I awoke with my stomach fluttering in nervous anticipation of the night to come. I tried not to dwell on it, or the thought that I might embarrass myself if the rest of Connelly’s family was going to be present while we practiced. I know I practiced with them every day, but they were more apt to notice me tonight than in a classroom full of other students.
Sue asked if I was nervous as we started toward the school’s front doors and I shrugged it off. Instead, I directed a question at her. “So, is Ivan taking you to his house to practice too? Connelly said they have a private dance studio.”
“I don’t know, I don’t think so. He said he knew a good place to practice, but he wouldn’t tell me. Personally, I think he’s going to take me out on a date!”
“Tomorrow. I’m off since you’re covering my shift.” She smiled and shrugged. “I can’t wait.”
We both smiled at each other and then parted there to go to our lockers. While I was stuffing all my things in my too-small locker, I felt someone come up behind me. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw long dark auburn hair framing bright blue eyes, and a sweet smile spread across a heart-shaped face. “Hey, Kota!” Aubrey chirped happily.
I turned to face her, slightly surprised. None of them had ever come up to me before, but she had always been nice to me. “Hey, Aubrey, what’s up?” I said, smiling back.
“I just wanted to tell you I can’t wait for you to come over tonight. I’m so happy to finally have company at the house!” If possible, it looked as if her smile grew and she just seemed to radiate positive energy. Being around her, it was impossible not to have it rub off on me.
“You’ve never had anyone over? I mean, I understand some people having trouble with making friends, but not you. People would be crazy not to like you,” I said, and recognized her accent to be more like her mother’s than Connelly’s.
“I know by ‘some people’ you mean Mira and Alister,” she laughed and I almost found myself laughing with her, “But you’re right, I don’t have a problem with making friends. It’s just that, I’m not really sure they are the right people to invite home, you know?”
“Who are your friends?”
“Cheerleaders, I think? Yes. They are trying to talk me into being one too.” She didn’t sound too sure she wanted to be one. “But anyway, I just keep talking!” she laughed again. “I just wanted to let you know we are happy to have you coming. This way you will finally really meet all of us.” Then she unexpectedly pulled me in for a hug before waving and darting away.
I stood for a minute, stunned, before gathering my things and heading to History. “Hey,” I said almost breathlessly as I slid into the seat beside Connelly.
“Hey, are you okay?” he asked, cocking an eyebrow.
“Yeah,” I felt the whisper of a laugh escape me. “I just got done talking to Aubrey.” I looked over at him and he seemed frozen for a moment. “She came to talk to me at my locker and wanted to say she was really excited I was coming over.”
He chuckled. “That’s it?”
“She’s thinking about becoming a cheerleader?” I said and he smiled, shaking his head.
“Oh God,” He rolled eyes and rubbed a hand on his face. “I hope not.” I couldn’t help but laugh.
“What would be so bad about that? She’s cheerful enough for it.”
“You just talked to her, right? Can you imagine how much worse she’d be as a cheerleader? She’s already gotten worse since she started hanging out with them. Always telling us their gossip… Ugh, I can just hear her practicing her cheers now, in the living room…” He sighed again and I laughed.
“I think she’s cute. She reminds me of a kid, the way she always looks amazed by something and blissfully happy…” I thought about it for a minute, trying to think of another word for it, “Idiosyncratic.”
He gave me an odd look. “What?” He looked slightly offended.
“Oh no! It doesn’t mean she’s an idiot!” I said, quickly waving my hands and shaking my head. “It means she’s very distinct and unique.”
“Oh,” he said and we laughed.
“Yeah, I remembered it from our vocabulary list,” I said, glancing away slightly.
“Oh, I guess I haven’t gotten that one yet.” We shared a moment of silence in which I wrote down my assignments and then he said, “So, are you happy about coming over?”
I glanced at him, a smile creeping up on my face. “Yes… and nervous.”
I hesitated, then shrugged. I didn’t want him to know my insecurities. He smiled and shook his head. “There’s no reason to be nervous. We’re more than what people say we are.”
“I don’t believe the gossip,” I said and we both smiled.
We were silent the rest of the class. “Hey, Kota,” Louis said as I slid in beside him. “Worksheets today.”
“Hey,” I said. We shared a silent moment as we both wrote done assignments.
“So,” he started, then faltered. I glanced at him, one eyebrow raised. “We’ve noticed you have resolved things with Connelly.”
“Yes, I have,” I said, not sure what his point was. “He is nice after all, and in fact, I am going to his house tonight to practice dancing. He has a big private studio.”
“What?” he seemed completely taken aback by this, worried even.
“What is wrong with that?”
“I told you I don’t like them. And you said so yourself!”
“I said it only because of Connelly, Mira, and Alister, but now that Connelly has turned around, I’m starting to see what Sue meant. Besides, Vincent and Aubrey have always been nice to me. It was only Mira, Alister, and Connelly that weren’t, and now it’s just Mira and Alister.”
“Kota,” he started, but I stopped him.
“No, just what makes them so bad? Really?” I fixed him with a look and waited for an answer.
He hesitated. “They’re just… something’s off about them.”
“Why? Maybe because they’re foreign? Of course they’re gonna be different! That’s probably why they stick together too. Not to mention everyone always gawking at them for whatever reason, I mean really. Wouldn’t that make you nervous too?” He didn’t know what to say to this, so he looked at his desk.
“If they’re not going to be mean to me, I’m not going to be mean to them,” I said and then returned to my notebook.
“I just want to make sure you’re okay,” he said. “We all do. It’s just that you hardly know this guy. You’ve been having problems all this time, then you finally make up and the next day you’re going over his house?”
“To practice,” I said, softening a bit. “I’ll be fine, calm down. I swear, you’re getting to be as bad as Dale.”
He smiled at that. “Okay, okay… Just call me if he tries anything.” I rolled my eyes, but nodded. In Bio, Dale tried to start the same kind of conversation, but I stopped him in his tracks and told him the same thing I told Louis. Of course, he made me promise to call him if anything happens before I called Louis. I found it amusing how Dale was siding with Louis about the dancers, but at the same time he was still suspicious of Louis because of his feelings toward me. He really was the big brother I never had.
Later, while we were waiting outside the gym for the present class to let out, I glanced over at Connelly and his family. Sue and I were at the opposite end of the class from them, but Connelly still caught my eye and gave me a wink. I fought a blush and looked away. A few minutes later, the gym doors burst open and students flooded out. A group of jocks, burly and sweaty, caught sight of the dancers and shared a look.
“Hey dancers, how’s the twirling going?” said the leader, Quarterback Sam Salinas. The group laughed and one of them twirled like a ballerina.
“Good, how’s your ‘roid regimens?” Connelly replied casually. Ivan, Mira, and Alister shared a slight smile.
The group stopped, and the murmur of voices in the hall tapered off. All eyes were on the two groups. The jocks seemed tense for a minute, all eyes going to Sam, who unfroze and glared at Connelly. “You wanna run that by me again?” He flexed his muscles threateningly. My chest tightened. Sam was a big guy for a quarterback.
“Oh I’m sorry, did I say it too fast for you? I forgot, you’re a jock.” He chuckled a little on this one. “Steroids make your muscles blow up to make you look bigger, but not stronger. They’re fake, like balloons.”
“You think you’re funny do you?” Sam said, him and his buddies stepping a little closer, their fists clenched. “We’ll see how funny you are after we give you a couple more holes to breath out of.”
The jocks began closing in on all of them, Mira caught in the middle. “I wouldn’t,” Alister said, his sinister voice more gravelly than usual. The jocks stopped and looked at him. He’d stepped away from the wall and was looking formidable, like he was more than ready and even willing to go a few rounds.
Sam cracked a half-smile. “You think you’re bad? Okay then, dancer, let’s see what you got!” Sam threw a punch his way, but Alister was like lightning and suddenly Sam was staggering backward holding his stomach. “Son of a BITCH!” Sam’s face was contorted in rage and pain.
“I told you not to.” Was all Alister said before turning on his heel and walking into the gym, Mira following him after giving them a smirk.