Chapter 2: Valentine's Day

I never understood the point of Valentine's Day. It just seems like another way for the popular or attractive kids to show off and a sort of slap in the face for those who desperately want to, but can't find love.

If Valentine's wasn't bad enough our school also holds an annual couples dance where the guys are supposed to ask out the girls. James desperately wants to go to this dance, but every girl that he asks out keeps turning him down. I'm really starting to feel bad for the guy, so bad that he already talked me into helping him find a date.

Personally, I don't much care for love, at least not the cliché grade school boyfriend and girlfriend type of relationships. You know the type. I mean the type of relationship where two people say they're dating, but they never even talk. They just sit together holding hands. It's like the whole thing is just for show, rather than really out of love. I'm going to make sure that the first girl I date is someone really special, someone that I know I love. I don't know who that is yet, but I'm going to keep my eyes open.

I don't get why no one will just say 'yes' to James either. I mean it's not like James is asking the girls to marry him, but that's what you'd think if you saw some of the girls' reactions. It's just one night spent together, which would otherwise be spent home alone. James is a good guy; he's a little awkward at times, but incredibly friendly. But so far there's no convincing anyone. I even tried asking the unpopular kids.

I haven't talked to Jaylee much lately either. To be honest I've kind of been avoiding her since last week's soccer game. I'm having trouble seeing her as just another one of my friends. I can't quite place it, but there's something more about her and I'm kind of embarrassed by that. I'm afraid that she'll find out and then what? Will she hate me? Regardless, I'd like to get my feelings sorted out before I do anything.

Right now it's lunch. James and I are sitting together at the cafeteria. Around this time Jaylee is often in the music room practicing piano so I'm sure that we won't see her.

"Joey, are you there?" James asks me. He snaps his fingers and waves his hands in my face frantically. I realize that I must have been lost in thought.

"I'm fine." I say. "Sorry I was in deep thought."

James rolls his eyes. "You have been like that a lot lately. What is with you?"

"I-it's nothing." I fib. Actually I was thinking more about Jaylee, but there was no way I'd let James know that. He'd make fun of me for life.

I believe that James must have either bought into my lie or he was too disinterested to question further, because he dropped the subject and went on to what he was going to say before.

"Anyways, I think I know who I want to go with me to the Valentine's Day Dance." James said.

"Really? Who?" I ask.

"Tamsen Kwok." James says.

I shake my head. "You can't ask her!"

"Why not?"

"She's the most popular girl in our grade! I'm sorry James, but you're going to look like a fool asking and you may only get rejected! You should really pick someone else!"

James shook his head. "What if she says yes though? My father says you can never win if you don't try. I want to try!"

I sigh. "I don't think it's a good idea, but if that's really what you want then I'll support you the best I can."

"Thanks." James says with a smile. He stands up and uses all his force to pull me out of my seat. This causes me to stumble forward and land on his shoulder. Thankfully none of us fall, but I feel pretty foolish.

"What was that for?" I ask angrily, while standing back up.

"I need you to ask Tamsen for me." James replies sheepishly.

"What? Are you serious?" I snort. "All this fuss and you won't even talk to her yourself!"

"Please." James pleads, giving me puppy dog eyes from behind his thick glasses.

I sigh. "Fine, but you owe me."

I walk over to the table where Tamsen sits. The whole way there I'm thinking about how foolish I am going to look and how much easier it would be to just tell James to try another girl or say that if he wanted to ask Tamsen to the dance, then he would have to ask her by himself.

Tamsen is sitting at a big table with her friends Sabella, Farah, Kimberley, and a few other girls whom I don't recognize. I take a moment before approaching, but soon force my legs to move on their own.

I stand by the table for a moment while the girls continue to talk and ignore me. I feel sort of uneasy standing beside the table. I know that I'm not part of their click. Neither of them will right out tell me that I'm not welcomed, but I'm certain that every one of them is thinking that. They assume that if they ignore me then I'll just leave. Sadly, they are mistaken. I want to leave just as much as they want me to, but I can't. I must stay for James.

I clear my throat. "Hi," I say. I try to sound cool and casual, but my voice comes out quiet, sounding shy and weak.

"Hi. What are you doing here?" Sabella replies. Her voice, like mine also reveals her true emotions, although she is snooty and unwelcoming.

"I- I ..." I startle. I was really wishing that talking to these girls would be easier than this. "W-well you girls know James Lueders-Booth right?"

"James ... James ..." Farah repeats. "The name sounds familiar but ... Wait! Is he the kid with the reptile obsession?"

Kimberley shakes her head. "No, that's James Wembley. James Lueders-Booth is the really geeky looking one that kind of talks funny. You know him. His sister Teresa is in our class."

"Oh that James!" Farah says as if she had just made a remarkable discovery. "What about him?"

"Well ... he wants to know if Tamsen will go to the dance with him." I say, still sounding a little shy, but not as bad as before.

"Ooo!" Some of the girls say in unison as they almost simultaneously turn to face Tamsen as if expecting an immediate answer. In the pit of my stomach I know what the answer is going to be, but she's hesitant before responding, almost if she's really considering saying yes, so even I'm a little curious.

"No." Tamsen says dryly. I am about to walk away when I notice a sly smile dance across Tamsen's face. I don't know what she's going to do or say next, but I know she's planning something. "Joey, do you have a date?"

"N-no." I reply, my insecurity returning, but this time for a different reason.

Tamsen laughs. "Well if you'd like you could take Farah with you. She has wanted to go with someone to this dance for a while, but no one will ask her."

I am about to say no, but Farah runs to me and holds onto my hands. "Please Joey, let's go together." Farah says.

I find myself looking into her hazel eyes, and to my surprise up until now I hadn't realized just how pretty Farah really was. She was close to average height, just a bit shorter than I was, with long blond hair that was carefully brought back in a green headband. Similar to with Jaylee, my face grows hot again. I can't understand this feeling, but now even though my better judgement says I shouldn't I'm tempted to say yes to Farah. I nod and Farah eagerly jumps up and hugs me.

"Thank you Joey! You won't regret this!

Then without another word Farah leaves me and goes back to talking with her friends. I also leave, but I go to see James.

"So how did it go?" James asks me eagerly.

"It uh ..." I find myself momentarily lost for words. I can't tell James that he was turned down, but me, who didn't even care whether or not I went to the dumb dance, now had a date. "She turned you down." I say, keeping the last part of the conversation to myself.

James sighs. "... I guess you were right ... Oh well; I will ask someone else just like you suggested so that at least we don't have to deal with those girls anymore."

'If only that were true ...' I think to myself.

James wasn't able to get a date for the dance. He spent the day having me ask just about every girl, but none of them said yes or even seemed to give James a second thought. The only girl that he hasn't talked to yet was Jaylee. And he wants me to ask Jaylee to the dance for him.

Jaylee lives on my street so I decided I'd try to catch her on her way home from school. We will walk home together and, then I'll ask her to go with James to the dance. So long as I can catch Jaylee just as she's leaving class my plan will be flawless.

There's just one thing that still bothers me though. Even though I already have someone to go to the dance with, part of me wants to ask Jaylee to the dance for myself. Jaylee's my best friend though. I've known her practically my whole life so she's almost like family to me. In fact her family practically is my family too! We're not related by blood of course, but neither my family nor Jaylee's have other relatives living close by so we always spend our holidays together.

I've heard that this dance is mostly for couples. Wouldn't it be awkward for Jaylee and I to go together? What if the others think we're a couple? What would Jaylee do? What would she say? It's just too much to think about. I need to just worry about setting Jaylee up with James.

I find Jaylee on her way home. She walks at the edge of the sidewalk and carefully balances herself with each step, like a tight rope walker, one missed step and the game is all over. Her brown ponytail sways side to side in the wind and with each step.

"Jaylee!" I call out. "Wait for me!" She turns suddenly and her foot drops down onto the pavement below. Now she seems to have forgotten about her little tightrope game and walks back to greet me.

"Hey Joey, I haven't seen you all week." She says.

"Sorry. I've been kind of busy." I reply sheepishly.

I feel sort of foolish for not talking to her at all this week, after all what was I really afraid of? Did I fear that Jaylee would figure out about my emotions all being out of whack? Even now, things seemed so calm and innocent on the outside, but on the inside my heart was running around wild, beating as if there was no tomorrow. The thought of Jaylee realizing this for herself is a little scary, but I manage to assure myself that that sort of thing won't happen.

"It's alright." Jaylee says.

She always has a way of being so understanding when it comes to things like this. I think that's partly due to the fact that she's not so great with budgeting time either.

Jaylee has a way of taking on more tasks or hobbies than she can handle. Take last week for example. Jaylee went right from our soccer game to playing hockey at a nearby arena, and then she came home, finished her homework, and went straight to bed. Or at least that's what she told me. She says it keeps her from being bored, but really I think the girl just has too many interests and she refuses to let any of them go.

We walk beside each other for a bit in silence. This is when I decide to ask about James. I try to sound casual as to not frighten Jaylee off.

"Are you going to the Valentine's Day dance?" I ask.

"I'd like to, but nobody has asked me yet." She says.

'Oh good.' I think.

I'm not sure why, but I'm a little relieved that Jaylee doesn't have a date yet, however, I don't think I'm happy so much for James' sake as I am for my own selfish reasons. I'm still not planning on asking Jaylee to the dance, but some reason I find the idea of Jaylee going with just some guy from our school sort of nerving. Jaylee going to the dance with James bothers me too, but since James is a good friend it doesn't bother me as much as if Jaylee went with someone I barely even know.

"But why do you ask?" Jaylee questions.

"Well I kind of have this friend who kind of wants to go with you to the dance, but he's too shy to ask you himself." I say.

"You do?" Jaylee asks raising an eyebrow.

It's at that moment that I realize just how cliché the 'I have a friend' excuse must seem coming from me. Could she think that I'm talking about myself?

"I really do have a friend!" I blurt out. "He's James!" Out of the corner of my eye I think I see Jaylee's lips turn into a small frown, but it happens so quickly that I'm not even sure what I saw.

"Going with James sounds fun." Jaylee said with a smile.

We came to Jaylee's house and I watched her leave. I had done a good thing by setting Jaylee and James up to go to the dance together, but if it was really good how come I felt so wrong doing it?

=phantom130 5 (December 2012)