She might be the smartest person in her school. Or at least in this class. And she’s genuinely so attractive, in, like, a nonconventional way, though. (But sometimes when she’s looking in the mirror she wishes she could change every single thing.) And way more talented than everyone else in orchestra. Even though she practices twice a week (in a good week). And she would literally never try out for a solo (even though she is the best violin player) (even though she sits in the back). But she’s still better. And she’s so mature (how is she only seventeen?). And she can’t wait to go to college next year. (But she’s kind of worried it will just be the same as high school.) And she’s never kissed a boy. (But it’s probably because they are all intimidated by her?)
And she’s being called on to answer a question right now that she definitely doesn’t know the answer to.
(She definitely hasn’t been paying attention for the last half hour.)
Oh god. She could die right now. She could shrivel up into a tiny ball of wrinkled flesh. Or all of her organs might inflate and keep inflating until they all explode and her entire body flies across the classroom. Yes, it is that big of a deal. No, she’s not “dramatic.”
It’s actually not that she doesn’t know the answer (she’s the smartest girl in school, remember?). It’s just….rude. That’s it. Rude. And unfair. Calling on students when they don’t have their hand raised is rude and unfair and should definitely not be allowed. Actually, she can probably go to the principal about this? Or maybe even a higher-level administrator? She knows the answer, she just shouldn’t be forced to answer it if she doesn’t want to?
Also, she is not quiet. So everyone can stop saying that.
“You don’t have much to say, do you?” adults always tease, with that little smirk like they just told some really complicated, adult joke that went over her tiny, adolescent head.
“Actually, I just don’t want to talk to you,” is something she definitely does not respond back, but definitely does think. Instead she just does that little half-hearted laugh. She’s really familiar with that little half-hearted laugh.
She has a lot to say. She really does. And if people listen, she’ll say it!
Her mom says she needs to “put herself out there” (where even is “there”??) more. She’s tried, though, and it was a disaster. In September, she went to a homecoming party. It was her first high school party (it’s not that she doesn’t have friends, it’s just that she doesn’t want to go to any parties, and everyone knows that, so they don’t invite her because they know she won’t go!). But she was invited to this one homecoming party (the whole senior class was invited), and her two friends really wanted to go, and she didn’t want to spend her last homecoming in her bedroom re-watching Glee and eating Oreos by herself like she’d done every other year (and most Friday nights) (and Saturday nights).
Maybe in some other dimension she was the kind of girl who could get along with everybody and could go to any party and walk up to anyone and just start talking, but in this dimension, she’s the kind of girl who desperately clings to the few people she’s comfortable with. But at the party, Abigail went off to hang out with her friends from the dance team, and Maya had three tequila shots in a row and left her to go make out with her AP Chemistry lab partner. So there she was, standing in the corner, knuckles white from gripping the Bud Light she planned to nurse all night so tightly. She honestly felt like vomiting from the smell - a mix of beer, sweat, and a smell she never smelled before but assumed was marijuana.
She was content to spend the rest of the party alone in the kitchen, a white room she could tell was usually pristine, but was now coated in cans, red solo cups, and questionable, sticky substances. She leaned herself against the cabinets, and stood there scrolling through her phone. She thought about sitting at the table, but didn’t want to make herself look too comfortable. Also sitting alone is way sadder than standing alone.
Her head shot up. Wesley Stringfield was standing right next to her, a brown glass bottle with a psychedelic looking label that she didn’t recognize in his hand. She wasn’t friends with Wesley or anything, but he was in three of her classes this year, and she really thought he would know her name was Lucy by now….
“Your skirt,” he clarified.
She looked down. She was wearing a red and green plaid skirt.
“Yes, I know the movie,” Lucy snapped back (her superiority complex from liking 80s movies is enormous).
Lucy did not have a crush on Wesley. (But he did look pretty cute right now - messy hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and she couldn’t imagine any other boy at Carver High looking that good in flannel, pleated trousers.) He was just...refreshing. He played drums in a band, and she liked 80s movies, and this was suburban Connecticut so….
“What are you doing here?” he teased, “I never thought I’d see you at a Carver High party.”
Why not? She was pretty sure she mostly kept to herself, so why did Wesley have such a strong opinion about her?
She downed the rest of her drink and responded, “Um.. you too.”
Honestly, she was impressed with the relative smoothness of this response.
“Oh, and miss Kevin Tucker jumping off a roof for the tenth time? That’s one of the only constants in my life,” he joked. They giggled together.
She had never flirted before, but she was pretty sure this was it.
(Again, she did NOT have a crush, and maybe this was the single Bud Light she had just consumed talking, but all of a sudden, she could not think about anything other than his lips on her neck. And then her jaw. And then her ear. And then her own lips. Okay, maybe some people would call this a crush.)
“I can’t believe you can drink Bud Light so easily. It’s like drinking soap,” he ridiculed.
“Oh, uh, I kinda like soap.” I kinda like soap? What? That chug had been her first time drinking Bud Light and she drank it so fast that she really didn’t even notice whether it had tasted like soap or not.
“Um… ok,” he chuckled to himself. She laughed too, even though she kind of wanted to die. He stuck the bottle he was holding in front of her face.
She took a swig. It was so disgusting she could barely bring herself to swallow it.
“Oh yeah, that’s good,” she managed to croak out after wrestling with the liquid for a couple seconds.
“I only drink IPAs,” he asserted.
“Good call,” she agreed, even though she wasn’t really sure what this beer had to do with the International Phonetic Alphabet, or how a 17-year-old was even able to differentiate between different brews.
“It’s pretty hot in here, wanna get some air?”
She was kind of cold, actually.
On their way to the back door, Wesley stopped to fill two red solo cups with gin, more than she thought a human being of her stature was supposed to consume, but she didn’t really know anything about alcohol, and Wesley was drinking it like it was water, so she took a sip. It burned her esophagus the whole way down.
Outside, they leaned against the edge of the garage.
“You’re really good at history,” he offered after a couple minutes of uncomfortably silent gin sipping.
She had no idea how he would know that, since she hardly ever spoke in class.
“Oh, I just think it’s kind of interesting….do you have a favorite president?”
“Um...I don’t know….Abraham Lincoln was pretty cool, I guess. Like, freeing the slaves or whatever.”
He clearly did not want to have this conversation. She really didn’t either, though.
“What about you?” he asked, purely out of obligation.
“Oh um….I think it’s cool that Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer….”
She trailed off and let that horrific conversation topic die. In an attempt to look nonchalant, she glanced around the yard. It was completely empty, aside from the noise pollution of the bass thumping inside the house.
She was starting to shiver. Maybe from the cold. Maybe because of Wesley.
She was interrupted by the sound of Wesley’s voice.
“Wanna make out?”
She definitely wanted to kiss him before, but now she kind of just wanted to go home and put on her pajamas and never interact with this boy again. But she really did want to get the whole first kiss thing out of the way. And she might never get the chance again, or at least probably not until college. And she couldn’t go to college a kiss virgin. And all she had to do was kiss him this one time….
That was definitely too enthusiastic. And why would she say “totally”? She’s only ever heard Disney Channel teen stars and college tour guides use that word un-ironically. And he definitely thought it was weird, too, because he was laughing.
It didn’t seem to deter him too much, though, since the next thing she knew he was thrusting his face (which she at first thought was ugly-cute, but had all off a sudden become ugly-ugly) into her face, and his musty, IPA breath was flooding her nostrils, and his tongue was aggressively moshing around the inside of her mouth, and if this was kissing, she never wanted to do it ever again.
And if she’s famous one day, and being interviewed for a Teen Vogue article, and is asked to tell the story of her first kiss, she’s going to lie and say she was in eighth grade, and playing spin the bottle, and was randomly chosen to be kissed by her childhood best friend, and when they kissed something magical happened, and they had a long and healthy relationship before amicably parting ways when they went off to separate colleges.
It wasn’t with Wesley, who was drunk on gin and International Phonetic Alphabet beer, and who’s face she never wanted to see again.
So if that party was the “there” her mom always talks about when she tells Lucy to put herself out there, she’s perfectly content to stay in here.
“Lucy, do you know the answer?”
Although, in here, she still has to answer this question that she does not know the answer to.
She makes eye contact with Mr. Holloway for the first time. Sorry, her raised eyebrows communicate to him.
“Guys, please do the readings. We can’t have an engaging class discussion if you don’t!” the teacher scolds, turning away from her.
God, why does this always happen? She did do the reading, actually, and she had a lot of thoughts about Federalism that definitely would have benefited the class discussion. And she would have loved to show Mr. Holloway how sophisticated she is.
The bell rings. Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow she’ll pay attention the whole class, and she’ll even raise her hand to answer questions without the teacher forcing her to participate, and she’ll show Mr. Holloway and Wesley and everyone else that she is the smartest person in the whole school.
(She probably won’t.)
Julianna DeAngelis is a recent graduate of Vassar College and future English teacher. She is passionate about drinking tea, having opinions about pop culture, being Italian and Glee.