The fifth chapter of my YA romance novel, The Gossip Web
LATER THAT AFTERNOON, Trace approached me before third period. I was at my locker, checking my reflection in the mirror that hung on the inside of the metal door. It was never my idea to put a mirror in there. I could really care less what I looked in between classes, but since Heidi and I shared it she insisted that we get one. Knowing how Heidi operates, I agreed. If she couldn’t check to see if her face was perfect 24/7, she would go completely insane and her whole world would end. Besides, letting Heidi decorate it proved to be beneficial. Not only was it clean, neat, and didn’t reek of gym socks, but the people who passed by always gave us props for its dazzling appeal.
While I applied a small amount of cherry ChapStick to my lips, I watched as he strolled towards me, looking hotter than humanly possible. I almost swooned on the spot. After making eye contact with him through the mirror, I panicked and closed the door swiftly, overlooking the hand that was resting on the shelf.
“Ouch!” I yelled loudly, pulling my throbbing hand out of the locker. I tried my best not to cry as I rubbed it, but I couldn’t stop a few tears from slyly slipping out of the corner of my eye and down my cheek. It hurt like hell and I cursed myself for being such a klutz.
“Are you okay?” Trace asked, sounding concerned.
Trying to ignore the pain from my crippled left hand, I mumbled, “Yeah. I just slammed my hand with the locker door.”
He grinned at me and chuckled, “You really know how to grab people’s attention don‘t you, Jade?”
Distracted by the aching from my hand (and his manly appeal), I barely heard what he had said. “What are you talking about?” I asked him.
Trace’s eyes shifted left and right, and I too looked in both directions. I grimaced when I noticed people were staring at me, pointing and laughing. I felt like déjà vu had just slapped me in the face, and I was forced to re-encounter the same embarrassment from the day before.
I sighed and glanced back at him. “Why can’t they pick on someone else?” I growled. “Why does it always have to be me?”
“Maybe because you don’t stand up for yourself,” Trace replied frankly.
I narrowed my eyes at that statement. “How can I stand up for myself when I have Gloria breathing fire down my neck every chance she gets?”
“Don’t let it get to you.” He was so nonchalant about it, and it made me feel even worse.
“Are you kidding me? Yesterday, she told everyone that I —” My voice switched off and I closed my mouth hastily, not wanting to rehash yesterday’s terrible experience — especially in front of him.
Trace frowned when it dawned on him. “I know, Jade, but it’s no big deal. You and I both know it isn’t true. It’s just gossip.”
I glanced at the floor, pained and amazed that he could act so inconsiderate about what she had done to me. “Right. It’s all in my head,” I replied weakly.
He could detect the grief in my voice, which is why he asked me, “What is it, Jade? What’s wrong?”
Giving him a long, cold stare before shoving past him, I tried to forget about what had just happened between us as I walked down the hall. My face heated in anger and I realized I couldn’t get over what he had said. It was no big deal? How the hell would he know? Did he have Gloria devising new ways to make his life a living hell? No! He was popular. I wasn’t. He had absolutely no idea what I had to go through every day!
“Jade, wait!” Trace called out as he ran up behind me. I quickened my pace, hoping to avoid what ever he planned on saying, but I had no such luck. He grabbed hold of my arm and I froze from the touch of his hand. I was so angry at him that I had to resist the urge to smack his head.
Trace gazed steadily at my face, confusion swimming inside his blue eyes. “Will you stop trying to run away from me, Jade, and just tell me what‘s wrong?”
“No,” I replied sharply. “Let go of my arm.”
He shook his head. “Not until you tell me why you’re so upset.”
“It doesn’t matter. You won’t understand.”
“Try me,” he replied softly.
I sighed, irritated by his persistence. “You just don’t get it, do you?” Then, I felt my anger bubble up, and I couldn’t hold back what I was feeling. I narrowed my eyes, and my temper caught him off guard as I spat, “You obviously have no idea what it’s like to be me. You, with your popularity and thousands of friends! You haven’t got a clue as to what I have to go through each and every day. I’m not like you, Trace! I’m the girl everyone makes fun of and judges. How can you think it’d be so easy to just ignore the people who laugh and humiliate me, when you’ve never had anyone bring you down for being you?”
Raising his eyebrows at me, he replied, “A thousand friends? Don’t you think that’s a little exaggerated?”
Frustrated by his sarcasm, I shouted, “It’s not funny, Trace! All I’ve ever wanted was to be accepted---to know that it’s okay to just be myself. I’ll never have that. People treat me like dirt just because I’m not a clone of Gloria Malone!”
Without a word, Trace gently placed a hand upon my shoulder. My face burned from his touch, and tiny butterflies fluttered around inside my stomach nervously. I stared shyly at him, and my eyes grew wide with shock when he pulled me into his arms. I simply stood there, dumfounded by Trace’s warm embrace. Being held by him this way was like a dream come true, and I didn’t want the moment to end.
Trace’s voice tickled my ear as he said, “You should be proud of yourself for not wanting to be like Gloria.”
My heart beat rapidly at his remark; I was surprised to hear him say such a thing. “Why?” I whispered. “No one else feels that way.”
“I do, Jade. I’ve always admired you for staying true to yourself.”
“Really?” I couldn’t strain any other word out of my throat.
Unfortunately, he dropped his hold on me to look at my face. “Of course! Why do you think I want to hang around you all of the time? You’re not like every other girl. You are truly unique, Jade Cannon.”
I should’ve been happy — overjoyed even, that Trace Gibson was saying such lovely things to me. But in all honesty, as glad as I was to hear him say what I had forever longed to hear, I still couldn’t forget the past. Trace had hurt me too deeply before. Maybe he didn’t remember, or he chose not to … but it didn‘t matter either way. I remembered, and the past still haunted me. His betrayal still hurt me.
“You didn’t always feel that way,” I said faintly.
“What do you mean?” Trace mumbled. He avoided my stare, but I saw his guilt. It was there, within his blue eyes. He knew what I was referring to.
As I studied him, I realized I was looking at the face of the boy who broke my heart back in ninth grade. He had that same expression of guilt on his face that day too; the day he decided to choose his newfound popularity over our friendship. The memories of that year flooded back into my head, and I was forced to remember how cruel he had treated me; how awful it had felt to be rejected by my best friend. I had been tossed aside by the one person I thought understood me. Trace had mistreated me so badly, and I was afraid that I would never get over what he had done.
“You were my best friend, Trace,” I whispered painfully. “How could you do that to me?”
When he didn’t respond, I searched his face for an answer, but I found nothing but a panicked stare. Well, he had disappointed me for the last time.
After taking a deep breath to calm my anxiety, I tried to ignore the familiar pain I was feeling. How could I have been so stupid? Trace would never be mine. Removing his hands from my arms, I was embarrassed for acting so foolish.
I couldn’t bear to look at him as I whispered, “Goodbye, Trace.”
“Jade, please —” Trace started to say, but I had already moved away from him and down the hall. I refused to glance back as I kept walking forward, and this time, he did not follow me. In a way, I was glad he didn’t … but it broke my heart all over again.