“No college-ruled paper, Clara!” Beatrice said. “Why do you keep going for those stacks? I need wide-ruled. You got that? Wide. Ruled,” she stated with emphasis.
“Would it be alright with you if I got some paper for myself?” Clara asked. “I happen to need college-ruled. You got that? College. Ruled.”
Beatrice smirked at her sister and continued down the aisle, her eyes scanning the variety of pencil packs dangling in front of her.
“Bea, according to your list, we’ve got everything,” Clara said. “You know we have pencils at home.”
Beatrice scowled at her sister. “Clara, I cannot start school without new pencils. They make me smarter.”
“Explain to me how they make you smarter,” Clara said amused.
“I don’t know. They just do. They make me want to do a better job on my work.” Beatrice was already taking several packs of pencils off their hangers. “And I like the way they smell.”
Clara smiled. “You get one,” she said firmly. “So choose wisely.”
She watched Beatrice spread the packs out on the floor and deliberate over them all the while thinking of the two hundred dollars in her checking account. She had started her job six weeks ago, and aside from buying a few new clothing items for school as well as some toiletries and make-up, she had saved the rest. It seemed like a small fortune to her two weeks ago. Now she wondered how to pay for the school supplies on top of the mounting debt. And the property tax. Just thinking of the number made her fingertips tingle with electric fear.
“I’ve decided,” Beatrice said, handing the pack to her sister. There were eight neon-colored No. 2 pencils in the case.
“Good choice,” Clara said calculating the total cost in her head.
After writing a check for $32.96—and feeling a slight sinking in her stomach—Clara led Beatrice to the car.
“Do you like your teacher this year?” she asked as Beatrice buckled her seatbelt.
“Yes, he’s very smart and nice,” Beatrice replied.
“Yeah, Mr. Brenson,” Beatrice said. “What’s wrong with Mr. Brenson?”
“Nothing’s wrong with Mr. Brenson,” Clara replied pulling out of the Wal-Mart parking lot. “You just don’t hear of many men teaching elementary school.”
“Why is that?” Beatrice asked.
“You got me,” Clara said. “Maybe it has to do with men not wanting to be surrounded by a bunch of brats all day.” Clara smiled as she kept her eyes on the road.
“Ha ha,” Beatrice replied. “High schoolers are way brattier than elementary kids.”
“You’re probably right about that,” Clara said. “All that teenage angst.” She paused before continuing. “You know that no one understands us.”
“Naturally,” Beatrice replied. “You’re sooooo misunderstood. If people would only get a clue.” She twirled her hair and smacked her gum.
“Spit that gum out before we go in,” Clara ordered as they pulled into the Chesterfield Elementary School parking lot. She looked over at Beatrice and watched her blow another large bubble. She was tempted to pop it with her forefinger but feared Beatrice’s reaction. Her sister was a spitfire, just like their mother, and Clara was certain Beatrice would find no amusement in having tiny sticky pieces of gum surrounding her lips.
On their way into the auditorium, Clara noticed him. The senior who talked to her on the first day of school. It wasn’t a lengthy conversation. Actually it wasn’t a conversation at all. He greeted her and she stuttered something in reply. She thought she said “hello” back, but who knows. She felt embarrassed and unsure about why he took the time to say anything at all. He came into health class, an elective they shared, and walked by her desk. Students were already seated and surrounding her, but he only said hello to her. And then he added her name. “Hello, Clara,” and she thought she would melt into the floor. The memory caused a physical response.
“Gross, Clara!” Beatrice said, yanking her hand out of her sister’s. “Your hand is sweating!”
“Say it a little louder,” Clara hissed. She felt instantly irritated, her nerve endings crackling as she watched the boy turn in their direction. He must have heard Beatrice say her name. He waved and started walking towards them.
Oh God, Clara thought panicking. She looked down at her clothes making a quick assessment. Nothing pretty or flattering, but nothing out of order.
“Hi, Clara,” the boy said.
“Uh, hello,” she managed, looking at the floor and then the top of her sister’s head.
“I’m Evan,” he said. “I’m in your health class.”
“I know,” she replied. She blushed fiercely, glancing at him for only a moment.
He was so cute. Tall and lean. His clothes fit him perfectly, she observed. They were stylish, unlike her own. Slim jeans and skater shoes. He wore a fitted button down shirt with sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His hair was a dirty blond, wavy and unkempt. Not hanging in his eyes, though. Not long and obnoxious like some of the other boys’ haircuts. He didn’t have to constantly jerk his face to the side to see, and Clara was appreciative of it. She noticed his cat green eyes, like peridots, and the soft sprinkling of light freckles over the bridge of his nose. Oh yes. He was cute. And she wondered if he knew it.
“I didn’t know you knew who I was,” Evan said. His voice was deep and soothing. Clara wanted to sink down into it like a warm bath then wondered if he could hear her thoughts.
“Everyone does,” she replied quietly.
“I didn’t know that,” he said.
He didn’t sound like he was lying, so she decided to believe him. But how on earth could he not know that everyone knew who he was? He wasn’t a jock; he didn’t move in that crowd. He also didn’t move in the popular crowd of nonathletic students, but everyone still knew him. And they liked him. She watched as they flocked to him at lunch, in between class periods, at assemblies. Everyone: popular kids and nerds. Even nobodies. He was the cool, smart, tech guy with actual social skills. It made him monstrously attractive, and even Clara, being the antisocial student she was, couldn’t help but be drawn to him as well. She looked his way on occasion last year, but he never seemed to notice. But then why would he? She wasn’t outgoing and bubbly and on the hunt. She was reserved, preferring to hang back in the shadows and dream.
“So did your parents drag you here, too?” he asked lightly.
“Um, yeah,” Clara said. She gave a quick glance at Beatrice whose nod was imperceptible.
“I’m Beatrice Greenwich, by the way,” she said extending her hand to Evan. “The polite thing to do would have been to ask.”
Evan laughed as he took her small warm hand in his.
“Beatrice!” Clara exclaimed mortified.
“No, she’s right,” Evan said. “And I’m sorry, Beatrice. Can we start over?” he asked as he squeezed her hand gently.
“I suppose,” she replied, trying for indifference.
“Alright then,” Evan said, releasing her hand and walking a few feet away from the sisters. He turned on his heel and started towards them again, stopping within inches of Beatrice. “And who might you be?” he asked extending his hand.
“I might be Bea, but you can call me Beatrice because you haven’t earned the right yet to call me Bea,” Beatrice said firmly. She gave Evan’s hand two hard shakes and then released it.
“I completely understand,” Evan replied. “Beatrice it is.”
“Oh my God, I’m sorry,” Clara said. She shot Beatrice an exasperated look tinged with anger. Beatrice shrugged and flipped her hair over her shoulder.
“For what?” Evan said still smiling.
“My sister’s rudeness,” Clara said. “God, she’s so rude.”
“Am not, Clara,” Beatrice huffed. “Being matter-of-fact is not the same thing as being rude.”
“It’s a fine line,” Clara said through gritted teeth.
“How old are you?” Evan asked. He directed the question to Beatrice.
“I’m ten. How old are you?”
“Eighteen, and evidently not as smart as you,” Evan replied.
“Well, we can compare notes as we get to know each other,” Beatrice said distractedly. She looked over at the stage and saw someone walking to the podium. “I think we need to find some seats now,” she suggested, and started walking down the center aisle.
“Your sister is a handful,” Evan said turning to Clara.
“You’ve no idea,” Clara responded following Beatrice down the aisle.
They settled themselves in two seats randomly left open in the middle of a center row, and Clara watched as Evan made his way over to his family. There were four of them: a father, a mother, a younger brother, and him. Picture perfect, Clara thought, and her heart bled the tiniest bit of jealousy, trickling down into her stomach and making it sour.
She turned her focus to the podium but not before she saw Evan turn around and look at her. She caught his eye; she had to acknowledge him. She smiled and he smiled back. She wanted to keep looking at him, but she was afraid he’d make her do something foolish. She turned to the podium certain that he was still gazing at her. She wondered if she should flip her hair over her shoulder like Beatrice does. She wasn’t good with those things like Beatrice probably because Beatrice did them automatically without knowing how cute she was when she did them. They came naturally to her. But not Clara. She did few things in her life automatically. Every decision was deliberate and controlled. She knew if she flipped her hair it would look awkward like she had thought too long and hard about it resulting in something mechanical and wrong.
She kept her hands folded in her lap. She fought the urge to look Evan’s way. It was impossible and unfair to sit there knowing he sat a few rows in front of her probably still looking at her. It wasn’t until the principal excused everyone to the teachers’ classrooms that she looked over. He was gone, and her heart sagged in her chest.
Beatrice pulled her sister along to Mr. Brenson’s room. They rounded a corner, and Clara bumped into Evan.
“I’m sorry!” Clara said.
“No worries,” Evan replied. “Glad to see you again.” He smiled at Clara’s sister. “Beatrice,” he said inclining his head.
“Evan,” Beatrice replied civilly, inclining her own head.
“Hey, I didn’t see your parents in there,” Evan said. “Where are they?”
Clara was bad at making up lies on the spot. She thought she should find that a virtuous trait, but it mostly made her angry. Especially in situations like the present one. Thankfully Beatrice was full of deception, and she was a quick thinker, too.
“Well, our mother is in the bathroom and our father isn’t here,” Beatrice replied. “Now if you will excuse us, we need to go see my teacher.” She didn’t wait for Evan to reply but grabbed Clara’s hand, pushed past Evan, and started down the hallway towards a classroom at the far end. Evan followed forgetting that he was headed for the water fountain.
He watched the girls enter the room and hung around outside of the opposite classroom. His parents and brother were in there, but he preferred to watch Clara instead of meeting his younger brother’s teacher despite the fact that she was young and attractive.
He watched Clara introduce herself to Beatrice’s teacher, shake his hand and ask him a few questions. The teacher gave her a stack of papers, pointed to some important information, and then turned his attention to Beatrice. He high-fived her, and the girls walked to the back of the classroom out of Evan’s eyesight. He wanted to wait for them. It was an odd desire; he didn’t know them, but he was reluctant to leave without saying goodbye.
He knew he liked Clara. He noticed her at the end of last year. There was something strange and interesting about her, and he wanted to meet her. But he was still dating Amy—a relationship that had run its course and was all but over. Still, they were technically together and he wouldn’t be that guy. He waited for everything to crumble, for her to say she hated him and never wanted to see him again before making his move. But by then it was halfway into the summer. He’d have to wait to see Clara the following school year. He resolved to waste no time and made it a point to say hello to her on the first day. She was clearly confused, and he took it as a good sign. If she acted indifferent, he knew he’d have no chance.
Clara. What was it about that girl? She was beautiful and didn’t know it. Actually, she was strikingly beautiful, but she hid it underneath dowdy clothes. He thought he should feel shallow for being so sexually drawn to her. He couldn’t help it. He had nothing else to go on. He didn’t know anything about her personality. Not yet. He just knew the way her plump lips moved as she silently read to herself in class. The way her hazel eyes held secrets he wanted to know. The way her long, thick eyelashes obscured her eyes when she looked down at her notebook on her desk. The way she bent her head and let her hair fall to shield her face.
God, her hair. He thought he’d make an ass of himself one day, walk up to her and run his fingers through it. It had magnetic powers, he was sure. Her hair the positive and his fingertips the negative. He sat in class, his fingers aching with the need to go to her and touch her, touch her hair. It was long, brown and wavy. It reached her shoulder blades. It looked like the kind of hair that other girls would envy, the hair that requires no effort to look perfect. He imagined Clara let it air dry to those soft, silky waves that framed her face, cascading down her back like a horse’s mane. He resolved to put his hands in her hair. One day when she gave him permission.
“Are you stalking us?” he heard Beatrice ask.
“Bea,” Clara said. She looked nervous.
“Am I stalking you?” Evan asked. He smiled and shook his head. He jabbed a thumb behind him. “See that classroom? That’s my little brother’s classroom. I’m just out here waiting for him.”
“Why didn’t you go inside?” Beatrice asked.
“Because I really don’t care what my brother’s classroom looks like,” Evan replied.
“That’s kind of rude,” Beatrice said huffily.
“Well, he didn’t come in to see my classroom,” Evan argued. “He didn’t even come to my Open House.”
“That’s not the same thing,” Beatrice said. “You have a lot of classrooms. You’re in high school.”
“Very true. I didn’t think about that,” Evan answered.
“Bea, I think it’s time we go now,” Clara said. She pulled the car keys out of her purse.
“I never did see your mom,” Evan said. He couldn’t understand why he cared so much that these girls were on their own. They were on their own, he concluded. He hadn’t seen an adult with them all evening and couldn’t help but wonder why Beatrice lied to him.
“She actually drove separately,” Clara said. She couldn’t believe she was doing it, lying silkily. “She hasn’t been feeling well and was in the bathroom all evening. She called me on my cell to tell me that she was going home early. I guess I played parent tonight,” she said lightly.
“Oh,” Evan replied. He looked at Beatrice. She was staring at Clara, mouth hanging open just slightly, a look of confusion mixed with admiration plastered on her face.
“Come on, Bea,” Clara said taking her sister’s hand.
“Okay. Well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow,” Evan said.
Clara nodded and walked off. He watched the girls stroll hand-in-hand down the long corridor, Beatrice’s face raised to her sister’s, her profile showing a mouth still hanging open in disbelief.