The Cheerleading Captain

I was too tired to brush my teeth, so I decided I'd just brush them extra good in the morning. I walked off down the hall and into my bedroom, closing the door and taking off my jacket, tossing it to the opposite corner of the room. I flounced onto my bed with my sneakers still on, gum still stuck to my left shoe. I groaned into my pillow loudly and was out in minutes. Next thing I knew, my alarm clock was spouting crap about some rapper's latest hit. I pressed the snooze and gripped my bed sheets tightly. 'God, don't make me get up…'

Finally I sat up, knowing I didn't want to stay home and get stuck with make-up work over the weekend, and went to the bathroom. I cranked the hot water on and sat on the toilet seat with my fingers under the faucet until the water heated up. I grabbed my toothbrush, turned on the shower and stepped in. Of course I didn't like school, but I didn't really hate it either. I'm not the sort of kid who ditches class, and I'm not a good liar. I would get caught unless I hid in the handicap stall in the girls' bathroom the entire time.

I couldn't honestly say I was surprised that I hadn't made any friends, since I was such an antisocial freak. I never talked to anybody, because I didn't want to say the wrong thing or sound stupid, and I didn't want to set myself up for making enemies, either. Dad loved to point out that my way of thinking also prevented me from making friends. But honestly, being friendless doesn't bother me like it does my parents, since I'm more prone to finding an arch nemesis rather than a BFF in the sea of humans. I'm pretty good at sticking my foot in my mouth. I already got odd looks from most of my teachers.

I stepped out of the shower, my skin pink as bubble gum from the scalding water, and dried off with a holey old towel. I was terrible in math and science, because I have both a short attention span and I'm no good with numbers. I was sort of good at History, and sometimes I was really good in English, depending on who my teacher was. I hated gym with a bloody passion, and art was ok because the teacher didn't grade all that hard. She usually sat with me, since I was always alone. She was a pretty nice lady, even though all we ever really exchanged were bland, disinterested 'hello's and 'how are you's, though she did compliment me on my work a lot. It was always flattering.

I dressed up as nice as I could manage and crammed down a piece of toast even though I wasn't very hungry. My dad came out of his room and patted my back as I handed him a slice smothered in strawberry jam. We didn't say much as he drove me to school, and I yanked my bag out of the floor board when it was time to get out. The bell rang as I reached the double doors, guaranteeing that I'd be stampeded on the way to my locker. I hated crowds… I stumbled into class a minute late, my heavy bag slung over one shoulder. As I looked around, I realized that the seats were all mixed up. Of course, the one day I was late was the one day we got a seating chart change.

"Get to class on time, geeze!" Someone yelled, and my face went red hot. The teacher turned her head.

"You're late, Terry." She said flatly. She was really good at noting the obvious. I just nodded my head slightly, keeping my eyes down like super submissive dog. So pathetic.

"Sorry." I mumbled. She looked down at her clipboard, and pointed to the front row seat, closest to her desk, and my chest tightened miserably. What a great way to start the day. I didn't even notice who my new desk partner was until I tripped over her backpack and nearly face planted on the dirty blue tile. My face radiating supernova heat, I sat down quickly and pulled my own backpack into my lap, pretending the rest of the world didn't exist.

I have (or had) a particular belief that all cheerleaders were stupid. Actually, all preppy girls in general were stupid; all the girls that dressed in knee high fur boots, tiny jackets that didn't fit, and the little shirts that couldn't quite cover their bellybuttons. I thought a lot of other things about them, too, but that's another story for another day. So, needless to say, I held the same opinion of Ashley Smart, the cheerleading captain. At first glance, I dubbed her a moron.

She was undoubtedly the most beautiful girl in the entire school, and she knew it. I knew this too, of course. She was a boyfriend stealer, heart-breaking, cat-fighting champion type chick. She was the ultimate girly girl, ringmaster of the preps. Its really funny how first impressions and overall opinions change when you get to know someone. Not to say that she isn't the type to use you up and toss you aside. I'm just saying she did have a rather large brain between her ears that could easily surpass half the teachers in our school, if she wanted of course. But God forbid she look bad in front of her friends.

I sat beside her, and the most I received was a flick of the eyes. Not to say that I cared, at least not then. She meant no more to me than a sack of beautiful shit. She talked to her friend Veronica for most of class, laughing and nodding her head as they gossiped happily. When class was out, I kept my head down and waited impatiently for her to move. I didn't speak more than six or seven words to anyone until P.E. rolled around, when I was dressing out with my head hanging low as I pulled the uniform shirt over my baggy black one. A couple of minutes later, a snotty looking brunette came in with a clipboard.

"Terry Neilson, Ashley Smart and Kelly Whitaker report to Mrs. Campbell's office." She said disinterestedly, then grinned and bounced up and down when Ashley came into view, flinging her arms around her and squealing like a little piggy. I couldn't help but grin, even though I had no idea who Mrs. Campbell was. No P.E.!

"Where are we going?" Ashley asked, her big brown eyes wide and innocent.

"Counselor." The girl said matter-o-fact-ly. I stopped smiling almost instantly, and realized there were places worse than the gymnasium. We grabbed our stuff and headed out toward our new class. As it turned out, we'd been 'randomly' selected for a counseling group to build 'positive' character. Bull shit, I say.

Mrs. Campbell seemed like a nice lady on the outside, all knowing smiles and gooey eyes. But once you stay in her class for a day, you realize that she is bound and determined to find something wrong with you, analyze it and then talk to you and every other kid in the room about it for hours, even if its total BS. She spouts about healing and learning and opening up to your true potential. She also talked a lot about healthy emotional energy, which made her sound more like a hippy than a teacher. All she needed to do was break out the love beads, tie-dye tees and pot and we'd be set.

Of course, she felt extra obligated to find something wrong with me, since I was the biggest freak out of the group. Even the psychotic boyfriend-beater Monica seemed like a saint to her compared to me. She was always following me around, trying to coax me into speaking up during 'group healing'. She liked to randomly pick on me, asking personal questions about my family and if I was depressed, all sorts of shit. I'd just say no, or shrug and look down at my feet. But no matter how much I loathed her, it could never amount to Ashley's burning hatred.

She didn't bother to hide her contempt like I did, and I guess that's why I started to like her a little bit, or at least admire her for her courage and ability to verbally abuse an adult that I disliked as well. You can't actually like someone if you don't know anything about them at all. But she'd put her feet up on the table, paint her nails, interrupt and roll her eyes, glare and snort. Whenever Mrs. Campbell tried to pull an idle threat off as a gentle reminder, Ashley would leap at the idea of being sent out, and so of course Mrs. Campbell kept her there to suffer along with the rest of us. She called Ashley a 'very troubled young lady who needed much healing'.

Once, I attempted to talk my parents into taking me out of the group, which was an epic failure. I give myself an A for effort, though, because I offered to clean the entire apartment for months without complaint. My dad just laughed and said that it would be good for me, and that I might make some new friends if I stayed. My mom just got bitchy whenever I tried to hint at it, and told me discuss it with my dad. Sometimes it really sucks when adults have no clue what the hell goes on at school, but there was no way to change my dad's mind once it was made up. It's like slamming your face into a steal wall to break it. You're more likely to bust out all your teeth our, break your nose and disfigure the rest of your face than make a dent.

So, as it was, I was stuck. Luckily, it was only on Tuesdays and Fridays, since she had other groups to torment during the other days of the week. I would've rather gouged out my left eye with a spoon and play paddleball with it than stay, but I had no choice. So, every Tuesday and Friday was branded a very bad period of time for the rest of the year after that, from day in to day out. At least until the Friday Ashley approached me. It was the first time she'd even given me a serious look before, much less spoke to me.

"I'm ditching." She announced to the girl's locker room as the bell rang. I would've expected her to go to Kelly, the other girl from our counseling class, not me. Once the room was emptied, she strolled up to me with her itty-bitty backpack tight on her shoulders and her head held high.

"You wanna come?" She asked me when the room was clear, raising one dark, perfect eyebrow. I blinked, and then without thinking, nodded. She pursed her lips, looked me over and then turned her back to me, walking out and expecting to be followed. The Alpha-Bitch attitude. I followed Smart all the way down the hall, staying a good distance back. She glanced at me over her shoulder once, just making sure I was there, and that was all.

We went outside, turned a couple corners and hid behind a wall. She dropped her backpack in the corner, sat down and whipped out her fancy little pink slider phone and began texting away. Uncertain of whether I was supposed to go my own way or stay, I stood there awkwardly for several minutes, looking around nervously until her self-confident eyes met my shifty ones.

"Are you going to sit or what?" She asked as if she were talking to a little kid. I blinked dumbly, blushed and dropped my backpack to the ground and squatted uncomfortably. A long time passed, and I all I did was stare at the wall like I was brain-dead or something. I was caught off guard when she spoke up again.

"Are you lez?" She asked out of nowhere, and I was taken aback by the question.

"What?" I asked. I had no clue what she meant.

"Are you lesbian? You know, do you like girls?" I raised my eyebrows.

"No." I mumbled, slightly indignant. I hadn't done anything to make it seem like I was hitting on her, so I didn't know why she'd be asking such a thing. Just because I dressed the part didn't automatically make a statement about my sexuality… did it?

"Me either." She said, nose high in the hair, like I'd accused her or something, and then she went back to staring intently at her phone. That was all we said, and I didn't quite understand where the question had come from. I resolved to just keeping my mouth shut and worrying about being caught. The only reason I stayed was because I didn't want to look like a wimp, or a 'pussy', as I'd most likely be called if any found out I'd bailed.

On Monday, I didn't come to school suddenly expecting to be friends, or even be considered an acquaintance to her, like most would picture a lonely person like me doing. She didn't so much as glance at me during first period, and I treated her with the same neutrality, though I was still slightly curious as to why she'd invited me along with her the day before. I expected nothing from her because I was fully aware of the cliques and the retarded social structure bullshit that went on in school. Another week passed, and there was no exchange between the two of us. It was only two weeks later that Mrs. Campbell confronted the two of us about our ditching that Friday's class. I didn't know how to react, and I'm sure I went about two shades paler than usual when she brought it up. Ashley remained calm and cool as ever, her arms folded across her chest, looking like a bitter diva scorned.

"So, why was it you two ladies missed my class the twenty third of last month?" She asked, her eyebrows arched inquiringly, as if asking us what we had for lunch that day. When neither of us volunteered to offer an explanation, she looked to me first. Her expression was calm, but beneath that, I could see the malice swimming behind those fake, gooey eyes. She could really get me into trouble if she wanted too, and she was totally prepared to use that power. She didn't need to talk to the principle. All she had to do was call my parents, and I could get grounded for weeks, maybe months. Personally, I think she waited so long on purpose, to let the suspense draw out, then settle, so we thought we'd gotten away with it.

"Terry?" she asked. I swallowed at the giant knot forming in my throat. I wasn't going to rat Ashley out, no way, especially not right in front of her. One, I didn't want her to send her hordes of minions on me, because she'd definitely be the nemesis I'd predicted, but I also didn't want to get her in trouble, just because I wasn't like that. I might've been bitter about her popularity status, but I wasn't an outright, vindictive bitch either. I'd stopped being a tattle-tale in the first grade, so I spat out the first, lame thing that came out of my mouth. I don't know why she took it.

"I was in the bathroom." I said, trying to keep my face straight and my gaze as level as possible, my shaking fists stuffed into my jacket pockets. She eyed be skeptically, a look of disappointment your grandma might give you when she caught you stealing a cookie. It irritated me, despite my being nerves.

"For an hour and an half?" She asked. I nodded, giving her a weak smile and holding her heavy eyes. I could tell she didn't believe me, but she looked away, releasing me from the spotlight, letting relief wash through me like a Tsunami in Japan.

"Ashley?" She asked. I glanced at her from the corner of my eye, curious as to what she'd say. I wouldn't have been surprised if she'd ratted me out. She could've; she had no ties to me, and she knew I wouldn't do anything to her if she did.

"None of your damn business, Bitch." Ashley answered sassily, venom saturating her voice and practically dripping from her lips. The slightly concerned disappointed expression on the counselor's face melted off and turned into a deep frown that made the penny slot between her eyebrows very noticeable, like a human piggy bank.

"Do I need to send you to the office, Ms. Smart?" She asked. Have you ever noticed that when your teachers are really mad at you, they automatically start calling you 'Ms.' Or 'Mr.'? I could believe she didn't whip out a referral right then and there. Then again, hippy mentality healing thing might've come into play there. She wasn't big on punishment.

"No." She said evenly, as if she'd pulled a plug in her brain and let all the venom drain out, replacing it with assurance and confidence. I'd never talked to an adult that way before in my entire life, and I doubted I'd be able to get away with it even if I did, much less pull it off as smoothly as Ashley could. To my disbelief, Mrs. Campbell just nodded and accepted it, dropping the matter easily.

"Now go to class, girls. Be here next time, or I'll be forced to call your parents." As the door shut behind us, Ashley strutted proudly away, self assurance rolling off her in almost tangible waves that slapped me across the face. Like I said, she was beautiful and smart (just like her name), which she knew quite well. She could get away with almost anything, as well as have almost anything. I had a hard time imagining anyone refusing her something she wanted. There would certainly be hell to pay, I was sure of it, just by watching her wide gaits as she departed, like she was the Queen of the universe. The bell rang and the halls filled with a mass of yelling, shoving students, and Ashley turned her head, smiling at me, flashing straight white teeth against dark, full lips.

"The bathroom?" She asked, laughing slightly and shaking her head. The throng pushed into me, and I bulldozed my way through, setting my shoulder down and pushing to my next class like a football player. When I got home, my dad was sitting at the kitchen table, my mom's laptop in front of him as he searched around for job websites, and I went to my bedroom to read. I fell asleep slowly, laying awake and staring at my walls for hours. It was strange, because usually, I lay up thinking at night until I fall asleep, which never took too long. Odd how when I couldn't seem to organize my brain, I wound up laying awake.

I woke up the next morning feeling like I'd only just shut my eyes. My body didn't comply as I got up and stepped into the shower, and I had to lean against the wall to keep from falling over. It took me ten extra minutes to get my body and hair all clean, and when I was out and dressed, I barely had time to cram a granola bar in my mouth before my dad was rushing me out and into the car for school. I was a creature of habit really, and when my routines were broken, it threw me off balance. I could barely catch up at all the rest of that day. Come Friday, nothing was different. Ashley seemed as aloof as ever and my first period teacher was still on her never ending PMS. When we were on our way to counseling, she grabbed my arm before I could turn down the hall and gave me a yank in the opposite direction.

"I'm ditching." She said simply, just like last time, looking at me seriously. I stood perfectly still, uncertain of what to think. How was I supposed to know it was an invitation? Ashley was the captain of the cheerleading team, who had a million and one friends, and a half thousand wanna-be boyfriends. I didn't think she was 'inadvertently' asking me to go with her.

She sped up until she was way ahead of me and quietly said: "I want you to come with me."

I didn't really know what to say. Of course, there are the obvious answers and options, "yes", "no", "I can't" and so on. So I just moved up beside her and followed her off down the hall. We didn't hide in the same place as last time. Pretty smart, really. If you hid in the same place all the time, you'd be pretty easy to catch. This time we were off at the back of the gym behind an A/C vent. Several cigarette buds were laying all over the ground, along with gum wrappers, pens, pencils and even an empty can of soda. We weren't easy to spot, unless a teacher's decided to take an odd detour to class.

Neither of us spoke for a long time. I sat beside her stiffly with my legs crossed and hands in my lap, staring straight forward. Ashley seemed completely relaxed with me, leaning back against the wall and looking around as if she were somewhere totally new, until her eyes settled on me. I began to feel nervous, and broke out into a cool sweat when her gaze didn't avert, staring unabashedly. I turned my head slightly, the bones in my neck twisting like they were covered in rust, creaking. I met her eyes briefly, gave a shaky little smile, and then looked away again.

She was pretty close to me, her leg brushing mine slightly every time she shifted. With a deep sigh, she turned to face the same direction as me, and leaned over, resting her head on my shoulder. I went a little stiff, my breath coming out uneven for several minutes, but she didn't move. We sat there for what felt like hours, but could only have been a single class period. Neither of us said anything to each other until the bell rang, and we got to our feet before anyone got outside.

We split into different directions, and went to our classes without a word, like our contact had never happened. I thought about her all day. I couldn't seem to think about anything else, or concentrate on any of my work. When I went home, I played with my food and went to bed early. My parents were a little worried, but I said that I was just tired, which wasn't far from the truth. I crawled under the covers and thought about her until I fell asleep. But despite all the careful consideration I put into it, I still knew she wouldn't even look at me tomorrow. It was just a given with girls like her, especially when it came to girls like me.

When I got to class the next day, I buckled down and did all my work. I didn't want to look at her, for fear someone would notice. I didn't want to start crushing on her, because she was the ultimate 'out-of-reach' type (though it was already a little late for that). I convinced myself I wasn't sure I liked her at all, anyway, but I was more begrudging to admit it to myself than anything else. I'd never been interested in other girls before, and I couldn't say I fancied the idea of starting. I was afraid of what my parents would do and say, and if I had friends, I might've been afraid of them, too. So I told myself even if she had been within reach, I wouldn't have made a move. What a load of crap that was.

That entire week passed by, and of course I was confronted by Mrs. Campbell about ditching again. I said I was in the nurse this time, and amazingly enough, she was too busy to pursue it or call her up to see if my alibi checked out. It was amazing how lucky I was. One of Ashley's friends in the class had covered for her, and said she went home sick, so she'd already been cleared. We didn't ditch at all the following week, and I tried not to let myself feel deflated. It hadn't meant anything, anyway, so there was nothing really to be let down over…

Then, on another Friday, as I was walking down the hall toward the counselor's office, Ashley caught up with me and told me she wanted to ditch again and (basically) that I was coming with her. I almost didn't go, considering the fact I didn't know what type of story I was going to cook up to get out of trouble that time. But as I watched her stride toward the doors, confident I would follow; I realized I would definitely regret it later if I didn't. Plus, it wasn't like I was actually missing out on something I enjoyed. You only live once, right? I wouldn't admit that I wanted to be able to talk to her again, not even for a million dollars.

I quickened my pace to catch up again, nearly tripping over my own feet. We went outside, and she led me back behind the A/C vent again. I felt shier than ever, and kept close to myself. When our feet bumped, I quickly sputtered an apology and began digging around in my backpack for homework. Of course I couldn't concentrate. It was one of those situations where you couldn't think straight and do something productive, but couldn't look up and do anything else, either. Then we heard teachers talking, and my guts froze. Our breath caught in our throats, and we both went still listening. Their voices faded as they moved away, and I relaxed, letting out a sigh of relief. Ashley, however, stayed tensed. After a minute, she stood up.

She didn't say anything as she crept out of our hiding place. I watched her, craning my neck to see, but she disappeared around a corner and out of view. I chewed my lip nervously, and thought she might've been caught. I stood up when she finally came striding back, looking as calm and in control as ever. My shoulders sagged and I gave her a weak little smile.

"They went to the cafeteria." She said lightly, and I nodded. I kneeled down to start putting my things in my backpack, making up my mind never to ditch with her again. It wasn't worth the trouble. I was a good kid; I didn't do things like that.

"Terry." Ashley said softly to get my attention. Her tone was slightly unfamiliar, and I straightened up to look in the eye, coming face to face with her. She took a step forward, right into my personal space and put both of her hands on each of my shoulders, just like a heroine would in some corny old romance novel (I don't know where that would put me though). Then she lifted her face slightly and pressed her lips to mine. They soft and plump, smooth and sticky with cherry lip gloss. Don't get me wrong, our kiss wasn't a fierce, passionate, soul-searching one. Just a press of the lips, and that was all. And then the bell rang.

She pulled back languidly and bent down to grab her back pack. I stayed behind a little longer, because my legs felt like jell-o, and if I moved, I might've fell on my face. My own lips were wet with the cherry flavored gloss, and I licked them after a few seconds. It wasn't just the cherry I tasted, and all I thought about for the rest of the day was Ashley. Of course, if someone as beautiful as her kissed you, you wouldn't be forgetting it anytime soon, either.

I didn't really know what to think, and she'd left me with a whole lot of questions and confusion. I'd almost forgotten about when she asked if I was lesbian, but I felt it was pretty obvious this had something to do with it. But then why would she have kissed me when she had a million boys following her around like love-sick puppies, and could undoubtedly get any of the popular lesbians in the school to go out with her if she wanted?

But instead, she kissed me, with no rhyme or reason. There was nothing about me that I could think of that might even somewhat appeal to her; I had no friends, I wasn't very smart, I didn't know anything interesting about anyone, and my antisocial personality wasn't a desirable one to be around. I wasn't attractive either, maybe an inch taller than she was, broad shouldered, with acne, glasses and braces. And from everything I knew, Ashley did not date white people. Ever. So then why would she be interested in a white girl?

It bothered me all through the weekend too, and I was anxious to get back to school and see her again. When I went in on Monday, she sat in her usual seat, glanced at me blankly when I stepped in, and went back to her conversation. I shot awkward glances at her, studying her heart shaped face, and felt my stomach squish around in my belly nervously as I did so. I remember thinking I was getting in over my head, even then, so early on. She didn't pay me the slightest attention at all during the day, and by gym, I kept my head down, feeling more confused and let down than ever. On Tuesday, we went to Mrs. Campbell's class together. I slumped in my chair, and said I had a stomach ache when I was asked what was wrong. I went up to the nurse and ate crackers, but when I came back down, Ashley was in the hallway by the stairs watching me. I kept my eyes down and prepared to walk past her.

"Terry." She called after me, and smiled when I stopped and turned around eagerly. She studied me carefully, an odd expression on her face. I did the same, cautious as she took a few steps forward and kissed me. This time, she wasn't gentle by any means. With a quick glance both ways down the hall, like she was looking for passing cars, she pressed closer, so that we were chest to chest with no space between.

Artificial strawberry flavor coated her mouth, and all I did was stand frozen in place. She pushed one hand into my hair and gripped the collar of my shirt in the other, tugging at my lips with her own. I had no idea what to do as her hands slid lower, down my back to rest on my sides, thumbs massaging my ribs. I could feel her long, perfectly manicured finger nails through my shirt, sharp as they grazed my skin lightly. My mind raced miles ahead, preparing my body as I let my hands tentatively run over her back. A few minutes later, she pulled her tongue from my mouth and panted heavily, making me shiver.

When I got home, I thought about it hard and I realized that I'd noticed Ashley several times before then, before there was anything between us. I'd dismissed a glance at her butt or boobs as normal behavior, or watching her a little longer than necessary as spacing out. I'd fantasized about her a few times, but quickly chased the thoughts away, and locked them off in the back of my brain. I tried to make sense of Ashley's behavior, and I felt almost vain for even dreaming up the idea that someone like her might've had a crush on someone like me. More or less, that was how our awkward fling began.

I'd never been in a relationship before, and gladly let her lead the way. In order to keep from causing anymore trouble with Mrs. Campbell, we'd leave class moderately and at different times, then stay out for only a little while on long bathroom breaks or nurse trips. Sometimes they wouldn't buy our excuses, but first period was so easy to get out of, sometimes one of us could just sneak out while the other grabbed the pass. It was a little difficult, though, because you had to fight other kids for it sometimes.

She asked me a lot of questions, like where I'd moved from since I was new that year, how old I was, if I had siblings, my middle name, favorite music and such. I found it odd that she was reluctant to share things about her family and friends, but rarely ever got around to asking, because our conversations usually ended in rough kissing. I didn't mind much, really. I still managed to wheedle some information out of her fairly well, whether she wanted to talk about her personal life or not. Just by watching her and listening to her talk, I picked up all the little things that other people missed.

She was much smarter than I had originally taken her for; she would've been an A+ student in math and science and history if she'd turn in her homework. She actually liked to read a little, and compared to a lot of girls, she had a rather level head. She hated her cheer coach, as well as most other teachers in the school. Whenever she was nervous about something, she'd fidget with her hair or keep putting on several coatings of lip gloss, and when she was excited she'd drum her fingers or chew her bottom lip. She liked skin to skin contact anytime one of us was talking, and I grew accustomed to every little mannerism and tone of her voice, and got so wrapped up in them I didn't want to be around anyone else.

Throughout our awkward period of time together, which I thought was going out, she preoccupied my mind all my time, even when she wasn't with me. No one ever knew we were seeing each other. No one even thought we were acquaintances, much less a couple. I could barely keep my eyes off her in the three classes we shared together. I would sit there and admire her perfect skin and body, dark eyes and hair. Sometimes she'd flick her eyes in my direction and acknowledge me when she was sure no one was looking, but that was all. One day a friend of hers noticed me staring at her, an ex-boyfriend that I particularly hated. I'd always thought him a prick, and he'd never seemed to like me much to begin with either.

He started to make fun of me, and rumors spread around that I had a crush on Ashley Smart, the cheerleading captain. I did my best not to let it bother me, and had to bite my tongue against biting back at them. I wanted to tell them that we were going out, and that she liked me back, but there was this look in her eyes that made me feel like if I said anything, I'd be throwing her under the bus and squashing her under the tires. So I kept quiet and took all the embarrassing jokes and disgusted stares. In the locker room was where it was worst. Girls moved around so they weren't near me, like I was some pervert that would stare at them as they undressed. Like I got my jollies off watching their pimply bodies getting out of their clothes or something. Ew.

On a Wednesday, I was leaving the locker room and got hit in the face by a frozen water bottle that Ashley's friend had thrown. He bust up laughing, picked up the water bottle and left without saying a thing. Ashley's face had gone pale on the other side of the gym, and when I brought my hand back from clutching my eye, I had blood on my fingers. My stomach knotted miserably, but I held firm until the gym had cleared. Ashley came up to me, her eyebrows knitted with worry. I rubbed at my watering eyes, telling myself not to be a pussy. I would've died rather than cry in front of her.

"Could you come over to my house after school?" She asked softly. I stared at her, slightly shocked.

"I don't think so." I said honestly, and she nodded with a stiff expression on her face. We went our separate ways to class, where I thought hard about it, and finally decided that I'd call my parents and say that I was staying after school for tutoring. Ashley had mentioned her house wasn't far from the school, so it wouldn't be too much of a problem.

When the end of the day bell rang at three o' five, I put my backpack in my locker and went looking for Ashley. I almost thought she'd left without me because it took me so long to find her. When I did, she was standing by her locker, talking to the boy who'd smashed me in the face with the bottle and some other girl I didn't recognize. She happened to glance over their shoulders and see me, and I quickly ducked back behind the corner and out of sight before her friends caught sight of me as well. Eventually she came and found me.

"I thought you couldn't come?" She frowned, looking confused.

"I told my parents I was staying here for tutoring. I'll have to leave by five thirty so that way I'll be back here by six for sure. So whose gonna pick us up?" She laughed and said we were walking.

It felt strange walking through the empty halls of the building. We went outside and sauntered off toward the neighborhood not far from the school, climbing and hopping the tall fences that blocked it off. She led me down two different streets and then stopped in front of a nice looking two story with grey bricks and a pale blue door. She took a key out from under the doormat and shoved it into the keyhole in the deadbolt. She jiggled it a moment, and twisted the knob with a satisfying click.

Inside, it smelled sweet, like several candles and incense, as well as faint traces of hairspray, perfume and cologne all mixed together. Ashley barely gave me anytime to observe the inside of her house, shutting the door and immediately leading me upstairs to her room as soon as I got my shoes off. On the way, I glimpsed a pink room with little mermaid stuff all over the place, and another room with the door slightly ajar, where basketball posters covered the walls and clothes lay all over the floor. I frowned, because I realized Ashley had never mentioned having a brother or sister to me before. I figured it would have been something she'd have told me about, but she caught my hand and tugged me into her bedroom before I could fully organize my thoughts.

Her windows were covered in foil, and the blinds were shut tight, so it was totally dark besides a small pink nightlight plugged into an outlet in a far wall. There wasn't a massive collection of posters like I would've thought. A girly calendar hung by the door, a bulletin board above the bed, an old cheerleading uniform thumb-tacked to another wall. I stood awkwardly near the door as she pushed past me, looking around in fascination, utterly out of place amongst it all. She watched me carefully, and I smiled at her sheepishly.

I took a couple of steps forward and deeper into the room, and she went back and closed the door behind me. I sat down at the foot of her bed and chewed the inside of my cheek. Her comforter was hot pink, big, fluffy and soft. She sat beside me and smiled in a way that made my stomach flutter. She took one of my hands from my lap and laced her fingers through mine, stroking my knuckles tenderly. I felt a big, dumb grin spreading across my mouth and I crossed my legs as I pulled her hand to my face and kissed the back of it gently. Her eyes searched mine carefully, and then studied the cut on my eyebrow. It was swollen and hurting, and the smile on my mouth fell away immediately as I recalled it. I was about to say something, but she completely changed my direction of thought before I could bring it up. The conversation was light and easy, talking about school work and teachers, but slowly, she lapsed into silence and stared at the floor, an almost guilty expression on her face.

"Ashley, what's wrong?" I asked. She lifted her head and looked me straight in the eyes again, her own wide and serious.

"I love you, Terry." She said simply, and I blinked. My eyebrows knitted together. I was both flattered and bewildered, and slightly worried. Nobody but my parents had ever told me they loved me before, but she looked more like she was confessing to the murder of some poor and unfortunate soul rather than admitting I made her happy.

"I love you, too." I said, and before I could say anything else, she pushed forward and wrapped her arms around my neck.

Despite lack of mention, I will admit that I had fantasized about having sex with Ashley many times before and that upon entering her room and sitting on her bed, my mind had taken a dip in the gutter. But that's very different from expecting to have sex. Kissing was something that I'd familiarized myself with over the six and a half months we'd been going out. I knew where to put my lips and how to use my tongue, where the skin was most sensitive on her neck and shoulders. That was the extent of my experience, unless you count reading romance novels alone in my bedroom at midnight.

She was wearing the same cherry lip gloss as the first time we kissed, and it was sticky and sweet on my mouth. I was always a little bit nervous when we kissed, but I was almost trembling with worry as her tongue pushed into my mouth. She kissed me insistently, until I was panting for breath as she ran her hands through my hair and over my neck. Lately, she'd slip her fingers through my shirt collar and sleeves to lightly touch my skin, maybe touch my thigh a little, encourage me to do the same. She pulled back slowly, lips parted as she panted for breath.

She moved closer then, and straddled my upper thighs with her legs. I stared at her beautiful face lovingly, adoring her amidst my own fears. She kissed me again, faster and harder than before, and then gently pushed me back onto her bed. She looked down at me, and I strained my vision to focus on her face despite the poor lighting.

"Am I your first?" She asked simply, her voice thick and sultry. My face burned as I blushed freely.

"Yes." I wheezed, and she placed her mouth over mine once more, her tongue teasing me. Her hand came to rest on my breast, and she kneaded it gently. It felt nice, and made my stomach flutter, but I was still struggling to relax as I broke into a sweat. Embarrassingly enough, it never took much whenever it came to Ashley, and the ache between my legs was already borderline agonizing, the crotch of my underwear soaked.

She settled between my thighs and ground us together, and I fought back a whimper, hips rising to meet her. She barely just pulled away enough to tug her shirt off over her head as my clumsy fingers tried to help her. I touched her back, running my hands over her smooth, warm skin. My fingers brushed over the snap of her bra, and I unhooked it easily. The article of clothing fell away, and she shifted her arms out of it, moving her head lower to kiss my neck. I wrapped my arms around her and gently rolled her off of me. Her breathing was heavy as she stared up at me, and I swallowed hard on the knot in my throat as I worked up the nerve to fiddle with her bedside lamp. It clicked on, and I suddenly had a much better view of her half naked body. I clenched my sweaty fingers and took a deep breath, my eyes hungrily taking her in.

Her hair was slightly disheveled and her expression was wild. I moved forward, watching her carefully, and kissed her mouth as my right hand cupped one of her exposed breasts. I ran through everything I knew, and moved my head lower, closing my lips around a dark, dusky nipple, gently sucking as I rolled the other between my finger tips, pinching very carefully. She moaned loudly, stroking and cradling my head to her chest. I kissed her collarbone lightly, and she pulled me to her face again. Letting out a deep sigh, she took one of my hands and uncurled my fingers. Holding my gaze, she tugged the button of her pants free and guided my fingers into her slick folds, sending a jolt inside of me.

I gasped for breath, and she closed her eyes, leaning her head backward onto the mattress. She was dripping; the fabric of her underwear more than just damp. I bit my lip, running my fingers over her entrance lightly to wet them, my heart hammering in my ears. I slowly rubbed her clitoris in circular motions, and she let out a loud moan of appreciation. I ground my fingers harder, moved them a little faster, then slipped them past her lips. Her breathing became short and uneven, and I took it as a sign that I was doing well, pushing my fingers in faster and enjoying the soft, wet heat that enclosed all three digits. Her inner muscles began to flutter, then tighten and I kissed her hard, pushing my tongue deep into her mouth as she came, moaning softly and wiggling beneath me.

Ashley lay on her back panting for a moment, then wriggled out of her pants and pulled me close to her. She kicked them off the bed impatiently and climbed back on top of me, pushing my shirt up. I squeezed my eyes shut, embarrassed of myself, my body. Instead of pulling it all the way off, she only made sure it was up past my rib cage, and began kissing my slightly pudgy belly, running her tongue over the curve of my belly button sensually. I whimpered in the back of my throat, my skin tingling where she touched me. Her kisses moved lower, until they reached the waistband of my jeans. She looked up at me, and I suddenly wasn't so sure of letting her continue. I wanted to hold her down and make her moan and pant again. I was mortified that as soon as she took my clothes off, she'd suddenly regret having sex with me, be disgusted. I didn't want that. I had no problem with giving her all the pleasure.

"Ashley..." I mumbled, but before I could get anything out, she jerked my button loose, unzipped my pants and pulled them down my legs, smirking confidently. I swallowed hard and watched her intently. She didn't look back up at me again, staring at my legs intently, running her fingers over my sensitive flesh. My pants fell to the floor along with her clothes, and she wedged her dark, slender hands between my legs, carefully prying them apart, her long nails digging into my skin slightly. Whatever I'd been about to say came out as a pitiful little whimper.

She face disappeared, her tongue sliding over my inner thighs. Her fingers caught the elastic band of my underwear and pulled them away. I tensed immediately as I felt the fabric being removed from my hot skin, cold air rushing over me, only increasing as she blew on me. I went stiff, chest heaving as I tried to breathe. The long, slow strokes of her tongue drew closer and closer, until she reached the place where my leg met my hip. There was a pause, and I flinched through the haze of arousal, expecting her to draw back and end it all. My stomach sank slowly, and then her tongue touched me.

Air hissed through my teeth as I sucked in a sharp breath, eyes closing. Her soft cheeks rubbed along my skin as the pad of her tongue lapped at my aching clitoris, and I shuddered each time. My thighs and stomach twitched, and I moaned throatily, fisting her comforter. Her hands slid underneath me and gripped my backside, squeezing as the movements of her mouth became rougher and more concentrated. I gasped as she stumbled over something particularly sensitive, my hands releasing her blankets and reaching down to tangle in her hair and hold her head in place as I neared my climax. Her lips closed around me as I began to pulse, but I forced myself to keep my eyes focused on her. My hips arched upwards toward her with my orgasm, crying out weakly.

I gasped for breath, propping myself up on my elbows as she pulled away, looking back at me with heavy eyes. She crawled forward and I lowered my head to her belly, sucking hard at the skin there. With a soft moan, she pushed me away and shifted so that she could bury her face in my fully clothed breasts, sighing deeply and wrapping her arms around me to hold me in place. Like I was going anywhere. I wanted to stay there forever. I loved her so much it felt like my heart would burst.

We lay there holding each other for over an hour and I almost fell asleep. Grudgingly, I looked at her alarm clock and sighed unhappily. Ashley's arms tightened around me slightly, and I lay there for several more minutes, gently stoking her hair with my free hand. She looked up at me reluctantly, and I kissed her forehead lightly. She let go with a soft sigh, and I placed another kiss on her lips, standing up and quickly redressing. Her clock read five fifteen. She lay perfectly still as I opened the door, naked and beautiful on her bed. I would've loved to stay with her, and give her pleasure again, but I couldn't.

"I love you, Ashley." I said, and hurried down the stairs, slipping my shoes on, locking the door behind me, and ran back toward the school as hard as I could. I was huffing after the first few minutes, and stumbled clumsily into the backdoors. I was covered in sweat as I struggled to open my locker, fingers slipping on the dial as I gasped for breath. My chest felt like it'd been cracked open, and my legs burned and ached. I struggled to compose my breathing as I went outside to my dad's waiting car.

"What took you so long?" he asked. I glanced at the dash board clock and stiffened. It was six twenty.

"Sorry," I said breathlessly, "I got hung up talking to one of my teachers. I hurried out here as fast as I could." He shrugged.

"It's ok; I was just worried about you was all. And what happened to your eye?" My stomach froze for a minute, and then settled.

"I fell and hit my head at lunch today." I lied.

It was odd and rather uncomfortable being in the car with him after considering what I'd been doing not too long ago. Between my legs still ached lightly, and every time I thought of just her name, my arousal would flare back to life. I would've loved to get out of the car and go back to Ashley's house, when a weird thought struck me. Of course it made sense that no one was home, (after everything that had gone on, I was glad they weren't!) but it seemed strange none the less. Ashley must've been planning for a while for the house to be completely empty, and yet she just mentioned it to me that day. We'd just had sex and I'd never even met her family.

When we got home, I barely tasted dinner. I inhaled it and went to take a shower. As soon as I took off my clothes, my face got red hot. There was a large, dark red splotch on the curve of my belly button where her mouth had been. I scrubbed myself long and hard once I was under the hot spray of water, and I wondered if Ashley was doing the same. I was curious if she was thinking about me, too. I missed her, wished I could share my shower with her. Wash her back for her…

The next day when I went to class, Ashley was turned in her seat, talking to one of her friends that sat behind us.

"You haven't had a boyfriend in so long." The girl was saying, her eyes wide and serious.

"I know. There just haven't been any guys I'm interested in lately." Ashley responded coolly.

"But I mean, how long has it been since you had sex? Seriously!" I bit my lip to keep from laughing out loud.

"A while, but I don't care, it's not the…" the teacher quickly cut her off, and that was where their conversation ended.

It was pure hell not being able to reach out and touch Ashley. I wanted so badly to at least touch her hand and tell her I loved her and that she was all I'd thought about last night. I'd like to believe she felt the same, the way her hands twitched on her thighs, and the rare glances she shot at me out of the corner of her eyes. I couldn't refrain from giving her a longing look of my own, unable to tear my eyes away from her. Then someone shot a hornet (a wad of tightly rolled paper shot from a rubber band) at the back of my head.

I didn't let it ruin my day like it might have otherwise. As soon as class was out, I took a lot of time studying Ashley in the safety of the bustling hall. She was drop-dead gorgeous in her little red shirt that just barely covered her belly, tiny shorts that clung to the curve of her hips, barely covering her smooth thighs and furry boots that hiked up almost to her knees. She caught me looking, and smiled briefly, giving me a heavy lidded look, then turned and went on to her next class. I moaned inwardly and bit my lip, turning around to follow her example.

I was anxious to get to P.E. and see her again, and when the time finally came, I was the first out of the class room and the third to the gymnasium. I went into the girl's locker room and quickly dressed out, watching the entrance carefully for Ashley. She strode in with a group of girls about two minutes later, smiling at them while her eyes looked around for me. I smiled at her weakly, and she looked away quickly before rousing suspicion from her gang.

Her locker was in the row across from mine, two down from the first. One girl was absent, and another was talking to her friend outside, which gave me a clear few of her as she changed into her uniform. My breath caught in my throat as she pulled her shirt off and I saw the dark mark I'd made on her belly the other day. She knew I was watching, taking her sweet time getting dressed again, putting on a little show for me. Then it all went to shit when one of the girls saw me and followed my gaze.

"Ew, gross!" She squawked, and my face turned beat red. I quickly darted out of the locker room, keeping my head low as girls pointed fingers and boys stared. They all sympathized with Ashley, but really, they had no idea what was going on. I'd love to see the looks on their face if she turned her back on them, walked up to me and we kissed right in front of them all. If only they knew about yesterday.

The rumors got worse after the incident in the locker room. People would talk about me even if I was sitting beside them. I got notes stuck to my back and rough shoves in the hall, but Ashley loved me. We spent as much time together as we could, kissing and making love and sometimes just talking. It didn't bother me too much that no one knew, as long as she truly loved me. That was all that mattered. I took everything that was dished out to me. Then her friend, the boy who hit me in the face with water bottle, took it to a whole new level.

He'd seen me hanging around one of her cheer practices before, which is what I think set him off. Maybe it was the way I stared at her. It was during changing period, and I was trying to get to class as fast as I could when I got hit from behind. I fell forward and caught myself, looking around wildly for whoever had shoved me. I saw his face as his left foot connected with my stomach, knocking every last bit of air out of me. I hit my face on the floor this time, and barely managed to clutch my belly, gasping helplessly. He leaned down and pushed forward, into my face.

"Dyke." He hissed and walked away. As I lay there, people just walked by; no one stopped to help me up or see if I was ok. A few stared, but kept on with their business all the same.

I was practically shaking with anger and pain as I stood up, pulling my back pack tight around my shoulders, when a few feet away, I saw Ashley staring. Her expression was a mix of guilt and something else. We locked gazes for a few minutes, and I tried to step forward to her. I didn't know how long she'd been standing there; she could've watched everything and I wouldn't have cared. I just wanted her to hold me, maybe stroke my hair. But then she turned around and raced through the crowd and away from me like a panic stricken deer.

My rage trickled out of me slowly, replaced with a horrible sinking in my already pained stomach. My eyes stung, and I blinked rapidly. I went to the girl's bathroom and splashed water onto my bleeding lips and rubbed my eyes, examining cuts. They just looked chapped. I splashed my face several more times, masking the tears that slipped from my eyes with droplets of water, choking on my sobs. I was ten minutes tardy to class, but I refused to say anything about the incident in the hallway. I couldn't remember feeling more betrayed, more numb in my entire life, despite the agony in my guts and back. On the bus, I got teased and picked at all the way to my stop, but I couldn't force myself to even look at anyone, much less fight back or say anything in my defense.

There were plenty of lesbian girls at our school who never got picked on. Of course, there would always be that one jack ass that thought they could get away with it, but the majority nowadays just left it where it stood. I believed that if I'd been in love with a girl less popular than Ashley, I would've been fine. No one would've cared. But Ashley Smart, the most beautiful girl in school, was untouchable by someone like me, much less another girl, a lesbian. I was hated simply because I wasn't good enough for her.

I realized then, for the first time, that no matter how much Ashley loved me, no matter what we meant to each other, nobody would ever know about us. I think I didn't see it at first because I didn't want to. If no one noticed, it would be different, but she had been hiding me. She'd made it rather clear, whether that was her intention or not. Ashley was embarrassed by me. She didn't want to be seen with me because she was afraid of what people would think and say. She chose me because I was quiet, with no friends and utterly secluded. She wanted a girlfriend, but she didn't want anyone to know about it. No one would've believed me if I told them I was Ashley Smart's girlfriend.

I barely bothered to hide the fact I was out of sorts. I went to bed two hours earlier than usual, and my parents fussed endlessly over it. My mom even offered to let me stay home, but I just shook my head. The entire night I lay in bed completely awake, staring out of my window, thinking about Ashley. I felt tired, but I couldn't shut my brain off. I wrapped my sheets around my fingers tightly, rubbing the fabric between them for the familiar comfort.

I kept thinking about the way she kissed and held me, and how she looked at me when it was time to separate. I couldn't understand the two different personalities she held up, one for me and one for the rest of the world to see and acknowledge. It was hard to imagine the beautiful diva that barely paid me the slightest attention could be the same woman who gave me pleading looks to keep my arms around her for just a few more seconds whenever I had to leave. I didn't understand how she could ever have been the same person that told me she loved me if she could turn and run away from me after I'd been beaten up and humiliated in front of the entire freshman class. I'd never paused to think about how much saving face seemed to matter to her.

I barely managed to lift myself out of bed the next morning. I would've loved nothing more than to lie in bed all day and never get up, but nevertheless, there was the call of nature to deal with. Once I'd gotten to my feet, I figured that I might as well go to school if I was up. It's not like I'd sleep if I stayed home, anyway. My dad gave me a worried look when he saw me trudge into the kitchen and plop down exhaustedly into a kitchen chair.

"Feel any better today?" He asked. I shrugged blankly. "Wanna talk about it?" His voice was soft. I shook my head and rubbed my dry eyes. He gave a deep sigh, but let the matter drop. I was sure him and my mom would drill me later when I got home.

I walked into class quietly and took my seat without even glancing at Ashley. I piled books onto the desk, pulled out a pencil and started working. I thought about her all throughout the day. I wanted her to hold and kiss me and tell me she loved me, but I knew it wouldn't be the same. I didn't even know if she really loved me to begin with. I didn't know what exactly I meant to her.

Since it was Friday, we went to Mrs. Campbell's class. I didn't so much as spare her a glance as we walked down the hall while she lagged behind me a couple of feet, though I could feel her eyes boring into my back. I held the door open for her without meeting her eyes, and then took my seat. Once the bell rang, the counselor wasted no time before starting our lesson. About thirty minutes in, I felt Ashley's eyes settle on me once more, and I looked over at her for a moment. I knew that expression very well.

"Mrs. Campbell, can I go to the nurse's office?" She asked. Mrs. Campbell merely flicked her fingers at her desk where the pass was. I went back to staring at the board. I was sure Ashley stood outside in our usual place for a long time, waiting for me to show up after her, but I stayed in my seat the entire class without even a glance at the door. When the bell rang for dismissal, I passed her in the hall as she went to fetch her stuff from the counselor's office. Her expression was confused in the few, fleeting seconds she looked at me, but whenever someone got too close to seeing her, she quickly turned her head away from me. I tightened my jaw immediately at the sharp feeling in my stomach and moved on.

When I got home, my parents had a long talk with me about how worried they got whenever I came home in such weird moods and wouldn't talk about it, saying their love was unconditional. I knew I couldn't tell them about Ashley or anything of the sort, so I made up a story about how I was worried about my grades. Reluctantly, they bought it and left me alone to go to my bedroom. As I was getting in my pajamas, I noticed a huge purple bruise across my belly where Ashley's ex had kicked me. I brushed my fingers over it lightly, and flinched. I slept no better that night than I did the one before.

Through the weekend I was quiet and sullen, with little to say to my mom or dad. I sat on the couch and watched TV with them, did my best to join in on conversations and what not while my parents told me not to worry about my grades. They said they'd get me a tutor if I needed one, and finally I came to the decision that I needed to break up with Ashley sooner or later, if it was even considered a break up. More like saying "I refuse to be your secret fuck buddy, no matter how great the sex is."

I'd barely gotten any more sleep throughout the weekend than I had on Thursday or Friday night. I went to school with dark circles under my eyes and a stiff neck. I paid no more attention to Ashley than she did me, until gym, when I asked to go to the nurse and took off to one of our places. She followed about ten minutes later. Her expression was angry and confused and hurt when she found me outside behind the wall we'd first ditched to.

"What happened yesterday? Did Mrs. Campbell not let you out or something?" She asked sharply. I swallowed the lump forming in my throat and stilled the trembling in my legs as best I could manage. I suddenly didn't want to do it anymore. I wanted to walk over to her and hug her and bury my face in her neck and forget anything had ever happened. I didn't want her to be mad at me anymore.

I shook my head weakly in response, gathering up my nerves and trying to find my voice. I brought my fingers to rest on my stomach and gently prodded, wincing as I did so, reminding myself why it had to be done. There was no way she couldn't have seen what had happened to me in the hall. She'd been more concerned with her friends finding out than helping or comforting me.

"I'm breaking up with you." I said in a stiff voice, unable to meet her eyes. I took a few steps backward, glanced up at her face once, turned and left. Her expression was hard to read, but I could tell she knew why.

Over the next few weeks, I watched her and sometimes saw her watching me too. I want to say that I saw need in her eyes, that she still loved me and wanted me back, but I really don't know. Several times, I almost ran back to her after staring at her beautiful face, wanting nothing more than to return to the way things were. Even if she didn't love me, I still loved her. I liked to fantasize that she thought the same thing. Sometimes our gazes would meet and we'd actually hold each other's eyes for a few minutes, while some new boy's arm were wrapped around her waist. It made me lonely when I saw her peeking over their shoulder to where I stood, perhaps wishing they were my arms. I certainly did.

But we never talked again. Slowly but surely, people relaxed around me again and most seemed to forget everything that had gone on in that miserable year. After summer, almost no one mentioned it at all, and I started anew. During the second semester, my family and I moved far away into the east, but I never did forget about Ashley Smart.