Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Worth (Full Story)

I know the exact moment I fell in love with Fiona Gray. It wasn’t my finest moment and it wasn’t hers, but only because I think she’s probably had so many finer moments since then.

Halloween, kindergarten, recess and I kicked dirt over Lindsey Porter’s shoes not only because he had a girl’s name, which I didn’t like, but also because he wore no costume and I liked that even less.

He sat with his back against a long, hollow tube we’d crawl through and pretend it was a cave or a sewer. No one wanted to ruin their costumes, so it was empty that day and Lindsey sat against it with his brown hoodie bunched up around him.

“Hey, Lindsey,” I said, taunting loudly enough that everyone who wanted to laugh could hear. “What are you supposed to be? A piece of dirt or a piece of shit?”

Fiona came out of nowhere and shoved me square in the chest. I fell right down in the rubber chips and sat there like a crab all angry and confused and balanced on all fours. She stood over me and I remember she seemed impossibly tall and her sweater was my favorite color of green.

She didn’t say anything because Ms. Elliot, who only saw Fiona push me and not the part before, called her into the classroom. But she didn’t have to say anything. Her face said it all and by the time I’d climbed out of the rubber chips I was in love.

I think Lindsey probably was, too, because he watched her as much as I did after that. It didn’t bother me because I didn’t think you could be in love with something you knew was weaker than you. But there was no denying they had a connection. A quiet one and a distant one, but it was more than I had.

The only time Fiona ever looked at me was if it happened by accident and involved the perfect and rare alignment of certain stars. Even then, it took a split second for her to recall that moment in the playground when we were six years old. Her eyes would narrow and then move on. A barely there half-glare was all I was worth.

I wanted to be worth more.

It occurred to me sometime in the 8th grade that I should probably start by apologizing. And by the 10th grade, I figured that apology should go to Lindsey. So that’s what I did.

Halloween seemed appropriate for the gesture. We were in the same drawing class, so finding him was easy. Sitting next to him was also easy, but talking was not.

I flipped to a clean sheet in my sketch pad, propped it on the easel in front of me and started in on the collection of still life items on the table nearest us. I picked a funky looking vase because it was green. Beside me, Lindsey picked at the corner of his own pad while his knee bounced rapidly.

“Hey, Lindsey.” I tried to sound casual, like we spoke regularly or even ever.

His knee became still. “Porter.” He answered, defensive and I couldn’t help but feel like I had some part in his un-naming. It wasn’t a good feeling.

“Porter, then. Hey, Porter.” I tried again and wished I’d had the foresight to do a little research on apologies. I didn’t know what the first words should be.

“Yeah.” He said still picking at the corner of his closed sketch pad. “Hey, Ryan.”

I outlined the shape of the vase in light pencil, looking for the places I would use to anchor my lines and what might be the focal point while I tossed around apology-sounding phrases in my mind. I decided I wouldn’t start with “I’m sorry I called you a piece of shit in kindergarten.” It just didn’t sound sincere in my head and if it didn’t sound sincere unspoken, I was sure adding my voice to it would only make it worse. I needed something else and quick because Porter was looking like he was ready to bolt.

“Um,” I said to ease into the conversation. “So, I wanted to say that I’m really sorry I was such a douche to you, you know, before.”

If it’s possible, he got even stiller. Only his eyes moved cautiously toward me. “You mean in kindergarten?”

He said it like there was no way it could be true, but he got it on the first guess, so I figured his incredulity was more or less a show. “Yeah, then. I wanted to say I’m sorry.”

He looked at me. Even turned his shoulders partway like I was actually sitting there trying to have a conversation. “That was forever ago. We were just kids. Forget about it.”

I couldn’t tell if he was accepting my apology or not, which probably meant that he wasn’t. His knee started bouncing again and Mr. Spitz tapped Porter on the shoulder and pointed to his closed pad. The meaning was obvious and I found I was immensely curious to see what lay beneath the cover.

Reluctantly, Porter flipped the book open and hurried to find the first clean page. The reason was obvious. Pages filled with a face, Fiona’s face fluttered through the air. One after another, she smiled and frowned and glowered at me and each one was better than the last.

“Shit,” I said and Porter slouched forward in defeat. “You’re a little obsessed.” He flipped faster and I saw something else. I wasn’t ready for it. Not even a little bit and I sputtered. “Was that me? Go back.”

He hesitated but made the right choice and flipped the page back to the one with my face on it. But it wasn’t just that it was my face. It was my face twenty minutes ago when I was deciding to come sit by Porter and make good with the past. There was no chance that it wasn’t because he’d even drawn himself in the distance.

There was no way he was that fast, but there was also no way he could have known what I was planning to do today. The date scrawled across the bottom of the page confirmed he’d done it two days ago.

He slumped back in his chair, which I took as an invitation. Flipping the page, I found my face again, but this time she was in it, too, and not in a way that I liked. It made my stomach feel like it was full of sand.

I turned to accuse him, to ask him what the hell he was up to, but he was already through the door. I followed, unable to shake the feeling I was being watched or stalked or otherwise invaded.

“Hey, freak!” I called after him rounding a corner in time to see Fiona gifting him with a perfect smile. It soured on me and I choked.

Her eyes were full as rain clouds as she stalked toward me, all wide and fierce. I noticed the green stone in her ring as it moved toward me lightening fast and as her fist crashed against my cheek, I wondered if I made the same face Porter had drawn.

And knew that I had.

Without so much as a word, Fiona turned her back on me, linked her arm through Lindsey’s, and the two of them walked off like they were some old married couple taking a stroll through the park.

When the shock finally wore off, I slipped back into the classroom and grabbed the offending sketch pad, along with my own, before I went to the nurse’s office for an ice pack. Mr. Spitz was so absorbed in his own drawing, I don’t think he even noticed either of us left.

Amy, I mean, Miss Kensington, the nurse’s aide, wasn’t happy when I refused to tell her who hit me. “Ryan, you know the school has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to bullying,” she said, and the way she tipped her head, like I was some little kid instead of just four years younger made the whole thing worse.

“Don’t tell my brother, okay?”

She tilted her head even more and her voice softened. “Ryan…”

Great, she thought I was some scared loser. “I mean it. Just because you’re his girlfriend doesn’t mean you can tell him about my private medical stuff.”

No one needed to know I’d made an ass of myself, again. At least this time when Fiona hit me we weren’t surrounded by half the class. That didn’t make it any less humiliating, though.

I spent the night switching back and forth between staring at the same page of Crime and Punishment, to staring at Linds... crap, Porter’s, unopened sketch pad. Both were unintelligible to me. How could Porter draw something that hadn’t happened? Did he see the future? Or did he make it? My head spun with the circular logic. If he did make it happen, why would he wait ten years to get back at me?

Porter’s sketch pad taunted me from its spot on my dresser. I’d cleared a spot and carefully placed it there as soon as I got home. I didn’t want to piss it off, if it had, like, feelings or something. Just like in drawing class, I felt like I was being watched. Like somehow Fiona knew what I was doing right now and she was narrowing her eyes in disgust.

I wanted to know what secrets the sketch pad held inside its pages, but I was afraid. It was the memory of Porter’s sketches of Fiona’s face that finally made me pick it up. She smiled at Porter, laughed when he said something funny, listened earnestly when he talked, her chin resting on one open hand. It was pathetic, I know, but I wanted to see those faces looking at me.

I half-expected the pad to shock me or something when I set it on the bed and reached to flip open the cover. Nothing happened, but a current buzzed through me anyway. So many pages full of Fiona. So many different emotions and expressions that I had never seen on her face. It was like she was unfolding right in front of me. Opening up and sharing all of her secrets. I must’ve stared at the picture of her – head turned slightly away, hand brushing at tears slipping from her eye, a tiny frown of frustration or annoyance on her face – for ten minutes straight.

I was seeing the real Fiona. Not soft and fragile, she could never be that, but honest, emotional, something other than hostile.

Porter had captured her perfectly. She wasn’t pretty like the girls who always wear makeup and dresses and their hair down, but she had this energy around her all the time, this power in her eyes that made her beautiful in a way those other girls could never compete with.

The more I looked at that drawing, the more I hated Porter.

I flipped through the pages until I got to the one of Fiona clocking me and then I hesitated again. If there was more, did I want to see it? Maybe it was better I didn’t know, since seeing myself getting punched did nothing but get me punched. Not to mention, my whole plan to apologize so Fiona would stop thinking I was worthless got completely shot to hell.

What did it matter? It wasn’t like she was ever going to stop hating me now. I turned the page and was stopped short by a sudden burst of color. A green so bright against the Manila paper it seemed to float above it. My favorite shade. The drawing was unfinished, but I could tell that the two people in it were me and Fiona.

And this time things were very different.

If it weren’t for what had happened earlier, I would’ve called Porter a pervert. What kind of freak draws pictures of other people making out? But the more I stared at the half-finished faces, the more I hoped what he drew was somehow a glimpse into the future.

On the paper, my fingers grazed Fiona’s cheek, my thumb just near the corner of her mouth. It was a touch I’d imagined so many times, but it never felt like a possibility, especially now with the throbbing reminder of her fist in my face.

I slapped the ice pack over the lump on my cheek and fell back into bed with Porter’s sketch pad, flipping between the picture of Fiona punching me, and the green one. How many days had passed since he drew that picture before she hit me? There was no date on that one, but the picture of me about to make my lame apology was dated two days earlier.

I flipped back through all of the drawings, trying to remember if I’d witnessed any of the other scenes play out. Nothing stood out to me, except that they were all in pencil, black and white.

So why draw me and Fiona, the one thing he probably didn’t want to happen, in green? I didn’t have an answer for that, but I knew I wanted this drawing to be finished. Now.

I was no where near as good as Porter, but I fleshed out the scene with a green colored pencil. Shading Fiona’s brow the way I’d seen it in his other drawings was the hardest part. I’d never actually seen her like that, so open, but staring at the two of us made me want to more than ever. And at whatever cost. I would prove my worth to her. I would make that kiss happen, with or without Porter’s sketch pad.

The next afternoon, after the last bell rang, I waited for Fiona by her locker. I’d already tried to apologize to Porter and all it did was set me two steps back. She was the one I needed to see.

Fiona came rushing down the hall with books clutched to her chest and a scowl pinching her face. When she saw me leaning against her locker she froze, rolled her eyes, and turned around.

“Fiona, wait!”

“What do you want?” She spun around so fast I nearly crashed into her. My mouth hung open, the words on my tongue evaporating at the sight of the tears on her cheeks. She swiped at them, a tiny frown creasing her mouth in just the way I knew it would.

“Get a life, Ryan.”

I couldn’t chase her. I was too busy digging Porter’s sketch pad out of my bag to find the date at the bottom of the page. He’d drawn that picture just two days before.

There was no indication of where, when, or how the kiss would happen from the sketch. So all that next day I was on edge, looking over my shoulder for Fiona, perfecting my best smile and tossing around apologies and excuses in my head. My phone buzzed in my pocket and for a second I hoped it was her, but Fiona didn’t have my number. It was a text from Amy.

Ryan, need to see you in my office.

How did she expect me to treat her like an authority if she was sending me texts with little x’s and o’s at the bottom? I shoved the phone in my pocket, stared down the hall for Fiona one more time before I headed to the nurse.

I knocked twice on the cracked door. “Am—Miss Kensington?”

“She’s not here.”

I swung the door open to see Fiona sitting on one of the beds that I usually took my naps on when Amy was the only one here.

“Ah, hey, Fiona.”


I closed the door behind me and took a seat across from her on the other bed. “Are you sick?”

“No. Miss Kensington asked me to meet her here.”

“Me too.” All the things I’d wanted to say to her vanished. Blurting out an apology to Lindsay didn’t work out so well and I really didn’t want to be reunited with Fiona’s fist. A girl like Fiona needed to be dealt with carefully. She wasn’t fragile, not at all, but she needed to be approached a certain way. Lindsay’s sketches and ten years of warning glares taught me that.

“Listen, Fiona. About the other day, I—”

“Where did you get that?” She yanked my backpack. The corner of Lindsay’s sketch pad was sticking out of the zipper.

“It’s not—I mean, he left it in class.”

“So you took it? What did you do to him? Did you draw something?” She flipped through the pages, looking for what, I didn’t know. “If he didn’t give it to you, you can’t draw—”

“Ryan. Fiona. Thank you for meeting me,” Amy said smiling, oblivious to Fiona’s panicked look. The clipboard she held to her chest had an oversized sheet of green notebook paper hanging off the edges. I lifted up on my seat trying to catch a glimpse of what was written on it as she passed, but I didn’t see anything.

“Is everything okay, Miss Kensington?” Fiona asked. “Is this about Lindsay? Is he okay?” She glared at me.

“Lindsay?” She shushed me and I slouched back. What about Lindsay?

“No. At least I don’t think so. This is about the two of you and this.” Amy flipped the clipboard around. In the center of the page was another drawing, one I recognized as Lindsay Porter’s.

Fiona gasped, and judging by Amy’s face, my reaction probably wasn’t much different. The drawing was of me with a pencil in one hand and Fiona’s fingers entwined in the other, and Porter flying above our heads with butterfly wings. The expression on his face made the drawing even creepier. He was smiling.

“Either of you guys want to tell me what this is about? I mean,” Amy turned the picture around and I felt myself relax a little, “it’s not the two of you dismembering him and that’s a pencil in your hand, not a gun, but I still don’t think Principal Llewellyn would be pleased. You both know the no tolerance stance this school has on bullying.” She looked right at me, probably remembering my last visit in here.

I shook my head. “No. Lin—”

“Lindsay is my best friend, Miss Kensington.” Fiona stared down into the sketchpad, keeping the cover angled up so I couldn’t see what she was looking at, but whatever it was it seemed to calm her down. “I don’t know what that drawing is supposed to mean, but it’s not what it looks like.”

Amy studied us both. “Okay. I won’t report it. But whatever might be going on, stop. Okay, Ryan?”

“Uh, yeah. Whatever.”

Amy walked off taking the notebook paper with her. I half wished she’d dropped it so I could figure out what the hell it meant. Wanting to get out of there as fast as possible before Fiona grilled me, I jumped up to leave, and flinched when she grabbed my arm.

“Ryan, wait.”

“Look, I don’t know—” Fiona put her mouth on mine. Instinctively my hand went up to brush her cheek. When she pulled away I stared at her for a minute before I could ask, “What was that for?”

“Because you drew this.” She pointed to a picture in the sketch pad, one I toyed with after I finished the green on. One of Fiona the way I saw her, fierce and beautiful in the way that no other girl could be. And beside her right where he belonged, I drew Lindsay, faithful and understanding. The way I wish I could be.

“So what?” My words were defensive, but I wasn’t sure why.

Fiona smiled and handed me the sketch pad. “It’s yours now.”

Image courtesy of swan-t via Flickr Creative Commons.

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