Preview of The boyfriend list

 

Below, a list of present-giving misdemeanors, perpetrated by Jackson Clarke upon the unsuspecting and inexperienced Ruby Oliver.

ONE. In first month of going out, put a tiny ceramic frog in my mail cubby every Monday morning. There were four. I still have them on my desk. Each one is in a different position and has a different expression on its face. Okay, that’s not a misdemeanor. It’s very nice. But then –

TWO. Stopped with the frogs. No explanation. That fifth Monday, I looked in my mail cubby first thing, all frog-ready, and it was empty.

I looked again after my first class, and it was still empty.

It was empty all day.

Why no frog?

I felt stupid bringing it up because it was just a tiny ceramic frog and not a big deal or anything, but I wondered all day why he hadn’t given me a frog. Then I thought, maybe he forgot to bring it to school with him and he’ll bring it on Tuesday.

But on Tuesday, no frog, again! A frog-less day.

At the end of Tuesday, Jackson asked me if anything was wrong. I tried to make a joke of it, felt so dumb even bringing it up, but it was so bothering me, like we had this special thing that we did and now he’d canceled it. “Ruby!” he laughed. “There were only four frogs, that’s why! They had four different expressions at the store, and I bought them all. I ran out. It doesn’t mean anything.”

I said Okay, and I was sorry to be so silly. But if I had been him — that is, if I had been the one giving the frogs, I would have found a frog-substitute for the Monday after the frogs ran out. I would have found a gummy frog, or a plastic frog-bath toy, or written a note with a frog on it. At the very least, I would have warned him that the fourth frog was, in fact, the final frog. Something. He wouldn’t have gone wondering and feeling disappointed for two days.

THREE. Christmas. A reasonable time to give a present to your girlfriend, no?

Yes.

But Jackson’s family went to Tokyo for the holidays, so he wasn’t there on the actual day. The day before he left, I gave him this great brown leather coat I found at Zelda’s Closet for thirty dollars. It was from the 70s, I think, and he had been saying he wanted a jacket like that for months. I was so happy when I found it. And he completely liked it — but he didn’t have anything for me.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know you were getting me anything.”

I said it was okay, it didn’t matter. But then, when he got back from Tokyo, I kind of thought he’d have something for me, then. Actually, I completely expected he’d have something. Is that insane? Bick bought Meghan a cashmere sweater. Finn saved up his money from working at the B&O and gave Kim a stack of CDs she’d been wanting. My dad gave my mom an amber necklace. But it was already January when Jackson got back, so I guess he figured Christmas was over and he had missed it.

FOUR. We had a fight. Jackson forgot that he had plans with me on Saturday, nothing much, he was just coming over to watch a movie on TV, but still. On Friday night we hung around at his friend Matt’s place with a bunch of his friends, and when he dropped me off, he had very clearly said, “See you tomorrow.”

I called him on Saturday morning, and his mom said the Dodge needed a new muffler and he had taken his car to the shop and would be back around two.

By five o’clock he hadn’t called.

By six o’clock he hadn’t called.

At seven, I called him again. “You just missed him,” she said. “Matt came by and picked him up. I think they went to the game.”

Well, I could go to the basketball game, if I wanted, and see him there.

But the bus to Tate takes like 45 minutes and only comes once an hour, and my mom and dad had gone to Juana’s house for a dinner party, so they weren’t driving me anywhere. Besides, I didn’t think any of my friends were going, and it seemed weird to go alone. I called Kim, and she was going to the circus with Finn; Nora and Cricket were over at Cricket’s and said I could come meet them at the B&O for coffee at 9, but I thought maybe Jackson’s mom was wrong and he was getting a ride to my house from Matt, not going to the basketball game at all. So I stayed home to wait for him. 
He didn’t come.

I rang Jackson’s cell, but he didn’t pick up.

Our house seems cold and overly quiet when it’s empty. Because it’s on the water.

I read a little and watched TV, and made myself some ramen.

It seems stupid, but by 10 o’clock I was crying. I had dialed the cell three more times, but I didn’t leave a message. Finally, I choked out the most relaxed-sounding thing I could think of to say, after the tone: “Hey, it’s Ruby. I somehow thought we had plans tonight? I guess I was wrong. But give me a call.”

He called at midnight. My parents weren’t home yet. He said he just got the message, and I sounded upset, what was up?

“I’m not upset,” I said. “I thought you were coming over.”

“I went to the game with Matt,” he said. “It was excellent. Cabbie scored six times.”

“Didn’t you say you were coming over?” I asked.

“I don’t think so, Roo.”

“But you did,” I said. “We talked about it last night. To watch Annie Hall.”

“We see each other all the time,” Jackson said. “We see each other like every day.”

“I know.”

“So I need to go out with the guys sometimes, that’s all.”

“That’s fine,” I said. “I don’t care. I just thought we had plans.”

“It was a completely important game. We were playing Kingston.”

“I was waiting for you.”

He sighed. “Roo. Sometimes it’s like you want me all to yourself.”

“That’s not it.”

“Matt just came over and picked me up,” he said. “He practically kidnapped me.”

“Oh, so you did know we had plans?”

“He really wanted me to go; Kyle and the Whipper were in the back of the car. I swear, they pulled me in and wouldn’t even let me get my coat.”

“So you’re saying you knew we had plans and you went to the game anyway? Without even calling?”

“I just forgot.”

“Forgot to call, or forgot we had plans?”

“Ruby.”

“What?”

“Why are you being so insecure?”

“I’m not insecure,” I said — although I was. “I spent my Saturday night sitting home eating ramen, when I could have been doing something.”

“Well, why didn’t you do something? You could have gone to the game, or gone out with Nora. Or Cricket. Whatever.”

“I didn’t do anything because I had plans with you!” I cried.

There was a pause. “You’re getting too worked up about this,” Jackson said, finally.

I sniffed. I kind of hoped he could hear me crying over the phone and would realize what a jerk he’d been.

“Are you okay?” he finally said.

“Yeah.” Although obviously I wasn’t.

“You’re being oversensitive, Roo,” he said. 
”Maybe.”

“I just went to the game with some guys.”

“That’s not the point.”

“It’s not a big deal.

“
”Don’t you want to know what the point was?”

“I got up at six for cross-country practice,” Jackson said. “I’m completely shattered. We can talk about this tomorrow.”

“Okay,” I said. But I didn’t hang up.

“I’m gonna go, now, Roo,” he said.

“Okay, go then.”

“All right. I’m hanging up. Goodnight.” And the line went dead.

The next day, Jackson called and came over in the afternoon. He brought me a brownie.

I ate it.

He said he was sorry. He should have called when he went to the game. 
I thought he should have not gone to the game and come over to my house instead. But I didn’t say anything about that.

I said the brownie was perfect, and brownies were my favorite, and did he feel like walking down the dock and looking at the boats? He said yes, and so we did.

But later, I wished I hadn’t eaten that stupid brownie. I wished I had thrown it back at him and told him never to stand me up again.

FIVE. For Valentine’s Day at Tate this year, the senior class decided to raise money for the Downtown Seattle Soup Kitchen by selling flowers and delivering them. For three weeks ahead of time, they took orders at a table in the main building: it was a dollar for a carnation, two dollars for a daisy, three for a rose. You’d put in an order, pay cash, and write a note to go with the flowers. Then on February 14, the seniors delivered the bouquets; they were showing up in classrooms, at the refectory tables, in the hallways, calling out names.

A lot of the more non-dating, non-gossipy girls – like the ones I know from lacrosse — had had the foresight to send each other flowers. It was worth a few dollars so that your girlfriend could have Bick or The Whipper or Billy Alexander or some other hot senior interrupt math class with a rose. So there were a lot of deliveries. I sent daisies to Kim and Cricket and Nora, and I sent Jackson six roses with an anonymous card –but of course it would still be obvious whom they were from.

When I got to school that day, the whole place was buzzing. Kim already had a dozen roses from Finn the stud-muffin, and there was a daisy from Cricket in my mail cubby with a funny note. I saw Jackson after third period French, and he hadn’t got the roses yet, so I didn’t say anything. I got a rose from Kim and a daisy from Nora, and a carnation from this guy Noel who stands next to me in my painting elective, with a long goofy poem about unrequited love. Nora found the Playgirl in her mail cubby and cracked up. 
Jackson sat with his friends at lunch, and I felt weird about him not having got the roses yet, so I pretended not to see him and hung out with Cricket, Kim and Nora. In fifth period, Nora showed me a rose she got from some guy she knew from basketball, which made her feel good even though she didn’t like him “that way,” and then asked to see what Jackson had sent me. I said Nothing yet, and she said, “Oh dear. I hope it’s not a frogless day!”

“It better not be,” I said — but I had a sinking feeling that wouldn’t go away all through Biology/Sex Ed.

After, when I was crossing the quad to H&P, I ran into Jackson holding the roses I sent him. He kissed me and said, “These are from you, right?” and I thought, Who on earth else does he think it could be? Shouldn’t he know they’re from me? — but all I said was “Maybe,” because I was trying to be mysterious, especially if he hadn’t sent me anything.

In Mr. Wallace’s class, now it was Cricket asking if I had anything yet, and when I said No, she said, “Don’t worry. I hear it’s a special order.” 
I couldn’t think what a special order would be, but it sounded good, so I relaxed. Cricket had a rose from Pete, who’s her boyfriend now, but she’d only just started liking him then. The Whipper delivered daisies to Kim, from a freshman who had a crush on her. A thousand hundred people asked me what I had from Jackson, and Heidi even advised me not to let him take me for granted, giving me this knowing look as if she knew him and all his tendencies a hundred times better than I did.

It wasn’t as if I had any control over whether he took me for granted or not, anyway. What was I supposed to do? Act like I didn’t like him? He had been my boyfriend for 6 months already.

Finally, in seventh period, Billy Alexander interrupted Brit Lit with a delivery for me.

It was half a carnation.

Literally, a sad-looking white carnation sliced in half, with a note that said: “I would never buy you regular roses, like a million other roses given to a million other girls. Happy Valentine’s Day. Jackson.” 
I tried to act pleased, but I could barely keep from crying. As soon as I got out the door of the classroom, I burst into tears. Kim was right there. “It’s not even a rose,” I cried, “It’s the cheapest thing he could buy. It’s only half of the cheapest thing he could buy.”

“Oh, Roo,” she said, “it’s nice. It’s unusual.”

“It’s soggy,” I sniffed. “The card doesn’t even say Love on it. People have been asking me all day and now all I’ve got this soggy, ripped-up flower.” 
”I’m sure he thought you’d like it,” Kim said. “He had to order it special.”

“I’d rather have roses.” I kept my head down so people walking down the hall wouldn’t see I was crying.

“You want some of mine?” Kim asked.

“No, I wailed. “That’s not it. I wanted something romantic.”

“I’m sure he meant well.” Kim patted my shoulder.

I ran out of school and found Meghan’s jeep in the parking lot. I didn’t have an eighth period class, but she did. She wouldn’t come out to drive me home for another 50 minutes. I sat down on my backpack, leaning against a tire, and waited. Finally she came out, jangling her keys, wearing a new pair of running shoes (from Bick) and carrying two dozen red roses. I’m sure she noticed my face was all red and swollen, but she didn’t ask any questions. We drove home in silence.

When I talked to him later, I just told Jackson “Thank you” for the flower.