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.”

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