“So how are we gonna do this, Princess?”
“Can we at least get through the door?”
“Cool it, Coconut. I just wanna know the game plan.”
“Just, don’t touch anything please,” I say, giving him a look. He holds up his hands in surrender, but I don’t believe him. He only does things to mock me.
He shuts the door behind him and follows me into the living room. My dad is sitting at the counter reading the newspaper and looks up when he sees me. He opens his mouth, then closes it when he sees Christian. Christian seems so out of place in our home, like an alien on earth. His black clothing contrasts with the brightness of the home, his torn jeans and tee going against the formality that is subtly set in our family. We never wear torn clothing. If anything gets torn, it’s either sewn or thrown out. My mom has a strong form of OCD and dislikes anything that is disruptive to the eye.
“Who is this?” my dad asks, eyeing Christian from head to toe, examining him.
“This is Christian,” I answer, no malice in my voice. I make my disgust quite clear. “We’ve been paired together for an English project.”
“I see…” my dad says.
Christian gives him a nod and holds out his hand for a shake. Wow, the boy has manners. My dad hesitantly shakes his hand and returns to the paper.
“At the grocery store. She’s making spaghetti tonight.”
Christian and I head to my room and he shuts the door behind him. I hate that he’s in my room. I feel as if I need to burn sage in here once he leaves to get rid of his presence. He looks around, picks things up off my dresser, inspects them, put them down. He spins my desk chair and sits in it as it makes its final turn. He glides across the room in the chair and digs through my vinyl records.
“You are the only person in the universe that has one of these,” he says, pulling a record out of its sleeve.
“Can you not touch those please –?”
“Chill, Princess. I’m not gonna break any of them.” He pulls out another vinyl, The Samples 1989 self-titled record, and places it carefully on the record player. The music plays, softly at first, and then he turns the volume knob all the way around, the sound ricocheting off the walls. It’s so vibrant, it could set off an earthquake for the whole west coast. I turn the music down to a reasonable level. Christian rolls his eyes. “Live a little,” he drawls.
“Loud music isn’t the equivalence of living.”
“You’re taste in music isn’t too bad Princess, I’ll give you that.”
“Thanks. Your compliment totally completed my world.”
“Glad to be of service to you, Buttercup. So, what’s the game plan for this project?” He rubs his hands together, seemingly prepared.
I pull out the character we were assigned and flip through the novel. I have a lot of things tabbed, so it’s easy to find information on all of the characters. Christian sits in the swivel chair, spinning slowly, tapping his feet on the floor. He finds the handle that adjusts the height of the chair and starts lowering it, standing up to rise again, and sitting back down only to slowly go down lower. I roll my eyes and kick the back of the chair.
“What’s up, buttercup?” he asks, standing up to raise the chair again.
“Have you even read any of the chapters?” I ask, putting the book down.
Christian takes my book and I reach for it but he presses his palm to my forehead to hold me off, keeping me at arm’s length. I watch as his eyes skim over the pages, his rough fingers flip the pages. He looks like a giant in my room, black against baby blue. He fits in just as much as a Mercedes Benz does in the rainforest. He always looks so dirty, his face and hands spotted with black, as if he washes himself with mud. His hair is a mess, black charcoal over pallid skin.
I shake my head and give him another once over, then go downstairs to grab a snack. There’s a bowl of pretzel sticks on the dining room table. Yesterday it was Ritz crackers. My mom always has something different set. She likes to ‘keep things alive.’ I grab two juice boxes and look over at my dad, his head still buried in the newspaper.
“Anything new?” I ask, hitching the bowl of pretzels onto my hip.
“Not really. It’s all very repetitive. How’s the project going?”
I shrug. “We haven’t really done much yet. He’s up there skimming through the book.” I’m actually surprised that he’s trying and not making me do everything.
I nod and then turn to head back upstairs. When I walk into my room he’s still reading through the book, writing stuff down on Post-It notes, and I notice he has reading glasses on. He really is full of surprises. I could never imagine him actually trying to succeed in school. He always seems so laid back, so uncaring, as if nothing in the world matters.
“I didn’t know you need glasses.”
He either ignores me or doesn’t hear me. Maybe he needs a hearing aid, too.
I set the bowl of pretzels down on the desk beside him and hand him a juice box. He’s so engrossed in the book that he doesn’t see my hand holding it out in front of him. I wave it over the book and he looks up, completely startled, and takes it. “What the hell is this?”
“You don’t have soda or anything?”
I shake my head. “My mom doesn’t let us drink soda.”
Christian looks at me with disbelief. He drops the book into his lap and says, “So you’ve never had soda?” I shake my head again. “Oh my god, Princess. I feel so sorry for you. You really are not living.”
I roll my eyes and open my juice box. “What is it with you and living?” I ask.
“It’s everything,” he says, and returns to the novel.
For most of his time here, Christian just reads through the book and take notes on our character, Mitchell Sanders. I just watch him in awe. Maybe we could get a good grade on this project after all.
Since he has my copy of the book, I pull out my sketchbook and doodle flowers and a dog. The strokes are intricate, flowing straight from my fingertips. Whenever I draw, I feel thunder roar through my palm, lighting in my fingertips where it presses against the wood of the pencil. I start to draw Christian, the way he sits so low in the swivel chair, his back hunched as he reads over Tim O’Brien’s words in the dark. I reach over his head and turn on the desk lamp. He’s already blind as it is. He says thanks, but that’s just about all I can get out of him for tonight. I sit back on the bed, curled up against the pillows, sketching his jawline, the bits of hair that fall over his glasses. The thought of why I’m drawing him constantly crosses my mind, but I disregard it. It’s as if my hands ache for him; he needs to be captive within the pages of my book. I need him there, to be mine to hold forever.
I drop the sketchbook. Did I really just think that? I don’t need Christian. I tear out the page and toss it aside, disregarding it altogether. I need to be working on the project anyways.
“What do you have so far?” I ask him, peering at his notes over his shoulder. I stub my toe on the wheel of the chair and fall over, into his lap, my hands bracing against the desk. He looks at me, hands around my waist. I can’t move, I’m frozen in place.
Christian twists his eyes and shoves me back towards the bed. “Get off me!”
I stumble backwards, falling against the edge of the bed, and I look at him, dumb-founded. “What the heck is wrong with you?” I almost shout.
“You need to watch where you’re going,” he says, his voice hard.
“You need to go home,” I say, returning his stern attitude.
He looks at me, then down at his notes. “Whatever,” he says. He gathers his things and leaves, tramping down the stairs and slamming the front door.