Narrator: Frith Gyms
I looked over his shoulder as he huddled against his open locker. The white paper in his hands was plain and unremarkable. Even the text with which it had been printed, by a machine, was a run-of-the-mill Times New Roman font. And yet, there was a beauty to see in it, as some woman or man had clearly confessed a secret admiration for CJ.
I write with paper as my proxy.
Feelings keep this mask upon me.
Tell me that which does hold,
Hand in hand with admiration.
In this moment it is called,
'Secrecy' by inhibition.
I know not best how to evince,
Sensations such as I've felt since.
Loneliness beats a slowing heart,
On days when you are not in sight.
Verse and rhyme I shall impart,
Every moment of my plight.
I was breathing heavily, the back of my hand touching his. Something in the words struck me with awe, and I gasped softly. And he did the same, just a second later.
He held it much longer than it took to read it. He was re-reading, ponderously, searching for meaning. And perhaps that is when I noticed something.
The last verse; the first letter of each line. They spelled 'love'. Surely, this was intentional. It would register, at the very least, subliminally. And I decided that it was not my place to point it out to him.
"Was it her?" Joshua asked, his gruff voice softer than I had ever heard it yet. "She showed up at church, even though you weren't there."
"I highly doubt that this is Crystal's work," CJ answered. "I've never seen or heard her do anything so heartfelt. That's not to say that she's incapable of such things, but rather that it's unlikely. Only time will tell."
"So she's probably got competition?" Joshua asked.
"Likely," CJ guessed. "I hope it has nothing to do with The Rogue's article, though."
"Who the fuck goes hunting a one night stand by writing anonymous love letters? There isn't a single double-entendre or witty innuendo in there."
"Well, anyone who knows me well enough to think they've found someone they can love, is probably smarter than to believe everything that that article says about me. All it really says about me is that I'm straight and on the market."
Joshua glowered. "You just sniffed dog crap and told me it smelled nice."
"All it really says about you is that your brother is irresponsible. Whoever wrote that didn't even catch news of the worst parts of Friday night."
I spoke up, "I wish I could have been there. It sounds like I would have had a good time... for once."
"So, you're one of us now?" Joshua asked me.
I pretended to look thoughtful, "That depends what you mean by that."
CJ grabbed the note out of his locker, which was otherwise empty, and locked it up. Then, he removed the message that had been taped to it.
"Not even a sample of hand-writing," said Joshua.
I spotted it on the back of the page, "Turn it over, CJ. It says something."
His slender fingers danced at the edges of his love letter, and turned it so the back faced us. The words were upsidedown, so he spun it rightsideup.
LEAVE REPLY IN LOCKER 487
IT IS OPEN WITH NO LOCK
"That's hand-writing," said Joshua.
"Indeed," CJ said as he folded it up and put it in his pocket. "I'll compose a reply on my lunch period."
"What is your lunch period?" asked Frith.
"Three. Joshua's Two-Four. Leslie is Four-Two. And Brent is... well, I don't know when he's skipping or when he's got a spare or when it's his lunch. Nor do I care!"
"He was trying to grope me," I said. "Doesn't Leslie--"
Joshua interjected, "No offence, Frith, but... are you a guy or girl?"
I scoffed. "Does it really matter, Josssh?"
CJ laughed. "In an ideal world, perhaps not."
I liked that answer. I liked it a lot.
"Hmmm," said Joshua. Clearly, he was miffed. I watched with amusement as he tried to size me up, trying to come up with a definitive answer.
"Y'know, Frith, if you keep acting like that, you might fit in with our friends better than we do."
Joshua laughed, as we walked down the hall, and then playfully punched CJ in the shoulder.
"Huh!?" said CJ, pretending to be surprised, as he turned in the wrong direction just so that his backpack would swing at Joshua.
However, Joshua evaded the giant bag easily.
"What's in there?" I asked.
CJ blinked, as if I'd asked a silly question. He cleared his throat pretentiously. "Well, if you ask most students, I hunt and kill a student on the honour roll list during the latter half of my lunch period, and then carry their body home in the bag so that my poor old family of hobos will have something to eat at the end of the day when we huddle beneath our cardboard canopy of a house. On Fridays, I go for substitute teachers. The fat ones last all weekend."
"However," said Joshua, "I support the Leprechaun Theory, that the tenth graders started. It states that on every Wednesday, you can see a leprechaun poke its head out of the top of Cameron's backpack every so often. And if you ever hear a clinking at the bottom of his bag, it's a pot of gold."
"On top of all this," CJ added, "I've been sent down to the office three times since Grade Nine, because of rumours regarding me, my backpack, and a fictitious hit list. Oh, and one about police watching my house. In actuality, it was drug-dealers, with a pit bull, in the alleyway beside my house. But anyways..."
"No, seriously," I pressed, "what's in the bag?"
"Frith, I will tell you what is in the bag... if you tell us..." he paused and glanced at Joshua with an exchanged grin.
"No, I refuse." I told them, knowing exactly what they wanted to know. "Besides, my secret is bigger than yours... or is it?"
"Well, Brent is the authority on the dimensions of peoples' packages around here. Be it a va-jay-jay, a pe-nay-nay, or push-up bra, he claims to know it all," said Joshua.
"Actually," said CJ. "Crystal had to distract him while I tried to defuse the situation in the hotboxed bathroom on Friday. And... she got a little too intimate with him. And let's just say that...regardless of drapes and carpet, the furniture is scarce."
Joshua laughed, as we turned a corner, "So what did happen after you drove off in my dream car?"
I turned to CJ, catching the subtle smiling of his eyes.
"Hmmm..." he deliberately dragged his answer on. "She handcuffed me to the seat. And the rest, well, is none of your concern." There was a smug sound in CJ's voice, and yet his pride was derisive, as if part of him scorned what he had done.
"Damn," said Joshua, sounding envious. "I bet you told Penny what you won't tell us."
"Who's Penny?" I asked.
A short brunette jumped out at us from out of one of the backstage drama rooms, and she immediately began to sing part of 'Music Is My Hot Hot Sex' by Cansei De Ser Sexy. However, she replaced the word 'music' with 'Penny' in the lyrics.
"Penny is my boyfriend.
Penny is my girlfriend.
Penny is my dead-end.
Penny is my imaginary friend.
Penny is my brother.
Penny is my great-grand-daughter.
Penny is my sister.
Penny is my favourite waitress."
"This crazy headcase is what we like to call 'Michelle'," Joshua said to Frith as he stifled his laughter. "And Penelope is... her girlfriend."
CJ shifted behind me, "Oh. I didn't know."
"Is it a problem?" Michelle asked, as she stopped in mid-dance and cocked her head to one side. Her tone carried genuine concern. I liked this girl. She was random. She was eccentric. And yet when things needed to be serious, her emotions were down on one knee.
"No, no. I've moved on," he told her.
"Yes, you definitely have, according to The Rogue," she said. "I don't mean to offend you, but I must ask... is it true?"
"Pffft... preacher's kid on a one night stand?"
"Is that a yes or a no? We all know what happened with your sister and her boyfriend."
CJ stamped his foot lightly, becoming slightly angry, "I did not have vaginal intercourse with Crystal Jennings, nor did I drop a pill in her drink, nor did I..."
"Nor did you what?"
"I did leave in the middle of the night... But only because I was disgusted at myself, and wasn't willing to do what she wanted me to do!"
"Doesn't whether it's a one-night stand depend on whether you remain in contact?" I asked.
"Well," said Joshua, "it requires him to have taken advantage of her willingness, promising a relationship when there wasn't going to actually be one in his mind. And that's nothing CJ could ever bring himself to do."
Michelle extended a hand towards me, "Do you have a name? My Pokédex doesn't have an entry for you."
"Err... I'm Frith," I told her. Her hands were warm, intimidatingly so.
"Why do you tell her your name right away, but not me?" CJ asked.
"Because... I felt like it." I smiled.
"It is true, Michelle, that Crystal showed up at church, and CJ was absent."
CJ made a face then, and I was the only one who saw it. It seemed to suggest an unpleasant memory.
"You were crying all morning?" I whispered at his shoulder.
Michelle was looking at me quizically. If I had to have guessed, I'd have reckoned that she was giving me the same examination that Joshua had. It made me feel uncomfortable. I didn't like gender roles or labels of any kind. I didn't want to be categorized by my classmates. I wanted to remain an enigma, an exception to the rules. To every rule.
I turned to CJ, "Is she a suspect, or can she see it?"
"I'd rather not flaunt it," he told me.
I could see his hand in his pocket, caressing the paper ever so gently. It was a peculiar display of sentimentality. And I liked it.
"That's understandable. Are you a decent poet?"
He smiled, "No, especially not with rhythm. I'm a writer of prose."
We kept walking, apparently towards 'the alcove', whatever that was.
"Speaking of writers," said Joshua, "I wonder who writes for The Rogue. It's all anonymous. They go by codenames, aliases. And it gets passed down, certainly, since it's been online since before any of us got here in Grade Nine."
"Hasn't the administration tried to deal with it over the years?" Michelle wondered aloud.
"Likely. This can't be the first time that they've slandered people. I think the writers might be people who've got a problem with you and I, CJ."
"Got any enemies?" I asked them.
"None that I can think of," said Joshua.
"Did either of you do anything, intentional or not, that hurt someone recently?" Michelle asked.
"I punched a guy in the stomach and kicked him in the balls... but he's a university student, lives across the hall from Crystal's dorm."
"Why'd you do that?" I asked. "You don't seem like the violent type."
"He seduced Greg, Crystal's ex, while they were dating."
"What!?" said Joshua. "Why didn't you mention that earlier?"
"Oh, I guess I got sidetracked. I assumed Crystal phoned your house and told Kieth that Greg's not as monogamous as he claimed to be."
"Who's Kieth?" I asked.
"Greg's boyfriend," said Michelle.
"My older brother," Joshua said, a split-second after Michelle had begun to answer.
"The irresponsible chaperone?" I asked.
All three of them nodded.
"Greg left Crystal for Kieth that night, as soon as they arrived at the party, without so much as a word of goodbye," said CJ.
"And you went in to pick up the pieces?" I surmised.
"I intended to do so platonically, but I guess... there's no controlling things sometimes. And I'm afraid it may have been rebound. On top of that, she wanted me to pick up some pieces that the most of me didn't want to pick up."
"Abstinence?" I asked, for clarification.
CJ nodded. "Something many of us lacked to a crucial degree that night."
"What was I hearing about a hotboxed bathroom?"
Joshua grinned, "Can you keep a secret?"
"Other than the one you're already keeping from him," added CJ.
"What kind of secret?"
"One among us keeps an extra ace up our sleeves," said Joshua. "Ace of Hearts."
Michelle juggled her eyes within their sockets.
"Very well. I promise to keep it."
"Leslie cheated, in the hotboxed bathroom. With CJ's neighbour, who spiked the punch. Though The Rogue blames the punch spiking on Brent."
"Oh crap," exclaimed CJ. "That's a lie I let Crystal perpetuate."
"There is no English assignment to work on, is there?" I asked.
"Nope, just a casual visitation beneath the radar of his father and her boyfriend," CJ informed us. "That's the plan, anyway."
"You... condone her behaviour?"
"It's conditional," CJ said, and grinned as he paused to glance at Joshua. "Upon terminating her relationship with Brent."
"She won't like that," muttered Michelle.
"Why do I get the feeling that none of you are terribly fond of Brent?"
"Frith, he's only around our friends because of his relationship with Leslie. When they're not an item, his casual womanizing and Freudian slips won't be welcome. Not in the alcove, and not at our tables."
"Joshua, you make us sound like a clique!" Michelle complained.
"Every social circle is to some degree, right?" said CJ.
"I suppose so," said Michelle. "But it's not like any significant one person among us is calling the shots. If it was, I think she'd have been asked to choose between him and us long ago."
"I'm guessing people don't usually point and snicker or gape or cheer in CJ's and Joshua's general directions every morning."
"That would be correct, Frith." Joshua had a solemn tone.
I was dying for us to figure things out. And I felt so alive, as I had not in a long time, as I finally set foot within the confines of a social group. I reminded myself that I must maintain distinction, though. I may become one of them, but that will not be my label.
I will be an epicene, as I have always been since the days my parents turned against me. I will be genderless, and my true sex shall remain a mystery. And yet, I will seek love amongst these people.
My ambiguity will make it all the more powerful.