Sit me down,
Shut me up,
I'll calm down
And I'll get along with you
-You Only Live Once, The Strokes
Brian recovered first of the group, from the harshness and realization of the truth of Andrew's words.
"Andy, I…. I'm so sorry. I had no idea you felt so left out. I'm sorry. It n-never even dawned on me that we were excluding you." And he meant it. He had just been so happy to have a real buddy, especially after his falling out with his old friends, that he hadn't stopped to think about anything else.
Andy just shrugged.
"Yeah, man," was all that Bender could manage to say. Then he paused and added, "Wait, is that why you've been such a jackass to me lately, Sporto? Because you're jealous that I hang out with Big Bri and not you?"
And there it was. The unanswered question. Andy had a choice. He could either lie, and make some smart comment about being a jackass to Bender because that was all the older boy understood. Or he could tell the truth.
Andy rolled his eyes and sighed. "No. I've been a jackass to you because I was mad about what happened at the party." Bender raised his eyebrow, and then he met Andy's eye. Understanding. "Ah." He said. "You're upset that I punched out that douchebag for talking shit about Klepto."
Allison raised her head at that. "What? Is that true, Sporto?" she asked, looking at him like she was setting eyes on prey for the first time.
Andy sighed again. "He's right. I was so mad that Bender got to play the hero. I mean, it's my job to deal with anyone who hurts you."
Allison narrowed her eyes. "No. It's not. I'm not your property, jock face." She replied. "You don't need to stand up for me. No one does. And it's definitely not your job. Don't be a pig."
"Allison, come on. You know I didn't mean it like that. I was just worried that you would think that I wasn't thinking for myself again. That Bender had to step in because I was too afraid to. And okay, maybe that's the only way I know to show how I feel about you. As much as I hate my dad, and all that macho bullshit, it lives inside of me. For better or worse. I'm trying to fight it. But it's there."
Allison seemed to calm down at that. "You don't need to prove anything to me. I already know how you feel. But I get it."
Bender chimed in. "And by the way, jock strap. I wasn't trying to fucking stomp all over your macho sense of pride or anything. In case you don't remember, Klepto had practically wrapped herself around you. You wouldn't have been able to get to that douchebag anyway. I saw that, before the idiot even opened his mouth, so I thought I'd help you out."
Andy stared at him, considering. "Oh."
"I regret I did it, anyway." Bender added. "You were right, I am a jackass." He was speaking to Andy, but looking at Claire. All four sets of eyes turned to him at that admission. "I mean, I don't regret giving the pretty boy what he deserved for messing with Allison, but I shouldn't have done it. I shouldn't have ruined things when Claire was just trying to bring us into her world."
Claire couldn't believe what he was saying. "What?"
Bender sighed. "I was an asshole that night, Claire. Don't get me wrong, your friends are jerks—well, most of them—but it wasn't your fault. And I shouldn't have taken it out on you and sent you back to them. I should have understood where you were coming from."
Claire was blown away. She had been so mad at Bender for always treating her like the enemy. But she could see it in his face. He was sincere. He was maturing.
She wasn't quite ready to forgive him, though. "That's what you always do, though, John. You always see the worst in me. You look for every opportunity to think I'm going to be a complete bitch. It's not my fault that Steff is an asshole. He was never my friend anyway. And he wasn't even invited. None of them were. We purposely only invited people we thought would be cool. I would never have put you through that on purpose. Not any of you," she said, looking at Andy and Allison. She was horrified to feel the tears stinging her eyes. "I'm sorry it went so wrong. I'm sorry that those guys treated you so awfully. Maybe it was naïve of me to think that we could all get along. But I never meant for them to hurt you, Allison, and I…I'm so sorry that those guys have treated you so badly, Andy. I really am."
Allison was crying now, too. She looked at Andrew who looked over at her. He couldn't help but soften. "We shouldn't have blamed Claire, Andy. It wasn't her fault." Allison said softly. Because she had begun to realize that she'd been wrong to think Claire had turned her back on them. That the only reason Claire had gone back to her old friends was because Bender had hurt her feelings, and Andrew and Allison were upset with her. Claire was just lonely.
Andrew looked at Brian, who was almost smiling now. Brian looked at him. They both realized the same thing. No one was sitting on chairs and furniture anymore. Everyone had made their way onto the floor of Brian's bedroom. It was just like those powerful confession moments they'd had in detention.
Andy reached over and patted Claire's arm, comfortingly. He knew what needed to happen to heal the group. He now understood why Brian had called them over, and what game Brian had been playing- what he hoped would happen. And he also knew he should step up and be the one to kick things off.
"Bender? That's not the only reason I was mad at you. I wasn't even really mad at you. I was still holding on to so much guilt about something I've done, or rather didn't do. And I guess after seeing you give Steff what he had coming to him, standing up for Allison like that, I felt even guiltier and took it out on you."
Bender asked, "Guilt about what?"
Andrew looked at the ground as if he wanted to melt into it. "About not standing up for Claire when I had the chance." He glanced at Claire out of the corner of his eye, as Claire looked at him, confused. "There's a reason Erica's been so shitty to you. Last year after your date with Dan Hogan, after you rejected him, he started telling everyone that you had sex with him. I was at the lunch table when he said it. And I didn't say anything. I.. I was too much of a coward. And I was afraid that if I said anything, if Bender found out, he'd get himself into more trouble trying to defend you, and that Will and those guys would come after him. But mostly, I just didn't have it in me to stand up to my friends. And look how they ended up abandoning me."
Allison couldn't believe what she was hearing. "How could you do that? How could you let them just talk about Claire like that and not stand up for her? How could you even think about staying friends with them after that? Did you not learn anything in detention?"
Claire, on the other hand, sat in silence staring at Andy, and then at the ground. She was angry. She was hurt. She could have said a lot of things. She could have yelled at him. She could have lashed out. She could have called him a coward. She could have cried thinking about everyone at school thinking she was a slut.
But then she thought of all her conversations with Andy in study hall last year. All their bonding about their fears with their old friends. About how much it hurt when Bender was always looking over her shoulder for her next mistake, and how she knew there would always be another one coming because she was human after all.
So she just said, "Andy, they wouldn't have changed if you had said anything anyway. They would have just laughed at you. And if anyone believes that lie, they're not my friend to begin with."
Now it was Bender who was shocked. He had expected Claire to react in disgust at Andy's confession. To plot some kind of revenge that some peasant boy would dare sully Queenie's good name like that. But she didn't. She just let it go. He couldn't believe it. This was very much not like her.
It was his turn now. He cleared his throat. "I didn't just punch that Steff guy because of Allison. I did it for me, too. I was sick and tired of how all those guys look at people like me and her. And I was furious that he said it in front of Claire. I guess I was afraid that maybe it wouldn't be long before Claire would start thinking of us like that. Of me like that. I wasn't mad at you, Claire. Or even Steff. I was angry with myself for letting myself believe that it was even possible for Claire to bring us into her world. For them to accept us. For her to accept me."
He looked at Claire. God, she loved that vulnerable look on him. It always melted her heart. She knew she still had feelings for him, but they had a long way to go before they could work things out. She still didn't believe she'd earned the treatment she received from him. And he'd have to prove to her that he could let some of that insecurity, let the past, go and see her for who she really was.
For now she just gave him a semi-warm smile and said, "John, you can be such an idiot sometimes."
It was Allison's turn to confess next. "I did something too, you know. I told my parents that you weren't my boyfriend, Andy. And that you weren't my friend, Claire. I told them that you guys were brother and sister and that your dad worked for the school, and made you be nice to me."
"What?!" Claire and Andy both shouted simultaneously.
The raven-haired recluse smiled a sad smile. "I know. It's awful. I didn't mean to deny you guys. I was just so upset. My mother, she… she hadn't paid attention to me in years. Then she saw Andrew picking me up and Claire stopping by, and all of a sudden it was like she wanted to be mother of the year, and I'm her precious little girl. She doesn't care about me, about the person I am. She saw a popular jock and a popular pretty girl spending time with me and she thought that I was becoming who she's always wanted me to be. And for a minute I thought about going along with it. You have any idea what it's like to long for love all those years and all of a sudden she's dangling that carrot in front of me? I wanted it so much. So much that it hurt. And then I remembered that she doesn't love me for me, she loved the person she wanted me to be. And either way, it wouldn't change how they treated my brother. And that hurt even worse. So I lied. To get rid of her. I know I'm not much, but…. I want to be loved for me. And I know I'm not supposed to lie anymore, so I'm sorry." She said that last part staring into Andy's eyes.
He smiled at her and shrugged. "I don't like the idea of lying about me and not admitting I'm your boyfriend, but I get it. You want their attention, but not just because of me and Claire. It's okay."
Claire nodded. "Just remember, Alli. You're not alone anymore. You don't have to be anyone but yourself. Not with us."
Brian's turn. "You know, the only reason I pushed the question in detention about us staying friends is because I thought that maybe if we stayed friends, it would fix everything. That maybe if we had each other, all our problems would go away. And that's why I tried to bring everyone back together today. Because I thought it would fix everything. That I could fix everything. But we're just kids. I guess the problems will always be there. I've been hiding something too.
I'm sorry that I blew up at you guys earlier. I'm sorry that I held it all in so long. Probably because a part of me tolerated being everyone's go-to person because at least it meant that you guys would stick around. And I needed you guys more than I realized. Because I don't have anyone else anymore. Claire, you think your friends are bad because they're a little stuck-up? Andy, you're upset that those meatheads abandoned you? Well, my friends are even worse. They hate Bender because he's a burnout. And I don't mean the same way that Claire's friends or Andy's friends would hate him. I mean, they hate him. He's been nicer to me than they ever have, and they think he's a terrible influence on me. And they hate Saidie. They're judgmental and racists. And the worst part is I never knew it. Bender? That's why I've been eating lunch with you so much. Because I've been hanging out with horrible people since I was in elementary school."
"Wow," Andy said, almost under his breath. He hurt every day missing his friendship with Stubbie, but he couldn't imagine the pain of discovering that your friend didn't like someone who means so much to you, just because of the color of their skin.
"Brian, that's terrible." Claire said. "I'm so sorry."
"Have you told her yet?" Bender asked. Brian shook his head. "She would be devastated if she knew I chose you and her over them. Especially now when…. Well, anyway, I just didn't think it was a good idea."
Andy changed the subject. "Wait, do you guys realize what this means? Think about it. Claire's friends are bitches who judge anyone who's not popular and rich. My friends—well, my former friends—are bullies who live to pick on people. And Brian's friends are racist. The only one whose friends have accepted us are… are Bender's friends. Bender's the only one of us who hangs out with decent people. Who would have ever seen that one coming?"
The others smiled, and Bender put on that "I knew it" smirk of his. "What can I say?" he replied. "I always knew I was too good for you losers. But since you dorks did cover for me with Dick, I'll try not to rub it in your ugly faces."
They all rolled their eyes at him, but were all still smiling.