Epic Fail

By: Claire Lazebnik

As I moved through the cafeteria line, I saw raw tuna sushi. And pomegranate seeds. And tamales. And Nutrisystem shakes. And sausage sticks made out of ostrich meat.

We definitely weren’t in Massachusetts anymore.

I passed by a guy grabbing a can of soda out of the cold case. He was at least six feet tall, broad-shouldered, dark-haired, and way cuter than any guy at my old school, which had been full of highly cerebral and physically underdeveloped faculty brats. (To give you an idea: we had both a varsity and junior varsity debate team, but only enough recruits for a single basketball team.) While Juliana and I waited in line to pay, I glanced over my shoulder at him again—I’m not usually a gawker, but I’d had a tough morning and deserved a little pleasure.

I balanced my tray against my hip, checked the line—still a few people ahead of us—and stole another glance at Handsome Guy.

Whose gorgeous eyes met mine as he turned around, soda in hand. He gave me a vaguely annoyed and weary look—a look that said, I’m so done with people staring at me—and turned on his heel. Guess I wasn’t as subtle as I thought. Blushing furiously, I turned back to the cashier before I embarrassed myself any more.

After we’d paid, Juliana led the way out of the cafeteria to the picnic tables scattered around the school courtyard.

“Outside tables?” I said. “What do they do when it rains?”

“It’s L.A.,” Juliana said absently, turning her head from side to side like she was searching for something. “It doesn’t rain.”

“That’s got to be an exaggeration. How about there?” I pointed to an empty table. I just wanted to be alone with Jules, have a few minutes to relax before starting all over again with the afternoon classes.

But she was on the move, marching deliberately toward one of the tables—

Where some guy was rising to his feet and exuberantly waving her over, then gesturing down at the empty space next to him, like he’d been expecting her.

And she was going right toward him.

Suddenly her loss of appetite made sense.

His name was Chase Baldwin, and he was definitely, unmistakably cute: blue-eyed with wavy brown hair and a ready smile. He was wearing a plain white oxford unbuttoned over a T-shirt, but something about the way they fit made him look put together, like an Abercrombie model (well, like an Abercrombie model who had remembered to put on a shirt that morning).

Without meeting my eyes, Juliana introduced us, explained that they’d met in history class, and slid into the space next to him. I sat down across from them. The benches and the long wooden tables they lined were surprisingly smooth and unblemished—a little dirty and sun-faded, maybe, but nothing was rotted or chipped. Apparently, even furniture wasn’t allowed to age in this appearance-obsessed town.

I studied the huge sandwich on my plate and realized I had forgotten to get any utensils or even a napkin. I knocked the bread off the top and tore off a little piece of turkey, which I rolled into a compact bite I could pop neatly into my mouth.

Of course Chase chose that exact moment to lean forward and ask me a question. “How’s your first day going, Elise?”

I made a Sorry, I’m chewing face, and he waited patiently until I swallowed and said, “Fine. There’s a lot to get used to, but everyone’s been nice. It helps to know Jules is nearby.”

“That’s really cute that you call her Jules,” he said and grinned at her. “I like your nickname.”

She made a face. “It’s silly, but Elise started calling me that, like, three years ago and it stuck.”

“You have a nickname, too?” he asked me.

“I could tell you, but then I’d have to shoot you,” I said apologetically.

He nudged Juliana’s elbow with his. “Will you tell me?”

“No way. She knows where I sleep.”

“I’ll get it out of you later.” He munched on a chip. “So is it just me or was that a terrifying amount of work Rivera assigned in history for the first day? He’s famously tough, you know.”

“Tough but good?” Juliana asked hopefully. She hadn’t even touched her salad, just taken a few sips of her Diet Coke.

“Tough but boring.” Chase wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Although today I was too fascinated by his hairpiece to be bored.”

“It’s a toupee?” Juliana said. “Really?”

“You didn’t notice? It’s a completely different color from the hair on the sides. Check it out next time. A kid who graduated last year told me that it was all twisted around one day, but Rivera didn’t notice and taught the whole class like that. You’ll probably have him next year,” he added, glancing over at me, like he wanted to make sure I felt included in the conversation. There was a warmth to his gaze that gave me the sense there was nowhere he’d rather be than right here, having this conversation. He glanced up now, looking past my shoulder. “There you are!” he said to whoever was standing behind me. “What took you so long?”

“Had to run back to my locker for my lunch.” The guy’s voice was deep. I swiveled to look at him and was both pleased and unnerved to see it was the tall guy I’d been ogling in the cafeteria.