I awoke on Monday with thoughts of Saturday still going through my head. Did I really save a girl’s life and then have part of a building blow up over my head? Yes. I checked my website, now a part of my morning routine, and found a new request already. Apparently Robert told his coworkers about me on Sunday, so stated the request, and Ms. Amy Jones thought I sounded perfect, though not for lifting boxes.
Among my skills listed on my website was dancing. My mother had forced me to take dance lessons from age eight through age sixteen. I purposely didn’t list precisely what types with which I was familiar due to the extreme embarrassment some of them had caused me. Imagine being the only boy in a ballet class and having your mother demand your uniform for a dance recital to be a matching pink to the girl’s “so the color scheme wouldn’t be unbalanced by a single blue uniform.” I was thirteen at the time, so my despair had no equal which I could conceive. Luckily, most of the other dancing styles proved more than socially acceptable when demonstrated at my first high school dance.
At any rate, Ms. Jones had a nearly sixteen-year-old daughter, Michelle, who still needed a date for a special day at the end of the week. Michelle’s sixteenth birthday landed on the same day as her high school’s Spring Fling, which Ms. Jones described as “the second most important formal dance” at the all-girls school her daughter attended. The job sounded simple enough, albeit not something I expected.
Ms. Jones planned on picking out a tux for me once she received my measurements. I then was to pick up the tux and a pre-wrapped gift, arranged by Ms. Jones, the day before the party. On the day of, I was to arrive in a limo that would pick me up where I wished, to meet Michelle, and to present her with the gift as if it was from me. For the rest of the day, I was to make sure the girl was enjoying her party and then to attend the dance that night. Discretion was required, as the Michelle was not to know I was a “rental,” as Ms. Jones put it.
I went over the pricing guide in my head and replied with an estimate, saying I would get measured after school. My body hadn’t stopped growing yet, so I never truly knew my size for any sort of clothing. When last I was measured, I was just past six feet tall. I was fairly sure a couple more inches would be tacked on after the six now. My life seemed to have an endless joke of numbers being tacked onto me. At least growing stopped eventually.
After sending the response, I showered and dressed for school in a hurry. I hadn’t convinced myself to get up any earlier than I was accustomed, despite the time my business took out of my school-day routine, so rushing to get ready became the norm. Sausage, eggs, and pancakes greeted my rumbling stomach at the table. I started devouring my food in hopes of finishing in time to make class at a walk instead of a run today. My parents tolerated me no longer taking breakfast with them, but mother still stepped into the room to say, “Slow down. Regina called earlier and offered to give you a ride to school. You have plenty of time to eat like a person.”
“Oh” was all I managed to say before mother left the room, likely to start her day’s work. Regina did this from time-to-time, calling unreasonably early to scheme with my mother. I considered this unsportsmanlike conduct. Knowing my mother was on Regina’s side, I had attempted to enlist my father’s aid when Regina first sprung this scheme. He informed me, “Son, women don’t believe in the words ‘unsportsmanlike conduct’ unless it’s to their advantage. You better just become accustomed to it and enjoy the fact you won’t have to walk.”
Before I even finished my breakfast, the doorbell was ringing. Mother came out of nowhere, as if on queue, to answer the door. “Regina! Always a pleasure to see you, dear, and may I say that I love that shirt on you.” I could just imagine how Regina would be smiling at the compliment, and I heard her reply, “Why thank you, Mrs. Somerset. I love your hair. Did you have it cut recently?” They continued exchanging pleasantries for a minute before my mother said, “Please, excuse me. I must get back to work. You need to come around more often, Regina. This house needs another female around to balance things out. Take care of my son today.”
I managed to finish my food before Regina sat down, which didn’t seem to please her. “We have time, James. No need to rush.” I was putting my dishes into the dishwasher and turned around to find Regina standing uncomfortably close to me, her pale blue eyes were dazzling in the morning light that streamed through the kitchen window as she gazed up at me. With her standing so close, I could not help noticing the sweet smell of her light golden hair. She straightened my collar, pressing her warm chest lightly against me in the process. Those soft-seeming lips of hers, pink today, were coming closer to mine, due to her pulling me down slightly as she fussed with my collar, and I panicked.
“Oh no! I just remembered that I need to speak with Mr. Traber about my English assignment! Let’s go,” I moaned as I stepped quickly away from her, “Wait right here while I grab my bag.” I saw her lips purse as I darted to my room and knew she didn’t buy my excuse. She had walked partway to my room by the time I came out. The light coming from behind her highlighted her figure all too well as she casually posed, knowing my eyes were on her.
A random thought caused me to laugh as I looked at her. Regina was slightly taller than my shoulder and still couldn’t reach my lips. The idea of Alma attempting that same stunt Regina attempted in the kitchen was what had me laughing. The tiny girl could never reach me without getting a ladder first. My laughter diminished somewhat as I noticed Regina’s cool look while I approached her.
“I apologize. It isn’t you. Something funny just occurred to me is all.” She merely said, “I noticed,” and turned to leave as I reached her. “How was your weekend,” I asked, opening the front door for her. “My father had a barbecue on Saturday. I was going to invite you, but your mother said you were working. What is this new job of yours?” She knew. I often wondered exactly how much Regina and mother spoke. “I talked my parents into letting me do some freelance work is all. People contact me, and I make arrangements to help them.”
“Your mother made your work sound a bit more formal than that. She also mentioned that your logo could use a little work.” I sighed inside but didn’t let it show. “Well, you know how I am with art. Anything I do could use a little help.” She laughed, her soprano voice filling the air. “I spent Sunday helping you. Look in the back seat.” I hadn’t noticed the white sheet covering something between the seats when I tossed my bag in the back. I peaked under the cotton sheet to see a painting which looked considerably like me while still remaining cartoon-like style.
“This looks amazing, Regina! Thank you! I don’t know how I’ll repay you.” Regina’s lips parted to reveal her sparkling white teeth in a breath-taking smile. “Well, James. I need a date for prom.” I grimaced, but I didn’t see her notice. A night of Regina parading me around as her pet was a torture I’d rather avoid. “I can’t promise anything. My work schedule isn’t set, and my dad’s forcing me to show profit to continue this endeavor.” Regina’s smile lessened. “I see. If you find yourself free, I’ll be waiting. I’m going to scan the painting in art. You can have a digital copy when I give you a lift home.”
I wasn’t sure how, but I needed to have someone hire me for the night of the prom now. I would have to figure out a different way to pay Regina back for the art, perhaps accepting the lift home would count for something. We arrived at school, and I carried Regina’s bag inside for her. She wouldn’t allow me to carry the painting, so I was seen carrying a shiny, light pink backpack into the school. I felt as if everyone was staring at me as we walked to her locker. She took her time with the combination, obviously enjoying the moment.
My phone buzzed in my pocket just after I handed over her bag. I had a new email from my website, another client needing a best friend. Timothy Fairholm was a gentleman who simply did not understand computers, or so he told me in his request. He wanted someone to help him pick out a new hard drive for his desktop and then install it, another simple task. I just was curious why Mr. Fairholm didn’t have the drive installed by the technicians wherever he wanted to purchase the thing. I replied with an estimate and agreed to meet him tomorrow if the price was agreeable.
“Anything important,” Regina inquired. “I have another client,” I replied with a smile, “Don’t worry. Not prom night.” She playfully hit my arm. “Jerk. You don’t have to taunt me.” I shrugged and said, “Just keeping you informed, since you want to know.” She shook her head and smiled, “See you in class.” I walked down the corridor and did my best to ignore the whispers. Perhaps what bothered me the most about Regina wasn’t that she was manipulative or pursuing me. Finding Regina so terribly distracting despite what she does probably bothered me more than anything. I didn’t think straight around her. She continually brought me outside of my mind and forced me to notice other things, mainly her.
I spent the rest of the school day attempting to come up with a way to repay her that didn’t involve me going to prom. Yet again, my mind was coming up blank. Either life was getting interesting, or my brain was growing dull. I considered that the stress of getting my business off the ground could be getting to me, but I didn’t really feel stressed from it. I felt invigorated by Saturday’s job to say the least. Again Alma came to mind, which disturbed me this time. What if I did see her again and she was interested? I didn’t think I could handle two girls interested in me at once.
Regina was, of course, waiting for me after track practice, this time sitting in the bleachers over the track field. “Having fun?” I asked as she descended the steps. “Of course. How could I not enjoy seeing you practice.” My right eyebrow rose of its own accord as I responded, “Oh yes. The endless hordes dying to see high school boys practice racing one another keep this school in business. ‘In a surprise move, he’s taking another left,’ they shout in awe!” She chuckled and accepted my hand for the last two steps, which I quickly reclaimed after she was down.
“There is a small chance I have a slight bias,” she admitted before asking, “what have these jobs of yours entailed so far?” I explained briefly what I had done as we walked to her car. “And this is what it takes for you not to be bored? I never knew walking dogs or hauling furniture would fascinate you so much.” I rolled my eyes before saying, “I’m installing a hard drive tomorrow! The excitement will never cease.”
We chatted more about my work on the way home, and then she came inside while I downloaded the picture file off her thumb drive. Mother couldn’t resist inviting her for dinner and complimenting her painting before making a jab at me about my previous design. Regina stayed and chatted for far too long after we ate, and I worried that she already was scheming something I wouldn’t like. A girl like her knowing as much as she now did about my business seemed like bad news. I didn’t honestly think she’d try to ruin me, so I would wait and see how being a best friend could be used against me.
After Regina left, I asked my mother to take my measurements for the client, explaining that I was to attend a party and needed a tux. “Oh? What sort of party is this,” inquired my mother. I explained as briefly as she allowed what the job was. “Does Regina know about this, James? I don’t think she would approve.” I felt slightly angry and somehow guilty at the words. “Regina and I are not dating, so I don’t see how this would affect her even if it were an actual date. This is business, and my client will be paying well.” I could see my mother wanted to say more, but she held her tongue. Part of me fretted the rest of the night that mother and Regina might be complicating my life more than normal very soon.