It’s school day number two. What does the day hold? There are so many possibilities, but I don’t feel as worried anymore. I head into Biology with renewed determination. I just hope Dane is in a better mood than he was yesterday. As soon as I walk through the door, I see that he’s already there, his nose in a textbook. I join him at our desk, but he barely acknowledges me.
“Seriously? What’s your problem, Dane?” I ask him.
He closes the book and turns to look at me.
“Look, Sydney. I’m going to be really straight with you right now because I’m sick of playing puppy dog.”
“What do you mean, puppy dog?”
“For years, all I’ve done is follow you around like a puppy dog. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it, but I’m sick of it. I want more, I always have. Everyone knows this except for you apparently, or you choose to deny it.”
I inwardly cringe. Well, so much for a new and better day. I don’t know how to respond to this, so I stay quiet. Dane’s green eyes bore into me as he waits for me to answer.
“You got nothing? Really Syd?”
“What do you want me to say, Dane?”
“I don’t know? Something? Anything. Please tell me you’re not so naïve that you didn’t know I’ve had a thing for you since forever.”
“You’re one of my best friends,” I offer, lamely.
Dane snorts with apparent condemnation.
“Like you said yesterday, I’m just the same old Dane to you that I’ve always been. Pathetic, dorky little Dane who would do anything you asked him to.”
“No, that’s not how I see you,” I argue.
“Okay, then how do you see me then?”
“I see Dane, my friend, who is sweet, caring, and incredibly smart.”
“That’s it? Well, I really want that to change because I don’t want to be stuck in the friend zone forever Syd, I’m done with that bullshit. Who do you think I thought about every day while I was away this summer? You- and I was hoping with all my self-improvement, you might see something else in me. Did you think of me at all?”
“I thought about you all the time,” I defend.
“But not the same way I thought about you.”
“No, probably not,” I admit.
Dane sighs loudly and leans back in his chair.
“I guess it doesn’t matter anyway since you’re already dating that musician, dude.”
Oh crap! I had forgotten entirely about running into Dane at the concert. I know I have to lie, even though this is probably the worst thing for me in this conversation.
“No, that didn’t work out,” I say, hopefully convincingly.
Dane’s facial expression softens a little.
“Really? So maybe he wasn’t your type after all?”
“I don’t really know my type,” I say with a shrug, but that’s also a lie. Conrad is definitely my type.
“Well then, maybe that’s our problem here. Maybe I’m your type, but you just don’t know it yet.”
“I- uh, Dane, please don’t do this,” I beg him.
No, no, no!
“What’s holding you back? Give me one good reason that you can’t go on at least one date with me? Just give me a chance, Sydney.”
Before I can say anything, Mr. Jepson enters the classroom.
“Alright, everyone, silence now, please.”
I’m grateful for the interruption, but I know that will not be the end of this. What am I supposed to say to Dane? I need to turn him down gently, but somehow I get the feeling it won’t be that easy. Maybe deep down, I did always know he had feelings for me, but I chose to ignore it, despite Des reminding me of it every time his name came up in conversation. I don’t want to hurt him, but I may not have any other choice. Class drags on slowly, but Dane doesn’t bring the topic up again for the remainder. The bell rings, and I’m up and out of the room before he can follow me, even though we have the next class together as well. English. At least we don’t share a desk in that class.
Unfortunately, just as I’m about to enter English, Dane catches up with me. He drapes his arm around my shoulders and pulls me into the classroom with him. I glance towards Conrad, who is early today, already sitting at his desk, and his eyes are glued to Dane now. Dane, thankfully oblivious to who Mr. Riley really is, doesn’t notice as he lowers his face closer to mine.
“Give some thought to what we talked about today, okay? Maybe we can go out this weekend.”
Dane wraps his other arm around me and hugs me tightly before releasing me and wandering over to his desk. I look to Conrad again, and he’s frowning slightly at Dane but fixes his expression quickly to neutral. I can’t help but smile to myself at this. Conrad’s eyes meet mine for a moment before he turns away.
The classroom starts to fill quickly, and Desiree slips into her seat behind me just as the bell rings.
“Phew, made it,” she whispers.
“Alright, everyone, pipe down,” Conrad announces, full of authority.
The noise in the room dies down quickly as Conrad waits patiently. Today, Conrad's hair is, once again, pulled back, and he has his glasses on. He’s wearing dark grey trousers and a white button-up, so much for toning down the sexy, Mr. Riley. As soon as he has everyone’s full attention, he jumps right into his lesson, telling us about our essay. We have four weeks to complete it. Everyone seems glad to find out that we get to choose the book comparisons, but not so pleased that we have already been given a major assignment. I am looking forward to it and start writing down my possible book choices.
Desiree taps on my shoulder.
“I need ideas, what are you doing yours on?” she whispers.
“I’m not sure yet,” I tell her over my shoulder.
“I need help…”
“Miss Claire, is there something I can help you with?”
I look up, and Conrad is staring Desiree and me down.
“No, sir,” Des replies in a singsong voice, “I was just asking Sydney for her opinion on the assignment.”
“Well, I’m certain she has many since she gave me the idea for this assignment,” Conrad tells her.
An audible groan is heard throughout the room.
“Of course it was,” somebody mutters from the back of the room.
“Nice one, teacher’s pet,” somebody else grumbles.
“Seriously, Sydney?” Desiree whines.
“Um…” I stutter, not knowing how to respond.
I look to Conrad with a frown. What the heck is he trying to do here? He has an amused smirk on his face. Thanks, Mr. Riley.
After class, as everyone leaves, and I’m met with a few more angry comments from passerby’s, I feel someone standing too close behind me as I organize my papers. Two arms appear on either side of me and trap me against my desk.
“Do anymore thinking about what we talked about?” Dane purrs into my ear.
He’s so close that I don’t even have room to move away.
“No, Dane, I haven’t,” I say, trying to move my body away from him, but it’s useless.
“It’s not really a hard decision, Syd. It can be so simple.”
“It’s not that simple,” I disagree.
Dane grabs me gently by the shoulders and turns me around to face him.
“Sure it is,” Dane says, leaning in even closer to me.
I lean away from him just as a large hand lands on Dane’s shoulder.
Dane takes a step away from me before turning to face an angry-looking Conrad.
“Mr. Phillips, it would appear that Miss Chase does not appreciate being man-handled. I’d appreciate it if you would keep this behavior out of my classroom. Otherwise, we’re going to have a problem.”
Dane at least has the decency to look guilty.
“Sorry, Mr. Riley,” he offers, cheeks pink from embarrassment.
“In the future, may I suggest you ask a lady before you put your hands on her?” Conrad adds, still not looking pleased.
“Yes sir,” Dane murmurs with a nod.
“Alright then, out you go,” Conrad nods back and points to the door.
Dane heads toward the door, and I follow behind him, but not before stealing a glance back at Conrad, who is leaning against his desk now, watching after me. He turns away just as I exit into the hallway.
“I'll admit- Mr. Riley is still better than Mrs. Davis, and so far, his classes are much more interesting, but man, that guy’s kind of a dick,” Dane mutters.
“No, he’s not,” I defend instantly.
“What? Do you agree with him? Do you think I was manhandling you? That’s a little dramatic, Sydney,” he scoffs.
“Well, you were, kind of.”
“Obviously you’ve never been manhandled before because that certainly wasn’t it. I was merely trying to create a sense of intimacy.”
I stifle a laugh at this excuse.
“A sense of intimacy? Seriously Dane?”
A slow smile spreads across his face.
“Come on, Syd. It wasn’t that bad, was it?”
“No, I guess not, but…”
“But what? I just think that because you’ve never been with somebody seriously, you don’t know how to respond to my touch.”
Oh, but I do know. My mind instantly conjures an image of Conrad’s hands all over me, and I sure as hell know that I enjoyed it, and knew exactly how to respond.
“I’m not stupid, Dane. I know how I like to be touched,” I blurt.
Dane’s eyes go wide in response, and then he frowns.
“Oh, really now? How? Oh wait, did that musician dude manage to get in a few?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“That would be a yes then,” Dane huffs.
I know we can’t continue this conversation. I can’t have Dane overthinking about the musician in question.
“I’m done having this conversation with you, Dane. You know, you’re kind of being a jerk, so maybe don’t talk to me until you can act like the Dane I used to know, the one I knew before he left for the summer.”
Before he can respond, I turn on my heel and head in the opposite direction. I need to come up with a way I can stop Dane’s advances without completely ruining our friendship. However, I have a feeling it’s not going to happen. He’s just not the same Dane anymore, and it doesn’t seem like he wants to be either. I think back to how he was before. He was always so sweet, compassionate, gentle, and timid. He was bullied a lot, but he never let it bring him down, not in front of others anyway.
I suppose now that he’s got a stronger exterior, he’s trying to project himself as more confident than he probably feels inside. If that is the case, then I feel a little bad that I just called him a jerk, because that is so far from how he truly is. I’m one of the few people that see him for his wonderful nature and not some target to make them feel better about themselves.
My mind takes an unexpected turn as I begin to wonder what would happen had I not met Conrad. Would I see Dane differently? Would I be open to dating him? Could I see him as more than my sweet friend Dane? I know now that’s definitely his hope, and I can’t even give him a real explanation as to why I can’t. The truth is that I did meet Conrad, and now I’m too far gone even to consider anyone else. Right now, I wish I could just walk back into that classroom, wrap my arms around my boyfriend, and kiss him, but I can’t. I know if I were to date someone like Dane, I could. But even though Dane is probably the safest, easiest bet, I’ve fallen hard for Conrad. I know a million things could go wrong, and I might be making a huge mistake in being with him, but it doesn’t even matter anymore. When I see him, every reservation I have goes out the window.