Hey guys. A few things I need to say before you start:
(1) Yesterday, I sat down with every intent of writing a chapter for Max & Me. I swear. But this...this...thing came out instead, and I couldn't stop it. Yesterday, I wrote more in one sitting than I've done in a long, long time. I had the intense satisfaction of actually finishing an idea for once.
(2) I'm sorry if it's kind of incoherent and unedited because I wrote it and just had to upload it. Hope you still enjoy :)
(3) This is about homecoming. If you don't know what that is, read on. If you do, feel free to skip to the story. Homecoming is a dance that is usually preceeded by a football game. Afterwards there's the dance, which you go to with your date and everything. Mums and garters are decorations that you wear to school on the day of homecoming to advertise that you're going. They have ribbons and bells and all kinds of stuff, and they make enough noise to wake the dead. On the ribbons are your name and your date's name. Girls wear mums around their necks, and the mums are really long, trailing on the ground long. Guys wear garters on their arms, and garters are obviously shorter.
Without further ado...continue!
When He Dumps You...
Words could not express how furious I was. Words could not express how badly I wanted to either crumple in my bathroom and cry or snatch up my dad's shotgun and go hunting for the guy who put me in such a state. I was speechless with rage.
I snatched up my phone on the bed for the fiftieth time and for the fiftieth time read the text.
goin 2 homecoming w/ Danny. sorry.
Oh my God! How many times over the process of us dating had I told him that I abhorred texts like that? He was eighteen years old, unable to spell, and a capitalization retard. And he'd used the text to tell me he'd found a new date and dumped me the morning of homecoming.
I resisted the urge to rip my hair to shreds. Instead, I stomped over to my bed, where the garter that I had made for him lay sprawled across the bed. Every ribbon carefully folded, every bell meticulously linked on…
I snatched up the garter and made to dash it into the wall. Just as I was about to release it, my hand froze, and the bells jingled pitifully.
I couldn't do it. I couldn't destroy something I'd spent loving hours on to make perfect, even if it had been for some jerk who had dumped me the day of homecoming.
I was pathetic. With a disgusted mutter, I slammed the garter into my bed, watching with vicious satisfaction as it jangled in protest. But it didn't break, and some part of me was relieved for that.
Maybe he'd change his mind. Maybe he had been kidding.
Impulsively, I grabbed my phone again and scanned it eagerly.
With a groan, I threw the phone into my pillow and dropped onto the bed, tears suddenly prickling my eyes.
We'd gone out for almost a month now. He'd been my first boyfriend ever—ever. He was supposed to be my Prince Charming, my love for life! We were supposed to be an item for homecoming—we'd talked about it so many times. I could have imagined his arms around me as we danced, his wide smile, his alluring blue eyes that sparkled when he laughed…
goin to homecoming w/ Danny. sorry.
Stupid! He had been my first boyfriend and he'd be my last, I swore!
Swiping my hand against my stinging eyes, I angrily grabbed up my phone and stuffed it into my backpack. Why was I getting so worked up anyway? I wouldn't show that scumbag that he'd gotten to me. I'd go to school as if I'd dumped him, hold my head high, and, if possible, make his life an unparalleled misery.
Sucking in a breath, I narrowed my eyes and clenched my fists. Today, I was a new person.
As I stood in the cafeteria in the morning waiting for the bell to ring that would release us to first period, I chewed on my lip angrily, searching the crowd. Everywhere I turned, there were garters and mums and couples cuddling. It made me sick to the stomach and doubled my fury—if not for that stupid text, that could have been me.
And then I spotted him. Sitting comfortably at a table with a wide smile on his face—the smile he'd told me was for my eyes only. And between his legs sat a skinny, freckled girl. Danielle, a.k.a Danny, a.k.a my new worst enemy behind the freaking ex himself.
I winced. She was more popular than I could ever have hoped for. My ex certainly aimed high.
But then again, hadn't she been going out with that football star—what was his name again? Ah, yes, Oliver Swift. What the hell did she see in Gary that she'd dumped her jock of a boyfriend for him? And I couldn't imagine that Oliver was too happy about that—it had been rumored that they were planning a whole elaborate thing for homecoming, including a fancy dinner after the game.
Where was Oliver? I craned my neck over the crowd and didn't spot him. Had he been too humiliated to even come to school? I tried not to blush. He'd done what a smart person would have done—minimize publicity. But I, being an incurable idiot, had come to face Gary and Danny, even though I knew that fighting them would be like an ant attacking a mountain. Oh, I was so stupid.
Embarrassed beyond words, I pulled my hood up and tried to look unconcerned. I felt my stomach roil and wondered if I made the excuse of being sick, they'd let me run back home with my tail between my legs.
Clang. Clang. Clang-a-lang.
Raising my head, I glanced up, surprised. Sure, the mums were loud, but this loud? It sounded like an army.
My jaw hit the floor hard enough to bruise.
There in the entrance of the cafeteria stood Oliver Swift himself, an elaborate garter on his arm and an enormous mum in his hands. It was a monstrous thing, overflowing with ribbons and bells and centered with a stuffed bear striped with the school colors: black and blue. He had a look of grim determination on his face as he strode in with his head high, his dark hair gelled up and his blue eyes burning. He looked like a veritable soldier marching into battle.
As I made to pick up my jaw, I spotted the names on the ribbons and couldn't help my knees from clattering together in shock.
OLIVER & CLARISSE
Oh…my God. That did not say what I thought it did.
But his garter read the same thing. And the letters were way to large for me to misread, even with my terrible eyesight. And Gabrielle and Clarisse were two different things, unable to misspell.
And he was walking straight for me, fording a path through the students on account of his enormous burden. He stopped just in front of me, and I found myself staring at my name on his garter.
"What…?" I started before lapsing into speechless shock.
"Hey, baby," he said, grinning, though his eyes remained hard. "Ready for homecoming?"
He handed me the mum. And by handed, I mean heaved it into my arms and let go.
I almost buckled under its weight. I staggered back into the table behind me and shot him a look of pure incredulousness. "What…on…earth…"
He smiled brightly and wrapped me in a close hug.
I froze in shock. Was Oliver Swift, jock extraordinaire and someone who would never recognize a social middle-class girl, hugging me?!
His voice, low and pitched so that only I could hear, whispered in my ear, "Go along with me."
So, dazed, I put on a goofy smile and gazed up at him. "Hey, Oliver. Sure."
He grinned and leaned back, his arm still around my shoulders. "Good. We're going to have the best time."
It sounded more like a threat than a promise. Oliver took in my still-baffled expression and took my arm, dragging me into the nearest empty room.
Which happened to be the boy's bathroom. I smothered a protest at his withering look and followed obediently, praying that no one had an over reactive bladder this morning.
He led me into the last stall and practically shoved me in. I was alarmed when he locked the door and spun around to face me.
"All right," he said quickly, "here's the facts: your boyfriend dumped you for my girlfriend. So we've got a major problem."
"Um," I interjected, "sorry to be a party pooper or anything, but we haven't spoken. Ever. Isn't it kind of weird that we're in the boy's bathroom sharing a stall now?"
Whoa, it sounded even weirder saying it out loud. I winced.
"That isn't the point," he said dismissively. He pinned me to the spot with his eyes. "The point is, we've been dumped for morons and are extremely pissed about it, right?"
His words stirred something in me, and I recalled just how ready I had been to kill someone that morning. "Yeah…"
"So what else can we do?" He gestured to the mum. "We're going together, that's what. We go together and prove what kind of couple we are, and I'm going to show her exactly what she's missing. You can do the same for your moron of a boyfriend. Look, it's a win-win situation. What could go wrong?" His eyes gleamed with vengeance, and I felt a similar thrill snake down my spine.
Hmm, to go out with Oliver Swift, one of the most popular boys in school, to wreak havoc in Gary's heart or cry at home and attack pillows…exactly which one sounded more tempting?
"You're right." I knew that now my eyes were shining too—burning, more like. Oh, the look on Gary's face…"You're absolutely right."
I glanced up at him with a new resolve and adjusted his garter so that it was straighter. "There. Perfect," I said, smiling at him sweetly.
He grinned, and his eyes were steel. "Good. Thanks. We're going to make their lives a living hell," he promised.
I set my jaw and allowed a smile to cross my face. "We'd better."
The door bell rang at exactly seven o'clock that night, and I flounced down the stairs in my new dress. I'd had a nice blue one that I'd been saving for that night that showed me off as a demure, pretty little creature. But that had been for Gary. Instead, I'd snatched a fiery red dress from my sister's closet. It ended just above my knees and hugged my curves tightly. In this, I looked like a voracious creature, like some sort of temptress. I doubted Gary had ever seen this side of me before. This dress…it was for Oliver.
I pulled the door open, and there he stood, looking pretty dandy in his football polo and slacks. His hair was tousled by the wind and hanging in his eyes, so I leaned forward and tucked it behind his ears, letting my hands linger next to his cheek.
Oliver laughed. "Keep doing that, and we'll have those two at our feet before the night ends. Come on."
Locking the door, I followed him over to his car. It was a beautiful yellow Camaro, its hood striped with black in two bold lines. I sucked in a breath in admiration.
He grinned. "Like it? Got it for my sixteenth."
"Wow," I said, tracing a stripe lightly. "It's beautiful."
"You serious?" he said, leaning over the open driver's door. "You like this kind of stuff?"
"Sure," I said. "Cars are cool."
Oliver laughed. "We'll get along fine then. Danny hates talking about mechanics and stuff like that. Guy stuff."
"Don't be sexist," I said, grinning as I slid into the car. I admired the interior as well, leaning into the leather seats and breathing in the leather smell.
"We're going to be early," Oliver said after we'd turned towards the school. "I've got to get dressed for the game, but you can hang out in the bleachers."
I nodded. "Sure."
"You into football?" he asked, turning into the parking lot.
I smiled a little weakly. "Not really. I'm more of a soccer person."
"At least you're into something," he replied, circling the parking lot in search of an empty lot. "Danny wanted to just skip the game altogether. She wanted me to pick her up when it was time for the dance."
"Gary loves football," I told him. "He's probably here."
Oliver grinned. "Then we've got one down, one to go." His grin morphed into a scowl, though, as he passed through the parking lot a third time. He checked his watch and groaned. "I'm going to be late."
I sat straighter in my seat and craned my neck to see over the parked cars. We were probably later than we should have been, going by the horde of people flocking towards the school doors and the nonexistent parking spaces.
Suddenly, I spotted a spot between a blue Camry and a gray minivan. "There!"
He'd spotted it the instant I did, and the car surged forward. Half a second before he turned into the lot, Oliver slammed on the brakes and let out a growl of frustration.
"What?" I craned my neck forward and noticed for the first time the tiny hybrid wedged in our spot. "Oh dang it! Classic small car syndrome!"
Surprised, Oliver's glower faltered. "What?"
"Small car syndrome," I repeated. "See? It gets me every time too. It's a conspiracy." I let my voice drop to a whisper on the last sentence.
Oliver gave me an appraising glance before letting out a genuine laugh. "Haha, you're funny." And it didn't sound the least bit sarcastic. He glanced at his watch again, and the crease between his eyes returned. "But that doesn't help. Coach is going to kill me."
I glanced at the clock on the dashboard. "You're going to be later if you keep driving in circles."
He shot me an irritated glance. "What else am I supposed to do?"
"Here." I nudged him with my elbow. "Let me find a space, and you can go ahead."
He eyed me. "Really? You really think I'd trust you with my baby?"
I rolled my eyes. "Do you think I'd total such a beautiful thing?" At his doubtful look, I sighed. "Relax. I passed my driving test with flying colors."
With a groan, he opened his door and let me slide over into the driver's seat. "I'm only letting you do this because I'll miss the game at this rate. And if you put a scratch on her…" He patted his Camaro lovingly and sent me a meaningful look.
"Get going, honey," I said, pasting on my girlfriend smile. "I'll see you after the game."
He managed a grin and patted the hood. "Don't hurt her."
I rolled my eyes again and gave him a shove so I could shut the door. With a last wistful glance at his car, he took off and disappeared along with the last few stragglers into the school.
I managed to wedge the Camaro—without a scratch—between a light pole and an enormous, battered SUV that looked as if it had had a run in with a garbage truck. Hoping the driver wasn't as bad a driver as the state of the SUV suggested, I left the Camaro there with some misgivings and joined everyone else filing into the high school stadium.
I managed to squeeze into the first few rows of the bleachers, close enough to the field that I would have been able to leap out and tackle a passing player myself. I smoothed down my dress and tried not to blush at the suggestive looks some of the single guys—and some of the not-so-single guys—shot me. And then we waited for the players.
At eight o'clock sharp, the principal strode out onto the field and tapped the megaphone. "Is this thing on?"
The crowd chorused back, "Yes!"
"Okay, then," he shouted, oblivious at how loudly he was coming across. I winced as his shrill voice broke over the bleachers. "This is the homecoming game of our home team, the Hunsford Hellions, against the Dragoons of Dempsey High School! Both of these teams are undefeated and are here tonight to fight it out for the title of victor! Without further ado, I give you the homecoming game. Let's…play…ball!"
Everyone rolled their eyes and suppressed groans, and a few brave souls booed the principal off the field. I doubted he even knew of his mistake as he jogged triumphantly to the sidelines, completely unaware of the eye-rolling crowd.
Then, with a roar, the Dragoons of Dempsey exploded through their banner, all decked out in spiffy red uniforms. They all sported stripes under their eyes, and I gave them an impressed glance. They all looked buff enough to take on a buffalo and win, and I had to wonder if our team could match; I hadn't really noticed much of our football team lately except for Oliver himself, and that was only because his girlfriend had snatched my boyfriend.
With an equally thunderous hollering, the Hellions burst through their own banner on the left side of the field, dressed in the black and blue of the school colors. The crowd around me exploded into cheers, and I let loose an excited scream myself. I'd never actually had the patience to sit through a whole football game before, and I was somewhat excited.
The teams faced off and the referee blew the whistle. The homecoming game began.
Now if I remembered correctly, Oliver was the one with number seven printed on his back. I watched him raptly and winced as he disappeared under a landslide of bodybuilders. Half-rising in my seat, I waited for him to reemerge.
Number seven had had his helmet stripped off. And he was definitely not Oliver.
Hmm. Then, who…?
I tried to study the players for a sign of my date, but all of them managed to pull of an Oliver-y look. Just when I thought one of them was walking like him, or acting like him, or looking like him, they would trip or take off their helmet or twist around and I'd catch a look of their face. What the hell? There weren't even that many players on the field.
I stayed clueless until the Hellion quarterback—at least, I thought it was the quarterback—sent the ball spiraling all the way to the other end of the field, where another teammate caught it neatly, scoring. The crowd around me erupted into cheers and hoots while the other side of the field groaned and booed.
The crowd broke into a chant: "Oliver! Oliver!"
Oliver? Where? I rose to my feet and glanced out onto the field.
And then the quarterback ran past me, giving me a thumbs up as he did. The girls around me shrieked his name. "Oliver!"
Oh. That was Oliver. Oh he looked familiar all right. How I'd missed him, I had no idea. I settled back to watch the game, my attention focused mostly on the Hellion quarterback, now that I'd finally figured out who he was.
The Hellions won the game. Though I wasn't much of a football fan, I pumped up my fist like everyone else and screamed my throat raw at every touchdown and at the end when the team gallivanted around the field carrying Oliver and another kid on their shoulders. I was content to remain at the back of the crowd that surged onto the field—until I spotted Gary near the front, patting Oliver on the back, his face striped blue and black like some sort of ghoul.
Oh, the mere sight of him made me boil! Without much thought, I shoved my way through the sweating mass and popped out into the middle, where the football team was.
Straightening my dress, I smiled brightly and cried, "Oliver! Hey, Oliver!"
He turned at my shout and spotted me waving at him. I glanced pointedly at Gary, who was grinning widely and hadn't noticed me yet. With a nod of understanding, Oliver abandoned his teammates and crossed over to me, his face splitting into a wide smile.
"Hey, Clarisse," he said loudly. "How was the game?"
"Great," I enthused, grinning so hard I was sure the others would suspect it of being fake. "You were awesome." Ignoring his sweaty face, I pulled him down and pecked him lightly on the cheek.
He went even further. To my shock, he swooped down on me and pressed his lips against mine. And because we were supposed to be putting on a show, I deepened the kiss and reached my arms around his neck, closing my eyes.
"Oooh, Oliver's got a date tonight!" the football team crowed. "Oliver's got a date tonight!"
I pulled back and grinned cheekily at them. "What? Surprised?"
"Hey, that chick dumped him this morning," one of the boys said with a shrug. "We just didn't think he'd pick up another girl so quickly."
"Mmm," Oliver said, his hand lingering on my hot cheek appreciatively. "Come on, did you guys think I'd mope over Danny?"
The boys snickered. "Nah! Besides, she was boring anyways."
I glanced over Oliver's shoulder and managed to catch sight of my ex-boyfriend.
The stricken look on his face—that look of pure astonishment—was almost enough to make me run hollering around the field in triumph. Almost. As it was, I contented myself with tucking Oliver's arm around my shoulders, leaning into him. Gary's eyes nearly popped out of his skull as I nestled in with the football star closer than I'd ever done with him. For a moment, I imagined a flicker of something in his eyes. The moment passed.
I felt Oliver's mouth by my ear. "So? A good enough show for him?"
My smile and severe blinking of eyelashes must have been enough answer for him. He drew me in closer and smiled at his teammates.
Outside of the locker room, he said, "Let me get changed and showered and I'll be out in fifteen minutes."
I nodded and leaned against the wall outside, listening to the distant chatter of people on the field. The minutes ticked by.
Surprised, I opened my eyes and glanced up.
Right into those sea blue eyes and that familiar face, which was now twisted in confusion and anger.
"Gary," I returned coolly.
"What the hell is this?" he demanded. "You're…you've hooked Swift? And so soon!"
"What?" I demanded coldly. "You think I'd wait around? For what?"
He looked taken aback and for a moment, his anger faltered. "Well…you know…just in memory of us!" His fire returned. "You didn't really care for us at all, did you? Or you wouldn't have gotten a new date so soon!" He mussed his hair with his hand, like he did when he was angry. "I can't believe Swift picked up a girl like you. He's got some heart. Or he's got the IQ of a rock. I mean, who the hell would want a girl like you?"
He shot me an accusing glare, like it was all my fault. Like this entire, screwed-up situation was my fault.
I felt a fire ignite in my stomach, pooling up inside of me. I clenched my jaw and ground out, "You've got some nerve telling me that I'm not the one caring for us. Yeah? Who dumped who? And on the morning of homecoming, no less! You couldn't even wait till tomorrow, or next week? Or last week? You just had to do it today! And you couldn't even do it properly. If you're going to break up with me, do it like a man, not a jerk, and tell me face-to-face. And if you're going to text me, learn to spell, you moron!"
To my mortification, I felt my eyes well up. Tears usually came when I was furious, but Gary would see it as a sign of weakness, and I'd hate him for it.
But Gary was too incensed to notice my eyes. "Well, look who's calling who a moron! You're such an idiot, Clarisse! You were never really pretty in the first place. But you were easy—so easy! All I had to do was play nice, help you out, and you were in love with me. Well guess what? The world isn't such a nice place after all! And stuff like this happens all the time. You can't blame me for dumping a boring girl like you for someone who might actually give me what I want!"
"And what do you want?" I shouted, clenching my fists. "What the hell do you want, Gary?"
It was the wrong thing to say. Before I could do more than gasp in shock, he had me pinned against the wall. His face was inches from mine, his burning eyes larger than life.
"What do I want?" he whispered, his voice lower. "Wasn't it obvious?" His nose trailed down my jawbone, and I shivered as I felt him inhale. "Wasn't it always so obvious?"
"Get away from me," I said hoarsely, trying to push him. But he was sturdier than he seemed. At my protest, he only chuckled darkly and leaned in closer.
"Gary, get off me!" I cried as his hands traveled lower…and lower…and lower…
"Hey, you bastard, get your hands off my girlfriend!"
And then he was gone. With a gasp of terror, I could only stare, eyes wide.
Gary was on the ground, five feet away. His hand was on his jaw, his eyes wide with shock. Oliver stood over him, his hair still dripping from the shower. His hands were clenched, and his right knuckles were reddening. And the expression on his face—murderous.
Gary seemed to notice Oliver the moment I did. "Swift!"
"Stay away from her," Oliver warned, and his threat sounded surprisingly authentic. He was a better actor than I'd thought.
"I didn't do anything," Gary protested hotly, scrambling to his feet. He made to step towards me, but Oliver's glower froze him in his tracks. Instead, Gary sent me a glance. "Right, Clarisse?"
I was frozen. Oliver's hand clenched again and he stepped forward menacingly. "What? Her expression isn't enough for you?"
Gary eyed Oliver's fist and decided that sometimes it was better to flee than to lose. Within seconds, he'd disappeared around the corner.
Oliver turned to me, his face relaxing. "Did he hurt you?"
Numb, I shook my head. I tried to breathe and felt my lungs constrict. For a moment, I couldn't breathe.
Oliver grabbed my arm. "Hey, are you okay?"
Shutting my eyes, I took several shallow breaths, feeling my heart slow. At last, I felt my lungs relax, and I could breathe more easily. "I'm okay," I said shakily.
He hadn't noticed anything. With a sigh, Oliver came over and took my arm. "Come on. We've got to go to homecoming dance."
I thought about resisting. I felt nauseous and hardly in the mood for dancing and fun. All I wanted right now was to curl up in my bed and cry myself to sleep. But Oliver had saved me just now from who knew what. Didn't I owe him?
Silently, we climbed into the Camaro. Oliver pulled out, told me that we were going to his house so he could change into his suit, and continued driving in silence. I sat uncomfortably, glancing out the window to avoid meeting his eyes.
Ten minutes into the trip, I glanced over at him and caught sight of his swollen knuckles. Without thinking, I reached out and grabbed his hand. He winced.
"You're hurt," I said lamely.
"Your boyfriend's got a jaw of rock," he answered without taking his eyes off the road.
"Ex-boyfriend," I corrected. Turning over his hand, I clicked my tongue. "This looks kind of bad. Do you think anything's broken?"
He clenched his fist and shook his head, grimacing. "Nah. I can still move everything." He glanced back at the backseat. "Can you reach back there? I think I've got some gauze or something."
"Sure." I twisted around in my seat and blushed as I felt my dress ride up. But he didn't say anything so I continued to grope in the darkness until my hand hit a bag. Hauling it up, I reseated myself, hoping I wasn't blushing so badly that he could make it out in the dark.
From the bag, I fished out antibiotics and a roll of bandages. I raised my eyebrow. "Were you just planning to punch Gary's living daylights out?"
Oliver managed a grin. "Come on, really? I'm in football. I get injured all the time."
"Oh." As he drove, I dabbed antibiotics on his hand, wincing in sympathy as he hissed. It was probably dangerous to be doing so as he drove, judging by the way the car swerved, but since the scare with Gary, I wasn't thinking quite straight.
By the time we reached his house, I'd wrapped his hand up as nicely as an inexperienced high school student could. He winced as he clenched and released, and thanked me.
"Come on," he said, brushing a hand through his hair. It reminded me of Gary, except for the fact that Oliver wasn't angry as he did it. I shivered and swung the door open.
His house was clean, spacious, and dark. I stood uncertainly in the doorway, glancing around.
"It's okay," he said, flipping on some of the lights. "The only person who's home is my sister. I'll be down in a minute." He started up the stairs and paused on the first one. "If she comes down and talks to you, don't freak. She's just like that."
Before I could ask like what?, he'd already disappeared up the stairs. Uneasily, I seated myself on one of the stools in the kitchen, glancing around.
The kitchen counters were clean and clear of clutter, unlike my own house's. All the food was tucked away neatly in cabinets or the refrigerator in the corner.
Speaking of the refrigerator, its silver surface was plastered with pictures. Sliding off the stool, I crossed over to it and studied the photos.
The largest one in the middle was one of Oliver and his family. It must have been taken some time recently because he looked exactly the same as he looked today. His mother and father looked nice enough as they smiled lovingly at their children. Oliver was dressed in a polo and jeans, pulling faces at a girl sitting next to him—his sister? She looked like she was in third grade with her loose t-shirt, freckles, and shorts. Her hair was fashioned in odd pigtails and she was sticking her tongue out at him.
I glanced at the other photos and found that they were almost exclusively of Oliver and his family, always together. I sighed and felt a pang of longing.
"Who are you?"
I whirled at the childish voice to find a girl on the stairs—Oliver's sister. She had her hair up in funny pigtails, and she looked as if she'd sprung straight from the picture. And she was at least a head shorter than me.
"Uh…hi," I said, finding my voice. "I'm Oliver's…date for tonight. For homecoming."
The girl eyed me up and down. "You look different."
I was taken aback. "I do?" When on earth had we met before?
"Yeah. You haven't got freckles. And your hair's dark, not blond."
I realized who she was talking about. "I'm not Danny. My name's Clarisse."
Now she looked shocked. "What? But this morning, he was all gloating about going to homecoming with that chick."
"'That chick?'" I echoed. Was this something a third grader should be saying?
"Yeah." Oliver's sister pulled a face. "I didn't really like her. She called me all sorts of names because I look weird."
"You don't look weird," I said automatically. Except with her pigtails and polka-dotted outfit, she did look outlandish.
She grinned. "Thanks, even though I know you don't mean it." She leaned on the banister. "I think I like you. More than that chick anyway. I don't see what Oliver saw in her."
I grinned tentatively. "Um, thanks?"
She grinned back. "Hope you guys have fun. And maybe Oliver will be cured of Danny's Disease."
'"Danny's Disease?'" I repeated, restraining a smile.
"That's what I call it. I think it's just infatuation because she's pretty." She sent me a searching glance. "What do you think?"
"Um…" Exactly how was I supposed to answer this?
I was saved by Oliver, who came down the stairs with thunderous steps. He ruffled his sister's hair as he passed by and raised an eyebrow.
"Spreading rumors about me, Mel?"
She squealed. "You ruined my hair!"
"You're not doing anything but sleeping in it," he retorted.
"Ugh!" She stomped her foot and pulled off the very embodiment of petulance. "I hate you!"
"Love you too." He took my arm and made a slight bow in Mel's direction. "Now if you'd excuse me, I've got a date to attend."
He led me out the door as Mel screamed behind us, "Now how am I supposed to look good for my date tomorrow morning?"
I glanced back, surprised. "Date?"
"I know," he said, grinning. "It's impossible for her to get a boyfriend."
"No, really," I said, alarmed. "Isn't she a little too young to be dating…?"
Oliver shot me a surprised glance before letting out a burst of laughter. "Melanie's in ninth grade."
His smile widened. "I know it's hard to believe. It's just because she's so short."
I gaped at him. "She can't be in ninth grade! No offense or anything, but she's a midget!"
He laughed. "No offense taken. She really is a midget—a legal one. Under five feet and in high school."
Ignoring my splutters of incredulousness, he pushed me into the car and took off for the hotel the dance was being held in. By the time I'd recovered from my shock, we'd driven for nearly ten minutes.
Oliver glanced at his watch. "We won't get there for another forty minutes."
I sighed and he looked at me. "I know it's a while, but bear with me."
I blushed. "I'm not that impatient."
He grinned and tapped his hands on the steering wheel. "Want to play a game?"
"What kind?" I asked, yawning.
"It's called 'I Wish.'"
I propped my feet up on the dashboard. "Never heard of it."
"My mom made it up," he told me. "You tell a story about an event in your life and then the other person says that they wished they had something of yours. Like if I told you a story about how I slay a dragon, you'd say, 'I wish I was as strong as you, Oliver.'"
I laughed. "What an ego-boost."
He grinned. "That's kind of the point. I had sort of a low self-esteem when I was little, so my mom made the game up when I was younger."
Low self-esteem? Oliver? I shook my head in disbelief, and he caught my expression.
"I'm serious," he said with an embarrassed laugh. "I used to be so shy I could hardly go to school."
"I don't believe it," I said. To forestall his coming argument, I said, "Let's play then."
"Okay. I'll start." He chewed on his lip for a moment and said, "This morning, my girlfriend called me and told me that she was dumping me for some guy that I'd always believed was a loser. After I was done moping, I devised a plan for revenge." He grinned and glanced over at me.
I laughed. "I wish I had your motivation. After Gary dumped me, all I wanted to do was cry. Or shoot someone."
Now Oliver laughed too. "Shoot someone?"
"With my dad's shotgun," I explained. "Not that I really would, but it was satisfying to act it out in my head." I brought up my hands, squinted, and pulled the trigger to an invisible shotgun.
Oliver laughed. "Okay, your turn."
I thought for a long moment before grinning. "When I was seven, my brother Paul spilled all of my sister's cereal on the floor and blamed me for it. I didn't tell my parents the truth, and they punished me. Paul would have been grounded from his soccer team for messing around like that, but I wanted to let him play."
Oliver sent me an admiring look. "I wish I was as selfless as you."
I laughed and admitted, "Not really. When Paul was at his soccer games, I played on his Xbox. I never got to play when he was home."
Oliver snorted. "Oh. Well, in that case, I wish I was as scheming as you."
"Your turn," I said, grinning.
We played all the way up to the parking lot of the hotel, and at times, the car rocked with laughter. He was really more complex than I'd imagined, and I was genuinely having a good time. Thinking back, it seemed like I was having a better time with Oliver than I would have had with Gary.
He handed me out of the car like a gentleman, and I straightened his tie as we approached the hotel.
"Get ready," he said lowly. "We're going to put on a hell of a show."
"I know," I muttered back. With a deep breath, we plunged into the hotel.
It was a pretty snazzy place. Everything was done up beautifully, from the lighting to the sparkling glasses of "champagne" on the center table. Of course, it was probably apple juice—hopefully—but it gave a nice, sophisticated air to the place.
A bunch of students were already crowding the lobby and beyond, and their chattering was deafening. I craned my head above the crowd in vain.
"I don't see them," I said loudly to Oliver.
He was scanning the crowd too and shook his head. "Me neither. Let's keep going."
We progressed further into the hotel, and Oliver picked up two glasses, handing one to me. I sipped it, found that it tasted all right, and drank more deeply. It was addicting stuff; by the time we'd walked for a couple of minutes, I'd downed three drinks. All the while, my eyes searched the crowd for any sign of my despicable ex-boyfriend and his traitorous date.
When we reached the dance floor, Oliver shrugged and said, "I don't think we'll find them any time soon. Want to dance?"
Well, why not? There wasn't anything better to do. I allowed him to lead me onto the dance floor, and I followed his steps, laughing. I hadn't danced much so I subjected poor Oliver to my clumsy stepping-on-feet style, but he didn't seem to mind. We danced through several songs consecutively, and I improved over time. By the time the fourth song rolled around, Oliver's toes were relatively safe.
"Enjoying yourself?" he shouted over the music, his eyes alive with adrenaline.
I laughed giddily and nodded. "Of course!" I watched him as we danced, admiring the way the muscles played under his shirt and the way his eyes sparkled as he laughed. He was handsome, completely on another level than Gary. Why hadn't I noticed before?
Abruptly seized with the desire to touch him, I reached out and ran my fingers over the hard muscles of his abdomen.
He froze. His lips formed my name, but I couldn't hear him over the pounding music. I let my fingers trail higher to his chest, then his shoulders. They were really wide, honed with years of football. And his muscles…
He caught my wrist. "Clarisse, what's wrong with you?"
"Wrong?" I gasped giddily. "Nothing's wrong."
He looked at me strangely. "Your eyes are all unfocused. Are you all right?"
"Yes," I giggled, trying to yank my hand away. When he didn't release me, I used my other hand to touch his jawbone and his lips.
"What are you doing?" he demanded.
"Nothing," I replied vaguely. "Everything. Touching you." I traced his lips and returned down his neck and to his chest again.
He glanced over my shoulder and groaned. "Someone spiked the drinks."
I paused. "What?"
"That's what it is. You're drunk."
I giggled. "What are you talking about? I'm not drunk."
He sighed. "Clearly."
"You don't believe me."
"You wouldn't believe you if you were me," he replied. "Come on, I can't have you in this state." He started to drag me off the dance floor.
"I want to dance," I cried petulantly. "Let me go!" I tried to dig me heels into the floor and found that it was marble, and all I did was slide after him.
He continued to drag me away from the deafening party and into a quieter section of the lobby. Realizing that I couldn't break free, I trotted after him childishly, pouting.
"I wish you'd let me go," I whined, rolling my eyes at the ceiling. Giggling at the fuzzy feeling it elicited in my head, I did it again. And again.
"I wish you'd let her go too," another voice came from behind us, sharp and cold.
Oliver whipped around, pulling me with him. "Danny."
I managed to focus my eyes enough to make out the figure of the approaching girl. She was in a revealing, low-cut black dress in heels tall enough to kill. And the look on her face implied that she was ready to do just that.
"Let me go," I said fuzzily, tugging at my wrist. This time, Oliver's fingers released me, and I stumbled backwards.
Danny crossed her arms, managing to push up her breasts even more. "What are you doing here with her?"
I had the vague feeling I was being insulted but couldn't control my tongue enough to say much in my defense.
"We're here for homecoming," Oliver said tightly. "Like you are."
Something clicked in my mind. Wasn't I supposed to be here with Oliver making Danny jealous? I tried to lurch to my feet but couldn't manage to push off the wall enough. As I struggled, Oliver and Danny faced off.
"Tut-tut, Ollie," Danny said breezily, glancing over at me dismissively. "You're desperate enough to take a girl like her?"
"What?" I said unsteadily, trying to refocus my eyes. "You jealous?" I restrained a wild giggle before it burst.
Oliver shot me a worried glance, but Danny shot me one that could have struck me down on the spot.
"Of course not," she sneered. "Why would I be?"
"Because Oliver is your boyfriend," I said, confused. Wait—she was Oliver's girlfriend, right? But then, again, I couldn't quite remember. And her face was swimming in front of my eyes.
"Clarisse," he said lowly, taking a sideways step towards me. "Don't talk."
"Why?" I asked drowsily.
"Just don't," he said tightly. His tone changed when he faced Danny—lighter, more taunting. "Where's your boyfriend, Danny?"
She scowled. "He's getting me a drink."
Oliver laughed. "He's probably collapsed, drunk, in a corner."
She looked indignant now. It screwed up her face in such a weird way that I laughed. They both glanced over at me, then away, forgetting about me almost as quickly as they had remembered.
"So?" Danny asked, sounding almost hurt now. Or it could have been just me. I was starting to hear a strange ringing in my ears. "What? You wanted to make me jealous?"
"Are you?" Oliver taunted. "Regretting dumping me on homecoming morning?"
"No," she snapped quickly. Too quickly. If I heard the regret in her voice, Oliver definitely heard.
"Why?" he persisted, sounding a little angry now.
She hesitated, her eyes wide. I was sure that given another second, she would have broken.
In that instant, Gary staggered up behind her, a glass in his hand. Half of it had slopped onto his jacket sleeve, and it was so soaked that it was dripping on the carpet.
"Hey, babe," he slurred, his eyes bloodshot. I spotted the dark shade of bruise on his jaw and couldn't suppress the giggle.
He swung around to face me. "What're you laughing at?"
"You." I couldn't stop sniggering. "You're so pathetic. I can't believe I went out with you in the first place."
"What did you say?" he demanded, stepping forward menacingly.
"All you wanted was to get into my pants," I mused. Even as I said it, I knew it was true. The signs had been all there, and I hadn't noticed them the whole time. How stupid of me. But it all seemed so far away right now, as if it had happened in another life.
Gary laughed, and it was rough and frightening. "Now you figure it out, after I dump you. And to think, I could have had you." He stumbled forward towards me, but Oliver stepped between us.
"I told you to stay away from her," he said, his voice laced with steel.
Gary frowned. "She's my girlfriend."
"You already let her go," Oliver said coldly, not budging.
"She's my girlfriend," Gary sneered as if he hadn't heard.
"He's right," I heard myself say. "You can drop the act, Oliver. You're a pretty good sticker-upper though, all protective and boyfriend-y." I laughed at all the words I'd made up. "I think we've made them jealous."
Oliver ignored me so I tried again. "You can stop now. We made them jealous, didn't we? So we can just go back to life how it was before…before…" I thought. Had it been this morning? Just this morning, and all this drama had happened. It was funny. Hell, it was hilarious. I couldn't finish my sentence on account of doubling over with laughter.
"She's nutty," I heard Danny say contemptuously. "This the type of girl you really like, Oliver?"
"Get out of the way," Gary growled drunkenly. "You're blocking my girlfriend from view."
I managed to stop laughing long enough to call, "It's okay, Oliver. He's my boyfriend." I couldn't seem to remember what I'd been mad at him for. What had we broken up for anyway? It couldn't be too terribly important if I couldn't remember.
Oliver shot me a dubious look. "Clarisse…"
I pouted. "What?" I crossed my arms and tried to glare at him, but everything kept going all cross-eyed.
Gary gestured with expectant eyes. With a sigh, Oliver stepped to the side.
Gary reached out and grabbed me by the shoulder, and we leaned on each other to balance. I giggled, and Gary sent a nasty smile Oliver's way.
"If you take advantage of her…" Oliver threatened through gritted teeth.
"Why should you care?" Danny interrupted, her arms folded. "She's just someone you used to make me jealous, isn't she?"
I stopped, the fog in my head clearing momentarily. I was just someone Oliver had used to make his girlfriend jealous, wasn't I? I was shocked at the hurt I felt at someone voicing that aloud. It had all been fake—the kindness, defending me against Gary's advances, playing games with me in the car, being concerned with my drunkenness…it had been an act.
I had used him too. But why did I feel so hurt?
"Yeah," Oliver muttered, turning away from me. "She was."
The fog closed in on me again, and I couldn't remember why my eyes were stinging. Instead, I laughed.
"C'mon, Gaaaary," I sang. "Let's go."
Somewhere inside, I screamed at Oliver to stop me, to tell me I was being an idiot following my drunk ex-boyfriend out of safety. But the conscious part of me wondered why I needed to be cautious at all. I leaned on Gary's arm and staggered out the hotel doors to the cold air outside.
The cold sobered me up somewhat. I blinked more attentively and wondered vaguely what had just happened.
"It's cold," Gary muttered. He tucked his hands in his pockets and watched as I shivered. "You don't have a jacket?"
I shook my head. "I left it…" Where did I leave it again? Oh, right. "It's in Oliver's car."
Gary snorted. "Swift?"
I shrugged. "Yeah." I thought a moment before asking, "What are we going to do now?"
In response, he eyed me suggestively. "You look pretty good in that dress."
I was too tipsy to even manage a blush. I tried to curtsy but stumbled against the wall instead. "Why, thank you."
He grinned. "Come here." He grabbed my hand and dragged me back to the side of the hotel where it was dark.
Before I could even take a breath, his mouth was on mine. I felt his tongue tease against my lips and, surprised, opened them. In an instant he was inside, his breath hot in my mouth.
The foreign experience pierced through the fog. I struggled briefly, revolted. But his grip was firm on mine, and his mouth was insistent. Effortlessly, he hoisted me up against the wall, and his hand wandered down past my neck and to the neckline of my dress.
And then, like a ray of light, I remembered the feel of Oliver's lips on mine after the homecoming game, the way it had been deep but gentle and the way that he hadn't pushed barriers—hadn't pushed anything.
And the fog around my mind broke with a roar, and suddenly, my senses slammed into overdrive. I could hear Gary's panting breaths, smell the alcohol on his breath, see every bloodshot vein of his eyes, taste the drink on his tongue, and feel every revolting touch of his roaming hands.
I tried to scream, but it was strangled in his mouth. He chuckled slightly, and that released my mouth for a brief instant. I managed a hoarse shout, but in the next instant, his mouth reclaimed mine. His hands tightened around me as I struggled wildly.
No. No, no. I was not going to let him do this to me.
With a muffled yell, I kicked forward blindly and felt my foot connect solidly. With a pained cry, Gary stumbled backwards, clutching his ribs. I fell to the ground with a half-sob, unable to believe what was happening to me. As he groaned, I crawled a few feet away, but I couldn't breathe. My lungs were constricting. I couldn't breathe.
Gary's hand closed on my ankle. I tried to scream, but there was no air to do so. Instead, I crumpled, a hand over my chest. My throat burned. My lungs did the screaming I couldn't. I saw stars.
"You slut," Gary spat from behind me. "You bi—"
I never saw what truncated his sentence, but I heard the resounding whack as something connected with his head. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as he flew backwards into the wall, where he slid down with a groan. There was a huge gash across his forehead just above his left eye.
"What did I tell you, you bastard?" I heard Oliver spit from somewhere above me. "What did I tell you about touching my girlfriend?"
We were fake, I wanted to say. But I could hardly stay conscious, let alone speak.
Gary whimpered and rubbed at his head, hiding his face. But the instant Oliver turned towards me, he flew to his feet, charging like an injured bull.
Oliver! I tried to shout, but I could only manage a pained whimper. It was enough. Hoisting the wooden plank high, Oliver spun, slamming it across Gary's face a second time. When he collapsed on the ground this time, he was unconscious.
Abandoning the plank, Oliver knelt over me. "Clarisse? You okay?"
I gasped and felt my throat constrict. There was no room for air. My hands clenched at my throat.
"Clarisse?" He sounded genuinely terrified. "What's wrong?"
Asthma. Can't breathe. But I could only try to take shallow breaths, tiny breathless gasps that would keep me alive only for so long.
"Hang on," Oliver said, gripping my shoulder so tightly it was painful. "Hang on." He dug his phone out of his pocket. Distantly, I heard him shouting at an operator for an ambulance. I wondered if how long it took an ambulance to drive from the Hunsford General Hospital to the back alley of the Norman Hotel. How long, how long…?
"They're coming," Oliver said, but his voice was distant. I heard everything dimly now, from Oliver's voice to the tap-tap of footsteps from the hotel. Suddenly there were students surrounding me, and there was Danny with her face a mask of shock, and a couple of burly guys from the football team were hauling Gary to his feet.
I wondered what it felt like to let go.
"Breathe," Oliver shouted above me. "Come on, breathe!"
And everything was black.
"She's had a close call. I want to keep her here over night to monitor her."
An unfamiliar voice.
Ah, a familiar voice. Oliver?
"I'm sorry, who are you?" Dad.
"I took her to homecoming. I'm very sorry. She was my responsibility."
"You're right she was your responsibility. If she'd died, I would have sued you to ruin. You hear me? Ruin!"
"I'm sorry, sir, please remain quiet in the hospital rooms."
"But this kid—"
"I'm sorry," Oliver repeated, sounding miserable. "I should never have let her go with that bastard."
"He tried to…to…" Dad couldn't finish his sentence.
"I know," Oliver said grimly. He sounded murderous.
With a quiet gasp, I opened my eyes. In an instant, Oliver, Dad, and Mom had rushed to the side of the bed, their faces anxious.
"Oh, sweetie," Mom breathed in relief. She stroked my hair. "How are you feeling?"
I tried to speak but it came out as a croak. I cleared my throat, wincing at the raw feeling, and started again. "Better. What happened?"
"Apparently, you went off with your boyfriend," Dad said, a homicidal gleam in his eye, "and he tried…some things with you. Luckily, this brave young man—" and he said it with a very sarcastic lilt "—stepped in and saved you. But you had an asthma attack."
I breathed in deeply, relishing in the miracle of oxygen. "I can't believe it. I haven't had one of those in forever."
"Stress," Mom said anxiously, her face creasing in worry. "What did I tell you about that?"
"Sorry," I muttered, feeling guilty. My head was pounding somewhat, and I winced at the sound of the squeaky wheels on a trolley passing by.
"Oliver here wanted to stay for a while," Mom said carefully. "Are you all right with that?"
"Janet!" Dad protested, sending Oliver a mistrusting glare. "You can't just—"
"Please," I interrupted weakly. "Let him stay."
Dad's glare turned on me. "But, Clarisse!"
"Please, Dad," I said, pathetically wheezing.
At the sight of me, which must have been pretty pity-evoking, his eyes softened and he sighed. "If you're sure."
Mom took Dad's arm. "Then we'll be waiting outside, honey."
The door slid shut after them, and it was just me and Oliver.
He pulled up one of the armchairs next to my bed and sat down heavily. His suit jacket had been thrown over its arm, and his shirt and tie were rumpled. He mussed his hair and let out a deep sigh.
After a minute, he glanced up to meet my eyes. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," I grimaced. "You saved me."
He passed an agitated hand over his hair again. "But I shouldn't have let you go in the first place. It was stupid. I knew he was drunk."
"I was drunk too," I pointed out. "You couldn't have helped it."
"I could have dragged you back to my car and ordered you home," he argued. "But I didn't, and look what happened. You're…you're practically catatonic!"
I laughed, wincing as my throat burned. "You're exaggerating."
He looked frantic. "But a few minutes later and it would have been too late."
"But it wasn't," I countered. "It's fine now. So forget about it." I reached out and touched his hand.
He grabbed my fingers as if he had to convince himself that I was truly living and breathing. "I can't just forget. I was so stupid."
I sighed and stared at the ceiling. "So was I. I can't believe I just left with Gary like that. And just let him push me into the alley—"
At the thought of it, I felt my stomach heave. I pulled my hand back from him and covered my mouth. "I think I'm going to barf."
He leaped to his feet and grabbed the trash can in the corner. A second later, I emptied my stomach into it as he held back my hair and watched anxiously. By the time my gut was empty, my mind was full—full of all kinds of thoughts.
I sighed and said the first thing on my mind. "Why are you here?"
"Because I feel guilty," he replied.
Of course. "Oh."
He raised an eyebrow. "What did you want me to say?"
I looked away. "Nothing."
I heard him lever the trash can away from him and felt his fingers on my jaw. He turned my face to him and leaned his chin on his other hand, his eyes a mere few inches away from mine.
"Besides," he said, "I didn't want to spend any more time with Danny attached to my arm like a leech. I'd rather watch you all catatonic in a hospital than listen to her yap on."
I smiled a little. "I'm glad you think that way. But you shouldn't feel obligated. We were only supposed to be together for homecoming to make our exes jealous. You should go."
"Maybe I don't want to," he half-whispered, his eyes on mine.
I couldn't breathe again, but it was different this time—so different. "It was all fake."
He was half an inch away now. "No, it wasn't. Not all of it." He paused and his lips quirked into a small, crooked smile. "And maybe I don't want it to be."
He was so, so close. I could feel his breath on my lips. But then he pulled back, his eyes uncertain. "Are you okay with this?"
I let out a growl of frustration. "Will you shut up and just kiss me already?"
He laughed and it was genuine. "What? I thought it was all fake."
"Well," I said breathlessly, "maybe I don't want it to be either."
And he kissed me.