“Did you figure out our chemistry homework this weekend?” Maddie asked, setting her stack of books on the desk beside mine in homeroom first thing Monday morning. Some kids were frantically trying to finish incomplete assignments. She and I usually worked ahead so we didn’t get overstressed from all of our other activities. Tennis for me, music for her. I’d won the entire tennis tournament for first singles on Saturday. Kade and Taylor both came to support me, which was super nice.
“Yeah, Kade joined Tay and me for our weekend study session so he helped me figure it out.” I thought back to our discussion at their dining room table. Kade joining us added an interesting dynamic to our normal routine. Taylor and I had gotten relaxed together these past two years and Kade shook us out of our comfort zone.
“You and Kade have been spending a lot of time together.” Maddie wiggled her eyebrows up and down.
“Well, he is my best friend’s cousin, and they live in the same house, and we are neighbors, and we have class together, so odds are we would spend a lot of time together.” Why was I being so defensive? Why did I suddenly want to put the idea of Kade and me to rest?
“I don’t know, girl.” Was she baiting me? She was my best girlfriend, so she’d probably already figured out that I was secretly in love with Taylor but had never said anything.
“I will not deny that he is good looking,” I said. “I mean have you seen him?”
Maddie chuckled. “Oh, I’ve seen him alright.” The provocative desire showed through in her voice.
“Yeah, I’m sure you have. Anyway, he’s a super nice guy. Like, under the bad boy, wanna-be rock star persona, he’s almost as nice as Tay.”
Maddie raised her eyebrows in disbelief. “Only nice?” She closed her chemistry textbook and placed her elbow on it so she could rest her head as she stared me down.
“Okay, he is undoubtedly more flirtatious and forward than Taylor, but they are equally as gorgeous.”
“You mean sexy.” Maddie smirked and winked at me.
I let out a sigh and stared at the ceiling. “Yes, I mean sexy.” Okay, maybe I should match up Maddie with Kade.
Maddie was absolutely stunning with her dark skin and natural hair. She almost always wore subtle makeup, white gold hoop earrings, and sustainable clothing from her minimalist capsule wardrobe. She was the embodiment of authenticity. But she was also the embodiment of persistence, which meant she was never going to drop this topic without serious convincing.
The classroom door opened and a freshman on the school newspaper committee brought in a large stack of newspapers. I should have known there was trouble when I saw how nervous the freshman looked. He handed them to our homeroom teacher, Mr. Johnson, and hurried from the room.
Mr. Johnson let out a long sigh and glanced up at me with deep, sympathetic eyes. What was going on?
“Alright class, come and grab a paper off the desk if you want one, but please keep the noise down so others can continue working on their homework.” After 30 years in the profession, Mr. Johnson had perfected his matter-of-fact tone.
I didn’t even get halfway to Mr. Johnson’s desk before my ex-boyfriend Jimmy blurted out, “So much for being in love with Sir Tay Kendrick, Miss Perfect.”
I stopped in my tracks. In love? Miss perfect? Was he still upset I dumped him two years ago? One of my classmates, Marie turned to me with a smirk.
“Didn’t take you long to latch on to the next hottie, now did it?” Marie asked.
“What are you guys talking about?” A nervous panic came over me.
“Umm, this.” Maddie handed me her copy of the paper.
Front page of the paper, above the fold. Our Newest Couple: Prom King and Queen? Below were pictures of me and Kade. So many pictures. I unfolded the paper to see pictures of him leaning on the lockers beside mine as we gazed at each other. Photos of me holding his hand, mere inches from his face as I spoke to him. Photos of him at my tennis tournament cheering me on. The worst photo of all was the one of him kissing my forehead during our intimate conversation on our date Friday night.
I began reading the blatant lies about how Kade and I fell in love at first sight, that we have spent nearly every moment together from the time he arrived, and that our love was the kind that couples dream about.
There was even a supposed quote from me saying “I knew Kade was the one for me the moment I saw him. He is so much like my best friend Taylor, but there was something about Kade that made me fall in love with him.”
Another obviously falsified quote from Kade, read, “Gracie is the most amazing girl, and I have to thank my cousin Taylor for introducing me to the love of my life.”
“This isn’t true!” I panicked. How could they not see the misquotes just by the way neither of us would ever call Tay by his full name?
“I don’t know, Gracie, I do see you guys together a lot.” Heidi, from my tennis team, raised her eyebrows. “He was at our tennis tournament this weekend.”
“Yeah, because Tay was there, like he is at every tournament because he’s my best friend.” My voice cracked.
“He does look a lot like Tay though, dude,” Jimmy said. “I mean you and Tay obviously friend-zoned each other a long time ago, or you’d be dating by now. He was the reason you and I broke up.”
“I broke up with you because you’re a selfish jerk who never supported me in anything and because you tried to get me into the back seat of your car.” I pointed my finger in Jimmy’s face, anger at him compounding my embarrassment and frustration. “This paper is lying. I am not dating Kade, nor am I even interested in dating Kade. And Tay and I did not friend zone each other.”
“You did just tell me you thought Kade was hot,” Maddie reminded me.
“Just like every other girl in this school would say.” How could Maddie betray me like this? She was one of my best friends.
“Alright kids, settle down,” Mr. Johnson called out in an attempt to regain control of the class. “I’m sure there is a misunderstanding, and you all need to get back to your desks.”
Nobody paid Mr. Johnson any attention and the assault on my character and love life continued.
“How poetic that miss goody-two-shoes fell in love with a bad boy,” Marie said.
“And Kade is obviously interested in you.” Heidi held up the paper to show me the front page as if I hadn’t already seen it. “I mean these pictures don’t lie.”
“They do lie.” My voiced cracked as I tried to hold back tears and keep my chin up.
“You just don’t want to admit you’re dating Kade,” Jimmy continued his jabs. “How long did you think you could keep this a secret? Does Tay know about your love affair, or will this be a surprise to him too? Maybe we should text him to see how he’s taking this news.”
“Shut up, Jimmy,” I said through clenched teeth, tears welling in my eyes.
“Ah, come on Gracie.” Jimmy pointed at each picture. “Kade is literally kissing you in this picture and you are the one holding his hand in this one. You walk to class together, hang out together every day, and obviously go on dates with each other. He even showed up to one of your dreadfully boring tennis matches.”
“We are friends, nothing else,” I snapped back.
“I’ve heard that one before,” said Jimmy so intensely that I could feel his resentful scorn. “You want everyone to think you’re so perfect, but underneath this façade you are broken. Maybe that’s why Tay never made a move on you, even after you broke up with me for him. You’re too difficult to be with anyway, so hats off and good luck to Kade. He has no idea what he’s gotten himself into with you.”
“Please stop,” I begged almost inaudibly.
“It’s so obvious you’re in love with Kade.” Jimmy kept taunting me, pushing me to admit the truth he already knew. “Why do you keep denying it?”
“Because I’m in love with Tay!” I blurted out and instantly covered my mouth with both of my hands as I realized I could never take it back.
Everyone in the room fell silent, all eyes fixed on me.
“Well, it’s about time you admitted that.” Jimmy smirked and put both hands behind his head, propping his feet on the desk in front of him.
Hot tears fell uncontrollably down my cheeks as I ran out the classroom door. My feet carried me down the hall and I ran as fast as I could, needing to get out of the building, to go somewhere safe. If I knew my best friend, I was sure he would know where to find me.