Jared must not have received much of a punishment for being in the girls’ locker room, since he was at school every day. He didn’t look at me or otherwise acknowledge me even though we shared a class together. I had transferred out of a Computer class in the afternoons, having already exceeded the senior syllabus in France, and transferred into Themes in Film and Literature without knowing he was in that class, too. The elective was supposed to be a cruise course, lots of movies and reading.
“Tate, do you have an extra pen I could borrow?” Ben Jamison asked when we sat down in Themes. He, thankfully, had continued to be friendly and respectful in French, despite the current talk, and I was relieved with the distraction from Jared in this class.
“Um…” I reached in my messenger bag, searching. “I think so. Here we go.” Ben awarded me with a brilliant smile that accentuated his dark blonde hair and green eyes. Our fingers touched, and I pulled away quickly, dropping the pen before he’d grasped it.
I don’t know why I’d pulled away, but I felt Jared’s eyes wash over the back of my head.
“No, I got it!” He stopped me as I bent over to grab it. “Don’t let me walk off with it at the end of class, though.”
“Keep it.” I waved my hand in the air. “I’m stocked. I mostly use pencils, anyway. With all of my Science and Math classes, it’s a necessity. Especially with me…lots of erasing.” I was trying at humility, but it came out as verbal diarrhea instead.
“Oh yeah, that’s right. I forgot you were into that stuff.” He probably didn’t forget. He almost certainly had no idea. My nostrils flared with the reminder of all the damage Jared had done. He was the reason more boys hadn’t taken an interest in me.
“I’m trying to get into Columbia, pre-med. What about you?” I inquired. I hoped I didn’t sound like I was bragging, but I didn’t feel self-conscious with Ben. His family owned a newspaper, and his grandfather was a judge. He’d probably be applying to Ivy League schools, too.
“I’m applying to a few places. I have no head for Math or Science, though. It’ll be Business for me.”
“Well, I hope you like some Math. Business goes with Economics, you know?” I pointed out. His eyes widened, and I realized he didn’t know.
“Uh, yeah.” He looked confused, but recovered quickly. “Absolutely. As long as it’s not too much.” He smiled nervously as I registered a snicker coming from behind me.
“So…” I tried to change the subject, “you’re on the Homecoming Committee, right?”
“Yeah. You coming?” Ben looked excited.
“We’ll see. Have you booked a band, or is there a D.J.?” Band. Band. Band.
“A band would be nice, but they tend to play one genre of music, so it’s hard to please everyone. We’ll have a D.J. I think that’s what everyone decided. He’ll keep the party going with a good mix: pop, country…” He cast a smile as he trailed off, while I struggled to keep a happy face.
“Oh… pop and country? Can’t go wrong there.” I mentally cringed as I registered another snicker behind me, this time louder. Without the sense to let it go like the last time, I glanced back to Jared, whose eyes were downcast as he fiddled on his phone. But I saw his lips turned up and knew his pent-up amusement was provoked by my conversation with Ben.
Jared knew I hated country music and had little tolerance for pop. As did he.
“So, you like pop and country?” I redirected my attention to Ben. Please say “no.” Please say “no.”
Ugh, that’s worse.
Math and Science? Negative. Musical tastes? Negative. Ok, last ditch effort to find something in common with the guy I would be sitting next to in two classes this semester. The teacher was going to be in soon.
“You know, I heard we get to watch The Sixth Sense in here this semester. Have you seen it?” My phone beeped with a text notification, but I silenced it and stuck it in my bag.
“Oh, yeah. A long time ago, though. I didn’t get it. I’m not a big fan of those thriller-mystery type movies. I like comedies. Maybe she’ll let us watch Borat.” He wiggled his eyebrows teasingly.
“Hey, Jamison?” Jared piped up from behind us, his inflection overly polite. “If you like Bruce Willis, Unbreakable is a good one. You should give it a shot…you know, if you’re looking to change your mind about thrillers that is.”
My desk had suddenly become the most interesting view. I refused to turn around and face Jared. Words failed me when I realized that he’d remembered.
Ben turned in his seat and responded, “Yeah, I’ll remember that. Thanks.” He turned back around and flashed me a smile.
Jared was bold. He wanted me to know he remembered that Bruce Willis was my favorite actor. We had watched Die Hard one day when my father was gone, because Dad wouldn’t let me see it due to all of the swearing. Jared had a lot of knowledge about me, and I resented that. He didn’t have the right to claim any part of me.
“Alright, class,” Mrs. Penley called out with a stack of papers in her hands. “In addition to the packet I am handing out, Trevor is giving you a template of a compass. Please write your name at the top, but leave the areas surrounding North, East, South, and West blank.”
We all took papers, stuffing the list from Mrs. Penley to the side and following the directions regarding the compass. Starting class with an activity relieved me. The tormenting pressure of the stare I could feel boring into the back of my head was distracting, to say the least.
“Ok.” Mrs. Penley clapped her hands together. “The packets I gave you are lists of films where important monologues occurred. As we’ve already started discussing monologues and their importance in Film and Literature, I would like you to start looking up a few of these on the Internet for research. We’ll discuss, during tomorrow’s class, your first project for presenting a monologue to the class.”
Solo presentation. Ugh! Acting out a monologue. Double ugh!
“Also,” Mrs. Penley continued, “for various discussions this year, you’ll be asked to pair up with a different person in class. You’ll know who to pair up with based on this compass. You’ll have five minutes to circulate the classroom finding partners for your North, South, East, and West. Whoever you pick to fill in on your North, for example, they will also put you as their North, and so on. Kind of elementary, I know, but it’ll help mix things up.”
Group work was fine occasionally, but I preferred to work on my own. My nose scrunched up at the thought of hearing “Buddy up!” constantly this year. Dreadful words.
“Go!” the teacher shouted. The screech of chairs scraping across the floor filled the room. Grabbing my paper and pencil, I started looking for someone not already paired up. As I looked around, others were jotting each other’s names down, while I hadn’t even started.
Ben grinned and nodded at me, so I filed over to him where we exchanged names on East. Catching sight of others’ papers and their blanks, I was able to secure West and South from two girls.
I need a North. I mentally sang to myself as I looked around for another partner. Almost everyone scampered to their seats as the five minutes came to a close. I glanced to Jared, who I don’t think even got out of his seat. Everyone probably rushed over to him.
This was the part of school I hated. The sinking feeling in my stomach reminded me of all the awkward times, before France, that I’d felt left out. Grade school was easy. I had friends and never had to feel lonely in these situations. High school had made me less confident and more introverted.
I was still down one partner and would be left odd man out again. Weary of this feeling after being accepted in France for a year, I grabbed the bull by the horns.
“Mrs. Penley, I’m missing a North. Is it alright if I make a threesome with two others?”
Snorts sounded around the room, while some whispered under their breath. I knew I’d walked into that one.
“Hey, Tate. I’ll do a threesome with you. My compass always points North.” Nate Dietrich fist-bumped his buddy as others laughed again.
Surprising myself, I threw back, “Thanks, but I think your right hand will get jealous.” The class erupted in Whoa’s and Burn!
It was that easy. Due to the use of a couple of immature quips today, I was able to regain a little respect from my classmates. Who knew? Pride hit me, and I had to bite back a smile.
“Does anyone need a North?” Mrs. Penley interrupted the barbs before Nate could shoot back with something else.
Everyone else was seated, meaning they had all of their partners. I kept my attention on Mrs. Penley, waiting for her to just tell me to find a threesome.
“She can be my North.” Jared’s formidable voice hit me from behind, sending shivers down my spine.
The teacher looked expectantly to me. This couldn’t be happening. Why hadn’t he gotten off his ass and found a North like everyone else?
“Well, Tate. Go ahead then,” Mrs. Penley urged me.
Spinning around, I practically huffed back to my seat without sparing a glanced at my North, and carved “Jared” on my paper…and I think accidentally on my desk, too.
“So when do you come home exactly?” My Calculus homework was done, and my Government book was cradled in my lap as I video chatted with Dad.
“I’ll be home by the twenty-second for sure.”
Still more than three months away. My dad’s arrival back home would be welcome. My days felt lonely without him to share things with, and after my mom passed away from cancer eight years ago, our home was even emptier without him around. K.C. and I had spent time together, but she had a boyfriend. I was slowly making more friends at school, despite Jared’s latest blow to my reputation, but I’d decided to stay in this weekend and focus on planning for the Science Fair. I’d yet to decide on my research topic.
“Well, I can’t wait. We need a decent cook around here,” I chirped, holding my steaming cup of tomato soup. As light as my supper was, the cascading warmth soothed my body. My limbs were still adjusting to the cross-country practices.
“That’s not your supper, is it?”
“Yeah.” I drew out like “duh.”
“And where are the vegetables, the grains, and the dairy?”
Oh, here we go. “The tomatoes in the soup are the vegetable, there’s milk in the soup too, and I’ll make a grilled cheese to go with it if that’ll make you happy.” My playful air told my dad “see, I’m smarter than I look.”
“Actually, tomatoes are a fruit,” Dad responded flatly, knocking me off my pedestal.
Laughing, I put the cup down and picked up a pencil to continue my outline for the essay we were assigned on Henry Kissinger. “No worries, Dad. I’m eating fine. Soup just sounded good tonight.”
“Alright, I’ll back off. I just worry. You inherited my eating habits. Your mom would freak if she saw the things I let you eat.” Dad frowned, and I knew he still missed Mom like it was yesterday. We both did.
After a moment, he continued, “You’ve got August’s bills all paid, right? And you have plenty of money in your account still?”
“I haven’t blown my entire trust in a week. Everything’s under control.” He did this every time we talked. I had complete access to the life insurance my mom left me, and he still always asked if I had enough money. It was like I was going to go ballistic with my college fund without him looking, and he knew better. Maybe he thought he was doing his job as a parent the best he could from so far away.
My phone buzzed with a text, and I grabbed it off my bedside table.