Angela pushed her hair out of her eyes, and left her fingers on her temple. "I can't believe you really wrote that," she finally said.
"Well, so what? It's not like it matters anyway." Brian zipped up his knapsack and slung it over his shoulder.
"Nothing matters," Angela said on a little laugh. "Nothing ever matters."
"And, like, what does that mean? That suddenly you, like, started to read Nietzsche?" Brian pulled his gloves out of his coat pockets and tugged them onto his hands. He stared at Angela until she met his eyes, her fingers still on her head. "Or that, because the world is shit, suddenly you, like, realize that deep down, anal Brian Krakow has a poetic soul, or whatever? No thank you."
"Brian, I didn't mean it like that."
"Oh, really? Newsflash, Chase: nobody cares what you mean—people only care what you say and what you do. If nothing in the world matters, then what you mean matters the least."
Angela's eyes filled with tears, but Brian ignored them and walked out of the school. Fuck that. Fuck all of that. She was so stupid, all the time. And she didn't chase after him, and he didn't care.
Okay, maybe he cared a little.
"Brian?" His mother stuck her head into his room—without knocking, of course. Sometimes he thought about what would happen if he was masturbating, or smoking a joint, or doing something other than reading for his homework. She'd make a note in his file, of course, but would she say anything to him, or just tell him whatever she needed to, and then leave him to it.
He looked up at her from his calculus. "Yes, mom?"
"Angela Chase is here. Tell her not to stay too long—it's a school night. And you need your rest."
"Yes, mom." He brushed past her. Angela was standing at the door, her coat still on, hands in the pockets. He stared at her, but didn't say anything. Let her speak first. Bitch.
"So. I just. Like. Wanted to apologize for earlier." She looked down at the floor, and that pissed him off. Who did she think she was? Like an apology could fix anyway?
He kept staring at her.
"I mean." She pulled her hand out of her pocket and brushed at her hair, and all Brian wanted to do at that moment was shave her fucking head so she would just stop fiddling with her hair all the time. God. "Like. It was just. Like."
"God, Angela, what? Just say it and then leave. I'm in the middle of calculus," he snapped.
She looked taken aback, and he couldn't understand why. It was like all he'd done in the past six months when he wasn't making an ass out of himself was yell at her. And, like, talk to Rickie Vasquez. And help Jordan Catalano. So what was surprising about this?
God. She was so dumb. But pretty. And she smelled nice. And she used to be a good person, before her obsession with Jordan Catalano like. Took over her life. But Brian had meant the letter. Every word. Except. It was like. Writing the letter stripped all the feelings out of him, and now he didn't care about making an ass out of himself in front of her, or hurting her feelings, or any of it. Why should he? The worst that could happen had already happened—she knew how he felt and thought it was beautiful and was touched by it and fell in love with his words, and chose someone else anyway.
"Brian." She sighed, then said his name again. "I am sorry that I hurt you, and—"
"No," he said, and again she looked startled, and he frowned. "No. you're not sorry you hurt me. you're sorry that I wrote the letter, because you wanted Jordan to feel that way about you—not just to, like, tell you he felt the way the letter said he felt, but to, like, talk to you about it. But you don't care about my feelings."
"That's not true," she said, and he heard the whine in her voice, her irritation that he would dare question her words. But he knew that she lied, lied all the time, lied about everything to everyone—especially to herself.
So he kept pressing, when maybe a few months ago, he wouldn't have, because he would have felt too badly about making her feel badly. "Oh no? If feelings mattered so much, you wouldn't still be with Jordan. But it's not about just feelings. It can't be, can it? Nothing ever is."
He stopped, watched her push her hair back again, flexed his fists. He felt powerful—but he always did when he stood up to Angela, even if five minutes later, he let her walk all over him and treat him however she wanted.
He knew his parents would have special psychologist words for it, and he could even guess at which words they'd use, because he knew them all himself, but he preferred the crude vernacular: hopeless crush.
Maybe he hadn't, like, totally scoured his feelings out by putting them into words.
She was opening her mouth again, but he beat her to it. "I am totally sick of this, and all your stupid rationalization," he said. "Go home. Or. Like. Go to Jordan's. Or whatever. I can't even, like, look at you right now." Her mouth was red and trembling, and her skin was pale against her coat, but he knew if he turned the right way, she'd just look sallow and tired like everyone else.
He didn't wait around for a response. For the second time that day, he turned his back on Angela Chase and walked away. He closed the door to his room—and didn't slam it—and mentally patted himself on the back for handling that so well, before he realized he was crying.
He let his head bang into the door. "Totally hopeless," he murmured.
Brian was walking, walking… No—he was running! Running! Through green and blue—first through the sky, his feet falling through sticky clouds of cotton candy, his sneakers squelching into wet sugar with every step, but he was wearing boots, heavy boots, with cold toes, and he was being dragged to the bottom of the ocean and he couldn't breathe. There was a concrete block on his chest, pressing him into planks of wood, and a fat man peered at him and pointed a gun at his forehead and turned into Mr. Katimsky, and he woke up, harshly, sitting up in bed, the covers falling off, fighting for air, sweating and—someone else was in his bed.
"Argh!" he yelped, and pulled the covers up over his body.
"Brian?" Angela blinked her eyes sleepily, rubbed fists over them, blinked again.
"Angela?" His voice squeaked embarrassingly in the middle of her name. He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them.
"Brian!" She put a hand on his knee, and he noticed that she was chewing her nails again. He scowled. He was not supposed to notice that sort of thing. Nor was he supposed to think that her chewed up nails were nicer than the plain, neat nails she'd been sporting for weeks. It was like the chewed up nails were totally old Angela Chase, and the plain nails with the clear polish or gloss or whatever. They were totally new Angela Chase, Jordan's Angela Chase. The girl who went to Let's Bolt with Rayanne Graff and cut class all the time and never showed up for geometry review.
He hated that Angela Chase. It all made sense in his head.
"I wanted to tell you that I am. You know. Sorry. And that you're totally right—totally. About the feelings." She moved her hand to his thigh, and then she was on top of him and he knew she was naked under her clothes, and all that separated them was his blanket, because he had been sleeping naked, and she was touching him.
"I'm sorry," she whispered into his ear, then licked it, and he shuddered. "Can you ever forgive me?"
She licked his neck near his earlobe, and her fingers were running through his curls, and she pressed her hips to his. Suddenly she wasn't, like, the Angela Chase he knew. She was this different entity, this person he had never thought of before. Like that day when they talked about how girls think about sex—that was weird. That was a different Angela. Angela never thought about sex. She wore plaid. And bit her nails. And had brown hair. This Angela, sexy sexual Angela, her hair was glowing, bright red, a halo, and she pressed her lips to his.
"Brian? Did you hear me?" Angela's voice was sharper. "God, Brian, are you, like, sleeping in class? That's totally—are you okay?"
He blinked his eyes open, and took a deep breath. The classroom was emptying, and the person running the eraser over the board wasn't Mr. Katimsky, but a substitute. Brian's mind clicked over, and he woke up. He felt sick, his head pounded. The light streaming through the windows on the side of the classroom hurt his eyes.
He squinted at Angela, looked down to her nails. He could still feel the pressure of her lips on his.
"Chase. Did you want something?" He wanted to rub his mouth, to make sure he hadn't drooled, but didn't. Absolutely not.
"I just wanted to say that I'm sorry. I know that you don't believe me, and that's fine, but I am. I totally am. Everything is so fucked up, and—well. Whatever. It's not like it matters. So whatever. I'll see you later." She rolled her eyes and shook her head and walked out of the door. Her hair was fading back to brown, all the red dye losing its luster.
He watched her walk away, stop and talk to Rickie for a minute at the door, kiss him on the cheek.
"Hey, Brian. What are you doing for dinner? I'm going to make soup for Richard because he's not feeling well and—what's going on? You look like you were just hit in the face." Rickie sat down at the desk next to Brian's.
"I just. Had a weird dream." Brian rubbed his hand over his face, paying careful attention to his mouth and chin area. No drool, thankfully. "What kind of soup?"
"I don't know—chicken? Lentil?"
"I could make some matzo balls," Brian offered. "I know how."
"What's a matzo ball?" Rickie raised his eyebrows.
Brian sighed and shrugged, and pulled his bag off his desk. "It's like. Eggs and ground up pieces of matzoh and pepper."
"Sounds good. And by good I mean possibly kind of gross, but we can have them anyway." Rickie jumped off the desk and followed Brian to the door. "Hey, I saw you talking to Angela. Did she tell you? She broke up with Jordan this morning!"
"What?" Brian stopped short. "What? Like. Why would she do that? I thought she was so into him."
Rickie shrugged and pulled open the classroom door. "She said her feelings weren't right. I dunno. You try getting more out of her. She's hanging out with Rayanne today, I think. Maybe he cheated on her again. Whatever it was, Rayanne will find out. You know Angela."
"Yeah, I guess I do." Brian followed Rickie out of the classroom and let the door swing shut behind him.
Okay, or maybe not so hopeless after all.