Sunday, September 6, 2015

Chapter Four


Soundtrack: Moondust, Jaymes Young 

Monday morning arrived on the heels of a rainy, dreary weekend. The world was overcast and gray, with a rain-slicked sheen covering every surface, but somehow it all seemed bright and cheerful. I’d floated through the weekend lighter than air, and all because of a kiss I’m not even sure would have taken place had the pizza guy not interrupted. But Katie had certainly seemed interested.

I thought about finding Katie and trying to talk to her about it when I got to school. All weekend, I’d fought the urge to call her -- I didn’t want to seem too eager, too interested. But when I entered the English wing, the warning bell rang, and I was forced to give up any hope of seeing her before first period.
By the time lunch rolled around, I still hadn’t seen Katie. We must not have had any classes near each other. We probably didn’t even have the same lunch period. I resigned myself to the fact that I probably wasn’t going to see her today and headed for the cafeteria. Navigating the throngs of students loitering by lockers and congregating mid-hallway took longer than I expected and by the time I made it out of C-wing, I was ready for fresh air.
I would recognize that voice anywhere. Katie was calling to me from somewhere near the quad. I scanned the concrete picnic tables for her and finally caught sight of her. She was alone at a table at the far end, half-standing and waving one arm in a huge arc over her head. When our gazes connected, she waved me over to her, and I changed course immediately.
“Hey, what’s up?” I tried to play it cool once I got over to her.
She sat back down and tucked a stray strand of blonde hair behind her ear. “How was your weekend?” She sounded almost nervous. Was it possible that she might be just as on edge around me as I was around her?
“It was good. I didn’t do a whole lot.” I mentally kicked myself. Great, way to make myself sound unpopular by admitting I’d done nothing.
Katie smiled. “Hey, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but my birthday is Sunday.”
Why was she telling me this? “Happy early birthday.”
“Thanks,” she shrugged, “but, I wanted to let you know… I’m uh… having a party. You probably think it’s dumb, I know. But my parents are really into birthdays. It’s gonna be a masquerade… er… a costume party.”
Understanding dawned. She was telling me she couldn’t study this weekend. “Oh, okay. I gotcha. We can study another day. That’s cool.”
Her eyes widened, and she sputtered for a moment. “No!” Her tone was louder than before, but she was quick to quiet again. “No, what I meant was… well… do you want to come?”
She was inviting me to her party? I opened my mouth to answer, but before I could, something hard and cold smacked me in the back of the head.
“What’s up, dweeb?” Great. Brad was here. He walked around to straddle the bench Katie was on, and two more meatheads from the wrestling team claimed the bench on the opposite side of the table.
I rubbed the back of my head as Brad tossed a water bottle from hand to hand. At least he hadn’t hit me with anything that would make a mess.
“You guys friends?” Katie shifted uncomfortably.
I waited for Brad to answer -- I wanted to hear his response.
“This loser? Nah, the only reason I know him is ‘cause he’s related to me. Unfortunately, he didn’t inherit the coolness gene, eh dweeb?” Brad’s wrestling buddies laughed.
I wished I had an answer to that, some smart quip that would put Brad in his place, but I had nothing. So, I said nothing.
Katie’s perfect lips parted in on a silent, “Oh.”
“I better get going,” I told Katie, choosing to ignore Brad and his friends.
“Yeah, don’t you have something nerdy to do?” The one closest to me heckled, and meathead number two guffawed and slapped his friend on the back.
“Guys, stop,” Katie warned, but her voice was soft and tinged with something I didn’t quite recognize, disgust maybe? She turned to me, looked like she wanted to say something, but I couldn’t bear to hear whatever it was she was about to say.
“Anyway, see ya around.” I turned on my heel and headed for the cafeteria.
The next few days dragged by. No matter how hard I tried to concentrate on other things, more important things like schoolwork, I just couldn’t shake the memory of that confrontation with Brad. It replayed in my mind over and over. I stayed home “sick” from school on Tuesday so I didn’t have to face Katie, and by Thursday, I’d built up Katie’s non-reaction in my mind to such huge proportions I considered skipping school. But that wasn’t my style. Besides, I couldn’t skip Chemistry for the rest of the semester. I needed the A to clench that scholarship to State.
So, I dragged myself out of bed that morning, and forced myself through my morning routine. If I were honest with myself, I would have admitted I might have checked my reflection a few extra times, spent a few extra minutes choosing my clothes, worried over my appearance a little longer than most mornings. But I told myself I was just being as conscientious as every other day.
Katie rolled into first period just seconds before the bell rang. Mr. Carlson raised an eyebrow in her direction, but didn’t comment. She slipped behind my chair, moving much more gracefully today than last week, and settled in her seat next to the wall. “Hey,” she whispered from behind the cover of hair hanging in front of her face as she bent to ruffle through her backpack on the floor.
I nodded back at her. Mr. Carlson took to the front of the room and cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention. “Good morning. I trust everyone has read chapter three, on scientific measurement, and is excited to show me what you’ve learned.”
A couple students groaned, and Katie frowned. I mentally patted myself on the back for reading ahead so I wasn’t too far behind the class even though I’d missed the lesson on Tuesday.
Mr. Carlson passed a stack of papers to the student closest to him. “Take a packet and pass them on. Get with your partners and answer the questions on the worksheet. When you get to the last page, you can pick a lab station at the back,” He pointed to the counter running the length of the back wall, and I turned to follow his gaze. He’d set up six stations with beakers and other tools. “And do the activity. I recommend some of you start with the activity, then work on the seatwork portion, so everyone’s not fighting for a station at once.” Then he returned to his desk and the computer there.
When the last two packets landed on the desk in front of me, Katie visibly paled. “Shoot.”
“You didn’t read chapter three?”
She shook her head. A few pairs of students meandered by us to the back of the room.
“It’s okay. Scientific measurement isn’t as hard as it sounds. I can walk you through it. Do you want to do the lab first or the worksheet?”
She looked at the lab stations with something like panic in her expression. “Uh, let’s do the worksheet first.” Then, she scooted her chair closer to mine and leaned in to read the worksheet.
It took everything I had to stay focused on the assignment with Katie so close. Every time I took a deep breath, my shoulder brushed hers, reminding me of sitting next to her in her parents’ media room, touching by not touching. My stomach was a pretzel, twisted up with nervous energy. With each new question on the paper, I had to focus on the individual words and digest the question with purpose, trying to ignore her proximity and the way her hair smelled of apples. We were probably getting every question wrong, but I couldn’t have answered them any better. I was just lucky to be able to form coherent sentences right then.
After Katie had to look up the fourth straight answer in the book because I couldn’t answer it, I dropped my pen onto the table and pushed my chair back from the table. I tilted my head back, looking up at the ceiling tiles, and let my arms fall to my sides on a heavy sigh. Rotating my shoulders to try to relieve some of the tension, I closed my eyes and silently willed myself to just disappear. What was wrong with me? I was acting like I’d never been near a girl in my entire life. How was Katie able to do this to me?
Katie’s chair scraped the floor and the sound of clothing rustling followed, but I didn’t open my eyes to see where she was going. I concentrated on my breathing, trying to tamp down the flood of nerves rising inside me, and calm my pulse back to a normal rhythm. It was almost working.
Until cold fingers pressed against my neck from behind. The touch of Katie’s hands on my skin startled me more than the chill of it, and I flinched the slightest bit.
“You’re so tense.” Her voice was like velvet against my ear, the softest, sweetest whisper as she gently massaged my shoulders. “Is everything okay?”
Her touch sent ripple after ripple of awareness down my spine, and gooseflesh broke out across my neck and arms. Hopefully, she wouldn’t notice the effect her touch had on me. I was torn between scrambling to escape and shifting closer to her. I settled for staying right where I was and hoping my voice didn’t betray my turmoil when I spoke. “I’m fine.”
Her hands continued to move across my shoulders and upper back, never hesitating, even as she said, “I don’t believe you.”
I shrugged.
“Is this about Brad and his friends?”
Angry heat crept up my neck and into my cheeks. “No.” It wasn’t a lie. I hadn’t even been thinking about Brad until she brought him up. But I couldn’t tell her the truth. I would be mortified if she found out that the reason I couldn’t concentrate, the reason I was sucking at life just then was because all I could think about was her, what it would feel like to kiss her, to touch her. And her hands on me weren’t helping me rein in my my wayward thoughts. I had to get out of here.
I was out of the chair and halfway to Mr. Carlson before I’d even consciously made the decision to ask him for a pass, but when I got to his desk, the words were easy to come by. “May I use the bathroom?”
Mr. Carlson looked up from the stack of papers he was grading and raised his eyebrows at me, but in the end, he took out his passes and filled the top one out, then tore it from the book with an audible rip. “Don’t be long.” Then he went back to grading.
I shot a glance at the clock above the whiteboard behind him. There were still twenty-five minutes left before class got out. And I had no intention of returning before the bell rang. I’d come back and get my stuff after I was sure Katie was gone.

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