[..] A few nights later, Ted sat in front of the computer, trying to compose an email to Anna. He’d written and deleted 20 variations on the question “are you sure everything’s okay?” but nothing had come out right. He’d already sent her two emails that went unanswered, and he knew he should just chill. The problem was that he didn’t just want to find out if Rachel’s story was true; he needed to find out — his itch to know felt like bugs crawling under his skin.
Driven by anxiety to unforeseen heights of bravery, Ted found himself picking up the phone. He had Anna’s number at school memorized, even though he’d only ever called her once before — on her birthday, when he’d sung the entire “Happy Birthday” song into her voice mail. She never called him back, but he did get an email eventually (subject line: Thank you SO much!!) that she signed with a bunch of X’s and O’s, which had felt significant at the time.
Anna picked up on the first ring.
“Hello, Anna. It’s Ted calling,” Ted said, as though he were speaking directly into her answering machine.
“Ted!” she said. “What’s up?”
“Uh… I was just thinking about you,” he said. “Are you doing okay?”
“I guess,” she said. “Why?”
Because my girlfriend, whose existence I’m keeping a secret from you, told me a secret you’re keeping from me, because she was jealous of the crush I have on you, which I’m also keeping secret from you, though I was unable to keep it a secret from her?
“Um, I’m not sure exactly. It’s weird, but I just had the… feeling… that something was wrong.”
Using covertly acquired information to feign a mysterious psychic bond was a new realm of deception for Ted, and he didn’t fully understand the potency of what he’d done until Anna started to cry.
“I’m not okay,” she said. “I’m not okay at all.” Between sobs, she began gasping out a tangled story that involved not only Marco but also a guy in a frat who’d treated her badly, a nasty fight with her father’s new wife, an ongoing war with her roommate, and the fact — which she mentioned as almost an afterthought — that she was failing most of her classes and would be on academic probation next year.
“I’m sorry,” Ted said, stunned. “I’m so sorry. That sounds really hard.”
“I can’t believe you called me,” Anna said. “Nobody else from home has called me in forever. It’s like they forgot about me. You think you’re so close to people, but when it comes down to it, they just forget.”
“I didn’t forget about you,” Ted said.
“I know,” Anna said. “I know you didn’t forget. You were always there for me, always, but I never appreciated it, I took you for granted. I was so selfish. I hate who I was in high school, God, I wish I could change everything about myself, but it’s just — it’s too late to do anything. That’s the problem. It’s all so fucked up, and I just don’t know who I am anymore, you know? Like, who is this person who made all these choices that I just have to live with? I look back at that person and I hate her, I hate her so much for what she did to me. That person is like my nemesis, my worst enemy, but the problem is that person is me.” [..]
Like, who is this person who made all these choices that I just have to live with? I look back at that person and I hate her, I hate her so much for what she did to me. That person is like my nemesis, my worst enemy, but the problem is that person is me.”
Kristen Roupenian came to the limelight after her short story “The Cat Person” has been published in The New Yorker. Now her first book You Know You Want This is being published and we can enjoy another story from it. “The Good Guy” is everything “The Cat Person” was – breathtaking, feminist, quirky; it explores the psychological mechanisms of dating, cruelty and the relationship pain, we have all surely been through. Buy Kristen’s book from Simon & Schuster.