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Authors: Stephanie Faris

25 Roses (7 page)

BOOK: 25 Roses
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“What is it with you and all this matchmaking stuff anyway?” Ashleigh asked. “Why do you care?”

My smile fell. I hadn’t planned on a question like that. I didn’t have an answer for it. I hadn’t really thought about it, but my sudden interest in helping everyone else had been kind of random.

“I like helping people,” I said.

My mind was racing, trying to come up with some reason for playing Cupid. I think it all started with wanting to be as good as Kellie and Kaylee. But then, as I was selling roses to Kaylee and all her friends, I started thinking about how the same people got all the roses each year and the rest of us sat by watching. That was when it changed a bit. I knew there was no chance I’d get a rose, but wouldn’t it be nice if people who never got attention got roses?

I wanted to see people even happier. It gave me something to do with my time, besides study, do homework, and talk on the phone to Alex and Ashleigh. It gave me a purpose.

But I couldn’t explain all that. Ashleigh wouldn’t understand. So I just told her part of the truth.

“It gives me something to do.”

At least it was true. It wasn’t the total truth, but Alex and Ashleigh would buy it. They knew I didn’t have much going on.

“Join a club,” Ashleigh said. “Try out for basketball with me.”

Basketball. Yuck. We’d played basketball in gym and I’d made a complete fool of myself.

“You could join band,” Alex said. “Or the school newspaper.”

I frowned. What was wrong with what I was doing?
Making people happy was just as much of a hobby as playing a clarinet or dribbling a basketball. Actually, it was better.

“Or you could pick a boy you like and . . .
like
him,” Ashleigh said. “Be your own matchmaker.”

I looked over at Alex. He wasn’t even looking at me anymore. I didn’t really want his opinion on the issue. I actually wanted him to save me. He didn’t seem like he was going to do that.

I had to save myself.

“Whatever,” I said. Then, to Alex, I said, “Are you going to eat your pickles?”

The bell rang at that point, both keeping me from eating his pickles and getting me out of this conversation with Ashleigh. I grabbed my tray and jumped up, rushing toward the tray return. Ashleigh couldn’t keep up with me, so she couldn’t question me further. Or so I thought.

“I’ll find
you
someone,” Ashleigh said, rushing to follow me to my locker. “I’ll be your matchmaker.”

“No, thanks,” I said. My locker was in sight. I just had to walk a little faster and I’d be there. . . .

“It’ll be great,” Ashleigh said. “You don’t have to do anything. Just keep doing what you’ve been doing and I’ll take care of the rest.”

“Just leave her alone.”

I was already at my locker when I heard Alex speak up. He was still off in the distance, but I could hear him. It stalled Ashleigh’s progress for a second, which gave me time to get my books out. Maybe I could get to class while they argued it out.

“Nobody wants to be bugged about this stuff,” Alex said. “In fact, I think people should just let everyone like who they want to like.”

“Mia started it,” Ashleigh argued. “I’m just doing what she’s doing.”

“Don’t do that,” he said.

“Don’t you want to see her happy?” Ashleigh asked.

I slammed my locker shut. I wondered if I snuck around them and rushed off to class, how long it would take for them to notice I wasn’t standing there anymore. Instead I turned to face them.

“I’m happy,” I said. “I’m fine. Alex, will you walk to class with me?”

They both looked startled. I wanted to talk to Alex alone, but I didn’t want Ashleigh to think I was mad at her.

“I just want to talk to him alone for a second,” I said. “I’ll see you after class, ’kay?”

She still looked confused, but she seemed to be gradually
recovering. She even smiled as she stepped back and waved good-bye. I knew Ashleigh. That meant she was up to something. I’d have to worry about that later.

“Let’s go,” Alex said.

He was getting impatient with all this like I was. I couldn’t wait to get him alone so we could put things back to our normal weirdness. Anything was better than all this “people liking people” talk.

“Sorry about all that,” I said once we were away from where she could hear us.

He didn’t speak for several long seconds. I was starting to wonder if he was giving me the silent treatment. Then he spoke.

“You could have at least helped me with Sun,” he said. “I thought we were friends.”

I don’t think I would have been more surprised if he’d said he was an alien. “I—I didn’t know—”

“Of course you did. Ashleigh told you I like her. I tried to tell you, but you didn’t want to hear it.”

He’d tried to tell me? I thought back over the past week or two. We hadn’t really talked, not like we used to. He barely spoke to me in anything more than a grunt. Had I somehow missed a conversation without realizing it?

“You tried to fix her up with someone else,” he said. “That’s the worst part of all of it.”

“But she—”

I stopped myself before I could finish that sentence. Sun liked Kurt. She wanted me to talk to him for her. But if I said that now, it would just make Alex feel worse. So I didn’t finish the sentence.

“What?” he asked.

Oh. He wasn’t letting me off the hook that easily. I scrambled for an explanation.

“She doesn’t know you like her,” I said. “I don’t think you want me to just come out and tell her, do you?”

“You don’t have to do that,” he said. “But fixing her up with someone else won’t help at all.”

“Good point,” I said. I stopped and turned to face him. “Look, I’m sorry. I want to talk to you about all this, but it’s just weird, you know? All my friends are getting crushes, and I’m—”

“Not,” he finished for me. “Let Ashleigh help you then.”

“I don’t want Ashleigh to help,” I said. “I want . . .”

I didn’t have a way to finish that sentence either. Again, we were back to what I wanted.

“You want things to stay the same,” he said. “All of
us just hanging out, not worrying about all this stuff. If that’s the case, then why are you trying to get everyone else together?”

That was an easy question to answer. I could get Sun and Kurt together because they weren’t my friends. I wouldn’t lose them once they started going out. If I could get Alex and Sun together, that meant if we ever did talk, all we’d talk about was Sun.

I don’t know how I knew all that. I just knew.

“Hey, guys.”

I was still in the process of figuring out what I would say next when I heard another voice beside us. Not just any voice, though. The voice of Sun Patterson.

She was smiling at me. As I watched, she glanced over at Alex, giving him that same smile before turning back toward me.

She didn’t seem to have overheard our conversation, but why was she here? Oh no. She wasn’t here to ask if I’d talked to Kurt lately. Not in front of Alex. Not now.

“Big announcement about the rose sale coming up,” she said, pointing toward the ceiling where the speakers were. Good. She hadn’t brought up the whole Kurt thing.

“I have to get to class,” Alex said.

He was backing away, and I knew any second he’d turn and rush off down the hallway, leaving me with no way to find out why he was mad at me. So I yelled out my question.

“Are we good?” I asked him.

He turned, looked at me, and shrugged, then rushed off toward class. I tried to remember a time in all the years I’d known Alex that we’d been mad at each other. I couldn’t.

I headed into class feeling worse than I had in a long, long time.

But then something happened that perked me up. I was taking my seat when the final bell rang. My heart started pounding when I remembered what Sun Patterson had said. How had she known about the announcement? I thought about it. It made sense. It always took a couple days for the office to tally numbers for something like this. Maybe Sun had just guessed.

But then I caught a girl’s eye who I barely knew. She was smiling at me. I realized several people were looking at me and talking. The office should have known that nothing that happens at Stanton Middle School ever stays secret for long.

“May I have your attention please?” the all-too-familiar voice of Kaylee Hooper boomed through the tiny, old speakers
above our heads. “I have a big announcement about the Valentine’s Day rose sale.”

I was holding my breath. And people were still staring at me. If we’d lost, they wouldn’t be looking at me like that. If we’d lost, I’d have to wonder what rumor was spreading about me that would have everyone staring at me like they were all in on a joke about me.

“It was a record year for rose sales,” Kaylee said. “But one group of students outsold everyone else for the second year in a row. The seventh-grade class sold the most roses, winning the lock-in at the Rock ’N’ Roll Sportsplex. Congratulations, seventh grade, and a special thanks to the committee for working so hard.”

The committee. Not Ashleigh and me, who had sat at that table every morning, but the committee. All that work, and I was still mostly invisible.

That was okay, though. Everyone in seventh grade knew I’d done a lot of the work, and I was glad not to be recognized. Because really what I’d done had been borderline cheating. Sure, I’d sold the roses to myself and given them to other people. It wasn’t like I’d put extra money in there without buying anything. And there was no rule against the committee buying roses—in fact, several of the members
had lined up to buy roses the first day they were on sale. But I still felt like I didn’t deserve a lot of credit because I’d bought so many of them myself.

Now that the announcements were over, people started reaching over to pat me on the back. There was a lot of “Congratulations” and “Way to go.” I was surprised that I didn’t feel more excited about it. It was, after all, the moment I’d worked so hard to have. Why did I have all this guilt?

And what could I do to make it go away?

CHAPTER TEN

To: Mom
From: Mia
Everyone has to grow up sometime . . . even me.

“Are you sure it’s safe?” Mom asked. Mom had just gotten home from work. She’d barely walked through the door when I’d broken the news about the lock-in.

It was so weird. Mom had been excited about the lock-in until I’d won. Now she was worried about me staying all night in a strange place.

“Mia worked hard selling those roses,” Kellie said. “She deserves her reward.”

Go, Kellie!

Mom looked at Kellie, a frown firmly set on her face. “We don’t even know if there will be chaperones there,” she told her.

“I’m sure there are chaperones.” Kellie looked at me. “There are chaperones, right?”

I shrugged. “I guess.”

I mean, there had to be teachers, right? I didn’t want to think about that part of it. I was having a hard enough time figuring out how I’d keep Alex and Sun apart. And Alex and Kurt apart. And Sun and Kurt apart so Alex didn’t get mad about them being together.

“Lock-ins are cool,” Kellie said, biting into her after-school, pre-game apple. She just said stuff like that to make me feel better, since she was doing things I wouldn’t be able to do for at least a couple of years. By then, she’d be doing even cooler things that I wouldn’t be able to do.

“What will you be doing?” Mom asked. “At the lock-in.”

I shrugged. “Hanging out.” We didn’t really have to
do
anything. Just being there all night would be awesomeness.

“Will you be sleeping or staying up all night?” Mom asked. “Going without sleep isn’t so easy when you really try it.”

“I’ve stayed up all night before,” I said. “My sleepover last year.”

Mom laughed. “As I recall, I checked in on you around two a.m. and found you were all snoozing away.”

I was hoping she’d forgotten that. “We’ll have stuff to do to keep us busy,” I said. “Plus, there won’t be anywhere to sleep.”

“She can nap beforehand,” Kellie said. “Let her have fun.”

“I still remember my first lock-in,” Mom said, getting that look in her eye.

Kellie and I looked at each other. If this was heading down the road of,
Oh, I remember my first lock-in
, I wanted to excuse myself now.

Sure enough, Mom started. It happened in fifth grade, when she’d spent the night in a church that had a special screen on which they showed old black-and-white movies. I was wondering how long this torture would continue when my cell phone rang.

“It’s about homework,” I blurted, grabbing my phone.

Luckily, her trip down memory lane had her occupied long enough for me to get to the hallway. I don’t know if she even noticed I’d left. I glanced at the screen and saw a number I didn’t recognize.

“Hello?” I asked, mashing the button before it could kick over to my voice mail.

“It’s Sun,” the voice on the other end said. “Sun Patterson.”

She didn’t have to say her last name. It wasn’t like there were a million people named Sun in our school. But the one
Sun I did know didn’t call me. Ever. She must have gotten my phone number from someone on the rose committee. When you work on a committee, apparently your cell number becomes public information.

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