January 5: National Stonemason’s Day
First day back at school. I wasted no time. When Jeremy got to his locker before homeroom, I was waiting there. I took no chances on the outfit—it was my colorful flower-print Quiksilver skirt and a tight black fuzzy sweater, the exact same outfit he’d complimented me on a few weeks earlier. My hands were behind my back. I wasn’t smiling. The prudently chosen expression on my face was meant to evince sincere and thoughtful regret. The moment Jeremy registered my presence, the rhythm of his swagger faltered.
“I’m sorry,” I said, pulling my hand from behind my back. A CD, three Toffifay candy bars (his favorite confection) and a card. It was a bribe. “It’s for you.”
Jeremy sheepishly accepted. “Great. Thanks. Excuse me . . .” He took a step past me and pretended to be working at his locker combination. “Who’s Less Noobie-ens, anyway?” he muttered.
“Les Nubiens. They’re French,” I said. “You’ll like it. It’s funky but mellow, kind of like Sade.”
I hoped he got what that meant.
“Listen, Jeremy, I’m really sorry,” I said. “I mean it. But the thing is, you have to believe me when I say I was set up. Honestly. If you let this get to you, then Sharon wins. That’s exactly the sort of melodrama she wants.”
I could see Jeremy’s jaw muscle working. Finally he turned and faced me directly. “Even if that’s true, do you know how bad that looks for me, when you leave a crowded party and Luke runs after you like that? I mean, why’d you let him? Why didn’t you just ask me to come with you?”
I frowned. Because I’d thought he should just follow me, without having to be asked? But maybe I shouldn’t have expected that. “I know,” I said. “I can only imagine what it looked like.”
“Francesca, you have to promise me something. Promise me you’ll stay away from him.”
I thought about Rico’s birthday party, about the e-mail I just sent. “But—”
“No buts this time. Just say you’re gonna do it, and then do it.”
I let out a deep sigh. “Okay. I’ll stay away from him.” After all, I didn’t have to hang around my brother’s party. And steering clear of Luke was a good way to do damage control with the other hurting relationship in my life right now, too.
“All right, then,” Jeremy said. “I’ll take your word.”
I nodded, wishing I didn’t still feel all this distance between us. “Can I have a hug?” I asked.
Jeremy put his backpack on the checkered linoleum, gingerly. He wasn’t quite looking into my eyes, but his lips had flattened out into something approximating a smile. We wrapped our arms around each other, right there in the hallway, and I felt a little better.