A Good Day
When my alarm went off I woke up to a gray, drizzly morning. I smiled and rolled over in bed, shutting off the shrill ringing emanating from the clock on my nightstand and closed my eyes again. It was raining. It would be a good day.
I rolled out of bed, humming a song to myself, and pulled on my blue plaid skirt and freshly ironed, button-up Wasatch Academy shirt. Knowing it would be cold and I'd never be able to stop myself from walking, I also wore my thick tights. I ran a brush through my sleek black locks and donned my jacket.
I left my house without an umbrella and started the walk to school. I lifted my face to the rain, loving how clean and cool it felt as it hit me. I watched the cars and buses full of students head up the hill to campus. I passed the huge trees lining Locust Avenue, their leaves creating a canopy over the sidewalk, causing the rain the slip between and fall to the ground intermittently.
Following the ivy covered wall, I turned as the top of the hill opened up and gave way to the immaculate school grounds. Lush green grass rushed ahead of me to the stone steps leading up to the ivy covered walls of Wasatch Academy.
The building was large and often times seemed overbearing with it's stone walls and overtly squared appearance. Everything about the building was symmetrical, making one assume once you stepped inside you'd be entering a land of rules and limitations. A world running on regulations and homework.
I took a breath as I stood on the front steps and as I exhaled I let the crowd of students push me into the entrance hall of the school I'd attended since I'd turned seven. The cacophony of voices moved over and around me as I silently dodged classmates and strangers and opened my locker near the algebra room.
As I did most mornings, I wasted my time at my locker looking busy, switching the books and notebooks I'd used for homework for the ones I'd need for class so the other students around me wouldn't stop and talk to me. It's not that I was stuck up or I didn't like them, I simply couldn't talk to people I didn't know very well. My family was one thing, they were people I saw and conversed with every day, but the students in school with me were loud and there were so many of them. I'd much prefer to stay in the background where I could remain unnoticed.
Except, of course, by one person.
As soon as the first bell rang to signify we only had five minutes until class started, I glanced over my shoulder at the locker across the hall and the boy standing there. He was breathing heavily, having had to run to school so he wouldn't be late. Rain dripped from his hair and into his green eyes as he exchanged books between his locker and bag. Riley Deacon had used that locker since the day he started at Wasatch Academy five years ago. And every year I had used the locker across from him, wondering when he'd turn and notice me noticing him, not sure what I'd do if he did. Since he was usually running late when he got to school I'd never had a chance to find out.
Begrudgingly, I glanced back into my bag to be certain I had everything I needed and turned toward my first period Earth Science class. I couldn't let my crush on Riley Deacon shatter my perfect attendance record. My academic nature was something my parents had always been proud of, and while I didn't necessarily want to be labeled as a bookworm or brainy, I didn't really care when students called me those things either.
Almost the same time as I reached the door, Brenda Hartford and her friend, Misty Carlen, cut by me and into class, automatically taking the seats near the window with Braden Mitchell and Isaac Keane. They were the popular boys. They loved sitting together where they could make the outgoing girls fawn over them.
As I sat down in my desk near the door Braden turned to me and puckered his lips, sending me an air kiss with a wink.
I quickly took my seat as my cheeks heated and averted my gaze into my bag to retrieve my notebook. Braden had declared his love for me in September and every morning ever since he'd tried to get my attention, but I didn't want him. I didn't want a very public relationship with a popular boy. I didn't want my first kiss to be with someone who'd already kissed everyone else and I was simple the only one left. I wanted my first kiss to mean something. So I waited.
Mrs. Evans let Riley in just as she pulled the door closed and he slid to his seat in the back. She then grabbed her piece of chalk and continued her lecture from the previous day's class on the metamorphosis of butterflies. I took notes as thoroughly as I could, but my gaze crept over my shoulder at the dark blonde-haired boy on the back row. Riley was taking notes studiously, glancing up at the board every so often. He chewed absently on his bottom lip and his brows were furrowed as he wrote. He was handsome and smart. He was also not popular. He rarely drew attention to himself, except as the last person to walk into class. I admired him for being able to be himself and often wished I were as brave.
Riley glanced at me as he looked up from his notes and the moment his eyes lingered I'd blushed scarlet and looked away. If only I had any sort of courage to talk to him. Flirt with him.
I didn't look back again. And when the bell rang I gathered my things and walked to my English class.
I frowned. I'd never get her attention.
I glanced across the row at the black-haired beauty who had never given me the time of day and scowled. Why wasn't I good enough for her? I was good enough for the other girls.
Mabel Larson had never made a secret of her affection for me, declaring me so hot she couldn't stand it and shoved me against a locker to kiss me. Brenda asked me out often enough and was constantly borrowing my pencils.
I turned to the whisper I'd come to know so well and smirked at the small, leggy girl beside me.
"Borrow a pencil?" she said, tilting her head to the left as she smiled innocently, yet hopefully at me.
See what I mean?
I reached into my bag for a pencil for her as I considered how quickly I'd go to pieces if it was Paige looking at me like that, asking to borrow something as silly as a pencil.
"Thanks, Brade," she whispered happily, brushing her fingers against mine as she took it from me.
"Sure, Brenda," I responded, turning the page of my notebook and starting to take notes. It was nothing I understood. Something about butterflies or caterpillars or something.
I looked across my shoulder at Paige, carefully taking her notes and my pride faltered. There had to be something I could do to get her attention.
I ran my hand through my thick, messy hair and exhaled abruptly.
"Hey," I whispered to Isaac, who was sitting across the aisle from me behind Brenda.
"What?" he asked without looking up from his notes.
"I want Paige," I said, looking intently at my buddy and ignoring the sudden expression on Brenda's face.
"What else is new?" Isaac asked flatly.
"Help me figure out how to get her to go out with me," I whispered.
"She hasn't gone out with you yet?" Misty questioned from behind me, suddenly joining the conversation. "Why?"
"I don't know. Maybe she doesn't like me," I said honestly.
"Of course she likes you," Misty said easily. "You're Braden. Everyone likes you. Right, Brenda?"
I turned back to Brenda and found her looking at me with the faintest of embarrassed smiles.
"You're very hot, Braden," she said. Then she turned in her seat back toward the board.
"Then why won't she go out with me?" I asked, my brows furrowing.
"Have you asked her?" Misty asked obviously.
"Yes," I answered impatiently.
"What happened when you asked her to go out with you?" she wondered, leaning across her desk toward me.
"Which time?" Isaac asked sarcastically.
"The time she said no, obviously," Brenda interjected, smiling at Isaac who smirked approvingly at her humor. Apparently Brenda had transferred her affections. That was fine with me.
"Well, she probably doesn't know that you like her," Misty supposed, glancing at the board once and scribbling some notes furiously before she fell too far behind.
"What?" Isaac and I said together.
"That's ridiculous," I continued. "I blow her kisses every morning. I told her last semester that I thought she was beautiful. I gave her flowers."
"No, silly, I mean she probably doesn't think you mean it," Misty said with one of her perfectly arched red eyebrows raised meaningfully.
I turned in my seat and watched Paige write for a minute, her straight black hair falling gracefully over her shoulder as she leaned forward. She was so beautiful. She was smart. She'd known me for years. Why wouldn't she believe that I like her? I didn't get it.
"Dude," Isaac said, chucking his pen at me to get my attention. "She probably thinks you're just in it for a kiss."
"You kiss everybody," Isaac explained.
"That's true," Brenda laughed.
"It is not," I said ardently, my voice growing too loud for the quiet classroom, so I had to turn back in my seat before Mrs. Evan's looked over at us.
I took notes dutifully for a minute, not caring what I was writing until Mrs. Evan's turned back around and Misty spoke up again.
"I think Isaac's right," she whispered. "I don't think she believes you really want to spend time with her."
"So how do I prove that I do?" I questioned.
"Ohh," Misty said, the smile on her clear face growing in girly glee. "It'll take a big gesture."
"A big gesture?" I asked.
Misty nodded. "You've got to show her you mean it. Show her she means something to you," she said excitedly.
"So what do I do?" I asked.
"What's her favorite flower?" Misty asked excitedly.
"I don't know," I admitted.
"Brenda?" Misty said meaningfully.
"I'll find out," she said immediately.
"Good," Misty said schemingly. "I have an idea."
After chemistry I stopped at my locker, leaving my backpack and grabbing my history notebook instead. We'd only be in class for a little while anyway, as there was an assembly during class. But it was a lame assembly and I had worksheets to finish so I figured I'd take it with me.
"Hey, Riley," someone said as they passed me.
I waved my hand absently at whoever it was and made a beeline across campus and into the history room, where I came face to face with Paige Elliot.
"Sorry," I mumbled, but I wasn't fast enough.
She'd retreated to her seat in a blaze of reddened cheeks and silence.
How many times had I wanted to talk to her, offer to study with her just to hear what her voice sounded like, only to be reminded how shy she was. The slightest attention from anyone made her blush, teachers in particular, but nothing was worse than a group of students staring at her. Paige was a small girl and used her size and silence to glide in and out of class undetected and though I'd wanted her attention everyday for nearly five years, I knew me asking her for it would only cause her to be uncomfortable, so I never did.
I retrieved my notebook, which I'd dropped at Paige's sudden appearance, and slipped into my desk on the back row, one aisle over from my favorite girl.
"All right," Mr. Wentworth said loudly, hoping his official tone would alert the students that class had begun and they'd quiet down. "We've got to get started. We only have about twenty minutes to get through yesterday's assignment. Who can tell me what the assignment was?"
Nobody even remotely looked his direction, so he picked someone.
"Mr. Bartlett?" he said pointedly.
"Uh," Neil said, flipping frantically through his workbook. "The worksheets on the Battles of Lexington and Concord?"
"Right," Mr. Wentworth said, turning to the blackboard to write the pages of the workbook that should've been completed by class time. "Let's start on the right side of the room and head down the rows. Miss Adams, start with number one please."
While Amy looked at her worksheet for number one, I opened mine and resigned myself to wait for my turn to answer question fourteen. I checked my answer again to be certain I was right and then let my eyes wander to Paige where she was bent over her homework, counting the questions and then the students to see if she was going to have to give an answer. She sighed and leaned back in her chair, letting her long black hair fall onto the empty desk behind her. Apparently, she'd gotten lucky and wouldn't have to.
"Sorry," I said, suddenly tuning into class again. I checked my book. "Uh, William Heath."
"Right," Mr. Wentworth said, turning to the next student to answer.
A peculiar sensation hit me and I knew Paige was looking at me. It made the little hairs on my arms stand on end. I fiddled with my pen for a moment, trying not to look up at her and embarrass her, but I couldn't help it. Similarly to Earth Science class earlier that morning, as soon as I'd made eye contact with her she'd blushed and turned away from me.
What was I going to do with her?
"Wrong," Mr. Wentworth said loudly. "Does anyone have the correct figures?"
The entire class looked up at the teacher and then Ryan Diggler, who'd apparently answered his question wrong. Mr. Wentworth's eyes scanned the room for the student he figured had the best chance of getting the answer right and landed on Paige's desk.
"Miss Elliot?" he said purposefully.
Paige looked up at him and immediately her pale cheeks began to color. She sank into her seat a little and glanced around the room, noting all the eyes on her. Though I loved looking at her, I looked down at my desk; hoping one less pair of eyes would help.
"I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you," Mr. Wentworth said when she'd answered.
"73 British Soldiers," she said softly, staring at her desk, "and 49 Colonists."
"Correct. Thank you," he said, closing his book and setting it on his desk. He checked his watch and then the clock on the wall. "All right, It's close enough. Go ahead and head down the auditorium for the assembly. I'll see you all tomorrow. No homework assignment. Just be prepared for Wednesday's quiz."
The room became loud as the students grabbed their things and darted from their desks. I took my notebook with me and went downstairs and into the entrance hall to the main doors of the auditorium. We were having a student body assembly hoping to get everyone excited about our upcoming basketball tournament and the new uniforms for the both the players and the cheerleaders. It seemed one of the parents of one of our players thought our uniforms needed to be a little more intimidating and wrote a check to see that it happened.
"Hey, Ri," my best friend, Weston Farnes, said as I took my seat in the back of the auditorium beside him.
"What's up?" I asked automatically.
"Nothing," he said. "Just wondering what's up with all the decorations. Isn't this supposed to be a basketball assembly?"
I looked up at the banner of multi-shade red lilies hanging over the stage and stared in confusion.
"Yes, it is," I said flatly. "What are they doing with those?"
"No idea," Weston said. "Hey, did you see Paige today? She looks really nice."
"Yeah, she does," I agreed with my friend as I searched her out among the student body. She was sitting in a small group of other smart girls, who also rarely spoke.
"Hey, do you have your assignment for Wagner's class?" Weston asked. "I don't get it at all."
"Yeah," I said, unbending my notebook so he could look at it. "Algebra stuff's in the back."
"Right," he said, turning to the back.
"Good Afternoon, Wolverines!"
I looked up at Ryan Diggler standing before the microphone on the stage. The relatively small student body roared approvingly.
"Welcome to our Basketball-themed assembly!" he said excitedly. "In just a few moments your Varsity and Junior Varsity basketball teams and the cheerleaders will present our brand news uniforms, courtesy of Jackson Bale, but first. We have a very special surprise for one of you."
Braden Mitchell came out on stage then in team warm-ups so as to keep the new basketball uniforms from view. He was also cradling a giant bouquet of deep red lilies.
"Tell me he isn't doing what I think he's doing?" I said seriously, staring at the large bouquet of Paige's favorite flower.
"What is he doing?" Weston asked curiously.
The chants of 'Braden' died down and he started speaking.
"As you know the Valentine's dance is coming up soon," he paused, letting all the girls scream their lungs out for a moment. "And there is a very special girl I'd really like to take."
"Oh, no," I said softly to myself. "No. no… don't. Please don't. She'll hate it."
"I'm sure you all know her. She's beautiful and insanely smart," he said proudly. I looked hurriedly at Paige who was already starting to cower. "I have something I'd like to give her, if she'd come up here. Paige?"
All at once several of Braden's basketball friends appeared in the aisle closest to where Paige was sitting to help 'escort' her up to the stage. Paige shook her head several times and tried to move away from them, but was soon in a spotlight, being pulled from her seat toward the stairs.
"That's kind of rude," Weston commented as he watched them drag her up there.
Braden took her hand to 'help' her the rest of the way and Paige stared at the hundreds of students looking up at her. She looked uncomfortable to be up there in the first place, let alone being held at Braden's side while we waved at his adoring fans who were staring, and some of them glaring, at her.
"Paige is a great girl," Braden said, looking at her affectionately and stepping closer to her. "And I've spent a great deal of time getting to know her."
"No, he hasn't," Weston and I said together as Paige's expression became stricken. "I'd like to show her just how much she means to me..." Braden faded out and the lights dimmed slightly as a disco ball dropped and started spinning, casting whirling lights around the room.
Paige looked like she was on the verge of tears.
I stood up.
"Where are you going?" Weston asked in surprise.
"I can't just leave her up there," I said in response.
I ran around the back of the auditorium and a romantic ballad began to play as I hurdled backpacks and a couple of student's legs.
Braden moved altogether to close and extended his bouquet to my sweet girl. She backed away from him but was pushed forward again by his friends that were positioned behind her. The student body laughed.
"Paige Elliot," Braden said softly, his voice dripping with what I'm sure he thought was affection. I ran faster. "I've watched you and loved you for nearly five months now… and it would be my greatest honor …" Braden smiled then, as she'd finally taken his flowers, and reached for her to pull her into his arms.
"Move!" I commanded, jumping over the legs of some band kids and hoped over the wall of the orchestra pit. Darting into the room under the stage I pulled open the electrical panel and flipped the master breaker, plunging everything into blackness.
The auditorium was an acoustical mess of screams and shouts as everyone either tried to leave or get the lights back on. Some were smart enough to use their cell phones as flashlights, but it still wasn't bright enough that they could see anything that was happening on stage and that was exactly what I'd been hoping for.
I followed the loud, obnoxious sound of Braden's voice through the darkness out onto the stage where the scent of lilies was overwhelming.
"Come on, Paige," he whined like I child. "What did I ever do to you? I want to take you to the stupid dance!"
"Let go of me," a small voice pleaded. "Please."
I weaved through the sea of basketball players to where I thought the center of the stage was, pausing so I could hear Braden's voice again to give me a direction.
"Not until you answer me the way I want you to," Braden said stubbornly.
At the sound of his voice, I shoved him aside and took Paige's small hand pulling her from his remaining grasp.
"Hey! What the—!" Braden shouted as his captive would-be date escaped into the blackness. "Paige!"
Pulling her behind me, we went out the side door and down the stairs under the stage into the inky darkness.
"Wh-where are we going?" Paige asked nervously, probably having no idea who was leading her.
"Ssh," I warned her softly, knowing there would probably be someone down there trying to find the breaker I'd switched off.
Doing my best to ignore the way my heart wanted to beat out of my chest at feeling of her hand in mine, I used my other hand to run along the wall and count the doors on my right.
"Wait," Paige whispered softly, pulling me to a stop.
Footsteps were approaching us in the dark.
"Where is that stupid switch?" someone demanded only a few feet from us.
Paige inhaled anxiously and I pulled her in close, silently opening the door behind me and letting us in to a tiny janitor's closet.
I relaxed, relieved as I locked the door from the inside and took a breath. They'd never look for us in there.
"Riley?" Paige said tentatively in the dark.
My breathing faltered for a moment as I wondered how in the world she knew it was me.
"Yeah," I whispered.
"Why did you do that?" she asked softly.
I smiled in the dark. She was actually speaking to me.
For once, I was the one who blushed. I was going to have to admit something.
"I couldn't let him embarrass you like that, Paige," I said honestly.
She was silent. I wished I'd been able to see her so I knew if she was all right.
"How did you know how to flip the power?" she wondered.
"I'm on the technical crew," I admitted. "I'm down here in the dark all the time."
She moved slightly and bumped a broom making a sound as it fell and she lost her balance and gripped my arm.
"Ssh," I said softly, taking her hand and pulling her closer to the center of the closet and away from the cleaning supplies.
"I'm sorry," she said anxiously.
"It's okay," I assured her. "We're fine down here. Are you okay?"
She nodded and I was surprised to feel it near my shoulder.
"Thank you, Riley," she said quietly, sounding almost… tearful.
"Paige?" I said nervously. "You're shaking."
"I'm sorry," she said again. This time I knew she was crying.
"Hey, it's okay," I said softly, automatically pulling her in for a hug. "It's over. Everything's fine. They'll never find us down here. You're home free."
"What if Braden tries again later?" she asked unhappily.
"He won't," I said confidently. "You already said no and he had his pride handed to him on a platter, so… I really think he'll leave you alone."
She nodded against my chest again and it struck me that Paige was hugging me back. She was letting me hold her and gripping me tightly, like she thought of me as somewhere safe.
"Hey, Paige?" I asked after a few minutes of silence.
"How can you talk to me now?" I asked. "You've never talked to me before."
"I supposed it's because it's dark," she replied honestly. "I can't see you and, more importantly, you can't see me."
I smiled, finally understanding.
"But I like to see you."
She stiffened and I wondered what her expression looked like.
"You do?" she asked nearly inaudibly.
"Yeah," I answered. "I do. I like to talk to you, too."
She giggled almost inaudibly, making me smile.
"You do?" she asked again.
"Mm-hmm," I said quietly.
She seemed to relax in my arms a little and I swear I could hear her blushing.
"I like talking to you, too," she admitted timidly.
I smiled widely, pleased she couldn't see me grinning like a fool.
"Maybe when there is light, too?" I asked hopefully.
I heard her swallow.
"Yeah," she whispered.
We heard someone bound down the stairs overhead and we stayed silent as the electrical panel was opened. A moment later the sappy music came back on and a tiny stream of dim light shone under the door.
"Looks like they finally found the lights," I commented.
Paige nodded silently and I looked down at her vague shape in the shadows, wondering what she was thinking.
"Riley, don't go yet?" she said. "Just stay here with me?"
"We can stay for as long as you want."
Paige seemed comforted by that idea, and leaned into me again.
"You know," she said timidly. "I've liked you for a long time, Riley."
"I know," I said carefully, hoping it didn't embarrass her too much.
"You did?" she asked. "But you never said anything."
"I've noticed your tendency to shy away from things and I didn't want you to be afraid of me," I told her.
"Why?" she asked softly. Her voice had gone flat and an expression of unhappiness came to mind when I'd heard it. It confused me just for a moment before I realized what I'd said. Or rather what I'd not said.
I took a chance and lifted my hands to her smooth face, running my thumbs along her jaw. If there had been lights I would've seen her look up at me with those beautiful brown eyes.
"Because I like you, too," I said. "I couldn't stand to have you afraid of me, when I wanted you with me so much."
She exhaled, like she'd been holding her breath. "Really?"
"I've wanted to talk to you every morning at your locker, but I didn't know if you'd ever noticed me. I mean, I know you're sort of late sometimes, but I really wasn't… brave enough ... anyway," she said, her tone morphing from excited to solemn again. I grinned realizing it was because she was trying to slow herself down. Apparently, she talked a mile a minute when given the right circumstances.
"Believe me," I said merrily. "I noticed you. If I didn't wake up so late every morning, I might have actually had time to talk to you at your locker."
"Maybe you shouldn't wake up late tomorrow," she said meaningfully.
I chuckled. "I won't," I replied. Truthfully, I wasn't certain I'd even fall asleep after everything that had happened that day.
After a few more minutes in the quiet, her long hair brushed over my arm and knew she was looking up at me.
"Riley?" she asked, her voice tentative again and yet there was something else.
"You really like me?"
I smiled for the millionth time and shook my head in the dark, amused that she'd have a hard time believing me. She had said she'd wondered if I'd noticed her. Perhaps I could show her how much I liked her.
Softly, I guided her chin up till I felt her forehead brush my nose in the darkness. I leaned in closer, perfectly aware of how close she was.
"I really, really like you, Paige," I said softly. Then I gently placed a kiss on her lips. Every cell in my body felt like it was about to explode, but somehow I held it all in. "I've liked you almost since the day I moved here."
Paige's small hands moved from my arms and carefully took my jaw, surprising me by kissing me back and making my mind go completely blank. Paige was kissing me. She was kissing me.
"Hey, Riley?" she said hopefully in the darkness, moving in close against my chest again. I put my arms around her. "Please don't sleep in tomorrow?"
I laughed softly, tipping my chin against her head.
On Wednesday I woke up to a gray, drizzly morning. I smiled and rolled over in bed, surprised when I reached over to shut off my alarm that my phone lit up with a message waiting for me.
'Hey Sleepyhead, I'm already here. Where are you? –Riley'
With a soft giggle, I lay back down and closed my eyes. It was raining. It would be a good day.
(C) Cloverdale 2012