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Paige and Tucker
Author's note: Based on true events.
My name is Paige. Not like pages in a book. But, well, me. I’m fourteen, and I live in New Jersey with my mom and dad. I have two other siblings, a brother and a sister, but they’re much older than me. So I guess it’s kind of like being an only child since my sister’s married and has a son and my brother just graduated from law school and got engaged recently. I don’t really know what I want to do with my life, but my friends always say I could be on Broadway one day. Maybe. I’ve already memorized Mary Poppins, which is one of my favorite musicals ever. Now I’ve just got to get an audition. But until then, well this is pretty much my life.
I go to Highland Park High School, and I was actually new a couple years back in seventh grade. I made friends pretty fast and everything is pretty much going okay for me. Bad grades here and there, stupid guys, people who annoy me—luckily, they don’t know I’m now officially a black belt in karate—and basically everything you expect in your stereotypical high school. I’m a freshman girl with brown hair and freckles and a laugh that sometimes drives my friends crazy. But hey, I’m just being Paige.
The summer before my freshman year, I went to camp as always, Ramah and then Encampment. It was different from regular school. My town was pretty diverse, so we have kids of all colors, religions, and backgrounds. I thought it was cool to be a part of a school with so many kinds of people. During the summer, I’d spend time at Jewish camp and then when September—and my birthday!—came around, it was back to my school friends. I sort of categorized my friends by school and temple and camp. It felt good to have friends from all over. It made me feel special because a lot of kids mainly had their friends at school and that was it. Lucky for me, I had an entire other family to look to.
Anyways, summer. That was what I was talking about. So I’d gotten back from my camps and stuff, and had gotten together with my best friend, Christina. We’d talked about the same stuff we’d always had since eighth grade: Broadway, school, and boys, of course. I’d recently broken up with my boyfriend, so I had been kind of sad at the time, but for some reason, Christina had kept mentioning this guy named Tucker.
Now when we were still in middle school, all I’d remembered was that Tucker was a popular jock with blond hair and glittering blue eyes. He’d had a girlfriend last time I’d heard and she was a year younger than him. But Christina had told me that they’d broken up over the summer because they wouldn’t have been able to see each other in school for an entire year since the high school and middle school were separate buildings.
“And since you’re single and he’s single,” she’d said. “I think I’m going to play matchmaker this year.”
“You’re crazy,” I’d laughed. “You’ve been saying that all last year.”
“I’m never wrong,” she’d continued, “Just trust me on this one. He likes you, which is probably another reason why he broke up with Angelina.”
“You think so?”
“I know so, honey,” she’d answered.
School started soon enough, and I couldn’t help but notice that Tucker had gotten taller, his voice had gotten deeper, and his dusty blond hair had grown a little longer. He was definitely cuter than before, but I didn’t know if I liked him quite yet. I mean, was Christina right about Tucker?
Then he glanced over at me and gave me a hint of a smile before turning away. Hm. Maybe.
Summer passed by quicker than I’d hoped it would. It sucked, too. I broke up with my girlfriend, Angelina and all of my friends ditched me because they thought I was a loser for ending our relationship. I didn’t know. Angelina was definitely hot, but she wasn’t someone I could really talk to. During lunch sometimes, I’d go sit and talk with Angelina and my other friend, Tara who had a boyfriend named Travis, also a seventh grader. At the time when I still thought I liked Angie—that was the nickname I’d given her; she’d always hated it—I sort of had mixed feelings about this new girl, Paige that had come to our school about two or something years ago. I’d always pass her clique’s table when I’d go over to hang out with Angie and it was hard for me not to smile whenever she laughed really loudly and clapped her hands or talked to that Christina chick and then looked in my direction. Paige was the exact opposite of Angie. She was funny and sweet and had really cute freckles.
After I went back to school with things being as dumb as they were, I saw how pretty Paige had become. She’d straightened her hair for the first day of freshman year and had a slight tan. I kind of wished I could go over and talk to her, but then I remembered how I’d ignored her Facebook Friend Request for almost an entire year. I was shy and honestly had no idea who she was, so it would be awkward if I just randomly walked up to her and asked her about her summer.
Plus—and I hated to admit this—but what would my friends think if they saw me talking with Paige? I mean, Paige wasn’t super popular and all, and I didn’t want to take any more risks on my reputation. This summer had been bad enough. Besides, I’d just broken up with Angie. I couldn’t move on too fast. I was still trying to figure how the hell I was supposed to survive this year. Oh well. I guessed I’d just have to wait and see.
I stepped into my AM homeroom and saw Paige talking with her Asian friends and there she was: laughing loudly, her head flinging back, and clapping her hands as the other girls cracked up. I just sat and stared at her for a few minutes until by jock friend, Cory slapped me on the back and asked me about summer.
“Yo, my man, what’s up?” Cory asked.
“Nothing,” I grumbled.
“I meant with you and Angie, yo.”
“We broke up. She hates me now.”
“Nice job, my friend. You are such a loser, Tucker. How could you let a girl like Angelina go?”
Why was I even having this conversation? I didn’t want to be called a loser my first day back.
“It didn’t work out,” I muttered, annoyed.
“Sucks for you, man,” Cory said before moving to the other table where my friends Anthony and Brian were sitting.
Cory’s right though. This did suck. I looked over at Paige one more time and without a doubt, she was glancing over at me. She swung her head around and continued talking with her friends. Wow. Even she thought I was a loser.
I was actually sort of freaked out when I saw Tucker come into my homeroom. I didn’t know why though. We had been in the same homeroom since I was new, but seeing him made my heart pound so fast I thought it would burst. I looked back at my friends, Kim, Megan, and Johanna and started talking really fast, so he wouldn’t notice that I was staring at him.
“So how was your summer?” Megan asked, adjusting her ponytail and relaxing in her chair.
“Same old, same old,” Kim groaned. “Sleep, eat, pool, repeat.”
“I went to China this summer!” Johanna said.
“Yeah,” I jumped in. “We all know you missed graduation for it.”
I gave her a stern look and then grinned before adding, “But seriously, you missed the best moment of our middle school lives!”
“Psht, whatever,” Johanna said, waving her hand as if it wasn’t a big deal. “I had more fun in China than boring here.”
“Sure you did,” Megan interjected. “What about you, Paige?”
“Camp, four days off, camp, and then shopping sprees for high school,” I answered simply. It was the same routine most years.
“I went to camp, too,” Megan concluded. “It was at Rutgers for a month, and I did all this science-y and artsy stuff.”
“Oh, Megan, of course you did,” Johanna said, rolling her eyes.
“What did I do?” Megan asked innocently.
“You had to go and be all goody-two shoes and study over the summer. Did you do anything on the Summer Epic To-Do List we made before I left for China?”
“Yes, I did, in fact,” Megan, continued. “I went to the pool for an entire week and got dreadful tan lines.”
We all laughed again. In the midst of the laughter, I glanced over my shoulder at Tucker. He looked over at me after making a frustrated face. I quickly swung my head back around to our conversation, feeling shy and kind of embarrassed, which was weird for me. Normally, I wasn’t shy around guys.
We talked a little while longer about random things until the bell rang, dismissing us to first period. I had Biology. Yippee.
Thankfully, Christina was in Bio with me and we sat together to be first quarter lab partners. I didn’t really pay that much attention because all I could think about was Tucker and the few glances we’d shared so far in the day. Gosh, I was way too tired. Me and Josh had broken up not even a month ago. Even though I saw it coming for a long time, it still hurt. Besides, Tucker and me would never work out. He was a popular jock, and I was a quirky girl who loved Broadway musicals. What if everyone hated me if Tucker liked me? Then, where would I be?
Gosh. Why was I even bothering with all these thoughts this early in the morning? Okay. Let’s focus on what Ms. Moore’s saying. Evolution. Okay. Zone out again.
During lunch, Christina went off to sit with her eleventh-grade boyfriend, Nate, leaving me with Johanna, Kim, Megan, Alaiya, Veronica, and Robyn. They were all having different conversations at once, and I was still tired so I just sat and looked around the cafeteria. I saw the Popular table, the Ghetto table, the Pokémon Geek table, the Theatre table, and of course us. There were the other grades in the cafeteria too since we all ate lunch at the same time. I saw Christina with Nate. She was sitting on his lap, talking with his other friends. I remembered she’d first met him at our Eighth Grade Model United Nations conference last year. She, having a thing for guys with blond hair and blue eyes, of course had fallen “in like” with him, as she’d called it. Apparently, he’d broken up with his girlfriend because of Christina. They’d started dating over the summer.
“Two and a half months,” she’d told me before the late bell rang while we were in Bio.
I wasn’t really jealous of her. But I was still reminded of Josh every time I saw a cute couple. And then I’d wonder about Tucker. And then I’d be too tired to even care. How many more classes do I have to endure before 2:50?
The end of the day came finally, and I practically ran out of school. Since it was the first day, my mom—I called her ‘Ema’—offered to pick me up. She worked as a Spanish teacher in Edison, which was a good thing for me when I needed help with Spanish, especially since I was in the higher class. I hopped in the car and shut the door before pushing my backpack off my lap onto the floor.
“So how was your first day?” she asked, turning the radio down.
“Fine. You have homework,” I said.
“Of course I do. Forms, forms, forms.”
We were listening to “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5 when we pulled up beside the house. I lugged my heavy backpack out of the car, almost falling over before laughing really hard. I fell on the grass anyway, and I couldn’t stop laughing. When Ema looked over at me like I was insane, I only laughed harder. I was rolling around until I opened my eyes for a split second and I saw Tucker walking down the sidewalk across from our street with a Quick Chek smoothie in his hand. I quickly bolted up and tried to hide myself as I ran inside. I knew my mother thought I had completely lost my mind. Well, I was a freshman girl and life was going to get crazier.
I was finishing up some extra homework and organizing my folders with my class curriculum papers. So far, Biology would probably be my least favorite subject this year. From what I skimmed at least. Ema called me to the kitchen for dinner.
“What are we eating?” I asked as I scooted myself on a stool.
“Leftovers from Jerusalem Pizza. Do you want some challah bread?” Dad asked.
“Sure,” I answered and took a chunk of the golden, fluffy bread.
Christina always raved to me about how amazing challah bread was. I ate challah almost every day, so I guessed it wasn’t that big a treat when we bought it.
I finished my dinner and sat with my dad to watch TV for a little bit before my karate class.
“Do you have all of your stuff organized for school tomorrow?” Dad asked as we flipped through channels.
“Shoot, I forgot Ema’s forms,” I said, flinging myself from the couch to their bedroom where she was folding the laundry.
“Ema, did you sign all of my papers?” I asked.
“Sure, here, Paige,” she said, handing me the thick packets, permission slips, curricular briefs, and safety forms. “They aren’t messing around in these schools, huh?”
“You bet,” I answered. “Thank you, Ema.”
“It’s no problem. Make sure you’re ready for karate by seven,” she said, returning to the laundry.
I went to my room and shoved everything in my backpack and shuffled around, checking my Facebook, looking through my closet for my outfit for tomorrow, and thinking about Tucker. As I scrolled through his Facebook page, wishing he would accept my Friend Request. He was one of the few popular kids who’d ignored my request. I sighed and stared at his stupid profile picture. It was taken underwater probably at a community pool and you could barely see his face.
“Paige!” my dad called, and I quickly exited Tucker’s Facebook page.
“Yeah?” I called back.
“It’s time to go! Are you ready?”
Oops, I guessed I’d gotten sidetracked. I quickly put on my uniform and grabbed my bag. “I’m coming!”
I put on my flip flops and went back in to the kitchen to get a bottle of water.
“C’mon, let’s go,” I said.
Ema followed us out to the car and we all got in. On to karate. It felt awesome being a black belt.
My first lunch as a freshman was probably the worst in my entire life. Not only did my friends exclude me from our usual lunch table, Angelina had walked into the cafeteria unexpectedly and confronted me.
“I see you’re eating alone,” she’d commented, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Why are you even here?” I’d mumbled.
“I told Ms. Ying that I needed to use the bathroom,” she’d said, holding up her hall pass.
I’d forgotten that Angelina had orchestra during this period and lucky for me, the room where the middle school kids practiced was in the high school.
“So what do you want?” I’d asked.
“Well since you broke up with me through a text message, I thought I’d do it person since you’re obviously not mature enough to handle it,” she’d said.
She’d leaned down and whispered in my ear:
“I hate you.”
Then, she’d kissed me and walked right out of the cafeteria. I’d looked over at my friends’ table. They were all laughing.
Frustrated after school, I walked home alone and went over to Quick Chek for a smoothie even though I lived on the complete opposite side of town; I just needed to get away from everything for a couple of minutes. As I paid for my smoothie, I really thought that this year was going to suck. Besides the fact that my friends were ignoring me now, Angelina would make sure I felt as guilty as possible, and I knew I liked Paige. Why were things all of sudden turning out like this? I had everything going for me last year: girlfriend, popularity, and whatever I wanted. Now that I was a freshman, everything changed. Huh. Talk about tables turning.
Anyways, I left with my smoothie and walked another twenty minutes home. When I walked through the front door, my mom was washing dishes.
“How was school, Tucker?” she asked, not turning around.
“Great,” I lied, throwing my bag on the table.
I took a sip of my smoothie as I sat down. My mom dried her hands on the towel hanging on the stove and leaned on the counter.
“So, what’s the deal? Forms? A security system?” she asked.
I didn’t know why my mom insisted on trying to be funny. Most of the time, her jokes were awful.
“Uh, yeah, forms for my classes,” I said, rubbing my neck.
“I’m just glad I don’t have to do this twice now that your brother’s in college,” she said, walking out of the kitchen into the living room.
Oh, yeah. That’s right. My brother, Ian was in college now. He’d been accepted into Princeton—I still had no clue how—and he’d moved up to the campus this past summer. It was more quiet around the house without him. He would always bring home some girlfriend, throw some lame party, or offer to take me for ice cream at Dairy Deluxe when I was younger. Our four-year age gap never really bothered me before. My brother was like my role model. Sort of. But it would be strange not having him around for awhile.
I finished the rest of my smoothie before heading upstairs to my bedroom. I put on some loud music and logged on to Facebook on my laptop. I looked up Paige’s Facebook. I thought about accepting her Friend Request. Nah.
During dinner, my dad and mom asked me about high school.
“So, son, I’m sure you like high school,” Dad said.
“Sure,” I mumbled, staring at my vegetables.
“You like your teachers, right?” Mom asked, trying too hard to be interested.
“Yeah, they’re okay . . .,” I said and then took a large bite of vegetables and chewed for a long time.
I killed about a minute of questions, before deciding that I needed to get out of the house. Excuse. Excuse. I needed an excuse desperately. School supplies? No, Mom had extra from Ian’s senior year. Groceries. I guessed that would have to work. We were out of milk and sandwich bread. And Dad would appreciate it since he hated grocery shopping.
“Um, I’m full,” I started. “Mom, would you like me to go to the grocery store and get some milk?”
“Oh, my! Look at how our baby’s growing up!” Mom said. “Of course, honey! I have a list on the fridge.”
“Good,” Dad said, pushing away from the table. He didn’t like Mom’s cooking either. “Chips would be nice, too.”
“Niall,” Mom nagged. “You don’t need chips.”
She got up, gave him the evil eye, and then hugged me.
“I’ll be back in fifteen minutes,” I said, grabbing my bike helmet.
“Be safe!” she called just as I slammed the door.
“Whatever,” I grumbled when I was outside.
Stop & Shop was about five minutes from my house; I went there first. If I was escaping the “how was your first day of high school” torture, I might as well pick up the groceries I was using as an excuse. I picked up a red cart when I walked in and headed toward the dairy section. Milk. Check. What else did Mom have on this list?
Oops. Mom didn’t mention the last one. Shoot. What was I going to do now? I got all the other items on the list first and then started panicking. That was when I saw that Christina chick came in with her little brother. I didn’t really want to ask her for a favor. Especially one like this. And especially since she was best friends with Paige. But I didn’t really have any other choice.
“Uh, hey,” I said when I approached her.
She swung around to look at me, her long hair nearly smacking me in the face.
“Um, are you talking to me?” she asked, raising her eyebrow and giving me a smile that suggested I was a pathetic loser.
I deserved it. She used to like me in sixth grade, but I thought she was annoying and obsessed, so I ignored her and was really rude to her. Now she was prettier and more mature and had a boyfriend.
“Well yeah . . . uh, can you do me an awkward favor . . .?” I asked, hoping I didn’t look like a tomato.
“How awkward?” she said, crossing her arms over her chest.
I pointed to the last item on my list.
“Wow, that’s really sad, dude,” she said. She rolled her eyes. “So, you want me to buy them for you?”
“Uh . . . yeah.”
“Fine,” she answered, which surprised me.
She took her brother and walked down the feminine products aisle like she didn’t have a care in the world. I watched as she picked up a box and shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly and walked back to me.
“Here’s the money,” I said, reaching in my pocket.
“Uh, you think I came here just to save you? I need to pick up a few things, too,” she said, walking away towards the fresh produce section.
I followed her like a lost dog. She took a few bags of salad off the shelf and some feta cheese. Oh yeah, she’s Greek. Her brother begged her to get him some snacks, so she sighed and took him down the snack aisle.
“Uh, are you following me?” she said, suddenly turning around to face me.
“Well, um . . . uh . . .,” I stuttered.
“It’s fine,” she said. “I’m used to all the attention.”
Again, she swung her hair and walked away. I decided to wait by the checkout lines with the magazines. Finally, Christina came over and headed to the “12 Items or Less” checkout and started putting the items on the conveyor belt. I went to the same line and waited for her to pay the cashier before placing all my items down. When I was done, I walked out of Stop & Shop with her and her little brother, who was asking for the bag with the snacks.
“Here’s your pads,” she laughed, handing them to me.
“Hey, thanks, uh, Christina. I owe you big,” I said.
“Yeah, you do,” she said, but then she stopped and turned around. “I have an idea.”
I practically choked. What if she wanted to embarrass me because I had been a jerk to her? But I couldn’t say no. She did do that for me, even though I never did anything for her.
“What is it?” I asked nervously.
“Go out with Paige Cohen,” she said.
Hopefully, my eyes didn’t bog out of my head. “Um . . . okay?”
“You’re welcome,” she replied and walked off with her little brother.
What had I gotten myself into?
I got back home, sweaty and completely exhausted. I hopped in the shower and let the hot water soothe my sore muscles. Scrubbing my short hair with shampoo, my only thought was going to bed. I needed to sleep.
When I got out of the shower, I wrapped myself in a towel and brushed my teeth. Finally, at 10:30, I was in bed in my favorite pajamas. Strangely, the last thought I had before I fell asleep was Tucker.
My alarm clock went off at six-fifteen the next morning, and I forced myself out of bed. I got dressed in my favorite jean Capri’s and purple T-shirt then washed my face in the bathroom. I searched in my make-up bag for my foundation and mascara. After I was finished making myself up, I ate breakfast quickly. Ema and Dad were up already because they were both teachers and had a daily commute.
“Good morning, Paige,” Ema said. “Second day as a freshwoman!”
I laughed and nodded ‘yes.’ For some reason, I felt extra happy today. Maybe it was the weather. Maybe it just felt good to be back in school. No, it was definitely the weather. It wasn’t supposed to go over seventy degrees today, and the meteorologist said low humidity. Perfect. I decided I could straighten my hair since I still had time left.
Ten minutes and lots of hairspray later, my bobbed hair was sleek and shiny. Some of my foundation melted from sweating, so I reapplied it to my forehead and finished with powder.
“Paige! Paige!” Ema called. “Your friend is here!”
“I’ll be done in a sec,” I called back, fixing my bangs slightly.
I came out of the bathroom and took my big, green bag and lunch box before heading outside to greet my walking buddy, Stevie.
“Hey, Stevie,” I said when I got outside.
“Hi! Oh, my gosh. I can’t believe we’re freaking freshmen now,” she answered really excitedly.
“Tell me about it,” I laughed and we started the long route to school.
On the way over, we talked about summer, school, our classes, and just about everything two girly fourteen-year-olds could think of at seven-thirty in the morning. When we finally got to school, all of our other friends were hanging out at the front entrance, chattering and giggling. I noticed Tucker standing over in the corner listening to his iPod, away from his annoying friends. Quickly, I sucked in my stomach and tried to look as cute as possible just in case he looked up at me. He most likely wouldn’t, but you know. Just in case.
Christina gave me a hug and then we started talking about our classes.
“Ew, I know bio sounds like the worst!” she agreed with me after I complained about the curriculum.
“So what’s your favorite class anyway?” I asked, shifting my bag over my shoulder.
“Probably Photography,” she answered. “It seems like a lot of fun. Yours?”
“You mean it seems like a lot of fun because Nate’s in your class,” I laughed. “Mine is Spanish.” It wasn’t just because my mom was a Spanish teacher. Our teacher was funny, and I loved the language.
“Well, don’t judge me. He is my boyfriend after all. And the class does seem interesting. Anyways, that’s cool and I’m so glad we’re in the same class for Spanish.”
“I know, right? Oops, I think homeroom is about to start,” I said, looking down at my watch.
We all filed into homeroom, and I sat with my friends as usual. Johanna was busy complaining about Mr. Cooper’s Geometry class while Megan insisted that he was a great teacher.
“Whatever,” Johanna said. “I hate geometry.”
“Suit yourself,” Megan said, crossing her arms over her chest.
I watched as Tucker came in, annoyed. He looked over at me, and I swore for a moment, he stopped and almost considered coming over and talking to me. But then he slumped into a chair at a table in the front of the room where the Losers sat.
“Hellooooo, earth to Paige?” Johanna said, sitting up and leaning across the table.
“Uh, yeah?” I turned around and her face was right in front of mine, so I jumped.
“Whoa there. Why are you so squirrel-y?” she said.
The bell rang, so I didn’t bother answering. I just hopped up and speed walked out of the classroom. Christina was my only friend who knew about Tucker. Thank goodness I had first block with her. I needed to sort some things out.
“So you like Tucker?” Christina asked me in bio.
“Shhh, not so loud! And I’m not sure yet,” I whispered harshly as Cory and Brian entered the room.
“Sorry . . . well, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised sooner or later,” she said, as if she knew more than she was revealing.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m not saying. You’ll find out eventually,” she said and gave me a wink.
Oh, my gosh. What if Tucker really was going to talk to me this morning? Did Christina tell him I liked him? No, she wouldn’t do that . . . would she?
My thoughts were interrupted when Mrs. Moore said we would take a pop quiz to see what we remembered from last year’s science class. The entire room groaned—okay I’ll admit it: I groaned, too. She started passing out one-sided papers and then gave us twenty minutes to answer multiple-choice questions about evolution, astronomy, and other things I didn’t want to worry about. That made me really tired for some reason, like this was just the beginning of another stressful year all over again.
Once we were all finished, Mrs. Moore passed out textbooks. More weight in our backpacks. Yay for shoulder pains!
“Now class, I want you to skim through Chapter One for homework tonight, so you will get an idea of what we will be learning about this quarter,” she said, writing on the board.
“Ugh, so boring,” Christina mumbled, just loud enough for me to hear.
I giggled slightly and Mrs. Moore turned around.
“Miss Cohen, is there something you would like to share with the class?” she asked.
Suddenly, I felt myself turn bright red as if everyone’s eyes were boring into the back of my head at once.
“Um, no, Mrs. Moore. I was just saying that it sounded interesting.”
“I’m glad you find biology interesting,” she replied sarcastically and turned back around to finish writing the lesson.
“Sorry,” Christina whispered.
“It’s okay,” I said to myself.
Thank goodness Tucker wasn’t in this class with me. Because I probably would have died on the spot. Maybe he felt the same since his friends ditched him. Was it bad that I felt sorry for him? No, no, I didn’t like him. I wasn’t going to feel sorry for him. It’s not like he ever paid attention to me or talked to me. He wouldn’t even be my friend on Facebook. Forget what Christina said. He didn’t like me. And he never would.
I really liked Paige. And as the day wore on, she seemed even more beautiful. Even more funny. But how was I going to ask her out when I was a complete and total loser? Plus, Christina made me promise to do this. It wasn’t that I was afraid of Paige. I was afraid of rejection. How lame would it be if she, someone who wasn’t even an “Angelina,” turned me down? If that happened, I might as well buy Pokémon cards and join Larry and his Algebra II Honors buddies.
When I was in fourth period French, just before lunch, I counted all of the times I could approach Paige without any . . . important people around. In the hallway, if by some chance we happened to walk out of class at the same time for a drink of water. That was a one in ten chance, so I crossed that off my list. Maybe in gym if I caught her while everyone ran out to the field. No, that was unlikely, too. By the time the bell for lunch rang, I had no ideas and I’d missed an entire lesson on irregular verbs.
In lunch, I sat alone on the wall by the napkins with the other outcasts. Again. If Ian and I were three years apart instead of four, maybe he would have let me sit with him. Then, I wouldn’t feel so crappy all the time. Christina came over to grab a napkin.
“Make a move, dude,” she told me as she walked back to her table, flaunting her curves. Sometimes, I wondered if she was trying to make me jealous. I hated to admit it, but I was a little. Like 0.000000001% jealous.
Anyway, Paige and I could never talk alone. No time. No place. No way. How the hell was I supposed to “make a move” if she was always on the run? We only had gym together. And she always left right after school, unless she needed help with Spanish . . . wait a minute. That could actually work.
At the very end of the day, I saw Christina—thankfully alone—walking towards the middle school. Probably for her little brother. I looked around to check none of my friends were hanging out. Then, I ran up to her.
“Uh, Christina . . .?” I said.
She turned around. “You again?”
“Well, um, I was wondering if I could have your number because—”
“Whoa, whoa. I thought you liked Paige, dude. I hope you know that I’m happily taken,” she cut me off, putting her hands on her hips.
“No, you didn’t let me finish. I need your number so you can text me on the days Paige goes to extra help for Spanish. That way, I can, uh, ask . . . her out.”
“Um, I’m flattered, but I don’t think you’ll need my number. Paige normally goes for help on Tuesdays, which is her free day. Every other day, she’s busy.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“No problem,” she replied and then walked away.
What was today? I checked my phone. Friday. I needed to ask Paige out in four days. That wasn’t even enough time to figure out what the hell I was getting myself into. But I had no other choice. Besides, I liked Paige. How bad could it be?
The whole weekend, I was a nervous wreck. I barely concentrated on my homework, and the only thing that calmed me down was reruns of my favorite TV show, The Office. My mom was on my case, bothering me every other minute about why I was acting strangely. I lied saying I had tests next week for my honors classes.
“This early?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said, trying to ignore her.
“Well, maybe you should study instead of watching TV,” she suggested kindly.
Sometimes, I wondered why my mom couldn’t take a hint. It was obviously a bad time to be interrogating me. Especially since I was stressed about my “test” on Tuesday. She left after ten minutes of standing behind the couch with her yellow cleaning gloves. I made her worry a lot. But right now, I just needed space.
“Tucker!” my mom called at some point later on. “Phone!”
It was a Sunday afternoon, and since I was the new school outcast, I didn’t expect any phone calls.
“Hello?” I said into the receiver when I picked up the line.
“Just a heads up,” Christina said. “Paige texted me saying she isn’t going for help on Tuesday.”
Shoot. “Uh, so is she going next Tuesday?” I had wasted this entire weekend pointlessly worrying about asking Paige out and she wasn’t even going to be there. Well, at least Christina called. That was decent.
“Maybe, but since she’s not going for extra help, she’s going to be at the library this Tuesday. She’ll only be there until four, so if you want to ask her out, I’d do it right after school,” she said.
“Okay, um, I guess that will work . . .,” I trailed.
“And don’t worry, Tucker. There won’t be any “important” people there,” she responded and then click. The call ended.
I could have sworn I heard the quotation marks around “important.” Tuesday was still part of the deal apparently. I’d never been to the public library for “fun.” It was normally to slink past history books and reading assignments in middle school and then get out of there as soon as possible. Now, I was going to ask someone out. Hopefully, I wouldn’t sound like an idiot.
Tuesday morning, I showered and brushed my teeth. I put on my favorite skinny jeans and Nike shirt. I realized how desperate I was when I went into my parents’ bathroom and took Dad’s cologne. She was just a girl. Except, she wasn’t just any girl. She was Paige. And Paige intimidated me more than any popular girl I’d ever dated. That was the joke.
“Have a great day,” my mom said as I was heading out the door with my backpack.
“Thanks, you too,” I said quickly before getting outside.
To keep my mind off of school, I normally listened to my iPod. It woke me up and calmed me down, especially those days when I was pissed off. Lately, music was my only company.
When I finally arrived at the building, all of my friends saw me and immediately closed off their circle. It wasn’t like I wanted to hang out with those dumbasses anyway. I lingered by the entrance, wishing the bell for homeroom would ring already. My eye caught Paige’s dark, short hair, and I suddenly wished things could go back to the way they used to be. This whole mess wouldn’t have happened if I’d just stayed with Angelina in the first place. That fake b**** with her fake blond hair and fake smile. I knew deep down I was a jerk about the popularity thing. Feelings didn’t matter to me. As soon as I’d lost all of my “friends,” I suddenly knew what it felt like to be ignored and pushed away. That’s how Christina felt; that’s how my best friend, Frankie felt when I ditched him in fourth grade to hang out with the “cool” kids.
The bell rang, and I slumped towards my locker and then homeroom, seeing that it only took a few minutes to understand what it felt like not be popular. You were automatically “less important.” Stupid. Not good enough. Why had I been blind for so long?
During a free reading period in English, I was skimming through a copy of Hamlet when Mr. Reed came up to me.
“Do you need help finding a book, Tucker?” he asked.
“Uh, well, I guess Hamlet is okay . . .,” I said, gesturing to the book.
“Tucker, I know you freshmen don’t read Shakespeare for fun,” he said.
“I don’t know what to read then.” I was kind of angry from this morning and wasn’t really in the mood for books.
“Could I make a suggestion?” he asked.
“Sure,” I grumbled and stepped away from the bookshelves.
“Ah, here’s what I was looking for . . .,” Mr. Reed said after a few minutes. “How about The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky?”
I looked at the cover. It was a blank, bright green background with a tiny picture of some guy’s feet in black loafers in the top right corner.
“What’s it about?” I asked.
“You’ll have to read it to find out,” he said. “I think you’ll enjoy the book very much.”
I was really starting to hate this: “find out for yourself” bull. Was it really too hard to just tell someone what you meant?
Gym was kind of reckless. Some idiot said we should play dodge ball to break ice since the teachers were too lazy to care what we did. So I was put on the team with all the non-athletic people who normally sat on the bleachers. Paige was on the other side, to my great disadvantage with all of my old buddies. By the time I had to go to French, I had bruises all over my body and sore bones. I considered going to the nurse, but I didn’t want to seem like a wuss. So I sucked it up, barely walked into class, and only hoped Paige wouldn’t notice the giant blue-purple circle on my arm.
When eighth period—study hall for me—swung around, all I wanted to do was take a long nap. We were in the library today, so I could’ve slept. But then I remembered that I was going to ask Paige out. In less than an hour. Forget about homework. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on that . . .
“You are allowed to work quietly on schoolwork or reading, but absolutely no sleeping or texting,” Mrs. Jay, the teacher in charge of us said.
I didn’t want to start my dumb geometry homework, so I shuffled through the things in my backpack until I found the book Mr. Reed had given me earlier. I put my bag on the floor and opened to page one. When the bell rang, I was put back in reality. Letters written by a guy named Charlie who was a freshman in high school. And he was an outcast . . . I wondered if Mr. Reed had read my mind.
I walked over to the library as soon as school ended. My heart pounded as I stepped in, the heavy door the only barrier between me and the future. When I walked inside, people were walking around, looking for books, talking. There were study groups at all the tables. I took a seat on the couch with my backpack. Where was Paige?
“Hey, Christina. I can’t go to the library today,” I said into my cell phone’s receiver.
“Aw, why?” she asked.
“I forgot I had a doctor’s appointment today, sorry,” I answered.
“It’s fine,” she said. “I’ll do homework with Nate instead.”
“Well, you have fun,” I laughed.
“Thank you!” she said. “See you tomorrow!”
“Bye and tell Nate I said ‘hi,’” I said with a smile.
“You bet. Bye-bye.”
I walked home, not in the mood for homework or my physical at three-thirty. My teachers piled on the homework since tomorrow was “Cram Day” Wednesday: smack in the middle of the week.
When I got home, Ema was there. I dropped my backpack in my room and told her I was ready to go.
“Do you want to grab something to eat?” she asked, opening a granola bar.
“No, it will throw off my weight,” I said. “Besides, we’re eating a big dinner tonight.” (My brother had invited us to his house for dinner with his fiancée.)
“That’s right. Okay then, let’s go.”
We got in the car and drove to the physician’s office about ten minutes out of Highland Park. I groaned when we stepped into the waiting room when I saw how many people were there. We would be here for a long time. Ema handed me a copy of Teen Vogue and interested herself in Woman’s Day. As I skimmed articles about fashion, makeup, and hair, I sort of daydreamed about Tucker. I was thinking about his crystal blue eyes when the nurse called my name.
“Miss Paige Cohen?” she said.
“Do you want me to come in with you?” Ema asked.
“No, no, I can handle it,” I answered, getting up and handing her my cell phone.
Before I headed in, I turned around to look at Ema. “And please don’t go through my text messages.”
She laughed, which startled some of the other sick patients and winked at me. Ema was really cool like that.
“You are very healthy, Miss Cohen,” the physician said, looking over my charts as I sat on the table with the plastic wrap covered over it.
“Thank you,” I said, sitting up straight.
“So you do karate?” Dr. Marshall asked.
“Yes, I’m an official black belt this year,” I answered proudly.
“That is quite fabulous,” she said with a great smile. “All right, Paige. You won’t be due for another year or so for your next check-up. Have a lovely day.”
I walked back to the waiting room and Ema talked with the receptionist until we could finally leave. The car turned on, displaying the time: 4:03 PM. On the way home, I thought about Tucker. It made me happy. If only he knew how much I liked him.
In my pajama bottoms and karate T-shirt, I declared the night. I turned off my cell phone and laptop, my textbooks sitting on my desk with unfinished homework inside of them. I’d finish my geometry problems and bio worksheet in study hall tomorrow.
At about three in the morning, I woke up suddenly. I had dreamt about Tucker. I had been crying and he had come up to me. First, he’d wiped the tears from my face away with his gentle thumb. Then, he had whispered something inaudible in my ear. He’d kissed my cheek before disappearing. And alas the pleasant part of the dream ended. All of the popular girls had gathered around me and had started to make fun of and scream at me. I’d started crying again. But Tucker hadn’t been there to wipe away the tears.
My heart was pounding fast as I sat up in bed. I went to the bathroom and splashed cold water in my face. I checked my reflection and it was the same as always: short dark brown hair, lightly-colored freckles dotted across my nose, and thin, rosy lips. Even though it had only been a dream, I felt very self-conscientious. I rubbed my eyes and decided I shouldn’t be stressing myself out this early in the morning. I had to get up for school in about three hours.
I crawled back in bed and pulled the covers up to my chin. Somehow I’d managed to fall asleep again. I needed to stop thinking about Tucker so much or else I’d become an insomniac.
Our school had a rotation schedule, so I had study hall first thing after homeroom on Wednesday. Most days we stayed in the library because lots of kids needed the computers and extra textbooks to finish their homework. I had completed about half of my geometry problems last night, but didn’t feel like finishing since I had been exhausted from my brother’s engagement party. I opened up my textbook and took out the lined paper I’d stuck inside. Problem Seven:
Create an example equation that is a counterexample of the following statement: The sum 3n+1, where n is a natural number, is always an odd number.
I sat for a long time just staring at the problem. Ugh. I hated math. After I’d read the problem about a million times, I checked the back of the textbook for the answer. I scribbled down the answer, making a mental note to pay closer attention in class.
While I was working on the last geometry problem, the fire alarm went off and everyone in the library had to exit the building. Alaiya had study hall with me, so I talked quietly with her as we went outside and moved away from the school. The teachers started calling attendance.
“So are you auditioning for the spring musical?” Alaiya asked, putting on her hoodie. It was getting a little cooler lately.
“I want to. I’m just not sure that I’ll have the time.”
“Aw, you’d be awesome. You have a great voice. And I heard that Mr. Russell is going to do Peter Pan this year.”
Actually, Peter Pan was my second favorite Broadway musical. I would have preferred Mary Poppins, but Mr. Russell was pretty stubborn when it came to choosing musicals for the school.
“That sounds amazing . . . are they going to have a girl or a boy play Peter?” I asked.
“Not sure. But probably girl since most of the guys stink at singing and the harnesses for the flying scenes aren’t that comfortable. Or at least that’s what I heard.”
“Either way, we all know that Jack Woods cannot audition for Peter.”
We both cracked up until the teachers told us to shush. Jack Woods was the worst singer in our grade and we only knew that because he always sang the loudest and most off-key during chorus performances. It still boggled our minds how the chorus director hadn’t kicked him out.
Some idiot must have pulled the fire alarm as a “back-to-school” prank because we went in after about five minutes. It was ten minutes till next period, so I asked Alaiya if I could copy her biology worksheet, knowing that I would not be able to finish in time.
“Sure,” she said and gave me the paper.
I copied all her answers as quickly as possible and returned the worksheet just as the dismissal bell buzzed.
“Thank you so much,” I told her as we walked back to the main high school building.
“It’s no biggie.” She had history next, and I had gym so we went in separate directions.
I walked into the locker room and opened my backpack, searching for my gym clothes. I changed and tossed my bag on the ground before heading out to the gym and taking a seat on the floor with my friends. We chatted about whatever was on our minds before our gym teachers sent us outside with a bag of soccer balls, Frisbee discs, and footballs. We could basically do whatever we wanted, typical of gym class. My friends decided on Frisbee, since the jocks always hogged the soccer balls and no one like football anyway.
Veronica grabbed a neon orange Frisbee and walked over to a small section of the field where we passed it back and forth. How fun. Normally, I was the only one who actually tried to catch the Frisbee, but I wasn’t in such a good mood. I didn’t really have a reason, but then again Wednesdays were my least favorite day of the week, and I always managed to have the most homework and worst classes. Whatever. When is lunch . . .?
“Paige, watch out!” I heard Kim yell.
I turned my head to see what she was talking about and the next thing I knew, a random soccer ball had smacked me right in the head, and I blacked out.
When I woke up again, I was in the nurse’s office. Goody. I hoped they hadn’t called Ema so she wouldn’t flip out. The nurse, Mrs. Valentine came in with a bag of ice. She looked like a nurse from one of those insane asylums, complete with huge glasses and chubby hands that were cold and clammy when she checked your temperature.
“Um, so what happened?” I asked her, since I couldn’t remember.
“A soccer ball, dear. You weren’t paying attention, and I can only suppose that it hit you in the head,” she said, handing me the ice.
“Oh, god . . . I don’t have a black eye, do I?” I said frantically. That would look absolutely horrible and everyone would think I had gotten into a fight.
“No, just a bruise on your forehead. Nothing makeup can’t fix, sweetheart,” she said. “Do you have a headache?”
I realized that my head did ache an awful lot. It felt like I’d been hit in the head with a boulder.
“Yeah . . . a lot,” I answered and laid back down on the couch.
“Then I’ll call your parents to come pick you up. I would suggest lots of rest and maybe aspirin to ease the pain,” Mrs. Valentine said, going back towards her office.
“Please don’t scare my mother,” I called to her.
“It’s my job,” she laughed.
I didn’t really have any other choice, so I just waited until Mrs. Valentine came back and told me my dad was coming to pick me up. He must have had a prep period, otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to come.
“Do you want some water?” she asked.
“Yes, please,” I said, with my eyes closed.
Essentially, the soccer ball hitting my head was a good thing. I could take a break from all the drama and craziness of being a freshman. Whoever kicked that soccer ball towards me would be my new hero once I got back to school.
On the car ride home, Dad asked me what happened.
“During gym, I wasn’t paying attention and someone threw the soccer ball in my direction. It hit me in the head, and I blacked out,” I answered as honestly as possible.
“Who kicked the soccer ball?”
“I don’t know. Probably a dumb jock,” I growled and rubbed my forehead and then winced remembering the bruise.
“Well when you find out who it was, I’m calling their parents.”
“No, no, Dad, don’t make a big deal out of it . . . it was clearly a mistake.”
“It doesn’t matter if it was a mistake or not. You could have been seriously injured,” he said firmly.
“Well I wasn’t, so what’s done is done. He probably didn’t mean to anyway. Sometimes the ball doesn’t go in the direction you want it to go.”
“I still want you to tell me who it was though if you find out. I’ll make sure there is a file. You know your brother’s a lawyer. He can help you win any case . . .,”
“Dad, please don’t get ahead of yourself,” I said with a tired smile.
“Just saying,” he said.
We pulled up to our house and it looked so comfortable. I could use a five-hour nap. Dad told me to keep my cell phone on, just in case he or Ema called later on.
“Get some rest, Paige,” he said sweetly.
“I will, Daddy,” I said, kicking off my sneakers.
Dad left to go back to school, and I had the house completely to myself. Normally, I would take this as an opportunity to eat ice cream and watch television all day. But all I wanted to do was sleep until the school year was over.
I heard the front door shut probably hours later, and I woke up, feeling like I’d been drugged. I rolled over in my bed, feeling really warm.
“Paige!” Ema called.
She came to my room, and kneeled down to be at eye-level with me as I lay sprawled out on my mattress like a Raggedy Ann Doll.
“How are you feeling?” she asked, smoothing my hair.
“Better. Much better than earlier . . . what time is it?”
“That’s good. It’s around three-thirty. Do you want some tea or something hot to drink? Does your head still hurt? I have some aspirin, if you need it.”
“Ema, slow down . . . I’m fine. My headache is practically gone, but tea sounds good.”
“Okay, I’ll go make you some.”
I lay on my back again. I changed into my pajamas and went to the bathroom to wash my face. I had very dark under-eye circles. Oh well. They’d probably be gone by tomorrow. Besides, most high school students never slept at all. It wasn’t in style, apparently according to the teachers.
Ema came back with a mug of my favorite tea: chamomile with honey. I sat on the sofa downstairs, watching a Disney movie when my phone buzzed. It was most likely Christina, wondering where I was and what had happened. But when I flipped my cell open, it was an unknown number. I clicked “View Now,” and read what it said:
I’m so sorry.
My heart started beating rapidly. I responded with:
Who r u?
Fifteen minutes later: Tucker.
I’d waited for about half an hour at the library, watching people file in and out of the front doors, praying that Paige would be one of them. It wasn’t until Christina had come in with her boyfriend—some upperclassman—that I’d found out Paige had had a doctor’s appointment.
“Um, Nate, I need to talk to my um . . . friend, I guess, for a minute,” she’d said, rolling her eyes and then turning around to face me.
“I’ll be right back, baby,” he’d said. Why had I been so dumb about Christina? Karma really is a bitch.
“Look, buddy, I’m sorry but Paige called me last minute, saying she couldn’t go to the library today. Some doctor’s appointment,” Christina had said, popping one of her hips up.
“Okay then . . .,” I’d said, feeling stupid for not asking Paige out earlier. Would it really have hurt me that much if my friends knew about Paige?
“But I guess I have no other choice than to give you her number, since she can be pretty unpredictable.”
Suddenly, my stomach jumped, and I’d realized that this was my chance to finally ask Paige out without having to do it in person. I felt sort of guilty, but at least I wouldn’t be embarrassed if she’d say ‘no.’
“What is it?” I’d asked, fishing my phone out of my pocket.
“Promise not to blow up her phone?” Christina really did have a funny personality.
She’d smiled at me and then she’d given me Paige’s number. As I’d clicked “Save Contact” on my phone, Nate had come back from wherever he’d been and put his arm around Christina.
“Ready, babe?” he’d said.
She’d giggled, and he’d kissed her on the forehead. “Uh, bye, Tucker. Good luck.” Then, she was gone.
When I’d gotten home, the first thing I did was turn on my computer and log directly into Facebook. I hesitated for a moment before clicking “Accept” to Paige’s Friend Request. Well, here goes nothing . . .
The next day, I woke up feeling very happy. I got dressed in my favorite jeans and T-shirt. I entered the kitchen as I put on my sweatshirt. The cabinet contained my favorite cereal: Captain Crunch, and I poured myself a bowl before sitting down. Dad came in, straightening his tie.
“You’re up early,” he said.
“It’s not that early . . .,” I said, taking another bite of Captain Crunch.
“Uh, Tucker, have you checked your clock? It’s only six-thirty in the morning.”
I didn’t slow down eating. My mission today was to ask Paige out. And nothing was going to stop me.
“Son, don’t eat so fast. You’re going to choke,” Dad said, giving me a weird look.
Still not listening, I was done with my breakfast in two minutes flat. I tossed my bowl in the sink and went back to my bedroom, turning on my laptop and putting my earphones on. My iPod started playing as I bit my under lip, entering my password. My screensaver of Star Wars popped up, and I quickly clicked on Bing, wishing my computer wouldn’t be so slow all the time.
“Tucker, what on earth are you doing?” Mom asked when she stopped in front of my doorway.
I glanced up at her briefly before signing onto Facebook. She was still wearing her robe and her short hair was standing in all different directions.
“Um, I forgot I had homework . . .,” I answered and minimized the window in case she decided to come in and look.
“Oh, okay . . ., next time you should do things in advance, honey.”
For who knew how long, I was glued to Paige’s Facebook page. I felt like a complete creeper, but I needed to know something about her. She had pictures of herself and this guy . . . I checked her relationship status, which read “Single,” to my great relief. That guy probably was her ex-boyfriend or something. I’d always known she was Jewish, but I didn’t know she went camp. I scrolled through almost all of her pictures when I looked back at my clock which blinked 7:30 in neon red. Shoot. I was going to be really late.
“Tucker don’t you think it’s time you—,” my mother began.
“Can’t talk. Gotta go,” I cut her off, snatching my backpack off the kitchen floor and heading out of the house.
I hopped on my bike and was on my way. Thank goodness we had homeroom first thing.
I stumbled into homeroom just as the late bell rang. Everyone got up and was on their way to first block, pushing past me. Paige looked over at me and then exited the room, and I felt really lucky. Then Cory and Anthony punched my shoulders and said:
“Aww, you’re late? I didn’t know your mommy needed to dress you still.”
“My mom doesn’t dress me . . .”
“By your clothes it sure does . . .”
And then they walked out of the room, laughing like the dumbasses they were.
“Well, Mr. Summers, I suggest you get on to class,” Mr. Garcia said to me.
“Present,” I mumbled as I headed to history.
When phys ed swung around, I felt extremely pissed off. Not only did homeroom stink, but I found out I’d gotten a stupid C- on my history quiz. Who cared about Medieval Times and the Crusades? They were all idiots anyway. I threw my bag in the boys’ locker room and waited for the gym teachers to take attendance. Finally, we got out to the field, so I picked up a soccer ball and practiced kicking it. Cory—was it just my luck he was in about all of my classes this year?—and three other guys, Mason, Jack, and Bobby came up to me as I was dribbling the ball on my knees.
“Look at that loser, all by himself . . .,” Mason started. I never liked Mason. But he was popular since he was the star soccer player and looked like those guys on steroids in magazines.
“Got an imaginary friend, Tucker?” Cory taunted. I wondered why we were ever even friends. He was always a jerk and he’d made fun of everyone who wasn’t “cool” or “popular” enough—the only two words that were in his vocabulary apparently.
“Cut it out, guys,” I snapped, trying to focus my mind on the ball.
“Ooh, what are you going to do about it?” Jack chuckled.
“What? You ain’t got an answer?” Bobby chimed in after I’d said nothing.
“Can you assholes just leave me alone?” I asked, dribbling the ball higher and higher.
“Aww, you think you’re cute, huh?” Cory said. “Today just might be your lucky day.” He formed his hand into a fist and cupped it into his palm.
“If you guys leave, I’m going to report to Coach Marley,” I said, dropping the ball to my feet and kicking it around.
“Big threat,” Bobby snickered.
That was when I completely lost all control, and I kicked the soccer ball so hard, I was sure it would go over the wire fencing and into the crowd of trees off the side of the field. Cory and his friends and me all watched the ball as it soured through the air. Then the worst possible thing happened: the soccer ball slammed Paige right in the head, which made her collapse to the ground. All of her friends screamed and gathered around her, calling for Coach Sal.
“Whoa, you just stepped in to some pretty hot lava,” Cory said and then him and Mason, Jack, and Bobby walked away.
I couldn’t believe I’d just hurt Paige. Literally a few hours ago, I was looking forward to asking her out, but I could have very easily sent her into a coma by what I did. What if she never woke up? What on earth would she do when she found out I’d kicked the ball? Would her family sue me? Why the hell did I just do that?
The whole rest of the day, I was nerve-racked and anxious. During lunch, Paige wasn’t at her usual table. Shoot. Shoot. Shoot. I hoped she was okay. If the impact of the ball was hard enough, she might not have made it. But . . . I couldn’t have kicked the ball that hard . . . could I have? Even if she did only go into a coma, what if I’d damaged some brain cells and she wouldn’t be able to function properly ever again? I obsessed over her until I was feeling suicidal.
“Hey, you,” Christina said, taking a seat beside me.
I looked over at her with wide eyes, my mind still gambling all the results of what my dumb anger management issues could have caused.
“Uh, now’s not a good time . . .,” I said.
“Tucker, what the hell happened? Did Paige reject you?” she asked.
“No! I didn’t even ask her yet,” I said, putting my face in my hands. “I did something really bad . . .”
“Well, what was it?”
“I kicked a soccer ball right in her face during gym today ’cuz Cory and his asshole friends were picking on me,” I admitted.
“Oh, my god. Is she okay?”
“I don’t know! And it’s all my fault if she’s not.” No, I wasn’t going to cry like I used to in sixth grade when I got knocked in the head with a basketball. All the girls thought it was cute, but I was a man now, and I needed to keep myself in order.
“All I heard was that she went home,” Christina said after a few minutes. “So she must be okay.”
That comforted me a little. Christina was right. If she’d gone home, then I couldn’t have hurt her that badly.
“Uh, thanks . . . Christina. Why are you talking to me anyway?”
“I felt kind of bad,” she said quietly.
“I appreciate it,” I answered.
“Well, I guess I should go back to my friends’ table. I hope all goes well, Tucker,” she said, standing up and smoothing out her shorts.
“Thank you again.”
She walked back, and I knew that the first thing I would do when I got home was apologize to Paige.
I typed the words very slowly on my cell phone’s keypad. It was half an hour later before I’d worked up enough courage to click the “Send” button. The message blinked back at me: I’m . . . so . . . sorry. I slipped my phone back in my pocket and lay on my mattress. In less than three minutes, I was surprised when I got a response:
Who r u?
Paige. She was okay. Thank goodness she was okay. But once I’d spent five minutes letting the fact that I hadn’t sent her into a coma sink in, I remembered I had to answer the question. Pacing my room, I had a mini debate with myself over whether I should tell her who I was. Would she be angry? Upset? She probably wouldn’t even forgive me for what I’d done.
Yet I found myself typing my name on my cell about fifteen minutes after I’d received the text message: Tucker. My name looked so strange when I stared at it for too long. Paige responded back quickly and our conversation went like this:
Um, do u have the wrong #?
No… I wanted 2 apologize 4 kicking that soccer ball in ur face. I didn’t mean 2.
It was u.
There was a long break before she wrote back:
Why do u have my #?
Do u want 2 know the truth?
I wanted 2 ask u out, so I asked Christina 4 ur #.
Wait, ur kidding, rite?
No…I really wanted 2.
I thought about this question. Why did I like Paige? She was funny and pretty. She was different; there wasn’t one single person in the entire world just like her. The first day I saw her, I thought she was a unique girl. Something about her sparkled. Even though I didn’t deserve her at all, I wanted her. I figured I shouldn’t lie, so I responded with:
Ur different. U aren’t like those blond clones. U can sing, ur smart, and ur beautiful on the inside.
I’d never talked to Paige the entire time I’d known her, and there I was sending her messages about my feelings.
I forgive u, she’d replied.
So will u go out with me?
An hour passed. I’d eaten dinner, watched cartoons, finished up some homework, and twiddled my thumbs, waiting for her response. What if I’d been too abrupt? She’d forgiven me, but did she still think I was a loser? It was ten at night, and I’d finally given up when my phone started ringing.
“Yeah. I’ll go out with you,” Paige said on the other line.
Then she hung up. I could hear the smile in her voice.
When I read his name on my phone, I thought I would pass out all over again. Tucker Summers sent me a text message. No, he must have had the wrong number. We didn’t even know each other. I meant, yeah, we’d known the other existed, but we’d never talked or anything. We played text message ping pong for two minutes, and I’d found out that he was the one who’d kicked the soccer ball. He hadn’t meant to hurt me. I was thankful that he’d admitted it to me. But then I started to wonder why and how he’d gotten my cell number. That expression “Expect the Unexpected” is really true because Tucker sent this to my phone:
I wanted 2 ask u out, so I asked Christina 4 ur #.
Wait a minute. Hold up. I’d known Tucker for more than two years, and now out of the blue, he wanted to ask me out? Me? That made absolutely no sense at all. He had always been popular and a jock and practically all of the girls in the school had crushes on him. Suddenly, all the pieces fit together in the puzzle. Tucker hadn’t been hanging out with his friends anymore. That’s why he’d sat in the front during homeroom and alone while we’d waited to go into school. I never really considered why he hadn’t been talking to Cory, Anthony, Brian, Mason, and all those other jocks. But I supposed that now Tucker wasn’t “popular” anymore, he’d wanted to ask me out. Christina had been right. I didn’t know why I constantly doubted her predictions.
Still, I didn’t quite believe it. What if it was a joke? He told me he’d really wanted to ask me out though. My heart was pumping blood so fast, I could hear it in my ears. Fine. I decided that I would ask him why he wanted to date me. Maybe then, I’d be able to tell if he was lying or not. Three minutes later, I flipped open my phone, and I received compliments that my parents always told me. I could sing. I was smart. I was beautiful. Somehow, it was different having a boy say those words to you. It was like the words had an entirely new meaning. Parents are supposed to tell little girls that they’re beautiful and smart. But when you hear it from a boy, you have to believe that everyone was telling you the truth.
I didn’t know what to say to him. Even when I’d had a boyfriend, he’d never told me any of these things. It was such a foreign feeling, like I was glowing or floating in mid-air. Tucker Summers liked me. Paige Zirin: Future Mary Poppins and karate world champion. I forgave him for kicking the soccer ball at me. Suddenly, I was a whole lot happier that I was a freshman. This cloud was taking me farther and farther away into Wonderland with Alice, Neverland with Peter, and the Land of Oz with Dorothy. I was Cinderella when she finally moved into the palace with her prince charming.
So will u go out with me? Tucker wrote back.
I wouldn’t reply right away. I called Christina immediately.
“You wouldn’t believe what just happened . . .,” I said after Christina answered with “hello.”
“Oh, my gosh, you’re okay! And what happened?” she said frantically.
“Okay, are you sitting down?”
“Hold on. Now I’m seated.”
“Tucker. Summers. Asked. Me. Out.”
“Really?” she screamed happily.
“Just now! I can’t believe it . . . should I say yes?”
“No, you should lie and say you’re dating Leo Howard. Of course say yes!”
We both laughed. “Okay, okay. I’ll say yes.”
“Good! And I have to tell you something, too,” she said.
“I told you so!”
“Ha-ha. Yeah, you were right,” I answered.
“No, I’m going to have fun: I told you so! I told you so! I told you so!”
“I get it, Christina. I get it,” I said with a smile. I still couldn’t believe it. But this wasn’t a dream. This was really happening.
“Paige! It’s time for dinner!” Ema called from upstairs.
“Uh, hey I have to go now,” I told Christina.
“Okay. Talk to you tomorrow!”
We said goodbye and then I hung up the phone.
“Well you seem awfully happy,” Ema said as I sat down.
“Uh yeah,” I answered, still lost in the happy clouds.
“Your father is making hot dogs for dinner. If you’re not feeling well tomorrow, then I’m going to take off from work and stay home with you, all right, honey?”
Snapping back to reality: “Uh, I think I’ll be fine tomorrow, Ema. It wasn’t like I went into a coma.”
“God forbid,” Ema said, coming over to give me a hug. “I’m glad you’re okay, Paige.”
“I love you, Ema,” I said, breathing in the fruity scent in her hair.
“I love you, too.”
After I’d read for a little bit, I surfed the Internet, going back and forth between YouTube and my emails. I was deleting most of my Facebook notification emails when I saw Tucker had confirmed my Friend Request. Twelve months later. But he finally did it. I starred the email, just to remember and then looked at my laptop’s clock. Whoa, how was it ten o’ clock already? Oops, I’d never responded to Tucker’s text message. I opened my phone and searched his name in my contact before calling him.
“Hello?” he said. His voice sounded deeper and more soothing.
“Yeah. I’ll go out with you.” I clicked the “END” button on the call and turned off my phone.
That night, I didn’t even have to check my reflection. Tucker thought I was beautiful. It took me until now to believe it. And I’d never once considered that it would be Tucker who told me.
My alarm went off the next morning, but instead of groaning and hitting the snooze button, I got up and put on the prettiest outfit I had in my closet: my jean Capri’s, a princess-y pink top, and my Star of David necklace I’d received for my bat mitzvah last September. I went to the bathroom, splashed cold water in my face to wake myself up. I straightened my hair until there was no more frizz left and then put on my makeup as always. Carefully, I applied foundation and cover-up to the giant bruise on my forehead. After powdering my face, I decided I’d wear some eyeliner with my mascara. I messed up a few times until I finally made the perfect line.
“Paige! I made eggs, do you want some?” Ema asked. Thursdays were always my favorite day of the week. It wasn’t Wednesday, but it wasn’t Friday either.
“Sure,” I said, sitting down on the kitchen stool.
Ema turned around from the stove and handed me my plate of scrambled eggs.
“Why, don’t you look pretty today,” she said.
“I don’t know. I felt like putting on a little something extra,” I shrugged, forking my eggs.
“Well I’m sure you’ll be attracting many stares today.”
After breakfast, I brushed my teeth and put on a glittering pink lip gloss to match my top. Today was going to be fantastical.
Stevie and I walked to school together as usual. I felt confident in myself as I breezed past Tucker. All of the guys noticed me, but I didn’t care about them. Tucker was my boyfriend now.
“Whoa, you look gorgeous!” Megan said.
“Thank you,” I said.
My friends gathered around me, complimenting me on my outfit, my hair, my makeup. And while the attention was nice, I knew Tucker was staring right at me and that was all that mattered to me at the moment. I couldn’t wait to talk to him.
I was at my locker, running late to lunch since I’d been asking Mr. Cooper for extra help on that day’s lesson when Tucker approached me.
“Uh, hey . . . Paige,” he said, glancing around the hallway.
“Hi,” I said really quietly.
“Do you want to ditch lunch and hang out in the library?” he asked.
“Sure. Sounds like fun,” I said, grabbing my lunch and shutting my locker door.
“Can I, uh, hold your hand?” he asked.
“Uh, yeah . . .”
His fingers felt perfect interlocked between mine as we walked to the library.
“So, you play soccer?” I said at some point, inferring to the soccer ball accident.
We were sitting at a table in the back corner of the library where some annoying upperclassmen were on Facebook when they were supposed to be working on some history project. (Or at least that was what I heard their teacher say.)
“Well, yeah,” he said, cringing. “Normally every fall, but this year I don’t think I’m going to.”
“That’s too bad. I heard you were pretty good.”
“Eh, not really. Er, Mason is better.”
“Oh who cares about Mason and Cory and those other jerks. If I were you, I’d find a different crowd to hang with.”
“You’re really sweet, Paige,” he said. “But I don’t think I’ll ever have friends again.”
“Please. You have me. I’m all you need.” I gave him an innocent smile and he laughed.
“I was kidding.”
“No, Paige . . .?” he trailed, taking my hand from across the table.
“What?” I said, shivering delightfully at his touch.
“I’m glad I asked you out.”
Me too, I thought. The bell rang and Tucker quickly disappeared. Christina confronted me while I was grabbing my books for my next class.
“Where were you?” Christina asked. “We all wondered where you went.”
“I was with Tucker,” I whispered. “In the library.”
“Aww! You guys are so cute together!” she exclaimed.
“Thanks, but please don’t go around telling everyone about me and him. I want to keep it a secret.”
“I promise I won’t say anything,” she said.
“Good. Because if you do, I will kill you!”
We shared a laugh as we always did, hugged, and then went off to our different classes. Geometry for me. How on earth was I supposed to focus on isosceles triangles and formulas when I’d just experienced the best lunch of my public school life? I wondered if Tucker was thinking about me . . .