I stood in my living room, frustrated over losing control of the situation in my meeting with Leif. I’d gone to the library prepared to set up our scheduled tutoring and I’d even made notes in the handbook Mr. Yorkley gave to all the tutors. I’d gone to the trouble of creating a schedule for Leif to use, making notes of the days and times of our sessions. I wrote out instructions for him on what to bring and how to take notes in class. Everything seemed so cut and dry. Yet, nothing had gone as planned. I hadn’t taken into consideration that studying with Leif last period would be impossible since all football players must report to the field during last period. I also hadn’t thought about his afternoon practices and his evening job at his uncle’s surf shop. The doorbell rang before I could get any more upset over nothing going the way I’d planned. I couldn’t shake my irritation as I opened the door.
Leif smiled apologetically, “I’m really sorry about this. I feel bad you’re having to work around my schedule. I know seven is late and, well, I’m sorry.” The steam I’d managed to work up all evening as I’d thought about having to work around Leif evaporated. He seemed sincere and a little nervous. This wasn’t the way I expected him to act. Where was his arrogance? Was he always so nice? Surely not. The guy had dated the wicked witch of the southern coast for two years. I stepped back to let him in.
“That’s okay. Go ahead and sit at the table and I’ll get us something to drink. Do you like root beer?” I asked, walking toward the fridge so I wouldn’t have to look at him.
“That’s great, thanks.”
I took my time, getting the sodas out of the fridge and opening them before walking back to the kitchen table. This would be the first time I’d ever really talked to Leif other than the brief conversations yesterday and today.
“I brought the schedule for class and what all is expected in this course. I have one week before the first speech is due and it needs to be on something I feel strongly about.” Okay. I was a tutor. I could do this. He was just another student who needed my help. “So, we need to decide what you’re passionate about.” He chuckled and I glanced up from his syllabus. “What?” I asked, when I saw his amused expression.
“What I’m passionate about?”
I rolled my eyes and held up the syllabus. “You know, something you feel strongly about. Like your purpose or platform.”
He nodded with his amused grin still in place.
“Passionate, I like that. Let’s think of something I’m passionate about.”
This one shouldn’t take him long to figure out. Some football topic or sports related issue had to be swirling around in his head. I reached over to open the notebook.
“Got any ideas?” I asked.
He appeared deep in thought. It surprised me a little.
How deep could one get when it came to football? “The importance of adoption.”
I started to write down his answer as his words slowly sank in. Adoption? He wanted to write about adoption?
“Okay,” I replied wondering if he would elaborate on why he wanted to discuss this. I completely agreed with him, but how could Mr. Popular be passionate about something so important?
He studied the pencil in his hand and flipped it back and forth between his fingers. I could tell he was deciding on how to explain to me why he wanted to write about adoption. So I managed to keep my mouth shut and wait. Finally he glanced up at me. “I was adopted after living in foster homes for five years. I’d given up hope that I would get a family by the time I turned nine because most people want babies. I was given a chance most nine year old foster kids only dream of.”
If he’d just spoke to me in fluent Chinese I wouldn’t have been more shocked. Adopted? Leif Montgomery? Really?
“Oh, wow, I had no idea. I, uh, can see why this would be an important topic for you.” When I’d said I didn’t know Leif Montgomery, I hadn’t realized how accurate my words were.
The little boy in a foster home with no parents and a learning disability didn’t seem to fit the guy who walked the halls of Harbor High as the reigning king. The things about Leif I disliked now seemed like impressive accomplishments. Was it possible I’d labeled him incorrectly? Shallow jocks didn’t overcome adversity and accomplish the things Leif had. I’d labeled him, not even knowing him. Just because girls went gaga over him and every boy wanted to be him didn’t make him a jerk. The only jerk in the room happened to be the judgmental, elitist female. Me.
“You did hear the part where I got adopted, right?” His voice broke into my thoughts and I glanced up at him confused. A grin tugged at his lips. “You look so distraught. I thought maybe you missed the happy ending.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just, well, I wasn’t expecting that. You kind of surprised me.”
He leaned back in his chair. “It sure seems to me that you have a lot of ideas where I’m concerned. You sure have put a lot of thought into someone you don’t like very much.” My face grew warm and I knew I was turning a brilliant shade of red. “Who knows Pagan, you may like me before this is over.”
* * * *
It took us three consecutive nights of tutoring to get his speech ready. It also only took three nights for me to realize I really liked Harbor High’s star quarterback. Leif Montgomery was nothing like I’d always assumed. I still felt guilty over the stereotype I’d placed on him. However, just because we were spending two hours together every evening, 24
nothing changed at school. Though Leif smiled and nodded when we passed in the halls, we didn’t carry the easy friendship we seemed to have during tutoring into our daily life at school.
“K, sooooo, here’s the thing, Wyatt and I have been talking some and he ask me to the Homecoming Dance. And that means you’re going to have to get a date and come too. I know we planned to go to the movies that night but welllll ... .” Miranda batted her eyelashes at me from across the table.
“I’m thrilled you and Wyatt are making up. I hated having the two of you mad at each other.”
“Me too. It sucked, didn’t it?” Wyatt chimed in, as he took the seat beside Miranda. She beamed over at him and I suddenly felt a little left out.
“And Pagan needs a date to the dance. We can’t go without her.” Miranda said grinning at Wyatt.
“I am pretty sure Pagan can get a date if she wants one.” He took a bite of his hamburger. I knew he intended to do his best to rein in Miranda’s match-making ideas. I flashed him a grateful smile.
“There isn’t anyone I really want to go with.” This was a lie and I knew it. I forced myself not to look at Leif’s table because doing so would give me away. Wyatt, however, glanced over at Leif’s table and back at me with a smirk.
Thankfully Miranda missed his subtle hint and Wyatt decided not to verbalize his thoughts. Miranda picking up on my interest in Leif was the last thing I needed.
“But it won’t be fun without you,” Miranda pouted. I took another drink of my tea. I didn’t want to argue with her about this. “Come on, Pagan, it has been like six months since Jay left. We miss him, too, but he moved away. You need to date again.”
It was the first time the mention of my former boyfriend didn’t make me sad. I’d started dating him my ninth grade year and he’d been a junior. After graduation this past May he left for college and his parents moved to another state. We both agreed a long distance relationship would be too hard and we broke up. At first, I’d been lost. I’d assumed it must be a broken heart. It didn’t take me long to realize I missed the comfort of our relationship. Deep down, we’d just been really good friends. We liked the same things and cared about the same things
“It isn’t because of Jay. I just haven’t met anyone else who interests me.”
Wyatt’s grin got bigger as he took another bite of his burger. If he wasn’t careful I would strangle that goofy grin off his face.
Miranda sighed in exasperation. “It’s a pity you spend every evening with Leif Montgomery and you don’t even like him. I just don’t get it.”
Wyatt raised his eyebrows at her and frowned. “What are you saying, Miranda?”
She puckered her lips and tried to look serious. “Oh, stop it, Wyatt, you know I love you.” He bent down and gave her a peck on the lips before returning to his food. She turned her attention back to me with a silly grin on her face and I wanted to laugh. “I’m just saying if you could get past your dislike for him it would be a prime opportunity.” I thought for a minute about continuing to let her think I really disliked Leif. Somehow it seemed unfair to Leif. He didn’t deserve my dislike and letting others think I didn’t like him was wrong.
“I don’t dislike Leif. He isn’t like what I thought. I was wrong about him. However, I’m also not hot after him. ” I glanced up from my tray half afraid Miranda might have managed to read between the lines but instead she looked like a deer caught in the headlights. She wasn’t focused on me, her gaze was locked on something or someone behind me.
“Well, I’m glad to know you’re not hot after me. One less worry on my mind.”
I closed my eyes tightly, hoping I’d just imagined Leif’s voice. His shoulder brushed mine as he sat down beside me and I slowly opened my eyes to see a very amused Wyatt watching me. I cleared my throat and forced a smile I didn’t feel, before turning to look at Leif.
“Hi,” I said simply and he chuckled, nudging my shoulder with his arm.
“Relax, Pagan, it’s okay. I’m aware you used to hate my guts and have had a realization from the gods that I’m not so bad after all. It’s cool.” I resisted the desire to sigh in relief.
“So, what brings you to the lower class tables?” Wyatt asked, grinning at his own humor.
Leif glanced over at him and raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Oh, you mean this is lower class? I had no idea. It has the star athlete being scouted by colleges,” he motioned to Wyatt, “his girlfriend,” motioning to Miranda, “and last year’s homecoming queen,” he said, turning to me.
I rolled my eyes, “That was only because of my date and you know it.”
“No, I don’t know it.”
I knew I was blushing and I hated it. My gaze met Miranda’s and I realized she was soaking in every word. This wasn’t good. She wouldn’t miss my pink cheeks. “What is it you need?” I asked, trying not to sound rude.
He grinned as if he could read my mind. “I wanted to tell you I got an A on my speech.”
“That’s wonderful. It’s a really good speech. You had some great stuff in it.”
“Yes, but I couldn’t have done it without your help.” I smiled and stared back down at my food. I hadn’t told anyone, Miranda included, about Leif’s dyslexia or his adoption. Those weren’t my stories to tell.
“Are you coming to the game tonight?” he asked, and I glanced back up at him, surprised by his question.
“Um, no, probably not.”
He frowned, and then nodded and stood up. “Well, thanks again, and I guess I’ll see you Monday, then.”
“Okay. Good luck tonight,” I replied. Had it hurt his feelings that I wasn’t going to the game? I turned back around in my seat and Wyatt shook his head.
“What?” I asked.
“Poor guy isn’t use to being shot down,” he said and took a swig of his milk.
“Shot down?” I asked, confused. He sat his carton back down on his tray and stared at me with a serious expression, one rarely seen on Wyatt’s face.
“He wanted you to come to his game and you said no.” I frowned trying to remember if he’d asked me to come. I felt positive he’d asked me if I planned on coming. Not once did he ask me to come. “No he didn’t.” Wyatt chuckled and shook his head. “Dating Jay ruined you. Most of the time people don’t date someone just exactly like them. You understood Jay because, like you, he was straight-forward and serious. Not all guys, no, make that most guys, are not like that.” He nodded toward where Leif stood talking to Kendra. “He was asking, trust me.” Wyatt walked off and I glanced back at Leif.
Kendra twirled her long blond hair around her finger while grinning up at him. Just a week ago, I would’ve thought he deserved someone so superficial and beautiful.
Now, I knew better. He glanced up and caught me watching him. His eyes seemed to say something I didn’t understand but before I could figure it out they changed and took on a polite expression. He turned his attention back to Kendra.
Confused and a little annoyed, I grabbed my tray and started to stand up. I started to tell Miranda I’d see her later when I realized she was staring at me with her mouth slightly open.
“What?” I asked, a little defensively, because I knew by the expression on her face that she’d figured it out.
“You...like....him,” she said slowly as in amazement.
I rolled my eyes and laughed. “Not hardly.” I grabbed my tray and headed to the garbage and away from Miranda’s knowing eyes.
* * * *
“Do girls your age not normally go out and do things on the weekend?” This time I was unable to stop the startled scream that erupted out of my mouth. Luckily my mom wasn’t home to hear me. I spun around to find the talking soul sitting on my bed watching me. “Would you PLEASE stop popping up out of nowhere and scaring the bejesus out of me! And what are you doing in my room? Go away!” I threw the shirt I’d been about to hang up in my closet at him for good measure. This was getting old.
He needed to stop following me around.
One of his dark eyebrows lifted. “You aren’t normally so testy.”
Growling loudly, I stalked over to my window, opened it, and then turned back to him. “Fly away please. Stay out of my room. I could have been naked!”
A deep chuckle caused a strange warmth to course through my body. Dizziness seemed to touch me but just barely. “You want me to fly away? That’s cute.” I didn’t want to be cute but I also couldn’t seem to work up a good mad anymore either. Some strange lethargy had come over me. Had his laugh caused this relaxing warmth in my body?
“No, not exactly, but I do have the ability to control anxiety or panic. My laugh didn’t really have anything to do with it.”
Did he just read my thoughts or had I said that out loud?
He seemed to find me amusing if the smirk on his face was any indication. Another reason I should be furious with him.
Stupid talking dead guy.
“For what it’s worth I’m sorry I scared you. It wasn’t my intention, but if I’d appeared in front of you standing in your closet would that have been less frightening?” I thought about him popping up in front of me and a small laugh escaped my lips. He was right. I’d have probably fainted. But he could have tried knocking or something.
Wait, could ghosts knock or would their fists just go through the door?
“I see your point,” I replied and started to close the window, and then decided against it. It made me feel safer with it open. “Why are you here?” I asked.
“Why are you here?” he replied. Did the guy get off on talking in riddles?
“I live here.”
He shrugged. “Yes, but you’re young. You have friends.
It’s the weekend. I know they’re out having a good time so why are you here?”
Great, the talking soul wants to be nosey now. “I’m not in the mood to go out.”
“Because of the football player?”
What did he know about Leif? I walked over and sat down in the plush chair I kept in the far corner of my room for reading. Apparently, I was going to have to talk to the guy in order to get him to leave. “Not really, mostly because I don’t want to be Miranda and Wyatt’s third wheel.”
“But she keeps calling and inviting you to go places with them. Sounds to me like she wants you around.” How did he know she’d called me? I sat up straight and tucked my feet under me, trying to get some anger worked up at his sneaking around but I couldn’t. “Have you been watching me?” I asked studying his expression for any sign of a lie.
He flashed me a wicked grin, tucked his hands behind his head, and laid back. “For weeks, Pagan, for weeks.” Weeks? I opened my mouth and then closed it not sure what to say. Had he seen me naked? Did I really want to know if he had? How had he hid from me? Was he in my room when I was sleeping? I shook my head trying to clear the questions racing to mind.
“I’ll see you later. Your mother’s home.” I jerked my gaze up from my hands, which I’d been wringing in my lap nervously, but my bed was empty.
“PAGAN! Come help me get the groceries inside!” Mom called from the bottom of the stairs. I sighed and stood up, glancing back once more to my empty bed before running downstairs to help her unload the car.
* * * *
Sleep did not come easy the rest of the weekend. I’d even slept with my door open and my closet light on. It was ridiculous that he had me scared of the dark. The dark circles under my eyes had been impossible to completely cover this morning. Tugging my book bag up higher on my shoulder, I made my way through the packed hallway. I passed Leif and he nodded politely. The other times I’d seen him today, he hadn’t even noticed me. Why his lack of attention made me want to go back home and crawl in bed I didn’t know. But then again I may just want to go crawl in bed because sexy-dead-stalker-dude was causing me to lose sleep and I was exhausted.
“Don’t look at him next time. It’ll drive him crazy.” The familiar drawl didn’t startle me. It was almost as if I expected him. Even though he’d been frustratingly absent since telling me he’d been watching me for weeks Saturday afternoon. Of course, there was no way I could respond to him right now and he knew it. I turned and headed for my locker. “He’s trying to play hard to get. Kind of proves what a child he is, but I can see it’s bothering you.”
“I’m not bothered,” I said between my teeth as I opened my locker.
“Yes, you are. There is this little wrinkle between your eyebrows that appears and you nibble your bottom lip when something bothers you.”
I knew I didn’t need to look at him but I couldn’t help it. I turned my head and peered at him through my hair. He was leaning against the locker beside mine with his arms crossed over his chest, watching me. No one had ever paid enough attention to me before to actually be able to describe my facial expression when I was bothered. It was oddly endearing.
“You’re missing the public display of affection across the hall between your two buddies. They may need you to throw a bucket of ice water on them.” I bit my lip to keep from laughing. I didn’t need to turn around to know what he was talking about. Miranda and Wyatt could be a little gross.
“There that’s better. I like it when you’re smiling. If the football kid keeps making you frown I’m going to take matters into my own hands.” I opened my mouth to protest but he was gone.
* * * *
I glanced over at the clock. Leif would be here any minute. My mother had left thirty minutes ago for another date with Roger. I’d spent the time alone walking through the house looking for the soul I couldn’t seem to get rid of. I wasn’t sure where I expected to find him. He didn’t really seem to be the kind of guy who sits around and does nothing.
If he was here wouldn’t he be trying to tell me what to do or asking me questions that were none of his business? But I searched for him anyway. I wanted to discuss the comment he made earlier. The doorbell interrupted my hunt and I headed back to the living room to get the door.
“Hey.” I stepped back and let Leif in. I’d ignored him the rest of the day. Wasn’t sure what good it did, but I decided I didn’t want Leif thinking I cared if he spoke to me or not.
“Hey,” he replied and stepped inside. I led him over to the kitchen table and waited while he set his books down.
“Safe sex,” he announced.
I froze and stared at him, unsure whether I’d just heard him correctly. His serious face broke into a grin and then he started laughing.
“I wish you could see your face,” he said through his fits of laughter.
“You did say ‘safe sex’ then?” I asked, trying to determine what was so funny. He was the one talking about sex.
He nodded and held up his paper. “The topic for this week’s speech.”
I laughed weakly. “Okay, well that was one way to announce it,” I replied while going to the fridge to get our drinks.
“I’m hoping you’re well educated on this topic because I haven’t got a clue.”
“What?” I squeaked in reply.
He laughed again and I stood there waiting on him to get a grip. “I’m sorry,” he said, “It’s just that you’re so cute when you’re shocked.”
I stiffened at the word cute and wished I hadn’t. Hoping he didn’t notice my reaction, I took a deep breath and prayed silently for my eyes not to betray me when I turned around.
It wasn’t as if I wanted Leif to see me differently but I didn’t exactly want him to think I was cute. Maybe attractive or pretty, even, but not cute. Although him referring to me as cute helped remind me where I stood with him. Any delusions I may have had of us being anything other than friends dissipated.
“I think having had actual experience isn’t necessary. It’s basically supposed to be about your beliefs on the subject or the importance of it.” I couldn’t bring myself to meet his eyes.
He reached over and tilted my chin up so I wouldn’t have a choice. “You’re embarrassed.” I averted my eyes and he chuckled. “That’s cute.”
Ugh! We were back to me being cute. I glanced back at him. “Please stop saying I’m cute. It’s kind of insulting.” He frowned as he dropped his hand from my chin. “How is that insulting?”
I shrugged, not wanting to talk about it and wishing I’d kept my mouth shut. “It just is. No one wants to be cute.
Puppies are cute.” I reached for his notebook and kept my eyes on the paper and read over the topic, or at least attempted to act like I was reading over it.
“Well, you definitely don’t look like a puppy,” he said with a chuckle.
“Well, that’s something at least.” We needed to change the subject and I needed to learn to curb my tongue.
“Okay, so what are the three main reasons you believe safe sex is important?” Maybe now we could get off the topic of me and my cuteness. He didn’t answer and I glanced up at him. He was watching me with a serious expression.
“Are you not sure?”
He didn’t reply.
“Um, okay what about teenage pregnancy? That’s a good point. No one needs to become a parent while they’re still a kid.”
Again, he didn’t respond, so I wrote it down.
“Your feelings are hurt,” he said quietly. I froze but kept my eyes on the paper. “I didn’t mean to say something to hurt your feelings,” he continued.
I wanted to deny it but I figured accepting his apology and moving on would be the best way to handle this. “It’s fine. Let’s get working on your essay.” He stared down at the paper. “Teenage pregnancy is definitely one reason,” he agreed.
“Okay, so what about STD’s?” I suggested, writing it down as I spoke.
“That’s another good one.”
I started to write it down but he reached over and took the notebook from me. Startled, I jerked my head up to see what he was doing. He gave me an apologetic smile. “Sorry, but I couldn’t think of any other way to get your attention.” Not sure how to respond, I sat silently and waited on him to finish.
“You aren’t just cute. Yes, you make cute faces and do cute things but you aren’t just cute.” Hearing him explain himself made me feel silly for even saying anything about it.
“Okay,” I managed to mumble.
He slid the notebook back to me. “Now, let’s see...what about the fact that using a condom takes away from the pleasure, should we discuss that?”
I choked on my soda and started coughing uncontrollably while Leif patted me on the back. Once I got myself under control, I glanced up and caught him biting back a smile.
“Again, you do a lot of cute things, but you aren’t just cute.”