Read Things I Know About Love Online
Authors: Kate le Vann
Tags: #Adult, #Arranged marriage, #California, #Contemporary, #Custody of children, #Fiction, #General, #Loss, #Mayors, #Romance, #Social workers
A really big thing was that, physically, I’d never felt this relaxed with someone else close to me. But Luke just held on to me without even seeming to notice how awkward I was, hugged me all the time, touched my knees when he was talking to me the way he had that first time we spoke. I found myself starting to drape my arm around his shoulders; I gently messed up his hair when I made fun of him. It was spontaneous and easy, but it was still something I noticed myself doing, and loved doing.
Oh, by the way, did I mention the snogging?
Okay, yeah, it turned out it
just Darren I didn’t like snogging.
Luke and I started looking a lot like boyfriend and girlfriend quite quickly. We hung out after school and went to parties together, or to the bowling alley with other couples, giving ourselves the comedy couple name “Lenny and Penny” on the TV scoreboards. When you’ve got a real boyfriend, everything stupid is okay, and everything scary feels safe. They do the talking when you don’t feel up to it. You can talk about them to other people when you’ve got nothing else to say, or repeat things they said and pretend you thought of them.
I’d told him, of course. About my illness. Well, some of it, little bits. Luke didn’t seem to mind.
“You’re okay now, aren’t you?” he said, tilting his head on one side and knotting his lovely dark eyebrows with concern. He had these deep, dark eyes that seemed to understand me. We were sitting on swings in the park, even though there was a metal sign screwed to the top of the frame saying no one over twelve could use them. The sun was setting behind a row of houses, and the warm, fading rays made his skin glow. We’d both twisted our swings round and round—something I’d started when I was getting nervous talking about the illness and he’d copied. Now we were facing each other, keeping the chains still by planting our feet in the sand.
“I’m fine now,” I said. “Everything’s okay now.”
“Good,” Luke said, and leaned over to touch my cheek with the side of his thumb, then leaned farther, softly kissing my forehead, then, even more gently, my lips. Then we both let our swings unwind, and as they got faster, I started giggling until the swing jerked to a hiccuppy stop. I was dizzy in all sorts of ways and I knew I loved him.
I didn’t tell Luke, though, even though he was always telling me he loved me. I didn’t know if he meant that, or even wanted me to believe it—he said it too easily. I’d read that if you came on too strong, it put boys off, and I didn’t want to do anything to put him off. I don’t know if I did anything wrong.
My friends tell me he’s just an idiot. I mean, Boo is always sweet about everyone, and she says maybe he just panicked, and it’s a big thing for anyone to cope with. Saira is always angry when any of us are hurt, and she’s angriest at Luke, saying he’s an immature little boy. But I know that all my friends also found it hard to be normal around me when I was ill.
What happened with Luke was that I had to go back into hospital for a week to take drugs through an IV drip—my doctors thought I was having a relapse. I was actually fine—it was just a minor glitch. Luke didn’t come to visit me. He sent a card with Hannah and Boo in which he said he couldn’t stand hospitals because his granddad had died in one a few years before, and the smell and the color of the walls freaked him out. I was fine with that, although I felt really stupid opening it and having to read it in front of Hannah and Boo. How embarrassing is that, when your boyfriend just sends you a card via your friends, and won’t even come to see you? When I came out again, I had to spend a couple of weeks mostly in bed, and he always had an excuse not to come round then, either. I was hurt at first, and then I started to get mad—too mad to make the first move when I was back to normal and should have called him. For a long time afterwards I regretted not calling and blamed myself. If only I’d done it straightaway, before it was too late, and asked him if anything was wrong, then maybe everything would have been okay. If only I’d not sulked, I kept thinking, I’d obviously made the relapse look more serious than it was. Or maybe he was just frightened of not being sensitive enough, or of hurting me, or something like that. Maybe I just left it too late, and things changed too much for us to get back to where we were. As time went on, though, and with input from friends (especially Saira), I came to realize that it hadn’t really been up to me to chase after him. It had been Luke’s choice not to stay with me.
He’d been texting me while I was recuperating at home, talking about how much work he had to do—texts that reminded me, unfortunately, of my famous “flute practice” e-mail to Darren—and finally, I sent him a text saying:
SO WHEN AM I GOING TO SEE YOU
Afterwards, my friends talked quite a lot about how selfish Luke had been. Which is fair enough—I’m sure he is selfish. I’m sure he could have ended things better and been nicer about it. But it doesn’t change the facts. He didn’t want to go out with me anymore, for
reason. I assume it was because I got ill again and he didn’t like that—that seems the most obvious explanation. But maybe it had been bubbling for a while and I hadn’t noticed and this seemed like the sensible moment to break up with me, while we were already apart? Who knows for sure? You can’t force someone to fancy you, can you?
Not knowing why is the hardest part. Of course I worry that there are no boys out there who’ll ever really be able to cope with my background, and I worry that I’m damaged goods. I worry boys will never think of me as uncomplicated, pretty, even sexy(!), and only as someone who was ill, no matter how healthy I am, and how long ago it all was. You know, they’ll just find out and it’ll be, “No, too much trouble,” and turn right around and keep going. I worry about that all the time. I hate being different, I hate having to explain and carry around all this extra stuff. I think you can’t blame the boys—that’s just how they react, and there’s no point in Saira getting angry about it. Because, let me confess something horrible, something I’d never tell anyone out loud: I’ve met boys my age in hospital with leukemia, talked to them a bit, bonded in a way that no one who hasn’t been ill like this can ever understand. They can be gorgeous, exactly my type—funny, strong, whatever. And what I think about them is,
Ooh, I don’t know—leukemia. Too much trouble.
So it may or may not be my fault, but it is my problem.
Luke’s last text came a full day later, which I suppose doesn’t sound very long, but I had checked my phone about six hundred times by then, so it felt like a long time. I just stared at the phone the whole day, basically. I was so happy and my heart stopped for a second when the little envelope appeared on the screen. It said,
SORRY MAY AS WELL BE HONEST. LOOK I’D BEEN THINKING BEFORE ALL THIS STUFF HAPPENED THAT WE’D GOT A BIT SERIOUS BEFORE WE WERE READY. LET’S USE THIS BREAK AND TAKE A TIME-OUT, SEE HOW WE FEEL. SORRY, RED.L
I was too mortified to demand explanations or ask him to give me another chance. I felt physically sick with embarrassment, and weak, as if I were made of paper and could be scrunched up and thrown away. I wanted to hide my face when I went to school—had he asked all his mates for advice, and they’d told him I wasn’t worth it? How many people had he discussed us with, and what did they know? Were they all talking about why it was a good idea to ditch me? I didn’t try to see him alone again after his text. I was too proud to show him how hurt I was. I saw him at school, and we talked like normal people to each other, except I didn’t know when to look at his face, or how
to look at his face. When our eyes made contact it was like being slapped, I just wanted to recoil. If we were in a group, or in English class, and he was the person talking, I used to make myself count to three and look at his face for the whole three. If he looked at me, I still had to hold the look, and then I’d look away. But that was hard, and mostly I just couldn’t look at him.
What I hated the most was his apologies, when they came, like he knew how much he’d upset me and it was all one-way. It meant he hadn’t really liked me at all, because he wasn’t sad, and I’d been really into him, because I was. I cried a lot—big surprise. My mum was just matter-of-factly nice to me; she said all the right things, but I don’t think she understood how devastated I was. I think my mum thinks anything that happens to me, short of death now, is really quite good luck on balance. Oh, the hairdresser dyed your hair pink? Never mind, love, have some chocolate, you can give it a good brush in the morning and it’ll look fine. The love of your life couldn’t cope with you being ill and maybe you’ll never love or be loved again? Oh, it could be worse, Livi. You know you cry very easily….
Things I know about love.
1. Nothing that happens between two people is guaranteed to be private.
2. People don’t always tell you the truth about how they feel. And the truth is, it may not be the same as how you feel.
3. I don’t know if you ever get over having your heart broken.
Krystina, the girl Jeff’s so obsessed with. She’s amazingly good looking, like a younger Gwyneth Paltrow—that perfect, healthy, American girl look. She has a fat plait of shiny blond hair that sits on one shoulder, her skin is honey-colored and
, and her teeth are like a toothpaste ad. Ha, what am I, Jeff’s diary? But, oh yeah, I can see why he’s so love-struck.
I really hope she isn’t out of his league.
I mean, no one is a bigger fan of my brother than me, but Krystina…when I laid eyes on her, I was so sure she was going to be a bimbo—and then she opened her mouth, and she’s funny, and really clever. I think I might have a crush on her, too.
Please don’t think I’m coming over all America-is-so-great when I’ve been in the country about ten minutes, but Americans seem to be a lot friendlier than British people. Krystina was sweet to me straightaway, and when I compare that to my first week in Sixth Form back in England, and how all the girls I didn’t know looked at me suspiciously, and the only new boy who talked to me was the evil heartbreaker Luke, well, the Brits come off worse. Krystina was instantly offering to take me shopping with her, as if we were old friends.
not to buy these embroidered Earl jeans all month, and every day I get a
bit weaker,” she said. “So you
to come with me to see them, and you
to say they’re
, and then I won’t buy them. Promise me you’ll do that?”
“Er…yeah,” I said. “But are they actually lovely?”
“Ohmigod. To. Die. For,” Krystina said, rolling her eyes.
That’s another thing about this place, though: everyone is rich—super rich. I’ve been hoping my dress sense looks like a British, boho sort of thing, rather than chain store, and I might just get away with it. A couple of girls admired my “cute shooooes!” and asked me where I got them before realizing that I was English, and it seems that Irregular Choice shoes, which cost fifty-five pounds back home (although I paid exactly half that in the sale) go for about a hundred and fifty dollars in tiny boutiques in New York, and are, like, totally far out. Ha-ha! I’m hip. Well, my feet are.
We went to a coffee shop and spread out in the corner, near the window, and Krystina talked a lot about an old British band, The Cure, and how she met the lead singer in New York one time. I hadn’t heard of them, embarrassingly. I said I’d love to go to New York, especially as we were only an hour or so away, and Jeff started mumbling something about not being able to go this week. I couldn’t help noticing how quiet Jeff was being. I thought he was in a bad mood at first, and then I realized he was quite tongue-tied around Krystina. I wanted to shake him and say, “Come on, Jeff, be funny!” but there was nothing I could do.
“So what are your plans, while you’re here?” Krystina asked me. “You’re coming shopping with me first, of course, and I think there may be a party this weekend for you to go to.”
“Won’t most people have gone home for the vacation, though?” I said.
“Well, there are still some people in town staying on to study and just hang out,” Krystina said. “But it’s a really nice atmosphere, because there’s that end-of-semester feeling. And it’s hot and sunny. Not so much today, but believe me, it’s gonna be.”
Today it was already insanely hot. I’m not so good in extreme heat. I faint quite easily.
“And do you have a guy back home?” Krystina asked. “Anyone special?”
They say Americans are more direct. I didn’t mind the question, but I was so anxious to seem like a light, funny person, and wanted to leave behind all my past with its broken hearts and failed romances.
“Not right now,” I said, a bit stiffly. “I was thinking about having a fling while I’m here, though. Just a crazy, temporary holiday romance.”
“Oh, yeah?” Krystina said. “Well, you’re so pretty, that’s not going to be difficult. I could call up five guys right now who’d love to interview for that opportunity….” She looked at Jeff out of the side of her wide blue eyes. “But I think your brother might kill me if I did that. Let me know if anyone takes your fancy and I’ll do my best to make it easier for you.”
“Yeah, well,” Jeff said, “
try and make it a bit more difficult. I’m the one getting a grilling from our mum every night about whether I’m looking after you, while you’re still comatose from your jetlag at eight p.m. every night.”
“I’m getting better!” I said. “I woke up at six this morning. That’s nearly normal. Anyway, Jeff, you don’t have to tell her
“Yeah, you don’t have to tell Mom
, Jeff,” Krystina said, playfully hitting Jeff on the arm. She looked pretty comfy with him. If he could just remember to
every so often, maybe there is hope for him.
“Krystina’s a bit gorgeous,” I said casually to Jeff, when we were walking back home to his professor’s house. The warm evening air was soft on my bare arms and legs, and I could have spent the whole night just walking outside. We’d stopped on the way to get ourselves a takeaway pizza.
“Does that mean you think I don’t stand a chance?” Jeff asked glumly.
“Well, I think she definitely likes you,” I said. “It may just be as a friend, I can’t tell yet. Well…you know, maybe you should be a bit funnier around her—the way you are around me.”
Jeff looked crushed. “What do you mean, ‘funnier’?”
“Well, you know, usually you’re really…lively, but today you were…”
“No! Jeff, don’t be nuts. You just seemed shyer than usual today.”
“No, you’re right,” Jeff said, seeming to slump even lower. I felt horrible.
“There are good signs, too! I have more research to do.”
“Don’t say a word to her!” Jeff said, squeezing the pizza box anxiously. I was afraid he’d hurt the pizza. I put a steady hand on the box to keep it upright.
“I’m not going to say anything!” I said. “I’m quietly observing, that’s all I’m doing.”
“Don’t even drop hints, Liv,” he pleaded. “You’re not as subtle as you think you are.”
“The thing about you is, you think I’m still twelve years old and accidentally walking in on you snogging Sadie Fernandez when you were supposed to be babysitting me.”
“And you told Mum!”
I gasped theatrically, pretending to be horrified that he hadn’t forgiven me. “You can trust me now!” I squeaked. “We’re both adults. I’m nearly eighteen, remember? I can vote soon.”
“And that is truly frightening,” Jeff said. “Er…remind me, who’s the Home Secretary?”
“Ha! Well! As it happens, I have
made plans to find out who the Home Secretary is.
the Foreign Secretary.”
“Oh, you’re right,” Jeff mocked, “the country is safe in your hands. It’s good that you didn’t waste all that time when you were stuck in hospital. And, how about naming the
movies, in order?”
The Motion Picture
The Wrath of Khan
The Search for Spock
…Just because I know this doesn’t mean I don’t know important polit —”
“Go on,” he said, raising one eyebrow.
The Voyage Home
The Final Frontier
The Undiscovered Country
. Do you want me to do
The Next Generation
We were eating the pizza messily and greedily when the phone rang. Jeff wiped his hands, using
the paper napkins, and answered it.
“Hi, yeah. Oh, yeah, hi. Mm-hmm? Oh, yeah? Weeeeell… yeah, I don’t think so. Yeah, I know my sister’s still got really bad jetlag, so…Yeah, thanks, though, you and I’ve got to go for a coffee or see a film soon. Yeah. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Yeah. Okay, see you.”
He went straight back to stuffing more pizza in his mouth.
“Who was that?” I said.
“Huh? Oh, Adam. You remember the British guy you met at the cafet —”
“Yes, I remember, it was three days ago! What did he want?”
“He wanted to know if we wanted to go to a party round at his brother’s tonight. I said you were too tired.”
“But I’m not too tired!” I said.
“You’ve fallen asleep every night at eight!” Jeff said.
“I’m still setting my body clock to this time zone,” I said.
“Well, you know,” Jeff said, “his brother’s older. I don’t know what kind of party it’s going to be. And you’re going to take it easy for a bit.”
, I’ve been taking it easy for years!”
“Okay,” Jeff said, looking suddenly a bit more serious. He put down the pizza slice—it was that serious. “I
going to take care of you while you’re here, and I’m not taking you to every single party you get invited to, no matter what, until I know that you’re up to it.” We looked at each other, him trying to guilt me out, me not giving up. “Come on, Liv. I’ve been worried about you for a long time. Go easy on me.”
“Yeah,” I said, a bit sulkily.
“And it’s only Adam,” Jeff said. “You can see him in Manchester anytime you like.”
“Yeah,” I said, more bouncily. Although I was thinking,
Mustn’t tell Jeff that I really quite like Adam
like. “Okay, I’m going to check in with Mum now, and tell her that you’re acting like an overprotective dad,” I said, to try to lighten the atmosphere between us. I felt guilty for making Jeff feel bad.
“Oh, go on, please do that,” Jeff said. “She’ll love me for it. And while you’re at it, tell her I
feeding you properly….”