Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Shortly before the bell rang to head to class, Kent met Tom where the two of them usually met anytime class was not in session, near the blue tables and equally useful L-shaped concrete slabs surrounding said tables, adjacent to the eastern stairway leading into and out of the back end of the three-story administration building at Crescenta Valley High School. The cool morning air would rapidly dissipate in another two hours, after the day's first two of six periods finished, and students and staff would enjoy their fifteen-minute break, but of course, lunch, a half-hour social period for all without some prior commitment impeding their pursuit of fun, would be even hotter.

Even if the most recent events in his life hadn't been taking place in La Crescenta, a quiet community outside of Glendale in southern California, Kent's lunch periods would have still been hot, although in an interpersonal rather than meteorological sense. The problem was, things reached an unnecessary boiling point yesterday afternoon following a mix-up during his second lunch with a trio of fascinating but unpredictable classmates. Despite his hanging out with the three of them—two girls and a boy—in order to get closer to one of the girls, Claire, it was the second girl, her best friend Holly, who had been the source of Kent's issues. The Friday before, she'd told him she had nothing to say to him, without actually meaning so, but yesterday, he'd basically given her motivation to mean it, when he stupidly confessed to not knowing her name until he saw it on the property of hers that he'd accidentally stolen.

"You look unusually good today," Tom said, lifting his glasses as though they were making him see things that weren't there. His naked eyes saw the same thing, however: a tall fifteen-year-old, one year senior to Tom himself (but actually a sophomore to Tom's freshman), with brown hair that must have been cut by a barber the day before, and aqua blue eyes that matched the primary color of the polo shirt he was wearing. The only things that were normal about Kent today were the brown cargo pants covering his legs, and the navy-colored backpack twice as heavy as everyone else's hanging by the straps over his shoulders. "What's the deal?"

"Well, for one thing, a haircut was long overdue for me," Kent began explaining. "But the main thing is, if I'm going to try and make it up to Holly and Claire today, I want to look like someone worth hanging around."

"That's never been your strength, though," Tom said. He was a few inches shorter than the six-foot-plus Kent, with very dark brown hair that was only a shade away from being certified black, and if his glasses, drab gray and blue clothing, and solemn attitude meant anything, it was that he was the best friend Kent was ever going to have.

While Tom had a beautiful and well-liked girlfriend living on a houseboat in Long Beach, Tom as an individual did not seem like the popular type, which is why he and Kent became friends a year ago. Tom's life was considerably more social than Kent's, though, and luckily for Kent, the mutual friendship with Tom brought his friends into Kent's lonely circle, and at last, his life found meaning outside of his birding and writing aspirations. Alas, those friends were a year or two younger than Tom, so they wouldn't coexist with Tom and Kent at the high school for another twelve months.

"Do you have a plan?" Tom asked.

"I'm going to try and convince them to give me another chance," Kent said. "I know you said they probably will anyway, but I don't want to risk losing them from my life forever."

"You just met them last Friday," Tom reminded him.

"Yeah, but I've liked Claire for a few weeks now. At the very least, I want to be friends."

"Is it just me, or is your backpack even heavier-looking than usual?"

"No, it's not just you," Kent said, shaking his head. He set his backpack down on the table and opened it, pulling out a fairly large book of about 400 pages: last year's yearbook, for the 2006-2007 school year at C.V. High. In the middle of the book, there was a piece of computer paper serving as a bookmark, and also, as Tom was about to discover, much more. Kent checked his watch and then said, "Okay, so I was watching Sin City last night, and in the middle of it, I remembered how much I like Alexis Bledel."

"Okay," Tom said. "But what's that got to do anything?"

Kent opened to the bookmarked page, towards the end of the freshman listing. "Quite a lot, actually. Take a look." The page was in the S's, and with less surprise than expected, the focus was one Holly Snow. The paper acting as a bookmark was in fact a printout of several pictures of the actress Alexis Bledel, most famous for her role as Rory Gilmore on Gilmore Girls, recently canceled in spring after a seven-year run. Tom knew what Kent was going to say before he said it once he made the connection. "Doesn't Holly look just like Alexis? Minus the Latina background, I mean."

"That's a nice observation," Tom said. He paused before saying, "Care to hear one of mine?"

"Sure." Kent closed the yearbook and squeezed it back into his bag among the more essential textbooks.

"You're making it harder and harder for me to believe that Claire is the one you like."

"What do you mean? I told you I like her. Can't you just take my word for it?"

"I will, but you barely talk about her, Kent. You talk about Holly instead."

"That's only because I keep having problems with her. Stupid, stupid problems, but problems nonetheless."

"Think about this now," Tom said. "First, you compared her to Oriel." Oriel was his aforementioned girlfriend in Long Beach, a blue-eyed brunette with an incredibly kindhearted demeanor, characteristics she appeared to share with Holly. The fact that she was with Tom as opposed to almost any other guy gave Kent hope for his own love life, disregarding the fact that Tom and Oriel had known each other since they were five, and Kent had no such girl in his life he'd known that long. "Now, you compare her to your celebrity crush, Alexis Bledel. Kent, I think you like Holly."

"Just because I made those comparisons doesn't mean I like her the way I like Claire," Kent stated. "I didn't even realize Holly existed until last week! I've known about Claire for almost a month now!"

The bell rang, and the two of them prepared to leave for their first period classes, which was drama (first year, or 1-2) for Tom and Spanish (year two, or 3-4) for Kent. Before heading off to their classes—Tom's drama class was close by, on the bottom floor of the administration building, while Kent's was some distance away, at the other end of campus—they hastily tried to settle their disagreement.

"I'll take your word for it, Kent," Tom said, "but personally, I think you're in denial about this."

Kent knew that if he denied that claim, he'd only prove Tom's point, so how best to convince him? His mind was drawing a blank. For a creative guy like Kent, this was never a good thing. Kent looked at Tom, and Tom read the lack of argument on his friend's face. Tom seized this opportunity to share the evidence.

"Mind if I do the math for you?" Tom continued. "Item A, you like Alexis Bledel."

"Good lettering choice," Kent said, for lack of a better comment. "A for Alexis."

"Item B, you think Alexis Bledel looks like Holly, and vice versa."

"Again, only an observation."

"And the biggie, Item C, you like Holly."

"Now, hang on—"

"If A equals B and B equals C, doesn't A equal C?"

"Transitive property," Kent said, remembering his early days in algebra.

"How can you refute this? If you like Alexis Bledel and you think Holly looks like Alexis Bledel, then you have to like Holly! It's a mathematical fact!"

"Maybe you've been talking to Carrie a little too much," Kent said. "Or Alex." The former was Tom's cousin, who'd just finished high school in Fountain Valley in June, and was now a freshman at USC, while the latter was their seventh-grade friend at the local middle school, Rosemont. Needless to say, both were math geeks, although Carrie made it seem cool. Then again, anytime any attractive person does anything, it can seem cool.

"Maybe," Tom said. Kent's legs were shaking; he was eager to get to class. Not because Spanish was particularly enjoyable, but because he wanted to arrive on time. Sensing this, Tom reached the beginning of the end of his argument—which was the same as the very beginning—and said, "But I still think you like Holly."

"Well, I like Claire," Kent repeated. "Believe me, I would know."

"If you say so," Tom nodded. "See you in an hour." Tom turned around and began walking to the drama classroom (better described as an underground theater, which is how it was advertised when shows were being put on there). At the same time, Kent hurried to the east end of the campus and down the steps of the apparent amphitheater (that was never used as such) to the first floor of the math/foreign language building for Spanish. They would reunite second period, when both of them had the same physical education (P.E.) class.

Kent knew that Tom didn't believe him with regards to his feelings (rather, the lack thereof) for Holly, but before worrying about this he did a turnaround and reminded himself that today was a day to, well, turn things around. Proving his attraction to Claire for Tom oddly seemed like a harder task than obtaining Holly's forgiveness. Suddenly Kent felt justifiably optimistic for the first time in a week. He could look forward now to Holly accepting his legitimate apology at lunchtime, and with her acceptance would come Claire's acceptance. For once, Kent and his three new friends might start becoming actual friends. But, Kent told himself, getting Holly to see his side of things, to understand his stupidity in not acting to figure out her name sooner, that was the priority. The only roadblock there was the realization that getting her understanding might require him to tell her how he felt about Claire, days before he'd planned to do so. Deviating from the plan was at the bottom of Kent's list of desires. Getting on Holly's good side was at the top right now, above getting on Claire's good side, but only because without Holly's he knew he wouldn't get Claire's. He didn't want to disappoint Holly.

…Because then he'd disappoint Claire, he thought, hastily amending the thought before.

Why did he suddenly have to tack on that addendum, something he already knew? Tom didn't know what he was talking about. Well, sure, he did, his application of a math rule to everyday life (mercifully without the math) was well played, but that didn't change the fact that he was still dead wrong about Kent being attracted to Holly. There was a sense of closure in ending his thought with not wanting to disappoint Holly, nothing more said. Adding the part about Claire wasn't necessary in the least. He knew his motivations for making sure Holly was happy, but he didn't need to keep telling himself what they were. Right?

Stop thinking about Holly, he thought. You'll only complicate things. Think about Claire, and how good things will be between you two after you and Holly settle things…damn it, that's thinking about Holly again! Sure, she's a great girl, a really great one, in fact, but it's not as though everything has to revolve around her. If anything, things should revolve around Claire, but then again, maybe best friends are like a double planet, each one revolving around the other, neither one the dominant force.

On the other hand, that was simply impossible: one of them had to be more in control, even if the other wasn't aware of it. Tom was certainly the Pluto to Kent's Charon, the Earth to his Moon; Kent rarely had the urge, much less the capability, to try and convince his friends to do what he wanted. It was always what they wanted, and Kent was fine with that.

Despite getting almost everything he could ever want from his parents (more so their money), Kent had never wanted to follow in their footsteps and demand everybody else do his bidding for him. So, he just went with the flow, adapting to the solitude his personality and the choices he'd made over the years had forced upon him, and only occasionally asking for anybody's assistance. This was a risky combination that had made Kent a poor handyman and an incompetent people person, but again, Kent had no problem with that. It was called the comfort zone for a reason. Better to do what everyone else tells him to do than to speak his mind and endure constant criticism. This self-analysis came first circle when Kent realized that, curiously, the rule he'd just reiterated did not apply to the people who'd molded him into a follower of it—his parents. But when they earned a follower, they'd get one. In short: his parents needed to be led, but his peers needed to be followed.

Today, he had to follow Holly.