Laila knew she could handle anything but she wasn’t looking forward to dealing with catty chicks and their drama. Her last school had been so small compared to Harper’s. There were only 35 other girls in her class, not enough to distinguish between the popular kids and the picked on. But it was clearly different here in Massachusetts, where the money was as old as the prejudices.
Her parents were well off and more concerned about how far from home she was than Harper’s steep tuition. But their money was nothing compared to the wealth of the other Harper’s parents. She had been shocked at who appeared when she Googled Harper’s Alumni after she had been accepted.
“Laila, would you like to dance?” Sterling asked.
She frowned and glanced at the dance floor. The majority of students danced close, arms and legs tangled, hips grinding against hips, breasts pressed to chests. She didn’t know how to dance like that and was embarrassed at the thought of even trying.
“I’m not a very good dancer, Sterling. I’ve never even been to--”
“Wait!” he cut her off, an excited grin on his face. “Don’t tell me this is your first dance.”
“It’s not. I’ve been to dances before--very chaperoned, very sober dances.”
He laughed and she had to smile. His brother had the dimples but Sterling’s smile was in a league of its own.
“Come on, then. I’ll ease you into it.”
Reluctantly, Laila stood up and Sterling took her hand. He led her to the dance floor and chuckled as she looked around uncomfortably.
“Just look at me,” he leaned in and whispered into her ear. He put his hands on her hips and pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her back. She leaned into his arms and raised her head to look at him.
He danced well and she felt awkward in his arms. She knew they looked ridiculous but he didn’t seem to mind. She tried to relax and enjoy the moment. He pulled her closer and Laila felt goosebumps ripple up her arms. Her breathing felt shallow and a warm blush spread over her face. Sterling handled her boldly but delicately in a way that both calmed and excited her nerves and prevented her from pulling away. She tilted her head back so she could look at Sterling. Faint stubble dotted his chin above his lip, though the hair was so light she could barely see it. He had a straight, rather legal looking nose, set perfectly between his fascinating eyes. She looked away quickly when their eyes met. Taking direction from one of the other girls on the dance floor, she rested her face against Sterling’s chest. He smelled nice.
She inhaled deeply and closed her eyes, wishing it was a slow song, or wishing she had paid attention to Gabrielle’s instructions. Her sister was on track to become a professional dancer but her many attempts to teach Laila had failed miserably. Laila just didn’t have the coordination,
She felt her dance partner push her hair to the side and she felt his warm breath on her shoulder. His hands lightly touched her arm and her lower back, clenching the material of her dress softly in its fingers. His lips on her neck didn’t startle her as much as they scared her. Laila felt terrified because instead of wanting to scold him for his bold move, she actually wanted his lips on her skin. She tilted her head to the side, allowing him to continue. She knew this shouldn’t be happening but she was too wrapped up in the moment to consider how she should be acting in front of her new classmates, to consider the impression she was making.
Her heart pounded. Sterling hadn’t stopped with just a single kiss on her neck. He had pulled her closer still, his mouth moving along her jaw, dangerously close to her lips. Laila had to make a choice. She could allow this boy to kiss her, this boy she hardly knew, this boy whom she would have to see in classes for the rest of the year, who would most likely tell his twin brother and all of their friends about how he had kissed the new, crazy girl from California the first night of school--or she could run away.
She took a deep breath and made her decision. She reached for the back of Sterling’s neck and closed her eyes as their lips met. It was as if a thousand pounds of tension had been released and Laila relaxed, if only for a second, believing she had made the right decision.
And then came the realization of what she was doing on her first day at a new school. This wasn’t how she behaved. How could she let her guard down so quickly?
“I’m so sorry,” she blurted out, their faces still close together as panic overwhelmed her body. “I never act like this. I don’t know what came over me.”
She spoke quickly and started to back away from his embrace. But he held her tight, not ready to let her leave.
“I don’t either,” he smiled at her reassuringly. “We were caught up in the moment. No harm done.”
“I should go,” she said, putting a hand on his chest and pushing him away.
“Laila, you don’t need to leave. I don’t want you to go,” he said in a hushed voice.
Her face reddened and she looked away, checking to see if anyone had seen them. But all the couples on the dance floor seemed to be caught up in their own erotic foreplay, some way more indecent than what she and Sterling had just done. She saw one boy’s hand roaming under the shirt of his dance partner. Laila felt her throat tightening and tried to calm her breathing. She would look foolish using her inhaler now. Another couple kissed passionately beside them. The music played slowly, lazily, adding to the charged atmosphere of the party.
“I’m just not the type of girl who does these things. I should go,” she repeated, taking a few steps away from him, her mind winning the battle over her body.
He caught her hand before she could get away. “I can tell you aren’t that type of girl. And that is what I like about you.” Her cheeks reddened more and she knew she had to leave. Now. This was all too much, too fast. “I’ll see you later, Sterling.”
“At least let me walk you back to your room.”
But Laila shook her head and smiled at him. “Goodnight.”
She dropped his hand and pushed through the dancing crowd, skipping up the stairs and disappearing from view.
The full, revised version of A Harper's Education is available online from Amazon, B&N, and other major booksellers.