I'm rolling past the gym when a loud noise of frustration slips through the open door and stops me. I hesitate, because it's the gym and that means the likelihood of the person being a jock or cheerio that might want to take their stress out on me is very high. In the end though, I've always been dangerously curious, so at the sound of a second huff I turn towards the door and inch forward.
The gym looks to be mostly empty, only half of the lights still on in the after school hours. Sitting on the third row of the bleachers is a blonde in a cheerios uniform. I pause, readying to turn around and flee, but then I recognize her. At the same moment she looks up and recognizes me.
"Hi Artie," she says brightly.
"Hey Brittany," I respond, approaching the bleachers. We might not be what would traditionally called friends, but I like Brittany and for a cheerio she's really nice. Well, at least since joining Glee. We've been dance partners quite a few times, so we've gotten to know each other pretty well, and while I might not always understand what she's talking about, I always try to be more patient with her and it seems to help.
I look around the empty gymnasium and then back to her curiously. "What are you doing here?" I ask, half-expecting to hear that she can't remember how to leave or that she's lost. It wouldn't be the first time.
"Waiting for Santana," she answers. "But I think she forgot because she's still not here."
I have to agree with that, because it's more than an hour since school ended and there's hardly anyone still here. I'm only still here because of jazz band practice. "Was that why you're so frustrated?" I ask. When she looks confused, I elaborate, "I heard you groaning from out in the hall."
"Oh, no, it's that stuff," she says, pointing at a textbook laying open on the bleachers next to her. "I was trying to do it but I can't make it make sense."
I straighten up to get a better look at the pages. Algebra. I deliberate for a second before offering, "Want me to help you?"
Brittany's face lights up. "Will you?" she asks hopefully.
"Sure. I'm pretty good at math and I don't need to be home for another hour," I say. Brittany gathers her things and slides down to the bottom row near me, and I lean sideways to be able to read the book propped in her lap. I quickly realize that although she's a grade above me, she's almost three math levels under me.
It takes us nearly an hour to get through the short page of math problems that she's been given to do. By the end I'm pretty sure it would've been easier to teach this to my ten year old sister.
"So then I put these two together, right?" she asks, waiting for my nod of approval. "And that makes –" I wait patiently as she adds on her fingers, "– seven?" This time when I nod, she beams with pride and I can't help but return the smile.
"See, you can do this stuff," I say encouragingly.
"It makes sense now," she says. "The way Mrs. Kilpark did it didn't make any sense, but now it does." She regards me for a minute and then smiles again. "Thanks Artie. You're a really good teacher. Lots of people try to help me but they don't do it nice like you do. They make me feel dumb but you don't."
"You're not dumb," I counter instinctively, even as the part of my mind that's aching from this tutoring session vehemently disagrees. "You just see things differently than other people. That's not a bad thing."
Brittany smiles at me, that kind of dazed but still sweet smile, and I'm just about to excuse myself to go home when she speaks up again. "One time I was sitting down a really long time and my whole leg fell asleep and I couldn't move it. Is that what your legs are like?" She says it with all the innocent curiosity of a little kid, which makes it pretty much impossible to laugh aside her comment.
"Not really," I answer, shaking my head. "It's like, you know how when your legs fall asleep they get all tingly and hurt, right? Well mine don't do that. I can't feel a thing."
"Wow," Brittany says in awe, and then her expression turns more thoughtful. "That's a good thing though, right? 'Cause it would suck if they were tingly all the time. That wouldn't feel good."
It's a completely oddball statement that only someone like Brittany would make, but I have to admit that she does have a good point there. "Yeah, you're right," I agree and she beams. "That's cool, I'd never really thought of that before."
She continues to smile and her eyes pan over me slowly. "You're really nice, Artie. And you've got really pretty eyes. I didn't notice that before." I feel heat creeping up my neck but I try to stay cool. I'm surprised when she suddenly gasps, but not as much as by what she says next. "You're a guy!"
After a beat to compose myself, I manage, "Uh, yeah, last time I checked."
I'm a little concerned by how excited she seems to be by this prospect. "Well, I have made out with almost every guy in this school and I'm trying for a perfect record. I've never made out with you, have I?"
"Before this year you'd never even spoken to me," I say, although she still looks expectant so I add, "That's a no."
"So, you wanna make out?"
Really, what can I do but stare. Brittany, pretty, popular, and kind of the co-head cheerio, just asked me to make out with her. Did I cross over into the Twilight Zone at some point in the last ten minutes? Of course, this is Brittany. I suppose by now I should expect the unexpected.
"You know I'm actually sorta dating Tina," I say.
Brittany smiles. "Oh yeah, she's really nice." Why does it not surprise me that even after that, she still looks like she's waiting for my answer. Then again when I think about it, it probably wouldn't be the first time she made out with a guy who had a girlfriend.
"Well I'm with her exclusively, so I'm not really making out with other girls," I explain.
"Oh, okay," Brittany says, looking just a bit disappointed. "Well if you change your mind, lemme know, okay?"
"Um, yeah, sure," I agree, still sort of blown away by the fact that this conversation is even happening. I look around awkwardly and start in surprise when I catch a glance at my watch. "Oh, I need to be getting going. If I'm not home before my mom she tends to get crazy."
Brittany nods, standing up and piling her books into the crook of her arm. "I think I'll go too," she muses distractedly. "I don't think Santana's coming. The rabbit must have got to her again."
My mouth is open before I suddenly decide I probably don't want to ask. I once made the mistake of asking what duck she kept referring to, and I still can't figure out what exactly she meant.
"Thanks for your help, Artie," she says. "You're a really, really nice guy for being sucha nerd. And even though you won't make out with me, we can still be friends, right?"
"Of course," I answer. "If you ever need some help with your math, you can just ask me and I'll try to help." I toy with my gloves for a second and then smile. "Well, I'll see you around."
"Bye," she says brightly and then surprises me by bending down to give me a one-armed hug that I awkwardly return. I tense when I feel her head twist and she presses her lips to my cheek. It's a brief contact but it makes something in my stomach twist. I mean, it's insanely awesome that I just got kissed by a cheerio, even if it's a totally platonic kiss, but really I've got Tina and that's what I really want. So when she straightens up we both smile and then head our separate ways.
We stay friends, I tutor her in math about once a week, and I put the whole awkward make-out conversation out of my mind. Though it would be a lie if I say I don't notice her occasional, more-than-friendly glances.
But really, what are the odds that a girl like Brittany could ever have a crush on a guy like me?