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Chapter 1: "Gossip Spreads like Fire"

December 04, 2007|By SARA MARTENS / Pulse Correspondent

This is Chapter 1 of a holiday-themed romance story by Pulse writer Sara Martens. Chapter 2 will be published next week in Pulse.

Sean gave a big sigh of relief as he exited the Bon-Ton. He stepped out of the crowd of Christmas shoppers and glanced at the girl next to him.

"You're a lifesaver, Nicky," he said. "I hate shopping - all the people and racks and displays. I just get crazy. But I really wanted to get something for Claire. Something special."

"I know," Nicky said. "You really love her."

"I want everything to be perfect for our first Christmas together, you know?" Sean added.

"I know. You just needed a little help finding the perfect present to convey that," Nicky replied with a small smile, "without emptying your savings account." Nicky gave Sean a light shove on the shoulder. "It's OK. I understand."

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"Hey, let's get a bite to eat," Sean said, as they neared the local pizza shop. I'll buy."

"No, it's OK -" Nicky began.

"Come on, I owe you for the giant favor you just did for me," Sean insisted.

"Fine." She allowed him to pull her into the restaurant.

Monday morning came around soon enough. Nicky arrived at school with her long, dark hair in waves framing her face. Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirrored glass of the counselors' office, she saw how her dark hair contrasted with her pale ivory skin and bright blue eyes. I'm pretty enough, she thought, but not blond, and that's what the boys like. At least she had a boyfriend.

Her eyes searched the crowd until she saw several friends standing by their lockers. She immediately moved towards them, calling out a greeting. They saw her, but then turned and walked away. Nicky stood alone.

Suddenly she felt like everyone was looking at her. What did I miss this weekend? She gazed around at her schoolmates, causing them to divert their stares from her, at least until she looked away. She continued down the hall, a fake persona of happiness. At last, she found her best friend, Claire.

"Hey!" Nicky said with a bright smile. "So fill me in, what's the latest gossip?"

Claire turned and glared, her normally friendly, pale blue eyes now piercing ice.

"That you were on a date with my boyfriend and you apparently looked very friendly."

Nicky was dumbfounded.

"Whoever said that has no idea what they're talking about," she blurted. "Sean is your boyfriend. I was helping him buy you a present and we split a pizza. I'm just his friend! It was no big deal!"

"Like I'd actually believe that pathetic story," Claire said as she flipped her long golden locks over her shoulder. She stepped closer to Nicky so they stood face to face. "Consider your life over," she whispered with a smirk before walking off. Nicky stood, speechless.

After taking a moment to collect herself she rushed to the stairs, desperately searching for a comforting face. Her eyes lit up when she found him.

"Zach!" she cried as she threw herself at him, wrapping her arms tightly around him before gazing up into her boyfriend's eyes. "I am so glad to see you. You have no idea."

"Well, about that," he said, untangling his body from hers. "We really need to talk. I heard about your date on Saturday. I think we should break up."

"What?" she asked, eyes wide with disbelief. "But it wasn't like that, I swear! I was helping Sean pick out Claire's present -"

Zach avoided her eyes. "You cheated on me! I just can't let that go. Goodbye, Nicky." He turned away and walked off without a backward glance.

The rest of Nicky's day was a blur of tears and hurt. For the first time in her teenage life, she was virtually invisible. No one spoke to her. Teachers didn't call on her. No one acknowledged her except to stare at her and whisper comments to friends.

Nicky walked out into the school parking lot, still in a daze. She looked for her car for five minutes until she remembered - her sister had driven her to school that morning. Now Nicky was stranded.

"Crap!" she shouted as she dropped her backpack, sinking to the ground after it. How can this be happening to me?

She sat on the curb, her head in her hands, as the noisy parking lot thinned. Friends chattered together. Parents greeted their teenagers. Everybody had somebody who cared about them. Everybody but Nicky. Tears stung Nicky's eyes.

"Hey!" A voice rose above the hubbub. "Hey!"

A couple seconds later, the voice was close. "Hey! Do you need a ride?" Nicky looked up to see a boy talking to her. "Do you need a ride?" he repeated, offering her a hand. He had longish dark hair that fell into his face. His look screamed indie-rock musician. And he looked familiar, but Nicky couldn't place him.

"I've just had the worst day of my life," Nicky said bitterly. "Why on earth would you want to help me?"

"Because you just had the worst day with your life. And you live next door to me, so it's not out of my way or anything," he said with a slight smile. "Come on." He reached for Nicky.

Ah, that's why he looks familiar. Nicky took his hand and pulled herself to her feet.

"Sure. Better than walking." After all, how could her day get any worse?

To read chapters of Sara Martens' holiday romance story, go to Pulse's Web site, HMPulse.com, and click on the newspaper on the floor.

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