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Authors: Jennifer Echols

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Love & Romance, #Social Issues, #Friendship, #General

Biggest Flirts (9 page)

BOOK: Biggest Flirts
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This was Kaye’s vivid imagination. She was superimposing her own family life on mine. My dad would never find out what I’d been elected. I could have been voted Biggest Ho, or Greenest Teeth, and he wouldn’t have noticed. And he couldn’t very well ground me even if he wanted to, since he was either asleep or gone whenever I went out. Parents who made their kids stay home had to be home themselves.

“Dodged a bullet there,” I said.

“Of course, getting elected Biggest Flirt with Will Matthews when he already has a girlfriend is pretty awkward too.”

“Can it, would you?” I knew she was only teasing, but I wasn’t in the mood. “You haven’t given me helpful advice about boys since the sixth grade.”

“Yeah. That was the last time you turned one down.”

I glared at her and considered giving her a good whack with my drum, but we were on the stairs.

“I’m kidding!” she exclaimed. “Come on. You’ve cultivated this reputation yourself. You act like you’re upset that you got the title.”

“I just didn’t think Will and I were attracting that much attention,” I confessed. “We’re friends, and we horse around, but I wouldn’t have thought we would stick out to the whole school after four days of band camp.”

“You’re hard to miss,” she said. “You’re both six feet tall.”

“We are not.” I looked up at Will, who was cresting the stairs with tiny Angelica beside him. I was only five nine, which admittedly was tall for a girl, but not so tall for people in general. Will, on the other hand, had a good four inches on me, maybe more. I corrected myself: “
I
am not.”

“The two of you are probably six feet tall on average,” Kaye said as we reached the top of the stairs ourselves. Out in the parking lot, Will stood in front of the open trunk of his car, talking to Angelica. He leaned way down. She gave him a peck on the cheek. She flounced smiling across the melted asphalt, toward the band room. Obviously being elected Biggest Flirt hadn’t hurt his relationship with Angelica after all.

He pulled off his T-shirt, rubbed it across his muscular chest and arms, and ducked into his trunk again for a dry one. He had a whole pile of them in there.

“Wow,” Kaye said reverently.

“Yeah,” I agreed.

“And we’re heading over there,” Kaye noticed, “when he’s half-naked, his girlfriend just kissed him, and you and he were chosen Biggest Flirts together? This is messed up.”

“He invited me to keep my drum in his trunk,” I explained as we reached him. Considering our new title, I thought it might help to remind him that this storage option had been his idea, not mine.

“Oh,” Will said, turning around with the fresh T-shirt in his hands. Glancing at Kaye and then back at me, he said, “You can’t anymore, because of the flirting thing.”

“Wait a minute.” I didn’t mean to raise my voice, especially not with Kaye standing there. But I felt baited and switched, so I lashed out. “I can understand why we shouldn’t flirt anymore because of the title, but not why I can’t leave my drum in your car. This is how it ends, after all our time together? What about the mortgage? What about the
kids
?”

His grim mouth slid to one side, like he was frustrated with me and also trying very hard not to laugh. I could hear shouts and slamming doors in the parking lot now that school was dismissed and people were getting in their cars and driving away. His blue eyes swept the area over my head, alert for anyone who might have overheard me and would
tell Angelica oh noes
.

My phone vibrated in my pocket. “Hold on,” I told Will, exasperated with absolutely everybody. The shop was on the line, and I figured I’d better answer since I’d ignored their call a few minutes before. “Bob and Roger’s Antiques,” I said sarcastically. “How may I help you?
From band practice?

While Roger complained to me in one ear that Bob couldn’t remember where he’d stored any of the Depression glass, I put my hand over the other ear and tried to shut out Will commenting to Kaye, “The shop calls her a
lot
.”

“She’s their golden child,” Kaye explained.

“I don’t know,” I told Roger, because if I kept helping him and Bob when they called me, they would keep calling me and appreciating my help, which would surely lead to a promotion and more responsibility.

Kaye was telling Will, “They have so much shit in that shop, they have no idea where it is or what’s even in there. Lucky for them, Tia has a photographic memory.”

Though Roger was still talking, I held the receiver away from my mouth while I told Kaye, “I do not.” She’d said this before. I wasn’t sure whether she was right. I never really put myself in that category or thought about my memory that way. More than being amazed with myself for remembering stuff, I got annoyed with other people for
not
remembering stuff.

She continued to recount the wonders of my brain to Will. Roger kept lamenting to me that Bob’s memory was going—what was left of it, that is. Will flexed his thick triceps as he pulled his clean shirt over his head.

And Sawyer wandered over from the boys’ locker room, his blond hair soaked from a shower, wearing a crisp yellow polo shirt and madras shorts, a lot like Aidan’s preppie style except that Sawyer also wore flip-flops that looked like he’d walked around the world in them. He stuck his hand out to shake Will’s. This could not be good. Alarm bells went off in my head. I was trying to get off the phone so I could intercede before something terrible happened, but I was too late.

He told Will, “Congratulations on being elected Biggest Flirt with my girl instead of yours.”

8

“SAWYER!” I SNAPPED. I DIDN’T
catch what Will growled at him, but it must have been ugly, because Kaye’s eyes widened. I told Roger, “I have got to go. I’ll be there in half an hour anyway!” Hanging up on him, I told Sawyer, “Would you stop? All of this is getting blown completely out of proportion. It’s just a dumb title. The
definition
of flirting is that it
isn’t serious
.”

“I’ll tell you how it’s defined.” Sawyer pulled out his phone and typed on it with his thumbs. Kaye gamely looked over his shoulder, as though making things worse between Will and me was the most fun she’d had since her last pedicure. Irked, Will sat on his bumper and felt around in his trunk for his sunglasses without looking at me.

Reading his screen, Sawyer gasped dramatically and slapped his hand over his mouth.

I sighed with relief. The more horrified he acted, the less there was to be horrified about. That’s how Sawyer worked. “What does it say?” I asked drily, to get this over with.

“ ‘Flirt,’ ” Sawyer read in the clipped tone of a fourth-grade know-it-all. “ ‘To flick or jerk.’
Jerk?
” He opened his eyes wide at Will in mock outrage.

“That’s not it,” Kaye said. “There’s another definition.”

Sawyer went back to his screen. “ ‘To make love’ . . .” He gaped at Will and then me. “Dirty!”

“What?” It was Will’s turn to sound outraged.

“. . . ‘playfully,’ ” Sawyer finished. “To make love playfully? According to this, you’ve been getting it on out on the football field, but it’s all been in fun! Thank goodness. Not to worry. I can’t imagine why Angelica is so pissed.”

With a nervous glance at me, Will grumbled, “Give me that,” and grabbed the phone from Sawyer. Peering at the screen, he said, “When they say ‘make love,’ they don’t mean sex. They mean, you know, flirting. Playing around. They’re using ‘make love’ that way because this definition was probably written in 1962, when people still wore hats.” He handed the phone back to Sawyer.

“I guess that’s what I get for downloading the free app instead of the one for a dollar ninety-nine,” Sawyer said.

“You still haven’t found the right definition,” I said. “You’re defining ‘flirt’ as a verb, ‘to flirt,’ but in the title Biggest Flirts, it’s a noun.”

“Always thinking, aren’t you, Cruz?” Sawyer tapped his temple with one finger, then looked at his phone again. “ ‘Flirt. Noun. A person who dallies with romantic partners, having no intention to commit.’ ” He pointed at Will. “That’s you!”

Will pointed at me. “That’s
you
.”

I pointed at Sawyer with one drumstick. “That’s
you
.”

Sawyer pointed at Kaye, who wagged her finger and said, “I don’t
think
so.”

“Anyway,” Sawyer said, pocketing his phone, “you’re right, Tia. Angelica shouldn’t be upset at
all
that her boyfriend is labeled as someone who’s playing her.”

“Could you guys let me talk to Tia alone?” Will’s words were polite but clipped.

“Yes,” Sawyer said, “but don’t dally. Ha!”

Kaye rolled her eyes. Bumping fists with me, she put her arm around Sawyer and pointed him across the parking lot.

“Congrats on being Most Likely to Succeed,” we heard him say. “Can I borrow some money?”

“Tia asked first,” Kaye said. They walked toward Aidan, who sat on his front bumper, glowering at them, like he was annoyed with Kaye or Sawyer or both.

Join the club. I turned back to Will. “Sorry about that. You were saying? Angelica doesn’t want my junk in your trunk?”

He gave me the lopsided smile I loved. “Look, from the time I left the field to the time I made it back to my car, four people called me a dog. Everybody thinks I’ve been flirting with you but dating Angelica.”

“You
have
been flirting with me but dating Angelica.”

“No.” He shook his head emphatically. “I asked her to lunch on Monday. I wanted her to show me around town—you know, like I asked
you
to lunch first—”

I nodded with my eyebrows raised, acting like I was only politely interested, not hanging on every word about what he’d done (or not done) with Angelica.

“—but she didn’t seem to know anything about this town, even though she said she’s lived here all her life. I brought her back to band practice that evening, and except at other practices, I didn’t see her again until the party last night.”

“Where you placed your hand on her bare tummy,” I reminded him.

He pointed at me. He looked strange doing this without a drumstick in his hand. “I sat down by myself, under a tree, because I had started to feel sick from the heat.”

So my instincts
hadn’t
been wrong. I wanted to find Chelsea right then and vindicate myself for being concerned about his health last night. “Were you in shade when you first sat down? And then the sun moved?”

“Yes! I’m not stupid.”

“Why didn’t you go in the water to cool off?” Really, he was going to die here before he made it back to Minnesota.

“It was sunny in the water. So, Angelica sat down with me. We talked for a while, and then I lay down and closed my eyes, just hoping I’d feel better if I rested for a little bit. The next thing I knew, you were waking me up.”

“With your hand on her bare tummy,” I repeated.

“She must have pulled my arm around her,” he said.

I gave him a slow, assessing look, letting him know I was not born yesterday.

“I don’t care whether you believe me or not,” he said lightly. “
You
won’t go out with
me
, remember?”

Tingles spread across my face and chest, and I stepped a little closer to him. He hadn’t given up on me in favor of Angelica after all. But something didn’t make sense. “No, you hung out with her for the rest of the night.”

“Because I’ve been following
you
around like a puppy all week. It’s embarrassing.”

“Oh.” In my defense, I really had assumed he was dating Angelica. But now I saw what I’d been putting him through. I was his best friend in town, yet I’d made it clear I didn’t want to hang out with him any more than necessary. That had to be a blow to the new guy’s ego.

“I shouldn’t have hung out with her, either,” he said, “because she assumed what everybody else assumed, that she and I would go out a second time. She confronted me down on the field just now and told me she wasn’t going to date me again if I kept flirting with you. On Monday, when she asked me about you, I said we stand right next to each other throughout band practice, and we’re friends. Just friends. I guess that made sense to her then.”

I guessed not, judging from the way she’d glared across the field at me. “Right,” I said.

“But this label changes everything,” he said. “The whole senior class is basically telling her that I’m a liar. Now they’ll be watching you and me. It’s like being accused of a crime. Even if you’re proven innocent, people always suspect you when a wallet goes missing.”

I was one hundred percent sure that this analogy had nothing to do with Will’s real life. Of
course
this nice boy (in his own mind, at least) would never be accused of stealing a wallet. And of
course
he hadn’t meant to flirt with me. He had no feelings for me. It was all a big misunderstanding.

“I finally asked her out on a date,” he said. “Tonight. And that means you can’t keep your drum in my car anymore.”

Suddenly the sun was bothering
me
. I wished he would move over and make room for me in the shade of his trunk. “It kind of sounds like you wouldn’t have asked her out again if we hadn’t been elected to this stupid title.”

“This stupid title is all anybody here knows about me,” he said. “I’m the asshole who took Angelica out and flirted with you. Well, now I’m not going to flirt with you, and I’m going to make it up to her.”

“What for?” I burst out. “Is this another one of those things you need to prove to your parents so they’ll let you out of the nest? You’re supposed to be elected Most Academic and have a steady girlfriend?”

“That’s enough,” he said sharply, just as he had when I’d jabbed at him about his Minnesota ex on Monday.

I felt my face turn beet red. The sun was burning a hole through the back of my neck.

He stood, turned around, and dragged my backpack out of his trunk. “Look,” he said more gently, “this is a record for me. I’ve lost three girls in one week. It’s too much.” He tried to slip the backpack onto my back for me. I kept my arms stubbornly by my sides. He pried one arm up and then the other, which would have looked
suspiciously
like
flirting
if anybody in the parking lot had been watching. Then he attempted to hand me my purse. I wouldn’t take it. He plopped it onto my drum. The snares rattled. The noise echoed against the wall of the stadium.

“All this is really heavy,” I whined. Seriously, the drum weighed twenty pounds. My purse on top of it weighed a lot too. I rarely cleaned it out, and God only knew what was in there. My backpack actually had books in it today. On a whim I’d thought it might be fun to do something unusual this weekend: homework. I poked out my bottom lip, fluttered my eyelashes, and asked Will, “Could you give me a ride over to the band room?”

He just stared at me without laughing this time, without twisting his mouth to keep from laughing. The joke was over. “See you Monday.”

Fine. I whirled around—he dodged at the last second so I didn’t whack him in the gut with the drum—and I walked through the parking lot, picking spaces to pass through that cars had already pulled out of, because the drum and I were too wide to edge through the path between two parked cars. We would have taken off some paint.

Harper waited for me behind the school, already astride her bike. She could use her granddad’s car whenever she wanted, and she drove me to school on the rare occasions when it rained. The rest of the time, she biked.
Voluntarily.
She said it helped her feel more a part of the community. Harper was kind of a kook.

“Hey!” she called. “You told me you were keeping your stuff in Will’s car. Why do you still have your drum?”

“He kicked me out of his trunk. I’ve got to dump this in the band room, but I’ll just be a sec.” I dropped my purse and backpack beside my bike in the rack, then walked through the entrance of the school, into a courtyard full of palm trees where people hung out during midmorning break and lunch. This was a bad design on the school’s part, because the courtyard was walled in by classrooms with windows that definitely were not soundproof. Teachers let us escape out here, then shushed us constantly. It was like standing next to Will in band.

All the frustration of the last thirty minutes—or the last week, more like it—hit me suddenly. I felt an uncontrollable urge to make some noise. Marching through the courtyard, I tapped out a complicated salsa beat while singing a Marc Anthony tune at the top of my lungs. He was born in New York City and was about as Puerto Rican as I was, but the dude could really write a salsa. And though drumming was second nature to me after years of practice, when I really listened to myself, I was surprised at how good I was and how fast my sticks could strike the drumhead.

I saw movement behind one of the windows. Though school was out, the teachers were still here, planning our demise for Monday. They wanted
quiet
. In the next second someone would slam open a window and tell me to be
quiet
. Until that happened, I beat my drum as loudly as I could, even threw in some rim taps that would take the skin off an unprotected ear canal. As I backed through the band room door, I saw Harper had stopped her bike a few yards away. She frowned at me with both hands over her ears.

“Sorry,” I said. Feeling a little better, I dumped my drum into the storage room and came back outside. “So, what’s this I hear about you being the perfect couple with Brody Larson? You’re both dating other people, and you hardly know him. You move fast, don’t you? Slut.”

“Shut it.” She removed one of her hands from the side of her head and placed it over my mouth. Then, as I walked through the courtyard to retrieve my own bike, she pedaled beside me. “The artistic side of me says, ‘How cool and random for a boy I hardly know, some jock who isn’t on the yearbook staff or the newspaper staff or even in the drama club, to be chosen as my perfect boyfriend!’ The artistic side of me wants to write a poem about it. Meanwhile, the rational side of me is saying, ‘What the fuck?’ Also, ‘His girlfriend is going to kick my ass.’ ”

“I’m not rational at all,” I pointed out as though this were not obvious, “and I’m saying ‘What the fuck?’ also. But the difference between you and me is, the second he and Grace broke up—and this is probably going to happen, because Brody never dates anyone for long—I would try to hook up with him just out of curiosity.”

“You’re forgetting Kennedy,” Harper said.

I was
not
forgetting her boyfriend, Kennedy. I simply thought if her choice was between responsible Kennedy and wild Brody, there was no contest. Bring on the hot mess! B
ut that was me, and Harper was Harper. I figured I’d better let the subject drop before I got myself in trouble.

As we emerged from the courtyard again, I gazed across the parking lot, which was almost empty of students’ cars now. Of course Will had
not
waited to watch me emerge from the school so he could rush over and apologize. His car was gone. He’d probably picked up old Angelica on his way off campus. I bet she’d slipped her little hand in his before they even passed the
HOME OF THE PELICANS
sign.

“Worry about your own mismatched boy,” Harper said. “Tell me what happened between you and Will. You were elected Biggest Flirts, and that’s why he kicked you out of his trunk?”

“Yes! He broke up with me!” As I unlocked my bike from the rack and launched myself down the palm-lined street, I told her all about my argument with Will.

“Let me get this straight,” she said. “You want him to like you enough that he doesn’t ask anyone else out, even though you’ve turned him down because you don’t want a boyfriend.”

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