Second

If the situation had been the tiniest bit different, it could have been one of the best moments of my young life. It could have been the cherry on top, the dream-come-true, the illustrious underdog moment. It could have been the movie climax when you, the female protagonist, finally realize that the one you’re supposed to be with isn’t the brooding, egotistical a******, but the semi-invisible, ever-hopeful friend. But it wasn’t.

Why would you do that to me?

Even when we were friends, he was better than me. Better grades, better comebacks, better looks. Most people find his distinguishing trait to be that through-the-roof IQ, but you and I both know better—it’s his complete and utter apathy for anything concerning anyone other than himself. If it’s not on his agenda, it doesn’t matter. He was built for charm and deception.

And now he has you. How did this happen? How did you tangle so easily in his marionette strings?

Why aren’t you trying to get out?

“Tucker.”

I’ve never been able to bring myself to tell you how much I love the sound of your voice, but right now it’s being poured into my ears like frigid water. I already know what you’re going to say, what it’s going to feel like, and how I’m going to respond. So I’m cutting you off early.

“That’s been happening a lot this year.”

You already know about the Ria Wolf incident, of course. Everyone knows about that. Everyone knows about me getting tied to the end of the school’s highest diving board because I made out with the girlfriend of the captain of the football team. She had your motives, you know—she was just trying to make him jealous—but she and I had established beforehand that what we did meant nothing. I enjoyed it, sure, but what happened with Ria was something completely different.

I wasn’t in love with her.

I avert my eyes and try not to look at you. He already left the room—mad or jealous or whatever other strange emotions dwell in that twisted heart of his—but you stayed. Why? Why do you insist on torturing me like this? Trying to redeem yourself now is futile, at best.

“Tucker…I’m sorry.”

I glance up only once, meet those deep, clear blue eyes, and quickly look away again. There are no tears there. A thousand rapid fire replies line up in my head: “Save your pity for someone who wants it,” “Go run after your genius boyfriend, since your diabolical master plan seems to have worked,” and “F*** you.” But none of those words make it out of my mouth. Instead, out come the words that I knew I was going to end up saying impulsively.

“It’s okay.”

Why? Why do I fold so easily? I know I should tell you what I’m really thinking—maybe that will keep you from going down his path. Maybe you’ll see how much damage you’re causing. Maybe you’ll see what you’re acting like.

I thought you were different. I didn’t think you were the kind of girl that would use a guy—use me—to make another guy—make him—jealous. Use the Salutatorian to get back at the Valedictorian. Only the popularity-obsessed and the socially depraved do that, right? And…and you’re not one of them.

Right?

When I finally look up, you’re still there. I swallow my anger and try to find my voice.

“Why do you like him?”

Your eyebrows furrow slightly and the corners of your mouth turn down the way they always do when you’re confronted with a question you don’t know the exact answer to. I can think of several answers for you, but I don’t know which one is yours. “He might be a jerk on the outside, but he’s got a heart of gold,” “He’s just misunderstood, but I really do get him,” “His intelligence and common sense give him frighteningly good prospects for the future, of which I wish to be a part.”

You think for a few more seconds, looking into space, giving the question your full concentration.

“Why do you like me?”

Why…Why do I like you? I realize that it isn’t really a question—it’s your answer. Why do I like you? …Because. Because you’re you. You’re Alex Ridgemont, history genius extraordinaire, breaker of dress codes, destroyer of communist regimes. Because you truly don’t care what everyone thinks of you—you are an individual, and you embrace the fact.

I feel like you can read my mind. As soon as my answer runs through my head, you’re right there with the second part of your rebuttal.

“Yeah. That’s why.”

And then you’re gone, just like that. It feels like I just swallowed several ice cubes whole—my throat hurts and my stomach is convulsing. A few choice curse words explode into the dead air of the room when I realize that you’re right. If anyone was ever going to take an interest in Miles Richter, those would be the reasons why. And now I know that I’m never going to be able to change your mind.

I still don’t forgive you for what you did.

Would I have done it if I had been in a similar situation?


No.

Because even though we may share reasons for interest in certain persons, I am not like you and him. I take pride in the fact that I don’t knowingly manipulate innocents to get what I want. It’s the one and only thing I always have and always will beat Richter at.

Morality.





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