Tony came back last night and we're supposed to be hanging out today. I practice my "I'm okay" face in front of the mirror for a few minutes, trying to arch my eyebrows just right for when she tells me about her stay with her cousins. Tony's usually good when it comes to spotting liars, but in my case, I'm either really good at what I do or she just chooses to stay in a state of blissful ignorance in our friendship.
My light blond hair is in two long braids that hang off my shoulders and my purple tank top clashes slightly with my camouflage shorts, but I shrug it off for the first time in ages. I think it's high time I start choosing clothes closer to my comfort level. Back when school was still going on, I used to wear skirts and flats and stylish shirts that would soak up my pay-cheques like they'd never been there in the first place.
"It's to maintain the image," I'd told myself when I'd spent over fifty dollars on a Guess shirt the first time I'd truly binged for my social appearance. Now, I'm starting to wonder if all of that money spent was really worth it. I'm going to University soon, yet I've spent enough money to make anyone believe that I'm going to be staying in the high school scene forever.
"Hey Clara," Tony whispers in a mock seductive voice from the doorway behind me. "Missed me?"
I inwardly prepare myself and smile widely as I turn to face my best friend. Her hair is loose, longer, and her tan makes her green eyes the centre of attention on her pretty face. Her freckles are more prominent now and her tiny nose scrunches up when she sees my outfit. "What is that?"
I look down, feigning ignorance. "What is what?"
"Nu-huh," she says, shaking her head. "Purple and Cami? No."
I shrug and quickly close the gap between us, giving her a tight hug that I hope takes her attention away from my clothes. "You've got to tell me everything!"
"Of course," Tony says, hugging me back just as tightly. "I missed you."
"Ditto here," I say, finally releasing her. For a quiet moment we stand staring at each other. My room, with its two windows, small closet and separate bathroom looks so off when Tony is in it. It always has. The moment that she walked in here for the first time when we were fourteen, I knew she didn't really belong. The baby pink walls with random flowers posted on the walls, the over-stuffed bookcase and desk, the slightly messy bathroom and unmade bed, the ancient t.v. and small collection of DVDs; this was not the place for a girl born and raised on the Lakeshore Waterfront, a section of Burlington full of mansions and small palaces.
Tony notes the silence and points her thumb towards the door. "Let's go?"
"Yeah, I could use a Frap," I say, smiling widely and knowing that my stomach would be hurting later from all the sugar in a Frappuccino.
There are two different coffee shops that Tony and I like to frequent. The one I work at, La Mocha Vida, and the Starbucks by Tony's house. Today we decide on the Starbucks and find a spot by the windows after buying our Fraps (a Strawberries 'n' Cream for me and a Double Chocolate Chip for Tony). Her hand-knitted cotton and silk Chanel dress accentuates her thin form as she leans forward in her seat to suck on the straw.
"So," I say with practised curiosity in my voice, "what happened in Florida? You look... different."
Tony averts my eyes for a moment, while swallowing the icy liquid too fast. As always, her small hands fly to her tanned forehead as she struggles against a brain-freeze. "You've got to drink them slower," I say, fighting the urge to laugh. Her lips squeeze together and her eyes close tightly. "Tongue on the roof of your mouth, Tony, you remember, right?"
A minute later, Tony relaxes in her chair and looks me straight in the eyes. "Did you read Sunrise?" Her voice comes out awkward, she's never been very good at evading unwanted questions.
"Err," I say, trying to ignore the sudden wrenching in my stomach. Tony's always told me everything. "Yeah, I did."
Suddenly Tony's face erupts into a wide grin, her dimples appearing. "Well? Did you love it?!"
I cock my head to the side, physically trying to decide what to say. "It was... different," I admit, nodding slowly. "Definitely different."
"Different?" Tony sighs and plays a bit with the straw in her plastic container. "You're so weird Clara. I give you one of the most romantic books out there for us teens and you just call it different."
I smile and shrug. I take a sip from my pink drink before offering, "At least I read it, right?"
Tony looks at me with emerald eyes that say, you're a lost cause, buddy before sipping some more of her drink.
"But seriously, Tony," I jump back to the topic that has somehow become taboo with her, "how was your trip?"
She avoids my eyes yet again and smiles. "It was... different."
I smirk. "Who's weird now, Tony?"
She playfully slaps my arm. "You know what I mean. I haven't seen my cousins since I was, like, six. I wish you could have come. My cousin Emily is twelve now and she just started worrying about clothes, make-up, and boys. It was seriously weird, and Ralph is going to be a senior in high school next year, so he's in the smelly hormones stage of his life."
I laugh. Tony's family may be rich, but they are one of the strangest lot I've ever seen.
"My aunt Natalie just kept saying, 'Antonia, come here, Antonia isn't this lovely? Antonia why don't you spend some time with us instead of going to the beach so much?' Seriously, like Florida is made for anything else but tanning."
I grimace, knowing how much Tony hates her full name and any "family" activities. She's from an old Italian family , the Daniellos, that came to Canada when her dad was five. When he was twenty-two he met Tony's mom, a beautiful Italian model who helped him start up his economic business or whatever and the rest is multi-million dollar history.
"I know that she meant well, but my mom or sister should have told her to back off," Tony sighs again and chances a glance up at me. When she sees me smiling, she bites her lower lip in preparation. I quietly suck on my straw, welcoming the cool flavour of strawberries into my mouth. "I... I met someone."
The icy beverage catches in my throat and I start coughing, hysterically. Tony covers her face in the crook of her bare, tanned arm and groans. Meanwhile, I am trying to simultaneously catch my breath and understand what she is saying.
"What about Connor?" I finally say, wiping the sides of my mouth after my choking scare.
Tony has been dating the once, very popular, quarterback of Williams High for the past three years. They are even attending the same University together down in Waterloo. He's going on a football scholarship and she's going because she couldn't imagine being away from him. At least, before she went to Florida. Connor is the blond, blue-eyed fantasy of every girl in our old high school, except for me since that's just icky. He's tall, about six-feet, and is made of lean muscle. When Tony first started crushing on him in grade nine, about six months before they started dating, she'd told me that his bright smile seemed to melt right through her.
"Connor..." Tony whispers into her arm, "...doesn't have to know."
"Seriously, it was nothing," Tony says while looking straight into my eyes, but I can already see that there's more to the story than she is telling me by the nervous tick in her upper lip.
I level her with a calculating stare and she looks back down.
"Okay, fine, we did It."
Tony nods and I stare dumbstruck at my best friend. Not because she's had sex, I mean c'mon, there's barely a girl in our graduating class who hasn't had sex yet, but because it wasn't with Connor. Her and Connor had first slept together a few weeks after me and Pat first slept together.
Just as I am processing what my best friend is telling me, something catches my eye over Tony's head, outside of the windows. A bunch of tanned guys are sitting on the benches outside. Five of them, three with midnight black hair and two with blond hair. They're all tall and slightly muscular. I watch with curiosity as an especially tall black haired guy moves to the side and a person I hadn't know was there, suddenly appears in my line of sight. He looks oddly familiar with his dark hair and powerful stance. He is talking to the five guys now, their attention completely on the lone, tall, mysterious guy. Then he looks at me, and I gasp.
"Clara?" Tony's voice sounds miles away as the stranger's eyes and mine connect once more. "What's wrong? Did you hear what I said?"
I stand up from my chair so suddenly that I send it flying behind me.
"What the hell? Clara, snap out of it!" Tony is warning in a loud whisper.
But all I see is him. The mysterious, shirtless guy from my dream. I stretch my hand out to touch him, like in my dreams, though I know that we're too far apart, with far too many barriers in between us. He watches me and soon all of the other guys are staring at me too. I can feel their eyes on me, wondering who I am. Wondering who is intriguing enough to steal their leader's attention.
Then a bus passes by, the number ten, I'm sure, and suddenly they're gone. They have vanished back into the realm of my dreams.