Falling for Shakespeare
by Erin Butler
Published by: Swoon Romance
Publication date: September 8th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Katie thought she knew where her life was going. She was dating the captain of the football team, had a BFF for life, and everyone at school wanted to be her. But then her pregnant teen sister’s pregnancy changes all that. Everyone dumps her, including her friends and boyfriend.
Hey, Katie, welcome to life at the bottom of the high school food chain. This is how the other half lives.
Then there’s Nick. He’s a straight-A student and self-professed geek who’s had a thing for her since middle school. He needs a date for the winter formal, and Katie needs something to keep her busy. Nick’s plight becomes her personal pet project. She will help him get over his insecurities and get a date. Besides, she was popular once. She knows how to get dates.
But Nick has other plans. He’s going to use these “dating” lessons as a way to win Katie’s heart.
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Katie was an anomaly of nature. Always had been, but not in this way.
She used to shine like the dawning of a new sun over the depleted and war-torn dystopian societies I liked to read about in my sci-fi books. Now it was as if she were one of the down-trodden, the hindered, the fighting masses she’d reigned over. It gutted me to see the curve in her back from all the weight when she’d always been a pillar.
Craning my neck to get a better look, the quick slashes of her pen over the lined notebook paper were still impossible to see. She was biting down on her lip again, a look of concentration draining her face of all else. But then, just as quickly as she’d brought it out, she stuffed the notebook away.
I’d been wanting to ask her what she was always writing down, but figured she’d tell me if she wanted me to know. If it was five years ago, when we were still close friends, I would’ve just asked her. If it were two years ago, back in the dark days, I wouldn’t have even known she carried the notebook. Currently, our friendship level was teetering on the edge of skin deep. I wanted to be bone deep. Screw that, I wanted to be marrow deep.
Marrow deep? I liked that. I’d have to file that away.
She pinched me and I yelped. “Ow. What was that for?”
She half-smiled around the Styrofoam cup. “You were gone for a couple seconds.”
“A simple wave of your hand in front of my face would suffice, thank you.”
“You’re driving. I was worried. People do crazy things when they’re scared for their lives.”
The curve of her lips wilted almost as soon as it bloomed and a wistful look blew into her face as she looked out the car window. The leaves were changing early this year. It happened so quick I’d barely noticed, but now that more and more trees were showing off their colors, they were impossible to ignore.
Mrs. Barnes’ fire bush stood out like a road sign as I took a left onto Maple and headed toward the school. Funny how things changed. That bush had always been home base for any game we’d ever played at she-who-must-not-be-named’s house and now I used it as a visual to remind me to turn left to go to school. “You sure you’re going to be able to read all the assigned sonnets in study hall?”
She shook her head and a tiny smile returned to her face. “Don’t worry about me.”
The determination in her face said everything. Sometimes it still shocked me. I didn’t know how far behind she’d gotten herself before, but the fact that she was trying to make it up now awed me. She wasn’t always Miss Gotta Get Into College. She was more like Miss Carefree.
“I think Mr. Henkel is going to give us the big Shakespeare project today. Can’t wait.”
She tapped a finger to her lips. “If we get to decide what to do, you should perform a soliloquy or something. Or get a bunch of people in your class to act out a scene with you.”
My eyebrows crawled up my forehead. Did we somehow beam into another dimension? She knew the dork sign I carried. She helped put it there. No one in class would decide to work with me unless they were made to. “Are you insane? Did Hanna keep you up all night?”
She rolled her eyes. “She keeps me up every night, but no, I’m not insane. I think you’d be great.”
Because she suggested it, I thought about it briefly. Very briefly. Didn’t actors have to hide their true selves and take over someone else completely? Half the time I felt like the me knob was turned on full blast with no power-down button. It’d be impossible to pretend to be someone else.
Katie swirled her cup, peered into the little hole in the cover and frowned like she always did when she noticed how little coffee was left. If I could find a way, I’d make her a never ending cup.
We pulled into the school and as soon as I put the car into park, a knock came on my window. Katie jumped and I reached my hand over her. To protect her? To what? Didn’t know. When I saw who it was, I rolled my eyes and turned the ignition off.
My friend Jackson stared in at us. He had that look on his face that pissed me off. I started to open my door into him when he mouthed, you’re pathetic.
Drawing on Katie’s inclination that I should be an actor, I gave him a you-suck look and hoped the translation was clear. If his laugh and prompt exit were anything to go by, I nailed it.
Katie was smiling out the window, watching Jackson’s tall, lean frame walk away in a shirt that, like usual, looked like it was just a little too small for his long torso. “I think he’s funny.”
I shot her a look and she laughed.
“What? I mean, he’s a weird kind of funny, but aren’t we all?”
Considering she used to make fun of him on a daily basis for his videogame t-shirts, this was quite an upgrade. I studied her softening face. The hard lines I noticed this morning were already relaxing. At home, she was a tight, nervous ball of energy. Away, she could let herself relax. Her comment about Jackson was one-hundred percent proof of it. The way her laughs
came more easily and more frequent. What I wouldn’t give for her to smile all the time. “I’d keep that praise of Jackson to yourself. He’d probably die if he heard you say that.”
She shot me a funny look this time. “No one cares what I think anymore.”
I was about to tell her how wrong she was when she did a double take out the window, her face paling.
Reese Barnes walked with Katie’s old friends toward the school. It had always been hard for me to place Katie in the same group as the mean girls. She never quite belonged. It wasn’t really her who called Jackson a “disillusioned gamer hack dork” in ninth grade. Or in eighth, when she taped a feminine pad to Roseanne Gurtle’s bookbag, it must have been her evil twin.
The not-too-distant memories hardened my insides. I hoped she never went back to that clique again.
Reese looked over. When she saw we stared back at her, she curled her lip into a snarl that would’ve wilted a butterfly in three-point-five seconds.
Internally, I shrunk back. I had years’ worth of experience of avoiding Reese. However, fearless Katie flipped her off.
And she thought Jackson wouldn’t die if she paid him a compliment. Who wouldn’t? No one thought of standing up to Reese Barnes and the Skeletal Crew, except Katie. Except the one who had stood with them.
Reese’s eyes flared and, like Cyclops, a red beam lasered through the space between them and hit Katie square in the chest. Katie put the empty coffee cup in the cup holder between us and brought up another unwavering middle finger, all the while a tiny smile crept over her face.
I guessed we weren’t on the subtlety train today.
Reese stopped and about-faced, her hand landing on her hip. Katie was up and out of the car before I could grab her. I’d done some slight research over the past year and her bitch barometer never made it past a point-five on days she had bad nights with Hanna. She usually handled the backlash of being ostracized from the popular clique pretty well by ignoring it, but last night must have been a doozy.
It was weird to see them like this. Enemies. Reese, the mirror image of Katie from two years ago. Katie, a bystander, like me. Back then, they would’ve been on the same side of the pathway, scorching down some guy who happened to like school, or D&D, or anything else that made people uncool. Katie belonged on the other side of that path. Not to be bitch cohorts again, but because she was born to be noticed. She couldn’t be noticed on this side of the path with me. Things just didn’t work like that.
They were already exchanging words, Reese flanked by her crew and an unflinching Katie staring them all down, when I got out of the car. The door banged shut and everybody jumped, even me. I guessed I’d shut it harder than I’d meant to. Reese tried her butterfly-kill stare but when I was next to Katie, I sometimes thought I might be able to stand up to them too. Like her force field automatically expanded to shield me as well as her.
Just like with Jackson, I shot Reese my new you-suck look. But instead of running away, she threw her head back and laughed. It was so Wizard of Oz witchy, but worked for her somehow. My new and obviously faked confidence waned until Katie’s hand grabbed my arm.
This cut Reese short as her bitch radar zeroed in on Katie’s delicate fingers. I knew what was going to come out of her mouth the second her eyes twinkled and her lips curled into a smirk.
“Congratulations, Katie. I’m so happy for you.”
It was the sickeningly sweet voice that threw Katie off for a second, stunning her. I’d swear in front of Congress Reese Barnes was bipolar.
“I think it’s great you two are finally together. It’s been a long time coming.” Reese looked around and saddled up to Katie like they were co-conspirators again. The semi-whisper that came from her was dual-edged. It was supposed to be a whisper, but the kind of whisper that she hoped everyone around us could hear. “I know how much you always talked about it before. Your deepest darkest secret.”
Hope surged inside my chest. Reese wasn’t someone you wanted to trust, but I’d take scraps from anyone.
The thickening crowd around us snickered and everyone switched their gazes between Katie and me that read, She wanted him? How is that possible?
Katie had fallen from the very top of the social ladder rung, but for someone like her, it was impossible to fall as far down as I was.
Reese winked at me. My stomach knotted. She used to do that when we were little, but back then, I was in on the joke. Now I was the joke.
“Careful, Nic,” she said, her voice louder now, “When you do your research about how to have sex, pay close attention to the section on protection. Katie comes from a fertile family and the last thing the school administrators need is another teenage pregnancy statistic to pass on to the state. Disgusting how they’re all from the same family too.”
Katie stepped forward but I clasped my hand around her fingers still circling my arm. Reese wasn’t in front of us still anyway. Once she delivered the final blow, she left. That was her MO. And a good one too. It ensured she always got the last word and, with Reese, it was most likely the last laugh too.
Katie’s eyes were closed when I looked at her. I uncurled her fingers from my arm and brought our hands down between us and squeezed her small fingers. Her eyes fluttered open and her lips curled into a half smile.
Squeezing her fingers again, I said, “Did she just insinuate I wouldn’t know how to have sex unless I looked it up first? She does realize I’m far smarter than her, right? My IQ is probably double.”
Her face broke into a smile that warmed my insides. The first real smile all day. If I had balls instead of brains, I’d pull her toward me and show everyone, including Reese’s crew, just what I really thought of Katie Ross. If she kissed me back, the scene would probably turn into X territory really quick because I’d combust inside.
But I couldn’t shut my brain off and my brain was always telling me what everyone else’s looks confirmed. It was impossible for Katie to feel the same way about me. It would bend the rules of physics and everyone knows physics can’t be bent. Facts were facts. And fact was, girls like Katie didn’t like guys like me. Guys like me were quarantined to the friend zone.
Right on cue, Katie said, “You’re a good friend.”
And though I smiled and nodded, deep, deep down, I wanted to maim the person who invented the word friend. That guy was probably never stuck in the friend zone with someone for years. I wanted outside the zone. I wanted to be so far outside the zone I couldn’t see the property line.
Katie was quiet as we walked toward the front entrance to the school. Somewhere between the showdown and here, she’d dropped my hand, and it was currently wallowing in the empty space between us.
When we walked through the double doors, it was like any other day. Reese and Jer, Katie’s ex-boyfriend, made out near the hallway that led into the cafeteria. The rest of the Skeletal Crew left the first lunch table one-by-one on the arms of guys in letter jackets. Soon, most everyone was cleared from the hallway except for the group around Jackson’s locker. My group.
Katie was an implant to the group since Reese dumped her at the beginning of last year. She still didn’t quite fit in fully, but I got the sense it didn’t bother her that much.
As we walked toward them, Katie said, “Do you have any Shakespeare revenge quotes in your arsenal?”
I waved to Jackson who’d just spotted us. “I don’t know, but it’d probably come from Hamlet. He’s one pissed off character.”
Thoughts seemingly somewhere else, she pulled on my sleeve before we reached my friends. “I’m going to go to the computer lab before homeroom. I’ll see you later?”
I couldn’t keep myself from frowning. “Yeah. Yeah, sure. See you later.”
She pulled her book bag up higher on her shoulder and walked away.
When I turned back, Jackson was smirking. My brain started firing scenarios to me all at once and not one of them left me feeling easy. Jackson would say something about Katie. I would get pissed off. It wouldn’t end well.
Instead of walking up to them, I raised a hand and said, “Check you guys later,” then walked in the opposite direction Katie had gone.
Erin Butler is lucky enough to have two jobs she truly loves. As a librarian, she gets to work with books all day long, and as an author, Erin uses her active imagination to write the kinds of books she loves to read. Young Adult and New Adult books are her favorites, but she especially fangirls over a sigh-worthy romance.
She lives in Central New York with her very understanding husband, a stepson, and doggie BFF, Maxie. Preferring to spend her time indoors reading or writing, she'll only willingly go outside for chocolate and sunshine--in that order.
Erin is the author of BLOOD HEX, a YA paranormal novel, HOW WE LIVED, a contemporary NA novel, and the forthcoming YA contemporary romance title, FINDING MR. DARCY: HIGH SCHOOL EDITION. Find out more about her at www.erinbutlerbooks.com or @ErinButler on Twitter!