A little over a month ago, I wrote about my perfect boyfriend. As I watch my friends interact with each other, I have started to wonder how Eliot measures up.
One of my boyfriend requirements is that we must get along with each other's friends. Eliot has met my friends a few times and for the most part, we all seem to get along. I'm still a little nervous when he and Walter are together, though. While they are civil, I'm still not sure Eliot completely trusts Walter yet. As for his friends? I haven't met any. Has he not made any yet, or is he hesitant to introduce me? (-1)
When I'm with Eliot, I'm not bored, but I don't really know if we have a lot of fun together. He does make me laugh, but usually only when we're reminiscing about middle school. I feel like with Eliot I'm stuck in the past. (+0)
However, Eliot was there for me the last time I went home and my former best friends ghosted me. That shows me he can be there for me if I am upset. (+1)
Eliot is a good kisser. (+2)
Eliot and I need to have some similar interests. We are able to talk about school, but our schools are very different. (+1). We talk about NeoGenesis. (+1). He lets me talk about dance and I listen to his stories about the math team. Neither of those are shared interests, but at least he's being a good listener. (+1)
But, whenever I talk to him, I feel a little guarded. Like I have to be careful not to mention Walter because I'm afraid he will get jealous again. (-1)
Well, Eliot scored a 4 on my perfect boyfriend meter. Too bad I have no idea what that means.
Saturday afternoon, after a long, warm shower, Melinda joined her friends for lunch. As she ate, she examined the canary yellow paper in the center of the table.
"So, there's a dance at the MAC tonight."
"Awesome," replied a few of her friends.
Sarah smiled at her. "That sounds like fun. I'm in." She was met with a chorus of "Me, too."
Melinda looked around the table and noticed many of her friends had formed couples. Melinda began to feel a little lonely, wondering whether she would even have fun at the dance. During orientation, there had been a dance, and Melinda had enjoyed herself because she and her friends had danced together. No one had been serious about anyone else yet. But, as her friends paired off, she wondered how different this dance would be.
It was not uncommon for faculty members and their families to enjoy the occasional meal in the dining hall, so Melinda was not surprised to see the Price family in a corner of the smaller dining section. As she contemplated her loneliness, she was struck by a sudden inspiration and hurried to the Price table. Clarissa greeted her warmly.
Before Melinda could respond, a little girl with a mop of light brown curls around a cherubic face held a chocolate chip cookie in front of Melinda. "Mommy said I can have an extra cookie because I cleaned my room!"
"Key-key" repeated a pudgy little boy strapped into a booster seat between the Prices.
Mr. Price handed the boy half a cookie.
"How was Service Day?"
"It was fun. I'm looking forward to the next one."
"Oh, I'm so glad," Clarissa smiled and handed Tommy his sippy cup. "So, what can we do for you? I'm sure you didn't come over to help Molly eat her cookie."
Melinda returned her smile. "I had a question. I saw that there's a dance at the MAC tonight. I was wondering if we were allowed to invite people who aren't students."
"Guests are always welcome when there are no classes."
"I remember at orientation someone said we needed our IDs for school dances."
"Some dances. Not the MAC dances, but fundraisers and formals. Guests are still welcome, but you are responsible for them while they are on campus."
"Will this guest be staying over?"
"Then your guest must be off campus by 10:30."
"Awesome, thanks." Melinda crouched down to be closer to Molly, who had lines of chocolate extending from the corners of her mouth halfway to her ears. "How's the cookie?"
"I think I'll go get one of my own." Melinda smiled, texting Eliot as she headed to the servery.
Around quarter past seven that evening, Melinda excused herself from her group of friends, most of whom had started dancing the moment they entered the building a few minutes earlier. As the MAC doors closed behind her, she took a moment to enjoy the relative silence, her ears ringing from the noise from which she had just departed.
Glancing around, Melinda watched a car drive up the driveway and park a few spaces away from the building, several spaces away from a lamppost. In the dim light, Melinda watched a shape emerge from the passenger seat, close the door, and stick its head back in the open window. A moment later, the figure began walking towards the steps and the car drove away.
Melinda was illuminated by the lights above the MAC door, so Eliot had less trouble recognizing her. "Hey. Been waiting long?"
Melinda shook her head. "Nah. I just got here."
"Did you want to go in?"
"I was just there. There's like no one dancing, other than my friends, and it's a little embarrassing. Plus, it's loud."
"Let's go for a walk."
Eliot reached for Melinda's hand, which she held comfortably, mentally noting that it was less awkward than holding hands with her last boyfriend. They headed down the steps towards a courtyard at the rear of the building.
"I can't remember the last time I went to a school dance," Eliot mused.
"Sixth grade. There was a stink bomb."
Eliot screwed up his face as he thought. "No, that's not right. I remember a stink bomb, but that was the one Jimmy set off after lunch in seventh grade. No, I went to a dance at the beginning of sixth grade. I think that was the only dance I've ever been to."
Melinda smiled, sitting on some steps. "The dances at our old school were lame. This one is much better. It's like what you see on television of like a nightclub or a school dance. Loud music and lots of people dancing."
Eliot sat beside Melinda, facing her, and returned her smile. "Cool."
After a moment, Eliot broke the silence. "Thanks for inviting me tonight. I was getting really bored. I almost invited my uncle to play a board game!"
Melinda giggled. Eliot reached out to tuck a stray hair behind Melinda's ear, gently brushing her cheek as he withdrew his hand. Melinda smiled and leaned towards Eliot. He mirrored her actions and kissed her gently on the lips. Melinda, having discussed the issue with Sarah earlier in the week, put her hands on Eliot's shoulders. He had his hands on her waist and was pulling her slightly towards him. They kissed for several heartbeats before they gently pulled away and smiled at each other.
"You, um, wanna go inside?" Melinda asked.
Melinda took Eliot's hand and led the way through the back door into the ear-piercing noise, noticing a large crowd had assembled on the dance floor. Melinda weaved her way towards her friends, who had danced their way into the back corner of the room.
Melinda was glad to have brought Eliot as she observed her friends slowly fracture into smaller groups, the couples dancing half with each other and half with other couples. None of her single friends had chosen to attend the dance.
Melinda and Eliot were dancing between Sarah/Larry and Walter/Ava. Ava did not look happy to be at the dance and it was not long before Melinda watched her lean towards Walter to shout into his ear. The music was so loud, Melinda had no idea what Ava had said, but Walter nodded, waved towards Larry, and followed Ava off the dance floor.
Melinda was going to close the space between her and Sarah when Eliot grabbed her hand and pulled her towards him. He bent down, and for a moment, Melinda was scared he was going to kiss her. Although she liked kissing Eliot, she did not want to do so in front of half her school.
But Eliot was simply screaming into her ear that he wanted to go find some water. Melinda took his hand and led him towards the front entryway, where she took him down the stairs to grab waters from the vending machine in the stairwell. They took their waters to the pool lounge, where they were able to sit and talk on the couches.
Eliot drained half his bottle in one gulp. "Okay. That is way better than the lame sixth grade dance."
Melinda smiled and held back an "I told you so" by drinking more of her water.
"So, how was your, what was it? Service Saturday?"
Melinda giggled. "Actually, it was just called Service Day, but I like Service Saturday better. Maybe I'll suggest the name to the deans. It was fun. We were supposed to be raking leaves, but we made a big leaf pile and Sarah pushed me in."
"That wasn't very nice." Eliot made a face, similar to the look Ava usually wore.
"Oh no. It was awesome. Sure, I didn't like being caught off guard, but then Larry pushed her in and we kept pushing each other. Jessi helped me push Walter in and –"
"Walter? What was he doing there?"
"We were in the same group."
"Because that's how we were arranged. Andy figured it out. It went by room numbers. We're all in the same four rooms in both dorms."
Eliot looked unhappy, but listened as Melinda described how the leaf fight ended with Andy pushing Sally into the leaf pile.
"The dean. Well, my dean. Third form girls dean."
"Dean? Isn't that like a principal?"
"But, you don't really call her Sally to her face, right? It's Ms. What's-it?"
"Hunter. But, no. We call her Sally. She told us to. There's a bunch of faculty members who want us to use their first names."
Eliot made another sour face, but quickly masked it by finishing his water and standing. He held out a hand to Melinda. "Ready to go back?"
"Sure." Melinda sensed Eliot was unhappy, but she could not exactly understand what had caused it. She led the way back to the dance floor.
They were not there long before Eliot again pulled her close to shout in her ear. "I think I'm losing my mind. There's a kid over there. For a second, I thought it was Patrick McGregor."
Melinda made the mistake of glancing behind her to where Eliot had pointed. Pat saw her look his way and waved, flashing his famous smile. She gave a pathetic wave back before quickly turning back to Eliot. She leaned in to shout into his ear.
"Yeah, he's a student here."
Melinda did not hear Eliot's reply.
Eliot moved in so close, she could feel him breathing in her ear. "I said, he waved at you like he knew you."
"Well, we're kinda friends."
"You're friends with a movie star?"
"It's a long story."
"Why don't we go downstairs and you can tell me about it."
Melinda wanted to stay and dance, but Eliot had already begun dragging her off the dance floor. She followed him back to the pool lounge, where they found they were once again alone.
Eliot apologized as he sat on one of the couches. "I'm sorry. It's just really loud in there and I enjoy talking to you. I don't really like dancing."
"That's okay." Melinda was not quite sure it was.
"So, did you say you're friends with Patrick McGregor?" Eliot was trying to sound casual, but Melinda could hear the hint of accusation in his words.
Melinda tried to figure out how to explain her relationship with Walter's brother. "Kinda. Walter knows him."
"He's friends with Walter?"
"Something like that. We've hung out a few times. We were all together for Parents' Weekend."
"You hung out with Walter and Patrick McGregor last weekend?"
"I told you that."
"No." Melinda could hear the anger and jealousy building in Eliot's voice. He sounded offended as he continued. "You said you hung out with a couple of friends all weekend."
"Yeah. Walter and Pat."
"What do you guys do together?"
Since Melinda did not feel like explaining Weddas, she said, "Pat joined our Neogenesis club."
"So, you watch that with them, but not me?"
"I explained that to you."
"You know what? I'm still not sure I understand how that works. Maybe you can explain it to me again."
It was not a question. Melinda understood that much. It was a declaration of disapproval.
"Are you going to get this jealous every time you see me talk with a guy?"
"I'm not jealous."
"Then what do you call this?"
"I don't know." Melinda heard all the energy leave Eliot's voice as if he were a deflating balloon. "I don't know."
"Eliot, I like you. You're a good guy and a good friend. But, I don't think we're meant to be together."
"Why would you say that?" Eliot sounded as hurt as Melinda felt.
"I have friends who are guys. Some of my closest friends are guys. And, I don't think that's okay with you. Maybe if we went to the same school and you could see us together. But, we don't. And, frankly, I'm tired of trying to explain myself to you all the time."
"I wasn't…I didn't…" Eliot could not seem to find the words to express how he was feeling.
"I think I better go now."
Melinda left the lounge, not bothering to look back at a bewildered Eliot. She literally ran into Pat in front of the vending machines, turning into the stairwell without watching where she was going. He flashed her his famous smile.
"Oh, hey. Where's Townie?"
Melinda gestured with her hand as if she were batting away a fly near her shoulder. "Gone. Going. I don't wanna talk about it." Melinda continued up the stairs and out the front door, never seeing Pat reaching into his pocket for his phone.
Melinda thought it fitting that the skies had decided to erupt while she had been in the dance. Thick storm clouds concealed any light from the sky and heavy rain made it nearly impossible to see more than a few feet in front of her. Melinda was drenched to the bone before she had even reached the bottom of the MAC steps and she returned to her dorm by memory, as if her eyes were closed.
When she entered the Common Room, she was surprised to see Walter in one of the couches. She stood in the doorway, allowing all the water on her to drip to the floor before she ruined the Common Room carpet.
"Hey, what're you doing here?"
"Long story. Pat just texted me that he had run into you and thought you could use a friend right now. I could, too. Mind if I hang out with you?"
Melinda started shivering. "I would love a friend, but first I think I need a hot shower."
"Take your time." Walter settled himself more comfortably and took out his phone.
Melinda dripped her way up the stairs to her room. As soon as she closed the door behind her, she stripped off her clothes and left them by the door. After putting on a bathrobe and shower shoes, she grabbed her towel and shower basket, then picked up her clothes and dripped her way down the hall to the showers.
After wringing out her clothes, Melinda took her time showering, allowing the warm water to seep into her bones. When she returned to her room, she dressed quickly in comfortable clothes that she could wear to bed but that she would not be embarrassed for a boy to see her wear. All the while, she wondered what she wanted to share with Walter and whether maybe she should have such a conversation in the privacy of her room instead of the Common Room, where anyone (especially Ava) could overhear.
She grabbed something from the box under her bed as she made her decision and headed to the Price apartment down the hall. Melinda realized that the children were probably in bed, so she walked down to the first floor before knocking on the open door.
When she heard Clarissa quietly say, "We're in the living room," Melinda stepped over the gate to visit her advisors.
She spoke quietly, not so much because the children were sleeping, but because she was hesitant to ask the question she wanted to ask.
"Hey," greeted Mr. Price. "How was the dance?"
"I don't really want to talk about it."
Mr. Price smiled. "No problem. Would you like me to leave?"
Melinda shook her head. "No. That's not why I came here. I, um…I was wondering. The thing is, it's really wet and nasty out and I was thinking it was perfect hot chocolate weather." Melinda held up two packages that were in her hand. "I was wondering if I could use your microwave to heat some water."
Clarissa smiled. "Of course. I'll help you." She rose from the couch and led Melinda to the kitchen, where she handed Melinda two mugs. "You must be really thirsty."
"Oh, that was my other question. My friend Walter Evans is here. I was wondering…"
"Yes, he may visit with you until curfew."
Melinda brought the mugs of cocoa to the Common Room and handed one to Walter.
"No problem. Why don't we go upstairs?"
Walter raised his eyebrows but said nothing as he followed Melinda to her room. Melinda left the door completely open and pointed towards Sarah's side of the room, indicating that Walter should sit on either Sarah's bed or desk chair. He chose the bed, as did Melinda. They sat as Sarah and Melinda often sat, with their backs against the wall facing each other, their mugs warming their hands.
"So, why did Pat think you needed a friend?"
"I can't believe he texted you."
"He said I may want to get Sarah for you, but I kinda wanted someone to talk to, so I figured I'd come over first. If you'd rather talk to Sarah, I'd understand."
"It's not really a big deal. Eliot and I broke up."
"That's not a big deal?"
"Not really. I mean, Pat caught me literally seconds after we broke up, so it was still a big deal then. But, I had a freezing, wet walk over here to think about it."
"And I'm okay with it. Really. I like Eliot. He's easy to talk to. But, we don't have that much in common and it was kinda hard to find stuff to talk about. And, I don't like how he gets so jealous so easily."
"What was he jealous about this time?"
"Pat waved to me."
Walter had been sipping his hot chocolate, but Melinda's reply startled him so much that he started choking on it instead. It took nearly a minute for him to regain his breath.
"Are you okay?" Melinda finally asked. She had been watching to make sure Walter didn't pass out or throw up.
Walter's response was raspy. "Yeah. I swallowed wrong, that's all."
"So, yeah. That's my night in a nutshell. How'd yours go?"
"I had a revelation tonight." Walter almost sounded proud.
"Yeah? Tell me about it."
"Well, the whole walk over to the MAC, Ava was complaining about how bored she had been at the last dance and how she hoped this dance would be better, since now she had someone to dance with. Then, we get there and she saw Pat pretty quickly."
Walter paused to take a long drink of his hot chocolate. Melinda thought he may have done it on purpose to add suspense to his recitation.
"And?" she finally prompted him.
"Pat and I had a long discussion the other day and we decided he was gonna try to give me until next semester before he started talking to me. Wait, I said that wrong."
"No, I actually understood that."
"Oh, good. So, where was I?"
Walter and Ava had just entered the MAC when Ava noticed Pat on the other side of the room. Ava grew starstruck and started bouncing up and down. Walter caught Pat's eye and shook his head, a signal they had agreed upon earlier that meant Walter did not want to be seen near Pat that night.
"Oh, look! It's Patrick McGregor! Didn't I tell you this was a great place to make connections with famous people? We should go introduce ourselves."
Walter had known something like this might happen and had spent a lot of time figuring out what he could say in different scenarios. He had his response ready.
"What would you say? Hi, I'm Ava and I'm a third-form fan?"
That was not the response Walter had been expecting. He had hoped to dissuade her, not encourage her. "It's embarrassing. I'm sure he just wants to be left alone and have fun with his friends."
"Nah! He's a celebrity. He's used to people fawning over him. He probably expects it." Ava grabbed Walter's hand and started taking him towards the pool tables and arcade games, around the offices, to where Pat was standing on the opposite side of the room.
There were many people impeding their progress, so Walter somehow managed to pull out his phone and text "Run away! Now!" in the few moments Pat was out of sight. Walter felt he was doing this more for Pat's sake than for his own. He would explain later.
By the time Ava reached the spot where Pat had been, the celebrity was nowhere to be seen. Ava was clearly disappointed and sulked her way over to the dance floor.
Walter and his friends were the only people dancing. Melinda excused herself after a moment to get Eliot. Walter grew concerned when she did not come back. He leaned over tell Sarah he was worried Eliot had not come.
Sarah replied that Melinda was probably just talking to Eliot in private. Walter continued to dance with Ava, although it was obvious she kept looking all around the room for something.
Not long after Melinda returned, Ava pulled Walter off the dance floor in the direction of the back stairs. He followed her upstairs to the MAC attack, where the music was still loud.
"I'm not having fun." Ava's tone clearly implied that Walter was to do something to remedy the situation.
"Oh. Okay. You wanna…I dunno. Go for a walk or something?"
"No. Let's just stay here and watch everyone dancing."
Walter shrugged and joined Ava at a table near the balcony from which he could see his friends dancing. Suddenly, Ava exclaimed, "Oh! There he is! Come on!"
Walter did not even have a chance to process the information as Ava left him and ran straight towards his brother.
"Hi! I'm Ava. I'm in the third form and I just wanted to tell you, I am SUCH a huge fan."
Pat glanced at Walter for only a split second before returning his gaze to Ava. "It's nice to meet you. I've gotta get going." Pat left the way he had come, his bewildered friends following him.
"Wow. How rude! I thought he would be much nicer!"
"Let's go for a walk," Walter suggested.
Ava said nothing as she followed Walter down the stairwell and out the front entrance. The wind was getting stronger as they walked along the path towards the dorms.
A couple of yards along the path, Ava had finished seething and moved on to ranting. "I can't believe that Patrick McGregor is so…brusque. That's a good word for it. He was just so abrupt. It was like he had no interest in his fans. I thought for sure he was going to be nicer."
"He is nice." Walter had spent his entire childhood wanting to correct reporters who painted his family in a bad light. Defending his brother was a natural instinct.
"Oh, you can't believe what you see on TV. That's why it's called acting. He completely snubbed me."
"He probably was just annoyed. He wanted to be with his friends."
"Could you imagine what kinds of friends he probably has? He probably knows all of Hollywood's elite. And then there's his parents! Oh, I would love to get to meet them. I bet they would be able to help me find some rich celebrity to marry."
"Is that you're ultimate goal? Like, after college?"
"Yeah. Well, I'm hoping to get married before college so I don't have to go to school for four more years. But, I will if I have to."
Walter did not know what to say. They walked the rest of the way to the dorms absorbed in their own thoughts and Walter came to the realization that he could never be with someone like Ava. She was exactly the type of person he had been trying to avoid.
When they reached Woodward, the first drizzle began to fall. Walter followed Ava into the Common Room.
"Do you want to go to my room?" Ava asked.
"No. I just wanted to talk really quick."
"I've been thinking a lot and I just don't think things are going well between us. I think we should break up."
Ava shrugged. "Okay. That's fine." She turned around and walked away.
Walter was not upset that he had broken up with his first girlfriend, he realized as he ran through the rain to his dorm. He was fiddling with his latest computer science program when he received a text from Pat that had him grabbing his umbrella and heading back over to Woodward.
Melinda felt the time had come to be completely honest with her friend. "I hate to tell you this, but we didn't like her. We tried really hard, but we didn't like her."
"Wheeler Weekend is coming up. We need dates for the Victory Ball."
"Um? Were we watching the same game last week? What chance do we have of winning?"
Walter laughed. "It's called the Victory Ball, even if we lose. But maybe we should rename it. How about this. If we lose—"
Melinda raised her eyebrows at Walter. He laughed again and continued his thought. "Fine. When we lose, we'll start calling it the…Failure Ball."
Melinda laughed. "Are you going?"
"Well, I was going to ask Ava tonight if she wanted to go. I think she already had the impression we were going together, but I was going to make it official. Now, I don't have anyone to go with, so I don't know if I'm going. You?"
"I haven't decided. I have dress rehearsal all day and my show's the next day. I don't think I should be staying up late. Then again, I really would hate to miss one of our formal dances."
"Your show? Nutcracker? I thought that was in November."
"It is. November is next week."
"No it's not."
"Walter? What's today?"
"Saturday, the what?"
Walter sighed and looked at his phone. "The 28th. Oh." He returned his phone to his pocket and his tone grew more serious. "I had a thought."
"I was thinking. Since you and I are both single, maybe we could go to the dance together. As friends. Assuming neither of us gets asked by someone else."
"So, if Saturday night comes along and we're both still dateless, we'll go together? I like it." Melinda smiled at Walter's pretend invitation.