Carly Shay was ninety-nine point nine percent sure that she'd come down with the worst disease in the world.
As if it wasn't bad enough that she had the show and Spencer's newest project and Sam nearly getting in juvie every day and oh gosh tests that she had to ace because she wanted to get into college because she's Carly Shay...
Deep breaths, Carly, deep breaths. As if all of that wasn't bad enough, she was now flushed, tingly, and light-headed.
She peered into the mirror. Her reflection stared back, with red cheeks. Her eyes weren't glazed over. That was a good sign. Her dark hair fell loose and long (the split ends made her cringe—how long had it been since she'd gotten it cut?) over her shoulders.
Okay, she'd done her homework, rehearsed for the show...Sam had run off to do something sordid she was glad she didn't have the details of...and then...she hung out with Freddie. After awhile, he went back to his apartment, and here she was.
She was gonna feel so guilty if she'd given this to him.
The door crashed and Spencer entered, lugging some colorful hunk of material. "What up, Carl—ehh. You okay, kiddo?"
"What? Yes. I'm okay. Why wouldn't I be okay? I'm more okay than I've ever been. I'm just the okayest."
She rubbed at her face, but that only seemed to make the blush worse. Bubbles were erupting inside her chest.
"You don't...sound...okay," Spencer said, sounding unsure. Something clunked.
"Of course I'm not okay! I look like a freakin' tomato! I look like a vampire threw up all over me!" She tossed her hair and made a low growling noise. Turning away from the treacherous mirror, she sighed. Her head was clearing a little bit. Her hand tingled and she unexpectedly remembered the awkward brush of her hand against Freddie's half an hour before. They were best friends, little things like that weren't supposed to be unusual...
"Was Freddie over?" her brother called.
She started. "What? Yeah, but...I mean, what are you saying?"
Spencer frowned and kicked the contraption.
"Spencer, why did you ask that?" she said in a demanding tone.
He was leaning down to inspect the...whatever-it-was. "D'ya think it's broken?" he puzzled.
Carly stomped up to her room, red face and all.
Why was it that no matter how many times she rolled over, she still saw his face? She thought she was going to be sick—her stomach kept turning over, and over, and over.
Pillow over the head.
Freddie, smiling at her, his eyes lighting up like there was nobody else in the world but the two of them.
Pull up the covers.
Freddie laughing. Joking. Frowning. Thinking. Smirking.
Him dancing with her. The lights low, music sweet. So close she could feel him breathing.
Her cheeks were burning again. She sat up, but that didn't stop the images from coming. Memories, now: the times they'd spent together. The way he'd always been there for her.
Evidently, she wasn't going to get much sleep tonight. Thinking that maybe some hot tea would do her good, she climbed out of bed and started down the stairs.
And promptly fell down them.
She picked herself off the floor, grumbling, and stumbled into the bright kitchen. Spencer looked up from the concoction he was stirring. "Morning, sunshine."
Carly glanced at her watch. "Spencer, it's two forty-five. Why are you up?"
"Why are you up?" he countered, spinning around, raising his eyebrows, and bopping her on the head with a spoon.
She looked to the side. "...just couldn't sleep." She slid into a chair and collapsed onto the table. She could almost go to sleep here. Maybe the discomfort would at least get him off of her mind.
"You want some coconut soup?" Spencer said, facing the oven again.
"That sounds disgusting," Carly mumbled, eyes falling closed. Unbidden, an image of chocolate, mahogany, all of those lovely brown words that failed to describe the absolutely gorgeous quality of his eyes. Especially when he looked at her like he was now, in her mind. As if she was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen...as if he loved her. It used to bother her. It still scared her.
She loved it.
How was she supposed to concentrate on her English lit when he insisted on being in the same class as her? One row up, one seat over.
She took notes that devolved into curlicues and hearts.
The teacher met her eyes. Carly swallowed. She was a good student, and while she was known for her sass, she'd never had cause to dislike Ms. Santo. She was strict, but fair. Hopefully fair enough to hear her out.
"Do we really have to do this...this 'perfect mate' assignment?" she blurted out.
"I don't assign things just for fun, Ms. Shay," the woman said, coolly as the breezy November day.
"What I mean...teenagers are obsessed with love and romance, don't you think? Do we really need something else to make single people feel worse?" Her cheeks felt warm again.
Ms. Santo looked thoughtful. "You think this assignment is prejudiced against single people?"
"You are aware that I'm a 'single person' as well, aren't you, Ms. Shay?"
Carly knew plenty of jokes about the reasons for Ms. Santo's singleness, in fact, but she was too polite to repeat them. She nodded mutely.
"Ms. Shay, I chose this assignment precisely because it connects with teenagers. Your singleness is an advantage—you are not blinded by a significant other. You can tell what you want, can't you?"
She sighed. "I don't know. I mean...I've never really known what I wanted. Maybe that's why my relationships never work out. I like to think that I would know 'the one', if there is such a thing, if I met him. But maybe not. Maybe my type is more...the guy next door. The kind of guy that most girls don't give a second glance. A 'nice boy'. Attractive, but not just some object to be...lusted over." The words felt uncomfortable, especially expressed to Ms. Santo, but she couldn't seem to stop.
"Intelligent. A good student. Persistent. The kind who wouldn't give up on you even if you want him to. Always there for you. Someone I could dedicate to, someone that I know, someone that I love to be around. He doesn't have to be popular or really hot or anything, he just needs to be...mine."
The last word came out more tenderly than she'd intended, and as she stopped, her cheeks flooded with heat and redness. There was no taking back the words.
"Very well said, Ms. Shay," Ms. Santo said finally. "Write that down and I promise it will receive the highest grade. Oh, and you might want to go after your friend, Mr. Benson...? He walked in a minute ago but didn't want to disturb you. I would think he's waiting outside for you."
Her heart stopped.
Howhowhow is she supposed to meet his eyes after that embarrassing and uncalled-for monologue about him?
Maybe he doesn't realize it was about him.
Oh, who is she kidding?
She walked as slowly as possible out of the classroom and caught his eye in the empty hall. He crossed it.
"I waited for you," he said quietly.
"I knew you would," she said simply.
They both knew how much those words meant.