Wanna do it?
A text from Jesse Daniels.
I looked across the bus aisle, and he raised an eyebrow. My thumb brushed the y key on the phone.
“Why do you people do that?” Tiffany demanded. “He can’t be more than four feet away. Isn’t it easier to just talk?”
My sister has a problem with absolutely everything I do. “It’s our thing,” I mumbled.
“Well, your thing is stupid.” She put down her version of the bible—a steamy romance novel—pulled out her compact mirror, and freshened up her lipstick for Greg.
I peeked over at Jesse again who was cleaning his glasses. Without them, he looks a lot like a blond River Phoenix. Think young Indiana Jones. Think charming. Think hot.
My eyes rolled down his bulky arm. My fingers slid over the letters on my phone.
Yeah, let’s do it.
Within seconds he looked my way and grinned. After a soft smile, I turned off my phone, put it in my pocket, and prepared for our stop. I’d spend Thursday night with him. Right after my shopping trip with his brother.
Like the Daniels, Greg moved to our rural, Sleepy Hollow Vermont town from New York. He moved in with the Daniels three years ago, at the end of freshman year. That’s the summer we started camping out in the woods behind my house. We’d set up two tents, built a fire in the clearing, sat in a circle, and roasted marshmallows under the stars. It gave me a chance to drool over Derek Daniels. Admiring him was my favorite thing in the world to do.
No, I don’t have much of a life at all.
On this particular summer night, an owl landed in a tall, ancient maple a few yards away and uttered a distinct Who-o-o-o?
“Your mother!” Derek howled. He chuckled and rammed his speared marshmallow into the fire. “I think we should catch it and cook it,” he said, trying to spot it by firelight. He wore designer jeans, a long-sleeve shirt, and a new pair of three-hundred-dollar Nikes. His hair had the habit of getting into his eyes. I don’t see why he didn’t just cut it an inch, so he wouldn’t look through it like an Old English Sheepdog.
“I think the owl’s cute,” I said. I’d parked myself across from Tiffany, between Derek and Jesse. Their enormous dog Manny slept by Jesse’s side. Tiffany and I wore sweats to beat the night chill, even though they didn’t make me desirable for Derek. Wearing good clothes while you’re camping just ruins them anyway. Unless your name is Derek—then you don’t have to worry about ruining clothes, ‘cause Daddy can always send money to buy more. “Can I have Zorro back now?”
Jesse dumped the baby ferret in my hand. Dad got me Zorro for getting straight A’s throughout freshman year. Zorro wore a tiny black tee shirt and a red bell collar, and I had him on a matching leash. He’s mostly white, with a pitch black mask across his face, hence the name Dad thought up. I’m not a Zorro fan or anything.
“Anna, let me hold him!”
I shot my sister a look, annoyed at her demanding tone. Couldn’t she ask politely? Better yet, couldn’t she get her own?
My nasty look came right back at me. “Hey, I’m still older than you—you can’t get an attitude with me!” She waited, arm extended. “Ferret….”
Her obsession with being an hour older than me got old so long ago. Yes, she’s my twin, but she’s fraternal. She looks way different. I actually look a lot like Amy Adams, which isn’t a bad thing. I have blue eyes, fair skin and a wonderful complexion. The only bad thing about me is my auburn hair. While the color is great, it’s curly, it hangs past my tailbone, has volume, and boy does it tangle! I’d trade it in for my sister’s calm, dark brown princess locks any day.
Tiffany was always an inch taller, and it looks like I’m a permanent five-foot-two. She’s actually popular, she hangs out with the “cool” crowd. As for me, that bug geek Jesse is practically the only friend I’ve had since grade school.
Tiffany glared at me and grabbed Zorro. For some reason, she thinks Mom left her in charge. When our mom called it quits, Tiffany went mute for a year, but it didn’t last. I prefer her mute—now you can’t shut her up, and she won’t stop giving orders.
Manny stirred in his sleep. He’s a red and white Giant Alaskan Malamute with a shaggy tail and deep amber eyes. At age two, he was 135 pounds and forty inches tall at the top of the head. You’d think Jesse named him after an Ice Age mammoth. No. Jesse named him after the praying mantis in A Bug’s Life.
We were so focused on browning our marshmallows that we jumped like jackrabbits when Manny leapt to his feet, heaved hard on the leash, and barked up a storm.
“Did you guys hear that?” Derek’s eyes skimmed the woods, his expression spooked.
We all looked at Derek, wide-eyed. “No,” we said, and shook our heads. Tiffany passed Zorro back to me. I held him close.
Manny’s barks intensified. He growled and yanked on his leash so hard, Derek could barely restrain him. His choker blocked his windpipe, yet he pulled eagerly still, snarling and wheezing.
Then we heard it, shuffling in the bushes about a hundred feet away. We gazed, petrified. I trembled from my core.
“What is that?” Jesse pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his head. I inched toward him, dragging my butt on the ground.
“Maybe it’s a black bear.” Derek’s voice cracked. “Black bears are dangerous. Once they attack, you can never get them off. They eat humans when they’re starving!”
Beads of sweat gathered on my forehead. It had to be a large animal, from the way the underbrush shook. A bear would make sense. And it grew closer.
Manny jerked the leash again. I’m surprised that choker didn’t pop his head off! Derek held onto him like his life depended on it.
Even through all the racket, the bear drew closer. It was too dark to see it. Blood drained from my face. The thought of a starving black bear ripping us apart—limb from limb—was horrifying.
Then it charged. It plunged its heavy mass through the bushes, heading straight for us! Jesse grabbed my arm. I jumped into his lap. We screamed as it emerged.
Eyes closed, I screamed at the top of my lungs, completely paralyzed from the neck down. I could barely move or think. Jesse’s head collided with mine. We cowered in fear.
“Oh my God!” Tiffany shrieked, surprise in her tone.
Then there was an outburst of laughter. Manny kept barking. I peeked. It wasn’t a bear, it was … Matt Damon?
I squinted at the brown-haired guy with a huge white smile. He wore black jeans and a matching jersey, and looked about Derek’s age. He gave Derek a high five, fell beside him by the fire, brushed his hair aside, and waved at me, still grinning with those big teeth of his. “Hey, I’m Greg—Derek and Jesse’s cousin.”
Okay, so it wasn’t Matt Damon.
Jesse and I exchanged looks, still locked in an embrace. My heart fluttered. I pulled away and inched back to my spot.
“What the hell did you do that for, you dumb jock!”
Greg’s expression darkened. “Hey, Jesse, the next time you call me that, you’ll have a lot more to be scared of!”
Derek laughed. “It was just a prank, Jesse! Chill.”
Tiffany laughed like she wasn’t drop-dead-terrified seconds earlier. She crept closer to Greg and started talking to him about all sorts of things she knew absolutely nothing about—football, video games, weight-lifting, and sports teams. She was so interested when she heard he didn’t have a girlfriend.
That’s when it happened. Derek crept up behind me and wrapped his arm around my neck. My heart leapt. He chuckled. “Sorry. I thought it’d be funny….”
Thoughtlessly, I nudged him away. Realizing what I’d done, I tried to think of how to get him back. “I knew all along it wasn’t a bear!”
He laughed and wrapped his arm around my neck again. “No you didn’t!”
“Sure I did. I was just playing along to scare Jesse.”
We looked at him. Jesse’s eyes were steady on Derek. I stared blankly for a second. “Jesse, what’s wrong?”
“I’m going to sleep.” He got up, glanced back at us for a second, and disappeared inside his tent.
Derek’s face touched the side of mine. “Think he’s mad we tricked him?”
Our faces are touching! I could feel his breath! My heart hammered my ribcage. Why was he acting like this all of a sudden? Did he actually like me? I figured it was my overactive imagination, as I read into things a lot. He’d only teased me before. He’s too popular for me. Total friend zone. Best not get my hopes up. “Think he’ll let you sleep in there now?” I pointed to the tent.
“I don’t know.” Our eyes met. “Where else can I sleep?”
Then, like a total moron, I said, “Manny’s got some room on his blanket.”
Derek’s smile faded. “Oh.”
Yeah. He didn’t hit on me again for a month. I’m surprised he even talked to me again at all, after I said something so cluelessly stupid.
We dated for three years. Three years with a boyfriend who looks like a young Leo DiCaprio, and I didn’t even sleep with him.
I know, I can hardly believe it myself.
So far, he hasn’t complained too much, though at eighteen and after three years, I’m sure he’ll start soon. As soon as Friday night, actually. Because Friday is my senior prom.
Derek and Greg just finished their freshman year of college, but they’re alumni and under twenty-one, so they can escort us to the prom. Not that I’m looking forward to Greg’s presence on what’s supposed to be the best night of my life.
The bad thing about the prom is that Jesse will be there. After all, it’s his prom too. He’s expected to have a date, and I don’t look forward to meeting her. Or finding out it’s his on-and-off-again girlfriend, Zoey Jacobs.