It doesn’t sink in that I’m completely alone—in Los Angeles by MYSELF—until I’m sitting in my ridiculously small and square dorm room. The walls are empty and bare and blinding white. My suitcases sit untouched at the foot of my bed, and I just want to go home.
How could my father send me to boarding school, across the FREAKIN’ country, without even asking me if I wanted to come?
I squeeze my eyes shut, begin chanting Disney princesses off in my head and drag my suitcases over to the bed. My breathing slows as I heave the first suitcase onto the bed and slowly begin to unzip it. I almost think I’ve regained my composure, until I pull my stuffed bear, Alan—that I’ve carried with me everywhere since I was three—out of the suitcase.
A lump rises in my throat, and before I can stop it, the tears are rolling down my face. My stomach churns. I rush to my window, fling it open and gulp the fresh city air in greedily—a few heads whip up at the sound of my creaking window and stare.
Mortified, I quickly snap my window shut again and slide to the floor. I need to calm down NOW. The walls are so paper thin that all of Cyprus Hall will be able to hear me. And, then I won’t make any friends and no one will want to hang out with me and my life will be over.
My breathing comes in big, fast gulps and my face hurts from crying. Every inch of my body aches. It feels as if I’ve just completed a triathlon. I drag myself over to the bed, bury my face in the pillow—infested with who knows how many germs—and sob.
Why can’t I get myself together?
There’s a soft knock on my door, and then an energetic, perky voice asks, “Are you okay?”
No, I am not okay.
My father just sent me to FREAKIN’ boarding school, my boyfriend is on a plane to Africa and my mom is miles away in Ohio and there’s nothing I can do about it. I want to scream GO AWAY and just melt into my bed, but when she calls out again I reluctantly go to the door.
A girl with long black hair, with a thick layer of blonde on the bottom, leans against the door frame. She’s tall, skinny and is wearing a black Mumford & Sons t-shirt, black skinny jeans and combat boots. Her nose ring, a little diamond stud, glistens in the hallway light.
She sticks her hand out. “Hi. I’m Danielle. I live two doors down.” She points to room 315 down the hall. “Is this your first year?”
I slowly nod, refusing to let go of the door. I just want to go back to my bed, curl up and cry, but Danielle seems in no rush to leave.
She offers a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry. I cried my first night too.”
I raise my eyebrows at her. And, that makes me feel better how?
“You need a distraction,” She says, smiling at me. There’s just something about it that makes me feel like I’m back in Cedar Heights with Mads getting ready to play Thrifty Nickel at the local Goodwill.
What the hell?
I shrug my shoulders and smile back. I’m not sure what adventure Danielle has in store and the future is uncertain, but as I follow her out to a battered, old yellow slug bug I’m determined to learn to live and let go.
The city is bustling as we pull off the interstate. I’ve never been to a big city before—my hometown consists of 986 people, well, now I guess it’s 982. The towering buildings, rush-hour traffic and people crowding the sidewalks don’t calm my nerves.
My mind is racing. Who is taking care of Sammy when my dad’s not there? Mom isn’t able to do much even though her cancer is in remission. She just gets worn out too easily. And, even when my dad is home, he’s always absorbed in his work and it feels like he never has time for us.
I lean against the window and sigh.
What I wouldn’t give to be back in Cedar Heights, sitting outside with Mom and Sammy, roasting marshmallows over the fire.
A few minutes pass and then Danielle says, “So, where are you from? I saw the look of horror on your face as we were driving through the city.”
“Cedar Heights, Ohio. It’s near Cedar Point.”
Her expression is blank as she stares at me. “What’s that?”
I’m dumbfounded. “You’ve never heard of Cedar Point?”
She shakes her head. “It’s only the best amusement park in America.”
“Better than Disney?”
“Oh. It’s a million times better than Disney. And, that’s coming from a Disney fanatic.”
“What’s your favorite Disney movie?” She asks. “I love Anastasia.”
I want to tell her that Anastasia isn’t technically a Disney princess because Don Bluth made the movie after he was fired from Disney, but I don’t want to come off sounding snobby, so instead, I tell her how much I like the movie too.
The car jerks to a stop as Danielle pulls into the Oceanside Relaxation Academy’s parking lot and finds a parking spot.
“Mani-pedi?” She looks at me and grins.
“Sure . . .” I shrug my shoulders, it beats crying alone in my dorm. “But, won’t that be expensive?”
Danielle shakes her head. “Normally, yes, but this is an academy so the work is done by students and super cheap.”
The inside of the Oceanside Relaxation Academy is peaceful and inviting. A fake waterfall is plastered to the wall adding to the soothing lull. The walls are a pale yellow with low-lit hanging lights, and big gray beanbag chairs are scattered throughout the lobby. Danielle walks up to the front desk and makes a reservation.
“How do you like Baldwin?” I ask Danielle when she plops down in the bean bag next to me. “It’s alright,” She says slowly, drawing out her words, then sees the curious look on my face and quickly adds, “The staff is awesome!”
Before I can respond, the receptionist calls out, “Viola Thunderbottom?” I scan the lobby, looking for the poor soul with such an unfortunate name.
Nobody gets up. The silence that follows is excoriating, I feel as if I’m stuck on the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland. And, then Danielle burst out laughing. “Come on. That’s us.”
I snort. “You did not just write Viola Thunderbottom!”
The receptionist gives us the death glare, before directing us to the manicure and pedicure station. As soon as we’re out of view we both start giggling uncontrollably. We sit down at one of the manicure tables and wait for the nail technicians.
“Where are you from?” I ask organizing the nail polish bottles by color and then I push them into a straight line.
Danielle stares at me as she answers, “I’m from San Diego, it’s not too far.”
“I bet it’s nice being so close to home.”
“Yeah, I guess.” A nail technician walks in. I look down from her face to her name tag, which reads ‘Stephanie’ in large bubble letters.
“Hello, ladies. “She smiles brightly. She glances down at a little black book and her face scrunches up. “I’m going to start working on Viola Thunderbottom?”
Danielle looks at me and wags her eyebrows, which only sends me into another fit of giggles. After I calm down and control my breathing, I say, “Hi. I’m Emily.”
Stephanie’s eyebrows raise in an arch like she’s not sure what’s going on. She nods her head and then claps her hands, “Right! Should we get started? Anna will be with you in a moment.”
She motions for us to sit in the plush pink chairs pushed against the back wall as she starts filling the pedicure buckets with hot soapy water.
“So what brings you in today?” She asks as the other nail technician walks into the room. “Well,” Danielle says, Her face beams as she starts imitating an Australian accent. “I just couldn’t miss flying in for my favorite ginger’s wedding, now could I?”
She winks at me.
“Oh my gosh! Your accent is just darling. Where are you from?”
“Why from the Down Under of course!”
Both of the nail technician’s nod their heads, as if this is the only logical answer. Then Stephanie turns and looks at me. “When is the big day?”
“Two days!” I squeal. “Can you believe it?” I smile despite myself. Danielle might seem a little kooky and out there, but her crazy, hare-brained nature might be just what I need. It’s like I have a little piece of Mads here with me in Los Angeles.
A few hours later, we head back to Cyprus Hall. I pause when we reach Danielle’s door. She unlocks the door and pushes through, and then pokes her head back out when she realizes I haven’t followed her. “You coming?”
Her room is exactly like mine; it’s ridiculously small and square, with the same mini-desk, mini-fridge, and mini-bed pushed against the walls. But just like my room, there is no bathroom.
Unfortunately, we have to share that with the rest of the floor. And, unlike my bedroom, her things are unpacked and her walls are no longer bare and blinding white. Instead, the walls and ceiling are covered with band posters and pictures of her friends. Bright dangling beads hang from the closet door frame and twenty different kinds of shoes are lined neatly against the back wall.
I shake my head in awe. “How long did it take you to do this?”
I wish I could have a room like this, but I’m too much of a neat freak. I need clean walls and a clean desk, and I need to have everything in the proper place. If anything is even a hair off, I freak.
“You like?” She chirps grabbing her ukulele from the wall, a huge smile on her face. “I flew in yesterday morning and have just been waiting for my friends to show up.”
Danielle begins strumming a song on her ukulele as I walk around her room. I stop in front of a memo board covered in pictures and sticky notes. “Wait. Is that Iron Maiden you’re playing?”
She strums a few more chords and then looks up, “Yeah. It is. Do you like them?”
I shrug my shoulders, “They’re alright. My boyfriend listens to them all the time, so I know all the songs by heart.”
“Sounds like he’s a cool guy.”
I smile sheepishly. “Yeah, he is. Are these your friends?” I ask pointing to a picture of three girls and two guys laughing as they jump in a pile of fallen leaves.
Danielle puts down her ukulele and walks over to me. “That’s Liam, Calliope, Sarah, Ian, and me.” She says, pointing at each person. “You’ll meet them tomorrow in homeroom.”
My heart flips in my chest.
Is she inviting me to sit with her tomorrow?
“Well,” she continues, ” everyone, but Sarah. She graduated last year, but I’m sure you’ll meet her soon enough. She’s dating Ian. Liam and Calliope are dating, too.”
“How long have you been friends?” I ask, walking over to Danielle’s bed and grabbing one of her throw pillows.
“You all look so close.”
“We are,” she says, following me. Her smile falters. “Well, we used to be—last year Sarah changed. She stopped hanging out with us as much, claiming she was always busy . . . anyway,” she pauses and clears her throat, “No use crying over spilled milk.”
“It’s okay to miss your friend. I miss my best friend, too.”
She looks at me, the corners of her mouth tipping up into a slight smile. “Yeah, well, maybe this year we’ll both make a new friend.”
“Yeah,” I say, glancing at Danielle’s bright pink Hello Kitty alarm clock, and I’m surprised that it’s well past midnight. “I should probably get going. Sorry, I stayed so long.”
Danielle bounces to her feet and throws her arms around me. “It was so nice meeting you! I’ll see you tomorrow in homeroom.”
Five minutes later, I’m crouched outside my dorm room, a bent bobby pin in my hand and my phone propped against the wall playing a video with instructions on how to pick a lock. I debated asking Danielle if Icould crash with her for the night, but 1) I just met her and 2) Idon’t have any of my bedtime things so it would have been futile.Then I considered finding the resident assistant for the seniordorms, but I didn’t want to openly admit I disregarded curfew, eventhough I’m sure it won’t be enforced until tomorrow night whenthe semester officially begins.
I groan in frustration as the third bobby pin snaps. “Hells Bells,” I mutter under my breath. This is not how I imagined I’d be spending the rest of my Saturday night.
How did I forget to add my key to my lanyard?
My fingers quickly swipe the rewind button on the screen and I pull another bobby pin out of the bottom of my purse. I watch the video through one more time completely before attempting to pick the lock again.
Slowly, I insert my homemade lever into the bottom half of the lock and then wriggle it around until I find the direction the lock would turn if I had my key. Trying to keep my right hand steady, I press the other bobby pin on top, pushing it forward feeling for the locks.
“You know,” a deep, smooth voice with a thick accent says behind me, startling me and making me drop my pins. I whirl around and gape at the breathtakingly beautiful boy standing behind me. Where is that accent from?
He’s leaning against the wall, a slight smirk forming on his lips like he’s amused and he finds my current predicament hilarious. “You’re doing that wrong.”
I glare at him. “You think you can do better? Be my guest.”
He walks over to me slowly like he doesn’t have a care in the world. When he reaches me, he kneels down on the ground beside me and then in one swift movement picks up the fallen bobby pins. “It’s all about the angle,” he says, placing the lever and hooks into the keyhole once more. He jiggles it around for a bit and then the door makes a satisfying popping noise as the lock gives way. Who the heck is this guy?
I stare at him in disbelief. “Where did you come from?”
He gives me a quizzical look and it’s only then that I realize I asked that aloud. My face flames and I avert my gaze. He stands up, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. “I just got in from LAX.”
“Right, of course,” I say, standing up. “Um, so do you go here?”
He eyes me suspiciously like he’s trying to discern how much he can let me know, before leaning in and whispering conspiratorially in my ear.” Nah, I’m just here to raid the dorms.”
His ‘r’ and ‘a’ slurs together as he says the word raid and it’s as if I’ve been sitting in darkness this whole time and the light’s suddenly come on.
SHUT UP! SHUTUP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!
My mind feels like a broken record, the way I imagine Princess Mia felt when she finds out she’s the Princess of Genovia.
His lips continue to move, but I’m too fascinated by his beautiful accent to form cohesive sentences to respond. If I could get my mouth and brain to work, I would say something witty about Sherwood Forest and Robin Hood, but I don’t. Instead, I pinch my arm behind my back to keep from squealing; maybe Los Angeles isn’t so bad after all? I think I just found the perfect distraction.
He clears his throat and waves his hand in front of my face. “Er, are you okay?”
I feel like a complete idiot. I’m drooling over his accent, like a fool. But . .. is it even possible to resist a British accent?
I shake my head, trying to remove Wonder Boy from my mind. I have a boyfriend. I have a BOYFRIEND, and yet, there’s something about this gorgeous boy that I can’t shake.
Why do I find him so fascinating?
When I don’t respond, he awkwardly glances around the hallway. “Uh, does Danielle live here?”
My brain finally catches on to what he’s saying and I shout, way too enthusiastically, “Yes! Danielle lives in 315! We went to the spa today. I’m Emily. I just got here.”
I smile broadly like I just achieved some great accomplishment.
Hells Bells. Can I embarrass myself any further?
The beautiful boy gives an amused grin, flashing me a mouth full of sparkling white teeth. His smile is beautiful—the right side of his mouth curves slightly and there’s just a touch of an overbite. He has a dimple that pops out on his right cheek whenever he smiles, kind of like Mason’s.
Another reason I need to get back to my dorm, I have a boyfriend. Wonder Boy shouldn’t be making me this flustered.
“Ian.” The beautiful boy says, “I live on the fourth floor.”
I nod my head and point dumbly to my door, “I live here.”
He gives me a bemused grin, quickly glancing down at the bent bobby pins still littering the floor. The realization that I’m making myself out to be an utter idiot fills me and my cheeks flush. I just need to make it to my dorm, shut the door and forget this ever happened.
Ian slowly shifts down the hall, so he’s in front of Danielle’s door, and then does a series of raps, that could be mistaken as Morse Code, on Danielle’s door. “Well, I’ll see you around, Emily.” Em-a-lay. My heart flutters in my chest as he pronounces my name.
Danielle’s door opens and within seconds they are chatting and laughing at each other’s jokes, or most likely the dorky red-head who lives two doors down.
I quickly scoop up the discarded bobby pins littering the floor, grab my purse and phone and then push my door open. As soon as I’m in my room I slide to the floor and wrap my arms around my knees, replaying my encounter with Ian over in my head; his sloppy, crooked smile, his incredible accent and the way it lifted my spirits. I’m not certain if Ian and Danielle are laughing at the crazy red-head, but one thing I know for sure is Ian is one boy I want to know.