“Okay,” Kristy said, tapping her foot to the music, “tell us about the sort-of boyfriend.”
“Oh,” I said, “we’ve been dating for a year and a half.”
I took a sip of my beer, thinking this would suffice. But they were sitting there, expectant, waiting for more. Oh, well, I thought. Here goes nothing.
“He went away for the summer,” I continued, “and a couple of weeks after he left, he decided maybe it was better that we take this break. I was really upset about it. I still am, actually.”
“So he found someone else,” Kristy said, clarifying.
“No, it’s not like that,” I said. “He’s at Brain Camp.”
“Huh?” Monica asked.
“Brain Camp,” I repeated. “It’s like a smart-kid thing.”
“Then he found someone else at Brain Camp,” Kristy said.
“No, it’s not about someone else.”
“Then what is it about?”
It just seemed wrong to be sitting here discussing this. Plus I was embarrassed enough by what had happened, what I’d done to freak him out, so embarrassed I hadn’t even told my mother, whom I should have been able to tell anything. I could only imagine what these girls would think.
“Well,” I said, “a lot of things.”
Another expectant pause.
I took a breath. “Basically, it came down to the fact that I ended an email by saying I loved him, which is, you know, big, and it made him uncomfortable. And he felt that I wasn’t focused enough on my job at the library. There’s probably more, but that’s the main stuff.”
They both just looked at me. Then Monica said, “Donneven.”
“Wait a second.” Kristy sat up against the edge of the couch, as if she needed her full height, small though it was, to say what was coming next. “You’ve been dating for a year and a half and you can’t tell the guy you love him?”
“It’s complicated,” I said, taking a sip of my beer.
“And,” she continued, “he broke up with you because he didn’t think you were focused enough on your job performance?”
“The library,” I said, “is very important to him.”
“Is he ninety years old?”
I looked down at my beer. “You don’t understand,” I said. “He’s been, like, my life for the last year and a half. He’s made me a better person.”
This quieted her down, at least temporarily. I ran my finger around the rim of my cup.
“How?” she said finally.
“Well,” I began, “he’s perfect, you know? Great in school, smart, all these achievements. He can do anything. And when I was with him, it was like, good for me. It made me better, too.”
“Until . . .” she said.
“Until,” I said, “I let him down. I pushed too hard, I got too attached. He has high standards.”
“And you don’t,” she said.
“Of course I do.”
Monica exhaled, shaking her head. “Nuh-uh,” she said adamantly.
“Sure doesn’t seem like it,” Kristy said, seconding this. She took a sip of her beer, never taking her eyes off of me.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Listen to yourself,” she said. “God! Are you actually going to sit there and say he was justified in dumping you because you dared to get attached to him after a year and a half? Or because you didn’t take some stupid job at the library as seriously as he thought you should?”
I knew this was, pretty much, what I’d just said. But somehow it sounded different now, coming from her.
“Look,” she said, as I struggled with this, trying to work it out, “I don’t know you that well. I’ll admit that. But what I see is a girl any guy, especially some library nerd who’s off at Cranium Camp—”
“Brain Camp,” I muttered.
“—would totally want to hear say she loved him. You’re smart, you’re gorgeous, you’re a good person. I mean, what makes him such a catch, anyway? Who is he to judge?”
“He’s Jason,” I said, for lack of a better argument.
“Well, he’s a fuckhead.” She sucked down the rest of her beer. “And if I were you, I’d be glad to be rid of him. Because anyone that can make you feel that bad about yourself is toxic, you know?”
“He doesn’t make me feel bad about myself,” I said, knowing even as my lips formed the words this was exactly what he did. Or what I let him do. It was hard to say.
“What you need,” Kristy said, “what you deserve, is a guy who adores you for what you are. Who doesn’t see you as a project, but a prize. You know?”
“I’m no prize,” I said, shaking my head.
“Yes,” she said, and she sounded so sure it startled me: like she could be so positive while hardly knowing me at all. “You are. What sucks is how you can’t even see it.”
I turned my head, looking back out at the clearing. It seemed no matter where I turned, someone was telling me to change.
Kristy reached over and put her hand on mine, holding it there until I had to look up at her. “I’m not picking on you.”
“No?” I said.
She shook her head. “Look. We both know life is short, Macy. Too short to waste a single second with anyone who doesn’t appreciate and value you. ”
“You said the other day life was long,” I shot back. “Which is it?”
“It’s both,” she said, shrugging. “It all depends on how you choose to live it. It’s like forever, always changing.”
“Nothing can be two opposite things at once,” I said. “It’s impossible.”
“No,” she replied, squeezing my hand, “what’s impossible is that we actually think it could be anything other than that. Look, when I was in the hospital, right after the accident, they thought I was going to die. I was really fucked up, big time.”
“Uh-huh,” Monica said, looking at her sister.
“Then,” Kristy continued, nodding at her, “life was very short, literally. But now that I’m better, it seems so long I have to squint to see even the edges of it. It’s all in the view, Macy. That’s what I mean about forever, too. For any one of us our forever could end in an hour, or a hundred years from now. You can never know for sure, so you’d better make every second count.”