Curvy Girls Can’t Date Bad Boys by Kelsie Stelting

One

I preferred watchingRyde Alexander on the big screen as opposed to sitting across from him. But here we were at Halfway Café, drinking expensive lattes and eating smoked salmon bagels that were only half as good as the muffins at Seaton Bakery but cost five times as much. Good thing money was no object for him, because otherwise I might feel a little guilty for leaving my food mostly uneaten.

“So, Friday? Are you free?” He flipped his hair out of his sea-green eyes

With a slight shake of my head to clear my thoughts, I asked, “What?”

An annoyed look flicked across his face but was quickly gone. Ryde didn’t leave his acting for the set. Every second I spent with him, he was putting on one act or another. “I was telling you my friend’s movie is premiering Friday. Are you free?”

“Which friend?” There were a few premieres coming up that Dad was keeping his eyes on.

“Ambrose. I’ve only been talking about this movie for the last ten minutes.”

I knew—I’d checked out after minute one. I flashed him a guilty smile, doing a little acting of my own. “Sorry, babe. I’m a little distracted.”

Seeming a bit relieved, he reached across the table and took my hands. “If this arranged marriage is going to work, we have to get to know each other. We have to try.”

A heavy dose of unexpected guilt swept through me. I wasn’t the only one being pressured to marry someone not of my choosing. Ryde was just as implicated in this Indian tradition-turned-business arrangement as I was.

“I know.” I sighed. “Tell me, how’s filming going?”

His eyes lit up. He loved talking about himself—especially his work. “We’re doing a stunt today. Sixteen-story jump into the crash pad.”

My eyes widened. “Sixteen stories?” Just the thought of being that high made my stomach turn, not to mention jumping off.

“Of course my double’s doing it, but it should be fun to watch. Something good for my Insta account, anyway. Speaking of...”

He lifted his phone from where it lay face-up on the table and snapped a selfie of the two of us. I barely had a second to flash a smile before he pulled it back and frowned. “Can you lift your chin a little more?”

My eyebrows drew together. “Lift my chin?”

“Yeah, your neck kind of disappeared in that one.” He showed me the photo on the screen, then demonstrated stretching his neck out.

“You know,” I said, “I’d rather not. That picture is just fine.”

His lips formed a thin line for a moment, then he flashed his movie-star smile at the phone. “I’ll just do one by myself then. My fans deserve better than ‘fine.’”

I sipped from my latte—if only to keep my mouth busy with something other than a scathing retort—as his thumbs flew over the screen. The selfie he edited and posted would easily garner hundreds of thousands of likes. None of which mattered to me. I hardly got on social media, as to not affect Bhatta Productions’ carefully curated brand.

Across from me, Ryde rose to standing and shoved his phone into his pocket. With an openly frustrated look, he said, “You know, I thought when I got into a relationship, it would be with a girl who actually liked me.” He dropped a hundred-dollar bill on the table. “See you Friday. I’ll pick you up at six. Be red carpet ready.”

I lifted my eyebrows to show him I heard and rested my chin on my hand. What a great start to the week—getting up an hour early so I could make a breakfast appearance with my arranged boyfriend.

Dad required us to have at least one date in public each week—which he said was doing wonders for his movie set to premiere this summer. For my self-esteem? Not so much.

I’d always liked my body, the curves, the shapes, the colors, but Ryde picked apart everything without saying anything I could repeat as rude. I was tired of it, and with my high school graduation, and therefore my wedding date, getting nearer, time was running out. I needed to find a way out of this arranged marriage with Ryde before it was too late.

I glanced up and caught sight of a strong, tattooed arm with a leather jacket draped over it. Most people who came into Halfway Café didn’t have tattoos like that. No, just Chinese symbols they didn’t really understand or Roman numerals and the like. The tattoo sleeve covering this arm was like nothing I’d seen before.

I followed the muscular arm up to the face, and my mouth fell open. I’d seen him once before. He’d delivered food for movie night at my friend’s house. The delivery boy with the motorcycle and the intense gaze.

I followed said gaze past the counter. The barista gave him a disgusted look and turned away to whisper with her coworker. My gut gave a visceral reaction to the slight. What right did they have to judge him?

I stood and took the receipt and money to the counter. I could have easily left the bill on the table, but I wanted a chance to see the barista’s overly done face.

Keeping my eyes straight ahead—and off of the delivery boy—I set the receipt and money on the counter a little harder than I needed to.

The barista who had been so rude to him set down a canister of beans and smiled pleasantly at me. “Let me get you checked out.”

Each courteous word and action she extended my way just irked me more. So she could only be polite to people with money?

She took the receipt and rang up our meals. “Would you like the change?”

All seventy dollars of it? “No.” Her eyes lit up for a moment until I said, “Pay off the next few tickets with it.” No way was I giving her a tip and rewarding her profiling.

With a disappointed look, she began tapping on the screen. I watched, making sure she didn’t just pocket it for herself. When all the money had gone in the cash drawer, I lowered my voice so the tattooed guy couldn’t hear and said, “And next time, why don’t you save your judgement for yourself.”

“Excuse me?” she said.

I turned my gaze toward him, then back to her, then walked outside.

Brisk spring air greeted me, and I already felt better away from the rich stuffiness of the shop. I breathed in the breeze before continuing to my car.

“You know,” a voice said from behind me, “I can fight my own battles.”

I jumped, not having heard the shop door open. Turning to the sound of the voice revealed an amused expression on the guy from the café. He wore all black, and his dark hair fell over his forehead. Each muscle on his wiry arms rippled as he shrugged on his leather jacket and folded his arms across his chest. His brown eyes had a glint in them that confused and intrigued me all at the same time.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, finding my voice.

His full, pink lips curled into a smile. “I’ll see you around, Zara.”

How he knew or remembered my name, I had no idea. All I knew as I watched him race away on his motorcycle was that I wanted to hear him say it again.