I drive to school with a stomach full of toast and eggs and a mind full of unanswered questions. My grandma has been secretive about a lot of things, including the accident that killed my mother and the real reason why I came to live with them and not my father, but when it comes to her and grandpa I thought it would be a pretty open book. I mean, they’re one of the town’s original couples. Most people know the story, especially me. My grandparents met when they were sixteen. My grandma- Dina- had just moved to the town and my grandpa- Miller- was fishing by the pond behind her new house. Dina’s parents asked her to go “tell those boys this property isn’t free land,” and she went alright, but she never came back. She technically went back to her house, sure, but the fact was that once she met Miller, my grandma Dina was a goner and so was he. They were ghosts in love. They started going to high school together because my grandma enrolled at, well, the school I went to now instead of the one across town, where Lorraine attended. But the way they told it, it was no time before they were dating. Why would she be acting like it could have had a different ending, one that The Matchbreaker had something to do with stopping? Ah. I think I spelled that one out for myself. Time to hit the yearbooks.
Courtney is waiting for me on the bleachers. I look around for Adrian to pop up and whack me over the head, but he isn’t there. Courtney smiles up at me and folds her hands in her lap, over the fabric of her skirt. It’s one I bought and gave to her because it didn’t fit me. She only wears it when we’ve been fighting. Hmm. I sit dow next to her and she throws an arm across my shoulders.
“Good morning, dear friend!”
She grins and if I know Courtney like I think I do, that grin means she’s up to something. Oh great. I move away from her and return a weak smile. Best keep her appeased during the calm before the storm. And speaking of the storm, there’s Adrian. With Adrian, is another guy. I slide further on the cold metal of the bleachers. Courtney grabs my arm. “Adrian! Delaney! We’re over here!”
What kind of name is Delaney? I do not like it, Sam I am. Courtney notices my nose crinkling and she shakes my wrist, still baring her teeth in a frightening, horror-movie-cheery kind of way. I pull my hand away and she catches my fingers, twisting them towards her. Adrian and Delaney- his name fit his shape- sit down next to Courtney.
“Delaney,” Adrian starts, “This is my girlfriend’s best friend. Her name is Capri. I think you guys will get along, so if you don’t mind, Courts and I are going to get some breakfast.” Before I can say anything to stop them from leaving, Adrian and Courtney leave me with Delaney. Or they leave Delaney with me. I can’t tell which one of us is more uncomfortable. He’s sitting about three feet away from me. There’s some dirt on the bottom of my shoes. I pick at it, not worried that my nails will crack or cake. Courtney would be horrified, but after this stunt, I couldn’t care less what Courtney would be horrified about or not. I sigh and glance over at Delaney. He looks like he’s about to cry. Am I that terrible? Hm. I bet Adrian threatened him into following him this morning. Not his fault.
“You can leave if you want to.”
Delaney, startled by my voice, jumps. “I don’t think I can.”
“Why not? Are you afraid of Adrian?”
He nods. I shake my head and move an inch closer. He doesn’t say a word. “Dude,” he’s shaking like a dehydrated yogurt cup, “Adrian can’t hurt you. He has a scholarship to protect. Anything he does wrong will go on his permanent record and besides, have you seen Adrian? He weighs about five pounds more than a pasta box and you, well, you don’t.” I’m not sure this is reassuring like I mean it to be, but I continue anyway. “If you’re afraid of Adrian, don’t be. He’s annoying, but not scary.” Pointing at myself, I lean closer to Delaney and whisper, “If anyone should be scared, it’s Adrian. How dare he treat you this way? Does he really think he can get away with this? No!”
I clap my hands together. “No, Delaney! You’d better show that guy we don’t take crap from people who think they can take advantage of us! Do we take crap from people?”
“No, we don’t.”
“Heck yeah! Now get out of here and go back to… Where did Adrian snatch you from? Chess club?”
“Glee club actually.”
“Awesome.” I nod, solemn. “Go forth, Delaney, and make a joyful noise. Sing so loudly that Adrian drops down dead in his wicked tracks. Do you believe you can do that? I do. I believe in you.”
“No one’s ever said that to me before.”
“Cherish it, then, you may not hear it again for a while.” I pat Delaney on the shoulder, but it ends up more like a friendly-aggressive slap. He stands up and walks back towards the school looking more bewildered than he did before, which, all things considered, is amazing. What a lost puppy. Good thing I wasn’t the one who kicked him.
Breakfast? Really? They thought they could keep me busy with some kid and then ran off to continue the pre-Valentine’s Day show in a less public place. Ha. Breakfast. Do I honestly look that stupid? I pull another clump of dirt from my shoe and throw it on the ground. My phone buzzes. Courtney. No, it’s not Courtney. It’s the Matchbreaker. I was supposed to meet him in the basement and I’m late because of a.) I forgot, b.) Courtney, c.) Adrian, and d.) kind of Delaney but mostly Courtney and Adrian. They thought trying to set me up was good, but breaking them up will be better. I stand up and head to the basement, dodging nosy teachers roaming the building. Luckily, I am agile like a cigarette and slender like a cornstalk. Cigarette cornstalk. Sounds like a terrible emo band name. I’d love it, though.
I’m still admiring my own sneaking skills when I get to the bottom of the basement staircase. The Matchbreaker is sitting behind his desk, a dim lamp lighting him up. He can be part of my terrible emo band too because he looks more like a cigarette cornstalk than I ever will. The eyeliner helps.
“Capri. You’re late.”
“At least I’m here,” I say, pulling up a chair and pulling my legs up as I sit down. Another thing Courtney would shake her head at. She’s one of those girls who’s always enforcing sitting roles. Sit like a girl for once in your life! No, Courtney, I’ll sit how I want to, even if my pants are a bit too tight. Shove it. I blink and the Matchbreaker laughs, having caught me deep in thought.
“Something on your mind this morning?”
I don’t want to tell him about my grandmother and my theories about her, but he’s staring straight at me with his Cage the Elephant eyes and I open my mouth before I mean to. “My grandmother. I think she may have used you, well, not you but another Matchbreaker, to marry my grandfather. I asked her something this morning and she freaked out, told me not to come talk to you again. Do you have any kind of records?” I rub my eyes with the back of my hand and yawn. “Like a list of people that have had matches broken up?”
“Capri, I’m alarmed by this. You want me to disclose the inner workings of this operation. You want me to divulge some of the most closely guarded secrets in the modern world. You want me to tell you if your dear granny spiderwebbed your grandpa into marriage.” For a second, the Matchbreaker really does look alarmed. Then his concern turns to the familiar bemusement. “I have a box right over here. We can take a look, but first we need to talk about Courtdrian. Adriney? That’s tough.” He crosses his hands behind his head. “I’m gonna go with Adriney.”
“Okay, Adriney it is.” I take a deep breath, not sure where to start. “You know they’re getting worse. This morning I was late because they tried to set me up with this kid named Delaney.”
“I don’t know his last name. But I didn’t want to talk to him and it’s not fair they’re trying to remove me from the equation.”
The Matchbreaker nods and pulls an apple from a drawer in his desk. He takes a bite. I wait for his response as he chews. He eats like a jackhammer. After he swallows the last bite, I expect him to share his plan, but instead he eats the apple core, from stem to seeds. There’s not a trace of it left. He wipes his hands on a napkin (again, things seem to show up from nowhere in this basement) and looks up at me. “Delicious. Really. How do you take your fruit?”
“I don’t. I don’t eat fruit. And that’s not the point! Courtney is attempting friend murder.”
“And you want to beat her to it by murdering young love. Understood. Here’s my plan.” The Matchbreaker slides a folder across the desk to me. “Take a look at that, alright, and text me after school. I’d meet you at lunch but I have another meeting.”
“You take more than one job at once?”
He taps his temple. “Smart girl. No, I don’t. I just like to eat in peace and you, Capri, seem like someone undoubtedly unpeaceful. I guess we could say I have a meeting with sanity, for once. Matchbreaking isn’t as easy as it seems.”
“It doesn’t seem easy at all. Can we, I mean, can I look at that box you have now? I just need to see if my grandma’s name is on any sort of list. You understand that the whole foundation of my family could crumble if this gets out.”
The Matchbreaker rolls over to the wall and opens a small door. He pulls out a file box and rolls back to the desk, setting the box in front of me. “What’s her name?”
“A, B, C, D.... and here we are. Dina Cartie.” The Matchbreaker whistles. “This is one of the best cases I’ve seen yet. Take a look.” I reach over and take the file. Above us, the school bell rings. “You can go and bring that back next time we see each other.” He takes the file from me and slides it into his plan folder. “This time, be on time. I don’t want anymore Delaney excuses.”
“That wasn’t an excuse.”
“Sure.” He sits on the edge of his desk. “I think you’re a good egg, you know that?”
“If I’m a good egg, I’m about to get cracked.”
“Never mind. I just meant I’m going to be late to class. I’m really terrible at analogies. See you later.” I stand up to leave, but the Matchbreaker catches my sleeve. “What?”
“You think Courtney will be looking for a new boyfriend after we split her and Adrian?”
I smack him away and he laughs, sliding back off his desk. “I’m kidding. The Matchbreaker doesn’t fraternize with the peasants. It’s literally a rule. I’m not allowed to talk to anyone involved in one of my deals after it’s over. If I do, well,” he makes a snipping noise, “My career is over.”
“Mm hm. I care about this for what reason, please remind me.”
He sighs and looks up at the cold basement ceiling. “Because sometimes I wonder what would happen if I did, that’s all.” He sticks his thumbnail in his mouth and for a second, he looks like a sad and lost clown, the lamp light mixing the black of his eyes with the red of his shirt. “We’d better get going.” I nod and head up the stairs, but he doesn’t follow me. There must be a different exit in the basement, which makes sense. It wouldn’t be good for us to be seen together, especially not walking out of a basement.
I don’t talk to Courtney all day, as long as I can, until she walks up to me during study hall and stares at the back of my head. I wait seven minutes before turning around. “What?”
“I don’t know why you’re mad at me.”
“Yeah, it’s really hard to tell. There’s so many things you’ve done wrong in the last few days.”
Courtney takes the seat next to me. Unlike mine, her feet touch the ground with the soles flat to the floor. “You aren’t being fair. Can’t I be happy with Adrian, Capri? Do you want me to be unhappy? I try to do things for you and you don’t like them, I don’t try anything and you get upset too.”
“I don’t want to talk to you right now.”
“Do you hate me?”
“No!” I stab my pencil through the paper on accident and leave a tear straight through my chapter five english class notes. Courtney’s hands twist in her lap, like she thinks I’ll stab her next. “I don’t hate you. I’m glad you came and tried to make things better but I’m tired of your endless tug of war. You do something mean, or catty, or worse yet you don’t do anything when your boyfriend is rude, and then you try to make it up to me by picking up some stray and setting us up. I don’t want a boyfriend. I just wanted my best friend back.”
Courtney’s eyes begin to fill with tears. She’s going to cry and then I’ll feel bad and then I’ll say, “I’m sorry, no, you didn’t do anything, it’s fine..” and we’ll be back to square one because she didn’t get the point. Today I’ll let her cry. I’ll pray her tears make her realize how I’ve lost her already.
“Caprice,” full name appeal, interesting, “Getting Delaney wasn’t my idea. That was all Adrian and I told him you wouldn’t like it but-”
“But he didn’t listen and you were too scared to make him. Did Adrian make you wear that outfit today too?”
She looks at her skirt- the one I let her have- and begins to cry. She doesn’t exactly BURST into tears, though. It’s more like a deflation into tears. She starts very quietly and then gets louder and louder and then everything stops and she’s a puddle of sad slush on the bedroom floor. I hop off my seat and leave her to her sobs. Courtney had her chances to do this the easy way, but she didn’t take them. She left the fighting for our friendship up to me, and that means I’m the only one who’s choosing the weapons for battle.