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Ashley broke out of the huddle and came toward us. We grew silent immediately and watched her march over. She stared down at us; we waited. Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“So…Harriet can join us, right?” I asked impatiently.
She sneered. “Do you really expect me to just take her in? Especially after your secret friendship? It explains why you’ve been so distant from us, your real friends, lately. You know the rules, Emma. If you had told me about your friendship with her earlier, I might have been willing to bend them for you. But now…”
She turned to Harriet. “Here’s the deal. You already know a member of the group, and basically, you meet all our conditions. Except one. Do you have any experience in dating?”
“Well, not really—”
“Didn’t think so. That’s a requirement. If you want to join our group and be friends with Emma, you have to get a boyfriend before the dance on Friday.”
“What?!” I exclaimed. “But that’s tomorrow!”
“Can’t you at least allow me until Monday?” Harriet asked, her hazel eyes widening.
“How about after the dance? You know, I don’t even have to give you a chance. I’m doing this for Emma.”
“Fine, after the dance,” Harriet replied defeatedly.
“We’ll meet you two and Harriet’s new guy at the fountain in the school courtyard. Tomorrow after the dance.” Ashley walked back to the group, shooting a smug glance at us over her shoulder. I knew that if Harriet wasn’t accepted, Ashley would make sure I never saw her again. She had a strict rule against outsiders.
Harriet glanced at my expression and said, “Don’t worry, I practically already have a boyfriend, remember?”
“What? Oh, you can’t mean Robert. He’s a huge dork.” We glanced over a few tables away, where a guy with dark hair that fell in his green eyes was typing furiously away on his laptop before grinning and showing something to his equally dorky friend.
“That’s not necessarily bad.”
“Well, I heard he skipped a grade, so he’s technically younger than us. And he’s okay looking, but the only things he’s good at are academics, puns, and making smart-aleck remarks to the teachers. I don’t even think he plays a sport.”
“He swims,” Harriet said defensively. “That’s a sport. And he’s really good at drawing.” “Whatever. He’s a guy. Guys aren’t supposed to be good artists. Listen, Harriet, you’re pretty, you’re smart, you’re funny. Robert Martin is just not good enough for you. You could totally find someone better.”
“Really?” She asked dubiously.
“Like Ethan Redford. He’s a great guy.”
“Well, I guess you’re right. I’ll turn down Robert.”
“Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.” The lunch bell rang, and we hurried off to science.
After school, Robert walked over to our lockers.
“So…are you going to the dance with me?"
"Well, I would, but I've developed an allergy to weirdos. Sorry."
We sashayed down the hallway, leaving his mouth hanging open, as I slapped her a high five. I smiled, and she smiled back.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to how big your house is, Emma.” Harriet told me. I shrugged.
“Me neither. It would probably make a great hotel,” Jason added, smiling. “You could make millions just by adding a reception counter and some complimentary hand soaps.”
“Well, you live just down the road, Jason,” I pointed out. “And your house is pretty huge, too.”
“Well, yeah, but it’s only, like, half as big as this.”
“True.” I smiled, brushing a strand of strawberry blond hair out of my blue eyes. “It could be a sister hotel, though, branching off the Woodhouse franchise.”
“We better start getting ready for the dance. It’s already six,” Harriet mentioned.
“What, it takes you forty-five minutes to get ready? It took me about fifteen minutes.”
“That just shows how little fashion sense you have,” I glanced at his jeans, polo shirt Vans, and ruffled blond hair.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see me on the runway,” he agreed.
We went upstairs to change into our outfits and do hair and makeup for the dance.
“So, you guys are going as friends?” Harriet asked.
“Yeah, although I’m not sure if we’ll be more someday.”
“Sometimes guys are so hard to figure out,” she replied. “He is pretty cute, though,”
I nodded, thinking of his huge hazel eyes, white teeth and tall figure. “We’ve been friends since we were toddlers, though, so I’m not sure if I would want to risk that. Speaking of guys, you should totally ask Ethan out at the dance. He would be perfect for you, and Ashley would definitely approve.”
“I could talk to him for you.”
“Okay, thanks, Emma.”
“Hey, Emma, want to dance?” Jason asked me.
He led me out onto the floor and we swayed to the music. After a while, he spotted a group of his friends and wandered off to meet them.
I spotted a slouched blond guy with messy blond hair and ice blue eyes standing with a group of football players and walked over. But where was Harriet? “Hey, Ethan.”
“Do you know Harriet?”
“Sort of. She’s my lab partner in science.”
“She’s pretty cool, isn’t she?”
“Yeah. Want to dance?”
I really hoped he was interested in Harriet. They were both kind of shy, and although Ethan was way more popular, they would be a great match.
When the song ended, I looked around for Harriet but couldn’t see her. “So…you play football?”
“Yeah. For the school team. We beat the Mossington Sharks yesterday, 4-0. They were pretty pathetic.”
I waited for him to say something, but he was silent, glancing around for his friends.
“I wanted to ask you something,” I told him.
“Yeah?” Was it my imagination, or did he look hopeful? He probably liked Harriet and knew I was asking about her.
“Well, Harriet was wondering if…if you would go out with her.”
“What?” The light disappeared from his face. “I thought you were going to ask me out.”
“Me?” I felt stupid, awkward, and totally confused.
“Yeah. You’ve been so nice to me, I thought you were interested.” He seemed annoyed. “I’ve been waiting for a chance to talk to you. I wanted to ask you to be my girlfriend.”
“I didn’t know you liked me.”
“Well, you do now.” He pushed past me roughly, storming away.
I felt hot tears of humiliation sting my eyes, spilling out and running down my cheeks.
I ran away to find Harriet. Suddenly, there was an ear-piercingly familiar scream, followed by a crash and a thud.
“Harriet?!” This night was taking a serious nosedive. I sprinted over as I saw a brunette girl lying on the floor. She seemed to be unconscious.
“What the heck happened?” I demanded.
“She fell and hit her head,” A guy with dark hair and green eyes replied, kneeling and taking her pulse. “She’ll be okay. Don’t worry, though, I called 911.” He held up a silver iPhone.
“Robert?” I asked, surprised at his thoughtfulness.
“Yeah. She was dancing over there when she slipped. High heels are quite dangerous, you know. I don’t think I’ll be able to forgive those shoes for taking away my chance of dancing with her tonight.” He feigned a pouty face, and I almost smiled at him before remembering who I was talking to.
“But aren’t you mad at her for rejecting you?” I said rather plainly.
“Nah, not really. She probably just wasn’t thinking straight. I mean, who wouldn’t refuse a guy like me?” He half-smiled, and this time I did smile back, feeling foolish for putting Robert down before I knew him. He seemed like a nice guy.
Just then, we heard sirens, and an ambulance arrived. Harriet was loaded onto a stretcher. Jason came over. “Hey, Robert.”
“Oh, hi, Jason. Long time no see.” He smirked.
“Yeah, it’s been quite a while since last Tuesday at our soccer game,” Jason replied dryly.
“You know Robert?” I interjected, asking Jason.
I turned toward Robert. “And you play soccer?”
“You’ve got a lot to learn about me, Emma. Hopefully if Harriet changes her mind, you’d have time to learn it. Since you’re her friend, you’d probably see me a lot.” He winked.
“Yeah, maybe.” I said doubtfully. Why, oh why had I convinced Harriet that he was such a dweeb?
The ambulance drivers let us ride in the back with Harriet. I held one of her hands, and Robert held the other.
“You can see her now,” the nurse told us. We walked in and saw a girl with light brown hair and freckles lying on a hospital bed.
“Harriet!” I exclaimed. “Are you okay?!”
“I’m fine, I’m fine, don’t worry. Hi Robert, hi Jason.”
“Hey, Harriet.” Jason said.
“How are you feeling?” Robert asked.
“Well, my head still hurts a little, but I don’t have a concussion, so that’s good. I’ll be able to go in a few minutes.” She smiled. Then she took a breath. “Emma, can I talk to you in private?”
“Sure”, I said. Jason and Robert walked out.
“I should have said this to you before, Emma, but I don’t think Ethan will work out for me. He’s a great lab partner, but he’s not really my type. Besides, I think Ashley might be offended if I start dating her ex. I’m going to tell Robert I’ve changed my mind.”
“I have to say something, too, Harriet. I’m really sorry about dissing Robert before I’d even met him. I don’t think any of the rumors about him are true anymore. He’s a nice guy. I think he’d be great for you. And, well, I asked Ethan about you, but it turns out he actually wanted to go out with me. I hope you’ll forgive me.”
“Of course I’ll forgive you. And that means a lot to me, Emma. You really are a great friend. Can you tell Robert I want to talk to him?”
“Sure.” I walked out and gave Robert the news. He mimed straightening an invisible tie, then grinned.
“Wish me luck!” He joked.
“Break a leg,” I replied.
“So, I wanted to ask you something Emma,” Jason said when we were alone.
“I won’t waste any time here but—do you want to go out with me?”
I was at a loss for words.
“Yeah, I’ll go out with you,” I replied as casually as possible after reacquiring my speaking abilities.
“So, who’s the guy?” Ashley demanded. Robert stepped forward.
“You? Aren’t you the weirdo in my History class?”
“Uh, that depends on what you mean by weird—”
Ashley turned to Harriet. “If it was any other guy, I would be fine, but him? You don’t want to seem desperate. I don’t want to be associated with a dweeb. Sorry, Harriet. You seem nice, but sorry.”
You know those times when your mouth moves but no sound comes out? I could tell that was happening to Harriet.
I stepped right in Ashley’s face. “No, I’m sorry, Ashley. Did you really think I would just stay friends with you if you didn’t accept Harriet? I’m outta your group, forever.”
I grabbed Harriet’s arm and stormed away. Robert and Jason followed. They both slapped me high fives.
“That girl doesn’t deserve to be friends with you,” Jason said.
“What did you just do?” Harriet asked me.
“I told Ashley what I should have a long time ago.”
She smiled, and I smiled back.