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Ice Queen This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     Helen runs toward me as I escape the inferno with her cat clutched in my arms. As I hand her the feline, she shrieks joyfully. She gives the cat to her father and turns to embrace me.

“John,” Helen yells in my ear. “Get up, or you’ll be late for school!” At this harsh command, I blink and find myself staring at my ceiling instead of Helen’s lovely face. Groggily, I sit up and glance at my alarm clock, which reads 7:30 a.m. This jump-starts me and I am dressed in the time that it takes most people to flop out of bed. In my haste, I put on the same clothes I slipped out of less than 12 hours before.

“We paid for all the stairs,” my mother chides, as I move from the second floor to the first in one fluid motion, “so use them all!” Mom hates that I negotiate the stairs as recklessly as my father. “It’s in the genes,” I often hear her muttering.

I bolt through the kitchen like a cheetah chasing a gazelle in pursuit of my prey - Frosted Flakes - but, as soon as I have eaten, the litany of chores I had forgotten catches up with me and ushers me out the door.

As I leave the house, I see the bus pulling up down the road. Even though I am somewhat lacking in athleticism, I make it in a time that would put Mercury to shame. On board, I sit next to my best friend, Joe. Joe is nearly 16, and I plan to harass him every day until he promises to drive me to school in the car that he will get for his birthday, allowing me another 10 minutes of sleep. Understandably, he is a bit skeptical of how this will further his interests.

“I can’t wait until you have a car,” I remark, trying a new approach. “I’ll even wax it for you if ...” Joe tries to look uninterested, but I see the gleam in his eye when he hears he can have a shiny automobile with no effort. Being indirect with Joe has always been fun since you can almost see Joe exercising his gray matter.

“How about a week of rides for one waxing?” Joe offers.

“Make it four weeks and I’ll consider it,” I counter.

“What?” Joe says in mock outrage. He crosses his eyes. “You must be insane! Two weeks is as high as I’ll go.”

“Make it three weeks and you’ve got yourself a deal, partner,” I bargain in an accent straight out of an old Western. To add to the effect, I narrow my eyes.

“Deal, and this time keep the cards where I can see them,” Joe twangs, getting into the part. We both chuckle.

I have known Joe since kindergarten and whenever we want to make a deal we try to be as solemn as possible while simultaneously trying to make the other laugh. By the time our hilarities subside, we have arrived at school.

In the schoolyard, we see our friends, Chris and Terry. Chris is short with straight, brown hair and thick glasses. He easily accounts for more than half of the collective intelligence in our group. Terry is a bit of a tomboy and has trouble conforming to others’ expectations. Chris, Joe and I are the only ones who accept her for herself. Most of her old “friends” have tried to change her, from her hair to her outlook on life.

You might wonder what unites us. The fact is, as much we try to deny it, we are all social outcasts. Chris is too smart, Terry too unique, Joe a klutz and I am a dreamer. In middle school, a teacher put us together for a project and it worked well. Chris fed us the facts; Terry made sure our project had a creative twist; Joe, the movie buff, found quotes that we could use and I dreamed up a way to deliver the package. After that, we stuck together like gum to a shoe.

We banter like this every morning, but our exchange of mock insults is cut short when Tony joins us. He travels with one of the most popular circles and girls adore him, but Terry knows Tony for the insensitive jerk that he is. She glares at the girls who follow Tony over.

“Hi there, John,” Tony breaks the silence. “That outfit looks just like the one you wore yesterday. Maybe because, oh, I dunno, because it is!”

“I must admit I’m impressed with your observational skills,” I reply, “but I do suggest you give your cerebral cortex a week to recuperate from such a Herculean intellectual enterprise.” Some of Tony’s faithful followers bristle at my retort, but more scratch their heads in bewilderment.

“What?” Tony asks. “You insulting me?”

“Wow!” I mock, “That was quite a jolt of electricity running along your synapses.” Chris snickers and Tony’s face reddens.

“Do you want to fight?” Tony challenges.

“Ah!” I nonchalantly observe. “I see that you have reverted to the simian behaviors that are no doubt dominant in your family.” Tony grabs me by my shirt. “I am afraid that I am disinclined to acquiesce,” I say, borrowing a favorite movie quote.

The peal of the bell saves the day. In another second, Tony would have pummeled me. I put my bag in my locker before peering around to see Helen. I love every aspect of her, most of all her eyes. They are deep blue icebergs. What you can see seems monolithic but beneath the surface are hidden depths. I see so much emotion in there that it’s hard to think there might be more, but there is.

I could spend hours staring at Helen’s black hair and fair cheeks, or gazing into her glorious eyes. I could have spent the entire locker break in this reverie, but it was not to be. I glance up to see Tony’s ugly mug next to Helen’s lovely face. Tony struts closer and leans his head on the locker next to mine so that his face blocks my view. In that instant, he unwittingly crosses the line and does something that no man should do: come between a dreamer and his dream. I am so infuriated by this intrusion that it forces me back to reality. Tony pulls a piece of plastic from his pocket and I instantly recognize it as my ID.

“I am John the nerd. I am, like the acorn, a nut,” Tony mocks in a nasally voice. Tony’s taunts push me too far and spur me into action.

“You thief! You aberration of evolution! You poor excuse for a baboon’s posterior!” I yell before turning and savagely pushing him into the lockers on the other side of the hall and striking him squarely on the jaw.

“Stay away from me and my friends! I’ll take my ID!” As I grab it, I realize everyone is staring, surprised by my boldness. I turn and run to homeroom.

There, I sit in the back contemplating what I have done. Why was I so foolish? Everyone knows that a bully like Tony annoys people just to invoke reactions. Why had I not taken it quietly like all the other times? What was different? The answer came as an epiphany: Helen. What magical hold did she have over me that her presence could change me into a different person?

The first class is math with Mrs. Hawkins. It is my favorite class because Helen sits next to me. I can look at her and let my thoughts run wild. Helen’s hair falls just below her shoulders. It is the finest hair I have ever seen or hope to see. It casts a hypnotic spell and beckons me to reach out and touch it. With all my might, I try to resist, but show me a man who can resist a temptation like that. I raise my hand to touch the hair.

“Yes, John?” Mrs. Hawkins asks just before the point of contact, addressing the first student smart enough (or foolish enough) to raise his hand. “Your thoughts on the matter are ... ?”

“Helen,” I blurt out, for that was the only thing on my mind.

“Would you mind staying after class?” Mrs. Hawkins continues. “Helen can stay too.” This is too much for the class to bear and I hear chuckles.

I hunch over my desk, trying to become invisible. Then, I think of Helen. She has been included in this cruel joke. I turn to apologize but her face turns red and she looks away.

Mrs. Hawkins, deciding not to punish me for my lack of attention, lets me escape with just a warning. The rest of the morning passes uneventfully, but even so, I am glad when it is time for lunch. As I stand in line, I hear Helen telling a friend she has forgotten her lunch money. I search my pockets, but they’re empty. My opportunity is lost!

As I head to meet my friends, I catch sight of Tony handing Helen some money.

“Thank you!” Helen exclaims, hugging him. My heart sinks as I see the glorious Helen embrace the personage that I so hate.

Chris is already there and gives me half his sandwich. He indulgently listens to the events of the morning. Chris always knows just the right thing to say.

“There is a 94 percent chance of the afternoon being better.” Chris’s zany wit cheers me up. Joe materializes and hands me a bag of chips. “Thanks. How did you know to get me something to eat?”

“I saw Tony relieve you of your money and give it to Helen while you were in line,” Joe reports. “I figured that Chris would probably give you some of his food, so I got you a bag of chips. Your favorite kind, in case you hadn’t noticed.” I smile and thank him again. Terry hands me my favorite drink.

“Joe told me you might be needing this,” she winks.

“Thanks, guys,” I grin. “You are the greatest friends anyone could have!”

After lunch is history and Mr. Lynch shows us a video about World War II. Predictably, instead of the TV, I gaze at my love, Helen, the goddess who has strayed from Mount Olympus. Her name is as sweet as the breezes on a summer day. She is ambrosia and nectar to my senses.

When class is over, I jog after my friends, but turning a corner too quickly, I run into Helen. I bend to help retrieve her books, but she abruptly snatches them. Desperate to break the silence, I let my mind flow through my lips.

“S-s-sorry,” I utter. “Would you like to go to the dance? I-I-I mean with me?”

“No.” Her response comes from my worst nightmare. “You little creep! You have been bugging me all week! Get lost!” Her reply is like a dagger of ice cutting deep into my heart. It is so cold that the blood in my veins stops, and time itself is frozen. The worst moment of my life lasts an eternity. At last, I run around the next corner so I can be alone, and I fall in a heap on the ground. Slowly, the icy feeling begins to melt. It recedes through my eyes and trickles down my cheeks. As I sit in a salty pool of sorrow and regret, I hear voices. “Hey,” says one. It’s Tony. “Want to go to the dance with me?”

No! I think. No!

“Okay” comes Helen’s reply. Such a small word can cut so deep. It is then that I realize the goddess I have pursued all this time is no warm summer day. She is an ice queen suited for thugs like Tony.

A few weeks later I look around the hall and see Jane. With auburn hair that goes every which way, she glances my way and I see her hazel eyes that burn like an inferno. But I have learned my lesson from the winter where love is a frail flower. I know that the flower I speak of cannot survive a forest fire, so I quickly stare into my locker - not promising myself Helen or Jane.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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manicalxmolly said...
Nov. 14, 2008 at 11:22 pm
I like this.. it has very good imagery, humorous moments, and I can relate. I hope he finds someone.
 
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