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The First Time She Cut Class
Leah couldn’t stand his voice. Nails on a chalkboard just didn’t cover it. It was more like metal scraping against metal, or that high pitched noise that microphones made when they were mishandled, it felt like skin against a cheese grater. And the longer he talked the more sensitive she became, so that she was literally feeling the sound waves bouncing off of walls and rebounding back to her. It was if all the noise emanating from his face was pinpointed and focused onto her alone.
She really hated her chemistry class. She didn’t have anything against the subject until she first stepped foot into the classroom of Mr. Varner, but after that day she couldn’t look at the table of elements without feeling a shudder. Not only was his voice her kryptonite, but his personality was infuriating. He relished giving bad grades, had confusing and constantly changing rules and regulations for his class, and was convinced that she had a bad attitude when all she’d ever tried to do was get a good grade in his class and get out.
She really had to get out. Like, right now.
She nearly wept with gratitude when the bell rang and was the first through the door. Leah felt a strange exhaustion from her ordeal, as though she’d been drained of all her energy, and she wondered how she’d ever make it through P.E. What were they doing in class today? Badminton. She wouldn’t mind the sport if Mr. Sherman would just let them play, but he insisted on tournaments and graded competition, and she didn’t know if she would be able to handle him today. There was a certain mindset she needed to be in when dealing with Mr. Sherman, one prepared for his glee at tormenting them, and she was definitely lacking it today. But what choice did she have? She couldn’t fake sick, her mother wouldn’t be able to pick her up until after school, and the bus didn’t run before that time.
Leah toyed with the idea for a moment. She’d never done it before and usually scorned the kids that skipped class for getting off so easily while she was expected to sit and endure. But if they could do it… why couldn’t she? Just this once? Didn’t everyone skip class at least once in high school? She knew just the place she’d go, a place she could be alone and could sit and read a book for a while, eat a snack, and mentally prepare for fourth period.
Leah turned away from the gym and headed instead for the auditorium, which would be totally empty until drama after school. She slipped in the side door feeling very mischievous and headed backstage for the dressing rooms which had a sort of lounge with couches just perfect for someone in need of a quiet comfy nook. She theorized should she be caught, it would be difficult to prove she was cutting as many upperclassmen did have free periods during the day.
The only problem was that there was someone already there. It seemed that her drama lounge idea was not as unique as she’d thought…
The boy sprawled out across the sagging, Pepto-Bismol pink couch, wore all black and thus was in stark contrast to both it and the whitewash walls. She knew him, sort of. She’d seen him around school often enough, for he was hard to miss in the sea of color and sound, being that he was dark and silent. Adrian Towers was the school’s only Goth, and he had stolen her seat.
“Can I help you with something?” he questioned her, for she stood frozen in the doorway staring at him, but he didn’t even look up from his thick paperback book. His tone suggested that he wasn’t actually offering her help. She was silent, contemplating her chances with trying some other corner of the school to hide in. She didn’t think he’d care if she didn’t answer, but with a sigh she replied,
“No, I was just hoping this room was free… never mind.”
She turned to leave but he coughed for her attention.
“There’s an armchair in the corner,” he said, nodding too it, and she spotted a squashy looking lime green armchair that looked quite satisfactory. Perhaps she had been a little quick to think him unhelpful, but then his appearance did come across as a little hostile.
She tried not to feel too awkward being in a room with a notorious class skipper and Goth kid, reminding herself that she too had joined the ranks of skippers, and settled herself down into the chair with her well-worn copy of Alice in Wonderland.
They were silent a few moments, reading.
“Carroll fan?” He finally looked at her, somewhat unwillingly, from over the pages of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and seemed surprised by her choice.
“Yes, I like his stuff because it makes no sense,” she shrugged, and he cocked his head at that.
“I like him too… he has a good appreciation of insanity.”
“Yes… ‘We’re all a little mad here,’” she quoted, and he warmed up a little, his body language changing to give her more attention.
“First time cutting class, huh?”
“What makes you think that?”
“You don’t seem like the type,”
“Yes,” she admitted, “I’ll probably never do it again, either; I just didn’t have the willpower to face P.E. today,”
“That’s an honest reason. Physical education takes its toll on the best of us, it’s not your fault that America’s gym teachers are nuts.”
“They can’t all be as bad as Mr. Sherman,” she reasoned fairly. “He played football in his youth and it seems safe to say that there was damage done.”
“Ah, but see, it’s those who hired him that worry me. If the administration that controls our lives can’t recognize when a man has lost it, who’s to say they won’t hire a psychopath serial killer or something?” He reasoned with mock concern.
“Have you met Mr. Varner?” she deadpanned, and he laughed out loud.
“We are acquainted, yes; I had the pleasure of receiving an F on my test because I asked the girl next to me if I could borrow a pencil.”
“’Talking during a test is the equivalent of cheating on a test, and cheating on tests undermines the social structure of our civilization,’” she said seriously, again quoting, and he chuckled.
“I bet you’ve never cheated on a test in your life.”
“No, I prefer to spend my nights in monotonous study, while others do nothing at all and still end up with the same grades as me.” She sighed, again wondering what all the work and stress was achieving exactly.
“They might have the same grades, but you’ll benefit from them much more, believe me,” he assured her, and she couldn’t help but be confused that this wisdom came from him.
“You skip class all the time.”
“Yeah, but I’m not stupid,” he shrugged. “I keep my grades up by learning stuff, especially the things that I’ll actually want to use someday. Those lazy rich kids that never actually learn this stuff will be in for a rude awakening later, don’t you worry. You, on the other hand, will be able to do whatever you want.”
“I just have to figure out what that is,” she said, reflecting, and he smiled. She’d never seen him smile before, and the warmth of it took away a lot of the intimidation of his appearance. She didn’t know what he used to make his face so white but it gave him the appearance of ghost or the demon monster from a horror movie.
“Exactly…just don’t be in too much of a hurry, you’ve got time to take a philosophy class or two, should you choose, and it won’t be a complete waste of time. You’ll never make a living off of it, but you can further contemplate the significance of moving forward to go backward.”
“I’d rather take an art class,” Leah admitted, “You know I haven’t taken an art class since the sixth grade. I don’t have time for it in my schedule because of all my AP classes. I’m getting my art credits from my architecture class, when all I really want to do is paint.”
“That’s kind of tragic,” he said softly, and they were both silent for a moment.
“What do you want to do?” she asked tentatively, a little afraid of ruining his sudden change in demeanor.
He smiled wistfully.
“What do you like to do?”
“Read novels and listen to music that nobody else likes.”
“Are you going to go to college?”
“I don’t know,” he said slowly, “are you going to tell me I should?”
Leah didn’t want to preach to him like a teacher or one of those concerned adults that so often drummed the idea of college into every teenager they came across, and so she shrugged.
“I just think that you have as much a right to be there as those kids that cheat their way through school, get into college because their grandparents have a legacy, and then take over the family business and fortune without every putting in a good day’s work. More than just a right, I think you would probably get more out of college than those people.”
He was silent for a long moment,
“Maybe I’ll grow-up to be a nutty writer living in a shack somewhere writing brilliant stuff, and then I’ll set it all on fire accidently because I’m a drunk,” he shrugged, and she laughed.
“That’s the spirit, embrace you inner Lowry.”
“I think you’re late for something important,” he nodded to the clock, and she saw it was almost time for fourth period.
She waved goodbye and left, realizing that this had been one of those strange moments in life where two people who would never normally have spoken to one another end up in a room together and speak about quite a lot. She felt a lot less drained suddenly, and walked to her English class imagining a mural she’d like to paint.