We failed the project. The night before it was due, I put together the PowerPoint and itlooked amazing. The reason why we failed is because Christian didn’t show up at school the day we had to present, and he hasn’t been here since he flicked the cigarette in my face.
That was a week ago.
Kelsey and I fall back into our movie routine as if it were never interrupted. The day she came back was a few days before Wednesday a week and a half ago, but I didn’t say anything; I didn’t want to rush her back into our routine with the time difference and everything, although that didn’t seem to affect her very much. She was as perky as ever when she arrived home.
We end up deciding on Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, something we haven’t seen before – something that’s not The Breakfast Club.
“Have you read the book?” I ask during the opening credits.
“Nope,” she says through a mouthful of popcorn. We agree to make it a point to read the book together.
She wears her hair in two braids, the tips just barely reaching her hips. Her hair has grown rapidly over the last year. Mine hasn’t grown very much, maybe three inches, four at the most. Kelsey’s hair is like magic. So are her legs; she’s gotten taller than me in the past few months. One time it seemed as if she grew overnight. She looks down on me, a glorious five-seven, while I’m a measly five-four.
We don’t pay much attention to the movie. At least, Kelsey doesn’t. She starts walking around the room, fishing through my vinyl records for the millionth time. The first time she ever came over, she didn’t criticize me for them the way Christian did. She admired them, even though she doesn’t really listen to the same music I do. She’s more into pop and is always discovering new boy bands. I curse One Direction for that. She’s a faithful Directioner.
Once the credits start rolling she’s back on the bed, looking at me with curious eyes. “I have a question.”
“I may have an answer,” I say, moving the laptop to the desk.
She runs her hands over the comforter. “Has Cole slept here? Or been here?”
“How specific is this question?”
“Have you guys… you know…” she wiggles her eyebrows, smiling coyly.
“Of course not. It’s only been a few weeks since we got together.”
She shrugs. “I guess you guys are taking it slow.”
I shrug back. “I don’t know what we’re doing…”
She looks at me but doesn’t say anything more. She knows I’m telling the truth. I haven’t had many boyfriends, but I think Cole and I are serious. I’d like to feel that we’re serious, but I’m not really sure. We haven’t talked about it and I’m too shy to ask. Besides, we’ve only been together for two weeks; it’s a little early to establish between a fling and a serious relationship. I’ll just have to bite my tongue and wait.
♕ ♕ ♕
There’s another crowd in the softball field. I feel my heart lurch as Cole and I stand behind the fence. The crowd isn’t too big just yet so I can see just about everything. There, at the center of attention, is Christian. Surprise, surprise. Cole looks at me and we walk closer.
“Maybe we not get too close,” he says, holding me by my elbow.
“We won’t,” I say, standing a few feet away from the crowd. I hear Christian’s voice and the cry of another kid. There doesn’t seem to be any real fighting yet, but whoever Christian is scolding sounds frightened. Maybe he walked too close to him, or stepped on his shoe. It’s always something pathetic, and I feel really bad for whoever Christian is trying to fight.
“You don’t seem very bright,” the kid says. That was the wrong move, kid. I now see that he’s merely a freshman; I’ve seen him around before. Maybe Christian is just picking on him because he has nothing better to do with his time. Christian wasn’t even in class today. I saw him skulking around campus during lunch behind the building, smoking cigarettes and other illegal substances with his friends that don’t even go here. They have never attending our school, and it makes me wonder what Christian’s life is like outside of school. It seems so secretive, so mysterious. A part of me wants to know.
I see Christian’s fist rise, and before I know it I blurt out, “Leave him alone, Christian. He’s just a kid.”
The crowd parts before me, the way Moses parted the waves of the Red Sea for the people to walk through. Everyone stares at me. The kid’s legs are shaking and he looks utterly relieved. I cut my head to the side, glancing at the building. Go. The kid nods and takes off running, kicking up dirt. People in the crowd murmur and give me looks, even Christian. People start to leave, purposely nudging my shoulder calling my names I would never want to repeat.
“Goddammit, Princess. When are you going to leave things be?” Christian says, storming up to me. His face is so close to mine I can smell the nicotine on his breath. “You’re not my mom, so stay away from me. I don’t need you,” he says through gritted teeth.
Cole’s weight shifts and makes the mistake of putting his hand on Christian’s shoulder. Christian shoves him off, making Cole stumble back a few feet. He’s too stunned to react. I look at him and shake my head.
Christian storms off and Cole asks if I’m okay. I tell him that I’m obviously fine because he didn’t touch me and that he should stop trying to interfere. I can handle my own. Cole nods, chewing his lower lip as if I’ve hurt him. I’ve come to notice that he’s a sensitive guy and doesn’t ever get much criticism. I always feel bad, but I also want to smack the sad look off his face.
“Come on,” I say. “You should meet my parents.”
Cole is nervous on the way to my house. I reach over and place a hand on his knee and feel that his muscles are tense. He gives me a wary smile and pulls into the driveway. I had texted my mom a few minutes ago letting her know what was happening so she wouldn’t be too surprised. She’d start freaking out if he walked through the door without a proper introduction.
We stand on the porch and he stares at the door as if there’s great evil behind it and it’s waiting for him.
“It’s gonna be fine,” I say, giving him a quick kiss. This seems to calm his nerves a bit. He takes my hands and massages my palms, giving me another uneasy smile.
I lead him through the house. My mom is waiting behind the kitchen counter, pouring a bag of baked potato chips into a bowl. I told her not to make dinner because he wouldn’t be here too long. I wasn’t ready for that yet, and I’m sure neither would he. It’d be too overwhelming for all of us.
My mom and Cole shake hands and exchange small talk for a few minutes. He seems so nervous, as if he’s gonna be sick, so I lead him upstairs so he can calm down. He sits on my bed and runs his sweaty palms over his thighs.
“Are you okay?” I ask, standing in front of him.
“This is, ah, really difficult for me.” Deef-ee-cult. He’s so cute. “I’ve never had a girlfriend before.”
I give him a look. “You haven’t?”
He shakes his head. “No. Never.” He takes my hand and pulls me to sit next to him.
“I haven’t really been with anyone either, really. There was this one guy, back in ninth grade, but I’m not sure if you could call that dating. It was really stupid.”
I murmur good things in his hear to keep him calm and I can feel his arms tense whenever I say something. I can see his smile. He relaxes some.
My phone buzzes in my back pocket and I check to see who the text is from.
Kelsey: Bad news! Cops at school arresting Christian! Beat up some freshman in the bathroom. Kid in hospital!!!