“Hey! Axel, you coming?”
Axel glanced over to the left and groaned when he saw his friends. Turning back to Lorrie, he said, “I’ll be right back, okay?” It was a gorgeous spring day and all he wanted to do was enjoy the warmth after the painfully cold, Chicago winter and get to know Lorrie a little better. She seemed like a nice person, a huge change from his last girlfriend.
Lorrie smiled shyly at him and nodded a moment before Axel trotted over to the group of guys. “Hey, I know I said I’d hit the party with you tonight, but something’s come up.”
Darren peered around Axel’s shoulders and grinned. “Come up, huh? I guess mine would too if I got to head down to the park with Lorrie Dumphries.”
Axel punched his friend’s arm, irritated that Darren would be so crude about the girl he was interested in. “Don’t be disgusting. Lorrie is a nice girl.” He turned around and waved to Lorrie to indicate that things were okay.
Joe snorted. “Why would you date a nice girl when you could be going out with Janey Smithers?”
Axel cringed at the reminder. “Janey and I broke up. I’m seeing Lorrie now.”
Joe’s eyes turned wary. “Does Janey know that?”
Axel shrugged. “As far as I’m concerned, she doesn’t need to know. Besides, she broke up with me.”
Darren laughed and shook his head. “I don’t think she sees it that way.”
Joe laughed as well. “I think it was all a ploy, because she’s going around school saying that you’re taking her to the dance next week.”
Axel shook his head, dumbfounded by his ex-girlfriend’s antics. “I have no idea why she’s saying that,” he replied. But deep down, he suspected the answer. Janey was trying to make him jealous, but he just wasn’t into her enough anymore to care. She’d tried to manipulate him one too many times. He was through with her. It had been a relief last week when she’d dumped him. It had given him the “out” he’d needed without hurting her feelings – although why he even cared at this point, he couldn’t answer.
He was walking back to Lorrie when he stopped and turned back to his friends. “Hey, don’t mention I won’t be at the party, okay? If Janey hears, she’ll just try and find me and I’d rather have a drama-free night tonight. Okay?”
Joe and Darren both shrugged with their non-backpack shoulders. “Sure. Whatever you say. But if you’re not at the party by ten o’clock, you know she’ll come looking for you. She’s already done it several times.”
Axel knew that all too well. “I know. And I’m not asking you to lie to her. Just tell her the truth. That you don’t know where I am.”
Joe grinned with his quirky laugh. “I can do that,” he said and punched his friend on the upper arm. “Go get her!”
Axel laughed and jogged back to where Lorrie was standing. “All set,” he said and led her down the sidewalk. As he walked her home that afternoon, he found out more about Lorrie and discovered they had a lot in common. They both liked the same football team, both had no idea what they wanted to be when they grew up, both loved history and hated geometry. “So I’ll pick you up at six?” he asked when they were both standing awkwardly on the walkway up to her house.
She smiled and glanced up into his eyes. “That would be great,” she said.
“Okay. Until tonight,” he replied and touched her lightly on her shoulder. He actually wanted to kiss her, but thought it was too soon. Tonight though…yes, he would be able to kiss her tonight after they’d had a burger at the diner down the street and caught a movie at the theatre. Lorrie was cute and kind although she was a bit more timid than he would have liked. But that was okay.
Janey, the head of the cheerleading squad, was brash and forward. He’d liked that initially. He’d even been flattered when she’d gone out of her way to catch his eye. Not that anyone wouldn’t know about Janey Smithers – she was the prettiest girl in their class. But once he’d gotten to know her, he realized that she wasn’t a very nice person. She was mean and vindictive and, when she’d pulled a stunt to hurt her science partner during an experiment last week, he’d become angry with her. Her partner had been burned by a chemical they’d been working on and Janey had deliberately caused the “accident”. He didn’t know how, but she’d bragged about it with him later that afternoon, chuckling at how stupid the other girl had been.
When he’d questioned why she’d done it, Janey had shrugged and said, “We got a bad grade on our exam and lab last week. So I got back at her.”
Axel couldn’t believe that she’d been so vicious, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it. He had no proof, other than her statement, but he’d pulled back after that day, not wanting to even hang out with his friends when she was around.
As soon as Janey realized that he was no longer devoted to her, she’d become furious. She’d challenged him that day, saying that if he didn’t stop his “pouting”, she would break up with him. He’d urged her to go find someone new and hadn’t even minded when she’d spread the word that she’d broken up with him. All he’d felt was relief that things were over.
Apparently, she didn’t agree with her foiled battle strategy, but he wasn’t going to worry about Janey Smithers any longer. He had plans for the night. Thankfully, football season was over so he didn’t have to worry about Friday night games.
Rushing into his house, he dumped his books on his bed, called out to his mother that he was home, then scurried out to the backyard to do his chores and avoid his brothers. Ryker was a senior in high school this year and getting ready to go off to college. He was going away with his parents tonight to spend a weekend visiting colleges, even though he already knew which one he was going to. Xander was in charge for the weekend, but Axel knew that Xander had a date tonight as well, so there wouldn’t be any problems tonight.
Unfortunately, even though his parents were heading out of town, he still had to get his chores done before he could go out. So instead of opening up his computer and surfing the Internet, he sprinted down the stairs and out the back door, heading to the shed. He pulled the lawnmower out, checked the fluids and primed the pump. Then he spent the next fifteen minutes cursing the stubborn machine, trying to get it to start. When it finally roared to life, he whipped through mowing the grass as quickly as possible, ignoring the turns around the trees so he could finish faster. He figured he still had about an hour to shower and change before walking back to pick up Lorrie for their date.
He was just pushing the ancient machine back into the shed when he felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle in warning. He looked around and Janey was sauntering through the gate towards him, a “come-hither” smile on her pretty face. Axel looked towards the house and actually thought about making a run for it, but knew he had to face her now, get it over with. He finally understood that Janey was more like a spider, lying in wait for her prey to fall into her trap before she spun her evil web and trapped her victim.
“What’s up?” he asked.
She grinned up into his face, her blue eyes twinkling merrily. “You look hot mowing the grass like that,” she said, putting her hands on his waist and giving him that special look that promised so much to a guy.
Axel was actually repulsed by her now. He pulled her fingers out from under his tee-shirt and took a step back. “I thought we broke up. Why are you here?”
Her smile never faltered. “Oh, that was just a tiff. We’re still together. And we should go to the party tonight. I heard that Jonas’ parents weren’t going to be at his house tonight. Maybe we could sneak upstairs and discover what the master bedroom looks like.”
Axel knew exactly what she was talking about. And most guys would jump at the opportunity to be alone in a bed with Janey Smithers but she just made his skin crawl now. “I’m not sure what my plans are for tonight.”
She laughed and swung her long, blond hair over her shoulder. “Well, of course you’re going to the party tonight. Everyone is going to be there.”
“Joe and Darren mentioned it earlier today.”
“So how about if you pick me up? You can steal your dad’s car for the night, right?”
He shook his head. “You know I don’t do things like that.”
She giggled and moved closer. “Even if it means a nice, big back seat? With me right there with you?”
Axel pulled her hands away from his waist and stepped backwards. “Like I said, I’m not sure what’s going to happen tonight.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. He knew he was taking Lorrie to the diner for a burger then to a movie, but there were a lot of details that he hadn’t planned out. Although, he knew with certainty that he wasn’t going to steal his dad’s car and pick up this black widow.
Janey didn’t seem to be getting the hint. She backed up slightly and shook her head. “Axel, you’re such a goody goody. If you weren’t so big and gorgeous, I might just tease you about that.” He had no response to her compliment about his physical attributes. He was just a guy with long legs. Since all of his brothers were about the same height and breadth, he didn’t think he was very special. “I gotta go take a shower,” he said and turned away from her, not even offering her a drink like he normally would have.
She moved closer, ignoring all the signs that he wasn’t interested simply because she didn’t believe that any man wouldn’t be interested. “Hey, when we get to Jonas’ party tonight,” she twisted slightly and reached into her purse, pulling out a plastic bag, “I have plans to make it even more interesting.”
Axel looked at the bag of marijuana, stunned that she would be so blatant. “What are you going to do with that?” he asked, even more disgusted with her. He didn’t do drugs, nor did any of his brothers or friends.
She snorted delicately. “We’re going to smoke it, silly!” she replied as if that were the most obvious answer. “We can share with the others, or we can hide out behind the pool house and have our own little party,” she said, moving closer, snuggling up against his big, wide chest.
Axel stepped back and headed towards his house, not wanting her anywhere near him. “I’ll see you around, okay?”
Janey watched with narrowed, angry eyes as the biggest and sexiest guy in the school walked away from her. He walked away from her! How dare he!
She stood in the middle of his backyard, plotting her next move. Axel had better figure out where his priorities should be. She stuffed the bag of weed back into her purse and stomped out of his backyard, her mind working the different angles, trying to figure out how she was going to manipulate the situation tonight so that he was paying attention to her, devoting himself to making her happy.
Four hours later, Axel whistled as he walked home from Lorrie’s house. Her father had told her to be home by ten o’clock and it was now five minutes before that hour. What’s better, he’d even gotten a kiss, which had been sweet. Lorrie was nice, he thought as he cut through his neighbor’s yard and went in through the back door.
His youngest brother, Ash, was sitting on the couch with four of his friends, chowing down on popcorn and soda.
“You’re home early,” Ash teased, glancing over the back of the couch at his brother. “Why’s that?”
Axel put a hand to the back of the couch then swung his legs over, landing with a thud on the cushion with a smile of victory. He’d never do that if his mom was around but his parents had left several hours ago with Ryker. “I just dropped Lorrie off at home. Her dad wanted her in early tonight.”
“I heard Janey earlier today telling everyone that you guys were back together.”
Axel snorted and shook his head while grabbing a handful of popcorn. “Not on a dare,” he replied. “What are you watching?”
“Nightmare on Elm Street,” Ash replied.
Axel rolled his eyes. “You guys were watching this last week.”
“Yeah, but we didn’t catch all the mistakes.”
Axel threw a piece of popcorn at the screen when the wrong lamp exploded. The main character, Nancy, had rigged another one and all four of the guys sitting in the living room booed and threw more popcorn at the screen.
By midnight, Ash’s friends were all gone and the popcorn was vacuumed up. Xander walked through the front door and, a second later, the phone rang. “Hi mom,” Xander said, grinning from ear to ear because their parents were calling to make sure all three of their boys were safe and sound inside the house at the required time.
When all three had spoken to both parents, they were off to sleep. The following morning, Axel couldn’t believe the rumors on his cell phone. Joe and Darren had been arrested for drug possession? He knew those guys would never do drugs! The three of them had been offered drugs before but none had ever been tempted.
The phone rang and Ash grabbed it while Axel read through the text messages, astonished that only his two friends had been arrested although the police had broken up the party at Jonas’ house. Several people texted that the drugs that the police found weren’t even out in the open. They’d found the stash stuffed into Darren’s jacket, which had been dropped down over one of the patio chairs along with several other coats.
“Can they even do that?” he asked to no one in particular. “I mean, don’t they need a search warrant to look in someone’s pocket?”
Xander was looking at his own text messages as he simultaneously flipped the eggs he was making for breakfast. “I don’t think that’s right. It seems like an invasion of privacy, but maybe there was something about exigent circumstances.”
Axel was furious. “Don’t the police need to think that someone’s life is in danger for that to apply? And why would they need to search someone’s coat pocket?”
Xander’s response was only a shoulder shrug. “Maybe they thought there was a gun in the pocket.”
Ash shook his head and tossed his napkin at Xander. “That doesn’t fall under exigent circumstances.”
“How do you even know what that is?” Xander demanded, taking the napkin and lighting it on fire with the gas grill. He turned on the range hood which quickly dispelled the smoke.
Ash and Axel both ignored the fire that would have caused his mother to be livid if she’d been here. “We had a debate about it in civics class last month. Someone’s life has to be in danger for the police to be able to enter a building. I don’t think it applies to searching someone’s pockets while breaking up a teenage party.”
Axel listened to his brothers as they bantered back and forth, fascinated by the possibilities. “So what would allow the police to search Darren’s coat pocket?”
Ash and Xander looked at each other and shook their heads, neither aware of any reason. “What are we? Lawyers?” Ash scoffed. “Go to the library and find out for yourself,” he said, leaning back in his chair with his feet up on the table, a pose his mother would never allow were she here with the three of them.
“I’m calling dad,” Axel said and walked out of the kitchen.
The doorbell rang just as he was passing by. He swung around, hoping it might be one of his other friends who had more information.
But when he opened the front door, it was to find Janey standing there, looking smug and self-righteous.
“What’s up?” he asked, trying to be polite.
She stepped into the foyer without waiting for an invitation. “You didn’t show up at the party last night,” she said, looking up at him and moving closer than he wanted her to be.
“You’re right,” he said and took a step back, putting a hand to her shoulder to stop her when she moved closer.
Janey stopped but only because Axel was so much bigger and stronger. She couldn’t break his hold. “Your friends were there though. Why weren’t you?”
Axel was tired of the woman and wanted her out of his life. “Janey, I have more important things to deal with than you. Get out.”
Axel was taking the stairs two at a time when she called up to him, “Like getting your friends out of juvenile detention?”
He froze and turned around. Looking down at her, he suddenly realized that she was the one who set up Joe and Darren. He walked back down the stairs, amazed at her vindictiveness. “Did you set them up? Those were your drugs! Weren’t they?” he demanded.
She sauntered closer once again. “Answer my question first.”
He glared down at her. “No.”
Her eyes widened at the unprecedented rejection. “No? No, you’re not going to answer my question or…just no?”
Axel leaned down, furious with the evil woman. “No. I’m not going to have anything to do with you. No, we’re not getting back together. No, I’m not answering your question.”
He saw the fury light up her previously pretty blue eyes. “Then you’re friends are going down for drug possession. And when the police weigh that bag, I’m pretty sure they’ll charge your friends with intent to distribute because there’s too much marijuana in that bag for just personal use.” She was snapping the words at him, furious that any man wouldn’t bow down to her powers. It had never happened before and she wasn’t going to be thwarted now.
Axel was amazed that anyone could be so vicious. “Are you implying that you set up my friends simply because I didn’t show up at the party last night?”
She moved closer, unafraid of him despite his size and the power behind his anger. “I’m saying, if you start acting appropriately, I’ll go to the police and tell them that I saw the drugs put into your friends’ pockets by someone else. If you don’t behave, then I’ll let them fry.”
He was stunned, truly shocked by how far she would go. “So…you’re using extortion to get a boyfriend.”
She shrugged her shoulders delicately. “I thought the term was blackmail, but whatever. I don’t care what you call it. I just want results.”
“You’re only fifteen, Janey. How can you be so manipulative?”
She laughed and tossed her hair behind her shoulders. “You’ve never met my mother, have you?”
It suddenly occurred to Axel that he hadn’t actually met her parents. He’d been to her house a few times, but neither of her parents had been there. “No, now that you mention it, I haven’t.”
Janey shrugged. “She’s taught me everything I know.”
Axel felt bad for Mr. Smithers. “Regardless, I’ll figure out how to get Joe and Darren out without giving you what you want.”
“I’ll help too,” Xander said, stepping out of the living room so he was now visible.
Ash came into the foyer from the opposite side. “I’m in too. I don’t think we can let an extortionist go unpunished, can we?”
Janey looked up at the two other young men, both of whom were almost identical in size but with differences to their features. All four of the Thorpe boys were handsome, but Janey only wanted Axel. “Do whatever you want,” she said, her chin going up. “Axel, I’ll expect you at my house tonight. We’re going out to dinner.”
She didn’t wait for a reply but simply stepped out of the house and sashayed down the street.
The three boys stared after her. “We’re not letting her get away with that, are we?” Ash asked, shutting off the almost continuous stream of text messages from his friends to his cell phone. This was much more important.
“She won’t stop until someone makes her,” Xander pointed out.
Axel turned to face his older brother. “We should call mom and dad.”
Xander nodded his agreement. “We should head to the police station while we’re doing it too.”
The three boys climbed into his mother’s giant SUV, which had been left for their use but only in emergency situations. All three boys considered this to be an emergency. While Xander drove, Ash and Axel called their parents and explained the situation.
At the police station, they told the story several more times, first to the reception officer, next to another uniformed police officer, and then one more time to two detectives, all with their parents conferenced in on the line.
It took several hours, multiple phone calls, bringing the parents of Joe and Darren into the situation, and even the assistant district attorney, but by dinner time, Joe and Darren were free and relieved that the nightmare was over. The Thorpe boys’ parents had aborted their tour of the college, but it was worth it to be there to protect and support their children.
In the end, the bag of drugs was fingerprinted and neither Joe nor Darren had touched it. So there was no way the police could accept that they’d been using or intending to distribute the drugs when they hadn’t even handled them.
The best part came when they were all walking out. Janey and her mother were walking into the police station, ready to make a statement. Their expressions were smug until Janey saw Axel walking out at the same time. Then her face showed her surprise and a hint of concern.
Kiera stood up when her name was called, wiping her sweaty palms on the sides of her dress. But she refused to allow anyone to know how nervous she was as she stepped onto the stage. She was only fourteen years old, the youngest ever to be on the varsity debate team and she was terrified. But she was also ready to take on the challenge!
“The topic is…” Kiera held her breath, praying that she would be prepared for this. But as the host paused, Kiera couldn’t help but feel her chest tightening, the muscles in her stomach contracting with anxiety. “Do you believe school uniforms are beneficial?”
Kiera’s breath caught in her throat. Was she kidding? She turned to the speaker and stared. School uniforms? That was her topic?
“You are pro,” the narrator said in Kiera’s direction then turned to her opponent, “and you are opposed.” She took a moment to organize her papers. “You have ten minutes to form your argument.”
Kiera used her pen and paper to scribble out thoughts, but her mind was whirling about the simplicity of the topic. She was hoping for something harder, like global warming or capital punishment. Those were hot topics and she could really get to the meat of those arguments. But school uniforms? How ridiculous!
Regardless, she tackled the problem with the same intensity that she would have with any other subject. While making her notes, she didn’t even look at her opponent, focusing only on what she thought the main issues were, both the pros, which she would argue, and the cons, which she would need to counter after her opponent raised them.
Thirty minutes later, the debate was over and she was smiling hugely as she accepted the certificate for winning with the most points. Stepping down off of the platform, she humbly accepted the congratulations of her teammates, all of whom were part of the success, while the stress slowly seeped out of her body. “Let’s get a burger!” someone called out.
Chaperones and team members shifted en masse, everyone eager to grab something to eat. Kiera was suddenly starving, having skipped breakfast as well as lunch in her nervousness. Since it was almost dinner time now, she wanted food and lots of it.
Kevin Lewis moved closer to her, smiling at Kiera as he said, “Those were some good points you made. I never would have thought about community spirit as a benefit to school uniforms.”
Kiera laughed, looking down at her shoes. “That was something I read a while ago. I don’t know if it’s true.”
“I think it makes a lot of sense,” he replied, moving closer to her. Kiera glanced up at him, not sure she understood his body language.
“We should catch up with the others,” she said nervously. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Kevin, it was just that she didn’t want to hurt his feelings because she only liked him as a friend. And if she was grasping his body language properly, he was about to ask her something, or do something, that would make both of them uncomfortable.
Kevin looked over at the rest of the group who were all heading towards the parking lot and the bus that had driven them to the debate site across town. “It’s just that…well,” he shifted on his feet nervously. “I was just wondering…”
Kiera stepped in at that point. “Kevin, do you think Lauren is pretty?” she asked, changing the subject towards her friend.
Kevin looked back at their group, seeing the tall brunette looking back at them. “Yeah, Lauren is nice enough.”
Kiera turned and started walking towards the bus, looking back at Kevin when he didn’t immediately follow. “She thinks you’re very cute,” she explained, shifting the focus away from herself and on to her friend. Kiera knew that Lauren had been mooning over Kevin for several weeks now. That was a record for her friend, who usually flitted from one boy-crush to another whenever someone new caught her eye.
“She’s nice. But I was wondering…”
“She says she liked your argument about classroom size last week. She didn’t agree with you, but she said it sounded like you really knew what you were talking about. She likes that in a guy.”
Kevin looked confused and they were getting closer to the others. He was missing his chance. But then Lauren caught his eye again and he smiled in her direction. When she smiled right back at him, then quickly looked away, he chuckled. “You’re trying to get me and Lauren together, aren’t you?” he asked.
Kiera smothered her giggle but nodded her head. “She really likes you but you’ll have to be quick about it. Lauren has a tendency to be fickle if the object of her affection doesn’t return those feelings. She’s not the most confident girl around, but that’s probably normal and isn’t going to waste her time.”
Kevin looked up again at the other girl, then back at Kiera. “You definitely have a way of adjusting the world so that it suits your plans, don’t you?”
Kiera thought that was the sweetest thing he’d ever said to her. “Well, I do have a plan for my life,” she came right back. “And so far, I’ve been able to stay on track. That doesn’t mean everything will fit into my plan.”
He really liked Kiera, but he was starting to understand that she wasn’t interested in him. Maybe Kiera was more driven than he preferred in a girl. He wanted someone he could talk with and who would challenge his mind about issues but he also knew that Kiera was much smarter than he was. He didn’t really enjoy that feeling. It made him feel insecure and he knew he would grow to resent that after a while.
There was also the inkling he was starting to understand about her that was probably more bothersome. Kiera didn’t want anything in her life that didn’t coincide with her plans for life. “I guess since I’m planning to attend the University of California next year, you’re not interested in attending the dance with me next Friday night?”
Kiera was exasperated at the idea of wasting her time on Kevin. He was nice enough for a friend but a long term relationship with him wasn’t in the future. He needed to accept that. “I’m going to Georgetown University,” she came right back.
His eyes widened as he took in her completely serious statement. “But that’s in three years. We might have some good times in between.”
She shook her head sadly. “Kevin, you’re a senior. I’m a freshman. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing to be dating me?”
He looked at her beautiful face and knockout figure and laughed. “Are you kidding me? Half the guys on the debate team are in love with you.”
She rolled her eyes. “You’re exaggerating.”
Kevin didn’t think he’d ever known another female who was as oblivious to her beauty as this woman standing in front of him. “You really don’t know, do you?”
“What? That guys are silly? Of course I know that,” she said and stood up on her tip toes and kissed his cheek. “Now go ask Lauren to next Friday’s dance. I’ll bet by the time we drive back to school, she’ll have told you all about her rock collection.”
He was about to walk away but that last statement stopped him. “Rock collection?” he asked warily. “Are you kidding?”
Kiera laughed again, delighted that her friend was going to the dance and she’d maintained her friendship with a very smart guy. “Go!” she urged. “And be nice!”
Kiera could actually feel the sigh of relief that Lauren released as her crush came closer. Within five minutes, Lauren was smiling excitedly up at Kevin. It was sweet and romantic, but Kiera was ravenous for a burger and fries, and all this chit-chatting was getting in the way of her devouring those carbs. It still took more than twenty minutes to get everyone on board the bus, but thankfully, they were quickly on their way – first for some tasty fast food, and then home.