Things I know: I can't change Wendy.
When I board the bus home, the first thing I see is Wendy waving at me, in her ridiculous bright-green outfit. On the first week of school, everyone is trying to make a good impression- except Wendy, of course. Wendy could care less about what other people think.
It sounds pretty on paper, being yourself and not caring about people who judge you, but in reality, it hurts to watch Wendy smile at nothing and talk to herself about dinosaurs while other girls giggle behind her back. I really do wish she’d start caring about what others think, starting with her outfits.
Everyone is trying to make a good impression on the first week of school, myself included.
That’s why I sit down next to someone else.
It’s Fletcher O’Thomas.
We’re quiet for a while, looking out the window. I hear Wendy singing along to some old twenties song she’s got downloaded on her phone, completely oblivious to the fact that everyone can hear her. I cringe, burning with anger. Why couldn’t she just be normal, at least in public?
I turn to Fletcher, trying to think of something to say, in order to distract myself from Wendy. I remembered having to sit by her every day for the past two years, and I figured that I could at least start making friends now, so that I could try to hold a bit of a reputation.
“So,” I start, “How was your day?”
Fletcher removes his earbuds. He shrugs. “All right,” he answers. He glances out the window. “Don’t you think it’s odd that the town cemetery is right across from the school?”
I’ve never noticed that before. It is weird.
“Well,” I say, “School’s where you go to die, cemetery’s where they bury you.” Fletcher laughs. I smile inwardly, appreciating my ability to be able to make people laugh. Humor is the best way to melt the barrier of awkwardness between two strangers.
The bus lumbers through the streets, past the duck pond. We’re quiet again, out of a lack of something to say. Remembering our past conversation about Lord of the Flies, I decide to bring the subject up again, trying to find a common ground to start our conversation on.
“We’ll have to read the next chapter for English class,” I say. “Isn’t the test on Friday?”
“Yeah,” he shrugs. “I already read the entire book last year, so I should be fine. You know what’s also good, through? George Orwell. Ever read anything by him?”
I remember having to read an excerpt from Animal Farm in history class a while back. “Yeah,” I answer, only half-lying. “A little.” In truth, I’m not much of a reader. I don’t remember reading a book for fun since Harry Potter, back in fifth grade.
“You should read more, then,” he says. “I’ve got a bunch of old books at home. We never have a great internet connection, so I do a lot of reading. You’d be surprised at some of the things they came up with back then.” Fletcher clicks his phone on and off a few times. I try not to stare as his face screws up in concentration, then peace, as he turns his phone off.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Oh, nothing,” he answers.
“Have you thought of joining the literature club?” I ask. I’m not in any clubs myself. Ahalya is in both the design club and chemistry club, and Sarah’s in the chess club. I never had interest in any of these, but reading doesn’t sound too bad, if I had someone to talk to about it afterwards.
“Nah,” he answers. “I’m busy enough already. Horseback riding and stuff.”
“You do horseback riding?”
“Yeah,” he answers. “I’ve been doing it for a while, and it’s sort of demanding. Not to mention I don’t really like having to read books that other people pick out for me. I’d much rather read what I want on my own.”
“I get that,” I answer. Fletcher turns back to his phone and begins playing a game. I notice something about his eyes- they’re a unique shade of brown, like two orbs of topaz. They’re beautiful.
I watch him play his game. There doesn’t seem to be much to it- it’s one of those games where you have to match three shapes in a row. He’s good at it.
“I’m not in any clubs,” I say after a while. “I feel like I should join something.”
“Ride horses, then,” he shrugs. “It’s pretty great.” He’s still looking at his phone, then closes it, clicks it on and off a few times, then shoves it into his pocket.
Fletcher then looks up at me. “What do you like to do?”
I shrug. I don’t really do much, but saying that would make me sound lame. I used to play soccer back in middle school, but I quit. I tried out for a school play, but never got in.
“I like music,” I shrug. Something basic. Everyone likes music, so I figure I can further the conversation that way.
“What kind?” he asks. I notice he has freckles.
“Everything, really,” I answer. In truth, I don’t like everything, but saying I like classical music sounds stupid, and I’d probably hit a dead end in the friendship I’d been trying to form.
“Oh,” Fletcher answers. “That’s cool, I guess. I suppose you’ve never heard of Shostakovich, then?”
I can hardly believe my ears. Someone else appreciates the music of Dmitri Shostakovich, one of the great Russian twentieth-century composers. Instantly, I feel my guard drop, and I forget about forming a reputation.
“Like, the composer?” I ask, my heart pounding.
“No, the rock band,” he says, and I feel a steady sense of disappointment slow my heartbeat. He laughs. “No, I’m kidding. Of course I mean the composer! Prokofiev is good, too.”
And just like that, I’m talking to Fletcher O’Thomas about dead Russian composers, of all things, and it feels like I’ve met someone who I should have met long ago. Finally, I feel like I can talk about something I can’t talk about with anyone else, and I’m so excited I forget about Wendy singing in the background. I suppose I can’t judge Wendy too harshly- after all, we both like old music.
The bus stops. I wave good-bye to Fletcher and walk home ahead of Wendy, who trails behind, still singing to herself. There aren’t a lot of young people in the neighborhood, fortunately, and most of them have grown used to her. Still, I can’t help but feel humiliated, since she’s so loud. I attempt to ignore her by thinking of Shostakovich’s Waltz No. 2, my head filled with melodies.
We get home, and I haul my backpack up to my room to start my homework. I can hear Wendy in the other room, doing her calculus problems aloud, saying every number as she punches them into the calculator. I close my door and turn on my phone, selecting one of Beethoven’s symphonies.
I like Beethoven’s music, especially since it’s so loud and passionate. The particular piece that’s playing is his Symphony No. 5, the really famous one that takes the same four beats and rearranges them throughout the piece, shaping them into different notes and keys. Still, it’s the same four beats every time, but they’re not boring. The piece is filled with fury and momentum, and listening to it makes doing homework nearly bearable.
Wendy is loud and passionate, I know.
All of a sudden, I hate myself.
Symphony No. 5 repeats the same patterns over and over again. It pounds at my ears. It’s relentless and noticeable and glaring.
All the things I like about it are the things I wish would change about Wendy.
Quickly, I change the music to something by Erik Satie. The piece is quiet and simplistic, not extravagant and brash. I silently wish I could change Wendy’s mind as easily as I could change the music playing from my phone, but I know I can’t do that, nor should I wish to.
I begin to sit down on my bed to start my homework, when my foot brushes up against something sharp. I wince and look down.
It’s a plastic dinosaur.
More specifically, it’s not a dinosaur, but a pterosaur, as Wendy would say. It looks like a pterodactyl with a long tail. Rhamphorhynchus, I think. That’s what it was called. Wendy had phase a year or so ago when she’d stopped talking about dinosaurs and went on to prehistoric flying reptiles, before coming back to dinosaurs again. It was a nice change, I suppose.
I don’t know how the toy found its way under my bed. Maybe it was something I’d played with a long time ago as a kid and had forgotten about. I shrugged, and began my work.
Wendy had begun talking to herself from the other room, about dinosaurs again. I yell at her to be quiet. I know I sound like a terrible sister, but the truth is, it’s hard to want the things I want. It’s hard to want her to be normal and different all at once. It’s hard to want her to change and stay the same. And I don’t think I know how to express that. I just want to do my work.
I grow frustrated when she doesn’t listen.
I toss the plastic Rhamphorhynchus in the trash can. It’s satisfying.
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