"You're calling my name but I gotta make clear
I can't say baby where I'll be in a year"
-Sweet Emotion, Aerosmith
Allison would never have thought of herself as a particularly strong person, but the things she'd done at the end of the school year made her think maybe she'd underestimated herself.
She'd managed to avoid Andy every day at school. It wasn't something she wanted to talk about at all, because having to explain why she was doing it would have caused her to break. Whenever they went out, or when the Club went out together during the weekend, Allison made sure to be extra sweet and affectionate to Andy to make him think nothing was wrong.
What she didn't understand, because she'd never had a boyfriend before, was that she was confusing him more and more.
Not that he was complaining. Not seeing Allison around had actually made things easier for him. Nobody was acting strangely around him, conversations didn't stop anymore when he entered a room, and people were treating him normally again. At least for the time being.
Charlotte, Will and Dan all just figured they'd been wrong about Andrew. At least, that's what Charlotte liked to tell herself. Dan thought Andy must have been using the dork to do his homework, and Will's theory was that Andy had just been using the freak for sex and was too embarrassed to tell anyone about it. If they ever turned out to be wrong, they'd be the first to know.
Allison definitely noticed that since she'd started avoiding Andy at all costs in public, he had seemed a lot more relaxed. She could see the bags under his eyes fade a little, and he seemed almost cheerful sometimes. It actually made her happy. She figured he had enough to deal with, with his dad on his case.
And she was right. Andrew had enough with that, and with keeping an eye out for any more rumors about Claire. He'd been debating whether or not he should say anything to anyone, but he figured as long as it was just guy locker room gossip, it was harmless. As long as he didn't hear it around school. And he figured he couldn't tell Bender. There's no telling what that ticking time bomb would do, and Claire wouldn't want Bender getting into any trouble for her.
Claire had thrown herself into hanging with her girlfriends and doing the usual popular-girl end-of-the-year activities. She had fooled everyone into thinking she was happy. But there was one person she couldn't fool: Brian Johnson.
Bender couldn't fool Brian, either. Instead of their calm, simple yet deep, lunchtime conversations, Bender had gotten to be more aggressive, and grew angrier by the day. In Brian's eyes, he was back to being the scary Bender he'd been in detention. While he wasn't sure what he should do about Andy and Allison at the moment, it became clear to him that he had to do something about Claire and Bender.
So, one day, when Bender was in an unusually foul mood, Brian said, "So, Bender? About Claire, I don't know if you know this, but—"
"—Shut it, dweebie. I'm not interested in hearing about her and whatever prep she went to prom with."
"But, that's just it, Bender. She didn't go to prom."
"What are you talking about? I heard she was the only sophomore to get invited."
"She was. She just decided not to go. I was confused, too. I thought she was excited to be the only underclassmen girl to go. But she told me when she got asked, she changed her mind and said no, and spent the night at Allison's on prom night instead."
"Well, good for her," Bender said, wanting so badly to appear uninterested.
"I didn't understand it, either. Until she told me that she went out on a date soon afterwards and called the guy by the wrong name."
Bender laughed so hard he almost choked. "Oh, that is fucking awesome. That's rich. Let me guess. She called him Joe Perry? Or Dan Hogan." He laughed even harder, and Brian thought he might actually fall off the car.
"Nope," Brian said, turning red. "She called him John Bender."
And it was like someone had put Bender on pause. He completely froze. Brian did too, worried about what would come next.
But finally Bender relaxed and smirked in his trademark Bender way. "Well, there goes her pristine reputation." Was all he said.
On the last day of school, Claire had arranged for the whole group to get together for one last meal at Del Rossi's again. With Bender's encouragement, Brian had decided to invite Saidie, so that she could meet the rest of his friends.
Bender was the first one there, having left school early since he figured there was no point to being there that day, so he was the first one at the restaurant. He'd had something on his mind that he needed to process before he met up with the others.
Andy drove himself, and arrived there second. Allison had told him she wanted to ride with Claire.
Saidie's dad had picked Brian and Saidie up and was driving them there.
The rest of the gang was talking about them when they arrived. The other three couldn't wait to meet this girl who'd made such an impression on Brian.
They were all taken aback when they met her. She was different from what they expected. Not in a bad way; it just took some getting used to. Andy could get along with anyone, and when he saw how much Saidie had in common with Allison, he liked her immediately.
It was only Claire who acted awkward throughout the meal. And for once it wasn't just about being in the same room with Bender.
It wasn't that she had a problem with Saidie. She just had never really hung out with anyone who looked like her before. She wasn't sure how to act. She wondered how Brian could have left out that fact. And she certainly hadn't expected Brian's girl to be that friend of Bender's that she always saw him with. She wasn't sure what the nature of Bender's relationship with this girl was.
Luckily, everyone else was picking up Claire's slack in her share of the conversation. She spent most of the time staring at Saidie curiously, and trying to pretend she wasn't. Saidie made an effort to get to know Andy and Allison, and she even made an attempt to bring Claire into the conversation, but most of her attention was reserved for Bender and Brian.
Most of the conversation that afternoon was about the group's summer plans.
Claire was going with her whole family and a neighbor family to Paris for part of the summer. But she invited them all to her 4th of July party. She felt awkward doing it with Saidie there, partially because she didn't know her and partially because she wasn't sure if Saidie even celebrated that holiday (Claire realized she had a lot to learn about the world, and felt ashamed of herself). She figured she'd at least make an effort if this girl was important to Brian and Bender.
Allison was going down to Florida with Frank to visit her oldest brother. She promised she'd try to make it back for Claire's party if she could.
Andy would be in town half the summer and visiting his mother for the other half. His time in town would be taken up by trying to find a summer job.
Freddie had gotten his car in great running shape finally, and he and Bender were going to go on a small road trip with the little cash they had saved up over the year. Just traveling in search of adventure and causing some trouble.
And Brian was doing the same thing he did every summer; flying out with his sister to Indiana to visit his cousin Kendall. And then Kendall would come back with them to make his yearly visit to llinois at the end of the summer.
And Saidie was going to Atlanta for pretty much the whole summer. Brian knew he was going to miss her like crazy.
Brian and Saidie were the first to leave. Saidie had to get home and finish any last minute things, as she was leaving for Atlanta the next day.
Andy figured after their departure was the perfect time to make the announcement he'd been wanting to make.
"Guys, Allison-I've got some news." He took Allison's hand in his. And it was then that Allison knew that whatever it was, it had something to do with his future. And she couldn't let him say it, not when she had news of her own.
She had to blurt it out. "Andy, I need to talk to you. Alone. Now."
She practically dragged him away from the table, and outside.
"What is it? What's wrong?" Andy asked, panicking. This was weird, even for Allison.
"Andy, I'm sorry. I can't do this. I know this is a really shitty time and way to do this, but I think we should break up."
"What?! Allison, what-what's wrong? Where is this coming from? Did I do something? Or is it something I didn't do?"
Allison had that teary look in her eyes, and at Andy's words the tears came rushing out.
"I don't think we should date anymore. I don't want to hurt you. But I think this is best for both of us. We should just… go back to how we were during detention. I'm sorry."
She handed him a few bills for her meal. "I'll just take the city bus home. I hope that you can forgive me for this when we see each other again."
And she walked off before Andy could say anything else.
Inside Del Rossi's, Claire and Bender had been left alone. Claire was determined not to be the first one to speak, and Bender was determined not to say something obnoxious and sarcastic.
"So, will you miss me this summer, Cherry?" he asked. It took all he had to keep the sarcasm out of his voice and to look at her as sincerely as possible.
Claire must have realized this effort, because she blushed and tried to match his sincerity. "'Um, I guess so. Why? Why do you care?"
Bender just smirked at her. Claire thought to herself that she wished he wouldn't do that if he wasn't going to kiss her afterward.
"So," she said, deciding to tease him right back. "Will you think about me while you're on your road trip?"
Bender scooted over so they were on the same side of the booth. "Cherry, I'll be thinking about you every fucking day. And this." And with that he kissed her. But this was even better than any kiss she'd had with him before. It was more passionate and erotic than Claire had ever dreamed a kiss could be.
When he finally pulled away from her, he pulled his hair back so she could see that he was wearing her earring. Claire smiled.
And then Bender took her hand and put the chain he normally wore under his shirt, in it. "Do me a favor, Cherry. Don't you forget about me over the summer, okay?"
Claire was too busy screaming internally, and blushing on the outside, to speak. She simply smiled harder and nodded.
"You and me, Princess. When we both get back, it's gonna be you and me. You okay with that?"
Claire smiled at him and put the chain around her neck. "I was always okay with that. You were just too busy being stubborn and obnoxious to notice."
Bender smirked at her and kissed her again.