Chapter 2 - To Call or Not to Call
To call or not to call...
Okay, so it wasn’t even a question. I knew better. If I called, things would spiral out of control like a dream into a big, black vortex. I was the dream; Austin was the vortex. But maybe it was the other way around. Either way, I could find better things to let myself get sucked into.
Still, I found myself staring down at that name and phone number, wondering what the stark black strokes said about his personality. With every little bit of information I imagined I gleaned, my brain logically informed me I was inventing things. I wished it would shut up.
It had other ideas.
Sighing, I flopped back onto my bed, my head missing my dresser and disaster by near inches. This was what I got for being idealistic instead of realistic. Narrowly avoided brain damage. Then again, my brain couldn’t get much worse off than it already was. Wasn’t it the one who was sitting here imagining I actually had a chance with Austin Jeffries?
I could just imagine the interrogation tomorrow. Allie, in the plaid skirt she managed to make look innocently risqué, “casually” grilling me about her cousin, while I tried to appear disinterested. I had a better chance of surviving the Inquisition.
What was *wrong* with me, anyway? I -- the girl who never let guys get to her -- couldn’t get one certain guy out of my mind. He was the most gorgeous guy I’d ever seen. So what? I didn’t believe in relationships, unless they were of the unattached variety. Besides, even if I did have faith in relationships, looks were far from the most important part.
Yeah, I’d had the classes where you learned that looks were what initially attracted you to a person. Yeah, I knew there had to be something physical, or it just didn’t work. I also knew that a six pack and shoulders to die for wouldn’t save you from five hours of intense boredom, unless you were amusing yourself in ways that went firmly against what we learned in Christian Values.
Sitting up, I reached for my Trig book. Maybe sine and cosine would dull the useless thoughts drifting through my head. The thought cheered me. Math always made my head hurt enough that I couldn’t think about anything else, even if it also made me slightly homicidal. With enough luck, my brother would walk through the door and I could get rid of two problems at once.
Explaining that to the cops would definitely take precedence over thinking about guys.
The phone interrupted my thoughts. I reached over to get it, hoping it wasn’t one of the girls who made stalking my brother an art form. Now he’d definitely be popping into the room, begging me to screen his calls, even if it wasn’t for him.
Sure enough, my door swung open, my older brother Jason sticking his head into the room and frantically mouthing “I’m not home” while gesturing wildly.
I rolled my eyes and motioned him out of the room. Tucking the receiver more securely under my chin, I slapped the Trig book shut and settled back on my bed. “Heya, Daryn. What’s up?”
Daryn was one of my slightly more eccentric friends. Her parents had also cursed her with a name more suited to a sideshow freak. Not that there was anything wrong with the name Daryn, as long as it was given to a guy. I don’t know how many times people have asked her if her parents would rather have had a boy.
“Bored,” she drawled from the other end of the phone. “Please tell me there’s something exciting going on and I just don’t know about it.”
“Sorry,” I started, and then glanced up to realize my brother was still in the room. “Give me a second, will you?” Lowering the phone and glaring at him as menacingly as possible, I stood up and walked over to the door. I tried to shove him out into the hall, but he was about as easy to budge as a semi-truck. “Get out.”
He eyed me suspiciously and refused to move. “Who is that?”
“No one who’s interested in talking to you,” I responded as sweetly as I could. “Now go away.”
In response, he folded his arms across his chest and took another step into the room. I didn’t bother to stop him. He’d get bored soon enough when he realized he wasn’t the center of our universe and that our conversation didn’t revolve around him. I let him follow me into the room, but when I sat down, it was with my back toward him. “Nothing exciting that I know of,” I admitted, returning to my conversation.
I heard her sigh. “Well, then, how do you feel about the mall? I need to buy something presentable for next weekend.”
“Are we looking for something to match your hair?” I laughed.
Maybe I should explain something about Daryn. When her parents gave her the unconventional name, they also guaranteed she would turn out as unconventionally as possible. The girl liked nothing more than to shock, and shock she did.
I will never forget the morning I walked into school to see Daryn lounging outside the office with turquoise hair and make-up to match. Before that day, I hadn’t even known they made lipstick in that color. She’d been arguing with the vice-principal over whether her make-up was against regulation, a debate that almost spawned prohibition of all beauty products on school grounds.
The next week she’d shown up with purple highlights. The week after that, an eyebrow piercing. Now the administration just shook their heads and turned away. Daryn possessed a sharp intelligence that she used to counter any argument they threw at her.
“I don’t think they make dresses in this color,” she responded thoughtfully. “I could always get a white one and dye it.”
She would, too, I thought, shaking my head. “I guess I could deal with the mall. I wanted to pick up a CD, anyway.”
“If you buy anything that does not meet my approval, you’re walking home.”
“I’ll pick you up in ten,” she said. Without waiting for me to respond, she hung up.
I glanced up to see my brother still standing there. He was gnawing on his bottom lip like he always did when he had a question he wasn’t sure he should ask. I raised my eyebrow, but didn’t encourage him. Hey, I’d tried to kick him out about five minutes ago. He was still welcome to go. When he still hadn’t said anything after thirty seconds, I reached across my dresser and replaced the phone in its cradle.
Have I mentioned that I have a really short attention span?
I was still clinging to the hope that he’d go away, so I stood up and walked to my closet, humming a song I knew he hated. It got louder the longer he remained standing there, until I got annoyed enough to hit the play button on my CD player. Desperate times called for desperate measures, and what do you know... It got a reaction.
“Why do you listen to that stuff?” he groaned. He walked over to turn the stereo off, but then must have thought better of it, because he only turned it down. A good thing, too, because I was about to do something drastic. “You’re not even a punk.”
“You don’t have to be a punk to like punk music.” I pushed past him to turn the music back up. This room wasn’t his territory and he could leave if he didn’t want to listen to it. In fact, his leaving was a marvelous idea. I wanted to change clothes. “Why haven’t you left yet?”
An expression that made me think of sour milk crossed over his face. It was that unpleasant. “I have a favor to ask you.”
Oh, great. Well, at least the expression on his face was clear now. We both hated when he asked me for favors, because it was never something either of us wanted to do. Last time I’d gone on a blind date with one of his friends and I’m sure I don’t even need to tell you what a disaster that turned out to be. I never would have thought he was the protective type, but I guess even selfish people like Jace have their limits.
Disappearing into my closet, I called back, “I’m not going out with any of your friends.”
Hopefully, he’d take that as my final answer and leave me alone. I hated when he got persistent. The last time had been enough for me and I’d told him that in lurid detail. Now if only he’d remember that...
He still hadn’t moved when I reappeared into my room, nor had he bothered to respond. Typical Jace. Stand there and stare. I gritted my teeth, but sat down at my dressing table to apply a scant amount of make-up. Daryn and I would make quite a pair at the mall with her all punked out and me looking the poster child for a Neutrogena ad.
I’d just finished coating on some lip-gloss when I finally felt my patience slipping away. “Do you mind? I said, ‘no.’”
Sighing, he moved to stand next to me, propping his hip against the side of my dresser. I scowled at him, but he ignored that to finally tell me what he wanted. “Actually, that’s the thing. Look, I don’t want you to date one of my friends. I want you to turn him down.”
I blinked, admittedly a little thrown at his response. “Well, if he’s friends with you, that shouldn’t be too hard. What am I turning him down for? And who is he?”
He pulled the green eye shadow out of my hand and set it back down on the desk. “Don’t use that. It makes you look like an extraterrestrial.” Pausing, he reconsidered those words. “Never mind. You do anyway.” He handed back the tube of sparkly green goo. “Finch wants to ask you to the spring dance. Tell him “no.’”
Eek. Definitely not a problem. Nathan Finch was my brother’s best friend since childhood. I wasn’t even going there. It was one thing to agree to a blind date with some guy who lived across town, and a completely different thing to go to our equivalent of prom with the guy who lived next door. He used to throw mud pies at me when we were little.
I finished smearing the eye shadow across my eyes and picked up the mascara. Somehow a “scant amount of make-up” had turned into keeping my hands busy while Jace fulfilled his annoyance quota for the week. “I already have a date,” I said, hoping that would reassure him.
Instead, he scowled. “Who?”
To call or not to call, that was the question... So I didn’t really have a date. Jason did not need to know that. I would find one, and if I didn’t, I’d mysteriously fall off the face of the earth for the weekend. But considering that the dance was a month away, I really didn’t see that as a problem. I closed the cap on the mascara at the exact time Daryn started beeping her horn from outside. Or maybe blaring was the more appropriate word.
I stood up, grabbed my purse, and smiled brilliantly at my brother. “None of your damned business.”
Walking out of the room in the middle of his protest, I hurried down the stairs, unconcerned about the fact I’d left him standing in the middle of my room. He’d probably stay there for a few seconds, his mouth working like an overtaxed spring mechanism, then wander down the hall shaking his head. I trusted him not to touch anything. We both knew that if he did, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell all his friends at school about his Winnie-the-Pooh collection.
So what if mom wouldn’t let him get rid of it, no matter how many times he’d pleaded? The damage would be done.
Cheered by the prospect of something to do, I bounded out of the house and over to Daryn’s car. It was only halfway there that I remembered my buoyancy might make the ever stoic Daryn sick and managed to temper it. Otherwise we might never make it out of the driveway.
She leaned over in the seat to push open the door. The handle was broken and had been for about six months now. She never bothered to get it fixed because she said it made the car harder to break into. I guess the fact that the back passenger door didn’t lock wasn’t an issue.
I grinned at her and slid in the passenger’s seat, slamming the door shut behind me. That was the other thing. If you didn’t use an ungodly amount of force to shut it, it bounced right back open. And that might very well be the reason it didn’t open from the outside anymore. Someone had to have knocked loose something at some point.
She nodded coolly at me and backed out of the neatly paved driveway. If you didn’t know Daryn, she gave off vibes as warm as an Alaskan iceberg. Most people thought she had a chip on her shoulder, but in reality, she just didn’t like people. You accepted her for who she was or she didn’t bother with you. It was that simple.
Reaching over to turn the music up to an abnormally loud volume -- the way Daryn usually liked it -- I let my hand hesitate over the knob, then drop back onto the seat. She always had really good opinions about situations, and I kind of wanted to run this one by her. Worst-case scenario: she reiterated my opinion that calling was bad.
No, wait. Scratch that... Worst-case scenario: she told me to call.
“Can I ask you a question?”
Her eyebrow (which she’d also dyed blue) raised in question and she shrugged. “Yeah, sure. Ask.”
“I met this guy the other day,” I said, ignoring the semi-disgusted look flitting over her face. She hated when girls whined about guys. “At the coffee shop while we were studying.” Well, that made three sentences she’d uttered to my four, but at least I could tell she was listening. “The bad part is: he’s Allie DeSalles’ first cousin.”
A long, low groan rumbled in her throat. Needless to say, Allie and Daryn weren’t exactly friends. “You can skip the good part. He’s already got too many strikes against him.”
I glared at her, but then waved her comment away. “Unlike Allie, he actually seems to have both a personality and some intelligence.”
“Haven’t you ever heard that thing about the apple not falling far from the tree?”
I grinned in spite of myself. She had a point. Still, I was going to make her listen to the whole story before I let her give me a definite opinion. I didn’t think it would change anything, but it was fun to torture her while I had the chance. Turnabout’s fair play, and she did it to me often enough.
“Just listen, okay?” I waited for her to nod before I continued. “Anyway, I didn’t know he was Allie’s cousin before I introduced myself. Of course, she coincidentally showed up just as he was telling me he had a cousin at Sacred Heart.” She made a skeptical sound while I paused for breath. “You know Allie. As soon as she saw me talking to him, she wanted to know what I was doing there.”
Daryn interrupted at this point. “You know by school on Monday you’re going to have an illegitimate child and be sleeping with half his friends.”
Trust her to bring up the downside, even if it was the truth. Allie was capable of spreading all kinds of nasty rumors. But Austin might have saved me...
“Yeah, which might work if I’d missed two months of class and had the stomach. Besides, Austin told her he’d approached me to borrow a pencil.” I watched her expression go from cynical to calculating. “She was trying to get him to go to Jackson’s so she could hook him up with her friend. He didn’t seem too thrilled about the idea. So when she mentioned the spring dance and that she wanted him to go...” Time for the best part. “He volunteered to go with me.”
Now outrage flashed across her features. “He didn’t bother to ask you?”
“Nope. Weird, isn’t it? Allie didn’t take that too well.”
“I wouldn’t imagine.” Daryn finally looked away from the road long enough to glance at me. “You did tell him you already had a date, didn’t you?”
I squirmed uncomfortably. “But I don’t.”
“I know it’s not the point,” I said, cutting off her protests before she started to get too indignant. Daryn had very firm opinions about how guys should be put in their place, which a disturbingly large number of guys found attractive, even if the blue hair turned them off. “You should be happy to know that I didn’t tell him anything. I just left.” I grimaced. “Allie didn’t leave me much choice.”
That caused her to mutter under her breath for a few seconds, much to my amusement. I heard a few choice words strung between some of the other usual insults. This was when I expected her to tell me not to get involved, but instead she asked, “So that was it? You didn’t say anything else to him?”
I shook my head and leaned back against the seat. “No, I didn’t. He left with Allie a few minutes later.”
“No phone number, no address, no *nothing*?”
“Well, that’s the thing. As he was leaving, he dropped his phone number on the table.” Sighing, I admitted, “Now I’m wondering if I should call.”
Daryn tapped her fingers against the steering wheel in time to the music and looked thoughtful. “You know, usually I would tell you to avoid him like an outbreak of plague.” She glanced at me again while I eyed her suspiciously. I didn’t like where this was going. “But the chance to piss off Allie DeSalles is almost too good to pass up.”
Now was one of those times when I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Dammit, I *wanted* her to tell me not to go for him, but just like everyone else, she seemed to be against me. First Dev, then Jor, and now Daryn. Maybe I could get some more people to join with their opinion. We could start a support group.
We were at the mall. The parking lot sprawled on my right, packed full of people. Oh, the fun of shopping on a Sunday. I let my head fall against the glass and moaned, “I want you to tell me not to call him!”
And instead of being supportive, she laughed. “If you want to call him, call him. He left you his phone number, so he must want to talk to you. What are you scared of?” The look in her bright blue eyes might have been frightening, but her blasé tone was downright terrifying.
“Daryn? Do we go to the same school? The one where Allie terrorized poor Whitney Jacobs for glancing at her boyfriend at the wrong time of day?”
She shrugged. “That was her boyfriend, not her cousin. And I think there are laws against her dating him, so you’re okay. What’s she going to do to you?”
“Refer back to what you said earlier about the rumors!”
Daryn rolled her eyes and pulled into an empty parking space about half a mile from the mall before she answered. “She can only talk, Chandle. Whether people believe her is up to you.”
I acknowledged that with a shrug just before opening my door and hopping out of the car. As usual, she was right. If I denied it or got defensive, they probably would believe it. If I laughed it off and treated it like a joke, they would forget about it in the time it took for mitosis to occur. In other words, about the time it would take me to eat a bag of chips.
Well, that solved it. I guess I would call.
Using all of my body weight, I slammed the door shut, pleasantly surprised when it worked the first time I tried. It didn’t even come back and vindictively clip me in the jaw like it usually did. I swear that door hated me. I folded my hands on the roof, resting my chin on them while I leaned against the car and waited for Daryn.
“I know,” I said, responding to her earlier comment. “I just needed someone else to point that out to me. And now that I’ve voiced my protests, I’ll worry about them for another couple of days, then I’ll pick up the phone and dial Austin’s number. Allie will probably pick up the phone, but I’ll worry about that later.”
Eyebrow cocked derisively, she stepped out of the car, pressing the lock on the door. Why she even bothered, I’ll never know. “Stop being such a pessimist. If I wanted to be depressed, I would have called Zach.”
I scowled. Now that was mean. Zach Evanston was the resident drug-free downer. Always had something discouraging to say. I’d tried to cheer him up a few times before I realized he liked it that way. And the part where I’d realized that enthusiasm made him twitch.
“That’s cute, Daryn. I’m sure Zach would love to go clothes shopping with you. Of course, you would never find anything because he’d criticize everything you tried on.”
She sighed and nodded toward the mall, both of us walking in the direction of the steel-plated entrance. “He wouldn’t know what was appropriate for something like this anyway. Don’t let me buy something I actually like, okay? It’s my cousin’s wedding, so anything I pick out will make my mother cringe.”
“It’s always good to have goals,” I grinned. “How presentable are we talking? Presentable as in your mother gave you her credit card or presentable as in it can’t have any holes?”
“Both.” The expression on her face was decidedly pained. “I got a lecture before I left.”
“Knowing your parents, I’m horribly surprised.” I shook my head and opened the door, preceding Daryn into the mall. I hoped we didn’t run into anyone we know. I really wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone right now (with the exception of Daryn), so pretending to be interested in anything they had to say didn’t have much appeal.
She shrugged the subject of her parents away, looking longingly at her favorite store as we walked by it. I can’t imagine the willpower it took her to keep walking -- every time we went inside that store, she purchased something. Usually something you could slash yourself for about ten dollars cheaper, but hey... it was her money.
I could hear her mumbling to herself -- “I am going to buy a dress. I am going to buy a dress” -- as though she’d rather face a firing squad. I knew it wasn’t a prospect of a skirt, because she usually didn’t have a problem with those. It was that she had to buy one her parents would actually like.
“Come on,” I said, rolling my eyes. I steered her in the direction of Allie’s favorite store. If it didn’t have a label on it, Allie wouldn’t wear it. I was getting vindictive pleasure out of making Daryn set foot on that hardwood floor. “The less you complain, the faster we get out of here.”
“I’m buying the first thing that looks good,” she muttered.
We entered the store with Daryn looking determined, but her expression slipped slightly when she actually looked at the clothes. I saw few dark clothes and things with frills. Managing to keep my face straight, I walked over to a pale violet dress sporting ruffles and tufts of lace. I picked it up. “What about this?”
I thought she was going to bolt from the store then and there. In fact, she was looking decidedly green. Definitely not a color that went well with violet. “Chandle, if you want to live, you will help me get out of this store as quickly as possible.”
Satisfied with at least having gotten a threat out of her, I hung the dress back on the rack. “You’re no fun at all today.”
She glared at me and wandered off in search of something that wouldn’t make her vomit, if such a garment existed in this store. Just then a dress at the opposite end of the store caught my eye. And better yet, I thought it was a dress that even Daryn could stomach. It was black and simple, a halter dress with teensy, tiny straps. I figured it was something she could desecrate once she’d worn it for the wedding.
On the way over to take it off the rack, I also grabbed a few other dresses I thought she might at least consider. When I got to the dress, I realized it came in both black and white. I remembered her earlier comment about dying the dress to match her hair, so I grabbed one of each.
“Daryn,” I sang, wandering over to where she stood, lost in a sea of preppy clothes, “go try these on.”
With a long-suffering sigh, she accepted them from me and then wandered toward the dressing room. The attendant bestowed her with an appraising sneer, but Daryn just stared back coolly until she unlocked one of the dressing rooms.
“Don’t forget to show me,” I called as she disappeared.
I would swear she flipped me off right before the door slammed shut behind her. Subtle she was not. Laughing softly to myself, I flopped on one of the overstuffed chairs outside the dressing rooms. I tapped my fingers against the leather while I was waiting. It wasn’t like I had anything better to do. I didn’t shop at this store out of principle, so I wasn’t going to go look at clothes. I refused to pay fifty dollars for a tee shirt I could sew myself for ten.
Well, I could if I knew how to sew.
The sales associate gave me only a slightly more charitable stare than she had given Daryn. I smiled cheerfully at her. Why not? It amused me and made her scowl, so at least I was getting something out of it. Shifting in the seat, I leaned my head back and waited.
A few seconds later, Daryn cleared her throat. I could already tell she didn’t like the dress, just from that one simple sound. I groaned, sitting up and looking in her direction. Even if she had liked the dress, I would immediately have vetoed it. It didn’t do anything for her. Well, except make her look like a pregnant cow.
She nodded. “If you said you liked it, I was going to have you condemned to the nearest mental institute. I may not wear clothes like this, but I know when they look bad.”
Ignoring that, I leaned my head back against the leather. When I glanced up, Daryn was gone, hopefully back in the dressing room. If she liked the black or white dress, we could leave. I’d tell her to try that one on next, but I didn’t want to make the effort. I found it easier to let her go through them systematically.
I vetoed the next six dresses, deciding I had the right since I picked them out. She actually liked one or two of them (I think, unless she was just pacifying me). I kept those in mind as possible alternatives, even though I thought the last dress in the pile would be perfect.
I wasn’t wrong.
When she came out of the dressing room, the look on her face said she was happy with my choice -- finally. Granted, the next time I saw the dress, it would probably be missing about six inches and various sections of cloth, but for now, it worked with the presentable part.
“Buy it,” I said firmly.
She twirled in front of the mirror. “I think I might.”
She wore the black one, which looked great with her hair. Watching her spin in front of the mirror, I had an epiphany about the white one. If she dyed it blue, she would look like a Smurf. Now *that* would be funny, but since she was a friend, I couldn’t do that to her.
“And buy the black one.”
She cocked her head, her eyes meeting mine through the mirror. “I think I’ll treat it with bleach after the wedding.”
Yeah, heaven forbid she leave any of her clothes in the condition in which she bought them. That might be too much to ask. She tried to take scissors to a shirt I was wearing once. I quickly put a stop to that. “It’s your dress.”
“Will be my dress,” she corrected happily, striding back to the cell they called a dressing room. I was amazed, personally. Not only had we found a dress at the first store, but it was one she actually liked. Good times. Now I could go buy my CD.
She changed quickly, then bought and paid for the dress while I stared at the ceiling. I cringed every time someone came near me. This place gave me the creeps, especially since I expected Allie to show up at any second. It would be my luck.
We left the store accompanied by the sneers of the sales associates, who apparently thought people like Daryn shouldn’t be allowed inside. She was getting most of the looks. I just happened to be guilty by association. I didn’t know any of them, so they must be from Hythornch. I wondered if they knew...
“Isn’t it bad luck to wear black to a wedding?” Daryn asked, (thankfully) interrupting that thought before I could complete it.
“Probably.” She sounded a little too gleeful about that possible superstition. “Maybe you should go back and get the white one instead.”
“Brides wear white,” she responded immediately, trashing that idea faster than I’d thought about it. “Did you know that white is the traditional color of mourning?”
Oh, that was appropriate. I’d mourn the day I got married, too. It would mean I’d gone completely insane. What other reason would I have for abandoning everything I believed about love? Drugs, insanity, or brainwashing. I’d take none of the above, thank you very much.
“Nope. Thanks for sharing.” I eyed the jewelry store we were passing. “Didn’t you say you wanted a new hoop for your eyebrow?”
She seemed surprised that I’d remembered. “Yeah, I did, actually. Do you mind?”
I shook my head no and veered toward the store. Ended up following her to the case that held rings and studs “specifically for eyebrow purposes,” whatever that meant.
Daryn picked out her hoop quickly, but continued browsing in front of the case. “Have you ever thought about getting your nose pierced?” she asked suddenly.
I actually had. “Yeah, but I don’t think I could pull it off.”
She studied me critically for a few seconds. “You’ve got the perfect bone structure for it. I think you should do it.”
“I don’t know.” I peered at the piercing studs uncomfortably. Did I really want a piece of metal stuck in my nose? Yeah, I’d thought about it, but... My parents would freak. And speaking of that... “Besides, I’m not eighteen. You have to have an adult sign for you if you’re underage, remember?”
A crafty look crept into her eyes. “I just so happen to have my fake ID.”
I chewed on my lower lip, staring in the mirror. What the hell? If I hated it, I could always take it out, right? It wasn’t like I was getting a tattoo... But I still wanted to get in all my protests before I agreed. “All those studs are ugly.”
She smiled smugly, apparently aware that I’d already caved. “They don’t do nose piercings here anyway. There’s a store at the other end of the mall that sells those little diamond studs.”
“Diamond studs?” I examined her suspiciously. “Are you okay? Shouldn’t you be advocating some gaudy ring any authority figure would hate?”
“You wouldn’t wear that,” she answered calmly.
Yeah, so she was right. I still didn’t get it. “What if I hate it?”
“Then you can take it out.” She waved her selected ring in front of my nose. “I’m gonna go buy this, then we’ll walk down there.”
I watched her walk to the register and hand the cashier some money. She was right, and I *did* like it... I could always take it out. Austin flitted briefly through my mind. He didn’t seem like the type who would like girls with nose piercings. But... when had I ever let what a guy thought rule my decisions?
Oh, hell. Why not? I was going to do it.