On the bus ride home, Mary recalled her encounter with Laci. She seemed okay and pretty nice, actually. Not broken up or anything. But then again, she could have been acting because she was flirting with that other guy.
Despite who did the dumping, that might've been why Carter was so distant.
He was the same way the next day. And the day after that. And every day that week. The only time Mary saw Carter was in Physics, and he sat in the back and didn't make eye contact with anyone.
When the Honor Roll was posted for the quarter, Mary found her name in the usual spot. It would be higher if it weren't for that bloody English class. But at least they were done with the Italian hell book.
She looked at the rest of the list and found Carter's name, which had never appeared on the Honor Roll before. But there he was at the thirteenth rank. Somehow, in less than a month, he had improved his GPA exponentially.
Another few days passed. Finally, Mary couldn't stand it anymore. After Physics, she ran out the door to catch Carter in the hall.
"Carter! Wait a minute!"
He stopped and turned to her.
"Hello, Mary," he said politely.
"Hey. Um, I know it's been a while. But I've wanted to say how sorry I am. About you and Laci."
"Well, I'm not an expert on relationships or anything. But it couldn't have been easy breaking up."
"Oh. I see." He paused for a moment. "Relationships are curious things. Don't you agree?"
"Yeah. Totally. I—hey! You said ‘don’t’ just now!"
He was still walking a little weird, but not mini-lunging any more.
"How long has this been going on?" she asked.
"I've been practicing." He stopped. "Mary?"
"Have you completed your painting? The one of Saturn's rings?"
"Oh yeah," she said, recalling they had talked about it before. "I did."
"May I see it?"
Well, she had said he could. And Mary wasn't one to go back on her word.
"Um, sure. It's in the Art room. But isn't basketball practice going on now? I don't know if you have enough time to see it."
"I'm not on the basketball team anymore.”
She stared at him. "You're not?"
He shook his head. Still a little dramatic, but not as much as before. "My coordination is not as it used to be. My doctor and coach agreed that I should not play for the rest of the season."
Mary felt like ironing her hands.
"Did I say something offensive?" he asked. "Why do you look sad now?"
"Oh." She shook her head, "It's just…I'm…I thought basketball's a big deal to you. And I'm sorry that you can't play anymore because of…well…because of me."
"I do not blame you for anything.”
She shrugged. "I know. But I still feel bad about it."
He stared at her for a moment. Then he said, "I understand. But I hope that soon you will know that there is no need to feel that way."
He was making it hard for Mary to sufficiently punish herself.
"So, what class are you taking in place of basketball?" she asked.
"I'm not in another class. It is too late in the term. So, I will make up for it in the summer."
Crap, she thought. Not only did she take away his car and basketball, but she set him behind schedule, too.
"You're sad again.”
"Sorry. I just…well, that must be nice, though. To have a free class period to do nothing."
"I help at the library," he said. "If there are not tasks for me to complete, I read."
That could explain how his grades were getting better. "You like reading?" she asked.
"I like learning about humanity.” He paused for a moment and then added, "So yes. I like reading."
Mary stared at him. It was like talking to a Martian.
"Your painting?" he asked.
"Oh. Right. It’s this way.”