This is a short story, organized as a series of vignettes. The first vignette is a retelling of a dream I had. After thinking about the implications in the shower that morning, I decided to write out the whole thing.
“Hey, Julia, check this out,” I say, angling my phone towards her. She doesn’t notice, which I guess I expected. Her music is playing loudly through the car’s ancient stereo, and she’s singing along with true fervor. I’d probably be annoyed if I weren’t secretly excited that she had started to lower her inhibitions around me.
I grab her phone from the center console, adjust the music volume, and try again. “Julia, look at this.”
She’s driving, but she steals a glance at my phone when we hit an even stretch of road. It’s a photo of us, taken from afar probably twenty minutes ago, sitting on a bench together at the shopping mall. “I just got sent this photo in a group chat,” I explain. “I guess someone from school saw us.”
It’s a pretty cute picture. We’re not exactly cuddling, but the way we’re sitting is... more intimate than I’m used to. I’m pretty sure Julia and I are still “just friends,” but hanging out with her today made it pretty clear that we’re both starting to wonder if maybe it doesn’t have to stay that way.
She must agree about the picture; I notice her cheeks redden a little as her head swivels back to face the road. “That pic is in a group chat? The markets are going to go crazy,” she says.
“What do you mean?”
“What do you mean?”
“The markets will go crazy? What markets?”
“The prediction markets, duh.”
“I’m still lost,” I say. “The prediction markets?”
“Have you been living under a rock?” Now she’s the one reaching for her phone, this time to turn off the music entirely. “The OTM app. Everyone at school has been using it for weeks.”
“I’ll have you know, I rather enjoy living under my rock. It’s comfy. We’ve got Wi-Fi.
“...but no, I haven’t heard of the app.”
“It keeps track of the relationship status of everyone at Ridgetown High,” she says. “You can place bets on how long people’s relationships are going to last. You can also bet on how long single people will stay single.”
“The hell? Everyone’s on there? Even me?”
“Yep. They use the roster from the yearbook. Each wager works monthly, and you can bet on either side of the transaction. So, like, remember Ben from the school newspaper? Last I checked, Ben’s odds of being in a relationship by the end of November are 1 to 4. So you can pick November in the app and bet a dollar that he’ll end up dating someone by then, and if you’re right, you’ll earn four bucks for your bet. You can also bet a dollar that he won’t end up dating someone by then, and you’ll get twenty-five cents if you get it right. Minus some trading fees, of course.”
“That’s kinda fucked up.”
“Of course it is, and everyone knows it. But it’s also really fun. Whenever something big happens, like some popular couple gets into a big fight at a party, you get to watch their odds change live as people place more and more bets against the relationship lasting. That’s why I said the markets would go crazy. I bet that photo of us is going to get a lot of people speculating.”
So Julia agrees that she and I might start dating soon? ...I’ll have to parse that, later. But for now, I have more questions.
“How does the app know who’s single and who’s in a relationship? Do they look at your Facebook profile or something?”
“Nah, that’d be too easy to manipulate, and most people don’t bother to update it on Facebook anyway. No, they use spies.”
“Secret ones. I think they’re called ‘Oracles’. They’re like this underground network of gossippers who get paid to report on who’s dating who. Nobody knows who they are, but I think there are Oracles involved in pretty much every social circle in the school. They update the app right away whenever things change, and they’re eerily accurate; I’ve never seen them get it wrong.”
“And kids are betting real money on this?”
“Hell yeah. Some of these bets can get into the hundreds of dollars. I hear some people even started working part-time jobs just to make extra gambling money. It’s dangerously addictive.”
“What’d you say the app was called, again?” I have to at least give it a try...
“On The Market.”
I’m lying back in my bed, listening to Selena Gomez — my guilty pleasure — when my phone buzzes by my side. It’s a notification about a flurry of trading activity on me.
The developers (whoever they are) added that recently. You can set up OTM to notify you if the odds change really quickly on someone you’re tracking. Of course, the first thing everyone did was set up alerts on themselves.
I’m not sure it’s good for your mental health, finding out that everyone just started betting against your relationship lasting because someone saw your girlfriend talking to some tall dude at a party, or finding out that your new haircut looks like a dumpster fire because now no one thinks you’ll ever find love. But it’s definitely a good way to keep up with the gossip. When the numbers shoot up or down, there’s something going on that you probably want to know about. And I’m not normally one for gossip, but I’m single. When my own numbers change, I’ve got to find out why, and fast.
When I check the alert, it’s actually a spike up. A big one. My odds weren’t terrible before, but they just skyrocketed, out of nowhere. People are betting five bucks to one that I’ll have a girlfriend by the end of the month. I’ll admit I’m pleasantly surprised, but I’m totally lost. Why does everyone think I’m popular out of nowhere?
I do some more digging. I’m not the only one whose odds took a dramatic turn today. Just from scrolling through some recent updates, I can see that Jeffrey, Wei, and Billy are also getting big bumps, all starting just a few minutes ago. There are others, too, but those are the names I recognize. I’ve been chatting with them at football tryouts this past week.
Football tryouts! I start Facebook-stalking the other people whose odds just shot up. I don’t recognize all of them, but a lot of their faces definitely ring a bell. I still don’t totally get what happened, but at least there’s a common thread: I’m pretty sure all of these dudes were at tryouts.
It doesn’t take me long to find the tweet circulating quickly around the school. Someone from the school newspaper got a hold of an early copy of the list, and it’s getting retweeted like crazy. Everyone just found out who made the cut to be on the football team this coming fall.
So that’s how I found out I made varsity.
“—Are you fucking serious, Niklas? This is the fourth time you’ve forgotten!”
He responds to my accusation in an even louder voice. “As though you’re fucking perfect, David, you little shit! I work my ass off for this relationship and I’ve literally never even heard you say ‘thank you’. Sometimes I wonder why I bother.”
“I don’t even want to look at you right now. You’d better find another lab partner by seventh period,” I yell.
“I fucking will! You’d better find a ride home with someone else.”
“Hah! I don’t need you to drive me around. You probably would’ve forgotten to do that, too, asshole.” I slam my locker closed. Niklas slams his. We storm off in opposite directions (though my next class is actually in the same direction he’s walking, so I’ll have to do an awkward loop back around).
As the heat drains from my face, my phone buzzes. It’s a message from Niklas already; I respond while I walk to class.
The next thing to check, of course, is OTM. Our numbers are already down — the product of a few weeks of well-coordinated passive-aggressive vaguebooking — and people are betting 3 to 1 against our relationship lasting to the end of the month. I watch as the odds tick lower and lower. By the end of the day, everyone at school will have heard about our little feud in the hallway, the culmination of our effort. We’re hoping to make our move once we hit 5 to 1.
The next morning, Niklas and I check our odds again, and it’s even better than we expected: 7 to 1 against. Together — as with everything else — we buy up as many shares as we can in favor of our relationship lasting.
We have no doubt that we’ll be just fine, especially now that we can stop pretending to hate each other at school.
I just don’t get it. It’s pretty sudden, like every girl in the school suddenly started colluding to act like I’m hideous. I check in the mirror — still got that charming smile — and ponder over the situation for maybe twenty minutes before my phone vibrates again.
I pull up OTM. My odds… what? I refresh. No, I didn’t read it wrong. People are putting up twenty-three dollars to one against me getting into a relationship by June.
This doesn’t make any sense. Why did the market turn against me? Like two weeks ago, I was at a buck-fifty to one. So, still more people betting against, but at least I wasn’t a long shot. The fuck happened? These have got to be some of the worst odds in the school, like even the total dorks have some meme bets placed on them in case they luck into a relationship.
I rack my brain. Was it the bad joke I told in chemistry? Maybe someone’s been talking shit about me on Snapchat or something. I guess it could be from when someone figured out that I was in the math club in middle school, but math club was cool back then, I swear, and anyway that secret came out like a month ago, so I don’t know why it would only have fucked up my odds now.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter what happened. Since the odds reflect whatever people are willing to bet against me getting a girlfriend, it’s pretty much a single number that says exactly how dateable I am. No one needs to know why. And it’s a self-fulfulling prophecy; if I were interested in a girl and noticed her odds were this bad, I sure as fuck wouldn’t date her. I’d just assume everyone else knows something I don’t. She’s got a dark secret, or something. Maybe she smells.
Monday comes. I’m not trying my luck anymore. I think word has spread about my odds — girls won’t even look at me now. People are pointing at me in the hallways. Overnight, I’ve become a laughing stock. All because of this stupid app.
Clay still sits with me at lunch, at least. I think he thinks the whole thing is funny. Honestly, I’d be laughing at him too if his odds took a nosedive out of nowhere. But I can’t get it off my mind. He indulges me as I brainstorm.
“I just need to convince people the market is wrong. I need people to think I’m dateable even if the market thinks otherwise.”
“Maybe if you start spamming dick pics everywhere, people will see how desirable you are, and the market will recover. It’ll be… a stimulus package!”
“I’m gonna pummel you.”
Clay takes a few obnoxious seconds to bask in the cleverness of his own joke. While his head is thrown back, I notice a notification come in on his phone, face-up on the cafeteria table between us. It’s from OTM. One of his buy orders just went through. I actually hadn’t realized he was in the betting game himself.
I’m about to look away from the phone (to smack him, since he’s still laughing) when something in the notification catches my eye. It’s… my name. “Your market order against Samuel Hickens has been executed.”
“Clay, what was that notification you just got?”
“Hm?” Clay looks at his phone. “Oh, shit, uh…”
“Are you betting against me?”
“What? No, of course not,” he protests, though the the corners of his mouth are curving upward.
“Clay, are you fucking betting against me?” Some heads turn from nearby lunch tables.
“Whoa, dude, calm down, it’s just a prank, I—”
“A PRANK?!” I can feel my face redden.
“—wanted to see how low I could get your odds—”
“You manipulated my market odds as a prank??” Veins begin to pop out of my forehead.
“I mean, it wasn’t that hard, there’s not a lot of trading volume on you, so really it only cost me a couple hundred bucks to get it that low…”
“You spent. A couple hundred dollars. To fuck up my odds. So that I cannot get a girlfriend?” Half the lunchroom is looking at us now. The cafeteria workers, trying to see what the commotion is about, have suspended their scooping.
“Well, uh… yeah, pretty much.” Clay looks disappointed. “This isn’t going how I imagined it in my mind.”
“Oh, really, now?” I’m pretty sure my face is done turning red. My face is as red as it will get. I think my face is probably approaching the limit of how red human faces can get.
“Some day we’ll look back at this and laugh. I think.”
“One of us will. The other will be dead.”
Being an Oracle is kind of fun. Never mind that we get a cut of the trading fees on any update we report; it’s just cool to be the first one to know about the drama in the school. And it’s not just who’s in a relationship and who’s not. We have to know about all the drama, since every interaction can shift the odds and put us on high alert. Every backstab, every promposal, every weekend party needs to be observed. That’s how we stay ahead of the curve. We know who’s headed toward a breakup even before the people in the failing relationship figure it out. We can tell when two people have a crush on each other, and that’s how we know to divert more resources to monitoring the situation. We’ve got to be fast, or the market will find out about updates before we do.
We’ve never gotten one wrong, not since the early days when the app was just getting started and hadn’t yet recruited a network of Oracles. And, though there’s no reliable way to measure the true delay between a market event and an Oracle registering it in the system, the occasional iMessage timestamp or Snapchat story proved after-the-fact that we almost always got it within the hour. Never underestimate the efficiency of a high school rumor mill interspersed with competent, dedicated spies.
We’re mostly left up to our own devices when it comes to figuring out how to get information. Since each of us is assigned to different market events (to make sure we don’t have too many Oracles monitoring just the high-profile relationships and singles), there are normally only three or four of us watching out for each market event at most. Some people go further than others to collect intel; I’ve heard at least one urban legend of an Oracle hiding in a bush to watch people making out. I’m not sure if that one’s true. But we’re definitely committed to this. I have a suspicion that a lot of us will end up in journalism once we graduate high school. Maybe TMZ.
We use a secret Slack to communicate updates about school drama: channels for #sports, #prom, #fights, #parties, #band-and-drama-kids (yeah, they need their own channel), and dozens more. We use pseudonyms — not even Oracles know each other’s identities — and we come from all walks of life within the high school. Inside the Oracle Slack, the discrete strata of the high school hierarchy are broken down. Inside the Oracle Slack, we all work together toward one goal: find out the truth, as fast as possible.
To that end, the developers of the app have set up alerts. If one of your assigned subjects updates their relationship status on Facebook, or one of their tweets goes viral, or automatic face detection on their Snapchat story notices someone new, you’ll find out right away on Slack. We still have to verify and research everything manually before pulling the trigger, since even a self-reported breakup might be a hacked account or an attempt at cheating the system.
But when I get the late-evening alert that Jesse and Skylar had broken up, I’m not surprised. We all knew it was heading in that direction, especially since that fight a few weeks ago when Skylar accused Jesse of cheating with Emily, a new transfer student (though, as an Oracle, I can tell you with certainty: she was innocent). I’ve been expecting to have to push that button for a while now, and their relationship status changing on Facebook was just the nail in the coffin.
I head over to the Oracle portal and scroll down to their relationship. It’s a quick two clicks, and I close the tab. Everyone who bet on when that relationship would end is about to get a notification on their phones. Honestly, it kind of feels like a public service. Brody has had a crush on Jesse for a while now, and I’ve just broadcast to the world that Jesse is single. It used to take painstaking weeks of flirting and hinting to find out for sure whether someone you were interested in was available. These days, you can just check the app.
A couple minutes later, the #general channel blows up on the Oracle Slack.
Vanessa and Eric are (well, were) the power couple of the high school. A total cliché: he’s the starting quarterback, she’s the head cheerleader. No one knew all that much about what their relationship was like behind closed doors, but they seemed to be pretty much everything you’d expect from that kind of couple. They had so much clout, so much social status, that they seemed to glow as they glided down the hallways together. They were the King and Queen of Ridgetown High.
As practical celebrities, they had plenty of people gambling on their relationship, on both sides. Some people said they wouldn’t last, that their relationship was too shallow to make it past homecoming. Others suspected that they both had too much skin in the game, that they depended on each other for clout; there was too high a social cost to breaking up and disrupting the status quo. A cataclysmic change like this one will have trickle-down effects through the rest of the market as people change their opinions on what can and can’t happen. The aftermath will take weeks to unfold.
I didn’t get the notification, since I hadn’t actually bet on Vanessa and Eric. That’s because I had been one of the Oracles assigned to that relationship (high-profile couples like these had plenty of Oracles assigned, just to make sure we got it as quickly as possible). Naturally, we can’t bet on our own assignments. Still, I want to see it for myself. I open the Oracle portal to see who got the honor of announcing their breakup.
UHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH what the FUCK
Reported by… delphi?
I’m delphi. That’s my Oracle pseudonym. It says I marked Eric and Vanessa as having broken up..? Just a few minutes ago? But my only report today was on Jesse and Skylar. I don’t understand.
That’s when I notice that Jesse and Skylar still aren’t broken up in the system. They’re right next to Eric and Vanessa on the portal.
As it clicks, I suppress vomit. I fucked up. I pressed the wrong button. I meant to report Jesse and Skylar’s breakup, and instead I just alerted the entire school that Vanessa and Eric just broke up.
I can’t undo it now. But everyone will know. When Eric and Vanessa tell everyone that they’re not broken up, I’ll be done. Terminated. I’ll have ruined the perfect record of the Oracle network, and I’ll definitely be banned from the platform. Just from a stupid misclick.
Before heading to bed for the night, I report the breakup (correctly this time) between Jesse and Skylar. I might as well get one last thing right before my reputation is ruined.
I head to school the next morning with bags under my eyes. As I trudge through the halls towards homeroom, I can’t help but overhear snippets of gossip; it’s what I’m best at, as a trained Oracle.
“—hear about Eric and Vanessa’s breakup? It happened last night—”
“—really caught me off-guard! I thought for sure they’d at least last through the end of the school year—”
“—sucks for me, I had bet $100 against them breaking up this month, and there were only a few days left. I was going to use those winnings for—”
Weird. No one is talking about the Big Oracle Fuckup. So far, it seems like people haven’t realized that Eric and Vanessa are actually still together. Now I’ve got to wait longer to be put out of my misery.
Lunchtime comes, and I still haven’t heard anyone mention that, you know, Eric and Vanessa never broke up. How has no one figured it out by now?
“—I heard someone already saw Eric flirting with Chelsea—”
“—Vanessa looked really mad this morning—”
This is even stranger. Am I hearing that right? Did I actually get so freakishly lucky that they actually broke up last night, and I was the first to report it? Was my misclick a stroke of true premonition?
Man, I really earned the title of Oracle. I reported their breakup before even I knew they were broken up!
I notice a cheerleader — one of Vanessa’s closer friends — leaning against some lockers, talking to an increasingly large gaggle forming around her. I sneak up to listen in.
“—hasn’t talked to him since the breakup last night. She blocked him on everything right away. Can you imagine that? Finding out your boyfriend is breaking up with you through a prediction market?”
“I just can’t believe how fast the Oracles are. Lord knows how they found out… Eric must have told a friend that he was about to break up with her, and an Oracle overheard or found out somehow, and they announced it on OTM to stop all betting right away...”
“Eric isn’t even in school today. He must be really fucking mad at her. I don’t know where he gets off, ghosting her and letting the markets tell her he’s done with her.”
Oh my god. When I reported their breakup last night, sending out thousands of notifications across the whole school, they both would’ve found out right away. And the Oracles never lie. The Oracles are never wrong. When they heard that an Oracle reported their breakup, they just assumed it was right...
...and, in that moment, it became right. They’re broken up, alright, but I bet both of them think the other person ended the relationship without telling them. Through the sheer power of OTM’s reputation, I just broke up the most popular couple in the school.
Not gonna lie, that’s kind of cool. They don’t even know I exist, and I’m in control of their love life. And as long as no one finds out, I get to keep my position as an Oracle — the legendary Oracle, the one that reported on Eric and Vanessa’s breakup before anyone knew they were broken up.
And, months later, no one has found out. It’s weird, you’d think at some point Eric and Vanessa would’ve talked it out, or maybe their friends would’ve figured out what happened. The real world isn’t a Shakespeare play or a Nickelodeon sitcom.
But everyone just kind of… moved on. Eric started dating Chelsea from the varsity softball team just a couple days later, and Vanessa switched just as quickly to the football team’s kicker. In fact, a rumor circulated afterwards that Vanessa had been secretly sleeping with him before the big breakup. I didn’t think that one was true, but I wasn’t sure what to believe anymore.
I broke up Eric and Vanessa. It was me. I will take this secret to my grave. I wish I could say I feel bad about it, but if their relationship was weak enough to be torn apart by such a sloppy lack of communication, maybe they didn’t belong together anyway.
And hey, I don’t mind the cut of trading fees I got for being the Oracle to report the highest-volume event in the history of On The Market. I won’t say exactly how much that made me, but let’s just say I’m not too worried about college debt anymore.
I’m not a horrible person, I swear. I just see an opportunity, and honestly it’s pretty much harmless anyway.
Ian and I are in math class together, and I’ve seen how he looks at me from across the classroom when he thinks I won’t notice. He also happens to be one of the biggest dweebs in the junior class, and that’s saying something. I didn’t know you could be in the robotics club, the Magic: The Gathering club, the Mathletes, and the chess club all at the same time, but if anyone could figure out how to fit it in their schedule, it’d be Ian.
He’s not ugly or anything, he’s just completely undateable. His odds are some of the worst in the school: exactly 17.3 to 1 against him dating anyone by March. I’ve been keeping track. And I’ve been making plans. Ian’s about to have an experience he’ll never forget.
This has been a few weeks in the making. You’re not allowed to benefit anymore from trades on your own market events, so it’s tricky to bet on Ian’s romantic success. If I’m going to be the one dating him, my own orders will be cancelled. I had to bet using fake accounts, and slowly, to avoid tripping the circuit breakers designed to guard against insider trading. But I’m ready to collect.
The bell rings to signal the end of calculus, and I intercept Ian before he escapes to his next class.
“How’s it going?” I smile at him. He’s kind of cute when he’s nervous like this.
“F-fine, I mean, I liked the calculus lesson today, though I already studied the, um, the Taylor series for the— the exponential function, so it was more of a review for me, but...” he trails off.
He’s having trouble maintaining eye contact, but I don’t relent. I gaze right into his eyes, tucking my hair behind my ear and then twisting a loose strand around in my fingers. I smile again as I ask, “What are you doing this weekend?”
“Um, I’m not sure actually, I was thinking of trying out the new League champions, but I hear they’re all mostly good for mid lane which isn’t really my—”
“Do you want to go on a date? With me?”
We decide to get lunch on Saturday. The plan is to meet for pizza — typical first date fare — and maybe grab boba afterwards. We do actually have to go on a few dates, to sell it to the Oracles. Once they got word that I asked him out, they suspended trading, but they won’t pay out until they’re sure we’re actually dating exclusively.
I text Ian apologetically on Saturday when I realize I’m running a little late. I do actually feel bad. Sure, I’m using him, but I might as well be a good date while I’m pretending. When I arrive, he’s already seated, in a blue shirt that fits him pretty well.
I have to steer him away from total nerd-talk once in a while, but we actually have a pretty engaging conversation. I hadn’t realized how full his social life is. It turns out he’s the president of the Mathletes and the vice president of the chess club, so he spends a lot of time with other people at school, both as a friend and as a leader; definitely more time than I spend talking to my friends.
And he’s good at listening, too, which surprises me. Again, you’ve got to prevent him from going on super dorky tangents, but when I start to tell him a little about my life, he pays attention. He asks questions. He shows genuine interest.
It’s not until the next day that I realize that I’ve never actually had that happen on a date before.
By Monday, word is out about the date. I’m setting down my tray at my typical lunch table, moving slowly to avoid spilling my overfilled soup bowl. My friends at the table are watching me, expectant. When I sit down wordlessly, it’s Sylvia who breaks the tension.
“So… Stephanie,” she says, letting her words hang in the air. I look up at her.
“Ian? ...really?” she continues.
You can’t let your guard down, since you never know when there are Oracles listening, or even which of your own friends are secretly Oracles. If I’m going to sell this, I have to convince people I actually want to keep dating Ian.
“He’s really cool!” I respond, followed by a quick move to force some soup into my mouth. I need time to think.
“Are we talking about the same Ian?”
I swallow. “I’ve been thinking about learning, uh, chess. Like how to win against someone who actually knows how to play. He offered to teach me!”
A voice comes from behind me, approaching loudly. “So are you gonna marry him?”
It’s Ayanna, my closest friend. She gives me a knowing smile as she sits down next to me. She’s known about the plan for a couple weeks now, so she’s plenty prepared to tease me relentlessly. It’s alright. I knew this was coming. It’s worth the ridicule.
I ignore the tease. “Hey, you’d be surprised. He’s not as lame as people make him out to be.”
I notice myself blushing. Anything to convince the Oracles.
Our next date is a walk after school through the large park that sits against the campus. It was supposed to be a run, but his face when I suggested we run together betrayed that he wasn’t prepared for any kind of strenuous physical activity, or at least that he was pretty sure he would embarrass himself in front of me if he tried. I decide we should stick to the park anyway, mostly because it’s the most convenient place to be seen by the Oracles.
I don’t mind that we chose to walk. It’s harder to chat during a run, which was kind of the idea originally, but after the last date, I notice I wouldn’t actually mind more conversation.
It’s good conversation again. As we talk, we roam toward one end of the park, until I realize there’s not a great way to circle back to the entrance. We end up just turning around and retracing our steps. He asks about how my dad is doing — he remembered the car accident I mentioned last time — and offers a story about something similar he went through last year. We connect really well, and I’m surprised when I notice the sun is starting to set. School ended almost three hours ago.
As we finally make our way to the school’s parking lot, I stop walking for a moment, turning to face him.
“We should do this again sometime,” I say, my voice turning upwards, almost forming a question.
“Yeah,” he smiles. “I had fun.”
It suddenly occurs to me that we should kiss before we part. That would really sell the whole thing. To the Oracles. But there’s no way Ian will be the one to step up, so I have to be the one to make the move. I close the distance between us, reach my hand out to touch his arm, and lock my gaze with his. This time, his eyes don’t dart around. I move in slowly and our lips touch — briefly — before I pull away, smiling. At first his stare is blank, interrupted only by infrequent blinks. Now his eyes drop towards his feet as the corners of his mouth start to bend upwards.
“See you, Ian.”
I turn as I begin to walk away. He can’t see my face now, but I’m still smiling.
Payday comes a couple weeks later, once the Oracles are convinced. It takes me a while to drain the funds discreetly from all of my alternate accounts, but eventually I figure it’s time for step two. I meet up with Ayanna at our lockers to discuss the plan.
I glance around. No one else in sight, so we won’t be overheard. It’s just me and her.
“So, you got those bets placed on the, uh, the breakup?” I ask. “I figure I’ll do it next week. Or maybe, um, the week after.”
Ayanna eyes me as I stumble over my words. “Steph.”
“Why are you smiling at me like that?”
“Stephanie. I’m not going to bet on your relationship ending,” she says.
“What do you mean? Wasn’t that the plan?”
“There’s no way you’re oblivious, Steph.”
“What are you talking about?” I demand. I can feel my cheeks turning red.
“I’ve seen the look in your eyes when you talk about him, girl. I’ve already placed my bets. There’s no way in hell you’re breaking up with that guy.”
I stammer in response, but nothing coherent escapes my mouth, least of all the objection I expected to blurt out. I don’t think I had admitted it to myself until she said it, but it’s obvious to me now.
It’s summer break now, and Ian and I have been dating for a few months. It’s not a perfect relationship, and we’re still totally different people. But I’ve managed to get him to go jogging with me, and he’s lost to me at chess a couple times (which he insists wasn’t on purpose). What I’ve noticed more than anything else is how easy it is to spend time with him and talk to him for hours. When we’re together, I don’t really care what we’re doing. I just don’t ever want it to end.
I have to tell him my secret. I can’t keep this up forever. He needs to know why our relationship started.
We’re at his house. We’ve been working together on the summer assignment for next semester’s multivariable calculus class. When he comes back from the bathroom, he notices that I’ve stopped working.
“Ian, I need to talk to you.”
He sits down in the chair next to mine. “Cool, I love talking. What’s up?”
I brace myself.
“Ian, I love spending time with you. I’m… really glad we’re dating, and I want this to last. But I have something to confess. I’m getting it off my chest now, I’m ripping the band-aid off, and if you hate me forever, that’s okay, but I just, I just feel like I have to tell you, it’s about OTM, when we first started dating—”
“—Stephanie,” he interrupts, “I know. I caught a trading notification on your phone during one of our first dates. I saw your bets. I never brought it up, because… well, how do you even have that conversation? I just waited for you to break up with me.”
I’m just staring at him, my mouth still hung open from the interruption. His deep green eyes pierce mine. He runs his fingers through his hair, smiles, and continues before I remember how to speak again.
“And then you never did. I was really nervous about it at first. I used to have nightmares about you finally coming to your senses and ending the whole thing. Some days I wondered if maybe the months we spent together were some kind of wishful daydream I had trapped myself in. There was proof that you were only with me for the money, I had seen it with my own eyes, but over and over I denied it to myself. I wanted so desperately to be wrong.
“Because it didn’t take me long to realize, Stephanie, that I love you.”
He punctuates again with a heavy silence. My mouth is still gaping in his direction, but at least this time I know what to say.
“I love you too.”