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Romeo & What's Her Name
"What's so urgent?" my best friend Jillian Frankel called out as she made her way through the throngs of juniors clogging the halls of Shaker Heights High School.
I didn't answer. I couldn't. Not with so many spying ears around. I just waved at her to hurry up and get to Kayla's locker. I had news, and if I didn't spill it soon, I was going to burst.
"Well," Kayla Nunez, my other BFF, said when Jill finally made it over, "are you going to tell us?"
I looked around to make sure no one else was listening. "It's finally happening. I'm 99.9 percent sure you know who is single now!"
I didn't need to explain who I was talking about. They had both heard me go on and on about Wes Rosenthal enough to know I clearly meant him. Those giant brown eyes, that little dimple in his right cheek that's so deep you just want to poke it, the chiseled jawline that ought to belong to a Disney prince, those muscles that only come from playing lacrosse a million hours a week, that magical laugh you wish iTunes sold so you could play it over and over, the way he makes you feel as if you're the only person in the world who matters when you talk to him....
"No way!" Kayla said, bringing me back from my Wes-dream. "Are you sure? Jace didn't say anything."
Jace Brennan was Kayla's boyfriend. He was also on the lacrosse team with Wes and one of his closest friends.
"Did Wes say something at the bus stop to make you think this?" Jill asked.
She was always so practical. I shook my head. "He wasn't there today."
"Ahhh," she said, leaning back on Kayla's locker. "That's why we got the SOS to meet here."
I gave a sheepish smile. "Her locker is more central." But they both knew the truth. I preferred the view. Kayla had been blessed with a locker directly across from Wes's. Like a true best friend, she offered to switch with me, but I didn't want to seem too obvious, so I kept mine, which was basically in the arctic of the junior locker hallway. "Okay, fine, I wanted to see Wes. If I don't get my bus time, I have to wait until last period to really get a chance to be around him."
"Maybe he's not coming in today," Kayla said.
"It's the first day back from winter vacation. He wouldn't miss it."
She shrugged. "Didn't you say he was away? He might not be back yet."
"He's back home."
Jill raised an eyebrow at me. "And how do you know that?"
"Okay, I know I promised I would stop stalking him online, but I couldn't help it. He's so cute, and I found out some really important stuff this time. And it's not really stalking, because we're friends. He follows me back."
Jill gave me one of her you-know-better-than-that looks. And she was right. I looked at Wes's GroupIt page way too much. It wasn't helping me get over my crush, and he was taken. At least he was — until now.
"What did you find?" she asked. "How do you know he's single?"
"Well," I said, trying to contain my excitement so I wouldn't cause a scene, "sometime between when I went to bed last night and when I woke up this morning, he took down all his pictures with her."
Her was Wes's girlfriend, Leora. They met at the summer camp they both worked at. She lived a few towns over. I never met her, but I kind of felt like I had because of all my snooping. We all did because I talked about her so much.
Kayla grabbed my arm. "He definitely wouldn't have done that if they were still together."
I squeezed my purse to my chest. "I know! Good-bye, Leora Zeltser. Hello, Emily Stein. This is my chance. I mean, I'm totally his type. I even look a little like Leora."
Both Kayla's and Jill's faces scrunched up. Okay, Leora was short, had dark eyes, a sleek pixie cut, gigantic boobs, an oval face, and delicate features, while I was average height, with a round face, massive blue eyes, and fairly frizzy hair that went just past my shoulders.
"Well, maybe if you squint just right," Jill offered.
"And you both have brown hair," Kayla added.
"But it doesn't matter," Jill said. "It's better that you're not alike. If he wanted her, he'd still be with her. He's moving on."
"Unless she dumped him," I said. I hadn't really considered that before. It seemed kind of crazy to think someone would dump the hottest, sweetest, nicest guy in the whole state of Ohio, possibly even the country, but stranger things had happened. "What if all he can talk about is how much he wants her back?"
"Now's your chance to find out," Kayla said, her eyes focused about twenty feet away.
It was Wes, and he was making his way toward us, or rather, his locker.
Relax, I instructed myself. I tended to get flustered around him. About half the time I was a perfectly normal human being who could maintain a coherent, even relatively amusing, conversation, but the other half I was like a malfunctioning robot who lacked any social grace and spouted random information and non sequiturs at a pace that would make the Road Runner jealous. The worst part was, I never knew which it was going to be. At least today, I had Jill and Kayla for backup.
I watched him come closer. It wasn't fair, even his walk was sexy. How was I supposed to stay cool and calm around someone like him?
Kayla nudged me.
"Hey, Wes," I squeaked.
He turned and gave me a smile. Did I mention he had the best smile? It took over his whole face and totally lit up his eyes. And that dimple ... there was a good chance I was going to pass out. But I had to keep talking. I knew that. "How was your vacation?" I asked.
"It was great."
Great. Great? Great is not how you describe a breakup. Maybe he and Leora really were still together, and he just took down the pictures to protect her privacy from prying eyes like mine.
"How was yours?" he asked.
"It was good." I didn't want to talk about me. I wanted to know what was happening with him. I needed answers.
"Missed you at the bus stop today." Wait. Did I really say that? Would he think I was into him? That wasn't good. Unless he was into me, too. But he probably wasn't. "I mean, everyone was wondering where you were," I said, covering just to be safe.
His smile got bigger, if that was even possible, and he held up a set of keys. "That's because I drove in."
"You got a car?" I practically screamed.
I hoped he took it as excitement, but the fact was, I was freaking out. If he drove to school, that meant I lost valuable morning time with him. He was pretty much the only reason I didn't hit snooze on my alarm clock and managed to get myself to the bus stop on time.
"Yep," he said. "My grandmother decided it was time to stop driving, and she gave me her car. My family and I just drove it back from Florida."
I didn't know what to say. My head was spinning. "Cool" was all I could sputter out.
Jill elbowed me to keep going. Only, words weren't coming. I racked my brain. It was still empty. I didn't want the conversation to just end, so I said the first thing that popped into my mind. "Leora."
The are-you-serious, shocked look on Jill's face told me I had said the wrong thing. Why was I blurting out the name of Wes's maybe-hopefully-ex-girlfriend? I needed to fix this. "It'll make things easier for you to see her now," I stammered. "Leora, that is. You know, having a car and all." Just fabulous, I was having one of my word meltdowns. At least this one wasn't too bad, and he'd mentioned his girlfriend to me in the past, so it wasn't that awkward for me to bring her up. I hoped not anyway.
"We actually broke up."
Yes! Do not shriek with joy. Do not shriek with joy. Be sensitive. Be likable. "I'm sorry."
"Thanks," Wes answered, and put his history book in his backpack.
That was it?!! No explanation? No story? I wanted details.
"What happened?" Kayla asked.
Go, Kayla! Coming through for me again. And herself. She knew not knowing who dumped whom meant hours' worth of conversation with me speculating.
"It just wasn't working out," he said. "And she's a senior and got accepted early decision to Stanford. It just kind of made sense."
I nodded in agreement. Not just because I wanted him, but because they clearly didn't belong together. Love didn't need to make sense. It was supposed to be a passionate, blinding, can't-live-without-you, all-encompassing type of thing, at least that's what I hoped. It wasn't as if I had actually experienced it myself. Not truly. I mean, did it count as love if I never told Wes how I felt, and he didn't feel it back?
All I knew was that if he were my boyfriend and he wound up moving to California, it wouldn't change how I felt about him. I'd try to make it work. Things worth having aren't always meant to come easy. That's how I justified my mild obsession with him anyway.
An awkward silence fell over us. "Now that you have a car, I bet people are already hitting you up for rides," Jill said, breaking the tension.
"My parents and I are still in negotiations over the rules." He leaned his head back against the locker. "They think the car should just be for me to drive myself to and from school, lacrosse practice, and things like that, and that I shouldn't have anyone along for the ride to distract me."
They were probably also worried that people would take advantage. Wes was awesome, but he wasn't very good at saying no, which is how he wound up tutoring three people in geometry, cochairing the school recycling program, and getting roped into just about every event and activity his friends were a part of. It was a lot for one person, but somehow he managed to pull it off. It was impressive actually.
Even though it was probably for Wes's own good, I still wished his parents had waited to take a stand. It crushed any hope I had of his offering to take me to school. "That sucks," I said.
"Yeah, it does. But I'm working on them, and I have a feeling I'll win." He tossed his bag over his shoulder and winked at me. "Then you won't have to worry about waiting for the bus in the morning, either." Then he nodded at all of us and walked away.
I felt superglued to the ground. When I was confident he was out of earshot, I turned to Jill and Kayla and gave a silent scream. "Did that just happen?"
"Yes," Jill said, and all three of us started jumping as inconspicuously as possible.
Wes winked at me! And basically said he wanted to drive me to school. Although he could have just been acting neighborly, but if he wasn't ... there was a chance. A chance that Wes Rosenthal actually liked me!CHAPTER 2
I was pretty much floating by the time last period approached. My imagination had warped into superdrive thinking of all the amazing ways my romance with Wes could unfold. I pictured him confessing his undying love the first time he drove me to school, telling me he had always thought I was the one for him but was nervous I might not feel the same way. Then proclaiming that he decided to take the chance because the idea of living without me as his girlfriend for even one moment longer was too much to take. And that was just one of the tamer scenarios. Sure, I knew I was going over the top, but I didn't care. I had hope!
"I'm glad I caught you." Jill rushed into my geometry class as I was packing up my stuff. "There's something you should know."
Her tone was enough to allow dread to cloud my cheerful mood. "What?"
Most people had already cleared out of the room, but Jill lowered her voice just the same. "Amanda and Cody broke up today. Right after lunch."
"So?" I said. Amanda Andrews was not exactly my favorite person. She was one of those people who always acted superior and tried to make everyone else feel like pond scum.
"Well," Jill said, looking at the floor. "Rumor has it she did it because of Wes. She heard he was single and decided to go after him."
I walked out of the classroom, and Jill followed. I felt numb. Whatever Amanda wanted, Amanda got. It was always that way. And if she wanted Wes ...
"I'm sorry," Jill said. "I just wanted you to know. But it doesn't mean he's going to want her. You are so much better in every way."
I appreciated her saying that, but it wasn't true. Amanda was stunning. Like just-walked-off-the-set-of-a-CW-drama stunning. Half black, half Korean, with high cheekbones, hair down to her belly button, perfect skin, and confidence that oozed out of every pore. How was I supposed to compete with that?
The warning bell rang. "Em, I'm serious," Jill said. "You're amazing. If Wes is smart, which you've told me a million times that he is, he knows that." Then she ran off to class, and I continued on to English.
Maybe she was right. And he did seem flirty this morning. I was probably working myself up over nothing.
Or maybe I wasn't. As I turned the corner for class, there she was — Amanda Andrews, standing outside the door to Mrs. Heller's class — and she wasn't alone. She was with Wes. My Wes, and her hand was on his arm. "I better get going," she said.
"See you later," he answered, and winked at her.
He might as well have flung a dart in my eye.
The final bell rang, and Amanda pushed past me. "Watch it," she said, shooting me a glare. I didn't have the energy to respond.
I somehow found myself in the back of the room, seated at my desk, but I wasn't quite sure how I got there. Everything seemed foggy. Did the wink he gave me earlier mean nothing? Did I only see what I wanted to see? Or was I just too late, had Amanda already made her move? Wes didn't like me. The wink didn't mean anything.
"Hey," Wes said, turning to me. He was seated directly to my right. "I hear Heller is going to announce —"
He was cut off by Kirsten, a cute soccer player, who had turned around in her seat to face him. "I saw you drive up today. Nice car, Rosenthal. You'll have to give me a ride sometime."
He winked at her, and she turned back around, almost crowing.
Seriously? Had Wes become a serial winker over winter break? Was there something wrong with his eye that gave him some sort of a tic? I couldn't take it. "What's with all the winking?" I blurted out. I hadn't meant to say that aloud.
"What?" he asked.
He looked a little taken aback. "Nothing, just trying to be funny," I answered, and threw in some lame ha-ha-has to get the point across. Boy, was I striking out. "What were you saying before? What is Heller announcing?"
He was cut off again. This time by Mrs. Heller herself.
"I know many of you have been waiting for this, and it's time!" she said. "We're taking sign-ups for Shakespeare in the Heights Night!" Most of the class seemed excited, which I didn't quite understand. It was just an evening of Shakespearean scenes that the school put on every year. For some reason, it's kind of a big deal in town. Awards even get handed out for best actor, costume, set design, direction, and so on. Shaker Heights High School's own little Tony Awards. But if you asked me, it was totally boring. I opted out last year. "And as added incentive for your participation," Mrs. Heller continued, "I will drop your lowest quiz score."
That definitely raised the stakes. I raised my hand. "What exactly does participation include?" As much as I hated Shakespeare, I had to take part.
"Behind-the-scenes work, acting —"
"Showing up to watch?" Cody Burns butted in.
"Okay," Mrs. Heller said. "I'll give you something for that. I'll give you an extra ten points on your lowest quiz."
"Sweet," he said.
Maybe it was for him, but for me, ten points wasn't going to do anything. I got a solid fifteen on my last quiz; turning that into a twenty-five still equaled an F. I needed that score dropped; it was killing my grade.
Mrs. Heller gave us more information about the show and passed out flyers detailing how we could get involved.
"Are you going to do it this year?" Wes asked.
I played with the edges of the sheet. "I have no choice." Although I had no idea what I was going to do. Backstage seemed tedious, but performing wasn't really an option. I still had nightmares from second grade, the last time I was on stage. I was a horse in some silly, little Old MacDonald play. All I had to do was say "neigh" and walk seven steps to the left, but I panicked and ran to get away. I wound up knocking over half the scenery with my gigantic costume, then to top it off, I fell off the stage and broke my wrist. I have shied away from performing ever since. But like it or not, I had to be involved in the production somehow.
"I kinda figured as much," he said. "I saw your last quiz."