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THREE

Chris caught me just after class Tuesday morning, but I couldnıt exactly tell what he was thinking. "Noel, why does everyone think you like me?"

"Because of Leah," I replied sheepishly.

"What does Leah have to do with it?"

"She took my diary and read it to everyone."

"Then is what you wrote true"

"Yes, I mean, no. I just wrote your name maybe once. I mean, I write people's names all the time. I'm sorry for the missunderstanding. I don't think Leah meant to harm you, only me."

"She should mind her own business. I was getting annoyed at all these crazy rumors and I had to know the truth."

"Well, you got the truth and nothing but the truth. Don't take any of this stuff seriously. It's not like you've never liked a girl."

"Well," he blushed.

"I'm sorry, but I have to go. I need to make up the Spanish test I missed, but I'll see you around." I took off, not wanting to lie even further.

Not liking him was the biggest understatement in the world. A little less than half my diary was on him. Well, he'll never know the real truth unless Leah shows him the diary.

I had tried to avoid practically everyone these past few days. I always took the back route to portable thirteen fifth period. Mostly seniors used that road, and lots of kids who cut class hide out there because the campus supervisors don't bother to look there. I didn't expect to see anyone I knew, but when I looked ahead to the parking lot, I saw two figures against the back wall of a portable and I let out a gasp. When I took one step further, I saw who they were. It was Josh and Leah, kissing! I couldn't believe it! I quickly turned to the side walkway just as Josh pulled away from Leah. Leah didn't see me because her back was to me, but I knew Josh had seen me for sure.

I wouldn't have care if Josh was with any other girl in the world, but why did it have to be Leah of all people, the only person who I truly hated? Was he doing this on purpose just so he could get my attention? Well, he's not doing anything to improve the situation. I guess Iım the only person who can see what Leah really is, or am I just getting carried away?

"Earth to Noel! In what part of the solar system are you in? Everyone else in on planet Earth."

"Sorry. What did you say again, Mr. Steiger?"

Not even my favorite teacher, Mr. Steiger, could keep my mind off of all the trouble, but I was relieved that there was only ten minutes left of class. I had study hall sixth period instead of physical education, so I walked down to Montclair Village and took a bus straight home to where I could be alone. I couldnıt stand being at school, where everything makes me feel cursed.

Well, it is partly my fault that I trusted Leah to give Noel her diary. If only I had known it was a diary. What was I thinking? Why did I let Leah do that to me? Isn't this a male dominated world? (Not anymore, huh?) I can't be falling all over myself if I want to survive life. I have to believe in myself, and have control over it.

What does Leah think she is doing? What do I think I'm doing? Why did I go along with her? She probably knew Noel was going to see us. Why else would she make me go there? I can't let her ruin Noel's life. She's the one who started it in the first place. I see how Noel feels. Oh, why am I talking to myself? It won't do any good. "Whatıs wrong now, Josh?" Aaron asked, concerned.

"Huh?"

"Josh! Are you listening?"

"Sorry," I mumbled.

"I know something's wrong. Is it Noel again?"

Aaron always could tell what I'm feeling no matter how much I tried to hide it. "Yeah, it is."

"What stupid thing did you do this time?"

"Oh, thanks for your support." I looked away, burying my head in my arms.

"Sorry. But please tell me what's wrong?"

"It's Leah, actually." I never took my head out.

"Is what some people are saying true about you and Leah?²

"I don't know how much of it, but the basics are true. I didn't even know what I was doing until it was too late."

"Leah caught you again, huh?"

"I don't know how many times I've fallen into Leahıs traps. I can't let her do this to me!"

Aaron put his hand on my shoulder. "Josh, you have to tell her off, if you want her off your back, you have to confront her."

"It's not as easy as you say it. What do you think I was trying to do all this time? Go after Leah?"

"I guess not. Just believe in yourself. If you like Noel, you can't have distractions like Leah. By what I know, she's ruined her life to the max.² "And it's all because of stupid me."

"Josh, don't call yourself stupid. If you're stupid, then I must be so stupid that there's no word for it," Aaron snapped.

"Sorry. You're not dumb at all."

"We're just letting each other down. Think positive."

"Oh, great. Think positive. What great advice!" I said sarcastically.

"Now we're starting to sound like my old coach."

"That's not a good thing, is it?" I asked stupidly.

"Nope."

Over the weekend, I had refused to answer any questions from my mom, and I didn't even bother to talk to my dad when he came home to see me compete. Just to get my mom out of trouble, I told him I didn't feel well. The truth is, I didn't. All that crying had taken its toll. My hair turned grey and looked dilapidated. My blue eyes looked like they were on fire, and my muscles felt punctured. I didn't look much better today either.

Early Monday morning, I knew everyone was avoiding me, so I didn't even notice that Josh was coming towards me until he came right up to my locker door. Just when I thought I had gotten over Josh (and even Chris) from two whole days of solitude in my bedroom with only one dayıs share of food, he comes to talk to me.

"Noel, why weren't you at the meet Saturday?"

"What meet?" I avoided any eye contact Josh was trying to seize.

"Don't tell me you didn't know you had a meet Saturday against Pinecrest."

"Oh, that one."

"So, why didn't you compete? Are you hurt?"

"No." The only thing that is hurt is my life.

"No what? You're the best on the team. You're the anchor of the team. If you're not hurt, then why didn't you go?"

"Because I was at home."

"Why were you at home."

"³Do you have to ask me so many questions?"

"I just wanted to know why you weren't there? That's just one question."

I mumbled, "It's because I was grounded."

"What do you mean, grounded?"

"What do I mean by what? Haven't you ever been grounded before? Why else wouldn't I have been there?"

"Why would I have known that?" he nagingly asked.

"Because Leah has practically told everyone everything I wrote in my diary. She's out to terrorize me."

"I thought that was just a rumor."

I was becoming irritated. "Well, it's not. Itıs a fact."

"But Leah isn't trying to terrorize you. You've got it backwards. She's jealous of you!"

"Yeah, and I'm going to go to the Olympics next year."

"No, I mean it."

"Well, no, I mean it too. At least I see the real Leah. You're just obsessed with her outer beauty. But I see what the person inside looks like. I'm smart enough to see that. Anyways, you're probably just siding on her side 'cause she's your girlfriend." I was sick and tired of talking to him, so I slammed my locker shut, turned my back on him, and walked away.

"Wait a minute!" He grabbed my jacket.

"I don't have to wait for no one." "Leah is NOT my girlfriend! I do not obsessed with her, either! She tricked me into going with her!"

"Yeah, and I'm supposed to believe that. You probably tricked her into stealing my diary in the first place!" I freed myself out of his grasp and ran ahead of him.

"Noel!" I was too late. The swarm of students shuffled us in the opposite directions. "So much for that." Only if I can do something to make her life better. "She's as torn up as a balloon landing on a rose bush. No, I'm messed up as a jigsaw puzzle falling off of the Empire State Building," I mumbled to myself.

"You trying to write an essay?" Aaron inquired, disturbed from his homework.

"No!" I said sharply. "No," I said, this time in a much less striking voice. "I'm just describing myself."

"So, have you talked to Leah?"

"No, but I have tried to talk to Noel. No luck there."

"Try talking to Leah first. Get that over with."

On the way to the gym, I stopped by Skyline Boulevard, parked my car, then hiked to a secluded trail hidden from the main road. I usually go there to relax, or just to clear my mind. Today was especially beautiful, quite opposite from what it must look like inside of my mind. I sat down on a hillside looking over the city, seeing tiny ant-like specks moving around the vast canvas painted in all the colors of the rainbow.

I thought of what to say to Leah. But all I got was to take out all of my anger out on her. After only ten minutes, my mind switched to Noel. I felt sorry for her, then I decided that I would be dead if that happened to me. Still, I wanted to be by her side and help her get through it.

Next, I thought about her best friend, Eva. I thought she trusted Noel enough to not abandon her. Maybe Eva is just under Leah's control, just as I had been.

Twenty minutes later, I fell asleep, the afternoon breeze hovering around me, relieving me of all the stress I had gathered up this past week, and I fell to dream about Noel and her warm smile. I hoped it would someday come true. I woke up only half an hour later, awakened by a sudden gust of wind, and headed for the gym, ready to confront Leah.