Since before either of them could remember, Jack and Katrina had lived across the street from one another. From an early age they grew up as the very best of friends. Their mothers would often laugh and smile at the idea that soon their babies would grow up and fall in love and they would envision a future in which they would all be family.
For Jack, having Katrina as a best friend meant that he was often included in outings with her girl friends. Though when he was younger other boys would tease him about having a friend who was a girl, Jack learned early on what made girls smile and what made them sad. It didn't take too long before girls began to realize Jack was not like other boys, Jack understood and they liked that.
Katrina had the benefits of seeming more down to earth than most girls, thanks to her friendship with Jack. Jack was in to typical boy things like riding bikes, skateboarding, and getting dirty, so Katrina enjoyed all those things too. Despite wanting an overly feminine daughter, Katrina's mother had to settle for a beautiful daughter who often acted like a "tom boy".
It was the summer of fifth grade Eric moved in a couple houses down from Jack. Eric was a bit of an awkward kid, scrawny with glasses, and much more into comic books and video games than sports. Jack was Eric's idol. Everywhere Jack went, Eric came too. Katrina found Eric much to clingy and despite her sometimes mean behavior to Eric, she often captivated him. It took nearly all of middle school before Eric finally grew on Katrina and she called him a friend, a win in his book.
In high school, Jack and Katrina rose in popularity as puberty did wonders for their appearance. Jack had girls fawning over him left and right, so much so he began to keep a calendar of when he was supposed to hang out with which girl. Jack tried to keep Eric in the loop, though it often seemed impossible. Katrina, like Jack, was popular among the boys in school. Not only was Katrina beautiful, but she was into the same things they were, a perfect combination. Freshman through Junior year, these three friends were inseparable and knew they would be lifelong companions. One month before their senior year, the house next door to Katrina sold and a new family moved in.
Katrina watched the moving van unload box after box into the house next door as Jack and Eric sat on the floor of her room flipping through BMX catalogs.
"Any sign of the family yet?" Jack asked casually.
"No, not yet. I think they definitely have a daughter, I saw a big pink lamp and a box that said Amber's room."
"How old you think?" Jack asked again.
"Too soon to tell, I don't have x-ray vision." Katrina replied, stepping away from the window. "You don't have any dates today? Isn't like the fair in town or something?"
"I cancelled." Jack mumbled.
"Why?" asked Eric.
"It was Lydia, she got really weird after our last date. I thought I replaced all the dates she scheduled, but I missed one. Decided to have today to myself instead."
"Maybe we should all go to the fair then, but not until tonight. I don't want to be surrounded by all the little kids." Katrina said snatching the magazine from Eric and began to flip through the pages.
"Understandable after last year." Eric said, getting up to look out the window. "It looks like a car is pulling in."
The three friends crowded together to look out of Katrina's window. They watched a dark blue sedan pulled into the drive-way, a mother with short brown hair got out of the driver's side and a teenage girl stepped out of the passenger side.
"How old you think she is?" Jack asked to Katrina.
"Can't tell, I didn't see her face. But we can find out."
Katrina slipped on her Converse shoes and walked out of her room, the boys followed shortly behind. The teenage girl was still outside watching the boxes unload from the truck.
"Hey there!" Katrina called from behind as her group approached.
The girl turned around and pulled her long brown hair away from her face. "Hi." She said quietly.
"I'm Katrina, these are my friends Eric and Jack." Katrina waved as the boys followed suit.
The girl's cheeks blushed as she momentarily locked eyes with Jack and his ever confident smile. "I'm Amber."
"I live next door, so I just wanted to say hi. What grade are you in?" Katrina asked.
"Me? I'll be a senior, you?"
"Cool." Amber replied with an uncomfortable smile.
Katrina stayed behind to get to know Amber a bit better while the boys went off to play one of Eric's new video games. Amber said she had just moved to town from Arizona. Her parents had just divorced, so her Mom wanted to be closer to family. Amber said she was heartbroken to be starting over her senior year and to leave all of her friends behind. Amber had been in dance from a young age and also enjoyed singing, reality tv, and always dreamt of being famous. Katrina decided that although she and Amber had very little in common, no one should go into senior year without friends. Katrina took the time to introduce herself to Amber's Mom, Michelle, and invited Amber to join her and the boys at the fair.
Everyone met up in Katrina's driveway after sunset. "Okay, so introductions again." Katrina said. "Amber, this is Eric, he's really into some nerdy things, but he's harmless."
Eric smiled and shook Ambers hand politely. "I also like normal things too like movies, going to the beach, and roller coasters." Eric said, jokingly narrowing his eyes at Katrina.
Katrina slapped her hands on Eric's shoulders. "yes, yes, he is a sweet guy." Katrina then walked over to Jack and punched him in the arm. "this is my best friend Jack, Jack this is Amber."
Jack gave Amber another one of his winning smiles, causing Amber's heart to skip a beat and left her thankful it was too dark outside for him to see her blush.
"Nice to meet you." Amber said sweetly. "No intro for him, just best friend?"
"Oh, I'll give you an intro." Katrina said with a laugh, "Don't date him, that is a smile of lies!" Katrina joked. "Seriously though, we're all cool, been friends for a long time. Jack is my best bro and Eric is his best bro."
"Well, thanks for the invite tonight. I wasn't really expecting to meet anyone before school started, this is quite a relief."
The four of them piled into Katrina's beat up jeep and headed off to the fair. Jack and Eric offered to wait in line for wristbands while the girls opted to get food for the group.
"Your friend Jack is really cute. Did you and he ever..."
"Eww, no!" Katrina laughed. "Seriously, when I say Jack is my friend, I mean FRIEND. Our mom's thought we would grow up and get married or whatever, but there's a better chance of it snowing in summer than for us to ever be a thing."
Amber smiled. "So is he like single?"
Katrina stopped to face Amber head on. "Don't go down this road. You don't want to want to date him."
"How can you be best friends with someone and think people shouldn't date him?"
Katrina sighed. "What is the best way I can put this?" Katrina paused with her fingers on her lips. "Jack is very popular. He is 'hot' as many girls say and he is kind, and he likes to pay for dates, and there are a lot of reasons why girls want to date him. I get it, I do. Jack dates A LOT of girls, like seriously, a lot. He has dates scheduled with different girls most days of the week. I think right he has a running roster of like fifteen different girls he dates regularly. You don't want in on that. Jack doesn't get serious about anyone, it is all whoever he thinks he will have the most fun with doing something he already had planned." Katrina said with a smile. "He once brought a date to my birthday party, I told him I would punch him if he pulled that again."
"Wow, that's crazy. The other girls don't care?" Amber asked.
"No. Apparently growing up with me has turned him into the most desirable boy in school and everyone just wants their chance to win him over. They are all so convinced he will soon pick just one of them, especially because this year is senior year. They just don't know him like I do. As your new friend, I'm telling you, don't get involved. You seem really sweet."
"Well, thanks for being so blunt." Amber smiled.
All night Katrina's words rang in Amber's head, but every time she saw Jack smile, her knees went weak. Amber liked all three of them. She thought it was interesting how obvious it was Eric was in love with Katrina and how she had friend zoned him so hard, she could literally kiss someone in front of him and he didn't care. Katrina and Jack decided to hit up the haunted house and when Eric declined, Amber thought she would take the chance to talk to him.
"How long have you been in love with her?" Amber asked playfully.
"Is it that obvious?" Eric asked with a kind smile.
"You only pay for everything for her and do anything she wants. Why?"
Eric walked Amber over a bench so they could sit as they waited for their friends. "I know it may be hard to believe, but I used to be a lot more awkward than I am now. Katrina was Jack's best friend and I really wanted be Jack's friend. I hung out with them everyday but Kat would always try to get Jack to ditch me, but thankfully he never did. She used to call me her pebble, ruining her fun time with Jack because I couldn't bike as fast as they could, or I wasn't brave enough to do some of the things she wanted to so Jack would suggest we do something else."
"That seems really mean."
Eric shook his head. "Things changed. It was eighth grade, I had been hanging out with them for about three years and Jack go the flu, he was out of school for a week. Katrina didn't want to sit with me at lunch without Jack, she didn't want people to 'get the wrong idea' but when you're like me, bullies think I am an easy target and they started taking my lunch and spilling my papers and stuff everywhere. No one messed with me when Jack was around, but without him, I didn't know what to do. Katrina elbowed one of them in the nose and forced one of the others to buy me a new lunch while the first picked up my stuff. She told them not to mess with her 'friend', it was the first time she had ever said it. I have loved her ever since. She gives me a hard time, but it's all in good fun. I know she is only teasing. I see the guys she dates and they're mostly terrible, she keeps herself pretty guarded, but I know one day she is going to get hurt. One day she will appreciate who I am and what I do for her. I don't know if I'll ever not be in her 'friend-zone', but it is enough for her to just want me in her life."
"You are all so tight."
"Katrina and Jack are great. Your Mom picked a great house for you. With them as your friends, you'll be popular in school in no time, people still think I'm weird, but oddly enough thanks to them I am still considered cool, and everyone knows me."
Amber giggled. "I have never been the popular kid, so that would nice for a change."
Over the last month of summer before school began Amber enjoyed getting to know her new friends better. Amber envied Katrina's casual yet sexy and cool way of dressing. She saw the way boys looked at Katrina, and wondered what it would feel like to be admired like that. Of course then there was Eric, Jack was helping him up his look for senior year, but at his core, Eric was just a big goof. Amber loved how carefree Eric was, he was just happy to do whatever Jack or Katrina wanted even if it meant doing nothing but lying on Katrina's floor flipping through magazines. More than anything Amber wanted to know Jack better. Like Katrina had said, Amber watched him go on many dates, occasionally the dates would overlap with the times the group was hanging out like when they had gone to the beach, but otherwise he had dates whenever he felt like it. Amber wanted to know what it would be like to go on a date with him, just once.
Finally the time had come for school to begin. Katrina worked with Amber and the school and got Amber's schedule to overlap with her own as much as possible and so the four of them shared many classes. Amber had begun to fantasize a future in which she were Jack's girlfriend and would doodle hearts with their names written all around on the page of her notebook, but she never did this in front of Katrina. One day when Amber went to pack up her papers, her notebook was missing. Amber had not thought anything about it until she got to the lunch room and saw guy laughing as he tossed the notebook to Jack.
"Oh my God, please kill me." Amber grabbed Katrina and buried her head into her friend's shoulder.
"Why, what happened?" Katrina asked. "Need me to punch someone? I can."
"I may or may not have written little love hearts all over the back of one of my notebooks with mine and Jack's names."
"Not your finest decision, but whatever." Katrina shrugged.
"No!" Amber whispered. "Someone stole my notebook and I just watched him hand it to Jack!."
"Oh!" Katrina looked around and saw Jack looking at the notebook and talking about it to Eric.
When Jack caught a glimpse of Katrina staring at him and a mortified Amber lying against her he walked over to the table with Eric in tow.
"That guy's an idiot." Jack said as he handed the notebook back to Amber with the scribbled side down, trying to act as though he hadn't seen it.
"It's true, we have a lot of those here." Katrina said with a kind smile. "Hey Amber, give me a minute with Jack. Why don't you and Eric hold the table while we hit up the vending machine."
Jack followed Katrina out of the cafeteria and down the hallway. "Don't do it, okay?" Katrina sighed.
"Do what?" Jack asked, playing dumb.
"I know you read the notebook, I know you know she's into you, and I know what you do when you think someone is into you. She doesn't need to be part of your drama circle."
Jack stopped an squared off with Katrina. "You already knew." He smiled and shook his head. "Let me guess, you told her to stay away and now you're mad because she didn't listen."
"She's our friend. I don't need you to make things awkward between all of us. She's a nice girl and we all know she's not exactly your type."
Jack laughed. "Being a little overprotective aren't we? She's cute, that's not not my type." Jack shook his head. "She can make her own decisions. I would give her the same opportunities as anyone else."
"A one in fifteen chance at a date, wow how fun!" Katrina said with a roll of her eyes. "I thought we had a deal you wouldn't date my friends."
"Did you see the notebook?" Jack asked. "She's basically asking ME out, it's not the same. I'm not pursuing her, I'm giving her what she wants, and you should let her."
Katrina sighed and shook her head out of frustration. "Fine, arrange a date or whatever, but be honest with her. If you don't think she's enough of whatever you look for in a date, just let her know so she doesn't get her hopes up. She's not like your other girls."
Jack shook his head. "No, YOU are not like the other girls, resistant to all my charms." Jack said with a smug grin.
"Please" Katrina replied pushing her hand against his face. "I helped create those charms, and you're welcome by way."
Jack laughed as the pair of them walked over to the vending machines to complete their task. "So what I'm hearing is this is all your fault anyway."
Katrina gave a light laugh in disagreement and rolled her eyes. On the way back to the cafeteria Jack thought about Katrina's words. Amber was new in town, and while it was not uncommon for him to pursue the new girl, especially if she was hot, Amber was their friend, HIS friend too. Amber was pretty but more plain than the girls he normally surrounded himself with, she was NICE girl, and quite literally the girl next door. The other girls he dated knew not to expect anything serious from him, and while he was certain Katrina had passed that information on to Amber, it was possible she could end up with a broken heart. Jack let Katrina go ahead of him into the cafeteria while he emailed his calendar to Amber. No one talked about the notebook of the calendar during lunch, but the homecoming dance momentarily came up in conversation.
"I heard rumors Katrina, you were going to be nominated for homecoming Queen." Jack said with a laugh as he nudged her in the ribs.
"They better take me off, I'd probably win if I were on the list."
"You DON'T want to be homecoming Queen?" Amber asked in shock.
"I've hung out and dated a lot of the boys on the varsity football team, they probably nominated me, but we all know being a 'queen' is hardly my thing. I just go to have a good time, I don't need a tiara or a special dance." Katrina said as she rolled her eyes.
"Aw, you're not going to dance with me?" Jack pretended to pout.
"Yes, Jack won King last year and surprised all the seniors, he is basically a shoe in for this year. But I always save a dance for my boys."
"I would want to be Queen more than anything." Amber trailed off as she momentarily envisioned what it would be like as homecoming Queen with Jack as the King.
"As friend, let me make your job even easier. Instead of trying to whittle down which of the guys you date to take to this occasion where your mom will make you buy a photo of you and your date to hang on your wall, you should let me take you instead." Eric said with a wink.
Amber smiled. Eric didn't give up, and he was so upfront about his feelings towards Katrina, yet respected his place as her friend. Amber wondered if that was the position she should defer herself to with Jack. Would it become awkward if he asked her out and things didn't work out? Amber knew she had only had a boyfriend a couple of times, and she never dated someone who was dating someone else, let alone, fifteen other someones.
Katrina smiled and playfully laid her head on Eric's shoulder, Amber saw how happy that moment made him. "Well thank you for offering to spare me the tough decision making, but alas, you are too late. I've already accepted Devon Thompson's request. You are right about the picture though, I vote we four take the picture together and then the rest of you can take your own pictures. Devon is hot and all, but I don't need this date frozen for a moment in time with a photo.
"If you don't like him, why did you accept?" Asked Amber.
"I've heard good post dance rumors, so we'll see."
As the class bell rang, signaling everyone lunch was over Jack bent down to Amber's ear. "Walk you to class?"
Amber nodded and left the cafeteria with Jack. "Did you get my email?"
"Oh, um." Amber paused and reached in her purse for her phone. "I have no idea, I never use my phone at school, I thought we weren't allowed."
"We're not, but there's a few thousand people here, so everyone does it anyway."
Amber looked at her phone and tried to stifle the shock she was feeling. "This is your calendar." Amber said.
"Why is Katrina on here so much?" Amber asked as she started scrolling through and saw Jack's days were literally as full as she thought Katrina was exaggerating.
"No." Jack laughed. "Katrina is yellow, dates are red, my activities blue, other is green. Katrina and I still hang out most days, but if there is something important she'll put it on the schedule so the girls know I'm not available."
"Are you asking me out?" Amber asked, her heart beating rapidly as she waited for his answer.
Jack smiled and winced a bit. "TECHNICALLY, in this instance you are asking me out and I have accepted." Amber looked at him, confused. "After a really bad incident in seventh grade, I promised Katrina I would never ask out her friends. As we have gotten older, Katrina has less and less girl friends, so its not normally an issue. I DID see your notebook, but like I said, if you want to go out, I'd like to take you out."
The one minute until class bell rang and everyone began to scatter into their classrooms, so Amber put her phone away. "That'd be great. I'll see you next class." Amber smiled as she and Jack separated.
Amber quickly took her seat beside Katrina in the classroom and whispered in her ear. "He asked me out. Jack sent me his calendar and said he would like to take me on a date!" Amber was beaming from ear to ear.
Katrina forced a smile for her friend. "If that makes you happy. I can show you how to add to his calendar after school, I'm the only one that gets to overwrite, so it can take a while to find a free block."