Lexi Middleton has been socially invisible to her classmates, but starting her junior year, that’s going to change. First, she’s determined to hook a boyfriend, ensuring dates with flowers and possible kisses on the doorstep. Second, she wants to be a writer for the school paper, even though it freaks her out to think of everyone judging her by her punctuation and metaphors.
High school is difficult enough—keeping up her grades, dealing with increasing sibling rivalry, and trying to stay out of the way of her personal nemesis, Amberlee—but when Lexi catches the eye of her long-time crush, she also becomes the focus of mean-girl tactics.
Caught between who she was and who she wants to be, Lexi must decide how to confront a bully, and choose who to let into her heart.
At eight o’clock on Saturday morning, I shimmy into a swimsuit then pull on a new sleeveless cover-up, very cute, with a lace hoodie on back. It’s not unusual for people here to throw on swimwear any time of the year. Still, I’m more of a “let’s-swim-all-summer-to-stay-cool” sort of person, not a “play-in-the-water-all-year” type like Gabe. But, it’s going to be ninety-five degrees today, and it’s nice to be out of the house and not looking at homework.
The parched brown hills divide as we wind around their edge on Lakeshore Drive, revealing the blue-green water of Lake Mead. Gabe’s mom is staying on shore to set up the brunch and party at Boulder Beach while his dad drives the boat for us. Gabe and his dad are putting the boat into the water while the rest of us play on the water trampoline.
Riker’s aggressive today. He jumps next to our feet, and if we don’t lose our balance and fall into the lake, he pushes us. Asha makes the most of it, curling into a cannon ball before she hits the surface of the lake. Tillie hides behind me until Riker is close, then she darts away as he strikes. Although I see it coming, I can’t help but fall backward. When Riker goes for Tillie she fakes that she’s going to try to dodge him. At the last moment she grabs him around the neck and pulls him in with her. We splash around for a while, then climb back on the trampoline. This time we girls gang up on Riker.
When the boat arrives, Gabe dives out to join the fun before we get to some serious boarding.
The water’s warm, and the sun is hot. We clamber to the back of the boat and squish into the bench and seats so we can watch each other ride. Asha sits to my left and Tillie is on her other side, pulling her hair over her shoulder into a twist, water running off the end when she throws the twist behind her. Even in kindergarten she had long wavy hair down to her waist, like if you pushed her into a pool you would find she was really a mermaid.
The boys take the other bench. I pop my legs over the girls’ knees and lean against the corner of the boat. “ ‘cuse me. I really need some sun.”
“Yeah, you do.” Riker flinches as Tillie swipes a slap on his leg, but their faces reveal amusement.
“Me too,” says Asha, twisting her legs from under mine and plopping them on top.
“Says the sun goddess.” Asha rolls her eyes with exaggeration, but I continue covetously, “Your skin is the color I try all summer to get. Yeah, never make it.”
“You have some tan this year,” she replies, flicking my ponytail.
“I so should have put my hair up today.” Tillie combs her fingers though her wet hair again and twists it in the back. “I’ve nailed the albino drowned-rat look.”
As the boat picks up speed, Gabe’s dad lets the rope out far enough for the wakes to be small and far apart for us novices. When it’s my turn, I make it to my feet on my first try. Often, I try to stand too quickly and catch the front edge, face-planting. Not today. I move out wide and flatten out the board. The boat tugs me forward, and I edge into the wake for a small jump. Success. I’m still on my feet.
Riker’s turn lasts all of three minutes before he face-plants from trying a back roll without enough air. He ducks his head under the water again just before he climbs into the boat. I’m sitting nearest the back of the boat and try to crawl across the tangle of legs and feet in the well of the boat before Riker begins flipping his hair like a wet poodle.
Everyone takes several turns going out. I don’t know if it’s more fun to sit in the boat and talk with my friends or to be on the board. Soon my muscles burn: my legs, my forearms, my butt. I sit out my next turn, and so do Asha and Tillie. Gabe’s up next. He shortens the rope by fifteen feet, and I’m glad I’ve abdicated my place in line. The wake will be big at that distance.
“How does he do that?” I gasp as Gabe’s board flies over his head, his body twisting before he lands backward. Then he jumps to switch directions, curving out on the board to approach the wake again.
“Oh! A 720. Awesome!” Riker yells as Gabe completes the second turn. He lands with grace, but I can see the muscles in his arm tighten as only one hand holds the bar.
“Watching this explains the muscles in his arms, doesn’t it, Lexi?” Tillie observes, her eyes twinkling mischievously. She enjoys a beautiful body, describing them the way an artist draws attention to a sculpture.
“And chest. And shoulders. And back,” Asha adds slowly. Asha usually doesn’t notice, so when she mentions some guy looks hot, she gets a lot of attention from us.
I don’t have time to gape at Asha for her unexpected comment because I’m staring too. “Uuuuuh-huh.” His muscles flex and ripple as he moves with and against the board and rope, completely in control. Although I know he’s concentrating, his face shows only the delight he feels. “He makes it look easy. Strong legs.”
“Oh, Lexi, you’re a legs-girl?” Tillie asks, throwing her arm around me and leaning in.
“No. Well, right now, yes.” I take another look. “Yes,” I answer with a breathy grin.
“Ripped.” Tillie bites her bottom lip just a bit. “Uh-huh. He’s ripped. Mm. Every part of him is working it.” We all smile—at least, we girls do. Riker shakes his head and looks toward the front of the boat.
“Nothing like a day at the lake to enjoy beautiful sights.” I wave my finger, gazing toward Gabe.
“I hope you talk about me like this when I’m out riding,” Riker says, trying to sound light, but I suspect he really does.
“Oh, we do.” Tillie’s voice climbs an octave. “Hey, girls, look at Riker. Ooh-ooh, that must have hur-r-r-t.” She covers her eyes in mock horror.
“Riker, it’s all about technique. Get some,” I tease, slapping his knee.
“Hey, don’t be so mean.” Asha abandons our bench and slides in next to Riker, throwing her arm protectively around his shoulder and leaning her head on his as she speaks. “He can’t help it if he’s the like-a-brother sort of friend instead of the sexy one.”
“Thanks. I feel better now.” Riker nudges her with his shoulder. He seems aware that he’s not going to win this roasting with the odds three to one.
Tillie jumps into the conversation again. “I’m just helping Lexi out. She’s checking out Gabe’s body and needs my second opinion.”
“Yeah, done here. I’m going back out.” Riker taps Gabe’s dad on the shoulder and the boat slows.
Riker does a couple of tricks and we clap and cheer in his direction to make up for our harassment earlier.
Gabe hands us some water bottles.
“You did some amazing tricks, Gabe. Didn’t he Lexi?”
What? Why is Tillie saying that? I nod his direction, taking a bigger-than-needed drink, but Tillie continues. “What was it you were saying?” She looks at me, and Gabe turns to look at me too.
Oh no. What do I say, can I say? I pick something from the conversation I think will be safe. Thankfully I’m already wet, or I might be perspiring. “Yeah. I’ve never seen a 720 before. Awesome.”
Tillie shakes her head at me. “No, that’s what Riker said. What was it you were saying? You know, about his legs. And his arms.” She taps her backhand on the side of my knee.
Gabe blushes a bit.
She’s not going to drop this. I might as well get it over with. “Your legs and arms have to be strong to do this sport, don’t they?” There that gives us both a way out, especially me. There’s no way I’m going to tell Gabe I was lusting after his legs. And arms. And well, all the rest of him too. Maybe I could say that I thought he looked amazing doing those tricks, but before I do he interrupts my thoughts, saving me from potential disgrace.
“Yeah, the more you do it the easier it becomes.”
Tillie looks comically disappointed. “I don’t remember the conversation being quite so clinical or even sports-related per se. Do you, Asha?”
Jo Noelle grew up in Colorado and Utah but also spent time in Idaho and California. She has two adult children and three small kids. She teaches teachers and students about reading and writing, grows freakishly large tomatoes, enjoys cooking especially for desserts, builds furniture, sews beautiful dresses, and likes to go hiking in the nearby mountains. Oh, and by the way, she’s two people—
Canda Mortensen and Deanna Henderson, a mother/daughter writing team.
They began writing separately several years ago but found the process much more fun when they started collaborating. They are debut authors, with Lexi’s Pathetic Fictional Love Life as their first completed work. Other titles include Newbie and Damnation.
Deanna attended college before marrying and starting her family.
Canda received a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, a Reading Specialist endorsement, and a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership. Her day job focuses on teaching teachers and children about literacy.
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