Bandages have never been in fashion, so you can give me all the credit if they are now. I walked to school with a thick cream band wrapped tightly around my head like the dirty scum line of the pans in the sink. It pushed my hair in every direction so that even tying it in a low ponytail was more hassle than it was worth. I let the brunette strands hang loose.
"Ooh! You took some whack, huh?" smirked Kelsie as I rounded the school gates. She waited for me every morning, in case there were any boys from the other schools up the road walking past to ogle at her. So, when I say she waited for me, she didn’t.
"Morning, to you too, Kels."
"Ah, come on, Gen! It was a joke! I'm sorry." She said 'joke' like her tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth. That made me feel better.
It transpired that I had passed out at the dance. Before home time. I know. I was tested for alcohol and drugs and everything was clear, so save the ambulance for another day. The matron suggested that all I needed was bed rest. Matron was a stocky lady with blonde permed hair and an appetite for boiled cabbage. She smelt of it and all. She was known to everyone as 'matron' and it was almost inconceivable that she should have another name, like Judy or Helen. And it wasn't mah-trohn or mat-rohn, it was mayh-troon. That's just how our school said it.
Though I can't imagine that matron would have taken me home, it would have been better than my mum coming to fetch me from the school dance. I didn’t have to imagine that. From a few of the calls I got as I walked through the playground, I knew mum had stepped up to the plate.
"So, who did you go home with after the dance then?" I asked Kelsie, waiting to hear the story with an open mind.
She raised her finger. "Well-"
Do you ever have those moments when, if the right person is talking, you lose yourself, so much so that you find yourself? You just zone out. You don't listen but you hear the hum-drum of their voice right in your ear. That's what it's like with Kelsie. I take her along with me to our 'hanging out' session because when she's talking, it's the only way I can really lose myself and find something. And, she doesn't seem to mind. Not many people will listen to her the way I do anyway.
"Mmm, hmmm," I nodded as she finished off.
"Come on, don't joke me, Genoa. I know you weren't listening." She had a care-free ease about her that I loved. I felt like I could never disappoint her or upset her with anything I ever said, or did.
"I was too!"
"No, you weren't! I could see it all over your squinty little face!"
"Ok, you got me," I caved lightly.
She gave me a hard shove on the shoulder then caught me as I fell.
"So, if you weren't listening to me ..." she began, again. "Then, who were you thinking about?"
I wasn't about to admit that it had been a guy and one guy in particular, at that.
I always wondered to myself what it would be like to feel and think of nothing. When dad died, Grandma told me that she felt empty. She felt nothing. What would it be like to feel nothing? And, how could you want to feel nothing when there was so much to feel?
Or, maybe, everyone feels nothing. And then they fill the nothing with something so they forget that they every felt of nothing. Maybe I was already thinking about nothing. A nothing so full of nothing that it felt like something. A nothing so Kevin-shaped that it could start to turn into a something type of nothing at any minute.
"Yeah, right! I know who it was," Kelsie retorted.
"Yeah? Well, it wasn't him."
"So it was him!" she squealed. "Do you like him? Do you, do you?"
I didn't know the answer myself. Did I like him? I guess, to like someone you'd have to know them. And what did it mean to know someone? Did I know Kevin as much as I thought I knew him? How much more did I need to know about him before I knew him and, therefore, was eligible to like him, if that was even what I wanted to do.
I was working on a way to put this to Kelsie when Hannah slunk behind us, slapping Kelsie on her butt and laughing as Kelsie blushed like a sundried pimiento pepper and looked frantically behind her like a fish in a shark feeding frenzy.
She threw an "Oh hey!" at me as she caught up to walk on my right side. "Nice bandage, if you like that sort of thing, I guess."
Hannah: urban for 'the fashion obsessed and socially unaware'.
"I saw Hilary Duff wear something like that once," she continued. "Was it her? Or ... oh no, it was that skinny bitch that's dating that super cute guy! Ugh, he so doesn't deserve her-"
"And I suppose he deserves you?" chided Kelsie.
"Well, I'm just saying. If he came my way, I mean, I wouldn't say no but-"
I was scanning the hallway. So many people were passing. Folders in arms, books in arms, girls in arms. Where was he? And what, I pictured, with every sad semi-obsessed thought, was he carrying in his arms?
Kelsie and Hannah had begun to get rowdy at my side and it was just as well that the classroom door came so soon since it stopped them getting their fists out.
Isn't it funny how no one wants to be in school, but it's the only way a person can be free in this world? You feel trapped and bored but education is meant to be the one thing that gives you the freedom to make whatever you want of your life. Without it, there are hardly any things that you can do because you want to do them.
Monday morning in double maths was the last place I had wanted to be and it didn’t help that I had a whacking great headache. I'd already pleaded mum for the day off, but it was Mark's day off, so I couldn't stay. Mark doesn't have a job, so when I say 'day off' what I really mean is the day that he decides he's done with visiting the job centre and gives it a miss.
I didn't want to be in school ever, never mind this day and it most probably would've helped if I wasn't there because every teacher in the school knew that I was failing. I met every exam with resistance and every paper came back to me marked D or lower. I didn't want to be in school. I wanted to do something with my life and be done with education already. When Kelsie and I went out to sit on bridges or towers with our feet dangling over the edge and she talks about some boyfriend or another, all I'm trying to do is find myself. I think, when I find that, I can find what I was meant to do with my life. It needs to be something.
I sent a text to Kelsie.
Skate Park today?
The skate park, in fact, wasn't a skate park at all anymore. It was just a block of concrete marking the edge of what had once been a haven for all kinds of children in the area. But then a landslide took it away and all that was left was one ramp that overlooked the sea. Nobody went there after that. No one but us.
She thumbed her way through the keys. I can't, dad's taking me to get a tutor!!
My eyes bulged as I pulled a face of disgust.
Ew! Too bad my dad's dead and my mum doesn't ask for the copies of my papers.
She laughed. I know! Seriously, you're so lucky.
I had begun to think that my brain was hurting from too much maths but as the day went on, my head became more and more sore. It was beating its own rhythm in my temples and I kept closing my eyes. When I opened them everything would be hazy and spots would appear to float out in front of me. Each time I would grab Kelsie to hold me upright.
"Hey!" she gasped one time as I fell into her. "Hey, look! It's ..." She paused to see if anyone was in hearing range. "It's Kevin."
I slapped her. I was almost convinced that she'd said that to make me quit fooling around but she was right. It was him. He was there, right in front of me, reaching into his locker. He was as beautiful as I remembered, even better.
But I had to stop. It was ridiculous to think that something could come of one night at the dance. We danced together, sure, but it didn't mean anything, did it? People did that all the time, didn't they?
"Shut up. I don't like him, Kels, and you better start believing me."
"Ok," she said, clawing her teeth at a rosy apple that she'd just pulled from her pocket. As we walked closer, she swallowed with half the mushed apple still in her mouth and said: "I'll take him myself."
I had to smile to myself but I handed it to her.
"You can have him."
We were right in front of him now, so close that I could almost feel the warmth of that Friday night and smell the aftershave. I didn't have the heart to walk straight past him. I had to be normal, didn't I?
I hugged my folder closer to my chest and smiled at him as I passed but it didn’t register with him. His expression had removed most of the kindness from his face. It was different. He looked white and scared and just as Michael Asphalt came to tap him on the shoulder, he jumped. He began shoving books into his locker and jamming the loose pages that fell out into random books.
"I can't do it," he whispered in agitation, to Michael. "I can't do it."
Kelsie couldn't contain her excitement as we walked past. "So hot!" she squealed. "Gen, you got'a do it! You just have to or someone else will get in there before you."
Maybe it was just the thumping in my head, but I didn't feel it.
"Didn't you see? He didn't care." I shrugged, and then quickly added. "So, whatever. I didn’t even like him."
Kelsie stood in front of me and held me tight with her hand that was holding neither a folder nor half eaten apple. She peered into my eyes.
"Not even a little?"
"Not even a little."
That was what was so great about Kelsie. A matter could be settled if I said so. And, today, I said so. Because I wasn't about to go and get hooked on a guy that meant nothing over a night that meant even less.