You're not even there

I flipped my calendar from October to November, reminding myself I have to work on Mikayla’s present. Yeah, it’s in four weeks, but I don’t like to procrastinate when it comes to her. I sat down at the computer and started writing her birthday letter.
My fingers don’t move.
Why is it so hard to write about her? Every time I compose a poem I always ended up changing the topic. I honestly can’t say why. Maybe my feelings for her are so raw, constantly shifting from positive to negative, that I can’t focus on one subject. I’ve only got one paragraph in seventy minutes. And it explains precisely that I’m going blank.
In sheer frustration, I saved the four sentences and retired to my room and stared at the calendar. Twenty-nine more days. Four more weeks. 696 hours. I can finish in time. Well, I can only hope. Once I push something aside it’s left in the dust until I find it again.
I just sat on my bed and contemplated things. Tomorrow I have Leadership, which I could not be any more excited for. I liked hanging out with Rene and Emma, just chilling and being myself. I didn’t feel any pressure to completely be someone else. I could be silly around them. Or did I like that class because of Tanner?
I’ve developed a mini crush on him. I know it’s bad because I have a boyfriend, but I can’t help but smile when I see him. Especially when he wears that black leather jacket. It doesn’t even make him look a bar addict or something. It fits well on him.
So every B-day I get butterflies in Science just by glancing at the clock. This is exactly like Skills for Living, except on the opposite day, in the same block, after Science. Crazy. And instead of Grayson, I get Tanner. Friendship-wise, Grayson is winning. Tanner and I haven’t really talked yet, mainly because he sits on the couch next to mine, and Coach Patton gives really interesting lessons which gives us no time to interact. But every now and then, I’d peek at him and usually found his bright smile, which made me grin like an idiot in love. But I’m not in love with him, that’s for Alex. I just really like Tanner, that’s all. And I enjoy his name. Tanner. Tanner. I could say it all day.
Ah, I can’t let Alex know about this.
The butterflies attacked me seven minutes to lunch the next day. Mrs. Gates droned on about the mitosis cycle, and I was impatiently drawing dots and connecting them on my worksheet. Random figures showed up. I’m sure Mrs. Gates won’t be happy that I’m not paying attention. I really don’t care, seeing as I have a 96 in here. All you do is notes, mini quizzes, and study. Super easy, yet a lot of kids are failing. They’re the ones I roll my eyes at.
Everyone started packing up with one minute left. I’ve been ready twenty-eight minutes ago.
The class poured into the halls, and I walked to the cafeteria with Alesia, a redhead who understands my humor. She didn’t go to Wester last year so it’s interesting to hear about the competing school, Worley. She’s really funny also, making me giggle with her sarcastic faces at the dumb kids that surrounded us. It’s hilarious to watch one of those extremely cheesy science videos because I can hear her say mocking remarks under her breath behind me. I remembered how I didn’t like it at first, though, but then once I started talking to her I liked her more. This is why I give second chances.
I said goodbye to Alesia at my locker and dumped my geography and science notebooks. Ah, my shoulder feels so much better.
Lunch on B-days are tremendously slow. Forty-five minutes of nothingness tends to wear you down. I spend the first twenty eating and the rest either talking to Elizabeth, which is fun, but sometimes we don’t have a whole lot to say, so the remaining is working on geography vocabulary and outlines.
But today was different. Tessin gave me a lesson on the difference of ghetto and gangster.
“Okay, see this water bottle? It’s cracked. That’s ghetto. Ghetto means it’s out of order, not working right. But this water bottle has a sleeve on it, to keep it non-slippery. That’s gangsta. Gangsta means it’s trying to be cool, but it’s not.”
The table laughed at her explanation. Gotta love my Indian Tessin.
“I’ma gangster!” I burst out.
“No, no.” Tessin stared at me with deadpan eyes. “It’s gangsta, not gangster. You’re saying it wrong.”
Chandler’s face brightened. “Oh, did you hear what she said earlier?” Tessin shook her head. “We were in that little area where all the actual gangstas are, and she said, ‘this is my homeland!’”
Tessin couldn’t stop laughing. And when she does that, it goes on and on and on.
“What? I’m funny.” I shrugged my shoulders with a huge smile.
So, I guess I can say lunch was alright today.
Some guy blew a whistle and I darted upstairs to room T9 and saw Tanner sitting on my couch. My couch. In my spot. Nonchalantly, I sat down next to him, but more closer to Rene than Tanner. I was thinking, maybe I could scoot over really quickly when he’s not looking. No, Emma strolled in and sat between us. I kicked myself mentally.
We played a game called ‘human knot‘, where you make a circle and reach across to someone’s hand, and you have to untie yourselves silently. I’m assuming it’s one of those trust and communications game. I stood next to Tanner, obviously not on purpose, but sadly I had to be with someone else, as we couldn’t hold the person’s hand that’s beside us. But the next round, at the last second, he grabbed mine. I blushed immensely when his warm palm met mine, his fingers closing over my hand. It felt so comfortable, like they were specifically made to fit in. Not too large, not too small, just right. It was together for about four minutes until we finally became unglued. We untied ourselves and he quickly dropped it. I frowned and that was the last time I was near him for the block.
On Wednesday, we split into two groups and formed two lines in the room. The person on the opposite side of the lines went against each other in showdown mode, with the rules of no laughing, smiling, or breaking eye contact. While in line, I counted to see who I’d be up against. Of course, it was Tanner. If he had the slightest trace of a grin, then I’d lose for sure. The people around us cheered us on, and Coach Patton told us to go. His blue eyes trained on me made me feel like I was in a spotlight, with only us in the room. The noises were like a bug flying into an electrocuting cage, I can barely hear anything. I’m falling into his eyes, forgetting about a boyfriend, forgetting I’m even in school. I turned and couldn’t break my gaze. They way he looked at me; it’s almost exactly how Alex looks at me when I walk into the room. Strange.
I approached the end, and I didn’t want to break away. We both won, so we stayed on our teams. I smiled hugely that I got to go against him.
Two days later, I got released from lunch early, so I was in the room before Tanner. Usually he beats me to it. I grinned when he ambled in, his white jacket’s sleeves pushed up to his elbows. I’m melting.
Frustratingly, he didn’t sit on my couch. But, it worked out. We were again split and he was on my team. This time the game was spelling out a six word sentence using our bodies. Someone suggested saying “I love you a lot Mom”. I was the ‘u’, which was very simple to do. Tanner, obviously, was the ‘t’. How fitting.
After that we had a potty break, and Tanner went away. I claimed his spot and when he returned, he just parked next to me, no questions asked. The class had to count to twenty, one person at a time, in random order. If two people say one number at the same time, we had to go back to zero. The first time I said five, and Tanner said three. Four, then two. Then both of us at seven. I haven’t laughed like I did in such a long time.
With thirty minutes to the bell, Coach Patton passed out five little squares and we had to put on any letter on each one. After they were filled out, we had to spell words out of the letters the six of us wrote. Being the Scrabble expert, I spelled out more than fifty words out of thirty letters, earning us 228 points. I hope Tanner thinks I’m smart. A couple of times our fingers brushed and I looked down at the floor, my cheeks flaming with giddiness. Once the scores were totaled, my team ended up with 1135 points. I’m good.
My knees couldn’t stop shaking after that block. I was so happy that nothing could distract me from the euphoria Tanner gave me. His smile is so contagious that my mouth was still curved upwards long after 2:30. The only thing that wiped it off was my mom being on the phone when I got in the car. Lately she’s been doing that. It really annoys me that I can’t tell her about my day because she’s talking to someone else. That car ride is for us, for me to catch up with her after Thursdays from being with my dad. I stared out the window, tuning out Mom’s discussion with who I’m assuming is Mrs. Kidd, someone from her work. I knew this can go on for a while.
Now inside the house, I paced in my room, trying to figure out if I actually do like Tanner or not. There’s his smile, and his laugh, but we’re not friends. I want to talk to him, to see what he’s like, but given what happened with Grayson I’m afraid I’ll just get rejected again. All I want is to be friends with Tanner. Next time I see him I’ll strike up a conversation. Ugh, I have to wait four days. Great.
Mindlessly reading chapter thirteen in my geography book, I pondered on what our chat could be about. He’s going to San Antonio tomorrow for the girls’ basketball tournament, because he’s a trainer. I guess we could discuss that but I don’t care about basketball nor do I know anything about it. So, that’s out. Then the Black Ops game came out and I heard him talking to Rene about it because that’s all she and Matt are playing whenever she’s over at Dad’s house. Again, I don’t know much. Why can’t I think of anything?
Instead, I focused on the human environment cited in the pages, but in blurry awareness. I never really pay attention to big nonfiction books anyway. They’re boring, and I’m not sure why I signed up for AP human geography when it’s not in my intellectual scale. Perhaps I thought it’d be better to take a college class over stuff I thought I comprehended. Guess that regular is not at all like AP.
The page was about to be turned when Alex called me.
“Want to do something tonight? Go bowling or something?” Alex seemed pretty desperate to get out of the house.
I stared at my book. I’ll never learn from this, so I may as well go. “Sure.” I put aside the textbook and got up to get dressed. I had changed out of my school clothes into pj’s, assuming I was staying in for the night.
Alex was to pick me up in ten minutes. I rushed to slap on some makeup -I also washed it off- and returned to my day clothes. I peered into the mirror and deemed myself presentable. Not bad with only ten minutes to prepare.
The doorbell was rung and I hurried downstairs, shushing Jenny to stop barking, and swung open the door. I called to Mom telling her I’d be back by around nine or so and she said okay. Glad I can just drop something on her and she’ll be alright with it.
After a whirlwind of “Oh, I don’t want to go there” and “Eh, it’s kinda boring”, we actually wounded up at a bowling place. When Alex went to get our shoes, I scanned the room for anyone we know, to see if maybe they’ll join our rounds. There was no one at first, but then, unmistakably, I saw him sauntered in the door. With two girls. Smiling. It’s unbelievable.



 Alex watched Michelle gape at someone. Was she staring at the boy, or the girls? He didn’t know either of them.
“Michelle,” Alex said, handing her size seven shoes. “What are you looking at?”
She took the shoes. “Oh, I know that boy. He’s in my Leadership class. Do you mind if I go say hey?”
“Go ahead.” He’s not worried about this one.
Michelle was with the boy for a few minutes, and then brought him and the girls over.
“Can they play with us? It’ll be more interesting. We’ll be in teams,” Michelle pleaded with big eyes, but she didn’t have to do that.
“The more the merrier.”
The boy stepped up. “I’m Tanner, and this is Kelsey, and her sister Kailey.” They shook hands and started the game.

“How do you guys know each other?” Alex asked when Michelle was up.

“We’re trainers. So you can imagine we spend a lot of time together for football season,” he chuckled. “And we used to date, but I broke it off.” His voice was lowered so none of the girls could hear.
“Sorry about that, man.”
“No big deal. I didn’t see anything with her. Beside, she’s a senior, and she’ll be off to Austin next year. I’d rather be with someone I can spend all the time with, not just times scattered through the year.”
Alex was surprised with how open Tanner was. Like he already trusted him.
Michelle tapped Alex on the shoulder, saying it was his turn. He got a spare. When he turned to sit back down, Michelle and Tanner were talking a storm. How’d they get like that so quickly? Do they talk like that in class? He heard her laugh. What’d he say?

The whole game was spent with Alex returning to see Michelle either giggling or facing Tanner, exchanging stories and smiles. He’d look back and can almost feel like she’s flirting with him- and barely paying attention to Alex.

He refuses to think any different about Tanner. He seems decent enough to pass him by. No jealousy will be popping up tonight, unlike against Cameron and Grayson when they first met. Alex learned to control his quick judgment over the years. Still, he can’t help but wonder…

Kelsey, her sister, and Tanner won. Alex didn’t care much; he was pretty off tonight. Distracted by school and all.

“That was fun,” Kelsey said as she was putting back on her shoes.

“Yeah, it really was,” Tanner added. He grinned at Michelle, then at Alex. Did he just detect a spark in his eye? It faded when he looked at him, so Alex couldn’t be sure.

“I’m hungry,” Kailey announced. “We should go for ice cream or something.”

“Do you guys wanna join? I’ve got room for everyone,” Kelsey offered. She was the only one technically allowed to have more than one person in her car. Alex overheard that Tanner recently turned sixteen and has been trying to get a driver’s license since.

A cold blast greeted them when they stepped in a nearby Baskin Robbins. Michelle got birthday cake flavored and Alex stuck with his monotonous Rocky Road cone.

They all chatted at a cold table in the back about school, classes, and from Kelsey, college. Although there were sitting across each other, there was a light banter between Michelle and Tanner, teasing each other about Leadership tales. Kailey tried to find her place in some conversation. Kelsey and Alex sat there awkwardly, somehow feeling like third wheels.Wait a second,Alex thought.This is my girlfriend. What is she doing?

When he couldn’t take it anymore, he made up an excuse. “Oh, Michelle, I just remembered, we have to be home by ten, and it’s nine-forty.”

“Right! I told my mom I’d be home by then too. Kelsey, any chance you can get us home, please?”

“Sure, no problem.” They dumped their trash and headed back into the dark streets.

“It’s right here,” Michelle alerted Kelsey to drop them off. “Alex, are you coming with me?”

“Yeah, I think I can make it in time.”

He got out first and opened her door, and said goodbye to them. Michelle linked arms with him and led him upstairs.

“I’m so glad I got out tonight,” she sighed on her bed.

“Me too. My house just hit a low in entertainment.”

“Ugh, tomorrow I have to study for geography. Oh well, it was worth skipping it.”

He couldn’t disagree with that.

Should he bring it up? He doesn’t want to anger her, but he needs to talk about it.

“It was so unexpected to see Tanner there,” she gushed. “I mean, I figured he’d be in San Antonio now but I guess they didn’t have to leave today.” This was his cue.

“Are you good friends with him?” he hinted.

“No, not really. We don’t talk much in class because there’s no time to.”


She tilted her head. “Why?”

“Just wondering.” A fire is kindling inside.

“Alex, are you jealous?” She stared at him, but her hand still stayed in the grip.

He didn’t really say anything, just a whimper.

“Wow.” Now her hand escaped. She leaned against the wall, breaking free from their embrace.

“I can’t help it! There was Cameron, and then Grays-“

“We weren’t even dating then. You can’t hold that against me.”

“It seemed like it, though. Like you were flirting with him.”

“No, no! Alex, he’s not even my type. I only love you.”That’s a lie,he thought bitterly.“And I always will. We’re just friends, don’t worry about it.”

He’s slightly more reassured, but there was still an uneasy feeling lingering. He noticed how close they were sitting during bowling. How can he trust her with this? The tone in her voice promised nothing would happen between her and Tanner, which did help.

Alex left her house still wondering.



The End

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