Playing With Fire

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The phone rang twice, three, four, five times. I lost count after that, then I got his voicemail. "Hey, I'll call you when I can," his voice recording said. I waited for the beep, then nervously said,

"Call me back at this number."

Now that I'd done it, I was anxious as ever. What would he say? What would Kiera say? The answer was clear. She would be upset, more than upset. So my options were clear. Tell her, like a real friend would, and accept her response, then take her seriously; or lie. I couldn't tell her and risk losing her, even though I knew how selfish I was being. So I would lie then.

I was willing to stay up as long as I had to. twilight kept me busy while I was waiting and refusing to let myself think that he might already be asleep. But every time I read about Edward Cullen, I had a harder time imagining him as he was described in the book. Instead, my mind switched his hair to brown, and his eyes to a much darker shade, so close to black, it was hardly brown. Finally, I gave up and put the book back on the nightstand.

Just as before, my phone was still as silent as it had been all evening. I rested back on the fluffy purple pillows decorating the bed, and stared up at the ceiling. What if he didn't call? How much trouble would I be in? Was Mrs. Ringler really as bad as I made her out to be? Honestly, I doubted she was even half as bad as I thought, but something about her made my skin crawl, and I didn't want to confront her about homework. If he didn't call and help me, what would I do? But... what would I say if he did call? I didn't even know his name! His last name was the only thing I had to work with. Hawkins.

My phone suddenly buzzed, making me jump and grapple for it. As soon as it was in my hands, I paused, swallowed, flipped it open and pressed it to my right ear. "Hello?"

"-Oh dude! You totally missed! Go for the shoulder! -Sorry, what's up?"

I didn't recognize the voice on the other end, and suddenly wondered if he'd given me the wrong number. Maybe it was just a prank. "Um, hi? Is this Hawkins?"

The guy shouted something in the background, then his voice slid closer to the phone again. "Yeah, sure he's here."

"Can I talk to him?"

He laughed, "Who's this?"

Now I was praying this wasn't some kind of prank, and I wasn't about to give some random guy my name. "Ella Kendrick."

"Just a second. -Hey! You're girlfriend's on the phone!"

I wanted to protest, but what was the point? He probably wasn't even holding the phone to his ear.

"What? What girlfriend?"

Buzz hissed in my ear as a hand tugged the cell away from whoever I'd been talking to. "Hey, 'sup?"

Now I recognized his voice, and a little tingling feeling shot down my neck as if to confirm it. "Oh, hi. It's Ella Kendrick... you gave me your number during class. I was wondering if-"

"Ella," he cut me off, a joke layering my name. "What did you want?"

"I was hoping you could help me? With my homework." A sweat broke out on the back of my neck. I grabbed my journal off the desk and used it to fan myself. "Are you busy?"

He didn't answer for a moment, then a new voice rang loudly in my ear. "Oh, hey sorry Ella. He's busy. We're in the middle of a really important fight-off."

Fight-off? "Um, I just need help with a chemistry problem."

"Okay, we'll finish this and call you back!"

"But-" The line went dead. I slapped my cell shut and clutched it in my right hand. How was I ever going to get my homework finished? Was this fight-off really that important? Suddenly my insides shrunk. Fight-off? Were they at a bar or something? Drunk maybe? Was Hawkins more trouble then I'd first thought?

A little angry, I slumped back against the bed pillows and closed my eyes. I'd just wait for him to call back, then finish my homework. There was nothing to worry about.

My head was groggy when I opened my eyes and looked at the alarm clock on my nightstand. Why was the radio playing? I shot upright and smacked the alarm off. I'd fallen asleep! Taking my unfinished homework off my lap, I flipped open my cell. No missed calls.

"I can't believe him!" I grumbled. It didn't take long to get dressed. There was no alternative. I'd have to find him at lunch and hope he'd take me serious long enough to help. I didn't know anybody else in that class besides Kiera, and I was still too much a cowered to apologize and ask for her help.

Downstairs, Sydney was already up. She showed me where to find the oatmeal in the pantry, then sat at the table and talked while I made breakfast.

"I think daddy brought your car back this morning," she said.

"What?" I instantly looked out the window, and sure enough, there was a red Pontiac Sunfire parked in the driveway. "That's mine?"

She nodded. "Yup. And I think daddy left you a note too, on the counter."

I picked up the small piece of paper.

I picked your car up this morning. The key's are hanging by the door, have a good day.


"Okay, great." We ate my makeshift breakfast, then climbed into my car. I scanned the map of Fargo to locate Sydney's elementary school before turning the keys in the ignition. It didn't take long to find the school, and Sydney told me she didn't need me to walk her in. Only a few minutes later, I had the Sunfire parked in Davies High School parking lot. I walked into the school, and opened my locker. The stares didn't seem as bad today, but I still noticed them as I gathered my books and started down the hallway, map in hand.

I didn't see Kiera on my way to class, so I didn't know if she was still mad at me or not. But Nicklaus located me quickly, and insisted on walking me to class again. I was starting to wonder why I would have ever let him do this every day. How had I been able to stand it?

When we reached the classroom, Nick sat on my table and talked while I arranged my notes. I soon zoned him out, my thoughts filled with ways I could start a conversation with Hawkins. Something like, hey, it's me, Ella. I called last night, but you were kind of a jerk... No! I couldn't say that. Um, hi. I was wondering if you could help me with my homework? I saw that you were finished, nope. That wouldn't work either. Saying that would just make everything awkward. Maybe, hey, whoever answered your phone last night was being just as much of a jerk as you were.

I snapped out of it when I noticed Nick staring at me. He must have asked something and was waiting for a reply.

"Sorry, what?"

He scratched the back of his neck. "Uh... do you want to go see a movie... with... uh, me? Or something?"

"Oh," What was I supposed to say? No was the obvious answer, but that would be really rude. "Sure. When?"

He smiled and leaned forward, all his nervousness evaporated. "Well tonight there's one at seven called Project Almanac. I think it's an action movie."

I nodded. "Okay. That's cool." Kiera popped into my head then, and I knew what she'd say. What if going out with Nick cost me her? And if this whole rule thing was as big as she was making it out to be, what would Tarry think? Would he be just as upset? I had to come up with something. "You know, why don't we invite a bunch of people? It could be a group thing."

He looked a little disappointed. "Well I was thinking maybe it would be just the two-" The bell cut him off and the teacher walked into the room.

"We can ask some others at lunch," I offered as he turned to leave. I didn't see his reaction.

Nick and I sat down at the same table I'd sat at yesterday in the cafeteria. All the girls that Kiera introduced me to yesterday were all there, and so was she. I saw her eyes dart to Nick and back to me. Before she could get upset, I said, "Do you guys want to see Project Almanac tonight? We were thinking of doing a group thing."

"Sure, I'll come," Kate smiled. "I wanted to see that movie anyways. My mom and I were going to go, but her shifts changed and we can't."

"Yeah, me too. That sounds interesting," Aria nodded, taking a sip of her juice.

Susan shook her head. "My parents want to go bowling tonight with the whole family, but maybe another time."

I turned to Kiera last, and was glad to see that she didn't seem offended by the idea. "I'd like to come. A group get together wouldn't be a bad idea. Who are you inviting, Nick?" she asked, leaning forward to see him over me.

"Uh, maybe Caleb," he stuttered, obviously taken by surprise with the question.

"Okay," I took the lid off my chocolate milk. "So it's the five of us then, and if Caleb comes, six." I didn't know who Caleb was, but I assumed everyone else did, and that I was supposed to.

Kiera seemed better today. Maybe I wouldn't have to talk to Hawkins after all. "Hey, did you get the last two questions in chemistry done?" I asked her, hoping she wouldn't be upset.

She pinched the bridge of her nose. "No... I was hoping you had. Guess I'll just have to ask someone before class starts." So much for that idea. The good news was: it seemed she'd forgiven me for our fight yesterday.

As soon as I was done my milk -which was the only thing I took because I wasn't very hungry and too nervous about finding Hawkins- I got up, told the girls and Nick that I had to go to the bathroom, and searched the cafeteria for him.

I located him in the back corner, surrounded by a bunch of guys. My nerve vanished. It was already enough that I had to face my stupid nerves that screamed at me to stay away from him; I wasn't about to go talk to him in front of so many people. Before class was my last option.

Maybe it was because I was dreading chemistry, afraid to face Mrs. Ringler, or maybe it was because I still didn't know what to say to my table partner, but biology flew by way too fast. I was sitting in the chemistry room before I'd decided how I was going to walk there.

Two minutes before the bell -enough time for me to break a sweat- he strode into the room and slid into the chair next to me.

"Why didn't you call me back?" I demanded, turning my whole body in my chair so that I was facing him.

His eyebrow raised and he smirked. "I was supposed to call you back?"

"You knew that!" I couldn't help but add, "Are you just trying to annoy me?"

He flashed me a smile, and I lost my breath.

Gulping air through my open mouth, I glared at him. "Well, you certainly aren't impressing me," I mentally had to convince myself I was telling the truth.

"You think I was trying to?"

"Ugh, never mind!" I snapped. Gripping my pencil a little too tightly, I flipped to the last two questions in my notes, determined to finish them on my own. A low laugh escaped him, and I forced myself to ignore him. When the bell rang, I hadn't made any progress. All I had was some sketchy brainstorming. Stubbornly, I wrote down a random answer, hoping that if Mrs. Ringler checked, she wouldn't notice that I had the wrong answer.

Just as Mrs. Ringler stalked into the room, his breath tickled my ear. "Red looks good on you."

I frowned and glanced at my shirt. I wasn't wearing any red. His finger hooked one of my jean loops, and my eyes caught sight of my underwear peaking out of my waistband. Red underwear. Heat burned my face and neck instantly, and I yanked my shirt down. What a jerk!

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