The Truths and Lies of Happily Ever Afters

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Chapter Seven

She is beautiful. Her skin is pale and smooth, glowing against her dark pink gown. It’s a sweeping ballgown with a skirt right out of the movies, little gems glittering all over it. The mask on her face matches her dress and circles her bright blue eyes. Gold hair is pinned up at the back of her head in an elaborate knot, leaving her shoulders bare. She looks every bit like the fairy tale princess I always imagined.

“Pulitzer princess?” I ask in awe.

“Oh wow,” the princess says. “It really is you. I was afraid you wouldn’t come. Like this was all some joke or something.”

“Me too,” I admit. Her voice is familiar but it can’t be who I think it is. There’s no way it’s her. “Do you maybe want to dance?”

“Yeah, that’d be great,” she says. She follows me onto the dance floor and then tentatively puts her hands on my shoulders. I take her waist and we sway awkwardly to the music. I always pictured tonight as some grand dramatic kismet type meeting but now that it’s actually here I’m sort of lost for what to say.

“You’re a lot taller than I imagined,” she says suddenly. “I mean, it’s just I guess I was expecting some kind of stereotype writer, little and chubby and squinty-eyed. But you, you’re tall and handsome. How have I never seen you before? You do actually go to this school, don’t you? This isn’t some creepy ploy to find out where I live?”

I chuckle. “If it makes you feel better, I’m usually squinty-eyed. Glasses,” I say. “And I go to this school, but you wouldn’t notice a guy like me. I’m not really your type.”

“How do you know my type?” she asks and one of her thin eyebrows arches up above her mask.

“Because you’re Miranda Blakewood,” I answer. Her pink lips part to make an O of surprise, confirming my guess. “We’ve had most of the same classes since fifth grade. You’re head cheerleader and student body vice president and apparently a freelance writer for the school paper, although I didn't know that last one.”

“This is impossible,” she says. “How do you know so much about me but I don’t know you?”

“Like I said, I’m not your type,” I say, trying to keep my smile steady. Of all the girls in the school my mystery princess might have been, I never would’ve imagined it to be Miranda Blakewood. And even though I should be excited that I’m here dancing with the girl that every guy wants, mostly I’m just terrified. Because there’s no way a girl like her will ever really be into a guy like me.

“Who are you?” she asks. Her eyes narrow and she’s scrutinizing my face, looking for some clue that she can’t seem to find.

I shake my head. “No, can we - can we just wait until later for that?” I ask. “I want to just talk first, before you know.”

She seems to consider that for a minute and then she nods. “Okay,” she agrees. “What do you want to talk about?”

“I’ve always wanted to know, what was it about my blog?” I ask curiously. “I mean, what made you write that comment that day, when I was going to quit?”

She smiles and for the first time that I’ve known her it looks like a genuine smile. Not that confident, queen of the school smirk, but a real smile. “I don’t know, really,” she says. “It’s just - reading your blog for the last few years, you just became so real to me. You always seemed to be talking about the same things I was dealing with.

“Like the one when you were talking about how dating just isn’t the way you think it’ll be when you’re a kid. It’s nice to know there was someone who got it. And it was like you understood me, like you could just read all of my emotions and put them down in words in a way I couldn’t. It was cathartic.” She stops and then a bright blush covers her cheeks. “Sorry, I’m rambling, that was probably a bit creepy, wasn’t it? Me just raving on like that...”

“No, it’s fine,” I say, beaming. “It’s great you understand. I didn’t think people got what I was saying but then with you it’s different.” She smiles and meets my eyes again and it makes something in my chest flutter. She might be the icy head cheerleader on the outside, but under that she’s the girl who read my words and really saw them. If I want her to forget her old impressions of me, I need to forget mine of her too.

“You’re a really great writer,” she says. “I mean it.”

“So are you,” I reply. “You won’t have any trouble getting a job after school. Are you going to write here or go somewhere else?”

“Somewhere else,” she says. “I want to move to the city and write for a real paper. California, maybe. I just want to get away from this teeny place and meet fabulous people, the sort of people whose lives don’t revolve around high school football and who has the greenest lawn.”

I grin and nod. “That’s what I want too,” I admit enthusiastically. “To move to the city and keep writing. Be where there’s action and people and places to see.”

Miranda gives me that smile again, the brilliant dazzling one that lights up her whole face and makes me feel warm in my chest. “I can’t believe we’ve never met before now,” she says. “If I’d had any idea that charming blogger I read lived so close, I’d have suggested meeting sooner. All that wasted time.” The slow song ends and a fast, techno beat takes its place, the bass speakers thumping so loudly they shake the floor. I grimace at the noise and Miranda does too. “God, I can’t hear a thing.”

“C’mon,” I say and offer her a hand. She looks at me hesitantly for a minute and then puts her hand in mine. I lead her out of the gymnasium through one of the side doors, avoiding the teacher at the entrance, and take her around to the auditorium. Sneaking in through one of the doors that Ray and I rigged so it won’t lock, I lead her to the set of stairs concealed behind the prop closet and start up them.

“Where are we going?” Miranda asks as she follows me up the narrow staircase.

“Don’t you trust me?” I ask. She raises an eyebrow at me over her mask and I grin. “I want to show you this.” We finally reach the door at the top and I push it open so we step out onto the roof of the school. It’s a big, flat area and from it one can see all the way across town in every direction, all the way to the dark ocean on the south edge of town.

Miranda gasps and walks over to the ledge, staring out with her eyes wide. “This is beautiful.”

“I come up here to write sometimes,” I tell her, joining her at the concrete ledge and leaning my elbows on it. “Usually when I’m cutting class or when I have time after school and I don’t have to hurry to work. It’s one of the best views in town, except maybe from the observatory up on the hill.” I glance sideways at her and she’s still taking in the view, her blue eyes bright in the moonlight. “I figured this would be a better place to talk than down there with that loud music.”

“Good choice,” she says and glances sideways to smile at me. “So, Mystery Man, tell me a little about yourself.”

So I do. I tell her about my family and my job and my writing, all in vague enough details and without names so she can’t guess who I am. In return she tells me more about her family, about her parents who pretend to be a normal family but who secretly hate each other; about her debutante older sister whose shadow she can’t escape from; about how her parents don’t like her dreams of writing because it doesn’t seem like a good woman’s career; about how she doesn’t like the way people pretend to be her friends when they aren’t, and how guys only ever seem to want to be with her because she’s so popular.

We talk about school and make fun of our teachers. We compare our favorite books and movies. We discuss which cities we want to live in when we leave Tickuma, debating New York versus Los Angeles. It’s like every other conversation we’ve had over the last year, only infinitely better because it’s real. I can actually hear her tone and sarcasm and enthusiasm. I’ve never felt like I was so able to talk to someone the way I talk to her, at least no one but Ray. And she doesn’t judge me or tease me, she just listens and responds and laughs with me when I tell jokes. It’s a miraculous feeling.

It’s perfect.

Which is, of course, when my phone goes off. I stop mid-sentence and pull out my phone, checking the screen. There’s a text message from Ray blinking on the screen. 15 min to midnight. curfew time cinderella

“Shit,” I hiss, hastily sticking the cell back in my pocket. I glance up and see Miranda watching me curiously. “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go. If I’m not home by midnight I’m not going to live to see the light of day.”

“You have to go now?” Miranda asks and takes a step toward me, her big blue eyes pleading.

“I’m sorry,” I say again and I really mean it. I want nothing more than to just stay with her all night but I can’t do that. Doug still has my mom’s things and he thinks I’m at home painting the house. If he finds out I’m not, I’ll lose my mom’s things for sure. “I’m really sorry, Miranda. But I’ll see you again, okay?”

Miranda grabs my face and before I even realize what is going on, she’s kissing me. My brain feels strange and fuzzy and it takes me a second before I even think to react. Her lips are soft and insistent and it’s everything a first kiss should be. The sort of kiss that happens in all the classic stories right before the happily ever after part.

When Miranda finally pulls back I feel the drag of elastic over the back of my head, followed by a snap of it against plastic. The sound makes my eyes snap open and I see her holding my mask in her hands. And that she’s staring directly at me, eyes wide with shock. “You’re - you’re that guy from the diner,” she gasps out.

And at that point my entire world falls apart. She’s found out who I really am and the expression on her face is like she’s come face-to-face with a monster. She can’t believe that she can possibly like a guy like me. It’s all over. So I do the only thing I can.

I turn and run.

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