"She's the one," Brad whispers to him, pointing in a direction. He turns around to see. "It was so funny. Too bad you couldn't see it."
"I asked to come by her place tonight, and she went mad red." His friend hoots. "Girl's so uppity about sex and everything."
"But she turned you down, Sex King and all, didn't she?" he murmurs, and it is funny to see Brad flush scarlet. Everyone at the table laughs.
"That doesn't matter. She actually believed I was going to swing by."
"Well, it's not a joke if it passes over everyone else's heads." Brad is purple and spluttering now, and he ignores the school slut in favor of the girl. 'White shirt and jeans' is the best phrase he can describe her because she is a Plain Jane. What if she wears makeup and shorter clothes? Turning over to the gaggle of females, he asks, "That girl over there, the one Brad was talking about—" People laugh again, and the boy grumbles. "Think you can fix her?"
The redheaded one looks over, scrutinizes Miss Plain Jane, and shakes her head. "She would be a six at best." Complete and utter bias in those words, but he takes into consideration. She looks dull and unattractive and uninteresting, and he does not think makeup will go well with that pallid face.
"Why?" the redhead cuts into his thoughts, her eyebrows knitted together prettily. "Do you think she's worth it?" A commercial slogan posed as a question, and he knew the right answer to that one.
He slings an arm behind her and shakes his head. "No, Sheila, I don't think so." She smiles brilliantly, pleased, and it is good enough for him.
After all, most things in life are barely satisfactory.
His English teacher loves clichés. She doesn't know that one time, while she had gone in the bathroom, he and his friends had raided her bottom drawer and discovered a plethora of romance novels. They had laughed for a long time, and even Sheila and the girls couldn't keep straight faces. No one else had mattered, as long as his friends had found it funny. Brad still continues to make little jabs from time to time, and the people still crack a smile or two. His friend revels in that kind of petty attention.
Mrs. Demura claps her hands loudly today, and everyone quiets down enough to hear her say "final exam" before talking again. He doesn't listen to her, but he refuses to talk to Sheila or Brad.
"I know—college soon—congratulate you all—where you're going?" The noise censors out the teacher's words like a swear word, but she is nowhere near frazzled. He wonders if she goes home and cries at night; lack of respect ruins many people. She catches him watching her quietly, and Mrs. Demura points in his direction. "You, where are you going?"
The class is still whispering, and he talks above them, stepping on their voices and opinions to be heard. "Oberlin." Brad stops talking and looks at him in surprise; Sheila blinks with wide, blue-crystal eyes. "Oberlin College," he says again, voice still quiet and indifferent. No one else is speaking now.
And then—"You're going where?"
"Dude, I thought you were going up to CCC with me!"
"Where is Oberlin?"
Pandemonium. He grins, leaning a little back in his seat and watching. Everything is in a frenzy, and everyone wants to compare his or her colleges. Mrs. Demura does her job and claps her hand again, smiling encouragingly. "Good job, and I wish you a successful future," she says, her voice nearly drowned.
She continues down the line of people, and there are many variegated answers, from universities to community colleges, and students turn around to high-five or voice their congratulations. He is bored again; it is only fun when he creates commotion and uproar. Sheila nudges him a few times, and Brad claps his shoulder, but he ignores them all. Mrs. Demura is kind, but she has a mean streak, and he would rather not write an essay for a final.
He is ready to sprawl across the desk when Mrs. Demura calls another person. "And your choice of higher education is what, Miss—Miss—" she fumbles, and he is suddenly awake again. Mrs. Demura never fumbles on names because she makes it a priority to learn everyone's properly within the first month, and everyone knows this.
So who is this interesting person?
The class watches, frozen between actions, as the teacher righteously turns red and tries to find the list of names. "Oh dear, this is so embarrassing—"
"Northern Virginia Community College."
Mrs. Demura is confused for a moment, but then recognition dawns on her face, and this time she smiles barely. "That is your dream education?"
He is the only one who leans forward and tries to catch a glimpse of the person, but a blonde girl is in the way. He frowns and leans back, ignoring the rest of Mrs. Demura's inquiries. When the bell rings, everyone reacts in the same manner and pushes for the doorway. He is the only one with common sense to stay behind and wait for the hallway to clear. He may be late to his job, but it is a small price to pay.
"—don't know why you choose to go there," Mrs. Demura's voice floats softly into the air, and he looks over. She is talking to the same person who had answered 'NOVA' before. "You've got so much potential, and you're only going to a community college? Why not just go to CCC instead?"
He listens with interest, though he feigns an indifferent posture. It is obviously a girl from the sound of her voice, so what will she say? He waits and is disappointed when she remains quiet. Mrs. Demura's shoulders droop. "Your SAT scores were outstanding, and your transcript for the first three years were magnificent." Garbage every teacher has said before; he continues eavesdropping, anyways. "Then this year, things just dropped."
"You're not my counselor."
He is half-impressed and half-disgusted. On one hand, Mrs. Demura is one of the more pleasant teachers. On the other, he hasn't met a girl who had spoken to a teacher like that before. The hallway is empty and desolate, but he doesn't notice.
Mrs. Demura sighs exasperatedly. "No, I'm not, Miss—" A janitor walks by with a floor buffer. "—but I do talk with Debra, and we both agree that you are capable of so much more. Why not Berkeley?" He cocks his head, faintly astounded; she must be smart if Mrs. Demura recommends Berkeley as an alternate choice. This only piques his interest more, and by now he doesn't give a rat's ass about the job.
"I want to get out of California."
"How about Massachusetts? Or Pennsylvania?" The teacher is clearly hinting at Harvard and Penn State, and while impressive, still does not say much about the girl. Anyone could get into college, with the right effort and sugarcoated essays.
"Too northern." Then she sighs. It startles him, because up until now the girl had been quiet or disconnected from her answers.
"You're adamant about Virginia, aren't you?" He can't see her because of Mrs. Demura's hips, but he catches a bob of her brown ponytail. It looks vaguely familiar. "OK, if you're so insistent about going there, at least consider UVA?"
Mrs. Demura sighs, frustrated, and she pinches the bridge of her nose. "Fine, Fe—" The janitor comes back with the buffer for round two. "—we don't have to talk about it anymore today."
"Is that all?"
"No, it's not." The teacher's tone is sharp, and her hands grasp the material around her hips tightly. "I also have to talk to you about the English final."
"That's next Friday."
"Right. In two weeks."
"Don't worry, Mrs. Demura, I wrote that on my calendar. I promise to study."
The teacher shakes her head. "It's not that simple—" Damn janitor. "—since second quarter grades." Mrs. Demura pauses, and the girl sits there quietly until she continues. "Your grades have steadily fallen since then, and you are now bordering on a D for a final grade, should you keep this up."
He frowns; how can someone with a near failing grade in English of all classes be considered for top universities? Mrs. Demura deliberately lightens the workload for most of her students; her class is not challenging, if one chooses not to make it that way.
"This test is imperative to your grade, as it is one-fifth. Score well, and you will raise that D to a B. Score horrible, and… well, things won't end on a good note." It sounds like a thinly veiled threat.
Mrs. Demura continues to prattle on, and she moves from the girl's desk to her own. It is a shame, because the teacher had been his wall for some time, and the minute she leaves, he is exposed to the strange girl. Although he is quite lithe, he isn't blessed with a scrawny frame, and she immediately spots him. It is Miss Plain Jane.
Hmm. No wonder the ponytail is familiar.
He looks at her, unabashed, and her cheeks burn brightly, like ripe strawberries. She hugs the binder closer to her chest and slouches in the chair, turning away from him. What an uncommon reaction, although her cheeks should be the talk of the town. Brad is right for once.
"—So I was thinking, Miss—" The fourth and last time the buffer would be returning, hopefully. "—a little help until the next two wee—oh? Mr.—?" The janitor misses a spot near the front door. "What are you doing here?"
"I'll tutor her," he answers, ignoring the question.
Mrs. Demura's eyebrows hide underneath her bangs, and out of the corner of his eye she is viciously heating up. Very contrasting to her normal color. "Oh?" she says again, and he nods solemnly.
"I'm always looking for volunteer work."
The teacher chortles. "Starting early for college activities, aren't we?"
He grins a thousand watts. "There's never such a thing as too early."
"Well," Mrs. Demura turns around to pick up another folder; it is his portfolio of collected papers and assorted analyses. "Let's see if you're an opportune candidate." He knows immediately there will be no objection, and she is as good as his pupil. He may not be one of the most brilliant students, but his more than decent grades are good enough to put him into Oberlin. He looks over to Plain Jane, who is turning a deathly red-and-purple combination, and suddenly he wants to laugh out loud. No one has ever reacted so violently to him before, and he rather likes it.
As expected, Mrs. Demura announces her approval, and he smiles brightly. "I'm counting on you to help raise her grade," she lectures with a solemn face. "If you want credit for this, I advise you to take this seriously."
He nods gravely, like it is a death-or-life situation. The dire is always immaculate and magnanimous to the lady. "Don't worry. I'll prep her along as I go."
She grins appreciatively and looks over to the girl. "Do you mind having Mr.—" Some kids outside start to yell. "—take over the tutoring position? I'm sure you will benefit greatly from him. One of the most enthusiastic students in your class, actually."
Plain Jane swallows, her eyes lowered humiliatingly, and she gives a short nod. He wants to laugh. Loudly.
"Wonderful! You guys can start tomorrow, wherever or whenever. My class is, of course, warmly welcome until five. After that, you can arrange a different meeting area if you wish. I would highly recommend that." Mrs. Demura looks at the two and nods satisfactorily. "All right, go off now, both of you."
He meets her the first time in the library. She is a dedicated enough student, answering when he asks, nodding when he looks, and staring out the window when he doesn't. She writes down notes while he goes over rhetoric and themes, characters and plots, and she highlights words she doesn't know for future lookups.
At the end of the session he sits back and watches her gather up her books. She purposefully avoids his eyes, but she is painfully aware of his existence, proven in the red ears and cheeks. He smiles proudly; she looks so funny blushing, for some reason. "Do you always ignore your tutors like this?"
Silence, as she carefully puts the folders into the backpack.
"What's your name?" he asks, gauging her reaction carefully. He doesn't expect her to answer through words, but through her face. She is no Sheila, no vivacious redhead or curvaceous blonde or fun-loving brunette; she is a dull blackhead, which makes it all the more hilarious. A blackhead—whoever thought of that? "So?" He looks up expectantly.
She turns a deeper shade of scarlet.
He can't help himself, so he laughs mirthfully. "You know, wishing for me to go away won't make it happen. You've got to do something about it, you know."
"You shouldn't have to ask for my name; I've been in your English class for a while now."
He grins widely but doesn't say anything. He continues to watch her pick up the textbook, still deliberately avoiding his gaze, and shuffle out of the library. He doesn't know if she is trying to cover her feelings, because if she is, then it is a really poor attempt. Either way, he has known her for a span of two days, and already he likes it, the feeling of being able to read someone's mind. He likes it even more that she flushes so easily. Sheila doesn't do that.
It is the same routine the next time, and after that, and after that, all consecutive in a row. He re-teaches her Mrs. Demura's materials, she writes and highlights, and at the very end he makes a comment, just waiting for her to react in some way, any way. She always does, and it gives him a high for the rest of the day, almost like his stomach drops to the ground during a roller coaster ride. Reaction and stimulus were such simple concepts in science, and he hardly thinks about them after fourth grade, but nowadays he comes home and tries to think of ways to provoke a reaction out of her.
In the fifth meeting, on a Saturday afternoon, he arrives at her house. The library is closed, and they agree her house is the best choice. He had proffered his own, but she had vehemently went against that decision, her head equivalent to a ripe tomato. She is sharp and finally discovers that he has a weak spot for red-faced girls by the end of the session, and when he makes a comment, she firmly shakes her head, the straight, black hair falling all over the place. "No," she simply says, her voice devoid of triumph, and he frowns like a kid taken away from his toy.
"No? I can't have a drink of water?"
Her black eyes glint in the summer light. "No, you can have some."
He frowns even more. Why isn't she blushing and fidgeting in her seat? "OK? I don't get it."
Her face breaks out into an arrogant and triumphant smirk this time. "You can have the glass of water, but you can't get a rise out of me."
His eyes widen marginally at such a correct deduction. "Aren't you assuming a little bit?"
She rolls her eyes in a dramatic fashion. "No, I'm not, because you always ask such pointless things at the end of every study session, and you always seem to laugh whenever I stumble over a simple answer." Her eyes spark with excitement, and he surmises that she must have a passion for detective novels.
"Well, I'm sorry you feel that way," he says sincerely, and his heart pounds a little in his ribcage as he watches her eyes blink in surprise. This is it-! He opens his mouth again. "I just really like it when your cheeks turn red."
It is a backup statement he had prepared a while ago, just in case something like this would happen, and it works. She jerks backwards, like she has been physically burnt, and whether she wants it or not, her face goes up in flames.
And he laughs gaily, his eyes shutting and tears leaking out of it. What a strange experience! He has never found a girl so hilarious before, and she is truly one of a kind. He doubts she feels the same, but who knows what she is thinking? She surprises him all the time.
Right now he is clutching his knee and shaking his head, and she is shuffling out of the room. Down the hallway the bathroom door closes, and he knows that while it is funny, the feeling will not last. He has to up the ante because she will not blush to his words again.
She never comes on Sunday. He is very disappointed.
She is not in class the next day, either, and he shakes his head when Sheila invites him over. She pouts petulantly and swipes back a bit of coppery hair. "You haven't come over since last Sunday, though."
He knows what she is hinting at and shrugs. "I've been working." Her baby blues flash hurt at his dismissive tone, but she smiles anyways. He is frustrated all of a sudden; why does Sheila hide her feelings like that? Why can't she ever say what she feels? He is struck with an idea and impulsively rushes headlong into it, motioning for her to lean towards him. "You look really good today," he whispers in her ear, and for a moment, Sheila's mouth is in a perfect 'o', and he almost has that roller coaster feeling.
It is almost because she immediately shuts her mouth and smiles pleasantly, with a hint of red on her nose. There is no blush like Miss Plain Jane, and if there had been one, it is only because Sheila is embarrassed to have been caught off-guard. He knows Plain Jane flushes at the fact that he is speaking to her, and she is not shy about that.
What is so bad about lowering your barriers once in a while, anyways?
Sheila is busy doodling on her papers now, and he takes the opportunity to look past her head and at Plain Jane's seat, half-hoping she would materialize from thin air. It would make the class more tolerable for him, he was sure.
An older woman opens the door after the third doorbell, and her face wrinkles jovially when she sees him. "May I help you?"
He smiles his thousand watts and introduces himself politely. "Hello, Mrs.—" A motorcycle roars past them. "—I'm—" A car blaring loud bass music hops by. "—and I'm just here to deliver the missed class work."
"Oh, how kind of you! Come in, come in," the woman says, ushering him in, and he steps into the cool house. "Do you want anything to eat?"
"No, thank you. I'm also here for, uh, her tutoring session?"
She looks surprised for a moment before putting the cup onto the counter and sighing exasperatedly, shaking her head. "Oh, no."
He blinks with knitted eyebrows.
The woman is glaring upwards, as if God has somehow played a part in this, and then she bows apologetically to him. "I'm so sorry. Were you expecting her at the library?"
"It doesn't matter, because I can focus pretty much anywhere."
"The nerve of…" the woman trails off, and she smiles sheepishly. "I'm sorry if you've been waiting long. You see, she told me that her English finals had been done on Friday, and that she had no class on Monday. So I let her stay home. But seeing as how her tutor is here and all…." She looks ready to kill, and he is delighted. Her daughter takes after her mother. Or is it the other way around?
The mother motions for him to follow, and he complies amicably, stopping by the foot of the stairs as she starts up for the second floor. "Oh? Don't be so shy, young man. Come along now." She steers him up the steps and down the hallway, and they both stop in front of the familiar, white door. Without knocking, the woman twists the knob and pushes it open. "Guess who's here," she says with false cheer before pushing him into the room.
"Jesus!" Plain Jane shrills, jumping out of the office chair and knocking over the trashcan. "What are you doing here?"
"Finishing his job," her mother answers for him before closing the door promptly. He is amused now, but it is nothing when the lady's muffled voice floats up, the language different and foreign. She rolls her eyes upwards, but her cheeks flame even more. His stomach plummets and then rises, the feeling he has been anticipating since their last meeting.
"What did she say?"
"Nothing," she mumbles and shifts around in her spot.
"I'm sorry, but I don't understand Chinese."
"Oh? What did she say?"
She twitches, and he feels a little bubble rising at the pit of his stomach. "We're just going to—talk a little after you leave." She doesn't hide the fact she wants him out of her room, and it is even better because he adores a challenge.
"Aw, you don't enjoy our time together?" She's a light pink now, and she will not answer. He enjoys this way too much and takes a step closer. "I know I do…."
She's struggling to fight the blush down, but she still can't meet his eyes. "Well, I don't. It's very annoying—" She almost chokes when she looks up; he is only a few inches away and breathing softly. "Um, maybe you should m-move back a little bit? You're kind of in my personal space—"
"Move me," he says, and he almost curls up and dies as her mouth falls open. She doesn't bother to hide her shock; instead, she is barely functioning, and when he steps closer, his chest barely brushing hers, she immediately jumps into action.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" she squeals—actually squeals!—shimmying to the side with astonishing effortlessness. She is no longer red, but purple. It is an upgrade! He laughs as she clutches at her Mickey Mouse pajamas, her face contorting into surprise, then horror, and finally settling on irritation. "You-! That wasn't funny at all!"
"Too bad it was," he gasps, and he sits down on her bed with a loud 'fwump'. "Your face is priceless."
She is breathing hard, her face having returned to a nice, cherry shade, and after a while, she comments, "You really like to tease me, don't you?"
"No, why would you think that?"
She doesn't believe him. "OK, and I want to be Sheila's twin sister."
His grin disappears, and he shakes his head. "Don't. No one needs two of her."
"Wow. I didn't know you hated her."
"I don't. She's entertaining enough, and she's gorgeous as hell, but that's it."
"I didn't know you liked more than a girl's looks."
"That's because you don't know me." He winks exaggeratedly and grabs her hand. It is warm and not as small as Sheila's, but it fits with his much better. "Now sit down so we can study." He pulls her forward, and she trips over the rug, falling onto his lap. As quickly as she fell, she scrambles backward and plasters herself against the wall, suspiciously purple again.
His face breaks into a wide smile. "You're so much more entertaining than Sheila could be." To his amusement and satisfaction, Plain Jane splutters incoherently and just shoos him off her bed.
He is sitting with Brad and Sheila at lunch again, and they talk about a party he missed yesterday. "You should've been there, man!" Brad exclaims excitedly. "It was mad crazy, and Lynn and Boe had a drink-off!" He chortles merrily, the memory tickling his sense of humor.
Sheila is in the same boat, and she talks with spastic hand motions. He watches her bracelets clink together, like the sound of martini glasses and diamond necklaces. "—and I had the most fun dancing with Jenner!" He almost curls his lips in revulsion. She knows his strained relationship with the football quarterback, and her intention is transparent, just like the draining blue in her eyes.
Then Plain Jane walks by, her eyes cast to the ground, and he can't help but feel light-hearted again. He wouldn't have traded yesterday for all the Sheilas and parties in the world. At that moment she catches his trademark sneakers and automatically lifts her head. He looks at her blatantly and, without turning his head, grabs Sheila's hand and yanks her closer to him.
Plain Jane flushes conspicuously and shuffles a bit quicker. He is suddenly smiling and at ease again. Brad is talking to other guys, so he doesn't notice, but Sheila sees the change in his posture, and she looks over her shoulders to the retreating girl before back to him, and her eyes narrow. "Is something going on?" she asks bluntly, rather uncharacteristic of her.
"What was that, then?"
"What was what?"
"That thing between you and-and the ugly girl!"
"She isn't ugly," he corrects with a disapproving frown, and he disentangles his hand from hers. It has always been too small and delicate.
"Oh?" Sheila arches a professional eyebrow. "You think so?"
"No. I know so." He is disgusted and stands up, swinging his backpack over his shoulders.
"Where are you going now?" she asks, her hands plucking at the edge of her skirt. "Arranging another secret date with Ugly Girl?"
"Shut up, Sheila."
Honesty is never an ugly thing.
It is the last time they will meet, the day before the final. She is confident in her vocabulary and analyses, and they finish early. "Well, aren't you excited that English will be over with?" he asks with a terribly contagious smile, and she nods happily.
"Oh, very. This class was such a burden."
"Really? The curriculum was pretty easy."
"The difficulty wasn't bad; it was just the constant amount of work I had to keep up with."
He ruffles her hair, much to her indignation. "Then it's really your problem, and no one else's." It is her turn to laugh, and he is aware that it is much softer and shyer than Sheila's. "You've got a pretty laugh." He says sincerely, and he means it.
The color rises to her neck. "Thanks. I'd say the same to you, too, but you're always laughing, so…." She trails off and shrugs helplessly, and he just smiles like he always does. "You must like a lot of things in life, huh."
It is a statement, and he shakes his head. "No, not really. I'm grateful, but I don't know about liking."
"Why are you so happy all the time, then?" She looks genuinely curious.
"Being depressed and stuff doesn't really make the situation any better, now does it?" He lies easily, because he would rather have her see his optimistic side rather than his cynical one.
"That's true, I guess."
"Why are you so sad all the time?" He pokes her in the back so she straightens up. "You've got a nice house and mother. Things are looking great for you."
Her face twitches. "Mother… yeah. That bag isn't my mother. She's only putting up with me because I haven't become a legal adult yet."
"Don't say that."
"It's true. Ever since I told her I was going to NOVA, she just shut me out."
"She seems like she cared a lot."
Plain Jane snorts unlady-like—another thing Sheila doesn't do. He loves it. "You haven't lived with her long enough to know."
"Oh, so it's like an on-and-off thing, eh?"
She nods enthusiastically and moves to her feet. "Yeah, exactly!"
They fall silent, and he watches as she cleans up the table. She is about to put the last paper in the folder when his phone rings. She freezes, and it is her who watches him this time. "Hello?"
"Hey, haven't talked to you in a while." He feels like he has swallowed a cup of pebbles, all hard to swallow and grating his throat.
"Oh, hey, Sheila." He catches Plain Jane starting to shuffle again, and his heart plummets to the bottom of his stomach.
"Where are you?"
"At work." He drums his fingers on the desk, an irregular rhythm.
"Oh." Sheila sounds disappointed she couldn't sink her claws into him. "When are you getting off?"
There is hope in her voice. "Do you want to meet up for a coffee date? Or a movie. That could work, too."
"Ah… about that. I'm not sure if I can make it to either occasion. I've got other stuff to do, jobs to finish."
"Mowing the lawn, watching after my little sister, the likes."
"…Right, OK. I guess I'll just see you later, then?"
"All right. Bye." He doesn't bother waiting for her to answer and turns back to Plain Jane. To his surprise, she is looking at him, smiling tightly. Her face is white.
Before he can say anything, she speaks up first. "Well, thanks for helping me with all of this mess." She waves vaguely towards the desk, as if he would understand the message. He does. "Sorry to keep you holed up on such a nice day. Um, I didn't mean to take up all of your time, especially when you've got a date set up and planned."
She really is an open book, and he understands everything. He gives an amorous grin. "Oh, don't worry—"
"No, no, you go on right ahead." She shakes her head and motions for the door. "If you're worried about me having questions, I can always ask Mrs. Demura before class tomorrow."
"I won't call you, I promise. I don't even have your number anyways—"
"And I promise I'll recommend you for the credits Mrs. Demura promised you. I'll help you milk as much credit as possible, because it's kind of a waste for you to spend all this time with me for no reason at all. You were busy to begin with, since you just finished tennis season and everything, so not only did you have to study for everything, but I was also-mmph!"
He kisses her.
She is frozen in place, her hands by her side, and the notebook falls onto the ground. He cups her face, his thumbs stroking her cheeks, and she smells like fresh laundry—a good change from all the perfume Sheila has.
It is even better that Plain Jane doesn't pull away. (She just doesn't know what to do.)
When he pulls back, he is pleased that the color is slowly filling out her cheeks. "Good luck with tomorrow," he says with a grin before turning to leave the room.
"You're seeing someone, aren't you?" Sheila demands on Friday, her hands on her hips.
"No, not really."
She scoffs. "Please, I wasn't born yesterday. I know when something isn't right. You haven't returned any of my calls, you avoid seeing me these last two weeks, and you blow off every attempt at making plans with me."
"I told you I was busy."
"With what, exactly?"
Sheila rolls her eyes. "We're seniors now. It doesn't matter whether we pass the end exams or not. Your grades and future have been set since the end of second quarter, and besides, your grades are great enough as it is. Probably one of the smartest people I know."
He wants to say something mean, but he stops in time. "I'm sorry you feel that way, Sheila, but there's nothing I can do about it. If it makes you feel any better, English is our last final for high school."
She purses her lips. "You're not seeing someone?"
"No, I'm not."
"What about… liking someone else?"
"Nope," he says automatically, shaking his head.
"I don't believe you."
"Sheila, listen to me. I. Don't. Like. Anyone. I'm not with anyone, and no one's with me. Now stop acting so jealous because you don't look good with that look on your face." A look of triumph and scorn passes on Sheila's face, and he is confused for a moment. Then he realizes that she is looking behind him, at someone else, and he turns around.
It is Plain Jane, and she looks unhappy.
She shuffles quickly past him and Sheila, down the hallway and into Mrs. Demura's class. His mind is blank as Sheila murmurs silkily besides him, "Don't like anyone, eh? You liar."
"That's because I don't," he says firmly, his eyes staring down at the redhead. "Especially people like you." He walks past her, ignoring her offended gasp and smoldering gaze. Let her burn all she wants; the prettiest face in the world can never make up for a barely passable personality.
And I don't like her, he thinks as he walks into the teacher's class. Plain Jane is studying her textbook, her cheeks red and a little wet.
No, I don't like her at all.
It is Monday morning, and he comes into class. "Oh, you don't have to be here!" Mrs. Demura chirps, but her face smiles anyways.
"Just wanted to know a few things."
"Oh, I have an idea. Like, your grade, for instant." She writes down a number on the board. "Very pleased with the results, I'll have you know."
"Thank you, but that wasn't why I came here." Mrs. Demura looks confused. "I mean, I was curious about my grade and all, but I was more interested in someone else's…."
She immediately understands. "Oh, you mean Miss—" The warning bell rings. "—grades? I have hers right here, I think." She flips through a few papers, and he finds himself anxious, nervous at the grade announcement. Will it be good? Had she done well? He doesn't need to worry, though, because Mrs. Demura crows happily a moment later. "Looks like you have potential in the education field. Don't tell anyone I showed you this, but…." His eyes nearly fall out of his head, and the teacher giggles. "Yes, isn't it wonderful? You just saved a future education right there."
"That's incredible! Did she come by to see it yet?"
Mrs. Demura shakes her head. "No, she didn't. But not every student comes by on the last day to see his or her grades. They're probably all off to the beach and such." She gives a dismissive wave, a little offended. "If you do see Miss—" The last bell calls. "—tell her I am so proud of her, OK?"
He knocks on Plain Jane's door, and her mother opens it. "Hello there," she says genially.
"Hello. Is—" There is a crash and yell from next door. "—home right now?"
Pain briefly flits across her face. "I'm afraid not, young man."
"That's all right. When is she returning?"
"Oh, my niece won't be returning here."
"What? Your niece?"
The woman nods. "Yes. I'm her aunt, and I had been her guardian since she was three. But she recently discovered that her mother—my sister—was living in Virginia."
He feels like his guts had been knocked out. "So… she's not really going to NOVA?"
"NOVA?" The woman gives a short laugh. "Good gracious no! I'd love it if she did go there, though. I don't know what she's doing with her life, actually, especially since my sister contacted her at the beginning of the year."
And suddenly things begin to click. "So where is she now?" he asks, his body numb and head light.
"Well, I drove her to the airport on Saturday, right after finals, so… maybe Virginia now?" He is silent now, and she smiles sadly, as if she knows what his intentions were. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry, on behalf of my niece."
He just nods, and she closes the door. So Plain Jane does not know her grade, whether her mother is really in Virginia, or how her aunt really does not hate her.
And she has left, thinking he doesn't like her.
Because like didn't even describe it.