Halfway through the school year, Christmas Break (it’s supposed to be called “winter solstice break,” because Alabaster Prep is obsessed with making sure they are totally, completely, 100% PC. Just to prove they are mainly the only kids who get scholarships are exchange students or whatever. They’re extreme PC-ness was the reason I even got into this whole mess in the first place, since they wanted an exchange program to prove it even more so) was just over and no one was all that jazzed about being back. No one but me, because it was at least a chance to escape the mother that constantly reminded me I’m the reason Dad left- I don’t know how she figured that, but she said it enough that I believed it.
Well, Cassie was pretty happy to be back, too. Since she came from a family of 6, all of whom but her and her mother are boys, who could blame her for being happy to b anywhere but there, even if it was just school?
“Hey, Claire!” She hopped out of nowhere, like she always does. And in her too-peppy mood, like she always is in, scaring the books right out of my hands. “How was your break? Did your mom bug you?” And a billion other questions. She’s my best friend, so I love her to pieces, but GOD, the girl could be annoying sometimes!
“Hi, Cassie,” I replied, and grinned. Her smile was infectious. “How was break?”
“ I spent it in the country with my redneck brothers and uncle. Just lovely. Whaddaya think?” She deadpanned. Even though she was seriously cheery, the girl had some serious sarcasm skills. “Umm, I’m guessing… you came to love your brothers and have adopted their chauvenist ways?” Riiiiiiight. That was gonna happen- Cass here was about as sophisticated as teens come, despite her utter.... PEPPINESS.
“Funny.” She rolled her extremely made-up eyes at me, and then does this weird little dance. Like a bunny hopping when it finds a carrot, or whatever. I know it's her nervous dance. “So, didja hear about the exchange program going on?”
“Yes, I did.”
“And are you gonna do it?”
“Cassie, have you ever known me to be the type to go to Italy with random preps and jocks that’re just going so they have an excuse to leave school and hook up in a foreign country? I don’t think so.” Discussion over, Cassie, I tried to say with my look. But has Cassie ever been one to take a hint and shut up? About as much as I am the kind to take risks, I would say.
“Um, maybe you could start being one now? For me?” She had this look in her eye, a guilty one, like when you walk in the house and a tiny puppy is eating your socks, and he just gives you this look, like “I wuv you,” so you’ll forgive it? That was her look. Crap. What’d she do now?
I sighed. “Okay, Cass, what’d you do this time?” She was like a little kid that I was having to constantly get out of trouble.
“I signed you up for the exchange trip.” She blurted it out, and it was in a sigh kind of, but I heard her enough.
“YOU DID WHAT?”
“Duh, Claire, I signed you up. God,” She rolled her eyes. Um, wasn’t I the one supposed to be doing that? Along with some shouting?
“I heard you. I mean WHY!?!”
“Because you need to go there, and find love, and I know you’re going to. My psychic said so!” I don’t know why me and her were best friends- we were so different. While she believed in anything and everything, I stuck to facts. I was the most reasonable person I knew. Or, at least I thought so. I don’t so much anymore.
I rolled my eyes so dramatically and heavily it hurt. “Please. Don’t give me that crap about Rosa again! And you know I’ve decided I’m never going to fall in love again. I did that once- remember what happened?” After that thing with Jess was when we became friends. She knew what it was like to have guys abuse her like that. Did I mention that part? Along with his bad-boy image came a serious set of emotional baggage, so much that he probably needed a forklift to carry it with him from place to place. He took it all out on me- verbally and… otherwise. I had always tried to leave the relationship, but I kept coming back. It was the pain of that combined with the pain of it being my best friend since kindergarten and my dad leaving that made me leave for good. Plus it probably helped that he moved. To the other side of America.
She got this look in her eyes. I didn’t know what it was- fed-up-ness, concern, disgust, affection? A mix of all of those and more probably. My friend was a very complicated person, which I know, it’s hard to tell through her craziness. “Look, Claire, I know you’re scared. I know that your first love was something that damaged you, but you need to work to get better. You need to learn to love and trust. I think this’ll help you. Besides, it’s too late to back out, Ms. Wells already approved it.” She shrugged. “Guess you have to go and fall in love with a sexy Paulo or whatever. Poor you.” She smiled mischievously.
“Cass, are you at least coming?”
“Yes, so you’ll have the treat of my presence, right?” She gave me that cute grin of hers again.
“Fine, I guess we’re going to Italy then.” I groaned inwardly. WHY was I agreeing to this? I hate stuff like this. Maybe I could just fake sick on that day and stay home.
But… I hated to admit it, but maybe Cassie was right. Maybe I wouldn’t get hurt if I just took this one tiny risk.
She was wrong about one thing, though: I was not going to fall in love. Or, so I planned not to. But when you’re in one of the most romantic cities in the world, something’s bound to happen, right?