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Breaking Up Is Really, Really Hard to Do, Page 2

Natalie Standiford

  She studied the sketches more closely. They showed three walls made of cardboard, seven feet high, painted white, with a window cut out of one wall. The room would be filled with cardboard furniture he planned to build himself. “I'm going to paint a rug on the floor and everything,” he said.

  “It's like a giant dollhouse,” Mads said.

  “I'm going to put a video monitor here,” he said, pointing to a sketched-in TV on a shelf. “And have it running the whole time, with images from commercials and videos and stuff on a loop.”

  “You'll win a prize for sure,” Mads said. “Nobody else is doing anything like this.” She looked him over, trying to guess where all this artistic ambition came from. He was thin and plain-faced, but there was so much confidence in his bearing and such a brainy look in his eyes that he seemed striking and almost handsome.

  “What year are you?” she asked.

  “Junior,” he said. “My family moved here from London last year.”

  “But you don't have a British accent,” Mads said.

  “I'm not British,” Stephen said. “We only lived there for three years. Before that we lived in New York.”

  “You must have had so many interesting experiences,” Mads said.

  “I guess,” he said. “But it doesn't really matter where you live—Werner says the true adventure of life is in your mind and in your dreams.”

  “Who's Werner?” Mads asked, and immediately regretted it. What if Werner was super-famous, somebody everybody should know, like Shakespeare? What if she'd just said something stupid?

  “He's a German philosopher. He wrote this book called The Empty World. I'll lend it to you if you want.”

  “Thanks.” He didn't say it as if he thought she were an idiot, which she appreciated.

  “Anyway, I knew lots of people in London who were always bored, even though there was tons of cool stuff to do all the time.”

  “I've lived in Carlton Bay since I was three,” Mads said. “People think nothing ever happens here, but those people aren't paying attention. Like a few weeks ago I was at this party at a very elegant house—” She was thinking of Sean's Victorian house, which was elegant in its over-decorated way. “We were all drinking screwdrivers, of course, though some kids insisted on beer, and this senior, Alex, asked me to tell him the story of my life. Well, I closed my eyes and thought, What a question. What is the story of my life? What is life all about, anyway? Just thinking about it made me so dizzy I nearly got sick right there!”

  This story had elements of truth in it, but Mads had added a philosophical twist to it that had never been there before. Mads was at a party, and Alex did ask her to tell him the story of her life, and she did nearly get sick right there. But not because of existential nausea. More like too many screwdrivers. The actual vomiting took place a few minutes later, in Sean's mother's room. Mads decided to spare Stephen those unnecessary details.

  “Wow,” Stephen said. “You've already had your first existential crisis. Very precocious.”

  “Thank you.” Mads beamed. “For my age, I'm kind of a woman of the world. I mean, I wasn't before, but this year, things just started happening to me. There's one guy who was insanely in love with me—he even wrote a poem about me. Did you see it? He posted it on the library bulletin board.”

  “I must have missed it,” Stephen said.

  The boy she was describing—known as Yucky Gilbert—was a twelve-year-old freshman who occasionally wore a cape. More details Stephen was better off not knowing. “He wanted too much from me. I'm not ready to give my whole self up, heart and soul. I hate breaking guys’ hearts, but what else can I do?”

  Stephen gathered up his sketches and shook his head. “You sound like trouble, Madison. I'd better stay away from you.”

  Mads laughed. “You can call me Mads. All my friends do.”

  “Mads. The perfect name for a madwoman like you. And I mean that as a compliment.”

  “Thank you. My father does say my mind has a logic all its own.”

  “My mother calls me St. Stephen the Serious. Once you've gotten to know me a little better, I'd like you to tell me if you think that's true.”

  “Do you want it to be true?” Mads asked.

  “No.” He sat down at a nearby table and laid out his sketches, studying them. He picked up a pencil and started drawing. No one spoke for several minutes. Then he stopped, his hair in his eyes, and said, “Will you tell me? Do you promise to tell me the truth?”

  “Yes, I will. I promise.”

  Mads was afraid that on first impression, Stephen's mother was right. But what was so terrible about being serious? She thought it was kind of appealing.


  Larissa Comes to Life

  To: linaonme

  From: your daily horoscope

  HERE IS TODAY'S HOROSCOPE: CANCER: A new side of you will emerge today. It's about time—everyone was getting bored with your old one-sided self.

  Look,” Lina said. “He changed his ad!”

  Holly and Mads were in Lina's bedroom after dinner. Lina showed them a personal ad from an online dating site called The List. The screen name said “beauregard” but the picture showed the blue-eyed, sincere face of their IHD teacher, Dan Shulman. Ever since she had discovered his ad, Lina had obsessed over every detail. What was he looking for? What were his secrets? Whenever he changed an entry, she pondered the meaning of it.

  Lina had had a crush on Dan since the beginning of the school year, and it got stronger every day. Mads and Holly knew about it, of course, but they didn't realize how intense it was. And Lina couldn't share that with them. It was private.

  “I want to read the ad,” Mads said.



  ID#: 5344474

  Age: 25

  Occupation: teacher

  Last great book I read: Dubliners, by James Joyce. The last line of “The Dead” gets me every time.

  Most embarrassing moment: In third grade, when my older sister revealed to our entire school that I still slept with my blankie.

  Celebrity I resemble most: Some people say Tobey Maguire, but I don't really look like a celebrity.

  If I could be anywhere at the moment: Sailing down the California coast.

  Song or album that puts me in the mood: “Get the Party Started” by Pink; anything by Elliott Smith or the Velvet Underground.

  Favorite on-screen sex scene: Cartoon skunk Pepe Le Pew and the girl skunk who loves him, surrounded by hearts.

  Best or worst lie I've ever told: When my sister asked me if I liked her boyfriend and I said yes, trying to be nice. Now they're married and I've got a soulless corporate shill for a brother-in-law.

  The five items I can't live without: Nutter Butter cookies, my dictionary, a pen knife, my bike, Chapstick…and I love walnuts but I'm allergic to them.

  In my bedroom you'll find: my bed, books, papers I should have graded long ago, old photos, notebooks full of unfinished stories and random scribbling, dirty socks, a rack full of old ties, three hats on a shelf, a guitar.

  Why you should get to know me: I always try to do the right thing. I mean I really think about it. I'm very patient, except with my sister, the one person who knows how to push my buttons (in case you couldn't tell). I know lots of two-letter Scrabble words. I would love to “take you out to the ball game.” I make a mean blueberry pie.

  What I'm looking for: A friend to call for spur-of-the-moment adventures. An appreciative consumer of my cooking. A low-maintenance, non-material girl with a sense of humor. A sexy bookworm.

  That's me, Lina thought. A sexy bookworm. Well, maybe she wasn't so sexy, but she was a bookworm. Every time she read his profile she fell for him a little more. She was the girl he was looking for. He just didn't know it yet.

  Mads and Holly cracked up. “A sexy bookworm!” Mads squealed.

  “I like the part where he says he wants to take you out to the ball game,” Holly said.

e still sleeps with his blankie!” Mads said.

  “No, he doesn't,” Lina said. “That was in third grade.”

  “Still,” Mads said. “He's even geekier than I thought.”

  Lina didn't bother pointing out what mattered to her—the change he'd made in his ad. He changed “Last great book I read” from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens to Dubliners by James Joyce. The girls had read Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in English that year. Lina loved the strange, poetic language of it.

  “I can't believe he likes Pink,” Mads said, laughing. “Can you picture him dancing around his room at night to ‘Get the Party Started’?”

  Holly and Mads started dancing and singing, “I-I-I-I'm comin up so you better get the party started.” They collapsed in giggles on Lina's bed. Lina couldn't help laughing, too. It meant a lot to her, but at the same time she knew it was silly.

  “Has Ramona seen the ad yet?” Holly asked. “She'll totally lose her mind. There's enough info in there for a year's worth of cult meetings.”

  “I don't think she knows about it,” Lina said. “And I'm not going to tell her.”

  “Good thinking,” Mads said. “She might lure him away by dying her hair pink.”

  Ramona Fernandez was in love with Dan, too. She was an out-there Goth girl who had no shame, which drove Lina crazy. Lina loved the way Dan dressed, in early-sixties suits, skinny vintage ties, and the occasional hat. But Ramona and her friends took their admiration a step further—in the wrong direction, Lina thought. They all wore skinny ties like Dan's and called themselves the Dan Shulman Cult. It was so embarrassing. Lina kind of liked Ramona, the more she got to know her. Ramona understood a side of Lina that her other friends never quite saw. But then Ramona would do something cringe-worthy, like sucking up to Dan in class, and Lina would shudder. She hoped she never came off the way Ramona did.

  “So when are you going to write him back?” Mads asked. “Can I help you? ‘Beauregard, my darling. Like you, I, too, am an admirer of Pepe Le Pew. His funny French accent, the white stripe down his back, his enticing odeur, to me it all adds up to Romance with a capital R.’” She and Holly giggled again.

  “Very funny,” Lina said. “You're too late. I've already written something. Not that I'd trust it to you.”

  Lina called up an e-mail from her “Mail waiting to be sent” file. She'd been working on the e-mail for days, trying to get the tone exactly right. “What do you think?”

  Dear Beauregard,

  I found your ad intriguing. I've never answered an ad or done anything like this before. I'm a 22-year-old graduate student studying film. I love to read and I'm a terrible cook but I do like blueberry pie, Nutter Butters, Scrabble, and James Joyce. If you have time to write back, I'd love to hear from you. I'm up for any spur-of-the-moment adventures you have in mind.


  “It's not nearly as funny as mine would have been,” Mads said. “Who's Larissa?”

  “I made her up,” Lina said. “I can't use my real name or he might suspect it's me.” Lina had chosen the name Larissa because it started with an L, like Lina, and it had a romantic, exotic quality she thought might appeal to Dan.

  “Why is Larissa a film student?” Holly asked.

  Lina shrugged. “I tried to come up with something easy to fake. If I said ‘organic chemistry’ he'd figure out I was lying pretty fast. But I've been to the movies. What's the big deal? I think I can fake being a film student.”

  “Just think,” Mads said. “If he writes back, we can find out all kinds of stuff about him! You can ask him if he has favorite students or if he actually hates us! We can find out what he does after school. Maybe he's got a secret identity as a punk rocker—or a cross-dresser!”

  “Mads, he's not a cross-dresser,” Lina said.

  “Send the e-mail, Lina,” Holly said. “See what happens.”

  “Now? Should I do it now?” Lina asked, suddenly nervous.

  She hesitated. The last time they did something like this it ended in a kind of disaster. They'd filled out a love quiz with jokey, sexy answers, signed it “Boobmeister Holly,” and e-mailed it to Rebecca Hulse. The quiz spread all over the school and everyone started teasing Holly and calling her “the Boobmeister.” Of course, that led to them starting The Dating Game, which had led to lots of other things, good and bad.…So had sending the quiz been good or bad, in the end? Lina couldn't say. It was too confusing.

  “What if the e-mail isn't perfect?” Lina said. “I could probably make it better.….”

  “You'll never send it if it has to be perfect,” Holly said. “It's fine. Send it!”

  “A week from now we'll all be laughing about his cross-dressing tendencies,” Mads predicted. “He wears size thirteen pumps. You wait and see.”

  Lina ignored her. “Okay. Here goes.” She pressed SEND and “Larissa” came to life.


  Nuclear Autumn

  To: hollygolitely

  From: your daily horoscope

  HERE IS TODAY'S HOROSCOPE: CAPRICORN: Today your parents will embarrass you. (This one is a no-brainer—it works for every sign, every day of the year.)

  Autumn is unmatchable!” Mads complained. Holly had Mads and Lina over after school on Friday to work on matchmaking. Subject #1: Autumn Nelson.

  “No one is unmatchable,” Holly declared. She was surprised to hear herself say this. She wasn't quite sure she believed it.

  “Autumn is,” Lina said. “For one thing, she writes every detail of her life on Nuclear Autumn.” Autumn didn't hold anything back: She ranted, she raved, she insulted people, she had hissy fits. “What boy wants every detail of his love life made public?”

  “And she's such a drama queen,” Mads said. “She has a fit if she loses an eyelash.”

  “She's pretty cute, though,” Holly said.

  “Her personality totally negates it,” Lina said. “Boys don't like her. She's too high-maintenance.”

  “Well, we don't have much choice,” Holly said. “Read this.” She logged on to Nuclear Autumn.

  “This?” Mads asked. She read out loud in a whiny Autumn voice. “‘The stepmonster-in-waiting did it again. She always has to have her way. Just because it's her birthday and her parents are visiting, we have to eat her fat mother's homemade lasagna? Hello? It has eggplant in it. I hate eggplant! Could she be more selfish?’”

  “No, not that,” Holly said. “Further down.”

  Why is everybody so into the stupid Dating Game? Or should I call it The Waiting Game? Those girls have no idea what they're doing! I asked them to match me up three weeks ago but have I heard word one from those byatches? No! If they're all such love experts and such great matchmakers, then what's the holdup? I'm the easiest case they've got! I want someone who's, super-cute, smart, popular, athletic, funny, nice—did I say cute? That's all I ask. If those losers can't find a date for someone like me, then I say the whole thing is a sham! Boycott The Dating Game!

  “Ouch,” Lina said.

  “She's so mean,” Mads said. “Her ass is grass—and I'm the lawnmower.” Mads struck a karate pose to indicate she was ready to get rough.

  “There's no time for that,” Holly said. “We've got to find her a date before she ruins our reps for good.”

  They scanned the questionnaires of available boys. “Who will be our sacrificial lamb?” Lina asked.

  “I hate to do it to any of them,” Holly said.

  Most of the applicants used screen names, but a few used their real names and even sent in photos of themselves. Holly zeroed-in on a boy she recognized from last year's science lab but didn't know well—Vince Overbeck. He had a placid face, an unruffled air about him. He was a wrestler—quiet, highly disciplined. In short, nothing like Autumn.

  “What about this guy?” Holly asked.

  “Vince Overbeck? Who's he?” Mads asked.

  “I had him in my Algebra class last year,” Lina said. “Quiet guy. The type you don't notice. He never
talked in class but he got an A. Real smart.”

  “That sounds bad, Holly,” Mads said. “Autumn will eat him alive!”

  “I'm not so sure,” Holly said. “Maybe Vince is just the guy she needs—someone quiet and nice, whose life could use a little shaking up. He might like the drama.”

  Lina and Mads stared at her, unconvinced.

  “Do you guys have a better suggestion?”

  “No,” Mads admitted. “But can you deal with the consequences? What happens when we find poor Vince's bones in Autumn's locker—picked clean?”

  “That won't happen,” Holly said, but she sounded surer than she felt.

  Quiz: Are You a Drama Queen?

  Do you friends call you Your Royal Hissy Fit behind your back? Take this quiz and find out if you're easy-going or a touch too touchy.

  1. You break a nail on your way to school. You:

  _a don't notice.

  _b. stop at a nail salon to fix it—homeroom can wait.

  _c sob quietly.

  _d scream bloody murder.

  2. Your best friend goes to a party without you. You:

  _a hope she had a good time.

  _b resolve to do the same to her next time.

  _c sob quietly.

  _d threaten to slit your wrists with a nail file.

  3. Your little sister ate the last Oreo (and they're your favorite). You:

  _a shrug and figure you'll have some another time.

  _b tell on her to your mother.

  _c sob quietly.

  _d take her favorite doll hostage until someone meets your Oreo demands.

  4. You got an F on an exam because you were partying instead of studying. You:

  _a vow to do better next time,

  _b ask to take a makeup exam.

  _c sob quietly.

  _d threaten to sue the school for discrimination against the handicapped—people with overactive social lives.

  5. You go to a party and another girl is wearing the same dress as you. You:

  _a laugh it off.

  _b go home and change.

  _c sob quietly.

  _d push her into the pool.

  6. Your boyfriend says he doesn't like the sweater you're wearing. You: