Summer Break had come and gone, school had started again. Esmée had been to Ethan’s first baseball game this season, now returned to the school building to get her things.
Which is where he suddenly appeared before her. Alone in the hallway with him, she felt trapped and immediately defensive.
Bewildered and speechless, Esmée stared at Aaron before her as he spoke.
“I am not one to carry grudges so I thought you’d go to the dance with me.”
“What?! Is this a joke?” she looked at him as if he had two heads.
“If you went with me, you’d be right back in the popular crowd.”
“Hard pass. You are so full of yourself, it’s disgusting!”
“Fine, if you want to sit at home pouting for the rest of high school, have at it.”
“The dance in in 3 days. What makes you think that I don’t already have a date?!”
“Yes.” Esmée lied.
“Ha, right. With whom?” he obviously wasn’t buying her fib.
“None of your business!”
“The big invisible man?”
Aaron laughed at her, every single bit of it bore deep into Ezzy’s soul, wondering what she once had found so enticing about him.
“Nah man, not invisible. Only incredible.” out of nowhere Forrest seemed to have appeared and was casually leaning up to the lockers next to Esmée.
“Huh?” Aaron asked with eyebrows drawn close together.
“Esmée’s going with me.” Forrest stated.
“What? Since when?”
“Since a quarter to mind your own shit, Oprah! Run along and bother someone else.” Forrest wasn’t impressed by Aaron’s size and there was something dangerous about him that dared the other boys to test him and face the consequences. Despite of his big mouth, no one had ever taken him up one it. Except Esmée when she was 13. Aaron chose not to.
“Whatever man, you have fun with her. You’re gonna be disappointed, just sayin’. See ya.” Aaron turned and walked off.
“Yeah, tootles, you fuckface.” Forrest told him.
“Thanks.” Ezzy told him when Aaron was out of hearing range.
“No problem. Our hatred for him may be the one thing we have in common.”
“Ethan. We have him in common.” Esmée referred to her twin brother being his best friend – and hers.
“Right. Two things. I think we should get married. Anyway, so dance is at 8, what time do you want me to pick you up?”
“You don’t have to really go. As long as he bought it.”
“No, now we have to. If he sees you are not there, he’ll call the bluff.”
“As if. He’d be too busy with all the other girls fangirling him. Nobody will notice I am not there.”
“That’s where you are wrong, Ezzy. You are not the type to fly under the radar. Especially not after all that happened. Everybody will know if you weren’t there.”
“Fine. I’ll pay for my own ticket. And since the school is just down the road from my house, we can meet here.”
“No. I will pick you up. Ethan is picking up his new flame, I will not be less of a gentleman. What time?”
“Like 10 mins before?”
“10 minutes? Seriously girl. I’ll be there at 7:30 PM.”
“Fine. Thanks again.”
“My pleasure.” Forrest smiled as Ezzy walked off.
“Esmée, your date is here!” her parents entered her room.
“Mom, he’s not a date. He’s just a beard.”
“Well, your beard cleans up nice. He looks almost as handsome as your brother did before he left.”
Of course there had been embarrassing photo ops with the parents, when Ethan had reluctantly agreed to his mom pressing him to bring Amy by before they went to the dance, since there was limited parking and he would park at home and both walk the few minutes over to the school. KC and Evey may be pretty cool parents, but they were still parents. The kids took those moments in stride.
“Why don’t you go to the dance with him then, mom?” Ezzy told her.
“I just might!” Evey smiled, winking at KC.
“Hey hey … don’t make me throw you over my shoulder and remind you who you are married to. You look beautiful young lady. Have fun. I am going to spare you the be careful speech, since I know Ethan will be there and have an eye on you and you on him.” KC said.
When Ezzy came down the stairs, she nearly tripped over her own feet when she saw him. Her mom had been right.
Naturally he went the unconventional route so typical for him. What would have been ridiculous on most other 17 year old boys, he pulled off with ease.
This was going to be harder than she thought. While she had sealed off her heart for the most part, there was still a little wiggle room. And it would appear that her brother’s best friend somehow was trying to wiggling his way in. Again.
“You clean up nice, Xena.”
“You’re not too shabby either.”
“Kids, go stand over there, you hold her like this and both smile, please!”
“Smile or this will be embarrassing for you hanging up!”
“Oh come on!”
“Just smile or I’ll duct tape a smile on your face, kid!” KC warned grinning.
“Do you want to dance?” Forrest asked bending down to Esmée.
“Uh … yeah might as well…”
Just as they started dancing, the song ended and a slow one started. Ezzy wanted to leave, but Forrest held on to her.
She made the mistake to look into his eyes and her knees became pudding, her brain a big empty vacuum so she just obliged, her heart racing.
She didn’t even realize she was smiling at him, then put her head against his shoulder and just went with it all.
He held her, she felt safe somehow and Ezzy hoped it would be the longest song ever. She was not ready to stop anytime soon.
This felt amazing. SHE felt amazing. He felt amazing to her.
“What the heck is this?!” the angry tone out of nowhere startled her.
An angry Ethan glared at Forrest.
“Ethan, what the hell?” Forrest complained when Ethan pulled him away hard.
“Why are you dancing with my sister?!”
“Because we’re at a thing called a dance …”
“I told you to not get cutesy with my sister!”
“Excuse me?” Ezzy protested.
“Ezzy not now.”
“Ahem, yes now. What is that supposed to mean, Ethan?!”
“He is my best friend. You are my sister. So this is NOT happening!”
“Are you frigging kidding me? I cannot dance with your friend now? Medieval time warp much!?”
“Has nothing to do with that, Ezzy. I saw you two looking at each other. This is not going to happen!”
“Relax man …” Forrest tried but only made Ethan ten times angrier.
“You shut your face, or I will shut it for you! I trusted you. Stay away from her! She is vulnerable!”
“And I am right here and capable of making my own decisions!”
“Doesn’t look like it! Best case scenario we’ll hang out awkwardly while I am putting every single thing I say to him on a gold scale, worst case scenario you take this further, then break up and I am in the middle of the mess while you become even more depressed. This ends now!” Ethan threw those words at her, Esmée gasped, her brother’s words cut deep and felt like betrayal.
“You are impossible! And thank you for ruining my night, I was actually having fun for a change. I am outta here. You have fun with your new girlfriend, Aaron Jr.!”
Esmée turned and fled the dance, running as fast as her high heels would allow, blindly in just any random direction. So what now? Her own brother was being an ass now too?!
Somehow she found herself at her grandparents’ home, but didn’t knock. She wanted to be alone, so she just walked around back, stood and looked at the horizon over the ocean. She was too angry and upset for even tears.
Suddenly someone walked up behind her. Oddly enough, without turning around, by his cologne she could identify Forrest.
“I want to be alone.” she said quietly.
“And I want a Ferrari. Guess what? Ain’t happening for either of us.”
“No jokes now, please.”
“How did you know I was here?”
“Guess I know you better than you think.”
“Ethan here too?”
“No. Like me he believes in leaving with who you came with. He is between angry and insulted and feels bad after you called him Aaron Jr. – nice one. Right into the emotional crown jewels.”
“My own brother treating me like property now. Unbelievable!”
“I get it though. Were we to be a couple, it could get awkward.” he walked around her and gently took her face into his hands.
“A couple? We went to a frigging dance together and it wasn’t even for real.”
“Felt real though.”
“Don’t even go there!”
“You look beautiful Ezzy, especially while you were not upset with me for a change – and smiling. And you are wearing the necklace I gave you. So you do not hate it after all?”
“No, it’s beautiful. But you really shouldn’t have, it’s too expe…”
She was cut off by him leaning over kissing her.
In the middle of the kiss pushed against his chest struggling away from him.
“Never, ever do that again!” she breathed, sounding hurt, not angry.
“I am sorry … I thought … I guess I misread something ….” Forrest tried to salvage the situation.
“I …can’t do this.” Ezzy said, turning away from him.
Suddenly she ran off, without warning, Forrest followed, uncertain how to handle this right.
“Stop following me! Go away!”
“But … Ezzy…. calm down. I am sorry! I won’t do it again … please, just stop.”
“Just go home or back to the dance or something.”
She didn’t succeed in shaking him, even though he kept a distance. He didn’t turn to leave until she shut the front door of her home behind her.
Up in the bathroom she looked up into the mirror through a veil of tears and saw the necklace he had given her for her birthday, sending her over the edge completely as she sat down crying till no more tears would come.
That kiss had felt different.
Exactly like she had always imagined a first kiss should feel.
But she just couldn’t let herself go there again, be vulnerable, her heart on her sleeve for some boy to trample when the mood struck him just right.
A week later over at the Cameron’s home Forrest was visiting Ethan again. They were still friends. Everything was as it had been between them. More than could be said for Forrest and Esmée.
“Hey Xena!” Forrest said purposely casually and upbeat.
Esmée only glanced at Forrest, then ran up the stairs.
His smile faded. Part of him wanted to follow her, but he already knew it was hopeless, just like all the dozens of times before he had tried to fix this. While he had never been the shy kind, there was only so much rejection he could handle and with Ezzy there had always been a lot of it.
Deep inside he had known for a while that she wasn’t just his best friend’s sister to him. He had tried to ignore it, had dated other girls, thinking it would take his mind of it and when all that failed he used a lucky coincidence of him being in the right place at the right time to invite her to the school dance.
Things had gone so well, until Ethan – of all people – interfered.
The moment he had waited for so long for was gone, Ezzy was upset again and once more withdrew into her shell.
He went after, and when she showed him her softer side once again, he jumped at his chance and kissed her.
Boy, that backfired.
He knew Ethan was on the phone with Amy, which could take a while. Usually did, which suited him just fine. He went to the pool and sat down.
He had put everything on that one card and lost.
At least she had not told Ethan about that. He seemed as he had always been, even apologized to Forrest for chewing him out at the dance.
Only his finishing words made Forrest feel awkward
“…I know you only wanted to make sure Ez is okay and that you are not into her.”
Forrest felt like a cheat and a liar, but there was nothing he could have said, so he hadn’t. And now he felt bad for that, but there was no alternative.
Especially not with Ezzy so dead set against it all. That was the biggest mystery of all. He had been so certain. One time when they were all out here swimming, he had caught her staring at him in the reflection of the living room window on the Cameron’s patio, long and differently, not the way you look at someone you hate. Quite the contrary. That look alone had him all hot and bothered for days.
Whenever she forgot for a moment that she distrusted the entire world, when they all played in the pool together or something, she was so incredibly sweet and funny.
Then came the night of the dance.
Man, that had hit right into the feels, the way she leaned up against him, the way they moved, the smell of her hair … in that moment he’d have done anything for her to like him back the way he liked her.
If only she’d remember that he had been there alongside her brother and had her back too. Always did and always would. Goddamn Aaron and Brylee!
He knew that he appealed to the wrong type of girls. Never bothered him until now. He had always looked older, and running with any crowd that would make him feel he belonged, as a result at times he had gotten into some not so great circles.
He had started dating young.
The type of girls he would never bring home to introduce to his very conservative parents.
While he had introduced Naomi everywhere as his girlfriend, his parents never met her. When they got wind of a new girlfriend and started asking about her, about the same time he saw Ezzy’s reaction to her, he broke it off immediately.
Most of his family were pretty cookie cutter working class people, except for one side of his mom’s family which had the typical stereotype and cliche black family background, destitute, criminal record, a bunch of kids with different baby daddies. He had only met them a few times. To them his mom was a slut and a sellout with the white husband, they had always treated his dad badly, even though his dad was also mixed race. To them Forrest was just a white bastard. That had hurt him badly.
Among the white kids he had always been the black kid, treated differently somehow. That had hurt too.
Then the bullying in his last school. While it never got as bad as it had for Ezzy, mostly because of his big mouth and careless attitude, he ended up in a bunch of school fights and was suspended again and again to the verge of being expelled. His parents enrolled him in a different school, he finally made friends when his father lost his job and they moved.
He had to deal with the not fitting into any of the molds all his life, and when he first met Esmée he just assumed that was why she didn’t like him. But it became clear that he had been wrong about that.
Not only had he spent so much time at the Camerons’ house over the past few years that this almost felt more like his home than his actual one, he’d trust Ethan with his life, and he had first row tickets to the train wreck making Esmée so distrustful and withdrawn, and even before he had seen guys try to land with her with a parade of terrible pickup lines. She was determined, feisty and had a bite to her that he liked a lot. When he started to suspect that she liked him too, he told himself he was wrong, started dating to make sure nobody would notice him hanging around Esmée so much, but the day he brought Naomi over, he knew that had been a huge mistake.
He broke up with Naomi the next day, but Ezzy was already in her cocoon again.
Then came the chance with the dance.
Came and was wasted.
He was miserable, Ezzy obviously was miserable.
It wasn’t even that she didn’t like him. She never claimed that. It was still because of the scars left by being bullied.
So now here they all were.
If anything had changed it was that things had gotten worse.
This when he realized that there were exactly two options.
Give up or try harder.
He already tried as hard as he could …