Our smiles fell as Aiden and I walked into the foyer and all heads turned. Our usual friends stood in all their usual cliques, in all their usual spots near the doors to the gym. I pulled my hand from the crook of Aiden’s arm and hitched my backpack over my shoulder, then gulped.
Friday morning when I had walked in arm and arm with Skyler, no one batted an eyelash. It occurred to me that every morning he also walked in with Jonnie. The three of us were together. All the time. Skyler basically had two girlfriends, and I was no longer one of them. I lifted my chin with a confidence I didn’t feel and strode right over to my now-former boyfriend.
“How is Jonnie?” I rested my hand on his arm and forced my voice into a sickly-sweet concern that was more for the benefit of the nosy gawkers who pretended to be our friends. I knew exactly how Jonnie was doing. I was her best friend and next-door neighbor. “Did she get safely home from the hospital?”
The confusion in Skyler’s expression quickly shifted into the same fake mask I wore. He knew exactly what I was doing. Getting him off the hook from having publicly embarrassed me Friday night. How I treated him in this moment was going to dictate how everyone treated us both for the rest of our high school career. He gulped and glanced around nervously. “She’s tired, but yeah, they think she’s going to be fine.”
“Cool, I’m totally going to go see her tonight after cheerleading practice.”
“I’m sure she’d like that.” He nodded and I turned away, heading over to my usual group of friends.
“Bella, did you see my poms on Friday? I think I left them at the football field.” I forced a concerned crease in my brow as if losing my pom pons was the worst thing that had happened Friday.
“I grabbed them,” Alisha spoke up. “They’re in my car. I’ll bring them to practice.”
“Thank you.” I sighed with exaggerated relief. Maybe I should join the drama club. I was getting way too good at acting.
As I started toward the hall that would lead to our classes, I fought the urge to turn and smile at Aiden, but knew I probably still had a captive audience all of whom had yet to ask why we’d walked in together. Instead I asked Alisha if she understood our math homework and commiserated with her about how confusing it had been.
Aiden and I saw each other a few times in passing during the day and we smiled at each other but didn’t talk. He even winked at me once from across the cafeteria. I felt my cheeks warm as I coyly looked down at my tray of food. I sat with the cheerleaders like I always did, and he sat with the guys from the football team. I realized there was one ‘guy’ who was missing from their table, and she wasn’t a guy at all.
Jonnie usually sat with the football players. Of course, she did. She was one of them. Why had it never occurred to me before? She’d probably been sitting next to my boyfriend every day. There was almost a missing hole in the row of players on one side of the bench. A hole between Jayce and Skyler. The two guys would never have purposely gone out of their way to sit next to each other. But Jayce had a crush on Jonnie. They were sitting near each other because Jonnie usually sat between them.
My best friend was missing. If I’d had my own car, I may have been tempted to drive home and check on her. I pulled out my phone and snapped a photo of my gross cafeteria food, typed a quick note and sent it off to Jonnie. You’re missing all the fun!
A text pinged back right away. Looks almost as tasty as hospital food!
How are you feeling?
Vicodin, take me away!
That bad, huh?
Mostly just my shoulder hurts. Oh, and my neck. And I’ve got a splitting headache.
Sounds like your typical football practice, I texted and added a laughing emoji.
You’re bringing me Moose Tracks after school, right?
Chick-flick marathon? I asked.
You’re on! She texted back. Although, I think I’m going to take a nap between now and then.
Good idea. See ya after practice.
She sent me a sleeping cat emoji and I tucked my phone back in my purse.
I pushed my cafeteria-slash-hospital food away, looking forward to ice cream and movies with my best friend.
My eyes were drawn back to where Aiden sat with his football team. I remembered what he’d said about baseball and how I’d joked he was a baseball player in shoulder pads.
Now that I had that analogy in my head, I couldn’t not see him that way. I wondered why he didn’t sit with the other baseball players but then I realized I had no idea who the baseball players were. Guess I’d figure it out fast if I was dating one of them.
Whoa, I was not dating Aiden. Was I? He was taking me out on a date on Saturday and would be driving me to and from school each day between now and then. Did that mean we were dating?
Whatever it was we were doing, I looked forward to practice being over so I could ride home in his truck. If I closed my eyes and focused, I could almost remember the scent of his cologne.