After the show, Sam went to the bathroom while I waited by the wall outside school. It was cold, so I kept my hands in my pockets. A bunch of people, mostly parents, milled around.
Sam and Maddie exited the building and surveyed the scene at the same time. They both noticed me. Sam headed over, and Maddie waved before walking in the direction of a group of girls in our grade. When I saw that Rodrigo and Angus were with them, I felt as if somebody had turned my power switch off.
Angus and I used to be pretty good friends. His parents were both workaholics and he would come over after school and stay at our apartment until later than any of my other friends. It drove Mom and Dad crazy. The worst part was that Topher would get really amped up around him. Angus always wanted to wrestle with me, and when I didn’t want to play along he’d drag Topher into it. He never got rough with Topher, but it still upset me when Angus pinned him down and made scary warrior faces. You’d think I would have been relieved when Angus suddenly decided he was too cool to hang out with me. The whole thing caught me by surprise, and it was incredibly humiliating.
Maddie and Angus were whispering. She glanced in my direction and he put his hand on her elbow, like he was her protector and I was some creep. I knew exactly what he was thinking: James was in love with Maddie and now he stalks her. It wasn’t true, but it was a neat little package that went down easier than what had really happened between us. The truth was so complicated I didn’t even totally understand it. All I knew was that when things were better between Maddie and me, she told me everything and kept me close. It was like there was a little chair inside her brain and I was the only person who was allowed to sit on it. I got to take shelter in the warmth of her thoughts. And now I’d been shut out. My access was denied.
“We going to this party or what?” Sam asked.
I glanced over at Maddie’s group. I knew we should go, but the idea of watching Angus anywhere near her filled my stomach with sludge. I had to stop myself from imagining the specifics of their conversation when they talked about how they’d both chucked me. He was going to be the one who got to tell her about Topher, not me. Of all the things I could imagine them doing together, that made me feel the sickest.
“I just overheard it was canceled,” I said. “Diana’s parents decided not to go to the country this weekend.”
“You kidding me?” Sam winced, but his face recovered so quickly I wondered how badly he even wanted to go in the first place.
I barely slept that night. The next morning I took the 2 train to Grand Army Plaza. There was no question that Angus had already told Maddie every awful thing about me. Now it was time for my move.
The train was faster than it usually ran on weekends. When I got off, it wasn’t even eight o’clock. The streets were quiet, populated only by people with dogs or farmers’-market bags.
I walked to Lincoln Place and started for Dr. R’s street-level office door. Then I remembered he lived in the building, and I trooped up the stairs.
After I buzzed a second time, a woman in a robe came to the door. She had frizzy hair and her huge glasses didn’t cover up the fact that she was slightly frightened.
“I’m sorry to barge in on you like this,” I said, realizing for the first time I didn’t even know Dr. R’s name. “I just need to see the doctor for a minute.”
“Did you call?” She watched me shake my head. “If you want to make an appointment you have to call. This is his home.”
“It’s OK, Diane.” Dr. R came up from behind. He was wearing a sweater and jeans. “Do you realize how inappropriate this is?” he asked me.
“I’m sorry,” I said, my voice breaking. “I just need a second of your time.”
He frowned and sighed. “Why don’t we sit on the stoop?”
On the subway ride over, I’d reviewed what I wanted to tell Dr. R, all the stuff I bet he didn’t know. That Maddie messed with his head. That she slept perfectly fine at night. That she didn’t take a trip with her grandparents last month and she just blew therapy off to see Kanye West perform at the Adidas store. That she thought Dr. R had a crush on her.
His wife closed the door and we sat down on one of the middle steps. “I know how this looks, especially considering what Maddie is saying about me, but I need to talk to you.”
“And what is it you need to say?”
The list was still in my head, except its contents had shifted. Now the stuff about Maddie wasn’t on top. What rushed to mind were the things I’d been pushing down and pretending weren’t true.
That Mom spent most nights on the couch, and it was pretty obvious my parents were still together only because of Topher. That Dad told me that when Topher gets older, he might have to live in a special home. That I wasn’t a stalker, because if I were, that would mean there was something courageous and memorable about me. Truth was, I was just a guy who gets left behind.
“She was right. I did it.” I pulled out my phone and found the picture Maddie had accused me of secretly taking. I handed it over to Dr. R. He looked down at the screen, then back at me.
“Why are you showing me this?” he asked.
My eyes were wet. “There are more of those,” I said. “I took a lot of them. But I’m not in love with her. And even if I were, that’s not what matters. The issue isn’t Maddie.” My words were coming out garbled. I’d never wanted to talk so badly in my life.
“Why don’t you come inside?” Dr. R handed my phone back to me and placed a hand on my back.
As we walked up the steps, it occurred to me I had no idea what I was going to tell him. I looked down at Maddie staring out at me from my palm. For the very first time, I didn’t want to study her face, or press delete. ♦
Lauren Mechling is a features editor at the Wall Street Journal and a writer. She co-wrote “My Darklyng,” a serialized young adult novel on Slate, in 2010. She is the author of five YA novels, and she is working on a new one.