After lunch I felt myself dozing off during fifth period. I heard the people at my table quietly laughing at me.
“Damn, who are we supposed to copy off of now?”
“For real, I don’t understand half of the topics in this class.”
“Do you think she’s high?”
“I’m not high.” I looked down at the worksheet scanning through the questions. “Examples of symbolism include the faded and chipping green walls that the dead bodies are leaning against. It’s the vanishing hope after each new person drops dead.”
“Well, fuck,” the guy next to me, Gilbert, chuckled.
“Does the green thing also expand to Justin Timberlake’s eyes?” Jacklyn laughed.
I looked up exhausted, glancing at the screen. “It could, it's really faint so it would fit his character, but I suspect that’s just a lucky coincidence.”
“But his eyes are blue in real life.”
I looked over at the screen again, “are they? That’s some good costume design.”
Mr. Malik placed a hand on my shoulder causing me to flinch, “what a fucking nerd, can’t even sleep in class right,” he teased me.
His hand grazed across my back as he walked away and I resisted the urge to shudder.
“Ugh, he’s fucking creepy,” Jacklyn whispered.
Gilbert laughed beside me, “damn, that’s hella shady. Who do you think is worse, him or Ms. Gilliam?”
I rolled my eyes, “Ms. Gilliam is a blind art teacher who gave me a B on my toothpick sculpture because I finished too soon.”
Jacklyn frowned, “what the fuck, why?”
Gilbert smirked, “cause Daniel was too busy lining up toothpicks for her to do his own work and everyone else just fucked around too much.”
“The soccer player from art class last year who had a crush on Vanessa.”
“He did not,” I argued.
Joshua raised his eyebrows with a grin, “Dang, first Angel in the fifth grade, then Daniel, and now Mr. Malik? What a tease!”
I rolled my eyes, “y’all are dumb, shut up!”
“Hey, you buttheads, keep it down, don’t make me fail you,” Mr. Malik teased.
“For a guy in his thirties, he’s trying too hard to be relatable,” Jacklyn whispered.
There was a knock at the door before Jerry poked his head in.
He scanned the room before his eyes landed on me and he smiled warmly.
“Can I help you?” Mr. Malik asked.
“Just making sure everyone is where they should be,” Jerry responded before stepping back out.
“He’s cute,” Jacklyn noted as Jerry left the room.
“He’s gay!” Joshua’s face twisted in disgust.
Gilbert laughed, “no way! How do you know?”
“Dude! He’s the wrestling coach! He’s been wrestling with guys since he was in high school like 15 years ago? That’s highly suspect.”
I rolled my eyes, “Jerry’s not gay!”
Gilbert laughed, “I heard he’s been trying to get it in with that math teacher, Ms…. What was her name? The one with the fat ass…”
Jacklyn tried to disguise her smile, “you guys are so nasty!”
“Why me, he’s the one trying to take her for a spin,” Gilbert defended himself.
Joshua shook his head with a chuckle while Jacklyn and I shared a look of disappointment.
“Hey did you guys get your Grad Nite tickets, yet? I heard they changed it from Disney to Six Flags so it's going to be cheaper now.” Gilbert asked the group but his eyes focused on Jacklyn.
“I’m out,” Joshua responded, “I’ve got plans.”
“What plans?” Jacklyn turned her attention to him.
“Extra curriculars,” Joshua raised a pinched thumb and index finger to his lips.
Gilbert laughed, “you’re gonna miss Grad Nite to get high? Bro, you’re dumb as hell.”
“I’m going, I’m hanging out with my friends from Drill.”
Gilbert elbowed me, “what about you?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know, I don’t have anyone to hang out with.”
Gilbert sucked his teeth, “Ah, come on you can hang out with me and Victor.”
I laughed, “I haven’t talked to Victor since freshman year!”
“Who cares, it's one of the last events before graduation, don’t you want to spend it with your old homies?”
Did I have old homies?
“Just take a guest,” Jacklyn reminded me.
“I’m taking my cousin, man, Hector has been asking about her since that kickback last month.”
There was a kickback last month?
“Take someone hot so the baseball team has someone to fight over,” Joshua laughed.
“Man, fuck you!” Gilbert laughed at him incredulously.
Jacklyn smiled, “true though, all of you guys always crush on the same girl.”
“Y’all on some bullshit, I swear,” he laughed knowing it was true.
He saw Mr. Malik looking in our direction before getting super serious. That’s our cue, all of us were immediately silent before turning our attention back to the screen.
I woke up the next morning after sleeping twelve hours to find that I had received a text from Nick the previous night that was still waiting for me.
Up for more rule breaking?
If the rule was: no sleeping
I did a great job :P
I got dressed for school and packed up my track uniform for today’s meet. On the way to school my music was interrupted with a loud ringing and Nick’s name flashing on my car’s dash.
I pressed the answer button on my steering wheel.
I heard some shuffling on the other end before Nick’s groggy voice broke through.
“Good morning,” his voice was rough and husky, I’d never heard him sound so decomposed. “What are your plans this afternoon?”
“Sorry, Nick, I can’t make it, I’ve got a Meet today.”
Nick chuckled breathily through the surround sound… have you ever heard him laugh on surround sound? It’s… an experience.
“No plans today, partner. Just thought we could do something just the two of us.”
I bit my lip and tried not to blush. I feel stupid. I heard my brother’s voice in my head reminding me I was making an ass of myself.
“Um, I’m not sure, we’re going out to Hollywood so I’m not certain what time we’ll be back.”
“Yeah, they’re hosting an invitational so it’ll be an all day thing.”
“What about school?”
“Well, since our school got into the semi finals, they’re hoping an invitational at a division one might push us to PR and get us prepared.”
“PR… alright, I’ll talk to you later, then. Good luck out there.”
I stood against the fence with Analy and Christine swinging our legs back and forth to stretch out our hip flexors after taking a few laps to warm up.
“These first div people seem kind of snobby,” Christine pointed out as she looked around.
“I don’t think it's because they’re division one, I think it's ‘cause they are Hollywood people.” Analy noted.
I looked around at everyone walking around in different team uniforms, “What do you mean? What’s wrong with Hollywood people?”
Analy rolled her eyes, “most of these kids are from out of state, they’re only here to get into the industry.”
“Which industry?” Christine asked.
“Take your pick, this is where they all converge. Film, acting, music, dance, writing… Just a giant sinkhole of wannabes.”
“Wouldn’t we be a wannabe? I mean we’re one of the few division two schools here,” I reminded her.
She scowled at me, “the difference is you got into NYU on a scholarship. I won’t be pursuing this any further and Christine only joined the cross country team to lose a few extra pounds. She’s done that, we’re not here to claw our way in, we’re here to let them know the next gen will be here next year.”
Christine grimaced in disgust, “how often do you think they have predators coming on campus swearing they’re talent scouts for paramount pictures or something?”
“I doubt it happens that often; it's a school they’re bound to have some sort of security measures.”
Analy turned to look in the same direction as Christine, “then why is that creep here?”
I turned to see a guy in a leather jacket with dark shades and a yankees cap. If he was a talent scout in Hollywood, why would he wear NY gear? He turned in our direction and all three of us diverted our attention instantly.
“Do you think he saw us?” I asked.
Analy peeked over again, “he’s coming, pretend we’re talking about something else.”
“Grad Nite!” Christine blurted out.
“No!” I whispered harshly. Grad Nite implies we’re graduating which implies we’re of legal age or close to it.
“Oh, no! You’re not going why?” Analy feigned concern.
“Yeah, why?” the guy asked behind me.
I felt my body break out in chills wishing I could just run from this guy. I turned slowly to see a smirk on his face before skimming him entirely. He wore a pair of plaid red and black shorts and beat up black high tops.
He licked his lips, “Nice outfit, how do you like mine, partner?”
My head shot up to his face again to see a smile spread across it.
“Back off, pervert!” Analy shouted at him.
My brows pressed together in confusion, “Nick?”
He chuckled, “Actually, I go by pervert now.”
My eyes widened in shock, “what are you doing here?”
“Nessie, you know this guy?” Christine asked, confused.
“Yeah, this is my friend Nick J-”
I saw Nick’s smile fall instantly and realized why he was dressed the way he was.
“Jones…” I lied. That was a terrible lie. I should’ve done better than that.
Analy looked at him suspiciously, “he doesn’t go to school with us.”
“No, he’s in my… softball league.”
Christine and Analy both eyed him carefully.
“Family league,” Nick smiled.
“You're not going to Grad Nite?” Nick asked with concern. I bit the inside of my cheek trying to figure out what would make this a winning argument. I came up with… a shrug.
“Is it because you think you’re a bad dancer?”
I pressed my brows together in confusion, “Grad Nite isn’t a dance.”
Analy watched us with distrust, “where did you say you went to school again?”
“Um, he was out of state, they didn’t have Grad Nite, there.”
Nick smiled at her innocently. She poked a finger in my side and motioned for us to move into the football field away from the stranger on this side of the fence. I smiled softly, “I’ll go in a bit.”
She scowled at Nick before she and Christine retreated to the inside of the field. “We’re going to start stretching and tape our starts before we start logging jumps.”
“Can you mark me and 69’7.5”?”
Analy pursed her lips while Christine smiled as she spoke up, “I got you girlie.”
I turned back to Nick to see him smirking, “you’ve got interrogators for friends?”
I giggled softly, “I mean, I guess perverts just get a cold shoulder.”
Nick shook his head, “so what’s this about a Grad Nite?”
“Um, it’s a night for grads?” I laughed, “Seniors go to a theme park for the night. It’s an all night thing. From 9 to 7.”
Nick’s eyebrows lifted, “that’s pretty cool. Why aren’t you going?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know. Maybe I already had my fair share of staying out all night?”
Nick chuckled, “One night only? Come on, Nessa, what happened to my partner in crime?”
He leaned his shoulder against mine teasingly.
“I’s a chicken… Besides you won’t even be there; I’ll be partnerless.”
Nick smirked down at me, “I’d never abandon my partner, I’m an honest criminal.”
I smiled and averted my gaze to try and hide my blush. He really knows how to make me feel special.
“Hey, Nessie!” Charles wrapped an arm around me.
“How did you do on your jumps?”
“I haven’t,”I tried to shrug him off as he reached a hand out to Nick.
“Charlie, Nessie’s boyfriend,” he introduced himself as he reached out to him.
I saw Nick eyeing me carefully. I don’t know how to respond in this situation.
Nick took his hand, “that’s funny, Vanessa told me she had dumped her useless ex.”
Charles shook Nick’s hand a little too long, “... clever… see, here I thought it was the other way around.”
I saw Nick smirk, “firm grip you’ve got there, trying to establish dominance? Over an ex that you claimed to want nothing to do with? Seems kind of pitiful don’t you think?”
Charles tried to swerve around me to get in Nick’s face, “wanna say that again?”
“I’m sorry, you didn’t hear it from over there?”
He was inches away while I tried to pull him away.
“Question: of the two of us here, which of us has more to lose? The guy in the audience who’d lose out on five bucks or the guy with semi-finals coming up?” Nick redirected his gaze upon me. “I’m kind of new at this, Nessa, is there a penalty for unsportsman-like conduct?”
I saw Charles ball up his fists angrily. I tugged on his wrist. “Go away, Charlie,” I begged.
He stared Nick down for a few more seconds trying to intimidate him before turning to leave.
I kept my eyes on my track shoes too ashamed to look up at Nick, “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be, you’re not responsible for someone else’s actions,” Nick excused.
I looked up shyly only to find a smiling Nick, “so what time is your race?”
“We’re scheduled for 11:30.”
“What about the field events?”
“Those are on a get it done before the end of day basis.”
“So what time do you expect to be finished?”
I shrugged, “we usually end up doing this from 8:30 to 9:00.”
Nick gave me a sly smile, “would they notice a missing athlete?”
I smiled back.
I walked back to Nick around noon with my second place medal and a giant smile.
“Look at you, champ, taking on the big guys like it's nothing.”
I laughed, “definitely not nothing, I had to PR for this medal.”
NIck smirked, “to let you in on a little secret, we PR for our awards, too.”
I giggled at Nick’s reminder that PR was not the same between our two worlds. “What now?”
“Have you spent a lot of time in Hollywood?”
“Not really,” I answered honestly. “Didn’t really seem like a city I belonged in.”
“Why’s that?” Nick raised an eyebrow in question.
I shrugged not wanting to admit my real feelings.
Nick smirked, “I let you get away with a lot you know?”
I sighed knowing he was right, “it seems a little desperate? A lot of people have talent, doesn’t mean they get what they aspire to. Plus there’s tons of people without talent who have no business being in that industry and yet…”
Nick put my bag in the trunk of his car before opening the door for me and hopping into the driver’s side.
“You guys made it and your talent is undeniable, but how many people do you think have comparable abilities and didn’t make it. I’m not certain you’d be in your position if you didn’t look the way you do.”
Nick chuckled, “I don’t know if I should be flattered or offended.”
“You know it’s true Nick, there’s a reason why this creeper look makes you virtually unrecognizable, someone of your status wouldn’t dress like this. People who dress like this don’t get a second look.”
Nick nodded in agreement and I wondered if I went too far, “...sorry.”
“Don’t apologize for being right,” he dismissed before turning on the music.
The rest of the ride was quiet while I overanalyzed our conversation and worried over the demise of our budding friendship. En route to our unknown destination it began to drizzle.
Nick pulled up to a recording studio just off sunset boulevard.
“What are we doing here?”
“Thought you’d like to take a look behind a curtain.”
I raised an eyebrow in confusion, “are we going to see the great and powerful Oz?”
Nick chuckled, “something like that.”
Nick and I stepped into a production room to find a small space. There was a giant switchboard type thing that took up half the room with buttons and knobs and lights and sliding items that I couldn’t make sense of. In front of the board there were two rolling chairs and one small loveseat. Beyond the switchboard, past the glass there was a small room just slightly bigger than a walk-in pantry.
“What do you think?”
“It’s... underwhelming. I always imagined it’d be like some oversized sound stage with… I don’t know instruments and… music stuff?”
Nick chuckled, “it can be, but it usually isn’t. Those types of sound studios are a lot more expensive and harder to book.”
“How does it work?”
“Why don’t you go in there and give it a shot and we’ll go from there.”
“What do I do?”
“Sing what?” I asked, confused.
Nick smiled, “that’s the beauty of it, you can sing whatever you want.”
I stepped into the booth and saw the recording light turn on while Nick offered me a thumbs up.
I took a minute to think about which songs I could sing without a tune to string me along. I remembered when my music teacher told us the beauty of standard jazz was that you could sing it any way you damn well pleased. So I did. I sang in a quiet whisper.
“Stars shining bright above you, night breezes seem to whisper I love you. Birds singing in the sycamore tree, dream a little dream of me.”
I looked up at Nick to see an encouraging smile on his face. I sang a little louder.
“Say nighty night and kiss me, just hold me tight and tell me you’ll miss me. While I’m alone and blue as can be, dream a little dream of me.”
I sang in a higher pitch.
“Stars fading but I linger on dear, still craving your kiss. I’m longing to linger till dawn dear, just saying this. Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you, sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you. But in your dreams whatever they be, dream a little dream of me.”
I sawNick’s overly enthusiastic face and I started laughing. He paused the recording before speaking through the mic. “Why’d you stop? That was so good!”
“You made me laugh!”
“Okay, I won’t look at you this time, let’s try it again.”
“No, it’s your turn,” I stepped out of the booth to sit next to Nick at the sound thing. “Which one am I allowed to touch?”
Nick laughed, “this one is to start or stop recording, that’s all you need right now.”
Nick got in the booth and I pushed the only button I knew the function of.
“Fly me to the moon, let me play among the stars. Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars.”
I watched Nick come back in with a huge smile on his face.
“What made you decide on Sinatra?”
Nick laughed, “I guess I was inspired. I didn’t know you liked Jazz standards.”
I shrugged, “they relax me, make me feel,” I shimmied my shoulders not knowing how to explain.
A tight-lipped smile spread across Nick’s face, “well you’re pretty cool when you’re,” Nick repeated my motion causing me to squint my eyes and hide a laugh.
Nick and I walked around on Sunset boulevard doing very little more than walking through the drizzle. “So why aren’t you dating?”
I looked up at Nick surprised by his question, “you saw the last guy I dated. I don’t think I should be trusted to do such a thing ever again.”
“What do you mean, Charlie is such a nice guy!”
I looked over at him unamused to see the smirk on his face. “It wasn’t just a few bad things, it felt like it was all bad. He demanded a lot, most of which I couldn’t give him. Whatever I did give him, wasn’t good enough and it was detrimental to… well me. I’m friendless, I’m verging on agoraphobe it’s just… I should quit while I’m behind.”
Nick patted my back while we continued walking, “well chances are it can’t get worse right?”
I shrugged. “Why aren’t you dating?”
“Hollywood is no place for lovers. It’s exhausting. Its two competing schedules and competing careers, it’s long distance and mostly it's just a little depressing. Normal dating is usually more… one on one, maybe? I don’t know there’s a lot of dating for a spotlight rather than dating for love.”
“Don’t you have to date before falling in love?”
“That’s usually how it goes. I just mean, in my position it's hard to tell if someone is dating me for me or for fame or money or some ulterior motive.”
“What if you were to date someone not in Hollywood?”
Nick smiled while looking down at me, “I’ve thought about that. The only thing is, the person I’m interested in is hard to pin down.”
He looked away as we continued walking, “I don’t know what she wants. She’s hard to read.”
“Why not just ask her?”
Nick chuckled, “I get the feeling that won’t work.”
“Why is that?”
Nick bit his lip while he blushed, he must really like this girl. “She’s… different.”
I rolled my eyes at his words, “how different could she be?”
Nick let out a breathy laugh, “I’m still trying to figure that out actually.”
We walked by a restaurant that had some expensive looking people shopping inside.
“Wanna check it out?” Nick asked.
I shook my head. “This place looks too expensive and semi fancy, and since i’m wearing this, I try to avoid big meals. Besides, this looks like the kind of place that would charge you just for sniffing their air.”
“No kidding,” a stranger agreed as he walked by.
Nick chuckled and I tried not to blush.
We ended up stopping by a hole in the wall bar and grill. Nick tested his blood before even looking at the menu. After we received our food I asked the question.
“Do you wish you didn’t have diabetes?”
Nick looked up from his fajitas. Is that too personal? “I used to… when I was first diagnosed. But over time… I learned to get around it and just… be myself again. Now, I think of all the good that has come from it. All the awareness raised, the funding for research, even just bonding with fans so they don’t feel alone.”
I was surprised by his response, but he made sense. If you go through dark times, the good times shine brighter. While we wouldn’t wish for the darkness, we cannot deny that those of us who have suffered can best appreciate the good times. We’ve seen the other side, we know it could hit us in an instant; why would we waste the experience while we have it.
Nick and I walked along Sunset boulevard just talking and sharing stories. I was reminded what it was like to have an off-campus friend. Someone who wants to see you after 3 beyond the boundaries of a classroom. As the day rolled on, more people began to crowd the streets, Nick walked closer to me, our hands brushing against each other ever so casually. I didn’t think twice about it. I wasn’t panicked or afraid; I was comfortable.
We walked past a tattoo shop and I saw Nick take a peek inside. I took his hand and walked in with him in tow. We looked at the designs on the walls and the ones in the books before I looked back at him with a smirk.
“Partner in crime,” I started.
Nick chuckled, “you’re crazy, this is no place for us.”
“Nicholas, my dearest friend,” I continued.
Nick pulled away from me still laughing, “no, we can’t get away with it if I don’t get you back in one piece.”
I flashed him giant doe eyes, “please.”
Nick shook his head and sighed, “what are you going to get.”
I grinned as I explained the concept. We spoke to the tattoo artist and he crafted the trace.
“Where do you want it? He asked.
I pointed toward my ribcage on my left side. He glanced at my tight track uniform under my cardigan, “that’s going to have to come off.”
I removed my cardigan before Nick spoke up beside me, “are you sure about this?”
I nodded, “you’ve seen my brother, I have to catch up,” I joked.
I quickly peeled off my shirt while Nick’s eyes focused on me. This part makes me a little uncomfortable.
“Where exactly were you hoping to get it?”
I turned my bra up slightly to show him the exact space. The tattoo artist sucked his teeth, “that’s going to have to come off, too. Bathrooms over there if you need some privacy.”
I took a deep breath before exiting the bathroom using my cardigan as a blanket over my breasts. It took a few tries to line it up just right before the artists started the needle. It was a lot more painful than I realized and Nick held my hand while I laid on the table. He maintained eye contact for the most part. Every once in a while he’d glance down when I flinched.
“How’s it looking?”
Nick nodded as he watched the artist stick the needle back into my skin and I gripped his hand a little tighter, “looks good.”
“Just a few more minutes, and you can check it out for yourself,” the tattoo artist assured me.
Finally I was able to see the red and slightly swollen skin on my ribs with the new message: ‘but without the dark, we’d never see the stars.’
The tattoo artist cleaned me up and bandaged my tattoo before I slipped my cardigan back on. He recommended that I refrain from wearing tight clothes for a few days before sending me back on my way.
Nick and I walked out of the shop to find that the light drizzle had turned into a heavy downpour and we were at least a half mile from the car.
“When it rains, it pours.”
“What do we do now?”
Nick looked down at me with a smirk. “Hey, there partner.”
No, definitely not. I shook my head at him and he shrugged. “Our options are limited. “
I looked out at the empty streets and the heavy rains incredulously. “On the count of three,” he began. “One,” he took my hand and gave it a tight squeeze. “Two,” he fixed his eyes back on the street trying to pull together the ultimate path of least hydration. “Three!”
We ran through the raining streets of sunset boulevard stopping under and awning or two to catch our breath before finally making it back to his car.
He opened the door for me even in the torrential downpour, before making his way to the driver’s side. He cranked on the heater while I shivered in my seat cursing myself for not bringing a change of clothes.
“What time are you supposed to get home?”
“Usually around 10 on days like this.”
Nick watched the clock blinking 6:07 on his dashboard. “My house it is.”
“Unless you want to sit here and catch pneumonia, we’re going home to get dry clothes and warm blankets.”
After I cleaned up my soaked dressing and changed into an oversized t-shirt and flannel bottoms that Nick lent me, I sat on the couch with Elvis’ head on my lap keeping me warm.
Nick walked in with a blanket and a veggie bowl, “I got you a blanket in case you get cold as well as a snack in case you get hungry.”
He extended the blanket over both of us and flipped on the tv in search of something to watch.
I wrapped my cold fingers around Nick’s bicep. He flexed instinctively before looking over at me.
“My hands are still cold, is this okay?”
Nick smiled at me, taking my hands in his and blowing warm breaths on them, “I’m gonna have Nick germs now.”
Nick laughed at my whining voice, “I’ll just hold them then.”
I leaned my head on Nick’s shoulder while my hands were in his before drifting in and out of consciousness. I tried not to dwell on the thought that this was the first time I had managed to fall asleep with another person in the room.