Matt Marshall groaned as he drove his car around the corner and saw the cars parked on both sides of the street in front of his house. The driveway was also lined with vehicles and he had to park his car three doors down and walk back to his home. He could hear the music blaring and the laughter of the party happy teens two houses away and he shook his head with annoyance as he walked the obstacle course once he got inside the house. The place was mobbed with dozens of partying teenagers dancing, talking, making out, and of course drinking.
Several people said hello to Matt and they tried to engage him in conversation. He was polite and courteous but he wasn't interested in spending a lot of time gabbing. He was a senior and this was obviously a junior class party.
"Have you seen my sister?" Matt asked several of the party goers and he got seven different answers but he finally found her in the kitchen shooting the breeze with a group of her friends around a keg of beer somebody had brought.
"You know, it's not a requirement to have a party every time Mom and Dad go out of town," Matt complained.
"Sure it is!" Debbie laughed.
Matt gave his kid sister a disgusted look. "Alright, but this is your party," he said. "You're in charge. You're responsible. Leave me out of it. You pay for damages, you make sure the place is cleaned up, and you call Dad if the cops show up."
"Deal!" Debbie smirked with a carefree shrug.
"And nobody upstairs," Matt cautioned.
"Relax, big bro!" Debbie laughed. "Everything's cool."
"Yeah, right," Matt grumbled.
He had to engage in several obligatory conversations with people he knew - teammates, sisters of teammates, a couple of classmates, and a handful of girls he socialized with but Matt had no interest in partying into the night and he managed to make his way to the stairs, leaping up them three at a time to escape the revelers.
Matt was never big on parties. He didn't want to compromise his reputation as one of the school's golden boy athletes or risk losing potential scholarships by getting in trouble. Plus he wasn't a big drinker in the first place.
Matt slipped into the privacy of his bedroom, glad to be away from the noise and chaos of the downstairs party. He noticed that a light was dimly lighting the room that he didn't remember leaving on and the television was flashing and he definitely knew he hadn't left that on. And then he caught sight of a person lying on his bed, sound asleep. He was about to go postal, screaming for Debbie to come get the drunk out of his room but there was something almost serene about the sleeping girl and Matt stared at her, memerized for a few minutes.
The sleeping intruder was clutching a box of Cheese-Its like it was a football and there was an opened can of coke on his bedside table. He recognized the sleeping girl from school - a junior in Deb's class - but one of those kids who kind of blended in and didn't stand out in any real way. Matt knew she was in the marching band and he was pretty sure she was on student council (even though he was President this year he had never spoken to the girl). Matt had to think a moment to come up with her name - Hannah Jacobs? Heather Jenkins? Harriett Jones? Helen Johnson? Something like that.
"Hello, Goldilocks," Matt said aloud. "What'd you do with the three bears?"
Whoever she was, this version of Goldilocks would never be voted Prom Queen or win a beauty pageant. Not that she was ugly but she wasn't going to make the Top 10 on anybody's teen heartthrob Goddess list. Her blond hair was thin and greasy. She had acne on the side of her face. She had chicken legs and ping ball sized breasts. Matt couldn't remember ever seeing the girl smile. Or even talk now that he thought about it. He'd see her sitting solemnly in the corner of the cafeteria with a couple of other invisible girls but he really didn't know anything about her.
Goldilocks looked peaceful sleeping on his bed. Almost like a poor man's Sleeping Beauty. She was wearing a dark blue knitted skirt and a light yellow sweater. She had kicked off her flat-souled shoes but she was still wearing her dark nylons. Matt softly closed the door to the bedroom and took a seat in his computer swivel chair which he quietly rolled closer to the bed where he sat watch over the sleeping mystery guest. He figured she'd stir sooner or later or somebody would come looking for her.
Twenty minutes passed before the girl finally began to move on the bed. Matt was still in the chair, now with his arms folded across his chest observing her like he was a prison guard doing a 1:1. Her eyes popped open and the girl looked momentarily confused before the situation finally registered in her brain.
"Oh, no, I'm so sorry," she said with horror, struggling to lift herself up off the bed.
"Relax," Matt laughed, holding out his hands in a 'halt' manner. "It's okay. Stay, if you want, but what are you doing here anyway? The party's downstairs."
"I hate parties," the girl mumbled, finally managing to sit up on the bed but Matt blocked her escape with his knees to prevent her from leaving the bed.
"And yet you came to one."
"I'm supposed to be sleeping over at my friend Tonya's and she brought me here," the girl sighed. "She thought the guy she likes might be here."
"I guess," the girl shrugged. "I couldn't find her so I figured I'd hide out up here. I felt really out of place down there but I didn't know this was your room. I'm sorry for intruding."
"Don't worry about it," Matt smiled. "I don't like parties either."
Goldilocks nodded but she wouldn't look him in the eye.
"So, you're Han..."
"Holly," she corrected.
"Gerwin," she said.
Wow, Matt hadn't even been close on her name!
"And you're Matt Marshall," Holly said, giving him a nervous and shy glance before looking away again.
"I am," he confirmed.
"You're a good basketball player."
"Thanks," he said, used to the praise, popularity and compliments.
"Well, I really should go," Holly said, trying to maneuver her way off the bed but there was no room to escape with him blocking her exit path.
"Why don't you wait until your friend comes looking for you?" Matt suggested.
"What if she never comes back?" Holly worried.
"Well, then we'll be up all night," Matt smiled but when he saw the frightened look on her face he realized she might get the wrong idea. "Talking," he clarified. "Look," he said, getting up off the chair and starting to pace around the room. "I could go downstairs and be the life of the party if I wanted. Everybody would talk to me and tell me all the usual bullshit of how great I am and it will be just like all the other nights and all the other parties with all the empty meaningless drunken platitudes and then I'll come back up here having wasted another night of my life."
"You don't like doing that?" She asked.
"I'd rather stay up here and talk to you," Matt confessed.
Holly was pretty sure he was making fun of her. "Yeah, right," she said, rolling her eyes.
"Seriously," Matt said, having stopped pacing now. "It would be nice to have a conversation with somebody who doesn't have an agenda. Who isn't a fake. Who doesn't want something from me."
"Who says I'm not like everybody else?" Holly asked defensively.
Matt gave her a deadpanned look. "I'm paying you a compliment, Holly."
"Why would a guy like you want to talk to a girl like me?" Holly asked, her voice starting to squeak nervously.
"Because I never did before," Matt admitted with a shrug. "And here you are. Why not give it a shot?"
"You'll laugh at me," Holly sighed, getting off the bed. "You'll tell your friends the stupid things I say and you'll make fun of the dweeb behind my back."
"I would never do that," Matt insisted as he moved toward the door to stop her from leaving. She had to pick up her shoes first and that gave him the advantage.
Holly was holding her shoes in her hand, squinting at him as he stood in front of the door. "Tonya will never believe any of this," she realized. "I don't even believe any of this!"
"Put your shoes down," Matt said gently. "Have a seat on the bed. Let's talk."
"Just talk?" She asked suspiciously.
"You know I'm a nice guy, Holly," Matt said, feeling a little insulted.
"No I don't," she replied honestly. "I really don't know anything about you except for what I hear and see around school."
"Well, I'm telling you I'm a nice guy," Matt said. "Why don't you call Tonya on the cell and tell her where you are and who you're with?" he suggested. "That way you'll have a witness who knows where you were and who you were with."
She gave him a long look. "There's no need to do that," she decided, taking a seat on the foot of the bed.
Matt returned to the swivel chair where he sat.
"So, what do you want to talk about?" Holly tested.
"Whatever you want," Matt replied.
"I suppose I lied," Holly sighed. "I mean, I kind of know a little bit about you. Basketball. Student council. You date Tracie Conner."
"That's over," Matt sighed.
"How come?" Holly asked. "She's a nice girl." Then she covered her mouth with her hand. "Oh, I'm sorry. It's none of my business. I shouldn't be gossiping."
"It's okay," he said. "It's part of high school. Everybody does it."
"That doesn't make it right," Holly said. "I know kids make fun of me behind my back."
"That's better than to your face," Matt remarked.
"No it isn't," Holly rebutted. "Not when you know it's happening."
"I guess," Matt agreed.
"Tracie is good at sports too," Holly observed.
"Yeah, that's why we got together," Matt said. "But there wasn't much there besides that."
"She's always tanned," Holly said. "Even in January."
"I thought it looked kind of fake sometimes," Matt admitted.
Holly rubbed her arms. "I'm white as a ghost even in the middle of July," she grumbled. "I'm too uncoordinated for sports," she added sadly.
"But you're going to be your class valedictorian next year," Matt said.
"I'll probably trip going up to the stage," she said.
"You'll be fine," Matt assured her. "Everybody is popular in their own ways."
"Your name will be up on that banner in the gym for years," Holly said. "My speech will be forgotten as soon as it's given."
"You'll remember it," Matt smiled.
She shrugged. "I'll still be the socially inept nerd."
"Why?" Matt asked. "Because you like to read?"
"How do you know I like to read?" Holly asked with surprise.
"Every time I see you your face is buried in a book."
"I get to avoid people that way," she confessed.
"And ten years from now I'll be seeing you winning on Jeopardy," Matt grinned.
"And maybe I'll be watching you playing basketball somewhere," Holly smiled.
"My basketball career is already over but you're going to be smart the rest of your life," Matt told her.
"Aren't you going to play in college?"
Matt shook his head no. "I'm a pretty good player on a small high school team," he explained. "There are thousands of Matt Marshall's out there and most of them aren't going to be playing hoops in college."
She looked at him with a whole new awareness and that made Matt smile.
"See, I'm not just some dumb jock," he said.
"I never thought that," Holly insisted.
"Most people see me as a basketball player," Matt remarked. "They don't realize that I have a pretty good GPA."
"You do good work on the student council," Holly said.
"Thanks for noticing," Matt replied. "Most people just think I won the election because of the popularity thing."
"Where you going to college?" Holly wondered.
"Green," he replied. "I think I'm going to major in Criminal Justice."
"Really?" She said with surprise.
"With all the black lives and blue lives matter stuff I want to make a difference in the field," he said.
"Because all lives matter," Holly realized.
Matt nodded affirmatively.
"You going to be a police officer?"
"Maybe," Matt replied. "Or a probation officer. Or a court advocate. Or Victim Rights coordinator. Not sure yet."
"Well, good for you," Holly smiled.
"What about you?" Matt wondered.
"What about me?" She asked, slightly confused.
"What do you think you'd like to do?"
Holly sighed. "My grandfather doesn't want me to be anything."
"I live with my grandparents," she explained.
"I didn't know that."
"My mother left when I was young," Holly told him. "And my father wasn't ready to be a father. He's gone a lot. So my paternal parents raised me."
Matt nodded his head in understanding and now he felt even sadder for her.
Holly frowned as she gave it some thought. "My grandpa is so mean to my grandmother," she complained.
"How so?" Matt asked.
"He treats her like an indentured servant or something," Holly said. "He doesn't lift a finger to help around the house. He has all these expectations about how my grandmother should keep the house. Dinner by a certain time and all that. And he doesn't think I'll amount to anything because my parents are losers."
"You're one of the smartest kids in the school!" Matt remarked.
"But not all that attractive," Holly reminded him.
"So what?" Matt asked. "Not that it's true," he added, not meaning to insult her.
"My grandfather thinks I'm going to be an old maid and therefore won't amount to anything even if I win a Nobel Prize in mathematics or something," she said. "He's really old school and he thinks I should be a wife and mother and nothing else but he's not sure if I'll ever attract anybody in that way."
"That's not fair at all."
Holly looked hurt. "I know," she sighed. "I try to please them and make them proud. I do what I'm told and what they want. I work hard at school. I do all my homework and more. I don't get in trouble. I don't date. What more do they want from me?"
"What's your grandmother like?"
"Difficult," Holly scowled. "Demanding. Hard to please. Afraid I'll turn into a screw up like my mother or undependable like my father." Holly shook her head with defeat. "It seems like I can't win no matter what I do. Gramps is always upset at me or my grandmother. My grandmother is always angry but she tries really hard not to show it so it comes out in other ways - her sarcasm, her inability to have fun, her giving me a hard time over nothing."
Matt noticed that Holly's eyes had filled with tears.
"Sorry," she said. "I never talk about this. Not even to Tonya. God I must sound so pathetic," she sniffed.
"Not at all," Matt insisted, feeling foolish for having no idea about her home life.
"I miss my dad even though I don't know him that well," Holly sighed.
"What about your mom?"
Holly shrugged. "I don't even remember her," she admitted.
She looked sad as she sat on the bed almost in a slumped position.
"I really don't have any good friends except for Tonya," Holly realized. "She lives next door so it was almost mandatory that we became friendly." She gave a sad smile. "I guess I should be grateful for that much. She's not like me but at least she likes me."
Holly fell back on the bed and looked up at the white ceiling. "You must think I'm a really hopeless person," she sighed. "What kind of loser hides out while at a party?"
"You really need to stop telling me what I'm supposed to think about you," Matt remarked from his computer chair.
"Sorry," she mumbled.
"And stop apologizing!" He laughed.
Her expression was sorrowful. "I should leave."
"I wish you wouldn't."
She gave a small smile as she sat up on the bed and glanced at him. "Why are you being so nice to me?"
"Because you're a nice person."
Holly's expression was one of confusion. "You're way too popular," she said.
"Stop worrying about all the status and stereotypes and images and pre-conceived notions," Matt advised. "Now that high school is almost over for me I've come to realize just how dumb all of that stuff is."
"I've still got more than a year to go," she sighed. "It's torture for me, socially."
"You're going to be fine," he smiled knowingly.
"God," Holly realized. "Nobody has said that to me before. I wish my grandparents would."
"They probably just don't know how to be full time grandparents raising a teenager," Matt explained.
"I know I should be grateful that I have a place to live but I really don't want to be there," Holly admitted. "They aren't happy people so how can I be happy being there? It feels so lonely and empty all the time. It doesn't feel like a home and I don't like being there but I don't have any other place to go so I try to make the best of it."
"Where do you live exactly?" Matt asked.
"It's not a bad neighborhood."
"I know," she said, nodding her head. "Oh, don't listen to me. I'm just feeling sorry for myself. My grandparents are doing the best they can. I know it's hard for them and I was an extra burden they weren't really prepared for. They're getting ready for retirement and they have a sixteen year old living with them. I try not to blame them but sometimes I can't help it and I'm sure they blame me because sometimes they can't help it either."
"It's okay," Matt said. "You do have it kind of tough."
Holly glanced at the bed behind her. "Sorry, I messed up your covers."
"Don't worry about it, he said, peering at her. "You're really uncomfortable, aren't you?"
"I've never been in a boy's room before," she admitted.
"It's not that bad, is it?" Matt teased.
"I feel guilty that it isn't," she smiled. "I'm sure my grandmother would disapprove."
"You're the best intruder I've had," he joked.
Holly smiled. "You're kind to let me bug you."
"We're having a nice conversation," Matt assured her.
"I shouldn't be bothering you…I'm sorry."
"No sorrys, remember?" Matt said.
Holly forced a smile. "You must find me boring."
"Not at all."
She peered at him for a long moment. "You sure this isn't some sort of gag?"
"It's all on the up and up," Matt promised.
He left the chair and sat next to her on the bed and he could sense her physically tense up. He placed his hand on top of hers and he was surprised at how cool it felt. Holly started to nervously pull her hand away but Matt kept hold of it.
"Let me warm that up for you," he said gently.
He rubbed both his hands over and around her hand and Holly wanted to bolt from the room but something about his gentle and caring touching made her relax and she slowly looked him in the eyes before dropping her glance back to their hands.
"See?" He said softly.
Holly blushed bashfully. "This is so embarrassing," she said quietly.
"Why?" Matt wondered.
"Because I'm such a novice at all this stuff," she sighed. "Please don't' feel obligated to be nice to me because you found me sleeping in your bed."
"Hello, Goldilocks!" He smiled.
"I wouldn't have blamed you if you got mad when you found me here," Holly said. "You had every right to throw me out."
"It was like finding Sleeping Beauty," Matt told her.
"Now I know you're fibbing," Holly remarked, rolling her eyes.
Matt noticed that a strand of hair had fallen across her face and he reached his hand out and gently brushed it to the side. He could hear Holly swallow hard as she blushed red.
"Oy…!" She moaned.
Matt laughed, struck by how cute her innocent awkwardness was.
"I've never had a boyfriend," Holly lamented with embarrassment.
"Boyfriends are overrated," Matt told her with a smirk on his face.
"I can't interest one anyway," she sighed.
"Stop," he warned.
""I'm invisible at school except when honor roll is announced," she said. "I don't talk much. I'm socially lost and I'm not much to look at."
"I think you're pretty," Matt said.
"Yeah, the guys are chasing me down the halls," Holly said sarcastically.
"I don't have to chase you," Matt grinned. "You're sitting right here."
She blushed three shades of red that time and she put her hand to her face. "I can't get rid of this stupid acne even with sandpaper."
"I have it all over my back," Matt revealed.
"At least people can't see it there," Holly remarked.
"I was never great at the dating scene either," Matt told her.
"You have girls falling all over you," Holly said with annoyance. "Give me a break."
"I still have to come up with stuff to talk about after all the small stuff is out of the way," he said. "After basketball and school lunch, I have to come up with something."
Holly laughed. "That's true."
"I don't want to talk about sports all the time," Matt sighed. "Guys are just as socially inept as girls, probably more so usually because the onus is on us to be the lead."
She sighed. "Maybe I had the right idea all along," Holly remarked. "Not even try."
They were both silent for a few minutes. The party noise from downstairs had lessened.
"Sounds like Debbie's big bash might be breaking up," Matt observed.
"I wonder if Tonya ever came back," Holly said, glancing at her cell phone.
"You could always call her," Matt pointed out.
"She'd call me if she wasn't…occupied."
"So stay here," Matt suggested.
"I can't believe I've been talking to you like this all this time." Her voice dropped almost to a whisper. "I wasn't such a bad party after all."
Matt smiled happily.
"I never imagined in a thousand years that I would be a rebound girl, at least for an hour or two," Holly commented.
"You're not a rebound girl," Matt said, sounding offended. "This has nothing to do with Tracie or any other girl. This just happened to happen. Why question or doubt it?"
"Doubt is my middle name," Holly admitted.
"Maybe you should change it to trust or believe," Matt told her.
"Nobody's going to ever know this even happened," Holly pointed out.
"Why not?" Matt asked with confusion.
"As if you're going to tell anybody about it."
"Why wouldn't I?"
"Because your friends would think it was a joke even if you didn't," Holly replied.
"Well, maybe I won't tell them then," Matt admitted.
"I thought so," Holly said sadly, feeling rejected.
"Maybe I'll just show them," Matt clarified with a grin. "I'll parade you around school on Monday like you're Princess Kate."
"You'd never really do that," Holly said with a blush.
"Because that would be pretty lame."
"You're much too cynical," Matt said with surprise.
"I'm realistic," she countered.
"It's okay, Holly, I understand," he said gently.
She smiled but her insides were churning like a washing machine in the wash cycle. Was he making fun of her, testing her, or about to play the cruelest of jokes on her like it was some sick April Fool's Day joke? How could she possible believe that a guy like Matt Marshall would be the least bit interested in her let alone be willing to be seen with her in public? Her stomach started to hurt from worry and insecurity and she was horrified to realize that her eyes were filling with tears.
"What's wrong?" Matt asked, seeing the tears dripping from her ducts.
Holly shook her head, unable to speak as she tried to wipe the tears away. Matt lifted his hand up to Holly's face and wiped the wetness away for her cheeks.
"I was wondering. . . ." He said softly.
"What?" She asked nervously.
"Would you stay the night?" He asked quietly.
Her eyes went wide.
"Nothing notorious or scandalous," he added quickly. "I mean, just stay with me. Talk. Be together here, like this."
She stared at him, not quite believing he had requested such a thing from her. Could she really trust him not to take advantage of her? Could she honestly believe that he was being sincere? That he really wanted to be with her like this? All those lonely days and nights feeling sorry for herself wishing she had somebody in her life and now here was Matt Marshall inviting her to spend time with him? Could it really be true?
Holly finally and slowly nodded her head yes in response which brought a happy smile to Matt's face.
"I should call Tonya," she realized.
"Okay," Matt agreed.
She punched the preset number for Tonya on her phone and brought to her ear. "Voicemail," Holly reported after a moment. "Tonya….it's me. Not sure what you're doing, where you are, or who you are with, but don't worry about me – I'm all set. But you'll have to cover for me with my grandparents. As far as they know I've been with you until tomorrow night. Okay? Call if you have any questions." She hit the end button and glanced at Matt. "I can't believe I just did that,' she said with her mouth hanging wide open. "I've never done something so deceitful before!"
"She's the one who dumped out on you," Matt reminded her.
"Just like everybody else," Holly mumbled before she put her hand to her mouth. "Oh, dear," she said with embarrassment. "That was a terrible thing to say."
"I suppose it's true in some ways," Matt replied.
He got off the bed and went to the door which he locked. Then he dimmed the lights so there barely a glow in the room, turning the television off while he kicked his shoes off and peeled away his socks.
"What are you doing?" Holly asked, sounding panicked.
"Just getting ready for bed," he said, pulling down his pants.
"Oh My God, Don't!" She shrieked. Matt looked at her like she was crazy. "I mean, er, ah, maybe you should go into the bathroom," she suggested meekly.
He pulled off his shirt. "I suppose I could," he said, standing in front of her in his underwear.
"Maybe I should leave," Holly said nervously, jumping from the bed.
"I thought you were going to stay?"
"You said no monkey business." She was almost crying now.
"I'm a man of my word, Holly," Matt told her as he fished a robe out of the closet and wrapped it around himself, much to her relief.
"Oh," she said, red faced. "I thought…"
Matt laughed at her.
"I would hate to get caught in a compromising position," Holly explained, her hands clasped in her lap.
"Maybe that's exactly what you need to happen," Matt grinned and she blushed again.
Matt returned to the bed and took a seat next to Holly. She wasn't sure if she should be nervous, afraid, trusting, or daring. There was a tidal wave splashing through her head as she tried to figure out if she was being a total fool or growing older, wiser and more independent and worldly. She had always been book smart but that never got her into a guy like Matt Marshall's bedroom before!
"Are you getting tired?" Matt asked.
"A little," she admitted.
"The bed's pretty big," Matt said. "Why don't you make yourself comfortable? You can sleep in your clothes."
Holly glanced back at the bed and considered his invitation for a moment. This is was a debarkation moment in her life history. Should she run from the room and scamper back to her grandparent's house where she was miserable yet safe or stay here and trust that Matt Marshall wasn't going to take advantage of her while she slept? Part of her couldn't help but wish he would take advantage of her!
She shimmied up the bed until her tush was almost on the pillows. Matt pulled back the covers and she hesitated for a moment before sticking her legs under them. She sucked in her breath when Matt maneuvered himself under the covers next to her.
"It's okay if you fall asleep," Matt told her. "But we can talk a little bit more if you want to."
"Alright," Holly said, trying to adjust herself and get comfortable on her side of the bed. She was next to the wall and she would have to climb over Matt to get to the bathroom.
"This isn't so bad, is it?" Matt asked in the quiet stillness of the dark room, lit only by the dimmest of lights illuminating from the ceiling fixture. "Sort of like a camp out or sleep over."
"Sure," she said quietly, her voice drifting across the bed.
"I could take you home if this is just too weird for you," Matt offered.
"No, it's too late," Holly told him. "My grandfather would go nuts if I showed up now."
"Oh, I guess you're stuck with me then!" Matt teased.
"More like you're stuck with me," she said.
"You've really gotta stop being so hard on yourself," Matt advised. "Feel a little bit more self confidence."
"Yeah?" She sounded like he had just suggested that she fly to the moon in a balloon - easy as pie.
"Alright then," Matt said cheerfully. "We'll work on it together."
Holly tried to relax but it was hard not to feel tense sharing a bed with a guy - not just any guy, but Matt Marshall. Was this part of The Marshall Plan? Some elaborate hoax to either humiliate her or shame her? Was somebody going to leap out of the closet with a video camera at any moment?
"I think everybody's gone," Matt announced. "But I haven't heard Debbie come up the stairs yet."
"Maybe she's passed out on the couch or something."
"Should I go check on her?" Matt worried.
"Does she get drunk a lot?"
"No, but I'd better make sure she's okay," Matt decided, springing from the bed. "I'll be right back." He headed for the door but then glanced back at her. "Don't go anywhere," he joked before disappearing from the room.
Where would she go? Holly pressed her head into the pillow and sucked in her breath trying to figure out what in the hell she was doing. Was Matt being sweet or psychotic? But she couldn't help but smile to herself because well...look at her...she was in bed with Matt Marshall! She would have to get a photo of it because Tonya would never believe her otherwise.
Matt returned to the room.
"Everything okay?" Holly asked as he slid back into bed.
"Yeah, Deb and two of her goofy friends are half-passed out in the living room, too tired and boozed up to drag themselves up the stairs."
"What's it like having a sister?" Holly asked.
"I have a brother too," Matt revealed. "Mike. He's six years older and already done with college and out on his own."
"I never knew that."
"Yeah, six years is like forty-two in dog years," Matt laughed. "We were close when we were young but by the time I was eight he was fourteen and the age differential became problematic. It was easier to be closer to Deb even though she's a girl because she's only a year younger. We have a lot more in common. Mike was already doing his own thing by the time I got to junior high."
"Being an only child living with my grandparents has been weird," Holly sighed. "I have no point of reference. No socialization skills that comes from living with siblings. The first time I hung out with Tonya at her house with her three younger brothers I realized I knew nothing about dealing with boundary issues, sharing cookies, calling each other names and all that stuff."
"How come you never tried to become friends with Deb?" Matt wondered.
Holly tucked her hair behind her ear. "What for?" She asked.
"What do you mean?" Matt asked with confusion.
"You just can't randomly walk up to somebody and say 'Hey, let's be friends!'" Holly groaned. "What do I have in common with your sister?"
"You're in the same class."
"I'm in the same class with the kid who eats his own boogers too," Holly pointed out. "Should I be friends with him?"
Matt let out a snort of a laugh. "Probably not."
"I'm not very good at making friends," Holly admitted.
"You did okay tonight!"
Holly blushed again but she didn't say anything, having a hard imagining that she could possibly be friends with a guy like Matt Marshall.
"Maybe friends isn't exactly the right word," Matt said, rolling on his side and looking at her in the shadows which made her very nervous. She could feel his breath on the side of her face as she stared at the ceiling, too afraid to look at him.
Holly finally bravely turned her head and looked at him. "What are we then?" She dared to ask.
"What would you like us to be?" Matt tested.
"Why are you doing this?" Holly asked.
"What?" Matt asked.
"Keeping me here."
"I didn't kidnap you, Holly," Matt said.
"Why did you invite me to stay then?" She rephrased.
"I want to get to know you," Matt answered. "The opportunity presented itself so why not take it? Your friend left you here, you had no place to go, I found you sleeping in my bed, and it seemed like it was all meant to be in some strange way."
"I know a guy like you could never be interested in a girl like me," Holly stated.
"Maybe I'm falling for you," Matt responded.
"How on earth could you ever fall for someone like me?" She asked, sounding almost insulted.
"Questions on love can rarely be answered," Matt replied poetically.
Holly peered at him with disbelief. "You're daft," she said.
Matt frowned. "That's not a very nice thing to say about your boyfriend."
"You're not my boyfriend."
"Wouldn't you like me to be your boyfriend?"
"You date pretty girls."
"I date girls I'm attracted to," Matt clarified.
"You're not attracted to me," she assured him.
"I am too," he replied with a smile.
"Go to sleep," she said. "You've obviously become delusional in your exhaustion."
"I'm sorry if I upset you," Matt whispered.
Now she felt embarrassed. Perhaps even shamed. She studied his face for a long time. "You shouldn't be acting so stupid."
"Don't you think this is a nice first date?" Matt asked.
"This is a date?" She asked with surprise.
"Although I've never slept with a girl on a first date before," he admitted with obvious humor in his voice.
She blushed one more time.
"You don't think all of this is special?" Matt asked. "Different?"
"It's definitely different," Holly acknowledged.
A period of silence passed between them and Holly hoped that Matt was falling asleep.
"You're a very special person, Holly," Matt said quietly. "I wish you would see that about yourself."
She wanted to cry. She rolled over so her back was to him and she tried to muff her sniffles in the pillow so he wouldn't hear her. After a few moments she felt Matt move closer to her and she got ready to jam her elbow into his gut. He could feel her tense up.
"Relax," he whispered. "Go to sleep. You're safe here. Nothing bad is going to happen."
He gently placed his arm around her waist and Holly felt her breath hitch. She had to force herself not to cough or choke but after a few minutes she actually felt herself start to relax once she realized that Matt wasn't 'making a move' on her. Actually, she could hear him lightly snoring and she realized he had fallen asleep. Knowing that, she relaxed even more and she started to enjoy the comfortable, cozy, warm feeling of Matt Marshall holding her near. She had never been this physically close to a boy before, his legs paralleling hers, his chest against the spine of her back, his chin nestled into her shoulder. Holly realized that if she moved her hips just a little bit she would feel parts of him she could only image feeling in her wildest fantasies.
Holly finally felt tranquil enough to close her eyes, trusting the moment to play out safely.
Holly woke up a few hours later. It was still dark and she had to pee bad – that can of coke the culprit. Matt was still nestled against her, sound asleep. She carefully pulled the covers back and slowly peeled his arm off of her waist so she could acrobatically climb over him and tiptoe to the bathroom on the far side of the room, hoping she wouldn't make any noise. She softly closed the door so he wouldn't hear her tinkling if he awoke. There was a dully lit Buzz Lightyear night light over the vanity that gave her just enough light to plant herself on the commode and do what she had to do. The bathroom smelled like him – or at least his cologne.
Once she was done, standing up and pulling up her panties and stockings and dropping her skirt, Holly hesitated. Should she flush? Risk waking him up making noise? But if she didn't push the handle, Matt would see her yellow pee in the bowl in the morning unless she beat him in there and flushed first. How embarrassing would that be – having a boy see your pee? She must have stood there for thirty-seconds debating as to what to do before she finally put the toilet seat cover down without flushing and floated back into the bedroom. She would just make sure made it to the bathroom first in the morning.
Matt hadn't moved an inch in her absence – clearly a heavy sleeper. Holly stood over the bed watching him sleep for a long moment even though his back was to her. She could see the side of his face and she was struck by how peaceful and serine he looked. But now that she thought about it that's how he looked when he was awake too! Why was he so willing to ruin his image, reputation and status by being seen with her? She shook her head with disbelief before gently climbing over him on the bed and resuming her previous position. Matt stirred and renewed his hold on her and she didn't resist.
The next time Holly opened her eyes, the room was full of daylight. It took her a moment to remember where she was – the first thing she saw when she opened her eyes was the basketball wallpaper of the wall she was facing. She didn't sense the presence of Matt in the bed and she rolled onto her back to discover she was alone in. Just then, a fully dressed Matt stepped out of the bathroom and she cringed remembering she hadn't flushed and now Matt had certainly seen her pee in the bowl. She decided not to say anything about that.
"You okay?" Matt asked, giving her a smirk.
"Why?" She asked nervously.
"What time is it?" Holly wondered.
"Almost ten," Matt reported cheerfully.
"Wow!" Holly rarely slept that late unless she was sick. Of course, she'd never stayed up until 2:30 in the morning talking with Matt Marshall before either!
"You hungry?" Matt asked.
"Come on, we'll go to Johnny C's."
Holly shuffled out of the bed, standing and stretching for a moment. She tried to smooth out her skirt and she pulled on the sweater to straighten that out. She dug a comb out of the purse she had left on his desk and stepped into the bathroom to splash some water on her face and brush her hair out. She was too nervous and insecure to ask if she could take a shower. When she stepped back into the bedroom, Holly saw that Matt had already made the bed.
"You sleep okay?" He wanted to know.
"Yes," she answered – because it was the truth. She couldn't remember the last time she had slept so soundly – ironic because she was sure she wouldn't sleep a wink when Matt first got in bed with her.
"Good," he smiled. "Come on, let's go see if Deb and her stooges are awake. They've got to clean the war zone up."
Holly followed Matt out of the room and as soon as they came down the stairs the aftermath of last night's hoe-down could be easily seen. Beer cans and paper cups were strewn everywhere. Crackers and pretzels were squashed into the carpet. Furniture was askew. A couple of lamps had been knocked over. Matt stepped into the living room where Deb and her two friends were still asleep.
"Reveille! Reveille!" Matt yelled. "All Hands on Deck!"
Deb groaned as she nearly fell off the couch. Brenda stirred in the leather lazy boy in the corner. Julie was lying on the soft carpet, a small wet mark of drool by her opened mouth, her hair stiff from spilled beer and maybe some of her own vomit.
"God, just let me die," Julie begged.
"You guys need to clean this dump up," Matt instructed. "That was the deal."
Deb sat up on the couch, looking like a squirrel ran through her hair. Then she noticed Holly standing beside her brother."
"Helen?" She asked with surprise.
"Holly," Matt corrected.
"What in the hell are you doing here?" Julie moaned, looking up from where she laid sprawled on the carpet.
"She's with me," Matt announced.
"I didn't even know you knew her!" Deb remarked with surprise.
Matt took Holly's hand in his. "I know her," he said proudly. "We're going to breakfast. You guys get to work."
"Holy shit," Brenda said with amazement as she watched the couple walk out of the room.
"They think I'm queer," Holly stated as they left the house. She didn't say it bitterly or with anger or hurt, but as fact.
"No they don't," Matt replied. "Besides, who cares what anybody thinks?"
"I shouldn't?" Holly asked with surprise.
"You should feel good," Matt grinned. "Brenda is jealous of you now."
"Why?" Holly asked with confusion.
"Because she's had a crush on me for years."
"Do you like her?" Holly worried.
"She's my sister's friend," Matt laughed. "We'd never go out."
They had to walk half way up the street to get to his car, a ten year old sedan that was in pretty good shape. "I keep my grades up and do well in sports and my parents keep the car on the road for me," Matt said as they both climbed into the car. "I work summers for my father with the town and I have a part time as needed job moving furniture for Greenville Furniture.
It was a relatively short drive to Johnny C's and the diner wasn't that busy given the odd morning hour. Matt escorted Holly to a booth.
"I've never been in here before," Holly revealed.
Matt almost fell off the booth bench. "You're kidding," he said with disbelief. "This place is a Hillsboro institution."
Holly shrugged but didn't seem put out. "It looks nice," she said, glancing around.
"You're going to love it!" Matt beamed.
A friendly thirty-something year old waitress took their order – they both had pancakes with orange juice – Matt added sausage to his order.
"Your grandmother must be a good cook," Matt remarked once the waitress had left.
"Why do you say that?" Holly asked.
"Because you've never been here!"
"I've been to the pizza house a few times," Holly said. "Serguci's Family Italian Restaurant on my birthday a couple of years ago."
"You don't get out much do you?" He meant it as a tease.
"No, I don't," Holly replied honestly.
"Well, you're out now," Matt smiled.
"Isn't that Brad McDaniels from your class over there?" Holly asked, gesturing to the counter.
"That's him," Matt confirmed.
"You don't care that he sees you with me?" She asked.
"Not at all," Matt said. "Hey, Brad! How's it going!?" Matt yelled, waving his arm like it was a windmill. Brad glanced their way and gave a nod in return while Holly wanted to hide under the table.
"Don't do that!" She pleaded with humiliation.
"Why not?" Matt asked innocently.
"He'll think you're making fun of me," she said.
"What are you talking about?" Matt laughed. "I'm showing you off!" He leapt to his feet. "Hey everybody, this is my girlfriend Holly!"
"Hi Holly!" most of the customers called back and Holly knew she had turned beat red.
"Why did you do that?" She asked in quiet horror.
"Because I want people to know," Matt replied. "Consider this your coming out party."
"Matt, you shouldn't be doing this to a shy girl," Holly mumbled. "I'm not use to all the…attention."
"Well, I guess you're going to have to get used to it!" Matt beamed, giving her a wink.
Holly blushed and she looked down at the table. "Why did you tell them I was your girlfriend?" She asked with embarrassment.
"I guess that was presumptuous of me," Matt admitted sheepishly. "I apologize. I should have said 'I hope she'll agree to be my girlfriend'."
Holly looked dumbfounded and then the waitress arrived with their pancakes.
"Do you think that would help your confidence?" Matt grinned once the waitress was gone. "Being my girlfriend?"
"I'm very different from what you're used to with girls," Holly warned.
"That's what makes you so interesting," Matt replied. "You're the first girl I've met who doesn't pretend to be perfect."
"I'm not sure if that's a good thing," Holly admitted.
"I like being with you." Matt smiled with authentic sincerity.
"This is nice," Holly confessed, a half-smile crossing her face.
"I was thinking the same thing," Matt said enthusiastically. "Isn't Johnny C's great!? Food is top-notch, the atmosphere is always friendly and cheerful. Everybody comes here!"
"Maybe I'll come here again," Holly said.
"Oh, we will definitely come here again," Matt assured her, throwing her a serious look. "Together."
She frowned. "Are you always this sure about things?"
"No," he admitted. "But I know you're going to need some extra strokes to convince you that this is a good thing between us. I know you'd rather pretend none of this happened so you wouldn't have to deal with it but I'm glad you found my room last night and I'm glad we're together here now. I want you to be glad too. Don't question it. Don't let your shy gene kick in and wreck stuff. Just go with the flow."
"That's some speech," Holly said with surprise.
"Don't mean to offend," Matt said apologetically.
"No, you speak some truth," Holly had to admit. "But on the other hand, look at how much I accomplished. I actually spent the night which is about as foreign and out of character for me as could be imagined. And now here I sit inside Johnny C's for the first time ever."
"With me," Matt smirked.
"With you," Holly acknowledged. "Maybe there's hope for me yet."
"I know there is."
They ate their pancakes while Matt gave his overview and impressions of the diner – from the friendly owner ("He used to be a Navy cook") to the wonderful waitresses ("They never seem to be in a bad mood") to the great food ("Even my mother is jealous") along with some of the history – how Johnny C got off a bus one day saw the then Hillsboro Diner and decided at that very moment that he was going to buy the place – which he did! The present owner worked here as a kid and bought the place from the retiring Johnny C when he got back from the Navy.
Holly listened with interest and she agreed once again that Johnny C's was a great place to eat and socialize. "If I socialized," she added in self-deprecation.
When they were done eating, Matt paid the bill and walked Holly back to his car. They were both sitting in the front seat when Matt unexpectedly leaned across the console and gave her a gentle kiss on the lips. When Holly realized what had happened, she pulled away with fear and shock, almost smacking her head on the passenger door window.
"Why did you do that for?" She asked, clearly flustered.
"I couldn't resist," Matt admitted sheepishly. "I can taste the maple syrup on your lips."
"You shouldn't be kissing girls you hardly know!" She scolded.
"Don't be mad or embarrassed," Matt pleaded. "I really wanted to kiss you."
"Maybe I didn't want you kissing me," Holly said warily.
"But if I asked it would have taken all the spontaneity out of it," Matt protested.
"And I would have said no," Holly said.
"That too," Matt mumbled softly.
Holly sucked in a deep breath. "I guess it wasn't that bad."
He exhaled with relief. "I thought it was pretty good!" He smirked.
She smiled self-consciously. "Maybe a little," Holly teased, feeling the butterflies in her stomach starting to go away.
She was being purposefully coy, of course. Her first kiss felt so truly wonderful. Matt's lips were so soft. She wished he would kiss her forever but she didn't want to come across as pathetically desperate and hopelessly pitiful.
"So what do you like to do?" Matt asked as he finally started the car. "You know, for fun."
"I don't think I know how to have fun," Holly replied in all seriousness.
"Movies? Dancing? Bowling? Watching baseball?" Matt questioned.
"I've never done any of those things," Holly said. "Well, movies on television, maybe."
"What do you do?"
"I like to read," she admitted. "But you already knew that."
"Wanna go to Barnes and Noble at the Mall sometime?" Matt asked hopefully.
"I could die in there and be happy," Holly smiled.
"I like the Greenville Library too, even though we live in Hillsboro."
"It's very historic," Holly agreed.
Matt pulled the car into the driveway of his house, parking by the side of the garage behind the house. "Let's just sit here for a while," he suggested. "I don't want to get dragged into helping those guys clean up."
"Where'd your parents go?"
"Maine with another couple," Matt answered.
"You get along with them?" Holly wondered.
"Oh sure," Matt said with a smile. "My father coached my little league baseball team and my intermural basketball team when I was younger. My mom is pretty hip and cool and easy going. She gets along with everybody I bring home."
"She's probably think I was a stray cat if she ever saw me," Holly remarked.
"She's gonna love you," Matt predicted warmly. "When I said she gets along with everybody that doesn't necessarily mean she likes everybody I bring home. But she's going to love you, trust me."
Holly ran a hand through her hair. "I don't belong here," she sighed.
"Listen, you belong here just as much as you belong anywhere else," Matt told her.
"What's your sister going to think?"
"Who cares?" Matt laughed.
"She's not going to like me," Holly predicted.
"I've tolerated the morons she's dated," Matt replied. "She won't give you any grief."
"Are you calling me a moron?" Holly smirked, displaying a rare flare for humor.
"Of course not," Matt replied with a laugh.
"She's pretty good on the tennis team, isn't she?" Holly said.
"Yeah, pretty good," Matt smiled proudly
Holly cleared her throat. "I'm not good at anything," she realized.
"Let's not start that again," Matt said. "We've already established you're the smartest kid in the school."
"Not the smartest," she insisted.
"Pretty close up there," Matt rebutted.
They sat in silence for a while in the car which was under the shade of a tree even though it wasn't all that warm out. Matt had still opened the windows part way.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Holly asked.
She made a motion between the two of them. "This," she said.
"I'm sure," Matt assured her. "Aren't you?"
Holly had been waiting all of her adolescent life to be asked that question and she couldn't believe she now had the opportunity to answer it. Could it possibly be true that somebody like Matt Marshall would be interested in her in that way? She couldn't imagine it but she was smart enough – lonely enough – womanly enough – not to let such an unbelievable opportunity pass her by. Yes she was unsure. Yes she was nervous. Yes she had her fears and doubts. Yes she didn't know what in the hell she was doing. But she knew this was one of those defining moments in her life when she had a chance to make a change in the trajectory that she had been on – previously a cold orbit around dead moons and lonely asteroids – now she felt like she was finally facing the warmth of the sun.
"Yes," she said quietly.
"Good," Matt smiled happily.
There was a long pause between them.
"What now?" Matt asked cheerfully.
"I have to go to the bathroom," Holly told him.
"Okay," he said. "Hopefully the house will now pass inspection."
They climbed out of the car and walked into the house through the kitchen which smelled of Pinesol and Lysol. Holly followed Matt into the living room where they found the three girls sitting on the couch of the impressively cleaned house, resting after their hard work.
"Don't worry, it's all Risky Business completed," Deb announced. "You'll find no evidence of a party happening here."
"The trash is in my car," Julie reported. "We're good."
"Are you two really together?" Brenda asked, staring at the two as they stood in the doorway.
"Yep," Matt answered proudly, taking Holly's hand in his.
"Well, congratulations," Deb said. "Don't let my jerk brother boss you around, Holly."
"I'm not the boss of her," Matt acknowledged.
Matt led Holly upstairs and she let out a huge breath once they were in the bedroom. "Did you see the look on Brenda's face?" She said. "She thinks I'm a twit and you're crazy."
"Let her," Matt said effortlessly.
Holly went into the bathroom and closed the door to use the toilet. She came out a few minutes later to find Matt sitting on the edge of the bed.
"Nothing from Tonya," Holly said, glancing at her phone. "Should I be worried?"
"Leave her a text," Matt suggested. "Tell her where you are."
"Okay," she agreed, sitting next to Matt on the bed and texting a message to Tonya.
When she was done, Holly put the phone down and glanced at Matt who was staring at her.
"What?" She asked nervously.
"Nothing," he smiled. "This is just nice, that's all."
"I have no idea what I'm doing," Holly admitted.
"You're doing fine," Matt assured her
"Yeah," he said, softly pushing her back on the bed and her eyes went wide but she relaxed when he lay down beside her. Matt looked at her sympathetically. "You don't have to be afraid of me, Holly."
She chewed on her lip. "I know," she replied nervously. "I'm all…..just not use to this."
"I understand," Matt said quietly as he gently placed his arm across her stomach.
Holly wondered if Matt could hear her heart beating in her chest. She turned her head and looked at him and saw that he was studying her. He smiled as he pulled her closer to him and she murmured when he buried his face into her neck.
"Thanks for everything, Matthew," Holly said softly as she awkwardly rubbed her hand through his hair.
She felt his soft lips on the bare skin of her neck which sent a shiver down her spine. He kissed her on the neck before moving his mouth up to her face, his lips barely touching her skin.
"Thank you," he whispered.
Holly dared to lean in and place a kiss on his lips which he gladly accepted, kissing her back with gentleness.
. "Matthew," she breathed as she wrapped her arms around his neck and they continued to kiss.
"Holly," Matt smiled through the kissing and she moaned into his mouth.
"This is really for real?" She wanted to know.
"Yes," Matt smiled into her mouth before breaking the kiss and looking into her eyes.
He rested his head on her shoulder and they both fell asleep, Goldilocks and her big fuzzy warm wonderful bear of a hero and savior.