Year One

No one is alike; not even those sheeple who seem to be everywhere. Do I have to be one of them? I don’t think so! I refuse to ‘fit in’; I refuse to take it lying down. I fear making friends, because then I might…conform. I don’t like…people. Is it cos my dad left? That’s what Mom thinks, but I this ain’t no sob story. You’ve heard that crap enough times. Weirdo doesn’t fit in. Meets hot guy. Guy finds the good inside her, so she can believe in herself. God, I hated that movie. All those movies. All those stories. I’m me. And it’s not like I haven’t had boyfriends; I have. They just leave. But I don’t care. I might be ‘alone’, such a terrible word!, pshh. I hate that too. I have the brains. I can see what’s really going down, how everyone is just doing the same stuff as everybody else, conforming, doing what society expects of them. Well, I’m not. I’m happy alone. I’m happier alone. And I’ll die a virgin.

Damn that stupid alarm! Such a sharp noise. So I take a nice, quiet shower, washing through what’s left of my hair. I took to it with a pair of scissors last night. Maybe being an ‘emo’ is also conforming, but, hell, I’m not going bald, so short and a mess. That’s how I’ll take it. Now I’m just staring at my body in the full length mirror: I’m short, b-cup breasts, wider hips than I’d like, but all round ‘petite’. And not shaved anywhere either. Boy shorts for me, none of pantie nonsense. Black skinny jeans, same color tank top over a hot pink shirt. At least no one will notice me. (Smirk). I run the hair dryer over my hair, making sure none of it falls in neat patterns. I don’t need gel today. My sleep hair has done the job for me. Foundation. Then black eyeliner, black lipstick, black eyeshadow. Damn it, I can’t even own myself. I am an emo! Ah, screw it. My new lip piercing is a bit sore, but it can’t be seen. My nose ring is as much a part of my face as my nose. I grab my skull and crossbones bag and I’m out and down the stairs before Mum can even speak to me. God, I gotta move out. Maybe I do have to go to college.

But, then again, as I sit on the bus, I do think of my mother. She aspires for me to be popular and preppy. She tries to make nice, but it’s obvious from the way I dress that I’m not gonna fit into what she wants either. I can’t say I’m not tempted though. She is a hotshot CEO of some faceless, pointless corporation. I don’t know or care what she sells, cos I know it’s crap. But she is, like, super rich. So, if I did what she wanted, then I could be a rich kid. And you know what’s easy to find for rich kids: opportunities. Hell, I could be an artist if I wanted. But that’s kind of lame.

Senior year, then. One more year of those bitchy girls in the…school yard. Should I still be going to school anymore, cos it seems an awful lot like I’m older than everyone here. I’ll be avoiding those girls. I made an effort once, but it was always just that: effort. And I don’t need it anymore. Yet these girls are the ones my mum wants me to make friends with. “It’s who you know”, she keeps saying. ‘Who you know’ for what? Prom invites? What? Prom movies are so lame. I can just hear her voice now,

“Are you really going out dressed like that?”

“Yes, mum, I am.”

“That’s no way for a young lady to dress.”

“Well, maybe I’m not a ‘lady’. Maybe I’m just me.”

“That’s nonsense, dear, and you know it. Of course you’re a lady. You just need to act like it.”

“For what? So I can find a nice, preppy boyfriend who summers at the Hamptons and has his own yacht called ‘Mother’s Little Pearl’. And then we’ll get married. And I’ll me Mrs. Little Pearl, with a nice feather in my nice purple hat.”

“You’re being silly again. I can’t talk to you when you’re being silly.”

And then one of us leaves the room. I’ve had that conversation more than enough times for one lifetime. And, frankly, she probably has too.

The bus rides down the hill. There’s the Los Angeles skyline. So welcoming for so many people. Maybe it is nice. But I’m bored of it. I’m ready to move on, to move out. Thankfully, my senior high school is small. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a curse because you get found too easily. People try to come and, y’know, talk to you. God. It’s a blessing because it’s quiet, because there’s a little field round the back. It’s next to a train line of all things. Sometimes, I go out there and lie back with my eyes closed and listen to the trains. I imagine the past. I imagine being in the past. Then I imagine those big, stupid dresses that women wore. They look like you could barely walk in those things, let alone sit down.

Today, though, I take a look at the row of lockers. Sometimes I feel like I’m in some naff teen movie, or one of those terrible books. It all feels familiar, like a dreadful, gray, persistent déjà vu. My best friend Beth approaches. Well, I hope she’s still my best friend. Because then I wouldn’t have any friends.

“Drama class first period!” she jumps up and down in excitement.

“I know you’re going to be a famous actress one day. Like you need the practice.”

“I know, right? And I’ll be a singer too.”

“And she sings too, people. She’ll do you a little personal dance too, if you tip her real nice.”

“Oh, she’s grumpy today.”

“When am I ever not grumpy?”

“You have an excellent point. Today, I’ll be a famous doctor.”

“What? I thought you wanted to be an actor.”

“Now, I’m a TV doctor, on a really long running tv show, where the show has been going on for far too long, and my face is too. But I’m still raking in the cash, because people will pay all the money in the world if you feed them the same crap as usual.”

“Sometimes you remind me why I love you, Beth. One minute you’re all happy, like everybody else. Then I see that, deep down, you’re cynical and twisted. I love it.”

Before long, I’m sitting in class, scraping the name of the girl I hate the most in my desk. ‘Jessica was here’. Yes, hopefully somebody will notice and she’ll get in all sorts of trouble. I think this is US history class. I barely even know where I am. I’ve got this. US history is really short. It can’t take that long to get it down. I’ll be fine.

Suddenly, over the tannoy, disturbing my mid-class daydream, I hear my name over the tannoy.

“Please report to the principal’s office.” Now this is something I don’t wanna hear. I’m trying to skate through here; I don’t need any trash from the higher-ups. I’m just trying to knuckle down and get outta here. I stand up, and try to look like everything’s fine, even though everyone is looking at me. Just put one step in front of the other. Nothing’s wrong. Then I reach the office.

“Stephanie, hello,” (I hate being called ‘Stephanie. My name is Steph), “I would like you to meet someone. His name is Evan.”

Wait, what? Is this it? I’m just here to...Woah.

His eyes, they’re such a deep blue.

His chin, it is prominent in just the right way.

His hair, swept back, naturally flowing, like a gorgeous river of yellow.

And his ass. And his ass.

“Hi...Evan. I’m Stephanie. Let me show you to your locker,” I remain fixated in his stare, and reach out as the principal, Wanda Coleman. In the corner of my eye, I notice the brown corners of her lips curling up in a smile.

“Thank you, Stephanie.”

“Okay. Bye.”

We walk to the lockers.

“Ah, 138. That’s my locker directly opposite.”

“Okay,” Damn! Am I boring him?

“It’s always open. I have nothing to hide. Or to steal. Stick a note in some time. If you need anything, of course.”

“Okay,” (Dammit, I’m losing him here. Get me the jump cables, stat!)

“You know what, Stephanie,” (oh no, here it comes), “I kind of pictured you as...a dork...not that I hate’s just, that’s...well, you’re not like that. You’re really beautiful.” Words. Gone. Must. Breathe.

“Well, I mean, like you should be a model or something. Or an actress. Hot girls always get the best roles. Not that I think you wouldn’t be a great actress and all. I saw you take drama.” I don’t know what’s happening. It’s all going kinda blurry. I manage to slur out,

“I wanna be an actress...and a singer.”

“Oh, like Broadway?”

“No, something...different. I don’t know yet.”

“Wow, that’s so...unique.”

Why is he so enthusiastic? He must be joking, taking the mick. Why be enthusiastic about me, about my lame, half-thought, unworkable dreams?

“We should really get to class.”

Damn, I realise I’ve been standing here like an idiot. Of course, we need to get back to class.

As we walk in, Miss Carter raises her thick black eyebrows (man, she needs new glasses) “And where exactly have you two been?” she asks, to which the rest of the class starts laughing. Oh, great, more attention.

“Oh, sorry Miss…” he checks the whiteboard, which has her name on it, “Miss Carter. We didn’t mean you any disrespect. We were just making out by the lockers.” Now the class in in hysterics, a veritable thunderstorm of noise. Miss Carter tries to look annoyed, but she can’t hold the stern expression for very long, and a smirk creeps in.

“I see. Wise guy, huh? Why don’t you and Miss Taysom go and sit and the back of the class. See if you can keep your hands off each other.”

More eruptions from the class. I don’t know whether to be embarrassed, or to lap up the attention. This is when I would look at Beth, for some kind of clue. But she isn’t in my English Literature class. So I just stand here and look confused. Better skulk to the back row.

I stare at the board, trying to figure out what book we’re talking about, just in case Miss Carter decides to ask a question. Huh, ‘Of Mice and Men’. I’m solid. I read that in, like, an hour, I can switch off again. I can think about...making out, grabbing and pulling back his long, blonde hair, reaching down to his ass, his tongue...then my phone bleeps. I look, and Evan has found my phone’s bluetooth. I see a message: ‘Wanna hang out after class?’ Oh my god, what do I do? I just dream about these things, they’re not supposed to happen to me. I’m emotionally inept. I read about it. I write about it. I don’t actually feel it. But then I think about my little daydream I just had right now. And message back, ‘Yeah, sure.’ It seems I’m feisty today.

The bell tolls, and for a moment, I lose him in the melee as the class departs. But he’s there, waiting for me. We begin to walk towards the lunch hall,

“So, what’s your favourite colour?” My what?! “I dunno. I haven’t thought about stuff like that since I was a kid. Maybe red.”

“I used to like red, then I saw the colour of your eyes. That changed my mind.” “That...that was a terrible line. Truly, I mean, c’mon. What’s your deal, anyway? You hardly know who I am. I could be a psychotic killer, you know. You might wanna stay away from me.”

“Are you gonna eat me? Cos I could be into that.”

“And he’s disgusting too.”

“Well, Little Miss Sunshine, how about we blow this joint and go find us a real burger. I fear our lunch lady doth provide us with bizarrely-coloured slop.”

I’ve never done this before. I go to the dining hall. I let Beth go and sit with her other friends. Then I slink off to some corner of the school somewhere. Maybe read a book. I’ve never left school grounds in a school day. Ever. That is incredibly lame.

“All right then, Evan. I know just the place.”

So we’re sitting in this diner, munching on our generously-sized burger (this is the real thing-none of that fast food crap). And he keeps looking at me.

“Do you think that fate brought us together?”

“Do you think you could think up something less lame when you’re trying to flirt with me?”

“Oo, feisty. I like it.”

“You’re weird.”

“But this burger is delicious.”

“I know, right?! Didn’t I tell you?”

His cheesy lines are keeping my heart on lock down, keeping my breathing in check, grounding me. And he knows it too. He’s deliberately giving me the option of staying at arm’s length. I can appreciate that.

We talk about ourselves, our likes and dislikes, me about my mother,

“So, what you're saying is, you have lots of money and your discontented.”

“Oh, you asshole. No,” I smile, “I’m not discontented. I’m just ready to move on. I wanna get out of this place. Go somewhere. Not here. Take the next step.”

“I know what you mean. I actually came here under my own volition. I wanted to move away, because...well, because of things. I wanted to live in L.A. So, I packed up and left.” “What about your parents?”

“What about them? I mean, they weren’t happy or anything, but they respected me as an adult. Which is ironic really, because I still have to finish out a year of senior high school.”

“You gonna graduate, or what?”

“No, I don’t care about that. I’ve got better things to do.”

“Like what?”

“Well, that would be telling.”

“Well, that would be why I asked, idiot.”

“We’ll see. I’ve got plenty of time.”

“Good for you. I don’t I gotta get back for class. I’ve got the joys of History next. Lots of poor people to read about delightful.”

“Sounds like now. Skip it. Come out with me.

“No. As much as I can’t stand the sound of Mr. Johnson’s voice, I’m trying to keep everything neat and tidy.”

“And you said you weren’t a dork. I feel the distinct odour of dishonesty.”

“Ha, thanks, asshole. No, I’m just trying to stay out of trouble, try not being noticed.” “You failed. I noticed you.”

“That one...that was better than your usual. Keep it up, I might give you a candy.” “Sweet!”

Oh, dear god.

He doesn’t sit by me on the bus ride home, after school. I’m not sure how I feel about that. A chance to breathe, perhaps, to let it sink in, as I sit here, pretending to read a book. Do I actually like him? No, I hardly know him. He seems pretty keen. I don’t know whether he’s genuine, or whether he’s a player. Well, the other girls on the bus seem to have taken an interest in him. Maybe the latter, then. God, I can tell just be their body language. They’re fawning over him. They keep laughing at everything he says and brushing their hands against him. They’re almost competing to touch him. Eargh, what do I care? He’s obviously a player.

Great here’s my stop. And, well, would you look at that. He’s getting off at the same place I am.

“What are you doing?”

“Getting off the bus and going home. Why, what are you doing?”

“You don’t live around here. This is where swanky, rich people live, a veritable model of upper-middle class privilege and wealth. You don’t even live your parents.”

“A cogent observation, Miss Taysom. I’m not allowed to rent my own place yet. Some kind of local law or something. Either way, it wasn’t worth an argument. I live with my uncle. He’s kind of cool, lets me do what I like. So, for now, I’m swanky and veritable.” “This is just too much of a coincidence. Your having me on.”

“No, I’m not. This isn’t some cheesy Romance novel. It’s just that: a coincidence. Come over now. I’ll show you. I can get into the house with this magical thing called a ‘key’. I won’t have to break any windows or anything.”

“Some stranger wants me to go round his house, that is clearly not his house. He’s gonna have his wicked way with me, I’m sure. My virginity is doomed!”

“Well, you could ask first. That’s awfully presumptuous of you. The only thing I said was that I was going to demonstrate how my key fits that lock.”

“I’ve been outsmarted. There’s no hope,” I remain flat in my sarcasm, “Do you have any tea?”

“I have the finest range of teas this side of India.”

“Are you just trying to get into my pants? You’re pretty full-on.”

“My dear, tea in underpants would hardly work. It would dribble through the fabric.” “Oh, you card,” I roll my eyes, maintaining the pretence of confidence. Really, I’m scared. Really scared. Tea with a boy! Unheard of! I guess this is what going with the flow is. I’m half hoping his silly key won’t work. Then I’ll be able to escape. No such luck. Right, one step in front of the other. Once more unto the breach and all that.

Suddenly, I panic. I can’t go into a house with a stranger. There’s being spontaneous, and then there’s being dangerous. I mean, I’m sure he’s not gonna hurt me. Okay, the real reason is because I’m scared about sex. I’ll confess it now; that stuff at school was all bluster. What if he actually put the moves on me? It’s not like I don’t want to-god, I want to. And I’m not religious; I have no moral qualms. I’m just scared, that’s all. Okay, let’s take this back a notch.

“Do you wanna come to my place instead? I think I’d be happier there.” Here it comes, this is a test of his willpower.

“Yeah, sure, no problem.” Oh crap, now I have to introduce him to my mother.

“Oh, a gentleman caller. Stephanie, why didn’t you tell me?”

“Hi mum, this is Evan.”

“Mrs. Taysom, a pleasure to meet you.”

“At least he has manners,” my mum is talking to me like he’s not there, “Good afternoon, young man. Quite the surprise, your visit, quite the surprise. Why don’t you two retire into the drawing room. I’ll have Reginald bring you tea.”

“That’s okay, mum. We were just gonna go up to my room.”

“Oh, no, dear. One has to treat one’s guests properly. I think the drawing room would be a much better idea.” I know what she’s really trying to say, and I don’t want to pick a fight in front of Evan, so I concede. But only a little.

“I think we might take tea in the library instead.”

I know mum hates people drinking in the library. And she knows that I said that deliberately; I can see her top lip wrinkle with her nose. I know her fondness for politeness and not causing a scene too. There’s a ‘we’ll-be-talking-about-this’ later look in her eyes briefly, then she turns to Evan. “The library then. Have a delightful time, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

God, I can’t believe it: my first date: hot and steamy. But that’s just the tea. This little room; well, it’s not that little. It is about ten by ten metres, with three wide steps at the edges, each lined with bookcases. In the central section, by a giant, old window, is a desk. And here are we. Drinking tea. I bet I’m impressing Evan right now. Yeah, let me just whip out the cocaine and we can snort it off our own butts. Quick, pass over that copy of…this library isn’t even interesting. It’s full of hundreds of God books, the Christian one. Nothing even remotely interesting.

We talked a little, mostly the mandatory ‘where do you come from’, ‘are you going to college’ type stuff. The most important part was that we began to relax. Actually, the tea was pretty good: fresh Taiwanese mountain oolong. Mum, you’ve done something right for once. The conversation turns serious: why is he here alone? Both of his parents we killed when a tire broke down in the Great Basin in Colorado. They managed to walk to a gas station, but it was abandoned and completely stripped bare of supplies. Without phone signal, and having drunk all their water in anticipation of the gas station, they had had to walk on. It was not clear who had died of heat stroke first. Their bodies were found lying by a rock in embrace. Evan told the story with a far off look in his eyes; he had clearly processed the tragedy, as he betrayed no emotion. I, however, could not help myself, and tears were dripping down my face.

“Gee Steph, you don’t need to do that. It was a while back, something I’ll never forget. But I’m now independent, living off the life insurance. I’m a free man.”

“Will it get you through college?”

“Ah, hell no. Life insurance is such a scam. The amount of work it took to convince them to fork over what they did was soul destroying enough. They tried to pin it on my parents. To my face, the face of a teenage kid who’s just lost his parents in a horrifying, almost unbelievable way; they said my parents could’ve planned it better. It’s any excuse with these damn people. The amount of money my parents gave to those bastards, and the one time they’re required to provide a service, they try to weasel their way out of it. They said it to my face, for god’s sake. They’re all bastards; it’s all such a scam. If my parents had just invested the money in…anything else, they would have been paid dividends. As it is…goddamn it, I can’t take about this anymore.”

He quickly stands up and walks to the floor to ceiling window, looking out onto rich people’s suburbia, his hand on the window. I stand up to and raise my hand to put on his back, but I’m too shy. I look like a goddanmed wizard casting a spell.

“I’m sorry,” he remained looking out of the window, “I’ve been told not to unload like that. It scares people away. I’ve seen it scare people away. It’s why I keep on the move. I end up pissing too many people off with my foul moods.”

I struggle for words, “It’s…okay…I like to hear…how you feel,” what the hell-is that the best I can come up with.

He turns around and looks me straight in the eye.

“And then you slept with him?”

“No, Beth. Gross.”

“Are you sure he didn’t sweep everything off that big old desk, lift you up onto in, then go down on you like a fat kid eating cake.”

I snort the terrible, canteen milk through my noise.

“You are so disgusting,” but I’m still laughing.

“Alright, alright, second base?”

“No, we just kissed.”

“You just kissed. No way. There had to be lashing tongues, hands all over each other, unable to stop themselves.”

“I did put my hands on his ass.”

“Oh my god, that ass. I want it. I want it now. The things I’d do to that ass.”

“That…what? What would you do?”

“Never mind that nonsense now. You’ve just made out with the most beautiful man the world has ever seen.”

“I thought you liked Emilio Martin?”

“May Zorro strike me down with his thunderbolt if I ever speak Emilio Martin’s name ever again.”

“I think you mean Zeus. Zorro was a kind of Mexican cowboy.”

“Nonsense! All nonsense! What happened after you made out?”

“He held me hand and looked at me.”

“And then? And then?”

“It felt like forever, like we were swimming in our mutual gaze, a crystal clear Meditteranean sea.”

“So you didn’t have sex, then?”

“Well, thanks for breaking my moment of poetry. No, we didn’t have sex. Then he left.” “Oh my god, the unresolved sexual tension is killing me. Where’s Emilio?”

“He’s over there. You’re ridiculous.”

“I’m not ridiculous, I’m just alive. A living, breathing woman, and I want it, right now. In the janitor’s closet.”

“Do we even have a janitor?”

But it was too late. Beth had stood up, strutted across the dining hall, with her jeans hugging her own perfect ass, her pink t-shirt hanging loosely, to a table across the room, where a group of jocks were sitting in the school football team jackets. She whispered something into the ears of the neatly-quaffed Latino hair style of Emilio Martin. Even from across the room, I could see his eyebrows raise. He, dutifully, almost bowing to Beth, stood up a slunk away, being dragged by the right hand. His left hand reached back to his group of friends, palm laid out. The group managed at least three high fives before Emilio was out of its reach. I shook my head, took another sip of the horrible milk, and threw it onto my used lunch tray. To the school library, I guess, to study.

“Could you pass me the ash tray?”

What is that guy talking about? This is a library.

“Huh, what?” I’m daydreaming again, but this time I know what I’m daydreaming about. It’s Evan: his eyes, the kiss, his story, that ass. I have a pencil in my hand hanging loosely over an empty page of paper.

“I meant the little box they let you put small bits of trash in.” I look up across the library table. A guy with short, brown hair and glasses.

“Hi, I’m Reg. Or Regi. Well, my name’s Reginald, but you can call me what you like.” “Okay, Reg,” I am emerging from my daydream, and I hand him the little, yellow cardboard box; “You sharpen your pencils. How old fashioned.”

Wow, I’m snarkier today than I thought.

“Ha, ha. Well. I guess so. I can live with that.”

Self-confident. Good, I thought I’d insulted him.

“You don’t remember me, do you?”

“No, Reg, I don’t.”

“Ah, well. We went to elementary school together. We played hopscotch. And we used to share a water bottle.”

“I’m sorry, man. I don’t remember. I remember it being damn hot in elementary school.” “Well, it’s damn hot now too.”

“I guess it is. Hopscotch, really? I barely remember what that is. Look, Reg; I have work to do.”

He looks over at my empty sheet of paper.

“Do you?”

“I guess not.”

“Do you want some help?”

“I barely even know what I’m supposed to be doing right now.”

“Math. Book 2.3.”

“How do you know that?”

“It’s sitting there on the table next to you, unopened.”

“Observant fellow, aren’t you?”

“They don’t call me Responsible Regi for nothing.”

“They don’t call you Responsible Regi.”

“No, they don’t. I guess I’m just trying to make conversation.”


There’s that mouth again.

“Tough cookie, huh.”

“No one says that. That’s movie talk, that is.”

“Do you want help with your math or not?”

“I hate math.”

“I believe math is an inferior branch of economics.”

“That’s deep, man.”

“As a puddle.”

I meet Beth outside, later. She’s sitting on the low wall of an enclosed garden, smoking a cigarette.

“Ew, gross. Put that thing out. When did you start smoking cigarettes?”

“Since I started fucking in small rooms. Man, that guy went like a rabbit.”

“I guess you found the janitor’s cubby hole.”

“Yeah, and Emilio found mine. I can still feel it now.”

“You are disgusting. Was there a table in there, or something?”

“No, we could barely stand up in there. We pulled our pants down and he took me from behind.”

“Why do I even talk to you? I don’t wanna know this shit.”

“Beats me. What took you so long?”

“I was working in the library.”

“You never work for that long. What aren’t you telling me? You don’t talk to girls, so it must be a guy. Was he hot?”

“Haven’t you just had sex.”

“The future’s a long time, Steph. Gotta stay one step ahead.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“So, who is he?”

“Just a guy.”

“Just a guy! Yeah, you were gabbing in there for at least forty-five minutes.”

“How can you tell? Weren’t you busy.”

“What can I say? I prefer the short, sharp shock. That way the guy’s happy too. I’ve learned to…appreciate speed.”

“You’re every guy’s wet dream.”

“No, just Emilio’s. Stop changing the subject. Who is this guy? Is he at least hotter than Evan?”

“Of course not. I mean Evan’s…y’know…Evan’s…”

A pause.

“Beth, are you dribbling? What is wrong with you?”

“Everything’s great with me, Steph. Sound as a pound. Oh, yeah, a pound.” I can’t help but laugh.

“Why are you so obsessed with my love life, anyway? Regi and I were just talking.”

“Oo, he has a name! And you don’t have a love life, dear. That’s why I gotta look out for you.”

“You’re my shining, shining angel.”

“Of course I am, baby.”

Oh my god. What am I doing? I'm standing outside Evan's place with a bag full of Chinese food. Beth told me to try and surprise him. She thought it might be...she said 'sexy', but I prefer 'romantic'. Knowing my luck, he's in there right now with another girl. Well, here goes. I'll hit the bell.

“Steph! Hi!”

There he is: the man of my dreams. Dressed in blue pyjama pants, a red t-shirt and with a slice of toast hanging from his mouth. Am I really putting myself out there for this? Hell, yeah I am.

“Got any toast.”

“Oh my god, I'm so glad I don't have to eat any more of this,” Evan takes the remaining toast from his mouth and throws it into the garden, “The birds can enjoy that. There'd better be some Szechuan chicken in there or your not coming in.”

“There is, so let me in from this goddamn heat. I've been standing here for, like, fifteen minutes.”

“Fifteen minutes? Why have you been standing there for fifteen minutes?” I step inside. “Well now I feel stupid. I shouldn't have said that,” I set the food down on the kitchen counter-the front door opens into the kitchen, that's novel.

“Now you've gotta tell me.”

“Alright, but you promise not to laugh.”

“I promise, I promise. Just tell me.”

“I was too scared to press the doorbell.”

“Scared? Of me? I'm not gonna bite your head off. Hey, I appreciate the food. Let's get eating.”

So that's what we do, sitting right there on the kitchen counter. When we've finished, Evan asks,

“You like music, Steph?”

“Sure. All kinds.”

“Come with me.”

He takes me by the hand and walks me down a corridor into a small room with large bay windows that look out onto the garden. At the centre of the room is a grand piano. There is little room for anything else there.

“Can you play?”

“I can read music, but I can't play. I forgot how to do that a long time ago. Wait a minute.” I take out my phone and find a page with the tunes of my favourite songs on it. It has guitar tabs underneath. An obscure LA band. Nobody's heard of them. Which is maybe why I like them. I sit down on the piano stool and begin hesitantly playing the tune with my right hand.

“Wait. I got this.”

Evan sits next to me.

“Play it a little faster,” he says.

I do. He looks at what I'm playing, then begins, on the low notes, to play a boogie woogie rhythm line. It doesn't fit the song at all, but it makes me smile. As I progress onto the chorus, he begins to add chords on the mid range of the piano. I work my way through the bridge passage, and Evan follows, increasing the intensity and the activity of his accompaniment. When we reach the chorus again, he pushes the speed a little higher, for which I feel compelled to follow. Then he spins out a complex improvisation in the mid range notes, over his walking bass line. I laugh, as my paltry melodic line is almost swamped. I stop playing and stand up, but Evan has absorbed the melody into his improvisation, so the music continues smoothly. He hammers the chords now, nearing the climax, which he achieves with a heavily decorated last chord, and, of course, by sweeping up and down the keys with the back of his palm.

“Sorry, I kind of took over there a little. I didn't mean to shut you down.” And then I feel it. And I I can't help it. I step forward, grab his face in two hands and kiss him forcefully. He returns the gesture. I reach into the back of his loose pants and grab that ass with both hands. This enflames him, and it's not long before I'm lying on my back on the piano stool and we're having sex. He lifts me onto the piano-I hear the cluster of notes crash and the cold of the keys, as he sits me down here.

“You're shaking,” he says.

“Yes, I'm scared,” I whisper.

“Don't be. The piano won't break.”

I laugh. And then I love.

“You did what on a what now?”

“We had sex on his piano.”

“Oh my god, of all the places to use your virginity.”

I sit on the top of the picnic table and demonstrate, even gesturing as if he were there, with my eyes closed.

“You realise you're in a public place, right?”

“Yeah, I think I do, Beth. I'm happy. I'm delighted. I'm ecstatic.”

“Damn that boy. I gotta hear him play piano.”

“Oh, Beth. Don't take this away from me?”

“Lighten up, Steph. I was only kidding. Everyone's gotta have their dreams. Mine just involve changing my panties afterwards.”

“God, you're gross. Why the hell do I hang out with you?”

“Beats me.”

I don't think I can take this much longer. I've never been able to stomach long car journeys, but this coach is taking forever, and my stomach is letting me know it. Ah, I feel wave after growing, cresting wave of nausea. I can hardly bear to open my eyes. Everything's spinning.

“Why Reg? Why did I let you convince me to climb onto this fucking death trap? Where the fuck are we going?”

“I think you want to hear me say 'for a nice, relaxing day at the beach', but that wouldn't be true. We're going to be hiking around a lake. A big lake. With lots of tall rocks. It's fieldwork for our biology assignment.”

“I know what it is, dammit. I was just being sarcastic. Why couldn't we have just done bugs like everybody else?”

“Because bugs won't get us into Brown.”

“Why would I go to Brown?”

“Alright, alright. Bugs won't get me into Brown.”

“There we go. You're an asshole, you know that. Oh god, I wanna die. I'm gonna throw up all over your lovely hemp bag.”

“It's not hemp; it's cotton.”

“Alright, fine. I'm gonna throw up in your fucking mouth.”

“Wow. Stephanie. If I'd have known you'd get like this, I wouldn't have proposed the idea.”

“Sorry, Regi. I just feel terrible. I've never been able to take long road journeys. Ever since I was a kid. It really bummed my mum out for a while. She likes to 'summer in the Hamptons' or some bullshit. Can't really take flying either. But bumming my mum out is great.”

“Delightful. You two must get on like a house on fire.”

“I think 'on fire' is indeed the operative adjective to describe our relationship, yes.”

“And your father.”

“When he's not porking his secretaries, or colleagues, or whoever, he's around a bit. He's okay, I guess. Sends me money. Can't complain.”

“I'm sorry about your parents, Stephanie.”

“Please. Call me Steph. I can't stand my full name. It's okay. I didn't tell you to make you cry or anything. Maybe that's the root cause of some issues, but I feel okay most of the time.”

“I have noticed a little buzz in your recently. Apart from on this coach, of course. What's gotten into you?”

“What's gotten into me?! That's a good one.”

“Ah, I see. A budding romance. Boy or girl?”

“Evan Wyss.”

“Evan Wyss, even I've heard of him, and I spend most of my spare time in the library. Something about his bottom...”

“He's more than the ass! Have you been talking to Beth?”

“Beth who? Ah, a friend. No, I've just overheard chatter in the library.”

“He's so much more than that.”

“I would hope so. I expect he has a torso. And a head, I assume?”

I laugh out loud, which brings up my first roll of vomit. Reg quickly reaches into his bag, and empties out some tangerines from a pink, plastic bag into his larger cloth bag. He hands over the plastic bag. It was a pre-puke. I've managed to hold it in and the little bag is sufficient. For now.

“God, I'm sorry. This is so embarrassing.”

“That's okay. I'll go and ask the driver if we can stop off at a service station.”

“No, you don't have to...”

Dammit, he's gone. I don't want to draw attention to myself, and make everyone else stop for my sake.

“Steph, are you okay?”

He's standing outside the ladies' room, listening to me puke my guts out. It's not usually this bad. I'm moaning too. That's the problem. If I stop moaning, he'll leave me alone. “Get the fuck in here!”

“Into the ladies' room. I dunno if...”

“Just do it. I can't hold my hair back. I'm...”

He rushes in and yanks out my hair, jerking my head back a little. It leaves me vomiting over just a small strand of hairs. I'm crying now, I realise. What the hell must I look like? “It must have been something we ate. What did we..” my head is now permanently rooted in this toilet bowl. I'd rest my head on it, but it smelt worse before I was chucking my guts out into it. I think I've improved the odour.

“Don't speak. Just let it out.”

Reg is rubbing my back to. He's like the mum I never had. When I was a kid, there was always a nanny for when we were being ill.

So, we make it to the hotel, but I'm pasty white and Reg takes me up to the room.

“I hope I'm not being improper, but I think I ought to stay in your room tonight. I'm worried you're gonna actually puke your guts out. Then there won't be anyone to help me indulge in my French toast tomorrow morning.”

“Thanks Reg. Sure, it'll save us money too.”

“I'll sleep on the chair, of course.”

“Don't be an idiot. You'll sleep on the bed.”

“I dunno...”

“I know. I know. I smell of sick. Deal with it. We can top and tail if it makes you feel any better.”

“Alright, alright.”

I spend the next day in bed. It must be some serious food poisoning. I had that before. It was pretty rough. I went to the hospital then. I have a private nurse this time. He brings me chicken soup, then goes off into the woods. I say he can take the credit for doing all the work, but he won't hear of it. So I guess there'll be a boost to my biology score, which is nice, I guess. I'd feel sorry for Reg if I didn't feel so fucking ill. At least, as the day progresses, I begin to be able to move. I even make it to the adjoining bathroom to throw up. Again. Goddamn Reg, I have this big, empty plastic ice cream tub, you know, the large economy brand type. That's been my 'sick bucket' since I was five years old. I can't believe I have to carry it around with me. No one's ever seen it before, even Beth. I bet my mum doesn't even know I still use it. Anyway, Reg keeps taking it away and cleaning it, then puts it on the bedside table. I'm sure when I feel better, the guilt is gonna be quintupled or more. Now, I gotta be sick again. I'm sick about once an hour. Without saying anything, Reg stands up, fetches the bucket and cleans it again, before bringing it back and climbing back into bed. I'm so tired, I don't have the energy to thank him every time.

I sleep on the coach back the next day. All the way. For hours and hours, blissful, restful sleep. When I wake up as we pull into the coach station, I feel almost like a new person. Still terrible, but so much less terrible, it's like I'm all better.

I'm naked; completely naked. In somebody else's house. In somebody else's bed. The Sunday sunrise is warming me, but I'm still scared to pull the covers down. It's ridiculous, I know. There's no one in the house but me. And Evan, of course. Here he comes now, with two cups of coffee. Oo, and he's even added the froth to make me a cappuccino. I love cappuccino. I think I might be in love with this man too. I don't know. He's just such a fresh presence in my life, about fresh! This coffee smells great. I immediately sit up and let the blanket fall from me, take in with pleasure Evan's content smile at the sight of my breasts.

“You did not have to do this.”

“It's not much. It's a machine. I don't even have to make the froth.”

“Fine. Ruin the moment. Asshole.”

“Hey, did you finish that biology project?”

“Oh my god, don't even. I've badgered Reg, but he insists on sharing out the data analysis.

And since I barely understand what we're doing, that means the final report is gonna be eighty percent his. I'm doing my best, but he's so out of my league, I can't keep up. And he's insisting it's not a problem.”

“He's a good guy.”

“A very good guy.”

“Thought about going to see a doctor?”

“No, it's okay. It's been a week now. And no more episodes. I think it was just food poisoning. That can hit you pretty hard.”

“You've been eating less.”

“Are you looking out for me? So observant! How cute are you!”

“You getting icky on me now, Taysom? Are you sure your the girl I'm falling for?” Oh my god. My breath. I'm becoming short of breath.

“You what now.”

“I'm falling for you, Stephanie Taysom. I think I might be in love with you.” Suddenly my stomach does a turn and I rush off to the bathroom again. Way to go, Taysom. He says he loves you, and you go and throw up.

What's wrong with this damn bra? Why does it hurt when I put it on? Is the underwiring broken? It feels like it's poking pins into my breasts. Goddamn. I take it off, look at the bra. Doesn't seem to be anything wrong. I adjust the underwire anyway, poke around at the inside. Is the fabric fraying? No. It's fine. I put it back on, but it's still like pins and needles.

Then it hits me.

I grab my phone do a quick search. 'Symptoms...'

Shit, shit, shit.

I run to the pharmacy. I miss the bus to school. I don't care. I keep running. I didn't know I could run this far. Wh'ould've thought it? I reach the pharmacy, grab at the shelf. Run to the till and pay.

“Do you have a bathroom?” I'm panicking now, my voice a whine.

“Right through there,” I barely see the pharmacist. I throw up one more time. This can't be right. I'm just panicking. God damn, this bra is itchy. Shit. I pee on the stick. It's a pink die test. They're the most reliable. I sit and wait. One little line or two.


I run out to the pharmacist and almost scream,

“What does this mean? What does this mean?”

“It means you'd better go see a doctor.”

Evan looks even more frightened than I am. We're sitting underneath a tree. It's providing a little shade, but the heat is palpable. As is the fear in his voice.

“You what in the what now?”

“Evan, listen to me. We didn't use a condom. That night on the piano.”

“You said that was your first time?”

“It was. I don't think that makes a difference, Evan. I dunno. It's happened though. Do you understand me?”

He's stammering,

“Well, well...are you sure it's mine?”

I start to cry,

“Fuck you, Evan.”

“Right, of course. Sorry. I'm just scared. That's all.”

“You're scared? I fucking terrified. I wanna pee my pants, but I'm scared something else might come out.”


“I'm not capable of rational thought. At least get that into your head.”

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.”

“Neither you nor I believe in an all-powerful deity. The only truth is right here. Under this tree. The only truth, is you, me, and this thing inside me.”

“You make it sound like an alien.”

“We have to talk about this. What are we going to do?” Suddenly, he stands up.

“Look, Steph. I gotta go. I gotta wrap my head around this. I gotta go. I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. I just need a moment to myself.”

He begins to jog away. The jog progresses into a run. A crushing fear weighs down on my. I literally fall flat on my stomach, as if pinned down. I quickly turn over, thinking about my stomach.

I call him. Five times. No reply. I call him again later. It's late. I'm in bed. I've left a hundred messages telling him to call me back.

I don't sleep much. The next morning, at the crack of dawn, I walk straight to his house. I'm still wearing the same clothes from the day before. Mum clearly didn't pay much attention when I came in; she's sleeping now. I ring the bell. I hammer the door. I think about screaming. But it's early. I sit there for two hours, counting the bugs that walk past. Every once in a while, I've stood up and banged the door some more. I had some embarrassing looks from the rat racers. Those people going to work, like today is any other day. I've had enough of this. I walk around the back of the house, pick up the biggest rock I can lift and hurl it through a window. I take off my shoe and use it as a glove, pushing away the remaining glass from the edges of the sill. I clamber up and in. Deathly quiet. I run through the house, screaming. I run upstairs, to that room. Our little cappuccino heaven. I see drawers open, wardrobe open, items thrown over the bedroom. His bag is gone. As are his shoes.

I scream as loudly as I can.

“Oh my god, no!”

I'm plodding back to my house. Of all the people, I see Regi walking towards my house, phone in hand, clearly plotting a course with GPS. He turns round,

“Ah, Steph, there you are! God, you look terrible. Anyway, it's the biology presentation today, and I noticed you weren't in school for first period. I know, I know. It's me being silly, but being accepted into Brown requires that people do silly things.” Finally, he notices that I'm not really listening,

“Steph, you really do look terrible. What's going on?” I almost collapse, and he catches me in his arms, I'm wailing, and moaning, and I can hardly stand, the tears, the terrible, terrible inner pain.

“Reg, why did you pick yellow wallpaper for your room? It looks hideous.”

“Thank you Reginald, for bringing me to your home, so I don't have to face my mother. Thank you for making me chicken soup.”

“Thank you, Reg. God, is this instant soup? Gross.” “Oh, for...”

“Reg, I'm kidding. I'm kidding. Thank you.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I...have no idea. At this point, I was supposed to be talking this out with Evan. That complete and utter bastard, that...”

“Calm. Breathe. Forget about him for a moment. What are you going to do?”

“Did you call Beth?”

“Yes, she's not answering. She'll be out of class by now. I don't know why her phone is switched off. Could be any number of reasons.”

“Wait, 'out of class by now'? What time is it?”

“It's about 1730. You've been asleep for quite a long time.”

“But...but...what did you do?”

“I've been here. You can't be trusted to be alone right now. You could've woken up. And then...I dunno.”

“But Reg, what about the biology presentation?”

“I'll make it up later.”

“But Reg, you know they don't let you retake these things. What about Brown?”

“It can wait. Brown isn't going anywhere. And neither is our biology teacher. I'll figure it out.

Now, stop dodging my question. What are you going to do?” “I can't have a baby. I'm going places. Any places. I'm going places. College. I dunno. If Evan and I had talked...I don't know. Oh my god, I don't know what to do. If my mum finds out, she'll...abandon me. Then I'll be all alone with a baby. Oh my god, Reg. Everyone will leave me. I'll be on the street, I'll...”

Reg catches me in an embrace.

“Calm. Breathe.”

I rest for a moment on his shoulder.

“I can't have a baby. I can barely keep it together myself. Evan's gone. I don't know when or even if he's coming back. I can't do this on my own.”

“So...what do you want to do?”


“What would you like to do, Stephanie? What do you need?”

“Will you take me to the clinic? Will you take me to the clinic and not judge me?”

“I'm not one of those types. You're rich and entitled and it would still be a bad idea for you to have a child. If you can't raise a child, then don't have a child. It's as simple as that.”

“Remind me never to introduce you to my mother.”

“Come on. Let's go.”

God, this is worse than before. He even brought me my own little sick bucket.

“Reg, when the pain stops, I'm changing your wallpaper, it's absolutely...Beth! Beth, where the fuck have you been?!” She falls down to her knees beside the bed, in floods of tears, “I'm so sorry, Steph. I'm so sorry. My phone ran out of power and I forgot to bring a charger to school. Oh my god, Steph. I'm so sorry.”

“Breathe. Calm.”

“Hey, that's my line. I suppose you're Beth, then. Hello Beth, I'm Reginald. But you can call me Reg.”

“What happened? Is she alright? Is she going to bleed to death? What did you do? Not a coat hanger, please.”

“Dear god, what kind of person do you think I am?”

“Beth, listen. He took me to the clinic. He held my hand. He sat with me when we talked to the doctor. It's just pills. Proper, safe, clean. Pills. Okay?” Beth can't speak from the crying.

“Look at this girl, Reg. You'd think she was the one who was ill.” Reg smiles and hands me a cup of cocoa.

At about midnight, Beth leaves. She begs to stay, but she stayed there on the floor, and she kept falling asleep. She held Reg firmly by the arms and ordered him to call her if anything happened. She wanted me to come with her, but I'm too weak, and it aches. It's easier if I stay here. I certainly can't go home. My mother might have one of her strange moments where she gives a crap where I am.

Reg is sitting with his back to me, hammering away at his desktop computer. He sighs and rubs his face with his hands. He turns off the screen and swivels round, looking at me.

“Reg, this is a single bed. Where are you gonna sleep? Do your parents know I'm here?” “I think so.”

“Are they gonna be mad?”

“No, they're probably pleased that I have a girl in my bedroom. They've been badgering me about finding a partner.”

“A 'partner'? Non gender specific?”

“My parents are both men. I'm a test tube baby. These sorts of things don't really matter in the grand scheme of things.”

“No, I suppose they don't.” I flop back onto the bed. I try to speak, but I'm suddenly overwhelmed with fatigue and fall immediately to sleep.

I wake up the next morning. Reg is still sitting in the chair. He's lying back looking at the ceiling. He does not look down.

“There's coffee on the bedside table.”

“Reg, where did you sleep?” No answer. “Reg, tell me where you slept.”

“Sorry, miles away. I haven't slept. You were groaning a lot in your sleep. I sat here to make sure you're okay.”

“Oh, Reg,” I get up and walk over to him, “Why is it always you who's looking after me?” I reach down and kiss him. I try to open my mouth more, ready to share tongues, but he gently pushes me away.

“Look, Steph. No. This isn't the way. Obviously, I like you. I've spent two solid nights of my life awake to look after you. But my actions don't come with a price. And I really don't want them too.”

“This isn't a price, Reg,” suddenly, I feel a cramp and stumble back to bed.

“Steph, look. You have unfinished business. I found him, Steph. I found him. He picked up the phone, because he didn't recognise the number. He's just outside.”


“He's sitting on the wall outside. I told him he could wait in the living room, but he insisted on being outside.”

“I'm going to talk to him,” I stand up again, determined, but stumble a little.

“Steph, please rest.”

“Stop mothering me, Reg. Kiss me or stop mothering me.”

“Steph...please don't go to home. Stay here with me.”

“What? What?”

“Oh...god...ignore me. I had a moment. Just go to him.”

I kiss Reg on the forehead and walk out the bedroom door.


“Call me Stephanie.”


“Lost for words now? You fucking bastard. Lost for fucking words? What the fuck? Who do you think you are, coming here like this, making Reg feel the way he feels, when he was the one who looked out for me, when he was the one their for me.”


“Actually, call me 'Steph'. I hate my name.”

“Can I talk now, Steph?”

“I'm not sure why I should fucking listen to you.”

“It was a terrible thing I did.”

“Too bloody right.”

“It was terrible. I'm so ashamed. So deathly ashamed. God, I can barely look at you now, knowing that I...” he's crying now, “knowing that I...left you...of all the times. Then.” “Why do you get to cry, Evan? Why the fuck do you get to cry?” He forced himself to stop. “I've done too much. I don't deserve you.”

“I kissed, Reg, Evan. I kissed him.”

“That's...that's good. He's a really good guy.”

“You keep saying that, but you don't know.”

“He's a really good guy.”

“I fucking know he is.”

“Then I should leave. I just came to say sorry. I'm sure you never want to see me again, and that's fine. I understand. I fucked up at exactly the wrong moment. I panicked when you needed me most. It's done. Go to him. He's...

“'A good guy'. I bloody know. But I can't go to him.”

“Steph, he obviously cares a lot about you.”

“Obviously. But I can't go to him.”


“Because I don't love him. I kissed him out of pity. I don't love him.”


“I love you, Evan.” “Stephanie...Steph...I...”

Can't believe I'm doing this. Standing out here in my fucking red pyjamas, telling this asshole this. I pull his head towards me. He falls off the wall and collapses onto the ground, sobbing. I have to crouch onto my knees to keep a hold of him.

“I don't deserve you, Steph.”

“Too bloody right, you don't.” I kiss his head. “Are you gonna fuck me over again?” “Never. Never again.”

“Are you gonna fuck me again?”


I kiss him full on. And he kisses me back. Things aren't the same. But they're in a different place. An honest place. I kiss him again and again.