New Year's Eve
Back to the present...
"You got a new cell phone?" Marlene Lee asked, looking up from her dinner plate at her daughter.
Shannon tensed, glaring at the black screen of the iPhone that was currently turned off on the side of the dinner table. She had forgotten to remove it from the table before dinner was served. Instinctively, she reached for it and tucked it behind her on the chair, so that it was hidden from view. She immediately regretted it, because her mother raised an eyebrow, and now even her father was looking at her.
"Yeah I did," she said curtly instead, trying to act as though this was all very normal while reaching over to get more pasta. Her family was Asian, but both her parents had been born and raised in the US, and their diet was almost entirely Western. "I thought it was time to make the switch."
She had been particularly resilient in not letting go of her old phone, the one that was only good for calling and texting. Her friends had been in disbelief, but she really hadn't seen the need to switch to a smartphone when her old, dumb one worked perfectly fine.
"It was a gift!" Phil, her fourteen year old brother, practically shouted across the table in glee.
"Yeah, from a boy," Phil's twin, Danny, added, almost as if he was afraid to get left out of embarrassing his older sister. He put particular emphasis on the word 'boy', as if their parents would miss it.
Shannon swiveled her head to glare at her brothers, but it was already too late.
"Oh?" her dad asked, fully turning his head around to give her a stern look. "A boy from Bollinger?"
Shannon shifted uncomfortably. "Yes," she answered, fidgeting a bit. As if he could be from anywhere else. Bollinger High was the only high school within a ten mile radius of them, and it wasn't like her parents' social circles included many people outside of Bollinger.
No, that wasn't the way the town of Bollinger operated. Full of affluent, well-to-do families, Bollinger was as exclusive as a town could get. And Bollinger High, well, that was as exclusive as a public high school could get. Girls carried designer purses to school and guys drove BMWs and Audis.
"He's just a friend," Shannon added after a few seconds' pause, hoping that it would diffuse the situation and get her parents to stop probing.
Unfortunately, she forgot that her brothers were relentless.
"His name is Landon Becker, he's a senior, and he's a boy friend," Danny was practically jumping up and down in glee, his energy bubbling over.
"He's the captain of the swim team, and he went with Shannon to homecoming!" Phil added.
Shannon turned to give her brothers the deadliest glare she could muster. "Are you sure you guys aren't forgetting to include things like his social security number and his credit card information in that list of yours?" she hissed at them.
Undaunted, they continued to grin at her.
She didn't know how they knew so much about her life when she really didn't tell them that much. They didn't even go to Bollinger High. At fourteen, her brothers were still in middle school, but they knew an inordinate amount of information about everything that was going on in Bollinger High.
"You should bring him for dinner someday then," her father told her gruffly.
She pursed her lips. No doubt he was about ready to give any guy that was remotely involved in her life the third degree.
"He's just a friend, dad," she told him adamantly.
"We like meeting your friends," her mother replied, her voice ever serene. Shannon fumed on the inside. Her parents knew her well enough to know how to deal with her. This was why she kept information like this out of their path. If it wasn't for her brothers…
"Plus, we don't mind that there's a boy in your life. Isn't it about time, anyways?" Her mother continued, giving her a small smile over the glass of wine that she was sipping.
Shannon could only gape.
Geez, her mother…
But her mother did have a point. While all her friends had flirted and dated and hooked up, she had never done anything. She had gone on a couple of dates with a couple of guys who had asked her out, but it had never gone too well. It had never been a disaster, either, but it had never been too great.
In fact, she had only ever been kissed once. One kiss, just one.
Not that she minded. Shannon always had other things to be preoccupied about, like school, tennis, and drama class, which she loved. And her friends, of course.
Nothing exciting ever really happened when it came to guys, unless she counted that unbridled disaster last year with Christopher Katy that had the two of them not speaking to one another since.
She gave herself a little shake while helping clear off the dinner table. Her head hurt just thinking about it. It was no wonder that most of the time, she tried to push the thought of Chris from her mind. Besides, he was dating her friend Zoe now, and thoroughly trying to pretend that she did not exist…
Her new iPhone chirped, and she almost jumped.
It always gave her a bit of a start when it did. She was so unused to it.
Sliding it open, she read the text she had just received. It was from Landon.
So I'll see u at Miranda's tnt? Sure u don't want me to pick you up?
Shannon frowned at the phone. Landon had programmed his phone number into the contacts list of the phone when he had given it to her as a Christmas present. it had been rather unexpected, and she wished she had gotten him something else instead of the present she had picked up the day before if she knew he was going to get her an iPhone for Christmas. It was rather disconcerting to hand over a container with a coffee mug inside and then open the neatly wrapped case with containing an iPhone. She remembered that brief look of disappointment that had passed over Landon's face, but he had quickly tried to mask it and had smiled broadly for her sake.
She sighed as she looked back at the message again.
Miranda Ware was having a New Year's Eve party at her house. Her parents were out of town, and she had basically invited half of Bollinger to go.
Miranda was a senior, but Shannon knew enough of the seniors to attend. Plus, Landon was a senior. He had asked her repeatedly over the past week whether she wanted to be picked up and go with him to the party, but she had turned down his offer each time.
She had a car herself, but he knew her well enough to know that she hated driving at night.
She missed the tactile keys of her old phone.
No thanks, I'm going with Alaina. See you there.
She pressed the send button and turned off her phone, sighing.
It wasn't that she didn't like Landon. He was certainly nice enough, but he always seemed to be trying to move faster than she was ready for. Always seemed to be three steps ahead of her.
When he had asked her to the homecoming dance that past October, she had treated it as more of a platonic dance date than anything else, but judging by the way he had been acting the last couple of months, she knew he wanted more.
But she wanted to go with Alaina tonight.
Despite their different personalities, Alaina Brandon had been her best friend for years, and nothing ever really got in the way of that.
She put on a white sweater, dark jeans, and then a trenchcoat over the whole outfit before heading towards the door a bit before 9:00 pm. Alaina had told her she was coming around 9:00, and Alaina Brandon was always punctual.
Sure enough, she had just squeezed into her boots when she saw the headlights on her driveway.
"I'm off!" Shannon called to the house in general. Her parents didn't answer. They were rather lax with her social functions, trusting her enough to know that she would be responsible, and for that she was very grateful. They knew she was going to a friends' house tonight, and they had already retreated into their study, probably to work out some last minute business deal on New Year's Eve.
Her brothers, on the other hand, were sulking and ignored her. They had begged her to let them go to Miranda's party, but she had told them that after the stunt they pulled at dinner, she would never invite them to a Bollinger party ever. Plus, they were fourteen. She wasn't about to let them around a bunch of juniors and seniors.
Of course, her threat was only good for about another eight months, before they got to Bollinger themselves. Once there, Phil and Danny would no longer need her to get into social events at Bollinger.
She felt a little somber at the thought of her brothers growing up so fast, but perked up again when she walked outside and saw Alaina's BMW.
"Am I third wheeling tonight?" she asked happily as she slid into the back seat.
"Of course not," Alaina replied, not missing a beat. She put her car in reverse and started to back out of the driveway, gesturing towards the passenger seat with her elbow. "Jeremy's the one third wheeling here."
"Yeah, sorry I'm constantly intruding on you two," Jeremy Irons, Alaina's boyfriend, turned and grinned at her.
Shannon smiled back. She had always liked Jeremy, even when he and Alaina had broken off for a huge chunk of the last year. It had been a mess that the whole school had been caught up in, but now that the two of them were good again, things were a lot better for everyone.
They had broken up in the middle of summer last year, which resulted in months of tension that had reverberations throughout the entirety of Bollinger High. It had finally culminated in some sort of confrontation at the homecoming dance last October. Afterwards, Alaina had called Shannon and had sobbed rather uncharacteristically on the phone to her. It was only situations involving Jeremy that ever made Alaina so emotional, and Shannon was pretty sure that Jeremy had been equally miserable during the time they had been broken up too.
But the homecoming dance had been a floodgate. After that, miraculously, and thankfully, they had worked things out.
"Hello to you too, Jeremy," Shannon said happily to him. "Try to hold back the PDA, guys. I don't want to throw up all over your backseat."
Alaina raised an eyebrow. "We'll try," she deadpanned, and Shannon grinned in response. Neither Alaina nor Jeremy were much for the PDA, thank goodness, because that would have made her uncomfortable to hang out with them so much.
Most of the time, she didn't even feel like she was third wheeling, since she was such good friends with both of them.
"Oh, don't mind Alaina, she just can't help it when she's around me," Jeremy said with a grin, raising his eyes suggestively at his girlfriend. "I'm very attractive you know."
"Stop it, I'm trying to drive here," Alaina chided him, keeping her eyes on the road ahead, although Shannon could see her cheek twitch, as if she was trying to contain her smile.
She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. She didn't think anyone could make Alaina as happy as Jeremy did, and was infinitely glad again for her best friend that Jeremy was once again back in her life.
"So who's going to be there tonight?" Shannon asked after a brief pause. She took off the cap she had on, because it had gotten rather warm in the car. She tried to look out the window, but because it was so dark outside, she could see nothing besides the snow banks at the side of the road, so she played with her cap instead. "The usual crowd?"
"Yep," Jeremy replied. "The usual crowd. I think Zoe's sick tonight though. So she's probably not going to be there."
"Oh, that's too bad," Shannon replied, and she genuinely meant it. Zoe really liked these types of parties. "But I'm sure there will be another one soon."
"Chris is going to be there, though," Alaina said.
Shannon looked up sharply. In one brief moment, she met Alaina's eyes in the rearview mirror, but the next second, Alaina was looking at the road in front of her again.
It was moments like this that she was sure Alaina knew everything that had happened. Had surely guessed everything that had happened.
She had never told anyone about the disaster with Chris last year. After she had turned him down on the last day of school, she had replayed that conversation with him over and over again in her mind, each time with increasing misery, but she had never told anyone about it.
She owed that much to him. They shared too many of the same friends, and she was sure he wouldn't appreciate it if they all knew the tale.
Although if she had to admit it, she probably did it more for herself than for anyone else. She already knew what would happen if she ever recounted the story to Alaina. Her best friend would sit there, silent and stoic while she told the whole story, then at the end of it all, Alaina would ask some piercing, insightful question that Shannon didn't want to answer.
She could practically hear Alaina's voice now.
"Do you regret it?"
It was undoubtedly the question Alaina would ask. She was too perceptive not to. And if she did ask it, Shannon couldn't keep pretending that she didn't.
She shook her head again. There was no use thinking about that now. Chris was with Zoe, and there was still Landon.
"Is Jess going to be there?" she asked instead.
Jeremy chuckled. "I think Nolan's bringing her," he said, his smile still there while Alaina said nothing.
Shannon turned so Alaina couldn't see her smile, not even through the rearview mirror.
She liked Jess Evans, who had moved into Bollinger half a year ago, at the start of their junior year. Jess had come in with spunk and guts and had pretty much turned the whole school upside down. She had also, incredibly, won over Nolan Barnes, Jeremy's best friend and pretty much the most coveted and unobtainable guy at Bollinger. Shannon was sure that girls would put posters of Nolan's face on their lockers if they printed such posters, and she was convinced that she would never live to see him fall for anyone, because he had always been so aloof, but somehow Jess had won him over.
She also smiled, because although Jeremy and Alaina were dating, they had quite different views when it came to Jess Evans.
Jeremy was good friends with her, but Alaina...well, Alaina's relationship with Jessica was complicated.
Before she had time to dwell on that, they were already at Miranda Ware's house. Jeremy got out of the BMW and pulled open the door for her on their side. Shannon grinned her thanks at him, and then looked at the house.
Miranda's parents were both lawyers, partners at different firms. They had amassed so much wealth that both of them were retired by now and frequently spent their time traveling the world, leaving Miranda oftentimes alone in their mansion.
Even out of all the rich kids at Bollinger, Miranda lived in one of the most opulent houses there was in town.
The party was already in full swing by the looks of it. Lights in every room was on, and cars filled the driveway. Music seemed to blast from the walls of the house themselves. It was a good thing that the Wares had so much land, because otherwise the neighbors would have called the police for noise disturbance by now for sure.
Almost as soon as they entered the house, someone called out her name.
She turned to look at the source of the noise, smiling automatically when she located Jessica's long blonde hair, tied up neatly in a ponytail.
Jessica looked a bit relieved to see her. Shannon knew that the blonde had grown up in an environment that was very different from Bollinger. On top of that, being the new girl in the school last semester, she had been antagonized almost immediately by her classmates. Although that wasn't really due to being the new girl but rather due to the fact that she and Alaina had not exactly gotten along for a period of time last semester.
They were better now, but still…
"Hey Jeremy, happy New Year!" Jessica smiled at him once she had said hello to Shannon. Then her smile wavered a bit and her voice lost the enthusiasm. "Alaina."
"Jessica," Alaina replied curtly in acknowledgement, raising her eyebrow slightly.
There was a brief pause.
"Well, where's Nolan?" Shannon said, cutting in before the situation got any more awkward.
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, however, Nolan himself appeared. He placed a hand lightly on the small of his girlfriend's back, and Jessica shivered slightly.
Shannon looked at him and smiled slightly as a greeting. Nolan Barnes really was very, very handsome. It was no wonder all her friends fell for him left and right. Nolan was tall, built, and gorgeous, with a clear defined jaw line and dark, piercing eyes. She had never really fallen for him though, despite her friends having constantly extolled his virtues day after day. Nolan had always been too aloof for her taste.
She grinned and rolled her eyes, giving Jessica a pointed look. "Can I not be surrounded by couples all the time, please?"
Jessica blushed, turning away, but Nolan only looked amused.
Shannon turned to glance at Alaina and Jeremy, who were talking to one another. Alaina had hooked her index finger around Jeremy's thumb. That was probably as much of a display of affection as they would ever exhibit in public, Shannon thought, resisting the urge to roll her eyes again. It was official. She was definitely a single girl surrounded by two pairs of couples.
"Shannon, there you are!" and the next second, she was out of that circle. "I've been looking for you everywhere. Did you just show up?"
"Hi Brianna," Shannon said, still trying to recover from being pulled out of the circle so suddenly. "I just got here. You been here a while?"
Brianna Becker was radiant. She was one of the prettiest girls in Bollinger, and she was also Landon's twin sister.
"Yeah, I came with my brother," she said, scanning the room. Shannon could smell the alcohol on her. "Where's Landon. Ooh! Ooh, there he is!"
Landon Becker was taller than most people in the room at six foot two, and people parted the way for him as he made his way over, smiling at her.
Shannon felt a little guilty, although she had no idea why.
"Hey!" he said, opening his arms and pulling her into a hug. "You made it. Happy New Year!"
Thank goodness he didn't smell as strongly of alcohol as his sister did. Shannon couldn't help but smile as he pulled her into his arms. He was a nice guy.
"I did make it," she grinned at him. "Happy New Year to you too." It was still two hours before the official new year, but she felt caught up in the excitement already.
Landon leaned in, and knowing what he was about to do, she turned her face instinctively so that his kiss landed on her cheek. Landon smiled ruefully, but didn't say anything otherwise. They had been semi dating for two months now, and he had never pushed her to do anything. In fact, besides the occasional kisses on the cheek, they had never done anything.
"What are you up to, want me to get you a drink?" he asked.
She opened her mouth, but before she had time to say anything, a group of boys interrupted her.
"Dude, Landon, where've you been?"
"Bill and Charlie are having a wager to see who can chug their beer the fastest. Loser has to jump in the pool. Come on, let's go watch!"
They were being bombarded by what seemed like the entirety of the Bollinger boys' swim team. Shannon looked on in amusement as they surrounded Landon. They huddled around him, clapping him on the shoulder and shouting things next to his ear.
He looked over at her apologetically, but she smiled good naturedly.
"I'll catch you later," she told him.
"What?" Landon said, trying to talk to her over one of his wildly gesticulating teammates.
"Later!" Shannon shouted.
He gave her another rueful smile before he was engulfed and dragged away by his friends.
"Gosh, they really are obnoxious, aren't they?" Brianna asked, rolling her eyes.
Shannon looked at her. Somehow, in the short span of time that she had been talking to Landon, Brianna had managed to grab another cup. In one swig, she downed the remaining contents.
"Have you seen Ashton?" Brianna asked, her words slurring together.
Shannon shook her head and put a hand on Brianna's arm. "No, but maybe you should have some water?"
Brianna brushed her hand off impatiently. "I'm fine," she snapped, suddenly in a sour mood. "I got to go find Ashton."
"Wait-" Shannon called, but it was already too late. Brianna had somehow managed to slide her way between the people in the crowd, and she had quickly weaved out of Shannon's sight.
Shannon sighed, but she knew Brianna could handle herself. Brianna was pretty in a bright, cheery, girl-next-door way, but at Bollinger, her reputation for her affinity to parties and dating different guys preceded her.
Shannon threaded her way through the crowd, saying hi and stopping to talk to a few people here and there. What she really needed to do was go to the bathroom. She squinched her face. She hadn't even had anything to drink yet, but she was always the person out of all her friends who had to request stops on road trips for bathroom breaks.
Finally, she made her way up the staircase. She had been in Miranda's house before, and she knew where the bathrooms were. The downstairs ones were too crowded to get to, and upstairs, there was significantly less people. It was obvious that the party, the music, and the alcohol were concentrated on the first floor.
Upstairs, the hallways were deserted, and the doors were closed. Shannon rolled her eyes. She had no doubt what was going on behind those closed doors, even though the party hadn't even been going on for that long.
In the bathroom, she splashed water on her face. Looking in the mirror, she saw that her cheeks were red. It must have been the heat. She hadn't had anything to drink yet.
Or it must have been the fact that she was anticipating seeing Chris, a nagging voice inside her head told her. Shouldn't he be here at this party? Jeremy didn't say he was sick.
Shannon scowled at her own reflection in the mirror. How was it that after months of not speaking to one another, she still couldn't stop thinking about him?
She shook her head once more and walked out of the bathroom.
As soon as she walked out, she wished she hadn't. It was not going to help her with the whole stop thinking about Christopher Katy part if he showed up just when she was telling herself not to think about him.
She froze, her foot barely out the door.
So did he, at the other end of the hallway.
Shannon could already feel the panic seize her. She knew he was just coming to use the restroom, but in this deserted upstairs hallway, it was just the two of them. It was never just the two of them. At school, despite the awkwardness, if they were within talking range of one another, there had always been other people there to talk to. She wished one of the enamoured couples from behind the closed doors would come out.
She felt her hands clam up. There was only one way out of the hallway, and she couldn't get out without passing him.
The look on his face told her that he was no more pleased to see her than she was to see him.
Suddenly, Shannon felt like crying. He hated her, she knew it, and it was all her fault.
Slowly, while willing herself to calm down, she made her way towards the end of the hallway. She tried to keep her gaze straight, so that she would look past him. She couldn't even see what he was doing.
Her heart beat against her ribcage like a trapped animal. Any moment now. Any moment now it would be over and she could go outside and cry like she wanted to.
Shannon nearly jumped. Chris had reached out a hand and caught her by the elbow. The touch was light, but it was as if someone had administered an electric shock. She curled her toes and willed herself not to cry as she turned to look at him.
She had spent so long trying to avoid even looking at him that now that she did, she found that she was breathless.
Chris was good-looking. Not the brooding, enigmatic handsome that Nolan was, but an All-American boy kind of cute. He had blonde hair, a light smattering of freckles on his nose, and deep green eyes. When he smiled, everyone around him was happy.
It had been a long time since he smiled around her.
"Was it really such a crime to you?" he asked, his green eyes dark and pained, and she felt her heart sink.
"You're drunk," she said, her voice barely against a whisper. She knew exactly what he was talking about. She could smell the faint trace of alcohol on him.
Chris laughed, although it was humorless. "You're right," he said, his voice soft. "There's no way I would be talking to you otherwise."
Was that meant to wound? Or was it just a simple statement of fact? Either way, it hurt like hell, and Shannon felt the tears sting her eyes. She gritted her teeth.
"Do you want to sit down?" she managed to get out.
He looked at her curiously for a moment. For a moment, she thought he was going to agree. Then, "You don't have to do that," he said.
"What?" Shannon frowned at him.
"Act like you care," he murmured.
"Chris-" she said, and they both flinched. She hadn't said his name in a long time. Not to him, at least.
"I just don't get it," he said, suddenly angry as he glared at her. She had to take a step back. The intensity of his gaze was too much for her to handle. "I mean, I know you don't like me. I get that."
That's a lie, that nagging voice inside her head said, but she kept her mouth shut, drawing her lips into a thin line.
He went on, unaware of the internal struggle inside her head.
"I'm sorry I ever told you how I felt," he said, and with each word his expression seemed to get more pained. "You don't have to feel the same way, but why did you just ignore me afterwards? You just acted like you didn't want anything to do with me. I thought at least we were friends. Was it really such a crime to you? Am I really that repulsive to you?"
She could feel her breath coming up in more and more uneven beats. She felt light headed. This was what he had wanted to say for the past eight months. This was probably what he thought about every time they had stood next to one another, had accidentally met each others' eyes.
I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, she wanted to tell him. I didn't have a choice.
"You should get some water," she said instead.
He gave her a look, and then he drew back, and his face was closed off now. "So that's it, huh? Well, happy New Year to you, Shannon."
He didn't wait for a reply. Instead, he turned abruptly and left, leaving her standing there in the hallway.
Shannon watched his retreating back. And then, once she he had shut the bathroom door behind him and she was alone in the hallway again, she leaned against the wall and cried.
Happy New Year indeed.
A/N: For a timeline reference: Bollinger High started in August, when Jess moves to Bollinger at the beginning of the school-year. It ends towards the end of November. This story begins on New Year's Eve, and the prologue takes place in May of the previous school-year, before Jess arrives.