December 31: New Year’s Eve
Jeremy and I exchanged gifts today. He said he loved his watch, and I don’t think he was faking it, because he put it on and didn’t take it off. There’s something about a watch that makes a guy more tantalizing. He got me a brown suede jacket, which is perfect because I never would have bought it for myself. And I’ll definitely wear it sometimes, to like dress-up affairs.
As part of the ratification of the Perfect Girlfriend Act, pushed through the Senate of my mind on Christmas night, I gave him a back massage. It morphed into an intense hook-up session. Weird thing was, instead of reciprocating my masterful handiwork with the proper Francesca adoration, Jeremy became kind of distant afterward.
Fortunately, it didn’t last too long, because we had a New Year’s Eve party to go to. It was, of course, a Triumvirate party, at Shannon’s house. Now, under conventional circumstances, I wouldn’t go there for anything. But after much prodding from Jeremy and Nikki, both of whom trumped the party as a veritable “who’s who of the junior class,” I begrudgingly assented.
As expected, the party sucked. In Shannon’s overzealous pursuit of exclusivity, the party felt a little thin, and it didn’t help that it was in her basement. Nikki was all flirting with Whomever Wasn’t Luke, with the hopes that Luke was watching. Jeremy was off playing ping-pong with his buddies. I was trapped in social purgatory on a chair in the corner, all by myself.
Finally, I got sick of it and I propped myself up and walked toward the bar area. The tentative plan was to talk to the first person I saw. Unfortunately, that person, or should I say that subhuman, was none other than my nemesis: Shannon Teasdale, prattling mindlessly with two non-Triumvirates. I took a deep breath and made sure my face was smiling.
“This is a cool little bar area, Shannon,” I said. “Great basement for a party.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“I . . .” The blunt churlishness of her tone sent me into a mental tailspin. “I was just trying to give you a compliment.”
“Because the only reason you get invited at all is because Jeremy wouldn’t come without you . . .”
I took a half step back and tried to take in where she was going with this. Did I provoke her in some way? It didn’t matter. There was a point where you had to step up. “That’s funny, because the only reason I came here is because he begged me to come.”
“Oh, really?” she said.
“Yup. Well, that and because I wanted to see what it’s like to hang out with the significant people.” I’d been waiting so long to say it. I wanted more. “But you know what, the thing I’ve ascertained here is, if this party . . .” I motioned behind me. “If you took this basement as a proportionate sample, then guess what? Looks to me like the significant people are a dying breed.”
She looked confused. That was a start.
“What I’m saying is, not many people showed up for your big—”
“That’s because I didn’t invite many people,” she cut in, “and apparently that was still one too many. You don’t have to stay. The party wouldn’t shut down without you. Considering all you’ve done is sit on the couch, and that you’re dressed like a girl scout, I think we’d be better off without you.”
I was wearing a plaid skirt and a white button-down blouse. “Actually, just so you know, I’m supposed to look like a girl scout. If you were up on what’s in style anywhere outside of Columbus, you’d know that this is in right now.”
“Where is that in?” Shannon scoffed. “Thailand? Malaysia?”
“Try New York, Milan, Paris . . .”
“Oh, right,” Shannon said. “Let me guess. When you won the big election, your parents took you victory shopping in Paris, and you found that all the hottest boutiques were carrying the Catholic school girl look.”
“What’s the election got to do with what I’m wearing?” I asked.
“Oh nothing . . . I just think it’s funny how you think you’re all sweet, now that you’re Vice President, when everyone knows that only losers run for school office.”
I was about to go to town on her, when a body stepped in between us. It was Luke. I’d never seen him look angry before. “Only losers bother calling anyone else losers,” he said eloquently.
“Exactly,” I said, keeping my voice even despite my shock at having Luke Barton, of all people, coming to my defense. “And on that note, I think I’ll go take a walk.”
“Fine,” she said. “Go.”
I felt like I needed an encore here, a coup de grace. “But first I’m gonna fill up my little plastic cup.” I flicked it with my finger, taking special care to accentuate the plinking sound. “Excuse me.” I shouldered past her and went to grab a can of soda. It felt good. The New Francesca didn’t back down from a fight. She met the enemy head on and emerged triumphant. Now it was time for my Victory Ginger Ale.
“If you’re not staying,” I felt a hand grab my wrist, “then you’re not drinking my soda.”
I turned and looked right into Shannon’s smoldering eyes, fighting the urge to dump the ginger ale right over her head. But I knew better than to stoop to her level. “Fine,” I said. I plopped the can back down on the bar, then turned to head upstairs. Jeremy shot me a quizzical glance from the ping-pong table but didn’t come over. Thanks for the support, I thought. I charged upstairs, grabbed my coat and went outside. I was quite a ways down the block, and still vituperating Shannon with my thoughts, when I heard someone calling my name. Too late now, Jeremy, I thought, not breaking stride.
“Francesca, it’s me, Luke. Hold up!”
I stopped, shivering even though it wasn’t actually that cold.
“I brought you something,” he said.
I turned around slowly, unsure what to expect. He jogged up to me, and I realized he was holding a can of ginger ale. He grinned when he reached me, passing me the soda.
I took it and held it for a second, staring at the can like I’d never seen one before. Then I popped the top and took a sip. “Thanks,” I finally said. Luke was just standing there watching me, with that familiar cocky smile. I felt a strange urge to reach out and brush aside the blond curl that dangled over his forehead, but in a second the wind blew it out of his face.
“I wouldn’t sweat that little argument back there,” he said. “That party was lame.”
“Yeah, seriously,” I agreed. I paused, torn. “Listen, this is nice of you and all. I appreciate your sticking up for me. But you know, it doesn’t change the other stuff you’ve done.”
We stood there another minute, not saying anything. “So, can I have some?” he asked, gesturing at the ginger ale.
I frowned, then acquiesced, because after all—he’d chased me all the way down the street just to give it to me.
Luke sat down on the curb and downed some gulps of soda, then looked up at me. With a sigh, I sat down next to him and took the can back to finish it.
“So, do you know any of the constellations?” he asked, leaning back to look at the sky.
“Not really,” I said. “Do you?”
“Yeah, but sometimes I like to make up my own.”
I laughed. “Why doesn’t that surprise me?” I teased. “Center of the universe much?”
He grinned, giving me a light punch on the arm. “Nice,” he said. “But no, why don’t you give it a try?”
“So, like . . . connect any random stars you can see into a shape, and give them a name?” I said.
“Exactly. Like, see that really bright one, right there?”
I squinted up at the stars where he was pointing, following his gaze. “Uh huh,” I said.
“Okay, so, connect that to the one there, and there, and then that one, and what does that look like to you?”
I giggled. “A bunch of little bright dots?”
He groaned. “No, come on. Look closely.”
I pressed my lips together. “Okay . . . um . . . wait, I know—it’s like a skirt! And then above those, that’s the top . . .it’s like one of those stick figure girls on bathroom doors!”
Luke burst out laughing. “Not what I was thinking,” he said. “But decent.”
I settled back next to him and we kept going, making different shapes and characters, and then telling stories to pull it all together. It was so much fun that when I heard the general uproar of horns and cheers that came with the stroke of midnight, I couldn’t believe so much time had passed. I also knew I was in serious trouble.