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It's almost two o'clock. I hope he's punctual.


Angelica paced in front of her picture window. It stunned her that she awaited the arrival of Joe Vanetti, the best athlete—and nicest young man—Rainbow Rock High School had ever produced. That she had worshiped him throughout their school years was a secret known only to her. That he’d never really noticed her was certainly no secret. That was obvious to everyone they’d gone to school with.


Who could blame him? She glanced at the clock again. He was the Golden Boy and I was the awkward girl who never knew what to say or how to act with other kids, especially when Joe was around. Hardly a match made in heaven. Besides, why would the coolest, most popular boy in school have ever noticed a nerdy misfit who was a year behind him?


But that hadn’t stopped her from trying. Despite being awkward and shy with other kids, she had put herself out there, hoping he might “see her.” Her face warmed as she remembered some of those attempts…like the time she watched Joe compete in the Class A wrestling qualifier. The meet came to Rainbow Rock that year because their school was a wrestling powerhouse in their small-schools division. They’d won the state title three years in a row. The previous year, when only a freshman, Joe had made it to the state finals before he was eliminated. Everyone considered him a contender for the next year’s state championship in his weight class.


A freshman at the time, Angelica had looked forward to the event, more specifically, she’d looked forward to watching Joe.

She’d just sat down in the bleachers with her hot dog and a can of soda when the boy in front of her waved to one of Joe's teammates and “accidentally” smacked her arm—since he’d leaned so far back to do it. The collision sent ketchup, mustard, and soda flying everywhere, but mostly on her hair and clothes. Embarrassed and red-faced, she’d scurried to the bathroom.


She’d cleaned up the best she could and had just stepped into one of the stalls when she heard the door open and two girls entered talking. Though the voices were familiar—in this school, everyone’s voices were familiar, Angelica couldn’t place them. One said, “just won his match. He’s going to be state champion for sure,” and Angelica had realized they were speaking of Joe. She’d been thrilled that he’d succeeded, though disappointment stung over missing the win. Then one of the girls said, “Did you see Miss Stuck-up all covered in ketchup?” and they both giggled.


Angelica had quickly realized the girls were talking about her. The girls exchanged a series of hurtful and vicious comments about Angelica, leaving her stunned. She’d known that most of the girls in her class disliked her, but she had no idea how vicious they could be behind her back. Tears streamed down her cheeks and her stomach roiled.


When the girls left the bathroom, Angelica turned and threw up in the toilet. She rushed from the gym convulsing in sobs, ran all the way home, and stayed in bed most of the following day, pleading sickness, unwilling to face the hostility of her peers. It had taken all her flagging courage to return to school the following week.


That incident and others triggered a severe anxiety disorder that haunted Angelica. She would only come to identify it by name years later. The physical reaction and symptoms destroyed any shred of confidence she’d had—she began to trip over nothing, bump into everything, and although she avoided speaking to anyone except her teachers, when she did say something, it was usually socially awkward. Her classmates came up with ever-creative new labels to call her, often ugly parodies of her name. Angelica turned into Devilica, and they were even more clever with DeForest.


Another incident occurred during the sectional basketball championship. Joe, then a junior, had scored more than thirty points, including the last-second, three-point winning shot. In her excitement, Angelica had jumped up to cheer and took a misstep, catching her toe and pitching forward. She landed in the lap of the senior class clown who made a quick, loud quip about how this was the only way any boy would ever hold Miss DeForestation. Kids around them had hooted with laughter.


Other mortifying incidents had also left scars, but over time, she realized she couldn’t live in a perpetual state of panic.


When she graduated and began college at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, she began to see a counselor, promising herself a fresh start.


The sympathetic counselor assured her that embarrassing incidents happened to everyone, but she sympathized deeply with the bullying Angelica had endured. With practice, and with the therapist’s help, she learned to recognize early signs of panic and to talk herself down from episodes like those in high school. The self-talk kept her from melting down, but barely diminished her anxiety. Though she eventually overcame her clumsiness, she still didn’t know how to socialize—or how to step out of her self-protective shell.


Angelica shook her head at all the times she’d put herself out there in high school, hoping Joe would notice her, only to end up embarrassing herself. She organized her class schedule to coincide with his so she would be able to pass him in the hall several times a day. She’d walked extra blocks to and from school in the hope they’d cross paths. She’d even struggled through advanced math just to be in the same class as Joe—and she hated math. Joe was not only cute, popular, and successful at everything he did, he was also kind, one of the few who never bullied.


She'd all but made a nuisance of herself, practically stalking him, hoping he'd notice her. But socially awkward late bloomers were never noticed, at least not in positive ways, and Joe had occupied the rarefied world of sports awards, scholastic success, and popular people—a world off-limits to her.


Throughout her high school years, there were a few other boys she liked—passing crushes—boys who, like Joe, were nice and polite to everyone; boys she’d never heard use Devilica or Miss DeForestation or any of the other insults. But Angelica had never been able to talk to any boy, and she’d never had so much as a mercy date. In any case, Joe was the one she always adored—the dream date she idolized. Her feelings had bordered on hero worship more than puppy love.


And now he's coming here, after all these years. The first time Joe Vanetti is actually seeking me out is when he’s looking for a music teacher for his daughter. He probably thinks spinster teachers have loads of time and can take on extra students. Angelica feared she might choke on the irony; she did have time on her hands.


Ah, if only I had the nerve to say something.... But what would be the point? She’d never been good at being bold. She pursed her lips and returned to her dusting while she waited for Joe to arrive.



Joe parked his car at the curb. Funny, he thought.  I've known Angelica DeForest for... what? Twenty years?Twenty-five maybe. And I've never been inside her home. Heck, he’d barely ever spoken more than a few words to her. Joe had driven by the house often enough over the years, and it hadn't changed from how he remembered it, but the inside? That was as much a mystery as Angelica herself.


The stately home originally belonged to Angelica’s grandparents, Charles and Penelope Lunsford. Mrs. Lunsford had lived to be 95, and had donated much to the community. Many locals referred to her kindly as Grandma Poppy. But most of the kids Joe went to school with called her Grumpy Old Lady Lunsford. Joe had never given much thought to the Lunsford’s house until Angelica and her widowed mother moved in.


Angelica had lived with her mom and grandmother all through junior high and high school. Joe remembered seeing Angelica with her mom a few times at school functions. Her mom was much older than the other moms and not particularly friendly. Perhaps that explained Angelica’s aloofness. But who was he to judge? He was now a single parent and would have to attend all school functions on his own.


From what Cretia had told him, Angelica led a pretty lonely existence. She moved back home from the university to care for both her mother and grandmother. Mrs. Lunsford passed away a year later around the same time that Angelica’s mom, Cynthia, was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Angelica spent the next eight years nursing her ailing mother until her passing. “Poor Angelica,” Cretia had said, shaking her head. “She had to sacrifice most of her twenties caring for others.”


Joe considered that admirable for a young woman who had been talented enough to pursue a career as a classical musician. He couldn’t help but think how lonely she must be. One thing Joe knew well was loneliness.


Well, time to face the music. Joe smiled at his own pun and wiped his sweaty hands on his trousers. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this nervous about a meeting. Who knew he’d still feel so intimidated by Angelica DeForest, even after all these years?


I could never figure her out, Joe pondered as he looked at the imposing home. He'd noticed her the first time he laid eyes on her, standing with a group of new kids in front of Rainbow Rock Junior High School on her first day of seventh grade. She was so pretty with her huge, sky-blue eyes and waist-length, white-blonde hair. He, the experienced eighth-grader leading the new student tour, had tried to impress her by commenting authoritatively on school procedure.


Angelica had regarded him with her cool, Ice Queen stare and turned her head away, and he’d gulped down the rest of his planned instruction, hoping his face wasn’t too red. Despite her distant demeanor and the awkward clumsiness people teased her about, Angelica had always been a beauty, and Joe had noticed her—plenty.


Joe caught a glimpse through the front window of someone moving. Better get my act together. I don't want her scolding me for being late. Joe smiled wryly. Even now the thought of Angelica turning her cool, blue-eyed gaze on him made his stomach do backflips.


No, there had never been much space for connections between classy, refined Angelica DeForest and plain ol' Joe. She had occupied the rarefied world of classical music, finishing school manners, and formal recitals, and he was the commonest sort of guy, working his natural athletic ability into the scholarship that had funded his education.


Gathering a deep breath for courage, he strode up the walk and knocked on the front door of Angelica DeForest’s oh-so-perfect home.



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