We were walking to the cafeteria when Caitlyn spoke. “I think I’m gonna sit at another table today.”
I glanced at April, who raised her eyebrows and shrugged. “Is something wrong?” I asked.
“Not really.” Caitlyn waved her hands like they were tiny wings. “It’s just that Jake has asked me out twice now and well, I don’t want to hurt his feelings—and I’m running out of excuses…”
I couldn’t help myself. I stared at her like she had grown a second head. I mean, she was talking about Jake.
April broke the silence. “Did Jake do something?” Punching her fist into her hand, she added, “Because I’ll take care of him!”
Caitlyn laughed. “Nothing like that. It’s just that he’s such a jock and well, that’s really not my kind of guy.”
“Of course he’s a jock,” I said in his defense. “He plays football and is on the wrestling team.”
Caitlyn rolled her eyes. “But that’s all he ever wants to talk about… Honestly, don’t you get tired of listening to the same stuff over and over? It’s always the same thing—talking about big hits and great plays.”
I thought about that for a moment. “What do you want to talk about?”
Caitlyn shrugged. “Who cares? We could talk about slug infestations—anything but football!”
April and I laughed.
I made my way to our table while April and Caitlyn joined the lunch line. Nick and Jake were already seated.
As I unloaded my brown paper bag, Nick grabbed my bag of chips. “Barbeque flavor. My favorite.”
“Mine too,” I said as I snatched the bag from his hands. “Seriously. Get your own.”
“You could share…” He gave me his best puppy dog eyes.
“Begging won’t work,” I chuckled as I pulled a chip from my bag and popped it into my mouth.
Nick picked up his hamburger, an evil look in his eyes. “I just love cafeteria food. I mean, what if the lunch lady forgot to put on her gloves and maybe she picked her nose before fixing my burger.”
I felt my tongue jerk.
“Or maybe, bugs were accidentally ground up in the meat mixture that became this patty.” He took a bite and slowly chewed, his lips curling in a wicked smile.
My stomach rolled. “Take them,” I whined.
Nick laughed. “Thanks, Max. You’re the best!”
As April sat down, Jake leaned forward. “Where’s Caitlyn going?”
“Said she was going to sit with some other friends,” April replied.
Jake didn’t say anything.
“By the way, Max, don’t bother asking Brandon to go bowling,” April said as she forked a French fry. “He’s already got a date.”
As my eyes burned holes into her thick skull, I kicked April’s shin “Yeah, I know.”
She winced. “You already asked?”
“So, you know he asked Caitlyn to go bowling…”
“Brandon asked Caitlyn?” I looked to my left, to the table where Brandon sat. He was there like always only Caitlyn was sitting there, too. For some reason, that really bugged me. I mean, when did she even meet him?
April smiled. “Yeah. She’s all excited and Brandon is just the nicest guy…”
Jake rolled his shoulders, then turned to me. “So, Max, want to go bowling Saturday night?”
I shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”
Shaking his head, Nick popped another chip into his mouth.
It was Saturday and after fussing with my hair and clothes, I was finally ready to go bowling. Choosing the perfect outfit had been nothing short of exhausting. Who would have thought that there was so much to consider? I stood in front of my mirror and went through the motions—arm back and then forward as though releasing the bowling ball. I paid attention to how my shirt moved. I mean, it was cute and all, but was it bowling friendly… See what I mean? It took time to find the perfect shirt. On the other hand, guys are lucky. They can pull on a pair of Levi’s and a plain white t-shirt and look hot.
You’d think the anticipation of my date with Jake would have my stomach full of butterflies. Not so much. I felt as though I was headed to the morgue. I certainly never thought I’d be dreading my dream date but that is exactly where I was at—the Land of Dread. I’m not sure if it’s because I knew I was choice number two or if it was the whole Brandon/Caitlyn thing.
Do you realize how screwed up this is? I’m going on a date with Jake and all I can think about is Brandon… Yep, there is definitely something wrong with me.
You know, people can do things that remind you of other things… Take bowling for example, Jake reminded me of a gorilla. Not that he bowled like a gorilla—I mean, it was just the way he stood there after he released the bowling ball and watched the pins fly apart. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had turned around and beat on his chest, declaring his position as the silverback of our little troop. I may not be an expert when it comes to guys, but I knew what this was about. Jake wanted to impress Caitlyn but she wasn’t paying him any attention. How did I know? Because I couldn’t stop glancing at Brandon. Watching him had become a freaking compulsion.
Jake plopped down on the chair beside me and sighed. I lightly punched his leg. “Another strike… I didn’t know you were so good.”
Smiling, Jake grabbed my hand and pulled me closer. “Would it freak you out if I kissed you?”
Holy cow! Jake wanted to kiss me! And I—I don’t know, it seemed a little weird to me because I mean, I’ve dreamed about this forever and now that it was going to happen… I shrugged, “Yes. I mean, no—it wouldn’t freak me out. ”
His lips lightly touched mine. I’m not sure what I had expected. Maybe fireworks or something? Don’t get me wrong. It was nice. Not that I have any other kisses to compare it to, but I think Jake would qualify as a good kisser. He pulled back. “That wasn’t as weird as I thought it would be.”
I took a deep breath and rolled my eyes. “Seriously, Jake? You thought kissing me was going to be weird?”
“Not weird like you think.” Jake smiled. “Weird in that you’re my best friend’s sister.”
“Oh.” I bit my lip. “So, is it too weird to do that again?”
Jake shrugged. “Won’t know unless we try.” He kissed me again and this time, it was better. If nothing else, Jake was quite the teacher. Our kiss was interrupted by an annoying tapping on my shoulder. April cleared her throat. “It’s your turn, Max.”
I giggled. “Sorry.”
She shook her head, laughing. “Never saw that coming…”
As I hurried to the ball return, I realized Brandon was standing there. He rubbed his hand along his jaw. “So, you and Jake, huh?”
“I don’t know.” I picked up my ball. “You and Caitlyn?”
Argh! In the space of ten seconds, he totally ruined my mood. I mean, so what? I kissed Jake. He’s on a date with Caitlyn and we all know what’s going to happen when he takes her home. Bowling has suddenly lost its appeal. I approached my lane, let the ball go and watched as it hit the gutter. No surprise there.
Was it too much to hope that my parents would have been in bed? Because I know they don’t wait up for Nick. In a matter of nanoseconds I run possible scenarios through my head. If I smile too much, Mom is going to want a tell-all session, complete with ice cream and giggles. If I don’t smile, her motherly instincts are going to kick in and again, she’s going to want a tell-all. So, I opt for casual indifference—like dating is an everyday thing for me. Only, my mother isn’t having it. She all but pulls me to the couch, firing off questions like an interrogation expert. Honestly, I don’t know why she isn’t working for some secret government organization. She could extract secrets from the most hardened criminals.
Having kept his eyes glued to the television during my mother’s version of mother-daughter bonding, my father finally cleared his throat. He stood, pulling my mother up beside him. “Think it’s time for you and me to go to bed.” That’s the great thing about my dad, he comes through for me when it really matters. I smile at him as I make my escape.
After changing into my favorite comfy clothes, I dropped on my bed and stared at Zac Efron—well, a poster of him, anyway. I tried to focus my thoughts on him, his perfect lips, his beautiful smile… It didn’t work. Brandon’s smile intruded. I pushed away his image only to remember how Jake’s lips felt as he kissed me.
I know what you’re thinking. “This girl is a complete mess…” It just so happens, I agree.
After turning off my lamp, I rolled to my side and closed my eyes, willing myself to sleep. It did no good. I shifted just so, readjusted my pillow and tried again. No go. I couldn’t stop thinking of Brandon and Jake. I mean, I kissed Jake. I actually kissed him. He’d been my dream guy for three years and kissing him was proof that tossing pennies into wishing wells worked… Or maybe it was the shooting star… I guess, it really doesn’t matter. The important thing was that my wish came true and I was really excited about that. I mean, honestly, I was starting to think I’d never be kissed.
And then there’s Brandon. I keep hearing him ask, “So, you and Jake, huh?” I don’t understand why it bothers me so much. All I know is when I think about it, I get this weird, sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I don’t know how most people spend their Sunday afternoons. Nick is usually locked in his room, playing some kind of online war game. April’s family always gathers at her grandparents for a weekly dinner. Me? I curl up on the couch, watch a romantic movie, and fantasize that the leading man really wants me. Don’t say it, okay? I know I need to get a life…
So, I was caught up in this incredibly romantic scene when Jake plopped down on the couch beside me.
“Don’t tell me you’re one of those girls.” Stretching his legs out, he continued. “I always thought you were one of the smart ones.”
I turned my head and stared at him for a moment as I tried to gather my thoughts. “What did you think I would be doing? Watching some educational documentary?”
Jake scratched his head, a perplexed look etched his face. “I guess I never thought much about it…”
I sighed. “I’m just like any other girl.”
“No. You’re different.” He shrugged. “But that’s a good thing. I mean, you’re not putting on some act all of the time.”
“Uh-huh.” I lightly punched his leg. “Look at you, pretending like you don’t enjoy all that girl drama…”
He laughed. “This is what I mean. You’re Max. All the time, you’re you.”
I knew where this was going. “Just one of the guys.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” Jake chuckled. “I haven’t ever kissed one of the guys before.”
“There is that.”
He cleared his throat. “I just wanted to make sure things were okay with us—you know, with the kiss and all.” Sliding his hands over his jean clad thighs, he continued, “You’re good with me, right?”
I debated giving him a little “girl drama” but in the end, I couldn’t do it. “We’re good, Jake. Really.”
He nodded. “Alright.”
Maybe I should have been upset or disappointed that Jake wasn’t into me. But that was the thing, I was relieved. I’m not going to say I regretted my kiss because that would have been a lie. Even I know that not every girl was lucky enough to get her first kiss from her long time crush.
Brandon, on the other hand, was a different story. I finally realized that I had feelings for him but it didn’t matter. It was probably too late and I can’t blame anyone but myself.
Having been beige the entirety of my high school years, I wasn’t prepared for a life of color but that’s exactly what I walked into on Monday morning. People that I had passed in the hallways countless times, suddenly noticed me. Some spoke. Most talked about me rather than to me. The hall echoed with:
“That’s the girl.”
“Isn’t she Nick’s sister?”
“I heard Jake was drunk!”
It didn’t take long for me to wish I could just fade away. Homeroom may have been the worst. Girls who’d never wanted to hang out before crowded around my desk, each wanting to know the inside scoop: Was I dating Jake? When I answered “no”, their smiles faded and they quickly departed. It was kinda like offering me a cookie but only giving me a crumb. By lunch, I was all but forgotten. As it turned out, that wasn’t such a bad thing.