He’s staring at me.
He’s still effing staring at me.
This is pretty much what the last fifteen minutes of calculus had consisted of. On both our parts. He’d been the hunter, watching my every move. And I’d been the prey, hoping my feeble attempt at hiding behind my long mane of dark tresses would deter his penetrating stare elsewhere. But it never did. Every time I peeked from the corner of my eye as discreetly as possible, he was watching me. The tip of his pen would be hanging from his mouth as he leaned on the desk or he’d recline in his seat and cross his arms, eyes blazing from under the brim of his hoodie. It was the same dance time and time again, and we’d been at it since he moved to Harrisburg with his mom at the beginning of sophomore year. Currently, we were seniors in the middle of finals before Christmas break, so you do the math.
And who is he, you ask?
Tall, dark, handsome, and broody. Extremely broody. But despite his stoic, tough exterior, all the girls wanted him. And I mean all of them. Forget the football players and daring rebels, the girls at Harrisburg High wanted Drex. All six-feet of him, complete with inky locks that tickled the nape of his neck and eyes greener than freshly-cut grass. Don’t let me forget the rare, panty-dropping smiles he flashed at the most inopportune times too.
Apparently, none of said girls were good enough for him though. At least not long term. Still, that didn’t stop them from tripping over their feet in hopes to snag his attention, even if for one night.
But not me. Hell no. I’d never fed into it, regardless of his unique appeal.
I guess what set Hendrix apart from the rest was his game. He didn’t act like a player, actively hitting the field for his next victory. He wasn’t cocky, wasn’t disrespectful, didn’t act like a fool for attention. In fact, he was quite the opposite; Very introverted, keeping only a small handful in his inner circle.
The girls just came to him, and his charm wasn’t limited to only the ladies. Most of the testosterone-fueled population that made up the senior guys wanted a shot at being his wingman too. Okay, I’m lying. I say most, but really I mean the smart handful who’d quickly learned the opposite sex didn’t care for douchebaggery. The rest silently envied him. But no one screwed with him. Simply put, Hendrix was intimidating. His stare alone could put anyone off.
Regardless of it all, it seemed I was the only one who wasn’t intent on seeking his attention. Which is why this silent game of cat and mouse was unnerving.
What did he want? Why me, of all people? Would I always feel like someone was holding down the trigger on a taser while he watched me?
Cause that’s what it felt like.
As cliche as it may sound, the romance novels my mom read-and I secretly read, too, but shhh, don’t tell her that-weren’t a convoluted, wishful image of what romance should be like. The so-called electrical current that zipped down your spine and thrashed your heart wildly was real. It was so damn real.
And I couldn’t understand why I felt it in the first place.
I didn’t like Hendrix, didn’t want him and hope to call him my own. Did I think he was attractive? Of course, who wouldn’t think that? But I didn’t want him. I’d read enough to know it was the silent, broody ones like Hendrix who held the utmost power to ruin you.
No, thank you. I’ll pass.
So I tried to tune him out as much as possible, left him for all my classmates to fawn over. Key word, tried. That damn stare didn’t make it easy by any means. The minute it zeroed in on me, I could feel it, searing my skin, igniting my blood.
I hated it.
Or at least that’s what I kept telling myself.
“Fifteen minutes,” Mr. Yorkshire said from his desk at the back of the room.
I wasn’t worried. I had three questions left and they were multiple choice, questions I undoubtedly knew the answers to. Math was one of my strongest subjects aside from English and my art electives. With renewed purpose, I shoved aside the fact that he was still watching me and reverted my attention to what little remained of my midterm. Took a whole, I don’t know, five minutes to finish up. Then, with a deep breath, I rose to my feet and padded to where my professor sat, placing the exam on top of the pile already formed on his desk. He merely glanced up from the novel he was reading and tipped his graying head, confirming I’d made it on time.
All the while Hendrix’s eyes remained fixated on me. They followed me carefully with every step I took. When I pivoted away from Mr. Yorkshire to head back to my desk, I stole a peek in his direction, and there were those green orbs, piercing me the second we connected. I gasped quietly and his lips quirked in this lopsided smirk that would’ve buckled my knees if I hadn’t almost been expecting it.
Cue the anxiousness.
On conscious legs, I walked back to my seat under his scrutiny. My heart was racing, thudding in my chest with such ferocity I was sure he could hear it. Maybe he could and maybe he liked it. Maybe that’s why he continued doing it? Why else would he? What was the purpose of all this? And most importantly…why me? He could’ve had any girl he wanted. So. Why. Me? Sometimes I wondered if I was crazy. I mean, unless you were one of his trusted few, you were non-existent in his world. Was I imagining this thing between us, whatever that might be?
Through my internal struggle, I slid back into my seat and began packing my bag. The bell was due to ring any minute now and thankfully, it was the end of the day. It was also the end of the week and I was more than ready to enjoy two weeks off with my books and endless mugs of Mom’s homemade hot cocoa.
Don’t look back. Don’t look back, I reminded myself, the words ringing out in my head like a mantra as I stuffed my binder and pencil pouch away.
But then I had nothing to do which skyrocketed my nerves all the more. For ten minutes I sat there, staring straight ahead and pretending like I couldn’t feel Hendrix burning a hole through the back of my head. Again, all I could wonder was why? What was so fascinating about me? What did he think about when he watched me?
Why me, Hendrix, why me?
As soon as the bell rung, Camille was out of her seat, tossing her backpack over one shoulder, her long dark tresses billowing behind her as she scampered to the door. I smirked and shook my head, throwing my own pack over my shoulder as I headed out not too far behind her. Rosco was already waiting for me in the hallway when I hooked a left for the parking lot. He rode with me every single day since my Dad gave me his ‘68 Firebird for my eighteenth birthday. He’d also been my first friend at Harrisburg High. While everyone else played the dick card with the new kid, Tahj Rosco went out of his way to show me around and help me get my shit together.
“Camille ran out of here like a bat out of hell. I’m assuming you finally said something?” he asked as we fell into step.
“Nope.” I popped the P.
“Dude, you are on some creepy stalker level type shit. Do you realize that?”
“She likes it, I know she does.”
“Then why not just talk to her instead of eyefucking her all day long?”
“You know why. She’s not ready…” I countered, tipping my chin at a group of girls who were giggling as we walked by.
Rosco sighed and shook his head as he made his way around to the passenger side. “If she likes it the way you claim she does, that won’t matter to her.”
“It would matter to anyone. Who really wants to deal with that shit?”
Unlocking my door, I slid into the driver’s seat and reached across to unlock Tahj’s door too. He slipped inside and dropped his bag beside his feet, glancing at me with a dubious expression.
“Drex, it’s not even something you have to worry about in the first ten minutes of a real conversation. All of that comes way later.”
“We go through this almost every day. Just drop it, Rosco,” I growled, revving the Firebird to life. “One day, I’ll make shit happen, but for now, I’m good with just admiring her from afar.”
I reversed out of my spot with a frustrated quickness -turning heads as always- and peeled out of the parking lot, blurring past Camille along the way. I could see her all wide-eyed and damn beautiful from my side mirror as I sped out onto the main road, the sight of her only frustrating me further. I don’t know who I was more irked with; Tahj or myself.
“Senior year is almost over. That’s all I’m saying,” he barked back, and then he dropped it, just like I asked him to, plugging away into his Sidekick.
Whether it was the long week of finals or just the recurring topic of conversation that had us both on a short fuse, the rest of the ride to Rosco’s house was made in silence. I drove through the winding streets with his last words festering in my mind like the plague. I hated to admit it, but he had a damn point; senior year was almost over which meant I had approximately four months to make a move. But it sounded much more simple than it truly was. You see, talking to Camille wasn’t the problem. Hell, I’d done way more than just talk with many of the senior girls. It’s what followed talking that had me hesitant. If this inexplicable pull between us drew me toward her with the little I knew about her, imagine what that’d be like after the fact…
“Thanks for the ride,” Tahj said with a bite as I pulled up in front of his house in a daze.
“Quit acting like a dick. I give you a ride every day.”
Running a hand through his dark hair, he shook his head and reached for his bag. “Look, man, I know it pisses you off when the boys and I get on you about Cami, but we just wanna see you happy. You’ve got enough shit going on to deny yourself one good thing.”
“I’m not denying myself,” I sighed, “I just don’t wanna scare her off.”
“That’s the thing, Drex, you’re assuming, and that’s the last thing you should be doing. You won’t know what she can and can’t handle if you don’t give it shot.”
Thinning my lips, I nodded at his concession and watched him slip out of my car, the sound of the door slamming hitting me over the head with a much needed dose of reality.
Was he right? I truly denying myself? Was it wrong of me to assume one look at my life would push Camille away? I almost didn’t want to find out but I knew that if I let this opportunity pass me by, I’d regret it later to the point of insanity. Shit, I already regretted wasting two years with stolen looks and deliberate smiles.
With another deep sigh, I honked as Tahj made his way inside and drove off at a slow pace, not at all in a hurry to get home. But Rosco didn’t live too far away, so before I knew it, I was pulling into the gravel driveway of my beat-up ranch-style house. Shutting off the engine, I threw myself back into the seat and stared at the dingy white door, the outer screen nearly hanging on one hinge. Beat-up didn’t really cover it if I was being honest. Run-down and dirty was more like it, and it was fucking embarrassing. When we first moved in two years ago, this place was beautiful, but over time it all deteriorated-what went on inside included.
The loud crunching of another car arriving darted my eyes to the rearview mirror. I growled as his car pulled up beside mine and my little brother flew out from the backseat, hightailing it up the broken path to the creaky porch with his Ninja Turtles backpack hanging off his shoulders. Neither one of them noticed I was still in my car until he turned around to lock his jeep and our stares connected through the windshield.
And who’s he?
My fucking dad.
Right as my bus pulled up to the stop, my phone went off from somewhere in my backpack. Tossing the bag over my shoulder in front of me, I stuck a hand into the front pocket as I hustled down the steps and onto the sidewalk, the bus zooming off behind me once I began my walk home. The second my fingers brushed over it, I yanked it out and hit the accept button, already knowing who the caller was without checking the display.
“I’m freeee,” I said excitedly by way of greeting, smiling when his warm laugh resounded from the other end of the line.
“Off the bus yet?”
“Literally just got off. I’m so jealous you’ve been off for two days already.”
“I know.” Gage chuckled again. “You’ve been telling me that since Wednesday, remember?”
“Cause it’s not fair! You’ve gotten to sleep in and chill all day while I’ve been in finals hell.”
“Oh, please, Millie, you know you aced ‘em all.”
“Not the point,” I grumbled, kicking a pile of dead leaves in my path.
“Well, you’re officially on vacation now, so quit your bitchin’” he retorted amusedly.
I’m sure you’re wondering who Gage is, huh? I guess you could say we were friends before we were even born. Our mothers met while on base with our fathers who were both Marines on active duty. When each woman fell pregnant with just a few months between their due dates, their friendship blossomed immensely, thus beginning the friendship of the little lives they carried in-utero. Shortly after both families moved to Charlotte -and our births- our fathers were deployed overseas to protect the U.S. Embassy in Manila. It was the first of several tours they’d embark on while Gage and I were growing up, and because they were gone for such long periods of time, our moms spent a lot of time together, which meant we saw each other regularly throughout the years. Not to mention we went to school together too.
As kids, we played all the usual games -hide and seek, tag, hopscotch, even house. On one occasion, our moms had been frantic looking for us and ended up finding us out in the backyard, putting “our baby” to sleep underneath the shady oak tree. After that, they swore we’d eventually get married and play house for real. But neither Gage nor I agreed with that, mostly because at the time boys had cooties and girls were dumb..
As we got older, he taught me about sports and cars, how to ride a bike, and how to rollerblade. When I fell, he was always there to catch me and help me back up on my feet. I can recall a few times where he took it upon himself to clean up some scrapes and kissed them better like a magician with a wave of his wand. If kids picked on me, he always had my back, as I did for him. He was my own personal superhero, and I loved him in a way only a child could love.
But then came the summer before we started high school…
After all our dads had experienced in their time with the Marine’s, Mr. Ford developed severe PTSD that required weekly treatment. He was on his way home from his therapist’s office when an 18-wheeler smashed the back end of his car and launched him right into a field of trees. He was killed on impact, leaving behind his wife, Minnie, and of course, Gage. We were all affected greatly though. My dad lost his best friend, and my mom and I were about to lose ours too. No one could blame Minnie for moving four hours away to move in with her parents. Her only love was taken from her far too soon and she was having a hard time coping, not only with his death but with Gage’s new resentment to everything as well.
Distance didn’t really change much other than the fact we didn’t see each other often.
Gage had made it a point to call me every day after school, and every once and while, he and his mom would come spend a weekend with us, sometimes a few weeks out of the summer too. They’d also been coming for the holidays, with his grandparents in tow, but unfortunately, that didn’t seem to be happening this year.
“I’m bummed you’re not coming for Christmas,” I said to Gage as I pushed through the iron gates at the start of my long driveway.
“I know, I am too,” he sighed, “but let’s not talk about that now. Anything special you’re hoping to get this year?”
“A car, but we both know that’s not gonna happen.”
“Because Mom still thinks I’m five.” I laughed, rolling my eyes.
“Well, in her defense, you do whine sometimes,” Gage pointed out, to which I scoffed indignantly.
“I do not.”
“You do too, and you know it.”
Running up the steps that lead to the front porch, I threw open the monstrous front door and kicked my shoes off in the foyer.
“Mom, I’m home!”
“In the kitchen, sweetheart,” she called out.
“I’ll call you back in five,” I murmured to my best friend, trailing through the classically decorated living room to the kitchen.
“I’ll be here. Kiss Ma for me.”
A few days later, Christmas Eve to be exact, I was snuggled on my oversized beanbag chair in my Christmas onesie with a mug of hot cocoa and Nicholas Sparks’ latest novel. Completely enraptured by Travis and Gabby’s intense story, I barely heard the knock at my door until my mom cleared her throat.
I nearly jumped out of my own skin, almost spilling the hot cocoa everywhere as I met her soft smile with wide eyes.
“I’m about to start baking the pies. Care to help me?” she asked knowingly.
Baking was always my favorite part.
“Duh, Mom. I’ll be right down.”
Setting a bookmark into the book, I laid it on the edge of my bookshelf and changed into a loose t-shirt and some sweatpants. Onesies were comfortable, but not to cook in. After that, I grabbed my mug once more and skipped downstairs, following the sound of my mom’s festive hum.
“So, what’s on the menu this year?” I asked, pulling my apron from the pantry.
“Well, your father wanted something chocolatey, so chocolate silk it is, and apple for you, of course.”
“I would’ve been fine with chocolate, Ma.”
“I know, but apple is your favorite, so why not make both? It is the holiday’s after all,” she explained, setting down all the utensils and ingredients we needed to get the job done.
“Doesn’t feel like it without the Fords,” I admitted, reaching for a few Granny Smith apples.
“I know it doesn’t honey, but Minnie said her dad isn’t doing well and she didn’t want to make the drive with or without them.”
“I get it. It just sucks.”
“Maybe Gage can come see you for New Years.”
“Doubt it. Money’s tight and all that. He’s saving up for a car.”
“I don’t know,” she said dubiously, regarding me with curiosity. “I think he’d grab a bus ticket to come see you without blinking twice.”
I rolled my eyes, tossing a handful of apple slices into a bowl. “Mom, don’t start.”
“You know what.”
“And you know it’s the truth. That boy is crazy about you, Camille. He always has been.”
Good God, she and Minnie just would not give it up. I cringed every single time either one of them brought it up, especially when Gage was present.
“Ew, please stop, Ma. Seriously. He’s like my brother.”
“You say that now. Give it a few years, then tell me the man in him doesn’t appeal to you.”
Yeah, I almost gagged, all while she giggled away as she preheated the oven behind me.
“Time for Christmas music!” I announced because it was the only way I’d be able to end this conversation without working either one of us up.
Dropping the knife onto the cutting board, I bound around the counter to the family room where my dad kept the stereo and pressed play. Mom had been listening to all the Holiday jams since Thanksgiving, so it was no surprise when Let It Snow poured in through the speakers. As I swiveled around to head back to the kitchen, Mom was giving me another knowing smirk, but she chose not to say another word as we went about preparing both pies for Christmas dinner.
Thank you, sweet baby Jesus in the manger.
Find out how Cami and Hendrix spend their Christmas. But most importantly, find out what happens when they go back to school in the new year and those stolen looks aren’t an option anymore…
I watched as she took a deep and tucked her hair behind her ear, gray stare landing on my face.
“So, um, I guess we’re gonna have to talk to each other now since we’re working together,” she said, earning her a smirk.
I dropped my hoodie and pivoted toward her just slightly. “We’ve talked before.”
“Ten words in two years hardly qualifies.”
“I’m sure it was more than that.”
Camille rolled her eyes and retrieved a clean sheet of paper from her binder, smoothing it out on the table. “Hardly. But that’s besides the point.”
“Then what is the point?”
“I just told you, Hendrix.”
“Oh, right.” I tipped her chin toward me with a finger. “Project. Communication. Got it. And for the record…Drex works just fine.”