Post-9/11 news became exhausting: the new way of life. This was the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Kennedy Assassination, The Pearl Harbor of her generation. Bette wanted to do something. Morning announcements mentioned the school paper needed people to come in and contribute. It wasn't much for being 15, in the grand scheme to help, but something.
After school, Bette entered the classroom; not knowing anyone. Bette was drawn to Sylvia, the editor-in-chief of the school paper: The Blue Bull. Sylvia sat at a laptop with people around her. Sylvia was authoritative but respectful. Bette could hear her clearly from across the room; she didn't yell, she sounded cheerful.
"Take the multiples of your drafts; put them in the copy edit pile." Sylvia told someone. "Can you come up with 50 more words for the football article? Two solid quotes would do it." She told another student. They both left her; she clicked away on the laptop.
"Yeah!" She smiled.
"Hi. I'm Bette. This is my first time here. I wanted to see if I could help."
"Sure." She pointed behind Bette. "Those drafts need proofing and editing. You got an eye for that?"
Bette smiled. "Yeah. I'm a stickler for grammar."
"Great. Grab a colored pen, mark the articles as you go. Make notes of anything questionable: sentence structure, ambiguous pronouns, et cetera. Initial the bottom when you're done." Sylvia clicked away on the laptop.
Bette sat at desks where copies of articles were. She grabbed a green pen, and read. She marked Oxford commas, wrote in better action verbs, and more. It was a verbal puzzle; Bette wrote the answer key.
She started her third article when Julio MacMurray sat beside her. Bette saw him out of the corner of her eye. He was a senior, Mexican-Scottish, Heath Ledger-good looks, sandy skin, black hair, short and gelled. An amazing dancer, showing his skills at school dances and talent shows. He came from money. He wore pristine Adidas laced so loose they looked like they would fall off his feet, his clothes were Abercrombie & Fitch that day, a Fossil watch, a platinum chain, a white gold class ring, and had both ears pierced with quarter karat diamonds. He was fine art: pretty but unattainable; Bette appreciated him as such. She kept reading, unmoved by him. She initialed the paper setting it on the empty desk across from her.
"I'm here. Nobody's sitting there," said Julio.
Bette did a double-take. "Sorry." She handed the article to him. "I figured you'd grab an unmarked copy."
He plucked the paper from her. "How else do I get your name?" He asked.
Bette got a look on her face like she saw an object talk. She continued to edit without answering him. She read an article about lunch times when Julio tapped her. "I didn't find anything wrong with this." He handed it to her.
The article about school busing versus city busing, it was the first in her finished pile. She looked confused, "I did." She reached to the copy in her finished pile and handed it to him covered in green ink. "You didn't find the bad pronouns? There are no quotes in it. It's an opinion piece with nearly no opinion."
"I guess not...B.W."
Pretty, but not smart. She finished reading and asked Sylvia if there was anything else she could do. "Can I see the copy you went through?" Bette grabbed the dozen articles she had gone through, edited, and handed them to Sylvia. Sylvia paged through them. "Good notes." She looked at Bette. "Come back next week when we do edits again. Put your name on here so I remember you. Otherwise, no." Sylvia set the papers down and continued typing.
"Thanks. I will." Bette smiled, put her name on the paper, put her pen back, and left. She went to her locker down the hall to get her backpack.
She heard, "Bette Wheeler."
"Nope. Not my name."
"That's what you wrote down."
She took her backpack, closing the door. "Wouldn't have misspelled it." She was so dismissive of the conversation; she wasn't fazed she was having it with Julio.
His backpack slacked over his shoulder. The patch of the bull's eyes were on either side of the strap. "Then how's it spelled so I can call you?" He pulled out the Nokia phone.
"I'm not sure who you think you're talking to, but you have me confused with someone else." She walked away.
He caught up, speaking confidently and playfully, "B.W.? Green pen. Sitting next to you."
She breathed a laugh not breaking her stride. "There's all your knowledge on me, Julio."
"Who told you my name?"
She scoffed. "You're kidding me?"
"You're not white paint."
"What's that mean?" He asked sincerely.
"Talent shows? Assemblies? My friend Terry can dance pretty well. But you make him look like Lawrence Welk."
"Who's Lawrence Welk?"
She stopped in the school lobby, covering her eyes briefly. "Is this a prank? Is this some 'She's All That' shit? Because I'm likely to have this turn out like 'Carrie.' No one wants that."
His face brightened, "I like 'She's All That.' Usher's in it. People say I dance as good as Usher."
"You dance as well as Usher."
"Thank you!" He said chipper.
Bette rolled her eyes walking out the doors. He caught up to her. "If your name isn't Bette Wheeler, either my eyesight or your handwriting is terrible."
She laughed genuinely. "My hand writing. You're trying to be funny? Or you're messing with me?" She asked skeptically.
"Which will get me your number?" He asked.
She checked her watch. "You have three minutes to convince me this isn't a joke, because I'm not convinced."
"I have a bus to catch. If you're serious, is this how you wanna spend your time?"
"Wh-What's your last name?"
He looked her over, trying to pick up information. "Where did you get your outfit?"
"Most of it, Sylvester's Consignment, downtown. The t-shirt was my mom's in college."
"You have interesting taste."
"Uh-huh." She looked around. "Still waiting for the punch line - when you laugh at me."
"Why would I laugh at you?"
"I'm a sophomore. You got my name wrong. You insulted my handwriting. You called my clothes 'interesting,' not cool like yours. You had no idea what I was talking about when I corrected your grammar, mentioned Lawrence Welk, or Carrie. You're goading me into something or messing with my head. I should be a ghost to you. I'm the perfect fodder for a joke. I always have been." She spoke deadpan through the whole thing. "So, Julio MacMurray, the gorgeous dancer, asking for my phone number; if this isn't the biggest fucking prank on me, I don't know what is."
Julio's eyes were saucers. "What-"
"That's three minutes." She didn't look at her watch. She was bothered from talking to him. She remembered how Pete had been a suave talker and he wasn't even good-looking. Julio was one of the best-looking guys in school, easily. He might be pretty, but not my type, even if he can dance. He's messing with me or a moron. No thanks.
He caught up to her and kept walking with her, "Look, I don't know you. But you didn't get all giggly when I spoke to you. You showed up to the newspaper and you corrected all their stuff. You're not dumb. What can I say? You're-I don't know, a-a breath of fresh air."
Bette stopped walking and checked her watch. "You have one minute."
"Can give you a ride home-"
"Nope," she interrupted and walked. "I don't get into cars with people I don't know, not after Pete Johnson."
"Everyone knows that guy can't hold his load."
She turned, "How do you think he got that reputation?"
"I'm no Pete Johnson."
"No. You're Julio MacMurray and no one will believe me." Bette walked to the bus stop.
The next week was homecoming week. The theme was 'Around the World.' Wednesday was Toga day, by the end of the day Bette's bed sheet toga was falling apart. She had to wear her sweatshirt from her locker and safety pin the sheet around her waist. She was self-conscious most of the afternoon. She showed up to the Journalism classroom to edit. She wasn't going to let her embarrassment keep her from her commitment to Sylvia. She sat awkwardly marking articles in green. Julio sat next to her and began marking articles. She ignored him and everyone around her. Julio whispered shyly, "You always dress up in sheets?"
"You don't have to be funny. It's not your best trait. You have better ones."
"Don't goad me."
"You're serious?" He was quiet a second. "You're always that confident?"
"Only when I think I'm being messed with."
"You're not supposed to end sentences with prepositions."
Bette laughed. "That's funny."
They spent the next hour reading articles, going over the errors they found. Bette checked the clock. "I gotta go if I'm going to catch my bus."
"Are you going to yell if I offer you a ride?" Julio asked cautiously.
She mushed a smile. "If the offer stands. I didn't think about the toga and the city bus. It wasn't something I wanted to wear there."
He stood. "Meet you in the lobby?"
"I'll be down in ten."
"See you there." Bette felt herself redden. She took their finished articles and brought them to Sylvia.
Sylvia flipped through them. "You had better notes last week. Don't let Julio distract you. He's not worth it."
"I didn't- I wasn't- We were helping each other." She fumbled over her words .
Sylvia stood, "I'm not mad. I wouldn't blame you. He's not a bad guy, but not a good one. He's got a system. He's going to be sweet, use you, dump you, then act like nothing happened."
"How does that not make him a bad guy?" Bette asked confused.
"He would have to be smart enough to have the intent to be malicious. He knows he's hot and charming, but not smart enough to have intelligence, intellectual or emotional."
"That seems harsh."
Sylvia whispered. "Harsh is going to Harvest Ball as a first date last year, swallowing his spooge after four pumps, then getting dumped immediately." Sylvia looked annoyed.
"Holy shit," Bette whispered. "He's gonna make me do that? I've never-."
"No. We both wanted to. I was warned he was going to do that."
"Shoot his load?" Bette asked.
"That, and dump me afterwards...He's fun, just don't expect anything from him."
"Why aren't you bitter? That's gross what he did, on multiple levels."
Sylvia got a superior look, "Because when his looks and money run out, he's going to have nothing. He's peaking in life now. He has no clue."
"That's bleak. How can you be sure?"
"He's a moron! I read his contributions to the paper, nothing he writes is worth the ink." Bette looked disturbed. "He's pretty and doesn't last." She picked up her letterman jacket. "He's the letterman jacket of people. Even if you can get one, don't bother getting one. You'll never wear it after graduation."
"I get it." Bette started to walk away.
"You edit well. You ask the right questions. Contribute to The Blue Bull. I think with the right subject, you could do something."
Bette grinned. "You have no idea how much I needed to hear that. You're a powerful lady."
Sylvia laughed. "Then we're unstoppable."
Julio took Bette home, she thanked him, but let him know that she wouldn't be needing anything else from him. Julio was surprisingly nice about it.
"You didn't see me giggle, I may have thought like that," Bette said getting out of his car.
"What did you think?"
Bette saw his letterman jacket; bull patch stared at her. "You're a senior. I'm not looking to invest in something that's not going to last."