Today's not a good day.
It's not just that the alarm clock didn't go off this morning. It's not that my face must have been fifty shades of purple by the time the professor froze in the middle of his lecture right as I tripped into class. It's not that five hundred people turned just in time to see me collapse into a chair, collapse onto the floor because the chair was broken, and then hear a sickening cracking noise because the laptop inside didn't survive the fall.
No. That's not why today isn't a good day.
Today isn't a good day because, well, he decided to show up.
I'll admit to the cliché, bad luck surrounding a single person, a single, unfairly attractive, ADHD-prone, unhealthily confident person that exists to ruin my life.
It's not my fault clichés are clichés because they're fucking common as fucking fuck, okay?
But fucking JESUS GODDAMNED CHRIST, he's looking at me again. From across the five-thousand foot expansion of the auditorium, his head's swivels like a wooden doll's until his body seems to cease all movement once in my direction. And he stares. And stares. And stares.
My head, abdomen, legs, arms, all sink at the same time, melting into the (finely and sturdily built, thanks) chair as if all my bones evaporated and only left a puddle of flesh and mush.
His head moves up a little.
Jesus, he's kneeling on the chair.
Turning to a friend.
Lips mumble something unknowable from five thousand feet away.
The hard black plastic of the chair in front of me looms as I sink ever further, nursing my chipped laptop, opening it wide so no one will ever be able to see my face ever, ever again. Ever.
"What the fuck are you doing, Jay?"
Even though Rudy can see my face just fucking fine. Rudy can see everything fine and it's messing up my life. "Sitting," streams out from the corner of my mouth. Rudy, big brown eyes folding into slits and long eyelashes fluttering like oriental fans, raises a dark eyebrow before waddling past my legs so he can work himself into the row and drop like a sack of rocks into the seat next to mine. Fucking bastard is probably the reason behind my broken laptop and broken ass, that chair-destroying heathen.
Heaving a sigh, Rudy leans his head back against the hard plastic and slowly closes his eyes, the giant marble chess piece on his shirt heaving with his chest, toward the heavens, then to hell, then back to the ceiling, then disappearing into his body, somehow finding a place to hide inside that tiny sack of bones and skin stretched as tightly as a rubber-band.
Professor Nichols quietly messes with his computer at the front of the room, poking one key at a time, staring, then drawing back rapidly as if he'd burnt himself. Rudy opens one eye and leans over just as Nichols clears his throat, straightens out his bowtie, shuts the computer and reaches for his ancient projector, as old as dirt and the most reliable piece of technology public universities have ever had the privilege of adopting. "What happened to your computer, man?" Rudy asks in disbelief, rubbing his eyes for good effect. One scrawny finger taps at one of the giant cracks.
We both cringe when a fantastical, blinding rift shoots across the screen before everything disappears into black. My own chest heaves as Rude quietly draws away in fear. "D'you have a pen?" I ask, depressed, hopeless. Mostly hopeless.
Rudy's now ghastly-white face nods, and he turns to his bag to rifle through it. Not feeling up to becoming acquainted with the bag's entire contents (and most likely the contents of Rudy's entire room and maybe his house), I go back to hiding inside my cove of a cushioned auditorium seat. Rudy's elbow bumps mine as he retrieves a glittery snowglobe and gently places it on the dirty floor below him.
Don't ask. I don't know.
From my spot, I've given up any chance of making eye contact with anyone or anything but the freak next to me with the hoarding disorder. Anthropology 101 has too many people. This school has too many people. The world has too many people, for God's sake. If only all the children would die. Or everyone. I wouldn't mind if everyone died.
Footsteps flutter by my cove, small ballerina taps, lumbering pounds of loafers and hefty rubber sneakers. Coming in late, leaving for the bathroom, last-minute meetings, last-minute decisions to skip class because who needs Anthropology? What is Anthropology?
Rudy carefully tucks a yellow umbrella into his seat, safely protected by his armrest. My back, sore from this slouching, cramping and general patheticness, becomes so unbearable that I have to straighten up and become one once more with the rest of the world.
Feels good, stretching.
I steadily grab at the chair behind me and push my chest forward, shut my eyes and expel every unwelcome kink. The relief rushes through my arms and neck and torso. Jesus. I'm so happy.
Rudy's eyeing me when I drop my ass back down into the seat with a goofy smile – and I know it's goofy, because I'm not capable of smiling any other way – spread out all over my lips and probably puncturing my cheeks with those dimples my mother's so proud of and that refuse to go away.
A footstep falls. Rudy's gaze moves upward, sailing above my head, another pair of eyes reflected in his. And because curiosity is the inescapable temptation that ultimately destroys us all, I turn around to see who the hell he's looking at.
And, well. You can probably guess.
The bane of my existence. The bane of everyone's who's ever had the gall to exist while he still inhabits this world.
His name is Thomas. Ruddy-cheeked and grinning like a fucking chipmunk who's just loaded his cheeks with enough nuts to feed an army. "I didn't know you went here," he remarks cheerfully, flouncy light hair falling into his eyes.
Rudy shyly looks away because he doesn't know Thomas.
And I hate the bastard for it because I can't shyly look away because I know Thomas.
Oh, how I know Thomas. "Did you ever get around to Moab?"
I can't speak. Don't know why he ever thought I'd be able to.
"You know, Moab is my Washpot, Stephen Fry. Remember when we read nearly all his books that one summer?"
That one summer.
We used to be neighbors, him and I.
"That was the only one you didn't get to."
In the past, we used to be neighbors.
He's going to give up. He always gives up.
Here he goes. Brightness in his eyes has dulled. Chipmunk cheeks have deflated, if just slightly.
"It's nice to see a familiar face. Really, it is."
It's at this point I can't take anymore. It's taking all the blood in this corpse of mine to pound my heart this hard, and I gather my strength, fairly dizzy, fairly bothered, fairly desperate. Rudy half-watches, noticeably slowing down the pace of shoving all his junk back into his bag. "Go back to your seat, please," I tell him.
It's polite enough. It's not what I deserve, it's not what he deserves, but it's enough.
Thomas's face falls. Hands open and close once, twice, three times, pasty and shaky. "But Jay -"
My hand finds itself at the collar of his shirt. It moves on its own, dragging his lithe body toward me and off the floor, even though he's slightly taller and I'm not even that freaking strong. But I pretend. Like hell I do. "Go."
Thomas stumbles a bit sadly when my arm, also moving on its own, I swear, I do, shoves him away and into the adjacent row of seats. The five hundred students watch carefully, some disinterested, fascinated, intrigued, disappointed. What are they fighting over? Why are they fighting at all?
Isn't fighting for children?
Rudy's silent, I'm silent, Thomas frowns like a bruised puppy.
But the frown vanishes as quickly as it had come, replaced with a blinding smile and a nonchalant brushing of his shoulder. "Okay," he says, cocks his head, ruffles his hair and puts a hand in his pocket, bouncy, happy, "I'll see you 'round then, Jay!"
And he goes.
"What a queer," Rudy mumbles once he's gone, fishing the snowglobe out from under him. "He's in my Western Civ class. So talkative, Christ, he disrupts everything."
"Ha." It comes out exasperated, tired, unamused. "Yeah," I agree, watching Thomas skip back all the way down the aisle and back to his circle of friends at the same time the clock ticks 10:10. Nichols looks up from the projector and squints his eyes through his bifocals. "Everything."