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Project Peach

By @shantays

Chapter One

It is a Wednesday at lunch and Peyton is telling me how much she loves kissing and that I should really try it sometime.

“It’s just, like—well, you wouldn’t understand. Obviously. But, also, no offense?”

“Full offense, actually. Virgins take everything very personally,” I answer in a bored tone.

She rolls her eyes and sips on her can of Sprite, out of a straw no less. After a few annoyingly loud slurps, she pushes the can out of the way and lays her head atop her now folded hands, peering up at me.

“What?”

“Alice, you’re my best friend. And you’re beautiful. But you’re tragically awkward around other people besides me and Reagan.”

“As much as teenage hormones would suggest, I’m not exactly looking to hook up as soon as possible so…”

“No, just like, you need to be kissed, you know? It’s the best.”

“You’ve mentioned that.”

“I’m serious.”

Just then, Reagan came loping up to the table, carrying a tray of tomato slices, cubed cheese, and a grape soda. If I was tragically awkward, he was terminally awkward. Like, stage four and everything.

“Greetings,” he says, setting his tray down next to mine. As he lowers himself onto the bench, I notice he is wearing a galaxy print t-shirt under his favorite jean jacket, bright orange corduroys, and big black combat boots. If you didn’t know better, you’d just think he was an artsy Heath Ledger type—but everyone knew better.

Peyton sighs again, turning her attention over to Reagan. “I’ve hatched Operation: Get Alice True Love’s Kiss. You in?”

“Most definitely.” He nods while nibbling on a cheese cube like a literal mouse. His hair is even dyed a silver-blonde color to match that of his idol’s—Gregg Johansson, the lead singer of Pescatarian Summer. Peyton has yet to listen to any of their music, and I have at least attempted, though I am not so sure I am into the whole nerd rock genre.

“Who said I wanted to be kissed? It’s perfectly normal to be sixteen and kissless. Reagan, please don’t agree to this.” I flicked my gaze at him again, eyes pleading. “You’ve never been kissed either—and Janelle Marsh in second grade so does not count.”

He shrugs and a smirk tugs at his lips. “Does Finn Greiner count?”

“NO WAY!” Peyton shrieks at the same time I whisper-shout “YOU DID NOT!” We both stare at him, wide-eyed, as he pops a cube into his mouth, whole. His eyes dance in our collective surprise.

“It is entirely possible that I dreamt it, but then he must have dreamt the exact same thing. Figaro Pavillion, last Sunday, eight p.m. Finn Zachariah Greiner, in the flesh, ladies and gents—****, it was as magnificent as the influx of conspiracy theories surrounding the moon landing and JFK’s assassination.” With that, he sits back on the edge of the bench, pride gleaming from every pore on his body. I all but cough up my sandwich, unsure whether to be happy for him or worried because Finn Greiner was absolutely not out. How Reagan managed that bordered on insanity, even if he had had a crush on him on-and-off since eighth grade when he came out to Peyton and me as bi.

“How are you only telling us this now?” Peyton demands, clutching her Sprite can like it’s the only thing anchoring her to reality. “Are we or aren’t we best friends?”

“I like keeping a sense of suspense in our friendship. Really creates some of that high school drama you so love.”

“Suspense does not exist when we have literally zero idea that something suspenseful could be happening.” Peyton crosses her arms and purses her lips. “What gives, dude? And when the hell did you and Finn Greiner even like—how?”

Reagan lifts a hand, giving pause. He clears his throat and his Adam’s apple bobs. “Let me tell you the story of the overly done, superbly cliché—and yet. God, I could go on and on. Ahem.

“One bright, chilly day two weeks ago, the popular student council leading man asked to copy one handsome video club vice president’s notes in AP Lang, fumbling over himself with a weak explanation of “I forgot my contacts” and thus not being able to see the board. I, being as un-studious as I am, hadn’t copied a single word down of Mr. Yawn Fest’s PowerPoint, so I instead offered to text him a picture of the notes—this, which I got from Jayci Porter later on—if he wanted to give me his number. Into the DMs I flew, and the rest, ladies, is history.” Reagan sits back and smiles in spite of himself. Peyton and I exchange a long look.

“The rest is not history at all because that literally tells us nothing,” Peyton says, flicking a piece of cheese off his plate. “Asking for notes in class does not directly lead to making out at ******* Figaro Pavilion.”

“Especially when popular student council leading man is very much in the closet—apparently, anyway—and has barely spoken to you, ever,” I add. “And, you know, you’re… you.”

“So kind of you to say, Alice. No wonder you’re kissless.”

“Hey, I’m embarrassingly awkward too. This is exactly my point!”

“I’m not awkward. I just make people feel awkward.”

“Okay, but isn’t that kinda the same thing? I don’t really know what you—”

At this, Peyton huffs mildly and we both go quiet. Between the three of us, she is what one would call “The HBIC”, though Reagan and I wouldn’t call her that to her face, despite the idea that she may actually like being called that. Basically, she’s the main instigator of the group, the one who’s the least awkward, the one who’s the most outgoing, the one who’s always in some sort of relationship. Without Peyton, Reagan and I would be helpless, hopeless, and probably just less of everything in general. She can be dramatic, obnoxious, moody, way too extroverted—and yet, she is my best friend. Alice Bulloxy cannot exist without her Peyton Van Meyer, and even though one Reagan Saars didn’t join our little clan until middle school, he is very much our defining third member. How we got along without him before we never quite remember. He’s the drummer to my bass and Peyton’s lead vocals. But enough with the metaphors—we’re an odd threesome that actually works quite perfectly together, for the most part, anyway.

“Just spill already.” Peyton gestures at Reagan with an eye roll, all the while absentmindedly plucking the breading off of her chicken nuggets.

“The details leading up to it are so boring, though,” Reagan groans. He glances at me. “And I don’t know if Alice is up for the PG-13 rating that I would definitely attribute to this story. You know, in the 70s, it’d be a straight up R.”

“For Christ’s sake, man. Spit. It. Out.”

“Okay, chill. Here is a short ‘n’ sweet version, for Alice’s sake.” He domes his fingers over his tray. “So me and Finnegan—that’s his full name, by the way, not that I call him that, but I know, you know? —Anyway, we were texting about classes after I sent him the pictures of the notes and he’s eventually like ‘hey, is there any way I could borrow your trig textbook, my little sister spilled mac and cheese all over mine’ and I wanted to be like ‘OMG WHAT’S YOUR SISTER’S NAME AND HOW OLD IS SHE AND WHAT’S HER FAVORITE PIXAR MOVIE’ but alas, I managed something like ‘no problem, when do you need it’ and he goes ‘tonight if possible’ and I went into a small coma—luckily I came to within a few minutes because he had texted again ‘I hope I’m not being annoying haha’ and just the fact that he’s a ‘haha’ person instead of an ‘lol’ person? I mean? He’s honestly the Chris Evans of Chapman High School, I’m not even kidding.”

I can’t help but smile at the adorable giddiness in Reagan’s voice, his eyes lighting up with each word.

“So obviously I meet up with him like a half hour after that—a la Figaro Pavilion, because it’s halfway between our neighborhoods—and I bring the textbook, even though a part of me was thinking he didn’t really need it—of course, he did, but also, when I gave it to him, he didn’t just leave. He was just standing there, leaning against this picnic table and I was looking at him, and I was thinking ‘is this really happening?’ and he goes ‘you’re a nice guy, Reagan’ and my face turned into the pits of Hades but I said ‘so are you’, because I’m stupid—but then he pulls away from the table and sighs sort-of thoughtfully, like he’s contemplating his next move. Then he says ‘you’re bi, right?’ and I’m like ‘seems that way’ and he laughs—laughs—and says ‘good’ and then he kisses me. Hallelujah, I’ve been saved.” Dreamily, he looks around as if Finn will appear out of nowhere and plant a fresh one on him. I look around too, forgetting that Finn doesn’t even have the same lunch hour.

Peyton nods slowly, pursing her lips, moving her brows. “Well, ****. That was pretty beautiful, Reagan. Where can I get me a Finn Greiner?”

“You were literally just talking about making out with Adrian Kowalski five minutes ago,” I point out. To Reagan I say, “I’m happy for you, but I am also very protective, and I hope that Finn isn’t setting you up.”

“Setting me up for what, might I ask?”

I bite my lip, unsure what I even meant. “I don’t know… I just—don’t want him trying to hide whatever it is that you guys are. Just since he’s not out or anything.”

“Don’t worry, Al. You can totally be his beard.” He snorts a condescending chuckle and I grit my teeth, as if my looking out for him is just some joke. I may be kissless, but I’m not clueless. I could tell him that, even, but he wouldn’t care. He’s already floated off into the very depths of Finn Greiner with the Good Hair Land. Peyton even seems in a daze and it’s obvious the rest of the lunch conversation will be a moot point. My logic and brains doth not conquer teenage infatuation.

Peyton finishes her Sprite and chicken nuggets—sans breading—as Reagan pops cube after cube of cheese in his mouth, forgetting about the tomato slices. I know he will take the unopened can of grape soda to Mrs. Harrington’s class, who will lecture him about bringing food into class yet again, and I will be stuck listening to him complain while we copy each other’s homework (which is more or less him copying my homework, and me getting nothing but puppy dog eyes from him). Somehow I always give in, maybe because Chemistry is also my least favorite subject, or maybe because it is part of the silent best friend pact. Somehow when you’re best friends with someone, you do things you don’t necessarily like, if only because you know if they had to or were able to, they’d do the same for you.

When the bell rings, Peyton crunches up her Sprite can in her fist, tossing it and her foam tray into the trash bin near the cafeteria doors.

“Is it seventh hour yet?” she asks with an overly dramatic yawn. “Don’t forget—we’re commencing Stage One of Operation: Get Alice True Love’s Kiss after school. I’ll meet you guys in the South Lot.”

“Um, when did we decide this?” I peep, pulling out my chem book from my bag. Beside me, Reagan is scribbling my homework answers onto his paper, using Peyton’s back as a desk. She’s far from amused.

“Dude!” She jerks away from him and faces us, now walking backwards. “I decided this, and it’s what’s best for you, okay? Seriously. Don’t you want to see what all the hype’s about? Don’t you want to feel like what you see in the movies?”

“The movies lie,” Reagan says. He now has his assignment sheet pressed against the wall outside Mrs. Harrington’s room. “The real deal is either way better than what the movies make it out to be, or way worse. Them’s the facts.”

Peyton rolls her eyes—her signature pass at ending a conversation—and turns back down the hall toward the staircase. “John Hughes is rolling in his grave right now,” she throws over the din of lockers clashing shut and kids rushing off to class. She smiles and blows a kiss as she turns the corner.

“So, how does it feel to be Peyton Van Meyer’s latest project?” Reagan snickers, handing over my homework. We cross over into the classroom and take our seats near the door.

“She’s done this before,” I sigh, smoothing out my paper on my desk. “She gets in these moods, anytime she’s all googly-eyed over some guy, and it’s sweet she wants me to feel like that too—to have what she has, or whatever, but it’s different for her. We’re different. We don’t even have the same taste. And, as she so politely put it—I’m tragically awkward. And I’m perfectly fine being single. God, she acts like if you haven’t had a boyfriend by the time you’re a junior in high school, you might as well live the rest of your life as an abstinent hermit and die alone.”

Reagan raises his eyebrows and mimes taking out a pipe from between his lips. “Tell me how you really feel.”

“I mean—I love her. But she drives me crazy.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

Mrs. Harrington enters the room, stuffing her lunch pale into her tote bag, and at that moment, Reagan seizes the opportunity to pop open his soda. The loud crack whips her head over to our side of the room, and beside me Kelsee Paulsen stifles a giggle. She’s definitely had a crush on Reagan since at least the beginning of the year when he asked to borrow her red pen. Even though his awkwardness tends to stretch farther and wider than mine, he still maintains a slightly higher status in the junior class, perhaps because of his attractiveness.

“Reagan, please don’t tell me you just opened that in my classroom.” Her voice is the voice of someone at their wit’s end, and I feel the cool sweat of embarrassment overcome me, even though it has absolutely nothing to do with me.

“My doctor told me I’ve been severely dehydrated lately,” he replies coolly. “I have to drink fluids all throughout the day or else I could probably die.”

“Mr. Saars,” she groans. “Trash. Now.”

“My funeral,” he mutters, dropping the can into the bin next to my desk. A few more students trickle in just as the bell rings and as she wriggles her mouse to turn on the SmartBoard, Reagan leans up over his desk and taps my shoulder.

“Start making a list of all the boys you want to kiss, including celebrities,” he whispers. “It’ll help with the process.”

I make a face, all but ignoring him. “You’re really in on this?”

He shrugs. “In my free time, when I’m not engaging in secret trysts with one Finn Greiner—I’m so in.”

“You both are ruthless. Just let me be kissless in peace.”

“If you don’t make a list, I will. And I’ll put 2014 John Travolta at number one, I swear to God.” He pulls out a fresh piece of paper, and we are completely ignoring Mrs. Harrington telling us to open our books to page 324, and I am blushing for absolutely no reason, and Reagan is grinning like an idiot.

“Fine,” I snap, my voice low. “I’ll give you one name. One.”

“That a girl, Al. Okay, go ahead.”

I duck my head and whisper, “Domhnall Gleeson.”

He stares at me. “Who?”

“Domhnall Gleeson. You know him—he’s in Star Wars, The Revenant… Redheaded Irish guy? He was in like, two, of the Harry Potter movies? Oh, and Ex Machina.” I glance up at the board where Mrs. Harrington is lost in a story about isotopes, oblivious to us, and almost everyone else in the class. Kelsee is doodling in her note margins, and behind her Zavien Baez is Snapchatting.

Recognition registers in his face and it slowly moves into a sly grin. “Okay, Bulloxy. I see it—yeah. Definitely. Ex Machina—now there’s a great cast. Good choice.”

For the rest of the hour, we somehow manage to stay awake as Mrs. Harrington drones on about isotopes and atomic mass, moving through a slideshow that looks like it has been made in the early 2000s on a computer still running the archaic Windows ‘95. Reagan doesn’t hound me anymore about the list, but I have five texts from Peyton when the next bell rings and I take out my phone, the last of which reads:

STAGE TWO WILL BEGIN @ HALLOWEEN PARTY @ BENNY FAULKNER’S HOUSE NEXT FRIDAY. JUST AN FYI SO BE THINKING OF YOUR COSTUME!!!

I don’t bother to reply. 

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