Kiri was beautiful.
Kiri was sexy. At least, the back of her head was. I spent most of my astronomy classes staring at it, so I should know. She had this short, naturally vibrant orange hair that just looked like it was waiting to jump right off her head. From her ears, she usually had a pair of dangling earrings; my favorite pair was of the turquoise peacock feathers that waved back and forth as she turned her head to whisper to the girl sitting next to her.
Her fashion was impeccable, and she dressed in every way I wanted to dress. Today she had on an oversized navy sweater paired with some red jeans. I stared down at my own lime green t-shirt and jeans, sighing.
I started suddenly, jolted by her laugh. She was talking with her friend again. She talked rapidly in an excited voice, whispering faster and faster until the arc of her joke passed, and she and her friend broke down in giggles.
“Mary,” Brad said. “Mary.” I turned my head back to Brad, sitting beside me.
“Where are you staring off to?” he asked.
“Just thinking,” I replied. “Sorry, I’m tired.”
“Let’s just finish this,” he sighed. “Help me figure out this satellite’s velocity.” I glanced at his sheet.
“You’re using the wrong gravitational constant,” I said, bored. I looked down at my completed sheet. “Want to just look at my work?”
“Sure,” he said, pulling the sheet towards him. He paused, pushing the sheet back towards me. “Can you just tell me what’s wrong? Did I do something to upset you?”
I looked up at Brad. What was wrong was his stupid curly, brown hair, his stupid brown eyes, his stupid smile formed with pale lips. What was wrong was his obsession with baseball, his inability to grasp astronomy, his lacking emotional repertoire.
“Nothing,” I repeated.
“Oh,” he answered. “Wait. How did your driving test go yesterday?”
“Horribly,” I responded, grateful for the out.
“But you said you passed?”
“Uh, ya,” I answered. “Not sure how. I ran over the curb twice, almost hit another car while parallel parking. It was the textbook definition of failing. I guess the instructor was just being nice.”
“That’s so odd, I probably would have failed you if I were your instructor,” Brad laughed. I pretended to laugh too. I probably would have been failed if I did that poorly. In reality, the test went fine. This time anyway. The first time I tested for my license, about two months ago, I failed miserably. I really did hit a few curbs, not to mention (almost hitting) a few people.
My mom insisted we practice every day after that—whether I wanted to or not. To be honest, I think she was more upset I failed than I was. But, for her sake or my own, I got behind the wheel every day after school. And unfortunately, almost every day ended in tears, usually hers. My mom had gotten into an awful car accident when she was sixteen, two weeks after getting her license. She had received a bad concussion, and her brother, whom she had been driving, suffered severe injuries as well. Suffice to say, she had always been a nervous driver, and I received the brunt of that. Her worst enemy was snow, so driving around with her in late November, in an already snowy Wisconsin, was not fun.
“Go slower,” she would yell, barely refraining from grabbing the wheel herself. “If you try to take a curve at this speed, you’ll spin out. And if another car comes, they could hit you at the side. You could kill someone! Go slower!”
Many times, we ended up pulling over, more from her stress than inclement weather. The typical lesson would end with her detailing the most horrific accident possible. I’d watch light snowfall outside, landing on the windshield. One, two, three…it’d be swept away by the windshield wipers. I imagined those snowflakes like my mom’s worries: one, two, three, accidents, death, icy roads, one, two, three, now all swept away. I wished it were that easy to push those fears aside.
I was afraid of a lot of things that I wanted to push aside. That I would get into an accident, driving by myself. That there wasn’t anything I really liked doing outside of class. I was already a sophomore, and I had tried swim team, chess club, Christian sisters, the cross-country team, and Spanish club. I quit them all.
“Did I get it right?” Brad asked, bringing back my attention to our astronomy worksheet. I looked at his work. Did he even look at the math I’d done?
“R is squared,” I said. Sometimes I feared Brad would fail astronomy too.
“Thanks,” he mumbled. He perked up once he finished revising his scribbles. “Want to do something fun together this weekend? We could go sledding?” He looked up hopefully.
“I think I have stuff to do with my family,” I lied. Was it Thursday? It was Thursday. And like clockwork, I was avoiding Brad again. It happened the same way every week now. On Monday, we missed each other, having not seen each other all weekend, and I enjoyed talking with him. By Tuesday, I found him annoying. Wednesday passed by with relatively little small talk, Thursday Brad would be pissed I didn’t want to see him over the weekend, and by Friday, neither of us wanted to see each other. At least we were right on schedule.
“I really think we should hang out,” Brad pressed. “It’s been a long time since we hung out on a weekend. Which is sad, seeing as we’ve been dating for almost five months now. Do we need to have a more serious talk this weekend?” Do we need to break up? He asked the question. THE question. Must be after 3pm.
It was 3:08.
“I have to get a tissue,” I said.
I did my diligent job of pretending to blow my nose. I walked back slowly to my seat, hoping Brad would have dropped the subject by now.
“Pssh,” I heard from my left as I walked back. Realizing the ‘pssh’ was for me, I stopped dead in my tracks. Only one person said ‘pssh’ like that.
“Hey,” I answered, turning to Kiri and her friend. Kiri was smiling up at me, her red lipstick bright against her pearly skin, black eyeliner making her green eyes glow. She was resting her head in her hands, which were adorned with gold rings—seven in total, four on one hand, three on the other. Her friend was also looking up at me, a girl with plain, straight black hair and wide, blue eyes. She wore a flower-printed dress and cardigan, one that I thought Kiri probably would have looked better in.
“We’re dumb seniors,” she explained to me, her voice rising in that joking arc, “and we can’t figure out these problems. You know what you’re doing, right?”
“I guess,” I responded weakly. Was it better to sound helpful, or more like her, clueless? She had a sort of confidence about her cluelessness though, this unashamed asking of help from a sophomore. Even her friend next to her looked down, obviously not completely comfortable asking me. But Kiri just looked up with a smile, friendly and hopeful and trusting.
“Yay!” she replied, just loud enough that the substitute in the front of the room briefly glanced over at us. She gave him a wave. “So how do we do this?”
I slowly moved around her so that I could see her paper and leaned down. She smelled like roses.
“Your math looks fine,” I said, shrugging. “You set it up right.”
“Right, but our answer doesn’t match the book’s,” Kiri answered. Her brow hardened and she ran a hand through her short hair. She turned to her friend. “Alison, what did we do wrong?” Her brow softened and she laughed, throwing down her paper in defeat.
“No idea,” Alison answered, her voice a bit deeper and slower than Kiri’s. Next to Kiri, she seemed very dull, her demeanor less engaged, less interested. “Maybe we plugged it in wrong?”
“This is why we’re friends,” Kiri said playfully, tapping on her calculator. “Yay! You were right!” She squeezed Alison’s hand. “We’re done! We got it!”
Right then, the bell rang. Chairs screeched backwards, people packed up and left to enjoy their afternoon. I stood still though, waiting until the room was quiet around me. Brad, the only one left in the room besides me, walked up to me.
“You going to pack up?” he asked.
“I guess even seniors are as bad at this stuff as I am?”
“Yeah,” I answered. I looked up at Brad. “Let’s get coffee.”
We walked to the coffee shop across the street, a small space called “Mimi’s.” They served a lot of artisan coffee and played a lot of slow, acoustic music; the barista who worked there on Friday afternoons had tattoos of sparrows winding up her neck and a septum piercing in her nose. Every time I walked in, I wished I felt more at home there.
“What do you want to get?” he asked, pulling out his wallet.
“I’ll pay for myself, but thanks,” I mumbled, ordering green tea. Brad asked for black coffee. Plain black coffee. We sat down together at a table an elderly woman just left. A ring of freshly spilled coffee stained the table; Brad put his own mug right on top of the ring. I opened my mouth to tell him to move it.
“Stop,” he said, before I could say anything. He ran his hand through his overgrown curls. “Can we please not break up?” I ran my fingers along the side of my teacup.
“Who said anything about breaking up?” I said. Brad sighed, exasperated.
“You never want to hang out. I try to spend time with you or talk to you, and you act annoyed. I’m supposed to be the guy that you like, remember?”
“It sounds like you’re trying to break up with me,” I pointed out coolly, sipping my coffee. Under the table, I texted my brother Alex to pick me up as soon as possible.
“Is that what you want?” Brad asked. He took another deep breath, sitting back in his chair. His shoulders drooped; he closed his eyes and let the tenseness leave his face. He was left looking rather sad and empty, and I suddenly feared he might start crying in front of everyone. He’s done it before.
“You’re right. I’ve been stupid,” I answered. “Like I haven’t treated you right.”
“Thank you. You really haven’t.
“But, listen Mary, I really care about you, and I really like dating you. So, why don’t we just work on treating each other better? Maybe do something together this weekend? You said you hardly have any work. I’m sure family time can’t take up your whole weekend.”
“You’d be surprised,” I said.
“Well, you have to compromise at least a little bit if you want this to work,” he said.
“I don’t,” I blurted out, immediately wishing I hadn’t. Brad stared at me, wide-eyed, almost taken aback. I looked down and traced my finger around the rim of my cup.
“Did I do something?” he asked quietly. I could tell he was trying really hard to keep his voice steady.
“No,” I decided honestly. We sat there in silence until my phone buzzed.
“My brother is here,” I started. “Do you need a ride or…?”
“No,” he said. Right before I walked away, he added, “So it’s official then?”
“Officially over?” I repeated. “Uh, yeah. I think so.” Pause. “Sorry.” Another moment of silence before I walked away to get inside Alex’s car. Alex flinched when I slammed the door.
“You alright?” he asked, turning down the pop music playing on the car’s radio. “Is my car not snazzy enough for Brad?” Alex often referred to his small, teal, used Chevy as snazzy, but today I didn’t find it very amusing.
“Brad’s not coming.”
“Why not? I thought he might…”
“Brad and I broke up,” I said. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Alex mouth ‘oh’ dramatically.
“Why?” he asked.
“I just didn’t like him anymore,” I answered.
“I don’t really want to talk about it.” Alex shrugged, turning back up the pop music on the radio. A female was singing, auto-tuned, electronic music in the background.
Don’t recognize your face
Who have you become?
On this path that I’m headin’
Who will I become?
Hope Merens, originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. She has been writing a conglomerate of fantasy, science fiction, realistic fiction, and poetry since she was eight and plans on continuing developing her writing throughout her life. She is passionate about neuroscience, writing, and LGBT-related issues.