I heard the bell ring, somewhere. I heard it like I was hearing sound for the first time.
And then, suddenly, my mind was returned to me.
It was like a sonic boom.
I sat up too fast. My eyes were wild. I was nearly hyperventilating. “Oh my God,” I said. “Oh my God, Ocean—”
He kissed me again.
When we broke apart we were both breathing hard, but he was staring at me and he said Holy shit, but softly, like he was speaking only to himself, and I said, “I have to go, I have to go” and he just looked at me, his mind not yet fully awake and I grabbed my backpack and his eyes widened, suddenly alert, and he said—
“I have to go,” I said. “The bell rang. I have to go to class.”
This was obviously a lie, I didn’t give a shit about class, I was just a coward, trying to run away, and I grabbed the handle, pushed the door open, and he said, “No, wait—”
And I said “Maybe we should just be friends, okay?” and I jumped out of the car before he could kiss me again.
I looked back, just once, and saw him staring at me through the window as I walked away.
He looked stunned.
And I knew I’d just made everything so much worse.
I ditched bio.
Our time with the dead cat had officially come to an end—we’d be resuming regular bookwork for a while until we received our next lab assignment—but I still couldn’t face it. I didn’t know what I’d do if I saw him again. Things were still too raw. My body felt like it was now made entirely of nerves, like muscle and bone had been removed to make room for all this new emotion.
Things between us had officially spiraled out of control.
I’d been touching my lips all afternoon, confused and amazed and a little suspicious that I’d imagined the whole thing. The heat in my head wouldn’t abate. I had no idea what had happened to my life. But the insanity of the day only made me more anxious to get to practice. Breakdancing gave me focus and control; when I worked hard, I saw results. I liked how simple it was.
“What the hell is going on with you?”
This was how my brother said hello to me.
I dropped my bag on the floor. Jacobi, Bijan, and Carlos were clustered in a far corner of the dance room, pretending not to stare at me.
“What?” I said, trying to read their faces. “What’s wrong?”
Navid squeezed his eyes shut. Opened them. Looked up at the ceiling. Ran both hands through his hair. “I told you to call him,” he said. “I didn’t tell you to make out with him.”
I felt suddenly paralyzed.
Navid was shaking his head. “Listen,” he said, “I don’t care, okay? I don’t care about you kissing some dude—I never thought you were some kind of a saint—but you have to be careful. You can’t just go around making out with guys like him. People notice.”
I finally managed to pry my lips apart, but when I spoke, the words sounded like whispers. “Navid,” I said, trying really hard not to have a heart attack, “what are you talking about?”
Navid looked suddenly confused. He was staring at me like he wasn’t sure if my panic was real. Like he didn’t know if I was only pretending to act like I didn’t know how on earth he’d found out I’d kissed someone for the very first time today.
“Cars,” he said, “have windows.”
“So,” he said, irritated, “people saw you two together.”
“Yes,” I said, “I understand that, but who cares?” I was nearly shouting at him, my panic transforming too quickly into anger. “Why would anyone care? Why would anyone tell you?”
Navid frowned at me, hard. He still couldn’t seem to decide whether or not I was screwing with him. “Do you even know anything about this guy?” he said. “This Ocean kid?”
“Of course I do.”
“Then I don’t know why you’re so confused.”
I was breathing too hard. I wanted to scream. “Navid,” I said carefully, “I swear to God if you don’t tell me what the hell is going on right now I’m going to kick you in the crotch.”
“Hey,” he said, and cringed, “there’s no need to get violent.”
“I don’t understand,” I said, and I really was shouting now. “Why would anyone give two shits about who I do or don’t decide to kiss? I don’t know anyone at this school.”
“Kid,” he said, and suddenly he laughed. “You don’t have to know anyone at this school. It’s enough that he does. Your boyfriend is kind of a big deal.”
“He’s not my boyfriend.”
And then, panic creeping up my throat, squeezing—
“What do you mean,” I said, “that he’s kind of a big deal?”
“He’s, like, their golden boy. He’s on the varsity basketball team.”
And I had to sit down, right there, my head suddenly spinning. I felt sick. Legitimately nauseous. I didn’t know anything about basketball. I didn’t care about sports, generally. I couldn’t tell you shit about who did what with the ball or how to put it in a net or why it was so important to people that it did—but I’d learned one important thing about this school when I first got here:
They were obsessed with their basketball team.
They’d had a banner season the year prior and were still undefeated. I heard it every day over the morning announcements. I heard the constant, almost daily reminders about how the season was starting in just two weeks, that we should remember to support our team, we should make sure to attend local and away games, we should show up to pep rallies in school colors because school spirit was a thing, apparently. But I never went to pep rallies. I’d never been to a school game, not ever, not at any school. I only ever did the things I was absolutely required to do. I didn’t volunteer. I didn’t participate. I never joined the freaking Key Club. Just today I’d gotten an email reminding me that in fifteen days—on the day of the first basketball game of the season—everyone was supposed to dress head to toe in black; it was the school’s idea of a joke: we were supposed to be pretending to attend the funeral of the opposing team.
I thought it was ridiculous.
“Wait,” I said, confused. “How can he be on the varsity team? He’s a sophomore.”
Navid looked like he wanted to slap me upside the head. “Are you serious right now? How is it that I know more about this guy than you do? He’s a freaking junior.”
“But he’s in two of my—” I started to say, and cut myself off.
Ocean was in my AP bio class. I was the one who was out of place there—I was actually a year ahead; normally AP bio was for juniors and seniors. The other class, Global Perspectives, was an elective.
Only freshmen weren’t allowed to take it.
Ocean was a year older than me. This would explain why he seemed so certain about college when I’d asked him about it. He’d talked about choosing a school like it was a real thing; something to worry about, even. College was coming up for him. He’d be taking the SATs soon. He’d apply to schools next year.
He was a basketball player.
Oh my God.
I fell back, supine on the scuffed floor of the dance room, and stared up at the recessed lighting. I wanted to disappear.
“Is it bad?” I said, and my voice sounded scared. “Is it really bad?”
I heard Navid sigh. He walked over to me, stared down. “It’s not bad. It’s just weird, you know. It’s good gossip. People are confused.”
“Dammit,” I said, and squeezed my eyes shut.
This was exactly what I hadn’t wanted.
When I got home that day I took comfort, for the very first time, in the fact that my parents never gave a shit about my school life. They were so oblivious, in fact, that I honestly wasn’t sure my dad even knew where my school was. My coming home an hour late from a Harry Potter movie, now that—that was something to lose their heads over—but to imagine that my American high school might actually be scarier than the mean streets of suburbia? This leap seemed, somehow, impossible.