'93-'94 : Before the series and before Cynthia Hargrove.

Jordan's already lost his virginity, and actually already had several partners, but as of yet, he's never had a partner a single partner to be with and is mostly still just fooling around with girls rather than sleeping with them. His encounters are scrambled, and at this point, he's kind of in for what he can get.


Jordan, newly turned sixteen, stands in the student lot leaning against his car. His car. It still feels novel and somewhat hard to believe it is his. Having been working in one capacity or another since the age of twelve, paid mostly under the table, Jordan'd been saving money for some time. He spends it on food and on cigarettes, and more recently on booze — there was also his guitar — but for the most part, he'd held onto it. He'd been saving it, out of sight and out of reach of his old man, keeping some of it at Tino's, some with Lisa, with some tucked away in hidden spots inside the house. He'd saved up a small mint by the time he'd reached sixteen. All that time, all those hours stocking shelves, cleaning floors, emptying ashtrays, pumping gas and changing oil filters, he'd been saving up for his freedom. His uncle had set the price, and if Jordan could swing the minimum, and make some payments for the next year, then the 1969 Plymouth would be his. Nick, a confirmed motorhead, had connections to get vintage cars in need of work at good prices. He sold most, he kept some. When several months before Jordan's sixteenth birthday he'd got himself his black '72 Charger, he'd made the offer to Jordan, knocking several hundred dollars off the going value for his brother's son. Within the week, Jordan handed over nearly all the cash he had and spent the next several months working on the car, tuning it up and replacing cylinders, valves, piston rings and more. The engine hadn't needed a rebuild, the car was in driving shape, but all the time he spent working on it, tuning it and monitoring it, made the car more his than all the hours of labor it'd taken to accumulate the cash to pay for it.

The shift had been seismic. To have gone from a bike and a dependence on others to his own car, it changed everything. No longer was he stuck at home if things went sideways, sometimes in the middle of the night. No more was he without a place to go if he chose not to go home. There was gas to pay for, but for the cost of a tank of gas, Jordan had independence. It was a rush that did not soon fade. Driving, in his own set of wheels no less, marked for him the next-to-last milestone of adulthood. The last and final would be to move out. But Jordan has no plans to move out yet. The car is enough. The car is a refuge, mobile and his. He doesn't need to pay rent yet; he sees no call to relieve his father of that responsibility. Not for two more years. The car is his, his to own and keep and pay for, but at the very least he's owed a bed and a roof, and Jordan intends to claim what is owed him, as long as it pleases him to do so. Those car keys are enough. Stuffed in his pockets with cigarettes, a lighter, stray cash, and maybe a condom, they move with him through his day and through the world, a symbol of his self-sufficiency and his next great stride into manhood. In some unpeggable way, the car had changed Jordan, allowing him to carry himself more freely, more assuredly. Freedom held within the palm of his hand gave him options he hadn't before enjoyed, and his easy grasp of it now has made a difference.

In the afternoon sun, he leans against his car, pleased with it, pleased to be surrounded by his buddies. The group of friends, comprised just then by Shane, Joey, and Laurence, stand about idly, shooting the shit and hanging out. Jordan listens to less than half of what they're saying, content just to be there, among them, able to leave at whatever point he chooses. It's not much longer before the others break away. Headed for work, Joey takes off on his own while Laurence goes with Shane to Shane's car. Jordan remains, feeling unhurried to be anywhere else. Producing the small plastic bottle from a pocket, Jordan tilts his head back to squeeze eyedrops first into his left eye and then his right.

As he does this, Amber Stapleton approaches him, although he does not realize anyone's there in front of him until she speaks. "Jordan." Her voice is smooth and confident. This girl is always poised.

"Yeh," Jordan grunts. He turns, sees who it is, and instantaneously his tone changes. On comes the charm, and the eyelash flutter, the crooked knowing almost-grin. "Hey." He's before never spoken to her, but he knows who she is. Gorgeous to start.

Amber Stapleton — well, she was just that, a staple of the school. She was a cheerleader, on the Associated Student Body, in honors classes — if there was a scene worth making, she was at the center of it. Amber was beautiful. All her friends were beautiful. And she had money. Not obscene money, but more than most of the people Jordan knew. If you weren't part of her crowd, she didn't speak to you she spoke down to you, that is if she bothered with you at all. She behaved this way because she was allowed to behave this way. In fact, she had been trained to behave this way. People had always treated her differently because of her face and her perfectly shiny hair, and later for her trim and shapely silhouette. So by the time she was sixteen, she really expected nothing different.

"Amber," she speaks flatly.

Jordan nods, careful to not look too long. "Right." He keeps his gaze light and adrift. This is something he's learned.

"Friday night—" Her eyes are steady, large and hazel, not quite green. They are expectant in an expedient sort of way. She pauses briefly for effect, "I want to see you at Tasso's party." Confirming in a way that doesn't quite leave room for 'No', she asks, "You're going?"

"I'm going." He hadn't been till now. Jordan doesn't know exactly where this is leading or what it is she's after. He's never talked to a girl quite like this, but he's had enough experience to know to play it cool. An economy of language is part of that. That, and leaving the door open for more. One way or another, a girl will always tell you what she's after.

Using a scarcity of language herself, she gets to the point, "I'll be there by nine. Actually, more like ten." Jordan waits to see if there is more, then smiles at her. The corners of her mouth do nothing. She turns then and walks away.


At Tasso's party, Jordan stands near the edge of the kitchen. Detached, he observes the room, thinking about if what Shane had said would turn out to be true—

"You're here." His thoughts of the possibilities of her are interrupted by Amber's appearance. As she stands there beside him amidst the drinking and carousing of her friends, nothing alters in her self-serving businesslike demeanor. Though at a house party, she's polished and put together. Not at all overdressed but stylish in that effortless way up till now it'd seemed to Jordan only models on magazine pages could achieve. She's been drinking, but not past her limits; studying her, Jordan doubts she's ever one to lose her composure. It's unnerving how self-attuned she is, how seemingly so impervious to the world happening all around her. Unnerving and absorbing. Jordan finds himself fascinated by her, by both her beauty and her unshakeable nonchalance. He finds himself speculating just what it would take to her jolt her into some kind of authentic show of feeling.

He smiles at her. Then, leaning in, but only by a fraction, and making the most of the capabilities of his eyes, he asks, "Want a beer?"

She tugs ever so slightly on his sleeve, and pulls him to the kitchen island, "Come take shots."

Several vodka shots later, Jordan stands with Amber in the slightly-secluded-from-the-rest-of-the-kitchen breakfast nook. Jordan hates vodka but that was hardly a sticking point to get caught up on when she set them out. He'd matched her shot for shot and now stands close to her, though not too close. Watching the bends of her wrist, the flits of her eyes, the gentle fall of her hair, Jordan lets the space between them breathe, all the while remaining there, tall and leanly built, a silent steady presence steadily getting drunker and warmer and light headed just as she does. He doesn't need to do much else. If this is going anywhere — and he has no way of really knowing if it will — it'll take a little time. He's sensed from the start it won't happen at all if he forces it by working too hard for it. Some girls need the first move to blindside them, others need to do all the steering themselves. There's a middle ground of course, on this spectrum of hookups, but between the two, it's clear to him which kind she is. The longer the vodka has to work through their systems, the nearer-in their bodies lean toward one another. Amber takes another shot, deftly wipes her lower lip in a way that draws his attention to it, and to the berry plumpness of her mouth in general, and asks, "Did you go to the game?"

Still rapt by the shape and formations of her mouth, Jordan's left confused. He blinks, "What game?"

"The football game."

The thought of that is almost outright funny to him, he smiles, "No." Jordan squints at her, "Why? Did you?"

Her eyes move to him. She doesn't recall ever having to say this before "… I'm a cheerleader."

"Oh; right."

She looks at him. Studying him for half a second, she then laughs. "So, it's really not an act?"

He smiles at her dumbly, an early variation of the smile that, with a little more experience and practice, is to come. The one that melts both hearts and resolves. The smile he'll employ to his advantage the rest of his life. He smiles that smile at her though he does not take her meaning, but Jordan already knows, especially with girls, and women, a person — or at least he — can usually smile his way through it. "What?"

Amber is amused, but blunt, "You're really that oblivious."

She's lost him. "Huh?"

Dryly, Amber acknowledges the perfectness of this response. "Cute." She moves on. Running her manicured fingers through her blown out hair, Amber Stapelton flips it artfully to the side — as practiced in this as Jordan is in his lean-in and lip-stare — and hands one last shot to Jordan, taking one more for herself. Turning the glass face down on the table once she's drunk it, the teenage uncommon beauty states decidedly, "Okay." She turns to him then and kisses him. Being somewhat surprised by this, he goes with it, making the adjustment from not kissing to kissing with practiced ease. Her lips are soft and full, and still a little sticky from the thick coat of tinted gloss she'd applied earlier in the evening. Lubricated by vodka as well as a healthy measure of self-assurance, her mouth on his is hungry, insatiable, and immoderate.

When eventually she pulls away — seemingly only to take another drink — Jordan looks at her. Slightly thrown, he asks, "What's this about?"

Biting into a lime wedge, the response she gives him is direct and unmitigated, "You're cute." Throwing down the rind she adds, "And, I broke up with my boyfriend. Kind of."

Jordan's eyes stay on her. "And?"

Disinterested in explaining herself further, Amber gets to the point. "And you've got a car here, right?" Wordless, he nods. She takes him then, by her manicured hand and pulls him after her toward the door.

...

Afterward, in the backseat of his car, Jordan watches Amber pull on her top. He'd never done this, like this before. Never in his car, never with a stranger, not all the way. He sits there, replaying what just transpired — who had done what and been where; what she smelled like and tasted like and sounded like. His sense memory is full of her as he remains in place, satiated and motionless, appreciating the half-dressed view of her, who'd just moments earlier had been panting in his ear, polished fingers tangled in his hair. He'd never been with someone in that way before, reckless and with abandon, unconstrained by diffidence and modesty. Not since he was new to this had he had a partner who knew what she wanted. She directed and Jordan, not so green as once he was, was more than willing to oblige. Her breasts bounce some as she maneuvers within the confined space to arrange herself, but he averts his eyes discreetly before she catches him watching. Satisfied an unmotivated to do much else, Jordan lights a cigarette for an excuse to at least be doing something. Unaffected by the languid state of mind of her companion, industriously she tosses his t-shirt at him. Then, leaning in closer, she looks him coolly in the eye then pulls the cigarette from his lips to take a drag from it herself. Exhaling, she looks away from him and runs her fingers up through the roots of her tousled hair to smooth it. "You going back in?" Jordan notices she does this thing where she doesn't look at him when she speaks to him. He isn't sure if he minds.

"Doubt it." He hands her the cigarette while he pulls on his tee shirt then bunches his flannel and tosses it up to the passenger seat. Making the effort to be friendly and decent, Jordan asks, "You need a ride or anything?"

Again she emits a small laugh. Had that been funny? "No; I'm good." What doesn't occur to Jordan is that he's not supposed to go back inside that party. He's not supposed to give her a ride anywhere. She isn't there with him. Everything that she'd intended to happen has already taken place. She grabs her bag and pushes forward the passenger seat to open the door and climb out. Once outside the car, she readjusts her skirt, then turns and ducks her head back inside, "So, we'll do this again."

Jordan nods, "Sure."

She laughs again. It hadn't been a question. Then Amber Stapleton walks away.

Though still confused, a slow grin spreads cross Jordan's face. He does not understand girls.


It did not end there in the backseat of his car that night outside the party he hadn't ever really been a part of. There were more than several more encounters between them going forward, all sparse in words exchanged, all hidden and discreet, all leading up to sex disconnected from themselves and ending with her dismissing him into the background of her status-centered life. Jordan was allowed close only so long as his hands were on her and his lips occupied by hers, only so long as their adolescent desires had not yet been satisfied. But afterward, she would shut down, shift tempos, brush him off. Time and time again he would meet her where she told him. It was exciting, and it was secret. If she behaved with him otherwise than how a teenaged girl involved this intimately with a guy might be presumed to behave, he didn't notice, or he didn't mind. It all worked well enough for him. This thing with her reached far beyond what he'd ever managed with other girls. The things they were doing behind closed doors were for real, and although to that point he was only minimally practiced, he judged himself up to the experience. Unconcerned with all the things the two of them were not, he was existing on the rush of it, of her, focussed only on the prospect of every next encounter.

Within the weeks that follow, Amber and Jordan exchange clandestine communications. Not through lockers — he doesn't have one and hers would be too conspicuous — but in glances and when passing around corners. Content with things as they are, he's never stopped to consider what her friends do or do not know, or why; all his friends know is that there's definitely a girl. They stand now close together, secretly out of view from the rest of the school, talking logistics by the main building's back entrance. The negotiations of the wheres and whens comprise most of what little conversation they engage in. "Boiler room?" he suggests. He moves in closer, pressing himself into her space, leaning his weight against the hand he's placed a little ways above her head. While still a kid in many ways, and largely still inexperienced, Jordan does know this works. In most cases, the other person, the girl, isn't going to choose to face off with him and so they let him in. It's an attraction, he's found: yielding to persistence. Press a boundary, in the right way, they'll succumb, at least to the degree that deep down the girl in question already wants to. This means close proximity, it means staring at lips. It means unblinking eyes beneath bashful lashes and pith. He does this now and he watches, gratified, as Amber's body melts backward into the concave shape of his.

Though now putting it to use for his advantage with girls, Jordan has been flirting for years. He flirted with friends' mothers for dinners or a night's stay, and he flirted with teachers for forgiveness for a blank stare or a neglected assignment. He flirted with store clerks and office aides and anyone who could get him something he needed. Or wanted. Jordan was not, in any sense, a golden child like Tino — the world did not kowtow to him and make exception upon exception for his benefit — but he had learned, maybe, in part, from his father, that blue eyes, batting lashes and a vague if winning smile could produce results. He isn't entirely certain if this still proves true when it comes to Amber, but she seems responsive enough. She is sleeping with him after all. Somewhat regularly. Or, a handful of times at the least.

She laughs at him a little, "Jordan." She has this way of saying his name like he's a child, which he does not love; it's derisive beneath something posing as convivial. "I don't do the boiler room."

Blithely persisting, he continues through the litany of venues, "Bleachers?" He wets his lips, still looking at hers. "Parking lot? Orchestra pit?"

"ASB supply closet," she retorts.

Jordan laughs, his eyes lifting to her in bemusement. "The what?" Jordan does not know what the ASB supply closet is, because he does not know what ASB is; the organization with the most presence on campus, and he doesn't know what it is, much less anybody in it. He'd never seen the supply closet because no one he'd been with prior to this had ever seen inside it. Much less cared to.

Not caring to explicate, Amber sets aside the logistics of an on-site liaison and shifts to off-campus possibilities, "Meet me tonight, after."

Focused once again on the teasing pout of her lower lip, Jordan asks in half-distraction, "After what?"

"Christine Peterson's party." She adds flatly, "I'm going."

Jordan moves just slightly closer, "I c'n do parties."

Again she laughs, "We're not dating."

Jordan, who'd up to now taken her dismissive attitude in stride, now pauses, straightens up a bit, shifts his weight, and studies her. "Why're you doin' this?" He'd never asked her why she had sought him out, why he hadn't had to work at all for any of this, but now, with her muted disdain only thinly veiled, he wants to know: What is she about? Jordan's never seen her as out of his league — a different team for sure, maybe with different rules — but in all this, he's never asked himself, 'Why me?'

She answers as though it's obvious, like she's already said it several times over, "You're cute. And I'm bored." Amber flips her hair and adds dispassionately, "I'm tired of swapping the same boys back and forth between my friends. And," she pauses, "my boyfriend hates you."

Equally dispassionate in his answer, if only a little curious, Jordan relaxes his stance and asks her, "Isn't there s'posed to be an 'ex' in there somewhere?" But he does not wait on an answer; Jordan once again leans in and kisses her. A few times. Her lips are soft and there and inviting, and he guesses he doesn't care much about the rest of it.

"There is—" she speaks into his mouth as artfully his tongue finds hers "—sometimes." She returns his kiss until in time he pulls just fractionally away.

Jordan hovers before her parted, waiting lips. His quick-moving eyes scan her face, looking for something to discern her with. "I'm not interested in, whatever this is you're doing."

"Maybe not—" she grants before pulling him into her and kissing him, lingering for some time on his lower lip "—but you are enjoying it."

Jordan pulls back once more, this time further back from her reach, this time interested in an answer. "Why?" He clarifies, "Why does he hate me?"

"Aside from the obvious?" she chuckles, though it is not clear to Jordan what the 'obvious' part is. Impassively, Amber flips her hair and does not attempt to mask her boredom, "I don't know." She moves on, back to their purpose. She straightens up from the position he'd leaned her into against the brick wall. Her eyes bright and tantalizingly full of mischief, Amber trespasses toward him, invading his space as earlier he had done to hers. Taking hold of the front of his shirt, her lips brush lightly against his, just soft enough not to constitute a kiss, just enough of a whisper to urge him to crave more. "Tonight, should I look for you or not?"

Jordan looks down at her, cleared-eyed and self-possessed. "I'm not getting in a fight over this."

With disinterested ease, Amber shifts out of his space. "That'd be really boring anyway."

He looks at her, again trying the figure her out, "Would it?"

She doesn't answer. Instead, still detached and blasé as hell, Amber, for the first time, authentically asks him something, "Out of curiosity, what would you get in a fight over?"


During her lunch period the following week, Jordan and Amber are parked in the student lot, heavily making out in his car. With close to fifteen minutes left on the clock, she pulls away. As she fixes her hair into a carefully orchestrated messy-knot atop her head, Jordan continues to kiss her neck, her face, everything in reach, not realizing that she's totally checked out. She tolerates it for a little longer. It's not until she pops a piece of chewing gum into her mouth that he registers she's no longer in this with him.

Jordan pulls back, "What's up?"

"I'm done."

"Okay…" he says, not particularly affronted. Straightening up, Jordan retreats to his side of the vehicle, "So, next week?"

"No," she says evenly. "I'm done." In total indifference to his reception of this news, Amber readjusts his rearview mirror so that she might reapply her lipgloss. Finished, she stretches her lips open and wipes decisively at each corner before pressing them together with a smack of finality. "This is over."

"Just like that?" Jordan isn't hurt. He couldn't be. He doesn't like her. He doesn't know her well enough to like her. But as per usual, Jordan's playing catchup, and trying to figure out the people with whom he interacts.

"Dummy," her words are as light and airy as ever, "this wasn't anything." She's not especially vindictive in saying this, she's detached. Ending this has cost her nothing.

Damned if he'll put up a fight over it, Jordan lets it go, "Fine." He feels compelled though to point out, "You were having a good time."

She looks at him before again looking into the rearview mirror. "That doesn't make you special." Amber brushes a clump from her mascaraed lashes. "Being mildly skilled in the backseat of a car," once more she touches up her lips with the use of her pinky, "doesn't make you anybody." Amber grabs her bag, reaches for the door, then, without being cold or predictable, pauses to clarify, "Listen, I'm going back to my friends. You don't know me."

His brow knits and his cool blue eyes fix on her hard. "Who do you think you are?" Jordan's not indignant, he guesses she can end it this way if she wants to, but he's never seen anyone behave quite this way before. He'd been along for the ride with all of this, never stopping to consider the nature of things between them, never considering either how one day it would end, but he wouldn't have guessed he'd be this disposable. Not after this long.

She isn't interested in prolonging this, isn't interested in taking stock of his reaction; Amber Stapleton is done. With one final hair flip, she opens the door to exit, "Someone who really doesn't care who you are." The car door shuts hard behind her, echoing her final departure with a hollow metallic thud.


FLASH FORWARD, early fall '94

A year later, after the 'Sophomore List' had been passed around, Jordan's stopped Casey Hall in the hallway, and stands there at the base of the north stairwell with her, casually chatting her up. Only momentarily deterred after being spotted by Angela Chase — Who ever knows what it is she wants? Not him, and probably, he suspects, not even her — Jordan refocusses his attention on Casey. He smiles, he chats emptily, he leans. He can't tell yet if he's making any headway, could be she's just polite. He'd never spoken to her before today. He'd seen her around, of course, all the guys knew who she was; but he'd never talked to her before, had never thought about doing it. But now he is, and she's at least smiling. Jordan doesn't care to analyze why in the aftermath of a list he's talking to someone he'd never made the effort to talk to before. His motivation glares somewhat obvious, and beyond that, he doesn't much care.

He watches as her grey eyes drop away as she smiles into herself. Casey Hall, it appears, while used to guys' attention, is fairly shy. Not shy, exactly, but quiet, soft-spoken, and understated in her demeanor and mannerisms. She laughs at Jordan's jokes, but not fully. She tucks her hair behind an ear to break eye contact. And, as she smiles at him, Jordan finds himself a little surprised as he considers that he might actually like this girl, beyond her placement on the list.

As she rounds the corner, Amber Stapleton takes them in. She stops squarely. "Casey. No."

Caught off guard, Jordan looks over towards her. He hasn't seen her for ages. She seems still to be dictating the terms of living for everyone around her. His eyes narrow by a fraction. Amber just stands, sporting a slightly sour expression, waiting for her friend to extricate herself from this socially unacceptable situation.

Casey tucks her hair, and greets her friend, "Hey, Am."

Amber is not deterred. "What are you doing?" Casey smiles the smile she uses to please and placate other people. What is she supposed to say?

Jordan speaks up then, the hint of a swagger in his countenance. "Hey, Amber." He's getting a kick out of taunting her. He knows how much it's pissing her off to see him talking with her friend.

Amber makes a face, "Nobody's talking to you."

"Well," he glints with self-satisfaction, "I think your friend is."

Looking right past Jordan, Amber coolly turns her attention to Casey. "Are you coming?" Casey half smiles to Jordan, tucks her hair, then extricates herself from him to move down the stairs to join her friend where she waits. As Casey starts past her down the hall, Amber turns to follow but then turns back to Jordan. "What're you doing?"

"Whut?" he challenges.

"You suddenly decide to talk to her this week?"

"Jealous?" he prods. Her eyes narrow; she hasn't missed that glimmer of a smirk. Jordan can't help himself, "Ever think you might'a made that list if you weren't such a—"

"—You are such a waste of space," she tells him, quick to cut him off. Done with all of this, she turns to catch up with her friend, but before leaving him behind, she adds cuttingly as she makes to head down the hallway, "And wash your hair."


FLASH FORWARD, spring '95

Several months into dating Jordan, Angela exits the south hall's girls' bathroom with Sharon and one of Sharon's friends from newspaper. The three girls, Sharon's friend dressed in her cheerleader uniform, proceed down the hallway talking and smiling. Crossing the hall from the other direction is Jordan Catalano and Shane Trudenowski. The boys do not stop, but as Jordan passes by he winks at Angela. Angela smiles and continues on with her friends.

Witness to this, also in her cheer uniform, is Amber Stapleton, who had paused mid-conversation as she took in this momentary exchange. Mulling over the possible implications of these different worlds converging, she watches after Angela and the other girls as they head toward the social sciences wing. Although she returns to what it had been she was saying, Amber cannot fully let this less-than-an-incident go. She talks now without having resumed eye contact with her friends, her focus and thoughts instead following that inconvenient trio.

...

After lunch, Amber and Angela are seated in their history class. Mr. Rinaldi has broken the class into pairs, and so with her notebook and pen in hand, Angela rises and moves her desk to face Amber's. Angela smiles slightly as she takes her seat opposite her class-assigned partner. Poised with impenetrable banality, Amber asks coolly, "Angela, right?"

In response, Angela's answer is terse, "Yeah. Rinaldi just said it when he paired us." She'd leave it there, but something in this girl's aloofness irked her, and so Angela adds blithely, "And, we've been going to school together, for, forever."

Completely unfazed by Angela's curtness, Amber responds in dry irony, "Wow. Didn't know it was so important to you." Angela raises her brows at this unveiled sense of superiority and then looks away. With no semblance of honoring the partnership, Angela begins her work but Amber only sits watching her. Momentarily she speaks, baiting Angela in the guise of sharing, "I know your boyfriend."

Without looking up Angela draws out her words, "That's — because — he's — not — invisible." Amber's surprised by this level of sass, it's not something she's accustomed to. Angela is a bit surprised herself; she isn't usually this pert. Not with strangers. Not with people like Amber Stapleton. But dating Jordan Catalano, who — though collectively in school considerably less than she — boasts a much higher profile on campus, somehow seems to have granted the general public leave to commentate on her relationship. Which she feels, in turn, has given her leave to sass.

Amber bites her pen, monitoring Angela's reaction as she adds breezily, "Or maybe, it's because I used to sleep with him." Amber pauses for a moment, looking for a reaction. Her intention in speaking to Angela originally being to find a way to quell the transference of this particular truth from a certain insulated population of the school to a larger one that might in some way reach back to her, in the face of Angela's willful insolence, Amber had taken another tack. Now her intention is to watch this middling girl squirm.

Angela, though, steels herself, and without looking up from her task, says just as airily, "I bet you get to say that to a lot of girls."

Through a fixed unwavering smile, Amber comes back with, "I'm not the one with 'a lot of girls.'"

Finished with this, Angela lays her pen down to temporarily allow Amber her attention, "What is your point?"

Relishing that she's arrested Angela's focus, Amber plays it cool, taking her time. She looks Angela over, drawing out her words so as to seemingly convey thoughtful patronage, "You're kind of pretty; you could do better." If Jordan had moved from untouchables like Cynthia Hargrove and Rayanne Graff, to someone like this girl, who had some legitimate social ties (to the cheer squad no less), she wasn't going to let this rest. She's never been one to risk anything getting out about herself she didn't first give leave to. Amber looks at this girl: in honors classes, not a burnout, moves in circles of the socially relevant. What does she see in Jordan anyway?

Brow arched incredulously, Angela looks at her, "I'm sorry?"

Amber's sense of authority on the subject is weighty with superiority and finality, "He's not a good guy." She says it in the way she and her friends often make a habit of insulting those they find lesser — as a well-intentioned bit of friendly advice.

To Angela, this conversation is unreal. What concern is any of this to someone like Amber Stapleton? Truthfully, she's surprised to learn — if indeed there is any truth to it — there had ever been something between Jordan and this girl, but even if there had been, she cannot find a purpose in this conversation. Although for months it'd felt as though there would never be any true knowing of Jordan Catalano, Angela feels now that with time and tears and forgiveness and laughter, she does. Without confrontation, Angela picks up her pen and returns to her work, "Actually, he is…"

She hadn't always been sure of this. She thinks she is now. She isn't, at any rate, going to be told what to think. Especially not by someone who so clearly has it out for him. At this point, the only person left capable of swaying or influencing her opinion of him is Jordan himself, and these days, more and more, he's only given her reasons to trust him.

Angela's eyes roll; there are some times when high school is even stupider than she thought.


*Posted 9/9/12