Jessica shrugged. “Meatloaf, I think,” she replied, picking up her fork and giving the grayish-brown lump a dubious poke.
“You think?” Lila echoed. “Why did you buy it if you aren’t even sure what it is?”
“It was the only thing not positively swimming in red sauce,” Jessica informed her, “and there was no way I was going to risk getting that on this dress.” She gestured down, indicating her sundress, milky white and dotted with little red flowers, colors perfectly suited to complement her deep, golden tan.
“Guys, guys!” called out Cara Walker, rushing over to her friends with breathless excitement. “You will never guess what just happened!” She slammed her lunch tray down on the table next to Jessica, sending bits of red sauce flying in every direction.
“Cara!” Jessica cried, shifting away from the incoming fire. She dabbed at her arm with a napkin. “Do you mind? This is a brand new dress!”
Cara dropped into her seat. “Oh, sorry, Jess,” she apologized, frantically pressing napkins into the pools of sauce around her tray. “I didn’t mean for that to happen! It didn’t get on you, did it?”
“Would you even be able to tell?” Lila muttered from across the way, watching her friends with an amused expression. “Jessica, that dress is so second-grade.”
Jessica narrowed her eyes as she regarded her erstwhile best friend, but then bestowed a syrupy-sweet smile upon her. “You’re just mad that you can’t wear this shade of white,” she pointed out archly. “It just washes you out, doesn’t it?”
Lila bristled, drawing her lips into a thin line as she speared a piece of her gourmet sushi with her chopsticks, with more force than was strictly necessary.
Cara balled the dirty napkins onto her tray and pouted. “Doesn’t anyone want to hear my news?”
Jessica turned her attention to her, briefly considering upgrading Cara to the slot of best friend. Cara was warm and vivacious – which was more than she could say for Lila the Ice Queen – and always full of the latest gossip. Important gossip, unlike that busybody Caroline Pearce.
“Of course we do,” she purred, turning the full force of her devastating smile to Cara. “What’s up?”
Cara beamed. “You will never guess who just agreed to go to the Sadie Hawkins dance with me!” she bubbled.
Jessica lifted her brows expectantly. “Who?”
“Guess!” Cara cajoled.
Jessica lapsed into quiet thought, taking a moment to contemplate the scene around her in the Sweet Valley High cafeteria. As usual, it was buzzing with the low din of conversation as people bustled about, jockeying for position in the lunch line and scoping out the free tables. It was too chilly to eat lunch on the quad, which meant there was more competition than usual for the limited seating. Jessica had to believe that, because why else would nerdy Lois Waller even dare to sit at the opposite end of their table? She had a lot of nerve, for a fat girl.
“Hmm,” Jessica murmured, glancing at a nearby table. “Todd Wilkins?”
“No,” Cara replied, sparing a longing glance in the tall, lanky basketball player’s direction. “He and Patsy Webber are still practically attached at the hip.”
“Kenny Matthews?” Jessica guessed, her eyes sliding to Todd’s short, nerdy blond friend, who was sitting beside him and helping him build a sculpture out of mashed potatoes.
“Gross,” Cara chided with a sneer. “Give me some credit, please.”
“Winston Egbert?” Lila put in with a smirk. The resident class clown was egging Todd and Kenny on, fashioning a tiny flag out of a napkin and attaching it to a toothpick.
Cara cast a horrified look in her friend’s direction. “Ew!” she shrieked, dropping her fork into her spaghetti, sending another wave of red sauce flying. “You guys, be serious!”
Jessica very pointedly pushed Cara’s tray away, wiping up the red splatters that had landed on her own tray. “I give,” she conceded, annoyed.
Cara’s eyes sparkled as she leaned close. “Think tennis team,” she hinted, casting a knowing smile in Lila’s direction.
Jessica swallowed hard, her heart sinking to the bottom reaches of her stomach. The first thing that came to mind whenever anyone mentioned the Sweet Valley High tennis team was its star player, Bruce Patman. He had a body built for tennis – 6’ tall, long and lean but well-proportioned, with wrists of steel and elegant hands (which, rumor had it, he knew how to use well, both on and off the court). With his classic good looks and confident swagger, he was the dream date for many a girl at SVH...
…and Jessica Wakefield was no exception.
She shot a furtive glance at Lila. She’d never tried to hide her crush from her friends, but unlike with any other guy, they teased her about it instead of helping her scheme a way to win his affections. Mercifully, Lila appeared utterly bored with the conversation, scooping up a dainty bit of rice with her chopsticks.
When no responses were forthcoming, Cara reluctantly put her friends out of their misery. “I asked Tom McKay!” she announced. “And he said yes!”
“That’s great, Cara,” Jessica breathed, feeling magnanimous. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed Tom was striking in his own right, but he couldn’t hold a candle to Bruce. No one could, in Jessica’s estimation.
“Gee, Cara, we should double,” Lila offered sweetly, spearing another piece of sushi from her bento box. “You and Tom, and me and Bruce – it’ll be a riot!”
Jessica shot a stricken look across the table, but Lila merely smiled back. “Oh, didn’t I mention that? I asked him last week, and he quite graciously accepted,” she informed her, sounding not the least bit apologetic for stealing her best friend’s crush. “After he told me how cute I looked in my tennis whites,” she added, somewhat cattily.
Cara sighed dreamily, oblivious to the cold war suddenly raging between her friends. “So, Jess,” she mused, “have you asked anybody yet?”
“Yes, Jessica,” Lila interjected with a smirk, “who have you decided to grace with an invitation?”
Jessica glanced surreptitiously around the cafeteria, her mind whirring into overdrive. She’d been planning to ask Bruce, of course, but obviously that was now out of the question. No one could measure up to him, in her estimation, but she would not be going to this dance alone – Lila, for one, would never let her live it down.
Her eyes lit up when she spotted a lone guy lounging at an empty table in the far corner of the cafeteria. “Actually,” she murmured, more to herself than her friends, “I was thinking of giving Bill Chase that honor.”
Cara furrowed her brow. “Bill Chase?” she repeated, astonished. “The surfer guy?”
Even Lila looked surprised. “Honestly, Jess,” she chided, “he drives a rickety old VW bus, for goodness’ sake. You can do better than that.”
“I heard he’s constantly cutting school to hit the beach,” Cara supplied. “I think he might be flunking.”
“He’s pretty much married to his surfboard,” Lila added. “I’m not sure he knows what girls are, if you want the truth.”
“He’s deep,” Jessica countered haughtily, standing up with enough force to push her chair back. “And mysterious – and intriguing…” Her eyes drifted over to him, a calculating smile rising to her lips. And mine, she thought, feeling a rush of possessiveness. No one had been able to crack his shell, but suddenly Jessica was certain that a passionate, romantic soul was hidden beneath his rugged exterior.
She carefully adjusted her dress and sauntered over to his table, summoning her most seductive expression: her eyes slightly hooded, her lips slightly pouted. She ran a hand through her silky blonde hair, arranging it into tousled waves that spilled over her shoulders. She drew to a halt by his side, very subtly striking a pose, one hand resting on her hip while the other – the one closest to him – stayed loose at her side.
“Hello, Wild Man,” she purred, hitching her skirt up ever so slightly.
Bill didn’t look up from the book he was reading. He didn’t have to; he was painfully aware of just who it was trying to get his attention. He swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down as he tried not to look at Jessica’s smooth, perfectly tanned thigh – or any other part of her on display under that strategically placed sundress.
“Whatcha reading?” she asked, picking up one corner of his well-worn hardcover. “The Old Man and the Sea,” she noted, letting it fall to the table once more. “Fascinating.”
“You’re a fan of Hemingway?” Bill choked out, lifting his gaze to meet hers. Jessica Wakefield had a reputation for a lot of things, but being well-read was not one of them.
“No,” Jessica contended with a coy look, sliding into the seat across from him, “but I’m a fan of yours.”
She hid a triumphant smile when he flushed ever so slightly and tugged at the hem of his shirt. Bill Chase was even more gorgeous up close, she decided, with his wind-swept sandy blonde hair and clear blue-gray eyes. His tan, deep and golden from the hours spent under the California sun, only heightened his handsome features. So what if he wore baggy board shorts and surfer-logoed tees that hid a probably-chiseled body? He wouldn’t be too difficult to clean up, she considered – and he would look downright devastating in fitted trousers and a polo shirt.
Her mouth was practicing watering over the image she conjured in her mind’s eye. Yes indeed, Bill Chase, she thought silently, leaning forward and gracing him with her best, most engaging smile, you are worthy of my time and attention.
“Was there something you wanted, Jessica?” Bill asked, directing his attention to his lunch as if it was the most fascinating thing on the planet.
“Yes,” she murmured, watching him carefully, “as a matter of fact, there is.”
He frowned, spearing a large forkful of salad and pushing it into his mouth.
Jessica reached for him, taking his free hand between both of hers, and was surprised when she felt him jolt back, as if she’d pressed a live wire against his palm instead of her own. He continued to eat, as if oblivious to his body’s reaction to her, so she took it as a compliment.
“Come to the Sadie Hawkins dance with me,” she proposed, stroking his fingers with her thumb. She tilted her head slightly, turning on her best puppy-dog eyes. “Please?”
“No,” he returned sharply, yanking his hand away from hers. He took a shaky breath, furrowing his brow as he studied his half-eaten salad.
Jessica drew back slightly, genuinely surprised. “Excuse me?” she murmured, not completely sure she’d heard him correctly. Who in the world would turn down a date with Jessica Wakefield? She didn’t ask just anybody out, after all!
Bill drew his lower lip between his teeth as he lifted his eyes to meet hers. “I’m – flattered, Jessica,” he said haltingly, unable to hide the storm of emotion in his eyes – or in his voice. “But I’m just…I’ll pass.” His gaze dropped to his lap. “Sorry.”
Jessica could only stare at him, completely and truly stunned. Just who did he think he was, rejecting her out of hand like this? Did he have any idea how many guys would’ve killed to be in his position? She was trying to do him a favor, really, by inviting him as her date – if only to repair his reputation as a dopey, stoned-out surfer two steps away from flunking out of high school. He could at least be grateful!
Bill abruptly closed his book, tucking it under his arm as he gathered up the remnants of his lunch. “No hard feelings, okay?” he said, offering her a small, polite smile. “See you.”
Jessica narrowed her eyes into a cold, calculating glare as she watched him dump his tray and head out of the cafeteria. You’ll pay for this, Bill Chase, she vowed silently. Someday, somehow – I will get my revenge!