Authors: Melissa Pearl
Tags: #coming of age, #justice, #young adult, #fugitive, #contemporary romance
“…So make sure you divvy up the tasks equally. You will all be handing in honesty notes about your partner at the end so I know how much work you each contributed. I know I’ve only given you two weeks, but we’re under a little pressure to get through everything by the end of the year. That’s why I’m letting you buddy up.”
The bell trilled.
“If you don’t have a partner, make sure you figure out who you’re going with before you walk out of my classroom. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
Everyone started packing up their things, the class erupting with the sound of scuffling papers and chairs scraping across the floor.
“So, Elliot - you and me?” I waved the assignment sheet at him.
“I’m going with Jae.” He flicked his head at her.
“You were too busy star gazing, babe. Sorry.” Jaeda lightly patted my cheek.
I turned behind me. “Josh, you got a partner yet?”
“Going with Bennett.”
“Emma?” I flicked my sheet at her as she walked towards the door. “I’m in with Dwight. Sorry, Zach.” She gave me a wave as she bailed out the door.
I dropped my arm with a sigh.
“I don’t have a partner yet.”
My body froze before I could turn. Insane, I know. The very opportunity I wanted and I went statue on the situation. But her voice, I mean it was like liquid honey or something.
I fought a grin as my body finally started to behave itself. As I turned, I made sure my cool, nonchalant expression was intact. I no doubt looked like a loser. The grin in her eyes told me I’d taken it a little too far.
Clearing my throat, I scratched the back of my neck then stuck out my hand. “Zach Schultz.”
She wrapped her elegant fingers around mine with a soft smile. “Dani.”
“Good to meet ya.”
I heard Jaeda snort as she made her way out of the room. Dani’s blue gaze followed her and she gave me a quizzical look. With a crinkle in my nose, I waved my hand, silently telling her to ignore my very unsubtle friend.
“Where’s your next class?”
“Um, I’m not sure. One sec.” She dug into her pocket, pulling out a rectangular piece of paper. I took it from her and quickly scanned her subjects. Sweet, we were in AP English together as well. I passed it back and pointed to the door.
“World History’s just down the hall from my Economics class. I’ll drop you on the way.”
“Thanks.” I spotted a flash of straight white teeth in her very brief smile, before leading her towards the door.
We worked our way through the bustling corridors without saying much. We didn’t really have a chance. Dani chalked up a few glances like all new students did. She took each one in her stride, gifting small smiles that weren’t unfriendly, but definitely had a
stop looking at me
vibe about them.
The corridor was starting to clear when I came to a pause outside her World History class.
“Thanks.” She gave me a smile that was friendly, making me grin back like a goofball. “I guess I’ll see you around.”
“Most definitely.” I tried to play it cool, giving her a little salute type wave and walked off without looking back. I desperately wanted to, and eventually couldn’t resist sneaking a final glance before turning the corner.
She was just turning into class, which meant she must have watched me leave.
It felt triumphant for some reason. Maybe Danielle Harrison found me intriguing too.
“I can’t believe Patrick De Luca just talked to you.” Maria squealed as she grabbed Lucy’s arm.
Lucy grinned then bit her lip, feeling all gooey and excited as she watched Patrick walk away after congratulating her. He flicked his dark hair out of his eyes, his long strides looking confident and sexy.
Everything about him was swoon worthy. His dark brown eyes, his mocha skin, the way his voice lilted with that slight Italian accent of his. It wasn’t strong, but his parents both spoke Italian so it was there.
Sigh. He spoke Italian!
Biting her lips together, Lucy grabbed Maria’s fingers, which were still gripping her forearm, and let out a little squeak.
“I know!” Maria started jumping. “And you’re gonna get to kiss him!”
The wind flew out of Lucy’s lungs, suddenly making her feel faint. The smile dropped from her lips and she scrambled for air, the euphoric feelings from her afternoon vanishing as reality kicked in.
“Breathe.” Maria rubbed her shoulder. “It’s okay.”
Lucy nodded, pulling shaking fingers through her blonde hair.
“Sweetie, you have nothing to be afraid of. It’s only a play.” Maria started dragging her towards the road. They checked both ways before crossing and making their way home from Palms Middle School. Maria lived about two blocks from Lucy. They always walked to her place first and then Lucy walked the rest of the way on her own. Today, she was actually glad for it. It would give her a chance to rein in all her zinging emotions. They were like a hoard of flies buzzing in her stomach, sending her from elation to pure terror.
“It’s the Spring Musical, Maria. Everyone’s going to be there.”
“Yes, to watch you, because you’re brilliant.”
“Really? You think so?” Lucy bit her lip.
“You just got the lead role, playing alongside Patrick De Luca. Hello? Practically every girl in the eighth grade wanted it.”
Lucy grinned; Maria was right. Seeing her name up on the board outside the drama room that afternoon had nearly made her faint. She got it. All her audition practice paid off and she would be starring in the spring musical. Not only did she get to sing her heart out and act, which was one of life’s greatest pleasures. She’d also get to give Patrick De Luca a quick peck on the lips. Unless Mrs. Blomfield took that part out, but Lucy had a pretty strong feeling she wouldn’t.
Nerves attacked once again, making her reach for Maria’s hand.
“Are you sure I can do this?”
Maria pulled them to a stop and adjusted the bag on her shoulder before looking Lucy right in the eye. “Lucy Tate. You are the most talented, amazing person I know. You deserve this role. Remember what Mrs. Blomfield said in your audition? You’re a natural. You could pretend to be anyone and people would believe you. You’re gonna be the star of the show and I’m so proud of you.”
Lucy blushed, her smile taking over her entire face.
“Your parents are going to go nuts. They’ll be so proud of you too.”
Warming at the thought of telling her two biggest supporters, Lucy threaded her arm through Maria’s and started them walking again.
“Will you practice lines with me?”
“Yes.” Maria nodded.
“Will you tell me not to spaz out and make sure my butt gets to rehearsal on time?”
“Yes.” She nodded again.
“Do you think Patrick will fall in love with me and kiss me for real once the musical’s over?”
Maria giggled. “Most definitely.”
Lucy chuckled at the sound of Maria’s sweet laughter. The girl was like the chocolate chips in a cookie. All sweet surprises encased in a golden soul. They had become best friends within a week of starting Palms Middle School together.
Now, at the age of thirteen, they both felt like the world was their oyster. They would be starting high school together soon and Lucy couldn’t wait.
At that moment, life was perfect.
As usual the cafeteria was crowded. I took my tray and followed Elliot out to where AJ and Liesl were sitting. Now that we were finally seniors we more often than not scored the table on the edge of the quad. It was the best spot in our opinion. Near the grass and shaded by the edge of a big oak tree, it was far enough away from the chaos, but near enough to watch the student body trundle past. We’d seen some interesting things in our four years at Monte Vista High.
Danville was a small pocket of a town near San Francisco. I moved here when I was eight. My grandfather died leaving my dad this really healthy inheritance and they decided they wanted to try a small town for a while. So they picked one of the wealthiest towns in California. I’m not sure if that’s why Mom had always loved Danville or not, but when they both scored teaching jobs here, we packed our Sacramento bags and headed closer to the coast. I really love it. It’s a cool town and I’d made cool friends. I’m not saying I didn’t want to spread my wings and see some more of the world, but as far as childhood’s go, I think it’s safe to admit that I’d had a pretty sweet ride and I was grateful for it.
I slid my tray onto the table and took a seat, tucking my bag behind my feet.
“So, which one’s the new flame?” AJ arched his eyebrow. It popped up above his thick-rimmed, rectangular glass. He was wearing his bright orange pair today. So AJ. The guy’s fashion sense was off the charts.
I unwrapped my sandwich, giving him a droll look before firing a warning shot at Elliot.
“What!” He threw his hands up. “I haven’t had a chance to tell them yet.”
“It was Jaeda actually.” Liesl’s smile was all sweet like.
Damn it, that grin could win any guy over. I snorted out a chuckle and picked up my sandwich.
Liesl was one of the most beautiful girls I’d ever met. She was long and lean with dark floating hair and deep brown eyes. Her model looks turned most heads - guys and girls. But the best thing about her was…she didn’t notice any of them. She was the nicest, sweetest human being on the planet and she proved it on a daily basis.
“So?” AJ kicked me under the table. “Which one?”
Knowing they wouldn’t let up until I gave in, I swiveled my head and scanned the area for her. “She’s not here.” I turned back and took a large bite of my ham and cheese sandwich, hoping to stall any conversation for a minute.
“There she is.” Elliot pointed over my head and we all turned, very unsubtly, to take a look.
Thankfully Dani was looking the other way so couldn’t see us all gawking at her. Her thin frame eased through the traffic, her straw colored hair catching on the breeze, a few wisps tickling her delicate nose. She had an apple in her hand and as she turned in our direction, I quickly spun around.
She headed past us without looking our way. I nearly called out for her to join us, but somehow I knew she’d politely refuse.
I watched her walk over the green grass and head for an isolated tree. I would have kept studying her if AJ hadn’t kicked me again.
“Would you quit it?” I kicked him back.
He gave me his big, cheesy grin. The one that made his round cheeks score with deep dimples. “What is it with you and skinny waifs anyway?”
I frowned, pointing at Liesl. “What are you talking about? You’re dating one.”
Wrapping his large arm around his slight girlfriend, he gave me a pointed look. “Liesl Ekland is not a waif. She is a gift from heaven. An angel in human form, sent to dwell among us.”
We all rolled our eyes as AJ began his standard speech about the love of his life.
“Oh no, he’s not doing the Liesl speech, is he?” Jaeda dumped her bag on the table as Liesl elbowed her boyfriend with a blush.
“Angus, stop it.”
Elliot and I snickered. AJ hated being called Angus. As a kid, he used to demolish anyone who even muttered it, but Liesl loved the name. She thought it was adorable and refused to call him anything else. He let her, because he was totally in love with her, but Elliot and I couldn’t stop the snickers every time we heard it.
He cut his lengthy ode to Liesl short and then turned the heat right back to me.
“As I was saying…” He cleared his throat. “What’s with the goofy look on your face? You’re not going down this path again, are ya?”
“What path? You guys, it’s just curiosity.”
My friends collectively groaned.
“Do we need to list them?” Jaeda grabbed my hand, batting her blue lined lashes at me.
I shook my head and slid my hand away, then rolled my eyes as they started listing them anyway.
“The witch from Junior year. Remember how you thought you were cursed for like the whole summer?” Liesl grimaced.
“I wasn’t cursed.” I tried to brush it off, pretending that I didn’t spend three months freaking out that the girl had hexed me like she said she would when I broke up with her.
“The crier from 2011. Ugh!” Elliot pretended to gag.
I rolled my eyes, but that was a fair call. Suzette Pearce cried over everything. At first it was sweet and I could comfort her, but then it just got exhausting. Breaking up with her was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Memories of her screeching wail still sent shivers down my spine.
“The cheerleader.” Jaeda could barely get the words out. She had always been disgusted by Bambi.
“That was like two dates.”
“Two dates too many.” Her eyes bulged.