“She’s sophisticated,” Jade says with a wink, and who knows, maybe she is. All John knows is that Rose is gorgeous and lots of people like her and sometimes she lets him copy her homework and he hasn’t been friend-zoned yet.
So one winter day before school he stuffs his hands in his hoodie pocket and tilts his head and says, “Hi, Rose!”
She looks up from her book and smiles at him. “Hello, John,” she says, “and how are we today?”
“You know what, I’m good, thanks,” he says. “So hey, I was wondering if you wanted to go somewhere tonight.”
She raises an eyebrow but not in a bad way, he thinks? Maybe more of an oh, really way?
“My,” she says, closing her book. “How forward.”
“Yeah, well, Jade says it’s the best approach and if I have learned nothing else in my high school career, it is to always trust the older sister.”
“A wise decision,” she says, then rubs her thumb over the cover of her book. After a moment she smiles. “As to the bluntest invitation I have ever received, it would be my pleasure to accompany you ‘somewhere tonight’ provided the location is within reason.”
It turns out to be very cool.
He likes her a lot, Rose Lalonde with her impeccable make-up and unreadable books.
From then on they go places and she helps him with his homework on her bedroom floor and they talk about monsters and ghosts and movies and magic and sometimes she gives him these looks that send chills scurrying up his spine in a really good way.
He’s only kind of worried when she first meets Jade. They spend a brief moment sizing each other up before Jade gestures to Rose’s Squiddle purse buckle and asks, “OTP?” Rose smiles and says, “Admiral Algaenon and Cecil the Scarlet Hearted. I find their dynamic to be both complex and heartbreaking.” Jade grins and from then on they get along in a weird, indiscernible Girl Way.
He sees Rose’s twin brother sometimes at school, leaning against her locker, and sometimes at Rose’s house, giving them both an Inscrutable Look before vanishing into his room. Most of what he knows about Rose’s twin brother he knows from Jade, which means the information must be taken with a grain of salt.
“He’s cool,” says Jade, picking the M&M’s out of her trail mix. “Moved here a year ago or so, I think he's been leaving with his dad up til now. He's cute, too, I can’t believe he doesn’t have a girlfriend, jeez.” She pops a green one in her mouth, licking the green residue off her fingertips. “Oh, and he helped with the science fair last year. Donated a couple of pig fetuses to my experiment.”
“Haha, gross,” says John. “Where do you even get those? Is there a black market for dead baby animals or something?”
“That’s what I’d like to know,” says Jade wistfully. “My whole darn kingdom for a few cases of tadpole embryos.”
“I can’t go out tonight, John, I do apologize,” says Rose over the phone. “Our mother is on the emotional warpath. If I so much as set foot down those stairs I’m certain she will shove a glass of brandy into my underage hands and guilt me into watching that old animated version of The Hobbit with her.”
“Aw, man, that sounds awesome. I thought you loved Tolkien!”
“There is a world of difference between constructing my own offshoot of the Elven language from the original text of the Silmarrion and watching Mr. Bilbo Baggins bluster his way through a low budget, poorly animated film.”
“See, this is what I’m always telling people about the Ghostbusters animated series. So you’re sure you can’t go anywhere?”
“What if I was super sneaky and threw pebbles at your window?”
“That’s so trite.”
“So trite it just might work?”
John swears he hears her smile over the phone.
“I’m the second floor window above the ledge on the left side of the house.”
The window slides open and John relaxes, lets the rest of the pebbles slip through his fingers.
"Sup," says a deep voice.
"Haha," says John, "oops."
"What do you want."
"Let me clarify: Hi, Rose’s brother, unless you are Rose who just has a deep voice upon waking. Not that that's a problem if it is and you do."
"Yeah," says Rose’s brother, resting his head on the windowsill. "Yeah, it's me."
"Wow! Uh, okay. Hi. I’m John.” He almost sticks his hand out for a handshake but stops himself.
“I know,” says Rose’s brother to the windowsill.
“And you’re Dave.”
“Holy shit,” says Dave, raising his head and arms to the heavens. “So that’s why people have been calling me that for the past seventeen years. It’s my name. Of fucking course.” He lets his arms fall. “God bless you, kind stranger. You’ve solved the paradox of my existence. You Good Samaritan. You helpful genius of a dude.”
“Sarcasm must run in the family.”
“You know what else runs in the family? Our circadian cycle is set to sleeping at nighttime.”
“Rose and I,” says John, with injured self-righteousness, “have plans.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet you do.”
“Just so you know,” says John, resting his hand over his heart, “I am really and truly sorry for waking you up. I’m sure you need your beauty sleep.”
Dave rubs a hand over his face.
“Look, you got the wrong window.”
"Hey," John says, "it's dark."
He picks Rose up and they go driving with the windows rolled down, the nighttime air cool and sharp.
“Oh man,” he says, “your brother freaked out.”
“I hope he gave you a hard time.”
“Rose, you gave me the wrong window on purpose? That’s so fucking mean. I hope you and your off-the-charts prankster’s gambit are happy.”
She laughs a little and turns her face to the breeze.
“I just can’t believe you’ve never seen Willow.”
She closes her locker and turns to him with a stern look, book in hand.
“That is a sore understatement. Not only have I ‘never seen Willow,’ I make an active effort to avoid it in all contexts, including conversation. How would you feel if I attempted to strike up a lively discussion about the Ghostbusters cartoon with you?”
“I would feel bad,” he says, handing her her bookbag. “And actually also kind of dirty, because seriously, the Ghostbusters cartoon.”
“Precisely. Now you know my feelings on Willow.”
“Rose,” says Dave, sidling up to her. John jumps a little. “Need your Chem notes.”
“You know perfectly well you do not need my Chem notes. More than likely you will trade my Chem notes for some pickled abomination that you will bring home in a jar.”
“I’m really god damn offended,” says Dave, “because for the record, that only happened once. I’m trading them for the use of the Photography class’ darkroom.”
“A noble cause,” says Rose, digging into her bookbag and pulling out a notebook. “I’ll lend you this on the condition that you show me some of your pictures when they’re developed.”
“You drive a hard bargain,” he says, taking the notebook. “See you around, kiddos.”
John doesn’t know why he does it again.
Maybe as a joke, maybe as an attempt to get past the “comes with the territory” territory and push his way into a sort-of friendship. And the best way to do that, as everyone knows, is to throw rocks at people’s windows and deprive them of their sleep.
"Rapunzel, Rapunzel," John says, "let down your hair."
"I'm looking for something to throw at you," Dave says. "Hard part is finding a blunt enough object without it being too expensive to replace. You ain't worth my crystallized scorpion."
"Haha, yeah. Today Rose said I was incorrigible," John says.
"Did you look it up, dipshit?"
Dave leans his head against the side of the window.
"I don't know what she sees in you," he says.
"It must be my nerdy charm," says John, rocking back and forth on his heels. "Either that, or my gigantic--"
"I'm gonna have to stop you right there, son. Gonna have to call in a conversational SWAT team to tranq your sorry ass. Hell, I’m prepared to turn the key in this conversational nuke silo to annihilate that sentence right in its fucking tracks."
"I was going to say 'sense of social responsibility,'" says John, "and did you know that Rose has a birthmark in the shape of bread? Guess where."
"No," says Dave, and slams the window shut.
"I'm burning your toast," Jade yells up the stairs. "Hurry up, lardbutt!" She flicks on the radio.
"Oh god, my toast," says John, stumbling down the stairs. "Is there any jelly left?"
"No," says Jade, eating it out of a jar with a spoon. “You look sleepy, sleepy-head. Were you up late with Rose?”
He rolls his eyes.
“It is so my beeswax. Face it, if it weren’t for me, you’d still be making goopy eyes at her from across the Pre-Cal classroom.”
He sits down across from her and swipes a Pop-Tart from her plate.
“So,” says Jade, sticking the spoon back in the jelly jar, “it’s your guys’ six-month.”
“Yeah, we’re going to a movie.”
“We need to stop by Fry’s. You need to make a goofy scene at school today so she has to walk around with balloons and stuff!”
“Is that romantic?”
He steps into Rose’s sixth period and Jade is leaning on her desk, talking in earnest about space-time physics. Rose is smiling and nodding at the appropriate times but not in an irritated way, because Rose doesn't put up with people who irritate her. It's more of the smiling and nodding common to high schoolers when the person they like is talking about something they have no interest in.
John knows. He's been there before.
“So think of gravity as a big net,” says Jade, illustrating this with her arms, “and it’s all stretched out pretty taut, right? Now if you put a volleyball on it, it’s gonna dip, right, it’s gonna go down, and all the things around it are gonna roll on down with it.” She looks at John and grins. “Hi, John!”
“Hi. You ready to go, Rose?”
“Yes, in a moment. I have to fetch my test.”
She gets up and heads to the teacher’s desk.
“She is a smart lady, that Miss Lalonde,” says Jade, fiddling with her bookbag strap.
“Yeah,” says John.
Rose kisses him on her doorstep, under the flickering porch light.
She smiles as she pulls away but there's something not quite right this time and they both know it and John can't figure out if it's him because his heart is pounding so hard in his ears he can't think.
"I had a lovely time tonight," she says.
"Yeah," he says.
They look at each other for a while.
"I'll see you tomorrow, then," she says, and opens the door. "Good night, John."
"Good night," he says to the closed door.
He throws rocks at Dave's window until it slides open.
"You're early," says Dave.
"I don't think Rose likes me," John says. "Well, I mean, of course she likes me, we're like best friends, but today I saw her with a-- another person and she was just acting differently around them, I guess, not happier but just different, and it was a good different, a different her than the her I get. Does that make sense?"
"Don't play the pronoun game," Dave says. "Was this person a chick?"
"Yes, okay, it was a girl."
Dave taps the windowsill.
"So maybe she digs this chick," says Dave. "Doesn't mean she doesn't like you too."
"That is actually not at all reassuring."
Dave is quiet for a second. Then he hoists himself up out of the window and drops to the ground.
"Wow," says John. "Parkour. That makes me feel better."
"As it should," says Dave. "Let's take a stroll."
They end up at a park. John sits on an old swingset. Dave sits at the top of a slide.
"I'm gonna come up there and push you down," says John. "Isn't there a curfew around here?"
"Oh yeah," says Dave. "Cops come, we gotta make a break for it into the woods, start living Hatchet style, some serious Wilderness Family shit, wrestling bears under waterfalls and taming birds of prey. I don't know where I'm gonna toss this joint I'm rolling, though."
John swings for a while.
"Jade wants to know why you don't have a girlfriend," he says. "She says you're cute and cool enough."
"Really," says Dave. "Maybe I should ask her, then."
John is not prepared for the hot surge of irritation this brings. He marks it down as brotherly concern.
"No way," he says.
"Jade's my sister, that'd be weird."
"I'm gonna give you a sec to reflect on the hypocrisy of that statement." John makes a frustrated noise and swings higher.
For the second time that night, John stands with a Strider-Lalonde outside their door.
"Thanks for listening to my bitching," says John. Dave just shrugs.
The porch light flickers.
John wonders why neither of them are moving.
"Can I, uh," he starts, but he doesn't really know what he's going to ask, so instead he stuffs his hands in his hoodie pocket and grins. "Nevermind. G'night."
"Night," he says, and he turns for the door. John grabs his arm and pulls him back and then it's a collision course, a meteor heading for earth; it's a gravity issue, kissing his girlfriend's brother under an old porch light, where the only witnesses are billions of stars. It's startlingly warm, this slide of lips and scratch of stubble.
Dave is very real.
They pull apart at the same time, as if reminded of a dozen things all at once.
"Shit," John says.
"Jesus," Dave agrees, and ducks inside and slams the door.
It's Saturday and he and Rose are curled up on her couch, watching Prisoner of Azkaban.
"My mother is out of town," she says. "That was meant to be an obvious statement. I only said it as a tantalizing lead into another, infinitely more intriguing conversation."
"Wow, can't wait to hear it."
"I propose we drink to celebrate our upcoming graduation from the junior class."
"What, like, alcohol?"
"Yes, John. Like alcohol."
"Rose, that is so against the law." He flips out his cell phone and mashes random buttons. "Here I go, dialing 911!"
"Yes, surely underage drinking merits the emergency hotline. Good to know you've got your head about you in a traumatic situation."
Dave walks down the stairs and pauses halfway. Rose looks up.
"Ah, Dave. We're about to enjoy a small toast to the end of our junior year. Care to join us?"
"You know I live to raid Mom's liquor cabinet."
"Excellent. Be a dear and fetch the shot glasses, won't you?"
John isn't sure who called Jade but he thinks it was Rose. Someone put on Season 3 of Buffy a few hours ago and now Jade and Dave are sitting on the floor, taking shots of vodka every time a monster comes onscreen.
Rose sits in the armchair next to the couch and reads while sipping a glass of wine.
"I like my women like I like my scotch," says Jade, pouring Dave a few more fingers of vodka.
"Twelve years old and mixed with coke?" says Dave.
They high five.
"Faith is really pretty," says John, watching the TV screen. He's not sure what he's drinking. Jade handed it to him a few minutes ago, claiming it was "alchemized with love." He thinks it might be pre-made margarita mix.
"Pretty? My god, she is an absolute babe," says Rose, quirking her lips as she takes a drink. "What is the saying again, Dave?"
"I think the phrase you're looking for is 'I'd hit that.'"
"Yes, thank you. I for one would most certainly hit that."
A vampire comes onscreen. Jade lets out a whoop as she and Dave knock back their shots.
“That really burns,” says Jade, standing up with an arm out to steady herself, swaying, and then she's collapsing into Rose's armchair, laughing.
John watches helplessly as she presses a careful kiss just under Rose's ear.
Rose is slumped sideways in her chair, Jade curled up on her lap, head on the armrest. Rose's book is lying on the floor, still open.
"I'm disappointed in Rose," says Dave, staring at the label on the tequila bottle. "Can't hold her liquor for shit."
"Understandably, yeah, I mean, c'mon, I'm fucking tired."
"Pass the elixir, good sir."
He pushes the tequila bottle towards John, who takes a long drink.
"Fwoof," he says, scrunching up his nose. It burns going down.
John passes the bottle back to Dave and their fingertips touch. Dave jerks his hand back.
"Wow, dick move," says Dave. "You're dating my sister, keep your bony hands to yourself."
"I can't," says John.
"This is so fucking stupid," says Dave.
In the morning there's a tense conversation in the kitchen. Jade is curled up on the floor in front of the television.
John was going to intervene but then he heard his name and goddammit, he's only human, so he eavesdrops just outside the kitchen.
"Don't you dare attempt to play the victim here, it makes me nauseous, it's certainly not a good look for you, the victimized look--"
"I don't even know what you've got your panties in a fuckin' Boy Scout's doubleknot over, it's not like--"
"Do you think me an idiot, Dave?"
"Because let me assure you, I can read you like a picture book. You are transparent and you look guilty, you flinch everytime I say John's name--"
"Right, like you're not eyefucking Jade at every opportunity and then going on your cute little study dates with him--"
"Eyefucking being the very operative term, you presumptuous asshole."
"God, why are you always such a bitch, it drives me up the fucking--"
"I don't know," says Rose, "it must be a genetic trait."
They're quiet for a moment after that.
John peeks into the kitchen.
They're quiet after that because they're kissing, because Rose has got Dave pushed up against the kitchen counter and they are kissing.
John wants to say something, anything, maybe what or what the fuck or can you guys please stop kissing people; you are making me confused.
There's an undeniably sexy quality about it, though, the way her hand is cupping the back of his head, the way she's kissing him with a strange roughness she's never showed John. How their hips are cocked at mirroring angles. How her fingers are firm on his shoulder and how his fingers brush at the hem of her shirt.
"Uh," he says, clearing his throat. "Guys?"
Dave jumps like he's been stung. Rose merely looks at John with a raised eyebrow.
"Good morning," she says. "Would you care for a cup of orange juice?"
It gets stranger. Jade rolls with it like Jade has always rolled with things, loudly and enthusiastically and occasionally smashing dinner plates when Dave and Rose get too snippy. The summer nights find them in a big pile on the couch, roaring at Mario Kart and therefore the unfairness of life.
Rose sometimes smiles in a detached, satisfied way that makes John kind of suspicious, makes him think back to when she pointed him to the wrong window. But then Jade will kiss his cheek rather sloppily, like a dog, and Rose will link hands with him under the blanket, and Dave will give him a Cool Bro Nod and beat him at Mario Kart and it'll be fine.
One night it is stupidly hot so John gets up to open the window and as he's walking over he hears a thunk.
It's a pebble.
He slides his window open and looks down and it's Dave, hands in pockets.
"Hi," John says. There's a moment of silence.
"D'you," says Dave. "D'you wanna go do something?"
"Yeah," says John. "That'd be cool."