As it turned out, the hardest part of the whole 'me and Seth as a couple' thing wasn't the initial awkwardness I felt around him. I surprised myself by getting over that pretty quickly. I guess I just liked Seth too much to keep being freakishly nervous around him all of the time.
No, the worst part was telling the rest of the world. Particularly, telling Angelo. I wasn't good at keeping secrets, and he was going to catch on eventually anyways, since Seth came to see me on his lunch break every day.
"You're back here again?" Angelo asked Seth with frustration one day. "Will Shirley never be satisfied with the information you bring back to her about this place?"
"Actually, Shirley got fired two weeks ago," Seth said. "A couple of us complained that she was treating employees unfairly. I only still work at Pizza Hut because I need the money."
Angelo raised an eyebrow. "Then you're really, truly just here to see Carrie?"
Seth shot me a smile. "Yeah. I mean, she's drop dead gorgeous. Why wouldn't I want to?"
Yeah, he was kidding. Unless he really did think I was drop dead gorgeous. I would never understand the innermost workings of Seth's mind, no matter how hard I tried.
Angelo sent Seth a steely glare. "I am having trouble believing you. I wonder why that is?"
"Are you saying Carrie isn't drop dead gorgeous?" asked Seth.
"No, I'm saying I don't trust you, because you work for the nefarious Pizza Hut!"
I cleared my throat. "You know, Angelo, Seth is actually partly Italian. His great, great grandfather was born in Italy."
Yes, this was my secret card, and I was now playing it. Seth's mom had tracked their family tree as far back as she could, as a kind of side project, so I wasn't even kidding.
"Really?" cried a suddenly interested Angelo. "Is this true?"
"Yeah," said Seth. "I'm more Italian than Carrie is, and you trust her."
Angelo frowned. "Hmm."
I sighed. "Um, listen, Angelo. Seth and I are kind of together. He's going to school soon, and sometimes we can only see each other on his lunch break, so… I know it's annoying, but… Is it okay if he keeps coming here, even if it's just for the next couple of weeks?"
Angelo shook his head and said nothing for a moment. Seth and I looked at him expectantly.
"Well, who am I to stand in the way of young love?" he cried finally. "I would be a bad Italian if I tried to."
"That's the spirit!" said Seth.
He glared at Seth. "That doesn't mean I like you, boy. And believe me, if you do anything to make Carrie upset, I will send the Italian mob after you faster than you can yell 'uncle.'"
I put my face in my hands. Oh, please. Angelo totally didn't know the Italian mob… Did he?
"Hey, no worries," said Seth, his eyes wide. "I've seen The Godfather. I don't want to wake up with a horse's head in my bed."
Angelo examined us with narrowed eyes. "Good. But I'll be watching you. Both of you."
I was upset about how it had gone at the time, but I realized Angelo was only being protective of me. And I guess it was nice to know he actually cared about what happened to me.
Things at Angelo's went back to normal soon enough, so there was no need for me to freak out. Teo snuck out with Ali, Angelo went on rants, and crazy kids spilled their soda all over the floor. Nothing out of the ordinary.
As crazy as things were at Angelo's, I kind of loved it.
Of course, telling Hayley wasn't a problem. She was totally excited for me and didn't coddle me in an 'Aw, Carrie has her first boyfriend!' sort of way. She made me invite Seth over to her pool so she could actually meet him, since weirdly enough, she never had.
It felt a little strange, having my boyfriend at my best friend's house, but Seth ended up charming Hayley's entire family. He even asked for seconds of her mother's weird Spanish food. Hayley gave her official seal of approval. Hayley's mother said Seth could come over any time.
Yeah, Hayley's mom knew about me and Seth before my own mother did. Sad, right? But I guess she caught on, since she called Seth's mom and made plans for both of our families to go to Seth's beach house. Our moms had rekindled their friendship after the 4th of July party.
We went the last week before Seth was going away to school. True, Haverford was only forty-ish minutes away, which wasn't bad at all, but we wouldn't be able to see each other every day like we were used to. I kind of didn't want to go to the beach with everyone; it meant I'd be scrutinized by my parents – not to mention Seth's parents, and his sister – the whole time. But it turned out to be better than I thought.
Seth's beach house was huge, so I got my own room that overlooked the ocean. The beach was beautiful, and I had ample time to sit around and read. Mrs. Dunaway, being a librarian, had brought a million books with her, which I had fun looking at. And it turned out that Mr. Dunaway was an amazing cook, so I ate like a pig pretty much every night.
What surprised me the most was how my view of Laurel changed. She wasn't that bad once I got to know her. Sure, she wore a lot of makeup, and on the beach, a really skimpy bikini, but through my powers of observation, I discovered that she actually liked reading (unbeknownst to her friends) and kept a stuffed panda on her bed. People with stuffed panda toys couldn't be evil. We didn't become best friends or anything, but I guess once she got used to the fact that me and her brother were kind of going out, she accepted me.
Of course, I spent most of the trip hanging around with Seth. He took me out on the bay in a motor boat and let me drive a little bit, which was scary and almost resulted in me killing a seagull. At the beach, we built an epic sandcastle with Alex. Seth taught me the best way to boogie board, although I couldn't say I became a fan of that. We spent hours exploring the boardwalk. There was a small amusement park there, and Seth tried to win me something at the games, but he failed miserably. So I won myself a Spongebob plushie. But Seth beat me at mini golf, so I guess we were equal.
My parents were busy with Sammy and Alex, so they didn't have time to stalk me. I guess they only officially figured out about me and Seth when, on a rainy day, we were stuck inside. Everyone else decided to drive to a local movie theater, but Seth and I opted to stay behind. He decided this was a good time to make us watch the old home videos of us when we were kids, which he had conveniently brought with him.
"Oh, gosh," I said as a three-year-old version of me popped onto the TV screen, wielding a light saber and wearing fake antennae.
Yep, it was Firefighter and Alien.
But I couldn't help but laugh as I watched myself hit a four year old Seth, decked out in a fireman's hat, over the head, while he tried to shoot at me with a water gun. I guess I hadn't always been so shy. Funny how these things changed.
In the video, my mom tried to make me leave Seth's house. But I refused.
"I want to stay!" my child self cried, still wearing antennae and clutching Seth's hand. "I want to stay with Seth forever and ever!"
"Don't worry, Carrie," child Seth said, patting me on the back. "You can come over again tomorrow."
I sniffled. "Aw! We were so adorable back then!"
"What are you talking about?" Seth asked, sliding his arm around my waist. "We're still adorable now."
I laughed and slid my arms around his neck. But my smile faded when I thought about how this was one of our last days together before school tore us apart. It wasn't that I didn't want Seth to go to school and meet new people or anything like that. I wasn't one of those freaky possessive girlfriends. I just didn't want to stop seeing him every day.
Seth seemed to sense what I was thinking. He was good at that
"Promise me you won't look at any other guys while I'm at school," he said jokingly.
He was also good at making me feel better.
I moved in to kiss him. Because I felt like it.
That was when my parents walked in.
Surprisingly, they weren't mad. But an awkward, deer in the headlights moment did occur.
"Honey, why didn't you just tell me that you and Seth were an item?" my mom exclaimed.
Great. I was blushing again. I thought I'd left those days behind me. Guess not.
"I'm really sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Saunders," Seth said hurriedly.
"I didn't want to keep it a secret!" I blurted out before he could say anything else embarrassing. "I just… I couldn't think of a good way to tell you."
It wasn't like I wanted to keep the nature of Seth's and my relationship from my parents. I had been waiting for the right moment to explain everything. In the end, I waited just a little too long.
Fortunately, they were cool with it. My parents trusted me, and they liked Seth, considering he was my 'childhood friend' and a 'nice young man' (my dad's words, not mine). But I still kept reliving the awful moment of being caught by my parents. I mean, how embarrassing is that?
The week at the beach ended too soon and we went home. Two days later, Seth left for Haverford. He asked me to go with him the first day to unpack and everything, but I thought that was something he should do with his family and said no. Besides, I would have to ride back home without him, which would be awkward. But I still went to see him off that morning.
I shouldn't have been that upset. He wasn't even going that far, and he would be back soon to visit. It wasn't like I was going to sit around all depressed without him – I had things to do, like my job, college applications, and preparations for senior year, and I definitely wasn't alone – Hayley and I had a lot of catching up to do. But I was still upset anyways.
Yes, there were tears, despite my promise to Seth that I would never cry in front of him if he was the reason I was crying. But whatever. He didn't seem to care, since he just hugged me, said I could call him whenever I wanted, and then kissed me goodbye.
Seth visited me a lot. I even went down to Haverford once, where he proudly showed me off to all of his new friends. He had some nice breaks, too – one after midterms, one for Thanksgiving, and one month-long vacation from mid-December to mid-January.
On a whim, Seth decided to throw a reunion holiday party a week before Christmas and Hanukah started – because, he'd explained, "I want presents and chocolate." It was a good opportunity for me to catch up with Gen and Christine, whom I had recently only communicated with via Facebook.
Those in attendance were Gen, Christine, Evan, and Tyler. And of course, me and Seth.
"Let's open presents!" Christine declared after general greetings had been exchanged. "Mine are totally the best."
For the guys' presents (well, save for Seth's), I had baked cookies. I figured that no one disliked chocolate, so they would be happy. I had gotten Gen a pretty necklace I'd found at the mall, and Christine a mug with a pretty picture of the Adirondacks on it, plus some gourmet hot chocolate mix. For Seth, I'd gotten a box of assorted chocolates and a gift certificate to a bookstore, plus a pencil that said 'Italians do it better' left over from Angelo's, just as a joke. Yeah, it was stupid, but kind of funny.
After everyone had exchanged gifts, I realized that four of mine were envelopes and only one was an actual wrapped present.
"Let's open them!" Christine declared.
I quickly discovered that four out of five people had given me bookstore certificates. I could now get 100 dollars worth of books.
"No way!" cried Christine, observing my presents. "You copied my perfect gift idea! All of you!"
"I didn't know what you got her," Evan said defensively. "Besides, she's Bookworm Girl. What else was I supposed to give her?"
I was completely satisfied with the gifts, though. I would certainly make good use of them! I went to open the last one, curious as to what it could possibly be. I'd figured out by process of elimination that it was from Seth. Slowly, I tore the paper off and discovered that it was…
"Ella Enchanted, the movie?" I cried.
I wanted to like it. I really did. But I'd heard the movie had ruined the book.
"Yeah, isn't it exciting?" cried Seth. "I figured that, even if it sucked, we could totally make fun of it. Right?"
"True," I agreed, unable to hide my disappointment. I felt like a sucky girlfriend.
"Oh," he said mysteriously. "And look on the back."
Taped on the back was another bookstore certificate. I smiled.
"See?" said Seth. "I got you covered."
"Okay, if anyone buys anyone else a DVD, we kind of have to watch it," Tyler said. "It's pretty much a rule. Even if it is a stupid chick flick."
So the movie party began. Gen made popcorn while I got hot chocolate for everyone. Then we all met in Seth's living room. Seth was sitting on the couch next to Tyler, but he'd saved a space for me. I curled up next to him as Evan put the movie in the DVD player.
Okay, so the movie did kind of ruin the book. The worst part was that there were no freaking gnomes in it. And there were song and dance numbers. Song and dance numbers!!
"Does it disturb anyone that the guy who played Wesley in The Princess Bride is now playing someone evil?" I cried. "And the guy playing the prince is way too old! He doesn't look how I imagined him."
"What did you imagine him to look like?" Seth asked. "Exactly like me?"
But I ignored him. "You know, Ella is only supposed to be fifteen at the start. She looks twenty."
"And Anne Hathaway is nowhere near hot enough to be her, either," Seth added. "I envisioned Ella as way hotter."
"What??" cried Christine. "Oh my gosh, Anne Hathaway is totally gorgeous. What are you talking about?"
"Sorry, Seth, but I'd have to agree," said Tyler. "Anne is pretty sexy."
"I've got to go with Seth on this one," said Evan, wrinkling his nose. "She's on the dull side. They should have picked Scarlett Johanssen to star in this."
"What is with you guys and Scarlett?" exclaimed Christine. "She isn't that pretty!"
"You're right," said Evan. "She isn't just pretty. She's smoking hot."
Christine growled with frustration and hit Evan in the face repeatedly with a throw pillow.
"Hey, I'm entitled to my opinion!" he protested, attempting to block her attacks. "And I think she's hot!"
Gen just shook her head at Christine's violent display. "Oh, calm down, Chris. Boys will be boys."
It was true that there were some annoying things that boys would always do; it was simply in their nature. But, as I had discovered, not all boys were that bad.
"I'm tired of you guys fighting," Seth said with a yawn.
Then he did one of those really obvious 'I'm pretending to stretch but I'm really trying to put my arm around you' things.
I smiled. "That was really subtle, Seth."
"Well, as you may have noticed," he said, "I'm one of the most subtle people alive."
Yeah. Seth, who'd barged into Angelo's and gone over Mike's house just to see me, who had invited me to his 4th of July party and his canoeing trip, and who had sent me a whole set of gifts to apologize to me, was anything but subtle. In fact, he was the opposite of subtle. He was a little bit crazy.
But, I realized as I laid my head on his shoulder, that was exactly the way I liked it.