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Steven Greenburg had a decision to make. A huge decision. And I was waiting up by the phone at one in the morning, hoping that it was me he’d call, that it was me he’d choose. And I knew that Sarah was doing the same. But she was waiting for a call that she was sure was coming. A call that she was sure would happen.
My head was still pounding and my heart still racing. Steven’s blue eyes were still imprinted into my mind. And I was certain that they would never go away. I didn’t want them to go away.
I clicked through my contacts and stopped on Steven’s all too familiar number. His eyes stared back at me through his thick-rimmed black glasses in his picture, his lips curved into a classic Steve smirk. He wore a black jacket draped over a white T-Shirt, his fingers extended in a half-wave and his left hand caught in his dirty blonde hair. Sarah, her black hair and tell-tale tan skin making a cameo appearance in the background, made the smile I hadn’t noticed plastered my face drop into a scowl.
I flipped my phone closed and dropped it onto my bed. Then I snatched my black notebook off of my desk, opening its worn pages and flipping to an empty piece of paper. I pulled my pen out of its smooth case and set it to the lines that filled up the page’s otherwise blank surface. And I wrote his name.
I wrote it again.
Steven, Steven, Steven.
Steven, Steven, Steven, Steven, Steven.
I wrote it until it filled the paper with its loops and curves, until the lines from the ‘t’s burned themselves into my eyes, until my hand begged me to stop and my brain echoed his name.
Without my consent a tear dropped and left a perfect little circle on the page, wrinkling the tiny spot of paper where it had landed and smudging the ‘S‘ in the fourth Steven. I wiped the wet streak it had left on my cheek off and smeared the watery residue across the thigh of my dark wash jeans. I wrote his name one last time and made sure that I crossed the last ‘t’ perfectly. I dug the tip of my pen into the final line so hard that it broke through the fragile paper. Frustrated, I threw the pen against the wall and tossed the notebook onto the green carpeted floor.
One-thirty passed and I was curled around my purple pillow, burning holes into my cell phone with my eyes, watching as it didn’t ring, watching as it didn’t light up or move. The music from the party still pumped in my ears with words that were so heavily muffled that I couldn’t even tell if it was a boy or girl singing. And in my hand I held that blue Yankees cap that Steven had put on my head as I walked out the door, clutching its rough cloth until my palm was sore.
Two-o-clock approached and sleep was threatening to pull my eyelids shut. But I still watched the phone carefully, waiting for its doorbell-like ring to resonate in my bedroom and mark the start of something I was sure would change my life.
But it still stayed silent, and I drifted off.
In our small town, parties were a big deal. It was a sign of status, and whoever threw the biggest party of the weekend was the new ‘it’ boy or girl on Monday at school. Whoever made the biggest fool of themselves was the new social outcast. And whoever hooked up were either the newest couple or part of the latest well-known feud.
It was a simple, solid, reliable dynamic that I had come to depend on during my stay on the twisting and turning planet that is high school. As were people’s stereotypes. Every stereotype ever imagined about high school had been embodied at my school. The jocks. The cheerleaders. The geeks. The drama club students. Every expectation of high school I had ever thought of had been fulfilled by the students with which I shared the halls.
I was the artsy nerd. Which was not a bad thing, necessarily. People appreciated my art and writing, while respecting my intelligence, mostly because I wasn’t one of the geeks that shoved it in their face. So I went mostly unnoticed except for a ‘hi’ here or there.
Steven was a different story. He was artsy, like me, and smart, too. But people knew his name. People knew Steven Greenburg and said much more than ‘hi’ to him in the hallways.
Not that I blamed them. Steve was everything that you wanted in a friend. Or boyfriend. He was honest, sometimes to a fault, and loyal. He kept secrets and backed you up when you needed help. He made everyone laugh, even the teachers, and had all of the answers to the homework. He was practically perfect, except for that one scar above his left eyebrow he’d gotten in a skateboarding accident when he was thirteen.
Steven and I had been close friends for years, but ever since Steve had been bumped up the social ladder from mundane artist to well-known guy’s guy, I was demoted and Sarah replaced me. She had been placed on the same rung as Steve, in the middle upper-class of the high school hierarchy, and she glommed onto him like a leech. Being a cheerleader made her the perfect candidate for Steve’s girlfriend, or at least that’s what she thought, and she did everything in her power to make her aspirations come true.
Steve hadn’t asked her out yet, but everyone assumed that it was only a matter of time before he was broken down by Sarah Goldman’s patented seduction techniques. They always were.
And so I watched hopelessly as Steve began to become another of Sarah’s victims.
Jonathan Bell was throwing a party the weekend that Steven made his decision. It was not a decision I even knew that I was going to be a part of until I was smack in the middle of it, and I went to the party like it was any other party, dressed my best to impress Steve and wow my friends. A short black dress with buttons on the chest and a belt around the waist, my blonde-streaked brown hair curled and covered in so much hairspray that I practically had an asthma attack by merely breathing. My lips were covered in a candy shade of pink gloss and my cheeks just rosy enough, complimenting the dark eyeliner that surrounded my chocolate brown eyes in just the right way. It took hours, but it was worth it.
When I walked through the door of the Bell home, I immediately noticed Sarah hanging on Steven’s arm like she had been super glued. He smiled at me from across the room as she continued to babble to him about something that he clearly didn’t care about. I smiled back because I knew that Sarah wouldn’t notice, and that if I didn’t I would just blush and look stupid. He turned his attention back to Sarah and attempted to unhook himself from her death grip. He nodded politely, taking discrete steps away from her, until he had been swallowed by the raging crowd of freshmen. Sarah stood, disappointed, and picked a red plastic cup, taking a long sip. She shot me a dirty look when she noticed me watching. I glanced away.
The music bounced off of the walls and around the room, filling all available space with its obnoxiously loud techno beats and cryptic lyrics. I searched for Steven’s cropped dirty blonde hair amongst the bobbing, swaying heads he had disappeared into, but he was gone. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Sarah tilt her head back and finish off the golden yellow liquid that had filled the plastic cup. She crushed it, tossing it into the blooming decorative flower pot and stumbling off.
I joined the crowd and found my friends, their breath giving away the beer they had been guzzling. Tracy smiled at me and pulled me on to the dance floor, Marianna following closely behind. The dance floor was euphoric, with flashing lights and brightly colored confetti scattering around my feet. Tracy yelled over the music. “Have you seen Steven?”
Of course I have. I nodded. “He was with Sarah,” I shouted. Marianna made a barfing sound. Tracy wanted the details, and my throat was already starting to become sore. I pulled her and Marianna off of the floor and into an unoccupied office room. I plopped into the swivel chair. They sat on the floor. It reminded me of story time in kindergarten.
I told them of the encounter, his smile, and my awkward grin that I gave in return. And I mentioned Sarah, her fingers wrapped desperately around Steven’s forearm, until he pulled it free and vanished.
“Cute,” Tracy said, smiling. She burped and laughed a drunken, hiccupping giggle. Marianna nodded and agreed.
“Steven so likes you,” she said, picking up a red cup that had been tossed carelessly to the floor to check if there was any beer left in it. She shook her head and discarded it into the wastebasket that sat next to the cherry wood desk. I wondered if I was the only one sober at the party.
I shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s always around Sarah.”
Tracy made a huffing sound. “Sarah-Shmarah. Once Steven sees how-” she hiccupped, “hot you look at this party he will be-” another hiccup, “practically throwing himself at you.”
I flattened the flared skirt of the black dress I was wearing and smiled. “Thanks, Trace.”
Marianna beamed, a little less wasted than Tracy. A little. “Don’t worry about it.” I thanked her too, and told them that I was going to search for Steven. Tracy cheered, then hurled into the wastebasket, Marianna holding her hair back.
I left and went back to the party. People were bumping into each other and laughing at things that weren’t funny. Steven was nowhere to be found, and I felt suddenly mortified that I was even looking for him. Embarrassed and red-faced, I dashed into the nearest room and slammed the door behind me. I slid down the ugly brown walls, falling onto the cushy gray carpet.
And then I realized that I wasn’t alone.
I heard people moving around on the other side of the bed that I was hidden behind, and I stopped breathing. I saw Steven’s blonde hair over the top of the bed. There was a girl there, too, and it took me one guess to know who it was.
“Shhhh…” She was slurring, and I saw her flip her sleek black hair over her shoulder. Not wanting to be noticed but absolutely humiliated, I tried to quietly stand and turn the doorknob. Sarah didn’t hear me, because she was too busy putting her hands all over Steve. He pulled away from her at first, but eventually gave in and crumpled into her. They kissed. I held back a yelp. Not even caring about being noticed anymore, I threw the door open and dashed out of the room, leaving Steven behind with Sarah to do whatever Sarah did with boys when the doors were closed.
Marianna intercepted me before I could run out of the party so no one would see me cry. She noticed the look on my face and led me back to the room that Tracy had barfed in. Tracy was lying on the floor when we walked in.
Tracy moaned. “What?’ She sat up, obviously in a bad mood, but her face softened when she saw me. “Della, what’s-”
I exploded into tears. I’d known this moment was coming eventually. It came with every guy I ever liked. That moment when I knew that there was some girl out there that they liked better, and I couldn’t do anything about it. But it still hurt every time.
Especially with Steven. Because we had been so close. And it wasn’t that he liked Sarah that hurt the most, even though it still hurt. No, it was that she had stolen him from me. Steve had been my best friend, my reliable companion. If she hadn’t taken him away from me, it might’ve be me that he was kissing on the other side of that bed. It might’ve been me that he wanted to be more than friends with.
Tracy and Marianna smothered me in a group hug and I bawled into their shoulders. “What happened?” Tracy mumbled into my hair. I choked out the story.
“And he kissed her. He kissed her and now I have no chance with him.”
Marianna pulled back and held me at arm’s length. “It’s just a kiss, Della, maybe he didn’t-”
I interrupted her with my racking sobs. She embraced me again, holding me close enough for me to smell her lilac perfume buried in the stench of alcohol. Maybe I was overreacting, but I didn’t care. Because Steven had been a lot more than a boy to me for a very long time and the fact that the feeling wasn’t mutual killed me.
I wanted to look into his dark blue eyes and know that he was all mine, even for just a second. But it felt like that would never happen.
I gathered myself and fixed my hair and make up in the bathroom, deciding to rejoin the party and forget about what I had seen. It was difficult, but after about a half an hour, I had almost forgotten Steven’s blue eyes. Almost.
I stayed on the dance floor until nine, dancing alone in the middle of the crowd, unnoticed and unnoticeable. The beat tickled my fingertips and the music I had previously thought obnoxious was now my best friend, holding my hand and keeping me standing while I cried. Tracy had fallen asleep in the office and Marianna was with her, probably drifting off, too. I was glad they weren’t here. I didn’t want any more pity or help. I just wanted music.
My brain vaguely registered someone else next to me, but I ignored them. I wasn’t in the mood for small talk and my patience had practically evaporated. But when they didn’t drift away and I felt a hand on my shoulder, I spun around.
And nearly collided with Steven.
I frowned at him and pulled my shoulder from under his palm. He made a strange face at me, confused by my anger. I knew he hadn’t really done anything, but I didn’t care. I had to take it out on someone. And Steve was right there.
“Please leave me alone,” I said as one song ended and blended into another.
He ignored my searing tone and squinted his eyes, concerned. “Della, you’re crying. Are you okay?”
I stepped away from him. “I’m fine!” I yelled over the thumping drums that pounded in my ears. I had to leave. The door was about two dozen steps away. If I ran….
His blue eyes glinted suspiciously and he grabbed me by the wrist. “Come with me,” he said. He gently tugged and I followed him up the cushioned steps to the second story landing and into a large bedroom with a king-sized bed. He closed the door behind us. The music was muffled and I couldn’t hear the words or who was singing. My mind was running at a million miles per hour and I watched as Steve plunked himself down onto the bed. He patted the space next to him.
I sat next to him. He smelled like rain. He wore his light blue sweatshirt that he’d had since seventh grade, its sleeves soft and comforting against my bare arms. His favorite Yankees cap was covering his hair now, and I assumed that he’s had it hidden in his sweatshirt pocket before now. I wondered if it had poked Sarah in the stomach when they kissed. His glasses were crooked across his nose and I desperately wanted to adjust them.
It brought me back to my eighth grade graduation party, when everyone had gone home but Steve and we waited upstairs in my room for his mom to pick him up. We smiled at each other as he texted his mother to see if she had gotten out of traffic yet. It was quiet, but it wasn’t awkward. We were comfortable with the quiet, and I had my head on his shoulder. I wondered if he remembered, too, when we were so close. I wondered if he remembered what we’d had. I wondered if he knew what we’d almost had.
“I know you saw us, Della.”
I didn’t know what to say. Should I play dumb and pretend that I didn’t know what he was talking about? Or should I be straight up with him any tell him the truth?
“Della, I know you saw us. It’s no big deal.”
My head shot up. No big deal? No big deal? Maybe not to him, but this was much more than some kiss to me. It was a symbol of how I’d lost my best friend to a girl who didn’t deserve him. A symbol of the new Steven, the Steven that I barely even knew anymore. What had he become? Sarah was the kind of girl that he would’ve steered clear of in middle school. And now…and now what?
And now he’d chosen her over me.
“It’s a big deal, Steve.”
Steven looked at me, puzzled. “Della, what happened? We used to be such close friends…”
“I know that it’s weird to see me kissing Sarah, but she’s not who everyone thinks she is.”
“She’s actually a really cool girl once you-”
“You don’t have to make excuses, Steve.”
There was a long, swollen pause. It was awkward, and it just reminded me of how different things were now.
“Why are you so upset?”
I looked at him. I looked deep into his eyes and watched as his pupils twitched. “Steve, you’ve…” My voice faded.
I shook my head. “You’re different.”
I glanced away automatically, afraid of what repercussions might follow such a bold statement said with such an insulting sneer. He put his hands just below my cheekbones and lifted my face to his, so we were staring directly into each other’s eyes. I wanted to pull away, but I just couldn’t.
I stopped him. He let my face drop from his fingers. “You changed and you know it, Steven.”
He was quiet. Even he couldn’t deny it. He wasn’t Steve anymore.
“I don’t know who you are anymore,” I said, fighting the tears that burned at the corners of my eyes. “You used to hang out with the kids who stood in the background. You used to be one of us.”
“One of you?”
“Face it, Steve, you’re popular.” I was still fighting the tears. “And me, Marianna, and Tracy? We’re…we’re not.” I wiped the first little tear that popped out of my eye before Steve could see it. “It’s like you’re too good for us.”
Steven jumped up, and I was sure that he was going to leave. I was sure that it was the official end of our friendship. I wouldn’t even get a goodbye.
But he just stood there, watching me. My head was down. I studied his Converse sneakers. “Della, that’s not true. I never thought that I was-”
I was suddenly angry again. He was just lying to himself. “Steven, you know it’s true!” He was hushed. I lifted my head. “Ever since the popular kids inducted you into their group, you’ve completely isolated us. It’s like you’ve forgotten me…I mean. Us. It’s like you-”
Steven stepped forward and took my face in his hands again, pulled me off of the bed and pressed his lips against mine, hard and reckless. I was limp in his arms, feeling the soft cotton of his sweatshirt, warm and yielding against my pale skin as I fell into him. He tasted like toothpaste and peppermints.
I knocked his cap off of his head and tangled my fingers in his hair. His glasses bumped against eyebrows. He wrapped his arms around me and I felt his jeans against my exposed shins. It was like a scene out of some cheesy chick flick. One with a stupid pun as a title. But it felt perfect.
I don’t know how long it took for us to unweave ourselves from each other, but I do know that it hadn’t lasted long enough. We sat back down on the bed. I handed his cap back to him. He readjusted his glasses. We didn’t say anything, but the silence wasn’t uncomfortable anymore.
When we opened the door, Sarah was standing in front of us, tapping her foot like a disappointed mother. I glanced at Steve. His eyes were wide, like he had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. We all stood there for a while, no one daring to say anything. Then Sarah cleared her throat.
He couldn’t seem to form any words. All he managed to do was nod.
Sarah did this angry, snarling lip twitch thing that I’d only seen hungry lions do, and she snatched Steve’s hand from mine. I hadn’t realized that we’d been holding hands. “What the hell is going on here?” Steve and I looked at each other, then at Sarah. “Steven!”
“I kissed Della.” Honest to a fault. He said it so matter-of-factly that it made Sarah’s face turn bright red. I half expected her to explode. I bet if you threw water her, she’d melt.
“Steven! How dare you-”
And, out of nowhere, Sarah burst into tears. For a second Steve and I stood there, unsure of what to do. Then Steven stepped forward and took Sarah into his arms. I wasn’t entirely sure if I should help him calm her down or just wait until they were done. I decided to wait.
Sarah was wailing, and people were beginning to stare. But Steve was still holding her, stroking her hair and whispering things that I wished I could hear. Eventually, Sarah’s breathing slowed and Steve let her go. “I’m sorry,” he said.
He stood in the middle of Sarah and I, watching each of us out of the corner of his eyes. I finally spoke. “What happens now?”
I hoped that he would let Sarah down easy. I wasn’t sure how she would react to another shock.
“I don’t know.”
“What?” Sarah blurted out.
“I. Don’t. Know.”
Steve looked like a deer in headlights, scared and confused.
“Well you have to choose one of us, Stevie.”
Stevie? She talked to him like he was a puppy.
“I know,” he said, still unsure of himself and what he would do. I pleaded with him with my eyes, begging him to choose me. I love you, Steve. I love you.
Damn, Sarah was demanding.
His eyes darted from me to her, and he didn’t say anything for a while. I thought that this would be a no-brainer for him. His friend he’s known forever who‘s head over heels in love with him, or a rude cheerleader he’s known for not even a year? Why was this so difficult for him?
“What?” Sarah screeched. A few people walking past stopped and shot her weird looks.
“I can’t-not now.”
God, Sarah, calm down.
I didn’t say anything, but I watched him as he scrambled for the right words.
“I don’t know.”
Sarah was starting to turn an unnatural shade of blue. “What do you mean you don’t know?!” Every syllable was pumped full of venom. “You’d better know soon, Steven, or I’ll make your decision ten times easier.”
I wasn’t sure if she meant that she’d dump him or kill me.
Frustrated, she fixed her skirt and hair, her green eyes ablaze, and seemed to make a choice in her head. “I’m leaving, Steven.”
“If you choose me, call me later tonight. If not then…just don’t call at all.”
She stormed off in a huff. He sighed.
“I’m sorry, Steve, but I’m going to have to agree with Sarah.” I would probably never say THAT again. “Call me if you pick me.”
He struggled to say something, but he couldn’t get anything out. I turned to leave, but stopped myself. I spun back around to him. “I don’t want you to feel bad if you don’t choose me, Steve. We were friends before this. We can be friends after it.” A smile tugged at his lips. “Bye.”
Before I went, he took me by the wrist. “Bye.” Then he placed his Yankees cap on my head and grinned. I shyly smiled back, turned, and left.
I woke up around three-o-clock. My arm had fallen asleep and my head was still pounding. I wiped tears that I hadn’t realized had formed from my cheeks. He had called Sarah. It was over.
I guess that I should’ve seen this coming. A beautiful cheerleader blows away a complicated artist any day. I closed my eyes.
And heard a doorbell-like ring emit from my phone. I picked it up immediately.
I'm a realistic person. I know that things won't last. I know that things will change and shift.
Steven wouldn't be here forever.
So I decided to just be happy that he was here now.