The Sea of Tranquility(4)


by Katja Millay

***

I hole up in the theater prop room for all of fourth period, measuring and drawing up plans and material lists for the shelving they need. There’s no clock in here and I’m not ready when the bell rings. I shove the legal pad with my notes on it into my backpack and head out towards the English wing. I get to Ms. McAllister’s room and walk past everyone still milling around in the hallway, eking out every last second to socialize before the bell rings. The door is propped open and Ms. McAllister looks up when I walk in.

“Aah, Mr. Bennett. We meet again.” I had her last year. They must have moved her up from junior to senior English.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Polite as always. How was your summer?”

“You’re the third person who’s asked.”

“Non-answer. Try again.”

“Hot.”

“Still loquacious,” she smiles.

“Still ironic.”

“I suppose we are both nothing if not consistent.” She stands up and turns to pick up her roster and three stacks of papers off the top of the file cabinet behind her.

“Can you bring that desk up to the front for me?” She points at a lopsided desk in the corner of the room. I drop my things on a desk in the back and walk over to pick up the broken one and move it to the front. “Just put it there.” She motions in front of the whiteboard. “I just need something to put all of this on so I can talk.” She drops the stacks of papers onto the desk as the warning bell rings.

“You need a podium.”

“Josh, I’m lucky to have a desk with a working drawer,” she notes with forced exasperation, walking over to the open classroom door without missing a beat. “You fools better get in here before that bell rings because I do believe in giving detention on the first day of school and I give morning detention not afternoon.” She sing-songs the last couple of words as a mass of students barrels into the room just before the tardy bell goes off.

Ms. McAllister doesn’t do bullshit. She’s not intimidated by the popular kids or the ones with the rich parents and she doesn’t want to be your friend. Last year, she managed to convince me that there was actually something here that might be worth learning without ever once making me talk in class.

Generally, I have two types of teachers. There are the ones who ignore me completely and pretend I don’t exist, and there are the ones who call me out and force attention on me because they think it’s good for me‌—‌or maybe just because it gives them some sort of control-freakish thrill to know that they can. Ms. McAllister isn’t either of those. She leaves me alone without ignoring me; so as teachers go, she’s damn near perfect.

She pulls out the doorstop just as Drew slips through the opening.

“Hey, Ms. McAllister.” He smiles and winks because he has no shame.

“Immune to your charms, Mr. Leighton.”

“Someday, we’ll recite poetry to one another.” He slides into the only empty desk, right in the front of the room.

“That we will. But the poetry unit isn’t until next semester so you’ll have to stow your sonnets until then.” She retreats to her desk and pulls a yellow slip of paper out of the drawer and walks back to him. “Don’t be too disappointed. We do have a date tomorrow morning. Six forty-five AM. In the media center.” She winks back at him as she lays the detention slip on his desk.

***

Nastya

Fourth hour shop class wasn’t so horrible. Mr. Turner didn’t pay much attention to me at all, which in a class of fourteen is pretty hard to do. He did check my schedule right off the bat to make sure I was in the right place and then asked me why they put me there. I shrugged. He shrugged. Then he handed it back, telling me I wouldn’t be up to speed with everyone else, but if I really wanted to stay, he could let me be an assistant or something like that. It’s obvious he doesn’t really want me participating, but I think I’ll stay. It’s a small class where I can probably be left alone, which is as much as I’m prepared to ask on day one.

I make it all the way through to fifth period before being faced with one of those inane get-to-know-you games in my suckfest of a music class‌—‌a class which I will soon be clawing my way out of by any means necessary. The teacher, Miss Jennings, a cute, twenty-something woman with a blonde bob, pale skin and hatefully-perfect piano-playing hands makes us sit in a circle. An elementary school, duck-duck-goose-style circle. This affords each of us the best possible vantage point for studying, and subsequently, dissecting one another. Oh, and getting to know each other, of course. That, too.

As get-to-know you games go, this isn’t the worst I’ve endured. Everyone has to say three things about themselves and one of those things has to be a lie. Then the class tries to figure out which one is the lie. It’s kind of sad that I’m not actually going to take part in the game, because if I was going to play, it would be fairly awesome. I’m pretty sure I would hand over large quantities of cash to listen to my classmates and the adorable blonde pixie teacher debate the possible veracity of each of my responses:

My name is Nastya Kashnikov.

I was a piano-playing prodigy who doesn’t belong anywhere near an Intro to Music class.

I was murdered two and a half years ago.

Discuss.

Instead, when they get to me, I sit stone-faced and silent. Ms. Jennings looks at me expectantly. Check your roster. She’s still looking at me. I’m looking at her. We have a weird staring thing going on between us. Check your roster. I know they told you. I’m trying to will her telepathically now, but I am sadly lacking in the superpower department.

“Would you like to share three things about yourself?” she asks as if I am simply a moron with no clue what’s going on around me.

I finally throw her a bone and shake my head as slightly as I can. No.

“Come on. Don’t be shy. Everyone’s done it so far. It’s easy. You don’t have to reveal your darkest secrets or anything,” she says lightly.

That’s a good thing, because my darkest secrets would probably give her nightmares.

“Can you at least tell everyone your name?” she finally asks, obviously not one to engage in a battle of wills. Her patience is running low and she’s covering.

Again, I shake my head. I have not broken eye contact with her yet, and I think it’s starting to freak her out a little bit. I kind of feel sorry for her, but she should have read her paperwork before class. All the other teachers did.

“O-kaaay,” she drags the word out and her tone changes. She’s really starting to get annoyed now, but then, so am I. I check out the dark brown roots coming through in her hair because it gives me something to focus on while her head is down, scanning what I assume is the class roster on a clipboard in front of her. “We’ll use process of elimination. You must be,” she pauses, her smile wavers just a little, and I know this is where it clicks because she’s all sorts of aware when she looks back up at me and says, “I am so sorry. You must be Nastya.”

This time I nod.

“You don’t talk.”

CHAPTER 4

Nastya

By the time I pull into Margot’s driveway at just after three o’clock, I’m literally drenched in relief, or maybe it’s just sweat because the humidity here is ridiculous. Either way I’ll take it because, for the first time today, I feel like I can breathe. All in all, it could have been worse. Word traveled fairly quickly after fifth hour but at least the day was almost done. I figure by tomorrow it will all be out in the open and then we can just get on with it.

Even seventh hour, the cruel joke that is my Speech and Debate elective, went as well as could be expected, which is saying a lot, seeing as how I’m at a disadvantage with the whole speech part. We got to do the infinitely cool circle thing again, but by that point I was desensitized to both my dread and the whispers that had already begun to follow me.

My good pal, Drew, was also there. He didn’t sit next to me, which I was glad for, because his comments were amusing enough and easily ignorable, but I was afraid I might have to fend off his hands, too. My relief only lasted so long before I realized that he had positioned himself directly across the circle from me so that, every time I lifted my head, I couldn’t help but see him and his I-can-make-you-a-woman eyes and his I-know-what-you-look-like-under-your-clothes smirk. I bet he practices in the mirror. I think he could teach a class. I looked down at my desk and traced the names carved in the surface to keep myself from smiling, not because I found him attractive, which he undeniably was, but because he was entertaining as all hell.

I’m actually kind of thankful that he’s there. He’s something to focus on other than the things about that class that suck; for example, everything. I should also mention that everything includes the dark-eyed, dark-haired, refreshingly charm-free jackhole from the courtyard, whose name is, apparently, Ethan. Fortunately, there were plenty of free desks in the room so I didn’t have to take him up on his infinitely appealing lap offer. Not so fortunately, one of those free desks was next to mine so that’s where he sat. He didn’t make any more comments, but he smirked a lot, and he wasn’t nearly as good at it as Drew.

I get inside and throw my backpack on the kitchen table and pull out everything that needs a signature so Margot can sign it before she goes to work. Before I can get it all unpacked, my phone vibrates, and I have to stop to dig it out. I don’t bother keeping it accessible. It’s not like I need it that often. It can only be one of two people. My mother or Margot. No one else uses the number; not even my dad anymore.

I only keep the phone for the most necessary of communication‌—‌texts, mostly one-way, from them to me. When I have to, I’ll use it to let Margot know where I am or if I’m going to be late. That was part of the deal for me staying here. It’s understood that that’s all the information I’ll part with. No How was your day? No Did you make any friends? No Have you looked for a therapist yet? Just basic logistical facts. Talking has never been the issue. Communication is the issue.

The message is from Margot. Went to grab take-out for your first day. Back in a few. I’m still trying to get used to eating at four o’clock. Margot works the night shift, which means we eat dinner early so she can shower and get to work. Then again, apparently lunch here is at ten forty-five in the morning, so I guess it all works out.

I kick off the torture devices and change into running clothes so I can go after the early bird special. I’d go now, but it’s hot and I make sure never to be outside at this time of day when the sun has a way of stalking me, searing memories into my skin. I won’t even go out to check the mail if I don’t have to. My phone vibrates again. I look at the screen. Mom. Hope your first day was good. Love you. M. I put the phone back on the table. She doesn’t expect a reply.

Margot gets back with all manner of Chinese food. We won’t need to cook for a week. That’s a good thing, because I can’t cook real food to save my life and I get the feeling, from the drawer full of take-out menus, that Margot can’t either. I’ve been here for five days and I don’t think the kitchen’s been used once. At least meals aren’t awkward with Margot. She has no problem talking enough for both of us. Whatever I fail to bring to the conversation, she dutifully makes up for. I’m not even sure she needs me sitting here.

After less than a week, I know who she’s dated for the past three years and who she’s dating now. I know all of her workplace gossip, even though I have no idea who any of the people she mentions are. I’m sure Andrea would not appreciate the fact that Margot is telling me about her financial problems and Eric would not want me know that his girlfriend cheated on him and Kelly would be appalled to learn that I am aware of her bipolar disorder and every medication she takes for it. But the more Margot talks, the less awkward it is that I don’t, and I prefer conversations about people I don’t care about. The times she brings up my family are worse, because I don’t want to think about them, and I can’t tell her to shut the hell up.