"So, what's up?" Rae asked turning around toward Nick. He was standing with his back to her, his hands in fists at his sides. All of sudden, Nick turned around, grabbed Rae by the shoulders, and kissed her, long and hard.
Rae was shocked out of her mind. She just stood there for a few seconds, then started kissing him back. A picture of Todd's face passed through her mind and, just when Rae was about to pull away, Nick did.
"Sorry. I had to do that. I've been wanting to do that since we got here," Nick said, breathless.
"So have I."
"I've been wanting to kiss you since you got here, too." Rae blushed a little.
"Why didn't you?"
"I was afraid to. We're supposed to be friends, remember?"
"I know. I guess I came with the idea you'd be free and we'd pick up where we left off in Orlando."
"I thought about that, actually. But I also thought about how good a relationship like that would be. It wouldn't be fair to either of us."
"Is that why you got back together with Todd?"
"Partly. There's something you have to understand about me and Todd. Our parents dreamed about us hooking up. Sometimes they'll drop hints of wanting us to get married. Even our friends think we're the perfect couple."
"It's kind of early to say that, don't you think, Rae? It doesn't matter if your friends think you're the perfect couple. I mean, you turn twelve tomorrow. You're not even a teenager yet."
"So! What's your point?!"
"Do you really think you're in love with Todd, who happens to be seventeen, I might add."
"Yes, I do. Just like I think I could be in love with you!!"
Nick looked at Rae, stunned. Rae looked like she was just as surprised as he was.
"Do you mean that?"
Rae couldn't look at him. "I.... I don't know...."
Nick put his hands on both sides of her face. "Look at me. Do you mean that?"
"I know I like you a lot. You're very important to me. I don't know why I said what I did."
"I like you a lot and you're important to me, too, but I think we should just drop the subject for now."
They both walked back into the living room, acting as though nothing happened. They sat next to each other, tried to get Julia to talk. Nick even had his arm around Rae's shoulders. Pretty soon, everyone was ready to go out. They all decided on a movie and out the door they went.
When they got back, they found Rae's cousin, Roseanna Waconda, had shown up. Rae and Rose screamed with excitement and hugged like they haven't seen each other in years, instead of a few months. Then Rae introduced Rose to Nick, Howie, Kevin, Brian, and AJ. She took an immediate interest with Brian and he seemed to do the same with Rose. Meanwhile, Julia was listening to AJ talk and watching Brian and Rose flirt with each other, out of the corner of her eye.
Rae watched all of them. She knew Julia like Brian and Rae thought he liked her, too. She guessed she would have to wait and see what would happen between the three. 'It's going to be an interesting two weeks,' Rae thought as she watched Rose laugh at something Brian said. Then she looked at Julia and AJ. AJ was flirting with Julia big time. She was flirting a little wiht him, too. 'Yup,' Rae smiled. 'I think my life just turned into a soap opera.'
"Hey, birthday girl," Nick whispered in Rae's ear the next morning. "It's time to get up."
"Man, why do I have to go to school on my birthday? I should be allowed to stay home," Rae said, sleepily.
"You don't have anything to complain about. For the next two weeks, I will be going with you."
"Why?" This announcement really woke Rae up.
"My mom set it up with your school, so I don't get behind in my classes." Nick shrugged.
"What about AJ? Is he going to the high school?"
"What grade is AJ in?"
"He's a sophomore."
"Oh. Well, I hope he has fun. I guess that means Howie, Kevin, and Brian are just hanging around the house."
"Being the southern gentlemen they are, Kevin and Brian asked if there was anything they could do to help with the party and your mom put them right to work. Howie, too."
"My mom is going to love having them around." Rae and Nick laughed.
"What's Rose going to do all day?" asked Nick.
"She's going to school with us," Rae said. "That's what I like about having her visit. We get to go to the same school for a while."
"Is she in the same grade as you?"
"No. She's in the sixth grade. She flunked second grade."
"Whoa. Brian's going to freak out when he hears this."
"Do you think he'll care? Because I don't want Rose to get hurt."
"I don't think so."
"Come on, you two," Robbie said from Rae's doorway. "It's time to get ready for school. Even the birthday girl."
Nick and Rae got ready for school. They were goofing off the whole time. During breakfast, too. The rest of them wondered what happened between them. Todd arrived at his usual time to take Rae to school.
"Todd, here's the situation," Robbie explained. "Nick and Rose are going to Kennedy with Dee to keep them up with their classes at home. AJ is going to the high school with you. AJ's a sophomore, so keep your eye on him. Hope you all have a good day. Oh yeah, before I forget. For the next two weeks, Dee, Todd's taking you, Rose, Nick, and Julia out of class early to have lunch with them at the high school. Kevin, Brian, and Howie will be there, too. Happy birthday, sweetheart."
"Happy birthday, Rae," they all said.
"Thanks, guys. Let's take off," Rae said, walking out the front door. The rest of the crew followed suit and walked to Todd's car.