“I’ll take your books, Dude.” Ben picks up Jay’s stack before he can oppose.
Jay shoots me a shoulder shrug, follows Ben toward the door and then turns to say, “I’ll catch you at lunch?” He’s talking to me. Catch? Already caught. So caught up in you, I can barely manage a nod.
I rise to hurry to my third period, Bio lab. Gage and I are lab partners, our desk next to the window looking out to the school courtyard. Perfect place to daydream on write up days. Today is a lab day, Operation Dissect Kermit, phase one.
“Wake up Kermie!” Gage pokes the palm-sized amphibian with his scalpel, and I’m holding the page with the list of incisions we need to make and the organs we need to identify. I’m staring at the page to drum down the queasy feeling rising up in me.
“Go ahead.” I give Gage the green light to be head surgeon. “You cut. I’ll mark off which parts we find.”
“But I thought you’d want to cut open Kerm. He’d prefer an expert… Just sayin.” If Gage wants to join the ranks of those that like to cut me? Fine.
“Sure. I’ll happily make the first cut.” I push him aside and stab Kermie with my pencil. Right into his little froggie heart.
“Why so violent, Meena?” Gage puts his hand on my arm. I let go of the pencil, the pencil sticking straight up from Kermit’s pinned body. “You know there are drugs for this kind of thing? You can get help?”
“Don’t tell me. Call 1-800-Cut-The-Crap. Never heard of it.” I pull my pencil out and lay it next to Kermit’s head. Sorry, sharpie, burying you with the green guy when it’s time to toss the patient. See ya on the other side.
“Seriously,” Gage sounds serious, lowering his voice so only I can hear. “Meena. I know someone who can help you.”
“Who said I needed help? And I don’t recall asking?” Didn’t your mom teach you the basics? Unsolicited advice is never welcome. Even I know that one.
“I just.” Gage shakes his head to himself, the sunlight from the afternoon sun bouncing off his bleached, spikey highlights. After a pause, he speaks, almost under his breath. “I care about you.”
A silence fills the space between us. The place where he’s walking on a tightrope, wondering if I’ll catch him when he falls. Gage’s falling for me? But, I’m not—I want the other guy. Can’t you see that? Not doing the triangle thing. Never liked math. Too many equations. I prefer my world with fuzzy outlines—one outline—keeping me safe in that penciled-in place of floating.
Don’t ground me with your feelings. I never asked you to fall for me. “So about Kermit? Found his heart. I’m pretty sure I found it. But it stopped beating.” And so should yours. For me, that is. Put the spotlight back on the green guy, please.
Ms. Vicktors approaches our row. Gage sees me eyeing her, pushes his round, silver frames up on the bridge of his nose, then smoothes out the diagram before drawing a crease from my poke, down to Kermie’s belly button. At least I think that’s what that tiny, brownish nub is. Applying pressure, the knife breaks through the stretched skin and if the sight of the cut wasn’t enough, the wiff of animal insides pushes me over the edge. My eyes water, and I’m swallowing saliva that teases me.
Not. Going. To. Puke. Self-counseling usually works for me. Just need to find a focal point. Where is Jay right now? Next door, in Regents Bio, probably staring at his textbook pics of frogs and their internal make-up.
“I’m sorry for mentioning—” And Gage wants to confess he shouldn’t have gone there? Where? My business of cutting. Which is my business. Or his crush on me?
“Don’t worry about it.” I don’t need to punish him for being real. Just don’t need any more. Of you. Okay? It’s crowded up in here. In my head. “Find anything?” I’m looking down at my shoes. The spot where dried red looks more like brown now.
“Mark off liver, intestine, lungs, and—” Gage pauses. “Heart. It’s, umm, broken.”
I’m sorry, now. I can tell we’re talking about more than Kermit. I’m not ready. Don’t you see that? I decide who I crush on. That’s how I keep from being crushed. Crush Me. But don’t Crush. On. Me. Because if you feel for me, I have two hearts to hold. To keep from breaking. And I can barely manage my own.
I close my notebook and raise my hand to be excused, my hand strategically on my tummy. Over my cuts. “I’m sorry,” I manage to say to Gage before I take my bag and rush out of class to hide behind a bathroom stall. Because I am. Sorry.
Gage likes me. And he knows I cut. He knows more than Jay. And he likes me. Meena. Another day in the life of me. Crushed Me. Just me.
Ever dissect a frog in high school? Ever not know what to do with someone’s feelings for you? Ever get tempted to skip class or going somewhere so you won’t have to face someone?