After the movie on Saturday, Conrad dropped me off at home with a lingering kiss goodnight and a promise to call me the next day. Sunday was spent daydreaming about him and sending each other text messages all day long, while also getting myself organized for school the following day. I feel bad that I haven’t yet told him that I’m still in high school; he assumes that I’m in college already. I wish I had felt brave enough to reveal the information, but I’m being a chicken. I tell myself that I will come clean with him soon. If my age hasn’t bothered him yet, how bad could it be?
I’m up way too early on Monday, anxious to get the day started. I spend a little extra time than I usually would getting ready for school. I decide to wear my favorite black skinny jeans, black boots, and instead of my usual baggy shirt, I wear a tight-fitting grey sweater that I’ve never worn before- It has been sitting in my closet since Des gave it to me for my birthday. I have to admit that her style is starting to rub off on me a little bit. I can still feel covered while at the same time, accentuating what curves I do have. This year, I want to be a more confident, outgoing, strong Sydney, instead of the quiet bookworm that people have come to know me as. I leave my hair down and curl the ends and even throw on a little makeup.
When I go downstairs, my mom is busy making breakfast for my little sister Hailey and I. My sister is sixteen, but despite the two-year age gap, she’s only a year behind me in school since my parents started her in school earlier. Personality-wise, she’s a lot different than me. She has always been the outgoing, bubbly, and athletic one.
“Morning nerd,” she teases me as I sit down next to her at the table.
“Good morning,” I reply cheerfully, nothing can get me down today.
Hailey gives me a once over, and a smile slowly spreads across her face as she leans in close to me and whispers.
“Okay, who is he?”
I can’t help the warmth that spreads across my cheeks, but I play coy anyway.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Uh-huh, sure Syd. New clothes, a new effort in appearance, and you can’t seem to wipe that stupid smile off your face.”
“I’m just excited about school, that’s all.”
“You know if it were anyone other than you, I’d call bull-crap, but you’re kind of nerdy like that. However, I still don’t believe you. You’ll have to spill the beans soon enough, or I’ll hear about it at school. Either way, it’s up to you.”
I give her a careless shrug just as our mom brings breakfast to the table and sets it down in front of us.
“Good morning Sydney. My, you look nice this morning.”
“Thanks, mom,” I smile at her as I reach for the plate of pancakes.
My sister proceeds to badger me during the entire drive to school. Who is he? Is he new? Is he a senior? When did you meet him? Blah, blah, blah! I’m not ready to tell her yet, so I deny, deny, deny. I’m not sure I’m prepared to reveal that the cause of my happiness is from a guy nearly ten years older than myself and hasn’t seen the inside of a high school in a very long time. He’s not a high-school boy. He’s a man, a very sexy, sweet, talented, good kisser, man. I wonder what he’s up to on this glorious Monday morning. My mind takes a turn into unfamiliar territory as I start to picture him getting out of the shower or something.
“Um, earth to Sydney,” Hailey barks, bringing me back to the here and now.
I turn and look at her, still in a bit of a daze.
“Yeah, okay, now I know you’re a liar. Anyway, I won’t need a ride home today, so don’t wait for me,” she tells me as she hops out of my little SUV and jogs towards a group of her friends that are milling around the school parking lot.
I hardly realized that we were already here. My mind must have gone into autopilot. Dang it, Sydney, pay attention! I get out of my car and head towards the school, determined not to be a distracted mess all day.
Desiree finds me at my newly assigned locker and proceeds to open hers, which is right next to mine, with a triumphant smile.
“How’d you pull that off?” I ask her, knowing that the lockers are assigned alphabetically.
“I traded with Kyle Chatam. It didn’t take too much convincing. He seemed pretty happy with it.”
“Yeah, since he’s been in love with you for like, ever.”
“It all worked out great though, didn’t it? Now we get to be locker neighbors for our final year.”
I nod at her, genuinely pleased by this. Of course, I’d rather have Des next to me instead of Kyle, whose locker always seems to smell faintly of bad cheese and cheap cologne.
“So, I didn’t hear from you yesterday. How was your date with Conrad?”
My answering grin should say it all, but it’s not enough for Des.
“That good, huh? What did you two do?”
I give her the quick version about dinner, the impromptu emergency gig, and running into Dane and telling off Violet, then the movie afterward, which was the best part of the whole evening, minus a few private moments.
“Oh girl, you are falling so hard already,” she says with a smirk, “my little Syd, in love with an older man, how scandalous.”
“Shut up,” I laugh and swat her shoulder, “I’m not in love… I just like him a lot.”
“Mm-hmm, sure Syd. Okay, so, what classes do you have?”
We compare our schedules and find that we have two classes together, second period English, and sixth period Art.
“Well then, guess I’ll see you in English with good ol’ Mrs. Davis, the super witch.”
“Oh, you didn’t see this?” I hold the schedule to her face and point to the name under the class, “Advanced English 12, Mr. Riley. Mrs. Davis retired,” I tell her.
“How’d you find that out?” she asks me.
“My mom heard found out about it at the school board meeting a few weeks ago. Apparently, she was unwilling to adjust her outdated curriculum or something, so they forced her into early retirement.”
“Outdated curriculum or torture tactics?” Des sniffs, “Oh well, good. That old bat hated me, but I need to take her class.”
“She never gave me a problem,” I shrug.
“That’s because you’re a little angel, and the whole faculty loves you, always the teacher’s pet,” she teases.
“Whatever. Hopefully, this new teacher will be good.”
“Any other teacher will be better than Mrs. Davis.”
My first class is in Biology. My least favorite course, but at least it’s the first class of the day to get it over and done with. I’m one of the first students to arrive, so I pick a table in the back and pull out my cell phone. I start re-reading Conrad’s texts from the weekend. I’m lost in it as the other students start streaming through the door. I hear the chair next to me screech loudly against the floor, and a bag is dropped onto the shared table. I look up at the noisy person and see Dane plop down into the chair. He smiles broadly at me and leans back in his chair.
“Hey Syd,” he greets me.
“Hey, Dane,” I reply with a nervous smile and quickly put my phone away.
I still can’t get over how different Dane looks. It’s incredible what just a summer can do for somebody. He’s wearing a pair of snug dark wash jeans, a tight black t-shirt and a blue flannel button up. He looks less like the shy, stick skinny boy with a bad haircut, and more like a confident, well-built athlete who used to make fun of him. I can tell by Dane's whole posture and the way he smiles lazily at me, that he knows he looks good too.
“Are you checking me out?” he asks me, taking me off guard.
“Wh-what?” I stammer.
Dane starts laughing and leans in towards me.
“Relax, Sydney. I’m just messing with you. I know I look different. Trust me, I’m still getting used to it, but I gotta say, I definitely like the changes.”
“Ye-yeah. You do look good, though,” I compliment him, but it feels funny coming out of my mouth.
“This will be a whole new year for me, Syd. No more getting tortured by those jock assholes and being ignored by everyone. This year, I’m finally going to be happy and start getting what I want.”
“I never ignored you,” I reply, a little defensively.
Dane looks at me from the corner of his eyes and smiles.
Just then, the teacher, Mr. Jepson, comes into the room and looks around.
“Well, I hope you like where you’re seated because this is your seating arrangement for the remainder of the semester. I’m handing out the seating chart now, fill in your names and turn it in quickly, please. We have a lot to cover.”
The piece of paper is passed around and eventually hits our table. Dane and I fill it out and pass it on.
“Well look at that, you’re stuck with me now partner,” Dane says, “lucky for you, I may just look like a pretty face now, but I’m still brilliant.”
“Geez, don’t be so modest,” I laugh.
“Sorry. Unlike you, I haven’t been beautiful my whole life.”
“Um, that wasn’t a cheesy line or anything,” I say, rolling my eyes, but enjoying the banter.
“Admit it, though. Even you would be more willing to give me a closer look now too.”
“What does that mean? I’m not that shallow,” I defend, feeling that same annoyance I had by his attitude Saturday night creeping in.
“I’m not saying you’re shallow Syd. What I’m saying is that I understand now. Sometimes, you’re just not attracted to someone, and there’s nothing you can do about it. I was pretty dorky looking before I left, and now I can see the difference in how girls look at me, even you.”
“You’re still the same Dane to me,” I say defiantly.
With that, Dane scowls and then leans away from me, looking annoyed.
Biology couldn’t end soon enough with Dane practically ignoring me for the rest of class. Apparently, I had offended him, but I don’t know why. I get to my locker and exchange textbooks before heading towards English. Des meets me at the door before we head in. This being my favorite class, I choose a seat in the very front, and Des takes the seat directly behind me. We’re early.
“See? Teacher's pet,” she says, poking me in the back.
I turn to face her.
“You’d be shocked to hear that I chose the seat in the very back in Bio class,” I tell her, “and guess who happens to be my partner?”
“Who?” She leans in like I’m about to tell her something juicy.
Des huffs and sits back, looking annoyed.
“Dane? Really? Why doesn’t it surprise me that he’d latch on right away?”
“It’s not like that. He’s my friend, so why not be my partner?”
“Um, because he’s obsessed with you?”
“No, he’s not. Besides, he shouldn’t have any trouble finding girls to be interested in him anymore.”
“What do you mean by that?” Des leans in again; apparently, this has piqued her interest.
“Oh, I didn’t tell you, and I guess you haven’t seen him yet.”
“What?” she says, waving her hand impatiently.
“Dane’s kind of... hot now.”
Desiree laughs out loud before clamping a hand over her mouth.
“Yeah, okay, Sydney. That sounds a little unlikely.”
As if on cue, Dane strolls into the classroom. I hear a weird noise escape Desiree’s mouth, and her eyes follow him in disbelief as he takes a seat across the room. He peaks over at us but turns away quickly.
“Holy shit!” Des whispers, “What the hell?”
“He did a little growing this summer,” I say.
“A little? He…he…he filled out nicely.”
“Nicely, huh? So how unlikely is it?”
“Yeah, I was wrong, you were right. Damn!”
“What is this? Desiree Claire, thinks Dane Phillips is hot?”
“Not so much for his attitude, though. He’s grown an ego too,” I say, shaking my head.
“Give him a break Syd. He’s just enjoying his newfound hotness and doesn’t know how to deal with it yet,” Des says, trying not to be obvious, but I can see her looking at him in awe.
“Where’s this new teacher?” I ask, trying to change the subject.
“Who cares?” Des replies, finally turning away from staring and looking toward the front of the room, “Oh wait, teacher’s pet does.”
We start chatting quietly for a few minutes when suddenly the room grows quiet, then is quickly replaced by whispers.
“Good morning class, I’m Mr. Riley,” a deep voice announces, the new teacher has finally arrived.
I turn in my chair to face the front, just as he is writing his name and something else on the board. All I can tell from his behind is that he’s tall and that he’s wearing his longish hair pulled back in a man ponytail. He’s wearing a well-fitted pair of blue trousers and a white dress shirt tucked in.
“Teacher has a nice ass,” Des whispers from behind me.
I stifle a giggle, just as he finishes what he’s writing and turns around.
My giggle is immediately halted and replaced by shocked horror as I recognize the man standing in front of me. In what appears to be some sort of Clark Kent-Esque disguise, behind a pair of black thick-rimmed glasses, is Conrad.