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Beautiful Boy

By:Leddy Harper

Prologue


December 2000



A massive iron gate blocked his driveway from the road, and I stood in  front of it, completely awestruck as I waited for it to open. I knew  Nolan Richards had money, but this went beyond any amount I could have  ever imagined. It seemed too much … too flashy. And I made a promise to  myself right then and there-if I ever possessed as much money as the  Richards, I would never flaunt it the way they did.

The thought was so ridiculous it made me laugh. No way would I ever have  as much money as the Richards. Nolan's father, Douglas Richards, was a  US Senator, and if you believed the rumors, he aspired to put his name  in the hat for the next presidential race. The man had more money than  God. More power, too.

The gate slowly opened and I walked through, waving to my mom as she  drove away. I silently questioned myself again as to why I had agreed to  come here. It wasn't like Nolan and I were friends. Quite the opposite,  actually. I wouldn't have been surprised if he didn't even know my  name. But when Mr. Connolly paired us together for a project in our  photography class, Nolan suggested I come to his house. Taking in the  intimidating monstrosity before me, it was now a decision I regretted.

I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans and moved forward. My heart  thundered in my chest, beating erratically against my ribcage. In  minutes, I'd be up close and personal with the hottest guy in school, in  his house, alone.

The large, wooden front door opened, and there stood the heartthrob of  Jacobson High, Nolan Richards. My mouth went dry as I took him in. He  leaned against the doorframe, sans shirt and only a pair of jeans slung  low on his hips. His brown hair was mused and his eyes lingered on me.  The way his gaze appraised me left my body prickling with excitement and  fear.

"Ready to get started, Novah?" His deep voice echoed through the marbled  entryway outside the front door. It bounced off the stone around him  and enveloped me like a blanket, cocooning me in its warmth.

I walked closer to him, hoping my shaky legs weren't evident with every  step I took. "What do you have in mind?" I immediately regretted the  question, knowing it made me sound pathetic.

But it's exactly what I was-pathetic.

Invisible.

He smiled and the brilliance of it blinded me, clearing any useful  thought from my brain. "Well, we're supposed to find the beauty in  something. I figured we'd start in the back yard. My mom has lots of  plants and flowers. I'm sure there are butterflies or birds or some  other kind of shit back there we could make pretty on film."

I hiked my camera bag higher on my shoulder and followed him inside. My  breath caught in my throat as I glanced around. I had never seen  anything like it. Elaborate marble covered the floor, ornate mirrors and  pictures lined the walls, and expensive-looking furniture filled the  rooms. The crisp white couches and chairs seemed to have the sole  purpose of decoration, and I bet not one person had ever sat on any of  them. Chandeliers and fancy light fixtures hung above me, giving the  space a soft glow, despite the natural afternoon sun shining in through  the windows. The light hit the crystal chandeliers perfectly, making  them glitter across the room like thousands of exquisitely crafted  rainbows.

"Did you want anything to drink before we get started? I'm not sure what  all we have, but I know we do have Coke." His words interrupted my  gawking and I shook my head, too nervous to drink anything in front of  him.

Maybe I had judged Nolan wrong. Yes, he was popular, had the  cheerleaders hanging all over him, seemed cocky in his better-than-thou  swagger as he strutted up and down the halls at school, but right now,  in front of me, he seemed nice. Genuine. Not at all like the asshole I  had pegged him to be.

"Okay, well, my camera is already on the patio waiting. I'm ready when you are," he said, leading me to the back door.

I placed my bag on a table outside and pulled out my own camera. It was  nothing fancy, but it did the trick. I had saved up money for an entire  year to buy it, and it was my most prized possession. However, it was  inferior to the professional SLR Nolan had casually draped around his  neck. I guess it hadn't been a bad thing that Mr. Connolly had chosen  him to be my partner. If one good thing came from this, at least it  would be a decent grade.

I have to admit, ever since making plans to go to his house, I had  thought I'd be the one doing all the work. I'd assumed he would sit back  and let me do everything. Most class projects usually worked out like  that for me, especially when paired with a self-entitled jock who only  needed a half-good grade to pass the class.

I had been wrong.

He took as many pictures as I did, sometimes even directing me when I'd  been lined up for a perfect shot. And when I'd throw out an idea, he  didn't argue.         

     



 

Definitely not what I had imagined.

He sat behind me on the grass, legs on either side of mine, and rested  his chin on my shoulder, whispering direction into my ear as I focused  my lens on a dragonfly landing on a fully opened red flower. Except, I  couldn't focus my attention for shit. His hands distracted my every  thought as he softly held on to my waist, flexing his fingertips into my  sides every so often. I was sure the pictures would come out blurry,  but I didn't care.

Nolan Richards's hands were on me.

I couldn't care about anything else at the moment.

"I never pegged you as a pictures kinda guy," I said to him as we packed  up our cameras and equipment. Butterflies battered my stomach at the  thought of saying goodbye to him.

The sun had started to descend as the warm colors stretched out across  the sky, indicating the end of our time together. The idea of having to  leave him filled me with unexpected anguish.

Nolan ran his fingers through his hair, pushing the dark locks away from  his forehead. His mouth twisted into a lopsided smile, which made my  breathing halt.

"What kinda guy did you peg me to be?"

I shrugged, hoping it came across as nonchalant. "I don't know. Jock.  Rich. Typical high school senior." I needed to shut up before I offended  him and embarrassed myself.

His grin faded, but then he reached out and touched my face. The soft  pad of his thumb skimmed slowly down my cheek to my jaw before pulling  away, leaving behind a burning trail in its wake. "Mr. Connolly wanted  us to capture something we believed to be beautiful, so why didn't we  take pictures of you?"

I knew I wasn't an ugly girl. I may not have been the prom queen or a  runway model, but I wasn't ugly. I had dark-blond hair, eyes a unique  shade of aqua, and a figure most girls would die for. But I had never  been about physical appearance. "Real beauty lay on the inside" had  always been my philosophy. And because of my beliefs, I did without  makeup or trendy clothes to enhance my appearance. I kept to myself at  school and only hung out with the few people I considered friends. I was  simply a quiet girl. Shy. So his words had caught me off guard. Stunned  me.

"Why? I don't understand," I asked breathlessly, fearing my nerves would betray me and leave my voice quaking if I spoke louder.

His smile returned as he shook his head. His hair flopped back to his  forehead when he looked to his feet. Was he shy, too? Maybe I'd  misjudged him. Maybe the attitude he portrayed at school and on the  field had been nothing but a front to mask his own insecurities.

"You're beautiful, Novah. Fucking sexiest girl I've ever seen." His gaze  shifted around the room, avoiding mine as he nervously scratched his  bare chest.

"I didn't think you even knew who I was."

Nolan snapped his attention back to me. His greenish-brown eyes pierced  mine and his dark brows furrowed. "I've noticed you since the first day  of school. I've never said anything because I was scared to talk to you.  You're always so quiet and you keep to yourself. But now you're here,  in my house, and I … "

I waited for him to continue, but he never did. He only stared at me  with wide eyes and a stiff expression, causing me to stand frozen in  place. It was as if I were under his spell, which made me unable to look  away. "You what, Nolan?" I was pleased with how my tone sounded  composed, instead of shaky like how I was on the inside.

"I want to take your picture." He moved one step closer. "Let me take  your picture, Novah. Please." His plea came off desperate, as if he  couldn't bear it if I said no. His imploring gaze held mine while he  waited for my answer, neither of us breathing.

A verbal response wouldn't form; I could only nod. In a rush, he pulled  out his camera and tripod. He set it up next to the table in the  kitchen, closed the blinds to the window behind me, and dimmed the  lights above. Everything happened so fast I thought I'd dreamt it all.  Then he gently pushed me onto the table until my back became flush with  the glass.

After he moved my arms and face to where he wanted them, he peered into  the viewfinder. He adjusted the focus on the lens, and then came back to  my side. "Look at me."

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