The Phantom Lover Ch. 5 – Half Date

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Chapter 5.) Half-Date

Will Chris flake out on me like last year? I peered out of our living room window for the third time. Dusk’s pink lavender painted the sky, but our red driveway only accommodated Mom’s Accord. It’d been almost three hours since his last text which was, “Getting ready.” He always looked good. Maybe that’s why he had a reputation for always being late. But with short hair, a gorgeous face, and a hot body, he didn’t need much except the right outfit to flaunt. Young, beautiful James Franco types like him had it easy.

“Will you stop looking out the window?” Mom walked to my side, wearing her faded and oversized t-shirt pajama-dress even though it was almost 7pm. “You look desperate.”

“And you look like a retired grandma.”

She chuckled as she pulled on her ugly dress. “Maybe I should change.”

I turned from the window. “No worries, I told him to honk when he arrives.”

She shook her head. “You totally should have had him knock.”

“Whatever, Mom, it’s fine.”

Two honks sounded outside. We both jumped.

“That’s him!” I bustled to the diamond-shaped mirror hanging by our computer desk. My curls had good volume, and my makeup was on point. The tight green polo I wore complimented my hazel eyes, and my equally as tight jeans accentuated my hips.

“You look good, mamashmoo.” Mom gestured to the door. “Now walk slow when you go out there. Don’t rush to his car or you’ll—”

“Look desperate, I know, thanks Mom.” I kissed her cheek and then walked out of the door. Taking her advice, I sauntered to the white SUV parked on the grass by the sidewalk. The passenger door lay open, and lowered windows revealed Landon in the backseat.

You’ve got to be kidding me. As he waved, I clenched my jaw and forced myself not to frown. Ugh, when would little seventeen-year-old boys ever grow up? Why couldn’t Chris watch a movie with me alone? I wasn’t some kick-butt villainess from his comic books that he needed a freaking sidekick for backup. Unless…he didn’t want this to be a date.

I forged a smile as I climbed into the passenger and closed the door.

“‘Sup, Tash?” Landon leaned forward and held out his palm.

“Nothing much.” I slapped his hand before staring at Chris. My hot anger cooled a decent amount. In a crisp, white short-sleeved button-down that kissed his olive skin, he looked like an Abercrombie model.

Chris smiled his I’m-pleased-to-see-you smile, but this time, slight embarrassment mingled with it. “I hope you don’t mind that I brought Landon.”

I put on a good act. “No, it’s fine.”

“Great.” He smiled again as he drove away from my house.

I peered out of the widow while we passed the old split-level homes on my block. No, I don’t mind at all that on our first date you brought your best friend. Despite how beautiful Chris is, this kid just lost some major brownie points.

Silence dominated most of the drive to the mall—for me and Chris at least. Maybe because we knew I wasn’t really cool with Landon being there, or because we both were nervous. Nonetheless, it made for quite an awkward fifteen minutes. Landon, however, wouldn’t shut up. He tried to make small talk, but it only highlighted just how little Chris and I were speaking, making it all the more awkward. Thank God for music. Sublime’s fun, punk rock/white boy reggae definitely eased the tension. I’d have to illegally download their albums later.

After finally finding a parking spot in the mall’s garage, Chris picked out an action flick and then paid for my ticket. Butterflies invaded my stomach as he smiled and handed me the stub. I clasped it and followed him to the theater. Now this definitely felt more like a date…

“Are you guys excited for the movie?” Landon squeezed in between us and laid his arms over our shoulders, his armpits unleashing an ungodly stench.

Chris shrugged Landon’s arm off and replied, “It should be good.” He looked at me. “I hope you like it, Tasha.”

“I’m sure I will.” If I can focus on it…

“You like action films?”

“I love them. Marilyn despises going to the movies with me because I hate chick flicks.”

Chris beamed. “I love that. My ex hated action films.” He quickly averted his gaze to the long hall ahead.

I did the same. Yeah. Not bringing up your ex on our first half-date should be a no-brainer. What the hell, dude. Why would he bring up Christina? Maybe the movies brought back memories of her? They did date for a year…Oh no. Did he still have feelings for her?

I shoved the negative thoughts away as we walked into our mostly empty theater and sat seven rows back. While I settled into a chair, Landon bent down, ready to sit between me and Chris.

Oh hell n—

Chris slapped Landon’s bicep and he quickly stepped aside and sat one seat back. I couldn’t refrain a smile as Chris smirked at me and took his rightful place at my side. Okay, we’re back to it feeling more like a date. His confident move-over to his buddy amped up my heart rate. Chris wanted to sit by me…

“I’m gonna go to the bathroom,” Landon said as if Chris were a drill sergeant that Landon needed to report everything to, from a butt–scratch to a nose pick. Chris ignored him as he rose and trotted out of the theater.

Finally, some alone time. And hey, since Chris made a bold gesture, why couldn’t I?

I scooted over and laid my head on Chris’s shoulder. His white button–down smelled laundry fresh, like lavender and linen fabric softeners with a soft, pleasant spritz of sweet, but subtle cologne. He rested his head on mine. With his warm, smooth cheek pressed against my temple, my stomach fluttered. I’ve never been this close to Chris before. It’s so amazing. Maybe now he really is starting to like me…

As I savored the intimacy, time sped by ridiculously fast. Before another move could be made, the freaking credits began to roll. Why couldn’t this be a Lord of the Rings film? I could easily stay like this for a few more hours…

Chris slowly pulled away from me, like someone awakening from a comfy bed who longed to linger. “I wonder where Landon is.”

“Yeah…” I could care less. Him not with us was how this date should have been to begin with.

Chris gradually rose and after a brief stretch, meandered to the exit. I reluctantly followed. I focused on not staring at the James Franco eye-candy as we traversed back into the mall and walked toward the glass doors leading to the parking garage. Landon paced outside of them, talking on the phone.

I pointed his way. “There’s La—”

Chris wrapped an arm around my shoulder and drew me in until our waists touched. I beamed. Please tell me this isn’t a dream because this is almost too good to be true. Chris is actually being affectionate with me…actually making bold moves, pulling me in rather than pushing me away like he had before.

“How’d you like the movie?” he asked as we exited.

I coerced a placid tone. “The shots and characters were cool, and the overall direction was pretty unique. I enjoyed it, but the ending wasn’t great.”

“Yeah, the ending did suck,” he replied. “I expected it to be better.”

Landon remained on the phone—and Chris’s arm remained on my shoulder—until we got to the car. As we all hopped in, Chris turned to our tag-along. “‘Ey, Landon, do you need to go home?”

Landon texted on his phone. “Nah, it’s cool, big bro, I’ll just sleep over your house.”

As he turned away from him, Chris’s eyes passed over me. I sank further into my seat. Great, now I won’t even be alone with Chris for a ten-minute car ride. Thanks, Landon.

Chris wore the smallest frown. I twirled the ends of my hair. Did that mean he also wanted Landon to leave? That question definitely seemed like a not-so-subtle way of telling his third-wheel he can boot. I wonder if that was the whole plan to begin with? Maybe Chris wanted to see how it went, see if he…liked me before being alone with me.

I glanced at Landon through the rear-view mirror, laughing obnoxiously to himself while he continued texting on his phone. What a terrible sidekick.

Yet again, dialogue proceeded to be sparse on the way back to my house, thanks to the elephant in the car. Sitting in silence—besides Sublime playing on the CD player—we pulled into my driveway.

“Peace out, Tash!” Landon hopped out of the backseat as I tried to open the passenger door.

“It only opens from the outside.” Chris opened the driver’s side and exited with an undeniable air of confidence and grace. Sheesh, even the way the guy moved screamed hot. He walked around to the passenger and opened the door for me. I tried to exit as gracefully. While Landon climbed into the passenger, Chris and I faced one another.

A smile spread across his beautiful face. “I had a nice time tonight.”

“Me too.”

He peered at me. The street lamps shined off of his dark irises as they locked onto mine. My heart pounded. That stare held super-powers. It hypnotized, it weakened, it thrilled, it—

Chris leaned in and let his baby-soft lips bless mine. They pressed softly, tender, yet firm. He opened his mouth, making every hair on my body rise. I sank into his kiss, enjoying every sensation brought with it.

God, I can do this forever…I opened my eyes. Oh, right. Though my lips begged me to stay, I stepped back, glimpsing at Landon, pretending to be on his phone. We didn’t need to put on a show for the guy.

Chris graced me with his exceptional smile, wider than usual. “Goodnight, Tasha.”

“Goodnight, Chris.” I managed to maintain a calm, steady-paced, I’m-not-freaking-out-with-joy-right-now gait to my door. But when I stepped inside, I bounced on my feet like a toddler who’d just been told she’s going to Disney World.

My parents’ bedroom door opened, Dad’s hibernating bear snores flowing from within. Mom stepped into the hall, still in her hideous jammy tee-shirt dress, but bright-eyed.

I stopped bouncing, though I couldn’t stop smiling. “You didn’t have to wait up for me.”

“Tell that to me when you have two daughters.”

My smile faded some. When my sister lived here, she’d rendered Mom many late and sleepless nights…

Mom put on her lousy poker face. “How’d it go?”

I ascended our five-step staircase. “Mamatu, I know you were being a peeping Tom.”

She smirked guiltily. “I’m glad it went well. It’s about time.”

I held up my palm. “Tell it like it is, girl.”

She high-fived me and after kissing her goodnight, I entered my new, Chinese-themed sanctuary—inspired by Chris and his Buddhist beliefs. I collapsed onto my black comforter, face-planting into my satin, red throw-pillow. Turning onto my back, I stared at the paper lantern hanging in the corner above my TV. This year, my fortunes had surely changed, as I had desperately hoped they would.

For the first time I could actually say, “Chris Conners likes me.”

The Phantom Lover ch. 4 “Merry-Go-Round”

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4.) Merry-Go-Round

 

One year later.

Sitting on the library floor beside Marilyn, I traced my fingers over the book-spines on the shelf, pretending to organize them. Library Aid: by far my favorite elective, thanks to Mar being the only other aid for the entire two hours—and extended book rentals. Hello Twilight Saga.

Senior year brought a lot of perks. I made it into the Advanced Drama Magnet, getting to skip Intermediate. And this chick in my Honors English class asked me if I’d like to apply for a Musical Theatre teacher opening at the performing arts studio she worked for. And even though I had no musical theatre experience and no formal singing or dance lessons, I miraculously got the job. That girl literally asked me about the position the day after I’d been alone at my house pretending to teach drama to a class. That was bizarre, though really, it was probably just a “God-incidence.”

I glanced at my phone, on the gray carpet between me and Mar. Still no new text messages.

I turned to her, pulling out and pushing back in the same book. “Mar, I think something’s wrong. Juan hasn’t called me in two days and we’re supposed to have dinner tonight. You think my dad scared him off?”

She chuckled. “Though his shirtless, Big Foot belly is a little frightening, I highly doubt it.”

“What about my mom? She freaking interrogates every guy I bring over and you know how judgey she can be. You should’ve seen her staring at his sleeve-tats.”

“Don’t worry, he’ll call. He probably lost his phone or…”

My mind drifted elsewhere as Marilyn came up with a list of other compelling excuses as to why my new fling was missing in action. Why did all of these guys keep trippin’? Juan could now be my third dating-dud in two months. I was sick of this crap. My eighteenth birthday would be here before I knew it and I just wanted something steady, something certain and meaningful. I just wanted to meet the one…

Chris’s gorgeous face taunted my mind. I removed a book called the Fourth Dimension, opened it in my lap, and feigned reading. Chris Weitman. The one who got away. Though my depression had let up a few months after Landon’s birthday party fiasco, the James Franco look-alike still passed through my mind from time to time, a fleeting shadow of the past, of what should have been…

I’d seen him at the mall once afterwards and surprisingly, it didn’t hurt–even though at the time he was still with Christina. Instead, my heart only felt excitement, a rush, like it always did whenever my gaze first settled on him.

I sighed and then closed my eyes. God, am I going to see Chris again soon? Please give me a sign if I’m going to or not.

“Yes,” Marilyn said.

My eyes opened and I whipped my head in her direction. “What did you just say?”

She handed me my cell. “Your sister just texted you saying ‘yes.'”

Thoughts whirled around my anxious mind. Why in the world did my sister randomly text me ‘yes’? Oh, right! Early that morning I asked her if she planned on coming over for dinner. But she just so happened to write back now, at the specific moment I asked God if I would see Chris again soon!

Mar leaned over and scrutinized me. “What’s going on?”

“While you were coming up with excuses for why Juan’s been M.I.A., I prayed and asked God to give me a sign if I would see Chris soon, and you randomly said ‘yes’ right after!”

“Okay…but how would that happen? You haven’t seen Chris for what, six months or something?”

“I don’t know, Mar, but that was too strange of a coincidence. It had to be God. I’m going to see Chris soon, I just don’t know how or where.”

She picked up the Fourth Dimension book from my lap and slid it back onto the shelf. “Okay, Tash. Although honestly, I really think you should just move on. Chris is a loser.”

“Marilyn…” I put my phone in my hoodie pocket. “What if Chris is the one?”

She raised a freshly waxed eyebrow. “Just be careful, please. You know how he is…”

I smiled. “I will be.”

***

The dance studio swelled with the hyper chatter of my six to twelve-year-old Musical Theatre students. I looked inside my open purse at my cell, on the stool beside me. Still nothing from Juan. The jerk bailed on me last night without even calling or texting to cancel! I mean seriously, who does that? If you’re not into me, just tell me. It’s not like I told you I loved you or something. All we’d done was pop-kiss for crying out loud.

I forced my eyes on twelve-year-old Lexi, my leading actress. She stood across from the mirrored wall, a blonde, two-heads taller than her peers. “Lexi, think about what Horton’s saying. ‘There must be someone on top of that small speck of dust.’ Would you say that he was happy because of this amazing discovery?”

She brushed a loose strand behind her ear. “Yes.”

“But then what happens in the next line?”

“There’s a change of thought. Now he’s not excited he’s—”

“You’re.”

I’m worried about their lives because they’re in danger.”

I clapped. “Yes, Lexi! And there’s a build, right? You can hear it in the music.”

“Right.”

“Okay, let’s try it again.”

She repeated her lines with more passion, honing in on my direction and really nailing it.

I beamed. “That’s what I’m talking about! All right guys, it’s lunch time.”

The kids ran to their bags, piled in a heap by the door, and then stampeded out into the hallway with the small private-lesson rooms. I smiled. Ah, sweet elementary school glee, where the majority of your excitement and drama comes from your big dreams and best buds—not cowardly teenage boys. I grabbed my phone out of my purse.

New text message: Matt.

Matt? That creepy film kid who was obsessed with the Joker? Matt, as in, Landon’s friend, Matt?

Hey, Natasha. It’s Landon’s birthday today and we’re all going to South Beach to watch a movie. Wanna come?

I jumped out of my chair. I forgot it was Landon’s birthday—obviously Chris is going to be there! God was right! I dropped back down. Since Landon didn’t make it into the advanced drama magnet like I did, we hadn’t seen each other or spoke as much. But apparently, I wasn’t completely forgotten.

My phone chimed. I quickly opened it: Juan. Nice timing, A-hole.

Hi, Natasha. Listen, my ex moved back from Orlando, and I still really love her. I’m so sorry, but I’d like to stay friends.

I tossed my cell back inside my purse. If I didn’t know I would be seeing Chris tonight, Juan’s abrupt ending of our short-lived romance would’ve hurt. However, now I didn’t give a damn! It had been a while since I’d hung out with Chris, and tonight I would for sure. I didn’t know what his relational status was, but maybe this year things would finally be different with him and I…

***

This is awkward. I sipped on my coke as I sat down at Kay’s girlfriend, Jasmine’s small kitchen table. She and Landon sat across from me, and on my right sat Liliana—one of Chris’s many exes. With pin-straight, dark hair and tan skin, she looked like a short, Peruvian Pocahontas.

Landon sucked his teeth. “Chris is my brother and all, but he’s always late!”

Jasmine pulled out her phone. “I’ll text him.”

“Good luck,” Liliana said with a subtle Hispanic accent. “That boy hardly ever answers texts.”

I glanced at her. I wondered how she’d known that fun fact. Was that past knowledge from their old relationship, or did she still text him now?

A few knocks rattled against the front door. My heart rose as Jasmine stood and walked out of the kitchen. I nonchalantly fixed my hair and checked my breath when Landon and Liliana weren’t looking. At any moment, Chris might walk in and I had to be re—

Jasmine stepped into the kitchen with two boxes of pizza. “Do you guys want cheese or pepperoni?”

My chest deflated. Where was the boy?

Liliana raised her hand. “I’ll take pepperoni please.”

“Ditto,” I said as Jasmine handed Liliana a box. She smiled at me as she opened it and gave me a slice, and I smiled a real one back. On the forty-five minute bus ride over here, she shared her experience with Chris. Like what happened with Nadia, Chris did the dumping. He’d fallen off the map for some time before finally reaching out to let Liliana know he wanted to end things. I felt for her…I’d been heartbroken by the same guy. And even though at one point he clearly liked her, she didn’t seem like a rival. In fact, she was pretty cool and easy to talk to.

Landon dug in his pocket and pulled out his raggedy flip-phone. “Man, where is Chris?”

“Oh, he just texted back!” Jasmine said.

My pulse raced as she revealed the contents of the text.

“He said he’s hanging out with these girls from his school.”

“Where’s his girlfriend?” Liliana asked.

Landon chomped into his pizza, pepperoni oil oozing down the sides of his mouth. “They broke up.”

I dug my fingers more firmly into my pizza, not caring that the sauce totally seeped underneath my nails. Chris was single! Finally the mouse fled–or maybe he left her. Whatever the case, he had become available and the timing was way too coincidental. Perhaps this year really would be different. Deep down, I always felt like he had something for me; the connection I had to him was too strong. When we saw each other over six months back, he had that same amused smile, like he was genuinely pleased to see me…

This time, I wouldn’t use Landon—or anyone else for that matter—as a mediator. If things worked out with Chris, I’d make sure nothing–and no one–got in the way.

After a good ten minutes of pigging out, Jasmine trashed an empty pizza box and then carried the bag outside, leaving me alone with Landon and Liliana.

“I wonder when Chris is coming.” Liliana crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. “Actually, I bet he won’t even show up. He’s such a sell-out.”

I crossed my legs, my heart beginning to sink a little. What if she was right? Time kept ticking along and we’d been at Jasmine’s for two hours already. Maybe I would see Chris soon, but just not tonight…

Jasmine screamed from the front yard. We all sprang from our chairs. Landon strode ahead of us to the front door. He flung it open.

Every muscle in my body froze. Chris laughed beside Jasmine. A tight, white tee hugged his upper body, accentuating his toned muscles, and snug, dark denims embraced the rest of him. His gaze met mine and that same amused/pleased smile graced his plump lips.

As his eyes passed between me and Liliana, an almost tangible awkwardness stuffed the air. I glimpsed at her, standing to my left. Yeah…She was sweet and all, but having the guy we both still had feelings for and pasts with, in the same room at the same time, proved to be a bit uncomfortable.

Tearing his gaze from us, Chris hugged Landon and then reached behind his back and revealed a Spiderman comic. “I know he’s your favorite.”

Landon beamed as he snatched it. “Bro, this is awesome!”

I smiled. Guess Landon isn’t mad at him anymore.

“Hey.” Chris greeted the rest of us. His eyes met mine and the end of his luscious lips curled again. God, I could just kiss them…

Jasmine back-handed Chris’s bicep. “Now we can finally watch the movie.” She strode ahead into her dark living room where a long, L-shaped couch and giant flat-screen welcomed.

Chris continued to smirk at me. I willed myself to look away. Was he really happy to see me, or was he just in a good mood? Oh God, what if he smiled because a piece of pepperoni clung to my teeth! I scrubbed my teeth with my tongue as I sat on the couch next to Jasmine. Landon plopped down on her other side. Chris eased into the space beside him, while Liliana sat on his right.

Great. She stole the best seat in the house. I narrowed my eyes at her. What if she was a rival after all? I hadn’t seen him smirking at her like he kept doing to me, but maybe I’d just missed it…

I forced my attention to the 46″ TV screen while Adam Sandler’s Click started. Okay, this isn’t going to work.

I snuck a glance at Chris. Staring ahead, his olive skin looked as soft as cream, and his thick, pink lips appeared even softer. I wondered what it would be like to kiss him…

He looked at me. I cringed. Totally caught staring, how embarrassing. But before I could make myself return to Adam Sandler’s far less attractive face, Chris did his closed-mouth, flirty smile thing at me…again. What the freak was going on? Why did he always do this, and why was he doing it more than he had before…

My cell phone rang. Mamatu.

Dammit. I lifted it to my ear. “Hi, Mom.”

“Hey, Mamashmoo, I’m outside.”

My stomach dropped. She didn’t even give me a heads up and Chris only just arrived and was clearly enjoying my presence. But I definitely couldn’t ask her if I could stay longer right in front of him. And excusing myself would be suspicious. I breathed in. “Okay, I’ll be right out.” I sighed as I shoved my phone in my pocket. “Guys, I have to go, my mom’s outside.”

“All right.” Jasmine paused the movie. “We’ll walk you out.”

Everyone stood and followed her to the door—everyone, but Chris and I.

I turned to him. Gaze still fixed on the screen, he chuckled.

Okay…now what? I laughed with him before shuffling to my feet and heading to the door. What was he doing? What signal was he trying to—a warm hand grasped my waist and gave a playful squeeze. Tingles raced up my spine and a sudden surge of boldness coursed with it.

I peered back at him. “Can I see your phone?”

He reached into his back pocket and then passed it to me. Without thinking twice, I punched in my number. Fear of rejection never stopped me before, why let it now?

My heart hammered as we reached Jasmine’s open door and traversed onto the porch. The others waited by my mom’s Accord, chatting with her as if she were a fellow teenage friend. With her blonde highlights, perfectly blow-dried hair, pretty face, and youthful personality, she often did act like a sixteen-year-old trapped in a forty-eight-year-old body.

I faced Chris. His dark-chocolate eyes seeped into mine as he sat in a rocking chair on the left. I gave his phone back and then paused before leaving. It’s now or never, Natasha. With my own amused smirk I said, “I put my number in there, in case you ever get the balls.” I strutted away, beaming until I got into the car. After saying goodbye to the others I told Mom to gun it.

As she complied, she looked at me. “Why are you cheesing?”

“Mom, eyes on the road please!”

She stared ahead. “Was that Chris?”

I beamed again. “Yes.”

“He’s cute. And he does look like a young James Franco.”

“I know, right?”

“Did something happen with him?”

“I put my number in his phone and when I gave it back I said, ‘In case you ever get the balls.'”

Mom’s eyes widened and she grinned at me. “No you didn’t!”

“Mom, road!”

“Calm down. I’ve been driving for over thirty years.” She chuckled. “You think he’s going to?”

“I don’t know. But even if he doesn’t, at least I’ll know I didn’t play any games, that I stayed true to what I felt, and did exactly what I wanted to do—although it was briefly terrifying.”

My phone beeped as we merged onto the highway. Chris.

My forehead turned cold.

“Oh my God,” Mom said, looking at me again, “that’s him isn’t it?”

“Mamatu!”

“Sorry!” She refocused on her windshield.

I squeezed my cell. Okay, Natasha, this is the moment of truth. I took a breath in and then opened the text.

Wanna go to the movies next weekend?

I re-read the text three times before turning to Mom. “I guess it worked.”

The Phantom Lover Ch. 3 “Love Boat”

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3. Love Boat

Everything moved dreadfully slow, a pace I despised–unless I was kissing or putting on makeup. The minutes dragged, the hours trudged, and my days were starting to feel more and more like years. I’d never been depressed in my life, but this had to be what it felt like.

I leaned in closer to Marilyn’s bathroom mirror before applying my mascara. The bright vanity bulbs exposed the sadness in my hazel eyes. Unlike the white fluorescents, everything had turned dull. My classes had never been so boring, making Math all the more unbearable. Thank God I made it into the drama magnet because if I hadn’t, I probably would’ve been a high school drop-out by now.

I batted my lashes to prevent tears from smearing the mascara, making me look as emo as I felt on the inside. It truly sucked that a guy I barely knew could have such an effect on me. I hadn’t even been on a date with Chris, but I had this annoying connection to him that none of my friends understood–except maybe Mar. She still faithfully crushed on the same guy since seventh grade.

I felt like I’d been running a marathon–and I hated running–but although I knew I wouldn’t win, I kept stubbornly and pathetically trekking on anyway. After our couch conversation in front of his eavesdropping friends, Chris ignored my encouraging instant messages. And he hadn’t said a peep about the drawing I made him and delivered via Landon, with hopeful quotes and me crying in the center saying, “Even though I haven’t been through what you’re going through, I feel your pain.” All the bastard did was have Landon thank me on his behalf. I seriously don’t get it. Is the fact that I actually really care a turn off?

Marilyn walked into the bathroom and stood behind me. In an oversized tee, she looked super comfy and ready for bed. “When are they picking you up? It’s almost seven.”

“Kay should be here soon.” I turned to her. “How do I look?”

She sized me up. “Pretty.”

“Pretty?” I dropped my arms to my short-skirted thighs. “I did not just spend two hours in your bathroom so I can look ‘pretty’.”

“Okay…then you look beautiful.”

“Now you’re just saying that.”

Although a Russian Jew, she planted her hand on her hip and spoke with a slight Latina accent. “Tash, you’re my best friend, you know I be telling you when you look busted.”

I laughed. It was true. Sometimes she was too honest.

My phone vibrated in my butt-pocket. I snatched it. A text from Landon read: We’re outside.

“Oh my God, that’s them.” I scuttled out of the bathroom and to Marilyn’s metal condo door.

She trailed. “Is Chris with them?”

“I guess I’ll find out. Love you!” I ran through the marble floored hall—miraculously not slipping—and jumped into the elevator. Chris could only run for so long. As I exited the elevator and stepped into the fancy lobby, I slowed to a sexy stroll. I approached the sliding doors. Lifting my chin while they opened, I imagined myself in slow motion, though dusk’s humidity threatened to turn my hair into a frizzy lion’s mane.

Chris’s Colombian, Abercrombie best friend, Kay, hopped out of the driver’s seat. Wearing a white polo and overly cologned like most Latino preps, he kissed my cheek. “What’s up?”

“Nothing much.”

He pointed his thumb behind him. “You’re actually gonna have to sit in the trunk with Randy.”

I frowned. Who the hell is Randy?

Kay popped open the trunk, revealing a rather cute red-skinned boy with dirty-blonde dreads and green eyes. He looked like something out of a CW show. Kay held his palm out as if offering me a ride in a magical carriage rather than the hand-me-down family-wagon before us.

I crawled in next to Red-Dreads. “Hi, I’m Natasha.”

“Randy.” He looked away from me.

Alrighty then. I scoped the van for Chris. Three more Hispanic Abercrombie guys, two skater-like black boys in addition to Landon—seated in the passenger—two tan, pretty brunettes, one with ringlets I recognized as Kay’s girlfriend, but no hot Honduran/white boy. He must have been coming in his own car. Wonderful.

“Hey, Tash.” Birthday boy Landon peered back at me. “You excited for the party boat?”

“Yeah.” I raised my empty palms. “Sorry I don’t have a gift for you. I’m pretty broke at the moment.”

“It’s all right. I understand, trust me.”

I smiled as I hugged my knees. Truthfully, I was more excited about seeing Chris, but Landon didn’t need to know that.

Despite Randy creepily staring at me the majority of the time and then looking away when I’d make eye contact, the ride to Bayside didn’t seem that long. Maybe because adrenaline steadily rose in my blood. Hopefully my underarms didn’t stink ’cause before I knew it, we were parked in front of the busy outdoor/waterfront mall. My heart pounded as Kay opened the trunk and released me from my confined quarters with Cute-Creeper. I hopped out first. Where is he, where is he, where is he?

“Whoa, down girl,” Kay said.

I blushed. Talk about anxious. I just needed to calm down so that when I did see-Chris! My heart dropped as he approached. A short brunette with overly hair-sprayed crimps wearing a boring blue long-sleeve and white jeans accompanied him.

It’s okay, Natasha, I told myself. Maybe she’s just a friend of Landon’s who needed a-

Stiff-Crimps leapt onto Chris’s back. “Give me a piggy-back ride!”

My cheeks burned while they laughed as Chris ran around the cars in the parking lot. I tore my gaze off of the two. They appeared to be having a little too much fun and watching them made me want to barf.

Chris approached Landon and the rest of us, finally coming back to earth from his little joy ride to the moon with Mini-Me. “Happy birthday, little bro!” He bent his knees, and the girl slid down to her feet, still smiling. Then, Chris turned to me, that hot, but now agitating smile of amusement on his face. “Hey, Tasha.”

I forced confidence. “Hey, Chris.”

After an awkward moment of silence, Landon addressed the group. “All right guys, let’s head out so we don’t miss the next boat.”

I lagged behind as we walked toward the bay. Yet again another ballon-popping Saturday night. Seriously, what the hell was wrong with me? Why did I keep hoping things would work out with me and Chris when he continued to push me away and apparently found another chick who must’ve enjoyed marijuana and beers more than myself.

Landon slowed down until he sauntered beside me. “What’s up, Tash?”

At this point, I didn’t care about secrecy. “Who’s Chris with?”

“That’s Christina.”

Chris and Christina. Are you freaking kidding me?

“Does he like her?” I asked.

Landon hesitated and then slowly slid his palms into his pant-pockets. “He told me over the phone earlier today that he wanted me to meet her. He was really excited to bring her.”

I guess that’s a yes. So much for my positive prediction. Things were not off to a good start with Chris, and at this rate, they were only going to get worse.

As we waited for the party boat, I played with my phone, occasionally glancing up despite being terrified of what I might see. Chris held Christina’s hand, smiling as he gently brushed her hair out of her face. She smiled back, like some cheesy Hallmark movie.

I shifted my attention back to my phone. We hadn’t even gotten on the boat yet, but I was already nauseous. What did he see in her? If it had anything to do with looks, it wasn’t like she was a model or something. And how much of a bad girl could she have been? What level of bad did you need to be in order to be accepted by the Catholic school boy with a wealthy dad?

Kay strolled over to me. “Heeey, buddy!”

I recoiled at the random, joyous greeting. “Hi.”

He beamed, flashing a set of perfectly straight, pearly-white teeth. “We went to middle school together. I was Ziggy’s friend.”

“Oh yeah.”

“You ready to break it down to some reggaeton?”

“I guess.”

His brow furrowed as he squinted at me. I pretended to check my phone. Kay was sweet, and obviously tried to cheer me up–he must have known all about pathetic Tasha’s crush on his best buddy–but I just wanted to mope in solitude. He finally got the hint.

“All right, well, I’ll be seeing you. Peace!” He shot me a thumbs up before striding over to the two brunettes. He wrapped an arm around the curly-haired one and gave her a tender kiss on the cheek.

My heart ached. God, she’s lucky. Why can’t I like a good looking and genuinely sweet guy who’s also interested in me? Why did I torture myself with a guy who was apparently unwilling to change; who enjoyed bad company more than good?

A horn blared and a white, bi-level yacht slowly parked at the dock as darkness overtook the skies. I put my phone in my pocket while we piled on and then scurried to one of the seats bordering the dance floor. The yacht began its smooth sail across the still ocean. Luckily, I didn’t get seasick.

Chris and Christina walked by-hand in hand-before disappearing into the bow. My stomach churned. I take it back.

I got up from my chair and slipped through the hip-swaying crowd before climbing up to the upper deck. I stood by the railing and gazed at the sea, my vision hazed by tears. The multi-colored city lights swirled atop the black water like a rainbow in a storm. If I wasn’t so depressed, maybe I’d appreciate the view surrounding me, but even its beauty seemed bitter at the moment.

I leaned against the silver railing. Why did I like him so much? I’d only known what he put out there online and during our three-hour instant message convo, and what others said about him. Could I really like someone that much in so little time?

Landon appeared beside me. “Hey, Tash, why aren’t you dancing?”

I shrugged. “I’m not in the mood.”

Landon stared out at the ocean. “Oh.”

I closed my eyes. I wished he’d leave. I wished I’d leave, but I was stuck on that damn boat for another hour with Chris at the front of it probably making out with some other chick. The tears rolled down my cheeks.

“Tash…” Landon frowned at me, practicing his pity face. “I’m sorry.”

I turned away from him, trying to put on my tough girl act, though I knew it wasn’t believable. “It’s okay, I’m fine.”

“Come on, just try to have fun. Forget about him.”

“I’m just gonna stay here for a little while. I’ll dance later. Don’t worry about me. Go enjoy your party.”

Landon put on his pity face once more before trudging off.

Time dragged by as I cried and tortured myself with images of Chris and Christina…Him holding her hand, them hugging, his thick luscious lips kissing her stupid mouth.

I sank onto the floor, my head throbbing from all the continuous crying. What did she have that I didn’t? What made him like her instead of me? What did I do wrong, and she do right?

The boat stopped moving. I picked myself up and trotted down the stairs. Finally, I could lea-I halted at the landing. In the walkway to the bow, Chris stood across from Christina, pressed against the wall and clasping his neck as he kissed her.

I winced, tears once again blurring my vision. Just when I had finally stopped crying. They finished lip-locking and glided my way. As they passed, Chris’s eyes fastened onto mine. His smooth forehead wrinkled with…sympathy.

I scampered off of the yacht as fast as I could, certain he noticed my tears. I reached the van as Kay and his girlfriend did. This time, I sat behind the driver’s seat.

Chris and Christina finally arrived with the others. Chris took the passenger and Christina crawled into his lap.

I stared out of the window. Was there anything able to distract me from this hellish nightmare?

“So, we out to Chris’s house?” Kay asked the crammed group.

“Unfortunately, I have to go home,” Christina answered in a voice as mousy as her face.

I glimpsed at her. Yes, fly away on your broom, witch.

“Anyone else need to go home?” Kay asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Can you take me please?”

Landon, sitting beside me, slapped my knee. “Aw, come on, Tash, you can’t come to Chris’s?”

I glowered at him. Did he seriously just ask me that after witnessing my cry-fest on the boat?

I spoke steadily, donning my best apathetic tone though again, I knew it wasn’t the most convincing. “No, Landon, I can’t.”

Chris peered at me. His brow creased like it had on the boat as though he were…sad. Regretful perhaps? Or maybe it was pity.

Ugh. I gazed out the window again, my heart tingling. I wish it didn’t do that whenever he looked at me. It was pointless now to feel this way for Chris. He already found someone else.

“All right, let’s listen to some of that Don Omar!” Kay turned the volume up full blast, swelling the car with vibrating bass.

Despite the annoying music trying to take over my mind with its repetitive rhythm and Spanish rapping, it wasn’t distracting enough to prevent me from shedding a few more silent tears. Depression didn’t grant good acting skills; I couldn’t display joy when such sorrow battered my heart.

Eventually, we pulled up to a small gray house. Christina bid everyone farewell, and then Chris hopped out and walked her to the door. I shut my eyes. Why can’t I just say, “There’s no place like home,” click my heels together three times, and wake up in my bed so I can escape this nightmare already?

The ride home was completely different than the one coming. Instead of it feeling like ten minutes, it was more like ten days. The excitement and hope for something good to happen with Chris had instead become a night of deeper depression and shattered dreams.

The moment we pulled into my driveway I hugged Landon, bade everyone a quick goodbye, and then bustled out of the van. I hurried into my house without looking back. Mom cooked in the kitchen, but before she could greet me, I trotted up the stairs and into my room. I threw myself onto my blood-colored bed comforter. Although I ached with hurt and humiliation, I at least survived the worst night of my life.

***

My weeks just keep getting better and better don’t they? I rested my head against the spill-out’s concrete wall near the gym doors as Marilyn plopped down beside me and handed me a turkey-sub.

“Thanks.” I bit into the soft bread. It didn’t taste as good as it usually did. Nothing seemed as good as it once was.

“You know”-Mar chomped into hers-“you’re probably never going to be able to repay me for all the times I’ve bought you lunch.”

I smiled despite the residue of Saturday night’s letdown still harassing my heart. “You’re probably right-unless I make it to Hollywood.”

“Hey, that’s actually quite possible.” She observed me over a long chew. Her brow puckered, she swallowed and then spoke tenderly. “I’m sorry about what happened with Chris.”

“I don’t even wanna think about that son of a—”

“‘Sup, Tash!” Landon strode in front of us, his silver braces gleaming as he flashed his usual doofy smile.

I bit into my sub and waved. Yay, Chris is on my mind again.

Landon wiped his sweaty forehead. “Do you guys always eat out here?”

“Pretty much,” I replied.

“Man, it’s too hot. You gotta eat inside the lunchroom sometimes. All the drama kids do.”

I jabbed a thumb toward Marilyn. “She also prefers the spill-out.”

“All right then, cool, cool.” He dug into his jean pocket and removed his cell phone. His eyes widened.

“Everything all right?” I asked.

His happy-go-lucky grin turned upside down. “Chris and Christina are going out.”

My heart skipped a beat as Marilyn glanced at me.

“That’s great,” I said. “I’m over him anyway.”

“Oh, okay.” He stuffed his phone back into his pocket. “Well, I’m gonna go and say hi to some peoples. See you in drama!”

I faked a smile. “See you.”

Marilyn turned to me as he walked off, rolling his shoulders and pointing finger-guns at a group of dance magnet students chatting by the vending machines. “I don’t like that kid. He totally did that on purpose.

I seethed as I squeezed my now-soggy sandwich. That was certainly a bad act. It was purposeful, the little Denzel wannabe. I knew that pity-face on the boat was fake.

“Was that true about you being over Chris?” Marilyn asked.

It’d been almost a week since I’d share with her the horror story of Landon’s birthday. And how Chris proved to be even more of a Class A butthole when Red-Dreads Randy told me he’d kissed another chick in the pool later that night. Apart from that, I hadn’t spoken another word about him or his mousy playmate.

As Landon shook his hips by the vending machines with a mini Beyonce, I balled up my sub’s paper wrapping and choked it with my fist. “It will be.”


Liking the story so far? Please feel free to leave comments on your thoughts! Feedback is always helpful and appreciated. Stay tuned for chapter 4! Stumble across this and now your interest is piqued? Read it from chapter 1.

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The Phantom Lover Ch. 2 – “Plan B”

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2. Plan B

“I still can’t believe Chris just ditched you like that.” Mar chomped into her turkey sub as we sat outside in the spill-out in our usual spot, against the concrete wall by the gymnasium doors, across the Frenchies’ table. Two of the guys laid across the benches with their eyes closed, sun-bathing.

I picked up my book-bag, my head suddenly aching. Chris never reappeared. He straight bailed on me without a shred of remorse; no text, no instant message apology, zip. I guess that’s how it feels when on the receiving end of, “I have no interest in you whatsoever.” Being kicked to the curb sucked, and it wasn’t my norm. Usually I did the kicking, but at least I’d have the decency to see the date through. Like that time Natalia tried to hook my 5’2 self up with a super tall guy who I knew right away I wasn’t into. Because he was 6’3, toned, and had blue eyes, basically because he was Nati’s type, she’d thought I’d dig him. But I’m really into faces and I’d take the much shorter pretty boy over the dude with a Chris Hemsworth body without the gorgeous face. Last time I let my sister set me up on a blind date.

“I’m gonna go inside,” I said to Mar. “There’s no way I can rehearse my monologue out here.”

She pouted; probably because she could see my pain even though I hadn’t vocalized it. We’d been best friends since seventh grade. And Mar planned on being a psychologist someday; she could practically mind-read me. But she never pried, and I appreciated her patient heart. “All right,” Marilyn finally replied. “Love you.”

“Love you.” I got up, shading my eyes against the boiling sun, and strode past the Frenchie’s and skaters’ tables. I don’t wanna hear the name Chris again for the rest of my life. I shoved open the hideous forest-green door leading to the stairwell.

“These Negro leaders are running around telling the white man that everything is all right, that we got everything under control, that everything the honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches is wrong, but I’m telling you Mr. Muhammad said these things were going to come to pass, and now these things are starting to”—Either I’d walked in on a black kid who was completely insane and thought he was Malcom X, or this brace-face was also auditioning for the Drama magnet tomorrow.

“Sorry to interrupt.” I turned to escape.

“No, no, it’s okay,” he said. “I was just practicing my monologue. I’m auditioning for the Drama magnet.”

Phew, so this kid wasn’t psycho.

“Cool, me too.” I squinted at him. “Hey, I know you.”

He flashed his silvery teeth. “Yeah, we had the same drama teacher in middle school. My name’s Landon.”

“That’s where I know you from. I’m Natasha.”

“I know.” He grasped his stomach. “I’ll never forget that improv you did acting like you gave birth in a car. Classic!”

I chuckled at the memory of eighth-grade me with my legs propped up on two chairs, bossing my “husband” around while groaning and panting, then screaming at the top of my lungs as I pushed my invisible baby out. That was definitely a fun skit.

“Do you have your monologue memorized?” Landon asked.

“Yeah, I was actually gonna rehearse it right now.”

“Awesome.” He scuttled backwards and dropped onto a stair. “Would you like to perform it for me?”

“Sure, but start yours again. It seemed really intense before I came in and killed it.”

He laughed and started from the top. Loud, passionate, and at times scrunchy-faced, overall he did quite well. I could tell a serious actor from a hobbyist and this kid was definitely in it for the long haul.

After he finished, I applauded. “You remind me of a young Denzel Washington.”

He gawked. “Really? That’s awesome! My big bro, Chris, told me the same thing.”

I winced at the stupid name. Now anyone named Chris would be an annoying trigger until I got over the douchebag.

Landon’s head tilted like a dog who’d just heard a strange noise. “You know Chris, right? He told me you guys met at the mall last week.”

My chest tightened. “Chris? Nadia’s ex?”

“Yeah.”

The tightening worsened. This can’t be happening! He spoke about me to his ‘brother’? That’s always a good thing. At least I think it is.

“Wait a minute.” I sized Landon up. “But Chris is…”

“Caucasian and Honduran, I know. We met in fifth grade. I used to be a really big geek, and Chris was the cool guy, and when people made fun of me he always stood up for me. We found out we both were comic-book freaks, and we’ve been bros ever since.”

I gave a slow nod. Good to know he was nice to some human beings. Though he still sucked as one.

The lunch bell chimed.

“I guess I won’t have time to perform my monologue for you,” I said quickly. “It was nice meeting you again.” I breezed past him and up the stairs.

“See you at the audition!” He called after me.

“See you!” I reached the top and bustled through the hallway, dodging my fellow peers. Chris spoke about me after ditching me? Was it like a, “You should’ve seen this girl’s face,” mean recap, or was it something…else? I didn’t know why Chris ditched me. But maybe his boys needed to do something and he was their ride. Whatever the case, he spoke about me to his best friend and I had to find out why.

***

Are Saturdays cursed for me or something? I shifted in my chair so my leg wouldn’t be touching the Abercrombie Colombian dude wedged beside me fondling his girlfriend. I glanced at Landon—lounging in an armchair and totally engrossed in the gory Quentin Tarantino movie. Then, my attention shifted to Chris.

He sat in a loveseat on the far right, playing with his cell phone.

It still felt a little unreal being here, in a group that included Chris, just a week after he ditched me. But my plan to get close to Landon in order to get closer to Chris wasn’t exactly working out as well as I’d hoped it would. I had no clue why Chris ignored me since the moment I got to his stupid building, but it was pretty damn annoying and rude. He could’ve at least given me a quick apology for flaking out last weekend, offered a cordial excuse, even if it was a totally lame one.

I wiggled off of the couch. “Chris, can we talk?”

Every eye glanced at me. The Colombian dude and Landon smirked, unable to hide their amusement at my boldness. Even Chris smirked. He gestured for me to follow him to another set of couches a stone’s throw away. I followed him, bracing myself as he eased onto one of them. I sat across from him, my Cuban blood beginning to boil, even though he was so damn pleasing to look at. “What’s up with you?”

Mr. Mysterious slowly scanned the room as if the words he sought were written on the walls. After another thirty seconds of cowardly stalling, his glossy brown eyes met mine. “Okay. I know you’re a good girl, but right now, I like to smoke weed and drink, and I want someone that’s on the same page.”

The warmth in my cheeks from my rising blood pressure turned cold. So that was why he ditched me: I’m a “good girl” and he’s a bad boy. I mean, I knew this kid rocked the whole rebel attitude and look, and—based on tonight—drank occasionally, but drugs? Maybe that was why he spoke at such a slow pace all the time.

“But why smoke? It’s bad for you.”

He chuckled. “You see what I mean?”

I closed my mouth, but then swiftly opened it again. “I’ve gotten drunk once, when I was fifteen on New Years with my best friend.”

He laughed. “Once. You’re so cute.”

My toes tingled at his observation. I could accept cute, but he didn’t know I took karate for years and got into a fist fight back in sixth grade with a girl twice my size. It was a tie, but that’d been an impressive achievement in my opinion. “Thanks, but I’m not afraid of the whole bad boy thing. I’ve dated worse.”

He eyed me. “You do seem brave.”

I shrugged. “I’m not afraid to share my heart.”

His beautiful James Franco face studied me as if I were some intriguing but confusing piece of museum art he sought to figure out.

I stared right back. His gaze ignited my heart and made me want to grab his face and kiss it–but I certainly wasn’t that brave. And although we acted like we were alone, his friends still sat seven feet away from us, pretending to finish the Tarantino film. This bad boy didn’t intimidate me enough to have me running off just yet. Like I’d told him, I’d been with troublesome guys: the cheating, wannabe gangster who wasn’t even apart of a gang; the Jamaican-Puertorican pothead that smoked more than he attended school; the drag racer that I had to literally hit so he’d stop drifting on a wet road and put us in early graves; that skinny Colombian who tried to rape me.

So yes: smoking and drinking wasn’t something me or my girls were into. And yes, I totally would prefer a guy who chose sobriety, but there were so many things I liked about Chris, good things…And I didn’t want this to be over before it had even begun.

I exhaled.

He smiled as if amused at my obvious contemplation. Reaching a risky yet worthwhile decision, I returned the flirty gesture.

I am going to help him.

……………………

………….

…….

….

Ch. 1 of The Phantom Lover (Part 1 of my true YA Romance, WANTED: A Boyfriend Who Doesn’t Suck)

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1.) First Un-Date

He’s like the sixteen-year-old rebel version of James Franco. I stared at–no, I studied–Chris’s profile photo. His olive skin shone flawless, his brown eyes deep and alluring like an ocean glistening at night. About 5’9, slender but toned, sporting a white sleeveless, green cap, and jeans, his Honduran mom and Caucasian dad made him well. A year younger than me, he was the most gorgeous Sophomore I’d ever seen.

My name is Natasha, and I’ve always been a lover with a decent amount of fighter in me, but that feisty Cuban side usually only emerged when my best friends were being hated on by stuck-up, back-stabbing ex-friends who kicked us out of their lame parties or stupidly acted like they were going to run one of us over while actually driving a car. Or if a guy treated our hearts like a paper ball and thus needed a good slap across the face.

It was my junior year in high school and by now, I’d had ten boyfriends since ninth-grade. My relationships usually lasted two months max; either because I’d fallen out of like with the guy or he was a lying, cheating, immature punk or a controlling prick. For those reasons—and more I’ll spare you from—I did most of the dumping. And I’d been cool with flash-flings; they were exciting and kept things fresh. But that changed quite recently.

I had an intense crush on Maxime, this swoon-worthy, French charmer with curly, ash-blond hair and big, blue eyes, who resembled Mel Gibson in his super hot Grease days. He sits beside me in honors English, and finally invited me to hang out with him at his mini-mansion with another Frenchie stud. But though he flirted tons, Maxime totally failed to make a real move. When I confronted him about it, he jammed a dagger in my heart with unfiltered honesty: “Natasha,” he’d said with his thick accent, “I have a girlfriend back in France who I am in love with. We are in an open relationship, so I am not looking for anything serious, just someone to have sex with, but I know you’re a good girl so I don’t want to do that to you. It is best if we remain as friends.”

After that chest-stab, I was sick of the short-term flings. I wanted something that would last. I became mission-minded. Every time I went out, I took hours to get ready, even waking up extra early before school each morning to ensure I looked my best because now, I wanted to fall in love. I wanted something long lasting. I wanted to meet the one. And though I barely know this James Franco doppleganger, something deep within my soul is so drawn to him…It’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever experienced.

I’d been onto Chris since the first time my eyes devoured his frame at the mall. He was Nadia’s boyfriend, my once close friend back in middle school, but that closeness had fizzled and now they were broken up–and he did the dumping.

An alert appeared beside his picture in bold font: online.

My heart jolted as if electrified. Beneath the online alert there read a “message now” option. Should I just do it? Make the first move? Playing hard to get had always been thee thing to do, and I was quite the pro at it, much to the disdain of one ex who demanded I call him, “at least five times a day,” and, “treat him sweetly,” like his old girl friends had. Yeah, that didn’t last long. But with Chris…something about him just seemed to suck stuff out of me that normally stuck like glue. He…unraveled me.

Ah, what the hell? I pounded on the keyboard before my mind could convince me not to.

Hey, Chris. I’m Natasha, Nadia’s friend. We met briefly at the mall a few weeks back.

I hit send, my heart racing. Freak. Should I have mentioned Nadia? What if he thinks we’re still close and I’m writing him on her behalf? Trying to get info or blackmail dirt?

Hey, I remember you. What’s goin’ on, Tasha?

Another heart-jolt rattled my chest. Oh my God. He responded. Thank God I’m an actress; keeping it cool when inside you’re freaking out is my specialty—most of the time.

Nothing much, just at home. You?

Same. I see on your profile you’re pretty spiritual. That’s really cool.

I smiled at the screen. I was raised Catholic, but around eleven or so, me, my parents, and older sister, Natalia, were invited to a Baptist Church. For the first time we kinda comprehended why Jesus died for us and how he wanted a relationship with us. We all said a prayer that day and I remember feeling something powerful, and crying a lot, and from then on, I’d started praying religiously every night–mostly about my relationships. Dad started going to that big nondenominational church, but I stopped going when seventh grade came around. Me and early mornings aren’t friends. Plus, middle-school romances are dramatic and draining. With all the little boy drama, I needed to sleep in.

I wrote back. Yeah, I’m a Christian. My family and I had an intense experience at a church back when I was eleven so I definitely believe in God. How about you?

I believe humans can obtain Nirvana, their own utopia here on earth. I’ve been studying Buddhism and Taoism.

I had to do a quick Google search, especially for Taoism. A lot of stuff about rebirth and reaching perfection by becoming one with “the Way.” Pretty elusive, mysterious, and deep, like Chris; a match made in religious heaven. Believing in God was crucial though, but maybe over time he’d begin to…

Our conversation continued. An hour passed. Then two. Then three. Chris divulged more on his confusing religious beliefs and how his mom sent him to a private Catholic school because he got into too many fights at his old public one; his love for Los Angeles, where I hoped to move and become a famous actress; his favorite music: old school hip hop, and the band Sublime; his desire to one day become a tattoo artist, even though he had yet to scar his skin with ink; his little brother, Mikey, whom he apparently adored.

This kid was so…likable. And for someone who dripped with mystery, he was really easy to talk to. A few hours of conversation and already, he felt like a close friend…

I glanced at the time at the top of my computer screen: 3:00 am. My mouth fell open. We had that much to say to each other?

Hey, it’s getting late. Chris wrote. But do you want to meet up at the mall Saturday and watch a movie?

I beamed, my face hurting from the many times I’d smiled over the past three hours.

That’d be cool. What time?

Meet me at the food court at 8pm.

All right. Have a goodnight.

Goodnight, Tasha.

As I exited the chat box–still smiling–I eased back into my desk chair and brought my knees to my chest. Butterflies swarmed my stomach as I shook my head.

I’m going on a date with Chris Weitman.

***

Saturday night is finally here. I glanced at my besties through Alice’s mirrored closet doors as I applied hairspray and scrunched my dark-blonde curls. Alice, Isabelle, and Marilyn sat on Alice’s full-sized bed. Like myself, they rocked bright skin-tight tops, Chuck Taylors, and Brazilian jeans.

Me and Alice sat beside each other in sixth-grade Geography since both of our last names began with “s.” We thought we were each super pretty and bonded over how cute Mr. Espada was. We instantly became best friends. A year later, Isabelle and I were riding the Zipper together at a fair and as the terrifying ride began, we both shouted, “In case we die, I want you to know you’re my best friend!”

And dear Marilyn and I met in sixth-grade homeroom. Being more on the chubbier side, Marilyn had been made fun of—a lot. And I despise saying it, but I’d partaken in the bullying. But the same girl I picked on would be the same girl I’d almost get into fist-fights defending.

We had this school dance and I’d taken off my heels and asked her if she could watch them for me, which she did without a lick of attitude. Afterwards, as I danced with Alice and Isabelle and a few other girls, Mar stood close by, bopping insecurely to the beat. Poor girl dripped with insecurity and shyness. Though she kept popping up, she hadn’t said a word the whole night. I honestly began to feel for her, and that following Monday, I did a real 180.

Marilyn lived with her single mom and had a rich grandma. So while me and my ex cool girl “best friend,” Carolina, had dollar store lip gloss, Mar would bust out with the good stuff: Lancôme. Carolina asked Mar if she could borrow some gloss and then immediately after, she called Mar a “fat rich bitch” loudly enough for several kids to hear. Carolina had looked at me, awaiting me to join in like usual, but I held my tongue—and her stare—until she rolled her eyes and focused her gaze elsewhere. And from that day on, I’d distanced myself from Carolina and instead, drew closer and closer to Mar. She’d tell you I really helped her emerge from her shell and my God am I glad I did because that girl is phenomenal. She was even my inspiration for joining the anti-bullying, Heritage Club, where we’d go to classes and share our stories of bullying to hopefully change perpetrators’ minds and encourage victims.

After one last long spritz of hairspray, I turned from the mirror and faced the girls. “Call Jose to make sure Ryan’s going to be there.”

With phone in hand, Alice hopped off of her bed, part of her flat midriff exposed by her orange top. Pretty, silky-haired, and slender, she and Isabelle were models as children for a reason. “I already texted him. He said he might go.”

“Hopefully he does because you look super hot tonight,” I said.

“You think?” She pulled on her spandex-blouse that complemented her sun-kissed complexion. “I feel like this shirt shows my gut.”

“Oh my God, are you serious?” Marilyn narrowed her beady blue eyes. “That”–she pointed to Alice’s microscopic belly-lump–“I wish I had.”

“For real, Alice.” Isabelle stood up now and lifted her turquoise top, revealing her even flatter stomach. “If anything, I have a gut.”

Marilyn gaped at them. “Okay, the problem isn’t your bodies, it’s your minds.”

I laughed. “For real, you girls are trippin’. We’re all hot.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m hot,” Mar said.

I planted a hand on my hip. “Dude, you’re really pretty, and there’s nothing wrong with being voluptuous.”

“Yeah, yeah. Well we should get going, don’t you have to meet Chris at eight?”

“Yes!” My heart fluttered as I faced the mirror again and tousled my stiff curls. After analyzing his enticing profile pics and poetic “About me” section, where I’d discovered we both were Hispanic writers who dreamed of moving to LA one day, and then our three-hour instant message conversation that lasted until the wee hours of the night, I realized Chris Weitman was simply perfect for me. And tonight, I’m positive our first date will be nothing short of amazing.

***

Throngs of Latino families, kids from our high school, elderly folk, basically everyone and their moms packed the food court. Searching out Chris in that herd of madness would be nearly impossible.

Mar pulled a wooden chair out from a nearby table and sat. “You wanna eat something while we wait?”

“Not really.” I plunked next to her as Alice and Isabelle leaned against a nearby pillar.

Where the hell was this boy? It was already fifteen minutes past eight! Thank God I’m not alone. This whole sitting around and waiting for a guy thing is so not hard to get.

“There he is!” Alice nudged my shoulder.

Instead of dwelling on the pang she caused, I focused on slowing my now pounding heart so my palms wouldn’t sweat. I’d never been this nervous over a guy before. Given, I’d never seen such a real-life, hot-as-James-Franco-in-his-prime guy before. And unlike your normal, simple, hot guys, Chris oozed with this hidden veil of secrets. He’d gaze at you with those gleaming eyes like a dark, taunting well of water waiting to be drawn out by someone…

Hopefully, that someone was me.

Chris stood out through the horde–tall and skinny, in blue denims, his white sleeveless and green cap. His latte-colored skin looked delightfully smooth and his chocolate irises and bubble-gum lips so delectable, so luscious, so–a posse of boys trailed behind him, also in green. I rose to my feet as Chris approached. So much for going on a date.

“Hey, Tasha.” The way his slow, raspy voice spoke the nickname he’d given me slightly pacified my disappointment. No one called me Tasha, and that made it all the sweeter.

“Hi, Chris. We still gonna watch a movie?”

“Let me check with them.” He turned to his gang and they walked an out-of-earshot distance away to a huge gumball machine awkwardly set in the middle of the food court.

I tried to make small talk with my besties while he deliberated with his boys. If I didn’t know that they all lived in nice condos around Surf Side and attended Catholic school, I would’ve thought they were thugs representing a gang called the Jalepenos.

“What do you think they’re saying?” Mar whispered.

“I don’t know.” I glanced in Chris’s direction. He peered back at me. My neck hairs rose as his friends did the same, grins etched on their faces.

What the hell are they saying about me? Do I look like I tried too hard? Dammit, I probably do look like I tried too hard!

He strolled over to me while Los Jalepenos stayed posted. “I’ll be right back.”

I gaped at him as he turned around and walked out of the automatic doors, his boys following.

My heart dropped to my toes. Wait a minute. Did I do something wrong?

“What a jerk!” Alice’s nostrils flared like a roused dragon as she pushed herself off of the pillar. “I can’t believe he made you meet him just so he can say hi for five seconds and then ditch you!”

“Seriously,” Isabelle said. “That is so messed up.”

I tried not to cry, but my vision blurred. Based on me and Chris’s conversation, I really thought he liked me. Maybe I was wrong.

Marilyn rested her warm palm on my shoulder. “What do you wanna do, Tash?”

I bit my lip to fight back the tears, but failed. “I just wanna go home.”


Subscribe to my blog so you’re notified when chapter 2 posts tomorrow! 

WANTED: A Boyfriend Who Doesn’t Suck – TRUE Supernatural YA Romance Book on Wattpad!

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“You know what God? Forget about Dace and Chris. I wanna dream of a new guy.” I pulled my covers up to my shoulders and then drifted into another land…

If you told me a vampirish dream in which I’d be saved by a hot guy with fangs was a prophetic fore-taste of a swiftly-coming romance, I’d laugh and ask what you’d been smoking lately.

But what would you say if I told you that dream was true, and that I’m now living it?

My name is Natasha, and this is my true, supernatural love story.

Yup, I’ve written an autobiography of my teenage love life, BUT in YA romance fashion so it reads like a young adult novel and truly, it is just that. There’s three main men in this true tale, beginning with the first of the last two boyfriends I had before meeting my dream prince. You can read this ongoing story for free now on Wattpad! And here’s images for each chapter:

1.) First Un-date

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2.) Plan B

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3.) Love Boat

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4.) Merry-Go-Round

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5.) Half-Date

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6.) Reality Check

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7.) Mouse Trap 

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8.) Do Over

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9.) Sweet Confession

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10.) Question Unimaginable

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11.) Let Down

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12.) Unfriendly Ghost

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13.) Three Words

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14.) Reciprocation 

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If you check it out, please let me know what you think. Happy reading!

Natasha (3)

Have you tried Canva for book covers?

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I made this for free with Canva.com. They have a really cool section with ALL book cover templates, even ones specified to Wattpad and it’s great quality text and whatnot for FREE! Look at that, 50,000 templates!

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Check out some of the Wattpad specific covers:

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Seriously, how cool is this? Have you used this tool. If you have, feel free to let me know and share a link with your cover. Happy cover making!

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Read my ongoing, NA urban fantasy story for free on Wattpad: CORYN OF BELLSFERRY: BLOOD THIEVES.

“With long snaking roads enshrouded by dense woodland and only smatters of clarity along the rolling hills, the beautiful countryside of Bellsferry was the perfect place for predators to stalk.”

Coryn knows fate when she’s pricked by it–she thinks.

In a world where American law has been overthrown, and wanna-be supernatural, self-made vampires exist–who by the way, are really creepy and demented and have started preying on the small town of Bellsferry–there also exists Coryn, a twenty-three-year-old single mother who’s just trying to survive through life–and give her daughter a somewhat decent one. But when Coryn is taken under her gunslinging neighbors’ wings and something…otherworldly happens, forget decent; she and her daughter’s lives are now even more dangerous than before. Sigh. That’s what happens when you accidentally become the only real nemesis to the deranged psychopaths who have iron-gripped your hometown.

Since before the demolition of law, Coryn grew up surviving through life, but now she has to protect not only herself and her seven-year-old daughter, but their entire town–doesn’t she?

 

Coryn of Bellsferry: Blood Thieves -Chapter 5: Unexpected Guests

Hunter aesthetic! 

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Coryn Aesthetic!

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Chapter 5 of Coryn of Bellsferry: Blood Thieves is here! Check it out on Wattpad!

“I shivered, despite the summer heat. What if something happened to me? What if the Blood Thieves got to me? What would that do to my daughter, losing the person closest to her? She barely knew Gunner and Dixie. She’d be devastated and scared, and the security and joy of her childhood bubble would burst and she’d be thrown into the dark, confusing maze of this dangerous world. Death was banging on all of our doors, especially mine and Krista’s, and who knew when it’d break through and seize its loot. It could happen tonight…”-from chapter 5

Chapter vibes:

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Coryn Aesthetic!

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SYNOPSIS TIME!

“With long snaking roads enshrouded by dense woodland and only smatters of clarity along the rolling hills, the beautiful countryside of Bellsferry was the perfect place for predators to stalk.” Coryn knows fate when she’s pricked by it–she thinks.

In a world where American law has been overthrown, and wanna-be supernatural, self-made vampires exist–who by the way, are really creepy and demented and have started preying on the small town of Bellsferry–there also exists Coryn, a twenty-three-year-old single mother who’s just trying to survive through life–and give her daughter a somewhat decent one. But when Coryn is taken under her gunslinging neighbors’ wings and something…otherworldly happens, forget decent; she and her daughter’s lives are now even more dangerous than before. Sigh. That’s what happens when you accidentally become the only real nemesis to the deranged psychopaths who have iron-gripped your hometown.

Since before the demolition of law, Coryn grew up surviving through life, but now she has to protect not only herself and her seven-year-old daughter, but their entire town–doesn’t she?

 

Have you been following along? If so, what are your thoughts so far? Got a WIP you’re working on? Are you on Wattpad? Let me know! Happy reading! -Natasha

Do you make image quotes from your stories?

Pinterest got me starting to make quote images from my books and stories. I also make some for Instagram from time to time. I use quotes I really liked and I think they’ve generated some interest. What about you? Have you made image quotes for your stories? Feel free to share your Pinterest links with them or Instagram account with them. Here’s some of mine from my latest WIP (available on Wattpad), a New Adult urban fantasy, Coryn of Bellsferry: Blood Thieves:

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Happy discussing!

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