October 12: Columbus Day
“You thought it was my butt?” Jeremy complained. “How’s that possible? How could we be dating for this long and you can’t distinguish mine from someone else’s?”
“I don’t know!” I said. “We were running. I couldn’t see!”
This was the umpteenth time our conversation had returned to The Incident. We were ambling through Fair Oaks Mall. The search for a present for Jeremy’s niece had somehow turned into me desperately trying to mollify Jeremy’s annoyance. As I probably should have expected, an eavesdropping fullback overheard my comment to Luke, and it had found its way back to Jeremy. Now he was being so querulous about the topic, I was starting to wonder if I’d accidentally exhumed some latent insecurity Jeremy had about his butt.
“But you have perfect vision.” He shook his head. “It doesn’t add up.”
“What can I say? I’m human. I’m fallible. I’m sorry.”
“It’s just so stupid, Fran. I mean, why would you yell out nice butt even if you thought it was me? It’s not like I would’ve been all psyched, like, Yeah. That’s my girlfriend.”
“All right, listen,” I said. “I get your point. I don’t know what I was thinking, okay? Now, can we put a moratorium on this topic? Because we’ve reached an impasse, and I can’t just keep apologizing over and over.”
Jeremy dropped my hand. “And that’s another thing. You’re always trying to use big words. You sound all stilted, like . . .” Jeremy bobbled his head and spoke in a nasally voice, mimicking me. “I’ve noticed your penchant for verbosity and have decided to put a moratoriad on your speaking . . .”
“A mora-what?” I asked.
“Forget it. You know what I mean. Why can’t you just talk like a normal person?”
I was about to snap back something about how he should really be working on his own vocabulary anyway, when I saw the hurt look in his eyes and realized this wasn’t the time. Jeremy’s ego had suffered a real bruising, and what he needed now was some serious smoothing over, not just more fighting.
“Let’s check out this store,” I said, grabbing his elbow and steering him inside. It was one of those gift stores where everything was either a gag gift or a parody of some actual gift.
“How about this?” I said, picking up a box. “You think little Claire would like some edible underwear?”
“Ewww,” Jeremy said. “That’s gross.”
“Yeah, I’m thinking this isn’t really the place to find a present for your three-year-old niece.”
“I just wish the guys on the team hadn’t heard,” Jeremy muttered. Apparently my attempt at distraction hadn’t worked. “What really bugs me is that now they all think my girlfriend wants that stupid poseur. And you don’t even know the guy.”
“Well, actually—” I froze, clamping my mouth shut before I could say another word.
Okay, I know, it’s big-time wrong to lie to your boyfriend. But is it still a lie if you just, like, leave something out? Because right as I was about to tell Jeremy how Luke was tutoring me, I realized that it would be just about the last thing he’d want to hear. The timing was all wrong.
“Actually, what?” Jeremy asked, his expression wary.
I smoothed my skirt to steady myself. “Oh, nothing—I was just going to say you shouldn’t care what those guys think,” I said. It was totally lame, but it seemed to work, because the suspicious look in his eyes faded back to the scowl that had been there a second ago.
“You just don’t get what it’s like,” he said. “Guys are different.”
“I know. I’m sorry,” I said, giving him my best wide-eyed adoring girlfriend half-smile. “But it’s over, okay? And I just had an idea—we should check out That’s Pretty Personal. It’s a few doors down, and I think you’ll find something there.”
Jeremy followed me to the store, and his mood eased when he caught sight of the display window. “This store looks perfect.”
“I told you. It’s got really unique gifts.”
A woman approached us as soon as we walked in. She was smiling so solicitously that you knew she had to work there. “Can I help you two?” she asked.
“We’re looking for a gift,” I said.
“For a little girl,” Jeremy added.
“How old is she?” the woman asked.
“Birthday?” she inquired.
“Uh huh,” Jeremy said.
“Follow me,” she said. “I think I have the perfect thing. Have you ever seen Groovy Girls? All little girls love Groovy Girls.”
She led us to the back of the store, and Jeremy forgot all about Luke as I helped him choose which Groovy Girl Claire would like best.
I’m not going to say there wasn’t a little twinge hanging around my stomach, reminding me that it wasn’t such a good idea to keep quite about the tutoring thing. But I’m not going to be doing this stupid tutoring thing much longer anyway. Once Nikki reels Luke in, I’ll be out of there. Jeremy will never have to know.