Summary: Arthur and the gang face relationship issues when they struggle between specific choices. In Part One, Francine must choose to keep dating Arthur, her distant boyfriend of two years who would rather hang with the guys than see how she’s doing, or to dump him and see what else is out there.
PART ONE: MAN VS. BOY
Francine closed her locker and looked around the crowded hallway. It was right before first period and the first bell had just rang out over the grounds, giving the students ten minutes to find their way to homeroom. Usually Arthur would be right beside her, even if they’d talked the night before, to tell her how his night was and to ask her about hers. Instead he was a few feet down chatting with Buster and the guys about something she could care less about.
He was currently obsessed with this new cartoon with a card-based game attached to it, and for the last three weeks, he’d spent every morning trading cards with the guys or discussing after school matches. Francine didn’t mind him doing things with the guys in the afternoon because she had practice, but she wanted him in the morning.
They’d been together for about two years now. It started as just them “going out,” but Muffy warned Francine they were becoming that all-star couple that stayed together for years. They were in eighth grade then, and Francine doubted they would be together that long. The longest relationship their grade had seen so far was a two week stint between Samantha and Greg, two new students who ended up having a fistfight the day of their breakup. And everyone had heard how high school was so much different, how no one stayed together between middle and high schools.
But Francine and Arthur stayed together, and they considered themselves best friends. Things were great for those two years, but Arthur’s behavior lately was turning Francine off to the idea of dating him. He couldn’t even hold a conversation with her without talking about that stupid game, even when her team was undefeated at the start of the season. For five games, no one could beat them, but all Arthur could talk about was his game, his likes, and his dislikes. Francine was getting sick of it.
As she took her seat in homeroom, Muffy looked up from her conversation with Kimberly, a blonde who was surprisingly more into fashion than Muffy. They usually spent homeroom talking about the latest trends, but when Muffy saw Francine, she immediately ended her conversation with Kimberly and turned around to face Francine, who pretended to ignore her at first as she thumbed through her binder seeking out her math homework.
“I take he was too busy with the dumb game to talk to you before class?” Muffy asked with a hint of disgust. She had started disliking Arthur early on, probably day one, but only because she was jealous of the success in their relationship. Now that she had a legitimate reason to despise him, she was running with it.
“What do you think?” Francine sighed, looking up as Buster entered with a handful of the other guys. Arthur and the rest were in other homerooms, but they would meet up at lunch, most likely, or between classes. Francine didn’t know, nor did she care.
“Look, you need to talk about him. Every time he tries to turn the convo his way, redirect. Even if you have to use physical force, redirect him. He has to hear how you feel,” Muffy commanded.
Francine disagreed, “I don’t want to be mean. I don’t really want to talk to him like that until after the season is over. I can push him out of my mind right now, but depending on his response, I won’t be able to drown him out. My sport is more important than my boyfriend.”
Muffy grinned, “Keep telling yourself that, Francine, but you look absolutely ill right now because of him. If you want to improve your game, you either talk to him or dump him like a hot potato. He shouldn’t treat you like this, and if it’s going to continue, you need to find someone else.”
Francine hated that mindset. She knew that first romances rarely lasted, that she’d already beaten the odds by being with him for this long. She knew he cared about her too, deeply cared for her. She couldn’t just dump him without talking to him and giving him a chance to improve his behavior. But she had her sport to consider first, so that conversation could wait.
“Good morning, class,” the homeroom teacher, Mrs. Mitchell, said as she passed flyers up the rows of students. As she placed the final stack with the final row, the door opened and another student came into the room, a new student. Mrs. Mitchell smiled, “Ah, come in! Class, this is Raymond Marcus, a new student from—where are you from again?”
“I’m from Boston,” Raymond replied, eying the room carefully. He noticed a football jersey on a student and smiled, “You might know me from the Boston Hornets from Jefferson High.”
Francine nodded. Now that he’d mentioned it, Francine did recognize him from a tournament game the previous year. He was a year-round athlete who participated in as many sporting events as possible, and he was actually good in each of these sports.
Francine watched as he took a seat close to the front of the room. Her view was suddenly cut off by Muffy turning around with the stack of flyers in her hands, “Francine Frensky, I think you’ve met Arthur’s replacement. Go for it.”
Francine shook her head, “No, I couldn’t do that, at least not yet. Let’s just see how things go.”