I join Carmine by the tires, which are stacked up high. We’re quiet for a moment. I lean against the tower of tires and think about summer camp and floating down rivers. I think of bathing suits and mosquito bites.
“Thanks, Siwan. You’re like my knight in shining armor. Or knight-ess.What’s the word for female knight? Lady?”
I am looking at my sneakers. All scuffed and dirty. All old and worn-in. His shoes are new, crisp, clean, hip. I am looking at the ground and Carmine is looking at me. He’s staring. I can feel it. He’s boring a hole in my head.
“Car’s ready,” the mechanic says, coming over to us.
What was I thinking? There will be no adventure.
Carmine and I shuffle over to the convertible and get in. I take the driver’s seat without asking permission, and he doesn’t say anything. He just settles in and puts his seatbelt on.
I can take us wherever I want to go. We don’t have to go to school. Forget about school. What do I want to do?
I want to go fool around.
But it would just be for today. I mean, it’s not like we’d get to school tomorrow and suddenly be in each other’s lives. I can’t stand his friends. I would vomit if I had to talk to them. And I can’t see him, in his perfectly ironed shirts, hanging with my crowd. No. We have to break up before anything happens.
And besides, I could never tell. Mia loves him too much. I could never ever fool around with Carmine Dejena.
I put the car in drive and head toward the school.
“Turn left here,” Carmine says.
“School’s that way,” I say, but I take the left, kind of excited that he’s taken the lead even though I’m the one at the wheel. I drive into Griffith Park. I park the car. I turn to Carmine.
I’m going to end this now.
“Pop the trunk,” he says.
He leans over me and pulls on the button to release the trunk. Then he puts the top up. I follow him out of the car. He’s pulled out two tennis racquets and some balls and starts walking toward the courts.
“The courts are free during the day,” he says. “Let’s play.”
He hands me a racquet and goes to the other side of the net.
“I don’t really know how to play tennis,” I say.
“Just hit the ball with the racquet.”
So I do. I keep hitting the ball back over to him. Over hamburgers Carmine tells me that I am not that bad a player.
“You’ve got good instincts,” he says.
“You’ve got ketchup on your chin,” I say.
His cell phone starts ringing. I wish they all could be California girls.
“Gabby Gabby, hey!” he says.
I try to make like I’m not listening to him talking to Gabrielle Slotnik, queen bee of La Plascencia High. But I am.
“I’m at the garage.”
He’s a Liar.
“Couldn’t find anyone to help me.”
He’s a Liar.
“Am too into you.”
He’s a Liar.
He hangs up. Stares at me. I take another bite of my hamburger. We have to break up. Carmine is not my friend. This has got to stop.
“Wanna go see a movie?” he asks.
“I need to get to school.
I really shouldn’t be cutting.
I cut too much.
I like cutting school.
But you know, with my friends.
We’re not really friends.”
“Just say, ‘Sure would, Carmine!’” he says. He’s already checking movie times on his phone. He’s making suggestions for movies that I really want to see. He’s not letting me end this.
Carmine got the popcorn and I got the chocolate. We decided without words to share a large soda. Before I know what I’m doing I put my arm over his shoulder. Carmine leans into me. The movie is terrible. But he’s snuggling, and I like the way he smells.
If this were a teen movie, we’d start dating. But we can’t start dating, because I can’t hang out with him past 3 PM, because someone might see us. Because Mia is in love with him. Because she has first dibs. Even though she’s never said a single word to Carmine in her life. Even though he never kissed her knuckles in a closet in seventh grade.