Chapter Ten

…………………………….

The next day was one of the longest of my life. It started after Grandma Nandine dropped me off at the visitor's entrance of the Gordon Bailey School. As I exited the black Cadillac I could feel Grandma's eyes on me, watching me as I limp-walked across the visitors' parking lot, heading for the terra cotta colored school building. Even after I had left the parking lot and reached the school grounds, I still felt Grandma's unfailing blue gaze following my small form with the steadfastness of a soldier. After I had come home battered and bruised last night, Grandma had gone on the alert. No one was going to be messing with her grandson again.

Last night. As I slowly shuffled past the wintering flower-beds, I shuddered, remembering the details. First Devon and his bullies had caught up with me in the hallway after school hours. Then they'd chased me through the school, only to over-take me outside of the gym. The bullies had started to wail on me pretty good, but they were interrupted by Jonas, Gary, and Ray Valentino. Before the situation could degrade into an all out brawl between Devin and his thugs and Jonas and his friends, we were stopped by Mr. Lawson, my first period teacher. At the threat of expulsion, Devon and his posse had left. Then as Jonas, Gary, and Ray were helping me up, Ray had found my 'Jonas Adonis' poem. Ray had read the poem aloud. Just when I thought my life had ended—that Jonas knew that I was the person who had written the love poem—something strange had happened: somehow Jonas got it into his head that the poem was written by Christy Cooper, the blonde she-witch socialite that Jonas had been in love with since seventh grade. I had asked Christy out for Jonas (of course Christy had refused—she and her look-alike friends had found the very idea hilarious. I hadn't told Jonas about Christy's refusal). So when the 'Jonas Adonis' poem could be written off as Christy crushing on Jonas instead of me being in love with him, I found myself suddenly confirming Jonas' assumptions. Yes, Christy Cooper liked Jonas. Yes, Christy wanted to date Jonas.

I lied.

But now I was going to make things right. I was going to tell Jonas the truth. After a phone call to my older sister Katrina, Katrina who was practically my surrogate mother, I realized that I couldn't lie to Jonas. While I was living in Chicago and Katrina was in college at Michigan State, I'd lied to my sister all the time. Then when Jose Garcia, the public school bully in Chicago who had it out for me, had broken my ankle and landed me in the hospital, Katrina had finally found out the truth about my life in Chicago. Needless to say Katrina was not happy. My older sister made me promise that I'd never lie again.

It was because of this promise that I was going to tell Jonas the truth about where the poem had come from. I would tell Jonas that I had written the poem. I would also tell Jonas that Christy didn't want to date him. Even though telling Jonas these things would surely result in the loss of all the friends I had at Gordon Bailey. Jonas' friends: Gary, Harris, and Troy, would dump me as fast as Jonas did. And why wouldn't they? After all I was Andrew Stevens, the pathetic loser who was in love with a boy. Even I wouldn't want a me as a friend.

Just a little bit further Andrew. That's it. Just keep walking. Keep breathing. Keep calm.

Nervous, would not even describe how I was feeling this morning. I was downright terrified. My breathing was shallow and slightly erratic; my palms were sweaty, and my throat was dry. I was teetering on the edge of an all-out panic attack. But I was keeping myself under control. Because—terrified or not— I was resolved. I was going to tell Jonas the truth; I was going to do the right thing.

That's it, just keep walking. Left foot. Right foot. Steady pace. Keep calm.

I would approach Jonas before first period. In less than fifteen minutes I'd speak to him.

In less than fifteen minutes I was going to lose his friendship forever.

In less than fifteen minutes.

Left foot. Right foot. Breath.

I had limp-walked past the flower beds of rust-colored dead plants, and had reached the rows of spindly maples and sycamores. The once brazen trees, stripped of their aureate finery, seemed ashen shadows of their former glory. They stared—addled, disbelieving— at the mess of crumbling leaves scattered across the browning lawn: the last remaining vestments of their fall from Grace.

While the earlier autumn months had been a vision of reds, oranges, and yellows, over these past October weeks the colors had faded to stark browns and blacks. Overnight it seemed that the temperatures had dropped. It was cold in Connecticut, not cold enough yet for snow or heavy winter coats, but cold enough to ensure that I was uncomfortable in my light suit-jacket and collared shirt.

As I filtered through the small groups of boys—students milling about the chilly school lawn, not wishing yet to start the school day—I huddled deeply into my school suit jacket. I was careful to avoid disturbing the many bruises that Devon and his friends had left along my shoulder, back, and chest.

That's it. Keep moving. Keep breathing. Keep calm.

"Hey kiddo!" a voice broke across the low din of the crowded school lot. "Kiddo!"

I looked up. Looked around.

"Kiddo! Andrew!" The voice called again.

And then I saw him: Troy's tall profile flagging me down from across the leaf-strewn school grounds.

And I felt a brief surge of happiness flood my body. Out of all of Jonas' friends I knew I'd miss hanging out with Troy the most. I was truly grateful for this final opportunity to see Troy one last time.

I waited as the brown curly-haired boy zigzagged his way over to me, avoiding the larger pilings of crumbled leaves. Like me, Troy was dressed in the standard Gordon Bailey uniform of khaki trousers, navy suit jacket, white button-down shirt, and navy tie. But unlike me, Troy's clothes were perfectly pressed so that not a single wrinkle was present. This is one of the great mysteries of Troy: no matter what he is wearing he always looks flawless.

"Hey kiddo." As he reached me, Troy smiled warmly, and a sudden lump hardened in my throat; I was certain it was the last smile Troy would ever have for me. Once I told Jonas the truth about the poem and that I was in love with him, Jonas and his friends would be so disgusted that they'd never speak to me again. Troy would never speak to me again.

"Hey Troy," my reply was bitter-sweet.

Just a few minutes, that's all you have. Make the most of it.

I was emotionally overwhelmed: nervous and terrified of my encounter with Jonas, and now mournfully sad at the prospect of never speaking to Troy again. It was all I could do to stare dumbstruck at Troy's familiar face. I wished I could have thought of something to say then. Something, anything, but my mind was a blank.

Troy too seemed at an uncharacteristic loss for words. And as I stared at the curly-haired boy—wasting my last precious seconds with him—I was surprised by the flickering note of anxiety that seemed to be trembling beneath Troy's dark brown eyes. Troy seemed upset. Why?

And then I realized: those dark eyes were busily scanning over my body searching for injuries. Troy knew I'd been beaten up last night.

Nervous, anxious, mournfully sad, and now horribly embarrassed.

"I'm so sorry kiddo…about yesterday," Troy's apologetic voice finally broke the stagnant silence.

I shrugged uncomfortably, and my face burned shamefully, bright as my flame-colored hair. "It's okay," I replied softly.

I was embarrassed. Grandma Nandine, Katrina, now Troy. Everyone was making a big thing out of nothing. So I'd been beaten up. Big deal. It wasn't the first time. And what the spoiled rich kids of Gordon Bailey gave out was nothing compared to the steel-tough gangs in my public school in Chicago. I only suffered bruises, not broken bones and concussions.

"How do you feel?" Troy asked quietly, almost apprehensively.

I shrugged uneasily.

I didn't want to use the last minutes of our friendship watching the loser-pity that was surely radiating from Troy's dark eyes, so I looked at the ground instead. At the swirly patterns on my black wingtip shoes. I shuffled my feet idly, crackling a few stray leaves. At the smallish foot movements my left ankle groaned in dull protest. I'd been worried that after last night I'd re-injured my ankle, but after carefully flexing it this morning I'd determined that everything was alright. At least I thought so. My ankle was a little tender, and I didn't like how the slightly swollen ring of skin rubbed the ankle-brace when I walked, but overall I thought the ankle was fine. And I was grateful for that: in a week and a half I was going to my final doctor's check-up. Hopefully, the doctor would tell me that I could finally remove the cumbersome brace; I'd need to both legs functioning as soon as possible. I knew that without Jonas and his friends protecting me, it would be open season for the bullies. And although Grandma Nandine's vigilance would keep the bullies from openly beating me up again—there were many other ways the bullies could pick on me.

As for the rest of my Devon-imparted injuries: the large bruise on my shoulder was just as painful as it was to look at, but it would heal. The other bruises on my back and chest were sore, and my tongue was slightly swollen from where I'd bitten it. But I didn't tell Troy these things. He'd just feel sorrier for me, and I didn't want a vision of loser-pity as my last memory of my friendship with Troy. Troy was the best friend I had—besides Jonas, I mean—and I wanted my last memories of Troy to be happy ones.

I'd have something to cling to in the coming days, after Jonas and his friends abandoned me.

"Kiddo?" the tall, curly-haired boy prompted. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine, Troy." I replied firmly. As if to reassure the dark eyed boy, I hefted my brown leather backpack higher. However, the backpack rubbed at the bruise on my shoulder, and I couldn't help but wince.

"Here, I can take that for you."

Before I'd had a chance to blink, Troy had somehow divested me of my backpack.

"I…you don't… Troy, I'm fine."

"Hey, I'll walk you to class," Troy offered blithely, and he had carried my backpack through the front doors of the main school building before I'd realized what had happened.

I hastened to catch up with the taller boy, and Troy instantly slowed his pace to match my slower limp-induced ambling.

" Troy...really now…you don't have to carry my backpack."

But Troy ignored my protests, and I gave up quick. Having Troy carry my backpack through the school might have been embarrassing, but it was my last official minutes as Troy's friend. I didn't want to waste them groaning about a backpack.

Slowly, but steadily Troy and I headed for my first class. We headed closer to Jonas. We headed closer to my doom.

Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Keep breathing. Keep calm.

Breath in. Breath out.

Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot.

Each step took me a pace closer to my inevitable fate, and soon we were out of the main hallway. We'd turned the corner into the secondary hallway. Halfway there.

My heartbeat was increasing, and my breathing was laboring. My nervous terror was giving way to paranoia, and I felt like I was getting stares. It seemed as though every boy I walked past raised his eyes to gaze at me and then nudged his friend and pointed at us.

I fiddled my chin-length flame-colored hair uneasily.

Breath in. Breath out.

Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot.

All the while Troy had been talking to me. What it was he was talking about, I really couldn't say. I wanted to pay attention, wanted this one last conversation, but I just couldn't seem to follow the taller boy's words. I was too flustered. So instead I listened to the tone of Troy's voice. Listened to the pleasant ups and downs. I nodded to Troy's questions, tried my hand at a smile. It was enough. The last moments of our friendship, and it was enough.

Or at least I tried to tell myself.

"And I'm sure that Jonas will be voted as the basketball team captain," Troy was saying. "They'll announce the team captain at the Thursday Pep Rally next week. Then Friday's our first game."

I nodded. Smiled.

Breath in. Breath out.

Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot.

I had slept poorly last night. I kept waking up tangled in the bed sheets, breathing loudly. Finally, at about four-thirty, I'd given up on sleep entirely and decided to spend the remaining pre-dawn hours rehearsing what I was going to say to Jonas.

Jonas, I need to talk to you. I would begin.

But before I start, I just want to let you know that I never meant to hurt you. I never meant for things to happen as they did.

You're the best friend I've ever had, and I never wanted to intentionally hurt you.

"Jonas told me that he's hoping that his girlfriend will come to the game," Troy continued.

Nod. Smile.

I just wanted to see you happy. I still want to see you happy, but I can't lie to you.

I asked Christy out for you, but she said no. I hadn't told you yet, because I couldn't think how to break the news to you.

And that poem— that poem that you read last night—Christy didn't write that.

I did.

Jonas, I'm really sorry, but I'm in love with you. I know that this probably comes as a shock to you, and I know that you probably won't ever want to see me again. I understand that.

But before I never talk to you again, I just want you to know something: Jonas, I am so sorry. I'm sorry for lying to you. I'm sorry for making you uncomfortable. I'm sorry for everything.

"I'm really surprised that she agreed to go out with him," Troy said meditatively, his dark brown eyes hidden beneath furrowed brows deep in thought. "I almost would have thought that Jonas was making it up or something, except for the fact that you were the one who asked Christy out for him."

Nod. Smile.

"I'm actually pretty worried about this. I really don't trust that girl."

Nod. Smile.

And one more thing Jonas—

Andrew!

I just wanted to say that—

ANDREW!

What? Stop bothering me; I don't have time to talk to you! I need to practice.

Let's see… where was I? Oh, yeah. "And one more thing Jonas—"

ANDREW!!!

WHAT? I told you to leave me alone already!

Troy just said that Jonas was going out with Christy!

So?

TROY JUST SAID THAT JONAS WAS GOING OUT WITH CHRISTY!

WAIT! WHAT?!? ARE YOU SERIOUS!?!

Yes!

BUT… HOW DOES TROY KNOW? ONLY JONAS, GARY, AND RAY WERE SUPPOSED TO KNOW ABOUT 'JONAS AND CHRISTY!'

My nerves had already been frazzled as I'd prepared for my Jonas-encounter. Now, someone had pulled the "on" switch, and an adrenaline-filled current was flowing through my veins. Suddenly, my pulse was singing loudly in my ears, and my breath was rushing faster than a flashing strand of Christmas tree lights.

OH GOD! HOW DOES TROY KNOW ABOUT 'JONAS AND CHRISTY'?

I don't know!

BETTER YET, WHY DOES TROY KNOW? THOSE GUYS PROMISED THEY WOULDN'T TELL ANYONE!

Calm down Andrew.

DOES ANYONE ELSE KNOW? OH, MAN. WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?

YOU'RE GOING TO SHUT UP! You're not going to do anything until you calm down.

Slowly, with the concentration of a wrangler subduing a wild horse, I harnessed my racing thoughts. I forced myself to breath. I reined in my panicked nerves.

When I felt in control enough of myself—or at least when I wasn't fighting for breath—I remembered the curly-haired boy on my right.

"Hey kiddo…kiddo? Andrew, are you alright?" Troy was prodding my arm worriedly, and it was then that I realized I'd stopped walking. Right in the middle of the hallway.

How long had I been standing there?

"Kiddo?" Troy asked again, and his hand stilled as my blue eyes weakly met his dark brown ones. "Are you okay? You just froze up and started panting."

Keep calm.

Keep calm.

"Guess yesterday was worse than I thought Troy," I offered lamely using my Devon-sustained injuries as an excuse for my sudden bizarre behavior.

At the mention of my bully beating, Troy's dark brown eyes flickered with anxiety. "Maybe you shouldn't have come to school today," he suggested concernedly.

Keep calm.

I forced a reassuring smile. "No, I'm fine."

You will act fine.

I focused hard on keeping myself under control, keeping my fraught nerves in check. Troy is a very perceptive person, and I didn't want him to read anymore from the sudden emotions that were swelling inside of me than he already had. Troy had read enough.

That's it. Cool. Collected. Calm.

I tried to act nonchalant. " Troy… how did you know about Christy and Jonas?"

Troy frowned. "From Jonas, of course," he replied in confusion. "Why?"

Keep calm.

"Just curious," I sputtered, trying to seem offhanded. I don't know if I succeeded or not, because Troy's frown just deepened.

Troy had heard about 'Jonas and Christy' from JONAS? Jonas wasn't supposed to tell anyone about 'Jonas and Christy!' He promised!

No wait! ANDREW YOU IDIOT! Jonas promised not to tell about CHRISTY'S POEM! You never made him promise not to tell anyone about Jonas dating Christy!

Troy spoke up casually. "Although, by this time I'm sure half the school knows about him and Christy Cooper."

I stared, suddenly fighting the overwhelming urge to regurgitate my breakfast. "Ha-half the school?" I swallowed hard.

Don't puke. Don't puke.

Keep calm.

Troy rolled his eyes, and his frown dissolved beneath the sudden wave of frustrated disapproval. "Well, more than half the school, by now. See, after that… thing… with you and Devon, Jonas came back to the locker room to change-out, and he was grinning like a moron. He was bragging to the whole basketball team about how his 'good pal Andrew had convinced the greatest girl in the world to go on a date with him.'" Troy shook his curly brown head. "We almost thought Jonas was joking except that Gary and Ray were backing him up."

So the entire basketball team knew about 'Jonas and Christy'? It was only like fifteen guys, right? Not more than half the school— Troy must have been exaggerating.

Unable to stop myself, I was running nervous fingers through the strands of my chin-length flame-colored hair.

"And then all last night, Jonas told everyone he saw in the cafeteria about his news."

In the cafeteria? Why were the students in the cafeteria last night?

For dinner, Andrew. They LIVE here, remember? This is a BOARDING SCHOOL.

Oh. My. God.

More than half of the school probably did know.

Keep calm! Keep calm!

My pulse was spiking, and once again my breath was quaking.

Keep calm! KEEP CALM!

And suddenly the consequences of telling Jonas the truth about 'Jonas and Christy' had increased exponentially. After learning that I, Andrew Josh Stevens, had lied to him—that I had written the poem and not Christy—Jonas would (of course) be furious with me. Livid. Hostile. Disgusted. He'd toss me out of his group of friends like the garbage that I was. And I was prepared for that. I deserved nothing less. But after more than half the school learned that there was no 'Jonas and Christy' (especially after all of Jonas' bragging) and that there was just some prepubescent little boy mooning over him, Jonas would be humiliated. He'd be a laughing stock. He'd be the kid that got pointed at and laughed at until the end of his senior year.

Because of me. Perfect, precious Adonis would be debased. Because of me.

I could see Jonas in my mind's eye. "Oh, gee whiz guys, I guess Christy Cooper isn't going to be my girlfriend after all," he would say, his head downturned, his amber-colored eyes dim. "Yeah and all that stuff I said about how Christy wanted to go out with me? That was my just my very male friend, Andrew writing love poems to me. He's weird and twisted like that. Christy actually thinks I'm a loser—her exact description was a "pathetic puppy-dog". So yeah, after loving her for four years, only to have my heart broken very publicly because of my so-called friend, Andrew, I feel great. And after finding out that the same 'friend' has been hovering around me, fawning over me like the sicko he is— oh, and now that everyone in Gordon Bailey knows this too!— I feel so wonderful that I might just go and shoot myself in the head."

What had I done? How could I tell Jonas the truth now? It'd make him the joke of the school!

But how could I not tell Jonas the truth? I'd made a promise to Katrina that I wouldn't lie.

"Hey, kiddo, I know that you're hurting," Troy's voice, low and sympathetic, broke through my internal monologue. I stared at the boy with the chestnut curls in confusion until I realized Troy was referring to the injuries sustained from my encounter with Devon, not the squeezing pressure on my heart as I realized the blight I'd unleashed onto Jonas' life. "But we need to get going soon or I'll be tardy to my first period."

I nodded dumbly.

We started walking again, or rather Troy walked and I seemed to float alongside him. The entire journey down the hallway to my first period Trigonometry class I found myself in some dazed stupor. Red rows of lockers, white walls, polished oaken floorboards, the pointed fingers and silent stares of my schoolmates: reality seemed a fluttering, transient illusion.

How had this happened? How had I, Andrew Josh Stevens, become responsible for ruining someone as beautiful, as wonderful as Jonas Bartlett?

I'd been prepared to lose all my friends and everything else I enjoyed about my life at Gordon Bailey, but I hadn't anticipating that telling the truth would force Jonas to sacrifice all he held dear.This was why we pathetic losers are always social outcasts: we contaminate others with our crappiness.

All too soon Troy had deposited me at my classroom. All too soon he had handed me my backpack, tossed me a "see you later", and had taken off in the direction of his first class. All too soon I was walking through the red and gold trimmed doorway.

"Hey, kid! Hey, you! Andrew-kid!"

At the sudden call of my name I stumbled in surprise, my ankle protesting at the sudden gyrations. Standing by the door, just inside of the Trigonometry classroom was some guy from class that I didn't know. He was taller than me (who isn't?) with dirty blonde hair and brown eyes.

"Are... are you talking to me?" I asked in bewilderment. The guy had said my name—or close enough—but no one ever spoke to me besides Jonas and his friends. No one else even knew my name.

"Yeah I'm talking to you," replied my unknown conversationalist. "You're that Andrew-kid who got Christy Cooper to go out with Jonas Bartlett right?"

I paled. This guy knew too? How many other people knew?

Keep calm. Keep calm.

"I think that's pretty cool that you got her to go out with him," the blonde haired guy continued; he leaned a casual arm against the red doorframe. "She's so hot. I asked her once myself, but she said no." The guy wrinkled his forehead thoughtfully. "Actually, I don't think she's ever gone out with a Gordon Bailey man before. How'd you get her to say yes?"

I realized that the area directly around the doorway had gotten quiet. Actually, most of the Trigonometry classroom had gotten quiet. Belatedly I realized the reason: the students in the classroom were listening in on our conversation. Straining behind their polished wooden desks, they were watching us. They were watching me.

All the pointed fingers, the silent stares earlier in the hallway: it hadn't been paranoia; it had been real. And those stares, those pointed fingers they made sense. Troy said that half the school knew about 'Jonas and Christy'. That meant they also knew about me. They knew that somehow I had succeeded where others had failed. Somehow I'd convinced Christy Cooper to go out with Jonas: an incredible feat if Christy had never dated anyone from Gordon Bailey before. Christy had even turned down Ray Valentino, the freakishly tall basketball player who was so wealthy that he wore a brand new school uniform to school everyday.

I felt eyes. The eyes of the other boys in the Trigonometry classroom, and the eyes of one particular boy. Jonas.

He was sitting behind a desk in the corner of the classroom, in the area where Jonas and I always sat now. Beautiful. Perfect. Adonis. Happier than I'd ever seen him. He had taken great pains with his appearance today. His dark blonde hair had been expertly styled. His school-uniform was neatly ironed. His honey-colored eyes were glowing ecstatically.

Normally seeing Jonas first thing in the morning was the best part of my day (except for when I saw him during lunch or Spanish or Physics or gym or after school if we hung out or when I watched his basketball practices). Whenever I saw those amber-alighted orbs I felt a great up-lifting bubble of warmth percolating from my feet to my face filling the crags of my body with a feeling of utter contentment.

Today I just felt like throwing up.

Jonas, I need to talk to you.

But before I start, I just want to let you know that I never meant to hurt you.

Here, in this classroom, with all these stares, these pointing fingers, Jonas' bright amber gaze, I knew that I couldn't tell Jonas the truth now. Not at this time. How could I? How could I bare to tell wonderful, perfect Jonas the truth when I knew that it was only a matter of time before one by one each of the students in the classroom got wind of what had happened? As they first smirked, then sneered, and finally all-out laughed? As little by little the brightness left Jonas' honey-colored eyes forever.

I never meant for things to happen as they did.

As he was broken. Ruined.

Because of me.

You're the best friend I've ever had, and I never wanted to intentionally hurt you.

How could I tell Jonas the truth now?

I just wanted to see you happy.

But then again, how could I not? Didn't Jonas deserve the truth?

But the truth would break him.

I just wanted to see you happy.

Too many thoughts. Too many questions.

I just wanted to see you happy.

"Uh… Andrew-kid?" As a large hand tapped my shoulder, the freshly forged bruise exploded in a firey flash of pain, and I was violently jolted back to reality. I was still standing in the doorway. The blonde guy was still talking to me, and he and most of the students in my Trigonometry class were still waiting for my answer.

I just stared helplessly at the blonde guy in front of me, unable to think, unable to speak, unable to still the cold tremors that were shimmying down my spine.

I just wanted to see you happy.

My mind had melted. A single phrase, a mantra of self-defeat, repeated over and over again, that was all that my battered brain could muster.

I just wanted to see you happy.

"Andrew-kid?" Prompted blonde-guy once more.

"He got Christy to go out with me because he's the coolest guy ever," I heard Jonas' deeply masculine voice break through the haze muddling my mind.

Any other day and I would have been uplifted by Jonas' compliment—he thought I was cool?—but I was feeling too wretched to care by then.

More than half the school knew about Jonas and Christy. And when Jonas' peers found out that it wasn't true, Jonas was going to be a laughing stock.

And it was ALL my fault.

Mindlessly, I drifted to my desk next to Jonas.

I don't even remember Mr. Lawson calling the class to order. But before I'd even raised my pencil to my notebook, class was over and Jonas had left for his second period.

I just wanted to see you happy.

…………………………….

The next two periods passed like something out of a horror novel. The news had burned across the Gordon Bailey School like wild-fire. Everyone knew about 'Jonas and Christy'. It seems that in Salisbury, Connecticut Christy Cooper was the catch.

STUPID, STUPID ANDREW.

My one consolation was that Jonas, Gary, and Ray Valentino had kept their words. No one had mentioned the 'Jonas Adonis' poem that 'Christy' had written. Although how that helped matters, I wasn't really sure.

I wanted to tell Jonas the truth. I wanted to come clean, just like I'd promised my older sister. Just like I promised myself.

But even though telling the truth would cleanse me of my lying sin, it would condemn Jonas to a hellish existence. His life would be just as awful as my life in Chicago was. But instead of being ignored by all his classmates like I was, Jonas would be singled out. Mocked. Ridiculed. And like me, he would be bullied—if not physically, then mentally. His pride and his reputation would be shattered.

How could I do that to Jonas? Jonas who'd introduced me to his friends, who'd kept Devin and his thugs from picking one me. Jonas whom I was in love with.

Andrew I don't think Christy will have any qualms about destroying Jonas. If Jonas doesn't hear the truth from you he'll get it from Christy. The first time Jonas talks to his 'girlfriend,' Christy will set him straight, and she'll do it with some sort of embarrassing scene. And then when Jonas comes to you confused and hurt, wondering just why his 'girlfriend' wants nothing to do with him, you'll have to explain what you did. Andrew, you'll still have to tell Jonas about the poem and your lie. So either you can tell Jonas the truth now all at once, or you can wait as the truth comes out in pieces. Either way, Jonas will be humiliated. Either way, he'll become the laughingstock of the school.

Either way it's all your fault.

I sank my head bitterly onto the wooden lunch table. My flame-colored hair enshrouded my face like a cowl.

It was now fourth period and lunchtime. It was the first time I'd seen Jonas since Trigonometry class. And although it didn't seem possible, between first and fourth periods Jonas' smile had enlarged. One look at his exuberant grin and any ill-conceived plans I'd had of even trying to take Jonas aside privately and tell him the truth during fourth period had instantly evaporated from my mind.

Jonas, Gary, Troy, Harris, and I were seated around our regular lunch table. In between the interruptions of other students congratulating Jonas—yet another reason that I found it impossible to speak with Jonas privately—we were trying to hold a conversation. Or rather Jonas, Gary, Troy, and Harris were trying to hold a conversation. I was too broken to talk and too miserable to care.

"So you really think that I have a good chance of being team captain?" Jonas was asking Gary.

As Gary munched down his third lunch tray, he shrugged. "Yeah, I think so Jonas. You're the starting point guard on the Varsity Team, why wouldn't the school vote you in?" The solidly-built boy stuffed an orange slice into his mouth.

Jonas' amber-colored eyes shifted uneasily, and he ruffled his caramel-colored locks anxiously. "I don't know. Just nervous, I guess. I've worked really hard for this, and I really want it."

Did Heaven and Hell really exist? Or were they just made-up places, meant to try and force people to act a certain way? Because Hell couldn't be much worse than my present existence.

"Basketball, basketball, basketball," from across the wooden table the bone-skinny, Harris rolled his eyes. Behind his saucer-sized glasses, the light blue eyes seemed enormous. "Do we always have to talk about jock-things? I mean, I know the Garilla can't help it—his simple brain can't function on a higher level of thinking—but the rest of us? Can't we talk about something else?"

Or maybe there was such a thing as reincarnation? Was the bad karma of some previous incarnation being played out upon me now? Was I being punished?

Gary's blue eyes had twinkled at Harris' use of his hated nickname. "You can talk all you want, Harris," Gary replied jauntily. He ran a quick hand through his messy black hair. "But that doesn't mean anyone is going to listen to you."

Harris scowled.

Or maybe there was nothing going on. Maybe life was just some dark journey, until death laid it's claim upon you.

"Jonas, you know that you deserve the team captain spot," it was Troy's voice that broke into the conversation now. "Diedrick Ryan might be a senior, but you'd make the better team captain; the students will vote you in."

I'd like to believe that there was a god. But then, if there was one, why did so many awful things always happen to me? Why did He hate me so much?

"Hey kiddo, you've been pretty quiet," Troy's voice jarred me from my bleak thoughts. "What do you think?"

There was some small part of me that was relieved that I hadn't told Jonas the truth and therefore hadn't lost all my friends—yet— but the better part of me was too busy wallowing in self-misery to care.

"What do I think about what?" I asked Troy morosely, lifting my down-turned face free from it's concealment of red hair. I peered wearily at the curly-haired boy.

Troy seemed taken aback by my despondence.

"Will I win the team captain slot?" Jonas put in, not even seeming to notice my misery.

During my time at Gordon Bailey, I had learned that the team captain of each sports team was voted in by the student body. Each sports team would decide upon two nominees for the team captain, and then the student body would vote on these nominees. I thought that was an odd way to go about picking captains—why should the student body have a say in who the basketball team wanted for their team captain? Wasn't it supposed to be up to the basketball players?—but according to Jonas it was Gordon Bailey's way of "growing community leaders." The team captain would have to be a leader on his sports team and a leader to the student body. It made sense when I remembered that the students at Gordon Bailey were being groomed to become the next generation of senators and politicians. The boys needed to learn early on how to get large groups of people to vote for them.

This year's Varsity Basketball Team had decided upon its two team captain nominations: Jonas and some guy named Diedrick Ryan. According to Troy and Gary, Jonas was favored to win. Most of the guys at school liked Jonas, and he was a really good starting point guard. It was a given that Jonas would win. That was unless something so embarrassing happened to Jonas that he became the school joke.

And that's were Jonas' "good pal Andrew," the "coolest guy ever" came in. Once word came out that Jonas was not dating Christy Cooper, and that instead his very male friend had formulated the 'Jonas/Christy' idea to mask his own feelings for Jonas…let's just see how ready the student body would be to make Jonas the Joke their basketball representative.

I was starting to realize that Jonas rescuing me from Devon and the bullies the night before hadn't been a good thing. If Jonas hadn't saved me, he'd never heard the 'Jonas Adonis' poem, and this entire mess with 'Jonas and Christy Cooper' could have been avoided. Sure, Devon and his posse would have roughed me up pretty good, but I think it would have been preferable to the mess I now found myself in.

"So, whatdaya think Andrew?" Jonas wondered eagerly.

I just shrugged, too unhappy to even try to be pleasant. Even to Jonas. "Well if things only happen as they're supposed to, you will," I settled on finally, my voice low and surely. "Although in my experience, things never happen as they're supposed to."

Jonas shook his head in puzzlement, the caramel-colored locks fluttering about his face. He wasn't quite sure what to make of my answer.

And Troy's reaction? Troy's frown just deepened at my sullen response, and his intelligent dark eyes appraised me. Assuming that my damp mood was a result of last night's beating, Troy was searching for evidence that my bully-injuries were bothering me. While the other guys had left me alone after I'd assured them I was "okay" after the incident with Devin, Troy had not. The entire day Troy had been my passing-period companion. Although by the end of third period, I had convinced the curly-haired boy that I wasn't so injured that couldn't carry my own backpack, Troy still insisted on walking me to and from every class for the remainder of the day. I had been poor company: brooding, silent, morose. I don't know how Troy put up with me.

"Are you feeling alright, kiddo?" Troy asked seriously, and I really wished he wouldn't waste his concern on a pathetic loser like me.

Pathetic LYING loser. One who RUINS other people's lives.

"Yeah Troy, I'm fine," with the effort of a fisherman trying to reel in a monstrous catch, I dredged up a small smile, trying to reassure the curly-haired boy. However, my feigned grin must not have been convincing because the worry in Troy's dark brown eyes only increased.

I really hoped Troy wouldn't insist on carrying my backpack again. He shouldn't waste his energy aiding someone as loathsome as me.

"Oh man," Harris groaned, and my attention was dragged from Troy to the milk-white boy shaking his head. "Not more." Harris turned ruefully to his roommate. "Jonas, looks like you've got some more admirers."

A group of guys trudged up to our lunch table intent on congratulating Jonas on his luck with Christy Cooper.

Really, why is everyone so hung up on this girl?

Jonas practically swelled with pride. He was smiling so grandly, that it looked almost painful.

The complete opposite, imagine the completely opposite expression on Jonas' face, Andrew. Imagine him crestfallen, downtrodden, shamefaced, disgraced—whatever other synonym that amazing bloody vocabulary that block-head of yours can think of! Imagine that look Andrew. See it? Can you see the look on Jonas' face?

That's what Jonas will look like after the truth comes out, after the guys in the school know that there never was a Christy/Jonas. After the guys at school learn that Jonas was made a fool by some stupid red-headed twerp who claims he's in love with Jonas.

Can you picture the humiliated expression on Jonas' face, Andrew?

You're the cause of it.

After thanking the guys, Jonas' smile faltered a little bit as he asked the boys "Now you guys are going to vote me in as the basketball team captain, right?"

One of the groupies, a guy with short black hair nodded. "Yeah, of course dude! You're like the best guy we've got on the team right now. Not to mention that you've got the hottest girlfriend."

But what if Jonas' girlfriend wasn't really Jonas' girlfriend? And what if Jonas was made a fool in front of the entire Gordon Bailey School? Would he still be voted as team captain? Even though he deserved the team captain slot?

I didn't think so.

And it was then that I knew that I had to do something. I'd caused the problem; I needed to fix it. And as much as I trusted my sister's wisdom and even though I'd promised Katrina I wouldn't lie, I knew that I couldn't tell Jonas the truth. The truth wouldn't help him. The truth would only make things worse. Surely Kat would understand that at least one time in a person's life it would be better for him to lie than to tell the truth?

And now seemed like one of those times.

To keep from being embarrassed in front of the entire school, Jonas needed to get a date with Christy Cooper. To be voted in for team captain, something that Jonas had worked the last two years for and something that he deserved to win, Jonas needed to get a date with Christy Cooper. To keep from seeing that destroyed look in Jonas' eyes when he found out that I had not only lied to him, but I had made him look like a fool, Jonas needed to get a date with Christy Cooper.

The solution to my problem was clear: I needed to get Jonas a date with Christy Cooper.

But how?

I didn't know, but the first step would be going to see Christy herself. It was Thursday and Christy would be leaving Friday afternoon for the volleyball regional championships in Torrington. I needed to halt this black, nimbus cloud of mischief before it crescendoed into a full-blown typhoon. The sooner that I met with Christy, the sooner I could—would convince her to go on a date with Jonas, and the sooner I could hem up the fraying ends of Jonas' reputation.

Considering how hard it had been for me to catch Christy at Mozart's when I had asked her out for Jonas—I'd spent nearly a week loitering about that coffee shop before I'd managed to find the high school princess—I realized that I needed to go to the one place I knew Christy would be. Volleyball practice. After school from four to six thirty in the gym at Salisbury Public High School.

It was settled then. After school, I'd have Grandma Nandine drive me to Salisbury Public High School. I'd find Christy Cooper, and somehow I'd make her agree to go on a date with Jonas. Just one date: that was all that Jonas needed. That was all I needed. I would do anything, whatever Christy wanted, if she'd agree to go on one date with Jonas. After that, I could tell Jonas that Christy "just wanted to be friends" or something.

I did not think of what would happen if Christy refused me again, because failure was not an option. This time Christy would go out with Jonas. I'd find a way.

I had no other choice.

I just wanted to see Jonas happy.

…………………………….

Wow, sorry for the delay with this chapter… like a year. Lots of stuff happened lately, and life has been too busy for much writing lately. Plus this chapter was a real bitch to write (Seriously, over the last year I had three different sets. This chapter was my fav, and it took like 20-something drafts to get right— and I'm still not sure if I like it! But I'm getting sick of looking at it on my desktop. ).

So, if people are still reading this, please lemme know (via reviews of course).

DH