I had meant to stop by Stan’s before going home, to see if Stella needed my help, but I didn’t.  Stella would have immediately noticed something was wrong and I was in no mood to try to explain what had just happened; I could hardly explain it myself.  The drive home was one of the most miserable fifteen minutes of my life.  I spent the better part of that time seething with rage and the rest of the time wallowing in unbearable remorse.  I usually prided myself on being a calm, collected, laid-back sort of person, but somehow, Ian had managed to bring out the worst in me.  Not just this afternoon, but really since the beginning of school.  It was only with him that I lost my temper and flew into fits of idiotic rage and this last time, I had actually resorted to physical violence, something that I never would have believed myself capable of doing.  I felt like such a loser.

By the time I pulled into the driveway, I knew that I had no choice but to apologize to Ian.  No matter how big of a jerk he was, there was never any reason for me to react so badly and I had to be the better person and apologize.  Now I just needed to figure out how.  The odds of Ian ever wanting to talk to me again were not good and even less so if I asked to speak to him alone.  I could try to talk to him before or after one of the classes we had together, but I didn’t want to risk being overheard by anyone; the last thing I needed was more rumors flying around school.  I supposed I could wait until my next piano lesson, but waiting that long to apologize just didn’t seem like the best thing to do, considering the circumstances.  Maybe time wouldn’t matter to Ian, but for me, things were different, I had to apologize before the guilt that plagued my conscience drove me nuts.

With no clue what to do or how to go about it, I stepped through the front door, only to be nearly flattened by the over-enthusiastic greeting of Bills.

“Hey Bills,” I moaned as I mindlessly scratched behind his ears. “How was your day?”

Bills just looked at me with his sparkling eyes and his huge doggy grin.  I smiled back, grateful to have someone around that could cheer me up so well.  I dropped my backpack onto the kitchen table and started for my room when Bills bounded toward me, his leash dangling from his mouth.

“I guess you want to go for a walk?” I asked as Bills shoved his leash into my hand.

With my mind in turmoil and no desire to do homework I decided that Bills really had a good idea, but a walk around the block wasn’t quite what I had in mind.  I scribbled a quick note to my mom, letting her know where we were, just in case she got home before we did, and then I whistled for Bills.  Not twenty minutes later, Bills and I were hiking along the Mt. Sanitas trail. Mt. Sanitas was a popular trail for locals and tourists alike and was always a favorite for dogs and their owners, which is probably why Bills and I liked it so much.  It was a great place to hike, safely, without a partner, because of all of the other people around, and a great place for Bills to get out and run.  The entire loop was about three miles, and since it was already getting late, we didn’t have time to go very far, but just being out, away from everything for a while was enough to clear my head and calm my nerves.  There’s just something soothing about walking through fields of gold while the changing leaves add blazes of color and the mountains rise majestically around you; I still had no clue how to solve my current problem, but at least I felt better.  As Bills and I walked back to the car, I felt sorry for those in the world who would never know the beauty of the mountains or the peace they offered.

Bills and I were able to get home and have supper ready before my mom came home.  Apparently it had been a rough day at the store and she’d had to work later than usual sorting things out.  As bad as I felt for her, it was also nice to have a kindred spirit to commiserate with; our equally crappy days led to an evening of movies and ice cream.  After the second movie I was starting to feel a little queasy so I left my mom watching You’ve Got Mail while I went to bed.

I was just dozing off when my phone rang; groggy, I grabbed it and mumbled a hello.

“Lyla, thank goodness,” Yuuki cried on the other end.  “I’ve been trying to call you all night.  Why didn’t you answer your phone?  Are you okay?  What happened to you?  You just ran off!”

“I’m fine,” I sighed as I switched on the lamp and sat up.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“I can’t believe Cade dragged you up there like that.”

“Neither can I.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Ian said it’s because Cade likes me.”

“Ian?” Yuuki asked sounding confused.  “When did you talk to Ian?”

“Right after I ran off stage.”

“Huh?  How?  Ian was still on-stage when you ran off.  He and Cade did a whole new routine for Ian’s audition after you left.”

“Yeah, well, I kind of wandered around blindly for a while.  I guess it must have been longer than I thought because Ian was in the parking lot the same time I was.”

“And he actually spoke to you?”

“He did.”

“Well that’s good right?  I mean you’re making progress.”

“I wouldn’t call the conversation we had ‘progress.’”

“Why not?  If he actually spoke to you, rather than glare at you or ignore you, I’d say that’s progress.”

“Maybe, but honestly, I think I prefer the silent treatment.”

“Why?  What happened?”

“Let’s just say that things got ugly.”

“More ugly than him telling everyone you’re only into freshman?”

“Way more ugly,” I groaned.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not really.”

“Are you sure?” Yuuki asked, trying desperately to hide the curiosity in her voice.

“Let’s just say that the scene in the hallway was nothing compared to this.”

“Oh man,” Yuuki sighed.

“Yeah.”

“So are you sure you’re alright?”

“Yeah, I’m just not looking forward to tomorrow.”

“Because of Ian?”

“That’s part of it, but mostly I’m afraid everyone’s going to be talking about Cade’s audition and Ian’s addition.”

“They might not,” Yuuki offered hopefully.

“Maybe not, but with Ashley there to witness it all, the odds aren’t very good.”

“They’re not, are they?”

“No,” I sighed, miserably as my stomach churned.  “Hey, Yuuki?  I’m not feeling so well at the moment, would you mind if I talked to you tomorrow?”

“No that’s fine.  I’ll see ya tomorrow.  Feel better.”

“Thanks,” I moaned, “bye.”

“Bye.”

I put the phone back on the table, switched off the light and buried myself beneath the blankets, hoping sleep would come soon.  Yuuki’s phone call had brought back all of the memories and emotions I had worked so hard to overcome and on top of that, my stomach was protesting loudly against the chocolate, marshmallow, peanut butter, coconut sundae I had eaten earlier.  It had been a good idea at the time, but now I was beginning to doubt my sundae building skills.

Luckily for me, sleep did come quickly; unfortunately, it didn’t last long.  Not three hours later, I found myself bowing to the porcelain god and I spent the rest of the night being haunted by the previous day’s food.  Needless to say, I wasn’t at school the next day nor the day after; in fact, I spent the rest of the week lying on the couch while my mom and Bills took turns bringing me ginger ale and crackers and licking my toes, respectively.

Yuuki and Maggie were both worried about me when I didn’t show up for school the next day and my phone was bombarded with text messages, which I did my best to answer in-between runs to the bathroom.  They both wondered where I was and when I told them I was sick they said they’d be over after school to take care of me.  I was in no condition to have visitors and I had no desire to inflict my suffering on anyone else so I told them both to stay away; something neither one of them liked but, as I was the sick one, they grudgingly decided to humor me.

Too sick to do much of anything, I found that the best thing to do with my time was think, and man, did I have a lot to think about.  Since school started I had managed to embarrass myself and Ian with that stupid letter, inadvertently make Mattie fall in love with me, fall prey to one of Cade’s grand escapades and insult and injure the only guy I had ever really liked, and it was only October!  With everything I had been through in the past month and a half, I was really amazed that I had made it as far as I had but I also realized that I still had a long way to go.

First of all, I had to apologize to Ian; my sense of urgency may have calmed since Wednesday but the gnawing at my conscience was still as strong as ever.  I hated that I hadn’t been able to apologize on Thursday, but with no control over when I got sick, I couldn’t really fret over the timing.  The best I could do was wait for Monday and apologize then.  I suppose I could have called, but I didn’t know his cell number and I didn’t want to risk having his mother answer the home phone; I thought that it might be a little awkward, to say the least.

I decided that once things were settled with Ian, I would have to straighten things out with Matt.  This was, by far, the hardest thing I was going to have to do, but I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer.  Matt was my friend and that meant that I needed to do what was best for him and not for myself and that meant that I was going to have to talk Matt as soon as possible.  Getting him to talk to me alone was going to be easy, while what I had to say was exactly the opposite; I only hoped that my honesty would be appreciated and not seen as a slam.  I could just imagine the hurt in Matt’s eyes when I told him I wasn’t interested and for a second I considered calling him and just getting it over with, but again my conscience wouldn’t let me; this was another conversation that had to be held face to face.

Once I settled things with Ian and Matt, I hoped things would be able to get back to normal.  Yes, there was still the incident with Cade, but I really didn’t see what I could do about that.  I had been nothing but a victim in that scenario so the only thing I had to do was steer clear of Cade and his antics and I’d be fine.  I might even be able to get through the rest of the year without any more incidents.

By Sunday I was back to my normal self and I called Maggie and Yuuki to let them know that my quarantine was over.  By noon they were both lounging around my room, catching me up on everything I had missed over the past four days.  Much to my dismay, Cade’s audition had become the talk of the school and my disappearance didn’t help.

“I heard one girl say you were so embarrassed you transferred schools,” Maggie chuckled.

“Someone else said you moved,” Yuuki added.

“And of course everyone thinks you’re dating Matt.”

“Great,” I groaned.  “I don’t suppose he’s saying any different?”

“Nope,” Maggie sighed.

“Looks like I’m going to have to talk to Matt sooner than I planned.”

“Yeah!”

“You’re way too happy about that,” Yuuki chuckled.

“No…well, maybe, but Mattie’s got it coming.  I’ve told him a million times that Lyla isn’t interested and he still won’t listen.”

“How bad is it going to be when I tell him?”

“I don’t know,” Maggie laughed, “but I hope he cries.”

“You’re cruel,” I moaned, repulsed by the idea of making Mattie cry.

“I know,” Maggie grinned.

“So, other than becoming the laughing-stock of the entire school, again, what have I missed?”

“Nothing much,” Yuuki answered quickly.  “We’re supposed to finish reading the poems by Cowper, Byron and Keats by Monday for Lit, we have a test in Biology on Tuesday, Maggie brought you your homework for math and I picked up the rest.  It’s only two days’ worth of work so you should be able to get it done by tomorrow and I can help if you want.”

“What’s with the homework talk all of a sudden?” I asked, suddenly feeling that Yuuki was trying to avoid something.

“I don’t know,” she shrugged, “there’s just not much else to talk about.”

“Oh really?” Maggie laughed.

“Yuuki?”

“Well,” Yuuki grinned, sheepishly, “I kinda got asked to a soccer game next weekend.”

“By…?” I asked, fishing for an answer I already knew.

“A certain six-foot, blonde-haired, green-eyed soccer player,” Maggie teased.

“Really?” I cried with a smile, “That’s great!  Oh, Yuuki, I’m so happy for you!”

“Thanks,” Yuuki grinned.  “So, you’re coming with me, right?”

“What?”

“I said, you’re coming with me.”

“Um, I guess, but why?”

“Because Maggie has a tournament that weekend and I don’t want to go alone.”

“Why not?”

“Because she’s a chicken,” Maggie chuckled.

“I’m not a chicken, I just don’t see why I can’t bring a friend.  I mean, Jack’s going to be playing so it’s not like it’s a date and I don’t want to sit there, alone, for hours by myself.”

“I doubt you’d be sitting there for hours,” Maggie laughed, “it’s not like football, you know.”

“Well, however long it is, I don’t want to go alone.”

“I’ll go with you,” I cut in before things started to get ugly, “what time’s the game?”

“One.  Why?  Do you have to work?”

“Yeah, but I get off at twelve, so I should be fine.  I’ll just run home, get cleaned up and meet you there.  It’s at the soccer park, right?”

“Yeah, but how long will it take you to get ready?”

“I don’t know, half an hour maybe.  Depends on how crazy things get with the shake machine.  I still think it’s possessed.”

“Okay, then how about I pick you up?  I really don’t want to go alone.”

“That’s fine.  So Maggie, where’s your tournament?”

“Fort Collins.  Why, did you want to come?”

“Not really,” I grinned, “I was just curious.  Oooh!  I did want to know how things have been going with Drew.  I haven’t heard you mention him at all this past week.  Why not?”

“It turns out he wasn’t as great of a guy as Maggie thought he was,” Yuuki answered as Maggie’s face turned red.

“What do you mean?”

“His girlfriend caught him making out with a girl from Fairview, Thursday after school.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, apparently he’s been dating girls from several schools at the same time.”

“No way!”

“Yup,” Maggie snapped.

“Sorry.”

“Why are guys such jerks?” Maggie wailed.

“They aren’t all jerks,” Yuuki offered.

“I think most of them are,” I sighed.

“Jack’s not.”

“His friend is,” Maggie snapped, “and Todd is, he stood me up and never even bothered to apologize.”

“Really?” I asked, surprised by that bit of news.

“Really, and Drew definitely is.”

“That’s true,” Yuuki sighed, “but those are only three guys, there’s a whole world full of others.  They can’t all be bad.”

“Maybe,” I grumbled, “but I’m beginning to doubt whether or not they exist.”

“Me too,” Maggie groaned.

“Well I still have faith,” Yuuki sighed, “I’m sure you’ll both find the right guy sooner or later.”

“And if we don’t?” Maggie asked.

“We’ll have to live vicariously through Yuuki,” I grinned.

 

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