Part one- Jamie
“I heard,” Shay said once, “about a lesbian couple who slept together every night,” she had twisted her face considerably, “until the parents came to visit. Then, they would set up another cot, and pretend to be only roommates.” She had had the lunch table captivated. “I mean,” she added. “If you’re already as messed up as they are, I’m sure it’s nothing to keep lying to your parents like that. I’m sure that they would get their kids help. They just don’t know.”
The story wasn’t that funny, but the table’s mood shifted almost instantly. June had held her hand to her mouth and giggled. Victoria had leaned her head down, looking at her lunch, but I could hear the ringing chuckles escape from her hidden face. Charlotte had smiled, but hadn’t looked up from her phone, which was unlike her, but she was texting with some cute boy from her english class. And I- I threw my head back like a little kid. I opened my mouth and laughed, my shoulders shaking as I did. I laughed like she had told the funniest joke I had ever heard. I laughed like my life depended on it. But then again, perhaps it did.
I sat in my ninth period health class, thinking about nothing, and drumming my fingers on the desk. My nails were bitten to the quick, so my impatience made no sound. I thought about what I would do after the bell rang. I was supposed to meet Shay and Victoria for coffee, but I didn’t really want to. I tried to come up with a plausible excuse, but couldn’t really think of anything. Charlotte had a date, so I couldn’t be ‘helping her with homework’ again. I had already said I was free, and there were only so many times you could say you’re not feeling well before everyone stopped turning a blind eye. I sighed. Maybe I would just have to go. It wouldn’t be that bad. It was just coffee after all. It was just hopping in Shay’s fancy-dancy car and driving two miles into town and ordering pastries and hot drinks and watching out the window and gossiping about everyone who walked by. It would only take an hour. After an hour I could have a “lot of homework” and walk home. It would be fine.
The girl at the desk next to me had perfectly curled, naturally red hair, and green eyes. I watched her out of the corner of my eye, while still doodling absentmindedly in my notebook. I had never really noticed her before. She was the kind of person who managed to blend into the background, despite her undeniable beauty. I had seen her before, of course, in the halls, between classes, to not notice anyone was impossible in a town as small as New Redmen, but had never really noticed her.
Notes notes notes notes notes notes notes notes, I wrote again and again, looking up at the teacher occasionally. As long as it seemed like I was paying attention, I was fine.
The red haired girl shifted in her seat, clearly as bored as I was. I glanced at the clock. Seven minutes.
I raised my hand slowly.
“Yes?” Mr. Taylor peered at me over his glasses. I didn’t like the way he looked at me, but I refused to wince.
I cleared my throat. “May I go to the bathroom?”
He glanced at the clock. “Class is almost over; can it wait?”
My cheeks reddened a bit. “Not really, no.”
He sighed, finally meeting my eyes. “Okay then, just be back quick.”
I smiled and shut my notebook, standing and walking to the door. I opened it, and stepped out into the hall. Thank God. I turned and walked toward the bathroom, but cut through the gym to turn out near my locker, on the other side of the school. I put in the combination, twice, the first time didn’t work, and pulled out my backpack.
By the time I was finished packing up my bag, there were only three minutes left until the day ended. I walked slowly back to class, because I knew I would have to return by the last minute, or I would just end up with a ten minute lecture about the importance of this class and blah blah blah. I went to the gym again, peeking into the small windows of the double doors to make sure no one was there.
There was someone in there. Of course there was. It was just my luck. The options for getting back were either through the gym, or through the hall like a normal person, which wasn’t optimal because I would approach the door from the wrong side.
I peeked into the gym again, and glared at the person, even though I knew they couldn’t see me through the tinted windows.
And then I took a double take. Shay.
What on Earth was Shay doing here?
She wasn’t on the phone, she wasn’t with anyone, she was just…
Just walking back and forth.
Shay didn’t like showing weakness, and even if this wasn’t exactly weakness, it was still strange, clearly private behavior. Not meant for my eyes or anyone else’s.
I watched her for another second, before turning away.
Coffee was boring. Listening to Shay and Vicky gossiping about everyone who happened by wasn’t my idea of fun. But as I tapped my fingers on the table, I was flooded with gratefulness that I was not like Meg, who was eight months pregnant, or Jules, the father of the baby, who would have to quit school soon enough to work. That will never be you, I reminded myself. Never. I bit my lip, tasting blood. My eyes lingered on that same redhead from before, who evidently also had plans with her friends.
“Hey, what’s her story?” I ask, looking up at the redhead, who had her head back, and was laughing loudly.
“Who?” Shay turned to me and followed my gaze. “Oh, her. I don’t even know her name.”
“You know everyone’s name,” Victoria pointed out.
“She’s in our grade, I think.” I said, thinking back.
“No she’s not,” Shay argued, but she was fidgeting with her bracelets like she often did when she was nervous. Not that that was very often.
“Yes, actually, she is. She’s in my health class too. Sits next to me.” Shay stared at me.
“Yeah, c’mon Shay, what’s her story?”
“Fine.” Shay stretched out the word, then shrugged as if it were nothing. “I’ve been trying to get her to join our friend group.”
That got our attention. I spun to face her. “What?!” We both cried out in unison. This was so unlike Shay. Normally, she would reject someone so perfect for fear that they might take her place.
Shay’s shoulders hunched as she backed down a little. “She’s kind of… perfect. See how she laughs? Not at all the unattractive whimper we had to beat out of you.” she gestured vaguely to me. I looked back at the girl. “She’s gorgeous. Look at her. I wonder how long it takes her to curl her hair.”
“She’s been asked out by practically every boy in the school, but she always refuses,” Victoria said. “And I think her hair might be that way naturally.”
I glanced back at her. “No way. It’s gotta be a curler. Did you know about this?”
She shook her head. “No, but I heard that Derik asked her out, and she refused.”
Ugh. Derik. Everything was always “Derik this” and “Derik that”. He was apparently the hottest guy in the school, but he was pretty thick headed. And besides, I knew I would never like him, even if he wasn’t such an idiot. Even if he liked me.
Shay sighed. “Derik. Damn, he’s such an idiot. What on Earth do people see in him?”
I smiled. Derik was one of the things Shay and I never failed to agree on. Shay smirked like she always did when a clever wisecrack came to her, “I have no clue. I bet he didn’t even like her. I bet he’s gay.” She rolled her eyes.
I burst out laughing, trying to imagine Derik kissing another man. I put my head in my hands, falling into silence and sighing. I stayed there a second too long.
They don’t know, I reminded myself again and again. They don’t know. They can’t know. If they knew, I wouldn’t be here. I would have been kicked out long ago. They don’t know. They don’t know.
I took a deep breath and looked up, still smiling out of habit. Damn, that redhead was gorgeous.
“So,” I said, looking at Shay’s smirk. “What’s her name?”