A/N: Not mine. Never will be. Sigh
Happy Memorial Day to those in the U.S. Happy Saturday to those not in the U.S. Look! I can write not angst!
A Slow Revolution
It begins like this: a look, a glance, a tuck of the hair behind an ear and a smile. It's a head nod across the cafeteria, I see you. It's an acknowledging smile, I see you seeing me. And I'm kind of okay with it.
There's nothing that pinpoints the moment it moves from glances to words. She lingers at her locker; he leans against it, preventing her from opening it. She pushes him away and he fakes hurt. It's a look, a glance, a quiet hello and an understanding.
He walks her to class after lunch. It's not a big deal. His class is down the hall - and around the corner and he'll be late and he knows it. "So this is me," she jerks her thumb in the direction of the door.
"And I'm," he points down the emptying hallway and bends his finger awkwardly to show the corner turn.
"You're going to be late," she tells him.
"This is the thanks I get for my gallantry?"
"Gallantry? We were going in the same direction."
"I kept you company," he says. "I kept you from looking lonely and sad. At great personal sacrifice, I might add."
She giggles and waves her hands as if to shoo him. "Go."
He cocks an eyebrow and allows a corner of his mouth to slip into a smile. "I'm going," he warns, "but don't expect this kind of rescue tomorrow."
"I won't," she promises. "And I swear I'll be real sad it about it, too." She pulls her mouth into a frown.
"Good," he calls down the hall.
He's waiting outside the cafeteria the next day. She ducks her head to hide her smile.
He cannot focus on the etude he's supposed to be learning. His fingers sit useless on the piano keys. His brother told him he should learn to play the guitar. In college, his brother said, a guitar brings the chicks like water brings ducks. Sometimes, he wonders how his brother passed the verbal portion of the SATs.
He thinks, instead, about the way she smiled at him. The way she kept shoving her hair out of her face when they walked down the hallway. These thoughts do not help with learning Chopin. Or trig. He wonders if she wonders about him. He thinks he should ask when he sees her again. He does not.
The spring dance committee has tacked fluorescent posters along the hallways. Brightly colored squares with glittering letters line the cinder blocks and she can't help but wonder if there's a sophomore on the dance committee who's determined to out-glitter the prom. She glances at him more than once on the walk to her classroom. It's a dilemma and she knows it. It's worse for him in some ways; worse for her in others. She wants to be asked. She wants to be asked by him. But she doesn't want to go. Images fill her mind of her arms and legs waving spastically as she tries to find a rhythm. He'd be good at dancing and humiliated by her efforts. She can tell by his walk. It's the easy lope of a predator that's used to catching its prey. Cocky but measured by the fact that he doesn't have anything to prove.
She trips over a step. He catches her elbow and helps her readjust the strap of her bag. She feels his fingers in her bones. She's certain her skin will have marks from the whispery brush. (She checks later. It doesn't.)
"So," he says.
"So," she echoes.
"Big dance coming up." He nods at a bright pink flier. "Or so I've heard."
She trips again. This time she thinks the floor is plotting against her. Ask me, ask me, ask me. Don't ask, don't ask, don't ask. She wonders if she can get a stroke from too many thoughts.
"Whoa," he says, steadying her. "Did you leave your balance at home this morning?"
"Shut up," she mumbles. She looks up, blowing a strand of hair from her eyes. "So, dance?"
He nods again. "This is what I've heard. Are you going?"
She frowns. The conversation is not going as she imagined it would go. Although, to be fair, she did think the roses and having her name spelled out on the building would have been ridiculous. And embarrassing. She just kind of hoped maybe he would do something anyway.
She shrugs. "Dunno." She tucks her hair behind her ear. "No one's –um- no one's asked me." She sighs. "And I don't really have the guts to ask anyone."
This time he frowns. "Is there someone you have in mind?" He bumps her shoulder with him. "Come on," he cajoles. "You can tell me. I can pass him a note in gym."
She blinks and her breath catches. Maybe she misread the situation entirely. "I – no, that's okay. I have to get to class." She mumbles good-bye and takes off, not waiting, not wanting, to hear his reply. She thinks maybe she left vapor trails in her wake.
He frowns again. The conversation did not go as planned. He wonders, then, if he misread the signs. He growls at the poster. Dances, he decides, right then and there, are stupid.
The middle goes like this: it's a glance, a look, and sometimes it's hurt and a distance that wasn't there before. The dance has come and gone and neither of them went. An uneasiness slips into their conversations as they realize that they are not as slick and as stable as they thought. They are stuck in a stasis of awful.
"Have you gotten any letters yet?" he asks to fill the space.
"Acceptance letters? To colleges?"
"Oh," she draws the word out, "yes. A few anyway. You?"
He nods and concentrates on peeling his orange. "Yeah." He hates the way the rinds feel under his nails. He contemplates chucking the whole thing, but there are no trash cans. Or worthy targets. It would be a waste of an orange. "I, um, got in early admission from Columbia."
Her face breaks into a wide smile and he smiles back automatically. "That's amazing," she breathes. "Congratulations." She throws her arms around him and he nearly drops the orange. And why is he still thinking about the effing orange?
"Thanks," he huffs out, as he wraps his arms around her. He plants his hands on her back strategically. He can feel her bra strap.
"Your parents must be so proud." She smiles again, he can feel her cheek rise against his ear, and pulls back. He shrugs, trying to be cool about the whole thing: college, her smile, the hug. Her bra strap. He's failing.
"Yeah. They're really excited. Although the distance thing bothers them a little." His mom spent the night crying.
"I guess that would be kind of hard. I wonder how my dad will take it."
"How big a distance are we talking?" He thinks he's being nonchalant. He leans back against the cafeteria table and raises an eyebrow. Until today, now, he never really thought about it. Maybe he just assumed she was going to state school. Maybe he's an asshole who doesn't think. Because if he thinks about it, he comes to two conclusions: she's smart. Really smart. And there's nothing wrong with state schools.
"I don't know. I'm still waiting for a few schools," she says, settling back against the table. Mimicking his pose without realizing it. "I'm leaning towards Penn. Or maybe Princeton."
"The University of Pennsylvania?" He feels like a bigger jerk. He didn't know she was that smart.
She blushes, but her lips turn down at the corners in reaction to his surprise. She slides the zipper of her bag back and forth, listing to its teeth catch and release. "That's amazing," he echoes her words and her lips turn up a bit. Just a bit.
He pulls his phone – the one that should be in his locker according to school policy – out of his pocket and googles distances. "You know," he says, "it's not that far between New York and Philadelphia."
"I did know that."
He slings an arm around her neck and pulls her close. He presses his face into her hair. "You and me, tearing it up on the East Coast."
She nods. She likes the sound of that.
The end goes like this: school is gearing up for the milestone moments. Prom, graduation, skip day. There's a current buzzing through the students, a low, steady hum that keeps them vibrating and restless as the calendar days are crossed off.
She's made up her mind. She's going to ask him to prom. She doesn't want to be the only girl in her class without a date. She wants to be his date. She really, really hopes he does too.
Her nerves make her more jittery than usual. She lets her first self-imposed deadline slip by when she spills orange soda on herself at lunch. She doesn't want what will already be an awkward moment to be worse because of a giant orange stain on her white shirt.
She sets another deadline that goes by when she can't get him alone. He spends lunchtime with the baseball team. They have a game with their rivals that night. She wants to go but she has to work and he never said anything about wanting her there. And they're not boyfriend and girlfriend. So now she can't go and she's stupidly hurt that he's not with her and that he hasn't asked.
She glances up and sees him staring. He nods and she smiles. I see you. I see you seeing me.
He's going to ask her. But she's wily and he can never get her alone. And the more time that slips by, he wonders if there's a point. It's June. Or it's almost June. And in three and a half months, they'll be in different schools. They'll be meeting different people. And this is the real world. Not a movie. Maybe they would stay together. But also maybe they wouldn't. There's something to be said for never knowing.
A decision is made to go as a group. They dance and laugh and pose for pictures. They wear tuxedos and dresses and arrange themselves on their parents' lawns. She edges away from him. He doesn't seek her out. They dance with other people, but not with each other. Their eyes catch once over their partners' shoulders. I see you. A slow blink in response. I see you seeing me. They spin in opposite directions. Because this is the way it will go now.
Graduation comes and the forecast calls for a shower of yellow mortarboards. She's done and he's done. And they're done. And she's okay with it. Mostly. And so is he. Mostly.
It begins like this: it's the Thanksgiving rush and they're in a security line in Newark's airport. She's wrestling a suitcase doubling as a carry-on. He's thrumming with impatience until he realizes who he's behind. He taps her on the shoulder. She turns, prepared to get yelled at, and blinks. "Hi," he says.
She breathes out her response. "Hi." He smiles and she smiles back. They chat as the lines presses forward to the check points. She waits for him on the other side, pretending it's taking her that long to get her shoes on. They walk slowly to the gates, watching each other from the corners of their eyes. I see you. A smile. I see you seeing me. And I'm kind of okay with it.