P.S. I Like You(7)

By: Kasie West

My dad pumped his fist. “She voted for mine, Emily!”

I held out my hand.

Dad gave me the newspaper, kissed my cheek, and went off to find my mom, I was sure.

“It’s funny how they think we don’t know whose is whose,” Ashley said. “Like the score would be so close every time.”

“I know. We should really make Mom win by a landslide every time and then maybe they’d stop the competition.”

“It’s good for Dad’s self-esteem. Now let’s get you to school, little one.”

I clutched the newspaper to my chest, hugging the words, and followed after my sister. Now I just had to write the perfect song and win this competition.

There was something about Chemistry that stimulated every thought in my mind to fire at once. Maybe it was the mixture of boring subject, monotone teacher, and cold seat. I wondered if there was a chemical equation for that. Those three factors, combined, created slush brain. No, that was the wrong term. My brain didn’t become lazy. It became full. Hyperactive brain. A brain that made it impossible to concentrate on the sluggish words exiting Mr. Ortega’s mouth. Were his words coming out slower than normal?

Today, amidst all the usual thoughts and words that I now couldn’t write down in a notebook, I had the song I had learned to play on my guitar the day before looping through my mind. It was a torturous song—one I loved and hated. I loved it because it was brilliant, the kind that made me want to write a song equally as good. I hated it because it was brilliant, the kind that let me know I’d never write a song anywhere close to as good.

And I kept thinking about that contest.

How was I going to win? How would I even enter it?

My pencil hovered over my paper—the single Mr. Ortega–approved page. If I could write the song down, it would get out of my head and let me focus on the lecture. This paper would go in front of Mr. Ortega in exactly forty-five minutes. Forty-five minutes? This class was never-ending. What was he even talking about? Iron. Something about the properties of iron. I wrote the word iron down on the page.

Then, as if my pencil had a mind of its own, it moved over to the fake wood desktop and jotted down the words playing in my head:

Stretch out your wilting petals and let the light in.

I added a drawing of a little sun, its rays touching some of the words. Now, just forty-three minutes left of class.

I was in the midst of writing in my notebook and walking down the hallway—something I hadn’t quite mastered, despite how many times I had done it—when I heard the laughter.

I thought it was directed at me, so I looked up. It wasn’t.

A blond kid—a freshman, maybe—stood in the middle of the hall, books gripped to his chest. Balanced precariously on top of his head was a baseball bat. Cade Jennings stood behind him, holding his hands out to his sides like he had just let go of that bat.

“Toss me the ball,” Cade said to his friend Mike, who was standing across from him and the poor freshman.

Mike did just that and now Cade was trying to figure out how he was going to reach the top of that bat to place the ball. The kid looked too terrified to move.

“I need a chair. Someone find me a chair,” Cade said, and people immediately scrambled to do his bidding. The bat began to wobble, then fell, bouncing across the tile floor and coming to a stop against the lockers.

“You moved, dude,” Cade said to the freshman boy.

“Try it again,” someone in the watching crowd called.

Cade smiled his big, perfectly white–toothed smile. The one he used a lot, knowing its power. I frowned. I seemed to be the only one immune.

As much as I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, I knew I should probably help the cowering kid.

But I wasn’t sure what I could do. Being the center of unwanted attention thanks to Cade Jennings was something I was very familiar with …

I thought back to freshman year P.E. I wasn’t one of those girls who thought she was horrible at everything. But I did know my weaknesses, and P.E. was one of them. And co-ed basketball was the ultimate form of P.E., so I did my best to stay as far away from the ball as possible.

For reasons that I later realized were probably malicious, the ball was constantly thrown to me. By my team, by the opposing team. And I could never catch it. It was like being the only target in a game of dodgeball. I was hit in the shoulder, the back, the leg.

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