XXV. Plus One
Josh grins and places two fingers on his chest. “Cross my heart-”
“-hope to die,” I sang.
He rolled down the window, “To my lover, I’d never lie.”
My hair flick against my face as the crisp autumn air traces against my skin: “He said be true, I swear I’ll try. In the end, it’s him and I. He’s out his head; I’m out my mind,” I swirl a finger near my temple, causing Josh to burst out laughing.
“We got that love, the crazy kind!” we both scream to the radio with our tone-deaf voices. We know the people outside the vehicle probably think we are mentally ill.
Right now, Josh and I are heading towards a restaurant. Josh said he doesn’t want to eat cafeteria food anymore. The cafeteria with top-notch sushi and lobsters. I can never understand the mentality of the extremely wealthy.
Throwing my head back, it bounces against the headrest as my hair flutters across my cheeks. I died of laughter when Josh started rapping.
I shove him playfully, “You’re nuts.”
His grinning face only widens, “Only about you.” He did what I assumed as his flirtatious wink.
“Is there something wrong with your eye?” I said teasingly.
His face fell flat, fingers twiddling against the volume knob. “This is the part where you turn red due to my good looks,” he explains, slowly placing a hand on my cheeks and rubbing them until a fire starts. “Turn red, damn it! Red!"
I squat his hand away, “My face is not a chimney!”
“Then, why-” he paused and turned up the volume again, “It’s getting hot in here!” He stopped at a red light and raised his hands, but hissed in pain when it slammed against the car rooftop. Josh held onto his aching hand. “Fuck,” he groans, pressing his forehead against the wheel.
I held my hands over my mouth, unable to hold back the giggles. “You’re such a dork.”
Josh glared at me before driving us down the street towards the restaurant. Once we got out of the car, I noticed how some guys were looking at us. Well, not us - Josh.
“What?” he asked.
“They’re looking at you.”
He turned his head.
I hit him, “Don’t look back. That’s rude.”
He turned his whole body around. Immediately, they look away with red faces.
I snickered, “What if they like you?”
Josh smirked, “Of course, they would. I’m totally boyfriend material to any gender.”
I aspire to have Josh’s level of confidence one day. “So confident for someone who had never been in a relationship.”
“I’ve been in many relationships,” he responds.
I nudge a brow, “With who?”
He grinned, “I’m in a relationship with my parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, friends-” he glanced at me, ”you.”
“Those don’t count.”
“Relationship is how two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected,” he explained, tilting his head ever so slightly, causing his dark hair to ruffle over his ocean blues. “Hence, Hailey Vaughn, you are in a relationship with Joshua Greyson.”
I shove him lightly, “You are such a smartass. You know that?”
“Oh, so you’ve been checking out my ass?”
“I’m not going to reply to that because I know somehow you’re going to twist my words.”
I pulled on the strap purse, “What I’m hearing is that you do not deny my question.”
I rolled my eyes and brushed past his shoulder. Without looking back, I know Josh was hot on my trail. We entered a small empty Chinese restaurant, where a single worker came into view. On the other side, three children were present - doing what seemed to be homework.
An older man arrived with a soft smile. “Two?” he spoke in a thick Chinese accent while placing two fingers in the air - eyes crunching softly.
I nodded, “Two.”
After dinner - not a date - we went back to our dorm.
I sat there and avoided the dirty looks across from me. “You’re telling me. You didn’t do any of your homework?” Josh’s voice somehow reflects my mother.
Shamefully, I nodded.
Josh sigh and flipped through my textbook.
I opened my mouth.
“No, I do not have assignments from freshman year,” he groaned. He pressed his fingers against his temples.
I closed my mouth as he flipped through my assignments.
I opened my mouth again.
“No, I will not do your homework for you.”
I closed my mouth.
He continued to flip through the papers.
I opened my mouth for the third time.
“And no, I do not believe you when you say just this one time.”
I closed my mouth once more.
Josh slammed my book close, causing me to flinch slightly. “Guess what we are doing today.” I lowered myself. “On a Saturday,” his voice was strained.
I glance up, eyes meeting with disapproving looks. I smiled as my shoulders tugged up awkwardly. “I get to spend time with the guy I love the most in the world?” I spread my arms to coax his anger.
The edge of Josh’s lips tugged upward, and I knew Josh wasn’t angry at me. Taking that into account, I scooted closer to him. “I promise, this will be the last time I procrastinate,” I said. I crossed my heart and grabbed a pencil.
Josh rests his elbow on the table, cheek against his palm as his eyes drill into mine.
We both know I’m lying.
Procrastination, if it were real, would be my best friend, not Joshua Greyson.
That’s how close we are.
The following Sunday, Crystal was back in school. I stood in the front with Josh and Ahmend. We watched a gold rose helicopter flutter in the sky. With my mouth gaped open, eyes narrowing at the sudden windbreak, I wonder what Crystal’s step-father is thinking.
The helicopter landed on the lawn, and a tall beauty stepped out wearing her sharp four-inch heel. The flowy white dress wrapped around her body with a man behind her holding a hot pink bag. Crystal blew a bubble past her lips and popped it inside her mouth.
Josh places his fingers underneath my chin and closes it while his hand protects me from the dirty wind.
Crystal walked towards us with the man still behind her. “Sup.”
“How’s Paris?” Josh asked.
“It’s Paris,” she responded simply.
I wish I could say that.
“That’s all?” Josh replied.
“Yeah.” She flipped her hair, “Well, I got to go organize my stuff. Don’t worry; I brought you all gifts.” She gave me some cheek kisses and left.
“What’s wrong?” Josh asked.
His cousin literally flew into school on a rose gold helicopter, and he asked me - what’s wrong?
After that grand event, we went back to the room to study until I got hungry. Reaching the school cafeteria, I waved a hand when I saw Crystal. She returned my greetings as I walked closer, seeing Madison and Jasmine. Resting my bag on the table, I sat down beside Crystal, who folded her hands.
“Girls,” Madison said. “I am Madison.” I know who you are?
I didn’t say that out loud; instead, I stared at the numerous mini neatly designed cakes in the center of the table.
“We know who you are,” Crystal bluntly stated, not batting a single lash when Madison viciously glares at her. “Why are we here?”
I continued staring at the desserts, feeling an aching sensation in my stomach.
“Congratulations, you two are accepted into M.I.N.D,” she said, ignoring Crystal’s annoyed face.
Looking up, I realized Madison wasn’t joking. I glance over, eyes meeting with Jasmine, who outrightly glares at me. The sweats broke down my spine.
Crystal folded her arms, “I can’t join. I’m too stupid.”
“I never said I invited you for your brains,” Madison retorted. She leans closer to Crystal as a smirk breaks out on her face.
I raised a hand. “I’m not that smart,” I shamefully stated, knowing it’s the truth. I got lost in class after the first fifteen minutes of the lecture. The first ten minutes consist of the teachers introducing themselves to the class.
“I was going to be nice, but here is the truth-” Madison flipped her hair back, “You’re both as dumb as a stick. I invited you-” she pointed at Crystal, “because you’re a Martinez.”
“Why did you invite me?” I ask. My family name isn’t important.
Madison grinned, “Because I think you’re cute.” She twinkles her nose.
"Uh, thanks?” I replied unsurely. I felt the blood rushed up to my cheeks as Madison’s tongue ran from one side to the other, moistening her already glossed lips.
Madison snapped her fingers, and two girls arrived with gold envelopes. “Come if you’re interested.” They each handed us one as Madison and Jasmine stood up. “Oh, by the way, Joshie Pooh will be there,” Madison’s tone became a flirtatious yet teasy one.
“Josh can do whatever he wants,” I grumbled. I ran my thumb down the nicely material envelope.
Madison smirked, “You’re right. Joshie Pooh can do whomever he wants,” she said and walked away before I can correct her.
I said whatever, not whomever!
I puffed my cheeks, scrunching up the envelope.
“Are you going?” Crystal asked.
I pushed a strand of hair back and lazily shrugged, “I don’t know.” I look down at the table full of untouched desert.
Crystal grabbed a mini cupcake. “Aren’t you going to eat one?”
I smiled and shook my head, feeling the tightening sensation inside my stomach. “I’m not hungry.”
The day progresses, where Monday creeps around the corner. Then, Tuesday, Wednesday, and onward.
I took a few blinks, noticing people were looking at me oddly or, more particularly, the crowd that’s shoved around me.
Leaning against the lockers, Josh had his arm hung around my shoulders while talking with Madison about who knows what.
Crystal and Ahmend did their usual bickering routine.
Silently, Mason stood beside Madison. He’s lost in his cell phone. His eyes maneuver upward towards mine, and I smile at him. He looked back down and pretended he never saw it.
Tyson and Jasmine were present, joining in the discussion around us once in a while. I noticed Tyson isn’t talkative, and neither is Jasmine. Similar to me, they are just present.
Steadily, we move towards the cafeteria.
“We sit here now,” Crystal proclaimed at a table filled with other students.
“We can all sit somewhere-”
“Move,” Madison commanded before I could finish my sentence.
The students glanced at one another before jumping out of their seats. They cleaned the table and moved their lunches away. Josh sat me down as if it was normal - everything is not normal.
“Want my pineapple?” he asked me with a casual smile on his face.
I nodded and poked my fork into it.
The conversations emerge, and I silently ate the fruit between Josh and Crystal. I bite my lower lips, glaring playfully at Josh, who kept stealing food from my plate then lick all over it when I demanded it back.
Stupid Josh is laughing again, unmanly it is, his muscles are shaking, and tears stream from his half-closed eyes. I hold my breath behind pursed lips to steel myself against the gales of laughter to come.
They always do.
I know what’s happened. Ahmend just told a lame joke about Josh and him during their freshman year. I pretended not to be interested even though I was very much into it.
Now Josh is telling some lame, embarrassing story about us. I know he is without listening to the words. His face is lit up brighter than a Christmas tree, and he has that soft look on his face.
I almost snorted out the milk I was drinking when Josh mimicked my voice when I was a child. To maintain the minimum amount of dignity I have left, I playfully shove him instead and pretend to be him when he was younger.
While I was sitting there with my forehead pressed against the table, shoulders rumbling towards the story Crystal was telling - I almost cried.
I missed it.
The feeling of belonging that left when Josh did.
The days passed by, and as I shoved my backbreaking textbooks into the locker, a few students came up to me with lit bright smiles on their faces. I know it’s all a facade, but I hesitantly returned it, not wanting trouble.
“Hailey!” one of the girls happily sang my name as if we were long termed friends despite it being our first meeting.
“Hi,” I replied, zipping up my bag and looking down at her name tag - An Tang. “An.”
“I’m so envious of you, Hay, like getting to be Joshua Greyson’s roommate and getting invited to the Golden Party personally by Madison Everhart? So, freaking lucky!” She bats her lashes, and I feel the most considerable urge to kick her shin for some reason.
An wrapped her arm around mine. “So, where are we heading?”
The crowd behind her followed us. “I’m heading towards class?”
“Perfect. Me too.” She fakes a gasp. “We got so much in common!” she giggled.
The crowd behind us.
The whole student body.
Every person who ever went to school.
“So, about the Golden Party.” And now I know why they are here. These past few weeks, strangers kept approaching me and asked me about the Golden Party. I would dodge them, but like a bullet, they speed towards me.
She spun me towards their direction. “Who are you taking as your plus one next month?”
“My plus one?” I replied the same three words I’ve been saying the past weeks - feeling a little mentally drained.
She nodded, “Yes, with every invite, you get to bring a person with you. Since Josh, Crystal, and Ahmend are all invited,” she said hesitantly, eyes brimming while waiting for me to suggest bringing her - or someone behind her.
Glancing around, I noticed the crowd had an ear lean towards us, waiting for me to respond. I understand why they would come to me. I’m an easy target compared to everyone else.
My eyes were pinned towards a girl who had beautiful chocolate skin. Wild light brown hair tucked back towards one ear as she continued putting her books away.
“I already invited someone,” I blurted out, and everyone’s face dropped.
“Who?” An question curiously, probably thinking I am lying.
Instantly, I dashed towards Taniyah’s side. The side of my body slammed against the locker catching Taniyah’s attention. She lifted a brow at my actions before zipping up her bag. “What is it?” she asked, glancing down at my nametag once more. “Hailey Vaughn.”
Taniyah doesn’t remember my name even though we have four classes together. She thinks she’s slick, but I always see her looking down at my nametag before identifying who I am.
“Taniyah is going to be my plus one.”