Chapter Forty

The most embarrassing thing for a teenage girl to experience: her mom leaning against  their car calling her name and how she’d better hurry if she wanted enough time to get beautiful for the dance… double that and you get an idea what Jenny and I had to deal with when we walked out of the school. At least our moms weren’t wearing matching outfits, but the cringe-worthy moment was witnessed by at least ten other students who began offering suggestions on how to beautify ourselves.


“Really?” I asked my mom when we reached her car. “You couldn’t have been a normal person and stayed in the car?” Jenny was complaining to her mom about their behavior.


“We did nothing wrong, did we Izzie?”


Jenny’s mom let out a sigh. “I didn’t think so.” They shared a “teenagers these days” look before me and Jenny got in the backseat and they took the front.


My mom waited until we were buckled before pulling out of the parking lot. “We’ll do nails first. Make sure they’re dry before its time to get dressed.”


“And it’s near that cute coffee chop,” Izzie added. “You’re probably hungry so we can grab some sandwiches for you girls since you might mess up your makeup if you wait to eat.”


“I thought Tasha was joining us?”


“She is,” my mom told me. “But she’ll meet us at the nail place. She had an errand to run after school. A friend’s sick so she was going to pick up some medicine and drop it off.”


Jenny started talking about nail colors with her mom while mine gave her opinion. I listened to them. I decided when the appointments were made, I’d let the professionals and Jenny pick what colors and hair style to go with. I figured they knew more than me, and I trusted Jenny. That’s how I ended up with deep purple nail polish. My ring fingernails were painted with sparkly silver and topped with a small purple flower. According to my mother it gave it some pizzazz.


“This is all the sparkles I’m allowing on me, got it?” I made a point of looking at Jenny when I said this. Her nails were what she called rose-gold and so glittery I feared going blind if the sun were ever to hit them. 


Jenny admired her nails. “You don’t know what you’re missing. Glitter rules.”


“I don’t know,” Tasha looked at her hands, “I’m a simple French Manicure gal myself.”


“Why couldn’t I have gotten that?”


“Because sis,” Tasha grinned, “this is your first dance with a date. Sparkles are a must.”


That does not bode well for me, I thought as we headed out the nail shop for our next stop: hair and make-up. Jenny’s mom found the place through a cousin’s recommendation. She knew one of the stylists so the cousin handled the appointments and got us the family discount. The moment we entered the sleek looking beauty shop, a tall brunette with candy-pink streaks through her white-blond hair greeted us with a huge smile. Her name tag read ‘Penny’.


“Ah are these my two caterpillars?” she asked, taking one of Jenny’s and my hands. “You two will be a snap to turn into butterflies.” Our moms beamed. Jenny and I shared wide-eyed glances.


“I know my sister has been looking forward to this make-over.” I stuck my tongue out at Tasha.


“Liyah.” My mom admonished.


“What?”


“Right,” Penny said. “I had my best ready to turn you into the stunning creatures you are. Francois,” she pointed to a guy with one side of his brown hair shaved. He jerked his head in a nod from where he stood by one of the black chairs. “And me. He’s the hair genius, and I’m the make-up queen. I figured we’d take one of you and switch. How’s that sound?”


I hesitated. “Good?”


“Perfect! Can I get my make-up done first?” Jenny asked. “It will give me some time to think about what I want my hair to look like.” 


I shrugged. “Fine with me.” I planned on asking the experts to decide anyways.


Francois draped a black cover over my shoulders while our moms and Tasha sat and thumbed through hairstyle magazines. He asked me what the bodice of my dress was like, what color. I showed him the picture I had on my phone which led to my mom rushing over because I just had to see this hair-do she thought would be great for me.


I held my phone to my chest. “I know what you’re doing.”


She blinked. “What do you mean? I thought Francois might like this for your hair.” She angled the magazine to show us a side ponytail with a fishtail-braid.


“Because my hair is so long and thick, that would totally be possible?” I snorted, eyeing the woman’s hair that went to her hips. The braid was so thick it looked like the width of my hand. “Come on. You were trying to sneak a peek at the dress.”


Francois looked between us. “You hid the dress from your mom?”


“I’m evil like that.” I said with a chuckle. To my mom, “Now back to your seat.”


After going through some options, I finally told him my hair was in his hands. “Ah, I love the trust.” He began brushing out my hair. “You know, you should come back again and let me add some auburn and gold steaks to your hair. It would make your eyes pop.”


I raised a hand. “Slow down there, let’s get this hair-do done today, then we can talk about coloring it.”


“Will you let me cut your hair today, give it some shape and flow?”


“Cutting I can handle,” I said then settled in.


He gave me some layers, feathering in the front before he began to twist, loop, and pin my hair, gently pulling strands out to frame my face. The loose strands were curled, then came the hairspray.


“Have to make sure everything stays where its supposed to be,” he said with a wink when he saw me cover my nose and mouth.


“Anymore and it’ll stay up like that forever,” I joked. “How many bobby-pins do you think you used?”


Francois patted my shoulder. “You don’t want to know. You’re all ready to go to Penny.”


Ah, yes. I looked behind me where Jenny was showing her make-up off to our moms and Tasha.


Make-up time.

Chapter Thirty-Nine

When Jenny told me to meet her at her locker before school started, I didn’t expect to come across her and Shane exchanging germs. I cleared my throat but apparently they were too absorbed in each other to hear me. A pinch to Shane’s side startled him enough to break their embrace. He gave a dirty look.


Smiling, I told them, “Sorry to interrupt but I had strict orders to report for duty at this locker by Miss Bossy-Pants.”


Shane snorted. “Ready for your date?”


“Maybe if you gave me a hint.”


“Nope. Lips are super-glued.”


I turned to Jenny. No such luck. “Don’t even think about it.”


“You both suck.” Noting a pink smear of lipstick on Shane’s bottom lip I gave an evil grin and pointed to it. “Pink isn’t really a good color for you. You might want to try red next time.” He gave me a light shove.


Jenny couldn’t hide her grin. “Sorry.” Grabbing a tissue from her pocket, she cupped his chin. “Let me.”


“I should buy you some of that watermelon flavored stuff. At least it’s not colored.”


“Barf,” I said.


Finished cleaning the pink from his face, she gave him a peck on the lips. “Don’t like watermelon. Find me some that’s cherry, and you got a deal.”


“How can you not like watermelon?” I asked momentarily distracted from the dance. “Who doesn’t like watermelon? It’s like sugar and water.”


“Real watermelon I like, the fake lip-gloss taste is gross.”


“If you’re going to start a debate on the way make-up tastes, I’m out.” Shane pulled Jenny in for a hug, nuzzled her neck to make her giggle. “See you later.”


After watching him walk away with a dreamy look on her face, Jenny opened her locker to dig through the pile of books. “You didn’t cram your dress in a bag, did you?”


“No. My mom’s meeting up with yours, so she’s bringing everything with her.”


“Phew. De-wrinkling would have been a nightmare. You have gym last, right?” I nodded in confirmation. “I’ll meet you in the locker room.” 


Books in hand, Jenny followed me to my locker where I put my bag away. The girl whose locker was to my left was crying to her friends about having to go to the dance solo. One offered to hook her up with a cousin that was in town.


“Okay. Serious now,” Jenny said. “How are you feeling about the blind date.”


I shrugged, slammed my locker closed. The girls beside us gave me a dirty look. “Okay, if I don’t let myself think too much about all the horrible things that could go wrong.”


“Nothing is going to go badly.”


“Jenny, you just jinxed us. We’re doomed.”


“Ha. Like you believe in that. You’re going to be knock-out stunning and your date will think he’s the luckiest guy at the formal.”


If only that were true. When the crying girl began plotting a way to get the anonymous writer to be her date (asking him out through a letter), and her friends worried about him turning out to be a nerd, it was time for us to go.


“Can you believe them?” Jenny asked as soon as we were out of earshot. “Who he is shouldn’t matter. He likes someone else. What, she thinks he’ll say yes when this entire time he’s been trying to find a way to make things right with the girl he hurt?” She was getting really worked up about.


“I don’t think it matters. The dance is tonight. Even if she got the letter to Kathy, I don’t see her rushing off to find the writer.”


“Still don’t know who he is?” Jenny blinked at me, eyes wide.


“No. Kathy is keeping quiet. Don’t think anyone will know until he wants them to.”


The bell rang. Students began to head to their lockers or classrooms as me and Jenny did our best to keep out of the way of people hurrying by. A girl in braids tripped on someone’s bag. Her books went flying. The owner of the bag bent to help her, an apology on his lips.


Jenny nudged me. “How cute are they?” The boy pushed his glasses up his nose, asking if she was all right. Did she hurt herself. “Five bucks says they end up going to the dance together.”


The girl blushed when his hands touched hers as he held out her book. Yeah, I wasn’t making that bet. 


My first two classes passed with an excited hum as students couldn’t stop talking about the formal, much to the teachers’ annoyance. I tried to focus on taking notes but I think I was one of the only ones who did. The guy beside me in French class definitely didn’t. He gave me a panicked look when the teacher announced an exam next Tuesday.


“My life for your notes,” he said dramatically when class ended.


“I don’t think it needs to come to that.” We weren’t friends but he wasn’t a bad guy. “Give me your email address, I’ll scan and send them to you tomorrow.”


He ripped a paper from a book, making me wince when I saw it was a page from a novel. “You are a goddess.” Scribbling his email down, he told me I was saving him from a life-time grounding. He was in my debt.


I rolled my eyes but took the paper. “I’ll call in the favor if I miss a class and need your notes.”


Jenny found the story hilarious when I met up with her at recess. She said I should insist on being called goddess from now on. 


Mike showed up part-way through the story with Shane. “Well, if you don’t like your date tonight, maybe you can talk the dude into dancing with you.”


“Why wouldn’t she like her date?” Jenny narrowed her eyes at Mike.


“No reason. Just letting her know she’s now got a back-up.”


“She won’t need one,” said Shane.


“She might.”


I looked between them. “Am I missing something here?”


“No,” they said in unison. Suspicion had my stomach churning.


“You guys aren’t exactly making me want to go on this blind date anymore.”


                                                                                           ***


It was during English class I realized I hadn’t seen Joshua all day. Whatever happened between him and Trenton had him back with Shane and Mike, but he’d been a no-show so far. I shouldn’t have cared about him not being in school. We weren’t friends. He didn’t like me, and I was still conflicted about my feelings towards him. Yet, I spent the rest of the day searching crowds trying to spot him.


“He had a doctor’s appointment,” Jenny tapped a pencil on my desk to get my attention. “Left school after second period.”


“What are you talking about. Who left school?”


“Joshua. The guy who’s had you staring at the door every few minutes.”


“I wasn’t looking for him.” Liar, liar.


Jenny’s expression was smug. “Suuuure. I mean, he’s the only person missing in class, but he’s not who you’re waiting to walk through the door. Of course not.”


“Shut up.” Jenny just laughed.


I had to run by my locker after English class to grab my gym clothes and the blow-dryer my mom pushed on me. I swung the locker door open, then stared. Sitting on a stack of textbooks and binders was a rose with a tiny white envelope propped up against it. I blinked. Closed my locker, stared at the number on the front. 145. Okay. That’s my locker.


I opened the locker again. Stared at the rose.


Only three people knew my locker combination and not one of them would have left a flower in it. I checked to see if anyone was watching then, hand shaking, picked up the envelope. Inside was a card with vines climbing opposite corners.



Liyah,

Looking forward to our date tonight. I hope you are too.



It wasn’t signed. The writing was in block letters so it was impossible to figure out who penned it. My knees went wobbly. My blind date. It had to be. But how did they get the rose in my locker? My brother. Or Shane. Both had the combination.


Unable to stop myself, I picked the flower up to sniff it. No one had ever given me flowers before.


“What’s that?” Jimmy appeared at my side. “Oh, fancy. Who’s it from?”


“My date. I think?” I carefully returned it to my locker, took out my bag.


“Ah yes, your mystery man. Still no clue who it is?”


“Not a one.” The chime of the bell made me curse. “Crap. I’m late for gym.”


“Better get running,” he said. “Hey.” I paused, glanced at him. “Don’t forget to save me a dance tonight.”


“If you don’t mind me breaking your toes when I step on them. Can’t wait to meet your date.”


“Same.”


With a wave, I ran for the back stairs hoping the shortcut would help me sneak into the locker room without the teacher noticing. All gym class I couldn’t stop thinking about the rose, the note, and who my date might be.

Chapter Thirty-Eight

“Can you believe the formal is two days away?” Jenny asked as we entered my house after school on Wednesday. My brother, James, dropped us off before leaving for a date.


The house was silent. A note on the kitchen counter from my mom said she and my dad wouldn’t be home until later. My sister had a study group.


I held out a can of Sprite to Jenny. “Yes I can believe it.” I drawled. She made sure I wouldn’t forget about the dance.


With an apologetic smile, she asked if I had anything diet. I found one of Tasha’s diet Pepsis. “Thanks. Sorry I keep talking about it. It’s just, this is my first dance here. And I’ve got the hottest date!”


Shane’s ego must be giant from Jenny’s admiration. The two were inseparable since they started dating. Fortunately, neither were the type to ignore their friends so we hung out together a lot. “Happy?”


“You have no idea.” We sat on the couch in the den and put on a disc of Friends for background noise. Jenny took a sip from the can. “I was scared, when we first moved. It’s hard being the new kid, and I’m not as easy going as my brother is. Meeting you made all the difference.”


“Aw shucks,” I joked.


“No, I’m serious. You were nice to me right away. Became my friend. And because of you I met Shane.” Her eyes went dreamy. “I’ve never known a guy like him. He’s so sweet.”


“He’s a goofball,” I corrected her.


“Maybe,” she said. “But an adorable one. And mine.”


“Yes, you two make a sickly-sweet duo.” That comment earned me a throw pillow to the face. Bubbles rushed up my nose as I laughed, causing my eyes to water.


“Butthead.”


“Only a fellow butthead would befriend a butthead.”


When Mike returned with Shane from their “man-time” at Jenny’s house with Joshua—  my guess included video games, junk food and a burping contest, but who knows with them— we decided to make breakfast for supper. Well, they decided and I made the crepes and scrambled eggs. Jenny helped by shredding cheese and mincing green onions, so when we finished, I told the guys they were on clean-up duty. After whining for a few seconds, they surrendered.


“Ah,” Jenny said, stretching out on the couch. “This is the life. My man cleaning while I relax.”


“Training him for husband material already?”


“Never too early to start.” We laughed.


Shane poked his head into the room. “What’s so funny?”


“Your face,” I told him.


“Nah, that’s awesome.” Jenny grinned at him. “Before I forget, I’m supposed to ask what color your dresses are.”


I sat up from my slouch. “What for?”


“Can’t tell you that.”


“Why not?”


Jenny gave me a kick in the shin. “Flowers silly.” Her eyes sparkled as she beamed at Shane. “Our guys want to get us corsages.”


Shane cleared his throat. “Never said that.” Pause. “So, colors?”


“Don’t tell—”


“—Mine’s a pale pink.” Jenny cut me off. “Think of a plum for Liyah’s. A dark purple its almost black.”


“Pink and purple. Got it.” Back to the kitchen he went with Jenny watching after him.


“See,” she turned to me, “he’s a sweetie.”


I threw a pillow at her head.


                                                                                       ***


Sometimes I think the teachers get together to plan ways to torture their students. Thursday brought two pop quizzes and a ten-page history assignment. Just to make sure we didn’t forget how important homework was with the upcoming dance. Maybe the teachers were frustrated trying to talk over students discussing their dance plans in the middle of class. Either way, I was not feeling great after my French and Math quizzes, and knowing I had another track and field practice after school was the only thing keeping me from giving in to the temptation to skip my last class.


I fell asleep dreading and feeling hesitantly excited for Friday. What if my blind date was horrible? Worse, what if he didn’t know who his date was, and then when he saw me left, disgusted? That thought followed me into my dreams and had me tossing and turning most of the night.


                                                                                         ***


The day of the Formal.


Red-eyed and puffy from a night of little sleep, I shuffled my way to the bathroom where the ever-helpful Mike informed me I looked like crap. Cold water didn’t do much to hide the evidence of my poor sleeping, but the stick of concealer my sister left on the bathroom counter sure made a difference. The shade might have been a tone too dark, but it was better than nothing. And I was desperate.


My mom was in a chipper mood. The moment I stepped foot into the kitchen she handed me a plate of toast, and then gave me the rundown of her day. She was going to work half a day, collect my dress and anything else I wanted for the dance and drive it to Jenny’s. Apparently, her mom and mine had plans. That news made my stomach flip.


“We’ll pick you girls up from school and head straight to your appointments. Did you shower this morning?”


“No.”


“Liyah!”


“I have gym last period. Figured it made more sense to shower then.”


My mom gave a huff. “Fine. Just don’t forget. Bring my blow-dryer so your hair’s not soaking wet.”


“Sure.” That won’t look weird in my school bag. “Anything else?”


“Yes. Before you leave, have everything you need ready on your bed for me to grab.”


“Sure.” Before I left to do as she asked, I stared at her. “Don’t look in the garment bag.”


“Why, I—”


“—you promised, no peeking.”


My mom shook her head. “Yes. I know. No looking at the dress until you’re wearing it.” She rolled her eyes, and the sight of it made me laugh. “I don’t know what I did to deserve such a daughter. Now go, scoot. You don’t want to be late for school.”


Mike elbowed me in the side while we walked to the bus stop. “Excited for your blind date?”


“Shh. I’m ignoring that until school’s over.”


He laughed. “Mature.”


“Do you know who Shane picked?”


“Why? Having second thoughts.” 


“No…” something flashed across his face. I grabbed his arm. “You know, don’t you?”


“Well duh. You’re my sister. Of course I know, I had to check him out and make sure he’s not a jerk.”


“Is he?”


“There’d be no date if he was.”


“Do I know him? Is he in any of my classes? Is he on the track team? Does he know I’m his date?”


“Whoa,” Mike held out his hands. “Slow down there. I can’t answer those.”


“Why not?”


“Because that defeats the purpose of the blind date.”


I scowled at him. “Seriously?”


He shrugged. “I promised Shane.”


“Meanie.”


“Fine. I can tell you this… your date knows it’s you. In fact he might have asked to be your date.”


“He did?” Baffled, I tried to think of Mike and Shane’s friends. Had any of them flirted with me before, hinted they might like me, like me? None came to mind but who knows if I would have noticed the flirting was happening. “Huh. And I’ll be happy?”


Mike didn’t say anything as we reached the stop. He looked at me. “I think so?”


“Think?”


That didn’t exactly sound comforting…

Chapter Thirty-Seven

During lunch, I declined Shane and Jenny’s invitation to sit with them in the cafeteria knowing that Joshua would be with them. Things were still weird between us and I didn’t want to deal with awkward pauses and side glances. Nor did I want Shane and Jenny trying to get the two of us to talk. I wasn’t ready. If I was being honest, I don’t know if I ever will be.


School ended with a lot of speculation concerning the person behind the newspaper article. I overheard a few girls making guesses, wondering if they person meant them, and giggling to each other as they worked on letters to pass to Kathy. Whoever the writer was, they had people talking and interested in the newspaper. I bet Kathy was thrilled by the response the article got. Her last year as the editor was going to be memorable.


Jenny decided to join me for practice after school since both her brother and I were going to be there. I had been dreading the moment since Jimmy reminded me. Frogs hopped around my stomach like they were trying out for the Olympics. After getting changed, I waved Jenny towards the bleachers lining the soccer field and crossed to where Annie was with some of the other team members. No sign of Joshua yet.


“Ready to see how this is going to work?” she asked me, nudging me with her hip and eying the guys who were staring at us. Trenton gave me the finger. Very mature of him, I rolled my eyes and turned away.


Andrea, a tenth grader with pink-streaked blond hair made a noise. “If they think we’ll crack under their glares, they’re idiots.” We laughed. When one of the guys broke free from their group to come to us, she propped a hand on her waist. “What?’


He shook his red hair from his eyes. “Nothing. Just wanted to say hi to the new team members.” At our suspicion, he added, “Name is Christopher, call me Chris. It’s my last year so I just want us to win, if that means we need new blood on the track team, that’s fine with me.”


“Even if we’re just girls?” Annie asked. 


He gave a once-over, then grinned. “Hey, my sis kicks my ass at basketball on a weekly basis. Plus, I was there at tryouts. You’re faster than half the people here.”


Annie flushed. Before she could say anything else, the gym teacher was calling everyone to the middle of the field. Jimmy ran towards us with a wave. I noticed Joshua had joined the group of guys but wasn’t paying attention to them. 


“All right,” the teacher said when we had grouped around him. “This year we’ll be working harder than ever. I expect every one of you to give me 110%, to show your teammates respect and work together to better yourselves. There will be no name calling, slacking off, or missing practices, or you’re off the team. Do I make myself clear?”


“Yes, sir,” we replied.


“Then let’s begin!” 


The first twenty minutes was spent warming up and stretching. The girls stuck together with Jimmy and Chris staying close. Perhaps it was to show us they had no problems with girls on the team or for their own reasons, but they were nice and encouraging. Trenton tried to piss me off by whispering insults when the teacher wasn’t in earshot. Unfortunately for him, Annie and Jimmy were louder with their gossip and ridiculous jokes. It didn’t escape my notice that Joshua wasn’t glued to Trenton’s side anymore. He kept to himself, mostly. What that meant, I had no idea.


Shane joined Jenny on the bleachers when the warm ups ended. I sent them a smile before I was called out for being distracted. Chastised, I put all my focus into the practice and made sure to show the teacher he didn’t make a mistake when he picked me for the team. The first half of practice he made us work on our strengths, then switched us over to improve our weak areas. 


By the time he blew his whistle calling it a day, sweat soaked my hair and clothes. I told Jenny I was going to hit the showers. She asked if I wanted them to wait, Shane invited her to his house for supper. Not wanting to be the third wheel (or is it fifth?) I made excuses about being too exhausted to function beyond getting myself home.


“By yourself?” Jimmy met up with me as I exited the school.


“Jenny’s gone to Shane’s.”


“Want a lift home?”


I thought about the long walk home. “That would be awesome, if you really don’t mind.”


“Course not.”


During the ride, Jimmy filled me in on his plans for formal. He was nervous about his date, and very excited, which I thought was adorable. Somehow the conversation turned to my shopping adventure with Jenny. He laughed at my description of our moms’ onslaught of texts and how Jenny tried to talk me into a purple dress with fringe at the bottom.


“Thanks again for the lift,” I said before getting out of the car. “My legs and feet are very grateful to you.”


“Not a problem. How about I drop you off after practices from now on.”


“Really?”


“Sure.”


“Okay you officially rock.”


He laughed. “Be sure to tell my date that at formal.”


“Done.”


I headed straight for the kitchen when I got in, stomach rumbling.


“We ordered pizza,” my mom told me. “One loaded and one veggie.” She pointed to the boxes on the counter. “Everyone’s grabbed theirs already so take what you want.”


“No fries?” I took a plate.


“In the oven to keep them warm.”


“Sweet.”


                                                                                            ***


Tuesday went by in a blink and before I knew it, it was Wednesday and Jenny was nonstop talking about the formal and how it was now days away. She wasn’t the only one obsessed. It seemed like no matter where I went someone was talking about the dance. Heck, even my mom brought it up during breakfast that morning as she tried to trick me into telling her what color my dress was. Those who were not formal-mind crazy, were trying to uncover the identity of the mystery writer. I bumped into Kathy during recess. She looked swamped.


“If I had known all it would take was an anonymous letter asking for help to get people into the school newspaper, I would have done it before. I haven’t seen so many letters to the editor in my life.”


“Any good advice given?”


“Ha!” Kathy rolled her eyes at the students walking passed us in the hallway. “It’s mostly girls wanting me to set them up with the writer, or asking me if he’s cute.” She scoffed, “It’s sad really. This guy wants to make up for being an ass, and the girls here just want to date him.”


“So you know who he is.”


“Of course I do,” and my pointed look she shook her head, “oh no. Don’t think about it. Not happening.”


“No even for me,” I batted my lashes at her, “your favorite writer?”


“Not even if the queen asked me.”


“Tough cookie.”


“Damn right. You’ll have to wait and see what happens, just like all the other giddy girls.” She patted me on the shoulder then walked off towards the newspaper room.


Damn. I hated that the open later was bugging me. Stupid. It wasn’t him, and if it was…


Well. I didn’t care either way.

Chapter Thirty-Six

True to my word, as soon as I got home, I dropped my bags on my bedroom floor and napped for two hours. It was marvelous. My dream, however, was not. Dressed in a gorgeous gown, my hair piled high with waterfall curls, I slowly descended a massive staircase. My date was dressed in a black suit, face blurred, as he waited for me at the bottom. Then the clock chimed. My dress was gone and in its place was a pair of grey sweat pants and sweater. My date took one look at me and my scraggly hair in a bun, laughed, and walked away.


I woke to my heart thumping in my chest and a cry of shock on my lips. Groggy and overly warm, I scrubbed my face with a moan. “Stupid Cinderella-like dream.”


It left me grumpy the rest of the day, which was made worse by Tasha trying to talk me into putting on a fashion show for her. When my mom walked into the conversation, she thought it was a great idea and backed my sister. Not that it worked for them. I did let them follow me to my room where they spent a good hour rifling through what I willingly bought, and what Jenny forced on me.


I refused to show them the dress for the formal though. They might have texted their comments on the ones I tried on but I wanted to keep the one I picked a secret until the day of. My sister pouted and demanded she be allowed to join in on the hair and nail appointments. I checked with Jenny and she had no problem with it. So it seemed like the day of the formal will be packed with females and appointments.


When they learned Shane had picked out my date and I didn’t know who, my mom decided to call Shane’s mom and poke around for any information. I wished her luck. I highly doubted Shane told his mother about his plans. My sister thought it was romantic and wanted me to send her updates throughout the dance. That had me rolling my eyes.


                                                                                        ***


Monday morning came with a phone call wake-up by Jenny.


“You’re going to wear the long navy skirt and the butterfly sleeved yellow shirt.”


Not fully awake yet, I stared at the phone to see who it was. “Huh?”


“You heard me. Navy skirt, yellow shirt,” Jenny said again.


I yawned. “Sure. Okay.”


“What’s your hair situation?”


“Braids after I showered last night.”


“Good. Take the braids out and leave your hair down. Just wear mascara. No eye shadow.”


James passed me in the living room. I snagged him by the back of his shirt. “Coffee. Please.” He shot me a thumbs up and continued on. It was too early to deal with Jenny’s fashion obsession.


“Did you get that?” she asked me.


“Yup. Mascara good. Shadow bad.”


“Cute. Do it anyways.”


She knew I would. It was that or have to face her disappointment at school. Her smile greeted me when we met up at the cafeteria before the first bell rang. I eyed her long maroon skirt and white top.


“Was there a memo about today being maxi-skirt day?”


Jenny swatted me on the arm.


There was no memo but an interesting article in the student newspaper that caught my eye, and the eyes of most of the students. Jenny had asked me to sign her copy for when I was rich and famous, when a title caught my eye: “What Should He Do? An Open Letter”.


I shushed Jenny and leaned against her locker to read. Jenny huffed but quickly lost herself in the article as well.



Dear Readers,


I’m not one to ask strangers for help (or talk about my problems to my friends) but I need your help.  I like a girl and I don’t know what to do about it. You’re probably shaking your head at me, thinking the answer is obvious. Tell her. Ask her out. I can’t. See, something happened. Something stupid. I believed in someone’s lies. I was mean to her, and now she thinks I hate her.


What happens when the person you thought was your friend, thinks the worst of you? What do you do when they spread rumors they heard and make your friends question your loyalty and the type of person you are? Could you ever forgive them?


Should you?


She’s angry with me, and I don’t blame her. I treated her badly because I realized I was starting to care about her… more than a friend. I got jealous. And stupid. It seemed easier to believe she wasn’t the person I thought than to take the chance she was everything I wanted.


I’m an idiot. Don’t worry, I know. Question is, what do I do now? How do I make things right between us again? How do I apologize for being blinded by what I now see were obvious lies? Should I even try? Is it selfish of me to try?


I don’t want her hate me because…


I think I might have been falling for her… might still be.


Do you understand why I’m reaching out to you all? I’m confused. Desperate. Can you help me?



The article ended with the writer asking for any advice or comments to be sent to the newspaper office or given to Kathy. It was signed anonymous. My thought unwillingly went to one person: Joshua.


That’s ridiculous. Just because the situation seemed very similar didn’t mean it was him.


But he was working on an assignment for the…


I turned to the page with the table of contents. If his name wasn’t listed that meant he wrote the article.


“Hey look, there’s my brother.” Jenny tapped the page. Two names down from mine was “The Do’s & Don’ts for First Dates”, sure enough by Joshua.


So he wasn’t the anonymous writer. My shoulders slumped.


Knew it wasn’t him anyways, I reassured myself.


“Are you going to reply?”


“What?” I looked up to find Jenny studying me.


“To that open letter. Are you going to give the poor shmuck some advice on what he should do?”


I snapped the newspaper closed and handed it back to her. “No.”


“But—”


“—there you are!” Jimmy said, sounding out of breath. “I’m supposed to remind you and the others on the team we have practice after school today. You’ve got class with Annie next right? Can you tell her?”


“Sure. And I remembered.”


“Good.” Turning to Jenny, he fidgeted. “Any chance you can pass that on to your brother?”


“Ya. He probably forgot. Hope he has gym clothes with him. Liyah, you should think about writing to the guy.” She waved the newspaper at me. “You’re great at giving advice.”


“What’s she talking about? What guy?” Jimmy asked when she left. “Advice about what?”


I sighed. “Nothing. Doesn’t matter. There’s nothing I could say that would help him anyways.”

Chapter Thirty-Five

We got dropped off at the mall with the promise to keep her mom updated on our progress. Since my mom had made me give the same one to her before I left, after a shared eyeroll, Jenny and I said we’d send texts.


The mall was noisy. Music played throughout, merging and fighting against the different songs filling individual stores. Moms and dads dragged unhappy children through the main walkways looking flustered. One mom held a screaming toddler who was making his wish for ice cream vocally known to anyone within range. Jenny winced as she passed the mom while I held in the silly urge to offer to buy the kid a cone.


“Ugh, Bethany and her friends are here,” Jenny nodded in the direction of an expensive dress shop. The group walked inside, Bethany leading the way and pointing to dressed mannequins declaring certain ones hers to try first.


“Makes me question my brother’s brain.” 


“At least we know where not to go.”


I laughed. “True. Not that I could afford a dress from there. $1000 for one dress is insane if you ask me. Plus, my mom said if the dress I found wasn’t too much, I could pick out a couple new outfits and a pair of shoes.” At Jenny’s pointed look, I added, “Fine. A pair of stupid high heels… maybe.”


“Definitely.”


“We’ll see.”


Jenny looped her arm with mine. “Yes, we will.”


To my horror, Jenny made us go into every single dress shop in the mall to scan their options. Scan, she told me, because we didn’t want to settle for a dress only to pass one better later on. I would have been happy grabbing the first nice one I saw, but that wasn’t to be.


“How are we going to remember which store had which dress?”


“Never fear with me here!” Whipping out her phone, she snapped a picture of a mauve off-the shoulder dress she’d been eyeing, then took another photo of the store’s name when we left. “See. I’m a genius. This way we can go through the pictures and narrow down our options instead of trying hundreds of dresses on.”


“Hundreds?”


“Probably not for you, but me?” Jenny paused outside a retro store. “That fifties style is too cute.” Click, went her phone. “Let’s see what else they have.”


And off we went. Some of the pictures she texted to her mom to her get opinion. It made me feel guilty, so I sent the four I liked to my mom as well. That turned out to be a dumb idea on my end as it resulted in a text attack from our moms and my sister too. Tasha was with my mom when she got the pictures and decided she wanted a voice in what dress would suit me best.


“What have we started?” I groaned, eyeing the text notifications popping up on my phone. Thank goodness I had my sound on vibrate. I held my phone out to Jenny. “Make it stop!”


“Tell them we’re taking a lunch break. That will give us some time to go through the dresses we like. Maybe if we promise to send photos of us in our top choices they’ll back off?” She didn’t sound sure of herself. It was worth a shot though.


“What are you hungry for?” I asked once my mom and sister said they couldn’t wait to see me in the dresses.


A group of three teenagers snickered as they walked passed Jenny. One tried a cheesy pick-up line on her about being from space. She sighed and ignored him. “Let’s head to the food court. Not sure what I want yet.”


We ended up splitting up as Jenny went for sushi and I ordered a taco bowl. Between the two of us, we had fifteen dresses, ten of those were Jenny’s. The noise level in the food court seemed triple what is was everywhere else, so we ended up switching phones to help each other get rid of some options.


“I really like this teal color,” Jenny said, angling the phone to show me the sleeveless, floor-length gown I had hesitated over taking a picture of.


“Not sure how I feel about all the glitter on the top part.” I glanced at her phone. “Although, mine’s no where near as shiny as this pink one. It looks like something Barbie would wear.”


Jenny laughed. “That dress was for your benefit.” She pointed at her food with chopsticks, “Want to try a veggie roll? I swear there’s no weird stuff in it.”


I forked a diced tomato. “I’ll stick with my taco bowl.” Swiping through her pictures, I paused on a pale green dress with a halter-style top. “This one’s nice.”


“You think? It’s not too Tinkerbell?”


“Not at all.”


She bit her lip in thought. “Hmm. Okay, I’ll keep it for now.”


By the time we finished eating, Jenny was down to half her dresses. I had three. We backtracked to the stores, fortunately it was only four. A saleswoman hovered around in the first one we went to, asking us if we needed help every few minutes. After the fourth time, followed by her comment about Jenny’s dress perhaps being the wrong color of her skin tone, we decided Jenny’s first two options were a bust and left. It was one thing to offer help, trying to force it on customers who weren’t interested was a big no-no. The saleswoman ruined Jenny’s excitement over the dresses. Not smart.


“I’ve made a decision.” Jenny told me as we headed to the next dress shop.


“Oh?”


“We’re getting ready for the formal together.”


“We are?”


“And we’re having our hair and make-up done by professionals. Nails too.”


A flutter of nerves filled my stomach with butterflies. “I don’t know about all that. Besides, my mom will probably want to see me in the dress. You know, or she won’t believe it actually happened.”


The smell of popcorn and melted chocolate made my mouth water. I glanced at the sweet stop, adding a mental reminder to return once shopping was over for a treat. I would definitely deserve one. My feet ached and I was wearing sneakers. People who liked shopping for hours were crazy. It was hour three and my bed was already calling me.


“So invite her,” Jenny said. “Our moms will love it. We can make it a mother-daughter bonding moment.”


“Seriously?”


“Yup.” Her attention went to her feet. “Besides, I kinda already made the appointments.”


“You what?”


“Sorry! My mom suggested it. You’re not mad, are you?”


I couldn’t help it. I started laughing. “No, I’m not mad. My mom will flip with happiness. She would have probably thought of talking me into getting my hair done anyways. This way, I’ll have someone with me when she starts crying about her little girl growing up.”


Jenny’s shoulders dropped in relief. “Good. Not the crying part, although my mom might too so they can cry together. Now that’s done,” she pointed across the walkway to the retro-style stop, “to the dresses.”


“I’m going to need a nap after this,” I said with a grumble. Jenny let out a chuckle and pulled me forward.

Chapter Thirty-Four

I was immersed in word problems for my math class when a knock on my bedroom door interrupted me. Thankfully. Homework was not going well, and any excuse to take a break was definitely wanted. Even, I thought watching the door open, if the distraction turned out to be Mike and Shane. I groaned. Now what?


Shane stretched out on my bed. I rolled my eyes, scooting over to make room. “What do you two want?”


“Jenny said to remind you about tomorrow. Dress shopping.” Shane shuddered.


“Seriously?”


“She doesn’t trust you not to forget.”


“Like she’d give me a chance to forget.” I closed my math book and piled the homework on my nightstand.


“You’re really going to the formal?” Disbelief coated my brother’s tone. He leaned against the doorframe, arms crossed. “You, at a dance?”


“I got caught in a weak moment.”


“And you told Shane to set you up.”


I lied back and threw an arm over my eyes. “Yes. I know. I’m trying not to think about it. At least, not until I have to.”


I heard the guys laugh and kicked Shane in the shin.


“Josh said he’s working on the newspaper. That’s got to be… fun.” Shane poked my shoulder. “Hello? You awake.”


“Like anyone could sleep with you yapping.”


“So?”


“So what,” I peered at him, “he’s on the newspaper team. What do you want me to say?”


There was a shuffle of movement before the end of the bed dipped as Mike sat down. “Maybe you should tell him the truth? He has a right to know.” I rolled onto my side to avoid looking at them.


Shane agreed with Mike. “This Trenton thing is getting ridiculous.”


“Trenton is ridiculous,” I grumbled.


“No argument there.”


“Can we tell Joshua.” That had me facing Shane. “It’s time.”


“You promised you wouldn’t.”


“This is stupid.” Mike gave me a look. “Stop being stupid.


I stuck my tongue at him. “You’re stupid.”


“Oh, that’s mature.”


“Thanks.” The conversation made me queasy. I got off the bed and went to the window. An old man was walking a puppy. I smiled. The puppy had his leash in his mouth as he trotted in front of the man. It looked like the old man was being taken on a walk instead.


“Josh seems to be getting annoyed with Trenton,” Mike went on. “If we told him Trenton was lying, he’ll believe it.”


“Or he won’t.”


“Ugh.” Both Mike and Shane groaned. I kept my back to them.


“Can we change the subject. Or I’ll get back to my homework. At this point, it’ll be less painful than this conversation.”


“Fine, but I still think—”


Shane cut Mike off, “—I picked your date.”


Oh man. The puppy and old man turned down the street and out of sight. Glancing over my shoulder, I asked, “Do I want to ask who?”


Shane zipped his lips. “Not telling. You’ll have to wait and see.”


“Can’t believe you’re letting him set you up. His friends are idiots.”


I raised a brow. “Those are your friends too, Mike.”


“Exactly.” We all laughed at that, then Mike turned his attention to Shane. “Who’s this guy you’re setting my sister up with.”


“Really?”


“What? You’re my sister. I’m not allowed to be worried about who Shane’s picked? Like I’m going to trust him.”


Offended, Shane smacked Mike on the arm. “What? I’ve got mad taste.” When Mike glared at him, Shane sighed. “Jenny helped.”


“Hmm…” My brother thought it over. “Better, but I still want to know who he is.” 


“I’ll tell you later,” Shane relented.


“Bored now. Out,” I pointed to the door. “Math beckons.” Okay, maybe it was more that talking about my blind date was making me anxious then my sudden desire to do my homework. Whatever worked to get them to stop talking about the formal and out of my room.


Ah, peace, I thought when Shane closed the door behind him after adding a second reminder about dress shopping. He didn’t seem to appreciate the shoe I threw at him. I plopped onto my bed and stared at the ceiling. Gross. The ceiling fan needed a good dusting. 


Eh, I’ll do it tomorrow.


                                                                                         ***


The kitchen was quiet when I stumbled into it the next morning. My eyes were barely open. Nerves made it hard to fall asleep and the sun came up way too soon. Weekends were supposed to be for sleeping in and lounging around in my pajamas until it was time to change into new ones.


“Well, good morning.” My dad said, working on a grocery list. “We don’t usually see you until 11.”


“Jenny.”


“Right. Your mom mentioned something about a dress and formal.” 


I missed the flash of amusement on his face as I headed for the coffee pot. All my focus went in to adding water, then filling a new filter with coffee grounds. I waited impatiently for it to percolate.


“If Jenny’s like your mom and sister, I advise you eat something. You’ll need the energy.”


He would know. My dad had been dragged on many shopping excursions throughout the years. I remembered once he returned home and said he needed a nap. He slept for two hours straight before my mom woke him up. If he said I should eat, I would.


Frozen pancakes were dropped into the toaster. By the time the coffee was ready, I had sliced bananas and strawberries, the pancakes were dripping with syrup, and the kitchen became invaded by the rest of the family. 


I swatted James’ hand when he tried to steal a piece of strawberry from my plate. “Mine.”


He patted my head. “Someone’s grumpy.”


“Shopping today.” I gulped half the coffee. “For a dress.”


Tasha squealed. “Oh, how exciting. Damn, I wish I knew you were going to today, I wouldn’t have made plans with Tina. Should I cancel and come with you?”


A picture of me forced into a magenta dress with ruffles, lace, and crinoline flashed in my brain. “Nope. I’m good. Thanks. Jenny’s going with me.”


“Oh. Well, okay. If you’re sure. Dad, did you add hair spray to the list?”


“No, but I will. Liyah, did you need a lift to Jenny’s?” He raised his voice to be heard over my brothers fighting for the last three pancakes. When they didn’t stop, he crumpled a piece of paper and hit James on the side of the face. “There’s another box behind the chicken.”


“No thanks. Her mom’s getting me.”


“All right. Call if you need a lift home. Need money?”


Both my brothers paused and said in unison, “I do.”


“Not asking you, I’m asking Liyah.”


“Mom said I could use her credit card.” In fact, she did a humiliating happy dance when she heard about me going dress shopping and offered me her card.


“No crazy purchases.”


Up to me, I’d buy the first dress I could find. After I promised not to max out my mom’s card, I put my dishes in the sink. I had an hour to get ready, so Jenny would probably be calling me in—


The phone rang.


“Liyah,” my mom called from the living room, “phone’s for you.”


Jenny really wanted to make sure I didn’t back out of getting a dress. With a sigh, I changed directions and headed for the phone.

Chapter Thirty-Three

Jenny found me at my locker cramming my school bag inside it. “What’s with the smile?” she asked. 


“Oh.” I hadn’t realized I was. With a shrug, I said, “Just in a good mood, I guess?” It was true. After the crap I’d been through lately, I woke up this morning feeling optimistic. That, or I accepted that I can’t control what other people say or do, and I should focus on those who were my real friends.


My response wasn’t good enough for Jenny though, who studied me as if I was keeping a secret from her. Her eyes narrowed. “You’re a strange cookie, you know that?” she said when I failed to elaborate.


I let out a snort and closed my locker, holding the binders and textbooks for my first two periods to my chest.  “Cookie?”


“What? I heard my grandma call my mom that once.”


“Strange cookie?” I repeated, amused. I smirked. “What kind of weird cookie am I?”


Jenny rolled her eyes, brushing her hair off her shoulder. “Don’t you start.”


“But now I have to know,” I insisted, quickening my pace to match hers when she began to walk away. “Am I chocolate chip? Hmm, no. That’s too normal.”


“Ugh,” Jenny pushed me, making me laugh. “Stop being a nut-head.”


“Nut! Like macadamia nut?”


“Don’t even—”


“—Am I a white chocolate and macadamia nut cookie?”


Ah ha. Success, I thought as she started laughing. I dropped the subject as we headed to her locker. On her locker door was a mirror, a photo of a boyband. The majority of the members had gelled spiked hair and unnaturally white teeth.


Jenny took a moment to fix her lip-gloss. “You’re coming shopping with me tomorrow, right?”


I did promise. Holding in a sigh, I asked her, “Yup. Am I going to your house or are we meeting up somewhere?” Please say somewhere else. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of a Joshua run-in.


“My mom said we can pick you up.” Jenny stored her lip-gloss in her purse and collected her school books. “She said she’d drop us off at the mall. We can call her when we’re ready to be picked up. Thankfully.” She rolled her eyes, “Imagine my mom shopping with us? Last time she tried to talk me into a dress even a nun wouldn’t be seen in.”


“Sounds good.” Perfect, more like.


The bell rang. Jenny slammed her locker shut. “Catch you at recess?”


With a nod of agreement, we parted to head to our separate classes. By the time recess arrived, my brain was swarming with new math lessons and French verbs. I met up with Jenny by the cafeteria before heading outside. I told Jenny about the letter Trenton sent me. She was royally peeved on my behalf and agreed just thinking of him was a huge waste of our time. He wanted to continue to act like a spoiled brat not getting his way, so be it.


She did bring up the idea of telling Joshua the truth, but I wavered. Yes, it would be awesome for him not to think I was some bitchy tease, but why would he believe anything I said when he had swallowed down Trenton’s pile of garbage so easily? I told her I would think about it. It was all I could promise. She didn’t push me to make a decision, probably because she hoped I’d give in and let her talk to her brother.


Guilt became a companion of mine the rest of the day. Jenny was having a hard time being stuck between her twin and I. I didn’t blame her for wanting the entire situation to be resolved, to tell Joshua that Trenton made up everything. However, I wasn’t sure I was ready to forget —let along forgive— how quick her brother was to believe the worst of me. It stung.


Fortunately, I had a break from the weight of her hope. The newspaper room beckoned. After borrowing money from Shane to buy lunch, I left him and Jenny as they headed towards a table where Mike waited.


Kathy was at my side the second I entered. “There you are!” she said harassed. “I’m losing my mind. Josey and Marvin aren’t here today and neither of their articles have been edited. Please tell me yours is done and you can save my butt.”


“It is and I can. Set me to work.” 


“You’re amazing. I love you.” She let out a heavy sigh. I heard the door open behind me. Kathy sent a smile to the newcomer. “Just the guy I was hoping to see.”


I had a bad feeling. A glance over my shoulder confirmed by suspicion. Joshua. Just my luck. I frowned. He seemed off. Quiet, if that was possible.


Not my problem, I told myself and turned to Kathy. “Where are the articles?” 


She spared me a brief glance, attention on Joshua. “Oh, they’re on my desk. Leave yours, will you?” 


“Will do.” I left her to deal with Joshua. The articles were under a pile of notes, pens, and a muffin wrapper. I chucked the wrapper in the trash can, collected the papers I was to edit, then placed mine on the center of the desk with the small hope she’d see it before dumping more stuff on top.


There wasn’t much editing for me to do, Josey and Marvin were incredibly organized writer’s who went through five revisions before handing an article over. I made a few comments, one of two tweaks in sentence structure, and highlighted a second of Josey’s I felt could stand as its own subject for a future piece. It was only my opinion though. It would be up to her and Kathy if they wanted to turn it into two or keep it as it was.


I returned the papers to her desk, and then because I couldn’t resist the temptation, began sorting through folders, articles, and proof copies on her desk. I was fixing the stack of old articles when she came back and plopped into her chair with a weary grunt.


“You have no idea how happy I am this is my last year. I cannot wait to hand this off to some bright-eyed student who has no idea how much of a migraine this work can be.” She scanned her desk, eyed me. “Too bad you’re not in grade eleven next year. You’d be a shoe-in for my replacement once I graduate from this ink-and-paper hell.”


“You sure know how to sell the idea.”


“Ha. Just you wait.” She stretched her arms out before her. “Seriously though, what would I do without you as my side-kick?”


“Have a breakdown?”


Kathy gave a mock-scowl. “Mean. But true.” She cracked her knuckles. “Okay, thanks to you I have about five minutes before the demons escape. Let’s read your masterpiece.”


I picked at a stubborn hangnail, wondering if she’d notice me sneaking off while she read it. I saw her pick up a red pen and start making notes, circling, and even —cringe— x’ing off a sentence. There was nothing worse than the moment of uncertainty that happens while someone reads the words you carefully constructed. Will they love it, hate it? I tore the piece of skin off. A bead of blood appeared on the side of my thumb. I took a tissue from the box at the corner of her desk and wrapped it around the tip of my thumb.


Kathy shook her head slowly. My mouth dried. She hated it. 


“This is really good,” she said.


“It is?”


“Yup,” she leaned in the chair, putting the article on the desk.


“You don’t think I am at it at the wrong angle?” What was I doing? Trying to get her to hate it?


“Nope, it’s good. Awesome, in fact. Who are your sources?”


“Oh.” I checked the bleeding. When I saw it had stopped, I crumpled the tissue in my hand. “Asked Jenny, girls from my classes. Jenny asked others too.” Some was from me, but I didn’t add that.


“No one wanted to see their name in the paper?”


“No. I think they didn’t want to let some of their boyfriends know what they said.”


Kathy grinned. “Sneaky, but I like it. Well, I made a couple corrections. Why don’t you check them out and, if you can, get it to me by the end of the day? I want it to be in Monday’s edition.”


“Sure. I might be able to get out of English class and use the computer lab.”


“Awesome. I’d be grateful, and maybe won’t have that breakdown today.”


Laughing, I took my article and went to eat and see what she wrote.

Chapter Thirty-Two

Finally, we were finished eating. Well, I was done. I made Jenny come with me even though she claimed I was dragging her away before she was ready. I figured it was payback from all the times she had done the same thing to me. After dumping our garbage, we headed to the front office. Jenny laughed at how eager and worried I was over seeing the tryout results.


I wasn’t the only one after the results. It seemed everyone from the tryouts had the same idea as me, and some of their friends were with them like Jenny for moral support. There was a crowd by the notice board. When I hung by the back, it was Jenny who tsked and began elbowing her way towards the front, holding a handful of my shirt in the process to make sure I was right behind her.


Then, there we were, and there was the list of names of those who made it onto the team. My heart thumped in my chest.


Jenny nudged me forward. “So?”


I ignored the murmur of voices behind me, the complaints and happy exclamations. My focus was on the list, and scanning the names as I held my breath and prayed to see mine on it. 


Track Tryout results

Annie Whitman

Joshua Mawsh

Trenton Mc Gregger

Jimmy Conklin

Mark Collins

Christopher Akwood

Andrea Phillips

Bradley Ducharme

Liyah Mc Cloury


“I made it!” I said, twisting to look at Jenny. She grinned, pulling me into a hug. 


“I knew you would.”


Annie hugged me next. We both did a victory dance to the amusement of our friends. We got some back slaps and congratulations from the other students, as well as a couple not so nice comments about the team losing because of how low the standards were becoming. Those, we ignored.


“Looks like we might actually have a good chance to win this year,” Shane maneuvered between Jenny and me to slug an arm around our shoulders. My hyper Joshua sense warned me he was with Shane before I saw him standing just off to the side. 


I gave Shane’s side a squeeze. “Here’s hoping.” I worried my bottom lip. After an internal debate, I straightened my spine and made myself meet his gaze. “Congratulations.”


He gave a curt nod, eyes straying from my face to Shane’s. “Same.”


Well. I tried. Jenny shot her brother a frustrated stare but a light hip-check from Shane kept her quiet, thankfully.


Jimmy saw me and hurried over. “Hey teammate!” Hugging me, he gave me a bright smile. “Check us out. We are going to kick track ass!” Ever-friendly, he included Joshua, “Glad to see you got on the team too. You’re Flash-fast,” he told him.


Joshua didn’t seem to know what to say to that. Fortunately for him, a seventh grader interrupted us before he had to respond.


“You Liyah?” The freckled-face boy with his hair dyed fire-engine red asked me.


“Yes.”


“Here,” he handed me a folded piece of paper, “some guy told me to give this to you,” then he was gone.


I stared at the paper. It had to be from Trenton. I looked around, caught the sight of his back as he turned a corner.


“Oooo, a letter from a stranger,” Jimmy chuckled. “A love letter?”


I snorted. Ha, more like hate mail. “It’s not important.”


“You know who it’s from?” Jenny asked.


“Pretty sure.”


Shane’s gaze went from me to Joshua —whose jaw was clenched tight— to Jimmy. “Who?”


“Just an asshole,” I said, voice flat. “I gotta go.” Not giving Jenny a chance to follow me, I left them watching after me.


Hiding in one of the stalls of the girls’ bathroom, I read the note:

 


You sure seem to think I care about what you think. I don’t. In fact, I think it’s safe to say nobody does. So why don’t you do everyone a favor and shut up. 

You. Better at sports. Ha. You should have been born a guy. You certainly act like one.

  


I read it again, hardly believing what he wrote. He didn’t sign his name but I knew it was Trenton. He was full of anger. Why?  I crumpled the paper into a ball. Not my business. I had to move on. Whatever his issue with me was, he’d have to find a way to get over it. And, I had to learn to tolerate being near him, especially since we were going to be all on the same track team.


Me. Joshua. Jimmy. Trenton. 


Ya. That was going to be real fun. I shook my head and ditched the note in the trashcan by the bathroom door on my way out. Feeling better, I decided to focus on what mattered, the track team and the dating article. Kathy wanted me to proofread it tonight, do some fine tuning before handing it off to her.


Before bed, I took over the family computer and typed up the final revised draft. It might not have been a great literary piece, but I was pleased with what I wrote.




Dating: Behind the Scenes.


High school wouldn’t be the same without dating. The two seem to go hand-in-hand. High school is where first loves bloom, hearts break, and dating becomes just another sport in need of endless practice in order to excel at it. High school students would get the gold if dating was part of the Olympics.


The idea and search for “The One” starts with the first flicker of interest between two people. The hesitant glances, does he/she like me, the hope the feelings are mutual, then comes the wait. Who will speak first? Who will be brave enough to face the possibility of rejection in order to snare a date? The majority of students I asked, said it should be the guy who makes the first move, others claimed that it shouldn’t matter.  Why should guys always have to step up and ask the girl out when they are just as afraid of being turned down as the girl is. In the end, maybe it comes down to who doesn’t want to wait any longer to find out if the person they are crushing on, likes them back


The concept that love will make everything wonderful is a nice idea, but is it true? A tenth grader admitted she felt pressured to date, even when she didn’t feel ready.  It just seemed like the thing she was expected to do once she started high school. Another told me it was the only part of going to school she likes, meeting guys.


It brought up the question: is dating as wonderful as book and movies make it out to be, filled with drama and betrayals, all in the name of true love? According to an anonymous source, the answer is no.


“The idea of finding the right guy in high school is ridiculous. These guys don’t know who they are yet —heck, we don’t— and from what I’ve seen most guys are too busy dating as many girls as they can. And ones you might connect with, well here’s hoping they’re not playing a role to get you to say yes to a date,” said an eleventh grader.


Her friend was quick to argue, saying she felt dating was an important step to growing up. It helped her decide what she was looking for in a future boyfriend. “Like trying on shoes,” she told me, showing off her wedged sneakers. “You have to try on a variety before you decide what style suits you best.” When asked if she’d tried on enough dates to decide, and what qualities she looked she told me:


“He has to be sensitive and honest, but in a nice way. I don’t need to be told I look tired or shitty, you know. A sense of humor is always a plus, but I don’t like class clowns. I’d feel like I’d have to laugh even when something wasn’t funny because a class clown can be very sensitive.”


When I asked her friends the same question, they agreed he must always be real about who he is. They dislike guys who change behavior depending on if they are with their friends, a girl, or their parents. Surprising, when it came to personal appearance, they agreed that while a cute guy was nice to look at, if his personality was on the mean side, they’d lose interest. The girls were quick to list what they didn’t like, which included being cocky (constantly talking about themselves), a bully, liars, and guys who don’t understand the word “no”. Worse, guys who talk badly about the girl who turned them down. I have to agree with them there, but I know girls can gossip and spread rumors as much as a guy can (however they usually stick to lying about other girls).


The one comment I noticed every girl I asked shared, was being honest about who you are. It seems like an obvious thing to do but more than one girl had a story about a guy they dated putting on an act. I can tell you, they all ended with the girl leaving the guy.


Guys reading this might see it as being one-sided, and you’d be right, which is why my co-writer will be giving up the inside scoop on the guy’s perspective on high school dating. Maybe the girls will learn something. I hope the guys did from this article. If it’s anything, let it be this:


Don’t lie about who you are. Don’t lie about a girl who turned you down.


Girls, let’s make sure we don’t do the same either.




Friday morning started with me cursing my alarm clock for not going off —okay, I might have meant to hit snooze but forgot and fell back asleep— which lead to me scrambling to get ready and throwing on whatever clothes I found closest to me.


I skidded into the kitchen, wincing when I stubbed my toe on the fridge, to James’ amusement.


“Rough night?” he joked.


“More like slept in again,” Mike smirked. “Heard her alarm go off twice.”


Grumbling, I grabbed my lunch. “Thanks for making sure I was awake.”


“Any time, sis.”


James hit Mike on the back of the head. “You’re going to miss the bus. Want a lift?”


“Really?” When he nodded, I asked, “Dad lent you the car this morning?” 


“Nah, mom said I could borrow hers. Will you be ready in ten?”


I didn’t have a choice, I thought and began smearing peanut butter on a piece of bread. It was be ready or walk. Eight minutes later, I trailed after my brothers to the car, hoping I didn’t forget anything. Like my lunch. Which I did. On the kitchen counter.


Great.

Chapter Thirty-One

Mike was waiting for me in the kitchen when I got home. Shane was with him, and the two were talking low so I couldn’t make out what they were saying. Not that I needed to, it was clear from the guilty look on Shane’s face that he’d told my brother what really happened. They stared at me, shifted and shooting each other loud glances.


My brother coughed, breaking the silence. “So, uh. Maybe I was wrong.” He scratched his neck, unable to meet my gaze. I walked around to open the fridge. Supper was ruined, I’d have to think of a plan B. Not many options, though, I thought scanning the shelves.


My silence had Shane speaking up. “I know you said not to say anything, but your brother…” he stalled.


“It’s fine.” My tone was monotone. I grabbed a package of bacon. Breakfast for supper, sounded good. Eggs, spinach, cheese and chives joined the bacon on the counter. I’d make an egg bake, and maybe some crepes too.


I felt Mike approach me. “I’m, uh, sorry. For everything.”


Shrugging, I preheated the oven and began rinsing the spinach and chives. “No worries.”


Pause. “Can I help? Cut something?” 


Wow, if Mike was offering to make supper, he must really be feeling shitty. Good. “Do you want garlic or red onion in the egg bake?”


“Onion?” He asked, directing the question to Shane.


“Got any salsa?”


I rolled my eyes. Not answering, I pointed to the fridge. Shane gave me a lopsided grin. The three of us worked in silence for the next ten minutes. I didn’t ask what happened when I left, where Jenny was. She must have left with her brother. The one time Mike tried to talk, it was to bring up Joshua and that he had a right to know that what Trenton told him was a lie. However, one hard look from me, he shut up. I wasn’t blind to the silent communication going on between the guys though. They probably thought I was being childish, maybe I was but I didn’t care at the moment. I was too angry about the situation to consider Joshua’s feelings at the moment. He clearly didn’t care about mine.


Mike and Shane left to go play video games once the eggs were in the oven and I started frying the bacon. Okay, I might have kicked them out of the kitchen, fed up with the expressions on their face and knowing they’d try and steal the cooked slices when they thought I wouldn’t notice. I placed the last pieces on a paper towel to get rid of the extra bacon fat when my dad called to say he was surprising my mom with dinner so they wouldn’t be home until later. It would be just the kids, which ended up being me, Mike, and Shane. James had a date and Tasha had plans to stalk a guy she was crushing on. I made them plates and put them in the fridge.


That night, I stared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. All the problems started when I tried to dress more like Jenny and Tasha, if wearing make-up and heels meant having to deal with people spreading lies about me then I didn’t want anything to do with them. It was time to go back to the old me.


The next morning, I purposely wore my oldest pair of jeans, a black tank top, and a blue and black paid shirt I stole from James’ closet years before. Hair in a bun, not a touch of make-up, and my favorite pair of sneakers later, I grabbed a muffin from the kitchen and was out the door before my family could comment on my appearance. I was over caring what anyone thought of me.


It was amazing how many people seemed interested in my clothes. I got odd looks, eyerolls and whispers (mostly from the girls), while on the other side, my friends treated me as they always had. Jenny sighed but said nothing when I notched my chin up in challenge. She gave me a sad look then was dragged away by Shane. I mouthed a “thank you” at him and went to drop my backpack at my locker. Staring at my locker door, I scowled. That mean letter.


Trenton. It had to be him. The asshat. After cramming my bag in my locker, I grabbed a notebook and pen, then slammed the door shut making the person two feet away from me jump. I sat on the floor, back on the row of lockers and wrote the jerk-face a letter.



Trenton,


I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, and realized just how thoughtless I’ve been. I never thanked you for being so kind to lie about me. To make everyone think I’m a horrible person just because you couldn’t handle one person not liking you. Not to mention, how dare I be better at sports than you… the nerve of me! It seems my entire existence is just to piss you off. Well, so be it. Say whatever you want about me, I know the truth and soon others will too. You can’t hide your asshole ways forever.


Liyah


 

After pushing the letter through one of the slots in his locker, I rounded my shoulders feeling better than I had in the past few days. He wasn’t worth my time, neither was Joshua. My first two classes dragged. Right before the bell rang for recess, my math class was interrupted by the gym teaching announcing that the track meet results would be posted in the front office at lunch time. It was the perfect distraction I needed, but also meant periods three and four were spent trying to ignore the nervous flutters in my stomach that were trying to overtake the giddy excitement that made it impossible to sit still. All I could think about was, had I done well enough at tryouts to win a spot on the track team.


I was out of my math class the second the bell for lunch rang. I didn’t even stop at my locker, just went straight to the notice board by the front office only to see that results weren’t posted yet. A check-in with the secretary told me it would be another fifteen minutes before it went up. Let down, I exchanged my books for lunch and found Jenny in the cafeteria. I smiled when she waved me towards the seat she had put her purse on. The purse went on the floor, and I sat down.


Chewing a bite of sandwich, Jenny said, “I stopped by your locker after class, where were you?”


“Checking to see if the track team names were listed.” I opened my lunch bag and took out the container of macaroni salad, a bottle of water, brownies, and an apple. I saw Jenny eyeing the brownies. “Don’t worry I brought some for both of us.”


“Because you rock.”


“That is true.”


Jenny pursed her lips. “Have you seen Joshua today?”


“No.” I forked a piece of celery. “He’s writing the male point of view on my dating article, so I will probably have to face him eventually. Plus, there’s the track team. If we both make it.”


“Right… And you really don’t want to—"


“—no. I don’t.”


“‘kay.” Jenny changed the subject to her weekend plans with Shane. It was only after I split my brownies with her, she gave me a questioning look and asked, “The bind date thing is a go, right? For the Formal?”


Crap. I almost forgot about that. “Yes. I told Shane to set me up, I won’t back out.”


Relief filled her smile. “Good. That’s really good. And don’t worry, I’ll make sure he picks a good guy for you. No weirdos or creeps.”


“Thanks, I think.”


“Oh and don’t forget we’re going dress shopping on Friday.” I let out a groan. “Nope, too bad. No take backs. You already said yes to the dance, the dress comes with it.”


“Ya, ya. No pink though.”


“Well no duh.” Jenny gave a somewhat evil laugh, “We are also getting our nails and hair done too, I’ve decided.”


I stared at my brownie. It looked so good a minute ago, now my stomach was all churned. “You’re going to make a big deal about this dance thing, aren’t you?” 


“Damn right I am.” She grinned. “This is going to be a very important moment for you. I’m going to make sure you look fabulous. So deal with it.”


My shoulders slumped. “There’s no point in saying no, is there?”


“None at all.” Pleased with herself, she took a healthy bite of her brownie.

Chapter Thirty

“Hey Mike, care to join us?” Jenny asked innocently, though her hold on my pillow didn’t lessen. I let go of Shane’s back and stood up, crossing my arms and keeping my gaze on my feet.


Mike scoffed. “Join? Seriously?” I felt his eyes on me but refused to meet them. Hyper aware of Joshua’s presence and knowing what he thought of me made my stomach twist into painful knots. I hugged myself tighter.


“We should go,” I heard Joshua mumble and my heart ached.


“Ya, we should.” There was a pause, then Mike said, “Come on, let’s go.” He was talking to Shane and Jenny, I realized. 


Shane didn’t reply as he helped Jenny sit up and crouched by her side. It was Jenny who broke the silence after the longest thirty seconds I’ve ever had to endure. “You guys go ahead, I’m going to stay here.”


I made the mistake of quickly glancing at Joshua. Shock colored his face with a red tinge. My shoulders went to my ears, gaze to the floor again. I hated my cowardly behavior but my voice was stolen in the awkwardness holding me in place. 


“You’re going to what?” he asked his sister.


“Stay.”


“Here?”


“Yes.”


“With—”


“—my friend,” her voice hardened, dared him to challenge her, “yes.”


Another snort from Mike. “Wow, you changed your mind fast. Typical.”


“Leave her alone.” I flinched. That was me. I said that. I hadn’t meant to say that. I met the judging eyes of my brother and tried to swallow the rock his look jammed in my throat.


Mike shook his head. “Really. You.”


“Shut up.”


Joshua took a step towards me. “No wait—”


“—you shut up too!” My hands were fisted at my side now. “Leave Jenny alone. She’s done nothing wrong.”


“I know she hasn’t.”


I heard the dig at me he made, took it like a slap to the face. Shane said my name, coming to stand by my side but I was losing control of my anger and words were shooting out of my mouth on their will. “I haven’t either, not that it means anything to you. If she wants to stay with me, she can.”


“No one asked your opinion,” my brother retorted.


“The second you guys came into my room, you did.” I pointed at Shane whose arm was around Jenny. “They chose to listen to me. Unlike the two of you. They cared enough to find out the truth. You,” I shouted, “choose to believe the worst of me, so you can get the hell out of my room and leave me alone!”


“You mean we, find out who you really are.”


My arm dropped. Joshua's words were bullets hitting me right in my heart’s center. Our eyes met. So much disgust filled his face. I took a step away from him.


“Josh,” Shane cut in, “man you don’t know…” he looked at me, but I shook my head.


“Know what? That she uses guys? Pretends to be nice, just to screw with them?”


Tears spilled onto my cheeks. “You really believe that, don’t you?” My voice hushed, wavered. “Wow. I must be quite the actress. How much work I had to put in to my plan… how much time I wasted. Jeez, I was so into my evil plan that I wrote about you for my English assignment. Just in case the teacher might read it aloud, which she did. Just in case you’d be smart enough to figure it out.” I let out a rough laugh. “Yup. That’s me. The biggest tease at school. I’m so sly, so crafty, I even make being a tomboy hot stuff.”


I couldn’t take it anymore. For the second time in one day, I ran. Ignoring Jenny and Shane calling my name, I shoved through Mike and Joshua. I nearly twisted my ankle on one of the stairs but it didn’t slow me down. I had to get away from him.


The second I stepped outside, I picked up my pace. I had no idea where I was running too, just that it was as far away from Joshua as I could possibly get.


“Liyah!” someone shouted at me. Jimmy. He pulled his car over to my side of the road with his window down. “Where are you running to? Late for something?”


“No.” I had a flashback to school when we had a similar conversation. I stopped, hand pushing into my waist as a cramp seized my muscles. “Wanted to run.”


“Right?” he gave my outfit a scan. “How about you run around my car, and get in. I can give you a lift home.”


“No!”


Jimmy stared at my eyes, gaze narrowing. I flicked a tear off my cheek. “Okay, then get in and we can go get some ice cream.”


I chewed the inside of my cheek. “That sounds good.”


He waited for me to get in and buckled before he guided the car towards the closet ice cream shop. “Wanna talk about it?”


“No. Yes. I don’t know.”


“Well, take some time. If you decide you want to share, my ears are right here.”


He didn’t push me during the car ride, nor did he try and get an answer while we picked out what we wanted to get. It was me who finally gave in as I scooped the biggest spoonful of chocolate mint chip ice cream in my mouth and winced as the cold sent a shock to my brain.


“Long story, or the short version?” I asked him, rubbing my temple.


Jimmy broke a chunk of brownie off his mega-sundae. “Short, I guess?”


“Well, you were right. Trenton told Joshua lies about me… and you.”


That surprised him. “Me?”


“He told him you dared me to make Joshua like me. That we had some sick game going. He made it seems like I was using him too, that I lied when I said he tried to push me at Shane’s party. That is was all a game to me.”


“What the hell?” Jimmy’s spoon clanged on the table.


“Joshua believes him. So does my brother.” I stabbed at my ice cream. “Jenny and Shane yelled at me when I got home, but they eventually listened. They believe me.”


“You’re serious? Trenton told Joshua we schemed together to what? Make him fall for you?”


I nodded glumly.


“And then what?”


“Don’t know.”


“What an asshole.”


“Yup. Big one. Then Mike and Joshua walked into my room and were getting mad at Jenny for wanting to stay with me. I just… I got so pissed off. I told him the English assignment the teacher read to the class was mine… about him.” I let out a groan. “Oh man, why did I tell him that? I basically admitted to having a crush on him. And he hates me.” I pushed my ice cream to the side, and banged my head on the table. “Why did I do that?”


Jimmy didn’t try to answer, instead he let me sulk until my ice cream threatened to become soup. He nudged me, telling me the worst jokes he could think of until he got a wobbly smile out of me. We spent the next half hour trying to see who could come up with the cheesiest jokes. He kicked my butt and it felt good to laugh and not think about what happened at home, and what might be waiting for me when I returned.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

The knocking on my door didn’t help the battered state of my heart. I ignored it as I tried to stifle the sound of my crying. Stupid tears. I scrubbed at my face but more kept sliding down. The knocking turned to banging. Shane must have taken over. 


“Go away,” I cried, voice thick with tears. 


“No.” Yup. Shane. Bang, bang, bang, went the door. Each hit jolted through me. “Open the door.”


Ha. “Get lost, asshole.”


“Li, please,” Jenny’s soft voice tried next. “Let us in.”


I shook my head, wiping more tears. Not going to happen. Shane tried forcing the door open, but I wedged my foot on the closet wall that stuck out further than the rest, and shoved my back hard against the door to slam it shut.


“Come on.” Shane tried again. I pushed back. “Just let us talk.”


“No.”


“You’re acting like a baby,” came his frustrated reply.


My hands shook and anger boiled in my stomach. “Screw you.”


“Shit. Li. I didn’t mean—”


“—leave me the hell alone!” I yelled.


I heard murmuring. Jenny and Shane trying to figure out the best way to handle the situation, aka me. Let them. I wasn’t opening the door to them. Ever. My chest had become a gaping wound from where they punched their way to my heart. I was not willing to let them do it again.


It got quiet soon after. I heard the sound of footsteps walking away, but didn’t let my guard down. I knew Shane. He was a sneaky shit when he wanted to be. I wouldn’t put it passed him to pretend to have gone, waiting for me to move from the door so he could barge in. Not happening, I thought jaw clenching. I rested my head on my knees. 


Finally. Peace.


Crash.


“Shit-sticks, ouch!”


Startled, I jerked my head up to find Shane sprawled on my bedroom floor tangled in books, clothes and shoes my sister gave me. My gaze went to my window, now opened. “What the hell!” Shooting to my feet, I crossed the room to look out the window, stepping over the cursing idiot on the floor.


“Don’t worry about me,” he grumbled. “I’ve just been impaled by these spiked heels. Since when do you wear weapons for shoes?”


My bedroom window gave way to a slanted roof. Shane must have climbed the tree near the house to get to that part of the room. I forgot he and Mike used to use my bedroom as an escape route, and a way to sneak back in after. Annoyed at myself, I went to my bed and grabbed the black teddy bear I’ve had since I was little, and squeezed him in my arms.


Jenny came in through the bedroom door. She hurried to Shane’s side when she saw him still on the floor.


“Seriously Li,” Shane held out one of the high heels that jabbed in his fall, “lethal.”


“Good.”


He dropped the shoe in the heap he made of my belongings. I hope he got hurt.


Jenny brushed at his shirt until he gently swatted at her hands. They faced me.


“We shouldn’t have said what we did,” it was Jenny who spoke up. She glanced at Shane, who looked uncomfortable. “You’re right. We should have come to you to talk first.”


“Too late.”


“Please don’t say that,” she crossed the room and sat beside me on the bed. “I’m so sorry.”


Shane cleared his throat. “I’m not saying we were wrong, we were. But you have to understand—”


“—What? How easy it was to think the worst of me?”


Shane rubbed his head. “Josh called Mike, and then Mike called me. I didn’t know what to believe or think, but Josh was very upset.”


“So that made it okay to accuse me of…of,” I couldn’t finish the sentence because it hurt too much to think about. “You knew I liked Joshua!”


That made them both flinch. 


Jenny took my head. “Please let us fix this.”


“We’ll tell Josh it’s not true.” Shane nodded.


“No.”


“No?”


Jenny frowned. “Why?”


I lifted my chin, met her gaze than Shane’s. “He chose to believe Trenton. He might not know me well, but he should’ve known I wouldn’t do that. All he had to do was ask. I don’t need people in my life who believe the worst in me because of something one person said.” Shane and Jenny looked uneasy. 


“But he’ll think it’s true,” Shane argued.


“Don’t care.”


Jenny squeezed my hand until I pulled free. “You don’t understand. When someone betrays my brother, he never forgives them. Liyah, he’ll hate you.”


I held the stuffy closer. “That’s his choice. Clear Jimmy’s name if you can, though. He doesn’t deserve to be dragged into this mess.” Jenny sighed at my words, but she and Shane both nodded. Shane left soon after, closing the door behind him.   


“Are you sure this is what you want?” Jenny tried again to change my mind.


I wasn’t budging. “Yes. If he ever liked me at all, he would have known I’m not capable of anything so heartless. Trenton is a jerk. I thought Joshua saw that. If he doesn’t, well... He’ll show his true self soon enough.”


“I hate this.” Jenny sniffled. “I hate that I believed them for one second. Disgusted with myself for how we attacked you downstairs.” She sniffed again. “And I really wish you’d let me tell Josh the truth.”


“I can’t.” I gave her a watery attempt at a smile.


“I’m so sorry Liyah.” Throwing her arms around me, she gave me a big hug. “Can you ever forgive me?”


I returned the hug briefly. “Yes. I do. You came to me right after. That counts for something.” I let out a snort. “And didn’t stop maniac Shane from climbing into my window.” We both gave a weak laugh. Needing the conversation to be over, I did the only thing I could. I reached around her for my pillow and thunked her on the head with it. Her wide eyes had a burst of real laughter rising out of me.


“What was that for?” She blinked at me.


“Punishment,” I joked. Her eyes narrowed on my teddy bear. I tried to protect him but she was too quick and snatched him away from me.


Standing on my bed with my stuffy held high above her head, Jenny let out a mocking evil laugh. “Surrender the pillow or the bear gets it.”


I shot to my feet. “Neva!” I said and tackled her.


The door opened to Shane just as I was trying to wrestle my stuffy from Jenny. We stared at him, glanced at each other and starting giggling.


“What are you two doing?”


“Should we?” I asked Jenny with a grin.


She arched her brow. “I think we have to.”


Shane stepped backwards. “Uh…”


Dropping the stuffy we each grabbed one of my pillows. “Attack!” we cried in unison and charged towards Shane.


“Hey!” Shane had his hands up but it was too late. We hit him with the pillows while he tried to get away. When that didn’t work, he moved on to trying to steal one of the pillows. Jenny abandoned hers when he started tickling her sides.


“Save me Liyah,” she begged, squirming but unable to break free.


Shane snickered, ticking her more. “You’re mine now.”


I couldn’t leave her behind. “To the rescue,” I shouted then jumped on his back.


“What the hell is going on in here?” Mike’s voice boomed freezing the three of us in place. We looked towards the doorway, Jenny with a pillow for shield and Shane tickling her, and me wrapped around his back like a monkey.


The problem wasn’t us. It was the fact Mike wasn’t alone. Joshua was with him.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

There was a smug smile on Jimmy’s face as he said, “I never said you did.” I sputtered, realizing he tricked me. The bugger.


I quickly checked, praying no one else heard my outburst. No one, especially Joshua. He was too busy flirting with the blond girl he was with at one of the tables. Across them, Trenton had his arm around the redhead’s shoulders and was nuzzling her neck making her giggle. Well, good for them, I thought sarcastically.


Returning to Jimmy, I threw a fry at his head, hitting him in the forehead. “That was a sneaky trick.” The fry fell to the table leaving a smear of ketchup behind.


“Gross.” Wiping it off with a napkin, he pouted. “That wasn’t nice.” 


“You deserved it.” I stuck my tongue at him.


“I was right though, wasn’t I?” 


The sigh that left my mouth was long. “Ya.” I paused. “Or, at least I did. I don’t know how I feel about him anymore to be honest.”


Jimmy continued eating but didn’t give up on the conversation. “Why?”


“He isn’t the same guy he was when he first started at school. I thought we were friends, you know? Now half the time he acts like he hates me. I don’t get it.” My gaze returned to where Joshua was listening intently to whatever the blond was telling him. He let out a laugh. My heart gave a twinge. “The sudden friendship with Trenton, now, I don’t know what to think.”


Jimmy followed my gaze. “Ya, I don’t get it either. Trenton’s always been a dick. I know he’s considered popular,” Jimmy scoffed, “but that guy’s a tool and a half. I don’t know how anyone could be friends with him. Have you asked Joshua about it?”


“Ya, right. Talk about the most awkward conversation ever.”


“What if the entire thing is because Trenton told him lies?”


I shrugged. “If Joshua wants to believe Trenton over taking the time to know me, maybe I don’t need him in my life.”


Jimmy didn’t seem convinced. “I still say talk to him. Don’t let that ass Trenton mess with you.


My attempt at smiling was weak. “Maybe. Thanks for listening to me mope.”


“What are friends for?” He winked. “Besides, just you wait. When it’s my turn to come to you for advice, you’ll want to run far away.”


“Call me anytime.”


“You might regret that,” Jimmy chuckled. He handed me his phone to type my number in and I gave him mine. “You’ll never be free of me now.”


Jimmy gave me a lift home after we finished eating. I didn’t spare Joshua another look. If he wanted to be friends with Trenton, that was his decision. I was surprised to see Shane and Jenny over. I saw them and Mike in the den when I walked by and was put off by the unhappy expressions on their faces when I said hi. Having no idea what their problem was, I left them alone and went to the kitchen to start making hamburger patties. They had begun sizzling in the frying pan when Shane and Jenny came in.


Jenny marched over to me, hands on her hips.


“What?” I asked, looking from her to Shane. “Why are you staring at me like that?”


Jenny wore a hurt expression though her eyes flashed. “How could you?”


I checked the burgers. “How could I what?”


“I thought we were friends.” She sniffed.


Shane shook his head. “I’m surprised. I would never have thought you’d do something like that.”


To Jenny, I said, “We are friends.” I lowered the heat so the meat wouldn’t burn than glanced at Shane. “And I have no idea what you’re going on about.”


“You and Jimmy. The scheme to mess with Joshua.”


I stared at them. “What the hell are you talking about?”


Jenny crossed her arms. “Don’t lie to us. We know Jimmy dared you act like you like my brother. You were stringing him along for fun. What kind of person does that?”


My heart hit the floor with a splat. Me and Jimmy? A dare? I didn’t get a chance to defend myself because Shane picked up where Jenny stopped.


“It’s sick. And to think you were trying to do the same thing to Trenton. Jenny told me what happened. You made it seem like he was pushing himself on you. But you lied.”


I backed up against the stove. Oil spit at me, hitting my arm but I didn’t feel anything but the deep cut their accusations caused to my chest.


“Don’t even try defending yourself,” Jenny said, disgusted. “Trenton told Josh everything. He overhead you and Jimmy laughing about it. God, how could you?” she asked, tears trickling down her face.


How could I? My jaw clenched. How dare they?


“I have nothing to say,” I said at first, but then stopped. “No. I do. You say you thought we were friends.” I was shaking as I looked at Jenny. “So did I. Friends talk to each other though. They make sure they hear the truth from the actual person being accused, not believe what others tell them. If we were friends, you wouldn’t be standing here yelling at me.” It was frightening, how calm I felt.


I could barely make myself face Shane. “You’ve known me for years. The type of person I am. At least, I thought you did. Apparently one word from a guy you don’t even like is enough to think that badly of me, so I guess you don’t know me.” The shaking was spreading. I shut off the ring where the hamburger patties had burned one side. I was going to cry. I felt it coming, but I wouldn’t let them see. I faced them one more time. “I don’t need friends like that.”


I ran out of the kitchen, startling Mike who had been heading towards the kitchen. I shoved him out of my way. The tears starting running down my face before I made it to my bedroom. Slamming the door, I rested my back against it before sliding down it until I was sitting. My heart remained on the kitchen floor where Shane and Jenny had stomped it.


They thought… my knees were brought to my chest. I hugged them, head bowed.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Our English teacher was a lifesaver. She gave me permission to talk to some of the girls in class about dating and first dates during the fifteen minutes of quiet reading. As long as we were quiet, she had no problems with the disruption. When the bell rang, she held me back to let me know my story had been entered into the spring journal. The moment she heard if it was chosen, she’d let me know.


Jenny was sad to hear that I would be spending my lunch time in the newspaper room’ but I really didn’t have much choice. I was behind. I didn’t expect to find Joshua talking to Kathy however. That was a surprise. I hovered in the doorway, unsure if it was a good one or bad. 


“Liyah,” Kathy waved me over when she noticed me. Joshua had no expression on his face. Stomach queasy, and gaze on Kathy, I walked to them after pausing to place my lunch on an empty table. 


“How’s the article coming along?” she inquired. 


I wanted to look at Joshua, see what he was thinking. Instead, I looked everywhere but him. “Oh great, I was just about to begin writing it.”


Kathy grinned. “Perfect. See I had a flash of genius,” glancing at Joshua, she went on, “I thought it would be a great idea to get a male’s point of view on dating too. Joshua’s going to write it. Isn’t that great? I was just about to explain what you had planned, but now that you’re here, could you?” She didn’t let me answer. She was already walking off with a, “thanks” thrown over her shoulder.


My stomach flipped. “Sure,” I said pointlessly.


Joshua still hadn’t looked at me. He watched after Kathy. Suddenly I was angry. I didn’t know what his problem with me was, but I had enough. Keeping my tone neutral and professional, I gave him a rundown of my article. I didn’t linger or expand on anything. He got the basics, that was all. Once my duty was done, I left him standing there, picked up my lunch and moved to the back of the room where stacks of old newspapers and discarded photos were stacked on a bookshelf. Plopping my packed lunch on the table beside it, I say facing the bookshelves. I didn’t want to be tempted to look in his direction. I flipped to a clean page in my notebook, spread my notes around me, and got to work while munching on a peanut butter and chocolate sandwich.


I got so absorbed in my work, another student had to nudge me out of my thoughts to tell me the warning bell had run. The draft of my article was almost complete. I scooped the papers up, dumped my garbage in a trash can and raced to my locker. I found a letter taped to it.


Jenny, I thought with a smile. Cramming my papers into the locker, I took a moment to read what she left me. But the note wasn’t from Jenny, and I wished I never opened it.

 



Bitch, 

Think your friends actually care about you? You should hear what they’ve been saying about you. Truth is out. No one likes you.




What the hell? Who wrote this?


I turned the page over. There wasn’t a name anywhere on it. I didn’t recognize the writing. My friends were talking bad about me? Which friends, and what were they saying? My brows furrowed as I read the mean words a second time.


No one likes me? My eyes smarted with tears. Sniffling I crumpled the letter in my hands and jammed it in the bottom of my locker. I didn’t know who wrote it, but damned if I was going to let their words hurt me. Only a coward would leave a note that cruel and hide who they were.


Despite my attempts at forgetting the note, it stuck in my brain for the rest of the day. When my last class ended, I dug around my locker for it then threw it in the nearest trash can. I didn’t want to read it, see it, or be aware of its existence again. Jimmy called my name when I left the school for my bus.


“What are you doing?” he asked jogging to me.


I waited for him to catch up. “Going home, why?”


“Want to go to the The Crib for some food? I’m hungry and I hate eating alone. I feel like people will stare at me and wonder what’s wrong with me. Why I have no friends to keep me company.”


I didn’t believe that for a minute, but after the shit day I had it sounded like a nice escape. “Sure, sounds good. Wouldn’t want you to starve.”


The Crib was busy and loud with other students who had the same idea of grabbing something to eat before heading home. Jimmy got a burger, and we decided to split a large fry because I wasn’t that hungry. He said we had to order milkshakes, so while he picked chocolate, I decided on vanilla. 


“Were you always interested in track?” I asked after the waitress dropped our order off. I grabbed the bottle of ketchup, squirted a bunch on the side of the fries. Jimmy made a face, so I added more. “Keep to your side.” 


“You’re ruining perfectly good food,” he said with a shake of his head. “I’ve being doing track for three years now. You? From what I saw at tryouts either you’ve been at it for years too or you’re a natural.”


“I’ve been running since I was eight. My older brother, James, was on a track team and the first time I saw him in a race I wanted to do it to.” I rolled my eyes. “Always wanting what my siblings had or did,” I joked.


Jimmy’s gaze followed a group of guys to a table behind us, then returned to me. “You better make it on the team. You’re too good not to be.”


I blushed at his words and stabbed a fry into the ketchup. I took a bite as the door to The Crib opened. Trenton walked in with two pretty girls, a redhead and a blond. The blond turned, hand out to the person following them inside. Joshua. The bite of fry stuck in my throat. He was everywhere. Him and Trenton.


Jimmy noticed them too. “If it isn’t the jerks,” he said. When I looked at him, he added, “You know, I thought Joshua was a nice guy when I first met him. I don’t know what he’s doing with that ass.”


I gave a shrug. “I guess they’re friends.”


Jimmy made a noise. “He has crap taste if that’s who he wants to be friends with.” I didn’t say anything, just stared at the fry in my hand. “Oooooh.”


“What?”


“Nothing,” Jimmy said with a knowing look.


“What that,” I used the French fry to point at his face, “for?”


“You like him.”


“I do not like Joshua,” I said voice rising. Heat rushed into my face. Shit. I said that really loudly. Crap. Joshua didn’t hear me, did he?

Chapter Twenty-Six

I didn’t stay after fixing Jenny’s essay. As happy as I was for the budding romance between Shane and Jenny, I needed space from them. Joshua wasn’t far from my thoughts and his sudden friendship with Trenton made those thoughts heavy on my mind. It distracted me, so when I left the cafeteria, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going until I walked right into someone, my head bouncing off their chest.


My eyes watered from the stinging sensation in my nose. “Shit,” I said with a wince and rubbed the bridge of my nose. I found Jimmy watching me, hints of amusement in his apparent concern.


“Sorry. You okay?”


“Ya.” I gave my nose an experimental wiggle. “Embarrassed. Otherwise fine.”


He lifted my chin to study my nose. I bet it was red. He thumbed a tear off my cheek. “Sure? You walked into me kinda hard.” He rubbed his chest. “I think you might have left a dent.”


“Oh shut up,” I said stepping to the side so that students could get past. We got a couple of odd looks from people, but I ignored them.


“Where were you off to in a hurry?” When I was about to give him a vague answer, he cut me off. “Wait. Don’t tell me. I bet I can guess.”


A smile tugged at my lips. “All right then, let’s hear it.”


Jimmy narrowed his eyes, scanning my face. “Hmmm,” he tapped a finger on his lips, “you’ve just robbed the cafeteria… no, you just killed someone with poisoned tuna surprise.” Jimmy smiled deeply. I swatted him. “Hey now, don’t add me to your list of victims.”


“Smartass.” I gave him another thwack to his shoulder.


“Ow. Somebody, call the cops,” he grabbed a boy from the seventh grade. “This woman’s assaulting me,” he told the startled guy who gaped at me. 


“Let him go,” I said with a roll of my eyes. “Ignore him, he forgot to take his meds today.” I helped the seventh grader get free. He sped off without a backwards glance.


Jimmy made a show of rotating his shoulder. “You’d better be careful, you don’t know your own strength.”


“What,” I snorted, getting into his ridiculous stories, “you didn’t know I’m the female version of the Incredible Hulk? However, when I’m mad, I turn red.” I tried to keep my face stern but one look at his face twisted up in mock terror, I gave into the laughter bubbling inside my chest.


I bent over, unable to stop. “My sides are splitting.”


“Really?” Jimmy sucked in a breath between laughing. He put a hand on my back. “Want me to sew them back together?”


That had me pausing, which was a relief to my face muscles. “You sew?” I asked. An image of him sitting in a rocking chair with his thumb covered with a metal thimble and yards of material surrounding him as he darned socks flashed in my brain. I bit my lip, but a giggle fell from my mouth. 


“Hey, are you laughing at me?” 


“Now why would I do a thing like that?” I blinked innocently at him, or tried to. I couldn’t stop the smile from stretching across my face.


“Hmmm, I smell fire,” he said, and pretended to sniff the air. “Like a liar whose pants are on fire.”


“You’re probably smelling yourself.”


“Hey, you’re going to pay for that.” Jimmy lunged for me. I squealed and made a run for it but I wasn’t fast enough. We careened into a wall, wrapped around each other. And started laughing again. 


“Get a room,” an angry voice said, cutting off our laughter. We looked up, stunned. Standing a foot from us were Trenton and -gulp- Joshua. Joshua’s face was a thundercloud. Trenton looked oddly pleased. He was the one who spoke.


Jimmy helped me stand up, his arm lightly wrapped around my waist. “What would we need one for?”


Trenton glanced at me briefly. “No one wants to watch the two of you making out.”


Heat flooded my face. We did nothing wrong but I felt small, judged. I didn’t like it. In fact, it pissed me off. My spine went straight.


“We were laughing,” I said through clenched teeth. “But I can understand how a simple-minded person like yourself would see something innocent and twist it into something else.” My eyes burned into his.


Trenton stepped towards me. “Think you’re so special.” The change from him hitting on me to hating me had happened in a moment. I still don’t know what happened. Was he mad because I wasn’t interested in him like every other girl in the school seemed to be? And why should that matter?



I refused to flinch. “I think you have me mistaken for yourself.” 


“Oh really, is that what you think?” Another step in my direction. Jimmy dropped his arm from my waist but didn’t move away from me. I didn’t look in Joshua’s direction.


“Yes.”


I saw Trenton’s hand come up, prepared to be hit, but another hand reached out and stopped his arm. Joshua’s. My gaze jumped to his but he wasn’t looking at me. He said something low to Trenton.


My stomach hurt. I barely breathed.


Trenton smirked. “I’ll see you around.”


I watched them walk away, ice settling deep inside my bones.


“What an asshole,” Jimmy said when they turned a corner. I said nothing.


The bell rang. Jimmy offered to walk me to my locker, and I let him. He talked about a crush he had, if I thought he had a chance. I think he was trying to lighten up the tense atmosphere. I appreciated the effort but I don’t know how much of his conversation I actually heard.


To make things worse, Kathy met me at my locker to remind me about my newspaper article due in two days.


Just perfect, I thought slamming my locker door shut.

Chapters 21-25

                                                                 Chapter Twenty-One


Fifteen minutes into English class, our teacher asked everyone to quiet down. That should have been my first warning.


“I finished reading your stories,” she told the class, resting her butt on the edge of her desk. Her hand went to the stack of papers by her hip. “I have to say, I’m very proud of you all. This is some the best work I’ve seen from you, and I hope it will continue.”


Students puffed up at her announcement. I saw a couple let out a sigh of relief, Shane being one of them. He probably wrote his story the night before it was due. Honestly, he might have done it the day of, I wouldn’t put it passed him. I’ve caught him and Mike doing their homework in the cafeteria a few mornings to know those guys like to wait until it’s almost too late.


“One story stood out,” our teacher was saying. I returned my attention to her. “I’d like to share it with the class before we move on to discussing the scene of “Othello” you were supposed to read last night.” When she turned to pick up the story on the top of the stack, my heart dropped to my feet as panic sent a wave of heat through my body. 


I recognized the stupid heart on the cover page. I drew it. My foot starting tapping. That was my paper she had. Mine she was about to read. To the whole class.


Oh god no. I bit my lip to stop from telling her she couldn’t. Everyone would know it was mine then. Oh man, I wiped my sweaty hands on my shirt, pressed them against the sudden flapping of birds that was happening in my stomach. 


What if they figured it out?


“I don’t think I need to tell you what the topic was, the writer did an excellent job of doing that, so I’ll just begin.” She glanced around the class, eyes catching mine briefly. I tried to beg her not to read with my eyes but she didn’t notice. Instead she cleared her throat and began to strip me bare with my own words.


“The world froze the moment our eyes met, stealing the air from my lungs. His eyes. I will never forget the moment they landed on mine. Eyes a vivid blue, they made sapphires jealous of their shine. I never wanted to look away.”


Shit. My heart hammered in my chest. I wanted to run out of the classroom. Could I ask to go to the bathroom? Would that be obvious?


The teacher didn’t seem to care what she was doing to me. She kept reading. “There was nothing but those eyes. It was as if the world knew, had hushed all sounds, stopped all movement just for us. For that first moment. Something happened to me then. A strange feeling grew, a weak flicker at first but it quickly became faster. Stronger.”


This was bad, I thought. Really, really bad. I dared to shoot a seconds-long peek at Joshua. He was staring at the teacher, listening intensely. My stomach flipped. 


He couldn’t know, right? She didn’t say my name. And I didn’t use his. He started to look my way. I faced the teacher, forced my hands to return to my desk. Act like nothing was wrong. Like I was just a student listening to someone else’s work being read.


Not mine. Not mine. If I thought enough maybe it would come true.


“My life changed with one look,” the teacher scanned the class again, making sure she had our complete attention. She sure had mine. “My heart became an extension of his. I don’t think he noticed that I have given mine.”


Make it stop. Please, stop reading.


“I don’t know his name and yet I know we are meant to be. Fated to be. How is that possible? It’s not… and yet it is.” Finally, she stopped and retuned my story with the others. My heart was allowed to beat again but embarrassment continued to climb into my neck and face.


They’d know it was mine. If my face goes red, they’ll know.


“Can anyone tell me what the writer was telling us?” Someone’s hand on my right shot up. “Yes, Gail?”


“Love at first sight?” the brunette with blue streaks in her hair answered with a question. “That or a crush.”


Our teacher smiled. “Very good. The topic was ‘First Crush’. What did you think of the writing?”


“Really good. They made you almost experience it with them.” Gail’s words had pride sneaking in behind embarrassment. I chewed on a nail, but checked to see if she was telling the truth. She didn’t look like she was lying.


“I agree,” the teacher said before looking at another student. “And you, Luke, any thoughts?” 


Luke was in the same gym class as Shane and Joshua. He was also one of the few guys who accepted me as one of the guys when I talked my way into playing with the boys’ side of the gym. The teacher’s question had him fidgeting before he gave a jerk of his shoulder. “It was good, I guess. A bit cheesy for me.”


Cheesy? I frowned. I’d give him cheesy.


The teacher chuckled. “All right.” She paused, gaze going to the back of the class. “Yes Julian, do you have a comment or question?” 


“Yah.” Julian was slouched in his seat, a flop of black hair covering his eyes. He notched his chin up. “What grade did they get?” 


“Ah, that is for them to find out,” she smiled. “Now if there are no more questions, please get out your books and turn to Act Two, Scene One.” While we did as she asked, the teacher gathered up the story assignments and began handing them out. I wanted to hug her when I saw she mixed them up first so that mine was not the first one she gave back.


“Liyah,” Jenny’s excited-whisper pulled my gaze from tracking the teacher’s movements. “Check it out,” she said with a huge grin. She showed me the cover page of her assignment where a big 86% and the word ‘Wonderful’ had been written in red. 


I gave her two thumbs up. “Nice.”


Our teacher started towards me so Jenny mouthed “thank you” before flipping through her Shakespeare book.


The second I got my story, I pulled “Othello” over to cover the heart. I didn’t need someone glancing over at my desk and realizing the teacher had read mine. Seeing the 98% grade made me feel a little more forgiving towards her. She also left a note on the bottom of the page asking if she could enter the story into the school’s literary journal, with my permission.


Oh. I hadn’t expected that. She thought I was good enough to be in the literary journal? I mean, I know I’m a decent writer when it comes to articles for the newspaper, but that was more fact-based. This was…. Well.


When class ended, I told the teacher I was okay with her entering my story, but was it possible to have it written under anonymous. The last thing I wanted was anyone reading it, knowing it was me. Jenny would know who it was about, so would Shane. The very thought of Joshua figuring it out had me insisting my name not appear anywhere on the story if for some reason I was lucky enough to be picked. She ensured me that she would make a note of it. Her words didn’t prevent a nervous feeling from filling my stomach as I left the room having promised to give her a copy of the story the next day. 


Thanks to Shane and his attempt at being clever and funny, I had a couple of his and Mike’s friends bugging me at lunch time. Apparently, they weren’t sure Shane was lying to them about me having an identical twin.


Seriously? I’ve known most of these guys for years. Where would I have hidden a twin? Jenny thought it was hilarious and did her best to keep the guys guessing. Okay, so maybe I got a little into it. Jenny convinced me to switch back to my regular clothes the next day, little to no make-up, just to mess with them.


Is it wrong that I agreed to do it?




                                                                 Chapter Twenty-Two


The next day, as according to our plan, I wore my baggiest pants with pockets down the legs and an over-sized tee shirt. I put my hair in a messy bun on top of my head with just mascara for make-up. I liked what it did to my eyes and it wasn’t that noticeable at a first glance. I felt more like myself when I went into the kitchen and ran into my brother Mike, who took immediate notice of my less than girly outfit.


“Well, look who’s back, Tomboy Liy,” he said with a grin, holding a triangle piece of toast smothered in melting peanut butter.


Well, that was a nickname I hadn’t heard since I was ten. “Hey yourself.” Seeing a box from the bakery shop two blocks away, I flipped open the lid. Yes. There was a Morning Glory muffin. No one in my house liked the carrot, apple, raison mix but it was one of my favorites. I snatched it from the box and pulled the liner off. “Don’t like me as a tomboy?” I asked Mike.


He licked a drop of peanut butter off his thumb. “Who said I ever liked you?” he joked. “No, seriously, why did you change back? Thought you were all pink and gloss now.”


“I will never be pink,” I informed him with a touch of snobbery. I popped a chunk of muffin into my mouth. Chewing it, I added, “Jenny thought it would be funny to confuse people. Besides, just because I might wear skirts and stuff sometimes doesn’t mean I’m going to change who I am.”


I felt Mike’s eyes on me when I turned around to pour lukewarm coffee into a mug. My parents must have left for work a while ago. I put the coffee in the microwave to nuke. My brother wanting to say something. What, I had no idea? 


It was when I was pouring cream into my mug, he finally cleared his throat. “You know, I’m proud of you.” I looked at him. I think we were both shocked by his words. “You’ve never cared about what people thought of you, always did what you felt was right , not what others thought would get them in with the popular crowd.” He snorted. “Takes balls to do that.”


I rolled my eyes. Why were having balls always associated with being brave? In my opinion, it took more than being a guy to stay true to yourself and back down to peer pressure.


Uncomfortable with being nice to me, Mike dumped the rest of his breakfast and told me not to drag my ass or I’d miss the bus. Ah, back to normal. That was more like it. I chuckled to myself, watching him walk out of the kitchen.


The bus stop was the first clue I’d have more “friends” if I kept to the skirts and dresses, and that my switch back confused people. I was surprised, and pleased, when Daisy asked if I wanted to sit with her again. She, at least, didn’t care what I wore.


“I’m surprised you haven’t asked me about the clothes,” I told her after noticing the sneer a girl gave me before whispering to her friend. She was in my gym class, Wendy or Windy. When we had a male substitute, she was usually the first to fluff her hair and offer to help him find his way around the school. 


Daisy glanced at her too. “Ignore her. She’s jealous Trenton has been paying attention to you.” My surprise must have shown because she said, “It’s pretty much all over the school that he’s interested in you. She’s been after him for two years but he barely looks in her direction.”


“Oh… um… we’re not…” I shifted.


“Don’t worry about it. She’s a snake though, so be careful.” Daisy looked me over. “Truth? I don’t care what you wear. I always thought you were nice, but you tend to keep to yourself so I didn’t want to bug you. I asked you to sit with me yesterday because I didn’t know what Windy and her gang of bitches would do about Trenton liking you.”


That made my mouth open, close. “Oh. Thank you?”


Daisy laughed. “I meant what I said about us being friends. Plus, it might be good to have more eyes on your back in case Windy wants to cause trouble.”



Huh. My heart paused for a second, trying to decide if I should be worried about Windy. I didn’t want Trenton. I hope she’d realize that too and leave me alone. A quick glance in her direction, the hard eyes glaring back at me, made me decide maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep an eye on her just in case.


                                                                                      ***


For the most part, I became invisible again. Not to my circle of friends, however. During recess, Joshua and Shane made jokes about me trying to dress like a boy to mess with guys’ heads. While it’s true I might have let Jenny talk me into keeping them on their toes, I didn’t like how Shane and Joshua were making me look. Calling me a boy, while wearing clothes I wore all the time, stung a lot more than I thought. In fact, it pissed me off. I wasn’t unused to ribbing, but there was meanness to their teasing that hurt. 


I got up and began to leave, but then stopped quickly. No. I wasn’t going to let them get to me. 


My gaze centered on Shane. “About what you mentioned in the library yesterday.” I was pleased by the surprise on his face. He and Joshua shared a look. “I’ve made up my mind. I’d love to go on a double date with you and Jenny. Set me up with one of your friends.” Stomach about to flip upside down, I turned sharping on my heels and stomped off.


Screw them both for being asshats. Joshua for thinking it was okay to call me a boy. Shane, worst of all, for knowing me and using my insecurities to make fun of me.


I ignored both the rest of the day. Jenny tried to find out what was wrong, but it was easy to distract her with the subject of our upcoming double date. She wanted to talk outfits, hair, and of course make-up. I let her ramble on. My mood was dark as Shane and Joshua’s words lingered like an angry grey cloud above my head.


I used to think Joshua was nice. Now, I was second guessing my first impression of him.


I went to bed with their mockery playing on repeat in my brain. It had my eyes filling with tears. I tried to blink them back but they wanted to spill over, so they did. Freely. Unstoppable, until my eyes ached and my nose dripped. I scrubbed my cheeks but more tears came. 


Stupid guys. I rolled onto my stomach and buried my head in my pillow. My tear-filled eyes became blood shot from exhaustion, my head began to hurt, and I felt empty. The feeling dragged me into a fretful sleep that had me tossing and turning most of the night, and left me with the gift of a headache when I woke up in the morning.


The bathroom mirror showed my reflection as being defeated. Eyes, red and puffy, stared back with a bleak expression. I looked away. Splashing cold water on my face didn’t do much to better my appearance, so before leaving the bathroom I took two aspirin and then borrowed my sister’s concealer stick she left on the bathroom counter.


I scanned my face.


Good enough.



                                                                 Chapter Twenty-Three


I shuffled my way to the kitchen still in my pajamas and contemplating the likelihood of my parents letting me stay home from school today. Slim. Very, very slim. Education is important, blah, blah, blah. Didn’t they realize how horrible high school could be?


My mom glanced over her shoulder from where she was scrambling eggs when I dragged my feet into the kitchen. “Good morning. You slept in a bit today. I was about to check in on you.” Her eyes narrowed taking in my face. “You okay?”


“Yeah. Just have a headache. Didn’t sleep well.” Hoping to change the subject, I asked, “How come you haven’t left for work?”


“Hmm,” she dumped the eggs on a plate, “Oh. I have my dentist appointment this morning. I started spaghetti sauce in the crock pot for supper tonight since I’ll have to stay a little later. Want some?” She used her fork to point at the eggs.


“No. I might just grab something when I get to school.” I was so not in the mood to eat. In fact, I’m pretty sure if I tried to put anything in my mouth, I’d be sick. 


Squirting ketchup on her plate, she studied me again. “Take some aspirin before you leave.”


“Sure, mom.” I poured a glass of water, then kissed her on the cheek before going back to my room to get dressed.


Jenny wanted me to wear a long skirt she handed to me at school, claiming it didn’t fit her so I could keep it. After what happened the day before, the thought of dressing up seemed like a waste. I looked like a boy after all, so why bother? Navy jogging pants were fine. Hanging on one of the hooks behind my bedroom door was the shirt I wore to Shane’s party. My mom must have washed it. I pursed my lips.


That would look ridiculous with jogging pants.


The shirt was pretty though, and comfortable.


Screw it.


Slipping it off the hanger, I tugged it over my head. Might look terrible. Might look good. Don’t care. My hair went into two French braids, face powdered and a couple swipes of mascara later, I was done.


I took two aspirin like I promised. When I remembered my idiot decision to let Shane set me up with one of his friends, I grabbed two more to take at lunch time. I had the feeling I was going to need them. What was I thinking, telling him that? I thought of his friends, who he might pick. Tom, his gym buddy, wasn’t bad. We talked about handball a few times and he seemed nice. Most of his friends were nice. So long as it wasn’t Cade. Cade was an ass. He believed girls were there to look at, to make him cookies and fawn over him. I rolled my eyes. Didn’t help that he was one of Trenton's friends, so he was used to the whole treating him like a God thing.


Yeah. If Shane tried to set me up with Cade, we were going to have a problem.


My sister stopped me on the way out of the house.


“Put this on,” she demanded, lipstick in hand. Dressed in a purple wrap dress and hair curled, she shook her head at my outfit.


I eyed the tube of lipstick. “Why?”


“Because I said to. The outfit kinda works for you, but you need this to tie it together.” She shoved it into my hand. “Come on, put it on. The bus is coming soon. Let’s get to it.”


I put on the lipstick. It was a shimmery pink/brown color. I didn’t hate it. It tasted disgusting though, I thought making a face after licking my lips. Happy I followed her order, she made me keep the lipstick and then shuffled me out the door, yelling good-bye to our mom.


There was a letter taped to my locker when I got to school. I didn’t take it down right away, looking around to see who put it there. Everyone was busy, talking to friends or digging for books in their locker. No one looked guilty. I emptied my school bag, then took the letter with me to the cafeteria where I bought a muffin that I wasn’t all that hungry for. 


The letter was from Jenny. 




Hey chicka,


So Shane spilled the beans… I’m so sorry. Please don’t hate me okay? You can’t. You’re my best friend and that means you have to forgive me for any crummy things I might do. Right? Please.


I just want you to be happy. You’re awesome and deserve to be happy. I know you don’t want me to get involved (or tell Josh to get his brain fixed and see how fabulous you are), so I’m trying. It might not seem like it, but I am. Trust me. Josh is a dummy.


So. I have the inside scoop. I got the info, if you want it. Joshie-boy was real upset when he came home from school yesterday. Really. Like thunder clouds floating above his head upset. He wouldn’t tell me what was wrong so I got the scoop from Shane. Turns out they are both buttheads. Shane told me what they said to you, how they teased you about your clothes. Boys. I mean, really, what were they thinking? You can’t see it, I’m major eye-rolling right now.


Haha! Oh my, look at you, Liyah. Shane said you told him you were down for a double date? Right in front of Josh. Ha! I love it! Good for you. Kick him in the nuts. I know you did it because you were pissed, but I don’t care. I am so happy you are letting Shane set you up with a friend. You won’t regret it. I will make sure of that.


Josh is so not happy about it. I can tell. I tried bringing it up to him after my call to Shane. He grumbled something about it being a horrible idea and that you didn’t need a guy to be happy. He was sooooooo jealous. I bet you’re thinking that he isn’t, but he is. Trust me on this. He is practically green. Maybe it’s the shaking he needs to make him realize just how fantabulous a person you are!


This is a good thing.


Remember, you have to forgive me. You’re my bestie. You have to. 


Please. 


Ciao bestie,


Jenny


 

I folded the letter, not sure what to make of it. I wasn’t thrilled about her telling Shane. I wasn’t as angry as I originally was either. Maybe I could forgive her. I wasn’t even going to think about Joshua being jealous. Nope. Not for single second. Not at all…


Someone plunked onto the seat across me. Shane gave me a weak grin while Jenny hovered by his shoulder, staring at the letter on the table between us. I put it in my notebook. “Hi.” Jenny bit a thumb nail.


Giving her a smile, I said, “Hey guys, what’s up?”


Jenny let out a sigh and sat beside Shane. He nudged her with his elbow. She swatted him back.


Shane scratched his head. Another swat from Jenny had him looking sheepish. “Sorry about yesterday.”


“It’s fine.”


“It really isn’t. I was an ass and brought Joshua into it. It was stupid. I’m, we’re, really sorry about what we said. You know we didn’t mean it.”


“Hmmm.”


“Seriously.” He looked pained about the conversation but kept going. “I shouldn’t have said what I did, and I know Joshua feels the same. I actually think he’s so embarrassed about it he’s scared to face you.”


He should be, I thought. Shane did look remorseful. “It hurt me, a lot.” My words had him staring at his hands. “I forgive you.”


“You do?” He gaped at me.


“Yes. This time.”


“It won’t happen again,” and my look of disbelief, he was quick to add, “promise.”


“Right.” 


Relieved, Shane draped an arm across Jenny’s shoulders. “So, the double date thing. You still want me to set you up with someone?”


I looked at Jenny, shrugging. “Yes. Apparently it’s a go.” 


The warning bell rang. I wrapped the rest my muffin. Jenny ditched Shane to go with me to my locker. I think she wanted to make sure things were good between us, and it seemed she also wanted to find out where I got the lipstick I was wearing. Oh Jenny.


School went by slowly after Annie found me at recess to tell me our petition worked and we were allowed to try out for the track team. Of course, the tryouts were after school. I lucked out. I had gym clothes in my locker and chose to wear my running shoes to school. Annie wasn’t so lucky, but Jenny was nice enough to lend her shorts and a tee shirt. I made plans to meet up with Annie after the last bell of the day. By the time it rang, I was up and out of the classroom before anyone else. We weren’t the only girls excited about tryouts. Five other girls showed up thanking me for helping them get a shot on the team. We changed, promising to prove we were just as good, if not better, than the boys. As long as one of us got in, we’d win.


This was it. Our chance to kick butt on the track field. 


And boy would we.




                                                                  Chapter Twenty-Four


Me and the other girls went through warm ups while we waited for the gym teacher to arrive. The weather was on the chilly side so I was wearing a zip-up sweater with the sleeves pushed up to my elbows. A couple guys gave us looks, “what do you think you’re doing here” written across their faces. I recognized Jimmy from my gym class. He gave me an encouraging smile. Trenton winked in my direction but I was quick to turn my attention to Annie.


Five minutes later the gym teacher met us in the soccer field. Joshua jogged up behind him. He called everyone to come forward. “Tryouts are now open to any student interested in joining the track and field team. That means, there will be some changes made,” he raised his voice to be heard. He glared at a group of guys whispering.


“Wouldn’t want the ladies to hurt themselves, right?” Trenton called out. The guys chuckled with him. My eyes narrowed. He didn’t say that, did he? Joshua shook his head when our eyes met.


Well…” the teacher paused.


I wasn’t the only one pissed off by Trenton’s words. A look at the other girls with me, confirmed he managed to irritate us all. None of them said anything though. I hated drawing attention to myself. Hated being in the spotlight, but anger twisted my stomach like a tornado and I found it impossible to keep myself from correcting his sexist remark.


“We don’t need tryouts to be changed. We’re fine with it as is.” The girls murmured their agreement.


The gym teacher hesitated. “You sure? I work these guys real hard. Last thing I need is you complaining to your parents.” I noticed he didn’t say it to me, but to the other girls. Having let me into his gym class, he must realize how stupid what he was saying was.


I was the one who answered. “Yes. We’re fine.”


“Okay,” he said slowly. “All right then. That’s settled. Let’s get started then,” he said with a clap of his hands.


We were split up into groups of four so he would be able to keep a close eye on each student trying out. First up were sprints. Short distance running. It was easy to spot the two girls who hadn’t done any track before. They made good time but were clearly winded. I had the feeling their decision to tryout was to prove girls were as good as guys, but they hadn’t actually trained beforehand. Still, they weren’t worse than most of the second group. One guy in Joshua’s group managed to trip over his own feet and faceplanted into the track. Other than a case of humiliation, he wasn’t injured. He did blame the incident on his shoelace coming undone.


Unsurprisingly, Joshua won.


Anne easily outpaced the guys in her team. She grinned at me, breathing even and proud of herself. We high fived each other before I took my place with the last group, which of course included none other than Trenton and one of the guys who wasn’t impressed with girls invading the tryouts.


“Don’t worry,” Trenton said leaning towards me, “I’ll go easy on you.”


I raised my brows. “Thanks?”


The whistle was blown and he shot forward.


Sprints aren’t my strong suit. I’m not bad. No where near Annie’s level though. Long distance running is where I shine, so I wasn’t too upset when I was second place in our group of four with Trenton in the lead and grumpy-face third place. The guy had the nerve to mumble I started running before the whistle went off. Jerk.


I hate to be the person to brag, but I kicked ass during the long-distance run. The trick is to keep a steady pace, not run full out like a newbie might be tempted to do (like a few of the new to track and field sports students did). The guys in my group were cocky, since I was at the back for most of the run. That was their mistake. While they began to wind-down, I sped.


I can’t say Trenton was too pleased to see me pass him on the track. I bit back my smile and crossed the finish line to the “whoops” of encouragement from the girls. Joshua and Jimmy even offered me high fives when I jogged passed them.



Joshua’s group was next. Kickboxing kangaroos took up residence in my stomach. I joined the girls on the grass. Annie offered me her water bottle when I sat beside her, which I took with a smile of thanks.


“Man, that is one hot guy,” one of the girls behind me said to her friend. It didn’t take a genius to know they were talking about Joshua. I fidgeted, pretending to stretch my legs.


“Can you believe he’s still single? How is it no girl has nabbed him yet? I’d give anything for him to notice me,” her friend replied. It took every ounce of control not to look behind me. I didn’t recognize the girl’s voice.


“Yeah, well good luck with that. Kristi asked him out. He turned her down.”


“No way! No one says no to her.”


I knew who they were talking about. Kristi was in grade eleven and was as perfect as anyone could be. Red hair, blue eyes, wisp thin and tall. She was also a part-time model with goals to become an actress. No one will be shocked if she appears in a movie before she graduates. The thought of her asking Joshua out made me feel sick to my stomach.


“I think he likes someone.” 


I tried to act casual as I leaned back, resting my weight on my elbows.


“Who?”


“No one knows. He’s been very hush hush about it.” 


The two lowered their voices as they began going through all the potential girls he might like. I sat up with a sigh. Of course he likes someone. I bet it won’t be long before whoever she is becomes his girlfriend.


“What do you think our chances are?” Annie asked, thankfully giving me something else to think about. We watched Joshua take first place. I clapped with the others but turned to Annie.


“Good, I think. You’re a shoe-in for the sprints.”


“And you for long-distance,” she grinned, “you were amazing.” 


We weren’t given anymore time to talk about who would make it in the team because the gym teacher called us to gather again. He was already making cuts. Four people were thanked for coming but apparently didn’t make the cut. To no one’s surprise, the two girls I picked out as newcomers (also the two chatting about Joshua) were in the four to go. So was tripping-on-his-laces and another guy from a grade eight.


The girls shrugged, not that upset about being cut. They came over to tell us to beat the boys, linked arms then said they were off to get ice cream.


Trenton seemed to be ticked off with me beating him in the last run. Instead of winks, I was getting glares. I kept my back to him when I could but I felt the heat of his eyes on me.


“Someone’s a sore loser,” Jimmy said coming up to my side.


“Seems like it.”


“I’m not surprised you beat him,” wiping the sweat off his face, Jimmy looked me over. “You’re probably the best handball player I’ve seen. Sports come easy to you, I bet.”


I felt my face warm, not one to take compliments easily. “Thanks. I guess so. I played a lot of basketball and hockey with my brothers growing up, much to my mom’s dismay.” I grinned.


“Why does that not surprise me? I hope you make the team. It might actually stand a chance at winning.”


The teacher started calling out names, breaking up the rest of the students into bigger groups of six.


High jumps came next. Not my favorite part of track and field, launching your body up and over a horizontal bar with increasing height. I might not like the sport much, but I was pretty good at it. I did better than I thought. Jimmy, Trenton, and I made up half of our group and I somehow managed to outlast them all. When I landed my last jump, I was whisked up by Jimmy who spun me in a victory hug.


I let out a laugh of surprise, vision blurring. “Put me down you maniac,” I said trying to squirm free from his arms.


He came to a stop and put me back on my feet. “That was awesome. Shit, you should have seen Trenton’s face when he missed the last jump and you made it. He looked purple.”


I bent to catch my breath, and maybe try and make the world stop spinning. 


“So happy I decided to tryout again this year, just to see you put that ass in his place.”


I mock-bowed. “At your service.”




                                                                   Chapter Twenty-Five


We got a ten-minute break to catch our breaths or go to the bathroom before the gym teacher had us run drills. After that he told us to partner up. It was time to see how fit we were. He wanted to see how many push-ups, crunches, and other exercises we could do within a certain time frame. I didn’t see what that had to do with track and field, but it wasn’t any different than we had to do in gym class during the health and fitness portion of the year.


The girls paired up with each other, one snagged Annie before I could ask her. My gaze went briefly to Joshua but when he saw me, he turned to the guy beside him. I didn’t have to wonder what that was about because someone tapped me on the shoulder. Jimmy.


“Need a partner?” he asked me.


I gave him a grateful smile. “Yes, please.”


Jimmy offered to grab the papers and pens needed to keep track of how many reps we managed to do per exercise. I shouted good luck to Annie, who gave me a cheeky grin as she titled her head towards Jimmy. I rolled my eyes.


For the next thirty minutes, Jimmy and I took turns. We weren’t far off on the number of reps, and though he kicked my butt at the push-ups, I managed to do a few more crunches than him. He kept me entertained with funny stories about the prank he and his brothers pulled on each other. When the tryouts were done, we were told we’d find out in a few days who made the team. He even admitted to being impressed with everyone. I found that a little rude, since he looked at us girls when he said it but I kept that observation to myself.


I showered in the girls’ locker room, happy to change out of my sweaty gym clothes then headed for my locker to collect my homework. After calling my dad to see if he could pick me up, I started down the hallway towards the front door when something caught my attention.


Joshua and Trenton. Talking. I slowed down. Since when did they talk to each other? I thought Joshua didn’t like him. They didn’t notice me, too deep in conversation. A part of me wanted to go over and see what they were talking about, but I didn’t want to deal with Trenton’s ego. He hadn’t been happy about how the tryouts went. Too bad for him.


I decided to take a long way around to the front entrance of the school in order to avoid Trenton, and Joshua by default. Seeing them together unsettled me. Were they now friends? After what Trenton tried to do at Shane’s party?


The questions followed me during the car ride home, and distracted me from answering my dad’s questions about the tryouts. He had to ask twice before I was aware of him talking to me. At home, I went to my room to deal with homework until I was called down for supper.


“Heard the track tryouts were today,” Mike said shoving a forkful of pasta into his mouth. “Think you made it?”


“I think I did okay.” 


Mike made a noise. “I heard you did great. You were the best of the girls trying out and most of, if not all, the guys as well.” 


I blinked at him surprised. “Who told you that?” 


“Joshua. Ran into him by the soccer field. Said he was sure you would get in.”


I don’t know what surprised me more, the pride in Mike’s voice or what Joshua said. 


Tasha, who had been staring at her phone for the past ten minutes, stared at me. “Did he say track? I thought you were finally over your tomboy phase.”


“I can dress nice and still play sports,” I told her, piercing a cherry tomato in my salad. I watched as a seed shot out and landed on the table.


“If you want to do something athletic, why not be a cheerleader?”


“That sounds like a great idea,” my mom added. This led to me and Mike sharing a look before cracking up. “What?”


“I’m not exactly the cheerleading type.”


My sister hmphed. “Not with that attitude, you’re not.” Done with the conversation, she returned to her phone.


After we finished eating, I gathered the dishes to bring them to the sink. My dad helped, rinsing the dishes while I packed the dishwasher. “I’m proud of you,” he told me, holding out a plate. “Starting the petition, getting the school to allow the female students to be a part of the track team too.”


I took the plate. “Thank you. That means a lot. I just hope I get picked for the team.”


“I know you will.”


That night, my sister talked me into letting her pick my clothes for the next day. If I was going to keep playing sports, I should at least look like a girl more often. Those were her words, not mine. Since it is rare for us to have anything in common, and therefore spend time together, I relented. Plus, Jenny would be happy so I wouldn’t have to listen to her talk about the stores she wanted to take me to when we went shopping.


Somehow, I ended up agreeing to wear my sister’s jean skirt with lace on the bottom. It was paired with a butter yellow shirt with capped sleeves from my mom’s closet. They made me model the outfit for them, trying on different shoes before I convinced my sneakers were the only option if I was to make it through the school day without twisting an ankle.


Jenny called me before bed, wanting to know how the tryouts went, if I thought I would be picked. The conversation turned to Shane and then clothes before my mom told me it was getting late and to get off the phone.


A soft knocking on my door woke me in the morning.


My mom popped her head into my room. “Honey, you wanted me to wake you early.”


“Yah, thanks mom,” I said groggily, trying not to give in to the urge to cover my head with my pillow. Instead I threw the blankets to my feet.


“Want French Toast? I’m making myself some.”


“Ooo,” I rubbed my eyes. “Two please.”


My mom left the door open, probably because she knew if she closed it, I might crawl back to bed. It was tempting. There was at least thirty minutes before normal wake up time. I shuffle-walked to the bathroom to shower, putting the water just shy of cold hoping it would wake me up.


Dressed, I let my hair dry naturally, added a couple swipes of brown shadow and mascara before I shrugged at my reflection and headed for the kitchen. My mom was sliding the French Toast onto plates.


“Coffee’s in the pot,” she told me. “Can you grab the maple syrup from the fridge?”


Tasha joined us five minutes later, though she said no to my mom’s offer of breakfast choosing to make oatmeal instead. My sister walked with me to the bus stop but left me for her friends the moment we got there. I didn’t mind. I pulled out the book I was reading and read a chapter before the bus arrived.


My first class of the day, Science, was extremely boring. We had a “pop” quiz everyone already knew about. I might have gotten half of the answers right; the other half were guessed. It was worth 5% of our grade, but my mark was in the high 70’s so I wasn’t too worried. Fortunately, I had drama to look forward to next. Today we auditioned for the parts we wanted to play in the presentation we had planned for the end of the year. It was going to be part of our final grade and performed in front of the other grades and for parents and friends. Not everyone in the class had to have a role, they could be part of the stage crew, be in charge of costumes and makeup. As long as they were somehow involved in the performance, our teacher was happy. However, because not everyone wanted to play a character, some of us ended up having multiple characters to play. I ended up with three, not that I minded.


One was a girl named Lily: an airhead cheerleader who gets humiliated in front of the whole cheerleading squad and the football team. I had a feeling I would be talking to Trisha for some help on that character since she knew more about cheerleaders than I did. The second role was a brainy schoolgirl who gets asked out by the hottest guy in school on a dare. I wasn’t too excited to play the part since it felt like something that could happen to me, but the teacher chose me for the part and I couldn’t exactly say no. The last character was a mean girl who switches bodies with one of the girls she bullied, and learns what it’s like to be picked on. It was a nice mix of characters and scenarios. That being said, I was paired with Joshua in the scene with the girl being asked out. He was going to play the guy who did it on a dare. Lucky me… not.


“Since when does my brother talk to Trenton?” Jenny asked me during recess. We were sitting in the cafeteria. I was reading through an essay she had to write for one of her classes. At her question, I followed her gaze to where the two guys stood in line to buy food.


“Since yesterday? I saw them together after the track team tryouts.”


Joshua must have sensed us looking his way. He looked our way, retuning Jenny’s frown with one of his own. I gave him a sad attempt of a smile. Trenton met my gaze, nudged Joshua and said something. Nothing good from the clouded expression that crossed Joshua’s face after. He gave us his back.


“Hmm,” Jenny turned to me. “Wonder what that’s all about.”


“Dunno.”


“Not sure I like it.”


Shane sat beside Jenny causing her to forget about her brother when he dropped an arm across her shoulder. I grinned when Jenny flushed, snuggling close to Shane. My attention returned to her essay. I made a couple corrections in pencil.

Chapters 16-20

                                                                                   Chapter Sixteen


Jenny claimed to be starving when we got back to her house. She decided we’d make nachos and watch a movie, asking Joshua if he wanted to join. However, after a seconds-long glance in my direction he turned her down. I tried not to let it bother me but it wasn’t easy. I was confused because I thought we had been getting along well, then suddenly he was cold towards me.


What had I done now?


“Catch,” Jenny threw a brick of cheese in my direction. I just caught it before it hit me in the face. She made a face. “Sorry. Can you grate that while I start building the best nacho tower you’ve ever eaten?”


I arched a brow at her. “Oh yea? The best?”


“Definitely.”


“Okay queen of nachos, cheese duty for me it is.” I scanned the counter, the many different cupboards and drawers. “Where’s the grater hidden?”


Jenny wanted to go over every encounter she had with Shane. I let her talk while we sliced olives, peppers and onions. She flushed when she confessed that she had hoped he would kiss her, while sprinkling a layer of veggies on the chips, and how she wondered if he would on their date. I mostly kept quiet, adding in the appropriate comment here and there. 


When the tray of nachos was in the oven, we headed for their tv room to look at movie options. Jenny’s were all romance. Normally I love a good romance, happily ever afters always make me happy, but I wasn’t feeling it tonight. Joshua and Trenton ruined that for me.


“How about a scary movie?” I suggested instead which got me a surprised look from Jenny. Maybe she sensed my mood, or was just good of a hostess, but she agreed a moment later and the two of us looked through our options.


“Nope. No way,” she said when I held up the first Resident Evil film. “That’s never going to happen. Not in a million years.”


I grinned, waving the movie at her. “But it’s so good.”


“Ha! Creepy zombies with sagging flesh falling off is not my definition of good.”


“You don’t know what you’re missing. I love these movies.” Giving in, I returned the movie to its shelf.


“You and Joshua both. You guys should watch them together.” Jenny said, absentmindedly, not seeing my reaction. “I agreed to scary, but can we have it scary-light?”


This made me laugh, Joshua forgotten. “Scary-light? What on earth is that?”


Jenny shrugged her shoulders. “You know, scary but with some funny thrown in. Or, one of those really old scary movies with terrible special effects that don’t seem as scary now.”


“Sure. Let’s look for some scary-light movies.”


We settled on Shaun of the Dead. It fit her requests of being somewhat scary but also hilarious. I put the movie in while she ran to the kitchen to turn off the oven timer and get the nachos. The last thing I expected was to see her walking back with Joshua at her heels.


My heart stopped for a fraction of a second before I pulled my gaze from him.


“Let me help you,” I told Jenny, getting to my feet. I grabbed the plate of nachos she had been balancing on one hand while using her chin to keep a jar of salsa on top of the container of sour cream she had sitting in two bowls. “You should have asked for help,” I tsked at her.


“Eh. Wanted to make it in one trip. Besides, Josh changed his mind when he saw my nachos. He helped. He’s got drinks and napkins.”


Sure enough, Joshua had a variety of drink bottles in his arms and was clutching a fistful of napkins. He was staring at the bottles as if he couldn’t stand the sight of me. My stomach twisted. 


Perfect.


Clearing my throat, I asked Jenny, “Where should I put this?” I held up the plate of nachos.


She jerked her head to the coffee table pushed against a wall. “Can you drag that in front of the coach? We’ll put the spread there.”


It took a few minutes to set everything up to Jenny’s liking. It seemed she had a specific order to how she wanted it arranged, so after putting the plate down I let her take over. Joshua grabbed the TV and DVD controllers and plopped onto the couch, legs spread a little. 


Jenny kicked his leg but he didn’t move. With an eyeroll in my direction, Jenny opened the salsa jar. “I meant to ask you, what happened with Trenton after I went in? He looked happy to have you alone.”


I swallowed, mouth dry. “Oh. Um.” Really, Jenny? I took a breath. “Nothing.”


“Not what I saw,” Joshua mumbled. I shot him a look but he was staring at the controllers on his lap.


Eyes on Jenny, more than a little ticked off with her brother, I spoke carefully. “Trenton was drunk. Or getting there. It made me uncomfortable so I was trying to get away when your brother found us. I’m glad he did.”


Everything in me wanted to see Joshua’s reaction but I kept my focus on Jenny. It did not stop me from feeling the heat of his stare on me though.


“Oh no.” Jenny looked me over. “I saw a couple guys with beer bottles. Shane had to ask them to leave. Are you okay? He didn’t try anything did he?”


“I’m fine.”


“Are you sure?” She bit her lip. “I feel terrible. I left you alone with him. I’m a horrible friend.”


“Oh shut up,” I lightened my tone so she would know I wasn’t upset with her. “Nothing happened. He might have tried to get handsy but your brother had perfect timing.” Needing the conversation to end, I asked, “Now are we watching this movie or not?”


“Okay. Okay.” Jenny poured the salsa into one of the bowls she brought. The sour cream went in the other. “Let’s do this.”


I should have sat first.


Jenny took the other end of the couch leaving the middle empty. For me. Beside Joshua.


I’m not ready for this, I thought. Holding my breath, as though it might make me smaller, I eased between the two of them, butt perched right at the end of the cushion.


You can do this. It’s only a movie. A couple hours, tops.


Joshua’s knee touched mine.


Crap.



                                                                                    Chapter Seventeen


I woke slowly, feeling cozy and comfortable. I didn’t want to wake up yet but my pillow wasn’t in the right position for ultimate comfort. I shifted, frowned. 


My pillow felt wrong.


I moved my hand from under my chin. My breath caught and my heartbeat picked up. I wasn’t laying on a pillow, but a person. That realization had me sitting up fast to stare down at… Joshua? 


What the hell?


His eyes opened to look at me. “Hey.”


Hey, he says. Hey? I was sleeping on him!


Awkwardness filled me. I rubbed a hand across my face, silently relieved there was no drool on my mouth. Talk about embarrassing. My voice was sleepy when I repeated his greeting, then asked, “What happened?”


Joshua straightened from his slouched position now that I was no longer draped across his chest. He pointed to the other side of the couch where Jenny was passed out in a ball. Her face was scrunched up on a cushion. “You both fell asleep about halfway through the movie,” he said with a smile.


“Oh my god.” Heat flooded my face. “I’m so sorry for using you as a pillow.”


Shrugging, Joshua looked away. “I didn’t mind.”


“Oh. Thanks.”


Eeek! What did that mean? Unable to process what just happened, I did the only sensible thing. I nudged Jenny awake. It took a few pokes to wake her before we cleaned up the food. Jenny kind of helped but she was half asleep and spent most of the time trying to keep her eyes open. In the end, I had to almost help walk her to the bathroom to make sure we both got our make-up off. I left her to use the bathroom and brush her teeth while I changed into my pj shorts and tank set.


When Jenny returned, I headed for the bathroom, assuming Joshua had gone to his room. I was wrong.


“Did you need the bathroom?” he asked when we met in the hallway outside the door.


I tugged on my shirt. They were my favorite pajamas. Super soft. Well worn… with Oscar the Grouch all over them. They had also shrunk in the dryer a little. I packed them out of habit. I was regretting that decision now. Joshua’s eyes went to the bottom of my shirt where two inches of my stomach showed.


“You can go first.” I wrapped my arm around my waist to hide my stomach.


Joshua met my gaze. “Nope. No can do.” He stepped back from the bathroom door. “You’re a guest. I’ll wait.”


Knowing he was outside the door had me brushing my teeth in record time. I wanted to return to Jenny’s room and see if she had any long sweaters I could wear. Or maybe I could just wrap myself in a blanket and wear it like a cape?


Joshua was leaning against the wall when I left the bathroom. He straightened when he saw me.


“Well. Um. Night,” was my ruffled response to seeing him. 


He grinned. “Night Liyah.” I pulled on my shirt again and moved to walk passed him when he added, “Sweet dreams. I’ll see you in the morning.”


A weird hand wave was all I could manage as I scurried down the hall to Jenny’s room. My stomach was a nest of birds flapping around for fun.


Jenny was softly snoring, sprawled on her back on her bed. I hoped she at least changed out of her dress first. Carefully crawling onto the single air mattress her parents set up for me while we were at Shane’s, I fell asleep wondering why Joshua didn’t wake me, or shrug me off him, when I decided he would make an excellent pillow.


The next morning, I woke to find myself alone in Jenny’s bedroom. Her bed was made but she was gone. Spotting a brown, woolen button-up sweater, I slipped it on hoping she wouldn’t mind. After splashing water on my face and brushing my teeth, I followed the sounds of talking to the kitchen where Jenny and Joshua were sitting at the kitchen table, bowls of cereal in front of them.


Joshua noticed me first. “Morning, sleepyhead.”


Turning in her seat, Jenny gave me a cheeky grin. “Well, if it isn’t Miss Lazy Bones, sleep good?” I nodded. “Hungry? We’ve got plenty of cereal options for you to choose from.” Jenny pointed to the row of six boxes lining the counter by the sink. “There’s also bread if you want toast. If you want eggs, we can have Josh scramble you up some. He’s the egg master.


Unable to meet Joshua’s eyes, I shook my head. “Cereal’s fine. Perfect.” I scanned the options before settling on Lucky Charms. Jenny told me where to find a bowl and spoons. 


While pouring some cereal in my bowl, I gathered up the courage to ask, “Do you have coffee? I mean, it’s not a big deal if you don’t. I don’t need it.”


Jenny laughed. “Coffee nut, are you?” I flushed. “My mom and Josh are too. They barely function unless there’s caffeine in their systems. Sometimes I think there’s more coffee than blood in them, to be honest.”


“Ha, ha.” Joshua got to his feet, messing Jenny’s hair as he walked by. She let out a cry of protest.


“Ass,” she called him, trying to fix the damage he did.


Joshua just chuckled. “I haven’t made mine yet, so I’ll put on a pot now.” He went to the fridge and took out a can of coffee grounds and milk, which he handed to me. A mumbled thanks later, I was sitting beside Jenny and adding milk to my bowl.


I watched Joshua from the corner of my eye as Jenny told me about the dream she had where she was being chased by a monkey in a red hat and rollerblades around a car. She wanted to know what I thought it meant. Other than laughing out of shock, I had nothing.


It didn’t take long for the coffee to percolate. Joshua waited by the coffee pot, adding his opinions on Jenny’s dream while he waited for it to finish. He claimed the dream meant she was going to join the circus, or she was running away from something she didn’t want to deal with. Personally, I feel the second option had more of a chance at being real than the first. Jenny preferred the circus story.


“Here you go,” Joshua said, and placed a mug in front of me. I wrapped my hands around it. The heat of the cup warming my hands.


“Thanks.”


Their mom walked in soon after, claiming the smell of fresh coffee was too much of a tease for her to resist. She asked what our plans were for the rest of the day, studying us over the rim of the mug as we shoveled in spoonfuls of cereal.


Jenny wanted to take a walk or go to the park, and I liked the idea. So after we were done, I helped them clean up before she and I made our way to her bedroom to change for the day. Jenny tried lending me more of her clothes but they wouldn’t fit properly which led to her making me promise to let her go shopping with me one day. 


I’ll admit, I hesitated. It’s true that I liked how I looked the night before, and Trenton sure appreciated the wardrobe change (I think Joshua did too), but was it me? Jenny must have noticed because she was quick to add that we’d find a style that suited me and that I was comfortable in. I eventually gave in, causing her to let out a squeal of happiness.


We walked to the park a couple blocks from her house. Ignoring the signs saying only children were allowed on the swings, we found two free ones. At first neither of us spoke, too busy pushing ourselves higher and higher on the swings.


“You had fun at Shane’s?” I asked, watching a mom try to collect her two kids from the jungle gym unsuccessfully. They did not want to leave. It took the mom a bribe of ice cream on their way home to get her son and daughter to jump down.


Jenny straightened her legs as the swing moved forward. “Yeah. I’m so glad we went.”


I glanced at her. “Because it ended with a future date with the host?” I teased.


She stuck her tongue out. “Very funny. No, that’s not why… okay it’s not the only reason why.” We both laughed at that. “I think I could fall for him. If I’m not halfway there already.”


“He’s a really great guy.”


Jenny let out a dreamy sigh before turning serious. “I’m really sorry about leaving you with Trenton. If I knew he had been drinking…” She paused.


“Don’t.” I brought the swing to stop and faced her. “You wanted to check on Shane. It’s not your fault, all right? And while I’m not excusing him, I don’t think he’s usually like that. I think the fact that I wasn’t all giddy and fluttering eyelashes at him, had him wanting to prove he could get me to like him. I’m just happy Joshua showed up when he did.”


“I’m glad he did too.” She dug the heels of her sneaker into the sand to slow the swing down. “I just wish he wasn’t a dummy and see how awesome you are.”


Me too, I thought but didn’t say. I shrugged. “Eh. What can you do?”


“Lock him up in a room until he changes his mind?” Jenny offered with a grin.


“Hmm… not sure how that would work out, but thanks for the suggestion.”


Jenny watched the mom cross the street holding her kids’ hands. “You know what we need?” She asked, glancing at me. “Ice cream.”


“What?” I chuckled. “We ate breakfast an hour ago.”


“And?”


“And it’s too early for ice cream.” Wasn’t it?


Jenny let out a gasp. “Bite your tongue! Anytime is ice cream time.”


“You really want it now?”


“It’s the cure of everything. Plus, I blame that mom. I’ve got ice cream on the brain. Did you know that when girls get a craving it won’t go away until they have it?”


Amusement filled me. “Is that so?”


Jenny got to her feet. “Yup. That means to ice cream we must go. Come. I know the best ice cream shop ever. I found it the day after we moved.”


Laughing at eagerness, I gave in.


Ice cream before lunch, why not?



                                                                                    Chapter Eighteen


“Do you believe you can fall in love with someone after knowing them for a short time?” Jenny asked me when we left the ice cream shop. She held the door open for a harried looking dad carrying a toddler in his arms. 


I stared at her for a moment before taking a quick lick of my mango sorbet to stop it from dripping on my fingers. “You mean like love at first sight?”


We began walking back in the direction of her house. 


Jenny didn’t say anything right away. We passed a dog walker trying to keep three dogs from tangling their leashes and gave the teen a sympathetic smile. It was another few minutes before Jenny answered my question.


“Not first sight per say,” she wiped melted chocolate ice cream off her fingers and onto her shirt. “More like love after a few days.”


I gave it some thought. “I’m not really sure. I like the idea of it, sure. My biggest problem is how well can you know someone in that short amount of time? I understand falling in lust so to speak.” Jenny giggled at my word choice. I rolled my eyes at her. “Seriously though, it’s hard to say because I don’t think I’ve ever been in love.”


“Really?” Jenny asked, eyebrows raised. “Never?”


“Is that weird?”


“I’m probably the last person to ask that to. I’ve fallen in love a lot.” At the expression on my face she went on to add, “To be fair most of the guys were actors and singers.” Her laughter made me join in as we turned down her street. She slowed down and I matched my pace to hers.


“What about Joshua, you said you liked him.”


I came to a halt. Her house was in sight and the last thing I wanted to happen was Joshua overhearing us talking. “I do like him.” I told her around a mouthful of ice cream cone. “More than I’ve liked a guy before. I just wish I knew what he thought of me.” I shoved the rest of the cone in my mouth.


“Ya, my brother isn’t one to talk about his feelings.”


It was time to move the subject off me. “What about you? You’re asking about love, is that because you’re in love with Shane?”


Jenny pursed her lips. “That would be stupid, right? We haven’t gone on a first date yet. Every time we’ve hung out it’s been with other people. I can’t love him already, can I?”


“You tell me.”


We started walking again. Jenny finished her ice cream, lost in thought. I didn’t push her. It was obvious she was confused about her feelings for Shane and I knew all too well what that was like. I honestly had no clue where I stood with Joshua. Sometimes it seemed like he might like me more than friends, but then a second later he looked disappointed with me. I didn’t like it at all.


“I think I might, or could be soon,” Jenny rushed to add. “He’s different. It’s different with him.” She peeked at me to make sure there was no judgment on my face. “With those other guys, I thought I was in love with them, but now with Shane… He makes me feel good about myself. I don’t feel like I need to pretend with him. I can be me, silly, dramatic, sometimes very shy, me. And he actually listens when I talk.”


“He’s always been good at that,” I said in complete agreement.


“I don’t know if it’s love yet,” Jenny wiped her hands on the napkin that had wrapped her cone, “but I think it could be.”


“He’s different around you,” I said as we made our way to the front door of her house. We didn’t go inside right away, instead we turned to a squirrel charge up a tree to escape a cat that surprised it by pouncing out from under the neighbor’s car.


“Is he?”


“He’s also been flirty with girls. I’m not sure he was aware of doing it, or if he’s too nice for his own good. However, since meeting you, he barely notices anyone else. As cheesy as this sounds, I really believe he only has eyes for you.”


The smile on Jenny’s face rivalled the afternoon sun. I almost joked that if she kept smiling like that, I’d have to find some sunglasses when she gave me a hug.



“Don’t give up on my brother just yet,” she said in my ear. “I’ve seen the way he looks at you. I think he’s lying to himself about just wanting to be your friend.”


I had no answer for her. We went inside to find out my mom called. She was going to pick me up in an hour. That was enough time for Jenny to drag me to her bedroom so we could go through her clothes to find the perfect first date outfit. While I did offer her my opinion, I had no doubts she was completely capable of choosing something herself. She was the one with the fashion sense after all, not me.


After declining Jenny’s suggestion of turning her date with Shane into a double date with me and Joshua (talk about forcing a guy into a position he doesn’t want to be in), we headed outside to wait for my mom to get me. We met with up with Joshua who was at the front door about to leave.


“Where are you off to, brother of mine?” Jenny asked. She lightly hip-checked me when his attention went to me and not her. I tried not to look at her because I knew my face would go red if I did.


Joshua finally focused on his sister. “Shane’s. He needs help with a French assignment.”


“Don’t let him talk you into doing it.” I crossed my arms. “He’s been doing that for as long as I’ve known him. If he knows you’re really good in French he will try and sweet talk you into doing all his assignments. He tried it with me once. It took me twenty minutes to realize he didn’t plan on trying at all. Sneaky little bugger.”


Jenny and Joshua laughed at this and I couldn’t stop from grinning. 


Joshua gave my shoulder a tap. “Thanks for the warning.” 


The three of us walked outside just as my mom pulled up in her car. 


“That’s me.” I gave Jenny a hug good-bye then turned to Joshua. “Don’t let him get away with saying it’s too hard. It’s one of his tricks.”


“Got it.”


With a wave good-bye to both of them, I hurried to my mom’s car and was about to get inside when Joshua yelled, “See you at school.”


“Yup!” I called back.


And hopefully by then I won’t be so confused anymore. 


My mom asked how the party went. I gave her the edited version. No fights or uncomfortable moment with Trenton. She was thrilled when I told her I danced with two guys though. Shane doesn’t count, he’s practically another brother. It was a rather odd conversation to have with my mom. I was used to listening to her and my sister talk about boys and dancing. When she brought up the possibility of either of the guys asking me out, I changed the topic to Shane asking Jenny on a day. By the sparkle in my mom’s eyes at the news, I had a feeling she would be teasing Shane about it the next time she saw him.


At home, I started a load of my wash then worked on my homework. I still had to hand in my rough draft of the dating article Kathy wanted me to write. I didn’t get around to talking to my sister about dating, and she was gone to a friends’ house. At a loss I decide to write about first dates and the expectations that go with them. I scanned Macy’s notes, jotted down some good ideas she had, and then after a phone call with Jenny, I was ready to write. 


I’m not sure it was my best work, but it wasn’t bad either. I decided to drop it off with Kathy on Monday in case there were any rewrites needed. Kathy loved her red pen, there was no doubt in my mind I’d get my article back with it decorating most of the page.


Supper that night was just me and my parents. All my other siblings were out on dates or at their friend’s. Mike also joined Joshua in helping Shane with his French homework. When my dad told me that, I had to bite my lip to stop from laughing. Mike was almost as bad as Shane when it came to French. I have a feeling Joshua was going to be doing three times the amount of work than normal. Poor guy.


My mom was excited when I mentioned the possibility of a future shopping spree with Jenny. She offered to give me some money for clothes since I hadn’t asked for any new ones at the start of the school year like my sister and brothers had. I didn’t think I needed anything, then.


I called Jenny after the dishes were done with the good news. If the squeal she gave after I told her was any indication to how she felt, she was more giddy about clothes shopping than I was. It took just me telling her it was on for sure, for her to start listing types and colors of clothes and shoes she “just knew” would be perfect for me. I made her promise not to try and get me into anything super pink, lacey, or shiny. It could have one of the three, just not more than that. 


She was laughing when she promised. 


I made two braids in my hair after taking a shower. I was too lazy to put in the effort of blow drying it. After changing into Batman themed pajamas, I set my alarm then snuggled into bed.



                                                                                    Chapter Nineteen


Jenny extracted a promise from me during our phone call the night before, so when the alarm’s shrill beep, beep, beeps, startled me awake at five o’clock, I didn’t throw the clock like I wanted to. Grumbling, I rolled onto my side to turn the alarm off then dragged my half-sleeping body from the coziness of my bed. 


Thank God, I thought when the smell of coffee hit me the moment I walked into the kitchen.  I ignored my brother James, going straight to the coffee pot and its sweet black nectar. 


James eyed me. “Well, morning sunshine,” he said after I doctored my coffee and took the first delicious sip. “You’re up unnaturally early. Did Mike prank you by changing the time on your alarm clock again?” 


I sipped from my mug. “No. This was my own doing,” as an afterthought, I added, “And Jenny’s.”


“Jenny. That’s the new girl you’ve been hanging out with, right?” When I nodded, he grinned. “Yes, Mike told me about her. She’s going to turn you into a girl.”


I stuck my tongue out at him. “I am a girl, smartass… but yes. I gestured around me, “That’s why the stupid early morning. Apparently it takes a lot of time to get girly-girl ready.” 


“Ha! Oh yeah. I know about that. My last girlfriend made me wait an hour every time I picked her up for a date. Even though she knew what time I was getting her at.” His eyeroll told me it might have also been one of the reasons she was now his ex. 


“An hour?” I shuddered. “That’s insane.”


“You say that now, but if you’ve drank the pink punch, soon that might be you.”


“Nope. Never.”


James let out a laugh. “Mike said you were in a dress. Did anyone take a picture?”


“It was a skirt.” I put my mug down to grab a box of cereal. “And don’t act like I’ve never worn a dress before. Mom used to dress me in those hideous frilly, velvet things.” I made a disgusted face.


“Oh yeah, those were some awesome outfits.”


“You’re one to talk, bowl cut,” I retorted. “I bet I can find a picture with that haircut. Maybe I should post it online.”


“No. Hell no.” The horrified expression on James face had me laughing as I filled a bowl with cereal, and continued when he left the kitchen saying he was going to find every picture of him with that haircut and burn them.


The rest of my family filtered into the kitchen as I finished my breakfast. Not wanting to deal with them bugging me about being interested in make-up. I had enough of it from James and Mike.


What the hell could I wear that Jenny would approve of? 


Standing before my closet, I stared at my rather plain collection of clothes. I realized I owned a lot of blue and green clothes. Okay, I did own a couple red and purple shirts. 


Hmm, I flipped through the hangers. No. No. Spotting a lime green sweater, I added a “hell no”, under my breath. 


“Oh.” I stopped at a wine-colored dress. Where did that come from? I frowned, taking it out of the closet to get a better look at it. It definitely wasn’t something I would have bought myself. It was a wrap dress, solid color, but there were cut-outs at the shoulders of the ¾ sleeves. Then I remembered a couple years ago when my mom took me shopping and bought me a couple things while I was picking out new running shoes. She shoved a bag of stuff at me when we got home. I didn’t pay attention to what she bought, I just crammed it in the back of my closet and hoped she never asked why I didn’t wear the outfits she picked up. 


I pursed my lips. Would I look ridiculous wearing a dress like that? Sighing, I stripped out of my pjs and put the dress on. Well, at the very least it fit me. Tugging the dress in place, I went into the hallway where there was a long mirror. Tasha wanted the mirror in her bedroom but my mom said no.


“Not terrible,” I decided, angling my body left to right. The dark color looked decent against my light skin and made my brown hair look darker. I wasn’t the most comfortable in a dress, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought. The fabric was soft, not scratchy like the crinoline crap my mom thought were sooooo cute on my sister and I.


“You’re wearing it.” My mom walked up behind me. She sniffled. “You look so pretty sweetie.”


“It doesn’t look stupid?”


She tsked. “No daughter of mine ever looks stupid.” She ruffled my hair. “I had a feeling that color would go great with your eyes.”


“Thank mom. I guess I better finish getting ready.”


“Want to borrow anything from me? I have a beautiful gold necklace with a butterfly pendent.”


“That’s okay,” I began to say but my mom was already headed for her room.


“I’ll go get it,” she told me. “Be right back.”


After my mom returned, insisting she help me with the necklace, I was finally able to go to my room. Jenny lent me some of her make-up with instructions on what went where and how to apply them. I tried to follow her notes. However there were so many layers she wanted, and add in gym class I saw no point in using all the stuff she gave me. I settled for some powder, mascara and a light red tinted lip gloss. Good enough. I was not going to attempt to use the scary eyeliner. I had images of poking my eye trying to put the black on my water-line. I think that’s what she called it.


My hair came next it was the easiest part of the morning. I undid my braids, shook my hair out, and voila. Sure it looked a little wild, but I would be putting it up in a bun when I had gym class so I was fine with it.


Black socks and my favorite black converse sneakers later (I was not wearing heels to school, thank you very much), I crammed gym clothes into my backpack, a pair of running shoes, and then went to grab my lunch. I was lucky. No one was in the kitchen when I took my bag from the fridge. Calling out a good-bye, I left for the bus before Mike would make fun of my clothes.


My stomach got all fluttery when I felt some of the students staring at me. I didn’t look that different. Did they have to make it seem like me in a dress was the most shocking thing they had ever seen? Pretending not to notice, I dug out one of the library books I took out last week. Attention on the book, I tuned out the others around me until the bus showed up.


I ended up sitting with Daisy, a girl who had a lot of classes with Jenny. I don’t think she was in any of the same grade ten classes as me. She was nice though, and it turned out we had the same tastes in books. The best part, she didn’t make a big deal about me wearing a dress. Before we got off the bus, she suggested the three of us should get together one weekend and go shopping or the movies.


She walked me into the school before we went our own ways. Someone wolf whistled, making my face go red and my stomach flip. Refusing to look behind me to see who it was, I picked up my pace.


“Damn. You look good,” someone said near my ear. I jumped, hitting the person who popped out of nowhere.


“Holy crap monkeys!” I put a hand to my chest.


Trenton looked me over. “Do you usually attack people complimenting you?” he asked, more amused than mad at me for hitting him.


“What? Yes. I mean, no.” My heart was beating fast. I took a breath. “You scared me.”


“You must have been thinking hard about something,” he smirked. “Or maybe it was someone.”


“Oh. Uh.”


“Hey Liyah.” Joshua called from down the hallway. He made his way around students, heading for me. When he saw who I was with, his face clouded out. “Trenton.”


“Joshua.”


I glanced from Trenton to Joshua. “Hey. How was the rest of your weekend?” I asked Joshua.


“Missed you after you left,” he said so low I wondered if I heard him right. 


I almost forgot Trenton was there until he cleared his throat. “I was talking to Liyah.”


Joshua kept his gaze on me. “And?”


“Liyah!” Jenny shouted. 


Great timing as always, I thought with a sigh of relief. The three of us turned to watch her come skipping towards me. She pulled me into a hug before stepping back to look me over. 


“Look at you, Miss Stunning. Doesn’t she look great you guys?”


“Hot,” Trenton replied, making sure to catch my eye. I smiled weakly at him.


Joshua glared at Trenton before telling his sister, “She always does.”


Oh man. I flushed. 


“Very well done, brother.” Jenny punched her brother in the arm. “Let’s hit the bathroom, my friend. We have things to discuss not meant for boys’ ears.”


“Who are you calling a boy?” Trenton puffed out his chest. “I’m all man.”


I bit back a smile, hearing Joshua snort, and quickly put my bag in my locker. Letting Jenny slip her arm through mine, we told the guys we’d see them later.


“That Trenton sure has confidence,” Jenny whispered when we left them.


Confidence? Or was it an oversized ego?



                                                                                    Chapter Twenty


My first two classes were uneventful and moved slower than a turtle walking in mud. I spent most of the time zoned out, which of course meant one of the teachers called me out on it. Patrick, who sat beside me all year but not once tried to talk to me, came to my rescue by pointing to the section in our workbook we were supposed to be on. When he gave me a wink and said I owed him one, my reaction was a weird jerk of the shoulder and crap attempt at a smile. I had a terrible feeling it looked more like a snarl or lip spasm.


Gina, a popular brunette in our grade nine class must have seen what happened. She came up to me when class ended and asked about how I knew Patrick. Were we friends. Talk about entering bizarre-o-world.


I guess it sort of made sense. These teenagers were all about appearance and labels. Not all of them, just the ones who had the more average student flocking to them they would show them the way to popularity. I never understood that desire. Finding myself suddenly on the edge of the line, simply because I changed my clothes and put on make-up, made me even more determined not to fall for that shiny trap. I don’t need that kind of empty friendship in my life. 


I was at my locker at recess putting my books away when someone tapped me on the shoulder. For a moment I worried Trenton had returned, fortunately for me it was just Jonathan. While I don’t know if we considered each other friends, we got along well and had French class together. If the class had to be partnered up for an assignment, we usually sought each other out.


“Jon, what’s up?”


“Oh hi.” He blinked like he was surprised to see me. Weird since he came to me. His face looked a little pink. “I’m not, uh, bugging you, am I?”


“Course not.”


“‘k, good.” Rubbing his hands together, he kept his gaze over my shoulder. “I missed the last two French classes. We have a test soon.”


“Yes, next week,” I added trying to help him.


“Right. Yes.” He ran a hand through his curly blond hair. “So, yeah. Do you think I can borrow your notes? From those classes. The ones I missed.”


“Of course.” I grabbed my blue French binder and began flipping through my notes. “If you don’t mind copying them and then giving them back after? I haven’t really had a chance to review them yet.” I handed him the pages.


“No problem.” Jon nodded. “I’ll give them back today.”


That made me laugh. “That’s okay. Tomorrow is fine. There’s a lot in the notes so it might take you awhile to copy them.”


“Oh, right. I will bring them tomorrow then.” He finally looked me in the eyes, the pink in his face spreading to his ears and neck. “You’re really smart. You probably don’t need to study.”


I returned the binder, closed the door and snapped the lock shut. “I wish that was the case.”


“Okay.” Jon glanced away. “Thank you. For the notes. I’ll bring them tomorrow. See you in class. Thanks.” With that, he turned quickly, coming close to taking out Lexi whose locker was two down from mine, then sped-walked off.


That was… interesting, I thought, watching after him. 


I spent recess in the library after a quick stop to see my editor, Kathy. After checking with the librarian if we got any new books in, sad to hear we hadn’t, I settled on picking up some of my favorite Fear Street books by R. L. Stine and a book by V.C. Andrews I hadn’t read yet. 


I was just settling in at an empty desk when Shane took the seat across from me. “Hiding?”


“Reading,” I held the book I was holding out to him. 


He wasn’t convinced. “Mmmhmmm. You know this whole make-up and girl clothes thing you’ve started is interfering with my life,” he joked.


With a resigned sigh, I put a bookmark where I stopped reading and gave him my attention. “And how have I done that?”


“I’ve had two friends ask what’s up with you, if you were seeing someone. One even asked if you were a new student.” He snorted. “I told them you were your own evil twin who took over your life after getting rid of you.”


I rolled my eyes. “Seriously?”


“Yup.” Shane cupped the back of head and leaned in his chair. “Didn’t even slow them down. Wait until I tell them the truth. You killed your evil twin, and are pretending to be her after killing you.”


“Can you repeat that again?” 


His eyes glittered with mischief. “I said that…”


I cut in. “Nope. Forget it. I don’t want to try and figure how your brain works.”


“That’s because I am too clever.”


“Riiight.” 


He dropped his arms, elbows resting on the table. Looking more serious, he studied me. “That’s not why I was looking for you.”


“Oh?”


“Okay. First of all, you have to promise not to get mad at Jenny.” That had me sitting up straighter. “She was just looking out for her friend when she mentioned us doubling with you and Joshua.”


“She didn’t.” My stomach turned to a rock and thunked to my feet. She wouldn’t. 


“No wait. Listen. I won’t say anything to him.” He waited a moment. “Not if you don’t want me to.”


“I sure as hell don’t!” What was Jenny thinking? Betrayal squeezed my heart to pulp. I thought I could trust her.


“Hold on. She didn’t mean to tell me. It kind of just happened. Seriously, she feels awful about it.”


“Sure.” I crossed my arms.


Shane rubbed a hand across his face. “Shit. I’m screwing this up. I came in here to ask if you’d let me set you up with someone. A friend of mine. We can do a group date, if that’s more comfortable.”


“Uh.”


“We won’t make it a big deal. We’ll just hang out. You know the Formal is coming up soon. Maybe we can do it then. That way you’ll have a date.” At the expression on my face, he backtracked. “Not that you couldn’t find one on your own. Not with my friends asking about you.”


“Can I think about it?”


“Ya. Take your time. Talk to Jenny,” he cleared his throat, “please don’t be pissed at her. Okay?”


I couldn’t promise that. I wasn’t sure how I felt about her at the moment. She told Shane something that was a secret. Something I didn’t want anyone to know about. That really hurt me.


The bell rang, saving me from answering. 


“We have English now, right?” I asked instead.


“Oh. Yeah. Think we’re getting our assignments back. Where we had to write a short story about the random topic or emotion we picked out.”


Crap. I remembered all right. It was given not too long after Joshua and Jenny joined the class. I got the topic of a first crush. If was fine though. It wasn’t like anyone was going to see it.


Or, that was what I thought.


Today wasn’t my day.

Chapters 11-15

                                                                                      Chapter Eleven


I didn’t need to follow the sounds of Mike and Shane play fighting to find the kitchen. I had been at his house often enough to know that’s where they’d be. When my brother and his friends got together they spent the majority of the time in the kitchen trying to find every possible snack. It was insane how much junk food teen guys can devour.


Sure enough, Mike was shoving a handful of pretzels into his mouth before sucking down a can of Sprite. Shane smacked him across the back of the head.


“That’s for the party.”


Mike ignored him. He went for another handful but I swiped the bowl away and handed it to Shane. Bags of chips lined the kitchen counter along with cans of soda and water bottles. Bags of plastic cups waited to be opened. Nothing seemed to have been done since the guys arrived.


A woman came in from the backroom leading to the backyard. Her eyes lit up when she saw me. I didn’t have a chance to say hi before she crossed the room and hugged me.


“Look at you!” Mrs. Walters said, holding my arms and looking me over. “You look so grown up. Has it been that long since you came over last? My gosh.”


Shane smirked, walking to my side, “It’s because she’s dressed like a girl. Look, she’s even got heels on.” His mom swatted him.


“Don’t be rude.” Turning to me she said, “You’ve always been beautiful.”


Great. I was blushing again. “Thank you, Mrs. Walters.” When I saw her gaze land on Jenny, and the speculative glint in her eyes, I sent a grin to Shane. “Aren’t you going to introduce Jenny to your mom?”


After shooting me a death stare, Shane waved Jenny over. Mrs. Walters didn’t miss how her son kept glancing at Jenny and immediately started asking her questions. That went on for awhile before he managed to convince his mom he had everything under control. When she tried to stall, offering to help make food platters, Shane reminded her she promised to stay in her room.


“Alright, you win,” she sighed. “Now, you girls don’t be strangers. Come and visit me whenever you like,” Mrs. Walters told Jenny and I. This made Shane gently nudge his mom out of the kitchen, the tips of his ears reddening.


Once she was gone, Shane cracked his knuckles. “Who wants to open bags and cut stuff, who wants to move furniture?”


Jenny looked at me. “How about Liyah and I handle the kitchen prep and you and the guys deal with making room to dance.”


So we know where the safe chips to eat are stored, I smiled at Jenny.


Mike snickered. “Don’t want to break a nail, sis?”


Giving him the finger, I made sure to show off my nail: naked and short as always. “No. Want to trade places?”


Shane let out a hoot of laughter. I felt Joshua watching me but my focus stayed on my brother. He returned the finger with a laugh but didn’t take me up on my offer. I’m pretty sure helping in the kitchen would give him hives.


After finding out what Shane wanted us to do, Jenny and I shooed the boys away. Veggies were cut, dips were opened, and cheese was cubed. We dumped half of each type of chip, party mix, and pretzels into the paper bowls Shane had, hiding the rest of the bags’ contents in the pantry.


Shane’s mom made a variety of sweets which we plated, then filled a cooler with ice. Cans of soda and juice, along with water bottles were put in next to keep the drinks cold.


The doorbell starting going on ten minutes before someone turned on loud music. Voices grew in volume trying to be heard over the songs. The party had officially started. Eager to join them, we packed the dishwasher and wiped our hands dry but before I could lead Jenny to the den, she demanded we find a bathroom.


“You’re a little shiny and your lips need a new coat of gloss.” She tsked. We both had snacked on the veggies and cheese while we worked since we knew they were safe to eat. Once people started grabbing food, well we weren’t sure we wanted to chance any of it then.


“We should get the guys first though” I told her. “So they can start bringing the food in.”


“That can wait. Now, where’s the bathroom.”


Fortunately, there was no line for the bathroom yet. I knew that would quickly change. Parties and bathroom lines seemed to always go together.


Powdered up and lips glossed, Jenny finally declared us ready. She looped her arm through mine even though she had no idea where she was going. I nudged her with my hip. It helped that she just had to follow the sounds of music and people. We found Shane first, who thanked us for the help and said he’d grab some guys to bring some of the food down. Since the den was packed with people, he said some would wander off into the kitchen when the noise got too much so he’d leave half the food in there.


“Go.” Shane insisted when I tried to follow and help. “Dance, or do whatever it is girls do at parties.” He looked at Jenny, “Maybe save a dance for me? I am the host after all.”


Jenny let out a giggle and nodded. Pleased, Shane left us to pull Mike away from a redhead and her friend.


“You heard the man,” Jenny said brightly. “Let’s dance!”


I tried to claim I needed the bathroom but she didn’t buy it. Before I knew what was happening, Jenny dragged me through the crowd of bodies until we were in the center of it. She let out a whoop and began swinging her arms with her hips swaying side to side.


Music blared in my ears. I stood still. Most of the dancers were girls from my grade and higher, sending coy glances over their shoulders at the guys standing by the walls. A few couples were wrapped in each others arms, and some of them were already kissing, not caring who watched. A guy who I vaguely recognized from my brother’s gang but not his name, accidently bumped into me. He started to apologize but stopped when he noticed it was me. His eyes went to my chest, my legs, then back up.


“Nice,” he nodded his head. He stepped towards me. My heart stalled with unease.


Jenny appeared between us. “Bye, bye,” she shoved him on the shoulder. The guy gave her a mock glare.


“What no dance?”


I peeked around Jenny’s shoulder to see him give her the same look over he gave me. Jenny was unimpressed. She propped a hand on her waist. I had to learn that move.


“I don’t mind sharing,” he tried again. He ran a hand through his shoulder length brown hair. I’m sure the smile he gave us was meant to be some sort of seduction but neither Jenny nor I were interested. “Come on, one dance?”


“Yo Ian, buzz off.” Shane wrapped his arm around Jenny’s waist. She leaned into him. Not wanting me to feel left out, he brought me towards him with his other arm.


“What?” Ian’s eyes went to me, to Jenny, stopped at Shane. He chortled. “Dude, both? Sweet. Does Mike know you’re after his sister.”


“Shut up man,” Shane glared. “I heard Janie’s looking for you.”


That finally zipped Ian’s lips. He swallowed, Adam’s Apple bobbing in his throat as he quickly scanned the area for whoever Janie was. Without another snarky comment, Ian disappeared into the crowd.


Jenny rested her head on Shane’s shoulder with a dramatic sigh. She patted his chest. “My hero.”


I hid a smile at the color flooding his face. Shane puffed out his chest. He let me go but kept hold on Jenny.


“Does the hero get a dance?” He asked her.


After sending me a questioning glance, and seeing my grin widen, she stared up at him. “For you, I’ll give you two.”


The last thing I wanted was to stand awkwardly by while they danced. I also didn’t want Jenny to worry she was abandoning me for Shane. I mimed getting a drink to Shane. An arched brow at the back of Jenny’s head got me the finger in return. He rested his chin on the top of her head. I chuckled and left them alone.


As I threaded through the group of dancers, someone caught my attention. Joshua. He wasn’t alone either. He was talking to a girl who I recognized from grade eleven. She was really pretty. My smile faded.


I had the sudden need to leave the den.


The kitchen was empty. Thankfully. I let out a sigh. I wasn’t used to so many people, preferring my own company over the company of people I barely knew. I opened the cooler and grabbed a bottle of water.


“Well if it isn’t Liyah the lovely,” a deep voice almost made me drop the bottle of water. My hand tightened around it. A drop of water rolled down the side.


I spun around to find Trenton leaning against the sink.


                                                                                     Chapter Twelve


“Shit, you scared me,” the words shot out of my mouth before I had a chance to think. He smirked, drawing my eyes to the uneven lift of his lips. They were very full lips, I thought. Why do guys end up with the long lashes and full lips?


“You alright?” Trenton asked with a laugh. I blinked.


Double crap. He just caught me staring at his mouth. What is wrong with me? Awkwardly laughing, I gave a shrug. “Parties aren’t really my thing.” 


Smooth, Liyah. Let him see how pathetic you are… I held back the urge to roll my eyes but couldn’t stop from staring at the floor in discomfort. This was why I prefer being home to school parties. I’m too much of a loser. 


“Now that surprises me,” Trenton said. I swear for a second I thought I spoke out loud. My heart crashed to my feet in embarrassment and my head snapped up to stare at him in horror. “You look like a party girl to me.”


I fidgeted. He checked me out. Trenton just checked me out. What was I supposed to do now? I tried to talk but my mouth was dry and my mind was a complete blank. I had nothing.


God, I’m a mess.


I played with the water bottle, staring at it like it might tell me what to do. My face was hot. How bad would it look if I threw the bottle as a distraction and then ran home?


Trenton appeared at my side. I flinched, then blushed harder. “Need help with that? You look hot.”


Gah!


“No,” I squeaked. “I’m okay.” Doing my best to salvage the moment, I twisted the cap off… and shot water all over the place. “Shit-sticks!”


Trenton choked on a laugh but I was too busy muttering to pay attention. I took a step backwards, slid on water and almost landed on my butt. Fortunately, I caught myself in time. Trenton held out a stack of napkins. With a weak smile I thanked him and starting cleaning up the mess. I had to resort to a weird side squat because of the stupid skirt and heels. Trenton was sweet. He did most of the work before helping me stand. 


He took the wet napkins and half emptied bottle from my hands. “How about we leave the scene of the crime,” he grinned. “I don’t think you and kitchens mix well.”


“I am so sorry.” I sighed and dried my hands on a dish towel.


“Hey, you’re not boring. That’s good. What do you say, feel like living dangerously and dancing with me?”


I stared at him. “Dance? With you?”


He glanced around the kitchen, “Yep, me. It’s just us in here, unless someone is hiding under the kitchen table.” Trenton glanced underneath. I bit my lip to stop from smiling. Looking over at me, he said, “Looks like it’s just us. So, what do you say?”


“Live dangerously?” I took a second to think. “I’m pretty sure the only one who’s in danger is you.” I eyed the evil heels. “Are you willing to chance bodily harm?” 


“I’ll take my chances,” he said and led me from the room towards the den.


Please don’t let me make an idiot of myself…


There was a moment when we went into the den and I saw the other couples dancing, I hoped he’d change his mind. He was cute, and given the current circumstances he seemed nice… but he wasn’t Joshua. My gaze went to him and the girl. They were dancing. Joshua was laughing. The girl beamed back. 


“Ready?” Trenton asked. I faced him. Trenton wanted to dance with me. Me. The most popular guy wanted to dance with tomboy me, and I was too busy mooning over Joshua. I mentally shook myself.


I nodded. “Yes. Let’s do this.” That won me a laugh before we headed for the middle of dancing couples. Trenton slid an arm around my waist and tugged me towards him.


After taking a deep breath, I placed a shaking hand on his shoulder and then let him take over. I was not a dancer. I did not want to step on him, trip myself, or anything else that would cause me to look like a bigger fool so I was putting myself in his hands. Well, and hoping for a miracle.


The song quickly switched to a faster beat. Trenton broke our hold but kept us close together. My first reaction was panic. What the heck was I going to do now? He was supposed to lead me. I did a horrible job of hiding my panic because Trenton was soon trying to teach me some moves.


“That’s it,” he encouraged, while I stared at my feet trying to copy his. “Don’t look down though, look at me. It’s easier if you’re not thinking about it.”


Easy for him to say.


Two more songs were spent with him helping me. Not once did he make fun of me, four times he even managed to stop me from bumping into other dancers. The best part of it though, he made me laugh.


Jenny shot me an exaggerated wink when she and Shane came near us during the second dance. I rolled my eyes at her but couldn’t stop the silly grin taking over my mouth. Maybe the whole party thing wasn’t so bad after all.


By the end of the third dance I was sweaty and thirsty. Jenny must have sensed my need for a break because she popped up behind me and told Trenton she was stealing me away.


“Don’t keep her for too long,” Trenton said. “I might want her back.”


Jenny snorted, but promised she wouldn’t hog me all night. We left the den and made our way to the bathroom to freshen up. Apparently, this was something that would be happening throughout the night. When I made that comment to her, I got a hip-check in response. 


It wasn’t more make-up I needed but fresh air and something to drink.


“Those will come after,” Jenny told me once we made it to the bathroom. Or the line to be more accurate. Four other girls were waiting ahead of us. We asked the last one how long she’d been there, and were told that someone named Sally was crying in the bathroom because her boyfriend broke up with her. One of her friends was trying to talk her way into room with the crying girl, but she wasn’t having much luck.


Jenny let out a tired sigh and leaned against the wall. “Well, I guess it wouldn’t be a party without someone crying.”


Am I a terrible person for laughing at that?


It took almost twenty minutes for us to get to the bathroom. Seven minutes later, Jenny was dragging me to the kitchen, chuckling as I finished telling her the story of me and the water bottle. We bumped into my brother, arm around Bethany’s waist. We got a nod in greeting. Jenny and I looked at each other.


“So she actually showed up,” Jenny watched them head down the hallway.


I shrugged. “I’m actually surprised. And happy. Maybe he will be in a better mood now.”


Two heavy arms dropped around Jenny and my shoulders. “Who’s in a better mood?” Shane asked.


“Gross.” I moved away. “You’re sweaty.”


“Ya, and you’re what, damp from the air?” He made a face. 


Jenny poked him in the chest but stayed where she was. “Ladies glisten.” 


“What she said,” I said, pointing to Jenny. Shane thought that was hilarious. He laughed even after I punched him in the arm. In fact, it seemed to set him off more. 


When he finally settled down, we picked out drinks. I opted for a coke, not wanting to have a repeat of the water mess. While Jenny and Shane started talking about something that happened in one of their classes, I zoned out. 


I was having a good time, which was a nice surprise. I always pictured myself sitting off in a corner somewhere, alone, watching everyone else having fun. I definitely did not think I would have been asked to dance, let alone by Trenton.


And he seemed to want to hang out with me again… maybe.


“Break times over!” Jenny threw her water bottle in the small recycling bin Shane stuck in a corner. It was already half filled with empty bottles and cans. Jenny clapped her hands. “Time for more dancing.”


“I thought we were going outside of some air.” My coke can followed her bottle into the bin.


“Who needs air when there’s music?”


“Um everyone?”


“Oh shut it,” Jenny wrinkled her nose. “Come on, this is a good song and it’s almost over.”


Shane didn’t even try to argue with her. He looped their arms and told her to lead the way. Not wanting to be left behind, I trailed after them.


Everyone agreed with Jenny, it seemed. The room was crowded with people now, everything doing their own version of dancing and some sing along. Shane and Jenny soon disappeared into the crowd. I looked for Trenton. He was dancing with a group of people, a girl from our English class drooped her arms around his neck.


Guess he wasn’t missing me much. If I was braver I would have just started dancing by myself, not caring what anyone thought. I wouldn’t have been the only person doing it. A quick scan of the room showed about half of the people dancing were in groups or in their own dance world heaven. It would have been easy to blend in. If I had more confidence. If I was a better dance…


Maybe I’d just slip outside for a few minutes. I turned to leave and found Joshua standing right in front of me.


“Oh!”


“Liyah,” he said.


I blinked. He was so close, if the light was brighter I could count the light freckles on his face. “Sorry. I didn’t see you.”


“I saw you dancing before.” He paused, eyes roaming across my face. “You looked like you were having fun.”


“I guess.” Be cool. You can do this. “I’m not a big dancer.”


Joshua looked away. “Oh.” He fidgeted, moving side to side. “So you don’t want to dance?”


“What?” 


Did he just ask…? Was he?



                                                                                         Chapter Thirteen


I stared at Joshua with my mouth open. When he scratched his head, looking away, I realized I was about to lose my chance at spending time with him alone. Sure we were surrounded by people, but I was choosing not to focus on that little problem.


“Yes.” I told him with a nod. “Yes. I’d like to dance with you.”


It seemed to take him by surprise. There was a hesitation before he smiled at me and offered me his hand.


Offered me his hand! 


As friends.


Who cared?


A swarm of bees zoomed around my stomach as he led us into the crowd of dancers. He kept towards the back, staying away from the outer sides where guys were egging their friends on to ask girls to dance. 


We paused, facing each other, waiting for the song to end. His eyes were so blue. I wanted to stare at them forever, and look away before he realized how much more than friends I liked him. I settled for letting my gaze scan his face and then drift over his shoulder.


Shane had Jenny in his arms. He spun her in a circle slow despite the faster beat of the song playing. I bit my lip, worrying about her reaction to seeing me with Joshua. I didn’t have to. Her head rested on Shane’s shoulders and her eyes were closed. She had a soft smile on her face.


Dancers stopped for the few seconds it took for a new song to begin. The soft strains of “You and Me” by Lifehouse filled the room. I held my breath as Joshua wrapped his arms my waist, his hands coming to rest on the middle of my back. Unable to look at him, my heart beating fast, I exhaled and brought my arms up. My wrists rested on the curve of his neck.


Oh my god! Oh my god!


I was slow dancing with Joshua.


Breathe. Don’t freak out. Please, don’t let me step on his feet!


Neither of us spoke for the first minute. I couldn’t if I wanted to. My mouth was so dry, my tongue felt like sandpaper. Worse, my hands were clammy. Could he tell? I really hoped not. How embarrassing…


Would it be obvious if I tried wiping my hands on my shirt?


“Can I trust him with her?” The question startled me. I missed my step, moving too close to him. When I raised my head to meet his gaze, I headbutted him in the nose.


“Shit. Oh god.” I pulled back quickly. Joshua grabbed his noise with a sharply drawn breath in. “Are you okay? I am so sorry!”


Please, tell me I didn’t break his nose, I desperately thought trying to see around his hands for blood.


Joshua carefully tested his nose. He made a face. “Nothing’s broken. Hurts though.” Pressing down on the bridge of his nose, he winced.


“Stop that!” I slapped his hand off. “Let me see.” I squinted but the low lighting made seeing anything next to impossible. I took his hand, “Come on, we need to find some light.” I dragged him from the room, pushing people out of the way.


“Hey, Liyah. Slow down. I’m fine.”


“Shut up.” I said without thought. My only concern was making sure I didn’t break him. Where to take him? 


The kitchen? No. Too many people. I turned and left after a glance inside. 


Bathroom it is. 


“S’Cuse me. Sorry. Coming through” I told the people waiting in line outside the bathroom, ignoring their protests. “Emergency.”


A guy didn’t make it through the doorway on his way out of the bathroom before I was nudging Joshua inside. He shot us a broad wink. I flipped him the bird and slammed the door in his face.


“Idiot,” I said and flipped the lock. After I put the toilet seat down, I pointed to it, eyes narrowed on Joshua who was watching me with amusement. “Sit. Now.”


“You’re bossy.”


“Sit.” An arched brown and a stern look had had him finally obeying. 


He looked up at me expectantly. “Now what?”


“Shush.”


Taking his head in my hands, I angled him to get the right lighting. His nose was pink. No blood though. I gently traced the length of his nose and then either sides. He had a small bump on the left side.


What did a broken nose look like anyways?


“What’s the verdict? Will I live?” Joshua’s breath fanned across my arm. I shivered and let go with a couple steps back, turning to stare at the door.


A blush burned my face. What was I doing?


“Hey.” Hands went to my shoulders. Joshua turned me.


“That was stupid,” I mumbled.


Wow, Shane’s mom certainly likes to clean. The white tiles of the floor practically gleamed. If they got any shinier I could see my tomato-colored face in it.


“Making sure I’m okay? I found it sweet.” Joshua waited for me to meet his gaze. “Really sweet.”


I began playing with my hands. “I’m really sorry.”


“For what?”


“Let’s see,” I snorted and began to count on my fingers as I listed mistakes, “there was the bashing your nose with my head, dragging you around Shane’s house only to lock you in the bathroom, and then of course bossing you around. Have I missed anything?”


Joshua chuckled. “I think you got it all, but one important thing.”


“Eternal embarrassment?”


“No,” he shook his head. “You’re amazing.”


There’s goes my heart, I thought blinking up at him, nothing but mush at my feet. Did he have to be so… so him?


“I’m not. I’m just… normal. Clumsy.”


We stared at each other.


Bang! Bang! Bang!


I jumped at the loud knocking on the door behind me. Joshua ran a hand through his hair and looked away while clearing his throat.


“Liyah? Are you in there?” Mike’s voice came through the door. “Bethany told me she saw you run in here with some guy. Everything okay?”


Perfect timing, Mike. As always.


Giving Joshua a weak shrug, I opened the door. There was Mike and Bethany with Shane and Jenny not far behind. When Joshua stepped up behind me, his hand going to my shoulder, Mike’s face darkened.


“What the hell is going on here?”



                                                                             Chapter Fourteen


Shrugging off Joshua’s touch, I left the bathroom to nudge my brother away from the door. “Nothing. I accidently hit him in the face and was making sure I didn’t do any damage.” 


This seemed to delight Shane. He let out a snort and leaned around me. “Dude, really?” Looking at me he added, “I mean, I know you’re clumsy, but still.”


Mike continued to eye Joshua. With a shake of my head, I stepped directly in front him. “Seriously. Nothing. Happened.”


“Check out his nose, man.” Shane pointed to Joshua. “It’s red. Liyah, how hard did you hit him.”


My face heated. Jenny swatted Shane on the shoulder. “Cool it. It was an accident. My brother’s dealt with worse. Hell, he’s gotten his nose broken,” she glanced at Joshua, “what twice already?” Joshua nodded with an embarrassed grin. “See. Now let’s stop wasting time and go dance!”


Mike didn’t say anything. Bethany looked bored with the entire conversation. She rolled her eyes and stared down at her phone. 


Help, I mouthed to Jenny.


She clapped her hands. “All right. That’s it. You,” she pointed to Mike, “are going to dance with me.” 


My brother finally reacted. He blinked, looked at Bethany who didn’t notice, too busy tapping away at her phone. “What about Shane?”


“Excellent question.” Jenny arched a brow, taking Shane in. “Shane here, is going to dance with Liyah, while my brother grabs us all water bottles. Isn’t that right?”


Joshua shrugged. Shane, being the “go the extra mile” kind of guy he is, came towards me. He gave a big sweeping bow, and with the worst British accent I have ever had the misfortune of hearing, asked me, “Might I have the pleasure of dancing with such a fine young lady?”


I let out a loud laugh. “Please, don’t. That was so bad.”


“If thee would but say yes, I shall cease this tomfoolery. Come now, these boots weren’t such made for walking.” The struggle on Shane’s face to keep his act from shattering was almost as amusing as the horrified expression on Jenny’s.


I raised a hand. “Okay, okay. You win. Just stop.”


Shane took my hand after Jenny looped her arm through Mike’s. My brother and I went along with them, leaving Joshua heading towards the kitchen. Bethany gave no notice to Mike’s change of dance partners. Not once since the scene started had she pulled her gaze from her phone. I’m not even sure she registered us walking away. 


If that was the kind of girl my brother wanted to date… well, I didn’t see that relationship having much of a long life. Poor Mike.


“Hey,” Shane tugged on my arm. “You’re supposed to be paying attention to me.”


We were back in his den. The dance area cleared some, couples moving off into dark corners to make-out while those who came alone formed little groups. Jenny already had Mike dancing. Or, to clarify, she was dancing while he stood stiff and awkward. He kept looking over at Shane.


Was he worried about pissing off his friend? 


Shane didn’t seem to mind Jenny being paired with Mike. In fact, he sent a smirk to Mike. “Need some dance lessons?” He shouted over the music at him.


“Maybe you should be more concerned for your wellbeing.” Mike jerked his head in my direction. “She hits.”


My brother, the comedian. “Ha. Ha.”


“Ignore the buzz kill.” Shane grabbed my hand, pulled me towards him then sent me spinning out. I let out a yelp of surprise, nearly ramming into a group of girls who were dancing together. They gave me a death stare.


“Sorry ladies,” Shane said with a smile. Glares turned into titters and eyelash flutters. I pretended to gag.


Trying to mimic Shane’s erratic form of dancing, I was caught off guard when he asked me, “So, you and Joshua eh? Looking mighty cute before you hit him in the nose.”


“We were just dancing.” I told his nose, unable to meet his eyes.


“Mmmhmmm. Suuuure. Dancing. All right.” Shane moonwalked a few feet back. I didn’t even try to copy that. I swayed side to side until he did a weird hop back to me with a laugh. “What about Trenton then? Jenny said he’s into you.”


My face heated. “He’s not.”


Shane tsked. “That’s not what Jenny said.”


“Even if he did. I don’t… I mean, come on.” I scoffed. “He’s king of popularity.”


“So.”


“Besides. He’s nice, but he’s not…”


“Josh-oo-a?” Shane wiggled his eyebrows, which earned him a smack on the arm. 


Sighing, I scuffed the floor with my heel. “Am I that obvious?”


That pathetic? Oh god…


“Does Mike know?” I choked out. Was that why he acted like he did outside the bathroom?


He shook his head. “Nah. Mike wouldn’t notice anything unless you and Joshua starting kissing right in front of him. Then again, I wouldn’t put it past the guy to think it was a prank. I think he likes to pretend you’re still his annoying little sister who tried to tag along with him everywhere.”


I laughed. I did drive him nuts, telling on him when he wouldn’t let me play with him. “Good to know,” I said. “How did you know?”


“I’m not blind like your brother. Plus, I’ve known you as long as I’ve known Mike. Anyone who paid attention can see you like Joshua. And he likes you.”


It was my turn to shake my head. “We’re friends. Nothing more. I’m okay with it.”


Kinda. Getting there. Maybe.


Shane squinted at me. “Are you sure?”


“He told me himself,” I said with shrug. “Better friends than nothing.”


Shane didn’t buy it. “I don’t know. He spends a lot of time in English class looking at you. And he did not seem happy about Trenton making a move on you.”


“He was not making a move!” My voice rose just as the song came to an end. I got weird looks from the group of girls but fortunately everyone else seemed more interested in themselves or their dance partners to react to my statement. It didn’t stop me from bunching my shoulders up and inwardly cringe.


Please, please, don’t let Trenton hear that and realize I was talking about him. My gaze went to the last place I saw him, but it looked like he wasn’t in the room anymore. Phew!


“Wait,” I turned to Shane. “You said Joshua was upset about Trenton? Are you sure?”


“Thought for sure, but since you’re just friends maybe I was wrong.” He let his words hang between us.


It wasn’t long after Joshua entered the room with a bunch of water bottles in his arms. Shane and I, Jenny and Mike, made our way to him when Jenny decided it was time for that fresh air she had promised before.


Shane said he couldn’t stay outside for long since he had to keep an eye on things but joined us in his backyard for a few minutes. I immediately went the to wooden bench swing his mom made his dad put up two years ago. It sat under two lilac trees and had navy cushions and two pillows on it. Despite the material being waterproof, his mom made Shane in charge of bringing them inside at night. Not that he remembered to do that half the time. 


I made sure the seat cushion was dry before settling down on the swing. Jenny let out a “Oooo” of happiness and joined me.


“This is perfect,” she said, pumping her legs to put the swing in motion. The faint creaking of the metal chains joined in with the chirping of crickets who were trying to be heard over the music pouring out of the back door.


“I love it. I used to curl up and read while Mike and Shane ran around like idiots playing football.”


“Ha, got that on tape I hope?” When I told her no, she pouted for about five seconds. “Too bad.”


“Maybe if you ask Shane, they will re-enact it for you.”


We glanced at the three guys. They were grouped by the inground pool, talking too low for us to hear them.


“Hey!” Jenny shouted. “What’s with the whispering?” When the guys’ guilty expressions on their faces, turned our way, Jenny patted the space between us. “There’s room for one more.”


“Love to,” Shane walked towards us, “but my mom will skin me if anyone breaks something. I should get back inside. Mike, come with me?”


“Ya. Have to find Bethany,” my brother pulled his phone out of his pocket to check it.


Shane rolled his eyes. “Maybe Josh-man will join you ladies.” Slapping Joshua on the back, he and Mike went back inside.


Jenny swung us higher. “Think we can get one of these at home?” she asked Joshua when he stood beside the swing.


“Not sure where’d you put it. Our backyard’s half this size.”


Jenny wasn’t concerned. “We could stick it on the front lawn.”


Angry shouting from inside ended the conversation. Jenny dug her heels into the lawn to bring the swing to a stop. We listened for a minute but when the yelling only grew in volume, Joshua told us to stay put and ran inside.


“What, are we dogs?” Jenny grunted. She crossed her arms but made no move to follow.


We spent the next couple minutes in silence. Jenny made a half-hearted attempt to get the bench swinging again but both of us were too busy trying to hear what was happening inside. I was just about to say screw it and investigate when the back door opened and Trenton came outside.


“There you are,” he said, eyes on me. Jenny winked in my direction.


“Here I am.” I answered lamely.


Jenny gave a soft snort but asked Trenton, “Is the fighting over? Do you know what happened?”


“Smith caught his girl with some guy from Crossings High School. Not sure how the guy got into the party since our football teams are rival, but he’s no longer invited.” Trenton eyes flickered from Jenny to me, then back to Jenny. “Shane broke it up pretty fast. Mike and your brother helped. Shane got punched first though.”


Jenny gasped and covered her mouth. “Is he okay?” She got to her feet.


“He was walking and talking so I’m sure he’s fine.”


Jenny turned to me. “I’m going to check. You okay here?”


“Don’t worry about me,” I said with a wave of my hand. “Don’t worry about Shane either. He’s got the hardest head in the world.”


She wasn’t listening though. As soon as I gave her the go-ahead, Jenny was running inside to find and comfort her man. If he wasn’t hers before, I’d give them until the morning to come out officially as boyfriend and girlfriend, I thought with a grin.


“Room on that swing for me?” Trenton’s question snapped me from my thoughts. I swallowed thickly and wiped my hands on my skirt. Shifting over a bit, I nodded.


“Sure.”


Not like I can be rude and say no. Or decide I wanted to go inside without looking like I was avoiding him.


I should have offered to go with Jenny to check on Shane…



                                                                                  Chapter Fifteen


Trenton wasted no time sitting. He also saw no need to leave me any personal space, easing down right beside me. His closeness unsettled me, so I tried to scoot over in the guise of wanting to make sure he had enough room. It didn’t work. In fact, it backfired on me. I was now sitting as close to the arm rest I could be without actually sitting on it, and Trenton shifted over until his arm pressed against mine. Although, that lasted about five seconds.


“How come you’re out here when the party’s inside?” he asked me and draped his arm on the back of the bench. His hand hovered just above my shoulder. Its presence made me squirm. I was not used to the attention he was giving me. I didn’t know how to react. 


Run away?


I cleared my throat. “It was too loud. We were hot, so we came outside.”


“Ya, you are,” he murmured, head titling towards me so his mouth aligned with my ear.


Did he just say he thinks I’m hot? Like hot as in attractive and not sweaty from the heat? Since when was I hot? Did Jenny’s make-over make me look that different?


“Oh,” I said staring at the pool. What was I supposed to say to something like that? “Thanks?”


His hand lowered to my shoulder, fingers lightly digging in. I shivered. His hand tightened. “I was looking for you. You disappeared on me.” A waft of beer hit my face when I looked over at him. He must have started drinking after we danced because I didn’t notice it before. How much had he had?


I looked around the backyard, at the familiar mini garden his mom was always trying to start, to the massive barbeque his dad used to cook up massive amounts of burgers and hot dogs on Canada Day. Shane’s house was like a second home to me. Why did I suddenly feel so uneasy about being in his backward. Alone. With Trenton.


“Oh. Sorry.” I said without focusing on what he said. “I saw you with a couple girls, I thought you were having fun.”


“Not like we could have,” he tugged me closer to him. I tried to shift away but his arm around my shoulders was too strong. “They’re nothing. You,” Trenton searched my face, “you’re something else. Different.”


“Different?” I asked, checking to see if Jenny was coming back. No sign of her or Shane. Had they gone back to dancing and forgotten I was in the backyard?


“Not like the others. Girls like me.” He was making a statement, not being cocky. And he wasn’t wrong. He had a new girlfriend at least once a month, and even the ones he dumped continued to try and win him back. “You’re not impressed by popularity, are you?”


I shrugged. You could be the most popular person one day and the most hated the next. I’d seen it happen too many times to care about being seen as part of the “cool” kids’ group. I was fine with my handful of friends.


His eyes dropped to my mouth. Mine went back to the pool. “Like I said, different.” His voice lowered, nearing a whisper.


“I should probably go find Jenny. Make sure Shane’s okay.”


“You should wear skirts more,” Trenten said, ignoring my words. His free hand went to my knee. I crossed my legs, making his hand fall. It didn’t deter him. He brought it back, this time a little higher.


How much beer did he drink? He didn’t sound drunk. Then again, how would I know?


Trenton used my confusions to bring me even closer to him. He began to nuzzle my neck. Unease turned to discomfort. I tried moving my head away but it only gave him more access to my neck.


Someone made a noise. I jumped. Trenton cursed and pulled away from me. 


“Sorry to interrupt,” Joshua said tersely, eyes on Trenton. “Jenny’s looking for Liyah.”


I went to stand but Trenton still had his arm around my shoulders. At least his hand was off my knee.


“Give us a few minutes,” Trenton smiled at Joshua. It wasn’t a nice smile.


“No can do. It’s an emergency.”


My heart thumped in my chest. Joshua sounded cold. Not himself. I finally managed to free myself from Trenton’s hold. “I should go see.” I stepped away from the swing before he got the idea to pull me back down on it. “Um, see you later,” I said over my shoulder to him. To Joshua I asked, “Are you coming?”


He didn’t say anything as we headed for the back door. Not at first. When we were inside, he looked at me. “So. You and Trenton.”


I blinked at him. Someone shoved me trying to get to the kitchen. “What?”


Gently moving me out of the way, he began to head for the second floor where Shane’s bedroom was. “I didn’t think,” he paused. Glancing over his shoulder at me as I followed him up the stairs, he shook his head. “Never mind. Doesn’t matter.”


What?

Mike stood outside Shane’s room. “There you are,” he said when he saw us. “What took you so long?”


“Your sister was busy.” Joshua answered before I could. I shut my mouth. Mike sent me a questioning look but I shook my head as confusion scrunched my forehead. 


I felt like I was missing something important, but I didn’t know what.


Focusing on my brother, I asked, “What’s wrong? Jenny’s looking for me?”


“Shane’s parents heard about the fight, so party’s over. Jenny’s just making sure Shane’s okay before he starts kicking people out. I think she’s hoping you won’t mind staying behind to help clean up.” He pointed to Shane’s bedroom with his thumb. “They’re in there if you want to see her.”


“Thanks, I will.” I didn’t ask if Joshua was going to come too. I wasn’t sure how I felt about him at the moment.


I found Shane sitting on his bed with Jenny dabbing at the corner of his mouth. When he saw me enter, he rolled his eyes but the twinkling in them told me he was enjoying Jenny’s attention.


“Nurse Jenny,” I said with a laugh, “I’m present and ready for duty.”


“Very cute.” She didn’t stop wiping his mouth. I leaned over her shoulder to inspect his face.


He was fine. There was the smallest cut on his mouth, and I don’t know what Jenny was trying to clean, there was no blood on his face at all. Maybe she was having fun taking care of him, as he was with her. I smothered a snort.


“Party’s over?”


Shane waited for Jenny to step back, giving her a thankful smile before turning his attention to me. “Yup. You staying?”


“Isn’t the cleanup the best part?” I joked.


Shane told us we could wait in his room while he and the guys began to herd people out. Not wanting to have an awkward run-in with Trenton, I was all for it. Jenny gave me a more detailed rundown of the fight which seemed dramatic to me. Of course, Shane was the conquering hero according to Jenny, even though she only showed up for the aftermath. It was after the retelling she got to the good part. During her nursing of Shane’s “wounds” as Jenny described them, he asked her out on a date. Unsurprisingly, she said yes.


I was so happy for them. Maybe a little jealous, not of Jenny being with Shane. More of how cute and comfortable they seemed. I couldn’t help but wonder if that was something I was ever going to have a chance to experience.


When the music lowered and the sounds of voices lowered, we ventured out of Shane’s room and headed for the kitchen. We grabbed garbage bags and started throwing out the plastic cups littering the counters and floor. The guys helped after they righted the furniture in the den, with his mother overseeing everything.


Before Joshua, Jenny and I left, Shane stole her away for a private goodbye. Mike had already left, so it was just Joshua and I waiting in the den. In silence. Until Shane’s dad came in to put on a late-night show, which lessened the heavy silence between us since he and Joshua started talking about one of the guests. I hovered in the doorway.


I heaved a sigh of relief when Jenny finally walked towards me, face pink and eyes sparkling.                                         

Chapters 6-10

                                                                                           Chapter Six


We were lucky to find one unoccupied booth by the time we arrived at the “Crib”. We weren’t the only students who thought to come here for lunch. Students in grades nine to eleven are allowed to leave school property at lunchtime and most did while the weather was nice. 


Loud conversations and the smell of garlic and tomato sauce greeted us when we walked in. I scanned the black and white tables and booths for somewhere to sit, but it was Jenny who zeroed in on a group of people about to leave. We hurried toward them and hovered nearby while they gathered their belongings. A waiter appeared to clear off the table.


“Good eye,” Shane told Jenny. He gestured for her to slide into the booth, sitting next to her once she was settled. I peeked at Joshua from the corner of my eye. A dozen butterflies fluttered in my stomach. 


“After you,” Joshua said. I sat down across from Jenny, so close to the wall beside me that I was practically glued it. I held my breath when Joshua sat. “So what’s good here?” he asked. 


We spent the next ten minutes arguing about the best pizza toppings were, which should never be on a pizza (pineapple, according to Shane and Joshua), before we compromised with half meatlovers, half mushroom, onion, and green olives. We added a large order of fries and a garden salad. After we placed our order, the conversation turned to classes and weekend plans.


“Oh ya, that reminds me,” Shane slurped his drink through a straw. “I’m having a party at my place this Friday. Do you guys want to come?” Unsurprisingly his attention was on Jenny when he asked. 


Jenny look at me, eyes wide. “Oh. Wow. Yes. I’d like that.” Her smile stretched across her face so much I wondered if it hurt. I gave her a grin in returned and nudged her with my foot. Her cheeks went pink.


“Great,” Shane looked pleased with himself. It took him a few seconds to drag his gaze from Jenny to me and her brother. “What about you guys? Can you make it?”


“Sounds awesome,” he arched a brow at his sister. “We will have to check with our parents first.”


“Right,” Jenny stared at her hands. “I forgot.”


“That leaves you, oh silent Liyah.” Shane brought their attention to me. I fidgeted.


“Um, maybe?”


“Maybe?”


“I guess it will depend on Mike’s mood, won’t it?” It’s not often I get invited to parties my brother’s friends throw. I see him not liking the idea very much. Sometimes he surprises me though, so who knows. 


Shane scoffed. “Your brother won’t care. Besides, he’ll be too busy trying to flirt with Bethany. She said she would come with some friends.” He shook his head, “Ten bucks says he won’t even know you’re there.”


I couldn’t stop the laughter bubbling forth. “You’re on.” We shook hands. “Easiest money I’ll make.”


“Yay!” Jenny clapped her hands. “Maybe we can go together?” 


I nodded as our order number was called. The guys got up to get our food. Jenny and I talked about the party. 


“I’ve got a great idea!” Jenny said. “You should sleep over at my house on Friday. We can spend Saturday together and get ready at my house. I can do your hair and makeup! Oh, say yes. It will be so much fun.”


I ripped pieces off my napkin. “Sleep at your house?” With Joshua there? 


Jenny grinned. “I even have the most perfect outfit for you to wear. It should fit, might be a bit shorter on you but that will work. Come on, please. It’ll be my first sleepover since we moved.” She batted her lashes at me jokingly. I snorted.


“I don’t know…”


Shane slid the pizza onto the table. “Don’t know what? We already decided you were coming to the party.” He helped Joshua with the tray of drinks and the one with the fries and salad. He made sure to steal a fry first, of course.


Joshua sat and grabbed a slice of the olive and mushroom side. I picked a meatlovers to start like Shane while Jenny helped herself to the salad.


“I’m inviting her to sleepover Friday night, with the mandatory makeover.” At Shane’s confusions, she added, “There’s no such thing as a sleepover without a makeover involved.”


Joshua choked on a bite of pizza and grabbed his drink.


“Dude you got to chew the food before you swallow it. You’re not a snake.” Shane said then turned to Jenny. “Trying to convert her into girlhood? Good luck.”


“Hey,” I kicked him in the shin. “I’m a girl.”


Shane bent to rub his leg. “Ow. I forgot you attack.”


“Suck it,” I said and glared.


“I just meant you’re a tomboy. I think I’ve seen you in a dress maybe five times, and that was because of your mom.”


“Hmph.” 


“Say yes, please.” Jenny pouted dramatically. I couldn’t keep a straight face at the expression on her face. 


“Oh fine. Okay. If it’s okay with your parents.”


“Yes!” Jenny wiggled her butt in the seat catching Shane’s gaze. She snatched a fry off his plate. “Hey, think you could make a French brain in my hair for the party? I’ve always wanted one but don’t know how to do it.”


“Sure. I can show you too, it’s not hard. I learned doing it online.”


Quiet fell as we started eating. It didn’t last long though. I was reaching for a third piece of pizza when Shane spoke up.


“Jeez Liyah, eat much?” he joked, pointing at my plate where I put the pizza beside a serving of salad and fries.


“Yes, yes I do,” I popped a fry in my mouth. “There’s nothing wrong with eating a lot. I have a healthy appetite.”


“I’m jealous. If I eat too much junk food I’d balloon out,” Jenny poked at a cherry tomato in her salad. She ate one piece of pizza before sticking to the salad and a few fries. “That or my face will break out.”


“I guess its because I’m so active? Or I just don’t think about it much?” I shrugged. “Besides, I like food too much.”


“Maybe we could jog together sometimes?” 


Joshua barked out a laugh, “You jog?”


“I could start,” she frowned at him. “We can’t all be runners.” She threw a fry at him. He caught it in his mouth.


“You run?” Shane asked. “Going to try out for the track team?”


“Haven’t decided yet. Are they any good?”


“Eh,” I met Shane’s gaze across the table. “They aren’t bad. Just not very nice.”


“They’re idiots.” Shane nodded in agreement.


Joshua glanced between Shane and me. “What do you mean?”


“There’s only a guys’ track team. Not enough girls tried out when the teams were made. And, the guys don’t want to let the few girls who wanted to join, be a part of their team. They made a huge fuss about it.” Shane explained. I was still pissed about it.


Joshua met my gaze. “You tried out?”


“Didn’t even get that far. When I showed up last year, they said no right away.”


“Did you ever petition?”


I pursed my lips in annoyance. “Me and another girl were going to but we had a hard time finding people to sign it. The guys won first place in the track match the year before, so a lot of students didn’t want to ‘mess up the team dynamic’ or some bullshit. They only got bronze last year though,” I said with a hint of smugness in my voice.


“You should try again,” Jenny spoke up. “I’ll be the first to sign it.”


“You think so?”


“Definitely,” Joshua nodded. “Who knows maybe after their fall to bronze, students will have realized they need new blood on the track team.”


“Shane? What do you think?”


“If you let this chance go,” he said, “then I might think you were abducted by aliens.” Becoming serious, he added, “Look, I say go for it. You’re a great athlete, and they’d be idiots to turn you down again.”


“So you’d sign?”


“Sure, right under Jenny’s name,” he said, winking her direction.


“I will too,” Joshua added in.


I felt a small bead of hope grow in my chest. I grinned at them. “Okay. You’ve talked me into it. I’ll see if Annie is still interested in trying out for the team first. She was a huge help last time we tried.”


Fingers crossed.


                                                                                    Chapter Seven 


My mom was thrilled about Jenny’s invite to sleepover, and the idea of me getting a make-over. I was finally going to be into clothes and lipstick, like my mom and sister. Maybe now my mother’s wish to have mother-daughter shopping days might happen. I didn’t bother pointing out one make-over wasn’t going to stop be from preferring sports to shoe shipping. I let her enjoy the moment. 


I think part of her excitement was the thought of me making more friends. She grew up with a huge group of friends and loved it. She didn’t understand that you can be happy with a handful of friends who actually knew you, over the “hi” and “what’s up” greetings passed between acquaintances.


My dad wanted to know more about Jenny and Joshua. Also, were there going to be parents at Shane’s house. Mike answered for me. Shane’s mom was going to be home (but stay in her room). I think the most surprising moment during supper was the fact Mike didn’t complain about me being invited. Shane was right. Mike’s new interest in Bethany made it so he didn’t care. That or he was too busy texting her to pay much attention to the conversation. Either way, it worked in my favor.


I’m not surprised the rest of the week was gone in a blink. In between starting the petition to let girls try out for the track team (Jenny, Joshua and Shane kept their word and were the firsts to sign it), and working on my dating article (I decided to write the first one on the pressures of making a good first impression), I didn’t have time to obsess about Jenny’s plans for me.


My distractions didn’t stop her from talking about possible outfits, hairstyles and shoes for her to wear to the party, when she wasn’t going on about Shane. I’ve lost count the amount of times she asked me if I thought he’d ask her to dance, if there’d be dancing, and did I really think he liked her. I offered to ask him for her, but after turning red she made me promise not to. 


On Thursday, after Jenny found out I didn’t own heels and freaked, I did the unthinkable. I asked my older sister if I could borrow a pair of heels from her. The look on her face… it was like her celebrity crush asked for her number. Shock. Disbelief. When she realized I was actually asking her, for real, she led me to her closet and made me swear an oath. I kid not. I had to swear on our parent’s lives that I would care for the heels I borrowed like it was my child.


My sister is nuts. I knew that before but seeing how many pairs of shoes she had carefully stacked in their boxes in her closet confirmed it. She had even written descriptions for easy picking. Three inch navy pumps with back zipper, one inch black Mary Janes, each box was color coded and arranged by heel height.


She had a little panic attack after I told her I wasn’t sure what I was wearing. She shook her head, wondering how we’d pick the perfect shoe if we didn’t know what I was going to wear. She wasn’t impressed when I said it didn’t matter to me. She settled on a pair of two inch nude peeptoe shoes with a ridiculous bow on the back since the color would go with anything and the bow was “feminine and so cute”. She then ordered me to wear them around the house for a couple hours to make sure I wouldn’t snap the heel over, or hurt myself. Unfortunately, that lead to a demonstration on how I should walk like a girl and not like a boy. 


Yeah, I quickly regretted asking to borrow her heels.


That night I couldn’t stop picturing me walking into Shane’s party and falling on my butt. Everyone would start laughing, someone would snap a photo and post my humiliated fall all over the internet. I won’t deny it, I thought about staying home sick tomorrow and pretending I couldn’t go to the party. The only reason I wasn’t going to, was my promise to Jenny. She wanted someone at the party to keep her company. I wasn’t going to let her down.


Friday morning woke me with a hopping mess of frogs in my stomach. I couldn’t eat from the anxiety strumming through me and didn’t dare drink coffee. I was jittery enough. I grabbed my schoolbag and shouldered the overnight tote crammed with what I’d need for the sleepover and party before heading to school. My mom yelled for me to take lots of pictures (so not happening) and to promise to tell her everything (maybe the edited version), and my dad made me promise to behave myself and not accept drinks from anyone I didn’t know.


“What about me?” Mike asked. “Not worried about me drinking something spiked, or want to hear all about what I get into?” 


My dad let out a laugh and said they’d probably be better off not knowing. My mom swatted him on the arm.


Bethany must have been texting Mike, whether she liked him or not, because he was in a good mood. I just hoped it stayed that way.


                                                                                      ***


“I can’t wait to get my hands on you,” Jenny said during lunchtime.


I lifted my hands. “Hey now, buy a girl dessert first,” I joked.


“Ha, ha. Very funny. No, seriously, I bought new make-up for us to use and found some really cool hairdos I want to try.” She did a little dance in her seat then took a bite of her sandwich. 


Joshua snorted which made Mike and Shane crack up. He turned to Shane and said in a girly voice, “I’m having a total outfit crisis. Help!” 


“Never wear pink with purple,” came Shane’s deadpanned reply. 


“Ignore them.” Jenny gave the guys an eyeroll. “Just wait. They won’t know what hit them when we’re done.”


My stomach twisted. “Right.” I pushed my tray of watery spaghetti to the side of the table.


“Need me there early?” Mike asked Shane, chewing with an opened mouth. Yuck.


“Yeah if you can, that would be great.” Shane looked at Joshua who shook his head.


“Sorry man. Since Jenny decided it will take her hours to get ready, I promised our aunt to watch her two boys while she runs an errand.”


“You can still make it to the party, right?” 


I stared at my hands not wanting to seem like I cared if he went or not.


“Course. She only needs me for two hour she said. Plus, she’s one street over from where you live. I’ll come right after.”


“Sweet.”


Someone kicked my foot lightly under the table. I looked up to meet Shane’s gaze. “How long do you think it will take to smear crap on your face?”


“Smear what on their faces?” Mike sputtered. “Did I miss something?”


Shane chuckled. “The make-over Jenny’s planning.”


Mike squinted at me. “Thought you hated make up.” Guess he hadn’t paid much attention to that dinner conversation after all.


I shrugged. “Decided to give it another try.”


“Hmmmm.” He studied me closely. I stared back keeping my face expressionless.


By the time English class came around, I was starting to have second thoughts about the whole idea. Jenny did her best to ensure me everything would be great, that I would look amazing but I wasn’t buying it.


“You got to know how cute you are,” she whispered, leaning towards me when the teacher wasn’t looking. “Guys stare at you all the time. Like Trenton.” She jerked her head to where he sat two rows and one table over from me.


“Ha! That’s funny. If he looks at me it’s probably because he’s trying to figure what I’m doing here.”


“No way. He likes you. I can tell.” We both glanced in his direction.


Trenton was the star jock at our school. He was in practically every team and was the best player. He was also popular and had already dated half the girls in the school. He looked like a darkly tanned Ken Barbie, dimples included.


Interested in me, I think not.


“Admit it, you think he’s cute.” Jenny poked me in the arm.


I sighed. “I’m pretty sure every girl does. That hardly means he likes me. Besides,” I said, “how do you know it’s not you he’s checking out.”


We quieted down when the teacher looked up from the tests she was correcting. After scanning the class, she went back to work.


Jenny kept her voice low, “Because I’ve seen him stare at you when I’m not near you. He liiiiikes you.”


“Shut up,” I said but couldn’t help glancing at Trenton. He was looking behind him. Our eyes met briefly. He smiled and mouthed the word “hi”. I blushed. Feeling awkward I gave him a slight wave, then internally winced. I quickly looked away to find Joshua watching me. He was frowning.


Jenny nudged me, eyes on Trenton’s back. “See,” she grinned.


“Means nothing.” I turned my attention to my notebook, confused.


Was it possible? Did Trenton like me? I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I was wondering why Joshua looked upset, though. 


I looked over to him but he was writing in his notebook and didn’t notice my focus on him.


                                                                                        Chapter Eight


Jenny grabbed on to me the minute the last bell rang for the school day. “Are you excited about tonight?” she asked me, letting me lead her towards my locker.


“More nervous,” I admitted, staring at my lock as if entering the combination was of vital importance. When the click signaled it unlocked, I opened my locker to my math book’s attack. Jenny caught it before it could do any damage. 


“Do you just cram your book inside and hope for the best?” she asked with a laugh, eyeing the mess inside.


I took the book from her. “Maybe.” 


She waited for me to start packing my school bag with homework before asking, “So why nervous?” 


“What if I look like a clown in make-up,” at her tsk, I added, “I don’t mean you’ll make me look like a clown. Just, what if I look like a five year old playing dress up?”


“We’ve been over this already,” she rolled her eyes. “You’re cute. Deal with it. Make-up or none, you’ll still be cute.”


I zipped my bag closed and slung it over my back. Jenny changed the subject to whether or not we should trust any food Shane might put out after the first hour. This lead to a rather disturbing discussion concerning the likelihood of our classmates washing their hands after using the bathroom. By the time she finished getting her bag, we came to the conclusion it would rather be safer to stay away from the chips unless we managed to get to them right after they were replenished. Better yet, one of us should suggest getting more so we could be first to open the chip bag.


“And whichever one of us that is,” Jenny said. “We make sure to bring the other along too. Got it?” 


“Got it.”


I followed her out of the school and to her bus. I noticed many people waving or calling out to her which made me happy. She’d been worried about fitting in. When I pointed that out to her, she rolled her eyes and said most of the girls were just trying to use her to get to her brother. Apparently it happened at their old school too, the girls would try and be her friend thinking she’d be their in to getting Joshua to like them.


“That’s messed up.” I told her.


She waved me into the seat so I could sit by the window on the bus. “Eh, I’m used to it. I guess you could say it’s now a skill, being able to tell who wants to actually be my friend and who just wants my brother.”


“Still.”


“Oh, ya. Sucks majorly,” she shrugged. “What can you do? I’ve got you for a friend, so I’m good.” Her schoolbag was dropped onto the floor at our feet. “Onto happier topics. Want to know what my plans are for your hair?”


“Do I want to know?”


That sent her off laughing which didn’t exactly calm the crashing tides of anxiety currently taking up residence in my stomach. To make it worse, she decided to keep her plans a secret claiming the anticipation would make the experience even better. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the suspense might make me puke.


                                                                                   ***


The cutest black Labrador puppy greeted us with little barks the moment Jenny walked into her house. The puppy jumped at our legs, barking away. I squatted down to its level and was rewarded with licks all over my face. 


“Aw, he’s so sweet.” I quickly closed my mouth when he tried to kiss my lips. Angling my head back, I glanced at Jenny with a grin. “It’s a he or she?” The fur ball wiggled in excitement.


“It’s a he. His name’s Mac.” Jenny scratched the pup behind the ears. “Isn’t that right Mackie-boy?”


In puppy heaven, Mac rolled onto his back. Jenny and I laughed but continued to pet him until an older version of Jenny came walking towards us.


“I see you met the little rascal?” Jenny’s mom said, eyes crinkling in laughter. I got to my feet and wiped my hands on my pants before holding out my hand. She shook it. “You must be the Liyah I’ve heard so much about.”


“It’s nice to meet you Mrs. Mawsh.”


“Oh, we’re not so formal around here. Izzie will do.” When Mac started pawing at her pants, Izzie bent down to give him a quick scratch. “I’m glad you’re both here, I need cookie testers. I’m trying out a new recipe: double chocolate with a caramel center. Come. Tell me what you think.”


Only a crazy person would turn down the chance to be a cookie tester. I was not crazy. The pup followed us into the kitchen, nipping at my shoe laces and trying to get our attention. Jenny eventually scooped him into her arms claiming he was too adorable to resist.


Izzie crossed the oven where cookies were cooling on the counter beside it. “They came out about five minutes ago, so they should be okay to eat now.” She tested the temperature lightly pressing two fingers to a cookie. “Perfect. How about I plate these. Jenny offer our guest something to drink.” 


With an eyeroll behind her mom’s back, Jenny made a pot of tea for us in a fancy teapot that had a rose on it. She took out three matching teacups decorated by the same rose, complete with saucers. Jenny said they were a family heirloom. I took extra care drinking from my teacup, horrified by the thought of accidently breaking it.


Izzie gave us two cookies each, and we sat around the kitchen table munching on the best cookies I’ve ever tasted while her mom asked about our day. I learned Izzie was opening a bakery in a month and was working on coming up with three new recipes. This recipe was definitely a hit. She promised to pack some for me to take home tomorrow, then sent us away to get ready for the party while she started supper.


Jenny’s room was unsurprisingly feminine. Light lilac walls and lace curtains complemented her flowered bedsheets. The white corner desk across from her bed was lined with various make-up products, many I didn’t recognize. I bit my lip. How many of those creams, shadows, and liners was she planning on using on me?


“We’re going to make the most of this experience.” Jenny stated, after we put our schoolbags in her closet and out of the way. “Supper will be in an hour, so we won’t get dressed yet. We are going to take baths. You can use the hall bathroom and I’ll use the one in the basement.”


“That’s really not necessary.”


“You need to calm down, so it is.” She didn’t give me a chance to respond, just continued with, “I can see you freaking out already.”


“I’m not.”


“Bath. Relax. Hair, supper, then make-up and dress. That’s the order. Chop, chop.” Jenny clapped her hands.


“Okay, okay.”


It was easier to give in. Jenny made a big production of getting my bath ready, informing me that the lavender oil she added would help me relax. I was to stay in the bath for at least twenty minutes. 


“Oh, I almost forgot. We have to put this on our faces too.” She opened the cupboard under the sink and pulled out a tube of something. “It’s a cleansing mask to clean out our pores.” Jenny squeezed a drop on her finger to show me the green gunk inside. “Put it on, wait for it to dry, about the time you’ll be in the bath. Gently wash it off then pat your face dry. K?”


“You sure it is for our faces?” I asked her tentatively, eyeing the gunk. 


“Yes,” she said. “Don’t worry; I’ve used it many times.”


We used her make-up wipes to quickly wash our faces then, standing side by side in front of the bathroom mirror, smeared the green gunk on our faces. At least it smelled good. Kind of minty. My skin started tingling which she assured me was normal.


“No talking or the mask will crack,” she said barely moving her lips. “Now in the bath.” After handing me a towel and robe, she left for the other bathroom.


I am not a bath person. Sure lavender smelled great, but after a few minutes I was bored with my own company. Honestly, I think I almost fell asleep waiting for the twenty minutes to pass before I was “allowed” to get out and wash the mask off. My face did feel soft after I dried my skin. 


Jenny returned to her room minutes after me and handed me a face cream. When that was on, she had me sit at the desk and sprayed my hair with water before putting in curlers. I was very glad Joshua wasn’t around to see me. The process took about thirty minutes. Just as she was securing the last roller, her mom popped her head into the room to tell us supper was ready.


“Your dad called, he’s stuck at work for another two hours so it’s just the ladies for supper.” She told Jenny.


Supper was a Greek salad with grilled chicken. Izzie figured we’d be doing a lot of snacking at the party and didn’t want to make anything too heavy. It was delicious. The dressing was homemade, there were black and green olives, and the chunks of chicken was herbed. I would have had a second helping if it wasn’t for Jenny saying we were running short of time and practically dragging me back to her room. I tried offering to help clean up but her mom waved me off with a chuckle.


“It’s time,” Jenny said, giving an evil laugh and tapping her fingers together, one at a time, like Mr. Burns does on The Simpsons.


“I was afraid of that.”


“Sit,” she pointed to the desk. She plucked the stand mirror off, “this way you can’t freak out about what I’m doing.”


“Wonderful,” I said dryly but sat down anyways.


“Oh stop. I’m going to go very natural looking for your make-up. You don’t need much, really you’re fine with none but where’s the fun in that?”


So began the madness. Jenny filled the air with mindless chatter while she dabbed, smeared, powdered, and lined my face, ignoring any questions I asked about what she was doing. Jenny wouldn’t even let me look in a mirror when she handed me clothes to wear. She took the mirror out of the bedroom with her, giving me privacy to change.


I admit, I didn’t get dressed right away. I stared at the navy skirt with its angled hemline and the deep V-necked cream shirt with butterflies. Pretty clothes. Not me. It was something my sister would wear. I gulped.


“How’re you doing in there?” Jenny called from the other side of the bedroom door. “Need help?”


“No. No, no. Sorry. I’ll be done soon.”


“K. Careful when you put the shirt on.”


I took a deep breath. I was being ridiculous. It was just clothes. What was the big deal? Shaking my head, I gave myself a talking-to and took off the robe and towel. I grabbed underwear from my schoolbag, leaving the closet door open. After taking another calming breath, I put on the clothes Jenny gave me.


“You can come back.” My voice cracked as I tugged at the shirt.


Jenny said nothing when she opened the door. Her eyes went a little wide, scanning the outfit but she made no comment. I fidgeted.


“Looks stupid, right?”


“Don’t be silly.” Jenny closed the door, still dressed in her robe. “Sit, sit. Let’s finish your hair, then you can see how amazing I am.” She winked.


Once all the curlers were removed, Jenny had me flip my hair, shaking the curls out. Then came the hair spray. Determined to keep my curls’ shape and bounce, Jenny sprayed and sprayed until I started coughing from the fumes. When I lifted a hand, begging her to stop, she finally gave in. She scrunched the curls one more time and repowdered my nose and forehead. A swipe of pink gloss on my lips later, she gave a satisfied hum and handed me the mirror.


I closed my eyes. Here goes nothing.



                                                                                          Chapter Nine


I was still me. A sigh of relief left my shiny lips.


“Told you, no clown makeup.” Jenny grinned at my expression.


“It’s me.” I looked at my reflection again. Tilting my head a little, I added, “Just a little... different?”


Glossy brown curls sprung out around my face and shoulders. The bronzed shadow, darker at the ends of my lids, emphasized the deep blue of my eyes and the thick coat of mascara lengthened my lashes to create a dark frame for my eyes. Somehow Jenny made my nose appear narrower, added color and a touch of shimmer to my cheeks, while a red gloss drew attention to my mouth. I squinted.


Jenny fidgeted. “You hate it don’t you? I tried to keep it natural because you aren’t a daily make-up wearer… did I overdo it?” 


“What?” I pulled my gaze from my reflection to glance at her. She was biting her lower lip, eyes worried. “No. No. I like it. A lot. I’m just surprised.”


“Surprised I did a good job?”


“Surprised I might want you to teach me how to do it again,” I lifted a hand to halt her squeal of excitement, “only for special occasions.”


“Done!” She waved me to get up. “Now, go to my parents’ room. My mom has a full-length mirror. I want you to get the full effect.”


I put the mirror back on the desk. “I can’t do that.”


Jenny rolled her eyes. “Come on, mom won’t care. Let’s go.” When I continued to sit, she put her hands on her hips. “Hey, we don’t have a lot of time. I still need to get my make-up done and change too, remember. And you promised to braid my hair.”


Guilty for taking up so much of the time, I reluctantly stood up. I was relieved to see she was going with me to her parents’ room. It would have been awkward to go myself.


Her mother had been in charge of the décor. It was obvious in the plum bedding, four poster bed, and the matching bedroom set. Mounted to one wall was a chocolate brown mirror. Jenny dragged me towards it. I was lucky the heels my sister lent me were on the floor of Jenny’s room. I would have tripped, hurt my ankle, trying to keep up with Jenny if I was wearing them.


Jenny positioned me directly in front of the mirror then took a step to the side. “See how cute you look?”


Again, I was pleased to see it was me. In fancy clothes but still me. The angled skirt cut off a lot higher than I was used to, hitting a bit above mid thigh, the lower end came to the knee on the other leg. I tugged at the short side but it barely made a difference. I eyed the neckline of the shirt. I would definitely not be bending down at any point during the party.


Gulp!


“So?”


“You’re right.” Jenny pumped her fist in the air. “I like it.” With a smile spreading across my face, I gave my reflection once last look before turning away. “Thank you, Jenny. For everything.”


Jenny did a butt wiggle. “My pleasure. It was fun! Let’s go back to my room. You can help me decide on an outfit while I do my make-up. I’ve got three options already picked out.”


With my “help”, Jenny chose what she called a rockabilly-themed dress with a sweetheart neckline. It was green with light yellow polka dots and tied around her neck. Her eyes were done up with a more dramatic flair, smoky-eyes and a cat-eye liner in black. An almost purple red lipstick completed her look. It suited her, and I was a little envious of how fast she put the look together. 


After I French braided her hair, she tugged a few strands loose around her face and curled them. She struck a pose, laughed, then declared, “We are foxy hotties! Shoe time, then we’re going to bug my mom to take some pictures.”


“What? No.” I shook my head. “I hate pictures of me. I always make a weird face, either mid-talking or my eyes are partially closed. No way.”


“Yes way. We need pictures.” She pointed to the nude pumps. “Heels on.”


“I don’t have a say in this, do I?”


“Nope,” she winked. “I’m the boss tonight.”


Snorting, I sat on her bed to slip on the shoes while she scrounged around in her closet for a high heeled pair of black Mary Janes she said was the only pair that would work with the dress.


Twenty minutes of picture-taking later, much to my horror, we headed back to her room. Her mom was going to drop us off at Shane’s in ten minutes. It was time for last minute make-up checks and decide what we needed to bring in the two small clutches her mom said we could borrow.


“Think Trenton will be at the party?” Jenny asked, handing me the gloss she used on my lips. Apparently it was an essential item to go in the clutch. I dropped it inside.


“I don’t know. Why are you asking, I thought you liked Shane.”


“Not for me silly. For you. Remember. He likes you.”


“So says you.” I took the mascara and compact mirror she handed over. They went in the purse as well.


“Still won’t admit you like him?”


I shrugged. “He’s okay, I guess. I just don’t think we’d make a good match.” 


Jenny glanced at me, looking thoughtful. “Is there someone you think you’d be a good match with?” When my cheeks went hot, her eyes went wide. “There is! You like someone. Who is it? Do I know them? Do they like you too?”


Shit. Crap. I can’t tell her I kinda, maybe, like Joshua. Doesn’t matter anyways. He doesn’t like me. We’re friends. Stupid, stupid.


I chewed the gloss off my lips until Jenny told me to stop. I stared at the floor. “No. There’s no one.”


“Ooooo, there is someone.”


“I just said,” but Jenny wouldn’t let me finish.


“I won’t tell anyone. I promise.” She played with the silver ring on her finger. “You know who I like. I just thought… since we’re friends… we’d be able to talk to each other about boys and stuff.”


I felt terrible. How was I supposed to tell her that I liked her brother though? Especially after what she told me about the girls at her old school using her to get to him. What if she thought I was doing the same thing? I wasn’t. I never could (or would) be that cruel.


It doesn’t matter anyways. He doesn’t like me that way.


I rubbed my hands on the hips. “Here’s the thing… You’re right. I sort of like someone.” I cleared my throat when my mouth went sand-dry. “I just don’t want you to be mad.”


Jenny let go of her ring. “Mad? Why would I be mad…. Oh.” She blinked at me. “Shane. You do like him.”


“No,” I said quickly. “No. I told you. He’s a friend. An almost brother. I do not like him. Promise.”


“Then why on earth would I be upset?”


I bit my lip. Squirmed. Oh my god. I was going to do it, wasn’t I? I was going to tell her.


“It’s not a big deal,” I said, voice wavering. “He doesn’t like me anyways.”


“Then he’s blind and stupid. Better off with out him.” Jenny said with narrowed eyes.


I snorted. “Right. So…” unable to look at her, I gazed out her bedroom window. “I kinda… only a teeny tiny bit…” in an almost whisper confessed, “like your brother.”


Jenny gasped. “My brother?”



                                                                                             Chapter Ten


My face was red. I could feel the heat of embarrassment warm my cheeks. I didn’t dare meet Jenny’s gaze. Why did I tell her? She’s going to hate me.


“My brother,” she repeated. “You like him. Joshua? Are you sure? Him?” The confusion in her voice made me fidget. Sweat dampened my underarms.


“I’m sorry.”


Jenny took the clutch from my hands. “Hey.” I looked at her. “The only reason you should be sorry is for your terrible taste in guys.” She smiled, snorted. “Seriously though, Joshua?”


Tension melted at her words. She didn’t hate me. I shrugged, “Ya. Kinda.”


“Why?”


Another shrug. “Dunno. Doesn’t matter. We’re just friends.” I turned away from her. “He told me so.”


There was a moment of silence. I kept my back to Jenny, uncomfortable from both the conversation and feeling like I was playing dress-up. I should just change into my own clothes. Wash the make-up off. I tugged the shirt down. I was being stupid.


“He said what?” The question startled me. Jenny was right beside me. She sat on her bed, patted the space beside her but I ignored the gesture.


“He thought I was mad at him. I wrote a letter saying I wasn’t. He wrote back saying he was glad. He wanted us to be friends.”


“Oh.” 


“Yeah.”


I felt Jenny watching me. I pasted a smile on my face. “Who cares right? He’s just a boy. We have important things to think about. Shane, and how you’re going to knock him off his feet tonight.”


Suddenly I wasn’t the only one blushing. Jenny gave me a hopeful look. “Do you really think so?”


“Know so.” 


We finished gathering what we needed. I was about to leave Jenny’s bedroom when she stopped me with a hand on my arm.


“He’s an idiot.”


“Shane?” I asked feigning ignorance. She didn’t buy it. 


She rolled her eyes. “If he doesn’t see how amazing you are, he doesn’t deserve you. Don’t let his stupidity stop you from seeing how special you are. Or, blind you from noticing other guys who do see it.” Her eyes narrowed. “Promise me you won’t let him ruin the party. Ignore him. Have fun. Dance with Trenton.”


It was my turn to snort. “Yeah. That will happen.” When she just stared at me, I sighed. “Fine. Fine. I will have a blast. I will, maybe, dance. Maybe.”


Jenny nodded. “Good. Then it’s time to go.”


I bent down to pick up the black sweater I brought with me in case it got cold. Jenny slapped my hand causing the sweater to fall on the floor.


“Hey, what was that for?” I rubbed my hand.


“You aren’t ruining all this,” she waved up and down my body, “with that.” Pointing to the sweater, her face scrunched up with distaste. “It looks like a guy’s sweater.”


“It is. Was. I stole if from my other brother.” I glanced at it. “What’s wrong with it?”


“You can’t go to a party wearing a guy’s sweater. You don’t want people to think you’re dating someone. Besides, that’s more of a ‘going to the gym in sweats’ kind of sweater. Come on, you can borrow one of my jackets.” Shaking her head, Jenny left her room muttering something under her breath.


From the front hall closet, she pulled out a black and a brown leather jacket. She thrust the brown one at me. “You’ll use this.” She raised a finger. “Nope. No argument. We’re already later than we told Shane. We promised to help him remember?” 


Taking the jacket, I slipped it over my forearm. “Fine. You win. Again.”


Jenny grinned and went to the kitchen to let her mom know we were ready. Her mom insisted on taking our picture before ushering us outside and locking the door behind. She ran through a list of rules for Jenny, saying I had to obey them as well since my parents were entrusting me in her care. Jenny complained but eventually promised to obey each rule or let her clothes disappear. Apparently, that would be the worst thing to ever happen to her.


Her banter with her mom had me covering my mouth to muffle my laughter.


                                                                                  ***


I gave directions to Shane’s house between Jenny’s nervous outburst. I thought my obsession over looking ridiculous was bad until Jenny started debating if she should have gone for a safer dress option. She began to worry the girls at the party would think she’s trying too hard, and the guys that she thought she was too good for them. Her mom tried to reason with her, but it seemed now that she wasn’t focused on my make-over experience, her insecurities were taking control. After a couple failed attempts to calm her, I left her alone.


She needed someone to listen to her. I could do that happily.


“Okay, where next?” Jenny’s mom asked when her daughter paused to take a breath. After a quick glance out the window, I told her to take the next right.


“His house is third to the left,” I said and pointed to the two-story house painted a cream yellow with a green door. Shane’s mother had the house painted two years ago. Shane hated it, said it made him feel like he was living in a Disney house. 


Unease I thought I had gotten rid of returned, making my mouth dry as Izzie put the car in park in front of Shane’s house.


This isn’t the first time you’ve been here, I reminded myself. Stop being a baby. It’s just a party.


Jenny let out a squeal and hurried out of the car with a thank you yelled to her mom. I slowly followed her. “Here goes nothing,” I mumbled under my breath.


“Don’t stress.” Jenny skipped to my side. “We got this. No girl or guy will mess with us tonight,” she said firmly. “We look hot, we are awesome, and we will kick anyone’s butt who says otherwise. Got it?”


I gave her a short nod. It was all I could manage as a stampede of anxiety charged through me. 


Hot. Awesome. Kick butts. I repeated her words hoping it would help. I got this.


I hope.


Now that we were mere steps away from seeing Shane, Jenny was back to her bubbly charming self. She marched up the stone walkway with the rows of flowers on either side, chip up and hips swaying. Careful not to trip in the nude pumps, I moved a lot slower. She was at the door and knocking before I made it halfway.


Jenny looked behind her. “Hurry up,” she waved me forward. I picked up my pace but kept my eyes on the ground.


Don’t fall, don’t fall. My ankle wobbled and I sucked in a sharp breath. Luckily, I didn’t fall. I climbed the three steps to Shane’s front porch. At least no one had answered the door yet.


At least Joshua wasn’t going to be at Shane’s until later.


Shane opened the door just as I reached Jenny’s side. A smile spread across her face.


“Oh hey. I thought you couldn’t come until later,” Jenny said. The door opened wider. 


“Aunt Sara had to reschedule so I didn’t have to babysit.” 


That wasn’t Shane talking. I took a step back. My eyes widened as they took in the person in the doorway. Joshua. Here. Now. I bit my lip and inched back again.


The heel on one of the pumps sunk between two slabs of wood on the porch. My ankle twisted causing me to lose balance.


“Shit,” I said in panic and threw my arms out.


Hands grabbed my waist. Time froze as I hovered between standing and falling. My heart thumped loudly against my chest.


“You okay?” Joshua asked. I lifted my face to see him staring down at me. His grip tightened where his hands held my waist. I swallowed thickly but said nothing. I couldn’t. My voice was gone.


“Jeez Liyah, at least make it inside before you break something,” Shane’s voice had Joshua and I breaking eye contact.


Joshua made sure I could stand before letting me go. He cleared his throat. “Okay?”


“Yeah,” I croaked. Pretending I wasn’t humiliated, I wiped my hands on my borrowed skirt. Holding a foot out to show off the heel, I said to Shane, “Blame my sister. They’re hers.”


Shane let out a whistle. “Haven’t seen you in heels in years. Sure you can make it inside, or do you need someone to carry you.”


“Ha ha. Hilarious.”


“So this is you after a make-over?” He scanned me from head to foot. Turning to Jenny, he gave her a wink. “Not bad. You did well.”


“I didn’t need to do much.” She fluttered her eyelashes. I wonder if she practices that move in a mirror?


Mike showed up in the doorway, trying to see around Shane and Joshua. “Hey, what’s up? Thought we had a party to get ready for.” His gaze passed over me and Jenny with disinterest.


“Right,” Shane shoved Mike back inside. “To the prep stations!” The two began to wrestle each other in the foyer.


“Well, are you going to let us in or make us stand outside all night?” Jenny asked her brother, who was blocking the door. There was a teasing note to her words.


Joshua was staring at me but at his sister’s words he gave a slow blink. “What?” He asked Jenny.


Her smile grew big. “I asked if you were going to let us in.”


Joshua’s eyes flickered to me. I stared at my shoes before daring a glance at him. He looked confused.


“Hello?” Jenny poked him.


Joshua stepped back. “Right.” He moved to the side. “Come in.”


Blushing furiously over my almost fall and the awkward tension between him and me, I quickly walked inside with Jenny right on my heels. I wished I was home in my pjs, where it was safe.


Jenny caught my eye. She angled her head towards her brother who trailed behind us and wiggled her eyebrows.


This party was going to suck. I could feel it.

Chapters 1-5

                                                                        Chapter One


I am average in a house of extraordinary. The sullen dandelion surrounded by shadow-casting sunflowers. At fourteen years old, I’ve accepted my slot in life. I am the boring one. 


There are four siblings in my family with me as the youngest. James is the oldest at eighteen. He’s currently in college but I know he’d rather anywhere else. He’s a jock. The athletic of the family. Tall, too many muscles and a love of working out I will never understand. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being physically fit just not in the extreme of working out three hours a day. But, his body is his temple or whatever it is he mumbles to himself while his face is red as he “pumps iron.” The jock thing works for him. He’s a regular ladies man with the supporting groupie of girls waiting to get him water or wipe the sweat from his face. 


According to the girls in my grade James is hottie with his grey-blue eyes, brown hair kept shorter on the sides, and always present smirk. To me, he’s the annoying older brother who can’t seem to put his dirty sock in his hamper and instead likes to leave them decorating the living room, stuffed into the couch or on the coffee table.


Tasha is my older sister by three years. She’s a year younger than James and is, as she puts in “in love with her soulmate”. According to her, they will be married in about five years. Problem is, the guy doesn’t know it yet. They aren’t even dating. She’s got a plan. As much as I hate to say it, her plan will probably work. She hasn’t failed getting what she wants yet. She’s pretty with blue eyes and brown hair that curls the moment humidity hits it. She’s forever complaining about having to iron it and douse it in hair products to keep it straight. She also has a terrible fondness for pink and lace. Her bedroom looks like a Disney princess decorated it.


Next up is Mike at fifteen. He’s a lighter version from James with pale grey eyes and dirty blond hair. A jock, but more of a laid back, workout when he has to, kind of guy. He’s about a head shorter than James and not as bulked up but that doesn’t seem to affect his getting a girlfriend when he wants. He’s also less obnoxious so we get along better than I do with James. Maybe it’s because he’s more of a follower by nature. Most of the stupid pranks or problems he finds himself in are inspired by one of his friends. 


Then, there’s me with dark blue eyes, boring brown hair, and short. I’m 5’3. Okay. 5’2 and a half. The only thing interesting about me is my name. 


My father wanted to name me Lee, after his mother, but my mother liked Aaliyah. James, who was four at the time, heard Leah and starting pointing to my mom’s belly and shouting that was my name. So, my parents made a compromise. Leah but spelled Liyah to make it a bit fancier. Insert eyeroll here.


I’m odd, at least to my siblings who surrounded themselves with every high school cliché they could think of. My sister was a cheerleader, worked on the yearbook committee, and I bet will win Prom Queen this year. Unsurprisingly, James was Prom King in his year.


In my opinion, girls who likes to prance around in tiny cheerleader outfits, constantly obsessing about their weight and talking about diets, are the odd ones. My sister likes to tell me boys like girly-girls. They don’t want to date a buddy.


Maybe that’s why the boys in my grade don’t like me.  


                                                                                    ***


Monday morning, I woke up to the sounds of James bugging my dad to use his car. I pushed the blankets off me and slipped on my slippers before heading for the kitchen. When I got there my mom was pouring herself a cup of coffee, James and my father were still at it, and Mike and Tasha were eating toast. Mom was the first person to notice me. 


“Good morning Liyah, you’ll have to hurry up if you plan on eating before you get ready for school. You slept in again,” she said in a disgustingly chipper mood.


“I’ll buy something at school.” I poured myself tea, adding a ton of milk and sugar to it before taking my first sip. I turned to go back to my room when my dad called my name. 


“Need a lift to school?”


“No, not today. The bus is fine, thanks.” 


“How are you getting home? Don’t you have to work on the newspaper after school today?” he asked me. I nodded my answer.


“Katherine said her mom would drop me off.” Katherine is the newspaper editor ad one of my few friends.


“Alright.” Turning to James he held out his car keys. “I don’t want any tickets this time, do you understand? And, make sure your home before midnight.” Without answering, my brother hurried out the door. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at his retreating back.


I went to my room and changed into a pair of baggy, beige pants and a red shirt. Since I had gym class today, my hair went in a ponytail. Tea finished, I brushed my teeth, put on cherry lip balm and exchanged slippers for running shoes. I shouted goodbye to my parents after grabbed my lunch from the fridge. 


I had about two minutes to make it to the bus stop. Running, it was. Mike and Tasha were already waiting when I arrived, slightly out of breath. Mike was with his usual admirers. Tasha was talking to her best friend Lizzie about her new plan to attract Toby’s (that’s the guy she is in “love with) attention. I ignored them.


When the bus came, I took my regular seat in the front and looked over my English assignment to keep from dozing off. 


I’m taking grade ten English, Math, and Science because my teachers though that they weren’t challenging enough for me. I don’t think that Mike is too happy about it, especially since I ended up in his English class.


When we finally arrived at school, I dropped my stuff off at my locker except for my newspaper article and went to the cafeteria where I bought a bagel with cream cheese. While I ate, I went over my article on our school’s up-coming football game against one of the best teams around here. We’ve won five games so far and if we beat this next team we’ll get to compete in the championship game. 


I am a big fan of football, and I know that the opponents are going to be tough to beat. They have never lost a game yet in the past three years. Our team was really going to have step up their game.


I had Biology for my first class. Our teacher, Mrs. Flynn, was busy writing away on the chalkboard when I snuck in a minute late. I took my seat in the middle of my classroom and opened my books to last night’s homework. In class we were learning about blood, not one of my favorite topics so my mind wandered as I doodled in my notebook.


Gym class was next. I love gym; it’s one of my favorite classes even though I’m not one of the teacher’s favorite students. To be honest, she’d probably flunk me if she could. I guess it’s because I come off sarcastic at times. Plus, she likes to act like none of us know a thing about sports. She also doesn’t like I was bumped up to her grade 10 class instead of 9 because of my other class changes. 


Fortunately, we had a substitute today. A guy sub. I let out a sigh as I overhead some of the girls talking about how cute he was while we changed into gym clothes. They kept making excuses to talk to him, pretending to be hurt or asking an obvious question. I think he was getting frustrated by a couple of them. Ten minutes into class, the sub still hadn’t managed to get the class in order. Knowing the rest of the time would probably pass the same way, I got permission from him to see if I could play with the boys’ side of the gym. Apparently, our school liked to keep the genders separate for gym class. I never understood why.


The boys’ teacher okayed it. It wasn’t the first time I had switched to his side in the past. I don’t exactly like gymnastics, so when we were supposed to practice that I usually was able to talk my way out of it. Or, at least the teacher I had last year let me. She went on maternity leave this year which was how was ended up with no-fun Mrs. Lawkins. 


He agreed, and while he was splitting up the teams for basketball I noticed that some guys were smirking. A few of them nudged each other, whispering and laughing when I was placed on the opposite team. I held back a snort. Idiots. They were in for a surprise if they thought me being a girl made me a weak opponent.


“Liyah, you’re with me.” Shane, who’s known me forever, waved me over to his side. He gave me a high-five. His teammates shook their heads. It didn’t take them long to catch on. I knew what I was doing.


Shane got the ball to my whenever he could. Five minutes into the game our team scored the first goal, by me. I was fast and sneaky. Shane just laughed when I scored. I was passed the ball frequently after that.


Half way through the game, the secretary interrupted us. She was followed by a boy I had never seen before with brown hair and the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen on anyone who wasn’t on actor. My hands dampened. 


He’s really cute.

 

                                                                        Chapter Two


I forced myself to take a deep breath as I watched them make their way to the gym teacher. Warmth flooded my face and I became aware of how sweaty my hands were. I wiped my palms on my shirt. Crap, I thought gazing at the red tee shirt I wore with the words “HANDS OFF” printed across my chest in black font. The loose, knee length black shorts didn’t make the outfit any better. 


For the first time ever, I wished I dressed more like my sister. Rolling my eyes at my thoughts, I pulled my shirt away from my sweaty skin.  Great. I was turning into one of those girls who get all a-flutter around a cute guy. I turned my attention to Shane. He elbowed a classmate in the side for hip-checking him.


“Class, listen up,” the teacher said with a clap of his hands. Everyone looked at him. The secretary was gone, leaving behind the boy to fidget under the scrutiny of about twenty guys and me. The guy’s gaze met mine briefly before turning to the teacher. “This is Joshua Mawsh. He’s new to the school.” Glancing at Joshua, he pointed to Shane and said, “You’ll be on his team.”


Shit. I gulped. Okay, so he’s on the same team as me. Big deal. He’s just a guy. A really cute guy.


Joshua crossed to Shane. A minute later, Shane was calling my name. “Come here,” he waved me over.


You can do this. Stop being stupid, I scolded myself. “What’s up?” I asked when I stood in front of them, keeping my attention on Shane.


“Meet Joshua. Joshua, Liyah.” 


Joshua smiled.


“Uh, hi.” Smooth, Liyah. Good job. I rubbed my hands on my shirt again. 


“Hey,” Joshua’s eyes twinkled with amusement. “I thought this class was guys only?”


“Oh. Uh,” I stammered, looking to Shane to save me. 


Shane snorted. “She asked to play with us. Apparently, her side wasn’t enough of a challenge for her.” He lightly punched me in the shoulder.


That doesn’t make me sound ridiculous, thanks for nothing Shane. “We have a substitute, a guy. Unless you consider flirting a sport, not much is happening on the girls’ side. I asked to switch for the day.” I shrugged, “I like basketball.” 


Lame. So lame.


“This isn’t social hour,” the teacher yelled. “Get back into your teams and let’s play.”


The rest of the period passed quickly. Once the game started, my focus returned to scoring and keeping the opposite team away from our net. I was passed the ball whenever I was open, even Joshua threw me the ball a couple times. I tried to ignore him, but that wasn’t always possible since he was on my team. He made me feel awkward though, and I didn’t like it. 


By the time class ended, our team had won and I was feeling more like myself. Joshua was just another guy. Nothing special. There was no reason for me to be weird around him. I sent him and Shane a wave before heading for the girls’ locker room to change. I doubted I’d be seeing much of him anyway.


At my locker, I exchanged my gym clothes for library books. I had to return them by Friday but I read the last book over the weekend. I talked to the librarian for a bit after handing the books over. She knows me pretty well, I usually stop in at least twice a week. I love reading. Usually, students are only allowed to take two books out at a time but I managed to convince her to let me take out five. 


With nothing else to do, I walked down the book aisles to see if anything caught my eye. I’m not too picky when it comes to genres. I’ll give any book a fair shot, though I do lean towards Fantasy and Science Fiction more. I was reading the back of a Jim Butcher novel when a noise had me pausing. It sounded like crying. I put the book back in its pace before peeking around the corner. Sitting on the floor, under a window, was a girl my age. She was hugging her knees to her chest, head bowed. Brown hair hid her face.


I stepped towards her. “Are you okay?”


Her head came up. I didn’t recognize her but she seemed familiar for some reason. She scrubbed her eyes with hands as I moved closer. I knelt beside her.


“What’s wrong?” I asked when she didn’t answer. She only shrugged and rubbed her nose with the sleeve of her grey sweater. Our eyes met. The clear blue of hers had me thinking of Joshua. Was it possible… “Are you new to this school?” 


She nodded. Could she be Joshua’s sister? I studied her face. They had the same eyes and hair color.


“My name’s Liyah.” I waited.


She took a wobbly breath. “Jenny.” 


“Are you okay?”


She shrugged again but after a pause added, “I hate being new. I have no friends. I don’t know where any of my classes are. I asked a girl and she sent me to the boy’s bathroom.” Her eyes watered. “I hate it here. I want to go home.” Tears spilled over. She wiped them away but more just fell. I settled myself into a more comfortable position on the floor.


“Hey, it’ll be okay.” I wanted to hug her but I didn’t know how’d she react. “Whoever that girl was, she’s a bitch. Forget her. Being new sucks but it won’t last. You’ll make friends and soon you’ll know this school better than you want.” I tapped her on the knee. “We can be friends. I don’t have many, so it’d nice to make another.”


Jenny tucked her hair behind her ear, showing off a row of four small hoop earrings crawling up the side of her ear. “Really?”


“Of course.” I got to my feet. Holding out a hand, I added, “And the first rule of friendship is make sure you find your way around. Come on, I’ll give you a quick tour of the school and find your next two classes before recess ends. We can meet up at lunch and find the others.”


Hesitantly she took my hand and I helped her up. “I’d like that,” she said softly. 


It didn’t take long to show her around. The school wasn’t that big and with its square-shaped layout it wasn’t too hard to find her classes. I asked for her schedule and was pleased to see we had the same English class, so she was in the same grade as Mike and Shane. 


We walked to class together and found two empty seats near the back of the room. I told her a bit about myself, how I was in some advanced classes, and she told me how she moved here after her dad got a job transfer.


Just as the bell rang, signaling the start of class, Shane hurried in with Joshua seconds behind. Shane made his way towards us. Again, I was struck by how much Jenny and Joshua looked like each other. Obviously, they were brother and sister, but I was starting to wonder if they were also twins. They were in the same grade, same age, unless one of the had failed.


“Josh,” Jenny smiled at him. “I’d like you to meet Liyah.”


“We’ve met,” he told her, looking at me he added. “Nice to see you again.”


Shane stared back and forth between them. “You guys twins or something?”


“Yup.” Joshua replied. “Although, I’m older.” He was still watching me. Screw butterflies, there was a swarm of bees buzzing around my stomach.


“Pfft,” Jenny rolled her eyes. “Ya, a whole two minutes. Older doesn’t mean smarter. Or better. I win those, hands down.” Joshua let out a chuckle and shook his head at Jenny.


The guys took the two seats in front of us when the teacher walked in. She made a brief introduction to welcome Jenny and Joshua, not asking them to talk about themselves which had Jenny sighing in relief. Joshua gave the class a cheeky wave. I doodled in my notebook as the teacher explained what we’d been doing in class, then asked us to pass our homework assignments forward to she could collect them.


Joshua, who sat in front of me, turned to take my paper. When he did, he dropped a folded letter on my desk. My heart tried to jump up my throat as I stared at it. I glanced around to see if anyone noticed. Jenny was copying notes on the blackboard. Shane was trying to sneak off a text. My hand trembled a little as I slid the letter off my desk. I opened it on my lap, gaze flickering between the teacher and the note. What did he write? Why was he giving me a note?


Is Mike your bother?


I swallowed a snort. Of course. Hiding the letter in my notebook I wrote “Yes”, folded it, and waited for a chance to return it. I didn’t have to wait long.


Joshua twisted in his seat to face me. “Can I steal a piece of paper?” His expression revealed nothing. I nodded, tore blank sheet free from my notebook. Feeling like a super spy, I held the letter under the paper and carefully passed it to him. He winked at me and I almost let out a sigh.


Class went on. The teacher began to write our next assignment on the blackboard. I bent down to pick up my pencil that rolled off my table. When I sat up, the letter was back. I shot a look to Jenny who gave me a small smile but didn’t seem to notice anything odd.


Are you twins too? You don’t really look that much alike.


I thought about not answering. Did I want him to know I was younger than them? Not to mention, how big a nerd I am? He’d find out eventually, I rationalized and began writing back. 


No. We’re not twins. He’s a year older than me. I’m taking a few grade ten classes.


When Joshua asked to borrow a pen, (apparently, he had no school supplies on him) I handed the letter back to him. Another wink. Another attempt of my heart leaving my chest. Stupid heart. 


Joshua never wrote back. Class went by with me staring at the back of his head. When the bell rang, I gathered my things and murmured a good-bye to Jenny. I didn’t look in Joshua direction, even when Shane called my name. I just kept walking. 



                                                                       Chapter Three


Jenny and I met up at lunchtime. We stared at the packed tables and were about to give up when Jenny spotted Shane. He waved us over, gesturing to the two empty seats in front of him and Joshua. 


Perfect. I stared at my plate of pasta picturing the sauce mustache I was probably going to end up with after eating. Jenny didn’t notice my hesitation, she was already making her way towards them. With a sigh, I dragged my feet but followed her. She took the seat in front of Shane. I gave Joshua a weak smile and sat across from him.


Jenny poked a cucumber in her salad. “Hey Liyah, any chance you can help me catch up in English class?”


“Sure,” grateful for the distraction I turned sideways to face her, pretending not to notice Joshua was looking at me with his head titled. “Whenever you have time to get together we can go over everything.”


“Really? You don’t mind?”


“Of course not.” My stomach let out a low growl wondering why I wasn’t feeding it. I felt my face warm. Twirling a small amount of spaghetti with my fork, I sent a silent prayer the tomato sauce didn’t splatter on me before eating the mouthful.


“And,” Jenny paused, “for the group assignment she mentioned we’d have soon, you wanna partner with me?”


I dabbed the corner of my mouth with a paper napkin and sent Jenny a grin. “Isn’t that a given?”


“I’m in,” Shane added. He shoveled pasta in his mouth, not caring the slightest a glob of sauce dropped on his shirt.


“Hmm,” I tapped a finger to my chin and studied him. “I don know.”


“What?”


“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea. I mean, I seem to recall you not doing well with presentations.” I saw I had piqued Jenny and Joshua’s interest. “Though, from what Mike told me of your grade 5 presentation on Sir Isaac Newton was quite memorable.” 


Shane groaned making me laugh.


“This ought to be good,” Joshua leaned in. “What happened?”


“Should I do the honors?” I asked Shane. He rolled his eyes but gave me the go ahead. I took a sip of my apple juice. “Mike told me Shane was complaining about his stomach. He said he didn’t feel good and wanted to see the nurse. It wasn’t the first time he tried that, so the teacher told him he could go once he did his presentation Mike said the entire class watched as Shane went from red, to white, to green before he turned towards the teacher’s desk and decided to share what he ate for lunch with the class. Unfortunately, the teacher ended up wearing most of it.”


“Oh gross,” Jenny pushed her salad to the side.


“Thanks for that,” Shane said but he was shaking his head and laughing. He peeked at Jenny. The tips of his ears pinked. Ooooo, did Shane like Jenny? I looked between the two of them.


When lunch ended, I realized I hadn’t given Jenny another tour of the school. I offered to show her to her next class but when Shane realized they had French together, he was quick to take over tour duties. It amused me a little how fast he got to his feet to walk her to her locker. Joshua didn’t seem to mind his new friend’s attention to his twin. He called out a good-bye then left for his own locker leaving me at the table watching them all walk off.


After school, I headed for the back office used for the newspaper staff. I got a few mumbled “hellos” as I walked passed writers working on articles. I dropped my belongings at an unoccupied desk then went in search of Kathy. I found her in a corner hidden behind a stack of books and papers. Three pens stuck out of the messy bun of blond hair on top of her head. She had a pencil over her right ear and was chewing on the end of another one as she read the papers in her hand.


“You really need to stop procrastinating. Look at you, just sitting there doing nothing,” I joked. She gave a startled yelp.


“Oh. Liyah. Jeez. I didn’t hear you.” The pencil was jammed into her bun, dislodging a red pen in the process. It clattered onto the desk. She picked it up with a confused wrinkle of her nose. “I wondered where that had gone to. What did you say?”


“Nothing,” I chucked. “Here, I finished my article. We had a free period.”


“If only there were more of you.” She took the papers and began to read, marking mistakes and comments with the pen. “Marcy won’t be in this week. Possibly next week either. She had a family emergency. Any chance you can take her assignment on dating?”


I worried my bottom lip between my teeth. “When’s it due?” 


“Next Wednesday though it will be in Friday’s edition. I hate asking because I know you’re busy but you’re my most reliable writer and I’m desperate. I’d do I myself but I have about six articles to proofread, plus cover for Dan.”


Seeing how panicked she was, I gave in. “Not a problem. I’ve got time.” Not like I have a social life. Should be interesting. An article about dating. Fun.


“You’re a life saver. Really,” she handed my article back, “I’m minutes away from going prematurely grey. She flipped through the stack in front of her, pulled out a blue folder. “Here’s a few of her past work in case you need some ideas. Thank you so much.”


The folder contained a bunch of notes scribbled across sticky notes and paper torn from a spiral notebook. There was no order to them, and half of what Marcy wrote was chaos in loopy letters and hearts dotting “i” s. There were two printouts of love poems shoved at the back. I let out a long sigh and settled in at my desk. This was going to take a lot of work. Maybe I could get some advice and feedback from Jenny and my sister.


Kathy drove me home an hour later. We went over some ideas I had for Marcy’s article and promised to find someone to help me with my sports articles if I felt the work was becoming too much. She thanked me another ten times before I got out of the car and waved goodbye as I hurried up the walkway to my house.


The flowerbeds below the front windows needed weeding. My mom would probably try and talk me into helping her on the weekend.


Hearing Mike and his friends laughing in the kitchen, I went to my room. I wasn’t in the mood to be teased or made fun of, one of Mike’s favorite past-times when he was with his friends. Better to avoid him until they left.


I carefully shut my bedroom door, let my backpack fall to the floor and kicked off my shoes. My bed beckoned me to take a nap but I refused to give in. If I napped, I’d wake up grumpy and hot. I decided to get my homework out of the way. Gathering up my Math and French books, I went to the family den. 


The den had a big comfy L-shaped couch in brown with a couple of wool throws thrown over the back. My mom picked out a bunch of throw pillows in light and dark greens that ended up on the floor more than the couch. I grabbed one off the floor and propped it into the corner were the L met in the middle. Legs curled to the side, I picked up my Math book and flipped to the first page we had to answer.


I was cursing a complicated math problem when the sounds of heavy feet and name calling sent my gaze to the doorway in time to see Shane being shoved in by Mike, followed by his friend Chris. And, Joshua.


Crap. I stared at the notebook where I had been showing how I solved the math equations. Number 8, the one I was stuck on, seemed to mock me. Why couldn’t they stay in the kitchen? Why didn’t I stay in my room?


Someone plopped down beside me causing my textbook to fall. “Whatcha doing?” Shane asked as he scooped it off the floor and handed it to me.


I showed him the front. “Math homework. Exciting stuff. What about you guys?”


Mike hadn’t moved from the doorway. He was giving me a look of annoyance. “We’re going to watch a movie. So, go.”


“Um, in case it escaped your notice, I was here before you. And, there’s enough room.”


“Maybe I don’t want you in here.” 


“Maybe I don’t really care.” What the hell was his problem? I stared at him.


“Hey now,” Shane interrupted, “Liyah’s right. There’s room for all of us.”


Mike wasn’t pleased but after adding a sharp, “Whatever,” he went to the shelf of DVDs and began suggesting movies.


Asshat.


I went back to my work while they watched “The Fast and the Furious”. More often than I wanted to admit, my attention drifted from my work to Joshua. He was sitting on the floor with his back resting against the couch. He was so close that if I wanted I could nudge him with my foot. 


Why didn’t he respond to my letter? I couldn’t but think it had to do with my age. Which was stupid. Maybe he thought I was a nerd? I scowled at his head. Did he have a problem with smart people?


Ugh. He was too distracting. I snapped my book closed. Shane looked over at me with an arched brow. I rolled my eyes. “This movie sucks.” 


Shane snorted but didn’t point out that my parents bought me the movie for Christmas, at my request. I elbowed him. I had to climb over him to avoid Joshua. Shane passed my books to me then his attention went back to the movie.


A glance at my watch told me it was getting close to supper time. I returned my homework to my bedroom then went to the kitchen to start supper preparations. Both my parents work late, none of my siblings can or want to cook, so it usually fell on me to make supper. I began chopping veggies, slicing olives and grating cheese. 


I was eyeing the amount of grated mozzarella trying to see if there was enough, when I realized I didn’t know if Chris or Joshua were staying. Shane was a given. He ate here more than his own house. I love his mother, she’s the sweetest. She can’t cook at all. She burned eggs once trying to make scrambled eggs.


“Are you guys staying for supper?” I asked, standing just inside the den. Four heads turned towards me.


“I am,” Shane patted his stomach.


“Shocking. I knew that. I meant them,” I pointed to Joshua and Chris. Chris checked the time and cursed. 


“Shit. I was supposed to be home twenty minutes ago.” He jumped to his feet and almost knocked me down as he ran out of the room. Okay, no Chris then.


“Joshua?” I made myself look at him. His blue eyes locked on mine. And here come the stupid butterflies.


“Yes, he is.” Mike answered. “Have a problem with that?”


What, was he on his period or something? “No, I don’t. I just need to know how much food to make.” 


“You cook?” Joshua asked.


Shane grinned at me from the couch. “Can she cook? She’s awesome.”


“She’s great,” Mike said sarcastically. “Can we get back to the movie now?”


I bit my cheek to stop from bitching at him. I don’t know what his problem was, but he was acting like a major jerk. Spinning on my heels, I marched back into the kitchen muttering under my breath about idiotic brothers and feeding him rat poison. I brushed angry tears from my cheek.


Hope he wakes up with warts tomorrow.


                                                                         Chapter Four


Someone entered the kitchen while I was rinsing lettuce for a salad but I was too angry to check who it was. I kept my back to them, dumping the lettuce into a salad spinner and snapping the lid on.


“You okay?” 


I found Shane leaning against the island counter. He wore a concerned expression on his face, eyes studying me.


I shrugged. “Sure.”


“You know he was just kidding right?” The hesitation in his voice revealed his doubt. Shane would always stick up for my brother. Didn’t matter how stupid Mike might act, Shane would never abandon him. Something about them being blood brothers. I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually cut and mixed their blood in some stupid ritual to cement their friendship. 


Boys.


“Kidding, right.” I emptied the water from the spinner. Lettuce went into a glass bowl with the other waiting veggies. I mixed them, waiting for Shane to explain Mike’s behavior away.


“He had a shitty day.” 


I snorted. I left the salad on the counter and went to check on the sauce for the creamy spaghetti I was making for supper. “And that gives him the right to be a jerk?”


Shane came to my side. I held a wooden spoon with a bit of sauce on it for him to taste. “Needs more salsa. And no, it doesn’t. You were just the unlucky one to have him take his anger out on.”


“Yah, well, yay for me.” I rinsed the spoon off before grabbing the jar of salsa. “I’m fine you know. You don’t need to stay. You can go watch the movie.” When it looked like he wasn’t going to budge, I added, “I’ve got to call my mom anyway.”


Ten minutest later, I turned the heat on high for the water to boil. My mom said I could invite someone over since Mike had, and I decided to see what Jenny was up to. Keeping an eye on the pot for the noodles, I dialed the number Jenny gave me.


“Hello Mawsh residents,” Jenny’s voice answered after three rings. 


“Hey, it’s Liyah. Um, I was wondering if you wanted to come over for supper.”


“I’d love to, let me just ask my mom.” I heard her calling to her mom and a muffled conversation before she came back on the line. “She said yes. Is Josh there? He said something about going over to Mike’s house after school. That’s your brother, isn’t it?”


“Yah, he’s here.”


“Alright. Where do you live, mom said she’d drop me off?” 


I gave her the directions before hanging up the phone. I eyed the sauce, deciding there was enough, I took out a second box of pasta. Once the water was boiling, I dumped in the noodles. I just set the timer when I heard the doorbell. 


“Come in,” I said waving at her mom who was watching from the car. I led her to the kitchen where Shane, Joshua and Mike were getting drinks from the fridge.


Shane seemed pleased to see Jenny and offered her a can of Coke before asking me. “I didn’t know you were coming over, Jenny.”


Her face pinked. “Liyah invited me.” 


I grinned at them. Hmm, Shane and Jenny, sitting in a tree… 


“Did you even ask mom and dad first?” Mike grumbled, popping the tab on his can and taking a big slurp. 


“Yes.” Determined not to get in a fight with him, I took a breath and turned away from him. Fortunately, the timer went off for the noodles so while I dealt with putting supper together, I left Shane to keep the others occupied.


Jenny asked if I wanted some help. I handed her bowls to fill with salad. Leaning close to her, I lowered my voice to ask, “What’s with you and Shane? Do you like him?”


“Oh,” she glanced over her shoulder at him, cheeks darkening. “Am I that obvious?” 


“No. He is,” I said with a chuckle. “So, you do like him?”


“He’s the nicest guy I’ve ever met,” she gushed which was answer enough. “He actually listened to me when we talked. And he’s really cute.” She paused, staring into the salad. “I think you’re wrong though. I think he likes you.”


I stared at her. “Me?” I couldn’t help myself, I started laughing. “Sorry, sorry. No, no. We’re friends. Nothing more. Trust me. I had a crush on him a few years ago. Really embarrassing. I wrote him poems and everything. He was really sweet about it, never told Mike thank God. But no, there’s nothing between us. I’m pretty sure I’m like the annoying sister he never wanted. Trust me.”


“Oh.” 


“Hey,” Shane popped up behind Jenny. We both jumped. Jenny flushed harder. “What are you two whispering about?”


Rolling my eyes, I answer sarcastically, “Just about how wonderful you are.”


Shane looked at Jenny with a wink, “Well, go on then, I’ll leave you two to it.” 


By the time both my parents got home, my sister came back from her friend’s house and James called to say he wasn’t going to be home until later. Since there wasn’t enough room around the table for us, my parents gave us permission to eat in the den. 


Supper went by fast. Jenny and I talked about our classes in between Shane’s attempts at cracking jokes. I think he was trying to get Mike out of his grumpy mood but didn’t seem to work very well. Joshua was quiet. I don’t think he spoke more than five sentences. 


When we finished, and to Mike’s disgust, Shane volunteered the guys to dishwashing duty. My mom beamed at them and promised to send Shane, Joshua and Jenny home with an extra slice of chocolate cake as a thank you.


Jenny and I went to my bedroom. We went over our homework, switching them so we could make sure the other didn’t make a mistake. It led to talking about our English assignments and my love of writing. Jenny insisted she read something of mine, so after much internal debate I found a short story I wrote a few years ago. I pretended to have to go to the bathroom while she read it, not wanting see her reaction.


What if she hated it?


“Wow,” she said when I came back. She was sitting on the floor with her back against my bed. “You’re really good. I mean this is just so… wow! Have you ever entered into a writing contest?”


I shrugged. “No, I don’t think I’m that good. I just like writing.”


She shook her head. “You’re that good. You need to try. I can help you look for a good one. Please?” 


“Maybe. Let me think about it.”


Jenny stayed for another hour before Joshua knocked on my door to say their mom was on her way to get them. After making me promise to really think about entering in a writing contest, Jenny left with her brother. Shane, after going on about how cool Jenny was for thirty minutes, eventually left for his own home. I think he picked up Mike’s signal he wanted him gone when he told his friend to get lost. Subtlety was not Mike’s strong suit.


The next morning, Shane caught up with me and Mike in front of the school. Mike looked annoyed when Shane said he needed to talk to me and told his friend he’d catch up later. Shane wanted to know why I had snubbed Joshua the night before. Me. Snub. Him. 


“What?”


“He think’s you’re mad at him.”


I just stared at Shane. He was nuts. They both were. I wasn’t the one to ignore the note and not answer. I was not the one who didn’t talk during supper. 


A couple of Shane’s friends showed up, dragging him off as I gazed after him still confused. Why the heck would Joshua think I was mad at him?


                                                                          Chapter Five


I was still obsessing about Joshua thinking I was upset with him during History class. Since I didn’t have the nerve to talk to him face-to-face, I decided to write him a letter.



Joshua,

I’m a little confused. Shane asked me why I was mad you. Why would I be mad at you? I’m not. Promise. If anything, I thought you weren’t happy with me for some reason. You never wrote back to the letter in English, or really talked to me after that. 

I’m not mad. I hope you’re not either. Maybe we both just jumped to wrong conclusions?


Your friend,

Liyah


I handed the letter to Shane in between classes, ignoring his wiggling eyebrows and laugh. I had no doubt Shane would read it before Joshua ever got it. He was nosy like that; he wouldn’t be able to help himself which was why I kept the letter short. Happy to have that issue dealt with, I stopped by my locker to switch my books for my next class.


Class dragged on in a snail’s pace, or maybe it was the nervous flutter in my stomach that slowed time. I gave a sigh of relief when the bell finally rang and it was recess. I made my way through the crowded hallway toward my locker. A smile lit my face at the sight of Jenny waiting. “How was class??” she asked me and moved over so I could open my locker.


“About as interesting as a dead bug.” I shoved my binder and textbook inside, then began digging through my schoolbag. “I brought that copy of my story, if you still want it?”


“Of course I do! Gimme,” she said and snatched it from my fingers when I found it.


“Weirdo,” I chuckled. The rest of recess passed with Jenny trying to get information out of me about Shane. Did he mention her? Did I really think he might like her? What did he do for fun? I answered her honestly, holding back a smile of amusement at how pink her face got every time she said his name.


We both had drama next. Another class I was placed a year ahead of my grade due to the other changes made. We decided to go together so we stopped at each locker first before heading over. 


I’ve always loved drama class. The room was a cube of blue carpeting going up the walls and even on the ceiling to help muffle sound. Along two walls were rows of seats resembling steps where the students sat. It left the other part of the room open for a mock-stage. Our teacher was kind and very understanding when shy students struggled with anxiety to get in front of the class to perform. She never pushed anyone, though she did encourage with an almost maternal manner that usually worked in her favor. 


Today, she split the class into groups of four. We were going to play Translator. In translator, two people are given a role to act out but have to speak gibberish. It’s up to the other two to translate what they think is being said. It can either go very well or horribly, but it always ends up being funny. 


I was partnered with Shane, Joshua (gulp!), and Melanie White (Chris’ cousin). Joshua and I were given the role of performer. Shane was going to translate for Joshua, and Melanie for me. 


The class took turns moving to the center of the room. I chose to sit between Shane and Melanie, trying my best not to wonder if Joshua (who sat on Shane’s other side) read my letter yet. When we were called to go next, I caught Jenny’s eye and she gave me a thumbs up. She was in a team of all girls and had been chosen to go first.


The teacher clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention. She turned to us, “Okay, you guys ready?” When we nodded, she stuck her hand in the bowl of scene suggestions sitting on a table and picked one out. “Right. Your scene will be… Joshua, you want to ask Liyah out but you’re scared she’ll say no.”


Oh my god. Kill me now, I thought with an uncomfortable flop of my belly. My body felt warm and I stared at Jenny, wanting to be anywhere else. She gave me a smile with a shrug of her shoulders. 


“Joshua, whenever you’re ready,” the teacher said and went to sit down. 


What happened next was the longest, most awkward, five minutes of my life. I did my best not to look Joshua in the face, gaze going over his shoulder to the cork board posting play reviews and notices. I was lucky I didn’t have to say anything in English because my thoughts were a mess. Honestly, gibberish was the only language I could speak at that moment. All I could think about was, had he read the letter, and what did he think?


When the teacher thanked us for a great job, making a point to address how our body language had been perfect to showcase how we felt, even if the translators hadn’t been around, I wanted to curl up in ball and hide. 


To make matters worse, we had English class next. It looked like I wasn’t going to be able to avoid Joshua anytime soon. 


Jenny looped her arm through mine and headed for the English room. The teacher did rollcall and picked up assignments before handing out worksheets on grammar structure she wanted us to finish. She wasn’t pleased with some of the previous work students handed in.


The worksheet was pretty simple and didn’t take me long to finish. I asked if I could go to the bathroom; I really just needed to hide from Joshua for a few minutes. When I returned, found a note peeking out from under my binder. My heart took a nosedive to my feet.


Was it from Joshua?


Don’t be silly, I rationalized, it’s probably Jenny asking me something. 


I waited for the teacher to write on the chalkboard before hiding the note on my lap and opening it. My mouth dried. 


Liyah,


No. I’m not mad at you. I didn’t realize you thought that. I’m sorry if I made you think I was. I guess I was just surprised when you said you’re a year younger. You just seem kind of mature. You’re obviously very smart. 

I wasn’t ignoring you. I’m just not a very talkative guy, and a lot’s been going on with the move here. I’m not mad at you, and I’m glad you’re not either. I hope we can be friends.


Joshua


Friends. Well, I can’t say I thought he’d want us to be anything else. Friends was good though. I was comfortable with being friends. I kept my response short and simple with “Sounds good”.


My stomach settled down. The issue was over. Problem solved. We were going to be friends. I smiled to myself. 


Shane stopped us from leaving when the lunch bell rang. “Anyone want to do to the Crib for pizza?” 


“I’m down,” I said, stacking my books before hugging them to my chest. Shane glanced at Jenny. Feeling happy, I decided to help the poor shmuck out. “Say yes, Jenny. The Crib has the best pizza you’ve ever tasted.”


“Oh,” she quickly glanced at Shane. “I don’t know.”


“I do,” I said and nudged her with my hip. “We can split a pizza.” 


Jenny turned to her brother. “What to you think?”


“Yeah, why not. Let’s do it. Besides, how can anyone turn down the chance to have the best pizza ever?” He asked with a wink in my direction. 


 Friends, I reminded myself.


“Sweet. Let’s meet in front of Liyah’s locker, she’s closest to the front doors.”


I won’t lie, when I got to my locker I found a small hand mirror and checked to see if my hair looked okay. I might have foolishly put on some strawberry flavored lip balm as well. 


I know, I know. Stupid. The problem was, Joshua made me feel girly and not like the tomboy I was. Ugh, I was acting the way my older sister does with the guys she likes.


He said he wants to be friends. Leave it alone. 


That didn’t stop me from grabbing my brush and doing my best to unknot my hair. Hearing a bunch of girls giggling, talking about how cute the new boy was, made me freeze. 


What was I thinking? God, how stupid can I be? There was no way he would ever see me as anything but a friend, not when there were all these girls flirting with him. I threw the brush back in my locker, put my hair in a bun and slammed my locker door shut. 


There. That’s done. 


“Ready?” Shane popped up behind me. I slapped his arm for scaring me. Jenny and Joshua stood behind him.


“Yup, all set. No Mike?”


“Nah, he’s eating with Bethany. I think he’s trying to see if she’ll go out with him,” Shane let out a snort. Bethany was a year older than them and a cheerleader. She liked college guys, according to the gossip going around the school.


“Good luck to him.”


We headed out. Shane playfully bumped Jenny and the two of them starting talking about what kinds of toppings they liked on their pizza, leaving me and Joshua slowly following from behind.


They sure are cute together, I thought with a smile. I glanced at Joshua who made a point of pretending to gag at the sight of his sister and Shane. I shoved him and laughed.


Friends. Got it.