Authors: Leah Rae Miller
Tags: #Stephanie Perkins, #Rainbow Rowell, #contemporary romance, #geek romance, #best friends, #revenge, #live action role playing
Also by Leah Rae Miller
The Summer I Became a Nerd
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Leah Rae Miller. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Entangled Teen is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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Edited by Stacy Abrams and Heather Howland
Cover design by LJ Anderson
Interior design by Toni Kerr
Ebook ISBN: 978-1633752269
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition April 2016
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For my husband and best friend, Shane.
I used to despise popular people. At the time, I had all these reasons why I hated them. My reasons were logical and seemed to apply in pretty much every situation. Let me break it down. See, high school can very often feel like going to prison. Not that I’ve ever been in the slammer, but if every prison movie ever made is to be trusted, then the similarities are obvious. For example, they say that on your first day of being in the pokey, one should find the biggest, meanest guy and kick his ass in order to establish dominance. In high school, one should find the goofiest, most self-conscious kid and embarrass him to the point of mental scarring.
On day one of tenth grade, Cory Granger tripped me in homeroom, causing me to face-plant spectacularly in front of everyone with last names G through K in my class. Whether he realized it or not (I’m betting on not), it was a very strategic move. These were the people I’d be seeing every morning, every day until graduation. It was like he did three years of bullying in one moment. Way to work smarter, not harder, Cory.
They also advise that jailbirds find a group of like-minded criminals so they have someone watching their backs. The same can be said about high school. During week seven of tenth grade, Trent Simmons shoved me so hard into my locker I had a padlock-shaped bruise on my upper arm for days. But my locker neighbor and fellow underappreciated student, Andy, had my back. Sort of. “Leave him alone,” Andy had told Trent, redirecting Trent’s ire onto himself. We had matching bruises after that.
And like prison, popular people get special treatment by the guards—a.k.a. the faculty. Like how Karen Clark, head cheerleader, just got a “Be nice” from the principal for—with no provocation—calling me a lumpy, pathetic waste of flesh. But I got two weeks of detention for responding with a colorful description of her mother’s sexual exploits.
In summation, high school can suck and popular people are assholes. They get away with things a normal student doesn’t. They have inflated egos and think they rule the school.
I know. I’m coming off as a little harsh, but I can say these things now because, according to those logical reasons, I should hate myself. It’s confusing and it sucks and somebody kill me now, please and thank you. It wasn’t like I went out on a mission to become popular. Far from it. The first time I noticed a change was when I started to slim down due to the father/son karate lessons my dad forced me into. Cindy “popular since birth” LeDeaux actually said, I kid you not, she said, “Looking good, Dan,” as we passed each other in the hall at school. I nearly choked on my no-time-to-cook-this-morning-Mom breakfast, a Pop-tart peanut butter sandwich. It was all downhill from there.
The next thing I know, Dad wants nothing in the world more than for his son to play a sport. Even though I’d been known to say, “The only sports I play involve a game controller,” I love my dad and couldn’t let the man down. Hence I am now at basketball practice with cheerleaders ogling me. I’ll admit, their giggles and coy pointing do make me stand straighter almost on instinct, but the shame of even caring a little bit what they think is like a batarang to the head. POW!
I’ve learned to handle it, though. It took a good year or two, but I…I don’t know. Maybe I kind of like it now. Maybe not. Again, I’m a confused, self-loathing little man. Sad times.
I take a shot from the three-point line and it completely bricks, which brings me back to the here and now. My three-point average is something I’m very proud of. My coach and teammates think I should do more work in the zone (under the basket, to be clear) because of my height (stupid mid-junior-year growth spurt), but I feel like the three-pointer takes more skill and practice. And despite my newfound popularity, I still look at life as a very elaborate role-playing game. There are powers and skills to be honed before you enter the end-of-the-level boss fight. Plus, I’m still trying to get used to using these big, goofy feet. When that growth spurt hit, it was like I got a new body, one that was trying to play tricks on me. The simple act of getting out of my desk has become tough because of these stupid long legs. It’s embarrassing.
I shoot again. Nothing but net. Level up, bitches.
“All right, guys, wrap it up and hit the showers. Marching band’s coming in,” Coach Greg yells from the other end of the court. This is my favorite part of practice. Not because it’s over but because our captain, who I like to call Douchebag Donovan, has the responsibility of catching the balls we throw to him and putting them on the racks. And I’ve taken on the personal responsibility of throwing the basketballs at him as hard as possible. Don’t worry, the guy deserves it. Besides his always-popped collar and how he says “sitch” instead of “situation,” there’s the fact that I’ve never heard him utter a kind word. Even when he’s describing which girls he likes, he’s a sexist d-bag. I’m no expert on the fairer sex, but I can’t see any girl taking being called “doable” as a compliment.
The marching band files into the gym lugging instruments and backpacks and those big hats with the feathers on top and harnesses for said instruments. I feel for them, I really do. The tuba player, a girl named Zelda Potts who used to be a good friend of mine, is bringing up the rear and having a hell of a time trying to manage all her junk and push open the big metal door at the same time. The thing about Zelda is she’s very easy to spot in a crowd. She’s the quintessential ginger with her bright red hair and freckle-speckled pale skin. And if you can’t find her because of her red hair, all you have to do is look for the strangest yet most interesting outfit and she’ll be wearing it. We’ve known each other since grade school, and she’s kind of my ideal girl. She’s smart, quick-witted, and her eyes are so big and doe-like I could just take a swim in them. But don’t tell her I said all that because she hates my guts.
If you can’t find her by her outlandish fashion sense, then look for her tuba. Why she ever decided to take up that cumbersome instrument is a mystery, considering her short stature.
The other thing about Zelda is she’s so easy to get riled up. Always has been, and it’s been even easier since she took offense to that one time I had to bail on her, hence the hating of my guts. Usually the best part of my day is seeing her reaction when I say something I know will get her dander up. Her eyes flash with fury and it’s a mighty thing to behold.
I decide to toss Donovan one last basketball missile then go help/annoy Zelda, even though I know she’ll probably tell me to GTFO. But then a thing happens. A very bad thing.
I’ve always had strong opinions on new shoes. I hate them with a passion. They never fit as well as your last pair and they never fail to cause blisters during the breaking-in process. Plus, they’re literally walking sources of anxiety because, from the moment you first put them on, you’re constantly worried about getting them dirty. And now I have a whole new reason to hate them. Since I know this will be my last chance to really make Donovan’s hands sting until the next practice, I put my whole body into this final throw. But I’m wearing new shoes. Their grip on the polished court is ridiculous, and I trip slightly when I chuck the ball. The thing goes way off target.
“Zelda, look out!” someone yells from the bleachers.
She turns just in time to put her nose in the basketball’s direct line of fire. It hits so hard her feather hat flies from her head and clatters across the floor along with all the other stuff she was carrying. Her hands go to her face as she doubles over in pain. A chorus of horrified gasps from the band and a few of the players is followed by loud guffaws from some of the Douchebag’s lackeys.
I get to her at the same time as her friend Beth. We both put a worried hand on her back and ask in unison, “Are you okay?” which I’ve always thought is the stupidest question to ask someone who’s just been hurt, and yet it’s reflex.
A drop of blood hits the gym floor, and I’ve never felt so shitty in my entire life. Zelda and I have some things between us, sure, but those things have never included bodily harm.
“Dan, what the hell did you do that for? What’s wrong with you, man?” Donovan asks as he passes us and goes into the locker room. Of course he knows I didn’t do it on purpose. He just wants to stir the pot with his big douchey spoon.
My mouth drops open as I turn to Beth. She scowls at me. And by “scowls,” I mean she gives me such a fierce look of hatred I’m pretty sure she just took ten years off my life.
I can’t form a complete sentence. “But…I didn’t mean… He’s…”
Zelda shoves her forearm into my stomach and I stumble back. I wish she’d hit me or something. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel like the lowest creature to ever crawl the planet because we’d be even… No, I don’t think even that would make me feel better.
“Asshole! Get off me!” Her voice is high pitched, distressed, which makes my gut twist. And the tears cascading from her big, pretty hazel eyes make me want to fall to my knees and grovel for forgiveness.
The band director, Mrs. Williams, trots over. “Oh, Zelda, you’re bleeding. Beth, take her to the nurse. I’ll get her stuff.”
Beth nods and leads Zelda back through the gym doors, casting another year-stealing glare at me over her shoulder.
“Daniel,” Mrs. Williams says in that tone of voice that preempts a future detention.
I hold my hands up in surrender. “It was a total accident, I promise, ma’am.”
She nods. “All right, I’ll believe you this time, but if any further harm comes to my first-string tuba player—”
“I would never hurt her or anyone on purpose, seriously. Do you think she’ll be okay? I didn’t break her nose, did I?”
She puts a hand on my shoulder. “I think she’ll be fine. It didn’t seem that bad.”
I look around at the other band members. One of them had to have seen what really happened, right? But none of them will make eye contact with me. I know Zelda hates me because of that stupid thing I did a while back, the memory of which is safely tucked away in the good ol’ guilt mind vault, but I didn’t think she’d actively try to turn people against me. But that seems to be the case. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but I know her all too well. She’s a grudge-holder and conniving, a deadly combination, and she’s stated on many occasions that she would make my life a living hell. No telling what kind of monster she’s painted me to be with these guys. And the funny/highly annoying thing is that if the universe were predictable, I’d be among them right now instead of wearing these stupid, ridiculously expensive basketball sneakers. Not that I have any idea how to play an instrument, but maybe I’d be hanging around, waiting for a friend to get done so I can give her a ride home. Maybe that friend would’ve been Zelda and we’d be currently trading good-natured insults. I’d say how silly she looked with her monster tuba and she’d say how I didn’t need anything to look ridiculous because that’s just my normal state of being. But the universe is not predictable, nor is it fair.
The band members don’t owe me any kind of loyalty, though. I know that. Donovan, on the other hand, could’ve at least backed me up instead of, well, being himself. I try to keep the rising anger under control as I enter the locker room. I also try to emulate Beth’s glare on Donovan, but it has no effect.
“Why can’t they go prance around on the field like normal?” He tosses his jersey into his locker. “I mean, our practice is more important anyway, am I right? A little rain won’t kill them.”
“Why did you do that, dude?” I ask him, barely containing my rage.
He scoffs. “Do what?”
“Say that to Zelda? It was an accident. You’re supposed to back me up. Team loyalty and all that crap.”
He makes a
sound. “Whatever, man. Don’t try to blame anything on me. You’re the one who clocked her. But let’s face it, a basketball to the nose could only be an improvement for her, am I right?” He turns to Lackey #1, hand raised for a high five.
I open my mouth to inform him that he’d be the luckiest d-bag on Earth if Zelda Potts ever even deigned to give him the time of day. I want to explain in very small, simple words so he will understand that she’s so far out of his league the distance could only be measured in light years.
I’ve never wanted to deck someone so much, but I close my mouth and take a deep breath instead. That would be sinking to their level, as well as a waste of my time, since there’s no changing people like Donovan. And if it’s revenge I want, I can do better, I’m sure. I’m more concerned with what state Zelda is in anyway. What if her nose is broken? What if she got a black eye?
I’m quick to get dressed so I can head over to the nurse’s office.
Honey, do you ever
get hurt at school?” Miss Carrie, the school nurse, asks as she cleans my face.
“I think you know the answer to that. Have you given any thought to my ‘frequent visitor card’ idea? By this point, I’m sure I could’ve earned a free Snoopy Band-Aid or something.”
Miss Carrie laughs. “You’ve got it, dear. I have some in my drawer. It doesn’t look like anything is broken, so that’s good. Just a little bloody nose. It’ll be sore and red for a while.”
I start humming “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Being a magnet for accidents has taught me one thing, at least: all you can do is laugh it off. But this time it wasn’t an accident, was it? It was someone’s fault. Not just any someone’s, but Dan Garrett’s. And it wasn’t something small like a stubbed toe; it was a raging bloody nose in front of a gym full of people.
If it had been anyone else, it would be easy for me to brush it off. Okay, maybe not “easy” because that sucked really hard. But it was Dan-freaking-Garrett, which makes it suck a million times worse. He’s been on my shitlist ever since he ditched me to go to some party a while back. He was supposed to be at the LARP game with me, help me learn the ropes, but he decided to go hang with the “cool kids” or whatever they’re called. From that point on, it’s just been one asshat incident after another. The bumping into me and not apologizing, the borrowing a pen and not giving it back. This one time he completely spaced on my name. Miss Pleasant paired us up to work on some questions addressing the current long, boring, old, dry tome we were reading in Advanced English.