I waited impatiently at the red light, my fingers tapping on my elbows in nervous anger. I was filled with a jittery sort of adrenaline, making my movements jerky and unschooled. The walk signal was taking its sweet time to appear. The sound of thundering steps heading in my direction assaulted my ears. The words left my mouth both soft but deadly punctuated before the person had even fully arrived at my location. "Leave. Me. Alone."
"Shelby, wait," Bryce's deeper voice reached my ears as the sound of footfalls ceased. "Don't be like that."
"Don't be like that?" The strong urge to slap him hit me hard. I reined in my anger, controlling it and directing it. The blood drained from my face as I turned to fix him with a glare. My face was confronted by his tight black tee-shirt that accentuated his toning and I had to tilt my chin upward to send the full force of my anger to his eyes. "Then what should I be like, Bryce? I can't believe you! Did you all come up with this stupid joke just to humiliate me?!"
"No!" A look of shock entered his eyes. "I was just trying to stick it to Anderson for failing me in Gym last year!"
"Oh?!" I returned in icy vehemence, the words flooding from my mouth of their own accord. "And that's why the peanut gallery was laughing at me the whole time and calling me things like massive? Don't think for one moment that I don't know what you've called me since middle school. Flub."
The last word I spoke with fire in my eyes.
His tanned complexion paled considerably, and I could see his throat move convulsively as he swallowed. His eyes looked almost pleading. "We were kids, Shelby! I haven't called you that in forever! I…I—I'm sorry."
My stomach roiled. Apology or not, the adrenaline was still shooting through my veins, and the resentments that came with it. But the fight in me wasn't as strong.
The walk signal beeped resoundingly behind me. I turned to leave, but hands shot out and took hold of my shoulders—not harshly, but firmly.
"Look," he said, staring directly into my eyes, not blinking. "I know my friends can be dicks sometimes. But they're not trying to hurt you—they're just immature asses."
I took a deep breath, the sigh escaping my lungs as my stomach deflated slowly. Most of the anger had seeped away, and all I was left with was a grudging exhaustion and an oppressive heaviness. The sun beat down on me uncomfortably, sweat pooling under my armpits and hips.
"Just let me go, Bryce," I muttered. "I want to go home."
"Like this?" His eyebrows rose as he stared down at me incredulously, but his hands dropped at my request. I had totally forgotten about my outfit in my fit of anger. "Shelby, your clothes are in my truck."
A wideset middle-aged lady was passing at that moment. She looked somewhat familiar. But in a town this size, almost everybody was familiar. Her eyebrows rose into her hair as she caught hold of the last part of the conversation. My cheeks turned pink as her eyes darted to my face. She was taking the words completely out of context. The lady continued on, mumbling and grunting to herself. Her figure retreated, head shaking.
"I—" I began, backing up to the curb. "I just want to go."
I nearly stepped out into the street, not realizing that the walk signal had long since passed and the light had returned to red. A car blared loudly at my back as it passed swiftly and turned. My heart jumped into my throat momentarily with the sudden barrage of noise. Curses flew at me through an open window. "Dammit! Watch where you're going!"
A hand reached out to steady me, and I realized almost belatedly that it was Bryce's.
"You're still in costume," Bryce continued, regarding me with his dark and serious eyes. He waved his hands in explanation. "Don't you think people are going to ask questions if you go walking around like this?"
I took a deep breath and glanced at my figure in a store window. My massive self returned my gaze almost mockingly. My cheeks tinged red in response. I could just imagine the comments I would receive if I walked the full twenty minutes to my house. The idea wasn't very welcoming. Even worse with all these weights strapped to me. Bryce had a point.
"Just get in the truck, Shelby," Bryce urged. "I'll drive you."
"Okay," I conceded somewhat grudgingly.
He looped an arm around my shoulders and started pulling be back in the direction from which I had come. I was all too aware of that extra weight upon my shoulders, unsure of how to respond. I couldn't decide if the gesture was welcome or if I'd prefer if he dropped it. After a momentary mental struggle with my lingering feelings of hurt and resentment, I decided inaction was the best response and continued to the truck by his side. A part of me felt almost comforted.
As we returned, I was confronted by three pairs of curious eyes from the truck bed. The beautiful girl named Abby was the only one who hadn't jumped into the back of the truck. She leaned against the passenger door as if barring my entry. Her fingers brushed the clear olive skin of her leg just a few inches below where her miniskirt fell. She was just as tall and beautiful as both Bridget and Marina. She had a gorgeously perfect heart-shaped face and eyes that looked so innocent and naughty at the same time and full lips. I couldn't help but feel lacking in comparison.
Bryce's arm dropped and he stepped toward her. "Jump in back, Abby. We need to get going. My mom needs the truck to go to work."
"I want shotgun," she pouted, lifting her fingers to trail along Bryce's arm. "Why can't flu—Shelby go in the back with the guys?"
My eyes were automatically drawn to where her fingers touched Bryce's tanned arm almost missing the fact that she had nearly called me flub in the process. Something unsettling twisted in my stomach and I couldn't decide if it was due to the unsavory nickname or the way she was touching him.
"In those weights?" Bryce scoffed. "How do you think she's going to jump in back? Get in the truck bed, Abby."
Abby groaned disappointedly and turned, climbing up the truck wheel slowly, her skirt riding up slightly as she did so. It almost seemed as though she did it purposefully, each movement so precise. She disappeared into the back of the vehicle.
Bryce opened the door, pulling it back in a wide arc and gesturing for me to enter. He smiled briefly. I moved forward heavily under the weight of the bodysuit, wondering what this girl meant to Bryce. Was she a girlfriend? Or a wannabe?
Why do I care? I thought pointedly.
My emphatic return was, I don't. I'm not jealous. I'm not.
A pair of firm hands gripped my waist as I attempted to pull myself up into the truck. His arms helped to guide my clumsy movement as I swung heavily into my seat. A shiver slid down my spine, followed by a small wake of tingles radiating from the pressure of his fingers. I attempted to suppress any outward display of the inner sensations currently stirring through my body.
The door shut firmly behind me. Bryce ran around the vehicle and hopped inside. Bodies thumped as the truck backed up in a wide arc and we flew back in the direction that we'd come.
Bryce's fingers tapped against the wheel impatiently and he took a quick glance at the watch on his wrist. He mumbled under his breath. "Shit."
I fully expected him to come to a stop at the gas station, but he passed it rapidly. I bit my lip on a frown. "Why didn't we stop?"
"My mom," He returned with a worried look. "She needs to be at work in about 40 minutes. It will take at least 30 to drive to the reserve and back."
"And what about—" I was waving down at the bodysuit when I was cut off as the car jumped the curve into the grade 12 parking lot instead of taking the round about route. It effectively cut an extra minute off our route.
"Out, everyone! Unless you wanna get marooned at my house!" Bryce called through the open window.
Several audible thumps replied as the teenagers landed deftly on the asphalt and moved toward their respective cars, waving briefly. Damien's face bobbed in front of the driver's window for a moment. "Chill at my place tonight. The 'rents are out."
Bryce nodded. "After nine. I need to watch Lindy."
They slapped hands as the other cars peeled out of the lot and Damien left to enter his own vehicle.
I moved to get out of the car with a frustrated sigh. The whole detour had been for nothing. I would be walking home in a weighted suit if I wasn't able to locate a bathroom along the way. Somehow, I was going to find a bathroom. I was determined. If I showed up at home like this, there would be more uncomfortable questions than I was willing to answer.
A warm hand covered mine. "Wait. Shelby. I might just barely have enough time to drive you home."
"So I can show my mom my new fashion?" The sarcastic quip was out of my mouth before I could stop myself. My face colored as I shook my head determinedly. "No. No way in hell."
Bryce gritted his teeth, the flash of annoyance was evident in his eyes. "You think I'm letting you walk all the way home in that suit? Saah! No way in hell you'd make it!"
His words slid off me with little effect. The images of my ultimate embarrassment running through my head as I imagined the look in my mother's eyes. My hand reached for the handle once again. The car revved into movement, swinging backward in a wide arc.
"Wait!" I squealed.
"38 minutes, Shelby!" He tapped his watch and then swerved onto Mainstreet, moving up the hill in the direction of my house. His expression looked almost apologetic before he fixed his eyes firmly on the road. "This job means a lot to my mom."
I looked about in frustration and desperation. No way was I stepping out of the car at my home. The questions would be bad enough if some guy was dropping me off at the house, but then to emerge in this…this monstrosity of a bodysuit? Even if I have to lock myself in his car and return to the reserve with him, I thought with determined resolve. It was better than returning home in this state!
My eyes roved the floor grimly until they landed on an old towel that was bundled up and discarded near the gearshift. An idea occurred to me—it was brash and crazy, but at that moment, it seemed better than the alternative. My body leaned outward as I reached to grab the towel. My body swayed precariously with the extra weight, and I fell clumsily, my elbow jarring him in the leg.
Bryce started, the car jolting roughly all of a sudden. With a quick, deft movement, he aligned the vehicle. "What are you doing?" He demanded. "My baby!"
My cheeks flamed and then reality set it. It took me a moment to realize that he was referring to his car, not me. I muttered, "Sorry."
I righted myself awkwardly, pulling the towel with me. My abdominal muscles groaned with the movement. My entire body was a sloppy mess of sweat by this point. Wet trickles slid from my forehead to land in the corner of my eye. I blinked, bracing myself and moving into a kneeling position.
The window slid downward an inch as I twisted the manual knob. Setting the towel across the length of the opening, I lifted the glass to wedge it in place.
"Shel," Bryce continued in a bewildered voice. "What are you doing? You right blocked my view of the mirror!"
"Then don't make any righthand turns," I shot back tersely, my eyes roving in hopes to locate another towel for the sake of privacy. There was only an old mug in the cupholder and a few knickknacks skittering around on the dash. Damn. As an afterthought, I added. "And don't look over here for the next couple of minutes."
Bryce seemed preoccupied with the coming intersection, leaning forward in an attempt to see oncoming cars from the righthand side. Rummaging through the gym bag, I brought out my street clothes. The discrete method of placing one shirt over top of the other and sliding the old shirt through the neck hole wasn't going to work with all these weights.
With a sigh of abandon, I peeled off the sweaty shirt and tossed it into the gym bag. It was necessary to stand in order to begin to extricate the bodysuit. It didn't come off as easily as I had hoped for. As I was struggling with it, I could imagine my mother's voice running through my head. 'Shelby, you changed in a guys car?! Right in the view of oncoming traffic? What has gotten into you?'
Shut up! I mentally chased the image away on a heated thought. My cheeks colored. This had to be my most embarrassing moment in a long time. I, Shelby Ferris, just did not do stuff like this. Thankfully, almost no one was here to view my shattered reputation. Except Bryce, that is—and the odd passerby. I only hoped Bryce would let me live this down.
The bodysuit came off and landed heavily on my foot. I yelped, bouncing backward and fell heavily into the seat as the truck surged forward.
"Shelby, what the hell?" His answer was almost explosive as his head shot around to view me. "You'll get us in an accident!"
"Bryce!" I screeched, crossing my arms self-consciously across my chest and bra. My mind kept dropping to the conspicuous roll on my lower stomach. "No peeking!"
Bryce's head shot back to the road. I could have sworn that he was picking up a pretty red complexion under his tan. But that was very unBryce-like.
"You could have warned me!" He coughed. "Never mind us getting into an accident! Every damn guy on this street is going to end up in one huge collision!"
With a quick yank, my shirt was on. At least my little roll was now out of sight. It was the bane of my existence and it refused to go away, diet or no. Unfortunately, Bryce had already gotten a view of good old Mr. Roll. God, you're naming your fat now? I rolled my eyes to no one in particular. It was a good thing that Bryce couldn't read my thoughts right now. It was a good thing that no one could read my thoughts. Those things were private, baby!
I half stood, dumping the sweatpants to the floor and accidentally banging my head on the roof. Off balance, I fell back to the seat with an "Umph."
This time, Bryce kept his gaze firmly planted away from me.
I tried to stuff my jeans on quickly, but my bulky shoes got in the way. Kicking them off quickly, I pulled myself into the stiff material and did the button on my waist. I grumbled, as I slipped my feet back into my shoes. "What part of don't look this way wasn't a warning for you?"
"Shelby," he deadpanned, his gaze firmly planted on the upcoming mini intersection. His throat moved in a convulsive swallow. We were now passing residential neighbourhoods, the homes flying by in a blur. "What do you automatically do when someone tells you not to look?"
"I look," the reply leaves my lips grudgingly.
He just shook his head disbelievingly and then he laughed. His dark eyes were alight with amusement. "Shelby Ferris, president of all clubs and afterschool activities, flashing oncoming traffic in my truck."
I glowered, the gravity of the situation hitting me. A bright red flush began to encompass my body.
"Hey," he spoke as if it were some consolation. The typical Bryce smirk rose up his cheeks—the one that I remember seeing at school when his disconcerting humor kicked in, but it had never been directed at me before. "It doesn't hurt my reputation any."
I glowered at him in fury. With one swift movement, I punched him in the shoulder. The car swerved slightly with my action.
"Hey!" He protested. "Driving here!"
"This is your fault!" My voice rose in accusation as I glared at him.
Bryce's shoulders stiffened immediately. He guided the truck up to park in front of my house with jerky movements. Then, he turned his icy gaze to regard me. "Really? So I forced you to get naked and flash yourself to oncoming traffic? So, you're going to call the police on me now and charge me with sexual harassment?"
There was a hard edge to his voice, as if he was reliving some bad memories.
"No!" I shot back at the accusation. "You're to blame for not letting me out of the truck so I could walk!"
"That's right," he returned darkly. His tone was lace with heavy sarcasm. "I should have left you to walk the half hour home in a weighted body suit until you collapsed. What a gentleman of me!"
I sighed and reached for the door handle.
Bryce blew the air out the side of his cheek, appearing to have deflated. "Shelby," he spoke hesitantly, regarding me with a calmer look. "About the scheme on Anderson…"
I paused. "What?"
"You are going to return, aren't you? For the final weigh in?" He queried, his voice soft and contemplative.
"I don't want to," I returned, squirming uncomfortably at the thought.
"What?!" His answer was almost explosive, the hard edge returning to his eyes once more.
Frustration built in me, growing with the memory of all of today's events. "You know what?" I snapped. "No. No, I won't."
I wrenched the door open and began stalking across the lawn toward the house. I was hyper aware of the bright red flush growing across my whole upper body. The heat of my mortification and anger was intense.
"Shelby!" His voice shot out toward my receding back.
I held my back to him, refusing to tur and acknowledge his gaze.
The sound of an ignition hit my ears, and then the truck left, bumping over the curb with a resounding thump. He sped away.
Never was the next time I wanted to confront Bryce again. I just wanted to go die now and never talk to him again. Well, not literally…but figuratively—about the dying part, that is. As for seeing him again? That was literal.
On the porch, I paused. With several deep breaths I managed to bring myself back to a relative calm before entering the house.
The screen door creaked as I pulled it open. The main door stood in a gaping position. On hot days like this, my parents left it open to help aerate the house. We still hadn't gotten around to installing an air conditioning unit. But we really could have used it at this moment with the blistering hot September air so uncharacteristic of this time of year.
Evening was coming, and the cool and blissful air would come with it. Thank god I didn't have to walk home in that bodysuit, I thought somewhat grudgingly. It would have been pure torture. My semi-meditative state had helped to cool down my embarrassment, but I imagined the next time I saw Bryce, it would return in full force. Well, I would just have to avoid him then.
"That you, hon?" My mom called as I peeled off my hot and sticky shoes.
"Yeah, it's me," I returned, glancing up to see my mother sitting daintily on the couch, dressed to perfection and her hair curled meticulously. Her eyes fixed in concentration as she slid the small brush down her pinky. Bright red deposited there in a smooth stroke.
"Is dad home yet?" I added, hanging my backpack in the closet.
"No," She returned. "He's at the office. He's got to watch that employee for a couple weeks to gauge her character—make sure she doesn't steal anything. I told him he shouldn't have hired her. It's not worth the hassle. But he felt bad; she seemed desperate."
I came into the room, plopping on the couch kitty corner to my mom. "What was her name again?"
My mom frowned in concentration, sliding the brush down her fingernail again. She squinted her eyes as though she was trying to drudge up a well-buried memory. "Edith? I think her name was Edith Good Striker."
I paused contemplatively. Did she have any relation to Bryce? My cheeks heated in remembrance all over again. Crap. Thankfully, my mom was still staring intently at her fingers, not looking at me.
"Why don't you ever let me paint your nails?" She sighed. "It would look so cute and feminine."
I wrinkled my nose. "The stuff smells like toxic piss."
"Don't say that word. It makes you sound unclassy," My mom instructed and added. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think you were perpetually pregnant with your smell issues."
"Don't say what? Pi—" I began, changing course. "Eww, mom! Did you seriously just say that?!"
"Yes, piss," She returned, practically having to spit the word out because it was so unlike her to utter the word. "I didn't raise my daughter to talk about excrements from the body in civilized conversation. Have more class."
I rolled my eyes. "Mom, that's so eighteenth century!"
She glanced up from her nails to eye me seriously. "Okay then," She returned. "So tell me: would you walk up to your teacher and say, 'Mr. Humphries! I love your shirt! It looks cat piss yellow?'"
My eyes boggled at her as my mouth dropped. "Of course not!"
"Point made," She returned. "Act like everyone around you in life is a teacher or employer and you need to be on your best behaviour. These days with all this social media junk, everything you do gets passed through your peers at lightning speed. Image is important."
I only leaned back against the couch and sighed. If she only knew what I had just been doing a half-hour ago, she would have been livid. Well, I wasn't going to be the one informing her.
"Speaking of gossip," She added, glancing down at her nails again. "Mrs. Lodermeier called me up today. The poor lady is losing her mind. She said she passed you on main street today with some reserve boy talking about the clothes you left in his car after a supposed make out session. And she said you'd gained about fifty pounds."
I snorted explosively, my hand clapping over my mouth as it turned into a cough. My eyes watered. Slowly regaining my composure, I spoke in almost a squeak. "The crazy things people say, hey?"
My mother nodded, going on to the next nail. "I know! I told her that she was seeing things because my daughter's in the best shape of her life. And because you don't socialize with people like that."
I bit my lip and didn't respond. Oh, but I do, mother…but I do.
Just Wanted the say thanks to Guest For your fantastic review!
To anyone who reads, please review. I love getting your reviews!
Just so you all are aware, I replaced the original Chapter 13 because I wasn't happy with how it turned out. I wanted to change the outcome slightly and the actions of the characters. Hopefully, you like it. Let me know what you think!