They always ask that question. 'They' being this vague, general, unassigned group of people. 'Describe yourself in one word', and even though that's actually a direct, simple, essentially thoughtless task, Noel's mind always jumps around like it'd been infused by an onslaught of offending beet powder.
He doesn't have a problem with words--he's never had a problem with words, not exactly--well, okay, he actually has a sort of word-vomit issue, that's all--but you ask him to pin himself down, to, basically, sum up his entire being in the most basic, plain way possible, and he's fumbling over adjectives the way he, at the embarrassingly geriatric age of 17, had first touched a girl some way other than platonic. Nervously, self-consciously, a little self-deprecatingly.
With a deep, this is it release of held in air, like free-falling off the side of a cliff, he spits it out: "Spaz."
Felicity is sitting across from him. Felicity, who technically lives a couple doors down, who has this amazing hair that is pretty inspiring (as far as hair goes, but. That goes without saying, right?), who the very thought of makes him smile, is on his bed, sitting Indian style, laughing at him. "Spaz?" she says with big, amused eyes, eyes that--and, alright, so he'll either sound like some kind of manic, depraved freak or a poetry-writing, cello-listening goober--glow with life and happiness, and she laughs again, a loud, throaty, head-tilted-back-and-eyes-squeezed shut laugh.
Naturally, Noel thinks about kissing her.
Which would be wrong, on about a million essential levels, most of which have to do with this primitive but deep-driven teacher/student relationship they formed when they first met, and, yeah, Noel is just the R.A. and she just so happens to be this lowly (according to, like, every hierarchal system ever), lost freshman that had randomly been assigned to his floor, but there are boundaries that respectable R.A.'s don't cross. Like, explicit boundaries. Fraternization between R.A.'s and their fledgling advisees is frowned upon, like some big, scary 'They'll put it in your permanent record!' frowning thing, whatever your permanent record even actually is--it probably doesn't even exist, but that doesn't matter, because the idea behind the actuality is larger than that.
Still, he's staring at her lips. Pretty obviously, probably, and there's this sudden sensory explosion where time slows down and things feel too real, like very real and intense, where he feels like the possibility of him kissing her is less of a rapidly reoccurring fixed point in both nightmare/dream and more like something that he could let himself let happen.
"I can't believe," she says, breathless and happy and oblivious--so, so oblivious, and that pushes him headfirst out of his reverie, "that out of everything--that out of millions of words, literally--you choose spaz."
He feels himself smile. He also feels like he might puke, because ever since third grade and Louisa Metford and her pigtails and gap-toothed smile, nausea is the appropriate Noel-response for having a crush on a girl. "Yeah, well. Hence my reasoning."
"Yeah, but spaz?" She laughs again, short-lived and fond like the memory isn't only 30 seconds old. "Noel, c'mon. Seriously? Spaz is... okay, here's something totally applicable: spaz is Richard."
This time, Noel laughs. And maybe purposely erases an inch of that separating space between them with a stealthy type of scooting. The mattress dips under his weight, handing him another inch for free. "Richard?"
Stifling her own scandalized grin--like calling Richard a spaz is blasphemous, not the actual truth--she nods her head. Curls bounce and spring and drive him crazy.
"I feel like--like you're handing my spaz-thunder over to Richard," he says, a total put-on whine, because when in danger of exposing your deep, dark secret crush on totally the wrong girl in a way that may or may not (likely it's may) involve the illicit act of chaste, verging on virginal kissing, acting like a 6-year old is commonly acknowledged as the best thing to do.
"Your spaz-thunder?" She drags it out so that it's at least 8 syllables long and seemingly translated from another language.
"My thunder that is spaz. My spaz-thunder. It was mine, you gave it to Richard, and now. Now I'm calling you out on it. You gave Richard my spaz-thunder."
"And you want it back?"
See? This is why she's so perfect. She gets him.
Felicity falls back onto her hands, arms propped behind her. She eyes him critically, like she and she alone holds the proprietary rights to the word 'spaz' and therefore it's her sacred duty--nay, obligation--to distribute it as she so chooses.
Then Noel's door flies open, the doorknob smacking into his little wooden bookstand that like a million times before he's considered moving because of this right here always happening, and Richard himself is Kramer-ing his way into Noel's dorm room.
"A-HA," he shouts in greeting, which is pretty typical of Richard, "I knew it!" His eyes get that discouraging crazy look in them, and he nods in a slightly sociopathic way. "I knew it! All this, this, this trysting goin' on behind closed doors! Not on my watch, buddy! Pal."
Which is when Noel makes an attempt to dispel the insanity. "Richard, Felicity and I were just--"
"I know what you were doing!" The nodding is more vigorous now, as is that gleam of deepening dementedness. "Uh-huh, and guess what?"
Felicity stares with wide, shocked, mostly horrified eyes at Noel, while Noel does his best to diffuse the situation with calmness. And some bartering. "What do you want, Richard? You want a grill in your room? Fine. Have a grill. Have two grills."
"You think it's easy-fixin' for you, pal?" The eyes-of-crazy narrow into slits. Threatening, knowing slits. "Just wait. Just you wait." He starts backing up into the hallway, still locking Noel into a steely gaze. "You're outta here," he predicts as some final grand declaration, then slams the door behind him. They can hear him through the door saying, "Out of here!" one last time, muffled and overly theatrical.
"Wow," Noel says into the awkward silence Richard's departure leaves them with.
Felicity starts to push forward. "Should I--?" The 'go' is implied.
"No! No, c'mon. Because of Richard?"
"I just think--I mean, he's right, isn't he? I shouldn't be here. Or. Wait, what am I saying? Why shouldn't I be here? We're friends. Friends talk. Sometimes friends even talk on separate consecutive occasions. So I shouldn't go."
He likes when she talks her thoughts out loud like that. Rambles them as one long rhetoric, like she's opening up and letting him in.
"You absolutely should not go," he agrees stupidly.
"Because then Richard wins." Again with the thought-speaking.
"See? This is why it's substantially important that you don't go. Not only does Richard win, but I lose out on astute observations like that."
She lets out a deep breath, leaning forward. "God, he is so--"
"Yes! I mean, like it's anybody's business who you decide to talk to."
"Or have as a friend."
"Absolutely!" She's getting riled up, her voice rising with something like disdain. "And it makes me feel like a pawn. Like a weird pawn in whatever's going on between you two--"
"Oh, no, Felicity, that's not--"
"I mean, I know. Obviously I know. I'm not saying--or, okay, I already said, but I'm not implying in any way that you have any involvement--"
"Because I really, really don't--"
"Oh, I know. I know. It's just--"
"You feel like a pawn."
"Yeah! He comes rushing in here like, what? There's something going on between us? How ridiculous is that? I mean, if he started something, you know? Like a... a rumor, or whatever."
"Oh, yeah. Yeah, that would be... bad. That would be very bad."
"Are you kidding me? That would be a colossal disaster."
He knows she means it in the most unspecific, impersonal way possible, but there's a part of him, a part that's never been rational or all that sane, that, well, takes it in in a very specific, personal kind of way.
She breathes out deeply, starts unfolding her legs. "Maybe I should--"
He springs off the bed. She looks startled, but he turns around and goes to that nicked up little bookshelf. His eyes scan over rows of mostly college textbooks, stupid souvenir knick knacks he picked up his first year here--a miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty, a snow globe with the the Empire State Building inside, an 'I heart New York' button--and his large, geeky collection of computer games, until--there--just what he's looking for. He grabs the box and spins around, holding it high, almost like he's wielding something far more crucial than--
"Boggle?" Felicity's face twists into confusion.
He flaps around as he flops back on his bed, very insistent. "This is like, the best game you can ever play."
"Boggle?" she repeats much more dumbfounded.
"It's got this natural soothing ability. It's basically some step-child deviance from a regular board game, but, trust me on this, there is no way possible that you can play this game and not feel wholly calm."
He starts taking out the boggle pieces--the timer and letter cubes--and sets them between them, in the slight sinking valley where their knees are angled only inches apart. "Definitely," he assures her.
"Noel..." she says, in this soft, almost maternally proud voice, which is just--wrong.
Shrugging, he brushes off the fondness he almost thinks he can hear. "Just think of it as a post-Richard cleansing experience. I'm attempting to Boggle away the bad." He holds up the tiny hour glass and smiles crookedly. "In ninety seconds or less."
"Alright," she says with some building excitement, and she's leaning forward now, smiling, too. She takes the game tray out of the box and sets it on the bed, then starts arranging letters inside.
"You should know," he tells her while dolling out pens and two separate pads of paper, "that I'm pretty awesome at this, so when it comes to your imminent and inevitable Boggle-demise, don't, like, feel bad or anything."
"Trash talk? Seriously, Noel?" She sounds amused.
His smile reaches his eyes, and he places the plastic see-through top in its designated spot. With her watching him, almost laughing, he picks up the tray and gives it a good, long shake. "You ready?" he asks, teasing, playful. "Think you can handle it?"
She rolls her eyes and grabs the hour glass. "I think I can attempt it."
Then Felicity tips the timer over, and the sand starts winding down.