9 – Blooming
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9

Blooming

My alarm went off at exactly seven in the morning, alerting me that it was time to start my day. I yawned and got up, making sure to stretch. I usually woke up thirty minutes later, but I wanted to get ready for my outing with Ryan. I quickly peeked out my room door to make sure everyone was asleep. Everything was silent besides the quiet sound of snoring from other rooms. Good, nobody was up yet.

I quickly went to check the back of my closet, pulling out skirt after skirt and top after top. Wow, I had ended up collecting a lot more clothes than I thought over time. I held up each one to each other, trying to see what fit best. Eventually, I found a cute combo of a brown plaid skirt and a white v-neck that complimented each other very well. I carefully folded them up and put them in my backpack, below all my notebooks. I hoped they wouldn’t get wrinkled.

Next, it was time to pack up some makeup. Again, I went minimal. I wouldn’t have much time to apply it anyways. Some foundation, concealer, eyeliner, and lipstick were all I needed. I also put some makeup remover to make sure I could get all of it off before I got home. I put the products in the front pocket and nodded. That was everything I needed.

***

I spent the entire day nervous and excited about our “date.” I knew it wasn’t one, sadly, but the thought of spending more time with Ryan made my heart flutter. I couldn’t believe I actually liked him, especially considering what I thought of him just a little while ago. But the more time I spent with him, it was clear he was special. Finally, after what felt like a million years, school ended, giving me time to speak to him. Today was another day on the A schedule, meaning we ended the day in the same English class.

“Hi, Ryan, the date’s set for today, right?” I asked, catching up to him in the empty hallway. He abruptly left the classroom without talking to me, which surprised me.

“Oh yeah, I was going to call you right as I got outside,” he said. “I thought you wouldn’t want to be seen until everyone was gone. Although I guess the hallway is clear now. But yeah, I’m ready. I’m excited, it’s really nice spending time with you.”

“I-Is it?” I asked, stuttering over my words. “Can you give me some time though? Preferably someplace private.”

“Sure, but why?” he asked, looking confused.

“Oh, lean down,” I said. Ryan was a solid ten inches taller than me, making it difficult to whisper into his ear without assistance. “I want to swap clothes and put on some makeup, but I don’t know where.”

“We’re just hanging out, why do you need to put on makeup?” he asked, whispering back.

I sighed. My true reason was that I wanted to look good for Ryan, but I couldn’t tell him that. I quickly came up with an excuse. “It’s just I don’t get to be a girl that often outside. I want to be myself, at least when I’m around you,” I said. That sounded good and plausible I thought to myself.

“Great, I think I know a place. It’s close to the school's back entrance too, so you can sneak out right after through the back door.”

“In the school?” I asked, a little nervous that someone would see me.

“You’ll be ok, follow me,” he said. We started walking and he lead me to the back of the school. He stopped in front of a classroom with its door open. "I'll keep watch for you," he gestured for me to enter. I stepped inside and saw an empty science classroom. Looking around, I had no idea why Ryan thought this place would be somewhere to change. Ryan looked in at me and saw my confusion "There's a small shower with a curtain over there, it’s meant to be there in case you get chemicals over you or something. But you can use it to change.”

“How do you know about this?” I asked, stepping into the shower. It was small and musty as if it hasn’t been used in years. The metal was all rusted and I would be surprised if any water even came out of the head at this point.

“I’ve used it a few times to change outside the locker room. I don’t like how rowdy it gets. The teacher who uses this classroom hates teaching or something so he always leaves as soon as school finishes.”

“A teacher that hates teaching,” I said, laughing. I quickly changed out of my school clothes and swapped into the cute clothes I had packed in my backpack. I neatly folded the clothes I just took off into my backpack, I’d have to change back after.

“Does everything look okay?” I asked, smoothening out my skirt as I stepped out. I looked at myself with my phone camera, a little self-conscious about how I appeared. I knew I looked fine, but I wanted to look more than fine. I wanted to look adorable, at least for Ryan.

“Wow, you look stunning Julie,” Ryan said, the slightest hint of a smile appearing on his face. “That outfit looks super cute on you.”

“Thanks,” I said, looking away quickly so he wouldn’t spot the red on my cheeks getting deeper. Why did I always turn into a blushing idiot when talking to Ryan? He just made me feel so warm inside and made my entire brain go fuzzy.

“Okay, let me do my makeup and then we can go,” I said. I looked at Ryan standing next to the entrance guarding it, which made me laugh a little. I quickly applied what I had, making sure to look in my compact mirror included in my foundation container, and nodded to Ryan.

“Everything’s clear outside, we can go,” he said pointing at the door. “Let’s go get some food. ”

***

“Look, you’re probably not going to want to eat at this place when you see it, but just trust me,” Ryan said. We had been walking only about a thousand feet when we came across a dingy, dirty-looking place with a sign that read “The Burger Shack.”

“God, this place really is a shack alright,” I said, shaking my head. “Are you sure about this?”

“Yes, I swear it’s really good. Walk in, the inside is much cleaner.”

“Fine,” I replied, rolling my eyes. I walked in to be met with the smell of burger grease and fried potatoes. The wooden walls and dimmed lights gave off an inviting, retro vibe. Overall, the place just seemed like it would have great food.

"This is not what I expected after seeing the outside" I commented. Even with the dim lighting, I could see the floors were spotless.

“Don’t ask me, they really do need to do some work on the outside to make it more inviting,” he said.

“Hi, welcome to The Burger Shack,” a waitress said, walking up to us. She walked over to a table next to the entrance and put down two menus. “You two can sit right here.”

“Thank you!” I said, taking the seat with the back to the entrance. Ryan walked over, sitting in front of me. I opened up the menu to see what they had. It was pretty typical for a burger joint, burgers, fries, chicken, everything you would want.

“Have you two decided on what you want to order yet?” the waitress came back and asked after I had been inspecting the menu for about a minute.

“Just a cheeseburger, hold the tomato though please,” I said. “Some water too.”

“I’ll take a triple cheeseburger with grilled onions and cheese fries,” Ryan said. “A Cola for me.”

“I’ll be right back with your orders,” the waitress said, smiling. She walked away, leaving the two of us alone again.

“A triple cheeseburger and cheese fries,” I almost yelled out. “How much do you eat?”

“Okay, I can justify this,” Ryan said, raising up both his hands. “I’m 6’2, exercise often, and a man needs his food. Besides, you’re the sicko taking the tomato out of the burger.”

“Sicko?” I said defensively. “Look, I just don’t like tomatoes, they’re all mushy. I hate them.”

“Disappointing,” Ryan said, shaking his head. “There’s no vegetable that compliments a burger quite as well as a tomato.”

“We’re both judging each other’s orders,” I said, giggling. “How about we just eat what we like.”

“Fair enough,” Ryan said.

We continued to talk for a few minutes until our orders arrived. The waitress smiled as she set our orders down in front of us. “It isn’t all that often that you see someone on a date here.”

“A date?” I asked, flustered. I imagined myself on a date with Ryan. The thought of him holding me and hugging me made me blush. “No, it’s not a date.”

“Oh, we’re just friends,” Ryan said. Was it just me or was there some red on his cheeks too?

“Oh, I’m sorry about that,” the waitress said, chuckling. “You two are just so cute together I thought you were dating. Anyways, enjoy the meal.” She walked off, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

Were we cute? I wondered to myself. Would other people think we were dating too? I bit my lip, I had to stop thinking about it. I immediately bit into my burger, trying to get the thought out of my mind. As soon as my teeth hit the bun, I knew it was going to be delicious. The lettuce was crunchy, the cheese was gooey, and the meat was perfectly cooked. I couldn’t stop myself and took another bite.

“You look really happy eating that burger,” Ryan said, looking deep into my eyes.

“Why are you watching me eat?” I asked as I wiped my mouth. I was a little embarrassed that he saw me enjoying the food so much.

“Umm, no reason,’ he said, shaking his head. “The food's really good isn't it?”

“It is,” I said. I looked around the tiny burger joint. There were only a few customers inside, probably all regulars. “I can’t believe I never heard of this place before.”

“It does look pretty dingy on the outside, so I can’t blame you,” he said, taking a bite off a french fry. “I walked in because I was absolutely starving after football practice and wasn’t bothered to walk any further.”

“Football must be tough,” I said, taking another bite. “My brother always looks exhausted when he comes home from practice.”

“Oh, yeah,” Ryan said, his face suddenly lighting up. “On that note, there’s another football game soon, this Friday actually. Are you going to attend? I’d love to have you there cheering me on over on the sidelines.”

“Umm,” I thought to myself for a second. Daniel would certainly be happy to see me going to a game, he had been trying to coerce me to go for ages now. Dad would also be excited, thinking I was finally becoming a man and growing an interest in sports. No, I wanted to go, at least to support Ryan. I nodded, “Sure, I’ll be there.”

“Yes,” Ryan said, lightly clapping in happiness. “I’ll have to win that game for you, I’ll do super well.”

“I expect a win,” I said, finishing swallowing a chunk of the burger. I stole one of Ryan’s cheese fries. “Or else I’ll be disappointed.”

“No, my cheese fry,” Ryan said, looking devastated. “But fine, I’ll win. Just look forward to it.”

“I am,” I said, nodding. I looked over at Ryan to steal another cheese fry only to see he finished eating his entire meal. “Also, you’re done already?”

“I should’ve ordered more,” he said, laughing. “I’m not even full.”

“How are you not fat?” I asked, laughing along. Whenever I heard Ryan laugh, I wanted to laugh too. His laugh was infectious.

“Lots of exercise, I’m going to go work out at the gym after we’re done hanging out,” he said.

“I guess that makes sense,” I said, still amazed by how much and quickly he ate. I looked down at my tiny burger that was only half finished. “Do you mind waiting for me to finish?”

“Of course not,” he said, smiling.

***

“Welcome to the best, and only, bowling alley in town,” Ryan said. We walked into the place, with the smell of nacho cheese, hot dogs, and floor wax hitting my nose immediately. The entire place was a little dirty and old but was still jam-packed.

“We have to get bowling shoes,” Ryan said to me. He walked up to the front desk. “What size are your feet?”

“I have a seven in women’s size,” I said.

“Great, we have a seven women’s size and a twelve men’s size,” he said to the attendant. She fiddled around with some shoes on the shelf behind us before handing us two pairs of bowling shoes.

“Here you go, you two can take alley 7,” the attendant said.

“Do you want any food?” Ryan asked. “I’m just going to get a soda and a hot dog.”

“I think I’m good,” I said, nodding. Unlike Ryan, I was actually full from that burger. “Maybe water in case I get thirsty.”

“Got you,” Ryan ordered his meal as I waited, coming back a minute later. He handed me my water and took a bite of his hot dog. “Let’s go to our alley.”

I walked over to Alley 7, looking at the other people playing too while I went. Alley 7 was identical to the other alleys, having a bowling ball returner and some seats situated behind the alley itself. There was also a rack with various bowling balls of different weights and sizes. I tried a bowling ball from the middle of the rack but immediately dropped it due to how heavy it was, stepping back in surprise as it thudded on the floor.

“Lightweight,” Ryan said, laughing. He went to pick up the ball and put it back in its proper place.

“Hey,” I exclaimed, embarrassed. “Not everyone can be as strong as you, Mr. Football.”

“Yeah, but not everyone is as weak as you either, Ms. Parker,” he said, tousling my hair slightly with his hand. I squeaked a little, surprised by the sudden physical contact.

“A-Anyways,” I said, flustered. “Let’s start.”

“Sure,” Ryan said, picking up a ball from the heavier side of the rack. I picked up the lightest ball, one that actually matched my lack of strength.

“You can go first,” he said, nodding.

I sighed, holding the ball with both my hands. I situated my fingers inside the bowling ball and stepped up to the approach area. I nervously sent the ball going down the lane, only for it to fall into the gutter. I went again, but the ball once again rolled into the gutter, giving me a grand total of zero points.

“Good job, Julie,” Ryan said, snickering a little at my pathetic attempt.

“Like you can do much better,” I said.

“Okay, fine. Look at how I do it,” he said.

He confidently stepped back, holding the ball behind him. He ran up and let the ball loose, letting it fly. It also drifted into the gutter, rolling down into the back end of the lane without touching a single pin.

“Wow, good job,” I said, sarcastically clapping. “Real impressive.”

“Damn it,” Ryan said, laughing. “I thought that would go better.”

“I mean your form was good,” I said. “Execution though was a little lacking,”

“Okay,” he said. “Second attempt will be better, trust me.”

Without losing even an ounce of confidence, he went again. Once again running up and letting the ball go. This time, although it had a bit of a wobble, it reached the end of the lane without falling into the gutter. The ball ended up knocking down six pins.

“Let’s go,” he said, pumping his fist. “I told you my second attempt would be better.”

“I mean, it was a little better, but maybe you should just stick to football,” I said, taking my opportunity to snicker back at him. “Bowling doesn’t seem like your specialty.”

“Hey, fine, I’ll prove to you that I can do better,” he said, calming me down. “Whoever wins gets to make the other person do one thing of their choosing.”

“Anything?” I asked, raising my eyebrows. I imagined what I would make Ryan do if I had the opportunity to make him do anything. Maybe if I could make him kiss me. I shook my head, I couldn’t do that, I wouldn’t want it anyways unless it was romantic and both sides wanted it. But the thought of Ryan’s lips touching mine made me so flustered I struggled to think properly.

“That ‘anything’ of yours is a little suspicious,” he said, stroking his chin. “But sure, what’s the worst you can throw at me, right?”

“Sure, you think that,” I said, smiling. "Okay, my turn is up. I swear I’ll do better this time.”

“Let’s see it then,” he replied, sitting down on one of the seats standing behind me. “I personally predict one in the gutter and three pins knocked down on the other.”

I breathed in deeply, determined to prove him wrong. I let the ball loose, and it went rolling slightly to the left, knocking out seven. Three pins remained on the right. I went again, angling myself to the right. The other three got knocked down by the ball, leaving none left.

“That’s a spare, that’s a spare,” I squealed, jumping up and down in excitement. “See, I knew I could do better.”

“Beginner’s luck, I’ve got to say,” Ryan said, laughing. “No way you replicate that.”

“Screw you,” I said. “You’re just jealous I’m winning.”

“Hey. I haven’t even taken my turn yet,” he said, frowning. “So technically, you are not winning just yet, little lady.”

“I swear I’m going to win,” I said. “It’s not based on strength like what you’re good at, it’s based on agility and accuracy. Which is what I’m good at.”

“We’ll see about that,” Ryan said.

***

“Damn it,” I said, defeated. The scoreboard read 45 on my side and 67 on Ryan’s, signaling my defeat after all ten rounds. “You’re so good at this,” I whined. I sat down and opened the bottle of water Ryan had gotten me earlier, gulping it down. The game was a lot more tiring than I had expected, and I was exhausted now.

“So, you’ll do anything I ask now?” Ryan said, flopping down in the seat next to me. “That’ll certainly be interesting.”

“Oh no, what are you going to make me do,” I said, rubbing my temple. “Let’s get it over with.”

“No, I’m not going to use it now,” Ryan said his usual lopsided grin on his face. “I’m saving it for later.”

“That’s so scary,” I whined. “What are you planning to do?”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said, winking. “That’s why I’m keeping it for now. I’m sure there’ll come a good time when I can use it.”

“Ugh,” I groaned. “Fine, but it better not be anything too extra.”

“It won’t be,” he said. “Do you want to go for another round?”

“Sure,” I said, smiling. “I’m not betting again though.”

Ryan laughed. “Of course you won’t.”

***

“Today was really nice,” I said. I had finished wiping off all my makeup and changing clothes in the women’s bathroom. I had lost every single round of bowling we did to Ryan, something that left me embarrassed. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the time I had with him today.’’

“It was, I loved it,” Ryan said. “Let’s get you home now, it’s getting pretty late.“

I checked my phone to see it was eight. Mom and Dad would either be home or getting home soon, I hoped to get home before they did. “I can go by myself from here, thank you for today, Ryan.”

“On your own?” Ryan almost yelled. “You’re a girl, I can’t let you be walking around this late on your own. Since I’m the one who brought you out it’s my responsibility to get you home.”

“Okay,” I said, blushing a little bit. It felt nice to have Ryan look over and care about me. My house was about a thousand feet away from the bowling alley, which was luckily a walkable distance. We walked mostly in silence, maybe socially exhausted from the time we spent together.

“Here we are,” Ryan said. We both stood in front of my home which was all dark besides Daniel’s room. “Welcome back home.”

“Look like my parents aren’t home,” I said.

I fumbled with my house keys before inserting them in. I opened the door and walked in while Ryan stayed outside. “It’s best if I don’t come in, I think,” Ryan said, shaking his head. “Who knows when your parents will come.”

“Hey, Ryan, Julie, what are you two doing here?” I heard my brother say as he walked up behind me. “Wait, what?” I looked behind me to see his brows furrowed and his face confused.

“I was just walking her home after we hung out a little,” Ryan said, giving a salute. “I’ll see you tomorrow at practice, Daniel.”

“Yeah, see you man,” Daniel said.

“Bye Julie, today was really nice” Ryan gave a quick wave. He turned around and walked off. I was watching him when Daniel abruptly closed the door.

“What exactly is going on between you two?” he asked.

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