“Alright then, let’s get to work,” Mrs. Sharecourt announced first thing Monday morning. “I will give you today to continue working on your assignments. Find your partners please.” As everyone scrambled and chairs were being pulled from desks, Mark checked for Elisabeth, his partner. He spotted her making her way over to him, shoulder-length dark curls bouncing, notebook in hand and her bag secured over her shoulder.
“Hey there!” she greeted in her usual cheerful tone, making herself comfortable in the seat beside him. “Hey,” Mark responded, moving over a bit to make room.
“I forgot my book, mind if we share?”
“No problem,” he assured her, “but you’ll have to come closer so we can read together.” They were so close now, that their knees almost touched which didn’t bother Mark at all. She smelled sweet like vanilla spice, not overpowering like the way some girls did with their perfume.
“This book is sooo boring,” she whispered after they read a couple of paragraphs.
He let out a little chuckle. “I am inclined to agree with you, but we’ll get through it.”
They forged on taking notes with mostly Mark figuring out the answers to the essay-style questions. He found himself sailing through their project with ease, in school in general; as he should, due to all those times his dad made him buckle down to his homework. Many times, he would rather have reached for his guitar (he’s in the school band), than open a book, but his dad’s watchful eye paid off because he now had two major student awards to add to his resume.
He wondered how his dad found the energy to get after him, with once having to work two jobs to support them after his mom left. Over the years, she really did make an effort to see him, but since high school, her visits lessened; Mark’s connection to her mostly came in the form of phone calls and texts. But every once in a while, she fit him into her calendar - like today. Maybe she finally wanted to know something about his life after all, and he could maybe tell her that despite his good grades and being in the school band, most of the kids made him feel like he was from another planet.
And he knew he was different.
Sometimes, as he walked the elaborate hallways adorned with its fancy architecture, or walked into a classroom, he would hear ‘freak’ yelled out just because he wore dark clothing, had midnight black spikey hair and piercings everywhere. He knew he stood out from the crowd, like an anomaly. Thus, the reason why he let very few people get too close; save for his best friend Tristan, who was just as much of an outcast with his shaggy hair that constantly brushed his eyes, and his over-sized long-sleeved shirts. In a sea of ‘polished-until-they-shined’ shoes, crisp shirts, and latest fashions, the two of them were a walking distraction in their school where the unspoken rule was an “us” and “them” mentality. He was definitely in the “them” category.
Then there was Elisabeth or Lis, as Mark pet-named her. She was definitely in the “us” category. But she was different too, in a good way; not at all like her stuck-up, supercilious friends. And she seemed to not mind talking to him. When he first started the class, he often caught her eyes in his direction, but not condescending, just a glance. And earlier, while reading together, he was sure he felt her knee touch his. Briefly, he dared himself to wonder if it could’ve been deliberate? He dismissed the thought; she could have her pick of any of the Head Preps or even the Class President if she wanted (if he didn’t already have a girlfriend).
Mrs. Sharecourt suddenly called out for the classes’ attention. “Everyone, I must step out for just a moment. Please carry on.” Nobody carried on. She was barely out the door, when everyone abandoned their books and anything English related. The chatter and laughter erupted like the hub in the cafeteria at lunchtime.
Elisabeth didn’t hesitate either, taking full advantage of the time in getting to know her friend. “So, for those rare times when we don’t have homework, what do you like to do?”
Showing interest. Mark liked that. “Sometimes I hang out with Tristan, or play guitar- I taught myself,” he added proudly. Obviously impressed, her dark brown eyes widened. “That is so cool. My mom made me take piano lessons, but I never really got the hang of it.”
“I tinkered with it, so to speak,” he said, putting his pen in the book to mark where they left off. “but once I picked up the guitar, that was it, and I love the movies.”
“The movies!” she squealed a little too loudly drawing disapproving eyes to where they were sitting. This line of conversation resulted in everything film-their favourite types, favourite stars, and online shows they liked. Just then, to much student dismay, Mrs. Sharecourt returned.
“Even though there’s FilmFlix,” Elisabeth continued to finish up what she was saying. “I still like going to an actual MOVIE theatre. There’s a new movie I wanted to see—"
“Sorry, I was away longer than expected.” Mrs. Sharecourt glanced at the clock. “I hope you got a substantial amount done. Remember the assignment is based on just the first three chapters.” The bell clanged and everyone made a rush for the door. Mark and Elisabeth quickly cleared their desks to get going as well. They would see each other again, after lunch, in French class. Normally, this would get his heart excited, but the supposed meeting with his mom later preoccupied his mind. He still had not gotten any sort of confirmation from her. Not a good sign. Then, half an hour before the end of the day in Science class, he heard a faint sound signaling a text message. Discreetly, when Mr. Nikolos turned his back, Mark pulled his phone from his pants pocket.
I remember our meeting for 5 pm today as planned.
See you soon. How is school?
You’d know if you kept in contact more often, he thought bitterly, returning the phone to his pocket.
Shortly after getting home, Elisabeth made herself a sandwich, and then yelled out a quick hi/bye to her mom, as she flew up the stairs to her room to check her email. Nothing special. She then fished for her phone in her bag, and that’s when she saw it- Mark’s copy of her book that they were working on in class. She must have taken it when they were hurrying to leave. She made it a point to text him after her sandwich…
Mark stood in front of his closet trying to decide on something appropriate. His mom had said she made reservations at some ritzy restaurant. In the end, he chose black dress pants (big surprise), and the white Victor Valentine shirt she’d given him for his birthday, the only non-black item in his wardrobe. Going over to the bathroom mirror, he studied his reflection, figuring what to tone down. Bad enough he had to wash out the spikes. Now staring at the little gold circles in his earlobes and nose, he thought ‘overkill,’ and decided to lose them all, except for the nose-ring.
Either she accepts me, or she doesn’t.
All set to go, he checked his cell to see he had two minutes to spare. Punctuality was another one of his strong points. Thanks, dad.
It was now 5:15…
5:30…WTF?! She did it again.
Figuring that she probably wasn’t coming, he already began loosening his tie, when his cell dinged. “Hello.”
“I’m so sorry honey, I’m running late. Give me a couple more minutes and I should be there.”
“I should”, not, “I will” be there? A couple more minutes? Really? He’d already been waiting for over half an hour!
“Okay, whatever,” he countered, trying to steady the depth of his rage. “Where are you?” But she had already hung up.
Pushed by a wave of furious anger, Mark hurled the cell across the room which landed in a pile of clothes waiting to be washed. It was always something with her. What did she say last time? Oh yeah, her car suddenly needed to be taken in. And the time before that- she had to take an important call. He flopped on his bed looking up at the ceiling. He decided no more chances. How could I’ve been so stupid believing her? Bitch!
Ten minutes later, the doorbell sang. It couldn’t be his mom, he just got off the phone with her, and his dad was at work. Peering through the peephole when he got to the door, awaited an unexpected visitor…
“Lis?” he exclaimed with both surprise and wonder, upon opening the door. For a moment, she just stared at him. She wasn’t used to seeing him so – normal. She liked the other way too, his edginess was part of his appeal, but this look was one she could get used to.
“Sooo sorry to just show up, but I wanted to give you your book back.” She explained, reaching into her bag to get it. “I must’ve grabbed it when we rushed for our next class.”
“Aww, that’s okay, thanks,” he said taking it. “You came all the way to do that?” Her kindness touched him.
“I sent a text, but when I didn’t hear back, I thought I could just swing by.” She shrugged, “And anyway, I’m not that far from you.” She punctuated this with a huge sunny smile. Then, suddenly realized that maybe now was not a good time. “Oh, you’re heading out, I should get going then.”
“I am, I mean…no, I was supposed to, not anymore,” he said quickly, stopping her as she turned to leave. “Are you busy later?”
Her glossy, pretty eyes maintained steady contact with his hopeful blue ones. “No.”
By now, Mark knew he could forget about seeing his mom tonight, but since he was already dressed, and with the girl of his dreams right there in front of him, maybe he could still look forward to an evening out after all.
“What movie was it again, that you wanted to see?”