PUFF PIECE

 

I knew it was over when Shelley refused to swap her watermelon Jell-O for my baby carrots at lunch. We had all agreed right from the beginning that a viable candidate needs to keep up appearances; I had gained a little weight each week and dealt with super gross breakouts so Shelley could stay fresh-faced and slim.

“You’re not going to give up now,” I said. “Over this?”

Shelley leaned across the table. One strand of her dark hair grazed the corner of her sandwich and swung forward mustard-covered. I decided it wasn’t the best time to tell her.

She hissed at me: “I’m breaking up with you.”

That election launched the careers of many promising political players, but for me it was a disaster. Kayla, the campaign manager, had struck a successful blow against our rival, Chet Roberts, when she found out his dad was a garbage collector. Aria, head of public relations, used this knowledge to our advantage on the official SHELLEY TELLER 4 MASON MIDDLE SCHOOL 6TH GRADE CLASS PREZ Twitter feed. “Chet Roberts stinks--for real! #shelley4prez,” she tweeted. That one got 62 retweets.

I was the treasurer only because Shelley’s mom and my mom are best friends, and Shelley’s mom told my mom about the campaign, and my mom told Shelley’s mom I like math. Shelley thought all my ideas were stupid, and they totally were. My bake sale flopped—nobody wanted the calories. I suggested we make and sell friendship bracelets. Shelley and I used to do that a lot at day camp, when she didn’t hate me. But Shelley and the rest of the team laughed and called me a baby.
Fortunately, Aria thought of having a kissing booth at one of the Friday night dances. Shelley was pretty, and the crumpled allowance money rolled in.

I thought my unlucky streak would end the day I suggested we date. As popular as Shelley was, Chet was beating us in the morals department. Some of our posts online were kind of bitchy, and it didn’t help that Shelley called everything she didn’t like “gay” or “retarded.” Chet called her out on it in some of his flyers, and the school newspaper ran something about it.

“It’s not like I hate gay people or whatever,” complained Shelley. It was during one of our daily campaign meetings after school, at the park by Kayla’s house. “It’s just how I talk.”

 “Can’t you change the way you talk?” asked Aria.

Kayla pulled out her tablet. “These polls aren’t looking good.”

I hopped off the swing and opened my mouth, and they all stared at me funny. I hadn’t spoken during one of our meetings since the whole why-don’t-we-donate-some-of-the-money-to-charity debacle. “People wouldn’t think you were a bigot if you dated a girl.”

Shelley smiled in this beautiful, violent way. “And what girl am I supposed to date?”

I dragged my toe through the woodchips. “What about me?”

I should mention here that I’d been in love with Shelley since we were five years old. It was the way she tore the clothes off all my dolls, I think.

The laughter I was waiting for didn’t come.

Kayla spoke first: “Ohmigod. It’s perfect.”

Then Aria, as if I weren’t there: “I can see it. She’s ugly enough not to distract from you or anything. Plus, she gets good grades, so people might think you’re smarter.”

I could feel Shelley’s eyes move over my balloon cheeks, my A-cup chest, my red knock-knees. “Yeah,” she said. “That could work.”

She kissed me for the first time then and there, Aria and Kayla probably giggling in the background, but I was too happy to notice.

We made our first public appearance together the next day in the very bleachers that would be the site of our eventual demise. Shelley held my hand during the whole basketball game, and our lips touched every time Mason scored. Chet insisted we were faking it, but nobody paid attention. Every boy in the school wanted to see Shelley Teller and What’s-Her-Name make out. Most of the girls, too.

he newspaper interviewed me about it, of course. “I don’t mind the things Shelley says. She doesn’t mean it that way. It’s just how she talks,” I said. “We’re in love,” I said.
           
Maybe it went over so well because everyone could tell I meant it.
           
It wasn’t my fault the plan backfired. Someone caught Shelley giving head to Josh Lieberman, an 8th grader, beneath the bleachers a few weeks later. Shelley was always into older guys. I heard that Chet paid Josh to flirt with her, but I don’t know.
           
The next day: no Jell-O.
           
She hissed at me: “I’m breaking up with you.”
           
y career in politics ended that day. Chet Roberts won the election by a landslide. In a surprise move, he asked Shelley to be his VP. 


Becky Robison is a David Bowie devotee, a former 1960's-style gogo dancer, and she's currently pursuing her fiction MFA at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.