Blinking the last remnants of sleep from the corners of my eyes, I pushed open the door to the library media center at Ashton High School and caught sight of my best friend, Beckett. She was equally bleary, probably the result of our two a.m. debate over Tumblr ask-boxes about which Dumbledore actor was better. But still. She was breathtaking.
"Morning, love," I grinned, nudging her with my hip until she scooted over enough in her chair to make room for me. She turned from her Tumblr dashboard long enough to greet me, leaning in to accept a kiss on the cheek. Her long, dark curls smelled like strawberries and sunlight and her pale skin was smooth under my lips.
"Hey." Her voice creaked a bit on the way out, and she cleared her throat loudly before taking a swig of coffee from her favorite stainless steel travel mug and offering me a sip. I wrinkled my nose; she liked her coffee strong and black, and I could only tolerate it with boatloads of milk and sugar.
"So," I changed the subject, definitively shaking my head when she again offered me a hit of caffeine. "Somebody's birthday is coming up."
"Yeah, yours." It was true; my birthday was a mere two weeks after hers. We joked that we could have been twins. At least we did, before all this tension. All of a sudden, we were grown up and attractive and nobody wanted to make us out as siblings anymore, just in case. I didn't blame them; I fostered very un-sibling-like feelings for Beckett.
"Yeah, but yours first," I insisted. "And I was thinking..."
"Oh, Jesse," she sighed. "I told you not to do that anymore; thinking takes a lot of brain power, and I wouldn't want you to give yourself a stroke."
I valiantly reisisted the urge to poke my tongue out. "I was thinking," I continued, undaunted by her teasing, "that we could all get together at my place, maybe get a couple minor actors from Harry Potter to come and sign stuff. Male strippers," I added, teasing. She didn't resist the urge to poke her tongue out.
"You'd enjoy that, wouldn't you?" she teased. Then, more seriously, "But I already had something in mind. I figured we could all kind of... congregate at my place, watch the Harry Potter movies, eat some pizza. Nothing too stressful."
"It's your sixteenth birthday, don't you want something more?"
"Well, a car from my parents wouldn't go amiss. But you know better than anyone that I don't want anything special. I don't like a fuss; it makes me feel awkward."
"I really wanted to do something special for you," I pouted. This had been my master plan, some gregarious gesture that would make her fall head over heels for me and never let go. All of a sudden, our friend Ilycia popped her head up from where it had been buried in her Spanish textbook.
"Dude," she hissed. "There's gonna be pizza. Shut the fuck up."
Ilycia was a huge fan of food. And Beckett's dad really did make the best pizza.
"Fine, I succumbed. But nobody's doing anything for my birthday, either. We'll do the exact same thing. No muss, no fuss. Quick and dirty."
Beckett's eyes glimmered. "But I already paid for the male strippers!"
I was melting inside. He was so sweet, so thoughtful.
And so hot.
It was bad, I knew, that I'd fallen for the one guy I should't have. School asshole? No problem. Varsity quarterback? Fine. I could crush on them all I wanted, and no harm would come to anybody. But Jesse? This was bad. Not only would a relationship potentially ruin the bond we'd built over the past seven years, but there was no way he would feel the same way about me. We're talking about the guy who warned me in a very offhand tone that my bikini top had slipped and I was flashing the whole pool without so much as batting an eye. The guy who'd slept over at my house countless times without resorting to one of those cliche moments when he confesses his love because he thinks I'm asleep. The guy who I'm sure still thinks I have cooties, like he did in the third grade.
"Beckett?" He was trying to get my attention. "Beckett?"
"Hmm?" I hummed, flashing him a dazzling smile. He didn't look twice.
"Bell's gonna ring. Period four. Can I walk you to Geometry?"
"That's completeley out of your way. Don't be late for Mr. McDermott on my account." Still, I stood. Whether Jesse was walking me or not, I had to get to class somehow. And he really couldn't be late for Civics. He had the same teacher as me, but in a different period. Mr. McDermott was a kick-ass teacher. He was fair, sarcastically hilarious, a real font of knowledge, and laid-back beyond belief. Unless you were late, and then all bets were off. When he'd said earlier in the semester that he didn't like students to be late because he wanted the fun to start sooner, we all thought he was joking. Then Carly Blake was less than a minute late the next week, and none of us doubted Mr. McDermott's ability to become a a hardcore disciplinarian anymore. Detention for an entire week on first offense, and a warning to us all.
"Oh. Well, I suppose you're right," Jesse relented. I couldn't be sure, but I thought he might look a little disappointed. Then, my mind had a way of playing tricks on me and making me see things I wanted to. Last month, I'd thought he'd blushed when I told him that I liked his hair better longer, but that his new haircut was still pretty damn sexy.
"Go," I giggled. "If you have detentions for the next month, you'll have to miss my kick-ass awesome birthday party."
"Wouldn't want that," he agreed seriously, leaning in to kiss me on the cheek again. "Love you!" he called as he descended the stairs.
"Me too!" I responded, a habit.
I meant it.