"Hey, Vince, guess what?" Judith called out as she approached the senior in the school hallway. He had been lost in his own thoughts and jumped, startled at her voice. "Your artwork was chosen for display in the main hallway. Congrats."
"Oh? Uh, yeah. I saw that. Thanks," he replied.
Judith frowned, noticing that he was clearly distracted. "Everything okay?"
"Well, hey there," Maura said in a singsong voice as she skipped over to the pair with a big smile on her face. "How's it going, you two? It seems like you've been hanging out a lot together since the concert. Is there something you're not telling me?"
Judith rolled her eyes and was about to vehemently deny anything Maura might be thinking, but Vince spoke up first.
"Maybe there'd be something to tell if you'd butt out and give people a chance to talk," Vince retorted. "Come on, Jude. Let's go check out the art display."
As Vince started to walk off, both girls were dumbfounded. Judith wasn't sure what to do, so she trailed after Vince. Once they were away from Maura she found her voice.
"Listen, Vince," Judith started nervously. "I hope I didn't give you the wrong idea-"
He cut her off with a laugh. "No, not at all. Don't worry about it. I was just messing with Maura that's all. We're cool."
"Good," Judith said, breathing a sigh of relief.
"So, should I set her straight or do we want to keep up the joke for awhile?" Vince asked as he worked over an idea in his mind.
"What do you mean?" Judith asked.
"I've been thinking about what we talked about at the concert, about how Maura and them are always going on about guys and who likes who, but none of them have probably ever had a boyfriends themselves."
"Really? You have?" Judith asked incredulously. She never would have imagined that Vince would have given her petty little complaints more than a second thought, so she was surprised that he would bring up that topic of conversation now.
"I was just thinking that really your only problem was that you didn't pick the right guy. You need someone who's in on the plan that could play along with you."
"Yeah, that was the only problem with that idea. . ." Judith scoffed.
"But just think, what if you came up with a 'boyfriend' who backed up everything you said, what would they have to say to that? Nothing. Could you imagine how they would react?"
"It would be something," Judith replied vaguely. She started to walk on, ready to forget she had come up with this silly scheme of hers in the first place, but Vince was on her heels.
"So, what do you think?" he asked eagerly.
Judith shrugged. "Does it matter? Who am I going to get to go along with such a crazy idea even if I was interested?"
Vince stopped in his tracks as he realized he had left out a vital piece of information. "Me."
Judith spun around to look at him. "Seriously?" She blinked a few times as she tried to process this idea he was proposing. She had to admit there was a certain irony to her 'dating' Maura's brother after she'd had to listen to her friend constantly gush about her brother, Jeremy, all these years. She was surprised to find herself actually entertaining the idea with some amusement, but something about this proposal from Vince left her confused. "What's in it for you? Why would you want to pretend to be dating a freshman?"
Vince shrugged. "To teach Maura a little bit of a lesson and," he hesitated before admitting his ulterior motive. "maybe it would make a certain someone think a little better of me."
"What do you mean?"
"There's this girl-"
"It's not me, is it?" Judith gasped. The concern on her face made Vince laugh.
"No, no, it's someone else. She thinks I'm kind of a thug, but if a girl like you would go out with me-"
"What do you mean, a girl like me?"
"You know, a nice girl, a quality girl. One who doesn't put up with jerks," he said pointedly, a reference that made her smile. "If someone like that could see something worthwhile about me and talk me up a little bit . . . then maybe she'll start to see me in a new light."
"Okay, so who is this girl and how am I going to talk you up to her?"
"Don't worry about it. Anything you say to Maura will get around fast enough, trust me."
Judith laughed nervously. She couldn't believe they were seriously talking about such a crazy idea, but she found herself more than a little intrigued by the possibilities. Any thoughts she may have been entertaining were pushed aside when she saw her mom walking across other end of the hallway. She physically stiffened her posture and stood up straighter as if her mother could tell from just her stance that she was up to something that she wouldn't approve of. "There's one problem though. My parents won't let me date."
"We don't actually have to go out or anything. We can just hang out at school between classes."
"But my mom's here, teaching. If she starts hearing rumors . . ."
"We'll keep it quiet and on a trial basis. If she starts to get suspicious, we can drop the whole thing and deny anything was going on. It's not like we'd really be dating anyway." Their conversation was cut short when the bell rang, warning them they had only a minute left to get to class. "Just think about it," Vince said as he walked away.
* * * * *
"Woah, Alma, is that you?" Shanna said as she walked into the teacher's lounge. "You're looking extra pretty today. I like your new look."
"Thank you," Alma managed a meek reply. She wasn't used to receiving such gushing compliments. "I thought it was time for something different."
"I bet your husband appreciates it," Shanna said with a wink.
"Well . . . Ed isn't big on change," she said simply. She had been making a lot of changes lately and she knew he was having trouble adjusting to them all. Even if he liked her new look, he probably wouldn't let on just because it was one more thing that was different. "He'll get used to it."
When Mr. Clark walked into the room, he glanced at the pair briefly before turning back to give them a second look. He didn't recognize Alma at first glance.
"Have you met our new co-worker?" Shanna asked, jokingly.
He grinned, making Alma blush. "Yes, I believe I have. You look very nice today, Mrs. Wilton. Are we still meeting after school this evening to discuss the play?"
"Yes. Of course."
"I thought maybe you had other plans after work today. A hot date maybe?" he added with a wink that left Alma feeling completely flustered.
"Oh no, nothing like that. Just planning on meeting with you to work on our project," she replied. She found herself nervously fidgeting with her hair before she quickly stopped herself.
"Great, I'll see you then," he said as he turned away.
Alma just nodded and ducked out into the hallway as she started quickly walking back to her classroom. She shook her head and mentally chastised herself. She didn't know what had come over her. Maybe spending so much time around teenagers lately was making her start to behave like one. She never even acted this way when she was a teenager herself. It was ridiculous to start now. She took a deep breath and tried to pull herself together as she walked back to her classroom.
* * * * *
"Hey, Meghan," Julian called out as he approached his stepsister who was talking with the other girls on the dance squad after school. "Elden's giving me a ride home today-"
"So I guess I'll see you when I get home," Meghan responded.
"Well, yeah, I guess," Julian faltered. Her interruption had caught him off-guard. "Unless you wanted to ride with us. That's what came over to ask. Do you want to?"
Before Meghan could answer, Jasmyn spoke up. "You can ride home with us if you want."
Meghan hesitated, looking back and forth between Julian and Jasmyn as she tried to make her decision. When she saw Melanie, Sara, and Elden waiting in the distance at the end of the hallway, she knew what she wanted to do. "I'd rather go with Jasmyn. I'll see you at home, Julian."
"Oh, okay," Julian replied and turned to go back to his friends and Meghan and her new friends walked in the opposite direction.
"Where's your little stepsister?" Melanie asked tauntingly. "I thought for sure she'd be following at your heels, as usual."
"She has other things to do," Julian said, trying to sound indifferent.
"I'm sure that's a relief for you. You actually get a break for once."
"Yeah," Julian said, but relief wasn't what he was feeling. He found himself feeling oddly disappointed that Meghan didn't seem to need him anymore. It was good that she was coming into her own, but he still was somehow let down.
"It's too bad," Elden commented with a smirk, drawing all eyes to him. "I don't mind having her around."
"What? Do you like her or something?" Melanie asked, her nose wrinkled with disgust. "Have you forgotten she's a freshman?"
"I'm not talking about anything serious," Elden defended himself. "But just because she's a freshman doesn't mean she can't be kind of hot. Neither of you thought she looked like a freshman when you first met her, right?"
Both girls just rolled their eyes at him, dismissively, but Julian was getting honestly annoyed. He didn't like the way Elden was talking about Meghan for several reasons.
"Don't get any ideas," he warned.
Julian's change of tone caught Elden by surprise, but he tried not to let it show. "What do you care?" Elden asked with a nervous laugh.
"Just don't mess around with Meghan, man. Nothing good will come of it."
* * * * *
Maura sat on the front steps of the school waiting for Judith to come out so they could walk home together. She knew she owed her friend an apology for teasing her about Vince, but she was also dying to know what Vince said to her after they had walked away. She was trying to decide whether she should just come out and ask or wait and see if Judith volunteered the information on her own. She hoped Judith would decide to confide in her right away because she wasn't sure if she could hold back her curiosity for long.
When she saw Jeremy walk out of the double doors instead of his sister, she quickly turned away and occupied herself with studying the pattern in the concrete steps as she pretended she hadn't noticed him. She expected him to walk past her without a second thought, so when she looked up again, she was surprised to see him walking towards her.
"Hey, Maura," he greeted her.
"Hey," she replied, trying to sound equally casual and adequately disinterested.
"I'm glad I ran into you."
"You are?" she said surprised. All pretense of cool disinterest was gone and she was back to her usually perky self.
"Yeah." He paused to sigh and collect his thoughts. "It's come to my attention that I was kind of a jerk at the concert last weekend. It was kind of rude of me to take off with my friend when you were the one who invited me to go in the first place."
"Don't worry about it," Maura replied. "It's not a big deal."
"I didn't think it was at the time, but it was, wasn't it? I mean, it mattered to you, right?"
As Jeremy stared at her so intently with obvious concern in his eyes, Maura found herself at a loss for words and could only nod.
"That's what I thought . . . I want to do something to make it up to you. Would you want to do something together this weekend?"
"Really?" she asked. She couldn't believe her ears and wondered for a moment if she was dreaming, but had the presence of mind to realize she should answer before something happened to make this disappear like a daydream. "Yeah, yes, I would love to. I'm up for anything."
"Maybe we can get a bite to eat or something?"
"That would be great. I'm free anytime, just let me know when."
"Okay. I'll see you later."
"Yeah, see ya," she murmured in a agreement. She managed to hold herself together long enough for him to walk out of sight and then she let out a deep breath and nearly collapsed into the pillar next to her. "It's a date," she thought giddily to herself. She couldn't believe it. "I have a date with Jeremy Wilton." Just when she had made up her mind to give up on him, her dream had finally come true. All thoughts about Judith and Vince were suddenly erased from her mind. She couldn't wait to tell her best friend this news.