Home > Be the Girl(4)

Be the Girl(4)
K.A. Tucker

“It sounds like he’s the next big thing. Heather said he was scouted by that college a year ago. They only offer scholarships that early if the kid is going to be a star.” Mom watches as Emmett deftly maneuvers around his dad and shoots the puck. It sails into the top left corner. “They’re a nice family, aren’t they?”

“Seems like it.” I flip my book open again, pretending to read, though my eyes are still trained on the street. I’ve been staring at the same page for the past hour.

While Emmett’s dad goes to fetch the puck from the net, Emmett stretches his arms over his head. His gaze wanders casually over the street.

It comes to rest on my window.

I duck my head. “Mom, you’re staring!”

“Right. Sorry.” There’s a hint of humor in her voice as she steps away, moving toward the door. “I have a good feeling about this year.”

“Yeah, me too,” I lie. Right now, I’m waffling between stomach-churning nerves and paralyzing fear of what tomorrow and beyond will bring. But for my mom, I’ll front.

“I think I’m going to turn in early. I’m exhausted after these past few days.”

“Okay. Good night.

“Good night. I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Her eyes drift to the window, and a tiny, knowing smile touches her lips. “Don’t stay up too late.” She pulls my door shut softly.

I shift my attention back to the street in time to see a small red car pull into the Hartford driveway. That seems to be the man’s signal to head inside, patting Emmett on the shoulder. He walks past the driver’s side just as it opens and a girl wearing black shorts and pink tank top that show off her muscular legs and well-endowed chest steps out.

I groan. “And you must be Holly.” I take in her thick mane of honey-blonde hair that hangs halfway down her back in stylish waves and swishes as she skips toward a waiting Emmett. I can’t make out the details of her face from here, but I’m guessing she’s beautiful. A guy like that wouldn’t go for anything less.

I watch him coil his arms around her waist; she wraps her arms around his neck. She squeals as he lifts her up into a kiss.

And then I pull my curtains shut, an uncomfortable feeling churning in my belly.

I might as well slather on another mud mask because I am green-faced with envy.

4

“Text me so I know how it’s going.”

I hike my backpack over my shoulder. “I’m not allowed to use my phone during school hours.” The rule is stated in bold on the first page of the student handbook I received at our visit last week.

“Just send me a quick message during your lunch break, from the bathroom. I’ll be here and I’ll answer right away.” Mom wrings her hands. I think she’s more nervous than I am. “And remember, no social media.”

“That’s easy with the parental control.” I wave the new phone she bought me, reminding her. I can’t load any apps without her blessing and she’s not giving her blessing for Instagram or Facebook or “that evil” Twitter. Basically, the phone is a means for her to get hold of me and nothing more, complete with a GPS tracker.

“I’m not dumb. I know you can still go onto those websites.”

“I don’t want to,” I remind her evenly.

“Right.” But the frown on her face won’t ease. “Don’t forget you have a guidance counselor appointment today, too. Her name is Ms. Moretti.”

I nod.

“I talked to her over the phone. She sounded nice. Energetic … like she actually enjoys her job. And she’s the cross-country coach—”

I groan. “I told you, I don’t think I want to do cross-country again.”

“Of course you do! Remember how well you placed at provincials?”

“That was two years ago.” Before we found out about Dad’s secret family, before my parents divorced. Before my life fell apart.

A knock sounds, cutting our argument short.

Mom opens the door to find a grinning Cassie waiting. “Good morning, Cassie! Ready for your first day of school?” Mom asks with a broad smile. She seems to smile more when Cassie’s around. So does Uncle Merv, and that’s quite the feat because the old man wears a perpetual scowl on account of all his loose, sagging skin.

“Holly gave me this shirt,” she says, as if we’ve met Holly. She looks down at her T-shirt of a sequined unicorn. It’s paired with capri leggings and running shoes that are fastened with elastic band–like straps. “I like it.”

“So do I! Aria is wearing new clothes today, too.”

Cassie’s gray-blue eyes coast over me as she nods vigorously. “Wow. She looks nice.”

A car horn sounds.

“Oh, that’s Emmett. We have to go.” Cassie turns to ease down the steps.

“Remember. Text me,” my mom calls after me, tacking on an “I love you!” for good measure.

I roll my eyes and throw a hand in the air as we make our way toward the navy-blue Hyundai Santa Fe.

“You can sit in the front if you want.” Cassie doesn’t wait for my answer before climbing into the back seat.

My stomach flutters as I open the passenger door. “Hey,” I say as I slide in, trying not to stare at him or make it too obvious that I’m inhaling the delicious scent of soap that lingers in the air. Emmett’s wearing dark jeans and a crisp white T-shirt. So simple and yet so hot. He’s styled his wavy hair with product this morning, to make it full and stand on end.

“Hey.” Emmett gives me a crooked smile before peering over his shoulder at his sister. “You gave up the front, Cass? I’m impressed.”

“Yeah. Aria’s my friend. And she doesn’t have a green face anymore.”

Emmett snorts with laughter as he cranks the engine.

My cheeks burn. “Thanks for reminding me.”

“You’re welcome,” she chirps, then after a pause says, “Oh. You’re joking.”

“Yeah, Cass. She’s joking.” Emmett throws the car into drive.

“Wait! I’m not ready! This seat belt is tricky!” She sounds panicked.

“I’m waiting.” His fingertips drum over the steering wheel as his brown eyes drift over the street. “Following the rules is very important to Cassie, in case you haven’t noticed yet.”

“I heard that,” she mutters as a metal click sounds. “Okay, I’m ready.”

He pulls out. “So, who do you have this semester?”

“Mr. Eason,” Cassie answers.

He smirks. “I meant Aria.”

“Um …” I frown as I search my memory, meanwhile inside I’m buzzing with excitement over the fact that Emmett wants to talk to me. “Mr. Lewis for math.”

“He’s good, but his tests are brutal.”

“Great. As if I didn’t already hate math.”

Emmett chuckles. “Yeah, same here. I’ve got Calculus this semester and I’m dreading it. Who else?”

I fish my course syllabus from my back pocket and unfold it. “Ms. Singh for Biology.”

“Never had her.”

“Lunch period four.”

He cringes. “That’s the late one. That sucks.”

“Which one do you have?”

“Period three.”

“Me too!” Cassie chirps.

My disappointment swells. The only two people I know in school and I’ll be left to eat by myself. I continue scanning my agenda. “Mr. Kapp for English, last period.”

“Oh. Him. He’s …” Emmett’s eyes flash to the rearview mirror. “I’ll warn you about him later,” he says softly.

Because Cassie will repeat whatever she hears, I’m guessing.

“Okay.” The thought of a secret conversation between us sends a thrill through my body. “And Ms. McNair for Social Studies.”

He frowns. “Which period?”

“First.”

“Hey, I’m in that class!”

“Really?” I get to spend my morning period with Emmett? Stealing glances at every opportunity?

I am so going to fail this class.

“Wait, what grade are you in again?”

“She’s in grade eleven!” Cassie yells from behind, as if excited to be able to join the conversation.

“Eleven,” I echo. “But I took a course that’s identical to a prerequisite for this one, so…” I wave a hand, as if the rest is self-explanatory.

“Cool. I can walk with you. You’re on your own after that.”

A mixture of relief and trepidation swirls inside. “That’s okay.” I hold up a second sheet of paper. “I have a map.”

Daunting.

That’s a great word for Eastmonte Secondary.

I knew this last week, when Mom and I came by to finish registering and get acquainted. The principal, squinty-eyed Mr. Keen, announced that I would put their enrollment at sixteen hundred and sixty-six students. “Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you’re bad luck,” he joked as he guided us out of his office.

Now that I’m standing in the parking lot watching the old building come alive with students—filtering through doors, lingering in groups, their eyes wandering, their laughter and shouts carrying—that number weighs heavily on me. It’s more than double my previous high school.

“I’m nervous,” Cassie announces, adjusting her backpack on her shoulders.

“You don’t need to be nervous.” Emmett reaches into the back seat to grab his backpack, the move stretching his white T-shirt across his curvy, hard chest. “You went here last year, remember? And you have the same teacher. You’re in the same class, with most of the same kids. You’ll be fine.”

“Yeah.” Cassie giggles. “I know.”

We begin the slow walk toward the front doors, and I’m so thankful to have both Hartford kids right now. Otherwise, I’d be doing this alone.

“But imagine how nervous Aria must be,” Emmett says, grinning playfully at me. “She doesn’t know anyone here.”

“She knows me,” she says, not catching on to her brother’s gentle ribbing.

“You’re right. She does. And don’t worry.” He winks at me. “With Cassie around, you’ll know half the school in no time.”

“Hi, Mr. T!” Cassie waves at a tall, thin man with a hard face who hovers outside the gymnasium’s double doors.

“Cassie Hartford!” His face lights up. “How was your summer?”

“Good. This is Aria.” She jabs a finger toward me. “She lives with Uncle Merv now. She’s my new neighbor.”

Mr. T nods once to me. “Welcome to Eastmonte, Aria.”

“Thanks.” I smile politely, feeling my cheeks flush, as we keep moving.

“What’s that now? Eight teachers?” Emmett asks, high-fiving a guy as he passes him in the hall.

“Nine. And two janitors,” I correct, tugging at the collar of my suddenly uncomfortable shirt.

He chuckles. “See? They’ll all know you soon enough. ’Kay, Cass, here’s your classroom.”

“And my locker.” She opens the door of 971.

“That’s last year’s.”

“No! This is mine this year, too!” she insists, unexpected frustration flaring in her voice as she pulls out a lock and loops it through the latch with a concerted effort.

He sighs heavily, and then leans into the room to wave at someone. “Hey, Mr. Eason, Cassie’s here.”

A middle-aged man with no hair on his head and too much on his face strolls out to meet us. “Hey, Emmett. Cassie! Good to see you again,” he greets, his voice deep.

“Which locker is hers this year?” Emmett asks.

“Same one. Keeping it consistent.”

“See? I told you, Emmett.” She focuses on unpacking her backpack, that same petulance she used with her mother the other day creeping into her tone.

Emmett holds his hands up in surrender. “I should’ve known better. We’ll see you later, Cassie. Remember, you’re walking home with Aria after school. She’ll meet you here.”

“Oh, Mr. Eason! Have you met Aria?” Cassie asks, distracted from her locker for the moment.

“I haven’t. But you told me about her last week when you came in to visit the classroom, remember?”

“Yeah. This is Aria.” She points to me and says by rote, “She lives with Uncle Merv. She’s my new neighbor.”

Kind, green eyes shift to me. “Welcome, Aria. You have lucked out with the friendliest neighbor you’ll ever meet in your life.”

I laugh. “Yeah, I’ve picked up on that.”

“Have a great first day at Eastmonte. Cassie, come inside when you’re finished up here.” With that, he ducks into his class.

“You good, Cassie?” Emmett asks.

“Yes.” She nods to emphasize.

“Don’t show anyone your code,” he warns, pointing to the push button combination padlock.

“Okay, Emmett!”

“All right.” He turns to walk down the hall. He’s patient with his little sister’s peculiarities and outbursts. I guess he’s used to them.

“See you later, Cassie,” I say.

“At three forty-six. Right here.” She points at her locker.

“Yes.” I guess I need to be more specific.

“Okay. Bye.” She turns her attention back to her locker.

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