Love Ya, Unc
Chapter Fourteen: Bush's Best Rocket Man
"Sweetheart," I say, "It's really not that big of a deal! I mean, it was kind of funny. In fact, on someone else, I'm sure the sign would have been incredibly funny. I would've laughed my head off—"
"No you w-wouldn't!" Bernie wails. "Because y-you've—g-got—class!"
I try to usher my sister into an empty classroom so people will stop gaping at her as they leave for home, but she's putting up a good, distraught fight. She's crying so hard she can't move her legs, evidently. "Come on, Bernie!" I hiss. "You're making a scene!"
"You m-make scenes," she sobs, "all th-the time! And no one stares at you!"
I'm sad to admit that offends me a tad. "They do so!" I harrumph.
"In a good way. Because you want them to. Not because you've got s-snot t-trailing all down your sh-shirt!"
"That is a spectacle," I concur, shoving her into the classroom, grabbing a tissue from my pre-calculus teacher Mr. Ulcer Man's desk and attempting to wipe her down. I hear a knock on the classroom door and turn. Scott stands there, leaning against the wood, his hand still perched, uncertain, on the door handle.
"Are you all right, Bernie?" he asks in a soft voice.
"I'm fine," she says meekly, dragging her Mary Janes on the ground again. She sniffs loudly and wipes her nose with the back of her hand, then runs it absently through her dark, curly hair. Eww.
Scott walks closer, slowly, not looking at me. I look at his feet. He was so happy about his Bates military shoes when he got them because it meant he'd get to use shoe polish. Looks like he forgot to polish them this morning. He stands in front of Bernie, runs his hands over her arms, much like he did to me yesterday in the mirror when he made me shiver. Bernie doesn't shiver, she just rounds her shoulders and shuffles her feet. I wonder, still staring at Scott, why he affects me the way he does. Why he dominates my thoughts, makes me think about him all hours of the day. Why my heart melts when he pulls Bernie in for a hug in spite of the snot and pulls her close as she sobs into his shoulder. I should be over there comforting her, too, but I find I can't move.
"It's been rough, hasn't it?" Scott whispers into Bernie's ear. They've forgotten I'm here, I think. Bernie nods into his shoulder.
"I worked so hard," she whimpers, "to fit in. To impress Darla."
"She's this really cool girl. I-I've watched them all year, her and her group. They sit outside, on top of that hanging with the ladder? They're not always there…I think they skip school…but when they are, they just look so unaffected and above everything. They're untouchable." Bernadette gets this scary, dreamy look on her face—so far away, I know she doesn't see me even though she's staring straight in my direction. Her voice is monotonous, without any inflection or gesticulation. "But one day I decided, what the hell. That I wasn't living life just watching them, and though I might not regret it for the rest of my life, not sitting with them, I'd have one more "what if" behind me. I walked over there, climbed the ladder to the hanging, and sat down. They didn't even acknowledge I was there.
But I came back. Every day. Caleb asked why I wasn't sitting with him at lunch, and I said that I'd found new friends and that I didn't want to see him anymore—"
I can't help it. I gasp. Scott looks up then and sees me standing here, but shakes his head almost imperceptibly and I quiet down. I understand; she needs to get it out.
"—because I never really liked him, I just wanted a boyfriend so I'd fit in. Or at least be noticed, or wanted."
"You really hurt him," Scott says frankly.
"I know I did. And I'm sorry. But after a few days of me just sitting there on the edge of their circle, this guy, Anderson, Darla's boyfriend, I think, left a space and I knew it was for me. I was in their group."
"That made you happy?"
"Well, no. They didn't show up for school for the rest of the week, didn't tell me what they were doing, and I had no one to sit with. I ate lunch in the bathroom."
"You could have sat with me," I pipe in.
Bernie shakes her head. "I don't like being a third wheel with you two."
"I'm sorry," I say, because now isn't the time to argue and it's probably the truth anyway.
"I'm sorry, Lacy." She releases Scott and puts her hand on my arm. It's so cold against my bare skin it gives me goose bumps. "I've been so stupid. I just wanted to be funny. I wanted them to see that I was funny and then ask me to join them, wherever they go."
"They're that important to you?"
Bernadette nods and her curls bounce. She's so beautiful, even with swollen eyes and a red nose. I don't understand why anyone wouldn't want her in their group—or why she'd think they wouldn't. It doesn't make sense, her being insecure.
"Well then I'm sure they'll come around. I think you're wonderful." I give her a kiss on the cheek. "Go splash cold water on your face in the bathroom—it'll help." She nods and leaves the classroom.
It's just me and him. He's facing the chalkboard as I face the door. Back to back. One of us has got to turn first.
"She really looks up to you," he says. I can tell he still hasn't turned around.
"I wish I knew her better. I was convinced that she…" I stop myself. Maybe she wasn't as infatuated with Caleb as I had perceived. "Well, it doesn't matter now."
"No one blames you for being unobservant, Lace. It's who you are."
"Stop," I bristle. "Stop saying that! Everyone's always saying that. Maybe they should blame me. Why is it all right for me to not know what's going on? With my own sister? She was obviously lost and confused, and I wasn't there for her. I didn't care."
"You're not uncaring. You just don't understand." He speaks in so earnest a way, he's almost pleading with me.
"Why not?" I close my eyes so I can't see the door and picture him in front of me. I know Scott so well, it's easy. My lips twitch into a smile as I imagine his transparent hair and quirky nose into existence; it's funny, I know him so well that his perfections blend into the background and the things that maybe don't make him the most handsome are all the more beautiful to me.
"You see everything the way you want to. You're so determined to make everything work out perfectly that you forget that sometimes it does that on its own."
"When have things worked out, ever? Name one thing. Your dad died. My mom lives in Belgium. Dad works himself to death. Bernie's unhappy. Therese…exists. And that's just inside our little world."
"We're working out, aren't we?" I hear footsteps behind me. He turned around first.
"I don't know, Scott, sometimes I feel—" I cut myself off and turn around, too. Scott is just a few feet away. "We're not related," I try again, "and it feels like a bigger deal to me than to everyone else. If I were normal it wouldn't be such a big deal. You'd still be my uncle, even if our blood was different, and that would be that."
"I don't know. I'm happy this way, knowing I'm not." I don't realize he's so close until he puts his forehead to mine. "You look like a Cyclops," he says with a grin. Our noses bump and we both step back, giggling and still holding hands.
Someone clears their throat behind us. I whip around, startled. Sash—Alex is standing in the doorway. I will never get used to that name…
"Hey! Hey, what are you doing?!" Alex barks. He rushes forward, wide-eyed. Geez, what is his problem? Scott and my hands still swing gently in between us, interlaced. Uh…that could be it.
"Me?" Scott releases my hands and puts his in the air defensively, backing up. What had he been doing? His face is bright red.
"Yeah, you!" Alex is aggressive, jabbing a finger at us. I feel like I've done something wrong. I didn't do anything! "She's my girlfriend!"
Scott gets an ironic look on his face, a little patronizing smile, like Alex is slow or something. "I'm allowed to hug my niece after she's been through 'an ordeal'—"
"That was not a 'niece hug.' Don't even try that, Harris."
"We're going by last names now, huh, Miller?"
"I guess so, Harris."
"You know what, Miller, this isn't even about you and me. This is about you and Lacy."
"No, I think this is about you and my girlfriend."
"Guys," I try, "Let's just—" But they're not having it.
"Don't take out your insecurities on me, Alex."
"No first names!"
"Stop being five!"
"All right then!"
"GET ON WITH IT!" I yell. They both pause for a moment to look at me before taking steps toward one another, closing me out. I take a step forward, too. Hey, I have the right—they're talking about me, are they not?
"What," Alex begins, his voice shaking, "are you talking about, Harris?"
"You and Lacy. The whole lunch thing."
"That…that was pretty weird, Sash—Alex," I butt in, stepping in front of Scott. He's not really helping the whole "ideal, tranquil setting" I'd always imagined these situations would be like for me. "What're you still doing in school?" I feel drained.
"I saw you earlier. In the hall. That whole thing. I've been trying to find you."
Scott's hands squeeze my shoulders lightly and I find it hard to concentrate on Sash—Alex. "Bernadette was crying. I had to calm her down."
"I know. I saw."
"I'm sorry about lunch. I know you were uncomfortable. I understand if you don't want to sit with me anymore." Sash—Alex is so cute. I love his olive skin and his curls. The light smattering of freckles across his face. The way he wears shorts all the time.
"We just…we like different people. It's not you. I like you." I don't mean to put so much emphasis on "you," but it's there, out in the open.
"Maybe you should break up then!" propositions Scott from directly above my head, where he's resting his chin. He's touching me too much, with his hands on my forearms and his chin on my head. I step to the side.
I can see the switch from resigned to angry like Alex's head turns around and suddenly he's another person. "You'd like that, wouldn't you, Harris? Cradle robber!"
Scott, I see, is completely taken aback. "What? You're older than I am!"
Sash—Alex has to think on that one for a moment before spluttering, "Y-you know what I mean!"
"No, I seriously have no idea!"
"You're her uncle!"
"I'm not! It's not wrong!"
"What isn't wrong?" I ask Scott, bewildered, but Sash—Alex answers, "What you're both doing!"
"We're not doing anything, Sash—Alex! He's my best friend, of course I'd be…spending time with him and stuff. Is that what you're worried about?"
"No, it's all of the touching and the hugging and the…" He looks at me directly in the eye, like he's actually seeing me for the first time. I look back. "Look. I like you too, Lacy. I just don't know if it's going to work out," he says apologetically. Scott abruptly drops his hands from my shoulders and backs away a few steps. I don't move.
"I get it," I whisper.
"Now we can sit with who we like and not feel guilty, right? I'm really glad I met you, and you were the first girl I dated here." He grins, showing exactly where his laugh wrinkles will be when he's older. "Every date I have is going to be dull now."
"The movies won't be the same without you," I tell him, cracking a smile too.
"We're just too different."
"I'm too weird for you," I say, still smiling slightly, understanding. He doesn't disagree. Just shrugs, still apologetic.
"Looking for different things."
"Looking for normal," I insist.
"Maybe." Sash—Alex sighs. "In any case—"
"—you're gone," I finish.
"See you around?" He poses it like a question.
"Harris." A nod. Not so friendly. Scott says nothing.
Before Alex is even out of the classroom, I turn around. "Scott, I—"
But Scott's already gone out through the lab. He's already gone.
"Lacy? Are you okay?" My dad is standing in my bedroom doorway, looking concerned. This is the first time he's been upstairs in weeks, but I can't muster up any enthusiasm. I roll over on my bed so my voice isn't muffled and let out a whimper.
"Alex broke up with me today." I've accepted that that's his name now—it suits him.
"Well, I used to call him Sasha."
"Oh, that kid. I wondered why you were dating him."
"What do you mean? He was nice. He took me to the movies."
"Well, sure, they're all nice. I just mean, why would you bother with him when you and Scott have such a fun time?"
"You're just saying that to make me feel better."
My dad looks confused. "I wouldn't do that."
"Oh, that's right. Tough love and all that."
"You're confusing me with your mother. I'm the blunderingly affectionate one, remember?"
"Oh, that's right. The truth. No embellishments about it."
"That's right, sweetheart."
"I just—I don't know. I guess I know we weren't right for one another. I mean, his name is Alex. I couldn't date someone named Alex when they were named Sasha before that, you know? And in the beginning—well, he was really funny. But I think that might've all been Scott. Scott telling him what to say, or how to think and—well, maybe that was him talking, but he definitely changed, just like his name, because of those stupid people he was hanging out with and…and Dad, he—he implied that I was too weird for him, but I don't think I should have to change."
I can tell my dad wasn't really following any of this until the end, so he's quick to interject, "Of course you shouldn't!"
"Scott didn't stay with me."
"I think he's at Therese's."
"Right, and he should be here."
"Maybe he was worried you'd think you'd have to change? Then he'd really be all alone."
"Well, the best way to stop that would be for him to come over and cheer me up—then I'd never want to change, because I'd know he's going to keep on being weird, too."
"I don't think we're in any danger of that changing. You two are the weirdest kids I know."
"All right, Sport." He rubs a hand on my head, mussing my hair. "You're good now?"
"Yeah," I say, hugging a hippo pillow to my chest. "Love you."
I consider telling Dad about Alex's insinuations about Scott and me but decide that he, old-fashioned and hard-working, doesn't need that on his mind. He doesn't know we're that weird.
I'll let Scott come to me. There won't be any tackling involved at school tomorrow, no matter how much I want to know what he thinks about me being single. There's no way he'd miss the epic drama of Godfrey and Preston at lunch, in any case. Hehehehehe…
I'm actually listening to my pre-calculus lecture for once when there's a knock on the classroom door. I nearly topple out of my chair in my greedy eagerness to be distracted and Mr. Ulcer Man glares at me as he walks to the door. The girl sitting behind me puts an exasperated hand on my shoulder when I make to stand up on my chair for a better looksie, but I manage to catch a glimpse of Mr. Ulcer Man's smile before I plop down with an embarrassing thump. Mr. Ulcer Man is smiling? But…but, he has an ulcer! Why aren't you grimacing in pain, Mr. Ulcer Man? This is all SO WRONG…
Oh, he's lecturing again. Eh, never mind. I think I'll go on fretting over nonsense for a while.
Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy did you smile, you—
Someone enters the classroom through the adjacent chemistry lab.
Don't turn around, Lacy, it's probably Mrs. Burkes about your lab on the effects of calcium chloride on flesh…
I hear Scott cough. Aww, poor guy's got a cold. Wait—WHAT IS SCOTT DOING IN MY PRE-CAL CLASS?!
This time, I hop up and turn around in my chair so fast that Miss Exasperated-But-Good-Intentioned-Shoulder-Pat Girl accidentally pats my nose.
I see Scott in my peripherals grinning and try to act as if this nose patting business happens every day at, er… 2:11.
The girl stops patting quickly and sits sedately, looking as if she's swallowed a lemon.
Or had a Botox injection go very wrong.
Or was just caught doing something even remotely abnormal.
I harrumph and she slides further down in her chair. Hehehe. I harrumph again—lower she goes! Harrumph! Harrumph! Harrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr—
Just as I'm winding up like a cobra for the kill, Mr. Ulcer Man says, "If Miss Harris would kindly stop disrupting the class again, we could move on."
I would feel embarrassed, but everyone looks downtrodden as I sit down and shut up, obviously enjoying my antics.
Score one Comedienne Extraordinaire; score ZERO Mr. Boring Teacher Ulcer Man!
I hurriedly compose a note once my ego deflates enough for me to turn my head.
L: Why are you here???
S: Why's your head so large?
L: My head is the perfect size and shape for my body type, sir.
S: Most actors' heads are actually unusually large. It looks better on camera.
L: Fascinating. Really. Good thing I do live performance, then, with my perfectly normal sized head!
S: Denial is a river in Egypt.
L: That doesn't work when you write it, silly! But enough about me—let's talk about you.
S: -gets out romantic candles and puts on Frank Sinatra to woo you-
L: (You're crazy if you think you could get me into bed by playing Sinatra) Why the hell are you in here?!
S: (Who said anything about sex you sick woman) I was worried about you.
L: (I didn't say anything about sex! I said bed! Stop trying to make my brain out to be filled with anything but rainbows and unicorns) Thanks, but I've actually gotten pretty good with entertaining myself in math classes over the years.
S: (Bed implies sex!) I'm not worried about you being bored! After seeing you make a finger puppet out of that starfish's dismembered arm in biology two years ago…well, I'll never doubt you again. No, I'm talking about what happened yesterday! With Alex!
L: (Why are you pressing this? Maybe I was imagining all of my childhood dreams of us bedding together!) Oh, yeah! Where did you run off to, by the way? I could've used a hug.
I'm getting quite excellent at this whole 'downplaying angst' thing, aren't I?
S: (Even that sounded like sex! Would you quit being H&H? It's so…typical. I mean, I know I'm sexy, but seriously, woman) Home. I had some college stuff to finish.
L: (H&H?) I thought you already finished all of that in November…?
S: (Horny & Hormonal) No, I had some more stuff. But how are you holding up?
L: (YOU, SIR, ARE RELATED TO ME! I'm not that sick of a woman!) I'm all right. I mean, what he said kinda hurt, but he was just being honest and I'm glad we're not together if he doesn't want to be.
S: (No, I'm not. Technically, we could have sex no problem) That's mature of you.
L: (Stop being gross) Scott—please don't set me up with another guy. I don't think I could handle it right now.
S: (Sex isn't gross! It's a beautiful, base-instinctual experience shared between two people in love) Well, actually, that's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about.
L: (Optimism really doesn't suit you) NO.
S: (You have a sad life ahead of you if you think sex is gross) But he's really spiffy! He's got short, luscious, blond hair, gorgeous, green eyes, a swimmin' bod…but he has an awful personality because people with good personalities are always ugly.
L: (Clarification: I think sex with you is gross) You?
S: (Even if I told you that I loved you first?) Damn, you caught me. I thought the "awful personality" thing would throw you off.
L: (This is the most useless hypothetical situation ever) Why you?
S: It's not useless when I ask the question: Will you go to prom with me?
S: Well, see, I've actually planned this for a while. But then you and Alex seemed to be going strong so I figured you'd be going with him, but I was always lurking in the shadows.
L: That's an extremely creepy picture, Scott.
S: Eh. I could've done better.
L: Please don't try.
S: Anyway, so I figured that no matter who we show up with we'll probably end up hanging out and having fun with each other, so I've decided to skip a step.
L: What if I like the excitement of going with other people and ultimately ditching them?
S: Well, then you're a sicker lady than I thought. Maybe I should break up with you, too.
L: Hey! Keep the salt out of the wound!
L: Tis cool…hmm. I guess I might as well accept. But with a few conditions.
S: Not only are you unenthusiastic, you have conditions. Please stop bruising my ego. Men as sexy as me have long ways to fall.
L: #1, you may not dance with anyone but me unless I give you express permission or order you to.
S: What if I have an inexplicable urge to dance with Mr. Garner?
L: Who's that?
S: …Mr. Ulcer Man.
L: OH! Well, that's all right. Here, an amendment: you may dance at any time with anyone over thirty.
S: I never saw you as the jealous type. –flirtatious wink-
L: Oh, stop flattering yourself, I just don't want to be alone.
S: Way to kill the mood.
L: #2, you must wear the yellow highlighter-colored suit I rented for Sash Alex.
S: But I had a powder blue tux all picked out!
L: No! It's my life's dream that my prom date and I go in matching yellow highlighter-colored outfits!
S: FINE. But I have a condition of my own, then! If you want me to wear the tux, you have to agree to go to prom with me no matter WHAT.
L: …Even if you're dead?
S: …What is it with you and killing moods today?
L: It seemed like a legitimate question at the time!
S: No, Lacy. If I'm dead you don't have to take me to prom.
L: If you're dead, can I take Bill Clinton to prom?
S: NO! Look, stop stalling and agree!
L: So basically, if I go to prom with you you'll wear the tux? Doesn't seem like very strict conditions, especially since I already agreed to go with you and you've said that I don't have to go with you if you died, which was my only concern.
S: I just want to be sure. So we're agreed? No matter what?
L: Yeah, yeah. Do you think you and Alex are the same size?
S: I'm taller. You might have to get it taken out.
L: I'll let you handle that. JUST NO SABOTAGE.
S: I wouldn't!
L: My ass.
S: Looks very nice today.
"Miss Harris, I asked you a question." Mr. Ulcer Man and his bland voice are addressing me? "Are you feeling okay?"
"You're very red. Do you need to go to the nurse?"
Oh my God. I hate my life. I hate my life!
"Stop laughing, you idiot—this is your fault!" I hiss at Scott as I put my head down on my desk.
"I guess not. So, after finding the slope of the line, you should be able to calculate…"
Oh, thank God I'm in math class. Only the sleep-inducing balm of the distance formula could possibly soothe the most humiliating moment of my life.
S: You're blushing.
L: Shut up. You're the one talking about my ass. I'm not used to it.
S: Those construction workers talked about it just the other day!
L: I blushed then, too!
S: Fair enough.
L: Yes, exactly! So shut up!
Scott doesn't send a note back, so I write a new one with a total 180 degree topic change.
L: My birthday's coming up. What are you getting me?
S: A party.
S: I'm actually getting you a party. You're going to love it.
L: Will there be ponies?
Again, Scott doesn't reply.
L: No way! Really, Scott? Ponies?!
L: What about bouncy castles? Will there be bouncy castles?!
L: Because my life will officially be complete if there are bouncy castles!
L: YAY! And face-painting and cotton candy machines and popcorn makers and hot air balloons!
S: I'm going to have to say no to hot air balloons.
L: Bugger. Can you make sure the popcorn poppers overflow?
S: Your backyard will be absolutely swimming with kernels.
L: How did you know what to get me??
S: You just told me. I'll be placing orders tonight.
L: You goofy goober.
I get out of chemistry a few minutes before the bell rings ("Ms. Stokes, I left my retainer in the bathroom—what if someone puts antibacterial soap in it again?") and wait anxiously outside of Scott's AP Microeconomics classroom, occasionally peeking in the glass window on my tiptoes to see if Mr. Egan is done lecturing yet. Aha, he is! Everyone's packing up their books! I go ahead and enter.
See, my plan is to check for any awkwardness between us—because then I'll know that he feels awkward about instigating my and Alex's break up. Which…I don't know if he should. I mean, he saw sooner than I did that Alex and I just weren't right for one another—and just because I was being stubborn doesn't mean that I don't now appreciate his little wake-up-call,
"here's some Folger's coffee now stop being blind to his faults" tactics. So, if he is awkward, I'll know for sure something else is going on in his life. I've been sensing it for a while now, kind of a whiff at the edge of his chocolate-smelling psyche (he sleeps on melted chocolate for me, if you'll kindly remember), that something is bugging him—and here's my chance to finally find out what!
"Hiya, babe," I drawl, hopping up on his desk—and consequently his homework, but no matter.
"You just scrunched up my teacher recommendation for UVa, I hope you know," Scott says mildly, not even looking at me as he continues packing up his stuff.
So he is still doing college stuff. Intriguing…
"So, Scott. How has life been treating you lately?" I ask innocently, picking intently at a hangnail.
"I see you've been attending those 'how to get stuff out of people' classes I recommended."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"No. I mean yes. I mean—how the hell are you supposed to reply to that?"
"Miss Harris, what are you doing in my classroom? The bell doesn't ring for another four minutes."
"Just getting my retainer, Mr. Egan. Scott was borrowing it." I reach up, flick Scott's teeth with my nail, and skip out of the classroom. He will soon discover that I have sneakily slipped a piece of paper reading "Hong's Grocery—3:56" into his University of Virginia application. Fate rides on whether or not he feels compelled to open his college stuff in the next hour. Mwahahahaha!
I enter Hong's Grocery at exactly 3:56PM. I've been waiting outside for six minutes, but no matter—if Scott doesn't walk in within the next forty-nine seconds, fate dictates that I don't spend the whole day with him and do spend it trying to get Chloe to shut up about how "awful men are" because I really don't care that much about Alex breaking up with me. Thiry-four. Twenty. Eighteen. Thirteen. Ten. Nine. Eight. AHHHHH!
"Guess who?" growls a deep, menacing voice I've only heard one person use—
"Paco! You're back—how…how unexpected," I say through a gritted smile.
I turn around and face the obese, Latin American horror that is Paco. Oh, how I regret using him as a pillow all those months in band class.
"Hello, Lacy!" he ejaculates with an over-eager grin.
"Paco, doesn't Scott have a restraining order against you?"
"He's not here," Paco says quickly.
"No, but he's coming—"
"It's not official," Paco grunts. He has sweat stains in the oddest places. Under his man-boobs, for instance. And around his protruding belly-button.
"Maybe not, but the sheriff has agreed to stick his taser in your—"
"I just wanted to say hello to you!" he says gruffly, pulling me into a reluctant—no, uncomfortable—okay, painful—OW—"TOO HARD!" I squiff, my mouth pressed against his chest. "PACO—OFF!" I press with all my might and somehow manage to rebound off his blubber and land shakily on my feet. "So, Paco…what are you doing back in town? I heard you moved closer to DC."
"Remember how you used to sleep on me in band class?" he bursts out suddenly. Paco is actually really starting to scare the hell out of me.
I laugh nervously. "Yep. Good times, my friend." SCOTT PLEASE LOOK IN YOUR UVA APPLICATION NOW!—OR, BETTER YET, FIVE MINUTES AGO!
"How is band class without me?"
"I'm actually not taking it anymore."
"But you were so good at clarinet!"
"I really wasn't."
"Oh, man, yes you were. The way you read those little dots so fast, that was really cool."
I begin looking around the dingy grocery just in case Scott missed me—unfortunately, I'm standing four feet in front of the front entrance and can see every nook and cranny from here. Scott…
"The notes, you mean."
He just looks at me for a moment before moving on. "What elective are you taking now?" I've noticed Paco shuffling closer and closer—he's managed to brew up the walloping stench of eight pig farms. And that's not a smell to snort at. Lacy, now is not the time for bad jokes—concentrate on sending Scott a telepathic message to get his ass over here.
"Culinary arts with Scott," I reply without thinking. Paco and I share a tension-filled second looking into one another's eyes until Paco hisses, "With Scott…"
"He's hardly ever there, though—he, uh, has this weird habit of hording blenders—"
"Who will you miss more? Me or Scott?"
"What do you mean?"
"Who will you miss more when we're gone?"
"Where am I going, Paco?" someone asks from behind me.
His voice is the sweetest thing I've ever heard.
"Scott," I sigh, all my relief pouring into that one syllable. I turn my back on Paco to face him. "You got my note."
"What note? I walked in here for a cream soda and find…" He looks around my shoulder. "Paco."
"Paco," I agree.
"Paco!" screeches Paco as he lunges forward and throws me sideways. I watch in slow motion as I continue falling backwards as Paco pushes Scott towards the Hongs' cash register. Then, suddenly, time speeds up and I feel full-force as I land on top of a pyramid of Bush's Best baked beans. I hear them clanging in all directions as I stare, dazed, at the flickering fluorescent lights on the ceiling. One head appears. Scott's. It looks like he has a flickering, fluorescent halo. Another head appears. Paco's. He eclipses my light completely. Paco and Scott share a look—Scott's a look of lip-curling hatred and Paco's the look a woman gets when her favorite pair of heels gets stuck in a grate and a steamroller's coming straight at her downhill. Paco waddles away as fast as he possibly can—I hear the tinkle of the bell as he leaves the grocery. I try to lift my arm to give Scott a "we beat Paco this time" high-five, but find I'm covered in cans.
"Can't move," I deadpan. Scott circles the crime scene, contemplating.
"I'm going to need your help," he lets me know. "This will be a very delicate operation indeed. I think all situations of this kind demand quotes paraphrased from…Rocket Man!"
"Oh, Scott! Is it really that bad?"
"Baby," he replies gravely. "It's worse."
I almost faint right there but manage to cling to consciousness.
"They say that when a mother's child is trapped the rush of her adrenaline gives her the strength of twenty men. All right, Commander, call me Mommy!"
Really getting into my role as the grumpy, stolid Commander, I press my lips together and shake my head, though secretly I wish he'd just get on with the adrenalining.
"Who am I?" Scott yells. Mr. Hong is completely unaffected by all of this behind the counter, I notice with some amusement.
"Mommy," I grumble, true to my character.
"Say it like you love me."
Though he has the strength of twenty men, Scott seems to struggle to pick up a single can of Bush's Best. "Well," he says, "that just ain't gonna cut it. We're going to have to try again."
"Mommy!" I shriek.
"Oh, no. We have to pull out the bigger guns. You're going to have to tell me that you love me."
"I love you!" I say readily.
"No, you're going to have to really mean it—"
"I love you!" I quip again.
"Lacy." I close my open mouth and look up at him again. He has a half-grin on his face. "This is a matter of life or death. Do you think Mr. Hong could lift you out? It's me or nothing. Last chance."
I keep looking up at him as I say, "I love you, Scott."
"Okay then." He reaches down, grabs my forearm, and pulls me to my feet—baked beans roll in every which way direction. "Now I have to show you something."
I'm still feeling kind of lightheaded—from lying under beans, you understand—so I trail a little behind him as he pulls me down a few aisles away from the beady little eyes of Mr. Hong. We're in the cleaning supplies aisle. Real romantic, I think before mentally slapping myself. I'm still a little woozy.
"Scott's Spectacularly Amazing Carpet Cleaner of Greatness," Scott reads like a dyslexic person from the left shelf, all squinty eyed.
"Are you for serious?!" I squeal with glee, wrestling the container from his hands. My face falls. "'Scott's Carpet Cleaner. You'll never have a cleaner carpet.' You liar!"
"Hey, it's mine! I can say what I like. Anyway, in a perfect world, that's what it would say."
I snort. "Yeah? Well, in a perfect world, I'd be married to John Krasinski. So tough."
Scott looks appalled. "What happened to Zach Braff? You beat me in a game of Monopoly to have dibs on him!"
"Well, you can have him!"
"Nah, I'm happy where I am."
"I keep telling you, Scott, Bill will never leave her!"
"He won't, will he?"
"No!" We're both grinning, but looking at the detergents, not at each other.
"Then I'll just have to find someone else."
"Yeah? Like who?"
"Like…" You, I think. Say you. "You." My breath catches. "Author Paula Yoo, in fact."
My eyes narrow. "Oh really."
"Yep," he quips innocently, averting his eyes to dry soaps.
"Well, I hope you and Paula Yoo lead long, fulfilling lives together."
"You know who I feel sorry for in this scenario?"
"No, Zach Braff, of course." He gives me a weird look. "Are you not happy with Krasinski? Why wouldn't you be happy?"
"I'm perfectly happy," I lie. "We all got what we wanted."
"Except for Clinton. He secretly still wants me."
Nothing was accomplished. Nothing! Not one thing. Not only did I have the strangest hidden-double-meaning conversation of my life, but the awkwardness has gotten even worse and I…I just don't know what to do anymore. I'm lucky I have my birthday coming up to keep my mind off things, since obviously any attempt I make at changing things is ultimately counter-productive. I'll be seventeen. Wait, seventeen? I could get my license! I haven't even touched my permit.
When I get home, the first thing I do after Scott runs up to "his room" is ask my dad if he'll teach me to drive.
"Teach you to drive?" my dad asks, wide-eyed.
"Yeah, dad. I'm almost seventeen."
"You have to be at least twenty-one, don't you?"
"Nope. Technically I could have my license now, if I wanted."
"But…but you still have a hippo pillow. You can't be a driver if you sleep with a hippo pillow."
"Sorry to break it to you, Dad." Really, the justifications these people can live with…
"Well, um—I'm not doing anything tomorrow. I could come home early, while it's still daylight. Probably safest."
"Just had to add that."
Dad doesn't respond.