Chapter 1:

Toccata

 

            There she was, eagerly yet tensely positioned in her seat leaning into my ear, mine, out of all the boys in class, out of her girl friend sitting next to her, out of every high functioning ear in the classroom, my ear! She wasn’t staring at Mrs. Teakon like she usually did, absorbing the erratic nature of numbers that always baffled me – my ear!

            My damn useless ear!

            Her shoulders were drawn in, poised and pointing out were her clavicles, and those eyes had lit up rather radical and fierce in the way everyone knew them to be. They left me petrified with a stifling speechlessness that made language seem nonexistent.

I could have talked to her eyes alone.

            She was on the edge of her seat, knees pinned together and one foot intertwined over the other. It was an unusual position for my girl that breathed fire, and here she was, breathing it into my stupid, deplorably pitiful ear!

            Vexation.

            What was she saying? Was she speaking in that assertive yet insouciant way I adored? Her contagious confidence that always helped her basketball team soar?

            My captain, oh captain, she!

            She made me a poet without my consent and I wanted so desperately to woo the young maiden out of that uncomfortable, metallic seat that makes your ass go numb – straight into my lap.

            No. Cringe. My awkward, lanky lap.

            I’d get a chub and she would know, she would definitely, absolutely, unequivocally know, know the way she knew I found her beautiful, gorgeous – magnificent! – from walking right into a tree from not looking straight. She saw that.

            Was she murmuring something new?

            The novelty chilled me, gave me that frisson musicians sought at rotund concerts.

            Was her voice going up? Was she asking a question? Making a statement? Issuing a command I would humbly oblige till my dying breath?

            What was she saying, god damn it! I could feel the vibrations along the helix of my dead, irritating ear; her breath was heated and dangerously humid. It took every ounce of willpower not to twitch, not to appear jaded or jocular – neutral.

            Keep it cool. Keep it cool.

            Keep it as nonchalantly fucking cool – blasé apathetic and suave.

            Master the swagger.

            Do not jump out of your chair and seize her, demanding the softly spoken words of the utmost importance be said into my other sound processing ear.

            Oh, that ear!

            She paused.

            I could tell because the fluttering of air around her lips stopped. This deeper silence was slicing me, gutting my innards sharply. Plucking up the courage, I turned to her, rotated in to see those eyes whose color had no name. It was the hue only the tropics bore at paradisal islands, that transition of shore to sea imprinted gracefully around her pupils, those porous peepholes to the soul.

            I’d never seen them focused on me so brilliantly before.

            What had she said? How did I need to respond? Why had I suddenly come into her view instead of Mrs. Teakon?

            Time was running up. I needed to answer.

            She needed one. She was hungrily awaiting perched precariously close.

 

            I gave her the answer of my generation: I shrugged.

 

            In that moment of my shoulders moving to convey a message I vehemently despised, that brief pause of screaming so loudly in my head I felt deaf all together, that succinct withdrawal of Melody back into her seated arrangement too far to reach my hands if I had outstretched them, I knew. I knew I had royally fucked up.

            I did damage.

            I stood, forced myself despite gravity’s enthralling grasp on my mass turned marshmallow-weak. My chair screeched like my panic. Nothing mattered. My world was coming to a vile, smashing end. Air was becoming a struggle to gulp. The heat bellowing off her skin from rage was beginning to simmer and ripple the space around her.

The door seized my attention and presented a solution – an egress for a fiasconian fool fiendishly needing an escape.

            I couldn’t be here.

            I made my way to it, bulldozing past Jackson and Harriet. They tried to move their seats quickly but I clocked both of them on my way out. No apologies; I didn’t care. Manners were the furthest thing from my turbulent mind.

            “Dawson, where do you think you’re going-

            “The bathroom. I still have that basic human right,” I fumed, pushing the door open, “don’t I?” I hollered back already through. The door slowly resumed its closed position.

            My class probably gasped at the rudeness. Conrad probably cracked a joke about Taco Bell and the runs to alleviate the atmosphere. Mrs. Teakon probably resumed the lesson because she didn’t care about me, or any student really seeing as how we’ve all become a blur on her premature cataracts.

            I kicked the bathroom door in and barely acknowledged the loud clang it had on the wall covered in crusty, decaying paint. The whiteness had faded to a drag yellow the way pages do in books; I noticed because I was pacing like a madman taking it all in. Searching for something – anything – a sign, an answer, an augury to this cluster-fuck of a cock up.

            What did Melody say? What would I say? When should I talk to her? Should I apologize? Do I need to ask her friend what the deal was? And most importantly, was there the slimmest of hopes that Melody might like me, connect with me, rush right through me on loop?

            “As if,” I roared aloud, then realized I may not have been alone. I flinched. One by one, I looked under the beige stenchy stalls but found no one. I continued onward.

            What had she said that would garner such fury? My shrug was met with the opposite of sanguine cheer, wasn’t it? Why did she tell me in math class? Was I overanalyzing? Misinterpreting something? How could I piece it together?

            I walked straight into the wall and felt a painful shock as my stupid body bounced off. I didn’t care. I kept walking backwards, massaging my nose and trying to keep the tears welling up away from fruition. Turning to the jutting sink that had bits of flakey nail polish around the rim, not even realizing I was in the wrong bathroom, I brought my fists down on it, desperately trying to project my tornado of everything emotional jostling through my brain out of me.

            Except the force was too much for the archaic ceramic and it cracked off the plaster joining it to brick; the sink broke apart into jagged chunks on the ground as if white lopsided chess pieces came out to play. A stream of freezing water from an exposed pipe jettisoned out and caught me square in the jaw. I gasped in surprise and found myself sputtering on the water gushing down my throat.

            Only one word was blaring like an alarm: NO. Over and over again: NO.

            Not the cold, not the cold, not the soul sucking cold down the road to catatonic unknown.

            How do I shut it off? my thoughts flared into fiery action. Where’s the nozzle? I looked frantically. Maybe I should get help – seeing the stream of water pooling on the floor. Then my eyes spotted a spiny, tiny turnstile piece up above.

            Bingo. I reached up and twisted until the water subdued and gradually stopped all together. A shiver escaped my system.

            The kid staring out at me in the mirror was drenched, frazzled, and frozen in place. I laughed. It sounded louder in my ear than usual with that ring of being crazy, but at least I didn’t have foam frothing in my mouth.

            “You dipshit,” I said.

            What was I going to do? If I got expelled, I wouldn’t have to mishear Melody again. But then I wouldn’t see her again either – that was worse. Far worse.

            I forced back my wet hair, took a deep breath, and left.

            Don’t tell anyone what happened.

            Keep it cool.

            I casually opened the door, hiding my trembling, slippy sliding hands in my crumby, plaid pockets, thank god for pockets, and strolled to my seat. I could have laughed at the looks on all their astonished faces if I hadn’t been so scared shitless myself, but fuck it, right? I’d fucked up enough for one god damn chunk of the earth revolving once – day. This stupid block of time: today.

Melody composed her rigid equanimity and kept her eyes focused on the window the whole time. I wondered if she actually noticed anything outside of it with how hard she was concentrating.

*Excerpt Finished