She looked at me sadly and led Brandon away to dance.
“Let’s go outside and get some air,” Luke said. He gently put his hand on my back and guided me through the crowd.
Outside the gym, there were a few other couples talking and getting into their cars.
Luke and I walked over to an empty bench and sat down. The cool, night air felt good after the stuffiness of the gym.
“Are you cold?” Luke asked.
“No, I’m fine.”
We sat there on the bench for a few minutes until I broke the silence.
“I’m so sorry, Luke.”
“For keeping this secret from you.”
Luke said, “Look at me.”
I felt so ashamed and wanted to look away but I couldn’t. Then I started crying like a dork.
“Hey, don’t cry.”
“Aren’t you mad at me?”
“No. But I’m a little hurt that you kept this from me. You need to understand that you can tell me anything. You need to trust me. Also, you worry too much about what others think, Julianne. You focus on the outside when you need to look inside.”
“I know.” I looked down.
Just then, some guy and his pals walked by snickering. They looked our way and one of them said, “Hi, Freak Girl.”
Another guy yelled, “Julianne Steele, the druggie! No wonder you’re the most popular girl in school. You’re probably a dealer to the stoner crowd.”
Luke jumped up, got in the guy’s face and told him off. Luke is one of the sweetest people, it was so weird seeing him so protective and defending me, but I liked it. When he sat back down he apologized for losing his temper and took my hand in his.
“I know it must have been lonely keeping such a secret. I know you sometimes worry I’ll dump you but you need to stop thinking that. I really like you, Julianne. I like what’s on the inside. I’ve seen you put on this ‘cool’ front and you strive to make everyone like you, but you don’t have to try so hard. Just be yourself.”
After hearing him say that, it made the tears fall again. Luke handed me his handkerchief. I dabbed at my eyes.
“I like you too. A lot.”
“You want to back inside?”
“No. I can’t face Maddie or anyone else. Anyways, my best friend is so ticked off at me. I think she hates me.”
“If she’s a true best friend, and I think that she is, she’ll come around. Just give her some time. C’mere.”
Luke hugged me close and kissed my forehead. We held hands and sat in silence for a little longer until a voice interrupted us.
Maddie stood there. “Julianne, can we talk?”
“I’d like that,” I said.
Luke said he would go hang out with Brandon for a while.
“Thanks,” I smiled up at Luke. “Thanks for everything.” He smiled back and walked into the gym.
Maddie sat down next to me and sighed. “I’m not angry anymore. I was just so mad that you didn’t feel you could count on me enough to be able to talk to me.”
“I’m really sorry I kept such a secret from you, Maddie.
“I know. I forgive you. I just wish you would have talked me. I want you to know you can talk to me about anything. At any time.”
“I was worried about what you would think of me just...sometimes I feel like I can’t live up to anyone’s expectations and I feel like I must hold everything together.”
“Julianne Steele, I’m your best friend and we might not always agree, but I would never think badly of you, or judge you. Do you get that now?”
I half smiled. “Yeah, I get it.”
“You are the strongest person I know but you worry too much about being popular. If someone doesn’t like you, it’s their loss. Also, your moment of fame or infamy is being stolen by Chantal.” She grinned.
“She was caught with a tiny bottle of liquor in her dress. When she started doing her crazy dance moves again, it fell and broke. You should have seen Principal Jensen.”
I laughed. “Poor Chantal.”
Maddie said, “Let’s go back in and see what we missed.”
As we were about to open the gym doors, Maddie gave me a quick hug.
“You’re my best friend and you’re like a sister to me, Julianne. Don’t you ever forget it.
“I never will.”
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