Sometimes I don’t get me either.
I think Elaine’s breaking up with me.
After my last class I went to meet Elaine at her locker the way I usually do, but Hugh was already there. They were laughing and carrying on, but when they saw me, they hushed up like they were members of some secret club.
I said, “Hey, y’all.” I stood there, shifting my book bag from one shoulder to the other.
Hugh nodded at me, and Elaine said, “Hey, Annemarie. I’m not riding the bus today. Hugh’s going to walk me home.”
“Oh. Okay, then. Call me later.”
Elaine nodded and threw me a quick, excited smile. Then they walked down the hallway together and I watched them go.
Sitting on the bus alone, I can’t help but wonder if this is the beginning of the end for Elaine and me. It took me my whole life to find a best friend like Elaine. What would my life be like without her? She’s already picking Hugh over me. If she doesn’t call tonight, I’ll know that we really are in trouble.
Instead of going straight home, I stop by Mark’s house. For old times sake. He wasn’t on the bus, and I know he didn’t have to stay after school for practice, so I figure he must’ve left early. A dentist appointment, maybe.
For maybe the first time ever, I ring the doorbell. I’m not sure why. For some reason it doesn’t feel right to just walk in anymore.
Mrs. Findley answers the door. She looks surprised to see me, but happy, too. Wiping her hands on a towel, she says, “Annemarie! Sweetheart, I’ve missed you. Mark’s not home, but you come on in and chat with me.”
My hand on the screen door, I falter. “Mark’s not home?”
“No, dear, I dropped off him and some of his friends at the arcade after school.”
“Oh,” I say. I take a step back. “Who? Kyle and Jack?”
“Well, Kyle, but not Jack. Mairi and Hadley, too,” she says. “I was wondering why you didn’t go, Annemarie. We hardly ever see you anymore.”
Mairi and Hadley? Since when do they go to the arcade with boys? They hate the arcade; they think it’s boring. They don’t even know how to play Skee-Ball. I know it couldn’t have been a double date or anything. I bet they invited themselves along so they could drool over Kyle playing that free throw basketball game. What a couple of idiots.
Later that night Elaine calls me.
“I think Hugh’s going to ask me out, Annemarie.”
“Ask you out where?” I’m being obtuse on purpose. Obtuse means thick-headed or slow. It’s one of Celia’s SAT words.
“You know what I mean.”
“Well, what are you going to say?”
“I’m going to say yes, duh!”
Picking my nails, I say, “I thought you weren’t completely sure how you felt about him.”
“When did I ever say that?”
“I don’t know, but you did.”
“Well, I’m sure now. I like him.”
“All right, if you’re sure.”
I always wonder how people get together. How does it happen? Exactly what is said, or decided on? I wish I knew.
Mairi and Kyle are officially a couple now. I guess that afternoon at the arcade was their first step toward becoming boyfriend-girlfriend. They must have figured out that it was their destiny to be together, the prettiest girl and the prettiest guy. Everyone knows that that’s what’s supposed to happen. They owe it to the rest of us. Good-looking people are supposed to be together, like Barbie and Ken. It’s, like, a law.
Mairi and Kyle aren’t the only ones. Elaine and Hugh are a couple too. He walks her home from school, and I miss sitting with her on the bus. But the worst part is the way she thinks I don’t understand her anymore. She’ll get this faraway look in her eyes and say, “Sometimes I really miss Hugh.” And I’ll say, “But you just saw him at school.” And then she’ll say, “Oh, you couldn’t understand, Annemarie.” What is it I can’t understand exactly?
And I haven’t just lost her to Hugh. Now that Mairi and Kyle are a couple, the four of them probably do coupley things together. I bet they go to the movies on Saturday nights, and afterward they go to Mr. Boneci’s diner. They probably share banana splits and feed them to each other like a bunch of monkeys. Elaine’s not even allowed to date yet, so she tells her parents she’s with me.
Celia has a boyfriend too. His name is Eli Parker, but everyone calls him Park. He’s tall with shaggy brown hair, and his jeans are always dirty. I bet he never washes his jeans. He’s the lead singer in a band called Rapid Dominance. Every day, it’s Park this and Park that. “Park’s got a gig at a bar in Patan County.” “Park wrote me a song called ‘Celia, How I’d Love to Feel Ya’.” “Park wants me to go cross-country with the band this summer.” Park makes me want to puke. He’s always hanging around, like the weird smell in our basement. Where did it come from, and how can we get rid of it?
And it’s not just Park or Eli or whatever his name is. All of this love crap makes me want to puke. Things were so much easier when it was just me and Celia and me and Elaine. Come to think of it, things were easier when it was just me and Mark, too. But the old me and Mark, without any of the love stuff. Life was simpler. Life was riding bikes and kickball and cherry Popsicles. There was none of this boyfriend-girlfriend business to mess everything up.
But then sometimes I can’t help but wish I was a part of something too, a half of a whole. Elaine thinks I don’t understand, but the truth is, a little part of me does. A little part of me does want someone to hold hands with and talk to on the phone late at night. But it’s just a little part of me. The rest of me isn’t ready. I don’t know if I even want to be ready.
When I get home from school, Celia and Park are sitting at the kitchen table eating oranges. He’s got his feet on the table, and he’s throwing sections into her mouth.
Celia says, “Hey, Shug. Have an orange.”
“Hey, kid,” Park says. “Think fast.” He throws a piece of orange my way, and it lands on my shoe.
“No thanks.” Who does he think he is, offering me my own oranges in my own house?
Park shrugs, picks up the orange, and pops it into his mouth. “Waste not, want not.”
“You’re so gross,” Celia says fondly. She scrunches her nose up at him, and he leans forward and kisses it. Then she giggles. I am so sick of hearing her giggle like that. I never knew my sister was one of Those Girls, those girls who giggle over every little thing.