The Sea of Tranquility(11)


by Katja Millay

I hear someone tell Kevin, in a hushed voice, to shut up. The kids around him look anywhere from curious to uncomfortable to downright astonished by his line of questioning. I’m in the curious camp myself, but I’m trying to act disinterested. I can tell Mr. Turner’s picked up on it, too, because he keeps glancing in that direction. He’s not going to interfere, but he damn sure wants to know what’s being said. He looks almost disgusted. I know that I’m missing some vital piece of information here and I can’t ask anyone what it is. Why has he been emancipated? Are his parents abusive? Dead? In jail? Out of the country? Maybe there’s a top secret spy mission involved.

My mind turns while the conversation continues. I’m still trying to figure out why Josh has been emancipated and what it has to do with the fact that everyone stays the hell out of his way. We’ve been sitting here for all of forty-five seconds and yet I almost feel like the air in the room has gotten heavier.

***

Josh

I can see their expressions without looking. Usually everyone ignores me, but the times when they don’t are worse. Like now. You either get the ignorant crap spewed by morons like Kevin Leonard or you get the sucks-to-be-you stares. Especially from the girls. The girls are the worst. Drew says I should use it to my advantage; that I waste the shitty cards I’ve been dealt and that I should at least get something out of being such a tragic figure. But there’s something about being pity-fucked that just doesn’t sit well. It’s hard to want a girl who looks at you like you’re a lost puppy she wants to take home and feed or a dejected child who needs to curl up in her lap and be coddled. There’s nothing hot about a girl feeling sorry for me. Maybe if I was desperate, but probably not even then.

The adults are even worse because they love to make their dumbass comments about how well I’m doing; how well adjusted I’ve become; how well I handle everything. As if they have any clue. The only thing I’ve learned to do well is avoid, but everyone would rather believe it’s all good. That way they can crawl back under the shelter of that rock they live under. The one they think death can’t see them through.

It’s even the same with the teachers. I can get out of almost any assignment I want if I play the death card. It makes everyone uncomfortable, so they’ll do just about anything you want to get you to go away so they can pretend it doesn’t happen. They get to convince themselves that they empathize and that they’ve done their good deed for the day. When I’m lucky, they just ignore me because that’s easier for all of us anyway. Easier than having to acknowledge death.

One death card might be more than enough to play for a missed assignment or copping a feel on some girl, but I’m racking up a full deck at this point, and I can probably get away with almost anything. People started looking the other way a long time ago. Maybe I did, too.

When I was eight I went to a spring training game with my dad. Once a month my parents would split up and each take either my sister, Amanda, or I out for the day. One month I’d go with my dad and Amanda would go with my mom. The next month we’d switch. It was March and it was my turn to go with my mom, but since that’s when the game was, I begged to go with my dad instead. I told my mom she could have me April and May to make up for it. Because I was such a f**king prize. My mom said it sounded like a good deal to her and made me shake on it.

My dad and I got home at six o’clock. I had fallen asleep in the car on the way home. He woke me up when we pulled in but he ended up carrying me into the house anyway because my ass was not crawling out of that car. We ate too much, laughed too much, yelled too much. My stomach hurt. My face was sunburnt. I lost my voice and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. It was the last happy day of my life.

When I woke up, I didn’t have a mom or a sister anymore, but apparently it would all work out, because we’d end up having more money than we would ever need. The trucking company’s lawyers said it was a generous settlement. My dad’s lawyers said it was fair. Fair compensation for my mother’s life. Fair compensation for my dead sister. They didn’t consider the fact that I really lost my father, too, that day. That something in him broke, shattered, melted, combusted, disintegrated like the car my mother was driving when an 18-wheeler delivering soda drove right over it. But I’m sure if they had considered that, too, they would have determined that it was also more than fair. Generous, even. I don’t have a sister to bitch about or a mother to talk to or a father build things with. But I have millions of nearly untouched dollars in bank accounts and brokerage funds and life is so very f**king fair.

“It’s completely awesome,” I reply, hoping my agreement will get Kevin to turn back around and impress someone else with his ignorance and talk of legendary partying. “Nobody gives a shit what I do.” It’s true in more ways than one. I look up and focus my eyes on his, hoping he understands.

I go back to finishing the scale drawing I’ve been working on, glad that everyone’s attention has shifted back to more important things, like math tests and hot girls. Mr. Turner is making his way around the room, looking over everyone’s shoulders to check their progress. He passes my table and glances behind me.

“Nastya, you can’t draw sitting up there. Why don’t you move over and sit at the empty seat next to Kevin?” He sounds almost apologetic for asking her to move. I’m surprised he’s even expecting her to do the assignment. So far he’s been acting like she’s not even in the class, which we both know she shouldn’t be. But I guess he got stuck with her, because she’s still here. I think she makes people as uncomfortable as I do. Mr. Turner’s never been awkward with me, but he sure as hell is around her. Maybe it’s the clothes, or lack thereof, because he always seems kind of scared to look at her. I had forgotten she’d been behind me this whole time, and that she probably heard the entire exchange earlier. She starts picking up her things and Mr. Turner shifts his attention back to me.

“Looks good,” he says, checking out the sketch in front of me. “What are you going to use?”

“European ash, probably. Natural finish,” I reply. He nods, but stands there a second longer.

“Everything ok?” he asks and I know he’s referring to the Kevin situation, which is stupid, because I don’t let that crap bother me anymore.

“Everything’s good,” I tell him, turning the ruler on my paper as he walks back up to his desk. Behind me, I hear Nastya hop down off of the counter, the click of her heels hitting the floor. She passes behind me, moving around my table to the one where Kevin Leonard is laughing his self-congratulatory ass off. Everyone’s working on their own now, and the noise level has kicked up considerably, so I’m not sure if I’m imagining things, or maybe I’m just crazy, when I hear the words.

You lie. They aren’t even a whisper. They drift into my consciousness so soft they almost have no form, as if they’re made of air and longing, but I swear I hear them anyway. When I look up, the only person who could have said them is settling down on a stool next to Kevin Leonard and I kick myself for being ridiculous, because I know they can’t be real, and that the longing those words were born from is mine.

***

I make it to art just under the wire, slipping in and sitting at an empty table in the back, behind Clay Whitaker. I’m not much for art but there were no course numbers left to sign me up for an extra shop class. I’d taken them all, so I needed another elective to fill my schedule. Preferably one without homework or thought involved. The path of least resistance is well worn by my boots. Mrs. Carson lets me get by with turning in sketches of furniture that I love and whatever I’m designing to build at some point. Sometimes I draw stuff I see in antique stores. Things I wish I had the talent to make. Maybe one day. I’m not that great when it comes to the drawing. I’m ok. Not terrible, not amazing. I glance at the table in front of me. Clay Whitaker is amazing. He can do with a sketchbook and charcoal what I wish I could do with lumber and tools. I pull out my backpack and rummage through it for the picture I printed off the internet last night. I barely get started when Clay turns around.

“What are you drawing?” He inclines his head to get a better view of the picture in front of me.

It’s a late 19th century George II-style marble-topped console table. Our assignment was to bring in a photograph to recreate so that’s what I picked.

“Table,” I say.

“One day you should try drawing something with two legs instead of four.”

Drawing people doesn’t interest me, plus, I suck at it. “What are you drawing?” I ask.

“Who, not what,” he corrects. Clay rarely draws anything other than people. He’s obsessed with human faces. If I’m forever drawing furniture, he’s forever drawing people. He’s damn good at it, too. It’s almost creepy how realistic his drawings look. There is some arcane quality about his sketches; some way he makes you see past the face itself and into it. I’ve seen him make even the plainest, most uninspiring face interesting in ways I don’t have words for. I’m jealous of his talent. If I didn’t have something of my own to love like that, I’d be insanely jealous. As it is, I can appreciate his ability without hating him for it, but I know there are a few people in this class who can’t. Sometimes I think Mrs. Carson, herself, is one of them. It must be kind of depressing to have to teach someone who surpasses your abilities on every level.

My attention shifts back to Clay as he drags a 4x6 photograph off his table and passes it back to me with a shit-eating grin on his face like he knows something I don’t. I take the picture out of his hands and look down at it. I’m not sure who I expected it to be, but it certainly wasn’t the girl whose face I’m looking at now. Even so, I can’t say I’m surprised. If there’s an interesting face in this school, it’s Nastya Kashnikov’s, maybe just because she never opens her mouth to take away from the mystery. I stare at the picture a second longer than I should. She’s looking in the general direction of the lens, but not directly facing it. The camera must have been zoomed in on her, because it’s not that well focused, and it’s obvious that she didn’t know the picture was being taken.

“Why her?” I ask, reluctantly handing it back.

“Her face is insane, even with all that shit she covers it up with. If I can do that justice, I’ll never need to draw another girl again.” He’s staring at the photograph like he’s picturing how she looks without the make-up. I want to tell him he’s right. What she looks like in that picture is nothing compared to what she looks like without a trace of make-up on and her hair pulled off her face. That’s what I’d like a picture of, instead of having to rely on my memory of her, lost and dripping sweat in my garage at one in the morning.

“I wouldn’t think she was your type.” I yank my attention away from thoughts I shouldn’t be having and put the focus back on him so maybe he won’t notice, but Clay always notices. Clay’s as much of an outcast here as anybody and I know he’s a watcher, too. I’ve seen enough of his drawings to know how many people he studies when they don’t know he’s looking. And when Clay looks, he sees, and that’s the most disconcerting thing of all.

“My dick doesn’t have to want her. Just my pencil.” He smiles at me again, like he’s got some secret of mine. He probably does. He’s always watching me like he never got the message to leave me the hell alone. For some reason, I don’t mind. He stays in the fringes, and other than the shit he still occasionally takes for coming out, he flies under the radar. I go back to my own crappy drawing and then kick myself when my mouth opens again.

“How did you get the picture?”

“Michelle.” The name is an answer in itself. Yearbook Michelle. Clay’s the only one who doesn’t throw the word yearbook in front of her name when he says it. She sits with him every day at lunch, camera all but surgically attached to her hands. “I got her to take it in the courtyard one day when Nastya wasn’t looking.” He shrugs, looking a little guilty, though not at all apologetic. He uses her name like he knows her and I wonder how well.