Just Smile


I'm quiet.

It's part of my personality. For most of my life, I've been a quiet girl.

That doesn't mean I'm shy. 'Cause I'm not. People tend to use "shy" and" quiet" as if they have the same meaning – but they don't.

Quiet means you choose not to talk. Shy means you're too scared to talk. See the difference?

When I was really young, I was shy. I didn't like to voice my opinions around people; i always kept my feelings to myself.

That all changed one fateful day in kindergarten – yes, kindergarten – when we took a "quiz" on the alphabet.

Don't ask. I have no idea what my teacher was thinking either.

We were seated in tables of four. Fortunately for me, I was seated with two of my friends. However, the fourth person was a girl I didn't know very well. So, being the shy little girl I was, I wished my two friends good luck and didn't say anything to the other girl, though I had a strong urge to wish her luck as well.

Really, it's not like I wanted to say something rude to her. Why couldn't I just say it? I know if it were me, I'd be happy for someone to tell me good luck even if I didn't know them.

I think.

Anyways, when we got our scores, I was ecstatic to see I had aced it.

That girl didn't.

She did pretty badly and she burst into tears the second she saw her score.

I don't blame her. I know I would've done the same.

I felt horrible. Maybe it was irrational, but I felt slightly at fault. I remember thinking, Was it my fault? Did I make her feel bad when I only told my friends good luck? Did I make her lose her concentration?

I'll never know. But from then on, I vowed not to hold in my thoughts anymore. It took a while and it was really difficult, going against my shy nature, but I did it. I got over my shyness.

That doesn't mean I go around blurting everything that comes to mind. I'm still very quiet and mostly invisible at school, with a fair group of great friends. I'm content with this quiet life. Yet, despite being mostly invisible, I've somehow still managed to make an enemy out of the girls' Varsity volleyball captain: Raine Lucas. She had your typical girl-next-door look, with long blonde hair and pretty blue eyes. But her Queen B(itch) personality left a lot to be desired.

Well, I guess I shouldn't say "somehow." I'm invisible, it's true, but I also used to be best friends with Raine. All through elementary school and most of middle school, we were like sisters. Then suddenly, she discovered her volleyball talent and became "popular" and she dropped me like a ton of bricks. It was as if the past ten or so years of our life had never happened. I was burned.

And now she thinks I deserve torture. What did I ever do to her, other than be her friend?

Wow, what a horrible thing to do. (Sarcasm intended.)

Life is unfair. I know this, and I know my life is still better than a lot of people's, and I know that I have a lot of happiness to go hand-in-hand with the sadness, but still, sometimes I have to wonder: Why me?

. . .

The door jingled open.

"Welcome," I greeted, glancing up from my book with a strained smile.

Seriously, I was twenty pages away from the end of the book. Give me five minutes of peace to finish it! Since when was the bookstore this busy anyways? We rarely had two customers a day, but for the past week it seemed as if someone came in every two minutes.

Can you tell I was kinda pissed?

Not that I was complaining about the good business. I finally got a raise, after two years of hard, diligent work.

Okay. So mostly I sat around and read our newest books. But whatever.

Taking in the new customer's drenched appearance – it was raining cats and dogs outside – I felt my annoyance morph into shock.

Was that…Ty Riverson?

As in, the popular jokester who went to my school?

As in, Ty Riverson?

What the hell was he doing here in this tiny, off-the-radar book shack? (No offense, Boss. I love this place, I really do. It just needs a makeover. Like, the extreme kind. And Ty Pennington is so amazing.)

Stupidly, I could only ask, "Ty? Riverson?"

His eyebrows furrowed. "Uh, do I know you?"

Well, obviously not.

And then his dark blue eyes widened. He face-palmed. "Oh my god."

Startled, I stammered, "U,, is something wrong?"

He stared at me in wonder, as if it was the first time he'd ever seen me – which was actually quite probably. I was pretty low key in school.

"You're Lacey!" he exclaimed suddenly. "Lacey Dawn!"

"Wha – you know who I am?" Huh?

He shook his head and muttered, "No wonder you looked kinda familiar!"

"Uh, did I become famous over night or something?" I joked.

Ty looked confused. "Huh? Well, everyone at school knows who you are."

"They do?" When did this happen?

"Yeah. Aren't you, like, Chad's best friend?"

I was stunned. "Oh, well, uh, kinda, I guess. I didn't know we were quite that close, but okay." I eyed him suspiciously. "Is that what everyone at school sees me as?"

Ty shrugged. "Pretty much. Though no one really sees you, sees you. Are you, like, a ninja or something? I swear I've only seen you once around school."

"Nah, I'm just quiet. Dang," I mumbled. "So much for low profile."

Chuckling, Ty smirked at me. "Like that was ever possible for you."

I squinted at him warily. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Oh come on. Everyone knows about the crap Raine gives you."

"Everyone, huh? I see. Funny how I always have everyone rushing to help me." I raised my eyesbrows at him.

"Yeah, well, not everyone wants to get on Raine's bad side. Plus, I think some of those losers enjoy the drama 'cause they have boring, useless lives." Ty grinned at me conspiratorially.

Unable to resist, I allowed myself to smile back, not even faking it, as I seemed to be doing more and more often these days.

Ty froze. He stared at me with a funny expression.

My smile quickly disappeared into a frown. Was there something stuck in my teeth?

Attempting to surreptitiously, clean my teeth, I swept my tongue around my mouth and over my teeth, but – nothing.

Ty noticed this. He shook his head fervently and reassured me, "There's nothing in your teeth. Sorry, it's just…" He exhaled and ran a hand through his rusty auburn hair, usually spiked up but it was plastered to his head now due to the rain. His dazzling green eyes gazed into mine. I noticed that they were dark and intense, not light and happy like I expected from the class clown.

Interesting.

He smiled brilliantly at me. "That's another reason you can't do low profile. You're too cute."

I snorted and rolled my eyes, even as a stubborn blush graced my cheeks (against my will). "Such a flirt."

"Just telling it like it is," he shrugged.

"Right," I indulged wryly. Another unwilling smile tugged at my lips but I didn't let it out this time. Instead, I remembered where we were and what I was supposed to be doing. Which was working.

I slipped into work mode. Politely, I questioned, "And how may I help you, sir?"

Ty cocked a brow. "What with the sir?"

"Just manners. I am working, after all."

"You work here?" His tone oozed amazement.

"I do. Is that a problem?" I inquired coolly, feeling slightly miffed at his apparent amazement that I could hold a job.

"'Course not."

"So how may I help you?"

"Well, actually," he glanced at the clock on the wall, "I should get home. I just randomly found this place while I was trying to get outta the rain." He turned to leave.

"Hey!" Without thinking, my hand flung out and caught his arm. "You can't come in here and bother me while I'm working and then leave without buying anything!" I huffed indignantly.

"I can't? Last time I checked, this was a free country," he mused.

"Well, you can," I amended, "but you shouldn't."

"And," he kept speaking as if uninterrupted, "you should've told me I was bothering you. Sorry about that." He firmly pulled his arm from my grasp and moved towards the door. "See you around. Or not."

Oh crap. He must be thinking what a self-righteous bitch I was, telling him what he should or shouldn't do. I silently cursed my mouth. "Wait – " I began, but he was gone.

Well, he wasn't on the Varsity cross country team for nothing.

. . .

It was a week until I saw him again. I looked for him in school but it seemed I wasn't the only one with ninja-like powers – I couldn't find him anywhere. He wasn't in any of my classes and my friends and I rarely ate lunch in the lunch room.

Finally, one day as I was biking to work, I saw him running down the sidewalk in the same direction as me, but he was way ahead of me. Tensing my muscles, I pedaled hard and fast until I caught up with him and panted, "Ty! Wait!"

He skidded to a halt and glanced around wildly. When his eyes landed on me, his face shut down and a politely cordial smile surfaced on his face.

A pang of guilt sliced through me. I'd never seen him so closed off and – cold. Not that I saw him all that often.

I jumped off my bike and jogged it over to him. I breathed heavily and composed myself. Looking into his eyes, I told him sincerely, "I'm really sorry about last time. I didn't mean to be so stuck-up and bossy. I also didn't mean it when I said you bothered me, because you didn't. I was glad you stopped to talk to me because usually I just sit there reading and being antisocial. So yeah. Sorry. And thanks."

Speech over, I dropped my eyes and heaved in a few deep breaths, trying to calm my racing heart. I was never very good at apologizing but I was working on it.

I licked my lips nervously, wondering why he hadn't moved a centimeter. "Um, so I'll, uh, leave you alone now. Bye," I waved awkwardly and hurried away, trying to make my fast pace seem normal. I berated myself harshly at my lameness and desperately wished I could turn back time and have a second chance to be friends with him. But what's done is done.

I wanted to beat myself up. Seriously, how stupid could I get? I ran a frustrated hand through my hair and sighed, just as footsteps thumped beside me. A long shadow loomed over me.

Thinking it was some random freak who wanted money - which I did not have because I was very broke – or something like that, I rolled my eyes and growled irritably, "I'm not in the mood. Go away before I do something to make it biologically impossible for you to procreate." I didn't look up.

No answer. A strong hand clamped around my wrist and I instinctively slammed my fist back before they could get a good grip on me. I felt the back of my fist connect with my attacker's face and a smug sense of satisfaction planted itself inside me.

Immediately, the hand let me go and there was a pained groan. Then he burbled, "Wow Lacey, I thought you didn't hate me."

"Holy freaking – Ty! What the hell?" I dropped my bike and let it crash to the ground – it was old and about to break anyway – as I spun around and faced a grimacing Ty, who was cupping his nose. "Why didn't you say something? I thought you were some sleazy moron who wanted my money!"

"So you don't hate me?"

"No!" I shouted. "Why would I apologize to you if I hated you? Now move your hands and let me see your nose!"

"No, no, it's fine – "

"Ty. Move your hands now," I demanded in my most intimidating voice. It worked, because he slowly removed his hands.

When he uncovered his nose, I winced visibly and began to apologize profusely. "Oh my god, I am so sorry, Ty, I swear I didn't know it was you, oh my god, I can't believe I did that and – is it still bleeding? Holy crap, is it broken? Oh my god, oh my god, you need to go to a hospital, is there a hospital near here? Oh, but how do we get there? I can't take you on my bike and there's no one here and, oh my god, I can't tell you how sorry I am, I'm so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so sorry and – "

"Lacey!" Ty interrupted me. "It's fine, I think it's already stopped bleeding. I'll just go home and ice it and it should be fine. No need to worry."

"Are you kidding?" I practically screeched in his face. I jabbed my finger in his face and he shrunk away from it, flinching. I lowered my finger. "Sorry – do you see that? That is not what I'd call 'fine,' okay? That is a serious injury and it's all my fault and oh my god, I am sooooooo sorry! Do you want me to pay the medical bill? I mean, it might take a while to pay off, 'cause I don't get paid that much but it's better than nothing and I'm sure I'll pay it off eventually and – "

"Lacey."

"Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, I can't believe I did this, am I gonna go to juvie? What am I saying, of course I am, I freaking broke your freaking nose!" I wailed. "I'm a delinquent!"

"Lacey."

Tears stung my eyes as I thought of the shame and embarrassment of being sent to juvenile hall. "Of course, I totally wouldn't blame you for doing it, I totally deserve it but I just can't believe it and oh my god – "

"Lacey!" Ty finally shouted.

I started. "What?"

"Lacey, look at me." I didn't. "Look at me," he repeated forcefully.

I complied fearfully. His eyes were fierce but not angry. In fact – was that a trace of amusement?

I scrunched up my nose and glanced at his mouth. They were twitchy, as if he was fighting a smile.

A smile? When he just got his nose broken? Was he crazy?

I glared at him. "This is no laughing matter!"

"You're right," he agreed instantly.

"Then why do you look like you want to smile?"

"Because you're just so cute."

I scowled. "You are in no condition to be flirting. Your nose is dying!"

"Thank you for that tactful reminder. May I remind you whose fault this is?"

I was contrite. "Oh Ty," I blubbered, "I am so sorry! Can you ever forgive me? Your poor nose!"

Ty's face contorted into a strange scowl-grimace-smirk combination. "It's not your fault, Lacey. There's nothing to forgive. I should've said something instead of just grabbing you."

I shook my head. "No, I should've made sure you really were some freak before I threatened and maimed you." My voice was watery.

His laugh rang out. It was warm and comforting and I liked it. Then I mentally slapped myself for thinking that at a time like this.

"Don't worry. I'm pretty sure you didn't break my nose. Just bruised it a little. Or a lot."

I bit my lip. "Are – are you sure?"

"Yeah, it's fine," he waved dismissively.

"It's not fine," I insisted, but I felt a little better. "Here, just let me look at it."

He obeyed, barely needing to lower his head since he was only a couple inches taller than me. Gingerly, I let my fingers brush over his swollen nose, jerking my fingers back whenever he hissed in pain.

"I'm so sorry," I whispered. "Um, that bookstore where I work isn't too far from here. We'll go there and I'll get you some ice for your nose."

"Sounds good." His warm breath blew over me and I blinked. I was suddenly extremely aware of how close we were standing, and that his mouth was barely an inch away from mine and if I just leaned in a tiny bit, I could…

No, no, no! What was I thinking? Kissing Ty? Who I didn't even like? I mean, I did, but not in that way.

Hastily I pulled away from him, almost tripping over my bike in the process. He blinked and straightened, an uncharacteristic blush coloring his face.

I picked up my bike – the poor thing – and briskly began walking, calling back over my shoulder, "Ty? You coming?"

"Yeah!"

When we reached the bookstore ten minutes later – I was late for work, which had never happened before – I scanned the place to make sure there were no customers I needed to attend to right away, and slipped into the tiny backroom. The six-year-old refrigerator stood there in all its glory, taking up at least half the space in the room.

I found a little plastic bag and scooped out a handful of ice, swiftly returning to Ty, who hadn't moved at all, and pressed the baggy into his hands. "Here," I said briefly.

Taking his free arm, I dragged him to my usual perch and sat him down.

"I'll be right back," I told him, and I slipped away to alert my boss. He wasn't angry at all about my tardiness; in fact, he was giddy with joy. When he took a peek at Ty, my boss wiggled his eyebrows at me suggestively and said, "No need to explain. I understand completely." Then he walked away and giggled.

That's right, giggled. My fifty-two-year-old boss, who was male, giggled with glee at the misinterpreted idea that I had finally found a guy.

I sighed. Explaining was useless; when Boss got an idea, he stuck with it till the bitter end.

Except he usually predicted accurately.

Well, he was wrong this time. I was sure of it. I didn't like Ty that way, and he didn't like me like that either. I mean, we've only spoken twice. We barely know each other! Add that to the fact that I refused to waste brainpower trying to decipher the mind of a boy, and what do you get? Absolutely no way that anything was gonna happen between me and Ty. Besides, what was the point of obsessing over a boy anyways? I had only liked one boy in my entire seventeen years of existence and nothing happened at all. I'm sure he didn't even see me as a girl.

Okay, so he was already in love with an amazing girl. But still.

No, I thought determinedly as I walked back to Ty, boys can wait till I graduate. From college.

When I reached Ty, he looked up and grinned at me. Automatically I grinned back. He sucked in a sharp breath (were my teeth that crooked? Or was my smile just that awful?) and ran a hand through his hair. Then he said casually, "So Lacey, are you gonna cry hysterically with happiness over the fact that you won't be going to juvie?" and all thoughts of my ugly smile were flushed away as I dove into teasing banter with Ty.

When he finally left and I still had an hour of work left, I sat there on my stool, not reading, but thinking about everything Ty and I had talked about. I had smiled so much that my cheeks ached (he kept getting this weird look on his face every time I smiled but he got better at hiding it) and laughed more than I had ever laughed in seventeen years.

I never knew an ache could feel good.

. . .

"So?" My best friend Cara nudged my shoulder. "When were you planning on telling me that you're in loooove?"

We were sitting at her huge mahogany desk, doing homework. Or, we were doing homework, until Cara decided to question my nonexistent love life.

I rolled my eyes at her. "What are you talking about?"

"Hellooo? You have the look and glow of a woman in love!"

"Woman?" I scoffed. "I'm not eighteen yet, Care."

She sighed. "That's not the point."

"Then what is?"

"The point, Lacey, is that you have finally found your true love, your soul mate, your one and only, and you didn't tell me!" she cried dramatically.

"Oh, Care. You are such a drama queen. When are you finally gonna try out for the school play? Seriously." I patted her head affectionately.

She swatted my hand. "Don't change the subject, Lacey Ella Dawn! I'm being serious. Don't you trust me?"

"Cara Emerson Brooks," I responded in kind, "you know I do!"

"Then why didn't you tell me?" she whined.

"Because I'm not in love!" I exploded. "Where the hell did you get that idea?"

"But – " Cara's face clouded over. "It's so obvious. Are you telling me you don't know?"

"Know what?" I was getting really annoyed. Me? In love? Yeah right.

Cara was obviously getting really exasperated. "Lacey. Don't give me that. C'mon, tell me. Who's the lucky guy?"

"No one."

She sighed. "Fine. Then who's the guy you've been talking to all the time who makes you smile so much?"

"Wha – " How did she know that?

My confusion must've been pretty clear on my face because Cara scoffed, "Lacey, please. Like I don't know how closed off you are? There is no way a guy could make you smile like that unless you've talked. Multiple times. Like with Chad." She clapped a hand over her mouth. "Oops! Sorry, I didn't mean to – "

"It's okay," I assured her. "I'm over him." Yup, that's right. The one guy I'd ever liked was none other than – drumroll, please – my "best friend" Chad Lawrence. Who had been in love with Krissa Taylor. And I knew it. But fell for him anyways.

Can you say "stupid"?

She sighed. "Good." Then she perked up. "Wait, you are? Since when?"

"Um…I'm not sure, actually." It was true.

"Oh." She contemplated this for approximately one second before smiling and chirping happily, "Okay!"

I laughed. "You're so funny, Care."

"Love you too, Lace." She giggled and sighed. And then: "Oh right! So who's this amazing guy who can get you to really smile?"

I groaned. I knew it was coming.

"Um," I said tentatively. "Would you completely freak if I told you that it's Ty Riverson?"

"Ty Riverson? Oh yeah, he's – wait, what?" She started to hyperventilate.

I should explain. See, Cara gets completely whack around popular people. She says they're too intimidating. In my opinion, they're just people; what does it matter how many people know them? But Cara doesn't see it that way. The only popular person she's okay with is Chad. I'm hoping she'll get used to his popular friends (which includes Ty) sometime soon but so far, it ain't happening.

I guess just the thought of me hanging out with a "popular person" like Ty is too much for her to bear. She's always afraid she'll say the wrong thing around people like him and she doesn't understand how I can be normal. Clearly she has an issue.

"Yeah, he's pretty cool," I said easily, amused by my best friend's show of irrational fear. That makes me sound like a heartless bitch but seriously, I've seen this happen to her so many times now and she's always fine. She just gets embarrassed when her seizure is over.

"He's funny and different, and not a complete airhead like people seem to think – I have no idea why they think that, but I've heard people say it and I thought it was completely unfair for them to judge him like that – and I really like talking to him."

"Oh, you do, do you?" Cara said suggestively, suddenly over her brief fit of fear. That was fast.

"Yes, I do. But that doesn't mean I'm in love with him. Like that's gonna happen," I ridiculed.

"How do you know it hasn't already happened? You look and sound pretty in love to me. Or at least in like," she hurriedly added.

I shook my head vehemently. "No way. I refuse to fall in like with a guy, much less in love."

"Lace," Cara sighed. "Liking someone isn't something you can choose. It just happens. And when it happens, the best thing to do is accept it and go for it, or move on if he's already taken."

When did Cara become so versed in the ways of the heart? More importantly, why the hell was she lecturing me on it? I had sworn off love and the like till college!

But grudgingly, I admitted, "That's true." Because it was. But that didn't mean it was true for me!

"Cara," I piped up. "Do you just not think that boys and girls can be friends and only friends?"

"Well, of course they can," she replied right away, surprising me. She gave me a "duh" look. "But only after they've already liked each other. And didn't do anything about it."

Oh.

"Seriously, Care? Not every person is gonna like every friend of the opposite sex. That's crazy." I rolled my eyes to show her how crazy I thought it was.

"Okay, so maybe no every friend, but I think most. And maybe they don't like them that much or for very long, but for a little while. I think it always happens." Cara's voice was philosophical.

"Hey Care? How 'bout I let you lecture me about love once you've gotten a boyfriend, okay?" I asked sweetly.

"Whatever," she huffed crossly and proceeded to ignore me for making fun of her love life.

What? I was only being honest.

. . .

"So Lacey," Ty said offhandedly one sunny afternoon at the bookstore. "Are you free this weekend?"

It had been a month since that historic day when I smashed his face. We'd been hanging out at the bookstore every day after school, but we hadn't met up outside of school yet. For some reason, I kept hoping he'd ask.

Does that mean anything?

…Nah.

"Um, yeah, I think so. Why?" I acted nonchalant, though fireworks were exploding inside me.

"Nothing much. I was just wondering if, uh, you maybe wanted to go to an amusement park with me. It doesn't really mean anything," he hurried to add. "It's just that, uh, I have two tickets and I was planning on going with my other friend but she couldn't go so I thought maybe you could go with me."

Oh. He was gonna go with another girl? I see how it is. I'm a second choice, huh?

I voiced my thought aloud. He looked stricken.

"No, no, definitely not! Second choice? What are you talking about?" His face was pleading. And completely adorable. I caved easily.

"Well, I think I can go but I need to ask my parents to make sure," I told him. "Wanna give me your number or something so I can contact you and let you know?"

Neither of us expressed it, but I knew we were thinking the same thing: Is this a date?

We exchanged numbers and then Ty said he had to go home.

I was kinda glad because I had a suspicion that if he had stayed, the atmosphere would've been just a leeeeeeeetle awkward.

Is this a date?

. . .

It was Monday, two days after.

"So? How'd it go?" squealed an excited, jumping-for-joy Cara.

"How did what go?" I played innocent.

"Don't give me that." She glared at me. "Now spill!"

I sighed extravagantly. I really didn't want to relive the date, but I supposed I had to face up to it sometime. Better to do it in the company of my best friend than alone in my room where I was prone to depression and other bad things.

"Okay. So it was Saturday and he came to pick me up around one 'cause that's what we agreed on. He has an awesome car, by the way," I tacked on seriously. "It was so cool. Like, it was shiny and new-looking, though he told me it was already, like, three years old, and it was bright yellow with black stripes – like, like, Bumblebee! From Transformers! Exactly like him! And he even named it Bumblebee! How cool is that?" I gushed.

Yes, gushed. Well, it was a pretty freakin' awesome car. I couldn't help it.

"LACEY!" Cara snapped her fingers in front of my face. "Listen to me. I. Don't. Care. I don't care about his car, okay? Just tell me about the date before I give in to my violent urges and scoop your memories out of your brain. It will not be pleasant." A creepy smile lit her face.

I shuddered. "Okay, okay, I'll tell you. Uh, creepy face much? If you keep staring at me like that, I'm not telling you."

Her smile was immediately replaced by a serious face, like she was getting ready to psychoanalyze me.

Oh. This could not be good.

I sucked in a deep breath and thought back to Saturday. I started talking.

He picked me up around one in the afternoon in his awesome Bumblebee car. He was taking me to an amusement park and I was super excited. The car ride was nice – the conversation was light and teasing and comfortable.

We arrived and he was very gentlemanly, holding my door open for me. The atmosphere was good. We went in, walked around, and went on a bunch of terrifyingly awesome rides, taking breaks every now and then. I'd never had so much fun in my life.

We rode on practically all the rides, even the little kiddie ones, just so we could proudly claim that we'd been on all the rides at the park. When we finally decided to get something to eat for dinner, I was breathless and happy and his eyes were twinkling and we were comfortable.

Then came dinner. Everything was great and we had lapsed into an easy silence, not awkward at all. After we had finished, we sat there quietly for a while, digesting and taking in the laughter of the day.

Our eyes caught as we glanced at each other and I smiled, but he didn't. His face twitched, like it always did when I smiled, so I quickly blanked my face and looked away. I could still feel him staring.

The mood hadn't changed, but there was suddenly an undercurrent of tension. I had an odd feeling that something momentous was about to happen.

"Hey," Ty called softly, making me look at him. I didn't smile.

His fingers reached over and lightly brushed over the edge of my mouth, making my skin tingle and heat up. What was happening?

"Lacey," he said. "You know I love your smile, right?"

My face contorted in confusion. "You do?"

He nodded.

"Since when?" I demanded.

"Since the first time you smiled at me."

I was dumbfounded. Was he being honest? "Then why do you always tense up when I smile? It's like my smile hurts you or something. I mean, I know my teeth aren't the best or the whitest, but I mean, they can't be that bad, can they?" I worriedly covered my mouth with my hands.

Ty laughed and took my hand from my mouth, holding it gently. My hand warmed up right away and was tickled by the invisible electricity flowing between us.

"You want to know why?" he asked.

I rolled my eyes and nodded.

"Because every time you smile, it makes me want to grab you and kiss you."

His confession stunned me.

What did he say?

I opened my mouth to say something – not sure what I was planning on saying, but I felt like I had to say something – but Ty spoke first.

"I don't know why, Lace, but your smile makes me crazy. You're all I think about. I love being with you. I can't get enough of you." His bright green eyes pierced mine with their intense sincerity as his mouth whispered the words that shook my world, "I like you. I like you so much that I think I might even be falling in love with you."

I was thunderstruck. I couldn't move. I couldn't think. There was no way I could speak. I wouldn't have known what to say even if I could. What could I say? "Sorry, but I can't fall in love"? "You're a great guy, but I don't feel that way about you?" No, that wasn't quite true. I couldn't deny it anymore; I was definitely extremely attracted to Ty. But that didn't mean I actually liked him, did it? I couldn't. I really couldn't like him, much less fall in love with him.

But what If I had already fallen?

No. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't deal with this now. I had to go. My mind screamed at me to leave, to get away, to flee. My heart told me to stay, to figure out what I felt, to face the truth.

But I couldn't.

My body obeyed my mind. I ripped myself away and ran blindly. The only thought in my mind was to run.

Unfortunately, there was no way I could run the thirty miles home and Ty, being the thoughtful, amazing guy that he is, faced up to what he thought was rejection but was actually my indecisiveness, and raced after me.

Have I mentioned that he was on the Varsity cross country team?

He quickly caught up to me and snagged my arm.

"Lacey," his voice was subdued, "I'll take you home."

The ride home was stuffy and weird; it was wrong. This was not Ty and me. We were never like this. But I couldn't do anything about it.

We were completely silent until we reached my house. Slowly, I got out, wanting to say something but not knowing what, and still completely unable to form a coherent thought. He didn't walk me to my door, the way I know he would've done had the circumstances been different.

Right before I walked into my house, Ty said softly, "I'm sorry." Then he zoomed away.

"And that's it," I finished. Feeling my eyes fill up, I gritted my teeth and swallowed the tears back.

I kept wondering and wondering what he meant by the words "I'm sorry." Was he sorry to have fallen in love with me? Sorry to have ruined our friendship? Sorry for turning my life upside down?

Sorry to have ever met me?

That last one had me gulping air as my chest ached for something I never knew I needed and the tears spilled uncontrollably down my face.

"Oh, Lacey," Cara whispered. She hugged me tight, like a mother would do. I cried into her shirt and she let me. That's what best friends are for.

When I sniffed my last sniffle and cried out my last tear, Cara let me go and looked me sternly in the eye. "Now Lace, I know I've never had a boyfriend and have no right to tell you this but I'm gonna tell you anyway. Running away was wrong. You need to face up to your feelings. What do you feel?"

I started to answer but she interrupted, "That was rhetorical."

I shut my mouth.

She continued, "Once you figure that out, then you can go find Ty and work this all out." She leaned in close. "But I think you already know what you need to do."

I do? I didn't know that. How does Cara know that? I shook my head to clear it of my confusing thoughts. Groaning, I confessed, "I can't think straight. I really can't. I don't know what I feel, I don't know what to do, I don't know!"

"Having a mental breakdown, Lacey?" a decidedly masculine voice came out of nowhere.

I gasped and whipped around, thinking it was Ty, having come to tell me it was all a big joke – I didn't know whether to feel relived or disappointed at that – but no. It was Chad.

Wait. Chad?

I voiced my confusion. "Chad? What are you doing here?"

"That's what I'd like to know," he muttered to himself, only serving to further my puzzlement. He cleared his throat and looked at me.

I was startled to realize that my heart did not race for him anymore.

"Well, Ty came crying to me earlier today – not literally, so don't look like that," he reassured me hastily as my eyes filled up again.

Jeez. I thought I had cried out everything.

"He told me that, for some reason, he told you that he's in love with you – "

"Almost!" I blurted. "He said he might be falling in love with me. But not anymore, probably."

Chad grinned. "You guys have so much drama and crap. If you guys weren't my best friends, I'd be laughing so hard."

"Thanks," I said sarcastically.

"But really, it's not that hard." Chad rolled his eyes. "I mean, it's so obvious you like him too so hurry up and tell him. Please? For me?" He gave me a puppy-dog look. I glared back. "Seriously. He's become one of those pathetically creepy sulking losers who goes around moping to everyone about how screwed up his life is because his heart was broken."

"I have to agree," Cara chimed in. "You gotta tell him soon. Like yesterday." She stared at me intently. "You do know how you feel by now, don't you? Either truly reject him or beg for his forgiveness because you can't leave him hanging."

Cara walked over to Chad and dragged him away, ignoring his protests. She looked back at me once and told me, "We'll leave you alone to think everything through. But I expect you to have everything sprted out by the end of today."

"What?" I cried desperately. "But I don't – I have no idea – "

"You're the nerd, Lace. Figure it out." And they were gone.

I wanted to panic but I couldn't let myself. Deep breaths, I told myself. Calm down, you'll figure this out.

I sat, cross-legged, on the grass, and thought about all the times I'd been with Ty and compared it to all the times I was with Chad. When did I know that I liked Chad? How did I figure it out?

I thought and thought and thought and finally, I knew. With Chad, things were different. I liked him, it was true, but it was just different. I thought about him, but not extensively, the way I did with Ty. I enjoyed being in his company, but I didn't crave it like it was an endless hunger, the way I felt with Ty. With Chad, everything was safe because I knew I'd never have him. It wasn't real.

With Ty, it was the opposite. He was wild and free and, most importantly, available. Everything was deeper with him, more real and true. With Ty, I could venture into the unknown; I could fall in love. And that scared the crap out of me.

I didn't want to acknowledge my feelings because they were so real, so I locked them up inside. I didn't want to let them out. But I couldn't keep them bottled up inside any longer. I was hurting not only Ty, but myself, by denying the truth.

The truth…that I had fallen for Ty.

Is it love? I asked myself. How could I be sure? I knew I liked him a lot, but did I love him?

The only answer I could dredge up: Maybe.

Maybe I loved him. I knew it was definitely possible. If I gave this thing between Ty and me a chance, I could love him.

The question now was: did I want the chance? Was I brave enough to take the leap?

I asked myself over and over. I came to this conclusion: no. No, I wasn't brave. I was a completely selfish coward. And that's why I was jumping.

I wanted this chance, not for Ty, but for me, myself, and I. I was selfish; I didn't deserve Ty. But I wanted him. And since I had this chance, I was gonna take it.

My decision made, I shot up to my feet and sprinted inside the school. I flicked a look at a passing clock. Good; still twenty minutes left of lunch. I ran around school frantically, asking everyone around me where Ty was but no one seemed capable of giving me a straight answer. They said vague things like "Um, he's been around here, I think" or "Well, I thought I saw him over there" until the bell rang, signaling the end of lunch.

I sighed, totally distraught, as I hauled myself to class. Earlier today, I had been so relieved that Ty wasn't in any of my classes; now I fervently wished he was in all of them. How else could I going to find him?

. . .

Riiiiiing!

Class erupted as everyone jumped out of their seats and packed up, rushing out of the room, eager to get home. For once, I didn't want to go to work.

I searched around anxiously for a familiar spiky red-haired head, but I couldn't find him anywhere.

"Ty," I murmured mournfully. "Where are you?"

"You called?"

Gasping, I turned around and dropped my bike – again. I seemed to do that a lot around Ty. (Sorry, bike.)

There he was, Ty Riverson, standing in front of me in all his glory. He was distant, closed off, and didn't quite seem…alive.

But this was Ty. He was always alive.

Did I do this to him?

A sob caught in my throat but no. I couldn't cry now. First, I had to tell Ty everything. Then I could break down and cry to my heart's content.

I took a deep breath and said shakily, "Ty."

He didn't speak.

Gulping down my insecurity – you have no right to be insecure – I tried again. "Ty. I need to talk to you."

"So talk. I'm listening." He folded his arms across his chest.

"Okay. First, I have to apologize. I'm so, so, so, so, so sorry for running off on Saturday. That was stupid and insensitive of me. I'm really sorry."

He didn't move at all.

"Um, so, I'm really sorry about that. Again. Um, also," I swallowed thickly, "I-I guess I need to tell you my, uh, answer. To y-your – "

"Confession?" he supplied, finally speaking up. "It's okay, you don't have to. I know your answer." He tried to push past me.

"Oh, do you?" I shoved him back, suddenly flooded with strength and determination. Oh, so he knew my answer, did he? Yeah, right.

"I do."

"No, you really don't!" We were enshrouded in shadows, but I could see the surprise on his face. I smirked. "You think you know what I'm feeling right now, huh? Want me to tell you exactly what I'm feeling right now so you can confirm it? Fine.

"Right now, I'm confused as hell. I thought I had it all figured out, but I guess I didn't. Do you know what I spent lunch doing today? I spent the first half trying to understand what the heck I felt about you. I literally sat there on the grass, thinking. Do you know what I came up with?" I was almost yelling. "I realized that I like you. I really, really, really, really like you. In fact, I like you so much that I'm probably in love with you, but I don't want to admit that yet."

My voice lowered. "When you told me that you wanted to kiss me every time I smiled, it shocked me. Because I realized that every time we were together, I would look at you and wonder how one person could make me so happy. Every time, there was this longing. I wanted you to kiss me every time. But I buried that." I looked away. "I didn't want to fall in love, you know. I vowed to myself t not think about guys until I finished school. As in, college.

"Then you came around and messed me up. You make me want to let go and do whatever. You make me want to forget about being good and doing the right thing. So I spent the last half of lunch trying to find you and tell you all this. Turns out you're a freaking ninja." I glared at him. "Do you know the panic I felt when I thought I might not get to explain everything to you? Huh? Do you know how scared I was? I've never felt like this before! Why did this have to happen? I was so close! It's senior year and I'm almost free! I had to fall in love now, didn't I?" I shook my head disgustedly. "Guess there's no hiding it anymore. I guess I really am in love with you. This is all your fault." I poked him in the chest. "And now that I've finally understood my feelings, you don't want me anymore, do you? You gave up before anything even happened, because you thought I rejected you, even though I didn't really, and why am I telling you all this now, it isn't going to help anything and I probably look like an idiot now and oh god, am I tearing up again? Dammit, I hate crying, please don't look at me," I turned away, "anyways, I've finished dumping my heart on you so you can leave now, okay?"

His warm hands gripped my shoulders and spun me around. I covered my face quickly, not wanting him to see the tearstained disaster my face turns into when I cry. Except he was strong than me so he easily pulled my hands away from my face. I draped my hair into my face, but he brushed it away. I turned my head away, but his fingers lifted my chin up so my eyes met his.

More tears leaked out.

"Why? I croaked. "Why are you humiliating me like this? Can you just leave now, please?" I sagged against him. I just wanted to go home, fall asleep, and never wake up.

"Ugh, I look like a mess, so please stop looking at me, and leave because you're really not making me feel any better, in fact you're making me feel so much worse it's not even funny and – "

His hands cupped my cheeks, wiping away the tears. My breath hitched.

He didn't look dead anymore.

Ty's eyes were brilliantly tender and dazzling. His head slowly lowered. I held my breath.

The exact moment his lips brushed mine, the earth shifted and exploded around us and everything felt right. My eyes slid closed. I felt whole, overflowing, empty as I kissed him back, wanting more. I was astounded by the reality of it all. Was this really happening? And with Ty? Ty, one of my best friends. Ty, the boy I was in love with.

I pulled back and looked Ty in the eye. The way he was looking at me…it was like I was the one thing he had ever needed and now finally he had it, had me.

"So…I take it you accept my confession?" I whispered.

"Do you even need to ask?" he murmured back.

We were pressed up against each other, our foreheads resting against each other. My hands were locked around his neck and his hands were tangled in my hair. We felt it in each other's hands and knew: neither of us wanted to let go. Ever.

"I have to warn you, Ty, I've never been a girlfriend before so I have no idea how I'm supposed to act or what I should do so if I ever do something wrong, tell me, okay?" I was really worried I'd do something that would be bad for Ty. What if people weren't happy that he chose me? Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.

"Lacey," he growled, a warning in his voice. He pulled one of my hands from his neck and laced my fingers with his, kissing our joint hands. "I know what you're thinking. Right now, you're thinking that you're not good enough for me. Don't ever think that. You are the most amazing girl I've ever met." His voice was firm and sincere. "All you ever need to do is smile."

"Really? That's it? Just smile?"

"Just smile," he confirmed, then added thoughtfully, "But only for me. Don't smile at other guys or I will be forced to do something drastic and potentially illegal, like kill them."

I giggled.

"Hey! I'm serious. Your smile is so beautiful. I think I'd even be jealous if I saw you smile at Cara."

That made me laugh out loud. I grinned cheekily at him. "You're so cute, Ty."

He didn't tense up this time. Instead, he grinned back with a playful glint in his eyes. "I know. But you're cuter."

Then he gave in that delicious urge he got whenever he saw me smile and proceeded to kiss me senseless.

I haven't stopped smiling since.


I even have a theme song for this story! :D It's "Smile" by Avril Lavigne. Yay! took me forever to write this so please enjoy. And let me know about the errors, if you catch them!

Write on. Read on. That's my motto.


© Copyright 2011 by The Siege