Read The Holiday Hoax Online

Authors: Skylar M. Cates

The Holiday Hoax

Dedication

To my dad, Stan.

Gone, but not forgotten.

Acknowledgments

 

 

Many thanks and much love to Trisha, Cate, and Madison for their encouragement.

I’m very grateful to have such a wonderful publisher too. Thank you to Dreamspinner for all your fabulous assistance.

 

Chapter One

 

 

L
OVE
. W
HY
was it always outside my grasp? See, I understood how hookups worked, but I didn’t understand how to make somebody stay.

Right now I was considering laryngitis. It was shooting my mouth off, after all, that had gotten me into this mess. But not speaking at all would be torture for me. I simply had to talk.

I must’ve been up half the night, pacing back and forth in my room, trying to figure out where everything went wrong. Always a useless exercise. My first semester at college was supposed to be epic. By this time I should have landed the lead in the theater production
and
landed the awesomely hot, artistic boyfriend who wanted to keep me in his bed, while still making tons of friends and getting good enough grades to keep my parents off my back. Yeah, that was the plan. But the semester was almost over, and instead of being the start of everything, it was a bunch of crap. I couldn’t wait to get out of here. Forget the encore. Cue the credits. I wanted to be gone already.

I dragged myself all the way back from my classes, going nowhere, feeling numb.

Why couldn’t everybody in my dorm stop asking me “what happened with you and Tyler?” and let me alone? I wasn’t certain I could survive too many more idiotic questions. Thank goodness the holiday break was almost here and the other students were starting to focus on the last week of exams. Most in the dorm were sick too, blowing their noses and coughing over their books, downing Red Bull and cough syrup, or some other dumbass combination, and ignoring the Tyler fiasco. It was partly my fault for confronting him in the cafeteria. I’d yelled myself hoarse, stupid tears gathering in my eyes, begging him to tell me what went wrong, while Tyler sat there stiffly, not saying a word back. Wasn’t that like Tyler too? Worse, though, had been the look of pity in his eyes as he stared at me. I’d been so stupid. Life should come with signs like an amusement park ride, warning you of all the possible side effects.

Tyler never had been serious about me. I’d gotten it all wrong and should have known that he was out of my league. My mother still sent me care packages at the dorm, even though my house was less than an hour away, while Tyler, who’d been in and out of various boarding schools his entire life, seemed totally self-sufficient. He had this poise that I never would have, no matter how old I got. When I’d met Tyler in Acting 101, I’d only had to look at him to feel this giant
yes!
of hope. I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans, and shook Tyler’s hand. As I gazed into his blue eyes, for me, that had been it.

I loved to flirt at parties, but before Tyler I’d never been successful at picking up other guys. “It’s ’cause you talk too much when you’re nervous,” Tyler scolded me. “Loosen up, Evan. Relax. You don’t need to prove how charming you are. You’re always on.”

I did have a tendency to babble, but how could I relax when I’d spent my time watching Tyler? His hair was perfectly tousled that night, his mouth smirking, skin pale as if he were about to audition for a
Twilight
movie, while I’d been nervously chatting away. I’d have given up that very night and settled for simply being Tyler’s friend, if it hadn’t ended with a kiss. We’d both been slightly drunk and stumbled into the dorm at nearly four in the morning.

Tyler halted the elevator, and he put his hands on either side of my face. “You’re cute.”

“You’re drunk.”

“Fasten your seat belt,” Tyler said and leaned in. He paused right at my lips and stared into my eyes. I swallowed hard, hoping I looked okay to Tyler.

We’d latched onto each other. Our mouths open, tongues too eager, teeth clacking, the kiss a bit sloppy. When it ended, Tyler’s expression was one of surprise. He rubbed a hand over his face. “Man, I
am
drunk.”

When the door to the elevator opened, we’d gone to his room. Tyler had lucked out at the school lottery and gotten a single. My roommate was decent, but I didn’t need him to walk in on anything.

I’d been nervous once we entered Tyler’s dorm room and regretted not wearing the good cologne I had gotten for my last birthday. I hoped Tyler wouldn’t notice I was wearing the Fruit of the Loom underwear my mom had sent. Then we began making out again, and I couldn’t focus anymore.

By the next morning, everybody seemed to know we were a couple. Everybody, that is, but Tyler.

“Selfish ass,” I said now, remembering it all. Tyler had been hot and cold with me for a month afterward. We’d be kissing one minute between rehearsals for
Othello
, and then Tyler would ignore me the next. How I hated waiting for Tyler to decide; it was a going-crazy kind of waiting. Unlike me, Tyler never wanted to talk. Not even when I asked him for some honesty. He only dismissed it as “no big deal.” I’d linger after classes to be near him, hovering uncertainly, smiling extra big, and careful not to bring up anything too serious when we hung out, trying all the time to hold on to him. Tyler made me desperate, and I hated that the loser side of me was so desperate.

We went on to do a second play together, an original one written by an up-and-coming graduate student, who was also our director. Tyler was cast as the lead; I, the villain. Hope caught in my throat every time Tyler looked my way, but I reminded myself of what a good actor Tyler was. If only I hadn’t made a fool of myself in the cafeteria. Nobody else would have assumed that we were having a huge lover’s quarrel. But I’d confronted him because it was hard for me to leave things alone. I should have done anything else—shoplifted some crap from the Family Dollar, smoked a few thousand cigarettes, gone to a raging fraternity kegger—but I wasn’t that bright. No, I had to go and make a scene in the middle of the hot-food line.

“I don’t understand,” I had begged. “Are you mad at me?”

“What’s to understand?” Tyler countered. “I know you’re a drama major, but don’t be so melodramatic. I was horny. You were horny. Let’s just be friends, all right? I’m a better friend than hookup. Trust me on that.” Tyler lowered his eyes.

Yet it had happened a few other times, and I wished it hadn’t. It was embarrassing now. But we’d fooled around some more. Tyler would tease me, kiss me. I’d become hopeful all over again. It was like a bad shampoo cycle: rinse, dry, repeat. There would be some groping. Then—nothing. Tyler would disconnect. Look bored. I knew the best option was to keep silent about it, but a few more scenes in the hallway between us fed the continued gossip. I wanted to shake him. I wanted to stop feeling anything. No, if I’m being honest, what I truly wanted was for him to feel something back.

After Thanksgiving, rumors began to spread that Tyler and the grad student director were fucking around, and everybody wanted the dirt. They wanted me to tell them if it was true or not, and why Tyler and I were over—which was ironic, since we’d never actually gotten started.

“Almost” boyfriends are the worst. Trust me on that.

Still, I remained dignified. I refused to flounce out of the room when the two of them entered. And I refused to quit the play. Theater is my dream, and screw Tyler for crapping on the one place I’d always been welcomed. I’m slight and fair, and I’d been an easy target all my life—except when I was onstage. For that reason, I held it together at rehearsal. But when rehearsals were over, I went back to my dorm room, climbed into my unmade bed, and curled up into a tight, miserable ball. It was hard to be lonely, especially after you’d liked somebody.

Hamilton, the graduate student and director of our play, was from England. He had that cool accent. He wore these tweed jackets and a loosened tie as he stood in front of the wide-eyed freshman drama class, talking about craft and commitment. How could I compete? I couldn’t. Luckily, it was almost vacation time. A week more and I could go home and lick my wounds. Tyler had been using me as some type of stand-in. All along, according to rumors, Tyler had been hot for Hamilton. I should have known it when Hamilton started to smell like the sandalwood and overly strong patchouli incense that Tyler liked to burn in his room at night. During our last conversation, Tyler had admitted it.

“I’m with Hamilton.”

“Hamilton?” I made a face. “Are you that stupid? Do you think you’re the first he’s messed with? Or the last?”

“Shut up.”

We hadn’t spoken since.

Just when I wasn’t expecting it, life had snuck up on me and kicked me hard. I felt a little shaky and needed some food. I’d stayed on campus until the last day of exams to do an extra-credit project for a science class I’d struggled with all semester. Most people had already left, the cafeteria closed, and I wanted more than a vending machine bag of stale chips. I used to love this time of year, Hanukkah and Christmas both, but the thought of trying to celebrate now was hollow. I’d have to arrive home alone, without Tyler, and look like a fool.

Because—and this was the worst part—I’d bragged to my family that I’d finally gotten a boyfriend. I had been out and proud since I was fifteen, but there had never been anybody to bring home before, and I knew when my parents compared me to Ann and Courtney, my sisters, they worried.

I had asked Tyler about coming home with me for the holidays. Tyler’s own parents were in Thailand, traveling, and he’d said yes. But that was before Hamilton came to light, before my meltdown in the cafeteria, before our friendship got tossed.

I’d forgotten about inviting Tyler for the holidays until my mom left me a cheery message on my voice mail yesterday about looking forward to “finally meeting the one-and-only Tyler!”
Oh, God
. I was so screwed. Why had I told them? Why?

And the more pertinent question: why had I assumed Tyler was my boyfriend in the first place?
Stupid, stupid, stupid.

When I’d spent a few mostly drunken nights in his room and we’d fooled around, I’d created this whole fantasy in my mind that Tyler was mine. That I’d finally found somebody.

But I was delusional.

“So are you and Tyler over?” my roommate Zach had asked as he’d packed for his home.

Zach was an all-right guy. He was a physics major who had questionable hygiene, always wearing the same two raggedy
Breaking Bad
T-shirts and his standard baseball cap and leaving his wet towels on the floor. But his politics were liberal, which he’d made clear to me by stating breezily that he had a “gay uncle somewhere in California,” and he’d waited for me to respond as if all gay people had a secret map linking them together across the states.

Still I didn’t want to test Zach’s open-mindedness and had never taken Tyler to our room.

“You heard?”

“Everybody’s heard. He’s screwing some professor, right?” His voice was nasal. Zach had the “dorm plague” that week and had left his snotty balls of tissue all over our room.

“He’s a graduate student, and it’s no big thing,” I answered, while inside I wanted to scream.

“Sorry, man.”

Zach clapped me on the back, which would have been nice and everything, if only he hadn’t just wiped his nose on his fingers first.

I eyed his suitcase as he finished packing, wondering if Zach’s mom would appreciate all the dingy underwear. His tighty-whities were now gray. I wasn’t one of those college students who’d arrived unable to do their own laundry. My mom had made certain of that much. In Zach’s case, however, I wasn’t sure if his unclean clothes were due to ignorance or laziness, so I left it alone. Maybe after break I’d buy him some bleach.

But even with Zach gone, I was suffocating in my tiny dorm room, imagining all the questions I’d get as Tyler went around campus with Hamilton after we returned.

That settled it. Fuck Tyler. I’d just have to be invisible for a while. Lie low. By the time I came back from my break, hopefully somebody else would be in the dorm’s meat grinder of gossip. I would be stoic and above it all by then. Qué será, será. Things change, no matter what you want. Let some other poor sap get his heart turned into hamburger. I was going to put my energies into other things.

I grabbed my jacket and my gloves and tied a scarf around my neck. For New Jersey it was cold this year, the wind biting. Where was global warming when you needed it? But I had to have some air. I almost left the dorm without my wallet but remembered to take it at the last minute. The dorm was eerily silent, not filled with the usual raucous voices. I must have been the last one there. I knew they’d lock the doors at midnight. The college didn’t allow anybody to stay on campus through the holidays. I wondered if Tyler was at his grandfather’s or if he was spending the time with Hamilton.

God, even his name sounded pretentious. Hamilton would probably give Tyler fancy wine and truffles before he took him into his bedroom for a blowjob.