“How’s the bullying story coming along?” Katherine asked as we headed toward the lunchroom. Neither of us had a car yet, so we were stuck eating on campus. Our high school sat in the middle of a residential neighborhood so all of the socially acceptable places to eat were too far away to walk.
“Good. I still don’t know what angle I want to use, but hopefully going to the anti-bullying meetings will help.” My journalism teacher asked us to write a story on something related to our high school experience. I hadn’t experienced bullying first-hand, but walking down the halls at school, you couldn’t help but see it.
“The group is called Let’s Stand Against Bullying, or L.S.A.B. I really wish I’d been there to help them come up with a better name.” Katherine nodded as I kept talking and checking emails on my phone. “My teacher introduced me to a couple of the seniors in the group and holy hell is one of them hot!” I could feel the heat of my blush just thinking about him.
Katherine rolled her eyes. She knows I’m boy-crazy enough for both of us. Her radar isn’t even on. She never noticed boys.
I lagged behind my best friend to make sure her outfit was straight because my fashion-victim-friend never pays attention. I wish I had her butt, though. I could never have a butt like that, no matter how many squats I did. I’ve heard people call her fat, but I chalked that up to everyone thinking only skinny is attractive. The only curves I have are thanks to expensive push up bras. My parents are thin, so I’d lost hope years ago that I would be any shape but straight. I do have great hair though, thank goodness.
“All right, so tell me about this hot guy,” Katherine said with a sigh as we approached the food line.
“Well,” I began, but stopped short when we reached the back of the line. He was standing right in front of me. Matt Ryan, senior, with dark eyes, dark curly hair and huge arms. He looked over his shoulder, saw me and turned around.
“Matt. Hi. I was telling my friend Katherine how excited I am to get involved with L.S.A.B.” Ugh, did that sound fake?
“Great! Nice to meet you Katherine.” His smile was gorgeous. “You’re welcome to come to the meetings with Alissa if you’d like.”
“Umm, okay, thanks,” Katherine said, turning a slight shade of red. I was shocked to see her reaction to him. Maybe her radar wasn’t as offline as I’d been led to believe.
“So, Matt, do you like what they’re serving for lunch today?” Okay, now that sounded ridiculous. If I could slap myself, I would.
Matt smiled and if I wasn’t mistaken, suppressed a laugh. “I usually have lunch meetings but today my new friend Walt here,” he nodded towards the pudgy guy standing in front of him, “asked if I would sit with him.” Walt nodded but kept looking around the room like he was expecting something to happen. As if on cue, the lunchroom doors opened and the Disorder Alliance walked in.
Kelly Martin, the head of the D.A. led the pack toward the front of the lunch line. Katherine and I had come up with the group’s name because we’re positive they all had disorders that make them act less human then the rest of us.
“Hey, Walt, you don’t mind if we just go ahead of you, do you?” Kelly actually patted Walt’s head like she would a dog.
Walt just stared down at the ground and I looked at Katherine who gave me the “don’t you dare say anything” look. I looked at Matt because I really didn’t know if I should say something or let it happen. Usually I just walked away because I was as intimidated by confrontations as Katherine, but I just met Walt and it was obvious he wasn’t going to stand up for himself. Matt was already in her face before I could muster something to say.
Matt threw back his shoulders and pointed at Kelly when he said, “Actually, he does mind and so do the rest of us, so take your ass to the back of the line like everyone else.” He sounds really pissed.
Kelly didn’t skip a beat. “You used to be less of an asshole before you started standing up for losers like your stubby friend here in his thrift store clothes.” Her body shook with anger.
“Fuck off, Kelly.” Matt’s arms and neck flexed.
No one in her little group said anything. They all just stood behind her, pissed off looks on their faces. Kelly broke eye contact and shoved herself behind Katherine, paying no attention to the other people in line. As we moved forward, I had to remind myself to breathe and keep my head forward. Don’t look at them.
I didn’t know how I would handle being the focus of the D.A. I’d want to stand up for myself. I’d try to cleverly get out of the harassment, but I fear I’d start to cry and they’d know they got the best of me.
As we moved our way down the line of foods that look like they’d sat there all week, I saw Kelly push Katherine just enough to throw her off-balance. Katherine reached out to steady herself but her palm hit the corner of the tray and one of the bowls went flying into the air, hitting Kelly in the chest. I almost laughed but stopped myself soon enough to make it sound more like a gasp.
Kelly just stood there staring at Katherine like she was about to pounce.
“I’m so sorry. I slipped,” Katherine said. Kelly lifted her hand like she was about to slap her but Katherine quickly bent down to pick up the bowl. “I slipped… I swear.”
“She knows that.” I stared at Kelly to make sure she didn’t try anything, standing close enough to block her fist. Kelly glared at me, threw her food on the ground next to where Katherine had squatted to clean up the mess with a handful of napkins, and stomped toward the bathroom. A couple of the D.A.’s followed her but the others stayed in line, glaring over at us.
“Well, that went well,” I laughed. I’d help Katherine up but my hands were shaking. I grabbed a clean tray for her and we finished getting our lunch. Matt and Walt followed us outside to an empty table where they sat across from Katherine and me.
“She’s going to get back at you,” Walt whispered to Katherine while looking down at his food.
“I’m sure she’ll forget about it soon. At least I hope so,” Katherine whispered back to him. She picked at her food and I could tell she was shaken up. I felt awful for her but didn’t want to make her talk about it anymore in front of the guys.
Matt smiled at me between bites, but I couldn’t smile back. I was always conscious of food sticking in my teeth.
I took a moment to look over his features, trying to keep from swooning. His skin was almost as dark as mine which surprised me since I spent as much time in the sun as possible. We have a pool at my house and even when it’s cold, I’d sit out in the sun since I refuse to have pale, white skin just because I live in upstate New York.
We talked a while about classes but it stayed mostly silent. Not how I had imagined spending time with a hottie like Matt. I was too uncomfortable to even flirt.
Feeling like I needed to make a better impression, I made up an excuse to meet with Matt, just the two of us. I wanted to do an interview with him before attending some of the L.S.A.B. meetings, that way I could get an insider’s view on bullying. My excuse worked and I was on my way to my favorite coffee shop near my house.
I dressed up a little more than usual, in a casual black dress with my favorite beige boots. Matt was tall and I thought if my heels brought me closer to his height, he’d be more comfortable. I got the idea from a magazine that said something about how guys respect a woman who looks them in the eye. I loved heels anyway.
Matt texted me a couple of minutes before my mom dropped me off asking what I wanted to drink. When I walked in, he was sitting at the small table in the back with two cups of coffee. How sweet is he?
“I’m sorry I’m late.”
“No problem.” His smile made me blush.
I took a sip of coffee so my mouth wouldn’t get dry. I nearly moaned tasting the mixture of melted caramel and espresso. Being alone with him was making me much more nervous than I had anticipated. I pulled my pad and pen out of my oversized purse. I’d jotted down a couple of questions before I left but now looking at them again, I realized how stupid they were. I had no clue what to ask.
“What made you interested in getting involved with L.S.A.B.?” I glanced up at him a little surprised that he was asking me a question since I was the one that was supposed to be doing the interview.
“Bullying is an issue at pretty much every high school and I thought it would be a good topic for my journalism paper. Why did you join the group?”
“After I blew my knee out playing football, most of my friends stopped inviting me to parties and my priorities changed.” His face showed his disappointment. “I started going to a gym instead of working-out with the guys at the school and I met some other kids. They workout in groups and I joined in. One Friday night, they told me about the L.S.A.B. meetings our school organized. I decided to check it out and have been going ever since.” He shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
“So, why do you guys meet at the gym instead of at the school?” I moved my leg under the table and bumped up against his leg. One of my lame attempts of flirting. He smiled, which I hoped was a sign he didn’t mind.
“The gym was built in an old warehouse, so there’s a large room in the back. The new owner lets us continue to use it because the room isn’t being used for anything else.”
“Have most of the people who attend the meetings experienced bullying first-hand?” I started jotting down some notes.
“Yes. When we get a bunch of new people, we’ll have volunteers go up to the front and tell their stories.” He reached for his cup at the same time as me and our hands brushed against each other. We both smiled and I think he blushed a little.
“Did they welcome you even though you haven’t experienced what they have?”
“What makes you think I haven’t?” That question caught me off guard.
“Being a football player, I assumed you wouldn’t have anyone messing with you.” My stomach clenched. I didn’t know if I’d just offended him.
“We all have our stories,” he replied, sadness in his voice. “What about you?”
“I have my best friend, Katherine, and really don’t hang out with anyone else, so I guess I’ve been lucky enough to stay out of the drama most groups seem to have.” I shrugged. “I try to avoid confrontations. Always have.”
“So you play it safe?”
“Yeah, I guess. When Kelly gave us a hard time the other day, I freaked out a little.” That was embarrassing to admit.
“Well, you didn’t look like you were freaking out.” He winked at me. My heart rate increased thinking he just flirted with me.
“Do you miss playing football? I’m sure you had girls hanging all over you.” Please say that wasn’t the case. I think I embarrassed him because he blushed.
“Yes, I miss playing football and no I didn’t have girls hanging all over me. I had the same girlfriend for two years. She dumped me after I got hurt.” He didn’t show any sign of emotion over the mention of the break-up.
“Her loss, I guess.” I flashed my best smile but moved my leg a little too fast and hit the table leg. My coffee cup fell over, spilling all over my paper.
Matt jumped to grab some napkins and we both laughed it off.
He asked me for my number while we were saying goodbye so I waited to text my mom for a ride until he was gone. I needed a couple of minutes to cool my hormones back down. The last thing I needed right now was my mom to notice how flushed I was. If she knew I was into a gorgeous guy like Matt, she would make me re-count every second of the conversation.
After our coffee date, Matt and I had talked or texted the entire week. He asked me out the next weekend and we went to the movies. He kissed me after the credits started rolling. It was my first “real” kiss. He kissed my cheek, then my nose and finally my lips. His lips were so soft. I opened my mouth, letting my tongue sweep over his. I didn’t want him to stop. The theater ushers in charge of clean-up eventually asked us to leave, which was more than a little embarrassing.
It was perfect until we realized someone had taken a picture of us and posted it online. Everyone knew about the kiss before it was even over. The rumors at school ranged from a simple to kiss to us having sex in the back of the theatre. I just ignored the classmates who thought I should know what everyone was saying and concentrated on school.
Needing to get serious about the article Matt had sidetracked me from, I decided the next week to finally attend my first L.S.A.B. meeting. I had my mom stop by Katherine’s place on my way. She lived with her mom in an apartment about ten minutes from my house. The spring weather was mild, so I decided to wear a sundress, hoping Katherine would approve of my choice. I was nervous and she always managed to calm me down somehow.
“I’ll be right back.” I left my mom in the car knowing I would only be a couple of minutes. Her front door was unlocked like always, so I let myself in.
“Kitty Kat, where you at?”
“In my bedroom!” She never seemed surprised when I just showed up unannounced. I walked around the hallway corner and stopped in her doorway. She looked me up and down, tilting her head to the side.
“Don’t you think you’re a little dressed up for a meeting that’s held in a gym?”
“Says the girl already in her pajamas. What are you doing tonight?” I already knew the answer. She started writing fictional stories a few years ago and used it as her excuse to not do anything else except go to school.
“I just started writing a horror story. It’s gonna be a good one!” She clapped her hands in excitement. “Why did you stop by? Aren’t you going to be late?”
“I’m nervous. I need some best friend love.”
Katherine rolled her eyes and pulled me in for a hug.
I glanced at her computer screen and saw a chat window up. “Are you still talking to that Robert guy?”
“Please don’t judge me,” she said, still holding on to me.
“You better not be telling him anything personal. You don’t know who he is or if he’s trying to reel you in so he can slash your throat,” I warned.
I knew she wouldn’t take my advice but I didn’t like the fact that she would rather talk to some guy online versus someone she actually knows isn’t a psycho.
“Thank you for almost approving my outfit. I should go. Tell Mom ‘hello’ for me when she gets home.” She sat back down in front of her laptop as I left the room. “Love you,” I yelled before shutting the front door.
“Love you, too!” I could hear her through her open bedroom window that faces the front parking lot.
It only took fifteen minutes to get to the gym and the parking lot was packed. The building had been empty for so long, I hadn’t even bothered to notice it was being renovated. The gym had only been open a few months. Matt mentioned a back door would lead straight into the room where the meetings were held. I kissed my mom on the cheek and walked around the building.
The door was propped open and I could hear voices. The gravel was hard to walk on with my wedges. I kept my hand against the building in case I needed to steady myself.
“Having trouble walking tonight?” Matt laughed as he poked his head around the corner and watched me walk towards the door.
“Next time I’ll wear sneakers.”
He held out his hand and led me into the room. There were people standing all over the place in little groups. A pile of chairs was stacked up against a small stage along the far wall. A man jumped up on the stage and started clapping his hands.
“Excuse me, everyone! Please grab a seat and get settled.”
“Looks like you made it just in time.” He grabbed a couple chairs from the pile, unfolding them both. We picked a spot in the middle of the room while everyone else sat scattered around us.
The man up on stage was very unorganized. He didn’t have any type of agenda and it was hard to keep up with what subjects he was talking about. I didn’t hear much about bullying at all during the half hour talk. It was mostly about how he wanted to spread the word about the group and get more people involved.
After the man talked, Matt turned to me and faked a yawn. “I guess this was a bad meeting to give you your first impression. The guest speaker canceled last-minute and we didn’t have a back-up.”
I smiled at him politely. “Who’s your main organizer?”
“The owner of the gym said he would start helping us get it together, but he’s been concentrating on making the ownership transition. So as of now, we don’t have anyone.”
“Why isn’t anyone at school helping out?” I asked.
“Unfortunately the school doesn’t have the resources to help right now. We get to use this place for free and the guy that talked tonight is a parent volunteer.” Matt stood up and excused himself. He walked around and talked to a couple of people. I was not the type to mingle, so I stood by the door and waited. He looked over at me a couple of times and put up his finger signaling “one more minute.” I loved how he was paying attention to me, even if was just a small gesture.
Matt gave me a ride home from the meeting. I decided to bring him in to meet my parents so they felt comfortable letting him drive me home. I had never brought a boy home before because sometimes my mom doesn’t know when to shut up.
They were sitting in the living room watching TV when we walked in the front door. My mom immediately jumped up to introduce herself.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Matt. Come on in and sit down.” She led him towards the couch, pulling him by his arm. “So, you played football? You’re built like it!” His cheeks turned pink.
My dad stood up and reached his hand out. “Nice to meet you, Matt.” They shook and everyone sat down. I didn’t sit too close to him just in case they were paying attention.
“How was the meeting?” my mom asked.
“Good,” Matt and I answered at the same time. I looked over at him and smiled.
“Let’s not beat around the bush here. Matt, how old are you?”
“My daughter just turned seventeen, so I assume you can respect the laws of dating a minor?” It shouldn’t have surprised me that my dad would get legal since he’s a lawyer, but I thought he could at least be friendly first. I glared at my mom, hoping she would tell him to shut up but she didn’t notice. She was the only one ever brave enough to put Dad in his place.
“Yes, sir.” Matt’s whole face was bright red now. It was almost funny watching them stare at each other.
“Ummm, if we’re done here, I think I’ll show Matt the backyard.” I bumped Matt’s knee with mine in a subtle move of reassurance. He bumped mine back.
My mom flashed me a smile and we both stood up to go.
“It was very nice to meet you both,” Matt said before leaving the room.
I took his hand and led him to the back patio. We sat down on the steps that lead out to the pool. The back light turned on, surprising me. I looked back at the door and my mom was standing there. She waved before going back into the living room. I just rolled my eyes. “Sorry about my parents.”
“Your dad is scary,” Matt said with a straight face. I started laughing and he soon joined me.
“What are your parents like?” I asked as he brushed his thumb over the back of my hand.
“Not like yours. My dad drinks a lot and my mom is super quiet. Not fun company to be around.” He brought my hand up to his lips and kissed it softly. I couldn’t help but feel there was more about them he wasn’t sharing. I was usually one to push for information, but I held back.
“So tell me the story about this house?” Matt asked.
“This was my grandma’s house before she passed away. She had eight kids, but my mom was the only one that hung around. Everyone else moved to the west coast, so she inherited the house. We added the pool and spa in the backyard. I talked my mom into knocking down the wall of the bedroom that was next to mine so I could have a bigger room. My brother likes his smaller space upstairs because he thought it was cozy. He turned one of the rooms into a weight room. I don’t think anyone’s gone in there since he joined the Army last year.”
“Do you miss your brother?” He squeezed my hand lightly.
“Yes, even though he was such a pain when Katherine would come over. He used to pull the heads off our dolls. When we would watch scary movies, he would put a mask on and jump out from behind the couch to make us scream. He comes home when he can. We always joked that we should just give Katherine his bedroom since she’s over so often.”
“She always looks so lonely. Is she an only child?” I like that Matt was interested in my best friend and not jealous of her like the last guy I tried to date.
“Yes she is and her mom works a lot. Her dad left a long time ago. Our moms worked together before we came along. They were pregnant at the same time and have been friends ever since, just like me and Katherine. I’m a couple months older than she is, though.”
Matt put his arm around me, pulling me closer. I put my head on his shoulder. “Kids began making fun of her in middle school because she developed faster than most of the girls. I tried telling her they were just jealous. She got a “screw everyone” attitude and because I’m her best friend, I did, too.”
I looked back at the window to make sure my mom wasn’t watching before I leaned up and kissed him. Our lips stayed together as we breathed each other in. I sighed and opened my mouth, allowing his tongue to sweep against mine.
I walked him to his car and waited until he was out of sight before going inside. I kissed my parents goodnight and climbed the stairs up to my room. My cell phone started ringing before I reached the top step.
Matt’s name on the screen made me smile. “Hello?”
“I missed you already so I figured we could just talk until we fell asleep.” Sometimes Matt’s more of a girl than I am, but I’m pretty sure I could be falling hard for him.