I’m standing outside of Mr. Johnson’s room with three minutes to go before the tardy bell rings when Mark comes up to me and, smiling, asks, “Waiting for your girlfriend?”
My first instinct is to respond with, “Eva’s not my girlfriend!” but I remind myself that Mark doesn’t know any better. He sees Eva staring at me throughout class, he sees me not staring back, and he automatically assumes I’m doing what I see the other freshman guys doing: feigning indifference to increase my appeal. This is why I need to have a talk with Eva. People are starting to think things about us that aren’t true.
“Who’s my girlfriend?” I ask, playing dumb.
“That Eva girl,” Mark says.
“The one with the bug eyes?”
“Hey, you wait. I bet she’s a bloomer, one of those girls who looks ‘okay’ when she’s little, but who blossoms once she hits sixteen or so.”
“She’s not my type.”
Mark shrugs. “What other options do you have? High school girls always go for older guys. Sometimes they’ll date a boy their age—but you never see them with a younger dude like yourself.”
“How do you know?”
“Trust me. I followed a senior girl around campus my entire freshman year. I wrote her letters, helped her with her homework, listened to her problems, gave her my advice. Who did she end up getting with? Some college dude who knocked her up on prom night and then dumped her over the summer.”
“That’s sad,” I say, spotting Eva down the hall. “I’ll keep it under consideration.”
Mark glances over his shoulder, looks back at me, shrugs again. “Your call, Chekov. See you inside.” He pats me on the shoulder and starts into Mr. Johnson’s room.
Eva comes up to me. “Good morning, Jan,” she says, smiling, stopping in front of me with a perky bounce that makes her ponytail go wild for a second.
“Good morning, Eva,” I say. I smile back. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
She looks like she’s hoping I’m going to ask her to go steady. “Sure! Of course!”
I clear my throat. “I think we need to reassess our relationship.”
“Please don’t take offense, but I don’t like you. I mean, I do, but only as a friend. Well, I don’t mean ‘only’ in a diminutive sense. I don’t want this to limit our friendship. But I meant it yesterday when I said I don’t ‘like’ you.”
Eva’s smile falters. She bows her head.
Behind her, down the hallway, Theo is approaching us tentatively. He has some sort of plush mini-devil Theo doll sitting on his shoulder.
I can feel the moment sticking uncomfortably, so I push on: “But that’s okay, because you said yourself yesterday that you don’t like me, right?”
I smile. “This is good, then. No mixed messages, right?”
“I’m glad we could have this talk.”
“See you at lunch.”
“See you at lunch.”
Eva enters Mr. Johnson’s room. I catch a glimpse of her face in passing. Her bug eyes are glistening; there’s a tear trickling down her cheek.
Theo comes up to me. “How’d it go?” he asks.
“I made her cry,” I tell him.
The plush mini-devil falls from Theo’s shoulder. It makes no sound as it hits the floor.
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