In the morning I definitely had a more positive attitude. I woke up with an automatic smile on my face, and it stayed fixed there until I arrived at school. Emily greeted me at the front, her face lighting up too when she saw me. I have that effect on people, I’ve been told.
“Hey,” she said. “Feeling better?”
“Much,” I replied. “What did you get for your present?”
“A bottle of perfume from that genital herpes commercial,” she said. “He actually got them to put ‘genital herpes’ on an engraving on the bottle. Nope, he hasn’t forgotten our genital herpes days. It smells really good.” The moment she said that was the moment I caught a whiff of it—it did smell good, amazing even.
“Oh my God,” I said, laughing. “I remember that. Those were fun times.”
“You’re in a bright mood today,” she commented as we went inside the school. Warm air touched my face and my glasses started to fog a little.
“I am, thank you,” I replied.
“Reason why? Was it your gift thing? What did you get, by the way?”
“Part of it. And I got a Jeremy voodoo doll made in Melbourne, Australia! I stuck a pin in his heart!”
“Ooh, fun. I would’ve liked that.” We started ascending the stairs—slowly, as the stairs were becoming disgusting and muddy with dirty slush. When we reached the second floor, I dragged my feet across the harsh black carpet—no doubt making a pretty odd noise as I did.
“I’m really hyper, Emily, don’t judge me,” I said while her face was still an amused smirk.
“Me? Judge?” she said, as the corners of her mouth fought a laugh. We continued on that way to our lockers. Sarah walked out of the washrooms in the nearby corner not long after that, and joined us, skipping along the way.
“Hey guys!” she greeted us with her usual wide grin.
“Hey Sarah,” Emily said warily. She looked between Sarah and I, with a strangely suspicious look on her face. “Why are you both so happy?”
“It’s a happy day!” I said almost jubilantly. “Live a little, Emily Hopkins!”
“I just don’t get why there’s so much reason to be happy is all,” she replied mildly. Devil’s advocate, all the time.
“Well,” Sarah started, still beaming; “Jared got me a digital picture frame that changes pictures every five minutes! It’s so cool!”
“Awesome,” I muttered, awed. Jared really did go all out for these presents. Though it occurred to me that theirs were far more glamorous and expensive than mine, mine had the most to it. I smiled secretly at that.
I got all my stuff I needed for chem. Surprisingly, for the first time in weeks it didn’t feel like a death sentence. I had this strangely positive attitude, and I didn’t know where it came from or how long it would last, but the smile that was on my face was proof it existed. I kept it there. It felt good smiling, not having done it in so long.
What was also cool was that it kinda stuck to me and reached out to other people. It took Emily out of her suspicion, and she was talking animatedly with Sarah and I. Which I was good, because it wasn’t often that I saw Emily in such a bright and bubbly mood.
We arrived at Danielle’s locker not long after that. She already had a huge smile on her face, when she turned around.
“Wow, what’s that?” Sarah asked her, pointing at the brilliant blood-red necklace she was wearing—it was made of red and black beads and an agate stone in the middle; it was incredibly dazzling. Well, if I had to guess where it came from….
“It’s a carcanet,” she replied. “That’s supposed be an incredibly decorative kind of necklace that people used to wear in their hair. But the note inside said I’d be better off wearing it as just a necklace.”
“Note inside?” I asked. “So you got it from Jared?”
“Yes!” Danielle said with a lot more fervor than I’d thought she would’ve. I was right!
“It’s really nice,” Emily said, gazing at the biggest stone, about the size of a D-cell battery.
“It’s beautiful!” Sarah said, going so far as to touch the beads that made up the chain. “They’re so pretty. That’s really sweet.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Danielle said just as she blushed red. Was I missing something here?
Before I could wonder more, I heard heavy footfalls come from behind Emily. Instinctively, I turned around, and it was Jared there—speak of the devil—and his back was hunched over, his head slumped, his hands in his pockets.
“Jared!” I called after him. He seemed to almost trip awkwardly and then turn around. My God, he looked in bad shape. He had heavy shadows under his eyes and he didn’t even bother to dress nicely today. He just wore a plain gray sweater with jeans, no scarf—which was definitely odd. He always wore one. He made his way over to us, walking like a zombie.
“Hey,” he said in a gravelly voice. He was losing his voice too, it seemed.
“Thanks, by the way!” Danielle said before I could say anything, and she went over and basically squished him in her arms. He didn’t flinch, he didn’t even smile. He just nodded at her and mumbled, “you’re welcome.”
“What’s wrong?” I asked him. From the corner of my eye, I saw Danielle still latching onto him. Was I missing something here?
“My God,” he muttered. “I didn’t get any sleep last night. I sat up, worrying like mad….”
“Over what?” I asked him when he didn’t continue. At that, he looked like a deer in headlights and looked around, nervous in the face. His eyes were wide with some kind of weird fear.
“Over my present for Christian.” Okay, so I’ll admit I kinda saw that one coming. “I got him two tickets to see Dog Street in concert on Saturday, and I wrote that he could ask whoever he wanted to go with him, because the tickets aren’t refundable.”
“Okay…” I was still a little puzzled. “Why are you worried, exactly?”
“Well I don’t know…what if he asks me? Then that’ll make it a date!”
“You don’t like Dog Street.”
“I freaking hate them. But he doesn’t!” I took him by the arm and gently pried Danielle off of him. I led him further down the hall, out of earshot.
“You guys can go on,” I told them. “We won’t be back.” Danielle had a confused look on her face, but Sarah smoothly took her by the shoulder and continued down the hall. She looked back at me with a questioning expression; I nodded in reply. I continued to take Jared down the hall until we were in front of the library.
“This is a little unnecessary,” Jared complained.
“So is this late night worrying,” I countered. “Jared…please, you’re harming yourself over nothing.”
“I know,” he replied, sighing. “I’m quite an idiot. I don’t get what I’m so scared of—I just know that I am.”
“Are you afraid of him asking you? That it’ll be considered a date?”
“Are you saying you’re scared of commitment?”
“I am not scared of commitment!” He folded his arms stubbornly. “If you remember correctly I had a girlfriend in Grade 9. Lisa Mancini, remember her? Steady for a month.”
“You barely saw her, and you wanted to break up by two weeks,” I reminded him. “You were only together for that long because you were afraid of hurting her feelings.”
“Well you gotta admit, the girl was a mental case. She was too clingy for her own good, and she would have collapsed all over the floor if I broke it to her the wrong way.”
“You’re not proving your point,” I reminded him. He squared his shoulders at that, and then let them fall, with a heavy sigh.
“Fine,” he admitted. “Maybe a little. But it doesn’t mean I’ll run away from it! It’s just that…the idea of giving up all that time to one person…”
“It’ll work, trust me,” I told him. Jared…something…McGrady, if you only knew—you would be dancing around in your room like a happy little girl. I didn’t say that out loud, he wasn’t supposed to know yet.
“If you say so.” He was still dubious.
“Would you rather he didn’t ask you?” He didn’t say anything, he just made a face at me. “I didn’t think so.”
“We’ll see then,” he said, breathing in and out at a pace that didn’t seem like it was involuntary. “If he does ask me, okay, if he doesn’t, then okay. I won’t freak out with either option.”
And speak of the devil, as if divine intervention stepped in right there, who else but Christian should round the corner and spot both of us there? He waved, and ran over to both of us, catching Jared by total surprise. The day barely started and there was freakishly good timing all over the place!
“Good morning,” he said with a big smile.
“Why is everyone so cheerful this morning?” Jared asked in the same tone as Emily’s. Now where have I heard that?
“I’d say it’s from those Valentine’s Day gifts,” Christian said, eyes alight. He was enjoying his, alright. “Everyone seems to really like them, especially Danielle.”
“Well of course,” I said. “It’s an amazing necklace with a great big beautiful rock in the middle. What girl wouldn’t like that?”
“That must have cost you a lot to get,” Christian commented.
“Not really,” Jared said with a faint hint of a smile on his face, the first one today. “My mom had it for the longest time from a past boyfriend before she met my dad. She didn’t like it, and so I gave it to Danielle.”
“That’s kinda cheap,” I mumbled. A hand-me-down necklace from your mom? Not even I would take that.
“No way!” Jared protested. “That thing cost 50, 000 yen back then. That’s like 600-something dollars now!”
“Oh my,” I muttered, once again impressed. “This guy must have really liked your mom.”
“Yeah, he was some really obscenely rich kid, apparently insanely jealous, too.” Jared scoffed. Reluctantly, and with some show of effort, he turned to Christian. “So, you enjoying your present?”
“Of course,” Christian replied.
“And who are you asking to the concert?” He tacked a fake smile at the end of that question.
“Well,” Christian muttered; “I was gonna, well, ask you. ‘Cause, like, you did give me the tickets after all. And I’m not sure if anyone else really likes Dog Street—”
“I totally love Dog Street!” Jared blurted out. I laughed on the inside; my work here was done, it seemed. Maybe I’d have to make Jared like Dog Street first, but he could do that on his own time.
“Awesome!” Christian replied. “So we can go together? You say yes?”
“Yeah!” He stopped himself, straightened, and spoke with a serious face. “Yes, I’d like to go, thanks for asking.”
“No problem,” Christian said. “And thank you. Not that many Dog Street fans out there…so awesome. 6:30 Saturday?”
“Yep,” Jared replied. “I’ll give you a ride or something.”
“Oh, thank you.” Christian sighed, completely relieved. “I don’t wanna get a ride with Gale or Melanie that day.”
There’s my cue.
“Who’s Melanie?” I asked Christian, forcing him to direct his attention to me. Sorry Jared!
“Oh, Melanie is my mom,” he replied. “I just don’t like calling them mom and dad, it’s all fuzzy and sweet-sounding. Just Gale and Melanie.”
His mom? I didn’t see that one coming. Why was he writing a letter to his mom about life falling apart and relationship issues? I didn’t think I wanted to get to the bottom of this now.
“Really?” I asked, now at a loss for words.
“Yeah, it’s more than they deserve.” He suddenly got a very distant look in his eyes. “They’ve been fighting nonstop about this and that forever, and they barely acknowledge my existence. They wouldn’t really care if I called them Dick and Jane.”
“Oh, I see.” I didn’t wanna stay on this topic—my positive mood was not going to leave me so early in the morning. I had noticed we had started off in a general direction, rather than staying static in front of the library.
“So what’d you get for your Valentine’s Day?” Christian asked.
“A voodoo doll of Jeremy,” I said, smiling widely at the memory of when I first saw it. “I stuck a pin in his heart already!”
“That’s amazing,” he said, and I knew he wasn’t talking to me, but he had turned to Jared to say it. “I hate that guy. He’s such a dirt clod.”
“Yeah, I don’t really believe in it…” we rounded a corner there; “but we can always hope it has some adverse effects.”
For a while nobody said anything. We kind of walked along in a strange silence from there to the other side of the hall, where the opposite staircase was. When we turned down the stairs, Christian parted ways with us and went off to whatever class he had first. It was Jared and I alone.
“You know,” he said, and his voice sounded much better now; “and this might come across as completely random, but Danielle likes me.”
“What?” I blurted aloud. “Who? Really? How do you know?”
“Danielle likes me, yes, Danielle Layton, I don’t know why, yes she really does, and she’s pretty damn obvious.” He smiled. “Does that answer all your questions?”
“Well, yeah…” I said sheepishly. “But wow. How did you find out?”
“Well, she’s clingy to a fault, she takes whatever opportunity she can to wrap herself around me, and she flirts like there’s no tomorrow. I must say she’s exceedingly good at it. Like she’s done it extensively before.” He smiled slightly. “And she was talking to herself about it just this morning.”
“Wow, I never expected that from Danielle…” Meanwhile my thoughts were racing. What a discovery! That was such a huge explanation to all the weird things she’d been doing lately. Who else knew?
“Sarah sees it too,” Jared said. “She thinks it’s kinda sweet, but then again, she’s Sarah. But, she thinks the necklace I gave Danielle is just gonna make her like me more.”
“Well, duh,” I said. “That thing’s made out of like ruby, onyx and agate and worth over six hundred bucks! I was surprised she didn’t faint!”
“Girls really do fall for jewelry, don’t they….” He said it like he was talking to himself; speculation, rather than he was talking to me. Of course we do, silly boy; what else could men use to distract us with? Nice bodies? Urban myths, all of them.
“That’s really…crazy. She is really nice though, so maybe it’s okay. I mean, if you didn’t like Christian or anything. I can see you two together!”
“Thing is, so can I.” He shuddered. “It’s strange thinking of it. We’re too similar, though. We’d bore each other to death after a while.
“You think so?”
We reached a junction in the hallways, where I had to go left and he had to go right.
“Chemistry will be tons of fun,” I muttered. He just laughed.
“Okay, well I’ll see you, then.” He turned and started to retreat down the other hallway. “Later, Watson.”
“Bye.” And I stepped down the hall, alone now. It felt good for some reason; not let’s-do-it-again good, but change-is-great good. This same process that happened yesterday felt like it happened years ago. When I was a more vulnerable, blind version of myself; when I didn’t know the truth. It felt good to know everything that had happened now. It’ll probably always sting to know that I was probably the one on the side—for two years, I mean come on—but it’s over with. And I’m alive. That, in the end was the important thing.
When I entered the classroom, I took my seat in the back. And though I knew I would probably fall asleep, I was amazed to feel my smile still on my face—not as wide, not as extremely pleased, but it was there. Yes, this was a better way to be.
That’s how the rest of the day passed—differently, and not like I was going to die every step of the way. This new attitude was a great one to have, I found. I wasn’t weighed down by how bad my subjects were, how much I regretted getting to attached to last semester, and I certainly wasn’t weighed down by my two-year mistake, either. That was for sure in the past.
Ironically enough, at the end of the day when I was walking with Emily to the buses, we passed him and a couple of his friends. They didn’t see us—they were joking around and being guys in general. One of them punched Jeremy right in the arm—or tried to, and then he missed and hit him in the chest instead. Jeremy clutched at himself with a twisted grimace.
“That’s funny….” I said, secretly smiling.
“Jeremy getting hurt is always funny,” Emily commented.
“True,” I replied. “But, when I got the voodoo doll, that’s the same place that the pin would’ve gone.”
“So you mean…?” She purposely left it hanging. I laughed heartily, a little like Sarah’s sister would’ve done.
“Oh, never mind. Who knows what I mean?” We continued to the buses, and when Emily and I parted ways, I found my bus and took my usual seat near the middle.
The bus roared to life a few minutes later, and it was chugging down the road not long after that. I sat quietly, keeping a neutral expression on my face. Holding my bag in front of me, I would wait until the familiar brown face of my house came up.
Suddenly, I reached into my bag, purposely feeling around for a marker. I didn’t know what made me do this, but when I uncapped a purple permanent marker, I pressed it to the seat and wrote as quickly and neatly as I could—just because it seemed appropriate: