Chapter Twenty-eight:

Shelby laughed as the class burst into applause following the end of the oral part of their project. Christian pinched her side lightly and Justin picked up the large poster board they had drawn their chart on.

Their reaction project was the most anticipated one of the year, and when word got out that they would be giving the oral presentation today, many students got passes from their other class so they could cram into the last period Psyche class and witness the infamous project told by its creators.

It was a raving success. Justin had edited the video footage that was taken, and allowed the students to see the actual kisses of many of the subjects, some of whom had showed up in the class for the presentation and had turned bright red when they appeared on screen.

After turning in her opinion essay, the final part of the project, Shelby started back to her desk, with Christian's warm hand on the small of her back the entire short walk. She took her seat, and he leaned down and pecked her quickly on the lips before taking his own seat. Those who witnessed the small gesture of affection giggled and awed at the couple.

Shelby just smiled and rolled her eyes at all the romantics in the room. It had been a month now since the Homecoming dance, and still the school was abuzz with gossip on Shelby and Christian. They were now the hottest couple in the school, even surpassing Emily and Elliot, who had been frequently disappearing together at odd times during the day since Homecoming weekend. Shelby wasn't stupid, and she only grinned knowingly at them when they re-emerged, their hair disheveled, and clothes slightly askew.

Although the whole Jake-fiasco and newsworthy incident on Homecoming night had put Shelby in the spotlight, it was the homecoming dance that the students at Southern Heights High School couldn't seem to stop talking about.

Claire had been all over Christian from the moment they picked her up at her house. She was giggly and bouncy, and really just her natural-self. But, something was definitely off about her as well.

Normally, Claire was just a ditzy girl who didn't think before she opened her mouth. But, that night, she was just down right rude and demeaning towards Shelby. She made snide remarks about Shelby's hair, make-up, dress, and even the incident with Jake.

Everyone could see that Christian was getting more pissed as each word slipped out of the pretty blonde's mouth. His hands had clenched into fists and he was ready to punch something.

It was half-way through the evening when Claire touched the flimsy crown on her head and commented about how no one else at the school had a chance at beating her at Homecoming Queen, when Christian exploded.

"Are you out of your fucking mind?" he roared, his eyes alight in fury.

Claire cocked her head to the side and giggled. "Sweetie, what are you…?"

"Don't call me sweetie! I'm not yours! I don't give a fuck about you! And the only reason you're homecoming queen is because Shelby removed her name from the list! She's ten times hotter than you are! But, you're just too damn stupid to see it!"

Claire's mouth dropped open and she gaped at Christian, tears flooding her eyes.

Shelby, too, was in mild shock over her boyfriend's explosion. She didn't agree that she was ten times hotter than Claire, but she sure the heck wasn't going to openly disagree with him.

Claire's bottom lip trembled. "This is…this is all part of the project."

"The project's over!" Christian bellowed. "This has nothing to do with the project! I love Shelby. She is my girlfriend! Not you. Never you, Claire. I'm to the point, I don't even want to be friends with you!"

"You…you, you can't pick Shelby over me! She…she…."

"She what? She's gorgeous, sweet, smart, funny, beautiful, loving? What?"

"She…..she doesn't date guys like you," Claire whimpered.

Christian took a menacing step towards Claire, and Shelby darted her eyes around the gymnasium. The music was still blaring, but most of the students were gaping at them, dancing completely forgotten. "Christian," Shelby's voice quavered in a warning tone.

Christian's tense shoulders relaxed somewhat and his arm reached up and wrapped around Shelby's waist. "She didn't date guys like me because girls like you made her think she wasn't good enough. Well, let me tell you something, Claire, you've always been in Shelby's shadow. I knew that on my very first day at this school. You might walk the walk, talk the talk, and dress the part, but its Shelby that all the guys in this school want. Not you. So, just get over yourself already!"

"Christian stop," Shelby demanded, her voice soft, but firm. "That's enough."

Christian moved his other arm so he had Shelby completely enfolded in his arms. He nuzzled her neck, breathing in her scent and calming him immeasurably.

Claire watched the scene, her eyes, for possibly the first time, seeing the care and affection in Christian's eyes as he gazed upon Shelby. The tears that had pooled in her eyes escaped and a loud sob bellowed from her lips. She covered her mouth with her hand and ran away.

"Dude! You're so awesome! I've wanted to say that to Claire forever!" Paul cheered, stepping out of the crowd of students, and thoroughly surprising Shelby. Paul never came to dances.

A small murmur of agreement erupted from the crowd, and Eric came forth, a wide smile plastered on his face. "I would've voted for you for homecoming queen had you been on the list. I even looked. I didn't think they'd really take your name off," he admitted.

And that was how it was for the rest of the evening. Students, some she knew and many she didn't, approached her, telling her they wanted to vote for her, and had been disheartened when they couldn't.

It was an eye-opener for Shelby. She had long ago accepted that she would never be as pretty as her sisters. She had always thought that guys thought of her only as a friend. It was shocking when Elliot had whisked her away on a dance towards the end of the night and told her that almost every guy in the school had had a crush on her at one time or another.

Her head didn't inflate. She didn't, all of a sudden, decide she was better than everyone. But, she did find herself walking a little taller, smiling a little brighter, and relaxing a little more. For the first time, she didn't think there was something wrong with Christian for liking her the most out of everyone. Sure, she couldn't quite understand what the big deal about her was, but now, she was more willing to accept the fact that she wasn't an ugly loser who could only get the attention of nerds and freaks.

She liked Christian and he liked her, and that was perfectly normal.

The teacher's voice cut in to her thoughts, and Shelby readjusted herself in her chair, turning her attention back to the man at the front of the class.

"I have a very exciting announcement to make," he started, his voice loud in order to be heard over the students still talking. The room quieted, and he continued. "This year, the University of Illinois offered a scholarship into their elite psychology department to one of our students."

Shelby's breathing stopped as she looked at her brother's back. Was it? Did he get it?

"I am pleased to announce," Mr. Stevens continued. "That Mr. Justin Thornton has won this scholarship. He blew the professors away with his analysis essay he wrote for submission."

A loud cheer exploded in the classroom. Students got out of their seats and rushed to Justin, congratulating him and patting him on the back. When there was room for her in the mess, Shelby jumped on her brother, hugging him and exclaiming how proud she was of him.

After a few minutes of the loud chaos, Mr. Stevens called for everyone to return to their seats and he held up a sheet of paper. "I have here, the entire essay. It will be published in the university's newspaper, along with a short announcement that Justin won the scholarship. Now, the essay is quite long, so I will only read the opening paragraph, however, I will post this on the board, and I highly encourage everyone to read it."

Justin paled and turned around to face his sister. "Shelby, I love you, and think only the best of you," he told her in a hushed voice.

"What?" Shelby asked in confusion, but just then, the teacher began to read…..

Who makes a good psychologist? Is it people who attend school for six to eight years? People who spend day and night reading book after book on the human mind? Are psychologists truly made or are they born? Can anyone become an outstanding therapist, or is a certain mind-set needed?

Me? I personally believe that some of us are more in-tune to those around us. We are introverts. We watch. We see what others don't. We interpret and silently explain each and every action a person makes. We can adequately surmise what a person is about to do before they know themselves.

I say we, because I am one of these people. An introvert, a watcher, an analyzer. Call me what you will. I grew up in a large, rambunctious family, and due to health problems, was often on the sidelines watching. It was how I preferred it. Through the years, I learned to see each and every one of my siblings for who they truly are. I knew what they were thinking, what they were doing, and what the consequences would be. It was very rare that any of them ever surprised me. It was through this practiced knowledge that I gained the insight into my sister's mind.

My sister Shelby is an amazing person. She's funny and charming. She is loved by so many, but she never really understood that. I knew how low her self-esteem was, and I was growing tired of watching her make one bad decision after another because of it. It was during my psychology class that the opportunity to force her out of her shell emerged.

It didn't take a genius to see that our third partner had a crush on my sister, and with a few well thought-out obstacles tossed in our way, I began my own separate project. In this essay, you will see how simple words and events helped build my sister's confidence and pull her out of the shell she had lived in for much too long.

Mr. Stevens stopped reading. "Is that not a remarkable introduction?" he gushed. "Okay, I'm leaving this on the board. All of you should read it! I, myself was surprised at the sheer genius of this analysis. Shelby, really, you should be so honored to have a brother like Justin."

"Oh, I'm honored," Shelby hissed, her face colored in anger and embarrassment.

"Shelby," Justin started. "I needed this scholarship. You know how much it meant to me."

"You used me!" she spat in a low voice so only he and Christian could hear.

"You're fascinating! I knew I'd get in if I wrote about you," he defended.

"This whole time….the whole project, it was all set up so you could get a good analysis for your paper," she said in a low voice, the realization just now hitting her.

"I did, and I don't regret it. Our project was the biggest hit in the school, and Mr. Stevens has already said we're getting an A on it, and I won the scholarship."

"You manipulated everyone!" she hissed.

"So? No harm was done," Justin retorted.

Shelby gaped at her brother and turned towards Christian. "Can you believe this?" she asked her boyfriend.

"That was low man," Christian told Justin.

Justin shook his head. "I don't regret any of it. Look, it got you two together!"

"We could've easily gotten together without you interfering," Shelby argued, though deep-down a part of her wondered if it was true. Justin had forced them together because of the project, when she would have normally run away.

"Are you sure?" Justin asked her cockily, only igniting her anger more.

The bell rang, and Shelby stood up from her seat. "I'm happy for you Justin. You won your scholarship, we got an A on our project. I just want you to remember one thing."

"What's that?" he asked, looking up at her from his sitting position.

Shelby took Christian's hand and started towards the door. She turned her head and looked over her shoulder. "Payback's a bitch."

Justin gulped. It was going to be a loooooong year!

The end.

a/n: It's the end, folks! I wanted it to be better, I'm not really thrilled with it. I always had it planned that Justin's true intentions would come out at the end, but I'm not sure if I'm happy with the way I wrote it. Maybe I'll fix it later. The gist of it all is there anyways.

There won't be an epilogue. I think everything worked its way out well enough without one. Also, if I do a sequel, there really is no reason for an epilogue.

Anyways, I hope it was good enough for all of you. I'm still undecided on who I will be basing the sequel on, so if you have a favorite, let me know.

BIG, HUGE, MEGA-THANKS! To all of you who have reviewed. It makes me happy….and a little concerned….that so many of you share my weird sense of humor! And to those who don't quite share my insane humor, but still left constructive criticism, that was lovely as well. So once again…..