Authors: Simone Elkeles
Tags: #teen, #young, #fiction, #youth, #flux, #adult
It's not so easy to convert as one might think. I still have to go before three respected Jewish community members called a “Bet Din” and take a verbal test. Rabbi Glassman told me not to stress over it; it's not like the SATs.
Life is full of little SAT tests, though, isn't it?
“You made an ass out of me,” he says after I catch up with him at the entrance to my building.
“Avi, I'm sorry. I didn't expect you to go up to Roxanne and get details.”
He turns to me while we're in the elevator. “You looked me right in the eye and lied to me.”
I put my hands up in surrender. “Okay, I admit it. I lied to you. Are you happy now?”
“Don't turn this around to make me the bad guy. Do you always go around kissing guys?” he asks when we reach my floor and step off the elevator. “Where's your loyalty and honor?”
I roll my eyes and say, “We're not in the army now, Avi.”
“Maybe we should be.”
“What's that supposed to mean?” When I open the door and walk inside my condo I turn to him, “Besides, where's
“Please, Amy. What would you know about commitment?”
I open my mouth wide in shock. “Screw you!” I yell, then go to my room and slam the door shut.
I can't remember how long it's been since I had a good cry. You know, one of those cries where you can't catch your breath and just when you think there can't possibly be any more tears coming out of your eyes, a new wave of desperation washes over you and you bawl all over again.
That's the way I'm crying right now. I feel so horrible I messed up with Avi. I feel so horrible that I want to figure out Nathan and what makes him the way he is. Nathan told me I liked Avi because of his looks and warned me if he looked as good I'd be after him, too.
I'm a terrible person. It's not Avi's fault, either. It's mine.
Avi knocks on my door after about a while.
“Open the door and let me in.”
“You aren't allowed in my room, remember?”
He knocks again, louder. “Then just open the door.”
When I do, I see that he's got his duffle slung over his shoulder. “What are you doing?”
“This isn't working. You and I both know it. I'm going to stay with Tarik over at the Northwestern dorms. You remember Tarik, don't you?”
“He'll be here soon. Listen, Amy â¦ you want to kiss other guys, that's cool. This thing between us wasn't going to last anyway.”
me not to wait. You
to be the non-boyfriend, remember?”
“What's in here,” he says, pointing to his head, “and what's in here,” he says, fist pounding on his heart, “are two different things.”
I step forward and hold out my hand, wanting to ease his insecurity and the tension between us. “Avi â¦ come here.”
Instead of stepping forward, he steps back and points to his head. “Gotta keep my mind clear,” he says. “Remember what I told you about the mind games?”
“Yeah. They're worse than the torture.”
“God, I can't tell you how many irrational things are running through my head right now. Kissing you until you can't think straight. Kicking that Nathan guy's ass. Smashing the wall with my fist because you've been looking at other guys.”
“I told you I'm the Disaster Girl.”
“No, Amy. You've got your life here. Mine is in Israel or wherever the army sends me. It's the way it is; it's the way it was always meant to be. Who were we kidding, thinking this thing between us could work?”
I did, but I don't tell him. He's obviously given up the fight. “You're really leaving?”
“Tarik is probably downstairs waiting for me.”
New tears start to come, damn it. I will them to stop, but they won't. “I don't want you to go.” I want to beg, plead, grab his leg and hang on until he agrees to stay â¦ but I can't.
When he pets Mutt and walks to the door, I let him. And then I stay with him and walk outside where I recognize his friend Tarik in a car outside my building. Tarik steps out of the car and gives me a small hug. “Hey, Amy,” he says. “It's been a while, huh?”
I wipe my nose and watery eyes with my sleeve. “How's school?” I ask.
“Tough, but I'm getting used to it.” Tarik looks from me (obviously overwrought and devastated) to stone-faced Avi. “Um â¦ you want me to get involved in this?”
“No,” Avi says emphatically, while I tilt my head to the side and contemplate asking for intervention. Maybe what Avi and I need is third-party arbitration. I learned about arbitration in my social studies class last week and the magic of an unbiased party deciding your fate.
“Well, then â¦ I guess I'll leave you two to say your goodbyes.” Tarik heads back to the driver's side, but calls over his shoulder, “If you need me, just give a holler.”
I'm tempted to holler.
Avi tosses his duffle into the back seat of Tarik's car, then turns to me. “I'll call you before I leave Chicago.”
“I wanted to take you to the top of the Sears Tower. Every tourist has to go there.”
“I'll go on my own.”
“And what about Oz Park? Did you know the guy who wrote
The Wizard of Oz
“I'll figure it out.”
“But what if you don't, Avi? What if you go back to Israel without seeing what Chicago has to offer?”
Avi cups my cheek with his palm. “It doesn't all have to be perfect. Life isn't perfect.”
“I want it to be.”
His thumb slowly caresses my face. “I know. It's what makes you unique.” He squeezes his eyes shut, then says, “I gotta go before I do something stupid.”
I watch as he sits in the passenger seat, says something to Tarik, and the car drives off.
After he leaves me alone, crying, and devastated, I want to kneel right here and start bawling all over again.
“You're not crying over that guy, are you?” I hear Nathan's voice behind me.
I face him and squint my eyes accusingly. “Have you been spying on me this whole time?”
“Nope. Why, was it a good breakup? 'Cause if it was, I'm sorry I missed it.”
I walk up to Nathan, take my finger, and poke it into his chest. “You are the
â¦ ” I'm racking my brain to think of more words when Nathan takes my finger into his hand and stops me from poking him again.
Nathan's touch doesn't affect me like Avi's does. And for the first time it's clear Nathan isn't “The One” and never has been. I have a connection to him, but it's oh, so different than the connection I have with Avi.
I'm too weak to do anything else but slump my shoulders and cry. The pain is too great, like someone is ripping open my heart and squeezing it tight. My knees start to buckle and Nathan catches me.
upset, aren't you?” he says, staring at me with his eyebrows down and furrowed in sympathy. I've never seen Nathan have sympathy for anyone, especially me.
I squeeze my eyes shut. “I'm not as plastic as you accuse me of being.”
“I guess not. Listen, Amy. I'm sorry. You're right about me. Well, except for the dragon-eyed part.”
“I played you. I played your boyfriend. It wasn't fair, I know. Sometimes I want everyone's life to be as screwed up as mine. Call it a self-defense mechanism.”
He helps me stand. I wipe my nose and eyes with the sleeve of my shirt. “What's so wrong with your life, Nathan? Who are you? Make me feel better about my crappy life by sharing yours.”
I understand why I'm insecure: my dad just came back into my life, my mom and her new husband are planning a family without me â¦ and I don't know where my family life begins and where it ends.
“I'm a foster kid. Parents gave me up when I was ten because they couldn't afford all eight kids they had. I've been tossed from one foster home to another since then.”
Wait, I don't get it. “I thought Mr. and Mrs. Keener were your aunt and uncle?”
“No other foster home would take me after they took a look at my file, so they were kind of forced into it by the courts. My aunt and uncle aren't on speaking terms with my parents. They cut all ties a long time ago. Something about marrying trailer trash makes you trailer trash.”
I can't imagine my parents giving me away. Even when my dad and I weren't talking, he still tried. It was me who pushed him away. My mom raised me since she was in college, going to school and working while trying to juggle having a kid and getting a career going. I admire her so much. I don't think she ever considered giving me up.
“Why do you dress likeâ”
“Like I'm a dork?”
“My aunt wants me to dress conservative. Thinks if I dress like a bad kid, I'll be a bad kid.”
“Are you bad, Nathan?”
He focuses on the ground and shrugs. “I have been. You don't get kicked out of thirteen foster homes in seven years for being a model kid. ”
“I guess I'm still fucked up.” He looks at me. “I shouldn't have kissed you in front of everyone in the cafeteria. And â¦ I have to admit â¦ I knew your boyfriend was going to be at the party tonight and was secretly happy he found out we kissed. I know I hurt you, Amy.”
The truth is I hurt myself. I let my insecurity and confused emotions overcome what I knew deep in my heart was right all along. I play a tough game, but inside I'm weak. Just like Nathan.
I hook my arm through Nathan's and say, “Do you have any ice cream at your place?”
“I think so. Vanilla, maybe.”
“You want to hang out with me?” he asks, totally shocked.
“Yeah. Isn't that what friends are supposed to do?”
“I've got to admit, I haven't had a friend in a long time. Don't know if I even know how to be one.”
“What about Bicky?” I ask when we get in the elevator and head to the fortieth floor.
“She's a foster kid, too. I met her in a home in Freeport last summer.”
“Where is she now?”
He takes a deep breath and says, “Rehab. She got into some bad stuff and is all messed up. I bring her flowers every Saturday, but they won't let me see her or talk to her. She receives my letters and notes, though.”
Wow. And I thought my family life and love life were rough. I have the urge to go hug my mom and dad and thank them for hanging in there with me.
When we step into Nathan's condo, he turns to me. “Will you please change your shirt, it's got snot all over the sleeve. As your friend, I just want to be honest with you.”
I look down at my snot-encrusted shirt. It is grotesque. “I'll be right back,” I say, then trot over to my door.
I change my shirt and go back to the Keeners' place. When we're in Nathan's room, we hang out on his bed and dig into a tub of ice cream.
I look at Nathan. If you look past his geeky attire, you can see that he could possibly be cool. With a LOT of help.
“What are you looking at?” he asks, turning to me with his bright green eyes.
“I was just thinking that you don't have to dress different to appease your aunt and uncle. You should be yourself. If they kick you out for being you, well â¦ I'm sure you could come live with me and my dad.”
“We could be like brother and sister?”