The next three days passed just as miserably as the first two.  Everywhere I went I was greeted with catcalls and giggles.  I would have thought that after a week everyone would have been tired of the lame jokes and stupid gossip, but apparently things at Roosevelt High were pretty slow.  I wandered the halls of school on Friday, wishing I could walk by and slap everyone who found it necessary to remind me of my recent stupidity.  Needless to say, I wasn’t in a very good mood and my tolerance for other people’s remarks was growing dangerously thin.  I wasn’t sure how many more comments I’d be able to take before I snapped.  A girl can take only so much abuse, you know.

I had endured a week of humiliation and was really ready for the general populace to move on.  I was discussing my frustration with Yuuki, on our way to lunch when I overheard a particularly ridiculous conversation, concerning me, going on around the corner.  Not wanting to barge in on the conversation, I pulled Yuuki to a stop beside me and motioned for her to be quiet and listen.  I was curious to hear, first hand, what, exactly, it was people were saying about me so Yuuki and I stopped to listen.

“Man, if I got a letter like that, I’d be stoked,” I overheard some guy say.

“Well I wouldn’t,” a vaguely familiar voice answered.

“Obviously.  What I don’t understand is why not?  Being admired by someone like Lyla is…”

“Is what?  Embarrassing?  Humiliating?  Nauseating?”

What? I mouthed to Yuuki, indignant.  I had no idea who was talking but I was immediately convinced the second guy was a jerk.

“I was going to say, flattering,” the first guy said.  “I mean, she’s smart and talented and…”

That’s more like it, I thought with a smile.  I had no idea who the first guy was, but I was liking him more by the second.

“And completely deranged,” the jerk cut in, “Any girl who writes a letter in German to a guy she doesn’t know and then hands it in as homework has some serious issues.  I mean, really, who does something like that?”

“Hey, I thought you said she didn’t mean to do that.”

“That’s what Jack said, but if that’s the case it means she’s not only deranged, but also stupid; even an idiot can tell the difference between a letter and an assignment.”

Up to that point I had listened in tolerant silence to the conversation going on around the corner, but the insults and snobbery of the jerk hit a nerve and I snapped.  Suddenly enraged by the conversation I was overhearing, I flew around the corner, ready to rip the head off of the guy who obviously enjoyed insulting me.

“Listen here you jerk,” I cried as I rounded the corner, too furious to notice to whom I was speaking.  “Just because a person makes a mistake, doesn’t mean they’re stupid, it simply means they’re human!  And where do you get off calling someone an idiot when you’re obviously aware that the whole thing was an accident!  I mean, really, why do you care in the first place, it’s not like it involves you anyway.”

“Actually, it does,” the jerk solemnly replied.

I froze in humiliated horror as I stood there, looking into the face of Ian Wallace, himself, his buddy Cade Bradford standing shocked beside him.  It was obvious he had been the one defending me because his face turned a brilliant shade of scarlet when our eyes met.  I might have thought something more of Cade’s reaction to my sudden appearance if I hadn’t been so completely horrified by Ian’s icy stare.  My heart sank and my stomach turned as I realized I had just called Ian a jerk; embarrassed and ashamed, I stood there hating myself for letting my emotions get the better of me.  For a brief moment, I was tempted to drop my head in shame and apologize for being such a fool, but my indignant, stubborn side compelled me to do otherwise; he had, after all, insulted me and I wasn’t going to forget that.  The fire that had driven me to fly around the corner yelling, was still burning strong enough to fuel my attempt to defend myself.

“I wasn’t lying to Jack you know,” I insisted, trying not to show how flustered I really was by looking Ian in the eyes.  “I didn’t turn that letter in on purpose.”

“Maybe not, but you still wrote it,” Ian replied, his voice icy.

“And you were never meant to know about it.”

“You mean you wrote a letter you were never going to deliver?”

“Yes.”

“Then you really are an idiot,” Ian scoffed.

“And you’re a jerk,” I shot back, furiously.

“And yet, you’ve been in love with me since what…seventh grade?  What does that say about you?”

“Apparently that I’m an idiot!”

“Exactly,” Ian retorted with a smug smile on his perfect lips.

For one brief second our eyes locked in silent battle and then he turned on his heel and sauntered off, leaving the rest of us standing shocked, in his wake.  Cade was the first to regain his wits; he mumbled a quick “sorry” before trotting off to catch up with Ian.  Yuuki was the next one to recover from the shock while I just stood there numb.  My mind was blank, nothing around me was registering, I felt like I had just been shoved into a giant bell jar vacuum.

“Lyla?”  Yuuki asked softly, “are you okay?”

I just nodded in response as I stood there trying to process what had just happened but my head was fuzzy and my heart was aching.  Knowing she wasn’t going to get any more of a response out of me than that, Yuuki locked her arm with mine and together we made our way toward the cafeteria in silence.

“Whoa, Lyla,” Mattie exclaimed as Yuuki helped me to an empty seat at our table, “what happened to you?”

“Huh?”  I asked, my mind too numb to figure out why Matt would be asking me such a question.

“I said, what happened?  You look terrible.”

“Thanks,” I groaned as I plopped into my chair and lay my head on the table.

“Lyla, what’s wrong?” Maggie asked as she sat down across from me.

“She just had a fight with Ian,” Yuuki explained.

“A fight?”  Maggie asked in disbelief.  “With Ian?”

“It was more of a discussion,” I mumbled.

“A very heated discussion,” Yuuki insisted.  “You called him a jerk.”

“What?”  Maggie cried.

“Way to go,” Matt chuckled.

“Shut-up, Mattie,” Maggie growled, “Yuuki, what happened?”

“We were walking to lunch,” Yuuki explained, “and we overheard two guys talking about Lyla and her letter.  One of them was saying some pretty mean things about Lyla and I guess she kinda snapped.”

“I’m such an idiot,” I groaned.

“What do you mean she snapped,” Maggie asked.

“Well, she kinda yelled.”

“Lyla?  Lyla yelled…at Ian?”

“Yeah,” Yuuki sighed.

“What in the world?”

“I didn’t know it was him,” I mumbled.

“And you really called him a jerk?”

“Yeah,” I groaned.

“So I’m guessing Ian isn’t all that flattered by your letter?”  Maggie asked.

“No,” I groaned, “he’s not.”

“He called her an idiot,” Yuuki offered, “and sort of teased her for having ever liking him.”

“He really is a jerk!” Maggie cried, indignant on my behalf.

“Yeah, well at least now I know,” I groaned.

“Does this mean you’re through with him?” Maggie asked, hopeful.

“I don’t know.  I can’t really think of much of anything right now.”

“Well if you ask me, a guy like him doesn’t deserve someone like you,” Matt huffed.

“Thanks Mattie,” I sighed as I turned my head to look at him.

There was the faintest glint of something in his eyes, but the bell rang before I could figure out what it was.  As I trudged my way to my next class, I replayed the incident with Ian in my mind.  The more I thought about it, the more irritated I became.  I had played right into Ian’s hands, letting him bait me like that, which was something I hadn’t realized until it was too late; it was a mistake I planned never to repeat.  Indignation consumed me as I made my way to class and before I stepped through the door my mind was made up.  Ian might think I was an idiot, but I was going to prove him wrong.

I walked into my foods class with my head held high.  I knew Ian was there and there was no way I was going to let him see me acting as dejected as I had at lunch.  I’d had my moment of self-pity and now I was ready to move on.  I took my usual seat and the teacher, Mrs. Hammond, began announcing that next week, we would begin to actually cook and as such, she was going to divide us into our groups now and assign us a kitchen.  With none of my friends in class with me, I didn’t really care who was in my group, so long as it wasn’t Ian.

For the first time all week, the fates smiled upon me, and kept Ian out of my group.  His friend, Cade, however, was in my group; but as he was the one who had said all the nice things about me in the conversation I’d overheard, I really didn’t mind.  Actually, he was a pretty nice guy.  I always kind of compared him to a male version of Maggie; he was taller than me, though not by much, athletic, outgoing and pretty good-looking.  He had shaggy red hair, amber-colored eyes and a killer smile, but his personality was a little too abrasive for me.  He thrived on being the center of attention and his love of the limelight made him a bit obnoxious at times.  Sometimes I wondered why he and Ian were friends, but I always figured his skill on the soccer field balanced out his other, less desirable, characteristics.

After Mrs. Hammond assigned us our groups, we were instructed to get together and begin copying the recipes we’d be preparing next week.  I moved to a table with two other girls and Cade plopped down beside me a second later, a huge grin on his face.  The four of us started working on our recipes and Cade struck up a conversation within our group.  It started out innocently enough, but by the end of class, the four of us could hardly breathe, we were laughing so hard.  I don’t know how the four of us managed to make it through class without getting into trouble, but we did and I headed for my next class feeling better than ever.

I met Yuuki and Maggie at Yuuki’s locker after school, a huge smile on my face.

“Whoa, what happened to you?” Maggie asked, shocked by my sudden switch in moods.

“Nothing really,” I replied.

“I don’t buy it,” Maggie snapped, “at lunch you were a wreck.”

“I know I was, but now I’m better.”

“That’s good,” Yuuki sighed, “I was afraid we were going to have to spend the entire weekend cheering you up.”

“Nope, Cade did that for you.”

“Cade?”  Yuuki asked, confused.  “What did he do?”

“Nothing really, he’s just funny.”

“I’m confused,” Maggie sighed.

“He’s in my foods class.  We got assigned our groups today and he’s in mine.”

“But isn’t he the obnoxious one?”

“Sometimes,” I agreed, “but today he was just funny.”

“Okay,” Maggie shrugged, “whatever.”

“What?” I asked, immediately picking up on the tone in Maggie’s voice.

“It’s just that you were a mess at lunch and now…”

“Now I’m happy?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I did some thinking and I’ve decided that I’m not going to let any of this letter business bother me anymore.”

“Really?” Yuuki asked, sounding very relieved.

“Really.  I’ve moped about it long enough, now it’s time to move on.”

“But what about the gossip?”

“Let ‘em talk!”  I grinned.  “The entire school think’s I’m an idiot.  So what?  I don’t have to prove anything to them.  Most of the school doesn’t know me anyway.”

“But what about Ian?”  Maggie asked.

“Ian thinks I’m an idiot too.”

“Doesn’t that bother you,” Yuuki asked.

“Yes, but that’s why I’ve decided to prove to him that I’m not.”

“What?” Maggie asked, incredulously.  “How are you going to do that?”

“How did Annie Oakley prove herself to Frank Butler?”

“She lost their shooting match on purpose,” Yuuki answered.

“Yes, but before that.”

“They sang a song.”

“Not just any song,” I reminded her before I began singing, “anything you can do, I can do better, I can do anything better than you.”

“Do you really think you can beat Ian at everything?” Maggie asked.

“Not everything,” I admitted, “but I can do better than him in class.”

“But he’s a genius!”

“Those are only rumors,” I scoffed.  “Besides, I only have to do better than him in the classes we have together.  Surely that won’t be too hard, right?”

“Right,” Yuuki grinned.

“Thanks,” I smiled as Maggie stared at us in disbelief.

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing, I’m just trying to figure out how this is going to make Ian change his mind about you.”

“Maybe it won’t,” I admitted, “but it’ll make me feel better.”

“Well, then go for it.”

“Thanks, I think I will.”

The three of us stepped outside and were immediately bombarded by Matt and a couple of his football buddies from last year who were still stuck on the JV team.

“Hey Lyla,” Matt grinned.

“Hey Matt, hey guys.  What’s up?”

“Nothing really, I was just wondering what you were up to.”

“Um, I’m going to work.”

“Oh,” Matt sighed, “well, what time do you get off?”

“That depends on how busy it is…usually around six.”

“Great!”

“Matt, what’s going on?”  Maggie asked, annoyed.

“Nothing, I just thought that maybe Lyla could use a little cheering up.”

“And annoying her with stupid questions is going to do that…how?”

“Shut-up Maggie,” Matt growled before turning his attention back to me.  “I was going to ask you if you wanted to come to the football game tonight.  It’s the first game of the season and I thought it would help get your mind off of…things.”

Maggie groaned and rolled her eyes at her brother while I tried to answer Matt without laughing.  I was slowly beginning to put two and two together, though I could hardly believe the answer.

“I was planning on going tonight,” I assured him, “after all, it is your first game and Yuuki’s playing at half-time.  Did you really think I would miss it?”

“I…um…” Matt stammered, while his face turned the faintest shade of pink, “I guess not.  So I’ll see you later?”

“Yeah,” I grinned as Matt and his silent supporters walked away.

“He is such a dork,” Maggie groaned.

“He’s sweet,” I chuckled.

“So how long has he had a thing for Lyla?” Yuuki asked.

“For forever,” Maggie groaned.

“Really?” I asked, shocked.

“Yeah, I’m surprised you didn’t pick up on it sooner.  The whole hanging out whenever you’re over, sitting with us at lunch, blah, blah, blah.  I guess he figures after that whole thing at lunch, he might actually have a shot.  What a dweeb.”

“Poor Mattie,” Yuukie sighed.

“So I guess I’m gonna have to be really careful around him now, aren’t I?”

“Nah, just be yourself.  He’ll get a clue sooner or later.”

“And if he doesn’t?”

“Well, you’ve got an admirer on the football team.  Maybe it’ll make Ian jealous or are you not interested in him anymore?”

“I don’t know,” I groaned.

“Seriously?  Even after today, you still like him?”

“I’m really not sure,” I sighed.  “I’ve liked him for so long, I don’t know if I know how to not like him.”

“Can I suggest something?”

“If I said ‘no’ would it really matter?”

“Not really.”

“Didn’t think so.”

“Anyway, I think you should forget about Ian.  You said yourself, he’s a jerk.  Why waste your time on him?  Beat him in class, beat him at anything else you can, but don’t waste the year pining for him.  I know you’re not interested in Matt, but maybe there’s someone in school you could be interested in, maybe someone who isn’t a jerk.  It’s just something to think about.”

“I will,” I sighed.

“That’s all I ask,” Maggie grinned. “Well, I’m off, coach’ll kill me if I’m late.  Meet me by the main gate at a quarter till?”

“I will,” I yelled as Maggie ran off toward the gym and Yuuki and I made our way toward the parking lot.  “Hey, Yuuki?”

“Yeah?”

“If you were me, what would you do?”

“You mean about Ian?”

“Yeah.”

“I’d probably go home and cry.”

“I probably will but then what?”

“It’s kinda hard to say, isn’t it?  Part of me would want to be done with him forever but there would probably still be a part that wanted to hold on, just in case things changed later on.”

“Do you really think they might change?”

“I suppose anything’s possible.”

“Possible but not likely, right?”

“You never know,” Yuuki smiled.

“Thanks,” I sighed, grateful to have a friend who could honestly put herself in my shoes and sympathize.

“No problem.  So I guess I’ll see you tonight?”

“I’ll save you a seat for after halftime.”

“Thanks,” she grinned as we stopped beside her car.  “See ya, then.”

“Bye,” I smiled back.

The rest of the afternoon went by uneventfully.  I went to work and then went home to change, knowing full well that by the time the game was over, I’d want to be wearing more than a t-shirt and jeans.  I got ready though I had to admit, I was a little slower than usual.  I had a lot to think about and I knew it was going to take me some time to process everything.  The most pressing issue was this thing with Ian.  How was I really supposed to stop thinking about someone I had been in love with for five years?  I just didn’t see how it was possible.  Maybe Maggie was right, maybe there was someone at school more worth my time.  I mean, Ian had shown his true colors today and there honestly didn’t seem like there was any way he was going to start liking me in this lifetime.  Was there really someone as great, or even greater, than Ian?

My incessant pondering made me run a little late and Maggie was waiting for me at the stadium’s main gate, looking a little peeved.

“Hey, sorry I’m late, have you been waiting long?”

“About ten minutes.  I was almost afraid you’d changed your mind about coming.”

“And miss Mattie’s big debut?  Please!”

Maggie laughed at my little jab at her brother and together we bought our tickets and wound our way through the packed stadium.  We finally found a place half-way up the student’s section and were settled just in time to see the Roosevelt High Grizzlies run onto the field to the boisterous cheers of the crowd.

It was a good game and watching Mattie, I had to admit, I was more than a little impressed.  I guess with both of his older brothers being quarterbacks, Matt had had years of experience catching a football.  His height and speed weren’t anything to laugh at either, the kid towered over a lot of the guys on the field and man could he move!  It was fun having yet another Montgomery boy on the field to cheer for and I was kind of sad I wouldn’t be around to watch his entire high school career.  I had a feeling that by his senior year, he’d be catching the eye of more than just the cheerleaders.  Both Mike and Max, Maggie’s older brothers, had been recruited by top colleges and I was certain Matt would be no different.

At half time the Grizzlies were stomping the Tigers, 28-7 and by the end of the third quarter most of the visitor’s bleachers were empty; it was a sad day for the Tigers.  After the game, Maggi, Yuuki and I stood around talking while we waited for the parking lot to clear out.  Matt found us not long after the team was dismissed, a huge smile plastered on his face as he ran to meet us.

“Hey guys,” he called.

“Hey Mattie,” we answered in unison.

“Whoa, weird,” he laughed.

“Hey, good game,” I smiled.

“Yeah, good job,” Maggie chimed in, “I guess you don’t stink after all.”

“Thanks,” Matt grinned, sort of bouncing where he stood, obviously still high from the win.  “So, what are you guys doing?”

“Nothing,” Yuuki answered, “why?”

“I don’t know.  I just thought you’d have some sort of after-game plan.”

“Not really,” Maggie sneered.

“Oh, well I was going to have some guys over to celebrate.  You wanna come?”

“Does Mom know?” Maggie asked.

“Yeah, she’s the one who suggested it.  She caught me right after the game and said I could have some of the guys over.  So, what do you say?”

The three of us had been used to hanging out with guys from the football team ever since Maggie’s oldest brother Mike made the varsity team his freshman year.  We had all been in sixth grade at the time and had been ignored, for the most part, but once we hit high school, things changed.  As a senior, Mike didn’t care so much if Maggie had us over the same time his friends were over. After he left for college, Max filled the position as quarterback and the guys on the team who hadn’t graduated with Mike were now the guys who hung out with Max.

Max, being even more laid back than his brother, didn’t mind at all whenever the three of us were around and since he didn’t care, none of the guys on the team cared either.  As such, we were kind of the little sisters of the entire team.  I had kind of wondered whether or not that would be the case now that Max had graduated, but it looked to me like things weren’t going to change at all, which made me happy.  Of course now, as seniors, we weren’t really the team’s little sisters anymore, but we were still thought of that way, which was nice.  I always kinda liked knowing I had the entire football team looking out for me, it made me feel very safe.

“It’s fine with me,” I said as Matt waited for our answer, “as long as it’s cool with everyone else.”

“Fine with me,” Yuuki shrugged.

“Then I guess I’ll see you two at my house,” Maggie sighed.  “Hey, could one of you give me a ride?  I have a feeling my parents ditched me.”

“They did,” Matt grinned.

“Sure,” I answered.

“Mind if I bum a ride too?” Matt asked.

“Fine with me.”

“Shotgun!” Maggie yelled as she bolted toward my car, Matt hot on her heels.

“You wanna ride too?” I asked Yuuki, “I can bring you back here, to get your car, before I go home.”

“Sure,” Yuuki laughed as we watched Maggie and Matt race across the parking lot.

 

We spent the rest of the night listening to the guys whoop and holler as they went over every stinking play of the game about a million times as they devoured anything edible they could find.  It was a typical after-game ritual and I wondered, as I often did, how Mrs. Montgomery was able to keep her pantry stocked during football season.  The rapid consumption of vast amounts of food by teenage guys will never cease to amaze me.  When the guys had finally stuffed their faces and run out of ways to reminisce about the game, we somehow convinced them to play DDR and Guitar Hero and spent the rest of the night rocking.  For me it was the perfect way to put my awful week behind me.

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