A princess on Another Planet


НазваниеA princess on Another Planet
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^ CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Creatures of Love
I lay low for the next couple of days, steering clear of Donna LaDonna by skipping assembly and avoiding the cafeteria during lunch. On the third day, Walt tracks me down in the library, where I'm hiding in the self-help section of the stacks, secretly reading Linda Goodman's Love Signs in a futile attempt to discern if Sebastian and I have a future. Problem is, I don't know his birthday. I can only hope he's an Aries and not a Scorpio.

"Astrology? Oh no. Not you, Carrie," Walt says.

I shut the book and put it back on the shelf. "What's wrong with astrology?"

"It's dumb," Walt says snidely. "Thinking you can predict your life from your birth sign. Do you know how many people are born each day? Two million five hundred and ninety-nine. How can two million five hundred and ninety-nine people have anything in common?"

"Has anyone mentioned that you've been in a really bad mood lately?"

"What are you talking about? I'm always like this."

"It's the breakup, isn't it?"

"No, it's not."

"Then what is it?"

"Maggie's in tears," he says suddenly.

I sigh. "Is it about me?"

"Not everything's about you, Bradley. Apparently she had some kind of fight with Peter. She sent me to find you. She's in the girls' room by the chemistry lab."

"You don't have to run errands for her."

"I don't care," Walt says, as if the whole situation is pointless. "It's easier than not doing it."

Something is definitely wrong with Walt, I think, as I hurry away to meet Maggie. He's always been slightly sarcastic and cynical, which is what I love about him. But he's never been this world weary, as if everyday life has drained him of the strength to continue.

I open the door to the small lav in the old part of the school that hardly anyone uses because the mirror is mangy and all the fixtures are from about sixty years ago. The writing scratched into the stalls appears to be about sixty years old as well. My favorite is, For a good time, call Myrtle. I mean, when was the last time someone named their kid Myrtle?

"Who's there?" Maggie calls out.

"It's me."

"Is anyone with you?"

"No."

"Okay," she says, and comes out of the stall, her face swollen and blotchy from crying.

"Jesus, Maggie," I say as I hand her a paper towel.

She blows her nose and looks at me over the tissue. "I know you're all caught up in Sebastian now, but I need your help."

"Okay," I say cautiously.

"Because I have to go to this doctor. And I can't go alone."

"Of course." I smile, grateful that we seem to have made up. "When?"

"Now."

"Now?"

"Unless you have something better to do."

"I don't. But why now, Maggie?" I ask with growing suspicion. "What kind of doctor?"

"You know," she says, lowering her voice. "A doctor for...women's stuff."

"Like abortion?" I can't help it. The word comes out in a loud gasp.

Maggie looks panicked. "Don't even say it."

"Are you--?"

"No," she says, in a heated whisper. "But I thought I might be. But then I got my period on Monday."

"So you did it...without protection?"

"You don't exactly plan these things, you know," Maggie says defensively. "And he's always pulled out."

"Oh, Maggie." Even if I haven't had actual sex, I know quite a bit about the theories behind it, the number one fact being that the pull-out method is known not to work. And Maggie should know this too. "Aren't you on the pill?"

"Well, I'm trying to be." She grimaces. "That's why I have to go to this doctor in East Milton."

East Milton is right next to our town, but it's supposedly filled with crime, and nobody goes there. They don't even go through it, under any circumstances. Honestly, I can't believe there's even a doctor's office there. "How did you find this doctor anyway?"

"The Yellow Pages." I can tell by the way she says it that she's lying. "I called up and I got an appointment for twelve thirty today. And you have to go with me. You're the only person I can trust. I mean, I can't exactly go with Walt, can I?"

"Why can't you go with Peter? He's the person who's responsible for all this, right?"

"He's kind of pissed at me," Maggie says. "When he found out I might be pregnant he freaked out and didn't talk to me for twenty-four hours."

There is something about this whole scenario that just isn't making sense. "But, Maggie," I counter, "when I saw you on Sunday afternoon, you said you'd had sex with Peter for the first time--"

"No, I didn't."

"Yes, you did."

"I don't remember." She grabs a handful of toilet paper and puts it over her face.

"It wasn't the first time, was it?" I say. She shakes her head. "You'd slept with him before."

"That night after The Emerald," she admits.

I nod slowly. I walk to the tiny window and look out. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Oh, Carrie, I couldn't," she cries. "I'm so sorry. I wanted to tell you, but I was scared. I mean, what if people found out? What if Walt found out? Everyone would think I was a slut."

"I would never think you were a slut. I wouldn't think you were a slut if you slept with a hundred men."

This makes her giggle. "Do you think a woman can sleep with a hundred men?"

"I think she could, if she worked really, really hard at it. I mean, you'd have to sleep with a different guy every week. For two years. You practically wouldn't have time for anything but sex."

Maggie throws away the tissue and looks at herself in the mirror as she pats cold water on her face. "That sounds just like Peter. All he thinks about is sex."

No kidding. Hell. Who knew nerdly old Peter was such a stud?

The doctor's office should be fifteen minutes away, but thirty minutes have passed and we still can't find it. So far we've nearly backed into two cars, driven over four curbs, and run over a handful of french fries. Maggie insisted we stop at McDonald's on the way, and when we got our food into the car, she lurched out of the parking lot with so much force all my french fries flew out the window.

Enough! I want to scream. But I can't do that--not when I'm trying to get one of my best friends to a crackpot doctor's office to get a prescription for birth control pills. So when I look at my watch and see that it's past twelve thirty, I gently suggest we stop at a gas station.

"Why?" Maggie asks.

"They have maps."

"We don't need a map."

"What are you, a guy?" I open the glove compartment and look inside in despair. It's empty. "Besides, we need cigarettes."

"My goddamn mother," Maggie says. "She's trying to quit. I hate when she does that."

Luckily, the cigarette issue distracts us from the fact that we are lost, we are in the most dangerous town in Connecticut, and we are losers. Enough to get us to a gas station anyway, where I am forced to flirt with a pimply faced attendant while Maggie takes a nervous leak in the dirty bathroom.

I show the attendant the piece of paper with the address on it. "Oh, sure," he says. "That street is right around the corner." Then he starts making shadow figures on the side of the building.

"You're really good at doing a bunny," I say.

"I know," he says. "I'm going to quit this job soon. Going to do shadow figures at kids' parties."

"I'm sure you'll have a huge clientele." All of a sudden, I'm feeling kind of sentimental toward this sweet, pimply faced guy who wants to do shadow figures at children's parties. He's so different from anyone at Castlebury High. Then Maggie comes out and I hustle her into the car, making my hand into a barking dog shape as we peel out of there.

"What was that about?" Maggie asks. "The hand. Since when do you do shadow puppets?"

Ever since you decided to have sex and didn't tell me, I want to say, but don't. Instead I say, "I've always done them. You just never noticed."

The address for the doctor's office is on a residential street with tiny houses crammed right next to one another. When we get to number 46, Maggie and I look at each other like this can't be right. It's just another house--a small, blue ranch with a red door. Behind the house we discover another door with a sign next to it that reads, DOCTOR'S OFFICE. But now that we've finally found this doctor, Maggie is terrified. "I can't do it," she says, slumping onto the steering wheel. "I can't go in."

I know I should be peeved at her for making me come all the way to East Milton for nothing, but instead, I know exactly how she's feeling. Wanting to cling to the past, wanting to be the way you always were, too scared to move forward into the future. I mean, who knows what's in the future? On the other hand, it's probably too late to go back.

"Look," I say. "I'll go inside and check it out. If it's okay, I'll come back and get you. If I'm not back in five minutes, call the police."

Taped to the door is a piece of paper that says, KNOCK LOUDLY . I knock loudly. I knock so loudly, I nearly bruise my knuckles.

The door opens a crack, and a middle-aged woman wearing a nurse's uniform sticks her head out. "Yes?"

"My friend is here for an appointment."

"For what?" she says.

"Birth control pills?" I whisper.

"Are you the friend?" she demands.

"No," I say, taken aback. "My friend is in the car."

"She'd better come in quickly. Doctor has his hands full today."

"Okay," I say, and nod. My head is like one of those bobble things truckers put on their dashboards.

"Either get your 'friend' or come in," the nurse says.

I turn around and wave to Maggie. And for once in her life, she actually gets out of the car.

We go in. We're in a tiny waiting room that was maybe the breakfast room in the original house. The wallpaper is printed with tea kettles. There are six metal chairs and a fake wooden coffee table with copies of Highlights magazine for kids. A girl about our age is sitting on one of the chairs.

"Doctor will be with you soon," the nurse says to Maggie, and leaves the room.

We sit down.

I look over at the girl, who is staring at us with hostility. Her hair is cut in a mullet, short in the front and really long in the back, and she's wearing black eyeliner that swoops up into little wings, like her eyes might fly away from her face. She looks tough and miserable and kind of mean. Actually, she looks like she'd like to beat us up. I try to smile at her, but she glares at me instead and pointedly picks up Highlights magazine. Then she puts it down and says, "What are you looking at?"

I can't handle another girl fight, so I reply as sweetly as possible, "Nothing."

"Yeah?" she says. "You'd better be looking at nothing."

"I'm looking at nothing. I swear."

And at last, before this can go any further, the door opens and the nurse comes out, escorting another teenage girl by the shoulders. The girl looks quite a bit like her friend, except that she's crying quietly and wiping the tears from her cheeks with the back of her hands.

"You're okay, dear," the nurse says with surprising kindness. "Doctor says it all went fine. No aspirin for the next three days. And no sex for at least two weeks." The girl nods, weeping. Her friend jumps up and puts her hands on the side of the crying girl's face. "C'mon, Sal. It's okay. You're gonna be okay." And with one final scowl in our direction, she leads the girl away.

The nurse shakes her head and looks at Maggie. "Doctor will see you now."

"Maggie," I whisper. "You don't have to do this. We can go someplace else--"

But Maggie stands, her face resolute. "I have to do it."

"That's right, dear," the nurse says. "Much better to take precautions. I wish all you girls would take precautions."

And for some reason, she looks directly at me.

Whoa, lady. Take it easy. I'm still a virgin.

But I may not be for much longer. Maybe I should get some pills too. Just in case.

Ten minutes pass and Maggie comes back out, smiling and looking like a weight has been lifted from her shoulders. She thanks the nurse profusely. In fact, she thanks her so much I have to remind her that we ought to get back to school. Outside, she says, "It was so easy. I didn't even have to take off my clothes. He just asked me about the last time I got my period."

"That's great," I say, getting in the car. I can't get the image of the crying girl out of my head. Was she crying because she was sad or relieved? Or just scared? Either way, it was pretty awful. I open the window a crack and light up a cigarette. "Mags," I say. "How did you hear about that place? Really?"

"Peter told me about it."

"How did he know?"

"Donna LaDonna told him," she whispers.

I nod, blowing smoke into the cold air. I am so not ready for all this.
^ CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Hang in There
"Missy!" I say, knocking on the bathroom door. "Missy, I need to get in there."

Silence. "I'm busy," she finally says.

"Doing what?"

"None of your business."

"Missy, please. Sebastian's going to be here in thirty minutes."

"So? He can wait."

No, he can't, I think. Or rather, I can't. I can't wait to get out of the house. I can't wait to get out of here.

I've been telling myself this all week. The "getting out of here" part is unspecified, though. Maybe I simply want to get away from my life.

For the past two weeks, ever since the library incident, the two Jens have been stalking me. They poke their heads into swim practice and make mooing noises when I dive. They've followed me to the mall, the supermarket, and even the drugstore, where they had the exciting experience of watching me buy tampons. And yesterday, I found a card in my locker. On the front was a cartoon drawing of a basset hound with a thermometer in his mouth and a hot-water bottle on his head. Inside, someone had written "Don't" before "Get Well Soon," followed by, "Wish you were dead."

"Donna would never do something like that," Peter protested.

Maggie, The Mouse, and I glared at him.

Peter held up his hands. "You wanted my opinion, that's my opinion."

"Who else would do it?" Maggie asked. "She's the one who has the biggest reason."

"Not necessarily," Peter said. "Look, Carrie. I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I can promise you, Donna LaDonna doesn't even know who you are."

"She does now," The Mouse countered.

Maggie was aghast. "Why wouldn't she know Carrie?"

"I'm not saying she doesn't literally know who Carrie Bradshaw is. But Carrie Bradshaw is definitely not high on her list of concerns."

"Thanks a lot," I said to Peter. I was really beginning to hate him.

And then I was furious at Maggie for going out with him. And then I was furious at The Mouse for being friends with him. And now I'm furious at my sister Missy for hogging the bathroom.

"I'm coming in," I say threateningly. I try the door. It's unlocked. Inside, Missy is standing in the tub with Nair on her legs.

"Do you mind?" she says, yanking the shower curtain closed.

"Do you mind?" I ask, going to the mirror. "You've been in here for twenty minutes. I need to get ready."

"What is wrong with you?"

"Nothing," I snarl.

"You'd better get out of that mood or Sebastian isn't going to want to be with you either."

I storm out of the bathroom. Back in my room, I pick up The Consensus, open it to the title page, and glare at Mary Gordon Howard's tiny signature. It's like the writing of a witch. I kick the book under the bed. I lie down and put my hands over my face.

I wouldn't have even remembered the damn book and that damn Mary Gordon Howard if I hadn't spent the last hour searching for my special handbag--the one from France that my mother left me. She felt guilty buying it because it was so expensive. Even though she paid for it with her own money and she always said every woman ought to have one really good handbag and one really good pair of shoes.

The handbag is one of my most treasured possessions. I treat it like a jewel, only taking it out on special occasions, and always returning it to its cloth pouch and then to its original box. I keep the box in the back of my closet. Except this time, when I went to get it out, it wasn't there. Instead, I found The Consensus, which I'd also hidden in the back of my closet. The last time I used the bag was six months ago, when Lali and I took a trip to Boston. She kept eyeing the bag and asking if she could borrow it sometime, and I said "yes," even though the thought of Lali with my mother's bag gave me the creeps. You would think it would have given her the creeps too--enough for her to know better than to ask. After the trip, I specifically remember putting the bag away properly, because I decided I wouldn't use it again until I went to New York. But then Sebastian suggested dinner at this fancy French restaurant in Hartford called The Brownstone, and if that isn't a special occasion, I don't know what is.

And now the bag is missing. My whole world is falling apart.

Dorrit, I think suddenly. She's gone from pilfering earrings to stealing my handbag.

I tear into her room.

Dorrit's been awfully quiet this week. She hasn't been causing her usual amount of turmoil, which is in itself suspicious. Now she's lying on her bed, talking on the phone. On the wall above her is a poster of a cat, swinging from a tree branch. Hang in there, reads the caption.

Dorrit puts her hand over the receiver. "Yes?"

"Have you seen my bag?"

She looks away, which makes me guess she is, indeed, guilty. "What handbag? Your leather saddlebag? I think I saw it in the kitchen."

"Mom's bag."

"I haven't seen it," she says, with exaggerated innocence. "Don't you keep it locked up in your closet?"

"It's not there."

Dorrit shrugs and tries to go back to her conversation.

"Mind if I search your room?" I ask casually.

"Go ahead," she says. She's crafty. If she were guilty, she'd say, yes, she did mind.

I search her closets, her drawers, and under the bed. Nothing. "See?" Dorrit says in an I-told-you-so tone. But in her second of triumph, her eyes go to the giant stuffed panda bear seated on the rocking chair in the corner of her room. The panda bear that I supposedly gave her as a present when she was born.

"Oh no, Dorrit," I say, shaking my head. "Not Mr. Panda."

"Don't touch him!" she screams, leaping off the bed and dropping the phone. I grab Mr. Panda and run out.

Dorrit follows me. Mr. Panda is suspiciously heavy, I note, as I bear him away to my room.

"Leave him alone," Dorrit demands.

"Why?" I ask. "Has Mr. Panda been up to something naughty?"

"No!"

"I think he has." I feel around the back of the stuffed bear and find a large opening that's been carefully fastened closed with safety pins.

"What's going on?" Missy comes running in, her legs dripping with foam.

"This," I say, unfastening the safety pins.

"Carrie, don't," Dorrit cries as I slip my hand into the opening. The first thing I pull out is a silver bracelet I haven't seen for months. The bracelet is followed by a small pipe, the type used to smoke marijuana. "It's not mine. I swear. It's my friend Cheryl's," Dorrit insists. "She asked me to hide it for her."

"Uh-huh," I say, handing Missy the pipe. And then my hand closes around the soft nubby surface of my mother's bag. "Aha!" I exclaim, yanking it out. I place it on the bed, where the three of us stare at it aghast.

It's ruined. The entire front side with the chic little flap where my mother used to keep her checkbook and credit cards is speckled with what looks like pink paint. Which just happens to be exactly the same color as the nail polish on Dorrit's hands.

I'm too shocked to speak.

"Dorrit, how could you?" Missy screams. "That was Mom's bag. Why did you have to ruin Mom's bag? Couldn't you ruin your own bag for a change?"

"Why does Carrie have to have everything of Mom's?" Dorrit screams back.

"I don't," I say, surprising myself with how calm and reasonable I sound.

"Mom left that bag to Carrie. Because she's the oldest," Missy says.

"No she didn't," Dorrit wails. "She left it to her because she liked her the best."

"Dorrit, that isn't true--"

"Yes it is. Mom wanted Carrie to be just like her. Except that now Mom is dead and Carrie is still alive." It's the kind of scream that makes your throat hurt.

Dorrit runs out of the room. And suddenly, I burst into tears.

I'm not a good crier. Some women can supposedly cry prettily, like the girls in Gone with the Wind. But I've never seen it in real life. When I cry, my face swells up and my nose runs and I can't breathe.

"What would Mom say?" I ask Missy between sobs.

"Well, I guess she can't say anything now," Missy says.

Ha. Gallows humor. I don't know what we'd do without it.

"I mean, yeah," I giggle, between hiccups. "It's only a handbag, right? It's not like it's a person or anything."

"I think we should paint Mr. Panda pink," Missy says. "Teach Dorrit a lesson. She left a bottle of pink polish open under the sink. I almost knocked it over when I went to get the Nair."

I race into the bathroom.

"What are you doing?" Missy squeals as I start my handiwork. When I'm finished, I hold up the bag for inspection.

"It's cool," Missy says, nodding appreciatively.

I turn it over, pleased. It really is kind of cool. "If it's deliberate," I tell her, with a sudden realization, "it's fashion."

"Ohmigod. I love your bag," the hostess gushes. She's wearing a black Lycra dress and the top of her hair is teased into spiky meringue waves. "I've never seen anything like it. Is that your name on it? Carrie?"

I nod.

"My name's Eileen," she says. "I'd love to have a bag like that with my name on it."

She picks up two menus and holds them aloft as she leads us to a table for two in front of the fireplace. "Most romantic table in the house," she whispers as she hands over the menus. "Have fun, kids."

"Oh, we will," Sebastian says, unfolding his napkin with a snap.

I hold up the bag. "You like?"

"It's a purse, Carrie," he says.

"This, Sebastian, is no mere purse. And you shouldn't call a handbag a purse. A purse was what people used to carry coins in the sixteen hundreds. They used to hide their purse inside their clothes to foil robbers. A bag, on the other hand, is meant to be seen. And this isn't any old bag. It was my mother's...." I trail off. He's clearly not interested in the provenance of my bag. Hmph. Men, I think, opening my menu.

"I like who's carrying it, though," he says.

"Thank you." I'm still a little annoyed with him.

"What would you like?"

I guess we're supposed to be all formal, now that we're at a fancy restaurant.

"Haven't decided."

"Waiter?" he says. "Can we have two martinis please? With olives instead of a twist." He leans toward me. "They have the best martinis here."

"I'd like a Singapore Sling."

"Carrie," he says. "You can't have a Singapore Sling."

"Why not?"

"Because it's a martini place. And a Singapore Sling is juvenile." He glances at me over the top of the menu. "And speaking of juvenile, what's wrong with you tonight?"

"Nothing."

"Good. Then try to act normal."

I open my menu and frown.

"The lamb chops are excellent. And so is the French onion soup. It was my favorite thing to eat in France." He looks up and smiles. "Just trying to be helpful."

"Thanks," I say, with slight sarcasm. I immediately apologize. "Sorry." What is wrong with me? Why am I in such a bad mood? I'm never in a bad mood with Sebastian.

"So," he says, taking my hand. "How was your week?"

"Terrible," I say as the waiter arrives with our martinis.

"Cheers," he says. "To terrible weeks."

I take a sip of my drink and carefully put it down. "Honestly, Sebastian. This week was pretty bad."

"Because of me?"

"No. Not because of you. I mean, not directly. It's just that Donna LaDonna hates me--"

"Carrie," he says. "If you can't handle the controversy, you shouldn't see me."

"I can handle it--"

"Well then."

"Is there always controversy? When you're seeing someone?"

He leans back and gives me a smug look. "Usually."

Aha. Sebastian is a guy who loves drama. But I love drama too. So maybe we're perfect for each other. Must discuss this aspect with The Mouse, I think, making a mental note.

"So are the French onion soup and lamb chops good for you?" he asks as he gives our order to the waiter.

"Perfect," I say, smiling at him over the rim of my martini.

And there's the problem: I don't want French onion soup. I've had onions and cheese my whole life. I wanted to try something exotic and sophisticated, like escargot. And now it's too late. Why do I always do what Sebastian wants?

As I lift my glass, a woman with coiffed red hair, a red dress, and bare legs knocks into me, spilling half of my drink. "I'm sorry, sweetheart," she says, slurring her words. She steps back, taking in what appears to be a romantic scene between me and Sebastian. "Young love," she twitters, staggering away as I mop up the mess with my napkin.

"What was that about?"

"Some middle-aged drunk." Sebastian shrugs.

"She can't help being middle-aged, you know."

"Yeah. But there's nothing worse than a woman over a certain age who's had too much to drink."

"Where do you pick up these rules?"

"Come on, Carrie. Everyone knows that women are lousy drunks."

"And men are better?"

"Why are we having this discussion?"

"I guess you think women are lousy drivers and scientists, too."

"There are exceptions. Your friend, The Mouse."

Excuse me?

Our onion soup arrives, the top bubbling with melted cheese. "Be careful," he says. "It's hot."

I sigh, blowing on a spoonful of gooey cheese. "I still want to go to France someday."

"I'll take you there," he says, just like that, cool as can be. "Maybe we could go this summer."

He leans forward, suddenly aroused by the thought. "We'll start in Paris. Then we'll take the train to Bordeaux. That's wine country. Then we'll swing down to the South of France. Cannes, Saint-Tropez..."

I picture the Eiffel Tower. A stucco villa on a hill. Speedboats. Bikinis. Sebastian's eyes, serious, soulful, staring into mine. "I love you, Carrie," he whispers in my fantasy. "Will you marry me?"

I was still hoping to go to New York this summer, but if Sebastian wants to take me to France, I'm there.

"Hello?"

"Huh?" I look up and see a blond woman wearing a headband and a gummy smile.

"I had to ask. Where did you get that bag?"

"Do you mind?" Sebastian says pointedly, to the blonde. He plucks the bag off the table and puts it on the floor.

The woman walks away as Sebastian orders another round of drinks. But the mood is broken, and when our lamb chops come, we eat in silence.

"Hey," I say. "We're like an old married couple."

"How so?" he asks in a flat voice.

"You know. Eating dinner and not talking. That's my worst fear. It makes me sad every time I see one of those couples at a restaurant, barely looking at each other. I mean, why bother going out, right? If you have nothing to say, why not stay home?"

"Maybe the food's better at a restaurant."

"That's funny." I put down my fork, carefully wipe my mouth, and look around the room. "Sebastian, what's wrong?"

"What's wrong with you?"

"Nothing."

"Well then," he says.

"Something is wrong."

"I'm eating, okay? Can't I eat my lamb chops without you nagging me the whole time?"

I shrink with embarrassment. I'm two inches tall. I widen my eyes and force myself not to blink. I refuse to cry. But wow, that hurt. "Sure," I say casually.

Are we having a fight? How on earth did this happen?

I pick at my lamb for a bit; then I put down my knife and fork. "I give up."

"You don't like the lamb."

"No. I love the lamb. But you're mad at me about something."

"I'm not mad."

"You sure seem mad to me."

Now he puts down his utensils. "Why do girls always do that? They always ask 'What's wrong?' Maybe nothing's wrong. Maybe a guy is just trying to eat."

"You're right," I say quietly, standing up.

For a second, he looks anxious. "Where are you going?"

"Ladies' room."

I use the toilet, wash my hands, and peer closely at my face in the mirror. Why am I being like this? Maybe there is something wrong with me.

And suddenly, I realize I'm scared.

If something happened and I lost Sebastian, I'd die. If he changed his mind and went back to Donna LaDonna, I'd double die.

On top of that, tomorrow night I have that date with George. I wanted to get out of it but my father wouldn't let me. "It would be rude," he said.

"But I don't like him," I replied, as sulky as a child.

"He's a very nice guy, and there's no reason to be unkind."

"It would be unkind to lead him on."

"Carrie," my father said, and sighed. "I want you to be careful with Sebastian."

"What's wrong with Sebastian?"

"You're spending a lot of time with him. And a father has instincts about these things. About other men."

Then I was angry at my father too. But I didn't have the guts to cancel on George, either.

What if Sebastian finds out about the date with George and breaks up with me?

I'll kill my father. I really will.

Why don't I have any control over my life?

I'm about to reach for my bag, when I remember I don't have it. It's under the table where Sebastian hid it. I take a deep breath. I order myself to buck up, put on a smiley face, get back out there, and act like everything is fine.

When I return, our plates have been cleared. "So," I begin with false cheeriness.

"Do you want dessert?" Sebastian asks.

"Do you?"

"I asked you first. Can you please make a decision?"

"Sure. Let's have dessert." Why is this so excruciating? Chinese fingernail torture sounds more appealing.

"Two cheesecakes," he says to the waitress, ordering for me again.

"Sebastian--"

"Yes?" He looks like thunder.

"Are you still angry?"

"Look, Carrie. I spend all this time planning a date and taking you out to a really nice restaurant and all you do is pick on me."

"Huh?" I say, caught off guard.

"I feel like I can't do anything right."

For a second, I sit frozen in horror. What am I doing?

He's right, of course. I'm the one who's being a jerk, and for what? Am I so scared of losing him that I'm trying to push him away before he can break up with me?

He said he wanted to take me to France, for Christ's sake. What more do I want?

"Sebastian?" I ask in a tiny voice.

"Yes?"

"I'm sorry."

"It's okay." He pats my hand. "Everyone makes mistakes."

I nod, sinking further into my chair, but Sebastian's mood is suddenly restored. He pulls my chair around next to his, and, in full view of the entire restaurant, kisses me.

"I've been wanting to do this all night," he whispers.

"Me too," I murmur. Or at least, I thought I did. But after a few seconds, I break away. I'm still a bit angry and confused. But I take another sip of my martini and push the angry feelings down, right to the bottom of my soles, where hopefully, they won't cause any more trouble.
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