AN: My name is SAMMY. I like to DANCE. Those were both LIES! Let's make some LOVE!
That didn't rhyme.
Before I leave the bathroom, I always lean against the door to listen to the toilet finish flushing. As the water rushes around and the sounds crescendo in the tank, I have revelations.
It was in this position that I came to terms with the death of my fish, and it is in this position that I am currently coming to terms with my first heartbreak.
I suppose my destiny is to always be recycled, just like this contaminated water. No matter how long I sit still, something will eventually disrupt my existence. Someone will infect me, and then dispose of me.
"Hattie," my sister yells, pounding on the door. "I don't have time for your theatrics right now! I have to get to class!"
I dab at my eyes hastily with my sleeve and yank open the door. Rachel glares at me, pushing past quickly to reach her make up bag.
"Do you think this would have happened if I was a hot girl?" I ask gloomily.
Rachel sighs. "Are you seriously still thinking about that jerk? Just get over it."
"He was my first love," I protest. "I can't just get over it."
"First love?" she says, wrinkling her nose. "Geez, you need to stop watching those dramas."
"Ha Ni never abandoned Seung Jo!" I wail. "He was such a jerk, though. Ha Ni was so stupid. Why did she put up with that?"
"Please stop talking..."
"It doesn't work like that in real life, you know!"
"I need to concentrate right now, Hattie..."
"BUT WHY?" I cry. She flinches, and a large glob of mascara splats on her cheek. She curses, rubbing at it frantically.
"Hattie," she says. "Shut up or get out."
I get out. Not quickly, though. I do that thing that depressed people do— I drag my feet and hang my head and assume the basic pity-me face. "Nobody wants me," I mumble. She ignores my comment, slamming the door behind me.
Henri, our cat, is lounging on my bed when I enter my room. He looks up at me coldly as I walk in, clearly annoyed when I slump down beside him.
"Henri, I'm having a bad week."
He cocks his head, eyes narrowing.
"Charlie cheated on me," I explain, stroking his head. He yawns and stretches; I suppose it's because he's already heard this story. "I wasn't woman enough for him."
He blinks slowly.
"Why Sofia Lopez?" I ask. "Why? She's not even that pretty. She's like, average. Maybe slightly above average. But still."
Henri's head droops, and he closes his eyes.
"I'm average," I say, pounding my fist on the bed. "At least!"
He jumps, startled, and hisses at me.
"No, Henri, wait!" I say, but he hops off the bed and walks off, pausing at the door momentarily to shoot me a huffy look. "Nobody likes me," I sigh, covering my face with a pillow.
I met Charlie in my sophomore year of high school. He was cute and he'd forgotten his lunch, so I tentatively offered him my sandwich one day during AP World History.
He'd smiled at me, and I'd blushed, and, from that day forward, we were on a first-name basis with each other.
"Hey Hattie," he'd say politely in the hallways.
"Hullo Charlie," I'd reply, looking away bashfully.
It was wonderful.
Of course, everyone knew that I liked him. He was very graceful about it. Not once did he make me feel uncomfortable. I mean, that was mostly because we didn't have actual conversations, but still.
Our tentative acquaintanceship levelled up over the summer, at my friend Marina's birthday party. Now, Marina was super nice, but I usually avoided her shindigs. She'd insisted on my attendance this time, however, so, despite my discomfort, I attended the gathering. Her parents weren't home, and the smell of stale booze permeated the air as I picked my way through the house.
I found Charlie lying drunk on the back porch later that night.
I would've left him, but there was something about the way his hair fell in his eyes and the way his chest rose and fell that made me want to curl up next to him. I didn't, of course, but I thought about it. After an inappropriate amount of staring, I turned to go back inside. His voice, however, stopped me.
"Is that Hattie Edwards?" he asked, slightly hoarsely.
My heart dropped into my stomach.
"Y-yeah," I squeaked.
"What are you doing here?" He lifted himself up onto his elbows to gaze blearily at me.
"Marina... friend... grade school," I mumbled, pulling at my sleeves. "I'll... go now."
"No," he said. "Come."
So I did. I sank to the ground beside him, crossing my legs.
"Hattie Edwards," he repeated. "Hey."
"Hullo," I replied.
"Hattie," he said, as if tasting the word. "That's such a weird name."
"I mean, it's old-fashioned," I said, shrugging. "But it's alright."
He giggled. Like, an actual giggle. I stared at him.
"Hattie," he said, chuckling. "More like hottie." He tried to wink at me, but couldn't quite pull it off in his inebriated state.
Oh my God.
"That's the worst line I've ever heard anyone say ever," I blurted. "Oh my God."
His laughter only increased until he was gasping for breath, tears streaming down his cheek.
"You liked it," he accused.
"I might have," I said, shaking my head in disbelief. "But it was awful."
"Can I kiss you?" he asked.
"Yes," I said quickly. Too quickly. He laughed again.
"Then pucker up, hottie," he said. His slurring was worse, but I wasn't paying attention to that. He leaned forward slowly, and I trembled. Just as his lips were about to brush mine, however, he froze, clapping a hand over his mouth.
"Charlie?" I asked, frazzled.
Then he vomited all over my shoes.
Now, this was clearly not the ideal start to a relationship. But I persevered and fought through my disgust. I grabbed his limp body under the armpits and dragged him up into a shaky standing position, draping his arm over my shoulders. "I want to go home," he whined softly. I cringed; his breath smelled terrible.
"Home?" I hesitated. "I... give me your car keys."
"No car keys," he mumbled. "I got a ride."
"Who's your ride?"
"I don't remember."
"It's pretty late," I said as we entered the house. "Are you sure they're still here?"
"Shhh..." he whispered, stumbling over the carpet. "I'm meditating."
"What's wrong with him?" Marina asked, walking over to us. "People are starting to leave. You can go now, if you want."
"Glad to have your permission," I said, rolling my eyes. "Look, I'm just going to dump him on the couch, okay? He's not speaking coherently."
Her eyes widened. "Is that...?"
"Yeah," I said hurriedly.
"No," I said. "He had some issues."
"Where are your shoes?"
He pushed away from me then, and stumbled over to the couch himself. "Hattie?" he called. I walked over. "Take care of me?"
I bit my lip. "I... I guess I can take you home."
"I'd like that," he said. "Are your parents home? I can be quiet."
I dropped him off at his house around three in the morning. I didn't think he was that aware of my presence by the end, as he staggered up his front steps and into his home. I drove away, my emotions churning, and tried not to think about it.
"Multigrain bagels," I mutter, scanning the shelves of my local grocery store. "Multigrain. Who even gets multigrain?"
"Stop it!" I flinch as someone speaks from the next aisle over. It's a boy. And a girl. I can see them when I peek through the shelves.
"Multigrain," I repeat, slightly louder, to calm my nerves. "I'm looking for multigrain."
The girl giggles loudly. She knocks into the other side of the shelf and I back away, frightened, as a packet of bagels falls.
"Multigrain," I say again. "Multigrain."
Mom sent me shopping in the hopes that it would get my mind off of my problems. Sadly, half of my basket is comfort food.
I can't help myself—I walk around, my legs trembling, to catch a glimpse of the couple.
Charlie is dancing his hands up Sofia Lopez's sides, and she's giggling, playfully hitting him in the chest.
"Oh," I say. My voice is too loud. They turn, quickly sobering.
A very pregnant pause envelops us.
"Multigrain," I finally say, holding up my bagels. "Who even gets multigrain?"
"Let's go," Charlie whispers then. He takes her hand and pulls her away. She glances back at me as they leave. She looks sorry.
Charlie and I didn't start talking again immediately. It actually took about a week for him to fully understand what happened. One Monday morning, he was waiting for me at my desk when I walked into AP World.
"Hi," I said. "You're in my seat." My voice didn't tremble once. Since I'd seen him inebriated, he was less intimidating.
"The bell hasn't rung yet," he said. "So this seat is anyone's."
"Did you want something?" I asked, enjoying having the upper hand in the conversation.
"Yeah," he said, swallowing. "I guess I haven't thanked you for driving me home that night."
"You were babbling," I said.
"I remember," he said, shaking his head. "Sort of."
"Okay. You're welcome."
He stood up to let me pass, but didn't go back to his seat. "Listen," he said. "Do you want me to buy you lunch today?"
"I feel bad," he said. "I think I did something wrong that night."
"Do you remember what it was?" I asked.
"I think I..." he paused, rubbing the back of his neck. "I think I kissed you."
Ouch. "Oh," I said, my gaze dropping to my desk. He narrowed his eyes at me, noticing the change in mood. "It's okay. You just puked on my shoes."
"Are you serious?" he asked, eyes widening. "That's like fifty times worse!"
"It's okay," I said, shrugging. "It came out."
"Jesus," he said. "That's disgusting. I'm so sorry."
"Let me take you to a movie," he blurted. I raised an eyebrow at him, trying to ignore the pounding of my heart.
"Are you serious?"
"Completely," he said. "Utterly. Serious. I swear. You deserve it."
Don't act too eager. Don't act too eager. Don't act too eager.
"Okay," I said cheerfully. He smiled brightly, and stuck out his hand.
"Your phone number, please."
I feel proud of myself for not crying in the grocery store. Only when I get home do I finally collapse into tears against my bedroom door.
"You're pretty, Hattie," Marina says patiently over the phone. "Just get a new man."
"B-but I don't want a n-new man," I sob. "I j-just want Charlie."
"Hattie, stop," she says firmly. "Put down the muffin and listen to me."
I release my grip on the pastry, slightly troubled that she knew what I was eating.
"You are a strong, independent woman," she says. "Say that to yourself. Right now."
"I-I am a s-strong, independent woman," I repeat.
"You don't need some jerk-off like Charlie."
"I d-don't need s-s-some jerk-off like Ch-Charlie."
"Now," she says. "Repeat that to yourself every morning and watch your self-esteem grow."
"Is this actually going to work?"
It doesn't work.
Two weeks later, I still feel like a loser every time I cross paths with them in the hallways. He doesn't acknowledge me anymore. I think it's because I make him uncomfortable. I'm a constant reminder of his dickishness.
I've come to that understanding. I know he's in the wrong, and I'm aware that he's a jerk.
But I can't stop liking him. Angry moths still swarm in my stomach whenever I catch his eye. My heart still beats faster when I pass by his desk.
"Why are girls so prone to liking jerks, anyway?" Marvin, my AP Bio partner asks, spying me sighing again. "Seriously."
"Do I look like I know the answer?" I ask. "Just keep skinning. Oh God, that's disgusting."
We're dissecting a cat. It's gruesome, so Marvin is taking the lead on this.
"You date the jerks and you throw the nice guys away," he grumbles. "Always. Every time. Would you ever date me? No. Just Charlie. Even though he messes around and is disrespectful and... and... yeah."
"Don't whine," I reply, clutching my stomach. "You can't just stick nice coins into girls and expect sex."
"You're annoying," he says, yanking at the cat's flesh roughly. A large strip comes off, and I make a face.
"Perhaps you could let Hattie do some of the work for once, Marvin?" Ms. Andrews says shrewdly as she walks by our table. "You opted to dissect instead of do book work, Hattie. That means you have to be helping."
"Uh..." I swallow hard, staring at the cat. "S-sure." As she watches, I tentatively reach for a loose flap of skin. I grit my teeth and give it a yank. It barely rips, small drops of fluid jumping as a result. I persevere, holding the cat down with one hand to get a good grip. When I accidentally brush my arm against the cool, slick surface of the cat's exposed abdominal muscles, however, I screech.
My stomach clenches, and sweat beads down my forehead.
"You okay?" Marvin asks, staring at me. "You're getting pale."
"I feel pretty bad," I say, closing my eyes and breathing quickly.
"You should've done the alternate assignment," Ms. Andrews chastises. I regret nothing; the alternate assignment looked awful and long and boring.
"You look like you're going to puke," Marvin observes. Ms. Andrews peers more closely at me, her face puckering worriedly.
"M-may I go to the restroom?" I ask.
"I'll take her!" Marvin starts, but Ms. Andrews glares at him.
"Finish your assignment, young man. We can't have both of you gone," she says. "Hattie, go ahead."
I strip my gloves off, relieved, and speed-walk out of there.
It's nice that I got out of both assignments, but I really do feel dizzy. I stop just outside the bathrooms, sliding down into a sitting position against the wall. Nausea rises, and I groan softly.
The door to the boys' bathroom swings open, and Charlie walks out, drying his hands on his jeans. He freezes.
"Hattie?" he says, stepping closer. "What's wrong?"
This is the opposite of helpful.
"Nothing," I say, avoiding his gaze. Leave me alone.
"Are you sick?" he asks. "Jesus. You look sick."
I should puke on his shoes.
"Uh..." he shuffles his feet, looking uncomfortable. "D'you... Should I take you to the health room?"
"Please don't feel at all obligated to stay here," I snap. Ooh. I guess I'm past the grief stage of separation.
"Hattie..." He reaches tentatively to touch my shoulder, but I flinch.
I get up and walk into the girls' bathroom, grateful for a barrier he can't cross. Once there, the bile rises quickly, and I barely manage to make it into a stall before I throw up.
I rinse my mouth out at the sink, wincing at my reflection in the mirror. Thank goodness he came across me at my most attractive.
"Are we dating?" I asked.
Charlie put down his ice cream, his brow furrowing.
"I mean, I was just wondering," I said.
"We haven't officially called it dating," he said, staring at the park bench.
I raised an eyebrow. We'd been seeing each other privately for two months now.
"So it's okay if I see other people then," I remarked, slurping up the last of my cone. "Since we're not dating."
"What other people?" he said, frowning.
"I mean, Marina said she had someone she wanted to introduce me to," I said. "I didn't know what to say, since I hadn't talked to you yet."
"But you like me," he said. "Why would you go out with someone else if you like me?"
"Do you like me?" I replied.
"Of course!" he said indignantly.
"Why would you go out with someone else if you like me?"
"Oh," he said, eyes twinkling. "I see what you did there."
"Whatever," I said, crossing my legs. "It doesn't matter."
"Hattie," he said, his voice suddenly solemn. "Let's make it official." I leaned forward to lick some vanilla from the corner of his lips, and he grinned, pulling me into a deeper kiss.
"Such a quick response," he muttered against the shell of my ear.
"Shut up," I replied.
"Hattie," Marina says, "This is Rose. Rose, this is Hattie."
Rose smiles at me, tucking a strand of long, blonde hair behind her ear. "It's so nice to meet you," she says shyly.
"You too," I reply, trying to smile back. I hope I seem pleasant. I can't help it if new people intimidate me. "Um. I like your dress?" It's cute and blue and flowy.
She blushes, twisting her hands together. This girl clearly has more communication issues than I do. For some reason, this calms me.
"Rose likes to read," Marina says, placing a hand on Rose's shoulder. "Why don't you guys discuss books? I have hostess duties to attend to." She wanders out of the kitchen and back into her party.
This feels excessively forced, but I agree to stay. I mean, I'm not one to object to a new friendship. I don't have that many.
"I like to paint," Rose says. I can barely hear her voice over the sound of the party, but she seems a little more confident now that Marina isn't looming over us.
"That's cool," I say, unsure of how to react. "Um. What do you paint?"
"People, mostly," she says. "Strangers. Sometimes I'll do landscapes, but not too much."
"That's... great," I reply, shuffling my feet.
"You have a very distinctive mouth," she says, standing tippy-toed to look at me more closely. She's a few inches shorter than me, but I lean back slightly, the proximity startling me.
"I'd like to paint it someday," she says.
"That's... very nice," I say.
So far, Rose seems far too immersed in her craft for my taste. If she keeps talking about painting, I'm going to find some way to subtly exit the conversation.
"You're very beautiful," she blurts suddenly, blushing. "Oh God. I can't believe I said that."
"That's okay," I say, trying to sound reassuring. "Um. You're pretty too?"
She is pretty. She's small and girly and big-eyed.
"It's so nice to meet you finally," Rose says. "Marina talked so much about you, and I just wanted to thank you for agreeing."
"I'm always up for meeting new people," I say, shrugging. She's a strange child, Rose.
"It means the world to me," she says, "Because, well... I mean, it's my first time meeting someone else, and I haven't even told my parents yet—"
"Wait, what?" I interrupt, confused. "What did Marina tell you about me?"
"Oh, I'm sorry!" she says, clapping a hand over her mouth. "I just assumed... I just assumed you were out."
"Out of where?"
She's babbling, though, and doesn't answer my question. "This is such a small town, so meeting another girl like me is such a relief."
"How are my favorite girls?" Marina cuts in cheerfully, sashaying into the kitchen. "Are you hitting it off?"
"I'm not gay," I say bluntly. "Is that what this is about?"
Rose freezes, and Marina frowns. "You told me you were bisexual," she says.
"No, I didn't," I say.
"Yeah you did!" she insists. "Remember? It was during that truth or dare game at Stacy Proud's house!"
"I've never been to Stacy Proud's house!"
"Oh my God," Marina says, jaw dropping. "That wasn't you? Oh my God, this is so awkward now. I told Rose that—"
"Yes, I get what you told Rose," I say, rolling my eyes.
"I'm so embarrassed!" Rose says, covering her face with her hands.
"It's totally okay," I say quickly. "Like, it's fine, really. I was just confused about the situation."
"This sucks," Marina says, pouting. "I was going to set you two up!"
"When did I tell you I wanted to be set up?" I say, annoyed.
"No, you don't understand," she presses, her words slurring slightly. "Charlie's here. I was going to have him walk in on you fooling around with a hot girl."
"That's the dumbest idea you've ever had."
"He would've been jealous!" she says huffily. "It would've been beautiful."
"I can still help, if you want," Rose pipes up, still blushing. Golly, that girl can blush. "Honestly, it's no trouble. You've been so nice."
"I'm not going to fool around with someone just to make him jealous," I snap at Marina. "What kind of point would that prove? Also, he knows I'm not bisexual."
Marina sighs, poking her head around the doorway towards the crowd outside. "I guess you're right..." she says. "Wait. Oh my God, he's coming this way!"
My stomach flips, and, despite my words, I feel my resolve weaken. I turn to Rose, and she shrugs.
"Go for it," she says.
So, as Charlie steps through the doorway, I do go for it. I pull little Rose up by the front of her dress and crash my lips onto hers.
"Holy shit. Hattie?"
I ignore him, my heart pounding fiercely, and continue kissing Rose.
"Hattie!" he says again, his voice breaking. I turn to face him; he looks bewildered.
"Hi," I say, attempting to appear nonchalant.
"What..." He swallows, his eyes searching mine. "What were you doing?"
"That's not your business," Marina cuts in, a satisfied grin plastered on her face.
"It's good to see you're well, Charlie," I interrupt, moving to leave the room. "I guess I'll see you around."
"What's this scar from?" Charlie asked, his fingers tracing my ankle lightly. "It looks wicked."
We were sitting on his basement couch watching a movie together, my legs thrown over his. Unfortunately, as I was wearing shorts, Charlie found himself fascinated with the various imperfections of my bare skin.
"I cut myself shaving."
"What about this one?" He points towards a round one, also on my ankle.
"A mosquito bite."
"You're not supposed to pick at them. That's how they scar."
"Thank you for your input," I said, rolling my eyes. "Now why don't you pay attention?"
"I've already seen this movie."
"Well, I haven't."
"What about this one?" he asked, his hand sliding up to my thigh. I flinched violently, and batted his hand away. He laughed, wrapping an arm around my waist to pull me closer. "You can't be mad at me. You love me."
"Sometimes," I said, squirming away from him. "Sometimes."
The heat begins slowly but surely, and before I know it, the sogginess of April turns into the oppressive warmth of May.
School's almost over, at least. After months of exhaustive exams, I await summer break eagerly.
"It's so hot," Marina complains, far too loudly for a library setting. Mrs. Cole, our school librarian shushes us, but she continues whining. "Seriously. Girls are just using the weather as an excuse to dress slutty."
I say nothing; Marina is wearing short shorts and a tank top, so I don't think she has the right to talk.
"Like, did you see Carter Griffiths? You can basically see half of her butt. What a whore."
Mrs. Cole shushes us again.
"And don't even get me started on Sofia Lopez—"
"Marina," I interrupt. "You know I'd be happy to listen to your complaints some other time. But right now I'm in the middle of typing up a paper and I'd appreciate silence."
She wrinkles her nose. "God, I can't believe you're actually doing that."
"Some of us care about grades."
"I care too!" she protests. "I'm aiming to scrape a low B. I can skip a couple of homework assignments."
I sigh, hitting the print button and getting up.
"Tell your friend to lower her voice," Mrs. Cole whispers, handing me my paper at the circulation desk.
"I'm sorry about her," I whisper back, but she just shrugs.
"It's not your fault, dear."
Damn straight it's not my fault! Marina has her feet up on my chair when I get back to the computers, and she's texting furiously.
"Hey," she says. "Guess what?"
"What?" I reply, wearily slinging my backpack over my shoulder.
"Charlie asked Sofia to prom today during lunch."
My stomach twists. "Why do you have to tell me things like that?" I say, frowning. "I don't care about their personal lives. I finally want to move on."
"Anyways, are you going?" she asks. "Because if you are, you should hurry up and get a date."
"Why would I go? I hate dancing, and I hate dates."
"You don't hate dates," she replies swiftly. "You hate assholes. So get a date who isn't an asshole."
"There's not an appealing boy in the school who isn't an asshole," I grumble. "Even the nice ones want something eventually."
"Just ask Marvin," Marina says. "He'd go in a heartbeat."
"I'm not going to just use Marvin," I say. "He does my Bio labs for me."
"So, technically, you're already using him," she points out. "What's one more night? You show up looking hot, and then proceed to make out with him in front of Charlie."
"You have the worst ideas," I reply. "I might as well just take Rose again."
"I said I was sorry about that! But it totally worked out," she insists. "You got his attention."
"I don't want his attention," I say. "How many times do I have to tell you this? It's over. Drop it."
"It's not over until you win him back," she says stubbornly. "And even then, it's not over until you cheat on him."
"You're a crazy person."
"I get what I want," she says. "Do you?"
Well. "Sometimes," I say, shrugging. "Sometimes."
"What is wrong with you?" Charlie snapped, finally releasing my wrist and turning to glare at me. His voice was loud; it echoed across the empty parking lot. I winced, glad that friends were inside.
"Me?" I replied incredulously. "I'm not the one going psycho over nothing."
"I swear to God, you make everything so complicated," he bit back. "Can't you just be a normal person for once in your life? I just wanted you to meet my friends. That's all. I just wanted you to meet them and be calm and maybe talk a little. That's all."
"I'm sorry I can't converse intelligently about baseball," I retorted. "What else was I supposed to do?"
"You weren't supposed to act like an antisocial freak," he said angrily. "You didn't even pretend to like them!"
"I didn't do anything wrong!"
"You didn't even laugh at their jokes!"
"Their jokes were stupid!"
He just shook his head, clearly frustrated. "This was important to me. And you just dismissed that."
"You're making a big deal over nothing," I said, crossing my arms over my chest. "I met them. I know their names, they know mine. It's done. That's what you wanted. None of them even cared."
"I cared," he growled. "They're going to ask me why I'm dating such a bitch. And I won't even be able to say anything because that's how you acted today!"
The words stung. "You know I'm not a people person," I said quietly. "I haven't exactly hidden that from you."
"Get over it," he said. "If you don't make an effort with people, they're not going to care to make an effort with you. Both parties have to contribute in a relationship."
"I'm fine with my pre-established relationships, thanks."
"Then keep being frigid," he snarled. "I hope that works out for you."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" I snapped. "Charlie!"
He turned and walked away, not sparing another glance in my direction as he went to rejoin his friends in the gym.
"You make me unhappy," I whisper when I see Charlie sprawled on the bench outside the school. He probably missed his bus. School ended almost an hour and a half ago, but his mom works pretty late. Chances are, he won't get home until five.
I drive to school, however, so staying after to make up a test has no huge impact on my schedule. I push open the door and walk out briskly, allowing my hair to swing over my face in the hopes that he doesn't recognize me.
Unfortunately, his presence frazzles me so much that I apparently forget how to walk. The toe of my sneaker catches on the sidewalk, and I fall forward, scraping my arms and legs as I land.
Sticky blood coats the injured skin, and I let slip a whimper of pain, forgetting for a moment where I am.
"Jesus, are you okay?" Before I can react, Charlie's arm wraps around my waist and he hoists me up gingerly.
"I'm fine," I mumble, mortified, and jerk away from him. "Thanks."
"Can you walk?"
"They're just scrapes."
"Right, right..." He smiles, despite the tension. "Well. At least you'll have some more cool scars to show off."
At another time, I would have laughed at this. My teenage angst, however, does not allow me to enjoy Charlie's attempt at humor. Instead, it reminds me that I'm not supposed to joke around with him because he cheated on me, and I cried about it a lot, and it was generally just really awful.
"Bye Charlie," I say dully. His face falls as I turn to leave. I'm almost at the student parking lot when I hear his voice again.
"Hattie," he calls, jogging to catch up to me. "Hey, Hattie!"
I pause. "What?"
"Listen," he says. "I'm sick of this. Can't we just be friends?"
"Do you need a ride home?" I ask, narrowing my eyes at him.
He nods sheepishly. "Well, yeah. That's not why I'm saying this though—"
"What?" He looks baffled. "Look, I apologized for what I did, and I'm telling you that I want to start again with you—"
"And I'm calmly rejecting your offer."
"Hattie," he pleads. "I'm tired of feeling bad every time I see you. I just want us to be okay."
"What does okay even mean?"
"It means... like before."
Like before? Holding hands and watching movies and staying up late?
"I'm not really over what happened," I say, flushing. "Um. So. No."
"Hattie," he says, sighing. "We were going to break up eventually. It's not like you expected to marry me or something."
"I didn't," I say, blinking back tears. "But I expected you to be a better person."
"Why am I the one who ends up with the worst jobs?" Charlie said, gritting his teeth.
"Darling, you mustn't get too worked up about it," I cooed.
He grimaced, pumping the toilet plunger faster. As the oldest of his siblings, most of the gross chores were reserved for him. Recently, with the growing frailty of their basement's plumbing, this included frequently unclogging the downstairs toilet.
"Look at you," I said, grinning. "Such strong arms."
"All the better to hold you with," he replied, rolling his eyes. "Thank god." The blockage rose up, and Charlie put the plunger down, relieved.
"Wash your hands," I reminded him. He obliged, and then moved to join me on the couch.
"Was that attractive?" he asked, cupping my cheek with his hand.
"Totes," I said. "You smell nice today," I added, taking a whiff of his shirt collar.
He kissed the top of my head. "You smell like strawberries," he said thoughtfully. "Strawberries and bunny butts."
I grabbed his chin and squeezed upwards until he was making a face, his mouth open. "You're so handsome," I said. "Like a tree. Or a pie."
"You're handsome too," he said, taking both of my hands in his. "Like Brad Pitt. Or a monkey."
He moved closer, not breaking eye contact, until his mouth was almost brushing mine. "What would you do if I head-butted you right now?" I whispered, touching my nose to his. His lips quirked into a smile, and he pushed me unceremoniously off the couch.
"Leave it to you to ruin a moment."
In a moment of unpredictable sisterly affection, Rachel decides to take me shopping. For her, this means scanning the shelves for new clothes. For me, this means purchasing ice cream.
"So now I'm trying to wrestle with the complexities of human relationships," I explain to her through a mouthful of mint chocolate chip.
"That's nice," she says, holding up a t-shirt. "Okay. Lori said that aquamarine isn't my color. What do you think?"
"It's cute," I say. She beams, throwing it into our cart. "You know what I realized?"
"What?" she asks absentmindedly.
"After a relationship ends, there's this urge to focus on all the bad stuff that happened," I say. "But it wasn't only bad stuff, you know? Like, Charlie and I had a lot of genuinely good times, and that's why I was so sad. I'm going to miss them so much. Do you want some ice cream?"
"God no. Think of the calories," she says, shuddering. "Okay. I need a new jean skirt."
"But nothing is permanent," I continue. "You know, you see all these movies and read all these books and the girl ends up with her guy and you think it's not going to be complicated... but it is. Because happy endings don't exist. Life doesn't stop when you're happy. It keeps going until you aren't happy anymore."
"You're such a chatterbox today."
"And none of this matters anyway because it's not like we're going to the same university. I mean, let's face it... who am I going to stay friends with after high school? Marina?"
"Hm... is this too short, do you think?" she asks, running her fingers over a summer dress.
"Of COURSE it's too short. NOTHING IS PERMANENT," I say loudly, taking Rachel by the shoulders. "Do you realize what that means?"
"Oh my god," she hisses, jerking away from me. "I can't take you anywhere."
"All relationships end," I stress. "ALL OF THEM."
"Why did I think this was a good idea?" she grumbles.
"It doesn't matter who Charlie goes to prom with," I say. "It really doesn't."
"So you've become a defeatist. Congratulations."
"You're kidding," he said. "Marvin? Marvin Fletcher?"
I'd imagined dating Charlie Grayson many times in the past, but the actual experience turned out rather different. I never thought that he'd be so temperamental.
"Yes," I said. "I'm going to his house. We're filming a Bio project."
"Can't you do it with Marina?"
"She's not in that class," I replied. "Besides, who cares? It's just a project."
"But he likes you."
"Since when?" I said dismissively.
"Since you gave him your sandwich that day," Charlie said, narrowing his eyes. "Why you do that, anyway? Is that just your way of attracting males?"
"Yes, we all know what a temptress I am," I said, rolling my eyes.
"I'm being serious here!" he complained.
"Are you aware that you are the only boy I've ever dated?" I asked. "Sometimes I think you forget."
"Then give me a break," I plead. "I don't want to argue."
He stared at me, his face unreadable. "Fine," he finally said, shrugging. "I'll give you a break."
AP US History is easily my least favorite class. The sheer amount of memorization required is inhumane, and my teacher has the most sleep-inducing voice I've ever come across. Now that the AP test has passed, however, Mr. Stork makes us pass the time with a series of meaningless, twenty-point partner projects.
Now, this doesn't normally matter to me, since I typically just pair up with my Official In-Class Friend, Raven Drake. However, Mr. Stork has decided that, to mix things up a bit, he will be choosing our partners. This does not register fully until he calls my name.
"Sofia Lopez and Hattie Edwards."
I gape at him, sure I've heard incorrectly. There's no way fate would be so cruel, I think, but my hope is quickly quelled when Sofia sits next to me.
She clears her throat. "Um. Hi."
I stare at her and her shiny black hair and her perfectly tanned skin and her delicately glossed lips.
Look at you. You're so pale and plain. Did you really think he'd pass her up for you?
"So, the project..." she mumbles. "Do you want to just split the work? I'll could do five events before the Civil War, you could do five after."
The project is to make a powerpoint of your favorite ten moments in US history. Honestly, I don't really have any, but I like it when people aren't being racist or sexist or needlessly aggressive.
"That sounds fine," I force out.
Her prom dress is probably gorgeous.
"I..." she trails off, uncertain. "Okay. If we write up our information, only one of us has to type it." I think she's waiting for me to volunteer for this, but I don't. She flushes. "Or, you know. I could just do it."
"Sounds good," I say.
She sucks in her cheeks, clearly uncomfortable. I like that she's uncomfortable.
As we sit there, I find myself wondering about her and Charlie's relationship. Do they banter? She doesn't seem like the type. They probably just make out a lot. That's important to boys, right? The physical part of things? Maybe she's slept with him. I didn't. He never asked me to. I probably would've said no, but still. Was he not attracted to me?
"Looking forward to prom?" I say. I'm speaking. Why am I doing that?
She looks up, startled. "Yeah," she says.
"What does your dress look like?" Again. Why am I casually chatting to this girl?
"It's, um, blue," she says. "Are... are you going?"
Ha. "No," I say, shrugging. "Not my thing." Also, no date. But whose fault is that?
I feel remarkably un-hostile as I watch her. She's just a girl, I realize. She's a pretty girl who likes a pretty boy who isn't good at liking just one girl.
"I hope you have fun," I say, trying to smile, but she looks terrified.
"I'm uncomfortable with the seriousness of this," Charlie said through a mouthful of popcorn.
"I'm uncomfortable with your face," I replied. "Shut up, this part is adorable."
"They're both so melodramatic. I hate this show."
"It's my birthday. Be quiet." The main characters moved closer to each other on screen, and I smiled.
"She's pathetic," he complained. "He's a jerk. I can't believe you're into this."
"You like me. You can only like me."
"I'm tired of having a crush! You never even see me-"
He kissed her, and I squealed.
"We are getting married."
Charlie groaned. "Seriously?"
"Cheese Louise," I said, poking him in the ribs. "It's a drama. Get over it."
"I've seen commercials with more depth."
"Can't you just let me enjoy Seung Jo's face?"
"This is dumb and I can't believe you talked me into watching it with you."
"You're watching it because you're my boyfriend and it's my birthday and the least you could do is allow me to enjoy the moment since, you know, you forgot," I snapped.
He looked guilty, at least. "Oh yeah."
"I'll get you your present next week," he promised. "Deal?"
He did not actually get me a present the following week. Instead, I caught him kissing Sofia Lopez by the gym lockers.
"How did it come to this?" I wonder aloud. Marina shrugs, kicking her flip flops off and stretching out on my couch.
"Um. We were both dumped?" she says, eyes glazed over as she watches TV.
"Because Tyler didn't want to spend money on prom, and because Charlie's a douche."
"Do you think we'll stay friends?"
"Are you breaking up with me too?"
"No," I say. "I'm just being realistic."
"Oh my God, stop," she complains. "I came over to take my mind off of dancing, but you're being obnoxiously philosophical."
"Prom is stupid," I say. "It's expensive and loud and totally not worth the effort."
"Yeah, well, some of us aren't freaks," she says, rolling her eyes. "I like dressing up."
"So why didn't you just go?"
"Because I didn't have a date!"
"You didn't need one," I say, frustrated. "Don't you realize this? You don't need a boy to take you dancing. You are capable of going out by yourself."
"I know that," she says, frowning at me. "Why are you acting so knowledgeable, anyway? You don't understand how people work. You never have."
"None of those people matter," I say. "I'm trying to share my newfound wisdom with you but you're not listening."
"You're being weird!" She's clearly annoyed and, for some reason, this makes me feel good.
"Why are we even friends?" I ask. "You don't even listen to me and we don't even like the same things anymore and we can't talk about anything."
I regret speaking immediately. Her eyes narrow, and she sits up.
"We're friends because, even though you clearly think you're too smart for me, you aren't capable of sustaining a relationship with anyone else."
"I'm sorry, that was out of line," I admit. "I don't know what I'm saying half the time anymore."
"Who listened to you babble on and on about Charlie?" she snaps. "Who tried really hard to re-introduce you to society?"
"You did," I say. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I said that."
"I forgive you," she says, her scowl relaxing. "But you need to let go of this stupid phase you're going through."
"This people don't matter phase," she says. "You're a little extremist, aren't you? You're either completely obsessed or completely apathetic."
"That's not even..." I pause, contemplating this. "So?"
"So?" she mimics. "Relationships are made of gray area."
"That's not true," I argue. "When you love someone there's no doubt involved. You just do. You feel it in your twitching legs and in your sweating palms and it's obvious."
She smiles. "You're so young."
"Being a Junior is weird," I say. "You're young but they make you act old."
"We're almost Seniors."
"I know," I say, shuddering. "It's disgusting."
"Speak for yourself," she says. "I can't wait."
"People shouldn't matter," I say. "I shouldn't care about leaving anyone in my high school behind."
"But they do matter," she presses. "And you will care."
Henri dies on May 14 the following year, mere weeks before my high school graduation. We bury him in the backyard. No one cries- my parents have both experienced worse losses, and my sister is far too sensible for such displays.
Honestly, Henri and I never really got along. I'm pretty sure I was his least favorite family member; I have the scratches to prove it. But as I lay dandelions over his resting place, I feel curiously hollow.
"Shouldn't you be, like, depressed?" Marina later asks through a dressing room door. We're shopping for graduation outfits. "You had him for, like, eleven years."
"He was young, wasn't he?" I reply. "Shame, really. I told my parents we should donate him to science, but Rachel didn't want to."
"That's gross," she says. "You wanted him to be dissected?"
"Not by me," I say. "By some needy student. Do you know how expensive those cats are?"
"You're not normal."
I don't know what to do with my life. There are questions pounding my brain and I can't help but feel panicked when Mr. Liverwort presses the diploma into my hand.
I catch Charlie's eye as I walk back to my seat. He looks confused and sleepy.
Then it's over, and my mother hugs me and my father beams and my sister... texts.
Marina drags me into several photos with people I don't like before finally pausing to speak to me.
"It's over," she says, her eyes watery. "Aren't you happy?"
"Yeah," I reply. Because, on some level, I guess I am. I'm glad I won't be getting up at six a.m. to catch the bus anymore, and I'm glad I get a clean slate next school year.
"I'm going to miss you so much," she cries loudly, embracing me clumsily.
"Calm down," I say, patting her back awkwardly. "We still have months left before school actually starts again."
Still, the day is making everything feel fuzzy. Feeling the need for quiet, I pick my way through the crowd to sit on the back steps of the school.
Charlie's sitting there, still looking confused and sleepy. I clear my throat.
"Hey," he says, scooting over. I sit next to him, stretching my legs out and kicking off my heels.
"Hi," I say.
"It's okay." He yawns and rubs his eyes. "Tired?"
"Most definitely," he says. "I, uh... I heard about your cat."
"I'm sorry for your loss."
"It's okay," I say, shrugging. "Henri is in a better place now."
"Since when do you believe in a better place?"
A long pause ensues.
"So you don't hate me anymore?" Charlie finally asks. "That's a relief."
"I never hated you," I say. "Besides, it's been a year. I'm not a child."
"Why aren't you with your friends?" I ask.
"Nauseous?" I say, moving away slightly. "Stay away from me."
"Don't worry," he says, grinning. "I'm just a little worn out."
We look at each other and, for a moment, an old emotion stirs in me. I feel connected to him. I feel like I can hold his hand and touch his hair and kiss him.
Then he looks away, and I snap out of it.
"I guess we're not going to see each other again," he says, pulling idly at his tassel.
"Guess not," I reply. "But it's not like we see much of each other now anyway."
"I guess I'll just keep missing you then," he says, his lips quirking into a smile. "We had fun together."
"That we did."
"HATTIE!" Rachel calls, poking her head around the building. "Mom says it's time to go."
I slip my shoes back on and stand up. "I'll see you around, Charlie."
"Or not," he says, standing up with me. He gives me a quick hug, his eyes sad.
"Or not," I agree.
Charlie and I could've been good friends, I realize. We could've been the kind of friends that still talked after high school. Staying in touch would've been worth the effort.
I forgot a lot about him last year. I forgot how he smiled and how nice his voice was and how comfortably I fit into his arms. I forgot his hands and his chapped lips and his sense of humor.
Despite my acknowledgment of the complexities of relationships, I didn't really make an effort to remember Charlie complexly. Though I recalled our arguments clearly, I forgot how easy it was to be around him.
"Thanks for the memories," I say, and he grins.
"That's so cheesy."
"I know it's cheesy," I say, flushing. "Shut up."
"I enjoyed it," he assures me. "And I enjoyed making those memories."
"I'd like to say I won't forget them, but I might," I say. "It's happened before."
"Charlie!" Charlie's friends call for him. As if on cue, my sister also re-appears to hurry me.
"Alas, we are pulled apart once more," Charlie says, eyes twinkling.
"Goodbye, Charlie," I say, smiling.
"Take care, Hattie."
And, rather unceremoniously, we walk away from each other. I glance back at him as my sister drags me away- he looks content. Certainly less tired.
As I watch my high school shrink in the car's rearview mirror, I hope to feel the same way.
AN: Thanks for reading this far. I appreciate your time. Also, I appreciate my beta reader for reading, as usual.
YOU SHOULD TOTALLY REVIEW.