Troy Christiansen came for me.
I knew it the moment he first walked into Northwoods Secondary School. I watched, transfixed, as he glided right through the crowd of popular kids who hung out by the front door—like someone used to being ignored, slicing through the throng like a ghost. He had a black Mohawk pulled tight into a ponytail, and smelled like cigarettes and delinquency. A black T-Shirt and long-sleeved hoodie clung to his hunched shoulders.
Something about him looked so perfectly fragile.
He looked up only once and, by the smirk on his wide full lips, I knew I’d been caught staring. It didn’t really matter. I’d fallen instantly and obsessively in love, but not the kind of teenage drama crap you might expect. No, this was the real soul-wrenching kind of love. I’d never be the same again.
The whole school trilled with gossip. Morgan heard he’d moved here to live with his dad after his mom got arrested. Sebastian said he’d been in Juvie and just got out.
I knew better, having spent that entire day wandering the high school between classes, getting more tardies in one afternoon then I’d received so far that year. But I didn’t care. I was determined to figure out a way to talk to him, whatever it took. Something about the way he’d looked at me, the way the world fell away, taking with it the dread sitting in the bottom of my stomach. Like getting shock therapy, or jumping in the lake in winter, suddenly I felt alive—thanks to him.
Two days later at lunch—one of the few events not segregated by grade—I finally saw him.
I’d been held after class in Algebra; too many days of missing homework. Teachers seemed to think we possessed this unlimited amount of time between getting home and going to bed for all this work, and every one of them gave enough homework to fill the whole night. This assumed I bothered to even try. Between cleaning up the house, trying to keep the reality of my life from caving in, worrying about Dad coming home drunk or Ma crying over bills, Earth Science homework just didn’t seem like that big of a fucking deal. At least I didn’t have to worry about homework in History—it paid to be Mr. Harris’ star student.
When I finally got out of there, I trudged down to the cafeteria, ignoring the insults the boys tossed, or their occasional moo call. Fuck them. I retreated to my usual spot in front of the vending machine, looking for something sugary before finding Morgan on the front steps with her friends.
Cheetos or cupcakes or a Rice Krispies Treat… the options for processed fat and sugar proved endless.
“The machine gave me two, you want one?” A low rumble came from around the corner.
I stepped to the side and looked around the clunky machine blocking my view. There, on the ground with earbuds dangling around his neck and one hand offering up a HoHo, sat Troy Christiansen.
I took the treat and shifted my weight to the other foot. I wanted to tell him I’d seen the way he’d looked at me, that this place didn’t suck too bad, that I could be something—maybe something special—if he wanted. Instead, I just crinkled the plastic wrapper between my fingers.
He shrugged, put the earbuds back in, and picked up the book on his lap—something old, with tan pages and a cracked spine.
Dejected, I turned away.
“You can sit here if you want,” he said, without looking up.
A swelling in my chest made it difficult to breathe, and, for a minute, I floundered. I wasn’t even sure if I could find the strength to sit, but when he glanced up and raised one eyebrow, I shivered and stepped closer.
“Um… yeah… sure.” My mouth went dry and my tongue felt stiff as a diving board, but my legs managed to lower me to the floor without falling. Little miracles shouldn’t be taken for granted.
The waist of my jeans cut into my middle and made it tough to figure out just how to sit, but I didn’t want to fidget too much. With one leg bent and the other curled under me, it wasn’t comfortable, but I couldn’t cross the other leg. I left it bent, my knee poking out at an angle.
“Thanks.” I peeked through my hair, afraid to look right at him. When he smiled, a thrum of excitement started in my chest, speeding up my breath.
“What’s your name?”
He nodded. “I’m Troy.” His eyes shone in the florescent glare of the cafeteria, and he passed me one of his iPod’s earbuds. When I took it, he leaned his head back and closed his eyes, not bothering to eat the HoHo balanced precariously on his knee.
The earbud was still warm, and shrill, fast music crashed into my brain. It clamored around in my head, abusing the parts of my mind normally reserved for coherent thought, but I didn’t care. Troy Christiansen and I listened to the same thing, shared the same sensations.
I didn’t eat the HoHos he’d given me, despite a tingling at the back of my mouth anticipating the decadent mixture of chocolate and cream. I leaned against the wall, enjoying how every breath he took moved the air around me. The hairs on my arm reached out to him, and I vibrated with the fantasy that he might touch me.
When the warning bell rang, chairs scraped against the linoleum floor as everyone rushed to finish their conversation, stuff in one more bite of processed meat, and dump their trash before heading to class.
Troy and I just sat, him with his eyes closed, me trying desperately to look at him… without looking. His sharp features were symmetrical, and sitting side-by-side, we weren’t too different in height. But my figure was thick, his lanky, and where I curved, he stuck out in angular points. He wore the same tight jeans as the first day I saw him. His lip ring dangled from the center of his bottom lip, pulling it out into a pout that made me shiver and look away.
The class bell rang and even though I couldn’t afford another tardy, the mere idea of moving away proved inconceivable. I’d spent all week searching for him; no way I’d get up first. Every minute we sat—the cafeteria now cold and barren—the knot in my stomach grew. I tried not to fidget, to keep my hands still and not worry about needing to go to my locker before class.
Finally, he opened his eyes and pulled out his earbud. He set the iPod on the ground before standing up and stretching.
From where I sat I could glance at the swatch of skin above his pant line, pale and smooth. I fumbled with the earbud and gathered the cord around the iPod to keep from staring.
“You smoke?” He stuffed the iPod and uneaten HoHo into his bag.
“Yeah.” I scrambled to pull myself up as he slung it over a shoulder.
“You didn’t eat. Aren’t you hungry?” He pointed to the HoHo in my hand.
“Nah, I’ll eat later.” I hoped he couldn’t hear my stomach growl, or the crinkling of the plastic wrapper as my hand shook.
He shrugged and walked away, out of the cafeteria and down the long hall leading to the main door.
“Aren’t you going to class?” My voice reverberated in the empty hall, too loud as I rushed to keep up with his long legs.
“No. Why would I ask you to smoke if I was going to class?” His response made so much sense, I felt stupid for asking.
“Well, you can’t go out front,” I offered, lowering my voice a little, trying to make it sultry or something. I knew something he didn’t, and despite the fact I was essentially skipping class for the first time in my life, I desperately wanted him to keep me around. “We have to go out back, behind the loading docks. None of the teachers bother going there.”
“I don’t give a fuck what the teachers do.” He glanced down at me, his eyes cold before softening into a teasing smile. “But if you do, we can go.”
“Thanks,” I mumbled, embarrassed to have cared, to assume he would care about getting in trouble. He was a junior—he didn’t have to give a fuck.
We turned and walked back past the cafeteria, beyond the foreign language hall and out the side door. He followed me, not speaking as I jumped over a pile of unmelted snow left over from the last storm.
He chuckled—laughing at me or with me? Didn’t really matter, given the smile that brightened his face.
When we rounded the shed to the unofficially designated smoking area, he pulled out a cigarette, lit it and inhaled deeply. His thin face appeared even more drawn as he held in the smoke before exhaling through his nose.
I rubbed my hands on my pant legs. I didn’t have my bag with me, so no cigarettes.
Troy didn’t seem to notice, though. He just gazed out over the parking lot, tapping his foot as he smoked.
I wrapped my arms around my middle, trying to keep warm.
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Genre – Literary Fiction/Coming of Age
Rating – R (15+)