He was expelled later that day. He’d apparently broken Coach Hart’s nose pretty badly; he’d need to have surgery.
And I wasn’t sure I’d ever see Ocean again.
My mornings were always something like this:
Navid and I fought over who got to shower first in our shared bathroom, because he always managed to make everything wet, and after he finished shaving he’d leave these tiny little hairs all over the sink and it didn’t matter how many times I told him how gross it was, he never seemed to take the hint. Still, he usually won the right to take the first shower because he had to be at school an hour earlier than me. My parents would then force the both of us to come downstairs and eat breakfast, during which time my mother would ask us if we’d done our morning prayers and Navid and I would spoon cereal into our mouths and lie that we had, and my mom would roll her eyes and tell us to make sure we at least did our afternoon prayers, and we’d lie that we would, and my mom would sigh, heavily, and then Navid would leave for school. My parents left for work shortly thereafter, and I usually had the house to myself for at least thirty glorious minutes before I began my hike to the panopticon.
It hadn’t occurred to me that this information—information I’d shared with Ocean when he wanted to drive me to school for the first time—would continue to be useful to us.
I’d just finished locking the door when I turned around to discover Ocean standing in front of my house. He was in front of his car, in front of my house. Looking at me.
I almost couldn’t believe it.
He lifted his hand in an approximation of a wave, but he seemed uncertain. I walked over, my heart beating out of my chest, until I was standing right in front of him and somehow, this seemed to surprise him. He’d been leaning against his car; he suddenly stood up straighter. He shoved his hands in his pockets. He took a deep breath and said, “Hey.”
“Hi,” I said.
The air was cold—icy, even—and it smelled the way early mornings always smelled to me: like dead leaves and the dregs of unfinished cups of coffee. He wasn’t wearing a jacket, I realized, and I didn’t know how long he’d been standing out here. His cheeks were pink. His nose looked cold. His eyes were brighter in the morning light; more blues, sharper browns.
“I’m so sorry,” we said at the same time.
Ocean laughed, looked away. I merely stared at him.
Finally, he said, “Do you want to skip school with me today?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah.”
I watched him while he drove. Studied his profile, the lines of his body. I liked the way he moved, the way he touched things, the way he held his head up with such casual dignity. He always seemed so comfortable in his own skin, and it reminded me of what I loved about the way he walked: he had this really steady, certain step. The way he moved through the world made me think it had never occurred to him, not once, not even on a really rough day, to wonder whether he might’ve been a bad person. It was obvious to me that he didn’t dislike himself. Ocean didn’t dissect his own mind. He never agonized over his actions and he was never suspicious of people. He never even seemed to experience embarrassment the way that I did. His mind seemed, to me, like an extremely peaceful place. Free from thorns.
“Wow,” he said, and when he exhaled it was a little uneven. “I don’t, um, want to tell you to stop, like, looking at me, exactly, but all this uninterrupted staring is really making me nervous.”
I sat back, suddenly mortified. “I’m sorry.”
He glanced in my direction. Attempted a smile. “What are you thinking about?”
“You,” I said.
“Oh.” But it sounded more like a breath.
And then, suddenly, we were somewhere else. Ocean had parked his car in the driveway of a house I didn’t recognize but felt fairly certain was his own home.
“Don’t worry, my mom isn’t here,” he said, after he’d turned off the car. “I just really wanted to talk to you somewhere private, and I didn’t know where else to go.” He met my eyes and I felt panic and peace all at the same time. “Is this okay?”
Ocean opened my door for me. He took my backpack and slung it over his shoulder and walked me toward his house. He looked a bit apprehensive. I felt a bit apprehensive. His house was big—not too big—but big. Nice. I wish I’d noticed more when we walked inside, but the morning had already been punctuated by moments so intense that its details seemed to be rendered in watercolor. Soft and a little blurred. All I really remember was his face.
And his bedroom.
It wasn’t a complicated space. In fact, it was reminiscent of my own room. He had a bed, a desk, a computer. A bookshelf that was filled not with books but with what appeared to be basketball-related awards. There were two doors in here, which made me think he had his own bathroom, and a maybe a walk-in closet. The walls were white. The carpet was soft.
It was nice. There was no clutter.
“Your room is so clean,” I said to him.
And he laughed. “Yeah,” he said, “well, I actually hoped you’d be coming over today. So I cleaned it.”
I looked at him. I didn’t know why I was surprised. It was obvious that he’d made a kind of plan to come get me today. To talk to me. But there was something about imagining him cleaning his room in anticipation of my possible visit that made me adore him. I suddenly wanted to know what he’d done. What he’d removed. I wanted to know what his room looked like before he’d organized it.
Instead, I sat on his bed. His was a lot bigger than mine. But then, he was also a lot taller than me. My bed would’ve squished him.
Ocean was standing in the middle of his room, watching me as I looked over the details of his life. It was all very spare. His comforter was white. His pillows were white. His bed frame was made of a dark brown wood.
“Hey,” he said gently.
I looked up.
He sounded suddenly close to tears. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “About everything.”
He told me he’d read my journal. He apologized, over and over again. He said he was sorry, he was so sorry, but he’d just wanted to know what had happened with his mom—what she’d said to me to cause all this—because he didn’t think I’d ever tell him. He said he’d asked his mom a thousand times what she’d said to me that day but that she refused to answer any of his questions, that she’d shut him out completely. But then, in the process of searching for the parts about his mother, he’d seen everything else, too. How his coach had bullied me. Screamed at me. All the awful things that’d happened to me at school. All of it.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry they did this to you. I’m sorry I didn’t know. I wish you’d told me.”
I shook my head. Toyed with the comforter under my hands. “It’s really not your fault,” I said to him. “It’s my fault. I messed this up.”
“Yes,” I said. I met his eyes. “I shouldn’t have let this happen. I should’ve told you what your mom said to me. I just—I don’t know. She made me feel so stupid,” I said. “And she said you had no money for college, Ocean, and I just couldn’t let you—”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’ll figure it out. I’ll call my dad. I’ll take out a loan. It doesn’t matter anymore.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I’m sorry about all of it.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Really. I’ll figure it out.”
“But what are you going to do now?” I said. “About school?”
He exhaled heavily. “I have a hearing in a week. They haven’t officially expelled me yet,” he said, “but I’m pretty sure they will. Until then I’m suspended. I might end up having to go to school in a different district.”
“Really?” My eyes widened. “Oh my God.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Unless, you know, I manage to convince everyone at the hearing that I was actually doing them a favor by breaking my coach’s nose. Though I’m guessing the chances are slim.”