It was all his fault to begin with. He had known that Ace had a reputation as a player. He had heard everything the other guys said about him, and he had still stepped back and let her make the decision herself. He had ignored his protective instincts, he had resisted the urge to try and talk her out of it the very first time he asked her out, and look where it had gotten them.
She sat on the couch with her legs drawn up beneath her, systematically ripping to shreds every note Ace had ever sent her, focused solely on the destruction of everything that could even remotely remind her of him. He suspected that she was barely resisting the urge to destroy Ace himself, but wisely kept this opinion to himself.
Next to her sat a pile of photos, cards, movie ticket stubs, and a few pieces of jewelry. In fact, he was surprised that so many things could remind her of such a short relationship.
Suddenly she stopped, half a birthday card clutched in each hand, and stared into space. Then she burst out, "Muffy Jenkins! How dare he – Muffy Jenkins! What a jerk!"
Unsure whether she was talking about Muffy or Ace, he decided to just agree. "You're absolutely right. Despicable."
"She doesn't even have the sense to realize that he's just using her!"
Muffy, then. "She's just desperate. Besides, everybody knows that she's always been jealous of you."
She continued ripping the card without looking up, but it was a moment or two before she spoke again. "Jealous of me?"
"Of course. And really, what's not to be jealous of? You're gorgeous, you have beautiful long hair, and every boy in the school is chasing you."
"Not every boy," she said, appearing to ignore his other compliments.
He blushed. "Well, you can't have everything, you know."
She smiled, and looked back at the dwindling pile of objects beside her. She selected a dried rose, and began pulling the petals off one by one. They sat in silence for several minutes. He wondered what she was thinking.
"If only he had said something before," she said at last. "It wouldn't have been so bad if he had just broken it off, said that it wasn't going to work."
He just looked at her.
"Okay, so it wouldn't have been the best. Still, anything would have been better than that."
He remembered the look on her face as she watched Ace and Muffy stumble out of janitor's closet, her clothes all wrinkled and lipstick all over his face, and knew that she was right. Anything in the world would have been better than that.
She looked down at the last petal left on the rose and sighed. "I can't believe I fell for all that junk about being 'special,' and that it was 'different this time.' And for six months! What an idiot. That's not like me at all."
He gently put his hand on her arm. "No, it's not. But he was right about one part. You are special; it just takes someone better than The Kid to see it," he said, using Ace's old nickname scornfully.
He examined her face closely, but she seemed pretty serious. "Well, not any of the guys at our school, that's for sure."
She grinned playfully. "Eh, that Eggbert guy isn't bad."
He pretended to gag and fell off the couch.
"What, you don't think so? Well, what about Jimmy McGarfield?"
They both laughed. Then she stopped and looked at him thoughtfully. "See, I knew you could make me feel better."
He was surprised. He was usually able to say the right thing, but somehow when he was with her it always turned out to be exactly the wrong thing. "Really?"
"Of course. You know what? Forget him. Let's go get a soda."
On their way to the soda bar, they passed Ace and Muffy walking hand in hand. Muffy shot her a triumphant look, but she just gave a half smile and continued to the bar, choosing a table in the back.
"I almost feel sorry for her," she said, studying her menu. "Almost." Her dark hair fell in front of her face, and he noted that it was even more beautiful when it was wavy and loose. "She doesn't know what she's getting into."
"I just hope she has someone to help her get over it," she went on. "Someone to keep her from killing somebody, or maybe herself."
He smiled over his sunglasses. "I'm not quite sure Muffy is the suicidal type."
"Trust me, after this she'll be the homicidal type. So, what are you getting?"
He glanced down at his own menu, ignoring the abrupt subject change. "Hm, I'm not really sure. What are you going to have?"
She grinned. "I think the circumstances call for some root beer floats."
"Exactly what I would have suggested."
Abby looked positively radiant as the waitress brought their drinks. Nigel made a mental note to thank Hoagie for agreeing to call Muffy and Ace in for "interrogation" the other day. "To freedom?"
"To freedom – and to friends." They both sipped their drinks and grinned.