Better off Friends

Page 11


Maybe I was still living in the past. Maybe I hadn’t realized that this move was permanent. Maybe it was time for me to start living in the present, to embrace my new school and my new classmates. Maybe I hadn’t made enough of an effort.
I had to face the fact that I was now a Wisconsinite.
I stopped looking at everything, especially school, as temporary. I was going to have to find a way to get comfortable at school and with the guys.
But first I had the little matter of my date with Emily.
We were sitting across from each other like we did every day at school for lunch. But this was different. Not just because we were at a pizza place before the movie. This was a date. And it wasn’t any date, it was a date with the hottest girl in school and Macallan’s best friend. This was a big deal.
Emily always looked pretty at school, but she went all out that night. I almost didn’t know what to do when I met her at the mall. She had on this flowery dress and her hair had one of those sparkly barrettes in it. And every time she smiled at me, I got a little nauseous. Not the I’m-gonna-hurl nauseous, the this-is-exciting one.
I took an extra big sip of my soda as Emily smiled at me while we waited for our pizza. It was like she was expecting something witty, something more than our usual dissection of the school day.
“So …” She wrapped one of her loose strands of hair around her finger.
“So …” was my witty reply.
She reached her other hand out to me. “I’m so glad we’re doing this.”
“Me too.”
Ugh. I swore I knew how to talk to girls. I talked to Macallan all the time. But I became worried that I’d used up all my small talk with Emily at school.
“I’m thinking of having a Halloween party,” Emily said as her finger kept twisting her hair. I wasn’t the only one who was a little nervous.
“That could be fun.”
She nodded. “Yeah, especially since I was thinking that I’d invite all the guys, like Keith and Troy.”
“Troy’s cool.” And the only guy who really gave me the time of day.
“Yeah, I feel like it would be good for you to spend some time with the guys.”
I hated that it was so obvious to everybody how I wasn’t “one of the guys” here.
I swallowed my ever-shrinking pride. “Thanks.”
“Don’t worry about it. Even I need to make sure to get in good with everybody.”
That surprised me. Emily was one of the most popular girls in school.
She continued. “Especially Keith. Ever since we were little, he was always the one with the biggest circle of friends. He’d have the birthday parties everybody wanted to be invited to. That’s not going to change for him. He’ll have no problems fitting in next year. But the new school is going to be so big. I’m worried about getting lost.” Her voice got quiet and she sank down in her seat a bit. Emily was usually so bright and bubbly, I felt like I was getting a deeper glance. “I don’t know. I guess I’m thinking too much. I like the little circle we have now. And I feel things already changed so much with you moving here. I mean, I see Macallan less.” Emily’s eyes got wide, like she knew she shouldn’t have said that.
Before I could say I didn’t mean to take Macallan away from Emily, she jumped back in and said, “Not that I —” Then she fumbled for a second. “I like having you here. I hope you don’t think it’s that.”
“No, I totally get it.”
“But anyway …” She straightened up, and I knew the conversation was going to go back to the surface as well. “I know one person who won’t have any trouble staying on Keith’s radar next year.” She raised her eyebrows playfully.
I had no clue who she was referring to. It certainly wasn’t me.
“Macallan. He used to have the biggest crush on her. He probably still does.”
I was pretty sure my eyeballs almost came out of their sockets.
Emily laughed. “Are you shocked that a guy would be interested in Macallan?”
“No, not at all.” I actually found it strange that she never really talked about guys to me. I figured that was left to her girl friends.
“Yeah, it was sixth grade. But she didn’t really have any interest in Keith or anything really after her mom …”
Emily’s unfinished sentence hung over us like a dark cloud. I had always avoided the topic of Macallan’s mom. I knew I was supposed to say how sorry I was if it ever came up. But it never came up. Macallan always talked to me about her dad, her uncle, and school — but she hardly ever talked about her mom.
“I don’t know how she holds up as well as she does.” I was surprised not only that these words came from my mouth, but how small my voice sounded.
Emily dropped her head a bit. “It was awful. It was so awful. I wish you could’ve seen Macallan when her mom was around. She was a different person. She was always smiling and laughing. It’s not like she’s all brooding now, but it was … a lot.”
I was sure “a lot” was putting it mildly.
“But I have to tell you, she’s gotten much better lately. Like whenever she starts talking about her cooking classes or the new recipes she’s trying out. And also, I don’t know if you realize how much your mom has helped her.”
I nodded. It was pretty clear that Macallan adored my mom. It made me realize how lucky I was to have her around. To have both my parents around even though I got annoyed with how much time my dad spent at the hospital.