Before, I might have tried to squirm out of it. But my obligation to Mike Evans had been small at best. “It's not really your business,” I said, affecting my best Cass coolness. “And it's late. I really have to go“ ”You should know what people are saying about you,“ he blurted out quickly as I turned away from him. ”I mean, someone should tell you.“ ”What who is saying about me?“ I said. The rain was letting up some, but I could still hear it, plinking overhead. ”Everyone,“ he said. ”The team, the rest of the cheerleaders.“ Like these were important people, the most important people, and their opinions should be of utmost importance to me. And for one split second, standing under that roof with the rain banging overhead, I knew why Cass had left, could almost have been her, in that instant. Maybe she got tired of her strings being pulled, too. ”I don't care what people are saying,“ I said slowly, turning my face up to look Mike square in the eye. ”This Rogerson,“ he said, and it was strange to hear him say his name. ”He's been in a lot of trouble, Caitlin. I've heard stories. I mean, he's not your type.“ ”You don't even know him,“ I said, suddenly defensive of Roger-?son, seeing him holding his face the night of his parents' party, how dark his eyes were. ”You don't even know me.“ ”Oh, come on,“ he said, smiling. ”Of course I do.” But he didn't. He knew Cass, and Rina. But Mike Evans had never said more than ten words to me before that night we were supposed to suddenly become a couple. He was just a stupid jock who wanted a cheerleadernot me. Not even close. “I'm leaving,” I said, brushing past him. “Wait,” he said, reaching out and grabbing me by the arm. I looked down at his fingers, spread over the fabric of my shirt, and then up at his face. “Listen to me. I'm just trying”
“Let go,” I said, trying to pull away. “Just hold on.” He gripped me harder, his fingers pulling at the fabric. “Listen.” The rain was hitting hard now, so loud I almost didn't hear the door banging open in front of me. Rogerson was standing there. His hair was wet, dripping down onto the shiny wooden floor, and his jeans and jacket were both damp and dark, as dark as his eyes. Mike dropped his hand, quickly. “Caitlin,” Rogerson said. I could barely hear him above the rain. But even as he spoke, he wasn't looking at me; his eyes were on Mike. “What's going on?”
“Hey, man,” Mike Evans said, too loudly, as he put another arm's length between us, “we're just talking here. That's all.” Rogerson looked at me, to confirm this, and I wondered, suddenly, just what would happen if I didn't agree. I felt strangely flattered, protected, as I walked over to stand beside my boyfriend, who kept his eyes solid on Mike Evans, even as I wrapped my fingers around his. “Come on,” I said. “I'm late already.” Rogerson looked like he wasn't quite sure about this, even as I smoothed my hand over his damp shoulder, his wet hair brushing against my skin. “It's nothing.” He left with me, then. And Mike Evans was brave enough to wait until we were out of sight before he called out, Think about what I said, Caitlin. Okay?“ his voice bouncing down the empty school corridors. Rogerson and I were standing at the front doors. I could barely see the car through the rain, falling thick and fast, in sheets. ”What did he say?" Rogerson asked me, taking one last glance back as if still contemplating finishing what Mike had started.
“Nothing important,” I said. Then he pushed the door open and I pulled my jacket over my head, the rain already whistling in my ears, as we started to make a run for it together.
Cass's first real boyfriend, Jason Packerthe boy who had broken her heartwas part of our family for the two years they dated. He came for Thanksgiving dinner, exchanged Christmas gifts with my family, and helped my father install the track lighting in our upstairs hallway. He was accepted to the point that we gave up maintaining what my mother called “company behavior.” It was like we were all dating Jason Packer, and when he dumped Cass, each of us took it a little personally. I didn't expect things to be this way with Rogerson. We'd been together about three weeks when I finally had to bring him inside for a Formal Introduction.
After her initial hesitationand once I'd proven I wasn't blowing off everything else to be with him my mother surprised me by asking about Rogerson occasionally, the way she did about cheerleading or school, although more out of duty than of real interest. My father was doing his part from the comfort of his chair: he'd reach over and flip on the front porch light when Rogerson and I had been parked for more than twenty minutes, reminding me that I was due inside. This was strange to me. I had expected my parents to be even more vigilant about my relationship with Rogerson because of Cass running away. After all, they'd already lost one daughter to a boy they didn't know. Maybe it was because they knew what his father did, who his brother was, had seen his mother's face on For Sale signs staked into a million lawns, and this made him safer, somehow. The other option that somehow, losing me would be less of a loss, never as hard as the one already sufferedwas something I pushed out of my head each time it rose up, nagging. It was a Friday night, during my parents' and Boo and Stewart's weekly Trivial Pursuit war. I was standing in the bathroom, putting on lipstick, when my mother called out, “Caitlin, honey, when Rogerson comes, ask him to say hello, won't you?” I blinked at my reflection, then cut off the light and stepped out into the hallway. My parents, Boo, and Stewart were in their customary Friday night places, sitting around the dining room table, with the Trivial Pursuit board spread out in the middle. My father was studying a card in his hand, his eyes narrowed; Stewart sat beside him, chewing, a bag of dried figs on the table next to him. My mother and Boo were at the other end of the table, stirring their tea with their heads bowed, discussing strategy. “Why?” I said, and my mother looked up at me, eyebrows raised. “Well, you've certainly been spending a lot of time together,” she replied. “We should at least meet the boy face-?to-?face. Don't you think, Jack?” My father glanced over at me, smiling mildly. “Sure,” he said. “Bring him in.” Introducing Rogerson was one thing. Doing it during the Friday Night war was another altogether. It had been going on for at least five years, ever since Boo had given my father a Trivial Pursuit game for a birthday present. The first game had begun innocently enough, played over coffee and cookies my mother and Boo versus Stewart and my father. But over time and many games, things were said. Assumptions made. Challenges extended. It was as if they were drunk on trivia, and every Friday was a bender. “I don't know,” I said to my mother as Rogerson's car slid into sight by our mailbox. “We kind of have plans....”