Chapter no 16

If He Had Been with Me

Sasha and I are sitting on Brooke’s floor with her, reading magazines. Angie is off with Mike. Jamie is spending a week in Chicago with his family. The other boys are off doing something dumb at Alex’s place.

We’re giving each other quizzes out of the magazines. The quizzes are titled things like “Are you a good FLIRT?” or “Do you know how to get what YOU want?” According to these magazines, we are all amazingly well balanced. They’re multiple choice, and it’s easy to know what the right answer is; one choice will have too much of the trait in question, another not enough, and one will be just right, like a teenage Goldilocks. All afternoon, we’ve chosen the same answers and been told that we’re doing great, that we should carry on as we are and everything will be okay. It should be boring but it isn’t; it’s comforting.

“You aren’t afraid of taking risks but you also know to back down when things get too serious,” Sasha reads. “Because of this, your friends can count on you to be a good time without things getting out of hand. You can use your good judgment to help a Shy Wallflower break out or keep a Wild Child reined in. Though you may sometimes make mistakes, like the night you get pulled over for speeding or the party where you’re too shy to ask your crush to dance, your common sense—and your sense of fun—will always see you through.” She tosses the magazine to the side and stretches her arms over her head.

“When’s Jamie coming back?” she asks. “I want to go swimming.” “Friday,” Brooke and I both say. We smile at each other. We like to make

jokes about being cousins-in-law.

“I miss him so much,” I say, because I do and I’m enjoying it. “I can’t believe we’ve almost been together for a year.” It’s early August. I have six weeks until our anniversary, and I can’t wait. To me, it will legitimize us as a couple in a new way; we will be inarguably together for the long-term, and our relationship will be worthy of deference over less established couples.

“Yeah, me and Alex too,” Sasha says. I think back to nearly a year before when Sasha and I battled over Jamie, and how he chose me. I smile at the ceiling and feel smug.

“Noah and I will have been together for a year and a half in October,” Brooke says. I feel less smug.

“You guys are so cute,” Sasha says. I have to agree that they are. Brooke and Noah never seem to argue—though Brooke swears they do every once in a while—and they do anything that the other asks them to do, so they’re constantly jumping up to get sodas for the other or to rub their shoulders.

“It’s been forever since we’ve gotten to be alone,” Brooke moans. I pick up a different magazine. Sasha makes a sympathetic noise in reply to Brooke and I glance over at her suspiciously. She’s flipping through a new magazine, looking for the quiz at the back.

“Oh my God,” she says, “Here’s one for Autumn.”

“What?” I ask, sitting up and leaning over. I’m curious and liking the idea of special attention.

“‘Does he like you as MORE than a friend?’” she reads. I look at her blankly.

“Who?” I ask. Sasha laughs.

“Finn Smith,” she says. “Remember in seventh grade how he used to stare at you during lunch?”

“No,” I say. I remember waving to him across the cafeteria. I don’t remember anyone staring.

“Did he?” Brooke says.

“Yeah,” Sasha says. “But he wasn’t as hot as he is now.”

“You think he’s hot?” I ask. I think so, but I’m surprised that she does as well. Finny is so preppy, and he’s quiet and introverted instead of charming and outgoing like the boys in our group.

“Yes,” Sasha says, rolling her eyes to the ceiling. “I mean, I wouldn’t want to date him, but yeah, he’s hot.”

“He’s pretty hot,” Brooke admits.

“Okay, but we’re not friends anymore so I can’t take that quiz,” I say.

“Sure you can,” Brooke says. “Just answer what would have been true back then.”

“I can’t—”

“Number one,” Sasha says. “You call your best guy friend crying after a fight with your mom. The next day at school he, A, asks if you’re okay. B, doesn’t mention it, since he got off the phone really quickly. Or C, gives you a hug and remembers all the details of your conversation the night before.”

“Well, C,” I say. Suddenly the Goldilocks answers aren’t so clear anymore; I don’t know what the right answer is, just what the truth is.

A. He blushed when people asked if I was his girlfriend.

C. He never talked about other girls in front of me.

B. He seemed comfortable touching me.

A. He said I was his best friend.

I look over Sasha’s shoulder as she adds up my score. I’m relieved to see by the numbers assigned to my answers that they aren’t all to one extreme, but many of them still are. When she is finished, Sasha looks up at me triumphantly.

“Girl, are you blind?” she reads. “This guy is jonesing for you bad—” “Okay, stop,” I say. “We were twelve. We didn’t even have hormones.”

“You were thirteen in seventh grade,” Sasha reminds me, “and you guys were still friends until Christmas.”

“Did something happen at Christmas?” Brooke asks.

“No,” I say. “We just grew apart during first semester.” Sasha shrugs.

“Well, apparently he was in love with you,” she says.

“Oh come on, half of those questions couldn’t have really applied to us back when we were kids. I mean, ‘How often has he ever broken curfew to spend time with you?’ ‘What would it take for him to run back to his car to fetch your biology book even though his homeroom is all the way across campus?’”

“But you still had answers,” Sasha says, and she has me there. I did have answers.

“I was just guessing,” I say. “Like it matters anyway. He’s with Sylvie Whitehouse—”

“And you’re with Jamie,” Brooke says.

“Exactly,” I say. Sasha shrugs and we go back to flipping through the magazines.

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