Mandy Hill glanced over the rows of two-story houses looking for anything familiar. She found nothing. She sighed. She had been a part of this small suburb for two weeks now, but it still seemed alien to her and she got lost too quickly.
She shifted a small sketchbook with its attached pencil into her left hand then stuffed her right hand into her pocket and wrapped her fingers around her phone. This was supposed to have been a short, pleasant stroll, to get out the house and get to know the neighbourhood a little better, maybe to find something to draw, not a desperate search for a way to get back home.
Another sigh. She could phone her older brother, or her mom, but she refused to have them laugh at her. Again.
If there had at least been people around, she would have asked for directions, but on this summer evening, the streets were deserted and she was too shy to ring some stranger’s doorbell.
She heard something. What was that? It sounded like the bouncing of a ball against concrete. She followed it to the end of the street and then turned left.
Oh. Instead of rushing forward she darted behind a tree. She stared at the brown-haired boy throwing a ball into a basketball hoop attached to the wall above the garage door. Every time he jumped up and threw the ball, he looked to Mandy like he was flying. So magnificent. Her fingers itched to draw the line of his body on paper, but she doubted that she could do him justice, so she let the sketchbook close.
Time ticked by, but she couldn’t tear herself away from the sight before her. She stood there, lurking behind the tree like some sort of weirdo, a stalker, until somebody pulled at the hem of her shirt.
She jumped, clutching the fabric of her simple cotton shirt like that would have calmed the frenzied beat of her heart. It was just a child, perhaps six years old, staring at her with her big blue eyes.
“You scared me,” she said to a blonde girl who had somehow managed to sneak up on her.
“Why are you spying on Tyler?” The child moved closer and tilted her head. “Did he do something?”
“Tyler?” Mandy repeated. So that was his name. Tyler. It rolled so well off her tongue.
“Tyler!” the girl yelled.
“You don’t have to call him.” Mandy put her hand over the girl’s mouth.
The girl shoved Mandy’s hands away and moved out of her reach. “Tyler, there’s a girl watching you!”
“You... you shouldn’t have done that.” Mandy’s eyes darted around, looking for a hideaway. She didn’t know which way to turn. This was so embarrassing.
The girl grabbed her wrist. “Are you a stalker?”
Great. Mandy glanced at the garage, the direction from which Tyler was approaching them. She pried the girl’s fingers away one by one. “I’m not a stalker.”
“Yes, you are. Yes, you are.” The girl’s other’s hand latched onto Mandy’s shirt, almost tearing the fabric.
Mandy sighed. She wasn’t going to get rid of her, was she? Not unless she violently shoved the little brat away, and she didn’t have the heart to do that. She kneeled down. “I’m not a stalker.” Maybe if she convinced her that she wasn’t some weirdo, the girl would let her go. “I just got lost and...”
“You were watching him. I saw you. I saw you.”
“That’s because he plays so well.”
“He does.” The girl’s eyes lit up and a large smile curved her lips. “He’s so awesome.” She leaned closer to whisper, “And he’s nice, too.”
“Yes. Not like other boys.” The girl grimaced, then another big smile appeared on her face as she looked up and over Mandy’s shoulder. “She’s lost.”
“Then we have to help her find her way,” a boy’s voice behind Mandy said.
Mandy turned around with a start, her head bumping against a damp T-shirt. She would have fallen if not for a hand that steadied her. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out of it.
“I startled you.” Tyler smiled at her.
She stared at him. He wasn’t beautiful, not in the sense her brother was, but his friendly, square face looked handsome. And his eyes... they were chocolate brown, not a boring light brown like hers. As she leaned closer she noticed dark brown diamonds scattered close to the pupil. They looked so warm, those eyes, and nice. Yes, very nice. She shook her head. “Yes... I’m...” She cleared her throat. “I got lost and... well... You play basketball really well.”
“Thank you.” A smile on Tyler’s face widened. “I’m on the team. You can come and watch us, if you want. Practice, I mean. And we always appreciate a few cheers at the games.”
“Hey, what about me?” the girl cried out.
“You always come to our games.” Tyler patted the girl’s head. “And you cheer the loudest.”
“Yes.” The girl nodded as she crossed her arms.
“She’s a little attached to me,” Tyler whispered to Mandy before he focused back on the girl. “So what do you say, Suzy, should we help her find her way home?”
Suzy nodded, passed Mandy and wrapped her hand around Tyler’s.
“So, what’s the address?” he asked Mandy.
Mandy told him and he led them through the streets to Mandy’s house. It took only twenty minutes. They chatted on their way; actually, Tyler and Suzy chatted while Mandy discreetly cast glances at him.
Mandy thanked him and after they left, she stood on the pavement, her gaze lost in direction in which they had disappeared.
“Tyler,” she repeated to herself. He seemed nice and the way he played... so amazing and not to mention, he was taller than her, which was a big plus, since she even here usually looked down on guys. And she might see him in school, which started in a week. Yes, she might. And since a move to a new town, where you are a blank slate, should be all about new beginnings, and coming to a new school about inventing yourself any way you desire, she might get to be friends with him. Maybe even make a good impression on him. And maybe even on her new classmates.
Her phone rang.
She pulled it out of her pocket and opened it.
“You got lost again, didn't you?” Ethan, her older brother said through the phone.
“Liar. Tell me the name of the street and I will come pick you up.”
“I’m in front of the house,” Mandy said, then before he could hang up on her she asked, “Ethan, do you still have those clothes you got from those photo shoots?”
“I think mom brought them with us. They are probably in one of the boxes in the basement. Why?”
“I want to wear them.”
“Yeah, right; you, the queen of athletic wear, will wear them.”
“Are you serious?”
Mandy stood at the end of the parking lot before the large, light grey building. Her school. She had been a pupil there for a month now and despite wearing the ‘right’ clothes and working so hard on the ‘right’ kind of attitude she was still this odd girl nobody approached.
She looked over her shoulder at Ethan. Strands of light-brown hair peeked from under his hood and veiled his face. With the hoods, caps or hats always on his head and his rejection of people who came close to him, he had become the school’s main weirdo and she was the weirdo’s sister. Or his only friend, since nobody actually knew that they were related.
And it had started so great. Tyler waved at her and even gave her a smile the first time their paths crossed before he started to ignore her. And at the beginning the nicest girl of the most popular five, a beautiful African-American, made nice comments about her clothes and even inquired about where she had lived before. She seemed so impressed that Mandy had spent most of her childhood in Japan and so interested in life there. Not anymore though. “It’s your fault.”
“What is?” Ethan stepped past her, twirling his car keys around his finger.
“That I’m an outsider again.” She hurried behind him. “In Japan boys made fun of me, and the girls kept their distance from me, while you were the hottest item in your school. You were the beautiful gaijin, while they called me kyokan, the giant.” And now they were going to the same school, her brother’s beauty and popularity could have raised her status, but he had decided to play the role of weirdo. Well, with the way she could hear him talking to himself all the time and the way he occasionally disappeared somewhere leaving her to cover for him, not to mention she could have sworn she sometimes saw him glow red, she couldn’t exactly say he was normal, but at least before he hadn’t gone out of his way to be an oddball. “It’s not fair.”
“It’s not my fault,” Ethan said.
“You got in a fight the other day.”
“But that doesn’t have anything to do with your popularity.”
“Than whose fault is it?”
“You still haven’t assimilated. You rarely make eye contact when you speak and you still make noises while people are talking to you. And the other day I saw you bow to a teacher. We’re not in Japan anymore and it’s weird to them.”
“But I’m trying. I’m trying really hard. And you should help me, you should get rid of this.” She grabbed his hood and tugged on it.
“So that you can use me like an accessory? I don’t think so.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her beside him. “You know that I’m here if you need me, but I will not allow you to treat me like an object.”
No, she would never do that. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean it like that. It’s just.... I’m sick of being this odd girl with no friends and who, when you are not around, eats her lunches alone.”
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her against his side. “It’s not that bad.”
“Yes it is. At least in Japan, I had a friend, here I don’t have a single one.” And in Japan she had also belonged to the art club. She made a few acquaintances there.
“What about her? She’s always alone. You should make friends with her.” Ethan pointed at a black-haired girl wearing a cap who hurried across the lawn toward the entrance of the school.
“No, no.” Mandy shook her head. “She’s the Scary Girl.” Or so she had heard other students calling her. “If I start to hang out with her my status at this school will slide even lower.”
“A Scary-girl. She sounds interesting.” Ethan released her and looped his arm around hers. “We should hurry. The bell is going to ring soon and I still have to grab my books.”
“Yeah, me too.” She hurried with him to their lockers, which were in the same part of the hallway, before their paths split. Her first class was English literature and his AP Calculus.
She dashed into class, passed the chatting clusters of students and sat down at the desk in the last row. She liked English literature, very much -- not because of her love for literature, but because of the boy that sat in front of her.
Tyler Webster. She had a few drawings of him at home, hidden under the mattress, but her fingers couldn’t capture his essence, and the way his smile curved in the corners and the way his eyes sparkled when he smiled.
She put her pencil case on the desk along with the textbook before she leaned her chin on her hand and stared at the wide back before her. They also had Algebra, US History and Geography together, not that he had noticed her since that first time. She was probably invisible to him. No surprise there.
Despite his star status on the basketball team, he never bullied other people or acted like he was above everyone else, like some of the other team members did. And he had been so nice to her that time, and the way he treated Suzy.... Despite his coldness to her, the more Mandy saw of him, the more she liked him. There was something in him that called to her, that gave her this silly little crush on him. He was the real reason she wanted to become a member of the popular group -- like that would ever happen. She sighed.
The door opened, the teacher walked through it and silence descended over the classroom.
Mandy opened her notebook, prepared for another monotone lecture, her fingers playing with the pen.
The boy in front of her turned. “Hey,” he whispered.
He was looking at her with those brown eyes of his. They were so pretty.
“Hey!” He waved his hand in front of her face.
She flinched and warmth rushed into her cheeks. “Sorry.” He had said something to her, hadn’t he? And she hadn’t had a clue what.
“Could you lend me a pen?”
She nodded and gave him one.
“Thanks.” He faced forward.
Stupid! That was your chance. Her forehead bumped against the wooden surface of the desk. She could have said something, charmed him, but all she had been able to do was stare at him. So stupid! And he had caught her staring at him. Again. So embarrassing.
“Miss Hill.” The teacher closed a book beside her and startled her.”I’m not aware what habits you acquired abroad, but here we do not nap in the classroom.”
Mandy raised her head. She could hear short chuckles and a few snorts, and she glared at her notebook.
The teacher opened the book and resumed reading it. Later they analyzed it, with Mandy hiding behind her copy of the book and participating as little as possible.
When the class finished she started to shove her things into her bag, refusing to even peek forward to see if Tyler had already left like she normally did.
She had hung the bag over her shoulder and was hurrying toward the door with a bowed head when she bumped into somebody.
She looked up, frowning.
Tyler. Her eyes dilated, and she almost squeaked out his name, but she managed to catch herself. She cleared her throat. “Ummm.... Is there something wrong?”
“I don’t know, is there?” He raised his brows, and Mandy could see the corners of his lips twitching.
Was he holding himself back from laughing at her? She lowered her head and the hold of her fingers around the strap of her bag tightened. She fixed her gaze at the floor, ready to slip past him, when a hand on her shoulder stopped her.
“Can I keep the pen?”
“Whatever.” She shook his hand off and bolted out of the classroom.
“You have been grumpy all week. What’s going on?” Ethan put his spoon on the plate beside the half-eaten cheesecake.
“Nothing.” Mandy’s eyes slid over the other patrons of the small coffee shop, one of many small shops that lined the main street.
“I know you. Something is bothering you.”
“Yes, your hat. Do you really have to wear a fedora when you are with me?”
“You asked me not to wear a hoodie.”
“You see? You see?” Ethan leaned over the table. “If you were yourself, you would have had a better comeback. There’s definitely something wrong. What is it? Is somebody bullying you? You have to tell me if somebody is bullying you.”
“Nobody is bullying me.” Not exactly anyway. The people in her classes still pretty much ignored her, except... Tyler. He had stopped ignoring her. He just... stared at her with that amused look on his face, and sometimes made a 'harmless' comment that might or might not be directed at her. It always felt to Mandy like he was mocking her. It wasn’t fair. She had heard that he was nice... and she had experienced it first-hand, but now it seemed he was nice to everybody except her.
A larger group came through the door of the coffee shop.
Mandy’s gaze followed them as they pushed two tables together and sat down, and then when the pair of brown eyes, so familiar to her now, found hers, she abruptly turned away.
She curled her hand around her cup of tea. Just yesterday, while she washed her hands in the bathroom, a stylish redhead, one of the popular five, had joined her before the mirror. With her snotty attitude she let Mandy know that she found her and her friend, the weirdo, quite amusing and that they both played starring roles in the entertainment at their lunch table. That meant Tyler made fun of her too.
“How much money did mom give you?”
“Huh?” Mandy blinked.
“How much money do you have?” Ethan asked.
She had spent almost all of her allowance on art supplies. “I thought you were going to pay,” Mandy leaned over the table, putting on her most pleading expression, the one that always managed to wrap their dad around her little finger.
“Those boots are quite expensive.”
“You have your trust fund; it’s not something you can’t afford.”
“Mom said no?”
“Yes.” Mandy risked a peek in Tyler’s direction. Why did he glare at her like that? What was wrong with him? Did he hate her or something? Whatever. “Can we go now, please?”
“I still have my cake.” Ethan pulled the plate closer.
“Would you mind if I...”
“What is it?” Ethan placed his elbows on the table and lanced his fingers. His eyes scrutinised her. “You look uncomfortable.”
“That’s because I am.”
“Because.” She risked a glimpse at Tyler. He was still staring at her. Did he find her amusing now, too? Would he and his friends laugh at her expense?
Ethan followed her gaze, turning sideways.
“Don’t look,” Mandy hissed.
“That’s why,” Ethan said. “Yes, you go ahead. I’ll join you later.”
Mandy stood up and when she was about to leave, Ethan grabbed her wrist and pulled her to his side.
“What are you doing?”
Dragging her arm down, Ethan forced her to lean over him. “Just checking something,” he whispered before he let her go.
“You are weird.” Mandy rubbed her ear.
“You don’t even know how weird.” Ethan grinned at her, before he patted her hip. “Go pick out those boots and I’ll pay for them.”
“Thank you. I knew that I could count on you.” She gave him a quick peck on his cheek before she rushed out of the coffee shop and went to the shoe store down the road. She had been looking at a pair of black high-heeled boots in the display window for more than a month now. They weren’t something she would have bought before her metamorphosis, but now... they were the only thing missing from her new wardrobe. But they were expensive and she couldn’t afford them with her allowance.
She went inside the shop and decided to try them on, for the fifth time. She had just zipped them on, when a shadow fell over her.
“Don’t they look good on me?” She raised her eyes, expecting to see Ethan, but Tyler’s dark face glared down at her.
What was he doing here? “I’m sorry, I thought you were --”
“That guy you were with in the coffee shop?”
“Yes.” She tucked a strand of her jaw-length hair behind her ear. How do you start a conversation with the guy you like? But should she even bother, when for him she was nothing more but an object of amusement, somebody to make fun off? “Ummm... are you buying shoes or...?”
“Who is that guy?” Tyler's voice sounded sharp before it softened, but only slightly. “You won’t be very popular if you hang out with people like him.”
“Um, what?” Wasn’t it too late for her to become popular?
“Oh, here you are.” Ethan walked between them, forcing Tyler to move backwards. “I didn’t see you at first.” He stepped to Mandy’s side and put his hand on her shoulder. “Is this your friend? You didn’t tell me that you had made any friends.”
“This is Tyler,” Mandy said. “The guy who helped me that time when I got lost.”
“You get lost a lot. You have to be more precise.” Ethan’s fingers played with Mandy’s collar.
Mandy slapped his hand away. “And this is --”
“Ethan.” Ethan reached out his hand.
Tyler ignored Ethan’s hand and gave Mandy a frown before he turned on his heel and strode away.
“It seems that your friend doesn’t like me.”
“He’s not my friend,” Mandy said. She wished he was though.
“If you say so.” Ethan smirked.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Mandy narrowed her eyes at him.
“That if you want for me to buy you the boots, you should be nicer to me. Now, give them to me.”
Mandy took off the boots and shoved them into his hands, torn between annoyance at Ethan’s amusement and gratitude for the gift she was about to receive.
Ethan went to the cashier while she strolled to the display window. She peered through the glass, not really expecting to see anything. Especially not a certain somebody.
Something familiar caught her eye and for a moment she thought that it was that brunet, but... it was that Scary Girl hiding under a brown hoodie. She was admiring something, probably those vintage Dr. Martens boots that Mandy secretly drooled over, but which didn’t fit into her new style. A shame really. Or maybe she was just trying to convince herself of that because they would have made too big a hole in her wallet and she doubted that Ethan would buy her two pairs of boots.
She was about to turn away and join Ethan in line at the cashier, when she saw something brawny bump -- no, ram would be a better expression -- against the girl’s shoulder and the girl fell down on the ground.
What kind of a jerk would collide with a girl and then laugh at her before sauntering away instead of helping her?
The kind that does that on purpose.
Mandy came out of the shop just in time to help the girl with picking up the things that had scattered out of her messenger bag when she fell. Mandy hated bullies and knew how they could suck the life out of a person.
“What a jerk,” Mandy commented as she gave the girl the stuff she had picked up. She tilted her head, scrutinising the girl’s face. Why did they call her scary? She didn’t look scary at all, actually her clean face without any make-up was pretty.
“It happens.” The girl took the things and threw them in her bag.
“He did that on purpose.”
“And you are not upset about it?” Mandy asked.
For the first time the girl raised her gaze and looked at her. “I know you. You are that gawky girl from Japan, right?”
Was she? Mandy sighed. Yes, she probably was. What a disgrace. She offered her hand. “Mandy.”
“I don’t need friends.”
Another weirdo. She would get along so well with her brother, Mandy thought as she stood awkwardly with her hand still outstretched.
The girl took her hand. “But you were kind enough to help me. I’m Kate.”
Mandy stood at the corner of the school feeling like she was on a desert island, and not because there weren’t any people around. She crushed the sandwich she held in her hand. This was not the first time that Ethan hadn’t been able to keep her company during lunch time, so why did she feel so dejected?
She sighed and lifted her head, searching for a spot to hide herself. Her eyes found a girl dressed in dark clothing she recognized immediately, despite the way the girl hid herself under a cap and behind a book. Kate.
A small smile appeared on her face. Despite Kate’s withdrawn and sometimes almost hostile attitude, every time Mandy gathered the courage to approach her, Kate made her feel welcome.
She crossed the lawn that separated them.
“Hi,” Mandy greeted her. “Do you mind if I join you?”
Kate lay down the book on her lap. “If you want to tarnish your reputation, go ahead.”
“Why do you always have to warn me?” Mandy sat on the grass beside Kate.
“Because you still look like you are trying to become the part of the ‘right’ crowd. And don’t sit down like that. You are going to get your lovely dress dirty.” Kate browsed through her bag, pulling out a handkerchief. “Here.” She offered it to Mandy. “Sit on that.”
“You are really nice. Why do you pretend you aren’t?”
“You are imagining things.” Kate picked up her book.
“I don’t think so.” Mandy peeled the wrapper off her sandwich and started to eat, amusing herself with watching the crowd. During lunches the popular group hung out in the cafeteria, acting like they were on the promenade, leaving the inner yard of the school to the odd ones, who were quite a colourful bunch.
From the corner of her eye she caught sight of somebody she hadn’t expected to see, not at lunch time. She murmured to herself, “What is he doing here?”
“Who?” Kate lowered her book.
“No one.” Mandy took another bite of her sandwich. She pretended to be busy staring at the wall of the building while her attention was on the boy who had just walked through the door.
“Yes, of course.” Kate surveyed their surroundings instead of turning back to her book. “That’s interesting.”
“Mister Athletes-should-set-a-good-example is staring at us, and I don’t think it’s because of me,” Kate said. “And look, he’s actually coming our way.”
“Look.” Kate tilted her head in the direction of the brunet who advanced on them while her eyes scrutinised Mandy.
“Stop staring at me like that.” Mandy shifted closer to Kate, trying to hush down her excitement and fear at the promise of Tyler’s company. “He looks scary. He’s not going to bully us or something, is he?”
“Tyler? Never.” Kate chuckled. “Look he’s stopping to talk to that guy over there. That’s too bad. I really thought that he was coming here.”
“Why would he?” Mandy took a bite of her sandwich, debating between trying to extract more information about Tyler from Kate and pretending that he didn’t matter to her. She decided on the latter.
“Hey, why don’t you come to my place after school today?”
“Huh?” Mandy froze in the middle of the bite. Kate had never even initiated any of their encounters, let alone invited her home.
“It’s not like you have friends to hang out with, do you? And it’s Friday, there’s no school tomorrow, so your parents shouldn’t have any objections.”
No friends... she was right, but... “You are pretty rude.”
“It’s part of my charm.” Kate grinned at her. “So, are you coming or not?”
“Why not?” Mandy resumed her eating.
“You could at least pretend to be more enthusiastic.”
“Yay,” Mandy spoke around her mouthful.
“That’s better.” Kate gave Mandy another grin before she dove back into her book.
After she ate her sandwich, Mandy went inside, thinking that by the end of the school day Kate might forget about her, but she didn’t. She waited for her at Mandy’s locker.
“Are you ready?”
“Yeah, just let me text my brother first.” Mandy pulled a phone out of her bag.
“Oh, yeah, the weirdo?”
“You are weird too,” Mandy couldn’t help but defend her brother, though accusing a new friend of being weird wasn’t exactly a good move. She frowned. She should have kept her mouth shut.
“Who’s rude now?”
But Kate didn’t sound angry. Mandy raised her gaze. No she was definitely not angry. What a relief. “I’m just following your example.”
“Then maybe there’s still hope for you.” Kate smirked at her.
“Actually you two are quite similar.” Mandy started to type the message. “I should introduce him to you; I bet you would get along well.”
“I’d rather you didn’t. I’m not exactly the social type.”
Neither was Ethan, not the way he used to be. “Okay.” Mandy tossed the phone back into her bag and took the textbooks and notebooks she needed over the weekend out of the locker. “Well, shall we?”
Kate nodded and led her out of the school to the parking lot. There Mandy was seated in a black non-descript vehicle which might have been a presentable car a few decades ago.
“You have an interesting... erm, car.”
“Yeah. She's great.” Kate patted the steering wheel. “She might not look like much, but she’s never left me in the lurch.”
“Ah,” Mandy made a noise, hoping her doubt wasn’t too obvious as she leaned back in the seat.
The drive only lasted fifteen minutes. Mandy attributed the familiar look of the neighbourhood to the fact that every street seemed the same as any other to her, which was why she got lost so quickly.
The house in whose driveway they parked looked the same as all the middle-class houses. White, two stories with a garage.
For two cars, probably, Mandy thought as she followed Kate inside and then up the stairs into a spacious room. Pastel walls? And white furniture?
Kate tossed her bag in the corner and then threw herself on the bed. She pulled herself up on her elbows. “So, what’s the verdict?”
“What do you think about my room?”
“I expected it to be darker.”
“Almost everybody does. I like to wear dark colours, but I'm not too keen on living among them.”
“Ah.” Mandy sat at the desk by the window, on the edge of the chair, not knowing where to put the bag. In the end she set it on the floor. “I have some homework...” She preferred to get the ‘unpleasant’ things out of the way as soon as possible, so she always did her homework first thing after she got home.
“Sure,” Kate stood up. “We can do it now and then we’ll play some Xbox or something.”
They finished their homework and Kate had just started to read her the titles of the games she had stored in the cabinet when the door opened with a bang.
“Where do you have that --” The boy who shoved the door open froze in mid-stride.
Mandy gaped at the intruder. Tyler? What was he doing here?
“You are late.” Kate pulled herself up from where she had knelt on the floor.
Mandy’s eyes darted between Kate and Tyler. “You... you two know each other?” And well enough that he could barge into the house. But... but they looked like they were not even on speaking terms, and how could they be? He was the star of the basketball team and she was just another outcast.
“He’s my neighbour,” Kate said to Mandy like seeing them together in the same room was the most natural thing. “And a childhood friend.”
“But...” Mandy stammered.
“Tyler, stop staring at the girl and go fix the computer like you promised.”
Tyler shook himself from the daze he had apparently fallen into and pointed at Mandy. “What is she doing here?”
“She’s my guest.”
“Why did you have to invite her?”
Was he worried that his friends might learn who he hung out with outside of school? “I won’t tell anybody,” Mandy said as she gathered her things off the desk and into the bag. “I promise.”
“Tell anybody what?” Tyler glared at her.
Why was he so hostile? Mandy pressed the bag against her chest. “That... well, you and Kate...”
“That me and Kate what?” The scowl on Tyler's face intensified.
“Stop bullying her.” Kate grabbed Tyler and dragged him out, but not before she instructed Mandy to stay put.
Mandy could hear their voices as they argued. Because of her. She angrily rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand while with the other she clutched her bag even tighter. She shouldn't be here in the first place.
She tiptoed to the door and cautiously opened it. Now she could hear them more clearly, and somebody else might have stopped to listen, but not her. Being rejected so openly even without having revealed her feelings was painful enough.
* * * * *