Thursday, April 21st
Back home after falling for her tricks AGAIN.
Elena asked me to skip eighth period to hang out at the coffeehouse. Ordered my usual: venti caramel macchiato, extra shot, extra hot, extra whip, and sugar-free. Barista rolled her eyes as she scribbled on the cup—hope she didn’t add extra ingredients. When Elena offered to pay, I should have known she was up to something.
“You should try tea sometime,” she said as she wrapped her palms around her cup, raising it to her face. “There are many studies—”
I tuned her out while she recited the health benefits of tea, enjoying my overly complicated espresso brew. Sure, head-to-head phase four clinical trials conducted on Facebook suggest that tea prevents cancer and heart disease, but I’ve always preferred the strong bitterness of coffee beans, bold and astringent, dark and mysterious.
“—suggesting that tea can have a lasting impact on your wellness.”
I asked her why she paid for my drink.
“So, Nathan is hosting this thing tomorrow night, and I need you to come with me.”
Nathan was Elena’s new boyfriend, creating quite the Hightower High scandal. Heaven forbid a junior dates a sophomore, but this is what happens when humans watch enough Real Housewives and Big Brother. They’d just started dating a few weeks ago, practically consuming all of Elena’s time, leaving me to my own devices (video games and RuPaul’s Drag Race—don’t judge).
“Come on, Elena,” I groaned. “I don’t want to be a third wheel.”
“But you have to. His buddies have been nagging him about this thing they do on Fridays. You might know: Dungeons & Dragons?”
“Never played it.”
“Oh Taylor, it can’t be that different from The Elder Scrolls. Besides, I need you to make me look good in front of his friends. You know, talk about Indiana Comic Con or whatever you nerds do.”
“How does that make you look good?”
“Because you’re my accessory, like a purse. If they like you, that Chi will transfer over to me like osmosis.”
“We took chemistry together. Pretty sure it doesn’t work like that.”
Elena activated her super power puppy eyes secret attack with an exaggerated frown. And just like that, I agreed to be her third wheel.
“You’re the bestest best friend a girl could ask for.”
Friday, April 22nd
The trouble with being Elena’s best friend is you’re expected to:
• Be a slim(ish), well-groomed, and fashionably dressed trophy for her to show off
• Have a perfect working knowledge of all things trending right now. Because nothing says ‘chic’ more than a skinny scarf that probably does nothing to keep you warm
• Be an all-natural, organic earth ally and not use any plastic Tupperware, only buy organic vegetables, etc. BUT at the same time…
• Be my own person
All of this AND make good grades in school to get into a decent college. Lucky for me, going to a tabletop game night meant I could throw out all the rules. I wanted Elena to look like the best girlfriend these geeks have ever seen.
I rubbed Elena’s back while we waited on the front porch, her stiff muscles like floorboards. She must really like this guy, getting all riled up about a simple game night. Very unlike her. When the door opened, I understood why.
Dear diary, shame on me for assuming; Nathan was nothing I expected for a D&D nerd: his body, extremely toned and athletic. And he was so tall. Remember when I broke the Hungry Hungry Hippos game, and the blue hippo’s mouth was stuck wide open? Well, I was that blue hippo, my mouth a gaping hole as he wrapped his arms around Elena, his gaze lingering on me a little longer than it should have.
“You must be Taylor,” he said. “Nathan. Elena’s told me so much about you.”
Like an ape, I managed a strange noise instead of human words, to which he simply smiled. Suddenly, I cursed myself for wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt and sweatpants to play Dungeons & Dragons.
Saturday, April 23rd
I learned a few things last night. First, I’m AMAZING at Dungeons & Dragons. It’s basically video games, but on a tabletop—how have I gone almost sixteen years of existence without experiencing this?!
The good part: Elena picked up quickly, and operation impress was a success. They invited us to come back every Friday, which I politely declined. One, because Elena really should be the one attending these, not me. Two, Friday nights directly conflicted with RuPaul’s Drag Race. Sorry nerds, but I’d rather watch grown men dressed as women murder each other with their icy glares than slay paper orcs whilst rolling dice (#priorities).
But the most important is number three: Nathan is… distracting. I can’t really place it. There’s something about his eyes when he talks to you, like you’re the only person in the room. It made me giddy like a schoolgirl. Not okay.
Regardless, the last thing I need right now is to spend time with my best friend’s hot boyfriend. So imagine my surprise when I woke up to this text message: Hey, it’s Nathan. Elena gave me your number. I suck at geometry. Need a tutor. She said you could help. Tomorrow at 3 pm?
I’m going to kill her.
Sunday, April 24th
What a day. Started with Elena on the phone.
“But you’re soooooooo good at math,” she said. “You helped me pass geometry last year, remember?”
“We need to discuss that, by the way. Why don’t you just tutor him yourself?”
“Because I don’t want to waste my time on math when I’m with my boyfriend. Priorities.”
House was empty since mom took my little brother on a bike ride. Nathan arrived exactly at three pm, as promised. We sat at the kitchen table, books sprawled out around us.
“Ninety degree angles are also known as right angles,” I said, pointing at the two lines on the page.
“What makes something a wrong angle?” he asked, dimples on his cheeks as he smirked.
“Uh, nothing. Angles less than ninety degrees are acute, and those greater than ninety but less than one hundred eighty are obtuse.”
Nathan leaned his right elbow on the table and propped his head on his hand. “Why are you so uptight?” he asked. “Elena always talks about how much fun you are.”
My body stiffened—I needed a breather. He was worse at geometry than Elena (no small feat). “I forgot a book upstairs. Wait here.”
I left him in the kitchen, retreating to the safety of my room. Even though it had only been a couple of hours, I understood why he struggled with math—the man lacked focus. Which was surprising, given how organized he was when playing D&D with his friends. It was as though they were two different people, like night and day, this version of Nathan a perpendicular line to the one from Friday. Perhaps he needed something interesting to keep his attention, like castles and dwarves.
“Did you draw that?”
I jumped at the sound of Nathan’s voice behind me. His eyes fixated on the sketches hanging on the wall, my notebook doodles during fifth period history.
“Yeah. I can draw those better now.”
“What is that?” he asked, scratching his head. “A badger?”
“You think it’s a badger? It’s a raccoon.”
He nodded at me, his eyes incredulous.
“What?” I asked, nudging him with an elbow. “It’s my favorite animal.”
“The raccoon is your favorite?”
“They’re really cool,” I said with a gesture towards my face. “Plus, they wear a mask.”
Nathan chuckled, flutters traveling from the bottom of my stomach into my chest. His eyes roamed across the wall, studying the pictures with an unexpected intensity. “You should draw characters for my D&D group. The guys would love it.”
“You really like that game, don’t you?”
“Of course,” he said, his gaze shifting from the raccoon to my face. “Haven’t you ever wished you could be someone else, even if for a moment?” Somehow, the gap between us closed, his piercing gray eyes peering down at me as I looked up at him for a long, breathless moment. As the cliché goes, time froze around us.
A buzzing sound interrupted our trance, and Nathan reached into his pocket. I took a cleansing breath to calm my racing heart.
“Shoot. I have to go. Date night with Elena.”
“Of course,” I said, turning away from him, placing a hand on my chest, the room spinning around me.
I listened as his footsteps descended the stairs, books shuffling in the kitchen. When the front door closed, I skulked to my window, watching as Elena wrapped her arms around Nathan’s neck to kiss him.
Finished a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream that evening.
Monday, April 25th
Avoided Elena at school today. Not sure why, but just felt a little awkward. Ran a few miles around the track before heading home. Needed the endorphins to kick in. Decided to stay away from Nathan.
Tuesday, April 26th
Got a text message from Nathan today: Had a blast hanging out Sunday afternoon. Another tutoring session? You pick date/time.
Ignored the text and threw my phone beside me on the bed. Did I turn off Read Receipts? Settings, Messages, Send Read Receipts “On.”
Thursday, April 28th
Elena cornered me in the cafeteria during lunch break.
“Are you trying to mess this up for me? That is so like you,” she said, hands on her hips with a wide stance.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, my mouth a little dry.
“He was a jerk and you know it,” I said. “You were too good for him.”
“Doesn’t matter. You always make me choose between my boyfriends or my best friend. Why can’t I have both? It’s not a competition. Are you jealous?”
Curious eyes floated in our direction, heat rising up my neck. Elena excelled at theatrics.
“Alright, alright,” I said, conceding with both hands raised in the air. “What do you want me to do?”
“Come with me to D&D nights AND help Nathan with geometry.”
I shook my head. “Come on, Elle. You know Fridays are my ‘watch drag queens annihilate each other’ nights. You don’t need me for D&D.”
“Fine. Tutoring, then.”
She smiled, looping her arm into mine as she pulled me back to our lunch table. “I just want you to like each other.”
That’s what worried me the most.
Friday, April 29th
Sat on the living room floor with an empty pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Will need to run tomorrow.
First, they eliminated my favorite drag queen tonight, even after she somersaulted on stage like those dragonflies that do upside-down backflips (thank you Discovery Channel).
Second, spent the entire night texting with Elena about how spell slots worked. For a first-timer, why she chose a Clockwork Soul Sorcerer is beyond me. Probably because she liked the fantasy of wearing a pretty robe. I couldn’t even fully enjoy watching grown men in wigs yelling at each other. Why wasn’t her boyfriend helping her?
Well, dear diary, that brings us to number three: Nathan was too busy texting me. We confirmed Sunday afternoon at the coffeehouse (I figured we would be safer in public). Then he pestered me about my drawings, practically begging me to illustrate his party for an end-of-campaign celebration. I pushed back, standing firmly on the fact that I mostly dabbled in sketches, rarely venturing into watercolors.
I agreed to paint him something by the end of next week.
Sunday, May 1st
Ordered a venti caramel macchiato, extra shot, extra hot, extra whip, and sugar-free. Barista was new and struggled to get my order right. Pretty sure I tasted real sugar. Nathan drank tea.
“Perpendicular lines cross to form—”
“How’s my illustration coming along?” Nathan asked. He had one earbud playing an Evanescence CD, the other ear allegedly learning about geometry.
“Slowly. I asked Elena to describe the others in your group, but she just wanted to talk about junior prom.”
His lips pressed into a line. “Right.”
“She’s pretty excited about it.”
Nathan changed the subject, describing each character, complete with their backstories, classes and subclasses, and how he planned the campaign’s final epic encounter. His eyes twinkled with the sconces on the wall, a completely different Nathan than the lethargic one from five minutes ago.
“Let’s get back to geometry,” I said, interrupting him while he described how his party tamed a dragon last week.
“Fine.” He tapped his pencil on the notebook in front of him. “Why do you like math so much?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I wouldn’t say that I enjoy it, but it’s like a universal language. Black and white. No ambiguity. Everything makes sense as long as you follow the rules.”
His eyes darkened, digging into my soul, gazing as if searching for something I hid within the depths of the unspoken. “Well, that’s no fun. Rules are meant to be broken. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Somehow, we weren’t talking about math anymore. I cleared my throat, ending the session and leaving him at the coffeehouse. Made an excuse that I had diarrhea and pooped my pants.
Tuesday, May 3rd
Text from Nathan: How’s the illustration coming along?
My reply: Fine
Can I come over and see it? he asked.
Ignored his text. Still forgot to turn off Read Receipts.
Wednesday, May 4th
Woke up to a text from Nathan: Everything okay?
My reply: Been busy
Another tutoring session? Got a test next week
Sunday, I replied. Get through your prom first.
May the fourth be with you.
I replied the only acceptable way: may the force be with us all
TY! Elena didn’t get it
Left the conversation there. Finally remembered to turn off Read Receipts.
Friday, May 6th
Handed Elena the finished illustration, framed perfection with a barbarian, bard, cleric, paladin, and her Clockwork Soul Sorcerer (girl, seriously).
“Oh my goodness, he’s going to love it!” she exclaimed, pulling me into a hug. “Are you sure you don’t want to give it to him yourself?”
I rubbed the back of my neck. Honestly, the best strategy was to stay away from Nathan. Whatever this was, it needed to end.
“You know I won’t cheat on RuPaul, Elle.”
She kissed me on the cheek as she made her way out. “I know. You’re such a loyal guy.”
Saturday, May 7th
Elena prepared for prom at my house. She looked warm and radiant in a dress of russet-colored velvet, her dark hair swept up in a glass-beaded net that sparkled in the light.
“You look stunning,” I told her as she stood in my living room.
“Would RuPaul eliminate me?” she asked.
“We’re taking pictures at Nathan’s before we go. Sure you don’t want to tag along? He really wants to thank you for the illustration.”
“No, I can’t. Got to do some stuff for my mom before she goes to work.” A little lie hurt no one. Besides, I wasn’t really in the mood to deal with him. Or them, together. Like every other bad habit in my life, the best thing I could do was abstain. When I was addicted to World of Warcraft, my father took a sledgehammer to the computer: most effective antidote ever. And since I couldn’t sledgehammer Nathan, avoidance would have to do.
Fired up the Xbox to play some Elder Scrolls, transporting my mind away from the real world. Which worked until a phone call sucked me back in, a bit past eleven.
“I just died to a spider. No thanks to you. This better be good,” I said, pausing the game.
Sniffs came through the other end of the line.
“Elle? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” she said, her voice a whimper. “Prom was perfect.”
“Okay,” I said, sitting up from the floor, “help me here.”
“He dropped me off, and he kissed me goodnight, just like in the movies. But when I asked him to come up, he left. Why would he do that?”
“I don’t know.” And I truly didn’t. Was he a modern-day gentleman? Perhaps. If there’s one thing Elena and I avoided, it was all the intimate details of our relationships. Basically siblings—some topics off-limits. “Do you want to come over and watch Clueless? I can make popcorn.”
She laughed, her tone lighter. “No carbs after seven. I’m going to bed. See you at school. Love you.”
“You too,” I said, hanging up the phone. The living room, now a veritable mess, needed to be cleaned before mom returned from her shift at the hospital.
And just as I was finishing up in the kitchen, the doorbell rang. Maybe Elena changed her mind after all. Reaching for the Clueless DVD, I opened the door with a smile on my face.
“Guess you couldn’t resist movie and popcorn?”
My mouth hung open when I saw him, like broken blue hippo open. Nathan wore black and white evening attire, his hair combed into meticulous order, looking elegant and commanding. Bold and astringent. Dark and mysterious.
A flush crept up my chest as I stood there in my Pokemon pajamas. “Uh, what are you doing here?” I asked.
He turned his phone, its screen displaying a photo of the D&D illustration I’d given him the day before, his jaw set as the moonlight illuminated his wild eyes. “I don’t know, but I have this feeling. Everything you’ve said makes sense.”
A lump formed in my throat, both afraid and excited at what would come next.
“Taylor, you’re my right angle.”