I loved mustard with the fiery passion of a thousand suns.
It was a weakness of mine, to say the least. That tart, delightfully acerbic taste coupled with the pungent smell of zesty flavor was enough to make me go weak at the knees with the joy that only the yellowest condiments could bring.
Which was why I was so remorseful to admit the origin of this intense obsession, the thing – or person, in this case – that started it all.
"You," I muttered bitterly.
He smirked and then raised an eyebrow questioningly, as if my answer wasn't enough for him. And of course, it wasn't. Nothing was ever enough for Jack. "What was that, Remy?"
We were in our creative writing class at the moment, forced together as partners for the day. We were supposed to be writing essays on something that we loved, and I had chosen mustard. I had been thinking about choosing Matt, my boyfriend of one-and-a-half years, but once I started writing it, all I could come up with was, "Matt is perfect in every way." Then, I had gone on a long spiel about how the only thing about him that wasn't perfect was the fact that he had just about the most annoying best friend in the world.
I clenched my teeth together in a desperate attempt to maintain my composure. I would not be immature or show my overwhelmingly vast disdain for my boyfriend's best friend. I would not stoop to his level. "I said you, you arrogant, irritating, infuriating, good-for-nothing, pea-brained poop."
"Come on, Peanut," Jack said, still sporting that infuriating smirk. "You don't think I'm a poop. You think I'm devastatingly good-looking and ridiculously clever."
I couldn't help it; I blushed. Horrified, I ducked my head so that he couldn't see. "Don't call me that."
"Oh? Would you prefer a nickname? Pea, perhaps? Or maybe Nut?"
"How about I call you Ugly-Face?"
That insult was one of my particular favorites. However, the sad fact was that despite the ugliness of his manners, personality, and bleak soul, his face was not quite as repulsive as I claimed.
Not that he was perfectly handsome or anything. Jack was good-looking, to be sure, but he was no Matt. Matt was gorgeous and flawless from his head down to his toes, enough so that sometimes I wished that I myself were more perfect looking, that my straight, brown hair weren't quite so boring, or that my eyes were a more definite, dazzling color, rather than just an bizarre hazel. While Matt had perfect, short blond hair, Jack's hair was dark, messy, and always seemed to be sticking up in random places. Matt had beautiful blue eyes that showed his emotions clearly and accurately, and Jack had brown, almost black eyes that always seemed to be deep in thought and far away. I never knew where I stood with Jack, and he was almost always impossible to read.
Still, there seemed to be quite a few girls who were madly in love with him, not just because of his dark looks, but also because of his personality. Which was strange, considering he was arrogant, obnoxious, and had an ego the size of Alaska. But somehow, all of those characteristics combined with the usual smirk or mischievous wink made girls kind of… swoon.
And even though his arrogance drove me up the wall, even I had to admit that his self-confidence was weirdly alluring. Enough so that every time his mouth twitched with laughter and I looked at that smug jaw line of his, my stomach did this strange flippy thing that it shouldn't have been doing. Plus, Jack had gorgeous lips. They were big and soft and kissable… and completely unfair, considering that every word that passed between those beautiful lips was some form of an insult. At least, when directed towards me.
I knew I looked insane. My left eye wouldn't stop twitching uncontrollably, and I could feel my face turning an angry red. Of course, the flaring nostrils only added to the cause. Nothing was more attractive than a pair of freakishly large nose holes, after all. I opened my eyes as wide as they could go and looked at him crazily.
Jack, however, appeared to be suppressing a smile. "You look constipated."
"I- You-" I sputtered. Finally, I narrowed my eyes at him menacingly. "I loathe you."
"You know, if you change the "a-t-h" to a "v", that forms a different word entirely."
I tensed for a second, but upon seeing that he was only joking, I rolled my eyes and relaxed. "You're so clever, Jack. Really."
He smiled. "I try."
"One day, you'll get what's coming to you."
"Are you threatening me?"
"If by threatening, you mean intimidating you until you fear me, then yes."
"You really shouldn't talk to me like that, you know," he remarked. "If it weren't for me, you would never have discovered your unbridled passion for mustard."
Sadly, this was true. Everyone else in my family hated mustard almost as much as I loved it, so I grew up without it until last year, when Jack gave me a hotdog smothered in the stuff. The rest, as they say, was history.
"Without you, I would be a much happier girl," I retorted.
"Well, without you, I wouldn't have this scar on my eyebrow."
Crap. He had me there. "Look, it was an accident, okay? When are you going to get over it?"
"You chucked a history book at my head."
"Accidentally," I muttered. "It would never have happened if you hadn't been pissing me off. Besides, you were supposed to duck. It's not my fault you have the reflexes of a sloth."
His lips curved into a smile. "Now that's not fair. Ducking is easy. It takes a real man to take a book to the head."
"Wow, sexist and annoying."
"Not sexist," he defended. "Just secure in my masculinity." He winked at me coquettishly, and I wrinkled my nose in distaste.
"You're such a pig, Jack. You know, if you weren't Matt's best friend, I would refuse to even acknowledge you."
His demeanor changed. It was slight, but it was enough for me to notice, enough to make me lose my breath for a second or so. "I know," he said. The smirk was still there, but it looked more forced and unnatural. "So why is it that I've barely seen you since movie marathon day?"
"What are you talking about?" My response came quickly, mostly just as a lame attempt to cover up my surprise and alarm. "We see each other in class."
"You don't talk to me. You barely glance at me. This is the first time we've talked since."
"Well, I'm sorry," I snapped, "but not everything revolves around you."
"It was a month ago, Remy. When are you going to stop avoiding me?"
"I'm not avoiding you, Jack. I'm just busy… with Matt."
His eyes became darker. "Right."
Suddenly, the bell rang. I stifled my sigh of relief and grabbed my things quickly. Unfortunately, I was barely out of the door when Jack caught up to me.
I looked at him somberly. "Not here."
He glanced around and, before I could react, grabbed my arm to pull me into a random classroom.
"What are you doing?" Not only was Jack being serious for once, but he had dragged me into a dark, empty room. There was nobody I could hide behind, no excuse I could give. I made a move to leave, but he must have anticipated it because he blocked my way.
"I think we should talk."
I crossed my arms in a defensive stance. "Well, I don't. We have to get to class." Unfortunately, we both had lunch next period.
"What I don't understand," he said slowly, ignoring my words, "is why you are avoiding me. You were the one who rejected me."
"And with good reason."
"Fine. I get it, okay? You love Matt, not me. It's not like I expected anything different."
I turned towards him and glared with as much abhorrence as I could muster up. "How could you even do that to your best friend? What kind of person does that?"
"Look, it's not like I was planning it or anything. I was never going to do anything. It's just that you made me all crazy that day, and the next thing I knew-"
"I drove you crazy?" I repeated loudly, interrupting him. I could feel my nostrils starting to flare again. "I didn't do anything, Jack!"
"You smelled all fruity and kept prancing around all day in those really short shorts-"
"They were pajama shorts," I hissed. "And they weren't even that short. Did you see what Heather was wearing?"
"You cried during all of the cheesy moments of Lion King, and you kept crooning all of the songs off-key for most of the movie. And you snort when you laugh."
"Because those are such endearing qualities," I said sarcastically. "Most of our friends were annoyed of me by the end of the night. Your precious girlfriend made me stop singing."
"Heather isn't my girlfriend."
"Oh, of course not. She's just madly in love with you and vying for your heart and body."
"My heart," he said, looking at me expressionlessly, "is taken."
I cocked my head challengingly. "But your body sure does seem to be getting around these days, doesn't it?"
"Why do you care? You're the one who doesn't want me."
"I- You-" I sputtered once again. "That's not the point! The point is you ambushed me while I was coming back from the bathroom."
"I didn't ambush you, Remy," he said slowly. "I was on my way to the kitchen to get a drink."
"You pushed me up against the wall and began mauling me right out of the blue-"
"And you didn't seem to be protesting during any of it."
I felt myself blushing again. "Because, like I said, I was ambushed."
"I didn't force you to kiss me back."
"I didn't know what I was doing, okay? I was still high off of that romantic movie we had just seen."
He looked away, his face grim. "Yeah, well, I thought you meant it, which is why I said what I said. I didn't realize that you were just toying with me."
"I wasn't toying with you, Jack. I'm not that mean."
"I know. You don't toy with me on purpose. You just do it without realizing it. It's who you are."
"Thanks for basically calling me stupid," I retorted angrily.
I moved past him towards the door, and surprisingly, he didn't stop me. Jack followed me out into the now-empty hallway, and reluctantly, I stopped. We couldn't go to lunch and face people. Not like this.
"You're not stupid," he said. He was smiling, albeit faintly. "You're just crazy and kind of clueless."
I huffed. "Well, it's not like you're normal or anything, either. Normal people don't say what you said to their best friend's girlfriends!"
"Well, normal people's best friend's girlfriends are nothing like you!"
I felt my eye starting to twitch again. "Do you get a kick out of tormenting me? Is that why won't you just leave me alone?"
"Oh, yes," he muttered sarcastically. "I love rejection so much that I want to continue being rejected over and over again by you."
"Then stop messing with me, Jack!"
"I didn't mean to tell you all of that stuff, Remy," he said, his face serious. "It just sort of slipped out."
"That long speech declaring your undying love slipped out?" I was incredulous. Then, realizing what I had said, I felt my face start to burn.
I looked up at him and was shocked to see that Jack too was turning bright red. "I'm sorry," he stammered. I was horrified to feel a strange tug at my heart. "I was never planning on acting on my feelings, I swear. I was just going to, you know, do it from a distance."
"Which is why it's easier if we avoid each other from here on."
He looked at me strangely, his dark eyes turning even darker. As much as I tried, I couldn't bring myself to tear my eyes away from his. "Believe me, Peanut. I've been trying to avoid you for the past one-and-a-half years. It's not that easy – at least, not for me."
"Don't you care about Matt at all?" I asked. "Is this some kind of sick game to you?"
"Of course I care about Matt." He looked angry. I had never seen him quite like this. I'd seen him annoyed and even frustrated at times, but never outright angry. "Do you think I want to be a pathetic idiot who pines over someone else's girlfriend? Do you think I find joy in the fact that all I can ever think about is you, no matter how hard I try not to? Do you think I like that I get this insane desire to attack my best friend of twelve years every time he touches you?"
I blinked. I had no idea what to say. All I could do was stand there like a stupid idiot. Finally, I stepped closer to him. "Why do you have to do that?" I asked angrily.
He paused for a second, as if he wasn't sure whether or not he'd heard me correctly. "What?"
"Why do you have to say things like that? Why can't you just be an asshole? Why can't you just hate me?" I was becoming angrier by the minute. "You can't spend a year insulting me and pissing me off just so that you can tell me you have feelings for me. And what about your best friend? What am I supposed to do now, pretend nothing ever happened? That you never confessed all of this to me?"
"I'm sorry if it's inconvenient that I love you," he said bitterly. "Next time, I'll be sure to find a more suitable emotion."
"And out of all of the girls that you know, you had to choose me?"
He didn't answer.
"I mean, I'm horrible," I continued. "I'm weird and loud and most likely bipolar. And I eat mustard with everything."
The corner of his mouth moved just barely, and my heart did a weird thump at the sight.
"Remy! Jack!" a voice suddenly called. "What are you guys doing? Aren't you starving?" Matt came closer to us and then slowed down. I turned around so that he couldn't see my face. "Were you guys fighting again? Honestly, Jack, you really do need to get a grip on that whole insulting thing."
Jack looked at me, and I stared back. "Right," he said finally. Then, he grinned. "Well, it's not my fault Remy is so easily offended. Not to mention she's easy to insult."
I glared at him. Jerk.
"Well, cut it out," Matt said. "Besides, you guys can't fight today. We have the barbecue later."
"The barbecue?" I repeated. I had forgotten all about it.
"Maybe we shouldn't have it today," Jack said.
"It's at your house. Don't bail on me now." Matt frowned. "Everyone will be there."
"Oh yeah, Jack," I commented, tilting my head. "You wouldn't want to pass up the chance to make out with Heather again."
"Cut it out, you guys." Matt shook his head. "Let's just go to lunch." He reached for my hand and pulled me toward him. "I haven't seen you all day, baby. I missed you."
"Aw," Jack cooed. "I missed you too, Mattie-poo."
I fought a smile.
"Come on," Matt said, rolling his eyes. "Let's just go."
Jack shrugged. "You two go without me."
"Aren't you hungry?"
Jack glanced at me. It was so quick that I almost thought I had imagined it. "No, not really. I've lost my appetite." He turned around, and I stared at his back as he left.
o o o
It was movie marathon day, and I was on my way back to the basement. I had told everyone I was going to the bathroom, but the truth was that I had to get away. There must have been too little air down in the basement, and that must have been making me insane because while Jack was switching the movies in the DVD player, I had been staring at his back. Something about the sight of it tightening as he reached for the next movie made it hard for me to breathe. He had a great body, just like Matt, but he was taller and leaner. I had watched his arm as the muscles moved, and I couldn't help it; I was turned on by his arm hair. It was so… masculine that I couldn't but feel dizzy just by looking at it.
I had to get away. I was going crazy. After all, what kind of freak got distracted by someone else's arm hair when her boyfriend was right next to her, practically on top of her? Unfortunately, as I was walking down the narrow hallway, my way was blocked by exactly the person I was trying to get away from.
I stopped in my tracks. "Are you stalking me?"
"Why, do you want me to be?" Upon seeing my annoyed expression, Jack grinned. "I'm just going to the kitchen."
"Oh," I said. "Well when you come back downstairs, could you tell your girlfriend to stop being such a bitch?"
"I would." He looked amused. "If I had one, that is."
I rolled my eyes. "You know what I mean. You were all over her."
"Who?" Jack asked, confused. "You mean Heather?"
He narrowed his eyes. "Pot calling the kettle black, don't you think?"
"What are you talking about?" I snapped, irritated.
"I can tell you're a fan of public displays of affection and everything, but the rest of us would rather not see you and Matt making out all the time."
I glared at him, now furious. "We barely touched each other, Jack. But of course, you were too busy with Heather to notice."
"Unfortunately, I wasn't busy enough to avoid watching your boyfriend and you eat each other's faces."
"No one said you had to watch, you creeper."
He snorted. "It was kind of hard not to, considering the two of you were basically having sex in front of the TV."
I swallowed hard, trying not to let my anger get the best of me. I had a habit of acting crazy when I was mad. "Excuse me, Jack, but you need to get your eyes checked. We kissed for, like, a second, and that was it."
"You guys were… cuddling and stuff." He grimaced. "It was disgusting."
I rolled my eyes and threw my hand up in frustration. "You're impossible."
"I'm impossible?" he asked incredulously. "If anyone's impossible here, it's you."
"Right, because you're so rational and everything," I muttered sarcastically. "Especially when it comes to your interest in Heather, considering she has so many appealing qualities. Like her blonde hair, right?"
His eyes flickered to my own hair. "I like brunettes."
"Oh, well, then you must like her because she's just full of intelligent conversation, right? Like about how hot you are?"
Jack smirked. "So you do think I'm hot."
"What? I never said that, you conceited, chauvinistic pig."
"Ah, but you implied it, Peanut."
"Stop calling me that. Why do you call me that?"
His lip twitched slightly. "You look like a peanut."
"No, I don't!" I exclaimed. Frankly, I was insulted.
"Your head is shaped rather like a peanut."
I opened my mouth in outrage. "You son of a-"
The words flew away as I was suddenly thrown back against the wall. The next thing I knew, Jack's mouth was covering mine, his hands were clutching my peanut-shaped head, and he was kissing me.
And I was kissing him right back.
o o o
I started at the sudden voice, and then realizing what I had been daydreaming about, blushed. "Yeah?" I asked quickly, trying to cover up my alarm.
"What's wrong?" Matt asked, coming up behind me and wrapping his arms around my waist. We were in Jack's backyard, getting everything ready for the barbecue, but we were alone.
I forced myself to lean into him and faked a smile. "Nothing. I was just thinking."
"Oh." He was looking down at me with clear, blue eyes. He really was gorgeous. "Sorry."
"You don't need to apologize." I smiled in a 'oh Matt, you're so considerate' kind-of-way, but secretly, I was a little annoyed. He apologized about everything.
He was just being polite, I told myself. That's just the way he was. Perfect.
"Hungry?" he asked, smiling.
I shrugged, attempting to appear as cool, calm, and collected as he always was, even though secretly, I was ravenous.
I really did care for him. He was Matt, my Matt. Still, at times I wondered how someone so utterly perfect could have fallen for someone as strange and eccentric as me. Back when we first started dating, I'd once asked him what it was about me that he liked so much. "You're cute and kind and intelligent," he'd said. I had blushed, happily surprised by his words. They were perfect, just like him. He understood me!
And it was true. He did understand me. Or at least the part of me that I chose to share with him. Matt was sweet, nice, careful, and thoughtful, completely different from Jack. Jack was impulsive, blunt, and obnoxious. Plus, he was a complete waste of brains. Sure, Matt was smart, in the amazing grades, honor roll kind-of-way. But Jack? Jack was witty and sharp and intelligent in a way that I only wished I could be, only he didn't use it.
"You okay?" Matt asked again.
I smiled tightly and nodded. "I'm fine."
Matt was just being considerate. He cared about me and wanted me to be happy. Jack, on the other hand, would purposefully go out of his way to get me riled up. Sure, most of the time I was just angry at him for making me want to laugh. I hated my laugh. It was loud and embarrassing and sometimes even ended in a mortifying snort. But still, he seemed to find it amusing, which infuriated me. He was always laughing… not with me, but at me.
"Where is Jack?" Matt asked, as if he knew the subject of my thoughts.
Feeling strangely guilty, I narrowed my eyes. "Yeah, where is he? You would think that the guy would have the decency to help out with his own barbecue."
"Down, girl." Matt grinned, and his eyes crinkled in the way that made most girls swoon. Even I wasn't completely immune to his charm, despite the one-and-a-half years. "It was my idea, remember? I forced him into offering his backyard."
Matt never forced anyone. He was just so nice that no one could turn him down.
"He's probably making out with Heather somewhere," I muttered. I knew that my constant accusations were getting old, but I couldn't help it.
"Are you kidding? Jack doesn't even like Heather."
I whipped my head around in surprise, almost giving myself whiplash. "What?"
"Yeah, he thinks she's too clingy." Matt shook his head. "He has a point. She does kind of throw herself at him all the time." I rarely heard Matt say anything that wasn't absolutely nice or at least civil about anyone else, but that wasn't what had me surprised. "In fact, Jack hasn't really gone near any girls in almost a year."
I swallowed. "He hasn't?"
He shook his head. "It's really weird."
"What about all the rumors?"
"They're just rumors. And most of those are from last year or the year before." He saw my face and grinned faintly. "Surprised, huh?"
I nodded distractedly. "I think I'm going to go find Jack."
"Okay. Don't be too hard on him, though."
"Right." I headed inside the house, glancing around. I had been inside Jack's house only once before, and that had only been for a minute or so. Even then, I had been curious.
"Hello?" There was no answer, so I started to go up the stairs. I walked up to the first door in the hallway and knocked. "Jack?" Unable to hear anything, I opened the door and was astonished. It was his room.
It was small and messy. There were rumpled clothes and papers all over the floor and food and books piled on his desk. His bed wasn't made, not that I expected it to be, and his closet door was half-open. There was a pile of DVDs hanging haphazardly on top of a small TV, and next to it on the wall was a cluster of photographs.
I froze. The room was so undoubtedly his. I could almost imagine him in it, getting ready for school or forcing himself to do his homework late at night. I felt… weird. I had a strange, tingling feeling inside my stomach, and my head felt almost light, in a way. I wanted to do more than just stand here, peering into his life. I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to know everything about him.
The thought hit me like a sudden blast, and I was taken aback by it. What was I thinking? I didn't even like Jack. Still, before I could stop myself, I walked in and glanced around. The first thing that caught my eye was the group of pictures on the wall. I moved closer and touched them, a weird feeling forming in my throat. They were of his friends and family. His life.
There were a lot of pictures of him with his parents. I smiled as I studied them. Jack looked like the perfect combination of his mom and dad. My eyes scanned the other photos. There were some with Matt and his other close friends. Most of them were group pictures, but a few were with just Matt and him, some even of them from when they were kids. I grinned affectionately at them and continued to survey the rest of the pictures.
The photo in the center seemed familiar, and I noticed a girl with blonde hair in it. I recognized the scene. It was taken during the carwash held by the student government, the point of which had been to raise money to help cure cancer. Matt had persuaded most of his friends to help out. Staring at the picture now, I felt something in my stomach drop. If Jack didn't like Heather, then why did he have a picture of her in his room?
She wasn't even wet or disarrayed. Her hair was still perfect, she had on a skimpy outfit, and she looked as if she hadn't cleaned a single car. And she hadn't. I had wondered at the time why she had even bothered to come, but I knew now that it was just to see Jack.
Then, something in that photograph caught my attention. My heart skipped a beat as I looked past Heather. My eyes landed on me. There I was in the background, completely soaked in a t-shirt and shorts. I looked like a drowned rat. I had soap suds all over my face, and most of my hair had already snaked its way out of my ponytail. I was a complete mess, but I was laughing with such pure happiness and joy that I couldn't help but smile at the sight despite my pounding heart.
I was in disbelief. But most of all, I was… happy. It was irrational and completely out of the blue, but I was actually pleased. Jack had a picture of me in his room. Me. And it was one of me acting crazy and uninhibited. I had looked ridiculous throughout the whole day, and later when I showed some of the pictures from that day to Matt, he had glanced at them and said consolingly, "Don't worry. They aren't that bad."
But Jack had kept one. He liked the way I had looked.
All of a sudden, I realized why he'd chosen a photo of me where I was in the background. He wasn't supposed to have a picture of me in his room. I had a boyfriend, and that boyfriend was his own best friend.
I shrieked at the sudden voice, spinning around so fast that I almost tripped over my own feet. "Jack!" I gasped out, my heart pounding in my head. "Don't ever do that again!"
He looked like he was trying not to laugh. "Sorry," he choked. For a few seconds we just stood there, me trying to get my breathing under control and him watching me, amused. "Why are you in my room?" he asked finally.
My eyes widened as I realized what this looked like. "I was- I was looking for you."
"On the wall?" He cocked an eyebrow.
"I'm- I'm sorry," I mumbled. What was wrong with me? "I didn't mean to snoop."
"Don't worry about it. You're free to snoop all you want." Something about the way Jack said it made me turn red.
I turned back towards the wall. "I'm in this picture."
"Why do you have this?"
He shrugged. "I like it."
My heart did a flutter, but I ignored it. "I look horrible."
"Not horrible." His mouth formed a small smile. "Just different. You look… free."
I frowned. "It's different that I look happy?"
"Well, usually you look kind of serious."
I knew what he was talking about: that was the way I acted when I was with Matt. Still, I pretended not to and let out a snort. "Only when I'm around you. You irritate me so much that every time I see you, my nostrils start to flare."
He smiled wryly. "Really? I thought that was just your normal face."
"You're such a jerk." When I looked back at him, I was surprised to see that his expression had become serious.
"Does it bother you?"
My eyes widened. "What?"
"Do you want me to be nicer, like Matt?"
I was speechless. "You don't have to be like Matt."
"But do you want me to be?" He was looking at me so earnestly that I couldn't help but stare into his brown eyes.
"Jack." I stepped toward him. "Jack, I-"
Then, before I could stop myself or think about what I was doing, I leaned closer to him and buried my face into his neck. He smelled really, really good. Clean, like soap and laundry detergent, but most of all, he smelled like himself.
I could tell he was surprised. He hesitated, and then tentatively wrapped his arms around me, as if he thought I would come to my senses and push him away. "Remy." It was just one word; my name, in fact. But the way he said it made my breath hitch. His hands moved hesitantly across my back, leaving goose bumps along their paths. The next thing I knew, his hands were running through my hair, and he was pulling me closer, as if he couldn't get enough of me… as if he couldn't get enough of holding me closely and touching me. My throat constricted, and I swallowed heavily, telling myself that it was nothing. This was nothing.
"Remy?" a voice suddenly called. "Jack?"
We broke apart quickly, and I immediately missed Jack's warmth.
"Where are you guys?" Matt asked. His voice sounded like it was coming from downstairs.
I froze and paled. "Coming!" Avoiding Jack's gaze, I turned towards the door.
"Wait." Jack said suddenly. I glanced down at his hand, which had reached for mine in what seemed to have been a subconscious gesture. He followed my eyes toward our intertwined hands and, realizing what he was doing, turned bright red, quickly moving his arm away and stepping back. "I'm sorry," he stammered. He rubbed the back of his neck feverishly.
I stared at him wide-eyed. I'd never seen him like this. Not knowing what to do, I turned around slowly.
"Remy, wait." His voice made me stop in my tracks. "I'm sorry," he said sincerely. "I'm sorry about what happened."
He was talking about the hug. I stared closely at him and realized what was in his eyes: it was fear. He knew that he had shown too much. And even though he had already told me that he loved me, I had expressed to him that I didn't feel the same way, which made him vulnerable. I felt a tug at my heart and promptly ignored it. I didn't feel the same way – I couldn't. I had a boyfriend. Matt was amazing and perfect, and I cared for him.
"It's okay," I forced myself to say nonchalantly. "It was nothing." Then, I quickly turned around and headed down the stairs before I could see his expression.
Matt was still in the backyard, setting up the grill. "Hey," he greeted, looking up. "What took you so long?"
I felt a twinge of guilt. "Nothing."
Matt stared at me weirdly. "Are you okay? You look shaken up."
I didn't know what to say. Thankfully, I didn't need to.
"She's probably just annoyed at me for insulting her." I turned to face Jack, who was carefully avoiding my gaze. "She makes it so easy."
Matt laughed. "We need to find you a girlfriend so that you can insult her instead, Jack. Someone like Remy." He grinned boyishly, wrapping his arm around my waist. "You don't know how lucky I am."
Jack stared at us for a few seconds, his face carefully void of emotion. "Right," he said finally.
I pulled away quickly, mumbling something about going inside for a few minutes to stay out of the heat. By the time I was ready to come back out, everyone else had already showed up. My stomach was growling like a bear, and I could no longer hold it in. "I'm starving!" I roared. My eyes were wide in hunger, and I probably looked immensely attractive in my crazy state. Matt handed me a hotdog, and without glancing at it, I moved to devour it as quickly as possible. However, once it was in my mouth, I blanched.
In a fit of disgust, I spit the bite onto the ground and flung the hotdog as far away from me as I could, jumping up and down and wiping my tongue off in revulsion. When I finally managed to get the horrible taste out of my mouth, I quieted down and turned a very mortified bright red. Everyone was staring wide-eyed at me.
"Mustard," Jack said dryly. "Remy likes mustard on her hotdogs."
"Oh yeah." Matt shrugged, putting the ketchup bottle down nonchalantly. "Sorry, I forgot about that."
There was silence. Suddenly, Jack stood up and turned around. "I'll be back in a second." I couldn't see his face, but I felt my stomach get a little queasy as he walked into the house. I felt… nervous. I didn't know how else to describe it.
"It might take a while for the next one," Matt told me apologetically. "Sorry, I know you're starving."
"It's okay." My voice sounded high-pitched and strange, but Matt didn't seem to notice. It was just an insignificant detail. So what if Matt had forgotten that I hated ketchup? It was no big deal.
Still, I couldn't shake my uneasiness. Matt had been my boyfriend for one-and-a-half years, but did he really know me at all? He didn't know that I liked creative writing. He didn't know that when I got really angry, my left eye twitched uncontrollably. He didn't know that I was secretly weird and offbeat. He didn't even know that I loved mustard.
But Jack did. Jack made me act like me. Even when I was angry or irritated at him, he pushed me out of the little bubble I had spent the past few years building. He made me livid, he made me scream, he made me blush, and he made me laugh. Around him, I wasn't constantly watching myself, making sure I was being perfect.
And despite my constant claims that I couldn't stand him, the truth was that I couldn't stand being away from him. The content and affection that I had when I saw Matt just couldn't come close to the feeling of being near Jack. Around Jack, I had trouble breathing and my heart rate quickened and I got goose bumps. When I was with Matt, all I could think about was Jack, and when I was with Jack, I could hardly think at all.
Suddenly, I knew what I had to do, what I should had done a long, long time ago. "Matt, can I talk to you?"
"Of course," he answered, just like I knew he would.
He looked confused but still nodded. I pulled him past the door of the fence into the front lawn. We were finally alone.
"What's wrong?" Matt asked, his voice was filled with concern.
It cut through me, but not enough to stop me from saying what I needed to. "I can't do this anymore."
"Why? Are you sick?"
His worry only added to my guilt. "No, that's not what I mean." I took a deep breath. "We're too different."
He frowned. "No, we're not. We understand each other."
I shook my head. "I don't think we do. I'm not really who you think I am. I'm not perfect… or close to it, even.
"No one is perfect."
No one is perfect. I wish I had known that before. Taking a deep breath, I looked into Matt's beautiful eyes and steeled myself. "I think we should break up."
There, I'd said it. And even though Matt was looking at me as if I'd punched him in the stomach, and I felt like I was going to throw up or pass out, I also felt… relieved. Like a load had been lifted off of my shoulders.
"I'm so sorry, Matt. I really, truly am." I cared about him. He had been a huge part of my life for so long that I couldn't help but feel guilty and sad. "I wish there were some other way. I wish it didn't have to be like this. I just can't be in this relationship anymore."
I hesitated. "It's taken me a long time to realize what I want."
"And it's not me." It was more of a statement than a question.
I swallowed. "I'm so sorry. The worst part of all of this is that of all people, I hurt you."
"Is there someone else?"
I swallowed, unable to meet his eyes.
"I guess I have my answer," he said grimly.
"Oh, Matt." I could feel my voice starting to choke, and horrified, I took a deep breath. The enormity of what I was doing was starting to hit me. Jack and Matt were best friends, and I was just some girl. "I know that you'll probably never forgive me."
"It really doesn't matter now, does it?"
I could feel a burning in the back of my eyes, so I blinked a few times, willing it to go away. "It does matter. I really do care about you, Matt."
My last statement seemed to cut him the deepest. His eyes were directed above my head, but even so, I could tell that he was hurt.
"I'm going to go," I mumbled quietly.
He didn't say anything. He didn't even look at me as I said a final goodbye and headed towards my car.
o o o
I was avoiding Jack.
For the past week, every time I'd seen him I'd ducked out of sight or ran away. I told myself that I was doing it simply to avoid making things worse, but in actuality, I was scared.
What if he didn't want me anymore? Maybe he only wanted me because he couldn't have me, because I was out of his reach. Maybe he just loved the chase and then got bored. Now that Matt and I were over and I was available, was Jack even interested? Did he even like the real me, or did he only see the side of me that Matt had seen? There were too many complications and questions. Even if he was interested, I couldn't come between best friends. Which was why when he found me after school and pulled me into another empty classroom, I panicked.
"You're doing that thing again," he told me, his voice solemn.
I blushed. Now that he'd actually cornered me down, I had no choice but to talk to him. "No, I'm not."
"Then why are you turning bright red?"
I narrowed my eyes at him. "I'm not, you…. you fart."
Jack clutched his chest in mock-pain. "Ouch."
"Shut up, fool. It's hard to come up with names when you're put on the spot like that."
"You are the master of insults."
I made a face. "If you're going to be sarcastic, then leave me alone."
"Do you want me to leave you alone?" He was smirking, but I knew from the way his eyes darkened that he was being serious.
"No." It was the truth, but I still couldn't believe I'd said it. "Why did you pull me in here? What do you want to talk about?"
He looked at me, his eyes indecipherable. "Why did you break up with Matt?"
I was thrown by the sudden question. Matt had been avoiding me, too. It felt horrible, but I didn't regret my decision. I just wished I'd made it earlier, before all of this damage could happen. "Matt gave me ketchup," I said finally.
"That's the reason?" Jack's voice was skeptical. He looked down and laughed, but it sounded stiff. "Well in that case, I'm sure the two of you will be back together in no time."
"You would have given me mustard. The hotdog would have been smothered with it, just the way I like it."
He must have seen something in my expression because he gave me an undecipherable look. "Yes."
"We don't even get along, you and I." I swallowed hard. "We fight all the time and insult each other. I can barely tolerate you sometimes."
The look left his eyes, and he sighed. "If you're going to tell me all the reasons you don't want to be with me, I already know."
"And you think I have a peanut-shaped head," I continued, ignoring him, "of all things."
"Look, I know you can't stand me. I get it."
I couldn't ask him to choose between Matt and me. Especially since I knew, deep down, that he would most likely choose Matt. They had been best friends since kindergarten. No girl – especially not me – was worth the end of their friendship.
"I want to talk about you and Matt."
"Don't worry," he deadpanned. "I don't swing that way. He's all yours."
I smiled faintly. "No, I mean your friendship. And, well, me."
Jack's eyes flickered. "Okay," he said warily.
"You and I were never a big deal. I mean, sure, we kissed. But it was nothing."
"Is that right?" he asked, his voice emotionless.
Something about his expression made me hesitate. "I just want to tell you that it's okay. You don't have to tell Matt anything, because that's all that this thing between you and me ever was." I paused. "Nothing."
"Nothing," he repeated.
I nodded, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.
"That's too bad."
He was watching me calmly, his dark eyes undecipherable. "I already told him I love you."
I couldn't breathe. "Well… Tell him you take it back. Tell- tell him you went insane."
He gave a small smile. "I can't lie to him anymore, Remy."
"You don't really love me," I said desperately. "You just think you do. You love a different girl, the one who's always calm and nice and rational. I'm not that girl, Jack. I just pretended to be."
His mouth twitched. "In that case, you're really bad at pretending."
"I'm serious, Jack. I really am awful."
"No, you're not. You're perfect."
My heart dropped. He really didn't love me. He loved the person I had been trying to be. The one who was perfect. To my horror, I felt a sudden sharp stinging in the back of my eyes. He must have seen something in my expression because he looked kind of alarmed and shook his head. "I- That came out wrong. What I meant was that to me, you're perfect exactly the way you are. Weird-shaped head and all."
I blinked, completely thrown by his words. He thought of the word "perfect" in a completely different way than I did. I had always thought that there was a universal definition of perfection. But maybe it came in all shapes and forms. Maybe that was why I had been so reluctant to tell Jack to be more like Matt. I didn't want Jack to change at all.
And even though he had just insulted me, I couldn't bring myself to be annoyed. He loved me. He loved me. And not just the part of me that poorly attempted to hide the crazy, but all of me. He kept a picture of me laughing hysterically in his room. He didn't mind my irrational anger. He liked my boring brown hair and terrible singing.
I took a step closer and did something I'd always wanted to do – I placed my hands on his chest. My heart was pounding at a million miles-per-hour, but I forced myself to swallow and look up at him.
His eyes were wide with shock. "What are you doing?" His voice sounded hoarse.
I didn't answer; instead, I leaned in and kissed him with everything I had in me. It only took him about a millisecond to react. He wrapped his arms around me, pulled me close, and kissed me so hard that my knees felt weak. When we finally pulled apart, he was cupping my face gently with his hand, and I was out of breath.
He looked surprised, but I also noticed that he seemed guarded. "What was that for, Nut?"
"No, I don't want a nickname. Call me Peanut."
"I'll think about it."
I wrinkled my nose at him. "Jerk."
"Why did you kiss me, Remy?" He was suddenly serious. "Were you just messing with me? Am I a rebound? Were you bored?"
Was it so hard for him to believe that I returned his feelings? Had I made him this wary and guarded? I blinked, now feeling bad. "I'm sorry, Jack."
An expressionless mask fell over his face, and he quickly let me go. "Oh," he said curtly. He wasn't looking at me anymore, and his voice sounded strange. "So what was that? Practice for when Matt comes back along? Or did you just feel sorry for me?"
"No, of course not. I kissed you because I wanted to. I don't love Matt – I never did."
He paused. "What?"
It was finally time to throw myself out on a limb. I was done being the composed, inhibited Remy. She wasn't perfect at all, and besides, I liked the real Remy much better. And apparently, so did Jack.
"I know I pretend like I hate you, but I don't." I swallowed. "Just the opposite, actually."
A smile was slowly starting to form on his face. "Oh yeah?"
"Oh yeah," I murmured softly. "I've been in denial for a long time, but I'm ready to face the truth." I lowered my voice into a mock-whisper. "I'm changing my creative writing essay topic to you. And that means you're replacing mustard."
"Oh, man. That's intense." He looked impressed. "So what does that mean?"
Before, with Matt, I knew that I would pick mustard over him, any day. But when it came to the infuriating, obnoxious boy who knew just what to say to drive me up the wall, I wasn't so sure. Because as much as I loved mustard, tasting its zesty flavor couldn't quite top the fluttery feeling I got when I saw Jack.
I smiled and pulled him closer until my face was directly in front of his. "It means," I whispered, "that I love you too."
Jack grinned and closed the gap between us, and I smiled against his lips.
Yep, this was definitely better than mustard.
So what did you think about my very first one-shot?
Review, my loves! :)