“I would love to! Come on, girls. We gotta go shopping! Gotta look cute for the dance,” Natasha hyperventilates. She blows me a kiss before turning on her heel to walk off. I hold back the urge to hurl. Her girls follow her, but Kimberly falls behind a bit.
I lean on the wall next to the bathroom door and wait for Tammy, but after a while, I start to wonder if she’s alright in there. It’s completely silent.
“Lane? Is everything okay?” I yell into the door after checking to see if anyone would see me do so.
I step in, and dear god, this is the cleanest school bathroom I have ever seen. It looks like how the boy’s restroom looked when they were first renovated.
When inside, I find her sitting against the far wall with her head on her knees. Her arms wrap around her legs. Her dark brown hair curtains down on her side, and the only movement I can see is the shaking of her shoulders. She’s sobbing.
I walk over, sitting down beside her with my shoulder pressed against the cold blank wall. I lay my binder on the floor in front of the both of us, hoping to myself that I won’t forget it in the girl’s bathroom. I watch her continue to cry, and hold back any words that I want to say to her. I may not have known her for a long time, but from the few times she’s mentioned about her mom, I knew she had something I could never understand. There’s an unspoken closeness between them that I fail to relate to, but nevertheless recognize as a thing to cherish.
I couldn’t understand at first why she would let Natasha pour cold ice water over her head, or let Karen shove her into unconsciousness, but I see it now. She has an overworked mom who she cared for more than anything. She’d rather take the pain than let her mother worry. She grew up without a father to hide behind, so she took these attacks head on, because that’s what she’s gotten used to.
I’ve never had to face a bully because Dylan had always protected me. I’ve never been harshly judged because Dylan spoke up for me. I’ve never had a tough time in school, because Dylan gave me a free pass through it all. Because of Dylan, I was always safe and sound. Because of him, I never had a chance to test my boundaries, my limits, my patience, and my character. So am I even a person to begin with?
I watch as a lock of her hair falls onto the side of her face, covering both her cheek and her arm. I reach up to tuck it behind her ear. She finally lifts her head to look at me, and it takes my breath away. She even cries prettily.
Am I enough of a person for her?
“I’m sorry you had to go through that. I heard everything from outside,” I try to soothe her, almost whispering. With my hand, I hold her head in place, wiping away a tear with my thumb. She holds my gaze and I realize her eyes express a hint of irritation.
“Why?” Her voice cracks. My precious Lane.
“Because I’m a nosy loser?” I tease, but she drops her shoulders, rolling her eyes. I like making her roll her eyes. She might not admit it, but she likes the lamest jokes.
“No. Why did you ask her to the dance?”
Oh, she’s mad about that.
Wait, is she jealous? One can only hope…
I look into her eyes, because right here, in this moment, I really need her to believe me. “Trust me, okay? I have a plan.”
Her face crinkles into a puzzled expression. I shake my head and continue, “Someone has to either teach her a lesson or get rid of her. Damon tried to teach her a lesson by kicking her out of student government, but she obviously didn’t learn.”
“Silas, you don’t need to do this. I’m fine, really,” she lies, but her heart gives it away. Her tears have dried up now, but her eyes are still red.
“This isn’t just for you. If I do this right, it could get her mom to distrust her. She threatened to get your mom fired through her mom. How’s that going to happen if her mom doesn’t believe in what she says?”
She looks off into the distance and then down at my binder, sitting flat on the bathroom floor. Something makes her smile slightly. I follow her eyes to see the little “Be yourself! You’re amazing!” sticky note that I had gotten from her room. I wanted to see it often, so I tucked it under the clear cover of my binder.
“Okay, but please don’t do anything stupid.”
“No promises. I’m very ngu, remember?”
She lets out a light chuckle. YES, I made her laugh. A heavy weight unloads itself off my chest.
“I can’t believe you pronounced that correctly,” she answers between sniffles. She rests the side of her face to rest on her knees and I mirror her pose.
“Well, that’s because I have a teacher who’s smart, funny, and a pretty,” I whisper as I admire her face. She smiles in response and I find myself internally sketching her features into my memory.
I’ve never been this forward with a girl. I’ve been sweet to people, but I’ve never felt this way about a girl and acted upon it. I’ve also never cared enough about anyone at this school besides myself. Every house party, school dance, kickback, and school function has been about having a good time with the boys and letting them think that I’ve slept with a variety of girls.
I’ve kissed girls and every time I let go, I always see a starstruck pair of eyes. I’ve only ever kissed a girl to show that I’m ready and willing, but frankly, the burning desire that everyone talks about was never there. I’ve never felt how I feel now.
My eyes fall on her lips. Plump, rosy, and alluring, they call to me like a siren song. She notices my gaze and realizing what I must be thinking of, she bites her lip.
Oh my GOD, WHY would you bite your lip? This must be a new form of torture.
“Um,” she starts with her bottom lip still trapped, “I think I should go now.”
I blink at her a few times before snapping back to reality. “Uh-yeah, I’ll walk with you.”
We make it halfway down the hallway when she finally tells me that her ride home is Damon. Alright, fine. Whatever.
It made sense for her to be with him. He saved her at the party and he avenged her the day after. If I weren’t so goddamn jealous, I might just admit that he’s good for her. I’d rather have him with her than have her crying alone like how I saw her earlier. The thought and memory leave a hollow feeling in my chest and gut.
After seeing her off, I walk toward the library, where I know Jake hangs out after school. He’s told me that after breaking up with Kimberly, the only time he could get a glimpse of her. It sounded creepy at the time, but I guess I understand now.
Jake is sitting in the far corner, glancing up from his book every ten seconds at Kim, who sits at an adjacent corner. He casually waves at me, as if my presence would help him with his cover. He was holding his copy of The Crucible upside down. Once I reach his table, I don’t hold back my flare as I grab his book and flip it over to hand it back to him. His face turns red and I snicker alone in the chair next to him.
“Alright, what do you want?”
I hold my hands up to surrender. “I want to know if you want in on something.”
“I don’t do drugs,” he whispers back, waving his hand at me as if to dismiss me.
“No, but you do want to be with Kim, right?” I watch as he pauses his stare at her to turn over to me and narrow his eyes.
“I can’t. I told you, I don’t want her in trouble.” His eyes are sincere, and it pulls me back into the memory of his desperate misery.
When he and Kim were together, everything was perfect between the two. They were in their own little world and I was truly happy for them. At the time, I didn’t know why they broke up, but a few months after, Jake and I were at his cousin’s kickback when he told me what had happened.
Apparently, self-centered Natasha wanted Kim all to herself and those few weeks of the two lovebirds together were enough to get her to act on it. She went to Steve Litt, who is this school’s designated drug dealer. Steve’s a nice guy, and he’s apologized to Jake a million times about this, but I can tell he still feels bad about this.
Natasha had someone hide in the bushes as she wore an outfit she knew Kimberly owned, with her hair exactly like Kim’s. She had a picture taken of her back as she was handed a small dime bag of ecstasy. Steve wasn’t in the picture, but it was clear enough to identify the drug and recognize the person. Natasha and Kimberly have the same figure.
Natasha gave Jake a visit and told him to break up with Kim, to break her heart so she would willingly come back to her. She gave him a deadline, saying that if he didn’t comply, she would plant the bag in Kim’s locker and send the picture to the front office. He did as she told and Kim never seemed herself after that. Every time he came close to talking to her, Natasha would come up to his face, letting him know that she still had that little bag in a safe place and that she could easily do what she said she could do. She also let him know that she could pull the picture out from her wallet at anytime, since she carries it around with her. Stupid, stupid bitch.
“I have a plan, but you need to get Stoner Steve to meet with us at my place.”
He gives me a doubtful look that I ignore. I open my binder to rip out a piece of paper and pull out a pencil from my pocket. On the paper, I write a short and messy note.
“Kimberly, meet with me tonight at my place. 8 pm. Don’t tell anyone, especially Natasha. It’s about Jake. -Silas”
Jake reads the note as I write it and tries to grab it, but I yank it away and fold it as I approach the area where Kim was sitting. Walking by her, I look over her shoulder to see that she’s also holding her book upside down. Not a bright couple.
I drop the note on her book. She turns to look up at me, and I smile, winking. I walk off back to Jake’s side, where I walk by to remind him, “Stoner Steve and yourself at my place tonight at 8.”
By 8, everyone has shown up and the room is filled with an almost tangible awkwardness. I’ve managed to get everyone sitting at the dining table and make sure that the sad lovebirds are sitting next to each other.
“Okay, let’s start,” I say, clapping my hands together, “Kimberly, it’s time you know what happened to make Jake break up with you.”
She winces at the mentioning and Jake urges me to stop through his teeth, “Dude, what are you doing?”
“I swear, I know what I’m doing,” I reassure him and then turning back to her, I continue, “Kim, I just need you to listen, okay?” She nods and I tell her everything, from the well planned photo to the threats. By the time I was done, they were kissing, which is something I don’t particularly prefer to watch. I hope I won’t look like that kissing my Lane. I shake my head for the thought to go away.
“Steve, you still feeling guilty, man?” I turn to him to find him giddy with the reunited couple. He was resting his cheeks on both his fists and staring dreamily.
“Huh? Yeah, of course, I’ll do what I can,” he exclaims, beaming.
“So now what?” Jake’s tone is drenched in concern as he looks at his beloved.
“Steve, I’m going to need a dime bag of ecstasy from you,” I command.
“No problem, buddy. Anything for my friend, Jake,” he says as he pats Jake on the back.
“Jake, I’m going to need you to be witness. When I get you that picture at the dance, you have to get it to the office. Tell them you saw a drug deal go down, but you didn’t see the dealer, just Natasha.” I turn to Kim.
“Kimberly, I need you to get the dime bag into Nat’s locker. Do you know the combination?”
“Yeah,” she answers, swallowing, “But she could see it the next day…”
“You just have to make sure you hide it well in there. Also, if push comes to shove, I might need you to tell them that you overheard Natasha saying she wanted to plant it in someone else’s locker.” I’ve seen Dylan do this a million times, but the control of the situation gives me a high I never understood when Dylan talked about it. There’s a thrill to it, but also the risk factor is high as hell. Here’s to hoping I’m charming enough to be a good distraction.
“Also, Jake, you’ve seen the picture. I need you to help Kim get rid of the clothes you saw on Natasha in the picture, just in case she points fingers at Kim for this thing.” They both nod and start discussing.
“Steve, you’re free to go. Thanks for this, and listen, discretion is key,” I whisper in his ear, a gesture in relation to my implication.
“Relax, man. I started this mess. I’m not saying a thing.” He gets up and leaves.
I sigh, a million thoughts running through my head.
The night air is chilly as I climb up the tree to Lane’s window. Once I reach the top, I text her to open the window. As she does, a gust of warm air hits my face. When I finally climb in, I start to notice all the plush toys on her bed. I raise an eyebrow at her, then at the pile of stuffed animals.
She narrows her eyes as she explains, “I don’t like sleeping alone.”
“Well, that’s why you have me,” I answer without thinking, grinning. God, I’m gross. It’s happened from time to time. Dylan’s thoughts and words would insert themselves into my behavior, and I wonder if it’s really me if I get so annoyed by my own responses.
She scowls at my words and pulls out her hair tie from her bun of hair on her head as she says, “No thanks. My stuffed pig, Mister Pigglesworth, probably has more sex appeal than you.”
Her hair loosens into a waterfall of cascading locks that join to be an elegant wave of silky darkness. Against the light of her small lamp, it shines a warm brown that adds new dimensions to her beauty.
I’m not even mad about her insult. I can’t even think of a proper answer, because I’m captivated by her presence. I feel like a piece of dust looking at a radiant moon, a majestic vision, to say the least. I shake my head as she swings her hair to her back and I finally remember the reason for my visit.
“Listen, I need you to steer clear of Natasha and her two minions, okay?”
“Only two?” She tilts her head to the side, there her hair is again.
“Yeah. Kim’s cool.”
“Okay, but you do realize that you climbed up a tree and squeezed in through my window just to tell me to do something I already do on a daily basis, right?”
“Yes. I’m serious. You need to avoid Natasha at all costs until the homecoming dance,” I insisted, with my voice deep and low. My breathing is loud and uneven. I sound like Darth Vader.
She stands up and takes a step closer to me. “I don’t know, Silas. I don’t think it’s a good idea to mess with other people like this. I don’t even know your plan, but it feels risky.”
“Shh…” I stand and walk up to her, with our faces inches from each other. I hold her face in my hands and squish her cheeks together with my palms. She looks like a fish. A really cute fish. I bite back a smile and continue, “I want to do this for you. Let me be your Kent, won’t you, Lane?”
Her eyes are wide as they look into mine, sending chills down my back in the best possible way. I pull her in for a hug, making sure she faces one way or another before her cheek is pressed against my chest. My left hand is on the curve of her back and my right is cradling the back of her head. Her hair is tied in a bun a bit too high, so it hits me in the chin. I pat it to find that it wiggles a bit, like a bunny tail. I chuckle and she giggles along with me.