Romantic Drama by flYegurl

Category:Maximum Ride
Genre:Drama, Romance
Published:2011-06-19 08:02:07
Updated:2011-06-19 08:02:07
Packaged:2021-04-22 01:10:45
Summary:Nudge is ugly, nerdy, and unpopular. But she has a crush on the most desirable boy in school. Unfortunately, preppy and popular Lissa is after him too, and it's obvious she'll win. Totally sucky, right? But it's impossible to avoid in teenage drama.

Romantic Drama

Hi. I'm Monique. But my friends call me Nudge. That is, they would, if I had any.

You see, I grew up in the tiny, overlooked city of Walla Walla, Washington. There were barely seven hundred kids going to my elementary school, which consisted of grades Kindergarten through sixth grade. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that that is a small number of kids for such a large span of grades.

I hadn't been unpopular in my old city. I'd been friends with every kid in my class, and even had a best friend, Emma Watkins, to boot. We used to spend every day playing together, and I loved my life; the small town with every store within walking distance; the friendly people, every one of which knew my name; my school, which had classes that excited and challenged me; and my friends and teachers, all whom loved me as much as I loved them.

Then, of course, the cliché that starts almost every teenage romantic comedy/drama: I moved. To the not-quite as small, though quite as unknown, city of Collinsville, Illinois. I attended middle school there; two weeks after the year had begun. It was quite an adjustment for me, because in this town, the school system went like this: six years of elementary school, grades Kindergarten through fifth; then three years of middle school, grades sixth through eighth; then four years of high school, then college. Of course, transferring after sixth grade, like I did, I was arriving at this middle school for the first time when its other students had already been attending for a year. Also, starting a couple weeks into the year, everyone had already re-formed their cliques. I was among strangers who had no intention of letting me into their groups.

Of course, who would? I was a kid who had begun to mature far before her time, receiving her very first training bra at the end of fourth grade (and because I had really needed it, not because I wanted it), and her very first real bra in the middle of fifth grade. I had actually started my period and got my first bout of acne in fourth grade. And to top it all off, I was a chubby girl, quite a few pounds above what was thought to be attractive, finding myself stuffing potato chips and chocolate into my mouth on the very days I had steeled myself to start dieting.

Of course, back in Walla Walla, this was all manageable. I had Emma, who always encouraged me and gave me compliments and advice that made me feel pretty and important and loved, and I had classmates who looked at me, without judgment, as a friend of the past six years.

I still had Emma in Illinois, of course; we talked and texted with our brand-new cell phones, we wrote letters back and forth telling each-other of what was going on, and asking for advice, and giving it in return. We sent pictures and little mementos, and when I heard her voice or read her writing, I could almost smell the fresh, forest-y air of my hometown.

But back in Collinsville, at my new school, things weren't going that well. From the very first day of school, when I had accidentally tripped in the cafeteria and spilled chocolate pudding all over her brand-new skirt, Lissa Evans had made it her goal in life to make me miserable. She teased me and played pranks, she had every one of her preppy-girl followers join in on her little bully-quest, and she made absolute sure that no one, not even the other outcasts or nerds, would want to make friends with me.

So, for the two years in middle school, I pretty much kept to myself, studying and reading and sitting outside, pretending that the few trees in my yard was a forest, and remembering the times Emma and I used to spend exploring in the woods. But then, after spending the first month of the summer vacation after graduating middle school watching teen-movies, I realized something absolutely pivotal: high school was important.

In high school, I would have to try harder. I would have to study and get good grades, and take honors classes and electives so that I could maybe get a scholarship and get into a nice college. I would have to join clubs and maybe take leadership roles, and get a job. And above all, I would have to look good, because if those stupid teenage soap operas and movie dramas taught me one thing, it was that if you didn't look good you wouldn't make friends, and if you didn't make friends, your social life would be dead forever. And I didn't really want a dead social life. It would rot and stink up my bedroom.

So, for the rest of that summer, I changed myself. Completely. First, I used my birthday money to buy myself contacts, which I had never before worn at any time in my life; I had always worn big, coke-bottle glasses that magnified my eyes to grotesque proportions, and on hot days slid down the bridge of my nose when I would sweat. Using some of my Christmas money, I purchased all the makeup necessities I had researched from reading teen magazines, which I had never really liked, but had purchased several of to look at pictures of models and think about how horrible I looked in comparison. With the clothing allowance my mother had given me upon my ascension to high school, I went out and bought all the new tops that were in fashion (in plus sizes, unfortunately, which made me look slightly bunchy around the hips). I also bought new pants, the first jeans I had ever owned, that flared out at the ankles and made me feel really hip. I also got shorts – not short-shorts, because I was insecure about the size of my thighs, but knee-length shorts that were artfully faded and torn. I also bought bracelets and necklaces, the sort of which I would have never before even considered taking a close look at.

Dieting was a thing I wasn't quite ready for. I tried to lose weight, but I couldn't. Dad told me it was in my blood to be a bit over the regular weight limit. He said I had big bones and a slow metabolism, that there was nothing I could do, that I'd grow up to be 'big, black and beautiful,' just like my mom. I took his word for it, because I really didn't want to give up my potato chips. It was summer vacation, after all.

I got a haircut, though, which drastically improved my confidence. It was now no longer an unruly mess of curly-tangles, but a stylish, chin-length bob of neat, corkscrew-curls.

I kept my old sneakers, because they were comfortable and worn-in, and because they didn't look all that bad. They were the same brand I saw Lissa wearing during gym.

On the first day of high school, I woke up at four-thirty and spent an hour putting on my makeup in the ways I had studied from magazines; enough to cover blemishes and add rosy color to your cheeks, but not too much or you'd look like a slut. I added a touch of light-blue eye-shadow and administered mascara as well. I combed out any tangles in my curls and added a touch of hairspray, just to keep my hair from frizzing if the air was too humid. I carefully re-checked my nails, which I had filed and painted to perfection the day before, and I checked my outfit to make sure that the colors matched and that there weren't any wrinkles, and that I hadn't accidentally tucked the back of my shirt into my pants or anything. Then, standing in front of the mirror, I put on some strawberry lip-gloss I had bought the week before and looked at myself.

The girl in the mirror was not shy, nerdy, geeky, ugly, fat Monique Williams. I felt confident when I looked at the girl in the mirror: rosy cheeks; bright, brown eyes; thick, long lashes; perfect lips; and straight, clean, un-braced teeth (I had gotten my braces removed at the end of the summer, after wearing them since fourth grade). Even my hair looked nice, a feat for me, even after the new cut. I usually had to spend long amounts of tedious effort placing each hair into its proper place.

No, the girl in the mirror wasn't Monique Williams. She wasn't Monique the Whale, or Fat Monique, or Big Mony. The girl was Nudge, the best friend of the most popular, most attractive and funny girl in school back in Walla Walla, Washington. And Nudge was confident and pretty, with a round, radiant face. She may have been big, but she had curves.

I left the house feeling brave and outgoing, confident that this year, I would make some new friends. After all, there would be Juniors and Seniors that had never known me before, and new Freshman coming in from the other middle school in Collinsville (there were two). There was sure to be at least one person who would take a look at me and think 'hey, I want to be her friend.' And maybe, just maybe, I would be pretty enough with my new look for Lissa to back off.

I was terribly disappointed.

It turned out that Lissa had actually gone to the trouble of letting all the incoming Freshmen from the other middle school know that I was unfit to be anyone's friend, and not a single one of them so much as talked to me. The Sophomores remembered me from the year before, and although most of them thought that the petty ignoring of me was immature and truly overrated, most of them stayed away from me anyway, because they didn't want to be fraternizing with any puny little Freshman. And, of course, the Juniors and Seniors (I should have known) just ignored Freshmen as a rule. We weren't worth the time of day. That is, unless we were sexy girls, which apparently, despite my adamant studying and working all summer, I still wasn't.

It was certainly hurtful and demeaning, to have worked so hard and to have felt so good about myself and to suddenly have it all crushed into the dirt. I remembered, the first thing I did when I walked through the high school doors was think, hey, it's a new year, enjoy it. I had smiled, took a breath, and then Lissa and her cronies had purposely bumped into me as they passed on their ways through the entrance to receive their schedules.

"Honey, is that a tablecloth you're wearing, or did you honestly manage to find a size big enough to fit you?" Lissa laughed, and then they walked away, leaving me feeling like dirt on the bottom of the girl's shoe. I knew I wasn't obese. I wasn't obscenely fat. I was really just chubby, just about one hundred and fifty pounds, and at five-foot-four, that's not too big. Not to big at all, really.

But somehow, when Lissa called me fat, I felt like someone who had just spent the last ten years of their life eating nothing, nothing at all, but chocolate. I felt like I had large rolls of fat hanging over the waist of my pants, and I felt like everyone in the school could see my stretch marks, even under my clothes. I felt like I had five chins, like I was too heavy to walk, like I was too fat to eat anything without gaining another pound.

But I swallowed the knot that had risen in my throat and blinked back my tears, walking steadily to the main office to collect my class schedule and locker number. And then… I continued with my day, not making eye contact, and feeling paranoid, as if everyone kept staring at me when I had my back turned.

By the beginning of second quarter, nothing much had changed. I was making As in all my classes, but unfortunately, my social status was still at zero. I was constantly tormented by Lissa and her friends, who had two purposes in high school, as far as I could tell; working their way up the social ladder, and dating hot boys. Almost every girl in Lissa's group was on their sixth or seventh boyfriend, but Lissa had remained single all year, because she had her sights set on one boy in particular.

See, towards the beginning of the year, Lissa and her Ferrets (which was what I called them, because every one was long and skinny with a pointed face) had set up a ballot. Every girl in the Freshman year was supposed to vote for which Freshman boy they thought was the most attractive and desirable. It ended up being a tie between two best friends; a boy named Nick Edward, with a silky sheet of pitch-black hair that hung in one eye and an average-height, not-too muscled body; and his friend James, who was very tall and thin with bright red hair that could be considered strawberry-blond, freckles, and although he didn't have the best of biceps, every girl in gym informed the rest of the grade that he had the most amazingly hot abs.

Both of these boys were attractive and desirable in slightly different ways. Nick was the one with the loud humor, bordering on obnoxious, and the charming, attractively loud personality. James was slightly quieter, a little shyer, with more subtle humorous sarcasm, very nice, very kind and charismatic. They both were undeniably hot, with the faces and bodies of models (Nick more suited for swimsuits, James for clothes).

Anyway, seeing which boys the vast majority of the Freshman girl population thought were desirable, Lissa set her sight on the one she thought was best. Because, really, James was the most sought-after boyfriend in the school. This was because Nick was already dating someone, his pretty friend Max, a girl with the odd full name of Maximum Ride Martinez, James' half-sister, her mother being his step-mom.

So, since every girl wanted to be the always-single James' boyfriend, Lissa was at the top of the queue.

And she was going to get it. Everyone in the school knew. She and her girlfriends hung out with James, Nick and Max, Lissa always sticking to James like glue. Giggling at his sarcastic humor, fluttering her eyelashes, clutching at his arm or his shirt, flirting, wearing short-shorts and skirts and short dresses and tight skinny-jeans.

They really were a couple. They had already been voted the cutest couple, even though they weren't officially dating. At least, not out loud.

Somehow, although it couldn't be true, I sometimes think that Lissa only desired James because he was the only person in school who was ever nice to me. On the first day of high school, I had passed him in the hallway. I remembered him because he had also been new in school during seventh grade in my same class, and he had shown me to the cafeteria. He had been pretty nice to me then – that is, until I spilled the pudding on Lissa's skirt. After that, I was much too embarrassed to talk to him.

But on the first day when I had passed him in the hallway, depressed from Lissa's earlier remark, he had given me a smile and told me "You look nice." I had been so surprised I couldn't reply, and he continued down the hallway to meet up with Nick and Max.

At the start of the second quarter, my schedule had been rearranged due to a change in my electives. I was unhappy to find that I now had three of my six classes with Lissa, and two of those was also with James. My first hour class was Honors English, which included Lissa, two of her Ferrets, and James and Nick. I had always enjoyed English, but this pretty much made it torture. I couldn't raise my hand without Lissa making a snide comment, and to make it worse, one of her Ferrets had been assigned as my project partner. She bullied me to no end. I managed to ignore most of it, but you know that saying 'sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?' Well, as you probably know, that's a filthy lie.

However, gym was even worse. Because I had gym with Lissa and all of her Ferrets, as well as Max, Nick, and James. It was pure bad luck, but I kept thinking that fate really hated me. I had to change into my PE uniform amidst a bunch of perfect girls with perfect weights, and then I went out into the gym in my uncomfortably short gym shorts, only to find James and Nick, looking perfect and hot even in their uniforms, and Lissa with her shirt hem tied up in the back with a hair-tie, making her look thin and curvy. She kept her long, glossy auburn hair up in a high pigtail during PE, and she kept tucking her bangs behind her ears very obviously, as if to bring attention to her slender neck or perfectly manicured fingernails, or her diamond earrings.

I felt like a total pig in comparison, too uncomfortable in the unflattering uniform and my extra pounds, my hair messily kept in short pigtails below my ears. Whenever we ran our warm-up laps, I would be huffing and puffing along, out of shape and starting to sweat, praying that my deodorant would work as well as the advertisement said it would, and Lissa and her Ferrets with James, Nick and Max would race past me. Lissa was an athlete, a member of both the JV dance team and the varsity cheerleading squad, and also on the track team. She would streak past me on her slender legs, not even perspiring, alongside James, a baseball and track star. She would turn back to send me a smirk and a patronizing "Keep it up, Monique! You're doing just great!"

So, basically, my life was crap. And as of now, I didn't give a flip about it. I figured, after I graduated high school and went to college with Emma, life would be grand. After all, my dad is always telling me about how it's the intelligent, interesting people who make it in college life, not the folks who were popular ditzes in high school.

One morning in first-hour English, I was sitting alone at my desk, reading Jaws, when James walked right up to me.

"Good morning, Monique," he said kindly. "What's up?"

I gawked up at him, completely blown away that he would actually come up and talk to me, Miss Unpopular, and right in the middle of everyone, too. Lissa was glaring at me from a corner of the room where she was talking to her two Ferrets, who also appeared to be glaring at me out of the corner of their eyes. They began whispering amongst themselves, and I had a strong feeling that they were badmouthing me. There was probably a hundred-and-ten percent chance I was right.

I suddenly remembered that James was standing over me expectantly, awaiting an answer. I closed my hanging mouth and swallowed.

"I'm well, thanks," I said quietly. "How are you?"

"Well," James began, "Actually, it's my birthday tomorrow. I'm bringing cupcakes. Ms. Wilkerson said it was okay." Ms. Wilkerson is our English teacher. "Are you going to be here tomorrow?"

Was he asking me because he wanted me to be there? It was an absurd thought, but it was there. Being around James always made me giddy, because it was seldom anyone talked to me with any friendliness.

"Of course!" I answered exuberantly, and then I realized how forcefully I had said it and blushed. "I mean, yes."

"That's good," James said, and smiled. "Well, see you in PE. I think we're doing dodge-ball today."

"Oh, joy," I quietly replied as he turned and walked back towards Nick.

When he reached his friend and began to talk, Lissa stood and flipped her long sheet of hair over her shoulder. She gave me a scowl before putting on a flirtatious smile and gliding gracefully over to James.

"So, James, it's your birthday tomorrow, isn't it?" she asked, and he nodded, smiling.

"Yeah, it is. I'm surprised you remembered."

"Oh, of course I did! When Nick mentioned it a week ago, I marked it on my calendar. I bought you a birthday present, actually. I hope you'll like it." She fluttered her eyelashes subtly and smiled. I always wondered how girls like her could flutter their eyelashes without looking like they were trying to blink a speck of dust out of their eyes, but she managed it just fine.

"Gee, thanks Lissa!" James answered excitedly. "I don't think anyone has ever given me a present in school before. That's really nice."

"Anything for you!" Lissa smiled. "Anyway, I've got to get back to Britney and Anna. I'll see you in gym, okay?"

"Yeah, sure!"

Lissa walked back to her Ferrets, who smiled and gave her high-fives. She sat down and began to eagerly discuss something with them.

Nick nudged James with a grin.

"You're asking her out tomorrow, right?" he muttered to him. James blushed.

"Yeah," he said quietly. "I couldn't get the nerve last year, but this year I'm definitely doing it."

Lissa pretended like she didn't hear the short conversation between the two friends, but I saw her cheeks become rosy with glee.

The rest of the day passed fairly uneventfully. I spent most of my classes daydreaming about tomorrow, when James would bring his cupcakes. I was excited, partly because I loved cupcakes, and partly because James had personally asked me whether or not I would be there. The thought had crossed my mind to get him a present, but then I realized that that wasn't a good idea, because since I wasn't actually his friend, he would probably think it was creepy. Besides, what was the point in getting all worked up? He was asking Lissa out tomorrow, anyway.

The next morning I awoke with the realization that my alarm clock hadn't gone off. This totally sucked, because I had only thirty minutes left to get ready for school now, and I had really wanted a lot of time to get ready, particularly this morning. I wanted to look nice for James' birthday. It was a stupid want, but it was there nonetheless.

Hurriedly, I ran a comb through my hair and pinned down the flyaways with some hair-clips. I put on my makeup quickly but carefully, then administered some lip gloss and put on the outfit that I had selected the night before. It had taken me an hour and a half of trying on every different possible combination, trying to decide which one made me look the most thin. Well, the least chubby would be more appropriate.

On the bus ride to school I was unusually excited, especially since it was for first hour English. I was wide awake and eager. It was a Friday before a three-day weekend, anyway, so all we would be doing was socializing. Not that I ever did anything like that, but today I thought maybe I could try. If I got the nerve to go up and wish James a happy birthday, maybe I could start a conversation and not spend the whole class period sitting alone at my desk with a thick book.

My bus always got to the school thirty minutes early, so I sat down in the lobby and waited for the bell, practically bouncing up and down in my seat. When it finally rang, I stood and grabbed my heavy backpack, quickly making my way up the stairs and to the classroom. I had some thought in my head that if I was the first to get there, maybe James would be the second, and I could have a minute alone with him to talk before Lissa interrupted. But when I got to the room, James, Nick, and Lissa and her Ferrets was already there with Ms. Wilkerson, pushing some desks together in the back of the room and laying out the boxes of store-bought cupcakes that James had brought.

"Oh, hi," I said, and I was frustrated to hear that it came out sounding disappointed.

"Good morning," James said, and Nick nodded in my direction.

"Remember to save Max a cupcake," he reminded James, and James nodded.

"Hello, Monique," Lissa said in a falsely sweet voice. "Why here so early? Did you smell food?"

"No," I muttered angrily. I glanced at the boxes of cupcakes. I was allergic to most food colorings, and store-bought goods usually contained them. The bright blue and yellow icing was a dead giveaway.

I slumped my shoulders. I had been really looking forward to eating James' cupcakes. Maybe I could just scrape off the icing. As long as there weren't sprinkles in the cake part, I could probably eat it. If I wanted to risk spending a few days with bleeding hives.

The rest of the class slowly began to filter into the room, and when the late bell finally rang, Ms. Wilkerson called our attention.

"As you can see, James has brought in cupcakes to celebrate his birthday. You can get your cupcakes and spend the rest of the hour talking."

The class began chattering excitedly and standing to line up at the tables, where Nick and James were handing out the treats. I nervously got in line at the back. I would have to ask whether or not there were sprinkles in the cupcakes. I really hoped there weren't. But, actually, even if there weren't, it was food coloring that was probably making the vanilla and chocolate cakes look that particular yellow and brown. I'd just ask to read the ingredients. I really wanted one of them.

When it was finally my turn, the rest of the class was sitting at their desks, mostly silent, eating their treats. There were about thirteen cupcakes left, presumably for James, Nick, Max, and James' teachers.

"Um, hi," I said shyly, and James smiled at me.

"Hey, Monique."

"Uh, I was just wondering, what's in the cupcakes? What are the ingredients?"

Before James could answer, Lissa stepped up beside him, holding her own cupcake and smirking.

"Why, are you watching your weight? Because just so you know, eating any kind of cake pretty much defeats the purpose of dieting. Here, James, here's your present." She held out a box wrapped in brightly colored paper and tied with a ribbon.

"Just a second, Lissa," James replied. "Here, Monique, I actually brought you a cupcake from a batch I made at home."

My face lit up like a candle when I heard this. James had actually brought a homemade cupcake, just for me. Why, though? Lissa was right next to him. He was giving me a homemade cupcake right in front of his girlfriend?

And then my doubts were answered for me.

"Yeah, Monique. It's low-fat, sugar-free, and he put laxatives in the batter. To try to help you shave off a few of those extra pounds, you know?"

The entire class went still. She had said it loud enough for all the students to hear her. The tension in the room was palpable. I felt heat rising into my face. I didn't dare meet James' eyes.

Then one of Lissa's Ferrets started to laugh, and the rest of the class followed suit.

Suddenly, I was surrounded by a horrible sea of cruel laughter. I couldn't hear myself think. There was just the laughing, all directed at Lissa's cruel joke. Unless it wasn't a joke. What if what she had said was true? What if James actually did make a batch like that, and he was a part of the joke as well?

"How could you?" I asked, before bursting into tearful sobs and turning to run out of the room.

I raced down the hallway in a fierce frenzy, unaware of any people I may have passed on my way. I was blinded by my hurt and angry tears, offended and humiliated beyond ever before. Now, it wasn't just Lissa and her Ferrets laughing. It was the entirety of my English class. I didn't care anymore whether or not I'd be getting into trouble for running out of the room like I did. I didn't care whether or not I remained unpopular for the rest of my four-year high school career. All I cared about was whether or not James had actually been part of Lissa's horrible bullying.

But I don't think he would ever have been so mean. I know we weren't friends – I mean, we barely knew each-other – but he was always so nice to me, the only person in the school I could count on to never be mean. He would never do something like that. It was just Lissa, being jealous that her boyfriend was giving another, unpopular girl a present.

But I couldn't stop crying at the thought that somehow, James wasn't how I thought he was. That he would actually be mean. And it hurt me to the core.

I finally stopped with my back against the row of lockers against the wall and slid down until I was sitting on the floor. Rubbing my eyes, I subdued my sobs until I was just sniffling. I had to stop crying. I couldn't go back into that room today, not after that humiliation. But if I stopped crying as quickly as possible, maybe I could get to my next class without looking like I had just been crying.


I looked towards the source of the voice to see James, standing at the end of the hallway. When he saw me look at him, his expression turned from anxious to relieved. He turned and started towards me, taking long strides, arms swinging at his sides. Why was he here? Had he followed me out of the room?

I hurriedly rubbed my eyes with the back of my hands and rubbed my nose for good measure. Hopefully, there wasn't any hanging boogers or anything. I didn't want him to think I was gross as well as fat and pitiful.

"Are you okay?" James asked me, sounding cautious and worried.

"Yeah, sure," I answered. "I'm fine."

James hesitated for a moment and then sat next to me, staring at the ground.

"I'm so, so sorry about what Lissa said. She's a real jerk. I don't know why she hangs out with me."

I frowned. "Because you're dating. Or she thinks you are. Or you will soon, or whatever. Everyone knows it." I sniffed.

"What?" James asked, sounding horrified. I turned towards him. "We're not dating, I swear it!" he said, looking at me pleadingly, as if the world would end if I didn't believe him. I was taken aback.

"What are you talking about?" I asked, as if he was the one who needed to be informed about his own relationships. "You're with each-other all the time. And yesterday, you told Nick that you were going to ask her out today."

Now, James was the one who was looking at me like I was crazy. Then, he held out his hands to me. For the first time, I noticed that he was carrying a cardboard box.

"Here, open it," he told me. I looked at it for a second, then looked at his face. He looked solemn, twitchy, nervous, and sincere. I took the box and lifted the lid.

Inside was a cupcake. A white cupcake, with chocolate icing and pink sugar roses. I stared at it.

"That's the cupcake I was going to give you," James said quietly. "Lissa is my friend, but she can be really mean sometimes. I would never go out with her." He paused. "I made this one. You're allergic to food coloring, right? This doesn't have any. It's real chocolate icing, and the sugar roses are colored with real fruit juice. There's chocolate chips in the cake. You like chocolate chips, right? I saw you bring a container of a few with your lunch, once."

I stared at the cupcake. It was so beautiful. I've never had a boy give me a present before, let alone a homemade cupcake, purposely dye-free, with real sugar roses and real chocolate icing. I didn't even know he knew about my allergy. Nobody ever did, except for the teachers, and that was because they got a note of reminder at the beginning of each quarter.

"Um…" James continued, sounding even more nervous than before. I looked up at him to see that he was avoiding my gaze, picking at the end of his sleeves. "Uh, I m-made the cupcake special b-because I've been planning this day since last year." He blinked and shook his head. I saw that he was blushing furiously, even the tips of his ears turning red. "This went so much more eloquently when I was rehearsing it in my head."

"You rehearsed it?" I asked. No boy had ever rehearsed a conversation with me before. At least, not that I know of. I was starting to feel like I was dreaming. It was too surreal, my two most frequent fantasies occurring on the same day; James not dating Lissa, and James giving me a present and talking to me, in private.

"W-well, yeah, I'm really nervous." James stopped for a second and took a deep breath. "I'm just going to say it, okay?" James stood up, turned, and held his hand out to me. "Monique Williams, will you p-please allow me to become your b-boyfriend?"

I gaped at him for a long moment. Sure, I had fantasized about the hottest boy in school (aka James, in my opinion) asking me out before. Hadn't every girl? But this was way too unreal, because I hadn't believed there would ever be the slightest chance of it happening. Never in my years in Collinsville had I thought that it would happen. I hadn't even hoped. I had just fantasized.

James' face fell and he withdrew his hand, blushing even redder.

"I'm sorry, I'm an idiot, that was too soon, wasn't it? We should become friends first, shouldn't we?" He stumbled over his words, correcting himself quickly. "That is, you don't have to if you don't want to. Be my girlfriend, that is. I mean, I could understand. You don't know me very well, so…"

"Why would you want to go out with me?" I interrupted. I really was confused. James stuffed his hands into his pockets and directed his eyes at the ground.

"When I moved here, I was really nervous. I had been bullied a lot at my previous school. You were the first person who actually talked to me. I thought you were really cool and smart and interesting. I didn't really have any friends for a while. See, Nick, you know him? He had been my best friend at my old hometown, too. He moved here a couple of years before me, and he was going to the other middle school." James stuck his tongue out. "I'm so sorry, I'm babbling. It's just, I've always thought you were neat, you know, studying really hard off by yourself and making such good grades. I've really had a crush on you since the day I met you." He took a breath. "I'm not really cut out for being a popular boy, you know. The popular guys are supposed to like the popular girls, the ones with the model-bodies and stupid voices. You know, the ones who do poorly except in social status. I've always been attracted to smart, funny, interesting, gorgeous girls." He smiled at me nervously. "I'm still waiting for an answer, you know."

"You think I'm gorgeous?" I asked breathlessly. "You actually think I'm gorgeous? You're not joking, are you?"

James shook his head, looking surprised. "Oh, no! Whenever I look at you, it's like I'm blind to every other girl in the world! Really!"

I stared at him for a long time. It really was like a fairy-tale. Like a dream. Like a wonderful dream.

"Okay," I finally said, feeling jubilant, warmth spreading throughout my body. I closed the cardboard box with the beautiful, homemade cupcake inside.

"Okay?"James exclaimed. "You'll really let me be your boyfriend?"

"Yes. We can date. I've actually… I've liked you for a long time, too."

The biggest, happiest smile I'd ever seen spread across James' face.

"That's great," he said. "That's really, really great!"

We walked back to the classroom in comfortable silence. He asked me several times if I was okay now, if I didn't feel sad anymore, if I needed to take a little more time to cry, however much I wanted. But I shook my head.

"Nope," I replied. "I'm fine."

When the two of us reentered the classroom, James looked like he was on cloud nine, totally elated. Lissa walked up to us with an air of superiority while Ms. Wilkerson watched from her desk, nodding to us, letting me know that I wasn't in trouble for running off.

Lissa completely ignored me, holding out the wrapped present to James.

"Welcome back, James," she said, smiling. "Here's your birthday present. Also, I was wondering if you'd like to start going out with me?"

Nick snickered and shook his head from the back of the room, and James looked at Lissa for a moment, then shook his head as well.

"I'm really sorry Lissa," he said remorsefully, "But I can't accept the gift or the invitation. I just asked Monique out, and we're dating now. And I'm sorry, but I think we'll have to stop hanging out. You were really mean to Monique earlier, and I just don't think friendship will work between us."

Then he grabbed my hand and stepped past Lissa, pulling me eagerly over to Nick.

"So you finally got the nerve, man," Nick said, slapping James on the back. "You got your smart and pretty girl, and I got mine. We'll have to start double-dating."

"Yeah! It's great! By the way, Monique, I sort of have a nickname between the people I really care about. I'm Iggy, okay? And Nick's Fang."

I grinned. "I'm Nudge. You can call me Nudge. That's what all my friends back in Washington called me."

Iggy smiled. "Nudge. I like that. It suits you."

I turned and looked at the class. All the girls were staring at me in either disbelief or envy, and the boys seemed to be looking at me as if seeing me in a new light. Of course, now that I was dating the most attractive boy in school, I probably seemed a great deal prettier.

And the look on Lissa's face was priceless. Her two Ferrets looked liked they had just been punched in the stomach.

I could definitely get used to this.