Most Likely To Succeed
I LEFT CALCULUS A MINUTE before the bell so I’d be the first to arrive at the student council meeting. Our advisor, Ms. Yates, would sit at the back of the classroom, observing, and I wanted her vacated desk at the front of the room. At our last meeting, Aidan had taken her desk in a show of presidential authority. But as vice president, I was the one who needed room for paperwork. A better boyfriend than Aidan would have let me sit at the desk.
A better girlfriend than me would have let him have it.
And that pretty much summed up our three years of dating.
The bell rang just as I reached the room. I stood outside the door, waiting for Ms. Yates to make her coffee run to the teachers’ lounge and for her freshman science class to flood past me. A few of them glanced at me, their eyes widening
as if I were a celebrity. I remembered this feeling from when I was an underclassman, looking up to my brother and his friends. It was strange to be on the receiving end.
As the last of the ninth graders escaped down the hall, I stepped into the room, which should have been empty.
Instead, Sawyer De Luca sat behind Ms. Yates’s desk. He must have left his last class two minutes before the bell to beat me here.
Sensing my presence, he turned in the chair, flashing deep blue eyes at me, the color of the September sky out the window behind him. When Sawyer’s hair was combed—which I’d seen happen once or twice in the couple of years I’d known him—it looked platinum blond. Today, as usual, it was a mess, with the nearly white, sun-streaked layers sticking up on top, and the dark blond layers peeking out underneath. He had on his favorite shirt, which he wore at least two times a week, the madras short-sleeved button-down with blue stripes that made his eyes stand out even more. His khaki shorts were rumpled. I couldn’t see his feet beneath the desk, but I knew he wore his beat-up flip-flops. In short, if you’d never met Sawyer before, you’d assume he was a hot but harmless teenage beach bum.
I knew better.
I closed the door behind me so nobody would witness
the argument we were about to have. I wanted that desk. I suspected he understood this, which was why he’d sat there. But long experience with Sawyer told me flouncing in and complaining wouldn’t do me any good. That’s what he expected me to do.
So I walked in with a bigger grin on my face than I’d ever given Sawyer. “Hi!”
He smiled serenely back at me. “Hello, Kaye. You look beautiful in yellow.”
His sweet remark shot me through the heart. My friend Harper had just altered this dress to fit me. I didn’t need her beautifully homemade hand-me-downs, but I was glad to take them—especially this sixties A-line throwback as vivid as the Florida sunshine. After a rocky couple of weeks for romance with Aidan, I’d dressed carefully this morning, craving praise from him. He hadn’t said a word.
Leave it to Sawyer to catch me off guard. He’d done the same thing last Saturday night. After two years of teasing and taunting me, out of the blue he’d told me he loved my new hairstyle. I always had a ready response for his insults, but these compliments threw me off.
“Thanks,” I managed, setting my books down on the edge of the desk, along with my tablet and my loose-leaf binder for student council projects. Then I said brightly, “So,
Mr. Parliamentarian, what’s modus operandi for letting the vice president have the desk? I need to spread out.”
“I need to spread out.” He patted the stack of library books in front of him: an ancient tome that explained procedure for meetings, called Robert’s Rules of Order, plus a couple of modern discussions of how the rules worked. For once Sawyer had done his homework.
“Taking the parliamentarian job seriously, are we?” This was my fourth year in student council. We’d always elected a parliamentarian without fully understanding what the title meant. Ms. Yates said the parliamentarian was the rule police, but we’d never needed policing with a charismatic president at the helm and Ms. Yates lurking in the back. Nobody ran for parliamentarian during officer elections in the spring. Ms. Yates waited until school started in the fall, then pointed out that “student council parliamentarian” would look great on college applications. One study hall representative volunteered, got approved, and never lifted a finger during meetings.
Until now. “I have to be able to see everything and look stuff up quickly.” Sawyer swept his hand across his books and a legal pad inscribed with tiny cryptic notes. “Last meeting, Aidan didn’t follow parliamentary procedure at all. But I’ll share the desk with you.” He stood and headed for the back
of the room, where a cart was stacked with extra folding chairs for the meeting.
Normally I would have told him not to bother retrieving a chair for me. His suggestion that we share a desk was the best way to make me drop the subject and sit down elsewhere. He knew I wouldn’t want Aidan to think we were flirting.
But this week wasn’t normal. Aidan had hurt my feelings last Saturday by dissing my hair. We’d made up by Sunday—at least, I’d told him I forgave him—but I wasn’t quite over the insult. The idea of him walking into the room and seeing Sawyer and me at Ms. Yates’s desk together was incredibly appealing.
Sawyer held the folding chair high above his head as he made his way toward me. He unfolded the chair behind the desk. I started to sit down in it.
“No, that’s for me. I meant for you to have the comfy chair.” He rolled Ms. Yates’s chair over, waited for me to sit, and pushed me a few inches toward the desk, like my dad seating my mother in a restaurant. He plopped down in the folding chair. “Will you marry me?”
Now this was something I’d expected him to ask. In fact, it was the first thing he’d ever said to me when he moved to town two years ago. Back then I’d uttered an outraged “No!”
He’d wanted to know why—he wasn’t good enough for me? Who did I think I was, a bank president’s daughter?
After a while, though, I’d gotten wise to Sawyer’s game. Every girl in school knew he wasn’t exclusive and meant nothing by his flirtations. That didn’t stop any of us from having a soft spot for this hard-living boy. And it didn’t stop me from feeling special every time he paid me attention.
Something had changed this school year when he started practicing with us cheerleaders in his pelican costume as school mascot. He stood right behind me on the football field, imitating my every step, even after I whirled around and slapped him on his foam beak. When we danced the Wobble, he moved the wrong way on purpose, running into me. With no warning he often rushed up, lifted me high, and gave me full-body, full-feathered hugs. Because he was in costume, everybody, including Aidan, knew it was a joke.
Only I took it seriously. I enjoyed it too much and wished he’d do the same things to me with the costume off.
My crush on him was hopeless. He was toying with me, like he toyed with everyone. Plus, I was committed to Aidan. Lately this was hard to remember.
“Yes, of course I’ll marry you,” I told Sawyer, making sure I sounded sarcastic.
The door opened, letting in the noise from the hall. “Hey,” Will said, lilting that one syllable in his Minnesota accent. Lucky for him, derision about the way he talked had waned over the first five weeks of school. He’d started dating my friend Tia, who gave people the stink eye when they bad-mouthed him. And he’d made friends with Sawyer—a smart move on Will’s part. Sawyer could be a strong ally or a powerful enemy.
Sawyer waited for a couple more classroom representatives to follow Will toward the back of the room. Then he turned to me again. “Would you go to the prom with me?”
“Yes.” This was the game. He asked me a series of questions, starting with the outlandish ones. I said yes to those. Eventually he asked me something that wasn’t as crazy, forcing me to give him the obvious answer: I had a boyfriend.
Here it came. “Will you sit with me in the van to the game tonight?”
A spark of excitement shot through me. A few weeks ago, Sawyer had passed out from the heat on the football field in his heavy mascot costume. Ever since, he’d ditched the suit during cheerleading practice and worked out with the football team instead, claiming he needed to
get in better shape to withstand entire games dressed up as a pelican.
I missed him at cheerleading. I’d assumed he would ride with the football players to our first away game, but I wished he would ride in the cheerleader van. Now my wish was coming true.
Careful not to sound too eager, I said, “I didn’t know you were riding with us. You’ve been more football player than cheerleader lately.”
“I’m a pelican without a country,” he said. “Some unfortunate things may have gotten superglued to other things in the locker room after football practice yesterday. The guys went to the coach and said they don’t want me to ride on the bus with them because they’re scared of what I’ll do. The coach agreed. Can you believe that? I’m not even innocent until proven guilty.”
“Are you guilty?” Knowing Sawyer, I didn’t blame the team for accusing him.
“Yes,” he admitted, “but they didn’t know that for sure.” He settled his elbow on the desk and his chin in his hand, watching me. “You, on the other hand, understand I never mean any harm. You’ll sit with me in the van, right?”
I wanted to. My face burned with desire—desire for a seat, of all things. Next to a boy who was nothing but trouble.
And I knew my line. “We can’t sit together, Sawyer. Aidan wouldn’t like it.”
Sawyer’s usual response would be to imitate me in a sneering voice: Aidan wouldn’t like it!
Instead, he grabbed Ms. Yates’s chair and rolled me closer to him. Keeping his hands very near my bare knees, he looked straight into my eyes and asked softly, “Why do you stay with Aidan when he bosses you around? You don’t let anyone else do that.”
Tia and my friend Harper grilled me at every opportunity about why I stayed with Aidan, too, but they didn’t bring up the subject while representatives for the entire school could hear. My eyes flicked over to the student council members, who were filling the desks and noisily dragging extra chairs off the cart, and Ms. Yates, who was making her way toward the back of the room with her coffee. Aidan himself would be here any second.
I told Sawyer quietly but firmly, “You would boss me around just as much as Aidan does. What’s the difference?”
“That’s not true.” Sawyer moved even closer. I watched his lips as he said, “I wouldn’t ask for much. What I wanted, you would give me willingly.”
Time stopped. The bustle around us went silent. The classroom disappeared. All that was left was Sawyer’s mouth
forming words that weren’t necessarily dirty, yet promised a dark night alone in the cab of his truck. My face flushed hot, my breasts tightened underneath my cute yellow bodice, and electricity shot straight to my crotch.
The many nights I’d pulled Tia away from Sawyer at parties over the past two years, she’d drunkenly explained that he had a way of talking her panties off. I’d heard this from other girls too. And he’d flirted with me millions of times, making me feel special, but never quite this special. Now I understood what Tia and those other girls had meant.
Abruptly, I sat up and rolled my chair back.
He straightened more slowly, smirking. He knew exactly what effect he’d had on me.
Bewildered, I breathed, “How did you do that?”
“It’s a gift.”
His cavalier tone ticked me off, and I regained my own voice. “That’s what I would worry about. During study hall, you give me the ‘gift’ ”—I made finger quotes—“but you’ve moved on to the next girl by lunch. No thanks.”
His face fell. “No, I—”
Aidan sashayed in, greeting the crowd as he came, already starting the meeting.
Sawyer lowered his voice but kept whispering to me as
if nothing else were going on and Aidan weren’t there. He said, “I wouldn’t do that to you. I wouldn’t cheat on you, ever.”
Aidan turned around in front of the desk and gave us an outraged look for talking while he was making a speech. Sawyer didn’t see it, but I did. I faced forward and opened my student council binder, cheeks still burning.
Sawyer had complimented me, part of a strange new trend.
He’d dropped the playful teasing and blatantly come on to me, a brand-new pleasure.
And he’d gotten upset at my tart response, like he actually cared.
I leaned ever so slightly toward him to give the electricity an easier time jumping the arc from my shoulder to his. His face was tinged pink, unusual for Sawyer, who was difficult to embarrass. I was dying to know whether he felt the buzz too.
Apparently not. I jumped in my chair, startled, as he banged the gavel on the block that Ms. Yates had placed on her desk for Aidan. “Point of order, Mr. President,” Sawyer said. “Have you officially started the meeting? You haven’t asked the secretary to read the minutes.”
“We don’t have time,” Aidan said. Dismissing Sawyer,
he turned back to the forty representatives crowding the room. He hadn’t argued with us about who got Ms. Yates’s desk, after all. He didn’t need to. Instead of presiding over the council from here, he simply reasserted his authority by running the meeting while standing up. Sawyer and I looked like his secretarial pool.
“We have a lot to cover,” Aidan explained to the reps, and I got lost in following him with my eyes and listening to him, fascinated as ever. About this time of year in ninth grade, he’d captured my attention. Previously he’d been just another dork I’d known since kindergarten. I’d preferred older guys, even if they didn’t prefer me.
But that year, Aidan had come back from summer break taller than before, and more self-assured than any other boy I knew. That’s why I’d fallen for him. Confidence was sexy. That’s also why, until recently, I’d felt a rush of familiarity and belonging and pride whenever I glimpsed him across a room.
After years with him, however, I was finally coming to understand he wasn’t as sure of himself as he wanted people to believe. He was so quick to anger. He couldn’t take being challenged. But as I watched him work the room like a pro, with the freshman reps timidly returning his broad smile, I remembered exactly what I’d seen in him back then.
Sawyer looked bored already.
“We’re entering the busiest season for the council,” Aidan was saying, “and we desperately need volunteers to make these projects happen. Our vice president, Ms. Gordon, will now report on the homecoming court elections coming up a week from Monday, and the float for the court in the homecoming parade.”
“And the dance,” I called.
“There’s not going to be a homecoming dance,” he told me over his shoulder. “I’ll explain later. Go ahead and fill them in about the homecoming court—”
Several reps gasped, “What?” while others murmured, “What did he say?” I spoke for everyone by uttering an outraged “What do you mean, there’s not going to be a dance?”
“Ms. Yates”—he nodded to where she sat in the back of the room, and she nodded in turn—“informed me before the meeting that the school is closing the gym for repairs. The storm last week damaged the roof. It’s not safe for occupancy. That’s bad news for us, but of course it’s even worse news for the basketball teams. The school needs time to repair the gym before their season starts.”
Will raised his hand.
Ignoring Will, Aidan kept talking. “All of us need to get
out there in the halls and reassure the basketball teams and their fans that our school is behind them.”
I frowned at the back of Aidan’s head. He used this bait-and-switch method all the time, getting out of a sticky argument by distracting people (including me) with a different argument altogether. Basketball season was six weeks away. The homecoming dance didn’t have to die so easily. But hosting the event would be harder now, and Aidan didn’t want to bother.
“Help,” I pleaded with Sawyer under my breath.
Aidan had already moved on, introducing my talk about the election committee.
Out in the crowd Will called, “Excuse me.” An interruption like this hadn’t happened in any council meeting I’d attended, ever. “Wait a minute. My class wants the dance.”
I couldn’t see Aidan’s face from this angle, but he drew his shoulders back and stood up straighter. He was about to give Will a snarky put-down.
Sawyer watched me, blond brows knitted. He didn’t understand what I wanted.
“Complain about something in the book again,” I whispered, nodding at Robert’s Rules of Order. “Ms. Yates
hasn’t stopped Aidan from railroading the meeting. She obviously doesn’t want the dance either, but they can’t fight the book.”
Everyone jumped as Sawyer banged the gavel. “The council recognizes Mr. Matthews, senior from Mr. Frank’s class. Stand up, sir.”
We’d never had reps rise to speak before. I was pretty sure the rules of order didn’t say anything about this. But it was a good move on Sawyer’s part. At Will’s full height he had a few inches on Aidan, and when he crossed his muscular arms on his chest, his body practically shouted that nobody better try to budge him.
Before Aidan could protest, Will said in his strangely rounded accent, “I haven’t lived here long, but I get the impression that the homecoming dance is a huge deal at this school. Everyone in Mr. Frank’s class has been talking about it and looking forward to it. We can’t simply cancel at the first sign of trouble.”
“We just did,” Aidan snapped. “Now sit down while I’m talking.”
Sawyer banged the gavel. I should have gotten used to it by now, but I jumped in my seat again.
Aidan visibly flinched. He turned on Sawyer and snatched the gavel away. Holding it up, he seethed, “Don’t do that
again, De Luca. You’re not in charge here. I’m the president.”
“Then act like it,” I said.
Aidan turned his angry gaze on me. I stared right back at him, determined not to chicken out. Will and Sawyer and I were right about this. Aidan was wrong.
As I watched, Aidan’s expression changed from fury to something different: disappointment. I’d betrayed him. We’d had a long talk last week about why we couldn’t get along lately. He understood I disagreed with him sometimes, but he wanted us to settle our differences in private, presenting a united front to the school as the president and his vice president.
Now I’d broken his rule. No matter what the council decided, he wouldn’t forgive me for defying him in public.
And I didn’t care. Keeping the peace wasn’t worth letting him act like a dictator.
“We don’t have time to debate this in a half-hour meeting,” he repeated. “There’s nothing to debate. The decision has been made. The school already canceled the dance because we don’t have a location for it.”
“We’ll move it,” I said.
“It’s only two weeks away,” he said.
I shrugged. “You put me in charge of the dance committee. It’s our job to give it a shot.”
Aidan’s voice rose. He’d forgotten we’d agreed not to argue in public. “You’re only pitching a fit about this because you’re still mad about—”
“Give me that,” Sawyer interrupted, holding out his hand for the gavel.
“No,” Aidan said, moving the gavel above his head.
“Mr. President,” Sawyer said in a lower, reasonable tone, like talking to a hysterical child, “you’re not allowed to debate the issue.”
“Of course I am. I’m the president!”
“Exactly. Robert’s Rules of Order states that your responsibilities are to run the meeting and give everyone the opportunity to speak. If you want to express your opinion, you need to vacate the chair.”
“I’m not in the chair,” Aidan snapped. “You’re in the chair.”
“I mean,” Sawyer said, rolling his eyes, “you need to step down as president while we discuss this matter, and let Kaye preside over the meeting.”
“I’m not stepping down.”
“Then you need to shut up.”
“Sawyer,” Ms. Yates said sharply. I couldn’t see her behind Will, who was still standing, but her thin voice cut like a knife through the grumbling and shushing in the classroom. “You’re being disruptive.”
“On the contrary, Ms. Yates,” Sawyer called back, “the president is being disruptive, trying to bend the entire council to his will. Ms. Patel’s study hall elected me to represent them. The student council approved me as parliamentarian. It’s my duty to make sure we follow the procedure set down in the council bylaws. Otherwise, a student could sue the school for a violation of rights and due process.”
The room fell silent, waiting for Ms. Yates’s response. Horrible visions flashed through my mind of what would happen next. Ms. Yates might complain to Ms. Chen that Sawyer was disrespectful. They could remove him from student council or, worse, from his position as school mascot. All because he’d helped me when I asked.
Underneath the desk, I put my hand on his knee.
“Sawyer,” Ms. Yates finally said, “you may continue, but don’t tell anybody else to shut up.”
“So noted.” Sawyer pretended to scribble this reminder to himself. Actually he drew a smiley face in Robert’s Rules of Order. “Aidan, if you’re really running the meeting, let Will bring up the idea of saving the dance, then put it to a vote.”
Aidan glared at Sawyer. Suddenly he whacked the
gavel so hard on the block on Ms. Yates’s desk that even Sawyer jumped.
Sawyer didn’t take that kind of challenge sitting down. I gripped his knee harder, signaling him to stay in his seat. If he could swallow this last insult from Aidan, he and I had won.