Clean Love Story
Excerpt 1: I left one shelf bare for my memory boxes. I stacked the shoe-sized cardboard boxes so their labels showed. Freshman Year, Sophomore Year, Junior Year. The first two boxes were filled with memories that I collected to keep safe. My Junior Year box felt empty. I removed its lid and took out the orchard ticket stub, the pictures of the guys wrestling in the dark, and a dried purple rose. Jared handed me the rose at school the morning of Sweetest Day. I could only guess what might fill my box the rest of the year. Will I even make any new friends? How would people react when they saw my hand? They’d probably think I’m the creepy new girl and be grossed out by my claw. I took a deep breath and put the box back.
A piece of paper stuck out from between the pages of one of my books. I tugged it free and unfolded it. It was a note Jared wrote to me about two months after we started going out.
Please don’t be mad at me for the whole TBH thing. I just didn’t know what to say to Jan. I shouldn’t have said anything. I like you a lot! You are my girl. I don’t want anyone else.
A sigh escaped me. I never got the whole TBH—to be honest—thing. You opened yourself up for drama if you posted a picture with the letters TBH online. A girl named Jan did that and Jared took the bait. He had to honestly say something about her, so he commented under the picture that she was cute. My phone blew up with text messages telling me about it. I cried and sent Jared a text telling him I wanted to break up. I felt so stupid. The entire student body of Cedar High knew Jared told another girl she was cute. He slipped me the note during Algebra class the next day. I forgave him.
Inside the stall, I heard giggles and saw three pairs of feet under the door wearing designer boots. “She is so freaking weird.” I heard one of them say.
“I know, right? I heard she kissed that gross Shane Baker with blue lipstick on. I don’t care if it was a challenge, that’s nasty,” a second voice said.
“Who’s that girl she’s been hanging out with?” asked the third voice. I tensed.
“She’s a new girl,” the first voice said. “I hate to break the news to you, Haley. I think Chase likes her. Have you seen the way he looks at her?” My heart flip-flopped.
“Uh-uh. There’s no way,” Haley said. “Have you seen her hand? It’s disgusting.”
Tears sprang into my eyes. I squeezed my eyes shut and pushed them back. My heart thumped against my chest. My blood boiled, flowing hot and angry. I was ticked! I flung the stall door open. Three startled faces gaped at me. I stepped up to the sink and washed my hands, purposely shook the water off of them so my right hand was visible, and made eye contact with lemon-head, who I now knew was Haley.
The three girls watched me wide-eyed and silent. I strolled out of the bathroom with my head held high.
Still fueled from the anger coursing in my veins, I marched up to Maggie. “May I borrow your blue lipstick?”
Maggie creased her eyebrows. “Okay.” She reached in her purse and handed me a black tube. I twisted it until a blue waxy tip appeared. I smeared a thick coat of blue over my lips and puckered. I looked at Rayne. “You challenged me to do this, okay?”
Rayne glanced at Maggie. She shrugged. Jake arched an eyebrow.
“Ooo-kay,” Rayne said.
I spun on my heel. My heart thudded loud in my ears as I marched toward the group of skateboarders and BMX guys that stood in a circle. I scanned over the faces of the circle until I found my target. After I sucked in a breath, I pushed my way past the curious faces of the boys, until I was face to face with Chase. The group fell silent. Chase tilted his head and quirked his eyebrow. I took another deep breath then placed my hands on Chase’s broad shoulders, rose on my tiptoes, and placed a blue kiss on his cheek. The boys erupted with laughter and whistles.
“Tell your girlfriend where that came from.” I tapped the blue mark left on his cheek. The shock on his face left, replaced with a half-twisted smile. That infuriating grin of his was back. I shouldered my way through the boys. Heads turned, tracking my movements. My friends gawked at me like I’d grown three heads. I slipped onto the seat at the table so my back was to Chase.
“Whoa, Emerson. You just rocked the challenge above all challenges, even though you didn’t really get challenged,” Rayne said. “That didn’t make any sense, did it?” He lifted one dark eyebrow.
Jake shook his head, still wide-eyed. “Not at all.”
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