SEALED WITH A RED SATIN RIBBON
I scuttled through the door just as the bell rang, staring around the lab for an empty seat. My eyes latched onto a vacant stool in the corner, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Last year, I'd been stuck in a lab with too many people and not enough stools, and had spent numerous class periods either standing, or sitting on the counter that ran along the back wall. At least there was a seat for me today.
I began to head over, but froze when I noticed who was sitting opposite the empty stool. Brian was smiling at me calmly, already knowing he'd won. Unless I wanted to sit on the floor, or out in the hall, my lab partner for the day had already been decided for me.
That's what you get for trying to apply Raunchy Red lipstick in a crowded bathroom between classes, I scolded myself, gingerly sliding onto the cold metal.
"Hi, Maggie," he said cheerfully.
I waited for him to hand me another card or box of chocolates, but he surprised me by doing absolutely nothing. He just sat there and stared at me.
"How was lunch?" he ventured with a sheepish smile. "Learn anything useful?"
I recalled a sex position with a picture that looked incredibly painful, and winced. "Nope."
"Too bad. You know, my sister makes me read Cosmo. She thinks it'll help me get girls, or something. I think she's just embarrassed to go to a school where her incredibly handsome and very single older brother is known as a great swimmer, but can't seem to catch a fish. I keep trying to reel you in, but you just don't fall for the bait. Why is that, do you suppose?"
I stared at him blankly.
"That was a metaphor," Brian explained slowly, as if he were speaking to someone with a disability. "One uses them to make something complex more relatable. I chose the topic of fishing, and other water-related things to-"
"I know what a metaphor is."
There was a loud "Ahem," from the front of the class, and both our heads snapped in Mr. Weatherly's direction. He was leaning against the chalkboard, arms folded across his chest, glaring at us over the rims of his very purple glasses, one eyebrow raised delicately.
"Mister Deacon, Miss Beckett, are you through? I'd like to continue teaching. If that's all right with you," he added sarcastically.
My cheeks burned a shade brighter than my newly glossed lips, and I nodded. Across from me, I could see Brian trying to contain a grin.
"By all means, sir. Please, continue."
"Hmph." The old man grunted, muttering something under his breath that sounded a lot like a string of profanities. The rest of the class was giggling, talking in low voices as he droned on and on about the complexities of force versus the pull of gravity. I would've felt bad about not paying attention if everyone else hadn't been so caught up in their own conversations or doodles. I was trying, but physics had never been my thing. Math and numbers meant certain death for someone like me, so I resigned myself to taking copious notes that I knew I wouldn't understand when I looked back on them later.
Brian was making an extraordinary effort not to look over at me, his eyes now glued to the teacher. I caught his lips twitch a few times, but he was also taking notes and making an effort to seem interested. He was the only person who even bothered to raise their hand when Mr. Weatherly asked for our opinions. But even with Brian's hand raised, he called on me.
Needless to say, I didn't know the answer, and shot Brian an evil look over the edge of my folder, angrily shoving a bright red curl behind one ear.
When class was over, I ignored his offer to carry my books, and hurried off towards my locker. Gretchen was already there, her nose once again buried in an issue of Cosmopolitan.
"Did you know," she asked as I approached, "that people have sex an average of 127 times a year?"
I rolled my eyes, but couldn't contain the smile that inevitably followed. "You really need to stop reading about that stuff. Or, at least, stop quoting it really loudly in the hallway. People might think you're crazy."
"Whatever. Like I said, someday this is all going to be very useful, and you'll thank me."
From down the hall, I could see Brian rummaging through his locker, and quickly averted my eyes when I saw red. If it was another Valentine's Day gift, I needed to hurry up and flee.
"Okay, done," I announced, slamming my locker shut and holding up my copy of As I Lay Dying. "Let's go."
But Gretchen was staring at me in confusion. "What do you need that for? We're reading Moby Dick."
You had to love how clueless she could be sometimes. We linked arms as we headed for the parking lot.
"No, we just finished it. We're supposed to start As I Lay Dying for tomorrow."
"What?" Gretchen exclaimed, eyes wide. "I haven't even started the other book yet! God, why have you forsaken me?"
I chuckled as I pulled out my car keys. "Don't worry about it, you didn't miss much. Moby Dick was terrible. I think I skipped half of it and still knew exactly what was going on. Just Sparknote it."
Gretchen seemed unconvinced. She may have been the queen of procrastination, but she usually got everything done. And she didn't take shortcuts, either. Me, I could afford to be lazy sometimes.
We were just about to climb into the car when someone called my name from across the parking lot. Brian was jogging towards us, something tiny and red clutched in his hand.
"Hurry up and get in," I muttered, already shoving the key into the ignition.
But Gretchen just stood next to the car, leaning against it and waving at Brian as he drew closer still.
"I will leave without you," I warned.
"Oh, shut up," she said lightly. "Hey, Brian."
"Brian," I muttered, inclining my head. "We're kind of in a hurry, so…"
He'd just been staring at me, but snapped out of it when I tapped the horn for emphasis. "Right. Sorry. Here you go." He handed us both a tiny red envelope.
"So now you're trying to ask my friends out, too?" I asked, turning the envelope over in my hands. On the front, my name was written in his mom's gorgeous penmanship, just as it was on every card he had given me. I really felt sorry for the woman.
Brian chuckled. "Nope, sorry. They're just invitations. I'm having a huge party on Friday in honor of Valentine's Day, and was hoping you'd both be able to make it."
"I'm busy," I said automatically.
"We'll be there," Gretchen promised concurrently.
Clearly, Brian liked her response better, and grinned. "Great! Can't wait. It'll be pretty casual, but you have to be wearing pink or red to get in the door."
It was themed? How pathetic.
"Anyway, I'll let you guys go. See you tomorrow!"
As he headed back towards his car, Gretchen finally slid into the passenger's seat, eagerly tearing open the envelope and extracting a tasteful white invitation, a red ribbon securing the opening.
"His mom totally picked those out," I observed, carefully backing out of my space. "No guy in his right mind would send out invitations with ribbon."
"They're really nice," Gretchen announced, fawning over the satin ribbon and flowing cursive detailing place and time. "I saw some wedding invitations at the mall last week that looked a lot like these and almost bought them."
"I didn't know you were engaged," I teased, pulling out onto the main road.
She stuck her tongue out at me and grinned. "One can never be too prepared." She ran a hand through her long black hair and sighed dreamily. "Someday, Maggie. Someday."
With a snort, I reached across the seat and punched her lightly. "You're out of your mind," I laughed.
"And you're out of your mind if you think you're missing that party," she retorted, massaging her shoulder. "You're going, and I won't take no for an answer."
I sighed. "Is there any point in arguing?"
"I figured as much," I grumbled, pulling up in front of Gretchen's house.
"Call me later, okay? You're going to have to talk me through Moby Dick."
"Will do," I saluted. "See ya."
As I drove home, I glanced over at the empty passenger's seat, my unopened invitation staring innocently up at me. Now, besides putting up with Brian's gifts all week, I'd have to hang out at his house on Valentine's Day. Even if half our class was going to be there, I'm sure he'd find a way to hang around me all night. He'd probably do some schmoozing, fetch me drinks and make my friends laugh, but I'd still be miserable. Why my personal stalker had to be the star of our swim team and loved by nearly everyone in school, I had no idea.
This Valentine's Day was going to be a disaster. I just knew it.