Tuesday, October 9, 2007

After finding herself very hungry and buying not one but two slices of pizza at lunch, Claire Zielinski was as ready as ever to enter the home stretch of her school day. One month into her sophomore year of high school, the green-eyed brunette, today dressed in a black Pantera T-shirt and blue jeans, had the misfortune of sharing a class—the very next one, fifth period world history—with Kent Thomas. A likeable enough but otherwise forgettable fifteen-year-old boy, Kent and Claire's best friend Holly Snow had almost fallen in love with each other, but luckily, some higher power had decided to intervene, and instead of kindling a romance, the two of them both acted stupidly and now, four days after the fact, were back to living their separate lives. Things were less exciting, to be sure, and Claire being the only one to share a class with Kent may have been a blessing for her friends, but not for her.

She took her usual seat at the leftmost front row desk of Mrs. Paxton's history classroom on the third floor of the 2000 building, at the west end of campus perpendicular to the administration (1000) building. The fact that Kent, a tall boy with brown hair and blue eyes to match Holly's, with a penchant for wearing bird and animal T-shirts and cargo pants, had gotten here before Claire or for that matter anyone else was not surprising in and of itself; what surprised Claire was the papers Kent was holding in his hand while talking to the fifty-year-old blond teacher at her desk. From what Claire could gather, the papers weren't anything pertaining to the actual class. And even if they were, it was highly doubtful Kent would have to talk to the teacher about them, since as far as Claire knew he had an impeccable record, though that may have been applicable only to this one class. So what was the deal?

"Are you checking Kent out?" the boy sitting behind her, Scott Kimble, asked. He was of average height and may have lacked sufficient personality, but at least he had pretty boy looks—personally, Claire saw in him a resemblance to the guy who played Sam on Supernatural, whatever his name was.

"Are you insane?" Claire replied.

"It was just a question."

"First of all, you know I have a boyfriend already. Second of all, even if I was single, you think I'd waste my time ogling a pathetic guy like him?!"

"He may not have a life," Scott said with a shrug, "but he's got some interesting hobbies, at least."

"Who cares if there are 10,000 birds out there to see? I can think of 10,000 better things to do than watching them."

"Wait a minute, how'd you know there were 10,000?"

"How'd you know, Scott?"

"I didn't, that's why I'm asking you," Scott said, pointing at Claire.

Claire sighed. She couldn't believe she was about to bring herself back to last week. She rubbed her face in her hands in annoyance before telling Scott, "Holly and Rusty and I—we ate lunch with him last week. We got to know him a little bit. He's an asshole."

The bell rang, meaning class could begin, and anyone arriving to class between now and the next bell would be labeled "tardy." Claire reached into her purple backpack and pulled out the needlessly heavy history back they'd been assigned this year. She was prepared to open it up, read the designated section(s), and answer the accompanying review questions as was routine in Paxton's class, but Kent had other plans.

"All right class, settle down," Paxton said, and for the most part, the reminder that there was still discipline to be followed worked, and the thirty-odd students, mostly sophomores like Claire, Kent, and Scott, did as they were told. "Before we begin, Kent has something he'd like to share with us."

Oh, god. Really?! Show and tell?! What the hell did Kent think this was, kindergarten? Figures: he'd already proven himself to be a big baby before.

"Uh, hi," Kent said, blushing, and, Claire quickly noticed, discreetly focusing his attention on her. Asshole. "Um, I don't how many of you know the rules for starting a club here at CV," Crescenta Valley High School, "but I talked to the people at ASB," the Associated Student Body, "and they told me you need at least thirty signatures from people who support your idea for a club."

Claire groaned and pretended to pay attention to the words he was saying.

"Anyway, there's an idea I had for a club, which I decided to call the La Crescenta Bird and Animal Club, that I've thought about since last year, but I never really started developing until only recently." Coincidence? Claire thought not. With no girl (Holly) to potentially occupy his time, Kent was now forced back where he belonged, all but alone in his thoughts and pursuits. "The idea of the club is, I'd be the president, and among everybody else who joins we'd elect other officers, and basically we'd do all kinds of wild animal-related things around town. The San Fernando Valley Audubon Society, which I'm a member of, already does this, but I thought we needed something similar at the school." So the club was just the high school equivalent of a local organization that no doubt runs things a hell of a lot better than Kent's idea ever could? Idiot, what's the fucking point? "We'd have our own newsletter, the Scrub-Jay, and different levels of membership based on how much money you help us contribute to environmental causes. So, I'm just going to have you guys pass this paper," he held up a numbered list written on a sheet of notebook paper, "around, and you can just write down your signatures if you'd support a club like this. The signature doesn't mean you want to join the club, just that you support it. Okay?" No. Hell no. "I'm just going to…give this to you, then…" He looked back and forth between Claire and the student at the opposite front corner of the classroom, and wisely decided to give the paper to the latter. He then sat down one column across and several seats down from Claire, where his abnormally (compared to his peers') weighty backpack sat, saving his spot. "Oh!" Damn it! Claire didn't need to hear his voice again! What the hell did he want now? "Whoever's the last person to sign it, you can just hand it back to me. That's all, I guess. Thanks." Then, finally, he shut up, and the rest of the class could actually pay attention to something worthwhile, as Mrs. Paxton rose out of her chair and began writing on the chalkboard.

---

Five minutes and ten years of the French Revolution later, the signature paper arrived at its final destination, as Scott passed it forward to Claire. She sighed, and noticed, no thanks to the despicable decency of her classmates, that in addition to Kent's own signature and that of his best friend, the freshman Thomas Fraser (with whom Claire had first period drama class), this history class had given Kent almost ten more than the minimum thirty signatures. But a second after being handed the paper, Claire got an idea.

With one hand, she rolled the paper into a squashed mess, calling attention away from this heinous deed by raising the other hand and asking the teacher, "Can I go to the bathroom?"

"You couldn't go five minutes ago, before class started?" Paxton asked.

"I didn't know I had to go five minutes ago," Claire lied.

"You can go."

"Thank you." Hiding the crumpled paper inside one fist, she got out of her seat and left out the door right near her seat, heading towards the bathroom directly across the hall. She smiled to herself, not caring whether or not she'd get away with this, only caring that she got it got done.

"Hey!" Kent shouted, and suddenly she felt him grab her wrist. That bastard must have seen her ruin his paper. Well, it's not like he wasn't going to notice eventually anyway. Claire turned around to face Kent, pissed off and loving it. "What do you think you're doing?!"

"Let go of me," Claire growled.

"You let go of that paper first," Kent snapped back.

"What's going on?" Paxton said, stepping out of the classroom to join her students in the hallway. "Let go of her, Kent."

Kent reluctantly did so, after which Claire grinned. She'd won the first round.

"Claire was going to throw away all those signatures!" Kent said to Mrs. Paxton. "I need those signatures! You know that!"

"So it's supposed to be my fault you're such a baby?" Claire replied. "How come you chose this class to get the signatures from, Kent? Huh? Admit it, you only chose this class because I'm in it, and you're just hoping if I notice it, that I'll tell Holly about it. Am I right? Huh? Am I right or what?"

Kent had a look like he didn't know what to say, which meant Claire had correctly figured out his plan, which made it all the more likely that it would never see the light of day. But then he just made a fool of himself by trying to convince both Claire and the largely indifferent Paxton otherwise: "That's not true! Are you crazy? That's BS!"

"BS? The word is bullshit, you fucking idiot. If you weren't such a baby, maybe you could actually say it!"

"Kent, Claire!" Paxton shouted, her voice echoing through the hallway. "I don't care what's going on between you two, but whatever it is, settle it on your own time."

"I'm not doing anything wrong!" Kent pleaded. "I already told you, she was going to throw that paper away!"

"I was going to flush it down the toilet with the other shit," Claire said, folding her arms, with the paper still in her right hand.

"I said I was sorry!" Kent said. "Didn't I tell you to tell Holly I was sorry?"

"I told her," Claire said. "She doesn't care how you feel, asshole." This was anything but the truth—Holly had expressed immediate regret for contributing to the massive misunderstandings she and Kent had suffered through on Friday—but Claire's only goal was keeping the two as far away from each other as possible, regardless of the mutual attraction that obviously existed between them. "She said to go to hell, and go fuck yourself, motherfucker!"

"Claire!" Paxton said.

"Hey, these aren't my words!" Claire retaliated.

"Would the two of you please stop arguing and get back inside?! You're both good, smart students! I don't want to have to send you to the principal's office, for god's sake!"

For a moment, Kent and Claire were silent, and they glanced at each other bitterly before nodding and following Paxton back into the classroom. The rest of the class was either blatantly watching the three of them, or poorly feigning disinterest, with the only legitimate disinterest coming from some of the least likely troublemakers in the room, Kent and Claire themselves, who didn't care that they were now a popcorn show.

A second after Claire sat down, Kent made her jump when he slammed his hands down on her desk and demanded, "Give me the paper, Claire."

"No," Claire replied, clicking her pen open. "I'm going to sign it first."

Before she could put pen to paper, Kent's hand blocked the last remaining unsigned number (37), where she was to put her signature. Well, he was a very good counter, at least. "Sign it?" Kent said. "You want to sign it now? A minute ago you wanted to throw it away!"

"Well, now I want to sign it. Move your fucking hand."

Kent sighed and removed his hand from the paper, and he tried to ignore the onlookers while he waited for her to finish signing. Five seconds later, she handed Kent the pitifully creased notebook paper and he stormed back to his seat. All this, and there were still forty minutes of class left to go.