Monday, October 1, 2007

A range of conflicting emotions had left Kent Thomas in mental turmoil over the weekend, and on Monday morning, after second period, during snack, he acted on a whim and against his conscience by angrily making his way through the fifteen-minute break's large crowd of students over to Claire Zielinski and her friends with some choice words for them. When he got there, it was just Claire and her guy friend—her girlfriend, the one who had told Kent during his lunch with them Friday that she had nothing to say to him, was absent for whatever reason—but it didn't matter who was or wasn't there. All that mattered was that he gave them his message.

He wanted to look and act tough, so he did his best to avoid slumping like he usually did, standing as straight as his six-foot-plus stature would allow. While his slender build prevented him from looking like any real threat, Kent imagined he had the strength of the polar bear on his T-shirt, and hoped that, in the same way believing some things make them true, his body might adapt accordingly.

"Hey, listen!" Kent said, tapping Claire's shoulder. She and her Mexican guy friend, whose name he'd forgotten, turned around to face him instead of each other. When she looked at him, Kent felt the familiar warming chill—if that made any sense at all—run down his spine, only this time it acted like gasoline, only fueling his decidedly mixed anger even more. Kent suddenly realized he'd barely raised his voice getting their attention, and what's more, he really was making himself look like a jerk right now. Why did you listen to Rick, you stupid son of a bitch? Unfortunately, it was too late to back out now, and Kent had to tell them how he felt about being treated like he was invisible. "…Why didn't you and your friends talk to me on Friday?!" he barked.

"I…uh…" Claire began, but she seemed as lost as he was. "Sorry?" she said reluctantly.

"I demand to be treated with respect!" You shouldn't have used that word, demand, he scolded himself; you are so stupid! But again, it was too late to back out now. He pointed an angry finger at Claire. "Promise you guys will talk to me more today!"

"…Okay…" Claire said, noticeably uncomfortable. Her body language currently wasn't complementing her obvious athletic figure, instead acting quite subdued, almost unwillingly submissive. Wow, Kent, you sure screwed it up now. If ever there was a chance of you two getting together, you just killed it, and violently at that.

Kent nodded and stormed back to his side of the quad, some fifty feet away, actually a fairly small distance, considering the high school's quad was around two, maybe three hundred feet long end to end. Where he and his nerdy clique socialized was at an ideal location to watch Claire's group, though this proximity was only a fortunate coincidence, not anything planned.

"Kent?" Thomas Fraser, Kent's best friend and only real close one (his others were still in middle school), said upon Kent's return to his usual spot. Tom had very nearly black hair and thick glasses, and was generally regarded as not that attractive, but was significantly different from the rest of the outcasts he and Kent hung around, because he was in the theater classes, had a beautiful girlfriend living in Long Beach, and he was uniquely regarded as somewhat "cool."

Kent, too, was an outcast among outcasts, but mostly because his interests were so rare (he didn't know any other birders besides himself on campus, for example). Like Tom, he'd always loved performing: he'd been in theater in middle school, and wanted to continue into high school, but during these first two years, he'd been unable to fit it into his schedule. Now that Kent was back from a brief disappearance, he knew Tom would ask what had just happened.

"You look distressed," Tom said, as Kent reclaimed a seat beside him on one of Crescenta Valley High School's L-shaped concrete blocks students in the quad used as seats, along with blue tables and benches. "What just…does this involve Claire?" Tom turned in Claire's direction and saw her talking with friends; this was to be expected, and they could've been talking about anything, but given the circumstances, it seemed unusually likely that they might be talking about Kent at this moment. "What did you do?"

A minute after leaving the bathroom, where she'd spent some extra time after doing her business to double-check how she looked, Holly Snow rushed downstairs and out of the school's administration building to rejoin her friends Claire and Rusty for snack. She pulled a brown paper bag out of her navy blue backpack, and out of the bag pulled a few pieces of celery, ever health-conscious. "Hey, guys," she said, standing with them (because snack was just so crowded there was little room for she and her friends to sit where they did at lunch), "what'd I miss?"

"Fireworks," Rusty said.

"Huh?" She bit into a piece of celery.

"Guess who came and talked to us?" Claire said.

Holly swallowed the bit of celery she had in her mouth and her eyes burst open wide. "Kent?!" Claire confirmed this with a nod, and was about to go into further detail before Holly spoke first."And I missed it?!" She slapped herself on the forehead. "Okay, what happened? Tell me everything."

"He was…angry," Claire said.

"Yeah, but it was a weird kind of angry," Rusty added. "You know, like he had a legitimate gripe, but he didn't quite know how to express it."

"He nailed it. It was exactly like that." Claire turned to Rusty and asked how he had captured the feeling Kent was expressing so well.

"Hello: Kent's in love. I'm a guy like him, so I know what's going through his mind, kind of."

"Right. The question remains, though," Claire said, looking at Holly, and putting her hands on her hips, "who is he in love with? You or me?"

"I really hope it's me," Holly said.

"Yeah, you've only talked about it nonstop since last Wednesday," Rusty said, rolling his eyes.

"If he is, good for you," Claire said.

"No, great for me," Holly clarified.

"Whatever. I'm just glad you're at least talking about other things besides him now."

"Don't thank me, thank Rusty. He's the one with the pot. Thanks for helping me clear my mind, Russ."

"Yeah, say it out loud on school grounds, why don't you?" Rusty grumbled.

"Well, I needed that," Holly shrugged. "If Kent's in love with you, on the other hand…."

"Not my problem," Claire said. "But you and him both will be disappointed."

"Yeah," Holly said, trying not to think about that half-possible situation. "What was he angry about, anyway?"

"He wants us to treat him with respect," Claire sighed in annoyance, though it was at Kent and not at Holly's mentioning of him. "He wants us to talk to him more."

"Great," Holly mumbled. "Exactly the thing I want to do but said I didn't. That'd be right. Is he having lunch with us again? Today?"

"Sounds like it. That's your chance to turn things around."

Holly smiled. "It is, isn't it? And I will turn it around. He's going to notice me, and he's going to like it."

"If you didn't sound so happy and confident I'd say that almost sounded like a threat," Rusty said.

The bell rang, signaling in a Pavlovian way that it was time to head off to third period.

"Only two more hours until lunch," Claire told Holly with a smile. "Are you ready for him, Holly?"

"I'm always ready for Kent," Holly replied.