Monday, January 7, 2008

"Oh, good," Alexis Hummel said, watching as Holly Snow, her classmate from the second period dance class she and two other close friends had just exited, engaged in a prolonged kiss with boyfriend Kent Thomas. "He loves her back."

"Yeah, Lex," Terra Verbinski, a year younger than the girl she was talking to and with darker black hair and a trimmer but equally athletic figure, said. "We all heard him say it. We don't need the reminder."

Holly, another blue-eyed brunette in the same year as Terra, ended her kiss and said in the Australian accent she'd inherited from her father, "I don't mind hearing it again," with a grin in Kent's direction.

As the tall sixteen-year-old ran his skinny hands through Holly's chocolaty brown hair, Kent added, "Let's not overdo it, though."

"I tell Oriel I love her all the time," Thomas Fraser, Kent's bespectacled best friend with cloudy blue-gray eyes and nearly jet-black hair said with a shrug.

"Except she lives an hour away in Long Beach, Tom, so, really, you don't tell her all the time, do you? At least not to her face."

Tom shrugged. "To each his own."

The last remaining person in this set of six blocking the top of a stairway leading up and away from the Crescenta Valley High School gymnasium and out to the rest of campus had yet to throw in her opinion on the events that just transpired in two young sophomore's lives, and so they collectively turned to auburn-haired Melanie Smith for just that.

"I'm happy for you guys," she smiled at them, in addition to patting Kent on the back. "But I'm not the focus here, they are. Stop staring at me like that, it's creeping me out."

"So what happens now?" Terra asked. "You two can't just go on, business as usual anymore. You love each other. That changes everything, doesn't it?"

"Yeah, no more fooling around," Lex said. "Shit just got real for you guys."

After realizing they'd been embracing one another for an inordinately long time, Kent and Holly separated and prompted the others into joining them in walking away from this area of their suburban Los Angeles school and out to the fifteen-minute break the ringing of the bell had afforded them to hang out and seek sustenance. They continued to hold hands while walking, however.

"I guess now this means we have to start making commitments," Kent said. "More than we did before this, at any rate."

"You'll have to come to our performance," Melanie said. "Next week is the assembly."

"Well, seeing as it's a mandatory assembly for everyone in the school to attend," Kent nodded, "I don't anticipate any scheduling conflicts there."

"Looking forward to it?" Tom said.

"Of course!"

"Because she's your girlfriend, or because she's your girlfriend in tight clothing?"

"Sorry to disappoint," Terra said, "but since we're only in the intermediate class, guys, you won't be seeing us in those skimpy outfits like the advanced dancers till next year."

"We'll be lost in a mass of dancers, anyway," Melanie said. "We're a huge group, two classes' worth."

"Of course," Lex added, "if you two see each other naked and have sex, no amount of skimpy outfits are going to mean anything."

Everyone stopped in their tracks and turned to Lex with varying degrees of shock.

"Not this again," Holly sighed and shook her head. "Kent and I will have sex when we're ready!"

"What, you think this is a peer pressure thing?" Lex said. "No, Holly! I'm not judging you! I'm just saying, when you do, the outfits will become completely secondary!"

"Are you still a virgin, Lex?" Melanie asked, raising her eyebrow.

"So now I'm the one on trial?"

"That wasn't a 'yes,'" Terra said.

"No, but this is," Lex said. "Yes, guys, I'm still a virgin. But, I am hoping to change that before too long."

"Who's the guy?" Holly said.

"Nobody yet."

"You mentioned Valentine's Day," Terra said. "That that's your goal, to have one by then."

"And it is," Lex said with a nod. "Trust me, Terra, when developments occur, you'll be the first to know."

"We were talking about your performances," Kent said, doing a service by bringing them all back to a more tangible subject. He turned to Holly and then the rest of the girls, stating, "I don't care how much or how little clothing any of you show."

"Bullshit," Lex said.

"Okay, maybe I do a little bit…" Kent sighed.

"You've got a penis, after all."

"Be that as it may, you're all still people to me first and foremost," Kent said. "I swear we've had this conversation before, anyway."

"Welcome back, Kent!" James Allen said with unusually cheerful enthusiasm as Kent, Tom and Holly approached the latter's closest circle of friends at their usual on-campus hangout spot, outside the main high school building near the entrance to the basement-level theater where the drama classes were held. The boyfriend of Holly's best friend Claire Zielinski, he wasn't as tall as Kent, but was more conventionally handsome, buffer in tone and with a darker, shorter haircut. He laughed and extended a hand towards Kent for shaking. "How was Jersey?"

"It was nice," Kent said, glancing curiously from Jimmy to Claire, a green-eyed athletic brunette who shrugged in shared disbelief. "I like my family there."

"How were the birds, Birdman?"

"Please don't call me that," the proud birder replied, removing his hand from Jimmy's grip. "They're quite different from the ones we have here, as you might imagine."

"Such as?"

"Okay, seriously, Jimmy, what's up?"

"Yeah, dude," Russell "Rusty" Gutierrez, the black-haired Hispanic male component of the original trio of himself, Holly and Claire concurred. "You haven't been this nice in a while. Like, a long while. Like, since before you manipulated Claire into sleeping with you and started becoming an asshole."

"Like, what are you, a valley girl?" Jimmy laughed at the black-haired, increasingly stubbled young man.

"Well, we are sort of in the San Fernando Valley…" Kent said in defense of Rusty, even though it was clear the boy was just being his usual comedic self. "What's going on, Jimmy?"

"Before I tell you, Kent, you tell me about some of the birds you saw in Jersey."

"Uh, okay," Kent said. He scanned the campus quad for some inspiration of what specific bird he could talk about to this layman, and when he saw a few California Gulls flying around through the steadily dissipating morning fog with the American Crows, he knew what to share. "How about the world's largest gulls? I saw those. Great Black-backed Gulls."

"Man, fuck seagulls," Jimmy scoffed.

"That's actually a misnomer," Kent said. "A lot of gulls are found around lakes and rivers, too."

"Then fuck 'em there, too."

"Be nice, Jimmy," Claire said.

"We went clubbing!" Jimmy boasted with a huge grin. At these words, Kent's eyes burst wide open and he gave shocked looks at Holly, Claire and Rusty.

"We went to one club," Claire explained, lifting her index finger to demonstrate the smallness of the number. "That's it."

"Beats the shit out of your vacation, doesn't it?" Jimmy said.

"Not really," Kent said. "I'm not even interested in that sort of thing."

"We would've brought you along," Rusty assured him. "It's just, you know, you weren't here."

"And I probably would have come along," Kent said. "Just to be with you guys. Still, how did you even get there? Get in? Did you drink, do drugs?" he asked with concern for their well-being more than anything. "You all got home okay, right?"

"Stacey got hammered," Rusty said.

"And braless," Jimmy added with a smile that Claire nudged him in the arm for making.

"Josh's ex?" Kent asked. "I don't even know her. But you're all okay?"

"We're standing here next to you, aren't we?" Claire said, smiling sweetly. "But if you must know, Kent, most of us did act irresponsibly in one way or another. Suffice to say, there was a bong."

"Don't take this the wrong way, man," Jimmy said, "but your girlfriend…she became kind of an annoying buzzkill without you."

Kent and Holly exchanged glances. "Somebody had to be the responsible one," she said, shrugging while Kent nodded in understanding. Reaching behind her to remove her navy blue backpack, which matched the color of the official C.V. Dance jacket she was wearing, Holly sorted through the contents of one of the smaller pockets and pulled out a plastic card that she then handed to Kent. "I saved the fake ID Rusty had made for you."

"Thank you," Kent said, examining the copy of his yearbook photo from the previous year pasted onto a fake California ID, with the birth date pushed back from December 14, 1991 to 1986, which would have made him exactly twenty-one had he been there to use it.

"You're welcome," Rusty replied.

"It's not something I'd ever use, but thank you," Kent added as he stuffed the card into his own backpack, which by happenstance was the same color and brand as Holly's.

"That's kind of rude, isn't it?" Jimmy said.

"Not as rude as breaking the law, though."

"No wonder you two are dating. You're both buzzkills."

Kent laughed and looked to Holly, saying, "We really need to go on an actual date."

"And also—" Jimmy began, before a stern Holly cut his predictable sentence short with a swiftly raised index finger. "You think you know what I'm going to say, do?" he smirked. "No, you don't."

"You were going to bug us about not having had sex yet," Kent said. "I know. Do you have any idea how annoying that's become for me lately?"

"For both of us, Kent," Holly added.

"Rick called me about it," Kent said. "He made a long-distance call to my aunt and uncle's house just to annoy me with his thoughts on our predicament."

"So get a cell phone, you ass," Jimmy said.

"Apparently, the fact that there's a town called Mount Holly near Pemberton is a sign from God or something."

"But you should mount Holly."

"Would you stop?"

Claire slapped Jimmy on the arm again, the actual effectiveness of this punishment rapidly dwindling as its use increased. "Leave them alone, Jimmy. Seriously."

"When's the last time we had sex, Claire?"

"A lot more recent than any of us wish it was," Rusty said, which resulted in an expected glare from Jimmy. "Hey, you know you're a dick, dude. You've even admitted it before. Stop pretending to be offended."

"Does anyone else want to walk with me to the vending machines?" Claire asked in an obvious attempt to change the subject for the better.

"I'll go," Rusty said, quickly stepping aside to join her in an equally obvious expression of his long-unrequited feelings for her. "Kent? Holly?" The two of them shook their heads and returned their gazes towards one another so they could focus on their upgraded relationship, which Kent immediately realized they had neglected to share with the others. "What is it?" Rusty said when he noticed.

"Kent and I have something to share," Holly said with a smile, clasping Kent's hands in hers. "Something big."

"I already know," Tom remarked, raising his hand after having been silent since arriving into this group of friends from the first one.

"You should talk more," Jimmy said.

"Do you want to tell them," Kent asked Holly, "or should I?"

"We could do it together," she said.

"They are your friends, though," Kent said.

"Okay," Holly nodded. She turned to Claire in particular and gleefully shared: "We love each other!"

When Jimmy heard this, as Claire and Rusty were enthusiastically reacting to the news, he growled and walked off in large, angry stomps to another side of campus. The others could only watch, yet somehow couldn't bring themselves to care all that much.