Magpie Grove High School, 10 years ago…
“And that is why Kirk Gibbleshot should be the end of year guest speaker, not Glenda Thornrims.”
The basketball stadium, packed with our entire year level, stands up and applauds for my enemy. Knoxfield Sebastian Casey.
Gone are the days where he wore his hair like a mop, and he didn’t care what kind of clothes he wore to school, and his teachers thought he had a bad attitude. Now he wears the right clothes. His wavy light brown hair has been cut so that it’s long enough to fall over his forehead but looks stylish instead of messy. He charms the teachers, and he takes a different girl out every weekend.
He isn’t my friend anymore; he’s one of them – the same group of lemmings we used to joke about.
“Sorry, Reese,” Gabe says beside me as if it’s his fault we lost this battle.
“Yes, I’m sorry, Reese,” Bex chimes in from next to him. “I know how much you wanted to win.”
It’s not Gabe and Bex’ fault we’ve lost the debate. It’s not their fault that I’ve been tied up until now with Knox for the internship offered by The Sydney Sun. It’s not their fault I made a bet with Knox over who would win this debate. Stupidly, I believed our classmates would vote for my team when they heard our logical and passionate speeches. But they’ll never pick my team over Knox’. I’ve lost, and Knox knows it, too, because he chooses this moment to look over and smirk at me.
My traitorous heart beats harder as his golden-brown eyes lock with mine. He has no idea, thank God, that it’s his hands I imagine on my body every night, and his lips I go to sleep thinking about. The hurt and rejection I felt when he ended our friendship without any explanation should have put a stop to the fantasies I’d had about him back when we were friends, but I’ve spent the last year trying to overcome my crush.
“Our arguments were great,” I tell my team, my gaze still locked with Knox’. “We put the effort in, and it showed. They just have a few extra voters on their side.”
Knox chooses this moment to walk over and stand in front of our table. I focus on maintaining eye contact. I don’t let my gaze drift down to admire the way his shirt has moulded itself to his muscles. He wasn’t always so built or so tough. When he arrived in this town, he was tall and thin. Now he’s muscular and tanned from all his time spent swimming and lifeguarding.
“I hope you’re not going to try and weasel out of our bet, Cameron.”
“I’d never weasel out of anything,” I force out between gritted teeth. “I was merely commiserating with my team over the fact that popularity will win over quality.”
He crosses his arms, but that smirk – that annoying smirk that I just want to slap off his gorgeous face – grows bigger. “So, it’s sour grapes, then?”
“I’m not sour at all. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We put forward our best arguments-“
“Good. I wouldn’t want to think you lost on purpose because you enjoy cleaning my car so much.”
I don’t blush easily, but the way Knox is looking at me, as if he knows – knows! – how much I wished it was me he was taking me out in that car he loves so much instead of Taya McDonnel, causes my face to sting with heat.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Knox. I don’t want to go anywhere near your car again.”
He leans in closer, closer, closer, until his lips are just millimetres away from mine, and his sweet peppermint-scented breath hits me. I can’t take my eyes off his lips. How many nights have I thought about that mouth on mine? His reputation for bringing girls pleasure is well-known.
He stands up straight again, his small and intimate chuckle ringing through me and turning me inside out. “Don’t you?” he asks smugly.
Curse you, Knox. I will never, ever, give you the satisfaction of knowing just how much you affect me.
I sit back and glare at him, wishing my face would stop burning and my heart would stop racing like a greyhound after a rabbit. “Mr Thomas hasn’t announced the winner yet. You might be cleaning my car,” I tell him.
Annoyingly, he doesn’t look too upset by the idea. If anything, he looks amused. “Would you like that? For me to wax your car?”
The way he says wax…it’s so dirty. My racing pulse moves lower, settling in my belly as my heart beats even harder.
“You’re disgusting,” I hiss, hoping like hell I don’t look and sound as excited as I feel right now.
“Knox,” Mr Thomas says, walking over to our table. “Can you sit down now? We’re going to work out the winner.”
“Isn’t everybody voting on the way out?” I ask our English teacher, nervous that we may have an answer so quickly.
I need at least the weekend before the official result is announced. I can’t face the consequences of the losing today.
Mr Thomas dashes my hopes by shaking his head and smiling a small smile. “You know what these kids are like, Reese. Might as well pin them to an answer now.”
He steps away from our table and claps his hands to quieten Magpie Grove’s entire year twelve class.
“Right, listen up!” Mr Thomas yells over the sound of an entire year level gossiping and joking. “We’re going to vote. Let’s start with Reese Cameron’s team first. They had some excellent thoughts on why Glenda Thornrims should be the end of year guest speaker. Can all of you wanting to vote for Glenda as the end of year speaker please stand up.”
I watch with growing horror as a few people shuffle to their feet. I count them. Then I count them again. Over and over, I count them, hoping I’m imagining our complete lack of support. Out of our entire year level, we have eleven votes.
For the second time today, my cheeks sting with the heat of embarrassment. These people used to like me. Before the car accident which killed my mother and my father’s subsequent breakdown, I was popular. I was invited to all the parties and asked out all the time. I used to compete for Queen Bee instead of internships. After I gave up drinking every weekend and going to parties because my father and brother needed me at home, Taya and my whole friendship group turned their back on me. As if it wasn’t bad enough my mum was gone forever…
A few months later, Knox arrived at the school. He was grieving both of his parents and hated living with his uncle, and I was bitter over the way things at school had gone down. We started hanging out every lunchtime, and for eighteen good months, I had a friend. A friend who I grew to care about more and more. And then…poof. He dumps my friendship a year ago for the very same in-crowd he used to look down upon with scorn and bitterness.
No matter how hard I try to forget about him and the way he abandoned me, the memory bites just as much now as it did twelve months ago.
And right now, remembering his easy rejection and seeing how few people are willing to stand up and vote for my team is devastating.
I can feel Knox looking over at me, but I refuse to look back at him. He’s probably grinning at just how large his victory is. Of course, the result doesn’t reflect anything but how much everyone likes Knox these days. If they knew what he used to say to them behind their backs a year ago…
“Is that all?” Mr Thomas asks, clearly surprised by the results.
He shouldn’t be surprised. He likes Knox just as much as everybody else at this school. Mr Thomas is a great English teacher, and I’ve always enjoyed his classes, but he was the one who encouraged Knox to apply for the internship. It’s a position only made available to Magpie Grove High students. This is because it fills the newspaper’s requirements to support public schools, while still giving an advantage to the wealthy residents of Magpie Grove who regularly donate to the paper.
And I get why Knox wants the scholarship as much as he does. But I need it, too. Writing has been my solace since the accident. When no one else was interested in what was happening in my life, it was the school paper that welcomed me with open arms. Bex and Gabe have been wonderful. Incidentally, most of the people standing now are friends with Bex and Gabe and me and write with us on the school paper.
“Right, thank you,” Mr Thomas calls. “You can sit back down now. Can everyone who wants Kirk Gibbleshot to be the end of year speaker please stand up now.”
Adding insult to injury, the whole auditorium, minus the eleven people who voted for us, stand up and applaud.
I still can’t bring myself to look at Knox. Not only is he now ahead on points for the internship, but I’m dreading what he’s going to make me do since I’ve lost out the bet. If he asks me to wash his car again because he’s taking Taya to prom in it, I just might scream.
As soon as Mr Thomas announces Knox’ team the winner, everyone starts filing out of the stadium. I say a quick goodbye to my team, grab my bag, and do my best to file out with everybody so that I don’t have to face Knox again this afternoon.
Hearing Knox call me, I push through the stadium door and start jogging towards the school gate, ready to go home.
Knox is faster on foot than I am, though, and when I feel his hand on my shoulder, and tingles shoot down my arm, I know I’m caught.
Whirling around, I glare at Knox. “Congratulations. You won. But can’t this wait? I have to get home?”
Knox grins, looking over at the football oval and then back at me. “You know, I could make you run around the football field naked if I wanted to.”
I should never have let him talk me into making another stupid bet. It’s just that we used to make bets all the time when we were friends. Stupid little bets that would make me laugh and take my mind off things at home. The bets should have stopped when our friendship did. But every time he proposes one, I agree. Wrongly, I keep thinking it might jog his memory and remind him we used to be friends.
“I could if I wanted to, is all I’m saying.”
“Then I’m glad you don’t want to.”
The grin slips off his face and he looks at me with an expression that’s serious instead of smug.
“You’re right. I don’t want that.”
“What do you want, then?”
“I want you to be my date for Prom.”
I’m not sure I heard him right because it sounded as if he just asked me to prom. And I know that can’t be true because Taya McDonnel has talked non-stop about the fact Knox is taking her to Prom for weeks now.
“I said, I want you to be my date to Prom,” he repeats.
“I don’t understand.”
His smirk is back now, and I don’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I prefer his smugness to his serious face. “You dress up. I dress up. Then-“
“You don’t need to explain what we do.”
He chuckles. “Good. For a second, I thought I was going to have to start drawing diagrams. Come on, Reese. We’ll have fun.”
I know exactly what kind of fun Knox likes to have with his dates. I glare at him, even though the very thought of what he’s proposing and the way he’s looking at me right now leaves me hot, bothered, and aching for him the way I do every night as I go to sleep dreaming about him.
“What about Taya? I thought you were taking her.”
“I was going to go with her, but I’ve decided I’d rather go with an old friend.”
His voice is soft and his eyes warm. It’s the first time since he ended our friendship with no explanation that he’s acknowledged we used to be friends. Aside from all the asinine bets he still proposes all the time, anyway. And despite myself, I smile back at him.
“Yeah, don’t you?”
Far, far more than I’ll ever admit. “It might not be too terrible,” I say. “I can think of a time when we could talk about more than who would win the internship.”
I stop smiling just as Gabe and Bex walk past us, shooting me a curious look and reminding me of the conversation I had with Gabe just a few days ago. My entire body slumps with disappointment.
“I’m sorry, Knox, I can’t. I already told Gabe I’d go with him.”
Irritation flares in my rival’s golden-brown depths before he replaces it with a smile and shrugs. “Tell him you’ve changed your mind and you’re going with me now.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Then you have to pay the penalty for welching.”
“I’m not withdrawing my application for the position at the Sun, if that’s what you’re implying.”
“Then I guess we’re going to prom together. What colour is your dress?”
“I haven’t bought it yet.”
“Let know when you do.” He winks. “See you round, Reese.”
I can’t believe it – Knox wants to take me to Prom. Does he remember our time as friends as fondly as I do? Does he feel bad for turning his back on me? Has he started thinking about me the way I think about him?
I feel awful about having to tell Gabe I can’t be his date anymore, but I still find myself smiling and thinking about dress shopping as I follow everybody else to their lockers.