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“I’m so excited! In just a few hours, I’m going to be breathing the same air as Everett Woods!” Elle barged into my room the morning of the concert.
I groaned, rubbed my eyes, and glanced at the clock on my nightstand. The neon red lights read: 7:00 am.
“Why are you waking me up so early?” I pulled my comforter over my head.
“We have an all school meeting at 8:15 in the auditorium.” She sang happily, walking into my closet.
“For what?” I remained under my blanket cocoon and retrieved my phone from my nightstand.
“I’m going to need you to explain that to me again. I texted during that PowerPoint.” I admitted, reading my new text message.
‘MILO: Morning, Beautiful. Is Elle screaming yet?’
A dopey smile crept onto my face.
‘She just started. Has Ryan started taking bets on how many numbers he can get?’ I replied.
“Every year, the whole school spends a week at the school’s outdoor camp up north. We do team building activities that promote physical fitness to earn the physical education credits the United States Board of Education requires for a high school diploma. You know, because SMA doesn’t have traditional gym classes or an athletics department. The whole dance department could stay behind, but that would be unfair. Camp Artsy is a ton of fun. We–” Elle explained in the background.
‘MILO: Not yet. He’s too busy going on about how hot your sister is.’
‘Have you checked her out? I might be biased, but she’s smokin’.’ I joked.
‘MILO: You look alike, but I like you.’
‘Is it the freckles?’
I audibly laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“Huh?” I removed my covers from my head.
“You laughed. What’s funny?”
“Milo sent me a joke.” I ran a hand through my messy bedhead.
“Care to share?” She sucked on the green straw of her Frappuccino.
“It’s weird. I don’t know if it’d land. Is that for me?” I pointed to the Starbucks cup she wasn’t drinking out of.
“Yep, skinny peppermint mocha, your favorite.” She handed it to me.
“Smells amazing.” I inhaled as I held it in both of my hands. “Last I heard, they don’t deliver. How did you score this?”
“You can’t keep leading him on. We both know you’re not interested.”
“He’s the one acting like a lost puppy. I’ve got a life. I needed to pay Finn in gourmet coffee for a hacking job he did for me. I don’t have a car. Using resources is not a crime.” She returned her straw to her mouth.
“Did you make him deliver it without going?”
“Maybe, but I paid.”
“I’m saying this with love: you need to change your man-eating ways.” I sipped my coffee.
“I only do it to boys who make the mistake of calling me crazy. The others act on their own in my favor.”
“Eleanor Tracey Woollard.”
She groaned. “Fine.”
“You can break hearts, but you don’t have to.”
“It’s an addiction. You’ll help me through it.” She strutted out of my room.
“I will support you during this trying time!”
Once she was gone, I went to our bathroom to shower. As I got ready, I continued texting Milo. We had devised a plan for him to come to my suite and walk to the auditorium. I sat on the couch in the living room and watched television as I waited for him to arrive.
“You do realize that I hate you for getting her those tickets, right?” Sami plopped down beside me on the couch.
“It’s for her birthday. They’re making her so happy.” I smiled in her direction.
“Don’t care. I woke up to her screaming about ‘absorbing his greatness’. I know for a fact that this will continue all day thanks to those tickets.”
I giggled. “Would you like me to make it up to you by getting us tickets to a concert you want to go to for your birthday?”
“You could do that?” She questioned with an eyebrow raised.
I nodded. “I know a guy – a couple actually.” I responded vaguely.
“Good to know. I’ll be sure to get back to you with the band of my choice.”
“We better hurry if we want good seats.” Morgan called to both of us as she walked out of her room. Elle was already at the door.
“She’s right.” Sami told me, hoisting herself out of her seat.
I was about to make an excuse to stay behind when we heard a knock on the door.
“I’ll get that.” I rushed to the door.
“Good Morning, Ladies.” Milo greeted, walking in.
“I can’t tell if you’re being ironic. You better not be. It’s too early to hit you.” Sami yawned.
“Yes, there actually is a time frame when she won’t hit people.” Morgan added lightly.
“I’m going to go steal Watson’s coffee. I finished mine too quickly. Coming, Mom?”
“If I don’t, you’ll be late.” The two of them left our suite after waving goodbye.
As soon as they were gone, Ellen waltzed up to Milo and I with her signature knowing look and her arms crossed.
“When are you going public?”
“We’re not –“
“You’re not secretly fooling around?” She knew the answer to her question.
“How do you – ” Milo started to ask.
“How could I not know? ‘Good Morning’ and ‘Goodnight’ texts, stolen glances, closer casual standing proximity — I could go on for hours. We don’t have hours because we’re going to be seeing my dream husband in concert tonight. Ry and I want to put off saying ‘I told you so’ until after Camp Artsy. We want to group together and couples get denied.”
“Being open about this isn’t something we’re itching to do. Why does everyone need to know?” I replied.
“You’ll change your tune come prom or the moment one of you gets asked out by someone else. We’re on the same page for now. That’s all I wanted to ensure. Go ahead and kiss. I know that’s why he’s here. We need to leave soon. Ry’s holding seats. He’ll fill them with girls that are desperately trying to get his attention if we don’t get there in a timely manner.” She turned around and started texting.
I turned to Milo and he put his arms around my waist and lowered his lips to mine. I placed my hand on the side of his face to deepen our kiss. When he pulled his mouth way from mine, he flashed me a crooked smirk. I nibbled on my bottom lip, savoring the tingles. He stole a final quick kiss.
“You’re addicted.” I teased.
“Shamelessly.” He retorted.
“Time’s up. Out.” Elle opened the door.
The three of us made our way to the school auditorium. Nick, Morgan, Sami and Finn were all seated in the row behind Ryan and three girls in the grade below us.
“Thanks for helping me, girls. My friends are here.” He looked at the girls and offered them a swoon-worthy smile.
They stood up and exited the row, waving and blushing as he winked at them on their way out.
Milo and I entered the row first. Elle sat beside me. Ryan was in the seat beside her on the aisle.
“You’re disgusting.” Elle told him.
“Yet you’re still teaming up with me.” He looked to her with a wicked smirk.
“Game recognizes game. We’re going to be unstoppable. That doesn’t mean I don’t think you’re an arrogant bastard who would benefit from being slapped.”
“Kinky.” He raised his eyebrows.
Sami leaned forward and swatted him on the back of the head.
“See. Perfect team.” Ellen smiled.
“How are we going to be together? They’re chosen for us.” I asked.
“Finn hacked into the computer system and put us on the same team. He did his job well. He got his coffee. We’re good to go.”
The meeting started shortly after we arrived. After a few routine announcements from our vice-principal, our headmaster took the stage.
“As you all know, Camp Artsy is right around the corner. During our weeklong endeavor outdoors, you will be learning lessons in teamwork and organization while earning your physical education credits. We have a great prize for this year’s winners from each grade — spring break in New York City, all expenses paid!” Headmaster Lawrence announced, standing at the podium.
The crowd of students responded positively, all wanting their shot at the prize. I remained quiet, New York being the last place I wanted to be. The more details he gave, the more I rethought my reaction. It might feel like a completely different place staying in a hotel with my best friends.
Milo placed his arm on our shared armrest, causing us to touch. Goosebumps appeared and I became alarmingly aware of his presence. I wanted to hold his hand. He brushed his fingers over mine before settling them back into place on the armrest. The gesture set my already heightened nerve-endings on fire. I tried to hide his effect on me by shifting a bit in my seat. I looked over at him, silently asking him why he did that. He winked and offered me a soft smirk. I subtly shook my head at him, fighting back a smile of my own.
The seniors got to manually select their teams. They simply sent their team captains up to announce their team name and their rosters. As juniors, we were the next grade to select teams. When Ryan’s name was announced, we all knew it was show time. He stood up with his signature smirk. He sauntered up to the stage as the crowd cheered. He walked onto the stage as if he owned it and shook the headmaster’s hand.
“Are you ready, Ryan?”
“Absolutely.” He replied into the microphone. A group of underclassmen girls started screaming for him. He chuckled smoothly and blew a kiss to them in acknowledgement.
I looked over at Elle. She had her arms crossed and rolled her eyes.
“Is that for him or them?” I asked her playfully.
“Both, but I’m not actively complaining. That attention-whore’s my key to a win.” She narrowed her eyes at him.
I giggled. She looked over at me. “Don’t laugh. We can’t give him what he wants.” She fought off a smile.
Ryan continued to interact with the audience as he was given his team roster.
“The people privileged enough to be on my team are: –“
He unfolded the sheet of paper inside the envelope. He read it to himself and smirked.
“Watch. He’s going to have an anecdote for each name. They’re going to eat it up.” Elle predicted.
“Whoever said nice guys finish last was wrong. Nicky just dominated. Happy to have you, Mr. Monroe–” He announced into the microphone. The audience applauded. The girls cheered as if he just told them they won the lottery.
“So predictable.” Elle shook her head.
“But you love to be right.” I smiled over at her.
“I do.” She fought off a smile.
“For my first lady, I have none other than the always lovely, Elle Woollard.” He said, looking directly at her.
She shook her head at him, fighting off the smile that begged to creep onto her face as the clapping and cheering returned.
“Can’t be #1 without my wingman. Give it up for Milo De Luca.”
I smiled over at Milo and nudged him playfully.
For the next one, Ryan cleared his throat and got close to the mike. “Samilla. Do we have a SAMILLA Elkins here?” He looked around the audience.
She cupped her hands around her mouth to amplify her voice. “SLEEP WITH ONE EYE OPEN!”
He chuckled at her retort. “I’m kidding. Love you, Sam. I even have the Robin to your Batman on my team — Finn Watson, ladies and gentlemen.”
“KAY, WE’RE COOL!” She called back.
“I know the team sweetheart award will be going to Morgan Cohen.”
Ryan’s demeanor drastically changed when he read the final girl’s name he had selected. His smile fell from his face and he moved into the microphone with complete disappointment written all over his face.
“Anna-Lizbeth Simpson.” He stated as if her name itself left a foul taste in his mouth.
When everyone started clapping, my heart sank and Elle shot to her feet.
“She’s not allowed to be on our team!” She announced when it came to a stop.
“Ms. Woollard, there has to be probable cause for a drawn name to be dismissed from a team. You know that.”
“Chapter 13, section 14 of the student bylaws reads: ‘if two students have dated or are currently doing so, they are ineligible to participate at Camp Artsy on the same team’. I have it pulled up right here on my phone, Sir.” She recited, holding up her cellphone as evidence.
Following her lead, Ryan moved back to the microphone.”Dr. L, Anna and Milo dated. They broke up four months ago. Seven long, camp-firey nights in the majestic wilderness might be the spark they need to rekindle their relationship. I’m a lover, I really am, but there’s no place for that in competition. I can’t run a tight ship with that kind of distraction. The rule exists for a reason.” He pleaded his case.
“I was not aware of their coupling. Thank you for bringing that to my attention, Ms. Woollard. You are absolutely correct, Mr. Stephens. Is there a female in the junior class you would like to request?”
Elle sat down with a subtle smirk.
“Yes. Nothing rounds out a dream team like a newbie eager to prove themselves. Prove me right, Izzie Hales.”
I exhaled and looked over at Elle. “That was a nail-biter. I thought you said Finn did his job.”
“He did. All of us being together without intervention would’ve raised some red flags. We needed a redo to make it appear that we were assembled by chance and good fortune. He put you on the team Anna wants to be on. The switch works in everyone’s favor.” She shrugged.
“We’re good at what we do.”
“Now that your group is assembled, please announce the group name you have selected.” H.M. Lawrence requested one last task of Ryan.
The most devious of smirks crept onto his face.
“Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t –” Elle chanted under the breath.
He looked directly at her. “The Ry Guys.”
She narrowed her eyes at him and he beamed.
“Did he really just name a team after himself?” I stifled back laughter.
“Yes. Yes, he did.” She growled as everyone else applauded.
Ryan returned to our row and sat down beside her. “Mission Accomplished.” He announced, smiling over at her cheekily.
“This is not YOUR team. It’s ours. As in you AND me. We agreed. Same team = co-captains. ‘Dream team’ — that was the deal. It doesn’t really look like you grasped that concept seeing as you named us after YOURSELF, you narcissistic son of a bitch!” She snapped at him in a hushed tone.
“I’ve agreed to go along with your idea of preparing two set lists for the talent show. There is literally no point to that, but I’m taking one for the team.”
“Right, the one you named after yourself?”
They continued to bicker like an old married couple for the remainder of the meeting.
I spent the remainder of the day in the library, studying for finals. I was doing well in all of my courses. I didn’t want to risk ruining the nice averages I had going by bombing the last tests of the semester. I returned to my suite at 5pm to get ready.
“Knock, knock. Is it alright if I sit in here? Elle is literally bouncing with excitement. I’m getting dizzy watching her.”
Milo was leaning on my doorway, looking rather handsome in a T-shirt, jeans, and a hoodie.
“Sure, no problem, I’d appreciate the company, actually.” I flashed him a smile in the mirror as I resumed straightening my hair.
He shut my door.
“What have you been up to all day?” He lounged on my bed.
“Homework. Can you believe it?”
“No. How did you survive? There might be hope for me after all.”
I fought off a smile. “What did you do?”
“Skateboarded, mostly. If anyone asks, I was doing it to study for our math final.”
“Okay, what’s the daily accident and injury report?”
“I didn’t have any?” He oddly enunciated the sentence to sound like a question.
I turned around to look at him pointedly. He smiled sheepishly and averted his gaze.
“Are you going to tell what you did and where you got hurt? Or are you going to make me find out for myself?” I placed my hands on my hips.
“And how do you plan on doing that?” He challenged with an eyebrow raised.
“Okay, you asked for it.” I shrugged easily before launching myself at him. Once I pinned him beneath me on my bed, I started examining him for injuries.
“Izzie, I’m fine! There’s nothing wrong with me!” He complained.
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
I found it odd that he appeared to be free of any new injuries. I was about to admit defeat, until I grabbed his arm, slid down his sleeve, and revealed a large bandage on his forearm.
“Tell me or I’m going to Miller.”
“I was skating down the hill by the administration offices. I had to swerve at the last minute to avoid running down a group of freshman. It hardly bled. It shouldn’t count.”
“Milo, your ‘minor’ scrape goes from your wrist to your elbow. We’re in Miller’s office every other day. I know what you’re capable of. You should know better than to hide things like this from me by now. I can’t make you feel better if you don’t tell me you’re hurt.”
I saw an unfamiliar emotion flash in his eyes as a warm smile crept onto his face.
“Kiss it and make it better?” He poked out his bottom lip.
I giggled and rolled my eyes before complying.
I scrunched up my face in confusion.
“You missed.” He pulled my face down to his.
Our kisses were slow and sensual. He tangled one of his hands in my hair and kept the other securely on my leg. Getting caught up in the sensations, I moved my pelvis against his. He moaned into my mouth. It sparked a frenzy. We exhorted excess energy trying to make ourselves and each other feel good.
I groaned when my cellphone started ringing. I reached over to my nightstand. He kept his hands on my thighs.
“Hello?” I attempted to catch my breath.
“Did you just run up a flight of stairs or something?” Audrey teased.
“No, just sitting on my bed.” I blushed as I ran a hand through my messy hair.
“With Milo?” She sang.
I felt myself flush even redder.
“You better not embarrass me. What phone are you using? I don’t recognize the number.”
Milo looked up at me with an eyebrow raised.
I covered the bottom of my phone. “It’s my sister.”
He leaned up and started kissing my neck. I closed my eyes and bit down on my bottom lip.
“I’m using the phone in Everett’s dressing room. The stadium has awful cell reception. We sent a limo to pick you up. It is outside now. Elle will not be disappointed.”
“She’s so excited already. Don’t break her. She’s my best friend.” I struggled to regulate my voice.
“We’ll try not to. We’ll be on our best behavior. We can’t wait to see you and meet your friends.”
“They’re excited too.”
“Love you, Izzie bee.”
“I love you too.”
“See you soon.” She blew me a kiss and hung up.
As soon as I put down my phone, pulled Milo’s face to mine and kissed him deeply.
“That was really mean, but I don’t have time to get you back. Our limo’s outside. We have to go.” I kissed him once more before climbing off the bed.
I brushed my hair and put on my coat. I herded my friends out to the limousine. The hour-long ride to Boston was a fun one. We talked nonstop and Milo and I were able to hold hands in the dark.
Describing what Elle did as screaming when Fleeting Moment walked on stage would’ve been the understatement of the century. Morgan was smart enough to make sure Sami was far away from her. There was no telling who she would’ve punched if Elle did that in her ear. Morgan, Elle, and I sang along to all the songs. The boys and Sami had fun too. Ryan flirted with girls around us. Milo danced with me. Nick became a Fleeting Moment fan. Finn and Sami laughed at the meltdowns the fans were having and reenacted their favorites. The concert itself was nothing short of amazing; it was even better with them.
It took no time at all for us to switch gears and head backstage. Elle looked as if she might burst from excitement at any moment. I couldn’t help but giggle as I linked arms with her. We made it through security with ease. We followed the hallway to his dressing room. On our way there, we ran into the band’s manager.
“Hey, Izzie. Long time, no see. How are you feeling?” He asked me kindly.
I cringed internally, knowing he was asking about my recovery.
“I’m doing great. I came back here to visit Aud and Ev with friends from school. How was being on tour with my pregnant sister?” I offered him a smile.
“Audrey was a dream. Everett was the one who made demands.” He replied lightly.
“You know Ev. He can’t function unless he knows Aud is taken care off.”
“Don’t I know it. I’ve got to take this, but it was good seeing you.” He excused himself to take a phone call.
Once we finally reached the door with Everett’s name on it, I knocked and waited for someone to answer.
Audrey answered the door. A huge smile made its way across her face and she looked like she was trying so hard not to engulf me in a constricting hug as she took in my appearance.
“Welcome, everyone. I’m Audrey. Everett will be out of the shower soon. The rest of the band will come in as soon as they’re done raiding craft services.” She gestured us inside.
“I told them last week, Aud. It’s okay to treat me like your sister.”
“Thank you! I didn’t know how long I could resist hugging you.” She extended her arms.
I hugged her as close as we could manage.
“Honey, I’m home!” Everett called to Audrey playfully. He was walking out of the ensuite bathroom, freshly showered and changed, drying his hair with a towel.
“I know. I’m the one that sent you in there.” She smiled over at him.
“You wouldn’t let me touch you, so mean.” He teased as he wrapped his arms around her waist and leaned down to kiss her.
“Now we need to behave. We have guests.” She nodded over to us.
“What?” He looked over at us for the first time.
“Sorry, guys. Blame my rudeness on Aud for distracting me. Thank you so much for coming to my concert. What are your names?” He pulled away from her.
“Thanks for playing along, but I already told them.” I smiled.
“Well, in that case, bring it in for a hug, Iz. You know better than that.” He walked over and hugged me.
When I pulled away, he ruffled my hair the way he’s been doing since I was little. I fought back a smile and swatted him away.
“Iz has told us about all of you. Aud and I are really excited to meet her new friends.”
“You’re even better in person.” Elle looked at him, starry eyed.
He chuckled. “You must be Elle. I have a present for you.”
“Really?” Her eyes widened.
He walked over to the far side of the room to retrieve a guitar. He returned to her.
“Happy birthday.” He offered her a guitar with the signatures of all five band members.
“Is this for real?” She could hardly find her voice, staring at him in awe.
“I was told you’re a big fan.”
“For the longest time. You’re amazing. Is this really mine to keep?”
“I think it’d be a little mean if I teased you with this and took it back.” He transferred it to her. She took it, beaming.
The rest of the band came in with sandwiches hanging out of their mouths. Morgan and Elle went into full fan mode and threw every question imaginable their way.
As they occupied the girls, Milo took my hand into his. I fought off a smile. We usually couldn’t hold hands. I loved the feeling of it, being close to him in public.
“While they’re doing that, I’m going to take a guess at who the rest of you are. If I’m completely wrong, I apologize in advance.” Audrey took a moment to study all of them.
“Ryan, did you have fun with the fangirls?” She looked to him.
His signature devious smirk crept onto his face. “They were alright, but they’ve got nothing on you.”
“You’re cute, but I’m happily married and eight months pregnant, not to mention the age difference.”
“To be called cute by you is more than enough.” He replied smoothly.
“He has a picture of you on his phone. He thinks of you often.” Sami announced with a devious smirk.
“Dammit, Sami! Why do you always step in on my game?” He cried in outrage.
“The same reason I do; it’s fun.” Finn shrugged.
The rest of us laughed.
“It’s nice to meet you Finn and Sami. I will definitely stay on your good sides.” She smiled at the two of them.
“You must be Morgan. I have so many great things about you. Thanks for keeping my little Isa in line for me while she’s at SMA.” Audrey moved on.
“She’s made a great addition to our dorm suite. We’re really lucky to have her.” She smiled at her.
“You’re so sweet. I have to hug you.” Aud gave her a quick hug.
“Hi, Nick. What instrument do you play? ”
“Guitar and bass, mostly.” He blushed.
“You’re so shy. It’s cute.” She hugged him.
“Am I allowed to request a hug? Nicky and Mom both got one.” Ryan called to her.
She fought off a smile. “Don’t get me in trouble.” She gave him a quick hug.
“Iz, you didn’t tell me Milo was your boyfriend.”
My cheeks flushed. “He’s not. You promised you wouldn’t embarrass me.” I removed my hand from his.
“I’m sorry. Misread whatever this is.” She gestured to the two of us.
“Where are you from, Milo? Iz tells me you’re from overseas.”
She subtly smiled in my direction when she heard his accent. My face got even hotter.
“I forgive you for hitting Izzie with your skateboard. You’ve yet to drop her in a lift. I’m always terrified when I see her do those. Keep her safe.” She told him.
“I’ll do everything I can.”
She smiled at him. “That’s what I like to hear, especially in your case. You have a very nice voice.”
“I know, right?” Elle agreed, popping into their conversation.
Aud looked to her. “We need to exchange phone numbers. I hear you’re the person who always knows what’s going on. I need updates.”
“It would be my honor.” She placed her hand on her chest.
“Are you and baby hungry?” Everett put his arm around Aud’s waist.
He kissed the side of her face. “Would you guys like to get dinner with us?” He looked to me and my friends.
“Yes!” Elle cheered before anyone else could answer.
The fifteen of us left the stadium and went to a local restaurant. They managed to remain relatively under the radar. The band had to take a couple pictures and sign a few autographs, but it was nothing in comparison to what usually happens when they go out. All of us had a good time. Elle was officially able to say she met Everett Woods. She even got pictures and an autographed guitar. But more importantly, she got to know him as my brother-in-law, of my friends did, and I was pleased with how well my worlds meshed together.
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