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Authors: Stephanie Faris

25 Roses (15 page)

BOOK: 25 Roses
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I don’t like him. I don’t like him. I don’t like him.

I kept chanting those three words as Alex fastened his seat belt. Ashleigh’s mom started making small talk about silly things. “You excited about tonight? Is everyone going to be dressed up? Will there be food at the lock-in?” Meanwhile, I was staring out the window, my hands clenched in my lap. If I thought hard enough, I was sure I could go back to just being Alex’s friend and nothing more.

“Wow,” Ashleigh said as we pulled into the parking lot of the city’s only family Sportsplex, which was just a few blocks from Alex’s house. A big sign advertised ice-skating, bowling, basketball, and swimming. There was a line going all the way back to the street, where people were dropping kids off.

“We can get out here,” Alex said.

“Yeah, let’s walk,” Ashleigh agreed.

Alex was staring at me. I could see it out of the corner of my eye. I looked over at him.

“You up for walking?” he asked.

He was asking just me? For a long second, I felt good about that.

Then Ashleigh spoke up, spoiling the moment. “Let’s go,” she said. “We can walk it.”

Alex took off after her, leaving me no choice but to hurry to catch up with the two of them. I couldn’t believe how silly I’d been. Of course Alex wasn’t talking to just me about doing something romantic. They just wanted to walk toward the door rather than sitting in traffic for the next ten minutes.

I didn’t like this. Not at all. I thought back to the last day of the chocolate rose sale, how I’d just wanted to be more like Kellie and Kaylee. I wanted people to look at me and think I mattered. But now, remembering what it was like to be invisible and ignored, I realized I wanted that back. I wanted to just hang out with my friends and have fun without all this other stuff.

I caught up with Ashleigh and Alex around the time they reached the rest of the crowd. Everyone was trying to push through the four front doors to the place at once. I ended up next to Alex, with the crowd pushing us up against each other. I couldn’t even look at him as our arms smushed together.

“Mia!” I heard someone call as we passed through the door and came out into the huge lobby.

“Hi, Kaylee,” Ashleigh said.

Ignoring Ashleigh, Kaylee looked at me. “Come here.”

No, I hadn’t talked to him yet. She wouldn’t like that answer. The only answer she wanted to hear was that I’d talked to Kurt and he knew she liked him. Oh, and that he liked her, too.

“Go,” Ashleigh whispered, giving me a big nudge in the arm. When I didn’t go, she actually gave me a little shove in Kaylee’s direction.

Great. Now there was no way to avoid talking to her.

It would have been easier for me just to tell Kurt that Kaylee liked him. I knew that. But every time I started to walk over to Kurt and tell him she liked him, something stopped me. I guess part of me still hoped Sun and Kurt would get together, leaving Alex single. But I knew that was wrong of me, so I didn’t really admit it to myself.

“Did you talk to Kurt?” Kaylee asked for what must have been the millionth time that week.

I shook my head. “I didn’t get a chance,” I said. Which was true, I guess. Truer than saying I tried to talk to him or I almost talked to him. I backed away, moving toward my friends, to send the clear message that I didn’t want to stand here and talk about this.

But Kaylee’s face had changed. Her eyes had darkened
and her entire expression was . . . angry. Uh-oh. This was a girl who always got her way.

“You said you would,” she said. “You said you would before tonight.”

Her voice grew louder with each word she spoke. I looked around nervously, worried about who might be able to hear. The answer to that was,
everyone
. There were so many people around, our conversation could pretty much be overheard by the entire seventh grade at that point.

“I’ll talk to him,” I whispered, holding my hands up to calm her down.

“Forget it,” she said in a huff. “I’ll do it myself.” She looked around and took off down the hall, her friends chasing after her.

I shrugged as I turned back toward my friends. They were standing right behind me, waiting.

“I don’t know why she didn’t do that in the first place,” I said, shaking my head. “It’s not like she’s shy.”

“She wants you to talk to Kurt?” Ashleigh asked, a strange look on her face.

“Yeah,” I said. What was going on here? Ashleigh looked like she knew something.

“She was doing it on purpose,” Ashleigh said. “She knows I like him.”

Wait.
Say what?

I had about a billion questions I wanted to ask, but Ashleigh started toward the basketball courts, where everyone else was going. Signs pointed in that direction, so everyone just followed them.

“She likes Kurt?” I whispered to Alex as we walked, side by side, along with the crowd.

“Yes,” he said. I realized I was leaning close enough to him to whisper. It made me all butterfly-ish in my stomach.

“But what about Rob?” I asked. “She’s liked him forever.”

Alex shrugged.

“She didn’t tell me,” I said.

“Well, you guys haven’t been talking much,” he said.

He was right. I hadn’t talked to her about liking Alex, either. Even after she’d brought it up, we still weren’t really talking about it. How could I expect her to talk to me about her crush if I wasn’t talking to her about mine?

But Kurt Barnes? Really? I would not have guessed that.

“But wait—” I reached out and grabbed Alex’s arm. He stopped. People moved around us, but I didn’t pay any attention to them. “Why would that make Kaylee like him too?”

Alex sighed. “It’s fun for her. The whole ‘get Ashleigh’s
best friend to fix us up’ thing is a challenge. Come on. We’d better go if we want pizza.”

I followed him into the room, feeling a little numb as my mind tried to process all this new information. Ashleigh and Kurt. Kurt and Sun. Kurt and Kaylee.

“So that’s why you were so mad,” I said when I caught up to Ashleigh. She was at the end of the pizza line, waiting for us. Alex stepped up next to her and turned to look at me. I guess he was expecting this.

“Huh?” Ashleigh asked.

“When I was trying to fix Sun up with Kurt, you got really mad,” I said. “I didn’t know why. I thought it was because I wasn’t getting Alex and Sun together. It was really because you liked Kurt too.”

Ashleigh finally realized what I was saying. She stopped looking around to see who else she could talk to and actually looked at me. I thought about bringing up the fact that she could have told me she liked Kurt, but she really couldn’t. I was too busy trying to get Kurt together with everyone else in school.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t know. I thought you still liked Rob.”

“Well, now you know,” she said. There was a hint of
sadness in her voice, and I couldn’t believe I’d been such a bad friend. I thought back to all the things I had done to help Sun, as well as what Kaylee had been trying to get me to do.

“She didn’t know,” Alex said to Ashleigh. He looked over at me. “You didn’t know. You couldn’t have known.”

“Not unless Ashleigh had told me.” I looked over at Ashleigh after I said that. See how I’d turned it around on her? Not to be mean or anything, but it felt good to be the good guy for once. It also felt good to know why she had been mad at me. That would help me never do it again.

Ashleigh looked sad for a second, lowering her gaze toward the ground. Just when I thought I might have to cheer her up again, that gaze of hers suddenly fled to something behind me. Her eyes widened.

“He’s behind you,” she whispered.

“Who?” I asked, starting to turn around.

She reached out and grasped my forearm so hard, it hurt. “Don’t look,” she urged, still in a whisper.

“Kurt,” Alex said. He looked bored with the whole thing.

“He can wait in line with us,” I said, turning to wave him over. The line for pizza was long, so people probably would be mad if I let Kurt break the line. I didn’t care, though, if it meant I could help Ashleigh and Kurt get to know each other.

“No!” Ashleigh said. This wasn’t whispered, but at least she wasn’t grabbing my arm and practically breaking it again.

“I can help you two get to know each other,” I said, but this time I didn’t turn around. “Isn’t that the whole point?”

“She likes to help people,” Alex said. “She wants to help you.”

“I want to help you,” I repeated. I hated to sound like a copycat, but this was big. I’d spent so much time helping all these other people that now I just wanted to help my BFF.

“Not with me around,” Ashleigh whispered. “Besides . . . Kaylee.”

I shook my head. “Don’t worry about Kaylee. She doesn’t stand a chance with him. She may be able to boss the rest of us around, but she can’t boss a boy into liking her. It doesn’t work that way—”

No telling how long I would have continued on my tirade if Alex hadn’t spoken up to stop me. “No,” he said. “Kaylee. Behind you.”

I turned around, and sure enough, Kaylee was with Kurt, blinking her eyes and smiling slyly up at him. She was doing exactly what she’d said in the hallway. Of course she didn’t need me to talk to Kurt for her. I was just that extra kick. What better way to make Ashleigh more upset than having her BFF do the setup?

“See?” Ashleigh asked. “That’s what happens when Kaylee finds out I like someone.”

I looked at Alex. This was what they’d been talking about. So it was true. Kaylee was doing this on purpose.

“She overheard me talking to Alex,” Ashleigh rushed to explain, probably noticing the confused expression on my face. “It was during the time you and I weren’t talking, or I would have told you, too.”

We weren’t speaking for, like, a minute. Even if that happened to be the minute she’d decided to pour her heart out about her feelings for Kurt, why would she tell Alex, of all people? He’d tell her to get over it and punch her in the arm or something.

“It turns out, Alex is a great listener,” Ashleigh said. “Almost as good as you. He didn’t try to talk me out of it or anything. But Kaylee did.”

“Kaylee did what?” I asked. I was still a little surprised that Alex had been a great listener. He always was a great listener when I talked about my problems, but he was weird about the whole boy-girl thing. If I’d told him I had a crush on Kurt, for instance, he would have blushed and changed the subject—

Wait. Maybe that wasn’t because he didn’t like to talk
about stuff like that. Maybe he just didn’t like talking about stuff like that with
me
.

“Kaylee tried to talk her out of it,” Alex said. “She was standing right behind us in line at the Dairy Dip when we were talking about it.”

“I didn’t think anyone from school would be there,” Ashleigh said. She shrugged and gave a half smile. “Surprise, I guess, right?”

I turned to look at Kaylee. The part of me that protected my best friend at all costs wanted to go yell at her or something, but I knew that would only make the whole school talk about me on Monday. Funny, since that was what I thought I wanted. Now I was tired of being talked about.

“She’s coming this way,” Ashleigh whispered. She looked down, shielding her face with her hand, as if that would keep Kaylee from seeing her.

I wasn’t afraid to face her. I spun around and looked directly at her, putting on my bravest expression.

“There,” Kaylee said. She came to a stop in front of me, a smug smile on her face. Claire and Shonda stood right behind her, mimicking her stance. No telling where the other five of her groupies had gone. “That’s how it’s done.”

“How what is done?” I asked, and, if I must say so myself, it was a pretty darn good acting job.


That
is how a girl gets a boy she likes,” Kaylee said. Her arms were crossed over her chest, and she looked me up and down with a condescending expression on her face. “If someone really has confidence, she doesn’t have to wait around for Cupid here to take care of things for her.”

I could have pointed out that if she really had confidence, she would have done that days ago. But it was time to end this matchmaking stuff once and for all.

I shrugged. “You’re right.”

I’m sure I looked just as surprised as I felt that those words came out. At least it wiped that smirk off Kaylee’s face.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked.

I shrugged. “Just that you’re right. Everyone should have the courage to walk up to the boy she likes and just say so.”

“But we don’t,” a girl’s voice behind me said. It wasn’t Ashleigh’s. The voice belonged to Sun. I turned around and saw Sun and Gillianni standing there . . . together.

My gaze automatically flew to Alex, who wasn’t looking at Sun, even though she stood next to him. No surprise. He was probably too shy to look her way.

“We don’t have the nerve to do something like that,” Sun
said. I looked from her to Gillianni. Were they friends now? Sun continued, “That’s why we need help.”

“She’s right,” Alex said. “I’ve liked someone for a while . . . and there’s no way I could tell her to her face.”

Sun looked at me. I took that look to say,
I’m sorry he likes me instead of you
. The look bugged me, but I had to be a gracious loser. It was the right thing to do.

“That’s funny,” Kaylee said.

We all turned to look at her. She’d been quiet, briefly, and I was surprised she was still standing there. She had, after all, gone a full fifteen seconds without being the center of attention.

“What?” Ashleigh asked.

Kaylee sneered again as she spoke. “Alex couldn’t tell the girl he liked that he liked her, but he couldn’t get Mia to tell her either.”

Kaylee snorted. On anyone else it would sound disgusting, but Kaylee made it cute somehow. Even when I didn’t like how she’d treated Ashleigh, I couldn’t help but think that.

“What are you talking about?” Ashleigh asked. She didn’t ask it nicely, either.

“I’ll be right back,” Alex said, whipping around and rushing off. We all watched him go. What was up with him?

“Oh, please,” Kaylee said. “I don’t have time for this. Everyone knows Alex likes Mia and has for a bazillion years. That’s not the point. The point is . . .”

BOOK: 25 Roses
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