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Brian, Maddie, and Bruno Mars

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“Today I don’t feel like doing anything. I just wanna lay in my bed,” Bruno Mars sang from my nightstand.

“You can say that again…” I thought to myself as I rolled over to face my sounding alarm clock.

“Don’t feel like—” he began.

“—doing anything but press snooze,” I finished; slamming the button with my fist and letting my head flop back onto the pillow. I dozed for the next five minutes. Five blissful minutes. Five blissful minutes that came to an abrupt end when my alarm clock went off again.

Its second attempt to rouse me was stronger than the first; a pesky buzzer replaced the melodious voice of Bruno Mars. The sound got progressively louder, becoming unbearable in a matter of seconds. My drowsy mind contemplated the situation for a moment, and my finger found the power button. The buzzing ceased and I drifted off again, thinking to myself, “Take that, alarm clock…”

After what seemed like seconds, another disturbance came from across the room. My cell phone was ringing. Of course, it played the most annoying ringtone imaginable. An entire obnoxious symphony of random noises was coming from my phone and filling the dimly lit bedroom. Even I couldn’t ignore it. I unwillingly detangled myself from the covers and trudged over to my dresser to retrieve the phone. The caller ID read, “Brian :)” and displayed a picture from over the summer, each of us wearing mischievous grins that threaten to push the other in the pool. But, I certainly wasn’t smiling as I plopped back down on my disheveled bed to answer it.

“What. Do. You. Want?”

“Well, good morning to you too, sunshine.” I could almost see his smirk. “I was just wondering if you were planning on getting up this morning.” That’s when I looked up and actually saw his smirk. Through my open window across the room, I saw him standing by his window, phone to his ear, already dressed for school in his usual football jersey and jeans with his dark hair spiked up in the front. Our little suburban houses are squished so close together, he could have easily seen me sleeping in from there.

I guess most girls would have felt violated or something, knowing that a boy was looking in their window and watching them sleep. Actually, most girls from our school would think of Twilight and freak out knowing that Brian Ruby was watching them sleep. After all, he’s pretty smart and the best receiver our school’s football team has had in years, so it’s no wonder that a decent percentage of our female population has eyes for him. But considering the fact that Brian has been my next door neighbor and best friend for as long as I can remember, it took all my willpower not to laugh as I replied, “You’re such a stalker!”

His grin widened. “It’s just that if you still want a ride from the Mother of Sir Brian Chauffer Service, you have to get a move on.” Not quite understanding, I glanced at the clock. It was already a quarter to eight!

“Crap!” I exclaimed, scrambling to get up off of the bed. “Wait for me, ok? I just need five minutes!”

“Sure, Maddie, I’ll inform the limo driver.”

“Thanks,” I said, hanging up and setting my phone atop the mess of blue sheets that dominated my bed.

Brian turned to leave and talk to his mom, “the limo driver”, but I made a point to return to the window and forcefully close the dark blue curtains before hurrying to dress for school.

***

“What a nutball…” I thought to myself as I lazily meandered down the stairs. Mom was walking out the door towards the car as I reached ground level, but she stopped halfway over the threshold when she saw me. By force of habit, she ran her finger across her forehead, moving a strand of her dirty blond pixie cut that somehow found its way over her eyes no matter how short she cut it.

“So is she comin’ or not, Brian?” she asked in her best New Yorker accent. “I’m on a schedule, ya know!”

I smiled. “But I thought we agreed you were a chauffeur, not a taxi driver.”

She frowned. “Taxi? I was going for more of a cranky bus driver kinda thing.”

“True, a taxi driver wouldn’t be on a schedule. Either way, if you insist on doing accents, try and sound fancy, ok?”

“Indeed, sir. But, do tell, will Miss Browne be joining us this morning?” She raised her eyebrows as if to ask if her new accent was satisfactory.

“Much better,” I said with an approving smile. “And yes, she’s coming. She slept in this morning, still getting ready.”

“Oh, girls these days,” Mom said in her normal voice, peppy and sweet, as she finished her journey through the doorway.

That made me smile as I grabbed my backpack from the closet and followed her out. To think of Maddie as a normal girl? Please. Almost as if to prove my point, just as we reached my mom’s gray station wagon parked on the side of the road, Maddie came hopping one-footed down the sidewalk, desperately trying to get her heel into her black Converse sneaker. She gave up with the shoe and broke into an uneven run, halfway between her house and where I was, on the side of the street where Maddie and I had grown up together.

As Maddie approached, I opened the back door of the car for her and made a twirly enter, enter gesture with my hand. Smiling, she slid into the back seat and I followed her. She had changed into her normal shorts and Aero t-shirt in record time, and her light brown hair was hanging loosely off her head, landing just past her shoulders. My mother turned in her seat to smile at her and said, in her eloquent limo diver accent,

“Why, good morning, Miss Browne. What a pleasure it is for you to join us on this fine day.” Maddie giggled, which made me grin. With that, we headed off for school.

***

Brian and I headed down the tree-lined path that led toward the front doors of the school, debating heatedly about the legalities of being a peeping tom.

“I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to look in people’s windows like that!” I argued.

“False. A, I wasn’t on your property, and B, it’s your fault for leaving the window open,” he countered.

“Whatever. I guess if you hadn’t seen me, you would have thought I was dead or something. Or I would have been late for school, and I would actually be dead.”

Brian chuckled and said, “Yeah, you’re welcome. See ya in science.”

I stuck my tongue out at him as he veered off to the left and started fiddling with the dial on his grayish locker. I continued a bit further down the crowded hallway toward mine. Along the way, I passed Zach Leedson, whose black t-shirt matched his spiky hair and stormy eyes. I wanted to say something to him, but, as usual, I couldn’t bring myself to it. I just sighed and continued toward my locker, getting lost in a mental image of his dreamy eyes. So lost, in fact, that I accidentally walked right into my locker. Grumbling to myself, I rubbed my forehead and tried to tune myself back into the real world.

As I dialed my locker combination, I noticed that the hallway was abuzz with conversation. The main topic happened to be the upcoming school dance. Our annual formal was that coming Friday, and I heard girls squealing about it from several directions, chirping about their dates, their dresses, and their hair. I suppose I should have been part of the conversation, but I didn’t have that much to say. I couldn’t style my hair for my life, the dress I bought was unremarkable, and my only date was a vague, desperate hope that Zach would ask me. Honestly, I didn’t really have anyone to say it to anyway. I had a few girlfriends, all of the sporty type like me, so none of them were very concerned with the dance either. Brian was by far my best friend, but we had more important things to discuss than who’s taking who to a silly school dance. Like how much of a creeper he is, for example. In spite of myself, I smiled at the thought of him leaning casually against the window frame. No matter what nonsense he pulls off, I can’t stay mad at Brian for very long.

***

I was in a pretty good mood as I gathered up my books from my locker. A conversation with Maddie always puts me in bright spirits. However, the background chatter about the upcoming dance worried me a bit. A dance could easily get her on my case again. Suddenly anxious, I slammed my locker door, only to find myself face to face with a pair of giant brown eyes. I couldn’t help but jump.

“Suzie!” I exclaimed. “How many times have I told you not to do that?”

“Exactly 37 times, my dearest. But who’s counting?” Suzie replied while batting her oversized eyelashes.

I resisted an urge to run. Suzie was the very her I was worried about. She’s had an enormous crush on me since the second grade. She’s also very …open about it. I’ve been listening to her love poems and receiving her valentines for years. I know she’s just trying to be nice, but her niceness comes across as more creepy than anything. To make matters worse, she has like the worst eyesight in history and wears these humongous, thick glasses that magnify her eyes and make them look huge and creepy as well.

I took a deep breath and calmly replied, “It seems as though you have been counting, Suzie.”

She just giggled. “I suppose I have been, Mr. Brian. Now I was wondering…”

While saying this, Suzie stepped closer to me and started walking her fingers up my arm in what she thought was a playful way.

Horrified, I took a large step backward, looked at my bare wrist and said, “Wow, would you look at the time! I gotta get to class Suzie!” And Suzie looked pretty unsurprised as I scurried off through the still-crowded hallway.

***

Brian came hurrying into the science classroom looking frazzled. He plopped down into the seat next to me and said, “She’s back. The dreaded, giant eyed monster has returned!”

I immediately knew who he was talking about. Suzie had obviously tried to pull some moves on him.

“What did she do this time?”

“Asked me to the dance. Or tried to. I got away before anything happened.”

“You seriously need to stand up to this girl! Next time she asks you, just nicely tell her that you’re flattered by the offer, but, unfortunately, you have to turn her down.”

“What do I say when she asks why?”

“Just politely say...”

“But she scares me, Maddie,” he interrupted in a frightened little kid voice. I couldn’t help but giggle. He smiled in return.

I said, “In that case, just
run away again, you wittle scaredy pants!”

And then we were both cracking up, like the two year olds we were impersonating.

After a minute or so of that, Mr. Spinner got our attention and started speaking to the class. Unfortunately for him, Brian and I were in a giggly mood. Brian kept making stupid comments that I couldn’t help but laugh at, and Mr. Spinner had to tell us to stop talking like five hundred times. I swear he would have kicked us out of class the five hundred and first time had the bell not rung to dismiss us.

***

Even armed with Maddie’s advice, I still avoided contact with Suzie. By using some pretty stealthy ninja moves and taking some indirect routes to class, I made it through the rest of the school day without another encounter. By the time most of the school’s population was on their way home, and I was emerging from the locker room dressed for football practice, I thought I was home free. Practice passed without incident, I got my homework done, and it wasn’t until I was studying in the library early the next morning that things went wrong.

For one thing, I was a little upset that my study session interfered with driving to school with Maddie in the morning. I’ve noticed that the longer I go without talking to her, the farther downhill my day goes. But once I heard an unusually loud noise coming from across the room, it basically tripped my day and caused it to roll down the hill at high speeds.

“BRIAN!” Suzie screamed.

Oh no.

“Hi, Suzie,” I said reluctantly.

“Hey, Brian,” she said playfully as
she practically dove into the dusty library chair next to mine. “So, as I was saying yesterday, I wanted to know if you would want to go to the dance with me…”

Oh yes.

What was I supposed to say to that?

I could take Maddie’s advice and politely say that she was a creeper and I was NOT going to any dances with her. Or…

No. Lying just makes it worse. And yet…

“Well, listen Suzie, I hate to break it to you, but I already have a date to the dance.”

She looked skeptical. “Oh yeah? Who?”

My answer was automatic. “Maddie.”

Maddie? What? Why did I say that?

Suzie’s eyes lit up with a mixture of shock and rage. She glared at me like she had laser eyes for a second,then got up and stormed out, nearly knocking over my table full of books on the process.

Well, that can’t mean anything good.

***

I was still half asleep as I organized the books in my locker that morning, completely oblivious to the hallway that surrounded me. The only thing that actually caught my attention was a smooth deep voice behind me.

“Hey,” Zach said.

My heart skipped a beat.

I turned around. “Oh. Hey.”

“So listen. Everybody’s talking about this dance coming up.”

“Yeah.”

I was trying to sound casual, but it was incredibly difficult, considering the circumstances. Just when I was about to explode from anticipation, a female voice came from somewhere in the hallway saying, “Zach! Come here a minute!”

“I’ll talk to you later, ok?”

“Okay…”

And with that, he walked away.

What the heck was that?


Compared to the confusing start to my day, science class appeared to be largely uneventful. Mr. Spinner announced that we were going to be taking notes for most of the class period. Ordinarily, this would be a perfect opportunity for Brian and me to write stupid little messages on each other’s papers, but I really wasn’t in the mood. I was too distracted by the whole Zach situation. Brian seemed pretty spaced out too. So we just wrote
notes about cellular respiration on our own papers for the rest of class.

Brian was the first to break the silence between us. On the way out of class, he asked, “Are you okay?”

“Why? Do I seem not okay?” I snapped. I wasn’t sure why I was taking out my frustration on him.

“No,” he replied calmly, “Just quiet.”

I sighed. He had a way of coaxing things out of me, without even asking for them. “You’re right.

It’s just all this talk about the dance that’s bugging me.”

“Yeah, me too,” he said.

That confused me a bit. Was he just trying to comfort me, or was the dance actually bugging him too? We walked in silence for a moment.

Brian ended the pause with a sudden realization. “Shoot. I just walked right past my locker. I’ll talk to you later, ok?”

I nodded and continued toward my next class while he turned and went the opposite direction.

***

I lied. A conversation with Maddie does NOT always put me in bright spirits.

It’s not like it was her fault, either. I’m just stupid. “Me too.” Who says that?

Oh that’s right. A girl friend when her best friend is venting about girl problems. A guy friend would tell her to man up or something. Even I could have at least turned it into a joke or something after I said it. Explained I was referring to the Suzie situation and had another good laugh about it. What’s going on with me? Why is it that I can’t have a normal conversation with Maddie?

It’s the dance. Once I allowed the thought to officially manifest itself in my brain, I was a goner. Blurting it out to Suzie made it even more real to me. Somewhere deep down, I have always wanted to ask Maddie out. I have always wanted to tell her how I really feel. Heck, I’ve wanted to scream it to the world. I have always…

No sense hiding it now.

I have always loved Maddie.

I just never admitted it to myself.

And now that I have, there’s no turning back.

***

After twenty four hours of subconscious stress, trying to dissect the meaning behind my conversation with Zach, I was greeted with a deja-vu moment.

It was Wednesday morning, and I was tired and agitated as I stuffed books in my locker. However, all that weight was lifted off my shoulders as the same cool voice came from behind me, saying, “Hey.”

Even though I was a tad annoyed with Zach, my heart still fluttered and started beating quicker. Just as I did yesterday, I turned around and said, “Oh, hey.”

He replied, “Listen, I’m sorry about yesterday. It was pretty rude of me to cut you off like that.”

I shrugged. “It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not. Which is why I wanted to make it up to you.”

From behind his back, Zach pulled a single red rose. My face lit up, despite my efforts to conceal my excitement. “And as I was saying yesterday, Maddie, would you like to go to the dance with me?”

“Oh my gosh, Zach! I would love to!”

“Excellent. Now, we better get to class.”

I looked around and noticed for the first time that the hallway had cleared out.

“Oh, yeah. Well, see ya.”

“Alright,” Zach said with a smile, placing the delicate rose in my hands.

We both turned in separate directions toward our classes, but as soon as I turned the corner and was out of Zach’s sight, I did a little jump for joy and hurried off toward science.

***

I was sitting alone in the science room, waiting for Maddie to show up. It wasn’t like her to be late. Or maybe I was just early. Either way, I needed to tell her about my problem with Suzie and get her on board. But whether I was enlisting her as a wingwoman or as an actual date, I was unsure. I remained lost in thought, and before I knew it, class had started and Maddie still wasn’t sitting next to me. I was worried.

Two minutes later, however, I got even more worried. Maddie came gliding into the classroom with an enormous smile on her face. She took no notice as everyone stared at her; she just waltzed in and took her seat, staring dreamily off into the distance. Luckily, Mr. Spinner ignored her late entrance and kept talking. I whispered to Maddie, “Why are you all smiley?”

She looked at me excitedly but replied, “I’ll tell you later.” She proceeded to focus on what Mr. Spinner was saying. I guessed I would have to wait until later then.

As soon as we were dismissed, I turned to Maddie urgently. “Seriously, what’s going on?”

She giggled with excitement. “Okay, okay. So you know Zach Leedson, right?”

I didn’t like where this was going, but I replied, “Yeah.”

“Well, he asked me to the dance!!”
My heart sank. My worst fears had been confirmed.

But I was forced to fake a smile, shout out, “That’s great, Maddie!”, and listen to her blabber on about her plans for Friday night.

Because that’s what best friends do.

***

Ecstatic.

That’s how I felt that night. I could hardly sit still. I kept bouncing up and down in my desk chair, staring at the delicate rose, poised in its vase. I had put on my dress and done my makeup just for the heck of it and was wishing desperately that the 48 hours between me and my dreams would pass quickly.

***

Crushed.

That’s how I felt that night. I simply flopped on my bed and moped for a while. I kept going back and forth between mental images of me and Maddie, Maddie and Zach, and me and Suzie. The latter two would most likely make an appearance in the near future, but I couldn’t decide which one upset me more. So I just remained where I was and wished desperately that the 48 hours between me and my nightmares would pass slowly.

***

That Thursday before the dance turned out to be one of the happiest days of my young life. But when it came to my hopes, you know what they say: the higher they are the harder they fall.

My mind was still reeling and I wanted to start bouncing off the walls or something that morning. On the way to school, Brian was almost silent. He claimed to have woken up with a sore throat, which was fine by me. I just reiterated everything I had to say about the upcoming dance for the bagillionth time, and he listened patiently. After that one-sided conversation, I practically skipped to my locker.

Taped to the door, I found a handwritten note that said,

“Meet me at lunchtime today.
-Zach”

I held back a squeal of excitement. Ok, maybe I didn’t do that great a job of holding it in, because everyone my general proximity stopped to look at me. I ignored them and kept smiling as I opened up my locker and gathered my books.

However, science and the classes that followed succeeded in bumming my joy. It seemed like everything was going in slow motion. I kept glancing at the clock through most of the morning, willing it to move faster. The effect was just the opposite. Minutes seemed to stretch into hours, and I was eventually forced to pay attention to my teachers just to pass the time. It still took about the time it takes a glacier to run a marathon for lunchtime to roll around. Give or take. But mostly give. A few millennia.

After an abbreviated trip to my locker, I hurried into the lunchroom. It was already filling up with people, but almost instantly I spotted Zach, who was sitting alone at the corner table. He noticed me nearly as fast as I noticed him, and his entire face lit up the second our eyes met. Both of us were grinning almost stupidly by the time I reached the table and sat down.

“Hey, Zach.”

“Hey, Maddie.”

“What’s up?”

“Oh, nothing. I’m just spending my lunch with a beautiful girl”

As he said this, his smile was warm and friendly, and his eyes were practically twinkling there was such a gleam about them. But was it a gleam of admiration? Appraisal? I took it to be admiration, giggled, and blushed shamelessly.

“Oh, Zach, you’re so sweet.”

We conversed for the remainder of the lunch period. What started out as small talk quickly evolved into an intense discussion about everything from foods of different countries to ways to get kicked out of Wal-Mart.

In stark contrast to my morning, the lunch period slipped by outrageously quickly. Before we knew it, Zach and I were the only two left in the lunchroom, and the lunch lady was politely asking us to get out of her way so she could clean.

As we left, Zach asked, “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then? That is, if you wouldn’t mind another lunch date.” He winked.

I agreed, “Definitely! I had a great time.”

“Excellent. I did too,” he said with a smile.

We regretfully parted ways and headed for our next classes. As I sank into my seat in the back of the history classroom, I thought to myself about how strange a concept this was. It was the first time I had actually spoken to Zach, yet it felt like I’ve known him forever.

The thought of having known someone forever seemed familiar, but our teacher started talking and interrupted my train of thought before I could figure out why.

***

The only good thing about that Thursday before the dance was that Suzie didn’t make an appearance at school, thus delaying disaster. The downside to that upside was that I was left to watch Maddie ogle over Zach the entire day. During the sparse moments that she actually regarded my existence, he was all she talked about. And then, they sat together at lunch, leaving me feeling utterly alone. Sure, I was surrounded by friends, but they could have been a universe away for all I cared. The guys wouldn’t understand my predicament. Maddie had always been my go-to confidant in more sensitive situations. She was one of the select few people that I could trust whole-heartedly and she knew how to sort out these sorts of issues. But if Maddie herself was the problem, where could I turn?

I found the answer when I got home
from school that afternoon. I started up my computer and created a blank Word document.

This wasn’t something I usually did. In fact, this was something I had never done before.

I sat down and started writing a poem.

Me. Writing a poem. About love. Out of my own free will.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, I suppose.

Anyway, after about an hour of typing, backspacing, and retyping, I ended up with something that somewhat resembled poetry. I’m not exactly certain exactly what the requirements of a poem are, but mine rhymed and got my point across, so I guess it counts:


I'm always thinking about you
You’re all that’s on my mind
Your hair is brown and silky
Your eyes are oh so kind

You’re the only thing that keeps me going
The one who’s by my side
But when I try to tell you
I want to run and hide

You make my life brighter
In every single way
And so I’ve got to tell you
The feelings I’ve kept at bay

I don’t want to mess up what we have
But this statement’s overdue
From the very bottom of my heart
Maddie, I love you


It felt somewhat good getting things out on paper. The only question was: what to do with a mediocre love poem?

***

The amount of chatter regarding the dance that had filled the halls on Monday morning paled in comparison to the deafening rumble of voices that occupied the school on Friday.

My enthusiasm had also increased greatly; I found myself contributing to the various conversations, talking excitedly to anyone who would listen throughout the day. Zach was no different.

We sat together at lunch again, laughing as we discussed all things related to tonight: what music we wanted to hear, what songs we would dance to, who else was going to be there, and so on. Our conversation was very natural, just as it was yesterday. Our sentences flowed together smoothly, like a peaceful stream in springtime. It was legitimately blissful, just sitting and enjoying each other’s company. For the fleeting period of time that followed lunch that day, it seemed as though all was right with the world. I was content.

***

Despite my desire to hide under a rock or something to wait out that entire Friday, my mom ended up talking me into going to school somehow.

“You’ll regret it later when you don’t get perfect attendance!” she had insisted, “Those pieces of paper with your name on them are priceless, Brian!”

I groaned melodramatically, but couldn’t quite help cracking a smile at my mom’s nonsense. As I climbed back upstairs to get dressed for school, she called,
“You better thank me in your acceptance speech!”

I got dropped off with just enough time to get to first period, so I really had no desire to stop when some random fifth grader called out, “Hey! You’re Brian Ruby, right?”

It wasn’t out of the ordinary for the newbies at school to be ignored by the 7th and 8th graders, so I just kept trudging down the hallway toward science class.

Unfortunately, this little guy was persistent. “I heard that your girlfriend’s cheating on you! Maddie, right?”

I stopped dead in my tracks.

“She’s not my girlfriend, kid. Just get to class or something.”

He shrugged his shoulders and turned the corner, calling as he went, “Denial, man. Denial.”

Generally speaking, having a little kid you never met try to explain your imaginary love life to you is not a good way to start the day.

Things didn’t exactly get better. If having Maddie spend lunchtime with Zach wasn’t bad enough, Suzie began to take notice of the situation. I saw her eyeing up their seating arrangement like a hawk, then casting beacon-like suspicious glares at me. I looked away as quickly as possible, pretending to be engrossed by my turkey sandwich.

I attempted to avoid her the rest of the day, but by sheer coincidence she found me at my locker toward the end of last period. I had asked to use the bathroom, but actually went to my locker to pack up my backpack early in order to make a hasty exit as soon as the bell rang. I was so on edge from all the sneaking around that when I heard someone sternly call out, “Brian!” I guiltily jumped around, expecting a teacher to ask what I was doing. Instead, I found Suzie’s giant eyes, a fate ultimately worse than my original thought. “What are you doing?”

Nervously, I replied, “Just looking for my—”

“Yeah. Sure.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Lies! You feed me nothing but lies! You aren’t really going to that dance with Maddie!”

With her eyes magnified so large, I could easily see the anger welling up inside them. But there was something else, too. Hurt. I had a sudden urge to explain everything to her, but the instinct to lie ran strong once more.

“Yes I am! Of course I am! That
Zach kid is just her partner for some project! In fact, I was actually looking for a thing to give her!”

Thinking too fast, or maybe not at all, I pulled the poem I wrote from my backpack. For no particular reason, I had a strange desire to bring it with me to school that morning, which probably wasn’t the best move.

“It’s a love poem for her!” I was glad that I told her the truth about something. “We have this whole message thing going between us. Very romantic.” And then I folded the sheet in half twice, stormed over to Maddie’s locker, 6th one to the left of the math room, and slid it between the door and the frame. “So there.”

Suzie just turned and stormed away before I could read her expression.

I shoved my half packed backpack into my locker, slammed the door, and stormed off toward history, since it didn’t matter if I left quickly anymore. Nothing mattered very much anymore.

***

I sat, for the second time that week, at my desk admiring the red rose in its vase. It had withered slightly since Wednesday, but its beauty was still intact. The only difference was on Friday afternoon I was clutching a piece of paper as well, reading over the lines time and time again. After all, it wasn’t every day you get a love letter. The sweet poet who wrote it for me didn’t leave his name, but it seemed pretty obvious who it was. I mean there’s only one person who could’ve possibly felt that way.

Zach. What a sweetheart.

But anyway, after I grew tired of reading and rereading Zach’s poem, I ventured downstairs for dinner before getting ready for the dance.

On my way back upstairs after eating, my mom presented me with a gift.

“I found this at the craft store today,” she explained, “And I attached it to a clip for you. I think you’ll like it.”

From the depths of a Michael’s bag, she pulled an artificial flower, hot glued to a hair clip by my mom’s delicate fingers. But not just any flower. My favorite, a lily, but not of any natural shade, it was electric blue. An electric blue lily.

“I think it will go nicely with your eyes,” my mother added. She would know. Her pale blue eyes match mine exactly.

“It’s perfect!” I agreed. “Thanks, Mom!” I accepted the flower gratefully and gave her a hug before returning to my room.

When all was said and done, I stood in front of the full length mirror on my door, feeling a strange pride in my work. It wasn’t every often I got dressed up this nice. My simple black dress landed just above my knees and the lily was clipped toward the back of my head, holding a small section of hair from the front in a tiny braid. Mom was definitely right. The flower brought out my eyes and added a splash of color to my otherwise uninteresting ensemble. I was ready.

The only minor setback came when I looked at my clock. It was only a quarter to six. The dance didn’t start until 7.

I sighed and sank into my desk chair once more, gazing at the rose and picking up Zach’s poem to read it yet again.

***

I was contemplating never leaving the house ever again. Or at least for the rest of the night. After all, I had just hurt Suzie and revealed my true feelings to Maddie within a matter of seconds, which seriously killed whatever partying mood I had left.

However, my mom managed to persuade me once again. When I tried to get out of going she retorted, “It’ll be fun, Brian! I mean, how many times in your life will you get to go to your fall formal?”

“Four. And the two I’ve already been to weren’t that great.”

“But still! I already bought your suit and everything!”

I despaired at the thought of an unhappy night in an uncomfortable suit, but it didn’t stop there.

She turned and grabbed a garment bag from the other room. I regretfully unzipped it when she brought it over to me, revealing an obnoxious rainbow clown suit, complete with rainbow bowtie and oversized shoes. A big red clown nose fell from the bag and rolled to my feet. For a horrible moment I thought she was serious. If she somehow managed to force me to show up at the dance in that thing, I’d never live it down. I’d actually have to go through with my plan to never leave the house again.

Then I noticed my mom’s laughter. I also realized that my older brother had worn the same thing for Halloween a couple years ago. That was when I got mad.

“Where is my actual suit?” I asked through gritted teeth.

My mom stopped laughing just long enough to say, “In your closet.”

I angrily climbed upstairs to retrieve it. If I actually had something decent to wear, there was no sense in being laughed at here.

Thankfully, there was a pair of brown slacks and a white shirt that I had worn a few times before as well as a new tie with an autumn leaves design waiting for me in the closet. Those were definitely wearable.

As I was getting changed, a thought occurred to me: what the heck was I supposed to say to Maddie when I saw her? That I’ve been in love with her as long as we’ve known each other but it’s ok if she wants to still just be friends? Or that I didn’t actually mean for her to see my profession of love for her?

And what’s she going to say back? That she’s felt the same way all along? Or will she just get weirded out and not say a word to me ever again?

And then there’s Suzie. I really did feel bad about lying to her. Maybe I’ll try to find a somewhat quiet place to explain what happened to her. I could apologize and offer to save her a dance later on. I think that would be the right thing to do.

There were so many variables that I was only certain of three things: that I was 7 o’ clock and I needed to get going and that it was going to be one interesting night.

***

Zach was nowhere to be found.

Ten minutes into the dance I was fine. Twenty minutes in I wondered where he was. Thirty minutes in I got worried. Forty minutes in I panicked. At that point I could no longer concentrate on my half-hearted attempts to dance around with my girlfriends, which were interrupted by glances over my shoulder every few seconds anyway.

I started walking. It wasn’t easy weaving my way through the endless sea of warm bodies, or seeing hundreds of faces when only one mattered. I managed to walk the length of the gym three times, and had also circumnavigated it through the surrounding hallways twice before I was ready to deem Zach MIA.

I decided that he might have been in the bathroom or something. I was just about to sit and wait outside there when I looked a little further down the hallway. I noticed that the foldup divider that prevented students from wandering through the school was out of place, six inches or so away from the wall.

I glanced around, looking for a janitor or chaperone that might have moved it. Seeing no one, I slid through the gap, which was the perfect width for a person, and walked down the hall a little. The click of my shoes on the floor echoed through the empty hallway along with the dull drone of music from the gym. Turning the corner, I found the ones who moved the gate, a couple pressed against the lockers, wrapped in each other’s arms, lips locked in a kiss.

Ordinarily, I would have just turned around and left before they noticed me and I embarrassed myself, but I couldn’t move. As soon as I looked more carefully at them, I was trapped.

My heart dropped to my feet and the whole world came crashing down. I let out an audible gasp as my eyes fixated on a familiar dark head of perfectly messy spikes.

The pair heard me and broke apart, turning to face me. The same dark eyes that had gazed at me with such warmth and caring just hours before now stared blankly in my direction, uncomprehending, shocked.

Zach’s eyes.

Unable to look at him any longer, I glanced at the girl. Her big brown eyes, which were encircled in immaculate makeup, surrounded by flawlessly tanned skin, and half-covered by pin straight brown hair, were opened wide in an over exaggerated expression of shock.

Her skin-tight strapless dress was too short for her long legs. She was the type of girl who I’d be jealous of under any circumstances, but I was green with envy then.

However, it didn’t compare to how red with fury I was at Zach. I gave him one last evil glare before stalking off, my jaw too tense to say a word. When I reached the gate, I pushed it angrily to the side, not caring who saw, only hoping it would get Zach and his little girlfriend caught.

As I got closer to the sound of music and voices, my brisk pace began to slow. I felt my anger quickly melt into a flood of despair and hopelessness, overflowing through my eyes in the form of tears. Almost immediately, I could go no further. I simply leaned against the nearest wall and sank into a sitting position, where I just stayed and wept, trying to figure out what had happened, what had changed in the short few hours where everything turned upside down.

***

The dance began exactly how I expected it would. The DJ played endless pop songs that all sounded alike, the girls, clad in shiny party dresses, formed clumps and danced in their little packs, and the guys, looking as uncomfortable as the felt in their shirts and ties, stood around in a corner and talked.

I hung back from the conversation a bit, distracted by the absence of Maddie’s voice and Suzie’s periodic looks. My brilliant plan from earlier to straighten things out was crumbling to pieces: it was quarter to eight and I had yet come into contact with either subject of my intended discussions. I knew I would have to get started soon. It seemed to me that how I was to deal with Suzie would vary based on Maddie’s reaction. Despite myself, I was still clinging to a little hope of pulling off the whole lie. I just needed to find Maddie.

I gathered my resolve and I glanced around at my friends, mercifully deep enough in their conversation so as not to notice that I ducked out of the gym through the nearest door. I start walking down the relatively empty hallway, trying to formulate some sort of plan.

However, all attempts at coherent thought were put on hold when a splash of bright blue caught my eye in the dull hallway. I was further distracted by the realization that the blue was connected to a person.

Suddenly there was nothing else. Anything that had occupied my subconscious moments ago was gone. So as my legs carried me toward her, I wasn’t thinking of Suzie, or Zach, or even the girl I had fallen in love with. I could only think of my best friend and the fact that she was in distress.

“Maddie?” I said gently when I got close enough to her. She removed her face from her hands to look up at me with a teary expression as I sank down next to her. “What happened? What’s wrong?”

“Zach,” she managed to choke out. “He…he was with another girl.”

“Oh, Maddie,” I sighed, wrapping my arm around her shoulder. “I’m so sorry.”

She rambled off every detail of the entire story, from the divider being displaced, to how gorgeous the other girl was, to the vacant stare in Zach’s eyes as she ran away. I didn’t even register happiness in the fact that my rival had failed.

Instead, I was somehow reminded of all the times we’ve been in the same position through the years, through all the important things she lost, all the bikes she’s fallen off of, all the toys that she broke. I would hold on until she cried herself out, then try and make it better or just cheer her up.

Her sobs began to subside after a few moments, so I decided it was time to get to work.

I could just barely hear the music playing in the gym. It was the perfect song, something upbeat and partyish that when paired with my terrible dancing could have done the trick for Maddie. I rose to my feet and said, “How about we go dance?” But as I was saying this and offering her my hand, the song in the other room abruptly ended and switched to the soft drone of a voice accompanied by gentle piano.

Maddie looked up at me and my outstretched hand. I could tell she heard the music too, and it’s so obviously a slow song. That’s when I remembered that I wasn’t six anymore, that I had a crush on this girl and I’d just accidentally asked her to slow dance with me.

At that moment, we both did something unexpected.

I blushed beet red.

Maddie took my hand.

***

I spontaneously went from crying on the floor to walking through the halls. At least five minutes had fallen into oblivion without a trace. My thoughts were frantic.
What am I doing? What is Brian doing? What is going on?

Calm down. Deep breath. Get ahold of yourself.

Reason suddenly returned to my brain cells. I was following Brian back to the gym. After comforting me, he offered to dance with me, probably in some attempt to make me feel better. A slow song was playing. It’s Bruno Mars. My favorite.

However, several facts were still clanking around in my skull, refusing to fit into the puzzle: his blush, the clamminess of his hand in mine, his odd behavior earlier in the week, and some elusive thing else that refused to become tangible in my thoughts. The absence of that one detail made me realize that I hadn’t given Brian much thought between the time Zach asked me out and two minutes ago.

But it was not the time to be digging through the inner workings of my mind. Brian and I had reached the dance floor. We were facing each other, and his eyes gazed straight into mine.

***

I desperately tried to keep calm. I needed more than anything to stay in control of the situation, but the sudden turn of events had made that nearly impossible. Especially after I became overly conscious of Maddie’s hand still wrapped in mine and her eyes trained on me.

Attempting to be cool, I awkwardly extract my hand and place it tentatively on her hip. Maddie wrapped her hands around my neck. We start rocking back and forth slightly.

I gave her a weak smile.

Now what?

My mind kicked into overdrive trying to do the thing that once came effortlessly, my original motive for the whole dance: cheer Maddie up. For the first time, I placed the song that was playing in the background. It gave me an idea.

“Appropriate choice of songs, huh?” I say to Maddie.

“Oh. Yeah, I love Bruno Mars.”

“It’s more than that. Just listen.”

I paused, giving Bruno time to get in a verse:

“When I see your face, there’s not a thing that I would change. Cause you’re amazing just the way you are. And when you smile, the whole world stops and stares for a while. Cause girl you’re amazing just the way you are.”

I watched as Maddie concentrated on the lyrics, studied her blue eyes deep in thought, admired the way they went with the blue of the flower set perfectly on her head.

Beautiful.

Before I could stop myself, I concluded, “Sounds like you.”

***

Without a doubt, I was taken aback for a second. Of all the things that had caught me off guard recently, that topped the list.

It didn’t stop me from genuinely smiling and saying, “Oh. Thank you, Brian.”

I had just enough time to register the compliment before it hit me.

The one piece of information I was lacking before.

“It was you, wasn’t it?”

I guess Brian was still recovering from having his compliment not get rejected, because he’s unprepared for my accusation.

“What?” he asked, sincerely confused.

“The poem. It was you who wrote it for me.”

“Yes.”

For a second, we just beamed at each other, overjoyed that the truth had finally come out and everything made sense. Then, I wrapped him tighter in my arms and rested my head on his shoulder.

He hugged me tighter as well, and whispered the rest of the song into my ear as it played throughout the packed gym. But all of my schoolmates could have been on the moon for all I cared. Nobody else could have made any impression as two familiar voices recited:

“When I see your face, there’s not a thing that I would change. Cause you’re amazing just the way you are. And when you smile, the whole world stops and stares for a while. Cause girl you’re amazing just the way you are.”

In my mind, it was only me, Brian, and Bruno Mars.


Epilogue

“Can you believe it, Brian? Our very last fall formal!” an eighth grade version of Suzie raved, her face plastered across my computer screen thanks to an Oovoo video chat.

“I know. It’s good to actually be excited about one of these,” I replied.

Suzie chuckled. She had grown up significantly in the past year, trading her coke-bottle glasses for contacts and growing out her blond bangs, a transformation partially caused by me. After the fall formal last year, I had finally gotten around to that big heart to heart I was planning and managed to convince her that I wasn’t going to fall in love with her anytime soon as well, which helped her to get over herself a bit and start fresh.

She ended up finding a new love interest in the form of the new kid at school, Josh, with a bit of string pulling on my part. But just as I pushed her away, she found her way back in. To a comfortable distance, at least. We’re actually pretty good friends now, a fact that fell into place not long after Josh took a liking to her as well. They’re going to the dance together tonight. I’m happy for her.

Speaking of which, I noticed that it was almost 7. “Well, I’ll see you at the dance Suzie.”

“Bye Brian.”

With that, I ended the video chat and picked up my cell phone to text Maddie.

***

“And when you smile, the whole world stops and stares for a while. Cause girl you’re amazing just the way you are.”

I had been fastening my trademark blue lily to my hair when I heard Bruno Mars’s voice, and I almost didn’t realize that he was coming from my phone and not my fantasy of last year’s dance. I hurried to my desk to retrieve it, knowing the message could only be from Brian.

It read:
“You ready yet? Your chariot awaits ;)”

I smiled and was trying to formulate some witty thing to reply with when the phone started playing Just the Way You Are again. He was calling this time.

As per our latest tradition, I hurried to my window to find him waiting for me at his. I broke into a wide smile when I saw that the tie fastened around his neck was electric blue, a perfect match to my lily. He was grinning ear to ear as well. As I went to answer the call, I glanced at the caller ID, even though I already knew what it said.

And we’ll just say that Brian has a <3 tacked onto his contact name nowadays.




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EatSleepWrite95 said...
Jul. 21, 2012 at 3:08 pm:
I love it! This story is amazing! Keep it up!
 
twix.n.pixi.stix7This teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. replied...
Jul. 23, 2012 at 7:50 pm :
thank you! :)
 
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