perimeter, supplying red plastic cups for the kegs of beer tucked underneath and holding trays of these delicious shots that I can’t seem to get enough of. There must be hundreds. Thousands. Millions!

Okay. I might actually be drunk.

A short, curvy body sails past me with a fluttering wave, instantly making me smile. That’s Reagan, my new roommate, and the only other person here besides my sister whom I’ve talked to. Each year, students are entered into a draw and assigned dorms. Freshmen get the added bonus of random roommates. Even though we only met today, I’m pretty sure I’m going to love Reagan. She’s bubbly and outgoing and talks a mile a minute. She’s also very artistic. After we moved our stuff into our room, she made a sign for the door with our names in calligraphy, surrounded by hearts and flowers and x’s and o’s. I think it’s really sweet. Kacey thinks it screams “lesbian couple.”

The second we stepped through the doors, Reagan was gone, chatting up a group of guys. Considering she’s a freshman, she seems to know a lot of people. Mostly male. She’s the one who suggested we come tonight; otherwise we would have ended up at one of the many campus-organized events that I had every intention of going to until Kacey hijacked my plans. Apparently, Princeton students living off-campus is rare, and therefore these house parties should never be missed.

“All right, Princess. Drink this,” Kacey says, producing a bottle of water out of thin air, adding, “I don’t want you puking tonight.”

I take the bottle and let the fresh, cold liquid pour into my mouth. And I imagine projectile-vomiting my fajita dinner all over Kacey. It would serve her right.

“Oh, come on, Livie! Stop being mad at me.” Kacey’s voice is getting that whiny twang to it, a sign that she is sincerely feeling guilty. And then I start feeling guilty for making her feel guilty . . .

I heave a sigh. “I’m not mad. I just don’t get why you’re on a mission to get me drunk.” It was drunk driving that killed our parents. I think that’s one of the main reasons I’ve avoided anything to do with alcohol up until now. Kacey barely touches the stuff too. Though she seems to be making up for it tonight.

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