Chapter 25: Young Blood - The Naked and Famous
The final weeks of my last school summer vacation felt strange. Which each moment that passed, I knew I’d never be in that position again. It made me nostalgic for what I had done, while also anxious to make the most of what I had left. The chance that all of us would live in the same city after high school was nonexistent. None of us were really looking to stay the same people forever, but the prospect of them no longer being on my team in months’ time was depressing. I knew I’d get through, but I still wanted them. I loved how Izzie could make me laugh for no reason at all. Morgan was always a source of calm in our sea of craziness. Sami and Finn’s tag-team antics were the stuff of legends. My most in-depth movie discussions were always with Nick. Milo’s constant accidents allowed me to use my wealth of Web MD knowledge. And Ryan, well, he pretty much guaranteed there was never a dull moment.
My most heated arguments were with him. Attempting to outsmart him produced many of my greatest ideas. At the same time, he could make me smile like no one else. He was the first boy that was aware of the fact that I had OCD. It wasn’t something I planned to make a habit of, but not having to distance myself when my compulsions were more prominent alleviated a lot of pressure. I didn’t have to dilute my intensity either. He knew I made Power Points to express my ideas to a group on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. We had a shared love of control. How far I was willing to get it was alarming at times. Being in the same boat, he couldn’t exactly judge me for it.
For the first time in my life, I diverted my eyes from the future. I made a point to take in everything around me, savoring all the seconds, because our timeline stated that we were at the beginning of the end.
“We are returning to the palace tonight. The media are there to report on my mother’s departure. I need to be there to say farewell. I will leave money here for you. There is a music festival on the pier this afternoon. It would be best to get there via vespa. I taught Iz how to drive this summer. Ryan, Finn, and Nick learned last spring holiday. I will meet you there as soon as I am finished at home.” Milo announced as we were finishing up breakfast.
“I’ll be driving us to his home.” I reminded Ryan with a smile.
“Were you serious about Elle driving or was that a joke?” He asked instead of taking my word for it.
“I’ve got the keys. He gave them to me last night.” I removed them from my purse and dangled them in the air.
He gasped in outrage. “Seriously, Miles?!”
“I know better than to argue with Sami. She requested Elle. Take it up with her.”
He looked over at her. “I drive you around all the time!”
“And I’m ready to experience the law-abiding greatness that is Elle’s driving.” She smiled at him cheekily.
I giggled. He narrowed his eyes and shook his head at me.
“I’m going to be the ultimate backseat driver.” He vowed, refusing to waiver.
“Are we going with driver’s manual rules or real-life road etiquette?”
“Listonenian driving manual rules.” He challenged.
“I have hours to study up. Give me everything you’ve got.” I offered him my hand.
“Don’t worry. I will.” He shook it, holding eye contact.
After finishing the last of our meals, we went to the game room in the basement. I fought the urge to pull out my phone and start studying by walking over to Morgan, who was sitting on the couch, watching TV.
I sat down beside her. “So, are we going to call now?”
She sighed and glanced over at me. “Nick told me band camp was really challenging this year. He’s barely been home a day. I don’t want to drop this sort of bomb on him while he’s recovering.”
“Honey, --“ I placed my hand on her back.
“—there’s no right time to break up with someone. It’s best to do it like a Band-Aid. Rip it off quickly. The pain will be minimal. If you drag it on in hopes of persevering feelings, it’ll hurt you more than necessary. You especially because you’re so sensitive to the feelings of others.” I broke down for her gently, rubbing her shoulder.
“We’re not even sure he’s my boyfriend.”
“He has a Facebook, right? I’m almost positive I have him as a friend.” I pulled out my phone.
“I think so. I haven’t been on mine in so long.” She answered.
“Have you been on it since you’ve been hanging out?” I glanced over at her.
“No. Should I have?” She questioned, a bit apprehensive.
“Sign in. In order to change your status to ‘In a Relationship with [insert name here]’, a relationship approval request is sent to the supposed significant other. You know, so that people can’t claim to be in relationships with people that want nothing to do with them.”
“You think he sent me one?” She removed her phone from the pocket of her shorts.
“I can’t see him being hesitant to make it official. He’s far from a player.”
“I have one. He sent it four months ago. Now I feel really bad.” She looked over at me.
“There are far worse offenses. At least we know for sure now.” I offered her a smile.
“Is there a way you can talk me through it?”
“We can go to the next room, shut the door, and put him on speakerphone. When you’re unsure of what to say, I’ll type an appropriate response on my phone and show it to you.” I suggested.
“Yes, that’d be great.”
I linked my arm with hers. The two of us left the room and went into the guest room. I locked the door as she paced the front of the room, nibbling on her thumbnail.
I placed my hands on her shoulders. “Honey, breathe.”
“The room feels like it’s getting smaller.” She continued to panic.
I escorted her over to the window and opened it. “Fresh air. Feel better?”
She ran a hand through her hair. “I don’t want him to hate me.” She admitted.
“You’re not going to be mean about it. You’re simply being honest with yourself. It’ll sting a bit, but If he’s mature, he’ll respect your feelings.” I reassured.
She exhaled. “Okay, here it goes.” She selected his name and put it on speakerphone.
I sat down on the bed as the ringing sound of her phone attempting to reach his filled the room. She resumed pacing by the window.
“Hey! Thanks for calling. My mom invited our whole family over for a barbeque. My grandma was asking Anna and I how often we spend time together at SMA. She’d be really disappointed by the truth, but I can’t bring myself to lie to her. She’s precious.” He answered in an upbeat manner.
“Awww!” I cooed as I placed my hand on my chest. She looked at me incredulously. I mouthed ‘sorry’.
“That’s so cute. I’m sure she’s great.” She pretended it was her.
“I might be a bit biased. What have you been up to?”
“I’m in Listonenia right now. Milo’s dad flew us in for his 18th birthday.” She replied as she resumed pacing.
“I heard about him and Izzie today. It’s crazy. I never would’ve guessed. They were always so nice the times I’ve been around them.”
“Wait, what?” She immediately got defensive, as did I.
“They’ve done some really out there things; it’s sort of a tossup when it comes to which rap sheet is worse. That’s why I couldn’t bring myself to believe it at first. When Anna came over, she said she was so hard on him when they were dating to keep him out of trouble. It makes sense, you know?”
I physically had to place my hand over my mouth to keep from myself from fussing at him.
“I don’t know what their relationship was like, so I can’t dispute or agree with that. I don’t think that you or anyone else has the right to judge them. We all make mistakes. The difference is people get paid to share theirs with the world.” She countered in relatively nice manner.
“I can’t say I completely agree with that. What that guy did to Izzie was awful, but she brought everything else upon herself. The same can be said about all of what Milo has done. They did it. It’s impossible to disregard it when determining their character.” He argued.
“You think they are bad people?” She pressed, anger building.
“I’m not saying that. Just that, maybe they’re not the best people to spend all your time with. Trouble seems to follow them. How long until they rope you in? I’d hate for something to happen. It’d put you in a much different position than them.” He tiptoed around his response, feeling their conversation heading south.
“It’s not like that, like at all. I’ve never been pressured to do anything by them. Do you really think I’m that weak-willed?”
“No, you’re just so – agreeable. To keep the peace, you’d just say ‘why not?’ and go along with what the others were doing. You’re so nice. I don’t want anyone to take advantage of that.” He somewhat attempted to backpedal.
“What about Sami?”
“That was a given, but bringing up that she is a bad influence would be pointless. It is too obvious for you not to notice.”
“I think we should break up.” She stated calmly, breaking the silence they were momentarily sitting in.
“Why? Because of what I said about them?” He cried incredulously.
“No, because you don’t know me. It’s not your fault at all. I don’t even know who I am exactly. I can’t really commit to a relationship while I’m trying to figure it out. I’m not angry with you or anything. I’d like to remain friends.” She told him gently, looking to me for reassurance.
I flashed her a smile and gave her a thumbs up.
“Is there anything I can say that’d make you change your mind?” His tone was sad.
“Um –“ She looked to me for what to say.
I shook my head and typed a quick response into my phone. I showed it to her.
“No, I’ve got to sort this out on my own. A relationship is never the cure to an identity crisis. It tends to make things much worse, actually. Enjoy the rest of your summer. I’ll see you at school in two weeks.” She read it verbatim.
“Okay, I’ll see you then. Bye.” He stated lastly before hanging up.
“I can’t say I’m cool with him anymore. I don’t hate him, but my future interactions with him will be polite, but cold.” I stated as I cleared the text I entered and returned to my phone’s home screen.
“He doesn’t know them.” She stated simply in his defense.
“Exactly. I don’t want everyone at school to be against them the way he is. You know they don’t deserve that; their lives were the only ones at risk in all of the stunts they pulled. It’s not like they were driving drunk or drugging others.”
She nodded. “He was basically insinuating that I’m passive enough to hold drugs for them and stuff. They’re my best friends, but I never want to be involved in things like that. I’d say ‘no’ without thinking twice.” She contributed in agreement.
“They’d never put any of us in that position in the first place. We know them. We can’t let other people make us second guess that.” I locked my phone.
She nodded in agreement.
“Are you feeling okay about it?” I looked up at her.
“Yeah, relieved, actually – one less person to answer to. I would’ve broken up with him in anger if he was in my ear, bashing my involvement with all of you for an extended period of time.”
I stood up and hugged her.
“Ready to head back?” She gestured to the door with her thumb.
“I’ll be out in a second. I need to check on something.”
“Okay, I’ll see you out there.” She offered me a smile and left.
I returned to my phone. I swallowed my pride and clicked on the name I wanted. I brought it to my ear as it rang. I wrapped my free arm around myself as I roamed the room.
“Elle?” Anna cried in shock.
“Our feud’s on pause for this conversation. I need you to act like a sane human being and refrain from lying. I’ll be able to tell if you do it.” I stated calmly.
“Fine, whatever. What do you want?” She was far from enthusiastic, but it was a start.
“Why were you so controlling when you and Milo dated?”
She sighed. “He’s great to look at. That’s why we first hooked up. I later learned he’s a major dork, especially when he’s tripping all over himself. It was easy to control him at first. All I had to do was –“
“Fine, I’ll skip details. Ryan and the rest of you made it harder for me to get to him – gave him the ability to say no. I toughed it out because if our relationship worked out, I could’ve been a princess. I did what I could to make him acceptable.”
I roll my eyes at her honest, but repulsive answer. “Then don’t tell people you were doing it to keep him out of trouble.”
She scoffed. “How does that concern you?”
“They’ve gone through a lot, this summer in particular. If you cared about him at all, you won’t make their lives at SMA hell. It’s our home and the last time we’ll be there together.” I willed myself not to cry.
“I’ll leave them alone.” She conceded softly, surprisingly sympathetic.
I dabbed away the moisture collecting in my eyes. I cleared my throat. “Why did you go to prom with Scott?”
“Milo was the first person to dump me. He was happy with Isabelle –“
“You know her name.”
She sighed with exaggeration. “Whatever. I wanted to prove to myself that I could still get anyone I wanted. He was the second best option. It was only a bonus that it enabled me to pick with you.”
“Who was the first?”
“Ryan. It’d really stick it to him. He shot me down before I even opened my mouth. I thought it was because of Milo. I didn’t know he was into you. It really got to Scott. He wouldn’t shut up about you for the rest of the night. That’s why I broke your pens. I was sick of everything being about you.”
“We went to prom as friends.”
“Ha, yeah right. Have you seen those pictures? He’s a good actor and all, but there’s no way he was able to fake the way he was looking at you.”
I smiled uncontrollably. “We’re friends. Nothing more.”
“Keep lying to yourself.”
“Why did you make a point to tear down Izzie at every turn, even before they got together? You’re lucky she didn’t hear half of the rumors you spread. Sami would’ve killed you.”
I could basically hear her rolling her eyes. “I was really upset about the fact that he was willing to be her friend, but not mine. They’re weird together, but it looks fun, if that makes any sense. He wouldn’t have cut me off like that last year. She changed him.” She admitted.
“You cheated on him with Alex of all people. His frat boy attitude makes him everything Milo’s not. It was inconsiderate of you to demand that he agree to be your friend only a few months later.” I broke down for her.
“I sound like such a bitch when you say it like that.”
“That’s how he and everyone else saw it. Why did you cheat on him?” I refused to sugar coat it.
“My parents were talking about separating. That’s why they let me go to New York for the summer. They wanted time to figure out what to do next without making me choose a side. My boyfriend was overseas doing God knows what. You weren’t talking to me. None of my other friends are the type that I could turn to for something like that. Alex was around. Andy wanted to talk about it just as much as I did - not at all. I didn’t have anyone else.” Her voice broke.
I thought to myself for a moment. “I would’ve listened.” I replied gently.
“No, you wouldn’t have. You would’ve sent my call straight to voicemail after seeing my name flash on your screen. You never even told me why you were mad. You just started ignoring me.” She sniffled.
“You went too far when you ousted Sami.”
“Oh, come on, that’s why you’re mad? It’s not like everyone didn’t already know she was at least a part-time lady lover. You’ve seen the way she dresses and acts. She’s more of a man than half the guys at our school.”
“It wasn’t your secret to tell.” I stated firmly.
She sighed in annoyance. “I said she had a crush on me as a joke. It was funny. Everyone laughed. How was I supposed to know some people took it seriously? She’s the one that set the record straight. She could’ve denied if she didn’t want to come out.” She cried as if it were obvious.
“She didn’t want to lie about who she was. You took away her choice to keep her sexuality ambiguous.”
“I’d say sorry to her, but she’s fought for more minor offenses. I’m not stupid.”
“Just dense.” I retorted.
“Get off your high horse already. You are guilty of everything I am. You did it with me for almost two years. You’re up close and personal with them now. That’s the only reason you care, so stop acting like you’re the spokesperson for those outcasts.” She argued.
“I saw both sides of what we did when you ousted her. We all lived together. Our group may have laughed at your ‘joke’, but she stopped going to meals because people wouldn’t leave her alone. Morgan and I brought her food every day to make sure she ate. We were scared she’d hurt herself for a little while.”
“Are you serious?” She sounded genuinely surprised by that.
“How did you not know? Her room was right across the hall from yours.”
“Things were awkward in our suite, so I started sleeping over at Heather’s. I only went there when I ran out of clean clothes. She didn’t though, right?”
“She directed her anger towards her tormentors, instead of herself. That’s when she started fighting.”
“I’ve always wondered how she hasn’t been expelled for that. Do you know?”
“They are sympathetic to the reason she does it. They punish her a different way.”
“That’s not my secret to tell.”
“We’ll never be friends or anything, but I’m glad she didn’t do anything because of something stupid I said. I would’ve felt, I mean, I do feel bad. “She admitted sheepishly.
“So, are you done being mad at me? We were a great team. You’re the only one that lets me know when I’m being a bitch. I tell you when we were acting crazy, so that you can tone it down. We wouldn’t be popular without each other. If we weren’t fighting, we would’ve tied for prom queen.” She segwayed.
I ground my teeth at her referral to my compulsions as ‘acting crazy’.
”We were never a team. You always acted like you were better than me, like you were doing me a favor by calling me your friend. Whenever you felt insecure, you tore me down to feel better about yourself. I won’t be going back to that any time soon. It’s called self-respect.” I snapped.
“You can honestly say you don’t miss me at all?”
“You can stop being mean any time you want. I have limited control over my OCD. It always really hurt when you poked fun at me for the things it made me do.” My voice broke. I looked up at the ceiling as I dabbed my tears away.
“But you’re fine now. It won’t be an issue anymore.” She attempted to reason.
“Things would be much different now. For starters, I wouldn’t hide a cringe with a smile every time you did or said something awful and speak to you about it privately later on. I hated being your sidekick. Everything was always about you. My current best friend makes it about us and others.”
“Keep having fun with Isabella, I guess.”
“I’d like to call a truce, though.” I offered.
“What will that do?”
“We stop rooting against each other. No more rumors, bragging, or schemes. There will be a mutual respect. We acknowledge each other in passing, but go about our lives afterward.” I elaborated.
“I’d like that.”
I smiled. “Great. Consider my white flag waving.”
“It gets old after a while, you know? Everyone smiling and laughing to your face, while knowing they secretly hate you. They’d all say it if I didn’t look the way I do. It’s the sole reason I’m popular. So, um, thanks for always being honest with me.”
I pursed my lips together, not wanting to make her feel worse about it by agreeing too eagerly. “I can include a talking clause in the peace treaty. I won’t be your bestie, but I’ll listen when you need someone. No one should feel alone.”
“I’d really appreciate that. I’m sorry I took you for granted and trash-talked you whenever possible.”
“It’s not like I didn’t do it too. Did your parents split up?” I asked gently.
“No, they started marriage counseling instead. I’m not home enough to know how it’s going, but they are holding on for now.”
“Let me know if that changes.”
“I will. –“
I heard her dad say something to her in the background.
“Okay, just a sec.” She replied to him.
“We’re at my aunt’s house. They are ready to leave. We’ll keep in touch?” Her inflection made it sound like a question.
“Yeah, see you as seniors.”
“That’s so weird to think about. I’ve got a job lined up in New York. This year will sort of be a victory lap. What are you doing?”
“Yale. I need credentials for my Hollywood takeover.”
“And if that doesn’t work out, you can always switch to modeling. You have the looks, figure, and height for it.”
“Yep, that’s my backup plan.”
“We’ll, I’ve got to go, but it was good hearing from you.”
“I have missed this version of you. The bitchy edition makes me question my life choice to befriend you.”
She chuckled. “I’ll keep that in mind. Bye, Elle.”
“Bye.” I replied with smile. I lowered my phone from my ear and pressed the ‘end’ button.
I exhaled and walked over to the mirror. I checked to see if my makeup smudged. After seeing that all of it remained intact, I closed the window I opened for Morgan. I returned to the game room to be with the others.
Morgan, Nick, and Sami were sitting on the couch, watching a movie on the big screen. Finn and Ryan were huddled around the pool table. Iz was seated in an armchair in the corner, watching them.
“Ellie, I need you to settle something very important. Isn’t it possible to cheat at pool?” Ryan called to me.
“Are you talking about Finn?” I asked instead of answering, approaching him.
“See, she already knows you’d pull something like that.” He looked over at Finn.
“Actually, he’s the person most likely to beat you the right way. Pool is all about geometry. He didn’t turn in any of his homework, but walked out of that class with a ‘B’ because he received 100%s or above on all of his tests.” I corrected.
“How did you get over 100%?”Izzie looked up from her phone to look at him.
“The extra credit problems on the back.” He shrugged.
Ryan sighed. “Since I can’t defeat the evil genius myself, will you do it to defend my honor?” He offered me his pool cue.
“Is this a ploy to prevent me from studying?”
“I’ll let you drive in peace if you let me mooch off of your win.” He proposed with a smile.
“Deal.” I accepted the cue.
“I’ll be the referee again. Ryan’s far from biased.” Izzie teased.
“That’s for the best.” I smiled over at her.
Ryan placed all of the balls within the triangle and slid it in the middle.
“Would you like to break?” Finn offered.
“Yes, thank you.” I smiled.
I grabbed the cue ball and moved to where I wanted to start. I leaned down and lined up my shot. When I was sure it would go where I wanted it to, I pulled back my cue and it with the appropriate amount of power.
“You’re striped.” Finn noted, referring to the type of balls I had to pocket for the entire game.
“My favorite.” I rose to an upright position.
I walked over to Ryan, so that Finn could take his shot.
“Beautiful shot.” He complimented.
I looked over at him, using my cue as a staff. “Better watch yourself when you get back to school. People think you like me. You were a little too convincing at prom, according to a source.”
“Who said I don’t?” He kept his face neutral.
I tried to scan it for the truth.
“It’s your move.” He broke eye contact.
I subtly shook my head to regain focus.
Finn and I took turns calculating our shots and executing them to the best of our ability. It was an even game for the most part. If it were strictly about geometry, he would’ve beaten me by landslide. The dexterity and precision aspect really worked in my favor. We were down to the wire when the eight ball was the final one in play. My first attempt at pocketing it fell short by a few inches. I waited anxiously as he lined up his shot. The white ball glided towards the black one. My heart sank as it propelled into a pocket. I got a new burst of hope when the white ball fell in after it.
“Scratch!” I cried with excitement.
He groaned. “It shouldn’t count.”
Ryan beamed when he caught on. “It does. We win.” He held up his hand. I high fived him.
“Ref, please weigh in.” Finn looked over at Iz.
“Let me look it up.” Iz pulled out her phone. I placed my cue on the rack, no longer needing it.
“According to WikiAnswers, a scratch is when the cue ball goes into a pocket. The player that does it automatically loses. I’m sorry, but they win.” She read from her phone.
I threw up my hands. Ryan started jumping and trash talking.
“Because of a technicality.” Finn stated firmly for our benefit.
“Still a win.” Ryan smirked.
“You’re the best.” He gave me a constricting hug. His delectable cologne overcame me.
“I’m pretty good.” I struggled to think clearly.
“Great.” He corrected lightly.
He let go.
I smile through the mild discomfort produced by my new feelings. “You’re going to shut up and let me drive, right?”
“A deal’s a deal. Thanks for playing.” He shook my hand.
We were ready to leave for the festival in the middle of the afternoon. Iz guided us to the garage. The boys selected their bikes from the series of assorted colors. She picked a ruby red one.
“Are you riding with me?” She buckled her helmet.
“Actually, I think Morgan would be more comfortable riding on your bike instead of Nicky’s, if waltzing was any indication.” I started primping.
“Whom are you riding with?” She looked in their direction.
“Suit yourself. Mom, you’re with me!” She called her over.
I smoothed down my hair and selected a helmet that matched my outfit and pushed on my sunglasses.
“Ellie, want to ride with me?” Ryan offered as he wheeled his bike out of the enclosed space.
“I guess I can grace you with my presence. You are the only person that calls me Ellie.” I followed him.
“Maybe I want to be special.” He sat down and turned it on with a twist of a key.
He was too quick with his response. I counted it as a part of his game.
“Is that a problem?” He looked over his shoulder, momentarily letting down his smooth façade.
“No, I like it.” I struggled not to smile as I sat down behind him.
“Hold on tight.”
I snaked my arms around him and rested my head on his shoulder. “Do you know what you are doing?”
“You’re in for the ride of your life.” He revved the engine and led the pack down the road.