Summary: Jenny wants to be the girl that doesn't care, but she dyes her hair and makes more dresses and all the while pretends it does not hurt when she bleeds. Oneshot.
A/N: For Hider. This one ran away from me – it started out as one thing and then turned into a whole different beast. Hope it's worth it. Let me know what you think.
Hider (4:27:24 PM): 'of all the girls tossing rocks at your window, i'll be the one waiting there even when it's cold'
Hider (4:27:32 PM): but the one that reminds me of jenny is
Hider (4:27:40 PM): 'abigail gave everything to a boy who changed his mind'
Jenny and Serena form a weird alliance when Dan starts sleeping with Rachel. At first it is because Serena shows up at the loft, frantic and frustrated while Jenny is listening to some of her dad's old records, wondering where the hell it all went wrong.
"Serena? What are you doing here?" she wonders. It comes out all wrong, melancholy and disinterested, but Jenny has no way of fixing the question now. Serena stares at her for a long moment and then shakes her head, laughing in that nervous way that Eric sometimes mimics.
"Hi, Jenny. I'm sorry to just burst in here like this; I was looking for Dan," Serena says. Jenny shifts in her chair, sitting up more as she tucks her legs underneath her. "He's not answering his phone, so I thought I'd see if he was home…"
When she trails off, there is sadness in her expression that Jenny vaguely understands. She knows that if a mirror were present the night that Nate chose Vanessa, she would have seen the same expression reflected back at her.
"I have no idea where he is. He rushed out of here this morning, but he barely said two words to me or Dad," she admits. Serena nods once and then swallows. Despite the Bob Dylan track playing on the record player, the sound of her throat convulsing is louder than gunfire. Jenny clears her throat and gestures toward the couch. "Do you want to wait for him?"
"Oh…" Serena hesitates. "I don't want to intrude. You seem like you want to be alone."
Jenny smiles ruefully and shifts again, planting her feet on the ground. She rests her elbows on her knees and leans forward, shrugging. "It might be nice to have someone to talk to, actually."
Serena furrows her brow, but sits down without a word. They stare at each other for seconds that feel like hours and the silence between them is palpable. Finally, Serena leans back and tosses her bag on the coffee table. She takes a deep breath and offers a small, reassuring smile. It reminds Jenny of Eric in so many ways.
"So you want to talk?"
"Maybe— unless you want to talk about Dan?" Jenny arches her eyebrows invitingly. Serena shakes her head slowly and the young blonde deflates, blowing her bangs out of her eyes as she slouches down. "I don't know if any of this will matter to you."
Dylan wails about Edie Sedgwick – Jenny's latest fashion role model – as she spills it all. She stares out the window and rants about Nate and how it felt when he kissed her, especially at the party, after she had spent so many days wondering why he so suddenly hated her. She vents her anger at Vanessa and confesses that she really felt no remorse for what she did in retaliation until Nate suddenly rejected her because of her actions. She seldom breathes and barely even blinks, but by the end of the monologue her eyes are stinging with tears and her hands are clenched into fists around the material of her jeans.
Serena is silent for a long time; long enough that Jenny feels the urge to look at her just to confirm that she did not up and leave in the middle of everything. But when they lock eyes, Jenny realizes that she was right to choose Serena – Eric is amazing and wonderful and the best friend she could ever ask for, but Serena understands.
In a strange, unexplainable way, she understands.
The front door creaks open; Jenny glances over just as Dan realizes who else is in the living room with her. He stops dead and raises an eyebrow at her, closing the door gently behind him. "Hi Dan," she greets breezily.
"Hey Jen." He turns to Serena and smiles crookedly. "Serena, how are you?"
"Oh, fine," she replies, waving her hand a bit. "I was just hanging out with Jenny." She offers the younger girl a brilliant smile, a look that says we can talk more later; your secret's safe with me. Jenny exhales slowly. "Where were you? You didn't answer when I called."
"Yeah, sorry about that, I was—running errands," he stutters. Jenny rolls her eyes. Her brother is a terrible liar, and everyone in this room knows it all too well. He and Serena stare at each other for a long time and then she nods and stands, grabbing her purse.
"I should go. Jenny, do you want to come over for dinner tonight?" Serena turns toward her again and smiles in a friendly way. Jenny nods and stands as well, walking over to her dad's record player. Dylan stops playing abruptly and the awkwardness rises fully to the surface, floating like a corpse in the Hudson.
"That sounds great! Thanks, Serena."
"Great. I'll tell Eric—I'm sure he'll be excited to see you." Serena walks toward the door and avoids Dan as much as possible; Jenny notices that he is practically up against the door and resists the urge to snort. Serena gives him a flippant goodbye and leaves, the door closing with finality behind her.
Dan tosses his keys and smiles, close-lipped and uncomfortable. "Dinner should be fun."
"Yeah," Jenny agrees. She folds her arms across her chest and tilts her head to the side. "Where were you really?"
"That's not really any of your business, is it?" he replies. He drops his keys on the counter, along with his cell phone, and heads toward his bedroom. She rolls her eyes again and walks after him.
"Dan, seriously. Where were you that you had to lie to Serena?"
His head rocks back and he groans, turning to face her in his doorway. "Seriously, Jenny. Stop sticking your nose where it doesn't belong." He pauses. "Why were you listening to Bob Dylan?"
She narrows her eyes dangerously. "Fine. If you don't want to tell me, you don't have to."
"And the same to you." He closes the door. She resists the urge to kick the frame and turns on her heel, stomping into her bedroom to find something appropriate to wear for dinner.
Eric is utterly bewildered by this sudden turn of events. Jenny can read him like no one else and the look on his face clearly says my world is ending. She hugs him tightly and laughs into his ear, shaking her head as she pulls away. "What is so bad about that?"
"Nothing," he admits. "I just can't believe you said all of that to Serena."
"Why? You tell her everything," she reasons.
"That's because she's my sister. We've always been close. But you're my best friend and her ex-boyfriend's little sister and I'm not sure that falls under the same category," he says seriously. He sounds confused, maybe a little worried, but she loves him for caring so much.
"Do you think she'll say anything?"
"No. If Serena's good for anything, it's keeping secrets." He smiles. "What possessed you to come clean anyway? I thought you didn't even want to admit most of that you yourself."
"I don't know." Jenny shrugs. He sticks his hands in his pockets and falls sideways on his bed. She stands at the end of it and looks around his room, noticing subtle changes. She hasn't been over in what feels like forever. "Hey!" She smiles brightly and bounces over to his dresser, lifting up a picture frame.
Eric props himself on his elbow and returns her grin. "Yes, Jenny?"
"I can't believe you framed this. We look like idiots."
"We look like us," he corrects. Jenny laughs and joins him on the bed, resting the picture in her lap. He snatches it from her and waves it around a little. "I can't believe you actually wore something this hideous."
"Um, are we even going to talk about you?" She laughs again. "Eric, you're wearing my skirt from Constance!"
"On a dare!" He retorts indignantly. "And you can't even see it!"
"Just because you suck at working camera timers," she teases. He sticks out his tongue and she punches him gently in the stomach. "As long as Gossip Girl never finds out that I went to Jersey to thrift-hunt, all will be well."
"Think about that sentence for a second." Eric meets her eyes and she snorts, flopping back on the bed and letting her head hang off the end of it. "I think you have bigger concerns than Gossip Girl right now."
"It's nice to pretend though," she says softly. The bed shifts and then Eric takes her hand, twining their fingers together on the mattress. She inches down until she is even with him and turns her head to face him, smiling sadly.
"Can I make a suggestion?" he murmurs. She nods. "Find someone who's worth your time. Nate Archibald is never going to be the kind of guy that you need. I think if you look for someone new, you'll see that he isn't even really what you want."
"I wish it were that simple," she replies.
"Why isn't it?" He squeezes her hand tightly. She turns her head and stares at his ceiling, squeezing back. "Jenny Humphrey, you are beautiful and creative and you deserve someone who deserves you back."
She sighs heavily. "Sometimes I really wish you were straight."
He laughs and she rolls over, burying her face in his chest. His free hand comes to rest in her short, choppy hair; he twists a bit of it between his fingers and she murmurs something unintelligible – even to her – into his chest. He hums in response.
They stay like that until dinner. When Serena comes to retrieve them, Jenny reluctantly rolls off the bed and nearly lands on her face for her efforts. The two siblings laugh at the blunder, though Serena is much kinder than Eric, and Jenny playfully proclaims her hatred for them both.
"So Jenny, how are your designs coming along?" Lily wonders. She asks Eric to pass the salad and he complies, but immediately looks back at his friend. Jenny smiles and sits up, excited by the question.
"I've been trying some new things—I think I'm finally developing a style," Jenny enthuses. "I realized that most of the styles nowadays are really focused on dark colors paired with brightly contrasting accessories, so I'm sort of playing with that and seeing what the reverse looks like. I think I've gone through three sketchbooks in the past month alone." She laughs.
"That's wonderful. Rufus was telling me just the other day how much you seem to be enjoying yourself. I was glad to hear it," Lily replies. She folds her hands together just below her chin and smiles.
Jenny flushes and ducks her head a bit. She still is not used to getting praise from her dad, especially after everything that she pulled at the beginning of the year. Eric brushes her elbow gently and she lifts her eyes. "Maybe I can bring some of my drawings over," she offers.
"I'd like that," Lily offers. Serena perks up as well; Jenny meets her eyes across the table and laughs a little.
"Yes, Jenny, please bring them over. I would love to see your work. I've only heard Eric talk about it, really," Serena says cheerfully. Jenny nods and takes a sip of her water.
"Okay. Does this weekend work?"
Serena and Lily mutter a chorus of agreement and Eric nods as he subtly changes the topic of conversation to something more neutral: the cell phone ban at school. Serena immediately goes into the politics of contraband cell phones and how Gossip Girl is thriving even more now that she is not allowed at Constance. Jenny eats quietly and occasionally shares a glance with Eric.
She attempts not to snort water out of her nose when the situation with Ms. Carr is brought up, but realization hits her so suddenly that she practically throws her glass onto the table anyway. Dan is in deep shit.
Against the background of Dan's argument with their dad, she scribbles nonsense in one of her sketchbooks and pretends that she is taking notes on a design. In reality she is marking colors, textures, and feelings; senses she associates with a certain Nate Archibald, who she ran into at a Brooklyn café today.
She feels bile in her throat at just the thought of his hand twined with Vanessa's. Neither of them saw her, as she took one look in the window and froze without even going inside. She watched them for a moment, acting the masochist, then promptly turned and power-walked down the street, boots clicking roughly against the pavement.
Her hand clenches until her pencil snaps and she tosses it across the room, shoving her sketchbook off the bed and falling forward, breathing in the Febreze-scented fabric of her comforter. She hears the door slam on the other side of the apartment and smirks.
The Humphrey children are just as rebellious as their father was; Jenny is a little proud to know that she really does take after Dan in some respects. After a week at the van der Woodsen house, watching Eric and Serena constantly, unconsciously emulate each other, she feels a bit lost. After dinner last week she accused Dan of sleeping with Rachel and his non-answer was more telling than the defense he came up with later.
Something vibrates next to her ear and she blindly reaches for her phone, realizing after the third violent shake of plastic that she is getting a call and not a text. "No Gossip Girl then," she mutters, somewhat relieved. The site has been going crazy all day; it seems as though everyone on the Upper East Side is slutting around now that spring has arrived. She is somewhat surprised by the name on the screen.
"Serena, hey," she greets.
"How are you?" Serena asks immediately. Jenny smiles to herself and sits up, folding her legs Indian-style.
"Been better," she admits. "How are you?"
"Oh, you know." Her laugh sounds like static. "I'm alright. Do you have plans for tonight?"
Jenny pretends to think about, hemming and hawing even as she reaches for her discarded boots. Serena laughs again and she smiles, adjusting her grip on the phone. "As of right now, I'm sitting at home avoiding the fight between Dan and my dad," she says seriously.
Serena sighs heavily. "Yeah. Who told Rufus?"
"I think your mom might have said something. I avoided the situation pretty much completely," Jenny replies. "But Eric and I did talk to Lily about it and with her and my dad dating…"
"Right. They're practicing that 'all honesty all the time' thing, too. When did he confront Dan about it?"
She is amazed at how calm and collected Serena can seem. Where Jenny all but falls apart at the slightest mention of Nate, Serena can have an entire conversation about her ex-boyfriends new romance – with a teacher, no less – with nothing but gently probing questions and soft laughter. Jenny is almost jealous of her ability to repress her emotions so well.
"About an hour ago," she says softly. "I wasn't really in the mood to listen for details, but it didn't sound good. There was a lot of angry murmuring and silence."
"Do you want to get out of there?" Serena asks.
"God, yes. Where should I meet you?" Jenny zips up her left boot and stands, wiggling her toes around until her feet are settled comfortably in the suede. She grabs her purse and checks her hair and makeup quickly in the mirror.
"I'll come pick you up," Serena says. She sounds tired. "I just had coffee with a friend, so I'm near the loft."
"Great! See you soon." They say their goodbyes and Jenny hangs up, dropping her cell in her homemade hobo bag and whipping open the door of her room. Rufus has his head buried in his hands, elbows on the counter. She sighs and walks into the kitchen, wrapping her arms around him.
The gesture reminds her of when she was five and she would cling to his leg at the zoo, convinced she was going to get lost and then eaten by a tiger. "Dan will come around, Dad."
He sighs heavily and reaches awkwardly behind him to pat her arm. "That's funny."
"What?" She furrows her brow and pulls away, looking at him curiously. He turns his head to rest his temple against his hand and smiles sadly.
"Dan was saying the same thing about you just a few months ago," he explains. Jenny rolls her eyes and kisses his cheek.
"We know each other well," she says. "Serena just called – she's coming to pick me up so that we can hang out. Do you want me to call Dan?"
"No." Rufus sighs. "Let him blow off some steam first."
"If you say so." She waves and leaves the loft, ignoring his advice and texting her brother as she bounces down the stairs. As she is typing out the final words of her threat to kick his ass if he does not come to his senses, she runs right into someone coming up from the street. "Oh, I'm so—"
Her apology dies on her lips. Nate stares at her for a long time and then offers a tentative smile. "Hey Jenny."
"What are you doing here?"
"I was hoping we could talk."
She feels as though she has been hit by a train. "What?"
He sighs and runs his hand through his hair, looking around nervously. Jenny stares at his face; her jaw is open, flies are filling in, but she can barely hold her thoughts together, let alone her expression. "Are you going somewhere?"
"Um—" She abruptly remembers where she is and snaps her phone shut. "I have plans with a friend."
"Can you reschedule?" he asks eagerly. She must make a nasty face, because he hastily reaches for her and corrects his wording. "I just mean—I really think we should talk, and I finally got up the courage to come over here…"
"That's not my problem," she replies. The words shock her; she almost smacks herself on the forehead, but refrains at the last second. The result is that her hand comes to rest on her chest awkwardly. She settles for playing with the chain of her necklace. "You haven't responded to any of the messages I've left you, in any form."
"I know," he admits. "But I can explain. Look, Jenny, the past couple of months have been—"
"Save it, Nate," she snaps. Over his shoulder, she spots a high-class black vehicle that belongs anywhere but Brooklyn. She shoves past him without another word and gets in the car, nudging Serena aside and slamming the door behind her.
As the car pulls away from the curb, Jenny is forced to use every bit of her will power not to watch him fade away in the twilight. Serena, apparently, is less determined than she is, because she immediately turns to the rear window and then turns back to the young blonde.
"Was that who I think it was?" she asks.
"Does it matter?" Jenny replies. Serena arches her eyebrows, but she lets the subject drop for now. Jenny turns toward the window and rests her cheek against her hand, a black fingerless glove absorbing the wetness gathering in her eyes.
"I don't like that shade of blue," he insists. "Isn't there another option?"
Jenny exhales harshly and turns back toward the shelf. "What about Turquoise Tornado?" The reply is silence; she turns to look at Eric and he is staring at her in utter horror. "What?"
"Are you seriously considering turquoise? That's worse than yellow," he proclaims.
"I never suggested yellow!"
"You looked at it long enough to make a silent suggestion," he argues. She sputters indignantly and he reaches past her, holding up a tube of fuchsia dye. "Here. Try this."
"Do I look like the kind of person who would dye her hair pink?" she asks seriously. Eric rests his thumb and forefinger against his chin and hums; she smacks him solidly in the shoulder and he laughs, backing up and holding his arms out in surrender. She looks at the bottle again and considers. "It might be fun…"
"I think it would be awesome," he exclaims. "Plus, how much pink do you put in your designs? It's one of your signature colors, Jenny."
She raises her eyes to his and smiles slowly, excitement mounting in her chest. "You think so?"
"I know so," he asserts, reaching for the bottle. He waves it around and then heads past her toward the register. "In fact I'm so sure that I'll even pay for it myself."
"Eric! Stop it. You don't have to do that." She jumps on him and tries to wiggle the bottle out of his grasp. He evades her and after a while she gives up reluctantly, out of breath from the struggle. "Fine. But I get to pay for lunch."
"Whatever you want," he says breezily. Jenny narrows her eyes playfully. Eric offers her a half-smile in return and nudges her in the side with his elbow. She grins and folds her arm into the crook of his, looking around the drug store curiously.
She spots a cardboard display of PEZ dispensers and reaches for one. "I haven't had PEZ in ages," she murmurs. He hums in reply and she ignores him, setting the dispenser back in the case and looking over each of the caricatures. "Eric, look!"
"What?" He glances at her idly as he pulls a twenty dollar bill out of his wallet. The cashier looks bored as she pops her gum and completes the transaction. Jenny taps his arm the entire time that he is waiting for his change, and still when he puts his money back in his wallet and grabs the hair dye off the counter. "Okay, okay. What is it?"
"Who does that remind you of?" She points at one of the dispensers, a princess with wavy blonde hair and a wary smile.
He looks at her seriously. "You have some genuine issues, do you realize that?"
"Eric!" Her tone is whiney and she smiles at his cringe. "Tell me that doesn't look like your sister."
"Serena would kill you if she heard you comparing her to a PEZ dispenser," he says calmly. Jenny sighs and strokes the package with a finger sadly. "It has a slit in its neck that you remove candy from. Doesn't that perpetuate violence?"
She bites back a smile. "Maybe they should be part of the video game debate."
The entire sink is covered in little splotches and streaks of pink hair dye. Jenny feels awful about the mess, but Eric reassures her that she does not need to worry. After several minutes of bickering, they both leave the bathroom to find something to do for the next half hour while the dye sets in.
Jenny spots Serena as she walks in the front door and she smiles brilliantly, jetting down the stairs to greet the other girl. "He talked me into pink," she says, sans greeting.
"Nice choice," Serena approves laughingly. She looks over Jenny's shoulder and the younger girl turns as Eric walks down the stairs. "What did she want originally?"
"She tried to convince me that turquoise would be a good choice," he says skeptically. Serena laughs. "I thought pink was more appropriate."
"Agreed." Serena nods once and turns her attention back to Jenny. She reaches out and touches the clear plastic bag that is covering her shoulders. "This is an attractive look. Are you going for recycle-chic?"
"Yes," Jenny replies. "The green movement is just so big; how can I avoid it as a designer?"
The ruse holds for approximately ten seconds before they both dissolve into giggles. Eric chimes in after a moment with a proposal to add some color to his sister's hair. Serena sighs and flops back on the couch, resting her hands on her stomach. "I don't know if I could pull it off."
"Of course you could." Jenny scoffs and sits in an armchair, careful not to let her hair anywhere near the pale furniture. "You're Serena van der Woodsen."
"She has a point," Eric agrees. Serena rolls her eyes and reaches for her phone at the same time as Jenny's vibrates. The younger girl pulls it out of her pocket just as Serena flips hers open. There is a second of silence and then they meet each other's gaze across the table.
"It doesn't matter," she mutters angrily, dropping her phone on the coffee table. Serena gives her a sympathetic glance while Eric asks both of them what is going on. He seems to realize that Gossip Girl has put out a new tidbit, but it takes him a few moments to assume the content of said message.
He pushes Jenny over and then squeezes in next to her, wrapping his arm around her torso. "You're going to get hair dye on your arm," she scolds.
"My arm is nowhere near your hair dye," he disagrees. She looks at him and he smiles, leaning in to press a kiss against her temple. "What does Gossip Girl have for us today?"
Serena sighs heavily and Jenny leans into Eric. Clearing her throat dramatically, Serena offers them both an ironic grin. "Spotted: Nate Archibald minus one Vanessa Abrams, leaving the loft of a familiar blonde designer. Could Nate be changing his mind again?"
Jenny can feel them both staring at her, but Eric's eyes burn more intensely than Serena's. "Did Nate go to the loft?"
"I need to wash my hair," Jenny mutters, pushing up from the chair. She uses Eric's leg for leverage and pushes harder than she needs to, but he knows better than to push her. She rushes up the stairs and hardly even winces when she coats the shower tiles in pink.
Constance is all aflutter as she walks through the hallway on Monday. The lower classmen whisper behind their hands as she walks by, but the upper classmen are brazen enough to speak out loud.
Jenny is unfazed. She meets Serena by her locker as she picks up her books for first period and everyone quiets down, just a little. "Looks like pink was a rough choice – it seems to be the hot topic this morning," Serena jokes.
"Yeah, tell me about it. I told Eric I should have gone with blue," Jenny plays along. She runs her fingers over the subtle streaks of pink that peak out from the longest layer of her hair and smiles. "He never listens."
"He's a boy." Serena shrugs. "Boys are clueless."
A fellow sophomore gives them an incredulous look as she walks by. Jenny hears her mutter "Why would he ever want her?"
She looks at Serena and nods in agreement. "That's an understatement." They both laugh, though the sound is sour. "I'll see you for lunch?"
"Definitely," Serena agrees. She squeezes Jenny's shoulder gently and walks away, sending her a look over her shoulder. Jenny shrugs once and then closes her locker, walking into the quad to see if she can find Eric before class.
Instead she finds Nate, sitting on a table with his feet planted on the bench next to it. He is alternately staring at his phone and every available entrance to the quad; clearly he is looking for someone. A sick, giddy feeling in her gut tells her that he is looking for her, but when she walks past he does not say a word and her hope dies at the base of her spine.
So much for wanting to talk.. The rest of the day is much of the same: everyone titters and whispers when she walks into the room and every time someone sees Nate, they feel the need to comment on the sighting within her earshot, several times over. Jenny keeps her head up and laughs when people ask her about her hair, gracefully accepts the compliments on her new outfit. There are only a select few people who care enough to look, and she thinks they deserve some gratitude in return.
Lunch comes as a much-needed reprieve from the gossip; Jenny sits on the stairs with Serena and discusses the Dan situation with her. Both of them fall silent when Rachel passes them, the headmistress at her side. "How are you dealing with all of it?" Jenny asks once she is gone.
Serena looks up at her, surprised. "What do you mean?"
"Well, it's got to suck, having your boyfriend totally play into a scandal like that. You really aren't hurt at all?" Jenny wonders.
"It's not that I'm not hurt," Serena explains. She pauses for a long moment and Jenny picks at her chicken Cesar wrap. "I guess it's more the fact that he made his choice after we talked, you know? I thought it was already happening, so once it did it didn't really affect me that much."
"Oh," Jenny murmurs. She thinks about that for a moment. "Do you think you guys will stay friends?"
"We are friends," Serena insists. She locks eyes with Jenny and smiles seriously. "Really, we are. After everything that we've been through…" She sighs. "It would be stupid if we didn't stay close."
"I guess I didn't think about it that way," Jenny admits. She tucks her hair behind her ear, brushing her bangs out of her face in the process as Eric walks up the stairs to join them.
"Hi Eric," Serena greets. "Now that you're here, I need to get going. Jenny, if you need to talk, let me know okay?"
"How?" She mimes a cell phone and makes a helpless expression. "No more texting during school hours, remember?"
"Use cans and string, then!" Serena calls over her shoulder jokingly.
"I think she would've done well as a Toys R Us spokesman," Eric comments. Jenny laughs and he takes his sister's spot, stealing a sip off Jenny's Italian soda. "How bad has it been?"
"Do we really have to talk about it?" Jenny takes a bite of her wrap and looks up with a pout. He shakes his head and rests his hand on her knee for a moment. The touch is comforting.
"Want me to tell you how pretty you look and tell you about my algebra test instead?" he asks. She tilts her head to the side as she chews and then nods decisively. "You look lovely; the pink worked out really well. I also love the dress, which I know you slaved over all weekend because you were using it as an excuse not to tell me about your encounter with Nate." He pauses and looks at her significantly.
She swallows and smiles. "Thank you! How was your test?"
He rolls his eyes. "It went swimmingly until I got to the last open answer. I think I at least passed."
"I'm sure you did. You always kick ass on exams," she says seriously. "Do you want to study for English on Thursday? I thought we could write practice tests for each other, make flashcards, the works."
"That sounds perfect." He checks his watch – a new addition after the cell phone ban – and then grimaces. "I need to go get something to eat if I don't want to starve my way through fifth period. Are you okay by yourself?"
"I think I can manage," she replies. Sarcasm drips from every word. Eric smiles and pats her on the head condescendingly, pausing to tweak one of her new pink streaks before he bolts off to get food. Jenny eats the last bite of her wrap and adjusts her skirt, crossing her ankles as she sips her soda.
She sees his feet before she sees any other part of him, and her heart lodges in her throat. Her soda suddenly tastes like acid, burning her tongue, her gums, her throat; she sets it down beside her and meets her gaze bravely, the sun framing the back of his head like a halo. It makes her ill.
"I was hoping I wouldn't have to make this so public," Nate says softly. He gestures to the empty stair next to her as several people walk past them, angrily muttering about pictures and Gossip Girl and tidbits.
"Everything we do is public," she argues. "Gossip Girl makes sure of that, remember Nate?"
He sighs and shifts his weight to his right foot. "Look, Jenny, I know I hurt you—"
"I don't think you do," she disagrees calmly.
"Why did you ignore me in the quad this morning?" she asks. He furrows his brow. "Don't tell me you didn't see me, because I saw you watching me as I walked to English."
"I didn't think you'd want to start any more rumors."
"So you decided that talking to me on the stairs just as everyone was getting back from lunch was a better idea?" She laughs bitterly and gathers her trash, handing him her nearly-empty cup as she stands. She shoves it into his chest and uses the momentum to push him down a step. "I'm not buying it, Nate."
She walks away, but turns back to look at him as she dumps her trash. He is standing in the exact same spot, staring at the space where she used to be, a bewildered expression on his face. Jenny feels bad for just a second. Then she remembers that he chose Vanessa and hopes that her friend hears about this new rumor before Nate can explain it away.
"I can't believe you dyed your hair pink," Dan says seriously. He takes a bite of his waffle and chews thoughtfully, staring at her until her skin crawls.
"Okay, Dan! I get it. Can you please stop staring at me now?" She mutters profanities under her breath and shakes her head in irritation. Her morning is bad enough without the added annoyance of her older brother mocking her for her personal style.
"What's your problem this morning?" he asks. She slams her pencil down and looks at him through the cover of her hair. Her eyes are narrowed and her head is pounding and she is not in the mood.
"I have to have these designs done by two o'clock to show to a potential investor so that I can get started on an actual line this summer and I've barely started. On top of that, I have an English exam on Monday and the entire school is talking about me and my stupid brother and how we can't keep our hands to ourselves."
She stands up and grabs her sketchbook, shoving it into her bag as she storms out of the loft. Rufus calls after her as he walks into the kitchen and she resolutely ignores him, keeping her steps in time with the Patti Smith song in her head.
Her phone rings just as she gets to the street and she picks it up without bothering to check the ID. "Hello?" she snaps.
"Don't hang up," he pleads. She stops dead at the corner and slams her heel into the ground angrily. Tilting her head back, she holds her free arm out to the sky and pleads with the sun to let this conversation be short. "Can we have coffee this afternoon?"
"I don't have time," she says honestly. "Nate, why are you being so persistent?"
"I don't really want to talk about it over the phone," he says slowly.
"Well too bad! You get five minutes," she replies. "I'm tired of playing games."
She hears him take a deep breath at the end of the line and closes her eyes tightly, the feeling of his breath on her skin still fresh in her mind. "Vanessa said something the other day that made me think I was too quick to judge you," he begins. Jenny bites her tongue to keep from interrupting, but the desire is so great. "I guess I never really thought about the consequences of wanting to be with you, so I opted for the easy way out. That isn't to say that I'm not happy with Vanessa, because I am, but I have to wonder if I jumped into my decision."
"You called to tell me that you wish you had taken more time to choose my brother's best friend over me?" she asks. Nate stammers and she practically growls. "You are the biggest idiot I have ever met, you know that? I don't know why I even bothered to let you try and explain."
She slams her phone shut and turns it off prematurely, sticking it in her bag and pulling on her jacket as she walks, already imagining all of the dresses this anger is going to inspire. When she gets to school, she plops down in the quad and sketches madly until the bell rings, only catching the beginning and end of Eric's story, despite the fact that he sits next to her for nearly half an hour.
"Hey." He touches her elbow as they stand to go to class. Jenny looks up, eyes wide, and smiles at him. "Is everything alright?"
Her sketchbook barely fits into her bag when it has to share the space with her English anthology and her math book, but with a good shove she gets it to stick. She pushes her hair out of her face and nods. "Everything's great," she says softly.
"No sarcasm," he notes with a raised eyebrow.
Jenny shrugs and hooks her arm through his. "Not this time."