Preview of Real Live Boyfriends

Excerpt from the fourth Ruby Oliver book, Real Live Boyfriends:

After my shift ended, Noel would usually drive me back to his place. I’d take a shower there and change into normal clothes.

Like I belonged in his house.

With him.

And it was just right.

I was in love.

In love. Yes.

It wasn’t anything we said to each other, but it was how I felt.

And how I thought he felt.

I even told my shrink.

Just in case you haven’t familiarized yourself with the painful chronicles of my high school career, I have a shrink because sophomore year–after Jackson broke my heart and Kim and all my other friends ditched me–I nearly went insane. I have managed to reach my senior year alive only because it turns out you can’t actually die from embarrassment and misery. You just start having these awful, can’t-breathe, heart-exploding episodes. Panic attacks.

Now I have to go to therapy once a week.

“Love is a big word,” said Doctor Z, when I told her about Noel. She popped a piece of Nicorette and waggled her Birkenstock off the end of her foot.

I played with the frayed heel of my jeans and didn’t answer.

“This is the same Noel who hid his asthma from you, am I right?” she went on.

“Not his asthma. The fact that he hadn’t been taking care of his asthma.”

“And the same guy who wouldn’t let you explain about the incident in the library? You two weren’t speaking for a while?”

I sighed. “Same guy.”

I hate it when Doctor Z asks questions that roundabout way. It’s so shrinky shrinky.

What she really meant was: do you honestly think this Noel is going to be a good boyfriend? Because he already has an iffy track record. And you, Ruby Oliver, can hardly afford to risk your precarious mental health on a guy who might turn out to be a jerk.

“It’s the same guy who gave me his hoodie when my clothes got soaked in chemistry class,” I told her. “Same guy who took me home from the Spring Fling when no one else would give me a ride. Same guy who made me a valentine. And baked me pain au chocolat. And said he knew all the gossip about me wasn’t true.”

Doctor Z didn’t answer. She just blinked her big brown eyes at me.

“You’re thinking I’m too defensive, now,” I said.

Again, no answer.

“Now you’re thinking I’m getting all cranked over a silly high school thing, making it sound important, like some big romance, when in the larger scheme of my whole entire life, none of this will really matter,” I said.

More silence.

“And you’re gonna say I’m too boy-oriented, and I should be focusing on developing my friendships and not have Rabbit Fever all the time.”

Doctor Z re-crossed her legs and straightened her orange chenille poncho. But still, she said nothing.

“I’ve been in therapy a year and a half now,” I told her. “I know how it works. I know what you’re going to say before you say it.”

“I’m not saying anything, Ruby.”

“You’re thinking it.”

Doctor Z paused. “Maybe you are thinking it,” she offered.

Here’s Doctor Z: African-American. Forty-something. Seriously fashion-challenged to the point of wearing horrible crochet ponchos and patchwork skirts. Cozy office in a generic office building. Mistress of the shrinky silence. Nicotine fiend.

Here’s me: Caucasian. Nearly seventeen. Vintage dresses, fishnet stockings and Converse. Suffering from panic attacks and Rabbit Fever. Plus a general inability to relate to other human beings in a way that leads to happiness.

Here’s what we have in common: We both wear glasses. We both live in Seattle. And we sit in this room together every week, discussing my problems.

Therapy is deeply weird. You talk and talk and someone else listens. This grown-up your parents pay money to, who has never met your friends, never been to your house, never seen your school–in other words, a person who’s had no contact whatsoever with any of the things that are giving you angst.

You tell that person everything. And she listens.

“I ran into Nora the other day at Pagliacci’s,” I said, to change the subject.

“Oh?”

“Ever since I supposedly stole Noel from her, we just avoid one another at school. But two days ago I saw her and her brother getting pizza.”

“Her brother Gideon?”

Doctor Z knows all about Gideon. He is superhot in a bohemian, necklace-wearing way and I used to love him in sixth grade. Also, last spring his leg touched mine when we were watching a movie at Nora’s house. And once, inexplicably, he came over to my house and helped me make doughnuts.

“That’s the only brother she has,” I said.

“What happened at Pagliacci’s?”

“I was standing in line to pay for my pizza and the two of them came up behind me.”

“Did you talk to them?”

“Gideon said ‘hi.’ He’s obviously ignorant that Nora now considers me a backstabbing Noel-stealing slut. Or he pretended to be ignorant.”

“What did Nora do?”

“She acted really, really interested in some Chapstick she found in her bag.”

“What did you do?” asked Doctor Z.

“I kept talking.”

“What about?’

“Canned mushrooms: are they a valid topping with a flavor of their own like canned black olives? Or are they just rubbery disgustingness? Blah blah blah. Finally the guy in front of me paid and I asked to get my food to go just so I wouldn’t have to sit in the same restaurant with Nora. I can’t eat with someone hating me.”

Doctor Z didn’t say anything in response. She just looked at me in her gentle way.

“I wish I could forget about Nora and how she won’t forgive me when I abject begged her to,” I went on. “The only time I don’t think about it is when I’m with Noel.”

“How so?”

I paused, looking for the right words. “When Noel’s voice is on the phone,” I said, “or his name in my email, or his hand is holding mine–I feel this full out, flat-on happiness. It’s like he cancels out all the badness from the past two years at school; like he cancels out all my hateful thoughts and neuroses; like he’s my flashlight in a dark city.”

Doctor Z chewed her Nicorette thoughtfully. “I’m glad he makes you happy,” she finally said. “But I do have a concern about your flashlight metaphor.”

“How come?”

“Well,” she asked, “what happens if your flashlight goes out?”