"Nothing with me," you said. "Trev's a little sick, though."
"Fuck you," Trevor gurgled from the bushes.
You laughed and I laughed too. You held up the bottles to the porch light to see which was which. "Here, nobody's touched this one."
I don't usually drink beer. Or, really, anything. I took the bottle. "Wasn't this for your friend?"
"He shouldn't mix," you said. "He's already had half a bottle of Parker's."
You looked at me, and then took the bottle back because I couldn't get it open. You did it in a sec and dropped the two caps in my hand like coins, secret treasure, when you handed the beer back to me. "We lost," you explained.
"What does he do when you win?" I asked.
"Drinks half a bottle of Parker's," you said, and then you -
Joan told me later that you got beat up once at a jock party after a losing game so that's why you end up at other people's parties when you lose. She told me it would be hard dating her brother the basketball star. "You'll be a widow," she told me, licking the spoon and turning up Hawk. "A basketball widow, bored out of your mind while he dribbles all over the world."
I thought, and I was stupid, that I didn't care. And then you asked me my name. I told you it was Min, short for Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom, because my dad was getting his master's when I was born, and that, don't even ask, no you couldn't, only my grandmother could call me Minnie because, she told me and I imitated her voice, she loved me the best of anyone.
You said your name was Ed. Like I might not know that.
I asked you how you lost.
"Don't," you said. "If I have to tell you how we lost, it will hurt all of my feelings."
I liked that, all of my feelings. "Every last one?" I asked.
"Well," you said, and took a sip, "I might have one or two left. I might still have a feeling."
I had a feeling too. Of course you told me anyway, Ed, because you're a boy, how you lost the game. Trevor snored on the lawn. The beer tasted bad to me, and I quietly poured it behind my back into the cold ground, and inside people were singing. Bitter birthday to you, bitter birthday to you, bitter birthday to Al - and Al never gave me a hard time about staying out there with a boy he had no opinion about instead of coming in to watch him blow out the sixteen black candles on that dark, inedible heart - bitter birthday to you.
You told the whole story, your lean arms in your jacket crackling and jerky, and you replayed all your moves. Basketball is still incomprehensible to me, some shouty frantic bouncing thing in uniform, and although I didn't listen I hung on every word. Do you know what I liked, Ed? The word layup, the sexy plan of it. I savored that word, layup layup layup, through your feints and penalties, your free throws and blocked shots and the screwups that made it all go down. The layup, the swooping move of doing it like you planned, while all the guests kept singing in the house, For he's a bitter good fellow, for he's a bitter good fellow, for he's a bitter good fellow, which nobody can deny. The song I'd keep, for the movie, so loud through the window your words were all a sporty blur as you finished your game and threw the bottle into an elegant shatter on the fence, and then you started to ask:
"Could I call you - "
I thought you were going to ask if you could call me Minnie. But you just wanted to know if you could call me. Who were you to do that, who was I saying yes? I would have said yes, Ed, would have let you call me the thing I hated to be called except by the one who loves me best of anyone. Instead I said yes, sure, you could call me about maybe a movie next weekend, and Ed, the thing with your heart's desire is that your heart doesn't even know what it desires until it turns up. Like a tie at a tag sale, some perfect thing in a crate of nothing, you were just there, uninvited, and now suddenly the party was over and you were all I wanted, the best gift. I hadn't even been looking, not for you, and now you were my heart's desire kicking Trevor awake and loping off into the sweet late night.
Excerpted from Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman. Copyright © 2011 by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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