Penelope stabbed at her salad with so much force, she nearly put a hole all the way through the styrofoam lunch tray. She wasn’t even eating her food — just stabbing violently at it while she glared across the cafeteria at the boy who’d broken her heart just a few days before.
“You’re better off without him, Penny.” Megan said soothingly as she watched her friend continue to boil with rage. “You can do WAY better than that jerk! I mean, yeah, he’s hot and funny and cool… And his mom’s like, super-famous and he’s probably the richest guy at school… And… Okay, those things are kind of awesome, but, uh…”
“Not helping!” Heather hissed through her teeth from across the table. “I think what Meg’s trying to say is that he’s a total loser.” She said seriously, turning her eyes back toward Penelope as she spoke. “And he’s fucking crazy if he can’t see how amazing you are!”
Penny just shrugged, still too upset to form any words.
“You said he dumped you ‘cause he likes someone else, right?” Megan asked.
She nodded slowly, thinking back on two days ago, when Ollie had broken her heart. So much of that afternoon was still a blur to her, but she remembered the parts that mattered.
“I really like you, Penny,” he’d told her, in the same breath that he’d said they couldn’t be together anymore. “But not as much as I should. And it’s not fair to you.”
When she’d asked him if it was because he liked someone else more, he’d nodded.
And when she’d demanded to know if it was Asher… He’d dodged the question entirely.
And that was enough to tell her everything she needed to know.
“Did he say who it was?” Megan pressed on, her voice calling Penelope back to the present.
Heather leaned closer slightly as she spoke again. “Yeah, what dumb bitch did that loser pick over you?” She followed Penelope’s gaze across the cafeteria, to where Ollie sat across from Lily. “That nerd who’s always hanging around with your brother?”
Penelope shook her head. “No, not her… It’s not –” But she stopped the rest of the sentence from spilling from her lips.
No matter how hurt and upset she felt, Penny couldn’t bring herself to out Ollie to her friends. A part of her desperately wanted to, but she knew it wouldn’t be right. And she hated herself for having a conscience about it. Had having a gay brother made her too soft about shit like that? Probably…
Ugh. Why did it always have to come back to Asher? Why was he so set on ruining her life?
With a jolt, she realized that on the other side of the cafeteria, Oliver wasn’t just avoiding her angry stares, but he was stealing glances toward the back corner, where Asher sat beside Landon.
The sight made Penny’s blood boil even more.
After lunch was over, she spent most of her French class staring out the window or scribbling angrily in her notebook. And then, on the dreaded ride back home with her brother, Penny chose to sit in the backseat, earbuds in and music blasting, letting the bitter and hateful thoughts she had toward him swirl around in her head until she thought she might explode.
She’d barely said two words to Asher since Ollie broke up with her. She couldn’t even explain why — there was certainly no shortage of angry words Penny could scream at him. But she was just so overwhelmed and hurt that she simply… couldn’t. And at this point, she wouldn’t have minded if she never spoke to him again in her entire life.
When they finally arrived at home, Penelope made a beeline for the front door, ready to storm up to her bedroom and cry for a while.
Unfortunately, it seemed Asher had other plans. She’d barely made it past the entryway when her brother rushed past her and put himself in her path.
“Penny.” His voice was pained as he spoke. “Can we just like… talk this out, or whatever?”
“Talk what out?” She snapped.
“I dunno… This!” Asher gestured vaguely in her direction. “I know you’re hurt and pissed after what happened with Ollie… And I think you’ve gotta like… get it out of your system, or something. Because you’re obviously miserable, and it’s making the rest of us miserable too. You’ve gotta find a way to move on and get over it.”
“Seriously? ‘Get over it’? Are you for real?!” She cried.
Her brother shrugged almost guiltily. “Sorry… That came out wrong. But look, Penny — I hate saying it, but I’m kinda worried about you, okay?” It almost looked like it physically hurt him to admit it. “And honestly, you’re annoying the shit out of me too. More than usual, I mean. You’ve gotta, like… grow up, or whatever. You know?”
It was clear from the look on his face that he knew he’d totally fucked up, but Penny didn’t care. She was completely and utterly done with his bullshit. All the hatred and anger she’d been holding back for the past two days had suddenly begun spilling out, crashing over her like a tidal wave. She was just so mad.
Asher was always being a total dick — talking down to her, teasing her, acting like he was better than her… And now that she’d had something he wanted, he’d stolen it from her.
“Shut the fuck up, Asher!” She shrieked at him. “You have NO RIGHT to pretend you give a shit about any of this! This is exactly what you wanted, isn’t it?! It’s all your fault!”
Asher pulled back from her, almost in horror. “What?! What the hell?! How is any of this my fault?!”
Penelope shook her head in disgust. “For someone who thinks he’s so much smarter than everybody else, you sure like to play dumb, don’t you? You were always jealous of me and Ollie! You’re obsessed with him!”
“I’m not –!”
“YOU ARE!” Her throat burned from the force of her screaming. A small part of her was grateful that neither of her parents were home. “And apparently you’re so goddamn greedy that one boyfriend isn’t enough, so now you’ve gotta steal mine? Well congratulations, I guess. Enjoy your fucking harem of guys who are way out of your league!”
To her horror, Asher burst into laughter at her words. “Pfft! A ‘harem’?! Penny, you need to calm the fuck down, seriously. You’re like… unhinged, or something!”
She opened her mouth to shout back, but her brother took a step forward and continued. “I don’t know what the hell you think I did, or why this is somehow my fault… I mean, I…” He seemed to falter for a moment, and she noticed his cheeks seemed to redden a bit. “I heard some of the shit you said to Ollie the other night, and you’re fucking crazy, Penny! There’s nothing going on with him and me. There never was!”
“You were always a shitty liar, Asher…” Penny shook her head slowly. “How many pages of your stupid online diary are full of sick Ollie fantasies, huh?!”
“NONE!” Asher cried back. “I have a boyfriend, Penny! And I love him!”
Penelope shrugged. “That doesn’t mean you can’t love Ollie too…”
“But I don’t!” It was hard to tell who Asher was really trying to convince — Penny, or himself. But she had a feeling she knew the answer. “I love Landon… And speaking of which, I’m about to head over to his place…” He paused, a look of concern finding its way onto his face. “Are you gonna be okay if I leave you alone? You’re not gonna like… do anything crazy or something, are you?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?!”
Asher threw his hands up as he replied. “I don’t know! You’re such a fucking drama queen… I never know with you!”
Penelope narrowed her eyes at him. “Fuck you, Asher. And you know what? If you really want Ollie so bad, you can have him. But at least have the decency to end things with your boyfriend first.”
He rolled his eyes. “Whatever… I’m going. Lainey’s supposed to get off the bus in like half an hour. Can you maybe try and keep your shit together so you don’t suck our poor little sister into your stupid drama?”
Penny didn’t even reply. She was sick of arguing with him. She just wanted to be left alone. Without another word, she turned on her heel and stormed up the stairs to her bedroom.
As soon as she was alone, Penny let the floodgates burst open. She threw herself down on her bed as her entire body shook with heavy sobs. Ollie was the most amazing guy she’d ever met in her life. She’d never find anyone else as perfect as him… And now he was lost forever, all thanks to her stupid brother.
It just wasn’t fair. Asher already had a boyfriend — and a super hot one at that. Landon was SO out of his league, and way better than a jerk like him deserved. And now for him to try and steal Ollie too, on top of it?
“Penny?” A little voice called from downstairs. She could just barely make out the sound from the other side of the heavy wooden door. “Are you here?”
The bus must have come early. Wiping away her tears on the back of her hand, Penelope made her way through the door and downstairs to greet her little sister. “Hey, Lainey.” She forced a smile as she approached. “How was school?”
The look on the little girl’s face said it all.
“Uh-oh… What happened?”
Elaina’s lower lip trembled. “Mommy and Daddy are gonna kill me when they get home… Mrs. Byrd made me stay in for recess today, and she said she was gonna email them about it…”
For a few moments, all her anger at Asher and Ollie had fled Penny’s mind. Lainey never got in trouble. This couldn’t be good. “Really? Lainey… What did you do?”
“It wasn’t my fault!” Elaina now had tears glistening slightly in her big brown eyes. “Brianna started it… She got super jealous when I won the song contest in music class, and she stole the candy bar Ms. Whitney gave me as a prize!”
It was a moment before Penny responded. Though part of her wanted to roll her eyes at a feud being started over a candy bar, another part of her couldn’t believe this other kid had the audacity to steal from her little sister. “She stole from you? That little bitch… Did you tell the teacher?”
Lainey shook her head. “I didn’t see her steal it. I couldn’t prove it. But I know she did! She was laughing about it and being such a jerk… And she didn’t even get in trouble for it! It wasn’t fair!”
“You’re right.” Penelope replied sadly. “It wasn’t… Trust me, I get it.”
“So I decided I had to get even. Try and make it fair and stuff.” Lainey explained. “I took her stupid little squishy penguin thing she loves so much…. I wasn’t gonna keep it forever though. I just wanted to teach her a lesson!” Elaina clarified quickly. “I thought nobody would see me… but I got caught.” The little girl finished sadly.
Penny shook her head slowly. “Gotta be sneakier next time… But don’t worry. Mom and Dad aren’t gonna kill you. They’re pretty good about things like that, especially if you say you’re sorry. You’re gonna be okay.”
“Hope so…” Lainey sighed softly. “Thanks, Penny.”
Penelope smiled down at her little sister, thoughtful. “Any time. And maybe I should be thanking you too…”
She laughed before turning to head back upstairs. “You gave me some good stuff to think about… Anyway, try not to worry too much, okay? But it might not be a bad idea to kinda hide out in your room when Mom and Dad get home.”
Elaina nodded profusely in agreement before racing up the stairs quickly past her older sister and disappearing into her bedroom.
Penny’s mind was racing as she followed suit, heading back toward her own room. She’d been too blinded by her hurt and anger to understand before what she should do… But everything was so much clearer now.
After all, Lainey made a good point, didn’t she? About getting even, making things fair, and teaching the person who wronged you a lesson…
All that mattered was that you didn’t get caught.