I wake up. Pain throbs in my head. Blurred images swim before me. I blink, and the world gradually comes into focus.
“Kat!” Paige is leaning over me. She looks relieved when I start rubbing my eyes. “Mom, she’s awake!”
“What happened?” I croak.
“You fell off the stairs when you came down from the attic,” she says, then holds up her hand. “How many fingers?”
“Three.” I sit up, then groan. My back aches—how many steps did I actually fall over? Maybe I should consider myself lucky I didn’t break my foot.
Mom appears, her face worried. “Honey, are you all right? You’ve been out so long that I was about to call the doctor.”
“I’m fine,” I say. “Just a bit dizzy, but it’ll go away.”
“Come and lie on the sofa. Paige, run and get some warm water and an aspirin.”
I stand up and start to walk, but my toe brushes against something solid. It’s a hardcover book.
Frowning, I pick up the book. It’s brand new, the pages crisp and smooth. The cover shows a slender red-haired girl in a gorgeous blue dress, with the title “The Ugly Stepsister” beneath her.
Mom’s brow furrows. “Isn’t this a new book you got?”
“I don’t remember getting this one,” I say. Really, I can’t remember the last time I’ve bought a hardcover, they’re so freaking expensive. Geez, I must have hit my head pretty hard.
After I sink onto the sofa, I page through the book. It’s a retelling of Cinderella, only the heroine is the ugly stepsister, whose name is Katriona Bradshaw.
I guess I have read the book, after all. The prince is called Edward, and he has a cousin who ends up with Cinderella instead. Sure enough, when I flip to the end of the book, the plot unfolds just as I expected. I know the story, I just don’t remember when I got the book. Maybe Tara got it for me; she knows I love fairy tale retellings.
My cell phone rings. Blake, again.
“Hey Kat,” he sounds excited. “I ran into Gabriel at Taco Bell. He’s agreed to the interview. We’ll run over the questions tomorrow at lunch, and then we’ll interview him after school. You okay with it?”
“Yeah, sure,” I say, wondering why he sounds tentative in the end. “That sounds great.”
He sounds surprised. “Weren’t you having doubts when I called earlier?”
I was? “Guess I don’t now. See you tomorrow.”
“You look different,” Tara comments.
I look down at myself. I’m wearing a cute white shirt with heart-shaped buttons and a secondhand denim skirt that’s short enough to be flirty, but not enough to be slutty. I’ve applied a bit of makeup—just some eyeliner and a thin layer of foundation to hide my freckles.
“I’ve worn this outfit before.”
“I mean you seem more assured, more certain. Like someone injected a shot of confidence into you. Your ponytail, for instance. Usually you wear your hair down.”
I touch my ponytail. I have it high on the back of my head, letting the ends tickle the nape of my neck. Frankly speaking, I’ve no idea what’s come over me either. Ever since I tumbled down the stairs and was unconscious, it feels like I’ve been through some adventure and emerged victorious.
Tara leans in. “I hear you’re interviewing Gabriel Castelleno today. Aren’t you nervous?”
“A little.” I cringe when I remember running into him yesterday and giving him wrong directions. “But I’m looking forward to it, honestly. He seems like a really nice guy.”
“Wow. You have changed,” Tara says, a note of awe in her voice. “Last time I mentioned Gabriel, you went all red and stuttered. Now who are you and where’s the boy-shy Kat gone to?”
“Kidnapped and duct-taped under my bed,” I laugh.
Blake arranged for us to meet in a study room in the library. He’s been a library volunteer for a year, so he’s managed to wheedle the librarian into letting us use one, even though this isn’t a study project.
Gabriel shows up a few minutes early. Popular people are usually “fashionably” late, so I’m pleasantly surprised that he’s punctual.
“Hi, Gabriel,” I say. “I’m Katherine, but just call me Kat.”
He stares at me for a second before recognition dawns on him. “Did I meet you yesterday?”
“Yup, that was me,” I grin. “Glad you didn’t have any trouble finding your way around school today.”
We share a smile. Blake motions it’s time for the interview to begin.
So I pull out my notebook and poise my pencil over a blank page. “Okay, Gabriel. Let’s start with the usual questions…”
After the interview, I’m feeling great. Real great. He was super easy to talk to, and amazingly, I didn’t stutter once. Sometimes, while I scribbled his answers down, I could sense him looking at me, but it hadn’t fazed me. It was like I was used to hot guys finding me interesting.
When we’re done, he walks me to the door and holds it open for me. Blake stays behind; he still has an hour to go with his volunteering.
“Thanks for coming today,” I say, smiling. “You’ve saved our readership. Now the copies will disappear when girls see your photo across the front page.”
“You’re welcome,” he returns my grin. He really is incredibly good-looking. His eyes are a striking hazelnut brown, with flecks of gold in them, warm and inviting.
I nod at him and walk away, but a few seconds later, he catches up with me.
“Hey Kat? If you’re not doing anything this weekend…”
I wait. I can’t believe it, he is the nervous one.
“Will you…if you don’t have anything planned already, can you show me around the town?”
Score one, Kat. An amazingly hot guy is asking you out.
Heat creeps up in my face, but I vow to remain calm. I look up at him and my lips curve. Trumpets blare in the background.