The following is a short story I just finished writing. With the help of ideas from Alaina Tantalo (my cousin), this story has come together. It's called "Best Friend Masquerade."
“Hey Rhonda, I think I might ask Lana to the prom. I’m nervous though, what if she says no?” Ben asked me on that cold February morning of my senior year. He was wearing a sporty coat, an Adidas tuque, and a pair of nice jeans. He looked fantastic. A little bit of stubble grew on the side of his face and just under his nose, his green eyes looked excited, and his hair peaked out under his hat.
“Ben, you know she won’t say no. You guys have been flirting non-stop for the past couple of months and everyone knows that you have a thing for each other. She’d be crazy to not go with you,” I answered unwillingly, feeling the blood rush to my cheeks.
“Really? She likes me too?” Ben asked.
“Ben, you’re crazy. She obviously does,” I said. He smiled at me one of those smiles that make your heart jump up and down a billion times. He had perfect teeth, always had. Thanks to peripheral vision, my trance was disturbed.
“Well look at who has just turned the corner, it’s your lady in waiting,” I said but before I could emphasize my sarcasm Ben turned to face the teen queen.
“Hey Bennie,” Lana said with such enthusiasm. Eugh Bennie, I hated when she called him that. We were in the twelfth grade, not grandparents.
“Hey Lana-Banana, you look great today, just like you always do!” Ben said.
I felt the anger rush from my toes to my ears; she always looked so damn perfect. Her hair never had a kink in it, her eyeliner never smudged, and she seemed to enjoy her lack of carbohydrates at lunchtime.
“Thank you Bennie, want to walk with me to math class?” Lana asked.
“Of course I do. Let’s go,” Ben answered.
The two love birds left a millisecond later without even bothering to acknowledge me. There I was, standing in the middle of St. Joseph High School’s parking lot by myself wearing a ginormous yellow winter coat. While Bennie-Bear was off with Lana-Banana I had no one to walk me to my English class.
I hated Lana she always ruined everything. If she had come a moment later, Ben could have walked with me half way until we reached my class and then he could have gone down the math hall to get to his class. To boot, Lana had long blonde hair, bright blue eyes, a perfect waste, and all that clichéd crap. I on the other hand, had short curly hair, glasses, a horrible waste, and short legs. Lana’s parents were rich; she drove a brand new Audi, wore brand name clothes, and fit into size zero. I came from a regular household. Both my parents worked average jobs; we had a regular house, with regular cars, and regular clothes. I had never fit into a size zero. The smallest I’d ever been was a size seven and that was pushing it. Ben was my best friend. We’d grown up together but when we started at St. Jo’s he automatically became friends with all of the popular kids leaving me to befriend me, myself, and I. It’s not as if Ben didn’t have time for me or anything, we still spoke and hung out once in a while, but it wasn’t like the old days. I had been replaced by parties, popular people, and of course Lana.
I picked myself up and marched across the parking lot praying I’d get to the front door without tripping. I made it to the entrance, which was a good thing, but the second I pulled the door open and looked straight ahead, I saw Lana pushed up against the wall talking to Brad, the school stoner. They were grossly close and he was whispering something in her ear. I almost gagged because she had a grotesque happy look on her face. I didn’t know why, Brad smelled permanently awful, always wore his New York Yankees hat backwards, and wore his pants down to his knees. He had cigarette stains on his teeth and fingers, and was always dealing drugs out of his locker. I couldn’t understand why she was with Brad and not with Ben, even though I was secretly happy I had caught her in the act. I walked by trying not to stare but hoping I’d be able to tell Ben before lunch just incase he hoped to secure his prom date status with the tramp.
Just as I turned the corner, the bell rang meaning I was late for English. Great, Mr. Moron (I mean Morin, I just called him that because he hated me) would kill me for being en retard. He always said that whenever someone he disliked came in the classroom after the bell, like he was trying to prove how great he was for knowing how to say “late” in French.
I was just about to enter the classroom when I peaked in the door to find the school principle, Mr. Crane, standing at the front of the classroom. I creaked the door open a smidget hoping that I wouldn’t direct the class’s attention on my awkward entrance, but of course everyone stopped and stared.
“Good morning Ms. Cleve, nice of you to join us,” Mr. Crane said. He would use my last name, which I wasn’t really fond of. It was like ‘Cleveland’ without the ‘land’, but what did Cleve mean? Nothing, it just sounded funny. It didn’t make ‘Rhonda’ sound any better, either.
“Sorry I’m late, sir,” I answered.
“It’s alright, please have a seat,” Mr. Crane said.
I sat at the back of the class beside Alicia Mozart, the singing talent of St. Jo High, and Tommy the Tub. It was a safe spot because I was the balance between talented and not so talented; I was just the average Jo kid. I hadn’t had time to go to my locker so I awkwardly pulled off my yellow jacket and put it on the back of the chair. Mr. Crane still didn’t say anything; I guess he was waiting for something or me to get settled. I placed my hands on top of the desk and looked at Mr. Crane suggesting that he can move on with his preaching.
He cleared his throat and then began, “Now that mostly everyone has arrived to class on this lovely morning, I just want to let you know that Mr. Morin is going to be late to class. He is experiencing some car trouble. I am going to go back to my office, please behave.” After he finished, he gave me a look like I had been the one to misbehave in class because I came in thirty seconds late. I hated this school because everyone was so pish-posh perfect. No one could be late if there wasn’t a good enough excuse. I happened to be experiencing emotional turmoil but that didn’t matter to Mr. Crane and this darn school, it didn’t even matter to Ben.
Naturally, the second Mr. Crane left the classroom everyone went ballistic. Tommy the Tub pulled out some nasty sandwich that smelled like rotten pickles and expired mustard, Alicia Mozart took out her iPod and started singing tracks from Dirty Dancing, and all of the other kids did their own thing too. I didn’t have my own thing to do, though, so I just watched. Mark Greener rolled up a piece of paper and tossed it to Amy Stuart who gave him a flirty but outraged look and tossed it back at him. Pretty soon the entire class was stuck in this paper throwing frenzy, except for me of course. Everyone had learned I sucked at catching and throwing anything; they were smart not to pass the paper ball to me.
When Tommy pulled away from his nasty sandwich, he turned to me and said through the thick mustard between his lips, “did you hear why Mr. Morin was experiencing car trouble”
“No,” I said awkwardly. I was taken aback from his conversation starter. I felt self-conscious to be speaking to him in public; you knew you weren’t cool when TubTub started talking to you.
“I heard Stoner Brad stole the old Honda in the parking lot before school started to take a pretty lady for a ride,” Tommy said as he swiped a bead of sweat that trickled down his cheek.
I was curious now.
“Oh really?” I asked, “How do you know?”
“When I was walking to school I saw Brad and his boys smoking and talking about the steal,” he said.
“And you didn’t think to say anything?” I asked.
“You think they’d listen to just a regular old guy like me? They’d burn me with their cigarettes and chase me until I collapse,” he answered.
“True,” I said. “But you could have at least told somebody.”
“No one believes a fat kid, there’s no point in making an effort to get the brute into trouble. I’ll just pay for my unjust act in the future,” Tommy said. I was beginning to get annoyed with Tommy because he was so passive but I couldn’t really talk because I would have only told one person the news, Ben. But, he was in math class dreaming of his girl, his girl who was off with druggy Brad. That’s when it hit me; I could turn this entire situation around to get Ben to see how bad Lana was for him.
“Thanks Tommy, you’ve really brightened my day,” I said to him.
“Well, no problem Rhon—wait what? Why? What are you going to do with what I’ve told you? You can’t tell anyone, the stoners are going to know that I told on them,” he started saying really panicky.
I patted his chubby hand and said, “Tommy, no one’s going to know you had anything to do with this. Just do me a favour okay, if Mr. Morin comes in and asks where I am, tell him I was feeling sick and went home.”
“You want me to lie?” He asked.
“Please?” I said.
“I’ll try, but I’m really sucky at it,” he explained.
“It’s fine, I’m worse!” I exclaimed, grabbed my huge jacket, and ran out of the chaotic classroom. For the first time in my high school career, I didn’t care what Alicia, Mark, or Amy thought of my escape. I didn’t care that my short, curly hair was bouncing awkwardly as I ran, I didn’t care that I could trip and fall, all I cared about was Ben. My Ben, not Liar-Lana’s.
When I turned the corner to go back out the same door I had entered that morning, I realized that I couldn’t escape without telling Ben. I reached into my coat pocket, hoping my cell phone was there, but of course it wasn’t. I didn’t think very clearly, but I stormed out the door and didn’t worry about telling Ben anymore, he’d have to wait just like I had to wait my entire life for him to like me as someone more than a friend. He’d probably hate me for not telling him, but I had to do something about Mr. Morin’s stolen car and Lana before I told him anything.
When I got to the parking lot, there was no one in sight. It was really creepy, actually. The day had gotten grayer and it had begun to snow the thick kind of snow that stayed on the ground for two to three days. I had to be extra careful now because knowing me, I’d slip and fall.
I didn’t have much time to think so I stormed across the parking lot, slipping a few times but never falling. When I reached the end of the lot, I had to choose between going left or right. If I went left, I’d be heading to the Wal-Mart and gas station where a lot of people would see me, but if I went right, I’d be heading to Thomson Park where not a lot of people went when it snowed which just so happened to be a perfect setting for a stolen car ride. The park had a long asphalt path that wrapped around the town pond. I used to go there in the summertime with Ben when he wasn’t so busy with his social life. I turned to my right and bolted down the sidewalk dreading the run around the pond but I still kept going.
Half way to the park entrance, a siren and the sound of an angry police engine followed my every step. I stopped running immediately. “Come on, Tommy, you couldn’t have kept a secret for one period?” I thought out loud, refusing to turn and face the cop car. I started playing that game, you know the one when you’re awkwardly in a place you shouldn’t be so you search around in your pockets for something hoping that anyone watching shifts their glance when you can’t play any more? Well, I only had my jacket pockets to look through so I was basically screwed. I heard a car door slam and let out a long sigh. “Goodbye world,” I let out.
“Excuse me miss, what did you say?” the cop said sternly.
“Oh, hello officer. I didn’t see you there,” I tried to convince. He then gave me that you-couldn’t-lie-if-I-paid-you look and I felt really darn stupid. “I mean,” I corrected, “I heard you but I didn’t see you.” I gave him a half-hearted smile, hoping he believed me. He chuckled a little and took off his aviators that he certainly didn’t need, and just stared at me. “What?” I said, feeling uncomfortable.
“Well, excuse me for disrupting your early morning jog, but shouldn’t you be in school?” the officer said.
“As a matter of fact I should be,” I said sounding like a complete idiot, “but I’m experiencing some emotional anguish and I needed to get out of that school for a quick run. I’m going right back though, I assure you.”
“You don’t have anything to do with Mr. Morin’s stolen car, do you?” He asked.
“No, not personally,” I said, sort of scared.
“Hmmm, well it’s rather chilly out so what do you say you hop in my cruiser and we figure out what’s going on together?” the officer asked.
I gave him a puzzled look, “is this a trick, officer?” I asked. “I seriously have nothing to do with the stolen car, I know about it and I was on my way to find out more on it, but seriously I didn’t have anything to do with the actual act.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, little lady, I wasn’t trying to pressure you. I believe you, but you’re going to catch a mighty bad cold if you don’t come inside the car and let me do the driving,” the cop said.
I started to walk over to his cruiser; I opened the door, and hopped in. It felt really weird being inside there. I felt like an officer on the lookout for trouble, which I guess you could say I was. The officer got into the driver’s seat beside me and drove towards the park entrance turning his sirens on and going twenty over the limit.
“So what’s your name?” the officer said.
“I’m Rhonda Cleve, and you?” I answered.
“I’m Officer Ron, here to protect you and your school from robbers,” he said.
I looked at Officer Ron with my puzzled face. I wanted to ask him why he thought a robber had come to steal Mr. Morin’s car when it would have been more probable to assume that one of the students from St. Jo’s had stolen it. The cruiser quickly turned into the Thompson Park path but nothing was in sight. Officer Ron pulled over just as we were reaching a brush of large pine trees and unlocked my door from the inside.
“What are we doing?” I asked.
“Well, as much as I’d like to drive into the woods over there, it’s going to be quite hard since there are no roads in the brush. It’d be a better idea to get out and walk. Hopefully the robber won’t be in too far,” he answered. Again with this robber, whom was he expecting? It was just stoner Brad and Lana, but could I be so sure?
“Um, Officer Ron,” I asked as I stumbled out of the cruiser. “I think I might know exactly who stole Mr. Morin’s car.”
“Was it that Ben fellow that goes to your school, he’s been in an awful lot of trouble lately hanging around with Lana and Brad,” he answered.
“What do you mean Ben’s been getting into all sorts of trouble? Ben’s my best friend, he would tell me if he was planning on doing something mischievous and I assure you this wasn’t his idea. Last I heard, he was planning on asking Lana to prom not stealing Mr. Morin’s car,” I snapped back.
“Well, he has been smoking up a lot, drinking, fooling around, and whatnot. He’s been caught with marijuana possession three times in the last month. I’m not too fond of this Ben fellow,” Officer Ron said.
“What?” I asked, we were halfway into the woods by now but there was still no sign of Mr. Morin’s car.
“Yeah, if he’s your best friend, I’m surprised you’re not in this with him. Or are you supposed to be a decoy or something?” He asked, shocked.
“No, I am not a decoy,” I snapped. “I’m on a mission to find Lan—I mean Mr. Morin’s stolen car.”
“What was that?” He asked. Great, I thought.
“Ugh, I didn’t want to say anything but Lana is Ben’s crush, they’ve been talking about going to prom together and dating for a while now,” I said. “But Ben’s too good for her, she’s just some scumbag who thinks she owns the place! And, I saw her before my class started today with Brad so my plan was to tell Ben that Brad and Lana were getting frisky behind his back. That’s when I found out about the stolen car and that Brad may have something to do with it.”
“Well, slow down there, sweetheart. Sounds like you’re a little jealous of Lana and Bennie. So, Brad stole the car?” Officer Ron asked.
“Yeah, that was what I was trying to tell you when I said I knew something about the crime,” I answered annoyed that even Officer Ron referred to my Ben as Bennie. Perhaps he wasn’t my Ben anymore though, he had turned into stoner Bennie.
“Hmm, who told you that?” Officer Ron asked.
“Tommy the Tub, well Tommy for newcomers, he told me in class,” I answered.
“I know of a Tommy Cable, would that be the same one you’re telling me about?” Officer Ron asked.
“Yeah, that’s him,” I answered.
“Well, he’s a good young fellow, I just don’t understand how he knew before I did,” Officer Ron said.
“He saw Brad and his boys talking about it and smoking up before school started but I promised I wouldn’t tell so please keep it quiet alright?” I told him.
“I can’t keep all of that quiet, do you know who these other boys were?” Officer Ron asked.
“I just know Brad for sure, Officer,” I answered.
“Well look over here,” Officer Ron said as we turned yet another forest corner, “there’s a car parked over there. It looks like Morin’s old Honda, am I right?”
“It might be, let’s go look,” I said almost biting my tongue praying that Ben wouldn’t be there smoking. Not my Ben.
Officer Ron tapped on the car window, holding a flashlight to see into the vehicle. Lana was in the back seat, stripped of her clothing, makeup smudged, hair kinked, and bleeding. A part of me was glad to see her hair and makeup messed up but I freaked out when I saw the blood. I’d never been good with blood, even when it was on the one girl I hated.
“Oh my dear Jesus,” Officer Ron said as he pulled open the car door. There was Lana breathing heavily staring at Officer Ron asking for help, crying, and bleeding. Even I felt bad. Officer Ron called for more backup and went inside to try and comfort Lana. I was standing outside of the car, completely startled and shaken, when I saw Ben running up the path. Here was my chance to shine. As much as I cared about Ben, I hated that he hadn’t told me about his new habits. I hated it very much.
“Rhonda! I’ve been looking all over for you, something awful has happened. Morin’s car has been stolen, Brad and Lana are both missing, and the entire school’s freaking out,” Ben said.
“Yeah, yeah, I know all that. What I didn’t know was that you are the new school druggy. What happened to my Ben? My favorite Ben? The Ben I could call at any time for help? The Ben that trusted me?” I screamed.
“What are you talking about, Rhonda, I don’t do drugs. You know that,” he responded.
“Well Officer Ron told me something different. I have some news for you, Lana is bleeding in Morin’s car behind me, I came searching for Brad and Lana because I found out Brad was the one who stole the car and they were flirting before class started. I wanted to tell you that you’re being cheated; I wanted to tell you because I care about you and you’re too blind to see it. I don’t even know who you are anymore Ben, or should I say stoner Bennie,” I snapped. Ben just stood there staring at me like he never met be before. He walked passed me, really pissed off, to Morin’s car. I turned to face the scene.
“Hi Officer. Is Lana alright?” Ben asked.
“She’s going to be okay, the ambulance should be here soon. Someone’s hurt her real bad and I have no doubt in this world that it was that Ben guy, the new druggy on the streets,” the officer answered.
“Ben? I’m Ben!” Ben answered. I just kept rolling my eyes the entire time; it was like Ben was putting on a show, like he didn’t know that what he’d done was illegal. I walked over to the car.
“Officer Ron, this is Bennie,” I said. Ben looked at me funny, probably because I had called him Bennie really sarcastically.
“Rhonda, this ain’t the Ben I was telling you about earlier, he was scruffy looking. He wore baggy clothes and smelled funky, this here looks more like Brad,” Officer Ron said.
“No, Officer, he’s Ben. Brad is the one with the baggy clothes and the awful aroma. He’s the one who stole Morin’s car!” I exclaimed.
Lana then said, “Officer, this is Bennie.” I groaned at the name. “Ben,” she corrected. “Brad is the one who stole the car, he told me he’d take me to a real special place, but when we got here he started to take off my clothes and hurt me real bad. When I started bleeding, he got scared and took off. He didn’t want to get caught in the act.”
All three of us gasped, including Ben who was even more startled that he had been cheated. “You mean to say, Lana, that you’ve been sneaking around with Brad when I’m not looking?” Ben asked.
“I’m so sorry, Ben. It’s true,” Lana said. Ben said nothing. “Bennie, please don’t hate me,” Lana said.
“You’ve hurt me real bad, Lana. I wanted to take you to the prom and now you’re going to be going all alone. Brad’s going to jail I’d bet and I just don’t want to be with you,” Ben said.
“Well, Brad is certainly going to be put under arrest. We can’t have an assaulter running around here,” Officer Ron said. Sirens could now be heard in the distance and a few moments later four paramedics were carrying a stretcher and three policemen were making their way up the path. They reached the car and put Lana on the stretcher.
“I’m so sorry, Ben. You don’t deserve to be treated like how I treated you,” Lana said.
“Lana, focus on getting better,” Ben answered trying not to be angry at the entire thing.
For a moment, it was just me and Ben standing beside each other. I wouldn’t look at him because I could only imagine how he felt right now. I was even upset and somewhat guilty for accusing him of abusing drugs. So I turned to the right and just stared at the empty forest when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Rhonda, I’m not a druggy,” Ben said.
“I know, I’m sorry. I couldn’t believe Officer Ron when he told me but then he kept saying your name and it just got to me. The whole thing got to me,” I said as I started to cry. He then embraced me the kind of hug that squeezes you really tight, letting you know that you’ve been missed. I wanted so bad to kiss him but I knew he would be in no mood to kiss me. “Ben,” I managed to say, “I’m sorry for everything. If I’d had my cell phone with me, I would have texted you to join me on the chase but I forgot it at home and if I had done that then maybe we could have gotten here sooner before Brad attacked her.”
“It’s not your fault that Brad hurt Lana. It’s not your fault about Morin’s car, either. The most important thing is that Lana is going to be taken care of and Brad’s going to be put behind bars,” Ben said.
“I wanted to be the super girl, saving the day, but I don’t think I earn that title,” I said to him.
“You don’t have to be a super girl, Rhonda. The fact that you did all this to try and prove to me that I was getting mistreated means more than anything right now,” Ben said. I awkwardly looked up wiping away my mascara tears hoping that they wouldn’t smudge. Ben then took one finger and wiped the other tears away, making my heart flutter with every touch.
“Hey, sorry to ruin your moment,” Officer Ron called from down the path, “but it’s time to get going.” Ben and I started to walk towards Officer Ron, I tried to stop crying but I was still shocked at what happened. How could I be so naïve? This whole thing was just too crazy and I never expected it to happen so close to me, but it did. Ben could sense my anxiety and reached over and put one arm over my shoulders. I couldn’t help but smile.
“That’s the Rhonda I want to see. Don’t be sad, it will all be okay,” he comforted. I wanted so badly to tell him I loved him, I always had loved him, but I couldn’t. I could only be so brave. So I stayed beside him, as close as I could.
“Alright friends,” Officer Ron said to us as we approached his cruiser, “Lana’s been taken to the hospital and the paramedics said she’s going to be alright. The other officers went off to find Brad and he must not be too far. Lana said he had taken off only moments before we arrived. And as for you two, it’s time to get you back to school in time to catch the bus.”
We both hopped into Officer Ron’s cruiser, at the back this time where I felt like a prisoner instead of an officer. Ben’s arm hadn’t left my shoulders. “So, what were you saying before about caring about me?” Ben asked. I almost choked when he said that.
“What?” I asked, pretending to be stupid.
“Come on, Rhonda, what did you say?” He asked again.
“She has a thing for you, always had by the looks of it,” Officer Ron said. I could have killed him; I did not picture professing my love to Ben in the back of a cop car.
“Is that so, Rhonda?” Ben said, with a stupid smile on his face. Nonetheless, it was to die for.
I sighed, “Maybe.”
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with that is there?” Ben asked.
“No, there ain’t. Now get out of my car and get on home,” Officer Ron said while laughing. So, the two of us got out of his car, waved goodbye, and found our school bus. We sat beside each other, really close this time, and he leaned in as if to kiss me but I froze.
“What’s wrong?” He whispered.
“Are you trying to kiss me?” I asked, idiotically.
“Maybe,” he said as he leaned into me and pressed his warm lips on mine. Warmth ran up and down my spine until his lips released. I looked up at him, breathless.
“What?” He asked. “I can’t kiss you?”
“I didn’t know you wanted to,” I remarked.
“Did you not know that I want you to be my prom date either?” He asked. I smiled right then and there the biggest smile I’d ever made. He looked at me with his big green eyes and smiled too. “I love you, Rhonda,” he said and pressed his lips against mine once more.