"Why do you like him?" Allison asks like she's aggressively trying to ferret away a soccer ball, and Claire just about shuts down right there.
Rather than facing, or, more frighteningly, accepting the fact that the question makes her head start to rifle through a thousand increasingly detailed explanations for why she likes John Bender—the burner from the wrong side of town, who smells like cigarette smoke and tastes like Tab, who loans her his jacket and walks her home, which she understands the symbolic importance of no matter how many times he tries to cop a feel on her left breast (which he prefers)—she purses her lips and skewers a cherry tomato with her fork and tartly retorts, "I think the more important question is why are you still talking to me?"
"You may as well drop the act; she's not going anywhere," Andrew says from his spot across the table through a mouthful of tater tots. One arm is slung across Allison's shoulder and the other is holding up a bottle of Gatorade and he hasn't stopped smiling for like twenty minutes and Claire is just going to say that it's not like she didn't see that coming. "But seriously, Claire, answer the question."
And okay, Claire has answered enough goddamn questions from these people, if you ask her; she is sick of answering questions, as a matter of fact, especially ones that require this amount of deep and genuine thought before any self-incriminating response manages to beat its way out between the jackhammering hits of her heart—the heart that she is purported not to have by half the population at this school, by the way, but what do those goons know—look, the point is, she is not about to let Allison Reynolds weasel anymore uncharacteristic honesty out of her; it's just not happening. Next thing you know she'll be lying on Brian Johnson's couch and talking about her childhood while he takes notes.
"I just do," she snaps, and it's a lot less evasive than she'd planned or preferred.
Allison smirks. "You just do."
"Yeah," Claire replies, strangely defensive, even though she knows that Allison is about the last person on the planet who'd judge her for sticking her tongue down a bad boy's throat. "He's... a really good kisser. And it's..."
Her eyebrow crinkles as she trails off, considering her words.
"There's no bullshit with him, you know? He sees me for me. I'm me and he's him and that's that." She feels her cheeks starting to heat up and ducks her head, masking the pink with her perfectly coiffed hair, which she'd spent way too long on this morning, and every morning before. She doesn't mention the fact that John's fingertips always graze her like he's tracing her, like she's something to be treated delicately; she doesn't mention that he's stopped telling her to fuck off every time she kisses his cheek. "Not that it's any of your business."
Allison returns to her green Jell-O cup, and Claire doesn't trust the way she's pensively eyeing Andrew's Fruity Pebbles.
"Those are good reasons," she declares after a while, the corners of her mouth twitching up in that angled way that they do. Andrew nods once next to her.
Claire doesn't know why she feels so validated, or why she can't stop her smile. After school, under the bleachers, she lets John push her blouse off of her shoulder and the list just keeps on growing.