There was no one in the world that Keri DeGiovanni hated more than Alexander Vidal.
Actually, the level of dislike had gone far beyond that of hatred years ago. Keri despised him. Abhorred and loathed his very existence to the point where she thoroughly believed that life – her own life – would be so much happier if he just disappeared.
Dying, she realized, was just not an option anymore. She didn't want people to give him more attention because of his death, and she had a feeling that even if he did happen to get into a fatal accident, his ghost would come back and haunt her. She certainly wouldn't want that. Alex being alive was enough. In death, he would be even more annoying.
Alex was the give-me-your-lunch-money type of bully that every normal child would want to just erase from their memories for the rest of their lives. And Keri thought that was possible. Except after elementary school, their district placed them in the same middle school, and eventually, the same high school. There was no escaping him.
Ever since Keri was little, there had always been a major incident that she remembered; a twinge in her memory that categorized the entire year. For example, the in the first grade, he pushed her into the mud on picture day. In second grade, he'd flipped up her skirt during recess in front of the other children, which resulted in the reason why Keri never wore skirts. Ever. In the third grade, Alexander had stolen her journal, wrapped it, and given it to her crush at the time, resulting in the most humiliating Valentine's Day of her life. Fourth grade, it was worms for lunch. Fifth grade, it was the sprained ankle that resulted from being "accidentally" shoved down the stairs. It took her out of her elementary school's track run, which didn't make sense to Keri at the time since unfortunately, they did go to the same school.
But she always did have one person to count on: her best friend, Nicholas Carr. They had met in kindergarten, and he had comforted Keri always on the days where Alex's bullying would get the best of her. When she was teased by the other girls for having a crush on Nicholas, she didn't care. He was the one thing, the only thing the girl had going for her.
So up until the sixth grade, Keri's parents and teachers all thought that by the brutal torture Alex put her through was his way of telling her that he liked her, so she was forced to let every horrible day of her childhood go unpunished. But when they entered junior high school, Alex had done the unforgivable and stolen her best friend. That incident pulled the last straw in Keri's tolerance and blossomed her hatred.
Which was why when she found a shirtless Alex with his arms around her bare body and no recollection of the night before, she was a bit surprised. No, she more than surprised; she was appalled, disgusted and outraged. The ceiling fan swirled the faint smell of alcohol with the unmistakable scent of Alex's Hollister cologne.
Her own personal drum line played an epic cadence on the inside of Keri's skull, confirming the assumption that she had been drunk when…whatever happened, happened, and it was the slightest bit relieving to know that she wasn't sober. Although it wasn't much of a comfort since the deed was done. Keri just needed some kind of justification to ease the panic of the current situation.
"Great," she mumbled. Sweeping the Power Ranger blankets off the bed to cover herself, Keri glanced at the floor, trying to find her undergarments amongst the mass of clothes. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Clothes littered the floor to the point where there was no carpet even visible. She couldn't tell if they were dirty or not, or even if they were hers. Being the kind of boy who wore tighter jeans and smaller shirts, Keri was willing to bet that even though he towered over her, they wore the same size in everything.
"Alex! Wake up!" cried a muffled voice that Keri recognized as Nicholas. She heard footsteps thundering up the stairs; he was louder than an elephant stampede. "Agh, not on the carpet!" he bellowed back down stairs, a retching sound confirming that it was probably to some poor soul who hadn't reached the trashcan in time.
Keri managed to find her bra and clip it on just as Alex began to stir. He sat up, a mess of caramel tangles and month-old home-done dirty blonde highlights and knots framing his face. "Keri? What're you doing here?" He yawned, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. She whipped around, still covering herself with the blanket as he was asking the dumbest question in the world. Taking a moment to notice his bare bed and lack of clothes, the look that crossed his face changed from confusion, to guilt, to panic in a matter of seconds. Keri rolled her eyes and flung him a pair of plaid boxers, not caring if they were clean or not.
Alex didn't seem to care either, slipping them on without a word. There was a long pause as he seemed to be looking around for something. "Here," he said, seeming to have regained his trademark confidence as he tossed her a pair of Paul Frank boy shorts. Keri grunted a thanks as she pulled on her underwear, still hidden by the covers.
She kicked around a few of his clothes for a few more seconds, aware that he was eyeing her smugly, watching every curve of her body as she did so. Keri turned to him, deciding to ignore his snide look. "Have you seen my clothes?"
"I don't remember what I was wearing last night, let alone what you were wearing," Alex shrugged, not really seeming to care. He seemed satisfied that she had noticed him staring, and swung his legs over the side of the bed, digging around the floor for a pair of jeans.
Keri shot him a glare that would have made young children cry. The muscles in Alex's back flexed ever so slightly as he lazily sorted through piles of clothes, smelling a few to check if they were clean or not. He tossed the dirty ones aside. "Not like I could find anything in here anyway," she muttered, kicking up a shirt and throwing it onto the bed. "You wear tighter clothes than girls."
"Why, Keri DeGiovanni, from the very little that I recall from last night, you seemed to enjoy yourself here." He had shot back less aggressively, but there was a certain tone, the taste of arrogance and triumph that she remembered feeling on the tip of her tongue, in his words that made her cringe with disgust. "No girl could ever make you—"
"The only reason why you get laid is because the girls you sleep with are wasted," she said the last word with a sense of accomplishment, cutting him off before the alcohol she consumed ended up on the floor. "No one would ever dream of touching you sober," she added icily, thrusting a hand on her hips for victorious effect.
Before Alex had the time to put his sharp tongue to use, the door flew open, Nick bursting in with a cell phone in hand that blared Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. He paused in his tracks as the alarm started again. Keri flushed, not knowing who to glare at anymore as Alex grinned smugly, holding up a pair of jeans that he'd yet to slip on yet. Nick burst out into laughter.
"Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go?" Alex asked, ignoring his friend for the moment. He chuckled slightly, a certain mocking tone jumbled up in between. "I never would have guessed that you were an eighties girl."
Keri rolled her eyes in response, frustrated at the entire situation. "How was it?" Nick asked, leaning against the doorframe as he rubbed his face, half unsure of the scene in front of him. He was expecting to wake up from one of his crazy dreams soon.
Assuming that he was speaking to her, Keri opened her mouth to respond, but Alex beat her to the punch: "Screams like a banshee." Keri shot him her nastiest look yet, but Alex was so used to it that he was unfazed. She had no argument though, no defense, since she really didn't remember much except for the fact that she was pissed drunk.
Realizing that it was a Monday morning, Keri glanced at her clock: 7:47. School would start in less than fifteen minutes. Muttering a stream of profanities, Keri picked up a shirt and a pair of jeans from the floor. Pretending as though they weren't the garments of Satan himself, she slid the shirt on with ease, pulling the too-long jeans up her hips. She began to roll up the legs, realizing that he was actually a size or two bigger than she was.
"Need help getting into my pants?" Alex asked from the bed. He was still clutching the same pair of jeans in his fist, not bothering to get dressed.
"When you find my clothes, let me know," Keri said, ignoring him as she shot him a final glare. She snatched her phone away from Nick, and her car keys off Alex's nightstand. Keri cautiously tiptoed down the stairs, careful to avoid shards of beer bottles and stale vomit. She wasn't surprised to see that a few people were still in his house, passed out over his furniture, unable to sober up enough to drive, or even to call for a ride home.
Keri stopped at the foot of the stairs, unsure of the safest way to get to the front door; there were retching sounds emitting from the kitchen, and the remains of a beer bottle fight – shards, combatants and all – strewn across the living room floor. Realizing that she had no time to waste before school started, she crept past the beer fight remains, stepping into her neon Nike SBs, which thankfully, weren't stolen.
The front lawn was an even bigger mess than the inside of the house; toilet paper rolls were tossed about, the lawn speckled red with the plastic cups Alex had used to administer drinks. There were even people littering the yard; Keri guessed that they had attempted to walk home, not realizing that they had only moved about a total of ten feet from the front door to their immobile state on the grass.
Rolling her eyes in disgust, Keri swept a few cups and toilet paper off her car before sliding into the driver's seat. She closed the door and took a deep breath, taking advantage of the silence and familiar air of her 2003 Toyota Camry. When she opened her eyes, she looked up to see Alex – still shirtless and not looking like he was going to get dressed anytime soon – waving at her from his bedroom window.
"Ugh," she groaned, starting the car. There was no time to speed home, change, brush her hair and apply at least a little bit of make up to her washed out face before school started and she was more than sure that her current appearance – hair in a disarray, the scent of alcohol wavering off her being that was currently clad in Alexander Vidal's clothing – would get the rumors flying.
Keri's first day of her senior year was not going to be a pretty one.
"Who has a party on a Sunday anyway?" Isabella Cabato asked as she walked with Keri to lunch. The day had passed by rather normally, excluding the rumors that had spread like a wildfire the moment she walked through the doors. People – girls in particular – whispered about her, but no one had talked to her to confirm the truth. They all made their assumptions about her; created some make-believe reputation of her that blackened her slate. And frankly, Keri could care less for people like that. As far as she knew, she didn't have a 'slate'; she was Keri and that was all.
But if any girl were to ask her about last night, she was glad that it was Bella. Bella had actually been the first person to talk to her all day.
"It was one of those last-day-of-the-summer parties," Keri waved her hand for emphasis on how casual it was supposed to have been. She plopped down in her seat and popped open her soda, brown fizz pouring over the top. "It was a little drinking and dancing, that's all."
Bella sighed. "Of all the weekends for Great Uncle Monty to croak," she complained. At parties, it was usually Bella who watched after Keri; she knew Keri's drinking limit wasn't exactly as high as the girl would have liked it to be. Although Bella was always too drunk to remember much, she knew that she always took care of Keri, keeping the girl from death-by-alcohol.
Keri liked to say that it was Bella's Russian side that enabled her friend to have the alcohol tolerance of a cow. She could out drink any of the jocks and partygoers at their school; only, they didn't like to admit being beaten by a girl.
"You look like you had fun, though," Bella teased, eyeing Keri up and down. Keri scowled, and Bella giggled, handing her friend a brush. There was a silence between them and Keri knew what was coming: "How was it? I heard he's supposed to be fantastic." Bella said in a hushed, excited tone, making a firework hand motion to accompany the last word. "Not that I would know personally, of course. I'm not that lucky. But I want a break here! Give me the juicy details."
Keri sighed. "I already told you: I don't remember," she said just as softly, turning to stare her friend in the face as though trying to communicate the truth with her eyes. To Bella, it seemed impossible that Keri forget a night spent with Alex Vidal, as if he were some kind of god on earth. "And even if I did, I wouldn't want to."
"I don't understand you sometimes, Keri. I know girls who would kill to end up in Alex Vidal's bed! Remembering it is one thing, but they'd be happy nonetheless! Whatever quarrels happened between you two—"
"Bella, in first grade, he—"
"That was more than ten years ago, Keri," Bella cut her off, having heard her elementary school story more than a hundred times throughout their high school career, "I'm sure he doesn't even remember doing those things at all. Forgive, don't forget, but jeez, Keri, let it go! You're the most talked about girl in school right now!" Keri gave her a look as though to say, that's supposed to make me feel better? Bella added, "They're all jealous because they want to be you." She sighed. "It's been awhile since I've heard stories about Alex waking up in the same bed as girls he's slept with. I think you're the first in a while. You're special."
"Oh, joy." Keri scowled. Bella had no idea. "I'm sure if he could, Vidal would have sex with all the girls in school. I wouldn't be surprised if he already did. Killing each other for a one-night-stand with that douche just isn't worth it." Keri shuddered in sheer revulsion, crushing her empty soda can on the table. Like a machine gun, she shot looks at everyone staring at her – boys and girls alike – before finally turning back to Bella. "You know what? I don't even want to think about that scum. It makes my stomach church."
Bella laughed. "Get ready to vomit."
Keri was just about to ask what in the world her friend was talking about when Alex plopped down into the seat across her. He hadn't bothered to fix his knotted hair, leaving it in a mess that only he could pull off as stylish, and had on his most charming smile, catching Bella's attention. But he ignored her, continuing to grin at Keri.
"What are you doing here?" Keri said dully, shoving her face with mashed potatoes – she loved mashed potatoes – as though the sound of food going down her throat would drown out anything Alex would have to say.
"I came to tell you that I couldn't find your clothes," Alex replied a little too loudly for Keri's liking, confirming the rumors to a group of girls who were apparently eavesdropping on their conversation. They began whispering wildly, shooting Keri glares, while Keri clenched her fist, resisting the urge to slam it into the boy's face. He shrugged, chuckling at her rage. "You asked."
"You get yours back when I get mine," she said, half-hoping that she had taken a favourite article of clothing that she could use against him to get back her clothes.
Alex shrugged. "Fine. Come to think of it, I didn't even try looking for yours."
The three sat in silence for a while, Bella continuing to ogle the boy, Keri continuing to shove mashed potatoes into her mouth, and Alex continuing to grin, even as he followed in suite, beginning to eat from his own plate. Keri raised an eyebrow, realizing that he didn't seem to be leaving anytime soon. Her face contorted into something short of disgust and irritation, but she didn't speak, as not to provoke any vulgar remark he would announce to the entire school. But then again, it wasn't as if the entire school didn't already know about the night before.
"So," Bella started, feeling the need to break the heavy silence as she smiled sweetly. Keri had always commented about how her friend could be on a Colgate commercial; her teeth were perfect. "How was the party?"
Alex turned, finally acknowledging Bella. He shrugged nonchalantly, his suggestive smirk contradicting the feeling he wanted to emit. "It was all right. I know Keri here had fun."
Keri spoke before Bella could ask any more humiliating questions. "Go away."
"I think you're going to need this first." Alex held up a black tote bag, which she recognized as her own. It was strange; she didn't even realize that she hadn't had her bag all day.
"I didn't even know I brought that," she muttered, picking it from his grasp as though it had been contaminated with nuclear waste. She carefully dug through her bag, as if expecting there to be a can of snakes in it, and was honestly surprised that everything was still there. She even opened her wallet to count her cash.
"Woah, Keri D, you actually think I'd steal your money?" Alex asked, pretending to be hurt.
"Why not?" she shot back. "You've stolen everything else."
Alex didn't get what she was implying; she could tell by the blank, puzzled stare on his face. Keri blinked, breaking eye contact, before slinging her bag over her shoulders, standing up abruptly. Her chair made a loud scraping noise against the marble, attracting more eyes, but at this point, Keri didn't care. "Thanks for returning my bag, I guess."
Alex stood up also, still wearing his prize-winning smile. Bella was allured by it -- she was practically drooling over the guy -- but Keri was not; she had learned to become immune to Alex's charming ways. "I guess I'll see you around then," he said, holding his hand out as though expecting Keri to shake it.
She looked at it as though something had crawled on it and died before pivoting on her heels and stalking off in the opposite direction. Bella frowned and threw Alex a sheepish look, obviously embarrassed by her friend's behaviour before chasing after her.
Alex swept a few strands of his caramel hair from his face as he watched them leave, not moving until the doors closed behind them. After all these years, he still had no idea why Keri hated him so much, and it was that fact that bothered him sometimes. But he refused to let it affect him; she was just another girl who had a bone to pick with him. He had to admit that there were girls that hated him, but there were a greater number of girls who yearned for him.
He spun on the balls of his feet and turned, sauntering towards his usual table. Just as he was used to, a handful of girls paused conversation with their friends to ogle him during the ten-step walk to where his friends were seated. He caught eyes with each of them, a smirk forming at the corner of his lips. But Alex didn't speak to any of them, swinging his legs over the side of his table, pretending like he didn't notice them, in that smooth, mysterious way that he had learned to pull off so well. He basically had the entire female population pining after him, and he didn't need anything else.
Especially not Keri DeGiovanni.