17. beasts and bitches

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Even after Ian flops on his back again, paddling away from me, I don't go inside

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Even after Ian flops on his back again, paddling away from me, I don't go inside. I want to, but it feels squirmily like running away, and Kavya Joshi runs from no one. Especially not smart-alecky boys who know nothing, Jon Snow.

"Why did you come?" he asks, sounding genuinely confused.

"You told me to."

"I asked you to." He folds his arms under his neck, scoffing. "You make it sound like I double dared you or something."

Isn't that exactly what he did? I frown, worrying my lower lip with my teeth.

"Wait." He's treading water now, fixing me with a look that's borderline mad. "Did you only agree to come because you thought it was a challenge?"

"Nooooo."

"So yes."

My open palms slap the water. There's a splash, but it only gets me. He flinches; I wasn't aiming for him.

"Aren't you taking this too far, maybe?" he asks, tentative in the way his lips part, his wet, clumpy eyelashes strangely unblinking. He moves closer, but different from the way he moved before. This time it's a slow progression, like he's trying not to scare me off. He holds his hands up like Whoa, whoa, don't freak out.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"The reading program, Quidditch, student council presidency..." He ticks each one off on his fingers. "Isn't that enough?"

"Not following," I bite out.

His eyebrows knit together.

"Ian, you're going to have to break this down for me. Are you accusing me of something?" My blood runs hot under my skin, itching and clawing. "Being too competitive? Being a bitch?"

"Hey." He flashes his palms at me again. "I would never call you a bitch."

"I read between the lines," I snark back at him, but there's no witty repartee, no cutting comeback.

He just stares.

"Well, come on, then." My voice grows loud. "You brought it up, may as well finish what you started."

Ian looks like he wants to say something, but then he just sighs. Once, twice.

"Didn't take you for a quitter, Min-joon."

At this, he starts. That's more like it. I suck my lower lip into my mouth, glaring.

"You turn everything into a fight," he says. "You treat me like—"

"I treat you like what?" I ask, voice deceptively soft, because I can't remember being madder. Of all people, I thought Ian was the one who got me. That he was the same.

"Like I'm some kind of beast. Like an enemy."

I see now that he's like everybody else. I'm too loud for him, too aggressive, too unashamed in going after what I want.

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