"Oh come on," Bonnie Henderson nudges me and giggles. "Just live a little would you?"
I open up my book and sigh. "I don't see the point of this. I told you that I need to get a head start on my term paper before break."
"We both know you'll have that crap done in like a day, Ellie."
"You don't know that."
The book is ripped out of my hands suddenly. "What the--HEY!"
She laughs as she throws it behind the bleachers, and when I hear it clunk down far below us I scowl, and push myself to my feet.
She yanks me on the arm, and I clumsily stumble backwards before I'm able to take a seat again. "I can't believe you. I really...I just cannot believe you."
"Live. A. Little. You never come to games, and you should, you know? It's part of the experience!"
I roll my eyes at her. I hate this. I never asked for this. I try to keep to myself, but for some reason she's got it in her head that she needs to be my friend. She's been this way for two and a half years, and...and I want to tell her to stop bothering. That I don't need her around to drag me out of the dorm, that I have no desire to have a social life like she does.
But I guess deep down a part of me is thankful.
The loud buzzing comes before I can protest further. Bonnie jumps to her feet and cheers loudly as our team jogs onto the court. I'd say she was foolish and embarrassing, but the truth is, this place seats thousands and I'm the only one who's not on their feet tonight. UCLA's basketball team is one of the biggest things going in this town and on this campus. It's not what I signed up for of course. I came here because it was simpler than moving across the country like my brother did. I could get a good education without having to suffer the political drama and social roderick that comes with attending a more prestigious school. For a while I was really happy here.
But my family hasn't been pleased with my decision. They say I can do it better, and it's a constant topic of conversation whenever I come home. I tend to avoid them...my family. I've been convinced for years that my dad wouldn't act like he does if life had worked out differently for us.
"There. Oh my god, there he is!"
Bonnie knocks into me again, nearly tipping me over, and I shove her back with equal force. "Would you quit?"
"Just look at him," she sighs stupidly, gazing up at the huge screen hanging from the ceiling. "We're so lucky we get to look at that for the next year."
I cave in and observe who Bonnie is drooling over. Typical. Your all American college jock. He's got it all. Nice eyes, perfect hair, perfectly toned body, perfect smile. I know his type. I write their terms papers three times a year so they can keep their GPA's where they're supposed to be. I gotta stop. They don't deserve an easy ride while the rest of us have to kill ourselves to get through school.
If I didn't need to save up money so badly I wouldn't even do it, but another half years worth of purchased term papers under my belt and I'll probably have enough to get away from my family and start my own life.
That's something I've been dreaming of since I was fourteen.
"They say he's going to enter the NBA draft next year," Bonnie continues, dreamily. "If you ask me I think he should just play here until graduation. He's like...famous, and we need to win some more championships!"
"Bouncing a basketball shouldn't make anybody famous."
"Oh whatever. He's amazing. We haven't been to the final four in five years, and this year we're undefeated! It's a huge deal! I heard they gave him a Ferrari and a huge check just to transfer here from his old school."
"Somehow I doubt that." I say it while my eyes follow him up and down the court. Number 44. Howell. Right. Felix Howell. He came here about two months ago and he's in my English Lit class. I was surprised he ended up in mine, just because of who the professor is. Fitzburg is as tough as they come, hates jocks trying to get an easy A. That's why I took her class. I figured it would keep me away from most of them. Then one day, there he was. I don't notice him much, and I know he's never even looked my way. He sits next to a pristine looking brunette in the back of the class, and they talk in hushed whispers whenever Fitzburg isn't lecturing. Her name is Jesse...something. She's a cheerleader and usually has a good point to make during group discussions. For that reason alone, I don't despise her, but I'm sure her boyfriend is only taking the class so he can spend time with her.
That irks me.
"Don't doubt it. He was voted most valuable college player by Sports Illustrated last season."
"And I bet you have the issue tucked under your pillow," I smirk. "Right?"
"Whatever. There's nothing wrong with looking, El. He's the only reason why I want to come to these games, along with most of the other people here. It's a big deal, and the school is going to get more funding because of it."
"And that means what for me?"
"More jocks begging you to write term papers."
I shrug and look back at the court. I'm just in time to see Felix skid to a stop at the three point line, two guys from the other team struggling to block his shot, but it's as if they're invisible. I see the slightest smirk take over his expression and then he takes his shot, effortlessly sinking the ball into the basket for three points. The entire place erupts into a celebratory roar of applause. Felix basks in the glory of accomplishment for about five minutes, high-fiving his teammates and waving at the crowd.
What a show off.
"Told you he's amazing," Bonnie sighs. "Man, if I could just get one date with a guy like that, my year would be made."
"Well, get a boob job and one of those skimpy cheerleader outfits and you might have a shot." I rise to my feet. "Now come on. I'm done with this nonsense, and you need to help me find my book."
"Ellie! The game just started!"
"Then stay, and I'll see you around." I turn and walk back down the bleachers, fully expecting her to follow me like she normally does. When my feet finally land back down on the court floor, I don't hear her behind me, and when I look back up the bleachers I find that she's talking to a couple of other girls who have sat down next to her. She's forgotten about me, of course. I'm a bore, and she knows it.
She's also my only friend, and I wish so badly that I could let loose sometimes, be more carefree like she is. I just can't though. I've been locked up tight for years, and that's something I can't change. I can't dwell on it so I push it to the back of my mind and focus on my book, start to go over the lists of things in my head that I want to accomplish before the end of the week. I need to finish a couple of term papers for some clients, get that history paper handed in ahead of schedule...
Oh, yeah I need to let my father know if I'm going to come home for Christmas this year. He asked me two weeks ago and told me it would be 'really great' if I could let him know in advance this year so he can 'plan accordingly'. Planing accordingly means letting his wife know I'll be coming for a visit so she can tell her kids not to belittle me so much, as they've done since I was fourteen.
I really don't want to go.
But I don't want to spend another Christmas alone in my dorm room, either.
"Ellie look out!"
It happens before I have a chance to react. A flying basketball whacks me in the face, and my head immediately begins to pound. I sink to the ground, clutching my face, trying so hard not to cry as I hear about a thousand of my peers laughing their asses off.
A whistle blows and I hear a voice booming something over the loudspeaker about a time out.
"Oh shit, you okay?"
Whoever said it is trying really hard to stifle his laughter. I groan, and it takes me a long time before I'm able to meet my greeters gaze. I'm in so much pain that my vision is fuzzy for several moments, and I squint, trying to make out his face.
"It was totally my fault," he laughs, and I can just make out his outstretched hand. "Ball just slipped out of my hands."
My vision eventually clears, and I come face to face with the idiot. Felix. I'm certain Bonnie would give her left boob to switch places with me right now, and I'd gladly give her the pleasure. "Aren't you supposed to be professional or something?"
He continues to smile and helps me to my feet. "Well, I try."
I pull away from him as soon as I steady myself on my feet again. "Great."
"Whoa, that's gonna leave a mark." He stares at my face and smirks his cocky smirk. "You should ice that. It looks really bad."
"Thanks." I snap at him. "I'll manage just fine."
"Hey Felix!" Someone yells.
"Gotta go. I really am...sorry," He half laughs it, and smiles quickly, before jogging back across the court to his team. I see him give one of his friends a high five, then they turn slightly, and start to laugh at me some more.
I'm running next, down the basketball court, out of the gymnasium. The tears are running down my face and I can hear them all laughing at me as I run past. I'm a wreck. Ellie the wreck.
Nothing ever changes. Not here, not at home.
I need a miracle. I mean, how the hell am I supposed to move on in life? Support myself? I can't even enjoy a basketball game with my roommate.
I'm so terrified of letting people get close to me. Terrified of showing them a smile, or a laugh.
Back in my dorm room, I fall onto my bed and cry for the longest time. I hate it. I wish I could stop. Everything is falling apart. I feel so alone. I always do, but this year it's hitting me too hard. I guess it's because I miss her so much. I've missed her since the day she left us, and everyday I wake up thinking about what my life would have been like if she hadn't passed away. Would I be happier? Would I be Miss Popularity? Would I be like the perfect brunette in English lit? Sexy from head to toe and dating a guy that just walked off the cover of Sports Illustrated?
Now the phone is ringing. I don't answer, but after seven times I know it has to either be Bonnie or my father, and they never give up. For some reason, they always know I'm here. Really, where the hell else would I be if I wasn't in class?
I sniffle back my tears and take in a breath. "Hello?"
"Hi Ellie, how are you sweetheart?"
Dad. I fall back into my pillows and sigh. "Hi Dad. I'm fine."
"Good. I'm glad to hear that."
There's more to this. I know just by the tone in his voice, and I begin to loathe speaking to him. "Well..."
"Have you given any thought to Christmas, Ellie?"
God. "I'm...I've been a little bit tied up at school."
"Well Jeanine needs to know, for the caterers and for the party planner."
He's ridiculous if he thinks I'm going to buy that. I'm one person. There's no way Jeanine's party planner needs a stupid detail like that. "Really? I seriously doubt it's that much of an issue."
"Honey, look," he sighs, as if this is harder for him than it is for me. "It's been two Christmases. It's time for you to be a part of this family, as much as you hate the idea of it."
I'm silent. Really, he's lucky I don't hang up.
But mom would never forgive me if I did. He's not the man she married, lord knows, but I'm sure she would want me to give him the benefit of the doubt because he's my father.
"I guess I don't have a choice then."
"Wonderful, and does your date have a dinner preference?"
I try not to groan. Right. Of course he would think that I would be dating somebody by this point. "Um I..."
"You are bringing a date, aren't you sweetheart?"
They're convinced that I'm a lesbian. I'm sure of it, since I never talk about boys, or send them pictures of myself cuddled up with some cute pre med, or law student. Of course it's not the truth. I simply have no desire to put myself out there like that. Dad can't understand. His mind was warped years ago by Jeanine's lifestyle, and he can't understand why I didn't change with him.
"I...yea." I sit up and smack my hand to my forehead.
"You're bringing a date?"
I think he's more shocked than he's ever been, and all that does is make me angrier. He doesn't think I'm capable. He was ready to take that blow from me, that I still haven't made an effort to meet someone at school.
"Of course. I've been meaning to tell you about him."
"Ellie I'm so happy," he chuckles. "Really. I can't wait to meet him. We'll have a real holiday together as a family."
"I'll send George with the car to bring you both here next week, darling. Make sure you call if there are any changes. I'll tell Jeanine. I'm sure she'll be just as excited..."
"Dad I have to go," I say, nervously. "I'll...I'll talk to you soon."
"Right," he sighs. "Can't wait to see you, sweetheart."
I hang up quickly and bury my face in my hands. Fuck. Fuck! Why the hell did I tell him that? Why couldn't I just admit it? That I'm single. That I'm the same loser I've been for years.
I can't just walk in without a date now. Not to this. I'll get stared down and belittled the whole damn holiday.
I need a plan.
But how do you get a stranger to come home with you for Christmas?
Especially if that stranger is me?