Chapter no 76

If He Had Been with Me

“Do you remember in fourth grade,” Finny says, “when we read Charlotte’s Web in class and you cried?”

“Yes. Do you remember when that baseball hit you in the head?” “Yes. Did you cry then too?”

“No,” I say. We’re sitting in his car. It’s late at night again, but we aren’t quite ready to go inside. The engine is off, but the dashboard light is on; I can barely see his face. I’m curled up in my seat. I’m so tired, but I don’t want him to know.

“You were scared though. You said you thought I was dead.” “It was scary. You fell like a rag doll.”

“Do you remember the Christmas it snowed and then iced over the snow?”

“We went to the creek.” “Yeah.”

I lay my cheek on my knee. The windows are starting to fog up, but it doesn’t feel like we’ve been sitting together all that long.

“Do you remember when you punched Donnie Banks?” I say. “Of course I do.”

“He said I was a freak.”

“You weren’t a freak. You were the only cool girl at school.” “How would you know? You never talked to any other girls.”

“I didn’t need to. Do you remember the Valentine’s Day that my mother had the date with the bald guy?”

“Which one?”

“The creepy-looking one.” “I don’t remember.”

Finny turns in his seat to look at me. I struggle to make out the expression on his face. “Yeah, you do, we were plotting to throw a bucket of water from the window when they came home—”

“But the babysitter made us go to bed in separate rooms! I remember that, but I don’t remember the guy.”

“I do. He was creepy-looking.”

“Or maybe you just remember thinking that he was creepy. Maybe if you saw him now, you wouldn’t think so at all. Memory isn’t objective.”

“But you and I always remember things the same way.”

“But that’s because we always thought the same way back then. I bet we wouldn’t remember—” I stop when I realize what I was about to say.

“What?” Finny says.

I shrug like it’s no big deal. “We probably won’t remember middle school the same, or high school.”

“Oh. Maybe.” We are quiet then, and I wonder why I said that and if he’ll say that we should go in now.

“You were Mr. Laughegan’s favorite,” Finny says.

“Yeah, I know,” I say. “But all the other teachers liked you better.” “That’s not true.”

“Yes, it is!” I say. I lift my head off my knees and sit up straighter. “Everyone always likes you. It was the same in elementary school too.”

Finny shrugs. “I don’t know about elementary school,” he says, “but nobody liked me in middle school.”

“That’s not true.”

“Yes, it is; I was nerdy and you were, like, the Queen.”

“No,” I say, “Alexis was the Queen. I was just a flunky.” Finny shakes his head. “What are you talking about?” I say. “She was the leader of The Clique.” I can’t tell for sure because of the dark, but I think Finny rolls his eyes.

“But you were the one all the guys liked,” he says.

“Oh,” I say.

“Yeah, it was—weird. Hearing them talk about you like that, I mean.”

“Oh,” I say. The windows are completely fogged up now. I can only make out the glow of the streetlight coming through; otherwise, it could be any street in America out there.

“So why did you leave them?” Finny says.

“Who?” I ask. I’m thinking about the way he stumbled over his words when he said it was weird to hear guys talking about me.

“The girls. Why did you and Sasha leave them?”

“We didn’t leave them,” I say. “They kicked us out.”

“That’s not what they say,” Finny says. I look up at him and wish I could see his face better. “They told me that after they joined the cheerleading squad you started talking about how cheerleading in high school was a stereotype and you wanted to be a part of something more meaningful. And you stopped returning their calls.”

“That is not how that happened,” I say. “They stopped being friends with us.”

“But that does sound like something you would say,” Finny says.

“Yeah,” I say, “but they’re the ones who thought they were too good for us.”

“That’s what they say about you,” Finny says. “But that’s not true!”

“Memory isn’t objective, right?”

“I guess so,” I say, and for the first time I’m wondering what else might be different from Finny’s point of view.

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