Authors: Brenda Maxfield
by Brenda Maxfield
Published by Astraea Press
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
THE LANCE TEMPTATION
Copyright Â© 2013 BRENDA MAXFIELD
Cover Art Designed by AM Design Studios
For Elijah, our African miracle.
Farah leaned close to my ear. “Watch and learn,” she whispered.
Oh, no. Not again.
She propelled herself deftly through the clusters of students who were thronging around the cafeteria line. Steel vending machines dinged like casino slots. Every kid balanced a lunch tray teetering with globs of macaroni and piles of tortilla chips and oatmeal cookies.
Farah carried her tray with its plate of green beans as if it were the royal jewels. She sashayed toward our regular table in the corner, her hips lightly brushing the backs of the entire football team who'd already grabbed the table nearest the food. The catcalls began immediately.
“Hot stuff,” one player yelled, and then whistled.
With practiced innocence, Farah paused, and turned to face the guys. She rolled her green eyes and shook her head, feigning annoyance. A smile played on her lips. Then she fluttered her thick lashes and continued on, skirting her way to our table in the back.
Oh yeah, she was a master at everything I'm not. All Farah has to do is show up and the boys follow, frolicking like puppies around a bone. So, shameful as it sounds â I made it my business to become her friend, even if it meant dropping everyone in my tight circle. I was done being the boring, straight-A girl. I wanted the hot guys to drool around me for once, and I figured the connection couldn't hurt.
Watch and learn, Farah had said.
I stood with my tuna sandwich stuffed inside my crumpled lunch sack, sighed heavily and followed her, trying not to let my shoes clack out my progress. Nobody's eyes followed my every move.
Well, there's a surprise.
I slid onto the bench across from her. It was Monday â the only day Farah was halfway civilized because she was tired from the weekend â and we were eating lunch together as usual.
Farah opened her milk carton, and took a drink. She tipped her head, letting her thick red hair cascade down her back. The soft curls nearly touched her waist. Farah was well aware how flat-out gorgeous she was, and she quickly glanced around to see who might be watching.
The table of girls to the side of us stared at her. When they spotted me looking at them, they huddled together in one big gossip head. Farah saw them laughing, pointing, and whispering. Her expression hardened. “What a bunch of wannabe's.”
“They're jealous,” I said.
Farah leaned across the end of our table toward them. “Talk about me all you want, you sad groupies.”
Their heads jerked apart and each one of them glared at her. Farah scowled, and then turned her attention back to me.
She pulled a crumbling brownie from her purse, and held it close to my face. “Want a brownie? I made it.”
“You?” I crinkled my nose.
“Don't act so surprised. I bake,” she said.
I backed my head away from the brownie. “I'll pass this time.”
“Oh, go ahead and eat it.” She pulled off the droopy cellophane and practically shoved it in my mouth.
I heard a yelp behind me, and someone hollered, “You're disgusting!” A burst of raucous laughter filled the air. I could see Farah watching the whole scene over my shoulder. Wide-eyed, she jumped from her seat and flew to a table of freshmen girls. I swirled around to observe. Farah lunged across their strewn trays and stuck her face against a shocked girl's nose. “Leave her alone! Do it again, and you'll deal with me.”
Her harsh voice echoed across the cafeteria. The freshmen girls were shocked into silence, but their lips fairly curled into snarls.
A choked sniffle came from a girl cowering at the end of the table. Macaroni was splattered all over her uniform. Farah stood up to her full height, her cheeks blotched red. She regarded the sniveling girl. “You okay?”
There was no answer.
“Want help cleaning up?”
The girl shook her head, picked up a napkin, and started wiping at her shirt.
Farah squared her shoulders and returned to our table. I stared at her. “What was that?”
“Bullies. I hate them. And where are the lunch monitors, anyway?” She picked up her fork and took a bite of green beans.
“You know, sometimes you're actually nice.”
Farah grimaced. “Don't let it get around.”
I laughed and picked up my sandwich. Right then a tender feeling of protectiveness toward Farah washed over me.
And that's when
descended upon our table. The New Guy. The one I'd secretly been panting after since he transferred to our school two weeks earlier.
“Cool move, Farah,” he said. His voice was low and melodic. He tweaked a strand of her hair and glanced at me. “Cecily.”
“Her name's Emili, you twerp,” Farah scolded, but her tone was soft and playful.
Lance kept his eyes on hers. “My mistake.”
He'd placed himself on the edge of the table between us. Our school uniforms generally make us look like clones. But not Lance. The deep blue polo shirt strained over every muscle in his arms and back. It was the closest I'd ever been to him, and I couldn't help but be aware of his scent, his size. Sweat beaded on my forehead, and I swallowed hard. I willed myself to relax even though my insides were shaking. And what aftershave was he wearing? I'd never smelled anything like it. The musk fragrance was trance-inducing, heady, delicious.
“Well?” Farah said, tapping her fingers on the table. “Do you?” She peered around Lance to scowl at me.
“Um, sorry,” I mumbled. “Iâ¦ Iâ¦ didn't hear you.” I could feel my face turn deep scarlet.
Lance twisted around to stare down at me with hazel eyes flecked with brown. His cropped sandy-colored hair looked like velvet. I blinked rapidly and swallowed again.
“Do you want to go to the football game with us Friday night?” Farah repeated the question. “Unless of course, you have plans with your thriller boyfriend.”
Of course, I had plans with Marc. Like a tidy routine, we went to the game together every Friday night.
“Want to go or not?” Farah crossed her arms.
“Sure, I'll go with you.”
I nearly choked.
Those words did not come out of my mouth
“Okay.” Lance got up and stretched. My eyes clung to him as he sauntered off. “See you then.”
Farah squinted at me. “Okay, Emili, dish. What
“What do you mean?”
mean? You're kidding, right? I know you and Marc are going together. You're so predictable, it's pathetic. I only asked you so Lance would know it's not a date. I have my eye onâ¦ well, it doesn't matter. So, dish.”
I scooted the bench back and picked up my lunch sack. “There's nothing to dish. Marc might be busy this Friday.” A zing of conscience jolted me. I wasn't a liar and had no practice with it. My answer sounded completely lame even to my own ears.
I plopped back down. “Oh man, what am I going to do?”
“Burn to a crisp for lying I imagine.”
“Not funny, Farah. I can't go with you and Lance.”
“Well, surely Marc will let you go with me,” she said.
“No buts, I need you to come. So, tell Marc you're going with me. It's the truth, right?”
I hesitated. Well, I was going with her. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Okay. It's settled then. Can I spend the night on Friday? I have plans, and Mom isn't too keen on me right now.”
“I'll ask.” I knew what my mom would say.
Oh, such a nice girl, certainly she can stay.
And my dad â he was never home anyway, so what did it matter?
Farah's vivid green eyes were wide and innocent-looking. I have no idea how she accomplished such a look. Then she flashed me the smile that made every guy in school weak in the knees.
Like everyone dealing with Farah, I knew I might as well give in. “Yeah, you can stay.”
She grabbed her tray and jumped up. “Great. Thanks, Emili.”
I was getting a bad feeling in my gut. But then I thought of Lance and how he looked as he swaggered away from us.
I had to ignore my gut. People did it every day.
Farah's eyes focused on her reflection. “Not bad,” she said, pulling on her thigh-high skirt. “Not bad at all.”
It was Friday night before the game. Farah stood in my bedroom preening in front of the mirror. I had the coolest mirror in the world. The frame had a zany comic strip collage I glued on three years ago. It took me forever to line the strips up perfectly, but I finally got them right and I still loved the dumb thing.
Farah, however, was not looking at the comic strips.
“You can't sit in such a short skirt, can you?” I asked. “Your, you knowâ¦umâ¦ it's just too short.”
I, on the other hand, was wearing parent-approved jeans and a pale yellow T-shirt. To be fair, it was my favorite T-shirt and I'd been complimented on it more than once. Sadly, I didn't have Farah's skill or style in putting together an outfit.
“What's wrong with showing some skin, Emili? No harm in advertising.”
I rolled my eyes. “Are you going to let my mom see you?”
“I'm not a total idiot.” She pulled on her long navy-blue pea coat, moved a step closer to me, and sniffed. “Mixing potions again?”
“Like it? It's jasmine with a tinge of grapefruit oil.”
“Not bad. Anything's better than the lemon-whatever you made last week. You smelled like dish detergent.”
“I know. I kind of screwed up that batch.”
“And by the way, your outfit is pathetic.” Farah shook her head.
She was right â my outfit sucked. But what difference did it make? I couldn't begin to compare with her anyway.
For one thing, Farah had curves, a real hour-glass figure. I was on the skinny side, which meant a double-A bra and hardly any butt. Her eyes were an interesting green, mine were dirt brown. “Cow eyes,” my little sister called them.
Thanks a lot
At least my hair was decent, falling thick and cinder-black to the middle of my back. Recently, I'd spent hours in front of the mirror, trying to perfect the hair-behind-the-shoulder toss. I'd watched Farah do it enough times. But I couldn't get beyond looking like a robot or an over-exuberant five-year-old.
I walked over to my dresser where Farah had thrown her purse, knocking all my perfume-making supplies over. I took her bag and laid it on the end of my bed. I was straightening everything up when she grabbed my arm.
“You moved my purse.” Her tone was sharp, accusing, and she had a panicked look in her eye.
“It knocked all my stuff over. You know how much these oils cost?”
Her grip tightened. “Did you get in it?”
I tried to shake off her hand. “Man, Farah, let go, will you? You're hurting me.”
She dropped my arm and repeated, “Did you get in it?”
“No. What do I care about your stupid purse? What's in there anyway?” I started rubbing the red mark she'd left on my arm.
She blinked rapidly, took a deep breath, and then pasted on a wobbly smile. “Uh, sorry. Just forget it, it's nothing.” She leaned over, picked up the purse and slung it over her shoulder.
“I think your ânothing' gave me a bruise.” I inspected my arm and turned back to the dresser to re-organize my perfumes. The glass bottles clinked against each other as I carefully lined them up according to size.
“Emili?” She spoke quietly.
“I guess I kind of overreacted.”
Neither of us said anything for a long minute. Then Farah cleared her throat and started digging in her suitcase, which was balancing on the edge of my desk.
“Want to use some of my eye shadow? I've got some light gray in here somewhere. It'd look good on you.” Her voice was back to normal. She tossed me her cosmetic bag. “Where's all the make-up I donated to your cause? And would you please quit cleaning? Your room is way too neat, it's not natural. You're a teenager, so it's your duty to have a messy room. Come on and hurry up, it's time to go.”