The Boy Next Door

The first bell rang, sending students, me included, clamoring to various rooms along the hallway. All except for Queen Bee Sarah Watson.

She was still inspecting her already perfect manicure, the tips of her nails as flawlessly white as her shorter than the dress code allowed skirt and chunky-heeled sneakers.

The second and final bell rang out. A few stragglers raced to claim their seats, panting with the effort. Not so Sarah, who floated into the room just as the distinctive sound faded, her seat smack in the middle of the room awaiting her like a throne.

I rolled my eyes, watching the male gaze sweep across her, practically drooling. Until I saw that my best friend, Jake, the literal boy next door, was among them. Okay, so he wasnt drooling. Yet. But the way he was staring was making me feel decidedly uncomfortable.

I tried to tell myself that I didn’t care, that it didn’t matter, that almost everyone fell under Sarah’s spell sooner or later.

I was hoping it would be later for Jake. Or never. Never would have been perfect.

Although why it should bother me in the first place, I could not answer.

We were friends, best friends, and nothing more.

“Liar” my mind whispered and my face grew hot, thinking of a few weeks ago when we’d gone swimming out on Lake Michigan. Jake had been gone most of the summer, helping his grandparents on their farm in Door County. Though Ephraim was only about four hours away from our town of Racine, Wisconsin, he might as well have been on the moon.

Texting had been a poor substitute and hit or miss at that.

But seeing him again on that perfect summer afternoon, his shirt gone and showing off the muscles he’d gained bailing hay and my mouth had gone dry.

It felt like cotton now as our teacher partnered us up to work on essays about how we’d spent our summers. The one before we would turn sixteen.

Jake was paired up with her, Sarah, her perfect blond hair shimmering like gold to her tiny waist. His own hair was slightly darker and as I sat there and watched, she brushed a few strands off of his forehead.

I couldn’t bear to look anymore and pulled my unruly mass of strawberry blond waves into a messy topknot, then turned to my partner to focus on the task at hand.

Later, I stood at our lockers, our usual meeting place, trying to spot him in the crowd. But though it had been a good 60 seconds since our first class had let out, he was nowhere to be seen. I sighed, looking up and then over at the archway where the side hallway merged with the main one, noticing the overly-glittered banner for the Back to School dance.

I shrugged to myself, knowing I wouldn’t be going. Jake wouldnt either. It was a matter of principle and, we’d decided, school dances were the worst.

That’s when i saw him, coming towards me. But he wasn’t alone. Sarah was at his side, beaming up at him. She gestured at the banner.

“I can’t wait for Saturday night,” she cooed, with just a bit of flirty giggle.

Her smile faltered for just a fraction of a moment as she saw me standing there, obviously waiting for him.

“See you later, Jake,” she simpered, giving his well-defined bicep a lingering squeeze before sashaying away into the crowd she reigned over.

Jake watched her go, then smiled as he walked over to me.

“Hiya, Becs,” he said, opening his locker and swapping out his English composition book for Chemistry.

“Hiya, Jake,” I replied and I had every intention of ignoring whatever *that* had been with Sarah but the words came out before I could stop them.

“So what was all that?” I feigned interest in my newly purchased calculator for Trig class.

“All what? Oh. You mean Sarah?” He grinned, dipping his head and shoukder to lean in closer to me and i could detect his cologne. He looked and smelled like an Abercrombie and Fitch ad.

“Um, yeah.” On the outside, I was playing it cool. On the inside, my heart was racing.

“Oh, nothing much. She asked if I had a date to the dance on Saturday.”

My heart stopped, dreading his next words and the answer to: “To which you said…”

“To which I said ‘no,’ and that’s when she asked me.”

“To which you said…” I am turning into a parrot.

He gives me a look then shrugs, “I told her yes.”

I felt the heat in my cheeks, my fair skin always a dead giveaway to my emotions.

“What?!? You’re going to the dance? You hate dances. And we had plans to go to the lake.”

There’s a moment where he remembers we kinda, sorta had plans for a bonfire with some other friends from our neighborhood.

But he wants me to let him off the hook.

He’s my best friend. I want to, so badly, but I’m hurt and blindsided and angry. Mostly angry.

“I can’t believe you’re ditching us. For a dance! And I really can’t believe you’re going with her!”

Before he can react, I’ve slammed my locker shut and am charging down the hall, away from him.

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