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The moment I met her, I started wondering what was going on in her head. Out of the blue, she spontaneously volunteered to bring my lunch, word vomited her feelings, and gave me a momentary glimpse into her world. She trusted me with a secret, one that laid heavily on her heart. It sparked more romantic attraction. I was finally scratching the surface of a complex conundrum. The prize, fully understanding her little world, was within reach.
Kissing her, it was – my mind whirled during and after. Her lips were soft and tasted of the cherry chapstick she smoothed on regularly. We took it slow, but her contribution was confident but gentle. Tongue wasn’t utilized by either of us. Our tame kisses drove me wild. Her smile afterwards made everything else in the room a foggy afterthought. A shiver ran up my spine each time we touched.
I’d always been drawn to danger in the past, especially when it came to women. I liked the edge, stepping too close to an open flame. Anna was the first one that burned me. She made me think twice. I spent weeks watching Izzie, looking for something that would make me stop thinking about her. She told me about her family troubles and I still couldn’t get enough of her. In fact, I wanted more tales of her internal darkness. I sensed there were plenty more, as was the case with me. I lost my sense of waywardness when I was with her. There was something about her that made me comfortable. It was as though I had known her for years. With that said, my desire to handle my preexisting problems was still present. I was relieved to hear she felt the same way. On paper, she was a risk. My heart threatened that I’d regret it if I let her go. My mind simultaneously reminded me she was openly terrified of commitment. I can’t really say I followed one or the other. I allowed myself to remain entranced by her and went where she guided me. She had all the weapons to cause my demise, but I trusted her to spare me. That’s what differentiated her from the others. I was curious to see where we would end up. Normality wasn’t her standard. I knew she’d take me to places I’d be unable to access alone.
I saw Izzie out of my dormitory, carrying my skateboard with me. We descended the staircase. I held the front door open for her.
“Please don’t hurt yourself.” She looked over at me with genuine concern.
“I never go out with that intention.”
“I said it. Keep it in mind.” She knelt down on the side of the sidewalk to tie her shoe.
“Are you worried about me?” I put my free hand into my pocket as I waited for her.
“I can’t lift myself.”
“You’re basically using me for my body.”
“I AM using you for your body.” She drolly corrected as she stood up.
“Would you think less of me if I said I was into that?” I humored her as we resumed walking.
“I couldn’t. I’m not a hypocrite.” She shrugged playfully.
I looked over at her and smiled. Her hair caught in the wind and danced. She ran her hand through it to stop the wavy tendrils from intersecting her face.
“Would you like to come with me?” I wasn’t ready to be alone just yet.
“Er, yeah, not to watch. You could, but there’s not much of anything to see. We can go to your suite to pick up one of your books.” I eased the tension from my shoulder with my hand.
“I have my laptop in my bag. I was going to head to the library to start on my Gatsby essay after brunch. I can do it outside. It’s a beautiful day. And I’ve always wondered what one of your sessions are like.”
“When is it due?”
“You’re starting this early?”
“It’ll write itself because of my topic. This time, I won’t forget and stay up until 2 AM the morning it’s due, like we usually do.”
“You will not be attending my procrastination party? You’ve been the life of it the past two times.” I feigned disappointment.
“I get kooky with too much sugar and caffeine. Finn’s stash of both is impressive. I might stop by to sample.” She put one of her hands on the strap of her backpack.
“You’re not allowed. You’ll make Sami and I feel bad about our work habits.”
“No, I’ll be a motivational mooch.”
Air expelled my lungs as I grinned.
I escorted her to the teachers’ parking lot behind the main academic building.
I skated there because it was desolate. The curb, speed bumps, and transport ramps provided variety in my makeshift skate park. I knew the bench would serve as an adequate workspace for Izzie.
“So this is where you disappear to every weekend?” She walked up to the bench.
I dropped my board on the ground. “Yes. Is it what you thought it would be?”
“Just about.” She removed her bag and sat down, placing it beside her.
I firmly planted one of my feet on the skateboard’s textured surface. I used my dominant one to propel myself forward. I successfully executed an Ollie and rode out the excess power it granted me by zigzagging along the lines painted on the asphalt.
“I can’t see your parents putting you in skateboarding lessons. How’d you start this activity?” Her legs were folded beneath herself. Her laptop was placed on top of them.
“A law was passed in the capital city of Turchese, which is where I live. Skateboards are not allowed on the streets for preservation, most are cobblestone and centuries old. Skaters don’t like them anyway. They had already found alternative locations to skate. My grandmother’s decision to look down upon and privately criticize their subculture prompted me to partake in it myself.”
“A behavioral middle finger. Nice.” She offered me a crooked little smirk.
“No one ever counteracts her egregious statements. It makes me feel insane for believing she’s off-kilter. She had my grandfather wrapped around her little finger. He did it all for her, now my father does.” To prevent a fall I felt coming on, I walked off my board.
She quickly lost her playful air. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
“It happened almost three years ago. I have since come to terms with the inevitability of death.” I kept my sights set on my skateboard. I let it come to a stop before chasing after it.
“The part about your grandma. Is that like a common thing for you, sidestepping authority?” She approached that aspect with a mixture of intrigue and apprehension.
“We all dance with our own demons. My streak of mischief’s not as concentrated as it used to be. I have learned to choose my battles more wisely. I have difficulty explaining what troubles me, but a display of poor behavior always signifies my distaste. I have never been able to pretend that I am okay.”
“I’m a little too good at it. I tend to mask my opinions in humor, prepared to laugh it off as a joke if someone strongly disagrees.” She played with her necklace as she looked at her computer screen.
“I have noticed. It is both charming and vexatious.”
“Explain.” She commanded as I glided past her.
“Giggling everything off is polite, but sometimes, you are supposed to get angry with or without the fear of being wrong or disliked.”
“Well, you’re perpetually content to be in the supporting role. You’re not shy. You can keep up with Ryan with ease. That’s why you’re best friends. Not once, in the three months I’ve known you, have you taken the lead in any capacity.” She defensively pointed out.
“I do not recall claiming personal inhuman perfection. I am being transcontinentally babysat because of my past behavior, if that is any indication.” I pulled a simple kick flip.
Her expression softened. “Did you really try to fight Lex?”
“I really don’t know what I was trying to do. I didn’t think before hand. He was being disrespectful and would not heed my warning about shutting his mouth, so I shoved him. He came after me. We were separated before he was able to touch me. He approached me at Scott’s party, completely plastered. I tried to talk, sober and unwilling to stoop to his level.” I sneered.
“I didn’t know it happened more than once. I’m sure Anna loved it. That’s a fantasy for girls like her. You know that, right?”
“It was not about her. It was about you. He shouted what they had done in hopes of humiliating me because we couldn’t physically fight. Alpha male needs to demonstrate his dominance, va a sapere.”
“What did he say about me?” She queried in a small voice.
“Misogynistic dribble about his appreciation of your derrière, his preference for older looking women, and his desire for you to call him ‘Daddy’.”
“And that’s when you pushed him?” Her tone was sharper, more confident.
“Yes, I was enraged. I’m sorry if you perceive that as dishonorable. I didn’t think until after the altercation had transpired.”
“No, I appreciate it actually. This is what I’ve got to work with. Everyone’s not going to love it, but I’m trying to. I rather not have a douchebag ranting and raving about my assets and shortcomings in such a derogatory manner without interruption.” She was more fired up than I had ever seen her.
I appreciated her raw, uncutsied emotion. Passion exhibited in something other than dancing and books was a good look on her.
I skid to a stop. “There she is.”
“Who?” She crinkled her face in confusion.
“I’ve always thought you’re too quick-witted not to be a firecracker. Not on Sami’s level; she’s a rebel with infinite causes, or Elle’s, our lovable prima donna, but on a plane all your own.”
“Here’s to hoping that’s the case. Would you like me to play music for you?”
“Yes, that would be nice.”
She amplified songs from her library through her computer’s speakers.
That was the first time I was exposed to her taste in music. It was across the spectrum, guilty pleasure bubblegum pop hits, hidden indie gems, punk-rock anthems, Latin flare, and hip-hop jams. I recognized a number of songs as ones in my collection. But for the most part, I was introduced to new material. They weren’t all instant favorites, but I enjoyed another glimpse into what made her who she was.
“I’ve got to go. I want to shower before the dance.” She turned her music off three hours into our hangout.
I stepped on one end of my board to lift it from the ground. I walked up the bench she was sitting on as she packed up her backpack.
“You don’t have to stop. Go skate.” She used her hand to shoo me back over to the parking lot.
“I am finished. I want to conclude without an injury. Bathing would be a good idea too.” I sat down beside her.
I observed as she packed her backpack.
“What are you looking at?” She sent me a smirk.
“I’m scared to ask.”
“You shouldn’t be.”
“Say it in Italian. If it’s pretty enough, I’ll ask for the translation.”
“Sei molto bella.”
“Are you calling me Bella instead of Izzie?”
“No, it’s the word for beautiful.”
“That is the one word I prefer in English. That’s what my mom called me.” She stated aloofly as she arranged the contents of her bag.
“That’s why you’re Izzie.”
“I am.” She remained tense.
I took her hand into mine. I rested my fingers in the spaces between hers.
“You have small hands.”
She smiled. “They are normal sized. You have giant ones. And why are they so soft?”
“They are not.”
“Mhmm. They are velvet goalie gloves.”
“I know you’re kidding because I have no difficulty playing the piano.”
“You probably overcompensate with talent. I won’t know for sure until you play for me.”
“I won’t be doing it for a while. You’ve made fun of the body parts I have to utilize.”
“You can make fun of my owl eyes. My peripheral vision is off the charts.” She offered me a smile.
“I wouldn’t mean it. I like them.”
“Your hands keep me safe. I have a bit of a thing for them.”
“They’re what did it for you?”
She nodded, warding off a smile. “Your sense of humor and sporadic use of Italian are ho-hum in comparison.”
“I thought we were leaving.”
“We are.” She placed a kiss on my cheek. “You’re sorta sweaty.” She removed her hand from mine and stood up to put on her backpack.
“I’ve been skating for three hours. Physical activity tends to do that to people.” I ruffled my damp hair with my hand.
“Ready?” She offered me her hand.
I bypassed it to stand up on my own. I tried to hold it after the fact. She pulled it away.
“People will think you’re my boyfriend.”
“My heart is broken.” I joked as I placed my hand into my pocket instead.
She lightly nudged me with her arm. I kept sneaking glances at her as we walked.
“Silent gazing is not sexy or romantic. In most cases, it’s creepy. Explain why you’re doing it so that I can determine which category you fall into.” She snapped me out of my thoughts.
“I’m trying to figure you out.” I put my eyes on the path.
“Same. What puzzle piece are you stuck on? Maybe I can help you advance to my level.”
“How did you learn Spanish?”
“My mom’s parents are from Colombia. Audrey and I spent our summers in Florida with Yaya and Papi. They taught us Spanish, along with other elements of our culture.”
“Do you still speak to them?”
“Yes, I’m seeing them for Thanksgiving, actually. He doesn’t recognize me because he has Alzheimer’s, but he’s still really sweet.” She smiled at the recollection.
“What about your father?”
“His ancestors came over from Europe too long ago for the customs to be important. Did that information allow everything to click into place?”
“I feel like I’ve been talking about myself all day. I know you’re Listonenian, so I’ll ask for your middle name.”
“I have two. Ferdinando Giovanni.”
“So your full name is Milo Ferdinando Giovanni De Luca?”
“That’s a mouthful. Mia has never felt shorter.”
“Isabella Mia Hales?”
“In the flesh.” She gestured to herself.
We parted at the fork in the path, one portion led to her dorm, the other allowed me to continue on to mine. Ryan and Finn were playing video games in the living room when I walked into our suite.
“Were you here when Iz stopped by with food?” Ry kept his eyes locked on the screen while addressing me.
“Yes, thank you for sending someone else to bring my meal after you deemed yourself as too busy. Usually, you forget and my call to ask when you’ll be returning serves as your reminder.”
“Accurate.” Finn deadpanned.
“Nicky reminded me this time, so the joke’s on you. I was going to bring it. I wasn’t in a hurry to run lines with Wayne and Charlotte. I hate third-wheeling couples. Iz volunteered. I let her do the honors. You’re welcome.”
“I thoroughly appreciate your selflessness. What time are we departing?”
“The girls are supposed to be here at 8:30. We’ll be leaving then with any luck. It starts at 8, but it’s best to walk in when things are bumpin’.”
“Practicing for a jazz band concert. If you want to shower, do it now. I want to take one too.”
I retreated to my room and shut the door. My skateboard was discarded in its usual corner. Lounging around in an undershirt and boxers in my room came naturally following my shower. I watched an association football match on the plasma screen that occupied the top of my bureau.
There was a knock on my door.
“You may enter.” I kept my bent arm pinned behind my head.
Nick peeked inside. “Hey, there’s pizza in the living room. You’re welcome to it. I’d hurry before Ry bets Finn who can eat more.”
I chuckled. “That is what tends to happen.” I switched off the game with my remote.
I followed him to the lounge for a bite to eat. Our dinner was a quick one. We all needed to get ready before the girls arrived. I dressed in my black suit. I parted my hair and slicked it back with gel in the bathroom. I brushed my teeth and applied the cologne Izzie complimented the night before. I slid my sunglasses into place and went into the lounge when I was finished. The guys were already in there. I sat down in the empty chair.
“Ellen’s going to take forever. I can feel it.” Ryan checked the time on his phone.
“She is. Think about last year.” Finn adjusted his top hat.
“Most of that was Anna. They still have five minutes.” Nick used his prop pocket watch for a practical purpose.
“You’re supposed to be flipping out, calling everybody late. Get into character and get on my level.” Ryan fired back at him.
“They’re late. They’re late, they’re really, really late.” Nick declared.
“Much better. Let’s go. We have to pass their dorm on the way to the banquet hall.” Ryan made his way to the door.
“Miles, don’t wear your sunglasses outside. It’s dark and I do not want to kick off tonight catering to the girl you crash into.” He added.
“You’re hilarious.” I removed them and placed them in my breast pocket.
We encountered costume-clad classmates as we walked along the path. All of us were in high spirits, anxious to see what the night had in store.
Ryan pounded on the girls’ suite door repeatedly.
“WHAT?!” Sami roared as she swung open the door.
“You’re late.” Nick showed her his clock.
She sighed heavily and rolled her eyes. “It’s The Queen’s fault.” She opened the door for us.
“Knew it.” Ryan strolled past her.
“Do you have the tea cups?” Finn stood beside her as the rest of us piled inside.
“Yeah, in my room.” She gestured for him to follow her.
“I guess we wait.” Nick sat down on their couch.
“Not quite.” Ryan sauntered over to Elle’s door.
“Elllleee, if you’re not out here in five minutes, I’m giving Sutton your number!” He sang dauntingly.
“If you do, I’ll put yours on a flyer and pass it out in the dining hall!”
“I don’t think that worked.” I snickered.
“She’s always five steps ahead. Sit down and save your breath.” Nick pointed to an empty armchair.
“She will not beat me this time.”
“For every minute you make me wait, I’ll be dancing on you!”
“UGH! You wouldn’t dare!” She shrieked.
“Oh, yeah, I will. We both know you’ll be the baddest chick in there. It’ll be nice being with you for a change.” He leaned against her door with a wicked smirk.
She whipped open the door and he fell to the ground.
“You’re killin’ me.” On his knees, Ry placed his hand on his chest.
“We’ve been over this. I have too much self-respect to be one of your little conquests. I’m on the finishing touches. Calm your tits.” She picked up her foot and used the ball of it to push him out of her room and onto his back.
I heard Izzie’s musical laughter as Elle shut the door.
“I told you.” Nick removed his phone from his pocket.
“Worth it.” He scrambled off of the ground.
He collapsed in an armchair and propped his feet up on the coffee table.
We looked at their front door from our seats as someone knocked on the other side of it. Morgan jogged through to answer it.
“Hey, Guys.” She waved, opening the door with her other hand.
“You look cute,” Lucas tittered. “I thought you’d try to be sexy for once. We talked about it.” He lowered his voice, greatly limiting how many of us could hear him.
I glanced over at him with a soft grimace, mentally questioning his audacity.
“I know, but I just — I didn’t feel comfortable.” She expressed her uneasiness by looking down and playing with her hands.
I stood up and went to where they were. “Is there a problem here?” I crossed my arms.
“No, why would you say that?” He tried to feign innocence.
“She is dressed in the manner she pleases. You just expressed distaste for it although she did not ask for you opinion.” I was relaxed as I looked into his eyes — unafraid and not intimidated in the slightest.
“Milo, it’s fine. –” She put her hand on my arm.
“No, it’s not. He has no right speak to you that way, regardless of relationship status.”
“What insensitive thing did he say this time?” Sami appeared on the other side of Morgan, glaring at him with her arms crossed.
He tried to mask the involuntary jump he did when he laid eyes on her. I smiled to myself.
“He tried to make her feel guilty about her costume.” I answered.
“What about it don’t you like, Luke?” She taunted.
“Nothing. She looks great. Milo’s right. I misspoke. You look beautiful.” He placed a kiss on Morgan’s cheek under our watchful eyes.
“I really don’t like you.” Sami growled.
“What did we discuss about being hostile?” Morgan looked at her pointedly.
“Don’t.” She grumbled, rolling her eyes.
“This doesn’t have to be a competition. We like her in different ways, right?” He subtly got back at her.
Sami sent a swift kick to his shin. He howled, reaching down to grab it.
“Don’t make the mistake of crossing her twice.” Finn casually sipped from a teacup, standing in the general vicinity of the lounge.
“We need to talk about this.” Morgan took Lucas’s arm and led him to her room.
“What are you drinking?” Nick eyed Finn skeptically as Sami stalked back into her room.
“Herbal tea straight from the hippies that conceived our dear Sams.”
“Nothing. Want to bum a sip?” He offered him the hand painted china with a small smirk.
I sat back down in my car, feeling good about stepping up for once.
“Did you spike the tea?” Nick followed her with his eyes.
“No. I’ve got too much to do tomorrow.” She sat down on the couch.
Elle bedroom door opened. My eyes darted to it immediately, anxious to see Izzie.
My heart began to race the moment she walked in. She was smiling radiantly, looking back to ensure Elle was exiting too.
“Evening, Fellas. Sorry about the wait.” She placed her hands on her hips.
It felt as though my ribcage was on the verge of bursting open when her eyes settled on mine.
“It works out. I got to put a heart on my cheek and Lucas isn’t here yet.” Elle switched off her light and shut her door.
“Yeah, he is. Mom’s having a chat with him because he accused me of having a crush on her. Fingers crossed that they break up.” Sami held her pinky up as she daintily sipped her tea.
“Why’d he do that? She’s your best friend. That’s it.”
“He said something negative about her costume. Miles was the one over there from the jump. I went over when I felt tension.”
“What did the rest of you do?” Elle scanned the room.
“We all made faces. They were handling it. An ambush would have been unnecessary.” Ryan shrugged.
I removed my phone from the jacket of my suit.
‘You’re very beautiful, Alice, very similar to this girl I like.’ I texted to Izzie.
She removed her phone from the pocket of her white apron. She nibbled on her bottom lip to prevent herself from smiling as she read it.
My phone vibrated in my hand. I looked down at it.
‘Who is this?’
‘Your fake husband.’
‘Which one? I have many imaginary spouses.’
‘Your dance one.’
‘ Ohhhh, hey…you…’
I looked up to find her smirking in my direction mischievously. I narrowed my eyes and subtly shook my head. She winked.
Morgan and Lucas exited her room together.
“I didn’t mean what I said. I’m sorry, Sami. It’ll never happen again.” He remorsefully apologized.
“It better not.” She was cold as ice, not even bothering to spare a glance in his direction.
“Okay. Let’s turn this mood around with pictures.” Elle proposed.
At first, we took pictures with the people we paired up with for costumes. We did a group shot, having Lucas take photos on each of our phones. We moved on to smaller pairings. Iz and I stayed away from each other, taking photographs with everyone else in the room, avoiding suspicion.
“Iz and Miles, I need one of you together.” Elle urged after she finished taking one of Nicky and Izzie.
“Is Alice secretly an alien? That would be a wild plot twist.” I walked over to replace Nick.
“You found me out, darn. I thought I was hiding it so well with the bow and everything.”
“I’m a professional. It’s what I’m trained for.” I draped my arm across her shoulders.
“You’re sending all of these to me, right?” Iz put hers around my waist.
“Absolutely, Babydoll. They’re going your way too, Milo.”
Izzie stole my sunglasses after Elle took our picture.
“Now I’m just a guy in a suit. You’ve stolen my identity.”
“What about all of your training?” She put them on, grinning from ear to ear.
“It’s in the glasses.”
She gasped overdramatically. “I’ve uncovered a conspiracy?! You cheated on your agents’ exam?!”
I hung my head in shame. “Yes. I was supposed to take that to the grave.”
She giggled. It took all of my self-restraint not to kiss her.
“Alright, this is done. Let’s move. I’ve got people to see.” Ry ushered us to the door.
Our entourage gravitated to the banquet hall. It was packed with students, all of them dancing to the music supplied by the DJ.
“Ready to try your hand at dorky dance moves?” Iz proposed with a smile.
“How do I start?” We weaved through our classmates to get to the dancefloor.
“You just feel it. Make up a ridiculous dance combination and give it a name. I’ll show you how it’s done.” Iz started to explain.
She held up her thumb and pinky and bawled the remaining three fingers into a fist. She put her other hand in a fist and placed it on her hip. She brought the hand with her fingers out to her ear.
“Answering the phone.” She announced as she proceeded to switch arms, alternating which hand she brought to her ear each time.
“Join in. Don’t be shy.” She encouraged with a smile.
I mimicked what she was doing.
“Stirring the batter.” She put her hands into two fists and placed them one on top of the other. She moved her arms around in an exaggerated circular motion.
“Wind tunnel.” I ruffled her hair with both of my hands.
“There he is.” She pointed to me.
“Who?” I looked over my shoulder, pretending not to notice she was using my words against me.
“If I’m going to talk back, you’ve got to lead sometimes.”
“Only if you put that prick in his place to his face.” I spoke into her ear to be heard over the music. I nodded over to Alex.
“You’ve got yourself a deal.” She offered me her hand.
I shook it once. She took a deep breath, rolled her neck to loosen the tension, and walked over there. I ensured I was close enough to step in if she needed assistance, but kept enough distance to make the confrontation hers.
Initially, he was very receptive to her arrival. He offered her a smile and appeared to be listening to what she was saying. Her demeanor went from friendly and approachable to ferocious in a split second. Her mouth moved at a rapid pace as he looked at her with wide eyes. His mouth kept gaping open as he tried to come up with a retort. She poked his chest as she made her final point. He looked down at his cup of punch as she walked away. I beamed with pride.
“That felt good, like really good.” Her face was bright and shining.
“Good job. He was scared to watch you walk away.” I held up my hand.
She high-fived me.“I did it!”
“You did. I thought of a new move while you were away. I’m ready to try it out.”
We made complete fools of ourselves in front of the entire school. I loved every minute of it. We goofed off and laughed until our ribs were sore. It was the best time I’d ever had at a party, sober or otherwise. Time seemed to slow down when she was around. Instead of sitting back and enjoying whatever came my way, I was motivated to become more.
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