The Perfect Blindside - Leslea Wahl - ebook

The Perfect Blindside ebook

leslea wahl

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Fresh off a championship medal, Jake Taylor’s parents have dragged him to a middle-of-nowhere town in Colorado, far from where he wants to be. Smart and savvy, Sophie has spent the summer before her junior year of high school avidly following Jake Taylor in every article she can find, but now she sees the “truth” behind the story — he’s really just a jerk. When the only thing they can see is each other’s flaws, how can Jake and Sophie work together to figure out what’s really been happening at the abandoned silver mine? Follow Sophie and Jake into secret tunnels as they unravel the mystery and challenge each other to become who God wants them to be.

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The Perfect Blindside

By Leslea Wahl

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Wahl, Leslea.

   The perfect blindside / by Leslea Wahl.

        1 online resource.

   Summary: Told in their separate voices, Jake, an Olympic snowboarder whose fame has gone to his head, and Sophie, a high school junior and big fan of Jake’s, connect at high school and soon find themselves working together to uncover who has framed him for drug possession and other misdeeds.

   Description based on print version record and CIP data provided by publisher; resource not viewed.

   ISBN 0-8198-6014-X (epub) -- ISBN 0-8198-6015-8 (mobi) -- ISBN 0-8198-6016-6 ( pdf) -- ISBN 0-8198-6013-1 (pbk.)

[1. Snowboarding--Fiction. 2. Olympic athletes--Fiction. 3. Celebrities--Fiction. 4. Conduct of life--Fiction. 5. Christian life--Fiction. 6. Crime and criminals--Fiction.] I. Title.

   PZ7.1.W35

   [Fic]--dc23

2014039197

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Many manufacturers and sellers distinguish their products through the use of trademarks. Any trademarked designations that appear in this book are used in good faith but are not authorized by, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

Cover and interior design by Mary Joseph Peterson, FSP

Cover photo by iStockPhoto/aurumarcus

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

“P” and PAULINE are registered trademarks of the Daughters of St. Paul.

Copyright © 2015, Leslea Wahl

Published by Pauline Books & Media, 50 Saint Pauls Avenue, Boston, MA 02130–3491

www.pauline.org

Pauline Books & Media is the publishing house of the Daughters of St. Paul, an international congregation of women religious serving the Church with the communications media.

To my husband for his unconditional support, my children who inspire me daily, and to God for leading me on this amazing journey.

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 1

Jake

I have a theory. Every person I’ve ever met in the past year fits into one of three categories. They’re either Walkers, Talkers, or Stalkers.

Walkers are those who stare from a distance, completely lacking the guts to approach me, then slowly walk away pretending they don’t care.

Talkers include my parents, coach, and advisors. They have this obsessive need to always tell me what to do.

Stalkers are the most common, and they all want something. It could be an old lady at the grocery store wanting an autograph for her grandkids. It could be little kids making a scene in the middle of a restaurant when they recognize me. It could be an executive wanting me to sell hair gel . . . or jeans . . . or whatever. Or it could be a girl at the mall, who slips me her phone number. (Okay, that one I actually like.)

I get it. I’m Jake Taylor. Snowboarding phenom. But sometimes a guy just wants to eat his burger in peace, away from the autograph seekers and camera flashes.

Journalists are by far the most annoying group. They’re usually a combination of all three: Stalkers because they need me; Walkers since they try to act indifferent when meeting me; and Talkers because they always finish with a piece of useless advice.

And can their stupid interviews be any more annoying? To think I used to be excited about them. Hard to believe they get paid to ask dumb questions. Sure, I have a cool story, but do you have any idea how mind-numbing it is to repeat it 150 times?

It never fails. The reporters have this obsessive need to ask what it feels like to ride the halfpipe. At first I would try to explain the rush of wind and adrenaline as I soar up the twenty-two foot wall, how my board keeps rising, and for a moment everything stops and I’m flying. Pulling my rotation high above the lip, gravity does its thing and I hurtle back toward the edge in a freefall. I hang on to the landing, then rocket up the other side with even more momentum and speed, anticipating the next trick. It’s a mix of feeling totally in control one second and completely out of control the next. My coach calls it physics in motion. I call it awesome.

But after answering the same questions endless times, I got bored with my explanation. So the last time a reporter wanted to know how it felt, I answered, “The mix of fear, adrenaline, and excitement make an addictive high.” Unfortunately my agent got on my case because I said “addictive high.” “Jake, those words don’t portray the sparkly clean image we’re going for.”

Whatever.

Then there are stupid questions, like, “How does it feel to be the Olympic Silver Medalist?”

Seriously? How do you think it feels? Freakin’ amazing.

Or, how about the original, “Tell us about your Olympic experience.” I stick with the polite, “It was incredible,” mostly because I don’t know how else to answer. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to remember that week, but I can’t. Training runs, marching in the Opening Ceremony, hanging out at the Olympic Village—it all runs together.

Six months of insane frenzy later, I’m in a new town ready to start the first day of my junior year of high school. Thrilling. Not. After traveling around the world and hanging out with celebrities, sitting in a classroom with a bunch of nobody kids is pointless.

I’d rather ditch the whole school thing and get a private tutor like other athletes and actors. I mean, they are the kind of people I should be hanging out with anyway. But no. My parents want me to have “the high school experience.” Just because they loved high school back in the day doesn’t mean it fits my life.

Before I leave my bedroom, ready to get this day over with, I glance at my reflection, but barely recognize my now famous face. It’s been such a whirlwind that sometimes I wonder who I really am.

The bare walls of the hallway and staircase lead me down toward the kitchen for breakfast. At the base of the steps, I pass the living room, still bulging with moving boxes. The stone fireplace with the near life-size portrait of me mid-air, pulling a back-scratcher is the focal point of the room. That picture and my silver medal in its display case on the mantel are the only evidence of my sport. All the other stuff—trophies, awards, framed magazine covers—will soon line the walls of the new rec room in the basement. My own little shrine.

The scent of frying bacon steers me the rest of the way to the kitchen. My dad sits at his usual spot at the head of the table. He stabs the newspaper with his finger.

“Have you seen the headlines?” he asks, not bothering to wait for an answer. “Apparently there’s a growing drug problem in resort towns around here. The authorities are trying to figure out where the supply is coming from, but so far they haven’t had any leads.”

“Just one more reason to live here in Silver Springs, away from all the problems of the touristy areas,” Mom says as she works at the stove.

“Oh, don’t be fooled by this place,” I warn them as I sit down at the table. “There’s plenty of crime here. Do you know there’s a huge cruising problem along that one block of Main Street? Someone actually got up to thirty miles an hour. And rumor has it there’s a gang in town. A cow tipping gang. Maybe we should move to a cave to protect me from the evils of this place.”

“There aren’t any cows around here,” counters Dad, ignoring my sarcasm. “That was back in Kansas. We’re now in the Colorado Rockies.”

“Maybe he means moose tipping,” Mom helpfully adds as she sets a huge mound of food in front of me.

“Technically, I don’t think you can tip a moose,” Dad says, between sips of coffee.

I stare at them. After a summer of constant togetherness, maybe school, no matter how lame it is, would be better than this. “You guys are hilarious.”

“Jake, you’ve got to admit, Silver Springs looks exactly like those towns in the old westerns we used to watch.”

“Dad, that was when I was six. Now I’m sixteen and don’t want to live in an old mining town with no friends. Not cool.”

“Hey, I remember you were as excited about moving to Colorado as we were,” says Mom.

“Yeah, that’s when I thought we would move to Vail and be near my teammates. Who knew you’d choose the most boring town in existence?”

“We’ve talked about this. Silver Springs is the perfect location, fairly close to your training area and not far from Denver and the airport.”

I dig into my breakfast and do my best to ignore them as my dad’s attention turns back to the newspaper.

I hate not being on my own yet. My parents and I have argued about school and this no-where town all summer, ever since they freaked about my fame and went all “family-values” on me. I’m sick of them running my life.

Rachael, my snowboarding teammate, tired of my complaints, told me to ride it out and keep the peace at home. She pointed out that fighting won’t change their minds and will only make the wait to be on my own seem longer. I don’t know if it’ll work, but I’m giving it a try. I mean . . . Rachael’s cool . . . she’s like the big sister I don’t have. So my plan is to serve out my sentence at home and train with the team as much as possible. But as soon as I graduate, I’m outta here.

“Hey,” Dad says, interrupting my thoughts. “There’s something here in the Editorial section about an incident that happened a few months ago up at the mine. It says two hikers were wandering through the mine when they claim they were chased out by a ghost. They were laughed out of town, but it sparked the retelling of a whole bunch of ghost stories.”

“Sounds like those hikers took advantage of the rise in drugs here in the state,” jokes Mom.

“Wait. Can we go back to the whole ‘exploring the mine’ thing? That’s cool. You mean I can actually get into that place?” I ask.

“No. Absolutely not. There is no way you’re going into a mine. You could be bitten by wild animals, get tetanus stepping on a rusty tool, become lost or trapped in a collapse. It’s way too dangerous,” Mom says and shivers thinking of all the dangerous possibilities. As if snowboarding doesn’t have any of those.

Right. The one semi-interesting thing in this town, and she forbids me to check it out. I don’t think so. I reach for my car keys on the counter where I tossed them yesterday, but Mom grabs my arm.

“Oh Jake, we’re taking your jeep in today to get snow tires. The ones it came with may look good, but you don’t want to drive with them when it starts snowing. I’ll take you to school today.” She smiles at me like this is good news.

“Perfect. The epitome of coolness—being driven to my new school by my mommy.”

“At least it’s not a minivan,” pipes in Dad.

Climbing into the SUV, I wonder if this day could get any more annoying.

“Jake,” Mom says as she steers down our long driveway, “I’ve been thinking. Do you want to invite Rick and Jon to visit sometime?”

Yep . . . more annoying.

“We’ll see,” I answer, turning my head so she can’t see my scowl.

“It must be hard to be away from them. Maybe they can come out over fall break.”

“I’m sure they’re busy.”

“You three were constantly together ever since kindergarten . . . climbing trees or catching frogs or something. You must miss them. And I’m sure they miss you too.”

I glare out the window, clenching my fist as we pass through town toward the high school. Rick and Jon. My so-called best friends. The memory of them purposely ignoring me still burns. In three short months they went from being my constant companions to refusing to return my phone calls. The most exciting time of my life was also the loneliest. I mean, it completely bites having something so incredible happen and no friends to share it with. Nope. Don’t really miss them. It’s mutual.

“Jake, give this place a chance,” my mom continues. “You’ll have friends here before you know it.”

“Mom, I know the drill. Anyone new is automatically the focus of attention. Even if I wasn’t already a household name, I’d be the topic of gossip.”

Although I’ve gotten used to having all eyes on me, constantly being watched gets old. It would be nice to have someone to chill with, I just doubt that can happen here—or anywhere.

As we round the last bend my mom gives me one last piece of motherly advice.

“Jake, just try to fit in.” Then she gasps, “Oh, no.”

My head snaps forward and I groan. So much for trying to fit in.

Chapter 2

Sophie

“Take me out to the ball game. Take me out with the crowd . . .”

Uhh . . . what? I slap at the alarm.

The tune continues. Not the alarm.

Through squinted eyes I search the grey shadows of my bedroom. The music seems to be coming from my desk.

Sam.

Note to self: Kill him later.

Ten-year-old little brothers and cell phones don’t mix. Sam’s always messing with my settings. Ringtones are apparently his newest discovery. At least I was spared the total humiliation of anyone from school hearing it.

Before the singer begins to call the strikes, I stumble out of bed and lunge toward my desk, but manage to slam my toe into the chair. Grimacing, I yank my phone from its charger. As I answer it with one hand, I grab my throbbing toe with the other and hop back to bed.

“What?” I grunt as I flop onto my mattress.

“Sophie?” chirps my best friend.

“Kate . . . I was asleep. What do you want?” I don’t know why I ask. I already know what she’s calling about.

“What are you going to wear today?”

It’s too early for this again. “I already told you five times yesterday, I . . . don’t . . . know.”

“Come on, it’s the first day of school. We’re finally juniors. We’ve been looking forward to this for like—forever! How can you not be excited? Today’s our chance to meet him.” She finally stops for a breath.

“Joy,” I mutter.

“Soph, you’re being irrational.”

“Irrational? What are you, a shrink?”

“Hey, don’t change the subject. This is going to be the best year ever. Come on, you’re usually as excited as I am. Don’t you remember in fifth grade when we met early before school so we could braid each other’s hair?”

“I remember,” I say, pulling the phone further from my ear. Her bubbliness is too much to take.

“What about seventh grade, when we did extra chores and earned enough money to buy matching outfits?”

“We looked like dorks.”

“And then before ninth grade, when we stayed up all night texting each other?”

“I fell asleep in class.”

“Come on, Grumpy, I know your inner excitement is hiding in there somewhere.” She sounds like she’s about to burst into a cheer at any moment.

“What’s the purpose of this trip down memory lane?”

“To help you remember you love going back to school.”

She’s right, which I hate to admit. The first day of school is usually one of my favorite days of the year. Not today though. This one is going to be very different. This one I’m dreading.

“So, what are you going to wear?” she probes, her decibel level increasing. “We need to look good when we finally meet him. First impressions—”

“Good-bye, Kate,” I interrupt as I hang up grumbling.

Falling back asleep is probably impossible now, but I’m determined to try. I burrow deep beneath my covers, hoping to avoid the dread of this day.

What do I care what “he” thinks of me? He’s an arrogant jerk. And because of him I’m completely broke, spent a week of my summer break grounded, and nearly lost my precious car.

I ponder how my opinion of him has changed over the last few months. Eight months ago I had never even heard of Jake Taylor. No one had. Then came the Winter Olympics. Amazing how such an awesome international event could end up ruining my junior year of high school.

Like the rest of the country, I was spellbound watching him during the Olympics. I mean, here was this sixteen-year-old snowboarder from Kansas, of all places, who wasn’t even supposed to be there. But a freak set of circumstances landed him on the team. With each run he took, his tricks got bigger and more insane. Then he shocked everyone and won the silver medal. His unlikely story and stellar good looks made him an instant celebrity. Jake Taylor’s handsome face soon graced every magazine and TV talk show.

Like every other teenage girl I was completely fascinated by the guy. I’m not proud to admit that I snatched my dad’s sports magazine in order to stare at the full-page spread about him. His striking blue eyes peering out from under that dark hair were too irresistible. And something about his mischievous grin and dimples made me watch as many of his interviews as possible.

Then on a Monday morning in June the news broke and spread through town like an irritating rash. Actually, at that point I was beyond excited when I heard it. Jake Taylor and his family were moving to Silver Springs!

Soon after he and his parents arrived, Kate and I caught a glimpse of him walking down Main Street. He looked like a model with his lean body in worn jeans, white T-shirt, and designer shades. With his dark hair—cut short on the sides and back, longer in the front—framing that cute face. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. But then Mr. Wonderful started to show his true colors and fell off his pedestal.

Who am I kidding? Sleep is not happening. I’m wide awake and completely annoyed, and not because of Kate’s unwelcome wake-up call. After throwing the covers off, I hobble, careful of my sore toe, to the bathroom. Catching my reflection in the mirror—mismatched pajamas and brown rat’s nest, otherwise known as my hair—does nothing to improve my mood.

Irrational? I can’t believe Kate thinks I’m irrational. I’m the only rational one around. The “A” I got in English last year, when we discussed truth in advertising and the importance of image in the media, paid off. I seem to be the only one who sees past Jake Taylor’s carefully-crafted image and has figured out that Mr. Boy-Next-Door isn’t what he appears to be.

I admit I should have figured it out sooner. The real boy next door looks like Ray Harlin, with greasy hair and stubby fingers. He doesn’t have the kind of smile that compels you to spend ridiculous amounts of time obsessing over his fan page. The real boy next door doesn’t have mesmerizing blue eyes that make you daydream during science and miss an assignment, thus ruining your perfect grade.

And now the first day of school will be ruined because of him. Everyone will fawn all over him, and he doesn’t deserve it. Seriously, why did Jake Taylor and his family have to come to Silver Springs? Of all the other towns they could have chosen, why did they have to move here?

People say, “Good things come to those who wait,” but I’m having a hard time believing it. I go to Mass every weekend, volunteer at Vacation Bible School, and have attended Sunday school all these years. And this is my reward?

Life is so unfair. Lord, I know you’re really great at performing miracles, so if you could somehow miraculously make this year not totally the worst ever—that would be amazing.

After a quick shower, I rummage through my closet in search of something to wear. As I tromp downstairs for breakfast, I try to convince myself things will be fine. Sure, everyone will follow Jake around for a while, but seriously, how long can that last? He’ll probably be away waxing his board—or whatever jocks do—most of the time. Besides, I doubt he’ll be in any of my classes. It’ll be easy to avoid him. No chance we’ll be hanging out with the same people. My friends all use complete sentences—usually.

“Morning, Sunshine,” Mom greets as I enter the kitchen.

“Morning.”

“Are you excited about today? I can’t believe you’re a junior.”

“Yeah.”

“It seems like yesterday you were all dressed up in your cute little Mary Jane’s, ready for your first day of kindergarten.”

“Extremely stylish.”

“And now you’re a junior driving yourself to school,” she sighs. “Are you excited about showing off your new car?”

“That I’m looking forward to.”

“Oh, Mrs. Meyers called this morning. Duchess is missing again. That dog is quite a handful. Can you keep an eye out for her?”

“I’ll watch for her, but she’ll probably go home for dinner like last time.”

“Have a wonderful first day of school, sweetheart.”

Not likely, but I suppose with God anything is possible. I grab my keys, camera (never want to leave home without it), and a granola bar, then trudge out the door.

Dear Jesus, help everything to be normal today. Please don’t let Jake Taylor’s presence change everything.

While I cautiously drive through town and make my way to school, I smile picturing everyone’s face as I pull into the parking lot in my beautiful little bug. Since lots of the students at Silver Springs High come from neighboring towns, they haven’t seen my new wheels. I picture the surprise and envy on their faces when they see my car for the first time. My grin widens. It’ll be awesome. I’m sure Mallory will show up in some sports car, and her flock of followers will drool over her as usual. But, for now, this is my fantasy, and all eyes are on my cute green car and, of course, on me.

The high school is located on the town’s far side, which, let’s face it, is a relative term since nothing in this town is far. Because the building is “new” and big and doesn’t fit in with our whole turn-of-the-century-mining-town look, it was built at the edge of Silver Springs. The place is in constant use though. Everything from basketball tournaments to Bingo nights is held in the gym.

When I round the last bend, the sight that greets me causes my heart to plummet and my smile to vanish. I knew I was right. Everything has changed. There will be no catching up with friends in the hallways before class. There will be no gossiping in the cafeteria at lunch time. There will be no one checking out my new wheels. Nope, everyone is focused on one person.

The media frenzy is insane. Three vans from rival Denver news stations have taken over the place. Their cameras and lights are set up. Perfect-looking reporters interview eager students. Cars line both sides of the road. Journalists swarm everywhere, while townspeople of all ages gather in groups near the school.

Welcome to life with Jake Taylor.

I slowly edge around the commotion, trying not to run over anyone. Eventually I find an open spot at the far end of the parking lot. I inch into the tiny space between a rusty old truck and a delivery van. So help me, if my new car’s door gets dinged because of Mr. Testosterone . . . I will hand deliver the repair bill to him.

Carefully, I open my door, then wiggle out of the car. I yank my backpack out in a huff. I had planned on taking some photos to commemorate the first day back at school but decide I have no desire to capture this madness, so I leave the camera and slam the car door shut in protest. Kate is a few yards ahead and I hurry to catch up with her. She, of course, looks fantastic in her cute capris and layered tops but she kind of overdid the make-up.

“Hey, Kate.”

“Sophie! Isn’t this exciting? We might be on the news tonight. Have you seen Jake yet this morning?” she asks, tucking strands of her blonde bob behind her ears.

“No, I haven’t had the privilege.” Geesh.

Kate stops in her tracks to examine me; her eyes narrow. “That’s what you chose to wear on the most exciting day ever? Old jeans and a hoodie?”

“They’re my favorites. Besides, I don’t have anything new to wear since I used all my babysitting money to pay the higher car insurance, thanks to Mr. Perfect.”

“Soph, that first ticket you got wasn’t really his fault.”

“Well, if he weren’t in town I wouldn’t have been speeding to your house so we could catch a glimpse of him, right? And the second ticket was totally his fault. He tailgated me!”

“Well . . . sometimes you do drive like my grandma.”

“Hey, I wasn’t about to risk getting another speeding ticket. My parents made it clear—one more and I can kiss my driving privileges good-bye till I’m as old as your grandma. Besides, he was being a jerk, riding my bumper. I thought he was going to hit me. He made me so nervous I totally missed the stop sign and blew right past it.”

“And as Deputy Grady pulled you over,” she continues in a sing-song voice, “Mr. Renegade flew past with a wave. I know, you’ve told me a million times.”

“Don’t forget that when I finally made it to town I had to park two blocks away because Jake the Jerk had the nerve to take two parking spots on Main Street for his precious jeep. I ruined my new white sneakers trudging through the mud!”

“Sophie, you’re making way too big a deal about this.”

“You know that’s not the only reason I think he’s a creep.”

“You haven’t even met him yet. Seriously, Soph, give him a chance!”

“I don’t need to meet him to know what he’s like.”

Just then the chaos around the school goes extreme. The cameras flash, the crowd roars, and the drumline bangs out some annoyingly peppy rhythm. A shiny black SUV pulls up to the front entrance and stops directly beneath a giant banner that reads, “Welcome Jake Taylor.” Wow. Clever. I wonder how long it took them to come up with that. The excitement level spikes, and the squealing of dozens of girls gives me a headache.

Mr. Wonderful has arrived.

He steps out of the SUV, gives a quick wave and smile to his adoring fans, then dodges into the school. If reporters wanted a statement, I guess they’re disappointed. Can anyone tell me why this is even remotely newsworthy?

Ten minutes later, I’m standing in front of my new locker, my silver home away from home. Queen Bee Mallory Shepherd and her flock of wanna-bees push their way through the narrow hallway, like they own the place.

To make the day even more perfect, Mallory has the locker directly across the hall from mine. Of course she does. I’ll be blessed with her presence, several times a day. All year long. Lord, what did I do to deserve this? Mallory dramatically shuts her locker and whirls around in a cloud of perfume, which makes my headache even worse. She then struts down the hall with her spineless posse in tow.

I dump my things in my locker, not sure I’ll be able to remember the new combination any time soon. Pushing my way through the crowd, I sulk off to my first subject of the day—Pre-Calc—which, of course, is at the opposite end of the school.

The first few classes go along as expected. Usual first day stuff except for the irritating non-stop talk about Jake.

Walking into Honors English, I check out the familiar faces. All the usual suspects are present. I search the rows for an open seat, then freeze in shock. Sitting at the back of the class is Jake Taylor. My eyes betray me and scan him from head to toe. He’s wearing jeans and a blue polo shirt that matches his eyes perfectly. A white T-shirt peaks out from the unbuttoned collar. He’s beautiful. Too bad he’s such a jerk.

My cheeks start to burn as I realize he’s caught me staring at him. Why is he watching me? Slowly I check over my shoulder, hoping there’s something behind me that has captured his attention. Nope. He’s looking at me.

Anxious to stop the awkward moment, I slide into an empty seat. Now I’m sitting in the front of the class like one of the nerds. Perfect. Just perfect.

What is he doing here anyway? I didn’t expect to find him in any of my honors classes, him being a jock and all. I know I’m stereotyping, but seriously, who would have thought it?

By the time lunch finally arrives, I’m famished. Once in the bright cafeteria, my eyes immediately go to our table to see if Kate has arrived yet. And, of course, sitting at said table like he owns the place is Mr. Jake Taylor. Are you kidding me? Of all the tables in the lunchroom, he had to choose the one Kate and I have been sitting at with our friends for the past two years? Who does he think he is, rolling—or in his case snowboarding—into town and taking over everything?

Grudgingly, I join the lunch line and grab some food, although I’ve lost my appetite. Kate, at a table in the far corner, wildly waves her arms to get my attention. I nod and start the long trek over to her, my sneakers squeaking on the linoleum floor. The sound is truly cringeworthy—unusually loud . . . irritatingly loud. Where is all the normal cafeteria noise? The place is unsettlingly quiet. Totally embarrassed at the scene I’m making, I try to nonchalantly tiptoe across the room. Then it dawns on me—no one is paying attention to me or my squeaky shoes. Everyone is locked in a hypnotic trance, watching Jake eat. Oh brother!

“He’s cuter than usual today,” whispers Kate when at last I reach the table.

“I hadn’t noticed.” I plop my tray on the table.

“I wish I had enough nerve to talk to him, but I don’t know what I’d say.” Kate stares dreamily at him.

“How about, ‘Go away’?” I grumble as I stab a piece of chicken with my fork.

“Sophie, you’re being impossible. Remember all those times we wished something exciting would happen around here? Well, it finally has.”

I glance over at “his” table and watch a few brave kids approach him.

Small towns are awesome—when you’re young. You can run around all day with no worries, everyone watching out for each other. But as you get older those same small towns become rather mundane. Kate and I have spent hours daydreaming of adventures that could make this place interesting. Heck, I’ve even prayed for excitement. Granted, it may not have been the most unselfish prayer ever, and I can imagine what Father Scott would say, but it’s what I longed for. That’s probably why Kate and I and everyone else at this high school voraciously watched the Olympics last winter. It was an escape from our completely boring lives. How pathetic is it when TV is the highlight of your day?

Kate’s right. Something new has happened, and he’s changed Silver Springs. Turns out I’m not a big fan of change. This is not what I wanted, God!

“Soph? Hello Sophie . . . are you still with me?” asks Kate. “Give him a chance.”

“Kate, if you watch him long enough, you’ll eventually see what I see,” I sigh.

“Oh, I’m watching him all right,” she answers, still ogling him.

But too bad for her because Jake quickly gathers his stuff, dumps his tray, and then saunters out the door. Why can’t anyone else see that he thinks he’s too good for us?

The afternoon goes by without any more drama. No run-ins with Mallory. No more classes with Jake. When the final bell rings, Kate meets me at my locker and asks if I want to go get ice cream in town to celebrate our first day. I don’t know about celebrating, but I’d never turn down an ice cream sundae.

On the drive to Main Street, Kate rambles on about her classes, the newest gossip she heard, and which guys have already made her new PB&J lists (Potential Boyfriends and Jerks).

“You know, it’s never too soon to start scoping out the guys.”

“Kate, there aren’t many boys around here to get excited about. We’ve known them all since forever.”

“Enough with the mood, Soph. Where’s my fun-loving friend?” she pleads.

“Okay. Sorry. I’ll try harder.”

I pull into one of the angled parking spots near the old hitchin’ post, where bikes instead of horses are now tied up. We climb the worn wooden steps to the boardwalk that runs along the front of the businesses. All the shops here on Main Street are in the original mining town buildings. The Cold Rush by far has the coolest location. We push our way through the swinging saloon doors that lead into the icecream parlor. The antique wooden bar stretches along the back wall. But instead of bottles of booze, glass jars filled with ice cream toppings line the front of the huge mirror.

We maneuver our way through the crowded shop. Apparently half the school had the same brilliant idea. After we order our hot fudge sundaes, we belly up to the bar at the far end of the room. I slide a spoonful of drippy gooeyness in my mouth. Ah, just what I needed.

“When do you think we should start working on the yearbook?” Kate asks.

“Soon. Most of the clubs and activities will start this week.” We love being on the yearbook committee—our way of checking out all the groups at school. We used to contribute to the school newspaper, but it’s produced entirely in the journalism elective class, which is full of annoying freshmen, so now we just focus on the yearbook.

“The football team has already started practice. Is your camera ready to go?” Kate’s the writer, I’m the photographer. Truth be told, I wouldn’t mind doing it all myself since I want to study photojournalism in college, but it’s more fun working together.

“Yeah, and with your stellar reporting skills our coverage of all the activities will be superb.”

“Now that we’re upper classmen we can practically run the whole thing by ourselves.”

“We already have Mr. Henry wrapped around our fingers,” I agree. The yearbook advisor is a fan of our work. The only senior on the yearbook staff prefers the behind-the-scenes jobs of copyeditor and layout supervisor. Works for us.

“Oh. My. Gosh,” Kate blurts out, spoon midair, chocolate syrup dripping onto the bar. She does over dramatic well. “Check out the table in front of the window. I can’t believe it.”

Humoring her, I look around to locate whatever has her all worked up. Jake. With Mallory—of course—who tosses her head back in fake laughter, her long blonde hair cascading down her back. Then she leans in close and says something to him that makes him grin. Boy, didn’t take her long. I must admit, they make a perfect pair. Both conceited and full of themselves.

“Come on, it’s our chance to go say ‘hi,’ ” states Kate.

“Are you crazy? I don’t want to talk to him.”

“You said you’d try,” she coaxes.

“But he doesn’t even want to live here; why should we bend over backward to make him feel welcome?”

“You’re still upset by what he said in the newspaper?”

“I already explained this. He said all the right things, but it was how he said them.”

“Oh, that makes perfect sense,” says Kate as she rolls her eyes at me.

“Seriously, he said, ‘It seems like a nice place to live.’ I’ve read enough interviews to know Jake uses words like ‘wicked’ and ‘stoked’ when talking about things he’s into. He didn’t use them, so he obviously doesn’t want to be here.”

“Sophie, we don’t want to be in Silver Springs, why should he?”

“If you weren’t so busy wiping the drool off your chin when we saw him at the pizzeria, you would’ve seen his attitude there.”

“He let that mother take his photo with her son.”

“Yes, but after she asked him and turned around to get her camera, Jake totally rolled his eyes, then had the nerve to flash his perfect, fake smile for the photo. He’s conceited. I mean, look who he’s with. Mallory was the last new person to move to town and that hasn’t worked out so great. Maybe we should stop wishing for new and exciting. Nothing good comes from it.”

“Whatever.” Kate slides off her stool and grabs my arm.

The girl has seriously lost her mind. I’d rather jab myself with a fork than go talk to them, but I can’t stand to watch her crash and burn all alone so I let her drag me along.

“Excuse us,” she says as we arrive at their table. Jake leans back in his chair, looking us up and down with an arrogant smirk.

“Yes? Would you like an autograph?” he asks while Mallory shoots me a smug look.

An autograph? He seriously thinks we walked over here to get an autograph? This guy is unbelievable. All those mid-air flips he does has knocked a few too many brain cells loose.

“No, we don’t want your autograph,” I spit out. Kate elbows me in the side before I get a chance to tell him where he can stick his autograph.

“I’m Kate and this is Sophie. We go to school with you and wanted to welcome you to Silver Springs. How are you enjoying it so far?”

“Oh. Well, it’s . . . quaint,” he answers. Mallory giggles.

Quaint? Are you kidding me? How dare he make fun of our town. Forget the fact Kate and I are constantly ragging on small town life. He hasn’t been here long enough to earn the right to diss this place.

Kate continues to play nice while I give him one of my death ray looks, the kind that sends Sam running. But Jake keeps watching me with that stupid grin on his face, amused by my anger. This guy is infuriating. I finally give up, spin on my heel, and walk back to my melting ice cream.

Kate hurries after me. “I can’t believe we actually talked to him!” she squeals.

“What?” How can she be completely oblivious to what a jerk this guy is?

I start to say something but decide it’s not worth it. Besides, my headache has returned.