By Chelsie Hill, Jessica Love
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2014 Chelsie Hill
All rights reserved.
Even a perfect boy was allowed a flaw or two.
At least, that was what I tried to tell myself as I stood outside my dance studio alone, waiting for Curt to pick me up. He wasn’t always late, only when he lost track of time at the gym. So I don’t even know that I’d call his tardiness a flaw, really. More like a small blemish.
But still, it sucked waving good-bye to all my dance friends and saying, “I’m sure he’ll be here soon. You don’t have to stick around for me.” Especially because I wasn’t actually sure when he was going to show up, since I’d spaced and left my phone in his truck when he dropped me off earlier.
But it’s not like he’d actually forget about me. He did that only one time, and it was totally an accident.
Craning my neck to get a look at every vehicle that pulled into the parking lot was making me into a crazy person, so I decided to keep myself busy by running through the routine I’d just spent the past hour rehearsing. It was a lyrical dance for the upcoming fall recital, and the other seniors and I each had pretty significant solos during the middle of it. I started taking myself through the moves, but the dance studio was in a shopping center with a grocery store, a nail salon, and an insurance office. Not exactly the ideal location to break it down in the parking lot. So instead of a full double pirouette as I moved through the routine, I pulled my right foot up to my opposite knee and rose on my left toe, hitting the fingers on my right hand to my left palm twice. A pointed toe hovered just above ground level for a beat to indicate a kick; a small kick with my hands out to either side for a jeté.
My muscles ached to dance full out, to kick as high as I could and leap up into the air, but the sidewalk wasn’t the place for a show. If only my class wasn’t the last one of the night; actually practicing in the studio would have been a much more productive use of my time.
I’d run through the entire routine four times by the time Curt pulled his lifted truck into the parking lot, honking the whole way.
“Finally,” I mumbled, grabbing my bag from the ground and walking toward the passenger side. But I rearranged my face into a smile when I crawled up into his truck.
“Sorry I’m a little late, babe,” he said after kissing me on the cheek. “Today was back and shoulders, and you know how I get into those lat pulldowns.”
“It’s cool.” It wasn’t cool, but one look at Curt Mitchell’s big brown eyes and rock-solid biceps made me forget my irritation over waiting alone almost thirty minutes as the streetlights flickered on. I could never stay mad at him. What could I say? His hotness did strange things to my head.
“You left your phone.” He cocked his head toward the center console. “It was beeping at me the whole way over here.”
Huh, that wasn’t normal. Usually the only person who ever blew up my cell was Curt. However, it wouldn’t have surprised me if he had texted me a bunch of times and then wondered what that beepy noise in his truck was. I grabbed my phone from the console and scrolled through my texts.
“So, how was rehearsal?” he asked, turning the volume down on the playlist I’d made for him. “Learn any new moves?”
“Great,” I said, not looking up. “The lyrical is really coming together. I need to do some more work on my solo, though.” I spared him the specifics, since I was pretty sure he cared about the details of my dancing about as much as I cared about hearing the play-by-play of his lat pulldowns.
“What’s so interesting over there?” He jabbed a playful elbow into my shoulder. “You’re staring at your phone like it holds all the answers to life’s problems. Everything okay?”
The texts waiting for me weren’t interesting. They were annoying. My mom, whose only job seemed to be keeping her nose up in my business at all times, wanted me home immediately after I left the studio, but she didn’t give a reason. Looked like no post-rehearsal make-out time for me and Curt today, since we were already running late. Thanks for the salt in my game, Mom. Then, one from my kinda-sorta best friend Amanda, and my ex-boyfriend Jack with another one of his ridiculous “fun facts.”
1 IN 5,000 NORTH AMERICAN LOBSTERS ARE BORN BLUE. HAPPY FRIDAY!
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah. Everything’s fine. Just a bunch of stuff I don’t want to deal with.” I tossed my phone into my bag and kicked it for good measure. “But I do need to go straight home. Looks like Dance Mom’s in a mood again.”
Curt shook his head. “What’s up with her lately? She’s really cracking down on you.”
“Oh, it’s always something with her and Dad these days. They’re fighting like cats and dogs.” I stuck my thumbnail into my mouth and chewed on it for a second. “Do your parents do that? Fight?” Curt and I had been a couple for almost a year now—eight months and three weeks, to be exact—and after we got home from hanging out at school, we would text and chat online and talk on the phone almost all night. For some reason, though, I couldn’t bring myself to share anything serious with him. I’d try to bring up my parents or things that were bothering me, but I’d always chicken out as soon as the conversation got too real.
He adjusted his rearview mirror. “My parents? The biggest problem they have is that my dad prefers the Chinese food my mom makes, and my mom’d rather just cook hamburgers all the time.” Curt’s half-Chinese, half-white, all gorgeous, with a magazine-perfect family, which was why I never really brought up my own home troubles with him. He wouldn’t get that my parents hadn’t said anything nice to or about each other for at least two months now. Maybe three.
He peeked at me from the corner of his eye. “What’s bothering you, babe? You know you can talk to me if something’s on your mind. That’s what I’m here for. I can handle the tough stuff.”
“I know.” I chewed on the tip of my thumb as I stared out the window. “Forget it. It’s not a big deal.” I didn’t make a habit of lying to my boyfriend; it’s just that I was scared that if he saw my ugly side—that I sometimes hated my parents for not keeping their fighting to themselves and I wanted to run away every now and then; that I’d once daydreamed for a good ten minutes about pushing Amber, my closest dance friend and biggest studio rival, off the stage so I could dance our duet as a solo; or even that I sort of hated water polo, the sport he dedicated as much time and passion to as I did to dance—that he’d be done with me like last night’s homework. Not that I sat around comparing boyfriends, but because I’d known my ex Jack forever, I’d always been comfortable talking to him about any random thing, silly or serious. With Curt, though, I didn’t know.
It was exhausting trying to be the perfect girlfriend all the time, but I didn’t want to give him a reason to wake up and realize he should be with someone less of a disaster. I’d hoped that he’d reveal something scandalous about his family life to make me feel better about my situation, but it looked like the constant state of war between my parents really wasn’t normal after all.
“Kara.” He tried to sound stern, but his voice gave away a hint of playfulness. “I can tell something’s up.”
“I think my dad is just stressed at work,” I mumbled, still looking out the window.
He moved one hand from the steering wheel and rested it high up on my leg. “But the question is,” he said, rubbing circles on my thigh with his thumb, “are your parents going to be cool with you coming to Rob Chang’s party tonight? Am I going to have to crawl up your trellis and sneak you out? Or are you going to have to throw that long blond hair out the window for me?”
It was a good thing I had tights on under my shorts, or he’d have been able to feel all the goose bumps popping up all over my leg.
“Well, first of all,” I said, smiling, “I don’t have a trellis. And, no, my parents are not cool with me going to the party. But they are fine with me going to the movies with some friends, which is what I told them I would be doing tonight.”
He eased the truck to a stop at a red light and leaned across the center console, nuzzling into my neck. “You sneaky girl,” he said into my ear. “I’m such a bad influence on you.”
It’s true that my world pretty much turned upside down when I started dating Curt. With over four thousand students, Pacific Coastal High School was way too huge to have a “popular crowd.” So it’s not like I was some outcast plucked from obscurity and thrust into high school stardom when my dancing captivated him at last year’s studio fall recital, when he was there watching his little sister. But as soon as the gorgeous water polo captain welcomed me into his life, I found myself invited to parties that I didn’t know happened on the weekends and hanging out with people I’d only ever come into contact with when I waited behind them in the bathroom line. It was pretty unbelievable to kick off my senior year with an invitation to Rob Chang’s back-to-school party, something Past Kara would only have heard about on Monday morning from the people sitting behind her in English.
“You are absolutely ruining my senior year,” I said. Then I giggled. I couldn’t help it. He was nibbling on my earlobe. “Go. It’s green.”
“You know what’s really going to ruin your senior year?” He turned into my neighborhood, and part of me wanted to tell him to flip a U-turn and keep driving around so I didn’t have to go home yet. But I knew I’d have to face the Wrath of Mom for that choice, so I kept quiet.
“You leaving me for Rob Chang?”
“How about me, Rob, and the rest of the varsity water polo team officially nominating you as our Homecoming Queen candidate?”
“What?” I squealed. “Are you serious? Nominations just opened today. You guys have an entire month to choose someone to represent water polo. What if you change your minds?”
Curt pulled into my driveway, turned off his truck, and shifted in his seat so he was facing me. “Don’t be ridiculous, Kara. I’m the captain of the team. You’re my girlfriend. Who else would we choose?” He reached his hand up to my face, running his fingers through my hair; then he leaned over the console again, this time kissing me lightly. “Unless you were planning on breaking up with me sometime in the next month or something.”
I smiled back at him, this gorgeous, perfect boyfriend of mine. “No way, man,” I said. “You’re stuck with me.”
* * *
“How was rehearsal today?” Mom’s voice was terse as she banged around in the kitchen, and an obvious tension filled the house. It slammed into me the second I walked through the door. I knew it wasn’t me she was upset with, but that didn’t matter. When she and Dad fought, it had quite the trickle-down effect.
“Great!” I tried to be as peppy as possible to counteract the tension. “Our lyrical routine for the fall recital is really coming together. Christine used me as an example to the other girls, like, three times, and afterwards she talked to me and Amber about doing a hip-hop duet. You know we’ve always wanted to do one, so we’re going to try to throw something together.”
I loved dancing, and it came easily to me, but I worked my butt off at it. I always had. I took as many classes as we could afford and my schedule would allow. I was in the studio on evenings and weekends, choreographing, rehearsing, practicing technique. I helped out in the Small Fry class because I loved seeing the little girls fall in love with dancing the way I did. Seeing them discover that this was their passion, their life, just as I had. And Mom was always there, right beside me. She was a total Dance Mom that way, I think because she never had a passion when she was younger. Now her passion was me.
“Mmmm,” Mom said as she wiped down the counter, staring intently at a nonexistent mark on the granite. I got the distinct feeling she wasn’t listening to me, and I was tempted to start throwing out a bunch of random stuff, maybe a few of Jack’s fun facts, just to see if she’d even notice. But I knew better than to push her when she was like this. If she was zoning out during my rehearsal recap, things must be bad.
The weirdness was dulled somewhat when Logan, our little terrier mutt, bounded in from the TV room. “There’s my little baby dog,” I said, picking him up and hugging him while he licked my face with abandon. “There’s my waggy tail. Mom, was Logan a good boy today?”
“What?” Mom said, still wiping the counter.
I shifted a wiggly Logan to one arm and chewed on the thumb of my free hand, waiting for her to register my question and answer me, but I was met only with the sounds of the towel brushing back and forth across the counter. “Okay, then. I’m going upstairs.” I returned a squirmy Logan to the ground and he jumped up on my legs as I rummaged through the pantry for a protein bar. “I’m going to take a quick nap before I head to the movies tonight.” I was worn out after a long day of school and rehearsal, and I wanted to be at the top of my game at the party. A little power nap, and I’d be good to go.
“Oh, yeah,” she said, seeming to snap out of her thoughts. “What time is Amanda picking you up?”
“I’m meeting her there around eight thirty. The movie starts at nine.” I hated bringing Amanda into my lie, but if I said I was going out with unnamed friends, Mom would want phone numbers and fingerprints and mothers’ maiden names. “Is that okay?”
“It’s fine.” She abandoned her counter wiping and lowered herself into one of the chairs at the kitchen table. “Your father should be home by then. He’s picking up a pizza for dinner.”
“Sounds like a plan.” I didn’t flinch at the daggers in her voice when she brought up Dad, or how she had recently started calling him “your father.” I didn’t want her to know that I noticed.
Upstairs, I pushed all thoughts of my parents and their ongoing troubles out of my mind. Instead I took a quick shower, and as I brushed out my long tangle of hair, I wondered what to do about the two texts I’d been ignoring since I left the studio.
Text 1: Amanda Kenyon, my best friend since kindergarten, who was a best friend in title more than practice these days. It wasn’t for her lack of trying, though. It was me. I’d made all these new friends since I started dating Curt, and Amanda and I had started drifting apart. It happened to friends all the time, I told myself, and it didn’t have to be this huge deal. But she didn’t seem to want to let go, and she wasn’t really taking my hints.
She’d texted to see what I was up to. Well, Amanda, I’m going to Rob Chang’s back-to-school party, and there’s no way I’m asking him if I can bring you. Sorry, but it is what it is.
It’s not like I was embarrassed of her; Amanda was great. We looked about as opposite as possible: me, tiny, pale, and blond with a dancer’s body; and her, dark skin, long braids, and tall, like I wished I were. But our shared past made us pretty much personality twins, and I really did have a blast every time we were together. She didn’t know any of these people, though, since she spent most of her time lately in the school’s video production studio or working at the movie theater at the mall. She’d be bored out of her mind at this party, and I’d end up having to hang out with her the whole time. Honestly, if I were going to babysit on a Friday night, I should at least get paid for it.
Text 2: Jack Matthews, my ex-boyfriend. Jack and I were together from eighth grade to the summer after sophomore year. We’d always liked each other, and there was no big dramatic scene when we broke up. It was totally mutual; I thought we should break up and he agreed. I had my dance stuff, after all, and he got elected to Student Government, so it was a perfect time to pull the “moving in different directions” card. I’d say that Amanda should take a lesson from him in accepting change and moving on, which would have been convenient because the two of them were next-door neighbors and practically besties, but the thing is, recently Jack had started texting me pretty regularly. There was no real point to his texts—they were mainly fun facts or super-cheesy inspiring quotations. (Yesterday I got YOU MISS 100% OF THE SHOTS YOU DON’T TAKE—WAYNE GRETZKY) But still. I kept telling myself that Jack and I were doing the whole exes-as-friends things really well, and that his silly texts were totally innocent. But, at the same time, I wasn’t telling Curt about them, either.
Today, I decided to ignore Jack. Sometimes I replied with a fun fact or quotation of my own or asked how Student Government was going, but I wasn’t lying to Mom about wanting to take a nap before I headed out for the night. Rehearsal wore me out today.
Ignoring Amanda wasn’t an option, though. I didn’t want to have a full-on convo, so I replied with GOING TO A PARTY WITH CURT. After a few seconds of consideration, I added a:-) to the end and hit Send.
I plugged my phone into the charger and flopped down on my bed. Logan jumped up next to me and snuggled up into my armpit. “I’m going to have the best night ever, Little Lo,” I said, stroking his fur. “Now, what should I wear?” I tried to start planning my outfit, but I slipped off into my nap before I even had a shirt picked out.
Copyright © 2014 by Sundance TV LLC. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Push Girl by Chelsie Hill, Jessica Love. Copyright © 2014 Chelsie Hill. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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