Home > Be the Girl(9)

Be the Girl(9)
Author: K.A. Tucker

I can’t help but smile. So far, Ms. Moretti is about as opposite to my last guidance counselor as you can get. Aside from the physical attributes—Mrs. Forester was gray-haired, had yellow teeth from smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, and her style consisted of shapeless dresses and UGGs—she didn’t give a rat’s ass what happened to me or anyone else, as long as she got to retire with her pension at the end of it all. She even said as much to me once.

Meanwhile, here’s this youthful, compact woman across from me, wearing a flirty eggplant-colored dress and a smile, making a genuine effort to motivate me.

Little does she realize, she’s dangled a gorgeous, dimple-cheeked carrot in the air that I can’t ignore.

I hesitate. “So, when does training start?”

I assumed all high school cafeterias were the same—dark, crowded, and comparable to the prison meal rooms you see on TV. And, before a renovation two years ago that saw a giant addition built onto the back of the school, the same probably could’ve been said for Eastmonte Secondary’s cafeteria.

I inhale the smell of gravy-laden meat wafting from the lunch line as I take in the bright space—double-story ceilings and a full panel of glass that overlooks the sports field and track and allows in ample daylight; everything is in soft shades of gray and tan with a mixture of round and rectangular tables that seat anywhere from two to twenty people. They even have television screens mounted on the walls!

I spot Jen waving me over to a table by the window and relief swarms me. I duck my head, trying to ignore the glances. In a school of sixteen hundred and sixty-six students, being the new girl is still notable.

“How was the rest of your morning?” Jen asks around a mouthful of her ham-and-cheese sandwich. She’s sitting beside a small Asian girl with a heavy bang cut just above her eyebrows; she peers up at me with a timid smile.

“Okay.”

“This is Josie. Josie, this is Aria.”

Josie nods at me, and while her mouth moves, I don’t actually hear the hello that comes out.

“Hey.” I dump my own lunch—an apple and cream-cheese bagel—out of my lunch bag, starved. Emmett was right—the late lunch sucks. “Math with Mr. Lewis.”

Jen grimaces. “I had him last year. He’s tough.”

“So it seems.” His thick gray mustache lifted with his easy smile as he strolled around the classroom handing out a three-page pop quiz full of equations for us to complete. It’s meant to help him gauge what he’s working with. A pop quiz, five minutes after sitting down. And I don’t think I answered any of the questions right.

Next to that, Biology with Ms. Singh was a breeze.

“At least one more class and you’ve made it through your first day, right?”

“Right.” And English has always been my favorite. I glance around at the sea of faces. I recognize one or two from my classes, but that’s all.

A burst of laughter carries over the loud buzz of conversation. I glance over to see Holly strut down the stairs from the second floor with a tall, willowy brunette, turning heads as she strolls toward the lunch service line, her toned thighs flexing with each step on those wedge sandals. She waggles her painted fingers at a table nearby, nodding as they point to the vacant seats beside them, mouthing “Thank you!”

“Is she for real? Holly Webber, I mean.”

Jen’s blue-gray eyes flash to the blonde bombshell, where they sit a moment. “Why are you asking?”

“No reason. She just seems so perfect.”

“She does, doesn’t she?” Jen picks at the top of her bun, breaking off bits of bread to make it look like something has nibbled on it.

Josie doesn’t say a word. I have a feeling we won’t be having many conversations.

“So, when did she and Emmett hook up?” I ask casually.

“The start of last year. That’s when she moved here. It didn’t take long for that to happen.” Jen’s eyes widen with emphasis. “She looks like that and Emmett’s like, Mr. Popular, in case you haven’t figured that out yet.”

“I took a wild guess.” I join in, pulling my bagel into bite-sized chunks.

“Yeah, everyone’s saying he’s going to end up in the NHL.” She shrugs. “I don’t know. I don’t like hockey. But he’s nice. And smart. We were biology partners last year and he did his fair share of the work, and never made fun of people. Not like the other jock assholes who just want to get drunk and laid and be general jerks. Not that Emmett’s lacking in the ‘getting laid’ department. If the rumors after every party are true, those two are doing it every chance they get,” she says. “But at least he’s nice.”

My stomach squeezes. But of course they are. I would be, too. Even though I haven’t actually done “it” with anyone yet. But if I were with Emmett, I doubt I’d be able to keep my hands off him.

I squash that flare of envy, needing to get my mind off the boy next door. “So, what do you know about Mr. Kapp?” Emmett alluded to there being something worth gossiping about.

Jen freezes, her sandwich halfway to her mouth, exchanging a wary expression with Josie.

“Aria.”

My heart jumps at the sound of my name on Emmett’s tongue. I spin around to find him hovering over me, backpack slung over his shoulder, his wavy hair tousled as if he ran his fingers through it—or someone ran her fingers through it. His phone is in his hand. “Hey.”

“What’s your number? I should have it, in case of an emergency.”

I swallow against my suddenly dry mouth. “I don’t remember it. It’s new.”

He grins. “Gimme your phone.”

I dig it out of my side pocket and hand it to him, glancing around to make sure no teacher’s watching.

“It’s locked.” He holds it out for me to unlock with my thumbprint.

“Wow. Black home screen. This is a new phone,” he says, his thumbs flying over the key pad. “’Kay. I’m in there. And now”—he sends himself a text on my phone. A chirp sounds in his pocket with the incoming message—“I have yours.” He hands me my phone, his fingertips skating across mine, sending an electric current through my entire body. “See you later, AJ. Gotta run. Coach will kick my ass if I’m late.”

“Yeah. See ya,” I manage, staring at his retreating back.

“Well, girls …?” Uncle Merv pauses trimming the bush by the front porch to watch us approach, his wide-brimmed straw hat shading most of his face. “How was the first day of school?”

“Good. There are two new kids in my class this year. Adnan and Ophelia. Adnan is fifteen and Ophelia is fourteen. She has a dog named Rusty. He’s a mixed breed,” Cassie declares. Details I’ve already heard during our walk home, along with the names of every pet on the street, the names of the dogs at the shelter where she volunteers, and her favorite chocolate brands. Which is all of them, just ranked.

Uncle Merv’s eyes narrow. “And are these kids troublemakers?”

Cassie laughs. “No, Uncle Merv. I think you’re a troublemaker.”

He chuckles as he leans in to inspect a thorny branch. “You might be right.”

“Whose truck is that?” She points to the red pickup in our driveway, parked behind Uncle Merv’s silver Oldsmobile—that I haven’t seen leave the driveway since we’ve been here.

“That’s the plumber. He’s been here for hours. Woke me up from my nap with all the damn noise.”

Cassie giggles as she always does when he says “damn,” but then her face goes blank as she seems to process this new information. “There’s something wrong with your plumbing.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“So I’ve been told,” he grumbles.

“There is?” she corrects.

“Cassie!” Heather calls from her porch, waving her daughter home.

“Oh, I have to go. I have swimming tonight!” She rushes off, galloping across the grass toward her mother.

“Thank you for walking her home!” Heather smiles at me.

“No problem!” I sigh with the sudden peace. If Cassie’s not prattling, she’s asking question after question.

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