Like (How You Are)
This class is quiet and composed in the way only an AP class can be. I'm not saying these kids are genetically better behaved or anything, it's just they're probably concerned speaking in class will negatively affect their GPA somehow. Everyone is silently working on whatever we've just been assigned. I don't know, because I haven't been paying attention. I've been counting down the minutes until lunch with the clock for the entire period.
Please don't take this to mean I'm not just as ridiculous and grade oriented as the rest of this chemistry class is. I'm just in sort of a panic, trying to figure out my plan for the next 45 minutes. My best friend isn't here today, probably for a really stupid reason. I couldn't tell you, as we don't talk to each other all that much. Mostly, we keep each other around to avoid being partner-less for class projects and things like that. Things like standing in the cafeteria, clutching a bag of pretzels and a can of apple juice, searching for an empty table, only to eventually decide to go to the library. That is basically how I spent tenth grade. The worst part was that eating isn't allowed in the library, so in order to avoid detection I had to let the pretzel get soggy in my mouth before chewing. It is my understanding that some people prefer this method. I believe they are twisted probable future serial killers.
Things didn't used to be this way. In ninth grade I had a best friend, a real one, and I could sit in the cafeteria crunching freely. But she slowly decided to become all punk rock, and I got left behind. It's not as if she didn't try to convert me, I just wasn't into all the repetitive drumming and smelly mosh pits. So, she got her lip pierced and made new friends, and I studied at lunch and spent my weekends watching telenovelas on Spanish language channels.
The bell rings. The scratching of pencils doing mole ratio problems is replaced with the noise of books being closed and chairs scraping across the floor. I'm the first to make it out of the door to be sucked into the crowd of adolescents headed for the cafeteria. I squeeze and push my way through the traffic, violating several people in the process I'm sure, to make my way to the library. As I turn the corner an arm wraps around my shoulders, causing me to jerk my head in surprise and hit the chin of the random invader of my personal space. "Goddamnit," I mutter as the suspect rubs his chin.
"Is this how you normally greet people?" he asks, using his free hand to open the library door.
"It was your fault," I say. My face is hot.
"My fault you're unable to control the movement of your head?"
"Why are you following me, Julian?" I ask as we approach a table.
"I just wanted to spend lunch with you. I thought we were friends," he says. "Or maybe I'm just here to get a book. What about that?"
I say nothing. He sits next to me.
"Tell me," Julian demands. "Tell me why you don't like me."
I drum my fingernails on a giant volume of Contemporary Literary Criticism someone didn't reshelve. "Okay, well, you know when you have a stuffy nose, but like, you can breathe out of one nostril? And the other is completely blocked?"
"You're sort of like that, only more annoying," I tell him.
"I'm not sure that makes any sense," Julian says after a moment.
It almost definitely doesn't, but it seemed like a better thing to say than "I hate you because I want to have sex with you."
"It doesn't have to," I reply. He blinks at me with his big brown eyes and long girly lashes. "I'm just saying you irritate me."
"Like breathing through one nostril?"
He shrugs at that and plays with a thread hanging from the sleeve of my t-shirt. "Did you do the calculus homework?"
I roll my eyes, but slide the assignment out of my notebook anyway. We do this everyday. The arrangement is symbiotic though, because he corrects my mistakes as he copies.
My first encounters with Julian occurred during our first year of high school. His English classroom was next to mine, and Janie, my former best friend, and I would sit outside the door of ours and he would sit outside the door of his, waiting for our respective teachers to arrive and unlock the doors. Janie would tell me about lame pop-punk bands and discuss possibly dying her hair pink, and I'd watch him read, or write, or sometimes just stare at the wall. Of course, I never spoke to him, even though I wanted to very badly. His English teacher always arrived before mine, and he'd go into his room and put his head on his desk and I'd tell myself, "Definitely, tomorrow, I'm going to ask him what he's reading," or something similar.
The next year, we were in the same world history class, but he was transformed by that point from a quiet loner to someone social and popular, so I'd missed my chance to talk to him and relate at the loser level. As my only hobbies as a tenth grader were conjugating Spanish verbs and basically being alone, and his included smoking a lot of weed and miraculously knowing the answers to everything ever in class, all we really had in common were our GPAs and schedules heavily saturated with honors courses. Then those turned into AP courses and the overachievers were separated from the mere achievers, which brought us to senior year and AP Calculus.
Which I am, by the way, completely hopeless at.
I'm not sure why Julian chose me, in the room full of calculus students, to sit next to. Vague recognition from many classes together, perhaps. It couldn't have been because he likes me or enjoys my company, as he'd never spoken to me before last semester when he was watching my face register confusion and panic as I copied the notes.
"It's easy. I can help you, Lacey."
So he did. That's how I found out he knew my name.
The thing about Julian is that his girlfriend is really stupid, and this is maybe why he likes her. He seems to enjoy being my math tutor, so he probably can't control himself helping her with, you know, correctly spelling her own name and other such tricky tasks. His holding my hand through limits and derivatives can't really compete with having to teach her to multiply, though, if he's attracted to halfwits. And it's completely unfair because I'm not even trying to be calculus retarded.
"Lacey, could you please wake him up?" Mr. McIntyre, our teacher asks. He gestures to Julian who has his head on his desk. Julian is facing me, and his eyes open to wink at me.
"I already tried," I say, finding the whole thing really endearing even if winking is sort of creepy. Apparently our teacher does too, because he just shakes his head and continues to speak rocket science or whatever. Julian gets away with this stuff because he's like a non-studying prodigy, and everyone loves him.
"Thanks, Lace," he whispers, drawing out the A in thanks. His eyes are closed.
"Whatever, Jules," I reply, even though it's stupid because although I hate being called Lace, he couldn't care less about being called Jules. His girlfriend probably calls him that so she doesn't get caught on so many syllables.
Heather, his girlfriend, is at least beautiful in an alien kind of way. Skin so perfect it could be plastic. Big eyes some sort of fluorescent blue-green color not found in even the box of 96 crayons, blinking every now and then in a way that looks less like a normal function of the human eye and more like a robotic, quizzical motion. I get the chance to observe this one day at work, when she and dear Julian stop by to see a movie. She's not smiling or frowning, her lips set in a permanent pucker-pout that sort of makes her look expressionless.
"What do you want to drink?" Julian asks her.
Heather blinks twice, I guess scanning her beverage options. "Diet Coke?" she asks.
"What size?" I reply. I wish I could melt into a big puddle of unattractive face, and popcorn scented clothes.
"Oh." She is very clearly overwhelmed by the amount of decisions she is being asked to make in such a short period of time. "Medium."
"You can get a large for a quarter more and get free refills," I say automatically. Julian snorts. Heather blinks at me, and then looks to him for guidance.
"Whatever," he says with a shrug. "Supersize me!" He grins and I notice his eyes and wonder if maybe they're both stoned.
I get their Diet Coke and the Sour Patch Kids he orders when I return with the soda, and the transaction is complete. She wanders off, food items in hand, and he lingers at the counter playing with a straw.
He stares right at me and a broad smile slowly stretches across his face.
"Nothing. I'll see you later." And he drops the straw and walks away to join his alien girlfriend in theater ten, or wherever.
And of course it was nothing, because that is just how my life plays out.
Julian is literally holding my hand as he helps me work through a problem, intertwining our fingers and inspecting my nail polish. "Why do you touch so much?" I ask when I can't take it anymore.
"I don't know," he says, sort of singing 'know.' "Did you ever suck your thumb?"
Mr. McIntyre drops something onto my desk, then Julian's. Last week's test. "Good job, Julian," he says.
"I sucked my thumb for a long time," Julian says to me without even turning over his paper. He begins to chip at my nail polish and I wrestle my hand away to flip over his test. Ninety-eight. He glances at it briefly before reclaiming my hand.
I look at my paper. Sixty-five. And he even had the balls to draw a sad face next to the grade. And even as pathetic as I am in this class, this is my first failing grade.
"Oh," Julian says. "You're going to be all depressed and suicidal now." He simply states it, no question or sympathy in his voice. A beep sounds from his pocket, and he drops my hand to pull out his phone. "Nice," he says, looking at the screen.
"What?" He hands me the phone so that I can read what appears to be a very concise death threat, via text message: ill fukin kill u.
"Heather," he says, "has been sending me these since I broke up with her, and it's really costing me."
"You broke up with her?" I ask, pretty sure I'm keeping my voice controlled.
"She bored me," he replies. "You know how it is."
I really don't, you see, but I do know that I suddenly don't care that much that I failed a test, which pretty much means my life is over and I might as well not go to any of the colleges I was accepted to because I am obviously a fraud. I really don't care, because Julian doesn't have a certifiably stupid alien girlfriend anymore.
Not that it really matters because I'd never make a move or anything. But still, you know?
"What are you doing tonight?" he asks, looking at me through heavy lidded eyes.
"My plan was to watch La Fea Más Bella episodes I taped from this week," I say.
"Awesome. You can bring the tape to my house. We'll hang out."
If life were an after school special, the music of impending conflict and wrongdoing would be playing because 'hang out' inevitably means something illicit that will steal my innocence.
This is how your mind works when you're lonely.
"Okay," I say, and I stop there so nothing stupid comes out.
"I think I'm high," I tell Julian. "How do I know?"
"It's like…" he starts, staring at the television. "I can't understand them."
"It's in Spanish," I say. We're sprawled on his bed, his feet kicking the wall.
"Right, right," he says, nodding. "I took German."
I find this funny for some reason, so I laugh, loudly. Julian looks at me like I'm an idiot, then he laughs too.
"It wasn't funny," he says, still laughing.
The laughter dies down, and I think about how great I feel, and how thirsty I am, and how bad marijuana smoke tastes, and how pretty Julian is and how much I'd like to kiss him. I guess I'm staring because he goes, "What?" and I go, "Nothing," and tilt my face forward to kiss him. He laughs softly against my mouth, but he kisses back and it's probably the pot but everything feels fuzzy.
At home in my bed, I think about what a silly thing to do that was, and now I definitely know I'll never go to college because they'll know. They will so know. My mom yells at me to get out of bed because it's one in the afternoon, but I don't because I feel like wallowing in shame and despair.
"Lacey! You have a visitor!" My mom calls, sounding awfully surprised that someone at all has come to see me, and as I see when I get downstairs it's a cute male someone. I make a sort of noise between a squeal and a groan, and push him outside. He sees me open my mouth and places his hands on my hips to effectively silence me.
"So listen," he says, looking down at me. "I mean, normally this wouldn't even be an issue because I mean…a kiss, who cares right?" I say nothing. "I just thought, you know, it probably meant something to you, but the thing is—"
"I like you," I say, choosing possibly the worst moment ever.
He looks uncomfortable, maybe. "Right, that's the thing. It's just. Look. I'm sorry."
I may vomit.
"Sorry." He repeats. "I just don't like you like that."
"How do you like me, then?" I ask it before I even realize I'm going to. My voice is all annoying, like breaking.
"I don't know," he says, obviously meaning not enough to take me to the movies and buy me a Diet Coke and Sour Patch Kids, even though I totally could get us in for free. He confirms this with his follow up offer: "But we can still, like, hook up. If you want."
One of his hands is still on my hip and the other is playing with the zipper on my jacket. For the first time, I don't appreciate his touchy feely nature. And it's just such a ridiculous thing for him to say, and I almost say "No thanks," but somehow the fact that he finds me to be an acceptable partner makes it okay for me to say, "Alright."
So we do. And I don't call him, and he doesn't call me. Then I catch mono from a soda can confusion at work, and I don't go to school for a week. During a long illness fueled sleep session I have this dream where we're lying in my bed, and I'm naked and he's not. He asks me why I'm naked, and I say, "I thought we were both coming naked." He laughs and asks why we'd do something stupid like that, then changes it to, "Well…why would I do something stupid like that?" Then he looks at me and laughs again, then he hugs me, then things of a sexual nature happen and it pretty much ends there. I don't know how to interpret it, or if I'm even supposed to.
"Welcome back," Mr. McIntyre says, handing me a large stack of papers. "You've got a lot of catching up to do."
"Where have you been?" Julian asks, head rested on folded arms.
"I had mono."
"Interesting," he smiles.
"Shut up." I flip through my notebook so I don't have to look at him.
"Well, I missed you," he says. He's propping his head up with his hand. "I had to do my homework myself."
"That must have been awful."
"Unbearable." He's looking at me with his eyes narrowed and a slight smile. "So," he says, spinning a pencil on his desk. "Who have you been kissing?"
I pull my hood over my head in response, and he laughs as the bell rings and calculus begins again.
And so, whatever. Life goes on despite my best efforts.