“Hey, gorgeous, I mean Gracie,” said the voice behind my locker door. I moved it slightly to see Kade leaning his shoulder against the lockers next to mine. His hair was styled in the same disheveled curls, but today he was sporting a seriously expensive looking leather jacket over his dark clothing.
“Hey yourself,” I replied as I pulled my chemistry book out of my locker. “You know, you look like a genuine rock star.”
“Do I now?” Kade chuckled. “Well, I’m sure there's a reason for that. Maybe, just maybe, I’m an even bigger Buxton Peak fan than my dear cousin.” Was he making fun of Taylor? I wanted to call him out, but I decided to stay on Kade’s good side so I could help them become friends.
“I don’t know about that,” I said, only half teasing. “Tay knows all of their songs and goes to a lot of their concerts. Even backstage at some.”
“Does he really?” Kade’s eyes widened and he mumbled, “Surprised he went without me.” Kade almost seemed offended or hurt.
“Okay, no need to be jealous.” I found myself wanting to defend Taylor’s right to go to a concert without inviting his cousin, especially when there was obvious animosity between the two of them. “He’s only taken me once, if that makes you feel any better.”
“It does make me feel better.” Kade seemed to pull himself together. “You are after all his best friend.”
“That’s right.” I turned back to my locker to grab my lab notebook so we could head to chemistry class. “I’m his best friend.” Was I trying to convince myself? Or Kade?
“How about we shut this scrapbook, I mean locker, and head to class, hmm?” Kade nodded toward my open locker with all of the magnets, paper crafts, and pictures with friends, most of which included Taylor. Huh, I’d never noticed there were so many pictures of me and Taylor in my locker. I wondered if Taylor ever noticed.
“Scrapbook?” My jaw dropped with feigned offense.
“Yeah, it looks like a scrapbooking company held their annual meeting inside your locker.”
“Just so you know—” I closed my locker and offered a flirtatious grin, “I love my scrapbook inspired locker.”
“I’m sure you do.” Kade raised his eyebrows knowingly. I wondered if he was referencing all of the pictures with Taylor, but I didn’t ask. He seemed to see right through me. I wondered if I should worry about losing my heart to him or worry that he would call me out for my attraction to Taylor.
I turned away from my locker and we walked down the hall together, drawing attention from our classmates. It was a small enough school that everyone knew Kade was Taylor’s cousin. They all knew that Taylor and I were best friends, so logically I would also be friends with his cousin. Right? “You know, everyone is staring at us,” I said under my breath.
Kade smirked. “Maybe they just wish they were me so they could have chemistry with you too.”
“Very funny.” My cheeks flushed and I lowered my gaze. More likely they all wished they were me so they could get close to the mysterious hot guy who was my new next-door neighbor.
“Oh, I seem to have touched a nerve,” he teased. Then in a solemn voice he said. “You know I was just joking, I’m sure you’re a fantastic person. I mean Tay seems to really like you, and he normally has better luck with friends than I do.”
“You seem to know more about me than I know about you.” I glanced over at Kade and his brows were furrowed as if deep in thought. What didn’t make sense was that Taylor had never mentioned Kade before. Taylor was like that about a lot of his family members, but Kade seemed to be an especially touchy subject for him. “You coming here must have been a sudden thing for him. I noticed you two don’t have chemistry together.”
Kade was silent the entire rest of the way to our classroom. When I reached for the handle, Kade put his arm up, preventing me from opening the door. He looked me in my eyes and said in a low voice, “Not everything Tay says about me is true. I know you’re best friends, but he has some big misunderstandings about me. I don’t want you to see me differently because he’s still angry at me for something I did years ago.”
I grabbed Kade’s free hand and held it between mine. I stepped closer so I was less than a foot away from him. I wanted him to be the only one who could hear what I needed to say. “I trust Tay with nearly everything, but he also knows I think for myself. I’m not going to pre-judge you, Kade. That’s not who I am. My friendship with Tay is completely separate from my friendship with you. Tay respects my friendships, even if he doesn’t always understand them. I’m sure you’ll be no exception.” I let go of his hand and took one step backwards.
Before Kade opened the door to the chemistry classroom he said, “You’re different than what I expected.”
“Yeah, well you’re different than what I expected because I didn’t even know you existed.” I offered him a quick wink. “Shall we see about our chemistry class then?”
Before entering the classroom, I noticed Laura, the photographer for the school newspaper had her eyes trained on me. What was her deal? Was she taking pictures of people in the hallway?
Laura and I stopped hanging out after she quit the tennis team last year. Her leaving had been a loss for our team because her natural talent and skills rivaled my own. She could have easily been an all-state champion.
But her leaving meant I lost one of my best friends too. I still didn’t know what I did to make her so mad at me. We used to be inseparable.
The newspaper had taken over Laura’s life and she no longer had room for me. Or maybe I no longer had room for her. She left tennis right about the time I started hanging out with Taylor.
Was she jealous? I mean, Taylor’s hot, but she never really seemed boy crazy. Maybe she wasn’t staring at me. Maybe she was staring at Kade. He was almost as hot as Taylor. I was way overthinking this. I offered her a half smile and ducked into my classroom.
Book Club Discussion Questions: what do you think of Gracie's scrapbook shrine to her "best" friend? Do you think Kade has figured it out? What do you think Gracie should do about Laura? Maybe set her up with Kade so she can go out with Taylor? or set her up with Taylor like she'd been planning. She needs to set him up with somebody... right?