Holly stepped to one side of the hallway to allow the group of girls to pass her. She kept her eyes down and trained on the notes she had placed on top of her books so she wouldn’t have to see the other girls turn their noses up at her.
Unfortunately, it didn’t shield the snickers and nasty comments, she heard those loud and clear.
“Oh look, it’s Holy Holly. What are you praying for this time Holly? That you’ll actually get asked to the prom?”
The other girls howled with appreciation as they brushed past her. One of the larger girls deliberately bumped into her causing her to lose her grip on her books and drop them into a messy heap at her feet.
Holly closed her eyes, bit her lip and patiently waited for the girls to lose interest in her and continue on their way before stooping to neatly scoop her belongings up in her arms once more.
“Why do you put with that?” a male voice asked and Holly momentarily paused in surprise.
Cautiously, she glanced up. Her eyes landed on an Adam’s apple before slowly traveling up the neck to look into Troy Wilson’s face.
“Wh…what? Are you talking to me?” she stuttered and then immediately gave herself a mental kick in the pants. Of course he was talking to her! He was standing right in front of her, wearing a sexy smile and looking absolutely scrumptious. What a stupid question! He must think she’s such an idiot.
“Why do you allow those girls to give you such a hard time?”
Holly blinked, breaking the trance Troy always put her in before straightening to her full 5’6 height and offering a slight shrug.
“Wh … what exactly do you think I should do? If I talk back to them, it just gets worse. And there is no way I could physically do anything, there are like ten of them and one of me. And in case you haven’t noticed? I’m not exactly into the whole self defense thing.”
Troy sighed and reached out to take half of her books from the stack she held tightly against her chest. His knuckles lightly brushed against the “V” of her exposed skin with the movement. A white light exploded into a thousand shards of bright colors before her eyes and Holly’s breath caught in her throat. She felt light-headed and swayed slightly toward him before regaining her equilibrium, and her sense of sanity.
Yes. She was in love with Troy Wilson. She had been ever since she had been paired as his lab partner in Freshman Biology. He had been okay with the actual experiments, but when it came time for the computations, he had had to rely on her to get the answers. If it hadn’t been for her, he would have failed the entire class.
The other girls hadn’t picked on her as much back then. In fact, there was a time, a very brief time, shortly after she had started high school that she had thought she might actually fit in, be part of the “cool” crowd, but then some cheerleader … what was her name? Oh yes, Gabrielle, had singled her out for some reason and complimented her on her sweater. The other girls had gotten so jealous of the attention she had gotten from the most popular girl in the school, that they had immediately kicked her out of the group and had made it their personal mission, from that point on, to make her life a living hell.
She briefly wondered what had happened to Gabrielle. She had actually liked her if for no other reason than because for one small moment in time, she had made her feel like a human worthy of attention.
“There is going to come a time when you’ll have to stand up for yourself,” Troy said. He looped an arm around her shoulder and together, they continued on their way to the library.
“Yeah well, you let me know when that time comes, okay?” she replied, her voice raspy and breathy. She always reacted this way whenever Troy got close to her. She doubted that he had a clue how he made her feel. He treated her like a kid sister, an amusing and sometimes exasperating kid sister.
It was terribly annoying, not to mention, sort of insulting to her feminine wiles. Not that she thought she had any feminine wiles, but it would be nice to be treated as an object of desire as opposed to … well … an object.
“So, wh … what do you need help with today?” Holly asked. She hated her stutter. Especially as it only seemed to happen around Troy. And every time she was put into an awkward situation.
On second thought, it happened a lot. At school at least. She never noticed it whenever she was at home or at work.
He released a huge sigh, his breath stirring strands of her hair and causing them to brush lightly against her temple. “Math, what else.”
She suppressed her own sigh and gave him a sideways glance. “Again? I thought you were going to work on those problems last night.”
“I did!” he whined and quickly lowered his voice as nearby students gave them curious stares. “I swear to you on my mother’s grave …”
Holly winced. “I told you not to say that, it totally creeps me out.”
Troy continued as if she hadn’t spoken, “ … I worked on those damn problems for hours and I still couldn’t figure them out. I must lack some sort of math gene or something because I honestly can’t figure this shit out.”
Again, Holly winced. “Troy, please don’t curse. I can’t stand that.”
Troy blushed and paused to open the door to the library for her. “Yeah. Sorry. Is your old man still around? Or did he take off again?”
She couldn’t stand anyone cursing around her because of her father. Her father had a very colorful language; in fact, he cussed like a sailor because well, he WAS a sailor. “He took off again. I think he’ll be back in six months … or so.” She grit her teeth at the memory of her mother’s face. She tried so hard to be strong whenever it was time for her father to take off for assignment again, but Holly could see that it killed her just a bit more each time it happened.
She knew her mother was deeply in love with her father. But she wasn’t so sure about how her father felt about her mother. In fact, she suspected that her father had cheated several times on her mother. She suspected this because her mother often asked her to balance the accounts for her and she had stumbled across some very suspicious-looking credit card activity to various jewelry stores and clothing outlets.
She had taken the bull by the horns a few months back and confronted her father about the purchases, but he had laughed at her suspicions and told her she was reading something into nothing.
She couldn’t help but notice that their relationship had cooled several degrees since the confrontation.
She could see how much her father had hurt her mother over the years and she was determined, now more than ever, not to ever get in a situation where she had no choice but to rely on a man to take care of her. As a result, she was practically obsessed with getting into college after she graduated. She would accept any college, but she really had her heart set on Harvard.
As if she could afford Harvard. But she was going to try her hardest to make it happen if for no other reason than to show her father that she wasn’t some wallflower that had to be protected and coddled. She would show her father that she was very capable of taking care of herself. She didn’t need him, or any man, to support her.
“Look, before we get started,” Troy said as they moved to sit at their favorite table by the stained glass windows, “I have something to ask you.”
Holly tripped as she walked alongside her long-time friend and secret boyfriend. It was a secret because she was the only one who knew about it.
They set up their books and papers on the table and had sat down before Troy continued. “I don’t even know where to start – it seems so weird to ask you this.”
Holly’s eyes widened at the sudden realization. Was he going to ask her to the prom?? Would she, Holly Lawson, finally get asked to a school dance? She had been tempted, both her Sophomore year and her Junior year, to just bite the bullet and ask Troy to a school dance. She would have reassured him that they would go just as friends, but she knew in her heart, it would have been more, so much more, to her.
Just when she had worked up the courage to ask him, someone else beat her to it. She had never gone to a school dance simply because she couldn’t imagine going with anyone else.
And now, now her dreams would finally come true. She would, at long last, dance under the stars with the boy she had secretly been in love with for three long years.
“Ask away,” she said, trying to keep her voice level and nonchalant. Which wasn’t easy considering her heart was beating so hard she was surprised he couldn’t see it through her silky blouse. She busied her hands by opening their books to the proper chapter and getting out pencils and paper to practice problems on.
“Look, we’ve been friends for a long time,” he began and she nodded in answer. “And I’ll be honest, if it hadn’t been for you, I wouldn’t have passed a lot of my classes. For that, I’m eternally grateful.” He reached out and placed his hand over hers.
Color instantly flooded her cheeks and her body suddenly felt so hot that she worried it would spontaneously combust.
“I owe you, and I trust you. I honestly don’t think there is anyone else I trust more,” he said quietly, his eyes eagerly searching hers.
Holly snuck a peek around the rest of the library. There were only a few students milling around and they were too far away from them to overhear much of anything. She suddenly wished the “mean” girls were around to witness one of the hottest guys in school asking her to the dance.
“Holly,” he began, then stopped to clear his throat. His voice sounded squeaky, nervous, which tugged at her heart strings and gave her a shot of boldness.
“Yes, Troy?” She said, her eyes locking with his.
“Do you think …” he swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple quivering with the movement, “I mean, do you think it’s possible …”
“Yes,” she spit out and squeezed his hand.
“Yes?” He repeated, his brow furrowed in confusion.
“Yes! Oh yes, Troy!”
His face softened and a huge smile spread across his face. “Do you really think so?”
“Absolutely, there is no question in my mind,” Holly responded, nodding so vigorously that she gave herself a headache.
“Oh man, I’m sooo glad to hear that! You don’t know how I agonized over this!” He jumped up and began to gather his belongings.
Holly blinked and laughingly looked up at him in surprise. “Where are you going?”
“To ask her, of course,” he said, grinning down at her.
“To … ask her?” Holly felt as if someone had socked her in the stomach. In fact, that’s exactly how she felt. She placed a hand over her abdomen in an unconscious effort to protect it. “Ask … who what?”
Troy paused to take in her perplexed expression before laughing. “You’re so funny, Holly, to ask Beth to the dance, of course!”
“Beth?” she squeaked out, gripping her pencil so tightly in her fingers that it snapped in two.
“Yeah, I’ve wanted to ask her out for ages now, but I just didn’t have the courage. But then you said absolutely and seemed so sure of yourself that, well, I’m going to do it. I mean, we’re seniors and I won’t have another opportunity to ask her out before graduation.” He smiled down at her and then bent to kiss her on the forehead. “Thanks pal. You’re the best. I’ll call you later about the math problems, okay?”
“Beth?” Holly repeated and watched the love of her life walk out of her grasp forever.
She sat there for many long minutes, running the past several years through her mind. All of their study sessions. The late night trips to the coffee shop to cram for tests. The late night phone calls to compare answers. The hours and hours they spent studying for tests.
A tear fell onto the back of her hand and she hadn’t even realized she’d been crying.
How could such a smart girl, such as herself, be so incredibly stupid?
She spent the next thirty minutes wallowing in her loss. It wasn’t fair. Life wasn’t fair.
Once the shock of what had happened wore off, she realized that Troy had left his math book on the table.
Of course he did. It was discarded and forgotten, just like their friendship and any hope of a relationship. She thumbed through the book for several long moments before calmly reaching into her notebook and ripping out a page. In her neat, beautiful, curvy handwriting, she wrote:
“I will always love you.”
She neatly folded the piece of paper and stuck it in the front of Troy’s book. It was unlikely he would ever find it there, as they had already covered those sections and why would he ever go back there again?
She carefully wiped the tears from her lashes and was packing up gear and stuffing it back into her backpack when she encountered the envelope.
The big, thick, manila envelope she had gotten in the mail yesterday. She knew what it was. It was an answer on whether or not she would be accepted at Harvard or not. She had spent months filling out paperwork, months agonizing over entrance essays and preparing transcripts. She had spent years working toward this one moment in her life and she was too scared to see if she had made it in or not.
She had applied to the school last year. And in the last twelve months, they had requested more and more information from her. She had no idea what that meant, if it was a good sign or a bad sign, but she had complied, working very hard to keep everything professional; she had hoped she had impressed them with her excellent grade point average and all of her extra-curricular activities.
But still, no word on whether they would accept her. She had received word from other colleges that she had been accepted, but never anything from Harvard.
Until now. She had never received anything this big from them in the past. It could only mean they had made a decision.
With shaky fingers, she opened the package. Various applications and forms fell out and she thumbed through all of them, but could honestly not figure out what they meant.
Holly glanced at the clock – 3:55. She quickly gathered up all of her belongings and went to her counselor’s office. She wasn’t sure she would still be there, but she had to take that chance. Perhaps she could decipher the forms and tell her what it all meant.
She knocked on the counselor’s door. “Hello? Mrs. Truman? Are you still here?”
A head popped around the corner.
“Hey there, Holly! Come on in,” her counselor said and waved her in with a pudgy hand. “Sit down! What can I do for you?”
Holly took a seat across from Mrs. Truman and pulled out the thick envelope. She pushed it across the desk.
“I got this in the mail yesterday and quite honestly, I don’t understand what it all means. Can you help me?”
“Of course, of course!” she answered and stuffed a cupcake wrapper into the trash can under her desk before quickly wiping her hands on a napkin and reaching for the envelope.
Holly sat back and watched Mrs. Truman go through the papers. As each minute passed, she could feel major parts of her body tighten with tension. She wanted to go to Harvard so badly.
Please God, just once, just this once, could she please get what she asked for?
“Oh Holly,” Mrs. Truman began, her eyes soft and compassionate.
Holly’s heart dropped into her stomach and it began to burn with disappointment.
Life was so unfair.
“You’ve not only been accepted to Harvard, you’ve been awarded two scholarships.”
Holly jerked as if she had been shot. She blinked several times and found it difficult to breathe.
“Holly? Are you alright?”
She tried to raise a hand to indicate that she was fine, but her arm felt like it was made out of lead. She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. She promptly closed it. The edges of Holly’s vision began to quiver, blur and then fade.
The last thing that Holly noticed before she fainted, was the bit of chocolate stuck between Mrs. Truman’s two front teeth.
(Third story in this series coming soon).