The Hastings were known for perfection, period. It wasn't just about academia or money or beauty or success; the Hastings had it all. That is, all of the Hastings except for Spencer.
Spencer was a smart girl. Too smart for her own good, most adults said when she was a child. She spent recess with her nose in textbooks meant for high school students, she asked all the that questions she wasn't supposed to, and she had a near perfect auditory memory, which meant she barely even took notes in school or needed to study as hard as her sister had to get the same marks. But when it came to accomplishments, that was all she had.
To most parents, that would be more than enough. It would be more than enough; it would be impressive and brag-worthy. But because she was a Hastings, and her sister was the straight-A, prom queen, heartbreaker, debate team and tennis team captain, newspaper editor, and general muse, Spencer's brains just didn't measure up. Even her accomplishments didn't gain her the approval and proudness she saw so often of her sister from her parents that she so badly craved deep inside of her, even if she wasn't fully aware of the desire. Her parents expected the same accomplishments from her as Melissa had brought home, so Spencer was more often than not bullying herself for being a disappointment instead of being upset with her parents for not giving her the attention and outward love she so wanted.
So Spencer wasn't a heart-breaking-team-captain-prom-queen. She was a tutor, a student council member, and hoping to become captain of the decathlon team this year. But beyond that, she had nothing. She didn't bring home boys from the country club whose parents became clients of her father. She didn't bring home trophies. She spent a lot of her time trying to be perfect, and it came off as weird, self-involved, and awkward.
Spencer didn't have the curves or the bouncy hair or the bright green eyes her sister had to even get a boy's gaze. She was plain, quiet, and mousy. She didn't have friends, either. At least not outside of the classroom. She wasn't quite weird enough for the weirdos at school, but she was too plain, too quiet, and too geeky to be noticed by anyone else. Except Alison, although she wished she didn't have Alison's attention. Alison had tried to be her friend back when they were young, seeing that they were neighbors. But Ali tried to take advantage of Spencer, and Spencer was too smart for her tricks. So Ali made sure that everyone else would give her Hell for it. But that was a different story.
Spencer had become accustomed to being alone in her room. And she mostly liked it that way. But being home was painful; because her parents were so obviously disappointed in the way she'd turned out. She realized this when she was still in elementary school, and she failed to excel at sports the way her sister had. She took dance classes as a girl, and continued into high school, but her family saw that as frivolous and a waste of time since it couldn't go on her résumé. She eventually stopped telling them she attended.
Trying to protect herself from her parents, Spencer started to tell white lies over the years. She would go for a walk or stay extra hours at the dance studio and tell them she was chairing an event, or going out with friends, maybe even hint that it was a boy she was too shy to tell them about. She'd tell them she was running for class president, or nominated for homecoming queen. Just to see them smile and feel like she belonged in the Hastings house.
She looked in the mirror and sighed. This was as good as it was going to get. It was the first day back at school after a long weekend. She usually didn't get down on herself, but lately she'd been in a particular slump. Her sister had just gotten engaged to a doctor and her parents were over the moon. But it also meant they kept comparing her to Melissa, and questioning if Spencer could ever be as lucky as Melissa to find such a successful husband.
She flew downstairs, trying to avoid her parents, as usual. Thankfully they'd both left for work already, so she was able to get to school fairly quickly, as she was already running late that morning.
She made her typical stop at the tutoring center before class, and saw none other than Mr. Popular, Toby Cavanaugh, standing at the counter waiting.
"What can I help you with, Toby?" Spencer's eyes narrowed as she started to organize the desk. She wasn't exactly thrilled to see him that morning, since she was already having a bad week. He wasn't particularly nice to her, although it had admittedly gotten significantly better since he'd dated, and consequently broken up with Alison.
Toby was different. He was the kind of popular where he wasn't just friends with the other popular kids, but with everybody. Somehow he had the qualities that let him bounce from social circle to social circle seamlessly. He ruled the school. Everyone wanted to be his friend, or just plain wanted him. Girls fought over him and he was constantly seen with a new girl on his arm. He had been homecoming and prom king the past few years, and played baseball, as well as being the go-to guy in woodshop. He was the kind of handsome that was weathered, calloused, mature.
The one thing he was lacking, however, was the ability to focus in school. Particularly math. And if he didn't get his grades up, he wouldn't be able to do his extracurriculars. It was his senior year, and scouts would be coming soon to watch all the athletics on campus and start handing out scholarships. He couldn't afford to be benched now.
"I need you to tutor me in Calculus." He put down his collection of D's and F's as proof.
She sighed heavily. "I don't think I have any time in my schedule," she lied. "But I'll find someone and email you with the contact info by this afternoon."
"But I wanted you… you're the best. I've heard you in class. You practically know the material better than Mr. Longo." The cool kids were always much nicer to her when they needed her help. But they always retreated to talking about her behind her back after tutoring sessions. She learned that way not to make anything personal. She always got hurt.
The bell rang, cutting him off. "I have to get to class. I'll email you with your tutor's information." She gathered her things and left the office.
After school, Spencer had stayed late in the library doing homework and the lot was mostly empty, except for a tall figure leaning up against the driver's side of her car. She approached slowly, until she realized it was Toby.
"Are you stalking me now?" She shoved her phone in her pocket and unlocked her car, throwing her bag in the backseat.
"I saw you this morning; that's my bike." He nodded towards the motorcycle in the spot across from hers.
"Maybe you should ride it. Home." She grimaced.
"Come on, hear me out. You're the best tutor in school. I can't afford to fail and be kicked off the football team this close to scout season. I'm sure there's something you need.. maybe we could make some sort of agreement… you know, you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours?"
She rolled her eyes. "My back is fine."
"Come on, you know what I mean."
She looked up at him, this time finally giving him eye contact. He really did look like he needed it.
She exhaled loudly. "One month, only. If you're going to work with me, you have to be willing to really work. I'm not going to give you the answers or do your homework for you. You play by my rules or we're done." She said seriously and quickly. She slowed down and dug her hands in her pockets, rocking up onto her toes, her shoulders shrugged. "Tomorrow, 4pm."
"I knew you were good people, Hastings." He excitedly bounced off of her car. "I'll see you tomorrow."
The next day he hung around after class as she was leaving. "Where did you wanna meet?" He said, and she looked at him blankly. She wasn't used to being stopped in the hallway. "Spencer? Studying? 4?"
"Oh, uhm… meet me in the lot again." She sighed. She went to continue talking to him, but his friends came over.
"Is Freak Hastings bothering you?" His friends crowded around him, nudging him, laughing at her expense.
His eyes seemed to be filled with apologies, although he never uttered one out loud. In fact, he didn't say anything. His friends continued to laugh.
"Well, go on," Spencer's eyes had flickered down, but she hadn't moved or said anything. Part of her thought that he was going to stop them. She came out of her daydream and muttered something inaudible before walking away, the laughter following her down the hall. She looked back, and Toby made eye contact with her before walking the other way with his friends.
Toby was running in the parking lot towards Spencer's car as she was backing out of the lot to go home. He stood next to her window, banging on it. "Hey, wait."
"We had a deal. 4pm. It's 4:05." She said matter of factly.
"Is this about earlier? Don't punish me for my friends… maybe I can talk to them. Maybe that can be our deal? I'll make them stop calling you…uhm…"
"Freak Hastings—" she interjected. He had been afraid to say it in front of her face.
"Yeah…that. But it'll be a win-win."
"No thank you. I can handle myself." She sighed, "Just meet me at Rosewood Library. The second floor has quiet rooms you can sign in to. We can study there. But if you're late next time I really will leave." She didn't know why she was being nice to him.
He put his hands together like he was praying and almost kissed her on the cheek he got so excited. "Thank you, you won't regret this!" He bellowed, hopping onto his bike and following her to the library.
They had been studying every day after school at the library. She was short with him, and tough on him. But he was working hard, and his grades were already improving. Albeit he was getting C's instead of D's, it was progress.
Spencer had been coming home happier. He was actually not as bad as she thought he would be. One-on-one he was actually…interesting. He would talk a lot to try and distract her from giving him difficult problems, and sometimes it turned into really good conversations. She was happy to have somebody to talk to. Even if it was just business.
Her parents had noticed. They prodded her every day about where she was so long after school, why she was being so secretive yet chipper. She would just shrug her shoulders, loving that they were interested and paying attention.
Tonight was family dinner, and Melissa was over with Wren. But they weren't getting all of the attention. "So when are we going to meet this mystery man?" Veronica's lips turned upwards into a smile.
"What?" Spencer looked up from her plate.
"Benjamin said he saw you after school with some football player. Every day for the past two and a half weeks. When are we going to meet him?" Veronica sat up straighter, clearly happy. Benjamin was a man that belonged to the country club and one of Veronica's clients. His son also happened to be the coordinator for the sports programming at her school, so he was often around after school hours when practices were usually held.
Spencer looked at her confused, but then realized she meant Toby. Her eyes perked up. "Maybe soon. It's actually getting kind of serious, I think," Spencer gushed, learning everything from all the years she watched her sister share her own news at the dinner table. She made up a short story, and watched her parents smile, and Melissa look in shock at the conversation happening across the table. "Football, huh? My kinda guy. Hope he isn't a Jets fan…" Peter laughed. "I'll bring him to a game sometime, if you ever let us meet him."
Spencer just smiled.
A few days later, Spencer and Toby arrived at the library to see that an event for children was going on, and the place was overrun by loud toddlers and preschoolers.
"Toby, focus." She said as he started to doodle next to the problem she gave him.
"I can't" he sounded a bit aggressive, a little girl was sitting next to him singing a Frozen song over and over again. She clearly had only learned the chorus. "Can we just do this somewhere else?" He grunted.
"We can go back to my house. No one's usually home until after 7."
"Please, let's go." Toby slammed shut his books.
When they arrived at her house, she let him in through the kitchen. "Sit wherever. We can go in the living room if you're more comfortable." She said opening the cabinets and pouring herself a glass of juice.
"Do you want anything?" She looked at him, and his stomach growled as if it was trying to answer Spencer before his mouth could. She just laughed.
"I'll make us popcorn." She smiled. She met him in the living room after a moment, balancing two glasses and the bowl of popcorn.
"Wow, you could have been a waitress if you weren't going to be some rocket scientist." He laughed, taking the bowl from her.
"Where were we?" She said, opening the books. He resumed and they kept taking small breaks since her house was much more relaxed than the library. He was very inquisitive about the pictures hanging in frames on the walls.
"There sure are a lot of pictures of your sister," He narrowed his eyes.
"Yeah, well. That's just how it is around here…" She started.
"What do you mean?"
"Nevermind." She said, hearing the door open in her kitchen. Her mom had gotten home early.
"Spencer, are you home?" Veronica walked in and saw the two on the couch. "Oh, I didn't mean to interrupt" She smiled and extended her hand. "I'm Veronica, Spencer's mom."
Toby shook her hand. "Toby…" he flashed her a smile.
"Mom, I thought you were in court today?"
"We asked for more time and it got granted. Don't worry, I'll leave you two alone."
She smiled a bit relieved, but then her father walked in. Spencer started to rub her temples.
"Are you okay?" Toby looked at her.
"Just…my parents are a lot." She whispered beore Peter joined them all in the living room.
"So this must be the big bad boyfriend," Peter smiled and extended his arm to shake Toby's hand.
"Actually," Toby started, but Spencer jumped up. "Mom, Dad, I forgot to tell you, I think the hallway smoke detector needs it's battery changed. It's been beeping all afternoon. I don't want it to keep me up all night. I have a test tomorrow and I need to sleep."
"I'll check it out, but I'll catch ya later." He nodded towards Toby before heading upstairs. Her mother had gone into the kitchen to start dinner.
Spencer exhaled loudly, her cheeks bright red. "I can…" she started to try to explain.
"Boyfriend, huh?" Toby smirked, she wasn't sure if he was laughing at her or just being an ass.
"Stop…my parents, they just assumed when they heard I was spending time with a guy and I let them believe it… because they wanted me to be more like my sister and when they thought we were dating… I finally was. I'm sorry I didn't stop it, I just…"
"No, it's good…"
"What?" Her eyes narrowed.
"I finally have something you want. I'll go along with this whole… boyfriend thing. And you continue to tutor me for the rest of the year. Then I get good grades, you get whatever you need from your parents thinking you're dating a football star."
She made a face. "Star…?" she laughed "Okay, cocky." She still looked unsure.
"Come on, it's a win-win."
"Fine… deal." She extended her hand to shake on it, but instead was met with his lips crashing into hers.
She was going to yell or react but heard her mother's footsteps behind them. "Oh, sorry… I just wanted to know if Toby was staying for dinner."
"Thanks, Mrs. Hastings, but I've gotta get going soon." He nodded.
"What the hell was that?" Spencer said as her mother left, her lips still tingling a bit. She didn't tell him that he'd just stolen her first kiss.
"If you want me to pretend to be like your boyfriend… you need to play the part. Your end of the deal, baby! That way, I can be, uh, motivated when we study…. And you can get the full boyfriend experience." He grinned. He was such a guy, only interested in boobs and bikes and making out.
"Take it or leave it, Spence."
"Deal." She nodded, unsure of what she had gotten herself into.