Izzy Daniels, with his corkscrew curls and big brown eyes and big goofy smile. Izzy Daniels, with his arrogance and confidence blending into one. He was a jerk, he was my neighbor, he was my friend.

He was the guy I was in love with.

Don't get me wrong, arrogant dudes with attitude problems don't turn me on, but Izzy was different. He didn't care what anyone thought about anything. Stuff like 'doin' what everyone wants you to do' didn't faze him, 'cause it didn't bother him. He liked being different, and he lived to do what he loved.

I guess that's why I love him.

I didn't always love him. Like I said, he was a jerk and everythin'. But it all changed one night, when he proved he wasn't exactly the way he seemed. And that's when I realized I loved him.

Izzy lived downstairs in our apartment building. He'd lived there all his life, and so had I. We were officially acquainted in kindergarten, 'cause we were in the same class and I got stuck sitting next to him. He stuck a frog in my lunchbox. I dropped a spider on his head. We weren't the best of friends.

In fourth grade he discovered I had a balcony, and I went out on it all the time. One night he climbed out his window and stood on the landing beneath mine. We stuck our tongues out and made faces at each other, but he told me goodnight and I said the same. After that, we weren't quite as mean to each other.

But that wasn't it. It took years for me to fall in love with Izzy Daniels, and he certainly didn't make it easy. After years of being brats to each other in school, I didn't really like him. Then in junior high he started dating, and I told him that he and every girl he'd gone out with was whack. They were too; pretty little things that 'bout had coronaries when they broke a nail, and they couldn't go to Izzy's boxing matches 'cause they thought they were 'too violent.' Now, if that isn't whack I don't know what is. I was forced to go to every single one of those things, and I personally liked to see Izzy fall on his butt during the match. It brought joy to my life.

He was equally fond of watching me trip on the ropes when me and Shauna and Keisha jumped at recess, and made a big show of teasing me about it later.

But that wasn't it either. The day I realized I was in love with Izzy Daniels was when were in high school. Recently, he and his sister Karin had come to watch me and Shauna and Keisha at the city Double Dutch competitions. He'd gotten all excited about it, even though he tried to deny the fact he'd liked it. Anyway, then he'd found us hangin' in the street 'cause one of the jumpers, Yolanda, had ditched us for the Dutch Dragons, some whack team we beat in Regionals.

But that came later. Izzy proved to us he could jump, and he offered to practice with us. Honestly, to watch Boxer Boy jump rope was just too good, so I agreed to let him practice with us to get us ready for Regionals.

I remember the night like it was yesterday. Izzy'd shown us some trippy jumpers, these kids jumping at the elementary school, 'cause he said my routine was boring and we needed to liven it up and have some fun. After watching those kids, I had to agree. The schoolyard brought back old memories of me chasing Izzy around at recess, threatening to kiss him, and Izzy chasing me around, threatening to punch me. We spent a lot of time in the principal's office then.

Then we were making up rhymes about ourselves. Izzy, of course, was arrogant about it, but he was good. Then Rodney showed up.

Rodney was the neighborhood bully, always had been, and Izzy and I had teamed up against him a couple times. One time Rodney called me names, and Izzy punched him in the gut. Rodney then gave Izzy a black eye, and I kicked Rodney in the shin. We ran off then, and I helped Izzy with his black eye. I stole a bag of frozen peas from the freezer and we sat on my balcony, swinging our legs over the edge, Izzy holding the bag of peas to his eye and keeping the swelling down.

Anyway, Rodney was harassing Izzy, but Izzy didn't want to fight. I had this sudden urge to do something, before Izzy ended up a bloody pulp or somethin', and I looked around for something to grab. There was a little water jug on a table near me, so I reached over and grabbed it. "Hey Rodney, why don't you cool off?" I said, and I dumped all that icy water on his head. I then dropped the jug and we took off running. We went running down the block, and Rodney came after us. Us girls squealed and shrieked, the adrenaline pumping through my veins so fast I could've outrun a cheetah. But Rodney fell behind and we went streaking through the alley. As we were running, Izzy slowed down and did some fancy flipping. He was lucky he didn't get beat.

"Show off!" Izzy laughed and we kept running.

We split up at the pizza place on Third. Shauna, Keisha, and I had to go home to do our homework and stuff, and Shauna and Keisha live in the same direction so they went one way. I went the opposite of Izzy, who had to stop at the store for something.

I was in my room later that night, brushing my hair, when I heard Izzy go slamming through his house. He has this weird habit of making this big entry when he comes home, like it's a show and he's making sure everyone knows he's back. He bangs open the front door, stomps or dances his way up the stairs, slams open his bedroom door, generally imitating a stampede when he comes inside. Naturally I heard him, and I set down my brush and walked out onto my balcony.

"Hey Goofy!" I called. The light flicked on in his room, and I heard the rustle of his backpack as he set it on his bed or something. Then that fuzzball mop of his poked out the window, followed by the rest of his head, and he grinned at me.

I grinned back. "Thanks," I said.

Izzy chuckled. "For what?"

I paused. "Nothing," I said. Then I changed my mind. "Everything." I shook my head. "I don't know."

Izzy laughed, pulled himself out of his window while I casually strolled toward the stairs. As he was climbing up the ladder, he said, "So uh, those jumpers were pretty cool, huh?"

I smiled. "Well, well, well, look who likes Double Dutch," I replied sarcastically.

By this time Izzy was standing in front of me. He looked over his shoulders. "Who?" he asked, though the smirk he was wearing said he knew exactly who I was talking about.

"You always have jokes, huh?"

He chuckled again. Normally, his laugh would've been grating on my ears, but the more he laughed, the more I liked the sound. Isn't that weird. "I don't know," he said, smiling. "I guess I do." He looked up to meet my eyes again. "You know it's just… there's something about it."

"Better than boxing?" I asked. I shrugged. "It's okay if you do. You know."

The smile faded from his face. "It's complicated," he mumbled. "My dad… boxing's kind of his thing."

I never realized how much I liked Izzy's smile. His teeth were bright, and shiny, and his pale, plush lips framed them nicely. His smile was capable of lighting up a moment, or my entire day. When it faded from his mouth, I missed it, and I wanted him to smile again.

I started rambling, trying to ignore my newfound feelings. "That's what I thought about ballet," I said. "Every September, my mom would sign me up. It was like school started, so ballet started." I shrugged. "I thought she loved it. Then last year, I finally said, 'Mom, I hate ballet.' " I looked up at Izzy. "And you know what she said?" His eyes met mine, and we stared at each other. My heart was racing in my chest. " 'Good, 'cause you look like a horse galloping across the stage anyway.' "

We laughed again, and I liked the sound of it more and more. Since I was in an observant mood, I noticed how dark Izzy's eyes were. I remember when we were little I compared them to mud. Now, though, I thought they were the color of bittersweet chocolate. It's my favorite kind, I dunno why. But that was the kind of vibe I was getting from him right then. Kind of… bittersweet.

After a moment, he sighed. "But… boxing's all my dad really has."

"No," I murmured. "He has you."

Izzy gave me a weird look, raised his eyebrows and everything. "Corny much?"

"I'm just saying!" We laughed again, Izzy's teeth catching the moonlight. I never realized how cute he was.

Oh man, I thought, something's definitely wrong with me if I'm thinking Izzy Daniels is cute. But I did.

"Thanks," he said, looking at me again. "But it's just not that easy."

He just looked so cute in that moment. I don't know, but the way he looked into my eyes with his bittersweet chocolate irises, and the way his lips curved up in a slight, wan smile made my heart was pound so loud in my ears I was afraid he could hear it. In that moment, everything changed.

Smiling slightly, I leaned forward, placing a hand on his shoulder for balance, and I pressed my lips to his for a split second. When I pulled back, the adrenaline ebbed away, and I was shocked at what I'd just done. Izzy wasn't doing much better in the surprised department; he looked pretty shocked himself.

I started to back away, a blush steadily creeping onto my cheeks. "Um… I'm gonna go work on that new routine," I said slowly, heading for my window. "See you tomorrow."

"Bright and early," he mumbled.

My ears were hot. "Yeah," I said, then I stumbled through the door and gently closed it. Then I leaned against the glass and slid down till I was seated on the floor. My heart was racing, my face was on fire, and my breathing was shallow.

I'd just kissed Izzy Daniels.

I let the news sink in. After sitting on the floor for a few minutes, I pulled myself up and wandered around my room, stuck in a daze. My fingers brushed against my vanity, and I realized something else.

I'd kissed Izzy Daniels… and I'd liked it.

With that in my head, I couldn't help it. I wrapped my arms around myself and squealed. I clicked a button on my stereo and instantly some hip-hop song was blasting through the speakers. Overcome with my happiness, I started spinning around my room, lip-synching the words. For once I improvised, the adrenaline rushing back as I twirled and kicked and swung my hair in time with the beat.

Thirty seconds later my mom was shouting, "You turn off that music right now Mary Thomas, and get in your bed this instant!" I snapped off the stereo and flopped onto my mattress, pressing my hands to my heart in an effort to slow it down some. It wasn't really working.

Once my legs stopped shaking, I changed into my pajamas and crawled into bed. As I was laying there, staring at the ceiling, another realization hit me.

I was truly, madly, deeply in love with Izzy Daniels. And I was okay with it.

I snuggled beneath my blankets, already looking forward to tomorrow. 'Cause that meant I would get to see Izzy again.