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Cooled off and sober, Alex and I took extra measures to avoid each other. No one ever spoke of Anna’s indiscretion. He probably threatened the male dancers that overheard his rage-fueled outburst. I didn’t care enough about our relationship to announce what happened in hopes of dethroning her. She lived for being queen bee. I wanted nothing more than to forget all about her. That was easy enough to do with both participants of their summer fling turning around each time I walked down the corridor. I spent the next two months immersing myself in all things school related. I didn’t hear much from my advisers by ensuring all the trouble I kicked up remained undocumented. Things were settling down. The temporary life I created for myself would’ve returned to its glimmering former glory if everything hadn’t been changed. I had yet to decide if I was willing to accept what my mind, mainly in the form of dreams, was trying to coax me to acknowledge.
We had a group discussion segment in our English class. Instead of turning her seat and joining Sami, Nick, Morgan, and me in a group, Izzie accepted Jacob’s offer to be with him and his friends. She introduced herself to them with a wave and a sweet smile. She didn’t contribute much at first, simply resting her hand beneath her chin and listening as the others spoke. She said something, which I was unable to hear from my vantage point, but it made the entire group laugh. Jacob smiled uncontrollably in her direction.
“Miles, –“Morgan called to me.
“Hmm?” I replied, keeping my eyes locked on Izzie.
“What was your favorite part?” She continued.
I could see that Iz was going on one of her usual tangents, using her hands far more than necessary to articulate her point. The others seemed receptive to her idea. I craved to hear what it was for myself.
“That’s how I got pregnant.” Nick stated simply.
“Yes, it is – what?” I looked over at him in shock.
“It’s about time!” Sami barked in exasperation.
“Sorry.” I rubbed the back of my neck, lightly blushing.
“It’s okay. We’ve got your attention now. Try to contribute.” Morgan instructed kindly.
“Who were you looking at?” Sami turned in her seat and looked around in hopes of spotting what captivated my attention.
“Nothing – no one, it’s not important. Gatsby was stupid to throw his life away on Daisy. She was a bel niente. Their relationship never would’ve gone anywhere; he’d have to keep the act up to keep her around. It makes you question the point of it all.” I deflected.
“A what?” Sami raised an eyebrow.
“Bel niente, er — beautiful nothing.” I translated from Italian.
“That’s what Fitzgerald was getting at. It’s the tragedy that accompanies the American dream. She lures you in, but provides no substance. ” Morgan replied.
The others added their personal opinions. My eyes returned to Izzie. She was writing in her notebook. Her bangs fell into her eyes. She trailed her fingers across her forehead and tucked them behind her ear. As if she felt me looking at her, she turned her head in my direction. I looked down at my blank paper. I did my best to focus for the remainder of the class period, embarrassed that she had caught me staring.
In the dining hall, Iz returned to the status quo and sat with me and our friends.
“I’m pretty psyched up about tomorrow. A school Halloween dance is such a fun idea.” She announced as she sat down.
“Thank you! It took me a while to convince the council, but it’s not like there aren’t a ton of parties for it anyway. This way, things can be much bigger and the behavior will be PG-13.” Elle countered with great enthusiasm.
“Our costumes are cute too.” Izzie smiled at her.
She nodded. “My crown fits very well.”
“What are you going as?” I asked.
“We’re doing a group costume with Morgan, Nick, Finn, and Sami. We’ll all be characters from Alice in Wonderland. I get to be Alice.” Iz answered.
“Queen of Hearts.” Elle placed her hand on her chest.
“Fitting.” Ryan called to her.
“Wearing your suit again?” She retorted.
“It works well for me. Why change?” He offered her a dimpled smirk.
“You’ve been the president and an international spy. What are you calling yourself this year?” She fired back.
“Miles and I are going as The Men in Black. I’ll be channeling my inner Will Smith. We’ll be in for a good night.” He winked at her.
She shook her head at him.
“I’m going to have a good time as the Mad Hatter.” Sami twirled her spaghetti on her fork.
“Finn, are you that rabbit that has trippy tea parties with her?” Ryan fired a question his way.
“The March Hare. I wanted a hat. He has one.” He corrected.
“Who are the rest of you?” I inquired.
“I’m the Cheshire Cat.” Morgan smiled as hard as she could to look similar to her character.
“I’m the rabbit that keeps time.” Nick picked up his glass of water.
“Is it true that you have a date?” Elle asked Iz in a light-hearted tone.
She laughed. “No, Jacob simply said he’d see me there, which is true. The whole school is going. How do you know about that, anyway? It happened last period.”
“I’ve got eyes and ears everywhere, Babydoll.”
“Speaking of which, why haven’t you put your ex on blast? Like seriously, that’s game changing information.” Elle pointed to me with her fork as she addressed me.
“I’m over it. I want nothing to do with her. That includes a scandal. Who told you?” I raised and lowered my shoulders.
“Jacob owed me a favor.”
“Have you told anyone?” I lowered my voice and subtly flickered my eyes over to Iz, who was too busy chatting with Morgan to hear our conversation.
“No, but you need to officially confide in me if you want my help.” She batted her eyelashes, feigning innocence.
“I have nothing to say.” I looked down at my plate.
“And that’s his business.”
She shook her head.
Lunch concluded. We all went out our program buildings. Izzie joined me in stretches on the floor.
“How did you guys settle on an Alice in Wonderland theme?” I sparked a conversation.
“We were tossing around costume ideas in our suite. We thought it’d be cute to do a group thing. Sami thought it was hilarious when I told her Lewis Carroll was high when he wrote Alice in Wonderland. Morgan said Sams had Mad Hatter hair because it’s orange now. Next thing I knew, we were calling dibs on characters.”
“You’re serious? He was stoned when he wrote that?” I questioned in disbelief.
“On opium. It causes hallucinations, but it was completely legal at the time. It’s not the point of the story, though. It’s all about growing up and finding yourself in the chaos, but have you seen the hookah-smoking caterpillar? It shouldn’t really be a surprise that the guy was a kite.”
“How do you know all of this about old books?” I smiled over at her.
“I like things with history. New’s nice, but old’s got character. I’m filled with trivial knowledge. My grades are blah, but I’d kick ass on a game show.”
“Which one is your favorite?”
“Matilda by Ronald Dahl. She was her own hero and I love that. Plus, she had magical powers. It’s hard to beat that.”
Studying her, I noticed her bee necklace was tucked into her leotard. We were supposed to remove all jewelry, but she always sneaked hers.
“Why do you always wear that?” I nodded to it.
“Audrey gave me the nickname Izzie Bee when I was little. I was always bouncing around and getting into everything. She gave it to me this summer. It means a lot.” Her hand went to it subconsciously.
“What’s the story behind the ring you wear?”
“It features my family’s crest. All the men wear it.” I snipped out the portion about it designating my heir status.
“I’ll have to really check it out later. What’s etched into it?” She contorted herself into an arch to stretch her back.
“There is an anchor in the middle, olive branches surrounding the edge, and a crown at the top. What are you doing tonight?” I quickly tried to change the subject.
“We’re going into town to see a movie.”
“We?” I smiled.
“Yep. Ryan, Morgan, and Lucas are driving. We’re checking out a scary movie to get into the Halloween spirit.” She slowly lowered herself to the ground.
“Who is going?”
“Us, our friends, Lucas, and a couple of his friends. I think there will be fifteen of us total.”
“Wow. We will be packing the place.”
“That’s part of the fun.” She raised both of her eyebrows with a wicked smirk.
“Do you get scared easily?”
“I’ll be fine watching the movie. I might have problems when I try to sleep tonight and imagine myself in their situation.”
“Empathy’s your curse.”
“I prefer the term fatal flaw. It makes me sound like a heroine or mythical creature.” She corrected playfully.
When our teacher walked into the room, all of the dancers were asked to sit together as she addressed us.
“As you all know, I am selecting your Pas de Deux partners today. I have a good idea of who I want with whom, but I will still need to see how you move together to be sure. Though you might have been paired with someone last year, that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to be with them again this year. There has been quite the change in the dynamic with our new addition to the dance department.” Ms. Gorbachova smiled at Izzie.
“Somebody’s a teacher’s pet.” I taunted into her ear.
“I think somebody’s just jealous.” She played along, nudging me lightly.
“– Isabella and Milo.” My ears perked up when I heard Ms. G say my name.
I extended my hand to help me to my feet after I had risen to mine.
“Are sure you want to try this? You might stumble over the air and end up on the ground with me.” She teased.
“I’m sure. I’m saving all my clumsiness and accidents for when I’m lifting you in a few minutes.”
“Should we have Miller on call or just wait until you injure me?” She placed her hand in mine. I made a mental note of their daintiness as I hoisted her to her feet.
“She has grown to expect a visit from me every day. If I break your ankle this time, I might give you my running appointment. I have not decided yet.”
“You’re such a gentleman.” She giggled.
“I try. Ladies first and all that jazz.”
“First, I would like to see a grand allegro. I need all the couples to line up in the far corner.” Our dance teacher instructed.
As we waited in line for our turn, I could feel her tensing up at my side.
I truly believed in my ability to lift her. Having carried her around campus, I knew she wasn’t dense. From observing her dance, I learned that she was very conscious of her movements and knew how to utilize all of her muscles. She would do the bulk of my work for me. All I had to do was put my hands in the right place.
I placed my hand on the small of her back and leaned into her. “I’ve got you.” I reassured softly.
She looked up at me. Our close proximity allowed me to take in all of her, her big butterscotch eyes, golden skin, the light spattering of brown freckles on her cheeks and the bridge of her nose, and her full red lips. My mouth went dry and my heart hammered in my chest. I tore my eyes from hers reluctantly and wiped my sweating palms on my pants.
It was finally our turn to go. We chassed in sync. As she prepped for her leap, firmly gripped her waist. She dealt with the majority of her weight with a powerful jump. She hit her split was strong and completely horizontal. She remained in control of her body as I returned her to the ground. We walked off to the side to join the other dancers that had gone.
“We rocked that. Low-five.” She leaned over and whispered, holding out her hand.
I smiled and hit her hand.
We completed the rest of our audition in the same manner. I had spent so much time subconsciously observing her that I knew how she moved. It helped me be where she needed me. We concluded the school week on a high note, being officially paired together as dance partners.
I went to my suite to shower after class. It was autumn; I dressed accordingly. I also subtly sought to impress Iz. I selected a nicer sweater and jeans, but wore a pair of trainers. I didn’t want her to catch on that something was different. I applied a dab of cologne and spent extra time styling my hair in the mirror.
I wasn’t used to trying when it came to girls. In Listonenia, they came to me because of my title. In America, they came to me because of the way I looked. Izzie was different. I learned that the moment I met her. She could find a way to laugh in any situation. She had understated wit. Her personality was her most dominate feature. She was beautiful in the traditional sense, but more so in a way I’d never seen before. I was finally willing to admit, at least to myself, that I wanted her to be with me.
“Who’s riding with whom?” I asked Ry when I found him in our living room.
“I’ve got you, Nick, Finn, and Sami. Morgan has Elle, Iz, Crystal, and Rob. Lucas has Jacob, Ben, Paulie, and Grace.”
“May I ride with Morgan?”
He stopped texting on his phone and looked over at me with an eyebrow raised. “Why? You’re getting shotty in my car.”
He sighed heavily and rolled his eyes. “Shotgun. The passenger seat. One of these days you need to check out Urban Dictionary and brush up on your American slang.”
“Would not make a difference. You make up a new word every hour.”
“True. Why are you trying to swap rides?”
“Is dance department Jacob the one going?” I asked instead of answering.
“Yeah, he’s Lucas’ best friend. Why does that – Oh, Iz?”
“Shut it!” I growled in embarrassment.
“Most of us already know. Watch. FINNEGAN, GET IN HERE!” He shouted.
“What?” Finn grumbled upon opening his bedroom door.
“Is Miles still into Anna?”
“The real question is was he ever? But he is actually into Iz. Are we done here?”
“Yeah, hurry up. We’re leaving in five.” He fired back at Finn. He shut his door in response.
“See, told ya so.” Ryan told me with a smirk.
“That doesn’t prove anything. He’s practically telepathic.” I retorted, gesturing to his door.
“Elle knows too.”
“She loves playing match maker. She just thinks we’d look good together.”
“You’ll prove me right soon enough. I’ll get you into Mom’s car.” He resumed texting.
“Don’t broadcast it.”
“I know better than that. I’m saying my car’s a sausage fest with the exception of Sam. That’s unacceptable, and I’m demanding a trade.”
“What if they offer Iz?”
“I won’t settle until I’ve got Elle. You won’t be able to make a move with her watching.”
“Thank you.” I did my best not to smile as I put my hands into my front pockets.
Nick, Finn, and I listened as he had a heated conversation with Elle as we walked to the parking lot. She had arranged the car order. He was disrupting her plans and refused to give her a reason other than “I need more ladies in my entourage”. Eventually, his relentlessness paid off and she agreed to be in his car, as long as she was guaranteed the front seat. He gave it to her without hesitation. They piled into his car, I continued down the pavement and stopped at what I recognized to be Morgan’s car.
Iz was opening the back door on the left side. I silently sneaked up behind her and tickled her sides. She yelped and spun around to swat me on the chest.
“I thought you said you don’t scare easily.” I chuckled lightly
“It’s a dark and chilly autumn night. You just –!“She took a deep breath. “You smell nice.” She admitted reluctantly as she looked up at me with narrowed eyes.
“Are you saying I typically smell bad?”
“Maybe.” She cracked a smile.
She climbed into the car first and sat down in the middle. I was able to have the window seat behind Morgan. Crystal was on the other side of Iz. Rob was in the front with Morgan.
“Hey, Miles, sorry that Ry kicked you out of his car. Elle tried to talk him out of it.” Morgan apologized as she adjusted her rearview mirror.
“Your best friend booted you from his car? Let me guess: you unfairly sneaked up on him?” Iz teased.
“No. He said he did not want to host a sausage fest. He was unable to let it go. I volunteered to switch to ease his pain.”
She adorably giggled.
“Does he still want girls? I can trade with Finn or Nick.” Crystal questioned eagerly.
“Oh, come on, Crys!” Rob groaned.
“You’re my brother, not my freaking keeper. Somebody call him!” She shrieked
I lifted my seatbelt and wormed my hand into my front pocket. I went to my contacts and pressed Ry’s name.
“Have you left yet?” I asked the moment he answered.
“I’m pulling out. Why?”
“And you’re on the phone?”
“No, he’s on speaker. I confiscated his phone. I hate it when he messes with it at stoplights—“ Elle informed me.
“I’m not driving!” He argued.
“Yes, you are! When the car’s on, you need to be alert and focused. I’m not risking my life for you!”
“Hi, Miles, –“The rest of the people in his car greeted me.
“Hello. Crystal wants to ride in your car.”
“We can trade –“ Elle started to offer.
“NO! I mean, no. We’re leaving the parking lot now. She can join me on the ride back.” He lost his cool for a quick second, but quickly returned.
“I will tell her. See you there.” I hung up my phone.
“They’ve left, but he said you’re welcome to ride in his car on the way back.” I told her as I put my phone away.
“Awesome.” She beamed as she settled back into her seat.
“You promised that you’d let me check out your ring.” Iz reminded me as Morgan drove.
“It is dark. You will not be able to see much.”
“That’s what phones are for.” She fished hers out of her purse.
She offered me her hand. I gave her my right one. She pressed the lock button on her phone and shined the light her screen produced onto my hand. She dragged her index finger across the silver signet ring on my right pinky finger.
“It’s beautiful. Do you know how old it is?”
“I think it is the same age as me. It was issued at my birth. I wasn’t able to wear it until my thirteenth birthday. My grandmother calls it the mark of a true gentleman. I know that’s minchioneria. I’ve done plenty of questionable things in it.”
“Like mutilating girls.” She switched off her phone and returned it to her purse.
“Are you ever going to let that go?”
“Nu uh.” She shook her head.
We walked into the cinema together within our group. I held open the door for her. She eyed me with suspicion.
“Now you’re just kissing up.” She grabbed my wrist and pulled me inside with her.
“I’m trying to get on your good graces.” I retorted playfully.
She let go when we were in the lobby. I followed her to the ticket counter.
“Let’s make a wager.” She proposed to Nick as we waited in line.
“What kind of wager?” He turned around to face her.
“After the movie, we’re going to the cafe down the street. Let’s guess the kill order of the film, whoever is closest to being correct pays for the winner’s order.”
“How do I know you didn’t look it up online?” He inquired.
“It’d be no fun if I did that. You’ll just have to trust me. I came to you because you’re the expert.” She replied.
“What’s the picture even about?” I willed myself not to smile.
“Teenagers are camping in the woods and there’s a chainsaw murderer on the loose.” She answered me.
“The main girl’s best friend will go first. It’s a major shock to the system and sets the panic in motion. The mutual friend she doesn’t know well enough to mourn past valuing them as a human being will be next. I’m not sure on the character count, but I know that the significant other will be last. She’ll think she’s going to survive with him, but loses him at the last second, achieving the final jumpy scare of the film.” Nick hypothesized
“I want to hold onto hope that the writers weren’t that cliché. I’m going with significant other first, mutual friend second, and best friend last. A little girl power in the horror genre would be game changing. There’s such a white knight complex.”
“Hypothetically speaking, if we were in that situation, you’d want Elle to be the person that you make it to the end with?” I asked her.
“Yes, but I’d be the best friend in that scenario. She’s the queen of preparedness. She has everything and more in her purse. I know without a doubt in my mind that she’d survive an apocalypse. You, on the other hand, would be doomed the moment you ran out of contact solution and your glasses broke.”
“Hey!” I cried in mock outrage.
“I’m sorry. It’s the truth.” She giggled. She picked up the charm on her necklace with her index finger and thumb.
“She’s right. Sami and Finn would go into survivor mode immediately and ditch us. Ryan would appoint himself king of something and have servants do all of his bidding. Morgan would try to take care of too many people and be captured by zombies. I’d get lost in the shuffle and go down quickly too.” Nick added.
We bought our individual tickets and had them ripped by an employee.
“Do you want to go halvies on popcorn? I won’t be able to finish a tub by myself. I rather not throw away $20.” She suggested.
“Sure.” I inwardly beamed, knowing she’d have to sit beside me in order for that to happen.
I made mental notes of the candy and drink she ordered, a Hershey’s Cookie’s n’ Cream candy bar and a bottle of water. I helped her with our popcorn and purchased candy and a drink of my own. Our entourage took up an entire row in the theatre. I was seated between Iz and Nick. Elle was on the other side of her. Jacob made no attempt to be near her. He silently waved on his way to his seat, but that was the extent of their communication. I felt a little guilty about being pleased by that.
When the lights dimmed and the previews commenced, Iz leaned down to reach her purse on the floor. She sat back up with a small stuffed animal. I leaned into her ear.
“What is that?” I breathed.
“Christina, my ballerina bunny.” She whispered loud enough for only my ears.
“Do you take it with you everywhere?” I smiled hard to keep from laughing.
“No, I’m not the best with blood. I’m going to cuddle with her when the corn syrup goes flying. I can feel your judgment and I don’t appreciate it.” She got a handful of popcorn from the bin on my leg.
“I’m not – I’m the same way with needles.” I admitted sheepishly.
She looked over at me, smiling softly. The flickering of the projection screen allowed me to see her. I wanted nothing more than to kiss her. Scared my thoughts were written on my face, I returned my eyes to the screen before us. She momentarily studied the side of my face. It took all of my self-restraint not to look at her. I was able to relax when she tore her eyes away from me.
I occupied our shared armrest. She kept her arms in her lap, only moving them from her bunny when she wanted a snack or drink. She was getting popcorn when the first murder occurred. Not watching the movie, the roar of the chainsaw accompanied by a blood-curdling scream made her jump.
“I’m winning.” Nick leaned across me to whisper to her.
She looked up at screen. “Oh, come on, when did she take her clothes off?! I looked away for less than a second.” She complained quietly as she gestured to the screen.
“Upset you missed the strip tease?” I teased.
“Obviously. I’m sure she looked even better in that push-up without the red dye #2. I guess I’ll have to use my imagination.” She played along as she placed pieces of popcorn into her mouth.
I grinned like an idiot and shook my head at her.
The film played out the way Nick predicted. Izzie held up her end of the bargain without complaint. All of us enjoyed our warm beverages and baked goods inside the shop, occupying the majority of the tables. I sat down at a table with Iz, Sami, Lucas, Morgan, and Jacob.
Izzie removed the lid of her hot chocolate. She crumbled up the remaining pieces of her chocolate bar and sprinkled them atop the bed of whipped cream that was dolloped on her drink.
“You love sweets.” I noted from my seat beside her.
“You’re onto me, but I don’t have any cavities. Regular checkups and avid flossing.” She played off with a smile.
“Then you must love Halloween. What are you going to be tomorrow?” Jacob segwayed smoothly from the seat across from her.
She gave him her attention. “Alice from Alice in Wonderland.” She returned her lid to its rightful place.
“Will you be donning a blonde wig for the occasion?” He continued to engage her.
“Lewis Carroll never described her appearance in the books, but in his original drawings of her, she had dark hair. They were in black and white, so he didn’t have much of a choice, but I feel like it lets me off the hook. Wigs are itchy.” She stirred her drink to allow the chocolate pieces to melt.
“You know a lot about books.” He replied.
“I wouldn’t say that; only the ones I like. Ask me about something I should’ve read but didn’t and you’ll be severely disappointed.” She brought her paper cup to her lips.
“What’s a book you don’t like?” I asked her.
He subtly tried to look down the front of her loose fitting blouse as she thought of a response. I could’ve easily done the same, I was at a much better vantage point, seated beside her and with our height difference. I exerted the manners necessary to keep my eyes on her face. She must’ve noticed the target of his gaze. She reached into her top and hiked up her undershirt, successfully covering the small sliver of cleavage showing.
“I’m not a big fan of Greek mythology. It’s basically erotica starring Zeus, who bangs anyone and anything he can get his hands on.” She rearranged her cardigan and started meddling with her necklace, appearing self-conscious.
“Yes! The dude had a problem.” Sami agreed zealously, not taking in her body language.
I casually draped my arm on the back of her chair in hopes of putting her at ease. I didn’t think of the implications until it was in place. She sat back and looked over at me.
“Is this okay?” I prepared myself to move.
“Yeah, I like…you’re comfortable?”
“Right, then…um, carry on.” She softly blushed as she diverted her eyes from mine.
I masked my smile by picking up my tea with my free hand. She shifted in her seat slightly to continue talking to Sami. I interacted with them as well, the rest of the table joined in soon enough. I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I removed it with my left hand; I was able to type with ease because it was my dominant hand.
Jacob: I didn’t know you were together
I looked up at him. He pretended not to notice me as he listened to what Lucas was saying.
‘We’re not.’ I sent back in reply. I kept my phone out, feeling it was an ongoing conversation.
Jacob: Are you interested?
Jacob: I consider us to be friends. You were there first. I’ll back off. Good luck.
‘I don’t know if she likes me back, but I appreciate the gesture.’
Jacob: now you’ll be able to figure it out without interference.
I inconspicuously nodded to him as a thank you. He did the same in acknowledgement.
Even with the knowledge that I would no longer be passive-aggressively competing, accepting my crush on her was still nerve-racking and terrifying. It had the potential to ruin everything. She was one of my closest friends. I knew she’d be one of the most interesting people I’d ever meet. Just looking at her, I knew there was so much more to her than the happy-go-lucky persona she had hypnotized me with. There were glimpses of her darker side when certain topics came up, like her relationship with her family and her life at home; it struck a chord with me instead of serving as a warning sign. I was the same way. For the first time in my life, I felt like there was a great chance that I’d be understood. That’s why I disregarded the risk and my pride and dedicated my time to trying to be hers.