Authors: Chelsea Fine
Acacia Publishing, Inc.
Copyright © 2011 by Chelsea Fine. All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any methods, photocopying, scanning, electronic or otherwise, except as permitted by notation in the volume or under Sections 107 or 108 of the 1976 United States Copyright Act, without the prior written permission of the author.
Published by Acacia Publishing, Inc.
Amazon Kindle Edition
For my amazing mom,
who always believes in me.
I’m late for English.
This is not uncommon. I have a tendency to doddle at lunch. ‘Doddle’ is a word my mom would use when she wanted to call me lazy. I never use it out loud, but I use it a lot in my head.
So, I’m late.
I’m running through the halls (well, let’s be honest here, I’m not running. I’m walking. Casually. English doesn’t excite me, so I refuse to break a sweat to get there) thinking about what my excuse for being tardy will be, and I see him.
He makes my heart stop, he makes my breaths shallow, he makes me want to sing.
I know, super corny, right? But, agh, it’s true.
He’s not the most popular guy in school. He’s not the hottest guy to ever live. But to me, he’s everything.
I’m somewhat disgusted at myself for thinking such dramatic, girlie thoughts. But I can’t help myself. He rocks my world.
You know how parents always say things like, “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?”
Well, if Carter jumped off a cliff, I wouldn’t just jump off after him. I’d throw myself over the ledge and dive toward the earth below so I could catch up with him and hold his hand while we plummeted to our deaths.
I’m that much of a sicko.
So anyway, Carter’s in the hallway, looking at me with his quirky smile and an eyebrow raised. He’s wearing his faded jeans and blue T-shirt like he just stepped out of a magazine ad. And he easily could have.
Broad shoulders, square jaw, piercing gray eyes…everything about his appearance is picture-perfect.
Everything except the scars.
I feel my heart squeeze in my chest and immediately redirect my thoughts to happier things.
Like root canals.
We walk toward one another slowly. It’s just the two of us, no other students around, which is rare. We don’t typically run into one another during school, at least not when we’re alone. And that’s how we like it.
At school, we pretend we don’t know each other. It’s a silent understanding we’ve had for years. It keeps our school lives separate from our home lives and keeps us from going crazy. School is our escape.
As we near each other I absently inhale, welcoming the familiar scent of Carter’s soap. It smells like the ocean.
I’ve never been to the ocean, let alone breathed it in, but in my mind the ocean smells like Carter. Therefore, I love the ocean.
“Late again?” Carter smiles. “What’s your excuse today, Sophie?”
I love it when he says my name.
He knows me well, so he knows I’m always late for English.
“I’m thinking about blaming a faulty toilet in the girls’ room.” I say, as I tuck my hair behind my ear. I sound normal because I’m good at acting normal around Carter.
The conversation goes on. “I wish I was in your English class. I’d love to watch your teacher lecture you on punctuality day after day..,” he rolls his eyes, “…after day. Poor guy.”
I smile back, because any other response (like jumping into his arms and kissing him) would be stupid. “Yeah, well, AP English is for us smarties. Aren’t you supposed to be in class right now too? Like, maybe Womanizing 101?”
Carter’s not the most popular guy in school, but he’s got some serious swagger.
I hate this about him.
I also love this about him.
“Ah, you know I don’t need any classes on women. I’ve got them all figured out.” He gives a cocky smile and I narrow my eyes at him, twitching my lips so I don’t smile.
He’s not cocky at all, but like I said, we pretend at school. We’re completely different kids at school. We’re normal kids.
“Really? Figured out all the anatomical differences between our genders finally?” I tease him because he lets me.
“Ah, you know very well I figured all that out years ago.”
No, actually, I don’t ‘know very well’. But I have ears and my ears know very well.
“Women,” he begins, puffing out his chest and speaking with authority, “are simple. Just compliment them all the time and they’ll think you’re awesome.”
This, I know for a fact, is not true. Because Carter has never complimented me. And I think he’s awesome.
I’m stupid. I don’t care.
“And men,” I counter, stepping closer because when we’re at school he always shifts uncomfortably when I’m near, “are weak. Because all we have to do is pout our lips and bat our eyes and they’ll do anything we say.”
I bat my eyelashes a few times and hold my gaze steady as he tries not to change his expression. I know him so well.
“Careful, Sophie.” His voice is so low I can feel it brushing my waist. “Keep saying things like that and I’m not going to believe you’re as innocent as you look.”
He knows all about me, so his words are empty.
We stare at each other without moving. Our breaths are silent and I’m sure my heartbeat is echoing up and down the hallway. I don’t want to break our gaze, so I don’t give in. Neither does Carter, which is fine with me. I’d gladly stay locked in his gaze until I died of starvation.
These rare encounters at school, when no one is around, let us act like every other high school senior. Flirting, loitering in the hallway, breathing in each other’s pulse…just like normal teenagers.
But in real life, I never feel like a teenager, which is why I wish moments like these would never end.
A defeated sigh tumbles down the hallway in our direction. “Can’t you kids get to class on time like all the other students?” It’s our principal, Mr. Westley. He sounds weary, but we know he’s not mad. He’s all talk.
“No.” We both say at the same time as we turn our attention to him. We don’t look at one another. Saying things at the same time is nothing new to us.
Mr. Westley sighs and shakes his head. “Right. Okay, then. Get to class.”
He walks away without looking back to make sure we’re headed to class. But our moment is over, so we’re parting.
“See you later?” Carter asks.
It’s the hitch in his voice, the hopefulness I hear, that breaks my heart and completes me at the same time.
I wink, because it’s not weird for me to wink at him. “Of course.” I say. Because I’m a sure thing.
We’ve never had sex. Or made out. Or even kissed.
But when it comes to me being there for him and blindly holding my heart out to him, then I’m a sure thing.
And he knows it.
And he’s careful with it.
And that’s why Carter Jax is my best friend.
Sophie and I don’t walk home from school together. We never have. But we live next door to one another on Penrose Street.
Right next door.
Sophie usually walks twenty feet ahead of me on our way home. I’m used to this and it feels comfortable. On days when Sophie stays home sick or…whatever, it feels wrong. I walk home alone and I can never seem to get there fast enough.
Today she’s here, though, walking in front of me. Not acknowledging me, which is our unspoken understanding. We act like we don’t know each other around our friends.
It keeps things simple. It keeps reality out.
I shove my hands in my pockets; my eyes falling on the familiar cracks in the sidewalk beneath me. The wind carries scents of the neighborhood up to my nose as I walk. Dirt…rubber…grass…even a little garbage, meet my nostrils, reminding me of home.
We don’t live in the nicest part of town, but it could be worse.
The houses are small and crooked, but the trees are large and stand up tall. Large oaks stretch their canopies over the leaky roofs and peeling paint of the homes below, keeping the secrets in and the sunlight out.
Not that sunlight would help any.
I bring my head up and survey the street. A long time ago the neighborhood was probably pretty nice…back before the pavement cracked and lifted, and the streetlights hung at dangerous angles. I’m sure there was a time when Penrose Street was probably an ideal place to walk your dog or have a barbecue.
Not anymore, though.
The only dogs in the neighborhood are strays, and barbecues are something I’ve only seen on TV.
A breeze floats through the air, softly lifting Sophie’s hair from her shoulders. I catch a glimpse of her profile as her hair rises and smile to myself. Sophie has no idea how attractive she is.
At school she walks around guarded, paying little attention to the teenage Neanderthals vying for her attention. Kids don’t understand why she’s so quiet and uninterested. They don’t know anything about her.
But I do.
A leaf falls from one of the tall oaks and brushes against Sophie’s arm before falling to the ground. My eyes stay on her as we near our houses.
I like to watch her walk—and not in a sexual way. Don’t get me wrong, she’s got a nice butt. Actually, she’s got nice…everything.
But there’s something about how she walks…how she holds herself high, keeps her head straight and knows where she’s going. It’s beautiful.
I’ve been watching her walk home twenty feet ahead of me since the third grade. That’s when she moved in next door.
We were nine, my life was hell, and she was new.
She was also the reason I went to school. Or got up in the morning. Or kept breathing.
The promise of Sophie.
She drops a piece of paper on the ground without stopping.
It’s for me. It’s how we ‘talk’ on our walk home.
I keep my pace steady, even though I want to race to where the paper scrap fell and retrieve it like a possessive hound.
My feet finally reach where her note landed and I bend to pick it up, barely slowing my momentum.
I open the small folded note. It’s covered in smiley faces. Of course.
Stop staring at my butt.
Like I said, she’s got a great butt. But right now I’m not staring at it.
She knows I’m not staring at it.
No. I’m staring at her skinny fingers, wrapped like magnets around the strap of her book bag. Her knuckles are white and her forearm is flexed. She’s tense.
We’re almost home. This is the worst part of the day—for both of us.
I shove her note in my pocket and take a deep breath. We’re each at our driveways now. Sophie doesn’t look over at me or say goodbye. I don’t wave or look at her either.
Because this is the beginning of the end of our day. This is when things go wrong.
This is why she dropped me a note.
Because she knows, and I know, that we both need a little levity before we walk into our homes after school.
They’re not really homes. More like houses where we sleep.
Where we eat—if we’re lucky. Where we cry and fight.
Where we bleed and break. Where we cower and scream.
Where we give up. Where we sigh.
Where we barely survive.
I know this because our houses are only twenty feet apart. Her bedroom window faces mine. Her kitchen window faces mine.
We see everything that happens to each other. It’s terrible, intrusive and embarrassing.
It’s also the reason Sophie Hartman is my best friend.