Home > One Small Thing(11)

One Small Thing(11)
Author: Erin Watt

“Ms. Jones, do you need to use the restroom?” Ms. Dvořák asks. “Then, please, enough with the background noises, all right?”

I could die of embarrassment. “Yes, ma’am.”

My gaze drifts over to Chase again, only this time I’m not terribly covert about it because Ms. Dvořák notices.

“Ah,” she says. She clucks her tongue sympathetically. Rapping her knuckles on the table, she calls out, “Mr. Donnelly.”

His head pops up. “Yes, ma’am?”

“Please go sit in the hall. You are disturbing the class.” Her plump, friendly face has grown cold.

What? I straighten up and lift a hand to motion that I’m all right. A few boys in the back snort and chuckle.

“Mr. Donnelly. Did you hear me?”

Everyone is staring at him now. Someone throws a crumpled piece of paper at him. He doesn’t flinch, but there’s a red flush creeping up his neck. Silently, he gathers his books and rises.

The whispers grow, like a wave, pushing at his back. One of the football players loudly proclaims that this day is going to be killer. The whole classroom erupts into laughter. Even Ms. Dvořák’s lips twitch.

I track Chase’s path with stunned horror. The muscles of one defined arm flex as he twists the doorknob.

The door closes softly behind him and the sound crescendos.

“God, I cannot believe he’s allowed in this school,” Scarlett says.

“I don’t know why he would want to come here,” I reply. I wanted to crawl under my desk earlier, but whatever I’m feeling can’t begin to compare with Chase’s humiliation.

But why am I sympathizing with him, dammit? I’m supposed to hate him, just like everyone else hates him. I’m supposed to feel sick that I allowed him to touch me.

Maybe I shouldn’t hate him, then. Maybe I should hate myself.

I groan in distress, causing Scar to glance over. “You okay?” she asks.

No, I’m not okay. At all. But I manage a nod.

“Did you see how he walked out of here? All swagger and shit. Like he’s proud of what he’s done. It’s disgusting.” My friend’s face screws up like she’s smelled one of Allyn Todd’s infamous farts.

“Yeah,” I echo vaguely. He didn’t seem intimidated at all—not by the other students, not by the teacher, not even by me. There’s something intriguing about that. It’s what drew me to him before, when I only knew him as Chase, a random hot guy at a party who gave me attention when I needed it.

Ms. Dvořák calls the class to order and continues her lecture, but my attention is broken. Shouldn’t I be having the same feelings as Scarlett? Shouldn’t I be mad at this guy? Shouldn’t I be horrified that I have to breathe the same air, sit in the same class? What’s wrong with me that I’m not?

Why do I feel like it’s my classmates and Ms. Dvořák who are the problem here and not Chase? I half expected the class to rise up and yell “Shame” like some scene out of Game of Thrones. And that doesn’t sit right with me.

It’s been three years since Rachel died, but no one wants me to let go.

After the bell rings, I linger at my desk until Ms. Dvořák notices me.

“Is there something I can do for you, Elizabeth?”

I pick up my supplies and make my way to the front. “About Charlie—”

“I can’t kick him out of the class every day,” she interrupts. “You’ll have to talk to the principal about that.”

“I know. I...I’m actually not bothered by him.”

“You don’t need to say that. I’m not thrilled to have to teach him, either.”

I grapple for an argument that she’ll buy. “My family believes in forgiveness,” I lie. “That an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. That sort of thing.”

Ms. Dvořák’s face softens. “That’s very generous of you.” She leans forward and pats me on the shoulder. “I’ll do what I can to minimize his disruption. I suppose I can ask Principal Geary myself to have him transferred to another class. If he needs a fine arts credit, he can take something else.”

My mouth falls open slightly. She totally mistook my attempts to smooth things over as a complaint in disguise.

“He’s not a disruption,” I repeat.

“You don’t always have to put on a brave front, Elizabeth. I’ll see what I can do, all right? Now, you’d better go so you’re not late for your next class.” She gives me another distracted, condescending pat.

Frustrated, I stomp out of Dvořák’s classroom and go hunting for Chase, the note I wrote him firmly in hand. Of course, he’s not readily found. I walk down to the lockers, but there are so many people around that I can’t slide the note into his locker without being seen.

Or can I? Who says I shouldn’t talk to him?

“Lizzie! Are you okay?” Macy throws her arms around me. “I heard that—that criminal was bothering you in Dvořák’s Music History class. How horrible. This school is the worst.”

“It’s Beth,” I mutter, but nobody’s listening to me.

“You let me know if he’s bothering you and we’ll teach him a lesson.” This is from Troy Kendall, a football player whom I’ve never said more than two words to.

“We should do it anyway,” another thick-necked jock says.

“Tell your parents,” Yvonne murmurs at my side. “They’ll get this straightened out. You could put something in the paper, rally public support behind you.”

Stomach churning, I crumple the note in my hand. Who says I shouldn’t talk to him?

Only everyone.

* * *

I arrive home after a forty-five-minute bus ride. I hate the bus. I hate it with the heat of a thousand fiery suns. It smells like a rancid mix of sweat, bad gas and garbage. The seats look like a thousand middle schoolers spit on them and then rubbed their dirty butts all over the covering. And it’s bumpy as hell. I feel sick to my stomach by the time the ride’s over.

No one’s home when I walk in. Mom’s at work and Dad’s at the store. Normally I’d be at the Ice Cream Shoppe, but I’ve been banished from working. Losing the spending money from my part-time job sucks. Plus, I need to save up for the college application fees.

Not being able to volunteer at the animal clinic? Not bearable at all. I’m supposed to be there this weekend, and I’m already planning on broaching the subject again on Friday. Maybe Mom and Dad would be willing to let me keep at least one shift.

I drop my stuff onto the bench, not caring that one of my notebooks falls into Rachel’s space. She’s not here after all. If she was, she’d yell at me.

Stop being so sloppy! she’d say. This is my stall and that one is yours. And then she’d shove my stuff on the floor.

Once, when we were driving to Grandma’s house, she didn’t want to share the seat with me and forced me to sit on the floor. God, Rachel could be mean sometimes. Doesn’t anyone remember that? If you ask my parents, Rachel spoke the language of unicorns and pooped out rainbows. She was a perfect, wonderful angel.

That isn’t true, though. Rachel was amazing sometimes and bratty at other times. She had her flaws, just like everyone else.

I wander through the house, stopping at the piano. The washi tape that Rachel plastered on the expensive piano is peeling at the corners. I pull one strip off and then stare guiltily at the naked black key. Mom will notice if it’s not there. One time the cleaners moved a small tray from the bedside table in Rachel’s room and left it on her desk. Mom yelled at them on the phone for over an hour. They don’t clean Rachel’s room anymore. Only Mom does.

I replace the tape.

I wonder how my parents know that I’m even home. Mom usually doesn’t get off work until five—she’s an accountant for a real estate agency. Dad could come home at any time if Kirk, his part-time worker, is on the schedule. But it’s Wednesday. Kirk doesn’t work Wednesdays, which means Dad will be at the store until closing.

It’s four o’clock. Mom won’t be back until sixish. Dad, even later. That gives me about two hours to try to track down Chase. His mom’s married to the mayor, so it’ll be easy to find out where they live. If I had my phone, I’d just call him, but—

An idea pops into my head. I make a beeline for Dad’s office and stare at his desk.

My phone is in this desk. It’s the only one in the house that has drawers that lock. If I was going to confiscate a phone, this is where I’d stash it.

I sit in Dad’s chair and jiggle the drawer handle. Locked, of course. I sigh and wake his computer.

The fourth YouTube video gives me fairly explicit instructions on how to pop the drawer open.

Amazing what you can do with office supplies. I stare with satisfaction at the open drawer. Plucking my phone out, I cradle it in my hands like a precious baby.

Chase’s number is there in my notes app. My heart pounds as I open up a new message box and shoot off a quick text.

Meet me at midnight. My house. There’s a swing in the backyard—I’ll wait there for you.

I send him the address and then drum my fingers against the desk as I wait. And wait. And wait. Thirty minutes pass. He hasn’t even read the damn thing.

Antsy, I clean out the browser history on Dad’s computer and slam the drawer shut. The phone, I take with me. I’ll put it back before Mom and Dad get home, but there’s no rush right now.

I go into the hall bathroom, the one room upstairs that I can sit in that does have a door. I put the toilet seat down and wait for Chase to respond. After a few more intolerable minutes, I text him again.

I’m calling you in five minutes if you don’t respond.

The response bubble immediately appears.

At work. Sorry, no meeting.

Oh no. He’s not blowing me off.

I stare at the screen in frustration. I have to talk to him. I don’t care that he doesn’t want to—I need this. What we did at the party... He’s the only other person who knows about it, the only person I can talk to about it. I don’t care what I have to do to get him to talk to me. I’ll do anything.

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