The Force of Gravity(4)

By: Kelly Stevenson

Derek turns to Emily. “Do I need to escort you to second period now, babe? Who the hell is this guy?”

“Oh, please,” says Emily. “Like you guys didn’t talk about Ms. Guess in front of us constantly when she was new.”

A lazy grin pulls up the corners of Derek’s mouth as his eyes glaze over. “Yeah, she’s hot.”

Emily playfully punches him on the arm. I’ve been best friends with Emily since third grade when I fell off the monkey bars during recess and she ran over to help me. She even walked me to the nurse’s office and stayed with me until I stopped crying. After the nurse cleaned me up, she gave both of us purple lollipops, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. She is annoyingly beautiful, however, and popular, with gorgeous blonde hair and legs up to her neck.

I’ve known her boyfriend, Derek, since junior high, and he is one of my favorite people on the planet. He’s great-looking, a high academic achiever, and excels at every sport—so much so that he’s all set to go to USC on a football scholarship. On paper, you’d think he was a jerk. But he’s the sweetest guy I know. He’s beloved by everyone in school, and his light-brown hair, emerald-green eyes, and positive spirit, complement my best friend in a way that makes me believe they are made for each other.

Emily turns to Avery for support in the how-hot-is-Mr.-Slate meter, and I scoot closer to Tommy and squeeze his hand while I pick at my salad. He may not be concerned about me leaving in a few months, but I can’t help but feel guilty. Maybe I’m overcompensating, but I know if he was moving away for college, I’d be extra sensitive about him drooling over some hot new chick.

As I plant a kiss on his lips, Emily interrupts.

“Hey, what’s up with you? It’s finally payback for Ms. Guess. Do you seriously not find him attractive?”

I shrug. “I don’t know. I guess so. For an older guy.”

“You are crazy,” Avery says. “He’s gotta be in his twenties.”

“I wouldn’t care if he was in his thirties,” Emily deadpans.

Avery giggles. “He doesn’t wear a ring.”

Derek smirks. “Girls. They look for a ring, while guys never even make it to a girl’s finger.” The guys all laugh, and I quickly change the subject.

“So, have you heard anything from USC yet?” I ask Emily.

She sighs. “Not yet.”

After Derek got his scholarship, Emily and I rushed our applications in, so we could all go together. I just got my acceptance letter last week, so I’m anxious to see if our dream will become reality.

“You’re bound to hear something soon,” I assure her.

“I know. I just hope it’s good news.”

THE LACK OF sleep and caffeine hits me hard by the end of the day. I make my way down the hallway and slump down on the wooden bench next to the gym, where the four of us always meet after school. Tommy’s late. I rest my head against the wall and close my eyes. Emily and Derek have already left and the halls are beginning to thin. Just as I’m drifting off, Tommy rushes me from the side and lifts me up over his shoulder. I scream as he twirls me around, laughing.

I squeal. “Let me go!”

He sets me back down, and I hold onto his arms for balance as I wait for the room to stop spinning. I brush my ponytail out of my face and catch Mr. Slate’s eyes as he strides past us. My stomach drops, and I watch him walk outside to the parking lot, then quickly turn my attention back to Tommy and try to smile.

“You okay?” Tommy laughs. “You look like you’re about to puke.”

“I’m good . . . y-you just caught me off guard,” I stammer.

Something has definitely caught me off guard. No lie there.

He pokes me in the ribs and gives me a quick peck on the lips. “I’m late for practice, I’ll call you later.”

I TRY TO calm my mind as I slide into my car. I don’t feel like myself today and can’t wait to get home. As I pull out of the student lot and onto the street, Mr. Slate appears in my mind. I blast the stereo in a vain attempt to drown out my thoughts. I don’t want to be thinking about him and analyzing every detail of first period. It makes me feel like a young, foolish girl, and I’m embarrassed that I can’t control the way my body reacts every time his eyes meet mine.

Once I’m home, I trudge upstairs to my bedroom and work through all of my homework—even some extra credit. I could really use a nap, but there’s a sudden need inside me to stay busy. I don’t come downstairs when either of my parents come home. Instead, I work straight through until my dad calls me down for dinner.