I’ve taken their yearbook photos and scribbled on their faces: devil horns, vampire fangs, mustaches like those of 1970s porn stars. I’ve etched their names on the trunks of historic trees, the sides of great buildings. These words are permanent. Fuck them, I say.
Fuck Pele and Reynaldo.
Norah breaks up with me over dinner at Shabo. She tells me she’d rather be with them instead. Both of them. She says she’s in love. She says Pele and Reynaldo are full of soul, dreams, compassion. I ask how it’s even possible to have two boyfriends at once. How, after two and a half years, she could possibly consider leaving me for them.
“Two boyfriends are better than one,” she says. “It’s simple math. Even you should be able to understand that.”
I want her back so badly I almost say, Then how about three? “I’m gonna beat their asses,” comes out instead. I say it loud enough to attract a number of aggravated looks from smartly dressed diners.
“It isn’t their fault this happened,” Norah says quietly. “It’s yours.”
“What do Pele and Reynaldo have that I don’t have?” I say.
“I’m not doing this,” she says.
“Is it my looks?” I say. “I can let my hair grow out. I’ll get on Creatine. I could put on fifteen pounds pretty easy.”
“You don’t get it,” she says. “I’m like a trophy to you. I’ve never been important.”
“Of course you’re important,” I say.
“When’s my birthday, Brad?”
“January. February. No, wait. December. December or February.”
“It’s March 10th,” she says.
“You didn’t answer my question,” I say. “What do they have that I don’t?”
“Me,” Norah says as she stands up and leaves.
I still don’t buy the story. Homecoming Queen dumps Homecoming King for two skateboarders. Two nobodies. It doesn’t make any sense.
I’ve never been dumped before.
When I get home, I sit at my desk and write down a list of all the things that are important to me. The list looks like this:
- Homecoming Crown and Sash
- Rich Dad
- Letterman Jacket with patches for 3 years of Varsity Football, Basketball and Baseball
- 2nd team All-Conference Quarterback Trophy
- 2004 BMW 745i Sedan
- A Way With Women
- Stock portfolio with positive dividend outlook for 1st quarter 2005
- Custom 22″ silver rims
- $25,000 limit on credit card
- Girlfriend Norah (Hot)
“Hey,” I say into Norah’s voice message as proudly I re-read my list. “You were wrong. I made a list of all the important things in my life and you were on it. Call me back.”
She doesn’t call back.
I stay up all night trying to figure out what she meant about not being my trophy. I call all her friends but repeatedly get sent to voicemail mid-ring. Girls not taking my calls. This is another first.
I corner Norah in the hall after second period. She looks incredible in a new D & G white skirt/black sweater combination. She looks thinner.
“What are you doing?” she says.
“I took you to Paris. I brought you to dances, played at your dad’s country club, gave you diamonds. I did my part, didn’t I? What else do you want from me?”
“You’re scaring me right now,” she says.
“Is this about Pele and Reynaldo?” I say. “What makes them so special?”
“They give to charity. They donate blood. They use their birthday money to buy dinner for homeless people. Plus,” she says, “they’re totally sensitive.”
“I’m sensitive,” I say.
“You’re a dick,” she says.
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Forget about yourself for a while,” she says. “Try it, see what happens.”
“You look really great,” I say. I’m trying not to stare, but I’m staring.
“I’m late for class.”
We had a plan. Norah was going to be a Defense Attorney to the stars and I was going to be a Quarterback in the NFL. It was foolproof.
“Maybe some people don’t ever get the life they dream of,” she had said as if doubting her own abilities. “Maybe there are people who aren’t good at anything, who never figure out how to get the things they want.”
We’d felt sorry for those people then.
Suddenly I feel like I am one of those people myself.
I stare at my credit card for an hour before I cut it into a hundred pieces and dump them into the trash.
Then I go over to the house of a retarded kid from school and knock on the door.
“Hi there,” the woman who answers the door says.
“Is BJ here?”
“Do you mean DJ?” she says.
“Yeah, DJ,” I say. Though I’ve never had an actual conversation with DJ, I once told him he ran like a gay rod in Junior High P.E.
“He’s taking a nap now. Can you come back in an hour or so?” she says.
“I wanted to give him this,” I say as I take off my letterman jacket and hand it to her. “I hope he likes it.”
“Oh my,” the woman says. “Well can I tell him who left it?”
“My name’s all over the jacket,” I say.
“The hell is this?” my sister Molly asks as she looks into the trash.
“My credit card,” I say. “Or what’s left of it.”
“You moron,” she says. “Don’t even think about trying to borrow mine.”
“Forget about yourself for a day,” I say.
“Eat my shit,” Molly says, rolling her eyes.
Charity feels liberating, like when an unpopular person who is trying to talk to you finally gives up and goes away. Whenever I start to miss my jacket and credit card I imagine Norah and how happy she’ll be when I tell her what I’ve done.
“I’m proud of you,” she says on the track after school.
“Can we be together now?” I say.
“No,” she says. “I’m utterly in love with Pele and Reynaldo. We’re volunteering in a Kenyan orphanage this summer.”
Charity becomes an epidemic. I throw my second team all-conference quarterback trophy over the bridge and watch it break the glassy water below. I box up my wardrobe and have it picked up by a Salvation Army moving van. I leave my collection of cds on the sidewalk and watch two girls load them onto a motorized scooter and wobble away, squealing with delight. I give my DVDs to homeless people living in alleys and under doorways. A Methodist church I’ve never been to before gets my Dolby surround sound stereo system, my 52″ plasma TV, my Sumantra Bedroom Collection from Pottery Barn.
I cash out all my stocks. I go to the BMW dealership and tell them I want to trade in my car. They give me sixty thousand dollars and a ride home. I begin to give away fifty dollar bills to everyone I come across: strangers at school, people on the street, opposing players during football games.
I’m famous. Everyone loves me.
I call Norah every day to give her the tally: what I’ve given away, who I’ve helped, how I’m becoming a more thoughtful person. I leave voice messages and long, detailed emails. I go to her house and fill the mailbox with handwritten letters. I’m making progress. I can feel her slowly coming back.
“I’m never coming back,” she says on the phone. “It’s totally over.”
“I don’t follow,” I say.
“You’re freaking my parents out,” she says. “You need to stop calling. You need to stop coming to my house. The letters and all that. It’s too much. You need to stop.”
“You’re important to me,” I say.
“They want to call the cops,” she says. “Pele and Reynaldo are upset, too.”
“I gave away all my stuff for you,” I say. “There’s almost nothing left.” I want Norah to jump through the phone and kiss me for this, my greatest sacrifice, but she doesn’t.
“That’s crazy,” she says instead. “You had some really great stuff.”
I skip football practice and walk to the skate park after school. I find them there, jumping the ramps in oversized t-shirts and long, baggy shorts that go halfway down their shins. They both have dark, wavy hair that falls over their eyes as they shoot off the ramp and hang for a moment like cobwebs in a breeze.
When they see me standing at the edge of the cement, they pick up their boards and walk toward me. They look different than they do at school or in the glossy yearbook pictures. They are short and thin with long eyelashes. I can’t tell what nationality they are: Hawaiian, Persian, Mexican, whatever.
They look at me like they’re blessed. Like they’re Alex Trebek, always itching to give you the right answer.
“Pele,” I say. “Reynaldo.”
“You know why I’m here.”
“Nope,” Pele says.
“Norah,” I say.
“She’s amazing,” Reynaldo says. “The perfect woman.”
“She’s my girl,” I say.
“Hey man,” Pele says. “You lost her fair and square.”
“Yeah. Finders keepers,” Reynaldo says as he pokes Pele in the ribs and laughs.
“You little punks,” I say, taking a step. “Give her back.”
“She ain’t ours to give,” Pele says. “You’re thinking about things all wrong.”
“I’m thinking about putting two skaters in the hospital,” I say.
“We ain’t about to fight you, boss,” Reynaldo says. “Is that what you come here for? A brawl?” They both laugh. “No brawls here man. Only love.”
I want to charge them, grab their tiny heads and smash them together like cymbals. I know this won’t help me get Norah back, so I do the only other thing I can think of.
“I’ll give you each a thousand dollars if you dump her,” I say. I’m holding the cash in front of me, fanning it out. It’s my last two grand. “What do you say?” All they have to do: say yes, take the money, dump my girlfriend. This is what needs to go down before she is mine again.
“Well?” I say. “We got a deal?”
Norah steps in front of me and takes the money from my hand.
“Jesus,” she says. In my ear I hear a million other words she’s saying too, but Jesus is the only one that actually registers to my brain.
“Come back,” I say as I take her hand and fall to my knees. “I’ve changed. You can see it, can’t you?” Norah shakes her head like she’s mourning the death of an uncle she hardly knew. “I’ll build houses in Africa or help cure AIDS or teach English to the natives. I’m a brand new person.”
“I can’t help you,” she says as she tosses the money at my feet. “Nobody can.”
She turns and leaves with Pele and Reynaldo.
The wind is blowing. The money is swirling at my feet, dancing like flame in every direction. I do not move. I watch it blow off and away, down the sidewalk, into the trees and bushes, out of my life.
I watch them go away. Norah, the tallest of the three, walks in the middle with Pele and Reynaldo on both sides. They each have an arm draped over her shoulder as the rear wheels of their skateboards drag along the street behind them.
“I love you,” I say softly to her, to the wind, to no one.
When I get home my sister tells me that she’s informed my Father of what I’ve done, that there’s absolutely nothing left of all the things he’s bought for me.
“He’s coming home from work early just to kill you,” she says with delight. “Oh, and this kid from school came looking for you. Why did you give your letterman jacket to a retard?”
“Did he say anything?” I say. “I mean, does he like it?”
“You used to be the most popular guy in school,” Molly says, shaking her head.
I imagine DJ dancing around his room in my letterman jacket, admiring himself in the mirror, showing off to his friends. My jacket must make him happier than he’s ever been in his entire life.
Norah would be proud of me for this. She would realize how far I’ve come, that I’ve sacrificed everything just to be with her.
This is a phase. She’ll realize that Pele and Reynaldo can’t buy her the things she needs and take her to the places she wants to go. She’ll come back to me in a mascara stained heap at my front door, begging for another chance. And I’ll take her back, because I’m different now, too.
I’ve learned things.
I pick up the phone to call her. It rings twice before a recorded voice tells me that the number I’ve dialed is no longer in service.
I take out the yearbook and turn to Pele and Reynaldo’s pictures, admiring the blue and black artwork I’ve done on their faces. I flip to Norah’s picture and take her in: red licorice lips, tiger-green eyes, sleek blonde hair. The low cut Versace dress I bought for her in Paris.
I can hear her speaking to me. Don’t worry, she says. Pele and Reynaldo won’t last. You’re the only one for me.
Fuck Pele and Reynaldo. They can’t make you happy.
I have everything you’ll ever need.
Aaron Harper graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles. He currently lives in Santa Monica, CA, where he spends his days writing and thinking about adopting a puppy. E-mail: atharper[at]hotmail.com.