What Comes Of Eating Doughnuts With A Boy Who Plays Guitar
After hitting the snooze button for the fourth time, Courtney heard her mom coming down the hallway. Her brain quickly assessed the room situation, and she knew that there was not enough time to shove all of the clothes from the floor into her closet before her mom would open the door and give her signature “frustrated sigh.” She snapped her eyelids back together as the door creaked open softly.
“Courtney, do you know what time-” sigh…yep, there it was. “This room is disgusting! You're going to come home one day and find all of your clothes in the trash,” her mother threatened. She opened one eye to see her mom, already dressed and with make-up on, looking annoyed. People loved to tell her they looked more like sisters. This pleased Mrs. Ross endlessly, but was more of an outright annoyance to Courtney.
Courtney brought her thoughts back to reality and did her best to put on an apologetic face.
“I'm sorry, Mom, I know. I got home late from work, and practice was killer yesterday. I swear I'll clean all of it up this weekend.” Her arms protested as she stretched them over her head; she hadn’t been lying about a rough practice. She was fairly certain she’d have tiny blue fibers from their tumbling mats embedded into her knees for the rest of her life. The fact that she could land her standing tuck no problem in her back yard and not at practice was a rapidly growing source of frustration.
“Yeah, yeah, I'll believe it when I see it,” her mother replied, but Courtney knew by the half smile that she wasn't really mad anymore. “You really do need to get up though, you told me to remind you about your AB study thing this morning.” Courtney's eyes now flew open and she leaped out of bed.
“A-P Mom, AP, not AB,” she scolded. She frantically searched her room for the assigned uniform for the day. “Mom, where is my calendar? I don't remember which skirt I'm supposed to wear for tonight's game, and now I'm going to be late to study with Ben!” She took one look at her appearance in the mirror and gasped. It really didn't matter how many people told her she was lucky to have curly hair; on days like today, she knew it was a curse. Furiously, she attempted to tame it into a ponytail with her green ribbon. Looking up, she found her mom holding the aforementioned calendar, in addition to the correct white skirt for that night's basketball game.
“Have I mentioned to you lately that you're the best, coolest, youngest-looking mom in all the world?” Courtney gave an overly sheepish grin before grabbing the skirt and throwing on her uniform. Her socks may not have matched, and she may have had to eat her breakfast while doing her makeup in the car on the way to school, but she hoped she looked plenty cheery upon her arrival to campus. Glitter eye shadow could do that for a girl. One final appearance check against the reflection of her silver Mustang revealed that there was nothing stuck in her teeth. Thank you, she thought gratefully as she realized she appeared almost put-together.
She tried to remain calm and collected as she quickly flitted across campus to the library. Though she would never admit it for the fear of sounding nerdy, she liked that her cheer uniform matched the school décor as she hurried under the giant green and gold “Horizon Huskies” sign above the main entrance. It gave her a much-needed sense of belonging.
Ben already sat at a table in the media center, and it struck her that there was hardly a trace of the scrawny kid with the too-short pants after a mid-year growth spurt. She remembered being partnered with him for her first school project after she had moved to Scottsdale six years ago. She’d been pleasantly surprised at how well they worked together. They had nailed their presentation on Spain that year and had been electing to work together ever since.
“Hey, sorry I'm late. It seems like I can't catch up lately,” she explained to him.
“No problem, beauty takes time, right? Or so I hear,” Ben responded with a crooked smile. Courtney never knew how to take comments like that. She wavered back and forth between thinking he was complimenting her and being convinced that it was sarcasm. She decided on a light laugh before plopping down next to him.
“Here are my notes from the first half of the study guide Mrs. Wells gave us. I didn't think it was too bad, but I just want the AP tests to be over. Studying for this, plus Chem and Econ, is sucking the life out me.” Courtney handed him the papers and tried to relax and determine where to rest her gaze. Looking people in the eye was a bit much for her, so she usually settled for the middle of their noses instead. She couldn't tell if she was anxious because she was around Ben, or if she was anxious because she was her. Fidgeting, she reached up to smooth her ponytail and tighten her bow.
“Yeah, I hear ya. After basketball is over, I'll feel better. Too much pressure.” He shared this with a barely perceptible sigh. She was surprised he was being even this open with her. They had been in classes together since their introduction in the sixth grade, but they usually just kept things academic. She had always thought he was cute in a nice-guy sort of way, but that was even truer now that he had hit six foot something and filled out. She admired his unkempt auburn hair and warm brown eyes. He has, like, actual arm definition now. When did that even happen? He looks like- “When are you done with your season?” he asked as he interrupted the very important conversation she was having with herself.
“Oh, um, well, we have nationals after basketball ends, and then cheer camp in June. We’ll vote for captains then.” Her mind wandered. She knew she would be the best choice for captain, but it would probably come down to who garnered the most attention, which wasn’t always her- the struggle of social anxiety was real. Shaking herself out of her worry, she continued, “It's weird that we'll be seniors next year, right? It's like the last time for everything.” Her finger found a purpose in pulling on a stray curl that was trying to escape. “I don’t know. It's crazy how fast the last five years went by. It seems like we just met in Mrs. Vasquez’s class- and you were still rocking the bowl cut,” she teased him hesitantly.
“Way to go deep there, Ross,” Ben said with a laugh. “You had to bring up the bowl cut, huh? You know it was cool then. We all had to be Bieber.” He waved off the memory like it was painful. “Maybe we should actually go over our study guides before you take us too far down memory lane. I’m worried about what else you have stored up there.” He playfully knocked on her head. Courtney resisted the urge to blush. Why did she always have to say the stupid things that were in her brain? Develop a filter already, she chided herself. She wished she could just laugh it off, but she knew this scene would be replaying in her head later like a movie reel. Just let it go. Forget it, he didn’t even mean anything by it. Be like Vanessa, she thought. Her best friend always seemed to be so effortlessly confident, no matter who was around. She imagined that cute boys never called her by her last name like she was “one of the guys.” You need to take notes or something this summer.
“I'll try to stay focused, sir.” She saluted him with a sarcastic air. No need for him to know she was halfway down the rabbit hole of self-doubt. Throughout the rest of the study session, she just kept thinking that there were only nine more weeks until she could get out of town and attempt to do… something. Meet people? Have fun? Don’t set the bar too high now, Courtney. Great. Now you’re talking to yourself in the third person and not even employing decent sarcasm. It’s going to be a long day.
♬ “Back Home” – Andy Grammer
The churning ball of dread in Courtney’s stomach was finally gone. Finals were over, and she could actually inhale deeply. She took a few breaths just for good measure. She actually got up and put all of her clothes away willingly without waiting for her mom to call her on it. She felt like a bouncy ball in her excitement for her trip the next day.
“Hey, Court,” she could hear her mom down the hall, “please don't forget, you need to call Vanessa to confirm your flight-” Her mom stood in her doorway, wide-eyed, breaking into a grin. “I can see the carpet!” she exclaimed. “Oh, my lovely Berber. I’ve missed you.” This statement was followed by some god-awful dance from the seventies.
“Okay, okay, okay, Mom, I get it. No need to break into a disco. It's clean. Amazing what I can do when I'm not at school, practice, and work all day, huh?” Courtney asked simply.
“You're right. You deserve this summer off. I can't believe you're going to be a senior. I'm going to have to start telling people I had you when I was fourteen,” she joked.
“Ha. Ha. Ha,” Courtney replied dryly.
“So what would the future Husky Cheer Captain like for breakfast this morning? Don't get the wrong idea, I'm not going to cook, but anywhere you wanna go can be arranged. Far be it for me to deny the cheer queen her last breakfast before her departure.” Her mom’s eyes sparkled with all of the vicarious thrill she got out of her daughter’s cheerleading accomplishments.
“Oh my god, give it a rest, woman!” Courtney said in a half-serious tone. “I still can't believe they voted for me. I keep thinking they’ll replace me while I’m on vacation or something.”
“You give it a rest. You've earned everything that you've gotten, so just relax already. Your dad and I are so proud of you. Let's go eat something ridiculous and then you can pack for your trip.”
“Well, when you put it that way, I guess I can't say no.”
While sitting at breakfast, waiting for the coma-inducing pastry, Courtney's phone rang. She saw the picture of her too-adorable best friend pop up on the screen.
“Mom, it's Vanessa, I gotta take this.” She headed outside of the restaurant. “Girl! What are you doing?” she practically squealed as she picked up the phone.
“Only planning your party for tomorrow night, you know, nothing too exciting.” Vanessa was known for keeping a rather jam-packed social calendar in her small-town world of Gem City, Ohio.
“I'm sorry, my what now?” Courtney said.
“Whatever. You have been stressed and negative and BLAH for too long. Time is up, girl, and we’re gonna get a little crazy. We are having a party, and I have invited everyone, well, everyone good, anyway. Some people you'll remember from before you moved, but we've gotten some new lovelies in town lately. Plus, Luke is inviting a bunch of guys from the basketball team. There will be no shortage of selection,” Vanessa insisted. Courtney’s heart rate jumped which annoyed her. This was what she was hoping for- a summer to relax and be herself. It was so stupid that her stomach turned in knots thinking of all of those people showing up to see her. “Helloooooooo? Are you alive over there? I know you too well- quit with your ‘social anxiety’ bullshit and get excited.”
Courtney laughed, her stress easing. “Ah, you do know me. Okay,” she breathed, “I’m just going to be excited, you’re right. I look forward to the plethora of ‘pretties’ that you speak of.”
“While we’re at it, stop speaking like Abe Lincoln, it’s bringing me down from my summer high. No SAT vocab allowed. We will talk like cavemen if we have to. Got it?” Vanessa demanded.
“Really? Abe Lincoln?” Courtney couldn’t help but grin when talking to her best friend. “Well, you’re the boss, so yes, ma’am. Or should I just grunt at you as a response from now on?”
“That’s better, thank you! Hey, Luke is calling me obsessively on the other line, so I’m gonna go, but text me your flight info again and I will see you tomorrow!” Vanessa practically sang into the phone.
“You got it, tell Luke I said ‘hi,’ and that I can’t wait to meet him.” Courtney had missed this. Vanessa was the one she could always count on to bring her out of her shell and really get her. She couldn’t believe she was going to spend an entire month in her old hometown. It had been several years since she’d been back- not since she’d gotten rid of the braces and learned how to -sort of- control her curly tresses. There was a cautious optimism in the air about the prospect of a summer adventure. She walked back into the restaurant and sat down in front of the largest cinnamon roll she had ever seen and laughed. She and her mom clinked their forks together. “Cheers!” they cried before devouring a week’s worth of calories.
She took advantage of the sugar high to pack her bags, snacks, and books for the plane and to pick out an outfit for the party being thrown in her honor. In my honor, she thought, like I’m the Queen of freaking England. At which point she curtseyed in the mirror and practiced her British accent. And you seriously have to wonder why the boys are not knocking down your door for a date? You. Are. A. Nerd.
It took everything she had to get through dinner and make herself go to sleep.It was as though it were Christmas Eve and she was a five year old waiting for Santa.Vanessa would not be pleased to be likened to an old fat man.Finally, she nodded off with thoughts of going back to the one place that she could call home.