Wednesday, October 3, 2007

On Wednesday morning, when his second period P.E. class was finished and he had changed from the high school P.E. program's required white T-shirt/blue shorts back to the striped chocolate brown polo shirt and cream-colored cargo pants he had put on when he woke up, Kent Thomas was eager to meet his new friend, Holly Snow. They both had second period classes in the same area, although she and her friend Melanie Smith were in the dance class, and he and his friend Thomas Fraser were in a regular physical education class. Regardless, before the bell rang and students were excused to their fifteen-minute snack break, students in the P.E. area waited at the stairs outside the gym, socializing until the bell gave them more officially designated social time.

Kent walked up the stairs and saw her leaning against the metal railing that divided the concrete stairway in two, dressed in an ocean blue shirt and a slightler darker blue pair of jeans. The brunette was talking and laughing with redheaded Melanie and some other girls about something, and for a second it almost seemed like a bad idea to interrupt a pretty girl having a good time. But when Kent considered the fact that she seemed to enjoy his company as much as he was starting to enjoy hers, he knew it was a worthwhile risk to take.

"Alexis," he said, standing on the other side of the railing, about a foot behind her.

Two girls, one of them Holly, who had had her back to him, and the other, one of her fellow dancers, also a brunette (if a bustier, more immediately attractive one), both had their attention caught by his utterance of the name. Holly turned around to see Kent, then turned back to her classmates (because most were probably unaware of the somewhat inside joke) and said, "I think he means me, Alexis." The real Alexis gave Holly a confused look, which didn't disappear until Holly explained. "Don't I look like Alexis Bledel?"

"Oh," several of the girls said simultaneously.

Holly returned her gaze to Kent with a smile.

"What were you talking about?" Kent asked.

"Last night's Gossip Girl."

"That new show on the CW?"

"Yeah."

"Is it any good?"

"Some of us think so," Holly shrugged, "some of us don't. Melanie and Terra love it, Alexis and I, not so much." Kent looked at the girls Holly had been talking to and among them recognized the black-haired beauty Terra Verbinski, with whom he'd had first period English last year, when they were freshmen. Melanie currently shared sixth period English with Kent this year, and as for Alexis (whose last name he didn't know), in all likelihood she'd been in a class or two with him before. They were all good-looking, and Kent could easily think of a screen actress they could each be compared to, but the one he was most interested in was the non-Latina Alexis Bledel, Holly.

"Well, it's a girl show," Kent said. "But that doesn't mean all girls will like it."

"Or that boys can't watch it," Holly added. "Gilmore Girls, Kent?"

"I have a thing for Alexis Bledel. After yesterday, you know that."

"Yeah, it was a good day."

"Ice Cube would be proud."

"So, I've got kind of a random question for you," Holly said. "Do you want to hear it?"

"Oh, I'm the king of random questions," Kent said. "I love trivia."

"Great. Um, hypothetically, if you and I were to…you know…have…sex…I'm not saying we would, Kent, but I'm also not saying we wouldn't. I'm definitely not saying we wouldn't, though, because, let's face it, anything is possible, right?"

"Right," Kent said. Holly was interesting, but he was not the girl he was actually interested in. That was Claire Zielinski, her best friend and a classmate of his from fifth period world history. Beginning last Friday, Kent had been eating lunch with Claire, Holly, and their friend Russell "Rusty" Gutierrez, and gaining Holly and Rusty's friendship and trust was required in order for Kent to gain even further ground with Claire. He felt half-guilty that he was using Holly, but if he were truly using her, he wouldn't even care about how she felt, and given how nicely she'd been treating him, it was only natural that he should return the favor. Besides, using people to achieve your own personal ends was a step towards becoming his father, and Kent wanted to avoid that as much as possible.

"Anyway," Holly said, "if you and I were to do…that…would you be thinking about me while we did it, or would you be thinking about Alexis?" Through the corner of her eye, she saw Alexis take notice of the utterance of her name, so, as before, Holly tacked on the helpful addendum: "…Bledel?"

Tom, who was standing a few feet away, must have heard Holly say this, and he walked over to Kent and Holly to add some input of his own to this inquiry. He wasn't as tall as Kent, but few were, and whereas Kent had plain brown hair and blue eyes (which, along with the same type of navy blue Jansport backpack, were all things he shared with Holly), Tom had a more depressing look about him, with nearly black hair and grayish blue eyes behind thick glasses that complemented his drab, foggy clothing.

"This might be a better question," Tom began, and Kent could sense where he was going with that statement before Tom said it. "If you were having sex with Alexis Bledel, would you be thinking about her, or about Holly?" Along with Rusty, Tom seemed to believe Kent was attracted to Holly and not Claire, apparently refusing to take a man's word for it.

Kent and Holly looked at each other, and then Kent used a few seconds to think before telling them the answer to both questions. "I'd be thinking about whoever I'm with, obviously. We all know I'm not the kind of guy who attracts a lot of female attention, so whoever wanted to be with me would get the thanks they deserve. And can we please stop talking about sex?"

"Claire's right," Holly said. "We shouldn't talk about it until someone actually loses their virginity."

"Well, that, and we sort of made a deal not to," Kent said. Pointing to Tom he added, "Ironically enough, he's the one with the best chance of it happening anytime real soon."

"Oriel and I aren't in any rush," Tom said, once again showing how mature he and his seemingly out-of-his-league girlfriend from Long Beach were compared to their peers. "We want it, don't get me wrong, but these days everyone's in a hurry to get there. Sex is a little overrated, honestly. Plus, Kristen probably more than makes up for what we lack in sex drive."

"Who's Kristen?" Holly asked.

"Oriel's friend," Tom explained. "For some reason."

"Sounds like a bad influence to me. But, then again," Holly said as she turned to look at Kent, "opposites do attract."

"There must be some truth to that if Oriel's with me."

"You guys are plenty alike," Kent said. "It's just that you're kind of unattractive like me, and Oriel's really cute like Holly here. But personality-wise, you're an even match."

"You think I'm cute?" Holly said with a smile.

"Yeah. The thing I like about you is that it's not immediately obvious how great you look. In a crowd, you won't exactly stand out; a guy is just as likely to ignore you, as he is to notice you. Oriel's the same way. I think a quality like that makes you seem a little more special, like whoever notices you has really found something."

"You noticed me," Holly said.

"Well, I was sitting next to you."

"And you're going to do that again, right?"

"Actually, if you don't mind, I was going to see if I could maybe sit somewhere else at lunch today. Maybe closer to Claire, I guess."

"Oh."

"I have nothing against you, Holly, not in the slightest. I just think things have gotten a bit monotonous with me always sitting between you and Rusty. That's all."

The bell rang, and all around them, students rushed up the stairs to their fifteen minutes of freedom. Tom started walking before Kent and Holly did, and as he made his way past the two of them, he gave his friend sage advice that was quickly taken to heart. "Kent, I know you're a bit neurotic, but worrying about where you sit is a tad extreme, don't you think? Where you sit in relation to Claire or anybody else shouldn't matter; you'll learn more about her when the time comes. Holly…your friends have probably already told you this, but subtlety is important. See you guys later."

Kent and Holly watched him leave, and then looked at each other. Had Tom not spoken to them with those words, the pair probably would have made their way up the stairs right after he had left. Instead, they were more curious about each other than ever before, and what's more, they were alone. (Relatively speaking, though, as many students hung out not one hundred feet away from them, under the roof of the nearby English building.)

"You want to learn more about Claire?" Holly said.

"Well, it's just like I said," Kent explained, trying hard not to let it slip that he liked her best friend, "I have nothing against you. Not a thing. It's just that you're the only one who's really been talking to me, and I wish Claire would be a little more open with me. I'm sorry, I don't want to make you feel bad."

"You like to see me happy," Holly said. "I know that because you dressed nice today, just like you did yesterday when you wanted to kiss and make up."

"Wait: kiss?"

Holly paused. "It's a figure of speech," she said. "You know what I mean."

"Yeah," Kent said. "Just because a guy dresses up a little doesn't necessarily mean he wants to kiss you."

"But would you?"

"Huh?"

"Would you kiss me?" Holly said. "We already discussed the possibility of us having sex, I think we could consider whether or not you'd kiss me."

Kent had to figure out how he would answer this question, and so for a minute he stood there, with one hand on the railing, a few inches away from hers, contemplating. She was beautiful, and Kent was (usually) not very handsome—he knew before she even asked him that yes, he would kiss her, but he also knew beforehand that she was not the one he wanted.

"Actually, we discussed the chance that anyone would sleep with me," Kent said, revising her statement. "Not that you and I specifically would have…those kind of relations. And whomever I'd be with, I'd be happy, because, come on, look at me. They can choose me, but not the other way around."

"If we want to talk about this mathematically," Holly said, "you have a much greater chance of getting in bed with me than with Alexis Bledel."

"That goes without saying. But what I was getting at, was the fact that who I am sort of makes the question of would I want to be with a certain beautiful woman obsolete."

"You're not seriously suggesting you'd take anything, are you?"

"No, not at all, I'm simply saying that I'd rather be alone than with someone I don't want to be with. Which, of course, is something that will probably happen. Really, in the end it will be a woman who chooses me. I think I'm the one who should be asking: would you kiss me?"

"What, right now?"

Kent laughed uncomfortably. "No, I mean, is it something you could see yourself doing?" Part of him really wanted to know if she ever wanted to kiss him, but the rest was fighting to remind that part that taking a potential relationship with Holly anywhere was the equivalent of cheating on Claire, assuming Claire wanted him, too. Claire had called him a "bastard" yesterday, the first time any such insult had ever been directed at him, but for all Kent knew, she was angry, "hardcore" with the men she dated. It didn't seem likely, but neither did hooking up with Alexis Bledel, and anything was possible.

"It would be mighty unfair to skip first base and go straight to second," Holly said.

"I've never understood those baseball metaphors," Kent said. "And I'm sure I just embarrassed myself by saying that."

"Let's go," Holly said, leading Kent up the stairs, and they began walking past the English building on their way up even further to the quad. "I'll explain along the way." In walking by the English building, they also passed by the upper field of the campus, a grassy field that some distance away became the school's baseball diamond, followed closely by a fence that separated the high school from the elementary school; it was oh so appropriate that a baseball diamond should be in view during Holly's revealing explanation.

Having finished that explanation, Holly continued walking beside Kent as they traveled up the "aisle" stairway of the supposed amphitheater separating the English building from the math and foreign language building, where both students were unknowingly on the same first floor during first period. Above them, a massive blue bridge connected the third floors of the buildings in a way that would make any Minneapolis resident proud.

"Have you been talking to Tom?" Kent asked. "When I'm not around?"

"No," Holly said. "And even if I was, that's not a crime. Why?"

"What was he talking about when he told you subtlety was important? He must know something I don't."

"Like what it feels like to be with a beautiful woman?"

"That was a cheap shot, but I forgive—"

"Whoa!" Holly yelped as she tripped on one of the concrete stairs, just as they had reached the top of the fifty-foot amphitheater. In a matter of seconds, she fell down face first, slamming her whole body smack onto the concrete steps, and then, because they were on something of a slope, slid downward a few more steps.

As she was helping herself up, and the students who socialized on the flat concrete "seats" of the amphitheater watched, Kent rushed down to her and offered her his hand. She gratefully took it, and suddenly Kent realized she was holding his hand. It shouldn't have been a big deal, but in his heart Kent knew he was in fact that lonely, and physical human contact, especially the kind shared with a girl like Holly, was a rare thing for him. He was pitiful—he'd known it since he first went to the neighboring elementary school and no one wanted to be his friend—but with Holly, he got a feeling of hope. She was beautiful, she was angelic in the way she treated him, and she never seemed to regret a moment spent with him. He loved her.

When this epiphany was reached, Kent didn't mentally correct himself with reminders of his attraction to Claire. No, now there was just Holly. It was not what he wanted, but the thought wouldn't go away, no matter how many times he tried to drill equal but opposite feelings for Claire back in its place.

But he had time to fix that later. Right now, Holly needed him, and he wasn't about to disappoint.

"Are you okay?" Kent asked, watching as she wiped dust off her shirt and pants, and as she placed her hands there, he started imagining those same hands on that same body minus those same clothes. These thoughts really needed to be stopped. "Holly?"

Holly nodded, and then patted his shoulder and signaled him to keep on walking. "I'm fine. Never better." She smiled back at him, an occurrence that was happening on a daily basis (several times) by now.

"Are you sure? That looked like a pretty rough fall."

"I said I'm fine! Stop worrying about me, Kent!"

"Does that mean you won't answer my question?"

"What question?"

"Subtlety?"

"Oh, that one." Holly began processing the question just as they entered the main part of the high school quad, and therefore passing through a monstrous crowd of students (and the occasional staff member) on their way to their friends' respective hangout spots, which were honestly close enough that the two groups might as well associate together. They could if they wanted to regardless (it was a free country), but they were not quite at that point yet. With that, it was time to clique themselves, leaving Holly no time to answer Kent's question now. "Can I get back to you?"

"You don't need my permission, Holly."

"Then I'll see you at lunch." She gave him one last gleaming smile before turning around to see her friends waiting for her. Kent waved goodbye, feeling stupid while doing so, and then traveled an embarrassingly short distance to Tom. Both groups were within each other's sights; Kent had a feeling Holly, along with Claire, Rusty, and Tom, all knew how ridiculous this self-imposed avoidance during the snack break was. But teenagers do stupid things, often knowingly so, and so they stayed in their respective comfort zones.

"Why were you talking about subtlety with Holly?" Kent asked Tom at their spot near the eastern stairway at the back of the administration building. "You're not talking to her when I'm not around, are you? I don't want you doing that, Tom. Not until she and I know each other better, okay?"

Tom crossed his arms and shook his head. "I know you're a little paranoid about everything right now, Kent, so you probably already asked her that question, right?" Kent sighed and nodded in response to his friend's deduction. "That's what I thought. And as for the subtlety thing? Well…is it really that difficult to see? I know you're not the best people person, but Kent, even you should have seen this."

"Seen what?"

"What did you two talk about on the way up here?"

"Whether or not she'd be willing to kiss me," Kent said, "and then she explained to me exactly how those baseball metaphors for sex work."

Tom just looked at Kent for a minute after this was said, and then he simply wished him luck for later. "Have a good time at lunch, Kent."