C-019: Helping Hand
It was a bright day, one of those days where you know it's going to steaming hot in the afternoons because of the humidity on your skin and the sweat gathering on the back of your neck. Ethan looked up towards the rising sun, watching it peeking up over the trees across the street. To his back was a gate, a tall school fence that seemed unnatural. Why would there be a fence to keep students in? Ethan wondered to himself. They weren't juvenile delinquents. There was no reason to have a locked fence as well as locked doors, locked classrooms, locked windows. But, as Ethan had nothing to do with the city school systems, he didn't know any of the reasons. He just got to watch it, as a bystander. The school, even though it had a fence, was outfitted with a broad, green lawn, and, if you squinted, you could see white lines painted onto the grass, allotting that area as the soccer field, and this area as the football field. It was quite a nice lawn, really.
The fence was wrought iron, and was actually quite nice as well, all considering. There was a low concrete base that the iron went into, which jutting out far enough to make a decent bench. Ethan sat down and sipped at his smoothie. He had just learned how to make them, which he did when he could finally afford a blender. The one he was drinking at the moment had blueberries and bananas in it, with enough vanilla ice cream to counter off any health benefits gained from the fruit. He drank slowly and watched the sun rise.
Some time passed before some activity started up at the school. Several students began arriving. Not many of them paid much attention to Ethan as he sat on the concrete base; several of them gave him curious looks, but not many. It wasn't really all that odd for someone to be taking a break on the concrete bench. Plenty of joggers took little rest breaks on the bench at the halfway point of their runs.
Ethan drank the rest of his smoothie and opened it up to get the rest of the dredges that he couldn't get through the straw of the water bottle. He leaned back against the iron fence, sighed, and closed his eyes against the rising sun.
Ethan opened an eye. "Good morning."
Carter plopped down next to him with a groan. His school uniform was disheveled, with his shirt untucked and his blazer unbuttoned.
"I hate my life," he moaned.
"That's nice," Ethan said.
"No, really, it does." Ethan patted him on the back. "My life reeks. It's full of shit." Ethan recognized the thought pattern. He could almost repeat in his head. "I swear, God's out to get me."
"He's targeting you specifically," Ethan stated.
"Yeah. Duh. That's the only reason." Carter rolled his eyes. "It's just... everything seems to be going so... bad."
"What does your grammar teacher say about that?" Ethan asked. "Isn't the correct word 'poorly'?"
"Shut up." Carter leaned forward and put his chin in his hands. He stared at the houses across the street.
"So, what happened?" Ethan asked.
"She dumped me."
"She dumped you."
"That's what I said."
"It wasn't a question."
Carter sighed. Ethan patted him on the back.
"I..." Carter started. "I... I just..."
"You loved her," Ethan finished.
"No, I didn't. I just... This is so stupid."
"Nothing is stupid," Ethan said. "Only the people that say it."
"Well, gee, thanks, that makes me feel so much better." Carter stared at the houses across the street.
"Well, what happened?" Ethan asked.
"We had a date last night."
"And, she was just... talking."
Ethan didn't answer for a moment.
"Talking?" he asked.
"You had quite a build-up there. 'Talking' is a bit anti-climatic."
"That's kind of the problem."
Ethan raised a brow. "That talking was the climax? How is that a problem? That's the 'climax' of a lot of dates, you know."
"Hmm," Carter replied neutrally.
"Not every date ends in sex."
"That's not the point."
"Then what is the point?"
Carter sighed—again—and held up his hands. "Okay, look. So, she was talking. And talking. And talking and talking and talking."
"She never shut up."
"It's not just that! She talks about... nothing! Nothing at all! Is there..." He turned to Ethan. "Is there a point? I was just looking for a point, and then she's like..." He raised the pitch of his voice to a slightly mocking tone, "'Do you think I should dye my hair red?' Am I... am I supposed to care? Really?" When Ethan didn't answer, he repeated the question, "Am I supposed to care?"
"About whether or not it's a good idea for your girlfriend to dye her hair red?"
"Not just that... But... I just start tuning her out, and she notices, and she gets angry at me. And last night she dumped me."
"You're not really upset about her dumping you, are you?"
"No, I'm not. I just... I don't really get it. It's been like that with everyone I've met. Sometimes, I've talked with some other guys about it, and I seem to get the same story, with everybody." He sighed. "Is that all there is?"
"I don't think you're looking deep enough, really," Ethan said. "Most of the girls you go out with probably don't know a lot. They're young. Chances are, if they go to a school like this—" He gestured towards the gated school behind him. "—they are rather privileged and perhaps rather sheltered. You need to lead them out of their shells and show them what's out there besides knowing what color to turn their hair."
Carter snorted. "'Oh, yes, would you like me to lead you out of your shell?' That sounds like a really... poor pick-up line, since you seem so keen on grammar today."
"You know what I mean."
"Except for one problem: I'm not very world weary yet. I've barely been out of my home town, let alone seen what's 'out there'." He crooked his fingers like quotes. "That's like telling some illiterate to read... I don't know, the Bible, or something."
"So you have to learn to read."
"Well, yeah, fine, if you want to continue with the metaphor. What are we supposed to talk about?"
"You could talk about politics."
"Boring," Carter said immediately.
"How about your life aspirations?"
"I've tried that."
"How did that turn out?"
Carter widened his eyes and put an airy, goofy look on his face. He pretended to twirl long hair around his finger. "'Well... I want to be... a model, doesn't that sound fun?' I'm fairly sure that everyone at our school is an air-headed ditz."
"I think you might be stereotyping," Ethan reminded him and rolled his eyes. "And most people are unguided at your age."
"See? There's my point. I'm 'unguided'. They don't give you guides to dating or finding a girl that's not obsessed with her own body."
"I don't see what's so wrong with a girl being obsessed with her own body."
"But I do agree that dating is a fairly hit-and-miss sort of situation. If you find someone with whom you're not compatible with, then move on to someone else."
"And if you find someone with whom you're compatible, what do you do?"
Ethan didn't answer for a moment.
"Now therein lies a mystery."
"You don't know?"
"I'm fairly good at first dates, I'll have to say that. Plenty of experience. Beyond that... it gets a little iffy." Ethan held out a hand and waggled it back and forth.
"So, what are you supposed to do on first dates?"
"Talk...? That's a really vague question, really. The point of a first date, if you don't know the person before-hand, is to get to know each other, in a general sense, to know who the other person is, who they want to be. You might also want to know how the feel about abortion or something like that so you don't get in a fight about it later."
"Why is that important?" Carter asked.
Ethan shrugged. "Oh, nothing, just a friend of a friend said it might be a good idea, just in case you end up getting in a... compromisable position."
"A friend of a friend."
"I am telling the truth, you know. It's never happened to me."
"Why do I not believe you?"
"You can not believe me as much as you want, but the truth stands. Stare veratis."
"That's bullshit Latin."
"Why, thank you."
Carter sighed and put his head in his hands again. Ethan checked his watch.
"What time is it?" Carter asked.
"Your class starts in a half-hour."
"Dammit. I don't want to go to school. I hate this place." He sighed again.
"You're being pretty dramatic with the sighs," Ethan pointed out.
"It just that it seems like I need to have 'the perfect first date'," Ethan said, "to figure out how to do it."
"I've got a friend--"
"Whom I'm probably not interested in."
"—but that's not the point. You're just supposed to figure out how it all works, right? It doesn't matter if the person you go out with doesn't really pique your interest, really. It's just mechanics."
"It's just mechanics?"
"Trust me, first dates are stupid. You're going to look back at this whole ordeal and laugh your ass off. Now, you can get her at this number, and, trust me, she's really pretty, but not really drop-dead gorgeous--" Ethan had already pulled out a pad of paper when Carter groaned loudly. "What is it now?"
"I don't want to go on a first date, especially with someone I don't know."
"Come on. I'll even explain it to her." Ethan started writing down the number.
"Can't I just go out with someone I already know?"
"You've already condemned most, if not all, of the female population of the school. Unless you have some magical female friend whom you've completely overlooked in this whole ordeal, you are now limited to the males that you know." Ethan shrugged. "Now, I'm not saying that you can't date a guy, but from my experience, going out with one doesn't really give a good idea on how to go out with the other."
Carter glanced at Ethan. "You've dated a guy?"
"Yeah. I told you I'm experienced."
Carter didn't respond.
"I might be going out on a limb here, but I'm inferring that you want to go out on a date with me. Please correct me if I'm wrong."
Ethan sighed. "Fine, since kids your age seem completely incapably of making their own decisions... I'm busy tonight, so meet me at about this same spot tomorrow night, and, please, wear something nice." Ethan stood. "And you'd better get to class if you don't want to be counted late." He picked up his empty water bottle and started down the street. Several minutes later, Carter got to his feet and went down the street, but in the opposite direction.