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She danced through my mind for four straight days. It was the first time I was forced to imagine interactions with her. Instead of stopping by her suite and confirming or disproving my illusions, I wandered aimlessly. I was able to establish a grip on reality during our conversations. She was in no position for a commitment. Her parents abandoned her without remorse and her beloved grandfather was drifting away before her eyes. She rebuilt her armor of dark humor and shame riddled her voice when I convinced her to put it down for me. I didn’t want her to lose herself. I was still mending the fences I jumped trying to escape from the pressure. I vowed to keep her from doing the same. She was the last person I wanted to hurt or watch crumble.
“Listen up, Gang, there’s a momentous occasion taking place in five days’ time. –“Elle stood in the front of the girls’ living room with Izzie at her side.
“You call me self-centered on a regular basis, but refer to your birthday as a ‘momentous occasion’. I can’t keep up.” Ryan propped his feet up on the coffee table.
She rolled a magazine and swatted his legs to make him put them down.
“You’re letting her do it!” He pointed to Sami. Her ankles were crossed and her heels were firmly planted on the wooden table in front of the couch.
“We have an agreement. She promised not to make sarcastic comments during the Fleeting Moment concert and I’m letting her put her feet on the furniture.”
“Yeahhh, about that. I’ll be mumbling them under my breath and to Watson.” Sami scratched her nose and resumed texting.
“The amendment is for safety purposes. We’d get ulcers. Our remarks pack more of a punch when we’re sick or injured. This is a gift to everyone.” Finn sketched from his seat on the floor.
“It’ll be like every other day.” Nick made light of the situation, shrugging with a smile.
“We will be meeting five of my heroes for my birthday, namely Everett Woods. Don’t embarrass me.” Elle crossed her arms.
“We know if his wife will be there? Audrey’s hella fine.”
“I’m pretty sure she’s pregnant.” Morgan glanced over in his direction.
“She’s 29 weeks along.” Izzie answered.
“I’m willing to become a step-daddy for her. Her body and those librarian glasses she wears are flame. Everett was smart to put a ring on it. She’s wifey material.”
“I only understood half of that statement.” I thought aloud.
“Flame: so hot it hurts. Put a ring on it: marry her.Wifey material: a woman suitable to marry.” Finn rattled off the definitions, never looking up from his notebook.
“You’re seventeen, still in high school, and a major idiot. She’s with Everett Freaking Woods. You have no shot.” Elle spelled out for him.
“You can have him if I get her.”
“She makes him happy. You will not ruin that beautiful man’s life!” She snapped at him.
“Honey, breathe. –“Izzie draped her arm across her shoulders. “My sister’s marriage is completely intact and you know that.”
Our friends were rendered speechless. I was unsure of what the big deal was. She mentioned Audrey all the time.
“Your sister?” Sami finally looked up from her phone.
“Yes, Everett’s my brother-in-law. He gave me the tickets because he knows Elle’s a big fan. He and Audrey want to meet all of you. It’s the perfect opportunity to do all of it.”
“They actually want to meet us?” Nick emphasized the word ‘want’ to express his skepticism.
Izzie nodded. “She’s my older sister and he’s always been like a big brother to me. I’ve never had a close friend group before. They want to see what we’re like together. I’ve told them great things about all of you.”
“That means your dad is Dr. Stu. My mom and sister are obsessed with his show. He’s a bit of a tool. Your step-mom looks fake, both meanings of the word. I don’t see the appeal of either of them, but Ma and Rory love to talk about how pretty and lucky they are. Your house is sweet, though. Great architecture and art collection.” Finn plainly presented his observations.
“Have you ever been on the show?” Ryan derived a question.
“Yes, but not often enough to be included in the promos or recognized when I’m alone.” She meddled with her hands in discomfort.
“Why haven’t you told everyone? Most people would’ve bragged to the whole school by now. Anna’s mom was in a teen drama twenty years ago, but she made sure all of us knew about it during freshman orientation. It cemented her as Queen Bee. Sad but true, that stuff matters around here.” Morgan chimed in.
“I got to the top because my dad can get front row tickets to any professional basketball game.” Elle agreed.
The others nodded and murmured sounds of agreement.
“I want friends, not their fans. People assume that I’m something I’m not when they know about my family. I don’t want special treatment. I’d really appreciate it if none of you told.” She shrugged.
“You’ve got both in me, Babydoll. I’m dying to know: have you dated or at least kissed someone famous? You have access.” Elle asked with a huge smile.
“Nope. I don’t see the appeal.”
“You could be their muse, the driving force behind a person loved by millions.” She romanticized.
“In reality, people constantly put in their two cents and butt into something personal. I never want that. “
My head started to hurt. I slouched down in my seat and tore my eyes away from her for the first time since I entered her suite. I listened to her answer their questions, but never contributed anything. I didn’t know how. I was everything she didn’t want and she was what I did.
I wanted to leave and be alone after she unconsciously shut me down, but we made plans. I cared more about her feelings than my own. I pretended to be fine. I had been doing it my entire life.
We went into her room under the pretense of studying for our dance history final. I sat down on the front of her bed, placing my bag on the floor beside my feet.
“You were awfully quiet in there.” She popped a mint into her mouth and offered me the tin.
“What did you want me to say?” I selected one and placed it on my tongue.
“Are you upset with me?”
“No, I don’t know who they are. You’re still you.” I forced a smile.
She sat down on the bed beside me and folded one of her legs beneath her thigh. “You’re lying to me. I’m offering you one do-over. Use it wisely.”
“Everything would change if the whole school found out. I like things as they are.” I looked her in the eye.
“You’re an only child. You can’t level the playing field by telling me about your siblings, so tell me what your parents do.”
“All the way in Listonenia?”
“Fair is fair.”
I knew of my options: tell her everything and lose it all or give her a variation and create false hope for myself.
“That’s so vague.”
“Ooh, I’ve got it. They’re spies.” She joked in a hushed tone.
“It’s my dream to carry on the family business.”
She giggled. “That’s too dangerous for you. You’d be found out in a minute. You’re –”
“Don’t say it.”
“You’re such a dream-dasher!” I cried in mock outrage.
“You sprained my ankle. I’m the best person to break this news to you.”
“I forgive you, I guess.” I rolled my eyes.
She took my hand into hers. “Pumped up for your first American concert?”
“I have to be or Elle would disown me. Your hands are still small.” I intertwined our fingers.
“I tried to make them grow, but my willpower isn’t strong enough.”
“Do you think we should study?”
“We have three weeks. We should make out during the only window of alone time we’ll have this week.” She used the full power of her doe eyes against me.
I got lost in them. Without thinking, I closed the distance between us. She deepened by opening her mouth. I followed suit and moved my other hand to her hip. She laid down on her bed and pulled me down with her.
I loved having her close to me, the feel of her skin beneath my fingertips and her mouth eagerly moving to remain close to mine. We went full force, remaining above the belt, for three hours. It would’ve been nice to have a feeling of closure to all of the physicality, but holding her as we tried to catch our breath was nice in its own way.
She tilted her face up to look up at me. “I missed you over break.”
“I missed you too.” I put my hand on top of the one she was resting on my chest.
She pecked me softly.
A smidgen of hope returned. She missed me, not the title I struggled to live up to. I loved her for it and so much more. Neither of us were ready for me to speak my mind. I was scared to lose her over things I couldn’t control. I wasn’t ready for my illusion of us ending up together to evaporate. It made me feel on top of the world, just as she did.
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