November 4: Chaos Never Dies Day
I was standing at my locker today, between third and fourth periods, minding my own business, when Jeremy stormed up—well, as much as he could storm on his almost healed ankle—and blind-sided me with a stream of invective.
“I can’t believe, after all we’ve been through, that you would do this to me. Pretend to be my faithful girlfriend, pretend that we tell each other everything because we’re . . .” He made quote fingers. “Best friends. I can’t believe I trusted you. I can’t believe I thought you were different.”
I was as befuddled as I was concerned. If not for the vein popping out of his forehead, I might even have assumed he was kidding. It sounded like some poorly written soap opera tirade. I glanced over Jeremy’s shoulder. Were we on a hidden camera show?
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“What am I talking about? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe about the fact that my girlfriend has been meeting up with Luke Barton on the sly, at his own home!”
Oh no, I thought, wincing. Why hadn’t it occurred to me that maybe he’d hear it from someone else, and that it would look a whole lot worse than what it really was? I buried my face in my hands to cover up my deer-in-the-headlights expression.
“Great,” Jeremy said. “That’s great! So it’s not even a lie then. I was really hoping you’d at least try to convince me. I can’t believe this. Finding out about my girlfriend’s infidelities from my teammates.”
“It’s not what you’re thinking,” I said. “There’s nothing going on between us.”
“How do I know that? How long have you two been hanging out?”
“First of all, we haven’t been hanging out. He has tutored me, twice, and trust me, it couldn’t have been more innocent.”
“But why wouldn’t you tell me if it was so harmless?”
Good point. Come on, Francesca. Dig your way out of this hole. I exhaled. “Okay. The deal is, Nikki was, and still is, totally head-over-heels infatuated with the guy. Remember how they hooked up at the Halloween party? But she had no context with him.”
“Just stick with me. She had no way of getting to know him. So she came up with the ingenious idea of hiring him to give me vocab lessons to prepare me for my SATs, because he used to work for one of those SAT review classes or whatever.”
“But you have a great vocabulary.”
“And why you?” he asked. “Why not her?”
“I don’t know, all right! She didn’t want to be too flagrant with her come-on or something. Girl reasons . . . you know . . .”
Jeremy shook his head. He didn’t know.
“Yeah, which is why I don’t get why she needed your help.”
“But that’s the thing—she didn’t have the guts to do that until after she’d already laid the groundwork, seeing him each time she picked me up from the tutoring sessions.” I had another idea to convince him. “Hey, who do you think is paying for lessons?”
“Better not be you.”
“Of course it’s not,” I said. “It’s Nikki.”
This disclosure seemed to calm Jeremy a little. The storm cloud lifted slightly.
“So Luke and Nikki hooked up, right?” he asked. “The night of the party?”
“Yes. Thanks to yours truly.”
“So, technically, your job is over. You don’t have to keep up the tutoring charade any longer.”
I knitted my brow. For reasons I couldn’t explain, the prospect of quitting the tutorials didn’t appeal to me as much as it had until this moment. More specifically, the concept of having to quit the lessons because my boyfriend mandated it was kind of icky.
“I guess I don’t have to,” I said.
“But you want to?”
I hedged. “No, it’s just that . . . I do think he’s gonna help me get a higher SAT score, so maybe I’ll get into one of those colleges where I’m right on the cusp, like maybe an Ivy League school.”
“No!” He folded his arms in front of his chest. “I’m sorry, but I won’t allow some surfboard-waxin’ nimrod to take my spot on the team and my girl.”
“But he’s not taking your—”
“No more lessons. If you can’t handle that, then that’s it. We’re done.”
Witnessing this insolent command, I had to use all my stores of discipline to quash a surge of antipathy toward him. What a baby. But my mood modulated as I gauged the hurt look on his face. Was I being insensitive here? It really hadn’t been fair of me to keep this from him, and he had enough reasons to resent Luke already. Besides, maybe it was sweet in some way that he was so jealous over me. Right?
“Okay,” I said. “The next lesson will be my last.”
“You have to have another lesson?”
“The next one’s my last,” I reiterated. “Promise.”