Sure enough, Stacy was grounded. It was more than a month already since we had last gone out. One day had become one week. One week had become a month. One month had turned into a mini eternity. We spent every moment we could together-studying together in the library because we had a lot of exams coming up, grabbing a bite together in the cafeteria, carrying on conversations with each other on pages of notebooks during class. So nothing had really changed, and yet we never dared to go out alone.
We stayed within the school grounds, within the bounds of the rules. After her last class, I would walk her to her ride home and say good-bye, no phone calls, just e-mail, text and expensive cellphone calls that we both saved up all our meager allowances for. I had borne it all bravely, I thought, even though I didn't get it. Why was Stacy allowing herself to be beaten by her parents?
That night Stacy and I were winding up another too-brief conversation, saying good nights and take cares and everything short of the three words I was dying to say and to hear, when I just had to ask it.
"Stacy, how much longer will you be grounded?"
"I don't know," she said, sounding helpless. Typical-princess-trapped-in-a tower answer.
"What is it?" I asked, having an attack of low self-esteem. "Why don't your parents like me? Do they think I'm not good enough?"
"No," she said defensively, "it's not like that. They just don't know what to do. You have to understand them. They're very black and white. I understand them. They're just doing what they think is best for me. I'm their daughter. I have to follow them."
"Do you think something's wrong with me?"
"No! Nothing's wrong with you."
"Then why don't you do something?" There. I said it. "Why do you let them run your life? How can you let them do this to you? How can you just sit there and say 'I don't know'" - I said it mockingly - "when they could ruin us?"
Silence on the other end of the phone. I knew I had gone too far. My mouth, with my brain as a guilty accomplice, did that to me when I got carried away.
Stacy, always the proud one, said in a cold, even tone, "Look, no one's asking you to go through this, it's not like we're together."
Not one to beat by that, I said, "Yes, no one is."
Now the silence on the phone was on both ends. The silence just stretched on and on for minutes at 60 cents per silent minute. We both said nothing - both of us angry, both of us afraid of what the other would say, both of us afraid of what we would say.
I took a deep breath, thought of how much I missed being with Stacy, and said, "I'll do it. You know I'll do it. I'm sorry. Just help me understand. It's just killing me, you know?" My voice broke involuntarily, making me sound like a pathetic pubescent boy. I hated how my voice could be so uncool during times like these. "I need you," I said. It was the most I could say over the phone.
Silence still. I thought she wouldn't talk to me anymore. Then softly, she began to speak. "I've had boyfriends before," she said, "but none of them ever bothered my parents." She laughed at something she found funny. "Somehow, they knew I wouldn't stay with those guys. I was just playing. When I got tired of them, I dumped them. And my parents were never surprised."
"They're not fools," she went on. "They know that this time around, it's not a game. This time, people can really get hurt, and they don't want their little girl hurt. For the first time in their lives, they're not the first ones I think about. And they don't know what to do about that. So I'm grounded."
"If you were just another game," she said with a heavy sigh, "I would break every one of their stupid rules. I'd be out with you tonight. But I have to respect their rules because there is so much to save."
"Do you understand now?" she asked me. "I've said too much."
We talked for thirty minutes more, after Stacy changed the subject. We talked about nothing in particular. Because we shared so much between us, nothing more had to be said.
A/N: Please review guys!