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Envy

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They never really formally break up. “You should go with him—with Jonathan. I may be a pretty shitty boyfriend, but turns out I’m actually a pretty damn good babysitter,” Steve tells Nancy, and it’s just understood, after that, that even if Nancy has love for Steve, she doesn’t want to be with him, and that he doesn’t want to make her stay (even though, honestly, he kind of does).

He wonders whether she does—have love for Steve, that is. He supposes she must, because she says she wants to stay friends, or at least implies it when she takes her seat next to him in Spanish (their only class together) the next day at school and says at the end of class, “So I guess I’ll call you tonight?” He nods, and smiles, holding in a breath that carries everything he wishes he could tell her (he loves her, he misses her, did she have sex with Jonathan when they were adventuring around Illinois together because if so that was a pretty shitty thing to do), but—can’t. The words get stuck or something as Nancy flounces up from her desk and out of the room like nothing ever happened, and Steve figures maybe he’ll say them to her over the phone, tonight.

Only Nancy says she’ll call around seven, and seven o’clock comes and goes—eight, nine, nine-thirty—with no phone call. Steve wants to just call her himself and bitch her out a little for it when she answers, but he feels like he can’t—like Nancy is this big bad, now, to whom Steve can’t reveal any weaknesses like wanting to talk, because she stomped all over his heart and will do it again, given half the chance. Finally, at nine fifty-two, he caves and dials her number, but gets a busy tone. Steve doesn’t like to think about whether it’s Mrs. Wheeler or Mike clogging up the line, or whether it’s Nancy talking to Jonathan (because if it is Nancy, then it’s Steve’s luck that of course it would be Jonathan on the other line).

She doesn’t mention it at all the next day—just smiles a bit sheepishly at him as she sits down in Spanish—so Steve takes his cue from her, smiling back and shutting up. He’s not going to crack first. He’s not.

Increasingly, Steve feels like he’s timesharing Nancy with Jonathan, only Jonathan gets to cut into Steve’s share whenever he wants. Steve is aware that that’s a horrible way to look at spending time with his (ex-)girlfriend, that she’s not anybody’s property, but his jealous brain doesn’t seem to care. He quickly learns that Wednesday and Saturday nights are date nights—Nancy’s totally inaccessible on those—and the rest of the week is fair game, which really means that Steve will try to make plans with Nancy, only for her to call them off half the time because she’s tired or needs to study or just plain won’t pick up, for god knows what reason. It almost makes Steve want to go over there and find out for himself whether she’s actually studying, or hanging out with Allie or whoever, or whether she’s with him again.

He won’t, of course, more out of pride than out of any sense of shame. Steve has always gotten himself into trouble with his lack of shame.

Steve’s out to dinner with Nancy one night when she says unexpectedly, “Thanks for being so great about me and Jonathan. It means a lot to me.”

He swallows his dignity and gets the hell out of that restaurant as fast as he can. When Steve stops calling, so does she.