Paper Tiger

The clock in the classroom ticked loudly as Clover buried her head in her arms. Sitting beside her in the lab desk, Bleu poked her best friend with the end of her pencil.

"Clover," she whispered. "Get up before Mr. Scant sees you're sleeping."

"I aint sleeping," the redhead said, her voice muffled by her arms. "I just don't feel good, is all."

"Well," Bleu mumbled. "Get ready to tell that story to him, since he's coming this way."

"Connelly," the teacher grumbled, over a textbook as he made his way to their table. "Is this lesson boring you?"

"No, sir," Clover sighed. "Just aint feeling too well."

"Would you like to go down to the nurse's office then?"

"Uh," Clover answered, taking a glance again at the clock. "Yeah, could I?"

With a nod, the teacher went back to his desk to scribble out pass before handing it to her. Leaving the classroom with a small wave to Bleu, Clover made her way to the nurse's office.

"What's the matter, dear?" the pulp middle-aged woman asked, as Clover entered the office. "I don't usually see you in here, but rather the other students you send."

"Yeah, I'm feeling a bit off today," she sighed. "Could I leave early?"

The woman looked Clover over, as if searching for any signs of illness. With a sigh she rested her head on her hand.

"You do look crummy," she said. "I suppose it's all right, since you aren't a regular. I'm just going to need you to sign this sign out form so I can notify attendance that you left."

"Thanks a lot," Clover said as she signed the form.

"Would you like me to call home to tell your folks that you need a ride?"

"Nah," she answered. "My Da's not home anyway."

"What about your mother?"

"I'll just walk home," Clover said, not looking up from the paper. "I'm not that far away from school."

"All right," the woman said, taking Clover's forms. "Just gather your things from your locker and feel better."

With a small nod, Clover exited the office and made her way to her locker. Sluggishly she pulled a few books from inside and stuffed them into her bag. Just as she was placing her Walkman headphones on her ears, she jumped with a start when there was a loud bang next to her head. She spun her body with a vicious hiss and saw the maker of the noise was Alan, with Victor watching sheepishly behind him.

"Why so glum, red?" he grinned. "Got suspended for putting half the field-hockey team into a coma, again?"

"Not of yer business, Walsh," she huffed, swigging her bag over her shoulder and shutting her locker closed with her boot. "I'm leaving early today, and for once it aint cause I'm suspended"

"You okay?" Victor piped from behind his friend. "Are you sick?"

"Kinda," she sighed, walking passed the boys. "I'll be fine by tomorrow. I'll see you pansies later."

Just as she was making her way down the hallway, she heard the tapping of footsteps behind her. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Victor jogging to catch up with her.

"Are you walking home?" he asked.

"Yeah,"

They walked in stride to the front of the school, Clover shoved her hands in her pockets to keep from punching him. He opened the door for her and followed her as she left.

"What're doin'?" she asked as they exited campus.

"I wanna walk you home."

"You don't need to, I'll be fine."

"You don't look it," he retorted, keeping pace with her even as she sped up. "I don't want you passing out on your way home or something."

"Don't you need your crap?"

"Nah," he shrugged. "I was gonna skip class to go smoke with Alan, anyway. I got my jacket and that's all I need."

"Whatever," she grumbled, blushing lightly and turning away from him. "Suit yourself."

He continued to follow her, even though she refused to talk to him. She glanced up at his face, and his content expression infuriated her. Noticing that they were passing a park, she took it upon herself to make a little detour. Just as she was crossing the street to the park's entrance, she heard him jog to meet up with her.

"Why are you going this way?" he asked.

"It's a shortcut."

"But you live in the opposite direction."

"You don't have to follow me, Gomez." she said, walking on.

Walking through the park they instantly noticed it was far more populated than usual. Tables with colorful balloons tied to the ends lined the pathway as locals sold miscellaneous objects from cardboard boxes. They walked in stride, passing the tables briskly, until Victor stopped suddenly. Clover halted, looking over her shoulder to see that the had stopped in front of a table of an elderly woman selling ceramic animals.

"What are you looking at?"

"Something for my mom" he smiled, showing her a tiny pink elephant. "Aint he cute?"

"God," she scoffed. "You really are such a girl."

"There's nothing girlie about getting something nice for your mom," he mumbled, before turning to the table owner. "How much for this elephant?"

"Oh, let's see," the old woman leaned over the table from her lawn chair. She rubbed her chin and squinted behind her thick lens. "Hmm..two bucks."

"Alright," Victor answered, reaching into his wallet to pull out the money.

"Is this a joke?" Clover frowned, pointing at the ceramic. "Are you seriously gonna pay two bucks for a stupid elephant? That thing's older than dirt, it's not worth more than a quarter."
"I told you, it's for my mom," Victor answered, blushing as he gave the woman his money. "She really likes these things. She has them lined all over the fireplace."

"It's nice to see a boy who's so good to his mother," the old woman cooed, breaking the duo from their bickering. "You know what they say about a man that's good to his mother?"

Both teens shook their heads, and the old woman smiled cheekily.

"A man's that good to his mother is good to his woman," she said winking at Clover, who instantly turned away. "But she does have a point. Two dollars is pretty steep, even for my best ceramic elephant. I'll let you pick out a second statue also, no additional charge."

"Really?" Victor smiled, turning to Clover. "See, two for two dollars. That's a fair deal."

"Whatever," she sighed, burying her hands in her pockets. "Just hurry up and pick your stupid statue so we can leave already. I told ya I aint feeling well today."

Expecting the table thoroughly, Victor found a tiny green statue. Smiling excitedly, he picked it up.

"I'll take this one then," he said to the woman behind the table. "Thank you."

"Why do you want that one?" Clover asked as they walked away from the table and back on the park's path. "Does your mom like old Irish things too?"

"This one isn't for my mom," he smiled, holding out the tiny statue to her. "It's for you. To cheer you up."

She looked down at his hand at the tiny ceramic shamrock.

"Reminds me of those stupid weeds you had that got me suspended," she grumbled, but took the statue from his hand with a blush. "There's something written on the back of it."

"What does it say?" he asked, peering over her shoulder as she swatted him away.

"It says, 'Aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile'," she read. "It means, 'A beetle recognizes another beetle'."

"That's a weird sayin. It's not even a statue of a bug."

"It's not about bugs, ya moron. It means people recognize people who are like themselves."

"It's still weird," Victor grumbled, before taking noticing that Clover had walked ahead without him.

"What's over here?" he asked.

"Records," she answered, searching through the various titles before pulling out a sleeve and inspecting the cover.

Craning his neck over her shoulder, Victor saw the record she pulled and his face twisted into a smirk.

"The Cure?" he scoffed, then placed his hand on her forehead. "I thought you hated The Cure! Damn, you must really be sick!"

"Get off me," she grumbled, with a blush. "It's not as if I'm nuts over 'em."

"Yeah, but you're always calling them 'romantic shite' and stuff!"

"Yeah, I still think that. It's just that the other day I found somethin' that reminded me of 'em so I decided to give 'em another chance," she said as she paid for the record and left the table. "They still aint nothin' special, but they aint awful."

"What did you find?" Victor asked, having to jog to catch up with her.

"A just some smelly old T-shirt," she answered and Victor froze with a furious blush. Smirking at his reaction, she noticed a food stand a few feet away. "Wanna get some ice cream?"

"Huh?" he said, snapping back to reality. "Isn't it sort of cold out?"

"C'mon ya baby, it aint that cold."

Making their way to the stand, the worker smiled warmly.

"Welcome!" he said with a heavy Russian accent, his mustache smiling with him. "Would you like some ice cream? It may be cold, but it is still the beginning of spring which brings feeling of warmth!"

"Warmth?" Victor asked. "It's barely 60 degrees out."

"Ah, net, moĭ droog," he laughed. "What I am talking about is the warmth that comes from love!"

Victor and Clover stood, both mouths agape, as the Russian man laughed.

"The love, of course, for ice cream, da?"

"Oh, yeah," Victor managed after clearing his throat avoiding eye contact with Clover. "Could I have chocolate cone, please?"

"Da! Da!" the Russian man chimed, preparing the cone, "And for the lovely devushka?"

"Could I get a strawberry cone?"

"Oh, to match your hair, da?" he smiled, as he handed Victor his cone. Victor gulped in terror as he glanced at Clover, preparing to the wrath that was about to unfold. To the teen's surprise, however, the girl simply looked up at her bangs.

"Heh, I s'pose so," she said with a smile, taking her cone. As she reached into the pockets of her jeans to pay, Victor stopped her with his free hand.

"Don't worry," he said, pulling out a few bills from his pocket and slapping them on the counter. "It's on me."

"Nah, you don't have to do that. I got the money to pay."

"Yeah, but I want to," Victor smiled. "To cheer you up."

"Ah, ice cream cheers up quick, da?" the Russian man gave a hearty laugh. "Ice cream of lovers, lovers of ice cream, da?"

Both teens blushed, laughing uncomfortably as the Russian man continued his belly laugh.

"What a weird guy, huh?" Victor said as they walked away from the stand, taking a seat on a park bench next to Clover. She nodded absentmindedly as she licked her ice cream, her glaze elsewhere.

"Victor...?" she said between licks. "Why did you follow me...for real?"

"I...dunno," he answered with a blush. "You looked pretty shitty when you were leaving, so I wanted to make sure you were all right."

"You were worried, eh?"

"A little," he admitted. "You didn't look like a sick kind of shitty, you looked like a sad kind."

"Why didn't you just ask if I was upset about somethin'?"

"Cause you'd brush me off and call me a 'gobshite' or whatever."

A silence settled between the two as they ate. Sneaking a peak from the corner of his eye, Victor took a glance at her ice cream.

"You're melting."

With a start she noticed the cold pink droplets. Quickly, she began licking the around the cone of her cone, trying hold off the inevitable dripping. When the cone was neat, she stared at her cone.

"You wanna know why I'm really off-kilter today?"

"If it'll make you feel better, sure," he smiled warmly, as she avoided his glaze.

"The anniversary of my ma's death is comin' up," she said, quietly. "Back in Ireland we'd all go to her grave, but ever since we moved to the states it feels like everyone just forgets. I mean the younger imps don't really remember her that well cause they were tiny, but Travis does. I know he's a big behemoth with the emotional rage of a bloody spoon, but it would help if he showed somethin'. It's hard going up to Da about it, cause it makes him upset whenever I mention it, so I sorta just pretend it doesn't matter..."

Clover felt a drip on her hand, thinking it was her ice cream melting again she looked down to be surprised to see it was tears. She attempted to whip away the salty water from her eyes with her free hand, but was intercepted by Victor taking hold of her hand.

"Sometimes I forget wot she looks like," she admitted, intertwining her fingers with his. "And that's wot scares me the most."

With her hand in Victor's, Clover couldn't whip the stray tears that she felt run down her face. Trying to avoid his glaze, she went back to eating her quickly melting ice cream. She felt the pad of his thumb stroke her knuckle, a small act of tenderness.

"I know, it's not the same...but I kind of understand where you're coming from," Victor said, quietly. He glanced at his wafer cone, the chocolate ice cream had be eaten away unconsciously. "I was raised in a house full of women, I never really met my dad. After my folks spilt, any trace of him was gone. I was really little when he left, so I don't remember him at all and no one in my family ever mentions him. He never made any effort to get in touch with me, no phone calls, birthday cards, or anything. I really wouldn't know him from a police lineup, and it's always something that bothered me."
Clover felt Victor's warm hand squeeze her's and both teens finally locked glazes, both blushing heavily.

"Just because you can't visit her grave on her anniversary doesn't mean you're forgetting her," he said, seriously, "You're memories of her are something that will never go away, so you'll have her with you forever. I'm sure you have a lot of memories with her, because she must've been amazing since she was your mom and you had to get it from someone."

He blushed and looked away, embarrassed by his own words. He felt her squeeze his hand and he looked back to see her licking her nearly forgotten her ice cream.

"She was pretty amazin'," she said, still smiling. "She meant my Da at a pub, y'know."

"Isn't that where all Irish people meet?"

"Nah, ya doofus," she said, nudging his shoulder with her own. "She was over at the bar and these wankers went up to her, trying to woo her or somethin'. She knew they were a couple of arseholes and told them to frig off, but then they were gettin' rowdy. A fight broke out and my Da went over to break 'em up, thinkin' she needed defendin'. Turns out, the ones that needed defendin' were the two guys cause my she beat 'em senseless."

"Heh, sounds familiar."

"Da says he never saw anyone throw a punch like she did, not even a bloke! They both got thrown out of the pub, and spent the rest of the night wandering about," she cringed her nose with a smirk. "He says he fell for her the moment they were alone together, it's sort of lame."

"I don't think it's lame,"

"Yeah, cause you're a big wussy," she smirked.

"I am not," he fought, shoving the last of his cone into his mouth with a playful pout. "I'm a freaking stud!"

"Yeah, in yer mind maybe," she snorted, as she moved closer to him, "Or in Sally's."

"Shut up, I thought we all agreed we'd never talk about that again!"

"I don't remember that agreement," Clover laughed before resting her eyes on Victor, their hands still intertwined warmly. "Hey, Victor...?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks...for today," she said with a blush, leaning towards him slightly. "I mean, I wasn't gonna throw myself off a bridge or anythin', but it was pretty nice of you to make sure I was okay."

"It's fine," he said, inching closer to her. "I'm not too good about talking about stuff, so I did my best."

Sitting in such close proximity brought along a feeling of deja vu to the teens. Closing the space between, time seem to slow down to snail's pace. Just as Victor wrapped an arm around Clover's waist, he felt a strange, cold sensation in the crouch of his pants. Fearing the worst, he jumped from the bench with a shriek. Quickly checking his pants to survey the situation, he was somewhat relieved to see the spilled strawberry ice cream on his pants. Slowly the wafer cone dropped from his crouch, landing messily onto the pavement. Bursting into hysterics, Clover doubled over on the bench, clutching her stomach as she laughed.

"I-I'm so sorry!" Clover managed between her fit of laugher. Pulling some napkins from her pocket, she handed them to Victor while giggling. "I didn't mean to ice your willy!"

"Jesus, way to kick blue balling to a whole 'nother level," he groaned as he frantically tried to clean the spilled ice cream from his pants.

"C'mon," Clover said, interrupting his scrubbing to take his hand in her's, "Let's go to my place and wash your trousers before that shit stains."

"Wait," he squeaked as he pulled him through the park, growing red as the various booth owners pointing at his soiled jeans with amusement. "What will I wear while we clean them then?"

"I live in a house filled with boys between the ages of 9 to 19," she said, throwing a smirk over her shoulder, "I'm sure one of them as a pair of pants that are tight enough to fit you."