Where were we? Ah, yes… the bubblegum episode. If you missed Parts One or Two of this Novel in Progress, Bit by Bit, Soap Story thingy I’m trying, hop on back and catch up. Then Hop forward and read today’s episode.
The next morning, mom tells me she’s working from home. As a project manager for Wells Fargo, she likes to boss her employees around, but she also loves them enough to do it via emails once or twice a week. When she camps out in her makeshift office, really a corner in my parents’ bedroom with the least amount of clutter. But since she’s home, skipping is out of the question. Unless I pretend to go to school and go elsewhere, but that never works since the first place the school calls is always the house.
Nothing like New York city in the fall. I try to focus on the changing leaves on my walk along Central Park and decide to detour by Belvedere’s castle in order to arrive at school ten minutes late. Just need the hallways to be empty so I can enter under the radar. And then I’ll jet a few minutes early to make my Potter with-the-cape exit.
Buzzed into the front door, Mr. Jones, the school Dean of Discipline, aptly nicknamed Dean Dread or Dean Dead depending on who you ask, greets me. He is not smiling. “You’re late. And Ms. Meena. If your locker’s not cleaned up by the time the first lunch bell sounds, detentions for an entire week.”
I nod and walk swiftly by him, before he can dish out a warrant for my arrest for wearing the wrong shoes. Laceless Converse, an absolute no-no in gym class. I guess I’ll sit in the stands and take my demerits. Again. Better than running the track and chancing tripping a second time. The gum thing is enough material for one week. I’ll be lucky if I can get through this day without some idiot reminding me I got busted.
And even as I turn the corner to the hallway where my locker lies, I can see the shape of a heart plastered on the front of the metal door. That’s. My. Locker. What the—?
And I naively thought Mr. Jones meant for me to clean up the inside of my locker, throw away old notes, organize my books and all that jazz. Only two feet away, I see the array of chewed gum wads, carefully placed on my locker door to make the age old symbol of love. Except only hate radiates from inside of me. In the middle of the perforated heart, a three by five card stamps a message, also stuck to the locker with gum. It reads, “Food, I mean-a, gum for thought. Chew on this, baby!”
I rip the card off my door and tear it to pieces.
“Here,” a voice I know too well says from behind me. When did Jason sneak up on me. “Let me help you. It’s my fault.”
“What are you talking about?” And what are you doing with those… “What happened to you leg?” He’s carrying crutches and limping on his left leg.
“Football practice.” Jason starts peeling each piece of gum off at a time and tosses them into a Ziplock bag, and I’m freaking out.
“You know you don’t have to…” Why are you helping me?
Jay ignores me and continues his story. “The guys yelled, ‘Mr. President,’ while I was finishing my push-up crawl across the field, and as I turned, the whole team piled up on me. My knee made an ugly popping sound and now I have to lay low for a few weeks til they take an MRI.”
“Did you run into Dean Dread on your way in?” I’m still in shock that he’s still peeling and placing. Placing and peeling. I want to peel. You. So I can see you. The real you. And place you. A little closer to me.
“Yup. I told him I’d take care of the mess. I’m really sorry, Meena. Which reminds me…” He hands me the Ziplock and limps over a step, then reaches down to his backpack and pulls something out from the side pocket. “Here.”
It’s a pencil. A yellow, No. 2. Nothing fancy about it really. But it’s sharpened and ready for battle. “Forgiven?” Jay asks with a cheesy grin across his face.
“Yesterday.” I look away because I’m sure I’m turning red. Well, some sort of brownish-red.
“Hey Ja-son!” A girl’s voice sound from down the hall, behind me. “Need help carrying your books to class?” Of course the girls would be lining up.
I shake my head and resume removing gum wads. The highlight of my day has come to a screeching stop.
“No thanks. Meena’s got this.” I turn to face him, jaw dropped. Really? “You got this, right?” he says so only I can hear.
I shrug, trying not to give away that I would love to get any of you—any time. “Sure. I mean I’m already late for class, so I… Sure.” Way to work the charm, Meena. Looking forward to the day when the voice in my head gives me a metaphorical high-five instead of reminding me I’m me.
“Awesome. Because that girl—most girls—freak me out.” Jay confesses to me like he’s talking to one of the guys. Or maybe a priest. Weird. But okay.
“Me too.” Because they do. Girls are drama all day long and Mom is enough drama queen this teen girl can handle.
“So it’s a deal?” Jay asks. What? We agreed to something? “You carry my books, and I keep the pencils sharpened?”
Seriously? Then I say it. “Seriously? You sure you don’t, um, want…”
“Nope.” Jay looks up and his smile disappears, “Unless, you don’t want…”
“No!” My voice rising an octive. “I mean. I can. I don’t mind.” I want. I want. If there’s one thing I want. It’s you.
Jay takes the bag of wadded gum, zips it closed and shoots it to the closest waste bin. Score! “Just till I get rid of the crutches. I won’t bug you after that.”
Bug me. Now. Later. After later. You know my name. You know I like pink. And now, you know I like pencils, sharpened pencils. You still know nothing, but you seem to want to know. Me.
Locker cleaned. Books in my arms. Heart swinging on a trapeze above my yesterdays, we walk side by side to math.
Just another day in the life of me. Meena. Just me.
Ever have the unexpected happen with a stranger? Or a friend? Ever surprise someone with a random act of kindness or have it happen to you?
Sneak Peek at next week…
On the way to class, I ask, “So how bad was it? The Facebook blow-up?” I stayed off-line last night.
“Hmm. Do you really want to know?” Jason knows.
“Shouldn’t I know what I’m facing before I go in there?” We’re standing outside math class now.
“Fine. Let’s just say that when BMM, you know Big Mouth Margo, posted ‘Chewed up Locker Love Splat’ with a picture of you in the hallway stretching the gum outta your mouth, it got more ‘likes’ than when I posted a pic of my new dog.” Jay takes his books, tucks them under his left arm while trying to balance his crutches in one hand now, and turns the knob with his free hand. “So yeah. It’s bad.”