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Authors: Stephanie Faris

25 Roses (4 page)

BOOK: 25 Roses
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Of course, he didn’t ask a question like that to Kellie. He didn’t have to ask. Kellie had a boyfriend, as we all knew, and that boyfriend had sent her two dozen roses at school. Because one dozen just wasn’t enough, I guess.

“Yes,” I said. “The cutest boy in school chased me around all morning.”

Dad’s eyes widened, and his mouth stopped moving mid-chew. “Don’t be sarcastic, Mia,” Mom chimed in to say. “And Kellie, sit up straight.”

Dad started chewing again, his expression changing to relief. What? Was it that hard to believe that a boy might actually like me? Wait. I hadn’t said
a
boy liked me. I’d said the cutest boy in school liked me. Maybe that was pushing it too far. But still!

“Did he catch you?” Kellie asked.

I’d been picking the sausage off my pizza, but Kellie’s question caused me to look up from that engrossing activity. “What?” I asked.

“The cutest boy in school,” she continued around a mouthful of food. “You said he’d been chasing you around all day. Did he catch you?”

Kellie gave me a look that dared me to answer the question. She wanted to embarrass me. She wanted to point out in her own little way that I could never, ever have a boyfriend.

“She was joking, Kellie,” Dad said. In his eyes, Kellie would never do anything mean. She was his perfect angel.

“How do you know that?” I asked Dad. “Do you just assume no boy would like me?”

“Mia Hartley, don’t be so dramatic,” Mom said. “And quit picking at your food.”

“I’m not that bad,” I said. “Boys like me.”

Except the lack of a rose totally said otherwise. But I really wasn’t a freak or anything. I wasn’t the most beautiful girl in school, but I was okay. Boys just didn’t pay attention to girls unless you were Kaylee or one of her friends, and they only liked guys who went to other schools.

“Nobody said you were that bad.” Mom sighed and
looked at Dad. “Grant, explain what I’m trying to say.”

“You’re young,” Dad said. “You have plenty of time to worry about boys. Focus on your schoolwork.”

Why did that sound so familiar? Oh yeah, because they said those same words to me and Kellie every sixteen days or so. Whatever. I had a feeling that when they were my age they were worried about the same things I was worried about.

“Can I go?” Kellie asked, pushing away from the table.

“You hardly ate anything,” Mom said, staring at her empty plate, which had held a slice of pizza a few minutes ago.

“I had a slice,” Kellie said, already standing, cell phone in hand.

“Oh,” Mom said. “I thought we could have family time.” She looked disappointed.

“Mm-hmm.” Kellie was distracted. She stood and started slowly walking toward her bedroom. Even though Mom was upset, she wouldn’t stop her.

“So,” Dad said, lifting his gaze from his plate to me. “What’s going on at school?”

I would have rolled my eyes and stomped off to my room, just to see if I could get away with it. But I was hungry and the pizza was really good. Besides, they wouldn’t let me get away with it anyway, I was pretty sure.

“Mia handed out roses for Valentine’s Day,” Mom announced. She reached for another slice. “Tell your father about that, Mia.”

“No big deal,” I said with a shrug. “People bought roses. I handed them out.”

“Why?” Dad asked.

I stopped chewing to stare at him.
Why?
What did that mean?

Noticing my confused look, he added, “Was it for charity or something?”

I’d almost forgotten about the reason we’d been handing out roses in the first place. I’d cheated and paid for a bunch of the roses out of my babysitting money—all just to win the contest.

“The winning grade gets a lock-in,” I said. “But we probably won’t win. We didn’t sell very many.”

That was true, if you subtracted the twenty-five I bought from the total. I’d rather have a sleepover with my friends than a lock-in with the whole grade, but I wanted to win. I just had to listen to everyone talk about their roses to get to the big announcement that our grade had won.

“Didn’t Kellie do that when she was in middle school?” Dad asked Mom.

“Hers were carnations,” Mom said. “Remember when she brought all those flowers home?”

Dad nodded. “Don’t remind me! She had plenty of admirers.”

“I’m sure she still does,” Mom says. “They just know she has a boyfriend now.”

Okay, I’d officially lost my appetite. Even when they asked about me, it always managed to go back to Kellie. The last thing I wanted to do was sit here and listen to how great Kellie was and how everyone liked her. Maybe this Cupid thing wasn’t working like I thought it would.

CHAPTER FIVE

To: Sun
From: Mia
What have I gotten myself into?

“Whoa.”

Alex and I were standing in the hallway before homeroom, waiting for Ashleigh to get her books out of her locker. I’d been watching everyone who walked by, searching for someone who’d gotten a rose yesterday. I was wondering if anyone would suddenly “couple up” as a result of the secret admirer roses.

“What?” I asked, turning to look at Alex. To be honest, I’d forgotten he was standing next to me.

He didn’t answer. He didn’t have to. I followed his stare to Sun Patterson, who was breezing past. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

She was still wearing her baggy clothes and her hair still had a bad case of the frizzies. But she was standing up straight and looking around. She seemed to have a glow that made her stand out.

“She looks . . . great,” Alex said, causing me to whip my head around to stare at him. He looked at me. “What? She does.”

Shaking my head, I watched her as she passed us and disappeared into the crowd. I assumed this new confidence had something to do with the rose she’d gotten yesterday. It had to, right?

Sun thought someone had a crush on her, so she was feeling prettier. Maybe it had even given her a crazy big rush of confidence. None of that could be bad. I’d helped her, and now someone would have a crush on her and it would be okay that there wasn’t a real secret admirer.

“What are we looking at?”

Ashleigh had stepped into place next to me and was staring down the hall at the mass of people. No sign of Sun at all.

“Sun Patterson,” I said. “Alex is having a meltdown because she looks so good.”

Ashleigh squinted at me. She wasn’t buying that at all, I could tell. She’d see soon enough.

“Gotta go,” Alex said, stepping away from us. “See you in second period?”

I nodded and followed Ashleigh toward class. “You should have seen her. I think getting that rose gave her confidence.”

I said the last part on purpose, because even though she hadn’t seen Sun yet, I was wondering what she thought about the whole rose thing.

“Who?” Ashleigh asked.

“Sun,” I said, giving her a sideways look. Was she even listening to me?

“Oh. I’d have to see her.”

My gaze landed on something then. I grabbed Ashleigh’s arm and nodded toward Kurt Barnes.

“What?” she asked. She was looking right at him too.

“Kurt Barnes,” I said. “You don’t see it?”

“I see
him
,” she said. “What about him?”

“He’s walking straighter.”

Kurt was passing us by then, and he noticed we’d stopped to stare at him. He gave us an odd look, probably wondering what was going on. But he nervously snapped his gaze toward the area in front of him again.

“Whatever,” Ashleigh said. “I think you’re looking for things.”

“He has more confidence, I know he does,” I said, but I was pretty much talking to myself at that point. People were beginning to scurry toward homeroom, so she became focused on getting to class on time.

But I kept thinking about Kurt, even after I sat down in homeroom and waited for class to start. Kurt was different. I could tell. Getting a rose had made him feel better about himself. Sure, he still wore the same plain T-shirt and way-out-of-style jeans, but just that one little difference made him cuter somehow.

It was worth it. Even if I didn’t get one . . . of course it had been worth it.

“Question.”

I blinked in surprise. Kaylee was standing in front of me, acting like she wanted to ask me a question. What question, though?

“Who sent the extra rose?”

Kaylee had received four extra roses on Valentine’s Day. Two were from girls kissing up to her and two were from boys. I had no idea which of those she considered “extra.”

“You know everyone who sent roses, right?” she asked. “There was one that wasn’t signed. Who sent it?”

I honestly had no idea. Maybe I should have, but the whole rose thing had been such a blur of activity, there was no way to know for sure. Ashleigh had probably taken that one down. I was pretty sure I’d remember a boy sending a rose to Kaylee and refusing to sign his name to it.

“I don’t know,” I said, knowing she probably wouldn’t believe that at all.

She didn’t. “Come on,” she said. “You have to tell me. I’d tell you. Was he at least someone cute?”

“I—” Now I was stuttering. I figured she’d laugh at me.

“Royal Jessup,” she guessed. “Zachary Eggert. Bobby Featherstone.”

The names weren’t too random. All of them were semi-cute boys. Boys who at least kind of hung out in her wider circle of friends.

“I told you, I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t remember any boy buying a rose for you and not signing his name to it.”

Finally she seemed to be starting to believe me. “Could I maybe see the list?” she asked. “I might recognize the handwriting.”

“I don’t have my list, but you can check with Ashleigh. Whoever it was probably bought the rose from her.” That
was the truth—I really had no clue who it could be from.

Silence spread between us as Kaylee stared at me. It was hard not to think nice thoughts when you looked at her, she was so pretty, but she was also so stuck on herself, you realized she wasn’t as pretty as she thought she was.

“I’ll do that,” Kaylee said. “I’ll talk to her. Thanks.”

She spun around, flouncing off down the hallway.

“What did she want?” Ashleigh asked. She’d come from out of nowhere.

“She wanted to know who her secret admirer was,” I said. I shrugged. “I didn’t do that rose. Did you?”

“Yep,” Ashleigh said. “But she’ll just have to wonder about her secret admirer like everyone else.”

Everyone but me,
I wanted to say.

“So?” I asked.

She’d been looking at a group of guys as they passed. My question snapped her head back around.

“So?” she asked in reply.

I sighed. “So who sent the rose?” I paused before adding, “To Kaylee.”

“Oh, that.” She waved her hand dismissively. “It’s nothing.”

I opened my mouth to argue, but before I could say anything,
she spotted a girl from one of her classes and rushed off to ask her about homework. So much for that.

Sighing, I turned to walk toward class and nearly ran straight into Alex. He skidded to a halt, staring back at me with this strange, wide-eyed expression.

Why was Alex looking at me like that?

He’d been so weird lately. For a second, before he looked away, words flew through my mind that matched what I was seeing from him. He was looking at me like he’d never really seen me before.

“Sorry,” he said.

I just stared at him, not blinking. I didn’t like this new Alex at all. I wanted things back to the way they’d been before . . . before whenever he’d started acting so weird around me. I couldn’t remember the exact date things had changed, but I didn’t think anything had changed on my side. I was the same Mia Hartley I’d always been. Alex was the one who was acting all weird all of a sudden.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?” I asked, pasting a big smile on my face. I saw on TV once that if things are weird and you want them to get back to normal, you had to “fake it until you make it.” So that was exactly what I did.

“Class,” he said. He stepped back a little. “Where else?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I looked around. The halls were mostly empty, which meant the bell would ring any second now. We had to go.

I gave him one last look before spinning and rushing toward class. That look on his face stayed with me, though. Why was he acting so weird? And how could I get Alex back?

BOOK: 25 Roses
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