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Out of Order
The vending machine was broken.
Chrissie Zimmerman sighed deeply. This was the last thing she needed right now. She had woken up literally five minutes before her bus came and was consequently forced to bum a ride from her outspoken brother Chuck, who had alternately lectured her on the importance of a good night's sleep and the evils of the current Bulgarian government all the way to school. But it wasn't Chrissie's fault that she didn't sleep well; It was probably a combination of the incessant yelling from the unhappily married couple in the apartment next door, the anxiety of not yet knowing whether she had gotten accepted to Brown, and the three Red Bulls she had chugged to give her the energy to study for the history test the next day. Whatever the case, she almost fell asleep on the vinyl seat of Chuck's Jeep.
"So the way I see it, Bulgarian government officials probably don't get enough sleep either, or else they would have the sense to know not to enforce such corrupt policies on their people. There's such a strong correlation between common sense and sleep, you know? It's like the other day in world affairs, Professor Harris was saying how the different...Chrissie, wake up! I'm trying to educate you about the world and you're drooling onto my new seat covers! Jesus Christ, it's like talking to a child."
Chrissie yawned. "Sorry, sorry. It was kind of a rough night. The Morgans were at it again and I had to study for this stupid history exam."
"Really, the Morgans are still together? You'd think they'd just get a divorce already."
"I heard Ma gossiping with Mrs. Jeffyrson, and she reckons it's because they're strict Catholics who married too young. Apparently Mrs. Morgan used to be an award-winning pastry chef. She was really passionate about it, too, but she had to give it up when she married Mr. Morgan because he's allergic to eggs. So she blames him for her unhappiness and he gets mad at her because she's always complaining. Isn't that interesting? It must be hard to make that kind of sacrifice for someone who doesn't even appreciate it."
"Chris, you really ought to stop gossiping about people. You get that from Ma, but it's just not in good taste. It'll cause problems someday."
Chrissie said nothing to this, because she knew it was pointless getting into an argument with Chuck at 6:30 in the morning when he was going out of his way to drive her. She didn't consider herself a gossip anyway, not particularly. She was just interested in the way people interacted and perceived each other and different situations. This was one of the reasons why she was so anxious to go to Brown. She knew that the psychology program at an Ivy League University would be stellar.
Upon arriving at Little Brook High School, Chrissie bid her brother farewell and met up with her best friend of five and a half years, Bree Sanchez.
"Hi, Bree. How art thou?"
"Mornin', Chrissie. Got anything to eat? All I ate this morning were some cinnamon-flavored Tic Tacs, which probably only intensified the bad breath that resulted from my accidentally using Grandpa's toothpaste again. The man uses dentures and he still finds it necessary to waste my employee discount at ShopRite to buy that crappy-tasting, overpriced stuff! But I guess that's what happens when you have three generations living under one roof. The elders have all the power. So do you have any munchies or what?"
Chrissie laughed. "Bree, you're a hoot-and-a-half. But no, I don't have any food. There's like ten minutes before the late bell so I was gonna head to the vending machine. Join me?"
"Uh, no, I'm gonna go hang out with Candace and eat celery while planning my future. Of course I'm coming to the vendie with you, stupid!"
Chrissie stared at her friend. "It'll be a cold day in hell when I let you abandon me for that pyscho-slut and a vegetable that isn't anything except fiber, water, and bad feelings. C'mon, before they run out of A7!"
A7 was a sacred slot in the vending machine: oatmeal cookies.
As the two girls traipsed through the puke-green halls of the labyrinth that was Little Brook High School in search of sustenance, as they did every morning, Chrissie's thoughts reverted back to Nathan Laggerman. Nathan sat next to her in world history. She had spoken to him on exactly two occasions (once about the homework and once about borrowing a pencil). Nathan was the star of the school's track team with gorgeous green eyes that could pierce through your soul. He had occupied Chrissie's mind and heart since her freshman year. She had hoped that their acquaintanceship would've evolved into something more by the time they were juniors, but no such luck. Bree, who went through boyfriends like a first-grader goes through a pad of glitter stickers, had tried prodding Chrissie into talking to him on several occasions, but to no avail. Chrissie was about to ask Bree if she thought Bryce would be a good name for her and Nathan's first child when they finally arrived at the vending machine and were momentarily perplexed by the hand-scrawled sign that was scotch-taped to the Plexiglas screen, obscuring their view of the glorious A7.
"OUT OF ORDER"
So here they stood, two hungry girls facing crushing disappointment.
Chrissie sighed. "Ugh, just my rotten luck! I snagged about ten minutes of sleep last night thanks to the brilliant combination of paper-thin apartment building walls and loud, angry neighbors and now the world won't even bequeath me an oatmeal cookie!"
Bree reached into her purse and handed Chrissie a box of raisins. "Take a nap after school. The world won't mind."
Chrissie popped some raisins into her mouth. "My hair looks like I washed it using a bottle of Crisco."
"Bullshit. Your hair rivals that of the Greek goddess Athena."
"I have a history test in precisely seven minutes and I'm going to fail!"
"I took that test yesterday. It was so easy that I wanted to make copies and distribute them to my little sister's first-grade class just to prove a point."
"I still haven't heard back from Brown. They're going to reject me and I'll have to get my psych degree at--" Chrissie gasped in horror, her eyes wide, "--community college! NOOOO!"
"Chrissie! Chill. Brown will send you your acceptance letter any day now. Don't I always tell it to you straight? Honesty is the glue that holds hip chicks like us together. Just relax. You're a star!"
Chrissie hugged her friend. "I'm glad I met you."
"Likewise, Sugar. Look, here comes Nathan! I'd better skedaddle, but for Pete's sake, TALK TO HIM!" Bree whispered, before skipping away to go meet up with her current boyfriend, Charlie, in the foreign language wing to engage with him in, er, foreign tongues.
Whenever Chrissie had a minor freak-out, which was often, and Bree was there to calm her down and stop her world from crashing down around her, which was always, Chrissie had to stop and wonder how she was ever lucky enough to come across a friend like Bree. If someone as cool as Bree thought of her as someone worth hanging out with, then maybe Nathan would too. It was worth a shot.
Nathan Laggerman was having a pretty ordinary morning. He woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across his head, found his way downstairs and drank a cup, as the old Beatles' song goes. Nathan knew all about 1960s pop culture from his hippie parents, but he never talked about it at school. He didn't want to get a reputation as a pothead like the deadbeats who hung out behind the gym, smoking and discussing Simon and Garfunkel; the chances were slim that rumors like that would lead to his being kicked off the track team, but Nathan didn't want to risk it. Track was one of the only things he had going for him at this point, and he'd be damned if unfounded rumors ruined it for him.
Moving his dad's bongpipe off his biology textbook, Nathan collected his things from the kitchen table, said goodbye to his folks, and was out the door. His best friend, Jason, was waiting out front for him in his signature pea green Volkswagen bus. Like Nathan, he was something of a hippie. Nathan could hear the soft murmurings of Bob Dylan on the radio as he approached the ancient vehicle.
"Hey, man." Nathan climbed into the car.
"Hey. What's up, Nate?" Jason raised his coffee cup in salutation.
"Gas prices. The sky. Teenage pregnancy rates. You know."
"I'm sure all of those things are true. Oh, hey, is practice still on today? It's supposed to rain and I heard a rumor that Coach doesn't want us sharing the gym with the cheerleaders. It was something about an obvious distraction for everyone involved." Jason was also on the track team.
"I dunno, I didn't hear anything about that. I'll ask Coach about it before first period."
The two boys discussed track and practice times and Bob Dylan for a few minutes. Then they arrived at Little Brook High and parked in the juniors' parking lot, way up near the tennis courts. Little Brook, Connecticut was such a small town that it didn't take all that long to drive to its only high school from anywhere in town. It also didn't take all that long for gossip to be spread, which became apparent when Jason's girlfriend Sara accosted them in the parking lot as they were headed into school.
Jason and Sara kissed for a few seconds, until she pulled away and said, "Omigawd, Jason, get a haircut! Jeez, it's like making out with a sheepdog. Natie, there you are! I've been looking for you. I have some ex-cell-ent news!" She uttered all of this very fast and bossily, as gossips often do.
"Um... what's up?" Nathan asked. Sara had always made him nervous for some reason. Perhaps it was the way she always seemed to know something he didn't know or the way she used her semi-pretty looks to manipulate decent guys like Jason into doing things like wearing sweater vests and getting conventional haircuts. Whatever the case, Sara was a notorious gossip and the fact that she had news for Nathan could not be beneficial for anyone.
"Okay, so the other day after gym, the other girls and I were changing back into our street clothes and I just happened to overhear Chrissie Zimmerman saying to Bree Sanchez that you have 'really gorgeous eyes'." Sara raised her eyebrows, trying to gauge his reaction.
"Um, okay. Thanks, I guess. I'm gonna go over here now." Nathan nodded at Jason and began to walk away, but Sara caught up with him and gripped his arm to prevent any further attempt at escaping.
"Don't you get it? Chrissie likes you! Oh em gee, do you like her too? She's so pretty, you should ask her out! Then the four of us could double-date. It would be so fab!" Sara exclaimed.
Nathan considered this. He was flattered that Chrissie thought of him that way, but he didn't really know her that well. He knew that she sat next to him in world history and that she was always hanging out with that Bree girl and that she was always toting around those thick pyschology books, but that was the extent of his knowledge on this particular subject. But Sara wasn't lying when she said Chrissie was pretty, and Chrissie did lend him the history homework that one time, so maybe he'd talk to her.
"Thank you for that fascinating piece of information, Sara, but I'd best be off. Later, Jason." Nathan started into the building. He had to find Coach before the late bell rang. He was halfway to Coach's office when he heard someone call his name.
"Hi, Nathan." Chrissie Zimmerman stood by the vending machine looking slightly apprehensive.
"Oh, hey, Chrissie. What's up?"
"Not a whole lot. I'm kind of tired. And apparently the nation of Bulgaria is incredibly sleep-deprived too. Did you know that?"
Nathan blinked at her. "Oh. No, I didn't know that. So, uh, you ready for that History test today?"
"Oh, yeah. I'm totally pysched. It'll be a blast. You gotta love those this-counts-for-thirty-percent-of-your-grade tests, courtesy of the one and only Professor Minx, the most boring man in world history."
Nathan laughed. "I know, right? The man gives new definition to the word 'monotonous.' Remember that lecture on ancient Mesopotamian religious ceremonies, when Cody fell asleep at his desk?"
"He had the guts to do what we were all considering," said Chrissie. They laughed and were surprised to hear the warning bell.
"Five minutes till the start of class," observed Nathan.
"We'd better get to class. I read in Reader's Digest that most high schools are built with such narrow hallways that there will always be some students who are late to class, just because the hallways become so crowded after the bell."
"That's so interesting. You'd think that something like that would catch the attention of the school board. Here, let me carry your books for you. Do you always carry around this many hardcovers?"
And just like that, Nathan Laggerman and Chrissie Zimmerman were having a genuine conversation. They bantered all the way to the history classroom and Professor Minx even had to tell them to knock it off as he was handing out the exam. The exam itself was fairly easy, which was a relief to everyone, Nathan especially since he had to keep his grades up in order to stay on the track team. By the end of the period, Nathan had a B+ in the bank and Chrissie's number in his phone.
"I still think it's funny how the first thing you ever said to him was random trivia about Bulgaria. Are you going to finish your lemon ice?" Bree gestured to Chrissie with her spoon. It was a couple weeks after Chrissie had finally bit the bullet and talked to Nathan, and Chrissie and Bree were reflecting on the outcome of this monumental event. It was late afternoon and the two girls were sitting on Bree's back porch, slurping lemon ices and enjoying the crisp October air.
"No, you can have it. But yeah, I still can't believe we're actually dating now. I mean, I've fantasized about this so many times, and now it's really happening. It's so bizarre, but it's also been pretty wonderful." Chrissie sighed and gazed dreamily off into the distance.
"I'm happy for you, chica. I remember the first time I talked to Peter. It was love at first sight!" declared Bree.
"Peter? Whatever happened to Charlie?" asked Chrissie.
"We got into this stupid fight because he thinks that the White Stripes are an inferior alternative rock group just because they don't have a bass player so I told him that it's just an illustration of their creativity and innovation that they can come up with such amazing material with such limited instrumentation. He wouldn't hear any of it and then he blew me off to go see the freaking Blue Man Group so I dumped him. But it's okay because now I'm with Peter and he appreciates good music like the White Stripes and now we're crazy in love." explained Bree.
Chrissie guffawed. "You broke up with him because he prefers the Blue Man Group over the White Stripes? I will never understand you, Bree."
Bree shrugged. "We're just very different people. Whatever. You know, there will come a time when you're not totally crazy about Nathan."
"Yeah, perhaps. Hey, I'll be right back. I just want to get a glass of water," Chrissie opened the screen door that led into the kitchen and meandered over to the sink while contemplating what Bree had just said. It was true that she had not been dating Nathan very long, but she could not imagine dating anybody else. It seemed that no one else would understand her like he did. They spoke on the phone every night and had long, in-depth conversations that conjured up a wide range of topics: family, politics, favorite movies, school life, ice cream preferences, future plans, and personal allergies. They told each other dumb jokes and compared notes on what they had dreamed about the previous night.
Surely this will last, thought Chrissie as she filled her glass with ice. How could it not?
"Five more laps, boys, let's hurry it up!" Coach Maggio barked, taking another bite of his jelly doughnut.
"Man, I'd like to see him run fifteen laps with that fat belly of his. He'd probably collapse after two minutes." Jason wheezed to Nathan as they jogged along the winding track.
"Well, I guess that's just what happens at tiny high schools in humdrum towns. The school board doesn't want to hire more people than they have to, and that's how we get stuck with obese coaches who double as guidance counselors. Sure, they have the funds to replace the wood chips in the side courtyard every year, but when it comes to having a decent athletic program, there's no money for it. Stupid backwards hick town." Nathan replied.
"Yeah, true. So, Nathan, about you and Chrissie Zimmerman. I know it's only been a couple weeks since you first starting hanging out, but is that for real? Sara told me that you two are getting serious, which is great if you're looking for that kind of thing. But just keep in mind that Candace Wilkins has been eyeing you lately and she is one good-looking fox."
"Okay, men, let's bring it in. Hit the showers!" called Coach from his folding chair.
Jason and Nathan stopped to catch their breath.
"Man, the way I see it, Chrissie is a great girl. She gets me, you know? But a man's gotta keep his options open, am I right? I'll see how it plays out with Chrissie, but, well, let's just say that you're not the only one who's noticed Candace lately," said Nathan.
Jason laughed. The two boys slapped five and proceeded on to the locker room.
The vending machine was finally fixed.
Chrissie Zimmerman was very much pleased by this, as she was beginning to have a rather pleasant morning. She woke up before her alarm clock for once, and used the extra time to curl her hair. On the bus, she had time to finish her trigonometry homework and sample the new Weezer album on her iPod. She didn't see Bree on her way into school, but she figured they'd meet up later.
So here Chrissie stood, fingering the quarters in her pocket. She was about to insert the coins into the slot to obtain a happy dosage of A7 when she saw Bree approaching out of the corner of her eye. She turned around to greet her and was shocked by Bree's frantic, panicked appearance.
"Bree, what's the matter? You look spooked,"
"Chrissie! It's... oh, boy. See, I was... I took Sparkles for a walk last night through Painter Park, and... and I saw Nathan. He was... I tried calling you last night and you didn't pick up, and Chrissie, I'm just so sorry!"
"Bree, calm down! What's going on?"
"I saw Nathan at the park last night...he was making out with Candace Wilkins and they didn't see me so I ran home with Sparkles and I tried calling you but then I remembered you lost your phone and it was too late to go over to your house, and Chrissie, he is an idiot and you don't need him anyway, you know that, don't you?" Bree was breathless.
Chrissie was speechless. She turned away from her friend in disbelief. How could Nathan have done this to her? Didn't they have something special? Anger and memories flooded her mind and it seemed that the whole world was spinning out of orbit. She remembered their first date when they went to the mall and sketched the various people they saw. The picture was still hanging up on her bedroom wall. She recalled the first time they kissed. It rained that day, but she hardly noticed at all. When she was with Nathan, it was all blue skies. She hated Candace, with her low-cut sweaters and luminous blue eyes, and she hated Nathan and all other boys for always chasing after girls like Candace. Chrissie gazed at her reflection in the plexiglass screen of the vending machine and, seeing beyond her reflection into the colorful rows of snacks, was suddenly struck with a sinisterly vindictive idea. She reached into her pocket, pulled out a few quarters, inserted them into the slot, and instead of pressing her usual A7, she pressed C4. She removed the cellophane wrapping from the peanut butter crackers and ate them hastily.
"Um, Chrissie? Are you okay?"
Chrissie did not reply and instead marched down the hall, through the music wing, past the gymnasium, and out the door to the side courtyard where upperclassmen hung out before the late bell. She scanned the courtyard until she spotted him. Nathan, who sat next to her in world history. Nathan, who she had been dating for exactly two months. Nathan, star of the school's track team. Nathan, with the gorgeous green eyes that could pierce through your soul. Nathan, who had occupied Chrissie's mind and heart since her freshman year. Nathan, who had stolen her heart and broke it into a million little pieces. She ran up to him, kissed him deeply, looked right into his eyes, spat out the words "We're through," and strode off.
As you recall, Chrissie and Nathan's conversations had conjured up a wide range of topics: family, politics, favorite movies, school life, ice cream preferences, future plans... personal allergies.
That's right. Nathan Laggerman was allergic to peanut butter.