“You always end with a jade’s trick: I know you of old.”
-Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing
“He’s from Messina.”
“He’s a hottie.”
Trissa paused mid-zip, suddenly interested in the possible gossip she might hear through the bathroom stall door. Were they talking about anyone she knew? She leaned forward to peek through the crack between the door and the frame. Two girls were standing in front of the row of sinks, leaning toward the dim mirrors while fixing their makeup, but she didn’t recognize them. They must be from another school.
“His name’s Ben Byron and he’s on the football team. I think he plays baseball, too, but I’m not positive.” The short blonde girl fluffed her stick-straight hair.
“That explains all the muscles. Yum!” The other girl was taller, with a dark complexion and a killer figure.
Trissa frowned and leaned in farther. They were talking about Ben. Her Ben. As in her boyfriend. For 3 years. Taken. And his last name was Bryant, not Byron. Idiots.
“Is he single?” The girl with the over-sized rack was relentless.
“He’s got a girlfriend. They’ve been together for, like, forever. She’s some skanky cheerleader. You could totally steal him.”
What. The. Hell? These two bitches needed to back off and leave her man alone. Trissa figured she’d wait a couple more seconds and then make a dramatic entrance.
“That might be fun.” The dark girl leaned into the mirror and applied more lip gloss, slathering it thickly on her pouty lips. “What’s the girlfriend’s name?”
“You mean the former girlfriend?” They both cackled stupidly, sounding a lot like hyenas. “I don’t know. Trisha or something like that. Who cares?”
“All right.” The dark one pursed her lips at the mirror. “Let’s go so I can make my move on the sexy Ben and steal him away from What’s Her Name.”
They were gone before Trissa could gather her thoughts enough to make the dramatic entrance she’d been planning. It was too bad, because she had thought of the perfect comeback, with her signature biting wit. Oh well, it’s not like they would have been smart enough to recognize an artfully wielded insult anyway. It would have been a waste of energy. Still, though, the girl’s last words had struck like an arrow. ’What’s Her Name?’ Is that what I’ve become? Is that it? My name doesn’t even matter anymore? Trissa sat on the toilet seat and sunk her head into her hands. I’m a person. I’m more than just Ben’s girlfriend. Aren’t I? She’d been worried about it for quite a while, but hearing it from total strangers was shocking.
She and Ben had started dating the first week of freshman year and had been together ever since. She knew people thought of them as the “it” couple at their high school and she’d always been proud of that. They never fought and he treated her really well. And the rest of what they’d said was true, as well. He was gorgeous and sexy, but was never stuck-up about it. And, God, his kisses! She could write epic songs about his lips if she was so inclined and had any talent for song writing. Which she didn’t, nor the desire to try. She couldn’t even read music.
But when had she become a non-person? When had she become known only as ‘Ben’s girlfriend’? She’d been raised to be an independent, capable young woman and she was appalled to realize people might be thinking of her as the kind of girl who always had to have a guy. She didn’t want to be that person.
She exited the stall, washed her hands automatically, and made her way back into the ballroom of the convention center where the college fair was being held. The entire junior class of Messina High had boarded school busses early that morning for the two-hour trip to Lubbock to attend this fair where they could gather endless brochures, bags, and pens from colleges far and wide. Trissa wandered the aisles, mindlessly picking up glossy tracts and stuffing them into her tote bag. None of it interested her. She would go to Texas Tech right here in Lubbock, like her parents had, like all her extended family had. Ben was planning to go there, too. It had all seemed so perfect, but lately she had begun to wonder if it was enough. Maybe there was something more, something different, something exciting in her future, if she was open to it.
The shove from behind woke her from her reverie.
“Get out of the way! What kind of idiot stops in the middle of an aisle?” The group of teens pushed their way around her.
Trissa felt her face heat in embarrassment and quickly stepped up to the nearest booth.
“Hi. Are you interested in Brown?”
Brown what? Trissa felt stupid as she realized she was standing in front of the Brown University booth. Like she had any business even thinking about an Ivy League school. “Um, sure.” She half-listened as the rep expounded upon the virtues of Brown. Her mind wandered to where the rest of her group might be until something the rep said brought her back. “Rhode Island?”
“Yes. Have you been to Providence before?”
Trissa had never been east of the Mississippi river before. She glimpsed a sudden mental picture of herself walking the hallowed halls of a generic East Coast university—mental image courtesy of Legally Blonde—and liked it. She could be so strong and independent if she lived all the way across the United States. She’d have to be. “What kind of ACT score do I need?”
“We don’t accept the ACT. You need to take the SAT and two subject tests.” The rep was nice and filled Trissa in on all the mind-boggling acceptance requirements. Fifteen minutes later, she stepped away from the table with a new mission in life: get accepted to Brown.
“Trissa!” Ben hailed her from farther up the aisle, slipping between people to get to her. “Hey, I’ve been looking all over for you. You feeling better?” He pulled her close and kissed her hair.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” She squirmed away, uncomfortable with the public affection. She felt a stab of guilt at the slightly hurt look on his face. He was never pushy about PDA and it had never bothered her before. What was her problem?
“This is a giant waste of time, huh? I’m glad we know what we’re doing for college already. Let’s go find somewhere quiet to sit, okay?”
She followed mutely, determined to keep her new-found goal to herself for the time being.
“Are you okay, babe?”
Babe. Ugh! Did he have any idea how demeaning that sounded? “I told you, I’m fine.” She cringed as she realized how pissy she sounded. She’d been picking a lot of fights lately, both with him and her other friends. She hated herself for it, but she couldn’t seem to get comfortable in her own skin recently. She would lash out before she even knew what was happening.
“O-kay.” He darted his eyes around, probably looking for an escape.
She didn’t blame him; she’d like to escape from the beast she’d become, too.
“You seem kinda off today, hon. What’s wrong?”
Just like that, a switch was flipped—the Bitch Switch, and the beast was on the loose again. “Why does anything have to be wrong, Ben? Am I not entitled to be ‘off’ sometimes? What does that even mean? What, do I have to be perky and cheerful all the time? Maybe I don’t want to be happy all the time! Maybe once in a while I want to let the whole world know I’m in a pisser of a mood. What, am I supposed to stand up and do a goddamn cheer even when I don’t feel like it?”
“Babe, hey. I’m sorry.” His brilliant green eyes were full of concern, something that usually melted her. Today it sent her over the edge. This was HER meltdown, how DARE he try and weaken her resolve with remorse!
“Don’t ever call me ‘babe’ again! I have a name, you know! I’m more than just your stupid girlfriend!” She stomped away, leaving him to stare after her. He didn’t call out; if he had she might have returned and tried to explain herself. She refused to talk to him for the rest of the afternoon and chose to ride the other bus on the way home. She didn’t answer any of his increasingly frequent texts and raced to her truck as soon as the bus dropped her off in front of the school. She sped to her aunt and uncle’s house where she lived during the school year and threw a few things in her duffel bag. She drove the hour and a half to her parent’s ranch in tears; she actually had to pull over twice when her sobs became too heavy to drive through.
Ben showed up an hour after she arrived. The ensuing fight wasn’t pretty. There was ugly name calling on both sides. He demanded to know what in the world he’d done wrong and couldn’t seem to accept her answer of ‘nothing’.
“I don’t like who I’ve become, Ben.”
“Yeah, well I’m not too crazy about her right this minute, either!”
She deserved that, but it still hurt. “I need to figure out who I am and what I want out of life.”
“I thought I was what you wanted. We have a good thing going, Trissa. Don’t throw it away like this.” She was appalled to see tears shining in his eyes. The only other time she’d ever seen him cry was a year ago when his dog got hit by a car and died in his arms. As then, it now broke her heart, but she was afraid if she gave in, if she said she didn’t mean any of it, she’d never find out who or what she was capable of becoming.
“I’m sorry, Ben. I just need to be by myself for a while.”
“What does that even mean? How can you be by yourself and still go to school?”
“That’s not what I mean, Ben! I just mean—”
“You mean you need to be without me? That’s it, isn’t it? Or is there someone else? Oh, my God! Is there someone else, Trissa? Who is he?”
“God, Ben! No, of course there’s no one else! I just…”
“Don’t do this, Trissa.” His voice had sunk to a hoarse whisper and a single tear traced its way to his chin.
She almost changed her mind. She didn’t want to hurt him—she’d never wanted to hurt him. God, why was this so hard? Was she wrong? She feared she’d never know if she backed out now. “I’m sorry, Ben. I really am.”
“Fine. If that’s what you really want.” He wiped his eyes impatiently and sniffed. “This is it, though, Trissa. I won’t beg.”
“I never asked you to beg!”
“You know, I think this is actually for the best. You’ve changed. I can do without all the crazy in my life. Take care of yourself, Tris.” He left without another word.
Trissa stared after him, watching until the dust his Jeep stirred up on the winding driveway died away. She crossed her arms tightly across her stomach, trying to soothe the deep ache inside her. When she could put it off no longer, she turned and entered the house through the kitchen door. Her family immediately tried to hide the fact they had been listening. Her mom resumed the chopping she’d interrupted, her dad pretended to be absorbed in the newspaper, and her little brother started his hand-held video game again, the chirps and beeps as annoying as ever. She bent down to pick up her yellow cat, Nala, who was purring and winding herself around Trissa’s ankles. She buried her face in the warm fur, hoping her family wouldn’t see her wrecked face.
“Dinner will be ready in about an hour, sweetheart.”
“Mom.” She stopped and swallowed, desperately trying not to cry in front of them. “Please, just this once let me stay in my room. I’m not hungry.” In fact, she’d be lucky if she didn’t hurl what little she had eaten for lunch.
“You okay, Beatrice Anne?” Her father’s gruff voice caused the tears to begin again. He only called her by her full name when she was in trouble or hurt. Her little brother was the one responsible for her nickname since he’d been unable to pronounce ‘Beatrice’ when he was first learning to speak. It had stuck.
“I’m okay, Daddy. Ben and I broke up.” She looked around the room at their guilty faces. “I guess you all heard.”
“I’m pretty sure they heard over in the next county,” her brother muttered.
“Michael James!” Her mother’s knife clattered against the cutting board as she turned to scold her son.
“It’s okay, Mom. He’s right. Sorry about all the drama. I’ll just be in my room, if that’s all right.” She didn’t wait for an answer; she needed to be alone. She hurried down the hall to her room and curled up on her bed with Nala, soaking the obliging cat’s fur as she cried herself to sleep.
What in the sweet hell just happened? He drove to the end of her long, winding driveway—well out of sight from the house—before he pulled over. He scrubbed his hands over his face. My girlfriend just broke up with me. She dumped me. What do I do now? The next few minutes would never make his top ten list as he tried to wrap his mind around a future without Trissa in it. Is this it? But I still love her. He tried to calculate the odds of her changing her mind about breaking up, hoping against hope this might be a phase or something like that. Shit. He had a bad feeling it wasn’t a phase. His phone buzzed and he heaved a sigh as he fished it out of his front jeans pocket.
“Yeah, Pete. What do you need?”
“What’s going on, man? You took off like a bat outta hell after school. Is everything okay?”
God save him from well-meaning friends. “Yep. Everything’s fine. I just needed to talk with Trissa.”
“Oh. Well, good. You guys are gonna make it to the party tonight, right?”
Crap. He’d forgotten about Peter’s party. “Um, actually Trissa’s not feeling too good, so we’re not going to be able to make it. Sorry, man.” He winced as he realized there was no more ‘we’ when it came to him and Trissa.
“That sucks! Are you sure? You could come stag, I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
“Yeah. I think she’s really sick and I want to stay with her.” He felt bad about lying to his friend, but he wasn’t ready to talk about the fight. Or the break-up. God, he wasn’t even ready to think about it.
“Okay. Well, tell her I hope she feels better. Stop by if you get a chance.”
“Sure. Definitely.” He desperately needed to hang up. “Listen, I gotta go.”
On the other end, Peter was silent for a long moment. “Everything okay, Ben?”
Peter was a good guy, but Ben didn’t need his concern at the moment. “Yeah. I’ll talk to you later, okay?”
“Sure. Take care, Ben. Don’t do anything stupid, okay?”
So Pete definitely knew something was wrong. “I won’t.”
In the end, he simply spent the evening driving around aimlessly. He really wanted to drown his sorrows in about a dozen beers or a bottle of Jack, but he knew better than to drink before going home. He only did that if he was staying over at Pete’s. He waited until he knew his parents would be asleep before finally going home; he really didn’t feel like answering their questions tonight.