"Ugh, peanut butter and jelly again. What do you have? Let's trade." Jason doesn't wait for a reply and reaches across the aisle to nab my lunchbox.
I have PB&J too but I'm too tired to tell him so. Even though I'm in the eleventh grade, Mother still packs my lunch every morning. It's not like I can't pour crackers into a plastic baggie or wrap carrot sticks in foil myself; lunch just tastes better when she prepares it instead. And she says making me a sandwich takes about the same time as making Jason and Alex one each, so she doesn't mind. Plus, I have a cool lunchbox. It's one of those old-fashioned tin ones. My Pop Pop, Mother's dad, gave it me on my first day of kindergarten. It was his when he was a kid. The bus rocks back and forth as it bumps across the gravel road and it's hard to sleep, even though I'm fighting to keep my eyes open. I stayed up until two in the morning to finish Their Eyes were Watching God. It's a little past six now, and the sky is starting to get lighter, but I wouldn't mind missing the sunrise and sleeping until noon.
"Hey, you got fudge brownies."
I open my eyes. I love brownies. Jason pokes at the cellophane, mushing up the package and I glare at him with newfound energy. "Give me my brownies," I order, extending my hand. He scrunches up his face but chucks them back into my lunchbox. "Thank you," I say primly, shuffling the contents of my lunchbox to make sure nothing has disappeared under his custody. My fingers hit sharp edges and I notice a slip of paper wedged between the apple and the juice box. Whoa. It's been a while since Mother's left notes in my lunch box. In all the craziness with Dad, she hasn't really had time to write out reminders about doctors appointments or find entertaining comic strips in the newspaper. I unfold it gingerly.
"Darling," the note starts, "The course of true love never did run smooth…but perhaps brownies will help a little. Happy Friday!" I glance down at my lunchbox again. She's given me two packs of fudge brownies stead of the usual one! My mouth starts watering…but what does she mean by brownies helping the course of true love? Like, I should give the extra pack to a cute guy and if he likes them too, I'll know he's my true love? That's ridiculous. Everybody likes fudge brownies.
"You got two packs?!" Jason says, leaning over the aisle between us to peer into my lunchbox again, "I only got one package of swiss rolls! Why did you get two packs of brownies?"
I shrug. On second thought, I'm not sure I want the second pack of brownies. They make me squirm like the hot chocolate talk with Mother last night. Did she mean for me to give them to Jeremy Millikan? Nonononono. I can't give them to him. I barely know him. It would be so weird. Mother's blowing his phone call way out of proportion. He just wanted to know about the English assignment, not date me. Why doesn't Mother understand that? I should split the extra brownies with a friend or— "Here," I say, throwing Jason one of the packages, "Enjoy."
He gives me a probing look. I'm not exactly known for my generosity when it comes to brownies. "Are you sure?"
"Yes." Maybe if I give them to Jason, Mother will realize that she's reading too much into Jeremy's phone call.
Jason rips open the package and stuffs one in his mouth. "Are you feeling okay?" he asks.
I nod. Am I usually that much of a miser when it comes to brownies?
"Just asking," he mumbles through a mouthful.
"I'm fine," I say. Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy Millikan. He's just this guy in my biology class.
Support Framingham High's Mercy Memorial Hospital fundraiser! Student Council will be selling carnations from Monday, January 29th until Tuesday, February 13th in the south building lobby, before and after school, and during 4th, 5th, and 6th period lunches. Guys—what better way is there to express your feelings on Valentine's Day? Girls—carnations are perfect gifts for friends too! So come and —
I look up from the pink announcement slip to see David. He's wearing the green youth group t-shirt from three years ago, the same one I'm wearing under my jacket. "Hey," I reply, "Nice shirt."
He peers at me for a second and then grins, catching my intent. "Thanks, your shirt's pretty awesome too. Is Sam in this homeroom?"
I nod. Braidsdell, Butler, Caswell, Chang, Dali, Delaney. Sam and I have desks across from each other.
"Listen, can you tell him I can't find my calculator either? So he's gonna have to wing it or borrow someone else's."
"Oh," I say, "Yeah, sure." Reverend Gallagher, David's dad, jokes that together, David and Sam could lose the key to world peace, the cure for cancer, and an elephant and neither of them would realize it until it was too late.
"Cool. Whatcha reading?"
"Oh, yeah," he says, taking the pink slip from me, "I got that in first period too. I threw it away…which was really stupid 'cause I can't find my lab notebook for physics and I need paper."
He's not kidding. There's definitely a derivation of Gauss's law that extends from the back of his right hand to his elbow.
"Can I have it?"
"Uh…sure…I actually have extra paper," I rummage around my backpack for my legal pad, "You can have a couple sheets if you want."
"Nah," he waves the pink announcement slip at me, "This is good. Thanks, KT." He disappears back into the hallway before I can finish tearing out the first sheet.
"Morning, Nate," I mumble to the red and black Nathaniel Hawthorne poster as I near my seat in the back of the empty classroom. The bell won't ring for another four minutes and the hallway is buzzing with conversation and slammed locker doors. The only other person in the room is that girl who sits in the middle seat in the front row. She never makes a sound if she can help it. Even Mrs. Roberson is outside, monitoring traffic flow.
My hands are sweaty and I wipe my damp palms on my jeans. I decided to wear my hair loose today, instead of a braid, and it's like a scarf around my neck. My friend Christie once said I look older with my hair down, more mature, more sophisticated. I figure it can't hurt. Even if Jeremy isn't in this class, at least I feel pretty. Not that I'm wearing my hair down for him, or anything.
I take out my battered copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God and my legal pad. I hate spiral notebooks. The wires always dig into my wrist when I write. I'm a lefty and it's more inconvenient than "special," like Mother tried to convince me when I was little. She says I should marry a lefty so my kids will be lefties too, but that cuts down my pool of potential mates to about…oh, four to seven percent of the population. I wonder if Jeremy is a lefty.
Ug. I'm turning into Mother. A phone call is a phone call is a phone call. Not a marriage proposal.
I flip my book open to occupy my mind with something more productive. I'm a bit fuzzy on the ending and reviewing won't hurt since Mrs. Roberson likes giving reading quizzes on Fridays.
The bell rings and a collective groan echoes through the room as our teacher starts passing out blank sheets of paper. I watch the stack make its way down the aisles. First row: Sarah, Ashley, Zach Ward…Second row: Brian, Zach Minike, Daniel…It's not until I get the stack five rows later that I realize that I don't see a single Jeremy. Huh. He probably is in another period…so why did he call me?
"Shortest to tallest from left to right. Come on, people, let's line up and count off." Slowly, I migrate to the head of the line. As a matter of fact, I'm the very first person to the left of Coach. In a gym class of thirty-three, I'm the undisputed midget.
"One," I say duly. The numbers ripple down the line and when it's over, I trudge over to my group.
"Everybody take a good look at your teammates. Give them stupid nicknames, get their phone numbers, I don't care. Just remember who they are." Coach blows his whistle, and before I can even glance at my teammates, the game is in full swing.
Some tall kid in a non-regulation green t-shirt dribbles the ball down the court and makes a basket and people cheer. I can't tell if the guy is on my team or not but I cheer anyway because anyone who can make a basket from that far away deserves to be held in awe. I'm the least athletic person on the face of the planet but since the grade for gym is based mostly on participation, I jog after the crowd and make sure there's at least ten feet between me and the ball. Basketball, or any other organized sport for that matter, is not exactly my cup of tea. Although I do like tea. Peppermint, cinnamon, jasmine…you name it, I'll probably drink it. I'm about as unpicky about tea as I am about brownies. Fudge, chocolate chip, caramel…
Pain blossoms around my ribs. I lose my footing and crash to the floor. To add salt to the injury, the redheaded guy who elbowed me drops the ball on my head. Ouch. My head is spinning and I can hear the blood rushing through my ears. The guy snatches up the ball and dribbles it down to the other end of the court, leaving me splayed out on the dirty hardwood floors.
I see a pair of feet that would put Bigfoot to shame and a blur of green. When my eyes focus again, I realize it's David. He pulls me up. His cheeks are red from running and he's dripping with perspiration. His hands are clammy around my wrists but for once, even though I hate being around sweaty, disgusting boys, I'm grateful because his grip is the only thing keeping me from the ground.
"How many fingers am I holding up?"
I can't tell if he's joking or not but I answer him seriously anyways. "Three."
"Tell me wha is."
Okay, now I know he's definitely joking. "I'm okay," I say, rubbing my forehead, "Who did I run into, anyway?"
"I hate Chris Sommers," I say automatically, making a mental note to avoid all redheads, "He's going on my bad list forever."
"Gallagher! Brassydea…?" Coach checks his roster. "Braidsdell! What are you two doing? Game's in the other direction!"
"Let's go," David urges, jogging towards the other end of the court. I lag behind, more determined than ever to give the ball a wide berth. "I'm open!" the guy I pass shouts and I take the cue to run in the opposite direction. Until I notice a bright orange, spherical object coming my way.
"I have a headache," I complain a period later. I put my head down on the cafeteria table, ignoring the stickiness. It's not too hygienic but my head hurts. I don't care about anything.
"Hey." Someone pokes me but I'm too tired to move so I just wave. "Thanks for letting me borrow your calculator." Sam drops the TI-83 on the table and sits down across from me.
"How was the test?" I ask without lifting my head.
"Pretty easy. I couldn't remember Simpson's Rule though so I made up something up for the third question."
"You made up something?" I repeat incredulously. How do you make up math? The idea makes my head spin even more.
"Yeah, I just wrote down some numbers and stuck an integral sign in front of it. It doesn't really mater. It's just a formula."
"Throw in some Greek letters too," David says as he comes into view and settles next to Sam, "That's what I always do in physics. And give it a subscript. Epsilon sub oh looks so much better than just plain old epsilon."
I grimace. His face is still red and sweaty from last period and his green t-shirt has damp patches. And knowing him, he probably is able to make up stuff and miraculously get the question right. Sam laughs and then the talk turns to the phoenix firebird move in some video game. I tune them out and start on my PB&J, head still down. My remaining fudge brownie (I ate the other one in the package in homeroom) is slightly squishy and I poke at it just to have something to do. After this morning's extra package conundrum, it's nice to have just one left. One brownie is more manageable than four. One person, one brownie. Simple math.
"Are you going to eat that?" David's hand hovers over mine, ready to claim the brownie with a quick flex of his fingers.
I shoot him a look. We don't eat lunch together very often but he knows I don't share unless there are extenuating circumstances. Beads of moisture on his forehead are slipping down the bridge of his lumpy nose but he doesn't blink. I don't know which one would be worse: telling Mother that I didn't give the extra brownies to Jeremy Millikan or telling her that I gave it to David.
He puts his head on the table so that we're eye level. "Please?"
I wave him off. This isn't an extra package we're talking about anymore. This is my brownie. David's always trying to bum food off of me. At the youth group Christmas party two months ago, he ate the antlers off of my reindeer cookies and when I came back from the bathroom, he swore they never had antlers, despite the teeth marks on the icing around Rudolph's head. Besides, it's not like he's starving and I'm being mean by refusing to share. He and Sam buy their lunches from the cafeteria—burnt burgers, soupy mashed potatoes, red jello cups. It's not my fault he's too lazy to get up from the table and stand in line.
"I'll love you forever."
I scrunch up my face. I don't want him to love me forever. I want to eat my brownie. And for him to stop sweating. He's disgusting.
"What's going on?" Sam asks, dropping his head on to the table too, "Why are you guys talking like this?"
David ignores him. "I'll do your physics homework for a week."
Physics is the bane of my existence. I'm tempted for a second until the red seventy-six circled on my last test paper flashes into my mind. I need the extra practice. Plus, he would probably breeze through it all so it wouldn't be a big deal. Giving up my brownie is a big deal though.
"Are you really giving away your brownie? I'll do your math homework for a week." Sam offers.
David narrows his eyes. "Back off, buddy. This is my brownie. Besides, you should probably be giving her brownies if you do her math homework for a week." He turns back to me. "I'll beat up Chris Sommers for you."
David is 6'5'' and the fastest butterfly swimmer our school's ever had, but Chris looks like he could snap David in half like a twig. I'm better off wearing a helmet to gym everyday. From the corner of my eye, I see a group of guys coming into the cafeteria. The one in front is shuffling while his two friends push him forward, laughing. The baseball cap looks familiar and then the guy in front turns and it's…Jeremy Millikan. Headed in my direction.
I sit up.
Tiny black dots wink in and out of my field of vision but I turn my head back to the conversation at the table. Act natural, don't panic. I hear a crinkle of cellophane and hazily follow the long arm in front of me. When my vision clears, I realize David Gallagher is inhaling the last crumb of my brownie.
"Chris will be in the hospital by this afternoon," David promises, licking the leftover fudge off the cellophane.
My mouth drops open.
"Hey, guys. How's it going?"
David ate my brownie.
"Good, man. What's up with you?" Sam and Jeremy do a weird guy-handshake.
I can't believe it.
Jeremy turns to me and smiles, a cute lopsided one. "I finished Their Eyes were Watching God. It was pretty interesting."
My throat feels scratchy and everything seems brighter—the blue of Jeremy's shirt, the gray of the lunch table. Even the snatches of conversation from the table next to ours sound clearer and sharper. My stomach squirms. "Um…" Why did David eat my brownie?
"So…how's your day been?"
Jeremy's words run together. How's your day been, howsyerdaybin. Oh, geeze. Focus, KT. I love fudge. Fudge brownies are my favorite. Oh, man. Jeremy Millikan is talking to me and the only thing I can think about is dessert. Say something witty. "Uh…" Strike that, just say something. This is ridiculous. It's Jeremy Millikan. We've been in the same classes together since middle school. I spent a whole afternoon sitting on his bed, gluing bits of string together for our mitosis/meiosis project in bio last year. I open my mouth.
"—Painful," David says. I look at him blankly and he grins at me, a streak of fudge on his left cheek. I scowl.
"KT's been having one helluva day. You should've seen her in gym. Chris Sommers whacked her in the head while shooting hoops."
I can feel the heat rise in my face and I don't need to hear Sam's snort to know that my face is as red as David's sweaty one. Suddenly I remember that I tied my hair up for gym so now it probably looks like a horse's limp tail. After this conversation, Jeremy and I probably won't speak for another year. And when we do, it'll probably be along the lines of 'thanks for picking up my pencil,' followed by: 'I can't believe we graduated,' and 'have a good life!' "Yeah," I say, finding my voice and trying to laugh it off, "I'm a klutz." My voice squeaks at the end and I swallow hard.
David shakes his head. "You're not a klutz," he says, "You're hand-eye-coordination retarded."
I channel more malevolent thoughts towards him but he looks unaffected.
"Well, I guess we've both got it made, huh?" Jeremy says, nudging me, "I'm a slacker and you're a klutz. We can take over the world together with our mad slacker-klutz skillz."
Take over the world together…take over the world together…"I don't want to take over the world," I blurt out.
"You don't want to be queen of the world?"
David rolls his eyes. "Her little brother bosses her around. I don't think KT is queen of the world material."
"Hey," I cut in indignantly, stabbing my finger in David's direction. Forget about being cool. I'm a total dork and David's blown my cover in less than a minute. I mind as well own up to it. Plus, he ate my fudge brownie. "I'm totally queen of the world material! If I really wanted to, I could turn you into a...into a…"
"Into what?" He takes a final lick of fudge from the cellophane and then tosses it, the plastic sailing between me and Jeremy and landing with a crinkle in the trashcan behind us.
"A midget," Sam suggests.
"Yes! A midget!"
David raises an eyebrow but Jeremy laughs. "Hey," he punches David in the shoulder, "You better watch out. I don't think that's an empty threat."
"Midgets, giants, whatever. I'm hungry. I'm gonna go grab lunch." David stands up.
"Yeah, I should probably go eat too. Bye guys. See ya, KT." Jeremy disappears.
Bye guys. See ya, KT. I cram the rest of my sandwich into my mouth.
Three finals and one homework stand between me and the next chapter. Wish me luck!