I woke up and changed buses and before long, I was at Ange's school.
She came bounding out of the gates in her uniform — I'd never seen her in it before, it was kind of cute in a weird way, and reminded me of Van in her uniform.
She gave me a long hug and a hard kiss on the cheek.
"Hello you!" she said.
I'd been waiting for this. I'd marked the passage with a finger.
"Listen: 'They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"'"
She took the book and read the passage again for herself.
"Wow, dingledodies! I love it! Is it all like this?"
I told her about the parts I'd read, walking slowly down the sidewalk back toward the bus-stop. Once we turned the corner, she put her arm around my waist and I slung mine around her shoulder.
Walking down the street with a girl — my girlfriend? Sure, why not? — talking about this cool book. It was heaven.
Made me forget my troubles for a little while.
I turned around.
It was Van. In my subconscious I'd expected this.
I knew because my conscious mind wasn't remotely surprised. It wasn't a big school, and they all got out at the same time.
I hadn't spoken to Van in weeks, and those weeks felt like months. We used to talk every day.
"Hey, Van," I said. I suppressed the urge to take my arm off of Ange's shoulders.
Van seemed surprised, but not angry, more ashen, shaken. She looked closely at the two of us.
"Hey, Vanessa," Ange said.
"What are you doing here?"
"I came out to get Ange," I said, trying to keep my tone neutral.
I was suddenly embarrassed to be seen with another girl.
"Oh," Van said.
"Well, it was nice to see you."
"Nice to see you too, Vanessa," Ange said, swinging me around, marching me back toward the bus-stop.
"You know her?" Ange said.
"Yeah, since forever."
"Was she your girlfriend?"
"What? No! No way! We were just friends."
"You were friends?"
I felt like Van was walking right behind us, listening in, though at the pace we were walking, she would have to be jogging to keep up.
I resisted the temptation to look over my shoulder for as long as possible, then I did. There were lots of girls from the school behind us, but no Van.
"She was with me and Jose-Luis and Darryl when we were arrested. We used to ARG together.
The four of us, we were kind of best friends."
"And what happened?"
I dropped my voice. "She didn't like the Xnet," I said.
"She thought we would get into trouble. That I'd get other people into trouble."
"And that's why you stopped being friends?"
"We just drifted apart."
We walked a few steps.
"You weren't, you know, boyfriend/girlfriend friends?"
"No!" I said. My face was hot.
I felt like I sounded like I was lying, even though I was telling the truth.
Ange jerked us to a halt and studied my face.
"No! Seriously! Just friends. Darryl and her — well, not quite, but Darryl was so into her.
There was no way —"
"But if Darryl hadn't been into her, you would have, huh?"
"No, Ange, no. Please, just believe me and let it go.
Vanessa was a good friend and we're not anymore, and that upsets me, but I was never into her that way, all right?
She slumped a little. "OK, OK. I'm sorry.
I don't really get along with her is all. We've never gotten along in all the years we've known each other."
Oh ho, I thought.
This would be how it came to be that Jolu knew her for so long and I never met her; she had some kind of thing with Van and he didn't want to bring her around.
She gave me a long hug and we kissed, and a bunch of girls passed us going woooo and we straightened up and headed for the bus-stop. Ahead of us walked Van, who must have gone past while we were kissing.
I felt like a complete jerk.
Of course, she was at the stop and on the bus and we didn't say a word to each other, and I tried to make conversation with Ange all the way, but it was awkward.
The plan was to stop for a coffee and head to Ange's place to hang out and "study," i.e. take turns on her Xbox looking at the Xnet. Ange's mom got home late on Tuesdays, which was her night for yoga class and dinner with her girls, and Ange's sister was going out with her boyfriend, so we'd have the place to ourselves.
I'd been having pervy thoughts about it ever since we'd made the plan.
We got to her place and went straight to her room and shut the door.
Her room was kind of a disaster, covered with layers of clothes and notebooks and parts of PCs that would dig into your stocking feet like caltrops. Her desk was worse than the floor, piled high with books and comics, so we ended up sitting on her bed, which was OK by me.
The awkwardness from seeing Van had gone away somewhat and we got her Xbox up and running. It was in the center of a nest of wires, some going to a wireless antenna she'd hacked into it and stuck to the window so she could tune in the neighbors' WiFi. Some went to a couple of old laptop screens she'd turned into standalone monitors, balanced on stands and bristling with exposed electronics.
The screens were on both bedside tables, which was an excellent setup for watching movies or IMing from bed — she could turn the monitors sidewise and lie on her side and they'd be right-side-up, no matter which side she lay on.