The Phantom Lover Ch. 2 – “Plan B”

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2. Plan B

“I still can’t believe Chris just ditched you like that.” Mar chomped into her turkey sub as we sat outside in the spill-out in our usual spot, against the concrete wall by the gymnasium doors, across the Frenchies’ table. Two of the guys laid across the benches with their eyes closed, sun-bathing.

I picked up my book-bag, my head suddenly aching. Chris never reappeared. He straight bailed on me without a shred of remorse; no text, no instant message apology, zip. I guess that’s how it feels when on the receiving end of, “I have no interest in you whatsoever.” Being kicked to the curb sucked, and it wasn’t my norm. Usually I did the kicking, but at least I’d have the decency to see the date through. Like that time Natalia tried to hook my 5’2 self up with a super tall guy who I knew right away I wasn’t into. Because he was 6’3, toned, and had blue eyes, basically because he was Nati’s type, she’d thought I’d dig him. But I’m really into faces and I’d take the much shorter pretty boy over the dude with a Chris Hemsworth body without the gorgeous face. Last time I let my sister set me up on a blind date.

“I’m gonna go inside,” I said to Mar. “There’s no way I can rehearse my monologue out here.”

She pouted; probably because she could see my pain even though I hadn’t vocalized it. We’d been best friends since seventh grade. And Mar planned on being a psychologist someday; she could practically mind-read me. But she never pried, and I appreciated her patient heart. “All right,” Marilyn finally replied. “Love you.”

“Love you.” I got up, shading my eyes against the boiling sun, and strode past the Frenchie’s and skaters’ tables. I don’t wanna hear the name Chris again for the rest of my life. I shoved open the hideous forest-green door leading to the stairwell.

“These Negro leaders are running around telling the white man that everything is all right, that we got everything under control, that everything the honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches is wrong, but I’m telling you Mr. Muhammad said these things were going to come to pass, and now these things are starting to”—Either I’d walked in on a black kid who was completely insane and thought he was Malcom X, or this brace-face was also auditioning for the Drama magnet tomorrow.

“Sorry to interrupt.” I turned to escape.

“No, no, it’s okay,” he said. “I was just practicing my monologue. I’m auditioning for the Drama magnet.”

Phew, so this kid wasn’t psycho.

“Cool, me too.” I squinted at him. “Hey, I know you.”

He flashed his silvery teeth. “Yeah, we had the same drama teacher in middle school. My name’s Landon.”

“That’s where I know you from. I’m Natasha.”

“I know.” He grasped his stomach. “I’ll never forget that improv you did acting like you gave birth in a car. Classic!”

I chuckled at the memory of eighth-grade me with my legs propped up on two chairs, bossing my “husband” around while groaning and panting, then screaming at the top of my lungs as I pushed my invisible baby out. That was definitely a fun skit.

“Do you have your monologue memorized?” Landon asked.

“Yeah, I was actually gonna rehearse it right now.”

“Awesome.” He scuttled backwards and dropped onto a stair. “Would you like to perform it for me?”

“Sure, but start yours again. It seemed really intense before I came in and killed it.”

He laughed and started from the top. Loud, passionate, and at times scrunchy-faced, overall he did quite well. I could tell a serious actor from a hobbyist and this kid was definitely in it for the long haul.

After he finished, I applauded. “You remind me of a young Denzel Washington.”

He gawked. “Really? That’s awesome! My big bro, Chris, told me the same thing.”

I winced at the stupid name. Now anyone named Chris would be an annoying trigger until I got over the douchebag.

Landon’s head tilted like a dog who’d just heard a strange noise. “You know Chris, right? He told me you guys met at the mall last week.”

My chest tightened. “Chris? Nadia’s ex?”

“Yeah.”

The tightening worsened. This can’t be happening! He spoke about me to his ‘brother’? That’s always a good thing. At least I think it is.

“Wait a minute.” I sized Landon up. “But Chris is…”

“Caucasian and Honduran, I know. We met in fifth grade. I used to be a really big geek, and Chris was the cool guy, and when people made fun of me he always stood up for me. We found out we both were comic-book freaks, and we’ve been bros ever since.”

I gave a slow nod. Good to know he was nice to some human beings. Though he still sucked as one.

The lunch bell chimed.

“I guess I won’t have time to perform my monologue for you,” I said quickly. “It was nice meeting you again.” I breezed past him and up the stairs.

“See you at the audition!” He called after me.

“See you!” I reached the top and bustled through the hallway, dodging my fellow peers. Chris spoke about me after ditching me? Was it like a, “You should’ve seen this girl’s face,” mean recap, or was it something…else? I didn’t know why Chris ditched me. But maybe his boys needed to do something and he was their ride. Whatever the case, he spoke about me to his best friend and I had to find out why.

***

Are Saturdays cursed for me or something? I shifted in my chair so my leg wouldn’t be touching the Abercrombie Colombian dude wedged beside me fondling his girlfriend. I glanced at Landon—lounging in an armchair and totally engrossed in the gory Quentin Tarantino movie. Then, my attention shifted to Chris.

He sat in a loveseat on the far right, playing with his cell phone.

It still felt a little unreal being here, in a group that included Chris, just a week after he ditched me. But my plan to get close to Landon in order to get closer to Chris wasn’t exactly working out as well as I’d hoped it would. I had no clue why Chris ignored me since the moment I got to his stupid building, but it was pretty damn annoying and rude. He could’ve at least given me a quick apology for flaking out last weekend, offered a cordial excuse, even if it was a totally lame one.

I wiggled off of the couch. “Chris, can we talk?”

Every eye glanced at me. The Colombian dude and Landon smirked, unable to hide their amusement at my boldness. Even Chris smirked. He gestured for me to follow him to another set of couches a stone’s throw away. I followed him, bracing myself as he eased onto one of them. I sat across from him, my Cuban blood beginning to boil, even though he was so damn pleasing to look at. “What’s up with you?”

Mr. Mysterious slowly scanned the room as if the words he sought were written on the walls. After another thirty seconds of cowardly stalling, his glossy brown eyes met mine. “Okay. I know you’re a good girl, but right now, I like to smoke weed and drink, and I want someone that’s on the same page.”

The warmth in my cheeks from my rising blood pressure turned cold. So that was why he ditched me: I’m a “good girl” and he’s a bad boy. I mean, I knew this kid rocked the whole rebel attitude and look, and—based on tonight—drank occasionally, but drugs? Maybe that was why he spoke at such a slow pace all the time.

“But why smoke? It’s bad for you.”

He chuckled. “You see what I mean?”

I closed my mouth, but then swiftly opened it again. “I’ve gotten drunk once, when I was fifteen on New Years with my best friend.”

He laughed. “Once. You’re so cute.”

My toes tingled at his observation. I could accept cute, but he didn’t know I took karate for years and got into a fist fight back in sixth grade with a girl twice my size. It was a tie, but that’d been an impressive achievement in my opinion. “Thanks, but I’m not afraid of the whole bad boy thing. I’ve dated worse.”

He eyed me. “You do seem brave.”

I shrugged. “I’m not afraid to share my heart.”

His beautiful James Franco face studied me as if I were some intriguing but confusing piece of museum art he sought to figure out.

I stared right back. His gaze ignited my heart and made me want to grab his face and kiss it–but I certainly wasn’t that brave. And although we acted like we were alone, his friends still sat seven feet away from us, pretending to finish the Tarantino film. This bad boy didn’t intimidate me enough to have me running off just yet. Like I’d told him, I’d been with troublesome guys: the cheating, wannabe gangster who wasn’t even apart of a gang; the Jamaican-Puertorican pothead that smoked more than he attended school; the drag racer that I had to literally hit so he’d stop drifting on a wet road and put us in early graves; that skinny Colombian who tried to rape me.

So yes: smoking and drinking wasn’t something me or my girls were into. And yes, I totally would prefer a guy who chose sobriety, but there were so many things I liked about Chris, good things…And I didn’t want this to be over before it had even begun.

I exhaled.

He smiled as if amused at my obvious contemplation. Reaching a risky yet worthwhile decision, I returned the flirty gesture.

I am going to help him.

……………………

………….

…….

….

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