I tossed my school bag to the back seat of my run-down Honda. The car was a hand-me-down from my mom when she upgraded to a new one last year. It had been super reliable for how old it was, but the radio didn’t work. That was a major bummer. But not even a broken radio could bring me down on such a beautiful, sunshiny day.
I toggled through the menu on my MP3 player until I found the perfect song for my upbeat mood. My earphones blasted as I drove down the street, admiring the cloudless Newport Beach sky, wisps of hair circling my neck from the breeze through the open window.
It was usually in the sixties this time of year, but I heard it was going to hit eighty this week; pretty nice for November. I could feel the extra warmth already. The sunshine gave me an extra burst of energy, making an already good day seem even better.
It took maybe five minutes to drive to my high school. Traffic lined the web of Southern California freeways every day, but I rarely ventured out that far. I had everything I needed right here in my own little corner of the world.
My poor old car buzzed into the student lot at the back of the school, and I circled around the corner to find a parking spot. Normal teenager clunker-cars, just like mine, studded the rows, but they were interspersed among the typical mix of new convertibles, sports cars, and SUV’s. I wasn’t embarrassed by my car; I was glad to even have one. And it wasn’t like anyone gave me a hard time for driving it.
As I pulled into a parking space and turned off the engine, a slow, melancholy song played in my ears. Without thinking twice, I grabbed the headphones and yanked them off immediately. I thought I had removed all the sad stuff a few weeks ago. This day was too cheerful and bright to listen to something so blah.
Plus, I was sort of developing a fear of love songs over the last couple months. I’d always enjoyed all kinds of music, but I’d been having some crazy emotional reactions to it lately. And music wasn’t the only problem. A couple of weeks ago, I felt completely depressed for hours after reading a scene in a book—totally out of character for me. My life was way too great to be sad and moping around for no reason at all.
It was probably just teenage hormones going haywire.
I waved at a few kids I knew talking by their cars and continued to the outdoor quad area covered in grass and leafy trees. It was already full of my classmates, and I greeted a few more as I crossed the sidewalk.
Then I saw him. Justin Crane.
My head darted down and away, hoping he wouldn’t notice me from across the path. It wasn’t like I made a habit of avoiding people at school, but I’d been on a few dates with Justin earlier this year and they didn’t exactly turn out the way I had hoped.
I thought…what was the harm, you know? Maybe it could be fun. But that totally backfired on me. The truth was, I was hesitant to go with him in the first place, but saying no just seemed too…mean.
I should’ve listened to my instincts. Once Justin got the first yes, he couldn’t be stopped. He pursued me like crazy, almost obnoxiously. And his hands really had a problem with wandering. I tried to tell him I only wanted to be friends, but he just wasn’t willing to take no for an answer. The guy had some serious determination; I had to give him that. But it got to the point where I had to be outright rude, and I didn’t like that.
The last week or two it seemed like Justin was finally backing off, but I wasn’t about to give him a chance to change his mind. I hurried through the double glass doors of the school building at the end of the sidewalk and let out a sigh of relief. Justin Crane was safely out of view.
When I approached my locker, I glanced around the hallway to see if Heather was nearby. She was my best friend. We had first period together, so she always came to meet me before class.
When I spotted Heather from across the hall, her lean physique approached my direction with purpose, holding her phone to her ear. That wasn’t an unusual sight; Heather would probably choose to have her phone surgically attached to the side of her head if it was possible—as long as it was also considered fashionable of course. I had a cell phone too—I mean, who didn’t—but mine seemed like a piece of junk compared to hers.
I’d known Heather since second grade, so I was totally comfortable around her, and I spent more time with her than anyone else, besides my mom of course. But, I had a feeling Heather could be a little intimidating to some people. I was a decent height at five feet five inches, but Heather beat me by at least four more inches. And it wasn’t just her height. Even in a crowd, Heather had a way of making sure she was noticed, but not in a bad way. At least, I didn’t think so.
Heather and I had a lot in common, yet somehow we were nothing alike. Maybe that was why we worked so well together. Either way, we’d been friends a long time.
Heather slid the phone in her designer bag and sprung up beside me.
“Hey, Sade!” she said, her face animated, like she had a juicy secret to share. Heather used the mirror in my locker to check her long platinum hair for any imperfections. “So I was just talking to Lindsey,” she went on, “and you will never guess what she said.”
“What?” I asked.
Suddenly, Heather was pulling me down through the crowded corridor of students. Some looked like they were modeling for a designer clothing catalog, kind of like Heather, while the majority were dressed in flip-flops and shorts like they just stepped foot off the beach.
Heather stopped around a quiet corner and brought her perfectly made-up face close to mine, lowering her voice. “I don’t know if I’m supposed to say anything, so you totally didn’t hear this from me.”
“Okay…” I said, confused but intrigued.
“Lindsey heard that, Nick,” she said the name with emphasis, “Christensen, like, has a thing for you, and wants to ask you out on a date or something.” She paused dramatically, waiting for my response.
That was the big news? I did like going on dates—or at least I thought I did—but I wasn’t sure I was ready to deal with another boy just yet. Nick Christensen was definitely cute, there was no question about that, but what if he turned out to be just like Justin Crane? I wasn’t sure if I should be excited about this or cringe and run away.
“Hello?” Heather said. “Did you not just hear me? Nick Christensen wants to hook up with you.”
It took me a second, but I finally responded. “Nick likes me?” I said. “Um, that’s…good, I guess. I mean, he seems like a nice guy.”
Heather clutched my arm, dragging me forward with agitation. “He seems nice? He’s only, like, one of the most gorgeous guys at our school. Seriously, Sadie, could you be any more clueless when it comes to guys? You have boys lining up to drool at your feet and you’re completely oblivious.”
I stopped. “What? No I don’t. And by the way, you get asked out on dates too.”
“Not by guys like Nick Christensen. You could at least try to appreciate how lucky you are.”
I thought about it a second. Maybe Heather had a point. I was lucky to get asked on dates at all, so I should be more excited. I didn’t want to come off as a jerk or something. And there was no way that all the boys in our school could be as bad as Justin Crane, right?
“Wait, so Nick Christensen really wants to ask me out?” I said, trying to mimic Heather’s enthusiasm. “I mean, he is pretty cute. I guess a date with him sounds like fun.”
“Of course it does,” Heather said, like I was ridiculous for thinking otherwise. “He’s totally hot.”
We entered the classroom and sat in our usual seats. Mr. Rivera lectured and scribbled illegibly on the white board as my chin sunk deeper into the palm of my hand. Math first thing in the morning was a bit of a challenge. My mind wandered.
The depressing song I heard in the car started playing through my mind, the chorus repeating in my head over and over again. It was annoying. I should’ve listened to something more cheerful before I turned it off. I straightened in my seat and tried to focus. Even math sounded better right now than that stupid song.
During break I went back to my locker and grabbed a bag of baby carrots. I tossed one in my mouth, but it was bigger than I expected and I struggled to chew as I shut the locker with my elbow.
I almost choked. Nick Christensen was standing right in front of me.
“Oh,” I said, surprised. I threw my hand to my face, covering my mouth full of food, chewing as fast as possible. I practically swallowed the carrot whole.
Nick ran a hand through his chestnut hair, eyes shifting to the floor. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”
I tried to smile, hoping I didn’t have any food stuck in my teeth. “It’s okay. You just surprised me.”
I usually didn’t get super nervous around boys, at least not in the past, but all of a sudden, I felt strangely uncomfortable.
Nick paused. “So, I was just wondering if maybe you wanted to hang out with me this Saturday?” He fidgeted with a strap on his backpack in this cute, almost endearing sort of way—which was probably the exact opposite thing that Justin Crane would have been doing if I was talking to him right now. It made me feel somehow at ease again. Nick seemed like a really nice guy, and Heather was right…he was pretty nice to look at, too.
But then I remembered I already had plans with my mom that day. My eyebrows wrinkled apologetically. “This Saturday? Actually, I can’t. I told my mom I would help her paint our living room.”
Nick looked away, blue eyes full of disappointment. “Oh. That’s okay.”
I immediately felt bad. I didn’t want him to think I made up some excuse not to go. I really did have plans. Each week my mom had just one or two nights off from the hospital where she worked. That was really our only time to see each other, so we started girls’ night. It had become our weekly tradition. We’d usually do stuff like get take-out and watch chick flicks, but this time my overly-energetic mother talked me into another do-it-yourself project. At least this time it wouldn’t require tearing down any walls.
I wasn’t that excited about painting in the first place, and with Nick looking way cuter than I realized before, I was starting to regret making plans with my mom. But instead of becoming bitter at my mother’s ambition, I quickly thought of a solution that would work for everyone.
The smile returned to my face. “Well, school’s closed Friday for Veteran’s Day. I don’t have plans if you want to do something then.”
“Sure!” Nick’s face brightened. “My uncle works at Disneyland and he could get us in, but that’s kind of an all-day thing, so I don’t know if you would be interested.”
I didn’t have to think about it. “Totally,” I said, touching his arm. “That sounds like fun.”
I loved Disneyland. Growing up in the area, I used to go all the time, but I hadn’t been in a while. That would be something to look forward to.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll come pick you up Friday morning. Would nine work?”
I nodded. “Nine sounds good.”
There was an awkward pause in our conversation. It looked like Nick wanted to say something but couldn’t push out the words. He laughed nervously and scratched his head but still came up with nothing.
“Well…I probably should get to class,” I finally said. “I guess I’ll see you Friday?”
Nick nodded, wearing a semi-goofy grin as I turned to walk away. Without thinking, I found myself glancing back with a flirty wave goodbye. It couldn’t hurt to be a little flirty, right? Nick seemed completely harmless compared to Justin Crane.
Thanks to Nick, I was suddenly in an extra great mood. Even though the whole dating thing secretly freaked me out a little, it still felt good to know that someone like him was interested in me. I just hoped Nick would be okay with just hanging out and having fun together. I wasn’t interested in dealing with the stress of taking things to the next level. The last thing I wanted was to end up like my mom—deserted and alone.
I was in such a good mood that even Chemistry wasn’t that bad today. And when I sat down for lunch next to Heather at our usual outdoor table, I was genuinely excited to tell her about my date.
But before I could even say hello, Heather reached for my arm with raised brows and practically sang as she said, “I heard that somebody has a date this weekend…”
I laughed. “How is it possible that you already know that?”
“Oh please,” Heather said. “You do remember who you’re talking to, right?”
The next thing I knew, Heather was making an announcement to everyone at our table of the news. Nicole, Lindsey, and an entire table full of girls squealed and clapped in unison, causing curious glances from around the lunch area.
After everyone took turns expressing their jealousy and wishing me luck on my date, Heather retold the story of her first kiss on the It’s a Small World ride at Disneyland when she was a freshman. She and Lindsey both agreed that this would be a good opportunity for me to finally do the same, especially with Nick Christensen.
Kissing did sound like a lot of fun. Heather had done a lot of kissing since that boat ride and she never ceased to tell me about it. But I didn’t want to just do it for the fun of it. I wanted it to mean something.
I mulled over the idea. Maybe I was building it up to be something bigger than it needed to be. What if, once I finally tried it, it would be a huge disappointment because I made too big a deal out of it? Should I just kiss Nick Christensen on Friday and get the whole thing over with? It might be fun. But, it didn’t seem like a decision I could make in one lunch period. I had to at least get to know the guy before I decided, right? It could wait until Friday.
I left our table to make my usual social rounds, hopping from one group of friends to the next to hang out and chat for a few minutes. I was like my mom in that way. She was friendly and talkative with everyone she met.
At least, I was like that most of the time, especially at school, but lately it felt like I was living a double life. I didn’t always enjoy socializing like I used to. There were times I could be in a crowd full of friends and feel utterly alone. When I had the random episodes of depression triggered by music or emotions, it was even worse. Then I was definitely not in the mood to socialize.
But there was no problem today. I was my happy, carefree self, enjoying the laughter and company of friends.
I was still in high spirits when the bell rang, signaling the end of lunch. The only classes I had left for the day were my two favorites this semester, Spanish and Photography. As I moved cheerfully down the path outside, I noticed my friend Ariana from the other side of the quad. Her parents were originally from the Dominican Republic, but they moved here from New York a few years ago.
Ariana jumped up and down with a huge smile when she saw me. I loved her enthusiasm. She was one of the most energetic girls at our school. Next thing I knew, she was bounding across the grass in my direction, her curly black hair bouncing back and forth around her face.
“Sadie!” she called happily as she skipped up next to me. When she reached my side, Ariana pulled a handful of my wavy blonde strands in the air and let them fall through her fingers back to my shoulder. “I love your hair today, chica.”
“Thanks,” I said. “That’s a cute shirt.”
Ariana looked down at herself, as if trying to remember what she was wearing, and giggled. “Oh, thanks, it’s new. So I brought you that CD I was telling you about.”
Ariana was always putting together CD’s with new music for me to try; mostly salsa type music that I would have a hard time finding on my own. Despite how well I was doing in my Spanish class, I couldn’t understand most of the words in the songs, but the beats were infectious.
Ariana rummaged through her backpack and handed me a plastic case.
“Cool,” I said, sliding it atop the Spanish textbook in my arm. “I’m excited to listen to it when I get home.”
“Make sure you listen to track two,” Ariana said with animation. “That’s so totally my favorite this week.”
I started to nod, but a small jolt from behind interrupted my response as somebody bumped into me. I glanced up, taken off guard.
A boy in dark clothes muttered a quick sorry under his breath and continued walking, turning his face only partially towards me. I could’ve sworn a glint of light caught his eye, causing a stream of little green sparkles.
A slight tingling sensation shivered up my arm and I looked down at it instinctively. There was a silvery film with iridescent swirls shimmering just below my elbow. I tried to touch it, but it disappeared. I wasn’t sure if I had imagined it. Maybe the sunlight was playing tricks on my eyes.
My thoughts flew back to the intriguing boy that bumped my arm, but I couldn’t see him anymore. He seemed oddly familiar, like something was pulling me after him, drawing me towards him.
“Who was that?” I wondered aloud.
Ariana shrugged. “I have no idea.”
Suddenly, I felt the strangest desire to follow after the mystery person.
“Hey, I have to get going,” I said to Ariana, moving away in a daze.
I wandered quickly through the crowd of students, searching their faces for the boy with the sparkling, familiar eyes. I had no idea why the eyes seemed so familiar, but I felt an unmistakable need to find them. I was sure I followed right in the direction where the boy had hurried away, but it was no use. It was like he had disappeared without a trace. The mysterious green eyes were nowhere to be seen.