Just Friends (Clearwater Crossing #5)

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9780553492583: Just Friends (Clearwater Crossing #5)

Bonfires, pep assemblies, and football: Spirit week has kicked into high gear at Clearwater Crossing High! All Nicole can think about is getting Jesse to take her to the homecoming dance, but he's not in a partying mood. Nothing matters now that he's off the Wildcats....

Everything matters to Jenna these days. Dealing with her sisters, earning good grades, getting over Miguel...more than ever, Jenna needs a friend she can count on. She needs Peter. But has her best friend in the world found someone he likes better? Ben is on a mission--to fit in! He thought being part of Eight Prime would solve all his problems, but he's still invisible at school, and his new friends don't really seem to accept him. Then Ben hits on a plan. If everything goes right, he'll be the toast of CCHS....

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About the Author:

Laura Peyton Roberts is the author of numerous books for young readers. She lives in San Diego, California.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Excuse me?” Jenna Conrad said weakly.
She stared up at him from the driver’s seat, her face completely expressionless in the glow from the dome light overhead, and Ben Pipkin could feel himself starting to sweat. Ben was still dressed as a werewolf from the haunted house fund-raiser Eight Prime had just wrapped up, and the perspiration rising under the brown greasepaint and patches of fake fur on his cheeks itched almost unbearably. From the pavement next to Jenna’s mom’s station wagon, he gripped the top of her open car door harder and took a deep, bracing breath of the cold night air.
“I’d really like to take you to the homecoming dance,” he repeated, doing his best to sound confident. “I think we’d have a lot of fun.”
He put his elbow on top of the door he held and leaned into the metal edge, striking a casual pose. Unfortunately, his angle was bad. The added weight on the door caused it to swing shut unexpectedly, nearly yanking him off his feet. He managed to extract his fingers a split second before they would have been crushed to pulp. Then, feeling incredibly thankful that all Jenna’s body parts had been safely inside, he recovered his balance and sheepishly re-opened the door.
“So, what do you say?” he asked, so unnerved by his own clumsiness that his voice cracked on the question.
Jenna regarded him with wide blue eyes. One finger twisted a strand of her long brown hair.
“It’s just... well... I’m going with Peter,” she said at last. “We always go to dances together. Thanks, though, Ben. It was nice of you to ask me.”
“Oh.” He let go of the car door and took a step backward, away from the light spilling onto the street. “Right. I guess I should have thought of that.” Jenna did practically everything with her best friend, Peter.
“No. How could you have known?” she said, her voice conciliatory. “I’m sorry. I know this must be embarrassing.”
“Embarrassing?” Ben squeaked. “No. Why?” Mortifying would have been a better word. “I mean, we’re still friends, right? This doesn’t change anything.”
“Right,” said Jenna, smiling. “Of course we are.”
Even so, it was a very awkward moment. Ben had never asked a girl out before, and all the self-psyching he’s had to do to find the courage this time wasn’t paying off the way he’s imagined. He stood there staring at Jenna... she sat looking questioningly at him...
She’s waiting for me to say good bye so she can leave, he realized suddenly. What an idiot I am!
Okay! Well, that’s good,” he said quickly. “I guess I’ll, uh, see you tomorrow, right?” Eight Prime was supposed to meet Sunday afternoon to clean out the ComAm warehouse, where they’d held their haunted house.
“Yeah, tomorrow.”
Jenna waved from behind the closed window as he pushed her car door shut. A moment later she made a U-turn in the deserted street and headed off toward home. Ben stood in the middle of the pavement, waving with both arms over his head as her taillights receded into the darkness. When they were nothing but little red pinpricks, he finally breathed again.
“You jerk,” he muttered under his breath. “What were you thinking anyway?” He wandered off the edge of the road and plopped down on a boulder, his greaspaint-coated face in his hands. “How stupid can you be?”
With hundreds of girls at school to choose from, he’d had to ask someone in Eight Prime to be his date for the homecoming dance. He should have realized it was going to backfire–and that a rejection from one of his new friends would be far worse than one from a stranger.
The problem is, a stranger would have said no for sure, he thought miserably. I don’t exactly sweep women off their feet–not unless I knock them down, that is. Ben knew the whole school thought him a hopeless nerd. He was an outcast, but he wasn’t an idiot.
No, wait. I am, he reminded himself, depressed. Just not that type of idiot. His head sank further into his hands.
He never should have mentioned the dance to Jenna, let alone have asked her to it. Now, whenever they were around each other, he was always going to be wondering if she was thinking about what a fool he’d made of himself. And the worst part was, he didn’t even have a crush on her. She was just a nice person–too nice to tell him no, he'd hoped. Now she probably thought he was madly in love with her or something. Ben groaned to imagine what she would tell Peter.
The sound of an approaching car made him raise his head. His father was coming to pick him up, but this car turned off at a corner far up the street.
He sighed. At least Jenna had said they were still friends. Actually, she’d seemed almost as eager to forget the whole thing as he was.
I’m probably worrying about nothing, he thought. Jenna’s too nice to make a big deal about something like this–that’s why you decided to ask her in the first place, remember? Buck up, already. Be a man.
But he didn’t feel like a man. He felt like a stupid little kid. No matter how hard he tried, he was always messing up, always doing something dumb. Just once in his life, he’d wanted to fit in. He’d thought that joining Eight Prime would be a big step in that direction, but ultimately it hadn’t made much difference. The other members were usually nice to him, when they were together, but they all had separate lives. Unless there was a meeting or a fund-raiser, they pretty much ignored him.
And Ben wanted a separate life too. He wanted to be accepted by the other students at Clearwater Crossing High School. He wanted to get a date and have fun at a dance, like any normal person. He wanted people to say hello to him in the halls or invite to sit with them at lunch.
It didn’t seem like much to ask. And for a few days, in the flush of accomplishment he’d felt at the success of “his” haunted house, he’d been foolish enough to believe it was possible.
“I’m always such an idiot,” he sighed. “No wonder no one likes me.”

“Wow,” Melanie Andrews said softly, leaning back into the passenger seat. “I didn’t know I was going to do that.”
Peter smiled slightly. “I can’t say I was expecting it, either.”
Blood whooshed in Melanie’s ears with every beat of her heart. She had just kissed Peter Altmann!
One minute they’d simply been talking in his car behind the dark ComAm warehouse, and the next thing she knew, she had him in a lip lock. It had been all her doing, too. Peter had never moved.
“I- I’m sorry, “she stammered, embarrassed.
Peter’s smile widened. “That bad, huh?”
No. Not bad. Not bad at all. The thing was... she wasn’t sure... had Peter been into it or not? He’s kissed her back toward the end, but he hadn’t tried to stop her when she ended it. He hadn’t put his arms around her and pulled her closer. And now, when any other guy would be trying to press the advantage she’s just given him, Peter sat regarding her calmly, a slightly amused expression on his face.
“I just... don’t think I should have done that,” she said, in spite of the fact that her entire body was still tingling.
Peter put a warm hand over hers. “Listen, Melanie, the truth is, I don’t know what to think either. But we're friends, right? And that’s not going to change–no matter how we feel about this tomorrow.”
Melanie took a deep breath. “Yeah. You’re right.”
After all, it was just one kiss. It didn’t have to be some major turning point between them. It didn’t have to be anything at all.
“Well, I guess I’d better take you home.”
Peter twisted the key in his Toyota’s ignition, and the engine came to life, shattering the silent Halloween night. Melanie snuck peeks at his profile as he drove out from behind the ComAm building onto the deserted road. His dark blond hair was short on the sides, but the longer hair on top had a tendency to fall over his blue eyes, the way it was doing now. His nose was straight, his jawline strong. But the best part of all was his smile–open and friendly, with perfect white teeth. When Peter smiled, Melanie felt it in her gut.
She wanted to say something now, as they cruised the quiet streets, but she found herself at a loss. Everything she thought of seemed so superficial, such an obvious smoke screen to cover what had just happened. She didn’t want to talk simply for the sake of diverting attention to another subject. Peter wasn’t doing that, and she wouldn’t do it either.
On the other hand, what do you say to a guy you’ve just kissed for no apparent reason?
"Would you want to go to the homecoming dance with me?” she blurted out as the car rolled up to a stoplight. “I mean, you don’t have to. I’ll definitely understand if you think it’s too weird. But, well, I have to go with someone, and I’d really like it to be you.”
The light turned green, but Peter didn’t drive forward. It didn’t matter; no one was behind them at that late hour.
“Me? Are you sure?” he asked. “There are probably a hundred guys at school who’d kill to go to that dance with you.”
“But you aren’t one of them,” Melanie said, dropping her gaze. She was sure her cheeks must be red even in the half-light of the...

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