Nick is a game designer, which is a great job, but not for the reasons you’d think. He doesn’t play a lot of video games. He spends his time figuring out all the possibilities that might arise from a single situation. It’s called Game Theory. Mom says it’s a sad way to live your life because then you’re never open to surprise, but I disagree. I like to be prepared.
I looked at my watch. “We have 10 more minutes,” I told Topher. If you don’t give him several warnings before it’s time to go, he can lose it. I checked to make sure he was adequately engrossed in the animals, then I pulled out my phone and ended up on Maddie’s Facebook page.
If she had a way of telling who saw it, I was screwed. But she wasn’t into technology. Her profile picture was the same, with her streaked hair flying in her face, a red band around her forehead poking through. I used to think she looked carefree in this shot. Now she seemed a little scary.
She hadn’t updated her status since this morning, but Angus Finegold had written on her wall. “Missed u last night.”
I knew I should be happy to know that they didn’t see each other last night, but the implication that they were supposed to meet up, even if only in his mind, took precedence. I considered unfriending her so that I couldn’t see this sort of thing anymore, but I held back. I didn’t want her to know how much I cared.
I pulled up my photo collection, which primarily featured pictures of her or pictures she’d texted me, mostly of her incontinent dog, Barnaby. I stopped at an image of the two of us on a bench in Union Square Park from the day we went coat shopping. She’d asked a pretty tourist who’d been speaking to her friends in a foreign language to take it. It was a terrible picture—not the photographer’s fault. My head was tilted back so my nostrils looked like two big tusks, and she was looking away. But she still looked good, with her multicolored hair and star-patterned tights. She was born to be stared at.
“Who’s that?” Topher asked.
“Nobody.” I was surprised to see he’d stopped watching the animals. Paying attention to the same thing for hours at a time is his specialty.
“She looks like Wonder Woman.”
Topher had DVDs of the old TV show and had watched them dozens of times. He knew every word by heart, including the opening and closing credit sequences.
“Are you blind?” I said, even though I saw exactly what he meant.
Maddie called me on Wednesday night, eight days and three hours after our couple’s therapy, or whatever you want to call it.
“James.” She almost sounded surprised that I picked up. “You have a minute?”
“Hold on,” I said. I was in the living room. I’d helped Mom push the couch against the wall. Dad was still at work and Mom and Topher were doing yoga poses. The one time Mom had brought me to a yoga class I lay on my mat and napped. Topher made a better disciple.
“What’s up?” I said once I was in my room. I only felt a little nervous—I was getting used to life without Maddie. I was getting over her. If she was calling to apologize, that was fine, but I did not want to backslide.
“I’ve hardly seen you around school,” she said. I didn’t tell her that I’d been hanging out in the school library, with all the other lonely people.
“I’ve just been super busy.”
“Look, a couple of family friends wanted to come to the dance recital on Saturday, and I was wondering if you were still planning on using the tickets I gave you?”
I hadn’t been. “I’m still going.”
“Good, better you than them. My mom asked me to ask around, that’s all.” I heard her pop her gum. “I’m glad you’re going. I don’t want things to be weird.”
“Please,” I said. “Things are so not weird.”
“So can I ask what you’ve been so busy getting done?”
I told her a little bit about the game I was designing, that it was an alternate world loosely based on Greek mythology. I didn’t tell her anything about the magic cube and the immaculate city, or the spearheads you could shoot at antagonists, because she would think that was lame. “There’s a lot more to it, but I don’t want to talk about it until it’s finished.”
“You’re afraid I’m going to steal your idea?”
“You have no clue how hot it is.” And then something happened for the first time in nine days—she let a laugh rip. It was big and bloomy, and even though she was partly laughing at me, it warmed me up. “Hey, are you going to Diana Tingel’s crew party?”
Topher was screeching and wailing about apple juice. This used to be my cue to go out on the fire escape and continue our conversation. Now I just wanted to hurry off. “All right, I gotta go,” I said. “Break a leg, or a tutu.”
“I’ll shred it.”
I felt a smile come to my face. I wouldn’t say she was being the old Maddie, but we were five percent of the way there.
I went to the dance show with Sam Zacks. He wasn’t my first choice. It turned out it’s not easy getting a guy to join you for a modern dance concert, even if all the hot girls at school are performing in it. It was likely that the only reason Sam agreed to come was that I told him there was an afterparty. He spent more time in the library than I did, and was on track to graduate without ever hooking up with anyone.
Sam wanted to sit up close. Luckily all the front-row seats were taken. We ended up in the spot in the back where Maddie wouldn’t be able to see us. I didn’t know anything about modern dance, and I knew I was going to laugh at the wrong parts.
Once the show began, I started to feel sorry I’d roped Sam into coming with me. There was none of the hip-shaking to Shakira or Lady Gaga that you see on Glee. Everyone had chosen the most obscure music to dance to and decided to use this as an opportunity to showcase how seriously they could take themselves.
Maddie’s piece came near the end. She performed it with Amanda Enoki. It was set to a duet where a man and woman sing about ghosts, and Maddie and Amanda swirled around and pulled away from each other like confused magnets. They were terrific. Or I guess I should say Maddie was. I couldn’t really focus on Amanda.
The applause told me I wasn’t the only one who was impressed. Maddie’s cheeks were flushed when she finally looked out at the crowd. We made eye contact for a second, and my heart shifted.