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The day I met Ethan Eller, I was listening to stupid people with even stupider questions.
“So do their pizzas come with cheese or does that cost extra?” I heard a girl at the table next to where I was standing ask her date. I succeeded in keeping the bitter sarcasm from escaping my mouth, but couldn’t seem to stifle my laughter. She glanced over at me like I was insane, but quickly looked back at her date when she recognized me.
OMG, is what I knew she was thinking. That’s Charlie Sanders. Her dad owns Charlie’s Pizza. I wonder if she can get me a discount!
I walked away before she could ask me for a coupon, like everyone else my age did. I mean, I knew my dad’s pizza was good, but was it really that hard to pay the ten bucks he charged for a pizza? Kids were so cheap. We didn’t even give out coupons.
“Charlie!” I heard my dad call from back in the kitchen. “Table 19! Thirty seconds and counting!”
I booked it over to the counter, picking up the pizza and cradling it in my arm like a football player would cradle a football. At Charlie’s Pizza – my dad called it that before I was born; me being named Charlie was really just an afterthought – there was a guarantee that a customer’s food would be out in fifteen minutes or less. So when Dad said thirty seconds and counting, that meant there was only thirty seconds or less before that guarantee was going to expire. This was my moment to show off my superior pizza-delivery skills.
Dodging a group of people that had just walked in – it was Wednesday, which meant it was half-price pizza day here at Charlie’s – I swerved over to table 19 and sat the pizza down. I looked at the colorful stopwatch that rested at the edge of the table to see that I had three seconds left.
“Yes!” I exclaimed, throwing my hands up in the air as a sign of victory. “And the Charlie Sanders Record goes undefeated!”
A few random tables clapped for me and I took a fake bow, reveling in my triumph.
“Why can’t you be fat, Char?” one of the younger boys at the table I’d just served asked with a grin on his face. “Then maybe someone could get a free pizza, for once.”
I smiled and replied, “That takes all the fun out of it!” and rubbed his head affectionately. Truth be told, I didn’t know this kid’s name. But at Charlie’s, everyone treated each other like family. It was just kind of how it’d been ever since Dad had first opened the place. It was a small-town pizza restaurant and a popular place for families and teens to hang out. I wasn’t sure how, but Dad had really made a legacy when it came to pizza.
“Enjoy your food, you guys,” I added a few seconds later and walked back towards the kitchen.
“Did we make it?” Dad asked when he saw me in the doorway.
“Three seconds to go,” I answered, sounding like it was no big deal. But in reality, my epic pizza-delivering skill was something I was most proud of.
“Way to go Char! I knew I could count on you to get that sucker there in time.” Dad grinned his cheesy grin and looked at me instead of the dough he was originally kneading.
I tried not to laugh as I saw the flour covering his face. “I’m gonna head out, okay? I’ve got a lot of Chem homework to work on.”
“See you at home, Char,” Dad called as I closed the door behind me. I slipped my apron off and hung it on the hanger, waved goodbye to the other employees I knew, and left through the back door that led to my car. It was a caramel-colored pickup truck that I’d named Stanley when I had first bought him.
My favorite song was on the radio so I turned it up on my drive home, starting to sing along horribly. I only ever sang alone, mostly for the safety of anyone else that might’ve been with me. I was tone deaf. Very tone deaf.
As I pulled into my family’s driveway, I noticed that my brother’s car was blocking my spot. Again. I groaned and pulled into the next available place – the grass beside the barn – and my mom’s horse neighed when he heard the engine cut off, knowing I might bring him a treat if he asked nicely enough.
“Not today, Copper,” I said, rubbing his nose affectionately when he approached the fence next to me. “I’ll come back later.” I gave him one last scratch before heading back in towards the house and opening the door loudly.
“You parked in my spot again, Chase!” I shouted up the stairs, knowing he was in his room doing something guy-like.
“I didn’t see your name on it,” he called back down a few seconds later, laughing like a little kid.
I sighed bitterly, not up to dealing with him today, and headed down to the basement to burn off some steam. I didn’t really have Chem homework – I mean, it was Summer Vacation. Didn’t my dad remember that? – but I’d been wanting to run all day and telling Dad I did seemed like the perfect opportunity. I turned into my room and changed into a sports bra and some shorts, grabbing my iPod and a hair-tie to put my hair up. The same song that was playing in the car came on through my iPod and I grinned as I walked out the screen door through the basement.
As my legs hit the smooth Tennessee dirt, I could feel the stress leaving my body instantly. I was free when I was running. It was something I didn’t think I’d ever get tired of.
I rounded the barn, waving at my mom when I saw her feeding the horses, and eventually found myself following the dirt road I grew up on. I’d lived in the same place for all my life, and had run this road for the past seventeen years. It was home.
I was making my usual route running around our property when I heard tires braking and skidding on the dirt. A horn honked loudly, telling me to get out of the way, but I knew the car wouldn’t make it anywhere near me. It was a good fifty feet away and wouldn’t skid for more than thirty.
“First time driving on dirt?” I sarcastically said to the driver when he – at least I thought it was a he – got out of his car.
“There was a squirrel,” he said as he walked towards me. “I didn’t want to hit it.”
“This is Sparks. We don’t have squirrels.”
He ignored my comment and came close enough so I could see his face. My eyes immediately widened as I took in everything about him – his eyes that looked as deep as the ocean, his brown hair that had honey-colored highlights in it – and I could feel my brain melting.
This guy is gorgeous.
“I’m Charlie,” I blurted out, suddenly feeling self-conscious about my lack of clothing.
“I know,” he replied unexpectedly, grinning brilliantly. “I’m the new delivery boy for your dad.”
I blinked a few times, unsure of how to respond. How could I think when my brain was slowly disintegrating? I was a teenage girl. Of course I couldn’t function when a cute boy was anywhere near me. That should have come with the job description.
“Okay,” I said dumbly, still staring at him. “What’re you doing here?”
“Your brother’s my first delivery,” he answered, and I could feel him looking my body up and down for a split second. “Mind showing me the way to your house?”
“I’m kind of on a run,” I said quickly, instantly regretting it when I saw his smile falter. “But if you drive slow enough I can take you. Or you could run with me, you know.” I smiled, hoping he saw that I was joking.
“I think I’ll drive,” he laughed, jogging back into his car. I stood there for a few seconds while I listened to his car come to life and eventually reach me.
I finally paused my iPod and put it in my pocket, quickening my pace as I started to run. I was in my own world, pushing myself to do the best run I could. Partially to impress the boy, and partially because I always felt great after a good run.
A few minutes later we were at the house and the delivery boy was pulling into the driveway. I stopped and put my hands on my knees, breathing heavily.
I made my way up to the porch and into the house while the boy followed me. “Do we need to pay you?” I asked as I poured myself a glass of water from the kitchen sink.
“I think so. The total’s twenty-seven fifty.” He shuffled the pizza boxes in his hands and I finally noticed just how much of it there really was.
“Chase,” I called up the stairs. “Chase, come pay for your pizza!” I paused and glanced at the boy, who was staring at me with a sexy smile planted on his face.
“I’m not paying for his pizza,” I said with a quiet laugh and he nodded understandingly in agreement.
“My sister always tries to get me to pay for her food by pretending to be in the shower when it gets to our house,” he responded, laughing. “It sucks.”
I laughed and shrugged, saying, “Siblings are horrible, aren’t they?” and there was a pause for maybe half a minute after he agreed before I broke the silence by asking him what his name was.
“Ethan Eller,” he said, sticking his hand out to shake mine after he’d set the pizzas down on the counter. His skin was soft, like smooth leather. I wanted to touch his hand forever.
“Charlie Sanders,” I replied instinctively. “But you already know that, don’t you.” I smiled sarcastically and called for Chase again. Of course he didn’t respond.
“Wait here for a sec, okay? I’m gonna go get him before I end up having to pay for it myself.”
“No problem,” he said quietly, but I was already up the stairs by the time he’d said it.
“Chase!” I shouted, opening the door to his room without knocking to see him sitting on his bed lazily. “Get your butt out of bed and pay for your pizza.”
“Why do we have to pay for it? The money just goes back to Dad anyways,” he whined, finally sitting up. I pushed him out the door and down the stairs, and he took his wallet out of his pocket and handed Ethan a twenty and a ten. “Keep the change,” he said uninterestedly, like he was being generous or something. “Wait, who are you? What happened to Jared?” Jared was the guy that used to deliver our pizza before he went off to college.
“Be a little ruder, why don’t you,” I mumbled so only Chase could hear. “He graduated, remember? Ethan’s his replacement.”
“Oh.” Chase shrugged and took the pizzas – yeah, all three of them – up to his room without another word.
“I’m sorry about him,” I said to Ethan. “Sometimes I think he was raised by monkeys. He has no manners.”
Ethan laughed and shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. I have three brothers. I’m used to it by now.”
I kept on smiling as he said goodbye, and the smile stayed on my lips until well after he was gone.
What’s happening to me? I asked myself, but I already knew the answer.
Ethan Eller. That’s what was happening to me.
I couldn’t help but notice that one of the reasons I was so excited to go to work the next morning was because I was hoping Ethan might be there. I put that thought out of my head for the time being, though, because I was curling my hair and didn’t want to burn myself. I learned my lesson when I jumped up on the bathroom counter and accidentally sat on a hot curling iron. I had burns on my butt and the back of my legs for weeks. I was not about to repeat that with another body part.
“Are you working today?” my other brother Evan – Chase’s twin and polar opposite – asked as he came in to grab his toothbrush. He motioned for me to scoot over so he could use the sink.
“I’m only doing the morning shift,” I said. “Then I’m going into town with Mom to get some new clothes.”
“Why do you need more clothes?” he asked with his toothbrush in his mouth. “Don’t you have enough?”
“I’m a girl,” I replied nonchalantly, like that should’ve explained everything. He nodded and shook his head, poking me in the shoulder playfully. “Be careful,” I warned. “I’ve got a four hundred degree weapon in my hands.”
“I wouldn’t call it a weapon. Unless you consider that time you burned your ass an assault. Then maybe you could.” He laughed at my pain and left before I could throw something at him.
I shook my head and laughed. No matter how stupid they could’ve been, I loved my brothers.
I finished the last curl with a douse of hairspray and put on some mascara to finish the look.
I had to admit, it looked awesome. Not sloppy, but not too elegant for working.
I love when things work out the way I want them to.
“I’m heading out,” I said to the house and whoever else could hear, with no response. I knew Mom and Dad were already at the shop, Chase was probably sleeping, my younger sister Jamie was downstairs watching TV, and Evan’d fled when I threatened to burn him. So I shrugged and closed the door behind me, not bothering to lock it.
We lived on twenty acres of wheat and grass fields. I wasn’t too worried about people robbing my house.
Twenty minutes later I was pulling in behind the pizza shop in the employee parking. I almost squealed out of excitement when I saw Ethan’s car in the spot next to mine, but forced myself to contain the anticipation. I didn’t want to seem like some kind of freak.
“Good morning,” I said to Michael, one of the chefs and my dad’s childhood best friend, as I walked in the door. He gave me a smile in response and I made my way over to the counter, putting my apron on.
It was then that I saw him.
He was sitting at the counter with a soda sitting in front of him, reading the menu like it was the most exciting thing he’d ever seen.
I walked behind the counter and approached him, smiling stupidly.
“See anything you like?” I asked, grinning when he looked up.
“There is one thing,” he mumbled, glancing sneakily at me and smiling flirtatiously.
“Flirting with the owner’s daughter? That’s a big road to walk on, Eller.” I smiled and grabbed his cup to refill it. It smelled and looked like root beer.
“I’ve always been a daredevil,” he said, grinning at my response to his flirting. “So, I see you’re wearing actual clothes today.”
I felt the blood instantly rush up to my cheeks and slowly put his cup back down. He said some form of thanks, but I was too embarrassed to pay attention to it. I was too focused on his comment, because he was right. I was only in shorts and a sports bra. I couldn’t exactly call that a tasteful outfit.
“No one is ever on the road when I run,” I tried to explain, but he was just laughing.
“Your face is like a tomato, you know that?”
I brushed off his comment and chose to look at the large group walking in. “I should go serve them,” I mumbled, still embarrassed.
“Charlie, wait,” he began before I could leave.
“Yeah?” I asked breathlessly.
He paused. “There really was a squirrel in the road,” he mumbled after a few seconds.
“Whatever you say,” I laughed, making my way to the group of people. “Good morning!” I said cheerfully. Why people wanted pizza in the morning, I’d never know, but it didn’t put a damper on my mood. “Are you guys all together?”
I looked around at the group when a woman smiled and nodded, my eyes widening. I counted twenty of them. Twenty hot, sexy athletes waiting to eat at Charlie’s.
I love my life.
“I’m going to have to push some tables together. Do you guys mind waiting a few minutes?” The same woman shook her head no and I took that as a yes to pushing some tables together. I called for Jasmine, one of the other waitresses, to help me set up the tables, knowing she would be furious if I didn’t show her my latest findings.
Not to sound like a horrible person – I did think guys were more than just a nice body or hot face – but one of the games the teenage waitresses played was Rate Him. When we’d see a remotely attractive guy, the point was to tell the other teen waitress first. I usually won, because I was most likely the most desperate.
“There’s a ten in the building,” I told Jasmine as she was cleaning a table across the room. “Actually, there are twenty tens in the building.”
“Really?” she asked eagerly. “Where?”
I nodded my head in the direction of the group and saw Jasmine nearly melt.
“Come on,” I nudged her. “We need to go set up a table big enough for them all.”
She grinned in excitement and helped me push three or four tables together to make one giant one. There were four giant timers, one for each table. That was the fun part of Charlie’s – each table got their own timer that they could start after their waiter took their order, so they could see if it came in less than fifteen minutes.
“This might be the biggest group we’ve ever had at Charlie’s,” I told the group after we’d finished setting up the table. I’d forgotten about that soccer banquet we’d had a few years ago – there were at least a hundred all crammed in there at once.
“We might be the hungriest, too,” the woman from before said, laughing and gesturing towards all the guys. A few of them did that sexy half-smile that I loved when we made eye contact, and it took everything I had in me not to jump any of them.
I hadn’t had a date in over a year. Didn’t that give me an excuse to be a little desperate?
“I think we can handle that,” I laughed, leading them to where the makeshift giant table was. Jasmine was waiting with menus in her hands, passing them out to each guy individually. Clever. She was obviously rating each one of them in her head.
“What can I get you guys to drink?” she asked sweetly, looking around at the table of gorgeous guys. She looked up and nodded to me, silently saying she could handle the drinks and I could leave. I shook my head and shrugged, walking back to wear Ethan was still sitting.
“What’s the hockey team doing here?” he asked as I across from him again.
“They’re hockey players?” I raised my eyebrows and glanced back over there. Hockey players were especially sexy.
“More like tools,” he mumbled as he shook his head. “They’re not exactly known for being the nicest guys.”
I shrugged. “Still nice to look at.” There was a pause for a bit while Ethan stared at me staring at the hockey players. “So, no one’s ordering delivery?”
“Who orders pizza at nine in the morning, really? I mean, I like cold pizza for breakfast as much as the next guy, but I don’t know if I’d actually order some.” He laughed quietly and smiled, making my heart skip a beat.
“You’re talking to the girl whose first word was pizza,” I reminded him, laughing. “I might not be the best person to ask.”
“Do you ever eat anything besides pizza?” he asked casually, taking a big sip of his drink.
“Occasionally. Once in a while I have a banana, but that’s about it.” I laughed at my own dry sense of humor and was immediately relieved when he laughed, too.
“How about Outback. You ever eat there?”
“Not really,” I replied, shrugging.
“Do you want to try it tomorrow night…? With me?” His voice trailed off nervously and I thought my chest was going to explode.
I, Charlie Sanders, had just been asked out on a date.
I bit my lip to keep myself from grinning too widely and reached to fill up his cup again.
“I’d love to.”
“Char,” Evan whispered from behind the couch, making me jump.
“God, Evan! You scared the crap out of me!”
“Sorry,” he mumbled nonchalantly, not seeming sorry at all. “I have to talk to you.”
“Come back in half an hour – I’m just getting to the good part of The Illusionist.”
“She’s not really dead. He only gave her a potion that made her look like she was so she could leave the other guy. It’s all in the necklace.”
I groaned and bitterly turned the TV off. “Fine. What was so important that you had to ruin the ending to a perfectly good movie? This better be good, Evan.”
“Trust me, it’s important. I’m pretty sure you’re the only person home that can help me.”
“Spit it out, then,” I grumbled, turning my body on the couch so I could face him.
He paused seriously, making me really start to think he actually had something important to say.
“How long do I need to microwave the chicken nuggets for?” He held up a bag of frozen chicken nuggets with a stern expression on his face. I did a double-take as my jaw dropped to the floor.
“You ruined a great movie to ask me that?!” I shouted, resisting the urge to chuck a pillow at him.
“This is serious, Charlie!” he yelled back. “I’m hungry and I don’t want to get salmonella!”
“Get out,” I mumbled, putting my head in my hands. “Seriously. Leave before I use those chicken nuggets to do something violent to you.”
“But I’m starving!” he whined. “This is life or death, here!”
I clenched my teeth, seriously considering throwing the TV remote at him. “Leave,” I commanded grudgingly, “before I kill you.”
Evan looked a little put off by my response, but eventually took my advice and went back upstairs. Groaning, I hit the open button on the DVD player we had and put the disc back in its Blockbuster box. I set it in the pile we’d designated Returns and leaned back into the couch.
There goes a waste of a good four bucks.
My thoughts quickly turned to Evan trying to fend for himself in the dangerous world of kitchen appliances. Seeing as he was completely inept at reading directions, I decided it was in both of our best interests to make sure he didn’t burn the house down.
I always wondered how Dad could’ve been the best chef in town but yet Evan couldn’t even hold a spoon without injuring someone.
“What temperature are you using?” I asked in a bored voice as I walked up the stairs. Evan was in the kitchen struggling with the oven and it was hard not to laugh at him.
“Four fifty,” he mumbled. “Does that sound right?”
“Why don’t you check the instructions, Ev.”
“Because I already threw the box away. It’s useless, anyways. The directions are always wrong.” He waved his hand dismissively.
“Spoken like a true guy,” I muttered. “Why can’t men just stop and ask for directions?”
“Because we don’t need them. Seriously, Char, does four fifty sound okay?”
I took a whiff of the air. I didn’t smell anything burning, so I considered that a good sign. Cautiously, I opened the oven door, praying that smoke or flames wouldn’t come roaring out. There wasn’t any sign of carnage, so I simply nodded to Evan and sat down at the counter.
“Just check them every few minutes or so,” I instructed, looking at a calendar Mom had set up by the coffee maker. On the Friday column in big, red letters the phrase CHARLIE’S DATE (FINALLY) was scrawled, obviously in Chase’s handwriting.
He thinks he’s funny, doesn’t he.
“I think they’re done,” Evan said, interrupting my thoughts. “Want some?”
“I’m good. Thanks, though.” I turned my brain in the direction of being angry at Chase again, but Evan had to go and make it even worse.
“Oh, I forgot about your hot date tonight.” He smirked, shoving a chicken nugget into his mouth.
“Eat your food, fatty,” I muttered grumpily. Leave it to my brothers to ruin a great mood.
“Fine!” he stage-yelled in a fake angry voice. “I’ll just go eat my sorrows away. Don’t worry about my tears that you’ve caused, you can just pretend they’re clear ketchup…”
“Oh, go watch TV or something,” I commanded unsympathetically. “I have to get ready, anyways.”
“Char, in all seriousness, if Eller does anything he shouldn’t, I’ll kick his ass for you. It might ruin my reputation to beat up a little high school kid, but I’d do it for you.”
“You’re only a freshman in college,” I mumbled. “There’s really not much of a reputation to sacrifice.” I rolled my eyes and stealthily dodged his responses. They usually involved his fists.
“Make good choices!” he called after me when I ran down the stairs and back towards my room. Allison, the same best friend I’d had since kindergarten, was coming over in a few minutes to help me get ready for my date with Ethan and I needed to at least clear a path to my closet. The last time she helped me get ready, she almost broke her leg when she tripped over something that was on my floor. After that incident she made me swear I’d clean my room before she ever came over again.
I threw a few pairs of dirty underwear and jeans into my hamper, vowing to do laundry soon. The clothes were beginning to pile up and it was annoying having to sift through them. I tossed some shoes into my closet sloppily and threw away a few used tissues from the last time I was sick, and my room was clean.
“Char, Al’s here,” Chase called from somewhere upstairs. Allison knew she could just walk into my house – she took advantage of that fact quite often – so she ended up just parking around back and slipping in through the basement door. That didn’t surprise me.
“Hey,” she said, tossing her bag on the couch in the basement den. “Is it safe to come in?”
“You’re all good,” I responded, tossing the last tissue into the trash. “I even cleaned up for you.”
“I’m sure my leg appreciates your efforts.” She jumped up on my bed – it was almost as high as Copper’s back, which was ridiculous – and laughed sarcastically. “So where are you guys going, anyways?”
“I’m imagining the typical dinner-and-a-movie deal,” I said, lying back down on the floor. “Probably nothing too special.”
“Then you’ll have to make it special,” she replied dramatically, using her hands to emphasize her point. “You should wear that yellow dress you got in the beginning of this summer!”
“Isn’t that a little fancy for a movie?” I asked, glancing back at the dress she was referring to. It still had its tags and was hanging outside of my closet in plain view. I looked at it skeptically. Sure, it was gorgeous, but it was a little too elegant to wear to dinner and a movie.
“Maybe, but Ethan’ll love it. Plus it makes your boobs look great.” She grinned, adding, “In a non-lesbian way, of course.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I chuckled, waving my hand. I knew Allison wasn’t a lesbian, and she knew that as well, so her lesbian comments didn’t really freak me out that much.
“Seriously, though. If you wear that dress, he’s guaranteed to never forget you.”
“Shouldn’t my dazzling personality be enough to capture his attention?” I asked, my sarcastic nature coming out, and laughed dryly.
“If only that were possible,” Allie sighed. “Guys are pigs, Char. You and I both know this.”
“Except for one, right?”
“Evan isn’t involved in this discussion,” she mumbled, blushing up a storm. She and my brother had been dating since last year – which originally killed me, but I learned to get used to it as long as they didn’t kiss in front of me – and she was still embarrassed about it. I learned to stop minding once I really started to notice the way they acted around each other. In the beginning, they were all cute and annoying. But after the first few months passed and the new-ness faded, they were still happy together. And I would’ve rather had Evan dating my best friend than a witch I couldn’t stand.
“Whatever you say,” I chuckled. “Speaking of him, why hasn’t he made an appearance yet?”
“I texted him,” she shrugged. “We’ve gotten good at sneaking in time to see each other.”
“As long as I’m not there when you ‘see’ each other, I don’t care.” I laughed, standing up from the ground. “So you really think the dress is a good idea?”
“Well, yeah,” she said dumbly, still embarrassed. “Try it on, though. Just to be sure.”
I shrugged and began taking off my shirt when Allison threw her shoe at my door to make it close. I pulled the dress on over my head and stared at the full-length mirror next to my closet, analyzing my every move.
To be honest, I liked the dress. But, being a teenage girl, I had to insult myself before saying so.
“It makes my hips look huge,” I whined, lying back down despairingly. “And it’s so fancy. I can’t wear it to a movie.”
“Oh, shut up, Charlie. Who cares if it’s fancy? You look hot.”
“Again with the lesbian comments…”
She raised one eyebrow at me, trying not to smile. We always made lesbian references, because we acted like a lesbian couple. We were the two gayest straight girls at our school.
“Besides, it’s all in the shoes.” She ignored my comment and jumped off my bed towards the closet. “Like, if you were to wear these shoes–” She held up a pair of black stilettos, looking at the heels ridiculously. “–you’d be too fancy. But if you wore your brown flats, it would be casual.”
“How do you know this?” I asked skeptically. She somehow knew exactly what to wear at all times.
“Watch The Style Network, Char. It works miracles.” She smiled and shook her head, gesturing for me to go over and sit in front of the mirror. “Should I curl your hair or do you want it up?”
“Up would be easier,” I mumbled, knowing she’d ignore me.
She laughed. “Curled, it is!”
I groaned, resisting the urge to flop around onto my back. Curling my hair took forever when Allison did it. Sure, she made it look fantastic, but it took an hour to do it.
“He’s picking me up at five,” I reminded her, looking at the clock. It was four thirty.
She sighed dramatically. “I can just curl the top layer, then. Happy?”
“Golden,” I replied, still being sarcastic. I grinned cheekily and she pretended to beat me with my hot curling iron. I flinched, reliving memories of burning myself, and she eventually stopped.
Twenty minutes later, she was putting on some shadow and liner to my eyes and a little bit of blush to my cheeks. After that came the mascara, and then I was done.
“God, you’re gorgeous,” she said, admiring her own handiwork. “I must say, I do a fantastic job.”
I laughed and turned back towards the mirror to look at myself. Allison had put half of my hair up on the top of my head and curled the rest of it so that it fell down along my face like a waterfall. This time I couldn’t deny it. Though I was still self-conscious, I had to admit that it looked good. It was a moment where I wouldn’t have minded if someone had come in and took some pictures.
That’s exactly what happened. As soon as I walked upstairs, I was bombarded with cameras by Evan and Chase. Fortunately, Jamie and Mom came to my defense, but that wasn’t before I was thoroughly blinded.
“So how does it feel to not be a cat lady anymore?” Chase asked, laughing hysterically while he took some more pictures.
“Are you aware that your dress could be considered highly inappropriate?” Evan chose to ask, him and Chase being a paparazzi duo. I knew he was joking, but I could see the seriousness behind his cheesy grin. Evan always was the over-protective brother.
“I’m a senior in high school,” I said, laughing as the camera flashed in my face again. “I think I could be wearing something a lot worse.”
Both Chase and Evan shrugged in unison and continued snapping photographs of me.
“Okay, you two,” Mom interrupted, coming to my rescue. “Enough with the pictures.”
“I think I’ll call this one, Charlie Sanders – Cat Lady No More,” Chase said, pointing at the screen of his digital camera to Evan. They both laughed like Chase had just said the funniest thing ever and Allison poked the two of them in the ribs. When Evan whined a little she apologized to him with a kiss, but when Chase whined she just poked him again.
Ah, the joys of love.
“One: I’m not a cat lady.” I tried to glare at Chase, but it was ruined by my laughter. “And two: I thought I told you not to kiss in front of me.”
Allison and Evan shrugged apologetically while Chase just laughed.
“One day, when you get your first boyfriend, you better not kiss in front of us, either.” Chase grinned and patted me on the head like I was a little kid.
I couldn’t lie, I was a little offended. I’d had plenty of boyfriends before. I wasn’t just a little kid.
“Shut it,” I commanded bitterly, pushing his hand away. “Now seriously, go away… He’s going to be here any minute.”
“We can’t meet our sister’s new boyfriend?” Evan asked in fake shock.
“You can when he’s actually my boyfriend,” I replied, my muscles tensing when I heard a car door slam. “He’s here! Go away before you embarrass me!”
Evan and Chase both laughed evilly, but Mom pulled them by the ears into the kitchen.
“Good luck,” Allison whispered, smiling and patting my arm reassuringly. She left to follow Evan and it was only me, my dad, and the quickly-approaching Ethan.
Both my dad and I stood in a semi-awkward silence for the few seconds before Ethan rang the doorbell, and I was thankful when I heard the ring that signaled he was here.
“Well, see ‘ya,” I said quickly, hoping that my dad wouldn’t need to talk to him or anything.
“Charlie,” Dad said, making me stop and groan silently. “Char, I hired Ethan knowing he was a good kid. But I don’t know him all that well.”
“Dad, it’s going to be fine,” I whined. “I promise I’ll be careful.”
Dad sighed, looking at me pleadingly when I went to open the door.
“We can’t just leave him out there!” I whispered, not wanting Ethan to hear.
Dad begrudgingly nodded and stared daggers into him when he walked through the door.
“Hey, Charlie,” he greeted, looking me up and down subtly. I knew he liked what he saw because of the small smile creeping up on his lips.
Dad coughed noticeably, making Ethan jump a little.
“Hi, Mr. Sanders,” he said quickly, reaching over to shake his hand.
Dad accepted the handshake and muttered, “Ethan,” while nodding his head.
There was an awkward pause while both Ethan and I stood by the door. I was prepared to book it out the door, but Ethan seemed to be frozen in place.
“Well,” I began uncomfortably. “I guess we should be going now.”
Dad stared at Ethan like his eyes were piercing into his soul. I saw Ethan shudder a little before he broke eye contact and looked back at me.
“Uh, yeah. It was nice seeing you again, Mr. Sanders,” Ethan mumbled, hesitantly glancing back at Dad.
“Before you go,” Dad added, walking over to the door and blocking our exit. “Just remember, Ethan, I control your career future at Charlie’s Pizza. If you do anything stupid, I’ll make sure you don’t get another job in town again.” Dad grinned as Ethan took in a sharp breath.
Ethan’s eyes widened noticeably and he gulped, mumbling, “Yes, sir,” before Dad moved away. I heard Chase shout something that sounded like Make good choices! and was ecstatic when Ethan didn’t notice.
We walked out to his car – an old pickup truck; how fitting for a guy living in Tennessee – in an awkward silence until he sat down in the driver’s side.
“So,” he began, drumming his fingers against the steering wheel. “Where do you want to go?”
“Where do you want to go?” I asked quietly, being my indecisive self. It used to piss my parents off to no end when I wouldn’t be able to make a decision, but they eventually learned to work around it.
“I was thinking Pei’s,” he said, shrugging. “Do you like Chinese food?”
I bit my lip. If I answered too enthusiastically, he’d think I was being too eager-to-please. I had to wait for just the right amount of time before answering.
“It depends on the day,” I replied after a short second of pause.
“Is today a good day?” he asked, glancing over at me flirtatiously.
I waited a few seconds and bit my lip.
“Today’s a great day.”