So here I was, back home. Back in Cali. Boring little suburban Hillridge, CA, where nothing exciting ever happens. Not like Rome, the Eternal City, where everything that happens is exciting.
So you must be asking yourself, what the hell, Lizzie McGuire? In Rome, you had everything. Confidence, poise, a cute Italian pseudo-boyfriend and a budding career as a pop superstar. Why'd you give it up?
Call me crazy, but I just couldn't bring myself to leave 'boring little Hillridge.' This place is a sleepy stop dead center in Dullsville, USA, but it's home. And I mean, I don't know any Italian. I know 'ciao' and 'pizza' and a two-word vocabulary does not a jet-setter make. Plus, this is where my family is. It's where my friends are. (And with the International Music Video Awards under my belt, I was sure to make an impression starting high school.)
Okay, okay, river in Egypt, I know. I really was ready to live in Rome, throw away the boring high school lifestyle and lap up every second of fame and fortune. I was this close to saying yes. There was just one tiny thing that was affecting my decision.
Two things, really. I'm sitting there, parents in the next room, talking to this agent guy about signing a contract, staying in Rome with a recording deal, and these gorgeous, sensitive blue eyes just popped into my mind. And I couldn't pick up the pen. Not for the life of me.
Am I crazy? Should I base my entire life around one person -- one person that isn't me? I mean, Gordo is the best best friend you could ask for. He's smart, he's funny, he's creative, he always goes along with my harebrained schemes, even when he knows they won't work, just to make me happy. I mean, who does that? Who freaking does that?
And I couldn't leave him behind. I thought about it, I thought long and hard about it. I thought about living in Rome, lifestyles of the rich and famous. And I thought about life without Gordo. The two things were one and the same, and suddenly, it wasn't all that appealing.
I mean, what would I do if I had a major life crisis? Figuring out time zone differences is way too complex for me, and while a marathon phone conversation is often the staple of our relationship, it's not the same if I can't finish it with, "You know, why don't you just come over." Because that would entail long flights and all sorts of unnecessary hassles.
Okay. So. I went back to Hillridge with the rest of the tour group. And I did it for Gordo. Not for Matt (no way!), not for even my parents or Miranda. But for Gordo.
I am crazy.
I gazed at the index card in my hand, trying to memorize my locker combination. First days suck. Especially when it's the first day of high school, and your best friend (Miranda) is still in Mexico and your other best friend (Gordo) isn't there yet, and you're confused and alone and slightly lost.
I turned around, thrilled that someone was talking to me, no matter who it was. Then I saw who it was.
"Oh. Hey, Larry."
Well, you know, Tudgeman isn't all that bad, really. He's a little weird --okay, he's a lot weird-- but he's sweet and he's good at science. "So, how was your summer?"
He shrugged. "Apparently not as good as yours. Do tell, how was Rome?"
I wondered if he'd heard. "Oh. Rome. It was...you know, good."
"Please, Lizzie, you think I don't get cable? You know, I always thought you bore a striking resemblance to Isabella."
"Isabella? You know about Isabella?" Tudgeman was not exactly the type to follow pop music. Not unless they were, like, singing about Star Wars. Did anyone even do that?
"Know her? I'm not allowed within a hundred feet of her. Why else would I be skipping a two-week trip to Rome?"
I cocked an eyebrow, unable to find words. Man, Tudgeman was weird sometimes.
"So, what made you come back to this place? I'm hardly one to talk, but Hillridge isn't exactly the swinging social capital of the world."
At that moment, I could see Gordo over Larry's shoulder, coming down the hallway. I smiled at him and waved.
Larry glanced over his shoulder, and then looked at me, grinning. "Ah! Not a what, but a who."
That jolted me back to reality. I stared at Tudgeman. "Say what?"
"So, was there a romance blossoming in Rome?" he said, sounding way too amused for my liking.
"What?" I repeated, then shook my head slightly, which managed to jostle a few more words from my muddled brain. "You're crazy."
"Crazy..." he said, leaning in uncomfortably close, "or insane?" He winked. "Hey there, Gordo," he said, then left.
Gordo stared after him, squinching up his face in confusion. "Tudgeman's weird."
"You're telling me," I said. I coughed, and returned my attention to my locker again, if only to get myself to stop staring at him. "You, um...you look good," I choked out, cheering mentally as the door swung open without a Herculean effort on my part. Already high school was a thousand times better than middle school.
And he did look good, I realized, glancing at him out of the corner of my eye. He'd spent the remainder of the summer at chemistry camp --what a way to top Rome, right?-- and this was the first time I was seeing him since we'd come back. He was a little taller, maybe, so that he was at my exact height level, and his hair was a little longer, curly, floppy, and...oh, God, what was I thinking? I immediately turned my attention to my locker, blushing slightly and grateful I had that metal door to hide my face behind. When the hell had my best friend become so good-looking? Where was I for this?
"Thanks," I heard him say. "You, too."
I was blushing even more now, even though he had told me I looked good only a million times in my life. This was just a million and one. Once I had finally forced my face back to its normal color, I removed my head from my locker, and smiled at Gordo. "Thanks. So, um, how was camp? Your postcards were very..." I groped for words unsuccessfully. "They had equations written on them, Gordo."
Gordo laughed. "Yeah, well, it's pretty much how you would expect it to be. Filled with people like...well, like me."
Intelligent, insightful, thoughtful, caring people that could always make you laugh?
"What do you mean, people like you?"
He shrugged as we started down the hallway. "You know, too smart for their own good, won't ever get a girlfriend, one step away from being full-on Trekkies... Actually, most of them were Trekkies."
I had to laugh at that, although my mind was linger on the girlfriend bit. Was that a subtle hint? Did maybe he like me? I know Kate had hinted several times that he had, but really now, this was Kate. The girl who lived solely to make me the most miserable human being on the planet. Between Kate and Matt, it was a wonder I wasn't a suicidal wreck. I digress, however...the fact of the matter remains that Kate Sanders is not the most trustworthy person you can come across, and therefore, I shouldn't believe anything she says.
"Really, now," I said. "Don't hate on the Trekkies, Gordo. I mean, even Tudgeman isn't that bad, and he must be king of the nerds."
Gordo shook his head in amusement, and his hair flopped back and forth like it had a life of its own. I was mesmerized. "When did we become such elitists?" he said.
"Rome changed us," I said glibly, shrugging.
He looked at me, and his eyes were so intense, drawing me into them like a traction beam. "Rome didn't change us," he said, softly and seriously, and I was absolutely hypnotized by that forceful stare and that gravelly, commanding voice. "You changed Rome."
That was the most romantic thing anyone had ever said to me. I stopped dead in the middle of the hallway, staring at him, at a loss for words. We were in our own moment, just me and Gordo, and the words were on the tip of my tongue, that I was here because of him and only him.
The bell rang, jolting me from my more-than-friendly train of thought and interrupting that weird little bubble we'd been in. Instantly my words flew from my mind, and I said, "Well, you know, Rome had all those ruins and things...it just needed the McGuire touch."
Gordo laughed, and the mood was killed, and we walked to class.