Charged~ Electric Book One

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Chapter Two~ Socialize

Because Mr. Murphy is one of our favorite teachers, we try hard to match his excitement and enthusiasm for today’s class. He jumps right in, explaining exactly what has him so pumped up. “Okay, so who can tell me what BioNano has been focusing on, anybody?” I glance around, surprised no one else has the answer. So I shrug and raise my hand, “Yes, Kat.”

“I believe they are leading ground-breaking research on nanotechnology?” This is more of a question than an answer.

“Precisely,” Mr. Murphy continues. “This morning they have released to the scientific community that they have had a breakthrough, which they will be announcing shortly, and we will get to watch history in the making.” He pauses to clean his glasses, another indicator of his excitement. “Since we have some time left, I’m going to give you a brief background on the company, their research, and what it is going to mean for you.

“Since 1996, BioNano has been a leader in the field of nanotechnology. They mastered many of its facets. Without them, all of your smart phones would be nonexistent, and many other technological advances would not have been possible. After their successes in technology, they decided to begin research on utilizing nanotechnology for the greater good, such as medical advances. Can anyone tell me what kind of impact this could have if they were successful?”

This is way over my head. Sure, I have a basic knowledge of it—I’m amazed everyone doesn’t with as much as BioNano is in the news. I’m grateful that before Mr. Murphy could glance in my direction again, Jason pipes up. “They have been working on atomic sized self-replicating nanobots. If they succeed, they will have created a nanobot with the ability to rearrange a single atom-using its properties to change it to something else. This can be incredibly useful externally, but the real focus is in the medical field. These nanobots will be able to eradicate bacterial infections, repair damaged tissues and blood cells. The possible advances in modern medicine will be astounding.”

If Mr. Murphy could explode with pride I think he would have. “Perfect, Jason. Any questions, class? I want us all on the same page.”

We all murmur our understanding. Though, I suspect some of us understand more than others.

Brie’s hand shoots up next to me, and Mr. Murphy nods his head at her. “Mr. Murphy, can’t that be dangerous though?” My best friend, ever the pessimist; leave it to her to argue against anything. “I mean, what is going to keep these things in line? Are they going to make nano-police?”

Mr. Murphy chuckles. “Great question, Brie. Yes, there is a danger factor, but each nanobot is specifically designed to do a specific task: no more, no less.”

My eyebrows raise and I inadvertently say, “What’s to keep them from manipulating themselves around this safety measure?”

Mr. Murphy claps his hands together and points at me. “And therein lies the problem. That’s a valid concern, and something I believe they will be addressing in today’s press conference, which will be starting soon.” He glances at the clock on the wall. “If you need a drink or to use the restroom, please do so now. I want all of us to see the entire presentation if possible.”

During our short break, Brie turns to me. “So, how was your walk this morning?”

I feel my face warm and my heartbeat accelerates. “It rocked. I keep waiting for something to happen, though. Girls like me can never hold the attention of a guy like Mason for long.”

Brie shakes her head at me. “I don’t want to hear any of that nonsense.” She waves a finger in my face. “You know how I feel about your lack of self-esteem. I’m just shocked Mason is the first guy to notice.”

I stick my tongue out at her, but I’m saved from replying by the lights dimming and Mr. Murphy calling our attention to the television. It starts with a brief history of BioNano, the company’s founders, and their recent advances in technology. When the short film is over, the camera focuses on an older gentleman behind a podium. His name is listed below as Dr. Harris, and he jumps full speed ahead into explaining their newest, self-replicating nanobots, and what this will mean for our medical community and beyond.

“Imagine being able to reset atoms as we need to, being able to change and remap atoms as we need to. This means we can create water from sand, or manipulate carbon into diamonds. An oil spill will no longer require months of cleanup and have such damaging effects on our environment. We can now utilize our nanotechnology to change these damaging atoms back into the natural elements they were prior to any accident.

“This stands true for the use of nanotechnology in medicine. Gone are the days where tissue takes weeks to repair itself, where we lose lives to bacterial infections. We are even able to regenerate tissue, giving us the power to regrow lost limbs. This is the medical advance we’ve been striving for, and I’m proud to announce that our day is here.”

We watch the rest of the special broadcast, and some of the same questions we had get answered. Something still bothers me, though. Dr. Harris is so quick to deem this new technology as safe. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great and all…if it does what they say, how they say. Mr. Murphy switches off the television and flicks the classroom lights back on. “How cool is that, guys?” Collectively the classroom hums in excitement. “Well, I have even more exciting news for you. We will be taking a tour of the BioNano facilities this Friday, and you will all get a chance to see nanotechnology in action, first hand. This will be an all-day trip, permission slips on my desk.”

Brie turns to me, “I will take a Friday field trip anytime, even if it means going to Frankenstein’s factory.”

I make a face at her. “I think it will be interesting. And yes, a Friday field trip is kickass, regardless.”

We make our way into the congested hallway. Our high school has the typical institutional feel. Two stories: the large brick rectangle houses grades nine through twelve. The inside walls are aquamarine, the floors tan pebbled tile, the lockers painted fire-engine red, and typical high school flyers, posters and art dominate the interior walls. There’s nothing outstanding about its appearance, but we make it work.

Brie and I spilt up. My stomach flutters at the thought of seeing Mason again in Calculus. I find him waiting, sitting in the seat next to the one I was in yesterday. I shyly smile and his brilliant, brain numbing grin is my reward. I manage to catch myself before tripping over the last desk in the row, marking the journey to my seat an overall success. I compose myself under the pretense of settling in and getting out my textbook and notes.

When I’ve gathered enough courage, I give him my best smile. “How’s your morning going?” I ask.

He gives me a smoldering look. My heart begins to race, and I almost miss him say, “My morning just got better.” He follows this with another grin which leaves me gaping at him before he continues, “How about you?”

I shake my head minutely to clear the fog, not missing his small chuckle. “My morning was good. Did you hear about the field trip on Friday yet?” Mason shakes his head so I give him a brief rundown before the bell rings. We both focus on Ms. Nahlik (a necessary evil in Calculus) and don’t chat again until the end of class.

Maybe it’s because my odds are improved or because Brie and Mason are flanking me. Perhaps Kiera didn’t feel like it. Today, I brushed past Kiera and her minions with only a snarky look between us. We grab a table in the lunchroom, still attracting attention but not quite as much as yesterday. I’m sure everyone expected Mason to fall in line at Kiera’s table. She obviously had, as she glares openly at me. I roll my eyes, shifting my gaze from her to Brie and Mason.

“I’m grabbing something,” Brie says, getting out of her chair. “You want anything?”

I shake my head. All of this extra attention is making me queasy. “I’m good, thanks.”

Mason shifts a little closer to me. “You look a little…panicked, you alright?”

Blushing, I lower my head and let my hair shield my face. “Everyone is staring at us. It makes me a little uneasy.”

He smirks. “Says the singer. So, what, you’re saying that you don’t like to be watched?”

I shake my head. “It’s different when I’m playing music. I’m preoccupied with the guitar, singing, and Brie’s rhythm in my ears. But this is awkward: people just gawking at us for no apparent reason.”

“I guess I can see the differentiation.” He glances around. “I suppose we are attracting a bit of attention. They’ll get over it, eventually.”

I shrug. “I hope so.”

By the time Friday arrives, my life feels a bit surreal. I blame it on Mason, and part of me waits for him to realize that I am a total loser and run off. Brie keeps telling me I’m nuts, and it’s about time that a guy picked up on how great I am. In my opinion she’s just biased.

We are all excited to go on our field trip. We pile onto the buses in a flurry of chatter and movement. It feels good that Mason weaseled his way onto our bus and into our group. He was supposed to stay with his class, but Mr. Murphy gave him permission to stay with us. I have to remember to do something nice for Mr. Murphy in return.

The field trip consists of two parts. The morning classes (and Mason) will first see the presentation while the afternoon classes take the tour. Then we will switch off. Mr. Murphy sticks with our group, the substitute Biology teacher, Mr. Williams, stays with the other group. They’re both great teachers, but Mr. Murphy’s excitement is way more fun than Mr. Williams’ stoicism.

The presentation is similar to what we learned in class. The three of us manage to pay attention, though I have to smack Brie’s arm a couple times for making faces. She leans in towards the end. “Not for nothing,” she whispers, “but I still have yet to hear how they plan on keeping these things in line.”

I nod my agreement, and try to focus on the rest of the presentation. Brie has a good point. Don’t get me wrong, everything they are showing to us is very exciting. It’s really life changing for every person. I’m just waiting to see the checks and balances they have in place. I’m also a firm believer that when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

We take a break to eat our bagged lunches before we start the tour. Brie, Mason and I dump out our paper sacks, trading food until we are all happy with our choices. Mason takes a swig of his soda before he says, “I find it a little creepy,” he takes another swig, “that if I go break my arm in a month, they’re going to put this little robot inside me to fix me. I’d feel violated.”

Brie laughs, “I agree, it’s creepy. Just wait until they start using them for other things.”

My brow furrows as I look at her. “Like what?” I ask.

She swallows a bite of her sandwich before answering. “Think about it, Kat. How long until they start using them to gather information on everybody? Or using them to control people? I’m telling you, this is some freaky shit right here.”

Mr. Murphy passes by our table to throw away whatever was left of his lunch. I flag him down. “Mr. Murphy, during our tour, are they going to touch on the safety measures for this new technology?”

“Good question, Kat. I’ll make you a deal. My good friend is the lead scientist in that department. If we can’t get you any answers on the tour, then I will take you three for a private Q&A session while everyone else visits the gift shop.”

I ignore the fact that I think it’s odd for such a major company to have a gift shop, “That’d be cool, Mr. Murphy. Thanks!”

With that, Mr. Murphy calls us to order and we all fall into line for the tour. We are shown to a display area, filled with glass cases depicting different stages and advances in nanotechnology. Our tour guide speaks, monotonously, regarding the company’s history as we roam through the display cases. Brie, Mason and I goof off a little, but not enough that I don’t process what I’m seeing and hearing about the company’s history.

One glass case catches my eye. I stop and lean in for a closer look. It shows magnified pictures of nanobots self-replicating. The card states: ‘Productive nanosystems are "systems of nanosystems" which will be complex nanosystems that produce atomically precise parts for other nanosystems, not necessarily using novel nanoscale emergent properties, but well—understood fundamentals of manufacturing.’

I imagine the astounding rate they can mass produce. These microscopic inventions are almost God-like in a sense. They can manipulate atoms (the basic makeup of everything on this planet) into whatever they want or need and then regenerate themselves. Maybe Brie isn’t as pessimistic as I first thought…and she’s right to be so skeptical.

My internal monologue is interrupted by the herding of everyone into the next area. Mason grabs my hand to pull me along, and to my delight doesn’t release it. I tell myself to lighten up, and enjoy the day. It’s not like it’s my responsibility to save the world from nanobots. I’m sure they pay someone very handsomely to worry about it.

Mr. Murphy keeps his promise. At the end of our tour he leads us to meet his friend and colleague Dr. Julian Ford. Dr. Ford is younger and more handsome than I expected. He looks to be in his twenties, and has blond hair and piercing blue eyes set behind thin rimmed glasses. Even Brie is a bit flustered, which never happens. He extends his hand first to Mr. Murphy, then to the rest of us.

“It’s good to see you again, John.” Dr. Ford says.

“You too, Julian. Please meet Kat, Brie and Mason. Brie and Kat have some questions for you regarding the safety measures in place for these new nanobots.”

Dr. Ford smiles at us. “You know, most adults don’t even think ahead to the possible ramifications of nanotechnology. I think it’s great you guys are doing it on a high school level. What’s your main concern?”

Brie jumps right in. “Utter world domination? I mean, what’s to stop them from taking over everything?”

Leave it to Brie to lighten the mood. Dr. Ford chuckles as he replies. “A valid concern, guys. Every nanobot is designed to have a specific focus, so the first safety feature is proper usage.”

“What about human error?” Brie counters.

“Well, that’s the reason it’s only the first precaution. The nanobots will also require an energy source. Other factors come into play too, such as environmental stresses. And finally, we’ve created them to be self-limiting. They would still be in need of materials that they require for consumption—all outside parameters we control.”

Brie seems to think this over while Mason pipes in. “See ladies, they’ve got this under control.”

I smack his arm. “Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions Dr. Ford.”

Brie starts, “Yeah, thanks, I feel a bit better now. Not completely,” she grins, “but better.”

“I’m happy to help.” Dr. Ford holds his hand out to Mr. Murphy again, “John, not so long next time; stop by anytime.”

Mr. Murphy shakes his hand. “I’ll stop by again soon, Julian. Thanks, again.” He turns to us. “We have to get going, before we miss the buses.”

I can’t help being a little excited when I wake up the next morning. It’s not only Saturday, but it’s also finally the day I turn seventeen. This means my mother’s requirements to attain a learner’s permit are finally met, which I will be doing first thing after school on Monday. I’ve been waiting for this day for over two years now: ever since my mom made it known I had to be seventeen to drive. Thank goodness Brie has had wheels (albeit sporadically) for the past year.

If I’m being honest with myself, I should fess up to the fact that I’m also excited to spend the day with Mason, and go to the party Brie is planning tonight. I have no idea what Mason has in store for me. I attempted to pry it out of him, but he refuses to give me even a hint regarding today’s activities. I try to figure it out as I make my way downstairs for my mom’s annual birthday breakfast. Ever since my dad left (when I was only about a year old), my mom and I have been our own little family. As a nurse, she works crazy hours, and to accommodate things like birthdays and holidays we celebrate with breakfast. As soon as I was old enough a clean house and a full fridge are ensured. We make a good team, my mom and me.

The kitchen smells heavenly—a mixture of maple syrup and bacon. My mom is flipping the last of the pancakes. She greets me with a big smile, “Happy birthday, Kat!”

I give her a hug. “Thanks, Mom. It smells great in here.” I take my seat at the table and have a sip of the orange juice she put out for me.

“It’s tradition, after all. Except now, you’re the one with the busy evenings.” I can tell by her smile that she doesn’t think of this in a bad way.

“I really can stay home if you want.” This is the zillionth time I’ve offered.

“Don’t be silly. Go have fun,” she wheels around and points the spatula at me, “but not too much fun.”

I smile. “I’ll be sure to have balanced fun. I promise.”

My mom sits down, placing the plate of pancakes on the table. “So, when are you going to get your permit?”

I smile. She knows me well, “First thing after school on Monday.”

“Good luck.” She smiles back. “Do you think you’re ready?”

I fight not to roll my eyes. “Mom, I’ve been ready for over a year now.”

She’s acting very strange—impish almost. “I think you’re ready.” Her Cheshire cat grin is still firmly in place as she lights the customary candle and sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. I blow out the candle and begin eating, still a little suspicious.

We joke and tease as we eat. We’ve always gotten along well. After we finish, my mom looks at me, her hands wet from dishes. “Can you see if there are any clean dish towels in the dryer for me?”

I head to the garage, where the washer and dryer reside. Flicking on the wall switch, I open the door and take one step in before noticing something. My mom drives a red SUV. This older blue sedan I’m seeing is definitely not hers. Puzzled, I turn around to find her right behind me. “Happy Birthday, baby, do you like it?” She looks anxious.

I’m literally speechless, so I wrap my arms around her and hug her tightly.

“I take it that means you like it?” I nod. “Good. Now, there are a few rules that go with it, and no driving it until you’re licensed. We can discuss the rules after you pass your road test.”

I release her and the words come out in a slightly garbled rush. “Mom, it’s awesome. You totally didn’t have to do that. Thank you, very much.”

“Well, I couldn’t see any other way around it. You deserve it. Just don’t abuse it.”

“I won’t,” I promise. Wait until I tell Brie and Mason!

By the time I’m showered and dressed, Brie is sitting on my bed. She is in full on excited—Brie mode, bouncing up and down and talking so fast that I’m basically gaping at her and wondering how she’s breathing. I attempt to keep up as she prattles on about tonight’s party. I know she has secured her uncle’s lake house for the event. I have no doubt that Brie has put together the party of year. I’m half excited and half nervous when she tells me that the band is going to let us play a few songs. I hadn’t even been thinking about performing tonight.

When she has it all out of her system I look at her. “Want to see something awesome?” Not waiting for an answer, I grab her hand and lead her to the garage. Flicking on the light, I pull her through the door. “Check this out!”

Brie’s reaction is similar to mine, but she recovers much more quickly. “Is that what I think it is?” I nod. “Holy flipping crap, Kat, you have a car! This is epic!”

“I know. My mom got me good, too. And I can’t really drive it yet, obviously, but I still love that I have it.”

My cell goes off in my pocket. I grab it and read a text from Mason, wishing me a Happy Birthday and seeing if I’m up. I tell him to come on over. Brie sees my smile and can’t resist teasing me. “I can tell by your goofy smile who that must have been. Let me guess, he’s on his way.”

“Yep, I’m surprised he isn’t here yet.” I say as we go back into the kitchen and glance out the back patio doors. “It’s just a yard after all.”

Brie sits at the table, and grabs an apple from the fruit bowl. She spins it in her hands. “You guys are getting kind of serious, huh?”

I shrug. “I guess so. It’s not like I really have anything to base it on. And it’s only been a week.”

Brie rolls her eyes. “A week maybe, but I can tell you both have it bad. I’m happy for you.”

A knock at the door grabs my attention. I see Mason and my heart races at the sight of him. While inviting him in I think about the past week. It’s certainly been a new experience for me. Not only do I have a cute guy who seems to like me, he’s also the boy next door. This makes him astonishingly available. We have exuberantly taken advantage of our mutual availability.

Spending so much free time together over the past week with Mason has been more surreal to me than anything. I know the next step, logically, is to have him meet my mom. While she’s a bit eccentric, she’s no dummy, and I can tell by her looks of late that she has been noticing the subtle changes in me. It’s a situation I’ve been avoiding, but I know it has to be addressed soon. It’s not that I don’t think they’ll get along, I’m more worried about being embarrassed. Horribly embarrassed.

Brie winks at me as Mason walks in. “Hey, Mason.”

He nods at her, “Hey, Brie.” He turns to me and smiles, “Happy birthday, Kat.”

My cheeks flush. “Thanks, Mason.” I take a quick moment to compose myself. “What did you guys want to do until the party?”

Unsure if it’s my imagination, for a split-second I think I see a look pass between the two of them. I’m not able to even confirm it in my mind, when Brie says, “Actually, you two are on your own. I have a lot to do today.”

I instantly feel guilty for not being more proactive with the party plans. “Do you need help?”

She gapes at me in horror. “Absolutely not! It’s your birthday, and you need to go have fun.” She hugs me. “I’ll be back later so we can get ready together.”

“Bye, Brie.” Mason and I call as she walks out.

Mason looks at me. I can’t help but smile as I say, “What do you want to do?”

I squeal when he grabs me. “Well, first I want to give you your present.” A small box appears in his hand. I go to grab it, but he holds it just out of my reach. “But before you open it,” he hesitates, and blushes slightly unless my eyes are deceiving me. “Kat, I’m really happy that I met you a week ago. And that we’re neighbors. In case you can’t tell, I really like you a lot. I was hoping, that maybe we could make it official…so, would you consider being my girlfriend?”

I freeze momentarily in a state of shocked bliss. He looks at me expectantly while I absorb what he just said. A huge grin breaks across my face, and I throw my arms around his neck and smack a loud kiss on his mouth. “Yes!” I say exuberantly.

His return grin dazes me again and he uses the moment to kiss me, really kiss me, and when he’s done, all I can do is rest my head on his chest and sigh contently. I feel him chuckle softly, as he lays his head gently on top of mine. “Do you want your present now?”

I giggle. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite this happy before. “Yes, please.”

He releases me and hands me my present. I unwrap the metallic blue paper to find a small box inside. When I snap the lid open I see a pretty silver ring. At first glance, it looks like a simple band, but closer inspection reveals its many intricately patterned bands in one. In the center of the ring, the pattern forms a row of small hearts. I love it immediately, and I fumble to take it out of the box.

Mason takes it from me and gets it out without a problem. He looks a little sheepish. “I had them engrave it, too. I was really hoping you’d say yes.”

I take the ring from him and read the inside. It reads ‘To the beginning’ with our initials and the date. It’s perfect. “Mason, I love it.” I look at him fervently. “Thank you, really.”

He places it on the ring finger of my right hand. “It fits! I wasn’t sure that it would. But now we don’t have to get it sized.”

I admire my new ring, and give Mason another quick kiss to show my appreciation. Then I remember that I have to show him what’s in the garage. I tug him excitedly to the door. “I almost forgot, check this out!” I flick on the light and fling open the door.

His eyebrows shoot up and his mouth drops open. “This is awesome! Your mom surprised you?”

“Yeah, she rocks!” It occurs to me this is a good start to another conversation. “I think it may be time for you to meet her, right?”

“I’d like that. And I guess that means I will have to subject you to meeting my parents, too.” He rubs the back of his head. It doesn’t look like he’s any more thrilled than I am. This makes me smile.

“We’ll just have to make a pact not to let them get to us.”

Mason looks in my eyes. “Deal! In fact, I think the pact should include more than just potentially embarrassing family members. I don’t think we should let anybody get to us.”

Brie flashes through my mind quickly. So far, they’ve gotten along better than I could have ever hoped, but if that ever changes, I can’t leave my best friend in the lurch. “Deal,” I agree, “but Brie gets special privileges.”

“That goes without saying.” He agrees. “Now, birthday girl, what do you want to do today?”

Talking about nonsense, we spend the mild fall day gazing at the clouds and leaves in my backyard. Brie shows up and demands we get ready. Mason gives me a quick kiss before heading back to his own house. He’ll meet us at Brie’s in an hour, so we can all go together. We’re taking Brie’s mom’s car. It’s exciting to think that in a few months, we’ll be able to take mine.

Brie surprises me with my present. It’s a skirt she knows I’ve been eyeing, and she insists I wear it. I put on my sneakers (I don’t need to fall into the lake at my own party) and layer a tank top and hoodie to prepare for the chilly night. Our perfume is sacrificed for bug spray. You don’t want to mess around with the bugs at the lake. I throw the bottle in my bag—just in case it wears off or some poor souls forgot theirs. Brie’s full on punk. She’s rocking her skinny jeans and a sequined top. Her hair is blue today, and I imagine it’s because she knows it’s my favorite color, to honor my birthday.

“I have some news.” I smile.

Brie grins at me. “So, you said yes then?”

My mouth drops open, “You knew?”

“Of course I knew,” she laughs, “he practically begged me to give him some alone time today. I wasn’t about to give it to him without any explanation.”

“What do you think?”

She turns from the mirror we’re using to put on makeup, her eyes softer than usual. “I think it’s great, Kat. He’s great. I’m really happy for you.” She turns her attention back to the mirror. “Plus he already knows if he hurts you I’ll kill him.” She flashes me a grin. I laugh. I know Brie well enough not to get mad. That’s just her.

Before I know it we are back in the yard meeting Mason. He looks great! Before I forget I toss him the bug spray. He shrugs and sprays himself down before handing it back to me. We pile into Brie’s mom’s car, and I admit to feeling pretty excited. I’m going to my birthday party, with my best friend and my boyfriend. Life is pretty sweet.

As we approach Brie’s uncle’s lake house, my suspicions are confirmed. Brie has definitely gone all out. Uncle Joe’s house is impressive by itself, but add the dance floor, the band, food and lighting and it’s phenomenal. The downstairs kitchen and sitting room opens directly to the stone patio where all the action is. We park and are greeted by the man himself. He engulfs me in one of his bear-hugs.

“Happy Birthday, Kat!” He booms, and then holds me at an arm’s length, as though appraising me. “You don’t look any older.”

I laugh. “Thanks, Uncle Joe, I guess I don’t really feel any older, either.”

Brie clears her throat. “Uncle Joe, this is Mason, Kat’s boyfriend.”

I’m torn at this. I’m thrilled to hear Mason addressed as my boyfriend for the first time out loud, but also a little nervous at Uncle Joe’s reaction to it. If Brie’s protective of me, Uncle Joe could be deemed ferocious. He’s been watching Brie and I since we were in diapers and feels every bit as responsible for me as he does for her. I give Brie a wide eyed look and she winks at me.

Mason steps forward with his hand extended, “Nice to meet you, sir.”

Uncle Joe laughs loudly, as he shakes Mason’s hand. “Nice to meet you, but none of this ‘sir’ business, my father was ‘sir’. Joe is fine.”

Mason laughs, “Sure thing, Joe.”

I turn to Brie. “What time is everyone supposed to show?”

She glances at her phone. “The band should be here to warm up any minute. I let them set up this afternoon to save time. Everyone else’s invite said to show in a half hour.”

That means anytime now in a town like ours. Uncle Joe makes sure we are settled, before he points to the downstairs sitting room. He gives Brie and I a significant look. “I’ll be there, if you need me.” We nod our understanding as the first car pulls in.

It turns out to be the band. They jump right into sound checks and practicing. Before they finish one song, two more cars have arrived. I wonder if Kiera and her clique will show. Although they hate me, they’re attention whores so I’ll doubt they’ll miss it.

I’m obviously not the only one impressed with Brie’s handiwork. People begin to arrive—they ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ over her decorations and dance along with the band. The place is packed after a half hour, and everyone (including myself) appears to be having a good time. My happy bubble slightly deflates when Kiera and her friends arrive. As rude as ever, they ignore us and fall in with their usual crowd. I suppose I’ll take being ignored any day over a confrontation, although I still pick up on the nasty look Kiera throws my way.

Brie falls into the role of hostess flawlessly. Adamantly refusing any help from me, she oversees things I never would have thought of, ensuring that the party carries on seamlessly. It doesn’t surprise me because when Brie does something, she goes all out. Mason drags me to the dance floor, and we get lost in the music, making it easy to forget about Kiera and feeling guilty for not being more help to Brie.

After a short time, Brie is tapping on my shoulder. We follow her to the patio, and as we pass the drink table I grab a bottle of water. I take a swig and pass it to Mason. “Did you finally figure out what I can help you with?” I tease Brie.

She grins mischievously, and I know I’m going to regret asking. “Kat,” she says in a sing-song voice, “I checked with the band. During their next break, we’re up for a few songs.”

I recognize the familiar wave of anxiety that always washes over me when I know I’m going to perform: the rush of endorphins and adrenalin. I love the music, and unfortunately, performing it is part of the package. It’s much different in front of a crowd than it is in Brie’s garage. My trick is not to think about it until the last possible second. Then, don’t think at all.

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