"You got a light?" I held the cigarette between my lips, and held one hand out to him.
"Yeah, somewhere. Hang on a...here it is." He took a Bic out of his backpack and leaned forward to light me up, but I shook my head and took it with the hand I'd offered. I held it up and began to light, and as if in response, the crowd screamed behind us.
"Always light...my own...smokes," I mumbled, my voice muffled a little by my hands protecting the small flame of the lighter. I brought the lighter down to my hip, held tightly in a fist, and pointed with my left hand to a burn on my extra-large Pantera T-shirt. "See this?"
He leaned over to inspect the burn, and I could almost feel his breath on my thigh. He nodded slowly.
"This is what happens when you let somebody else light your fire. Too many hands, too much confusion, somebody gets burned. See?" I took the cigarette tightly between my lips, and pulled, running my hands through my hair once nervously. Why hadn't I let him light me? I'd seen it, and he would have been that much closer anyways.
"Oh." He sat back against the wall after that single syllable left his mouth, and I listened to the monotonous-seeming chants of the preppy cheerleaders. We got the spirit...yeah, yeah...We got the spirit...yeah, yeah... The smack-smack of their cupped hands clapping echoed over the large cars in the school parking lot. I began to slide my hand for my cigs, glancing at him.
"So-" I blew smoke into the air in front of me through my nose "-you want one?" I held my cloves out to him and shook the pack, jingling my bracelets against my anemically thin wrist.
"Um, no thanks. I'm cool." His cheeks had a slight blush to them as he spoke. I smirked at him, not in the dark at all.
"Don't like the harsh stuff, huh? Don't blame ya. They make your lungs bleed," I said casually, moving the cigarette back and forth and making circles with the smoke. "I got some Marlboro Lights in my bag here, if you want one. 'Course, they'll kill ya just the same." I twisted my body towards my wicked ripped bookbag, looking away from him and his ridiculous blue hair for a second.
He was very quiet at first, and then spoke softly.
"Nah, I'm...I'm trying to...to, uh...quit," he said. His wavy lie didn't cover the truth. But I bit anyway. Very slick, Cool Hand Luke. I smirked again, and winked at him.
"Quit, huh? Very admirable of you." I closed my bag, brushing the side of my hand across one of the patches near the zipper. All of the wicked band patches were all over it-The Clash, Biohazard, Rancid, and of course, Pantera. These groups were wicked, something awful wicked. Except for Everclear. I hoped he hadn't noticed the patch on the bottom of my bag. I wanted to rip it off before he saw it and judged me even worse.
"Yeah, well..." You are such an idiot. I glanced at him with a small quirk in the corner of my mouth, but I saw him studying my bookbag. I quickly ripped the small half-smile off my jaw.
"My mom keeps raggin' on me to quit, but I told her why should I quit when she still puffs over a pack a day?" I let my eyes wander to the payphone, over by the gym door. "Should probably call her. Told her I'd be home around six tonight." I turned my head quickly back to Danny Boy, grinning. "But hey, who cares right? She's probably out, anyway."
"Yeah, probably," he slipped the words through his lips like he was having a hard time moving them. I saw him playing with the tape on the string of his shoe.
"So, Danny Boy, why are you here tonight?" The question had been nagging me since I'd first seen him here. I wanted to know if he'd come to see me. "You don't look much like the football-type." I scanned his long, somewhat scrawny body with my eyes, and I saw him cringe a little.
"Gee, thanks." He smiled shyly, and brought his legs against his chest, and I realized he got the wrong idea from what I'd said. I shook my head and laughed.
"I didn't mean like that, you dork. I meant that you don't strike me as the type who'd want to go watch a bunch of Neanderthols clobber each other over a stupid ball." Thinking a little more on what I said, I quickly decided to add a compliment to it, maybe get on his better good side. "You seem too smart for that."
I saw him become stronger very suddenly; I just sensed his expansion in power. He put his chin out and said, "If you ask me, it's all pretty lame-those morons fighting for their manhood in front of a bunch of middle-aged parents who don't really care about the game. Mom just wants bragging rights for the pancake breakfast after church on Sunday, and Dad's just trying to make up vicariously through Junior-trying to make up for that lost scholarship and fame his bad knee cost him." I had watched him all through his little explanation, enchanted for some reason. I saw him look up at me, and then drop his eyes soon after. I continued to look at him as he continued to speak. "I mean, I don't know what's worse-those chock-full-o'-steroid future frat-boys beating each other into a bloody pulp, or the bimbette blondes jumping up and down on the sidelines, tossing their...ta-tas for the team."
I cracked up at that. I found it extremely funny, just a short phrase he'd said. Tossing their...ta-tas. "You are so funny, Danny Boy." I couldn't stop giggling as I spoke. "Tossing their...ta-tas...You're too much." I dropped my clove onto the sidewalk and brought my hands to my eyes, rubbing away the tears that had formed. "You know, you've really got a thing for words. You should write that stuff down-make it poetry."
"No...no, I just say this stuff...I'm not really..." Real cute, stud, drop the modesty act.
"Well, I think you should." And I suddenly became spiteful, for some odd reason. "You're already a nerd in every other subject, might as well-"
"I am not a nerd!" His sudden yell shocked me, and I moved up against the wall, feeling if I had my back up against something stable I wasn't as vulnerable. He took a deep breath, and shook his head with obvious remorse. "I'm sorry-I didn't mean to yell like that. It's just that...I am not a nerd." He repeated the information to me as if it hadn't sunk in the first time. "I used to get good grades-not anymore."
I pulled a confused look at him.
"Because...because it's stupid. Who cares what kind of grades you get? What's it gonna matter ten years from now how I did in Calculus or Honors English? It isn't gonna matter, not even a little bit. High school's just a way for our parents to get us out of the house while we're hormonally challenged, is all." He didn't look at me while he explained. "And anyway, everyone knows seventeen-year-olds don't study. We're supposed to be too busy having sex and smoking pot."
"Danny Boy, you're retarded." I said it as if I were commenting on the color of the sky that day; it was simply what I thought. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. You know what I would do if I had a brain like yours? You know how much easier my life would be if I got straight A's? Jesus." I rubbed at my eye with a finger, feeling the make-up smudge and also too lazy to care.
"It doesn't make life any easier," he mumbled.
"Sure it does," I responded shortly. "No one would accuse you of being high in class or automatically assume you're a moron just because of the way you look. You're a genius." He looked up at me, as if in shock, and I emphasized with a nod.
"I'm not a genius," he moaned. "I hate school and I hate teachers and...and all of it. I hate these kids we have to sit with everyday and I hate their whispers and their jokes and their mean-spiritedness and-" He stopped, and began to stammer. "I mean, their inane commentary...I mean..."
"You don't have to dumb it down for me," I muttered. I began to feel a little down in the mouth. "I'm not stupid."
"No!" I swear I could hear his organs clenching. "I didn't mean it like...It's just that every time I say something that doesn't start with 'Like, you know...' people look at me funny. They think I'm trying to sound smart when I'm not-I'm just trying to...to talk. I just know words that seem to..." He stopped, and I could hear his frustration in the short silence. "There are words that better convey what I'm trying to say-what I'm feeling." What are you feeling? "And those words sometimes sound...snotty or...elitist." I saw him shrink a little, but I smiled and nodded to him, and it seemed to relax him. He sighed and began again. "Everyone always says so, anyway. So I try not to use them. I try to..."
"Fit in?" I slipped the words in for him.
He sighed again, shrugging his shoulders.
"Guess so. But if you don't mind, then I won't do it. I'll say whatever comes to mind. Okay?"
"Okay." I bit my lip, and I thought if I should tell him that I admired him for what he did, that I liked how smart he was and how he got A's so easily. But then...no, I couldn't. What if he got angry at me for some reason? "Well...I don't know. It might upset you..."
"Mel, you can tell me anything-really." Then why can't I tell you that I want you? "You know I won't get upset." I looked at him, and his face was pulled into something tight and forced. I felt my eyes widen in fear a little.
"Um, okay. It's just that..." Tell him that you want him, tear off his clothes and make him your daddy. "Well, you are a genius. I know you are. I heard Mrs. Brower tell you so in her office last semester." God damn you, Melanie, you're so weak...
"What?" The single word was barely audible.
"I was waiting for another thrilling, life-changing disciplinary session with Vice Principal Keeler-got caught smoking in the parking lot again. Anyway, I was sitting over by his door-you know, on Death Row?" He nodded knowingly and interested.
"And you were in Brower's office and the door was open a little bit. She was telling you that she'd just gotten your SAT scores back early because you got something like a 1580 on them. She was all kinds of excited! I could hear her chair squeaking back and forth every time she said 'Fifteen-eighty! Oh, Daniel!'" I grinned, and reached over and patted his arm. The touch was brief, but it brought my spirit at peace for the moment. "You made her year, Danny Boy! Anyway, she said something about how she pulled up your records and saw that you got...you got a...I don't remember. You got some really high score on an IQ test you took in ninth grade."
"One seventy-seven." He sounded somewhat ashamed as he said it and began untying his shoestring. I nodded.
"That's it-one seventy-seven. I don't know what's good on an IQ test, but from the sound of it, you sure impressed her. Said you could get into Yale and Harvard with those numbers. Said you could-"
"She said lots of things." He sounded somewhat annoyed. "But nothing I cared about."
I didn't talk for a second. He didn't care? Somebody as smart as he was didn't care? It was outrageous.
"You mean...you wouldn't go to those schools if you could?" The words from my own mouth seemed to put a sort of shock over me.
"It's not that." He took a breath of the air, and then I heard his heart in the brief total silence. "I just don't think I want to go to school once I'm done here. I want to...I don't know...Maybe I want to live in Manhattan and drink lots of coffee and wear those black, owl-looking, Buddy Holly glasses and paint really ugly pictures that everyone thinks are sheer beauty. Maybe I want to move to France and spend my days writing really awful, overly emotional poetry in dark cafes. Maybe I want to live in Seattle and grow my hair really long and smoke a lot of weed and start some awful band. Maybe I want to move to the Keys and grow a fluffy white beard and drink too much whiskey and write the great American novel, keeping a shotgun handy next to my old-fashioned typewriter. Maybe I…"
"Maybe you're nuts." I shook my head in complete shocked surprise. "I just...I just don't get you, Danny Boy. I'd kill to...I mean, to be that smart and...Well, it doesn't matter, 'cause there's no chance of that ever..." I looked at the payphone again and sighed. "I don't know."
"Yeah, me neither." Neither of us talked for a few minutes, both of us listening to the version of "We Will Rock You" back on the field. Some of the other kids were around us, and it was almost as if Danny Boy and I weren't there. I noticed a girl and a guy going behind the big oak, and a third one went soon after them. Either a fight was gonna break out or they were gonna have a gay threesome. I heard Danny Boy scratching at something on him, and I decided to talk before he started to moan a lot.
"You read a lot, don't you?"
"Huh?" I glanced at him, and I saw his hand fly up from his waistband. I tossed my hand up to my mouth, and I felt the joy at seeing him mess up in my eyes. He looked at me, and then answered my question. "Um, yeah. Try to. Not so much anymore. But I used to. Why?" His words were pushed together, and he'd only spoken in sentence fragments. It was obvious embarrasment. I swallowed my laughter, but I could feel that horrible smirk still pulling at the corner of my mouth.
"Well, I saw you reading this book one day-poetry. Keats."
His eyes had dropped to the sidewalk, but he looked up suddenly. "You noticed that? Really?" I was able to smile at his mix of shock and relief. Perhaps all I had to do from now on was notice something he did and mention it the next time we talk...
I moved my eyes away from his, suddenly feeling shy. I ran a hand through my hair nervously again.
"Well, yeah, I read Keats for a while." Don't mess up this time, and maybe I'll be able to tell you how I feel, Danny Boy. "I don't like a lot of poetry, but Keats is different. He still sounds romantic and pretentious..." Oh you idiot, now you've done it. Now you really sound like a poindexter, Danny Boy. But don't you dare roll your eyes, Mel. I looked at him intently, pretending to still be interested. But it wasn't too hard for me to pretend, actually. He recovered from his pause. "But his meaning is still evident through all of the pretense."
"I bought a copy of his work after I saw you reading it. Thought maybe if someone my age was into it, it couldn't be all that bad."
"What'd you think?" He chuckled a little. "Bunch of crap, right?"
I looked up without moving my head and closed my eyes, trying to remember. "Oh ye whose ears are dinn'd with uproar rude, Or fed too much with cloying melody..." I opened my eyes, trying to remember even more. "Cloying melody...cloying melody...Damnit! I can't remember the rest!"
"'On the sea'," he whispered. "That's one of my favorites." So he knew what I was talking about, then. Good, good. Now just bring it home, Mel, bring it home.
"Me, too. Wish I could remember it all."
"'Often 'tis such gentle temper found...It keeps eternal whisperings around.' Those are the only lines I remember, and I know they aren't in order." Go on, Danny Boy, keep it up, you're doing me good here. "But they're the most...most melodious lines of the poem, I think. That's why I remember them."
"Why'd you dye your hair?" Whoa, Mel, that came out of nowhere. What are you doing?
"Why'd you dye your hair? One day you had brown hair and you wore Dockers and T-shirts from the Gap. Then all of a sudden you've got blue hair and you're wearing a-" I looked at the front of his shirt "-a TOOL T-shirt with a pair of jeans that look like they're pulled out of the trash. So, why? You got a reason for going from Mr. All-American to Mr. Manson?"
I saw his facial muscles tense up, and I knew I'd hit a nerve. God damn you, Melanie, now you've gone and done it. But I kept my cool and pretended like I'd meant to do it, staring up at his hair until he spoke again.
"Don't wanna talk about it."
"Too bad." I reached into his bookbag for the light, slapping his shin with my hand. The touch was brief, but I could feel his anger. Why was I still doing this? "Quit bein' a jerk and just answer me." Then he let his anger out.
"Why did you cut your hair off and then dye it black? Huh? You look like a freak. Everyone thinks you're a freak." I felt my temper cut right there, but I held it for as long as I could. "You dress like a guy, you don't ever wear dresses or skirts, you do your make-up like Morticia Adams, you look like..." He paused for a second, and I wanted him to apologize, before I let my anger out on him. I didn't want to be angry at him. I didn't want to be angry at him! "You look like a freak." There, I let go. I couldn't hold it anymore. I felt the pure anger on my face as I straightened away from his bag, deciding to screw the light and save it for another time. I began to frantically come to my verbal defense.
"Fuck you, you little nerd!" Everyone that was in the parking lot could have heard me right then. The sound waves echoed back and forth many times. Somewhere behind the oak tree, a girl giggled. "Where do you get off, besides your hand?" I wanted to chase him down like a second-grader, and I was the dog. And truthfully, that wasn't so far from truth. "I'm serious, Danny Boy-Mr. Clean-Cut-Wanna-Be." I used my arms to get away from the wall, and I glared at him as I spat fire in his face. "Freak, am I? That's cool-real cool. 'Cause I don't get enough of that from the jock straps and the snotty rich-girls in school. I don't get enough of that from the teachers and my parents. I'm a freak, I'm a druggie, I'm a whore, I'm a slacker, I'm a waste of space, basically. That's what I get every day from everyone else. Then, I meet you and I think you're pretty cool—not like the rest of 'em. You're smart, you listen to me, and you don't judge me. You're quiet, a little nerdy, but I'm not about to judge you. I forget about the fact that, up until a few months ago, I would see you in the halls getting thrown against your locker by some three-hundred pound football player because you didn't do his homework for him, and how everyone in school would stand around and laugh. I forget about how you suddenly went 'freak' for no reason—probably just to 'be cool'—and I wait for you to explain it to me. I hang out with you three or four times and think, hey—this guy's really nice. I mean really nice. Yeah, he's a poseur, but he's cool. But you're not. You're not at all. You're a jerk, a freak and I can't believe I ever thought I'd hang out with you—that I'd be your friend." I tossed my cloves into my bag while trying to get up and fight the tears falling down the line of my scrawny jaw, leaving a raccoon mask for me to clean up. I went from him as fast as I could.
"Mel, wait!" He leaped up in front of me and wouldn't let me go. "I'm sorry." I refused to look at him while he looked down at me, apologizing. I turned away. "You're right-I'm a jerk!" I heard his voice crack, and then it stayed that way. "I'm the biggest jerk to ever walk the earth. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean it, I swear to God. I know you're not a freak. You're the coolest girl I've ever met. I would never hurt you, I swear. I'm just an idiot. I just didn't want for you to find out what a loser I am. I am a poseur. I'm a wanna-be freak. I don't smoke, I try to do badly in my classes on purpose but somehow I still get A's, I ran over my jeans with my car so that they'd look messed up, I-"
I began to laugh, and I had to lean over and hold my stomach. I heard him stop, and then he said something that took a second for me to register.
"What are you laughing at?" He took a step back, and I looked up at him and covered my mouth, still hunched. "What's so funny?"
"I'm sorry...I'm sorry..." I snorted very loudly, and then I couldn't hold it in anymore. I laughed right out loud, so hard and so loud. "You...You ran over your jeans...with your car...to look cool? Oh God!" I went backwards against the wall and slid down to the ground, cradling my aching stomach. I felt his eyes on me, but I didn't care; I was still in hysterics.
"S'not funny." It sounded like a mere growl from his mouth right then. But I could smell the humor in his voice. "Ahem. I said it's not funny." I laughed even harder, getting a thought.
"Have you ever even listened to TOOL? Do you even know who they are?" He chuckled a little.
"No. I just got this shirt because the guy at the CD store had one on. His whole freaking head was pierced, so I figured if anyone knew-"
"Oh my God." I nearly choked on my own words as a laugh tried to escape my throat again. "This is too...too much...the guy at the CD store!" I laughed again, and then I felt him beside me, laughing.
"Wanna know something else?" He was taking great gulps of air at once, so even that short sentence was hard for him to make out.
"What? Oh God, what?" I could barely get that out. My stomach hurt terribly, I was laughing so hard. I was only making a small hissing sound I was laughing so hard. I couldn't get a breath in, it hurt so badly, but it was a good hurt. I was crying I was laughing so hard.
"My mother dyed my hair for me." I fell to the side laughing, and he emphasized with a nod. "She did! She did! She sat me down in the kitchen and put a towel around my neck and put the dye in my hair for me." He was laughing so hard, and it sounded like his gut hurt too. "I told her...I told her it was for a play at school."
"Oh my GOD!" I punched him in the arm and sat up and shoved him with two hands. I had finally found the ability to stop laughing. "What did you tell her you were playing? A Smurf?" Great, Mel, more shit to deal with...
"No. An alien. I told her it was a play about aliens."
I laughed for at least ten minutes without stopping. I was crying so hard as I did so. My anger was gone now, long gone.
"Oh, Danny Boy." I wiped my eyes with the hem of my shirt. You kill me. You really do."
"Yeah, I'm a killer...I really am sorry." I nodded.
"I know you are. Me too. I didn't mean all that stuff I said. I just get really pissed when people call me 'freak' or whatever."
"Just like I do when people call me 'nerd' or 'wanna-be'." We're very much alike, you and I, Danny Boy. "But I really am those things. I really am a nerd and a wanna-be. I have no right to get upset. But you..." He sighed, pausing for a second. I know what you're gonna say, Danny Boy, and I am those things. I am. "You aren't those things, and people still call you that. I'd get mad if I were you, too."
I stared over at the payphone and began to pretend like it never happened. "Maybe I should call my mom. It's gettin' kind of late, and the game'll be over soon and all those people are gonna be walking around, bugging us. I should just call her and tell her I'll be home soon." There was a short, uncomfortable silence, and then he asked me something.
"Why are you here, anyway? I mean, at the game. I mean, we're not actually at the game, but...you know..." I hadn't thought about it before. I just shrugged, my shoulder scratching roughly against the wall.
"I dunno. Wanted to be out in the world for a while. Why are you here?" Say you came to see me, fuck with my mind and body...
"Thought you might be here," he said with a small smile.
"Well, then, there ya go."
"Yup." I could feel the heat of his skin, his arm, next to mine. I wanted to lean over and kiss him, make love to him. Then I thought of an idea to at least lean over him.
"I got a question for ya." I leaned over his body and reached into his bag, and pulled out the lighter. I pulled back a little and held it up in front of his face, weaving it back and forth within the sensual air. "If you don't smoke, which, by the way, I knew you didn't, why do you carry this?"
"I dunno. Just in case, I suppose."
"Just in case-uh what? You decide to start smokin'?"
"I dunno. Just in case, like I said. You know, like people who carry a Swiss Army knife." He sounded abated, and somewhat tired. I examined the lighter.
"Looks new. Still got the price sticker on it from 7-11." He sighed deeply.
"So I bought a new lighter-so what? Jesus, what is this? The Spanish Inquisition? Are you with the Gestapo or something?" I very suddenly felt like I had to get away, before I asked or said something too forward to make him run. And my plans had to be executed soon. God, I hated leaving him. I grabbed his bookbag and tossed the lighter inside, and I felt a lump form in my throat at the thought I was leaving him, and I probably wouldn't see him again.
"I really should go." Too soft, Melanie. Expand a little. "I have to go home-I'm gonna be in deep with my mother." Vice Principal Keeler called a play in the game, and I thought, I'm really gonna miss that. The cheerleaders followed. I'm even gonna miss them, the little slutty bitches.
"Okay." Oh, Danny Boy, stop me, hold me, kiss me and fuck me... I stood quickly and took my backpack up onto my shoulder as he let out a great yawn.
"So, I'll see ya later." I brought my backpack to my stomach and fished around for my keys. I could hear them jingling inside. Great way to stall, Mel. You know where they are. You can hear them, you can find them so easily. Stop stalling...Don't stop, Mel. Give him a chance to stop you. Then I heard him say something.
"Pretty eclectic musical tastes." I looked down at him, and he nodded to my bag. "A punk band like The Clash and a pop band like Everclear..."
"Oh, these things. I've been meaning to rip them off. Especially this one." I pointed to the Everclear, and pulled an ugly look of dislike. "I used to like 'em, but then they went and sold out." He nodded, but it wasn't a familiarly knowing nod. "Cool, then. See you later." I turned, and pretended to lose my balance a little. Keep stalling, he has to stop you sometime, just for a kiss. I began to walk, and then he called out to me, to my relief.
"Mel, wait!" I heard him struggling to stand as I continued to walk, a little slower now. Let's go in the back of my car, Danny Boy...Maybe I'll do you a favor afterwards and take you home and then we can go to your room... "Wait a sec!" I heard him hitting his legs, and a small smile pulled the corner of my mouth. But I forced it away quickly. "Hang on!"
I finally decided to give him a break, and stopped and turned around. I was standing by a sewage grate, and I was somewhat afraid of falling back into the large puddle. So, it wasn't that hard to keep up with my act of having to go.
"What, Danny? I've gotta go-seriously." I took a step back as I felt my foot slip a little. He didn't say a word to me, for a short time. The only thing he did was close his eyes. I did the same, for a brief second. A short moment of prayer, something I rarely did at all. Come to me, Danny Boy. Come and bring me down in the water, I don't care as long as you're there with me, holding me... I opened my eyes, and his were still closed. I looked at him calmly as he opened them and clapped his jaw shut with the sound of a door latching. Then he finally spoke.
"Never mind. Not important. I'll see you on Monday, before class." He fell back against the wall, and I felt a smile threatening to pull across my lips. Don't give up now, Mel.
"Monday. Cool. And Danny Boy?" The battle I'd fought against my facial muscle urges was lost. The grin peeled my lips back like an orange rind. Think up something quick, Mel. I took another glance at his hair and got a very good idea.
"Wash that blue junk outta your hair. You look like a corpse or something." I jingled my keys, still grinning, and stepped out of the puddle. Nice save, girl. I waved an arm at him. "Bye!"
"Good night, Mel." I heard him walk forward a little, and I began to pray in my head, walking towards my car. God, Danny Boy, come follow me, get in the back seat and drag me back there with you, please... I unlocked the door, and I tossed my bag into the place he would have gone, had he followed me. I got in behind the wheel, and put the keys into the ignition and started her up. I backed out of my space, shifted into drive, and leaned forward for my light. I held it in one hand as I drove at him, feeling like running him over because he hadn't followed me. But then I thought, No, then he would never have the chance, if we saw each other again. He was facing the wall now, staring at his shadow. I pulled to alignment with the wall, perfect parallel placement, and looked at him through the window. I revved my engine as he tried to say something, trying to emphasize my need to get home and get ready. I waved at him one last time, and then I buckled my seatbelt. Oh, Danny Boy. I hope Fate sets us up later on in life. You lost your chance tonight. I looked straight ahead, forcing myself with some difficulty, and drove out of the school parking lot and back to my house, only to get my belongings.