Hopelessly Unromantic (short fiction)
“Remember that time in math when she asked me for a pencil but I only had pens, so I gave her a pen instead?”
“No, Mateo.” Jonah sat on Mateo’s bed, tossing a foam basketball against the wall. “I’ve forgotten the story since you last told it to me yesterd—”
“And then at the end of class when she tried to return it to me, I looked her straight in the eyes and said ‘no, you keep it.’”
“You’re a real smooth talker, aren’t you?”
Mateo rolled his eyes. “You’re just jealous.”
“Jealous of what, exactly? Last time I checked, I was the one in a happy relationship.”
“Pretty soon, you won’t be alone on that boat, dear Jonah.”
“Oh, really? What’s your big plan, Señor Smooth?”
“Well…I…I haven’t thought that far ahead yet. But just you wait.” Mateo paraded around his room, complementing his words with swooping hand gestures. “Just you wait, Jonah Miller, she and I will be strutting down the hallways hand-in-hand and carving our initials into the trunk of a tree and feeding each other chocolate-covered strawberries in Central Park.”
Jonah sat completely still, following Mateo’s gestures with his eyes. He knew that when Mateo got going, there was very little he could do to stop him. He waited before speaking again, not knowing if Mateo’s pause was an intermission or the end of the show.
“Okay, different question,” he eventually said, choosing not to entertain any of Mateo’s theatrics. “When was the last time you talked to her?”
“Okay, good start. What’d you talk about?”
“She asked me if she should transfer into Bertoni’s fourth period music class.”
“Wait, really? That’s great, Teo. More classes with her means more time to—”
“I told her no.”
Jonah raised an eyebrow. “You what?”
“Bertoni sucks, I couldn’t just lie to her like that.”
Jonah finally stood up from the bed. He began to pace around the room, running his hands through his hair. “I knew this would be hard, but I seriously overestimated your game, bro.”
“I can’t build a relationship on lies, Jonah.”
“No, Mateo, you can’t build a relationship at all.” He tossed the foam basketball at Mateo.
Jonah stopped pacing. “Give me your phone.”
“No,” said Mateo.
“If I give you my phone, you’re gonna do something stupid like text her.”
“Of course I’m gonna—” Jonah started to lunge toward Mateo’s phone, but then he paused. “Wait…are you telling me that you don’t text her?”
“Well, everything has to be perfect and I can’t just send something like ‘what’s up’—like, how unromantic would that be?”
“So instead you send her nothing. You do see where the logic fails in that one, right?”
Mateo just gave a blank stare in response.
“Okay, do you facetime her?”
“Do you even have her number?”
“Of course I have her number, I’m not an idiot.”
“How’d you get it?”
“We were partners for a French project a year ago.”
Jonah collapsed on the bed. He let out a scream of frustration into a pillow.
“Stop overreacting, Jonah. No one’s even asking for your help, bro.”
“Okay, fine.” Jonah picked up the phone from the bedside table and threw it—perhaps a little too forcefully—at Mateo. “If you don’t need my help, call her and ask her out right now.”
“Fine. I will.” Mateo clicked on the contacts app and scrolled down to the middle of the alphabet. His finger hovered over ‘Maria <3’ and he took a long breath in. What if Jonah was right? What if he really had been too concerned with everything being perfect that he missed his shot? What if it was too late? What if asking to borrow a pen really was just asking to borrow a pen?
Mateo turned off his phone and placed it back down onto the table. He sat down on the floor next to his bed.
“It’s okay, bro,” Jonah called down to Mateo, ”baby steps.”
Neither of them spoke for a while. Mateo was sure that the silence was because Jonah had just fallen asleep, but he didn’t want to talk to him anyway. He just kept beating himself up for watching so many stupid rom-coms with his sister when she came home from school and for being so unlike those guys from the movies.
His ringing phone interrupted his spiral of self-deprecation. He picked up his phone and saw Maria’s name flash across the screen. He couldn’t just not pick up. She’d never called him before—this had to be truly important, or she wouldn’t have called, right? He pressed the green button.
“Hey,” they both said in unison.
Mateo knew he couldn’t mess up the moment. So he just waited for Maria to speak first.
“So, you know that pen that I borrowed from you in math a few weeks ago?”
That was why she called? Really? “Yeah, you asked for a pencil, but that was all I had.”
“Yeah, that’s the one. Well, I wanted to return it.”
“Oh, um, okay. Yeah, you can give it back to me on Monday. Was that all you wanted?”
“Yeah, that’s all. Thanks, Mateo.”
“I’ll see you at school, Maria,” What was he doing? He didn’t want to hang up. He wanted to talk to her all night. He wanted to ask her to go to dinner with him or to go watch a movie. Why was he so bad at this?
“Wait, Mateo. That’s not actually the only reason why I called.” He heard her take a breath through the phone. “Do you wanna…maybe… grab lunch with me tomorrow?”
He nearly dropped his phone. Mateo silently pumped his fists and moonwalked across the carpet in his room. When he remembered that Maria was waiting on the line, he cleared his throat and pressed the phone back to his ear. “Yeah, Maria. I would.” Mateo smiled. He felt like he was floating on air. “I really, really would.” He stopped. “Don’t forget my pen, though.” They laughed.
The Car Note (short fiction)
It’s Friday night. The football team just beat Lincoln in overtime. It took forever to work up the courage to ask Mom if I could stay for the game; she just took a second shift at the shop, and I didn’t want to bother her with having to pick me up. She promised me it was nothing, said she’d just swing by during her break to drop me off at home.
She and Dad have been going at it again. She’s been trying to defend me, telling him how senior year is stressful and I made a mistake and I need more support than punishment in my life right now. I don’t deserve her sympathy.
The Fab Four would be on our way to Nation’s for chili cheese fries and milkshakes right about now. Spencer and Casey would be in the back starting some stupid argument about Kubrick and Tarantino (film kids, am I right?). Lilah would be riding shotgun, insisting that we only listen to 90s hip hop (and I wouldn’t be complaining). But you’re gone, and so is our after school hangout.
Spencer’s still Spencer. He asked me yesterday if I think that leather has memory, if you remember the day Charlotte told him she was moving to Tampa and long-distance would just be too hard. That was the first time Spencer and I hung out without the others. I picked him up to get ice cream and he cried for 45 minutes before we could even step into the parlor. I told him that many tears was sure to leave a mark on even the toughest leather.
Lilah told me that it’s finally time for her to learn how to drive. I don’t believe she’ll actually do it; I’ve been trying to convince her for years and still no license. She said it’s “the worst possible idea to put our lives in the hands of Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum.” I don’t disagree. Remember that day we drove to Stinson? Casey stuck his head out of the window and the sunglasses he’d been wearing flew off of his face. His dad’s 200 buck sunglasses, gone. We laugh now, but Dr. Carter didn’t let us come over for a month. I couldn’t imagine what he’d do if he knew that Casey was the one who…you know.
It’s dangerous to spend time by myself these days. When I’m left alone for too long, my mind takes me back to that night.
It comes in flashes. Spencer’s eyebrows furrowing when I told everyone I was ducking out of the group study session. Waking up to a pitch black sky and my unfinished flashcards scattered across the park bench. Casey finding me in a mess of tears and Physics notes and refusing to let me drive myself home. Him turning on the radio and glancing over at me every couple of minutes to make sure I’m alright. The both of us seeing the detour sign just a few seconds too late. The color orange. Tree branches. Shattered glass. Mutilated metal. Casey sitting on the sidewalk with his knees pulled to his chest, mumbling about his dad and what he’d think.
It was my fault, Roscoe. If I hadn’t been so irresponsible, I wouldn’t have needed him to be my babysitter. I couldn’t let him take the blame. Everyone still thinks it was me driving–exactly as they should.
But I guess it doesn’t really matter now. We’re all living in the aftermath of that stupid Tuesday night, and we’ll continue to for a while.
I hope your parts are being used to build something cool for someone that really deserves it.
Love you always,