The Remaining Guesses
Go easy on him?
What in the world was my brother on about. First of all, did he think I would be yelling at O'Brien or something? Second of all, what was Philip even on about?
Pretending to date Heather? Was he out of his mind? Why would anyone in their right mind do this? Why would Heather agree?
A million questions were racing through my head as I marched upstairs, back to the hallway next to the bathroom where I had run into Philip. The more I thought about it, the more worked up I felt.
Just what the hell was going on? And what was the secret society full of secrets that Philip, Caleb, and Heather had formed without me? Why was I in the dark? Just who did any of them think they were?
Ugh the whole thing was just so ridiculous.
By the time I had made my way up to the top of the stairs of Teresa Schilling's house, I was practically stomping.
"Philip O'Brien!" I demanded when I got to the entranceway.
But there was no one there. I had made the demand to an empty hallway.
I looked around, quite surprised. It was just the same hallways with a bunch of closed doors on either side full of party goers who were going who knows what.
Philip was nowhere to be seen.
I don't know why I was so surprised, or why I had expected Philip to stay in the hallway the entire time that I had been outside talking to my brother and Heather, but I had certainly did.
I looked around again, walking over and peering over into the bathroom just to make sure he wasn't still standing there, but there was no sight of him.
"Philip?" I ventured again, hearing my own voice echo back at me off of the closed doors. I cleared my throat and tried again. "O'Brien!"
I swiveled around, but it wasn't Philip who had said that. It had been a girl's voice.
One of the doors to a bedroom was cracked open just a little bit, and my friend Val peered around from behind the door at me.
She looked not even a little embarrassed, but she didn't seem to be feeling nearly as awkward as I was in the moment. I remembered what Maisie had said about Val finally making a move and getting together with Joe Young, and I had no doubt that he was probably standing behind the door in the room with her. It was no wonder she tried to keep the door as tightly shut as possible, only opening it enough to peek her head out.
"Oh hey Val," I said, feeling like I intruded on her private time even though she was the one who had opened the door. "What's up?"
I actually did not want to know what was up, of course. I kind of wished I didn't say O'Brien's name loudly enough for everybody from behind those closed doors to hear me, and I wished that I could somehow slide down the stairs away from the awkwardness I was feeling.
"Were you looking for Philip?" Val asked, as if it was really a question. As if I hadn't just demand Philip appear loudly to the rest of the house. People downstairs had probably heard me.
"Err," I muttered as I rubbed the back of my head, probably messing up my hair. "Er, yes, in fact I was. Have you seen him?"
Val's face brightened a bit at my question, and she nodded enthusiastically. "I have actually! I ran into him like fifteen minutes back when I had to use the bathroom."
I waited, but Val said nothing. She was still looking at me with those large eyes, and I resisted the urge to roll mine.
"Uh...do you know where he went?" I asked impatiently.
"Oh!" Val piped, as if just coming out of a daze and remembering that this was the piece of information that was actually useful to me. She pondered for a second, and then frowned. "Actually...I don't quite remember."
I could feel my fuming start again. Thanks Val, that was really helpful. Was everyone totally cool with not telling me anything that was going on tonight? Was that what was happening?
But just then, a voice piped up from behind her. "He said he went home!"
I instantly recognized this as Joe Young, who I knew was too shy to peek out from behind the bedroom door himself but who good-naturedly wanted to help Val and her poor memory out a little bit.
I was grateful, but it suddenly reminded me that Val was not alone in the bedroom, and I wanted to leave her be and not really stand in this empty hallway like an idiot any longer.
"Okay, thanks guys!" I remarked and then gave a quick wave to Val.
She smiled happily, still not the least bit embarrassed, and then waved goodbye at me.
But now that Philip had left the party…
I mean, wasn't this a little too much? It was one thing to go up the stairs of Teresa's house, in a party that I was already a part of, but it was another thing altogether to stalk Philip to his own house. It wasn't like he owed me any explanations. It wasn't like we had just gotten into a fight and I needed to go out there and demand an apology. If anything, Philip had had a rougher night than I had, and I should probably just leave him alone.
All these thoughts were running through my head when I got to the bottom of the stairs, where my brother and Heather stood.
"Where's Philip?" Caleb frowned at me, as if not understanding why I had come down by myself. "Did you guys get into a fight again?"
I opened my mouth in indignation. "Why do you just presume that we were in a fight?" I demanded.
"That's like your state 99% of the time," my brother said in his same even tone.
That shut me up. It wasn't entirely unfair. Still, I crossed my arms and glared at Caleb.
"He's not here, he went home," I said. "Whatever."
I tried to act like it was no big deal and that I didn't care at all, but Heather stepped forward close to me before I could even complete one full shoulder shrug. She put her hand on my shoulder, and the touch was so surprising that I forgot I was still trying to be indignant at my brother.
"Go talk to him," she said, looking so serious that for a moment I felt like she was some girl who had walked out of a really somber magazine advertisement. Gorgeous face, perfect hair, that solemn expression.
"What? He's home!" I complained, "I'm not going to leave this party to chase down O'Brien for no reason."
Caleb was frowning now. "No reason?" He asked. "I thought you wanted an explanation for everything that was going on tonight."
I just remembered why I was meaning to glare at him. "Why don't you guys just tell me then?" I demanded, stating the obvious answer.
But my brother shook his head. "I told you, it's really Philip's story to tell."
So. Damn. Frustrating.
I rolled my eyes. My mother would tell me it was very unbecoming if she could see me now, but luckily she could not see me now so I was free to look as unbecoming as I pleased, but both Caleb and Heather were driving me up the wall.
"I don't want to know, I don't care," I said in a huff. "If you guys don't want to tell me then so be it!"
That shut my brother up. I could tell that he felt exasperated, but I knew when Caleb would stop pushing, and I knew he would stop now.
What I didn't bank on, however, was Heather being so relentless.
She stepped forward again until she was full on in my personal space. She was frowning at me. It didn't matter, because whatever she said it wasn't going to convince me to go and seek out Philip. I didn't care about whatever their little deception game was about.
But she surprised me.
"Well, don't you want to find out why he was running for class President against you in the first place?" she asked.
I blinked at her numbly. "What?"
She looked back at me, knowing she had hit the nail in the head, and she smiled. "Yeah, don't you want to know?"
What did this have to do with anything? But then I remembered. I remembered something Caleb had mentioned to me way back in chemistry class bout O'Brien and his asinine, convoluted plan to derail my run for student body President in order to get some girl to notice him.
"You mean, to get some girl's attention?" I hissed.
Now it was Heather's turn to look surprised. She seemed shocked that I even knew this slight tidbit of information and immediately turned with a raised eyebrow and a rather accusing look at Caleb.
My brother raised his hands defensively. "She cornered me," he said.
Heather sighed, and I continued to frown at the two of them, but it didn't take me that long to make up my mind.
I held out my hand in front of my brother. "Give me the car keys."
He looks shocked, but not unhappy. "You're going? We convinced you?"
I refused to give him the satisfaction. "Just give me the keys," I said. And then, thinking it might have been a little too thoughtless to just leave him stranded here as we had arrived at the party together, I asked, "Can you find another ride back?"
Caleb looked at Heather, and then his cheeks turned red a bit. He cleared his throat, but his next words were barely audible regardless. "Yeah, I think I'll be okay," he said.
One thing at a time, but I was definitely going to interrogate him about this whole Heather business sooner than later.
He handed over the keys, and I wasted not another moment at the party.
The drive back home was relatively short, shorter than I imagined it was going to be probably because my head was racing with thoughts that had no conclusions and I was too busy trying to decide what exactly I wanted to say to Philip.
It was such a quiet night compared to the raucous of the party that was still in full swing at Teresa's house. There was barely a car on the road, probably because it was so late and so cold out, and when I got back home and parked our car on the curb in between Philip's house and mine, and every house on the block had their lights off.
Except for the O'Briens.
That's how I knew Philip was indeed home, and that Val and Joe Young were right. His bedroom light was on.
I peered up, but his window was angled facing my house rather than the street, and I couldn't see Philip. I breathed out a sigh, watching the air in front of my mouth fog, and then I marched towards his front door.
My heart pounded, although I couldn't even understand why I was so nervous. I mean, I was just here to get some clarifications from him, right?
Once I got to the front door of his house, however, I found it very difficult to ring the doorbell. In fact, I felt frozen there on the doorstep, unsure of my next move.
My finger just hovered there.
It was bitter cold, but the doubts in my mind prevented me from moving one way or the other. I mean, what was I even going to say?
I was just standing there, debating whether or not to go home and sleep on everything, when the door opened.
And Philip O'Brien stared right back at me.
He looked confused.
"What are you doing?" we both said at the same time.
There was a pause as we both waited for the other's answer.
Philip stared back at me, finally being the one to break the standoff. "What do you mean, what am I doing? You're the one at my house!"
"Why'd you open the door?" I asked right back. I was genuinely confused. I hadn't rang the doorbell.
"To take out the trash," he replied, lifting the plastic bag that was up to this point unnoticed by me for clarification.
I blinked. "But it's freezing."
Philip smiled at me wryly. "Well, people do have to take out the trash in the wintertime you know," he said.
I cleared my throat and shuffled my feet. Right. "Can I come in?" I asked him. Now that I was here, and now that Philip had seen me, it seemed that my decision was made for me.
"Err, sure," he seemed a bit uncertain about what was happening, but he didn't hesitate when he stepped aside and let me in through the front door.
I stepped inside, immediately feeling the warm glow of his living room. I hadn't fully realized just how cold it was outside until I stepped in.
Philip shut the door behind me and set the bag of trash down by the door. When I didn't say anything, he looked at me and rubbed the hair on the back of his head, "So...what's up, Cassidy?"
I shuffled awkwardly, suddenly very aware that I was in Philip's house again and that the last time I was here, we had been making out.
"Err…" I began awkwardly, not sure where to start. "Your mom's not home?"
I winced. Yeah, that was smooth.
He was looking at me with an odd expression on his face, as if not quite sure why I asked that question. I wasn't quite sure either, but maybe I just wanted to make sure there was not a third party privy to all this awkwardness.
"She's on a business trip," Philip said.
The former Mrs. O'Brien was away on business trips a lot. It suddenly dawned on me just how lonely this house must be, with the two of them. Philip's parents had split custody of their two sons in the divorce, and I knew that Philip didn't get to see either his dad or his brother that much. If his mom was preoccupied with work, he was all alone in this house much of the time.
It was a stark difference to my house, where my parents, Caleb, and I ate dinner together at the dining table on most nights.
No wonder Philip came over so much.
I shuffled my feet once more. Why did I think this was a good idea again?
"How are you doing?" I asked him.
Philip seemed even more puzzled by this question. He quirked his head at me. "Uh, I'm fine."
It took a few seconds before he realized what I was asking my question in reference to. He had no idea what Caleb and Heather had already told me, and for all he knew I was fully expecting him to be very upset about the fact that his best friend and his girlfriend had been making out.
I saw the expression on his face shift as this dawned on him. "Um, I mean, it'll take some time...er, I'm very upset," he said, sounding unconvinced at this performance himself. Man if he had been like this at the auditions, there was no way Mrs. Fillmore would have selected him for the understudy of anything.
He was looking so much like a deer in headlights that I would have laughed out loud if I wasn't feeling so awkward.
I was just about to open my mouth and confront him about what my brother and Heather already told me - that they were fake dating - when I realized that maybe this wasn't the best approach to avoiding confrontation.
So I tried another one.
"I had once guessed Heather," I began, clearing my throat and then mumbling a bit more quietly, "...as one of my three guesses."
Philip was looking at me warily, but he didn't say anything in response.
"You said you didn't like her," I continued, fully aware that the boy in front of me was growing more and more uncomfortable by the second at where this conversation was heading. "So why did you date her?"
To my surprise, Philip answered immediately, although his response wasn't really anything coherent. Instead, he quickly spluttered out a bunch of words stringed together in a way that didn't make much since. "I..we, well it was something stupid...trying it out, obviously a mistake, she said it was stupid...trying it out...err I mean, I don't know."
He was turning as read as a tomato. Maybe this wasn't the approach to go after all.
I forced the next words out of my mouth. "I have two guesses left, right?"
Now Philip wasn't the only one who was red.
But I think he was too busy being horrified to even notice that I was also quite embarrassed. He looked positively frightened at my words.
It was not really the reaction I had expected, especially given that the first time I had guessed, he was basically smirking, confident at what my guess would be, confident that it would be wrong.
Maybe it was the steely determined look that I knew was no doubt on my face right now.
"I'd like to make my second guess right now," I told him.
He was frowning, looking more wary than ever, as if I was about to blow up or projectile vomit all over him right now. In fact, I was sure it wasn't just my imagination that he was inching a bit further away from me.
"You do?" he asked, and I was surprised his voice didn't quiver.
I nodded, afraid to say the word 'yes' aloud lest it made it too hard to speak the next sentence. This was the moment I had been building up for. If only my stupid brother had agreed to tell me what he knew rather than make me face Philip himself, but there was no time to think about that now because I was already here.
I clenched my hands into fists, resolving to say the next words aloud.
"Is it me?"
I was also surprised that my voice wasn't quivering. But in fact, after I said those words, I felt rather relieved. My hands, previously balled up into fists, relaxed of their own accord. I felt as if a slight weight was lifted.
It didn't matter what the reaction I was going to get would be, at least I had managed to speak these words out loud.
Scratch that, it did matter what reaction I was going to get. Who was I trying to fool here, pretending like getting the words out the part I was waiting for?
And the reaction I was getting was the look of utter shock and fright on Philip's face.
"Wha-what? Why would you - why did you guess that? What?" he spluttered, actually taking a step back away from me.
Well, this was...terrific.
What a great way to start the conversation.
I took a step forward automatically so that we could still have have a conversation like two normal people who were not standing so apart from one another.
Philip took another step back so that we were further apart still, only now we had shifted closer to the middle of his living room.
What the...was I cornering him?
Realizing what was happening. I stopped trying to step forward. Where was that confident, smirking Philip O'Brien I usually knew? And what was this reaction?
Could I have been wrong about this?
Just as the self doubt started filling my mind, I realized that no, if anything, this reaction made me more confident in my guess. Philip had not outright denied it, as he would have if it actually wasn't me.
Maybe this reaction was due to the fact that he wasn't quite ready to admit it.
Because he didn't know how I felt.
And when I looked at him again, it dawned on me that I had hit the nail on this one. That Philip had pretended to date Heather and picked meaningless little fights with me and gone through lengths and roundabout ways to try and get me to like him without actually flat out telling me himself, because he was sure that I didn't like him back.
My heart pounded as I looked him in the eye.
"You haven't answered the question," I said.
Philip looked like he was being cornered. His eyes met mine and then quickly darted away. "I...I…" he stammered, and no doubt he would have moved away if he could.
I waited, my pulse racing.
Finally, he seemed to give in to the inevitable that he would have to answer the question and he let out a sigh and his whole body slumped a little, as if he was resigning himself to his fate. He looked at me once more, another look that was fleeting and which seemed more vulnerable than anything I've seen out of Philip O'Brien thus far.
When he spoke again, his voice was very soft.
"This is not how I wanted it to go," he said, clearing his throat and looking down on the ground. He laughed a little, but it was humorless. "I thought when it finally happened that you would...that you would like me back."
My heart was pounding even faster now. My throat felt parched.
"Is that why you pretended to date Heather?" I asked.
It wasn't an accusatory statement, but Philip shot me another horrified look. "You know? She told you?"
I nodded slowly.
Philip looked even more dejected. "She thought it was stupid, but I think she just felt sorry for me at that point," he murmured. "You must think I'm so stupid...it's okay, I won't act on it from now on."
"I don't," I said.
Philip looked up, and for a moment confusion masked any feeling of defeat or vulnerability that he was showing before.
I cleared. "I don't...think you're stupid." Why was it so damn hard to talk? My tongue felt like sandpaper. I braced myself. "And I don't want you to not act on it."
My entire face must have been beet red at this point, I could practically feel the heat emanating from my body. Why was it so damn hot in this house?
It was the most I could say. I realized that neither of us had said the words 'I like you' out loud but this whole conversation had been so awkward I don't think I could have actually forced the words out of my mouth.
Meeting Philip's eyes, I saw a glimmer of dawning comprehension.
I took another step forward. He didn't back away this time.
It was a large step, large enough that I could reach out and touch him. And though this was nothing compared to that make out session when we were practicing our lines for Pride and Prejudice, it felt infinitely harder.
I reached forward and grasped his hand.
It was rather cold and clammy and not the romantic hand hold you'd think in the moment it would be, and for a second my left hand just hung limply in his right one, but then I looked up to meet Philip's eyes.
He was looking at where our hands were intertwined, and then slowly he looked up at me with a gradual understanding as he closed his hand around mine.
The look of wonder on his face was so radiant that I couldn't help but smile back.