I sat at my kitchen table, my knees bouncing agitatedly under my
clasped hands, a once forgotten nervous habit. For the first
time in my life, I was about to go out in public wearing an item of
clothing with the express purpose of looking good. Ever since
I'd bought the dress, more and more doubts had been budding in my
mind, little bubbles of uncertainty. Now that it was actually
the night of the party, those bubbles were bursting one after the
other, pushing themselves to the surface until they were all but
impossible to ignore.
dismally in front of my mirror that afternoon, all I'd been able to
see was a skinny, barely seventeen year old who looked about eight
trying, and failing, to dress up like all the big kids. My
cheeks looked bright pink under the blusher my mother had almost
forcibly applied, as if I couldn't have handled that naturally.
The dress was one that Brooke would wear, or Amanda, but not me.
My reflection looked almost alien, unfamiliar under the tight fitting
fabric. My mother's reassurances did little to calm my
nerves, and as I sat waiting for Conner, I was nothing but grateful
that he was running late.
minutes after Conner was supposed to pick me up, a sharp rap at the
door made me leap hastily out of my seat. My mother, who had
been standing at the kitchen bench, moved to answer the door, rolling
her eyes as she passed me. I grabbed a tea towel, nervously
wiping my clammy hands, loath to touch my dress. I could hear
Conner chatting away casually with my mother in the hallway, her
laugh echoing through to the kitchen. For some reason the sound
turned my stomach to knots, and I moved jerkily to the kitchen sink
to pour myself a glass of water.
drank slowly, stalling for time more than out of actual thirst.
I couldn't figure out why I was so nervous already; it was only
Conner. I took a deep breath, still amazed by this entirely
unfamiliar embarrassment, before moving back towards the table to
reclaim my seat. My knees felt strangely wobbly.
made it halfway there before my mother re-entered the kitchen, with
Conner following closely on her heel. His eyes widened when
they fell on me, and I felt my cheeks flushing, no doubt just
emphasizing their already unnatural blush. I must have looked
ridiculous to him. I waited for him to start laughing, but he
just kept on staring at me.
scrubs up alright, doesn't she?" my mother said, grinning
Conner murmured, his eyes scrutinizing my face. "You look
fidgeted under their collective gaze, fighting the temptation to run
upstairs and grab my jeans and tee lying in wait on my bed, just in
sure? It's not too much?"
shook their heads together, and I sighed.
I guess we'd better get going," I groaned, wondering if it was
too late to back out. I moved to Conner, and looked at him
properly for the first time since he'd walked in. He was
wearing a pair of dark grey jeans and a white button down top,
complete with a slick black vest, all looking brand new. He,
too, was more dressed up than I'd ever seen him.
went shopping," I accused as we walked out my front door.
raised his eyebrows at me, looking pointedly down at my outfit.
"I'm not the only one."
laughed, the blush returning to my cheeks. I realized then why
it seemed so horribly embarrassing to be so dressed up in front of
Conner. It felt awfully like I was pretending to be someone I
wasn't. A disturbing image of Brooke flashed into my
you dolled up for, then?" he asked casually, holding the passenger
door of his car open for me in an unusual act of chivalry.
climbed into the seat, glad for the surrounding darkness. My
cheeks must have been crimson.
myself," I laughed, hoping the half-truth wasn't apparent.
"What about you?" I countered as he got into the driver's
seat. "Who're you dolled up for?"
stared ahead, starting the car engine before he replied. "Yeah,
watched him as we pulled out of my driveway and into the dark street,
and noticed that the corners of his mouth were turned down slightly.
I turned my attention ahead after that, and we spent the rest of the
trip to Amanda's in silence.
could hear the party before we could see it. I recognized the
song blasting as one of the recent hits off the radio, and sighed.
It was obvious that none of my favorite bands would be featured.
Conner and I walked towards the house slowly, and I could feel my own
apprehension mirrored by his. This was something that neither
of us had any experience with.
got to the already open door much sooner than I'd hoped, and I
instinctively reached for Conner's hand as he pushed it forward.
He squeezed mine reassuringly, and we walked into the house
together. No one looked up as we walked in, and it was
instantly obvious what held their attention.
Every pair of eyes in the room was glued to a water bottle that spun
in the middle of a tight circle of about ten kids, all of whom I'd
grown up with. I barely noticed them, though; I was
preoccupied, searching the room for a more recent addition to the
teenage population of Niceville high. I was a little
disappointed, but mostly relieved, when I quickly realized that the
room we were in contained no one I considered even remotely
the rest of the party isn't like this," Conner whispered in my
ear, and I turned to see him eyeing the crowd in front of us with
more than a little distaste.
nodded, sharing his feelings. We moved through the room towards
the kitchen, and no one seemed to notice us as we passed. A
muted cheer sounded from the group that was now behind us, and more
than one person whistled. I glanced back and saw what had them
excited: the bottle had stopped spinning. I turned back just in
time, a girl from my grade was already leaning across the circle
towards an excited looking boy I'd never seen before. The
knots in my stomach twisted uneasily.
barely stepped into the kitchen when Amanda spotted us. Or,
more accurately, spotted Conner. I groaned when I noticed her
walking towards us; hers was one face I would have been more than
happy not to see. Conner's poorly disguised horror at seeing
her made it slightly more bearable, though.
Conner!" She grinned at him toothily, and he returned her
smile with a considerably less enthusiastic one of his
Amanda. The, uh, party looks like it's going well."
snickered loudly, but she seemed entirely oblivious, intent only on
Conner. I must have seemed like an annoying pet to her.
yeah! Doesn't it? Everyone's having a really super
time, tons of people are here."
Conner murmured, obviously searching for a suitable response.
tuned out of the conversation, suddenly uninterested in Amanda's
ditzy flirting with my best friend. I'd found the face I'd
been searching for.
surrounded by a giggling group of girls, a few that I recognized and
several more that I didn't, Sebastian was sitting at a picnic table
in Amanda's backyard. Heading up the onslaught, Brooke Dawson
sat to his left, leaning in to him as she whispered something in his
ear. My blood churned as I watched his mouth turn up at the
corners in response to whatever she was saying, a musical laugh that
managed to project all the way into the kitchen bubbling past his
lips. The girls around him fell quite at the sound, their eyes
glued to his face.
any other circumstances I would have laughed at them, at how
ridiculous they were being. But I was just as star struck as
going to get some fresh air," I murmured to Conner, barely noticing
the indiscrete way he shook his head or the unmasked horror in his
eyes at being left alone with Amanda. I thought I heard Amanda
saying something about going somewhere alone with Conner, and in the
back of my mind, I was glad. I knew Conner wouldn't
crossed the small kitchen in a few steps, pushing the screen door
open and stepping outside. I ground to a halt there, though,
unsure of what to do next; knowing only that I had to get closer to
Sebastian. I noticed an table full of drinks, and moved to fill
up a plastic cup, all the while carefully avoiding looking at the
table where he sat. The idea of getting caught staring was
barely noticed what I was pouring into my cup; I was so focused on
the boy sitting mere meters away from me. At this proximity, my
head was full of him, full of questions.
was worried suddenly, by the strength of these emotions, and for a
boy I'd never even spoken to. I'd never in my life felt
jealous of anyone before, least of all Brooke Dawson, but that had to
be what was twisting my stomach into knots at the thought of her arm,
pressed casually against his as they sat side by side. This
boy, with his clear gray eyes and milk-white complexion, had somehow
crawled under my skin in a way that no one else had ever managed to.
And he hadn't even spoken to me, or so much as glanced at me since
that first day at school. I was abruptly grateful that I hadn't
had a conversation with him; the strength of these feelings was
already shocking; I couldn't imagine how it would feel if he
actually spoke to me.
coursed through my veins suddenly; anger at myself for feeling this
way, anger at this boy for making me feel this way, anger at Brooke,
for having the courage to speak to him, to whisper things in his
ear. I realized then that my cup was overflowing, sticky soft
drink spilling onto my hand. I jerked the bottle upright,
snapping out of my daze with a sudden resolve to walk back into the
house and find Conner.
jumped at the feel of a hand on my shoulder, and turned too quickly,
sloshing my too-full cup of soft drink onto my dress. I stared
down at the quickly spreading patch of drink in horror, and noticed
that, mercifully, it was lemonade I'd been pouring. The
sticky wetness soaked through to the bare skin of my stomach, and I
stood frozen on the spot, fighting the fast settling sick feeling at
the sight of my brand new dress soaked in lemonade, potentially
might want one of these."
jumped again at the instantly recognizable voice, reminding me why
I'd turned around in the first place. I couldn't help but
stare at Sebastian as he held a box of serviettes out to me, his eyes
thanks." I tried to concentrate on the chilly lemonade
soaking through my dress, in a desperate attempt to counter the heat
that threatened to flush my face, but when the corners of his mouth
twitched up into a smile, I knew it was useless.
Sebastian, by the way," he said, leaning in almost imperceptibly as
I took a second serviette from the box.
um, Stella" I spluttered, the heat in my face spreading to my scalp
and the back of my neck. I dabbed at the lemonade on my dress,
keeping my hands busy so that I didn't have to say anything.
to meet you, Stella."
nodded enthusiastically, trying to think of something witty to say.
Something comprehensible would have done. It was useless
though, facing him, I could barely think straight. My heart
hammered painfully at being so close to him, even having what could
only be considered a pathetically mundane conversation.
silence between us stretched until I felt uncomfortable enough that I
almost wished I'd spilt more of my drink. My dress was
beginning to look almost normal again, and I knew it wouldn't be
long before I'd have to look up at him.
are you friends with Amanda, then?" he asked
a startled laugh burst from my lips and I looked up at him,
reluctantly giving up on the idea of further salvaging my
No, I wouldn't say we were friends, exactly."
smiled, staring at me for several seconds before he spoke again.
I let my gaze wander over his shoulder, intimidated by the way he
looked at me, his eyes sharp as they studied mine. Suddenly I
saw Brooke Dawson, standing by the picnic table, surrounded by the
group of previously giggling girls. The furious glares I
received made me grin, and I resisted the urge to stick my tongue out
at the lot of them.
if you're not friends with Amanda, who are you here with?" he
asked, pulling my attention away from Brooke in an instant.
my friend Conner was invited. I guess I'm sort of, his plus
one." I laughed nervously, the sound coming out half
strangled. His eyes narrowed slightly, and I remembered, too
late, that he and Conner didn't like each other. I groaned
he murmured, his smile changing slightly, his eyebrows drawing
together over his eyes. "Well, that's nice of him to let
you tag along."
me?" I could feel my face flushing again, but this time it
was in anger, not shyness or embarrassment.
just think it's great to have a friend who'll invite you to other
people's parties when you don't, you know, personally get an
invite of your own. Like your very own fairy godmother."
He laughed, and my blood roared, an unfamiliar urge towards violence
suddenly nearly overcoming me.
dare he? I gritted my teeth, all my previous inclinations
towards Sebastian evaporating, quickly being replaced by new, and
much less flattering ones.
not like that," I said, attempting to keep my voice level. I
suspected I wasn't doing a very good job, from the startled look I
received from a passing girl. Her stare quickly moved on to
Sebastian, though, and for some reason that made me even angrier.
The wide grin that stretched across his face didn't help matters,
either. Still, even then I couldn't help but notice how
lovely he looked when he smiled.
what is it like?" he asked, his eyes locked on mine in a way that
was more than a little unnerving, considering the tone of our
conversation. "You're not friends with any of the other
people here, are you?"
held his gaze, determined not to look away.
why did you come?"
flinched, dropping my eyes to the ground. I could feel the now
familiar blush returning to my cheeks. I took a fast, deep
breath. Composed myself. I shrugged, attempting
nonchalance as I looked up again to meet his eyes. "Thought
it might be fun. A change of scenery."
fair enough." He returned my shrug with one of his own, and
made a mockery of my attempt at nonchalance by affecting it much more
convincingly. He smiled again before continuing.
resisted the urge to smile back at him, reminding myself how
pig-headed he was being only seconds ago. Turned out I didn't
have to remind myself for long.
thought you might be here for me." He
said in his honey voice.
I knew my mouth was hanging open, but I was reeling inside.
Desperately, I searched for something to say. My embarrassment
was almost instantaneously overcome by rage.
dare he?! How dare he suggest such a thing? Regardless of how true it
may or may not be... how dare he?
I saw you looking at me from inside the kitchen, and then again when
you came out here. It seemed like the logical reason."
logical reason?" I was mortified. Horrified.
just shrugged; forever smiling at me, like this was all some big joke
to him. It probably was I realized.
a pig." I told him flatly
laughed, and I hated the way the sound seemed to reverberate inside
my head. A couple of girls standing near us paused
mid-conversation to stare, their expressions awestruck. They
made me sick, reminding me painfully of myself only minutes
flinched, trying not to groan out loud. This was one
conversation I'd been hoping to avoid.
Conner." I sighed
eyes narrowed, his upper lip pulling back slightly so that his top
row of teeth were bare. A moment later, his expression
transformed, an almost convincing smile quickly spreading across his
face. I could see the tension in his eyes, though, and the set
of his eyebrows. I wondered again at the animosity between
Sebastian and my best friend.
think it's time we left, don't you?"
felt his hand close around my wrist, gripping it tighter than I would
have thought necessary. I looked away from Sebastian, with more
reluctance that I'd have liked, and was shocked by what I saw.
Conner's expression was grim, his eyebrows hanging low over his
eyes as he glared at Sebastian, never once looking at me. His
jaw was set at right angles, and this expression was so unfamiliar on
him, I might not have recognized him under other
okay," I murmured, my anger at Sebastian subdued by the shock of
seeing Conner so furious.
jerked me away from Sebastian, and I couldn't help but notice the
way he positioned himself between the two of us as we walked back
towards the door.
you around, Cinderella," Sebastian called his voice strangely
jovial. I shuddered, the temptation to turn around and tell him
exactly what I thought of him rising in my chest. I resisted
though, and not because of Conner's almost painful grip on my arm,
but because I was suddenly struck by the fact that I didn't know
what I thought of him. I knew that I should hate him, for the
things he was saying about me, and about Conner, but I honestly
couldn't place my emotions towards him. Walking back into the
house, I decided that it was just because it had happened so fast,
and uneasily shoved the thought to the back of my mind.