Maggie picked me up earlier than normal on the following Tuesday. She had some sort of club thing that she couldn't tell me about; not that I was that interested. I was only interested in why she had to go so early.
I absolutely hated getting up early. I love getting sleep, therefore, I am not a morning person. If you woke me up without a reason, you'd risk making me angry. When I was tired and angry, I should have a warning label. "Caution: Risk of death if tampered with."
It was so tiring to get up this early for me, that I had just put my hair in a ponytail and wore some comfy t-shirt and jeans. I don't particularly care what I wear, as long as I don't look like a complete idiot. I don't have to see myself; other people have to look at me. If you get what I'm saying.
"It's 7:30," I mumbled, with a raised eyebrow. Maggie's car was warm, and this morning was cooler than normal. I didn't really feel like wasting time forcing her to tell me why she had to get up this early.
"I'm truly sorry, girly. I just can't tell you," she breathed, rubbing a thumb over the steering wheel as I climbed into her car.
"It's fine," I replied, offering an end to the conversation. I wasn't eager to push her into explanation. I also could sense she wouldn't budge.
"I wish I could," she said quietly.
It seemed really odd, but I let the subject drop, and she did too. We didn't really speak much, seeing as I was still groggy.
"You're really not a morning person, are you?" she commented. I could only glare at her, because my mouth seemed to be glued shut. I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open.
I was watching the road whiz by outside of my window, and even though I saw the parking lot when she stopped, it didn't register.
"Grace," Maggie laughed, "you know you have to get out of the car, right?"
"Shut up," I responded, but not without a smile. I shut the door behind me, and followed her into the school. The double doors creaked open with an ugly sound, making me wince.
"You're totally out of it right now," Tammy said, suddenly catching up to us.
"She is," Maggie agreed, shoving me with her shoulder.
"Hey," I said, giving them both another glare. "It's her fault."
After a moment, I realized that Tammy never got here this early either, and something was definitely up.
"I know what you're thinking, and no we aren't planning something horrid, I promise."
"Sure..." I trailed off, in a sarcastic tone. I could tell she was being honest, but I hated being on the outside of this.
"Hey look," Maggie said, suddenly sounding mischievous. "There's your lover boy."
I followed her finger down the hallway, where I recognized Braden's tall frame putting all of his new textbooks into his locker. I watched him put it in a particular order for a few moments, before I realized (yet again) that my two best friends were watching me with a stupid grin on both of their faces.
"Oh get on with it," Tammy teased. "And zip up your bookbag; things are going to start falling out."
"It's not like that," I insisted, trying to sound as honest as I could. "I don't feel like zipping it up."
Tammy shrugged. "Suit yourself. Anyways, we've gotta report somewhere right now."
"See you later, girly," Maggie added, and they both sauntered away, laughing.
I didn't bother protesting, because there was no way I could handle both of my insane best friends at once. I tried to walk quietly past Braden, so much that I was almost tip-toeing. He turned around at the right moment, and caught me directly behind him.
"Hey, Grace," he said, apparently not noticing how I was trying to not be noticed.
"Hi," I murmured, moving to stand next to his locker.
It wasn't that I was uncomfortable next to him, I was just unsure of how to act. I certainly didn't want him to think that I wanted to get something more from him, but I also didn't want him to think I hated him. It was very confusing even for me, so I didn't bother trying to sort it out in my head.
Girl logic, I could almost hear my father laugh. He always said that whenever I said something he didn't understand.
"You're here early," he said, packing more books into his locker. He kept brushing his hair back from his eyebrows in short brown waves, that reminded me of something I couldn't place.
"So are you," I commented, folding my arms. "Your locker is also neater than mine."
"I don't need to worry about both of our lockers," he responded, flashing a grin. He turned his bright green eyes to me. "That reminds me," he added after a few moments, "I got an extra locker shelf yesterday, when I was getting my school supplies. I figured you could use one."
I was surprised that he would do that for me, after knowing each other for only a day. "Thanks, but you really don't have to do that."
"Nonsense!" he declared with a flourish. "I had already bought it, so I figured what the heck."
A small giggle escaped me before I could help it. He laughed, and stuck the folded shelf into my backpack, and then zipped it up. I didn't say a word, and he kept grinning as he finished setting up his locker.
"Well," I said, not sure of how to continue this conversation.
"I'll help you put it in your locker," he offered suddenly, closing the door of his.
"You really don't need to," I said, standing away from the lockers I was leaning on.
"It's early," he shrugged. "We've got plenty of time."
I shook my head, not sure of how to reply. He was being strangely friendly, but I wasn't uncomfortable with him. That's I realized that we were actually friends now. Friends do this kind of thing for each other, and I figured he was pretty nice.
"It's the least I can do for following you around all day yesterday."
"Oh, please," I said, with mock exasperation. "You weren't a bother."
"That's good to know, because I felt like one."
"If I thought you were annoying, you'd know." I replied, not bothering to sugarcoat it.
"Straightforward girl, then?" He said. "Nice."
Without saying anything else, I turned and strolled around the corner, to the row where my locker was. With his long legs, he caught me easily, and then followed me.
"Brace yourself," I smiled, knowing it wasn't going to crush me to death this time I opened it.
Just like before, his strong arm held up the avalanche of heavy textbooks that almost rained down on top of me. He helped me pull down the top layer of books, and we stacked them on the ground until my locker was empty. Soon enough, we had them neatly back into my locker before the flood of students usually came in.
"That's such a relief," I said, sighing. "I was absolutely sure this thing was going to kill me before I get to graduate."
"It's a good thing then, that I came along to save you," Braden joked. I stifled a laugh.
"I'm no damsel in distress," I said. I gave him a look that I'm sure he understood, with my eyebrows raised as if to say "try me".
"What'd you say, DD?" He said, tauntingly.
"DD?" I repeated, ignoring the evil grin suddenly on his face.
"Damsel. In. Distress."
"Where's the i in DD?" I asked, just to bother him.
"It sounds better as DD, not DID."
"That's true," I said, nodding as if we had reached an important truth. "Don't call me that."
"Aw, come on DD," he said, pleadingly.
"No way," I said, my mind searching for something to nickname him. That way, I wouldn't be stuck with this new horrible tag. "Noble man," I tried. I made myself wince.
"Ugh," Braden snorted, "that was so bad it hurt."
"I'm no damsel," I insisted, standing as tall as I could. Even then, I barely reached the top of his shoulder. I folded my arms across my chest in defiance.
"I think that nickname is giving real nicknames a horrible rep," Braden said, raising his chin.
"Yours, or mine?" I said, refusing to give up.
"Both," he finally said, slouching again.
"Anyways..." I trailed off, looking at my locker. "This is weird. It's clean."
"No more impending death," Braden agreed. I realized that the hall was now filled with people, and they bustled about. Some were probably wondering why I was talking with the new kid again, but I didn't care. He was nice, so I was talking to him. What's wrong with that?
Nothing, that's what.
"Hey," I heard a deep voice from my right. I could see Justin, standing behind my locker door. I knew that this was going to get awkward, and fast.
Braden went rigid, but he was hidden from Justin's view. I reached out to his shoulder gently, praying for him to be calm. He must have gotten the message, because he didn't say anything. He just stood behind me, hidden from Justin by the locker door.
"Hey, Justin," I said, trying my best to divert attention away from Braden.
"You didn't stop by my car this morning," He said, brushing his fingertips across my shoulder. I was a little unnerved by him touching me, because it was odd. I don't really care for possessive people. It was also a little out of character for him. Since when had ever noticed let alone cared when I stopped by his car.
The bell rang, and the breath I hadn't realized I was holding whooshed out of me.
Saved by the bell, I thought to myself, struggling not to laugh.
"See you later then," Justin said, kissing my cheek. I smiled as much as I could, and he walked off towards a group of jocks waiting for him. I followed his group down the hallway with my eyes until I was sure he wouldn't notice Braden.
When he was truly gone, Braden lost it. "Why did we hide, just then?" He laughed.
"I honestly have no idea," I replied, "but it might have something to do with the fact that you want to beat his nose in."
"I do not," Braden said, feigning a hurt expression.
I grunted, and shut my locker. Without saying much more, we made it to our class before the tardy bell rang.
I think I'm starting to wake up, I thought, making myself laugh again. What a weird morning.
"Ugh," Braden said, as he placed his tray down at our lunch table. "I'm already tired."
He had a normal lunch today, with a turkey sandwich like mine, and chips.
"Me too," I said, tucking my hair behind my ear. I picked up my sandwich and bit into it, thinking everything was normal.
Tammy kicked me under the table, causing me to wince, and Maggie fixed a pointed glare on me. I didn't look at either of them after that.
"Hey, Grace," Maggie said, as a greeting.
"Hello, bestie," I said, giving her a fierce look. She didn't look swayed at all; just determined to get me talking.
"Will you go to the bathroom with me?" Tammy asked me.
"I just sat down!" I exclaimed, trying to express how hungry I was. I brandished my sandwich at her, to back my point.
"I'll go too," Maggie said, grabbing my arm. She didn't give me much time to protest. I tossed the sandwich onto my tray as they pulled me away. It barely made the toss to my plate.
"Help me," I mouthed to Braden. He shook his head and held up his sandwich in a salute.
"Who's not a damsel?" Braden asked loudly.
"What?" Trevor commented.
"Nothing," said Braden, grinning.
"Noble men are supposed to help ladies," I called over my shoulder, as Maggie dragged me away. "Don't touch my sandwich, or you'll pay for it."
"Good thing I'm not noble then," he replied.
"Girls," I heard Trevor mutter, as the double doors shut behind me.
I followed my two best friends into the bathroom.
You love them, I had to remind myself. They are your friends, and you love them.
"What?" I said, stomping my foot. I wanted to throw a tantrum, thinking about my sandwich.. The tile on the floor made a hollow sound, because of how empty this large bathroom was.
"He's still following you around," Tammy commented.
"And?" I said, slightly offended. "He's not following me. He just needs some help getting around. It's only the second day for Christ's sake."
"Yes, but you wanted to get this new kid out of your hair," Maggie said, "I remember you telling me those exact words."
I was beginning to feel overwhelmed by these two, as they double-teamed me. What do I say to dismiss this, without it sounding like I had some crush on him?
"You don't like him, do you?" Tammy asked suddenly, shifting her weight onto one foot.
I saw it coming, I thought miserably.
"No!" I said, and then winced at how forced it sounded. I knew it seemed like I was covering, but for once, I didn't know how to make them understand. Heck, I didn't even understand.
"He's attractive," I said slowly, "but I don't think we're attracted to each other."
"That makes no sense, Grace," Tammy said. She looked like she was going to say more. Thankfully, Maggie spoke before she did.
"No, I think I get it." said Maggie slowly. "You feel like good friends, yeah?"
"I think so," I said. "Thank goodness."
"Well, you might end up liking him," Tammy said.
I honestly doubted that. It really didn't feel like we should be attracted to each other. No use telling them this, however.
I successfully ended the conversation, and had dove through the door before either of them could stop me. I rushed back to the table, and sat down. Both guys eyed me warily, but I shot them a look that clearly said do not ask.
"Anyways..." Trevor said, "we'll talk later, yeah?"
"Sure," Braden said. "Grace, you gonna eat that or can I have your sandwich now?"
"You can have it," I said, sticking another bite in my mouth, "over my dead body."
"Ouch," Tammy said, joining us. "She did that on purpose."
"Noble men don't need a lady's food," I said, shrugging and my mouth full of food.
"Neither do damsels," he countered,making a grab for my chips.
"You'll pay for that," I declared, just as the bell rang.
I didn't really pay attention to my classes, leading up to English. Much to my disappointment, Mr. Pierce was out sick today, so we had a substitute. I was very, very unimpressed.
"What a boring day," I murmured, as I pawed at the things in my locker. I yanked my backpack off of its hook and stuffed it with what I needed to study.
"It was, wasn't it?" Braden said, scaring me.
"Yeah," I agreed. "You just scared the heck out of me."
"Sorry," he looked sheepish, but amused.
"You coming?" I asked, as I shut the locker door.
"To meet up with Tammy, Maggie and Trevor, duh."
He looked unsure, and I wasn't sure what to say.
"We're accepting you into our posse, idiot." I said finally.
"Okay. I'm accepted, then?" When I didn't reply immediately, he grinned. "Sweet."
I nodded, and kept walking. He slung his backpack over his shoulder, and followed me to the benches out front. There didn't seem to be many people left in the parking lot; everyone cleared out abnormally fast once the final bell rang.
Tammy was the only one sitting on the benches when we got there.
"Maggie said to tell you... er, both that she and Trevor has to go to her house for a project or something."
I snorted, "Project. Alrighty then."
"What's wrong with a project?" Braden asked, clearly confused.
"They probably don't get to the project part until tomorrow," Tammy said, enjoying this.
I suddenly found the ground very interesting. I toed a clump of weeds sticking up from a crack in the sidewalk. It had one of the dandelion stalks growing on it. The kind with the white fluff on it. I plucked it, and twirled the stalk around in my fingers.
"Oh," Braden said, cheeks comically red.
"Anyways, I'm going home early," Tammy said. I blew at the fluff, and focused on the flying white.
"You guys keep ditching me," I said, pointing a finger at her. "Is this a normal thing now?"
"Sorry girly," Tammy replied, grinning wickedly. "Braden, do you think you could drive her home today too? Don't let her walk."
"Of course," He laughed, looking at me out of the corner of his eyes. "Walking's for losers."
"Oi," I spat. I was almost angry they were talking about me like I wasn't here, but I knew they were doing it to push my buttons.
After she left, I sat next to Braden in uncomfortable silence.
"Well, today was kind of a bust," I said, leaning back.
"True," he replied, looking out at the parking lot.
"I don't feel like going home yet," I said suddenly, surprising us both.
"Well," he said, "I haven't had the chance to explore this place yet, so we could do that."
"Okay," I wasn't sure why I was instigating this, but I really did not feel like going home right now. It was just such a boring day.
"Let's go ice skating." Braden said. "I can actually do that."
I laughed, thinking he was joking. When I glanced at his face, he seemed serious. "It's cold out!"
"So? We can still skate, right?" He protested.
I sighed. "All right, but you're paying, you hear?"
He snorted. "You would've made me pay anyways."
"That's not the point," I retorted, grinning. I followed him to his car, which was odd enough. The weirder part was that I had this feeling deep down like this was going to be happening a lot more. We fit together, I guess. Only, not in a romantic way. I don't want to stress the fact that we're not romantic more than I have to, but it wasn't hard to figure out.
"You know the way, right?" I asked warily. I didn't want to get lost.
"GPS," he said, with a model-worthy smile.
It didn't take long, for us to get there, but it was funny to me the way it was easy to relax around Braden.
I followed him into the rink's door, and we stopped in front of the glass window to pay. The woman who was at the register gave us a quick look, and then rolled her eyes. She didn't seem thrilled.
When we got inside, I realized why; we were literally the only ones there. I assumed we were probably forcing them to stay open for us, but I didn't care. I liked it.
The ice looked smooth, and the railing was worn down.
"What size?" murmured the guy behind the counter where we had to rent skates.
Braden told him which size he needed, and I got my skates. I watched him for a moment, as he laced his on. He noticed me watching him, and he started singing with a comically bad voice to the song playing over the loudspeakers.
"What?" He shrugged, "I like Passenger." The song was Let Her Go, and it happened to be one of my favorites. I didn't tell him this, however. I finished tying my laces on both feet, and stood up. I put my cell phone with my shoes, hoping to remember it later.
"Ready?" He said, wobbling around on his skates. Footing is awkward when you're in these skates, and not on the ice.
"Yes," I said, "but I'm not good at skating."
He "helped" me onto the ice, and I waited for him to unlatch his hands from the side.
I pushed away from the railing backwards, and watched as his eyebrows shot up.
"Liar!" he cried. "You skate well!"
"I may have lied," I said, grinning. "You said you did too."
"Ugh," he said. "Now I look like an idiot."
"Yes... but it's okay. I'll teach you."
I could practically feel his ego breaking.
I took his hands in mine, and skated backwards. He gripped my hands so tightly I thought they were going to fall off at first, but he relaxed as I guided him around.
"Not so bad, eh?" I said, grinning.
"Who's the damsel now?" I said.
"Shut up," He grumbled halfheartedly.
I shrugged. For a little while, I forgot about how annoying today had been, about how people suspected that we'd date and about Justin. I didn't feel so weighed down by everything.
"I have to take a break," he said. Braden glanced at his watch. "Holy crap."
"What?" I raised an eyebrow and leaned against the rails.
"Oh my god," I wasn't sure what to do. "My dad will kill me."
I nodded in agreement. We rushed to the counter and returned the skates. I lead the way down the short hallway and pushed the door open. The skate rink was a lot brighter than the parking lot, and their few streetlights didn't help much. I blinked quickly, trying to adjust my eyes.
It didn't take much light to see the familiar car that was parked a bit to the right of the doors.
That's odd.. I thought. My brain felt like it was moving in slow motion, and I glanced up to see someone I knew very well pressing a very pretty girl against the same car. He murmured something to her, and she giggled. I felt sick. The world was spinning, and I felt my stomach drop.
"Just....in...." I heard myself say. He glanced over to where I was, and he jerked away from the girl.
"Shit," he said, not knowing what to do. He sounded muffled.
"Hey, you forgot your cell phone..." Braden said, coming up behind me. He stopped short at the door, and looked between me and Justin quickly.
I said nothing, and stared at the ground. I didn't even want to look at him.
"It's not like that," he said weakly. I glanced up angrily.
The girl he was with looked almost as pissed as I did. That shocked me.
"You have a girlfriend?" she spat, moving faster than I could. She slapped him hard, the sound echoing across the nearly empty parking lot. "Sick."
She moved towards me, and grabbed my elbow gently. "Come inside with me." I hardly had time to react.
I hadn't even realized I was crying. I was sure I looked like a raccoon. Braden stood like a stone against the door. He stepped out of the way, and I followed her dumbly into the bathroom inside.
"I'm so sorry," she said. "I had no idea-"
"You're fine," I cut her off, not wanting to talk about it.
"I mean, it seemed like he was acting odd, but I ignored it."
Drop it, I silently urged her. I stared hard into the mirror, not wanting to speak.
"Here," she said, handing me a rolled up wad of toilet paper. I took it, and dabbed under my eyes. I didn't look as bad as I could have, if I hadn't followed her in here.
"My name's Amber." She was a pretty girl, I had to admit. She had short brown hair, that was layered around her neck and shoulders.
"Grace," I replied quietly.
"You don't really owe me anything, but who was the guy you were with- if Justin's your boyfriend."
"Uh," I said, not sure how to answer.
"You don't have to explain, honestly." She really didn't seem to be prying.
"He's a new guy at our school, and he doesn't know anyone. I had a bad day, so he agreed to take me somewhere."
"Sounds good enough for me," she said. I could tell she believed me, because she just simply looked like she did.
"Gosh, guys like him piss me off," she said, with so much ferocity it almost scared me.
"Me too," I almost laughed, despite the situation.
"Let's go out, now that you're looking pretty again, and tell him what we really think."
I followed her this time, without being so numb. It was odd, but I was starting to like her. I mean, who likes the girl your boyfriend cheated on you with? It was insane.
Then again, so was I.
I kicked a rock on the sidewalk, and watched it skitter towards his car. I was suddenly aware of Justin sitting on the ground, moaning.
"Braden... what did you do?" I was trying to hide how badly I wanted to laugh at him, moaning pitifully on the ground. He never was good at taking hits.
"I didn't do anything," he replied, winking.
"He hit me," Justin said, groaning.
"Yeah?" I said, innocently. I knelt beside him with sudden anger. I softened my face, however, to deliver this next sentence. "Maybe you deserved it?"
"Baby..." Justin said.
"Oh heck no," Amber said. "You can't call her that."
"I like her," I said, managing a small smile. Why did it hurt, if I had seen it coming for a while?
"I like you too, girly."
"Well, I need to go before my dad decides to call the cops," I wanted to be out of this situation now. Even though Amber seemed really nice, I was suddenly too tired to stay.
"I've got my car, so I'll head out too," Amber said. We had a silent agreement that we would not bring up the fact that Justin was still sitting there, which was fine by me.
"Let's go then," Braden said, opening his car door for me.
"Wait," Justin called, as if he had the right. "Please."
"Jerk," I growled, feeling brave.
Braden shut the door gently, and walked around the side of his car to the driver's side.
"Well, this was an interesting end to the day," I muttered under my breath.
"I'll say," Braden replied. I could feel his bristling anger. When he looked into my eyes to check if I was still okay, I saw the barely contained anger that was there. It was odd for him to care so much, even if we were friends. Normally, people would just feel sad for me. Not angry with someone over what had happened to me.
I didn't speak the entire way home, and Braden was like a blessing. He didn't try to start a conversation either, which made me feel better. What surprised me the most was that I didn't feel bitter. Maybe I would tomorrow, but I didn't care.
"Thank you," I said, truly meaning it. I climbed out of the car, but then stopped short when he spoke.
"I'm sorry this ended so badly," he seemed really upset by this. "I'm going to go in with you, okay?"
"It's not your fault." I didn't want him to feel bad. "I could feel it coming for a while, to be fair. You really don't need to come in."
"Still," he started. "I want to explain it to your dad myself."
"It's better to know now, than invest and find out later," I pointed out. I'd just let him tell my dad so I didn't have to.
"True..." I could feel him wanting to protest.
"Don't worry, okay? I'm really okay." He shut the driver's side door, and followed me up to the front door.
The door opened before I could even pull my keys out. "Where have you been?" my dad said, sounding angry.
"I went ice skating."
"I know," I said. "I'm sorry."
"Well, I'd rather hope so." He seemed to notice my tear-streaked face for the first time. It was hard to get rid of the puffy eyes. "What happened?"
I shrugged. "Braden wants to tell you that." My father seemed to noticed Braden for the first time.
"Hello, Braden- is it?"
"Yes sir," Braden said, sticking out his hand. I could see him tensing, expecting to be dismissed.
"Come in, then," said my father, opening the door wider. "I want to hear what happened."
"I'm a new student at Grace's school, and she let me shadow her for the first two days. We had a rough day today, so we decided to go ice skating..."
Braden did a surprisingly good job explaining after that, despite what I thought. My dad kept quiet for the longest time after Braden finished (which didn't take long).
"I'll rip his lungs out, and stuff them back down his throat," my dad blurted out, shocking Braden. I wasn't surprised; I expected my dad to pull the overprotective card. I just didn't expect it in front of Braden.
Braden said nothing, which was wise.
"Where did he go?"
"We left him in the parking lot after- er, Braden took care of him." I replied, resting my cheek on my hand.
"Did you hit him?" my dad said, grinning.
"Yes, he did." I narrowed my eyes at Braden accusingly.
"Good lad!" my dad cried. I winced. "Oops, my bad."
"Thank you, sir. I was just angry he acted like that," Braden said honestly.
"Well, you seem like a nice guy," my dad started. I almost groaned out loud, knowing where he was taking this conversation. "Do you want to come over for dinner tomorrow?"
"Of course," my dad said, pinching my knee under the table to quiet me, "that is if you're comfortable doing that."
"I'd like that," said Braden, grinning in my direction.
"So it's settled?"
Braden dismissed himself, and soon he had shuffled to his car and driven away. Not, of course, without waving to me before he actually pulled out of the driveway.
"So," my dad started.
"Don't ask," I said, sighing. I didn't feel like talking. " I really just want to go to bed, okay?"
"That's totally fine," he rushed to say, "I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay. But you have to cook tomorrow," I said. "I know you can do it."
It's not that he was a bad cook, it was just that he hated doing it. That's usually why we went out to eat, or why I cooked instead. I didn't mind.
"Deal," my dad said finally.
"Love you, Dad."
"Love you more," he replied.
"Love ya most," I said. I found my way to my room, exhausted, and changed into comfy clothes. I didn't dwell on anything that had happened today, but just let my body relax into a dreamless sleep.