Wednesday, January 2, 2008

"First day back in school," James Allen said with a sigh, reaching into his jeans pocket for a cigarette pack that wasn't there. With no odorous carcinogens to relieve his stress, he instead grabbed the waist of his beautiful girlfriend, Claire Zielinski, and pulled her in towards him. "Kiss me," he ordered her.

"I'm kind of in the middle of something, Jimmy," the green-eyed brunette replied, pointing to the locker door she had just opened, books and papers hanging halfway out while her purple backpack lay unzipped on the floor below. She glanced at her blue-eyed best friend, Holly Snow, who was doing the same in her locker to the right, and then stepped out of Jimmy's grasp. "Maybe later."

"Maybe?" Jimmy said.

"You know what I mean," Claire said as she resumed sorting through her things before classes began at eight, ten minutes away. "I hope."

"You mean, that I've been a dick lately and that we're not doing so well as a couple anymore and that this possibility of not kissing me later is more real than we'd like?"

"Yeah, that."

"Thank you, Mr. Exposition," Holly said with a smirk and an Australian accent, her gaze not leaving the contents of her locker and the navy blue backpack she was balancing on her thigh. Claire let out a small laugh, but Jimmy was not amused and his face had the expression to prove it.

"Now stick dynamite down his pants," Claire whispered.

"Do you enjoy mistreating me the way you do, Claire?"

"No, I enjoy reminiscing about the awesome cartoons of my youth," she answered. "Besides, you're the one who just admitted to being a dick."

"Which you are," Holly added.

"Holly, why don't you try saying something constructive?" Jimmy said.

"Don't talk to her like that," Claire grumbled.

"I have been constructive," Holly said. "I've suggested many times over that Claire just break up with you and end this madness, and she's only just now started to give it serious thought. And she should've really done it a lot sooner, considering—"

"I manipulated her into having sex with me with blackmail," Jimmy stopped her. "We know the story. We lived it."

"You played the bad guy," Claire said.

"Maybe, but that doesn't seem to have gotten anyone to do anything about it," Holly grumbled.

"Holly, if your rich boyfriend couldn't get the cops to do anything about it, what chance do the rest of us have?"

"Plenty," Claire said. "I just have to go to the cops myself."

"With what evidence?" Jimmy said. "All our sex since then has been consensual. That would probably undermine any feelings of trauma you might have from our first time."

"But I could do it, if I wanted. If I was pissed-off enough."

"Ask yourself: do I really belong behind bars? Am I really that bad? Come on."

"The law doesn't care if you deserve it, it just cares that you follow the rules."

"What happened to everybody's sense of humor?" Jimmy said. "Was this your new year's resolution? To be the biggest buzzkills you can be?"

"I didn't make any resolutions," Claire laughed.

"I did," Holly said. "I resolved to stop making stupid, impulsive decisions."

"How old are you?" Jimmy asked.

"Sixteen, as of last Thursday. You knew that. Why?"

"Good luck," he said with his own laugh.

"Hey, you and Claire aren't the only couple with problems."

"So, Holly, what stupid, impulsive thing did you do that prompted this little resolution?"

"That's between Kent, and me," she said. "There's no need for you to pry."

"It was embarrassing, wasn't it?"

"Hey," Claire said, "she said—"

"Haven't we learned by now that secrets are a bad thing?"

"Only in the wrong hands, dick," Claire sneered at him.

"Whose dick is in the wrong hands?" a voice said suddenly at the doorway leading from the first floor hallway in which these lockers resided out into the quad of this suburban Los Angeles high school. Everyone turned to see the black-haired Russell Gutierrez standing there with a curious look on his stubbly face, which was justified given what he'd just overheard. "Forget it," he said as he began making his way down the stairs to his locker to the left of Claire's. "I don't want to know. I have good news, guys!"

"You finally found a woman willing to get naked with you?" Jimmy snickered.

"No, I already found that," Rusty said as he began turning the dial on his lock. Immediately after saying this, he seemed to realize what he'd just shared with the others and shut himself up for several seconds.

"Um, Rusty, who might that be?" Holly asked. "I find that hard to believe. You would've told us before, unless this was just last night."

"No, this was last week," Rusty said, wincing after making another poorly thought out revelation.

"Okay, who?" Jimmy said. "What woman in her right mind would even consider stripping for you?"

"A stripper," Rusty said quickly. "My Dad…hired a stripper for New Year's."

"That wasn't last week," Claire said. "That was two nights ago, Rusty."

"Was she hot?" Jimmy asked.

"Jimmy!"

"Sort of a job requirement, no?" Rusty answered. "Yes, yes indeed she was, very hot. The only catch was, she didn't reveal any more than her cleavage, since she didn't remove her underwear."

"What kind of bullshit is that?" Jimmy continued. "You should sue."

"No, those were the conditions."

"Set by whom? Your dad? What, is he afraid his sixteen-year-old son is going to be irrevocably scarred by a nice set of titties?" he said with another laugh.

"She set those conditions herself, actually."

"Then she's in the wrong industry."

"Yeah," Rusty said, clearing his throat and biting his lip.

"So, what was the good news you were intending to tell us, Rusty?" Holly asked.

"No one said having a woman strip for me was a good thing."

"Rusty," Claire said, and she and him exchanged glances.

"It was awesome," Rusty said with one thumb up, the other preoccupied with the locker and its contents. "Anyway, the good news is, I brought these for us," he said as he reached into his backpack and pulled out a set of ID cards—not their school-issued ones adorned with the embarrassing yearbook photos, but the government-issued ones adorned with the embarrassing DMV photos, and not the real kind, but the fake kind with the birth dates pushed a couple years back and the embarrassing yearbook photos where the DMV photos would be. He kept two for himself and handed one card each to Holly, Claire, and Jimmy, although in the latter case, the gift-giving was without any holiday spirit and more out a sense of obligation. "Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: your new fake IDs," he said with a grin.

"I don't need this, Rusty," Holly said, stuffing the card into her pocket regardless. "I'm not planning on drinking until I turn twenty-one."

"How did you get these?" Jimmy asked.

"My buddy in Irvine made them."

"Does this buddy have a name?" Claire said.

"His name is indiscretion."

"Why now?" Holly said.

"It's a new year. Time to try new things, like sneaking into impossibly cool clubs. Oh, and Holly, I had him make one for Kent, too," he said, displaying the ID of her boyfriend in one hand, "but since he won't be back from Jersey until next week, I'll hold it for him until he returns."

"Something tells me Kent isn't going to care either way. And I'll take that card for him, thank you," she said, waving Rusty to hand the fake ID over to her.

"You two really need to loosen up," Jimmy said.

"Hence the club-going," Rusty remarked. "I was thinking Saturday night. My buddy from Irvine will drive."

"Will there be drugs?" Jimmy asked casually, flipping the card in his fingers.

"I'm told he'll be bringing some weed with him."

"You can't do that yourself?" Claire said.

"His is going to be different weed, Claire! Orange County weed! New things, remember?"

"See, this is why I made a resolution," Holly said. "We should all be acting a little more responsible, not conning our way into a club with some guy we don't even know to engage in underage drinking and illegal drug use."

"Buzzkill," Jimmy repeated.

"Holly, you're a dancer!" Claire reminded her. "This should be right up your alley! Besides, nobody's saying you have to do those things. At the very least, you should want to tag along because we're friends."

"I'll go," Holly nodded, "but only to dance and hang out. Someone needs to be the responsible one. Speaking of which, Rusty, your friend is the only driver we'll have, so he'd better not get too wasted while we're there."

"Now we just have to figure out what we're going to tell our parents."

"Why not spit them in the face with it?" Jimmy said. "Tell them the truth. We're already pissing them off by dating against their will, why not rub it in with some brutal honesty about our questionable behavior?" He turned to Holly and added, "Wouldn't you say that's responsible?"

"No, that's reckless and stupid."

"Rusty, don't you think Holly's resolution is what's stupid?"

"You're stupid," Rusty replied, which resulted in him being smacked on the head by Jimmy. "Please, Jimmy," he said afterward, "like you would really do it."

"Oh, I'd do it."

"You'd do what?" The four of them turned to see a tall fifteen-year-old sophomore with green eyes and dirty blond hair approaching them from the stairway, with a characteristic grin on her face serving as a warning sign for the impending sarcasm her dialogue with others tended to produce. "What?" Samara repeated. "I want to know!"

Her hopes seemed to vanish when the bell rang seconds later, and the other students sighed in relief. They double-checked that they had everything needed with them for their first two class periods, and then walked past Samara one by one without answering her question.

"What?" Samara said, turning around to watch them exit the hallway out into the quad. She grumbled loudly, which was understandable considering she seemed to be the most implausibly observant student on campus, frequently butting into others' lives with drawn-out, flowery commentary on the respective events in their lives, and this morning she had missed such a chance.

Perhaps it was the girl's sex appeal, but Jimmy hurried back into the hallway a minute later against all reason. "Samara," he said with a semi-sarcastic smile of his own. "How are you today? Did you make any new year's resolutions?"

"We've both got to get to class, Jimmy, so how about we cut the chit-chat and you just tell me what you guys are up to so I can mock you for it later?"

"You are in a hurry," Jimmy said, surprised that "You referred to me by my real name instead of some lameass nickname! Speaking of which, what is my nickname these days? Not that I really care, I'm just curious…"

"Time Bomb."

"I don't get it."

"I don't expect that you would."

"That hurts, Samara."

"Answer the question!" Samara said, as students began passing them by en route to the classrooms nearby.

"Okay!" Jimmy gasped, backing away a short distance. "Rusty got us some fake IDs and we're planning on hitting a club this weekend."

Suddenly Jimmy felt a nudge behind him, and he and Samara turned to see Claire standing there with another boy, Thomas Fraser, who was as usual dressed all in subdued tones with square-framed glasses over his blue-gray eyes and black hair atop his head. "Why are you talking to her?" Claire demanded.

"It probably has something to do with my sex appeal," Samara nodded.

"We really should be getting to class, you guys," Tom said.

"Why are you walking with him?" Jimmy said, pointing at Tom, who just sighed and rolled his eyes.

"Because we have class together, Jimmy," Claire said, looking towards the drama room to which most of the passing students were walking. "The only reason I even left this hallway was to talk some more with Holly before I remembered my class was this way. Tom and I met outside en route. Yours was a stupid question, but mine wasn't."

"Class," Tom reminded them with a clearing of his throat.

"It wasn't a stupid question," Jimmy said, prompting another sigh from Tom, who decided to just keep on walking. As Jimmy watched the freshman leave, he remarked, "If you can have a thing for Kent, what's stopping you from falling for his best friend, too?"

"You're paranoid, do you know that?" Claire said. She checked the watch on her left arm, this despite the fact that her class was just through the doorway some ten feet away. "Jimmy, I'm not going to ask you again."

"I can talk to whoever I want."

"Just like I can walk with whoever I want."

"Then why are we arguing?"

"Because you're obviously not meant for each other," Samara said.

"Shut up," Claire said with a dirty look.

"Lucky was right, we have class," Samara said, patting the couple on their shoulders as she made her way around them. "Not you two, of course, who consistently manage to lower the bar for couples everywhere, but the rest of us, we have class."

"You told her what we were doing this weekend, didn't you?" Claire said, turning back to Jimmy while Samara exited.

"She was going to find out eventually," Jimmy shrugged. "Better to just tell her up front than force her to snoop around for it." Now it was his turn to glance at his watch, afterward becoming the next one to suggest they follow the cues of their classmates and live up to the meaning of that term. "You know, we'd better…"

"Go," Claire said, waving at Jimmy as she walked past him. "We'll talk later."

Jimmy nodded and waved back at her as he left, although he realized too late that by the time he turned around to look at her one last time, she'd disappeared from sight. He sighed with regards to the pitiful state of their relationship and quickened his pace through the high school quad to outrun the forthcoming bell. In what wasn't much of a surprise, he ended up on the losing side of that battle.