Hippi’s Crush

Hippis_Crush_front cover

I’m Hippi–named after Hippocrates, the ancient physician. That gives you an idea of what expectations my parents have of me.

I lead a double life.

Secretly, I’m a genius and one of six kids invited to participate on the school’s elite science project. But everyone knows me as the cheerleading captain and the most popular girl in school.

Yeah, I can have any guy I want, but the one I have a crush on is Ash, the captain of the science project. You know what that means. It’s totally not cool for the cheerleader to go after the science geek. It’s getting harder to keep him a secret and he doesn’t like it.

Chapter 1

The day I received the invitation to participate in the Science Project was the scariest day of my life. The Science Project brought together the top brainiacs of our high school to work on a secret science project. In the spring, schools from all over the state compete against each other. Our school has won three of the past five years so there’s a lot of pressure.

But that’s not what scares me.

I’m Hippocrates Dawson–Hippi to every living human being–and a junior in high school. But I’m not one of ‘those’ kids–you know, the smart geeky kind who wears their intelligence for all other kids to make fun of. I’m actually one of ‘those other’ kids–one of the popular girls who makes fun of the science geeks. That’s why I’m scared.

Almost every girl on campus looks up to me. I’m the captain of cheerleading, I can date any boy I want, and I set the dress code for school. It can get pretty weird sometimes to just throw on a skirt with a T-shirt and have that look literally duplicated by most girls the next day.

I’ve got two top physicians for parents–thus, the name Hippocrates, which is brutal for a girl’s name. I’m also a closet genius. I was destined to be one with parents like mine.  But kids at school don’t know about my IQ. Definitely not the popular crowd. I pushed back when teachers have tried to put my academic achievements in the spotlight. Thankfully, they’ve respected my privacy.

So when I got the invitation to join the Science Project, you can understand my hesitation. I know what an honor it is to be invited. Every nerd in high school holds their breath waiting to see if they’ve been chosen. Only six are allowed on the school’s team. More than that and the school would get disqualified.

My parents think it’s a good idea for me to participate in it. Secretly, I do too. My heart starts beating excitedly at the challenge of being involved in something that actually uses some of my brain cells. Not even the college classes that I privately take online bring me this much excitement.

So, I have a big decision to make. Do I accept the invitation, or not?

I was still asking myself that question when I made my way to the science lab after school. I was giving up cheerleading practice to attend the meeting. It was only the first week of school so that wouldn’t affect the squad too much. Miranda, my best friend, would cover for me. I just told her I had something to do and she jumped right in to take over.

That’s what I like about Miranda. She never questions anything I do. She’s smarter than most of the popular girls and we always enjoy a good laugh together. But even she doesn’t know about the Science Project.

I received a few curious looks from kids as I paused outside the science lab door. I was accustomed to getting looks–kind of goes with the popular territory. I was second guessing my decision to wear my miniskirt and short cashmere sweater that showed my midriff. Even my ankle boots seemed out of place as I waited for the nerve to open the door.

Suddenly, the door was abruptly opened by a geeky guy who looked at me with surprise. He pushed his glasses up on his nose and seemed uncertain what to do.

“You gonna let me in?” I asked with raised eyebrows.

He mumbled something under his breath and moved out of the way. I walked into the science lab and all eyes turned to me. Besides the geeky guy at the door, there were three other kids sitting at desks and a guy at the front. Mrs. Hurley, the science teacher, sat at a desk in the back of the room.

I recognized the guy at the front. He had been in one of my classes last year–maybe geometry. He turned to me and slightly frowned.

“Cheerleading meets at the football field,” he said with a tinge of sarcasm.

“She’s here by my invitation,” Mrs. Hurley piped up from the back of the room before I could respond.

The other kids audibly gasped and looked at each other with surprise. I smiled and made my way to join them at a desk. I sat away from them because that’s what we popular girls do–we distance ourselves from the sheep, so to speak–sheep because they always followed our lead.

The guy at the front couldn’t hide his surprise. He seemed at a loss for words and stared at Mrs. Hurley for a long moment.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Hurley, but I don’t understand what she’s doing here. I mean, we only have six slots. I know of at least three other kids–seniors–that would really be beneficial to the project.”

“I think Hippi will be able to provide a fresh perspective,” Mrs. Hurley said. Her voice was firm enough to shut the guy’s mouth.

He threw me a hard look and turned back to the other kids. Yeah. I could see where this was going. He was going to try to exclude me. I’ve never been excluded from anything in my life. Very calmly, I rose from my desk and walked purposefully toward the geeks. I sat down beside a mousey-looking girl who shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

Mrs. Hurley made her way to the front of the class. She smiled reassuringly at me. I’d always enjoyed her classes, so I felt comfortable being under her supervision for the project.

“It occurs to me that we aren’t familiar with each other. We’re going to be spending a lot of time with each other this year and it’s important that we work together as a team. Let me introduce everyone.” She pointed to the guy at the front. “This is Ash. He’s the project captain. It’s his last year with us, I’m sad to say. He led us to a victory last year and I expect the same this year.”

I looked at the guy with fresh curiosity. He must be a genius himself to have led the team to a win his junior year. He was kind of cute. Not like the jocks whose looks scream for attention, but cute in a played down kind of way. His hair was dark and tousled. He wasn’t someone to stand out on campus in his T-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes. Right now, he didn’t look too friendly.

Mrs. Hurley introduced the other team members. There was Deke, the guy who had opened the door. I’m sure he got a lot of flak from his name–Deke, the geek. Then Missy, the mousy girl I sat beside. Mrs. Hurley remarked about Missy’s amazing research skills, but I don’t think she was paying attention because she kept throwing looks at my killer boots. Thom and Jolene were fraternal Asian twins that rounded out the group. They were seniors who already had full scholarships to Harvard.

Then Mrs. Hurley pointed to me. “Last, and certainly not least, is Hippi. You might recognize her as the cheerleading captain. What you may not know is that Hippi comes to us with a high grade point average. She’s already completed her freshman year of college by credits. Her parents are two of the top rated physicians in the state.”

“Parents don’t determine the intelligence of a child,” Ash said loudly. “I object to her being here, Mrs. Hurley. Sam Johnston would have been a great candidate. She helped me tremendously last year. I can’t believe you would replace her with–this.” He raised his hand in my direction without looking at me.

“I’m sorry you feel that way, Ash,” Mrs. Hurley said, “but my decision has been made.”

“Don’t I get any input?” he asked in a low voice. “I am the team lead, after all.”

“I respect that, Ash, but I need you to trust me.”

He closed his mouth and crossed his arms. He refused to even look in my direction. That made me mad. I had initially come to the meeting to just check it out. After seeing his bad attitude, I decided I was going to join, after all. Call it arrogance or pride, but no one was going to make me feel like I didn’t belong somewhere.

Mrs. Hurley went over some rules of the project. I tried to focus, but it was difficult. I was painfully aware of the fact that I stuck out like a third thumb that didn’t belong on the hand. They had judged me by my appearance and had found me unworthy of their intellectual endeavor. Then I had a prick in my conscience. Isn’t that what I did every time I joined in on the remarks and laughter at them?

“We’ll need to be prepared with project ideas when we meet next week,” Mrs. Hurley was saying. “We’ll take turns working on different aspects of the project so we are double checking and triple checking each phase of the project. I know Ash has several ideas for the project, but we want to stay open for fresh ideas that all of you may bring to the table.”

She looked pointedly at me. I bit my bottom lip. I didn’t have any fresh ideas for the project. I didn’t even know what they had done last year. I definitely needed to do some homework.

She dismissed us after only meeting for about twenty minutes. I still had time to make it to cheer practice. I stood up and stretched. My sweater rose higher, exposing more of my tiny stomach. I was definitely blessed with great looks. That’s not bragging–it’s a fact. At 5’7 I’m taller than most girls at school and I feel really good about my shape. I’m naturally thin, which means I look good in almost any type of clothes. I always get compliments on my honey blonde hair. It’s thick and I wear it down so it falls to my waist. My eyes are an odd shade of blue, almost purple.

Right now, all eyes were on me. Even Ash. I caught his eye, but he quickly looked away. I let a smug smile cross my lips. I was sure he would warm up to me in no time. All guys liked me. I never had a problem getting dates to the school events. Of course, most of the guys I dated were jocks. It was kind of an unspoken rule that cheerleaders dated them. I had gotten past their cute looks a long time ago, though, and now found them quite boring.

The geeks watched me pick up my backpack and walk out of the room. They had probably started conspiring on how to get rid of me, but they would be in for a big surprise next week. I was going to have some ideas to contribute at the next meeting.

I changed into my shorts and tank for cheer practice and darted onto the football field to meet up with the other girls. The football players shouted and whistled as I ran past. I did a cartwheel and received a loud applause from them.

Miranda grinned as I ran up, out of breath. “Show off,” she laughed. Her blonde curls bounced on her head. She was short and cute and full of personality.

I flashed my pearly whites and took my position in front of the squad. I had made up most of the cheers, so they were happy to have me leading them through the intricate moves. After half an hour, we paused to take a breath.

Miranda came up beside me and grabbed my arm. “Beau is going to ask you to homecoming,” she whispered in my ear.

Beau was the football quarterback and totally hot. He had been dropping hints all summer that he wanted to date me, but I ignored them. He was a senior–and a jerk. He dated only the most popular girls at school. Now that I was a junior, I was his next target. I would go to homecoming with him, but that was it.

There really weren’t any guys I was interested in this year. If I was limited to jocks then my options were pretty dismal. Miranda and I had started looking at college guys. She followed my lead on the subject of dating. I know she had her eye on several football players and was just waiting to see who would ask her to homecoming.

I was swigging down a gulp of bottled water when we saw some football players approaching us. It must have been their break time too. The other girls started giggling the closer the football players came. Troy and Beau walked up to Miranda and me. Their practice uniforms were dirty and their hair was still sweaty.

“Hey, Hippi,” Beau said in a low voice. He came close to me. Uncomfortably close.

I laughed up at him. “You look like you’ve been working hard.”

“I might need a rub down later,” he said, narrowing his eyes suggestively. “Wanna volunteer?”

I gave him a sweet smile. “You’re so funny, Beau.”

He rolled his neck to stretch it out. The coach blew a whistle in the distance. He had to get back. “Listen,” he said, grabbing my arm and leaning in to me. “You wanna go to homecoming with me?”

He had asked me. Pretty impressive for the first week of school. I batted my eyelashes at him and asked in my best southern drawl, “You want to take lil’ ol’ me?”

He grinned. “Come on. You’ll get homecoming queen and you know it.”

“I’d love to go to homecoming with you,” I told him.

He stared down at me. I could tell he was totally into me; unfortunately, the feeling wasn’t mutual. But I wasn’t going to let him know that. Not until after homecoming.

“Cool,” he muttered. “I’ll catch you later.”

He trotted after the other guys who were already striding back across the field. Miranda grabbed my hand with a squeal.

“Did Beau ask you to homecoming?” she shrieked–loud enough for the other girls to crowd around me.

“Yeah,” I said with a forced smile.

They all started shrieking like idiots. I had to admire their energy. I was the first girl asked to homecoming. Going with Beau definitely sealed my status as one of the most popular girls at school. Somehow, the whole status thing wasn’t as satisfying as it was last year.

“Let’s put all that energy to good use,” I yelled. “Back in formation!”

The girls lined back up at my command. We resumed cheer practice. I was glad because the attention was taken off Beau and me.

After another hour of solidifying the new cheers, we broke for the day. Miranda was catching a ride with me. We hopped into my red convertible and sped out of school. I always got looks from other kids in my car. It was a beaut–and Miranda loved the attention it drew when she rode with me.

“You are so going to get homecoming queen this year, Hippi,” she crooned as I sped toward her house.

“You think?” I asked. It was more of a courtesy question. Unless something went terribly wrong, there was no question I would win.

Miranda laughed. “There’s no one who could beat you now that you’re going with Beau. I thought Troy was coming over to ask me, but he didn’t,” she pouted.

“He will. Or maybe Jake,” I replied. “He’s super cute.”

“Yeah, but he’s a hacker.”

Miranda and I didn’t like hackers–the guys who hacked up a loogie and let it fly wherever they were. I hadn’t paid much attention to Jake to know if he was a hacker. I wasn’t surprised though. Most jocks were hackers. If they did it in front of us, though, we just considered them too gross to give them our attention.

“Well, flirt with Troy a little,” I said suggestively. “He’ll ask you.”

Miranda gave a short laugh. No one could flirt more than Miranda. She oozed sexy when she really worked it–pouty lips, narrow eyes, husky voice. She probably practiced in front of the mirror to get it so perfected.

I pulled up in front of her house to drop her off. Miranda’s parents weren’t as rich as mine but she still lived in a nice house. I would have popped inside to say ‘hi’ to her parents, but I kept thinking about the Science Project and wanted to get home to start researching for some ideas to contribute.

Unfortunately, my parents were home when I arrived. We lived in an exclusive gated neighborhood filled with million dollar homes that had been there for at least fifty or more years. I had grown up in our sprawling mansion, so I wasn’t as impressed as my friends when they came over.

Burls, my pet name for our live-in butler, came to greet me at the door. He was as much family as my parents–probably more so–because he had been there for me since I could remember.

“Good day at school, Miss?” he asked. He was an older gentleman with a soft, unassuming way about him.

I handed him my backpack with a smile. “Same ol’, Burls. I did go to the science lab after school.”

His eyes widened slightly and he smiled. “So?”

“I’m gonna do it,” I declared with a dramatic flare of my hands.

Burls chuckled. “I think it’s a good choice, Miss.”

I gave him a light punch on his arm. “I’m all for good choices. Mom and Dad in the study?”

His lips tightened. “They’re waiting to talk with you about something.”

I frowned and searched my memory banks. Had I done something to make them upset? I couldn’t recall anything of significance. I marched to the study to get it over with. Mom and Dad were on opposite sides of the room, their arms crossed. I could sense immediately that something was wrong. They turned to me when I entered the room.

“Hey,” I said cautiously.

Mom tried to force a smile on her face, but failed miserably. She crossed to me and held me in her arms for a brief moment. I was starting to feel alarmed. Dad maintained his position against the wall. I looked at him with a million questions in my eyes.

“Daddy? What’s going on?”

He cleared his throat and looked at Mom. She gave a slight nod for him to speak.

“Your Mom and I have been trying to work through some issues. It’s come to the point where we feel we need to separate for a while.”

I felt like the air had been knocked out of me. One look at my shocked expression and Mom grabbed me to steady my shaking legs.

“Sweetheart, we want you to know that none of this is your fault–”

“Of course it’s not my fault,” I hissed through clenched teeth.

“Hippi, I know this is a shock–”

I whirled on my father. “Yes! Yes, this is a shock! What’s happened? I thought you were happy. I mean, you’re always going away together on trips–you act like you’re in love. What have I missed?”

“We’ve tried to make it work,” Mom said in a quiet voice. “Your father and I have just grown apart. We’re going through counseling right now, so we are trying to work out everything.”

“Are you seeing someone else?” I yelled at my father.

“Calm down, Hippi. I’m not seeing anyone else; your mom isn’t seeing anyone else. We’ve just both been so focused on our careers that we didn’t see how far apart we had grown from each other. I still love your mom. Right now, we need to take a time out–try to figure everything out.”

“You don’t need to take a time out away from each other,” I protested. “Work this out at home. That’s what parents do. You work it out together.”

Dad sighed heavily. “It’s not that easy, sweetheart. I’m renting a condo at the golf course for a month. We think the time away will put things in perspective.”

I crossed my arms and looked from my dad to my mom with accusing eyes. “How can you do this to me?”

“We never want to hurt you, Hippi,” Mom said tenderly. “This is our last resort. Believe me, I wish there was another way.”

“When are you leaving us, Dad?” I asked. I was aware that my voice sounded harsh, but I was mad. Really mad. I felt betrayed.

“I’m packed and ready to go tonight.”

“So you waited till the last minute to tell me. That’s my hero, Dad,” I said sarcastically.

He flinched. My words had hurt him. Right then, I was glad he was hurt because all I wanted to do was lock myself in my room and have a good cry.

“I love you, Hippi. I love Mom. That’s never going to change. It’s going to be hard at first, but it’ll be worth it for all of us in the end.”

I turned and stormed out of the study and ran to my room, slamming the door behind me. I wasn’t going to watch him leave. That would crush me. Sobs wracked my body as I curled up on my bed. I heard Dad’s car start in the garage and then he was gone. Life as I knew it would be different. At home anyway. I had to keep it together at school. There was no way I was going to let anyone know what had happened. Popular kids weren’t supposed to have any problems. We had to be perfect. Or at least appear to have perfect lives that everyone envied.

 

CHAPTER 2

Everything inside me wanted to quit as I made my way to the science lab the next week. I had poured myself into research the past week; mainly to forget about Dad being gone. He had tried calling me a couple of times, but I just let his call go to voice mail. I wasn’t ready to talk to him. Mom didn’t even try to sit down with me. I saw her a few times in passing and gave her the cold shoulder.

“You going in, or what?”

My hand had been holding the door knob for a couple of minutes when I heard Ash’s voice behind me. I didn’t respond. I turned the knob and entered the room. The others were there. They all registered surprise that I had shown up. I guess they were expecting me to quit.

Ash followed me into the room and to the front of the class. He had a large binder in his hand and a very focused look on his face. I kept my eyes on him as I made my way to the desk beside Missy. She looked at me with wide eyes. I ignored her and swung myself into the seat.

I had tried to dress down in a pair of jeans and a cami. I threw a short jean jacket on last minute since most of the classrooms were cold. Despite thinking I was dressed down, I still received a lot of admiring looks from girls as well as guys.

By now, it was all over school that Beau was taking me to homecoming. Miranda had started plastering campaign posters for me on all the school lockers. I had already had about twenty or more kids come up to me and tell me they were voting for me.

Ash opened the meeting with a short greeting and went straight to work. He didn’t even look at me as he talked about details of the competition. Mrs. Hurley wasn’t at the meeting to have my back, so I was pretty much on my own.

“I think we have a good selection of ideas to choose from for the project,” he said. “I like the idea you came up with, Missy, but the more I think about it, the more I think it would be too involved,” Ash said to the others.

“What about the periodic table–” Deke started to ask, but Ash cut him off with a raised hand.

“Sorry, Deke. It’s old. Been done too many times. We wouldn’t win, even if we put a twist on it.”

It hit me. They had to have had a meeting or two without me. Evidently, they had made up their minds to exclude me. I raised my hand, but Ash pretended not to notice. I tried clearing my throat, but he just continued talking without even a glance in my direction.

“Thom, Jolene, what’s your vote?” he asked the twins. Thom had just opened his mouth to answer when I stood.

“Excuse me,” I said loudly. Thom closed his mouth quickly.

Ash was forced to look in my direction. He raised his eyebrows as if I had just interrupted him. “Yes?”

“Have you guys been meeting without me?”

There was dead silence in the room. Ash looked hard at me. I couldn’t make out his expression. He leaned back against Mrs. Hurley desk and crossed his arms.

“We discussed different ideas over lunch this past week. You’re more than welcome to join us at our table, but…”

He let his words trail off. We all knew I wouldn’t be caught dead at the geeks’ lunch table. No popular kid ever would. I crossed my arms and stared back him, challenging him silently with my eyes.

“Mrs. Hurley said the meetings would take place in the science lab after school. I didn’t get a notice that anything had changed.”

Ash gave a short laugh. “You don’t think we won last year by meeting once a week, do you? No, it took all of us making a commitment to put whatever time we needed into the project. That’s why you don’t belong, Hippi–Hipster–whatever they call you.”

I gasped right along with the other kids. No one ever dared talk to me that way. Didn’t he care that I could totally ruin him at school? Not that he had any worth with my group of friends anyway.

“I will talk to Mrs. Hurley if I have to,” I said in a low voice. “I was invited to participate in this project just like the rest of you. I want to be given the chance to contribute my ideas, as well.”

“Okay,” he said with a cock of his head. “Shoot. What’s this great idea that you have, Hipster?”

“My name is Hippi,” I said cooly. I reached inside my backpack to pull out my notebook. My hands were trembling from anger. Probably a little insecurity too. I wasn’t sure my idea was great, but I couldn’t back down now.

I opened my notebook and turned my body away from Ash to face the others. “Here’s the deal. I thought it might be a good idea to take a fresh perspective on something traditional. What’s current? What does society deal with on a daily basis? Diet.”

Ash groaned behind me. The others glanced at him and back at me with unsure expressions. I flipped the page in my notebook nervously.

“Look,” I continued, “diets are trending at the top of almost every list out there–”

“Diets might interest your demographic, but they have no place for the Science Project,” Ash quipped from behind me.

I whirled to face him defensively. “Not just diets, but how our blood is affected by them. I thought we could show the chain reaction of our blood to certain diets–”

“And maybe even create a model,” Jolene cut in.

“And an algorithm that shows possible consequences to different diets,” Deke added.

I couldn’t believe it. They all looked interested. All–except Ash. He cleared his throat and stepped away from the desk and closer to the group.

“You’re not seriously considering this idea for our project, are you?” he asked with disdain.

“Why not?” Thom questioned. “It’s definitely fresh. Everyone else will be focusing in on traditional science, like Hippi said. This is definitely trendy. I mean, you can’t watch the news without stories on diets or food being covered.”

“I like it,” Missy spoke up. That’s all she said but I was grateful.

“I don’t,” Ash said bluntly. “We’ll pick something else.”

He turned back to his binder, but I stepped closer. “Do you get to decide what the project is all by yourself? What about the rest of us? Don’t we get to decide too?”

“The rest of us?” he asked, putting his face closer to mine. “There is no us, Hippi. You aren’t welcome here. Go back to your cheerleading and give your spot to someone who is really qualified.”

“I’m qualified,” I said coldly. I know my face was flushed, but I wasn’t letting him bully me. “Mrs. Hurley would never risk my spot to just anyone. You know that. I’ll prove myself with time. But you have to give me a chance.”

Not a word was spoken in the room. Ash’s breathing had gotten shallow as he stood staring at me. I wanted to move out of the close proximity I had found myself in with him, but I refused to budge. He would think he had won.

“I think we need to vote on the ideas,” Thom said in the quiet of the room.

The others murmured their consent. Ash relaxed his body and tore his gaze away from mine. He turned to the others. “Okay. Let’s hear your thoughts. Thom, you’ve heard all the proposals. You like any better than the others?”

Thom looked over at me. “I have to say, I like Hippi’s idea. I vote for that one.”

“Make that two votes,” Jolene said.

“I like Hippi’s idea too,” Missy said quietly.

Ash’s expression was grave as he looked at Deke. The poor kid just dropped his eyes. “Hippi’s idea,” he mumbled uncomfortably.

Ash threw up his hands in frustration. “Are you kidding me? It’s not a good idea. Trust me, I know. I’ve been on the team the last three years.”

No one said anything. Ash ran his fingers through his hair and started pacing. He stopped in front of Thom’s desk.

“Really?” he asked quietly.

Thom nodded his head. They seemed to have a mutual respect and understanding between them. Ash took a deep breath and glanced back at me.

“Okay. If you’re all in agreement, then we’ll move down this path. If I feel like it’s not going anywhere, I will stop it and move to another project. Is everyone clear?”

The others nodded their heads vehemently. I just looked at him without expression. He would be looking for a loophole so he could pull the plug on my idea. I had to make sure I kept the holes plugged so he wouldn’t have a chance.

I sat down with an air of triumph. Missy looked shyly at me and smiled tentatively. I flashed her a bright smile in return. I had some ideas on how to run the project, but it was Ash’s responsibility to lead it.

He went to the white board and started jotting down ideas on how to proceed. We all gave input. I felt a small exhilaration at contributing ideas along with the others. By the time our hour was up, the whiteboard was filled with ideas.

I jumped up from my desk. I had told Miranda I would be an hour late so she could start cheer practice without me. I still wanted to make an appearance. I went to the others and held up a hand to give them a high five. They were surprised but raised their hands to meet mine. Ash, on the other hand, completely snubbed me. Not only did he ignore my raised hand, but he actually turned and walked away from me.

I pretended nothing was wrong although I sensed the uncomfortableness from the others. I grabbed my backpack and dashed out of the science lab.

Things were tense at cheer practice. Miranda was drilling the girls when I walked up. I waited at the sidelines till she was through. She called a break and bent down to re-tie her shoestrings.

“Hey, Miranda. What’s going on?” I asked.

“Troy asked Haley to homecoming,” she said shortly. Hayley was one of the other cheerleaders. Miranda raised up and I saw the tears she was trying to hide.

“Troy’s a jerk,” I said shortly.

“Yeah, but Haley’s really rubbing it in.”

“Don’t let her get to you, Miranda. You’re tons prettier than her. Some other guy is going to ask you. Just wait and see.”

Miranda shrugged and opened a water bottle to down it. I looked at the football field. Beau had positioned himself as near to us as he could and was throwing a football back and forth with another player. He waved at me when he saw me. Beau was definitely another jerk. But maybe he could help Miranda.

“Be right back,” I said and trotted out to Beau.

A couple of guys shouted some remarks as I approached. Beau had a stupid grin on his face. I mustered a smile and ran up to him. His eyes looked me up and down.

“Hey, beautiful,” he said.

“Hey, yourself. Got a question for you.”

Beau threw the football to the guy and held up a hand to stop. He squared himself in front of me. Before I could say anything, he reached out and tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear. I could hear a couple of jeers from the guys watching us.

“What’s going on, Hippi?”

“I’d like to double with Miranda for homecoming. Who’s asking her?”

He frowned. “I don’t know. I haven’t really talked with any of the guys. I can ask around.”

“What about Robby? He might be fun to hang with,” I suggested. I knew that Miranda thought Robby was cute. He never said much though. He just walked around all tough.

“Yeah, I can ask Robby,” Beau said with a grin. “Now, let’s talk about us.”

“What about us?” I asked coyly. I had to play the game.

“What are you wearing to homecoming–or better yet, what are you not wearing?”

I pretended not to hear his last remark. “I have this amazing pink gown that will look great with your uniform.”

“Pink’s good,” he mumbled, his eyes roving over me.

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. “That’s what I thought,” I said with a giggle. “Look, I better get back to the girls.”

“You want to go out this weekend?’

Aargh! I just knew he was going to ask me out before homecoming. I had tried to keep my contact with him brief so he wouldn’t have the chance. Now I was caught.

“I wish you would have asked me sooner,” I said, pretending to be bummed. “I’m out of town this weekend. Family stuff, you know.”

Beau’s face fell. “Too bad. Maybe next weekend?”

“You have a game,” I said with a wink. “I’ll be there too, so technically, we’ll be going out.”

He laughed at that. I gave him a small wave and jogged off. I know he was watching me run. I don’t know why I had such a problem being around him. Every other girl would pull their teeth out to date him.

I didn’t say anything to Miranda. I figured I’d just let Beau talk with Robby and if it worked out, he would ask Miranda.

I ignored Hayley’s taunting comments about homecoming for the duration of cheer practice. Miranda rolled her eyes about every two minutes. It was a relief when we called it quits.

“You catching a ride with me?” I asked Miranda.

“No. My mom’s taking me shopping for a dress.”

We walked off the field together. I waited with her until her mom swung into the parking lot to pick her up.

“Hi, Hippi,” Miranda’s mom called out as Miranda tossed her backpack into the trunk.

I waved with a smile and walked over to my car. For some reason, I felt lonely. I really missed my dad. I sat in the car for a few minutes before driving off. Instead of driving home, I made my way to the country club. I found my dad’s condo and knocked on the door. He wasn’t home.

I sat in my car to wait for him. It wasn’t long before my phone rang. It was Mom. Looking for me, no doubt. I ignored her call and leaned my head against the car seat to close my eyes. It was a couple of hours before my father pulled up beside me, a surprised look on his face.

“Hippi!” he exclaimed. “Everything okay?”

I got out of the car and suddenly felt my eyes fill with tears. I just ran to him and felt his arms cradle me. He held me for a few minutes while I cried. I wiped my snotty nose on his shirt before I raised up.

“I miss you, Daddy,” I whispered huskily.

“Me too, sweetheart,” he said sadly.

“Then come home,” I urged him.

He sighed. “Not now, Hippi.”

“What’s going to make it right with you and Mom?”

“I don’t know,” he answered. “Truth is, we don’t even know each other anymore.”

“Then get to know her again,” I persisted.

Dad hugged my shoulders. “It’s not that easy.”

“It is, Dad. Start dating her again–like when you first met. You both work so much, it’s no wonder you don’t know each other.”

He gave me a rueful look. “Maybe you’re right. You want to come in?”

“No. I gotta get home. Mom’s been calling me.”

He nodded. “Lunch on Sunday?”

“Okay,” I said. I smiled at him to let him know that I forgave him. He gave me another tight squeeze before I hopped back into my car and pulled out.

I reflected on how I was suddenly becoming some kind of love doctor. First Miranda, then my parents. My thoughts were interrupted by a call from an unknown caller. I answered it, even though I made it a rule to never talk on the phone while I drove. It was Mrs. Hurley.

“I just wanted to congratulate you on bringing such a fresh and innovative idea to the Science Project,” she told me.

“Oh, thank you, Mrs. Hurley.”

“I know you have a full schedule this year, Hippi, but I was wondering if you had any extra time to work on the project. I know I had indicated one hour a week for your commitment, but really, it takes more time than that to be successful at winning the competition.”

“Uh, I don’t know,” I said hesitantly. She had caught me off guard.

“I know Ash is concerned that you’ll put enough time in and I want to reassure him that you are as fully committed as the rest of the team.”

“I’m committed,” I assured her, “it’s just that with cheerleading and college courses, I don’t have a lot of extra time.”

There was a pregnant pause on the other end. Then, Mrs. Hurley spoke. “I know I didn’t make a mistake by inviting you to the team, but I didn’t consider your schedule. I have to agree with Ash. We do need someone who can put time in–”

“I am committed,” I said again. “I can give time in the evening and some weekends when we don’t have a game.”

“Okay,” she said slowly. “Maybe if you and Ash can work out a schedule where he can be there to oversee you on some of your hours–”

“Quite frankly, Mrs. Hurley, I don’t think Ash will cooperate. He wants me gone.”

She gave a heavy sigh. “Let me talk to him, Hippi. They’re going to start meeting every day after school for an hour. If you can try to make those meetings at least a couple of times a week, that might help too.”

“I’ll try,” I offered. “Let me see if I can push practice back an hour.”

“That would be wonderful,” she cooed enthusiastically.

I hung up the phone with mixed feelings. I wasn’t sure how I would be able to convince all the cheerleaders to meet an hour later, but I had to come up with something. And they had to feel like it was their idea to make it work.

Mom was working late again. That’s why she had called me. Burls sat down to dinner with me and we chatted about my day. I looked at the dear man sitting in front of me. His hair had started thinning and was completely gray now. Lines had deepened in his face from age. He was starting to slow down.

“Did you ever marry?” I asked him out of the blue. Burls raised his eyes with surprise.

“No,” he said quietly. “I had all the family I needed with you.”

“But surely you loved someone when you were younger, Burls.”

“I had cancer when I was young,” he said, “and I almost died. I spent most of my younger years living in fear. If I had to do it all over again, Hippi, I would have lived life to the fullest. My cancer went into remission, but fear that it would return kept me from relationships. Then you came into my life. You became my family and I never looked back. No regrets.” He smiled at me. “Besides, Hippi, you live enough life for both of us.”

I reached over the table and gave him a big hug. “I love you, Burls.”

He cleared his throat and patted my hand. “The feeling is very mutual, Miss.”

Burls rarely called me by my given name. I was amused at how close we were and how he persisted in calling me Miss.

“So what’s going on with you and boys?” Burls asked, taking a sip of hot tea.

“Well, I can’t stand my homecoming date who is a total jerk, but he will help me become homecoming queen. I might be double dating with Miranda and another football player. Then there’s this guy who totally hates me at school.” Burls raised his eyebrows at that. “Well, he leads the Science Project and doesn’t want me to be involved.”

“Hmm,” Burls murmured, but I caught the smile playing in the corners of his mouth.

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he said innocently.

“Come on, Burls. What gives?”

“Well, you’re so used to boys falling at your feet, young Miss. This one presents a challenge.”

“Right,” I said, rolling my eyes big time. “He’s a jerk, Burls.”

“But not a jerk like your homecoming date, right?”

“Not the same kind of jerk,” I agreed.

“Sounds like you finally met your match,” he murmured, hiding another smile behind a quick sip out of his cup.

“If I wanted to, I could make him eat out of my hand,” I said hotly.

“You think?”

“Burls, are you serious? Of course I could.”

“I think I would like to see you try that, Hippi. This boy may be immune to your charms.”

He had thrown down the gauntlet. Like a fool, I picked it up and accepted the challenge. I vowed to have Ash begging me to go out with him within a week.

But even the most well laid plans can go awry.

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