Disclaimer: The characters and canon situations in the following story belong solely to Meg Cabot. I am not making any money from the publishing or writing of this story.
What Is Beauty?
Weekends were very therapeutic I had decided. I didn't have to wear makeup. I didn't have to pretend to be friends with everyone. I didn't have to act like someone I wasn't. And I didn't have to see Lucas when I couldn't face him. Well the last one had negatives too. Despite trying to tactfully avoid the subject by doing as many chores as possible and all my homework, I desperately wanted to see Lucas again and tell him I was sorry. I had told Steph I could be believe I was pretty, but even though I knew I had misunderstood Lucas, his words still came back to haunt me.
Yet I wanted to talk to him. The illogical wish of wanting to talk to someone who probably didn't want to talk to me again. I had told him my deepest desire, but that wasn't good enough for him. If my deepest desire wasn't good enough for him, then how will I ever be good enough for him? And Tom. I flushed in embarrassment at how that scene went. It couldn't have gone worse. I didn't necessarily think Tom was better than Lucas, it was just he had held a place in my heart for longer and somehow I just couldn't relinquish the place he held.
I thought about how Lucas regarded him: a jerk, who broke girls' hearts. Yes, he had a reputation for being a player but somehow his looks and a simple smile could win me over just like that. Maybe that's what it was for; to win me over, not in a gesture of friendliness at all. Now I really had to ring Lucas and apologise. For being wrong; about everything. I always got everything wrong; I needed another sticker on my forehead: Poppy Lake – the one who gets everything wrong. It would fit well with the-most-unpopular-in-the-school. Maybe my only achievement would be having a long title.
Poppy, stop it. This whole thing is about being confident in yourself, and it's never going to work with you putting yourself down. And talking to myself isn't going to make me sane either.
I threw myself on to the bed and stared at the uneven swirls plastered on to the ceiling. Everything was so samey and boring. Nothing was special anymore. Every house on our street looked the same: smart semidetached buildings with manicured lawns, in the family part of town nobody came into. The shops sold the same flimsy, tight unflattering clothes that I never could pull off. Even everybody at school looked the same, heavy eyeliner, dyed blond hair with grown out roots showing and that horrible orange skin. Whatever this new ideal of beauty was, it no longer seemed attractive.
I no longer knew what beauty meant to me. I hated society's version, but I didn't like myself. It seemed childhood years of playing with Barbies had indoctrinated me into a socially acceptable ideal of beauty.
"Steph?" I called out as I heard footsteps passing in the hallway. "Can I ask you something?"
"Sure thing." She came and sat on my bed looking at me worryingly. "What's wrong?"
"What does your perfect girl look like?" It sounded incredibly childish when the words came out of my mouth.
"Poppy," she sighed, and I knew I had said the wrong thing again. Me and my stupid mouth. I should just stop talking. It would probably spare the world and save me a lot of embarrassment.
"Do you want to know what beautiful is? Beautiful is the way his nose is slightly crooked. Beautiful is when the corner of his mouth is turned up in an attempt to not smile. Beautiful is when she turns around and the sun catches strands of her hair. Beautiful comes from inside a person Poppy. Anyone can be beautiful."
Anyone. Did that include me? I guess it did. So I can be beautiful. And that was essentially what Lucas was telling me all along. I really needed to call him. Hopefully it would be less disastrous than last time.
"So you finally realised then?" Lucas asked playing with a couple of strands of hair around my face. He wasn't touching me but my breathing was already getting shallower and I hoped he couldn't tell. He tugged it slightly and whispered, "You know, I like it curly." By this time I think I had stopped breathing. Lucas liked my hair curly. He liked it natural. He liked me. Well that was probably an over exaggeration but it was better than him being angry at me and storming out.
It wasn't just my opinions about myself that were changing, it was also my opinions of others. Despite talking to people during the week, none had made the effort to speak to me outside of school, including Tom. I hadn't even realised he didn't have my number, that was how stupid I was acting. Yes, I still found him attractive, but there was much more suspense and excitement in waiting for a text from someone who actually had your number, rather than fantasising about someone looking you up in the address book and then romantically serenading you at twilight.
Lucas was right, he was just a player; he didn't care about me before and he didn't even care when I was dressing up, so what was the point? And I was just using my feelings for him to cover up who I really liked. It had taken a while for me to realise, but I did eventually realise that I liked Lucas. Not in fan girl dizzying way I had liked Tom, but in a way that made me internally smile every time I thought of him. And even though I got upset that he wasn't talking to me it was because I cared about what he thought of me, not some silly obsession.
"Lucas," I murmured, "I really like you." I ducked my head shyly awaiting his response.
He laughed a little before replying, "I know you do. Which is why it's good I do too." Slowly placing his hands on the side of my face, Lucas kissed me gently on the forehead. "But for now, it'll be our secret. You need to build up your confidence first. And then we can date. I'll still be here for you though."
"Wait, what?" I drew away from him, more confused than hurt. If he liked me and I liked him, what was the problem? "Lucas, I don't get you."
He sighed again and looked towards the sky while explaining, "It's not that I don't like you, it's just that I'm the new boy and going out with you… I just want to work hard, get in the good books of the teachers."
I couldn't believe he was saying this to me. I thought I had found happiness but clearly it didn't exist. "Poppy, I'm still here for you. I want you to always know that." I nodded uncertainly and tried to return his weak smile but it was hard to sustain it.
"Steph, I don't understand still. He said he liked me," I complained for the umpteenth time.
"Poppy, there is a difference between liking someone and wanting to be with them. I knew Jason for years before I realised I liked him. You've only known him for a few months, that's not long enough. Waiting will probably be one of the best decisions you'll make. Or it'll just turn into one of those short lived relationships that don't last."
I nodded uncertainly, but there was something about the way he said it that made me feel like he was embarrassed to go out with me.
"Poppy, do you trust yourself?"
Yes? I trusted myself to screw everything up all the time. "What do you mean?"
"Do you trust yourself in that you'll stay amazing and Lucas will come back to you?" Steph clarified.
"It's Lucas' feelings I don't trust." What if he came back and realised he didn't want to be with me anymore? That was highly likely.
"Really? Or is it yourself?"
"Is this one of those things where you tell me to talk to Jen again and tell me to trust myself?"
Steph rolled her eyes and poked me in the arm. "Hey, that worked last time, didn't it? I can't just tell you to trust yourself, that didn't work last time. You have to believe it. Trust that you'll stay amazing and he'll come back to you. If he said he would then believe him."
Steph's advice usually was right and if it didn't work then I'd be that much closer to finding out what he wanted.
It took a lot of courage to say it, but I swallowed and said, "I'll wait then."
I wasn't exactly sure what I was waiting for, but Steph and Lucas seemed to, and friends were for trusting so I trusted them.
I wasn't popular and I didn't have a boyfriend, but I was lucky to have them as friends and that was all I needed right now.
I was Poppy Lake, pretty, confident, with two friends and I no longer cared about being popular.