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The Game Changer



ONE WEEK LATER



TAYA:

“What do you mean you’re not going to the prom?” Hallee was fuming.

If I were telling her this face to face, she would have gone all physical and started smacking my head, claiming that I had lost a few bolts. Thankfully though, it was over the phone

“It means I’m not going,”

“But… it’s the prom!”

“I know it is,”

It was the morning of the prom and I couldn’t be less enthused. Judah still couldn’t be reached and I had given up all hope that he would be back for the prom. And so, I called Hallee up and I told her that I wasn’t going to leave the comfort of my room today.

Sorry prom, but you’re cancelled,I said to myself as I glanced at the long golden dress hanging on my bathroom door.

“But Tay, we got our dresses. We rented a limo. Maddie’s date cancelled on her so Gabe’s out for another shot. We’re doing this. We’re going to the prom,”

“Hallee… I’m sorry, but you guys should just go on without me,” I said as I flopped lazily on the bed.

“I am not going to the prom without my bestie,” she stated.

“But Hal—“

“It’s because of him, isn’t it? Still no word from him?”

“No word. No letter. Not even a punctuation mark,”

“I can’t believe he’s ghosting you like this. You don’t deserve this. Oh, when I get my hands on him—“

“Hal, it’s fine. I’m fine. I’m just not in the prom-mood for now,”

Hallee was quiet for a few moments. Meanwhile, I got up and started pacing back and forth around my room, thinking that maybe I should do my laundry tonight.

“No, I’m not taking no for an answer. We’re picking you up in two hours and we’re going to the prom and that’s that,” Hallee said finally.

“But—“

“Remember Taya 2.0? Where’s she? I mean, enough is enough, Taya. You’ve spent almost two weeks crying over him, day and night. But not today, sister. Tonight’s our prom night and I say we go out there and have some fun. And not even a disappearing boyfriend should get in the way of that,”

“Hallee…”

“We’re gonna get some Zippy’s before the prom, Jesse’s gonna bring refreshments, and Gabe will bring… himself and Maddie,” she paused for a beat before saying, “Come on, you don’t wanna miss that,”

I had to admit, all those things sounded lovely.

I was walking aimlessly towards my dresser, when I caught my own reflection in the standing mirror. My brown hair had grown so long, the platinum blonde part was hanging only at the bottom. My eyes were swollen and my skin looked awful. I needed to start taking better care of myself. And then I glanced at the beautiful dress hanging by the door again.

It would be nice to feel pretty again… even for just a little bit.

“Ah, screw it, you’re right,” I said as my hand swiftly grabbed a pair of scissors, “We’re going to the prom,”

*

The next few hours were chaos, to say the least. I was scrambling to take a quick shower, shaved my legs, did my nails, put on lotion, and donned a Korean facemask.

Beauty’s not pain… beauty takes time.

“You cut your hair?” Hallee gasped as soon as she walked into my room.

My room was a mess. Hot iron-curler on the bed, clothes on the floor, my make up kit, shoes and heels were scattered all over the place. Hallee tiptoed carefully inside, and she was already wearing her gorgeous bright red dress.

“Yup. Say goodbye to platinum blonde Taya. I’m back to my normal, boring self,” I said as I threw my towel to the ground.

“It’s a maybe on the normal, but boring? Never,” she chuckled as she studied my damp hair with her fingers.

“Where is my hairdryer, ugh,” I groaned as I raided my vanity table. “It was just right here,”

“Dude, your room’s a mess,” Hallee plucked the hairdryer from the floor before giving it to me.

“What can I say? It’s the accurate depiction of my mind’s current state,” I snorted, and the loud noise of my hairdryer filled the air.

“You sure you’re all right?” Hallee said once I was done drying my hair.

“Absolutely. Thanks for knocking some sense into me, by the way. I can’t believe I almost missed out on one of the greatest nights of our lives,”

“Amen to that, sister,” she said as we high-fived each other.

“You look amazing, by the way, red really suits you,” I complimented her look and she did a little twirl.

“You go put on your dress too, come on, I wanna see,” she said as she grabbed my dress from the door and shoved it to my face.

My dress was this glamorous two-piece gold and white dress. The top part was tight an embroidered, and the bottom part was long and silky. They fitted so perfectly on me, hugging my body in all the right places. I couldn’t help but feel a little proud of myself for even just putting this dress on. I felt absolutely beautiful, even though my man couldn’t appreciate it today.

“There. Meet Taya 3.0, what do you think?” I said as I stepped out of the closet and back into Hallee’s periphery.

For the first time since I’ve known her, Hallee was speechless. But that huge smile forming on her face was a good sign.

“Hey, you live and you learn, right?” I said again as I shrugged.

“My god, you look amazing, Tay!” she said finally, “And if Judah’s not here to see it, it’s his loss,”

“It’s fine,” I waved my hand to her as I made my way to the vanity table for some last-minute touch ups, “I don’t care about not having a date to the prom. I got my friends. I got a fabulous dress. And I got a nice, shiny new hairdo. I’m good,”

“But still, it doesn’t hurt,” suddenly we heard a voice and a knock on the door.

Gabe walked right in, and he was in a crisp dark gray suit, looking mighty slick. On his hand was a box of corsage. He waved the little thing at me and smiled.

“Gabe?” I asked him with a confused look on my face.

“Boy, you need to wear a suit more often,” Hallee hollered as she fanned her face with her hand, causing Gabe to blush.

“Come on, what do you say?” Gabe said to me, ignoring Hallee.

“Whatever happened to asking Maddie to the prom?”

“Meh,” he shrugged. “We still have the summer. I’ll ask her out then,”

“You’re willing to give up your chance to ask Maddie to the prom, for me?”

“You guys are my friends. You’d do the same for me,”

“Nah. I wouldn’t leave Jesse for y’all,” Hallee intercepted, and Gabe and I shot daggers at her.

“Just kidding. I’d drop him in a heartbeat for any of you,” she laughed, pausing for a beat before saying, “Don’t tell him that, though,”

“Thanks, Gabe,” I turned to him as he got the corsage out of the box and adjusted it on my hand. “You’re a national treasure and you must be protected at all costs,”

“Aww, you guys,” Hallee said as she pulled us both into a hug.

We were having a cute little moment, when suddenly Jesse appeared at the door.

“Guys, the limo’s here,” he said, and all our bodies jerked up.

We all laughed for a bit at the awkwardness, before Hallee finally said, “Alright, let’s get the show on the road,”

We walked down the stairs, full of laughter and smiles. Hallee was fixing Jesse’s tie and Jesse was poking fun at Gabe’s little handkerchief. I realized I hadn’t smile this much in a while, not since two weeks ago, in fact. I decided to make it my mission to just have fun and have the best time tonight. With or without him.

“Wait! Everyone, we need prom pictures,” my mom’s voice echoed through the house as the four of us were about to walk out the door.

She came out running, a camcorder on one hand, and her phone on the other hand. We ended up stopping by the living room and let mom took a few photos of us.

“Ah, look at you, all grown up,” mom said after she was satisfied with the photo session. She was going through the pictures with a smile, but suddenly the ball dropped and she shot me a look.

“Hey, honey, what happened to Judah? I’m surprised he’s not here to take you?”

“Ah… he’s out of town. He’s got some family stuff going on that he has to do…”

“Oh, okay,” mom nodded, she then returned to going through the pictures and said, “I love this one, I’m gonna send this one to your dad,”

She chose the one where the four of us making silly faces at each other. It was a good picture. But I just couldn’t help but feel like something was missing. Or someone.

“Mom, how do you do it?” I said to her as she was typing up a text for dad, “With dad being gone all the time… how do you do stay… sane?”

Mom put her phone down and gave me a look, as if she was studying me. She then gave me a smile and said, “Honey, I drink a lot of wine,”

“Mom?” I gaped at her.

“Just kidding,” she laughed, “It’s not easy that’s for sure, and it never gets easier. But when I think about your dad being out there, doing what his heart has called him out to do, I’m proud of him. And I’m happy for him. And just because we’re not physically together, doesn’t mean the love’s not there. We have faith in each other. I think that’s what keeps me going,”

“Taya, come on, we’re already late for being fashionably-late,” Hallee yelled from outside the house. I just realized now that all of my friends were already waiting for me outside.

“I’ll see you later, mom,” I leaned into her quickly and gave her a peck on the cheek, “Love you,”

“Love you too. Have a great prom, sweetheart,”




JUDAH:


Ah, the fresh Hawaiian air.

Finally, after being stuck inside an airplane for hours, I couldn’t be more excited to just breathe. Another thing that I couldn’t be more excited about was to go over and see my girl. I had switched my phone off ever since I left Hawaii and it was finally time to switch them back on.

The moment I turned that phone on, I was hit with a wave of notifications. About ninety percent of it came from Blondie. She left me hundreds of messages and I couldn’t help but smile as I read through them.

I had only taken a few steps out of the glass doors of the airport, holding my phone in my hand, a duffel bag on the other hand—when suddenly these two guys approached me. My first thought was that they were Max’s guys. But no.

“Aloha, assface,” Ryder, who was Taya’s cousin, greeted me. Kai, her brother, was walking right behind him.

“Woah—what a pleasant surprise,” I was only trying to be friendly, but all of a sudden, Kai’s fist went flying and it connected hard with my stomach.

“Welcome home. That’s for my sister,” he spat.

“Ouw. Yeah. Okay, I deserved that,” I said as I winced in pain. My body bent down instinctively as my hand went to rub the area. It wasn’t that great of a punch, but it was a little too low for my liking.

“You deserve a lot more than that after what you pulled on her. Do you realize how worried she’s been?”

My body jerked up instantly at the mention of her.

“I’m not trying to pull anything—wait, how’d you guys know I’d be here?”

“Kai’s pretty good with computers,” Ryder shrugged.

“Pretty good? I’m a hacking master,” Kai boasted, “See, I hacked into your phone and your accounts,”

“What? I turned my phone off as soon as I left Hawaii,”

Two reasons for that: one, I did not want Max to know what I’d be up to. Two, I couldn’t be distracted by anything or anyone, especially by my lovely girlfriend. I knew I couldn’t keep my head straight if she was involved, so cutting off all forms of communication was the only way.

“True,” Kai admitted, “Your phone last pinged at the cell towers by the airport two weeks ago. So then I hacked into your emails and found that you had a one-way plane ticket booked to Nevada. Since then I’ve just been tracking your movements. And today you’ve scheduled a flight back to Hawaii. So, voila,”

“Can’t even call her, huh?” Ryder interjected.

“She stopped eating. She couldn’t sleep. You’re all she cared about 24/7. Can you imagine what that must feel like?” Kai added.

Shit. I didn’t think she’d be that worried for me.

“You think you’re doing her some kind of a favor, but it’s fucking messed up what you did, man,” Ryder said.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I just wanted to keep her safe... I wasn’t sure how things would turn out in Nevada. If things got bad, I didn’t want the cops to associate her with me,”

“Cops?”

“It’s a long story,” I dismissed it quickly as I had a more pressing matter at hand, “Where is she? Is she here?”

“Why should we tell you where she’s at? You’re the one that went up and left her,” Ryder was studying my gesture while Kai was still being bitter.

“Come on, now. Don’t be so salty. I had my reasons, alright? I’ll explain everything to you guys. Please, just tell me where she is,” I paused to wait on their reaction, and they were still unsatisfied with my answers.

“Guys, please, I know I messed it up big time. My methods sucked, sure. But she’s the only thing that matters to me and everything I did, I did it out of love. I love her. Please, tell me where she is and then you can hit me all you want,”

Kai and Ryder gave each other a look. It looked like a code or something, I couldn’t tell.

“Oh this will be fun,” Kai snickered as he turned back to me.

“Careful, not the face. He still gotta look nice,” Ryder added, before giving me a pat on the shoulder.

“What? Why?” I gave them a puzzled look.

“’Cause you’re going to the prom,” he stated firmly.

“The what?”

“That’s where she’s at right now,”

“Oh… right, the prom,”

I had completely forgotten all about the prom. About school. About everything actually, except Blondie. The thing that I had to do in Nevada took away all my attention.

“If you mess this up again, you’re dead,” Kai said with a shove to my shoulder.

“I’d die before I mess it up again,” I accepted that shove generously.

“We better get going, it’s quite a drive,” Ryder said as he turned around, gesturing for us to follow him to the parking lot. Kai and I immediately followed after him, but I stopped my tracks after a few steps.

“Okay, wait, I do have to stop by somewhere first. And also…”

“What now?”

Kai and Ryder both looked at me in annoyance, and I gave them both a sheepish grin.

“Any of you guys know how to tie a tie?”



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