“Looks like they’ll live to fight another day,” I said.
“No,” Emily whispered under my dad’s lecture. “It’ll just be a lunch-room continuation.”
It was a simple enough question, but my newfound affections rested too thickly in the undertone. She turned to me quickly, grinning, and before she could say Oh, my God, you like him, I said, “So, does my dad know you have a crush on him?”
“No way.” She leaned back, her eyes wide. “I would be so humiliated.”
I scratched my temple, wondering how admitting it to his daughter was any less humiliating.
“So, how was the library, with David?” She kind of sung his name.
I froze, wondering which parts of my amazing morning I should leave out. “It was okay. He seems nice.” I nodded casually, but Emily’s smile grew.
I cleared my throat, repositioning my chair. “I think he’s...a nice...kid.”
She scoffed in the back of her throat. And I knew, from the look on her face, exactly what she was about to say. “You so do like him.”
“Nope.” I wore the face of denial, but the cheesy grin in my eyes must have changed the wording on my neon sign to ‘Oh my God. I totally do.’
“I knew it.” She pointed at me. “I knew it.”
I grabbed her finger and pushed it down. “I do not like him.”
“Oh, I’ve seen that look before. You have Knight Fever.”
“It’s what we call it when all the girls swoon over David.”
“I’m not swooning.” I turned my face away.
“He’s charming, isn’t he?” She leaned on her hand, her thoughts a million miles away. “It’ll kill you, you know? Knight Fever. Have you heard the I don’t date speech yet?”
“Oh no. You have. Oh, I thought—” Her head moved slowly from side to side. “Well, now I’m sure he’s gay. I mean, I was sure you had to be his type. Us girls have pretty much got it down to a science.”
“Got what down to a science?”
“The girls David Knight will and will not scope.”
“He’s a hot-blooded male, Ara? Of course he does. Just, very subtly,” her tone dropped its certainty. “Like, he never actually looks, but he’s nicer to some than others. So, we’ve grouped together a sort of profiling on him.”
“Okay, that’s just creepy,” I said, turning away.
“It’s not—” she paused when my dad glared at us, “—it’s not like that. It’s just a bit of gossip. We don’t have, like, a file on him or anything.”
“So, you thought I was his type?”
“Well, I was sure, but…I guess not.” She shrugged, staring forward.
And that was it. A shrug. That’s all I was? I really liked this guy, and I’d just been dusted off with a shrug?
I drummed my fingers on the desk, trying really hard to focus on the legends of Zeus, but my stomach grumbled, making a fuss about my missed mid-morning snack, and nausea brought the taste of bile up to the back of my throat. “He seemed so genuine,” I turned and whispered to Emily, letting my temper get the better of me. “He walked me to every class. He was so nice, so sweet, and—” I told her about the bathroom gossip and the theatrical kiss.
Her eyes rounded into her brow. “Are you serious?”
“He has. Never. Done. That before,” she exclaimed.
“Okay? So why did he give me the speech?”
She slowly looked away. “I can not figure that boy out.”
The bell rang before I expected it to. I swallowed the last of my sentence and smiled at Emily; she was so easy to be around. At first, I thought she was a bit stuck up, but the last forty minutes suggested that might’ve just been a nasty first assumption.
I jammed my books into my bag and frowned at the elbow in my rib. “What?”
She nodded across the room. “Look.”
At the end of my gaze, David came into focus, hands wedged in pockets, shoulder on the doorframe and a very sexy grin across his lips.
“Hi,” I mouthed, looking down at my bag before he could see my cheeks change colour.
“Hm, he likes you, Ara—he’s just trying not to show you.”
“You think?” I looked back at David, now talking to my dad.
“Come on, girl. Even Mr Thompson noticed the way he was staring at you.”
“Oh no.” I hid behind my hand. “It’s the touch-my-daughter-and-you-die speech.” I wanted to melt—hide under my desk or slink away.
“No, Emily,” I said flatly. “Only one of them is gorgeous.”
“I agree,” she said. “Your dad is so much better.”
We both laughed, but mine ended in a sigh. “I hope Dad doesn’t give David the creeps. I only just met the poor guy.”
“Nah, he’s just making the lines clear. Can you blame him?”
“Yes. He’s breaking all the rules I set out before I came here.”
“Okay?” Dad said loudly, patting David on the shoulder.
“I had no intentions of that, Mr Thompson,” David said, looking him right in the eye.
I watched on in horror. “Oh God, just hide me now.”
Emily laughed. “Let’s just hope you don't receive the tail-end of that lecture.”
“Exactly what I was just thinking.” She must’ve known my dad pretty well. It felt kind of strange then to know I shared him with so many other kids. I always knew that, but never experienced it firsthand before.
Dad sat back at his desk, and I chose the opportune moment, as he reached for something on the floor, to slink quietly past—sinking my neck into my shoulders.
Emily, however, shamelessly stopped in front of the desk just to tell Dad how great his lecture was today. Never mind that she wasn’t even listening. I really quite liked Emily.
He just smiled and took my bag as we walked into the corridor.
“Look, I’m so sorry. What was my dad saying to you?”
He laughed once. “You know, it’s okay, Ara. If I was your father and I saw some punk kid look at you the way I’m sure I was, I wouldn't have used words.”
We stopped walking, and I groaned, slamming my back against a row of lockers as I tried to rub the ache of mortification from my temples.
“Of course,” David continued after a short breath, “if I’d known he was your dad, I might’ve thought twice about—”
“Hanging out with me?” I dropped my hands to my sides. “I’m sorry. I should’ve told you.” And so, I lost my first friend. I was in no way offended, though. I knew going to the same school as my dad would have its pitfalls. I’d accepted that.
“No—” He stepped closer to me, shaking his head. “No, Ara, I would have thought twice about staring at you that way—in front of him.” His words softened on the end.
“Oh. Okay. Well, uh, I’m sorry I didn’t mention it earlier.”
“Well, a heads-up would’ve been nice,” he said.
“Touché.” I smiled, surprised he remembered me saying that in music class.
“So?” We both said at the same time, then laughed.
“Okay, wait.” His hand came up like a stop sign; I snapped my mouth shut. “What I said before about dating?” He paused. “It was a mistake. I’m so used to having to give that speech, it just came out on auto. But I didn’t mean it for you. I was just illustrating how I don’t—I mean—I’m just not that kinda guy.” David’s fists clenched beside him. “What I meant was that I’d never date any of them—I didn’t mean that to include yo—I mean, what I'm trying to say is—” He looked directly into my eyes, and all the students in the hall seemed to disappear. “You’re not just any girl, Ara, I—” he swallowed, “—I…like you.”
Uh? What? My lungs went tight, like a softball just got lodged in my chest. I looked around, waiting for a group of kids to jump out from behind the lockers and laugh at me, screaming April Fools. Despite it not being April.
David laughed to himself then. “I’m sorry. That was very forward of me. You don’t even know me yet, and I—”
“Um, David?” I stopped him. Oh my God. I had no idea what to say. I mean, for all I knew, I had merely imagined him saying that and, at any minute, I’d wake up, still in Dad’s class, Emily beside me and a piece of paper stuck to the drool on my chin. I hugged my arms across my waist. “This is all a little bit weird.”
“I’m sorry.” He scratched his thumb across his upper lip, clearing his throat. “I get it.”
“No, you don’t get it.” I chased after him as he turned away.
“No. Really.” His smile radiated sincerity. “I really do. You don’t have to explain.”
“Come on, we’re late.” He walked a little faster then, but slowed and turned back to face me, pointing his thumb toward the stairs. “It’s uh—it’s this way.”
I walked after him, forcing my fingertips into my own brows. I wished I could scream it out—tell him exactly what I was thinking. But I just didn’t want to seem creepy or desperate. And it was creepy, and probably a little desperate, to like a guy I just met. Of course, that didn't change the fact that I was practically envisioning my initials beside his surname. Creepy.
David stopped walking. “Did you just say something?”
“Uh, I don't know. Did you mean to say that?”
“You two!” A door burst open beside us, and an evil-villain-type-scary woman, who probably kidnaped Dalmatians, popped her angry face out. “Why aren't you in class?”
“Sorry, Miss Hawkins, we were just going,” David said slowly.
“Well, make it quick, please, the bell has rung.” She slammed the door, leaving David and I alone again.
The awkwardness separated us with an invisible line.
“Yeah. Can I…” He stuffed his hands in his pockets, looking up from his shoes. “Can I walk you to lunch after class?”
The words ‘coward’, ‘moronically deranged’ and ‘stupid, stupid, stupid!’ stared at me from the page where an equation was supposed to be solved. But if I couldn't find the formula for curing regret, how was chemistry going to be any easier?
I dropped my face against my hands, slamming my elbows on either side of my book, while the whole conversation with David played in my mind like a regret marathon on repeat. How could I have just stood there with my giant gob open and let nothing out? I should’ve told him. I should’ve said, “Thanks, David. I like you, too.” What is wrong with me?
I sat up straight and grabbed my pen. “Um, yeah. All good.”
Satisfied, the teacher turned back to the board and, one by one, the students followed suit, leaving me and my scribble alone again.
My scribble became pictures then, each word transforming into a snake or overlapping circles and other various works of notepad art, all twining together to form two words: Knight Fever. I had it bad—bad enough to be drawing love hearts.
I scribbled them out, practically ripping the page with my pen. It was way too early to use that word. This was in no way love at first sight—just my deep-seated need to feel accepted manifesting itself into emotions that weren't real. I nodded, satisfied with my psychological assessment. That would’ve made Vicki proud. Except, I didn’t want it to be right. It felt good to like a boy. It felt good to be that distracted. But I couldn’t let that feeling divert me from the plan; to put my head down, get through this year and hopefully, somewhere in the mix of all my moving on, I might actually move on—without dragging anyone down with me.
When the lunch bell rang, I stayed in my chair, sharing my pendulum thoughts with the Bunsen burner. He didn’t talk back, thankfully, but I wished he would. If it was even a he. “Sorry,” I said, “If you’re a girl, you have a lovely figure.”
“I assure you, I’m a boy,” it said in a velvety voice. And my cheeks went really hot when I realised it wasn’t the Bunsen burner that spoke.
All I could do was laugh, staring forward with a rock of tension making my head want to sink down. “I’m...just gonna go hide under the desk.”
David cleared his throat into his fist. “Don’t do that. It’s okay, I talk to inanimate objects all the time.”