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“Remember, Andi, you’re beautiful no matter how anyone objects.”


Andi heaved a sigh, feeling that her mother’s comment was completely worn out, yet at the same time missing hearing her dad say the same thing.


“I know I say it all the time, Andi, but you really are beautiful-majestically beautiful.”


“Trust me, Mom, no one-not even the preps-can bring me down. You know that.”


“Now that’s the spirit! You have a good day at school.”


Andi jumped out of the car, knowing but not caring that she would be greeted by the mockery of the preps in their huddle.


“The British are coming!” Pierre was perhaps the most eager of all to ridicule Andi-especially about her offbeat clothes.


Andi attempted but failed to stifle a chuckle; she felt proud and stately in her purple Revolution-style jacket. But that wasn’t the only thing that made Andi laugh: Pierre was so easy to taunt that it was almost as if Andi herself were the agitator.

***



“You plan on getting mauled by some Hessians, General Andi?” teased Vera.


‘What an airhead!’ thought Andi. If Vera were a Hessian, Andi would have been tempted to demonstrate that the Hessians were mauled by George Washington and his army. But since Vera wasn’t a Hessian and fighting on school grounds was cause for an assault charge, Andi simply walked past the prep huddle and approached her own friends.


“Hello, my militant Czarina,” Franz adoringly greeted her. He then saluted her.


She saluted back. “I guess a little of my dad’s etiquette still exists.”


Andi sure hoped so: She and Franz had been dating for nearly five months, and despite Franz’s age advantage, he was still a bit immature even for a high school guy.


“I think Bruce has something to show you,” Franz told Andi.


“Andi, you are gonna love this!” exclaimed Bruce.


Andi approached Bruce, and he motioned to her to look at his computer screen.


“Oh my gosh, Bruce, did you design that yourself?”


“A Bruce original. I’ve always associated the queen of the geeks with the stars.”


Andi and Bruce shared the gift of artistic creativity. They were both modest about their talent, however-they each thought the other one was more adept.


“Bruce, may I have the last few minutes before class with Andi?” Franz requested.


“Yeah, sure,” Bruce reluctantly agreed. “I’ll see you in math class, Andi.”


Franz led Andi to their usual place: the side of the gym building.


“Are you sure that Bruce isn’t even a tad bit jealous, Andi?” Franz interrogated, though not for the first time.


“Franz, get a clue. Bruce is not jealous of either one of us. He’s my best friend, and he’s happy for me when I’m happy,” Andi retorted, obviously annoyed.


“Then I guess he won’t mind if I do this.” Franz then lifted Andi off her feet and kissed her.


Technically, making out on school property was grounds for detention, but Andi was conveniently-and infamously-a school-wide teacher’s pet.

***



Pierre sat in the back of the classroom, not really paying attention to the American history lecture. He was too caught up in his own thoughts.


‘Geez, that Revolutionary jacket was likely the most hilariously awkward fashion shenanigan Andi’s pulled all year!’ Pierre thought as he stifled a laugh.


Andi had long been infamous. She had managed to cheat on an English test freshman year with no disciplinary consequences other than receiving a zero on that test-not to mention that Pierre had seen her cheat twice before then without getting caught.


Then, in sophomore year, Andi’s best friend Bruce announced that he was gay-the news spread like wildfire, and the in-crowd was quick to attack Bruce. Pierre remembered it all, yet the clearest aspect of it was when Andi acted to bring the mockery to an end. She had confronted the prep huddle and handed everyone in it a flyer about a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting. When Vera, Pierre, and the rest of the preps threw the invitations back at Andi, she simply commanded them, “If you don’t care to know, then shut your ignorant mouths the hell up!”


Of course, Andi’s ridiculous wardrobe was a daily temptation for derision on the part of the prep huddle, but Pierre knew that Andi’s power and sense of control was the crown jewel of her infamy. For some reason, though, Pierre burned inside every time he teased Andi.

***



“Will her majesty the queen of math please make sure I did this worksheet correctly?” Bruce playfully besought.


“I’ll make sure it’s up to royal standards,” Andi assured as she winked back at Bruce.


“You’re the greatest, Andi.” Bruce loved having the chance to say that to Andi, because she was surprisingly modest for someone who was so widely adjudged.


Opinions of Andi ranged from revilement to reverence, but Bruce’s opinion her was more special than the rest. They had been best friends since they were toddlers; neither one of them could remember anything that preexisted their friendship.


Sometimes Bruce resented being gay, yet at the same time he knew that Andi loved him as unconditionally as he loved her. She was the perfect best friend, and loving her was obscurely simple.

***



“How was your day, Andi?” her mother inquired.


“Decent for a Thursday,” Andi flatly replied.


“Did anyone compliment you about your jacket?”


“Of course Pierre made fun of it, but Franz was impressed. According to him, I’m a militant Czarina.”
Andi’s mother chuckled. “What about Bruce?”
“Mom, you know that Bruce doesn’t have to say anything about the way I look. I know he regards me as beautiful.”
Mom smiled. “I know that Franz and Bruce think of you as beyond beautiful. And I know that you may not be able to fathom it, but I think that Pierre really does like you. He just doesn’t feel the need to show it right now.”
“You’re totally right; I can’t fathom that in the least.” Although she didn’t continue to explain, Andi couldn’t clearly perceive the extent of Franz’s admiration. He was a piece of work when it came to emotions because he was a bit na¿ve and somewhat fitting of the typical-teenage-guy stereotype.
“Perhaps you could make Pierre show how he really feels, or at least let on that you’re not fooled.”
“When would I get the chance…oh, did you invite him and his mother over for dinner?”
“Tomorrow night.”
Andi sighed. “That’s not exactly how I had hoped to spend my Friday night, Mom.”
“I know you don’t care for his company, but-”
“He’s a pain in the ass-”
“Well, then, if he pushes you over the edge, I’ll let you do whatever you want to him,” surrendered Mom.
“Even though you’re best friends with his mom? How would that work? Besides, he always puts on an act when he’s in front of you and his mom.”
“I’ll deal with his mom; you just be yourself.”
Not that it was necessary for her mom to remind her: Andi never put on act-other than her own, that is. It was the source of her infamy; however, she would rather deal with Pierre and the preps’ gibe than capitulate to blending in.
“I’d still rather spend tomorrow night helping Bruce paint the new canvases his mom bought for us,” pleaded Andi.
“I know, but I’ll let you spend all day Saturday and after church on Sunday if you can manage to tolerate Pierre at the dinner table. Does that sound like a good deal to you?”
“Consider it a deal,” acquiesced Andi.
It would certainly be difficult not to spitefully leave the table as soon as Pierre laid judging eyes on her, but the idea of calling him on the insults he attempted devilishly stimulated Andi. Still, though, she wanted spend the whole weekend with Bruce and Franz more than she wanted to rip Pierre a new one.

***

Andi always felt like a magical fairy when she wore her blue dress printed with silver moons. It gave her the feeling that she could snap her fingers to make anything unpleasant repel her world as though it had an atmosphere of Teflon. The only drawback was that the dress didn’t satisfy the school dress code, so Andi had to work her own magic there. Not that she had trouble with that, but a stimulus for a feeling of invincibility was definitely a plus.
“You look gorgeous, Andi; as majestically beautiful as a fairy queen,” Mom complimented Andi.
Andi smiled craftily. “And if Pierre has anything contradictory to say to that or to anything about me, I’ll work some of my dark magic on him.”
“That’s my tough girl,” Mom cheered.
Just then, the doorbell chimed.
“Do you want to go get it, Andi?”
“Not really, but I suppose I will anyway.” Her sole motivation was to observe Pierre’s initial reaction, which wickedly exhilarated her.
“Good evening, Madame Renault,” Andi greeted, initially ignoring Pierre.
“And good evening to you, Andi,” cordially reciprocated Madame Renault.
Pierre didn’t say anything; the truth was that he couldn’t say anything. He was petrified from the moment Andi opened the door. Pierre sensed an ambiance of confidence at Andi’s house every time he came over or even simply drove past her house, but it was especially strong that night.
“Aren’t you gonna come in, Pierre?” Andi coaxed.
He entered the house, still silent, still dumbfounded. And he was guileless, artless, uncanny.

***

“Cassie, this jambalaya is wonderful! A secret recipe, I presume,” Madame Renault complimented.
“Nothing clandestine; only convention,” Andi’s mother avowed.
Andi saw that Pierre had eaten hardly any jambalaya. Andi thought it to be comically incongruous because if anyone should be expected to have a taste for jambalaya, it would be a Cajun descendant.
Despite Pierre not having eaten, Andi’s mother took everyone’s plate and made way for the sink.
“I’ll help with the dishes,” offered Andi.
“Oh, you needn’t do that,” insisted Madame Renault. “I will help Cassie with the dishes, and you and Pierre can go to the living room.”
‘Great. Just fabulous,’ Andi thought. Now that her reason for volunteering to do the dishes had completely backfired, she was certain that she was doomed to be Pierre’s infamous temptress for the rest of the evening. Oh well, at least Andi could push Pierre’s buttons, too.
“You don’t like jambalaya, do you, Pierre?” Andi interrogated.
“Honestly, I don’t like any Cajun food,” he matter-of-factly answered.
Andi was shocked at his reply: no teasing, no heckling, but strangest of all, the use of the word ‘honestly’! The truth was that Pierre still couldn’t make fun of her that night. For some reason, he felt as though she were stepping on his vocal cords while strangling him with the strings of his heart.
But why was that? Andi wasn’t supposed to excite such feeling in Pierre; he wasn’t supposed to like her. She was a geek and an infamous rebel of society, yet he was one of the in-crowd, ostensibly an average high-schooler. Not that he was average at all-he just wasn’t willing to show it.
‘…Yet!’ Pierre’s mind was now inconveniently mocking him. In an attempt to divert his thoughts, he looked up at Andi-surely there would be something about her appearance that would warrant a silence-breaking wisecrack.
But when he saw her, she wasn’t the least bit humorous in appearance-instead, she was powerful, staggering, breathtaking, blinding. The silver moons on her dress and her blue-green eyes gleamed like the blades of a hundred and two samurai swords.
“Is your objective to put my eyes out?” was all that Pierre could say. It certainly wasn’t the sharpest of needles, but better than nothing, he hoped.
Andi grinned calculatingly. “If I achieve that, then you won’t be able to see me, and therefore powerless to ridicule me.”
That was all it took to silence him again. He was like a snake, subdued and charmed-by an infamously adroit charmer.
Alas, a charmer was she! She had the teachers bowing down to her and Franz by a string (which she could cut if ever and whenever she wished to do so). And Pierre…was he to be her next target?
Not in want of contemplating those ideas any further, he excused himself to the study, where he would attempt to drown his thoughts with stereo-quality music. Doing so would also save him from making an even bigger fool of himself in front of the most confident and daring person he knew.

***

Bruce and Andi were painting the new canvases that Bruce’s mother had bought for them. One of the paintings would go to the statewide art contest, where it would stand a chance to be displayed in the state art gallery. Neither Bruce nor Andi expected to create anything Picasso-worthy, but they certainly weren’t afraid to put their work to the test.
“I think you should paint a poem in the sky, Andi,” suggested Bruce.
“You think the stars need more poetry than they already radiate?” Andi playfully countered.
Bruce approached Andi from behind, and he wrapped his arms around her shoulders. “Yes,” he whispered to her.
Andi smiled, although her mind wanted to sigh. It was one of those times when Andi secretly wished that Bruce wasn’t gay. She loved it when he embraced her and when he lifted her off her feet despite the lack of romance, although sometimes she still wondered what it would have been like with the enchantment of passion d’amour. Her imagination would run wild about it at times, as though it were almost real…
“I’ve got an idea!” clamored Andi.
“Tell me,” obtested Bruce.
“You’ll have to see it on the canvas.”
“Then tell me about dinner last night.”
“Pierre was by far as deviant as I have ever seen him! It was…atypical, to say the least. I have no idea what got into him.”
Bruce grinned guilefully.
“I know you’re thinking something, Bruce,” Andi ascertained.
“You know that he can’t hide it forever,” Bruce assured.
Andi rolled her eyes. “Oh, don’t start that again. Pierre doesn’t have a crush on me.”
“Did he-or anyone-tell you so?”
“No, but I think that if he did have a crush on me, then he’d act a bit more decently around me regardless of whether or not his friends are there.”
“Guys are masters of antics, Andi.”
Andi sighed in capitulation. “Don’t count yourself out of that one,” she roguishly smartassed.
“I won’t count Franz out of it, either.”
They both laughed so hard that Andi nearly spilled a can of navy blue paint on the white floor.

***

“Did you enjoy the movie?” Franz asked Andi as they exited the movie theater.
“It was okay. Not that I’ve seen enough sci-fi to compare to it.”
“Come on, you know you liked it better than spending the whole day in one room painting canvases.”
Andi raised her eyebrow and glared at Franz. “You know that painting is my passion.”
Franz didn’t respond. Not that Andi wanted him to do so.
“Would you like to go with me to see the theater version of Tom Sawyer with me next Saturday?” Franz invited. He was hoping it would mollify Andi for the time being.
“I can’t go. Bruce and I are entering a painting of ours into a statewide competition. Judging lasts all day on Saturday.”
Franz sighed and rolled his eyes, which Andi rebuked by slapping him. “Grow up!” she commanded.

***

“Are we the only teenagers in this competition?” Bruce wondered aloud.
Andi scanned the exhibit floor. Retirees, veterans, and older college students were in sweeping attendance, but Andi didn’t recognize any high schoolers. Their painting also seemed to be a deviation-many of the works were patriotic or outlandishly abstract.
Just then, the emcee called a thirty-minute break for the artists.
“Let’s go get something to eat, Bruce,” directed Andi.

From a distance, Pierre watched Andi and Bruce make way for the concession stand. As the two of them diverted their attention from their painting, Pierre approached it. The half-hour break was his only chance to marvel at Andi’s work without his friends’ judgment and without bewildering Andi.
As soon as he laid eyes on the painting, Pierre imagined stepping onto the shore of the lake under the starry sky. He could subconsciously feel the water deepen as he swam farther out into the ocean. That was when the gleaming magical woman joined him, and the school of fish surrounded them…
“Five minutes until break is over!” the emcee announced.

“May lightning strike me if my eyes are fooling me,” declared Andi.
“Well, I sure hope you think you’re seeing Pierre over by our painting, because I’d sure hate to see you get electrocuted,” said Bruce.
“Then I must not be hallucinating, although I wish I was.”
“I still think that Pierre likes you. Why else would he come up here to see our painting?”
“Just because he’s looking at it doesn’t mean that he likes it.”
“Andi, he’s been over there since we came here.”
Andi’s eyes widened in consternation. “I swear you’re bamboozling me!”
“I swear I’m not!”
“Damn!” Andi muttered under her breath.
“For some reason I get the feeling that it was impression, not offense, that made you curse,” Bruce conjectured.

***

“So did you win the art contest?” Franz asked Andi as she approached him on Tuesday morning.
The other members of the nerd crowd looked up anticipatively.
“We won’t know the winners until this Friday,” she matter-of-factly replied.
“You must be joking,” asserted Franz.
“No, Franz, she’s right,” insisted Bruce. “There has to be time for the judges to analyze their observations of the works they evaluated.”
Franz ignored Bruce and instead took Andi’s hand and led her toward the boardwalk that ran along the row of temporary classroom buildings.
“How was the play?” Andi inquired.
“It was awesome!” Franz exclaimed. “You ought to have been there.”
As her blood began to boil, Andi looked away from Franz.
“Why all of a sudden so quiet?” he interrogated.
“Franz, you act like my world revolves around you!” Andi snapped. “Just because you don’t share in my hobbies doesn’t mean that I have to give them up for you.”
“Okay, then, let me ask you something this way: Are you free on Friday night to come to the battle-of-the-bands concert with me?”
“I might be.”
“Only ‘might’?”
The five-minute bell rang. “I’ll let you know later,” said Andi as she made way for her first-hour classroom.

***

“Pierre, I seriously cannot believe you! You are a total jackass!” Vera lashed out.
Andi could hear the heated conversation brewing between Vera and Pierre and among the other preps.
“I already told you that I had other stuff to do!” insisted Pierre.
“What other stuff?” Vera demanded to know.
“Stuff that I needed to do. It’s none of your business.”
“What do you mean ‘none of my business’?! It is my business to know why you never showed up at my birthday lunch on Saturday!”
Andi, more stupefied than ever before, jolted in her seat. Of all the shenanigans Pierre could have pulled, this was the last thing that Andi expected him to do.
‘Ditch class; I have to tell you what I just found out now,’ Andi texted to Bruce.

***

“Thanks for rescuing me from an hour of vapidity, Andi,” said Bruce.
“Easiest damn thing in the world,” she assured.
“Okay, tell me the good stuff,” Bruce urged.
“Pierre came to see our painting instead of going to Vera’s birthday lunch.”
“No way; you have got to be joking!”
“I’m not joking. Vera’s chewing Pierre out as we speak.”
“He totally likes you, Andi.”
“Yeah, sure, whatever,” Andi dismissed.
“Andi, Pierre’s popularity is probably in the drain now. And he caused it in favor of you.”
“But surely he knows about Franz.”
Bruce placed his hand on Andi’s shoulder. “Pierre has no bearing on Franz. It’s up to you to decide who your guy is.”
It was another of those moments when Andi wished that Bruce was straight. He had a knack for bringing even the most confounding of situations into perspective, and he trusted her judgment in regard of his observations. Now Andi would have to trust her gut.

***

“Hey, everybody look!” commanded Vera, as she pointed. “Andi’s headed to the red carpet…for a Razzie!”
The prep huddle erupted in laughter, but Andi ignored them, walking on instead.
‘Friday, Friday at last!’ Andi jubilantly thought. ‘No more facing my predicament for the whole weekend once school is out today!’
Just as that thought crossed Andi’s mind, Pierre exited the art building. “Hi, Andi,” he greeted her as he walked by.
A devilish laugh resounded in Andi’s head. ‘Not funny!’ her conscious mind fired back.
Andi wondered why Pierre had suddenly changed his attitude toward her. Andi certainly hadn’t lost her infamy, and she didn’t plan on a metamorphosis anytime soon.

“How’s my Czarina doing on this Friday morning?” Franz greeted as he took Andi by the hand.
Andi sighed and shook her head.
“Seriously, Andi,” Franz pressed.
“It’s complicated-and weird.”
“How so?”
“You really want to know?”
“Well, yeah, I do want to know what is complicating and weirding out my girlfriend.”
“Okay, fine. Suddenly, Pierre decides to be oddly nice-“
“Yeah, that is weird,” interrupted Franz. “But, hey, I found us a good place.”
“Where would that be?” Andi grilled.
Instead of telling her, Franz led her down the math and science hall until he stopped at an unmarked door. Knowing that it was the door to the janitor’s closet, Andi got a sinking feeling as she wondered whether or not Franz had any reckless ideas.
“What if the janitor comes in?” interrogated Andi.
“Whatever.” He then led Andi into the closet.
The janitor’s closet was nearly as cluttered as the front yard of a redneck mobile home; it didn’t take much to hide from plain sight in case someone on the outside opened the door. Franz must have realized it, because he started kissing Andi as soon as they found a place to stand.
After a few minutes, they stopped, and Franz was the first to speak.
“I don’t want to go to psychology class.”
“You say that as though you had a choice,” countered Andi.
“I do have a choice, and so do you.”
His comment sent chills down her spine. “I’d rather not skip class; I don’t need minor misbehavior to augment my infamy.”
“Oh, come on, Andi! Just this once. We’re in a private room, and this is the perfect chance.”
Now Andi knew what Franz was insinuating. “Once will become twice, which will become three times, and eventually all the time. Neither one of us can afford the consequences of it,” she asserted.
“Andi, you’re already infamous. What could one more shenanigan possibly do to mar your reputation significantly?” Franz said as he unfastened a button on Andi’s dress.
Andi recoiled and began to make way for the door, knocking down nearly everything in her path. “A hell of a lot. And don’t act like I’m stupid, because I’m not!” she adamantly flared.
She could hear the janitor wheeling the trash cart closer and closer to the closet as she escaped. Franz attempted to catch her, but she made it to the door first and held it shut behind her with all her weight. When the janitor approached the door, however, Andi had to release the door-and just as she did, Franz opened the door so hard that it sent Andi sliding across the hall, near where the other students in Andi’s first-hour class were lined up in front of the classroom.
Franz reached out for Andi’s hand, but she stayed put on the floor and demanded, “Get away from me, and don’t ever come close to me again!” In response, Franz took off running down the hall, away from Andi and her class.
Vera laughed depravedly, then announced, “Andi’s a slut!”
The prep huddle exploded in laughter, yet the rest of the class was silent. Andi surveyed them, only to find that Pierre was one of the silent.
“What are you gonna do now?” Vera badgered. “Are you gonna go cry to your fag friend?”
Unlike the rest of Vera’s derogation, Andi could not countenance anyone deriding Bruce because of his homosexuality. Without a second thought, Andi grabbed Vera by the ruffled sleeve of her designer blouse. “You call him a ‘fag’ again, and I’ll maim you worse than ruining your expensive clothes!” Andi threatened, before ripping the ruffle as though it were made of tissue paper.
Everyone except for the prep huddle laughed at Vera as she shrieked vulgarities back at Andi-although none that concerned Bruce.
Not that Andi was listening-she was enrapt in Pierre’s fervent, unreserved laughter.

***

At the beginning of class, the teacher summoned Andi. “Would you like to tell me what happened before I came to unlock the classroom?”
“Well, I could, but it’s a long story. Anyway, it’s all handled save for Vera still being furious at me; not that she’s ever pleased with me,” circumvented Andi.
“All right, Andi, you can go back to your seat. Just know that I am giving you the benefit of the doubt.”


Despite having convinced the teacher that everything was ‘normal’, Andi’s world was more thrown from its axis than ever before.


There was a folded sheet of paper on Andi’s desk when she returned. Curious, she unfolded it and read it.


‘I know you didn’t do it.’ It was from Pierre.


As much as Andi would have wanted to dismiss the note as false empathy from the typical Pierre, she couldn’t keep herself from writing back. ‘How do you know if you didn’t see what happened?’


‘I was standing outside the classroom, and I heard you tell Franz that you weren’t stupid,’ Pierre matter-of-factly answered. ‘But are you okay?’


‘Yeah, I’m fine. Better, actually, now that I don’t have to deal with Franz anymore.” Andi didn’t know why she was confessing such a thing to Pierre, yet she still passed the note back.


‘That’s good. He’ll be sorry.’


‘Oh, well; he brought it on himself.’


‘He didn’t get your lovely chartreuse dress dirty when he sent you sliding across the hall, did he?’


Andi was flabbergasted. Pierre liked her dress, and it made her wonder if he secretly had loved the way she looked all along.


‘If there’s any dirt on it, I’ll make him pay for the dry-cleaning.’


‘I figure that the scales of justice are yours to balance.’


For once, Andi knew why she wrote back to Pierre. ‘That’s why I’m infamous,’ she proclaimed.


There were only two minutes left of the class hour by the time she relayed that message to Pierre; everyone else began gathering their books. Andi texted Bruce instead. ‘Come to my house at 5:30 tonight. I’ll tell you why when you get there.’

***



“Andi, would you pretty please tell me what compelled you to invite me over tonight? I’m curious,” said Bruce, upon entering Andi’s room.


“Because you’re my best friend,” Andi smartassed.


They both laughed, and Bruce lifted Andi off her feet and held her. He then inquired about the real nature of his visit.


“I’m through with Franz,” declared Andi.


“I don’t blame you at all, Andi, after how he humiliated you.”


“I guess you already heard the whole story about it.”


“Yeah, I’ve heard some stuff, although I don’t know it to be true. Still, though, I know that you’re not worthy of the ‘slut’ label.”


Andi closed her eyes and smiled at Bruce. “At least you believe the truth, whether or not you heard it.”


“Andi, if Vera is so willing to call you a slut and make fun of the way you dress, then she probably secretly thinks of herself as an ugly slut. Or worse, she may actually be an ugly slut.”


Andi sighed. “That’s true. It’s just that there is so much more to it than Vera assuming that Franz and I did it.”


“You basically broke up with Franz, right?”


“I told him to get away from me when he tried to help me off the floor, so I guess he got the message when he took off running down the hall.”


“Or he was scared-“


“But, either way,” Andi interrupted, “I’m through with him. No more listening to him wonder aloud if you were jealous, no more of his immature antics.”


Bruce laughed. “He thought I was jealous?! He knows I’m gay!”


“That’s where the immaturity comes in.”


“Yeah, I suppose so. But there is something I want to tell you, something I’ve wanted you to know for a long time but didn’t feel that I should say until now.”


Andi looked at Bruce square in the eye, beckoning him to explain.


“If I had one wish,” continued Bruce, “I wish that I were straight so that I could give you the true love that you deserve.”


Andi’s heart sank, knowing that she had the same wish. But she couldn’t sink all the way down. “You’ll always be my best friend no matter who I fall in love with-even if I fall in love with Pierre.”


“Pierre totally likes you, Andi. Have you noticed that he doesn’t bother hanging out with the preps or openly make fun of you anymore? I think he’s starting to come around.”


“‘Starting’ is the operative word.” Andi chuckled, and Bruce followed suit.


“He just needs to be more temerarious,” Andi continued. “I wonder if note-passing is the beginnings of it.”


“He passed a note to you?”


“Yeah, right after the whole thing happened. He asserted that he was on my side!”


“Wow, he doesn’t seem to be inhibited on paper.”


“That’s not all. He described my dress as ‘lovely’!”


Bruce went into shock-and-awe mode. “Now that is daring! Andi, you should make him say that out loud!”


“Don’t worry; I’m confident that I can make that happen,” Andi assured.


“That’s the spirit!” Bruce cheered. “You’re the greatest, Andi. And I have proof that you’re a modern-day Renoir.”


Bruce then showed Andi the blue ribbon.


“We won?!” Now Andi was in shock-and-awe mode.


Bruce smiled. “Yes, we did. Tomorrow we’ll go to the state gallery to see our work in all its glory.”


“That’s a perfect example of why I like you being gay.”


“Could you explain that?”


“We can do stuff together and go to each other’s house without having to worry about all of that romantic stuff or hard-to-get. Our being best friends doesn’t feel awkward like most guy-girl friendships are.”


“That’s the beauty of being best friends.” Bruce took a deep breath before continuing. “Andi, I know you like romantic stuff. I want you to be happy, and that includes the potential for Pierre to make you happy. Go ahead and let him make you happy if you see that he becomes capable of it. Forget the past-the present is what you’re living and what leads into the next moment.”


For once, Andi didn’t fantasize about Bruce being straight. Even if he wasn’t fit to be a lover, he still epitomized love.


“Andi, may I ask you one more thing?”


“What’s the point of asking to ask? Just ask.”


“Why did you ruin Vera’s designer blouse?”


Andi sighed but didn’t speak.


“Andi, did she do something? Did she say something?”


“Yeah. She said the one thing that makes me lash out.”


Bruce knew what she was referring to. “You’re the greatest, Andi.” And for the rest of the evening, they just stood there together in silence. Bruce didn’t leave until Andi fell asleep.

***



Their painting was indeed majestic at the entrance hall of the state art gallery. There was even a plaque with Bruce and Andi’s names engraved in it.


“Wow, it’s right where everyone who enters will see it!” marveled Bruce. “Da Vinci would envy you, Andi.”


Andi jocularly elbowed Bruce. “You painted some of it, too; therefore, Da Vinci would envy you as well.”


On either side of their painting hung the second- and third-place artworks: a mosaic version of the river that flowed along the outskirts of town and a tall depiction of various scenes from past wars. Andi took a closer look at the plaques that identified them.


A native couple had handcrafted the mosaic. Andi wondered if the scene was really their backyard. But her train of thought suddenly derailed when she read the plaque under the war mural.


A man named Georges Renault had painted it; according to the plaque, he was a Vietnam veteran who had taught art classes before he was drafted. Andi believed that her dad would have appreciated the painting despite his apathy for most things creative.


“Andi.” A voice brought her out of her concentration.


She turned around only to find that it was not Bruce, but Pierre who had captured her attention. Standing next to him was an elderly man; Andi could perceive the resemblance between him and Pierre.


“You must be the lovely young lady whom Pierre said is the artist behind the winning painting,” surmised the elderly man.


Andi smiled and blushed. “Yes, I’m Andi,” she explained, before introducing Bruce.


“And this is my grandpa, Georges Renault,” said Pierre, before ushering Andi to Monsieur Renault’s painting.


“Andi, I want to show you something special on this painting,” Pierre invited.


He then pointed to a small yet not insignificant portrait near the left-center of the painting. Pierre almost asked Andi if she recognized the man in the portrait, but the look on Andi’s face became unmistakable.


The first thing that Andi noticed about the portrait of her father was that he was smiling his asymmetrical smile-it was almost as though he were alive in the painting. “I find it to be a conundrum how your grandpa depicted my dad so realistically without ever having met him.”


“Well, when Grandpa Georges told me that he was going to paint a tribute to war heroes, I asked your mom if I could have a copy of a photo of your dad-outside of your radar, of course. I wanted to surprise you.”


Andi felt quite stupid because she now knew that her mom and Bruce were right about Pierre. Did her mom conspire to have Pierre surprise her?


At the same time, Andi was thrilled to know that Pierre could be as kind as he could be vexatious. The only thing missing was that he hadn’t yet taken a dare.

***



For some odd reason, getting out of bed on Monday morning wasn’t much of a struggle for Andi, despite her not being a morning person. To add to the incongruity, Andi hadn’t gone to sleep until half past midnight.


Anyway, she entered the school building confidently, which was evident in her stride and her expression. Her attention was immune to anything Vera had to inveigh. And it was as though the world was new without Franz and with Pierre’s new attitude. But would Pierre allow himself to be infamous with her, since that was what would happen if he endeavored to be more than just her friend?


Andi knew that such thoughts and hypothetical potentialities would play through her mind like an endless video until something happened, so she attempted to shift her concentration to moving her textbooks from her backpack to her locker.


Not that it worked: All of her books fell out of her hands and scattered across the floor. Annoyed, Andi reached down to gather them, but there was already another pair of hands quickly stacking the books.


Andi looked up to see the face of the owner of the helpful hands, the face that smiled in response to Andi’s involuntary yet brutally honest smile.


“Pierre!” Andi’s heart crashed into her ribs as she said his name.


“Andi!” he chimed back, with the same sunny enthusiasm.


He threw the books on Andi’s locker shelf without shifting his gaze, which was aimed straight at Andi’s eyes. “Andi-” he began, before being interrupted by the ten-minute-warning bell. “-I could go off into a long explanation about the way I’ve acted since I’ve known you, but you probably already see the way I really feel. The truth is that I’ve never hated you, and I’ve always seen beauty in you.” He took a breath as the stillness of Andi’s gaze acted as an urge to continue. “Andi, I’d rather have my popularity go to hell in a hand basket while being with you than be respected without reason while missing out on you.”


Andi’s eyes, indistinguishably blue or green, sparkled as she told Pierre, “Then start acting like it for real. Be infamous, as infamous as this crowded hall can take.”


The very second she stopped speaking, Pierre took Andi into his arms and embraced her tightly as he brought his lips to hers. They kissed passionately, freely as the hall fell silent.


No one surrounding them uttered a single word-not even Vera, who could only stare open-mouthed and stupefied. And it was all because infamy was irresistible-and majestically beautiful.


------
"Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not."-Jeremiah 33:3, King James Version

"Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path."-Psalm 119:105, New Living Translation

The present and future are not about who you were in the past-rather, they are about who you are and who you will become.

"Writing is truly glorious in that an author can put on paper the words that fear denies the voice to speak."-from my short story, "Set Free"

"...What you feel is what you are;
What you are is beautiful..."
-from "Slide" by the Goo Goo Dolls

Life surprises you! And I'm talking about the good stuff, because a bad surprise is not a surprise at all, it is just shock and horror. All of these good surprises, they are rewards, and the things that happen to remind you that you matter and that you should make yourself faithful so that you can be deserving of all of life's good surprises. Every wonderful surprise in life is a chance to flourish, so grab life by the horns-but don't ride, steer instead: life's horns are life's joystick. You can handle it, because your life's horns are made especially for you. If you don't give up, all of this will hold true and life will continue to surprise you.

Aubri, a. k. a. "Leopard Lady"


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The following comments are for "The Infamous Temptress"
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