30498 / 42127 words. 72% done!
I looked up, hoping maybe somehow, maybe, if I just wished hard enough, Wake wouldn't be standing behind me. But he was. He was right there, and I wanted to hate him, because that would have made things so much easier. Miles easier. Eons easier. But I couldn't hate him, because years and years worth of crush all piled on me at once, and I could see the way his hair fell in soft waves to right above his ear, and the way his lips did that thing that made them match perfectly somehow with his nose, and then he adjusted the strap of his backpack on his shoulder, which of course drew my eyes to those arms. Those arms.
And then I realized I was staring. I averted my eyes to the floor. "Um. What do you want?"
"Hey, listen there's no need to be hostile. I just wanted to say hi."
What? What? Why?
"There." He flashed his smile. Crap. There go my knees. "Was that such a big deal?"
I had no idea what was going on. Did he not remember the last time I saw him? How I made such a huge ass out of myself, and ranted about things that probably made me sound incredibly stupid?
"Listen. I know you're probably mad at me or whatever, but my friend's throwing a Halloween party and I thought you might want to go."
Why the hell are you inviting me to a Halloween party, Wake?? What...why? There must be some sort of guy code thing I was missing. Was he setting me up? Was this all some kind of joke? I couldn't make myself say anything. I just stared mutely. I felt like a moron.
"Okay, well, if you want to go, here's a flier. The theme is steampunk. You know what steampunk is?"
I nodded, continuing my practice in the way of the mute.
"Cool. Okay, well, maybe I'll see you there?"
I nodded, and forced myself to say, "Sure."
"Great. See you later!" He cracked another gorgeous smile, then he left.
I stared down at the flier. I recognized the name of the party's host as another senior, but I had no clue why on Earth Wake would want me to go. Was he still trying to get the name of the tattoo artist out of me? Surely, Colleen had given him Lisa's information by now, if for no other reason than to spite me. So what did he want?
Ice cream. Must consume ice cream. I hoisted my ungodly overweight backpack onto my shoulder and headed out the front doors to meet Miriam.
** ** **
"Maybe he honestly likes you."
"I don't want him to like me, Miri! I thought I'd finally gotten over him!"
"Well, what if he's always secretly had a huge crush on you and he's just been too shy to say anything?"
I rolled my eyes at her and licked my peppermint cone to keep it from dripping. "Why would Wake Ellington be too shy to ask me out?"
"Well, you know, he's got his reputation to protect and all. Maybe he'd be worried what his friends would think." Miriam stirred her bowl of peanut butter ice cream and nodded thoughtfully.
"Thanks, Miri, it's good to know I'd be detrimental to some dude's cred."
"You know what I mean."
I sighed. "Yeah, I guess."
"I mean, I think you're a great choice for a girlfriend. Were I gay, I'd totally hit that."
"Okay, you can stop now."
I ate my ice cream thoughtfully, wishing all of life could be as simple as a double dip of peppermint.
"What if Wake asks you out?" Miriam asked. "What would you do about Alec?"
"Number one, I don't even know if I've got anything going on with Alec in the first place."
"You went on a date with him," she said, gesturing emphatically with her spoon.
"Right, but we didn't kiss. We didn't shake on it or anything. We just...hung out and ate pizza."
"You ate date pizza." More spoon emphasizing.
"And number two," I pressed on, ignoring her, "Wake is not going to ask me out. Janell? Remember?"
Miriam let out an exasperated noise. "God, I hate her."
"You don't even know her."
"I don't have to. Everyone knows those dance team girls are all the rich snobs."
I stared at her, clad in her goth gear and heavy makeup. "Miri, do you really think you're in a position to make stereotypes?"
"Please, Mads, it's my job to analyze society."
I grinned. "Whatever."
"Anyway, here's what I'm thinking. Wake realized what a jerk he was to you, dumped Janell, and now he's inviting you to this party so that he can confess his undying love for you and apologize for treating you so poorly before."
"Okay, either that, or the more logical assumption that it's some huge set up in order to make me look like a huge fool."
Miriam shook her head. "You should look at things with a more positive outlook."
"Says the chick who spends her weekends singing songs about the tragedy of life."
"Hey Mads, can I tell you a secret?" She leaned across the table conspiratorially. "I'm not really a goth. I just like the clothes."
** ** **
Ice cream with Miriam made things a little better. I mean, there's only so crappy you can feel when you're eating ice cream, right? But once the ice cream's gone, the problems return.
I got home to find another note from Alec on the door, along with a small package. Clearly, mom hadn't gotten to this one first. I felt a little guilty as I removed it from the door, knowing I'd just spent some time with my Wake fantasies when I had this perfectly good guy who liked me enough to write me poems and not act like a stuck up jerk to me.
I took the poem upstairs to my room, waving at mom along the way and giving a non committal grunt when asked how my day went. Once I'd gotten to the safety of my room, I dropped my backpack and flopped down on the bed, hoping the blue envelope I held might contain something that would make me feel better.
I slid my finger under the flap, ripping it open, and pulled out the paper inside. It read:
"Madeline, sweet, I just wanted to say
I had a great time with you the other day
I think you did too, though I dare not guess
But I hope if I asked you, you'd confirm with a "yes"
I look forward to spending more time with you
I have some ideas, and I'll share them, too
Halloween's coming up, and though I usually go out
I'd like to change things up, so I'm giving you a shout
How would you like to stay in with me?
We can wait by the door and hand out candy
It may not sound like much, but we'd have the best seat
To see everyone's costumes, to play meet & greet
P.S.: These are so you can practice"
The poetry hadn't improved, but the message remained sweet. Well, that made my choice a lot easier. Hang out with Alec in a low pressure, handing out candy to adorable children sort of situation? Or subjecting myself to a huge party with a bunch of seniors and a potentially vindictive Wake? No contest. I felt grateful to Alec for giving me an out. Now all I had to do was tell Wake that I had other plans, and that wouldn't be a big deal, really. I'd just wait to see if he bothered talking to me again, which I sort of doubted.
Hooray! Problem solved. I turned my attention to the package, having a pretty good idea what was inside. When I ripped it open, though, I felt more than a little touched. Alec had made me my own set of poi, each with an ornate red "M" on them. No one had ever made me such an awesome present!
I got up from my bed and swung them around a few times, carefully, since I was within the confines of my room and I didn't want to break anything. I played with the poi until I'd worked up a good sweat, and felt exhilarated. I took a shower, using the time to think happy thoughts about how things could only get better from here. I glanced down at my tattoo, smiling at it. Maybe I could make peace with it after all.
I went to bed that night feeling refreshed and happy.
** ** **
This time, the note in my locker was shaped like a heart. I regarded it warily. Was Colleen trying to forgive and forget? Really? I picked up the note, and I stuffed it in my pocket, where normally I'd have dumped it in the nearest trash can. I'd have to check with Miriam later to see if she got a heart note, too, or if it was just me. It seemed very out of character for Colleen, and part of me wondered if the kindly shape of the note was just a trick to get me to open it.
The note stayed in my pocket all through first period, second period, and third period. I could feel it burning there every time I sat down, stood up, or bent over to pick up my dropped pen. By fourth period, my curiosity got the better of me. I sat down at my desk and pulled the note out. Then, slowly, I opened it and read it.
Look, I know you probably won't read this but I just wanted to say that I'm sorry I acted like such a bitch when you were grounded. But I thought you needed to get out and have a good time. So anyway, you may never want to talk to me again, but I miss trying on shoes with you, and you can come over any time you want.
Ugh. I didn't know if I was in the mood to forgive Colleen. I couldn't tell if her apology was sincere or not. I'd have to check with Miriam to see if Colleen had tried to make nice with both of us or not.
I showed the heart note to Miriam at lunch time. She read it and laughed. I tried not to think of the fact that Colleen was in this room with us right now, probably watching us to see if she could figure out what we were talking about.
"Yeah, I believe this the same way I believe the world is flat," Miriam said.
"You didn't get one, then?"
"That would be a negative."
"Why would she try to make up with me and not you?"
Miriam shrugged. "I have some ideas, but you probably wouldn't like them."
"Go ahead and tell me, because I've got nothing."
She sighed, taking a bite of peanut butter and jelly sandwich and holding up a finger, indicating I should wait until she'd finished chewing. I waited. When she had cleared her mouth, she said, "I think she's trying to make up with you because she knows you're a little more susceptible to suggestion. She thinks you're weaker. If she can get you away from me, then she..." she held up the first two fingers on her hands and made little hand quotes, "'wins'."
"Yeah. She wins. She's your better friend."
"Wait, what do you mean I'm weaker?" I felt a little hurt by that.
"I'm not saying you're weak, Mads. I'm saying, from Colleen's competitive point of view, if friendship is a game, than it's easier to get under your skin and win you back than it would be for me. She knows she can piss me off all she wants, but I'm not going to cave. So she's switching tactics, and is instead trying to make you pick sides."
I let that sink in as Miriam took another bite of her sandwich.
"But then again, I could be full of crap. This is just what I've come up with in the five minutes since you showed me that note."
"I don't know, you might not be. I sure as hell don't know what's going on anymore, what with Wake inviting me to a Halloween party, then Colleen trying to make up with me. Do you think maybe I should talk to her, see what she's really up to? I could ask her what her beef with you is."
Miriam shrugged. "Up to you, Mads. You're a big girl." She said it, but there was something under her voice that I couldn't quite pick out.
"Well, did I tell you Alec invited me to hang out with him on Halloween instead?"
Miriam perked back up. "Really? Are you going to go?"
"It sounds a hell of a lot more appealing than subjecting myself to a senior party," I said, rolling my eyes. "So more than likely. Oh, he also made me my own set of poi!"
Miriam clutched her hands to her chest. "Awwww!! That is so sweet! He made them for you?"
"Yep. Little red 'M's on them and everything."
"Like your tattoo!"
"Yes, that had not escaped my notice."
"Oh my gosh. Well, that definitely answers the Halloween question, doesn't it? What has Wake made you? Other than miserable."
"Not a damn thing!" She waved her sandwich in the air, and I thought it might fall apart from the force.
I smiled. I tried to imagine Wake giving me any sort of gift, especially a handmade one, and it seemed so implausible I almost laughed to myself.
"You know, I kind of wish Alec went to school with us," I said.
"Yeah, but then you guys would beat out me and Bret for cutest couple, and I simply couldn't have that," Miriam said.
** ** **
I spent the rest of the day trying to decide if I should talk to Colleen or not. On the one hand, it felt weird being on the outs with her for so long. On the other hand, if Miriam was right and she was only trying to win me over as some sort of game, I didn't want to play into it. But I really didn't know how long I could continue ignoring her like this. The tension was killing me. I have no idea how Miriam could keep it up.
So I waited by Colleen's locker after school with a stomach full of killer attack butterflies. After a minute of waiting that felt more like an hour, I nearly chickened out to go home and try again later, but then I caught sight of her coming down the hall. My stomach clenched up, killing all of the attack butterflies and melding them into a solid lump of heavy steel. Colleen saw me, but her expression didn't change. She didn't smile, she didn't glare, she just stared blankly at me. The distance between us seemed to close at a snail's pace. It was agonizing.
Finally, she arrived at her locker and set to work fiddling with her combination lock. She didn't bother looking at me, she just said, "What's up?"
"Uh. I read your note."
"Did you mean what you said in it?"
She shrugged. "What do you care?"
I rolled my eyes. This was going to be tedious, I could tell. "Look, I'm here talking to you, aren't I?"
Colleen loaded her books into her backpack, still avoiding my gaze. "So do you want to be friends again, is that why you're here?" She asked.
I shrugged. "I don't know. I mean, I miss being friends. It feels so weird not to be. But-" I cut myself off. I had started to say something that it occurred to me may piss her off, and I wasn't in the mood to get into an argument with Colleen right now.
"But what, Mads?" She finally looked at me, and then the butterflies began flapping madly again.
"No, say it, Mads. Say it. Don't pussy foot around just because you don't want to hurt my feelings, okay? Say what you really think. For once."
I took a deep breath. I held it as long as I could stand, then I said, "Okay, I just don't want to worry that you're mad at me for not doing what you want, or that you aren't going to try and make me do something to get me in trouble. You're...you're kind of scary when you do that."
I cringed, waiting for her to attack me back, but instead, she laughed. "I'm scary?"
I nodded, letting out a meek, "Yeah."
She continued laughing. "Okay, well, I guess that could have been worse." I waited for her to finish laughing. I guess I preferred this reaction to her biting my head off. "Look, Mads, I'm sorry I got you in trouble. That was stupid. I just worry about you, you know? Because you get so concerned about doing the right thing that sometimes you forget to take risks and live."
"Yeah, but I'm comfortable doing the right thing. It keeps me out of trouble." I took another deep breath. "And if you aren't okay with that, then maybe we shouldn't keep hanging out."
Colleen nodded, not dropping our eye contact. "That's very brave of you to say, Mads."
I startled for a second. "Uh, thanks." Colleen didn't say anything for a while, but went back to packing her backpack. I had to ask the question, it was burning inside of me. "Col, why didn't you apologize to Miri, too?"
Colleen let out a "Ha," and straightened up, dropping her head back and staring up at the ceiling in exasperation. "Miri is so freaking full of herself that it wouldn't do me any good to apologize."
"What do you mean?"
She looked at me again. "I mean that all she cares about is her band and her scene and fuck the rest of us if we're not interested in it, too."
"That's not true," I shook my head.
Colleen shrugged. "Maybe. But she hasn't given me any reason to believe otherwise. When she does, maybe I'll apologize."
There wasn't anything I could say to convince her she was mistaken. Colleen would believe what she wanted to believe.
"So are we cool?" She asked.
I thought about that. Were we cool? "I guess so," I said. "For now, anyway."
Colleen nodded. "Cool."
** ** **