As if Kaiden needed yet another thing to get worked up about, he found Phoenix waiting for him on the porch when he got home from school. She lived right next door and rode the same bus! How did she beat him home? All the girls in this neighborhood were so dang weird.
“Howdy, partner,” Phoenix mocked.
Kaiden growled and went for the door.
Once again, the teacher paired them up again for a science project. Why did this keep happening? How did they keep getting paired up? Was it even random? It was a conspiracy. Or was it? All the girls in his life seemed to be pretty manipulative too.
Kaiden brought the box of parts, tools, and instruction manual out for them to get started. Once he got everything laid out, he sat and got started. Phoenix, however, stood near him.
“I don’t need a supervisor. If you’re not going to help, go home.”
She snorted and proceeded to sit next to him. “Someone in this yard needs a nap.”
Or, maybe just a new girlfriend. There. He finally allowed himself to say it even if not out loud. He had been hesitant to place all the blame for his frustrations on Breanne because he still considered her to be a friend, but it was true. She sucked the life right out of him and didn’t even know how they got to that place. Next to him was the girl he didn’t realize was so into him for so long. She lost him to the girl who was now ruining his life. Did she still like him? Was she secretly reveling at his misery? Or, was she miserable too?
She put on a brave face, but what if being paired with him was weird for her too? Thinking about the whole thing was tiring, and who knew how long the project would take. Perhaps if he just ripped off the bandage, they could get over the awkwardness. Besides, she really looked like she wanted to know what was going on. Phoenix had a bit of a temper, but she wasn’t a bad person. Maybe talking to her would help.
“Ask me, Phoenix. Whatever it is…just ask me.”
She looked shocked, and a little bit relieved, but she still hesitated. “How are you?”
He was the one who was shocked that time. Of all the things he knew she wanted to know. He put on the biggest fake smile he could gather and said, “I’m great! Can’t you tell?”
She giggled but quickly went back to being serious. “That’s not funny, Kaiden.”
“Yeah, well…what else can I do?”
“You can put an end to this! Stop this-this circus! Why do you let her treat you like that?”
“I am nobody’s sideshow freak!” He didn’t mean to yell. He knew what she meant, but it struck a cord some kind of way. “Sorry. Look, can we just get through this? It looks kind of complicated.”
She nodded, and they got to work.
“Look, Kaiden, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean… I was just saying…she parades you around like some prize she won. She only cares about herself! You’re one of the kindest people in the whole school. You deserve better.”
He half expected her to offer herself up as tribute, but she said nothing more. “I appreciate you saying that.”
She grinned and got back to the mess in front of them. “Hmmm,” she said while reading the manual again. “I know it doesn’t look like it, but the directions say we’re almost done.”
“Thank the Watcher,” he said a bit too quickly. “I mean, not that I’m trying to get rid of you… This project is just so dang annoying!”
“Right?” She smiled. “Let’s knock this out.”
They got back to work a bit more enthusiastically than before, and just like Phoenix said, they were finished within minutes and celebrated their success.
“You know, Kaiden, this may be the last project we work on together.”
“Wow…yeah, you’re right.”
Contrary to his un-girlfriend, he didn’t think about life after graduation much. He figured he’d get some sports job but beyond that, he didn’t know what would happen. That day was quickly approaching for him.
“We haven’t always seen eye to eye, but you’ve been a great partner. I think we work well together!”
Yep. Weird Phoenix was back, but he was glad he didn’t stir her up too badly. Maybe they could end up being friends after all.