Exclusive Excerpt from To Be Honest
by S.M. James
Tyler’s got tickets to some steamboat thing next morning and Link flat out refuses to go because of his sea sickness. I feel bad for the relief that washes over me at getting away from Anah, but this road trip is making it very clear that even the closest of friends can’t handle so much time in each other’s pockets.
The Steamboat Natchez has a huge paddle wheel at the back that cuts through the murky water of the Mississippi. There’s jazz music playing inside and we make our way to the upper deck to stand out at the balcony. It’s such a perfect day, I can barely believe our luck.
This time Tyler’s wearing a baseball hat, keeping his hair under control, and I kind of miss the red wig.
“What are you smirking about?” he asks, as he licks his lips. I don’t even think he realizes he’s done it.
“Your hair is safe,” I say, tweaking the brim of his hat.
“Yeah.” He grimaces. “I actually had to brush it last time. Not an experience I ever want to relive.”
“So, how are you enjoying your road trip?”
Hmm … now that’s an interesting question. I cross my arms over the handrail and pretend to be interested in the people on the lower deck as I think. “It’s been an experience.”
“And now for a real answer?” He arches an eyebrow at me and there’s a knowing kind of spark in his eye.
“Okay. I’ve both loved and hated it.”
Of course he has. Tyler is basically my straight soul mate. It’s unbelievable how we just get each other. I nod. “I hate the lack of privacy, but love how much I’ve experienced, and how it’s making me look differently at myself.”
“That’s really good, Angus.”
I smile. “What about you?”
“I’ve also hated the lack of privacy. But loved spending so much time with you.”
My stomach swoops as my head snaps toward him, and I’m sure the smile I’m wearing is all kinds of ridiculous. “Yeah. I meant that too.”
“Sure you did.” He sniggers, nudging his elbow into mine.
“No, seriously. Link’s a pain in the ass, Anah is getting on my nerves, but you’re basically perfect.” And I shut up there before I start going overboard and really embarrass myself.
He props his chin on his palm and kind of looks at me out of the corner of his eye. I keep waiting for him to say something that never comes.
Shit—have I just given myself away?
Tyler’s uncharacteristically quiet all through the trip and even as we’re leaving the boat, he’s still randomly giving me those weird side-eye looks.
My stomach squirms at the thought I’ve made him uncomfortable.
I want to say something to take it back, to make everything better, but my brain is so blank it might as well be switched off.
We head for the lunch place where we’re meeting Anah and Link, and it’s like a switch has flipped. Tyler goes from pensive to excitable and if I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought he’d taken something. I push the weird olive pasta around my plate with my fork, as Tyler, Link, and Anah flow from one conversation to the next so quickly I can’t keep up. It’s like the last week never happened.
Anah explodes into fits of giggles, slapping her hand over her mouth. Tyler looks pretty proud of himself as Link claps him on the shoulder. The touch is so quick and casual, I can’t help wonder what it would be like to be able to touch Tyler without my heart going haywire. He’s wearing his glasses again, and where he would normally catch my eye during a lull in conversation, he seems to be making a concentrated effort not to look at me.
I push my plate into the middle of the table, appetite well and truly gone.
“So I’m assuming we’re going to the parade tonight,” Anah says, looking to me for confirmation.
“That’s where I’ll be. You guys can do whatever you want.” It definitely comes out with more attitude than I mean.
After lunch, we head back to the hotel to get ready. Even through the thick glass of our hotel room window, I can make out the sounds from the street below. There already seems to be hundreds of people out there, and this burst of determination tears through me, spurred on by my deep-seated insecurities over Scotty.
I spend longer than usual getting ready. Anah does my hair in that stylish, messy way she did in New York, and as I watch her line her eyes with a dark black pencil, this idea comes to me.
“Guys wear that too, right?” I ask, hesitantly. The last thing I want is for her to think I’m being all girly, but the few guys I’ve seen wear eyeliner looked ridiculously hot. And I really want to hook up with someone tonight.
A slow, cheeky smile unfurls across her face. “Angus, my darling, I thought you’d never ask.”
She follows my instructions to make sure it’s subtle, but somehow I end up with glitter powder all under my eyes and over my cheekbones.
I stare at myself in the mirror, nose scrunched up, as I seriously deliberate whether or not to wash it off. It’s a bit much, super obvious against my dark skin, but I can’t stop looking at myself.
Tyler joins us, and his eyes are trained to the mirror as he messes with his hair.
I wait for him to notice, but either he’s seriously concerned about getting his hair right, or he’s doing that thing where he’s not looking at me again.
I clear my throat. “How does it look?”
Tyler glances at my reflection, and legitimately does a double take. He turns to face me properly and doesn’t say anything for a second. “Wow.”
“Is it too much?”
He jerks his head to the side a little, like he’s shooing a fly, and he doesn’t seem to know what to say. His eyes are all wide, and his lips are parted just barely, in a way that really makes me want to kiss him.
“Come here, T,” Anah says, stepping between us and breaking the moment. She attacks him with the eyeliner too, and once his normally unruly hair is parted low on the side and big on top, he’s not adorkable anymore.
Just looking at him makes my blood burn.