"You don't know pain until you are staring at yourself in the mirror with tears in your eyes, begging yourself to just hold on and be strong. That is pain." ~ Unknown
"Layla! Girl, where have you been? I missed you all summer?" Kate Withers was pretty much my only closest friend at this school. We weren't best friends, no. I refused to allow myself to be close to anyone like that ever again. Truth be told, it wasn't hard to maintain that. I didn't feel that lonely because I was used to it. In Georgia, I didn't have best friends. I had friends I went out to have fun with. I had guys who only wanted sex and nothing more. I didn't have close relationships with anyone. I learned to be alone in my thoughts and just let loose and have fun.
When I got to this school, I wasn't planning on making any friends here at all. I planned to keep my head down and not say a word to anybody unless I really needed too.
However, that plan didn't quite go as expected, because Kate Withers was one social butterfly. Literally, everyone one in school knew who she was because was that easy to get along with. The school I attended didn't have the cliches that were always depicted in teen dramas. There were no "cliques" so to say. Sure there were people who were more popular than others and people who weren't as popular, social status really didn't mean a thing here. There was a zero tolerance for bullying, but I my school didn't have that problem, to begin with. It was like everyone here was family. Sometimes, I often felt like an intruder in my own school. I felt like I didn't belong.
"Sorry, my family and I went on vacation for the whole summer. "The lie passed through my lips easily. Kate tried. She really did try to make an effort to see me. I'll give her credit for that. But outside of school, I spent my time alone lost in my own thoughts.
Kate's smile didn't falter. "That's okay. We should still try to hang sometime soon, yeah? Oh! Abby, hey!" Just like, the social butterfly was off again. She could talk to anyone and they would feel comfortable within her presence immediately. She was like that though. It was her personality. With her long platinum blonde hair that curled just passed her waist, to her captivating blue eyes and her warm inviting smile, Kate Withers was perfect in every sense of the word. She had that vibe about her a person simply couldn't resist. Her outfits revealed skin but didn't leave little to the imagination. She always dressed respectfully and was a model student.
I always envied her for it. But at the same time, I didn't. Kate deserved it. She was so nice. Too nice in my opinion. I felt like she was too... naive. I just prayed no one ever tainted her beautiful soul. She was pure. I wanted it to stay like that.
* * *
At lunch, I sat next to Kate. We didn't talk. She talked to others around her.
In some ways, I admired her. It was like she didn't have a judgemental bone in her body. Like she saw passed my baggy clothes and dead eyes to see a girl who was simply in need of a friend.
"Did you hear about the new guy? Gosh, he's so hot! He's two of my classes!" My ears perked up at that.
The new guy?
"Yeah, he's pretty cute. I invited him to sit with us for lunch." Kate replied, making my hands still. I wasn't really eating. The school food was gross. I was simply picking at my food, listening to the conversation with little interest. "Oh. Here he comes. Zander! Over here!"
I looked up hesitantly. I wasn't too surprised to find my neighbor walking over to our table. Even though I barely caught a glimpse of him from my driveway, I could tell it was the same guy. He wore a sly smile on his lips, revealing a dimple on his left cheek. His brown locks spiked up perfectly. His hands shoved deep into his pockets, and when he finally sat down- right across from me, mind you- I was able to get a good look at his eyes. Pools of honey mixed with specks of brown. His eyes were gorgeous, I'll give him that. His jaw was angeled like that of some model for Calvin Klein. His lips never wavered in the sly smirk of his.
"Hello, ladies," his voice was like velvet; so smooth and endearing.
Back in Georgia, he was likely one of the guys I would go for.
But I was a changed girl. I wouldn't be spreading my legs to anybody ever again.
"Hi, Zander. I'm glad you could make it. Here, let me introduce you," Kate started, pointing to the brown haired girl on his right who was blushing like crazy. "That's Abby," she pointed to the girl on his left. "That's Sam." She went down the line at the table. Finally, she landed on me. "And this here is Layla."
His eyes found mine, the smirk never leaving his lips. "Pleasure to meet you girls. But I won't lie, remembering all of your names like that won't be easy. Forgive me if I forget."
I rolled my eyes. Smooth.
Kate waved him off. "Oh, that's okay. We don't expect you to remember all of our names, silly." The girls at the table giggled and I tried to restrain another eye roll.
Could they get any girlier?
Even when I was back in Georgia I wasn't like this.
"Anyways, so I'm throwing a little get to together. Kinda like a celebration for our senior year - we all made it and such. It's this Saturday if you wanna go." Kate smiled, showing her pearly whites.
"Sure. I'll try and make it." Zander smiled.
I knew he wouldn't refuse. No one could say no to Kate.
"You should come too, Layla." She nudged me.
"I don't think I can make it, sorry."
Well, except for me. Kate always invited me to her little "get together" but I always came up with an excuse. I didn't want to go to a party ever again. I didn't think my anxiety would let me.
"No. Layla, you're not getting out of this, this time. It's the beginning of school. We don't get homework until next week. You're coming. Even if I have to drag you out of your house, myself. Don't forget that I know where you live." Kate warned, her voice full of promise.
But I shook my head, still. I wasn't giving in. "Kate, thank you for the invite. But um, parties aren't my thing." I told her, beginning to play with my food once again, fully aware of Zander's intense gaze settled on me.
"Don't be silly. Layla. It's not going to be a big party. Just a small get together. My last party took forever to clean so I'm only inviting like twenty people this time. You're not getting out of this, Layla. Not this time." She sang, a victorious smile on her face.
I said nothing back. Maybe she'll forget this whole thing by Saturday, and I won't have to go. For now, she can think she won.
"Anyways," Kate looked back to Zander. "Where'd you move from?"
"I'm from Georgia," he replied, making my movements stiffen once again. I snapped my head up, looking at him intently.
"Georgia? Really?" Kate smiled, slinging an arm around me. "So is Layla. Do you guys know each other."
"No," my reply was a little too quick but I didn't care. It wasn't a lie. I had never seen him before.
"No," Zander paused, gazing at me. "I was homeschooled up until now. My older brother and I moved up here after my parents died. And before you start saying sorry, stop right there. I wasn't close to my parents at all so it's not a huge loss. My brother and I thought Virginia would be a good place to start fresh." He finished, and the entire table was silent.
He even left Kate speechless. "Oh," she squealed out. "I'm sor-"
"No apologies, remember." Zander cut her off, the grin never leaving his lips.
"Right," Kate smiled slightly. "Well, we're glad you decided to come here, Zander. I think you'll find your stay at Lakewood High rather pleasant. We'll be sure to give the whole high school experience. It'll be a year you'll never forget!"
Zander looked at me again, his honey eyes full of a kind of an intensity that scared me. "I don't doubt it," he spoke softly, his eyes never leaving mine.