"Hey there, Krakow." Rayanne hijacked him, totally hijacked him, when he came out of calculus, and then, like, walked with him down the hall to his locker. Like, what?
Every time he saw Rayanne he felt a little bit ashamed. She was, like, weird. And a drug addict or whatever. Alcoholic. And she'd slept with Jordan but she wouldn't sleep with Brian, because, like, why? He was too much of a loser, or whatever, so that's fine, but it wasn't, like, fair of him to resent her for that. Because at least she was, like, honest.
Not like Angela.
Brian slammed his locker open.
"So? Like -- like what already, Graff?" he said impatiently, and ignored the hurt look on her face. "Like, you've been talking to me for five minutes, and all you've been like is -- whatever."
"Hey, Krakow," said Rayanne. She unwrapped a lollipop and tucked it into her cheek. "Like, whatever. I just thought, you know, now that you and Jordan, you know –"
"What?" said Brian. The first bell rang. He slammed his locker shut -- okay, like way harder than he'd meant to, but he was kind of angry -- and turned toward Rayanne. "What?"
"So, like, no one even asked you?" Rayanne started to laugh. Her tongue was, like, permanently purple from all the lollipops. Brian wondered if that was, like, an AA trick, to, like, suck on something every time she wanted a drink. He couldn't remember seeing them before she started going to the counselor.
He wasn't supposed to know about that, but, like, whatever.
Or maybe he just hadn't been paying attention.
"No one asked me. No one told me. No one," he added under his breath, "tells me, like, anything."
Rayanne's laughter got louder. Brian held his books tighter -- like Things Fall Apart would somehow swallow him and save him from, like, life.
"So, like –" said Rayanne, gasping for breath. People were starting to stare -- but she was Rayanne, so they were probably, like, staring at her talking to Brian Krakow, geek extraordinaire. "So –"
"So?" said Brian. "I have to get to class."
"Oh, no, I can't," said Rayanne. She turned and started walking away, and the second bell rang.
"What can't you do?" he yelled, and even though he, like, blushed or whatever, and people, like, turned to look at him for real, he didn't, like, regret it.
Printing photographs during yearbook. Cherski had looked at him and, like, clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth, and she said, "So, like. Are you okay, Brian?" and then sent him into the darkroom because they needed pictures of seniors for something he didn't quite, like, catch - and he'd swear she was, like, sympathetic or something, like everyone in the world knew that Brian was a big loser who couldn't get Rayanne to sleep with him -- or, like, whatever -- and he'd totally screwed things up with Delia, and even though Angela knew that it had been Brian and not Jordan who'd written her that letter, she still wanted Jordan more.
Maybe they all thought he was pining away for, like, an unnamed girl in, like, the Niagra Falls area or something.
On the Canadian side, because that's where the best view always was.
With naturally red hair -- no, dark brown hair, kind of sandy, like Angela's used to be. Because Brian, like -- he totally always hated that Angela dyed her hair red.
But blue eyes. Brown hair and blue eyes. Canadian.
Did Canadians even have blue eyes?
Lunch, finally. Brian took Shakespeare and went into the caf and found a corner. Could it have been, like, louder in there? Usually he looked for Rickie, and he totally wanted to know what Rayanne didn't want to tell him -- but, like, sometimes he just needed to be alone with Othello and Iago or whatever.
Okay, more like sometimes he just didn't, like, want to listen to Rayanne or Rickie or, like, anyone talk about Angela and Jordan.
He pulled out his sandwich and pulled Othello closer and, like, got really angry. Not at his sandwich -- no, that was perfect -- but at, like, life.
So -- like -- how was he, like, supposed to -- like.
Like, how was Brian ever supposed to get anywhere if he kept tripping over Angela Chase? It wasn't even, like, fair to blame her because it was his own fault. Maybe that was why everyone was acting so weird or whatever.
Of course, at Liberty High, even "weird" would be a step closer to normal -- because they were all, like, totally fucked up.
Brian said it out loud: FUCKED UP.
"So, like, what? What did the sandwich ever do to you?" asked Rickie, and Brian, like, brought his eyes back into focus or whatever and said, "Uh, hi," and realized he was totally, like, mangling his roast beef-and-mayo.
"So, like." Rickie shifted his weight. He was wearing his heavy coat, his bag on his shoulder, fingerless gloves, another bag in his hands. "So Rayanne, like, got some Chinese food? From Tino? And now she can't, like, eat it. Do you wanna?"
Brian looked from his sandwich to Rickie and stood up. Like, time alone? Was totally overrated.
"So, like, I have this big crush on Jordan, right? I mean -- like -- not the kind that, like, Angela has or whatever, but just. Like. You know." Rickie paused for a mouthful of fried rice. They were in "Rich -- I mean, Mr. Katimsky"'s classroom because he was, like, doing something else, and it was totally cold outside.
Brian didn't really like fried rice anyway -- and it was, like, pork. Like, hello? But Rickie had been nice to offer or whatever, and Brian's sandwich was totally ruined, so Brian just ate around the meat bits. Which wasn't hard, because he could only pick up one grain of rice at a time with the chopsticks Rickie had given him. And, like, once? He managed to get a piece of egg all the way to his mouth. But only once.
"And," Rickie continued, "who doesn't have a crush on Jordan, you know? It's. Like. The way he's always, like, leaning? Against stuff? You know? Angela said that once. It was total poetry."
"Right," said Brian. "I mean, I guess I never really thought about it."
Rickie raised his eyebrows and paused and Brian shifted. Rickie was sitting on the desk with his legs crossed, and Brian was in Mr. Katimsky's chair. And that felt weird -- or, like, felt like something, anyway.
"Right," Rickie finally said -- and, like, dragged it out for like three syllables. "So I am, like, totally jealous of Angela, of course. Like, they hold hands in the hallway! But she's, like, entirely focused on Jordan? And that's... not cool? You know? Like, the letter? And everything? Like... You know?"
"Wait, what does that mean? Right? What does that mean?" demanded Brian. "Because, like, whatever you're implying or whatever? Like -- I am really happy for Angela or whatever, okay? Because –"
"Come on, Brian." Rickie rolled his eyes and took more rice into his mouth perfectly and Brian felt, like, resolved to learn how to use chopsticks -- like, once he found out what Rickie was talking about.
"No, really." Brian frowned into the box and put down the chopsticks. He wasn't even hungry anymore. "What are you -- what are you even talking about? You're not even, like, speaking a language I understand!"
"Well, like. There's a rumor? Going around? That, like -- that you, like, and Jordan? And that's why you, like, wrote the letter." Rickie looked as uncomfortable as Brian felt.
"Well, yeah -- Jordan -- I mean. What? What?" Brian stopped, because what Rickie hadn't said was, like, sinking in or whatever. "Like, wait."
"Yeah," said Rickie, and took another mouthful of rice. "Are you going to eat any of this meat?"
"So. Like. You're not a fag?" asked Kyle and Brian just looked at him. He'd dated Cherski, and, like, she broke up with him, Brian remembered. Or, like, broke up twice and got back together? There was, like, so much stuff inside his head. It was amazing he retained anything else.
Kyle elbowed him, and knocked him into the wall. "Weird," he said, and one of his friends hit Brian upside the head as they passed.
"Whatever," said Brian.
"So. Like." Jordan dropped into the seat across from Brian. Brian hadn't even though he'd come. That took -- that took, like, courage. Or maybe it took, like, nothing at all. Maybe Jordan didn't even, like, care. Or notice. Or whatever. Maybe he didn't even, like, realize anything was wrong.
Well, because why would he? He never even, like, looked at Angela when they walked down the hall together. He always looked at the people who were, like, standing against their lockers.
"So, like." Brian stopped. "So, like, okay. Where are we?"
"Angela said you weren't going to, you know. Like. Tutor me anymore? Or something." Jordan stretched his legs out and leaned back in his chair.
"Obviously she's wrong, or whatever," said Brian. "Like -- you didn't stop needing help just because now you have, like, a girlfriend."
"She's not, like, my girlfriend. It doesn't work like that."
"Right," said Brian, and kind of felt, like, a lump in his throat, or whatever, and was annoyed. "So whatever. It's not like you don't still, like, need me." He immediately felt really stupid, like his words had two meanings and Jordan would, like, misunderstand and think he was saying something else, when he just meant that Jordan still couldn't, like, read. But anyone could, like, pick up on the double, like, entendre. Anyone -- anything -- would.
Jordan, like, smiled a little. "Yeah," he said. "Totally." Brian blinked. Maybe not.
"Okay." Brian pulled out a pencil. He wished -- but only, like, briefly -- that it was, like, a gun. But he wouldn't know what to do with a gun and it wasn't like the 1980s anymore. He wouldn't just get, like, Saturday detention. If Liberty High even had Saturday detention -- which he very much, like, doubted. Pennsylvania wasn't, like, Illinois.
Bringing a gun to school would mean, like, getting expelled.
Brian couldn't go to jail. Not even if it meant he could kill Jordan Catalano. He'd, like, die.
Besides, it was all the fault of Angela Chase. Angela Chase and her stupid hair.
"So, Catalano," said Brian, and Jordan opened his eyes and sat up. "Let's get started." He put the pencil on the desk between them.
That night his mother made pot roast, and it wasn't, like, bad, but Brian wanted, like, Chinese food or something. He speared a potato and examined it.
"So," he began. "Like."
"Yes?" said his mother, and he bit his tongue. Her plate was, like, sectioned. Beef in one section and beans in another and potatoes in another and onions in another, and every forkful had a bit of everything on it. Perfectly compartmentalized. His father was the same, but without any beans. He'd had, like, a green vegetable childhood trauma.
"Nothing," said Brian, and looked down at his own plate.
"Brian," said his father warningly. "What did you want from your mother?"
He could totally ask his parents. He could be like, "So, like, everyone at school, like, thinks I'm gay, and that my crush on Angela Chase -- which is, like, really embarrassing anyway, and was totally embarrassing before everyone found out about it, but now that everyone, like, knows or whatever, it's, like, humiliating -- is like a big front. Because I am, like, secretly in love with her boyfriend who isn't really her boyfriend because he doesn't really think she's his girlfriend because she won't sleep with him. But when he, like, talks about how she won't sleep with him? He kind of sounds, like, relieved or something. Like maybe he doesn't, like, want to sleep with her -- which is, like, weird, because Catalano is always, like, thinking about sex. Well, sex and music. And you know, is it kind of. Like. Kind of gay that I know all this?"
And his father could say, "Well, Brian, is it like they all think you're gay, or do they really think you're gay?"
And his mother would be like, "Well, Brian, from a very early age, you did gravitate toward pastel colors."
And then his parents would, like, have an argument about childhood decision patterns, and his father would take Freud's side and his mother would take Jung's side, and then there'd be no, like, dessert or whatever. Until, like, after it was already time for Brian to go to bed anyway.
Brian looked from his mother to his father and then back down to his plate. "I, uh." They were, like, expectant. They were, like, paying attention. They were, like, almost interested or whatever.
Brian cleared his throat.
"I was just debating, um, whether or not to. Um. Have more green beans." He gestured to his plate, empty of green beans, because he always ate them first. And his plate? Was, like, really not compartmentalized at all.
"Well, Brian," said his mother, her face looking all wrinkled in the dim dining room light, "of course you may!"
"Hrph," said his father.
"So, like." Rayanne leaned her head against his locker. "Hey, Krakow."
"Hey, Graff." Brian waited for her to move.
Her lollipop clicked against her teeth as she switched cheeks. "Rickie tells me that you're not. Like. You know."
"You knew that already," said Brian. "We, like -- you know. We! Together!"
"How would I know? Really, Krakow. You're cracking." Rayanne laughed at her own joke.
"Can you, like, please move?" said Brian, and Rayanne stepped away from his locker, still smiling.
"Here they come," she said in a near-whisper, and Brian turned, like, involuntarily.
He, like, wasn't going to turn round. Because, like, he knew what they looked like. But it was, like, force of habit.
Angela had redyed her hair. It was, like, flaming. She was staring at Jordan. Of course she was staring at Catalano. Why wouldn't she be? And Catalano, he was, like, looking around. As usual.
"He's looking at you," whispered Rickie from Brian's other side, and clutched Brian's coat.
Rayanne's lollipop clicked against her teeth.
Brian kind of like held his breath or whatever, but not on purpose. Just because, like, the moment seemed to call for it. He let his bag fall off his shoulder, and it hung from the tips of his fingers.
"Later?" mouthed Jordan at Brian, and Brian nodded. Like, it had kind of looked like a question or whatever.
"In love," said Rayanne. "How sweet."
Rickie sighed and let go of Brian's sleeve.
Brian let his eyes closed, and, like, slammed his head against his locker. Or, like, almost did anyway, but kind of, like, stopped at the last minute, because it would, you know, like, hurt.