Twisted love by ANA HUANG ,chapter 10,AVA

OPERATION EMOTION: PHASE DISGUST “You already brought me welcome-to-the-neighborhood cookies.” Alex stared at the basket on the dining table. “These aren’t welcome cookies.” I pushed the basket toward him. “These are an experiment. I tried a new recipe and wanted to see what you think.” He made an impatient noise. “I don’t have time for this. I have a conference call in half an hour.” “It won’t take you half an hour to eat one cookie.” Yes, I had finagled an invitation inside Alex’s house again, this time for the second phase of OE. Neither Alex nor I mentioned his, er, morning wood situation a few days earlier. I didn’t know about him, but I’d prefer if we forgot about that morning altogether. “Fine.” He peered at the confections with suspicion. “What flavor?” Asparagus, raisins, and garlic brittle. I’d picked the most disgusting ingredient mixture I could think of because this was, after all, Phase Disgust. Part of me felt bad because he’d been pretty nice the night we watched those movies and he’d canceled his date for me; the other part was still a little annoyed by how he’d treated Owen, who was afraid to talk to me now because he feared Alex would pop up out of nowhere and kill him. I cleared my throat. “It’s a, um, surprise.” I tucked my hands beneath my thighs and jittered my foot as Alex brought a cookie to his mouth. I almost dove for him and knocked it out of his hand, but I was curious how he would react. Would he spit it out? Gag? Throw the cookie at me and kick me out of the house?
He chewed slowly, his face not betraying any emotion whatsoever. “Well? What do you think?” I injected fake pep in my voice. “Good?” “You baked these.” Not a question. “Yep.” “You baked the red velvet cookies, and you baked…these.” My bottom lip disappeared behind my teeth. “Uh-huh.” I couldn’t look him in the eye. Not only was I terrible at lying, I was terrible at keeping a straight face. “They’re fine.” My head snapped up. “What?” The cookies weren’t fine; they were gross. I’d tried one myself and almost threw up. Asparagus and garlic brittle did not mix. Alex finished chewing, swallowed, and dusted the crumbs from his hands. “They’re fine,” he repeated. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a call to take.” He left me in the dining room, mouth agape. I picked up a cookie from the basket and nibbled on it, just in case— Blech! I gagged and ran into the kitchen to spit out the abomination, then rinsed my mouth with water from the sink to erase the lingering aftertaste. Alex must have messed-up taste buds, because no normal person would’ve been able to swallow those cookies without at least grimacing. I came to the only conclusion that made sense. “He’s definitely a robot.” PHASE DISGUST STATUS: FAILED
OPERATION EMOTION: PHASE HAPPINESS What makes men happy? The question had plagued me in the lead-up to the third phase of OE. Most of the things that would make men happy didn’t apply to Alex or my situation. Money? He had plenty of it. Job satisfaction? Nothing I could do about it. Spending time with friends? Josh was Alex’s only friend that I knew of, and I was pretty sure Alex did not enjoy most people’s company.
Sex? Um, I wasn’t having sex with him for an experiment. Or any other reason, even if I was the teeniest bit curious about what it would be like. Love? Lol, okay. Alex Volkov in love. Sure. Jules suggested a blowjob, which fell under sex and which I vetoed. It took days of brainstorming, but I came up with something that might work. Perhaps it wouldn’t make Alex soul-happy, but it’ll help him relax and laugh a little. Maybe. “I dislike sitting on the ground.” He stared at the grass like it was a mud pit. “It’s uncomfortable and unsanitary.” “It’s not. How is it unsanitary?” I laid a blanket out and anchored it with the picnic basket so it wouldn’t blow away. I’d convinced him to go for a picnic at Meridian Hill Park. When I brought it up, he’d acted like I’d suddenly sprouted two heads, but he’d agreed. Now, if only he would stop acting like such a grouch, we could enjoy the last days of summer. “The grass is probably soaked with dog urine,” he said. I winced at the mental image. “That’s what the blanket is for. Sit.” Alex heaved an aggrieved sigh and sat, looking unhappy about it the entire time. Undeterred, I unpacked the picnic basket, which contained summer pasta (my favorite), lobster rolls (Alex’s favorite, according to Josh), assorted fruit, cheese and crackers, strawberry lemonade, and of course, my red velvet cookies, which Alex seemed to like. “This is so much better than being cooped up inside.” I stretched my arms over my head, luxuriating in the sunshine. “Fresh air, good food. Don’t you feel happier already?” “No. There are children screaming everywhere, and a fly just landed in your salad.” Damn flies. I quickly shooed it away. “Why are we here, Ava?” Alex’s brow pinched. “I’m trying to help you relax, but you’re making it damn hard.” I threw my hands in the air, pretty exasperated myself. “You know that magical thing you did during movie night called a laugh? You did it once, you can do it again. Come on,” I encouraged while he stared at me like I was crazy. “You must have some warm, fuzzy feelings left inside of you somewhere.” And that was the moment a dog from a nearby party wandered over and
OPERATION EMOTION: PHASE FEAR We were stuck. Between my friends and I, none of us could think of a single thing that would inspire fear in Alex—at least, none that weren’t illegal or fucked up. Jules, who was more comfortable with “fucked up” than the rest of us, joked about pretending to rob him at knifepoint—at least, I hoped she was joking—until Stella pointed out Alex would likely turn the situation around and kill me before he figured out it was a prank. I agreed. I was too young to die, so we scrapped any ideas that would involve a physical confrontation. In the absence of any lightbulb moments, I turned to my last resort, Josh. We video-chatted every week, catching each other up on our lives, and right now, he was telling me about his new “friend with benefits.” Seriously. Trust Josh to find women even in the middle of a tiny Central American village doing medical volunteer work. “How is that possible?” I demanded. “There’s less than a hundred people in that village!” I knew because I’d Googled it after Josh announced his placement. “What can I say? I’m charmed,” he drawled. “Wherever I go, women follow.” “I think she was there before you, dickhead, and I hope you’re not neglecting your work to make out with your new ‘friend’.” “Da fuck? Tell me you’re kidding.” I waved my hand in the air. “I am, I am. Don’t get your knickers in a twist.” As much of a horndog as my brother was, he took his work seriously. Whereas I had to bust my ass for my A’s, he was one of those annoying people who didn’t have to study much to excel in school. But he loved medical work and helping people. Even when we were young, he was the one
who’d bandaged me up after I scraped my knee and looked up ways to help me with my nightmares while our father threw himself into work. It was why I let Josh get away with his overprotectiveness. He could be annoying as hell, but he was still the best brother. I’d never tell him that though. If his head inflated any more, he’d have trouble walking. “By the way.” I tried to sound casual as I fiddled with the sleeve of my shirt. “Halloween is coming up, and I was thinking of pulling some pranks. Is there anything Alex is scared of? Clowns, spiders, heights…” Suspicion crawled into Josh’s face. “Halloween is more than two months away.” “Yeah, but it sneaks up on you, and I want to prepare.” “Hmm.” Josh tapped his fingers on his thigh. “Hmm…” “Any time before I’m eighty would be great.” “Shut up. You know how hard it is to think of something Alex is scared of? I’ve known him for eight years, and I’ve never once seen him afraid.” My face fell. Well, shit. “You could try the usual stuff people hate, but I doubt you’d get anywhere.” Josh shrugged. “One time we ran into a bear while hiking and the fucker didn’t even blink. Just stood there looking bored and annoyed until the bear wandered off. Jump scares don’t work either. Trust me—I’ve tried many times to prank him in the past and failed every time.” “Good to know.” Perhaps this phase was a lost cause. If Josh, who knew Alex better than anyone, couldn’t scare him, none of us could. The suspicion returned to Josh’s eyes. “Is this your idea, or a certain redhead’s?” “Ummm…mine?” “Bullshit.” Josh scowled. “Don’t tell me she’s still infatuated with Alex. He’s a lost cause when it comes to relationships—won’t ever get into one, and he only fucks certain women.” I was dying to ask who these “certain women” were, but I couldn’t without sounding like I was interested in Alex. Which I wasn’t. “I don’t think Jules was ever infatuated with him,” I said. “She just thinks he’s hot.” “Whatever.” Josh raked a hand through his hair. “Hey, I have an early morning tomorrow, so I’m gonna crash. Let me know if you succeed in
pranking him and take a video of it for me. I could use the laugh.” “Sure.” Concern replaced my earlier discomfort at hearing about Alex’s “certain women.” I could tell Josh was worn out despite his jokes and wiseass comments. There were dark circles beneath his eyes, and lines of tension bracketed his mouth. He’d begged off early our last few calls, and usually, he could stay up all night talking about the dumbest stuff. Once, he’d waxed poetic about his new sneakers until three in the morning. “Get some rest. If I have to fly down to Central America to kick your ass, I’ll be pissed.” “Ha.” Josh snorted. “You wish you could kick my ass.” “Night, Joshy.” “Don’t call me that,” he grumbled. “Night.” After I hung up, I took out my notebook and scratched out phase three. PHASE FEAR STATUS: ON HOLD (INDEFINITELY)

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