After school, Courtney blows off our plans for movie night for date night with Adrian. It’s not like I didn’t expect that, but it still hurts to hear her say it out loud. She’s mad at me for fighting with him, but she won’t say anything that makes him look bad. She won’t say, “Yeah, he’s rude and your snarky behavior in response was really appropriate!” I wish she remembered that time in third grade, where Adrian took his bucket of festival nacho cheese and poured it, orange and sticky and hot, on Courtney’s science fair project. I wish she remembered what we did to avenge her yogurt volcano. She’s been blinded by her own weak expectations for men. He bought her one flower and three (discount!) chocolate hearts and she’s dumping our traditions in the trash.
I know when I get home, my grandma is going to pat my head, tell me to sit down, and give me a cookie, like I’m six years old. Who am I kidding? Cookies work at any age. She’s going to get this feeling- she calls it her Nana Senses- in her ribcage and she’ll know something is wrong. She’ll talk to me for a while, try to find out what the matter is, and when I don’t tell her everything she wants to hear, she’ll stand up and yell for my grandfather. They’ve been in love since they were sixteen. They’ll side with Courtney and Adrian. I decide not to go home after all, and instead I drive to the movie theater alone. As I wait in line, I look around at the movie posters. There’s a few good ones out, but I promise myself I’ll wait to watch the best ones with Courtney. After Valentine’s Day, these movies will all be out on Redbox and we can rent five of them for like ten dollars. It’ll be great and no one, not even Adrian Shellack Keller, can ruin that for me.
There’s a pretty girl standing in front of me. I can tell she’s pretty because she smells like vanilla wafers and silk pajamas, though she’s wearing a skirt and hoodie now because, you know, middle of the day. She has her hair in these braids that remind me of Viking princesses, except she’s not blonde. I wonder what movie she’ll watch today. Without thinking, I tap her on the shoulder. She turns around and smiles, but I don’t think she knows me.
“Hi,” I say, “I was wondering what movie you’re gonna watch, because my best friend ditched me and I’m out of ideas.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. I’m here alone too. I was thinking I’d watch that one.” She points above our heads, at a poster for some rom-com I’d never catch myself dead at. Ha-ha, well, call the funeral choir. Looks like I’m about to be six feet under. “What do you think? Sounds like a fun one to me.”
“Right, yeah. That sounds good. I love, um, that guy who is in, you know, um, that movie that you pointed at just then. Definitely know who you’re talking about.”
The girl smiles and shrugs her shoulders, the sleeve of her loose hoodie slipping an inch or so. “It’s okay if you don’t! Here,” she gestures for me to move up in line next to her, “I’m Lorraine. What’s your name?”
“Lorraine’s a cool name. I’m Capri.”
Lorraine smiles again. “Awesome, well, I’m glad we’ll be movie buddies. The girl I was meeting skipped town yesterday so I’m out of luck too. It’s fine, though, I didn’t think she’d stay long. She was part of a motorbike trip.” We’re at the front of the line, so we pay for our tickets and thank the booth manager. I ask Lorraine if she wants popcorn or the like, and she says sure, so we head over to the snack counter.
I always share my popcorn with Courtney, but Courtney isn’t here, so I buy my own and Lorraine buys her own and we head towards the theater B9. The ticket guy clicks our tickets and we head into the theater to find our seats. I take out my phone to silence it, but when I do, I see there’s a message from Anti-Romeo, aka The Matchbreaker. Lorraine sees me checking the text and grins, “Saying your goodbyes before the big scary rom-com takes your soul?”
I shake my head at her, laughing. “No, it’s not that. It’s a work thing.”
“Oh, where do you work?”
“It’s complicated. It’s a recent development, so I don’t have an office or anything. I’m actually, well, where do you go to school?”
Jackpot. That school is all the way across town. I grab a fistful of popcorn. “I’m an assistant matchbreaker.”
“Like the movie?”
There’s a movie. Huh. Didn’t know that. “Yeah, sure, like the movie. Speaking of movies, ours is about to start.” I meant the commercials, which take forever to get through, are about to start, but I don’t want to talk to Lorraine about Courtney or Adrian or The Matchbreaker. I told her I’d watch this movie like a good little kid, and I plan to live up to that promise.
Two hours later, when I walk down the exit stairs, Lorraine’s makeup is messed up from crying but she’s laughing at me, probably because the look on my face is one of true horror. I’m shocked. The movie was shocking.
“Didn’t see the ending coming, did you?”
I’m glad the only makeup I wear is when I’m in a theatre production or on weekends, when I do clown gigs for extra cash. If I was like Lorraine, who was a master of the makeup art, I would have been a mess too. Crying at the movie theater. Honestly. What has gotten into me? I sniff loudly enough that the parents pushing a stroller in front of me turn around. Lorraine waves them off and turns back to me. She’s much taller than I am, and I’m grateful she walks at a pace I can keep up with.
“They lost contact, didn’t see each other for seventeen years, married other people, named their children after each other, met up again on vacation, and then got their necks snapped in a horrible bull riding accident!” Two boys walking by us shot me a worse look than the stroller pushers. I’m guessing they didn’t appreciate me spoiling the end of the movie, considering that they were headed into the same theater Lorraine and I left.
“That’s a signature Klopsterskil move. Produces hundreds of films exactly like that one and manages to make millions off of it. Formulas work, vacations are bad, and keep up with phone numbers. Three main lessons of every Klopsterskil movie.” Lorraine and I throw our trash away and head towards the exit. She pauses at the door. “Not to doom us to neck snapping by tragic accident or anything, but it was cool hanging out with you tonight. Maybe our usual movie dates will have to ditch us more often.”
I take my phone out of my pocket. “Lesson number three was keep up with phone numbers. Here’s mine.” I hand my phone to Lorraine and she types it into hers before assigning herself a contact. It says MOVIE BUDDY, followed by a popcorn emoji and a grinning one, too. Before I can take my phone back, she pulls it back and starts to scroll. “Got a few jilted lovers?”
“What? I don’t think so, why?”
Lorraine taps on a contact and shows me the screen. “Anti-Romeo doesn’t exactly sound like you’re on good terms.”
“Oh, right. He’s the boss Matchbreaker. I’m the assistant, at least for this job, so we traded numbers earlier today. I don’t know his real name and he didn’t want anyone to know his number, so I saved it as Anti-Romeo.”
“Makes sense, makes sense. Well, I’d better get going since school’s tomorrow, but I’ll catch you later. We’ve got to talk more about that movie!”
I give Lorraine a quick hug and take a deep breath of her vanilla wafer and silk pajama smell. Ha. I bet she thinks I smell like gas station nachos and Courtney’s perfume. I’m wearing her jacket, at any rate. “Bye, Lorraine!” I yell to her as we walk to our separate cars. Take that, Courtney, made a new friend and she doesn’t know you. For once, I met someone on my own and you had nothing to do with it. I drive home with the radio off, wanting to think about the day as a whole, not only the movies with Lorraine but also meeting The Matchbreaker. When I get home, my living room light is on, which must mean my grandparents, or at least one of them, are awake. I get out of the car and take my backpack with me, but my phone falls from my pocket and lands on the driveway with a crack. Wincing, I pick it up. The screen seems fine. I swipe through my messages. Most of them are from random group chats, and I won’t bother reading those. There’s two from Courtney, and three from my grandmother, along with all the messages from Anti-Romeo.
tell me some more about courtney and adrianne
do you think you could meet me before school tomorrow
i have some ideas to run through
let me know
He’s a multi-texter. Hm. Would have assumed he would be an essayist, judging by the way he talks. I fire off sounds like a plan, talk to u then before heading inside. My grandma is sitting in her big armchair, knitting a sweater for someone at church. She waves at me as I shut the door behind me. “Capri. Stayed out later than you usually do, hmm?”
“Yeah, I went to the movies with a friend. Her name is Lorraine. You’d like her.” I throw my bag by the door and take off my shoes, letting my toes loose from their tight prison. “Courtney was busy but I didn’t have homework and felt like staying out, so I hope you don’t mind. I’ll call you next time if you want, you’re welcome to join. We watched this movie,” I continue as I settle down beside her on the sofa, “And it was insane.”
“Crazier than Inception?”
“No, not that kind of insane. I mean, the ending? It was high pressure cooking, man. High pressure! And then,” I smack my palms together, “Boom! All that pressure popped, leaving the audience in tears.”
“You cried at the movie theater.”
“Yeah. That might’ve been the craziest part.” I grin and give my grandma a hug for being the best. “I’m headed to bed, but I’ll talk to you more in the morning. Good night.” I walk down the hallway and to my room, where I crawl into bed still wearing my school clothes. I stare up at the ceiling and count flying llamas, all of them jumping over fences and into a field full of mini-Adrians, where they are free to frolic as they wish. It takes me one thousand mini-Adrian smashing llamas and three rounds of singing "99 bottles of beer on the wall," but eventually I doze off. I dream of the Matchbreaker sitting behind his desk and eating SPAM from a tin can. I dream of Lorraine throwing goldfish at passing cyclists. I dream of Adrian laughing and running away with Courtney, the back of their wedding car reads, "SEE YOU NEVER." Through the night, my stomach twists and untwists. I sleep, but there is no rest.
In the morning, the sunlight slaps through the shutters and I sit up straight, blinking. I rub my eyes and yawn before rolling off the bed and pulling my robe off the floor. My house is cold in the mornings. And at night, too. Not to mention, well, I guess I live in a cold house all the time, hence the robes and coats and fuzzy slippers my grandparents got me last Christmas. The three of us have matching slippers, a pair for every year we’ve been together. It’ll be seven this Christmas, and I’m already dreading having to go off to college and leaving them here in this big, empty, cold house.
When I get downstairs, my grandma is at the table. There’s a plate of eggs and bacon in front of her and a tall glass of orange juice beside that. She waves at me from behind her newspaper and then says, “Good morning, sweetheart. Would you care to join me for breakfast before school? You’ve got a good amount of time before you should get going.”
“Of course.” I grab my own breakfast off the stove and sit down at the table. I haven’t checked my phone yet today, which is strange because it’s the first thing I do, most of the time. Never mind that. Who needs messages when I have the angel of spoken words here with me at breakfast? She’s such a doll. Sometimes I promise I want to freeze my grandma in a huge ice box, like they do in those sci-fi movies, and then shrink her very small. I’d do the same to my grandpa, and then I could have the two of them safe forever, tuck them right into my sweatshirt pocket and never let them go. My heart just stings when I think of being without those people, it really does. It’s best not to think about it, I know that, but they’re getting older minute by minute, creaky knee by creaky knee, denture by denture. I reach across the table and pull the newspaper away from my grandma’s face. “Anything good in the news today?”
“Not for me.” She puts the paper down. “And you? What exciting things have been going on for you, Caprice? Do tell your old granny. I live for drama and let me tell you, there’s not nearly enough of it on those soaps I watch.”
“I hired someone to break up Courtney and Adrian yesterday. His name’s the Matchbreaker, see, and what he does is he-”
“Oh, now you wait a minute, missy lissy. Don’t you try to trick me.”
“I’m not tricking you! That’s true. I did do that. I’m sure he’s texted me about a billion times this morning alone.”
Grandma’s face changes. Her kind eyes get this specific glimmer, the judgemental kind that only grandmas and the owners of poodle dogs can pull off without looking constipated. She stands up from the table and walks behind me. Her hands light on my shoulders, she says, “Who told you about the Matchbreaker?”
“Ah, gosh. It’s not like I told you I eat slippers and sugar for lunch, take it easy.” I turn around and look at her curiously. “There’s no way you can know who he is, though. He’s a senior at the latest.”
“Mm, that’s only a technicality. Of course the Matchbreaker now is a teenager, but the first one was crashing dates and breaking hearts before even I was in high school. By the time I got to ninth grade, there had been, what, four different Matchbreakers?”
“Grandma, you can’t be serious.”
She squeezes my shoulder a little harder and leans close. “I’m as serious as a heart attack, and for an old woman like me, that’s about as serious as you can get. Take my word, honey, and don’t talk to him again.”
She goes back to her seat. I should drop the subject, but it doesn’t make sense. Obviously there’s some sort of ritual passing down of the Matchbreaker title, that much I know, but why is she so determined for me to cut ties? I’ll ask later. The serious-as-a-heart-attack scared me more than not knowing why she doesn’t like the idea of him working for me. Better yet, I won’t ask her at all. I’ll ask my grandpa, and he won’t hold anything back as long as I ask the right questions.
“Don’t mention this to your grandfather, either.”
I snap my head up. How is it that she always manages to read my thoughts? “Why not? If you aren’t going to answer I might as well ask him.”
“He doesn’t know anything about The Matchbreaker and he’s not about to. This stays between the two, well, three of us.” My grandmother twists the wedding ring on her finger. “You, me, and the Matchbreaker I knew.”