Kimber finished drying off after her shower and wrapped her fiery hair up in a fresh towel. She took the time to put on some makeup and get dressed before heading downstairs, but left her damp tresses bundled for the time being. She was hungry—and it looked like she wasn't the only one.
"Pizza's here!" Ashley called excitedly from where she kept watch at the window in the foyer. She could see a car slowing as it approached the mansion gates and instantly recognized the plastic logo of Spiced Up Pizza jutting from its rooftop. "Jerrica! Food!" she wailed, rushing to the callbox to buzz the delivery man onto the property.
"All right!" Jerrica called from the living room. "I'm coming."
"Great!" Kimber sighed with relief as she reached the last step. "I'm starved!"
"Hurry, Jerrica!" Ashley pleaded as the blond joined them, holding out her hands for some cash.
"Yeah, come on!" Kimber chimed in. It was impossible to tell whether or not she was only mocking Ashley.
Jerrica reached into the purse she was carrying and fished out her wallet. "All right, all right!" she snapped exasperatedly. "Give me just a second, girls."
The instant she had the cash in her hand, Ashley leapt for the front door, leaving Jerrica and Kimber laughing from the entryway.
The athletic teen dashed across the concrete porch and raced down the front steps to the cobblestone pathway, where she expected the delivery car to pull up at any second. But it didn't, and she couldn't hear even the dull rumble of its engine from where she stood.
Ashley looked up, shielding her eyes from the bright, early afternoon sunlight, and her jaw dropped in disbelief. The delivery car was gone!
Like a half-starved zombie, Ashley staggered down the driveway toward the gates. She had opened them promptly; why hadn't he driven through? Had he parked alongside the main road? Left their pizzas on the sidewalk and rushed off to make his next delivery?
She stood finally in the open gateway, looking left and right. The street was deserted, and there were no pizzas.
"Aw, man!" Groaning with disappointment, Ashley skulked back to the house to find Jerrica.
"Where's the pizza?" Jerrica asked as soon as Ashley appeared in the dining room doorway. Hungry girls surrounded the table, holding paper plates and looking at her expectantly.
"You tell me!" Ashley slammed Jerrica's hundred-dollar bill down on the table. "That jerk ran off with our food!"
"What jerk?" Shana asked, wide-eyed.
Ashley fell into a chair next to Krissie, another of the Starlight foster girls. "That jerk delivery driver!"
"You saw him?" Jerrica asked doubtfully.
Ashley nodded. "From the house. The car pulled right up to the front gates and I buzzed them open, but when I got outside…" She shrugged. "He was just gone."
"That's strange…" Aja murmured. "Are you sure it was delivery? How do you know?"
"I saw the Spiced Up party hat thing on top of the car, okay, man?!" Ashley yelled.
"All right, everyone just calm down," Jerrica soothed. "I'll give them a call and find out what happened." She headed for the phone in the kitchen.
"Come on, Ashley," Kimber laughed, putting her hand on the girl's shoulder. "Let's go make PB&J sandwiches. I missed breakfast, and you're getting hangry."
"Fine." Ashley rose from the table and followed Jerrica and Kimber into the kitchen sulkily.
"…Hangry?" Raya confusedly repeated.
"It means," Shana explained with a smile, "you're hungry, and it's making you angry!"
"Well, it's probably going to be another hour, girls," Aja sighed, checking her watch. "Why don't you all take the time to get started on your chores?"
The foster girls groaned, but did as Aja suggested. The rest of the Holograms filtered into the kitchen to see what Jerrica had discovered. They walked into an argument.
"Ashley!" Jerrica scolded. "I thought you said you opened the gates."
"I did, I swear!" cried Ashley.
Aja frowned. "Jerrica, what's going on?"
"I just got off the phone with Spiced Up Pizza. They said the delivery man left because no one opened the gate."
Everyone turned to look at the teen.
"That's not true!" Ashley insisted. "I know I opened them, because I walked right through when I went looking for the delivery car. I never closed the gates, so you can look and see for yourself!"
Kimber walked to the window and pulled the curtain aside to gaze across the front lawn and confirm Ashley's account. "Jerrica, she's telling the truth; the gates are wide open."
"And I'd been standing at the window next to the front door almost since you ordered!" said Ashley hotly. "I knew the minute the car pulled up to the gates and the first thing I did after calling to you was open them! He's lying, Jerrica!"
"Okay, we believe you!" Shana put her hands on Ashley's shoulders, giving them a reassuring squeeze. "Cool down, Ashley."
"I guess it was just a misunderstanding," Jerrica shrugged. "Oh, well. I placed a second order, so all we can do now is wait."
"I don't even want pizza anymore," Ashley pouted, storming out of the kitchen.
The Holograms looked at each other and shrugged.
The incident had been strange, but it was quickly forgotten as soon as pizza showed up—for real this time, though Ashley didn't care anymore.
Feeling suddenly inspired, Kimber spent her afternoon in the mansion studio working to flesh out the melody she'd come up with that morning into a real song. By evening she was stretched out on her bed, putting the finishing touches on her lyrics:
We are two of a kind
I feel the sun on my face
And I am keeping the pace
Running with you by my side…
I've got you on my mind
I feel the wind in my hair
I think we're going somewhere
Running with you by my side!
The next day was Monday. Kimber set off early for her daily run wearing a bright orange tank top and white running shorts, her hair gathered into a ponytail high on the back of her head. It was just before seven when she stepped out of the front gates where she'd thought Eric was supposed to meet her, but he wasn't there.
Well, I am early, she told herself, and began stretching to warm up. Minutes ticked by on her watch until it was seven sharp. Then it was five past seven. Then ten past seven. And Eric was nowhere in sight.
"I guess he forgot," Kimber sighed with disappointment. She checked the street for traffic before crossing to the other side to Clear River Park. But just as she was about to start jogging, she saw a familiar figure heading her way.
The sun seemed to cast a halo around Eric's bent, blond head. He was wearing a pale blue jogging suit that almost perfectly matched the color of his eyes. For a moment Kimber was breathless as she watched him tuck a set of keys into the pocket of his zipped-up jacket. Then he looked up and their eyes met, and her heart stopped. He really was beautiful.
"Good morning, Kimber!" Eric called, greeting her with a smile as he joined her on corner of the street. "I hope I didn't keep you waiting."
"Only a few minutes," she answered, shrugging a creamy bare shoulder. She noticed his eye drawn to it and grinned. So maybe he was interested in her! Or, at least he liked her. "I'm glad you didn't stand me up."
"What?" He looked genuinely surprised. "I would never do that. We're partners now." He jerked a thumb back over his shoulder. "I was just looking for a shady place to park."
Kimber's eyes followed his hand gesture and widened when she noticed a sapphire blue Mercedes-Benz convertible parked next to a row of trees. "You mean—that's your car?" She was impressed. "Wow!"
Eric glanced behind him. "Sure. So, are we ready to run?"
Eric showed Kimber no mercy as he pushed her to the limit. Thirty-five minutes of running at break-neck speed had quickly exhausted the girl, but she was reluctant for their morning together to end already. She was relieved when Eric suggested they stroll back from the park instead of running, to just talk for a while and get to know each other better.
"You know, you never told me your last name," Kimber remarked, once she'd caught her breath.
"You never told me yours," Eric countered with a grin.
Kimber giggled. "You mean you don't know?" He shook his head in response. She explained, "I was trying to look you up on Facebook, and that's when I realized I didn't have much to go on."
"Knowing my last name wouldn't have helped," he chuckled in response. "I don't really do that social media stuff."
"You don't?" Kimber blinked up at him. "You really don't have a Facebook?"
Eric shrugged. "Guess I'm just not that into technology."
"Oh." Kimber didn't think she'd ever met anyone who didn't have a Facebook page. Well, maybe Mrs. Bailey, their part-time housekeeper. But she was like a hundred years old! Even Jem and the Holograms had an official account, where the band posted concert video clips and studio album updates. It was a great way to connect with fans and friends.
"Well, the reason I was trying to look you up," Kimber continued, "is I have something to ask you."
Eric's hand brushed hers, then in the next moment his fingers had twined with Kimber's. "Ask away."
Oh! Kimber's mind nearly went blank for a moment. She was glad that she'd met Eric and that, in spite of growing to be friends first, maybe they could progress to dating. At least, he seemed interested…
"Well, there's this party…"
"And you want me to be your 'plus-one'?" Eric guessed.
Kimber stopped walking, suddenly feeling anxious, and Eric let go of her hand.
"What is it?"
"Well…" Kimber sighed. "The thing is, I want to invite you, but…"
Eric turned to face her. His brows knitted together as he narrowed his eyes. His pale blue irises looked almost white as he asked through nearly gritted teeth, "So what's the problem?"
"Oh, no problem, really." She swallowed. "It's just—well, my sister—everyone in the group, actually—wants to meet you first. Would you come to dinner at the mansion, so I can introduce you?"
He seemed surprised. "You mean Jem and the other Holograms? Have dinner with your friends, that's all?"
Kimber shrugged shyly. "Yeah."
Eric cocked his head at her, looking amused. "Then why do you look so nervous? What, am I going to have to walk through a metal detector? Get a pat-down by security before I'm allowed to visit your house?"
Kimber joined in his laughter. "No, of course not! It's just us and a bunch of girls—we provide support for foster kids, you know. I just don't want you to feel like you have to prove anything to get invited to the party."
His shoulders visibly relaxed. "Kimber, that's really sweet of you. Of course I'll come—to dinner, and to this party."
Her eyes sparkled. "You will?"
"I'd love to." Eric smiled down at her, stepping a little bit closer. "It seems important to you, and, well…I like you, Kimber. So I'd be happy to meet your friends."
Kimber sighed with relief. "Thanks, Eric. You made this easy for me!"
They stood there, smiling at each other for a moment, then Eric took her hand again and they continued walking back toward Starlight Mansion. They were just reaching the corner directly across from the mansion gates when Kimber stopped with a gasp. "Eric! Look!" she cried, one hand covering her mouth while the other pointed.
Eric turned his head in the direction she indicated, but wasn't perturbed. "Okay… What am I looking at?"
"Your car!" Kimber looked up at him worriedly.
"Eric, it's gone!"