Authors: Katja Millay
Tags: #teen, #Drama, #love, #Mature Young Adult, #romance, #High School Young Adult, #New adult, #contemporary romance
When I was eight I went to a spring training game with my dad. Once a month my parents would split up and each take either my sister, Amanda, or I out for the day. One month I’d go with my dad and Amanda would go with my mom. The next month we’d switch. It was March and it was my turn to go with my mom, but since that’s when the game was, I begged to go with my dad instead. I told my mom she could have me April and May to make up for it. Because I was such a fucking prize. My mom said it sounded like a good deal to her and made me shake on it.
My dad and I got home at six o’clock. I had fallen asleep in the car on the way home. He woke me up when we pulled in but he ended up carrying me into the house anyway because my ass was not crawling out of that car. We ate too much, laughed too much, yelled too much. My stomach hurt. My face was sunburnt. I lost my voice and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. It was the last happy day of my life.
When I woke up, I didn’t have a mom or a sister anymore, but apparently it would all work out, because we’d end up having more money than we would ever need. The trucking company’s lawyers said it was a generous settlement. My dad’s lawyers said it was fair. Fair compensation for my mother’s life. Fair compensation for my dead sister. They didn’t consider the fact that I really lost my father, too, that day. That something in him broke, shattered, melted, combusted, disintegrated like the car my mother was driving when an 18-wheeler delivering soda drove right over it. But I’m sure if they had considered that, too, they would have determined that it was also more than fair. Generous, even. I don’t have a sister to bitch about or a mother to talk to or a father build things with. But I have millions of nearly untouched dollars in bank accounts and brokerage funds and life is so very fucking fair.
“It’s completely awesome,” I reply, hoping my agreement will get Kevin to turn back around and impress someone else with his ignorance and talk of legendary partying. “Nobody gives a shit what I do.” It’s true in more ways than one. I look up and focus my eyes on his, hoping he understands.
I go back to finishing the scale drawing I’ve been working on, glad that everyone’s attention has shifted back to more important things, like math tests and hot girls. Mr. Turner is making his way around the room, looking over everyone’s shoulders to check their progress. He passes my table and glances behind me.
“Nastya, you can’t draw sitting up there. Why don’t you move over and sit at the empty seat next to Kevin?” He sounds almost apologetic for asking her to move. I’m surprised he’s even expecting her to do the assignment. So far he’s been acting like she’s not even in the class, which we both know she shouldn’t be. But I guess he got stuck with her, because she’s still here. I think she makes people as uncomfortable as I do. Mr. Turner’s never been awkward with me, but he sure as hell is around her. Maybe it’s the clothes, or lack thereof, because he always seems kind of scared to look at her. I had forgotten she’d been behind me this whole time, and that she probably heard the entire exchange earlier. She starts picking up her things and Mr. Turner shifts his attention back to me.
“Looks good,” he says, checking out the sketch in front of me. “What are you going to use?”
“European ash, probably. Natural finish,” I reply. He nods, but stands there a second longer.
“Everything ok?” he asks and I know he’s referring to the Kevin situation, which is stupid, because I don’t let that crap bother me anymore.
“Everything’s good,” I tell him, turning the ruler on my paper as he walks back up to his desk. Behind me, I hear Nastya hop down off of the counter, the click of her heels hitting the floor. She passes behind me, moving around my table to the one where Kevin Leonard is laughing his self-congratulatory ass off. Everyone’s working on their own now, and the noise level has kicked up considerably, so I’m not sure if I’m imagining things, or maybe I’m just crazy, when I hear the words.
They aren’t even a whisper. They drift into my consciousness so soft they almost have no form, as if they’re made of air and longing, but I swear I hear them anyway. When I look up, the only person who could have said them is settling down on a stool next to Kevin Leonard and I kick myself for being ridiculous, because I know they can’t be real, and that the longing those words were born from is mine.
I make it to art just under the wire, slipping in and sitting at an empty table in the back, behind Clay Whitaker. I’m not much for art but there were no course numbers left to sign me up for an extra shop class. I’d taken them all, so I needed another elective to fill my schedule. Preferably one without homework or thought involved. The path of least resistance is well worn by my boots. Mrs. Carson lets me get by with turning in sketches of furniture that I love and whatever I’m designing to build at some point. Sometimes I draw stuff I see in antique stores. Things I wish I had the talent to make. Maybe one day. I’m not that great when it comes to the drawing. I’m ok. Not terrible, not amazing. I glance at the table in front of me. Clay Whitaker is amazing. He can do with a sketchbook and charcoal what I wish I could do with lumber and tools. I pull out my backpack and rummage through it for the picture I printed off the internet last night. I barely get started when Clay turns around.
“What are you drawing?” He inclines his head to get a better view of the picture in front of me.
It’s a late 19
century George II-style marble-topped console table. Our assignment was to bring in a photograph to recreate so that’s what I picked.
“Table,” I say.
“One day you should try drawing something with two legs instead of four.”
Drawing people doesn’t interest me, plus, I suck at it. “What are you drawing?” I ask.
“Who, not what,” he corrects. Clay rarely draws anything other than people. He’s obsessed with human faces. If I’m forever drawing furniture, he’s forever drawing people. He’s damn good at it, too. It’s almost creepy how realistic his drawings look. There is some arcane quality about his sketches; some way he makes you see past the face itself and into it. I’ve seen him make even the plainest, most uninspiring face interesting in ways I don’t have words for. I’m jealous of his talent. If I didn’t have something of my own to love like that, I’d be insanely jealous. As it is, I can appreciate his ability without hating him for it, but I know there are a few people in this class who can’t. Sometimes I think Mrs. Carson, herself, is one of them. It must be kind of depressing to have to teach someone who surpasses your abilities on every level.
My attention shifts back to Clay as he drags a 4x6 photograph off his table and passes it back to me with a shit-eating grin on his face like he knows something I don’t. I take the picture out of his hands and look down at it. I’m not sure who I expected it to be, but it certainly wasn’t the girl whose face I’m looking at now. Even so, I can’t say I’m surprised. If there’s an interesting face in this school, it’s Nastya Kashnikov’s, maybe just because she never opens her mouth to take away from the mystery. I stare at the picture a second longer than I should. She’s looking in the general direction of the lens, but not directly facing it. The camera must have been zoomed in on her, because it’s not that well focused, and it’s obvious that she didn’t know the picture was being taken.
“Why her?” I ask, reluctantly handing it back.
“Her face is insane, even with all that shit she covers it up with. If I can do that justice, I’ll never need to draw another girl again.” He’s staring at the photograph like he’s picturing how she looks without the make-up. I want to tell him he’s right. What she looks like in that picture is nothing compared to what she looks like without a trace of make-up on and her hair pulled off her face. That’s what I’d like a picture of, instead of having to rely on my memory of her, lost and dripping sweat in my garage at one in the morning.
“I wouldn’t think she was your type.” I yank my attention away from thoughts I shouldn’t be having and put the focus back on him so maybe he won’t notice, but Clay always notices. Clay’s as much of an outcast here as anybody and I know he’s a watcher, too. I’ve seen enough of his drawings to know how many people he studies when they don’t know he’s looking. And when Clay looks, he sees, and that’s the most disconcerting thing of all.
“My dick doesn’t have to want her. Just my pencil.” He smiles at me again, like he’s got some secret of mine. He probably does. He’s always watching me like he never got the message to leave me the hell alone. For some reason, I don’t mind. He stays in the fringes, and other than the shit he still occasionally takes for coming out, he flies under the radar. I go back to my own crappy drawing and then kick myself when my mouth opens again.
“How did you get the picture?”
“Michelle.” The name is an answer in itself. Yearbook Michelle. Clay’s the only one who doesn’t throw the word yearbook in front of her name when he says it. She sits with him every day at lunch, camera all but surgically attached to her hands. “I got her to take it in the courtyard one day when Nastya wasn’t looking.” He shrugs, looking a little guilty, though not at all apologetic. He uses her name like he knows her and I wonder how well.
“She’d kick your ass if she knew you took it.” It’s a dumbass thing to say. I don’t know her well enough to know what she’d do and I’m talking about her like I do. She’s ripped enough to kick his ass, and mine, too. Really, she should have kicked my ass for handing her a glass of vodka when she was hung over, but she laughed in my face instead, so what the hell do I know?
“There are a lot of people who want to kick my ass,” he responds nonchalantly, as if it’s just a fact of life. It’s true that a lot of the assholes in this school want to kick the crap out of him, but wanting and doing are two different things. They still talk shit about him, but nobody’s laid a hand on Clay since eighth grade and he and I both know why.
When my mom died, I went through the angry phase. It’s okay, of course, because anger is acceptable when you’re grieving, especially when you’re an eight year-old boy. People will make a lot of excuses for you. I dealt with my acceptable anger by doing unacceptable things like beating the crap out of other kids who pissed me off. Pissing me off didn’t take much. I was pretty liberal about what would be enough set me off. Turned out, even the unacceptable things I did with my fists were considered acceptable and brushed under the carpet.
I punched Mike Scanlon in the face, twice, because he said my mom was in the ground getting eaten by maggots. I don’t think there was even enough of her body left after the crash to feed a maggot, but I didn’t argue with him. I just nailed him in the face. Gave him a black eye and a split lip. He told his dad. His dad came to my house and I hid around the corner, listening and wondering how much trouble I was going to get in. But he wasn’t even mad. He told my dad it was okay. He said he understood. He didn’t understand crap, but I didn’t get in trouble. And that’s the way it always went.
The only time I really had to answer for it at all was the one time it happened at school. I punched Paul Keller on the soccer field during P.E. and I thought I was in for it. The principal called me in, which had never happened in my life. Lucky for me, he also understood and I got off with a warning and a few trips to the school psychologist. All the kids I beat up learned that no one was going to touch me for anything I did. I could hit them in broad daylight with ten witnesses and even their own dads would tell them to give me a break.
My angry phase had ended by the time I got to eighth grade, just in time for my dad to have a heart attack. By that time, almost everybody left me alone. No one would give me an excuse to be angry at them. Then one day I was walking home from school and ran into three shits beating the crap out of Clay Whitaker. I didn’t even know him at the time but they were kicking him good and I needed an excuse to kick someone back. I had a lot of healthy, acceptable anger built up and they were good therapy. There were three of them and I wasn’t the biggest kid around. They should have been able to grind me into the sidewalk without breaking a sweat. But they had only garden-variety cruelty to fuel them. I had pure unadulterated rage.
Clay was sitting on the ground when the other kids finally ran off. I was hurt and out of breath so I sat down, also, because I didn’t know where to go and I didn’t care if anyone else came looking for me. No one did. I probably would have hit them, too. Clay didn’t say thank you, or anything else to me for that matter, which was good, because I didn’t deserve any thanks. I didn’t do it for him. There weren’t any noble intentions.
I didn’t care if I got in trouble. I didn’t care about Clay Whitaker, sitting a couple feet away, bloody and crying. I just didn’t care. That was the last time I hit anyone. After that day, I decided to wait until someone gave me a good reason. But it didn’t matter, because everyone had already learned that I’d get away with it if I did. I wasn’t even sure what a good reason would be, but I figured I’d know when the time came. And maybe it never would.
I didn’t say a word to Clay before I finally got up and walked home and we never spoke about what happened. I was used to people not bothering me, but after that day, nobody bothered Clay Whitaker, either.
“I’m starting to understand the feeling,” I mutter, and he knows I’m not serious but he throws his hands up and takes the hint.
“Fine. I’ll leave you to your very compelling table. I’m going to draw a girl,” he says smugly and turns around to open his sketchbook.
I used to spend excessive amounts of time thinking about what I’d be doing over the next twenty or so years. It usually had something to do with playing the piano in concert halls all over the world. Which would mean lots of world travel that would include stays at fabulously glamorous hotels with fabulously fluffy towels and fluffier bathrobes. There would also be the unbelievably hot, musically gifted, swoon-worthy princes who would tour with me and inevitably fall obsessively in love with me. Because that happens. I would be revered for the talent that came from my father’s side of the family and the beauty that came from my mother’s. I’d wear elegant gowns in colors that haven’t even been imagined yet and everyone would know my name.