I walked out of the girls bathroom, toilet paper conveniently attached to the bottom of my shoe. As usual, I was completely clueless. It was the snickering and the pointing that finally penetrated my thoughts. Glancing over my shoulder, I found the source of my humiliation. So, I did what any rational person would do—I performed a dance of sorts—a little hop-step-scoot thing, hoping to detach my toilet paper train. Fortunately, it worked. Only my little dance was captured on someone’s phone…
By the way, I’m Maxine J. Mattocks. Don’t forget the period that follows the J—because that is officially part of my name. Maxine, J with a period, Mattocks. No middle name, just the letter J followed by a period. Weird, right? You’d have to meet my mother to understand.
You can call me Max. Most everyone does. Okay, that may be an overstatement considering that most people don’t really see me. I’m the girl at the dance, hovering near the wall, hoping that someone will notice me and maybe ask me to dance… Only, that’s not going to happen. I mean, why would it? In a box full of crayons, I’m beige. Boring and safe. Heck, even the bullies ignore me… Like I said, beige. I fade into the background.
“Oh my gosh!” April squealed as I walked into class. April Cramer is my best friend, a bit over dramatic but loads of fun. She stands up and does this wonky kind of Riverdance.
I laughed at her antics. “Working on some new moves?” I asked.
“Just trying to get down all that fancy footwork you had going on,” she teased.
I was completely confused. “What?”
Laughing, she held up her phone. “The TP tango, I thought I’d wet my pants!”
I watched in horror as my little hop-step-scoot thing played out before my eyes.
I hate school lunches. No matter how many times I’ve tried to eat one, I just can’t make myself do it. The thought of eating sub-grade food makes my tongue jerk in that I’m going to be sick kind of way which is why I bring my little brown bag with me. My lunch may be boring but at least I am certain I can identify its contents: a turkey sandwich, a small bag of chips and an apple. I don’t have to worry about fake meat hiding under a sea of gravy or the very real possibility of a cockroach being cooked in the rice. Let me guess… You like school lunches… And you don’t believe that bugs have been cooked in the food you’re being served. Yeah, I didn’t either until I saw the lunch lady scoop out the biggest cockroach I’ve ever seen, toss it in the trash, and you guessed it—continue serving the contaminated rice. Anyway…
I was sitting at my table, empting my brown paper bag, when something cold touched the side of my neck. I couldn’t stop the shrill eek! that escaped my lips as I spun around in my seat.
Nick pounded Jake Bennett’s shoulder. “What did I tell you? Freaking oblivious!”
Jake laughed. “Really, Max. You’ve gotta be more aware of who and what’s around you…”
I glared at the both of them.
Nick ruffled my hair. Of all the things my brother could do, he chooses to ruffle my hair, subtly reinforcing my little sister status. Ugh! And in front of Jake no less. Jake Bennett, my brother’s best friend and the guy of my dreams. I think I want to die. Instead, I pick up my apple and take a huge bite.
Nick hands me the bottle of water. “See ya later, Max.”
I just nod because it’s too hard to talk with a mouthful of apple.
Placing her lunch tray directly across from me, April sits down and promptly licks her lips. “Mystery meat! My favorite!”
“What exactly is that?” I asked as I leaned forward, examining the contents on her tray.
“Oven baked chicken breast.”
“Oh, right…” I felt my tongue jerk.
“Was that Jake?” April asked, suggestively raising her eyebrows.
I rolled my eyes. “And my brother.”
“I noticed him, too…” April looked across the lunchroom. I didn’t have to ask what had caught her attention. I knew. My brother Nick sat at the same table everyday with his buddies. She finally turned back to me. “Do you think he likes me?”
I shrugged. Nick might be my brother but he was still a guy and guys were a huge mystery to me.
“My cousin says a guy won’t pay a girl any attention if he doesn’t have a little competition.” She took a bite of her chicken breast and stared at me. “What do you think?”
“I’m taking her advice. I’m moving on.”
This piqued my curiosity. “What do you mean?”
“Nick,” she patiently explained, “sees me as an extension of you. If I don’t do something, I’ll always be categorized as your friend. If I start dating someone, maybe he’ll notice. Maybe, he’ll see me as a potential date…”
“I don’t understand how that’s going to get you noticed?”
“I didn’t say it’s a perfect plan,” April huffed. “But, it’s the best I’ve got. I’m hoping Nick will notice that I’ve moved on and if I’m lucky, maybe he’ll miss me.”
“Oh,” I answered as I removed the cap from my water bottle and took a long drink.
Tilting her head just so, April mimicked holding her cell phone. “Nick?” She smiled, nodding her head. “I’d love to go out with you.” She bit her lower lip, batting her eyes. “Seven o’clock would be perfect.”
I can’t help it. I try not to laugh but April’s antics have me cracking up and before I know it, water spews from my mouth and nose. Not only am I coughing, I’m struggling to catch my breath. I know I look like I’m having some sort of fit. Seriously, at this moment, I’d be okay with disappearing.
“Are, are—” April can’t get the words out due to the fact that she is now laughing at me.
I didn’t see my brother walk by but I heard his voice. Making matters worse, Jake is laughing, too. “Can’t take you anywhere, can we?”
And then I feel it—a hand patting my back. Brandon Miller’s voice tickles my ear.
“You’re okay,” he soothes.
I’m not sure, but I think his concern is worse than my brother’s (and Jake’s) indifference. Nodding, I push my chair from the table and without a backwards glance, I take off for the bathroom.
The administration of Hanson High School may very well be what is left of the peace and love generation. I can’t help but wonder if Principal Hightower sat around a campfire singing Kumbaya. I watch as he walks down the hallway, his ill fitting suit hanging off of his too narrow shoulders. I’m certain he would be more comfortable in bell bottom pants and a turtle neck, throw in some huge sunglasses and a few beads… You get the picture.
It was Principal Hightower’s idea to institute our student ambassador program. What’s this you ask? Why it’s Hanson High’s version of the welcome wagon, complete with an insta-friend and tour guide. As one of the lucky few to be hand selected for this great honor, I am required to occasionally fulfill my ambassador duties. Today is one of those days. We have a new student. I glanced at the name on the little sticky note. Caitlyn Myers. It figures. I couldn’t be the lucky girl who gets to show the new hot guy around. Nope. Not me. I get stuck with the new girl. I looked up as the door to the guidance counselor’s office opened and watched as a redheaded doll literally floated into the student waiting area.
“There you are.” Mrs. Friedman signaled for me to join them.
Painting a smile on my face, I walked over and officially welcomed my new charge. “I’m Max and I’ll be your tour guide. If you have any questions, just let me know.”
Mrs. Friedman cleared her throat. “Maxine is an exemplary student and by far, our most trusted ambassador.”
I gritted my teeth, trying desperately to keep my smile in place. Exemplary student? Most trusted ambassador? Good grief! I sound like the president of the APA. What? You haven’t ever heard of the APA? The Apple Polishers Association? Yep. You know the group… Just go ahead and pound another nail in my coffin.
I pull Caitlyn’s schedule from her fingers and motion for her to follow. “Hmmm. It seems we have some of the same classes.”
Don’t you just hate it when you really want to dislike someone but you can’t. That’s me with Caitlyn. I don’t want to like her… Only, she’s that girl. You know the one. Pretty and doesn’t know it. Funny and not fake. Yep. That’s Caitlyn Myers and I’m just a tad bit envious. I mean, it’s her first day at Hanson High and she’s having no trouble making friends. In fact, I notice that the lunch line has become the Caitlyn Myers entourage. Everyone seems to be caught up in the Caitlyn moment. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Nick and Jake sat down at my lunch table.
“What’s up?” I raised a questioning eyebrow and took a bite of my ham and cheese sandwich. Nick grabbed my bag of chips.
Jake glanced around then scooted his chair a little closer to mine. He leaned in and I swear my heart skipped a beat. Oh my goodness! Was this really happening? He opened his kissable mouth; the beautiful sound of his voice turned into a screeching nightmare. “About the new girl… Do you think you could introduce me?”
I grunted. Truly, it’s all I could manage. My throat felt as though it was being squeezed, making it impossible to breath. I glanced at Nick and saw it in his eyes. Pity. If there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s pity. Painting on a smile, I answered. “Sure, Jake.”
“Cool.” He leaned back in his seat, completely unaware of my breaking heart. What a jerk…
I took a steadying breath. “By the way, her name is Caitlyn.”
He turned his attention to the lunch line and smiled that self confident smile of his, the one I’ve always loved. “Yeah, I know.” And then, as though he remembered he’s sitting at my table, he turned to me and said, “Oh, by the way, you’ve got mustard on the side of your face.”
Really? The wretchedness of my life amazes me…
Jake Bennett has been my dream guy since middle school and I guess when it comes to dreams, I’m Brandon’s. I’ve known Brandon Miller for as long as I can remember. We sat beside each other in kindergarten. He always tried to help me color my pictures. I didn’t want his help. What I wanted was for him to turn into a bird and fly away. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Brandon. He’s sweet and nice and you know, kinda good looking. He runs cross country and I think he still skateboards. He’s got this incredible smile. But he’s just not Jake… I didn’t even notice that he was waiting by my locker until I practically fell on him.
“Walk much?” Brandon teased.
“As little as possible.” I forced myself to laugh, hating that he had witnessed my klutzy moment.
Brandon pushed his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. “Do you think you’d like to go to the movies with me? Maybe Saturday?”
I bit down on the inside of my jaw. “I’ve,” I paused, “already made plans. I’m sorry.”
He shrugged. “Alright. Maybe another time.”
I watched as he walked away and wondered why I had lied. I didn’t have plans. I never had plans. Sleepovers at April’s don’t count. Brandon had actually asked me out on a date and I freaking blew him off. Why? Because he’s not Jake Bennett. And because, I’m obviously touched in the head.
After school, April and I stopped by the Youth Center. A crowd was gathering near the skateboard park so we hurriedly found a seat on the bleachers. My mouth dropped open as I watched a skateboarder fly into the air, tuck his body, grab the board and rotate—not once but twice—and then make a perfect landing.
The crowd cheered.
“Brandon’s amazing, don’t you think?” April squealed.
“That’s Brandon?” I asked.
“Of course.” April shook her head. “Who else could make skateboarding look so hot and sexy?”
“Brandon Miller? Hot and sexy?”
April touched my forehead. “No fever.”
“I’m not sick.” I blew out a puff of air.
“Well, when was the last time you had your eyes checked?”
“My eyes are fine!” I insisted.
April tossed her hair like one of those models on television. “Must not be if you haven’t noticed that chiseled jaw or those rock hard abs.”
“And when did you notice all those changes?”
“I don’t know,” April smirked. “Probably while you were mooning over Jake.”
As Brandon took off his helmet, the crowd moved in. Guys were patting him on the shoulder while the girls vied for his attention. I stood up, trying to get a better look. Observing Brandon in his element was an eye-opener. It was like seeing him for the first time. He wasn’t that irritating little boy from kindergarten, that’s for sure.
Flatulence. It’s a pervasive problem. Especially when you’ve eaten your father’s special bean soup for dinner the night before. As far as bean soup goes, my dad’s may be the best. I love how it tastes… It just doesn’t love me. So, I was on the bleachers, when it started. My stomach growled, low at first. I shifted in my seat, hoping that no one had heard it. That must have been the wrong thing to do. I offended my whole gastro-intestinal system. The next rolling, growling noise caused a minor disturbance on the bleachers. I tried to affect the whole “Oh my gosh! I wonder who did that?” look, then glanced around the group as though trying to find the guilty culprit. My stomach did it again, only louder. Jon Taylor, the boy seated ahead of me, turned around, shaking his head.
“What did you eat last night?” He asked, not bothering to keep his voice down.
My face flamed, my ears burned. “What?” I shook my head. “That wasn’t me.”
Jon laughed, “Whatever, Max… Just make sure to warn me before you let one rip!”
The angry, gurgling noise that followed, shamed me. I dropped my head, not wanting to acknowledge that such un-girlie sounds could be emanating from my midsection. And then I felt it—the intense pressure of gas building up…
There comes that moment where we have to ask ourselves, “What do I do?” That was my dilemma. Was it better to sit and wait, hoping my condition would go away? or Should I excuse myself to the bathroom? Another resounding snarl and I made my decision. I carefully worked my way down the steps, trying desperately to hold in the excess gas.
Principal Hightower picked up the microphone. “Please rise for the National Anthem.”
Could the timing be any worse? Tradition and respect dictated that I stand at attention. A sheen of sweat appeared on my face and as the trumpet player hit a particularly foul note, it happened. I farted. The screeches of my fellow students will be forever burned in my memory.
After the assembly…
April was waiting at my locker when I finally made it out of the gymnasium. “Ryan asked me to go to bowling with him.”
“Cool.” I tried to remember if April had ever mentioned liking him. “I didn’t know you had a thing for him.”
April shook her head. “It’s not a marriage proposal. It’s bowling. You know—going out, having a good time.”
I felt like I’d been chastised by my mother. “I get that… I just—”
“You just nothing,” April scoffed. “I told you I was moving on. Maybe you should consider doing the same thing. Life is going to pass you by while you’re waiting for Jake to notice you.”
That hurt. But the truth has a sting, doesn’t it?
“Anyway,” she continued, “Why don’t you ask someone to go with you and we can meet up there. Bowling is more fun with a group.”
“I don’t need a date to go bowling.”
“Except that you’ll be the odd man out.” April put her hand on her hip and then added, “Get a date or don’t come…”
Sometimes, April gets on my nerves.
“Ask Brandon, ” she encouraged. “He’d say yes and you know it.”
I grabbed a strand of hair and twisted it around my finger. “He asked me out last week.”
“And?” April looked totally confused.
“And I lied. I said I had plans…”
April rolled her eyes. “He doesn’t know you lied.”
“No buts…” Taking hold of my shoulders, April turned my body in the direction of Brandon’s locker. “There he is,” she whispered before walking away and leaving me alone with my insecurities.
It was with some trepidation that I made myself walk to Brandon’s locker. An onlooker might have mistaken me for a prisoner, walking to the gallows. Thank goodness, I remembered my deodorant. Brandon was standing with his back to me, his attention focused on pulling out several books from an overly stuffed space. I tapped him on the shoulder.
“What’s up?” he asked, his face puzzled.
I cleared my throat. “Um, yeah, I was wondering,” I cleared my throat again, “I was wondering if you’d like to go bowling with me on Saturday?”
Brandon looked down at his feet. When he looked up, I knew. “I’m sorry. I’ve already got a date.”
I tried to look cool and unaffected. “Maybe another time,” I said as I backed away.
“Yeah,” Brandon nodded, “Maybe another time.”
I quickly walked away, surprised by my disappointment.
Brandon has a date.
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 accidently 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 approach my lane, let the ball go and watch as it hits 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.
I’m not sure what’s worse – being on your period or the fear that someone might realize you’re on your period. Seriously, I may have to start tossing pennies in the wishing well. As far as I’m concerned, periods rank at the top of the gross factor chart. There’s cramping and bleeding and all sorts of moodiness. If that’s not enough to worry about, you have to think about your clothing. There’s a lot to consider, like whether or not your pants are dark enough? Because really, accidents can happen and no one wants a freaking neon sign announcing the arrival of that dreaded event.
Usually, my mom takes care of purchasing the necessary items. She’s good that way. It doesn’t seem to bother her but then again, maybe that’s what happens when you get to be as old as she is. Unfortunately, she was out of town on a business trip when my period arrived. I searched through my bathroom cabinet and my purse. Nothing. Fingers crossed, I headed to my parents’ bathroom. After searching through three drawers and a couple of cabinets, I found a maxi-pad.
My relief was short-lived. One maxi-pad just wasn’t going to do it. Glancing at the clock on the bathroom counter, I realized my father would be arriving home anytime. I hurriedly took care of my female situation and was waiting for him when he pulled into the drive.
“You’ve got to carry me to the store,” I said as I opened the passenger door and slid into the front seat.
“It can’t wait till after dinner?”
I shook my head. “It’s that time.”
My father turned to look at me, his eyebrows drawn. “Time for what?”
Sometimes, I wonder how my dad can be so successful at his job, because he’s incredibly dense. I rolled my eyes. “You know,” I insisted. “That time of the month.”
“Oh.” He backed out of the driveway and drove me to the nearest drugstore.
I selected what I needed from the female hygiene section and promptly handed them to my father. “Okay, this should do it. I’m going to go to the car while you pay for these.”
He nodded his head and I quickly walked away, trying to put some very real distance between us. My father should probably get an award. Not every dad is willing to carry tampons and panty liners to the cash register.
I thought I had made it, that I was home free. The exit was in sight. Making a beeline towards the door, I didn’t see him until I nearly ran him over. “Sorry!” I apologized as I stepped back. I looked up and my heart sank. It couldn’t be but it was… Brandon.
He reached out and lightly touched my arm. “Are you okay?”
“Uh-huh,” I mumbled. “Wasn’t looking…” I needed to go. I knew this and yet, I couldn’t make my feet move. “You’re alright?”
Brandon laughed. “It’ll take a little more than a bump from you…”
I smiled. “Alright. If you’re sure…”
At this point, my father walked past us carrying my female things. Bless his heart, he totally ignored me. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Brandon motioned at my father, as he lowered his voice, “Wasn’t that your dad?”
“Yeah,” I muttered, afraid that he had seen the evidence of my condition.
At this point, a normal girl would have taken advantage of the situation, maybe flirting a little bit. Not me. All I could do was obsess over whether or not he had figured out I’d started my period. “I gotta go.” That’s exactly what I said and then I hurried away. Some days, I think I’d sink my own ship.
Hormones—that explained my reaction. It’s not like I usually got all teary-eyed—especially not where Brandon was concerned. I tried to catch his attention, but he walked by me without so much as a glance. When I realized he was focused on Caitlyn, my heart sank. Opening my locker, I wondered if I could climb in and hide forever or at least until my eyes stopped watering.
“Max? Are you alright?”
Great. Just what I don’t need—a witness to my heartbreak. I blinked a couple of times hoping to clear away the tears before turning. “I’m good,” I lie.
Kelsey teetered from foot to foot, clearly not convinced. “I know when you’re upset.”
She’s got a point. Kelsey is the third member of our group. Until this year, she’s always had the same class schedule as April and me. I offer a weak smile. “Just worrying over a test.”
She pulled me in for a quick hug. “Call me if you need to talk.”
There’s no need to pretend any longer. I shrug my shoulder and nod my head. “Thanks.”
As Kelsey hurries away, my eyes scan the hallway, stopping on Brandon and Caitlyn. He’s laughing…
The funny thing is, I like Caitlyn. She’s a sweet person and as much as I hate to admit it, I can see why Brandon likes her. She’s always smiling and she’s smart—smarter than me. For real. How else can you explain it? She recognized what a great guy Brandon was before I did. I mean, I guess I took him for granted. I knew he liked me… He just wasn’t as cool as Jake and I wanted cool. At least, that’s what I thought… The thing is, once I took off my Jake glasses, I realized my mistake.
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.