a/n: To a particular reviewer, who PMed a very creative and persuasive request for an update, this is for you. Sorry it's nearly a week later than I said. As for the question of whether or not there'll be anymore comic cameos, let's just say Calvin might eventually get a roommate with the initials D.M.
. . . . .
. . . . .
Okay. Deep breath.
I wrung the program in my hands. It tore a little, its binding soggy from my sweat-soaked palms. The twelve dollars I'd spent on my ticket in the middle-back felt like dirty money. I'd paid in cash, on the paranoid fear that Justin would somehow be able to trace my credit card and know I'd been to see his stupid play.
That's what he'd called it.
Finally, the lights dimmed and the opening scene began. A girl strode onto the stage, dressed in an expensively cut suit, her heels three inches high. Discrepancy number one, I thought. I hardly ever wore heels that high, unless I was doing an interview, and even then, only certain types of interviews. At least she was pretty.
She carried a suitcase behind her and stopped center stage. Drawing her shoulders back, she took a deep breath and looked out at a place the audience couldn't see. "Harvard," she breathed. If she'd looked hopeful, excited—even naïve—I could have stomached it. But she looked hungry. Almost cruel. Like she was going to consume and conquer Harvard.
That wasn't me, was it?
The play continued, outlining the meeting of a harried literature professor and this young, ambitious woman. He'd made himself extra handsome, I noted with distaste. He came off as a young PhD graduate, barley starting his tenure at Harvard and filled with romantic ideals and hopes for changing his students' lives.
He obviously hadn't felt it necessary to include the way he also sneered at anyone uneducated, the way he droned in complaint about the government and reality TV as if he sat on a lofty platform above them. Even mentioning Twilight could send him on a rant that lasted twenty minutes.
Before I could stop myself, I thought of Calvin, who was just as smart, and although arrogant, didn't mark anyone's personal value by their education.
I shook that thought off. I wasn't here to compare Calvin and Justin.
In the play, the girl who was me couldn't enjoy anything. She dismissed nature, movies and simple pleasures for homework, internships and a grueling class schedule. And okay—I did usually take more credit hours than was advised, but I wasn't a robot. I hadn't socialized much, but that was because most of the time I was with Justin.
The Justin character gave a monologue about how he'd fallen in love with a girl incapable of love—how she'd captivated him with the cold, hard appeal of a diamond.
I checked the playbill. Only more scene until intermission, but I couldn't wait that long. I sprang to my feet, pushing past the annoyed patrons in my row until I burst into the empty lobby. Leaning down on my knees, I took a deep breath. I wasn't going to cry. I wasn't.
I straightened with a jolt, the voice sickeningly familiar.
I turned and there he was, shutting the door to the theater behind him.
"I've been watching for you every night, hoping you'd come." He hadn't exaggerated his handsomeness too much in the play, unfortunately. He had light brown hair and even lighter blue eyes, a speckling of freckles on the bridge of his nose that was offset by the strong, prominent cut of his jaw.
"I'm leaving," I said, turning on my heel.
I stopped, not because he had any power over me—he didn't, not anymore. But I realized there was something I wanted to say. I wheeled around and strode back to him, hoping I looked every bit like the soulless woman he portrayed me as.
"Stop sending flowers and stop sending e-mails, you selfish, undeserving asshole. You used me as inspiration to get yourself published. And despite the way you portrayed Sally Perkins, I loved you."
That was the worst part. In high school, I'd gone on dates, sure. But I'd attended an all-girl private school on scholarship, so those were few and far between. Justin was the only man I'd loved. I'd lost all of my girlish ideals on him, as well as my virginity.
I ended things, yes. But I'd also found his play and a pink silk thong I knew wasn't mine.
"I still love you, Susie. I know you're upset about the play. I don't want you to hurt, but don't make me wait until you've surpassed my success to be happy with you. No one can give you a thick skin but you. I shouldn't have to fail so you can be comfortable."
I couldn't breathe. That waswhy he thought I was upset? Because he succeeded before me? The reason I'd failed my last semester and transferred to NYU had nothing to do with jealousy. It was because the planet I'd been orbiting the past three years turned out to be a scumbag more concerned with his publishing career than me.
"At least see the end of the play—please. I changed it, for you."
I'd slapped him before I realized I'd decided to, my hand stinging hotly. I was out the door before he could say anything else, practically running to get away.
. . . . . .
By the time I made it to my dorm building, my fire had run out and I plonked heavily up the stairs. He was wrong—but he was also right. I did shun people, not intentionally, but friends had left and I'd blamed it on jealousy. The same with the boys who didn't pursue me farther than a first or second date. They were intimidated. But maybe they weren't jealous or intimidated. I just lacked the ability to connect sincerely with another human being.
I entered my hallway and came up short as I saw Calvin sitting in front of my door. I stiffened as he rose to his feet.
"How long have you been sitting here?" I asked, not liking how strange and hollow my voice sounded.
"A few hours." He dusted off his pants. "I sent you a text."
I hadn't even turned on my phone since yesterday night, but Calvin didn't seem offended or surprised that I hadn't answered.
"Sorry," I muttered. Something like panic was starting to swell in my stomach. What was he doing here?
He stepped closer, hands in his pockets. "I figured this was the only way to talk to you. Want to tell me why you ran out on me last night?"
Oh god—last night. I remembered the way he looked at me just before I saw the play title lit up. I thought he was going to kiss me. At the time, I'd been weirdly happy about it, but now I realized I'd fooled Calvin just like everyone else. Over two weeks of tutoring, he'd been exposed. He got an A on his test and connected me to the success.
I'd forgotten too, who I really was. It almost felt like middle school again, with the playful bantering, but he didn't see me. Not really. He had no idea what I'd been in Harvard, the reality of Sally Perkins, and the broken heart Susan Derkins wore because of her. He was drawn into the shiny diamond, not realizing he was going to cut himself.
He frowned. "No."
"Don't do this."
"Do what? Be concerned?"
"Yes!" I snapped. "It's none of your business."
His face reddened. "It is my business if you leave me in the middle of the sidewalk with no explanation."
"Listen," I said. "I had a fun time tutoring you. I did. And I'm so glad I could help."
His face darkened. He was too perceptive. He could sense the rejection before I'd even said it.
"But, " I continued before I lost my nerve, "we're not suddenly best friends, okay? You don't know anything about me. You have no idea who I am."
"I'm trying . . ." He stepped closer. Too close. His hair adorably mussed. And his eyes looking like he might be the first person to really see me . . .
And that's what jolted me back. I didn't want him to see me, not the me I truly was.
"Well, don't! I don't want to get to know you—I don't want that."
He drew back.
"I'm not unconsciously pushing you away because I'm scared." I drew a deep breath. "But either respect my boundaries or leave me alone. Please."
The strength it took to walk past him to my door was the kind normally reserved for pulling up that last lip of a steep cliff. I could feel his eyes on me, but I didn't turn as I opened my door and walked inside.
. . . . . .
It was clearly a favorite holiday of Junie's. She'd decorated most of our room. I was counting the days until I could afford my own place. Hopefully before Christmas.
It was a good thing I'd taken on such a light load after my transfer, or I might have somehow managed to fail another semester. At a state level university. Ugh. Ten days had passed? Two weeks? I wasn't sure. Justin had—despite my warning—sent a few e-mails. And left a voicemail.
Calvin hadn't sent anything. Not that I cared.
I laid on my back, staring at the ceiling. One of my new favorite pastimes.
Junie's phone rang—some indie rock song. "Junie," I called. She could hear neither me nor her phone with her headphones on. "Junie!" I threw a pillow and she jerked as it smacked her in the face.
Tearing her headphones off, she glared, opening her mouth—but then she heard the ringing. "Crap." After digging around in her backpack, she found her phone and pressed it to her ear. "Hello?" Her face broke into a smile. "Hey Calvin!"
I stiffened, picking up a book off my nightstand so I could pretend to be interested in something else. Why was he calling her?
"No—I got the invite on Facebook. Of course I'm coming."
Calvin's Halloween party. I saw the event page, but hadn't been offered an invitation.
She laughed. "I would love to be the Dill to your Pickle."
What was that?—some kind of innuendo?
You don't care, I reminded myself.
And I didn't. Not about his stupid party anyway. But since when did Junie and Calvin get chummy enough that Calvin wanted to do a joint costume with her? I wondered if he realized she had a little crush on him. Maybe he did, and that was exactly why he was calling her.
"Okay—see you there, bye."
Without looking at me, she hung up and put her headphones back on. But I noticed the loopy smile on her face and the light pink tinge to her cheeks.
I should go to the party, to protect Junie. Or at least make sure Calvin was sincere. And if he was, well then . . . good for them.
But still. I should make sure.
The party was tomorrow. I needed to find a mask quick, since I wasn't technically invited.