The shower in my mother’s bedroom is running after lunch, so I heat up some leftovers and make her a glass of tea. I place them at her usual seat at the bar and wait for her. When she finally emerges from the hallway and sees the food, she gives me a slight smile and takes her seat.
“Is this a peace offering or did you poison my food?” she asks as she unfolds a napkin into her lap.
“I guess you’ll have to eat it first to find out.”
She eyes me cautiously and takes a bite of her food. She chews for a minute and takes another bite after she fails to keel over.
“I’m sorry, Mom. I should have talked to you about it sooner. I was just really upset.”
She looks at me with pity in her eyes so I turn away from her and busy my hands with the dishes.
“Lake, I know how much you like him, I do. I like him too. But like I said yesterday, this can’t happen. You have to promise me you won’t do anything stupid.”
“I swear, Mom. He’s made it clear he wants nothing to do with me, so you don’t have anything to worry about.”
“I hope not,” she says as she continues to eat.
I finish up the dishes and return to the living room to continue my affair with Johnny.
“Your heart says not again
What kind of mess have you got me in?
But when the feeling's there
It can lift you up and take you anywhere.”
-The Avett Brothers, Living of Love
The next three weeks fly by as my homework gets more intense, along with the isolation in Will’s classroom. We haven’t spoken since the day the snowman was murdered. We haven’t had eye contact since then either. He avoids me like the plague.
I haven't been adjusting very well to Michigan. Maybe everything that happened with Will ended up making the move even harder. All I ever feel like doing is sleeping. I guess because it doesn't hurt as bad when you're asleep.
Eddie keeps bringing up possible fillers for the obvious hole in my boyfriend department, but I’ve rejected them all. She has finally resorted to switching places in Will’s class with Nick in the hopes that something will bloom there.
“Hey, Layken,” Nick smiles as he sits in his new spot nearest me. “Got another one for ya. Wanna hear it?”
In the past week alone, I’ve had to endure at least three Chuck Norris jokes a day from Nick. He incorrectly assumes that since I’m from Texas, I must be obsessed with "Walker, Texas Ranger."
“Sure.” I don’t try to deny him this privilege anymore, it doesn’t work.
“Chuck Norris got a g-mail account today. It’s [email protected] /* */ ."
It takes me a second to process. I’m normally quick with jokes, but my mind has been sluggish lately, and for good reason.
“Funny,” I reply flatly in order to appease him.
“Chuck Norris counted to infinity. Twice.”
As much as I didn’t feel like laughing, I did. Nick did annoy me quite a bit, but his ignorance was endearing.
When Will walks into the classroom, his eyes dart to Nick. Although he still doesn’t look at me, I like to imagine a twinge of jealousy building up inside of him. I’ve been making it a point recently, once Will comes into the room, to become more attentive toward Nick. I hate this new desire that has overcome me; the desire to make Will jealous. I know I need to stop before Nick starts to get the wrong idea, but I can’t. I feel like this is the only aspect of this entire situation that I have any control over.
“Get out your notebooks, we’re making poetry today,” Will says as he takes a seat at his desk. Half the class groans. I hear Eddie clapping.
“Can we have partners?” Nick asks as he starts inching his desk toward mine.
Will glares at him. “No.”
Nick shrugs and scoots his desk back into place.
“Each of you needs to write a short poem which you will perform in front of the class tomorrow.”
I start taking notes on the assignment, not willing to watch him as he speaks. Remaining in his class was a very bad idea. I can't focus on anything he's saying. I'm constantly wondering what's going on inside his head, if he's thinking about us, what he does inside his house at night. Even at home he’s been the only thing I can think about. I find myself stealing glances across the street any chance I get. Honestly, if I would have just switched classes it probably wouldn't have made a difference. I would just rush home and beat him in the driveway so I could watch from the window when he pulls up to the house. This game I'm playing with myself is so exhausting. I wish I could find a way to let go of the hold he has on me. He seems to have done a pretty good job of moving on.
“You just need to start out with about ten sentences for tomorrow's presentation. We can expand over the next couple of weeks, giving you something to prepare for the slam,” Will says. “And don’t think I haven’t forgotten. So far no one in here has shown up at the slam. We made a deal.”
The entire class starts to protest.
“That wasn’t the deal! You said we just had to observe. Now we have to perform?” says Gavin.
“No. Well, technically not. Everyone in here is required to attend one slam. You aren't required to perform, I just want you to observe. However, there’s a chance you could be chosen to be the sacrifice, so it wouldn't hurt to have something prepared.”
Several students ask what the sacrifice is in unison. Will explains the term and how it can be anyone chosen at random. Therefore, he wants everyone to have a piece ready before the night they are to attend, just in case.
“What if we want to perform?” Eddie asks.
“I’ll tell you what. We’ll make one more deal. Whomever willingly slams will be exempt from the final.”
“Sweet, I’m in,” Eddie says.
“What if we don’t go?” Javi asks.
“Then you’re missing out on something amazing. And you get an F for participation,” he replies.
Javi rolls his eyes and groans at Will's response.
“So, what kinds of things can we write about?” Eddie asks.
Will moves to the front of the desk and sits, only inches from me.
“There are no rules, you can write about anything. You can write about love, food, your hobby, something significant that’s happened in your life. You can write about how much you hate your Poetry teacher. Write about anything, as long as it’s something you’re passionate about. If the audience doesn’t feel your passion, they won’t feel you—and that’s never fun, believe me.” He says this as though he speaks from experience.
“What about sex? Can we write about that?” Javi asks. It’s obvious he’s trying to push Will’s buttons. Will remains cool.
“Anything. As long as it doesn’t get you in hot water with your parents. I’ll be sending permission slips home for the slam at the end of the week.”
“What if they don’t let us go? I mean, it is a club,” A student asks from the back of the room.
“I understand if they have hesitations. If there are any parents that don’t feel comfortable, I’ll talk to them about it. I also don’t want transportation to be an issue. This club is somewhat of a drive, so if it’s an issue, I’ll take a school vehicle. Whatever the obstacle, we’ll work through it. I’m very passionate about Slam Poetry and don’t feel I’ll be doing justice as your teacher if I don’t allow you the opportunity to experience this in person.
“I’ll answer questions throughout the week regarding the semester requirement. But for now, let's get back to today's assignment. You have the entire class period to complete the poem. We’ll start presenting them tomorrow. Get to it.”
I open my notebook and lay it flat on my desk. I stare at it, not having the first clue as to what to write about. The only thing that’s been on my mind lately is Will and there’s no way I’m doing a poem about him.
By the end of the class period, the only thing that’s written on my paper is my name. I glance up to Will who is seated at his desk, biting the corner of his bottom lip. His eyes are focused on my desk, down on the poem that I’ve yet to write. He glances up and sees me watching him. It’s the first eye contact we’ve had in three weeks. Surprisingly, he doesn’t immediately look away. If he had any idea how this lip biting quirk affected me, he'd stop. The intensity in his eyes causes me to flush as the room suddenly becomes warm. His stare is impenetrable by nothing but the final class dismissal bell. He stands and walks to the door, holding it open for the students exiting. I immediately put away my notebook and throw my bag over my shoulder. I don’t make eye contact when I leave the classroom, but I can feel him watching me.
Just when I think he’s forgotten about me, he goes and does something like this. The entire rest of the day I’m extremely quiet as I attempt to analyze his actions. I eventually come up with just one conclusion: He’s just as confused as I am.
I’m relieved to feel the warm sun beating down on my face as I walk toward my jeep. The weather has been insanely cold going into October. The predictions are that the next two weeks will be a nice respite from the snow before the full winter season begins. I insert the key into the ignition and turn it.
Great, my jeep is shot. I have no idea what I'm doing, but I pop the hood on the jeep and take a look. There's a bunch of wires and metal, that's about all I can comprehend from a mechanical standpoint. I do know what the battery looks like so I grab a crowbar from the trunk and tap it against the battery. After a failed attempt at getting the ignition to turn over again, I resort to pounding a little harder until I'm pretty much bludgeoning the battery out of sheer frustration.
"That's not a good idea."
Will walks up beside me, satchel across his chest, looking very much like a teacher and less like Will.
"You've made it clear that you don't think a lot of what I do is a very good idea," I say as I return my focus back under the hood.
"What's wrong, it won't crank?" He bends forward under the hood and starts to mess with wires.
I don't understand what he's doing. One day he tells me he doesn't want to speak to me, the next minute he’s staring me down in class and now he's under my hood trying to help me. I'm not a fan of inconsistency.
"What are you doing, Will?"
He rises out from under the hood and cocks his head at me. "What does it look like I'm doing? I'm trying to figure out what's wrong with your jeep." He walks around to the driver's side and gets in, attempting to turn the ignition.
I follow him to the door. "I mean, why are you doing this? You’ve made it pretty clear you don’t want me to speak to you."
"Layken, you're a student stranded in the parking lot. I'm not going to get in my car and just drive away."
His comparison, although accurate, hurts. He realizes his poor choice of words and sighs as he gets out of the car and looks back under the hood.
"Look, that's not how I meant it," he says as he fidgets with more wires.