"Hey Izzy! Wait up!"
I stopped, just a few inches from pushing open the school front door, and turned to face my friend, Tai Kamiya, who was jogging toward me with a comic grin on his face.
"'Morning, Tai," I said, as a greeting.
"You know, school hasn't started yet," he reminded me, slowing to my pace. "We don't have to go inside."
"I'm always here early," I answered. "Not that you would know, Tai. You're never on time. How come you are today?"
He shrugged. "Joe asked if I'd meet him."
I felt my heart start to pound at that name, but refused to let it show. I'd had the biggest crush on Joe, ever since I was 12 and just started to realize that I liked boys rather than girls. Maybe it was because he's 2 years older than me, and I think just about everyone goes through some kind of infatuation with an older person. Mine's lasted for 2 years now and hasn't shown any signs of going away. So I squash it down inside me and don't let anyone know. I'm good at hiding things.
"Yeah?" I said, in response to Tai's statement. "What for? Is he having a homework problem?"
Tai laughed. "You actually think he'd ask me for help with homework? I'm not exactly a genius, you know. If school was the problem, he'd be asking you, not me."
That was true. "Maybe it's girl trouble," I suggested.
"Then he'd ask Matt." Tai grinned. "Besides, we're referring to Joe. Girls are not going to be a problem."
"How come?" I asked curiously.
He gave me a wicked grin. "Don't you know? Joe goes for guys. So girls wouldn't bother him at all."
I had to fight to keep a smile off my face. "I didn't know that." *This means I have a chance...*
"You should come up out of that computer for once and start paying more attention," Tai told me lightly. He glanced at a clock nearby. "Well, I gotta go, or I won't find him before class. See ya, Izzy."
"Bye." I kept walking, lost in thought.
*It would be really great if Joe liked me,* I thought, a kind of half-smile on my face. More than anything, I wanted to be the one to make him happy. His happiness was a lot more important to me than my own, so even if he didn't like me, I'd still want him to enjoy being with whoever he did like. Even though I dreamed about him constantly. Because when I measured up my needs against his, there was no contest. I'd give Joe anything, if he asked me. Anything at all.
I stopped by my locker and spun in the combination. Beside me, the door to the library was open. A few kids liked to work in there before class sometimes. Personally, I preferred the computer lab, but everyone had their own likes and dislikes, I guess.
"Well, it's about time I found you." The voice came from inside the library. I froze. *That was Tai.*
"Sorry. I guess I should've told you where to meet me." That voice. *His* voice. My heart started to pound.
"Yeah. So what did you want to talk to me about?"
I shouldn't have listened, but I just couldn't help myself. I was curious to know what Joe wanted to ask Tai about.
"Well... You're in love with Sora, right?" Joe asked.
"I think I might be in love, too, but I'm not sure." Joe said it really fast. "Uh... could I sort of tell you what I feel like and then you can tell me if it's love or not?"
"OK." Tai sounded amused. "Go ahead."
Disappointment was starting to settle into me. *He's in love... now I really don't have a chance!* I blinked rapidly. *I wish he loved me!*
"I really want to make him happy," Joe said. "Even if it means that I might not be happy."
I frowned. Wait a second... *That's what I was thinking about him!*
"I dream about him every night," Joe continued. "Well, most nights. And I think about him all the time -- er, when I'm not studying, that is."
My heart was pounding so hard I thought it'd burst out of my chest any second. "No way..."
"The most important thing in the world is making sure he has everything he needs," Joe went on. "I'd give him anything he wanted, if he asked."
*This is not good...* My breathing was way too fast; I felt like I was going to have a heart attack or something. "No... I can't... can I...?"
"Sounds like love to me," Tai remarked.
I groaned and leaned my head against my locker. *Great. Just great. I can't really love him, can I? I mean, I'm only 14... That's way too young. Right?* Yeah right.
"I thought so," Joe said quietly.
"So have you told him yet?"
"No." There was a pause. "I'll get around to it. One of these days..."
"One of these days?" Tai repeated. "You're kidding yourself, Joe. If you keep saying that, you'll keep puting it off."
"I'll do it sometime," Joe answered. "Just let me go at my own pace, OK?"
Tai didn't get a chance to answer, because the bell rang, signalling us to move on to our classes.
*I love him.* I stared blankly at my food tray in the cafeteria, feeling distanced from reality. Everything was strange now. *And I had to figure it out right when he says he loves someone else!* I sighed, depressed. *I'm such an idiot!*
"Hey Izzy!" Tai sat on one side of me. "What's going on? You look bummed."
"Did you fail a test or something?" Joe teased, sitting on my other side.
"No, nothing like that." I managed a grin. "I'm just tired, that's all."
"You were fine this morning," Tai reminded me. "Come on, Izzy, what's bugging you? You can tell us."
"It's not a big deal..." I could've bit my own tongue off right then and there! By saying that, I'd just admitted that something *was* bothering me.
"Hey, we can keep a secret!" Joe gave Tai a 'look'. "Well, I can. I dont' know about Tai."
"I'd only tell Sora!" Tai said defensively. "And I tell Sora everything! It's not like she told anyone, Joe."
"That's beside the point!" Joe said irritably. "You weren't supposed to tell anyone!"
*That* caught my interest. *Joe told Tai a secret, and Tai told Sora... Maybe it's who he loves!* "I'd be willing to tell you my secret if you told me yours, Joe."
A flush crept up onto Joe's cheeks. "I -- " He left the sentence hanging, obviously at a loss for words.
Tai started to laugh. "He's got you there, Joe!" He thumped me on the back. "Good deal, Izzy. Secret for secret. You gonna tell him, Joe?" A wicked grin had split his face.
"You know I can't," Joe said flatly.
I guess it wasn't a big deal, but I felt a sharp stab of hurt strike me all the same. Joe could tell Tai his secret, but he couldn't tell me. I wasn't even good enough for that.
"I-I'm not really hungry," I said, standing. I pushed my tray forward and walked away from the table.
"Hey -- wait, Izzy!" I heard Joe call out, but I couldn't turn around because my control was slipping. Tears were forming in my eyes, just hanging there, waiting to fall. I looked up and closed my eyes tight on them, not letting them out.
It wasn't until I'd made it outside that I started to run. Past our school soccer field was a haven of trees, which would make a good place for me to stuff my emotions all back inside me, where they wouldn't show. I slipped into the concealing darkness and sighed, leaning against a tree. It was much easier to think without all of those people watching.
It might have been just a few minutes later when my semi-trance was interrupted. The familiar noise of someone's shoe kicking a soccer ball broke the silence. A few seconds later, it was followed by another.
I moved to the edge of the trees and peered out, in time to see Sora flip the ball up with her foot. She bounced it on her knee, then against her chest, back to her knee, and down to her foot again. Knee, chest, knee, foot... It was interesting how well she handled the pattern. Her control was a lot better than the control I had over my emotions.
That was when I made a choice. "Sora?" I called, stepping out of the trees. "Can I, uh, talk to you for a second?"
She let the ball drop to the ground and smiled over at me. "Sure thing, Izzy. What about?"
I had a sudden picture in my mind of Tai at lunch that day, saying 'I tell Sora everything'. Would Sora tell Tai my secret? I imagined what would happen if she did, and then Tai told Joe... I shivered. *There's got to be a way I can get her advice without giving away my secret.*
"Uh... Suppose there was this person," I began, "And they really liked this other person, but the other person was kind of older. Could they have a chance?"
--------A/N: 'this person'= Izzy, and 'the other person'= Joe (just so there's no confusion) --------
"Well, that depends," Sora answered, watching my face carefully. "Is this person good friends with the other person?"
"Yes, they are!" I said, relieved that she hadn't caught on. "But this person heard the other person talking to a friend about love... and then this person realized that they were in love with the other person." I managed not to choke when I said that. "But the other person was saying that they loved someone else."
"I see." Sora frowned. "Did the other person say that they loved another *specific* person, or did they just say that they loved 'someone'?"
I was surprised at her question, but tried not to show it. "Uh... just that they loved someone."
She grinned. "Then how does this person know that the other person doesn't love them?"
"But I -- " I stopped myself. "I mean, this person is younger than the other person. Wouldn't it be unlikely that the other person would love this person?"
"This person would have just as much chance as anyone else," Sora answered solemnly. "Love doens't know age, right?"
My spirits rose a little. "Why wouldn't the other person just tell this person how he -- they -- felt, then?"
"Why wouldn't this person tell the other person how *they* felt?" Sora challenged.
"This person is really, really unsure," I said truthfully.
"Maybe the other person is, too," she answered simply. "So maybe this person should do something about it."
"You mean I should -- I mean, this person should tell the other person?" My voice was practically a squeak. I tried to settle it down. "What if they don't feel the same way?"
"Then this person would know for sure, and could start to get over the other person," she stated simply.
I looked down. "That would be hard for this person," I barely mumbled.
"Yes, it would," she admitted softly. "But it would be better than being uncertain forever, wouldn't it?"
That was true. "I guess so," I answered.
The bell ran to signal lunch time's end.
I closed my locker, feeling my fingers slip on the smooth metal. My palms were sweating... a sure sign that I was nervous. As if I needed to be reminded. My stomach was also doing flip-flops, my shoulder muscles were tense, and I was as jumpy as if someone had sicked ten fanged tigers on me. Yes, I was nervous.
I'd decided to take Sora's advice, and tell Joe the truth. I'd also decided that I was going to do it right after school, before I lost my nerve. And after that I was going to whack my head against the wall a few times to cure whatever idiot disease I'd caught!
"Hey Izzy!" A hand came down on my shoulder.
"Yiii!!!!" I jumped about ten feet in the air.
"Whoa, sorry!" Joe pulled back his hand, blinking in surprise. "Didn't mean to startle you. You're pretty tense today, Izzy. Is something wrong?"
"N-no," I gasped out. "Nothing. It's just..."
"Listen, I wanted to apologize for this morning." Joe shifted a little. "I'm sorry I made you run off. I mean, I don't really know what I did, but these kind of things usually turn out to be my fault." He shrugged.
"Don't say that." I winced. "It's not your fault at all. As a matter of fact, it's mine." I was back to being nervous, so I looked away. "Joe... I-I need to talk to you about something. I-It's kind of personal."
"OK," he agreed. "Where do you want to go?"
"I know a good place..."
It was still dark and cool back in my spot under those trees. Joe stopped after a little while and turned to face me. "OK, Izzy. What did you want to tell me?"
*He's so cute... really attractive...* My heart was pounding. "Uh, well..." An idea struck me. *It worked with Sora, so why not...?* "Joe, if this person liked another person who was older, would you say that this person had a chance?"
He blinked. "Well, yes, I guess that's possible. A lot of folks like to date younger people."
That was a good start. I took in a deep breath. "But suppose this person heard the other person say that he loved someone. And then supposed this person decided that he loved the other person too, because of what he said. Could -- could the other person possibly love this person?"
"That could be." Joe tilted his head. "I noticed that both of these people are male... Are you talking about specific guys here?"
I froze. *Shoot!* A slip-up on my part. I'd have to be more careful. This was like juggling knives. One wrong move and I'd get cut up. "Um... no, not really. It was just the first thing that came to my mind." What a lame excuse! I was wincing even as I said it.
"Mmm." Joe stared at me. "So this person loves the other person, but doesn't know if the other person loves him. How did he find out that the other person loves someone?"
I hesitated, then decided to go for the truth. "Um... this person was kind of... at his locker, and he heard the other person talking to a friend about love."
He blinked again, looking startled. "But this person doesn't know who the other person loves?"
Tears were rising in my eyes and I tried to blink them away, but they kept coming. "No, but -- " I had to pause to get my voice normal again. " -- but this person hopes that the other person might love him, because -- " Again I lost my voice and had to stop. " -- because this person really, really loves the other person and it's hurting so much..."
I couldn't finish. Those stupid tears were running down my cheeks in steady streams, ruining everything. I knew that if I tried to talk I'd start bawling my eyes out. *He must think I'm such a wimp!*
"Izzy..." Joe reached out and wiped the tears away with gentle fingers. I looked up at him, startled. "You don't have to cry. This person shouldn't feel hurt. The other person wouldn't want him to."
I knew that he'd caught on by then, so I figured I had to say it out loud. "Joe, this person is -- "
He put a finger to my lips. "This person is in luck," he finished for me. "The other person loves him, too. In fact, the other person has loved him for a long time." His eyes glowed as he looked at me.
My heart started to beat at about a trillion times per second. "You mean that, Joe?" I breathed, so full of anticipation that I felt ready to burst.
"Yes." He leaned forward, and I felt his breath brush lightly against my face. "I love you, Izzy," he said softly, then leaned down and kissed me.
The kiss blew my mind, but no more than that one statement. *He loves me? He loves me!* I leaned into the kiss, revelling in the delicious feel of his lips against mine. We finally had to break apart and take in deep breaths.
"I-I love you too, Joe," I whispered. He smiled and leaned in towards me again...
That's when we heard giggling.
Joe looked at the bushes off to my left side. He slapped a hand to his face. "Can't we get any privacy? This is a sentimental moment we're having here, for crying out loud!"
"We can see that!" Tai laughed, standing up. Sora was beside him too, looking guilty. "We just had to make sure you two didn't screw things up."
I gaped at them. "But -- how did you know?"
"Well, I told them how *I* felt," Joe explained, still looking irritated. "Or, at least, I told Tai. He just doesn't know how to keep a secret."
"I do so!" Tai protested. "Just -- not from Sora, that's all."
"How'd you find out about me?" I asked.
Sora laughed. "Oh, come on, Izzy! 'This person' likes 'this other person'? It was kind of obvious that 'this person' was you."
"And when she found out about my conversation with Joe, we knew who 'this other person' was, too," Tai added, grinning.
"Well, I thought I knew who it was before then," Sora admitted, also grinning.
My face was so hot it felt like you could barbeque stuff on it. "Great!" I mumbled. "My life is just a joke! I feel like such an idiot!"
Joe smiled and hugged my shoulders. "Well, I don't mind the fact that you're incredibly obvious when you try to hide something," he said. "Because now we're together."
"I'm not *that* obvious!" I protested, leaning into him. "I managed to hide the fact that I liked you for 2 years, and you never suspected a thing!"
"I think we need to make up for those 2 years right now," he suggested. "Don't you?"
I was probably looked like an oversized apple or something, with my face and hair all red. I could only just manage a nod.
"I think we'll be going now," Sora said, grabbing Tai's arm and steering him toward the soccer field. "Have fun, you two!"
"That shouldn't be a problem..."