The more time I spent with Kristen, the more I realized that there was something...different about her. When I was with her, I acted and felt differently than I've ever felt with any other girl. We weren't even dating, technically, but she was just so genuine and sincere, so true to herself, so confident and secure. It was a new experience for me, being with a girl who wasn't constantly fishing for compliments, desperate for my attention.
That's not to say that Kristen didn't get both my attention and an endless barrage of compliments, because I just couldn't get enough of her. But now that the compliments weren't being put into my mouth, they were more real, more honest. And they were the truth.
At the strangest, most random moments, I would suddenly feel a shock as my feelings for Kristen seemed to rush over me. I'd be sitting next to her in a booth at the restaurant, listening while she told me about her day, and she'd look up at me, and I would be absolutely unable to resist the urge to kiss her. Or we'd be lying in the back of my truck at night, and she'd fall asleep with her head on my shoulder, and suddenly, as if a switch had been flipped inside, I'd just have to reach out and hold her hand, or run her hair through my fingers, or gently wake her with a kiss just so I could hear her say my name.
You'd been surprised how long it to me to realize. For so long, I'd been skipping in and out of relationships without them ever meaning anything, I think I'd forgotten what it felt like to actually, truly like a girl. But the realization did eventually strike me. I actually liked Kristen. I know, you're thinking 'Well fuck, Kass, it took you long enough to realize!' But what can I say, I'm honestly a bit of a dumbass in relationships.
But it was the truth: I cared about her, and I thought about her, and I liked her. In that way that makes you feel like an idiot because every time you see her, your hands get sweaty and you actually worry about the fact that she probably thinks your hair looks like shit, and when you're not around her, you can't stop thinking about her.
I might have been deluding myself, but as time passed, I told myself that she was becoming more affectionate of me, that she actually had feelings for me, too. But despite my hopes, there were still those moments when she seemed to be second-guessing herself, re-analyzing me, trying to re-evaluate her decision to be with me. And those moments would always end up with a conversation in which she wondered about me and worried about Josh finding out and I talked her out of her worries, breathing a sigh of relief when she finally conceded. We'd be sitting there kissing, and she'd suddenly pull away and tell me, with a stern look on her face, just why we should end our relationship.
"Danny, I'm cheating on my boyfriend here. I'm not that kind of girl."
I placed a kiss behind her ear. "Well, I mean, since you are actually doing it, maybe you are that kind of girl."
She scowled and crossed her arms over her chest. "Do you realize what you're implying by saying that?"
"I...I'm not saying you're a whore or a slut or whatever you're thinking. I'm just saying, this relationship, or whatever this is between us, maybe it means something. I mean, I've already learned something about myself. I realized that I can be serious about someone, about just one girl. You. And that's something, right?"
"Danny, what are you saying here? Are you trying to say that this...between us should be telling me that I'm a cheater?"
"No, I'm saying, maybe there's something about you that you can't find with Josh that you can find with me. When we're together, I see something in you that I don't see when you're with Josh. Passion." I kissed her temple and nipped gently at her earlobe.
"Yeah, because that's all there is between us, Danny. Passion. Lust."
I raised my eyebrows. "Are passion and lust really such bad things?"
"No, they're not."
"They're good things."
"Yes. But they can't be the only things." She threw her hands up in exasperation.
"Are they the only things between us? Is that true? Are passion and lust the only things you feel for me? Because honestly, that's not all I feel for you. So tell me, is that all you feel for me?"
"I...I don't know, Danny. I just don't know."
"Well, think about it." I kissed her. "Here, let me give you a little more to think about." I grinned devilishly, slipped my hand to the back of her neck and tilted her head up to mine, and kissed her with growing intensity.
"Kristen, dinner's ready!" My mom called to me.
I lifted my head off my pillow to respond. "I'll be down in a minute!" I lay back and sighed. I'd been so stressed lately, and I think it was starting to show. I still felt sick and tired all the time, and worrying about that, about Danny, and about Josh was certainly enough to drive me crazy. Luckily, Thanksgiving was only a week away, which hopefully meant at least a short break.
Monday night at the restaurant, Danny had asked me to come to a party with him over the weekend. (Of course, we would be the only two people who would know that we had come together, since we'd enter separately and spend as little time together as possible, but that didn't matter to Danny. He still wanted to ask me.) The host of the party, however, was a close friend of Josh and Ben, so I was already planning to go with Josh. Danny was a little disappointed when I told him, but he asked me to try to find a way to meet him at the Lot either before or after the party, and frankly, when Danny sets his mind to persuading me of something, he's pretty hard to resist. So somehow, I would find time for him on Friday night.
"Kristen! Come down for dinner!" My mom yelled, irritated now.
"I'm coming!" I shouted back, grumbling to myself as I rolled onto my side and sat up. As I rose to my feet, the muscles in my lower back cramped painfully. I rubbed my hand in a small circle just above the waist of my pants as I walked down the stairs and into the kitchen.
My parents were both already seated, and they looked up at me expectantly, my mother's expression irritated. "Thank you for joining us."
I sat down and chose not to respond, knowing that if I opened my mouth, the only thing that would escape would be a snide remark.
For a few moments, the only sounds were the scrape of silverware and the clink of water glasses, but my mom finally cleared her throat and pasted on a smile and a falsely upbeat voice and declared, "I spoke with Drew today!"
I gave a noncommittal murmur and nodded, stabbing a piece of chicken.
"Really? How's he doing?" My dad asked, glancing back and forth between me and my mother, clearly uncomfortable by the tension.
She smiled and picked up her water glass. "Well, we had a nice long talk, he said he's been busy lately but he's really enjoying his classes. He said that the workload is pretty heavy but that he's keeping up all right." I rolled my eyes now that I know the secret to my brother's success. "He has one lecture early Wednesday morning, but he said he'll be leaving as soon as it's done, and then he'll spend Thanksgiving and the rest of the weekend here."
"Good." My dad nodded. "We'll have to ask him about how he's doing in his sophomore year so far. I'm sure he's doing fine."
"It'll be so good to see him." My mom smiled affectionately. "Won't it, Kristen?"
I looked up at her and forced a huge smile. "Oh, yeah, it'll be great." Just great to have my perfect brother around so you can be reminded of how much of a disappointment I am. Wonderful. Happy Thanksgiving. I sulked, staring at my plate. When I looked up, my parents were both looking at me expectantly, and I realized that someone had asked me a question. "Oh, what? I'm sorry, I just zoned out for a second..."
"I was just asking how Josh is doing lately? We haven't seen so much of him." My mom smiled, she and my dad loved Josh. He was like another son to them. They were thrilled about my relationship with him. Sometimes I wondered if they wished he was their second child, instead of me.
I ignored it when my throat tightened in guilt at the sound of his name and smiled. "Oh, Josh is good. He's just busy, you know, senior year and college applications and work and everything. I've been busy and stressed lately; we just haven't had much time to spend together." Well, at least none of that was a lie.
"Ah, well, he knows he's always welcome around here." My mom smiled genially.
My dad leaned closer to me. "Now that you mention it, you have been looking a bit drained lately, are you alright? You don't think you're coming down with anything, do you?"
"Oh, honey, we'd hate to have you get sick at the holidays." My mom pursed her lips sympathetically.
"No, really, guys. I'm fine. Just stressed." My voice broke slightly and I swallowed. "I'm sure it's nothing, really. I'm fine." I forced a smile and picked up my glass; my mouth suddenly felt dry.
"Well, if you're sure. I could always schedule you an appointment with Dr. Nash, just in case." My mom offered.
I shook my head forcefully and pushed back my chair. I had to get away from this conversation. I wasn't hungry anyways; in fact, the smell of the food was making me nauseous. "No. Really, no doctor's appointment. It's really nothing, I'm sure. I'm perfectly alright." I stood up, carried my dishes into the kitchen, and rushed back up to my room.
I only wish I could convince myself of my own words.
Despite the fact that every night that week Danny used his most manipulating persuasion techniques, I refused to agree to let him spend any substantial amount of time with me at the party on Friday night.
When Josh and I showed up, Josh took my hand and led me through the front door and through the downstairs. We went into the kitchen, where a group had accumulated that included Chris, the host, a group of jocks, and Emily and Ben. At the perimeter of the group were Danny, Alan, Pete, and a cheerleader who I vaguely recognized, who had draped herself over Alan's arm.
As Josh and I passed by them, Alan and Pete both said hello to me, and I smiled in response. "Hi guys. Hey, Danny." He looked at me and allowed his eyes to linger on my hand still clasped in Josh's. He looked into my eyes for a moment and then turned and walked away into the next room without saying a word. Feeling hurt by this blatant shun, I stared in his wake. Josh hadn't stopped walking, pulling me with him, and when I looked over my shoulder at Alan and Pete, they both just shrugged at me, giving no explanation for Danny's behavior.
We reached the center of the crowd and Josh greeted his friends. Emily rushed up to me and hugged me, leading me to a less crowded corner. She automatically started sniffling and tearing up, barely able to contain her tears and too worked up to speak. After a few minutes of anxious prodding on my part, the story finally emerged: Evan, the guy she'd had a crush on for months, had come to the party with another girl.
I immediately pulled out two chairs from the kitchen table and sat down across from Emily, taking her hands in mine and doing my best at consoling her, even though I was awfully distracted. Just when I finally had her convinced that Evan wasn't good enough for her anyways, he wasn't worth her time, and she'd find someone else much better soon, I looked out of the corner of my eye and saw Danny enter the kitchen.
Emily was nodding and taking a deep breath. "You're right. Evan's an ass. I don't need him." She smiled at me and leaned forward to hug me. "I'm going to get something to drink, you want anything?"
"No." I said, rising out of my chair. I stood on the tips of my toes, looking over heads to try to find Danny. He finally passed into my vision, but then I saw that he wasn't alone. A girl was hugging his arm, following him. He somehow noticed me, almost like he could feel me looking at him, and he gave me a pointed look, like 'You did it to me, I'll do it to you,' and led his busty new friend out the door to the backyard.
I took a deep breath and released it slowly, closing my eyes and slowly sinking back onto the chair. He had every right to be with other girls. I mean, it wasn't like we were exclusive; I had a boyfriend, for heaven's sake!
But I couldn't deny it, there was a twinge of jealousy deep inside me.
I shook my head, brushed my hair out of my face, and stood up, smoothing my shirt. "You're being ridiculous, Kristen." I mumbled to myself, picking up a water bottle and moving into the living room to look for someone to talk to. I didn't need to know about what Danny was doing. I'd just find something else to distract me.
Half an hour later, I was trapped in a conversation with a girl from my Calculus class. She wasn't even really a friend, more of an acquaintance, and the conversation was the kind of conversation you have with people you only know from class; we had nothing to talk about but our teacher, or homework, or the last test.
I was bored out of my mind. I took a swig from my water bottle and looked around the room, hoping for an escape. I was just turning back, defeated, to continue talking to Katie, when I spotted Danny walking through the doorway, looking slightly bedraggled, his hair disheveled. I wanted to look away, but my jealous eyes just had to keep watching, to see if that girl was going to follow him.
He was alone, though, and he went over and started talking to a group of guys, but not before he shot me a look that I couldn't decipher.
When I turned back to Katie, she was looking at me with an apprehensive expression on her face. "So..." She glanced over at Danny. "I've seen you and Danny hanging out lately..."
I looked at her sharply. How could she possibly know? Where had we gone wrong? "What do you mean?" I tried to keep the panic out of my voice.
"Well, I've seen you guys talking some at parties lately, that's all."
"Oh. Yeah." I smiled in relief.
"So you and him, you're like, best friends or something, right?" Katie asked, looking over at him.
I looked across the room at Danny, laughing and talking animatedly to the group around him, thinking about the relationship between us. We'd never had to define it before, and I wasn't sure either of us knew what we'd say if asked. But 'best friends' seemed to fit, in an odd way. "Yeah. I guess we're something like that."
I was going to do it, I really was. That girl, Alicia. I would have slept with her. We were out in the gazebo in the backyard, and we got pretty close, but all of a sudden, it struck me that I wasn't doing it for myself, because I didn't even know Alicia, much less like her at all, and I didn't want to do it. My only reason was to get back at Kristen. Which was totally irrational, because she didn't do anything to me. She just came to the party with her boyfriend, which she is totally entitled to do. I mean, I knew what I was getting myself into when all of this started; I have no right to be jealous.
But too bad, I was jealous anyways.
But Alicia wasn't the solution. When I pushed her hands away from my belt buckle, she looked surprised and maybe a little bit disappointed, but not devastated or offended. We went inside and she wound her way over to a group of friends, probably to tell them about how she hadn't slept with Danny Kass, probably one of the few girls at the party who actually could say that. I forgot about her and found some friends to talk with.
I looked across the room and saw Kristen talking to someone, but they were interrupted when Josh appeared behind them, took Kristen's elbow, and led her into the hallway. I stepped a little to my left so I could see them.
Josh looked tense; he was pacing a little bit back and forth in front of Kristen. She looked agitated and slightly defensive to whatever he was saying. Kristen started talking and it was clear she was answering a question that had irritated her. She was waving her hands around and pointing at herself, leaning forward at the waist and staring menacingly at Josh. This was what I called 'Kristen in ass-kicking mode.' I'd seen it plenty of times before.
Josh responded angrily and Kristen gave one last retort. When Josh didn't say anything else and instead just glared at her with his arms crossed over his chest, she sighed and threw up her hands, stalking away. Josh watched the back door swing shut behind her and shook his head, turning and walking in the other direction.
After only a moment's hesitation, I followed Kristen, emptying and discarding my second cup of beer.
I slowly eased the door open and shut it behind me silently. Kristen was sitting on the porch steps, her body silhouetted by the porch light. She was huddled up, her arms wrapped around her upper body. She looked cold, after all, this is November in New Jersey, of course it's cold at night.
"Hey." I said.
Kristen jumped and spun to face me. "Oh! Hi, Danny." She smiled up at me, her face glowing in the yellow light.
"So. Can I sit down?" I gestured at the space next to her. She smiled and nodded, and I sat down, a little closer than was probably necessary. Yeah, maybe now wasn't the best time for that, but hey, I'm a man of opportunity. Plus I was a little bit drunk. "So. I saw you, uh, talking with Josh. What's his problem?"
Kristen sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "He's just...he was asking me about how I know Pete and Alan. It's nothing. He's just worked up tonight. He's had too much to drink."
"Guys do that." She nodded and stared ahead. I stared at her profile.
"Yeah. You especially." She looked over at me with a coy smile. "God, how many times have I had to rescue you from the clutches of your own clash with alcohol?" She shook her head and chuckled softly, her bangs falling into her eyes. "God, men and alcohol. Sometimes I think I should swear them both off."
I leaned closer and brushed her hair out of her eyes. "But where's the fun in that?" I kissed her lips chastely and then caressed the soft skin of her neck with my lips, resting my hand on her thigh. She rested her hand against my jaw, but instead of pulling me closer, like I expected, she pushed me away.
"Danny, don't. I have a boyfriend, and he's here tonight."
"Yeah..." I trailed off, twisting her hair around my finger. "I wanted to talk to you about that, actually."
"About what?" She looked at me warily.
"About you and that other boyfriend of yours. See, here's the deal. I just...I've realized something, Kristy. I don't like being the guy you sneak around with behind your boyfriend's back. I mean, I know I'm a dick in relationships, but still...I want to be your boyfriend, not the other guy." She was staring at me in disbelief, completely at a loss for words. Which definitely didn't make the situation awkward at all. Not.
But I understood her feeling that way. I mean, I don't know when I've ever said something so sincere to a girl. Probably never, now that I think about it. But it was all the truth. I didn't like it, not being able to know that she was mine, that I could show her off to people and be allowed to be proud that she'd chosen me.
Her silent stare wasn't wavering, and I started feeling awkward and uncomfortable.
So, of course, I did the easiest thing I could think of. I started kissing her neck again.
"Don't, Danny. Dan, stop. Not here, not now. Josh is here tonight." I stopped kissing her but rested my forehead against her temple. "Danny, I'm sorry, but it's just that-"
A voice screamed behind us. "What the fuck?!" Kristen shot away from me faster than I would have though humanly possible, stood on the bottom stair, and spun around, staring. The expression on her face, the look of terror and shock, told me everything.
Josh. Josh had seen us. Josh had found out.
My heart started pounding loudly, but I refused to turn around. I don't want to sound like a pussy, but to be honest, I was too scared of what would happen to me if I did. Josh was taller than I was by at least a few inches, and if it came down to a fight, I was almost certain he'd have the advantage. If he decided that the solution was to kill me, well then, time to start writing my obituary.
"Josh. Josh, please don't jump to conclusions." Kristen was pleading, placing her hand over her heart.
"What the hell am I supposed to think?" He shouted. "Fuck, Kristen, I just found another guy kissing you, how do I not jump to conclusions?"
I did not like the way he was talking to her. My hands clenched into fists on my knees.
"And you! Get the fuck up. Stop hiding like you're not a part of this." I heard the scorn in his voice as he spoke to me. And I did not like the way he was talking to me.
I rose to my feet and turned slowly to stand next to Kristen, facing Josh, two against one. But I didn't feel like Kristen and I had any kind of advantage over her furious boyfriend.
"Josh, let's not do this here, okay? Let's all go somewhere where we can talk, okay? Please?" Kristen said meekly, looking more submissive than I've ever seen her.
"No. You're the one who decided to come out here and sit with him," Josh pointed his finger sharply at me, "while there's a house full of people behind you, so this is where we're going to do this." Behind him, the door was partially open, and the people inside were looking out at us, unable to resist the pull of a good bit of gossip. And there's nothing like a secret affair and a heinous public fight to start people's tongues waggling.
And boy, did we give them something to talk about. I don't know how long we stood there, insults and accusations flying back and forth (mostly between Kristen and Josh, I didn't think I should get in the way. I only got involved when something was said to me, or when Josh said something that really pissed me off.)
In the final blow up, Josh got up in Kristen's face and shouted at her, "Forget it! I'm finished with all this bullshit," and stormed angrily through the crowd, who glanced awkwardly between his wake and Kristen and I, still standing on the steps.
I turned to her and placed my hand on her elbow, but she shrugged me off and stalked down the steps, disappearing around the side of the house, wiping furiously at her eyes.
My hands dropped to my sides and I watched helplessly as she left.
"Wow." Someone whispered just inside the door. I turned and glared in their direction, and people suddenly turned away from me, but they didn't stop whispering or glancing at me over their shoulders.
I sat down again, my back to the house, trying to think. After a few minutes of scattered, meaningless thoughts, Alan and Pete dropped down, one sitting on either side of me.
"Well fuck. I never would have though you could keep a secret, Danny. Especially one about you sleeping with a girl." There were hints of both mirth and solemnity in Pete's voice.
All I could think to say was, "I haven't slept with her."
"Yeah, but something's going on with you two. Obviously, based on that little demonstration." Alan waved his hands around, as if encompassing the entire deck and the fight that had just occurred there.
"Yeah." I nodded. They were waiting for me to elaborate. I wasn't sure how to. I wasn't sure I wanted to.
"Well, are you going to tell us about it?" Pete swallowed half his can of beer and burped.
"We're just...we're not sleeping together, we're just..." I shook my head, unable to explain.
"How long?" Alan asked.
"Couple weeks." I looked down at my hands.
"No way! You've been making out with her for weeks, and you didn't tell us?" Pete looked utterly shocked.
I nodded. "That's right."
"Fucking crazy, man." Pete said, finishing off his beer.
'I feel the same way.' I thought to myself. 'Fucking crazy, that's what all of this is.'
Absolutely, positively, no doubt in my mind, the worst weekend of my life. And now, Monday morning, and it's only going to get worse.
My mind was racing as I drove to school. I hadn't seen Danny since the party, and I didn't know what we'd do or what to say to him. Obviously, I was mad at him for breaking the one rule I'd laid out from the very beginning: No intimacy of any kind whenever there's a chance someone might catch us. But still, it wasn't really his fault. Not totally. I mean, when I really think about it, I know somehow, Josh would have found out, so I can't really blame Danny. It wasn't totally his fault, I was just as much a part of it as he was.
I just wish I could make myself believe that this was going to be easy. I knew it wouldn't. People were going to know, they'd certainly be talking. I didn't know how I'd deal with it, what I would do about the accusations. What happens now?
I pulled into my parking spot and saw Danny standing in the space next to it, watching me pull in. I sighed and rolled down the window as he stepped closer. We were motionless for a moment, his elbows resting on the window frame, one of my hands on the steering wheel and the other in my lap.
"So. How're you doing?" He asked.
"Well, so far today, kind of bad. But I can say, with pretty strong certainty, that it'll only get worse all day."
Danny sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry, Kristen."
"I know you are, Dan."
"So what happened all weekend?"
I sighed. "Saturday, Josh and I officially broke up. Sunday, my parents asked me why I was so moody, and when I told them that Josh and I broke up, they were visibly disappointed. They just really liked Josh. He's ever parent's dream for their daughter, you know?"
I saw the muscles in Danny's jaw clench. "So do they know about me and how I fit into all of this?"
"No, not yet."
"Right. Because I'm every parent's nightmare, right?" He laughed bitterly.
"No, Danny." He still looked defiant and unconvinced. "Look, Danny. Don't be like that, okay? This is all hard enough for me without you acting all insecure. Everybody else I know is mad at me. The last thing I need right now is to add you to that list. Okay? Josh is furious at me and probably already planning my murder, Ben is mad at me for cheating on his best friend, and Emily's mad at me because she didn't know. And my parents are mad at me because I'm just an all-around disappointment to them. And to top it all off, now I'm going to have to deal with what everyone else thinks of me. I'm sure people have been talking about me all weekend, and I'd been willing to be that the entire school knows by now. From now on, I'm going to be known as the slut who cheated on her boyfriend to sleep with Danny Kass and then got caught."
"We haven't slept together."
I rolled my eyes. "Duh, Danny. I know that, and you know that, but nobody else does. And face it, people know about you. And you know about other people. They'll make assumptions and jump to conclusions. The more scandalous the gossip, the better."
He groaned. "Sometimes I hate this school."
"I know what you mean." I shut off the car and we both fell silent, each of us thinking. Finally, Danny looked up at me.
"I...are we...what are we now, exactly?" His question caught me off guard. Frankly, I'd been wondering the same thing all weekend, what would happen between Danny and me, but for some reason I didn't expect that the idea would cross his mind that anything would change between us. I guess I underestimate him sometimes.
"I...I'm not sure. I mean, this is going to be really hard to deal with as it is, and I don't really know what's the best way to deal with it. I mean, people probably expect us to start dating. But..." I swallowed and looked into his eyes. "I'm not sure I'm ready for that, necessarily. I mean, just not right away."
"It's not like we're not almost going out as it is. And people already know. And you know, I meant what I said on Friday night. About wanting to be your boyfriend, not just some guy you fool around with." He smirked. "I know it sounds crazy, coming from me, but I meant it."
I looked away, smiling. "Yeah. I'll have to think about it for a few days, okay, Dan?"
He looked a little disappointed, but he nodded. "Yeah, sure." We smiled at each other.
I looked up at the school and took a deep breath. "So. You ready?" He looked over his shoulder at the groups of students standing around the lawn and rushing through the doors.
"Yeah, I guess so. You?"
"No. But the bell's going to ring soon, and I'd rather not add a detention to what promises to be a really shitty day, so we might as well get going." I grabbed my backpack from the passenger seat and got out of the car, locking the doors.
"You want me to let you walk in alone, or come with you?" I made me smile that he asked, that he cared about me and how I dealt with this, that he was trying to make it easier for me.
I looked into his eyes and tried to smile. "Guess we might as well go in together. People are going to give us shit about us, we might as well make it easier, so they can talk about both of us behind our backs at the same time. You know, so they can kill two birds with one stone. Save their breath."
Danny cracked a smile at my dry humor and nodded. "Alright, let's go." He started off with his lazy, loping gait and I walked next to him, tension and apprehension growing in me, my stomach clenching.
People standing in groups in front of the school fell silent as we passed, and a slow wave of whispers followed us as soon as we had passed. Everybody stared. Danny was calm and relaxed. I know that he was used to people watching him and talking about him, with how popular he is, but didn't it make a difference that now the things they were saying were certainly nasty, mostly untruthful rumors?
I'd heard the kind of things said about other people when this kind of thing happens, and now that I was the subject of that gossip, it terrified me, thinking of the things being said.
We reached the front doors and Danny held it open for me to walk through ahead of him. People in the hallway turned to stare at us. Everyone was watching as Danny and I walked toward my first class.
I told myself that I needed to be strong like Danny, to ignore them. I didn't look at people, didn't bat an eyelash. I was doing well. And then I heard it. The words that I knew were running rampant through the halls like a plague. I knew it would eventually come out, but I had no idea it would hurt me so much and make me feel so small.
"Who knew Kristen was such a slut?" It was whispered behind me, I'm sure the girl saying it didn't think I'd hear her, but I did.
My eyes pricked with tears and my shoulders tensed. Danny looked over at me; he'd heard it too.
"Kristy." His voice was deep, reassuring.
I couldn't look at him. What if he agreed with what we'd heard? Maybe this whole time, he'd been spending time with me, thinking that I was a slut for cheating on my boyfriend. I mean, yeah, he seemed fine with it at the time, but he is a guy, after all. And guys will do practically anything for a few kisses.
"Kristen." He sounded stern this time. He stepped in front of me so that I couldn't keep walking. "Hey." His voice got louder, people stopped pretending they weren't looking at us and started staring blatantly.
"What, Danny?" I asked quietly, glancing at him and then down at my feet.
"Don't listen to them." We were close to my classroom. I started to turn away, shaking my head and avoiding everyone's eyes, especially Danny's. He wouldn't have that, though. He took me by the elbow and turned me to face him.
"Danny, stop. Let me go to class, okay?" Now we were really causing a scene.
"No. Not until I say this. Don't listen to anything anyone says about you. They're all wrong about you. I know who you are and what you're like, and they don't. You said it this morning, they're going to say things just because they can, not because they're right."
I stared up at him. Somehow that was just the right thing to say. It didn't make it better, and it didn't make everything go away, but it sounded right. "I just wish this day were over already." I murmured, looking down at Danny's hand on my arm.
"I know, me too. Just don't listen to people. And remember that I'm on your side, okay?"
"Okay." I smiled. "Thanks, Danny."
"No problem, Kristy." He hesitated and then stepped forward and hugged me tightly. When he pulled away a second later, he frowned. "Sorry. I shouldn't have done that. It'll only make people talk more. Sorry."
"No, it's...it's okay, Dan."
His eyes brightened slightly. "Oh. Okay. See you later, then."
"Bye." I turned and walked into my classroom, ignoring the eyes focused on me as I walked to my seat. This was going to be one hellish day.
During my first period class, we took a unit exam, which thankfully kept me distracted and my classmates quiet. After I turned in my test, I lay my head down on my desk and tried to relax, thinking about the things Danny had said. He's on my side.
The bell rang and everyone gathered their bags and pushed out the door and into the hallways, where the volume of the voices gradually grew. After my talk with Danny, I'd been feeling a little better, a little reassured that maybe it wouldn't be so bad. I felt that way all the way until I walked out into the hall. I could feel peoples' stares, eyes boring into the back of my head and hear snippets of gossip whispered just-too-loud behind my back.
I knew they were talking about me. Voices fell quieter as I passed, but they weren't quiet enough that I didn't hear my name, didn't hear the murmurs of 'she totally cheated on him...' '...having sex for months,' and '...going to kill Danny.'
Gossip in this school spread like wildfire, and the moment someone told a story, each person who heard it stretched it some, added a touch, made it more exciting; the sex hotter and the fights bigger.
As I walked down the hall to my locker, I could feel embarrassment burning in my cheeks, fury curling my hands into fists. I swung my locker door open angrily. I switched my books, organized my locker some, just so I could spend maybe another minute alone, away from the scrutiny.
Finally, the warning bell rang and I was forced to go to class. I went to history, grateful that my seat was in the back of the room so that at least if people were talking about me, they wouldn't be able to look at me without being obvious. I drew out my textbook, forcing myself to look busy and ignore the attention and stares that I felt being directed at me from every person who entered the room. People were gossipy, like they are after every weekend, but the atmosphere was different, as they were trying to talk about me without me suspecting. Of course, that assumption was completely bogus.
Even Mr. Gramstaed noticed, despite his being buried in his own history-centered world. He stood behind his podium, eyes narrowed and arms crossed over his chest. The late bell rang and he stomped to the door, slamming it shut, as was his usual fashion. He stood there for a moment, eyes flicking around the classroom suspiciously.
I avoided his eyes, focusing on the top of my desk, as if even he might somehow deduce what was going on and then pass judgment on me. I felt terrible.
My misery followed me all day, to all my classes. Everywhere I went, I could feel my humiliation growing as people talked about me, told the versions of my story that were so far from the truth that I wondered how they could possibly believe them.
Before my last class, I breathed a sigh of relief as I spun the combination on my locker. Only one more class, and it was Photography, so even if people were talking about me, as least I had something to distract me.
I opened my locker door, surprised when a folded piece of paper fluttered out and landed at my feet. I leaned over and picked it up, apprehension rising in me. Were people really stooping so low as to give me hate mail? Unbelievable.
I glanced around me and unfolded the note.
Scrawled in sloppy, slanted handwriting were four words: I'm on your side.
A grin spread across my face and I shoved Danny's note into my back pocket, grabbing my books and heading to Photography with my head held a little higher that it had been all day.
The gossip mill cranked out some of the most unbelievable stories I'd ever heard. And people, against all laws of logic, actually believed them. Some people seemed to think that Danny and I had been having this affair since freshman year, even before I had started dating Josh. Some people thought Danny and I were planning to run away to the west coast, and I even overheard a rumor that our parents had arranged for Danny and I to be engaged since birth and that we had been in love for most of our lives.
By Wednesday, I was accustomed to (but still not happy with) the gossip that followed me around. Thursday was Thanksgiving, and we had a half-day of school on Wednesday and no school Thursday or Friday. When the last bell rang at noon on Wednesday, I found Danny waiting for me by my car.
"So I was thinking." He said the moment he saw me.
"Uh-oh, don't hurt yourself." I smirked as he feigned hurt. "You're awfully out of a practice on that thinking thing."
"You're evil." He grinned.
I shrugged. "Anyways, tell me what you were thinking, Einstein."
"I was thinking that you haven't answered my question yet."
I leaned my back against the driver's door and Danny took a step closer to me. "What question? When did you ask me a question? I was unaware that I was supposed to be coming up with an answer."
"On Monday, I asked you what we are now, and you said you'd have to think about it some." He looked awkward. Imagine that, Danny Kass, looking awkward and nervous about whether or not a girl liked him. Unbelievable. "So um, have you thought about it?"
"Yeah, I've thought about it." I shrugged indifferently and Danny looked at me warily. He was going crazy waiting for an answer, I just knew it.
"Well? Are you going to tell me?"
"I'll tell you when I want to tell you." I said coyly, tossing my hair over my shoulder and turning to the car.
"Oh, no. I've been waiting for an answer since Monday. Since Friday, really. You'll tell me when I want you to tell me." He spun me around and pinned me to the car, hands on my waist and lips against mine. It was hot. It was hotter than it should have been, considering we were in the school parking lot and people were guaranteed to be watching. When Danny finally ripped his lips from mine, he simply raised his eyebrows and stared me down. "Well?"
"Well, um." I panted slightly and then grinned. "You guessed right."
And this time, I kissed him. Right there, in the Vernon High School parking lot. In front of God and my fellow students and probably a few of my teachers. Less than a week after breaking up with my boyfriend of four years. Here I was, kissing Danny Kass and feeling like it was just so damn right.
"Well, I guess that's settled." Danny grinned, his eyes slightly unfocused and a goofy grin on his face. "So, now that you're my girlfriend, whaddaya say we uh, go somewhere?"
"Do you have any suggestions?"
"I don't know, how about we go to your house. It's getting too cold to just hang out at the Lot all the time."
"All right. Get in your truck and follow me there." I turned back to my car but stopped halfway. "And what exactly do you have in mind?" I raised an eyebrow.
Danny leaned close and whispered in my ear, his breath feathering through my hair. "I'd tell you, but it's just not right to talk about that sort of things so near a school." I gasped and could feel my cheeks warming up. I swatted Danny's arms just before he stepped out of my reach in the direction of his car.
I paused for a moment, biting my lip. Did I really want to bring Danny home with me? It was the day before Thanksgiving; my parents might decide to come home early. And I knew they wouldn't approve of Danny. It's terrible, but they'd pass judgment on him based on their first impressions, and that didn't bode well. Besides, they were still upset about my breakup with Josh, I didn't think they'd approve of me having a new boyfriend so soon. It would just be easier to keep them in the dark about Danny for a little longer.
"Um, hey, Dan?" I called tentatively at his back.
"Yeah?" He was still grinning when he turned around to face me.
"Um, could we, maybe, um, go to your house instead?" I flipped my keys in my hand.
He raised his eyebrows. "Any reason?" He gave me a look that said he understood.
"Um." I looked at my shoes. I felt terrible telling him that my parents wouldn't like him.
"Your parents, right? They might be home, and they'd just be too traumatized by your new boyfriend to cook the turkey, right?"
"Danny, please don't be mad at me." I pleaded.
He smiled a lazy smile. "I'm not mad. Really, I get it." He walked up and put his hands on my elbows. "Let's just go to my house, okay? We'll be fine there."
I smiled innocently up at him. "Okay." He winked and then walked off to his car.
Half an hour later, we were on the Kass family couch, acting in a decidedly un-innocent way, when I thought I heard something in the next room.
"Danny." I mumbled, running my hand through his hair, and gently pushing his hand away. "I heard something."
"No you didn't. We're the only ones here." He kissed me deeply, and for a minute, I forgot what I was thinking. But then I heard it again. It was definitely footsteps.
"Danny, stop. There's someone here." Just as I was forcing him to a seated position next to me and combing my fingers through my hair, an older woman and a college-aged guy walked into the room. I hurriedly pulled my shirt down over my stomach, smoothing my hair. I looked murderously at Danny, who looked as shocked and bewildered as I felt, but to add to his less-than-appealing look, his hair was sticking up all over the place.
Danny stared for a few more seconds before finally dropping his face into his hands and muttering, "Shit."
"You should listen to your girlfriend, Danny, she's smarter than you are." The guy said, stepping forward and extending his hand to me. I numbly reached out and placed my hand in his. He gave me a firm handshake, smiling at me slyly.
"Kristen, this is my brother, Matt." Danny said, motioning between us. "Matt, Kristen."
Matt nodded in my direction and I smiled at him. "It's nice to meet you." Matt looked exactly like Danny, they were even the same height, only Matt was a few years older. It was uncanny. Same olive skin and dark hair, the wide smile and laughing eyes. "Danny's told me about you."
I looked at Danny. Beneath his hands, his cheeks were turning bright red. "Really?"
"Yeah." Matt grinned knowingly as Danny looked up at him and mouthed a curse at his brother.
"I saw that, Danny." The woman said, stepping around Matt and looking down at me. "I'm Beth Kass, Danny's mother." She held her hand out to me and smiled, but I felt like that smile held something back, that she was waiting to pass judgment on me or reveal too much about herself until she knew more about me. Which was understandable, of course.
She was a petite woman, I'd say about three inches shorter than Matt and Danny, so I guessed that her height was about five foot three. She had fair skin which contrasted with her dark hair and eyes. I shook her hand and responded with a hello. She turned to Danny and cleared her throat. Up until now, he'd had his face buried in his hands, staring at the floor between his feet, but he suddenly looked up at his mother. She raised her eyebrows. "Danny, can I have a word with you?"
"Sure." He said resignedly. "I'll be right back, Kristy." He gently tugged a strand of my hair affectionately and followed his mom into the kitchen. I noticed that she closed the door after them.
I sat back against the armrest and sighed.
I'd forgotten about Matt being in the room, and I jumped as he collapsed at the other end of the couch and grinned at me in a big-brotherly way. "Don't worry, she'll loosen up some once she realizes you're not like the other girls." He picked up the remote and turned on the TV before looking at me askance. "You aren't like the other girls, are you?"
He had a playful smirk on his face as I laughed awkwardly. "No, I don't think I am."
"Good. I didn't think you were." Matt smiled and turned back to the television, flipping through the channels. Golf. Skipped over that quickly. Wheel of Fortune. Chuckled and skipped over that. Soap opera. Laughed loudly and changed the channel. Basketball game. Paused for a moment, and then moved on. "Mom just worries about him, you know. He's her baby boy, you know; all that stuff." Matt gave me a sly grin. "I mean, because of...well, he's your boyfriend, you know how he is." Matt gave me an indecipherable look and turned back to flipping channels.
I sat there, pondering, trying to figure out if there was a message hidden in Matt's words, if he was trying to tell me something. Danny came back into the room, took my hands, and leaned over to whisper in my ear. "You wanna go somewhere else?"
"I think that's a good idea." I stood up and Danny put his hand on the small of my back.
"Matt, Kristen and I were just thinking about going out to eat somewhere."
Matt laughed. "Yeah, I could tell that by the way you two were talking when we walked in." I blushed and ducked my head, but Danny just casually flipped his middle finger at his brother and laughed, "Just tell Mom I'll be back later, okay?"
Matt rolled his eyes but nodded, kicking back on the couch. Danny led me out of the house and down to the street where his truck was parked.
"What did your mom want to talk to you about?" I asked self-consciously.
"Oh, she was just asking me about you." I must have looked concerned, because Danny laughed lightly. "Don't worry, she just wanted to know how I knew you and how long we've been together, and just...what you're like. I told her about your photography, she was impressed by that." He kissed me behind the ear. "Hey, Kristen?"
"Hmm?" I murmured, relishing in the feel of Danny's body so close to mine.
"I really am hungry." I rolled my eyes. Guys. All they ever think about is sex and food.
"Fine, I guess we'll go eat. Where do you want to go?"
"I want waffles."
"You want waffles? At..." I grabbed Danny's wrist and looked at his watch, "at one o'clock in the afternoon?"
He gave me a childish grin. "Yep. Waffles. Let's go to that waffle house out on the highway."
"Alright, whatever you say." I shrugged.
Danny unlocked the doors and walked around to the driver's side. I was just buckling my seatbelt and Danny was turning on the radio when he said offhandedly, "Oh, by the way, my mom said she wants you to come over for dinner sometime soon."
Dinner with Danny's family. The dreaded 'Meet the parents.'
So much for a relaxing Thanksgiving break.
Well let's step outside,
Let's go for a ride,
Just for a while.
No we won't get caught,
Well that's what I thought, until we cry.
I'm still here,
But it hasn't been easy,
I'm sure that you had your reasons,
I'm scared for this emotion,
For years I've been holding it down,
For years I've been holding it down.
I know, it's been a month. Anyways, this was the chapter we were all waiting for! Woot woot, drama! I was going to have this chapter go on even longer, but it's already longer than most chapters, so I figured it wasn't necessary. I'm starting school on Tuesday (junior year!) but that means that updates will probably be less frequent, since I'm taking a crazy difficult course load. Anyways, love my reviewers, love the girls at the fanfic forums and s-white forums. This one is for my sister, cause I love her.
Thanks for reviewing: Krystal, J'adore Monsieur Blanc, You'll.Never.Know, brunettefrenchgirl, xoxo1, givelifeyourall, Scarlett MacDuff, and Kimberli Kitten.