Just in time for Christmas – the final installment of The Wretched Life of Maxine J. Mattocks. I hope you’ve enjoyed following Max as much as I’ve enjoyed telling her story!
I’ll admit it, I’ve become that girl. You know the one with a notebook dedicated to writing “his” name. Brandon’s name covers multiple pages along with a variety of hearts. It’s sickening really. I mean, honestly, who does this? Me. That’s who. Smiling to myself, I added another heart to the page, complete with our initials and an arrow.
My moment was interrupted as Kelsey and April’s voice floated up the stairs. I glanced at clock on my phone and realized time had gotten away from me. Shoving the notebook under my bed, I hid the evidence of my infatuation just as they walked into my room.
Kelsey belly-flopped onto my bed. “What is the likelihood of Ms. Grant inviting a male model to art class?”
“Like maybe a student?” I asked.
“More like a college student.” Sitting up, Kelsey’s eyes flashed with excitement as she motioned for April and me to move closer. “I need to sketch an actual body. Anatomy books only do so much. But a live body… Being able to sketch his muscles and capture the way the lighting creates shadows on his skin…”
Clearing my throat, and trying to push an image of a shirtless Brandon from my head, I forced out the words. “Are you talking about sketching a nude model?”
April couldn’t suppress the giggles that erupted.
Kelsey shook her head, seemingly surprised by April’s reaction. “That’s the point of having a model,” she fumed.
“Ooh la la,” April said in her best French accent as she pretending to sketch a nude man.
Biting my lip, I shrugged. “You should maybe check at the college. I think Ms. Grant would lose her job.”
Kelsey smacked at April. “Stop it, already! I’m talking about art not a porn convention.”
April winked at me. “Do you think it’s too late for me to sign up? I think art has suddenly become so much more interesting. I could probably sit through a lecture on Van Gogh if I could sketch Nick.”
“Really, April? That’s my brother you’re fantasizing about!”
April smirked. “Brother, smother… Like you wouldn’t jump at the chance to sketch Jake.”
“Jake? Why would I want to sketch Jake?”
Kelsey chuckled. “Because you’ve got the hots for him.”
“Whatever.” I leaned against the headboard, pulling a pillow into my arms.
“Don’t even pretend that you don’t,” April said as she pulled several bottles of nail polish from her purse, tossing them (maybe attempting is more accurate) to Kelsey and me. The first three bottles landed on the bed but the fourth missed – deflecting from the side of my mattress and rolling underneath my bed.
“Dang!” April said, scooting to the side of my bed, her hand searching for the bottle. She pulled out the notebook before finally finding the polish. “Max,” she said absent-mindedly, “did you lose this?”
Glancing up, I immediately panicked. “Maybe,” I answered as my hand shot out, reaching for my book of shame. I tried to stay calm but I couldn’t stop the tell-tell flush on my face. My reaction didn’t go unnoticed. April scooted away from me, carrying my book of shame with her. She looked down at the notebook, her lips moved as she mouthed the name, over and over… Brandon.
“Oh. My. Gosh!” Raising a questioning eyebrow, April held out my notebook.
Snatching the evidence of my obsession, I tried to recover. “That’s nothing.”
Clearly confused, Kelsey looked from April to the notebook and finally to me.
April smiled. “Might as well get comfy, Kels. Max has been keeping secrets.”
There ought to be a law against Monday mornings. Seriously. Having set my alarm thirty minutes earlier than normal, I grudgingly rolled out of bed. With the determination of a soldier going off to battle, I marched into the bathroom and put my battle plan into motion.
My hair. Normally, I brush it and go. April and Kelsey have assured me that I need to make a little more effort. I arm myself with an arsenal of styling products. Hopefully, my lack of technical expertise won’t be a hindrance.
After a careful blow drying, I used a flat-iron to straighten my wavy hair. A little mascara and lip gloss later, I am surprisingly pleased with my efforts.
As I walked down the hallway towards my locker, I’m a bit self-conscious. Fighting the urge to stare at the floor, I repeat my mantra—I am confident. I am beautiful—until my internal dialogue is interrupted by Jake Bennett as he throws an arm across my shoulder.
“Who are you and what have you done with Max Mattocks?”
I can’t help but giggle. It’s like all the tension I was feeling, melted away. “I’m her evil twin,” I teased.
“Evil twin, huh? I like a wicked woman!”
The laughter inside me dies as I watch Brandon walk by without so much as a glance my way. I’m not sure what I had expected to happen but I never considered the possibility that Brandon wouldn’t even notice me. I feel like a complete loser, standing in the hallway, a smile pinned to my face and nothing. I can’t even be upset with him because, honestly, I’ve ignored him for so long. I guess I’m getting exactly what I deserve.
Turning my attention back to Jake, I try to find a snappy comeback but the failure of my mission has zapped the fun from the moment. Instead, I paint on a smile and force my response. “Well, I’m wicked alright.”
Tugging my hair, Jake lowered his voice. “Don’t go changing too much, Max. You’re great just the way you are.”
I swallow the lump in my throat. “Thanks, Jake.”
To the my list of things that stink, I’m removing Monday mornings and adding the whole dang day. I’ve never been as relieved to hear the last bell ring as I was today. I just want to go home and mess up my pretty hair. It’s nothing but a reminder of my failure. Unfortunately, hiding out at home isn’t in the game plan. On Mondays, I meet Kelsey for a yoga class at the youth center. I don’t really like yoga but that’s what friends do, right?
Just as I step off the bus, my phone rings. “Hey, Kels.”
“I’m so sorry,” Kelsey whined. “I forgot to call you earlier. I can’t go to yoga today. I’m working on an art project and I guess time got away from me.”
Rolling my eyes, I respond, trying my best not to let my disappointment show. “It’s okay. I mean, stuff happens.”
Kelsey sighed. “Still—I’m sorry. Call me later.”
“Okay.” Pressing the end button, I stuffed the phone into the front pocket of my hoodie. I watched the bus pull away from the curb, so much for heading back home. The thought of my yoga class made me want to scream so I head for the walking trail. Maybe a little fresh air will clear my head. The trail runs near the skateboard park and the sound of graphite wheels running across the concrete catches my attention. I found myself walking towards the noise.
Brandon is alone and completely unaware that I am watching. Leaning against the fence that surrounds the park, I lost myself in the moment. He seems to defy gravity as his body twists in the air. It’s really beautiful the way he moves.
A sudden explosion of noise startled me.
“Get back here, Bruce!” a deep voice yelled.
A dog, the size of a small horse, charged towards me, his snarls filling the air. A normal person might have jumped the fence, putting a barrier between themselves and a mouthful of vicious teeth. Me? I stood there, frozen in fear, praying for divine intervention.
A shrill whistle sounded and Bruce came to a stop. His owner jogged over, grabbing his leash. “Sorry about that,” he apologized as he led the dog away.
I hurried away from the skateboard park, making my way back to the walking trail, intent on disappearing. I could only hope that Brandon hadn’t realized I had been watching him. The last thing I need is for him to think I’m some sort of stalker. My life has gone from miserable to freaking pathetic. Leaning against a tree, I could only shake my head. “Stupid. Stupid. Stupid,” I muttered.
After pulling myself together, I headed back up the trail. If I was lucky, space aliens would be waiting, ready to abduct me. After all, today had been the suckiest of days and the universe owed me one. At the very least I hoped that maybe by some miracle, Brandon had been oblivious to my pathetic spying.
Only, the universe didn’t agree that I deserved a break…
Brandon was leaning against the fence when I rounded the corner. If the heat I felt radiating through my body was an accurate indication of my inner turmoil, I expected to burst into flames at any moment. Where was a wishing well when you really needed one? And what the heck was I supposed to do now? I couldn’t turn around—even I knew that was just too lame. Maybe, I could act surprised…
Brandon made the decision for me. “Hey, Max,” he said as he pushed off the fence and walked towards me.
My mouth went dry and my heart stopped beating. I think I literally died in that moment. I tried to speak but nothing came out. I probably looked like a fish, gasping for air.
Brandon smiled. “No yoga today?”
I finally found my voice. “I’m not really into yoga. I just take the class because Kelsey likes it.”
“So taking your chances with ferocious dogs is more your thing?”
I dropped my head and took a breath before looking up. “You saw that?”
“It was hard to miss. One minute, I’ve got an audience and the very next second, I thought my audience was going to be dinner for some crazed hell-hound.” He smiled.
It was worse than I ever imagined. He had known I was watching. “I didn’t mean to ruin your practice,” I apologized.
“You didn’t ruin anything,” Brandon insisted. “It was kinda cool. I mean, you’ve never watched me before.”
I managed a small smile. “Shows how much you know.”
Brandon took a step closer. “I think I would have noticed if you’d been here before.”
“I’m sure you were distracted by your groupies.”
“Groupies, huh?” Brandon chuckled.
I nodded my head, desperately wishing I could come up with some cute little comment. Unfortunately for me, my brain had all but shut down. I stood there with a stupid grin painted on my face.
Brandon pushed his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. “Think you’ll be coming to the competition this weekend?
“It’ll be here.” He motioned at the park. “As far as competitions go, it’s small but it’s good practice for bigger events.”
While the competition was news to me, I instantly made up my mind. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
“Okay.” Smiling, he took a step backwards. “They’ll be closing the park in a few minutes. I need to do a final run-through before they lock the gate.”
We’ve established that when it comes to guys, I’m basically clueless. But at this moment, I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, I might still have a shot and that means more to me than I can even say. I lick my lips. “I’m glad we ran into each other.”
“Me, too.” Brandon smiled. “Maybe we could grab some pizza after the competition?”
My heart raced. My mouth went dry and I think I forgot to breathe. “I’d like that,” I croaked.
Brandon nodded. “See you tomorrow?”
“Definitely.” I forced myself to walk away. And forced is the correct term because all I wanted to do was jump up and down and scream just a bit. I mean, who would have thought that I’d be going out for pizza with Brandon? Maybe my life isn’t so wretched after all.