"Who is it?" came the voice from the distance.
"It's a boy." Came the wry reply.
"Hello?" she asked moments later, curious. None of the guys ever called to ask for her and she wondered which one it was and why they hadn't asked for Bruce as they usually did.
"Eth, it's Jim."
"Oh!" she said, putting the picture of him that she'd been looking at behind her back as though he might see it. "Hi... Jim. What's up?" she asked, trying to be casual while her heart beat rapidly.
"Ethel, I know we've been hanging out for a while... I really like you, and... I was wondering... if maybe... you and I could... maybe... hang out. I mean... If you and I could be like... friends. Dang! I had this all worked out in my head." He muttered. "Jonah is always telling me I'm a numbskull."
Then aloud and once again to Ethel who couldn't help but to smile at Jim's dilemma but hoping he'd get to the point soon, he said "A couple. Like me and you... together... like... dang!"
"Like a boyfriend and girlfriend?" Ethel asked quietly.
"Yeah! Like that!" Jim nearly yelled. "Do you? I mean... want to? You know?"
Ethel put the phone back up to her ear and with a wide smile said "Sure, why not?" She took the phone away from her ear again as Jim let out a whoop.
"Then, this weekend, all right? You and me? A movie maybe? Or Grammarcy's?"
"Sounds great, Jim. I'll see you then," she replied with a wide grin, somehow managing to keep her voice level.
"Great! This weekend... Baby." he said, testing the waters.
"This weekend... Bear," she replied before hanging up the phone. She gave out a little squeal of delight and laughed when she saw her mother leaning in the doorway, arms crossed, a wry smile on her face.
"I knew it was going to happen eventually, but just not so soon." her mother said, giving her daughter a little hug. "Just be careful sweetie... don't..." she hesitated.
"Ma? It's gonna be a burger. In public. Don't worry, OK?" Ethel said with a smile, hugging her mother. Then she whispered, "You raised your baby girl right. I won't do anything stupid."
Mrs. Barstow hugged her oldest daughter tightly and kissed the top of her head. "I love you," she whispered.
"Right back atcha." Ethel replied, returning the hug and kissing her mother's nose as she used to do when she was little.
Summer was over. Their parents had bought them their school clothes and supplies, and they were back.
Jim sighed as he walked up the pathway toward the front doors with the guys. Only the first day of school and he felt as though time were standing still. He had finally asked Ethel to go steady with him and he found it frustrating that he could only see her afternoons after he'd finished his homework and on weekends.
"How many more years of this guys? I don't know if I'm gonna make it. Sometimes I feel like I'm just gonna bust if I have to sit through one more science class."
"Cool, then we can study you as one of the few cases of spontaneous human combustion," Dennis said jokingly.
"Thanks, you're a pal," Jim said wryly.
"Any time," Dennis replied with a smile.
"Whoa!" Felix whispered, "Wow, check that out! Who are they?" he said, gesturing with his chin toward two unfamiliar girls who stood by the brickwork leading to the front door.
"No idea," replied Charlie. "I never saw them before!"
"Let's go say hello." Said Angelo immediately.
"Don't you think a horde of people converging on them like this will scare them?" Charlie countered.
"I hardly think we're a horde," Aiden said somewhat breathlessly as he took in the red hair on one of the girls. He wondered if it smelled like sunshine on fresh hay.
"Eight guys, two girls... two really amazing looking girls if my eyesight isn't going on me," Dennis said, awed, staring at the darker of the two.
"I agree," said Amadeo. "Eight guys, some with their tongues hanging out, could scare them rather than make them feel welcome. We have plenty of time to get to know them," he said rationally.
The two girls were worth staring at. Except for their coloring they were almost identical. The girl with the long straight brunette hair had sparkling blue eyes, and the girl with the auburn hair had equally startling green eyes which almost seemed to disappear into their whites in the harsh sunlight, and which made her fascinating to look at.
While the guys were busy gawking, the girls had noticed them. They looked at each other, shrugged, then turned toward the front doors to the school and disappeared inside.
"OK, guys," Amadeo said, smiling. "Close your mouths and let's go inside. I'm sure we'll find out who they are."
"And I saw them first so they're mine," Felix said, forcefully.
"If they like shrimp." joked the up until now silent Milo. He was in love. Seriously in love. He just didn't know which one of them he loved the most just yet. The red hair on the first one would make some beautiful children mixed with his blonde hair, but the blue eyes on the other would be a perfect compliment to his.
"In your dreams," Jim said.
"You're spoken for, so hands off!" Charlie reminded him.
"Hey, no one said I couldn't look." Jim grinned.
"Yeah? Well let's see what Ethel has to say about that, then, shall we?" Dennis said slyly.
"Say a word and I'll turn you into a doughnut, midget," Jim said, half-jokingly.
"The kind with chocolate frosting on top? Go for it, big boy!" Charlie said.
"Ahhhh shuddup. First bell is gonna ring any minute and I don't wanna get in trouble the first day back." Jim groused.
After a few seconds of thought, he smiled. He loved Ethel's soft, dark brown eyes and her long dark hair that was naturally straight. He loved that she wasn't stick thin like some of those other girls out there. None of the other guys knew it but when she let her hair down it was almost to her waist. He knew though. Let them fight over the two new girls. He had the most beautiful one out there.
Between the first bell and during announcements the door to their homeroom opened quietly and three teens, escorted by Mr. Cobrane, entered the room, standing quietly by the door, waiting until announcements were over.
When the class saw the group at the door there was a collective gasp from males and females alike. The two girls were really very lovely, and their features were even more noticeable in the gentler florescent indoor lighting. The lone male had every girl daydreaming as soon as they laid eyes on him.
His hair was dark brown, almost black, and looked windswept, a lock of it falling over his smooth forehead. His eyes were as blue as the sky. His jawline was masculine but soft at the same time. His dark eyebrows were arched naturally, making him look slightly inquisitive and amused at the same time. His teeth were white and even.
The boy grinned even more widely, but the two girls seemed startled at the class' reaction. None of them said or did anything until announcements were over, at which point Mr. Cobrane brought the teens further into the room and stood them before the class.
"These are three of our new students this semester, this is..." he began, gesturing toward the auburn haired girl.
"Dora!" she said quickly and nervously, smiling widely, shooting an apologetic look at Mr. Cobrane. "Dora Gauthier. Pleased to meet you."
Mr. Cobrane's eyebrows rose at being interrupted but he didn't correct the girl for the moment.
"And this is her twin sister, Izabelle." He introduced the second girl who stood quietly with a gentle smile.
"Izzy for short." said the dark-haired girl with a little wave to the class in general, but which Felix liked to believe was aimed at him.
The boy spoke up and said, "And everyone can just call me Nick." he said with an unusual accent, sounding both Southern and something else. He smiled at the class with his even, white teeth. "Nick Bouchard."
"Children, this is your homeroom teacher Mr. Mason, who is also the geography teacher. Now, second bell is about to ring. There are three seats there in the third row, those will be yours for the rest of the semester."
"I wish you a good day, children. Mr. Mason." Cobrane said with a little bow in the other teacher's direction. He then turned gracefully and left the room, closing the door gently behind him.
Milo watched admiringly as the vice principal left, and swore to himself that he was going to be just as suave as Mr. Cobrane when he got old, too.
"Everyone, I'd like you to say hello to your new classmates before the bell rings."
"Hi!" "Hellllloooo!" came the enthusiastic greetings.
The girls, who had claimed their seats blushed a little and with self-conscious smiles, waved at their classmates. Nick dazzled them all with a grin.
"They may need help finding their classes, so if some of you would help them find their way around that would be very neighborly of you." hinted Mr. Mason, none too subtly.
Not unexpectedly, Angelo Di Marco and Amadeo Rossi were two of the first to lean over to compare schedules with the three newcomers.
He only wished it hadn't come at the price of the two boys being beaten to accomplish it.
"Where are you from?" asked Sharon.
"Quebec, Canada," Izzy said.
"Ohhhh how cool! A whole 'nother country!" Donna said in a hushed voice. 'How'd you learn to speak English so well?"
"What school did you go to?" asked Melissa.
"Did you live in a house?" Sarah asked. "We live right down the street from here."
"Do you have any pets?" Sharon inquired. "I have three rabbits and a goat."
"Are the classes the same here as there?" asked Howard.
"Can I show you around the school after classes let out?" Michael inquired.
Isabelle and Dora looked from one student to the other, trying to take a breath to answer at least one question before another was fired at them but unable to get a word in. Amadeo was about to remind the group that the girls were probably feeling overwhelmed when a familiar voice chimed in.
"Can I take you out this weekend, Ms. Izabelle?" came the familiar voice, accompanied by a confident smile. The kids at the table stopped for a moment and looked at the newcomer. It was Nick. "Perhaps I can treat you to a shake after school?" Nick asked, leaning down and smiling brightly at Izzy. She recoiled slightly from his breath and wondered how he kept his teeth so white, before politely refusing.
He smelled strongly of cigarette smoke. Every year it was announced that smoking on school property was frowned upon, and every year a handful of students ignored the rule and found secluded places to indulge their habit.
"Actually, Nick," said Amadeo in a friendly voice, "A bunch of us wanted to take the three of you to Grammarcy's after school, sort of a welcome to the neighborhood sort of thing. Do you have the time?"
"Miz Izabella, will you be there?" he asked in what he hoped was a casual tone, leaning in close to the girl to give her the full impact of his smile.
Izabella wrinkled her nose but didn't answer. She tried to back away a bit more from Nick's breath.
Amadeo didn't know the girls well yet, having just met them, but he was pretty sure that Nick was, to put it mildly, barking up the wrong tree. Izabella didn't seem the least bit impressed with the handsome boy. He was, however, very impressed with the two girls who either apparently had no clue how very beautiful they were, or who just didn't care. He'd noticed that the 'pretty' and 'popular' girls hadn't approached the twins yet.
"Izabella? Will you be there?" Nick asked again, a little angrily, tired of whatever game the girl was playing with him.
Izzy compressed her lips, opened her pocketbook and began rummaging around. Once she found what she was looking for she smiled at Nick and gestured him away from the rest of the group at the table.
She fought her natural desire to hold her nose and leaned in toward the boy, pressing the stick of gum she'd taken out into his hand, holding it for a moment. "I find the smell of cigarette reprehensible and you reek of it," she whispered in his ear, to avoid embarrassing him. "We'll be at Grammarcy's, but if you don't lay off the cigarettes and stop acting like a jackass, stay away from me. Please and thank you," she said, remembering her manners.
She leaned away from him with a radiant smile, shook his hand and rejoined the others at the table. Some of them looked at Izzy inquiringly and some came right out and asked her what she said but she only smiled and told them it had been nothing important. She then switched the conversation to the impending trip to Grammarcy's.
Nick stood there for a few moments, angry and insulted, before turning away, dropping the gum, and storming out of the cafeteria.
The group at the table and several more students from surrounding tables watched as he left, all dying to know the story but not knowing the girls well enough to approach and ask. More than one made plans to go to the kids they did know and get the story from them at some point during the afternoon.
For the rest of the day, Nick appeared in classes on time. He didn't flash his very white smile or acknowledge any of his classmates, appearing fascinated by the teachers and all they had to say, and taking notes feverishly.
After school, he was nowhere to be found, so the considerably larger group went without him.
"I feel really bad," said Izzy to her friends when they'd pushed several tables together and sat down. "I was really rude. My parents would not have been the least bit happy about how I handled that, but he was just being so obnoxious!" she said, hoping that they would understand.
"Give him some time to calm down," Amadeo said gently. "The choice is entirely his. If he prefers to smoke and hang out with the kids who smoke, there's nothing we can do. There's a chance that what Izzy said reached him. If so then we'll be seeing him."
"Do you think he likes me enough to stop that nasty habit?" Izzy asked. "I mean, he is a good looking guy..."
"He's one of those good looking guys who knows he's good looking and gets by on his looks rather than personality." Melissa, who had accepted the open invitation, said dismissively. Sharon and several of the other girls who had tagged along nodded agreement.
"He might just be scared," Dennis said. "You know," he continued, blushing a little at the looks sent his way, "I mean, he wanted to fit in and he didn't care who he fit in with as long as it was someone." he finished, biting into his burger to avoid having to say anything else.
"Or," Charlie conjectured, "He was just trying too hard to fit in with everyone. It's just not possible." he said.
"It's like my father says, you're not going to like everyone, and everyone isn't going to like you. Be yourself, and stick with the people who accept you for who you are, otherwise, you'll drive yourself crazy trying to be everything for everyone." Milo chipped in.
"Do you think that's it?" Izzy asked, "He's trying to be everything for everyone, rather than who he is? And then here's big mouthed Izabelle making him feel like a fool," she berated herself, pushing her fries aside.
"The only one who made him look like a fool was him." Dora objected, taking a sip of her cherry Coke. "If he's part of the smoking crowd then he's fine. He has friends. Or potential friends, anyway. I mean, he wasn't out there smoking by himself."
"Or maybe he was," said Amadeo thoughtfully. "What if he went out there hoping to be part of the smoking crowd and they didn't accept him? What if he was out there smoking by himself? I mean, he came in alone, and he didn't go to the table that the smokers hang out at when he left."
Dora looked uncertain, the pretty rose blush rising to her cheeks again. "Izzy?" she asked, looking at her sister.
"I feel horrible now," Izzy said, sadly. "I hurt him. I embarrassed him."
"Maybe you hurt him," Angelo said quietly, "But you didn't do anything to embarrass him. If he was embarrassed it was at his own behavior, not anything you said or did. If he was embarrassed it was because he knew you were right. You didn't do a thing, outwardly, to embarrass him. We were all watching, and all it looked like was you leaning in to whisper to him and then shaking his hand."
"You even smiled at him," Melissa said.
"Yeah," agreed Milo. "It was him stomping out that was a cause of any embarrassment, not anything you did. OK?"
"Do you suppose I should find him and talk to him?" Izzy asked, "Explain things a little?"
"Let him calm down and think things through. He's the one who has to make the decision, you can't do it for him." Said Aiden.
"He could do like dad," Dora said quietly.
"Do you think so, A-Dor?" Izzy said hopefully, wondering if this boy liked her enough to give up smoking, just as their father had done for their mother.
"We'll find out," Dora replied, hoping that no one caught her sister's slip of the tongue. "We'll find out."