Every time she comes round, Paulie Bleeker gets the same litany from his mother.
- - -
"I don't like that Juno girl,"
Bleeker, halfway to the front door, pauses and turns to look at his mother.
"Mom, I've known her since we were at playschool. That's kind of over a decade ago."
"And 'kind of over a decade ago' she wasn't the delinquent she's turning into," his mother frowns. Bleeker winces. He doesn't like it when his mother frowns. It's like a maternal accusation making him inwardly list all the things he might have done wrong in the last twenty-four hours, and hoping she doesn't know.
"What's wrong with Juno?" now Bleeker's frowning, unhappy.
His mother shakes her heads disapprovingly, and goes to adjust his shirt. Bleeker makes a face, but submits to the attention. He can always mess it up again before Juno sees.
She tweaks the shoulders of his shirt, and says in the horrible way of mothers everywhere – the way that makes you immediately want to get out of the room:
"I just hope you don't consider her a close friend,"
- - -
I just hope you don't consider her a close friend. A litany Bleeker grows to hate, rolling his eyes and setting his jaw. Even if he didn't like (love) hanging out with Juno, even if he didn't like (adore) her company, even if she wasn't totally (beautiful, amazing, wonderful, everything) awesome, he'd do it, just to make his mother angry. And he knows he'll get the litany, the knowing look, the frown. He'll go up to his bedroom, and she'll call him down to dinner with a loving smile on her face, but he knows that the scowl is still there.
It's because she loves him, he knows. He just wishes she loved him enough to see Juno as Juno, not as a manifestation of all that's bad in Bleeker's life.
"Paulie," his mother says as he gathers up the dishes, "Could I speak to you when you're done with dishes?"
"Sure, mum," he says warily. There's something in that tone he doesn't like, and he's certain it's to do with that oft-heard litany I just hope you don't consider her a close friend.
- - -
"I heard down the grapevine that Juno McGuff," and for once she properly says the name, but in a way that raises Bleeker's hackles, "Is pregnant…because of you,"
Bleeker goes stiff and his heart contracts, remembering the dismissive way she left after telling him.
Whose idea was it?
He carefully thinks about his options, before deciding to keep his mouth shut.
"Now, I try not to pry into your life - - ."
"Yeah right," he mutters under his breath, the Juno in him surfacing. He smiles inwardly at that image. He can already imagine her standing there, arms crossed, eyes blazing, hair pushed back behind her ears.
His mother frowns at his muttered response.
"- - but I feel that you really should keep her out of your life,"
"What makes you think she wasn't in my life to begin with?" he's not Juno, so it's not as sharp, but it's getting there. Juno's snap is the snap of a whip, leaving angry red welts across your skin and knocking you down for six. His is the snap of a mouse trap – it goes away, but the humiliation of getting caught by a mouse trap lurks for days. The suggestion that that oft-heard litany actually had an effect is more than slightly irksome, and if Juno were here, she'd laugh.
He's not Juno – he can't fight her down and then stalk to his room like a champion.
He's not Leah – he can't raise an eyebrow, put a hand on his hip and sass her to humiliation, and then walk to his room with his held high.
He's just Bleeker. Paulie Bleeker, who knocked up his best friend, had his heart broken and none of it was his fault. Paulie Bleeker, who wants things, and never has the courage to get them.
Paulie Bleeker, and the only thing he was good at was running.
He turned, left the house, slammed the front door and ran out into the night.
He didn't know where he was running, he didn't know what he was doing…
All he knew was that soon he was staring up at Juno McGuff's house, with the neat lawn and flowers. Marigolds, he recognizes, for some reason.
Marigolds are like sunflowers, he remembers. Their heads always follow the sun.
Even in the darkness, they look especially gold.
Dawn rises, like petals unfurling and, with a thin smile, Bleeker runs home to be told off anew and hugged by a frightened mother.
Absent-mindedly, he wonders if she knows what marigolds are.