Maura practically skipped along the sidewalk on the way to the concert, smiling all the way as she chattered happily to Judith, Jeremy, and Vince. In her excitement she was oblivious to the existing tension between Jeremy and Vince. The two boys were silent as the group walked together. Jeremy’s dirty looks toward Vince didn’t go unnoticed by the senior and were returned just as bitterly. The chilliness between them seemed to thaw when the group arrived at the park where concert was to be held.
A crowd had already gathered, the lights and the sound system were being tested before the show, and the sense of excitement in the air was contagious. The rivalry between the two boys was soon set aside and they were starting to get excited for the show.
“I’m going to stop by the restrooms before the show starts,” Jeremy announced once they had found a place to stand and watch the show.
Seeing an opportunity, Maura jumped on it. “Oh, I’ll go with you!” she quickly volunteered. When Jeremy gave her a funny look she hurried to clarify. "I mean I'll walk over there with you. I need to go that way myself."
Judith shook her head and rolled her eyes. Maura never changed. When she turned her head back to the stage she realized that she and Vince were left alone together. Their eyes met in the moment of awkward silence that was left in Maura’s absence and they both realized neither of them really had anything to say to the other. Maura had always been the one to keep the conversation going.
Vince broke first. “So, um, it's too bad things didn’t work out with that David guy. I know you and Maura came up with this plan to get you two together. Sorry it didn’t work out.”
“I’m not sorry,” Judith scoffed. When she recalled David's cocky behavior towards her in art class when he thought she liked him, the thought of being alone with him now, instead of Vince, made her skin crawl. “In fact, I’m glad it didn’t go according to Maura’s original plan. He was kind of a jerk.”
Vince laughed. “I wasn’t going to say so, but I thought he was too. At least you found out he wasn’t what he seemed sooner rather than later.”
“Yeah. I guess so.”
When they lapsed into silence again, Vince added, “Sucks though to find out someone you liked wasn’t so great after all. But I’m sure you’ll find someone better.”
“I really don’t care if I do or not.” Judith crossed her arms defiantly in front of her chest and huffed out a sound of annoyance. After a moment of thought she decided to make confession. “To tell the truth, I never really even liked him in the first place.”
“Yeah, sure,” Vince scoffed.
Judith turned to look him in the eye. “No, really. I didn’t. I just made the whole thing up.”
Vince raised an eyebrow at her, confused, but intrigued. “Really? Why?”
Judith sighed. This was so embarrassing to admit. “It’s stupid. I already know it's stupid, so just don’t say anything, okay? And don't laugh," she warned him and then took a deep breath before continuing.
As they walked across the lawn alone together, Maura knew this was the perfect chance to speak up and say something to Jeremy, but she had no idea how to do so. Every time she thought of something to say, she stopped herself before she could speak. Nothing she came up with seemed right. Being at a loss for words was not a common occurrence for her.
“I’m glad you came with us tonight, Jeremy,” she finally said. “I think we’re going to have a lot of fun.”
“Yeah, I hope so.”
“You hope so?” Maura asked quizzically. "Why wouldn't we?"
“Oh.” Jeremy sounded startled. He’d spoke without giving his words much thought and now he nearly blushed with embarrassment. “I just mean, I’m sure we will have fun.”
“Right,” Maura said slowly. She wasn’t quite convinced that’s what he had meant, but she didn’t want to waste time dwelling on it. “Have you heard much about the band that’s playing tonight?”
“No.” Jeremy shook his head.
“Me neither. I hope they’re good.”
“I thought you liked them. You were the one who seemed so excited for this concert in the first place.”
“Oh, but the concert was just an excuse-“ Maura blurted the words out before she realized what she was saying.
“Oh yeah, for Judith to hang out with the guy from her class. What happened with that anyway?” he asked as he looked back and where Judith and Vince were talking. He wanted to ask how Vince ended up being the fourth member of their group, but he didn’t want to sound rude towards Maura’s brother.
Maura shrugged. “She decided that she didn’t like him after all.”
“So Vince took his place?”
“Kind of,” Maura rushed to think of a plausible explanation without being too forward about her true intentions. The last thing she wanted to do was scare him off. “I invited him because I thought you might be bored with just us girls and maybe you would have had a better time with another guy to talk to.”
“You could have just called the whole thing off,” Jeremy suggested.
“But I was so looking forward to it,” Maura protested. “I mean we were, me and Judith. I didn’t want to cancel.”
“You didn’t have to bring Vince along instead on my account,” he muttered.
“Really?” Maura asked. Her eyes gleamed with hope as she leaned closer to Jeremy. “You mean you wouldn’t mind just being with us girls.”
“No, not really,” he replied quite frankly.
Maura’s heart was pounding loudly in her chest and she was beaming from ear to ear. “I’m glad.”
There was a moment of silence before they spoke again as Maura tried to strategize her next move and Jeremy tried to say his next words as casually as possible.
“I’m surprised you didn’t just invite Natalie along instead.”
“We did, but she decided not to come at the last minute.”
“I saw her and Vince talking just before she left the carnival. Was it something he said to her?”
“No, it was something Mrs. Kitteridge said, I think,” Maura said with a dismissive toss of her head. "Why? What did you think Vince might have said to her?"
"I don't know. Nothing probably," Jeremy said. They had arrived at the restrooms, so Jeremy excused himself. "I'll be back in a minute."
Maura frowned to herself and sighed as Jeremy went into the men's room. This wasn't going at all as she had hoped. She knew there had to be something she could do that would get him to notice her and see her in a new light, but she was coming up blank.
"How's it going?"
Maura turned to see Meghan standing behind her. "Not so great."
"Same here," Meghan replied with an annoyed huff.
"Why? What's going on with you?" Maura asked.
Meghan nodded to where Julian and his friends were hanging out and talking while they waited for the concert to start.
"Oh," Maura said sympathetically. "Are they leaving you out again?"
"No, just the opposite. They invited me along and they're all being like super polite, but in this really cold, fake way. It would almost be better if they were pushing me out, then at least they would be obvious about it and I could say something without being the one who looks bad."
"You can come hang out with us, if you want," Maura offered eagerly.
Meghan shook her head. "No, I'll stick it out. They want me to go, but I'm not going to let them win." She took one more angry glance back at her group, before she let her expression relax and she turned the conversation back to Maura. "So you're not having a good time either?"
"It's not that I'm not having a good time," Maura clarified. "It's just not going as well as I would have hoped. I thought I had this night all planned out in my mind, but now I realize I don't know what to do or what to say at all. It's just awkward. I shouldn't have tried to do this stupid plan in the first place."
"You're seriously giving up that easily after all the trouble you've gone through?"
"What else can I do? He's not getting the hint."
"Then just be direct. If he hasn't taken the hint by now or made a move, he's probably not going to ever." Her eyes were wandering back towards her group and she didn't like how close Melanie was getting to Julian. "Well, I'd better go make my presence known. Good luck."
As much as she hated to admit it, what Meghan said was probably true. She took a deep breath, steeled her courage and went in search of Jeremy. She told herself to be direct and just lay it all out there. She started rehearsing in her mind what to say, hoping she could find the right words.
When she found Jeremy, he was talking to someone else.
"Oh, hey, sorry I left you waiting. I just ran into Roger and we started talking." He introduced Maura to his friend. "He was telling me about his new car."
Maura stood by waiting for them to finish talking about cars. She wasn't particularly interested in the topic and her mind was on the speech she wanted to give when she and Jeremy caught a moment alone again.
"Hey, if you want to go back to Judith and Vince, I'll catch up in a minute. I know we're probably boring you," Jeremy said after a few minutes.
Maura snapped to attention. "No, that's okay. I don't mind."
"Are you sure?" he asked. When she insisted she was, the boys returned to their conversation. When his friend offered him a ride in his new car, Jeremy jumped at the chance.
"I'll be back in a few minutes," Jeremy told Maura.
"I might miss the first few minutes, but I'll be back," he promised.
"But-" Maura sputtered, trying to think of the right thing to say. "I could go with you . . ."
"You could, if you wanted, but you might miss the beginning of the show."
Maura shrugged. "I don't mind."
"We'll just be talking about cars the whole time. Besides, Judith will be mad if you leave her behind and Vince will be worried . . . I won't be long, I promise."
"Okay," Maura gave in. She sighed in defeat and went back to join Judith and Vince.
When she approached her brother and best friend, she was surprised to find them chatting and laughing together.
"What's so funny?" she asked, hoping whatever they were laughing about would lighten her mood as well.
"Oh, we're just swapping stories. Seeing which one of us has made a bigger fool out of themselves in the past," Vince replied. When he noticed Maura was alone he added, "Where's Jeremy?"
'Speaking of making a fool of yourself,' Maura thought to herself before answering aloud. "He went off with a friend. He'll be back."
She turned and looked over her shoulder to see Jeremy and Roger walking over to his car. She hoped he would be back anyway.