"How are you doing, Vince?" Mr. Gregory asked as he looked over Vince's shoulder to take a look at the painting he was working on. "That looks really good, so far." He paused, examining the piece further. "I think this might be a good piece for the art show. Keep it up."
"Thanks," Vince muttered, but as Mr. Gregory walked away he beamed with pride.
"Okay, there's about ten minutes of class left. It's time to finish what you're doing and start cleaning up," Mr. Gregory announced as he walked back to the front of the classroom.
Judith had gathered her paintbrushes and was washing them in the sink at the back of the room when someone came up close behind her.
"Hey," he said in her ear, making her jump and drop the brushes in the sink.
Judith cast a quick glance over to see David standing next to her. Trying to recover her dignity she quickly snatched up the brushes and resumed washing them.
"What are you shy or something?"
"No," she said defensively.
"It's okay. I understand, but you don't have to pretend. I heard you want to go out with me."
Judith spun around quickly to face him, her face flushed a deep red. "What? I don't-"
"I get it. You want to play it cool," he said with a wink. "But I just wanted to let you know that I'm cool with it," he said smugly as his eyes scanned up and down, sizing her up.
Judith drew back uncomfortably. "I am not into you," she said a little more loudly than she had intended. Noticing a few nearby students, including Vince, turning their heads to see what the commotion was, Judith carefully lowered her voice. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Your brother told me . ."
"My brother?" she said confused. Then it came to her. "Maura . . . I'm going to kill them both," she muttered under her breath.
"So what do you say?
"What do I say to what?" she asked skeptically.
"Uh, no thanks," she frowned.
"But?" he started confused.
She turned back to the sink to gather her brushes. "There's been a mistake. I'm not interested." Before David could utter another word, she turned and walked back to her desk without giving him another look.
When the bell rang, Judith was the first student out the door. She was determined to find Maura or Jeremy and give whichever she found first a piece of her mind.
She barely stepped foot in the hallway when Meghan rushed over to her. "Come with me."
"I can't. I'm busy. I need to find Maura or Jeremy. Have you seen either of them?"
"No, but I just heard last period that the results from the cheerleading tryouts are up. Come with me and see if I'm on the list."
"Go yourself," Judith said as she began marching down the hallway.
"I'm too nervous. I need moral support," Meghan insisted as she hurried after her cousin. "It will only take a minute. Please?"
"Fine," Judith sighed, seeing that Meghan wasn't going to give up. "But if I see Maura or Jeremy along the way, you're on your own."
When they reached the cafeteria, Meghan pushed Judith forward. "I can't look. See if my name is there."
As Judith impatiently scanned the list, Meghan couldn't take the suspense and was peering over Judith's shoulder.
"You're not there," Judith stated, sounding somewhat surprised.
"I'm not," Meghan said, coming to the realization herself a half a second later. She was outraged. "That can't be. There must be some mistake. I was the best one there."
"You really were," Judith begrudgingly agreed.
"I agree," another voice chimed in. "But your name being absent from the list wasn't a mistake."
Meghan and Judith turned to see another girl behind them. "I was hoping I'd run into you," the girl said. "I saw the tryouts and you were definitely one of the best freshmen there."
"Who are you?" Meghan asked. She didn't recall the other girl being at the tryouts.
"I'm Jasmyn. Co-captain of the spirit dance squad. I was at the gym watching the tryouts. I noticed your auditions. You have some good moves."
"Thanks," Meghan replied. "I should. I've been in dance practically since I could walk . . .But what do you mean it wasn't a mistake that I didn't make cheerleader?"
"I've overheard some things. Namely that Melanie and her friends have it in for you. They had already decided before the tryouts were held that they weren't going to let you on the squad. I'm not sure what you did to get on their bad side, but you're definitely on their enemy list."
"Why am I not surprised?" Meghan rolled her eyes.
"It's typical of them," Jasmyn agreed. "But it's their loss and maybe my gain."
"What do you mean?"
"If you're interested, there's a spot for you on the dance team. We could use someone with your talent."
"Really?" Meghan asked with interest.
Jasmyn nodded. "We meet in the gym after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you're interested stop by," Jasmyn said as she started to walk away.
"I will," Meghan promised.
"I guess that worked out after all," Judith replied drily. She was ready to leave Meghan's drama behind and get back to her own business.
"Yeah," Meghan said, but her optimism began to fade as she saw Melanie and her friends walking and laughing with Julian. The sight of them and the flirty way Melanie seemed to hang off Julian made her blood boil. She would get back at them and she was beginning to formulate a plan how. "But this isn't over yet."
At the end of the school day, Vince passed by the principal in the hallway.
"How is it going, Vince?" she asked.
"Good," he answered chipperly.
"I have been hearing a lot of good things about you lately from your teachers. They've seen a huge improvement in both your effort and your attitude. I'm very proud of you. Keep it up," she said with a smile as she walked away.
Vince was feeling good about himself and happy with how this day was turning out when he heard another student call out his name.
"Some guys outside are looking for you," the student said and walked away.
When Vince walked outside he found his friends hanging out at the bottom of the steps.
"V, where've you been?" one of the boys asked. "Been making yourself scarce lately, haven't you?"
"Yeah, I know. Everyone's been on my case lately, man. I've had to keep my nose in the books."
"So ditch this place for awhile. No one will miss you."
"Nah, I can't. I've got to stay after. I don't think I'm going to be able to hang out for a long time. Sorry, man."
The other boy frowned. "We're still cool, right? You aren't trying to turn your back on us?"
"No, I just got to focus on other things for awhile. We're still cool."
He nodded slowly, but stared at Vince through narrowed eyes. "Just making sure. We'd hate to lose you, man, and I'd hate for you to forget that our business stays with us."
Vince scoffed. "That wouldn't happen."
"It better not. You wouldn't want that."
Vince walked back into the school with an uneasy feeling. He felt like he was walking a tight line between two very different worlds. One false step could mean disaster. He had to continue playing it cool. But he was determined. He had something to prove.
"Those your friends outside?" Mr. Gregory asked Vince as they passed each other in the front hall.
"Yeah," Vince replied with a noncommittal shrug.
Mr. Gregory looked out at the boys as they sauntered away. "I've had friends like those before," he remarked. "Maybe I'll tell you about it sometime . . . Are you heading out or will I see you at the art club meeting?"
"I'll be there," Vince promised.
"Glad to hear it," Mr. Gregory said as he walked away. "I'll see you then."
When Judith finally found Maura she was in the hallway talking with Natalie.
"Maura! How could you?" Judith hissed as she approached the pair. She was still outraged, but she didn't want to make another scene like she nearly had during her encounter with David.
"What? What did I do?" Maura asked, caught off-guard by Judith's accusatory tone.
"You told Jeremy about David and he told David that I liked him."
"Yeah, I asked him to. How else could we get this double date planned?"
"I can't believe you told! I was so mortified when he came up to me in art class today."
"He did? What did he say?" Maura asked eagerly.
"He acted like a total creep," Judith answered. "It was awful. You shouldn't have said anything. He wasn't supposed to find out . . . not, like this anyway," she added quickly.
"How else is anything supposed to happen between you if no one says anything?"
Judith avoided the question. "Oh, and I suppose you'd like it if I said something to Jeremy about you." As Maura seemed to think over the idea, Judith felt her anger and her argument starting to lose steam. "Anyway, I just thought you should know that nothing is ever going to happen between me and David. I don't want it to. I've decided I don't like him after all. Okay?"
"Oh, I'm sorry," Maura apologized. "I didn't mean to cause any trouble. I was only trying to help."
"Well, next time, if there is a next time, don't."
"So, what are we going to do about the concert now?" Maura asked. "Jeremy said he would go . . . is there anyone else you might like? I promise I'll be more subtle this time. We'll set it up your way. However you say."
"No," Judith said firmly.
"How about you Natalie?"
"What?" Natalie asked taken aback. "Um, no."
"Well, I'll think of something," Maura said. She was determined to see this plan through, she just had to figure out how.