Lessons

He held open the door to the roof. I managed a small smile, whispered a thank you, and stepped past him. Thick clouds carpeted the sky with soft gray cotton candy, and a light but steady drizzle wrapped around all four corners of the city. Thin pools of glassy rainwater covered the cement floor, and the air was filled with the thick smell of rain. I crossed my arms to keep out the biting wind. A stance of vulnerability or perhaps defensiveness? One would be left to make his own judgment.
It was “quiet time”, the coveted twenty minutes of our school day when time was our own, with only two minor guidelines: to stay in the classroom and remain, well, quiet, although usually it was not so. Kyle had requested that we sneak to the roof for a quiet place to talk.
But instead of words there was a vast expanse of emptiness, with room for words and laughter, yet there was none. The silence remained. It hovered, and the awkward tension suffocated. I walked over to the edge, overlooking the silent school buildings, empty parking lot and wind-and-rain-haggard trees. Hugging myself tighter, I sighed.
Three weeks ago things looked rather promising, at homecoming when reason was nowhere to be found and compulsion ruled every action. The summer restlessness still lingered. We had danced together for several of the slow songs. Kyle was so good-looking, and I had initially thought that his reputation for being a bad boy was kind of attractive. After the homecoming dance we just talked in school and hung out a bit. October soon melted away to November, the November of my high school sophomore year. Over the four weeks, his true personality began to manifest from behind his carefully constructed persona. Kyle was confident and charismatic, and everything else a guy could wish to be. He had the sense of humor, the looks, the figure, the clothes, and most importantly, he got the girls. Little did I know that the confidence was merely a show of cockiness to hide a vulnerable boy that hid under such an ambitious image. He was neither kind nor caring, or anything else that he pretended to be. My desire to get to know him dimmed, and my regret and resentment grew. I was disgusted by him and the fact that I had gotten myself into this situation. Anger at myself and at him held me back – I didn’t want to talk. Why didn’t I break it off? Well, because I had thought for a little while that I could change him.
Kyle’s voice came from behind me.
“Brooke, so how was your day?”
“It was fine.” The problem is, that was all I could and wanted to say – I couldn't open myself up to him, because I knew he really didn't care.
A heavy pause.
“Yours?” I asked.
“Mine?” He drawled out the word long and slow, like a cat purring as it stretches out in front of the fireplace. “It was cool. We balled for the whole lunch period. It wasn’t the basketball competition, though. It was too rainy today, so Coach called it off. But Dan and I went to play anyway…It was intense,” he continued, “and I’m sure I was dripping sweat all over the court, but I made two three-pointers and one dunk. Cool huh?”
“Wow…?”
“What do you mean, ‘Wow?’ Three-pointer, man! Dunk!” He laughed.
I smiled. “I mean, oh, that’s really good.”
Of course I didn’t mean that. But I had to say it, out of this unspoken requirement. When a boy is trying to win the affections of a girl, she should compliment him and make him feel good. Really, Kyle. Please stop talking. Please stop trying. The only reason why I’m here, wasting my time with you, is out of courtesy.
“I can almost touch the rim. Like Dan,” he said.
I nodded, wondering if I could really change Kyle. Turning the common notion over and over, of converting bad boys to miraculously decent ones. It was what kept me there, with him, tolerating him. I had really thought that I had the ability.
He took the silence as a chance to step closer. Fury beat against the walls of my heart. We weren’t even in a relationship, and he wanted to get physical already?
I began to talk.
“Today Mr. Allan was lecturing about the periodic table –” I suddenly felt his hand snaking around my waist, “- and how the elements are sorted, right?” I grabbed it and threw it back toward his body, where it belonged. He frowned, disappointed.
“Well, when the teacher reached lithium, someone passed a note paper to Adele. You know how she sits in the front row? Well, it was supposed to land on her desk, but instead it deflected off her neighbor’s glasses and… you’d never guess.” I was smiling for real, watching him eagerly.
His disinterested expression met my eyes. “What?” He was leaning against the railing that surrounded the roof, toying with a button on the shirt that he had changed into after playing basketball.
“It hit Mr. Allan right in the face.” I started laughing, what happened afterward.
Kyle chuckled slightly and turned to face the parking lot.
“I’m so tired,” he groaned as he surveyed the rain-beaten cars below. “We had to run four laps for gym today.”
Was that all he could talk about?
Exasperated, I tried again, wondering if something of more substance would maybe pique his interest.
“There’s this really, really good book I’m reading. Pride and Prej –”
“Bride on bread? Is that like, a serial killer story?”
“No! Pride and Prejudice! By Jane Austen. Well, the main character, Lizzie… She has such a ridiculously sharp tongue, and I can feel Mr. Darcy’s pain sometimes, but I love her.”
He turned around again. “Brooke.” Maybe now he has something to say.
“Yeah?”
“There are little drizzle things all over your hair. It’s all shiny.”
Never mind.
I reached up to brush them off.
“Don’t –”
“Oh.”
“…they were sort of pretty,” he mumbled.
What was with the sudden sensitivity? Was there really something good in him? A tiny flicker of hope leapt up in my heart.
I looked at him. Surveyed his countenance, his face, his body language. They bespoke nothing but boredom. His light brown eyes, part of what attracted me to him in the first place, were waiting expectantly. What? What was I to say? Frankly, I didn't want to be near him. He put up such a marvelous show at first. Confidence, humor, wit, pleasing ambiance, generosity. But very quickly, after two weeks, the facade began to wane. With every passing day my interest in him waned also.
"There are beads of drizzle on your eyelashes," I murmured. “It looks like there’s little twinkling stars in your eyes.”
He mumbled something about girls and their weird detailed ways.
Frustrated, I walked over to the other side of the roof. I didn’t care if I insulted him anymore. He could stay where he was, on the other side of the roof, with the puddles and fog separating us.
Kyle strode over and slid behind me. He tried to encage me in his arms, but I slipped out of them.
“No,” I said.
“You said you’d hug me today,” he pouted.
“What? You said that it was only if you played the competition and won. There wasn’t even a competition.” I crossed my arms. “Do you want to go downstairs? Class should be starting soon.”
He rolled his eyes.
Irritation and disgust flared up so quickly and temporarily blotted out propriety. I saw that, I wanted to say. Just out of spite. But I held it back, because propriety won in the end.
“Let's go down, then?” he said.
“Yeah.”
Four flights of stairs down. Four flights of silence. The awkwardness gnawed at me. I could hear the classrooms buzzing with noise as students chattered away, not held back by the silence that bound us so tightly, or the quiet time rules. Kyle and I were, in fact, the only ones obeying and “remaining quiet”. How ironic.
He stopped at the bottom of the stairs, and looked at me seriously. He was biting his bottom lip, eyes grave as they held my gaze.
“Hey… let’s sit down and talk somewhere, okay?”
I felt my heart skip a surprised beat. Did he already sense that anything between us was beyond hope? Kyle steered me, with a firm hand on my shoulder, onto the low brick wall that separated the parking lot from the building. He sat down first.
“Take a seat.” He patted the spot next to him. I inched my way towards the low brick wall and sat down carefully.
“Brooke, I’ve been thinking.”
I nodded, silently willing him to go on and get it over with. If he wanted to say the parting words, do it fast and quick, like ripping off a Band-Aid. At least Kyle would take the burden off my shoulders.
He looked at me full in the face. “I think we should start seeing each other exclusively.” His voice was riddled with a distinct confidence and pride; he was sure of being accepted.
I sat and stared at the stairs for so long the stairwell seemed to echo and roar again with the oppressive and heavy silence. Inside me anger and panic beat two entirely different tempos – anger, strong, as panic dabbled away nervously at the edges of my thoughts. What to do? What now? I could feel his question hanging heavy in the air between us. The answer was rather simple. But would I really do it or not?
I gripped the edges of the brick wall and took a deep breath and –
“No.”
“Wh–”
“No. We should stop seeing each other.”
“Wait. What?” His face stared, challenging me.
“I said – it’s over.”
“Why are you breaking up with me?” he demanded.
Propriety kicked in. “It’s not working out.”
The real reasons, what I was holding back, were too harsh to say to anybody. But don’t get me wrong. I wanted to tell him that homecoming was a mistake. That I wished we never got together at all. That this was all a big mistake, and it was entirely my fault. But it was over now.
My muscles relaxed, and I stopped gripping the edges of the brick wall, my stinging palms pink. The last swell of anger and bitterness rose up in my heart – and disappeared.
Kyle stared at the floor. A redness had crept all over his face.
“Kyle,” I tried again on a nicer note. Did I hurt him too much? Suddenly I felt guilty.

He stormed off and didn’t look back once.
I opened my mouth to maybe call him back, to try to ease some of his hurt, but I bit the words back. Like I said, it was over.
I stared at his retreating figure, swathed in the fog and the drizzle and the three weeks worth of dislike. But the anger was gone.
I looked on in relief.
This – the whole ordeal – was a hard lesson to learn, but I had gotten through it. Sitting there, tracing the rough surface of the brick wall, I felt rather calm. Not sad, or bitter. Not one bit.
Sighing softly to myself, I stared at the floor and thought. Obeying compulsions, especially they concern matters of the heart, is never a good thing to do. Listen to reason, however small the voice of reason may seem in comparison to the one of rash indulgence. I watched as a leaf floated straight into a puddle, landed, and was slowly immersed by the stagnant water. Diving head first into situations like these – the outcome was inevitable.
I could hear the clamor of the students back in the classrooms, a noise that suddenly seemed so clear and familiar. I felt like I was a part of it again, since the deafening silence between Kyle and I had been put out.
I pushed off the brick wall and headed back toward the classrooms, the shouts and laughter of happy students wafting from the open windows.





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