She asked me if I was still drawing. I said, “I doodle from time to time.” She said I should draw more. I didn’t have enough time, but I’m making excuses. She placed a pen in my hand. It was lacquered and looked custom-made. A friend had made it for her, but she said I should keep it. She knew that I hid my passion. I wanted to talk about something else. With a smirk, she said the truth hurts. She put her hand on my hand. I didn’t realize I had pushed my chair so close to her. I squeezed her hand. It was cold and I wanted to warm her. I didn’t know what to say. Emily always knew what to say. So I listened and her voice calmed me. My hand was shaking but it stopped.
The bell rang. I looked around and people were staring. I jerked my hand back and sped away. My classroom was split down the middle. The geeks sat on the left side while the jocks and cheerleaders sat on the right. My three main football buddies waved me over to the other side of the room. Two of them sat on the table. The third leaned against the wall. “What the hell are you doing with her,” Sam asked. He told me his sister would be pissed. I knew Lauren would, but I felt Emily’s heat linger on my hand and smiled. Sam said what are you smiling for? He was the biggest one, did most of the blocking while I took the glory. I told him, “You know that Emily and I grew up next to each other. I just needed some help with last night’s homework.” Sam said, “Yeahsuuure.” I don’t think they saw Emily and I holding hands. Bobby told Sam to leave me alone. Bobby’s arms were bare again. He liked how defined his muscles got after weight training. Bobby recently made the varsity squad while Sam and I started since middle school. Bobby said it’s too early to be fighting. Sam backed off. Bobby said “You know Lauren would be furious if she saw you.” I said, “You know Lauren never shows up for homeroom.” Sam said, “She gets away with everything, it’s not fair.” Ben, still leaning, said, “If you ladies are done talking, we should sit down or Mr. Henry will give us detention.” He was the captain of the team, wore his varsity jacket and class ring, and his hair was perfect as he told us to sit down. We did.
I pulled my headphone wire through my sleeve and put the earplug in. Leaned on my arm to cover it up. Mr. Henry came and taught a lesson about stuff I already knew. I did the homework, and the next night’s homework, actually the next week’s because it was interesting. I dozed off. Mr. Henry left me alone because I always aced the tests and I was probably tired from the big football game. The bell rang and I opened my eyes. I looked at the back of the room. Emily was gone.
I walked toward the door and Mr. Henry stopped me. He shook my hand and wished me luck. You’re only a hundred yards from breaking the school’s rushing record. I shrugged my shoulders and left. The rest of the morning block was the same. Every teacher wished me luck even though I fell asleep in the class or doodled the whole time.
I hated lunch because the food was too crusty or too moist, never just right. I saw Lauren, her two cheerleader friends, and Sam and Bobby sitting at the table by the door. Emily came late. She walked past their table. Sam tripped her. She fell forward and caught herself with her hands. Her plate crashed onto the ground. Her drink splashed up and stained her cardigan. I knew she couldn’t afford another plate. Sam laughed. The girls laughed louder. Bobby gave a crooked smile, saw me and waved me over. I looked up at the clock and noticed there was still forty minutes left in the lunch period.
I ran over and helped Emily up. I picked up her tray and gave her my food. Our eyes met and she was about to say something. I said not to worry about it but that she should get out of here. She hurried to the corner table without looking back. I told Sam he was a dick. “Emily is cool and you know her family’s not doing well right now”, I said. He said, “Ok, ok, ok,” but didn’t understand. Bobby said, “Leave him alone, he was just messing around.” The girls were silent. Sam grumbled. Bobby and I looked and each other and chose not to reply. Sam shifted in his seat. Lauren said, “It’s ok, my brother’s just an idiot. How are you, honey?” I said, “I’m tired.” She averted her eyes. Lauren was a bit tired too. Sam was about to speak but I glared at him and he knew not to talk about our business. The other two girls turned to each other and talked rapid fire: how gross the nerds were. How they need to shower. How they should grow up and stop playing children’s games. How much they hated it when they looked at them. How they feel like they undress every cute girl with their eyes. How the girls at the corner table are the worst. Especially that girl with the big tits. She looks like a cow. She walks all proud like she’s better than us. Lauren joined in. She said she hated that girl. She looked at me and said, “Sorry, honey, I know you used to be friends with her, but I just thought I should be honest. I just want you to stay away from her.” The other girls agreed. I kept my mouth firmly shut, lips pressed. One of the girls said, “Let’s talk about something nicer. What are you doing this weekend?” They spoke even faster.
Bobby leaned in and whispered, “Don’t worry, it’s just girls being girls.” Sam nodded. “Why do they keep saying ‘just?’” I got up and wasn’t feeling well. Lauren said, “Honey, it’s because you didn’t eat; you shouldn’t have given your food away to that slut.” I really did feel sick.
I went to the nurse’s office and got out of the rest of classes for the day. Asked the nurse if I could rest in her office, she said “of course” and pointed to a mat in the back. She closed the curtain around me. I tried sleeping, but I kept tossing and turning. The mat was too thin and my back hurt and I couldn’t keep my mind from racing. I massaged my temples and I could smell a remnant of Emily’s hand—she used good soap. My head stopped hurting and my chest tightened. I felt nauseous but not in an unpleasant way. It felt like my stomach was being tickled. I lay there with my hand held on my nose. I drifted to sleep and I woke up when the nurse told me school was over.