I made him make her cry. I made him make her cry, and for a moment I was actually enjoying it. For a moment I was actually thinking to myself, “That’s what happens when you throw your crushes at unappreciative dolts!”
And now I feel like crap.
Yeah, I don’t want Eva to like Jan, but I don’t want her to cry, either. I don’t want her feelings to be hurt. I meant what I said to Jan about accepting or denying crushes early on. I don’t know, it just makes sense to me—but is it the right thing for me to have told him? Did I somehow suspect that this was how Eva was going to react and push for it anyway hoping that in her emotional distress she would turn to me for consolation?
“It was going so well,” Jan says, frowning. “I thought…I thought we had an understanding.”
I don’t know what to say. I’m afraid to say anything.
Jan glances down at the floor, where the mini-devil Theo plush doll rests at my feet. “Where’d you get that from?”
I look at the doll, only now aware that I’ve brought it with me from home (wasn’t it a figment of my imagination?). Embarrassed, I quickly squat, pick it up, stuff it into my backpack before anyone else can see.
Jan doesn’t ask; I don’t tell.
After a moment, he says, “I’d better get to class. See you later, Theo.”
Simple Minds’ “Cry” rings inside my head. I watch Jan go. He enters Mr. Johnson’s classroom, veers off to the left. To the right, Eva is seated at her desk and is sitting with her head resting on the desktop. She’s staring out at nothing. Her ponytail has lost its pizazz; her warm-up suit no longer sparkles. She’s the saddest girl in the ninth grade, and her mood is quite possibly capable of physically dragging down the grades of those sitting around her. I imagine a phantom version of myself drifting into the class, standing beside her, offering her my hand, wanting to comfort her but feeling, more than anything else, like a sneaky jerk taking advantage of a rotten opportunity.
“I know that look,” someone says over my shoulder.
I turn and find Mrs. Thrailkill hovering over me. She unwraps a piece of nicotine gum and pops it into her mouth.
“Good morning, Mrs. Thrailkill,” I say.
“That’s the look,” she says, discarding my greeting with impeccable efficiency, “of someone who’s tried to break up two of his friends so that he can get the girl, but who is now having second thoughts about purposely tampering with someone else’s crush.” She chews methodically. Waits.
“But they’re not together,” I say. “He doesn’t even like her.”
“And yet she chose him over you.”
“She might have chosen me, if she’d given me a chance—”
“Doesn’t matter, darling. The heart wants what it wants. You tried to drastically reduce the shelf-life of a crush and it made the girl cry. Are you pleased with yourself?”
I hang my head. I don’t even care how Thrill-Kill got the details so uncannily spot-on. She’s right.
She gestures down the hall. “Now, get to class before you’re late—and remember, you can always make an appointment in the counseling office if you need to come see me.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I say, and walk away.
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