Author: K.M. Paxton

Chapter 5

         It seemed like everyone except Alexis and Jesse were here walking around the pavilion with a bowl of ice cream covered in their choice of toppings. Apparently the cooking-inclined teens had received a message to their Renu-Pods suggesting they organize something like this, or at least that's what Julia had told me as I arrived. I looked around, with Emma behind me, for Caleb.
        I could already tell Emma was kind of a ditz (right now she was staring intently at a lit street lamp) but I could also tell we were going to be good friends. We were just the kind of girls that would balance each other out; her loud to my quiet, her airhead-ness to my smartness, and her adventurousness to my cowardly side.  Boys walked passed us staring at Emma's interesting ensemble and occasionally she'd smile back, but mostly she was just zoned out. She had dumped piles of every topping onto her strawberry ice cream, making it pretty much disgusting, but she seemed to enjoy it judging by how much she was eating. As I scoured the crowd for shiny brown hair, and she soon was scraping the bottom of the bowl for the last drops of melted strawberry. She stared at the empty bowl for a few long seconds before her head snapped up.
        "I have to go to the bathroom." She said almost robotically.
        "Can I trust you not to get lost?" I joked.
        She frowned and turned away and was enveloped into the crowd before I could say anything else. I shrugged to myself and figured she was like a puppy and would be returned eventually. I felt a tap on my shoulder and I whirled around to face some hazel eyes.
       "Caleb!" I slipped out.
        He laughed. "Casey!"
        I recognized the girl standing next to him as Tatum. She was wearing an outfit that looked remarkably like Emma's. At that moment, he gestured towards her.
        "This is Tatum. We're housemates." He smiled at her.
        "Well, hopefully a little more than just housemates soon. He IS cute, isn't he?" She ran her fingers through his shiny hair and then pressed a manicured finger to her puffy lips. "But shhh. Don't tell him I think so." She giggled and winked at both him and me.
        I fought back the urge to barf all over her barely-there mini skirt. I watched as she swung her hands back and forth besides his in obvious hopes that she'd "accidentally" bump his hand.
          "So are you guys enjoying your ice cream?" I asked before realizing that neither of them were carrying around a bowl.
          "Oh, I don't eat sugar. Or fat." She gestured to her remarkably bony frame. "Gotta keep the thin dancer's body, you know?" She yawned.
         "Right." I gave her a fake thumbs-up.
         "See? Don't you think you guys will be great friends?" He smiled and I mentally laughed at his naive and blind optimism.
          "Ohmygosh, Caleb. I have to show you something I snuck out here." She said mischievously and patted her oversized bag she had over her shoulder. 
          I heard a squeal behind me and realized my "lost puppy" had returned. She looked Caleb and Tatum up and down before turning to me. "Is that Caleb?" She asked blankly.
         I nodded nonchalantly and she took another look at Tatum.
         "Oh my gosh. I totally love your outfit!" She exclaimed.
          Tatum jumped up and down. "O-M-G, SAME!" She laughed.
          I rolled my eyes, but in a casual way to not set a bad impression on any of them. I saw Caleb smiling as he watched Tatum connect with Emma and I realized how much he must like her. She was perfect, wasn't she? Just then she turned around and planted a kiss on his pink lips.
          I swallowed hard. "I gotta go." I mumbled and turned around.
          Caleb broke the kiss and reached for my arm. "But you just got here!"
          I pretended I didn't hear him and ran away towards one of the big oak trees. How could she just kiss him like that? They had just met for crying out loud. I mean, hand holding (which we had done) was one thing, but kissing him was another. I heard some soft guitar music playing nearby and I followed the sound that led to underneath one of the trees. To my surprise, Jesse was strumming an acoustic guitar and singing under his breath. I tried to avoid his glance but he picked up on my presence and looked up.
          "Sorry, I was just...sorry." I turned around.
          "No, wait. It's okay. Come here." He gestured towards himself and I obliged. Why not?
           "Are you crying? Are you okay?" He reached up and swept one of my tears off my flushed cheek.
           I plopped myself down next to him and swallowed. "I'm okay."
          "Good." He smiled. "Pretty girls shouldn't cry."
           I felt myself blush and changed the subject. "I thought you were gonna be with Alexis."
           "She can get pretty annoying sometimes. I ran away." He admitted with a half-smile.
           I laughed and motioned towards his guitar. "Can I see that?"
           "Sure. You play?" He asked as he handed it to me.
           I let the music answer for itself. I didn't quite know what I was playing, but it sounded good and took the edge off meeting Tatum. I'd been playing for years and had practically perfected the instrument. I didn't tell many people though; they'd probably push me to do something with my gift. I just liked to keep it to myself. I closed off the song with a challenging combination and smiled.
           His mouth was hanging open and he seemed to struggle for words. "You're...really good."
          "Thanks." I smiled.
          He gently pulled his guitar back after I let go and played a soft tune I recognized as the acoustic version of a song I knew back home. As he played I got lost in the music and began to sing the song. The song got more and more powerful and I put more and more of my heart into it. He stopped dead.
          "What?" I asked, head leaning to the right.
           "Your're amazing. You play guitar, you sing..what else can you do that I don't know about?" He laughed.
           "I play a mean harmonica." I grinned.
           He busted out laughing. "AND you're hilarious. You're perfect, aren't you?"
           I scoffed playfully. "Hardly."
           "Aw, what's got you feeling so low?"
           "It's nothing. It's just-nothing." I mumbled.
           "Never mind. Don't talk about it. It makes your pretty face get all sad." He smiled shyly under his long eyelashes. He rested his hand on my knee.
           I heard someone approaching. "Casey!" They yelled.
           Caleb appeared out of the darkness. "Casey! That was nothing back there, she's just-" He froze when he saw Jesse. "Oh, I see how it is. I can't have a girl come with me to the ice cream social without you getting all mad and yet you're out here getting all cozy with some guy! Everyone seems to be forgetting that we all just met!"
          "Hey!" Jesse yelled. "Don't talk to her like that!"
          Caleb barked out a laugh. "You don't know me. You don't know HER! I'll talk to her however I want to! Mind your own business!" He marched right up to the tree.
          Jesse shot up and stood protectively in front of me. "Back up, buddy!"
          "Don't tell me what to do!" He swung a fist at Jesse as I gasped.
           Jesse's quick reflexes kept him from getting socked right in the jaw. Caleb kept swinging and missing. Something was off in his hazel eyes. They looked cloudy and bloodshot and he seemed disoriented. He wasn't as quick to avoid the punches Jesse aimed perfectly at him.
           Jesse turned around to me. "Go! Run!"  
           I listened to him, too scared to stay and see what happened.


        What had I done?


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