“I don’t know. I love my friends, but yes, I’m discovering that they don’t know me very well. It’s not their fault, though. I’ve never let them. I’ve never really known myself.”
“Isn’t that part of being a teenager? Discovering who we are? Who we want to be?”
“I hope so because otherwise I’m really far behind.”
“I think you know yourself better than you think.”
From across the yard Bec yelled out, “Where are you guys?”
Hayden backed up and I realized how close we had gotten. “Guess we’d better get going.”
It took me several deep breaths to even out my breathing. Hayden climbed out the window and then turned back toward me.
“Can’t I use the door?” I asked, scooting over to the open window.
“It’s rusted shut.” He reached out his hands. “I won’t let you fall this time. Promise.” His eyes twinkled as if remembering my not-so-graceful entry.
I moved to my knees, trying to avoid the exposed springs, and put my head and shoulders out the window. I used the doorframe to push myself up and twisted so I was now sitting on the frame, my upper body facing the car, my legs still inside. That’s when Hayden scooped me up, putting one arm beneath my legs and the other around my back, and lifted me out of the car. I let out a surprised yelp and threw my arms around his neck for support.
Even when I had cleared the window he held on to me for several breaths. Finally I looked up, wondering why he wasn’t putting me down.
He met my eyes. “I had fun today too.”
“Good,” I said, more breathy than I intended.
Bec appeared behind him. “Did you use the ‘climb over me into the car’ move on her? I swear, you’re pulling out all the stops today.”
My previously fast-beating heart seemed to drop, and as if to emphasize the feeling, he put me down.
“It wasn’t a move, Bec,” he said, steadying me while I took a few wobbly steps.
She shrugged. “I’m pretty sure you don’t have to put on the moves to ask her to the play on Friday.”
Hayden narrowed his eyes at her.
She offered him an innocent smile. “I’m going to get the baseballs. Meet you at the car.”
And then Hayden and I were alone again. He ran a hand through his hair. “She’s really subtle, yes?”
“You don’t have to,” I said at the same exact time he said, “Would you want to?”
“I know,” he said at the same time as I said, “Sure.”
We both laughed. “Okay, let’s try talking one at a time,” he said. “You first.”
“I was saying, don’t feel like you have to ask me just because your sister told you to.”
“I don’t. In fact, I was going to tell you that you had to go to the play because I can’t be friends with someone who’s never seen a live play before.”
“Well, in that case . . .”
He looked to where Bec was throwing balls into the bucket. “I don’t know how you won her over, but you have.”
“Just ten minutes of screaming out our problems seemed to work.”
He smiled. “She wouldn’t have let you in her bedroom in the first place if she didn’t like you.”
“I don’t think I earned it in any way.” I wondered if she really liked me or if I was just the lesser of two evils in her mind. “But I like her.”
“So, Friday? Six.”
I sat at the head of the table, the other members of the student council staring at me, waiting for me to say something. I usually enjoyed leading discussions, but so far I had been useless in this meeting.
“Gia,” Daniel, the vice president, said, “I think we’re ready to move on to item number two.”
“Right.” I looked down at the paper in front of me. Item number two was one I had fought for, an all-night graduation party on the beach. “Did everyone complete their assignments?”
“We’re good on permits,” Daniel said.
“I haven’t been able to get a band,” Ashley said. “Were there any bands that tried out for prom that would work for this?”
“No . . .” I paused, thinking about Nate’s band. “I don’t know, maybe.” The day we had auditioned bands had been a long one. Maybe we weren’t hearing clearly for the last ones. “I’ll find out and let you know. What about the food? Is that taken care of?”
Clarissa nodded. “That’s covered.”
“And the sign-up list online is looking pretty full. We might actually get a good turnout for this sober-grad-night thing,” Daniel said.
“Don’t sound so surprised. Other schools do this, you know.”
“I just figured everyone would want to party on graduation night.”
“We will be partying.” I crossed number two off the list and tapped my pen a couple of times on the page. “So does anyone want to speak at the rally next Friday? Give the motivational ‘we’re about to graduate’ speech?”
Daniel, who had just taken a sip from his bottle of water, coughed and tried to catch his breath. The others just stared at me.
“What?” I asked.
“We figured you’d want to speak for the last rally of the year.”
“Yeah . . . Well, I’m asking if anyone else wants to.”
Ashley shook her head no. As my eyes went around the table everyone else did the same. Daniel said, “Not really. You’re really good at it and this was your year. You’ve earned it.”
I wanted to feel proud about that but I wasn’t sure if I should anymore. If that meant I was selfish. I had worked hard this year, mostly for college but also because I liked leadership and enjoyed giving speeches and fighting for a cause. I tapped my pen on the page a few more times. “Okay. I will. Thanks. As for the rest of the items on the agenda, just look over them and email me or Daniel with any questions. I think we’ll let out early today.”
The room immediately filled with chatter as everyone stood and talked between themselves. Daniel was staring at me. I didn’t have to look to know.
“You seem distracted today. Normally you’re so organized and put together.”
“No, don’t be. It made you more real.”