Millie Greenwood High School, Cupid, Texas, May 25, 2001
I am crazy in love with my older brother’s best friend, Pierce Hollister! You should see him in his gym shorts when he’s out on the football field running sprints. Omigod, he’s got the most amazing thighs. Of course that’s nothing compared to the way his butt looks in Wranglers. Be still my pounding heart!
And his eyes! Brown with intriguing green flecks.
He made direct eye contact with me once. It was a moment I will never, ever forget until my dying day. I’d dropped my books in the crowded hallway and I was fumbling to pick them up when suddenly, out of nowhere, I see a pair of black cowboy boots and a hand reaching out to help me.
I looked up and it was him!
I got tingly all over and honest to God, I thought I was going to die right there on the spot! This is no ordinary boy. He’s the quarterback of the football team! He dates cheerleaders! His daddy owns the biggest ranch in Jeff Davis County and here he was helping me!
And I’m nobody. I’m pudgy (Mama calls me fluffy) and I wear glasses and I stutter. I’ve had speech therapy, but I still can’t speak without stammering and that is in a relaxed atmosphere. Believe me there was nothing relaxed about this. Every muscle in my body was tuned as tight as the strings on a concert violin and I couldn’t have said a word if my life depended on it.
His eyes met mine and he smiled.
Smiled! At me!
“Here you go,” he said, handing me my biology book (it had to be biology, didn’t it?), and our knuckles brushed. I don’t know how I kept from bursting into flames. “Have a nice day, Lace.”
And then he was gone, leaving his heavenly sunshine and leather scent lingering behind, as I stared after him with my mouth gaping open.
Pierce Hollister had smiled and touched my hand and said eight whole words. To me!
I have no chance with him. I know that. He’s a senior. I’m a freshman. He’s handsome as a movie star. Way out of my league. He’s filet mignon and I’m day-old bread. Okay, so I am a direct descendant of Millie Greenwood, but so are practically half the people in this town. It’s not a unique claim to fame.
It’s silly of me to wish and pine, I know. But Cupid, I just can’t stop thinking about him, no matter how much I try. Every night before I go to sleep, I imagine what it would feel like if he were holding me tight against his muscled chest, our hearts beating in perfect time together. Beating as if we were one.
That’s why I’m writing to you, Cupid. I’m miserable with love for him. I want him to love me back so badly that I can barely breathe. Please, Cupid, please let Pierce Hollister fall in love with me. I know I’ll have to wait for him. I am only fourteen after all and he’s got a girlfriend and a football scholarship to the University of Texas, but one day? Someday? Please!
Yours in total despair,
Lace Bettingfield stood frozen in freshman homeroom, half in the doorway, half out of it, with her backpack slung over one shoulder.
Seated in front of her were seventeen students, and every single one of them was reading the current issue of the school newspaper, the Cupid Chronicle.
Ominously, hairs on the nape of her neck stood up.
The fact that everyone was reading—including the stoners and the jocks—was odd enough, but when they all looked up at her with what seemed to be perfectly choreographed smirks, Lace’s stomach took the express elevator to her Skechers.
In a split second, her gaze darted to the student nearest her. It was Toby Mercer, her biology lab partner.
Toby was six-foot-six and weighed the same as Lace, a hundred and sixty-two pounds; on him the weight was gaunt, on her it was zaftig. He possessed strawberry blond hair and skin so pale it had earned him the nickname Casper way back in kindergarten. She’d known him her entire life. His family lived just down the block from hers. She’d comforted him when kids had picked on him. They’d attended each other’s birthday parties. They’d dissected frogs together.
But right now, Toby was looking at her all narrow-eyed and smug, like she was a dilapidated barn and he was a wrecking ball.
She flicked her eyes from Toby’s face to the paper he held in his hand, and there it was.
I am crazy in love with Pierce Hollister!
It was the letter she’d written to Cupid, her private letter that had never been meant for anyone’s eyes but her own, printed on the front page of the school newspaper!
Her letter. Front page. Declaring her love for Pierce.
How? How had this happened?
Unlike the tourists who came to Cupid, wrote letters to the Roman god of love, and deposited their letters in the special letter box in the botanical gardens (expecting them to be answered by the town’s volunteers and published in the weekly Cupid Chamber of Commerce circular), Lace had never intended for anyone to see this letter.
She’d written it in study hall three days earlier as she gazed out the window, watching the football team practice. She’d carefully folded the letter and tucked it into the side pocket of her notebook with every intention of burning it in the patio chiminea that weekend when her parents were out of town at a cutting horse event.
Reality hit her like a fist to the face.
Mary Alice Fant, her second cousin, who was also the editor of the Cupid Chronicle. Pierce had recently dumped her for the head cheerleader, Jenny Angus. Two nights ago, Mary Alice and her parents had come over to Lace’s house for dinner, and at one point, Lace had caught Mary Alice snooping around in her bedroom.
Oh God! Now everyone knew about her secret crush. Her life was ruined. Nausea splashed scalding bile into her throat. Her entire body flushed hot as August in the Chihuahuan Desert.
One heartbeat later, and the class erupted into a feeding frenzy.
“Do you imagine she calls out Pierce’s name when she’s touching herself?” sniggered Booth Randal, a smart-assed stoner who spent the bulk of his time in detention.
“P . . . Pa . . . Pa . . . Pa . . . Pierce,” another boy stuttered in a fake falsetto, “Yo . . . yo . . . yo . . . you . . . ma . . . ma . . . make me so hot.”
Moaning and breathing heavily, the two boys pretended to kiss and fondle each other, while the other students hurled derisive catcalls like stones.
“Poor me,” wailed Tasha Stuart, whose mother worked in the teller cage next to Lace’s mom at Cupid National Bank. “I’m sooo in love with the most popular boy in school and he doesn’t know I exist.”
“Who knows,” someone else called out. “She might stand a chance. Pierce could be a closet chubby chaser.”
“Na . . . na . . . na . . . not unless she can sta . . . sta . . . stop stutt . . . stutt . . . stuttering.” Toby stabbed her in the back.
“Yeah, who wants a girl whose tongue is hopelessly tied?”
“One day. Someday.”
“Please, Cupid, please, please, please.”
The words slapped her harder than any physical blow. She knew these people. Was related to some of them. Had thought many of them were her friends, but they’d turned on her like hyenas.
The only one who looked at her with anything other than ridicule was Pierce’s younger brother, Malcolm. He slunk down in his seat, pulled his collar up, sank his chin to his chest, and kept his eyes trained on his hands folded atop his desk. He was embarrassed for her humiliation.
Blindly, Lace spun on her heels, and almost crashed into the teacher, Mr. Namon.
He put up his palms, “Whoa, slow down, what’s going on, Miss Bettingfield?”
Head ducked, Lace shoved past him and fled down the corridor.
But there was no sanctuary here.
The hallways were lined with students, several of them holding copies of the Cupid Chronicle. Some laughed. Some pointed. Some made lewd gestures. Some threw out more catcalls. A goth girl was slyly singing “Crush,” a song about a stalker.
Everyone was going to think she was a stalker.
“Hey, Tongue-Tied, drop thirty pounds and maybe you can land your dream man.”
“Reality check. No guy like Pierce could ever love someone like you.”
“Yes, he touched your hand, but I heard he washed it off in Lysol afterward.”
Lace plastered her hands over her ears, willed herself not to cry, but it was too late, tears were already streaming hotly down her cheeks.
Nightmare. It was a living nightmare.
And just as in a nightmare everything moved in slow motion. It felt as if she was trying to run through knee-deep mud. Her lungs squeezed tight. Her heart pounded so hard she thought it was going to beat right out of her chest.
Good. If her heart beat out of her chest she would die.
It seemed to take hours to traverse that hallway. She kept her head down, didn’t once make eye contact with anyone. She was headed for the exit, desperate to find a place to lick her wounds.
The morning sun glinted against the metal bar in the middle of the exit door. Almost there. Salvation was just a few steps away. She rushed forward, her legs breaking through the slow-motion morass.
Her hand hit the bar and she gave a hard shove.
But fate, that vicious bitch, wasn’t done with her yet.
The door smacked into something solid. Someone was coming in at the same time she was trying to get out. Trapped. She was trapped. No exit. Knock ’em down if you have to. Just get the hell out of here.
She raised her head and found herself staring into Pierce Hollister’s brown eyes.
Her heart literally stopped and a whimper escaped her lips.
For Mary Alice to print her letter in the school paper was a horrible betrayal. The bullying by classmates she thought she knew was unbearable. Breaking down and crying in front of everyone was humiliating, but nothing that had happened to her that morning was as bad as what was written across Pierce’s handsome face.
Utter, abject pity.