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Honestly, high school was stressful enough. Now I was supposed to worry about good grades and finding a date to homecoming? That kind of pressure just wasn’t fair. I mean, talk about a major anxiety attack just waiting to happen.
Luckily for me, my best friend, Robyn, was notoriously good at matchmaking. And she was going to help me, even if I had to blackmail her with photos from our fourth-grade talent show to get it.
Because homecoming was in two weeks, and I needed a date, stat.
“What about him?” I asked, pointing toward a guy on the debate team. First period started in five minutes, and we were sitting against our lockers, scouting out potential dates in the hallway. Well, I was scouting. Robyn was ignoring me. Homeroom was over, and there wasn’t much time to chat between classes. Usually I liked to be early, but desperate times called for desperate measures, and I was nothing if not desperate. “Hello?” I snapped my fingers.
Robyn sent me an annoyed look over the top of her phone.
“He’s been dating a girl on the swim team for the last three months,” she said, returning her focus to her phone. I leaned over to get a closer look, but she placed the phone against her chest. “Nice try.”
“Another matchmaking application?” I said. Given her reaction, that was pretty much the only thing it could be. She protected the privacy of her clients like an overly aggressive goalie guarded his net.
She patted me on the head. “You’re so smart. No wonder you’re on the honor roll.”
Robyn’s matchmaking business was incredibly successful, hence her Cupid nickname. If someone wanted to utilize her mad matchmaking powers, they slid ten bucks into her locker and submitted a detailed personality test online that went to her email. After that, there was only one rule: They had to really try. When Robyn emailed them their match, they couldn’t look at the name and say “pass” without going on at least one date. They had to give it their all, too, like 100 percent try their best to make it work. And honestly, with Robyn’s girl-next-door looks and brown Bambi eyes, it was hard not to trust her.
Usually, things lasted a lot longer than one date, which was something she was immensely proud of. The more her couples worked, the more people were willing to go all in. Of course, then more couples worked, so it was like a never-ending cycle of matchmaking bliss. At this point, most people submitting applications took her word as fact, believing they were soul mates even if they’d never met. Given her matchmaking fame, Robyn would save up for her car in no time.
Robyn pretended like it didn’t matter. But having her own car would mean freedom—she could escape whenever she needed to. Ever since they’d had the twins, it was like her parents forgot Robyn existed. She spent more time at my house than at her own, but she always had to borrow a car to come over. And ever since her dad took on some extra shifts, that had been getting trickier.
“Hey, what’d I miss?” Elena dropped her bag and sat between us, adjusting her skirt so it was merely revealing, rather than outright shocking. She’d moved into my neighborhood two years ago and was already ten times more popular than I’d ever be. But she still spent time with us mere mortals, even if she did typically eat lunch with the pretty people.
“Just talking about homecoming and how I don’t have a date,” I said. “So nothing new there.”
She leaned her head against the lockers and heaved an exaggerated sigh. “You and me both. Man, I’m so tired I could literally fall asleep standing up. Last night I stayed up late memorizing lines for auditions, and now I can barely move.”
None of us had homeroom together, so this short stretch between classes was one of the few chances we could meet up in the morning.
“Too bad. We’ve got a test in chemistry today,” I said. Already the halls were clearing out, with students hurrying to class. I stood up. “You coming?”
“I didn’t study.” Elena grimaced. She looked around, as if an answer key might fall from the sky. When that didn’t immediately happen, her eyes grew more furtive, darting back and forth like a caged rabbit. Then an idea seemed to hit her and an impish grin spread across her face.
Whatever she was about to do, it was probably a bad idea. I knew it, Robyn knew it, and the freshman a few feet down most likely knew it, too. But there was no stopping Elena once she put her mind to something.
Robyn stood up and we shared an uneasy look.
“Elena, what are you thinking?” I asked.
Elena got up also and leaned casually against the lockers, all traces of her earlier desperation gone. “I’m thinking we really shouldn’t be cooped up inside on a beautiful October day like this.”
It was only then that I noticed the fire alarm mounted on the wall next to us and how Elena was eyeing it like she would the sales rack at Nordstrom.
“You can’t be serious.” I stepped forward and put my hand over the plastic cover, shielding the alarm with my body. “Is that how a student council member should act?” I didn’t think she’d actually do it, but I’d once watched her kiss a complete stranger on a dare, so really, I couldn’t be sure. “Besides, isn’t that, like, a felony or something?”
“You know, just because you’re in drama doesn’t mean you need to create it,” Robyn added. They were friends—90 percent of the time—but mostly by extension. Sometimes Robyn found Elena’s attitude a little … over the top.
Elena pantomimed looking wounded, throwing her straight black hair over one shoulder and placing her hands over her heart. “I do not create drama.”
Then she shoved me out of the way, opened the alarm’s clear cover, and pushed down on the white lever inside before Robyn or I could stop her. It happened so fast, I barely had time to regain my balance. Then it was too late.
Sirens blared overhead, annoyingly loud to the point where I felt like my ears would bleed from the sheer volume. It was impossible to think, which was ironically counterproductive to the sirens’ whole purpose.
“What did you just do?” I yelled, clamping my hands over my ears.
“I didn’t think it’d actually work,” she yelled back, her eyes growing wide. A lot of times Elena’s expressions were comically theatrical—I blamed her interest in acting—but one look at her face and I knew her surprise was genuine.
“Like they’d be props or something?” Robyn threw her hands in the air. “Honestly, I’m going to match you up with a rock for homecoming.” She grabbed Elena’s bag off the floor as I pushed us all down the hallway—away from the scene of the crime.
“I don’t know, everything else in this school is so old … I mean, we don’t even have security cameras here.”
Before she’d moved to Oregon, Elena had gone to a much larger, more technologically advanced school in California—one that had better computers, HD televisions in every room, and lightning-fast internet. Right now, though, I bet she was glad our tiny school didn’t have all the cameras and security that she was used to. We only had a few cameras at the main entrances, and every student knew how to get around them.
Elena looked back over her shoulder, then to the left and right, where a crowd of students streamed down the hallway toward the doors.
It was surreal. I’d been through fire drills before but had never experienced the gut-wrenching nervousness that I’d soon see my head—or diploma—on the chopping block.
Other students laughed as they walked through the doors leading to the parking lot. I sweated. A lot. Maybe it’d be a good thing if the sprinklers went off. At least that way, my sweaty armpits wouldn’t be so noticeable.
The sirens weren’t as loud outside, but my pulse still beat overtime. Students milled around the flagpole, down the sidewalk, and in between all the cars. My goal was to go as far back as possible. Maybe that would help our chances of going undetected.
But we didn’t make it that far.
“Hold up, Mia.” Principal Egeus seemed to appear out of nowhere, his signature stern look in full force. He had ex–Navy SEAL written all over him. I wasn’t sure if he had actually been a Navy SEAL, but with his height and weight, he could have been. “A student informed me that you or Elena might know something about”—he waved his arm in the air, encompassing all the noise and cacophony around us—“this.”
My mind had chosen the absolute worst moment to go blank, but for the life of me, I couldn’t come up with a single coherent sentence. I’d been busted, and now I was done for. Goodbye journalism program at NYU; it’d been a nice thought while it lasted. Elena was supposed to be good at improv, but even she seemed at a loss for words. She’d probably be kicked off student council and could see her prom-planning leverage disappearing before her eyes.
“They were in the library with me.”
It was the voice of an angel, coming at the perfect moment to save me from Principal Egeus’s withering stare. But it wasn’t Robyn, like I’d been expecting. She was standing next to me, looking as panicked as I felt. No, the voice had been distinctly male. I turned around to see my savior and was surprised to find Vince Demetrius, our school’s golden boy and probably the one person alive who might be able to convince the principal that we were clear of any wrongdoing. He was one of Elena’s best friends and the star athlete of our high school’s soccer team. Everyone loved him.
Everyone including, I was hoping, the principal.
“Elena needed someone to run lines with her for the auditions tonight, so I read one part and Mia read the other.” Vince flashed a smile, and I melted into a puddle. I was so grateful, I could have kissed him right then and there. Then again, that urge was nothing new.
Principal Egeus nodded once before swiping a hand over his face. “All right, the student probably saw someone else.”
I bobbed my head like this was a distinct possibility. After all, I had fairly average looks. My brown hair was usually in loose waves around my face, and my eyes were kind of a murky blue; nothing noteworthy there. Elena, on the other hand … well, with her Hollywood looks and gorgeous skin, there was no way anyone would mistake her for anyone else, except maybe a young Vanessa Hudgens. Still, the principal nodded again, like that sealed the deal.
“Well, we should have this all sorted out soon so you can return to class,” he said. “Be sure to check in with your first-period teacher so everyone’s accounted for.”
Then he was gone, and I was floating.
“Vince, that was amazing!” Elena threw her arms around his neck. “Are you sure you won’t audition for the show with me? You’re a natural.”
Vince shrugged his broad shoulders and released Elena, stepping back somewhat awkwardly. “My place is on a soccer field, not a stage.”
“You seriously saved us back there,” I said. The euphoria was making me giddy and impulsive, and without thinking about it, I reached up and placed a quick peck on his cheek. Of course, the second my heels came back down on the pavement, embarrassment caught up with me. I mean, we were somewhat friends through Elena, but really, Vince was way out of my league. He took it in stride, though, acting like that sort of thing happened all the time. And maybe it did.
“Hey, Robyn,” he said, giving her a nod. “Good job matching Shawn and Jaden together. They’re like a couple of octopuses. Octopi? Whatever. Guess you were right.”
“I was right about your friend Justin, too,” she said, looking smug. “He and Tara are so cute together, I can’t stand it.”
Vince shook his head. “Yeah, they’re pretty sickening, too.”
It was obvious from his smile that he approved. And with two of his friends happily matched, it was only a matter of time before he requested Robyn’s services—if he hadn’t already.
An idea began to take shape in my mind, and I looked over at Robyn.
Elena shrugged, probably bored with the conversation, and hooked her arm through Vince’s.
“Okay, well, I can’t make a liar out of you, so now you need to run lines with me,” Elena said. “You don’t have a choice.” She began to pull him away. “With any luck, I’ll have all period to rehearse.”
Elena had one superpower, and that was how easily she could give everyone around her emotional whiplash. It was like she had zero memory of pulling the fire alarm and felt no guilt for behaving so recklessly. It was both her curse and part of her charm—Elena lived life loud and took no prisoners. Two fire trucks pulled up to the front of the high school, but Elena had already moved on.
“She seems really upset about all this,” Robyn mused, twirling a strand of her blond hair around her pointer finger. “Think we should send her a gift basket?”
That was such a typical Robyn comment. Elena kept us spontaneous, Robyn brought the laughter, and I made sure we made it out alive.
I liked having a plan. A plan for what, who knew? The zombie apocalypse? Armageddon? It didn’t matter. I liked knowing what was going to happen next. And what would happen next for several weeks and even years.
And the next item on my agenda was finding a date. Maybe Robyn hoped I’d let the matter drop. But she knew me well enough to know that was never going to happen.
“Forget about Elena,” I said, my earlier idea blossoming in my mind. “I know who you should match me up with for homecoming.”
Robyn raised her eyebrows but otherwise didn’t comment.
“Vince,” I said. I mean, Vince was the star soccer player and runner-up for homecoming king. He had blond boy-band hair that always looked amazing in pictures and a great physique that would fill out a suit perfectly. And if Robyn matched us up, I might actually have a shot.
She scrunched her eyes and looked off in the distance, like somehow the answer was there among the crowd of students mingling around us.
“Yeah, I’m not seeing it,” she said finally. “Sorry.”
She didn’t look sorry.
“Come on,” I said. “We have so many things in common.” I began ticking the items off on my fingers. “We’re both kind of overachievers in our own way, him with soccer and me with journalism. He even reads the school newspaper—I’ve seen him. We care about our grades, and he’s the responsible type of guy who doesn’t party every night, even though he could. It makes all kinds of logical sense. The only question is, has he filled out one of your applications?”
I knew Robyn wouldn’t answer me outright about Vince’s application, but her silence spoke volumes. She looked away and began picking at her nails.
“You don’t need another overachiever who can pencil you in on the weekends,” she said. “You don’t even really know him. You just like the idea of him. And you can’t logically decide who your best match is supposed to be. There’s a reason why they call it a matter of the heart, Mia. Have you ever heard that opposites attract? You’d be better with someone who’s more laid-back.”
“You mean, you want me to settle.” I crossed my arms. “You think I couldn’t possibly interest someone like him.”
She shook her head. “That’s not what I’m saying. Look, you don’t make sense with Vince,” she said, glancing around before lowering her voice. “Besides, you’re going to fall hard for someone else pretty soon. I know it. Believe me, I’ve seen your results.”
I had filled out one of her personality tests, just for fun. Robyn kept threatening to set me up on a date, and I’d never taken her up on it. Of course, now when I really wanted her to, she was being a brat.
“Who is it?” I asked. “What percentage was our match on your personality test?”
“I mean, I’ve seen your results and I know you. Logan hasn’t filled one out, but he’s been flirting hard practically all year. Sure, he started out kind of subtle, but he’s been laying it on pretty thick lately. You can’t pretend like you haven’t noticed.”
Oh. No. She. Didn’t.
“Logan?” I put as much scorn into the name as I could without drawing the attention of anyone around me. “You can’t possibly mean the same Logan who once put bubble gum in my hair and wore the same Batman T-shirt every day for an entire year. The same Logan who never takes anything seriously and teases me daily. That Logan?”
“He’s flirting with you, Mia. And the Batman shirt thing was in the second grade. Just think about it.”
Then she had the audacity to wink.
Yeah, that was so not happening.
Copyright © 2019 by Tiana Smith