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The Dating Department
“Do you think she’s awake?”
“If she’s not, she’s going to be in the next three seconds. Are you ready? Three. Two. One!”
Ice cold water descended on me, jolting me awake.
Amber and Danny were standing next to my bed, holding a bucket between them.
I glanced at my clock: 9:47.
I groaned and collapsed back onto my soaked blankets, “It’s summer!” I complained, “Can’t I sleep in just this once?”
“Nope! You promised that you would help me find a summer job, Riley, and so help me you shall!” Amber crowed, yanking the covers off of me.
“Five more minutes…” I begged, curling into a ball and pulling my pillow over my head.
“Uh, no. Danny, if you would be so kind as to help me?” My friends each grabbed one of my hands and pulled me off my bed and onto the cool, wooden flooring with a dull thud.
“You guys are horrible.” I muttered, standing and brushing myself off.
“Yeah, we know, that’s why you love us. Now get dressed and help me with my job hunting!”
I grumbled and whined, but eventually got dressed and trudged down the stairs to see Amber tapping her foot impatiently, and Danny stuffing her face with Poptarts.
I charged and her green eyes widened, a stray Poptart falling from between her lips. I slid easily across the table, snatching the box of smore-y goodness away from her with an evil laugh.
“No fair!” She protested, making a wild grab at the box, but I easily held it out of her reach.
“My Poptarts, my rules, babe, deal with it.” I winked at her, tossed a Poptart into the air, and ran out the door, still laughing madly.
Amber soon emerged, with a disgruntled Danny in tow. She hadn’t caught the Poptart, and it was now laying on my kitchen floor in pieces.
“Farewell, sweet Poptart,” she sniffed, “I knew thee well.”
I wiped away an imaginary tear. “That was touching, Danny.”
Amber rolled her eyes at our immaturity, climbed into her car and started the engine. I followed suit and watched as Danny blew one last kiss at the fallen Poptart before climbing in after us.
“So where to first?” Danny asked, placing her chin near on my seat.
“I was thinking that we could go to mall, start simple, ya know?”
“…no, I’m not old enough to get a job.” Danny bit down on her lip to keep herself from laughing at her little attempt at humor.
“You know what I meant…” Amber sighed, probably already regretting asking us to tag along.
We spent the rest of the car ride cracking jokes and discussing music. Now and then, Amber would try to switch the topic to boys, but I quickly switched it right back to something I could relate to.
I knew nothing about the world of dating. I had never been kissed, nor ever been on a date; something unthinkable to most girls my age. I had a pretty good reason for my…situation, however. I still hadn’t met someone who made we want to change my Facebook relationship status from “Single” to “In a relationship”. My motto was: “Date for a potential mate”, and so far, it had been working pretty well for me.
Danny and I tagged along as Amber entered store after store, only to be told “We’re not hiring right now”. After thirty minutes of searching, she finally gave up and offered to buy us all some pretzels.
We eagerly accepted and were soon sitting at a table in the food court munching on the warm, soft, pretzel-y goodness.
“Mm! Check out rocker-dude over there, Riley! You two would be so freaking cute together!”
I looked lazily at the guy she was pointing at. “Okay, two reasons I can say no to that. One: he’s got a girl hanging on his arm, so he’s obviously taken. Two: I don’t need a boyfriend, so quit trying to set me up with random strangers at the mall.”
“Oh come on, you can’t just admit that he’s cute and be done with it?”
“Okay, fine. He’s cute. Whoop-de-flippin-do. Are we done now?”
“You need to stop being so cynical, it’s a turn off.”
“Don’t care.” I mumbled.
Okay, so maybe I cared a little what guys thought of me. …But not a lot… Maybe…
“You care; you just don’t want to admit it.” Danny giggled, her first input since the conversation began.
“You do care!” Amber exclaimed giddily. “I knew it!”
“Thanks a lot, Danny, now I’m never going to live this down.”
“You’re welcome.” She stated smugly.
I stuck my tongue out at her and she returned the favor. Soon, we were in all out funny-face war.
“Guys! Quit it! Jeez, if you want to land a man the least you could do is act older than five years old.”
“Yes, Mom.” Danny mocked.
“Gosh, Amber, with all the dating stuff you know you could run a business.” I remarked sarcastically.
What I wasn’t expecting was for her eyes to light up. “Oh my gosh! Riley, you are so right! I could run a business!”
She stood, knocking my pretzels into my lap. “Okay… where are you going now?”
“To get a business suit!” She called over her shoulder.
“I’m starting a business.”
“You’re what?! Amber, I was joking.” I quickly got up and ran over to her. “I was just joking, Amber, what do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m starting my very own business, and you’re going to help me.”
“Woah, there, chica, no one said anything about my helping you start a business. I said I would help you find a job this summer, not make one.”
“You are helping me find a job, and you’re going to start by helping me find a business suit.”
Three stores, and about a billion business suits later, she was all set in a grey pencil skirt, a pink button down collared shirt, and a crisp, grey blazer.
Much to my chagrin, she decided that I needed one too, and she bought me a black skirt, blue shirt, and matching black jacket.
She outfitted Danny as well, but she, lucky devil, got to wear pants instead of a stupid skirt.
“Why can’t I wear pants too?”
“Because Danny’s got a boyfriend, and you don’t. You need to show of those legs of yours if you wanna catch yourself a man.”
I groaned, and sank down onto one of the plush cushions of the store. “When exactly are you going to tell me what this business is?”
“Right about now….” She paused, her smile widening.
“It’s going to be called the Dating Department.”
“The Dating Department, I’m going to help people find boyfriends and girlfriends!” She did that little excited arm shake thing. “And you’re going to be my first customer! Isn’t that going to be great?”
I was too shocked to respond.
I stubbornly set my jaw and glared at Amber, hands on my hips. “Remind me again why we’re doing this?”
“Don’t do that! You’re going to wrinkle the dress!” She flustered, tearing my hands away from the silky fabric and completely ignoring my question.
I cleared my throat pointedly, raising and eyebrow at her.
Amber sighed in defeat. “Because I need to make you look beautiful, Riley, so that I get potential boyfriends for you.”
“Gee, thanks, Amber, now I feel all warm and fuzzy inside knowing that I just wasn’t pretty enough in the first place.” I rolled my eyes and folded my arms across my chest.
“That’s not what I—“
“What she meant to say, was that she merely wanted to accentuate your natural beauty with a little bit of makeup and the right dress.” Danny cut in, camera in hand. “Now smile.”
I flashed her some teeth, but didn’t actually smile.
“Riley…” She warned, adjusting the focus.
“I really don’t want to do this…” I muttered, sending a death glare in Amber’s direction.
“Look, if you’ll cooperate for three more photos, I’ll give you some pizza.”
“Pizza?” I was suddenly very willing.
I thought about the pizza. It’s warm ooey gooey cheesy yumminess, and a smile slowly spread across my face.
“Perfect!” Click, click, click.
I hopped off the white-sheet-covered stage I had been standing on and quickly changed back into my t-shirt and jeans. “Alright, camera-wizard. Take me to your pizza!”
“Ooooh no, you’re staying right here, missy.”
“No reason.” She winked at me mysteriously and disappeared, whistling.
I plopped myself down at a nearby table and pulled out my iPhone, planning on playing Angry Birds until she got back. “Hey Amber, wanna play Angry Birds?” I called, over my shoulder.
When no response came, I set my phone down and looked around me. Where the heck were those two?
The lights shut off and a spotlight focused on the stage I had recently vacated.
Two more lights flicked onto the stage.
“This really isn’t cool, guys. Turn the lights back on!”
The two lights started waving around in frenzied circles on the stage.
“Guys this is getting kind of freaky, can I—“
“Welcome, bachelorette Riley to the Dating Department!” A man’s voice boomed out loud and clear out of speakers I hadn’t even known existed. “Allow me to introduce…your bachelors!”
Corny music started playing and I stood.
“Allow me to punch your face in if you don’t turn off that music this second.” I shouted in the direction of the speakers.
The music shut off almost immediately and Amber emerged from behind a curtain, Danny right behind her carrying a pizza box.
“Aw come on, Riley. You’ve got to admit, it’s pretty cool.”
“Just about as cool as a lava pit.” I muttered, sitting back down.
“You’re no fun,” Amber pouted, taking the pizza box from Danny and setting it down on the table in front of me. “ Here’s your stupid pizza.”
“Don’t call it stupid!” I protested, “You’re gonna hurt its feelings….” I gently stroked the cardboard of the box before yanking it open and pulling out a slice, the cheese perfectly melty. “Mmmm…”
“I don’t know how you eat so much crap and still manage to stay skinny.” Amber complained gesturing at me. “I can’t eat pizza,” she mourned. “It’ll go straight to my thighs!”
I looked at Amber with a bored expression, “…and?”
“And it’ll make me look fat.” She pouted and looked longingly at the pizza.
I smirked and picked up a slice slowly, her eyes followed it. “You know you want it…” I murmured, swinging the pizza slowly in front of her eyes. “Just give in… it’ll be worth it…”
“No…” she whimpered, but her drooling was screaming “Yes”.
“You know you want to taste the cheesy goodness… the slight spice of the pepperoni… the warm tomato sauce and crispy—“
I was cut off as she suddenly lunged at the slice of pizza. She tore it out of my grasp and shoved it at her face, taking a huge bite, chewing it contentedly.
“Worth it?” I asked smugly, picking up my slice again.
“Mmmmm….” She swallowed. “Definitely worth it.” She chomped down on it again and I laughed.
“Am I going to get any of that pizza?” Danny asked, sitting down beside Amber.
“Mm…” I tapped my chin with my index finger thoughtfully. “No!” I jumped up, grabbed the pizza box and started running out of the building, laughing like a mad man.
“Riley!” Danny shouted, sprinting after me. “I’m hungry too!”
“Never!” I cackled, grabbing another piece of pizza and biting into it.
I was so preoccupied by the wonderful pizza, that I didn’t notice the guy in front of me until it was too late.
I slammed into him, and fell, the pizza box flying out of my hands and into the grass, where Danny danced in triumph.
“Dude, are you made of bricks or something?” I groaned, putting a hand to my forehead and shutting my eyes tightly. “That hurt.”
“Well you were going about a million miles an hour,” he chuckled.
“Gee, good to know I didn’t hurt you with my speediness.” I grumbled, opening my eyes and stumbling to my feet.
“I am made of bricks, remember?”
“No, you gave me a concussion.” I shook my head, trying to dispel the dizziness. I took a step forward, wobbled, and crashed to the ground again. “Thanks for the save there, Brickman. Real chivalrous of you.” I struggled up into a standing position again, and glared at him.
He blinked at me. “You fall as fast as you run.”He grinned. “How do expect me to catch you?”
I felt myself tottering again. “Here, let’s practice,” and I fell.
This time he actually caught me.
“Much better, Brickman. Now you’ve got a streak of one.”
He chuckled in my ear. “Wow, I must be amazing or something.”
“Or something…” I muttered. I glanced over at where Danny was, but she had disappeared.
He laughed again, the sound rumbling deep in his chest. “So who have I just had the honor of saving?” He asked, smiling pleasantly, and setting me back on my feet.
” Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.” I grumbled, still feeling slightly woozy.
“Well, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, it’s nice to meet you, I’m Batman.” He winked at me, his hazel eyes twinkling mischievously.
“You trying to impress me or something?” I teased.
“I would never...” He smirked, as I swayed again. As I fell, I grabbed at his arm, clutching at it for dear life. “Wow, we haven’t even been on a date yet, and you’re already trying to hold my hand.” He winked at me as I frowned at him.
“Shut up.” I mumbled, feeling the blush creep up my cheeks.
“Awwww… I made you blush! I’m madly skill—ow!” I grinned as I withdrew my clenched fist from his arm. “Jeez… for a girl you can hit.”
“For a boy, you’re kind of wimpy.”
“Hey! I resent that!”
“Deal with it.” I retorted, feeling oddly happy even though my head was spinning.
“So what’s your real name?” He asked, as he led me gently back into the building.
“Riley; what about you, Brickman? Have you got a name?”
“I think I like Brickman.” He smirked.
“So I give you my name, but I don’t get to know yours? That’s hardly a fair trade.”
“Deal with it.” He mocked, grinning down at me again.
I opened my mouth to speak, but thought better of it and let my mouth snap shut.
“That’s what I thought.”
“…can I have a hint?”
“Hmmm….” He stroked an imaginary beard. “Let’s see… it starts with an A and rhymes with maiden.”
“I wonder what it could be…” I mocked, narrowing my eyes in faux thought. “Could it possibly be Ashley?”
He laughed, the sound bouncing off the walls. “Nope, guess again.”
I stroked my own imaginary beard. “Walter?”
“Ding ding ding! Give the girl a prize!”
I smacked his arm, but lost my balance again, causing me to clutch even tighter to him.
He rolled his eyes. “You suck at balance.”
“You suck at…” I trailed off, and his smirk grew substantially.
“Why yes, Riley, I am awesome at everything, thanks for noticing.”
“Narcissistic much?” I grumbled.
“You know you love it.”
“How the heck is that an insult?”
“I don’t know; I was out of comebacks.”
We both busted out laughing, the sound echoing through the building and doubtless carrying to where the girls could hear.
“You’re fun, Riley.”
“You’re not so bad yourself, Aiden.”
“I thought I was a narcissistic, ego-centric big-head.”
“You are, and I’m a lying, flirty, tipsy girl.”
“Glad to see you can admit it.”
“Is for horses.”
“You’re such a kid.”
“And you’re not?”
“I’m… okay, you’ve got me there.”
“Yep, I’m pretty much amazing that way.”
“Gosh, self-absorbed much?”
“Only for you, babe.”
“No, that’s you. I’m the narcissist.”
By now, I had regained my balance, and was now walking alongside him, my hands shoved into my pockets.
“So…” I started, trying to fill the awkward silence.
“Nope, my mom could though.”
“I can’t sew.”
“I never asked if you could sew.”
“Whatever you say, Riles.”
“Ew, Riles? That’s a horrible nickname. How would you like it if I called you Aidy?”
“Good point. I like Flirt so much better anyways.”
“You want me to call you Narcissus?”
“Sure, let me give you my number.”
He snatched my phone out of my pocket and started typing away.
When he gave it back to me, I saw his number under the name: “Random Hot Stranger”
“Random Hot Stranger? Seriously?”
“You were thinking it, I merely typed it out.”
“I was not thinking it!”
“You’re right. You were thinking mega super hot random stranger. My bad. Give me your phone and I’ll change it to the correct form.”
“I’ll let you see my phone if I can have yours.”
“Deal.” He whipped out his phone and put it in my hand.
I gave him my phone.
I smirked as I entered a new contact.
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore-
# 555-not a real number.com
“Here.” I handed the phone back to him, and looked at my own phone. He had taken his picture and set it as the contact photo. My phone suddenly started ringing.
I’m too sexy for my shirt… too sexy for my shirt… his contact photo popped up with the words. “Mega, Super Hot Random Stranger is calling”.
“Seriously? You even personalized your ringto—how’d you get my number?”
“Dude, you handed me your phone; I’m going to snoop in it to find your real number. Kudos on the fake one though. It was pretty epic…before I deleted it. Smile!” He snapped a picture of me, my mouth hanging wide open in disbelief. “Wow. Gorgeous, Riley, just gorgeous.”
“I thought I told you this already; hay is for horses.”
“Right when you do, babe, right when you do.”
“Riley?” Amber called out. I snapped to attention. I had momentarily forgotten that I was here with Danny and her.
“Where are you? We need to finish up the photoshoot.”
“Photo-shoot?” Aiden raised an eyebrow at me.
I sighed. “I’ll explain later. It was nice to meet you, Aiden.”
“Likewise, Flirt.” He winked at me. “Catch ya later.”
“Bye.” I walked through the door to see a giddy Amber.
“See! The Dating Department is working for you already!”
“That guy you were with! He was so hot!” She squealed.
I heard chuckling from the hallway, so I knew that Aiden had heard that.
“In his dreams.” I said loudly for his benefit.
“You know it, Flirt!” He called back.
Amber giggled, and I reddened slightly. “He already has a nickname for you?”
“Er, yeah. We were just messing around and—“
“You guys are so freaking cute!!!”
She quickly hugged me before shooing me back into my dress and onto the stage.
“Pout, Riley, pout!”
I grumbled, and groaned before pouting.
The piece of paper blew with the slight breeze, fluttering this way and that, doing twists and back-flips before finally whacking me in the face.
I peeled it off my face and looked at it only to see…well, me.
Amber had put up posters of me all around town, each of them with a picture of me posing like an idiot with makeup coating my face.
I frowned, crumpled the paper, and tossed it into a nearby trash-can. Spotting another one, I crossed the street and tore it down from its telephone pole perch. I crushed as many posters as I could find and tossed them all into the city’s wastebasket.
I grinned maliciously as I twisted the latest poster in my hands. I pretended it was the whole Dating Department in my hands. Crush. Tear. Twist. MUAHAHAHAHAHA!
“Wow, Flirt, I knew you were weird, but I never pinned you as maniacal.”
I whirled around to see Aiden standing behind me, brown hair falling into his eyes and hands stuffed into his pockets, a smug expression plastered across his face.
“You, er, heard the laughing?” I asked as I felt heat rush up my neck and face.
“I think the whole block did, Flirt.” He grinned and ruffled my hair. “What are you hiding behind your back?”
“Nothing.” I tried to surreptitiously slip the paper into my pocket but failed miserably. He snatched the mangled paper from my hands and carefully unfolded it.
He started to laugh. “So this is what the photoshoot was for? ‘The Dating Department presents its latest available bachelorette: Riley Noble.’ “ He snorted. “Wow, I certainly hope you’re doing this against your will.”
“Oh believe me, I am.” I narrowed my eyes and grabbed at the paper, but he easily held it out of my reach.
Stupid tall person.
Aiden smirked as I continued to jump for the paper, “You’re so short.”
“Touchy and short, nice.”
“I am not touchy!” I protested, pausing momentarily from my hopping to glare at him.
“They should put ‘effective death glare’ under attributes. That’s a real plus.”
“If it’s so effective, why aren’t you dead?”
He grinned and gestured to himself. “Immunity. I’ve got two little sisters, Flirt, think I don’t know how to survive a death glare by now?”
“Then you’ve got a lot to learn, grasshopper.”
“You’re talking to the headmaster of Hogwarts here, buddy, you really want to call me ‘grasshopper’?” I raised an eyebrow, challenging him.
“You are obviously forgetting who you are addressing, oh powerful Dumbledore, sir.”
“And who might that be?”
He grinned and bent down, put his mouth near my ear, and said, with perfect seriousness, “Batman.”
As he pulled back, I did my very best to keep a straight face, but the urge to giggle was nearly over-powering.
I could feel the giggle building in my throat and threatening to escape my lips. I had to bite down on my cheek to help me keep a straight face, but even that couldn’t hold in the powerful giggle inside of me. Aiden looked at me, face perfectly straight, no trace of amusement visible.
I couldn’t hold it in any longer. The giggle burst forth in all its glory until it became a full grown laugh. Then a chortle. My sides were soon aching from laughing so hard.
I looked up at Aiden but his face was still straight. That sobered me up. My face fell.
Almost imperceptibly, the corners of his mouth twitched before he cracked a grin. “You should have… seen your face.” He gasped between laughs. “You thought…I was serious!”
Seeing my chance, I grabbed at the piece of paper, still hanging loosely from his hand. I cackled in triumph as I ran towards a trashcan and threw it in with as much force as I could muster.
Smirking, I turned back to Aiden, but he wasn’t where I had left him. Frowning I turned back to the work at hand: taking down as many of those stupid posters as possible.
The guys lined up in three rows of five in front of me. I was sitting at the table where Danny, Amber and I had been eating pizza two days before, and I evidently had to choose one guy from each row.
They each wore a number around their necks, a little thing that made them look like they were for sale.
“How much did you pay them to do this?” I whispered to Amber who was sitting beside me.
“Oh, I didn’t pay them, they paid me.”
I turned back to the rows of guys, eyes wider than they were to start with.
“Are you serious?”
“Yup!” She replied, popping the ‘p’.
“Wow…” I breathed.
All the guys were staring at me, some of them shyly, others cockily. I immediately disqualified the cocky guys.
“Hurry up and pick one,” Amber hissed in my ear, “We have three rows to go through!”
“Um…” I cleared my throat. “Number 7.” Why the numbers weren’t in order I will never know.
Number 7 grinned and stepped forward.
“What’s your name?”
“How old are you?”
Ew. Too old for me. “Step back, please.” I pursed my lips and surveyed the row again, looking closer this time. “Number 19.”
He stepped forward.
“Congrats, er, Charles, you’ve made it.” Charles smirked at the first row of people and stepped off the platform.
“Row 1, you are dismissed!” Amber called. “Row 2, step forward.”
The guys stepped forward and I spotted a familiar pair of mischievous hazel eyes. We locked eyes and he winked at me.
I sighed, “Number 13, step forward.”
He stepped forward with a smirk.
“Batman.” I fought to keep a straight face.
I tapped my chin thoughtfully. “What makes you think that I would date you?”
He scoffed. “I’m Batman, who wouldn’t want to date me?”
Oh gosh… I really wanted to laugh.
“Good…point.” I finally forced out, semi-successfully suppressing the laughter boiling inside of me.
“What about you, Flirt? What makes you think that I would date you?”
Amber’s eyebrows shot up as she recognized who it was I was currently talking to.
“I’m Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Batman, who wouldn’t want to date me?”
The corners of his mouth twitched with suppressed laughter. “Good point.”
“Now just what the heck is going on here?” One of the guys in line demanded. “Do you know this guy or something?”
“No.” I shook my head fervently. “No one truly knows Batman.” I was biting my lips by now to keep the laughter inside.
The guy who asked stepped off the stage and went out the door, several others followed.
“I think you’ll do, Batman.”
Aiden bowed low. “I am truly honored, Dumbledore.”
The candlelight flickered across Number 31's face across the table. It was our first date, and the first date the Dating Department had ever set up.
Number 31, otherwise known as Paul, had decided that a sappy, cliché, and all around over used candle-lit dinner was the way to go.
Did I agree with his assessment?
Not so much.
Don't get me wrong, Paul was a pretty nice guy, he had picked me up at 7 o'clock exactly dressed in a button down shirt and tie, while I had been in a t-shirt and jeans. He had made no comment about my lack of formality, but took me to a mega-fancy restaurant with a smile.
So here we were. Sitting. In silence. Him all nice and fancy. Me in casual clothing. Eating dinner by candlelight.
Yep, it was torture.
“So, Riley, how did you get caught up in this whole Dating Department business in the first place?”
“Don't you dare tell him!” Amber's voice hissed in my ear through the earpiece she had placed there. “Repeat after me...”
“I was having some... troubles finding a date, I saw a flier for the Dating Department and figured, 'I've tried everything else, why not this'?”
He laughed. “I find a girl like you having trouble finding a date a little hard to believe.”
“Blush! Riley, blush, now!”
“How the heck do you expect me to blush on command?” I hissed into the earpiece.
“Pardon?” Paul tilted his head slightly.
“Er, uh... Orange Crush is my, er, favorite band?”
“Amber telling you what to do with that earpiece?”
“Yeah, how did you know?”
“Well, you were hissing at your shoulder, and it's kind of noticeable.” A slow smile spread across his face. “Tell her hi from me.”
“Paul says 'hi'.” I giggled into the earpiece.
“Uh.... hi, Paul....” Amber muttered. I could just picture her embarrassed face right about now.
“Dude, that was epic!” I laughed, taking the earpiece out and shoving it into my pocket, ignoring Amber's protests.
He bowed as well as he could from his sitting position. “I try.”
“You know, you seem like much more fun than this...place.”
“Haha, this wasn't my idea, it was Amber's, didn't she tell you?”
I raised an eyebrow at him and gestured at my attire.
He chuckled awkwardly and rubbed the back of his neck. “Guess not.”
“So all this was Amber's doing?” I asked, waving my fork around at our fancy environment.
“Yep...” He paused. “Truth be told, I'm not really all that sure I like it here.” He eyed the white table-cloth and the fancy, most likely highly-breakable tableware warily. “I'm scared I'm going to be kicked out if I hold my fork wrong or something.”
I laughed, nearly spitting out my fancy water onto the fancy table.
Paul cracked a grin, “I had no idea I was so funny.”
I just nodded, embarassed that I had nearly spat on him. I absentmindedly started twirling my spaghetti around my fork, before blurting, “You know, spaghetti is supposed to be romantic and all, but seriously, who wants to watch someone eat spaghetti? It's messy and people slurp it.” I looked up to see him staring at me confusedly and quickly dropped my head, blushing in spite of my efforts not to.
“You know... I've always thought the same thing...” Paul commented slowly, twirling his own pasta around his fork.
I let go of a breath I hadn't even been aware I had been holding before looking around myself and sighing again.
“Too fancy for you?”
“I feel like I'm being stared at for being here in jeans and a Harry Potter t-shirt.”
“Well... we could always leave?” He added a hopeful twist to it, whether it was intentional or not, I didn't know.
I dropped my fork eagerly. “Seriously?”
He shrugged, “Yeah, why not?” He waved over the waitress and paid for dinner before standing and leading me out the door.
I stepped out into the warm night air with a contented sigh. “Much better.” I turned back to him. “So where to, Nu—Paul.”
He chuckled. “Were you about to call me 'number 31'?”
“Come on.” He laughed, grabbing my hand and towing me down the dark street.
“Er... okay. Where are we going?”
“The park.” He grinned at me and began to walk faster.
I dug my toes into the cool sand as I swung slowly back and forth next to Paul. I leaned up against the swing's chains and looked over at him.
“Tonight was fun, Paul.” I said, suppressing a yawn in the process.
“Yeah it was.” He smiled, his green eyes twinkling from behind his long blond bangs.
We moved slowly back and forth on our swings, in comfortable silence, the moon shining cheerily above us and the stars winking.
“So, have I made it?” Paul asked, facing me again.
“Huh?” I blinked at him, confused.
“Have I earned myself another date with you? Because I would absolutely love to go out with you again, miss Riley.” He winked at me but his voice still held a tone of seriousness.
“Why yes, mister Paul, I do believe you have earned yourself another date. But just barely.” I winked at him and he shoved me lightly.
We had a shoving battle for a few minutes, I swear I could have won, but that cheater, Paul, decided that it would be funny to push me off my swing and backwards into the sand. I did, however, win our jumping contest by jumping a full fourteen and a half feet away from the swings while he could manage a measly fourteen. I was quite obviously the winner, though Paul was quite reluctant to admit it, and rewarded my victory with a tackle.
I rolled away from him laughing. “Just admit you lost already!”
“No way, half a foot doesn't count.”
“It does so count! It's a full six inches!”
“Wow... six inches! That's such a huge length!” He muttered sarcastically, lying down beside me on his back, hands folded.
I sighed contentedly as I gazed up at the stars overhead. “The sky is beautiful tonight.”
“Bntbuflu.” Paul mumbled.
“Speak up, I can't quite hear you.” I had gotten the jist of what he had said: a corny line, but I wanted to embarrass him, just a little.
“Bunotasbeautifulasyou!” He shouted in a rush.
I started to giggle idiotically before I caught myself and covered it up with a cough. “Oh really?” I smirked and raised an eyebrow at him.
“Shut up...” He mumbled, smacking me lightly on the shoulder and red creeping up his cheeks.
“Awww... I made you blush!” I cheered, pinching his cheeks.
“Did not, it's just kind of...cold.” He sat up and rubbed his hands up and down his arms, faking a shiver as well. “Brrr...”
“Yeah, right...” I rolled my eyes at him and stared back up at the sky.
Paul laid back down and slung a arm around me.
“Hey! What the heck do you think you're doing?!” I demanded, scooting further away from him and feeling my face flame.
He grinned mischievously, “Awww... I made you blush!” He mimicked me, pinching my cheeks as I had his.
“Okay, okay, I get the point...” I mumbled, pushing his hands away and still keeping a safe distance from him.
“Aw, come on, Riley, I was just poking fun.” He pleaded, trying to move closer to me.
I shifted farther away from him in response. Nearby, a lake sparkled and an idea popped into my head.
Hurriedly, I jumped up and ran to the lake before laying back down on its shore. I heard Paul groan and jog over to me.
“Please, Riley, I'm sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable...” He reached a hand out to me. I faked hesitation before taking his hand and swinging him into the lake, letting his hand go in the process.
What I wasn't expecting was for Paul's ninja reflexes to kick in and him pull me in with him.
I re-surfaced coughing and spluttering, the water bizarrely cold even though it was summer. Paul came up beside me, but I pushed him back down before running away as fast as one could in water dressed in waterlogged jeans and converse.
“What was that for?” Paul whined, trying desperately to wring out his soaked suit.
“I was just poking fun.” I said, winking at him.
He stuck his tongue out at me like the mature person he is.
“Grow up...” I teased, bumping him with my hip as we walked back towards his car.
“Psh. Never!” He declared, pumping his fist into the air.
I laughed and pulled the passenger side door open before realizing my wet clothes would probably ruin his upholstery.
“Er...Paul... your car...” I looked up to him already climbing in, wet suit and all. “Okay then...” I mumbled, and climbed in after him. “Sorry about that...” I muttered, gesturing at his soaked self.
“Eh, it's cool. Nothing a little dry-cleaning won't fix.”
“What about your car? Won't all the water ruin the seats?”
“Nah.” He paused thoughtfully, as if reconsidering. “Well, maybe, but you know, cest la vie.”
“You speak French?”
“Only if knowing that one phrase and the word 'bathroom' counts.”
I laughed. “You're incredibly amusing, you know that?”
“Amusing, awesome, how many other 'a' adjectives can you use to describe me?”
“I never called you awesome!” I protested.
“You're right, you called me epic, which is pretty much synonymous with 'awesome'. It works out either way, really.” He turned to smirk at me.
“Smart alec.” I muttered, smacking his arm.
“Hey! Don't hit the driver! I could end up losing control of the wheel and crashing into a tree or something!” He scolded, turning towards me with mocking, wide eyes.
“Keep your eyes on the road, dimwit.”
“Or what?” He teased, looking at me again.
“Or...” I pursed my lips and thought about what I could do. My mind came up blank. “I honestly don't know...”
His smirk grew more pronounced as his eyes returned to the road. “That's what I thought.”
“Oh, shut it, Mr. Ego.”
“Maybe I will.”
“If you do, you'll cause us to crash, but it's totally your choice.”
“Stupid smart person...” I complained under my breath.
“You know that's an oxymoron, right?”
“You're an oxymoron.”
“That made absolutely no sense at all, Riley.”
“Yeah well...” I frowned and crossed my arms. “I'm tired.” I mumbled changing the subject. “You can't expect everything I say to make sense.
“Riley, it's only ten.”
“Oh CRAP! Really? I was supposed to be home by nine-thirty!” I leaned forward towards the wind-shield, as if that would make us go faster.
“Crap, really?” Paul quickly made a U-turn and started back to my house.
“Thanks for the ride.” I smiled, climbing out of his car in my damp clothes. “Tonight was fun.”
“Yeah it was, we'll have to do it again sometime. Minus the swim of course.”
“Eh... I'll think about it.”
He laughed and waved at me. “'Night, Riley.”
“Goodnight, Paul.” Silently, I shut the door behind me and locked it before climbing up the stairs and collapsing, exhausted, onto my bed.
Number 31 down, numbers 19 and 13 to go.
I glared at Danny who was sitting at her kitchen table munching happily on a bag of Cheetos while I was stuck sitting in a hardwood chair getting my hair done by Amber.
“Please just give me one?” I pleaded, giving Danny the puppy-eyes that had worked so well for me a decade ago.
“Psh. No.” Danny scoffed, tossing another Cheeto into her mouth.
“Why not?” I whined, slouching slightly before Amber kicked my viciously in the shin, causing me to straighten back up again.
“Boys hate slouchers.” She admonished, picking up more of my dark strands and wrapping them around the barrel of a curling iron. “See how I’m doing this, Riley? This is exactly what I want you to do when you go out with Charles on Saturday, alright?”
I scowled at the mirror Amber had set up in front of us so that I could see what she was doing. “Why do I have to look all pretty?” I complained.
“Because you want him to like you, silly.” Amber giggled, letting the, now warm, hair fall back onto my head.
The doorbell rang and Danny hopped up excitedly, abandoning the bag of Cheetos. I licked my lips slowly and contemplated getting up and retrieving the forgotten bag of cheesy, crunchy yumminess. I was about to get up when I felt a sharp tug at the back of my head. I looked at Amber questioningly in the mirror.
“What was that for?”
“You were going to try and steal those Cheetos.”
I did my best to put an innocent face on. “Why, Amber! What would make you think such a thing?”
“Because you have always lusted after my amazing Cheetos, Riley darling.” Danny commented, strolling back into the dining room a package in her hand, and her brother, Roy trailing after her.
“Am I missing something?” Roy asked, raising a blond eyebrow at us.
“Hey Roy.” I greeted brightly, ignoring his question.
“Hey Riley,” he returned, settling himself down into the chair across from me and grabbing the bag of Cheetos. “What’s with the makeover?” He gestured at my make upped face and curled hair.
“Amber here has decided that I need a boyfriend, so now I’m dating three guys.” I shrugged, trying to be nonchalant about it, but it didn’t stop his eyes from bugging out and him choking on a single crunchy Cheeto.
“Three guys?” He spluttered, staring wide-eyed at me.
“They don’t know about each other, I’m assuming.”
“Oh no, they do.”
I honestly didn’t think it was possible, but his blue eyes got even wider. Danny looked like she was trying very hard not to laugh.
“Wha—why—who in their right minds would date a girl who’s dating two other guys?!” He finally managed to choke out.
I think that was the last straw for Danny because she burst out laughing. “Roy, chill dude, it’s some kind of business Amber’s running. It’s actually pretty amusing, and a good source of income.”
“You can’t possibly be serious…” He muttered, shaking his head.
“I’m perfectly serious, broheim.”
“Well I guess I could understand it a little bit…” He acknowledged, rising and walking over to the stairs that led to his room.
“How so?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Face it, Riles, you’re pretty hot.” And with that, Roy was running up the stairs with an outraged Danny on his heels, shrieking: ‘How dare you hit on my friends, you idiot!’ at the top of her lungs.
I laughed good naturedly and waited patiently for Amber to finish up with my hair so that I could go home and stuff my face with cookie dough ice cream.
“There. Finished.” Amber looked me up and down appraisingly, before tapping her chin thoughtfully.
“What?” I asked, feeling uncomfortable.
“Something’s missing…” She murmured, sidling slowly over to the closest door that just so happened to be the coat closet.
“This!” She exclaimed, before throwing open the doors to release a mass of energy that instantly tackled me to the ground.
“What the heck?!” I shrieked, pushing Aiden off of me and dusting myself off.
“Flirt, you’re so much fun!” He laughed, holding out a hand to help me up.
I ignored him and used a nearby chair to hoist myself back up into a standing position. Instead of staying that way however, my legs decided that they wanted to buckle and send me flying into Aiden’s waiting arms.
“Wow, already falling for me, are you?” He winked, grinning down at me cockily.
“Shut up…” I grumbled, holding onto one of the chairs for support. “How the heck did you even get into Danny’s house in the first place?”
“She invited me, dur.” He rolled his eyes at me and sat down comfortable in one of the chairs.
“And might I say, that Roy guy was right, you are, and I quote, ‘pretty hot’.”
Despite his hiding in a closet and tackling me, I blushed like an idiot, and hated myself for it.
“Shut up.” I mumbled again, hitting his shoulder lightly.
“Jeez, Riley, would you quit hitting me?” Okay, so maybe it wasn’t all that lightly.
“Once you stop being so ego-centric, I’ll consider it.” I winked at him and sat back down in my chair, but not before I had retrieved the precious Cheetos.
“You guys are so cute together!” Amber gushed excitedly from behind Aiden. “You should just dump the other two and stick with him!”
“You hear that, Flirt?” Aiden smirked, winking at me again. “You should dump the other two and just stick with me.”
“We haven’t even been on a date yet, dude.”
“But we’re so cute together!” He teased, putting on a puppy-face.
It was hard, but I resisted the urge to smack him upside the head. “Uh, no. I would rather date Roy than you.”
“I’m flattered.” Roy commented from behind me. “But sadly, my darling younger sister would beat me to death if I ever again come within a ten foot radius of you.”
“Darn right, and I would enjoy every second of it.”
“That's so lady-like of you, dear sister.”
“Oh go stick a corn cob in your ear.”
“Only once you confess your undying love to that lovable starfish, Patrick.”
“Roy...” Danny's voice rose threateningly and he backed away slowly, hands raised defensively.
“Are they always like this?” Aiden asked, turning to me curiously.
“Nah, this is actually one of their better days.”
“Ah.” He nodded and continued to observe the spectacle in front of him with obvious interest and confusion.
“So why is he here, Amber?” I asked, picking up my forgotten Cheeto and preparing to toss it into the hatch.
“Don't eat that!” She shrieked, completely ignoring my question and snatching the crunchy cheese snack from my hand.
“What? Why not?” I pouted, reaching for the bag.
“Ah, ah, ah...” She scolded, wagging a finger at me and whisking the bag of junk food well away from me.
“You know something, Amber?”
“You're no fun.”
“I'm lots of fun and you know it.”
“Then lighten up and give me a Cheeto.”
“Hm... how about... no.” She smirked at me and pulled a single Cheeto from the bag tauntingly. She waved it back and forth slowly, probably enjoying the way my eyes followed its every movement. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore, I lunged at the Cheeto, only causing Amber to cackle in triumph as she popped it into her mouth.
“Amberrrrr!” I whined, falling to my knees in defeat.
“Can I....” I sighed. “May I have a salad?”
She grinned triumphantly at me, confident that she had finally prevailed over my junk-food-addicted appetite. “Why yes, Riley, you may have a salad!” She whirled away out of sight, leaving Aiden and I alone in the dining area.
Danny had already chased Roy out of the house and was probably currently beating him to death.
I smiled slyly, and plucked the bag off of the table and popped a Cheeto into my mouth. I think I melted once I tasted the wonderful, crunchy, cheesy goodness.
“Ah, ah, ah, Flirt. You know better than that.” Aiden scolded, winking at me and prying the plastic bag loose from my fingers.
“Hey!” I protested. “I wasn't done with that!”
“Well you are now.” He smirked and I stuck my tongue out at him.
“And I thought you were the fun one...” I muttered, feeling deprived of one of the main staples of my diet.
“I am the fun one, which is exactly why we're going to do something fun.”
I perked up instantly. “What's the plan?”
“What would you say if I said that I knew where a stash of salt and vinegar chips were?”
“I would say that you're my best friend in the known universe.”
“Well then, let's go before Amber comes back with that salad.” He winked at me and silently got to his feet, stretching a hand out to me like the gentleman he was.
“Alrighty then.” I grinned and took his hand.
He promptly towed me out of Danny's house only to find a very frightened Roy cowering in the bushes beside the door, and Danny stalking around the yard, a bemused expression
stretched across her face.
“Here, Roy... Come here, Roy...” She called softly, her eyes carefully scanning the expanse of the yard.
“Uhm... Danny? What are you doing?”
She immediately relaxed from her previously predatory stance, “Hunting for Roy.” She explained cheerfully, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
“Because he's hiding from me.” She shrugged and her posture shifted again so that she was once again crouching slightly.
“Right..... uh... I'll see you later...”
“Bye...” She murmured absentmindedly. “Here, Roy... Come here, Roy....”
I climbed gratefully into Aiden's car and he started the engine.
“They're weird.” He commented, pulling out of Danny's driveway and into the street.
“Just figuring that out?”
“Hey! I haven't known them for as long as you have!” He protested defensively.
“Well, I let you know now, all my friends are weird.”
“Not me,” he remarked smugly. “I'm perfectly normal.” He puffed out his Superman-logo covered chest importantly, and I did my best not to giggle.
“Is that so?”
“Then what's with the cape in the back?”
“I-it's not a cape!” He spluttered. “It's a special edition Superman collector's item.”
“No! A collector's item.”
“Whatever, dude. I'm not going to argue as long as I get my chips I need nothing else.”
“Jeez, what am I chopped liver? I'm the one giving you the chips, remember?”
“Pshaw, you're just another person standing in between me and my precious junk food.”
“Really feeling the love, here, Riley...” Aiden scoffed, rolling his hazel eyes.
“Here we are...” He announced, pulling into an unfamiliar driveway.
“Er... where are we?” I questioned, slowly exiting his vehicle.
“My house, duh.”
I walked warily up the driveway, “It's a little early to be introducing me to the parents isn't it, Narcissus?” I teased weakly.
“Oh gosh, Riley, chill. It's just my sisters here right now anyways.”
“If you say so...”
“Don't worry, I'll protect you from the cooties.” He grinned at me and pushed the door open gently. Almost immediately, he was bombarded with loud “Aidy!”s.
“Aidy?” I turned to him with a smirk.
He merely shrugged at me, a slight tinge of red coloring his cheeks.
“Well?” He started, motioning me inside. “You coming to meet them or what?”
I took a deep breath and stepped over the threshold.
Time to meet his family.
“Aidy! You're h—Aidy... who's that?” A girl with the same hazel eyes as Aiden bounded up to us, took one look at me, and promptly hid behind Aiden's leg.
“Jessie, this is Riley, my friend.” Jessie's little blond head buried itself further into Aiden's knee, making him slightly unsteady.
“Hi there, Jessie. It's so nice to meet you.” I crouched down to her height and smiled at her, hoping at least to make her less afraid of me.
She waved shyly at me before rushing back off to whence she had come.
“In case you hadn't guessed, that's Jessie, my three year old sister.” Aiden grinned after her and took my hand, pulling me with him into the kitchen where we beheld a tall, thin girl with long brown hair vigorously stirring a pot of what seemed to be Mac n' Cheese.
“Denny!” She shrieked as soon as she saw Aiden. She charged at him, brown hair streaming behind her and tackled him in a hug. As soon as she had gotten up, she looked at me and sly smile crept over her lips. “You must be Riley.”
I blinked, surprised. “Er, yeah. How'd you know?”
“Who else could be the hottie Denny won't shut up about?” She smirked and I laughed as Aiden's neck and face turned a violent shade of scarlet.
“I-I don't—I....” He stuttered, his ears slowly turning the same color as his cheeks. Finally, he calmed himself and took a deep breath. “Mikey, if you don't shut up now, I won't make you dinner.” He raised an eyebrow threateningly at her, but she just scoffed at his lame attempt at a threat.
“Dude, I would rather Jessie cook me something than endure a dinner you have cooked again.”
Aiden's face returned to it's startling red color before he finally resigned himself to his fate, “Whatever, I'm going to go see what Jessie's doing.” And with that, he turned and speed-walked out of the kitchen.
“Nope, but my mom can.” Mikey was smirking at me, and I vaguely registered that Aiden had used the exact same line.
“You and your brother are so much alike...” I commented, enjoying how her jaw dropped in disbelief.
“Ew. I don't want to be like Aiden, he's all dudely and stuff.”
“Dudely and stuff?”
“Yeah, as in he's a guy. I don't want to be a guy, they don't get discounts at the dollar store when they flirt with the cashier.” Now, it was my turn to let my jaw drop, causing her to laugh. “You actually believed me? I don't know what kind of person you think I am, Riley, but I certainly wouldn't flirt with the check out guy at a dollar store, for two reasons: uno, the cashier at the dollar store is really creepy, greasy, and all around strange. And dos... well there is no reason number two, but at least I got one, right?” She started to walk back to her pot of pasta and frowned down at the dark orange paste that was sticking to the teflon sides of the pot. “Stupid pasta, it shouldn't even be possible to burn Mac n' Cheese.” She started to viciously poke at the browning pasta as thick, grey smoke began to rise from the inside of the pot.
“Is something burning?” Aiden called from wherever he was, sounding slightly concerned.
“Er...no?” Mikey called back, hurriedly removing the smoking pot from the stovetop and dumping it's burnt contents into the nearby garbage.
“Nothing's burning, eh?” Aiden smirked, leaning against the kitchen doorway, arms folded across his chest.
“Like you could do any better.” Mikey rolled her blue eyes at him.
He opened his mouth to speak, but I quickly cut him off to delay any arguing. “No, but I can.”
They both turned to look at me with identical expressions of hope. “You can?”
I shrugged, “Sure, I've cooked before.”
At this, both of them started vigorously pushing me towards their fridge. “Then hop to it, Flirt.” Aiden said, grinning widely.
“Stop shoveling food into your mouth so quickly, or your going to 'splode.” Mikey commented casually, sending a smirk over at Aiden who was indeed 'shoveling food' into his mouth faster than their dog could ask for some.
“I won't splode, I've got abs of flippin' steel.” To prove it, he thumped a fist onto his stomach, only to reinforce Mikey's observation; he had managed to hit out a piece of chicken.
“Dude, gross.” I complained, wrinkling my nose at the half-chewed protein sitting on the table.
“Sorry...” He grinned sheepishly and gingerly picked it up before tossing it at the adorable black lab that had been pleading with me to give it just a taste of my food for the past five minutes.
Instead of the dog catching it, as Aiden had probably planned, the food landed on me.
I think it was safe to say that that was probably the grossest thing that had ever happened. I think the second grossest was what happened next.
Their dog, so creatively named 'Deoge”, leaped on me and licked the chicken off of me, covering me in thick, dog saliva.
“Gee, thanks, Deoge, I needed that bath.” I pushed him off of me, but not before he had given me a parting lick up my face, plastering my bangs up in a spiky fashion.
“You know, I think that look works for you, Riley,” Aiden grinned at me, and Mikey looked like she was trying very hard to suppress laughter.
“Shut up, or I might just have to throw these carrots at you.”
“You wouldn't dare.”
Before I even had the chance to lob the carrot at him, his own carrot was flying through the air; its target: me.
Unfortunately for Aiden, I had lightning fast, ninja reflexes, and managed to dodge the orange projectile...for the most part.
It hit me in the ear just as I threw a piece of chicken at him.
Not one to stay out of a good food fight, Mikey followed my attack with a volley of her own carrots at Jessie, who retaliated with the dreaded mashed potatoes.
It wasn't long before we all had at least three different kinds of food covering our face and hair.
I was just about to dump the salad over Aiden's head, when an admonishing voice cut through our fun.
“Just what is going on in here?!” We all froze and looked up to a rather angry woman, who I assumed to be Mrs. Drake, Aiden, Mikey, and Jessie's mom.
I hurriedly set down the salad bowl and made myself as presentable as possible, “Hi, you must be Mrs. Drake, I'm Riley.” I grinned at her and held my hand out.
Tentatively she took my hand and shook it. I guess I could understand her hesitance; I must have been a sight to behold: mashed potatoes swinging in my hair, a carrot stuck in my earrings, and chicken plastering my shirt.
“Nice to finally meet you, Riley, I've heard so much about you....” While sincere, Mrs. Drake's voice still held a slight tremor of uncertainty, as if trying to ascertain whether or not I was mentally stable. “You're much prettier in person.”
Mrs. Drake fixed her hazel gaze on Aiden meaningfully and he obligingly whipped out his phone befme!”
ore shoving it into my face to show me the hideous picture he had taken of me the day we had first met.
Just seeing that picture on his phone made me want to dump that salad over his head all over again.
He must have caught my murderous glare because he quickly backed away from me, with a quick, “I think it's time to get you home!”
I think it was the lack of soft pillows that awoke me on Friday morning, that or the fact that a certain someone was singing horribly along to “Teenage Dream”, either or.
“Shut up…” I complained, moving around on my suddenly uncomfortable bed, and reaching one hand out to smack the person singing upside the head.
“Now, now, Flirt; is that really any way to be treating the guy that’s taking you on a date?”
At the word ‘date’ my eyelids shot up, as did my head. Unfortunately for my head, there was a hard car holdy-thing right above me.
“Where the heck are we?” I asked Aiden, who was cheerfully driving along. “And how did I get out of my pajamas?” I turned in the passenger seat to glare at Aiden.
“Woah, there, Flirt. I promise I did not dress you; that was all Amber and Danny’s doing, I was just the evil mastermind in the plot.”
“You picked this out?” I stared down at my tank top and jean clad self in disbelief. Since when did guys have good taste?
“Duh. No one else knew where we’re going, so they wouldn’t be able to dress you
appropriately.” He rolled his eyes at my apparent stupidity.
“Don’t you think I should know where we’re going?” I questioned, shifting in the seat, trying to find a more comfortable position.
He seemed to consider my suggestion for a moment, before shaking his head. “Nah. I want this to be a surprise. A super secrety awesome surprise.”
“Secrets, secrets are no fun, unless you share with everyone.” I sang, looking out the window.
“Dude! Where the heck are we?! I don’t even know his part of town.”
“That’s ‘cause we’re not in town anymore, Flirt. We’re going to the beach.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “What happened to the ‘super secrety awesome surprise’?”
“It just flew out the window, along with your brain.” He turned to grin at me for a second before turning back to keep his eyes on the road.
“Low blow, man… low blow.” I admonished, shaking my head mockingly at him and reaching a hand out to change the radio station.
“What are you doing? This song is flippin’ awesome.”
I raised an eyebrow at him, “I never pinned you as a sappy crap kind of person.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me.”
“What’s my middle name?” He challenged.
“Wh-how?! How the heck did you know that?!” He practically screeched, completely bewildered by knowledge of his embarrassing middle name.
“Mikey.” I grinned evilly at him and his eyebrows furrowed together at the mention of his diabolical fifteen year old sister.
“Mikey… I should have known…” He grumbled, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Okay, totally my turn now. What do I do every morning before I leave the house?”
“Dance around to Justin Bieber music while getting dressed.”
“I-I do not!” I stuttered, feeling my cheeks flame.
“Then why are you blushing?” He smiled victoriously at me, and I glared at him.
“How did you know?”
“That. Is for me to know, and you to never find out.”
“It was Danny wasn’t it? That traitor…” I muttered, still embarrassed that he had found out about that.
“Like I said, I’ll never give up my source. You might shut it down, and then how would I find out that you enjoy singing along to Veggie Tales songs?”
“Aiden…” I warned, knowing full well that he wouldn’t take me seriously.
“Aw… did someone forget to drink their daily glass of chocolate milk?”
“I’ll have you know that there is nothing wrong with chocolate milk in the morning!”
“Says the girl who watches Sesame Street reruns.”
“What? So I like Ernie and his rubber ducky. Sue me.”
“I think you have a crush on Elmo.” He grinned at me sideways.
“T-that was like, 14 years ago!” I objected, feeling my face and neck go red again. “You can’t take that into account now.”
“Says me.” Grumpily, I crossed my arms across my chest and stared out the window.
“Awww… someone’s not wearing their lucky fishy socks today…”
“For your information: they’re lucky frog socks, and no, I am not wearing them. I didn’t dress myself today, remember?”
“Cranky…” He mumbled.
“No, I’m not.”
“Liar, liar, plants for hire.” He sang, quoting Patrick from “SpongeBob SquarePants”.
“You know, you should probably grow up at some point.”
“I am grown up. Look at me, I’m already on my first date.” Aiden flashed me his signature grin.
“This is your first date?” I marveled incredulously. I couldn’t believe it.
How could this only be his first date? I mean, seriously. He was good looking, fun, he had a great sense of humor, what girl wouldn’t want to date him?
“Yep!” He replied cheerfully, not noting the obvious wonderment in my voice.
“Erm, well I’m sorry that it had to be with me, and all because of my friends…”
“I’m not.” He peeked at me sideways. “I honestly couldn’t think of someone I would rather spend my first date with. Who knows? Maybe there’ll be more to come.”
Slowly but surely, a deep crimson color crept up my neck and face, reaching my hairline and staying there to broadcast to the world that Aiden Drake had just made me blush like a schoolgirl. “Uh, yeah, maybe…” I agreed quietly, tilting my head down and hoping with all my might and main that he hadn’t seen my tomato red face.
“Well, here we are.” The car stopped abruptly and I looked up to see the shining white sand of the beach littered with colorful umbrellas and swimsuits.
Suddenly excited, I clambered out of the car only to remember that I wasn’t wearing a bathing suit.
“Don’t worry, I had them pack you a swimsuit. It should be in the blue bag in the trunk.” Aiden called from the other side of the car where I couldn’t see him.
“Thanks!” I called back, making my way to the back of his car and pulling the trunk open.
Just as he had said, there was a blue bag. I pulled it out and slid the strap over my shoulder, then looked around the beach for a place to change.
Luckily for me, this beach still had those changing tents. I hurriedly slipped into one and pulled out the worst possible choice of a bathing suit Amber and Danny had ever given me.
“Seriously?” I groaned, unwillingly slipping out of my clothes and into the floral printed bathing suit.
Thankfully, the girls had also remembered to pack me a pair of swim shorts to wear over it, but I still wasn’t completely comfortable.
“You coming out of there, Riley?” Aiden asked, presumably standing right outside the changing tent.
“No.” I grumped, not wanting to step out of the tent in so revealing of an outfit.
“Aw, come on, it can’t be that bad.” To my horror, he reached a hand into the tent and started groping around in the air blindly.
“Don’t you dare pull me out of here!” I squeaked, cowering against the opposite wall of the tent.
“Riley, if you’re not out of here in five seconds I am coming in after you.” Aiden warned, still feeling around the tent with one hand.
I didn’t answer, hoping that his threat would be an empty one.
To make a long story short: it wasn’t.
He threw open the flap and marched right in, eyes searching for me in the small tent.
As irrational as it sounds, I tried to make myself even smaller that I had, and curled into an even tighter ball. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. He spotted me, grabbed my arm, and hoisted me to my feet, running his eyes over me once appraisingly before letting out a grunt.
“It’s not that bad. Certainly better than some of the suits out there.” Still not letting go of my hand, he towed me out of the tent into the nearly blinding sunlight.
I breathed in sharply as the sun burned my eyes with its intensity.
“Here.” Aiden said, shoving something into my hands gently.
I opened my eyes a crack and saw a pair of sunglasses. Gratefully, I slipped them on and over my eyes, feeling its soothing effects almost instantly. “Ah… thanks, Narcissus,” I sighed.
“Anytime, Flirt.” He winked at me and squeezed my hand before letting it go. Oddly, I was slightly disappointed when the contact ended.
Don’t be stupid, Riley. I scolded myself. It’s just Aiden.
A lightly tanned, slightly muscular, shirtless Aiden… but sure, just Aiden.
As if it knew I shouldn’t be thinking those things, my legs chose that moment to distract me from such thoughts by tripping over absolutely nothing, sending me sprawling on my stomach in the hot sand.
“You okay?” Aiden asked, taking my hand and pulling me back again.
“Yeah, but your catching skills obviously still need some work.” I teased weakly, silently praising my clumsiness as, because I had fallen, I was once again holding Aiden’s hand.
“Well then, let’s practice.” Without warning, my legs were swept out from under me, and I was sailing high up into the air before coming plummeting back down to earth.
If you ever have the option between landing on the soft, white sand of the beach, or the hard arms of a teenage guy, I would definitely recommend the sand. My landing was neither the most graceful, nor the most comfortable when Aiden caught me after he had thrown me up into the air.
“What the heck was that for?” I asked breathlessly, struggling to remove myself from his restraining arms.
“Why Riley, there’s no need for thanks for catching you!” Aiden mocked, hazel eyes glinting mischievously.
“You’re the one who threw me in the first place.” I grumbled, finally giving up my struggle.
“You said my catching skills needed some work, I was merely practicing.” He winked at me and unceremoniously dumped me on my butt into the sand.
“What the beer-battered rhinoceros was that for?” I demanded, standing and brushing myself off.
“Beer-battered rhinoceros?” Aiden questioned, raising an eyebrow at me and resuming his walk down closer to the edge of the water.
“Yes. You got a problem with that?”
“No, no, not at all…” He chuckled, shaking his head vigorously. “I’ve never heard such a…unique exclamation before is all.”
“That’s me,” I grinned, “Totally unique.”
“Y—wait a minute… doesn’t certifiably mean crazy?”
“Maybe….” Aiden replied innocently, laying out the beach mat and setting up a large, rainbow umbrella.
“I am not crazy!” I objected, huffily pulling and tying my hair back.
“Whatever you say, Flirt, now whe—what are you doing?” He asked, running after me down to the water.
“I’m going for a swim; what does it look like I’m doing?”
“It looks like you're going somewhere littered with hormonal teenage guys in a very flattering swimsuit.”
“Look who's talking. What did you eat today? A whole, big bowl of hotness?”
“Did you just say that I'm hot?” Aiden asked, raising a dark eyebrow at me and his lips turning up at the corners slightly.
“Oh come on, dude. You honestly can't tell that all these girls are practically drooling over you?”
“I don't see any saliva.”
“Ew, dude, gross.”
“You're the one who said they were drooling.”
“Yeah, but I meant it figuratively, not literally.”
“What were we arguing about again?”
“The fact that you were about to go somewhere alone when any teenage guy here could very well snatch you up like a puma pounces on a baby rabbit.”
“Where do you come up with those things?” I asked, shaking my head in disbelief.
“It requires a very fast mind.”
“Or a very weird one.”
I shook my head and rolled my eyes at him and continued my walk down the sands towards the water, now feeling much more self-conscious than I had before. I kept glancing this way and that nervously, looking for any signs of puma-like teenage guys.
“Hello-o there, beautiful...” One guy called at me, his hair bleached blonde from its constant exposure to the sun and a surfboard under his arm.
“Hello yourself.” I called back, smiling at him flirtatiously, just to get on Aiden's nerves.
“What's your name?” He asked, walking over to me, an actual smile stretching across his sun-tanned face.
“Tell me yours, and you might just get to know mine.” I replied, winking and tossing some hair over my shoulder, only momentarily wondering if I was overdoing it.
Evidently not, because he set his surfboard down and sat cross legged in the sand, patting the sand next to him, signaling that I should sit as well.
I looked quickly over my shoulder to see how Aiden was taking this. Instead of the anger I was hoping for, he was shamelessly flirting with a group of girls. He looked over his own shoulder and saw me looking at me. He winked at me and smirked, as if saying: you flirt with him, I flirt with them. I narrowed my eyes at him before smirking back and sitting down next to the surfer-dude.
“The name's Levi. Let me guess, you're name must be Angel.” He winked a warm, brown eye at me and I pretended to be flattered.
“It's Riley actually.”
“Riley, 'courageous'. I think it suits you.”
“How so?” I asked, tilting my head slightly to the right.
“Well you're over here flirting shamelessly with me, while your boyfriend is not twenty feet away from us.”
Shocked, my hand flew to cover my mouth and I felt the blood rush to my face. “H-how...?”
“I'm not blind, Riley, babe. I saw that little smirk fest you guys had going on two seconds ago. I can put two and two together.”
“You, uh, saw that, did you?” I mumbled, taking a piece of hair over my shoulder and twisting it between my hands.
“I certainly did.” He grinned and stood. “Tell you what; whenever you get tired of Mr. Narcissus over there,” he nodded over at Aiden and I stifled a giggle at his unknowing use of my nickname for him, “you give me a call.” He whipped a sharpie out of his pocket and grabbed my wrist, writing his number on my forearm.
“You know, I may just do that.”
“You'd better.” He winked at me and ran a hand casually through his dark blonde hair. “You really want to mess with Narcissus’ mind?” He asked, smiling slightly as, what I imagined to be, a devious plot began to form in his mind.
I glanced over my shoulder at Aiden quickly to see that he was still flirting with the group of bikini-clad girls.
“Yeah, sure. What did you have in mi—“ I was cut off abruptly, when Levi crashed his face into mine, causing our lips to collide roughly.
Now, this was the part that I was supposed to feel fireworks as I twined my fingers through his thick, silky hair while simultaneously realizing that he was ‘the One’. So, I did what was to be expected of me:
I punched him, square in the jaw.
“Uh, ow!” Levi complained, rubbing his jaw in circles, trying to alleviate the pain that I had, proudly, caused him. “What the heck was that for?!”
I didn’t answer, but glared at him doing my best to burn a hole straight through his attractive head, all the while rubbing my lips and trying to get rid of the feel of his.
“Riley, you’re acting as if you’ve never been kissed before.”
“…you have been kissed before, right?” He asked, searching my face desperately for any signs of affirmation.
Finding none, he pulled at his hair awkwardly. “Aw, crap. You’re telling me that I seriously just stole your first kiss? Dangit.” He ran a hand down his face, a frustrated groan escaping his lips. “Look, I’m sorry, Riley. I didn’t mean—“
I sighed, “It’s fine, Levi. It’s just a kiss, ya know? No big deal…” I shrugged and tried to sound unaffected, but inside I was kinda freaking out.
Like quite a few other girls, I had always imagined that my first kiss would be something magical, something to be remembered forever. Instead, it was stolen by a guy I had just met at the freaking beach.
“Are you sure, because—“
“I’m sure, Levi. Now you’d better go, before my date decides to murder you for kissing me.”
“Right. I’ll catch ya later, Riles.” He winked at me, scooped his surfboard up and ran off towards the waves.
I watched him surf for a few minutes, marveling at the obvious ease with which he handled the board.
“Well, that was fun.” Aiden commented in my ear, surprising me into jumping.
“Don't do that!” I hissed, lightly elbowing him in the stomach.
“Aw, you're no fun...” He complained, chuckling softly in my ear. “So who was that?”
“Levi...” I said as casually as I could, trying to look like I had fallen head over heels for him in such a short span of time.
“Do you have sand in your eye?”
I stopped momentarily. “No, why?”
“Because you're blinking like crazy.”
Darn. There goes my 'act like I'm in love' plan. “Uh, no, it's just... you know, the wind and...stuff.” I finished lamely with a sigh. “Come on, I'm hot and--”
“Yes you are...” An unfamiliar voice affirmed, as he walked by.
“Hey, back off buddy.” Aiden growled, taking my shoulders and moving me behind him.
“Jeez, dude, it was just a compliment, no need to get territorial.” The guy who had said I was hot raised his hands defensively in front of himself and backed away quickly.
“Okay…” I muttered, hurriedly taking Aiden’s hand and pulling me with him to the edge of the water. “You need to cool down, buddy.” I towed him further into the ocean, until I was standing in chest-deep water, and he was standing in stomach deep water.
Why yes, I am short compared to him, thanks for noticing.
I quickly dunked myself into the cool water and resurfaced, smoothing my now wet hair back into a ponytail. After I had wiped the salt water away from my eyes, I opened them and looked for Aiden, but he was gone.
“Er…Aiden?” I called, doing a 360 looking for him.
I looked towards the beach but still didn’t see him.
“You called?” He laughed from behind me making me jump…again.
“Would you quit doing that?!” I complained, splashing water at him.
“Only once you quit flirting with random strangers at the beach, Flirt.”
“Psh. No. That’s, like, been the highlight of my day.”
“Oh really?” He raised an eyebrow at me for what seemed to be the millionth time that day.
“Then what say we do something more fun?”
“Like what?” I asked skeptically.
“Like…this!” He grabbed me by my shoulders and shoved me under the water, spluttering all the way down.
“I would say that wasn’t very fun at all.” I coughed, just as soon as I resurfaced. Salt water tastes gross. Just saying…
“For you, maybe. But for me, it’s all the fun in the world.”
We both turned to see Levi floating nearby on his surfboard looking at us amusedly. “What? I figured if we were saying things that were true about ourselves I might as well join in.” He chuckled and slipped off of his surfboard, holding a hand out to Aiden. “Levi.”
“Aiden.” They did that weird dude-handshake-thing.
“Riley.” I chirped, smiling bemusedly and wondering if they would get the joke.
“Er, what?” Levi turned to me, dark brown eyebrows furrowed together under his shaggy blond bangs.
“I thought we were all just randomly saying our names.”
“You’re such a weirdo, Flirt.” Aiden chuckled, shaking his head at my antics.
“Flirt?” Levi looked at me confusedly.
“It’s the nickname he gave me.”
“Ah, well if he gets to give you a nickname, I think I’m entitled to do so as well.”
“Go right ahead.”
Levi crossed his tan arms across his chest and tapped his chin in mock thought. “Totally going with—drumroll, please—“ He paused a minute while Aiden made drum sounds. “Sharkbait.”
“Sharkbait?” I grimaced slightly at the bizarre nickname he had chosen. “Why Sharkbait?”
“Because you’re bleeding.” He pointed at my arm where a small trickle of blood was flowing down it steadily.
“Dude! When the alien brain snot did that happen?” I demanded, twisting my arm to get a better look at the source.
“Er… ‘alien brain snot’?” Levi looked at me curiously while Aiden explained to him about my random—but epic—exclamations.
“I, uh, think that may be my fault…” Aiden said slowly, rubbing the back of his head with his hand.
“How so?” I asked, crossing my arms over my chest in a fashion similar to Levi’s.
“When I was…er, putting you in my car, I may or may not have accidentally scraped your arm against the door…”
“And so it just randomly decides to start bleeding now?” Skeptically, Levi looked at Aiden then back at my bleeding arm.
“Uh no… that would also be my fault. It had already scabbed up by the time we got here, but when I dunked you, I kinda…ripped the scab off accidentally.”
“Lovely…” I sighed, using some salt water to wash off the blood. “Well, I guess I’ll just go sit on the sand and hope I don’t get eaten along the way.”
“Here, get on my board, you’ll get back faster.”
I looked over at the shore and saw that we had drifted much farther away than I had realized. “Does that thing even hold two people?”
“Uh, well, no. But I can tow you if nothing else.”
“Okay…” I tried to clamber up onto the board, but almost instantly slipped back off again, mostly due to my dripping wet swim-shorts.
“Here, let me help.” Aiden took me by the shoulders and lifted me with a grunt onto the smooth surface of the board.
As Levi towed me back to shore, I absently traced the Hawaiian floral pattern that decorated the board.
“So how long have you been surfing?” I asked, still tracing the pattern.
“For as long as I can remember.” Levi replied, grinning at me brightly. “I grew up on this beach. I practically lived on the surfboard.” He chuckled and I slipped off of the board and into the shallow water.
“Are you any good of a teacher?” I raised my eyebrows at him challengingly and—if possible—his smile grew.
“Yeah, I actually work at my dad’s surf-shop. Sometimes he has me teach the tourists that show up around this time of year. Are you thinking about taking lessons?”
“Maybe… it depends on who’s teaching.” I smiled at him and glanced over at Aiden through my peripheral vision.
Okay, so maybe this was a little evil considering that I was supposed to be on a date with him, but I still had to get back at him for the bleeding and the dunking.
“I would be happy to give you lessons, if you’d like.” Levi offered, picking up his surfboard and following me back to mine and Aiden’s spot on the sand.
“Yeah, I’d like that.” I picked up one of the towels and wrapped it around myself using one corner to squeeze the water out of my hair.
“You ready to go, Riley?” Aiden asked, drying off himself.
“Hm? Yeah, sure. It was great meeting you, Levi.”
“Likewise, Sharkbait. Don’t forget to call.” He winked at me and tapped my forearm where his number was still faintly visible.
Aiden and I walked back to his car in silence, uncomfortable on my end, because I was feeling guilty about flirting with Levi right in front of him.
“So, where to next, captain?” I asked, faking cheerfulness.
“Well, what would you say to lunch?”
As if in response to his question, my stomach gurgled, earning me a laugh from Aiden. “I guess I’ll take that as a ‘yes’.”
I giggled as he started the car and I looked down at my forearm thoughtfully. Gently, I began to trace the ink that spelled out Levi's number.
“Would you quit that?” Aiden demanded angrily, jaw suddenly hardened and hazel eyes showing no traces of their former humor.
“Aw, is somebody jealous?” I teased.
“Yes, Riley, I am. How would you feel if you were on your first date and your date started flirting with some random stranger and got their number, hm?” I supposed the question was hypothetical and didn't answer, but merely sank down into my seat.
“I’m sorry…” I finally murmured, feeling very, very small.
He sighed and turned the key in the ignition, “Where do you want to eat?” He asked.
I looked up in surprise. That was it? I glanced over at him, he was no longer completely tensed, and he was looking at me full on.
“Where do you want to eat?” He repeated, looking at me expectantly.
Seriously, this guy was way too sweet for his own good, but I still didn’t feel right.
“Yes, Riley, I forgive you, now tell me where you want to eat, I’m hungry.”
“Wherever you want is fine…and thanks.” I added, and, before I could reconsider, I quickly leaned over and kissed his cheek.
“Let’s go then…:” He mumbled, turning away from me, but not before I had seen the faint blush coloring his cheeks.
The iridescent sphere floated gracefully through the air before landing on my nose and promptly exploding.
I wrinkled my nose and turned away from a laughing Aiden quickly, using one corner of my shirt to get the soap out of my eyes.
“Dude, what the heck was that for?” I laughed, blowing a bubble of my own at him.
“I felt like it, got a problem with that?” He raised a dark eyebrow at me and blew another bubble, this time aiming it at a nearby tree.
“You’re not going to hit it; it’s going to pop before it even reaches it.”
“Wanna bet?” His hazel eyes twinkled mischievously as he turned to face me.
“Sure, I’ll bet you ice-cream that that bubble will pop before it reaches the tree.”
We both turned to face the bubble that was being blown left and right by the gentle summer breeze. It went up and down, before hitting its target and popping.
“Dang….it.” I muttered, standing from the green park bench we had been sitting on, and twisting the cap of the bubble formula back on the container.
Aiden was grinning from ear to ear, so widely, that it looked as if his face might split if he smiled any wider. “So, Flirt… how about that ice cream?” He laughed and stood, taking my hand in his, making it seem very small indeed.
We strolled through the park, hand in hand, talking, until we reached an ice cream stand. We ordered, and as I was about to take out my wallet, Aiden stopped me.
“Yes?” I asked, smiling up at him, expecting him to—despite our bet—pay for the ice cream.
Instead, he asked for another scoop. So much for chivalry.
I paid for the ice creams and we continued to walk through the park.
“Yeeees, Narcissus?” I asked, fluttering my eyelashes at him teasingly.
“Flirt…” He said, in a whiny tone.
“Fliiiirt…” He whined.
“What?” I finally hissed, frustrated.
“You’ve got five minutes to get rid of it!” Aiden crowed proudly.
“Dude, that is so childish, man…” I laughed.
“Oh? And what are you going to do about it?”
“Oh…I don’t know… this maybe?” I took my ice cream cone and shoved it onto his nose, leaving a pink splotch of frozen dairy products on it.
“Cold! Cold! COLD!” He shrieked, waving his arms up and down like some kind of crazed flamingo.
A little girl and her brother stopped for a moment and stared at Aiden like he was mentally unstable, and a grandmother stopped talking with her adorable grandson to glare disapprovingly in our direction.
“Dude,” I hissed, smacking his arm, “Calm down!”
“Why? What I was doing?”
“You’ve got five minutes to get rid of it! Oh, and I think you owe me an ice cream…” I observed, turning my cone this way and that, looking at the Aiden-nose-shaped hole in the strawberry cream.
“Psh. No.” He said, waving his hand dismissively. “You’re the one who shoved your ice cream onto my shnoz, if anything you owe me.”
“This was all your idea.”
“Would you two quit that, you’re setting a bad example for my children!” A nearby woman screeched, herding her children away from us.
“There. You see that, Aiden? You scare small children.”
“Uh, no. I think that was you, Flirt. And your ice cream assaults.”
“It was an assault. One. No plural.”
“What kind of terrible grammar is that?” Aiden scoffed, licking his own ice cream happily.
“Well that explains it.”
“And just what is that supposed to mean.” I challenged, stopping in my tracks and glaring at him.
“It means you’re stupid, love.” He explained in a “Mrs. Doubtfire” voice.
“Gee, really feeling the love here, man.” I muttered sarcastically, rolling my eyes and eating my ice cream, careful to avoid where Aiden’s nose had touched it.
“'Its not poisonous, you know...”
“My nose. It's not poisonous.”
I pretended to examine his face before shaking my head concernedly, “I don't know, dude, that looks pretty toxic to me...”
“Shut up...” he muttered, bumping me lightly with his shoulder.
I laughed, “You're fun, Aiden.”
“You're not too bad yourself, Riley.” He acknowledged.
We finished our ice cream in the park, bumping shoulders the whole time.
“That was fun, Narcissus.” I said, as we walked up to my door. “I hope that this was an enjoyable first date?”
“The best.” He grinned down at me, showing off square, white teeth.
“Uh... would you like to come in?” I asked, my hand on the door handle.
“Are you sure it's okay?”
“Yeah, sure, why not?”
I pushed the door open and he stepped in after me.
“Riley, you're home!” My mom's voice called out to me.
I started in surprise. She wasn't supposed to be home this early...
“Riley bear!” My dad called from the same general area.
Okay, what was going on here, he was supposed to be sleeping after a long night at work...
Both of them walked out into the entrance way, with smiles that froze in place once the caught sight of Aiden standing beside me, our fingers interlocked.
I quickly let go of his hand, “Mom, what... what are you doing home so early?”
Ignoring my question, my mom eyed Aiden appraisingly, as did my father.
“Riley...who is this?” Mom asked, eyes still on Aiden.
I glanced over at the boy beside me. He looked incredibly uncomfortable with all the attention he was receiving and for a moment the thought that he looked cute when embarrassed flashed through my mind.
Not knowing how else to explain it, I said, “Er, Mom, Dad, this is my boyfriend, Aiden.”
“Boyfriend, eh?” My dad grunted, “Then who is this fellow right here?” He took a step to the side and Paul stepped into the hall.
“And this boy, too?” Mom asked as number 19, Charles, stepped into the room as well.
“Riley Jane Noble, you have a lot of explaining to do.” My mother warned, arms crossed threateningly over her chest.
“Uh, hi guys...” I said, forcing out cheer. “What's up?”
“Now...” my mom began, as soon as we were all seated in the dining room. “Explain.”
I swallowed audibly in the deathly quiet room, and twined my fingers together nervously under the table. All eyes were on me: Mom's brown ones, Dad's blue ones, Paul's green ones, Aiden's hazel ones, and Charles' piercing grey ones.
“Well, um, to put it simply... I'm kind of dating all of them...”
I flinched when my father's nostrils flared, he didn't like the idea of me dating, much less three guys at one time.
“Uh... I guess it all started when Amber needed a job...” I went on to tell them about how Amber had decided to start a business of her own and that I would be the guinea pig. “So you see, it's all for a good cause... right?” I attempted a smile, but all that met me were stony faces.
“Boys, leave.” My dad commanded, in his deep baritone voice.
All three of them stood and walked out of the room, Aiden sending a worried look at me over his shoulder.
“Riley...” my mom sighed, shaking her head from side to side slowly, eyes closed and forefinger and thumb pinching the bridge of her nose. “Why couldn't Amber have chosen someone else?”
“Well, Danny already has a boyfriend, and Amber's been bugging me for forever to get a guy, so--”
“But three? That's overdoing it, don't you think?”
“Mom, if you want to know the rules, you're going to have to ask Amber. Even I don't know what the heck is going on.” I sighed, making to get up and follow the guys out of the room.
“Hold it right there, miss.” My dad interjected, standing as well. “If you're going to be causing my poor hair even more stress and turn it white, you will do it with my approval.”
“Oh no... Daddy.... you wouldn't!” I bluffed, hoping that I was right.
“I would, and I will. All three of them must pass the boyfriend test.”
“This is non-negotiable Rayella.” I cringed at the use of my full name, he was serious now. “Each of them will pass my boyfriend test or Amber will have to shut down this little institution of hers, and you can face her wrath alone.” He scanned my face with his sharp, blue eyes. “Deal?”
I sighed, before taking his proffered hand. “Deal.”
All three of us walked into the living room where the boys were waiting patiently. The blond, the brunette, and the slightly-red-head. It felt like a set up for a bad joke.
“Hey guys,” I greeted, waving one hand at them before shoving it back into my pocket.
“ 'Sup?” They all greeted, with that weird sup-nod thing.
“Uh, before you go... you kinda have to...” I sighed and kicked myself inwardly for what I was about to say. “pass my dad's boyfriend test...” I trailed off a little bit at the end, mostly because it was so gosh-darn embarrassing.
I think there's a reason behind this boyfriend test thing, and that reason would be: “You've got to be kidding me!” Charles scoffed, rolling his grey eyes and tossing his blond hair slightly.
Somehow, I don't think Charles is going to make the cut.
Anyways, back to the reason: to weed out the jerks, dweebs, or otherwise unwanted people in the group.
“You think I'm going to sit here and go through a test for you? As if.” Ladies and gentleman, I present to you: the dweeb. “You're not worth it.” If only you knew how much you sounded like a girl right then, Charles, dear... if only you knew...
“Then by all means, dude, leave.” I commanded, pointing towards the door, not bothering to walk him there. If he was going to be a jerk then whatever, I didn't really like him anyways.
He stood, tossed one last single, haughty—and kinda girly—look of disdain over his shoulder at us and exited my home.
“Well then.” I began dusting my hands off and turning back to the two remaining boys sitting on my couch. “If you would come with me, we can begin.” I smiled innocently at them, and beckoned at them to follow me back into the dining room so that my dad could conduct the test.
When we got into the kitchen, two button up, collared shirts and ties were sitting on two chairs. I motioned them to the chairs where they looked at the clothes curiously.
“They're for you to put on.” I explained.
Sure, no one had ever needed to go through this test before, but my mom had explained how it would work.
The guys put the shirts and ties on and sat down hesitantly, clearly wondering what the heck was going on. I smiled slightly, if Mom's descriptions of the Boyfriend Test were anything to go by, this was going to be good.
Hurriedly, I slipped up the stairs and into my room, changing into a nice dress and some jewelry before sprinting down the stairs and back into the dining room, just in time to see my mom flicking the lights off and lighting some candles.
I sat down with the guys and smiled at them from across the table.
They smiled hesitantly back.
We talked for a few minutes, before my dad came out with a pot of piping hot spagehtti sauce, and my mom with a bowl of noodles. They set it down in front of us before disappearing back into the kitchen.
“Uh, dinner?” Aiden asked, raising an eyebrow at the dishes in front of him.
“Just wait.” I smirked, as my mom came back out with a roll of wax paper.
This was where it gets fun.
With a elegant flourish, my mom tore off a piece of paper and set it down in front of Paul, then did the same with Aiden and myself.
Paul looked down at the paper in front of him, a confused expression plastered across his features. “Riley... what--” He was cut off by a loud splat as my dad plopped some pasta down and covered it with sauce.
Paul's facial features quickly rearranged themselves into shock as he stared down at the messy meal in front of him.
“You've got to be kidding me...” He breathed, green eyes wide as saucers.
Aiden looked like he was about to laugh until he was given the same treatment.
When each of us had been served some spaghetti, my parents stepped back.
“Well? Dig in.” My dad commanded, motioning at us to eat.
The guys looked down at their makeshift plates and messy meal, “What about forks?”
“What about them?”
“Well...don't we...need them?” To me it sounded like they were beginning to question their very sanity. As if their mental stability relied on the use of utensils to eat.
“I don't see why...Riley, why don't you demonstrate to these boys how it's done?”
Grinning, I took my hands, and picked up some spaghetti. “It's easy, guys.” I smiled, before eating the pasta in my hand.
Now that they knew what to do, both guys dived into it with a flourish. They looked like they were having fun too. Tomato sauce stained the cuffs of the shirts they were wearing, but they didn't seem to care.
Okay, so that was a lie. Only one of them did that. And that one was: Aiden. Of course.
One look at Paul and you could tell he was kind of uncomfortable with what he was supposed to be doing. He was picking up the spaghetti tentatively, and being as careful as possible not to let the sauce touch the shirt fabric.
He looked so ridiculous, I fought the urge to laugh. Granted, Aiden and I probably look equally silly, but I couldn't see myself and at the moment, I didn't really care what Aiden looked like, I was so distracted by the mess Paul was making while trying to avoid a mess.
Ah, irony, you never fail to amuse me.
When we had finished our spaghetti, we were free to wash up and change out of our spaghettied clothes, before the second and final round of the boyfriend test began.
I quickly changed out of my stained dress and back into my tank top and jeans then rushed down the stairs and plopped down on the couch between Paul and Aiden, my dad across from us, a pair of glasses settled on his nose and a piece of torn and wrinkled paper in his hands.
My dad cleared his throat and the boys snapped to attention on either side of me.
“Charles did what?” Amber gasped, putting a manicured hand over her lip-sticked mouth.
“He said, and I quote: 'You think I'm going to sit here and go through a test for you? As if. You're not worth it.' “ I replied, sitting down on Danny's fluffy, blue, papasan chair.
“No!” Amber breathed, eyes wide.
“Eh, he was a dweeb anyway.” I shrugged and sank down further into the cooshiness of the chair, wanting this conversation to be over.
“If it's any consolation, I think he was an idiot.” Roy offered from his perch on Danny's desk.
“Thanks, Roy.” I smiled at him, and I could have sworn that he blushed.
“So what are you going to do now?” Amber quizzed, settling down cross-legged on the bed, next to Danny.
“I dunno, just date Paul and Aiden?”
“You can't do that!” Amber protested, leaping up from her position and landing on her toes like a cat.
“That would make it way too easy, you obviously like Aiden”--I blushed a deep scarlet--”better than Paul, so we need to bring another guy into the picture. Someone who could rival Aiden and take Charles' place.” She tapped her chin thoughtfully before looking slyly over at me. “Show me your forearm.”
“What? No!” I clutched my arm to my front, and curled up into the fetal position.
Did that stop Amber?
Of course not.
She leaped at me, eyes wild and wide, and clawed at my arm, pulling at it until I finally let go of it with my other arm. She crowed triumphantly, and Danny, Roy, and I all stared at her.
“You know, sometimes, you're weirder than all the rest of us.” Danny commented, slowly rising and walking over to us to examine my arm.
“Who gave you this number?” Amber demanded, eyes quickly scanning over the digits.
“Uh, some guy named Levi, why?”
Amber came dangerously close to me, so that it looked like her two eyes were melded into one.
“Call. Him. Now.”
“Someone drank crazy juice for breakfast this morning,” I muttered, pulling out my phone and punching in Levi's number.
I put the phone to my ear, but Amber wrenched it away and put it on speaker.
Ring... Ring... Ring... Ring...
“Er, yeah, whozzis?” He sounded groggy, as if I had just woken him up.
“Sharkbait.” As I said this, everyone's eyebrows shot up questioningly.
“No way! Seriously?”
“No, I'm actually Big Bird, yes Dumbo, it's Riley.”
“Oh, so now I'm Dumbo?”
“Got a problem with that?” I challenged, as flirtatiously as possible.
“Nah. What's up?”
“You know how you said to call if I ever got tired of Narcissus to call you.” I shrugged even though he couldn't see me.
“Who the heck is Narcissus?” Amber hissed at me over the phone.
“Am I on speaker?”
He chuckled and I could just imagine him shaking his blond head. “So you got tired of pretty-boy?”
“Then why are you calling me?”
“It would be easier to show you...”
“Uh, okay? “
“Will you meet me at...” I paused and looked at the paper Amber was holding much to close to my face. “Mable's March?” I hit the paper down. “What the heck is Mable's March?”I whispered.
“That little park downtown?”
“Uh, yeah. That one.”
“Okaty, what time?”
“In an hour?”
“Sounds good, I'll be there.”
“Great... I'll see ya then?”
“It's a date.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Roy twitch slightly. For a moment I was confused, but then I saw Danny pulling at the hair at the back of his neck.
The line went dead, and I put my phone back into my pocket.
“Oh yes, immensely so.” Amber grinned.
“Why is it that I always seem to do what you say to?”
“Because I rule, babe. Because I rule."
I perched myself on the top of a park bench in between Danny and Amber as we waited for the guys to show up. Roy had sat down in front of me, and placed his head on my knees until Danny decided she didn't like that, and flicked his forehead.
Aiden was the first to arrive, we saw him pull up in his car. Paul was second. And last, but certainly not least, Levi arrived, riding on a midnight blue Harley Davidson motorcycle, a matching helmet covering his head, the tinted visor down.
Amber and Danny watched with wide eyes and Levi climbed off his bike and took the helmet off his head, shaking his blond hair back into its messy place. If their reaction was anything like mine, they were practically drooling right now.
Levi hung the helmet on the handlebars of the motorcycle, then strode over to our group.
“Sharkbait.” He winked at me, “Aiden.” He nodded at Aiden, who just grunted in response. “So what's up?”
“Well...” I began awkwardly, twisting my fingers through Roy's hair without noticing. “I need you to fill a recently vacated position...”
Levi looked at me, one dark eyebrow raised, “Like, some kind of job?”
“If you call dating Riley a job,” Roy supplied helpfully, pulling my fingers from his hair and putting them back on my lap.
“Best job ever.” Levi smiled, “I knew you would warm up to me.”
“Er, that's not it... you'll be competing with other people.”
“Competing? For what?”
Amber stepped in from there.
“You will be one of the three guys that will be dating Riley. You will each take her on four dates,”
“Only four?” Paul cut in, looking at Amber curiously.
“Yes, only four. We have to condense this into one summer, so we really don't have much time.”
“It's only June.”
“Yeah well... shut up. Anyways, after the four dates, Riley will decide which one of you she wants as her long-term, official boyfriend. We could have some kind of special cerimony for this... like a ball or dance or something, or—oo! We could do it like with “The Bachelorette” where she hands out the roses! That would be so amazing, and--”
“So let me get this straight. I'll be dating Riley who will also be dating two other guys, to prove to her that I'm the better choice for a boyfriend?”
“That's the watered down version, but, yeah.”
Levi looked over at the three guys sitting near me and his eyebrows furrowed together, “It looks like you already have your three guys, what do you need me for?”
I blinked, startled slightly by his observation, “What do you mean we already have three guys?”
“Aiden, that guy, and the dude whose hair you were just playing with.” He explained matter of factly, putting his sun browned hands into his jean pockets, making him look like some kind of jean model.
I was so distracted by his seeming perfection, it took me a while to process what he had just said
“Woah, wait... you think I'm dating Roy?”
“He's leaning back on your knees and you were playing with his hair.”
“Well, yeah, but how do you know he's not my... brother?”
“He doesn't look like you.”
“Maybe I was adopted.”
Levi sighed and ran a hand over his face, “Fine, Riley, you're not dating Roy.”
“Yay, I win!” I grinned, and ran my fingers through Roy's hair again, just to irk both him and Danny.
Again, Roy pulled my fingers gently from his hair and placed them back in my lap.
“So is there anything else I need to know about this whole dating experiment thing?”
“Uh... you have a date with Riley... today....”
“Woah, he does?”
“He's taking Charles' place, remember? I had already made reservations.”
I groaned and slumped down onto the bench, pushing Roy off in the process. “Please tell me it's not a fancy restaurant again...”
“Hey! I think that I did pretty well on our first date considering the circumstances!” Paul protested from my right.
I ignored him and looked at Amber expectantly.
“Chill, Riles, it's nothing like that. Charles was a surfer, so I made reservations for him to give you surfing lessons. I reserved a board and everything.”
“You can do that?”
“I dunno, but I did. So what do you think, Levi, you up to it?” She asked, turning back to the guy in front of us.
“Sure, I had already promised Riley some surfing lessons anyways, a first date is a good a time as any to teach her.” He grinned down at me and extended his tanned hand, “M'lady.”
I slipped my hand into his and stood, making an attempt at being graceful.
Did I succeed?
In a way, I guess,
I gracefully fell flat on my butt.
“Seriously, what is it with you guys and not being able to catch me?” I demanded, my eyes clenched shut because of the pain in my rear.
“Uh, Riley, I did catch you.” A voice whispered softly in my ear, sending slight chills up my arms.
I opened my eyes slowly to see Roy underneath me. I had landed on his legs.
“My landing on your legs is not catching me, Roy, dear.” I giggled, “but thanks anyways.” I leaned over and kissed him lightly on his forehead, before taking Levi's hand once more and standing.
To my surprise, as soon as I was standing, I was jerked roughly into Levi's chest and his voice was in my ear, “I think you stunned poor Roy, Sharkbait.” He chided.
I strained to look over my shoulder to look at Roy. He looked perfectly normal. “I don't know what you're talking about, Levi.”
“Yeah, sure.” He chuckled, finally releasing me, but keeping my hand. He tugged gently at it, and I waved goodbye to my friends.
He led me over to his motorcycle and dug around in the saddle=bag-ish storage containers, finally pulling out a black helmet.
“Put this on.” He pushed it into my hands and pulled his own helmet onto his head.
I shoved the helmet onto my head, probably messing up the perfect hair Amber had given me, and clambered onto the bike behind Levi, wrapping my arms firmly around him.
“Please don't let us die.” I pleaded, holding tightly to his waist.
“I'll do my best to avoid death.” He chuckled, kick-starting it and revving the engine.
I shut my eyes tight and pressed my head as tightly as possible into his back.
We were flying.
The off key laughter and overwhelming happiness made it seem like I had just stepped out of reality and into a really bad movie.
The date with Levi had started off well, but had quickly taken a turn for the worst when we simultaneously realized that there was no way I was going to be hitting the waves any time soon. So, instead of forcing me through another twenty minutes of our half hour lesson, Levi returned the rental boards and drove us to the movies where we watched some obscure chick-flick that he thought I might enjoy.... I really didn't.
Now we were here, sitting at his family's table, eating pork chops and corn on the cob, while listening to his numerous aunts and uncles tell me embarrassing baby stories about Levi and his six siblings. Yes, I said six siblings.
I could name them all, and tell you at least two baby stories about them, but instead, I'll only name them off.
There was Trevor, Levi's senior by two years, making him 19.
Amanda, Levi's twin sister.
John, the 16 year old artist of the family.
Jack, the Justin Bieber lookalike with the voice to boot.
Shirley, the shy bookworm with golden curls.
And last, but not least, Hailey, the sweet, blue-eyed brunette with a dimple in each 5 year old cheek.
I loved his family, every last one of them. To be quite honest, I don't think it would be humanly possible not to like them, they were just too.... likable.
I had just finished listening to Levi's Aunt Hanna describe how Trevor used to blow snot bubbles when his mother turned to me.
“So, tell us about yourself, Riley.”
All eyes turned to me expectantly, some curious, others appraising.
I choked down my rice, suddenly self-conscious. “What would you like to know?”
“Do you have any siblings?”
I shook my head quickly, “Nope, I'm an only child.”
“How can you eat so much and yet stay skinny?” That one was from Levi, who was sitting on my right.
“Are you kidding me? I've worked hard to be like this.” I gestured down at my torso. “I actually get kinda pudgy in the summer, but work it all back off with football.”
“You play football?” Once again, all eyes were on me.
“Soccer, I just like to call it football to see how people react.” I grinned at all the people around me and they returned the favor.
“Witty, Riley, quite witty,” approved Levi's Uncle Solomon, waving his fork at me and nodding his head.
They continued to throw questions at me, and I answered them to the best of my ability. It was hard to answer some of them, however, as they were bizarre. One such question was: "Would you rather go a week without showering, or a week without brushing your teeth?"
I cringed at that one. "Neither,"
"I would choose the not brushing your teeth option." Commented Amanda from across the table.
"Why?" I questioned, curious as to why she would even consider the question.
"Well, my hair gets all greasy if I don't wash it for even one day, and I wouldn't be able to stand the thought of not showering for a week, but if I don't brush my teeth... I could just chew a bunch of gum, ya know?"
"You've got a point there, I guess I never thought of it that way."
And then, the interrogations continued.
“Levi.” Uncle Solomon suddenly declared. “I like this girl.”
Next to me, Levi grinned, flashing ultra-white teeth. “So do I, Uncle Sol.”
“Then what are you waiting for? Propose!” He winked at him over his large glasses then resumed his eating as if he hadn't said something highly unusual.
A snicker ran around the table, and, I must admit, I joined in. Levi's bright red face was just too amusing to not laugh at.
His hands were frozen on the table, and his jaw was slack, his eyes wide open.
I laughed and patted his hand, “Maybe in a couple years, Uncle Sol, but not anytime soon.”
“He better get to ya soon, before some other whippersnapper snatches you up.”
“Yeah, some other whippersnapper...” I murmured, my thoughts suddenly turning to the other two boys...
“Happy Birthday, Riley!” The chorus of voices met me as I finished my sleepy descent down the stairs and walked into the kitchen.
“Welcome to the world of adults, Riles,” Roy grinned, still in his pajamas.
“Thanks, guys.” I smiled and hugged everyone in my kitchen in turn.
Both Amber and Danny's families were there, Danny's family more casual in their still pajama-clad state, while Amber's family were more put together, hair and clothes impeccable.
Danny was practically bouncing up and down, her dark hair like a haystack on the top of her head. “You're eighteen!” She crowed, squeezing me tightly.
“Danny. Can't. Breathe.” I gasped with what air I had left.
“Oh, sorry.” She smiled apologetically and stepped back.
Both my mom and dad were in the room as well, shining smiles plastered across their faces. The kind of smiles that meant something was up.
“Uh... is there something you wanted to tell me?” I asked warily.
“We're going to the Hilton!” Danny burst in excitedly, unable to contain herself.
“We're what?” I turned to my parents, wide-eyed. “T-that's....when?”
“From July 20 to the 23.”
“Oh, so in a month.”
“Yeah, aren't you excited?”
“Unbelievably, thanks Mom.” I hugged them both before standing awkwardly to one side.
“So, uh.... now what?”
As if on cue, the doorbell rang.
“Go get the door, Riley.” Dad commanded, a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
“Just get the door.”
I walked into the foyer and pulled the door open to see three young men standing there.
“Happy birthday!” They all said in unison.
Aiden stepped forward and squeezed me tightly, “Happy Birthday, Flirt, and welcome to the world of legally-adult awesomeness.”
“So, how's it feel to be an adult now, Sharkbait?” Levi asked, putting a small package in my hand as he stepped forward to hug me as well.
He laughed and shook his blond head, stepping aside to let Paul through.
“Jeez, I feel like I should be calling you Ms. Noble now.” He teased, dodging the flick I sent at his forehead.
“As you wish, Gramma.” He winked at me and ducked into the house as quickly as he could.
“Yeah, you better run!”
“Can't catch me, Gramma.” He called back from somewhere in the house.
I shook my head, chuckling. “Young whippersnapper,” I quoted Uncle Sol.
“Uncle Sol would be proud of your use of old-people vocabulary,” Levi approved, walking beside me into the kitchen.
“Yeah, now that I'm all old I know all the hip senior-citizen words.”
We both laughed as we stepped into the, now full, kitchen.
"Are you sure this is okay?” I asked for about the billionth time as Paul and I walked into the large, white church.
His sister was getting married today, and he had brought me along as his date.
“Yes, Riley, I’m sure. Can’t you just trust me? You look beautiful.” He smiled at me and squeezed my hand gently, reassuringly.
“I don’t feel beautiful,” I mumbled, keeping my voice low so that he couldn’t hear.
I was having self-esteem issues, just like every other teenage girl in the world. Maybe mine were different, maybe not; our insecurities about our physical appearance had never really come up in any of my conversations with my friends.
“Well, you are.” Paul reassured, obviously hearing my little muttering.
I blushed, feeling beautiful for a moment. If he said it then it must be true, right? But then we walked into a room with a bunch of girls with a better tan and slimmer waists and all my insecurities came rushing back to me.
I sighed and kept walking, intentionally staying close to Paul. I probably looked possessive, but what did I care? I didn’t know anyone here but him anyways.
He sat us in the front. Actually, he sat me in the front. As soon as I was seated, he let go of my hand and straightened his tux jacket.
“Where are you going?” I asked, suddenly worried.
“I’m the best man.” He winked at me and smoothed his hair back. “How do I look?”
I gave him a once-over. Crisp black slacks, white shirt, blue tie, black jacket, his dark-green eyes were sparkling under his rusty-blond hair.
Shrugging, I said, “Eh, you’ll do I suppose.”
“You suppose?” He seemed to fighting a smile. “And just what is wrong with me?”
“Oh, you know… just an ego about ten sizes too big.”
He laughed and ruffled my hair, “I’ve got to get going. I’ll see you at the reception?”
He gave me one last smile before walking off towards the back of the church. A few moments later, the music started and everyone turned in their seats to see the family of the happy couple walking down the white carpet to their seats in the front.
I suddenly felt out of place, what was I doing way up here? I wasn’t family.
I didn’t have time to ponder it because Paul, the groomsmen and the bridesmaids started making their way down the aisle, huge smiles on their faces. As he passed, Paul winked at me making me giggle quietly.
Finally, the bride came, all in white. You could tell she was smiling, even from behind her white veil. Beside her, her father walked slowly, as if making this last moment with his daughter last longer.
I watched as the newlyweds twirled as their first dance as a married couple. There were a few flashes of light, and small red dots following the couple: people trying to make it so that the happy pair could remember this moment forever.
I smiled as the song ended and they let go of each other, almost hesitantly. His eyes never deviated from her face, her gaze never left his eyes. They were so in love and it seemed like they glowed.
I shook my head happily and returned my attention to my drink, I took a quick sip then set it back on the table, drumming my fingers on the table aimlessly.
“Bored?” A voice nearby chirped.
I looked up to see a young woman with light brown hair and grey-blue eyes smiling at me.
“Hi, I’m Delaney.” She stuck her hand out and I shook it.
“How do you know the happy couple?”
“Er, I don’t.” I laughed uncomfortably.
Her striking eyes widened, “You’re a wedding crasher?” She whispered, leaning closer as if I were about to expose a deep, dark secret.
“No! Oh gosh, no! I’m here with Paul.”
“Oh.” Her smile returned but it wasn’t quite as wide as it had been before. “He’s nice.”
“Yes, he is.” I agreed. “But he seems to have abandoned me.”
“Mm…” She murmured, her eyes glazed over in thought of times past.
“Riley! There you are!” A relieved Paul called, pushing his way through the crowd towards us.
“Yep, here I am.”
“Hello Paul.” Delaney said, looking up at him, a serene smile stretched across her face.
“D-delaney,” he stuttered, taking a shaky seat beside me. “Uh, long time no see.”
“Yes, it has been a rather long time hasn’t it?” She concurred, still looking at him.
They didn’t take their eyes off of each other but stared long and hard at each other’s faces, like lov—
That was it.
Paul and Delaney had a history.
A romantic one.
The sun shone brightly down on the pages of my book as the cool, summer breeze rustled the pages, making me lose my page for what seemed like the millionth time in the last ten minutes. Sighing, I pushed my hair behind my ear and flipped through the delicate pages to find where I was again.
“The power of doing anything with quickness is always prized much by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance.”
I tried to keep reading, but that line kept my eyes sealed on it. What was I doing with this whole Dating Department business?
Three dates wasn’t long enough to firmly decide who I wanted to have as a long-term boyfriend. Heck, all three of the guys I was dating I had only known a day or two before I started seeing them! Groaning, I snapped the book shut and pressed my forehead against its leather binding. What was I doing dating three guys I barely knew? They were toying with my emotions! I felt torn in two different directions: between Aiden and Levi. Paul I had long since let go when I had seen how he acted with Delaney around. I couldn’t compete with that, and there was no way I was going to try to come between them, they were just too cute.
Stupid, stupid, stupid! With each word I banged the leather-bound novel against my forehead to pound it into my skull.
“Riles…what are you doing?” A voice asked me softly, concernedly, from the corner of my yard. I looked up to see Roy staring at me curiously, his blond eyebrows furrowed together over his blue eyes.
“Just… reading.” I grinned at him lopsidedly and he returned the favor, simultaneously moving closer, hands clasped behind his back. “What’s up?”
"Well,” he began, “I never really got the chance to give you your birthday present the other day, so I figured I could give it to you now.”He shrugged and brought out the package he was hiding behind his back.
It was a small box, blue, wrapped in a thin, blue ribbon. He placed it gently in my hands, and then sat down in the grass beside me.
“Open it.” He prompted gently, gesturing loosely at the present in my hands.
“You didn’t have to get me anything, you know,” I commented, tugging lightly at the ribbon and letting the bow free.
His shoulders lifted and lowered but he said nothing.
Almost hesitantly, I lifted the lid off of the box to reveal something wrapped in tissue paper. I raised an eyebrow at him but he just shooed me to unwrap it looking bizarrely like an excited child. I pulled the paper apart and a glass rose was nestled in the wrappings.
Everything was made of glass: the stem, the leaves, even the petals.
Stunned, I reached out a finger to trace the contours of the breakable substance; I touched it lightly, afraid that any caress harder than a butterfly’s kiss would immediately shatter the flower in front of me.
“It’s beautiful,” I breathed, lifting it gingerly from its blue container and holding it in my hands.
“I’m glad you like it,” he said, letting out what sounded like a sigh of relief.
“Did you think I wouldn’t?” I giggled, putting the rose back in its box.
“Girls can be fickle sometimes.”
He smiled and ran a hand through his hair, “So it’s not completely horrible?”
“It’s perfect.” Laughing, I threw my arms around him and hugged him tightly. “Thank you, Roy.”
“If you’re going to react like this, I should give you presents more often,” he chuckled lowly in my ear, hugging me back.
“Don’t tell me you’re another one of those guys that suddenly wants to date me,” I groaned pulling back and grimacing.
“Never,” he chuckled, ruffling my hair with one hand and making me shake my head ‘no’ with the other. “You’re not hot enough for that.”
“Hey!” I protested, playfully chucking his jaw.
“You know I’m kidding.” He assured, taking my hands in his. “You’re beautiful, Riley. Not cute, not pretty, not hot. Beautiful. Just like the rose I gave you.”
Blushing furiously, I tried to pull my hands from his, “Roy—“
“I’m not trying to hit on you as Danny so often asserts, I am merely trying to point out something that is so obvious to every young male around you.
“Have you never noticed how guys act around you? Sure, you’ve never dated, but it wasn’t from lack of interest from the guys, it was because you held no interest in them.”
“Roy, I—“ but he cut me off again.
“You can’t see it, can you? How beautiful you are? Gosh, I just wish you could see in yourself what I can see in you. I wish I could show you just how beautiful you are.”
I pulled my hands out of his and stood slowly, taking my copy of Pride and Prejudice with me. “I need to go inside.”
“Riley—I’m sorry, I—“
And with those final words, I slipped inside, feeling confused about my feelings now more than ever before.
I chewed nervously on my bottom lip as I fiddled with the hem of my flower-printed summer dress.
“Are you sure this is okay?” I murmured, gazing at my reflection with uncertainty plastered over every single one of my features.
“Of course I’m sure it’s okay, Riley! You look stunning, and all thanks to moi!” Amber grinned and dropped the last of my newly-curled brown hair into place.
“But will he like it? I mean… it is Levi. I have no clue what the heck he does like.”
“Well, for starters, he likes you.” Amber shrugged and handed me a tube of lipgloss. “Put this on.”
I obliged and picked up the mascara, beginning to put that on as well, “But what if… what if I’m overdressed? Then what?”
“Riley, hon, a summer dress is perfect for everything! That’s why you’re wearing it.”
I stood, still not completely convinced.
“You look beautiful,” she assured, squeezing my shoulder.
For a moment I was jolted to a few hours ago, sitting out in my backyard with Roy, him telling me I was beautiful. A deep blush began pricking at my skin and I quickly shoved those thoughts away. I needed to focus on the situation at hand: my second date with Levi.
He had insisted that it be a surprise so neither Amber nor Danny knew what I should wear.
I quickly glanced at the blue numbers of my digital clock: 6:27. Levi would be here any minute now.
Hurriedly straightening my skirt, I slipped my feet into a pair of white wedges and headed down the stairs.
Almost immediately, the doorbell sounded Levi’s arrival. I threw open the door… and let out a sigh of relief. He was in a plain white t-shirt and a pair of dark-wash jeans, his sun-bleached hair falling in front of his eyes gracefully.
“Hey, Sharkbait,” he greeted, winking at me and stepping inside.
“Levi,” I murmured, blushing at the impressed glances he shot my way.
“Hello, Levi,” my dad boomed stepping out into the foyer.
“Sir,” Levi greeted respectfully, dipping his head slightly.
“And just where is my daughter’s third boyfriend taking her tonight?” Dad crossed his arms over his chest in a gesture that was meant to be intimidating.
Levi didn’t cower in submission however, but stepped slightly closer and took my hand, “It’s a surprise.” He grinned widely and squeezed my hand.
“Well then,” my father grunted, clearly put-out that Levi hadn’t been scared by his attempt at domination, “make sure you have her home by eleven.”
“Yes, sir,” he nodded his head again and started to lead me out of my home. “Here.” Once again, a motorcycle helmet was shoved into my hands.
I grinned as I thought how horrified Amber would be if she could see what I was about to do to my perfectly-done hair and shoved the helmet onto my head. “Let’s go!”
He chuckled, “Eager?”
“I want to know what the surprise is,” I shrugged, clambering onto the motor-cycle behind him and wrapping my arms around his waist.
“Hold on tight.”
The drive to wherever we were going didn’t take long. As soon as his motorcycle stopped I started to swing my leg over the seat to climb off, but Levi put his hands on my shoulders and kept me on the seat. “Wait.”
He pulled a white piece of cloth from his back pocket and pulled my helmet off for me.
“Levi, what are you doing?” I demanded, pulling my face away from the cloth he was moving ever-closer to my face.
“Just shut up and trust me.”
“I’m supposed to trust me when you’re about to put something you’ve been sitting on for who-knows-how-long on my face? Yeah, I don’t think so, buddy.” I scoffed—jokingly of course.
He rolled his eyes at my puerile behavior and resumed putting the white piece of fabric over my eyes and tying it tightly.
“Hey! I can’t see!” I protested, putting my hands to the blindfold.
“Thank you, Captain Obvious.” He muttered, probably rolling his eyes again.
“Oh, shut up.” I began to walk, but my foot quickly caught on something and I landed solidly on my butt. Again.
“Jeez, Sharkbait, I didn’t know you were going to fall for me this easily.” If I could have seen him, I probably would have given his tan arm a nice, sound thwack. “How about letting me lead, eh?” He murmured, his voice so close to my ear that I jumped at the sound of it.
He continued to whisper directions in my ears as he gently guided me by my shoulders to wherever our destination was.
Finally, we stopped.
I could hear thunder rumbling in the distance mixed with the roar of traffic somewhere far below us. Where were we?
As if in answer to my mental question, Levi untied the blindfold and freed my eyes.
The bright, neon lights nearly blinded me after being in the dark for a good five minutes, but eventually my eyes adjusted.
A lone table with a white table-cloth draped over it sat in the middle of the roof-top we were standing on. A vase with a few sunflowers in it was sitting in the middle, two plates on either side of it. A neon sign that read ‘Solomon’s’ stood nearby, showering the scene with pink and green light.
“W-where are we?” I breathed, moving towards the table and briefly touching the flowers.
“This is Uncle Sol’s place. He said I could use the rooftop for our second date.” He grinned at me sheepishly and rubbed the back of his neck. “He told me to tell you that this was where my parents got engaged.” It may have been the neon-pink lights, but I could have sworn Levi was blushing.
“Cool.” Was there some kind of proper response to that? If there was, I had no idea what it was.
We stood there, awkwardly, for a few moments before he pulled a chair out and gestured for me to sit. I sat and he walked away, calling over his shoulder that he would be right back.
I nodded and started to mess with the flowers in front of me, counting the petals.
In two minutes, he returned, Uncle Sol in tow holding a silver platter.
Levi sat and Uncle Sol uncovered the platter, a rush of steam gushing from the metal interior to reveal a plate of rice and rotisserie chicken.
“House special,” the elderly man winked at me good-naturedly and set one of the plates down in front of me, then placed the other in front of Levi. “Enjoy.” I didn’t see Uncle Sol again that night.
With the first bite of the vegetable-infused rice, I melted.
When we had finished eating soft music began playing; I wasn’t entirely sure, but it sounded like a soft, Yiruma piece, offset by the coming thunder.
“May I have this dance?” Levi grinned and extended his hand toward me.
I slipped my hand into his and he led me away from the table and closer to the neon-sign where he placed one hand on my waist. I put my free hand on his shoulder, and we began to dance.
We said nothing while we danced, but looked at each other quietly. The moment wasn’t awkward, just…right. In that one moment I felt like Levi was the one I was going to choose. Like I was meant to be with him. I felt like he completed me like no other person ever would be able to.
Call it cheesy, but in that moment… I felt… whole. Like the one piece missing had finally clicked into place.
The song slowed almost infinitesimally and so did we. We twirled and swayed, turned and waved.
Slowly, hesitantly, Levi’s face began moving closer to my own. The song in the background faded to background noise, all I could hear was the frantic beating of my own heart.
Was this it? Was he about to kiss me?
All my questions were answered as soon as his lips met mine. My pulse exploded, my heart pounding erratically in my chest, as if it were trying to escape.
Then, all too soon, the kiss ended. Just like that.
“That, should have been the first kiss you ever got from me.” Levi grinned, looking me in the eyes.
I wanted to say something, but no sound came from my lips. It was like my voice was stuck in my throat and no matter how hard I tried to make it come out, it just wouldn’t.
“My kissing expertise left you speechless?” He laughed, poking me in the ribs teasingly.
“Psh. More like lack of kissing expertise.” I scoffed, stabbing at his ego. “You call that a kiss?”
His dark brows furrowed, “I thought it was pretty good.”
“I’m kidding, Tweedle Dum,” I giggled, flicking his forehead. “It was pretty good.”
“Only pretty good?”
“It could definitely use some work.” I teased.
“Well then,” he leaned in to kiss me again.
But it started raining.
“My heart’s a stereo, it beats for you so listen close…” Roy pulled the microphone closer to his face as he sang before letting it go and strumming out a few chords on his guitar. He then stepped back and the bassist stepped forward, taking the microphone and starting to rap.
“If I was just another dusty record on a shelf…”
A large crowd had converged in front of the stage and their heads were bobbing up and down with the beat. A few bizarre girls screamed out declarations of love, but none of the guys seemed fazed but went on playing.
I stood in the crowd, Aiden beside, me as Roy and his band, “Unmuzzled”, played out the popular song “Stereo Heart”.
They finished up the song and the cheers around us became deafening.
“Hello, beautiful people,” called Roy into the microphone, spreading his arms wide as if to embrace the entire crowd.
I cheered along with the rest of the crowd.
“In case you didn’t know, we’re Unmuzzled,” more cheers erupted from their fans’ mouths. “We’ve got Michael back there on the drums, say ‘Hello, Michael!’ “
The drummer in back waved his hand as the crowd obeyed Roy’s request.
“Loreen on the keyboard, say ‘What’s up, Loreen?’ “
The dark-haired girl on the keyboard tossed her blue and green streaked hair over her shoulder and played a few chords.
“Ya’ll know me, Roy,” cue screaming. “And, last, but most certainly not least, we’ve got Dominique on the bass!”
The bassist raised his dark hands urging the crowd to cheer him on louder than they already were.
“So, what do you guys say to another one, eh?”
They struck up the next song and the crowd went wild.
Aiden and I emerged from the pendulum ride giggling and nauseous all at the same time.
“Dude, that was awesome, let’s do it again!” I giggled, my head spinning slightly from the swinging motion coupled with the roundabout.
“Maybe after we don’t feel like we’re going to barf,” Aiden said, plopping down on a nearby bench and letting his head loll back.
“That’s part of the fun,” I pouted.
“Sit,” he commanded, patting the bench next to him.
I was mildly disappointed that he didn’t want to ride it again immediately but sat down on the bench.
"So what do you want to do now?” I asked, leaning my head on his shoulder.
He exhaled and put his arm around my shoulders and began playing with my hair. “Have you ever had a cotton candy kiss?"
My mind flashed briefly to the kiss Levi and I had shared on the rooftop and I blushed, thinking that Aiden was implying that he was going to kiss me.
"Er, no, I can't say that I have..." I mumbled, willing my heart to stop beating so fast at the thought of Aiden kissing me.
"Well then, I guess you're going to have to try one!" He grinned and grabbed my hand, entertwining our fingers like couples do.
I protested a bit as he towed me through the throngs of people, but I eventually let my curiousity win out over my sense of chastity. I had already kissed Levi, right? What would kissing Aiden change?
He pulled us up to a cotton candy stand and whipped out his wallet, paid for two things of cotton candy, then towed us back to the bench we had started at.
"Okay, watch me." He plucked a bit of spun sugar off of his cotton candy and pinched it between his fingers, rolling it around then, once it had kind of solidified, added more candy to the mass. He soon had a thick roll between his thumb and forefinger, so he began to shape it.
In about thirty seconds, he was holding a Hershey's Kiss shaped roll of cotton candy.
"Then, you just eat it." He shrugged and tossed the sticky mass of pink into his mouth and chewed it.
"So...what's so special about that?" I asked, confused.
"It's just a lot sweeter than regular cotton candy. My grandpa came up with it, called them 'as sweet as Dora's'--my grandma's--'kisses'." He smiled as he remembered his grandfather's saying and I found myself smiling as well.
The story behind it was cute, and I was also relieved that I wouldn't be kissing him anytime soon.
We sat there for the next hour, rolling cotton candy kisses and eating them until our fingers were so sticky that we would be able to lift the bench without even trying.
"Hey, want to go on the ferris wheel?" He asked, his hazel eyes lighting up.
"Sure," I lifted and lowered my shoulders and he took my hand again, sending little currents of electricty up my arms.
We clambered onto the ride just as the sun set below the horizon. The carnival lights below us twinkled cheerily and the music gave the entire atmosphere a light-hearted feel.
As soon as we reached the top, the ride stopped and Aiden began to swing back in forth in the rocking bench.
My insides clenched as we waved back and forth several hundred feet in the air and I tried my hardest not to think of what would happen if the seat broke.
"Stop," I begged in a whisper, my hands wrapping tightly around the safety harness and my knuckles going white.
He stopped. "You're scared of heights?"
I nodded mutely, hands still frozen to the metal bar.
Aiden started chortling, his head thrown back, "You'll go on that stupid pendulum ride, but you're afraid of the ferris wheel?"
"Is that a problem?" I snapped, momentarily tempted to whack him but deciding against it. If I hit him that would mean I would have to let go of the bar; and that was not an option.
"No, I just think it's funny." He stopped laughing and put his arm around my shoulders. "It's fine, you're not going to fall."
"How do you know?" I whimpered moving closer to him.
"Trust me." He breathed, gently prying my fingers loose.
"Aiden..." I protested weakly.
"Trust me." He repeated, this time more sternly as he took my hand and wove our fingers together.
He let my other hand stay on the bar, but as he drew me closer to himself I felt it loosen its death-grip on the restraint until it finally fell into my lap.
"Better?" He asked, resting his face on top of my head as the ride began to move again.
"Better." I sighed, closing my eyes and resting my head against his shoulder, feeling warm, protected, and secure.
Amber pulled Danny and I in and out of multiple stores, searching for something. What was it? I couldn’t tell you.
“Are we almost done?” I complained, my feet throbbing in the uncomfortable sandles I had opted to wear instead of my comfortable sneakers.
“No! We need this to be perfect!” Danny crowed, taking the lead and dragging my into another shop. “This is Amber’s summer dance we’re talking about!”
“That’s what all this is for?” I asked, relieved that we were shopping for a good reason.
Amber threw a huge summer party every year, and invited all the fun people. The nice, popular kids, the cool—but still geeky—nerds, and everyone in between were invited. They showed up at Amber’s house in a wide range of clothes depending on the selected theme for the year. This year’s theme was a ball.
We had gone from department store to department store searching for just the right dress. Amber had found a dress: a gorgeous purple halter dress with a poofy skirt that swept the floor.
We were still searching for dresses for Danny and I.
“Ooh!” Amber cooed, “How about this one?” She swept a green princess gown off of the rack and held it up to Danny.
More eager about trying on a dress than I had ever seen her before, Danny clutched the dress to herself and twirled, “I’ll go try it on.” She disappeared into the changing rooms, a bright grin stretched across her face.
“Your turn.” Amber turned to me, an appraising look on her face. “Hm…” She tapped her chin thoughtfully with her index finger as her eyes raked over me, taking in my coloring and body structure. “How about…this?” She tore a pink dress off the rack and held it up to me.
“Pink?” I gaped at her; she knew I didn’t like that color.
“But you’d look so pretty in this color!” She pouted, still holding up the dress.
“I don’t wear pink.”
“But Roy would love you in it.”
“I don’t care if—why are you bringing Roy into this?”
"Oh, no reason…” She trailed off and sent me a mischievous glance before disappearing behind another dress rack.
“Amber…” I groaned, trudging after her. "Why did you bring up Roy?"
"Riley, I may be blond, but I'm not stupid." She pulled a blue dress and passed it to me, "Hold this."
"And just what is that supposed to mean?" I demanded, taking the dress from her.
"It means to hold it, duh. Jeez, and I thought I was the blond one."
"You know what I meant, Amber." I pressed, wondering why the heck she had brought Roy into all of this. Did she know something that I didn't?
"I saw you two in your yard a few days back..." She murmured, walking over to the next rack.
"I saw the glass rose."
"Yeah, he gave me a rose, whoop-de-doo. What's that have to do with anything?"
"Roses mean romance, dur." Amber rolled her blue eyes at me and put another dress into my arms.
"No. Each rose means something different. Red roses mean romance. The rose he gave me was clear." I hefted the dresses in my arms, positioning them better.
"A rose is a rose, babe. It doesn't matter the color."
"Well, to me it does," I explained patiently, walking behind her into the dressing rooms. "Roy and I are just friends."
"Darn right!" Danny called from a few stalls over.
I walked into an empty changing room and locked the door behind me. "See? Danny gets it."
"Whatever. I saw what I saw." Amber grumbled. I could just imagine her crossing her arms across her chest grumpily.
"What did you see?" Danny asked, her voice sounded closer, like she had come out from her dressing stall.
"Roy gave Riley a rose."
"Eh, that's no biggy, he gives roses to everyone."
I don't know why, but it felt like a large rock had landed in the pit of my stomach as she said those words. I grimaced and started trying on dresses to distract myself from the odd, unsettling feeling that was growing within me.
"Well? Come out and show us a dress." Amber prompted, clearly letting the subject of Roy's rose go.
I stepped out of the stall slowly, so as not to step on the satiny, floor length skirt.
"I don't like it." Danny said at once, frowning at the dress.
"It's ugly. It's got butterflies on it. And they're mauve." She paused for a moment. "Seriously, who puts mauve butterflies on an off white dress?"
Amber pursed her lips before nodding. "She's right. Next!"
I stepped back in and threw the next dress on.
"Hm... maybe..." Amber murmured.
"Are you kidding? It's perfect!" Danny clapped her hands together excitedly.
"But it's so simple!" Amber complained, throwing her hands to the air in an exasperated motion.
"Exactly! Simple and elegant!"
Amber had me try on several other dresses, but ultimately I decided on the simple, elegant black dress.
As soon as I was out of dresses, however, the sinking feeling in my stomach came back.
Why was I feeling this way? Did Roy really matter that much to me? Inside the stall, I pounded my forehead against the mirror. Why did this have to be so difficult?
On the one hand there was Aiden. Tall, dark, and handsome. He was sweet and I felt secure when I was around him. Protected. He was easy to be around. He was funny, cute, everything a girl could ever want in a guy.
Then there was Levi, the adorable surfer. Hadn't I felt sparks when we had kissed? He was my first kiss, and for that I felt some loyalty towards him. I for sure liked him. How could I not? He was polite, handsome, and a total sweetheart.
...where did Roy fit into all of this?
I only had two dates left to choose one of them.
And right now, I wasn't sure I wanted to choose any of them at all.
Right now... I kind of wanted... Roy.
Hastily, I smoothed the front of my dress and ran my fingers through my dark, newly curled hair. Aiden was about to pull into Amber’s dad’s workplace, and we were going to go in.
Levi sat in the front seat, his blond hair smoothed back, and his tan skin contrasting nicely with his white shirt.
Aiden stopped the car, got out and opened the passenger door for me, bending slightly at the waist, “My lady.” His hazel eyes looked almost blue behind his dark hair as he winked at me.
All three of us walked up the walkway and paused at the doors, the music from inside carrying through the walls of the ten story building. Finally, I took a deep breath and pushed the glass doors open, stepping inside the air-conditioned ballroom.
“Riley! You’re here!” Amber chirped cheerfully, giving me a quick hug and a peck on the cheek. “And Aiden, you clean up nicely.”
A faint pink tinted Aiden’s ears and he quickly stepped inside to make way for the other guests who were trailing in after us.
The music was blaring now that we were inside, and the lights dim. It wasn’t even what could be considered ‘ball’ music, but it was contemporary. Couples danced in the center of the floor, some slow dancing, others actually dancing to the beat.
Even though I was in heels, I had to stand on my tip-toes to find Danny. She was sitting on one of the couches pushed up against the walls and was talking to her boyfriend, Dominique, who was also the bassist for Unmuzzled.
I waved frantically at her, but she didn’t pay any attention, her gaze was fixed solely on the boy sitting in front of her.
I sighed and started walking through the crowds, murmuring multiple ‘excuse me’s on the way to the punch table.
Yes, I was one of those girls who drank punch all night while standing awkwardly in a corner, watching the people dance. What was the phrase…. A wallflower.
I was about to pour myself a glass of punch when something tugged on my arm. Turning quickly, I saw Levi standing behind me, hands in his pockets and a charming smile stretched across his face. “Don’t tell me you’re just going to stand around drinking punch all night.”
“Well, I was seriously considering it.” I acknowledged, “Did you have a better idea in mind?”
“Maybe,” he smiled and reached for my hand, “May I have this dance?”
I giggled and set the plastic cup down. “And just why would I want to dance with you, Levi?” I mocked raising an eyebrow and pursing my lips.
“Because I’m just awesome that way.”
I rolled my eyes at his ego, and waved his response away. “No, seriously. Why should I dance with you?”
“Because if you don’t dance with him, I might just steal you away.” A voice murmured in my ear.
I jumped at the sudden sound, and took a step back. Behind me, there was a solid body. I turned quickly to see who had snuck up behind me so silently.
A pair of deep blue eyes gazed at me warmly, blond hair falling into them. Large, strong hands adjusted a black tie at the owner’s throat. Roy.
I swallowed and took a step back, embarrassed at our close proximity and the fact that I had, quite obviously, been checking him out.
“Well then,” I whispered back, “I guess I should accept his offer of a dance. I wouldn’t want to ruin your night.” I smiled tightly at Roy before I could do anything stupid, like think about how handsome he looked in his suit, or how much I liked him.
Slipping my hand into Levi’s I spared Roy one last glance. He was looking at me confusedly, his head cocked to one side, his golden hair falling into his left eye at that odd angle, and his mouth pressed into a hard line; like he was thinking very hard about something.
“What was that about?” Levi asked, leading me out onto the dance floor where a song suitable for slow-dancing was playing.
“Nothing,” I replied, trying to sound casual about it.
“It sure as heck didn’t sound like nothing,” he muttered, capturing my eyes with his dark brown ones. “What’s wrong, Riley?”
“It’s nothing,” I sighed, resting my head against his chest and closing my eyes, “Can we just dance, and forget about it?”
“Riley, if he hurt you, I want to know about it.” Levi commanded, stopping and putting his hands on my shoulders, pushing me back so that he could look into my eyes.
“He didn’t hurt me,” I denied, feeling a little peeved that he was dropping the subject. I didn’t want to discuss my confused feelings for Roy, especially not with the boy I was supposed to be dating.
“No!” I said, with forcefulness, pushing his hands off of my shoulders. “I’m not talking about this with you, Levi. Not now, not ever!” I didn’t realize how venomous those words must have sounded until Levi hung his blond head and took a step back from me, raising his hands in defeat.
“I just wanted to make sure you were okay…” He turned quickly and disappeared into the masses of people.
I groaned, and facepalmed myself with a little more force than necessary. It hadn’t been one minute since I had said those words, and already I was regretting them with a passion. I wanted to go after Levi and apologize, but my sense of pride was holding me back.
I knew I was in the wrong, but part of me wanted him to come and say that he was sorry.
I groaned again and ran my hand down my face, kicking myself for my stupidity.
I grit my teeth together, then plunged into the crowd after him, abandoning my pride on the dancefloor.
I pushed and shoved my way through the crowds of people around me. Levi already had at least a thirty-second head start, and there were so many blonds in white long-sleeved, button down shirts here that it was impossible to tell who was who. I persevered, however, and walked around the perimeter of the room several times before I finally found him; standing by the snack table where we had started, a plastic cup of punch in his hand and some random girl flirting with him.
Quickly striding up to them, I tugged on his hand, “Levi, can we talk?” I murmured, chewing on my lip.
“You said you didn’t want to talk,” he replied tightly, sending the girl nearby a look that clearly said you-can-go-now.
“Look, I’m sorry, I—“
“You like him, I get it.” Levi’s broad shoulders moved up as he took a swig of his drink.
“I-I what?” I stuttered, staring at him with wide eyes.
“You like Roy,” he reiterated, moving over to one of the nearby couches and sitting down.
I plopped down beside him, my knees suddenly feeling very weak. “I don’t like Roy.” I scoffed, trying to brush his accusations off.
“You’re really going to play that card?” He asked, looking at me, eyebrows raised in disbelief.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Look, Riles, it’s fine that you like him. When I agreed to date you I knew what I was getting into. I knew that I was going to have to compete for you.” He paused and considered what he had said. “Though I never would have guessed I would have had to compete with a guy you weren’t even dating.”
“T-There is no competition!” I protested, moving closer to him and lowering my voice.
Levi laughed, the skin around his brown eyes crinkling pleasantly. “You seriously think I’m going to believe that?” He shifted in his seat so that he was facing me better, “I like you, Riley. I really do, and I’m willing to fight for you. I will fight for you.” His voice had dropped in volume as well, and he was moving closer. “Look, I know I haven’t known you for very long, but I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that I’m the guy that eventually wins your heart.” He moved back and frowned. “That sounded really cheesy didn’t it?”
I giggled and shrugged, “Eh, girls like cheesy stuff.”
Levi chuckled, “Yeah, I guess that’s true.” Catching my attention again, he grabbed my hands in his large, warm ones and held them there, “But do you get what I’m saying? Do you understand that I’m willing to fight for you?”
“Yeah, Levi, I get it.”
His face erupted into a smile then, his teeth flashing white even in the dim light.
“Good.” And then his lips touched mine in a brief kiss.
Like before, my heart started beating a million miles a minute and my head felt like it was going to explode with happiness. The kiss ended all too soon for my pulse’s liking, and I felt the corners of my mouth turn down as he pulled away.
Levi caught my expression and began to chortle. “If you didn’t want the kiss to end, you could have said so.”
I felt the heat rush up my throat and up my face to my hairline as I struggled for words to deny what he had said. “It-it’s not that!” I stuttered, my fingers twisting together in my lap.
“Oh?” He looked at me, a slight twinkle of mischief lighting his face. “Then you wouldn’t mind if I just left it at that, and didn’t kiss you again.”
As if they had a mind of their own, my lips began to turn down again.
“I knew it!” He laughed, before kissing me again obligingly.
I threw myself whole-heartedly into the gesture of affection, losing myself in it. It wasn’t until I heard cheers coming from around us that I realized that we were still surrounded by people.
“Woo!” Some of the guys cheered, and some of the girls around us giggled.
I pulled away from Levi’s warm lips quickly, a blush spreading over my features again as I surveyed all the people around us.
Out of all of them, Aiden caught my eye. He was staring at us, his mouth turning down slightly before he sighed and shook his head. His mouth moved a bit, like he was saying something, but I couldn’t hear him over all the people.
“Excuse me,” I murmured, taking Levi’s hand and squeezing it quickly before hurrying off to talk to Aiden.
I followed him through the mess of people, some of the guys around still hooting in amusement.
He finally stopped and I grabbed his hand and twisted my fingers through his. “Wanna go outside for a minute?”
He asked, the corners of his mouth lifting as our fingers interlocked.
“Sure,” I smiled happily and looked over my shoulder.
Amber stood there, beaming happily, and gave me thumbs up.
We pushed our way through the crowds until we reached the doors. We pushed them open simultaneously and a light, summer breeze greeted us.
Sighing contentedly as we stepped out into the warm air, I turned to Aiden, “So, what’s up?”
Instead of answering, Aiden started tilting his head toward mine.
Surprised, I took a step back. “What the heck are you doing?” I demanded, feeling awkward and out of place.
Aiden seemed so much shyer than Levi, I thought for sure he wouldn’t kiss me until at least our fourth date.
“Kissing you, what does it look like I’m doing?” He frowned, taking a step back as well.
“Nothing, it’s just…” I stopped, searching for the right way to phrase the cumbersome sentence. “This doesn’t have anything to do with Levi kissing me before, does it?”
Aiden’s frown deepened, his brow creasing over his usually twinkling hazel eyes.
“I’m going to take that as a yes,” I sighed, finding a short, brick wall nearby and sitting down on it. “Just because Levi kisses me, doesn’t mean that you have to too.”
“Yes, it does.” Aiden mumbled, looking down at his polished, black shoes. “If he kisses you that means that your relationship has progressed farther with him than it has with me. If I want to keep you all to myself then I have to kiss you too.”
He moved towards me again and I didn’t move this time, but waited.
His lips came within an inch of mine before he stopped and pulled back, his frowning getting ever deeper. “I can’t do it.” He muttered, taking his hand from mine and setting it in his lap as he sat down next to me. “I can’t kiss you yet.”
“And that’s perfectly alright,” I murmured, scooting closer to him and resting my head on his shoulder like I had when we had ridden the Ferris wheel.
We stayed there for several minutes, just looking up at the stars above us.
Once in a while, he would point up at the night sky at a certain cluster of stars and tell me some random fact about it.
He pointed at a group of stars and said, “That’s Ursa Major, it’s shaped like a bear. Can you see it?”
I looked and looked, straining my eyes, but I couldn’t make out the shape of a bear amidst all the stars. “Sorry, nope.”
“Eh, it’s cool. Not everyone can see it the first time.”
He paused for a moment, like he was thinking about something.
“I…” He stopped, then picked up my hand again and began tracing random doodles on it with his forefinger. “I respect you too much to kiss you now, Riley,” he explained, “I want our first kiss to be something special, not something that I feel I have to do to win you from anyone else.” He stopped tracing patterns across my hand and pressed the side of his face against my hair. “Is that alright?”
I sighed contentedly and buried my head further into his side. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?” Amber stood on the raised platform, her bright red dress hugging her figure, in the back of the room and tapped the microphone she had in her hand, sending feedback ringing through the room.
Everyone frowned and covered their ears, grumbling to themselves about the “dumb blond on stage”.
“Hehe, oops.” She grinned widely and shrugged her shoulders apologetically. “Anyways, I, uh, just wanted to make sure all of you guys were having fun.” Several cheers sounded throughout the room, letting her know that we were, indeed, having fun. “So, in case you guys didn’t know, my best friend Riley has gotten herself a boyfriend; Riley you wanna come up here?”
I groaned and tried to melt into the floor, but Aiden put his hands on the small of my back and pushed me forwards.
“I am so getting you for this,” I growled, as I moved past Amber to stand behind her.
“Everyone say ‘Hey, Riley!’”
I could tell that her audience was wondering what this had to do with anything as only a few of them mumbled what she had told them to.
“Why I brought her up here, and, well, I’m about to tell you. This dance has two purposes. One, to have a load of fun dressing up and dancing.” There were a few cheers. “But the second reason… is to have Riley choose her long term boyfriend!”
“What?!” I nearly shrieked, stepping back and almost tripping over my dress.
I hastened over to her side and started whispering in her ear, “Amber! I still have two dates left with each of them!”
She shooed me away, a huge smile still plastered on her face.
The crowd started murmuring amongst themselves, wondering what the heck was going on right now.
“Will the three candidates please step forward?” Amber smiled, waving to them.
Aiden, Levi and Paul stepped forward from the crowd, each looking handsome in his nice clothes. It seemed that all three of them had managed to obtain a suit jacket, which was odd, I could have sworn the only guy here with a jacket was Roy.
“Now, Riley, it’s time for you to choose.” She stepped away from the microphone and sent me stumbling into the microphone which I grabbed hurriedly to steady myself.
“Uh, hey, guys.” I waved a little bit and all three guys returned the gesture.
I stayed silent for a while as the people around settled down. Some of the girls were gossiping together, saying things like “Oh my gosh, she’s, like, such a gold-digger!” or “How did a girl like her get three guys like them?”
As I listened to what they were saying, my head slowly became hotter and hotter as my heart rate increased.
The guys around started talking about how I must be ‘easy’ and a few of them looked at me and shook their heads disparagingly.
I started to fidget up on the platform, my palms growing sweaty and my insides becoming uncomfortably cramped.
It felt as if the voices were getting louder and bigger as I became more timid and small, my head began to spin and something started to build inside of me.
“Can you believe she’s dating three guys at once?” One girl hissed to her friends. “She must a real harlot.”
I cringed at the last word, and finally snapped.
“Shut up!” I shouted into the microphone, making all the attention snap back to me. “Shut up, shut up, shut up!” I covered my ears and raced off of the platform and out of the room, fighting tears the whole way.
As soon as I had safely exited the building and found a bush to hide behind, a collapsed into the mulch and began to sob.
I was dimly aware of someone shouting my name, but I ignored it and allowed myself to drown in self-pity.
I don’t know how long I stayed there, curled in a ball in the mulch and grass, but it felt like a forever.
When I had run out of tears, I wiped my face with my dirty hands leaving smudges of dirt across my nose and along my cheekbones.
“Are you okay?” A voice asked me timidly from behind.
I turned, surprised, but quickly turned away as soon as I saw who it was. “Go away,” I mumbled through my stuffy nose and throat still choked by tears.
“I’m not going anywhere, Riley.” He said, shrugging out of his suit jacket and draping it over my shoulders, his fingertips brushing my collarbone, causing me to shiver involuntarily.
“Just…leave.” I sighed, “I don’t want to talk to anyone right now.”
“It’s a good thing I’m a nobody then, eh?” He chuckled, sitting down next to me in the dirt and putting one arm around my shoulders.
I gave a half sob half giggle sound and he sighed heavily.
“Amber shouldn’t have done that.”
“You think?” I muttered sarcastically, turning to look at him with my red, puffy eyes.
He looked at my face for a long while before brushing the hair away from my face gently, his fingers trailing along my cheekbone. “How do you manage to be so beautiful even after crying for so long?” He murmured, his eyes lingering on my eyes and lips the longest.
I choked on a laugh and nudged him with my shoulder, trying to disguise my embarrassment as disbelief. “You’re only saying that to be nice.”
His strong hand cupped my chin and brought my face back so that it was facing his. “Would I ever lie to you?”
Without waiting for an answer, he began to slowly tilt his face towards mine.
My pulse began to race, and our lips were only centimeters away now, only a few more agonizing seconds and we would be kissing.
And then, just as his lips were about to touch mine, Danny came flying towards us, her emerald dress blowing out behind her.
“Riley! Hurry! It’s Amber!” She panted, doubling over and putting her hands on her knees as she gasped for breath.
I snapped back and stared at her. “What happened?”
“She’s been in a car accident!”
“Riley! Hurry! It’s Amber!” Danny panted, doubling over and putter her hands on her knees as she gasped for breath.
I snapped back and stared at her, “What happened?”
“She’s been in a car accident!”
Hearing those words, Levi immediately stood from his kneeling position in the mulch and grabbed my hand, “Come on, we need to go,”
I stumbled along beside him, my left hand held tight in his, my right clutching my skirt at my knees so that I wouldn’t trip. We reached the parking lot to find Aiden was already there, lips set into a grim line, and his car keys in his hands.
We all climbed in and Aiden started the engine, pulled out of the parking lot and began speeding away towards the hospital.
I sat in the front seat next to Aiden, unbuckled, and hugging my knees to my chest. Was Amber alright? What had happened? Why had she even left her own party?
All those questions swirled around in my mind as we raced along the empty night road, probably paying no heed to the speed limit.
“Are we almost there? Are we almost there?” I mumbled over and over again, rocking back and forth on my tailbone, feeling like I was going to shatter at any moment.
“Shh… it’s alright, Riley,” Levi murmured in my ear, moving forward so that his lips were nearly touching my ear. “We’re going as fast as we can, right?” He turned for a moment to look at Aiden whose hands were white as the clutched tightly to the steering-wheel.
Aiden glanced at us briefly, and something flashed across his face so quickly that I had barely time enough to identify it: jealousy. Before I could comment on it he quickly wiped his features clean of any emotion and replied, “We’re going ten miles over the speed limit; and we’re about two minutes away.”
Stiffly unwrapping my arms from around my legs, I pressed my feet against the carpeted floor of the car, as if the extra pressure against the body would make it go faster.
The two remaining minutes spent in the car felt like eternities. Everyone was silent, the only sound the constant hum of the car. The dark road stretching in front of us seemed like it was never-ending. White-stripe after stripe flew under the car at speeds that made me nervous.
Finally, Aiden slowed the car and pulled into the hospital parking lot, swung into the closest parking space, and unlocked the doors, “Let’s go.”
Everyone clambered out of the vehicle and ran through the hospital’s sliding glass doors into the sterile white interior. The nurse at the reception desk looked us up down, clearly surprised by our formal dress as we hurried to her station.
“Is Amber Harris here?” I asked breathlessly, twisting little folds of my dress between my hands.
The nurse checked her files, and ran through names, “Yes, she is, she’s in room 121, are you family?”
“No,” I mumbled, thinking that she wouldn’t let us in if we weren’t.
“Ah, oh well. Come along, I’ll take you to her room.”
We followed the woman to the elevator where she pressed the button for the second floor. The fifteen second ride up was spent in silence, and I don’t think it was because we were all enjoying the elevator music. As soon as the doors dinged open, the nurse started walking quickly again, taking a few turns to the left before stopping at a white door with a window and pushing it open.
All five of us, Danny, Roy, Aiden, Levi, and myself filed into the room.
Amber lay on the bed, her eyes closed as if she were sleeping. Her blond hair was strewn all over the pillow and was damp with sweat, though some of it was matted with blood. I cringed when I saw her leg wrapped in a plaster cast, and the purple bruising along her face.
“How is she?” I whispered to the nurse that was checking the IV feeds in Amber’s arm.
“She’ll be alright, she has a broken leg, and a deep cut along her hairline that needed a few stitches. She’s also got some mild bruising along her cheekbones, probably from her head hitting the wheel.”
I chewed on my lip as she said these words, then approached Amber’s bedside. Delicately, I touched her hand, and, much to my surprise, Amber’s eyes flew open.
She began to sit up, but groaned and put a head to her forehead, laying back down, only then did she notice all the people in her room.
“Hey, guys,” she smiled half-heartedly at everyone in turn. When her eyes fell on me, her smile fell and her eyes began to water. “Oh, Riley! I’m so sorry!” She blubbered, tears oozing down her face. “I-I didn’t mean to make those people talk like that, I just thought that-that tonight would be p-perfect for you to decide!” She hiccupped between every few sobs; that, paired with her injuries made her seem so pathetic and vulnerable, and, as resentful as I had been feeling towards her for her actions, I felt pity for her.
“It’s alright, Amber, it’s alright,” I soothed, moving to sit on the edge of her bed. “I know you didn’t mean it.”
I waited for a few minutes for her tears to subside and her hiccupping to come down a bit. “Why did you leave your party?” I asked, genuinely curious for her answer.
“I felt bad after you ran out, so I decided I would get you some pizza or Cheetos; maybe both.” She shrugged, and winced as the action caused her discomfort. “I was on my way back and these lights… they started swerving, I tried to avoid them, but they got too close and I was blinded. I don’t know what happened after that.”
She shut her eyes tightly and pressed her non-IVed hand against her forehead. “I feel like crap.”
“You look like crap,” I chuckled, poking her nose lightly.
“Thanks,” she grumbled rolling her eyes, though the corners of her mouth lifted slightly. “Does this mean I’ve been forgiven?” She questioned hopefully.
I sighed, and smiled, “Forgiven.”
“Alright, everybody out!” The nurse chastised, shooing us out with her hands, “Ms. Harris needs some rest.”
“You heard the woman,” Amber teased, calling after us as we left her room, “I need my beauty sleep!”
We all laughed as we walked out of the room and back into the hallway towards one of the benches there.
“I’m so glad she’s alright,” Roy breathed, looking extremely relieved.
Even though I know I shouldn’t have, I felt a pang of jealousy ring through me, but I quickly tried to brush it away, realizing any feelings like that would be selfish and conceited of me. What would it matter if Roy liked Amber? I still had Levi and…
I looked at Aiden who also seemed relieved. For some odd reason, I felt as if I had betrayed him by holding hands with Levi. It was like… it was like I had shared a secret that was not my own to tell with someone the secret-holder did not trust. I know that probably doesn’t make any sense, but that was how I felt. Besides, at that moment, my entire life didn’t make any sense.
I was dating three boys while harboring feelings for a fourth. One of the guys I had already given up on, though he hadn’t seemed to have given up on me, while the other two both held large portions of my affections.
The only other people with lives like mine were the bizarre heroines in cheesy romance books. I giggled as I thought that, and wondered what it would be like to live in such a world as those books portrayed.
Amber stayed in the hospital for several more days. We all visited her every day, as did her parents who arrived that night a few minutes after we left her room. She seemed to be improving well.
The swelling around her eyes had gone down, and the bruising was less noticeable than before. The doctor had said that she would be released from the hospital a week from the day she was admitted, though she would have to come back to get the stitches along her hairline removed.
Her parents took away her car, not because she had gotten into an accident, but because she had been driving past her curfew. She had to walk around with crutches supporting her, but she soon became very skilled at moving around with the big wooden sticks. In fact, she could walk even faster than I could without and injured leg; a small fact which she never failed to rub into my face.
Other than that, things seemed to go back to normal. Or, as normal as life had been before her accident.
I had two dates left with each of my suitors, and then Amber would make me choose, knowing her, in an elaborate ceremony.
“It needs to be special!” She said, thumping around her room with her crutches. “You’re choosing your long-term boyfriend after all.”
“What if I don’t want to choose any of them?” I countered, making her stop in her tracks and turn to stare at me.
“You don’t want to choose any of them? But I thought you and Levi? Or you and Aiden--?” Amber’s bright blue eyes scanned my face before a smug expression twisted her lips, “You’re going to choose Paul, aren’t you?”
“What?! No! Of course not!” I denied, “He’s got a history with some other girl, there’s no way I can compete with that.”
“Paul’s dating another girl?” Amber plopped down on her bed next to me and gazed at me with wide eyes. “But he seemed so…nice.”
“No, that’s not what I meant at all. He still likes me; but there’s this girl, Delaney… she’s definitely got some kind of hold on him.”
“Ooh… like a forbidden romance…” Her eyes clouded over as she stared dreamily into the distance. Suddenly, she bounced up, “You should help him!”
“I should what?”
“You should help him get the girl! You need to help him get Delaney!”
Squinting my eyes against the mid-day sun, I pushed my sunglasses further up my nose to block the sun’s rays. The hot air felt oppressive and heavy as I breathed, and sweat was beginning to trickle down the back of my neck even though I had only been outside for five minutes.
I was on my way to Danny’s house to see if she had any ideas on this whole “Help Paul Get the Girl” thing that Amber had thought up. We may live in the same neighborhood, but in the summer when my bike’s tires were flat, it seemed like she lived on the other side of town.
At last I reached her drive-way and walked up to the door; I rapped lightly against the door-frame with my knuckles, pressing myself against the cool, shaded concrete of the house’s walls.
Instead of Danny answering the door, Roy did, his blond hair looking tousled and damp.
“Er, hi, Roy,” I greeted awkwardly, doing my very best not to think about how incredibly he looked.
“Hey, Riles,” he grinned, stepping to the side to let me in.
I was hesitant to go in because I didn’t know if Danny was home or not, but when a cool blast of air from inside blew out and hit me, all hesitation flew out the window. I hurriedly stepped over the threshold into the air-conditioned house and breathed a sigh of relief.
As I slipped my shoes off at the door, Roy started asking me questions.
“So, what’s up? Why are you here?” It wasn’t like he was interrogating me--he didn’t sound rude in the slightest, merely curious.
“I was actually here for Danny’s help, is she here?”
Roy’s eyebrows knitted together, “Actually, no. She’s out with Dominique.”
“Oh, okay then…” I sighed, getting ready to slip my shoes back on and go home.
“Just because Danny isn’t here doesn’t mean you have to leave. She left in the morning, so I’m sure she’ll be home soon,” Roy reasoned, and I paused, foot in mid-air. “Besides, I’m sure you don’t want to go back out in the horrible heat.”
I craned my neck so that I could seat out the window, and my eyes were met with heat waves hovering over the concrete sidewalk.
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” I seceded, putting my foot down and walking back over to him. “But I don’t want to be a burden…” More like I don’t want to be near you because you do weird things to my insides…
“Riles, you could never be a burden.” He grinned down at me and started to walk down the hallway that led to his and Danny’s rooms.
“Where are you going?” I questioned, jogging to match my pace to his long stride.
“My room, duh.” He rolled his eyes at my childish question, and kept walking. He opened the door and stepped in, then paused and looked over his shoulder at me. “You coming?”
I nodded mutely, took a deep breath, and walked past him quickly and into his room.
This was a very bad idea. A bad, bad, bad, bad, bad idea.
“So what did you need Danny’s help with? Maybe I can be of assistance?” He smiled and flopped down onto his bed, locking his fingers together and placing his hands under his neck.
I sat down on the edge of the bed, and laced my own fingers together, wondering if I should ask him for his help in the matter or not. He was a guy after all and may have important insight on how to help Paul win Delaney.
“Er, well… it’s about Paul…”
Instantly, Roy shot up, his hands fell into his lap and his blue eyes pierced me with their intensity. “Did he hurt you?” He growled, his voice dangerously low.
“What? No!” I quickly said. Almost immediately, his posture relaxed again, his shoulders coming down slowly from their previously rigid position.
“Oh, okay. Then what’s up?”
“Well… there’s this girl, Delaney, and I think that Paul likes her.”
“He likes a different girl?” Roy parroted, seeming confused at the statement.
“How could he like another girl? I mean, what’s wrong with—“
“Are you going to let me finish or not?” I asked exasperatedly, running my fingers through my hair.
“Right. Sorry. Go on.”
I removed my eyes from his face and let them wander over the dark red walls of his room. Random posters promoting “Unmuzzled”’s gigs littered the walls, and several guitars stood neatly in the back left corner.
“Thank you. As I was saying…” I went on to tell Roy the story of how I had met Delaney at Paul’s sister’s wedding and how I had guessed that he and Delaney had had a history.
“And you want to get them back together?” He mumbled incredulously.
“Well, yeah. Is that a bad thing?”
“Don’t you think you should be focusing more on your own relationships instead of fixing someone else’s?” His question reminded me abruptly of my several relationships that I had momentarily forgotten in the few minutes I had been sitting in his room with him. The corners of my mouth began to turn down involuntarily, and I feared that I would either say something incredibly stupid or incredibly whiny.
“I don’t want to think about my relationships right now,” I complained, sounding like a whiny child. “I just… I just want to be free of this stupid Dating Department business for a few minutes, and I want everything to go back the way it was.” I groaned and ran a hand down the front of my face, inwardly chiding myself for being so puerile. “I just need a distraction for a little while, and this whole Paul/Delaney thing seems to be working fairly well.”
Roy’s eyebrows furrowed over his bright blue eyes, and his mouth twisted into a thoughtful grimace. All of a sudden, something bloomed across his face, like the sun finally rising. He stood fluidly and walked over to the other side of the room, and hit a button on his stereo. He turned the volume knob up significantly, and a soft guitar number started playing.
It took me a bit, but I recognized the guitar as the intro to “A Beautiful Mess” by Jason Mraz.
As soon as he had finished messing with his stereo, he walked back over to me, grabbed my hand and pulled me to his chest. Taking one of my hands and placing it on his shoulder and keeping the other one firmly held in his.
“Wh-what are you doing?” I asked, frightened by our suddenly close proximity.
“Distracting you,” He replied softly, gently making me sway with a hand at my waist.
I was rigid for a few moments, wondering what the heck was going on, but as I began to listen to the music, I slowly relaxed into his arms, and I felt my head lean against his chest.
We swayed there, back and forth in his room until the song reached its climax. The strings swelled around us, and I felt the sudden urge to look up.
As if he had felt the same urge, Roy’s eyes fluttered open and caught my own. A gentle smile graced his lips as his eyes traced my features. I could almost feel their path scanning along my forehead, kissing both of my eyes gently, and trailing down my nose to linger at my lips.
I felt myself blush as my heart-rate increased, and his smile grew a bit bigger. He brought his hand up from my waist for a moment to brush the length of my cheekbone softly.
“You’re beautiful, Riley…” He murmured, tucking a piece of hair behind my ear.
“R—“ I started, but a strange gleam in his eyes cut me off more abruptly than his voice ever could.
His head began to move towards mine, and his eyelids began to close slowly. I knew I shouldn’t be doing this, but I just couldn’t move. I was rooted to the spot, and, honestly, I didn’t want to move an inch. As if in response, my own eyes began to slide shut as his face grew ever closer to mine.
One more torturous second, and his lips softly brushed mine.
Nearly as soon as we kissed though, Roy pulled back, his face turning cherry red as he took a step back from me.
“I’m sorry, Riley, I shouldn’t ha—“
And then I silenced him with a kiss of my own.
I know that it was stupid of me to do that, but I just couldn’t help myself. Instead of the fireworks I had felt with Levi, I felt beautiful, loved, like he knew every square inch of my inner being and loved every bit of it.
I knew that Roy probably didn’t feel the same way that I did, but it seemed like he had gone into the kiss willingly enough.
The final notes began to play and one of the last lines of the song reverberated around the room.
What a beautiful mess this is…
I pulled back this time, my own face probably the exact same shade of red as his had been.
“Are you quite done?” Danny’s voice asked tartly.
Both Roy and I flew to face the door where Danny was leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed over her chest and a sour expression twisting her face.
I glanced at Danny then back at Roy, chewing on my lip nervously, and blushing deeply. “Er, hey, Danny…”
Danny glared at us for a few more minutes before taking a deep breath and seemed to calm down a little bit. “Riley, can I talk to you for a minute?”
Okay, maybe I was wrong about the calm thing. Her tone bit through me, tearing me to shreds.
“Uh, yeah…” I moved away from Roy, my hand slipping from his. Odd, I hadn’t even noticed that we were holding hands.
I followed Danny through her house until we got outside. She still didn’t say anything though, but kept walking until we reached the neighborhood park. She sat down on a faded blue swing and grasped the green-plastic coated chain. As she dug her sneakered toes into the sand below, she looked up at me, her blue eyes full of… disappointment?
“Why did you kiss him?” She whispered, breaking eye contact with me to stare at the ground.
I sighed and plopped myself down beside her, slipping off my sandals and burying my feet in the hot sand. “I don’t know, I… I just couldn’t stop myself. Why are you so against Roy liking me?”
“It’s not him liking you that I’m against. Heck, I’m all for it.”
I paused in my swinging to gape at her in disbelief. “You’re all for it?”
She turned to me her mouth turned down in a sarcastic frown, but as she looked at me the frown fell from her face and was once again replaced that by that deep disappointment. “You make him happy. He’s my older brother. I love him. I want him to be happy, so, if you’re what makes him happy, then I’m all for it.”
“It’s your liking him that I’m against.”
“W-what’s wrong with me liking him?” I stuttered, surprised by why she would say that if she wanted Roy to be happy.
“Riley, you’re already dating three other guys. And before you protest,” she looked at me meaningfully as I opened my mouth to do exactly that, “I know that you had no choice in the matter. But, honestly, that’s not what bugs me about it.” She sighed, “You’re my best friend, and you need to know that I love you with all my heart when I say this, but… you obviously have feelings for two of the three guys you are dating, and if you choose one of them while leading Roy on… it would crush him. He…” Danny glanced up at me with a sad smile across her lips, “He would kill me if I told you this, but he’s had a crush on you for a while now.”
“H-he what?” I groaned and sank my feet deeper into the sand, and the small of my back was keeping me balanced on the swing.
“Yeah. For a few years now. And knowing that he’s had a crush on you for a few years… it’s probably progressed further than just a crush by now.”
I didn’t respond. I was too shocked.
Roy had had a crush on me for years now? Why hadn’t he done anything about it? Why didn’t he say anything? Why—
As if she could read my mind, Danny spoke again. “He didn’t say anything to you because he was older than you. He’s turning twenty this July, Riles. It made him feel… too old for you.” She took a deep breath then made eye contact with me. “Riley. If you choose someone else, it will crush Roy. Do me a favor and don’t severely damage my brother’s heart, ‘kay?”
She stood and shook her sneakers off, but I remained seated.
I stared blankly down at the white-yellow sand beneath my and scrunched my toes up in it.
I stayed there on the swing set long after Danny left me there. The heat was unbearable, and the sand quickly became uncomfortable. My back ached from being hunched for so long, staring at the sand, and my legs had long since fallen asleep. But I couldn’t bring myself to move from that spot.
The weight of my decision was weighing more heavily on my mind now that it ever had before. In the past, the choice was just another something that would come and go as easily as sand through a fist. I would make the decision, and bam. It would be over and done. Never once had I considered the repercussions that my choice may have on the people around me.
I felt selfish and hated myself for it.
As the cool droplets of summer rain began to fall from the sky and land on my sticky skin, I still didn’t move, but continued to swing there.
My hair and clothes soaked through, and rain poured from my hair into my eyes. And I still just sat there, mulling over the choice and all the possible outcomes in my mind.
Thunder began grumbling in the sky, and an occasional flash of lightning within the clouds told me I needed to go, but where? I couldn’t go back to Danny and face Roy. I couldn’t go back to my house, I had no idea how to get there from this park.
I considered multiple scenarios. I could walk aimlessly through the neighborhood in hopes that I would stumble upon my house by accident. Though, there was always the chance of some creepy stalker person snatching me off the street and I could never be heard from again.
But what choice did I have?
I sighed and stood, my legs screaming out bloody murder as I did.
Stumbling along the wet sand, I fell a few times, coating my soaked jeans with wet sand. But I just stood up again and continued walking.
I don’t know how long I wandered the neighborhood looking for a familiar street sign, landmark, or house, but it was dark by the time I finally gave up and sat down on a bench.
That was where Aiden found me an hour later.
He plunged from his car into the pouring rain and sat down on the bench with me. Only when his arms were securely around me did I begin to sob.
The cold rain eventually subsided, and the rumbling of the thunder faded into the distance. Even after my tears had subsided, I remained in Aiden’s arms, burying my face deeply into his chest so that he wouldn’t see my face. I was ashamed that he had seen me cry; ashamed that I had shown my own vulnerability.
“How did you find me?” I mumbled, my lips moving against his damp shirt.
“Danny called and said that your parents had said that you hadn’t come home. It started to rain, and I didn’t want you our here by yourself in that downpour.” He pushed back on my shoulders gently, so that I was looking him in the face. “Levi was right to wonder…” He murmured, his eyes scanning my face, “How do you manage to look so beautiful after crying for so long?”
“You heard that?” I gasped, my pulse beginning to pick up speed.
“Levi wasn’t the only to go after you, you know.” A corner of his mouth slipped upwards in a lopsided smile, “He was just the one who found you first.”
“How long were you—“
“I only stuck around long enough to make sure you were alright.” Aiden assured quickly, guessing where my mind had leapt to.
I nodded mutely then returned my head to his shoulder where I breathed in his scent deeply. He smelled nice… kind of spicy, but cool at the same time.
“If you’re done sniffing me,” he began, glancing down at me amusedly and sounding like was trying to suppress laughter, “I’ll take you home.”
“Do I have to go home?” I muttered, clinging to his arm stubbornly, “I just want to stay here right now.”
“Riley, we’re both soaked through, and I really don’t think your parents would appreciate it if I let you run around when you could possibly catch a cold or something.”
“What are you, my father?” Grudgingly I let go of his arm and began to stand. My jeans felt odd after getting permeated with rain and then drying for a few minutes and my t-shirt stuck to my body like a second skin.
“Haha.” Aiden said sarcastically, standing as well. “If I was, I couldn’t do this, now could I?” He swiftly tripped me, then caught me before I could hit the ground.
“Dude!” I protested breathlessly, “What is it with you and catching me?” I twined my arms securely around his neck, and he started to walk to his car with me still in his arms.
“I guess I’m just practicing for when I finally get you to fall for me.” He winked cheekily at me as he set me in the passenger seat of his car, and grinned widely when I blushed.
“Who says I’m going to fall for you?” I teased, poking his arm as he started the car’s engine.
“Who wouldn’t fall for me? I’ve got the looks, the charm, and a sense of humor. It’s like I’m God’s gift to women.”
“Please tell me you’re kidding,” I pleaded as I turned his radio on.
“Of course I am. Any guy who actually believes that is a total dweeb.” He scoffed, turning in his seat to smile at me briefly before reaching one hand over to change the radio station.
“So…where are we going?”
“Your house, duh.” He rolled his eyes, and put his hand back on the steering wheel.
I groaned and let my head fall back onto the soft head-rest. Aiden chuckled and reached his hand over and grabbed mine. “If you want me to, I’ll stay.”
My head shot up, “Really?” I asked eagerly, squeezing his hand tightly between my own.
Contented, I let his hand go and leaned my head back again.
We arrived at my house in a few minutes, and took so many twists and turns that I was firmly convinced that, without Aiden, I probably would have never found my way home.
I pushed the door open and both Aiden and I walked in.
“Riley! There you are!” My mom cried, running over to me, her dark hair flying out behind her. “I was so worried! We called Danny, but she said you weren’t there, and then you didn’t come home… and…”
“Mom, I fine.” I comforted her, giggling slightly at her overreaction. “But I’m kinda cold…”
“Oh, right, of course!” She stepped back and let me up the stairs, “Go change into something warm!”
I ran up the stairs and pulled all my drawers open. Normally, I would change into a pair of sweats and a comfy sweat-shirt, but Aiden was here, and what would he think if I came out dressed like that?
A shiver tore down my spine and I quickly decided that it didn’t matter, I was cold and just wanted to be comfortable. I threw on the sweats and an oversized t-shirt then pounded back downstairs to see that Aiden was making himself comfortable on the couch with a bowl of Froot Loops.
Like the stalker I was, I moved behind a wall and just stared at him for a few moments. Every so often his gaze would dart towards where I was, and he would make a face, like he knew I was there and being stalkerish.
“I had no idea I was so interesting when I ate…” He commented, looking at my hiding-wall strangely again.
“Hehehe…” I chuckled, rubbing a hand on the back of my neck. “You saw me, did you?”
“Let’s just say that you’re not the stealthiest ninja in the clan.”
“Ninjas had clans?” I walked over to him and plopped onto the old, green sofa next to him.
“I don’t know, but it sounded about right.” He set his now finished bowl of cereal down on the glass-topped coffee table in front of us, and stretched leisurely. “So what’s the plan?”
“Well… what do you want to do?”
“I could think of a few things…” He said, wiggling his eyebrows at me.
I wrinkled my nose at him and scooted backwards, wrapping my arms around my legs, and hugging my knees to my chest tightly, “Uh, no.”
“Jeez, Flirt, get your mind out of the gutter, I was going to suggest playing cards or something.”
“Oh, that I can do.” I jumped up and grabbed a deck of cards from the kitchen. As an afterthought, I popped a bag of popcorn and poured it into a plastic bowl, then brought it out for us to snack on. “What’s the name of the game?” I questioned, sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor and setting the cards on the coffee table.
Aiden moved so that he was sitting on the opposite side of the table on the floor, and began to shuffle the deck. “Ever played Texas Hold ‘Em?”
I snorted in a very unladylike manner, “Yeah, I’ve played that game. Won most of the rounds too.”
“Oh really?” One of his dark-brown brows shot up and one corner of his mouth stretched back into a smirk. “Then let’s raise the stakes. For every round, the winner gets to ask the loser a question, and the loser has to answer truthfully.”
I returned his eyebrow raise, “That sounds…interesting.”
“Then let’s do it.”
He dealt the cards out and I glanced at mine.
A queen and a two. Both hearts.
Aiden threw out on card then set three face up in the middle of both of us. All of them were hearts.
I struggled to maintain my poker face as I realized I had a flush. Aiden on the other hand, didn’t even try to conceal his disappointment at the three cards that stared up at him. He frowned and mumbled to himself, before finally turning another card face up. Then another.
His frown grew and the crease between his brows deepened. In response to his distress, my confidence that I would win grew.
“Show ‘em.” I stated smugly, throwing my cards out on the table.
“A flush?” He complained, scowling at my cards.
Suddenly, a change came over his face. “Too bad it can’t beat my straight flush.” He threw his cards onto the table with a flourish then crossed his arms over his chest, as if to say, Ha, beat that.
“B-but, the frowning, a-and the—“
“Fooled ya, didn’t it? Just a little trick I learned off of Mikey.”
“Mikey taught you that?” I muttered in disbelief. His fifteen year old sister was diabolical.
“I do believe you owe me some answers,” Aiden started, picking up my cards and shuffling them back into the deck.
“What’s your question?” I grumbled, scowling at my toes through the table.
“At this moment, who do you think you’re going to choose?”
My eyes shot up to meet his, “That’s your question?”
“Yep.” His face was straight and completely serious, though some underlying expression hinted at vulnerability and genuine nervousness.
“Honestly? I don’t really know.”
His face twitched slightly, but he let out a breath of relief, “Well I guess that’s better than knowing for certain that it’s not me. At least now I know I’ve got a chance.”
“Why wouldn’t you have a chance?” I asked incredulously, taking my cards from him as he dealt them to me again.
“I don’t know… Because I haven’t kissed you yet?”
“The whole kissing thing isn’t important.” I stated concisely, watching him flip the cards over one by one. “It never has been and never will be.”
“It’s not important.”
He sighed and shot me a small smile.
After three more rounds of poker I had lost all hope of ever beating Aiden. Thus far he had found out that my favorite color was red, that I hated soy milk, and that my favorite movie was The Dark Knight.
“Can we do something else now?” I requested, hopping to my feet and stretching.
“Sure, what do you want to do?”
I jumped onto the couch and stretched out, so that my hands were at one end and my feet at the other.
“Want to watch a movie?” I offered, ignoring him as he prodded at my feet to make me move.
“Sure, which one?”
He nodded then walked over to the rack of DVD’s that stood beside the T.V. He ran his fingers over several, but ultimately only pulled out one. He popped it into the player, turned the television on, then lifted my arms and head and sat down, plopping half of my body unceremoniously onto his lap.
I suffered through maybe two and half previews before reaching over for the remote and skipping to the main menu.
The movie menu for Star Trek popped up and I hit play.
I shifted then, so that I was sitting next to Aiden, our hands together, and my head nestled into his neck. We stayed like that for twenty minutes before Aiden’s head lolled back and he began to snore loudly.
I giggled as some drool started to trail from his mouth, but didn’t wake him.
When he had been asleep for ten minutes or so, he began to mutter random things like: “Bananas don’t float you idiot!” or “The piggy’s gonna eat me!”. Once he cried out in his sleep and shoved his arms in front of himself defensively.
I laughed at his sleep-antics. He was totally adorable when he slept.
By the time the ending credits were rolling onto the screen, I was about ready to join him in slumber-land. I laid my head gently down onto his shoulder, and snuggled into his side.
In his sleep, he signed contentedly and moved an arm around my shoulders, pulling me closer to himself.
My eyes began to slide closed, and as I drifted off to sleep, Aiden mumbled one last thing…
It may have been sleep clouding my mind and hazing my senses, but what I heard was: “I think falling in love with you, Riley.”
“Remind me again why you’re on a date with both Paul and I?” Levi whispered in my ear as we walked into the restaurant Paul and I had our first date in, his arm around my shoulders.
“Because I’m not on a date with Paul; I’ve made…other arrangements for him.” I smoothed out the front of my baby-blue, halter-neck, summer dress before opening the door and stepping in.
“Uh huh…” Levi dropped the subject, but he didn’t seem completely convinced.
“Hello, Riley!” A certain blue-grey eyed girl greeted me as she waved enthusiastically from the other side of the dining room.
“Hey, Delaney,” I smiled as I led Levi over to the booth she was sitting in. “This is my boyfriend, Levi.”
The corners of Levi’s full lips curled upwards at the word “boyfriend” and he quickly extended his hand to Delaney who took it and shook with him briefly. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Likewise.” She shot him a charming smile before turning back to me, “It was so nice of you to invite me to dinner tonight, though I am rather sorry; it seems as if I’m imposing on your date with Levi, here.”
“Oh, no! You’re not imposing in the least, I—“
“D-delaney!” All eyes turned to a very flustered-looking Paul. His tie, which was tied rather tightly, bobbed visibly as he swallowed, his wide green eyes glued on Delaney and her beautiful white dress.
“Hello, Paul,” she greeted, obviously more composed than he was. Surprise flashed across her face only briefly before she turned to look at me with a very quick, knowing glance that said as clearly as if she had spoken it: Seriously? You brought me here as a date for him?
Paul’s eyes flitted back over to me and Levi, then back to Delaney. His shoulders sagged, as if he had surrendered to the cruel fate I had shoved at him, and sat down next to Delaney in the booth.
A waiter came to our table and took our drink orders, but even by then, Paul was still visibly uncomfortable sitting so close to Delaney. He kept shooting glances my way, each one of them progressively becoming accusing.
“So, Delaney, tell me about yourself,” I requested, breaking the heavy silence that had settled over our table.
“Well, uh…” her light-brown brows furrowed and she began to chew on her lip. “I’m 16, I’m from Oregon, I have an Australian shepherd… and I work at Publix.” She looked up at me, a brilliant smile gracing her lips.
“An Australian shepherd?” Levi asked, his eyebrows shooting up, “I’ve got one of those too, her name is Lipid.”
“Doesn’t ‘Lipid’ mean fat?” Paul questioned, leaning forward and folding his hands on the table in front of him.
“Give the boy a break, Paul. It’s his dog.” Delaney reprimanded, looking at Paul briefly before quickly averting her face. A blush tinted her fair face rosy pink.
Paul looked away quickly as well, the very tips of his ears turning a violent shade of scarlet.
“Do you see what I see?” I mumbled to Levi, scooting closer so that I could say it in his ear.
“I see a certain girl trying to set up a couple of teenagers, am I right?” He whispered right back in my ear.
“Perhaps,” I moved away from him when the waiter came back and set our drinks down in front of us.
The night was slow. Delaney and Paul kept on moving further and further apart as the night went on, their faces changing color every five minutes. Dinner was spent in silence despite the occasional attempt at small talk; it was, without a doubt, the most awkward dinner in the history of forever.
When all the dishes had been cleared away, and everyone was standing to their feet, Paul thought that then would be a good time to drag me away from the Levi and Delaney to talk.
“What the heck was that?” He demanded as soon as we were outside.
“Uh, dinner?” I decided to play it dumb.
“Why was Delaney there?”
“ Because she seemed pretty cool, so I wanted to get to know her better.” How’s that for thinking on your feet?
“Somehow, I just don’t believe you.” Paul’s red-blond head shook back and forth, almost as if he was disappointed in me. “You don’t get it do you? There’s a reason why Delaney and I aren’t together.”
I blinked, slightly taken aback at the acidic tone his voice had taken on. “What do you mean?”
“Riley,” He sighed through his nose and ran a hand down his face. “Delaney and I… it just wouldn’t work out.”
“Why not?” I demanded, “You guys seem perfect for each other!”
“Because, Delaney lives in London, I live here.”
“And? Some long-distance relationships work out.” I pointed out, although I couldn’t think of any examples.
“Her parents don’t approve of me.” He listed.
“Why wouldn’t they? You—“
“Because I’ve been arrested.” Paul cut me off, his words coming out quickly.
“Arrested?” I parroted, suddenly losing my train of thought. “For what?”
“Shoplifting when I was ten.”
“That’s hardly fair then!” I exclaimed indignantly. “You were ten, that was, like, six years ago!”
“Yeah, but it’s on my permanent record. Delaney’s parents don’t want their daughter dating a ‘criminal’.”
“That’s not fair.” I repeated, kicking a nearby shrub.
“Has anyone told you life isn’t fair?” He asked, smiling at me slightly.
I stayed silent and stared up at the night sky above us. The constant hum of traffic swelled around us, and all the lights of the city made it hard to see the stars.
“Are you just going to give up, then?” I asked, looking back at him.
“What else am I going to do?” Paul sighed and put his hand on the door handle. “I’m just not good enough for her.” On that somber note, Paul pulled the door open and stepped inside, his expression hopeless.
After a few minutes, I followed Paul forlornly back into the restaurant. He was already standing with Levi and Delaney, acting as if nothing had happened.
Levi caught sight of me, and his face lit up, only to dull again when he caught my expression. His dark eyebrows furrowed and the corners of his mouth tilted downwards in an unattractive frown.
Is everything alright? He mouthed, sending a pointed glance over at Paul.
I nodded briefly before forcing a smile onto my face and walking back over to them.
I had expended all my dates with Paul and Levi, leaving only one left with Aiden before I had to decide. The apprehension of my decision was growing more and more with each passing day; what if I didn’t want to choose any of them? What if I decided to choose Roy? What if I decided not to choose anyone?
To relax myself before I went on my final date, I decided to go to Uncle Sol’s restaurant. I invited Mikey to come along with me.
The bell above the door dinged as I pushed it open, and the woman maitre de looked up, saw me, and smiled widely.
“Riley!” She greeted enthusiastically, bustling around her podium to hug me tightly.
“Hey, Mrs. E,” I giggled, returning her hug. Levi’s mom was a plump woman, with lightly graying brown hair. “I’m here for lunch with a friend, any room for us?” I smiled as I spoke, knowing that there would be.
“Of course!” Mrs. Evans enthused, grabbing two menus and pushing Mikey and I towards a small table in the middle of the dining floor. “Your server will be out in a moment.”
We thanked her and opened the menus up.
“So, why am I here exactly?” Mikey asked as she flipped through the plastic coated pages of the menu.
“I didn’t want to eat alone,” I shrugged and put my finger over a picture of chicken and rice. “This looks good, doesn’t it?”
Ignoring my question, Mikey pursed her lips and looked at me thoughtfully, “Did you know that Aiden talks in his sleep?”
I felt myself blush as I thought of Aiden’s mumbled, sleepy confession that he could possibly be falling in love with me, “Yeah, why?”
“Oh, no reason,” She responded casually, though her demeanor suggested otherwise. She looked tense, as ready to run at any moment.
“Mikey,” I frowned, “What’s up?”
She opened her mouth to answer me, when a throat was cleared beside us. I glanced up and saw John, Levi’s sixteen year old brother.
“Hey, Riley, I didn’t know you were going to be here,” he said, grinning widely as he flipped his long bangs out of his eyes.
“I didn’t know you worked here, John,”
“It’s just a summer job,” he shrugged, “I’m saving up to buy the materials I need for an art studio.” His grin grew impossibly wider as he babbled on about what kind of paint and other supplies he was going to get and how much longer he would have to work to get it.
When he was finished, he flush crimson when he realized what he had just done. “I’m an idiot,” he sighed, shaking his head. “What do you guys want to drink?” Almost immeaditely, he perked up again, then walked away with our drink orders.
“Jeez, Riley, do you know everyone in this town?” Mikey asked incredulously as she watched John retreat into the kitchen.
“Seems like it, doesn’t it?” I giggling-ly agreed. My giggled died in my throat, however, when Mikey’s face grew solemn once more.
“Riley…” She began, then stopped, her face scrunching up as she thought. “Last night, I heard Aiden talking in his sleep.”
I said nothing, but waited patiently for the rest.
“He said… he said he was falling in love with you.” Mikey’s face grew red as she said that, as if the thought of her older brother was odd and embarrassing to talk about—which it probably was.
An awkward silence settled heavily over the table, a fact that John didn’t miss when he came back with our drinks in hand. He looked from me to Mikey, then back, his mouth twisting slightly in confusion. He didn’t say a word though, and set the drinks down on the table before turning away mumbling, “I’ll give you guys a little more time to decide on what to eat.”
“He’s falling in love with you!” She blurted, much too loudly. Every diner in a ten foot radius paused for a short moment to look over at us before resuming their eating. “He’s falling in love with you…” This time it came out as a whisper.
“Don’t hurt him,” she begged, looking up at me with pleading eyes.
“I would never—“
But she wasn’t finished. “Two years ago, there was this girl, her name was Charlotte. Aiden… well, Aiden liked Charlotte… a lot. And it kinda seemed like she liked him too.
“They got to be really close friends. They did absolutely everything together, they were—and I use my mom’s words for this—‘joined at the hip’. But Aiden never did anything about his feelings for her; he just let them grow and grow and grow.” She took a deep breath and twisted the cream table cloth between her thin fingers. “One night, I heard him talking in his sleep, and he said that he was falling for her; just like he had with you.
“Two weeks later, he finally got up the courage to do something about it all. He drove to her house and knocked on the door… only for it to be answered by her boyfriend. He came home absolutely crushed. He wouldn’t talk to us. He refused to eat. He would just sit in his room and stare out his window for days at a time. He was like an empty shell.”
My eyes began to water at the thought of happy-go-lucky Aiden sitting in his room completely heartbroken, and guilt began to well up in me.
“It’s been two years since that happened, and now he’s found you and he’s falling all over again. This is the happiest we’ve all seen him since Charlotte happened, and we couldn’t be happier for you guys.
“Riley,” Mikey looked up at me with watering eyes, “If you dare hurt my brother the way Charlotte did…” She breathed in deeply and blinked to catch the tears that were forming rapidly in her eyes. “I don’t care how good of friends we become; I will hunt you down and snap your spine; am I understood?”
I nodded before raising my hand to catch John’s attention. He hurried over, pen and pad ready to take our order, but I surprised him.
A small smile graced his lips as I snuggled in closer to his side. His chest rose and fell more dramatically than before as he let a heavy sigh escape from his lips. My heart began to beat faster in anticipation of what would happen next. My eyes slid shut, and he took another deep breath, this time for a reason other than sighing. Inwardly, my happiness level soared as I thought about what was about to slip from between his lips.
“Your phone ringing.”
I pulled back from his warm torso in surprise and confusion, “What?”
He repeated it again, this time a little more forcefully. “Your phone ringing.” In an ever increasing his volume, he roared out the phrase repeatedly, “Your phone ringing. Hey! Your phone ringing!”
My eyes snapped open and my arms flailed about wildly as I was woken from my pleasant dream. Blindly, frantically, I groped in the dark for my phone that was screaming at me from the bedside table nearby. As my hand closed around the plastic exterior of the phone, my bleary eyes caught the time: 4:17 AM. Who the heck was calling me at 4:17 AM?
“H-hello?” I finally managed once I had found my voice.
“Good morning, Flirt!” Aiden’s bouncy voice greeted me.
I sat straight up in bed at the sound of his voice, before registering who it was and blushing because I had been dreaming about him and that one rainy day…
“Flirt, you there?” His confused voice pulled me back out of my day dreaming and into reality.
Aiden’s warm laugh resonated over the line and I smiled at the sound, “Did I wake you?”
“No, I always wake up at four in the morning,” I responded sarcastically, rolling my eyes even though he couldn’t see me.
“Oh, good then,” he chirped back, obviously not noting the sarcasm that weighted my words. “Would you mind looking out your window?”
“My window, why would I—you’re not standing outside of my window, are you?” I groaned, sinking back onto my pillows.
I sighed and threw the light covers off of myself to walk over to the window. Pushing the blueish-purple sheer curtains aside, I saw Aiden standing out in the middle of my backyard, his cellphone pressed against his ear with one hand and a bouquet of sunflowers in the other.
“ ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?” He whispered into the phone as he grinned up at me.
I blushed but not before I could scoff at his childishness and naivety. “That’s Juliet’s line, Narcissus.”
“Yeah, well, get your Juliet-ness down here before I climb up there.”
I stole another quick glance at my bedside alarm clock. “It’s 4:30!” I hissed into the phone, “I can’t go down there, my parents will kill me!”
“No they won’t, I already cleared all this with them.”
“Oh really?” I was skeptical to believe him; when had he had the opportunity to “clear this with them”?
“You take a while to change into sweats, Riles,” he winked up at me, as if he had just read my mind then moved the hand that was holding his phone to gesture me down. “Come on, it’s our last date before you decide and I want all day to make this one memorable.”
Sighing, I turned away from the window, “Fine, let me get dressed first.”
I hit the ‘end call’ button on my phone and set it on one of my dressers before turning on my light. Aiden hadn’t been lying when he said he knew what I did as I got dressed. I threw in my Justin Bieber CD and started dancing around my room as I threw different outfits on, trying to decide which one to wear.
My phone buzzed and I paused momentarily from my twirling to look at it.
“Stop dancing to that pre-pubescent boy’s music and get yourself down here! We’re burning daylight!” Aiden had texted me. I snorted before tossing all my clothes back into my drawers and dancing into the bathroom to brush my teeth and hair.
I quickly reemerged and threw my keys, phone and some cash into my cargo-pants’ pockets; I wanted to be prepared for whatever Aiden had planned.
Shutting off my light, I opened my door and crept down the stairs as silently as I possibly could; I didn’t want my parents waking up. The door creaked slightly as I pulled it open, but other than that my departure was so ninja-like, Jackie Chan would have been proud.
Just as I exited my front door, Aiden strolled leisurely out of my backyard looking just as happy and awake as ever. For a brief moment, the image of him staring listlessly at his bedroom wall for days at a time flashed through my mind and my stomach twisted painfully. My face must have responded when my stomach did, because his huge smile faltered on his way over to me, and he hastily grabbed my hand and squeezed it tightly.
“Is everything alright, Riley?”
I quickly pushed the depressing image out of my mind and shoved a smile onto my face. “Yeah, I’m absolutely fine.” I squeezed his hand back and swung our twined fingers in-between us as we walked.
A comfortable silence descended upon us as we walked, and neither of us felt the need to break it. We just listened to the sounds of the early morning.
A gentle breeze moved through the air and played with my barely-brushed hair, sending it flying into Aiden’s face. He laughed a bit, before taking my hair in his free hand and twisting it away from himself. Very few cars drove down the nearly abandoned street. Water dripped slowly from house drains from the light shower we had received in the night. A few hound dogs began baying as we walked by; their long ears flopping as they jumped up against the chain link fence that held them in their yards.
“Where are we going?” I finally asked, as Aiden began to walk faster.
“We’re going to watch the sunrise.” He stated simply, still walking with his long stride now more towing me along behind me than walking with me.
“Okay…” I quickened my pace to try to match his, but we started walking through some dewy grass, and my flip flops began to slip dangerously.
Just as I thought I would fall for certain, Aiden stopped dead in his tracks and sat down in the wet grass. Following his example, I crossed my legs Indian-style and rested my head against his shoulder, settling it into the hollow between his shoulder and neck.
Slowly, a ray of sunlight pierced the blue sky, making the clouds aflame with oranges and pinks. The birds started to wake up, as did the rest of the neighborhood as the sun began to rise ever higher, but Aiden and I just sat there, staring at the changing hues of the sky.
Deep blue to purple, until it finally became a powdery pink littered with golden clouds.
I stifled a yawn as I snuggled further into Aiden’s side. “Thank you for this, Aiden.” I sighed, letting my eyes slide shut.
“Anytime, Flirt…” His face pressed against the top of my head. “Anytime…”
It felt like sunshine was seeping through my skin and bones, permeating my muscles and making my insides turn to jelly it felt so good. It filtered through my eyelids, making everything blindingly red; it started to burn slightly, and my jellified insides suddenly became cookies burnt to a crisp. My previous smile turned into a deep frown and I moved around, trying to escape the burning light.
“Whoa, hold on there, wormy, get back here!” Cool hands grabbed my arms and I immediately stopped squirming. The cool hands moved from my arms to my face, where they brushed away warm hair. They brushed my cheeks softly and I felt myself sigh in relief. “It’s time to wake up, Riley.”
“Mmmm…” I moved my face further into the hands.
“Get your face off of my hands, Flirt, we still have a lot to do.”
I didn’t move; I was too comfortable.
“Riley Jane Noble, get your face out of my hands and wake up right now or I swear I’ll give you a wet willy.”
My brain, although muddled with sleep, immediately recognized the words ‘wet willy’ and jolted me back into the realm of the living.
“I’m awake!” I exclaimed, pulling my face from Aiden’s cool hands and sitting upright.
Aiden’s eyes swept over me once before he stifled a laugh, “You look like a scarecrow.”
“Gee, thanks,” I muttered, smoothing out my shirt, “That’s totally what girls want to hear when they wake up.”
“You make a lovely scarecrow, Flirt.” He chuckled, eyeing me with amusement.
“Shut up.” I stood and stretched, then smacked his arm for good measure.
“Ouch!” He hissed, rubbing his arm. “What the crap was that for?”
“For calling me a scarecrow.” I explained smugly, satisfied that I could still hit fairly well.
“But I called you a lovely scarecrow.” Aiden whined, still rubbing his arm resentfully.
“Thank you for that,” I giggled, taking his hand as we started walking back to my house.
He smiled slightly, “You’re quite welcome.”
“So what’s the plan for today?” I asked, flopping onto the couch and stretching out.
Like he had before, he picked up the top half of my body and dumped it onto his lap once he had sat down. But this time, he started playing with random strands of my hair.
“The sunrise was really the only thing I had planned, actually.” He grinned sheepishly down at me.
I smiled back up at him, but didn’t say anything. We continued to stare at each other, smiling. A few seconds later, a kind of hard determination entered Aiden’s face and, as if my insides understood it better than my brain did, butterflies erupted. It wasn’t until he began to bend his head down to mine that I fully understood what was about to happen.
My heart began to pound faster and for a split second I wondered how this kiss would compare to Levi’s and Roy’s. Embarrassed that I had even thought such a thing, I thrust those thoughts as far away from myself as possible and instead focused on Aiden.
His lightly tanned cheeks had taken on a rosy tint and his eyes were focused intently on mine, as if trying to gauge my reaction from them. He was getting closer rapidly, any second now and our lips would have been brushing, if only slightly.
“Ahem,” Aiden shot back from me, his rosy cheeks now turning a brilliant scarlet as my dad looked at us from the doorway, his arms crossed across his chest. I blushed as well and sat up, looking at my furious father sheepishly. “Riley, might I talk to you for a moment?” He tapped his foot impatiently and raised an eyebrow.
I nodded mutely and leapt off of the couch, “What’s up?”
“Exactly what is Aiden doing here so early in the morning?” He asked, looking me straight in the eyes. “Did you two—“
“Oh my gosh, Dad, no!” I exclaimed, cutting him off before he could even finish that thought. My cheeks burned as did my ears hidden under my hair.
“Then what is he doing here so early?”
“He said he had already cleared it with you.”
“They sunrise, yes, but the coming home with you afterwards wasn’t planned.”
“What’s wrong with him coming over?” I asked, “You were fine with him being here the day I didn’t come back from Danny’s!”
“That was different.”
“He brought you home when we were worried about you; the boy deserved to stay for a while.”
“And he doesn’t deserve to stay now?” I knew I was doing the wrong thing by challenging my father, but I was growing indignant. What kind of guy did he think Aiden was?
My father sighed, “That’s not what I meant at all, Riley. I’m just surprised that you didn’t decide to go straight back to sleep once you got home.”
“I’m wide awake.” I grunted, crossing my arms over my chest.
He began to chortle at my grumpy exterior, “You look exactly like you did when you were five years old and we told you that you couldn’t have a pet piranha.”
“A pet piranha would be so cool, though!” I argued, laughing along with him.
“That’s exactly what you said when you were little.” My dad’s gaze softened as he looked at me. “You’re growing up so fast, sweety, it was like only yesterday you were my little girl who wanted to do her own makeup for her dance recital.”
“I’ll always be your little girl, Daddy.” I murmured.
“But someday, I’ll be giving you away on your wedding day, and with you dating now… that day just seems so much more real for me.”
“I’m only 18, Dad, there’s still time.” Smiling gently, I stole a quick glance towards the living room.
“Go back in there, Riley,” Dad commanded sternly.
“Really?” I perked up considerably and made to go back.
“Really. Just don’t—“
“Daddy!” I protested.
“Don’t do anything that may make me a murderer,” he finished, grinning at me playfully.
I rolled my eyes and hugged him quickly, “Alright, Dad.”
“I love you, sweetheart. I just want you to have what’s best for you. And if Aiden makes you happy… well, I guess I approve.”
I thought of the other two boys who held large pieces of my heart and sighed. I wasn’t sure who made me happiest.
As if sensing my distress, my dad winked at me, “Personally, I like that Levi boy the best.”
The mere mention of Levi’s name sent butterflies spinning through my stomach and blood rush quickly to my face. My dad smiled at my reaction and continued, “And if that blush of yours is any indicator, I would say you agree with me.”
I began to giggle abashedly, but the sound caught in my throat when I noticed Aiden trying to slip by unnoticed, his face scrunched up as if he were in pain.
“Oh, no…” I breathed, pushing past my dad to catch up to Aiden. “Aiden! Aiden, wait!” I called, but he ignored me and walked out the front door.
I panicked at the thought of his pained face and, for the second time that day, the haunting image of him heart-broken and staring blankly at his wall flashed through my mind. As if my legs had a mind of their own, I rushed towards the door and threw it open.
He was halfway down the drive way.
Sprinting past him, I put my hands on his shoulders and looked up into his face. He looked at me and grimaced before looking away.
“What do you want, Riley?” He asked, his voice trembling from all the emotion it held.
I didn’t know how to answer him. So I let my hands slide from his shoulders and fall to my sides limply. Taking my silence as his answer, he shoved past me and continued to walk down the drive way. It was in that moment that I knew the answer.
He stopped in his tracks and looked back at me expectantly.
Slowly, deliberately, I walked back over to him and wrapped my arms around his waist, pressing my face up against his chest. Warm drops fell into my hair, so I hugged him tighter. “Right now, I just want you.”
"I don't care what people say, the rush is worth the price I pay..."
I hummed along with Ke$ha as I threw random clothes into my suitcase. Packing for a week long stay at the Hilton hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida was easy. Whoever said that packing was hard obviously wasn't as good as it as I am. As soon as my suitcase was full of all the clothes I could possibly need, I shut it and tried to zip it shut.
It wouldn't move an inch.
I tugged and pulled, jerked and yanked.
Finally, after about three million tries and about two trillion angry outbursts the suitcase zipped shut, the top bulging like a pregnant seahorse's stomach.
"Riley? Are you up there? It's time to start loading up the car!"
"Coming!" I shouted back down to my mom as I wrenched my luggage off of my bed and lugged it down the stairs to the SUV sitting in our driveway.
"You call that packing?" My mom scoffed, rolling her eyes and taking my suitcase from me and handing it to my dad who stuffed it into the back.
"What do you have in there, Riley, bricks?" He joked as he closed the back of the car.
"I'll have you know bricks are an essential part of my wardrobe," I kidded back.
He laughed and we piled into the car.
The drive from Winter Haven to Daytona Beach was just about two hours long, so I plugged my earbuds in and leaned my head against the window, eyes closed.
"Riley, Riley wake up. We're here."
My eyes fluttered open to be met with the sight of a gigantic...nose?
"Aigh!" I tried to scuttle backwards, but my seat belt held me in place. The nose, though, moved.
"Jeez, Sharkbait. You'd think you'd be happy to see me. I'm hurt, miss. Sincerely hurt." Levi twisted up his attractive features into a hurt expression and pressed a fist over his heart.
"Why would I be happy to see you?" I teased, unbuckling and jumping out of the vehicle.
"Now what kind of greeting is that for your favorite surfer?" His grin grew as he spread his arms open wide. "I'll forgive you if I get a hug."
"Hm, is it really worth it?" I smiled and launched myself into his arms where he enveloped me in a huge bear hug. When the hug was over, I stepped back, pursed my lips, then said, "Yup, definitely not worth it."
"Feisty today, aren't we?" Levi laughed, slinging his arm around my shoulders as we walked into the hotel, our rolling suitcases in tow.
"Eh, you know me; I'm always feisty."
"Dang right you are."
"Amber!" I twisted out of Levi's clutch and ran to hug my friend with the broken leg. "I haven't seen you in forever!"
She laughed and squeezed me tightly. "Well, you do have three incredibly hot boys fighting for your attention." She nudged me and nodded at where Roy, Aiden, Levi, and Paul had convened and were talking. Despite the fact that all of them were vying for my affections they seemed to get along fairly well.
"What? No hug for me?" Danny placed her small hands on her waist and looked at me teasingly. "Well I guess I know where I rank now." She rolled her eyes but ran over to me and hugged me before smacking my arm playfully. "Where've you been, chica? It's been too long!"
"I've been kinda busy..." I admitted, sending another glance over to the boys.
"Have you made a decision yet? Huh? Have you? Have you?" Danny bounced up and down enthusiastically, her blond curls swinging.
"Well... uh... not exactly."
"Riley!" She groaned, her posture suddenly slumping. "But you've already been on all three dates. Isn't any of them a front-runner yet?"
"I don't know, Danny. It's a tie between Aiden and Levi."
She paused and chewed on her lip before breathing, "And Roy?"
I sighed, "I honestly have no idea."
She nodded mutely, accepting what I had said.
Amber looked shrewdly between the two of us. "Is there something I need to know?"
"Oh, you know, the usual. Riley came over to my house and then ended up kissing my brother." Danny shrugged. "No biggie."
If Amber's eyes were any bigger they would have been the size of watermelons. "She did what?"
"I kissed Roy?" It came out more as a question than a statement.
"Oh my gosh! Is he a good kisser? What was it like? How did it happen? How-"
"You're okay with this?" Danny demanded, turning on Amber.
"Well, yeah. Why wouldn't I be?"
"He's my brother."
"Your brother who has had a crush on Riley since... forever."
Danny's reply was a face-palm.
"Look, ladies, I know that you don't want to stop gossiping about my insane hotness, but it's getting hot out here. Let's go into the hotel, eh?" Aiden's hazel eyes danced merrily as we walked past him and into the hotel.
Glass. Was. Everywhere.
Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I had never seen so many breakable items in one place in my entire life.
"Are they trying to make us pay more than we already have?" Danny grumbled, looking all around her at the crystal chandeliers hanging above and the expensive looking vases standing on pedestals.
"Hey, it probably works." Roy pointed out from where he was examining a stone statue of what looked like a very blobbish person.
"Exactly," she mumbled, tugging her suitcase closer to her as we walked towards the elevators. "I'm going to owe this place thousands of dollars before the week is even up, just watch."
"You're such a pessimist," Amber laughed, boarding the elevator car. "Just make sure you're careful."
"Yeah, careful," Danny rolled her eyes and punched a random button. The elevator doors closed and we started ascending.
"Do you even know which floor we're on?" I asked doubtfully, watching as the elevator continued to go up. Any minute now and we would be at the very top of the hotel.
"Nope," she replied cheerily, "I just pushed the button with the biggest number on it."
"If anyone asks, I don't know you guys," Amber joked, shaking her head mockingly. "You seriously just pushed the button for the highest floor?"
"That would be correct, yes."
"Why didn't I just wait for the next elevator?" Roy groaned from behind us. He was the only other person in the elevator besides Amber and me. "For all I know, you guys are going to get us killed, and then what will Unmuzzled do at our show on Thursday? I should have just waited. Why the heck didn't I wait?!"
"Because you know that elevator rides with me are the best." Danny countered.
The elevator slowed.
"What? We haven't reached the top floor yet!" Danny complained.
The doors slid open. And people stepped in. "Going up?"
"All the way!" Amber chirped.
The ride up to the other people's floor was spent in awkward silence.
"That was... fun." I giggled as the doors slid open to reveal the top floor of the hotel. A single door lay at the end of the hallway.
"Wanna go check it out?"
"I'm game if you are."
"Let's do thi-"
The elevator doors slid shut and we began descending.
"Well that was a very anti-climatic adventure." I laughed, leaning back on the elevator wall for the long ride down.
"Oh, we're just getting started."
I turned over onto my side in bed for the 17th time in the past hour. In the bed opposite me, Amber and Danny slept peacefully, dead to the world around them. I glanced briefly at the digital alarm clock that stood on the bedside table: 3:28. I had been lying awake, restless, for about 45 minutes.
I turned over again, trying to find a more comfortable position on the queen-sized bed, but nothing I tried worked. I remained wide awake, staring up at the blank ceiling, hands folded above the covers, and a million thoughts running through my head. Finally, I could take it anymore. Throwing the covers off of myself, I slipped on a pair of flipflops grabbed one of our two room keys, and practically ran out of the room.
Out of that suffocating room for the first time in five hours, I let out a sigh of relief. The interior was beyond boring, and it got tiring to look after one had already counted all the humanoid patterns in the abstract paintings that hung on the walls.
There were 73, just in case you were wondering.
Having nothing better to do, I walked down the hallway to the small lobby where the elevators were. No one else was awake, so I figured I would just meander around the hotel for a little while, until I felt sleepy again. I punched the small, plastic button, and the numbers on the digital display above the elevator doors began to change.
Slowly, the metal doors slid open, and I stepped back in surprise.
“Levi, what are you doing up?” I questioned, regaining my composure and stepping into the elevator with him.
He shrugged his broad shoulders and leaned back against the elevator walls, “Couldn’t sleep; what’s your excuse.”
The doors glided shut silently, and we began descending to the lobby.
I mimicked Levi’s relaxed posture against the elevator’s side, and let my head loll back until I could feel the cool metal against my hair. It felt nice after the stifling covers in the hotel room.
“How long have you been up?” I asked conversationally, eyes closed as I enjoyed the feel of the metal against my warm skin.
“Eh, since midnight or so. I just couldn’t fall asleep.”
“I woke up at about 2:45.”
We trailed off into silence and the doors skimmed open. Not knowing what else to do, I stepped out. The night door-man looked mildly surprised to see a teenage girl in pajamas stepping off of the elevator, but said nothing, merely tipped his head slightly in recognition.
I walked towards the circular bench that sat in the middle of the lobby and collapsed onto the side that looked at the great glass doors that led to the beach. Levi had followed me off of the elevator and sat down beside me. He wrapped his strong arms around my shoulders, and I leaned into him. We remained in companionable silence for a few minutes.
“Mmm?” I mumbled; my body was finally realizing the late hour at which it was functioning and it had already started to shut down.
“Haven’t you already completed all three dates with Aiden, Paul, and I?”
“Yeah,” I nodded my head against his arm, mussing my hair, “So?”
“Well, aren’t you supposed to decide now?” Levi’s voice held an odd note of anxiety, one I wouldn’t have thought possible.
“Levi…” I pulled back from him and forced my tired eyelids open so that I could look at him clearly, “Are you… nervous?”
“Me? Nervous? No.” He denied quickly. “That’s preposterous.” He must have said that a bit too loud, because the doorman softly asked us to be a bit quieter.
“Sorry,” I apologized, blushing, before turning back to Levi. “Preposterous? How the heck is that preposterous?”
A grin stretched across Levi’s tan face, and his brown eyes danced with a playful light. “Because I already know that you’re going to choose me.”
I laughed and leaned back against his side. “What makes you so sure about that?”
“I know everything.”
“Then what am I thinking right now?”
He paused for a moment, as if he were thinking. “You’re thinking that you’d like to go look up at the stars with me.”
“Why, Levi! How’d you know I was thinking that?” I giggled, though, in truth, I had been thinking about how good a chocolate éclair sounded right about then.
“I told you, Riley,” his smile grew impossibly larger, “I know everything.” The pleasant sound of his laughter rumbled deep in his chest and I sighed contentedly as I listened to it mingle with his steady heartbeat.
His laughter eventually subsided, until all I could hear was the steady thumping of his heart. “Well then, what are we waiting for? Let’s go.” I declared, leaping to my feet and tugging him after me.
We walked from the circular benches out the glass doors and into the courtyard outside. The sound of waves crashing against the shore at the nearby beach was a welcome sound, and I breathed in the sea air deeply before sighing.
“Come on,” Levi tugged lightly at my arm, and led me over to a staircase that led to the beach. We skipped down the steps—figuratively, not literally—and I took off my flipflops. Levi and I then strolled leisurely over a few soft, sand dunes before finding one that looked suitable for lying down on.
I settled down comfortable into the sand. It felt almost like silk against my bare arms, and Levi’s arm made a suitable pillow for my head. If it weren’t for the fact that I was a bit cold, I probably would have fallen asleep right then and there.
The stars twinkled tranquilly overhead; silent eyes winking down at us. Unlike Aiden, Levi didn’t know all the names of the constellations, in fact, his knowledge of the stars was about as extensive as mine, which really wasn’t saying much; I barely knew which one was the Big Dipper.
“So what were you really thinking?” Levi asked, as we stared up at the stars.
“I was thinking about how I wanted to eat a chocolate éclair.” I replied truthfully.
“What is it with you and food?” He laughed, “You operate off your stomach, like a dude.”
“I am not a dude!” I protested indignantly, whacking his chest playfully.
“I didn’t say you were, I said that you think with your stomach, like a dude.”
“Whatever.” I rolled my eyes at him and settling my head back against his arm again. “Do boys really think with their stomachs?” I wondered, more to myself than to him.
“I don’t. I don’t know about the rest of the male population though.” His shoulder moved up and down beneath my head.
“Well then, what do you think with?”
“My brain, dur.”
I smacked him again, and he laughed again. “You are such a dweeb sometimes,” I chuckled.
“And that’s why you love me.” Levi replied matter-of-factly.
“Well, I guess that’s one reason.” I seceded, wondering if he would pick up on the fact that I didn’t deny the fact that he said I loved him.
“Oh, so you love me, do you?” Yep. He noticed.
“I don’t know,” I teased, smiling a bit. “Do I?”
Levi shifted so that his head was resting in his hand and he was looking down at me. The arm that I had been using as a pillow was now propping his head up, so my head was in the sand, hair strewn all about. He stared down at me for a few moments, before smiling wryly. “Well, if you didn’t love me, would you react the way you do when I do this?”
For a moment, I was confused as to what he was insinuating, but the moment his lips touched mine I understood.
I suppose his logic wasn’t faulty, but I couldn’t outright accept the fact that I did in fact love Levi. Mostly because I knew that I loved Aiden too, and, as much as I hated to admit it, Roy as well.
But those thoughts were pushed far into the back in my mind. Levi was who I was with right now, and I was going to enjoy it while it lasted. I kissed him back and I could feel his lips curve upward at my response.
“See?” He murmured, gazing down at me happily, “you love me.”
“You’re right, Levi.” I seceded, sitting up as well. “I do love you.”
His smile and facial features grew softer as those words escaped my lips, “I love you too.”
"Riley." I groaned and rolled over. "Riley."
"G'way..." I mumbled, burying my face further into my pillow.
"Riley Jane Noble, if you do not get up right this instance I swear I will flick your face off." Who the heck was threatening me, and what kind of a threat is flicking? Not really caring about the answers to those questions, I ignored the person summoning me.
When I didn't move a series of painful flicks erupted along my cheekbones and around my eyes. "Wake. Up. Now." Each word was accentuated with yet another flick, this time aimed at the bridge of my nose.
"Okay, okay, I'm up!" I complained, swatting the evil, flicking hand away from my face and sitting up in bed.
Wait? Bed? I looked around me in surprise and saw that I was back in my hotel room. Odd, I could have sworn that I fell asleep on the beach with Levi... A smile spread across my face when I remembered our late night talk on the beach; the smile grew wider when I realized he must have carried me back up to my hotel room.
Danny was standing beside my bed, hands on her hips and huge sunglasses covering her eyes. "Come on, the rest of the crew are waiting for you outside the hotel. If you don't hurry up we're going to be late for Roy's show!"
Hurriedly, I scrambled out of bed and grabbed a change of clothes and my toothbrush from my suitcase. "I'll meet you downstairs!" I called before slamming the bathroom door and locking it.
"You'd better!" Danny shouted back threateningly. The hotel room door slammed shut, and I started to change.
My hair was an absolute mess from laying down in the sand last night, and I wouldn't have been surprised if there was sand in it either. I quickly showered and threw my clothes on before speedily brushing my teeth and yanking a brush through my dripping wet hair.
The door flew open on account of my fierce yank and I tore back into the main hotel room to find some shoes.
Finally, I made my way out of the hotel room, shoes in hand and a room key securely in my pocket. I punched the elevator button, then, as I waited for the car to reach my floor, slipped my shoes on.
"Oh, good!" Roy's voice sighed from behind me. "I was worried I'd be the last one out."
I turned to look at him in disbelief. "Roy, you're going to be late for your own gig!" I nearly shouted, pointing for no apparent reason at the window at the far side of the room that looked out over the street.
"Well, sorr-y," he laughed, rumpling the hair on the back of his head with his hand. "I like to sleep in."
An awkward silence descended upon us; we hadn't been alone together since... the kiss.
The elevator doors slid open and I stepped forward in relief only to see that it was already full of people in bathing suits.
"Sorry, full." They said, with a little apologetic smile. The doors slid shut again and I had to punch the button again to wait for the next elevator.
"So..." I said, awkwardly as I leaned back against one of the walls.
Roy said nothing but mimicked my relaxed position against the opposite wall. His blue eyes looked at me shrewdly and I wondered what he was thinking.
"What are we, Riley?" He asked suddenly, breaking the silence.
"Er, friends?" I replied uncertainly; how did one answer a question like that, exactly?
"No, I mean..." He sighed and stepped towards me, running his fingers through his thick, blond hair. "That kiss."
I opened my mouth to say something, but he went on.
"I know that it shouldn't have happened, but it did, and I may not be the smartest guy out there, but I'm pretty dang sure I wasn't the only one kissing the other. You felt something and reacted."
An elevator reached our floor and I stepped into it silently, Roy followed suit.
"Fine, if you're not going to say anything, I will. Riley, I... Gosh this is going to sound so cheesy, but, I" wince, "like you. I have since... I don't know when. I know that this sounds odd; I have a crush on my younger sister's best friend but... You were just always different from other girls. You didn't care what other people thought, and I respected you--and still respect you--for that. It's one of the many reasons that I fell for you."
A deep red blush started to bloom across my cheeks, and he smiled softly at it. "Riley, I don't know what you feel for me, but I think that you need to know..." He paused uncomfortably and a blush of his own spread across his face. "I love you."
I shut my eyes and sank back wearily against the elevator walls. Two 'i love you's in twelve hours was too much for me to take. "Roy, I--"
"And it's because I love you, that I don't want you to love me."
My eyes shot open and I stared at him in disbelief for the second time that day.
Unfortunately, the elevator doors opened then, and we had to get out.
Now, with people all around us, we couldn't talk as freely as we could in an empty elevator. We walked side by side, a bit stiffly and awkwardly, out of the hotel where the rest of our group was waiting impatiently.
Roy moved away from the rest of us to go find Dominique and the rest of his band.
"Remember what I said," he mouthed at me before departing.
Mutely, I walked over to my family, and the rest of the group. Danny and Amber looked at me curiously, they had known me long enough to know when something was up, but I shook my head at them, letting them know that I would tell them later. They nodded in response.
We piled into our individual cars, then made our way to the place where Roy was playing. They were the opening act for a much larger, but not quite famous yet, band, "Chocolate Covered Fiberglass". What was it with people and calling their musical groups odd names?
By the time we got there, there was already a rather large crowd gathering in front of the stage and we had to push our way forward to where we could actually see what was happening on stage.
"All this for Roy, eh?" Aiden asked, standing beside me and intwining our fingers.
"Well, I think most of them are here for those Chocolate Fiberglass people, but it's definitely nice to think that it's all for Unmuzzled."
"Well, I guess we're just going to have to cheer extra loud, for them, won't we?" He grinned down at me, and I smiled back. It was near impossible not to feel happy when I was around Aiden.
Unmuzzled was busy setting up, getting ready to perform. A few minutes passed before each of them took up their instruments. The bustling crowd around us settled down, and, when Unmuzzled struck the first chord, they went wild.
The crowd began to undulate, some people began to dance, sending the others around them crashing into other people in a poor attempt to escape their flailing arms. I paid no attention to what was happening around me though. I was too busy thinking about my decision.
I had been putting it off for much too long. I was deciding. Today. Right after Unmuzzled went off stage.
My heartbeat’s speed increased alarmingly as, onstage, Unmuzzled began to play the chords for their traditional ending song. They always closed with this song, and because of the decision I had made, it was almost like a bearer of bad fortune.
My throat clenched up, and a quickly slipped my hand out of Aiden’s and moved to go backstage. Aiden made to follow me, but I placed a hand on his chest and shook my head at him, smiling. He seemed to understand what was happening, because he nodded and moved back.
With every step closer to the stage, my heart beat another three beats faster. I was worried that it would explode out of my chest before I could get on stage. My palms became progressively sweatier, and my knees began to shake. For a short moment, I wondered if I could actually go through with this, but I thought of the three boys I had forced to wait this long, and it steeled my determination.
I slipped behind the stage and started searching frantically for the stairs that led on-stage.
“Woah, woah, woah!” A British-accented voice called out, as I finally spotted the steps and started to make my way over to them. “And just what do you think you’re doing, missy?”
“I-I, I need to get on stage.” I stuttered, stopping dead still.
“Oh, no, sweetheart. I don’t think so.” A tall, burly man with a goatee and a tattoo of a star on the right side of his thick neck placed his large hand on my shoulder and began to steer me back into the crowd.
Panicking, my eyes searched frantically for someone, anyone who could help me. I had to do this, if I didn’t do it now, I didn’t know if I would be able to summon the courage to do it again.
My eyes darted back and forth in a frenzy, hoping that a nice-looking stage hand could possibly come to my rescue… what I wasn’t expecting was that someone I knew would be a nice-looking stage hand.
“Delaney!” I shouted, waving my hands wildly over my head. “Delaney, over here!”
Her light brown hair swished through the air as she turned her head to find the person calling her.
“Delaney!” Finally, her eyes alighted on me, and the grey-blue orbs widened significantly. She hastened over to us, and put a hand out to the large man.
“Derrick, exactly what are you doing?” She demanded, her small frame now seeming regal and commanding.
“I was just getting this crazed fan out from backstage, Miss Delaney,” Derrick replied, not releasing his tight hold on my shoulder.
“Well, let her go!” Delaney commanded, “Riley, here, is one of my personal friends and I granted her access backstage.”
“But, Ms. Delaney—“
“No buts, Derrick. Let go of her immediately.”
Grunting, the giant known as Derrick let go of me and sauntered off.
“Riley, what the heck are you doing here?” Delaney demanded, as soon as Derrick was out of earshot.
“My friend is part of Unmuzzled,” I explained quickly, “What are you doing here?” The words came out in a rush, the teenagers onstage were starting the bridge that led to the final chorus.
“My father is the manager of Chocolate Covered Fiberglass; they’re a British band, it’s why we’re living in London.”
“Oh, that’s cool.” I blinked and relaxed for a moment, before coming back into reality. “Look, I need to get onstage before Chocolate Cocopuff-somethingorother. Can you somehow… do that?” It was awkwardly worded, but it was the best I could come up with under the circumstances.
“Chocolate Covered Fiberglass, and yeah, I can probably stall them for a few minutes… why do you need to get onstage?”
“No, time!” I called over my shoulder as I ran back to where the stairs were. “You’ll find out soon enough!”
I ran up the stairs just as Unmuzzled finished up.
“Thank you!” Roy said into the microphone, holding his hands up in the air and grinning hugely.
I rushed forward and snatched the microphone out of his hands. The entire band looked at me strangely, probably wondering what I was doing. A collective gasp ran throughout the crowd and then the murmurings started.
“Riley, what are you doing?” Roy hissed, his mouth carefully away from the microphone.
“Deciding.” I stated firmly, sounding much more confident than I felt.
“Are you sure about this?” He pressed, blue eyes searching mine.
“As sure as I’m ever going to be.” I took a deep breath and gripped the microphone tightly in my fingers. “I loved you, Roy.”
“And I still love you,” he replied with a sad smile gracing his lips.
Oh, how I did love him. I wondered if, maybe, this whole Dating Department business hadn’t started if we could have been a couple…If we could have been happy together, without any obstacles. But then I thought about the young man standing there in the crowd, looking at me as I stood onstage like an idiot and my feelings of happiness swelled. Yes, I was doing the right thing. I was choosing the man I loved.
Roy took a step back and gestured for me to face the crowd.
“H-hey, everyone.” I choked into the microphone, my knees doubtlessly knocking together from nervousness.
All eyes in the crowd zeroed in on me.
“Hehe, wow, big crowd.” I blabbed uselessly, Roy nudged me a bit with his elbow to get me back on course. “Uh, you’re all probably wondering why the heck I’m up here. Truthfully, I’m wondering why I am too.” I chuckled a little bit, more out of nervousness than anything, but it seemed to relieve any tension that the crowd had been feeling, they laughed too.
“So, about two months ago, my friend, Amber, started this insane business based off of one of my jokes. She called this business, ‘the Dating Department’.”
“That’s a stupid idea!” Some random dude called from the audience, and I laughed.
“Yeah, it was a really stupid idea, you’re right. But it’s also the reason I’m here.” I swallowed the lump in my throat and continued, “It’s also why I’m currently in love.”
A few girls in the crowd ‘aw’ed; several guys gagged.
“Paul?” I scanned the crowd hastily to see if I could spot him. He stepped forward, an understanding smile on his face; it was as if he knew what I was going to say before the words escaped my lips. “Paul, you’re a total sweetheart… but not the one for me. I think both you and I know that there’s a certain girl hanging out backstage that truly deserves your affections.”
Paul’s eyes widened and his eyes darted to behind me. I grinned, “Go get her, man. You both deserve it.”
He nodded and raced through the crowd, some people cheering as he went.
I watched him run backstage then turned back to the sea of people in front of me. I was feeling perfectly comfortable now; I knew that I was doing what I should have done a while ago.
“Levi, Aiden…” Both of them looked at me expectantly. “You both are… you guys are anything and everything I could have ever asked for in a boyfriend.
“You’re both sweet and funny. You respect me and my opinions, and in turn I respect and treasure you and yours.” I paused and I laughed at how incredibly cheesy I was being in that moment. “But I can only choose one of you.”
Both young men nodded grimly, hope set in their faces, but also nervousness, genuine worry that he would not be the one I chose. It pained me to know that I was about to break a boy’s heart. Neither of them deserved to be hurt by a selfish teenage girl like me, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. What was I supposed to do? Continue to date both of them? I would only be betraying myself and them by doing that. No, this was what needed to be done. For the good of all three of us.
I gripped the microphone tightly in my hands and brought it back up to my lips.
“Aiden, Levi,” I almost felt like one of those announcers for T.V. shows who is about to announce who was eliminated this round. I looked straight at the boy I had chosen so that there could be no mistake who I was talking about. “I love you.” A smile cracked out of me, and I felt guilty for smiling while I was causing someone pain. “Be mine?”
The young man I had chosen smiled and nodded once. I turned to the boy I had not chosen.
“You—“ my voice cracked and I coughed, trying to hide it. “You deserve better than me. You deserve someone who won’t make you go through all that crap just to be rejected.”
The young man smiled sadly and shook his head and said something; I couldn’t hear him, but I could read his lips: “I’m happy you chose him.” He had said.
“So am I,” I mouthed back, a few tears slipping down my cheeks. “So am I.”
I place a hand over my swollen stomach as another kick flutters across its surface.
“He’s getting restless,” I say, smiling up at my husband. “He’s ready to meet us.”
For a brief second I’m back at our wedding, saying my vows.
“Do you, Riley Jane Noble, take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband? Will you love him, comfort and keep him, forsake all others and remain true to him as long as you both shall live?”
I didn’t want to be the cliché bride, giggling like a maniac on her wedding day, but I couldn’t stop the happy sound from bubbling from my lips. “I will.”
“Then, by the power vested in me by the state of Florida, I do pronounce you both man and wife. You may kiss the bride.”
That had been the happiest moment of my life, and I was about to experience the next: the birth of our first child.
“Well, I’m ready to meet him,” Aiden says, planting a kiss on the top of my head. “I’ve waited 38 weeks to meet Anthony, and I’m getting impatient.”
“Calm down, Aiden,” Amber scolds, her own pregnant stomach bulging from beneath her maternity clothes. She’s 29 weeks along, and couldn’t be happier. “The boy will come when he’s ready.”
Her own husband stands behind her, tall, dark, and handsome. They had met in college, fallen in love, and married two years later.
How Aiden and I managed to survive our last year of high-school and all four years of college I will never know. We attended different high-schools, but applied to the same colleges. We had our little spats along the way, as all couples do, but somehow we managed to stay firm through it. If anything, or fights made us stronger, as sappy and cliché as that sounds.
He proposed to me in front of the building we had first met at.
“Riley?” He asked, and I turned to face him.
Suddenly, my legs were flying out from under me, and I was falling. I landed in strong arms.
“Now, that I’ve finally learned to catch you…” Aiden set me securely back on my feet and knelt on one knee.
My eyes widened and my heart started beating fast—too fast it almost seemed.
“Will you do me the honor of being my wife?”
Obviously, I said yes.
The Dating Department didn’t last any longer than that summer, but that didn’t matter to any of us, I don’t think. A few months after I chose Aiden, Roy asked out a girl at his college, they’re now married and raising two children just as beautiful as their parents.
Danny and Dominique broke up after highschool, as of now, Danny is still a single 20 year old, working in college to get her degree in nursing. I think she’s happy.
Levi? Well, we tried friendship, and it worked better than expected. He attended an out of state college, but we still manage to keep in touch. He’s coming out in a few weeks with his fiancé, a beautiful young woman named Megan Holmes--soon to be Megan Evans-- to get married here in Florida and meet Anthony, who is to be their god-son.
Paul eventually got the nerve up to ask Delaney out. She immediately accepted. Though at first her parents didn’t approve, the relationship worked out. They are currently honeymooning in Waikiki.
“What are you thinking about, babe?” Aiden asks, breaking me out of my reverie.
I shrug, “Nothing much.”
“You’re still a horrible liar,” he laughs, wheeling me along the hospital corridors to one of the birthing rooms, nurses and doctor leading the way.
“I was thinking about how that one summer changed everything,” I admit, and he smiles at me.
“For better or for worse?”
I sigh and hoist myself up onto the bed, sinking back onto the pillows before the real work begins. I look at my handsome husband and the answer is clear. Gently, I place a hand on my pregnant tummy and smile, “For the better. Definitely for the better.”