She sits in a booth along the far wall of Tania's Diner watching the snow blow off the roof in twirls. Her eyes dart back and forth every now and then, focusing on individual snowflakes. She wonders why some fall faster than others. And her only regret is not being able to see all of the snowflakes at once. She misses the ones she doesn't get to see the most.
Her head sits lightly in her hand. Her elbow sits on the table. Her eyes come to rest within the diner. She takes in the people around her, guessing at the pressing appointments all of them need to be getting to. She assumes they all have one or another , because she doesn't. She had hoped to meet at least one friend in the diner that afternoon. She gave up that hope after she finished her meal an hour ago.
She realizes now she shouldn't have eaten so fast. She should have waited a bit, maybe she could have still been munching on a french-fry at this point. Maybe she didn't have to be sitting alone. Maybe her friends didn't forget her, maybe they just decided to go somewhere else that afternoon. It was possible, but that didn't soften the blow. That was just the same blow from a different angle. At first she'd assumed they didn't want to see her. Then she'd drowned herself in her milkshake and bacon burger.
She feels the slight, very slight curve of her stomach subtly, telling herself she's fat. She quickly reminds herself that she isn't, but she isn't in the best of shape, either. For a moment she wishes she were fat, just so she would have a reason to waste away a perfectly good afternoon in a lonesome diner.
Using her thumb and forefinger she puts pressure on her closed eyes, trying to force them to adjust to the dull light within the diner. Three boys sitting a couple tables over are still talking about the upcoming winter formal and the girls they want to invite. Even though she hadn't listened to their entire conversation, it was needlessly assumed that her name never came up. They might be in her class, and she might known them as acquaintances, but she is hardly date material. Especially party-hardy date material.
As she pulls her fingers away, her long black bangs fall back in front of her right eye. It was her trademarked image. She had her bangs pushed back behind her left ear, but let them fall in front of her right eye. At least she didn't have to dye it. She was told it made her look mysterious. Though "mysterious" was the in thing in middle school, it was the last thing she wanted to be now. The winter formal was coming up and she didn't want to sit out.
She thinks again about how it might have been her hair that makes her mysterious, and a wallflower, or at least contributes to it. She thinks about how much she likes the way her hair covers her right eye, and how it makes her different. Then, she thinks for the first time if maybe that's the reason she likes it more than anything. More than being mysterious, more than being attractive, it makes her different. Like being fat, it gives her a reason to be who she is.
At that moment, more than ever before, she wants to cut it off. If she had had something sharper than the butter knife in front of her she would have attempted it right then. She sniffles from a cold, and feels her eyes swell a bit. She presses her thumb and forefinger to them again, to force the tears back. Instead of pulling them back when she was sure the tears were stoppled, she stays that way, losing herself in her thoughts. She recalls the last completely blissful moment she experienced.
It was the day before, Friday, and she was on her way to her locker to get her English binder, wherein was contained the poem she'd written as homework. She was proud of it, mainly because it hadn't taken her long to come up with it. She still hadn't quite conceived of its meaning, but it came to her from time to time (as if she were slowly, but constantly, piecing together a puzzle, but couldn't tell what the picture was yet). For that reason, she doubted she would read it in front of the class. Still, she figured that once she could figure it out, all the other pieces would fall into place easily.
She bent down to her locker, holding her pre-calculus to her chest as she turned the combination lock. It didn't open. She tried again with no luck. It happened constantly, two of the numbers were close together and she assumed this was why it was so touchy. As she failed the third time a voice rose up behind her, "Do you need any help?" Amongst all the chaos and clamor in the hall she barely heard it, and almost didn't think it was referring to her.
A couple seconds later she responded, shaking her head no. The voice immediately asked, wholeheartedly, if she was sure, and again she responded with the same shake no.
The fourth time her locker didn't open she looked up to see the locker above her's swing open. She stood, adjusting her slipping pre-calculus book. The hand that had opened the locker was pulled back and brushed her hair behind her ear accidentally. She turned around and didn't recognize the face she saw. He was tall, with a serious, but impressionably kind, but worried face. She automatically assumed he was a senior, because she had never seen him before.
He smiled and said, in startled excitement, "Sorry. Here, I'll fix it." He then reached up and ran a finger behind her right ear, releasing her hair and letting it fall back over her eye. "I was just opening my locker."
And then something unique happened, she smiled, sincerely. He apologized again, and reached past her to take out a binder. She stepped to her left and allowed him to get in. It was then she realized that no one had ever before used the locker above her's. She couldn't find the right words to ask him about it, so she asked why she'd never seen him before; the more pressing question on her mind.
"This is my first day." He said, shifting his gaze from the locker to her, and back to the locker again. He rubbed a finger against his own forehead before shutting the locker. "Are you sure you don't need help?" He asked, pointing down at her locker. She explained how it always did that, and mentioned that two of the numbers were close together, and that was why it didn't work. She immediately regretted saying it, though, feeling stupid for bringing it up.
"My old locker was like that." Then he knelt down to her locker. "What's your combination?"
She knelt down beside him, and gave him the numbers. He twisted them out one number at a time as she said them. He pressed the knob up, but it wouldn't budge. He repeated the process, and she watched his mouth form the numbers silently. He forced the knob again and the locker opened wide. He turned to look in and, with eyes wide, asked, "What's this? No pictures," He ran his fingertips along the inside of the locker door, "No magnets. No markings... of any kind."
She didn't know what to say. She gave little thought to how personally invading he was being. Her immediate reaction was not to make herself look bad in front of him.
"There's an anarchy symbol etched into the back," He turned to look at her, and finished, "But I doubt you did that... I mean, it's old." He smiled again and she had to refrain from tucking her hair back behind her ear to see him better. "I'm impressed. I expected to see pictures taped up all over the inside of the locker."
She shook her head no and, while looking at his feet, said she didn't need to keep pictures in her locker. He stood up and said, "Well, there you go." She stood up and thanked him. Smiling, he replied, "You're welcome. Maybe we'll see each other after next period, and I'll help you again."
With that, he waved and left. She turned her head towards him and waved back, but he had already turned and left. She felt her mouth with her fingers and found she was still smiling. Involuntarily, she brushed her hair behind her ear, then took it back out. She hoped she would see him again,
But she didn't for the rest of the day.
She is brought back from her flashback by laughter coming from the group of three boys. They're retelling the best parts of a movie they saw last night. Her thoughts drift to that same movie, because she was there. She then floats back in time again as she is consumed by the windblown snow outside.
The movie theater was dingy and she couldn't tell if the penetrating smell was coming from the popcorn or the bathroom. She scrunched her nose and sniffed hard. She wished she didn't have to, but she was coming down with a cold. Brushing her hair away from her eye with her fingertips, she took in the whole scene. Or, at least she tried to before Jenny dragged her farther down the queue.
She was not the best of friends with Jenny, but she couldn't pass up the offer to see a movie. Jenny was part of the in crowd; fitting into the outer circle of the popular kids. Jenny was able to talk to the most popular girls with ease, but was still allowed to go to the movies with her. And she knew that she was merely a means to an end. Jenny didn't want to see her, Jenny wanted to see the movie, but needed someone to bum a ride off of.
It was a Friday night, obviously there would be Jenny-friendsthe popular kidsgalore at the movies. Her friends weren't as likely to be seen at the movies on a Friday night. They avoided it like the plague; the sole purpose being how trite it was; needing to see a movie on a Friday. They were obsessed with the different.
Jenny offered her popcorn as they walked side-by-side to their theater. She declined, and pressed a hand to her stomach, feeling the very slight curve.
They didn't belong together. Dark purple corduroys and orange miniskirts didn't go well together. Even if her purple corduroys fit tight, and accentuated almost the full length of her legs underneath, they were no match for the revealing orange miniskirt mid-thigh high walking alongside them.
Dark green might have been her favorite color, but she was told she looked better in purple. The formal dress she had gotten the week before was dark purple. She liked it. She liked how it fit around her stomach just enough so as to make her look skinny, but not enough so as to reveal her rolls; which were nonexistent, but she wouldn't let herself hear that.
Jenny immediately found a group of friends in the theater, and dragged her over to them. They were sitting in the "love seats" along the wall; three guys and two girls. Jenny sat next to the one guy who didn't have a sweetheart with him, leaving her to fend for herself. She found a seat directly behind them, and marveled at how, somehow, she wound up holding the popcorn.
One of the girls turned back to Jennywho was sitting right in front of herand apologizes to Jenny that there wasn't enough room in the car. It's not a problem, Jenny says.
She lifted her knees up and slouched in the chair, eating the popcorn without even realizing it. As the initial click of the movie reel quieted the theater, she wakes up.
Her head immediately turns towards the door, where she could faintly remember hearing the bell sound, even over the three raucous boys a few tables over. A string of drool runs from her mouth to her chin, and she wipes it away quickly with the back of her hand. While drying the back of her hand on her purple corduroy pants she looks around the room for any new faces. Being tucked in a corner, she can't really tell if anyone new has entered, or who it was that just entered.
She tries to remember what she was thinking about before dozing off. The last thing she can remember is her purple pants. She looks down at them, feeling dirty for wearing them two days in a row, like the whole world can tell she wore them twice without them being washed. though she wouldn't wear a pair of pants twice if they were actually dirty, she still feels slightly insecure.
Crossing her arms on the table, she rests her head on top and faces the window. Her hair hangs down over her right eye, still, and she has to adjust her head to be able to see anything at all. She stares intimately at the ketchup bottle, the mustard jar, the assortment of pepper, salt, and that other brownish flavoring that always looked like wood shavings to her. She wants to turn the ketchup bottle to be able to read the backit's always more interesting than the frontbut she can't bring herself to do it. She closes her eyes, and then-
"Even when your lying down your hair covers just one eye."
At first she doesn't hear him, it just blends in with the rest of the choir of cacophony. A second or two later it sinks in, and she picks her head up, not quite as surprised as she would have been had she heard him right away.
"I'm just noticing, is all." He finishes, extending his hands and fingers slightly to show a bit of discomposure. This makes her smile, sincerely. She gives little thought to the fact that he sat down so boldly. Instead, she's caught up in the thought of someone actually coming to her.
After realizing she'd been staring and smiling for a bit too long, she looks back down at the ketchup and runs a finger through her hair. She assumes he feels the same way, or at least she hopes he feels the same way as her as he leans back and asks, "So... how was your day?"
She ponders for a second and, instead of giving him the popular lie, she gives him a more truthful answer, uneventful. In return he gives her a short laugh, which is better than anything he could have said. Well, she can think of better things for him to say... but she doesn't dwell on this. The laugh and smile is all she can ask for. She thinks, though, maybe she does deserve a little something more. She's never asked for anything before, maybe she is overdue for what's been coming for her. And he has come for her.
"You okay? You look a little... down." He says, leaning across the table, attracting her attention back and away from the ketchup. Instinctively, rather than saying yes she is about to say no, but then realizes that this wouldn't be truthful either. She settles by telling him that she's always like this, and that it doesn't matter.
"Honestly, I kind of felt insecure coming here not knowing anybody. I haven't met many people, yet." He tells her exactly what she wants to hear. She doesn't feel intimidated around him, like most of the boys she's had crushes on. And she doesn't believe it's because he's new. She tells herself he may be the one, and almost tells him too, before she realizes it. In a way, he still hears it.
"I was told a lot of people hung out at this place. I didn't expect to find someone here I already knew."
She looks up again, this time his head is cast down. He knew her? She didn't smile this time. He didn't know her. She posed this question, out loud, to him. Raising his head, a look of sheer perplexity washes over his face.
"Yesterday your locker jammed. I opened it for you. We talked about your locker." He stumbles for a moment, but only for a moment, "I fixed your hair." He points to her hair, as if to prove his point.
She's not angry with him, and she starts to suspect that's what he's thinking. She tells him she remembers this, but she still doesn't think that he knows her. A second wave of confusion grips him, as he attempts to win her over.
"Last night, we went to the movies together. We sat in the back with our knees up on the seats in front of us. We made fun of Jenny and the popular kids." He gropes for more details, and the story unravels in front of her. "You spilled soda on your pants and I wiped it up." He puts a hand on the back of his neck, leaning back, "Then I apologized because I felt intrusive. You told me... it was fine. You didn't mind."
She leans across the table, elbows resting on the smooth surface, head cradled in her hands.
"We left after the movie was over, just the two of us. We drove around for an hour."
She thinks, what did we walk about? But, before she can put it to words, he answers,
"We talked about you." He leans across the table to her. "You told me everything you've ever wanted to tell anyone. I told you everything you wanted to hear."
She sits up straight, her hands now in her lap. He gets up and quickly moves to sit next to her. She turns towards the window, her eyes moist. The snow is coming down hard now. A hand reaches over her shoulder and brushes her hair back over her ear. She looks down at the ketchup bottle.
"I told you I thought you were different than everyone else," He continues, "I told you you felt different than everyone else."
She turns to him, he doesn't turn away, she's glad he doesn't. She takes in a single long breath through her nose and lets it out, emphasizing her need for him to understand. She demands he tell her something she can believe in. For the third time, bewilderment is evident on his face.
"We talked about your poem, the one you read in English class. The haiku."
She looks directly into his eyes, and asks him to recite it for her.
A moment passes. His head twitches, but his eyes don't shift away from hers.
"Here comes the winter,
Building up necessity
Seen with both our eyes."
Still, she doesn't smile. Instead of being overjoyed that he remembers it, she poses another question. She asks if he knows what it means.
This time his face portrays complete composure, as he answers "No."
A tear streams from her right eye, but of course, he doesn't see it. She's shaken, and it takes a minute for her to comprehend what he said. Before she knows it, she's asking again,
"What does it mean?"
"I don't know."
She crosses her arms on the table and lays her head on top. She closes her eyes, and then-
-She knocks the ketchup bottle with her right elbow. The sound of it jingling back and forth wakes her up. She looks around, the door to the diner is closed, and the boys, two tables away, are still laughing. A wave of snow falls off the roof and curls upwards before dispersing into the wind.
She feels her purple corduroys, they're not wet, nor were they ever. Crossing her arms, she discovers that her left shirt sleeve is, however. She touches the spot, then her eyes, feeling the wetness and the tenderness. After drying her eyes, she dries her nose, which was beginning to water again as well. Remembering then, not only was she lacking a date for the winter formal, but also friends to show up with, she tells herself (not for the first time) that she isn't going.
One of the three boys turns to another and offers to help him find a date for the dance, but he declines,
"Thanks, but I'd rather not be obligated while I'm there." He explains
The other boy asks what he means by obligated.
"I... I don't think it's necessary for me to have a date, because I'm so new." He states, "If I find someone who wants to dance, I'll dance with them. If I find someone who doesn't, we'll sit and talk over a glass of punch. And, with all my luck, I'll possibly... no, probably, spill it on her purple dress, or something."
Another boy pipes that a white dress would we worse to spill punch on.
"I don't know why I said purple." He shrugs, "Probably alliteration."
The other boy asks what color his tux is.
"Dark green. I was told... I look good in it?" He cautiously says.
She picks her head up, tucking her hair behind her ear. She had heard everything they said, and it made her smile sincerely. Looking out the window, she notices it has begun to snow. Should winter come, she'll be devastated. She realizes now that she needs this more than anything.