I enjoy imagining that before it all went to shit, Mark and Erica had this thing they did where they set up little intellectual challenges for each other. Which Roosevelt, and so on, trying to trip each other up, and it was honestly fun at the start. It made them both feel clever and stupid and in awe of one another in turns.
But then time went on and the fun of it started to wear away, because Mark was better at trivia and he didn’t know how to win gracefully. Mark has never learned how to win gracefully. So much of Mark’s identity is invested in his intelligence, but here’s the thing, right, is that Erica has invested a lot in her cleverness too. That’s why they like each other in the first place. So what happens here is a slow erosion, the nerves gradually becoming exposed, for both of them but quicker for Erica.
And Erica doesn’t want to make it into a big deal. It’s a game they played, right, and she knows the rulesof it. The rule are that you take the other person’s ribbing. The rule is that you don’t freak out. The rules is that you don’t feel anything because it’s just a game.
And she remembers fondly lying on the grass in the quad or sitting in the library or sharing curly fries in the food court and flinging verbal barbs at one another and she doesn’t want to discount all that, it wouldn’t be fair, it wouldn’t be right.
So this thing just festers below the surface of everything until that night at the Thirsty Scholar where she looks at the boy across from her, who is being worse than he’d ever been, outright nasty even, and she knows it’s because he’s nervous because he’s under some pressure right now, but she thinks you know what, fuck that. Fuck the rules. I hate this and I don’t have to do this anymore.
And she stands up and she walks out, and this won’t be the last time Erica decides to build a relationship on breaking each other down, but it’s the start of a slow unlearning and for her whole damned life she’s proud of that moment.