Eulogies and Post-It Notes Can Change the World! (A Girl Named Abe)
"How far that little candle throws his beams. So shines a good deed in a weary world." -William Shakespeare
Let me just say that I was never stalking Jack—I'm just perceptive.
He didn't have to take it so seriously—it was only a Post-It! Besides, since then he's more than made up for my unsettling him by incessantly calling me Elizabeth.
My stepfather likes to say that Miss Elizabeth Sophie Pruitt sounds like the missing neighbor in Pride & Prejudice, most likely another "silly girl" who would thrill at the officers being in town. Now, being a seventeen-year-old girl/bookworm-type life form, I would normally be rather pleased to be in any world that has one Mr. Darcy. Really, if that man existed and bore any resemblance to Colin Firth, you could call me Duchess Moktar von Cornbreadpants and I'd be jolly as the caterpillar in The Fox & the Hound when it finally gets to sit by the fire.
At this point in time, no such Mr. Darcy has presented himself to me though, so until he does, leave that "Miss Elizabeth Sophie Pruitt" stuff behind and call me Abe.
Elizabeth has long been one of the most common names in the English language; there are dozens of nicknames that go with it, like the obvious Lizzie or the less obvious Tess. Until I was fourteen, I went by the full name—Elizabeth—but after my parents' divorce, I felt like I really needed to define myself as I truly was and not how I'd been seeing myself. My name is a very pretty one, but it doesn't really suit me.
Ergo, my plan of action was to find a fitting derivative.
Unfortunately, just as Elizabeth was just too proper for me, Lizzie was too popular, Betty was too old-fashioned, Babette was too much the name of Stars Hollow's lovable loud-mouth, Eliza was too reminiscent of Anna Chancellor's Caroline Bingley and her pretentious drawl, Tess was too much a mouse's name in Redwall and I don't steal from rodents, and Beth was almost as prim as the full name.
Ergo, my new plan of action was to make up my own fitting derivative.
At first, I was maybe a little too creative with the first few names I took for one-week test drives: Teba, Zabet, Izab, and Ebazi were just a little too much for parents, teachers, and peers to handle. Bonus points went to anyone who could follow my line of thinking in the creation any of those names.
Finally, I settled on Abe—as in ElizABEth—because I always did like those unisex monikers and Lincoln is my second-favorite president. Plus, as some extra ketchup on my grilled cheese (it's delicious, you should try it—it's like portable tomato soup!), this nickname was easy to pronounce and gave me great fun whenever I told a story that was hard to accredit, because I could just say, "Honest Abe's Honor!"
I loved—and still love—my name; now that baby names have gotten even wackier than ever, I've honest-to-deity had women ask me whether Abe is short for Abayomi or Abagebe. Don't get me wrong, those are beautiful names—perhaps more so for the lovely African tribeswomen for whom they're meant than for pale, Irish-Jewish, Manhattan natives like yours truly.
After all the hard work it took for me to get my name, I should hope it's obvious why I'm so irked by Jack calling me Elizabeth.
Re-dubbing myself was only step one in my self-defining bonanza; I won't go through every step, because they aren't all important to this story. Eventually, my plan evolved into a plan to better the whole world, not just my life. If we get to that point, rest assured that I'll expound on my Steps to Improving Society.
The important bits are the ones involving Post-It Notes and eulogies.
Let's look at the eulogies first. Now, I know that it sounds creepy and morbid—I swear I'm not some pseudo-gothic mallrat—but I believe that the value of eulogies in today's society is highly underrated. It all comes down to compliments.
I don't know how it happened, but one day, I realized that I was embarrassed to tell the closest people in my life how much they meant to me. At some point, I had stopped saying "I love you" to my parents and stepfather; I found myself dwelling more on what bothered me about them. Maybe it has to do with the vulnerability that comes from complimenting others; if you're not careful, you'll begin to see every compliment you give as a shortcoming in yourself because that virtue is so noticeable in someone else. I didn't like that, so I decided to change it in myself.
Have you ever been to a funeral? Well, I haven't, but I've seen tons on TV and in movies, and I can't even count the number of funeral scenes I've read in books. Out of film, my personal favorite has got to be the one from Waking Ned Devine, where Jackie says, "The words that are spoken at a funeral are spoken too late for the man who is dead. What a wonderful thing it would be to visit your own funeral." It was that funeral that inspired the Eulogy Endeavor.
The idea is that nobody is ever mean at funerals; no one talks about how so-and-so was a procrastinator who borrowed too much money, or how so-and-so was kind of full of him-/herself. No, people talk about how the person was so wonderfully funny and had a smile that could light up a room, or how he/she was a superlative friend who had a way with animals. It's not that those giving eulogies have forgotten the flaws that are inherent in every human being—they've just chosen to overlook the imperfections and focus instead on why that person was loved, why those two were friends in the first place.
Wouldn't the world be better if we were all just a little less afraid to tell people how great we think they are?
Thus was born the Eulogy Endeavor, which I began when I was fifteen years old.
After seeing that film, I took up my trusty laptop—the dull grey monolith that was a gift from my father when I was thirteen—and wrote eulogies for the eight most important beings in my life: Mom, Dad, Peter (my stepfather), Bobe (that's BAH-bey, the Yiddish word for "grandma"), Zeyde (Zay-duh, Yiddish for "grandpa"), my two best friends Ozzy and Paige, and my dog Maverick.
Once I'd finished the eulogies—I left out the whole "I miss him/her so much" and "He/She led a great life" parts, because that would've been going a bit far—I gave them to their subjects. Admittedly, everyone was a bit freaked out at first, except for Maverick. Actually, when I read his eulogy to him, my scruffy little genius of a mutt seemed quite touched. However, after I explained my theory, they all read their eulogies in a more abstract sense. My mom cried buckets and Paige got that mouth-twisting thing she does when she's trying not to cry.
Bobe and Zeyde worked together on a Eulogy for Abe (as it was so aptly titled); Ozzy and Paige both followed with eulogies of their own; Mav gave me an old rolled-up newspaper that I'm sure was meant to be a gesture of love from an underappreciated canine mastermind whose lack of opposable thumbs made writing a eulogy impossible. Actually, one of the headlines was "Committee Announces Youngest Female Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Ever", and while I was flattered, I assured Mav that my eulogy/Post-It plan wasn't quite that admirable.
Anyway, getting those eulogies from the people I loved so much was an unexpected perk, and I kept each eulogy as a reminder that it's important to see your own good qualities too. People who don't love themselves as a good human being can't love others; that's what I think.
Now this is where it gets really interesting.
After the success of the Eulogy Endeavor, I saw this French film called Amelie. The title role is this young woman who, among other things, does really nice stuff for both total strangers and her own friends. She helps a blind man across the street and describes the sights and goings-on to him; she plays matchmaker for this woman at the restaurant where she's a waitress; and she defends a really nice, albeit painfully shy, shop-guy against his evil boss. It's a great film.
Well, after that, I decided that I wanted to do nice things for people, but it's easier said than done. I mean sure, the little things—holding doors open for a lot of people, returning lost money, helping little kids find their parents in stores, picking up litter—were as easy as ever; the Amelie things are really hard, though! I tried to help this old blind woman across the street, and she rapped me across the shins with her cane and said I shouldn't coddle the handicapped. That was awkward.
Then, one day, I saw some profound graffiti. I live in New York City; graffiti is part of everyday life. However, instead of the normal hard-to-read tag, this was just plain black spray in only slightly stylized letters:
"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does." -William James
Not only did the actual words of the quote inspire me, but the idea behind it was exciting. Seeing that innocuous graffiti made me happy for the rest of the day even though it obviously wasn't for me and the possibility of me knowing the artist was about the same of me naming my first child Cleopatra Sparkles-Unicorn. I know that I am a unique person, but that didn't change the fact that something that was just written on a wall I passed every day on the way to school had made me feel like going out and being more than I was.
Thus was born Project Post-It, which I began when I was sixteen years old.
I may think that graffiti is an undervalued art form, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm a total wimp when it comes to anything even slightly illegal. Hence the Post-It Notes became my medium of choice. I spent an entire weekend collecting inspirational quotes and writing them on brightly-colored Post-Its of the standard size.
Then, on Monday afternoon, I wandered around after school and stuck a note on the inside of each bathroom stall in the building, even the boys' stalls—I avoided the urinals purely out of innate fear of the unknown/unwashed. Notes were stuck on walls, on top of cafeteria tables, even under desks.
Simply for favorites' sake, I decided to put personal notes on both Paige and Ozzy's lockers. I thought long and hard about each quote, deliberating about what each friend would need and whom they admired.
For Paige, the beautiful firecracker of a painter who claims to know that art is an impractical dream, I chose: "You are not here merely to make a living…You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget that errand." -Woodrow Wilson.
For Ozzy, the eccentric skater who believes that the world is inescapably apathetic to others' agony, I chose: "Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world." –Desmond Tutu
Even after my invasion of the bathrooms and generous peppering of inspiration throughout the school, I had ten Post-Its left over, so I decided to take to the streets. Unfortunately, the last ten were very hard to place on my route home; I couldn't decide whether they'd be better appreciated on streetlights or trash cans, on railings or subway turnstiles.
The next day at school, Ozzy, Paige, and I (I like to refer to us in the third person sometimes, because Ozzy, Paige, & Abe is OPA!, which is great fun) were in the cafeteria for lunch when Paige said, "Something weird happened this morning."
I grinned conspiratorially; that morning, I'd seen her looking at the note bemusedly.
"What?" Ozzy asked, his mouth full of tater-tot.
Paige's full lips curled a la Elvis as she muttered, "Charming. Anyway, I think I have a stalker." She raised her eyebrows for emphasis, and while I would normally crow her resemblance to a young Sarah Vaughn, I didn't because I was too dismayed.
My smile slid off my face. "No fair!" I cried
Ozzy laughed, scratching his mega-curly brown afro (the white-boy 'fro was what made me notice him at temple in first grade, and it's all history from there). "Right, Abraham, because that's a natural reaction—'But I wanted a stalker!'"
He calls me that—Abraham—because when I announced my new self-imposed nickname, he laughed and told me that I was much more Jewish than him if I'd call myself after the founder of Judaism. Despite my prior unawareness that my nickname would be perceived like that and long-since insistence that that isn't the case (I was thinking more along the lines of the sixteenth president, not a prophet), Ozzy claims that the "Jew-y Jew" nickname ties us together. I told him that I think I'm agnostic and consider being "Jewish" to be more of a social thing that involves awesome food and lots of bread; he said it's the thought that counts.
I was too distressed to retort, so I just looked at Paige imploringly. She frowned and pulled my Post-It out of her pocket; I had even gone so far as to use her favorite color, neon orange. "Look at this; it's a really nice quote, but it's really scary that some person knows enough about me to do this!"
Grumbling to myself, I cast a semi-admiring eye over my penmanship—I had worked extra hard to make my chicken-scratch handwriting neat and legible, and apparently that had made it unrecognizable. How flattering.
Ozzy opened his mouth and pulled a folded lime green square out of his shoe—he wears Vans skate shoes that are about ninety-seven years old but are worth upwards of twenty bucks on an average day due to the sheer amount of crap and cash he keeps in them. "Hey…"
They examined the notes side by side before simultaneously looking over at me, where I had been squirming slightly in my chair to keep from laughing. "You!" Paige cried in a shocked-but-amused voice. I held my hands akimbo—what a great word—my face displaying the utmost of innocence. "J'accuse!" she yelled accusingly, pointing at me.
Then I shrugged, looking upward. "I call it Project Post-It!"
Predictably, Paige rolled her eyes and, leaning across the table, smacked me across the back of my head. "You scared the bejesus out of me, dummy!"
"What is a bejesus?" I pondered out loud while Ozzy bumped fists with Paige in approval of her violent actions. Ozzy has a strict policy of never hitting girls unless said girl has already physically assaulted his beloved bobe—he claims that no good Jewish boy can be held accountable for his actions if something's happened to his granny—but that doesn't stop him from encouraging Paige to hit me for him.
"Yeah, I was pretty weirded out as well, Abe," he agreed, resorting to my actual name out of pure laziness as he lifted his Post-It with two fingers.
"J'regrette, my brotha," I said with as much sincerity as I could muster. I call Paige "my sista" because she once told me I sound ridiculous calling her that and I love nothing more than preposterousness. That led to me calling Ozzy "my brotha" just because, but then someone saw the three of us in the mall once and asked if Ozzy and I were siblings, so I had a real reason. I'm an only child, but if I did have a brother, I hope he'd be just like Ozzy.
Actually, I guess Ozzy and I do look sort of alike; we're both pretty pale with medium brown hair, and we're both tall and skinny. His hair, however, is, as I mentioned, an afro while mine is just wavy; he's got flawless skin and I've got my father's Irish freckles; he has dark brown eyes and mine are sort of bluish-green—my mom has a ring that Bobe gave her when I was three, and the stone is a sort of darkish turquoise that Bobe and Mom say is the exact shade of my eyes. Still, we act like siblings, so I can see how the mistake would be made.
Paige is the true beauty out of our Trio of Terror; with her dark skin and black hair, she already looks more exotic than Ozzy and me put together, but I think it's the big lips and slanted brown eyes that really push her into "I-should-be-on-billboards" territory. Ozzy and I were already a Troublesome Twosome when we met Paige in fourth grade, but it was like the addition of one more person made us a perfect triumvirate, an equilateral triangle.
Just to smother any budding delusions of clichéd romance, any dating in said triumvirate is considered to be three things: heartless betrayal, plausible grounds for insanity, and nothing short of incest. No, the only romantic anything Paige and I had to do with Ozzy was in trying to get him together with this crazy-cool girl named Rain who had a really big crush on him. Paige, naturally, had a boyfriend, Isaiah, whom she met in a pottery class.
As for me, it's a long story.
Once I'd explained my inspiration for Project Post-It and my strategy, it was Paige's turn to be an uber-genius. "So, you're going to just leave these wherever?" she asked, eating a French fry contemplatively.
"Yep, just like the graffiti only mine's less illegal and less likely to kill brain cells!"
"That's cool, but I think you should keep doing what you did to me and Ozzy," she suggested, tossing her long hair over her shoulder. I was jealous because in fourteen years of long hair, I had never mastered that move—my hair had been long until my self-defining upheaval, when I cut it really short; at the time of Project Post-It, it was sort of a chin-length bob.
I squinted at her. "Eh?" I said, channeling Zeyde; my zeyde bears a startling likeness to glasses-wearing Geri from the 1997 Pixar short-film Geri's Game, the chess-in-the-park bit that was shown before A Bug's Life. Zeyde loves to peer at me with his magnified eyes through those Coke-bottle lenses and say that—"Eh?"—when I'm talking too fast for him.
She rolled her eyes again. "The personalized Post-Its; even when I thought it was really scary, it was also pretty heartfelt and special," she explained as if I were utterly thick.
"Um…but you'd know that it was me," I said haltingly.
Paige and Ozzy exchanged glances. The former looked as if she was on the verge of introducing her forehead to the table, but Ozzy just patted said forehead placatingly. "She's only Abe Pruitt, super-genius, when she thinks about it real hard."
I glared and threw my Granny Smith apple at him. Due to my lifelong abhorrence of all things athletic, it missed him by about two feet and went soaring onward like a green beacon of hope…straight into Jack St. James' thermos of hot soup. He plucked it out and spun around so quickly that I made a mental note to ask him if he had Spidey Senses.
Normally, I would have been under the table doing my impression of an unassuming sea anemone so that he wouldn't know it was me, but I was already laughing so hard that my shoulders were shaking. It probably wouldn't have helped that Paige and Ozzy were leaning against each other for support, enjoying the endless mirth that springs from my total lack of hand-eye coordination.
Jack stood up with infuriating fluidity—in all his six-feet-a-million glory (he's really tall)—and walked over to our table, wiping flecks of soup off of his face. "I believe," he drawled, depositing the now soggy apple in front of me, "this is yours."
I attempted to answer him, but spontaneous giggles kept on escaping whenever I opened my mouth. Finally, I managed a strangled, "Sorry, Jack!" For some reason when I talk to him, I like to tag his name onto the back of sentences, because it always ends up sounding like a song.
He raised one eyebrow so briefly that I wondered if it had been intentional or just an Abe-related tic. "You owe me some chicken noodle soup."
My eyes met Ozzy's across the table, and I knew we were thinking the same thing, which set me off laughing again. "You…you…you…" I started unsuccessfully before finally getting some semblance of restraint. "You h-had chicken noodle soup…in a th-thermos, Jack?"
"Do you have a problem with chicken soup?" Jack deadpanned in reply, and I had to admire his control. Not like I had any of my own to crow about.
I bit my lip in a preventative measure before I was sure I could be witty sans hysteria. "No, not against the soup, per se, but it's just such an…all-American lunch, Jack. Did you have a piece of apple pie and some milk to go with it? Please say yes, Jack."
He blinked slowly, and I was reminded of a python. Well, an albino python, because like an albino python, Jack could never blend into his surroundings like his more mundanely-colored counterparts, the camouflage-skinned normal pythons. "No. Sorry, Pruitt, I hate to disappoint. If it really gets your goat, I'll ask my mom to pack some milk and pie tomorrow," he said, still with no sign of even the slightest lip-twitch of a smile.
My elation disappeared, and I set my jaw, displeased. "Your mother packs your lunch?"
Paige and Ozzy exchanged knowing glances. "Hey man, you should really just go. Seriously, leave now before she gets enough steam to go off for the rest of lunch," Ozzy advised calmly before popping his last tater-tot into his mouth with a relish.
Jack looked at him as if he hadn't realized Ozzy was sitting there before, asking, "What?"
Figuring that he'd had fair warning, I slapped my hands down on the table and sighed sharply. "Jack St. James, you are a junior in high school. You're in the Honors course, you're in the top two of the class, and you're on every team whose name ends with '-ball.' So tell me, why is it that you can't even manage to pack your own lunch? Deity above-slash-below-slash-ubiquitous, please tell me you do your own laundry, you Neanderthal!"
Jack raised the eyebrow again. "Wow," he stated laconically.
Highly vexed, I muttered, "Witty and articulate!"
"I'm going to go." Jack glanced toward Paige and Ozzy for confirmation.
Paige nodded, looking bored. "That would be wise."
Jack gave me one last, incredulous look before shaking his head and returning to his table.
I pressed my lips together, narrowing my eyes at the back of his head. "I cannot believe that! I mean, holy cannoli, how is it possible that his mother would think that—"
"Abe, hon, we've been over this; remember when you scared Ozzy into buying lunch?" Paige said, grinning slyly.
Ozzy held up both hands. "We don't talk about that."
"You're right. Sorry 'bout that Ozzy. Where were we?" Paige replied, nodding seriously despite her lingeringly wicked expression.
"Oh, you mean before Abe turned an apple into a projectile missile by pure skill alone? You were talking about a variation on Project Post-It," Ozzy said, smirking. I waved my spork at him threateningly.
Clearing her throat, Paige said, "Before I was so rudely interrupted for that ridiculously long amount of time, I was going to suggest that you do some more personal Post-It posting every once in a while."
I stuck my spork in my mouth to think. "Hmm," I hummed musingly. Then—light-bulb! Or Eureka!, whatever buoys your dinghy. "Paige, you're a non-criminal mastermind! Maybe…I could try to learn something about two or three people for the first four days of every week, and then on Friday, I could leave them the perfect Post-It tidbits of wisdom! Fun!"
Ozzy grinned. "What's more fun, Abraham, the idea or saying 'perfect Post-It tidbit of wisdom'?"
I shrugged, setting my head off to the side. "Who could choose?"
Then we set about planning; Ozzy and Paige elected themselves as my personal committee of choosers for who would be the next to benefit from a sage sticky note. Our peers are so lucky.
A couple of months passed and I had had eight successful Post-It Tidbits of Wisdom Weeks. Rain, the girl who had a crush on Ozzy had been one of the "members" of the first week, chosen by Paige. I gave her: "Having a secret crush that you've never told is painful, but to have that secret turn into 'What Might Have Been' is a life-long torture." -Jonathan Greenberg
In all honesty, that wasn't my best work, simply because I had known all along that what I really wanted to advise her to do was tell Ozzy how she felt, because Rain was cute and spunky and just Ozzy's type. She hadn't done so yet, but she was thinking it—I could tell.
However, it was December, the last week of school before Winter Break, and I was quickly running out of juniors with whom I was at least slightly familiar to counsel. Up until that point, we had only done junior acquaintances/friends just because it was easier; I decided I'd work my way up to finding the perfect piece of guidance for a total stranger.
"We're doomed!" I wailed in the hallway before school on Monday morning.
Ozzy rolled his eyes. "Don't be melodramatic, Abraham; you'll just have to help someone you don't know—imagine that. You know, that's what most people do for a good deed to make a difference. You can't always just help your friends, Abe."
Paige joined us by Ozzy's locker, still fingering the silver locket that Isaiah had given her—apparently the potter was also an expert in metal-casting. When she met my gaze, I glanced at the necklace pointedly, and she grinned sheepishly. "I know, it's just so beautiful, and he's going to be gone for the next three weeks…" Paige trailed off at Ozzy's fake, theatrical tears, which earned him a smack on the shoulder. "Shut up…you…person!"
"Oh, good one," I quipped, grinning.
"Hey now, you don't want to bring my…wrath on you too!" Paige warned. "Now what are we talking about?"
"How I've already done PITW for everyone I know," I informed her glumly.
"Have not," she retorted, and I did not like the look in her eye.
"Have so," I replied automatically, still feeling wary.
"Have n—Paige, that only works in cartoons."
"Fine, my sagacious friend, of whom are you thinking?" I asked sighing.
She and Ozzy shared yet another significant glance that worried me even more than the unsettling gleam in Paige's eyes. "Jack St. James," she said composedly.
"But…but…but!" I exclaimed somewhat shrilly, looking between my two best friends and seeing nothing but an unhealthy amount of satisfaction. "Okay, feline-type creatures, whose canaries did you hunt down?" I asked nervously.
So maybe now is a good time to explain…Jack.
Jack St. James is 6'4"—I asked—and, well, he's sort of the exact epitome of what I find handsome. That was purely accidental, be assured. He's got very dark brown hair and a tanned, almost Italian complexion. He's got eyes the exact shade of raw umber, which is this pigment that I attempted to use in the clay pot I was throwing when I went to pottery class with Paige to meet Isaiah—anyway, it's sort of like, well, dirt, but umber is warmer in color.
He has these glass-cutting cheekbones, and his hair is sort of the mop look, but it obviously takes time for upkeep. How tragic. Jack is essentially the quintessence of the Euro-boy look, which is why I take such joy in the fact that his name is Jack and he dresses like freaking Clark Kent—such an all-American. Well, except he's not nearly as big as Tom Welling. Neither does he have the ridiculously square jaw—thank deity—or blue eyes—alas. He does have broad shoulders, though, and he's tall, but he's overall pretty wiry, like a soccer player or swimmer.
The fact that he's a full six inches taller than me is superb, because it seems like most guys are 5'10"-ish, and that's how tall I am, which is horribly depressing. Not that I'm that tall—I love being tall—just the fact that the guys are that not-tall. You know, for guys, that is. Ozzy is four inches taller than me, but he's also my might-as-well-be-brother, so that's useless.
Yeah, well, physical attractiveness aside, Jack is also the whole uber-student thing; you name it he's got it when it comes to AP and Honors classes. He is my only competition for class-ranking, my only real competition. Freshman year, Jack was first; sophomore year was mine; as of first semester of junior year, I was ranked first, but it was by one thousandth of a GPA, which I didn't even know was possible.
So Jack St. James, the whole package—and he totally bugged the hell out of me. If he hadn't always acted so cocky, I'm sure I'd have had a huge crush on him, but he did, so I didn't. Besides that, he somehow appeared to lack a liking for reading, which was inconceivable. How can someone who does that well in school not love to read? I for one am never without at least two books, just in case I get sick of one. My question was what he did in his free time.
Basically, the relationship Jack and I had was intense rivalry partially concealed by taut semi-cordiality.
He was not my favorite person.
Ozzy and Paige wouldn't tell me what they were so smug about, but despite my insistence that they tell me and my frustration at their silence, they managed to convince me, somehow, to follow through with using Jack as my last semi-acquaintance recipient. We couldn't think of anyone else for that week, though, so "we"—and by that I mean "Paige and Ozzy without letting Abe put in her two cents properly"—decided that Jack would be the only one for that week. I would start with total strangers second semester.
When I began to observe him more closely, I was surprised at what I found.
I learned other things about him that week; some useless—a love for PowerAde that was a little too intense, a liking for the color red, a tendency to slam his locker really hard in anger, and a startling familiarity with the location of the school's water fountains—and some more interesting—he hardly ever cracked anything resembling a smile, he never talked about his family life, his favorite shirt was inexplicably a black t-shirt that fit him like a glove, and he was obsessive about keeping said t-shirt clean.
The one aspect of his personality that was obviously the most important, other garnered information aside, was the fact that he was never himself.
Maybe it was because I was observing him from a unique position—someone who'd known him since seventh grade but who remained at a safe distance—but by Wednesday, I could see that he had a perfectly-constructed façade to conceal whoever he really was. It was a smooth, cool, distant front, one that gave the impression of knowing everything and caring about nothing.
That was the strangest thing about Jack; plenty of people liked him and he was always surrounded by a small crowd at school, yet there was no girlfriend in memory, and no one could say who his best friend was or if that person even existed.
Ever since my parents got divorced, I had become something of an expert on people. I found myself able to judge emotions and even personality traits simply through watching. To this day, studying random strangers, trying to sort out the small facets of their lives to which I'm a witness, is one of my favorite pastimes. The two months of trying to decide on the best piece of advice for random classmates had been good practice, and I was putting my honed skills to work on Jack.
Friday morning, I woke up fifty-four minutes early, to my own chagrin. However, my eyes opened fully before I could stop myself, so I was quite irreparably awake. I dragged myself out of bed and decided to get to school extra-early to put the Post-It on his locker. For some reason, I felt sort of apprehensive about getting the sticky note on his locker, which was number 642 (memorizing the locker number was always my first order of business).
I left the house early, shouting goodbyes to Peter and Mom on the way. Bobe and Zeyde had fresh bread baking, the heavenly aroma drifting out into the street as I passed their place; I made an executive decision and chose bread over being at school more than a half-hour early.
Ten minutes later, I left Bobe and Zeyde's place with a huge chunk of hastily-buttered bread and a much better mood due to my grandparents' very zealous personalities.
I wandered into the school, feeling very secret-spy as I walked down the empty hall because I had decided to wear all black. Actually, I felt better than a secret-spy since female secret-spies are always wearing something akin to the following: a black trench-coat, black skin-tight-leather pants, black knee-high boots with killer stiletto heels, mirror-faced black lenses a la Neo, and a black beret.
I had on a black Einstein t-shirt, black skinny jeans, black Chucks with bright green peace-sign laces, my dad's retired aviator shades—he's a pilot, so they're legit—and, okay, a black beret, but Peter brought it back from Paris once and I really like it!
My Chucks made soft squeaks as I walked towards locker 642, which I attempted to ignore simply because I knew that if I listened to the steady squeaks, I would think up a ridiculous song that would be stuck in my head for thirty-eight years and would make no sense because it was made up in an empty hallway before school.
Once I reached his locker, I took a deep breath and pulled the sticky note off of my folder. I had quickly learned to reinforce the wimpy sticky-strip with double-sided tape to ensure that the recipient got his or her PITW (that's Post-It Tidbit of Wisdom). Clearing my throat, I pressed the note against the grayish-green metal and used my forefinger to rub the double-sided tape more securely to the locker.
As soon as I was sure it was going to stay, I took a small step back and looked at the quote.
"No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true." –Nathaniel Hawthorne
It had been the only quote for which I hadn't used a quote book or the Internet; I had been reading The Scarlet Letter for the third time when I came across it. If I believed in kismet, that's what I would have assigned as the cause.
I had perfected the art of faking my own handwriting in the preceding months; my penmanship was subject to much change as I wrote the individual Post-Its, sometimes just to suit the meaning of the quote. In fact, I even tried writing with my left hand for Yvonne Sanchez, whose quote was about trying new things, but the result was so illegible that I was forced to abandon my hopes of becoming ambidextrous.
Only for Jack's did I change nothing about my handwriting.
I was contemplating my work when I heard footsteps coming towards me. Jack's stupid locker was exactly halfway down the hall and all the classrooms were still locked, so I had a long way to go in order to escape.
To make matters worse, I heard a deep, warm voice echoing somewhat eerily along with the footsteps: "Hey, is that my locker?"
Jack! I meant to exclaim, but it came out more like the exact pitch of a muskrat being sat upon by a pygmy hippopotamus, a sort of fweep. With that bold squeak, I turned tail and ran in the opposite direction of the recipient who was very nearly discovered the identity of his advisor.
"Wha— " I heard him begin, but then he must've reached his locker. Once I reached the end of the hallway, the temptation to see his reaction proved too great, so I stopped and peered around the corner at him. He was standing in front of his locker, the dark, straight brows lowered as he stared at the pale yellow Post-It. Then he turned his face to the right very quickly, looking down the hall in the direction I'd run. Unfortunately, my black beret and aviator lenses weren't so incognito, because he immediately started towards me. With another tribute to the belabored muskrat, I took off down an adjoining hallway and up a staircase.
"Wait! What the hell is this supposed to mean?" I heard him yell behind me. Also inopportune was the fact that he was apparently really curious because he was flat-out running after me, and skinny though I may be, exercise is not my thing. The only thing that kept him from catching up with me—I often wonder what he would've done had I not fled so speedily; was he planning on tackling me?—was the fact that I had spent a long time after school in the previous two months and I had become very well-acquainted with the halls.
As I scampered around the corner into the hall where most of the seniors' lockers are, I immediately sought out the small cranny between one of the lockers and the tiled wall; the builders had miscalculated and left an entire foot of empty space, and I slid sideways into the gap, pressing myself as far back as I could go, breathing hard.
A few seconds later, Jack came sprinting around the same corner, looking around. From my gap, I could just see him. I was thankful for my incognito outfit, because I knew that, except for my neon shoelaces, I would mostly blend with the shadows. "Hello?" Jack called.
"Good morning, Jack," I whispered almost involuntarily. He stayed where he was for way too long, just looking around—my guess is that he had heard my squeaky footsteps stop around here—but eventually he shrugged and left.
Strange though it was, him going after me was actually pretty logical. Especially if there's no one around to see it, chasing after something that seems mysterious is the most natural thing in the world. I wondered at the time what Jack would say if he knew that I had had the audacity to call him on his fake-out.
I blew out a sigh, leaning my head against the wall behind me. Grinning slightly, I stayed where I was for a while, listening to the increasing volume of arriving students, until I heard someone opening the locker next to the gap. Deciding that, since other students were there, I was safe to wander the hallways, I slid sideways out of the gap, stumbling slightly. The owner of the gap's neighboring locker was a short blonde, and when I emerged, she screamed shrilly and jumped back in alarm. "What the hell were you doing in there?!" she yelled.
Pulling off the aviator shades, I glanced behind me into the trusty gap. Beaming, I patted the tiled wall and said, "Oh, I've been here all night."
She stared at me. "Why?"
Creasing my eyebrows as if I were telling her about starving children in a third-world country, I said, "Why, I had to be sure that no one robbed you, sweetie pie!" before turning on my heel and leaving.
When I got down to junior hallway, there were about twenty people down there. Jack was talking to one of his "friends" when the other guy gestured at the Post-It still on Jack's locker with a questioning expression on his face. Jack immediately plucked it off and made towards the trashcan. My face fell slightly, but then I saw that while he moved his hand toward the opening of the can, he actually folded the note in half and pocketed it. Score one for making an impact.
I actually allowed myself a bright smile, which I instantly regretted when Jack looked down the hall and met my gaze with a calculating expression. Luckily, Paige walked up, and I was able to pretend that I'd been greeting her. "Paige!" I shouted too loudly, throwing my arms around her neck in an overexcited hug.
"Um," she murmured.
"Go with it, my sista," I muttered in reply. A quick glance over her shoulder revealed Jack watching us with an eyebrow raised.
Paige pulled back, already beaming convincingly. We both began to jump up and down, squealing elatedly and letting out senseless exclamations like "I can't believe it!" and "That's impossible!"
Ozzy came over, apparently frightened. "What's…up?"
I chanced a look towards Jack and found him occupied with the people he sat with at lunch every day. Paige answered Ozzy's question, smoothing her skirt calmly. "No clue. Ask her."
They both looked at me expectantly. "Oh, it wasn't anything. Just a distraction."
Paige put a slim hand over her heart. "You wound me, Abe. I feel so…so used. So dirty."
We all laughed and then I decided I'd fill them in on my morning. Both of them found it bizarre that I'd squashed myself between a wall and a locker to hide from Jack, but they also agreed that Jack looked like he was pondering some very deep ponderings. That made me happy in my heart; making someone think is just as good as making someone do.
The three weeks of Winter Break passed quickly, what with the first week being spent with Ozzy haplessly searching for a Christmas present for Paige. She had ridiculous amounts of enthusiasm for that holiday, and she loved it so much that we were both afraid of ruining it with a lame gift. Fortunately she got a huge kick out of the webcam set we ultimately decided to get.
The first day back was a Tuesday—Monday had been a teacher day—so it was on a Tuesday that I started with my "schedule" of recipients. Ozzy, Paige, and I had spent Sunday and Monday planning out the people for the rest of the year, with Paige as our scribe. I thought that was hilarious—Paige the scribe, since a page was also an occupation back in…yeah, whatever.
It was a full four weeks into second semester, and I was again at school early on a Friday. When I got to my locker, I was shocked to see a violently aquamarine Post-It on my locker—my favorite color, I acknowledged weakly. In red ballpoint pen, it said: "Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit." –Oscar Wilde
I laughed faintly, feeling like I was in some sort of mental shock.
Until the end of school, I received a Post-It on the first Friday of every month. Most of them were about sarcasm, quotations, or good deeds.
Someone was turning the tables on me, and much as it pained me to admit it, he or she was being damn clever about it.
On the last day of school, which also happened to be the first day of June, which also happened to be a Friday, I found the quotation: "Ask a woman's advice, and whatever she advises, do the very reverse and you're sure to be wise." –Thomas More
"Definitely a guy," I snarled, stuffing the note in with the rest of the notes I'd gotten.
Ozzy was leaning against the lockers, his arms crossed on his chest. "Another stalker note?"
"Yeah," I grumbled. "So what's new, my brotha?"
"Rain Bergman told me that she likes me," he said, sounding bemused.
I resisted the urge to jump up and down. "Okay, is that…good? Bad?" I asked tentatively.
He made a pshh sound and exclaimed, "Man, it rocks! She's so effing cute, and I've seen her boarding at the park—she's not bad."
Then I did the jumping up and down. "Yay!" I shouted, jovially smacking Ozzy on the arm.
"Ow! Abe!" he complained, "What's the matter with you?"
"Nothing's wrong, Osman," I said, watching him cringe at his full name, "I'm just jazzed about you and Rain, because she's had a crush on you forever."
Ozzy made to reply, looking surprised, but before he could, Jack entered the scene.
I sighed at the use of my last name. "What, Jack?" Slowly, I turned away from Ozzy to look at Jack; he was wearing the bizarrely beloved t-shirt and holding an open spiral in the crook of his right arm.
The most peculiar part about that semester—besides the whole Post-It backlash—was the fact that Jack seemed to take my Post-It Note seriously. I couldn't pretend that the inconsequential piece of paper was solely responsible for change, but I had to wonder whether it was at least something of a catalyst. He'd stopped hanging out with people who were friends with "fake Jack" and actually became kind of a loner, but not in a creepy way—much more Holden Caulfield than Boo Radley. I hoped he was still happy, or else my guilty conscience would poke me with a sharpened chopstick. That didn't change the fact that he was a pain in my ass, though.
"What's Murphy's summer reading assignment?" he asked, scratching behind his ear.
I blinked at him, glancing down at my watch before returning to the task at hand—cleaning out my locker. "Why would I know?" I asked over my shoulder.
"Well, you have her next year, don't you?" he pressed, looking annoyed.
"Well yes, but seeing as I haven't been home and we still have three hours of school, I have it in good standing that I have not yet gotten the assignment for next year in the mail, Jack," I said, yanking the last of my books out of my once-messy locker and into my huge red canvas bag.
"Pruitt, haven't you ever heard that sarcasm is the means by which we hide our hurt feelings from ourselves?" Jack said, shaking his head as if to shame me just as I was turning around to face him. My eyes widened, but I quickly hid my surprise.
"Yes, that's C.G. Jung, right? Well, to that, I just have to say that sarcasm is intellect on the offensive. I'm not sure who originally said that, but I'm not going to try and pawn it off as my own," I retorted, raising an eyebrow challengingly. My voice was a little weak, though, because I was unsettled by Jack's quoting someone in a normal conversation; usually I was the one to do that, and I could only think of one other person who was going around using quotation, and that was that Re-Quotation Attacker, as Ozzy and I had taken to calling him.
When he leaned slightly closer, I didn't move, too surprised by the potential realization to keep up my end of our stinging tête-à-tête. "Pruitt, what exactly is Abe short for?"
That snapped me right out of it—whatever it was. "What?" I asked incredulously. Before he could clarify, I waved my hand dismissively. "Why do you care, huh? You only call me Pruitt anyway, so what does it matter to you, Jack?"
"Curiosity killed the cat," he said simply.
"Curiosity is the basis of education…I say only that the cat died nobly," I said automatically; my stepfather has used that Arnold Edinborough quote for as long as I can remember.
"C'mon, Pruitt, what's Abe come from?"
I glanced at Ozzy and Paige, since she'd arrived at some point in my argument with Jack, both of whom looked somewhere between amused and triumphant. "Abraham. I'm Jewish, you know," I said distractedly, trying to unearth my best friends' motivations.
When my eyes met Jack's again, he was squinting at me incredulously. I began to laugh at his ridiculous expression, not even bothering to pretend to be tactful.
"It's Elizabeth," Ozzy said unperturbedly, looking at his fingernails. I abruptly stopped laughing as my mouth fell open in total disbelief.
"Traitor!" I hissed at him.
"Hey, you called me Osman, Abe," he replied, shrugging, "An eye for an eye, my sista."
Jack's face, which had darkened to a scowl when I laughed at him, smoothed into a coolly superior smirk. "Elizabeth. I get it—from the middle of the name, right? Cute."
"Hardly," I snapped at Jack, crossing my arms and shooting a fuming glare at Ozzy.
"Well, thanks for that morsel of information, Krendt," Jack said to Ozzy, using his last name as per usual, "but I'm going to go track down Mrs. Murphy. Bye Paige…Elizabeth." I glared after him, my jaw set stubbornly.
"Oh, you two crazy kids," Ozzy said in a startlingly good impression of Zeyde.
"Talk about your general denial!" Paige quipped, grinning mischievously.
"Not that this isn't fascinating, but I'm going to go take a final, and then I am out of here. I'll decide whether I see you two…secret-keeping…people this summer later on! You'd better count yourselves lucky if I decide to do…that!" I said, stumbling over my words like they were Moon-shoes and I was, well, me.
With that veritable vocal whiplash, I turned on my heel and stalked off towards my English class, leaving two gleefully smirking friends in my trail.
Over the summer, I kept on playing "The Post-It Game" as Peter and Mom took to calling it, only I used my neighbors instead of classmates. The second semester of school had been excellent practice for playing the game with people I hardly knew.
After eleven years and seven years, respectively, I knew that Ozzy and Paige were up to something. They always seemed like they were very proud of something, What made matters worse was when I told them about my infuriating phone-call, because I swear that those two have never looked more self-satisfied.
It was a Saturday, and I'd been sitting on my couch with Maverick, reading, when the phone rang. As always, I ignored it. Peter is a pretty important businessman, so the phone's usually for him; when it isn't for him, it's mostly for my mom, who is a successful art restorer. Paige and Ozzy almost never call—they just come over and don't bother with the doorbell, often ending up in my room while I'm still asleep.
"Elizabeth!" my mom called suddenly. I sat straight up, startling Mav, and looked into the kitchen nervously—being called by my full name is never a good sign.
"…Yes?" I called tentatively.
She walked in from the kitchen, holding the clunky white phone out to me. "It's for you."
"Oh." I got up and walked over, and then I pressed my hand against the mouthpiece. "Why'd you use my whole name, then?" I whispered.
My mom smiled gently. "Sorry, kiddo, it was just a force of habit—that's what the young man called you, though."
Increasingly aware that the phone was still in my hand, I decided that the caller could wait just a little longer. "…Who?"
"The young man on the phone. He said, 'Hello, may I speak to Elizabeth?'," she told me, shrugging.
"Oh, okay. Thanks, Mom," I said, lifting the phone slightly. Then I cleared my throat and lifted it to my ear. "Hello?"
"Hi there, Elizabeth." It was indeed a decidedly male and slightly familiar voice, but I couldn't place it with its owner.
I wrinkled my nose, sighing heavily in distaste of my full name. "May I ask who's calling?"
"You don't know? I'm wounded."
"It isn't Ozzy, and I can't think why anyone else of the male persuasion would be calling."
"You underestimate yourself."
My eyebrows creased slightly. Was that a compliment? "Um…thanks?"
"You're welcome, Elizabeth. I must say, it's strange to hear you talking to me and not even tagging my name on superfluously," he said, sounding amused.
Hello recognition. "Jack," I stated rather monotonously—it was not a question.
"There we go. Hello Elizabeth, how are you?" Definitely amused.
I blew a breath out through my nostrils sharply. "Peachy keen, and yourself?"
"Oh, fine. Before I forget, I must say I was surprised to find the Post-It on my door yesterday afternoon. I thought we'd already been through that during the school year."
My mouth went slightly dry. "I beg your pardon?"
Jack laughed softly, and with his mouth so near the phone, he sounded uncomfortably close to me. "You don't remember? Here, I'll read it: 'A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.' –Tenneva Jordan. Ringing any bells, Elizabeth?"
"Oh." That was Nancy's quote, the housewife who lived just a few buildings over. I had changed my "game" slightly and only followed my neighbors short distances for a day or two so as not to be too creepy—Nancy had been at the supermarket, and I had overheard her on her cell phone, apparently talking to one of her kids. "…Nancy is your mom? Wait, you live by me?"
"Yes and yes. You didn't know?"
"No, Mav and I just saw her at the store—"
"Who's Mav?" he interrupted.
"My dog—and she seemed like a primo candidate for an encouraging quote about being a stay-at-home mom. And no, I had no idea you lived by me. I see your mom all the time—she even knows my name—but seriously, man, do you ever leave your house?"
"No, the anklet doesn't let me go anywhere but home and school."
"Never mind, my humor is wasted on you. How'd you know she doesn't work?"
"Oh please, don't underestimate my powers of observation, Jack," I said, shrugging uselessly. "You should really appreciate her more, Jack, she does tons."
"That's none of your business, Elizabeth."
"My name is Abe!" I snapped exasperatedly. "It's not that hard!"
"Yes, but Elizabeth is a much prettier name."
"So says you."
"You don't agree?"
"No, I don't. When I'm a journalist, no one will care how pretty my name is as long as my writing's pretty. Hey…are you saying that Abe is an ugly name?" I demanded contradictorily.
"Yes, so it really doesn't suit you."
I pulled the phone away from my ear and stared at it suspiciously for a few seconds, sharing a skeptical glance with Mav, until I heard Jack talking again. "What?" I asked once the phone was back in place—he had just been finishing a sentence.
"I said—what, you didn't hear me?"
"Well, no," I admitted. "I was checking the phone for mysterious life forms that would make me mishear you."
"Because you complimented me, albeit in a roundabout way, and it freaked me out."
"Most people would just say 'thank you,' Elizabeth," he drawled.
"…How did you know it was me?"
"How did you know that I'm the one with the Post-Its?"
"Well, after my initial surprise upon receiving the endlessly interesting one that you left me on that one Friday, I resolved that I would find whoever left the note. It was surprisingly easy."
I pouted slightly since no one was around to see it. "How come?"
"Elizabeth, you didn't even change clothes. For god's sake, you were still wearing that ridiculous beret when you went to talk to Paige and Krendt on the very same day," he explained as if to a two-year-old.
Shit, that was dumb, I thought, because he was right—I hadn't even put on a jacket.
"Yeah, that was dumb," he said calmly.
"Hey! Shut up," I retorted, frowning as he echoed my thinking. "Oh, congratulations on the class rank, by the way." Class-rank letters had been sent out, and Jack had eked by me into first place. Damn my A in AP Bio to his A-plus.
"How gracious of you, Elizabeth," he said, sounding surprised.
"Next year's mine," I quipped, grinning.
"So, um," I hinted, waiting for him to pick up the conversation since he was the one who initiated the phone call.
"Was there anything you wanted to ask me?" he asked. I'd have said that Jack was prompting me, but that wasn't right, because Jack is straightforward —sometimes brutally so.
"No?" My voice went up unintentionally, making my answer into a question.
"No?" he repeated, "All right, then. I'll see you around, Elizabeth."
"I always do."
"Wow, Jack, mega creepy."
"You're right; sorry."
"Forgiven, but what did you mean?"
"We live half a block away from each other, Elizabeth—I see you all the time."
"But I never see you!"
"Hey, not my fault. Maybe you should pay more attention."
"To you, you mean."
There was a click on the other end of the line, and I pulled the phone away, looking at it with my mouth open, offended. "How uncouth of you, Master St. James," I said in a British accent.
However, the minute I set the phone down I realized that I did have a question for Jack—more than one, actually, like, "Why did you call me?" and, "Is there some question I should be asking?" and, "How did you get my phone number?" and most importantly, "What do you have to do with my two best friends?"
For a month during summer, Mav and I went to my dad's house in Vermont, and on July 25, my birthday, Ozzy and Paige came to surprise me like they do every year. Each time, though, they turn up in different places and at different times during the day. Probably the best one was for my fourteenth birthday, when I was swimming in the lake nearby and they utterly terrified me by actually popping up on either side of me in the water.
The other two months were spent mostly with those three, especially Mav, because he has abandonment issues—a lot of shelter dogs do. One day, Ozzy, Paige, Mav, and I were walking towards Central Park because, while there are always boatloads of tourists there, it's a very pretty park. It was super humid and about ninety degrees; Ozzy, ever the skater, was wearing his tight jeans and black t-shirt.
"Aren't you hot?" I demanded for the fourth time. I was about to have a heat-stroke, and I was wearing khaki shorts and a blue striped tank-top. My plaid Converse slip-ons felt like fur-lined boots, and, as we passed a Foot Locker, I once more had a mental debate as to whether I hated sandals that much. As always, my dislike of flip-flops won out, and I walked past the store.
"Why yes, I am, thanks," he said smugly, raising one eyebrow like he thought he was smooth.
"Oh, good one, Ozzy," Paige said, grinning. Ever since Isaiah had come back from visiting family in D.C., Paige had been in a perpetual good mood; it was fun—I got to steal from her impressive collection of awesome shirts without any penalty.
We were still talking and laughing when Paige glanced up ahead and muttered, "Uh oh, here comes trouble!"
I frowned and followed her gaze, growling slightly and rolling my eyes when I saw Jack strolling towards us. I didn't bother acting surprised at his appearance, because since our phone conversation, I had noticed that I saw him around pretty often. Sometimes he was at the park with his younger brother Vincent (whom I knew but hadn't known to be Jack's brother) when I was walking Mav, sometimes he was at the store with his mom, and sometimes—like now—he was just walking on the street when I was. We never really acknowledged each other, though.
Not the case that day, apparently. "Hey Paige; what's up, Krendt?" Jack said once he reached us, looking at each of my friends as he greeted them. Then he met my gaze. "Elizabeth."
"Jack," I replied, rocking back on my heels and wrapping the handle of Mav's leash more tightly around my hand.
Jack looked down and smiled so slightly that I wondered if I was seeing things. "Mav," he said cordially, and like the superb canine he is, Maverick stared blankly at the hand Jack had outstretched.
"How'd you know his name?" Ozzy asked, looking at me suspiciously.
"Elizabeth told me," Jack said easily.
I stared at him blankly, doing my impression of Maverick. "Yeah, six weeks ago!"
"Unlike some people, I have a very good memory," Jack replied, bending down with one knee against the sidewalk and putting a hand out to pet Mav.
"Wait, don't, he's really…" I trailed off when Jack scratched the area between Mav's ears and the dog closed his eyes, apparently pleased. "…timid," I finished lamely.
It made no sense. I had gotten Mav when I was eleven; he was a runt from the shelter who was afraid of everything and everyone because he'd originally come out of a puppy mill. It had taken a week to get him to trust me, a month for him to stay in the room with my mom and stepfather, and two months for Ozzy and Paige to be able to pet him. Because Mav is a genius dog, I always trust his judgment on people, which made the fact that Jack was apparently his new best friend slightly worrisome.
"What kind of dog is he?" Jack asked, scratching under Mav's scruffy chin.
"Mutt," I said, with a smile, because he's way smarter than any hoity-toity purebred out there, and that makes me proud.
"What breeds? Do you know?"
Blinking, I hesitated in my answer just because I was surprised at his newfound interest in my dog. Mav is the coolest canine on the planet, but I don't expect strangers to pick up on that. I looked quickly at Paige, but she was just watching Jack and me with vague interest. Ozzy was no help either—he was staring avidly at some skaters doing tricks in a drain gully across the street. "Um," I began, "I think that he's an Irish setter mixed with some sort of smaller dog—maybe a border terrier."
"My grandpa has a border terrier," he said, standing up and brushing off his pants.
This was very peculiar. Jack was talking to me like, well, like we didn't have a deep-seated rivalry that spanned the last five years. "Yeah, Zeyde had one when he was little too. Oh, Zeyde is my—"
"—Grandfather, I know," Jack finished for me. I must have looked surprised, because he raised his eyebrows and said, "There are a lot of Jewish families on our block; I learn quickly, Elizabeth."
"Well, good, then. But yeah, Zeyde had a border terrier and Bobe—" I glanced at his face for confirmation out of force of habit, and he gestured for me to go on, "—Bobe had an Irish setter. So if that's what Maverick is, then he's sort of a mixture of my grandparents' childhoods, which I think is pretty nifty. Plus the fact that he's a genius."
I sighed. "Here, I'll show you. Mav! Maverick! Oi," I said, snapping my fingers for his attention. Once he was looking at me, I said, in my clearest voice, "Where's Ozzy?" Mav walked over and touched his nose to Ozzy's leg, who looked down at my dog and patted his head absently. "Where's Paige?" Mav did the same to Paige, who murmured some commendation. "Where's Zeyde?" He turned back and started walking the way we came, where Bobe and Zeyde's apartment was. "Who's your favorite?" I asked last, holding my arms out. For a second, I had a horrible fear that he'd go towards Jack—Mav always was a sucker for someone who's good at petting him—but he made the right choice and ran towards me, jumping into my open arms.
"Good boy!" I praised, setting him back down on the sidewalk lightly.
Jack grinned, and I felt my eyebrows raise of their own accord; suffice it to say that it's probably a good thing for me that he wasn't ever one of those guys who smiles at anything, because I would have been in serious danger. "How long did it take to train him all that?"
"She didn't," Paige and Ozzy said simultaneously, matching grins on their faces.
I smiled slightly, since I had told everyone that so often when I first showed them—it really is true, I didn't train him!—that they had just taken to saying, "You didn't, we know!"
Jack frowned slightly, so I met his gaze and cleared my throat lightly. "I really didn't; he just picked it up by following me around all the time and learning to recognize names."
He nodded, raising his eyebrows slightly. "Impressive," he said, and he really did look impressed, which gave him a couple of Brownie points in my book.
"Yeah well, I think we're going to head to the park now," I said slowly, smiling tentatively. In all honesty, I was quite weirded out by his politeness, because that made him downright likable; I was so unfamiliar with that that I was at a loss for how to act around him.
Jack nodded in understanding and said goodbye to each of us, nodding at me last of all. "Elizabeth."
"Bye, Jack," I said quietly before watching him head down the way we'd come. Then I turned to Ozzy and Paige, both of whom were watching me with impish smiles. "What?" I demanded nervously.
"Oh nothing, nothing," Ozzy assured me, and I raised an eyebrow skeptically. "Just…"
"You could've gone with Jack, y'know," Paige cut in, grinning broadly. "You're terribly amusing and all, but I'm sure me and Ozzy could've done without you for a while."
"Gone with Jack? And done what, pray tell?" I asked, running my thumb along the tank top's strap to untwist it and make it lay flat on my shoulder.
Ozzy laughed brightly. "Well, we can't tell you here, dearest Abraham, it'd be impolite."
I rolled my eyes and wrinkled my nose. "Whatever; at least he was nice to Mav, right Mav?"
"Yeah, at least," Paige said, heavy on the sarcasm.
I glared at her, letting her know that I was getting really fed up with this mysteriousness.
School started a couple of weeks later, on a Thursday; the following day, Friday, was when I found the first note on my locker—which, by chance, happened to be the one beside my trusty gap-beside-the-wall; what kismet, if you believe in that kind of thing. "I like intelligent women. When you go out, it shouldn't be a staring contest." –Frank Sinatra
My eyebrows shot upward as I read it. "Um," I said to no one in particular.
"'Um' what?" Startled, I jumped slightly as I turned to see Jack standing behind me, holding a fair number of textbooks.
"Um, I just got a very…interesting note," I replied.
I was still holding the yellow Post-It in my hand, and he looked from it to my face quickly. "Aren't you the one who does all the Post-It posting?"
"Yes, but he beat me to it."
"How do you know it's a 'he'?"
"Ha, no woman quotes Thomas More."
Jack leaned forward and plucked the note out of my hand and read it quickly. "Sinatra is the coolest cat who ever lived," he stated simply.
"Well, duh, but that doesn't make this any less weird," I said, creasing my eyebrows together. "What are you doing here anyway, Jack?"
He gestured behind me. "Locker," he said laconically.
"Oh," I said, "sorry." Then I stepped aside and he opened the locker directly below mine. At our school, lockers were assigned randomly, and every student had to buy his or her own combination lock. What can I say, the administration is cheap when it comes to locks.
"Just so you know, I don't put a lock on my locker, so please don't steal anything," I said.
He glanced at me over his shoulder, frowned, and looked up at my locker. Then he stood and, without even asking, hooked his finger under the latch and opened it. I opened my mouth to protest, but then he turned and looked at me with an incredulous expression on his face. "And steal the little wrestler or a garden gnome magnet? Heaven forbid."
"Hey!" I said, though I was grinning slightly, "Don't make fun of Carl and Joaquin—they've guarded my locker for the last three years!"
"Yeah, well, see you around, Elizabeth," Jack said, flashing a grin so quickly that I almost missed it before he slammed both of our lockers shut and walking off down the hallway.
"Yeah, Jack, see ya 'round," I murmured. Unbeknownst to me, that was very, very true.
I can sum up the next three months leading up to today rather quickly. Last month I cut my hair into a pixie-cut, so right now, it looks kind of like that girl Eden's hair on Heroes.
My stepfather Peter got a promotion at the software company, and my mom got a really huge contract with one of the city's art museums to restore a bunch of seventeenth century paintings.
Bobe and Zeyde got a huge cat named Leon who frightens Mav and entertains me.
On the romantic front, Ozzy and Rain are finally together officially—took them long enough—and Paige and Isaiah broke up. It was a shocker, but Paige, who did the breaking up, took it really well. She got over it quickly, and now she's considering a junior named Johnny.
Jack…oh boy, what to say about him? Well, Jack and I became less and less, er, hostile towards each other, although there's a sort of teasing, jibing undercurrent to all of our conversations. I even decided to write a eulogy for him out of curiosity, but I didn't let him read it because I was surprised at how it turned out.
And I kept on getting notes.
The second one came exactly one month after the first: "When you fish for love, bait with your heart, not your brain." –Mark Twain
I love Mark Twain and all, but I wasn't sure about that one. As far as I was concerned, baiting with one's heart is just asking for it to get all chewed up—in the metaphorical sense, since that would be seriously dangerous to one's health in the literal sense.
The third one followed the one-month pattern: "Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves." –Albert Einstein
It was when that one arrived that I began to wonder just how well I knew this guy. Paige asked me if I was creeped out, and strangely enough, when I told her I wasn't, it was totally true. I was just amazed that someone could go through enough trouble to find quotes that I would enjoy by men whom I admired and respected—this year, at least, since I've already mentioned that I don't much approve of Thomas More. Frankly it just didn't make any sense to me.
And now we come to today, three months after the first day of school. It's after school, and the hallways are practically deserted. I am standing at my locker, staring at this note. It's bright blue again, like the very first one—the Oscar Wilde quote from last year—had been; all the other ones have been standard-issue pale yellow.
"I want to do to you what spring does with the cherry trees." –Pablo Neruda
Ozzy is next to me, laughing uproariously at it, exclaiming it as "very dirty," but I am very familiar with the poem "Every Day You Play" and I know it isn't really sexual—just adoring.
I know who left this note.
Paige wanders over, smiling brightly. "Hey, guess what?"
I respond immediately, because I'm already in the plan with Johnny and Ozzy, but my voice is weak with the shock of realization of another matter. "Johnny asked you out?"
"And you said…yes," Ozzy finishes, grinning widely. "Oh, hey, I gotta go, my sistas. Much love." We follow his gaze and see Rain—her appropriately-colored bright blue hair reminding me of the note on my locker—standing by the water fountain across the hall. Paige and I wave him away, smiling like proud mothers when he sweeps her into a big, joyful hug. Then they are walking out the double-doors, into the brisk autumn air.
Paige notices the new addition to my locker's décor. "Another one?"
"Yep," I barely whisper.
She reads it quickly, raising an eyebrow and lifting one corner of her lips. I assume she rereads it, because she whistles lowly and meets my gaze. "Sexy."
"But not sexual," I correct hurriedly.
"Do you know who it is?" Paige asks, and she doesn't sound curious—just expectant.
I sigh resignedly. "I think so."
She grins brightly, pulls me into a startled hug, and then pats me on the head. "Good girl, Abe. Ta-Ta!" she shouts and then she practically sprints outside.
Someone clears his throat behind me, and I don't have to turn around to see who it is, but I do anyway. "Good afternoon, Jack," I say quietly, tilting my head off to the right.
"Elizabeth," he greets softly, and for a second, my traitorous ears tell my mind that they like the way my name rolls off his tongue—like it's candy or honey. His eyes flick over my shoulder to the note, and I know that he can't have had time to read it before he meets my own eyes—dark turquoise up against raw umber. "Neruda. That's your favorite poet."
"I know," I reply, "and you know too, Jack."
"Obviously," he near-drawls, the ghost of a grin lighting up his American-Euro-boy face.
"No, I mean, I know and you know, but no one else does. I told you that only because you saw me reading one of his collections; Ozzy and Paige don't even know I like poetry," I tell him, feeling an odd mix of trepidation and something like elation.
He cocks an eyebrow almost tauntingly, and I know that it is a challenge. "Is it you?" I demand, crossing my arms across my chest stubbornly.
My head tilts back slightly as he steps very close to me. "What do you think?"
I take a deep breath through my nose that is meant to be calming but isn't—at all. Finally, I answer, "I think you screwed up with the Thomas More quote. I was offended by that."
His barely-there smile flickers into life, and it reminds me of my father's camping lantern, which always flickers four times—not thrice, not five times, but four—before blaring into brilliant fluorescent light, because suddenly I'm being dazzled by this smile, one I've never seen before. I know I'd remember a smile like this.
"Had to make sure you knew it was a guy," he quips and I know I'm not imagining his face lowering slightly.
I am nervous and unfamiliar with the situation, so my mouth just keeps on running as I uncross my arms and fiddle with a lock of my short, wavy hair. "And that first one—'Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit'? Are you saying I'm not witty? Because I totally am!"
Now his hands are on my face, and his thumb is on my bottom lip, so I can't really talk anymore and I'm sure he meant to do that. "Of course I think you're witty, Abe," he whispers, and before I can express my delight at him calling me by my name, he is kissing me.
Deity above/below/ubiquitous, I am seventeen years old and here I am getting my first kiss in front of my locker. I quell the mean little voices that are snidely suggesting that Jack is much better at this than me, because I know that they won't help matters one bit.
He pulls away slightly, and my eyes flutter open—funny, I don't remember closing them. "Elizabeth," he says quietly, and I'm a little glum that we're back to that Elizabeth business, "I really like you. A lot. And I have for a long time now."
My inquisitiveness is piqued. "How long?"
There is a slight smile on his face. "Three years now for sure, possibly longer. Ozzy and Paige know; I enlisted their help last year."
I am triumphant and veridical; "I knew it!" He smiles again. "Holy cannoli," I whisper.
Now he is kissing me again, with one forearm rested against the locker and one hand on the small of my back. The corner of the lockers is pressed between my shoulder blades, and suddenly I am slipping backwards into the gap. My arms are twining around the back of his neck for support and bringing us closer, but then I realize that his hand had tightened around my waist and he wouldn't have let me fall—wrapping my arms around him wasn't necessary, but he doesn't seem to mind the closeness it forced. "Elizabeth," he breathes.
I wrinkle my nose and pull back slightly, meeting his eyes, which look so dark that they're black. "My name," I say, beaming, "is Abe," before leaning in to kiss him again.
A/N: Just reposting this in an edited and very slightly changed format, because there were just a few too many errors than I can handle in my one-shots. I'm really grateful for the reception this story's gotten, especially since it's so close to my own heart. Oh, and as an extra little cherry on top, someone (I thank you profusely, whoever you are) nominated this for the "Most Creative Plot" SKoW! Really, thank you so much, and I guess just wish me luck in the voting season!