Cecily pushed her dyed-black bangs from her face and into a purple headband. She glanced wistfully at her eyeliner before knocking it onto her bathroom floor, removing the temptation to put in on. Instead, she took her fourteen-year-old sister's makeup case. She opened it, and brushed one slender, pale fingertip across the purple eye shadow. She nearly shuddered at the glittering mess on her finger, but swallowed her horror and slowly painted it onto her half-closed eyelid.
She repeated the steps with her other eye, and then looked at her reflection. In the white button-down shirt and non-threatening eye makeup, Cecily figured she looked almost normal. But what was normal nowadays?
Well, Cecily was most certainly not normal, at least not by the standards of Suburbia, America. Maybe the norm at a Panic! At The Disco concert, or an alleyway in the middle of the night.
But Jared, Jared didn't go for that type of normal. The alleyway-in-the-middle-of-the-night normal. Jared went for tiny-footed, tiny-chested, tiny-brained, red-haired girls.
And really, Cecily was not any of those things by any stretch of the imagination. Well, okay, her feet weren't huge. She was only a C-cup. And her natural hair color sort of had some red in it, in the sun.
But Jared had never noticed these things, had he? Behind the makeup, Cecily was not ugly. Even with the makeup, she was not nearly as frightening as an emo-type girl with an iPod permanently attached to her ear ought to look.
Her cell phone rang as she dashed down the front steps to her car. Sliding into the driver's seat, she answered it. "Hello?"
"Ciss, where are you?" Jared's voice sounded tinny and impatient through the phone.
"Sorry, sorry, I'm coming," she said, buckling her seatbelt.
"It's okay," he said, more relaxed. "We just can't start without you anymore, Ciss, you're our inspiration."
Cecily smiled at this for a silent, perfect moment before she broke it by saying, "Alright. I'll be there in ten." She flipped her phone shut and started the car.
Exactly seven minutes and thirty-two seconds later, Cecily parked at the curb in front of Jared's mom's house.
"I'm here," she called, opening the door.
The boys in the living room grinned at her, and one-- Joey-- said, "Well, come in. We haven't got all year."
Cecily blushed and sat on the floor next to the coffee table. She pulled out her notebook and pen. "Alright. So, what's on for today?"
Cecily wrote songs for the boys' band, Honor Student Bumper Sticker-- Joey's idea, after about three illegal beers (they all were, after all, only seventeen.) No one had liked the name at first, but it kind of grew on them after all.
Cecily didn't want to be arrogant or anything, but before they let her help write their songs, they kind of sucked. Their lyrics consisted mainly of "baby baby, fuck fuck," and Cecily, needless to say, had given them a little more class.
The boys all stared at her. Uncomfortably, she said, "What the fuck is wrong with you people?"
Joey blinked as Henry swallowed awkwardly, reaching into a bowl of chips and shoving a handful into his mouth. Kenny simply took his eyes off of her and surveyed his guitar. Then Jared came in from the kitchen. "Did I hear our songwriter enter the building?" he said, eyes glued to his iPod screen.
"Yep," Cecily said, still way weirded out by the boys' reactions.
Then Jared set his iPod down and looked at her. And then he froze. "Ciss," he said, sounding slightly strangled. "You look different."
Cecily shrugged. "Yeah. Is it okay, or too weird? Aw, god, I knew I couldn't pull it off."
Jared shook his head. "No, you pull it off just fine," he mumbled.
"When the hell did you become a babe, Cissy?" Joey asked, finally seeming to find his voice.
She smiled sarcastically. "Oh, Joseph, I have always been a babe," she said in that ironic tone she carried so well.
But the fact was, she thought that maybe she had. But no one could tell. And she was glad she'd decided to go through with it, because really, it was worth having to listen to Joey salivate just to see the stunned expression on Jared's face.
"So, er," Jared said.
"So," Henry repeated, coughing. "Yeah."
"You're all idiots," Kenny observed quietly, still watching his guitar. "She just wanted to look like she didn't think it was Halloween all the time, for once."
Cecily was still trying to figure out if that was an insult when Jared said, "Shut the fuck up, Ken. Cecily can do whatever she wants with her face, with the eyeliner or not. It shouldn't matter. It doesn't matter," he corrected.
"Chill out, Jared." Joey said. "Dude, he's just saying, you know. She looked kinda like a Panic! groupie before. It was a good look on her, sure, but she's, um… maturing? She, well, she… doesn't need that make up to be who she is."
"Exactly," Cecily said triumphantly. "Can we just get started, please?"
"I think we should write a love song today, guys," Joey said. "I feel the mood."
"Fine. Whose love, then?" Cecily waited, her pen poised above her paper.
"General?" Jared suggested.
This was met with various affirmatives, and then it began. See, songwriting for Honor Student Bumper Sticker was a huge event. They had to plan the premise of the song, then find the exact right words they were looking for, and finally get it down in a rhyme—or at least a rhythm. Sometimes, these song-writing parties took all night—there was many a time when Cecily had to call home to tell them she was spending the night with Kimberly—Jared's older sister, and Cecily's pretend-best-friend.
The girls used each other constantly as excuses to be at each other's houses—Cecily for the band (and Jared,) and Kimberly for Cecily's older brother, Oliver. Kim and Oliver had been best friends for ages, but their parents wouldn't let them stay over at each other's houses unless their siblings were somehow involved Cecily would quickly fall asleep on the sofa when it was at her house, leaving Kim and Oliver to spend it however they wanted to. At Kimberly and Jared's house, Kim rarely even came downstairs when the band was there, and Cecily would have to stay up all night discussing with Joey whether or not one really could rhyme "shoulder" and "hold of her."
"Risqué" was his favorite song.
"Boy's point of view," Henry said.
"About a girl," Joey added.
Kenny rolled his eyes as the boys glanced in his direction. "I don't care. If the lead singer is straight, the song should be straight. That's all I think."
"Jared's straight, right?" Cecily teased.
"Actually, there's something I have to tell you guys," he said, feigning nervousness. Joey's eyes widened until everyone laughed. "Retard," Jared told him, punching his shoulder lightly.
"Jared's the straightest dude I know," Kenny said helpfully, eyeing Cecily slyly.
"Okay, okay, enough," Cecily said. This, she thought, could be the reason writing a song took so long. "Any ideas?"
"So you can only imagine how jealous my mouth is!" Joey sang.
"Shut up, Joseph, we're not biting off them, got it?" Henry rolled his eyes. "They aren't even that good."
"They're kinda hot," Cecily supplied. Kenny nodded indiscernibly. "Okay," she continued. "I think we should start off with some emo-type kid—"
"We always write about emo-type kids," Joey complained. "How about we write about Jared?"
Jared scoffed. "And he thinks I'm not emo."
They stared at him a moment before Cecily intoned, "You're right. You and Bubbles of the Power Puff Girls have your own emo grunge band you're not telling us about."
They all laughed, even Jared. Cecily smiled. She liked making Jared laugh. "All right," Henry said. "Jared. Ciss, write this down." He waited as Cecily poised her pen against the notebook. "I think I'm so cool."
She wrote it. "And she might think I am too," Joey said.
Cecily copied it down as well. "But everyone knows I'm just a loooooser," Kenny mocked. "This is crap, you guys. I think… that we should write a song about Cecily."
"What?" they all said, looking at the girl with the pen.
"Yeah," Kenny continued. "It wouldn't have to be about Jared at all, of course. But it would be a love song written for Cecily, by Cecily. And us, of course. But everyone knows that Ciss ends up writing most of the song, anyhow."
"She likes to dye her hair," Joey suggested.
"Always has black to wear," Henry rhymed.
"Acts like a total bitch," Joey teased.
Kenny strummed a few chords. "First two lines are good, third is crap," he said, not looking up. "Try 'being around her makes me start, to feel a flutter in my heart.'"
"I've only just remembered why we call you a faggot," Joey said affectionately, mussing Kenny's hair.
"Oh, so it isn't because I'm gay?" he asked cheerfully.
"Just being near her," Jared said.
"What?" Cecily asked.
"Instead of 'being around her,' write 'just being near her.'" He looked at his scuffed Vans and sat beside Cecily on the floor. She could smell the Tag coming off of his skin, and wondered if he ever would've bought that stuff if Fall Out Boy hadn't been promoting it.
"She likes to dye her hair, always has black to wear. Just being near her makes me start to feel a flutter in my heart." Cecily relayed.
"I don't want this to be the same as every love song in the world," Jared said.
"And exactly why not?" Henry demanded. "Cliché is good."
"Yeah, but every other love song in the world is for every other girl in the world. This is for Ciss. It should be… I dunno… more special." Jared said all of this quite fast, all the while facing the coffee table, tracing the wood grain with his index finger.
Cecily blushed as the other boys cooed. "Well, isn't that sweet," Joey mocked. "Okay. Business, you guys. Seriously. Hey!" he realized. "Say what you said just then."
"Uh… every other love song in the world is for every other girl in the world?" Jared said again.
"That's good, right?" Joey asked Cecily. "Poetic?"
"Sure," she shrugged. "Kenny, d'you think we could get a tune on this?"
"Uh, yeah. Hang on a minute." He played with the strings of his guitar for a moment. Then he finalized something and played it again. "Good?"
"Uh-huh," Jared said. "Faster, though, I think."
"Come on, dude, it's a love song," Henry complained.
"For Cecily," Jared said firmly. "And the thing about Ciss is that she's fast-paced, too. She's not a ballad, she's a rocker."
Cecily smiled, despite the fact that they were all talking about her like she wasn't there. "He's right," she admitted when Henry appealed to her.
"Hmph," he said. "No one can appreciate old-fashioned things like cheesy, slow love songs."
"Yeah, yeah, grampa, the times they are a'changin'," Kenny said. "So what've we got, Ciss?"
"She likes to dye her hair, always has black to wear. Just being near her makes me start, to feel a flutter in my heart. I don't want this to be every other love song, because she's just not every other girl." She'd changed the phrasing when the boys were arguing. She liked it this way.
"That's decent," Kenny said amiably. "Considering it technically came out of Jared's mouth. All right. So is that the transition, then?"
"I s'pose so," Cecily chewed the end of her pen.
"What now?" Henry said. "Are we going to do one of those stupid ones like 'when she's here, I sigh, when she's not, I die'?"
"Ew," Jared said. "No. I mean, think about it. If you were in love with Cecily, why?"
"Because of her charm and good looks?" Joey said.
"Right," Cecily said sarcastically. "Look, you guys, this isn't going to work. You can't write a love song for someone you don't love."
"Tom Higgenson did it," Joey pointed out.
"And what is Delilah doing now?" Cecily disagreed. "Waiting by the phone for his next call. Fact is, he had the potential to fall in love with her. You guys… well, you're like my brothers. And you," she pointed at Kenny, "are gay. So where does that leave me?"
"Actually, I used to like you," Joey admitted.
"Me, too," Henry said.
"Yeah," Jared agreed uncomfortably.
"What?" Cecily's head flipped back and forth between the three of them. "When? Why?"
Joey shrugged. "You think we asked you to help us write songs because we thought you had talent? I mean, you do, don't get me wrong, but it was sort of…"
"Yeah." Henry approved. "I mean, I'm over it now."
"Me, too." Joey said.
"Yeah," Jared agreed uncomfortably.
"So," Kenny said, interrupting what would have been a very embarrassing question from Henry to Jared, "Chorus, guys? Kind of the most important part."
"Something cryptic, now," Cecily suggested. "Joey. Help us go all Cute Is What We Aim For on their asses."
"Huh," Joey said. "Okay. Let's see. Something about knowing, something about not caring, and something describing sex in a completely new and refreshing way that doesn't make sense until you think with your penis instead of your brain. Right."
They all stared at him. "Dude," Jared finally said, "You've got all of Hacikyan's songs pegged."
"I try," said Joey modestly.
"But this is a love song," Henry argued. "Not a sex song, and definitely not a think-about-it-with-your-penis-not-your-brain song."
"Fine," Joey pouted.
"Oh, cheer up," Kenny said brightly. "Jared, what do you think is Cecily's most redeeming quality?"
Jared appeared to ponder this. "Probably the fact that she hangs around with us so often and hasn't run away screaming yet."
"Very sentimental," Henry said sarcastically. "'I love her 'cause she hasn't run away yet'?"
"That's actually quite good, Henry," Cecily said. "Thank you, Jared."
"She likes to dye her hair, always has black to wear. Just being near her makes me start, to feel a flutter in my heart. I don't want this to be every other love song, because she's just not every other girl. I love her 'cause she hasn't run away yet. I need her 'cause she's the only one who could ever need me more." Cecily said.
"I like the last line. Cryptic." Joey said.
"Very Shaant," Kenny agreed, looking back at his guitar.
"Thanks. Second verse?" Cecily smiled. Jared shifted next to her, and his arm brushed against hers… and stayed there… and stayed there… and continued to stay there. Cecily felt her heart pounding and knew she was blushing like nobody's business.
"I love it when she blushes," Jared said. "Her smile makes my adrenaline rush, she's the one I know I need to see, to get me through these endless days."
They all stared at him. "Where the fuck did that come from?" Henry asked faintly.
Jared shrugged. Cecily watched his cheeks burn, possibly an even deeper red than the blood in her own cheeks created. "It sounds good, though, right?"
"Yes," the all agreed. Cecily wrote it down.
"Then, repeat the chorus…" she said. "Next?"
"What she doesn't know could hurt her if she ever decides to feel the same, because of course I'll never tell her 'cause I can barely say her name without falling apart." Jared answered promptly.
"What the fuck, Jared." It was not a question this time, though Cecily wanted to know what was going on here. "Why am I even here if you could write this song all by yourself?"
"There's something about feeling the songs, Ciss," he said quietly. "I can't write about anything else."
"Anything but loving me."
The room was silent. Then, Cecily said, in a tiny voice, "We should add another 'falling apart' on the end of that."
"And that's why," he continued, "I didn't want to tell you that. Because you just act like I didn't say anything."
"I'm thinking, you dumbass." She stared at the lyrics in her notebook. Despite the fact that she normally did most of the songwriting, Jared had written almost every single line of this song. And he'd written it for her. This was insane. She had to be dreaming. In a second, Joey was going to smack her head and wake her up for falling asleep when they were supposed to be writing songs.
"I don't want this to be every other love song," Jared sang quietly. "Because she's just not every other girl. I love her 'cause she hasn't run away yet. I need her 'cause she's the only one who could ever need me more. What she doesn't know could hurt her if she ever decides to feel the same, because of course I'll never tell her 'cause I can barely say her name without falling apart, falling apart."
Cecily settled her head on his shoulder. "I love you, too."
"Aww," Henry and Joey chorused. Kenny just smiled at his guitar.
"Hey, Kim?" Jared called, smiling down at the girl beside him. "You and Cecily are having a sleepover tonight, okay?"
"Uh-huh!" called Kim from upstairs.
Cecily lifted her head off of Jared's shoulder to look at him. He stared into her eyes, both of them sharing a strange intensity, a moment of stillness and silence that could have lasted a lifetime. And then Cecily and Jared were kissing. And his hands were on the floor on either side of her hips, supporting him, and her arms were around his neck, and it was wonderful. Magical. Musical.
Kenny played the basic chords of their new song on his guitar as Cecily and Jared kissed, and Henry and Joey had a quiet conversation beside them. "What should we call the song, then?" Henry asked.
"What else?" Joey replied, smiling. "Cecily."