Thursday, October 4, 2007

When Holly Snow arrived at her locker at snack, the quarter-hour break between second and third periods at the ten o'clock hour, she had a blissful smile on her face. Given yesterday's events after school, however, and the ego boost they'd brought, this was hardly surprising. Opening her locker to put away her math book and take out Of Mice And Men for English next period, she glanced at the blue-eyed brunette in the mirror on the inside locker door and almost jumped in joy knowing how her crush felt about that particular fifteen-year-old. She closed the locker and saw her friends watching her with no small degree of shock.

"Holly," Claire Zielinski, a slightly taller, more athletic brunette dressed in a blue Dodgers T-shirt and jeans said, "if I didn't know any better, I'd say Kent was high when he said those things to you, because there's no way any sane or sober person could honestly believe that shit and then say it out loud. Stop smiling, damn it, you're creeping me out. It's like I'm best friends with the Joker."

As she stepped aside, purple backpack over her shoulders, Claire made way for Russell Gutierrez to express his opinion. "Unlike her, I actually think you and Kent are a good match…"

"Thanks," Holly said, while Claire grumbled behind her.

"…But you already knew that, so I'm just going to say, don't get carried away, because Kent sure as hell did."

"Sure, calling me a goddess was a huge exaggeration," Holly nodded. "Doesn't mean I can't enjoy it." She turned around to face Claire. "You've been dating Jimmy for months, Claire, and he hasn't called you anything like that, ever, has he?"

"As if you know what happens when we're alone," Claire said, without hinting as to what kinds of things were said during those times.

"Not that that happens much these days, huh? Well, Kent and I have barely even met, and already he thinks I'm perfect."

"There's no such thing. You of all people, Holly, should understand that."

"Why? Because you think you're better than me?"

"What the hell?" Claire gasped. "No! Because your mom thought she was perfect, too, and isn't that the attitude that got her into other guys' beds and out of your family? Whatever happened to not following in her footsteps?"

"I'm not," Holly said firmly. "I would never cheat on Kent, or on anyone else."

"You aren't even dating him yet!" Under her breath, she muttered, "Thank god."

"What difference does that make? I stand by my statement."

"And I believe you," Rusty said. "Not because you said it, but because you're you."

"And who am I?"

"The sweetest girl on the planet."

Holly smiled sweetly, and Rusty nodded as though this action had proven his statement.

"He's going to hurt you," Claire said. She began lifting fingers to point out Kent Thomas' flaws. "He's secretive, he's inexperienced, and most importantly, he's obsessed with Alexis Bledel. Holly, he doesn't like you for you, he likes you because you look just like her, and damned if he'll do anything to hit that."

"You can bring up that argument all you want," Holly said, "but there's more to his attraction than just that. Last time I checked, Alexis Bledel isn't Australian, and my being even half-Australian is a huge turn-on for Kent."

"You checked?"

"Figure of speech, Rusty."

"I know," Rusty said, "but that doesn't mean you never checked. Did you?"

"No, I've never checked to see what Alexis Bledel's heritage is," she said, annoyed.

"You won't have to," Claire said. "Kent probably knows it like the back of his hand."

"She's Latina," Rusty said, "like moi." Claire and Holly both giggled at Rusty's gender error, about which he did nothing. "So if you're the non-Latina Alexis Bledel, then I like to think of myself as a Latino Josh Hartnett." The girls laughed again at Rusty's words. Today so far had been a departure from their usual habit of laughing with him, and they clearly enjoyed mocking their friend as such. "Oh, come on! Don't I look at least a little like him?"

"No," Claire grinned. "Not even close."

"If you looked like Josh Hartnett," Holly added, "you'd probably have a girlfriend by now."

"Well, there are two beautiful women here," Rusty said.

"I thought I was off the market for you."

"You are, but that doesn't mean—"

"Rusty, I'm not going to go out with you," Claire interrupted him. "We tried that in middle school, remember? It didn't work."

"We were young and stupid then," Rusty said. "And I miss being stupid."

"Don't worry, it never left you," she replied.

"Excuse me," Kent said.

All three of them turned to see the object of Holly's affection standing nearby, having apparently walked down the steps into the short hallway where they stood during their conversation. As always, he was tall, dark, and, to Holly's eyes at least, handsome, dressed as he had been for the past two days in a polo shirt (today's was a pleasant forest green with thin horizontal white stripes) and cargo pants, the former's presence over what would otherwise be a bird T-shirt of some kind no doubt resulting from his desire to please her. But he didn't need to dress nicely for Holly; she liked him anyway.

"Hi," Kent added with a nervous wave. "Rusty, can I talk to you in private?"

"Sure," Rusty nodded. He turned to the next hallway, located on the other side of a pair of doors and stretching from the drama room close by to the eastern edge of the administration building's basement-level floor, where the cinematography room, a general-purpose meeting room, and a couple vending machines were found. Kent's face seemed to indicate he was unfamiliar with the area Rusty was cueing him to talk privately in, but with this being only their sophomore year and Kent still being uncomfortable around his newest friends, that look of uncertainty was understandable. Rusty led the way, and Kent followed him.

"Permission to eavesdrop?" Holly said all too eagerly.

"No," Kent said, briefly turning around to look at her. "Please, no," he shook his head.

"Just checking."

After Kent and Rusty left, Holly and Claire walked outside to eat their mid-morning snacks in the sun. The former reached into her backpack and pulled out a carrot from the paper bag inside, while the latter stepped up to a nearby lunch cart and bought a bag of chips. Shortly after Claire had left the short line for food, she and Holly were unexpectedly joined by a more consensually handsome young man, suavely dressed in a white button-down shirt and brown pants and with a well-groomed head of black hair and blue eyes.

"Hi, Josh," Claire said, opening the bag of Doritos and instantly dirtying her fingers with the contents.

"Hi," Josh nodded. "Holly, I just wanted to make sure we were still go for tomorrow night's practice."

"Why wouldn't we be? You're the one with the girlfriend, the family, the garage, and the job to pay for it all; if anyone wouldn't be available, it'd be you."

"So you're saying there's nothing happening in your life?"

"Oh, there's stuff happening," Claire said before Holly could answer him. "Like, did you know Holly's a goddess?"

"Do tell," Josh said as he eyed his shrugging bandmate, who was currently chewing on her carrot and standing in a very Bugs Bunny-esque position. "So when did you become endowed with immortality and move to Olympus?"

"Yesterday," Holly said. Smiling, she elaborated: "I've met someone."

"That's great!"

"You don't know him," Claire shook her head.

"Oh," Josh said, crossing his arms. Facing Holly, he asked her, "Who is he?"

"Kent Thomas," Holly said, taking another bite of her carrot.

"Yeah, I don't know him."

"With any luck, you won't have to," Claire added needlessly, her desire to turn Holly into the Juliet to Kent's Romeo knowing no bounds.

"Don't listen to her," Holly said. "She's crazy."

"Crazy is relative. I'm not the one who wants to be with Kent."

"Girls, please," Josh said quickly, before the argument could escalate. "If you think he's okay, Holly, then he must be okay. I think you're a pretty good judge of character. Claire, what do have against her boyfriend?"

"He's not—" Claire and Holly said in surprise unison. Claire gave Holly the go-ahead, and Holly finished, "He's not my boyfriend. Yet."

"Fair enough. The question still applies, though, Claire."

"Kent only likes Holly because she reminds him of Alexis Bledel. If he hooks up with her," Claire said, pointing at Holly, "the only thing he'll be thinking about is Rory Gilmore, not the Holly Snow we all know and love."

"I'm sure there's more to it than that. Look at me. Stacey looks an awful lot like Alyssa Milano, but I wasn't thinking about Phoebe Halliwell when we were dating."

"There is more to it," Holly said. "Once Kent found out I was Australian, he was ecstatic. Something about Oz just drives him batty."

"What do you see in him?" Josh asked.

Holly was about to take a final bite of the vegetable in her hand, only to discover she already had. She briefly examined her palm as if the carrot had not been in fact been eaten but instead had miraculously turned invisible, and then answered Josh's question. "What do I see in Kent?"

"Shouldn't you meet him before you ask that question?" Claire asked Josh.

"You're the one who wanted me to take your word for it," he told her. "What's he like, Holly?"

"Oh, you know," Holly began. "Tall, dark hair, kind of socially awkward. Loves birds a whole lot."

"As do you," Josh said with a smile while Claire sighed.

"No, I mean, he really loves them. He watches them, as a hobby, and he's seen ninety-eight species so far."

"That's impressive."

"Actually, it's not. Do you want to know the difference between a crow and a raven?"

"Wow, this guy's really got you hooked, doesn't he?"

---

After reaching the other end of the administration building's bottom floor, where a dirty blond haired girl dressed in a white T-shirt proclaiming an obnoxious, likely politicized message and blackish jeans was taking her sweet time choosing what to get from the vending machine, Kent began discussing with Rusty his new issues with Holly.

"You called her a goddess, dude," Rusty said, starting the discussion for him. "Do not try and tell me you don't think about Holly the way I think about Claire, because if you deny it, you're just a filthy liar."

"I'm not denying it anymore," Kent said. "That's why I'm going to tell her how I feel. Today."

"What?" Rusty said. "All right, let's get one thing straight here, Kent. You and I may both like our girls romantically, but maybe you should get to know Holly a little better before jumping to a conclusion like that. I've known Claire for six years; you've known all of us for less than a goddamn week."

"But I am in love with her, Rusty."

"Oh my god," Rusty grumbled, slapping his forehead. "Please, the only l-word I should hear you even think about is lesbian. You don't love Holly, but I do."

"Hey! You're supposed to like Claire!"

"I do, Holly's all yours! Just let me finish my statement, for god's sake. I love Holly as a friend, but until you two actually get to know each other, and I mean really know each other, all you've got is a really fucking intense like."

"Can I butt in?" the blond girl said, grinning as she always did as she forced her way between the two squabbling boys. It was at this moment that they realized who she was, and felt stupid for not acting on it sooner and squabbling away from her.

"Your ass is big enough, Samara," Rusty sighed. "It's not like we have a choice."

"Great," Samara replied, taking the insult in admirable stride. Turning to Kent, she said, "You know, you've put me in a rough position, Kent. While it is more than obvious that Rusty here knows what he's talking about, and considering his proximity to the fish you're trying to reel in, you should probably take his advice, the possibility of seeing a potentially steaming hot couple like you and Holly explode before even getting the chance to be sparked is like any topless picture of Jim Morrison to me: way too tempting to pass up. Thus, my suggestion to you is, do whatever feels right, and since you look like the kind of person who makes bad decisions on at least a semi-regular basis, I know that there's going to be a show today, oh yeah, baby."

"Don't listen to her," Rusty warned, rather pointlessly. "She's nuts."

"And you," Samara continued, turning around to face the Hispanic boy. "Like it or not, we have something in common, Cheech: we both love fucking with Claire. Of course, while your pleasure is purely carnal and therefore yet to be experienced, mine is all psychological, which means every time I come across her I get to walk away a happy little Jew, because my mere presence can accomplish ten times whatever your Johnson working overtime is capable of. Before you take that insult to heart and wallow in masturbatory grief later tonight with those bikini-clad pictures of Claire I'm sure you've got hidden somewhere, can I make it up to you by buying some of your shit this afternoon?"

"You can make it up to me by taking it back," Rusty said. "And by leaving us, especially Claire, alone."

"Ooh, tough guy. If the anticipation of Kent's failure to hook up with Holly wasn't already turning me on, I'd say you were doing a pretty damn good job by yourself."

"Fucking slut."

"Ignoring the redundancy of that label, I'm going to reiterate to you once more that I am a virgin, Cheech."

"His name is Rusty!" Kent interrupted. "Why can't you just do what he said and leave us alone, huh?"

"You're a virgin like Vanessa Hudgens is a virgin," Rusty added. "That's just utter bullshit."

"Well, bulls shit, Rusty, and that's a fact. I am a virgin, and I'm just as lonely as you two sons of bitches."

"Gee, I wonder why."

"Can you just leave us alone?" Kent asked Samara.

"Can I meet you at your place after school?" Samara asked Rusty.

"Yeah, sure, whatever," Rusty nodded. "You want to come, too, Kent?" He and Samara both turned to look at the newcomer.

"I'm, uh…not into the whole…drug scene," Kent said, whispering the last part, since there was little doubt there were faculty somewhere close by. "No offense."

"You don't believe that DARE bullshit, do you?" Samara asked him. "War on Drugs my ass."

"Now is not the time for that discussion. And definitely not the place."

"Yes, god forbid we have a civil discussion on the numerous faults of a monumental failure of a government program on the grounds of a public educational facility."

Kent sighed, and Rusty took this, correctly, as a cue to step in. "Samara, can you leave now? Please? This is kind of an important conversation we're having."

"Important? What it comes down to is an argument over who wants to fuck which girl more. Because that's all love is, you know: the biological urge to procreate cloaked under a guise of emotion. But I suppose in the big Darwinian scheme of things that is pretty damn important. All right, I'll leave you two on your way, then." Samara thus exited the hallway, bag of candy in hand, grinning bitterly.

"How do you expect anyone to believe that you're a virgin?!" Rusty shrieked.

"Stop giving her ammunition!" Kent begged of him.

"No one understands the importance of sex more than those who aren't getting any," Samara said without turning back, passing through the doorway out into the quad.

"Damn," Rusty said, kicking air weakly. "She's right." Returning to Kent and the conversation he was having with him, Rusty said, "If you want to have a good relationship with Holly, Kent, then you will not give into temptation and tell her how you feel. Not only does it just put undue pressure on the girl, it gives Samara ammunition to use against us. Better to become close friends and stay that way for a while before making your move."

"That worked out so well for you, didn't it?" Kent said. "With Claire?"

"Middle school relationships are doomed to fail from the start. It's a good thing nothing came of it, because we've matured since then. Sooner or later, she'll come around and realize what she's been missing out on."

"You're awfully optimistic."

"So are you."

"No, I'm not. I'm not really expecting Holly to go my way. I'd really like her to, I hope she does, but look at me, Rusty: I'm not the kind of person girls go crazy for."

"Kent, she offered to bring you homemade spaghetti for lunch."

"Admittedly, that is a bit extreme, but I guess that's just one more thing I lo—" Here Kent stopped, midway through the word, noticing Rusty make his "annoyed" face, and quickly replaced it with "like about Holly."

"Why do you think it's so extreme?"

"It's not that extreme, Rusty; it's just spaghetti."

"Dude, she's crazy about you."

"So now you're telling me that, but you're also telling me not to go for it? I'm getting mixed messages here."

"You're both moving too fast," Rusty said. "If you don't pace yourselves and slow the hell down, this whole thing is going to blow up in your faces, which is exactly what Samara wants, by the way, and then you're going to crash and burn and die."

"Die?" Kent said, laughing in disbelief.

"I thought the emphasis would help get my point across."

"See you at lunch, Rusty," Kent said, leaving the hallway as Samara had done a couple minutes before. Rusty and Samara were intimidating, that was true enough, but they weren't intimidating enough to deter him from opening up to Holly as he'd done yesterday afternoon. While since then he'd learned how much was too much, that self-taught lesson was well-timed, because it left him that much more prepared for the revelation to Holly—rather, the less romanticized declaration of romantic intentions that had basically already been conveyed through yesterday's "goddess" speech—for later at lunch. Kent smiled, somewhat nervously and with mixed emotion, at the future that lay just two hours ahead.