Gossip, Set and Match by Koosie
Chapter 1 - Gossip Gold

Not sure how to win over the perfect girl or guy for you? Let Fairy Gossipmonger get the information to make your happily ever after come true.

Email FairyGossipmonger{at}mail{dot}com with your crush's name to have Fairy Gossipmonger help grant your wish.

"Welcome to the Whirl, what can I whirl up for you today?" The words automatically spilled out of me followed by a bright smile at the jingle at the door. As a server at the popular smoothie shop, the Whirl, it had to be the millionth time I've recited the greeting so it was no surprise that it had become a reflex. From the corner of my eye I could see Ben's eye roll, which only made my smile grow even wider. No one bothers with the "protocol" greeting anymore, but it was worth the annoyance it tended to elicit out of Ben.

"Hey Mackie!" Allie Finch exclaimed as she and Radi Park approached the counter where I stood. They were only two of the many South Creek High students who had packed the tiny shop after a long week of classes. There was no other place where you could find a higher concentration of South Creekers outside of school hours than at the Whirl, and I had the most coveted job in town. Granted, the job opening never existed until I begged the store owner, Mr. Matthews, to let me work here, but still.

"Hey girls," I responded adjusting my oversized apron. It was all that was available when Mr. Matthews relented to giving me a job and after over half a year, it didn't seem like I was getting a better fitting one anytime soon. "Celebrating the survival of Mr. Turner's let's-see-how-much-you've-forgotten-over-winter-break-so-I-can-fail-you pop quiz?" Our biology teacher took great pleasure in springing a ridiculous test on us barely a week into the new semester. How anyone is expected to remember the difference between mitosis and meiosis after two weeks of holiday festivities is beyond me. I could still feel the remnant tingling from the mind numbing test.

"More like we need to drink our sorrows away after that test," Radi groaned as she threw the weight of her upper body onto the bubble gum pink counter.

"Well, I'm glad I'm not the only one that feels that way," I laughed. Perhaps my hopes for a huge curve weren't too farfetched.

"The way the whole class trudged out of the room after the test, I doubt anyone doesn't feel this way." Allie added, not taking her eyes off the menu that hung above my head. "I'll take a large chocolate peanut butter shake."

"Make that two," Radi interjected holding up two fingers.

"Okay, give me a few minutes," I informed the girls as I set off to pile all the ingredients for the shakes into the blenders. Turned away from Allie and Radi, as I watch the hypnotizing swirling of the thick liquid, I smiled as I picked up threads of girl's conversation while they waited for their drinks.

"Oh, my God, Rads. You will not guess who I ran into this afternoon. VITOR! The guy comes back from Brazil SO TAN. You never told me."

"What was there to say? I mean, he spends all second period stealing glances towards Julie Robinson."

"And you only know that because you spend all of second period staring at him."

"Shut up."

"Julie Robinson, huh? You sure about that?"

The Whirl was a hot spot for gossip. It was a phenomenon that didn't take me long to pick up on. It was as if the constant noise from the blenders gave people the impression that their conversations could not be overheard no matter how loudly they spoke. Or perhaps being here for so long, I have become desensitized to the drone of the blenders. Either way, I could hear everything. Within those few minutes that it took to blend a drink, I could pick up vital pieces of information, from new crushes to the most recent breakups, or in Allie and Radi case, the 411 on the cute foreign exchange student from Brazil.

It was leaning on this very counter that Fairy Gossipmonger was born. Over the grinding of frozen strawberries and bananas, I overheard Kristen Newman lamenting over how life would be so much easier if she knew whether her crush John Cook actually liked her back. Which totally got me thinking: what if someone could find out if crushes were reciprocated and save all the tedious "so you really think he likes me?" guesswork that was high school dating? And what if that someone was me? There was no turning back once that little thought drifted through my head.

So for two weeks I went into snooping mode. To this day, I'm not sure if John was ever aware of the way that I had planted myself at the next table over every day at lunch to eavesdrop on his conversations, but it got Kristen her answer and allowed me to make my first match using my new anonymous email account: FairyGossipmonger{at}mail{dot}com.

But I really couldn't just stop there. Especially after all the time I spent wracking my brain for just the right name for my alter ego. In my head, I had already concocted the string of adventures I would have as South Creek's matchmaker extraordinaire. So all it really took was the strategic placement of an ad proposal in the school newsroom. Once it caught the eye of the school editor, Nicci Shultz, I knew she couldn't help but put it into the paper. Along with the help of Kristen's vocal gushings of how Fairy Gossipmonger helped her, my secret identity went public and help requests came flooding into my inbox for me to try and fulfill. And perhaps I had one more I could fulfill if Allie and Radi's assumptions of where Vitor's affections lie were true.

Reluctantly shutting off the blender—I still wanted to hear more of the two girl's theories of why Vitor seemed more interested in Julie than either the two of them—I slopped its contents into two tall foam cups. Slapping a lid on each, I placed the large cups on the counter with a clunk, halting any further gossiping between the two friends. "Here you go! Two extra large peanut butter milkshakes."

"Thanks, Mackie. Are you going to Nicci's party tonight?" Radi asked fumbling with the wrapper of her straw.

"I hear it's going to be good. Nicci just got a new sound system installed," Olivia Handers, who further down the long, pink counter was also waiting for her drink, interjected. Ask anyone. No one knew how to throw a party like Nicci did. As the overzealous head editor of South Creek Express, Nicci not only loved to capture all the best stories of the school, but also loved to have a hand in making them. So only days after her New Year's Eve Soiree, she was already attempting to top herself with this Back-to-School Bash. I have no idea why anyone would want to celebrate the return to books, bells and boredom—especially when I had to reluctantly return from warm, lazy days in Palm Beach, Florida at my best friend Maddie's huge beach house—but I was never one to miss a party.

Even more so than the Whirl, parties were an information goldmine. All the best gossip was saved to be spread around at parties like these, and secret glances, hushed whispers and flushing pink cheeks were always plentiful to reveal hidden crushes. Everyone was more apt to let their guards down during these get-togethers. How could I not capitalize on that? Plus, the party was the perfect place for me to verify Seth Blume's feelings for Amanda Lonn as well as check out Allie and Rady's theory about Vitor and Julie.

"I get off work at nine, so I'll probably stop by after that," I replied.

"Then see you tonight!" Radi called out as the two girls walked out of the shop, the door's bell jingling after them.

"So I expect you're going too, Olivia," I deduced, leaning on the counter towards where she was standing.

"Of course, I love parties, and I'm dragging Alex with me. He spends too much time cooped up with those massive science textbooks." Olivia rolled her bright blue eyes as if annoyed, but it was clear how much pride Olivia held for her genius boyfriend. Being part of the school's science bowl team, Alex usually had at least one science book surgically joined to his arm. Considering the bulkiness of the books, it's a mystery how he is still so scrawny and remained so far off Olivia's radar until sweet fate decided to pair the two up for a literature project a few months back. It didn't take long before I was getting emails from Olivia about bonding with Alex over shared frustrations towards the morbid poems of Sylvia Plath. So all was needed from me were a few suggestive emails to both parties and they have been inseparable ever since—or, well, as inseparable as a social butterfly and a studious recluse can be. I loved it when reality proved yet again that opposites do attract.

"Well, good luck convincing him." Olivia was going to have to deal with an earful of protests to get Alex to accompany her tonight.

"Don't worry. I'll get him to go, you'll see." Taking two cups from Ben, Olivia waved goodbye and pushed out of the shop.

"Well, aren't you ever 'Little Miss Popular,'" Ben ribbed, taking advantage of the rare moment that all the blenders were off. Being a college student at the local university, Ben never seemed to understand how I could personally know so many of the customers.

"You make that sound like a bad thing." I scrunched my nose at him. The fact that I knew the majority of South Creekers by name was a source of pride, but that was not something I would ever admit to Ben. I really didn't need Ben thinking I was more of a weirdo than he already did.

Ben laughed, his dirty blond hair tousling at the slight shake of his head. "No, I'm just amazed." It was moments like this, when Ben's eyes sparked like polished emeralds with mirth that I can remember how I could have been so enamored by him. As Mr. Matthew's son, Ben was a fixture at the Whirl. I didn't doubt that he was a major reason the shop was so popular among the high school female crowd. I should know. Moments after the bright colors caught my eye the first time I came to the Whirl, I set my eyes on something even more attractive. Through the eyes of a fourteen-year-old, Ben Matthews was like Adonis. Day after day, Maddie and I would sit at the corner booth with our shakes quietly brainstorming ways to get Ben's attention or dreamily talking about what it would be like to have him as our boyfriend.

To be honest, though, thinking back to those days made my stomach churn. It was embarrassing how shamelessly we ogled. And now knowing just how easily conversations could be overheard in the small shop, I don't even want to how much of our conversations Ben picked up from our favorite booth over the years. But Ben never showed any indication he knew the extent of my crush on him. Either he's the most considerate guy in the world, or really just that clueless. I never could decide which I preferred.

"You probably know as many people as I do working here for so long," I countered.

"Sure, but not like you. Sometimes I feel like you could tell the life story of anyone who walks in here." I could only manage to shrug at his comment. Ben had no idea how close he was to the truth, at least when it came to their love lives.


My feet couldn't help but walk to the rhythm of the pounding bass emanating from the blindingly bright house up ahead. The sidewalk was covered in fresh snow from the flurries that fell earlier, and the cold January air revealed each breath I took, causing me to momentarily wish I had given in to taking the scarf my mom had waved in front of me as I raced out of the door minutes after returning from work.

I was still five houses down from the intimidating Shultz mansion, but judging by what I could hear, the party was already bumping along at full force. Perfect. I had my fairy wings on and monger ears ready to flutter around and pick up pieces of gossip gold.

Managing to weave through the pileup of cars at the driveway, I nudged the large door that stood slightly ajar and slipped into the house. The blaring music immediately erupted in my ears, making the echoes from outside sound like whispers in comparison. Warm, animated partygoers filled the front room, clashing with the usual elegance the Shultz mansion typically exuded. Instead of water coming out of the miniature fountain that stood majestically a few yards from the front door, it seemed to be spouting out random articles of winter wear that were haphazardly draped around it. It amazed me how Mr. and Mrs. Shultz could allow so many parties in their beautiful house, but they probably were never around often enough to know, and somehow the house never failed to miraculously return to its former state after these events.

Turning the see the state of the coat closet across from the fountain, I couldn't quite blame everyone for just opting to toss their stuff on the fountain. Squishing the hanging coats as flat as possible, I tried to squeeze my coat in with the rest, quickly shutting the door before anything could burst back at me. With my coat taken care of, I turned back towards the crowd, pleased that my entrance registered as barely a blip on anyone's radar. This would make it easy for me to meld into the sea of bodies and eavesdrop to my heart's content.

"Mackie! Don't you look good!"

So much for staying off the radar.

I smiled at the gracious host who appeared at my side before I could get very far into the house. "Not as good as you, Nicci," I responded truthfully. Standing a good four inches taller than me at five-feet-nine, Nicci and her long lean legs perfectly pulled off the indigo bubble dress and shiny silver pumps she had on in a way that I could never. Along with her bright red hair, which was left in waves that fell halfway down her back, it was hard not to feel overshadowed standing next to Nicci. "Great party by the way."

"Just living up to my reputation," Nicci shrugged.

"Well, I'm surprised I've yet to hear any loud crashes and screeches," I jested referring to one of Nicci's other reputations. Drama usually ensued at a Nicci party.

"Ah, the night is young. Isn't that right gentlemen?" Nicci proclaimed, turning to Reese Colton and Drew Ryder who were just wedging by.

"I'm still standing aren't I?" Drew laughed lifting the cup in his hand.

"And you assume yourself a gentleman?" Reese shook his head at his friend.

"I resent that," Drew sniffed, crossing his arms. "I open doors for girls, you know."

"Yeah, to your bedroom," Reese snorted.

As student council president and vice president of South Creek High, there was no better known pair of best friends than Drew and Reese. With his flamboyant yet often charming personality, I would have expected Drew to have been chosen for president. Drew attracted attention wherever he went—especially of the female variety with his boyish good looks of short brown hair and an athletic frame. The mischievous amusement that gleamed in his green eyes was all the indication needed that Drew was nothing short of fun. But, perhaps the Creekers were smart enough to choose Reese instead. Drew definitely needed a friend like Reese to keep him in check. Reese came off as collected and a bit cold, only becoming livelier when in the presence of his best friend.

As I laughed at the exchange between the two friends, both sets of eyes immediately turned towards me as if they just realized I was standing there.

"Hey, Mackie! You know, I've been meaning to tell you. I'm hurt that you left out the most important event of winter break from your holiday highlights." Drew added a ridiculous pout as if to further emphasize his so-called pain.

"Sorry, Drew. If you mean your break-up with Sarah, yeah, it just didn't quite make the cut. I write feel good pieces, remember?" I was in charge of the 'South Creek's Spotlight' column in the school newspaper, which featured inspiring (or, at the very least, positive) stories of South Creek High. The latest article highlighted some of the different things Creekers were doing to make a difference during the holidays.

"I do believe that me being back on the prowl would be considered a feel-good piece of news for many girls. And perhaps some guys. I don't discriminate."

"You're heartless, Ryder," Nicci interjected. "Hate to break it to you, but I would have gone to town with a fat red marker on your epic piece of news before Mackie even had a chance to write it out." There was not a single ounce of sarcasm in Nicci's voice. The girl did love the power of the red marker.

Drew clutched his heart as if in actual pain. "Agh, I can already feel your red mark of rejection, Nicci," he gasped, leaving Reese and Nicci to roll their eyes as I let out a giggle.

"So, Drew, was there someone specific that you wanted your bit of feel-good news to reach?" I couldn't let an opening to subtly fill my gossip box slip away. Drew's very public break-up with Sarah Jones—I doubted that anyone didn't hear about the split despite it not making it into the South Creek Express—broke the dam of desperate single girls as emails poured in for Fairy Gossipmonger to match them with the popular, and now single, guy. I honestly had no idea what to do with all the requests.

Drew raised an eyebrow and draped an arm across my shoulders. Being immediately aware of the contours of the muscles that line his arm, it wasn't hard to figure out why girls often flocked to the charismatic—and rather buff—guy. "You interested, Carwyn?"

"Hah, you wish." I quickly pulled his arm off my shoulder, treating it as an unwanted invasion. Any longer in contact with Drew and the slight flush I could feel beginning to build at my cheeks would betray my words. "Just thought I would do a good deed for your unsuspecting target."

"By congratulating the lucky girl?" Drew laughed. It was amazing how well Drew was able to manage the ego of his. But anyone who knew him well enough knew it was all just an act. Mostly. "Unfortunately—or fortunately, I'm keeping my options open so you let all the girls know that. Or better yet, I'll go let them know that myself." I could only frown. Nothing drove me crazier than dead ends.

"So shall I also let any interested guys know?" Reese called after the retreating Drew, who sent him a scowl before giving a charming smile to a group of girls he was approaching.

"Reese, you better keep a leash on that one," Nicci declared nodding in the direction of the disappearing Drew.

"That guy is like a twenty four hour job," Reese sighed, but made no move to follow his best friend. Instead he turned his attention back to Nicci and I. "Drinks you two?" he asked, ever the gentleman.

"Being waited on by the handsome Reese Colton in my own house? How did I ever get so lucky?" Nicci feigned a squeal, clasping her hands together in front of her chest. At Reese's raised eyebrow, Nicci merely laughed with a dismissing wave and answered seriously, "I'm good, but I'm sure Mackie here would love a soda."

"Oh, no. It's fine, really." I tried to brush off the request by waving my hands in the negative. There were so many bits of gossip I needed to be off picking up. "I can get it myself."

"Is Sprite OK?" Reese asked, blatantly ignoring my refusal and immediately ducking towards the kitchen after taking my slight tilt of my head in his direction as a yes. I pursed my lips at Reese's retreating form. So there was a thing as being too polite.

"So I've been meaning to ask you," Nicci began once Reese had left. "Have you decided on what you will write about for the next issue of the paper?"

"I thought you wanted me to do a little piece about Fairy Gossipmonger." I could feel my forehead scrunch in confusion. When Nicci asked me to do a mini feature on my secret identity, I was reluctant, but ended up agreeing. Nicci did not have the word 'no' in her vocabulary. Besides, I had decided it was safer agreeing since adamantly refusing could open up a whole new can of worms.

"Oh, did I not tell you? I know you weren't all that enthusiastic about doing the Miss Monger piece." I involuntarily cringed at the mention of the nickname graciously given to me by Nicci herself in a previous article; being called just a monger sounded so crude. I should have known that Nicci would hone in on that part of my alter ego's name. "Which I really don't get considering how you get about romantic happy endings. But, anyways, when Ashley begged me to let her do it instead, I figured, 'why not?' Oh, don't give me that face because you don't want to find yourself another story."

I just continued pouting despite Nicci's wrong assumptions. Ashley Suthard was definitely not a fan of Fairy Gossipmonger. Ever since I had helped Katie Lane snatch Daniel Kendall right from under Ashley's nose, Ashley knew Fairy Gossipmonger was up to no good. Or that's how Ashley tells it despite the fact that Daniel was never interested in her. And, I am proud to say that Katie and Daniel have been happily dating for three months and counting. It didn't take a genius to know that Ashley definitely did not have a feel-good article in mind. Quite the opposite: it was a fairy bashing just waiting to happen.

"Speaking of which," Nicci continued, unaware of my distressful thoughts, "there she is. I want to see if she has any progress on figuring out who Miss Monger really is. Toodles!" Nicci wriggled her fingers in my direction and flittered off. I just stood there frozen, caved in by my new problem. Ashley didn't just want to criticize me. She wanted to rat me out and then criticize the heck out of me. Great. Just great.

"Here you are, Mackie." The sudden voice and appearance of the can of Sprite floating in front of me caused me to flinch out of my downward spiraling thoughts. Accepting the can, I smiled up at Reese and uttered a quick 'thanks,' only then realizing an impatient Kelly Hernandez standing behind Reese glaring at me. Both her hands were clasped around Reese's other wrist, which she was trying to tug in the direction away from me. "Will you dance with me now?" she huffed glaring at me and the drink that now sat in my hand. The Sprite can clearly wasn't the only green Kelly was seeing.

"I've got my drink, so go dance," I urged. As amusing as it was that Kelly just might be jealous of me, I had no desire to drift further onto Kelly's bad side. Who knew when I may need her for some information?

As Reese reluctantly allowed the scowling brunette to pull him towards the mass of dancing bodies, I could almost swear that concern flashed across his grey-blue eyes when he glanced back at me and mouthed the word 'sorry.' I was imagining things. There was no way Reese could have picked up on the distress I immediately squelched the minute the soda can appeared in front of me. I shook my head as if to shake out my irrational thoughts, popped open the can and took a sip. I came here on a mission, and it would be such a shame to leave the party without a single fleck of gold.

Making my way around the expansive first floor of the Shultz mansion, I was happy to find Seth hanging with two of his friends at the dining table lined with all kinds of snacks imaginable. This would make it so much easier to slink into their conversation. All winter break, Amanda desperately emailed Fairy Gossipmonger about Seth and her worries that he might find some other girl over the break. The number of emails she sent nearly rivaled the number that I was bombarded with about Drew. Although I'm sure her worries were unnecessary, given the number of emails she sent, it was all I could do to make up for lost time now.

Walking over with the pretense that I wanted to grab some chips, I turn to the threesome and flashed my brightest smile. "Hey guys. Enjoying the party?"

"Hey Mackie, you should try these Doritos here. It's some spicy ranch flavor that is delicious," Lance garbled, not stopping the flow of chips towards his mouth.

"OK, thanks," I replied with a laugh, reaching over to grab a chip from the bowl he was hovering over.

"Good?" Lance asked the minute I popped the chip in my mouth as if he was personally invested in what my answer would be. I just gave him a thumbs up as I continued to chew the chip. Truthfully, spicy was an understatement. How Lance managed to stuff so many pieces into his mouth and still smile was absolutely amazing. My mouth was burning, but I couldn't lose my cool now. I had yet to get anything out of Seth. Lance just beamed, so maybe the pain I was feeling hadn't made it to my face.

"Don't look so gleeful man, Mackie is just humoring you," John said slapping his friend on the back. "You shouldn't feed such dangerous food to poor unsuspecting girls." Or perhaps not.

Taking a quick sip of my Sprite, I shook my head. "No, no. It's good," I muttered with a cough. "I just wasn't expecting it to be THAT spicy. Perhaps today is just a day of unsuspecting horrors," I said inwardly cringing at my lame attempt to turn the conversation towards where I wanted it. "Seth, what did you think about Mr. Turner's pop quiz?"

"Ugh, I don't even want to talk about it," he replied with a sigh.

"If you don't, what chance do the rest of us have? I've heard you're really good at biology," I exclaimed with feigned surprise.

"Really, from who?" Seth looked absolutely incredulous.

"Amanda Lonn. She said that you even helped her a bit last semester," I lied intently watching Seth's reaction as I planted Amanda's name. If I was being honest, half of Fairy Gossipmonger's work was guesswork. From the time that I have spent trying to draw out people's secret crushes, I've come up with the three tale-tell signs that someone has feelings for the person in question.

Sign One: subject fidgets upon mention of said crush.

Seth shifted on his feet and scratched the back of his head. "She said that?"


Sign Two: subject only has good things to say about said crush or outright criticizes person in question as if to hide their affections.

"Are you sure you've got your facts right Mackie? Our dear Seth here is scientifically challenged, and I distinctly remember someone going on and on about how smart Amanda is." John jumped in at the chance to tease his friend.


"Oh, then I must have mixed that up. I must remember to ask Amanda for help. I'm dying in biology. Oh! There she is now! Enjoy your chips Lance! See you guys!" I exclaimed hopping off in the direction of the girl in question. As I went up to Amanda to greet her and ask about her winter break, I was intently aware that Seth's gaze lingered in our direction and kept turning back towards Amanda long after I had walked off.

Sign Three: subject instinctively will look in the direction of their crush.



My feet dangled from my position atop a tall stool, feeling immensely happier without the need to carry the weight of the rest of my body. Mission accomplished. I was anxious to send out an email to Amanda telling her that her worries really were unnecessary and give Seth the push to ask her out. The moments when I was on the verge of sealing another match were my favorite. Two people's love stories were finally aligning and only I knew it was coming. I think I loved the power I held a little too much. Even with my back towards the rest of the party, my ears were still alert and ready to pick up any leads in the conversations nearby.

After a few minutes of silently sifting through dull conversations as I played with my now empty can of Sprite, my ears perked at the two voices to my left. I remained planted on the bar, arms still resting on the cool granite, hoping not to bring any attention to my presence.

"Did you see the way Kelly was all over Reese? Disgusting," remarked the first voice as I caught myself nodding in agreement. Slightly turning my head to the left, I recognized that the voice belonged to Monica Parel, who was talking to Payton Tennyson.

"But you can totally tell that he was not interested. He left her fuming by herself after barely one song." OK, so maybe pushing Reese with Kelly wasn't such a good act on my part. If I had any pride as a matchmaker of sorts, Reese Colton, Kelly Hernandez, and perfect match had no business being in the same sentence together.

"Serves her right," Monica muttered not hiding the spite in her voice. Despite both being on the poms team at South Creek, Monica and Kelly did not get along. It began with some spat about choreography for a routine back in freshman year. Needless to say, the spat never quite ended. "But at least she got to dance with Reese. He rarely dances with anyone." I could imagine the sulky expression that accompanied her words. Many girls had the same reaction to the very selective class president.

"You know what I heard? The reason for that is because he is only interested in one girl," Payton's voice lowered significantly, but the excitement of sharing interesting gossip still rang in her words. I knew they were starting to walk away from my position on the stool as it took all I had to resist awkwardly leaning more in the direction they seemed to be walking.


"Yeah, you know Anna…" The conversation drifted off as the two girls continued to walk away.

Anna? Did I hear that right? Anna who? I was screaming in my head. There were at least five different Annas in the senior class alone. Desperate to find out more, I spun around in my stool and slipped off it with immeasurable speed, but unfortunately with very measurable grace: none.

All concerns about the exclusive information were tossed out of my head as I landed in just the wrong way on my three-inch heeled boots. I felt something warm brush my flailing arm, but I couldn't identify what it was between cursing my choice of shoes and bracing myself for impact—right into Zach Bent's chest.

"Oof. Geez, Mackie. You sure pack a punch," Zach breathed as his hands flew to my upper arms to help steady me on my feet. Even with Zach's help, trying to straighten myself up proved to be a difficult task as I was nowhere near regaining my equilibrium and my throbbing ankle was not helping.

"Ouch," I managed to mutter belatedly. My hand was rubbing the side of my head that slammed into Zach's shoulder. I was vaguely aware of the stares that I was probably attracting at the moment, but my head was pounding too much for me to care much. It figures that it also meant that my head was throbbing too much to relish in the fact that Zach Bent was gently holding me steady and helping me back onto the stool I had just fell out of.

Zach picked up the empty soda can that spun out of my hand during my klutz attack and sat in the stool next to me. "Good thing this thing was empty, or we'd also be sticky and wet," Zach said trying for the glass-half-full approach. He shook the empty can to emphasize his point before tossing it into the nearby trashcan. He reached across the counter and grabbed another Sprite. Popping the tab, he slid it my way. "Here, just don't try another tumble okay?" If it wasn't for the fact that I was thoroughly embarrassed, I may have also been amused by the fact that two different guys had gotten me drinks tonight. One of which who also saved me from a dreaded meeting with the hardwood floor.

"Sorry about that," I mumbled. The pink flush I knew that continued to haunt my cheeks only acted to increase the embarrassment that filled me.

"No harm done. Besides, I usually don't have girls throwing themselves at me. That is usually only reserved for huge, muscular guys." Zach puffed out his chest and flexed his arm to imitate the football players that he often found himself tackled under. Even without the demonstration, Zach's physique screamed football player. I had my entire aching left side from the slam into the steel that seemed to wrap the guy's body to attest to that.

"True. I'm definitely no Mike Pondski," I pointed out eliciting a laugh out of Zach. I still recalled personally witnessing the fumble debacle of South Creek's first playoff game against Evergreen High in November. About halfway into the game, Zach found himself plastered to the ground with a broken leg by a very large Mike Pondski. Although the Firebirds—who were called just the Birds for a few years when the students took the team name too literally during postgame festivities—did manage to barely win the game, they lost one of their star running backs for the season. I had been able to convince Lucy Edgar to go to the game with me in hopes of figuring out her feelings for cornerback Gary Gordon, but with the commotion that came with Zach's unfortunate injury, the night was a failure for Fairy Gossipmonger. Like the rest of the crowd, I left the stadium grumbling that night.

As Zach sat silently for the moment, likely recalling the painful event, my eyes scanned the large room. Kelly conspicuously was stomping around probably still searching for Reese. Drew and a few other guys were having a sort of drink off nearby. Their chants of "Chug! Chug! Chug!" were very hard to miss, as well as the looks the group was getting from the onlookers. There were a handful of girls who watched with a look akin to admiration; both Monica and Payton were among in this group. Part of me wanted to walk up to them and scream "Which Anna?" But I've gone this long as Fairy Gossipmonger without resorting to becoming an annoying busybody and I wasn't going to start now.

Upon second glance towards the rowdy group of guys, I realized that Reese was not with them. Nor was he anywhere to be found. No wonder Kelly seemed so irritated. She must have scared him off good.

"How's your head?" Zach asked, stopping my search for the elusive Reese.

"Better." And it was. But as I continued to sip my soda, it was obvious the sugar was not helping. After a whole day at school—with Mr. Turner's evil quiz, no less—five hours at the Whirl and over an hour gallivanting around Nicci's house in high heeled boots, my near date with the floor left my tank way past empty. "But, I think I'm going to call it a night."

"Already?" Disappointment flashed across his face, but I couldn't tell if it was because he was sad to see me go, or if he thought I was lame for already wanting to leave. What girl wouldn't wish it was the former?

"Yeah, I better get going unless I want to be found by Nicci unconsciously sprawled on her floor tomorrow morning." I scooted off the stool, much, much slower this time, but I still wobbled when my feet touched the ground.

"Why do you girls wear such dangerous shoes?" Zach asked, eyes trained on my boots as I continued to find my balance with the help of the stool.

"Because they look good." My assertion sounded unconvincing even to my ears. Standing there with my feet crying inside my boots, I was starting to wonder the same thing. At Zach's incredulous look, I shook my head. "Never mind. You wouldn't understand. I'm not sure I even understand. At least not tonight. Big clue I should go. Anyways, see you later." With a wave, I began to hobble in the direction of the front door.

"Are you sure you are OK?" Zach called to me. I turned back, gave him a thumbs up and another wave, which he returned.

I couldn't help but consider how different my exit from the party was from my entrance. As I continued my way out of Nicci's house, I could feel eyes on me. And I was pretty sure they were not only Zach's.

AN: I told myself I wouldn't post this until I had more of the story written, but I really couldn't help myself. The true premise of the story will come in the next chapter, so I hope you all stick around for that.

In the meantime, I've introduced all the main guys in the story, but not quite who will be Mackie's love interest(s). Any guesses or, perhaps, early favorites?