I’ve been laying with my face smashed into my pillow for over an hour now. Today physically and mentally drained me. After finding out that Kaleb Nixon was my project partner, my day spiraled downhill. After he told me he was going to “figure me out”, I couldn’t shake it. If Leo knew, I had no doubt in my mind that he would freak out.
Leo could not find out that was for sure.
I just didn’t know how to handle it now. It wasn’t like I could avoid Kaleb. He was my partner after all. Mr. Hammons had said that we both had to participate or we’d fail. Believe me, I’d tried so hard to switch partners right after class. Mr. Hammons said it couldn’t be changed though. And that’s how he became my least favorite teacher.
There’s a knock on the front door now. I groan. Who would be knocking at my door? I laid there a moment, hoping they’d go away. It was probably just a salesperson. Besides, Leo wasn’t home and he drilled me about not opening the door for strangers.
I thought the person had finally gone away when the doorbell rang. I shoved the pillow around my ears to drown out the noise. Seconds later, the annoying presence on my front porch pressed the doorbell repeatedly.
I bolted out of bed and stomped to the front door. I didn’t even bother to check who it was before angrily pulling the door open. Kaleb Nixon of all people stood on my front porch, his finger hovering over the doorbell. His school uniform is replaced with dark jeans and a black V-neck.
“Kaleb?” I squinted up at him. “How in the world do you know where I live?”
He shrugs, shoving his hands into the pockets of his trusty leather jacket, “I have my ways.”
“What are you even doing here?” I keep my body firmly planted in the middle of the threshold, blocking his view of my house.
“We have to work on our project, dork.” He tells me, his eyes trying to look around me.
I close the door further, “So, you show up at my house?”
“Mr. Hammons said we weren’t going to have time in class. Which means we have to work outside of class, right?” He doesn’t seem to be getting the hint.
“Couldn’t we have worked in the library or something?” I asked, annoyed.
“I’m beginning to think that you don’t want me here, Greer.” He smirks.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I made you feel that way.” I fake concern. “What was your first clue?”
His eyes rake over my form and I become instantly aware of what I’m wearing: one of my dad’s old t-shirts and a pair of short shorts. I instantly wish I could cover myself up. His eyes go agonizingly slow up my tan legs, making me feel extremely uncomfortable.
“Eyes up here, hotshot,” I warn.
His dark eyes snap to mine, “Sorry, if you would actually have some pants on I’d be able to focus on your pretty eyes.”
“I am wearing pants,” I tell him.
“Those are not considered pants.” He points at my shorts and chuckles.
“I wasn’t expecting company.”
“Clearly.” He laughs.
We stand there for a few more seconds, staring at each other. Every time I’m around Kaleb, we lapse into these moments of complete tension-filled silence. I think we’re both waiting for the other to break. Which happens to be me on this occasion.
I groan and step aside for him to enter. He looks like a little kid as he realizes that I let him win. As he crosses the threshold into my house, his eyes wander over all the pictures hanging up on the walls. He studies each one carefully like he can hear all their secrets.
“Wow, your parents must be really proud of you.” His eyes widen as he makes his way down the wall.
My heart clenches, but I say nothing. I don’t want him knowing anything about me. And I especially don’t want to talk about my parents with him.
“We can study in the living room.” I tell him, pointing to the couch. He nods, kicks off his shoes and jacket, and settles down on the sofa. “Just let me go get the project. Don’t move.”
He watches me retreat down the hall. The first thing I do is change into a pair of sweats to cover my legs. I then grab the project paper and a notebook. I meet him back in the living room. He notices the fabric covering my legs straight away.
“You didn’t have to change on my account.” He teases, one arm resting on the back of the couch.
“I was cold.” I lied, pulling open the notebook and writing the date at the top of the page. I unfold the project paper and clear my throat. “We have to dissect and analyze a poem. Then we have to rewrite it into our own words. We’ll have to present it in three weeks. It says that if we flare up our presentation with media or rap or something then we’ll earn extra credit.” I explain.
“Did he give us a poem?” Kaleb questions.
“Yeah, Sonnet 65. It’s Shakespeare, but I’m guessing you have no clue what I’m talking about.” My eyes widen as I stare at the sheet of paper in my hand.
" Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o’er-sways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wreckful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O, none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine. ”
I’m utterly speechless as he finishes the sonnet. Something stirs in my chest that I don’t know how to explain. My mouth feels dry. Kaleb Nixon, the most infuriating creature to roam this planet, just recited a Shakespeare sonnet by heart.
“Flies are going to land in your mouth if you don’t close it.” Kaleb teases with a laugh.
I shut my jaw tight quickly, just to open it up again, “How did you even know that?”
“I’m more than just a pretty face, Greer.” He answers.
I might have him pegged wrong.
“I learned it last year to get a girl.” He laughs, throwing his head back.
I’m instantly not impressed anymore. “You are such a jerk.”
“I don’t know what half the words in the stupid poem mean, but I can recite it every day of the week.” He shrugs his shoulders.
“I cannot believe I have to work with you for the next three weeks.” My brain hurts already and we’ve barely started working.
“You should feel privileged, Greer, really. There’s a lot of girls in school that would kill to be in your shoes.”
I shove my notebook aside and stand to my feet, “Then go find one of them to do this project with, because I refuse.”
Kaleb shakes his head, “Oh, don’t be like that. Just come back and sit down so we can work on this thing.”
I cross my arms over my chest and stare down at him, “Promise to keep your snarky and rude comments to yourself?”
“I promise I’ll try.” He tells me. “That’s the best I can do.”
I sit back down beside him, keeping my distance. “Fine, let’s take one line at a time and try and explain it, alright? What do you think the first two lines mean?”
He leans his head on the back of the couch and I can almost see the gears turn inside his head, “I guess, it’s saying that all things are bound to die, right?”
I reread the line, “Yeah, basically.” I write down the answer and move onto the next two. “The next two I think are asking how beauty can withstand that destructive force, if it’s basically like a small flower.”
“Yeah, that makes sense.” He nods.
I pause to write the next answer and then read off the next two lines. “What do you think of those two?”
Kaleb groans, “This is dumb. Seriously, who even understands this crap? It’s like gibberish.”
“That’s why we’re taking one line at a time instead of tackling the whole sonnet. It is tough, Shakespeare had his own way of speaking. You have to like read between the lines.” I explain.
“You’re really good at this you know.” He says softly.
“Did you just pay me a compliment?” I tease.
Kaleb shakes his head, “My bad, I won’t do it again.”
“Let’s just get this done, alright?”
He nods, his eye studying me for a moment before he answers, “The next lines, right. I guess they’re asking how the breath of summer can withstand time.”
I write down his answer, “Awesome, almost there.” I read the next two lines. “It’s saying that Mortality even destroys rocks and gates made of iron.”
Kaleb takes the papers from me and reads the next two lines, “This first line could be saying what a scary thought that is, but what the heck is ‘time’s best jewel’?”
I think about it for a moment and read the lines carefully, “I think it’s his lover. I think it’s asking where he can hide his lover from time.”
“So, it’s talking about time as an actual person, right?” He asks.
“Personification, yeah.” I nod.
“Saying how he or it, or whatever, destroys everything.”
“Exactly yeah,” I nod with a smile. “The next line is asking what strong hand can hold back time.”
This time Kaleb writes down the answers. He reads the next lines, “This one could be asking who can prevent time from destroying the beauty, right?”
I nod and urge him to continue.
“Um- this one says basically that nothing can unless there is hope in a miracle of his writing and that somehow his words stay as an eternal reminder of his love.” Kaleb writes down the last line and then hands me back my notebook.
I read over our answers quickly, “Awesome, we’re done with part one.”
“That wasn’t so bad. I always thought that Shakespeare was this completely foreign language that I would never understand, but you actually made it easy.” He gives me a weak smile, so unlike the usual taunting smirk that plays his lips most of the time.
“You know, this is the first time we’ve gone without arguing,” I tell him, leaning forward to place my notebook on the coffee table.
“Yeah, I guess it is. It was nice.”
I agree with a nod, “Want some food really quick before you go?” The words tumble from my mouth before I realize what I’m saying. I can’t believe I just offered Kaleb Nixon food. Worse, I can’t believe I enjoyed his company.
He studies me for a moment, “You’re offering to make me dinner?”
“Don’t make me regret it.” I snap.
He raises his hands up in surrender, “I’m not. Dinner would be great.”
I stand to my feet and make my way into the kitchen. I dig around in the freezer. “I can pop in some chicken nuggets or a pizza, any of that sound good to you?”
Kaleb stands leaning against the wall staring at me, “I could always eat chicken.”
I nod and pull out the frozen bag. I pre-heat the oven and scatter some chicken nuggets onto a cookie sheet. I don’t even wait for the oven to get done heating up before I stick the pan inside. I set the oven timer for twenty-five minutes before settling back on the couch.
Kaleb sits down next to me, closer this time. I flip on the TV and we agree on a movie. It seems only seconds later that my eyes drift closed and I’m falling asleep.