CHAPTER 2 – NATE
Every day for three months, we’d leave the building at lunch time. Before I got my license in November, she’d take me to one of the many parked buses at the back of the lot. She liked bus 37 the best, although she never told me why. For the first week, I was almost too afraid we’d get caught to be able to perform. Almost. She could coax any guy to give her what she wanted, though.
When I turned sixteen and passed my driver’s exam, I got my convertible. Even the seats of my small car were more accommodating than the benches on the buses. And at least I knew the leather was clean.
I take a long drag on the cigarette, trying to take the edge off in one of the few ways I can in the middle of a school day– without her. Our mid-day meetings had become a habit, and the abrupt halt of them left me very unsatisfied at lunch time. I remember how her brown hair would tickle my bare chest as she’d lean over me. Her fingernails left marks on my skin. My lips left marks on hers. And her lips… the filthy things those beautiful, full lips would say, and do.
As soon as I finish one cigarette, I pull out another. I wonder if I could find another girl who’d have lunch with me every day. Not lunch in the cafeteria, where older women slop government-approved food on a tray and tell you to have a good afternoon. I need the kind of lunch she once gave me. It didn’t matter to me that sometimes I went to fourth period hungrier than I was in third period. I was sated in the way I wanted to be. I was full. My desire for her was quenched, and I’d be in an altered state for the rest of the day, high on her.
I could try to have an average lunch– a lunch like everyone else– but instead, I choose to smoke. With the clouds overhead delivering tiny flakes of snow at their whim, the heated puffs feel even more comforting in my lungs. Leaning against the parking lot gate behind a row of evergreens, staring at those traitorous buses across the lot, I think I’m far enough away from the school to have some time alone, but I’m wrong. I hear laughter first, then other sounds that are only too familiar, the memories of those sounds too fresh and raw. And then I hear something else.
I can’t even enjoy the last few drags of my cigarette. I throw the butt down hastily, stomping it with aggression, imagining Clark beneath the heel of my favorite worn work boot. It only takes hearing that one word to convince me to go to class.
Misty. Said in between grunts and groans coming from some car nearby. His car, I’m sure, that piece of shit Chevy that he had to ‘fix up’ every weekend. The same Chevy that half of the cheerleading squad could describe the interior roof of, where the fabric hung down seven inches, keeping Clark from seeing the road behind him through the rearview mirror.
What kind of girl sleeps with her ex’s friend anyway?
I guess Clark was her friend first, and he certainly wasn’t my friend anymore. I really didn’t have any until she came along. It wasn’t easy transitioning to a new school in the tenth grade.
I knew she was that type of girl when I started dating her. Why I thought I’d be the last guy she dated, I’m not sure. She’s not in it for love. Fuck, I wasn’t either.
I wasn’t until I fell for her.
“Mr. Wilson, class started ten minutes ago,” the vice principal warns me as I try to sneak in through a side door. “You weren’t smoking, were you?”
“No, not at all,” I tell her with a warm smile, trying to charm her. I know the smell of my new leather jacket isn’t enough to cover the offensive nicotine odor, and in fact, probably makes it worse, but I lie to her anyway.
“I didn’t think so. Did you need a note?” she adds.
“That won’t be necessary.” I breeze past her, knowing that I can charm my art teacher just as easily. I’m her favorite student anyway… plus, Ms. Martin has smoked with me behind the gym on occasion.
I open the classroom door quickly, letting it shut loudly behind me, not caring if the noises distract my classmates.
“Thanks for joining us,” my teacher says. I nod and grin in her direction as I head to my seat. Two rows before I get there, I see this diminutive girl sitting in the chair next to mine.
I’ve always been one of two students lucky enough to get their own workstation in art. I’d earned that seat, having honed my talent since I was a kid. I needed the space to spread out, to be messy.
I stop in my tracks, staring at the girl in the chair at my table.
“We took a vote at the beginning of class to see where our new student would sit. Without you here, it was unanimous,” Ms. Martin says. I want to turn to her, to glare at her, but I can’t look away from this fair-skinned girl who sits quietly with her head rested on folded arms. Even though we’re talking about her, her gaze is straight-ahead and distant. She doesn’t bother to look at me, which gives me ample time to stare at her mesmerizing green eyes. Light sage. Cucumber. Honeydew. I can’t figure out what word best describes the color of those eyes, but they’re unique and clear and enchanting.
I finally start moving again as some of my classmates laugh quietly at my reaction to my new neighbor. I grab my easel and a blank canvas from the side counter before I sit down. She has no supplies in front of her. I’m not sure her position or demeanor would change if she did.
She looks so sad.
I set up quickly, adrenaline coursing through me to start a new project. I pull out the sketch I’d drawn over the past couple of days. I’d started plotting it last week, but only got the inspiration to paint today. I glance over to the girl every few seconds, wondering if she’s going to participate in class. Maybe she got put into art because all the other electives were full. I doubt it, though, judging by her hair and clothes. Underneath an oversized black coat, she’s wearing a concert t-shirt that I actually own. I went to that show last summer. I had to sneak in the bar to attend, so I assume she did, too. And her reddish-blonde hair looks messy, but intentionally so. She looks artistic. I know from experience it doesn’t mean she is, but she does look the part.
After preparing my paints on the wax-paper palette the school provides us– so cheap and temporary compared to the nice wooden one I use at home– I start to paint with a large brush. Heavy, dark strokes coat the edges. It’s going to take forever to dry, but I don’t care. This is how I feel and this is how it should look.
“I don’t think they have enough black paint for both of us.” I turn my head quickly at the sound of her voice. Her words were mumbled because she didn’t lift her head from her arms to speak. Although I understood her the first time, I want to hear her again.
“Sorry?” I set my brush down and give her my full attention.
“I said I don’t think they have enough black paint for both of us.” Her eyes finally focus on something. They focus on me, and I immediately feel my heart start to pound in my chest.
Who is this girl?
“I’d share,” I tell her as I push my tube of black paint a few inches closer to her. “You need a canvas or something. Did you want me to–”
“No, I can’t paint,” she says, finally lifting her head. She moves her hands to her lap, but she maintains her slumped posture as if she’s caving in on herself.
“But you just said–”
“I know what I said. I was joking. If I was going to paint, it would just be smudges of black. That’s all.”
I totally understand. “Like this?” I ask, gesturing to my own work and smiling at her.
“Kind of,” she huffs.
“Show me,” I suggest, handing her my brush.
“No, you have, like, structure and order and a plan. I have chaos.”
“Art can’t be planned. Art is felt.”
“Then what’s that?” she asks, pointing to my sketch.
I crumple up the paper and toss it toward the trash can at the front of the class, missing by a few feet. “That was how I felt yesterday,” I tell her as I get up to retrieve my trash and place it in the recycling receptacle.
When I return to my chair, the girl is holding my paintbrush tentatively in front of the canvas. “And how do you feel today?” she asks, moving her wrist as if practicing the motion.
Ten minutes ago I felt the same. Four minutes ago, even. But right this very second, something in me changes. I don’t have the words to describe it, so I answer her vaguely. “Different.”
I turn the canvas on its side, and with a pencil, I draw a line down the center. The girl smiles and starts painting on the half closest to her. I pull another brush out of my bag, as well as some more colors. I’m drawn to a tube of cadmium green I’d never used before. I start mixing it with white, trying to recall from memory the color of her eyes without having to look back. When I finally think I’ve mixed the two pigments correctly, I engage her in conversation again to compare my creation with the real thing.
“You picked the best seat, you know. You’re sitting next to the best artist in school.”
“And who gave you that title?” she scoffs, barely looking at me… barely giving me the opportunity to look into her eyes. There’s a tiny bit of blue, I think. I pull out another tube of paint.
“It’s just a fact.”
“I’m not sure I will enjoy it, actually. Already, you’re a little too arrogant for my liking.”
“Some women like men with confidence.”
“Well, if you call that confidence, this girl does not.”
“Sorrrr-yyy.” I’m not at all offended. I just can’t wait to hear more, and try to egg her on.
“My dad’s arrogant,” she mutters.
“Well, they say girls are attracted to guys who remind them of their fathers.”
“You like to speak in generalities, don’t you?” she asks. She continues before I can respond. “Again, not this girl. My dad cheated on my mom. That’s why I got to transfer to this fucking school in Jersey mid-year.” She stares into my eyes, long and hard. I expect tears, after hearing that news, but I only see anger. She’s waiting for me to talk.
“Well, hello, Fiesty. There’s the red-head I was hoping to meet.”
One corner of her naked lip turns up into a grin. “And who are you?”
She nods and turns her attention back to the painting. She doesn’t talk to me anymore during class, even when I try to get her name out of her.
“So should I just call you Fiesty, then?” She chuckles a little, but rolls her eyes. “Chaos?” I suggest. When the bell rings, she sets down the big brush she’d been using and picks up the small one I had just set aside. Light green paint with a tinge of blue still coats the bristles. In the bottom corner, she scrawls three letters, signing her work.
She pushes her chair back and hands the brush to me before picking up her worn Hello Kitty backpack. It looks odd with her destroyed denim jeans and black combat boots, but everything about her makes me smile.
“Nice meeting you, Emi.” She keeps walking until she exits the room, at which point she turns her head quickly, her once-pale skin entrenched in a deep, red blush. Dimples press deep into her cheeks as she grins back at me.
©2012 Lori L. Otto