The Sea of Tranquility(2)


by Katja Millay

Behind him, Ms. Unpleasant quickly scrawls something on his form and signs the bottom. She passes it back to him, but he’s still looking at me. I point to her and raise my eyebrows at him. Aren’t you going to get what you came for? He turns and takes the form from her hands, thanks her and winks. He winks at the menopausal office lady. He’s so blatantly obvious, it’s almost inspired. Almost. She shakes her head again and shoos him toward the door. Well-played, Ken, well-played.

While I’ve been amusing myself with the office drama, Margot’s been whispering with a woman who I assume is the guidance counselor. Drew, who I desperately want to keep calling Ken, is still standing near the door, talking to a couple other guys who are waiting at the back of the line. I wonder if he’s purposely trying to piss off Barbie. It seems easily done.

“Let’s go.” Margot re-emerges, ushering me toward the front doors.

“Excuse me!” a woman’s raised voice shrills, before we make it to the exit. Everyone in line turns in unison, watching the woman hold up a file folder in my direction. “How do you pronounce this name?”

“NAH-stee-ya,” Margot enunciates, and I inwardly cringe, acutely aware of the audience around us. “Nastya Kashnikov. It’s Russian.” She tosses the last two words off over her shoulder, obviously pleased with herself for some reason. We head out the door with everyone’s eyes on our backs.

When we reach the car, she lets out a sigh and her demeanor noticeably shifts back to the Margot I know. “Well, that hurdle’s cleared. For now,” she adds. Then she smiles her dazzling, all-American-girl smile. “Ice cream?” she asks, sounding like she might need it more than me. I smile back, because even at 10:30 in the morning, there’s only one answer to that question.

CHAPTER 2

Josh

Monday, 7:02 AM. Pointless. That’s what today is going to be, along with the 179 school days that come after it. I’d contemplate the waste of it all now if I had the time, but I don’t. I’m gonna be late as it is. I head to the laundry room and yank some clothes out of the still-running dryer. I forgot to turn it on last night, but I don’t have time to wait; so now I’m stuck pulling on a pair of damp jeans while I walk and trying not to trip over myself. Whatever. It’s not like I’m surprised.

I grab a coffee mug out of the cabinet and attempt to fill it without spilling it all over the counter and burning myself in the process. I put it on the kitchen table, next to a shoe box full of prescription bottles, in time to see my grandfather coming out of his room. His white hair is so disheveled that he momentarily reminds me of a mad scientist. He walks alarmingly slow, but I know better than to offer to help him. He hates that. He used to be so badass and now he’s not, and he feels every bit of that loss.

“Coffee’s on the table,” I say, grabbing my keys and heading for the door. “I laid out your pills and logged them already. Bill’s coming in an hour. You sure you’ll be ok until then?”

“I’m not an invalid, Josh,” he practically growls at me. I try not to smile. He’s pissed. Pissed is good. It makes things seem a little bit normal.

I’m in my truck and down the driveway in seconds, but I’m not sure it’ll be enough. I don’t live far from school, but the back-up to get into the parking lot on the first day is always a bitch. Most teachers will look the other way today, but I wouldn’t have to worry about it anyway; no one’s going to give me a detention, late or not. I floor it, and a couple of minutes later, I’m waiting to get into the lot. The line of cars snakes out onto the road, but at least it’s periodically moving. I’m running on four hours of sleep and only one cup of coffee. I wish I had had time to grab another one for myself, but I didn’t, and it probably would have ended up in my lap by the time I got to school anyway.

I pull out my schedule while I’m idling and check it again. Shop isn’t until fourth period, but at least it’s not all the way at the end of the day. The rest of it I don’t give a shit about.

When I finally make it onto campus, Drew is out front with his usual followers, regaling them with any number of BS stories about his summer. I know they’re all BS because he spent most of the summer hanging out with me and I know for a fact that we didn’t do crap. Apart from the time he spent disappearing with whatever girl he was hooking up with, he was on my couch. Looking at him now, I don’t think there’s anyone happier to be back at school. I’d roll my eyes if it didn’t seem such a chick thing to do, so instead, I just stare blankly ahead and keep walking. He nods in my direction as I pass, and I return the gesture. I’ll talk to him later. He knows I won’t go near him when he’s surrounded. No one else acknowledges me and I pass through the rest of the crowds, into the main courtyard, just as the first bell rings.

My first three classes could all be the same. All I do is listen to rules, pick up syllabi and try to stay awake. My grandfather was up five times last night, which means I was up five times last night, too. I really have to start getting more sleep. In a week you will, I think bitterly, but I won’t dwell on that now.

10:45 AM. First lunch. I’d rather just head straight to shop. Eating this early sucks. I make my way to the courtyard and park myself on the back of the bench farthest from the center, the same one I’ve sat at for the past two years. No one bothers me because it’s easier to pretend I don’t exist. I’d rather spend the half-hour sweeping sawdust than sitting here, but there isn’t any sawdust to sweep yet. At least it’s early enough that the metal benches aren’t scorching under the sun. Now I just have to wait out the next thirty minutes, which will probably be the longest of the day.

***

Nastya

Surviving. That’s what I’m doing now, and it hasn’t been quite as horrible as I expected. I get a lot of sideways looks, probably because of the way I’m dressed, but other than that, no one really talks to me. Except for Drew, the Ken doll. I did run into him this morning, but mostly it was a non-event. He talked. I walked. He gave up. I’ve made it to lunch and this is the test. No one’s really had much of an opportunity for socializing yet, so I’ve been able to skate below the surface, but lunch is just a highly unsupervised hell dimension. Avoidance seems the best option at first, but I have to face the looks and the comments at some point. Personally, I’d rather shove a cactus up my ass, but apparently that option isn’t on the table, so I might as well just rip the Band-Aid off now and get it over with. Then, I’ll find an empty restroom and check my hair and fix my lipstick or as we cowards like to call it‌—‌hide.

I try to surreptitiously check out my clothes and make sure nothing’s where it shouldn’t be and that I’m not flashing anything more than I’d originally planned. I’ve got on the same stilettos as Friday, but this time I went with a low cut black tank top and an almost non-existent skirt that my ass doesn’t look half-bad in. I left my hair down so it falls past my shoulders and covers the scar on my forehead. My eyes are rimmed with thick black eyeliner. It’s slutty and probably only attractive to the basest of human creatures. Drew. I smile to myself as I recall him looking me up and down in the hallway this morning. Barbie would be pissed.

I don’t dress this way because I like it so much or because I want people to stare at me in general. But people are going to stare at me for the wrong reasons anyway, and if they are going to stare at me for the wrong reasons, then at least I should get to pick them. Plus, a little unwelcome staring is a small price to pay for scaring everyone off. I don’t think there’s a girl in the school who will want to talk to me, and any boy who’s interested probably won’t be much for conversation. And so what? If I’m going to get unwanted attention, better it be for my ass than for my psychosis and my effed-up hand.

Margot hadn’t gotten home by the time I left for school this morning or she might have tried to talk me out of it. I wouldn’t have blamed her. I think my first period teacher wanted to nail me on a dress code violation when I first walked in; but once he checked my name on his roster, he ushered me to a seat and didn’t look at me again for the rest of the class.

Three years ago, my mother would have had a fit, cried, lamented her shortcomings as a parent, or possibly just locked me in my room, if she saw me at school like this. Today, she’d look disappointed but would ask if it made me happy and I’d nod my head and lie so we could pretend it wasn’t a problem. The clothes probably wouldn’t even be the biggest issue, because I’m not sure she would mind the streetwalker uniform nearly as much as the make-up. My mother loves her face. It’s not out of arrogance or conceit; it’s out of respect. She’s grateful for what she was born with. She should be. It’s an awesome face, a perfect face, an ethereal face. The kind people write songs and poems and suicide notes about. It’s that exotic kind of beauty that men in romance novels obsess over, even if they have no idea who you are, because they must possess you. That kind of beauty. That’s my mom. I grew up wanting to look just like her. Some people tell me I do, and maybe it’s true, under there somewhere. If you scrape off the make-up and dress me to look like a girl as opposed to what I look like now‌—‌a profanity-spewing guttersnipe being dragged out of a crack house on Cops.

I imagine my mother shaking her head and giving me the disappointed look, but she chooses her battles these days and I’m not sure this one would make the cut. Mom’s beginning to believe I may be a lost cause and that’s a good thing. Because I am, and I left her house so she could accept it. I was a lost cause a long time ago. That thought makes me sad for my mother, because she didn’t ask for any of this. She thought she’d gotten her miracle, and I was the only one who knew she hadn’t, no matter how much I wanted to give it to her. Maybe I was the one who took it away.

Which brings me back to the courtyard, where I am still waiting on the outskirts like a guest on an episode of Extreme Avoidance: High School Edition. I planned to get here early enough to make it across before lunch was in full swing, but I got sidelined by my history teacher, and that three minutes meant the difference between a half-empty courtyard and the one teeming with students that I’m staring at right now. I’m focused, at the moment, on the brick pavers covering the entirety of said courtyard, and seriously questioning the wisdom of my four-and-a-half-inch stilettos. I’m gauging my odds of making it across with both my ankles and my dignity intact when I hear a voice to my right call out.

I turn instinctively, but I know immediately that it’s the wrong thing to do. Sitting on a bench, a couple feet away, is the owner of that voice and he’s looking right at me. He’s leaning back casually, with his legs spread farther apart than they need to be in a blatant display of wishful thinking. He smiles, and I can’t deny that he knows he’s good-looking. If self-adoration were cologne, he would be the boy you couldn’t stand next to without choking. Dark hair. Dark eyes. Like me. We could be brother and sister, or one of those really creepy couples who look like they should be brother and sister. I’m pissed at myself for looking. Now, when I turn and ignore him to make my way across the battlefield, I can be certain that his eyes‌—‌as well as every other set of eyes on that bench with him‌—‌are going to be trained on my back. And when I say my back, I mean my ass. I re-contemplate the unstable surface of the pavers. No pressure or anything. I avert my eyes back to the task at hand in time to hear him add, “If you’re looking for someplace to sit, my lap is free.” And there it is. It’s not even clever or original, but his equally wit-free friends laugh anyway. There go my hopes for our bourgeoning sibling kinship. I step off the ledge and start walking, keeping my eyes trained straight ahead as if I have some purpose outside of simply surviving this walk. I’m not even halfway through the day. I still have four of the seven classes left on the schedule that shit gave birth to.