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Authors: Sarah Jeffrey

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BOOK: Me & My Invisible Guy
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But it wasn’t Tess or the Twelve Steps that was on my mind as I sat through trig. I stared at the back of Liam Crawford’s head—an actual guy with bones and skin and everything.

Liam Crawford. He was bent over his paper writing something, his brown curls a mop on his head. In the six weeks he had been at North County, Liam and I had exchanged maybe a dozen words. We ran in different crowds. I was a varsity cheerleader, and while I wasn’t one of the über-popular like Yvie or Sophie, Tess and I had carved out our own happy niche. We were near enough to the in-crowd never to lack an invitation to a party but far enough away from the center not to be under constant pressure.

It was a place where I could breathe. And Todd was a part of that. Todd was my ready excuse for anything I didn’t want to have to explain. Any time I just wanted an out.

As much as I wanted to get rid of him, I wasn’t sure what a life without Todd would even look like.

“Liam,” Mr. Petrini called out. Liam stood up and walked toward the teacher’s desk, and they had a brief conversation that I couldn’t hear.

Mr. Petrini looked up and said, “Who has time to walk Mr. Crawford over to the Tech Center and show him where the testing room is?”

My hand shot up in the air so quickly I knocked my book to the floor.

Oh. My. God.

Mr. Petrini smirked. “Thanks, Mallory. You two can be excused.”

I shoved my book into my backpack and avoided Tess’s eyes. Liam took his backpack, slung it over his shoulder, and waited at the door. Everyone was focused on their work. Mr. Petrini went back to his computer. But I still felt as if everyone was watching me walk toward Liam. As if I needed dramatic background music.

I mean, I knew I had been watching Liam, but this? This was not in the plan.

Liam grinned when I reached him and held the door open for me.

When the door closed and it was just us and a long, empty hallway, he said, “Mallory. That’s a pretty name.”

“Thanks.”

It was quiet for a moment.

I knew I should ask a question. Why wouldn’t my brain work?

“So, am I your good deed for the day?” he asked.

“Do you think this counts?”

“Absolutely.” He smiled. “All I know about you is that you’re a cheerleader, right? I saw you at the pep rally last week.”

He noticed me. That was
interesting
. “Yep. I’m a cheerleader. That’s about it.”

“I doubt that’s all there is to know about you.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. But we’ve only got five more minutes before you’re safely delivered to the testing room. Why do you have to go, anyway?”

“It’s something with my records. They have to sort out my credits so I can graduate on time, and that means I have to take another placement test.”

“Sounds fun.” I found myself smiling back at him. It was easier than I thought it would be. Talking to him. I had imagined it. But I usually imagined it as a disaster.

I led him out a back door so that we could cross the field to the Tech Center.

“Wow. Wish we could have class out here today.”

I didn’t know what to say to that so I waited, and sure enough, he jumped back in. He was a lot better at this than I was. “Tell me something about yourself besides cheerleading.”

I looked at the ground. That should be an easy question. A really easy one. But my thoughts flitted to everything I
didn’t
want to say. We got all the way to the testing-room door and still I had nothing.

Liam leaned against the wall and shoved his hands into his pockets. He was taller than me by maybe four inches. He looked like he’d be willing to wait forever.

“Maybe next time,” I said. “You should go.”

Liam gave me a look I couldn’t read, then opened the door. “Promise?”

“Sure.”

He went inside, and I let out a breath I didn’t even know I had been holding.

I hurried back toward school, toward Tess, feeling disoriented. What just happened? On the surface it looked so simple and basic. But I knew it wasn’t. It was like something—I wasn’t sure what yet—had opened before me.

The question was, What was I going to do about it?

I found Tess already eating in the cafeteria. I passed through the salad line and went to sit with her.

“What was that?” she asked.

“What was what?”

“The new dude. Since when are you Miss Volunteerism?”

“Just doing my good deed for the day.” I shoved food into my mouth, enjoying the fact that I had shocked Tess.

That wasn’t an easy thing to do.

Darby was sitting at the kitchen table when I got home, her college textbooks scattered around and her laptop casting a bluish glow on her face.

I flipped on the kitchen light, making her squint.

“You’ll ruin your eyes!” I said in my best Mom impersonation.

Darby rolled hers in response. “I didn’t realize it had gotten so dark in here.”

I yanked open the fridge and rummaged around until I found a drinkable yogurt. I peeled back the lid and sat down at the table.

“What’cha doin’?” I asked.

Darby stared at the computer as her finger moved on the mouse pad. “I’m just stuck. It’s an essay for English.”

“Ohhh.” I drank the rest of my yogurt. “Have you been sitting here all day?”

Darby looked at the clock above the back door and smirked. “I guess I have.” She stretched her arms and closed the laptop. “Maybe a break would be good. Want to go for a walk?”

I glanced at the clock. I had exactly an hour before Tess would be in the driveway to pick me up for the game. I wanted to go upstairs and have time to figure everything out. But Mom’s guilt-laden voice in my head was too loud to ignore.

“Sure. Not too far, though. Let me go tell Dad I’m home.”

She closed down her laptop and then gave me a smile.

I went to the basement and found Dad already packing up his stuff.

“Your mom said she’d be back before you have to leave for the game. I’ve got to get out of here. I’m late for an appointment.”

“I’m sorry. I got back as quick as I could.”

He kissed me on the head. “No problem. I don’t think she ate dinner yet. Your mom will ask.”

We came back upstairs, and after a quick good-bye to Darby, he left.

I followed Darby out through the back doorway and through the gate. She picked the trail today. The trail meant that she was in a melancholy mood and didn’t really want to run into neighbors or have to smile at people walking their dogs.

We made our way through the woods until we got to the trail. The leaves were just starting to change. I watched Darby as she looked around and took it all in. I wondered, as I always did, what she was really thinking. I wasn’t allowed
to ask. With Darby, there were so many rules. What I could say, what I couldn’t say—all from Mom and all under the guise of Darby’s therapy. Like I could make or break Darby’s recovery with every word I said. It was easier just to not say much of anything.

When we turned around to head back home, Darby broke her silence.

“Sorry. I’m not feeling very chatty today.” She stepped over a small log and smiled back at me.

“That’s okay. Me neither.”

“How’s school?”

“Fine.”

“Cheerleading?”

“Fine.”

“You’re going to give me the standard answers, huh?”

I shrugged. Even though Darby was older than me and there were small signs that she was getting better, I still had to feel my way through every conversation, always keep up the smile.

She didn’t ask anything else, and by the time we reached home, I was nervous about being ready in time. After Darby was settled back in front of the computer, I took a quick shower and then went to my room to change.

Todd was everywhere I looked. The room was covered with pictures of Todd, and Todd and me.

I walked over to my dresser and picked up the beach one, cheek to cheek (not an easy thing to do with Photoshop btw) with happy smiles on our faces. I felt… sad. I opened my little moleskin notebook where I tucked away the Twelve Step program and looked at the steps again. That stupid Step 5. How would I ever be able to confess my pathetic lies to another person?

Todd wasn’t exactly an alcohol addiction, but my life had certainly become unmanageable, and I
definitely
needed help. I could admit that. But did taking back my life really mean I had to tell everyone the truth about Todd?

Nah. I just needed to be free of him. Why confess when we could just break up?

So even though I was already running late, I opened my closet and pulled out an empty plastic container and set it on my desk. I told myself I had to get rid of him—for real this time. And that meant total deletion.

Making up Todd wasn’t premeditated. It was like one of those little white lies that you throw out there, but it sticks with you for so long that it grows legs and starts running your life. For all the help Todd gave me, he was a constant reminder that I was a total fake.

Before, there had always been just the four of us: Tess, Yvie, Sophie, and me. We were only freshmen when Yvie told us at a sleepover one night that she had slept with her boyfriend, Mark. We were stunned. Yvie said that getting it over with would make high school less stressful. I don’t think any of us actually believed her; but as time passed, Sophie and then even Tess had come back with tales of their journeys out of virginity, leaving just me. Yes, there was pressure. I’d only gone on a handful of dates, but I’d still get the “Did you do it?” stare from at least one of them. I felt as if I had been left behind in some way.

Then last Christmas when things had gone nuts with Darby and I couldn’t tell anyone what was happening, I’d made up a story about how my grandmother was sick and we had to keep going out of town to see her. When that raised questions, I’d made up Todd, who conveniently lived next door to my grandmother. And since none of my friends would
ever know that I hadn’t slept with him, I’d just gone back and told them I had.

Pretending I had done it seemed way easier than admitting that I didn’t want to have sex. Which I didn’t. Maybe I had watched too many Disney movies growing up, or maybe it was because of everything Darby went through, but I kind of wanted the whole fairy-tale romance—not some quickie, get-it-over-with thing that I had to hold my breath and get through.

Inventing Todd hadn’t been all that hard. Working with my dad had made me a whiz at Photoshop. One fake online profile and some great pictures were all it took. Nobody asked too many questions, and I no longer felt like some outcast. Ironically, it did take off a lot of pressure.

But then I couldn’t seem to get rid of him.

I tried. I really did. But every time I would break up with fake Todd, I would start getting crazy nervous about the whole dating scene. With my mom and Darby, I didn’t have much freedom to go anywhere besides cheerleading, anyway. Then there was the fact that a real guy could assume I’d sleep with him, too. It felt as if the whole school was more experienced than I was. And real relationships seemed full of all sorts of drama that I couldn’t afford. Todd was easier; he was completely controllable.

I picked up the beach picture and put it in the box and then worked my way around the room, quickly untaping each and every picture of Todd and stacking them all in the box. There was an impressive amount of pictures. I stared at the pile for a while. I had broken up with Todd before, but I never went this far, putting our pretend world away in a box. It was a big step.

BOOK: Me & My Invisible Guy
3.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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