Holly dropped through the familiar bedroom window, bouncing to sit cross-legged on the old pink sheets of the bed. She wrapped her fingers around her ankles, glancing up at Chiara where she sat at her desk. Her eyes narrowed. A history book lay open and idle, Chiara’s pencil rapidly tapping against the glossy paper as she stared at her friend with wide, blank eyes. Holly cocked her head, raising her eyebrows.
“So you finally broke! What was the catalyst?”
Chiara drew in a slow breath, lowering her eyes to the history book. “Well,”
“Wait, let me guess.” Holly pursed her lips in mock thought. “Brody Hilton asked you out.”
Chiara threw the pencil to the floor, throwing her arms open wildly in incredulous askance. “How in the world could you just have guessed that?”
Holly raised one eyebrow as she chuckled. “Did you honestly not see how he looked at you when he and Jay were here? And how many guys make such an effort to hang out exclusively with a girl despite the fact that it could ruin his reputation?”
The Globe student moaned gutturally, dropping her face into her hands. “The ones who want to just be friends?”
“Cheech, are you serious?”
“I don’t know! I just didn’t see that coming. At least not now. There’s too much happening.”
“Than you should say ‘thanks but no thanks’.”
Chiara grimaced. Holly sighed.
“You already said yes, didn’t you?”
“To a trial run. I just…I don’t even know if I like him that way. I might, but…I feel like I can’t really know until I let myself be in a situation where I have to be thinking about him that way. So far, I’ve seen him at school and he’s been my friend. If I see him outside, doing something everyone else might consider a date, I might think about him differently.” She opened her hands quizzically. “Does that make sense?”
Holly looked down at her boots, chewing her lip thoughtfully. “Well, are you willing to deal with all the side effects of dating an Up?”
“His side effects are the Collective. And I think I’m okay with them.” She shrugged. “I know you’re not comfortable with them yet, but I’d really like you to get to know them better. I mean, you seemed to hit it off with Oliver that day at the art show.”
Holly scoffed. “I got excited about the art, not him!”
“Fine, but, please, Holly, give them a chance! They’re not terrible people, I’ve learned. You could learn it, too.”
Holly groaned, dropping to lean against the wall and hugging Chiara’s pillow to her chest. “This means a lot to you, doesn’t it?”
Chiara nodded once. “Yeah. I like it when all my friends can at least tolerate each other.”
Holly chuckled, shrugging helplessly. “Well, if it’s important to you, it’s important to me. I’m not coming on your date, though.”
Chiara frowned. “Yeah, no, we don’t need a chaperone. We should arrange something, though, with all four of the boys and the two of us. Maybe even have them here! Jay’s the stuffiest of them and he seemed fine, so the rest should be easy.”
“You want to do it so close to Christmas?”
“Huh. Is it really that close?”
“Barely a month off.”
Chiara bent to pick up her pencil from the floor and scratched her head with it, running it through the wild golden tangles.
“I’ve been putting the dates on my homework and everything and never noticed.”
Holly shrugged, smiling in pity. “You’ve had a lot of other things on your mind.”
“Yeah.” Chiara smiled a little. “I’ll have to talk to my parents, but I wonder if it would be fun to do a little Christmas party or something with them. It might still be weird, though.”
“Speaking of talking to your parents,” Holly raised a quizzical hand. “Have you told them about this trial run date with your Up guy friend who might be more if you had the opportunity to tell?”
Chiara shot her a baleful glance and Holly giggled. “Ha ha. Not yet. I wanted to wait for you so I could practice.”
Holly’s eyebrows shot up. “Practice?”
“Yeah! Think about it: if I say one thing wrong, my mom will start shopping for a wedding dress before I can really explain!” She pushed herself to her feet, tucking her pencil behind her ear. She gestured emphatically to her friend. “I’m going to try different approaches and you have to tell me if anything sounds a little too excited or desperate.”
Holly met her eyes evenly, leaning her chin on the pillow clutched to her chest. She drew in a long breath.
“Mrs. Dalton, Chiara’s going on a date with Brody Hilton!”
Chiara’s eyes widened as heavy thumps suddenly filled the outside silence and the door thrust open to reveal Angela Dalton. Chiara screamed and dove onto her bed to hide behind Holly, but her mom lunged forward, seizing her ankles and dragging her to the floor again, sitting beside her.
“So what’s the deal here? First off: when did he ask you? Secondly: where are you going? Third: what are you going to wear and do we have to go do your hair and makeup again? And fourth: why did Holly tell me and not you?”
Chiara smiled nervously, spreading her hands helplessly. “First off: today. Secondly: I don’t know. Third: I don’t know and please no. Fourth: I planned on telling you once I figured out how. No bad intentions there.”
Angela sat back, her face slack with shock. She scrubbed her fingers through her hair. “Well, okay, then! I mean, I can’t say I’m surprised. He was completely in love with you when he and Mr. Newhall were here.”
Chiara sighed heavily, her eyes widening incredulously. “Why did everybody see that but me?”
Angela winked. “You weren’t looking for it, honey. You were looking after Jay. But the point here is that you’re going on a date with an Up, and Brody Hilton at that. We have to plan!”
“No wedding proposals or premature shopping with money we don’t have, please, Mom! He likes cookies. I’ll just bring him cookies. See how easy that was? Planning all done!”
Angela exchanged a glance with Holly. Holly shrugged helplessly. Angela sighed, taking one of her daughter’s hands.
“Okay, Cheech, there are a lot of things that you can be really stubborn on. You don’t like accepting help from pretty much anyone,”
“Because I usually don’t need any.” Chiara suggested with a little shrug. Angela raised a stalling finger.
“And that makes you really, really, really headstrong most of the time. But relent just a little this time! I promise not to go overboard with preparation. All I want to do is help make sure that this date goes well.”
Chiara frowned. “So…would going just as I am make it go badly? He’s seen me at home in my regular clothes. I don’t know what else I could really ruin.”
“Honey, trust me. This’ll be fun. Besides, you’re my first daughter and this is your first real date! Ignoring the fact that it’s with an Up,” She smiled tenderly, cupping Chiara’s chin in her hand. Chiara raised her eyebrows with an incredulous smile. “I’d still be this excited.”
Chiara released a slow breath and chuckled, nodding once. This was a mother figure that she could genuinely enjoy. The one that had been obsessed with the idea of her attending the Globe Academy purely for the exposure to the pompous world of the Ups was one that she would not have known how to approach about this.
The one that had seen Jay Newhall, the face of countless magazines and the future of one of the biggest business conglomerates in the world, helpless and hurting on her beat up couch and Brody Hilton, the young manager of the most upscale hotel line in the nation, making pancakes at her ancient, creaking stove, was one who seemed to want her more or less the way she was. That was comforting. Chiara felt herself relax.
“Okay. Thanks, Mom. What did you have in mind?”
Just a little one!