I'd been watching him all afternoon.
He didn't notice, hard as that must have been, what with me being a whole three feet away from him the whole time, but he's not renowned for his powers of observation. The fact that I'd been watching him so closely – stealing glances out of the corner of my eyes whenever I got a chance – made me feel like a stalker, but I needn't have worried about him thinking that. He didn't know. He never did.
I'd been watching her, too. Watching her sway to the sides, wavering dangerously, and attempt to keep up with her line, always either out of step or out of formation. Marching wasn't exactly hard, and she played the lightest instrument of all. But she was having more difficulty with it than any of the others in her row – or any of the others in the band, really. Which only intensified my feelings of contempt. Not like I hadn't already had enough.
Now I saw her turn away from the others after we'd turned into the parking lot at school and flip open her phone. She talked to someone, looked as though she were arguing, and then her face fell noticeably. Hanging up the phone, she slowly began to put away her flute, looking at her feet.
He walked up to her, and they started talking, too quietly for me to hear. He started walking with her, and I sighed and walked ahead, knowing they wouldn't try to catch up to me. Wondered, not for the first time, how he couldn't see.
Who had even told me she liked him? I couldn't even remember anymore; could only remember that hating her had become so much a part of my thoughts about him by now that it was all I could think about. Angry thoughts – she doesn't even play the same instrument as him! She's not in any other music groups, the way he is! She surely doesn't care about band the same way he does! He belonged with someone else. Someone like me.
Besides, she couldn't march. Irritation and contempt settled over the rock-hard knot of jealousy at my core, and I walked faster, trying to get away from my thoughts. Trying to get away from them.
But after I'd eaten what I wanted of our seemingly-endless supply of food, talked with everyone I wanted to see, and after the kickball game had begun and he and Ophelia were both playing, I couldn't find anyone to talk with. My eyes settled on Sophie, who at least I knew, who was talking to Horatio's current girlfriend and a third person. I couldn't tell who it was, but as I went closer, I could tell that it was her.
I didn't want to talk to her, but there wasn't really anything else I wanted to do, either. I didn't want to walk around by myself like I didn't have any friends – this wouldn't be any fun if I didn't talk to someone. Maybe it wouldn't be too bad. And I was friends with Sophie, sort of. So, steeling myself, I went over and joined them.
I don't remember what they were talking about. Not at first. I just sort of played along, going with the flow and wishing he, Ophelia, Lacey – anyone – would show up to save me. Though he probably wouldn't be of much help, based on his earlier constant chatting with her. But I didn't know how I could possibly talk to this girl I naturally despised with every fiber of my being until this day was over.
But as the conversation turned to Harry Potter, I realized I was running out of reasons to hate her. How could a girl who loved this series as much as I did be all bad? I was struggling to find more reasons she was irritating, worthless, just plain bad news, but aside from my jealousy there was nothing else that I could find. Still I fought against starting to like her against my will.
But then he walked up. He turned to me and Sophie and said hi briefly – I couldn't help noticing that her eyes stayed on him a second too long, that her gaze was a little too intense, that she seemed to be thinking the same sort of thing I did in his presence – before turning to her and asking, "Vera, are you ready to go? My mom's here."
"Sure," she said brightly. "Better check and make sure I have everything – I forget things way too easily. It's really not natural in a human being." She laughed, gathered up her flute and lyre, and hugged Portia – I had learned Horatio's girlfriend's name – goodbye. Sophie, surprising me, gave her a hug, at which she seemed unsure. After only a second of hesitation, she returned it. Then she looked at me. She looked a little awkward, not sure what to do, before settling to smile at me and say, "Bye! See you . . . sometime!"
Then she turned to him. "Ready?"
He nodded, but before they could leave Sophie shocked me again and turned to hug him, too. He put his arms around her a little awkwardly, before giving me a similar goodbye to hers (a friendly, "Bye, Agatha! I'll see you in jazz tomorrow!"). Then he turned to her and they both headed off toward the red car in the distance, turning to wave back at us. Ophelia showed up, but I was watching them walk together, talking animatedly.
And suddenly, hating her didn't seem so difficult anymore.