Thursday, February 28, 2008

It was with some hesitation that Samara approached Eve at snack the next morning. She may not have been the consistently reliable friend that Holly and Claire were claiming to be—in fact, the Biblically named sophomore was really more of a glorified acquaintance, given to Samara by some higher power in order to facilitate the much-deserved humiliation of Skylar at the winter formal—but friends were friends, and you couldn't choose them. Samara hoped that her guilt from last week's incident had been sufficient, and that enough time had passed for her, once again, to seek forgiveness. She sighed and tapped on Eve's shoulder as the latter stood under a tree in the center of the quad.

"Oh," Eve said. "It's you."

"Forgiven me yet?" Samara asked her.

"Fine, whatever."

"Spoken like a true friend," Samara said with a smile. "I'm glad we can finally put this behind us."

"Yeah, right. Not with the one who caused all of this bullshit back at school."

"You saw Jimmy?"

"He's not exactly inconspicuous."

"Did he talk to you?"

"He has no reason to. He barely knows me. Has he talked to you?"

"No," Samara said. "Hopefully because he knows what kind of pain he'll be risking if he does, and not because he's hard at work planning something nefarious. But the cynic in me…" ("Isn't that the only person in you?") "…Knows that he's not afraid of me anymore."

"Well, why should he be?" Eve said. "He took advantage of you."

"On the bright side," Samara said abruptly, "it's going to be a beautiful sight when karma finally catches up with him for everything he's done." She smiled at the concept. "Yes, that's going to be a glorious day." She looked at Eve, realized that this was still a sore subject despite the anticipation of due justice on the man, and changed the discussion accordingly. "So, we're cool?"

"As cool as we'll ever be. But let's face it, Samara, you and I aren't really meant to be friends."

"Now why would you go and say something like that?"

"Don't take this the wrong way, but you're kind of a bitch."

"…And that automatically precludes the possibility of you and I hanging out?"

"Your ego is huge."

"Thank you."

"That wasn't a compliment."

Samara sighed. "You're asking me to change, aren't you?"

"Yes," Eve said. "And a real friend would accept you for who you are. I'm afraid I just don't have the stamina to do that. Not after having to endure your lies last week."

"I didn't lie, I mislead you. And I only did so to try and teach Hard Drive a lesson."

"You shouldn't let someone hurt someone else just so you can prove a point. You also should refer to people by their given names instead of half-assed nicknames, but I know that policy's not going to change anytime soon. Do you understand what I'm saying here?"

"I'm not an idiot, Eve. Certain drunken mishaps notwithstanding."

"If I were you, I'd ask myself, 'who's the person out there most accepting of who I am?' Because that's the person you should be spending your time with. That's who your true friend is. Not me."

"You know, people have occasionally told me I should become a psychologist," Samara said, "but you're not so bad yourself, Freud."

"If anyone deserves that nickname, it's you, Samara. All you ever seem to see in people is their sex drive."

"Admittedly, that may just be because I've entered the room."

"See, your ego is showing again."

"I know who to go to." Samara gazed across the quad in the direction of Holly and Claire, though they were barely, if at all, visible through the noisy crowd of students, and Eve joined her. "And you probably do, too, Freud."

"Goddamn it," Eve sighed, slapping her forehead. "That name's going to stick with me, now, isn't it?"

"It will, but since I've taken your advice to heart, its use in your immediate presence will be decidedly short-lived."

"All the more reason to go and find your friends now."

"That's what I just said."

Eve and Samara looked at each other for a moment, both pondering when, exactly, the latter would make good on her word and give her relationship with the former a mercy kill and farewell. Samara wanted to walk over there and finally accept Claire's forgiveness, and subsequent friendship, but doing so would require leaving Eve, for however brief a time. In the interim she would be, for the first time in her life, friendless and acutely aware of it. Before this, she'd been on her own many times over, but she'd managed because she'd lulled herself into a false sense of security that yes, those classmates she was pestering were her buddies. It was a scary thing, this self-reflection, though Samara would never admit it outright.

"Time to face the music," she said.


Kent and Tom sat together for lunch at their usual location, underneath a row of tall bluegum eucalyptus at the north end of the quad, near one of the back entrances of the school's main building. Things were as normal as could be expected in light of Kent's post-relationship drama with Holly the day before, but it wasn't meant to last. As Kent was finishing his daily slice of Domino's Pizza sold at several carts on campus, he noticed another student, dressed all in black, approaching him and Tom from the east. Once the two of them realized that it was Jimmy, they exchanged nervous glances, finished their respective midday meals, and braced themselves for the forthcoming tension.

"Kent," Jimmy said simply, looking down on his supposed rival.

"Jimmy," Kent replied, wiping his cheesy fingers with a small napkin and barely acknowledging the one he was talking to.

"How have you been?"

"Not bad, until about five seconds ago."

"Oh, I'm sure it's been longer than that. I heard you and Holly broke up."

Kent paused and glanced up at Jimmy, then at Tom and back to Jimmy again. "That's right."

"I also hear it was under, shall we say, mysterious circumstances."

"Well, not to us," Kent said with a sigh.

"Not to me, either."

"What do you know?" Tom said.

"He doesn't know anything," Kent said, worried that Tom might be probing the jerk for information. "If he did, he probably would've done a better job holding on to Claire."

Jimmy smirked. "You know, it's funny that your first thought should go to Claire, Kent."

"That's because you treated her like garbage, and I can't abide by someone treating her, or anyone else, like that. Let's not forget that you treated Samara like that, too."

"Trust me," he smiled, "I won't."

"Shouldn't you be somewhere else right now?" Tom said. "Like jail, perhaps?"

"Nobody's pressing charges, Tom, so I'd say, no."

"Then they're idiots."

"What do you want?" Kent said. "Not that I care."

Jimmy shrugged. "I don't want anything. I just stopped by to say hello."

"Hello. And now that we've gotten that out of the way: goodbye."

"Just as a heads-up, you'd save yourself a whole lot of trouble if you'd just admit your attraction to Claire."

"Okay, Jimmy, she's the most beautiful girl in the world and I want to have lots of babies with her." He turned to Jimmy and added, "I can't help but notice you're still here."

"What kind of 'trouble' are we talking about, Jimmy?" Tom said.

"The kind that doesn't go away with sarcastic confessions," Jimmy replied, crossing his arms. Sneering at Kent, he added, "Not that hearing you say it with that tone makes it any less hard to hear."

"I asked you a question," Tom said.

"And I answered it."

"You went around it."

"You want specifics?" Jimmy said.

"Please."

"Let's just say payback's a bitch." He smiled and walked away, in the direction he'd arrived, without saying another word.

"He's planning something," Tom said. "I don't trust him."

"Well, what are we supposed to do about it?" Kent said.

"Your dad."

"What?"

"He could hire a private investigator. Think about it: Jimmy may not be going to prison now, but if we get someone on his trail while it's still early, we'll have a better chance of sending him there later, with solid evidence to back us up!"

"But we don't even know if he's doing anything illegal, Tom!" Kent said.

"But if he is, we'll catch him in the act! Iris's dad is a cop, he can help us, too!"

"It sounds to me like you just want to see him locked up, regardless." He grumbled. "Look, we both know, hell, everyone knows what an asshole Jimmy is. But I'd much rather not worry about it until we have to, and when we know he's guilty of something."

"He already is!" Tom said. With a sigh, he said, "That's not what Batman would do."

"All right," Kent said. "Since you put it that way, I guess I can talk to my dad about hiring a private eye. Though I honestly don't know what good it'll do, considering all the immoral things I'm sure he's gotten himself into. That's like hiring the Penguin to take down the Joker."

"Sometimes the ends justify the means," Tom said solemnly.


"Holly, can I ask you a question?" Claire said, watching her friend bite into her daily sandwich. After Holly nodded and swallowed what she was chewing, Claire asked: "I know you and Kent have broken up, but just so I know, would it be all right with you if I still talked to him, occasionally?"

Holly shrugged. "Occasionally. It would depend on what you're talking about."

"Don't worry, Holly, it's not like I'm going to blab to him about any new boyfriends you might have." She glanced in Kent's direction, and by pure happenstance, did so at a moment when Jimmy was making himself at home in a space that Tom and Kent probably considered uncomfortably close. Holly and the other girls (and Rusty) turned when they saw that Claire was making a prolonged look at them, and that's when Claire added, "See that? That's the kind of thing I want to be able talk to him about."

"Jimmy? By all means, Claire! He's everyone's problem!"

"Great, thanks," Claire smiled, as much as was possible knowing that Jimmy was interfering in the lives of those she knew right now. "So, are there any new boyfriends on the horizon?"

"If there were, you'd know."

"John comes to mind," a finally clean-shaven Rusty said.

Holly scoffed. "John? He hangs out with Stacey!"

"Yeah, to help keep her sober. You know they're just friends, right?"

"He's seen her naked! That right there takes him out of the friend zone!" She sighed. "She's a bad influence."

"Not with him around," Rusty said.

"Okay, you are blatantly trying to set Holly up with him, aren't you?" Terra said.

"No," Rusty said. "But he does like you, Holly."

"Of course he does!" Holly said, rather arrogantly. "I'm likeable!" She paused, put a finger on her chin, and then said, "Although, perhaps not when I'm insulting his choice in friends." She turned to Claire. "Why is everyone so concerned about me getting a new boyfriend?"

"I'm not," Melanie said.

"Claire, your breakup was much worse than mine!"

"Yes," Claire said, "which is why I plan to stay far away from any potential partners for a while. You don't need such an excuse."

"I kind of resent the idea that I have to have a boyfriend in the first place."

"Nobody's saying that," Melanie said. "And you don't."

"But John does seem like a nice guy," Terra said. "At the very least, dating him would help ensure that you get high test scores in Spanish."

"I get high test scores anyway, Terra."

"Think higher."

"I can help with that," Rusty smiled.

"You may be Hispanic, Rusty, but Spanish isn't your first language…"

"I was referring to weed."

"Oh."

"Come to think of it," Holly said, "I haven't gotten high in a while."

"Yeah, you passed on the bong that night at the club," Claire said. "Well, it might make you feel better." Gesturing at all the girls, including herself, and then back to Rusty, she suggested, "We can all come over for a smoke!"

"Except I don't," Terra said.

"Neither do I," Melanie said.

"First time for everything," Rusty said, attempting a persuasive smile at the two dancers. "Come on!"

"I'll join you." Samara had arrived, without a proper greeting, as was to be expected. And join them she did, both later, at Rusty's place, and now, at their lunch spot. Soon after sitting down on the empty blue table opposite the group, she turned her attention to Claire. "I thought about what you said, and I wanted to say I'm sorry one more time. Does that offer of forgiveness still stand?"

"Of course," Claire said rather slowly. You couldn't be too careful when it came to Samara. "How are you doing?"

"Oh, you know: you're my only friends." She bit her lip, nodded, and scanned the five students sitting across from her. "You and presumably those close friends of yours that can still tolerate me. But I'm not dwelling on it. Even if I should be hot enough to have a much wider circle of friends than this."

"If your friends are only friends with you because of what you look like," Holly said, "then they're not really your friends."

"But only outside of Facebook."

"No, that's pretty much true everywhere."

Samara shrugged. "I guess that's just your opinion. So, what's new with you guys?"

"I think I'm a lesbian," Melanie said.

Almost immediately, time seemed to come to a screeching halt. During this instance, Claire noticed that Jimmy had left Tom and Kent, and was glad about that, but the new development quickly pushed this less relevant fact out of her mind. She looked at Melanie, who seemed just as shocked as those around her, albeit in a much more subtle way.

She seemed more contemplative of this revelation than anything else, like it was the answer to a long-unsolved math problem. What really surprised Melanie was something else entirely, as evidenced by her rhetorical question a short time later: "I just said that out loud, didn't I?"

"That's not news," Samara said, shaking her head. "I knew that weeks ago, Big Red!"

"Oh my god," Rusty said. "I know a lesbian." He glanced at her. "And she's hot!"

Melanie looked at her friends, and in doing so noticed what Terra and Holly, those sitting closest to her, had done in response: they'd moved. It was just a short distance, a scoot of mere inches away from their redhead friend, but it was movement just the same. Their faces lacked the apparent fear of their rear ends that were sitting on the concrete block, but the degree of shock was no less visible. "Why did you guys move?" Before they could answer, she continued, "Just because I might be a lesbian doesn't mean I'm attracted to you, personally!"

"But if you were," Samara said, "which one of us would you say is the most attractive?"

"I don't think you're being very sensitive, Samara," Terra said.

"No, no, I want to hear this."

"I do, too," Rusty said, turning to Melanie again. "But for altogether different reasons."

"Holly?" Melanie said, when she and "Claire?" hadn't spoken anything in response yet. "The cat's out of the bag now. I'd like to know what you think about it."

"Well, you don't have to put it back in," Holly said, patting Melanie on the shoulder. Smiling she said, "I'm happy for you."

"Me, too," Claire was quick to add. "Don't think that just because I'm from Texas I'd hate you for that. Austin's very gay-friendly."

"Can we keep this between us?" Melanie said, making eye contact, individually, with each one of her surrounding classmates. "Just for now? I'm still trying to figure this whole thing out. Who knows, I could be all wrong about this."

"Nah," Samara said. "You haven't answered my question yet."

"It's not you," an annoyed Melanie said. "And part of that's because you're nagging."

Samara rolled her eyes, no doubt dismissing the idea that anyone wouldn't find her the most beautiful girl here.

"So," Terra said, "when you went with me to the winter formal…and Shane thought we were lesbians…wait, did you go with me to the dance because…"

"No," Melanie said. "You're just a friend to me, Terra. That's all it was."

"Okay."

"What about Lex?" Holly said.

"What about Lex?" Melanie said. "Shane's a jackass, and so is she for dating him."

"So, you're not, like, jealous or anything?"

"Shane has a penis." Samara and Rusty giggled like they were still in middle school. "How can I be jealous when I don't even consider that a loss?"

"Not of her," Claire said, having deduced where Holly was going. "Of him."

"Jealous of him?" It took a moment, but Melanie soon figured it out. "Oh."

"Do you think that might be why you've been so mad at them lately?" Holly said.

"No, Holly," she said with a sigh. "I'm mad at them because they've been acting like jerks."