The green-eyed monster doth strike again

Causing strife, confusion, endless pain

. Flames come out of its head

. In hot jets burning red

Jealousy I can barely contain

Earlier in the week, Sarah had invited Melinda to spend Friday evening at her house, offering for her father to pick her up. Sarah's eleven-year-old sister, Crystal, was born Deaf and attended a residential school, where her parents dropped her off on Monday morning and brought her home Friday evening. Sarah offered to pick up Melinda after they retrieved Crystal, even though Melinda knew it was not really on the way.

As Melinda packed the cards back into the closet, Pat spoke quietly. "I didn't get to say goodbye."

"I'll see you Sunday. I'll try to get back to campus early." Melinda wrapped her arms around Pat's neck and kissed him until she heard a knock on the door.

"Sorry." Sarah's smile suggested she was anything but. Crystal peered around the door and started to wave, but when she saw Pat still holding Melinda, she started signing frantically.

Pat had met Crystal the last time she had visited campus. She had been ecstatic when Pat explained that he had learned American Sign Language for his latest film role.

"Slow down!" Laughing, he signed to Crystal as he spoke. "Melinda will tell you all about it later. I better get home. Hi, Sarah. Bye, Sarah!"

Pat flashed Sarah his famous smile, gave Melinda one last peck on the top of her head, and headed out of the room, the girls following him down the stairs. After closing the front door behind Pat, Melinda turned to hug both girls.

"Sorry. I lost track of time. I'm already packed. I'll go get my stuff."

Melinda ran back to her room to retrieve her backpack, which held her overnight things and a change of clothes. She also grabbed her sleeping bag with her pillow and stuffed animal rolled into it. She threw her things on the floor by the front door and showed her friends into the kitchen.

"Hi, Mr. Tran. Thanks for picking me up."

"Where's Pat?" Melinda's mother asked.

"He left."

"Oh. I hadn't realized. Well, you behave yourself and Daddy or I will pick you up tomorrow evening."

"Okay. Bye!"

Melinda followed her friends to their car, where Melinda placed her bags in the trunk beside Crystal's. Crystal sat in the front seat of her father's sedan, constantly turning around so she could see Sarah and Melinda.

As they pulled out of the driveway and headed towards the highway, Sarah shook her head without translating Crystal's questions for Melinda. "No, we'll talk about that when we get home. I promise." She lowered her voice to a whisper as she turned to Melinda. "She wants to know about Patrick."

She resumed the conversation in her regular voice. "I feel like I've hardly talked to you all week. What have you been up to?"

"Well, let's see. I babysat my neighbors last Friday and I watched tv with Walter and Pat while I was there."

"They didn't babysit with you?"

"No. We were on our phones."

"Oh, that makes sense."

"Then, Monday, I went to their house."

"You were at their house?" In her shock, Sarah had forgotten to sign. Crystal made an angry noise at her, and Sarah repeated what she said for Crystal.

"Whose house?" Crystal asked.

"Walter and Patrick," Sarah explained.

"You were at their house?"

"What's it like?"

Melinda shook her head. "There are no words. No words."

"Okay. That's another conversation for later. Can you tell me anything you've been up do that does not involve your boyfriend?"

Melinda thought a moment. "My dad dragged me Christmas caroling at some nursing homes. I bought my Christmas dress. Ooh. And I found one for the Snowflake Ball. I didn't buy it. I wanna go shopping with you next weekend and get your opinion."

"Yay! Shopping trip!" Sarah said excitedly.

They spent most of the hour-long drive listening to Crystal's stories about her week at school, with all three girls mentioning that they had boy stories to share when Sarah's father was not around.

Sarah's house was a lot larger than Melinda's, although it was not nearly as massive as Walter's house, she was relieved to see. They had a tennis court and pool, both of which were buttoned up for the winter. Sarah's room was only a little larger than Melinda's, with plenty of room for Melinda to sleep on the floor.

Sarah showed Melinda where to put down her bags, then gave her a quick tour as they headed back to the kitchen for supper. Melinda greeted Sarah's mother and complemented her on dinner, which was an excellent beef stew, perfect for the cold evening.

After dinner, the girls changed into their pajamas and gathered on Sarah's bed to update each other on their boyfriends. Melinda wanted to hear all about the boy Crystal had told her she liked who was now apparently Crystal's boyfriend, but Crystal insisted Melinda go first.

"Why was Patrick McGregor kissing you?"

Melinda shrugged. "He's my boyfriend."

Crystal shook her head. "He's with Poppy Sommers. It's all over everywhere."

Sarah interpreted Crystal's signs, then turned to her roommate, shock in her eyes. "What!?"

Melinda closed her eyes, taking a deep breath and trying not to shudder. "It's a mess. So, apparently, Pat and Poppy Sommers got together this past summer."

Crystal shook her head, signing frantically. "No, now. They're together now."

"I'm getting there." Melinda wrapped a throw blanket around herself, more to have something to do with her hands than because she was cold. "They were together over the summer. He ended things. But, how did Meghan put it? Oh, yeah. Poppy's literally crazy. So, she decided she and Pat were back together. And, now she believes it."

"They were kissing," Crystal reminded Melinda.

"What!?" Sarah stared wide-eyed at Melinda.

"Poppy staged it. She figured out where Pat was going to be and had cameras following her. She kissed him and got it on camera. Then, made sure it got airtime. But, it's not real. They're not together."

"And, you're okay with this? I don't know that I could do that. Stay with Larry if someone else were claiming to be his girlfriend."

Melinda tightened her grip on the blanket as she tried to find the right words to explain the situation. "It bothered me at first. But, Pat and I have talked about it a lot. I know he cares about me and there's nothing going on with him and Poppy."

Sarah responded slowly, as if she were picking the right words one at a time. "Have you considered the fact that he is an actor? I mean…"

Sarah did not need to complete the thought. Melinda knew what she was trying to say. She took a deep breath and nodded.

"When I first asked him about Poppy, he tried to skip over the fact that they had been together. There was something in his eyes. I realized he was…not exactly acting, but not telling me everything. I called him on it. And, he hasn't tried it again. I know he's telling me the truth. Plus, Meghan and Walter both keep insisting Pat cares about me and there's nothing going on with Poppy."

"You talked to his family about this?"

"I went to their house Monday. When I brought up the whole Poppy thing, they both offered their two cents."

"So, you're okay?"

Melinda nodded, forcing a smile she did not wholly feel. "Yeah, I'm okay."

"What's it like?" Crystal asked. "Their house?"

Melinda smiled, glad to change the subject. "It's really big. But, they're normal. Like, they have a dining room, but they eat in their kitchen."

Sarah frowned. "We ate in the dining room tonight. We're not normal?"

"I saw your kitchen table. We wouldn't have all fit. Besides, your dining room is just part of your kitchen. It's not, like, a separate room."

"So, what did you do there?"

"We played Weddas."

Sarah scrunched up her face. "Wait. I have no idea how to sign that. What are you talking about?"

Melinda slowly spelled out the name, trying to recall the alphabet Sarah had taught her. "That game I play with Walter and Pat. You've seen me."

"No, she hasn't seen you," Crystal replied. "She's too busy making out with Larry to notice."

"Yeah, you have a point. Anyway, we played that and we played some video games and then Pat and I watched a movie with his mom. Meghan drove me home. Basically, we just hung out. I had dinner with them."

"Them, who?"

"Walter and his family."

"Like, all of them?"

Melinda giggled and nodded as Sarah and Crystal just stared. "They're normal people."

"No, they're not. They're celebrities. They live in a mansion. Walter's the only normal one in that family."

Melinda did not try to argue. "So, anyway, I was going to go tubing with Walter this week, but he couldn't go so he suggested Pat join me. Then, it rained, so we just stayed home all day."

"Where? His house again?"

"No, he came to mine. We built a puzzle. We fell asleep watching a movie, but my mom didn't freak out like I would have expected."

"Lucky. My mom and I had a very long lecture when I came home. She has all these rules about where I can and can't go with Larry."

"Did he come visit?"

"No!" Crystal interrupted. "I wanna hear more about Patrick McGregor."

"What else? We hung out yesterday. He stayed for dinner. We went tubing today, then he came over and we hung out some more. Oh. My mom met his mom when she brought me to their house Monday. Pat and I had to sit down with our moms. I think they were going to try to set some of those rules like your mom, but Pat and I had pretty much already done that."

"You guys have rules? Like what?"

"Well, we don't go in each other's rooms. That's a given."

"Really? You've never been in his room? Larry's been over a bunch of times. You've been in Walter's room."

"Yeah, but I'm not with Walter. Pat and I also don't hang out in each other's common rooms."

"I hadn't noticed that."

"It doesn't have much to do with us being together. It's just weird. For both of us. I'm uncomfortable being around upper form boys. He thinks it would be crazy to put himself in the middle of a bunch of third form girls."

Sarah considered a moment. "They would eat him alive."

Melinda smiled as she nodded. "What else? We don't want a physical relationship, so nothing more than kissing."

Sarah raised her eyebrows. "For now? Or ever?"

"I'm not sure if I'm supposed to tell you about this. But, I know he talked about it with Walter, and I mentioned it to our moms. It doesn't leave this room, though."

"Hang on. Hey, Crystal. Why don't you grab us some sodas?"

Crystal glared at her sister. Sarah didn't interpret, but Melinda was pretty sure Crystal signed something to the effect of "Why don't you go?"

Sarah shrugged. "Okay, I'll go. Melinda can come with me."

"Fine. I'll go." Crystal signed angrily as she marched out of the room. Melinda had a feeling she may have said more than Sarah was interpreting, but said nothing. As soon as Crystal had left the room, Sarah turned back to her roommate.

"Okay. Explain."

Melinda sighed. "Pat firmly believes that physical relationships should wait until marriage. Personally, I've never had to think about it, so I don't know what I think. But, I respect him and his beliefs. Does that make sense?"

"Perfectly. Why didn't you want to tell me about that?"

Melinda shrugged. "It feels like gossip."

Sarah considered a moment. "I'm not sure. I certainly won't mention it to anyone. That was kinda one of the rules my mother was trying to set for me. I think it was no more than holding hands, but we already know I've broken that rule already."

Melinda giggled as Crystal returned with the sodas.

"What did I miss?"

"Melinda finished telling us about Pat. You didn't miss anything. It was my turn to talk about Larry."

"No. My turn. So, I sent Buddy a note asking if he liked me, and he checked yes, so now we're together."

"And what does that mean?" Sarah asked.

"Together? T – o – g –" Crystal began spelling.

Sarah shook her head. "No, I know what the sign means. I meant, what does it mean for you two to be together?"

Crystal still looked confused, so Melinda tried a different question.

"What do you two do together?"

"Oh! We do homework together. We're in the same math class. He likes me to help him."

"Do you eat together?" Sarah asked.

"No. He likes eating with his friends."

"Do you hang out after school?" Melinda suggested.

"No, we like playing with our own friends."

"So, you only do homework together?" Sarah asked skeptically. She turned to Melinda. "It's like you and Walter."

Melinda shook her head. "No, it's not. First of all, I eat nearly every meal with Walter. Plus, we do hang out outside of class. We watch Neogenesis together. We go to church together. We play Weddas."

Sarah shrugged while Melinda turned back to Crystal.

"I had this friend at school last year. Her name was Lizzy. We had lunch together almost every day. One day, a boy in her math class, Pug, came and sat with her."

Sarah raised her eyebrows. "Pug?"

"There were five Michael's in our class. We called most of them by their last names. This one was Michael Pugliesi." Melinda spelled the name for Crystal. "But we all called him Pug. Anyway, he joined us for lunch just completely out of the blue. I found out later that the other girls at my table knew he was considering it, but Lizzy didn't know. So, at the end of lunch, he asked her if she would be his girlfriend."

"I'm not seeing the point of this story," Sarah said.

"I'm getting there. Lizzy said yes, but we couldn't tell anyone, because she didn't want her mother to ground her. Then about a week later, she thought he might be copying her math homework. So, one night, she did it twice, the second time writing all wrong answers. In homeroom, oh yeah, they were in the same homeroom. In homeroom, he borrowed her homework to check his answers, like he did every morning. Only, she gave him the one with the wrong answers. The next day, they got their homework back and she had an A and he had an F. They fought about it and broke up."

"Still not seeing the point." Sarah looked confused, but Crystal wrinkled her nose.

"You think Buddy is just copying my math homework?"

"I dunno. But, Buddy kinda sounds like Pug. Be careful, okay?"

Crystal nodded. "Larry came to visit Sarah."

Sarah sat up a little. "Oh, is it my turn? Okay, so you know how Larry's family is like all over the place? Well, he went to his parents' new house in Pennsylvania Wednesday night after school. Then, for Thanksgiving, they drove all the way up to just outside Albany to eat with his dad's side of the family. They spent the night there, then Friday, they drove over to Vermont to see his mom's side of the family. Then, Saturday, they drove to Boston to visit his great-grandmother in a nursing home who couldn't travel to…I forgot which side it was. I think it was Albany. Sunday, they went back to Rhode Island to visit some friends from before they moved. So then, on their way back on to Philly on Monday, they stopped here." Sarah took a deep breath.

Melinda giggled. "I'm tired just listening to you. So, it was his whole family?"

"Yeah. Kenzie basically binge watched this weird show. Superspy Amy, or something like that."

"C. ?" Melinda tried not to grin.

"Yeah, that was it. You've seen it?"

"I watched it when I babysat my neighbors Friday night."

"Yeah, I watched an episode, too. That was more than enough for me."

"How old is Larry's sister? Fiveish?"

"Yeah. The show is meant for kids her age. She was glued to the screen."

"So, what'd you guys do?"

"My mom wouldn't let us be alone, so we agreed to stay in the living room with Kenzie. We mostly just sat and talked. It took him a lot longer to tell me about his Thanksgiving."

When they were finished discussing their boyfriends, the girls decided to watch a movie in the living room, where Sarah's mother joined them.

"What would you girls like to watch?"

Crystal held up a DVD case while her mother read the title aloud.

"High School Horrors? I don't think so."

Crystal made a face as she held up another case.

"Zombie High? Still no. How about something not scary? Ooh. What about GnomeWorld? I love that one."

"Which one's that?" Melinda could remember the name, but not the storyline.

"This family moves to a new neighborhood where all the neighbors are always fighting about their lawn gnomes."

"Oh, I remember that one. Yeah, that sounds fun."

Sarah turned to her roommate. "Can you watch that? Isn't there a kissing scene?"

"Oh, are you not allowed?" Sarah's mother gave her a concerned look.

Melinda glared at Sarah. No, it's fine. I can watch it."

"Patrick McGregor is Melinda's boyfriend," Crystal said.

Her mother shook her head. "Oh, Crystal. I think you understood wrong."

"I saw them kissing. What's to misunderstand?"

Sarah nodded. "No, he really is."

Melinda sighed. "No Pat Evans is my boyfriend. Let's just watch the movie. It'll be fine."

Melinda, however, was not fine. She spent most of the movie trying to remember where the kissing scene took place. As soon as Sarah had mentioned it, Melinda remembered this movie was also Pat's first on-screen kiss.

Unfortunately, the scene was near the end of the movie, so Melinda spent a good hour worrying. Ultimately, the kiss looked awkward and Melinda felt only the tiniest ping of jealousy. It actually made her less upset than the entire ordeal with Poppy Sommers.

However, it did make her start to wonder if she would always feel that way, or if next time she would be more jealous. And what about his next movie? How would she feel when she was at school and he was kissing other girls? Over and over, until the director found the perfect shot?

These thoughts kept Melinda up most of the night and when she finally did fall asleep, she watched Pat kissing a long line of girls, many of whom looked like Poppy Sommers, while she could only sit in a glass booth and watch from afar.

Melinda wanted to tell someone about her concerns regarding watching Pat's movies, but she had no idea who could understand what she felt. Sarah certainly wouldn't get it. Despite Melinda spending so much time with Pat, Sarah still thought of him as Patrick McGregor, movie star.

She considered talking to Sarah's boyfriend, Larry, who was like a brother to her, but she knew he could not relate either. She wanted to talk to Walter, but thought the topic might make him uncomfortable. For the first time in her life, Melinda wished she had an older sister to guide her.

Sarah's mother took the girls to the local mall after lunch on Saturday, but Melinda was not in much of a shopping mood. Sarah did manage to convince her mother to allow Sarah and Melinda to shop alone, but she would not permit Crystal to join them. This resulted in a lot of sulking, and Melinda had a feeling that Crystal's furious sign language was not entirely polite.

Melinda and Sarah wandered the stores, not looking for anything in particular. Melinda showed her roommate the dress she had picked out for the Snowflake Ball, even trying it on to make sure she like how it looked, but she decided to wait to buy it for many reasons. She had already packed her school clothes and did not want to try to fit it in. She also did not want to explain to her mother why she had bought a fancy new dress. But, her biggest reason, which she did not voice aloud, was that she was concerned that she may have to break up with Pat.

After a few stores, Sarah turned to her roommate.

"Are you okay? You don't seem quite yourself."

Melinda shrugged. "I just didn't sleep well last night." She did not want to explain to Sarah what had caused her bad night.

"Okay. Well, if you wanna talk about anything, you know I'm here, right?"

Melinda forced a smile. "I'm just tired."

They wandered the mall for a little while before it was time to meet Sarah's mother, neither girl actually purchasing anything. When they returned to Sarah's house, Sarah received an incoming video chat request from Larry.

His pale face with his dark curly hair and blue eyes filled the screen. SArah greeted him excitedly.

"Hey! Guess who's here." Sarah turned the screen for Larry to see Melinda. He smiled at her.

"Hey! How was your Thanksgiving?"

"Not as crazy as yours, I hear."

"You're telling me. Walter said you visited him the other day, but you ended up spending more time with your boyfriend than with him."

"Did he explain to you that was only because he wanted some alone time with an elf lord?"

Larry's laughter rang out from the phone. "Hey, speaking of Walter, you wanna hear something crazy? I was walking by the living room and I could swear I heard Walter's voice, telling me how to find the perimeter of a square."

Sarah smirked. "Um, shouldn't you know that by now?"

Larry stuck out his tongue. "Kenzie was watching that show she likes, C. . It was the tv. But, it sounded like him."

"Maybe it was Patrick McGregor? They kinda sound alike, don't they?"

Melinda made a noncommittal sound. Larry didn't seem to want to drop the subject.

"Hmm… Now I'm curious. I'm gonna go look this up. I'll use my computer so I don't lose you…" Melinda watched Larry's image bob as he presumably was walking down a hallway, then they had a nice view of the ceiling.

Sarah giggled. "I think your mom needs to dust the ceiling fan."

Larry laughed. "Sorry. There, is that better?" He propped the phone on something so they could watch him on his computer.

"Okay. Sammy McSmartyPants is voiced by…Wally McGregor. Don't know who that is."

Sarah looked at Melinda. "Did he tell you?"

"Did who tell what?" Larry asked.

"Did Walter tell her that he was Sammy McSmartyPants?"

"It's not Walter. It's some guy named Wally McGregor."

"Larry, what's Wally short for?"

"I don't know…Lemme search…Okay. It says here that Wally is usually a nickname for Walter."

Sarah rolled her eyes. "So, Wally McGregor is most likely Walter. Right?" She turned to Melinda.

"Umm…Ask him?"

"I'm calling him. Anyone know how to do multiple people on this thing?"

Melinda gave an exasperated sigh. "Oh, don't bother." Despite her irritation, she used her phone to contact Walter.

"Hey! What's up? Pat said you were at Sarah's. Oh, hi Sarah!"

"Larry says, oh wait a minute." Sarah angled her phone so Walter could see Larry. "Larry says you're Sammy McSmartyPants."

Walter cringed in such a way that gave him away.

Sarah turned to Melinda without waiting for Walter to actually confirm her suspicions. "When did you find out?"

"Last week? I was watching the show with the girls I was babysitting and I heard Walter's voice on the television. Like Larry. Walter, I swear I had nothing to do with this. Larry thought he heard you in his living room."

Larry was laughing uproariously. "Sammy McSmartyPants? I think that is a perfect nickname."

"Larry!" Sarah narrowed her eyes at her boyfriend.

"What? I don't like calling him Know-it-all, because it sounds insulting. I was toying with Walter-pedia, but Sammy McSmartyPants?"

"I like Walter-pedia," Melinda gave a half smile.

The lights in Sarah's room began to flicker. Melinda looked around.

"What's going on?"

Sarah got to her feet. "That's the doorbell. The whole house is wired for Crystal. Your mom must be here." She waved to the boys. "I'll talk to you later, Larry."

"Bye McSmartyPants! Later, Melinda. Text me, Sarah." Larry disappeared.

"Bye Walter," Sarah and Melinda both said as Melinda ended her call. She collected her belongings and headed downstairs.