While in the car, pulling away from her “new friend”, Allison scarfed down her bagel. Then she made quick work of her sugary ice coffee. She wanted to be done with both, but they were more of a way to keep her hands busy. Yeah, maybe both of her hands were on the wheel, but that alone wasn’t enough to occupy her mind and keep her from shaking. How was one to process what had just happened? Oh Lord, had that really just happened? One hand dutifully keeping control of the car, she used her other hand to pinch herself. Hard.
Considering the fact that she didn’t suddenly find herself in her bedroom, gasping from what may have been a dream sent from above, she was forced to believe that whatever “that” was had really just happened. Well, there was always throwing the car into one of those trees over there … Whoa whoa whoa. She told herself to take a step back … and to just bask in the glow. Yes, possibly the most gorgeous guy on the planet had just invited her to a party. No biggie. But that was the problem. No matter how hard she tried she couldn’t shake the feeling that she had just agreed to chew more than she could swallow.
Derek’s huge Ford Super Duty truck was parked in her massive semi circle driveway, that extended all the way to the front gates. He was leaning against the side of it, arms crossed, as if he had been waiting for a while. Why hadn’t he just gone inside, and waited for her there? She could see a grin spreading across his face, as he recognized her car pulling up. Stretching those familiar features.
Derek had always been quite the looker. Turning heads wherever he went. He was wearing an old T-shirt that showed off his toned biceps and a pair of jeans that highlighted his long legs. His short, blonde hair was windblown on the top of his head. As she watched him walking toward her, he dragged a hand through it, still smiling that killer grin. His eyes were still that startling shade of green. Like leaves in the summer time. Mesmerizing in the raging life and color that shined through there, truly, like summer days that never ended. Yeah, her best friend was definitely movie star worthy. Always had been.
Before she could cut the car off, Derek was pulling her door open, tugging her out of the car and crushing her to himself. He smelled as he always did and she breathed in deep, the scent relaxing her. That scent held a sweet note of familiarity that she knew she would always cherish. Fresh cut grass and newly washed linen sheets. Yep, that was Derek for you. She’d never known a boy besides him to smell that good. God she had missed that smell. She had missed him.
“I missed you, Bunny.” He said into her hair and she smiled at her childhood nickname. “You have no idea how much.” His breath was warm and close as she hugged his waist tighter. She knew he didn’t just mean the two weeks that he had been gone … but the year that she had been away. He had left in the time frame that she had been permitted to return. When she had gotten back, he had been already gone.
This was the first time they had seen each other since … last year. That first week she had been back, only three weeks ago, had been a rush. Best friend reunion to the max. Sarah and Liz had practically sat on her. She was never allowed out of their sight … for fear that she might disappear again. That translated to, many sleepovers, spa days and girls’ nights out. It had been great while it lasted and the excitement had somewhat simmered down. Now, they all contented themselves with checking in everyday and coming over every other day. But Derek had been a huge missing piece in that reunion. Seeing him … her best friend, her partner in crime, her confidante … tears spilled from her eyes. Wetting the front of his shirt.
“Hey,” he said softly, gently tilting her face up to his. “No crying okay? We’re together now … and that’s not going to change. Not again. No matter what he says. You’re not leaving me. They can’t take you away again.” His tone was strong, but he sounded as if he were also trying to convince himself that what he was saying was true. Which made sense. She was back, but only under her father’s grace. She had been shipped off because that was what he thought was best for her, for the family. If he thought sending her back was best …
“You can’t guarantee that.” She told him, her voice thick with tears. “He could change his mind and I’d be gone.”
“No.” He said determination in his eyes. “Last year … last year was crap without you. Everyone felt it. Your absence, it made a difference and I’m pretty sure there are a lot of people who wouldn’t be too willing to let you leave again, besides me.”
He shook his head, “Beside the fact that you just weren’t there, you know how Mallory was. Without you there to balance things out, she tried to rule over everyone and I mean everyone. Even the guys. I don’t know what you’re going to do, but expect a hard time when it comes to her. And I know everyone’s expecting you to fix things. They must all be real stoked about you being back.” At her silence, he held her a bit away from him, looking into her eyes.
“Have you told anyone?” He asked, concern in his eyes.
She shook her head, “Just Sarah and Liz.”
Allison knew what would be expected of her. The pettily named, “Mean Girls”, consisting of Mallory Greene and her entourage of lipsticked, and generally heavily make-uped, followers that may as well have been made of plastic. Mallory was always fighting for dominance over the school and everyone in it, even the teachers, and only one thing was stopping her really.
No one liked a mean girl, so no one really like Mallory. She ruled with terror and again the only thing that kept that at bay was … Allison. With her being the exact opposite and as popular as Mallory with her peers, if not more so, people had decided to put her up as a barrier between Mallory and true reign.
Allison kept things from getting too hairy. She was kind of like the peace keeper of the school. Because Mallory knew everyone was backing Allison, she had no choice but to comply or mar her already vandalized image.
The funny thing was, her and Mallory had been friends, once upon a time. Whatever happened to that, she wondered.
Her car was still running, and she started to pull away to shut it off. Derek stopped her with a tug on her hand, reached inside and killed the engine. Handing her back the keys, he swept his thumbs under her eyes. Removing the drying tears. She smiled, calling back the excitement she had felt earlier. Derek was back, Derek was in front of her.
She kissed his cheek, grinning, “Let’s call Sarah and Liz over, so we can do best friend stuff together. You know, you have some really bad timing, deciding to haul off and go on vacation the week I come back.”
Derek’s smile faltered a bit. “Yeah, that really did suck. But you know my parents, they wouldn’t let me just turn around and come back. Not after they had ‘spent all that money for a special, family vacation’ and it’s not like my parents need to watch every bill like that, which makes it all the more stupid … just know I was thinking of you the whole time and wishing I was here. Still mad?”
She reached out and grabbed his hand, lacing their fingers together, tugging him toward the entrance. “Derek … I was a little mad then, but now that you’re right in front of me I can’t very well hold a grudge. Yeah, I wanted to see you the moment I returned, but the worst is over. Now all we have to do is wait for the storm to truly pass.”
“So I know we haven’t talked about it … but I’ve gotta know,” Liz started, ever the bravest of them all. “How did you like Mary Walter’s Academy for Girls?”
Allison shifted uncomfortably. She knew the question would have come up eventually and that she owed them an answer, but she really just didn’t want to talk about it. They all sat huddled in her gargantuan living room. If you could call it that. The space was huge, the whole floor length of some modest houses. This would have been alright; written off as just another lodging for another wealthy family, if the space weren’t so … empty. That alone set it apart, there was no life in the place, not just that room but the whole house.
The pieces of furniture that took up any sort of space in a room that was meant to be filled out, were a large sofa, two love seats, end tables, a plush animal down rug and a coffee table. The rest of the room was simply a gray area. Nothing occupied those spaces. With everything being so centered in the large room, the placement of everything, strangely, could make one feel off center. The onyx black fire place gave off a sort of sinister feel, no matter how beautiful.
Her friends and her were spread out in their own way, but still close to each other. Derek and her took up the middle of the sofa, with Allison resting her head on his lap, feet stretched out and dangling off the side of the chair. Mom would kill me if she saw, she thought and smiled to herself. The small act of rebellion, making itself at home in the deepest parts of her belly. She couldn’t decide whether it was a good feeling or not. Sarah and Liz were sprawled about on the fur rug. Liz’s head on Sarah’s stomach as Sarah tried to untangle some of the fierce curliness that was Elizabeth Montgomery’s hair.
Deciding she had stalled long enough she took a deep breath, “Worst year of my life.”
“Well at least we can all agree that last year was by far the worst, in like, ever.” Sarah shook her head. “I was afraid you were gonna say that you liked it more than being here … with us.”
“Now why would I say that? I missed you guys like crazy. What with the breaks being shorter, being halfway across the country and not being able to see you guys … believe me calls and text messages don’t add up to the real thing.”
“You got that right.” Liz sat up and looked Allison in the eye. “But there must have been something good about your year there. I promise I won’t get mad if you spill.”
Allison thought about it, and came up with nothing. There had been absolutely nothing “good” about last year. Thinking about it at all brought back memory of many nights when she had cried herself to sleep. She wanted to move past all that.
When Allison shook her head, still coming up blank in the “good things about last year" category, Liz smiled. “Come on, nothing?” Her smile grew brighter, “What about guys? Anyone catch your attention, any flings, relationships you forgot to mention?”
Allison felt Derek tense slightly under her but she brushed that off. “No,” she sighed and felt Derek relax. “No boys. But speaking of boys I did meet someone today that I think is worth mentioning.”
“Today,” Sarah perked up. “You met a guy today?” Allison smiled at remembering Jared. His smile, those dimples, that accent. Chills rode over her body and her grin spread.
“Yeah, I did … and I was gonna tell you guys, but he invited me to a party and I want you guys to come with me. You’ve got to meet him, he’s great.” By that time Sarah, Liz and Derek were all staring at her, his body tense once again. Sarah and Liz with grins as big as hers on their faces and Derek with a strange frown on his. What was up with that? But she didn’t dwell on it, couldn’t really, because Liz and Sarah practically yanked her up from the couch.
“We’ll be back. You just sit tight for a bit, D,” Liz called behind them.
“Where are you guys going?” He called, resignation in his voice, even as he settled himself onto the couch. Pulling out his phone, texting someone, Allison guessed. She knew that he knew as well as they all did, whatever Liz was planning, like a force of nature, there was no just saying “no” to her, and being done with it.
Liz stopped and placed her hands on her hips, a move they had all seen a number of times. This was “All Business” Liz, immovable and uncompromising.
“We,” she gestured behind her to Allison and Sarah, “have a party to ready ourselves for, and a very not party-ready Allison to get presentable, and you know how she can be.” She started for Allison and Sarah, “You’re gonna be waiting for a while, so best to make yourself comforatable.”
Liz turned back to Allison as they made their way from the living room to the grand staircase, and Allison’s bedroom, Sarah in front. “So tell me about this boy.” With that, Allison knew that the games had just begun.