Chapter 1: Zander
“Why is there a dead raccoon on the couch?” Brittany gasps.
“My dad just shot it, before you walked in. And it’s about time too. These damn trash pandas have been living in our attic for a month now. We called animal control, but no one’s come over yet. We had to take matters into our own hands,” I say.
“Well, that’s disgusting. I can’t even look at you with that...thing lying there. Can we go into another room at least?” Brittany asks.
Brittany Hogan, my best friend, she’s the girliest girl I have ever met. Then there’s me, Ashley Tudor, the tomboy. I ride dirt bikes, climb mountains, and read graphic novels. I’m the son my dad always wanted but never had.
“It’s just a raccoon. Even Pocahontas from that Disney movie loves them.”
“Please, Ash? Can we not be here? That’s the most fucking disgusting thing I’ve ever seen,” Brittany complains.
“Yeah, sure I was only teasing.”
Classic Brittany. Can’t even take a joke.
“Are you coming to my birthday party this weekend?” Brittany asks.
“Don’t you mean you and Zander’s birthday?”
“Don’t remind me. How are he and I even related?” Brittany gasps.
“How are you twins is more like it,” I reply.
Zander Hogan is a living, breathing caveman. Living proof that Darwin was right, we do come from monkeys.
“Ash, what am I going to do with all those girls? You know the ones that act like Zander is so great. It’s Zander my messy, disgusting, big brother,” Brittany says.
“Just because he is born two minutes before you, doesn’t make him older, ” I say.
“It sure does. He won’t let me live it down. And Ash, I can’t stand it. I really can’t. So, will you come and help keep those other girls off Zander for me?” Brittany asks.
“Sure, I can,” I reply.
This is Zander we are talking about. The same dork who put spiders in my sleeping bag when I was six. He also, put my training bra in the freezer when I was twelve and killed my guinea pig when I was nine. There are many reasons to hate Zander Hogan, and I pretty much do. Except when I don’t, but I can’t tell Brittany that.
“Ewwwww,” mom screams.
“Guess she found the dead raccoon,” Brittany smirks.
“No kidding. At least you didn’t scream,” I point out.
“You’re right. Thanks for being willing to take care of my Zander situation,” Brittany says.
“No worries,” I reply.
Brittany and I have lived in the same neighborhood our whole lives. We used to jump on my trampoline together. Or we’d go sledding in her backyard. In the summer, we would enjoy the neighborhood pool. Zander would tag along with us. He was always there with his best friend, Kyle.
Kyle Sumpter is nothing like Zander. Zander is careless. Kyle expects the worst from Zander. Kyle was the first guy I ever kissed. He was the first guy Brittany ever dated. They’re still dating.
I never dated Kyle. It was in middle school, at an eighth-grade party. We played spin the bottle. Kyle bit my tongue. It bled. I haven’t kissed anyone since.
I feel like a loser for that. I’m almost a junior in high school. Aren’t upper-class men girls supposed to be sex experts and role models of womanhood? If that’s the case, then that is not like me.
“Hey dad, I’m going to walk Brittany home,” I say.
“Okay, be back by 7,” he replies.
I look at my phone it’s 4 pm. I guess he doesn’t care if we hang out for a few more hours. More fun for me.
It’s a nice summer day. The breeze is out and kisses my face. Butterflies and bees tend to the flowers. The walk to Brittany’s house is short. We walk on the secret path in the small woods that separate our houses.
The path passes by a garden. Mrs. Judy lives there. She is the best gardener in town. Her garden wins first place every year. Mrs. Judy has a bench in her garden. For as long as I can remember, Mrs. Judy would allow me to use her garden for my childish shenanigans.
“Hello Ashley, how are you today?” Mrs. Judy asks.
“We are doing well. My dad finally shot the raccoons in our attic,” I smile.
“It’s about time. They have been a nuisance at my house as well, ” she says.
“Sorry to hear that. I got to run. Have a good afternoon,” I say.
“Goodbye, Ashley,” Mrs. Judy waves.
“I’m excited to plan my birthday party, ” Brittany says scaring the shit out of me.
“Me too, ” I chime in.
We get into Brittany’s house. It’s full of beautiful paintings. Mrs. Hogan collects famous paintings, even if they are just prints, they are still lovely. Her Mona Lisa copycat follows me around the room with its gaze.
“I’m going upstairs to change my outfit,” Brittany says.
“Yeah, sure,” I say.
I sit down in their beautiful living room. I stare at the paintings. Two hands startle me as they cover my eyes.
“Guess who?” a voice says.
“Hello, Zander,” I say. He takes his hands off my eyes.
“You look beautiful,” he smiles. Zander Hogan has never been one to give a girl or anyone else a compliment.
“Thanks, Zander, ” I say. What the hell does Zander want with me?
“You’re welcome, ” he says.
He grabs my hand, which cuts me off guard. He rubs his thumb over mine, and let’s go when Brittany comes down the stairs.
“Ashley, what did Zander do to you?” Brittany asks.
“Oh, nothing he was just explaining this painting to me. Thanks for telling me about it, Zander, ” I lie.
“You’re welcome, ” he says playing along.
I follow Brittany to her room. I can still feel the ghost-like sensation of Zander’s thumb touching mine. What the hell was that about?
Deep down if I’m being honest, I didn’t really mind so much. Apart of me wishes he could have held it just a little bit longer. If Brittany knew that she would freak out.
That’s the thing about Brittany, every relationship she engages in has rules. To be her friend you must always follow these three rules. Number one always give her a compliment. Number two stay away from her brother. Number three never try to look or be more beautiful than her.
That last one is why we are friends. I’m the tomboy, and makeup is the last thing on my mind. But even without it, Zander still grabbed my hand and looked at me differently today.
“Ash, what’s gotten into you?” Brittany asks.
I can’t tell her the truth. I can’t tell her that Zander and I had a connection today. Because dating boys like Zander Hogan is not like me.