Rachel’s Valentine Crush
“COME ON, ROBBIE,” RACHEL PLEADED. “Just eat two more bites of broccoli. That’s it. Just two more bites.”
“Peas, peas, peas,” Rachel’s little brother sang. “Peas, please. Peas, please.”
“We don’t have peas tonight,” Rachel said for the hundredth time. “We have broccoli. Eat it up so you can have a special treat.”
“Peas!” Robbie cried hopefully. He banged his fork on the table.
Rachel leaned toward the sink and turned the water on full blast so that Robbie wouldn’t hear her groan.
“How’s that broccoli coming?” Rachel called out as she dried her hands on her jeans. Then she pulled her cell out of her back pocket. She could already guess that the text was from her best friend, Taylor—even though
Rachel had specifically said that she would text Taylor as soon as she was ready. But Taylor wasn’t exactly the patient type.
Rach! U ready?
“Peas!” Robbie hollered from the dining room.
“No, broccoli!” Rachel hollered back without looking up from her phone.
No! Still doing dishes and Robbie still eating. Going as fast as I can!!!
But it starts soooooon! Hurry hurry
Believe me, I know
Rachel’s phone was already buzzing again as she shoved it back into her pocket, but she decided to ignore it—at least until Robbie finished eating. She suddenly realized that Robbie was quiet. Unusually quiet. Rachel peeked into the dining room, hoping to find his cheeks puffed out with a giant mouthful of broccoli. Instead, she
found Robbie grinning at her with a broccoli floret sticking out of each ear.
“Robbie!” Rachel yelled. “You know you’re not supposed to put food in your ears!”
Robbie’s eyes widened.
Then, in a flash, he popped both broccoli bites into his mouth. Rachel blinked in surprise. She’d never seen Robbie eat his most hated food so fast.
“Tweat?” Robbie asked with his mouth full, spraying bits of broccoli onto the table.
“Okay, but chew with your mouth closed,” Rachel replied as she ducked back into the kitchen. She stared into the pantry, knowing that her dad didn’t like Robbie to eat a lot of sweets. It was the first time that Rachel had been responsible for Robbie’s dinner and bedtime all by herself, and she really didn’t want to mess it up.
Then again, sometimes Grandma Nellie gave Robbie a treat after dinner. Maybe she would’ve given him a little dessert tonight if she hadn’t been at her Scrapbooking for Seniors meeting. So Rachel plucked three chocolate chips from a half-empty bag and brought them to Robbie.
“Here you go, buddy,” she said. “Three chocolate chips for a three-year-old.”
Robbie’s whole face lit up as he shoved the chocolate chips into his mouth. “My chocolate yums!” he cried. “More, please!”
But Rachel had already whisked his plate off to the dishwasher. She glanced at the clock on the microwave; it read 7:46. She had fourteen minutes to finish the dishes and get Robbie to bed before The Scoop came on. Rachel had only watched the gossipy entertainment show once or twice; her dad thought TV shows like that were a giant waste of time. But Rachel hoped that he would make an exception tonight, since she had finished all her homework and her chores before the show started. After all, it wasn’t every night that her former classmate, Brody Warner, was interviewed live on national TV!
Brody had been a singing superstar for almost nine months now, but Rachel was still amazed by everything that had happened. One day Brody was just a regular boy at her school, and the next he was a finalist on SingNation!, the most popular singing competition in the country. It didn’t matter that Brody had come in second place; by the time the final episode aired, he had already become a household name. Of course, Rachel wasn’t entirely surprised. She had been singing with Brody in
their church choir since third grade, so Rachel had known for a long time just how talented Brody was.
A lot had changed since then. Rachel was now in seventh grade, and Brody would’ve been in eighth—if he hadn’t moved to California to focus on his music career instead of going to Archer Middle School. It used to be that Rachel would sometimes see Brody around their town of Archer, Minnesota. These days, she still saw Brody’s face all over town—on magazine covers, posters, and even T-shirts. But she hadn’t seen Brody himself since he had flown out to Los Angeles to film SingNation! And, to be honest, Rachel missed him. She had just realized that she had a crush on Brody around the time when he auditioned for the show. And even though Brody had been gone for months, Rachel’s feelings had only gotten stronger. That’s why she was so excited to see Brody on TV tonight.
While Robbie licked the chocolate off his fingers, Rachel checked her cell. She had five new texts from Taylor.
Robbie done yet?
Where did u go?
Did u drop ur phone in the disposal?
Sorry, he just finished. Putting him 2 bed now
Want me 2 come over and help?
Yes but no. He loves u so much he would never go 2 sleep!!!
Lol let me know if i can help
“Okay, Robbie,” Rachel said. “Time to brush your teeth!”
Rachel rushed through Robbie’s bedtime routine as fast as she could. Then she sat very still in Robbie’s dark bedroom as she waited for him to fall asleep. The minutes felt like hours. Rachel was dying to check her phone, but she worried that its glow would startle Robbie awake.
Then it would be impossible to get him back to sleep.
At last, it happened: Robbie’s breathing became slow, deep, and even. Rachel crept out of his room as quietly as she could, stepping over the creaky board in the doorway. She pulled Robbie’s door closed and did a silent fist pump in the hallway as she scurried back to the kitchen and started the dishwasher. It was 7:58.
ALL SET COME OVER!!
Taylor didn’t even bother to text Rachel back. Thirty seconds later there was a soft knock at the front door. Rachel opened the door with a giant grin on her face. “Yayyyy!” she said. Then she reached out to brush some snowflakes from Taylor’s bangs. “It’s still snowing, huh?”
Taylor shrugged off her shiny fuchsia parka. “Yeah, and I forgot my hat. But I was in a hurry, you know?”
“Come on, I got the TV all set up,” Rachel said as she led Taylor into the den. She paused to glance out the window at the falling snow. Her dad had been out plowing since early afternoon, but if it kept snowing like this, he might end up pulling a double shift.
“Oh, I almost forgot!” Taylor exclaimed as she held
up a paper bag. “Guess what I have!”
Rachel didn’t need to look inside the bag to know what Taylor had brought. She could already smell the delicious scent of fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies.
“My favorite,” Rachel said. “You are so awesome!”
“Look! Look!” Taylor squealed, pointing at the muted TV. “It’s starting!”
Both girls leaned forward excitedly as Rachel fumbled with the remote. Suddenly the sound of Brody’s voice filled the living room. Rachel knew right away which song was playing—“Never Give Up.” She’d listened to it on repeat about a thousand times since Brody’s debut album had released last August.
“There he is!” Rachel whispered as she stared at the screen. Brody’s closely cropped curly black hair was shining under the studio lights. The half smile on his face was a little shy, a little uncertain, and a lot adorable. There was no doubt about it: Brody was just as cute as the last time Rachel had seen him in person.
Maybe even cuter!
Rachel spun around to see her dad standing in the doorway.
“Dad! Hi!” Rachel exclaimed as she scrambled up. The remote control clattered to the floor. Taylor lunged for it and paused the show so that Rachel wouldn’t miss anything.
“Hi, Mr. Wilson,” Taylor spoke up. “Want a cookie? I baked them after dinner. They’re still warm.”
“That sounds great,” Mr. Wilson said as he crossed the room and reached for one of the cookies. “What are you watching?”
“Oh. It’s just this show. It’s called, um, The Scoop,” Rachel said in a rush. “You remember Brody Warner? From church? And he used to go to our school? He’s, like, this big superstar singer now, so he’s on the show tonight and we thought we’d watch it. Just because we know him. Is that okay?”
“What time does it end?” Mr. Wilson asked as he glanced at his watch.
“The show ends at eight-thirty, and I finished all my homework,” Rachel replied. “Also, Robbie is asleep. He ate every bite of his dinner—even the broccoli. And I did the dishes. So I was, um, kind of hoping I could watch the show. Just this once.”
“Great job, Rachel, thank you,” Mr. Wilson told
her. Then he turned to Taylor. “And it’s okay with your parents?”
Taylor nodded vigorously. “Yeah, they said it was fine as long as I come home right after it ends.”
“All right then, you can watch it,” Mr. Wilson replied, stifling a yawn. “Rach, I’m going to bed. It looks like this snow is going to pick up, so I volunteered for another shift tonight.”
“Do you think we’ll have a snow day tomorrow?” Taylor asked hopefully.
A smile crossed Mr. Wilson’s tired face. “Not if I can help it,” he joked. “Enjoy your show, girls.”
“Good night, Dad,” Rachel said. She watched her father rub his sore neck as he left the den. For the past eight years Mr. Wilson had run his own landscaping business. During the warmer months he spent long hours working outside: designing gardens, planting trees, and maintaining lawns. But in the winter, when it was too cold for gardening, he drove a snowplow for the city. Sometimes he was out all night in the bitter cold to make sure that the streets were clear in the morning.
As Rachel sat down again, Taylor pressed play, and The Scoop began at last.
“He’s young. He’s popular. And his debut album, Out of Bounds, has sold more than two million copies in six months, with three number-one singles,” the announcer, Melanie Martinez, said as photos of Brody flashed across the screen. “And with all that to his credit, he’s just fourteen years old. Who is he? None other than Brody Warner, the hottest pop star in the nation! And tonight, you’ll find him right here in our studio, answering all your questions on The Scoop . . . live!”
Rachel couldn’t help herself. She squealed a little as she bounced up and down.
“Shhh! Shhh!” Taylor said through her giggles. “Don’t wake up Robbie. Or your dad!”
“You’re right,” Rachel replied as she reached for a cookie. If her mouth was full, hopefully she wouldn’t start freaking out in the middle of Brody’s interview.
“But first,” Melanie continued, “we have The Scoop on the shocking season finale of Famous Friends. Jackson Barnes has the latest. Jackson?”
Rachel groaned. “Who cares about Famous Friends?” she asked. “I want just want to hear about our famous friend. When are they going to get to the good stuff?”
“Probably not until the end,” Taylor said. “They know
that’s all anybody cares about, so they’re gonna make us wait. But lucky for us, we’re delayed a little from our chat with your dad.”
Taylor fast-forwarded for a few moments until Brody appeared on the screen again. He was sitting on a sleek leather couch across from Melanie Martinez. Rachel, her eyes glued to the screen, started chewing on her cuticles.
“Brody, thanks for joining us tonight,” Melanie said warmly. “I know this must be a crazy time for you—your second album, Songs from My Heart, drops at midnight, and we’re really happy that you could be here with us when you’ve got so much going on.”
“Oh, sure. I mean, no problem,” Brody said. He looked down shyly for half a second—long enough to make Rachel’s heart skip a beat. “Anything for my fans, you know?”
Melanie’s superwhite teeth gleamed as she laughed a little too hard. “So tell us, Brody, about your new album,” she continued. “Songs from My Heart. Sounds intense . . . and romantic. Is it?”
“Well, yeah,” Brody replied. “It means a lot to me because I wrote or cowrote all the songs on it. And that was a really amazing experience, you know—to have this
music in my head, and actually write it down, and then find the right words to go with it. Everything about the songs is true. They really do come from my heart.”
“It sounds like a very personal project,” Melanie said. “A real labor of love.”
“So let’s talk about love,” Melanie said, switching gears.
Rachel sat up a little straighter on the couch. She had not expected this.
“When I first heard the title of your new album, I had to wonder if there was a special someone you had in mind when you came up with it,” Melanie continued. “And I know I’m not alone. When we invited your fans to send us their burning questions for you, they overwhelmingly asked if you’re single!”
Brody laughed nervously. His coffee-brown eyes darted to the side for just a moment, as if he were trying to ask someone offscreen for help.
“I’m thinking, specifically, of ‘Secret Crush,’ ” Melanie pressed on. “Wow, what a song, Brody. You really knocked it out of the park. So from what you said earlier, am I right to assume that it was written about a particular girl?”
Brody opened his mouth to answer and then closed it again. He coughed lightly and politely covered his mouth with his hand, then proceeded to fidget with the collar of his shirt.
He’s totally nervous! Rachel thought. She had never seen Brody look so uncomfortable . . . yet so totally adorable at the same time.
The pause before Brody spoke seemed like an eternity. Finally, he smiled sheepishly at Melanie. “You guessed right,” he said. “I do have a secret crush.”
Melanie clapped her hands together. “Yes! I knew it!” she cried. “Tell us more, Brody. Who is she?”
But Brody pressed his lips together and shook his head. “I can’t,” he said. “If I did, it wouldn’t be a secret.”
“Now, Brody, you can’t do that to us!” Melanie said playfully. “Your fans want to know!”
Brody looked offscreen again. “I guess I can tell you this . . . ,” he said slowly. “There’s a special message to her in ‘Secret Crush.’ So hopefully—if she listens to the song, I mean—she’ll know that it’s about her.”
“How mysterious,” Melanie said. “But surely you can give us a few more clues, Brody. Did you meet her on tour? Is she from your hometown? What are her initials?”
“I, uh—” Brody began.
“At least tell us which line of the song has the secret message!” Melanie interrupted him.
Brody was speechless. Once more he cast a desperate glance offscreen. Then, to Rachel’s surprise, a man entered the shot and sat next to Brody.
“Melanie, sorry for the interruption,” the man said smoothly. “I’m Greg Pierce, Brody’s manager. And while Brody’s not going to make any announcements about his secret crush tonight, he does have some big news he can share.”
Greg turned to Brody and gave him an encouraging grin. “Go ahead, Brody—tell them about the decision that we made just this morning.”
Brody relaxed a little and smiled into the camera. “Well, the Songs from My Heart tour was supposed to begin in Houston in March,” he said. “But when we thought about it, we decided that the best time to kick off the tour would be on Valentine’s Day. So I’m psyched to announce that we’ve added a new concert to the schedule—and it’s going to be in my hometown!”
Rachel clapped her hands over her mouth. She wanted to scream with excitement! Brody’s last tour had taken
him around the whole country, but he’d never performed a concert in Archer before.
“And that’s not all,” Greg continued, “because at the special Valentine’s Day concert, Brody will finally tell the world the true identity of his secret crush!”
There was a moment of stunned silence on the set—and in Rachel’s den, too.
“Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa,” Taylor said in a low voice. “Did I hear that right? Brody is coming here on Valentine’s Day to tell everyone who he likes?”
But Rachel didn’t respond. She couldn’t take her eyes off Brody’s face—he looked shocked, and even a little scared. Was that really part of their plan? she wondered. Because Brody looked as surprised as she felt.
Before Brody could speak, Melanie turned to face the camera. “Breaking news, brought to you only on The Scoop,” she said breathlessly. “Brody Warner will reveal his secret crush at a special Valentine’s Day concert!”
A sheepish smile spread across Brody’s face. “I’m really excited about playing in my hometown,” he said, obviously trying to direct the subject away from his crush. “We have a great show planned.”
“Tickets go on sale in two hours,” added his manager.
“Exciting times for Brody Warner,” Melanie said. “A new album, a big tour, a surprise announcement, and a secret crush—soon to be revealed to the world! Thanks so much for being here tonight, Brody, and for our fans at home, remember to always turn to The Scoop for the latest news about all your favorite stars, including the one and only Brody Warner!”
Rachel still didn’t say anything as she reached for the remote. Her mind was spinning as one thought repeated again and again: Could I be Brody’s secret crush? Could I be Brody’s secret crush?
No. No way. It was impossible. Sure, Brody had always been nice to her—but that was just his personality. Brody was nice to everybody.
But as much as Rachel tried to tell herself that Brody was obviously talking—and singing—about some other girl, a little voice in the back of her head was asking What if? Maybe I am his secret crush! she thought giddily. Maybe it’s me!
Rachel’s eyes were shining as she turned to Taylor.
“Can you even believe it?” Taylor asked in an excited whisper so that she wouldn’t wake up Rachel’s dad and brother. “Can you even believe it?”
“I’m sorry, am I dreaming?” Rachel asked. “Did that really just happen?”
“It did!” Taylor exclaimed. “It so did! Rach, do you know what this means? Brody’s crushing on a girl from our school! It might be—it might be you!”
“No, it’s not me,” Rachel said automatically. “And just because the concert is going to be here doesn’t mean she lives here. They could bring her in for the concert.”
Taylor shook her head emphatically. “Then why would they move the concert to Archer? They could just keep it in Houston.”
“That’s a good point,” Rachel replied.
“Ugh, why did I spend all my birthday money already?” asked Taylor. “I really want to go to the concert, but I just know the tickets are going to be insanely expensive.”
“Probably,” Rachel said. But for her, it wouldn’t matter how much the tickets cost. She couldn’t imagine that her dad would ever give her permission to attend an actual pop concert. He hadn’t even let Rachel go to the pool party Brody had thrown during his one visit to Archer last August. “Maybe the concert will be on TV or something. We could have a sleepover!”
“That would be cool,” Taylor replied. “Definitely better
than last year’s Valentine’s Day. That was the worst, just sitting in class all day wishing that somebody would send me a candy-gram. I can’t believe it’s a whole year later and I’m still totally invisible to every single boy at school.”
“You don’t know that,” Rachel argued. “Maybe somebody likes you and he’s too shy to say it. Besides, there isn’t anybody you like right now . . . is there?”
“Not really,” Taylor admitted. “But it would still be nice to know that somebody likes me. You’re so lucky, Rachel—I mean, what if you really are Brody’s crush?”
“That’s doubtful,” Rachel replied. “But I still can’t wait to hear ‘Secret Crush.’ I’m totally staying up till midnight to download it!”
“Me too,” Taylor agreed as she reached for her coat. “I want to hear the secret message that Brody has for you!”
“Whatever,” Rachel said, but she couldn’t stop smiling. “I wish you didn’t have to go. I wish we were having a sleepover tonight so that we could listen to the album together.”
“I know!” Taylor said. “Stupid Monday night release. Who thought that was a good idea?”
Rachel and Taylor were extra quiet as they walked down the hallway. At the front door Rachel whispered,
“Thanks for coming over. And thanks for the cookies!”
“If you figure out the secret message, text me immediately,” Taylor whispered back. “I don’t even care if it’s three o’clock in the morning. I want to know.”
“You got it,” Rachel giggled as Taylor walked outside. Rachel watched through the window while Taylor trudged home in the swirling snow. Once again she was grateful that her best friend lived next door—and even more grateful that her best friend was someone like Taylor.
The freezing air seeped in through the windowpane, making Rachel shiver. As soon as Taylor walked into her own house, Rachel went to the kitchen to make a cup of hot chocolate. In just a few hours, she would be listening to Brody’s new album and maybe—maybe—finding out if he liked her, too.
And Rachel could hardly wait!