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“Man, I’d give anything to break up those two lovebirds. Look at them, it’s so not even natural,” I said to Carl as we ate our stale pizzas during lunch.
“Jason, what do you mean that’s not even natural? Are you turning into a woman on me?” Carl retorted.
“Shut up. You can just tell that they’re trying way too hard and it’s not even fun for either of them,” I said as I continued my spying on the couple across the lunchroom, scarcely paying any attention to the food in front of me.
“Sounds to me like you’ve got a little crush on old Shelby over there.”
“Don’t be stupid,” I said defensively. “She’s not my type. I’m way out of her league anyways.”
“Are you kidding me?” Carl said. “She’s like five leagues above yours. You don’t even have a league.”
“Ah whatever. I don’t even like her anyways, I was just saying it’s stupid is all.”
Just then the bell rang and hundreds of reluctant students gathered their things and headed to their 5th period classes. Carl and I waited until most everybody had cleared out of the cafeteria before we left so we wouldn’t get caught in the traffic. As we were walking out of the cafeteria doors, we were almost knocked over by the hurried Shelby trying to weave in and out of traffic to get back into the cafeteria for some reason.
“Oh hey, Shelby,” I said hesitantly.
“Oh hey, Jason, I didn’t see you there,” she replied flawlessly. “What’re you doing?”
“Oh just… walking through the door, you know,” I said as I chuckled awkwardly. Carl punched me on the arm as if he needed to tell me it was a stupid comment.
“Very… cool,” she said as she returned my awkward chuckle. “I forgot my History book over there, though, and I’m kinda in a hurry so I’ll talk to you later!” She hurried off.
Once we were a safe distance away, Carl turned to me and said, “Hey ‘Joe Cool’, you walk through any good doors lately?” He couldn’t finish the question before he burst into mocking laughter.
“Dude shut up, I couldn’t care less what she thinks of me anyways.”
“Right,” he said sarcastically.
He continued making fun of me the remainder of the walk to English which we both had 5th period. Despite it being the only class I had with my best friend, I loathed English. As far as I was concerned, learning how to say big, fancy-sounding words was for dummies. Math was more my subject, I liked how the numbers never changed day after day. One plus one would equal two anytime I added them up.
Anyways, Carl and I sat down next to each other in our usual seats in English and our teacher, Mrs. Burns, made us get out our textbooks and flip to the page where we left off on Julius Caesar. I looked at Carl and we rolled our eyes at each other. Neither of us was very fond of the book, especially since we’d heard everybody dies in the end and neither of us liked those kinds of stories.
Before we started reading, Mrs. Burns started off on some tangent of hers, explaining to us the difference between two big words which I don’t care to remember. She was saying how we should pay attention to which characters listen to their heart and which ones follow their mind in the dumb story; the kind of sissy stuff that made me hate English in the first place.
So before I knew it, my mind was off in another world. I couldn’t get that dumb comment out of my head no matter how hard I tried. I just imagined Shelby’s big eyes looking up at me, waiting for me to tell her what I was doing. Then I heard the stupid words come out of my mouth, “Just walking through the door, you know”. Gosh I wanted to punch myself, I sounded like such an idiot. I’m always doing this kind of stuff.
“Hey man, you ok?” Carl whispered to me.
“Uh, yeah. Just zoning out is all,” I replied.
“Can’t blame you,” he said back to me.
Just then I noticed a huge hole in the bottom of his backpack. “Hey, what’s that gaping hole from?” I asked, pointing at it.
“Oh dang, I’ve never noticed it before,” he said.
“You should probably get that taped up,” I warned.
“Yeah, I will after class.”
“Shhhh!” the teacher hissed and we both returned to our thoughts.
For some reason, though, I just couldn’t get that dumb scene out of my mind. I must’ve played those stupid words in my head a million times. “Oh, just walking through the door, you know”. Gosh I’m such a dummy. The truth is I’ve had a massive crush on Shelby Larson for as long as I can remember. She’s always dating some other guy, though, and I never get a chance. But boy is she gorgeous.
“Isn’t that right, Jason?” Mrs. Burns inquired.
“Umm, yeah exactly,” I guessed.
“So you do think that Epicureanism lacks adequate judgment for practical circumstances?”
I looked around anxiously with no avail until suddenly, at just the last moment; the bell rang. I was saved.
“We’ll continue our discussion on Monday!” Mrs. Burns called to the stampeding class.
Carl and I trailed behind the rest of the class, thankful to be rescued from the dreadful discussion. Usually after English I walk with Carl until the hall where my Science class is, but this time I had to use the restroom so I told Carl I’d see him later and headed in the opposite direction.
At Rosedale High, you only get five minutes between classes because the principals want us in class for as long as possible so if you have to go to the bathroom between classes you have to hustle, and that’s exactly what I was doing. I speed-walked through the hallway while dodging freshmen and weaving in and out of groups of people. It hit me that I’d never gone this way to 6th period before. When I was only a few feet from the bathroom, though, I saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks.
Not ten feet away from me, casually leaning on a wall of lockers, talking to a girl I’d never seen before, was Mark, Shelby’s boyfriend. To be honest I’d never liked the guy since the first time I saw him, he’s the stuck-up jock type. But as he was leaning coolly on a locker, he wore a flirty smile and his voice emitted cockiness. I decided to spy for a while.
Peeking my head around the bathroom wall just enough for me to see, I witnessed Mark making jokes and apparently dazzling the girl with his fake, cocky humor. But before they turned to leave each other, I saw something that absolutely knocked me right in the face. Before he turned to leave, he gave the girl a kiss goodbye and winked at her. Then, with the swagger of a rapper, turned and walked slyly away.
I suddenly didn’t have to go to the bathroom anymore. I suddenly didn’t feel like doing anything but finding Shelby, running right up to her and ratting the cheater out. I didn’t want to do anything too rash though, because that never turns out well. Despite my instincts, I decided it was better to wait until I saw Carl next to ask him what I should do; he always seemed to keep a level head about things.
“Are you freaking kidding me?!” Carl screamed loud enough for everyone in the hallway to hear.
“I’m dead serious. I saw it happen in the hall right before last period,” I explained.
“Oh my gosh dude, that’s insane! Too bad for poor Shelby…”
“What do you mean too bad for poor Shelby? You don’t think we should do something about it?” I asked, shocked.
“Jason, why would we do something about it? It has nothing to do with us.”
“Well I mean I know it’s just... It’s just that I guess if I were getting cheated on I’d want to know about it. And I’d want to make the person that cheated on me feel it, too,” I told him.
“Are you thinking revenge plan?” he asked slyly.
“What kind of revenge plan are we talking about?”
“Jason, you know I’m the master at revenge plans. Are you thinking we should give Mark what’s coming to him?”
“Well I don’t know,” I said with a coy hint of sympathy, “I don’t want the kid to get hurt too bad. You tend to take things a little too far.”
“No need to work out the particulars here,” Carl said. “We can do that tonight. I’m calling a sleep-over.”
“Let’s do it,” was all I needed to say, and the plan was in motion.
Just then, I realized that I’d been so caught up in the conversation that I had no idea that I was on the opposite side of the building from my last class of the day. Without even saying bye to Carl, I turned and sprinted in the direction of my 7th period History class. Other people’s judgments didn’t really faze me as I dashed like a freshman across the campus; my mind was caught up on what we might contrive to do about Mark.
I went through endless possibilities like putting hair dye in his shampoo bottle or filling his toothpaste bottle with acne cream. I knew we’d never have a way or the guts to do any of those things so I decided it was best to leave the planning up to Carl, he was good at that kind of stuff.
I darted into History just before the tardy bell rang. Tonight couldn’t come soon enough. Before I knew it though, Carl was over and we were planning a masterpiece.
“So all I have to do is tell Shelby I have something to show her and lead her to the place where Mark cheats on her everyday?” I asked, surprised at how simple the plan turned out to be.
“Well yes, but that’s just your part,” Carl explained.
“Then what are you gonna do?”
“Don’t worry about it, Jason. You know how I do,” Carl said in a voice of failed slyness.
“I don’t want you doing anything large-scale, Carl. I know how you like to do it big.”
“Chill out, man, I make the plans and you follow them, that’s how this works, ok?”
“Fine,” I conceded.
And such was the meeting. I was to lure Shelby to the spot by the bathroom where Mark cheats on her and Carl would throw in a little extra jazz. What threw me off was that Carl’s plans are usually complex and detailed with all sorts of meaningless checkpoints and add-ons that do nothing to advance the plan. This one was different, just a simple little idea. I should’ve known better. When a blue Toyota pulled into the parking lot spray painted “I’m a cheater”, I knew I’d been a fool to give Carl so much creativity.
I’d pulled into the parking lot just before Mark had, but I didn’t dare get out of my car until he was a safe football-field distance ahead of me. I followed him, hoping to find that the car was the only possession of his which Carl had vandalized, but realized gradually that my hopes came to nothing. In bright green spray paint, the same color as was on Mark’s car, someone, Carl I knew, had written the word “cheater” in large letters across Mark’s locker. But it didn’t stop there. Carl had proceeded to spray paint “cheater” on each desk in which Mark sat in each of his seven classes. I vowed that when I saw Carl, I wouldn’t even bother to talk to him I’d just take my fist and hit him so hard he’d be out for a week. When I saw him approaching me wearing a huge grin, it was all I could do to restrain myself.
“What the heck, Carl? What the heck did you think I meant by large-scale?”
“Hey now. Chill out, man. You know you like it.”
“Are you kidding me? That’s hard-core vandalism of federal property. That’s a felony, Carl.”
“Calm down nobody’s gonna find out. I know you’re at least a little impressed.”
“Impressed that you’re such an idiot, maybe. And they sure as heck better not find out or I’m ratting you out before you know what hit you.”
“Snitches get stitches, Jason.”
“Oh really? You wanna play that way? Fine,” I said.
“Fine,” he answered, and walked away.
I was so steaming I didn’t even care. All I thought about in the classes before lunch was how mad I was and how stupid Carl was. How could someone have been so stupid as to spray paint all over a person’s car, locker, and desks? I’d seen what happens in the movies to the people who pull pranks. They always get caught because one of the guys does something stupid and gives it away. I figured Carl was smart enough so as to not leave any loose ends so I guess that left me as the dummy to get us found out. All I had to do was to lure Shelby to the spot where Mark cheats on her everyday. To do it, though, I’d have to survive lunch.
And a lonely lunch it was. I sat across the cafeteria from Carl because I was still mad as ever at him. We didn’t even look at each other; I didn’t have the nerve to scowl at him. After finishing my lunch, though, I was still hungry so I went back to the lunch line to get a cookie but it turned out to be a big mistake. I didn’t realize until it was too late that Carl had come out of the lunch line with a cookie and was walking back to his seat in direct route to pass right by me in between two of the lunch tables lined with hungry students.
It just so happened that at the exact moment we passed each other, his stern expression turned to one of horror as a bottle of bright green spray paint dropped through the gaping hole in the bottom of his backpack and went clanking onto the floor. It also just so happened that nearby the exact place where the bottle fell, a sympathetic Shelby and a pissed off Mark sat vengefully eating their lunches. They both looked up to see, as it just so happened, both Carl and I staring wide-eyed and red-handed back at them, a green bottle of spray paint at our feet.
I’ll probably never forget what happened next. Carl took off for the exit the instant the bottle hit the floor and I followed, but not before Shelby pierced me with a look so shocked and hurt as I’d never seen before. I swear the camera of my soul took a snapshot and hid the picture in the “never forget” section of my inner library.
The next minute, though, I was out the door and into the bathroom. There are very few places where a person can hide in a high school, but I was thankful that the bathroom was one of the few. I paced inside the stall, door locked, trying to figure out my next move. I couldn’t ask Carl because I’d made up my mind to never speak to him again. I couldn’t go to a teacher; they’d turn me in for sure. I couldn’t even go to my parents; they’d never let me have another sleep-over again.
I stopped pacing all of a sudden because I’d made up my mind. I go right up to Shelby, I decided, and I’d tell her how it was. I’d tell her how we’d devised a plan to get her boyfriend, I’d tell her how I’d seen him cheating on her, and if I got that far without being slapped, I’d tell her about how I’d had a crush on her for as long as I could remember. That was it. I bravely unlocked the stall door and abandoned the solace of the bathroom, ready to face my destiny. The bell to leave lunch rang right as I did.
As I weaved my way through he lunch crowd, I spotted a face I recognized. It was Shelby’s. I started to turn and walk away as fast as I could but I noticed Mark was nowhere to be found. “Well, now or never,” I thought to myself.
I went to call to her, but she saw me and spoke first.
“You were right,” she said.
“What?” I stammered.
“You were right about Mark. After you guys ran out of lunch some girl came up and slapped him for cheating on her with me. Guess things aren’t always as they seem, huh?” I realized that we were like two rocks in a river; the current of students flowing around us as we stood still.
“That’s actually what I want to talk to you about. I haven’t really been what I seem either. I mean I’m not some alien or something. Well, I mean not that I don’t think they’re real or anything because I do it’s just… I don’t even know what I’m talking about right now.”
“If you’re trying to tell me you like me, go ahead,” she said, kind of expectantly.
Kind of surprised at the lack of enthusiasm with which she said it, I mustered an “I do.”
“I thought so,” she said in a voice void of all excitement but filled with expectancy.
“But don’t assume that the spray paint thing was both Carl’s and my idea. I really didn’t know what he was going to do.”
“I figured as much,” she said, “I’ve really never liked that little weasel.”
I’d thought a bunch of mean things about Carl up until that, but I’d never really heard them said aloud before and it evoked a response in me that I hadn’t expected.
“Well he’s not all weasel. He can be cool at times.”
“Are you kidding?” she jeered. “I’ve always thought the kids a creeper and a weirdo but the spray paint job proves it”.
Just then I caught a glimpse of a student walking handcuffed into the principal’s office. It was Carl. Wearing a look of pure fear, he was being led doomed into the principal’s office by the head principal.
“You know what, I’ll catch you later, Shelby,” I said.
All I heard behind me was “Um, excuse me?” as I rushed off, dodging students to get to the principal’s office in time to see Carl. After colliding about fifty times with people I didn’t know, I finally made it to the principal’s office.
“Can I help you?” the principal’s secretary asked.
“Yes, I want to turn myself in,” I replied.
“Um, for what?” she asked.
“Spray painting,” I said.
“Well we already have the guy who did that. He’s in Mr. Truman’s office right now.”
“No, he’s not the guy, it was me,” I said.
“I guess you can go talk to him too, then.” She opened the door and let me in the principal’s office. “This one turned himself in, too,” she said.
I sat down next to Carl as the principal looked at both of us authoritatively until the secretary closed the door.
“So yall are the ones who went and spray-painted my desks and lockers?” He inquired.
“Yessir,” Carl and I said in unison. At this, the principal’s face changed from stern to a look of interest.
“Well did the cheater get caught?”
Carl and I looked at each other, unable to believe what he just asked us.
“Uh, what?” Carl asked.
“Did the guy who was cheating on that pretty little girl get caught?” he repeated.
“Yeah, the other girl slapped him at lunch today,” I told him.
“Yes,” he chuckled. “I was hoping he’d get caught sooner or later. I hate to see a nice girl like that getting hurt.”
“So we’re not in trouble..?” Carl asked.
“I guess I can let you guys off this time. You did more good than harm in my book,” he replied.
Carl and I did a fist bump under the desk. No dumb girl was gonna tear me away from my friend.