Tuesday, November 6, 2007

After an hour spent doing just short of nothing—the occasional studying of Spanish material from his previous class crossing but never quite entering the mind—when the bell rang signaling the end of second period, Kent Thomas smiled from his spot at the tables just outside the Crescenta Valley High School gym and locker rooms. Last week's injury had been a blessing in disguise and then some; not only had it excused him, courtesy of a sprained foot, from the physical education class the gangly fifteen-year-old was currently lounging through, but more importantly, it had finally brought him and the girl of his dreams together.

Holly Snow, who stood out even in a crowd as overflowing with nubile young women as a high school dance class, exited the gym building, now out of the required blue-and-white uniforms every P.E. student was required to wear and back in the casual T-shirt and jeans she'd worn to school. Not far behind her were her friends from dance class, and behind them, Thomas Fraser, Kent's best friend and fellow "victim" of average boy/beautiful girlfriend syndrome.

"Hi," she grinned, leaning towards the table to make her face level with his so she could kiss it.

"Hi," Kent replied, barely squeezing the word out of his mouth before her tongue made its way in. When the kiss was done, she slid his crutches over to him, and helped him to his feet even though this was an action he'd mostly mastered since falling into this position a week ago. "How was class?" he asked her.

"Sweaty," she answered. "You'd probably like it." Despite their having a relationship that was purely in the hugs-and-kisses stage thus far, these words naturally prompted Kent to take another look at the amazing girl he was with.

Like him, she had baby blue eyes and brunette hair, but of course these were just colors, and they didn't matter so much as the body they were placed on and the way they were put there. Maybe Kent was somewhat delusional in his thinking that Holly was that unique kind of beauty that's clearly above average but not quite exceptional; after all, he'd been rather vocal about her resemblance to actress Alexis Bledel, and everyone knows the kind of standards that Hollywood sets, especially here in the suburbs of the City of Angels. Regardless, it was all in the eye of the beholder, and Kent couldn't help but feel like such a lucky eye.

"Kent," Tom said to get his friend's attention after taking a moment to wipe his thick, square-framed glasses and put them back over his blue-gray eyes. It worked, though in fairness, Tom probably would have understood if Kent had been slightly distracted and hadn't responded quickly. "I hate to pry, but—"

"He wants to know when you two are going on an actual date," Melanie Smith, a limber redhead, interrupted him, prompting a double take from Tom.

"How'd you know I was going to say that?"

"Well, first of all," she began, "you men are simple creatures. Subtlety really isn't your thing. Second, we've all been thinking that, too," she said as she exchanged glances the two other brunettes in their presence: Alexis Hummel, bold and resilient, and Terra Verbinski, darker-haired but lighter on the inside. "And third, isn't everyone kind of wondering the same thing about you and Oriel and sex?"

"Excuse me?"

"You've been going out for over a year now, and…nothing?"

"What are you implying?" Tom said. "And why even bother implying it when, and please, correct me if I'm wrong here, none of you have even had sex yourselves?" Nobody answered that question, which cued him to ask another one. "How do you even know about Oriel and I anyway? I know I might have mentioned her once or twice when you were around but…never to the extent that you should know that much!"

"We don't know that much," Lex said to calm him down. "Only what Holly told us."

"You told them?" Tom said, shooting his gaze swiftly in her direction.

"Tom, you're overreacting," Kent said. "She didn't do anything wrong."

"In fact," Holly added, "before you start calling me some kind of gossip, why don't we talk about your shameless sharing of the kiss photo with all of your friends?" On Halloween, the previous Wednesday, Kent had stolen a very unexpected kiss from Holly, who was dressed as Alexis Bledel's character in the movie of the comic book Sin City, and Tom had captured the moment with his camera phone. "Neither of us is on MySpace or Facebook," she said, looking back at Kent, who nodded, "so having our picture plastered on there for the whole world to see isn't exactly ideal." She paused briefly, then blushed and admitted, "Having said that, though…"

"It is a great picture," Kent smirked.

"You're not going to be one of those couples who finish each other's sentences now, are you?" Terra said. "Because those couples kind of make me, well, sick."

"Hey, if you wanted the picture e-mailed to you," Tom said, "putting it online is sort of an inevitability. Besides, Kent, do you really think Rick or anyone else would have believed you if they hadn't seen the proof first?"

"Rick did see the proof first," Kent noted, turning in Melanie, Terra and Lex's direction. "And he still didn't believe it. He thought Tom had photoshopped it somehow."

"What happened when he finally accepted the truth?" Melanie asked.

Returning to look at Holly, Kent explained, "He said she was, and I quote, 'hot.'"

"You seem skeptical," Terra said, surprised at Kent's seeming lack of agreement.

"It's not the word I'd use," Kent said. "Hot, to me, suggests something purely sexual. And that's just not what I want from Holly."

Lex noticeably cleared her throat.

"Yes?" Holly said.

Shaking her head, Lex said, "No teenage boy thinks that." She looked back and forth between Tom and Kent, and continued, "I know you two would like to think you're better than most guys, but the truth is, you're only marginally so. When it comes right down to it, you're all thinking about the same thing: tits."

Melanie nodded.

"It's not your fault," Terra added.

After a moment of awkward silence among the entire group, Tom and Kent turned to look at each other and pick up where they'd left off. "So," Tom said, "Kent, Holly, when do you two plan to start dating?"

"When we're ready," the two of them answered in unison. This surprised them but no so much everyone else, and they all groaned with a bit of annoyance while Kent and Holly kissed again.

Another five minutes had passed, leaving only another five remaining in snack until the beginning of third period, before Kent and Holly, lagging behind the others due both to his injury and to their fixation on one another, finally arrived at the lockers outside the school's drama room where Holly and her closest friends stored all their belongings.

"There you are!" Claire Zielinski said, running up to hug Holly as though a disaster had separated them for an extended period of time. She glanced at Kent, whom to her was an arguable example of a disaster, and then quickly turned her focus back to Holly. "This has to stop, Holly."

"I'm sorry," Holly said with a blush and a shrug. "I—we can't help it."

"You know, just because you have a boyfriend now doesn't mean you always have to be with him."

"Claire," Holly said, "you did the exact same thing when you and Jimmy first started going out. You know I tolerated all the time you spent away from me then, but it wasn't until now that I can really say I understood it." She looked at Kent at her side, and she smiled at him. "I mean, it's just…a special feeling you get when you're with someone for the first time. Words can't really describe it. You know what I'm talking about, don't try to deny it."

Claire crossed her arms and tossed back her brown hair. "Oh, I understand, Holly."

"That tone," Kent said, his mere voice inspiring a grumbling from Claire and the lighting of a manic spark in her green eyes. "Don't try to make this about me, Claire. Just because you don't like me…"

"How can it not be about you, Kent?" Claire said. "The only way it couldn't is if she was dating someone other than you, and that's not the case, is it, genius?"

"Hey, I don't grizzle about your boyfriend!" Holly said.

"But you are under the impression that Jimmy's cheating, aren't you?" Claire said.

"I've never accused him of anything! I just said it was a possibility and you should be careful! I don't want to see you get hurt, Claire!"

"Then stop throwing yourself at this loser!"

"You said so yourself, I can see anyone I want. Not that I need your approval anyway…"

"I don't care about that! All I want is for you to spend some time with us!" She and Holly looked away from Kent in the opposite direction, at their friend Russell Gutierrez, a stubbly Hispanic boy who was quick with a joke and who'll light up your smoke but still couldn't get a girlfriend. "Rusty and I! We're your friends too!" Rusty simply waved at the girls with one hand and bit his lip, refraining from making a witty comment for fear of becoming an angry teenage girl's next victim.

"And you have been for years!" Holly said. "Kent and I have only been together for a week!" She groaned and said, "Get over it."

When half a minute or so had passed, another awkward silence, the second Kent and Holly had endured in this snack period alone, Rusty finally said something. "So, Holly," he began, "'grizzle' is Aussie for 'complain,' I'm guessing?"

"Too right," Holly nodded, speaking in the expected accent.

"Don't you love having a foreign girlfriend, Kent?"

"Well," Kent said, "she's never really been outside the country, Rusty, and she only talks like that, sometimes, because her father does, and this is all stuff you already know, so…what's your point?"

"Don't accents make everyone twice as sexy?"

"Maybe," Kent said, but Holly could tell by his nervous quivering that he most certainly agreed. "I guess."

"Does me talking like this make you want to have a naughty, Kent?" Holly said in a full-blown Aussie accent. He probably didn't know exactly what that meant, but it shouldn't have been too difficult to figure out.

"God damn it!" Rusty said in his perpetual good humor, while still garnering surprised looks from the other three. "Be careful with that axe, woman, I only brought one pair of pants!"

"Some comments are perhaps kept to yourself, Rusty," Claire said.

"To answer your question, Holly," Kent said, "yes, it does."

Holly grinned and then turned to Claire with a much more solemn face. Reverting back to her usual American accent, she said, "Look, can we stop arguing about this? I love you guys, really," she said to Claire and Rusty, "but Kent and I are still just getting to know each other. Give it some time, okay?"