“I would’ve asked for this in a sippy cup if I’d known you were going to be driving the Saab,” Becca said the next morning as we headed for the Sunporch Café. She attempted another sip of her caramel latte just as I wrestled the car into second. A wave of amber liquid baptized her Seven skinny jeans. “Val!” she exclaimed.
“Hey, at least we even have a car to drive today,” I said, fighting with the clutch. “Mom was threatening to take it grocery shopping, but I talked her out of it.” At the next red light, I remembered to press the clutch before stomping the brake and gingerly easing the Saab into neutral.
“Yeah, I feel so lucky the Beemer’s in the shop,” Becca muttered. She had a blob of whipped cream on her upper lip. It made her look like a transvestite Charlie Chaplin. “How come we’re not picking up Kel?”
“She’s meeting us. She wanted to bike.” The light turned green and I took a deep breath. Foot on clutch and brake, then off brake and on clutch, shift into first, press on accelerator, then foot off clutch but carefully. A fire truck began wailing just behind me and roared past as I slammed my foot on the brake, forgetting the clutch, of course. “Darn!” The Saab jolted across the intersection in big bronco bucks.
“Hel-help, hel-help,” Becca jerked out, holding on to her coffee with both hands.
“Hang on, I’ve got it now,” I said, just as the motor stalled.
“Val, get us out of here!” Becca yelled, staring at the line of cars forming on either side of us. I could hear a few ominous honks.
“I’m trying!” I forced myself to breathe before I shifted into neutral again and carefully eased into first. Bing. The Saab crept smoothly across the intersection as if it had never stalled in its life.
“So,” Becca breathed. “Are you going to tell me about that madness online last night?”
I grinned. “No, wait until we get there. Then I can explain it to both of you at once.” I braked hard as the green awning of the Sunporch suddenly loomed in front of me. The car slewed sideways and wound up in a parking space, bumper first. “Hey, look, right in front!” I chortled as I climbed from the car. I recognized Kelly’s bike locked to the telephone pole in front of us.
“You’re three feet from the curb!” Becca protested. She stared at the wide gap of asphalt in dismay.
“Whatever! Let’s go, I’m starving.” I could see Kelly waving to us from a table in the window. “I need some eggs Benedict, like right now.”
The steamy fragrance of frying bacon hit me full in the face as we pulled open the glass doors. Sunlight flooded the little restaurant, pouring in the big front windows and spreading in pools on the gleaming wooden floor. All around was the pleasant murmur and clink of breakfast, punctuated by the ring of the cash register up front.
“Okay, talk, you,” Kelly ordered the moment we slid into our seats. Her wet hair was pulled back in a loose braid, and her skin was fresh and rosy. Three orange juices stood at our places.
“Oh my God, please don’t tell me you’ve already been running,” Becca moaned as she opened the huge plastic-covered menu. “It’s ten o’clock on Saturday!”
Kelly shrugged. “I only did five miles like usual.”
Becca rolled her eyes and looked up as a waitress with a shaved head and big plastic plugs in her earlobes appeared by our table. “I’ll have the banana chocolate-chip pancakes with whipped cream, a side of bacon, and two eggs, scrambled. Thanks.”
“Just oatmeal for me and a grapefruit,” Kelly said. “And coffee with skim milk.”
Becca’s glare practically burned a hole in the booth behind Kelly’s head. “You know, I think I’ll have a side of hash browns also,” she said to the punked-out server.
Kelly smiled sweetly. “Actually, no milk with the coffee. Black is fine.”
I sighed. Another morning with passive-aggressive food competition. “Eggs Benedict,” I said. The waitress nodded, blank-faced, and scribbled on her pad before walking away.
“Okay!” Kelly turned to me like a woman on a mission. “Talk, crazy lady.”
I grinned and took a leisurely sip of orange juice. The girls leaned forward across the table.
“Come on!” Becca said. “You’re driving us crazy. What was the deal with all that weird stuff about Violet?”
“Viola,” I corrected. “Remember, the girl in Twelfth Night?”
They both stared at me blankly.
“See, Viola gets shipwrecked and she’s all alone, so—”
“Whatever!” Becca cut me off. “Are you out of your gourd?”
I leaned back in my chair. The sun streaming in the window was warm on my face. “I’m one hundred percent sane. It’s just like I said. I’m swearing off guys.”
“Forever?” Kelly asked.
“No, just until school lets out. It’ll be the perfect end to my junior year. For the first time since eighth grade, there’ll be no boys in my life at all. I mean, not romantically. It’s a brilliant plan.”
Kelly snorted. “It would be brilliant if you could hold out that long. School’s not out for two months. You won’t even last one month.”
“I can too last a month!” I insisted like a five-year-old.
The flat finality of her voice irritated me. “Kelly Meade, I can.” I was getting loud.
“So do it.” She widened her eyes at me.
“Fine,” I snapped. “One month.” I fixed her with my eyes. She stared right back.
Becca pursed her lips. “What about flirting?”
I shook my head. “No flirting.”
“What about just talking?” Becca asked.
I thought. “I guess talking is okay. I mean, like my chem lab partner is a guy and I have to talk to him. And telling Willy I can’t go out with him, that would be okay.”
“Right,” Kelly said. We were silent a moment, and then she burst out laughing.
“What?” I asked.
“This is impossible! You won’t be able to do it. For one thing, no one can go a whole semester without at least flirting.” She pointed her coffee spoon at me as if it were a fencing sword. Little brown droplets dripped off it.
“Well, I can. Have a little more confidence, will you?”
The waitress arrived with her laden tray and set down our food. I took a bite of my eggs Benedict. The hollandaise was silky and delicious.
“Is this all because of Dave?” Becca asked, pouring half a pitcher of syrup over her pancakes.
I cut into my second egg and watched as the yolk ran over my plate. “Partly. But it’s also everything that’s been happening at school. All the stuff from guys is really getting on my nerves. Maybe checking out for a while would give me a new perspective on things.” I speared a piece of Canadian bacon and stuffed it into my mouth.
“Well, it seems kind of out of character for you,” Becca said. “You’ve always had a boyfriend.”
I thought of Kevin and Willy on the porch yesterday. “So? A person can change, can’t she?” I said, poking at another piece of egg. It slid out from under my fork and flew off the plate, landing on the front of Becca’s pink cashmere sweater.
“Val!” Becca dabbed at the egg. “Look, sure a person can change. But why are you being so extreme? Why not just say, I’m not going to go out with anyone for a while? Why all the rules?” She dipped her napkin in her water and scrubbed at her sweater.
“Sorry about that,” I said.
“Well, don’t be sorry. I mean, I’m just giving you my opinion—”
“No! I meant sorry about the egg.” I leaned forward. “And as for all the rules, I mean, I have to have a plan if I’m going to do this. If there aren’t any rules, I might screw it up. And you guys know—if I’m going to do something, then I’m going to do it right. No half-assing.” I waved my fork at them. “I thought you guys were my supportive friends, huh? Whatever happened to that?”
“We are supportive,” Becca soothed. “It’s just that this seems kind of ?”
“Crazy?” Kelly suggested.
I heaved a disgusted sigh. “Look, just trust me. It’s going to be great.”
“Yeah, but this is totally out of character for you,” Kelly insisted. “You wouldn’t even know how to do it.”
“Nuns do it all the time.” Becca ran the last piece of pancake around on her plate.
“But Val’s not a nun,” Kelly pointed out. They both looked at me.
“Maybe you should think about becoming a nun,” Becca said.
“Guys! I’m not becoming a nun. I’m just swearing off having a boyfriend. Like detoxing. I’m going to get it out of my system so I don’t make another mistake like Dave.” I looked from one skeptical face to the other. Then I slid my plate to one side and flipped over my paper placemat, dotted here and there with hollandaise. I extracted a pen from my bag. “All right. I can see you guys aren’t convinced I’m serious.” At the top of the placemat, I wrote Val’s Grand No-Boyfriend Plan.
“What are you doing?” Becca asked. She craned her neck across the table.
“I’m making it official.”
Number 1, I wrote. No going out with anyone but friends. That means guys, girls, frogs, or princes. I slid the paper around so the others could see.
Kelly read it and nodded. “So far so good.”
Number 2, I continued. No flirting—arm touches, cute smiles, hair tossing, etc. Number 3, No romance—no gifts, love notes, kissing, holding hands. This plan is binding for one month. I hereby swear to it. I signed my name with a flourish and shoved it across the table.
Kelly grabbed it. “Wow, a contract! All right, Val, you’re on.” She folded the placemat and stuck it inside a library book in
“So when are you going to begin the GNBP?” Becca swiped her finger through the syrup pooling on her empty plate.
“GNBP?” I asked.
“Grand No-Boyfriend Plan.”
“How about tonight?” Kelly suggested, a little smile curling the edges of her lips.
“But your house party is tonight,” Becca pointed out. Kelly always threw the first party after we got back from spring break, and it was always awesome. Everyone from school would be there.
“So?” Kelly’s voice was tough. She stared at me with one eyebrow slightly raised.
I stared back and lifted my chin. “Tonight’s fine. Great, in fact. I was just thinking I should get started right away.” I had actually been thinking I would give myself a couple of days to get used to the idea, but nothing annoyed me more than Kelly in a competitive mood.
Kelly smiled and looked out the window. I threw down my napkin and stood up. “I have to make a potty stop,” I said.
I banged my way into one of the dented metal stalls in the gray-and-pink-tiled bathroom. Kelly could be really bitchy sometimes. Everything had to be a competition. The outer door opened. A pair of Doc Martens came in and went into the end stall. I could hear the beeping of a cell phone.
At the damp sink, I turned the water on full blast and pumped a pool of pink soap into my palm. I stared at my face, made pasty by the fluorescent light, in the spotted mirror. My eyes were huge and hollow and my hair looked glued to my head. I sighed and shut off the water. I wouldn’t have any trouble with my No-Boyfriend Plan if I kept looking like this.
As I pushed out of the bathroom and threaded my way through the tightly packed dining room, I could see Kelly and Becca leaning toward each other across the plate-strewn table. I fell in behind our punked-out waitress as she approached the table with the check.
“—bet on it,” Kelly was saying. “So do you want to do it?”
“Oh, fine,” Becca said with a sigh. “I’m in.”
The waitress set the plastic tray with the bill on the table and stepped away.
“What are you guys talking about?” I asked.
Their right hands were clasped together. They both glanced up at me. Becca’s cheeks grew pink.
“Oh, hey, Val.” Becca removed her hand from Kelly’s. “I thought you were in the bathroom.”
“Well, obviously, I’m done now,” I said, my hands on my hips. “Do what? Why were you guys shaking hands?”
“We weren’t,” Kelly said.
“You were, Kelly Meade. I saw you.”
Becca sighed. “Just tell her, Kelly.”
“Tell me what?” I perched on the edge of my chair.
“It’s totally nothing,” Kelly said. “We were just making a little bet. For fun.”
Becca glanced at Kelly. I looked from one to the other.
“So? What were you betting on? Why are you acting so mysterious?”
“Well, if you have to know,” Kelly said, “I was just saying that I bet you wouldn’t be able to keep this GNBP going for a whole month.”
“And I was saying you would,” Becca chimed in. “So Kelly was just saying we should make a bet on it.”
I straightened up. “Heck, yeah. We can bet on it. If Kelly’s prepared to lose.” I stared daggers at her.
She gazed back at me sweetly. “I’m never prepared to lose. That’s why I don’t.”
“So what are the stakes? It better be good if I’m going to go to all this trouble. All-expenses-paid trip to Cancún? H and M shopping spree?” I gave her a toothy smile.
Becca spoke up. “I know exactly what the stakes are. And believe me, this is worth it. I’ll show you guys tonight.”
We all looked at one another. For a moment, no one spoke. Then I reached out my hands, one to each friend. “Okay. Let’s do it.”
“Yes!” Kelly pumped her fist in the air. “You’re on.”
We did a three-way shake to seal the bet.
Outside the café, a pale spring sky spread over the sun-warmed sidewalk and the hesitant scent of hyacinths drifted from a planter near the café entrance.
“So, you guys are coming over early tonight, right?” Kelly said. She dug around in her REI bag for her keys. “I’m making nacho dip.”
“Wait, are you serious?” I asked. “After what happened last time?” The “last time” under discussion involved a food processor, several burnt pans, and the fire department.
“Look, I’ve perfected the recipe. It’s going to be awesome.” Kelly unlocked her bike from the telephone pole and threw her leg over the seat. “We’ll order pizza for dinner. See you tonight!” she called over her shoulder.
“So you’re going to start the GNBP tonight?” Becca asked as we climbed into the Saab.
I took a deep breath. “Yeah, I guess I am.” I glanced in my side mirror and lurched away from the curb.
© 2010 Emma Bernay