Walking through the halls of Roosevelt High with two black eyes and a swollen nose made me the instant favorite of every branch of the gossip chain, though sadly, by now, I was used to it. The sidelong glances, hushed whispers and random giggles almost went unnoticed as the day wore on but the reactions of my teachers were all together surprising. Some asked me if I’d been in an accident over the weekend, some teased me and Mrs. Hammond asked me if someone had hit me and told me to be sure to report it. I did my best to look genuinely concerned as Mrs. Hammond droned on and on about the seriousness of domestic violence and the importance of reporting an incident, all the while wishing I could tell her I’d be sure to call the next time a soccer ball decided to attack.
If Mrs. Hammond’s lecture had been annoying, it was nothing compared to Ian and his cool demeanor. I had been hoping to get a few answers to the questions that had plagued me all weekend by observing him at school, but apparently nothing had changed, Ian was just as cold and aloof as always. Whatever it was that had compelled him to help me on Saturday was gone, and the same snotty jerk was back on Monday, just as stand-offish as ever.
I hadn’t really expected things to change between us, but Saturday had made me hope. The more I thought about it, the more frustrated and angry I became. After all, Ian knew exactly how I felt about him, and his toying with my emotions like that, well, it was just cruel! By the time the final bell rang, I had managed to work myself into an angry fit. If Ian was a decent person, he would have left me alone. I couldn’t understand what type of guy would mess with a girl’s emotions like that, rushing in as the super-hero to save the girl, knowing full well that he was messing with her head and her heart. That wasn’t being a hero that was being a jerk, which, I realized, was just like Ian. I was so busy being mad at Ian, as I stood at my locker, shoving books into my backpack, I didn’t notice the person standing next to me until I had slammed my locker door and looked up. I practically jumped out of my skin when I realized Ian was standing right there.
“Holy crap!” I cried as I tried to slow my pounding heart. “What are you doing here?”
“Here,” Ian said flatly, holding a folded sheet of paper out to me.
“What’s this,” I asked as I unfolded the paper and began to skim the page.
“It’s a bill.”
“What? Are you serious? For what?”
“For Saturday. Your little run-in with the soccer ball cost me quite a bit and I figured it was only fair that you should compensate me for my losses.”
“My uniform, for one, an afternoon of work, wear and tear on my car…”
“Wear and tear? It only took five minutes to get to the hospital and you were going there anyway!”
“Yes, but you got your blood on the upholstery and I had to spend the rest of the weekend trying to get it out. It’s the same with my soccer uniform, I have to buy a new one and the regular season’s over next week. Since you ruined it, you should pay for it. You have a job, right?”
“Yeah,” I muttered as I continued to scan the paper in my hand.
“Good, then you should have no problems paying. I’ll expect payment, in full, no later than Friday. Oh, and I don’t take checks, cash only.”
Without another word Ian stalked off, leaving an aura of haughty arrogance behind him. Infuriated beyond words by Ian’s ridiculous bill, I wadded the paper into a ball and chucked it at him, hitting him squarely in the back of the head as he sauntered down the hall. Shocked and thrilled by the accuracy of my throw, I stood there glaring as Ian picked up the paper ball and opened it, turning to look at me a second later, his eyes flashing a range of emotions too complicated for me to decipher. I wanted to yell at him, to tell him he was a jerk and that no one had forced him to help me, but the look in his eyes was so intense, I couldn’t; instead I turned on my heels and stalked off, proud of myself for making a silent stand against Ian’s latest display of jerkiness.
I dreaded going to piano lessons that evening, but I refused to let Ian win and so I went. Mrs. Wallace answered the door with an even friendlier smile than usual, her greeting oozing warmth and concerned affection.
“Lyla, how are you? Oh, don’t you look awful, you poor thing! Does it hurt?”
“A little,” I admitted as I followed her into the foyer.
“Oh, I should have called you and told you not to worry about coming today. We could have re-scheduled for another day or just waited until next week. Ian said you were fine so I didn’t bother, but I should have known he would’ve downplayed everything, he always does. I swear, that boy could lose a foot and say it was only a scratch. Are you sure you’re alright? If you don’t feel up to this, we can reschedule.”
“Thanks Mrs. Wallace, but I’m fine, really.”
“Are you sure? You don’t look so well, why don’t you come in and sit down for a bit; we don’t have to start right away.”
Mrs. Wallace led me into an elegantly decorated living room and had me sit on the sofa while she continued to chatter.
“I just can’t believe that boy threw such a fit, and kicking that ball like that, why he could have really hurt someone. Not that breaking your nose wasn’t bad, but what if that ball had hit a child or someone’s grandmother? He ought to be removed from the team, throwing a tantrum like a two-year old. Someone ought to call that school and complain.”
“I think my mom already did,” I sighed, knowing full well, that was the first thing my mother had done this morning. “I don’t think that guy will be playing soccer again, any time soon.”
“Well good! I’m glad your mother’s looking out for you, though I’m half tempted to call as well, just to make sure. I mean, seeing a girl covered in blood is shocking enough, but to see the ball bounce off your face like that, well, it was horrifying to say the least.”
“You saw that?”
“Of course I did,” Mrs. Wallace smiled gently, “and I must say I was very proud of the way Ian took care of you. He must like you very much.”
I tried to stifle the involuntary chortle that blurted out of my mouth the instant Mrs. Wallace said Ian like me, but it was no use. I had been taken so completely off-guard that I could only try to cover my laughter with a fake coughing fit, hoping Mrs. Wallace wouldn’t notice; naturally, it didn’t work.
“What’s so funny?”
“It’s nothing,” I coughed, trying to regain my composure, “it’s just that you said Ian must like me. I thought it was funny, that’s all.”
“But why is that funny?”
“Because I’m probably the last person in the world he would ever like.”
“No, not nonsense, the truth.”
“You mean you don’t know? About the letter?”
“You’re the letter girl?” Mrs. Wallace practically shrieked with delight.
“You mean he told you?!” I cried, horrified.
“He said he’d gotten a letter from a girl, but that’s all. I’ve been dying to know more about it for weeks but he refuses to say anything else. Every time I try to ask him about it, he changes the subject; he’s so secretive sometimes. Oh this is great!”
“I don’t think Ian shares your enthusiasm.”
“Of course he does,” Mrs. Wallace practically beamed, “that’s why he took such good care of you on Saturday. See, I told you he likes you.”
I could see there was no arguing with Mrs. Wallace on the subject of Ian so I mustered a half-hearted smile and nodded while she sat across from me beaming. From the way she looked at me, I almost expected her to start crying; she looked like the sappy mother-in-law of some newly engaged couple in one of my mom’s favorite chick flicks. I only hoped she wouldn’t be too disappointed when she finally realized Ian was about as interested in me as a duck is interested in the square root of pi.
Once Mrs. Wallace was satisfied that I was fine, we moved into the music room and began my lesson. I hadn’t worked as hard on the pieces as I should have but Mrs. Wallace wasn’t too hard on me, though she did warn me to do better next time. I told her I would and apologized for slacking off before I left, which elicited another of her warm smiles and the assurance that the events of the weekend were an adequate excuse for not playing as well as I ought. I left the Wallace home that evening, my mind a tumultuous swirl of contradicting and confusing thoughts; Mrs. Wallace was convinced Ian liked me and I was convinced of the opposite, as I drove home I found myself wondering which of us was actually right.