Author's Note: I am slightly embarrassed that I wrote this. It was a little rushed because I leave at 5am tomorrow-no wait, today. Will be back in a week. And I know this wasn't the update you wanted, and it probably won't blow your mind, but chew on it until I get back and edit the next chapter of HL. :) Also, yes, Honey and Kayla do make a cameo here. So it's not completely HL-less. :) Just pre-HL. If you haven't read HL, ignore me. :) Muchos love.
And many, many hearts and cookies and loves to Mae and Quinn.
WARNING: Hardcore fluff. With extra cheese. Topped with rushed writing. And a dash of pointlessness. If you're repulsed by any of the 4, might I suggest the BACK button?
SERENADING SELINA SORRENTINO
"No," she said.
A loud hoot came from the back of the classroom. "Give it up, Lovegood. The chick says no."
Carter ignored the snickering of his football team and the curious stares from the rest of his classmates. He only had eyes for the girl in front of him, who gazed up at him in earnest refusal.
A clear and firm 'no.' Another clear and firm 'no,' to be exact.
In the past fourteen days, he had been rejected a grand total of five times. It didn't matter what he asked. Dinner? No. A movie? No. A game? No. A study date? No. A trip down the hall to her locker? No. He was beginning to think she wasn't capable of saying anything else.
The rowdy shouts from the class were drowned out by her silent resistance. Selina Sorrentino was one hard girl to get.
But alas, there was a twist to every story, and his was no exception. Everyone thought he had been pussy-whipped like a puppy by a mere girl. But that wasn't the case.
He slammed his hands against the double desk and towered over her.
She looked up at him, demeanor innocent and unfazed.
He could no longer pinpoint what he was feeling anymore. But whatever it was, it sure as heck was bothering him like a damned toothache.
"But you like me," he accused with disbelief, paying no attention their audience. He hadn't planned on using this card, because Carter Lovegood never had to resort to using such a menial tactic.
"All right, Carter, that's enough," Ms. Fuentes said.
He ignored her.
A week ago, he discovered that Selina had been harboring a secret crush on him for years.
The information had thrown him off of his feet. He'd wanted to stalk off to find her, and to demand why the hell she had turned down his offer not once, not twice, but four times.
Somewhere, a God was slapping his knee and snorting. Sonofabitch.
He didn't like to think himself particularly dense, but what. The. Fuck.
Leaning down, he stared as hard as he could into her eyes—a look he reserved for staring down his game opponents. "Am I to understand that you have liked me since 7th grade?"
Like magic, the class hushed in anticipation of her answer.
She put down her pencil, probably realizing that she wasn't going to get any writing done. But the tremor in her hand didn't escape his notice.
Good. It gave him satisfaction that he was affecting her somehow.
"Yes," she answered.
"Carter, I said enough. You are to sit down right—" Ms. Fuentes cut in.
"And that I've been the center of your daydreams, night dreams, and fantasies for five years?" He continued, paying their teacher no heed.
Someone blew a lewd and obnoxious whistle at her response.
"And that you've written me love letters that you were too afraid to give me?"
She swallowed, but her voice never wavered. "Yes."
"And that when Avery cheated on me, you made a voodoo doll of her?"
A few gasps and snorts came from the back of the classroom.
He took a deep breath, forcing himself to chill out. Carter Lovegood did not lose his cool.
"You want to be with me, just as much, if not more than I want to be with you."
A flicker of something passed through her expression.
"I'll get over it."
"Carter Lovegood! Stop harassing Selina and sit down. Now," Ms. Fuentes ordered. For added emphasis, she pointed to the large digital clock on the wall. "Class started five minutes ago."
Selina had already turned away from him, indicating his cue to go back and sit down.
While his determination instructed him to stay still, good sense won out, and he returned to his seat.
A few hands came out to pat him on the back, as consolation for his defeat.
"Better luck next time, soldier," Brandon said.
But Carter couldn't concentrate on what Ms. Fuentes was saying, or what his friends were whispering. If he hadn't been so caught up in the workings of his own mind, he would have noticed that a certain pixie-face had turned to look at him not once, but a whole two times.
Carter leaned back against the wall, hands in his pockets, waiting outside Room 222.
He checked his watch. Five more minutes until class was out.
A month ago, he never would have imagined himself in this position. Even though he and Selina had attended the same junior high, he never really paid any extra attention to her. Like most other people in their grade, she was just always there.
Then, as if by serendipity, he started to bump into her more often. When he scanned a room, field, or cafeteria full of people, he would accidentally find himself focused on her—if only for a split second.
She wasn't sexy like Avery Wilkinson, or hot like Mandy Carruthers. She didn't have an ass like Theresa Sander's either. Yet, he found himself growing accustomed to seeing her pixie face and monkey ears—which seemed large in comparison to her small head. Somehow, the odd proportions just didn't seem so odd anymore.
She hadn't really changed in the five years he'd known her. Since 7th grade, she'd kept her hair the same way—long, straight, and black. He even recalled a time when they used to see eye to eye. Now, he was a good eight to ten inches taller.
As the days passed, he found himself suddenly listening, actually listening to what she was saying whenever she raised her hand, or when she made a presentation. At first, it had been out of boredom and curiosity. But the more he paid attention, the more he wanted to listen.
He had always known that she was smart, but hearing all of her thoughts and comments, he realized just how intelligent she was. Not nerd smart. She simply had really good ideas.
And she was funny. Not the funny he was used to. She had a different sense of humor than the guys on the team, or any of his friends, really. A kind of funny that he hadn't found funny before…
It wasn't long before he caught himself actively searching for her in the crowd, or anticipating her answers in class. It was a rather bizarre transition that had caught him off guard for the first few days.
Three weeks ago, their history teacher paired them up for the final project of the year. And damn it all to Hades's bathroom and back, he enjoyed every second of it.
Since then, he hadn't cared about trying to hide his interest in her. Not really his style anyway. He could pursue whomever the hell he wanted, and the world had better be prepared to like it.
The bell rang.
Pushing himself off the wall, he waited as a stream of students exited the room. When he saw the person he was looking for, he moved to walk beside her in a casual, no-big manner.
"You're not going to get Selina through me, Carter," she said, making no physical indication of his presence.
He put an arm around her shoulders and steered her down a less crowded hallway.
"See now, Akemi, I always knew you were a smart one. Doesn't 'Akemi' mean compassionate and helpful and genius in Japanese?"
He removed his arm, and laughed. "I can see why you guys are friends."
"Isn't the best friend route a little old?" she asked, tone neither friendly nor hostile.
Neutral was good. He could take neutral.
"I figured, if you really care about her, you'd help me." He shrugged, acting nonchalant.
She stopped and pulled him to the side so that they weren't blocking a racing trio of freshmen. Facing him, she gave him a disapproving look, but said, "Okay. Let's get this over with. What do you want to know?"
He coughed, covering up the smile that his mouth was curving into. This had been easier than he thought. No pleading, begging, or groveling of any kind.
Like taking candy from a baby.
Sobering, he got straight to the point. "I don't understand why she won't go out with me."
Akemi sighed, smoothing out her high ponytail, as if she was about to embark on a very difficult journey. "Selina isn't exactly… like your ex-girlfriends."
He waved a hand to stop her. "I know we don't run in the same circles. But so what? There's no rule that says we can't date each other."
"You're oversimplifying things. Selina doesn't like to take chances. And there's a ninety-nine percent chance that your relationship—" She used one hand to air-quote 'relationship.' "—won't work out."
It annoyed him that Akemi thought what he and Selina could have was only good enough for a quote-unquote relationship. What? Just because they were different didn't mean their relationship would be a joke.
"Sure it can work. Haven't you seen High School Musical?"
She made a face that could only be described as extraterrestrial. "You watch High School Musical?"
He pulled a face back. "I have younger sisters. And that's not the point."
"No, it is the point," she insisted. "That's Disney. This is reality. You guys have nothing in common."
That ticked him off even more. "How do you know? Don't you think that's an unfair assumption? My hobby isn't to go around forcing unwilling girls. The point is that she has feelings for me, too. And let me tell you, that doesn't account for nothing."
His short rant was rewarded with a look of sympathy.
She gestured behind him with a glance. "Then it's too bad someone else got there first."
He turned and followed the direction of Akemi's gaze.
At the end of the hall, Selina and Robert Chapman were engrossed in conversation.
Carter turned back to Akemi, completely incredulous. "Are you kidding me?"
Robert Chapman was five foot six, with acne that looked like a volcano erupted on his face, and a 9.0 stutter on the Richter scale.
Akemi shook her head. "He's planning on taking her to prom."
Someone swab his ears, because he must've heard her wrong.
"That is my competition?" He resisted the urge to gesture toward Robert. "But she doesn't even like him."
"Who says you have to go to prom with someone you like?"
Carter's mood clouded over. Up until now, he hadn't even considered the possibility of absolute failure. "Explain this to me."
"He's safe," Akemi said.
He couldn't believe this. "And what am I? A death sentence?"
"You're a player," she elaborated.
"I'm a what?" Was the entire school on acid? "Unless we're talkin' about playing football, don't you think that label is unnecessary?"
She threw one hand up in the air because the other was still holding her textbooks.
"Will you look in a mirror!" she snapped, voice rising. "Girls throw themselves at you. How do you expect Selina to be comfortable dating a guy who has a harem of she-slaves?"
Okay, that was a fair point against him. He wasn't naïve, and he wasn't going to play stupid.
Since the age of three, girls had been chasing him. They had liked to climb on him, hug him, and gnaw at his face. Fifteen years later, it was still the same three-step routine.
"Look, I can't help if they like me. But that doesn't automatically make me some douchebag Casanova."
"Okay, let's say you do get together with Selina then. You romance her to the tips of her toes for an entire summer. Then what? When you're bored and you guys have to split ways, all she'll have left is heartache and your old high school sweater."
It took all of Carter and a little more to keep from rolling his eyes at the melodrama. Why was the woman always the victim?
"Which university is Selina going to?" he asked, even though he already knew.
"Columbia," Akemi answered in an I-told-you-so voice.
"Me, too." He didn't even try to quell his smugness.
Akemi looked horrified, her face contorting in ways that faces shouldn't have been able to contort. "No way."
Did everyone think so highly of him? Yeah, he was no Einstein, but he kept his grades up.
"Luck," he said with a shrug, not disclosing that he got in on an athletic scholarship.
"Yeah, I bet."
He took her insult with a smile. Just the reminder that he and Selina were going to attend the same school in the coming fall renewed his hope and faith in the universe. "So are you going to help me?"
"I'm not going to sweep her off her feet for you," she said, both wary and skeptical.
"I don't need you to. Just tell me what Selina's weak spot is, and I'll handle the rest." He didn't need the best friend to do the wooing. That would be sad on a stick. And he'd never hear the end of it from the guys.
"You know she's looking at us."
"Let her look." He distributed his weight more evenly on both feet and flexed his shoulders and back. He had nothing to be ashamed of. And if his supposed harem of she-slaves had anything to say, it was a damn good view, too. "Come on, Akemi. No more stalling. Pick her poison."
She ahem-ed and shifted her books to her other arm. "If you must know, she adores clichés."
"What?" He must've made a weird expression, because Akemi smirked.
"For someone who's seen High School Musical…" she trailed off at his less than amused scowl.
"Just tell me."
Why couldn't Selina have liked something normal? Like kittens, or potted plants, or cheesecake or something. Something sold in stores.
"Like… you know, forbidden love, rich guy and poor girl, bad boy turned good, captain of the football team and shy—"
"Whoa, whoa." He held up a hand to stop her. "I am captain of the football team." Waving the hand meaninglessly in the air, he tried to make sense of this. "Let me get this straight. She refuses to go out with me, even though she "adores" what she and I could become? Don't you think that's a little hypocritical?"
Akemi blinked at him, face blank. "Yes—well, no."
A tap came on his back. Turning around, he came face to face with said hypocrite. If Akemi thought this was going to stump him, she had another thing coming.
"Selina, Akemi and I were just talking about you."
"I know," she said, a troubled, halfhearted smile in place.
"And," he continued. "How is Mrs. Lovegood doing today?"
She put on her thinking, or what he liked to call her academic face. "I don't know. Perhaps you should call your mom and ask her yourself."
It was said with no sarcasm and no bite, just in that kind and wry way of hers that he was starting to like so much. He leaned into her, closing the distance between them.
"Thanks for the suggestion," he said, not loud enough for anyone else to hear.
The moment he felt her body respond—probably unwillingly—he backed off and patted her on the back in the most platonic way possible. "Well, I have to get going. You girls have a good weekend."
With a nod, he walked away, leaving two very perplexed females in his wake. There was no time to waste.
In the squishy depths of his brain, rusty wheels began to creak and turn…
Watch out, Selina Sorrentino. Carter Lovegood is coming for you.
"Kayla!" Carter shouted up the stairs. "Kayla!"
A door opened, followed by a stampede of footsteps, all caused by a single person.
"What?" she demanded from the railing.
Putting on his best older brother look, he asked, "Are you busy tonight?"
"Duh. It's Friday."
Fourteen and already giving him attitude.
"Don't you have to babysit Brianne?"
"Mom took her to that Scouts mother-daughter party."
It was almost pathetic that he was the only one without plans on a Friday night. But it had been his choice to turn down the beach party. "Are you going out then?"
"No, Honey's coming over for a sleepover."
"Ah…" Did he really want to give Chip 'n Dale the opportunity to bag such incriminating evidence against him? "Can I… uh…"
Unwillingly, Selina's tiny face and round ears pervaded his thoughts.
Stuffing the rest of his dignity down his throat, he asked, "Can I join you guys?"
"Like, I mean—" he tried to explain, but anything he could think of sounded lame. "I need some help."
"With what?" His talk-a-thon sister was reduced to those two incredulous words.
He shrugged, trying to play it cool. "Just this girl."
There was only a moment of silence before Kayla started shrieking with laughter. "Oh, my God. YOU? You need my help getting a date?" she spazzed out between snorts.
"Fine, if you don't want to help." He began to turn around.
Stupid. What had he been thinking?
"Noooo! Wait! I wanna! I wanna! Let me call Honey. What do you need help with?"
This still sounded like a bad, bad idea. "She… she likes clichés."
Directly following his open sesame, the squealing commenced.
And that was more or less how he found himself sitting on the wall bed with two over-excitable pubescent girls—two monsters separated at birth.
He picked at the popcorn in his lap with little enthusiasm.
In the past seven hours, they had watched all of the 'totally important' scenes of almost every chick flick known to Hollywood.
He had been exposed to so many clichés that his head hurt. Whatever brain matter he had to begin with had steadily leaked out of his ears—if not from the movies themselves, then from the two squealing post-tweens beside him. After every clip, he thought they couldn't possibly get more worked up, but when they fast-forwarded to the next scene, he was always proven wrong.
Currently, Freddie Prinze Jr. was confessing his love for the art chick that he 'transformed' from freak to babe.
Yeah. Fall in love with her after she 'turned' hot. Great message.
Oh, look. The douche just claimed that she was his best friend. Since when? Since a few hours ago, of course.
Kayla fell back against the pillows with a high-pitched noise—a sound that was beyond his vocabulary. An echoing noise came from his other side.
Girls actually fell for this crap?
"Honey, rewind. We have to see that again!" Kayla exclaimed.
"No!" He took the remote. "Let's not. I don't think this is going to make her stop saying no."
Kayla rolled her eyes at him like the drama queen that she was. "You're so dumb. No means yes. Right, Honey?"
"If the boy is good-looking and smart, then no definitely means yes."
"I'm pretty sure no means no," he said dryly. Or else he wouldn't be here right now.
"But you're captain of the football team…" Honey said, seeming completely bewildered by the situation.
He gave her a half-smile and a brotherly pat on the head, knowing that she had had a crush on him since a year ago.
"I'll teach you some pickup lines," Kayla suggested. "Since you're totally hopeless."
He pressed a couple of fingers into his eye sockets, hard enough to see stars. Had he really been reduced to this? It wasn't just pathetic or desperate anymore. Eighteen and taking love advice from two fourteen-year-olds…
"But he's captain of the football team…" Honey repeated, coming to his supposed rescue.
"No," Kayla said in her this-is-unacceptable voice. "He must learn these lines. Carter, try this one—" Then, deepening her pitch to sound like a man, "Hey baby, I can't find my puppy. Can you help me find him? I think he went into this cheap hotel room."
He threw popcorn at Kayla's face at the same time Honey asked, "Why would he take her to a cheap hotel? Shouldn't he go somewhere expensive?"
Kayla shook her head in despair. "Honey, I still have so much to teach you. He has to take her to a cheap hotel so that they can…" Kayla wiggled her hips against the bed. "Do that."
"Oooh." His sister's counterpart finally clued in, and retreated in embarrassed silence.
"Look—" He started, about to get up when Kayla began to spew. Yet again.
"Oh! You know what another good one is? Would you touch me so I can tell my friends I've been touched by an angel?"
"Ooh! Or, you must be Jamaican, because Jamaican me crazy! Or—"
"Enough!" he snapped.
He was underestimating himself. His last name was Lovegood for a reason. No cheesy chick flick hero or fourteen-year-old girl was going to be able to convince Selina in his place. He wasn't ever going to be some smooth-talking, fictional—
He bolted upright.
That was it.
That was it.
The idea crashed down from the heavens, hitting him square between the eyes.
Barely able to contain the renewed rush of adrenaline he felt, he gave Kayla a quick noogie. "Thanks kiddos."
And then in one leap, he jumped off of the bed. As he ran out of the room, he heard Honey ask, "What happened?" and Kayla answer, "He probably got horny and went to the bathroom to enjoy himself."
He didn't stop until he reached the office. Opening the top drawer of the large oak desk, he grabbed a bundle of elastic-banded Sharpies. Then, reaching for the phone, he dialed.
His heart was pounding like he just ran a one mile penalty lap. And it felt good. Exhilarating.
When the familiar voice picked up, he said, "Coach, it's Carter. I need a favor."
Carter waited in the dark, and had been waiting for an hour—just in case she ignored his instructions and came early. Which, considering Selina, wasn't out of the question.
He cleared his throat, even though it didn't need clearing. His arms were becoming sore.
Across his chest, he held the stack of white cardboard he'd worked so hard on the night before. There were sixteen—sixteen 50 by 20 cards that represented his last effort, one last sprint to the finish. If she rejected him after this, then he would back down, tuck his tail between his legs, and give up like he should have done weeks ago. If she wasn't going to give them a chance, if she refused to meet him halfway, then he wasn't going to force her.
Balancing the stack in one hand, he used his other to readjust his uniform. June weather was giving him hell tonight. He should have come naked. Maybe she'd have appreciated that.
He should have told her to come naked. They could have trespassed into the school's pool and taken a nice, cool dip. He would have appreciated that.
He checked the time.
Close, so close.
Standing on the fifty yard line, right in the middle of the football field, he cleared his throat again.
He had to stop doing that. Puberty ended three years ago. His voice was fine. And if he did it again, he'd psyche himself into thinking that he was nervous.
He looked over to the scoreboard for the time.
Was this a joke?
To pass time, he recalled his earlier conversation with Selina—for the umpteenth time.
"Hello?" she spoke into her phone.
He had planned to say hi first, but the words just came out.
"Meet me on field A at eleven tonight, sharp."
There was a pause.
Damn if it didn't make him happy that she recognized his voice.
"And dress up for me. Won't you?"
"Overalls. And an ugly shirt." He saw his dad's glasses on the table. "Oh—and do you wear contacts?"
"Good. Take them out."
"Don't be early," he added, and then promptly hung up.
He looked over at the time.
The night was getting darker and dark. The only light came from the light and sound control room that sat above the bleachers, where Coach had just given him a cheesy two-thumbs up.
He owed that man too many favors to pay back in this lifetime.
He glanced down, to make sure his helmet was still sitting beside his feet—not that it would run away. It was just another check to make sure everything went according to plan.
If the team knew he'd spent the entire afternoon deciding which uniform to wear, they'd strip him of all the pride and dignity and power he had left. In the end, he'd gone with the navy blue, to match the white pants.
This was probably his first time wearing his uniform in full gear outside a game or a pep rally. Thinking about it made him feel a bout of premature nostalgia. Soon, he would be leaving Sir Carleton High, preparing to take on the world.
Even in the dark, he knew where the bleachers were, where the school mascot and cheerleaders did their routine parading, where Joe's mom and dad ran the concession stand at every game…
For five years, this empty field was his home.
Even though he was suffocating in the uniform, a cold draft filled him. It occurred to him then that she might not come.
She had refused all of his previous offers. What made him think that she would sneak out of her house in the middle of the night to see him?
Dream on, Carter.
Shit, what had he been thinking?
There was not one godforsaken reason in this world why she would—
A shifting movement caught his eye at the end of the field. He didn't have to guess.
It was Selina.
And right on time.
He could spot her from the way her elbows locked when she stuck her hands in her pockets. But he wouldn't allow himself to feel relief because it meant that he had panicked before. And Carter Lovegood did not panic.
He suppressed the urge to clear his lack of phlegm again.
She took a few steps forward, past the goal post.
He gave Coach the signal.
Just as she passed the goal line, the first set of lighting fixtures flashed on like a loud clap of thunder. He saw the effect of the boom as she jumped, or rather, skipped too high.
She was wearing a pair of overall shorts, glasses, and a plain white t-shirt—just like he'd asked. From the corner of the field, right in the middle of the end zone, her gaze landed on him immediately.
Yeah, she was fifty yards away, but he knew.
If she turned away now, it would be the end. He wasn't going to do the chasing anymore. If she wanted this, she would have to come to him.
Silently, he dared her to move forward. He didn't care if he was threatening to pop her bubble of safety, or blowing up her idea of happily ever after. So what if there were no guarantees in life?
Carter Lovegood would make his own guarantee.
And as if she had felt the force of his will, her feet began to make their way toward him.
He felt something stirring inside him when she crossed the ten yard line.
Upon reaching the twenty yard line, the second set of lights flashed on. But she didn't jump this time. She neither hesitated nor stopped. She didn't even slow down. Those sneakers of hers were making their way full speed ahead.
His hands tightened beneath the cardboard.
With each step she took, she became clearer, her features sharper. Though he was sure he could see those monkey ears from miles away.
His heels dug into the fifty yard line as he felt a sharp pain at his side, like a cramp.
Was he breathing?
It felt like seconds. But he didn't move, not once. Nor did his expression change. He didn't dare hope.
Her small feet shuffled forward, one yard at a time. Nothing on her face betrayed what she was feeling. But if he was honest with himself, he sucked at gauging other people's facial expressions.
Was she surprised? Thrown off? Pissed off?
Left and right, the third and final lights came on, illuminating the entire field and the girl who was approaching him. The tension in his body eased away. This was it.
High school was coming to an end, but this was just their beginning, their time to shine. Opportunities like this only came once, and he'd be damned if he didn't grab it and run.
She stopped at forty-five yards.
Upon seeing the end of her arrival, he greeted her with a true Carter Lovegood grin.
They stood facing each other for what seemed like eternity. She didn't smile, nor did she say hi.
Without another word, he took away the front piece of blank cardboard to reveal the words on the second card.
Fifteen messages that he'd long memorized over the past two days. Fifteen lines that played over and over again in his sleep.
In bold block letters, the card said:
I DIDN'T LOSE A BET.
He watched her read the card, then look at him, puzzled.
He flipped to the next one.
I AM NOT YOUR BROTHER'S BEST FRIEND OR YOUR STEPBROTHER.
Her brows lowered in question, but she took a few tentative steps forward. He wasn't sure if something had changed in her countenance.
OUR FAMILIES ARE NEITHER RIVALS NOR ARE THEY SEGREGATED BY SOCIAL CLASS.
I AM NOT AN EARL, MARQUIS, OR DUKE—MUCH LESS A PRINCE.
With each revealed card, he recited the lines in his head. And though he tried, he couldn't keep the humor from creeping onto his face when he revealed the next message.
WE ARE NOT CHILDHOOD ENEMIES WHO FEEL SEXUALLY ATTRACTED TO EACH OTHER.
The words 'who feel sexually attracted to each other' were crossed out in red.
AND I WILL NEVER WANT TO SUCK YOUR BLOOD.
He watched her stifle a laugh, or perhaps a hiccup. Against his will, he cleared his throat again.
ON ANY OTHER DAY, I'M JUST CARTER LOVEGOOD.
BECAUSE YOU DIG IT…
I AM CAPTAIN OF THE FOOTBALL TEAM. AND YOU ARE MY NERD.
He smiled. Something had changed in her eyes. The wariness before had been replaced with something warmer, something softer, something that made that godforsaken hope rise in his chest. He took away the top card.
WE MAY NOT GET MARRIED AND HAVE 20 CHILDREN,
BUT WHY NOT TRY?
This time, her eyes crinkled up in genuine, but silent laughter.
He revealed the next card.
BEFORE YOU SAY 'NO' AGAIN. I HAVE ONE LAST QUESTION.
BUT FIRST—LOOK AT THE TIME.
He glanced down to make sure the big, chunky black arrow he drew pointed in the direction of the scoreboard.
She raised her gaze to the right.
For a moment, she just looked at the time with an odd expression on her face, like happiness and defeat all in one.
He took this time to put the last card in place.
And when she turned back, the last message was waiting for her.
Then suddenly, he didn't know what happened. His brain shut down and his body went on auto-pilot. Without thinking, he tossed the last card onto the ground.
He took a step forward. Breathing unevenly, he looked into her startled eyes and repeated the words he'd learned by heart.
"Selina Sorrentino—" The words came out croaky and phlegmy. God, he sounded thirteen again. Clearing his throat, he made another attempt. "Selina Sorrentino… Will you not do the honor of attending prom with me?"
Neither of them moved.
She opened her mouth to speak, but closed it again.
No answer came.
In that second, he faltered, and a sick sort of uncertainty and doom spread through him.
But then she locked her hands behind her, and slowly, but steadily, crossed the forty-nine yard mark.
She smiled up at him and spoke only one word, but that one word was all it took.