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Authors: Rachel Vail

Not That I Care (7 page)

BOOK: Not That I Care
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“What?” I looked out the window, squinted like I couldn’t see all those fat red cherries decorating the branches.

“I don’t believe it,” she whispered. “Cherries!” She blinked a few times, then grabbed me by the nightgown and dragged me out into the backyard.

I flopped behind her, trying not to smile.

“How in the world?” she whispered breathlessly as she pulled me barefoot across the lawn. “I never thought . . . Look at them, there must be a thousand cherries, I just yesterday looked and . . .”

She reached up to touch a deep red cherry, and pulled. It didn’t come off, so she pulled some more. Pulled and pulled and pulled. “What the . . . ?”

She yanked so hard the branch arched down to her waist, and when the cherry finally came off in her hand, there were loops of tape around the stem. She brought it up close to her face, then slowly raised her eyes to look at me. “Morgan,” she said.

I squinted at the cherry. “Hmm. That’s weird,” I said.

“You taped cherries to the tree?” she asked.

I looked at my toes in the grass. “It must be magic,” I mumbled.

“There must be twenty dollars’ worth of cherries taped to this tree.”

I smiled to myself but didn’t say anything. It was eighteen, really.

“Oh, Morgan,” she said, sighing.

“Taste it,” I suggested.

“How will we ever get all these cherries off?”

I shrugged. “I guess the tree isn’t defective, huh? We should call Dad.”

She threw the cherry onto the grass. “Would you stop it already? He is the one who left, and I am sticking it out here. OK? Will you for once stop apologizing for him?”

“I didn’t . . .”

“I am not mad at you,” she said angrily, clutching my shoulders. “Do you understand? I just don’t know why you would do such a stupid thing.”

As I walked back inside, I heard her asking again, “How am I supposed to get all these cherries down? They’re all going to rot.”


homas Levit,” Mrs. Shepard
calls. I guess I spaced out on the rest of Gabriela Shaw’s presentation, because she’s already sitting down. Tommy’s chair screeches as he pushes it back. CJ’s new boyfriend. So cute, the jerk.

Oh, no. The red-hots. What am I going to say about them? Because Tommy and CJ both will definitely recognize this box of red-hots in my bag.

I roll my eyes at CJ, she rolls hers back, and I’m feeling OK for the first time all day. So what if Tommy is going out with CJ? That’s OK, I decide generously. She’s my best friend. So I’ll go out with Jonas; Jonas is sweeter than Tommy, and cute, in his own way, definitely. Jonas has rosy cheeks and long eyelashes, although he has started walking like a chicken. But I could get past that, probably. His twin, Tommy, looks nothing like him. Tommy has dark, straight hair hanging into his dark eyes, and he does this thing with his chin—he sort of points with it at you when he’s including you in a joke. He juts his chin out and looks at you out of the corner of his eyes, then looks away. I don’t know why that made me so crazy last year, but it did, and I went out with him for two weeks until I dumped him for being too horny. Since then we’ve been a little weird around each other.

But I’ll get Zoe Grandon to ask Jonas if he likes me. CJ and I and the Levits will be a foursome anyway, just switch guys; best friends do that. It’s fun. Zoe is taller than Jonas and Tommy, and last week she said herself she doesn’t like either of them like that, just as friends. Zoe is a very friendly person. I have nothing against her. She’s been president of our grade since there’ve been grade-wide elections. I’ve always voted for her. She smiles easily and laughs at any joke or wisecrack you make, and she genuinely seems to like everybody, which is beyond me. Nobody annoys her. She has stringy blond hair and huge blue eyes that focus only on whoever is talking to her, like she’s got nowhere else she’d rather be.

CJ would never choose Zoe as a best friend. I don’t know what I was thinking this morning. Zoe’s too, I don’t know, big. Too happy. Too popular. No depth. I can’t believe I was stupid enough to think CJ would dump me for Zoe—Zoe, with her huge grin and stringy hair and no depth.
Zoe’s bag is probably empty
, I tell myself, and almost laugh out loud, having cheered myself up so thoroughly.

Then I remember my red-hots dilemma, and that gets me serious again fast.
What am I going to say about these red-hots?


oe fixed me up with Tommy
Levit last year, in sixth grade. Everybody watched him ask me out, up on the upper playground. When he wandered over before school that morning in the snow, all the sixth-grade girls made squeaky noises and pushed me toward him, because, of course, Zoe had told everybody she was fixing us up. I could feel them all watching us walk toward the chain-link fence, through the already crunched-up snow.

When we got to the fence, he mumbled, “Will you?”

“OK,” I said. Then we ran back to our separate groups of friends.

We didn’t talk to each other the rest of that week or the next, but Valentine’s Day was the following Saturday, and there was a party at Zoe Grandon’s house, which is right behind the Levits’. Pretty much everybody in sixth grade went. We didn’t talk to each other much there, either, but at ten-thirty when we were all shrugging our soggy jackets on in the dining room, getting ready to leave, Tommy shoved a box of red-hots from his jacket pocket into mine. Taped to it was a note that said, “Happy V-Day. Tommy.”

CJ and I were having a sleepover that night, after the party. We stayed up all night reading and rereading the note. We planned what would happen if Jonas asked her out and the four of us were a foursome all through middle school and high school. We planned to go on the seventh-grade apple-picking trip as two couples, discussing if we should sit with them or with each other on the bus, and maybe kissing them, there. That cracked us up, talking about kissing. We kept falling back on her bed, pretending to faint.
Do you think you have to move your face around
, she asked, imitating how people do it in the movies. We made kissy noises and then pulled the necklines of our nightgowns up over our chins, embarrassed, and agreed we were too young to have to worry about it.

We got out construction paper and markers and wrote,
Morgan and Tommy, CJ and Jonas. Morgan Levit and CJ Levit
. We decorated the papers with hearts and some glitter.
If we marry them someday
, we whispered,
we’ll finally be real sisters, or at least sisters-in-law
. We crossed our fingers and touched our noses as we watched the sun rise.

By breakfast, CJ and I were exhausted but still giddy. We tore our artwork into tiny bits, then dialed the Levits’ number like twenty times before I finally got my courage together and asked to speak to Tommy. It was nine-thirty on a Sunday morning, and his father sounded pretty groggy.

Tommy picked up the phone and asked, “Hello?”


“Who’s this?”

“Morgan. Miller. From school.” I rolled my eyes at CJ, who was pretzeled up inside her legs on her bed.

“Hi,” Tommy said.


“What do you want?”

“Um . . .” I couldn’t remember. “I just, thanks for the red-hots. They’re delicious.” I hadn’t opened them. I still haven’t.

“Oh,” he said. “No big deal.”

“Right,” I agreed. “I didn’t say it was.”

“We’re gonna build a snow fort,” he said. “Me and Jonas.”

“Oh, OK,” I said, shaking my head at CJ like, why did you talk me into this? “’Bye, then.”

“No,” he said quickly. I raised my eyebrows; CJ leaned forward. Tommy finished, “I meant, if you want to come over.”

“Oh. OK,” I said again.

“See ya soon, then?”

“Yeah, I guess. See ya.”

I borrowed CJ’s new Fair Isle sweater, which she said brought out my dark eyes and hair really well. She French braided my hair for me, which felt so nice on my head I almost fell asleep while she did it. I remember asking her if her mother worked on her hair every morning. She said yes, and I said with my eyes closed that it must be so annoying. I doubt my mother even knows how to French braid. She doesn’t have time to fuss with me in the mornings; she has to be at work by seven-thirty.

We stole some lip gloss from Mrs. Hurley’s bathroom to give my lips a wet look. When I looked in the mirror at myself with my hair all pulled back like that, I looked a lot like my dad. I didn’t have zits on my forehead at that point, so I didn’t have to worry about hiding behind my bangs.

It took me a long time to walk all the way to Tommy’s, since I didn’t have my bike. I walked there slowly, humming a romantic song I was making up, feeling all soft-focus and like I should have a bouquet of flowers or at least white leather gloves, instead of fuzzy mittens. I was nervous but in a good way; even the snow seemed romantic. I imagined a spotlight following me.

When I got there, Tommy was sitting on his front step, making snowballs and chucking them at the mailbox. His aim was decent; there was so much snow caked around the flag, you could barely see it. I made a tight ball, said a little prayer, and let it fly. I hit the mailbox so hard, it wobbled. When I looked at Tommy, he was grinning that grin of his that got me in the first place. “Good shot,” he said.

I shrugged, not wanting him to know how nice it felt to hear that. “What happened to the snow fort?” I asked.

“Jonas is reading.”


He picked up another handful of snow and asked, “You want to see our tree house?”

“Sure.” Following him around the side of the house, I felt like I should say something. “My dad always meant to build us a tree house. There’s a whole pile of lumber in our basement.”

“Maybe this spring,” Tommy suggested.

“He moved to L.A.,” I said. He didn’t say anything to that. A girl would’ve said something in a high voice:
Sorry, oh, my gosh, Los Angeles?
I followed silent Tommy to the little cabin in the middle of his yard. “It’s not in a tree,” I observed.

“That’s just what we call it,” he said, ducking inside. I stepped in behind him and tried to think of something nice to say, because my mother says when you go to somebody’s house, find something to compliment. But before I could say nice walls or something, Tommy asked me, “Did you ever kiss anybody?”

I looked out the window of the cabin toward his house. I couldn’t see anybody looking out at us. “Besides family?” I asked.

“No, your grandmother.”

“I was just kidding,” I said. I didn’t want him to think I was a baby or a prude, so in one motion I turned around, grabbed him, and started kissing.

I tried to do it the way CJ and I had been joking about—you know, rocking your head left and right, put your hand in his hair. I wanted to do it right.

I scared him so bad, kissing him like that, he yanked his head back. “Um, want some hot chocolate?” he asked, and before I had a chance to answer, he left the tree house. He practically ran across the yard. I think I was still puckered when he got to his back door.

I walked home, which took an hour. I punched myself in the stomach the whole way.
Jerk, jerk, foolish jerk

I called him to break up as soon as I got in my house, before I even took off my jacket. Jonas answered the phone.

“Can I talk to Tommy?”

“He’s sick,” Jonas said.

I had actually made him sick. I sat down on the floor, still in my jacket and boots, leaning against the front door.

“Morgan?” Jonas asked.

“Just tell Tommy I don’t want to go out with him anymore.”

“OK,” Jonas said. “See you in school tomorrow.” And that was the end of that. I put the box of red-hots in my desk drawer next to the wadded-up thermometer and left it there unopened, to remind myself of the difference between girlfriends and boys. Also to torture myself. Tommy was out of school sick for a few days, but when he came back we barely looked at each other. I’d already told everybody I’d broken up with him because he was such a horn-dog, kissing me so hard out in his tree house.


touched his hair. Oh, jeez
, it tortures me just to think of it, and there he is up in front of the class, finishing his Bring Yourself in a Sack, and I still think he’s so cute, which I would never admit. I scare myself sometimes, my hand in his hair and my eyes closed, him pulling away and looking all frightened, me smooching away clueless, making him sick.

I don’t care if he thinks I’m a slut, kissing him like that. He’s so full of himself, he probably thinks I just couldn’t resist him. He’s got that smirk on, as he pulls a tiny toy dinosaur out of his bag and explains that the
Tyrannosaurus rex
represents him not just because he’s so tough, but also because he has been teaching his little cousin about dinosaurs and being a good older cousin is important to him.

I turn to CJ and roll my eyes, thinking I should get her to break up with him, she’s much too good for a jerk like Tommy Levit. She’s not looking at me, though. I’ll write her a note. I’ll apologize for being so moody this morning. When she tried to tell me she wasn’t really best friends with Zoe, I walked away, telling her Olivia was waiting for me. That had to hurt. Olivia’s mother and CJ’s are best friends, so CJ’s always getting compared to Olivia at home, never quite measuring up, of course. I, of all people, know how that feels—if you ask my mother, I don’t measure up to anybody. I am such a bad friend, to shove Olivia Pogostin at CJ, who was only trying to explain that she’d never betray me.

I pick up my pencil and write quickly:
Sorry I’m such a moody mess. Tommy thinks he’s so great. Ha! I have to tell you something URGENT Your best friend, Morgan

I haven’t thought of anything urgent, but there’s still a lot of time left; English/social studies is a double period, which is endless. I’ll come up with something. I press down to pull the paper off neatly at the perforations, leaving the raggedy part gripped to the spiral wire. I never get caught passing notes. I take my time, carefully. Folding the note slowly, I look across the row at CJ.

BOOK: Not That I Care
3.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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