Your Definition of Love
So Much Better
The gossip mill was running again. Last week, the story was that Andy was pregnant with Paul's baby. This week, Taylor was apparently cheating on Jake with Paul every Tuesday in the backseat of Paul's car. That one grossed me out quite a bit, considering I drove his car almost as much as he did.
Unfortunately, the rumors about Bryce and me were worse.
I heard different versions all throughout the week. Paul was furious at Bryce and forbade him to ever come near me again. I was secretly cheating on Bryce with a hot Italian boy who drove a red pickup truck and had twelve tattoos. Bryce had a one-night stand with a college student because I wouldn't put out. People claimed to have seen me in tears, throwing Bryce's things out of my window.
As far-fetched and ridiculous as all of these sounded, no rumor could be worse than the truth: I had alienated my brother's best friend, who had agreed to pretend to be my boyfriend so that I could become popular in order to make another boy fall for me.
With the added stress of the upcoming student government elections, keeping up with my newfound popularity and all of its tacked-on pretenses, trying to inconspicuously convince Adam that I was his soul mate, and of course, this fight I was having with Bryce, I was becoming more and more stressed-out.
Annisa had been doing a lot of campaigning for me, and I knew that I owed her a lot for it. Still, elections were a little over two weeks away, and it was now my responsibility to make posters and flyers. Sadly, I had no one who could help me. Taylor was always busy with Jake, and she didn't want to come over to my house, thanks to my brother. Paul was mad at me for interfering with his so-called relationships. I hadn't had a chance to hang out with any of my old friends since I'd come up with this stupid plan for popularity, and my new popular friends weren't really even my friends. And to make it worse, Bryce wouldn't talk to me.
He had been avoiding me on Monday, and I hadn't even gotten a glimpse of him. On Tuesday, I was determined to find him. I headed toward his locker right after the last bell rang. Thankfully, he was there.
Strangely, when I saw him, I felt myself getting nervous. This was Bryce. I'd known him for years, and he'd always been nice to me. But somehow, I was terrified of facing him.
"Bryce." I said it so softly that I was sure that there was no way he had heard me. I was wrong.
I watched anxiously as he froze. He stayed that way for a few seconds and then resumed what he was doing, reaching into his locker for his books. I waited for him to turn around, which he eventually did after what seemed like forever.
I hesitated for a moment, not knowing what to say or do. "Hi," I finally squeaked.
I suddenly felt timid under his gaze. I couldn't read his expression, but his eyes looked distant and almost wary. "Hey," he said finally. It was one word, short and casual. Yet the aloof way he said it made my heart drop.
I swallowed. "So..." I had no idea what to say next. Usually, I didn't have this problem with Bryce, but this time was different.
"What did you think of the lunch food?" I suddenly blurted out. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than for the ground to open and swallow me up. I bit my lip and forced myself to continue talking. "I mean, that macaroni-and-cheese tasted like Paul's old gym socks, right?"
"I wouldn't know," he said. "I've never tried the macaroni."
"Or Paul's gym socks," I joked weakly.
Bryce sighed, sounding tired. "Jaelynn, you don't have to do this."
My eyes widened. "Do what?"
He motioned between us with his hands. "This."
"But I do," I insisted. "Bryce, I'm so truly sorry about what I said at that party. I was being stupid, as always, and I don't even think I really knew what I was saying at the time. I still can't believe it. I'm horrible. An ungrateful jerk. You're free to hit me all you want, Bryce. In fact, I'd prefer that. Just give me a good slap, right across the face. Or punch me; that would work, too. Or you could just not do anything and make me suffer even more. Maybe that's better. That way, I will destroy myself with guilt and awfulness."
I finally stopped to take a breath and then realized that I'd been rambling. I looked at Bryce, feeling slightly embarrassed, but he still seemed detached. He sighed. "Don't feel guilty about what you said, Jaelynn. You were right."
I frowned, shaking my head. "But-"
"Listen," he cut in. "Charli's waiting for me."
My stomach dropped. "Oh." I swallowed. "Then I guess you should go find her."
"Yeah." He seemed to hesitate for a second. "Bye, Jaelynn."
"Bye." It came out as more of a whisper. I watched him walk away, suddenly feeling depressed.
I had thought that this plan would make me happy, but so far, it was just making my life worse. When I'd seen Adam in the halls, he'd seemed friendly enough. He greeted me and gave me a warm smile, but there was no mention of the party or anything else. In fact, so far, we hadn't talked about anything of substance. When was the plan going to work? I was hardly any closer to Adam than I'd been to begin with, other than the occasional moments of what seemed to be flirting. But with him, who knew? He was so hard to read.
The rest of the week seemed to pass by in a haze. I attempted to stay busy, so I stayed after-school everyday and got rides from random friends. Bryce did an even better job of avoiding me after our talk. I hardly saw him at all, and when I did, he was either walking away from me or surrounded by tons of people.
I was miserable and lonely, and I missed him.
Now it was Friday night, and I was at home. Annisa had invited me to hang out with Greg and her, but I didn't want to be a third wheel, especially now that the two were almost a couple. My parents were with Danny at some parent-baby meeting or other, which meant that I was alone. Almost.
I heard the front door open and then close. It was Paul. "Hey," he said, sounding a little out-of-breath. "Is Taylor here?" He glanced around.
Taylor sometimes came over on Friday nights, but tonight she was eating out with her family. I was surprised that Paul had even remembered.
I shook my head. "Shouldn't you be with Andy? You know, your girlfriend?"
"I broke up with her," he replied easily, quickly. "Where's Taylor?"
I sighed. "Leave her alone, Paul. She's finally found a sweet guy who really likes her, and she doesn't need to be confused by someone like you."
"Jake? Sweet?" He snorted. Suddenly, as if he'd just realized what I'd said, Paul's eyes narrowed. "Wait... someone like me?"
"Look, Paul. You're my brother, and I love you. But that doesn't mean I'm going to let you break my best friend's heart."
"Who says I'm going to break her heart?"
"Just a hunch." I turned around to leave the room.
"Wait, Jaelynn." Something in his voice made me stop. "How is she?"
I shrugged nonchalantly. "She's fine."
His eyes flickered. "She hasn't been over to the house in awhile."
"Why does it matter to you?"
Paul hesitated. "I miss her." My eyes widened in surprise. When he saw my face, he seemed to become annoyed. "I miss her, okay? Is that a crime or something? Am I not allowed to think about her?"
"But… you don't even really care about her."
"What are you talking about? I kissed her, didn't I?"
I rolled my eyes. "So? You kissed Andy. You've kissed everyone."
"Great. Great. It's good to know what my own sister thinks of me. So what, is this what the two of you talk about all the time? Do you have deep conversations about how I'm incapable of emotion?" He shook his head. "I don't understand. I let you date Bryce, even though I had qualms about it. I was worried that you'd get hurt. But you? You're worried that I'll hurt her." He looked at me humorlessly. "Thanks."
I was speechless.
"You know what? Whatever." He jerked his hand dismissively. "Screw this."
I turned toward him, now slightly worried. "Where are you going?"
"What's it to you?" He glanced at me and seemed to feel guilty after seeing my expression. He sighed and closed his eyes for a second. "I'm getting dinner, Jae. You can come, but just to warn you, Bryce will probably come, too."
Even though he was mad at me, he was still looking out for me. "That's okay," I replied, feeling guilty. "I need to work on my campaign, anyway." He turned to leave, but I stopped him. "I'm sorry, Paul. About everything with Taylor. I didn't realize-"
"It's okay, Jaelynn." He attempted a small smile, and I could tell that he meant it. He would always forgive me. I was his sister.
He left, and the house suddenly seemed small and quiet. It was pathetic, but I was actually lonely.
Now, I was stuck at home making a bazillion posters with no help from anyone. Popularity had brought me admirers, but hardly any true friends. Plus, most of my real friends were mad at me at the moment.
I lugged all of my materials to the den, sat down on the floor, and started to work. An hour later, I had only two posters done, and they both looked like my baby brother had made them. I had paint all over me, and I kept sneezing into the glitter, making it go everywhere.
The doorbell suddenly rang, making me jump up in shock. Markers went flying, and I ducked as some of them smacked me in the head. Grumbling, I got up and trudged toward the door. Who the heck was bothering me now?
I slammed open the door in annoyance, rubbing my head with my other arm. Then, I stopped in my tracks. I was surprised to see two blue orbs gazing at me. I stared closely and realized that he had circles under his eyes. He looked tired, as if he hadn't slept in a long time.
"Aren't you supposed to be getting dinner with Paul?" I asked slowly, confused.
"You didn't come."
I swallowed, thrown by the sudden statement. "I wasn't sure if you'd want me to come."
"Why would you think that?" He was looking at me, his eyes carefully guarded.
"You hate me," I murmured, feeling myself turning red.
Bryce's expression softened, and his eyes flickered. "Jaelynn, I could nev-" He paused, and the look left his face. "Of course I don't hate you."
"Then why have you been avoiding me?"
He looked at me and then sighed. "I guess I thought it would be better that way."
"What would be better?"
He hesitated for a few seconds. "It's not important. I just- I'm sorry, Lynn." He hadn't used my nickname in a long time. Not since before the party. "You were right," he continued. "I didn't forgive you, but the truth is, I should have been the one apologizing."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I was the one who had treated Bryce badly, and yet he felt guilty.
"I'm sorry," he continued. His voice sounded sincere, and his eyes were the clearest blue I had ever seen them. "I'm sorry for the fight. I'm sorry for ignoring you. I'm sorry about everything."
"I don't understand."
"It was my fault," he replied. "I saw you with Adam, and I guess I just felt... overprotective. I know it annoys you when Paul does that."
I looked down and bit my lip. "I just don't want you to think that it's your duty to look out for me."
"I don't do it because I think it's my duty. I do it because I care about you. You mean the wor- a lot to me." He swallowed, not quite looking me in the eyes. "I couldn't bear to lose you, Jaelynn. I tried avoiding you this week, and it turned out to be the hardest week of my life." He looked at me then, and his eyes looked so blue and sincere that it was all I could do not to stare. "I missed you so much."
I couldn't breathe. "I missed you too."
A smile started to form on his face. "Really?"
"You sound surprised. Of course I missed you, Bryce."
He looked genuinely happy, and I felt my heart skip a beat at the sight.
"Besides, I'm the one who should be sorry. I totally overreacted. You were just trying to help, and-"
"Jaelynn, don't apologize. Believe me, it's definitely not your fault."
I shook my head, still not satisfied. "Bryce, you're not just my brother's friend to me. You know that, right? I've known you for forever, and I appreciate everything you do for me." I hesitated slightly. "I care a lot about you." I immediately felt my face flame up.
The corner of his mouth lifted a little. "You do?"
I nodded earnestly.
Suddenly, his smile faded, and he was serious. "It's driving me insane, Jaelynn."
"What is?" I was alarmed by the sudden change in topic.
"I can't stop thinking about you."
I stared at him in shock, not moving. Suddenly, he laughed, and I let out the breath I had been holding, smacking him in the arm. I wrinkled my nose and stuck my tongue out at him. "Meanie."
"I can't say the same for you." I glared at him. "This is a pathetic excuse for an apology, by the way."
He grinned. "How about I make it up to you by helping you make posters?"
My eyes widened, and a smile immediately formed on my face. "Really?"
"Really." He tugged on a piece of my hair and then frowned. "You have glitter in your hair."
I sighed, grabbed his arm, and pulled him inside the house to show him my pathetic posters and the wreck I had made of the den.
He smiled a little. "Aren't girls supposed to be good at this kind of thing?"
"Thanks," I deadpanned.
After an hour of hopeless coloring, we finally decided to simply print big letters and pictures from the computer and glue them to the posters. Neither one of us was artistic in the least, but thankfully, the posters came out looking decent. They were probably nothing compared to the crazy contraptions and decorations Krista would come up with, but I was happy with what we'd accomplished. Bryce helped me clean up the mess, and now we were sitting in front of the old-school Nintendo 64 game system with a giant bowl of Cheetos.
"You're about to be beat by a girl, Bryce Healy."
I glanced over at him only to find that he wasn't even paying attention to what I was saying. Instead, Bryce was squinting at something on my face.
"What?" I snapped.
"You have something on your chin."
I self-consciously touched my face but felt nothing.
"No," he said, shaking his head. "Your other chin."
I blinked at him. It took a few seconds for the joke to sink in before I rolled my eyes. "You're hilarious," I deadpanned.
I glared at him and rubbed my chin bitterly. "I do not have a double chin."
He threw a Cheeto at me, and it bounced off of my forehead. "If you say so."
Frowning, I grabbed another Cheeto and tried to mash it into his nostril. Unfortunately, he grabbed my wrist before I could do the deed.
"You're so clever, Bryce."
"Danny felt the same way. I told the joke to your little brother, and it only took ten minutes before he exploded into giggles."
I snorted. "Danny will laugh at anything. You can take off your left sock and he will think it's the funniest thing he's ever seen."
Bryce stared at me for a little while before a look of dawning crossed his face. "Oh. So that's why he was laughing so hard."
I couldn't help it. I smiled a little. I had missed him so much more than I had thought, and now that he was here, I felt as if a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders.
"Alright, Bryce. Back to business."
He groaned. "Do we have to?"
"Yes. Stop changing the subject, Healy, and get your controller. I'm about to win me some Mario Kart."
He grudgingly complied, and we sat with our backs against the couch as the game started up. He won the first two games, and I got second place both times. As the game continued, I couldn't help but think about what Monday at school would be like. Were we still going to pretend to be a couple? Were we broken-up?
"Bryce?" I was staring straight ahead at the screen.
"Yeah?" he asked distractedly. I was currently in the lead, but he was close behind.
"I have a question."
I hesitated for a second, not knowing how to phrase it. "Where do we stand?"
"What?" he asked absentmindedly, his kart pushing past mine to take first place.
"I mean you and me." I cleared my throat. "Us."
He didn't say anything for a long time, and I noticed that he had suddenly fallen from first place to sixth place in the game.
"I mean, you're over at our house all the time. Plus we're always going to be around each other, considering you're Paul's friend and everything. What do we tell everyone? What do we tell Paul?"
His kart had fallen far behind mine. "You're talking about the plan?" he asked finally, slowly.
I nodded. "Are we going to pretend like we're still going out? Or are we broken up?"
The race ended. I was in first place, and somehow, Bryce had placed last. He never lost. "Maybe we should break up."
Something inside of me seemed to deflate. It felt weird hearing those words, especially from Bryce. Even though we weren't in a real relationship, it strangely still felt like we were breaking up.
He must have seen it in my expression, because he suddenly looked alarmed. "Only if you want to, I mean. We can keep pretending we're together, if you'd prefer that."
"Is breaking up what you want?" I asked.
He was silent for a few seconds, and I glanced at him curiously. "If it will make you happy," he said. He was looking straight-ahead at the screen even though the game was over.
The truth was, I didn't know what would make me happy. At times, it was hard to remember the reason we'd started this whole plan in the first place.
"When should we make it official?" I asked solemnly.
"Maybe not now... but soon." He sighed. "We'll figure it out."
"That sounds okay." Now that it was settled, I decided to change to a lighter subject. "I just creamed you, Bryce Healy. Now you must do my bidding."
He frowned but seemed much less tense than he had before. "What? That was never part of the deal."
I smiled sweetly. "It was an assumed understanding. You were just too stupid to catch on."
"Woman, you are too competitive for your own good." He sighed in defeat, and I glowed, feeling triumphant. "Fine. What is your damn bidding?"
I bit my lip, thinking. "I'm not sure. Yet. But I'll think of something, Bryce Healy, and it will be amazing!"
"Maybe for you," he muttered dryly.
"What is good for me is good for you, Brycey-poo," I cooed. "You're such a sore loser. Be more like me. I'm perfect!"
Suddenly, we both jumped as the front door slammed shut. We were still too far away to hear him, but I knew that it was Paul. Only he was capable of causing so much ruckus.
We both stood up. Feeling strangely reluctant to end our conversation, I paused and faced him. "It's weird, isn't it? After everything we've been through recently, it feels strange to just stop."
He nodded slowly. "It really does feel weird."
"We're still going to stay close, right? We'll still be friends?"
He looked at me then, his eyes incredibly blue. "I want you in my life for as long as I can have you, Jaelynn." He smiled. "Of course we'll stay friends."
I grinned at him in relief. "Can we still keep going with the rest of the plan?" I asked, feeling hopeful. I wasn't ready to stop everything, not now. "Besides the whole fake relationship thing, I mean?" He seemed to hesitate, and I looked away in disappointment. "Never mind. We don't have to."
"Of course we can, Lynn. If you need help or advice or anything at all, I'll be there."
I smiled, feeling much happier.
"Jaelynn?" Paul suddenly called, sounding annoyed. He opened the door to the den and seemed surprised. "Bryce? What the hell are you doing here?"
"Nice," I deadpanned.
"Hey buddy," Bryce greeted.
"Did you guys make up?" Paul asked, scowling. "How long have you been… alone?"
I smiled coyly and shrugged. "For hours. You wouldn't believe the kinds of things we've managed to do."
"What?" Paul was glaring murderously at Bryce, who was shooting me panicked glances.
"Relax," I muttered. "All we did was talk."
Paul looked wary. He glanced at Bryce, who didn't say anything. "Are you two okay now?"
"So there won't be any more awkwardness or tension?" Paul seemed to be becoming hopeful.
He sighed in dramatic relief. "Thank goodness. I knew you two should never have started... dating." He spit the word out and made a face. "So much freaking drama. Why can't we just go back to the way it was before?"
Bryce rolled his eyes. "We can. Chill out, man."
"Just give it time," I added, thinking somewhat sadly about the upcoming breakup.
Paul was smiling now. "You have no idea how much easier this makes my life." He threw his arms over both of our shoulders, practically choking me in the process. "I love you guys."
Bryce slapped him upside the head. "Are you drunk?" He had somehow managed to escape the chokehold, but I was unfortunately still trapped.
"Can't… breathe," I wheezed.
"Oops." Paul let me go, but his face quickly lit up again in excitement. "Ooh! Video games!"
Somehow, the three of us managed to squeeze onto the small couch. I was in the middle, squished between the two freakishly large basketball players, but I felt strangely comfortable. We played a game of Mario Kart and then quickly switched to Super Smash Brothers.
"Kirby again?" complained Bryce.
"I like Kirby," I said defensively. "He can jump really high."
"Where's the variety?" Paul chimed in. "The excitement?"
"Up yours," I muttered darkly. "Stop picking on me for having a favorite character."
Bryce sighed, sounding resentful. "Fine. I accept you for your faults."
I smacked Paul's head.
"Would you people stop doing that?" Paul rubbed the side of his head bitterly. "Stop taking all of your damn anger out on my poor head."
"It's not like you have a brain," Bryce commented.
I barked out a laugh, which made Paul turn on me. "Jaelynn's the airhead," he muttered accusingly.
"I see you, Paul!" Bryce exclaimed. He was peering into my ear.
"Funny." I turned my Kirby into stone and stomped onto Bryce's Link character in revenge. Unfortunately, he moved out of the way just in time. "At least I'm not Princess Peach."
Paul flicked my arm. "I picked her on accident, okay?"
I snorted. "Because she looks so much like Luigi."
"What a beautiful brother-sister relationship you two have," Bryce noted.
"What a beautiful face you have," Paul snapped. Bryce and I both rolled our eyes at Paul. He had the worst comebacks.
I glowered. "I'm stuck here on a Friday night with two weirdos. This is what my life has come to."
The truth was, I was almost giddy. Things finally were starting to feel natural again between the three of us, and I was enjoying myself. These were the kind of nights I had missed – the kind when Bryce came over and just hung out with Paul and me.
We played until almost three in the morning. Finally, Paul declared he was exhausted and kicked Bryce and me off the couch so he could sleep. Bryce took the armchair, and I felt my throat suddenly feel heavy. He'd given up the other couch so that I could sleep on it and be comfortable. The armchair was a pain to sleep on.
I grinned, feeling happy. It was funny how what had started out as one of the worst days had become one of the best.