“Hey, coffee girl,” he’d say. Which was cute, but not . . . enough.
That was just one thing. There were others, too, like how I wanted him to call and say good night every night, and how he felt awkward because his apartment was so small. “I don’t want my mom hearing me be all mushy,” he’d said. Or how other guys were totally fine holding their girlfriends’ hands in the school halls, but whenever I grabbed Jeb’s hand, he gave me a fast squeeze and then let go.
“Do you not like touching me?” I’d said.
“Of course I do,” he said. His eyes got that look in them that I guess I’d been trying to stir up, and when he spoke, his voice was raw. “You know I do, Addie. I love being alone with you. I just want us to actually be alone when we’re alone.”
For a long time, even though I noticed all that stuff, I mostly kept it to myself. I didn’t want to be a whiner-baby girlfriend.
But around our six-month anniversary (I gave Jeb a play-list of the most romantic songs ever; he gave me nothing), something turned sour inside me. It sucked, because here I was with this guy I loved, and I wanted things to be perfect between us, but I couldn’t do it all on my own. And if that made me a whiner-baby girlfriend, well, tough.
Like, with the sixth-month-anniversary thing. Jeb could tell I wasn’t happy, and he kept asking and asking why, and finally I said, “Why do you think?”
“Is it because I didn’t get you anything?” he said. “I didn’t know we were doing that.”
“Well, you should have,” I muttered. The next day he gave me a quarter-machine necklace with a heart on it, only he took it out of the plastic egg and put it in an actual jewelry box. I was underwhelmed. The next day, Tegan pulled me aside and told me that Jeb was worried I didn’t like the present, because I wasn’t wearing it.
“It came from the Duke and Duchess,” I said. “The exact same necklace is in the quarter machine by the exit. It’s, like, one of win-this! display necklaces.”
“And do you know how many quarters Jeb had to feed in before he did?” Tegan said. “Thirty-eight. He had to keep going back and getting change from the customer-service desk.”
A heaviness descended. “You mean . . . ?”
“He wanted you to have that particular one. With the heart.”
I didn’t like the way Tegan was staring at me. I shifted my gaze. “That’s still less than ten dollars.”
Tegan was silent. I was too afraid to look at her. Finally, she said, “I know you don’t mean that, Addie. Don’t be a jerk.”
I didn’t want to be a jerk—and of course I didn’t care how much a present cost. But I did seem to want more from Jeb than he could give, and the longer we went on like that, the crappier we both felt.
Flash-forward several months, and guess what? I was still making him feel crappy, and vice versa. Not always, but way more often than was, like, healthy or whatever.
“You want me to be someone I’m not,” he said, the night before we broke up. We were sitting in his mom’s Corolla outside Charlie’s house, but we hadn’t gone in yet. If I could go back to that night and never go in, I would. In a heartbeat.
“That’s not true,” I told him. My fingers found the gash on the side of the passenger seat and wormed into the foam rubber.
“It is true, Addie,” he said.
I changed tactics. “Okay, even if I do, why is that necessarily bad? People change for each other all the time. Take any love story, any great love story at all, and you’ll see that people have to be willing to change if they’re going to make things work out. Like in Shrek, when Fiona tells Shrek that she’s sick of his burping and farting and everything. And Shrek’s like, ‘I’m an ogre. Deal with it.’ And Fiona says, ‘What if I can’t?’ So Shrek takes that potion that turns him into a hunky prince. He does it out of love for Fiona.”
“That’s in Shrek Two,” Jeb said. “Not the original.”
“And then Fiona realized she didn’t want him to be a hunky prince. She wanted him to turn back into an ogre.”
I frowned. That wasn’t how I remembered it.
“The point is, he was willing to change,” I said.
Jeb sighed. “Why does the guy always have to be the one to change?”
“The girl can, too,” I said. “Whatever. All I’m saying is that if you love someone, you should be willing to show it. Because, Jeb, this is our one shot at life. Our one shot.” I felt the familiar tightening of despair. “Can’t you just try, if for no other reason than because you know how important it is to me?”
Jeb stared out the driver’s-side window.
“I . . . I want you to follow me onto a plane and serenade me in the first-class cabin, like Robbie did to Julia in The Wedding Singer,” I said. “I want you to build a house for me, like Noah did for Allie in The Notebook. I want you to fly me across the ocean at the prow of an ocean liner! Like the guy in Titanic, remember?”
Jeb turned. “The guy who drowned?”
“Well, I don’t want you to drown, obviously. It’s not about drowning. It’s about you loving me enough to be willing to drown, if you had to.” My voice caught. “I want . . . I want the big gesture.”
“Addie, you know I love you,” he said.
“Or even the medium gesture,” I said, unable to let it go.
Frustration and anguish warred with each other on his face. “Can’t you just trust in our love, without asking me to prove it every single second?”
Apparently not, as demonstrated by what happened next. No, not “what happened.” What I did. Because I sucked and I was a jerk, and because I downed thirty-eight quarters worth of beer shots, if not more. Or maybe not thirty-eight, but a lot. Not that I can blame it on that, either.
Jeb and I went inside to the party, but we went our own ways because we were still fighting. I ended up in the basement with Charlie and some other guys, while Jeb stayed upstairs. I heard later that he joined some theater geeks who were watching An Affair to Remember on Charlie’s parents’ flat-screen TV. It was such a horrible irony that it would have been funny, except it totally wasn’t.
In the basement, I played quarters with the guys, and Charlie egged me on because Charlie was the devil. When the quarters game broke up, Charlie asked me if we could go somewhere to talk, and like an idiot, I stumbled obediently after him to his older brother’s room. I was a little surprised, because Charlie and I had never had a heart-to-heart before. But Charlie was part of the group of guys we hung out with. He was arrogant and smarmy and pretty much an overall asshat, to steal a term from a Korean guy at school, but that was just Charlie. Since he looked like a Hollister model, he could be an asshat and get away with it.