Текст книги

Eric Lindstrom
Not If I See You First


“It is,” Molly says. “It’s not much or I’d offer you some. Do you like coleslaw?”

“He likes being an asshole,” Sarah says and almost sounds like she means it. “Eat your lasagna.”

“I was going to offer her some,” Rick says. “Not that I’d be doing you any favors, unless you like cardboard soaked in tomato sauce.”

“Thanks anyway,” Molly says.

“I haven’t seen Sheila yet,” Rick says, taking one of his classic conversational left turns.

“I haven’t seen her either,” I say.

“Hilarious. How about some new jokes this year?”

I smile. “It wasn’t a joke. You need some examples? This is a joke.” I grab a button on my vest, I think the one that says: Have I seen you here before? NO!

“You’ve truly opened my eyes, Parker.” Rick chuckles. “Now that I know what jokes are, will sitcoms make me laugh, ’cause, man, they just put me to sleep.”

“No promises. And no, I haven’t bumped into Sheila here. Only at my house. Don’t know why you care, though … she’s got a boyfriend … you’ve sort of got a girlfriend …”

“It’s just weird. I know you guys are, well … whatever. It’s just that you’re the only one she knows here.”

“It’s complicated,” Sarah says.

“You mean it’s a girl thing?”

“Rick,” I say with my tolerant voice. “We let you sit here because you’re sort of Sarah’s boyfriend, not because you’re one of the girls. If you don’t understand, just accept the confusion. Or embrace it.”

“Confusion requires giving a shit. Making nice with your stuck-up bitch cousin isn’t high on my list—it isn’t even on my list at all. I get it that she’s in a new school and that sucks for her but it sure as hell wasn’t your fault. She needs a sense of proportion or at least some fucking compassion.”

I smile. “I don’t care what you say, Sarah; this guy’s A-Okay.” I hold out a fist and feel a knuckle-bump. “Maybe he can be my Sort Of Boyfriend, too. Or all of ours.”

“I’m still window shopping,” Molly says. “No offense.”

“None taken,” Rick says. “I knew it already when you turned down my ketchup-covered cardboard. Which I need to wash down. Anybody want a drink?”

“My usual—a can of C-6?” I say.

No one else speaks and he leaves. I say, “I’m pretty sure I haven’t been complaining about Sheila. Not around Rick anyway.”

No replies.

“Sarah?”

“I didn’t tell him much. Just what you’d expect about moving to a new town in the middle of high school.”

I shrug. “There’s nothing else to tell. We also don’t get along generally but I don’t get along with lots of people.”

“Because they don’t follow The Rules?” Molly asks.

“Because they’re mindless overly complicated drones who don’t say what they mean and get bent out of shape when I do. And they don’t follow The Rules. Which shouldn’t even be called Parker’s Rules anyway. It’s just a lot of common sense that common people commonly lack.”

Rick sits back down. “Here.” He brushes my fingers with a cold can.

“Thanks.” I pull the tab with my palm over the top to block the light burst of foam and then take a sip. Mmmm … pure C-6 goodness. Cold Carbonated Caffeinated Caramel Colored Cane sugar. Completely delicious.

“I just saw Sheila,” Rick says. “Near the cashier talking to the Dynamic Trio—well, Faith and Lila anyway, I didn’t see Kennedy. She didn’t go sit with them.”

“It might take longer,” Sarah says, “with all the clique-clash-chaos.”

When someone new comes to school, they get tested, cataloged, processed, and absorbed pretty quickly, often into the same group they just left. With whole schools combining, however, it’s way more complicated. Every king-of-the-hill from Jefferson brought a whole entourage and we have no idea what will happen with the school clique-scape. Sarah and I think Sheila will become part of the Cream, topped by the Dynamic Trio—Faith, Lila, and Kennedy—but we don’t know whether it’ll be the Jefferson Cream or the Adams Cream, if they remain separate, which seems unlikely, or if they combine, which seems even more unlikely.

“We’ll see,” I say. “At least we’ve resolved Rick’s confusion.”

“Nope, still confused. Trying to embrace it.”

“Any one of the Dynamic Trio has more in common with Sheila in a random lunch-line encounter than I do after a whole summer with her. I couldn’t discuss designer jeans if you put a gun to my head. I don’t think it matters, though.”

“Still confused.”

“I don’t think Sheila will become a long-term member of the Dynamic Trio because under all that lip gloss and style and bitchy backstabbing, Faith’s a dark horse. She has hidden depth.”

“Still confused.”

“Well, go back to embracing it then. But if Sheila joins up and they become the Dynamic Quado or whatever, eventually she’ll say the wrong thing about me and when she does, Faith will burn her to the ground and salt the earth where she stood.”

*

Quack quack quack. I answer my phone.

“Hey.”

“Hey. It’s been exactly twenty-four hours. You ready to talk now?”

“Wow. How about a kiss first? And how was your afternoon, Sarah?”

“It kind of crawled by if you really want to know. So how about it?”

“You didn’t give me twenty-four hours. We just didn’t have any time alone.”

“Doesn’t matter. It’s been twenty-four hours. We’re alone now. What happened?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing. Nothing at all.”

“That’s right, nothing happened. I didn’t talk to him and he didn’t talk to me. I’m not sure he was even there. I never heard his voice today.”

“That’s …”
this