"What's wrong with you?" she says.

"What? I can't kiss you?"

"Not like that. Not like you're angry."

I look at her walls, decorated with artwork, certificates from school, a cross.

"Well, maybe you should tell me what the hell's up with the third degree from your mom," I finally say. I thrust my hands into my pockets, trying to look like I really don't care even though I'm asking.

"What? What are you talking about, Gary?"

"She was just down there giving me a lecture about you. About how I'm taking you in the wrong direction. What did you tell her?"

Lauryn stares up at me, eyes quivering. As I spoke, I walked closer to her so that now I'm less than a foot from where she's sitting.

She dips her head away from me, gives me a hesitant, "Well ..."

"Well, what? What, Lauryn, what?" I feel my voice rising, and I check myself before it goes into an all-out yell. The last thing I need is Mr. or Mrs. Avery popping up here now.

Lauryn answers in nearly a whisper: "I told my mom about what happened the other night. How you wanted me to sleep with you."

"Shit, Lauryn! How could you do that to me? What the hell were you thinking?" I can just see her parents' reaction, their front of respecting me undermined entirely, confirmed in the doubts about me that I've always suspected they harbor.

This time, though, Lauryn doesn't respond in a whisper. Instead, she stands and fires back at me, inches from my face.

"Don't you dare blame this on me, Gary. Look, I like you, but it's like it's just one thing with you, like if I won't have sex with you then I'm not even worth your time. And I'm sick of it. I'm sick of being treated that way, and I'm sick of feeling guilty when it's not my fault."

Her anger catches me off guard, and even though she's right I know I won't admit it. I have too much frustration already without surrendering to her, without letting go of the last remnants of my pride.

"Fine," I say. "Be that way. Hell, maybe Wilson's right. Maybe I should be hitting on Amber instead. It sure would be easier than banging my head against a wall with you."

Lauryn's face turns down, the fire that was there extinguishing. She goes silent and looks away from me. A hurt seems to flow out of her, and I know immediately how stupid it was for me to say that.

"Just go," she says.

I turn to leave without another word. The long road of yet another apology, of making things right with Lauryn, begins to stretch out in front of me — and it looks longer than ever before. I'd cut off my own hands to have a chance to undo the last ten minutes, but I can't be that lucky. The thing is, no matter how much I just messed up, Lauryn will afford me another chance. It's just that I know I keep racking up emotional debt with her, so that someday I'll go in so deep there's no way she'll ever forgive me.

I say nothing to Mrs. Avery, who is still in the kitchen, but when I head out the door I see Mr. Avery coming up the drive. I look straight at him, beaming my best fake smile. It's the only way I can hold back the scream swelling inside.