The bell rang, abruptly bringing Helen back to reality—a reality in which she hardly believed anything was real. But, real or not, she knew she had to do what was expected of her. She carefully placed a piece of paper in her book to act as a make-shift bookmark and then, as her fellow classmates poured out the door, she gathered up her things and began the trek to her second-hour study hall.
She went up the marble steps and picked up her Spanish book from her locker, then headed into Study Hall.
A few guys made catcalls as she walked to the back of the room, causing her to keep her eyes glued to the floor in front of her and ignore everyone. They did that to every female—including the Study Hall teacher—who walked through those doors, but it never failed to make her uncomfortable.
She reached the desk furthest from the entrance and sat down to do her Spanish homework. Unlike most of the other students, Helen actually used her Study Hall to—gasp!—study. She would rather get her assignments done at school than have to lug her books home everyday.
Since her Spanish worksheet was rather simple, requiring her only to conjugate some words, Helen was done in ten minutes or so. After she finished her Spanish, she worked on her Chemistry. This took a little bit longer, since it involved calculating some formulas. By the time she was done with the thirty problem worksheet, there were only about fifteen minutes left.
Once again, she read The Fountainhead until the bell rang and, as usual, she was the last one out of the room. Mrs. Guthers smiled her as Helen walked out the double doors leading to the Study Hall room. Whether it was out of pity or amiability, Helen could not guess. She never was that good at understanding other people.
Casually merging with the stampede of students filling the hallway, Helen headed towards her Spanish III class. She walked towards the door and, before she could even reach out for the door handle, Nathan appeared next to her and opened it for her. She smiled up at him. She used to have such a crush on him. One day she had even summoned enough courage to ask him out. Unfortunately, he said that he thought of them as friends and didn't want to ruin that relationship.
On the positive side, he had been extremely nice about it and nothing had changed in their friendship. On the negative side, it had thrown her into a bout of depression that lasted for almost a month. Of course, getting rejected and getting severely depressed seemed to be a routine in her life.
Now, months later, she was almost over him. She still had a small crush on him, but she did not let it get in the way of their friendship.
He smiled at her. "You're welcome, Marge."
They had been calling each other by those nicknames for over two years. One day he just decided that she sounded more like a Marge than a Helen, so he started calling her that, simply meaning it as a compliment—which is how she took it.
A few days after he started calling her that, she decided she would come up with a nickname for him. On that particular day, he showed up wearing a blue T-shirt promoting Wilson sports paraphernalia. Ever since then, she had dubbed him Wilson.
Smiling to herself as she thought about those memories, Helen walked into the Spanish room, Nathan following close behind.
Helen walked over to her desk, slung her messenger bag off of her shoulder and onto the empty desk behind her, and plopped down in her seat. Nathan sat in front of her and Mandy sat in the row to her left.
"Hey, Helen. Did you understand this worksheet?" Mandy asked.
"Yeah. All you have to do is choose the correct verb to fill in the blank and then conjugate it in imperfect subjunctive," Helen explained.
"Oh, okay. I did it right then. Thanks."
The bell rang, signaling the beginning of class. Señora Thomspon came to the front of the class and announced loudly, "Denme la tarea, estudiantes."
The rustling of papers filled the room as each student handed their worksheet to the person in front of them. Helen silently handed hers to Nathan, carefully avoiding touching his hand in the process. It had taken awhile for her to get over him and she took every avenue she could to avoid all of those feelings coming back.
"Ahora ustedes pueden estudiar para la examen mañana. Abran los libros y estudie páginas 245 y 256."
So, following her instructions, everyone bent their heads over their Spanish books to study, absorbed in the diligent atmosphere of the class. Everyone, that is, except Helen. She simply couldn't concentrate on conjugating verbs.
She honestly tried to focus on the task at hand, but the incident with Nathan was messing with her mind. He had been so close to her and had smelled so good. Why didn't he like her? What was wrong with her that no one was attracted to her? She tried to make herself work on the homework, but flashes of Nathan kept popping through her mind.
His jet black hair.
His dark eyes.
His black leather jacket.
Helen frowned at the last thought. That wasn't right. Nathan didn't have a leather jacket. But Aaron did.
She clenched her jaw, barely registering the action, and pushed that thought out of her head. Thinking about Nathan was one thing, but she had already spent way too much of her time fixating over Aaron. It was pointless. She needed to get over him and stop thinking about him. She needed to get over both of them, for that matter.
But, as soon as she banished that thought, an image of him popped into her mind, refusing to go away. An image of him holding a cigarette in one hand and a Bud Light in the other, his wiry frame covered with jeans, an ACDC concert T-shirt, and a black leather jacket.
Helen ground her teeth, the muscles in her jaw working as she frantically tried to make herself concentrate on something else and forget about Aaron. Finally, she tried reasoning with herself.
'Helen, what is the point? He's 26! You're 16! Stop obsessing and get on with your life,' she commanded herself, to no avail. She had heard this from countless numbers of people and had heard it from herself enough that she could recite the speech in her sleep. But, reciting does nothing to make someone believe.
Aaron was too old. Helen was too young. Aaron had no future. Helen was just beginning hers. Aaron had no ambition. Helen wanted to take on the world. Aaron considered himself a badass. Helen considered herself a geek. The list went on and on. The only things they had in common were some of their friends and their love for classic rock. Other than that, they were complete opposites.
'Got that, Helen? Complete opposites,' she reminded herself.
But that didn't matter. She knew all of the many reasons that they should never and would never get together. She also knew that Aaron considered her nothing more than a friend, if even that. But her mind and heart refused to let go of this infatuation that had followed her ever since seventh grade.
Fortunately, the bell rang, its caustic sound jolting her out of the deep recesses of her mind. She glanced down in surprise to see her Spanish study guide covered in his name. Aaron Peter Sarkin.
She hastily shoved her study guide in her notebook, grabbed her messenger bag, and went to her locker to unload her things.
When she saw Mandy coming back from her locker, she began to concentrate on going to lunch instead of thinking about Aaron. She joined Mandy as they both headed out to fourth hour lunch, like they did every day. And, like every day, Helen asked Mandy, "Where do you want to eat?"
"I don't care," came the expected reply.
Helen let out a frustrated sigh. "One of these days I'm going to force you to make an actual decision."
"Maybe. But I wouldn't hold your breath," Mandy teased.
"How about Casey's?" Helen didn't really feel like going down to the cafeteria and Casey's was just across the road so she was hoping to go and get a slice of pizza.
"Fine with me," Mandy replied.
So, they walked over to Casey's together, chatting about random things with no substance to them—teachers, parties, breakups, homework, gossip. Helen couldn't help but long for a conversation with depth to it. But, she didn't know what to say. She could talk about how depressed she had been lately, but that would just make Mandy uncomfortable. And herself, as well.
Later, after they'd gotten their food and sat down at a table outside the school, Helen tried to think of something meaningful to say. She sighed inwardly when she came up empty and felt like she could just cry. Her group of friends was seated around the table with her, talking, joking, and laughing. She was surrounded with people she knew, but she felt so alone.
'Why do I do this to myself? Why do I hold everyone out, and then wonder when I feel so alone?'
She watched Mandy's face as she laughed at something Josh had said. Why couldn't she be as happy as Mandy was?
"I'll be right back, guys," Helen said suddenly.
As she walked towards the school building, she glanced over her shoulder. They were still all seated around the table, having a grand old time. It was like she had never left. Maybe more like she had never been there at all. A feeling of bitterness swept over her, but she knew it wasn't really their fault. How could they miss someone who purposely made herself invisible?