Author's Note: This story is based on an utterly peripheral character (played by Joan Cusack) that shows up but a handful of times in John Hughes' 1984 film, Sixteen Candles. In the movie, this teenager (the narrator of my story) has no dialogue, no name—in the credits, she is merely listed as "Geek Girl #1." The purpose of this tale, then, is to flesh out this character that I've always found intriguing in her randomness, melancholy in the inadequacies the film exploits for comic relief. I wanted to give this girl an identity, a voice, and speculate on her plight—basically, give her a story of her own.
Geek Girl #1
From the Periphery of the Drinking Fountain
Just trying to get a little water…crap, I'm thirsty. Yet my face is dripping wet. Soaking with fresh, otherwise drinkable water that is only going to evaporate and fall to earth again to quench other people's thirst. But not mine.
I remember drawing a diagram of the rain cycle once…it was for a project in grade school, complete with arrows indicating the flow of the process…you know, how the rain falls and replenishes lakes and rivers and helps flowers grow, then up it goes, back into the sky as vapor, and so on and so forth. I had drawn these huge downy clouds that had smiling faces. So did the flowers; they were daisies. Everything in my diagram smiled, actually, even the disproportionately gigantic bees buzzing around those god-forsakenly chipper daisies. The 'A' I got on that project had me grinning as big as a badly drawn bee for my entire journey out the classroom, down the hall, through the main entrance, and into the…rain. As if on cue, lightening sliced through very un-fluffy, scowling clouds just before one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-BOOM. Drenched. No umbrella…cold…face dripping…yet so thirsty…
I snap my head to the right with a "Huh?" only to wince over my brainless error. Have to control those reflexes.
"Jesus, use a sink to wash your face, people drink from that!"
Jolted from my meandering thoughts, I mutely step aside from the drinking fountain and weave my way back toward the gymnasium, guided by the amplified bass tones of the music, since a translucent film of fused hydrogen and oxygen atoms now obscures my vision. Dabbing my mouth with the printed fabric skirt of the lady embroidered on my sweatshirt—a sixteenth birthday gift from Grandma—I muse to myself, yeah, I suppose people do. No wonder I can't. Just a few more minutes and I know my face and sweatshirt will be dry. Unfortunately, I know by then I will not have succeeded in evaporating with the water.
And I'm still so thirsty. Parched. I lament the futility of water fountains.
It's because of the neckbrace, you see. Yeah, as if you could miss it. Three more weeks caged inside this contraption, three at the very least. I suppose I'm already used to my head's considerably limited range of motion after having to wear headgear day and night for the entire two years I wore braces—most people don't have to wear it publicly like that, but my orthodontist declared my overbite to be uncommonly severe. Oddly enough, he still carries the plaster cast of my teeth around with him to assorted dental conventions. I would feel a trifle violated over that if having some sort of distinction didn't feel kind of flattering. The whole thing has the essence of immortality, if you think about it—that cast is a statue, like fossilized evidence of my very existence…I mean, dental records are the primary means of identification for decomposed bodies, so, in a way, teeth are our identity.
And such are my allotted 15 minutes of fame, all used up on an overbite I no longer have. At least my teeth can chalk one up for posterity.
It was when I was leaving the dentist office after having my braces taken off, actually, when I pulled out of the parking lot without looking in either direction (force of habit thanks to the headgear) and rear-ended a pickup truck stopped at the adjacent red-light. The damage to either vehicle was minimal, but I received a case of whiplash evidently bad enough to warrant this harness. Yet another ring of metal to invade my lower peripheral vision. That is what my English teacher would call "ironic."
Uh oh. Cough resulting from dry throat ready to strike…must suppress spasm…
I can't help but vocalize my neck pain at times like these. The popular kids usually take a breather from their regularly-scheduled self-absorption to snort in mockery over my not-even-very-exclamatory exclamations, but that isn't as embarrassing as when I do somehow manage to stifle my coughs, and the convulsion instead travels up my nasal passages to produce an unpredictable yet always audible sound that has them rolling every time. For someone so unnoticeable, I sure get noticed at more times than I would prefer.
Like now, for instance. The one time I really want to conceal myself, really want to pine in the privacy of this doorway, and here's this at-the-cusp-of-pubescence freshman staring me down. Just gawking at me from one foot away through his darkened shades like some sorry Cory Hart poser. My face is pressed so close to this wall, with any luck I can just crawl inside of it right now and escape out the other side into an alternate universe where I'm like some Princess of Narnia who was born with a perfect bite…but the repelling force of this dude's gaze compels me toward the opposite direction. Whatever, time to pluck myself away from this weed defiling my wallflower garden and brave the dance-floor.
Huh, there's Samantha characteristically sulking in my pathway. Naturally another superb hair day for her short red tresses. I guess my hair isn't all that bad, but I always have to pull it back tight with a rubberband so it doesn't get caught in the head apparatus du jour. Even so, its matte, muddy color has nothing on the vibrancy of Rubylocks over there. And just look at her dress…classy and perfect as always, delicate as a daisy. Though I have to squint with that water still stinging my eyes, I can just make out the matching pumps.
Penny-loafers are the highest heeled shoes I own. My growth spurt seems to have occurred earlier than everyone else's, so I'm way too tall, and tall isn't cute—at most, it could be construed as exotic, maybe, but never cute—so I compensate by avoiding heels and curling my shoulders inward. That seems to help. Besides, Dad refuses to let his little girl look like a "common prostitute," so sometimes I think I'd be safer getting caught in possession of crack and firearms than nylons or makeup. So here I am, at my first high school dance (even though I'm a sophomore—again, consult The Widower's Handbook of Social Graces for the Budding Teenage Girl, the comprehensive, unabridged version) and stuck wearing this sweatshirt over a hand-me-down dress from my cousin, because God forbid that I bare my arms like Sam gets to with her angelically alabaster complexion.
And yet she pouts to her friend the same way she did at her locker earlier today, just before homeroom. Something about her family forgetting her sixteenth birthday and life just getting shittier…uh, yeah, Red. Then there was the bus ride home—here she had the smartest guy in my physics club falling all over himself to impress her, saturating her ego with his deluge of compliments, but she gets all haughty and tense, as though struggling to ignore the persistent drip of Chinese water torture.
Girls like her just rinse and spit. They'll spit out a mouthful and have the nerve to complain that they're thirsty.
To think Ted had skipped our after-school physics club meeting today hoping to encounter Sam on the bus so he could ask her to the dance. I heard him say so to my brother, Bryce, a freshman like Ted who is also, incidentally, his best friend. I ended up bailing on the meeting myself to discover the outcome of this wooing. As pleased as I was to find that he'd still be going to the dance stag, as insanely thrilled that he chose to talk to me once Sam got off at her stop (even though I guess I was the only other person left on the vehicle), our entire one-on-one time was spent exalting her "vogue" style. He exalted, anyway; I just smiled and mentally nodded (since I can't actually move my head up or down). My tongue is usually tied when I'm around guys anyway, but it was bitten hard this time to contain my slight difference of opinion in an agreeable "uh, yeah." I'm sure he was awed by my eloquence, but the unwavering optimism in his eyes, that sparkle in his braces, was enough to scorch any hopes I had that maybe tonight he'd look in the general vicinity of some other girl…someone friendlier…more intelligent…more enigmatic in her quiet, less attractive, and somewhat physically handicapped way.
"Hey, pretty lady!"
"Wha-…ow. Ow-ow. Uh…yeah…okay…hey Marie."
"You all right? You okay to dance?"
"Uh, sure…You know I can't really move my upper body so well, though."
"Aw c'mon, gotta dance at a dance!"
Haven't seen Marie since home ec today. She's failing the course, so I've had to help her with feeding the sewing machine and working the oven and stuff like that since I'm used to basically taking care of all household duties for my dad and brother. She says it's bullshit being forced into domesticity in this day and age. What women really need to know is how to change a tire and work a hand-drill. She aced woodshop. It's weird, though, how she loves hanging out and doing stuff like dancing with girls so much considering there really isn't anything feminine about her. Boys don't ask her to dance either, but it doesn't seem to upset her as much as me. She says her friends are enough, like when invited me over to her house once to practice a casserole recipe, but she's hard to cook with because she always stands so close. Our hands had touched while we manually ground the beef in a big mixing bowl, and although I snatched mine away quickly, it kept happening. I have to admit the touch of someone else feels really nice…I mean, guys never, well…and it's not like my dad and brother are all that affectionate…and I do like her, but I just…
"Atta girl! You got the rhythm now!"
As I shimmy with Marie, can't help but catch the pale yellow of Ted's oxford shirt in my peripheral vision. Slowly I shift my entire torso so I can watch him as he pigeon-struts over to Sam, who is now sitting on the bleachers. Sulking too, of course. I can't read lips, but it seems Ted isn't scoring any more points than he did on the bus this afternoon. No doubt Sam's prolonged and now intensified moodiness has something to do with Jake dancing over there with his cheerleader girlfriend.
I won't even comment on those two; people like that are completely inaccessible from where I stand, no matter how far my long, monkey arms can reach. Freaking deities…they dwell in the clouds. I remember that girl from grade school, before she developed those ideal, voluptuous breasts. She had snatched the wet and streaking rain cycle drawing out of my dripping hands and giggled from beneath her umbrella at the swirling colors, the blurred bumblebees that by then seemed to frown grotesquely. She crumbled the sheet and nonchalantly tossed it at my feet, where it bounced off my left orthopedic shoe and splished (it wasn't quite a splash) in a murky puddle.
"Gotta take a break, I'm thirsty."
I'm not actually going to walk to the drinking fountain (what's the point?), something is just tugging at the invisible reigns of my neck-yoke, making me restless. I walk down the south corridor and observe all the glittery posters advertising the dance like a patron in some poor man's Louvre. Some of them have smiley faces. At least this afternoon when I looked at them they smiled. Now they're smirking. The girl's bathroom is calling to me right now, even though I'm too dehydrated to use it for its intended purpose. Narnia it isn't, but there's something less fatiguing about standing behind physical walls than creating the mental ones. Perched on the toilet seat, I read the profound words scribbled on the stall door. Some girl thinks Brett K. is adorable…another apparently thinks he's a loser…most of them "heart" someone or other, blissfully dotting their i's with hearts and flowers. Daisies, I think. They're the easiest to draw. I hate them, really. Always smiling, always laughing. Even when they pout, even when they…smoke?
"So, ladies, Jake's p's are outta town, and you know what that means…!"
"Aw yeah, you got it—we're trashin' the place! So, you ready after this cig'?"
"Sure thing—how 'bout Jake?"
"Oh, he's ready. He's knows not to make me wait…"
A cigarette butt ricochets off my left foot following the plurality of sniggers. I stare at its smoldering remnants to the gradually softening beat of heels click-clackin' away on the tiles. I estimate three pairs of pumps have just exited the bathroom, one of them unmistakenly belonging to Juno herself.
Jake's house, though. Huh. Reaching for the as yet lit butt, I flush hygienic caution down the proverbial toilet as I raise the forbidden stub to my chapped lips. I've never smoked before, but have seen enough people do it to know how to inhale properly. Sure, now it doesn't make me cough. As the smoke unfurls and encircles my head, my inverted metallic halo fades from sight, my dry throat almost soothed by the blaze now searing its walls. A slight rattling emanates from my chest as my lungs inflate with another dose of gaseous calm, dispersing trickles of honey out to my extremities.
I haven't felt this relaxed since freshman year when I used to chew nicotine gum. My dad's a chain-smoker, so when he tried to quit a while back, he figured he'd try out the gum. Did nothing for him, so one day I stumbled on an almost entirely full pack. Having never abused any sort of non-Elmer's Glue substance before, I wasn't prepared for the sensory-altering effects…so tranquil, so comforting. Long story short, I wound up developing an addiction to the gum that had me contemplating starting smoking to get over it. Unfortunately, I'd never be able to conceal that from the Power That Is, and fat chance confiscating anything but an empty pack from him. I switched to chocolate instead. Luckily, I have the Ferrari of metabolisms.
Ha, so giddy. Hmmm. I "heart" Brett K…yeah, yeah, gimme something new. Bio sucks. No, it doesn't! Oh wait, here's a long one: Please please please, let me get what I want. Lord knows it would be the first time . Huh. Who wrote that? Are my thoughts materializing into stall-wall scrawlings? How frightening would that be. Not that anyone would bother to read them.
Enough. I am annoying myself, and this cigarette is out. Should probably see where Bryce is in case he needs a ride home.
As I emerge back into the hallway, I see torrents of students leaving, Jake among them. I wonder where—oh, he's right here.
"Uh, you ready?"
"Woman, your timing! I'm not going anywhere yet."
"Well, how long do you think—"
Okay, talking to myself like a schizo staring at the faceless man figure adorning the heavy wooden door that has just slammed in my face. I overhear more freshmen whispering something about a girl's panties and a one dollar fee as they proceed to stream into the enigma that is the boy's bathroom. Ew. It's enough that I have to acknowledge he sprang from the same uterus as me, don't need to think of him as horny too.
Everyone else flowing out the exit is talking about Jake's party. I wonder if…no, they wouldn't let me past the curb. But if this Asian guy in a red argyle sweater who I don't even recognize is shouting about this shindig in broken English (is he retarded?), I sure as hell can go too. Little bro can catch another ride.
I am going to Jake's party.
* * *
Immersing myself in a mob of oblivious partygoers, I achieve anonymity and slip right through the front door of the Ryan household. I hesitate momentarily in the foyer when I catch a glimpse of my reflection in a mirror. The silver steel of my brace is out of place within the mirror's ornate gold frame. My nicotine buzz long worn off, my confidence is melting into a puddle at my feet.
I bent over to pick up my drawing from its muddy pool, shook it out, and delicately straightened it out the best that I could as I boarded the bus and came in from the rain.
I straighten my shoulders as the Narnian Princess inside the looking glass gives me a reassuring nod, and I step forward into the living room.
No one notices me so far, but I see them all. I see, for instance, that Asian guy again, groping the waist of an Amazon junior with one hand as he crumples a beer can against his forehead with the other. That's going to leave a mark. He seems to be having the time of his life, though, and throws me a beer while grabbing another for his lady friend. He saw me.
I realize alcohol will only dehydrate me more, but this frigid can almost burning my hand taunts me with promises of icy satisfaction as I envision a rushing wave of its contents flooding the arid corridor of my esophagus. My first beer, and I have never craved it more. Problem is, I can't tilt my head back…maybe if I lean my entire torso backward, it'll cascade into my mouth like a waterfall…yep, lean back just like so…here we go…
I don't think anyone saw that. Hoping I didn't do any further damage to my neck—no knowing what a tumble like that could do, but at least I fell pretty flat on my back. Feeling a bit vulnerable like a turtle that has flipped over on its shell, though I now discover others at eye-level with me—some hardcore partiers already passed out by ten-thirty that were previously hidden beneath my metal horizon. The Argyle Asian stoops over me with a look of concern, smiling laughingly but without judgment as he assists in getting me back on my feet.
"Long…that my name. You are okay?"
"Uh, yeah," I mutter as I wipe the beer from my face with my sweatshirt, "Little tipsy, happens a lot. Really appreciate it. See ya…"
I look after him in confusion as his large-boned girlfriend literally carries him away. Must be a new exchange student. Nice guy. Scary girlfriend. And once again, my face is dripping. Caught a few drops, but not enough. Bleh, tastes awful. Don't get what the big deal is. And yet I'll drink anything at this point, just don't know how as long as I have no straw.
As I breaststroke my way through the masses, I stumble upon the kitchen and decide it won't hurt to at least see if the Ryan's have something in the utensil drawer that can be jerryrigged into a drinking device. Too bad Marie isn't here, she's practically MacGyver. This one time in home ec she made her peach pie explode using only a match, stick of gum, yarn, and five paper clips. She figured if she wasn't going to pass the course anyway, she may as well take a stand against the system, and, in any case, there was this desk carving she wanted to finish up in detention. It's always win-win for Marie, not because her potential nor actual scenarios are necessarily stellar, but because she just makes it that way. She knows who she is and just, well, is.
Fumbling through the pristinely organized kitchen drawer, I discover nothing that I can contrive into anything useful. Sighing over my failed quest as I begin to place silverware back into its respective slots, I'm startled by an outburst of hooting that slices through the otherwise monotone droning of chatter like the steak knife I have just now accidentally flung as a reflex. Several jocks huddled near the screen-door are applauding some feat while I catch my breath and spy the blade jutting at a 45˚ angle to the mahogany-finish wooden floor a few feet away, its handle blurred in a metronome-like oscillation. Watching the knife gradually come back into focus, it's swallowed by a gigantic fist that plucks it from my fortunately inanimate victim not two seconds before clutching my arm.
"Whoa there, missy, practicing for a carnival sideshow?"
"I, uh…" Am I just under hypnosis from the knife, or is a jock really talking to me?
"Thought the knives were supposed to be thrown at the chicks, not by them!"
"Uh, I…didn't mean to—"
"Chill, it's cool, didn't expect you to be armed, is all. I mean, isn't that thing on your neck enough protection for ya? That's quite a necklace."
"Ha, uh, yeah, it's only, um—"
"Frankie says, 'Relax,' already, girl. Ay, you don't gotta brewsky—time to catch up!"
I zone dumbly as the receiver of our football team drives the knife into a vodka-infused watermelon and snags a stubby hose from the quarterback's likewise burly grip. The quarterback has beer streaming down his face just like I did moments ago, but doesn't seem to be embarrassed. Nor thirsty. As is apparent by his giddy, out-of-equilibrium demeanor, plenty of this nectar of the gods has made it into his bloodstream.
"Here, cover this end with your thumb 'til you're ready. Open up and hold it to your mouth like that…that's it, now just open your throat, you'll barely have to swallow."
Feeling like a snorkeler with this tube at my lips, I strain my eyes upwards to watch the receiver empty two cans of Old Style into a blue funnel sprouting out the tube's other end.
"Okay, baby, whenever you're ready, just take your thumb away!"
Uncontrollable hacking as someone smacks my back repeatedly. I can't help but laugh with everyone else as I cough and snort the alcohol from any and all internal pipes it shouldn't have gone into. More cheers and clapping as I recover myself and a towel is shoved into my face so I can dry off, considering my trusty sweatshirt is also wringing wet and would be of no use this time.
"Nice work, nice work," the receiver jokes, dismissing himself from the jubilation right when a busty brunette peering in from the adjoining dining room jabs him with her catlike green eyes.
Once he leaves, the others turn away and search for their next victim, and I find myself shivering outside of their thawing gazes.
But that guy was friendly. He sits in the front row of my chem class, but I never thought he'd know me from anyone. And maybe he doesn't, maybe he's just nice and would treat even someone he didn't recognize—but who, oh say, just about severed his toe with a steak knife—the same way. Not at all what I'd…huh.
As for the portion of my impromptu beverage that unmistakably did enter the right pipe, it's making me a bit dizzy. Should go sit down somewhere. Passing through the dining area and reciprocating the receiver's grin, I spot Ted chastising Bryce and their mutual friend in front of a wall of other football players, which is growling as a collective unit. I consequently scan the room for Sam, who I swore I saw leave the school parking lot with Long and his gal. She looked pretty upset, though—most likely went home crying. I now see my brother and his similarly scrawny friend float away atop the jocks' shoulders with Ted nowhere in view. Come to think of it, I've barely seen the host at his own party. He did look perturbed with his girlfriend the last glance I had, must be stormy weather in the heavens. Huh.
The dizziness is diminishing and a sense of irrepressible cheer assuming its place. My god, I cannot for the life of me stop beaming. Some dude I bump into shoots me an annoyed look before questioning with a snicker whether this plant-stand is holding my head on.
"Uh, yeah…yeah it is. Comes in three colors too."
"The head or the brace?"
"Both. Interchangeable…depends what I'm wearing."
"Ha, yeah, okay. Nice smile."
"Thanks! Headgear!" I exclaim as my defensive play recovers the ball and the guy retreats to the confines of his circle of buddies who proceed to give him crap about getting cut from baseball tryouts.
Go figure, there's a spot next to Ted on that sofa. Feeling oddly emboldened and desirous to talk, I plop myself down right next to my physics club colleague. After chatting about our last meeting a bit, I scoff my former inhibitions and ask him straight out what the deal with Samantha Baker is. Not because I need to know, but because he does. I mean, he knows, but I don't think he understands.
"Sam? Oh, yeah, well, turns out I'm too much man for her…yup. Not much brawn, but, you know, the confidence, the intellect, the charm…it all adds up to a complete package that can be quite intimidating to a shy violet like that."
"She's a daisy, not a violet—"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"—and she isn't shy, she's just in love with somebody else."
"Well, I don't know about that. I mean, you know, she's just…adolescence is a confusing time for young women, you're first starting to notice boys and become aware of your bodies, and so she just…All right, okay, stop looking at me like that. How'd you know? Did she tell you?"
"So who did?"
"C'mon, someone must've—"
"Didn't have to. When you aren't distracted by anybody talking to you…I mean, when you think nobody's noticing you, that you're looking or that you can hear…well, then I guess you look, and you hear. But more than that. You see. You listen. It becomes obvious from there."
"I don't think I've ever seen you so chatty. Y'know? Why don't you speak up more? You're a smart girl, you must have a lot to say."
"Yeah, yeah, I know, I know what I've got, sometimes I just…but no, no, I don' wanna make this about me…am always makin' it 'bout me…"
I grab his arm to keep from flying off this accelerating couch.
"S'not about you either. S'bout Sam-n-Jake. You gotta find him, put'na good word for her."
"Oh do I…why's that?"
"Cause it's raining and she should be shmiling."
"You need to lie down or somethin'?"
"Just do it, Ted, just make it 'bout someone else. Then we all can smile. Doesn't matter who you are, we all get thirshty and think someone else is gulpin' all th'water. N'some way, we're all doin' backshtrokes in someone elshe's drinking fountain."
"Okay, I'm just going to help you upstairs, there's gotta be a free bed up there where you can crash. There's like twenty bedrooms in this shack. Oh shit! Where's your brother?!!"
* * *
The red glare of my eyelids rouses me from slumber. I open them and find it's daylight. Just barely a new morning, though I can see out the window it's already overcast—looks like rain today.
This bedroom is beautiful, I feel weightless in the downiness of this comforter. Luckily, I don't have much of a headache. Suppose I really didn't drink that much, it just went down fast and hit me fast. But reality hit me faster.
Vague recollection of talking to Ted and him guiding me up here, but can't remember exactly what was said. Something lingers, though…a memory more felt than thought, like knowing my mom's scent without ever being able to actually smell it again...does that make sense? I don't know, I just feel different. Relaxed. More than that…I don't know, I just feel…like I'm okay. Like I'm going to be okay. Somehow whatever happened last night was the start. Or did it begin much earlier than that?
I remember how when I gingerly stepped off the school bus that day in grade school—still clenching my soiled rain cycle drawing—I slowly walked up my driveway in the storm. The daisies growing in my mom's front garden bowed beneath the weight of heavy precipitation. So did the roses. So did the dandelions. I thought they looked sad leaning down like that, but knew they'd only stand taller for it once the sun returned. Kicking off my orthopedic shoes and socks, I ran out into the middle of the yard and twirled around 'til I was dizzy. I got myself so dizzy I sank to the ground and sprawled out on my back as though making a grass angel. The rainwater didn't feel cold anymore, it felt good. I felt the dirt of the playground rinse off my face, my hair, my limbs.
As I now stroll down Jake's walkway toward the street, what was a drizzle begins to congeal into larger drops. I veer off the cobblestones into the Ryans' impeccably manicured lawn, and, sidestepping a passed-out Long—who has since swapped his red argyle sweater for a bedsheet toga—I squat down in the beaded grass and recline onto my back in a similar position.
I'm still thirsty, so I open my mouth and let the rain fall in.
 Lyrics of the song of same title, "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want," by the Smiths.