Authors: Lorie Langdon,Carey Corp
For the romantics, the visionaries, and the believers who’ve crossed the bridge in pursuit of a dream; especially Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe
There but for you go I
skidded to a halt in the crowded corridor, totally unprepared for a showdown with the evil witch of Bainbridge High. Stephanie Heartford, the girl who stalked anything with an XY chromosome, stood in front of my locker flirting with one of the cutest boys in school. And not just any cute boy—
Eric and Steph gazed into each other’s eyes, standing so close I doubted a piece of loose-leaf paper would fit between them. Eric’s knuckles grazed the hem of her cheer skirt, brushing the bare skin of her thigh. A move he’d used on me, more times than I could count.
Stephanie glanced in my direction, her lips curling at the corners as she whispered into Eric’s ear. He looked up with wide eyes, a guilty flush staining his cheeks. I knew we weren’t the perfect couple, but I was
to make things work. And he was—
—flirting with my archrival?
Eric stepped back and Stephanie strolled away, her Barbie-doll-on-helium giggle ringing in my ears. Staring straight ahead, I skirted a group of gawking freshmen and stalked to
my locker. My fingers trembled as I dialed the combination, threw my Bio text onto the shelf, and slammed the metal door.
Eric leaned against the wall a few feet away, his shoulders hunched and his hands jammed into his pockets. His expression was reminiscent of when we were kids and he’d steal the cookies from my lunchbox, then refuse to admit it despite the smell of Oreos on his breath. “Don’t look at me like that,” he said as I approached.
“Like what?” I arched a brow. No way was I going to make this easy for him.
“Like I ate your last cookie.”
“So what if I did?” He shook his head and stared down at the yellowed linoleum. When he looked up, his eyes pleaded with me to understand. “I’m never going to be that perfect guy who comes riding in to rescue you from your crappy life. I’m no hero, Vee.”
He was so far from heroic right now that I laughed. The harsh, humorless sound felt like a rock in my chest, forcing me to take another breath before I could reply. “I never said you were.”
“Not in so many words” He trailed off with a shrug, letting the accusation speak for itself.
My spine stiffened, and I clenched my teeth so hard a sharp pain shot from my jaw to my temple. “So this is
Eric nodded. “Kind of—yeah. I’m your boyfriend but you insist on treating me like I’m still twelve years old. I deserve more.”
Really? He was going to play the wounded puppy? A scream brewed in the back of my throat, but I refused to make more of a scene, so I removed all inflection from my voice. “And you get ‘more’ from Stephanie.”
“Maybe … yeah.” I took a step backward, but he followed.
“This is exactly what I’m talking about, Vee. I’ve just told you I want more and you freeze me out, like some kind of Ice Princess. Say something!”
I could think of lots of things to say. Unfortunately, most of them would get me expelled. So I settled on, “I hope
will make you happy.”
His whole face hardened. “She already has.”
I stared at him, waiting for some sign of remorse, but his eyes remained flat as he turned and strode away. Some of the girls from my cheer squad stood in a huddle nearby, watching. One of them shook her head, her frosted pink lips tilted in a smirk. Had everyone known about Eric and Steph but me? So much for watching your friend’s back.
A red haze narrowed my vision as I put one foot in front of the other, forcing myself not to run, not to think about the gossip or the snide little comments now circulating at my expense. If Eric wanted to move on with someone else, he could’ve at least had the decency to talk to me instead of making me look like a loser in front of the entire school. I passed homeroom and went straight to the parking lot.
When I reached my faded-to-pink VW Bug, I dove inside, throwing my book bag onto the passenger seat. Hot tears spilled down my cheeks as I gripped the steering wheel, the leather stitching branding itself into my skin.
I’d known Eric forever. We’d grown up down the street from each other, played in the same graffiti-stained park, and wished on stars from his tree house. He’d been there those first terrible days after my family fell apart, holding my hand and reassuring me that my dad would come back. I’d thought we were perfect for each other.
How could I have been so blind?
Pushing my head back against the headrest, I squeezed my
eyes closed. My throat burned with the effort to keep sobs from escaping. That moron was
not worth it.
I sucked in a shaky breath, and an odd feeling skittered across my skin. Like the moment before you turn around to find the old man at the grocery store gawking at you. I blinked the tears from my lashes and wiped my cheeks as I searched the parking lot. A boy stood several feet away, watching me intently. He was gorgeous; like someone who’d just stepped off the pages of a magazine. Definitely not a student at Bainbridge High—I would’ve remembered him.
I looked away, stunned. Pretending to adjust my window, I fiddled with the handle, rolling it down and then halfway back up. When I raised my eyes from the lever he had moved closer, and I noticed his athletic legs were bare, topped by a blue and green plaid—Wait. Was he wearing a kilt?
Forgetting to be sly, my gaze traveled up his white, collarless shirt and back to his incredible face. His brows lowered and our eyes locked. I couldn’t look away as he shoved his hand into the dark-blond waves of his hair, pushed it off his forehead, and stepped toward me.
“Don’t cry, lass.”
Somehow his low voice reached me from outside, reverberating all the way to the base of my spine. He lifted his hand, something white clutched in his fingers.
A girl lugging a ginormous backpack rushed by my door, blocking my view. I shifted in my seat and gripped the door handle, ready to fling it open and meet the stranger halfway the moment the girl passed by. But by the time she’d moved on, the boy had disappeared. Vanished without a trace, as if he’d never been there at all.
That was beyond weird. Had I imagined the whole encounter, or had he slipped away before I could see where he went?
In light of my best friend’s campaign to convince me to spend the summer in Scotland, a wishful hallucination of a hot kilt-wearing boy was entirely possible.
Kenna had been after me for weeks to go on vacation with her. Since she’d inherited a cottage from her great-aunt, all I needed to swing was airfare. But even after teaching extra dance classes for months, I hadn’t been able to save enough—which had nothing to do with my self-discipline and everything to do with my mom spending the rent money on tight clothes and boxed wine.
A muffled pixie-like jingle interrupted my thoughts. I dug the phone out of my purse.
The moors of Scotland r calling … r u coming or not?!?
Instead of replying, I hit speed dial. Since Kenna’s dad had ripped her away from Indiana to live in Podunk, Arkansas, we talked or texted at least twenty times a day.
She answered on the first ring. “Hey, Vee. What’s wrong?”
The girl could seriously read my mind. Rather than tell her I was going crazy, I opted for my other big news. “Eric and I broke up.”
“That’s gre – Ah … I mean, I am sooo sorry.” I could hear the smile in her voice. It was no secret she thought Eric was a jerk.
“Way to empathize.” But for some reason I could breathe again. How did she do that? Maybe we did share a brain, like her dad always claimed.
“At least now you have no excuse for not coming to Scotland.”
“Except being broke.”
Or was I? I patted the dashboard in front of me and saw dollar signs. I didn’t want to sell my Bug, but getting away from
Bainbridge for the summer—and my cheating ex—sounded better than ever now. “I have an idea. No promises though.”
“Hey, I’ve got news too. I decided what I want from my dad for graduation.”
“Okaayy … that’s good, I guess.” Kenna was the queen of random segues, so I waited for her to connect the dots.
“In case you didn’t realize, that was your cue.”
My voice oozed mock contrition as I asked, “Oh, I’m sorry. Whatever could you be getting for graduation?”
“A plane ticket to Scotland for my bestie.”
A baseball-sized lump stuck in my throat, making it impossible to speak.
“Vee? You still there?”
I swallowed, but my voice was still a strangled rasp. “I can’t accept that.”
Instantly serious, she demanded, “How long have you known me?”
“Have I ever taken no for an answer?”
“No …” She was right. Memories of her goading me into jumping from a moving swing despite my fear of heights, her forcing me out of the bathroom when I’d been too nervous to perform in our fifth-grade talent show, and the time she’d coaxed me from a two-week pity party using brownies and the latest Harry Potter movie as incentive after my mom started dating Bob the Slob, all proved it was true.
“Happy graduation, Vee. Next week, we’re off on an epic summer adventure.”
We both squealed until the bell cut us off. As if someone would hear her, Kenna hastily whispered, “Call me after school, ‘kay? Bye.”
Despite the warning bell, I sat staring out my windshield.
I’d just broken up with my boyfriend. I should’ve been devastated, but I felt …
. I was about to spend the entire summer in Scotland with my best friend, and maybe if I was lucky I’d find a hot kilt-wearing boy like the one from my deliciously detailed imagination.
I hauled myself out of the car and headed back toward the school, glancing over my shoulder to the spot where the golden-haired boy had stood. A flash of white caught my eye, a scrap of cloth fluttering in the breeze. As it began to swirl across the blacktop, I pushed dark strands of hair out of my face and turned to intercept it.
Capturing the piece of fabric, I spread the delicate square flat in my hand. A handkerchief, like the one my grandpa used to use to wipe tears from my cheeks when I was little.
A small picture embroidered in blue and green thread displayed two lions back to back, one with an arrow clamped in its teeth, the other holding a sword, a tilted crown on his head. Beneath the picture were four letters in italicized script:
The mystery boy’s initials?
As I guessed at what the letters could stand for, the script began to blur. I blinked and looked again; not only were the initials gone, but the fabric seemed to grow thinner, until I could see my fingers through it. Frantically, I stretched the cloth between my hands and brought it closer to my face. But before I could get a good look, the material pulled apart and evaporated into thin air.
I stared at my empty hands, disappointment hitting me like a sharp, quick punch to the chest. The memento was gone as if it’d never been—as if
had never been.
I lugged my gear out of the Bug and trudged up our crumbled walkway to the front steps. Moths buzzed around the yellow porch light, flying in my face as I juggled my bags and the gallon of milk I’d picked up on the way home. My leg muscles trembled with fatigue. After teaching preschool ballet, advanced modern dance, and two yoga classes, I felt like I could sleep for a hundred years.
Dropping my bags inside the door, I went straight for the jumbo box of Cheerios on the counter. I didn’t have to open the kitchen cabinets to know they’d be bare.
Too exhausted to change out of my dance clothes, I sunk into the saggy floral couch and clicked on the TV. I refused to think about Eric and
, so I distracted myself by imagining how amazing it would be to go to Scotland. To immerse myself in the culture, experience new things—even if that meant trying stuff like oat porridge, kippers, and fried haggis. Okay, maybe
fried haggis. Sheep guts were totally disgusting. But it would be like a whole new world!
The front door slammed. Mom’s giggle preceded her into the house, reminding me that my dreams of freedom were a long way off.
Enter Bob the Slob.
I set my cereal bowl on the table and readied myself to bolt as they came stumbling into the room, arm in arm. Bob had his baseball cap on backward and the sleeves of his flannel shirt cut off, revealing large arms that had long ago turned to fat. On the creep-scale of guys Janet had dated, this guy topped them all. Last weekend he’d not only spent the night, but a good portion of the day camped out on our couch in his tighty-whities, a Coors Light in one hand, the remote in the other.
“Hey dumplin’! What’re you up to?” Janet turned her wide, unfocused eyes on me. She’d been drinking—again. She wasn’t
a drunk, but she appeared to be finding more and more reasons to go out and
, as she called it.
Her wooly gaze settled on me and sharpened. “Jeez, Veronica, go put some clothes on!” Bob’s eyes flowed over my skin-tight leotard and sheer wrap skirt with obvious interest. There was no way I was going to stand up and walk out of the room now. Suddenly, a blanket smacked me in the side of the head. Janet’s way of helping me out.
“Um, thanks, Mom”