I had hoped that Steve would skip Math that afternoon – it was something he did every now and then – but no: he showed up right on time, smelling of weed and Old Spice, and plonked himself down at his usual seat right behind me.
Once class started Mr. Hollander took attendance, and the whole time I was hyper-aware of Steve’s presence behind me. Every time he shifted or cleared his throat I felt a sharp tingle run down my spine. I had always paid attention to Steve in class, but this was the first time I was so focused on him. I blamed Amanda.
“Huh?” I said loudly.
The whole class cracked up laughing.
“I guess that’s a yes,” Mr. Hollander muttered. Some kids laughed harder. I just wanted to hide under my chair.
Luckily, my moment of embarrassment was forgotten after Mr. Hollander finished taking attendance and handed out a trigonometry worksheet, prompting a collective groan from everybody else in the room.
Mr. Hollander rolled his eyes. “Okay, settle down. You’ll be working on this for the first half of the class, then we’ll correct it as a group. You can work on your own or in pairs; just don’t make too much noise.”
I didn’t really know anyone else in Math besides Steve, so I worked by myself. Looking back on it now, my high school experience would have been really lonely without Amanda. I was mostly left alone, so I never got bullied, but sometimes the lack of attention could be really depressing. I got picked last in gym not because I sucked at sports, but because everyone just kind of forgot about me.
Steve was quiet for the first five minutes after Mr. Hollander handed out the worksheets, until he started calling out my name: “Matildaaaa!” Steve, for some reason, couldn’t just tap me on the shoulder like a normal person. He had to scream my name like Shatner in The Wrath of Khan. Luckily, despite Mr. Hollander’s warning to keep it down, everyone in the class was either laughing or talking loudly, so only the people sitting closest to us turned their heads.
“What is it, Steve?” I asked.
“Did you finish Problem Three?”
“Yeah.” I was actually up to Problem Five at that point.
“I need help,” he whined.
I sighed and twisted around in my seat, locking eyes with his. Goddammit, he had nice eyes.
“It’s really easy, Steve,” I said patiently.
“Okay, but we can’t all be smartasses like you, Matilda.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You want my help or not?”
He pushed his paper towards me. “Pleeaase.”
I sighed. “Fine. Like I said, it’s really easy…”
I explained the problem to Steve – I don’t even remember what I said since it was so long ago – then flipped the paper around and pushed it back towards him. I watched him write down what I had told him; he had very long fingers, I noticed. His hair fell into his eyes as he bent his head over the paper, and I couldn’t understand how it didn’t drive him crazy. I fought the urge to push it back with my hands.
When Steve finished he looked up at me and smiled. “Thanks, Matilda.”
Goddammit, he had a nice smile. My heart thudded. “No problem,” I said. Normally I would have just turned around and gone back to my own work, but I could practically hear Amanda’s voice hissing at me, telling me to keep the conversation going.
“So. Steve,” I said, trying to sound casual. My voice betrayed me and cracked anyway. “What have you been up to lately?”
I suddenly, wildly, found myself hoping this would work. I told myself that it was just because I wanted Amanda off my back, but it wasn’t just that: I wanted to know if Steve liked me. I wanted him to pay more attention to me.
“Uh.” Steve was surprised, not that I could blame him; our conversations were usually restricted to math problems. “Just, you know, chilling. Going to band practice and stuff.”
“What’s you band called?” I asked. I genuinely had no idea – Steve’s band changed its name more often than P. Diddy.
“Rocket In My Pants,” he said.
“Rocket In My Pants,” he repeated, like I was a moron. “It means –”
“I know what it means, Steve, thanks.”
He grinned. “You ever seen us play?”
“I went to the Battle of the Bands last year,” I said.
The truth was, Steve’s band had been okay. Not great, not terrible, just okay. Steve had played well from what I could tell, but that was it. The band had won third place, and I had forgotten their set ten minutes after it had ended. So I didn’t have much to say.
But, for some reason, Steve was looking at me nervously, like my opinion actually made a difference, so I said, “It was really great. You guys were my favourite.”
He beamed. “Wow, really?”
“Yeah. I really liked it when you played…” I desperately dug through my brain for any memory of that night. “That White Stripes song? The one with all the bass.”
“Seven Nation Army? Oh, yeah. That one was our best,” said Steve, and I almost sagged in relief.
“You were really great,” I told him. “I was, like, focused on you the whole time.”
He gave me a slow, gentle smile, and I noticed that his ears were faintly pink. I had never seen him look that way before, and it made me want to smile, too.
“Fifteen minutes, everyone,” Mr. Hollander called out.
I jerked in surprise – I had almost completely forgotten that we were in the middle of class. I cleared my throat and said to Steve, “Anyway. So that’s how you do the… the thing. The problem. Hope that helped.” I turned around, hoping my hair could hide my burning cheeks.
For the next five minutes I sat with my head bowed, staring my worksheet without actually reading it. Then I heard Steve call out, “Matildaaaa!” again.
“Whaaaat?” I said over my shoulder.
“You like movies?”
I stared at him. “Uh, yeah. Who doesn’t?”
“Wanna go see a movie?”
“Why?” I asked, then immediately wanted to slap myself. I could practically hear Amanda’s scream of frustration in my head.
Now it was Steve’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “Why do you think? Duh.”
“Yeah. Sorry. I’m just tired.” I faked a yawn. “Okay, sure. When?”
We stared at each other awkwardly for way too long, grinning stupidly, until Mr. Hollander said, “Okay, time’s up. Who wants to give their answer for Problem One?”
I turned around to face the front of the class. Normally I would have had my hand up in the air already to give Mr. Hollander my answer, but I was barely paying attention. I spent the rest of the class in a haze, with a big, dopey smile on my face. I couldn’t help it.