The Color of Grace
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by Linda Kage
Category: Romance/Young Adult
Description: When my mother remarried after thirteen years of being a widow, I had to move to a new town and enroll in a new school. Suddenly thrust into an entirely different kind of life, I just wanted to go home. I didn't want to meet new people, didn't want to leave my old friends, didn't want to become a third wheel to my mom and her husband?.and I really didn't want to see Ryder Yates again. Ugh, I still don't know why I turned down that too-good-to-be-true boy who flirted with me when we were attending separate schools. But honestly, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. It was worse. Who knew becoming lost in a new life could help a girl find her true colors?
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, 2012
eBookwise Release Date: September 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [363 KB]
Reading time: 230-323 min.
Through the lens of my camera, I zoomed in on the flood of purple and white blanketing Southeast High School's fan club as they swarmed my home school's bleachers on the visitors' side.
Their mascot, a violet dragon, danced and pranced past the Southeast cheerleaders, flipping up the skirt of one girl as he went. She chased him a few steps, swatting him away from her, giggling the whole time. I groaned, cringing as I watched the Barney wannabe wiggle his backside, inviting the cheerleader to spank him for his misdeed. Yeah, yeah. I know. Barney's a dinosaur and their mascot was a dragon. Big diff.
But, come on. "Who in their right mind has a dragon for a mascot?" I muttered aloud. Honestly.
An arm came around my shoulder and Bridget, my best friend in the entire world, tilted her head sympathetically to rest her temple against mine. "You will...soon."
Too right she was. The massive pretzel with cheese I'd just gorged down roiled in my stomach; I thought I might toss it back up. I let out another moan and lowered my face. Those would be my people over there, and I didn't know one of them. They'd be my classmates, and to me, they looked like total morons.
Why, oh why, had my mother married a man from Osage, home of the Southeast Dragons?
Worse yet, one of the last home basketball games my school hosted before I had to become a purple and white dragon just had to be against them.
They were having a good ball season. We were not.
Let me rephrase.
Hillsburg hadn't had a good basketball team for going on about, oh, five years now, while Southeast was blooming. Frankly, they were undefeated. Both boys and girls.
Their team was going to flatten ours and stomp our remains into dust. And I had doomed myself with the task of immortalizing the event with pictures. Since I was on the yearbook staff, I'd signed up to shoot all the home games with Bridget.
Next to me, she patted my back dolefully. "So, are you packed and ready to move yet?"
I drew in a deep, fortifying breath and sat up to once again catch sight of the dragon's progress. He was flirting with some other girl now, sitting five rows up in the Southeast fan section.
Bridge waited quietly for my answer.
She and I were part of the nerd herd, as her older brother Joel liked to call us. A total of four, we nerders had banded together years ago and bridged a friendship I knew would be unbreakable no matter how far away I had to move. But leaving them was still going to be the hardest thing I'd ever done.
I stole a quick glance her way.
"Some," I said.
Okay, I'd packed hardly anything at all. But I just couldn't do it. How could I go? How could I leave the people I'd grown up with since kindergarten and known my entire life? And how could I admit to her how hard this was for me? Seeing my dejection would only multiply her gloom and make everything ten times more miserable for both of us.
So, I lied. "Mostly."
She nodded and straightened her shoulders as if she was relieved I wasn't suffering.
The buzzer went off, making me jump and worry the entire building was ousting my fib with its strident screech. Glancing toward the record-keeper's desk where the scoreboard controls sat, I spotted Hillsburg's janitor, Mr. Velter, cringing. He bowed his shoulders like a kid who knew he'd just been caught stealing cookies and glanced around to realize he'd gained the entire gymnasium's attention. Giving a half wave and a rueful grin, he set the scoreboard time to let both teams know they had ten minutes to warm up.
Relieved the buzzer had interrupted my conversation with Bridge, I hefted the camera bag onto my shoulder. "I'm going to scout out a good spot on the end line to take pictures. Maybe I'll catch a few dunk shots while our guys warm up."
She snorted. "As if anyone on our team could make a slam dunk."
I agreed wholeheartedly but started off anyway.
Fast beat hip-hop filled the speakers, and the Hillsburg players made their big entrance, causing the home side of the gymnasium to roar with applause and the Southeast stands to boo. I shuffled my way to the end line where my team was warming up and crouched down directly behind the basket, lifting my camera and taking aim.
On the other side of the arena, the Southeast fans stood and cheered. I figured their team had finally made their way to the floor. Little did I know they'd entered the gym on the Hillsburg end until I heard, "Hey, get out of the way!"
I looked up just in time to see a dozen purple and white uniforms charging straight toward me.
To say the least, I didn't get out of the way in time.
Losing my grip on my camera, I tumbled backward against the padded wall mat, landing on my rump. The camera fell and skidded across the hardwood floor with a sickening thud.
"Oh, no!" I gasped and began crawling on hands and knees toward it as the visiting team streamed by, dodging around me. One size fourteen shoe tried to pulverize my fingers; I snatched my hand back just in time to save all five digits.
Only a single player paused. "Are you okay?"
"The camera," was all I could croak. The yearbook teacher would kill me if I broke a piece of school property.
The Southeast player crouched next to me and picked it up since he blocked my way of reaching for it myself. I caught sight of his purple and white jersey out of the corner of my eye, but the rest was pretty much a blur because I focused all my attention on the Nikon.
"Thanks." I snatched it from his outstretched hand and made cooing noises as I turned the lens this way and that, checking for cracks, scratches, and bruises.
Lingering at my side, the boy asked, "Is it broken?"
I was finally able to let out a relieved breath. "No. Thank God." Thank God, thank God, thank God.
His hand, the same that had rescued my camera from the floor, flooded my field of vision as two fingers reached for the camera's neck strap and gave it a wiggle to get my attention. "You know, this thingy here," he said, "that's to put around your neck so you don't drop your camera when you get jostled."
He was teasing me. I could hear it in the timbre of his voice. The jerk was trying to make light of my near camera-death experience.
I frowned and muttered back, "Really? And here I thought that was its carrying handle."
Instead of turning as huffy as I had, he laughed. And, sweet mercy, that laugh went straight through me, tingling up the back of my spine and running along my nervous system to come out the ends of my fingers and toes. Its tone, its mere melodic quality, had me lifting my head so I could see its owner's face.
As soon as I saw him, I jerked back and landed on my butt. Yeah, again.
His beauty was unreal. I had to blink repeatedly to make sure my fall hadn't jostled my eyesight. But every time my lashes flickered open, I saw the boy clearly, in faultless, spectacular detail.
Still grinning over my sarcastic crack, he pushed to his feet and held out his hand to help me up. I glanced at his fingers, gaped as if I had no idea what they were, then shifted my gaze up to his face again because, well really, I couldn't stop gawking at those stunning features.
He had the greenest eyes I'd ever seen, a pale, sparkly, jewel-kind of green, like the birthstone for August. Peridot. Yeah, he had peridot green eyes. And his smile was absolute flawlessness--flawless full lips, flawless teeth, flawless laugh line wrinkling the corner of his flawless mouth, which was framed in wider cheekbones with a slimmer jaw. He had the longest lashes known to humankind and fixed his silky-straight, sandy-colored hair in a fashionable manner with the shaggy bangs pushed to the side just far enough to see out from under them. His eyebrows were a shade darker, which only seemed to highlight his peridot eyes with a vivid intensity instead of detracting from his overall looks. He had to be flawless inside and out.
He was all things handsome and unattainable.
And way out of my nerdy league.
"Need some help up?" he asked, reminding me he was still waiting for me to take his hand.
I glanced at his fingers again, finally inspecting them in detail. A scratch ran across his knuckles from his pinkie to his middle finger. The thumbnail had a bruise under it, as if he might've hit it with a hammer. They were one hundred percent boy hands. Nothing girly or feminine about them.
Repressing a shiver of interest, I cleared my throat. "Thank you," I said and gingerly took his fingers.
At the contact of skin against skin, a sharp, prickling sensation sprouted out the center of my palm, spreading through my wrist and arm, tickling my elbow and every sensitive nerve ending I possessed.
I gave an inward sigh.
He began to help me upright, so I pushed with my legs to assist, except we both put a little too much oomph into our efforts because momentum kept me going until he tugged me against him. Literally.
Bumping noses, we each sputtered a harried, "Sorry, sorry."
I scurried backward just as he reached out to steady me, grasping the side of my shoulder. Utterly embarrassed, my face flamed red so fast, I was surprised the blush didn't explode out the top of my scalp through the roots of my dark hair and turn me into a carrot top. Or maybe it had. I didn't exactly have a mirror handy to see if I'd flushed myself from a brunette into a redhead.
"Are you okay?" he asked in harmony with my third apology. Then he laughed that delightfully musical laugh of his, drawing my attention back to his face. As our gazes caught and held, his smile dropped, as did the chuckle in his throat.
"Hi," he said, his voice breathless as if staring at me affected him the same exact bulldozing way it affected me.
"Hi," I wheezed back and looked away before I melted into a puddle of adoration at his feet.
Determined to act as if nothing earth shattering had just happened, I discreetly wiped the floor grime off my backside and then clicked off a blind shot so it'd look like I was concentrating on my job. Later, I learned I'd taken a picture of the free throw line and three pair of Hillsburg players' shoes.
Startled because he hadn't shrugged me off for a loser and left, I jolted and glanced up to take in his purple and white Southeast uniform. He was number forty-two. I had no idea why that detail stuck in my head but it seemed easier to focus on his jersey than to look back into his too-beautiful-for-his-Southeast-jersey green eyes.
He flashed his pearly whites with a knowing grin as if he realized exactly how awestruck I felt. "And you are..." he prompted.
My mouth opened. Then closed. Then opened again. Not a word came out. My vocal chords had failed me. The most handsome boy I'd ever seen wanted to know my name.
As my brain wrapped around that fact, my thoughts fizzled and spurted out.
That was the only word to flash in bright neon lights through my head. I needed to get out of there before he realized I was a nobody.
"Not interested," I blurted, more in a mummy trance than from actually thinking my answer through, because why, oh heavens, why I said not interested I still don't know.
Not interested was exactly the opposite of what I really felt. But geez. This was more than I could handle. This guy--this Ryder--was one smooth worker. He was too much for me. Too bold, too cool, too beautiful. If he knew I belonged to a "nerd herd," he'd probably smack himself in the forehead for even looking my way, then flee as fast as his beautiful, tanned and toned legs could carry him.
But he knew nothing about me. And there he continued to stand, smiling as if I was something special.
I floundered in his presence--his sparkling, overwhelming, gorgeous presence. Glancing down at my camera, pretending I was trying to figure out a setting on the control knobs, I stalled, hoping he'd give up on me and scram.
"Really?" Forty-two answered, sounding surprised, and not moving on at all. "Not interested, huh? Well, that's...interesting." Unable to help myself, I looked up. He grinned, unaffected by my brush off. "What is 'Not Interested' anyway? A family name? Irish or something? Hmm. It sounds...German?"
With no other witty lines left in my arsenal of comebacks, I panicked. Tucking my camera close, I spun from Mr. Perfect and scampered off.
"Hey, where're you going?" His voice, confused yet curious, called after me. "Hey. Why didn't your mother name you Maybe, or We'll See, or What's-Your-Number? That way, we could call our first born Absolutely."