Hartfield Chronicles

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Episode 20

Melinda’s Story

As soon as Bella rushed into dance class, she ran straight to where I was stretching in a corner. She seemed barely able to contain her excitement as she joined me.

“You’ll never guess what just happened! Walter asked me out!”

I smiled. “That’s fantastic.”

“Yeah. He asked if I wanted to maybe have lunch together tomorrow.”

“That’s great.”

“So, is he your boyfriend now?” Natalie asked as she sat between us.

Bella shrugged. “I think so. Isn’t he?”

“Don’t look at me. I have no idea.” Natalie turned towards me. “What about you. Haven’t you been hanging out with Mike? Is he your boyfriend?”

I thought about it a moment. “You know? I have no idea.”

Miss Serena entered the classroom, bringing an end to the conversation. As I followed the rest of the class in our barre warm ups, the question festered in the back of my mind. Was Mike my boyfriend?

I found myself alone in my dorm before dinner. After tap, Natalie had decided to study in the Day Student room over in Stanton instead of the library. Bella had disappeared, mentioning something about her sister. Sarah hadn’t returned from field hockey practice.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with my free time. I was debating between rewriting my English essay or doing my physics assignment when my phone signaled an incoming message. Curious, I checked the readout. Walter wanted to meet me in the library before dinner.

And Sarah thought I had a problem with studying. I didn’t really want to lug all my books to the library before dinner, since I would then have to lug them to orchestra afterwards. When I explained this to Walter, he said he just wanted to talk to me. It was too important to wait and to sensitive to discuss someplace public.

I spent the entire walk to the library trying to guess what he wanted to tell me. Probably about him and Bella. I found him in sitting in one of the comfy chairs in our regular study room, nervously twirling his phone in his hands. I plopped into the opposite one.

“Hey. What’s up?”

“Nothing.” Walter didn’t sound very convincing. He must have realized it, because he quickly changed his tone. “I mean, there’s something I think I should tell you, but I’m not really sure and it’s kind of awkward. And maybe Larry should tell Sarah and she can tell you, but I thought you should know.”

I raised my eyebrows. “I have no idea what you’re saying.”

Walter took a deep breath. “Look. I know you like Mike and I’m not trying to start a fight or anything, but—I just want to say one thing and then I’ll drop the subject.” Walter sighed deeply, obviously gathering his courage to say something unpleasant. “Mike was being a—Mike was talking to some of the guys in the locker room before practice. I’m not sure how much he meant it and how much was just talk, but I think he may have made some sort of bet on how far he can get with you tonight. Just . . . be careful, okay?”

I raised my eyebrows again. “How far he can get? We’re meeting at the Arts Center. It’s not like it’s even off campus. We went further when we went to the mall yesterday. At least that was like, twenty miles away. What?”

I was offended that Walter had burst into laughter, although it did relieve some of the tension in the room. I was more upset by his laughter than his warning. I glared at him for several minutes before he was able to compose himself.

“I’m sorry. Your naivety was showing.” His jovial tone turned sober as he continued, his neck turning crimson. “I didn’t mean how far away from school. He was making bets on if he could kiss you. Or other stuff.”

“Oh.” I was suddenly uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure how to respond. I shifted in my chair as I thought about my upcoming meeting with Mike. An awkward silence enveloped the room.

Walter eventually spoke. “Are you mad at me? Should I have had Sarah tell you?”

“No. I’m glad you told me. I just—I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I mean—you know what? Remember how you said yesterday that there were some things you could talk to Larry about and some you could talk to me about? Well, as much as I appreciate you telling me this, I think that maybe this is something I need to talk to Sarah about. Because I think your advice would run the lines of hitting Mike. And swearing off boys ’til I’m twenty.”

I remembered yesterday’s conversation with a smile. Walter returned my smile with a nod.

“Yeah, probably.”

“So, what’s going on with you and Bella?”

“I talked to my brother last night. He said I should ask her to lunch. So, I caught up with her after classes and she said yes. And she’s going to study with me tonight.”

“She told me. Well, not about studying, but that you asked her to hang out. So, is she your girlfriend now?”

Walter shrugged. “We haven’t even hung out yet.”

“Well, she thinks she’s your girlfriend. Dining hall’s probably open. Let’s go get some food.” I jumped out of my chair and was halfway to the stairwell before Walter caught up to me.

“No. You can’t just say that and run away. Is she my girlfriend?”

“Do you want her to be?”

“I guess so.”

“Then, yeah. I guess she’s your girlfriend.”

We walked through the quiet study room in silence. When we cleared it, I changed the subject. “So, I got my essay back after English today.”

“How’d you do?”

“I got a C. But, I talked to Mr. Johnson and he told me how to make it better. He’s letting me rewrite it.”

“That’s great. Do you want help with it?”

“You got an A, didn’t you?”

Walter turned crimson. “Yeah. Mom was a real stickler about persuasive essays. She’s a tough teacher.”

I giggled. “Well, thanks for the offer and I might come to you if I have a question. But Mr. Johnson offered to help me and I’d like to follow through with that offer.”

I lost Walter in the servery, but he caught up with me at the beverage island to place an extra plate on my tray. When we arrived at our usual table, I was surprised to see so many of my friends eating early. It took me a few minutes to realize that several of them would be joining me for orchestra. The rest were friends and floormates they had probably dragged along.

As I ate my pasta in silence, I let my mind wander back to my conversation with Walter. I wasn’t sure what to do with the information he had just given me. I wasn’t about to discuss it with Sarah while there were so many people at the table.

The more I thought about it, the more confused I grew. Part of me kept dwelling on the fact that Walter wasn’t positive whether a bet was even made. I didn’t want to accuse Mike and be wrong. Then again, if Walter had heard correctly, I definitely didn’t want to be in a relationship with someone who thought so little of me.

Dinner wasn’t very appetizing and I hadn’t eaten much by the time I had to leave to go meet Mike. As I excused myself, Sarah grabbed her bag and tray, kissed Larry with a peck on the cheek, and asked me to wait for her.

After depositing our trays in the dishroom, Sarah made a quick detour into the servery to grab a couple of apples from the fruit basket that was ironically sitting beside the display case holding slices of cake. She waited until we were outside the building before explaining why she wanted to walk with me.

“Larry and I, we were talking before dinner and he told me that at today’s football practice, Walter kept staring daggers while Mike was talking about his girlfriend. Larry asked what was going on and Walter told him that you and Mike were together.” Sarah paused for a deep breath before continuing. “They then spent the rest of practice debating whether they should tell you. Larry thought you should know and Walter didn’t think it was their place to tell you. The thing is, Mike made a bet with his friends. About you. Larry wasn’t sure of the details . . .”

I sighed, turning to Sarah as we waited to cross the street. “Walter already told me about it.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I honestly don’t know. I was going to start by discussing it with you.” I gave a half-laugh. “But, I spent most of dinner thinking about it and I keep coming back to the fact that Walter wasn’t positive that a bet was made. I don’t want to accuse Mike and be wrong. So, I think I just have to see what happens.”

“Come find me before orchestra, okay?”

We entered the Arts Center and parted ways, Sarah heading towards the couches while I made my way towards Mike, who was standing awkwardly near the security desk. He looked like he didn’t belong and wasn’t sure where to go. I approached him nervously.

“Hi. I, um, have to go get my flute. Would you like to come with?” I walked towards the stairwell hidden behind the security desk.

“Excellent, excellent. Are you going to practice? I was thinking maybe we could hang out in that practice room you mentioned yesterday.”

“Oh, um, sure.” Although I would have liked to stay closer to Sarah, the practice room would provide us with more privacy. I didn’t really want to discuss the alleged bet in the gallery, where everyone could hear us. I returned to the security desk.

“Um. Hi. I was wondering if I could use one of the practice rooms? I’ve only reserved them with the box office. Are we allowed to use them after classes?”

The man behind the desk put down his phone and looked at me. “May I have your ID please?”

“Oh. Sure.” I pulled my card from my bag, passing it to the guard. He clacked a few keys on the computer before returning it.

“You can use room 409.”

“Thanks.” I went back to the stairwell, where Mike was waiting with a mischievous smile. It made me uncomfortable. Maybe Walter had been right about him after all.

I led him up the stairs, retrieving my flute from the third floor before continuing to the fourth. When we entered the practice room, I looked around. This one was much smaller than the others I had used. It only had one chair and a single music stand, but there was some sort of mixing board that looked as if people could make recordings as they practiced their instruments.

I wasn’t sure whether I should actually practice or if we should just sit and talk. I only had about half an hour before rehearsal. Mike must have been thinking along the same lines, because he gestured away from the music stand.

“You know, we don’t really have a lot of time. Maybe we can just sit for a while.” He made himself comfortable on the floor against one of the walls, patting the floor beside him. I shrugged and joined him, placing my flute and notebook in my bag before angling myself to face him.

The silence in the room was awkward and deafening, but it didn’t seem to be bothering Mike in the slightest. Since I wasn’t about to flat-out accuse him of the bet, I tried for some small talk.

“So, how was your day?”

“Not bad, not bad. My Spanish teacher doesn’t like me, so he was a little harsh grading my quiz, and I already told you about how Mr. Johnson didn’t read my paper thoroughly. Football was another disaster, of course. But, during practice, I was talking to some of the guys and I called you my girlfriend. Then, I realized I wasn’t sure. I mean, are you my girlfriend?”

Mike was obviously waiting for a reply, but I had no idea what I wanted to say. He brushed back a stray hair from my face and put his hand on my shoulder as he looked into my eyes.

“Because, I really like you and I would like you to be.”

He didn’t wait for a reply, slowly leaning towards me. As our lips met, he placed his other hand around my waist and closed his eyes. This was my first kiss and I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I did my best to kiss him back, but I was pretty sure one of us was doing something wrong. I didn’t think a kiss should be this wet and sloppy. I felt like he was eating my face.

But, how was I supposed to get away from him? Before I could figure it out, I realized his hand had moved. He was trying to pull me closer to him, one hand scratching the middle of my back while the other was trying to pull my shirt out of my skirt.

I placed both my hands on his chest, pushing him away as forcefully as I could. I felt extremely dirty and it took all my effort not to wipe his slobber from my mouth. Although I was disgusted, I kept my voice firm.

“Look, I’m not sure I want to be your girlfriend. I heard a rumor that you made a bet to see how far you could get with me, and now you’ve got your hands all over me.”

“A bet?” Mike actually started laughing. That just made me even more uncomfortable, not to mention angry. “You heard about that? It was just a joke. I mean, some of the guys want to pay me for kissing my girlfriend. How is that not a win-win situation?”

“Because it’s . . . it’s . . .” I was too angry to find the right words. I wished Walter was there to be my human thesaurus. Thinking of Walter reminded me of his initial reaction to Mike. Those words would fit nicely, possibly confusing Mike in the process.

“Because it’s arrogant. And pompous. And conceited. And just plain wrong!” I got to my feet, grabbing my bag and rushing to the door. As I turned the knob, I took one last glance at Mike sitting on the floor, looking a little stunned. I shouted back towards him, just to be certain he understood where we stood. “And, no! I do NOT want to be your girlfriend. I want NOTHING to do with you. EVER!”

I raced down the stairs to the first floor landing, bursting through the door and rushing immediately to the bathroom beside it. The thought that Mike was trying to use me, combined with the sloppiest kiss in the history of kisses, made me feel extremely dirty. I grabbed a paper towel, wet it with some soap, and began scrubbing my mouth.

A moment later, Sarah entered the bathroom. Her eyes widened when she saw me violently washing my face. She wordlessly crossed the room to give me a comforting hug. I let her hold me for a moment before pulling away, throwing away the paper towel, and grabbing my bag.

Sarah nodded her head towards the door. “You wanna go sit?”

I didn’t trust myself to speak. I would probably start crying. I nodded, following Sarah back to the couches. I wasn’t sure if I was surprised to see Larry sitting beside Sarah’s bag, and I wasn’t positive whether I would be entirely comfortable telling Sarah my story with Larry listening.

As I sat down, Larry came over and gave me a big hug that was so incredibly comforting, I could no longer hold back the tears. He quickly released me, sending Sarah a look that clearly implied What did I do? and How do I make her stop crying? Sarah didn’t respond. She just sat on my other side and put her arm around me. I rested my head on her shoulder, sniffling out my last few tears.

Larry was the first to speak. “I can go sit over there.”

“No, it’s okay.” I realized that I didn’t mind Larry sticking around. It’s not that I thought Sarah would tell him anyway, or that he already knew most of the story. It was that, in the past two weeks, he had become as much a brother to me as Walter had.

I told them the entire story. I explained how Mike and I had gone to the practice room to spend some time talking alone. How we had sat on the floor and he asked me to be his girlfriend. How he kissed me before I even had a chance to respond. How horrible the kiss was. How his hands started roaming. And finally, how he had admitted to the bet and saw nothing wrong with what he had done.

When I was done, Sarah pulled me into another hug. “Oh, sweetie. I’m so sorry.”

“Want me to go beat him up for you?” Larry offered with a smile.

I sat up with a sniffle. “Please don’t. He’s not worth getting in trouble for.”

“Want me to kiss Sarah? So you can see the right way to do it?”

I laughed, which had probably been Larry’s intention. By the time we had to leave for orchestra, I was starting to feel better. By the time I went to bed that night, I had already started to forget the disaster that had been my first boyfriend.

Melinda’s Journal

Tuesday, September 26

Sarah had me take an online quiz about my perfect boyfriend. It was stupid, but it got me thinking about what qualities I would want him to have.

* He must be able to make me laugh. I want to be able to have fun with him.

* He must be someone I could turn to when I am upset. I want to know he will comfort me.

* He has to get along with my friends. I would like to get along with his friends, too.

* He should show a genuine interest in what I have to say. I want to be able to talk to him about absolutely anything.

* He should be a good kisser.

* Most of all, he must be a friend. We need to have at least some similar interests. I want to be able to be myself with him no matter what the situation.

I wonder if I will ever find this perfect guy.

Pat’s Story

Pat’s story will return next week.

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Stay tuned. Episode 21 will be released on Tuesday, March 16.

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