Wednesday, September 26, 2007

At 12:20 the bell rang, ending fourth period, and Holly Snow rushed out of the drama classroom to the spot where she and her friends usually sat to eat their lunch. Four weeks into her sophomore year, the fifteen-year-old was still single, having never had a boyfriend of any kind, but over the past week, she'd come to the conclusion that she must have caught someone's eye.

Sitting some sixty feet away from her clique, the theater aficionados, a tall, slender boy dressed in assorted bird T-shirts and cargo pants talked with his friend, a younger-looking kid with large-framed glasses wearing drab grays. The older boy, the one who'd been regularly turning his head to look in her direction, had lighter brown hair than his comrade, whose hair was nearly black. Both boys were marginally recognizable to Holly, the older one likely a classmate from previous years, the younger one from something else, unknown to her at this point.

Holly took comfort in the fact that in spite of their obvious differences, they were connected in their relative oddness. While the theater kids tended to be rather attractive and fairly popular among their peers, and the computer and engineering nerds that populated her admirer's group were entirely the opposite, both groups were nevertheless known for their uniqueness. Both were quirky little subsets of the high school's student body; one was simply better at getting some than the other.

But her admirer and his friend didn't really seem like nerds the way the students who they hung around them did. Her admirer more than likely was an animal lover, as all the bird T-shirts he wore indicated. Holly's own father, a veterinarian, was the only other person she'd ever seen wearing so many different animal T-shirts, although in his case, they were domestic rather than wild animals. As for her admirer's bespectacled friend, well, he gave off an aura of "cool" that his looks deceived, which might explain his presence among the outcasts.

Two hands suddenly clapped in her face. Russell Gutierrez, her Mexican friend, must have noticed her in a trance, and tried to snap her out of it. It worked, but at the expense of his and Claire Zielinski's otherwise normal day.

Only four minutes had passed since lunch had begun, but looking at and thinking about the boy who'd seemed to be doing the same to her had made time seem to slow down. Holly decided it was time to ask if Claire and Rusty had realized yet that someone was watching them. As it turns out, they didn't, and after pointing out to them who it was, Holly tried to find out if either of them recognized him.

"Yeah, I know him," Claire said. Dressed in a purple T-shirt and black jeans—contrasting sharply with Holly's green shirt and regular blue jeans, respectively—she did her best to give an answer to Holly. "His name is Ken or Kent or something. He's in my history class."

"Isn't that your fifth period?" Holly smiled. In half an hour's time, the next bell would ring, and Claire would be off to this class where the boy awaited.

"Yeah…." Claire began, immediately suspicious, but rightfully so. She raised an eyebrow at Holly, nervously adjusted the bracelet on her arm, and continued. "…Why?"

"I think he likes one of us. Every few minutes he looks over here, in our direction."

"What do you want me to do about it?"

"Nothing. I want to see what he does first. Maybe he'll come to us."

"You're teenage girls," Rusty said. "And not bad-looking ones, either. I'm sure he's already come to one or both of you." It took Holly and Claire a few seconds to get what Rusty was saying, and as soon as they understood it, they shook their heads in disgust.

"We don't even know if he's looking at us," Claire said. She pointed to the huge group of Asian kids that congregated not far from them, in the space between the admirers and the admired. "Maybe he's got a thing for Asian chicks, Holly."

"Maybe, but I don't think so," Holly said.

"Why don't you go talk to him?" Rusty suggested with a shrug.

Holly blushed.

"Oh my god," Claire groaned.

"What?" Holly said. "I think he's kind of cute, okay?"

Claire put a hand on Holly's shoulder. Her forest green eyes shot back at Holly's ocean blue, silently expressing her disapproval before it was verbalized. "You're not that desperate, are you?"

"I've never been desperate!"

"You went on a date with Rusty."

"So did you!"

"I'm sitting right here," Rusty said. Holly and Claire turned to their friend, taking in his rough features, from the black hair and lightly pimpled face up top down to the witty T-shirt that subtly promoted marijuana usage (appropriate for a dealer), to the jeans every kid wore these days to the brown sneakers. He was a great and loyal companion, to be sure, but romantically, he'd been a disappointment to both.

"I thought we'd been over this," Claire said. "I thought you didn't care if we mentioned our middle school mistakes."

"I don't," Rusty said.

"So why bring it up?!"

"You brought it up. I'm just the one sitting here while you two talk about it."

Claire shook her head and sighed. "Never mind." Sitting back and returning to Holly, she said, "Listen, I'm willing to give that guy a chance to get to know us, but whatever you do, don't make the first move. Let him come to us first, if he wants."

"She's got a point, you know," Rusty said. "Whoever it is that he wants, he'll let us know eventually. He might not even talk to us, but we'll find out if we just see what he does."

"And if he does come here? And he does want one of us?"

"Good luck," Claire laughed knowingly.

"I know you're being sarcastic, Claire, but if I'm the one he's after, I really can't see myself saying no to him."

"Because you're desperate?" Rusty said.

"Rusty, how many guys asked me out last year?"

"Like, three?"

"Yeah, and I said no to two of them. The other one, he was just like you, it fizzled into nothing, fast. I'm not desperate."

"You're prepared to give a 'yes' answer to a guy you barely know anything about," Claire said. "That's what sluts do, Holly."

"This is a gut feeling, okay?"

"No, it's a crush, and like him, you'll be over it in a few weeks."

"You don't know that. That could be the father of my children over there."

"That's what we call wasted potential," Rusty said.

"Well, we all know you're not going to be their father," Holly said, crossing her arms.

"I know. I'm just saying, you're way too cute for a guy like that."

"We don't even know him!"

"Wouldn't it make much more sense to date a guy who's more like us? There's got to be plenty of single guys in the 3-4 class," Rusty said, referring to the intermediate (3-4) drama class that Holly was in, as opposed to the beginners' (1-2) classes that Rusty and Claire were in, as well as the advanced class (5-6, and 7-8 if you were lucky enough to take drama all four years of high school). The three of them were all sophomores, but Holly had simply been able to fit drama into her schedule their freshman year, and Rusty and Claire hadn't.

"Oh!" Claire gasped, turning towards Ken(t) and his friend, whom she now had identified thanks to Rusty's mentioning of their drama classes. "That's Tom! His friend is Tom! Thomas Fraser, I think. He's in my 1-2 class, first period."

"What's he like?" Holly asked.

"Don't know a whole lot. Um, he's a hockey nut, and a Packers fan, too, I think. He's got a girlfriend down in Long Beach, didn't catch her name. I'll find out more, though."

"You better," Holly said. She ran her hands through her brown hair, pulled out a miniature mirror ("Why do you girls always have those damn things?" Rusty mumbled) to check her face, and then looked down to examine her clothing. The green T-shirt was fairly old and small, and therefore tight, putting some emphasis on her modest bust. It was exactly what she had intended, since she knew she would be seen, intentionally or otherwise, by Tom's friend. The question was, was she being seen enough to be truly noticed?

"You look fine," Claire reassured her. "But don't do anything. He'll come around."

"Like I said, guys," Rusty interrupted, "he probably already—"

"Enough with the goddamn semen jokes, man."

"Sorry."

"I really wish this guy was in one of my classes," Holly said with a sigh. Ten minutes had passed, a third of lunch, and she hadn't touched her food in that time. She opened the brown paper bag she packed every night before going to bed (until it broke and had to be replaced) and pulled out a sandwich.

"We still got two more years," Claire said. Once again, another person's actions reminded her of something she should've already known or done, and she walked over to one of the nearby food carts to purchase some food. "Be right back."

"What if it's not you he's interested in?" Rusty said.

"Shit happens."

"That's the spirit." He gave her a thumbs-up, and she reluctantly responded in kind.

When Holly next glanced over towards Tom and Ken(t), the latter, the suddenly infamous admirer, was also looking towards her. They briefly made eye contact, before he turned away, like a criminal caught in the act. Holly smirked and bit into her sandwich. This was going to be an interesting school year.