Remember at the beginning of October when I shared my quarterly goals? Surprise! I have a sneak peek at chapter one of the third book in I’m Pretty Sure I’m Gonna Hate You to Death Van St. Claire! Bear with me because it hasn’t been edited yet. It might change a little, and I’ll have a better handle on grammatical errors. Even so, I hope you like it!
“I’m sorry, what did you say? I thought you said you got the part,” Hazel asked while I stared at my ceiling. Despite living in D. C. with her amazing boyfriend, she’d managed to find time to talk to me at least once a week—the loser friend still stuck in high school a year behind her. I didn’t think she’d ever forgive me for voting to out her as captain, but it turned out she was a lot more forgiving than most people.
“Oh, I got it, like I wanted.” My stomach lurched again, barely containing my disgust.
“I fail to see the problem, Erin. It’s the lead, which has been your dream since we talked about it your freshman year. It’s why I let you miss so many practices. What’s changed?”
I groaned as I rolled over. I wanted to quit cheerleading after Hazel graduated. It wasn’t as much fun after she left for college, but it would have also left me with more time to focus on drama. But my mother—former cheerleader extraordinaire—wouldn’t hear of it. Even so, after hours upon hours of practice, I’d finally scored the part of Juliet.
I sighed. “Nothing has changed about wanting the part, but I’m worried I might actually kill the guy who got Romeo.”
“No. It’s not—”
“Yep. Van St. Claire.” My arch-nemesis, the thorn in my side, the guy who’d lived down the street from me since we were two years old. I thought back over the years—all the pranks, stunts, and cruel things he’d done to me all in the name of getting popular—and almost puked on my lacy bedspread.
“Oh, Erin. I’m so sorry. Can’t you… I don’t know… ask Mrs. McAlister to work something out?”
“I tried, honestly. Unfortunately, he really was the best audition. I would have cast him, too, if I were her.”
“I guess you’ll have to make the best of it, then. I’m heading out to dinner with Daniel, but if you need to talk more, I can call you after.”
I shook my head, then remembered she couldn’t hear the jellybeans rattle in my skull. “It’s okay. Game night,” I said, reminding myself that not only was Van on the basketball team… and in more than half of my classes… but now also the lead opposite me in the senior play.
“I’m really sorry, Erin. Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Hazel’s tone slipped right into captain mode—firm but understanding. It meant she knew I could do this if I only put my mind to the task and stopped worrying about everything else. She was right. I’d done a lot harder things than tolerate Van St. Claire playing the role opposite—
I popped straight up on my bed and shrieked.
“What? What happened?” Hazel’s voice rose and squeaked, but I hardly heard her over the screaming in my head. Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh… nooo.
“He’s Romeo, Hazel! Romeo!”
“Yes, we established that he is Romeo. Why are you freaking out more?” she asked.
“Because she just remembered she has to kiss him,” Daniel said in the background, then cackled like a big, fat meanie head.
“Oh, Erin.” Hazel’s whisper said it all. “Maybe you can ask Mrs. McAlister to edit that part. You are in high school, after all. It’s not fair for them to make you kiss someone you don’t want to kiss.”
“Um… I need to… I need to think. I’ll talk to you later, Hazel.” I hung up, forgetting to even say goodbye until I’d already done it. It would be ok. Hazel would understand, but there was a more pressing matter to worry about. I’d have to kiss—bleh—Van St. Claire.
Instead of thinking about what would be, no doubt, the most disgusting thing I’d ever have to do in my life, I blocked out all things remotely related to drama, Shakespeare, and my mortal enemy and got ready for the game. If I was lucky, he would literally break a leg on the field, and I’d get a great new partner for the play. I smiled, thinking of his understudy. Deacon James, now he would not turn my stomach upside down at the mere thought of kissing him.
But since my crush of two years wasn’t the lead, I also swiped that thought from my mind and pulled my hair into a ponytail. Only one more year screaming and shaking pom-poms, and I could forget about cheerleading and focus on acting. Of course, I’d have to tell my mom I didn’t want to major in business before that could happen, but I had a few months before I’d have to tell her I never applied to any of the colleges she recommended. And then she would kill me.
I grabbed my gym bag and keys, then headed out the door. Mom wouldn’t be home for another two hours, at least, but she’d have dinner on the table when I did. Losing Dad had been hard on both of us, but we managed to get by. Even so, I knew it bothered her that she couldn’t give me the things other kids had. I’d tried telling her a million times I didn’t need a fancy car or private piano lessons or the latest fashions. All I wanted was more time with her, but she had to pick up overtime hours whenever they were available—almost every Friday night and Saturday.
Our little neighborhood was bustling as everyone else was getting home from work. The Fuller’s dog was running back and forth in their yard, barking at every car that passed, while Mrs. Fuller yelled at him to stop yapping or she’d feed him to her son’s snake. I chuckled as I passed their house and turned onto the main road. The entire drive back to school, I tried not to think about the play, but it was difficult since it had, as Hazel reminded me, been my dream for four years. And now, Van would screw it up just like he screwed up everything else.
I thought back to just last summer, the last day of junior year when everyone was happily wandering the halls for yearbook day. It was supposed to be fun, just open time for us to get our yearbooks signed by our friends, but no. No, Van had to go and make even that miserable. He stole my yearbook and ran across campus with it, then his inside a storage closet and drew a mustache on my picture. Then he wrote Erin loves Van on almost every page. There was no way I’d let anyone see that, so my yearbook was woefully lacking signatures and heartfelt messages from my friends.
It was just one small thing in a series of annoying things he’d done over the years to ruin my life. Fortunately for him, most of his shenanigans got him a lot of attention and helped him climb the social ladder by leaps and bounds. Even being a cheerleader didn’t help me avoid the mocking from the cool kids, proving that my mother was all wrong—not all cheerleaders ruled the school.
A knot formed in my chest when I pulled into the parking lot and only grew as I followed the hall down to the girl’s locker room. Inside, the girls were already starting the meeting, which meant I was late. I checked my watch and groaned. Even thinking about Van ruined my life.
“Miss Carpenter, better late than never, but you owe me five laps next practice.” Coach was in a rare form already, so I nodded and kept my mouth shut.
Isabella offered me a shy smile, my only friend in the entire school since Hazel left, and adjusted her cheer skirt. Friend was using the term loosely, considering we only ate lunch together and sat next to each other in the one class we shared, but other than that, we didn’t do anything. Nope, it was just mom and me… and I was fine with that.
I followed the girls out onto the court, which was already filled for our first game of the season. The guys were warming up, taking turns with layups while their coach yelled at them from the sidelines. The second my sneaker made the first squeak on the high-polish gym floor, Van turned around and made eye contact with me. He grinned, pressed his lips to his fingers, and blew me a kiss.
I almost lost my lunch right there in front of the entire gymnasium full of people.
“He’s really messing with you a lot today,” Isabella said, craning her neck so she could whisper to me.
I shrugged. “He got Romeo in the play. Didn’t you hear?”
Isabella’s warm brown eyes widened, and her black eyebrows shot up. She muttered a stream of curse words in Spanish, then rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Heaven help you, Erin. You know you’ll have to kiss him, right?”
I pursed my lips. “Yes. Yes, I know, Captain Obvious. I have read Romeo and Juliet before. I wonder if I can get him to poison himself before the kissing scene?”
Erin snickered and got into formation with the rest of the girls. I noticed my shoelace had come untied, so I knelt to tie it before Coach gave me another five laps for being unprepared. I’d just put the bunny through the hole when a basketball rolled by, then an elephant ran over me. Said elephant was a boy who had about as much grace as a thundering herd of elephants, so he stepped on my fingers, tripped backward over me, and landed on his hip, then kicked me in the head trying to right himself.
I swatted his legs and feet but couldn’t avoid ending up under him as he twisted and squirmed to get back up. Half the gym erupted in laughter, while the other half gasped. I, on the other hand, was mortified. Grr… Van.
Every time I tried to get up, it only knocked him off balance. When he stood, he stepped on me. Finally, Isabella came to my rescue and pulled me out of the pile of teenage arms and legs, topped with a heaping helping of humiliation, sprinkled with a pinch of hate.
“Geez, Erin. You are the least graceful person I’ve ever met. How are you a cheerleader?” Van asked, earning a few snickers from his friends.
“That wasn’t my fault, you—”
“Erin, let’s go over here where you won’t say things that will get you more laps, shall we?” Isabella pulled me over to the sidelines, where the rest of the girls stood slack-jawed or grinning. Half of them wanted to date Van; the other half already had, which made them about a fifty-fifty split between adoring and hating him.
The entire game passed by in a whirlwind of high-flying, screaming, hot dogs, and glares from Van. The only time I wasn’t wholly aware of his heated glances was when the girls threw me head over heels into the air, but the second I landed, my gaze always seemed to land on him. Once, I even got chills and covered my shiver with a little pom-pom shaking, but I wasn’t fooling Isabella. She kept glancing between Van and me, but she never said anything else about him.
Once the game was over—and Van did his victory lap around the gym, sideswiping me on purpose—I showered, changed, and tried to ignore everyone’s snickers and stares. I knew they’d heard. I knew they wished I would just quit the team, but I was the only one small enough to do the tricks they’d need to get to regionals again, then nationals if we were lucky. Keeping up with Hazel’s legacy was the only thing I was good for, it seemed.
Isabella, oddly, waited for me at the door. She smiled again and handed me my bag, then cleared her throat.
“Oh, boy. When my mom does that, it means she’d going to say something that’ll make me mad or sad. Which is it?”