Updated: Oct 8, 2021
(Beauty And The Beast 1)
Content and cover photo © Rosalie Thorne
Editor: Kathryn Maurer
By Rosalie Thorne
“True that he’s no Prince Charming
but there’s something in him
that I simply didn’t see.”
- Beauty And The Beast (1991)
The sun’s quite a bit lower in the sky, thanks to Daylight Saving Time, and it throws off Izzy’s internal clock as she sits in seventh period AP British Literature. Finished with the latest test earlier than most of her classmates, her mind is left to consider her surroundings. The ticking of the slightly askew analog clock above the three panel whiteboard, the ever so subtle flicker of the fluorescent lights protruding from the tiled ceiling, and the curling steam rolling off of Misses Beaumont’s tea. As Izzy ever so cautiously looks around the room under the pretense of stretching her arms, she notices only one other student looking as bored as she is: Adam Benson.
On the very first day of senior year, Izzy found herself among friends in so many of her classes. Having spent the three previous years with almost all of the same people in Advance classes, then Honors, now AP, everyone around her cares about the pursuit of knowledge, not only caring about their grades, but more so about learning the subject matter. From their classes, to fleshing out their spare time to look good on college applications, and even taking on internships in the city, Izzy found that like hangs around with like - except for Adam Benson.
Adam Benson is a smoker – even on school campus, a party-goer who is known for ‘holding his own’ when it comes to alcohol, a student who vanished in the middle of eighth grade only to start ninth grade a year and a half later (rumors say: juvi), and an overall loner. He doesn’t have ‘like’ to be ‘like’ with. And yet, there he is, with an almost identical schedule to Izzy’s (always sitting in the back corner, looking like he’s not paying attention) – she even sees him going to band while she’s in the neighboring chorus room. And yet, and this simply sends Izzy’s mind spinning, his GPA is the one she has to fight against for Valedictorian.
His icy eyes meet hers for a second and she whips back to attention, her heart racing and cheeks warming.
A smirk spreads as the corner of his mouth lifts as he watches Isabelle’s long brown curls bounce as she turns faster than an ice-skater. Her hazel eyes come to find his almost every test day, even if it’s a pop quiz. She, like so many of her peers, doesn't understand how someone… well, someone like him can be so intelligent. No one ever said a loser loner can’t have a mind of his own, right?
Perhaps loser or loner is a strong term, but it’s one Adam is fine with. He’s fine being alone, he’s fine coming to school like it’s a job – putting in the time and effort and then leaving. There’re plenty of people who do the same and not once hang-out with their co-workers outside of business hours. He has too much on his plate, anyways.
This being said, Adam’s gut drops when Misses Beaumont calls for everyone’s attention with her ‘play nice’ voice. “As I reminded you on Monday, part of your end of term project requires peer-to-peer reflection and cooperation… meaning I’ve spent the past week figuring out the most beneficial pairs for you all so that I’m not left with a bunch of buddy-buddy goofing off or one-sided teams which is simply unfair.”
Adam is among the majority who groan. In his peripheral, he notices Isabelle sit up a little straighter and smile at her best friend, Phil.
Their teacher sighs as she bounces the tea-bag in her cup. “I have made a list of partners for every single one of my classes since the beginning of my teaching career and not once have I ever let students trade partners. Furthermore, if you even try to object or go behind my back and switch outside of school, believe me I will find out and you will be given quite a lot of extra coursework.
“And no, Miss Everson, that will not be extra credit but go against your final grade for the semester.”
She sets her teacup on the saucer and turns slightly to slip out a piece of paper from the binder spread across her desk. “All right-y then,” and she starts with the first pairing. More than half-way down, Adam’s brain registers his name and then a stern, “and Isabelle O’Hara.”
More upset that he has to have a partner at all, Adam finds himself rubbing his face, shaking his head with a gutted exhale, and crossing his arms. The one thing he doesn’t realize is that in his exasperation, he gave Izzy the dirtiest look. One of, ‘Are you freaking kidding me,’ mixed with a dash of, ‘So help me God!’ All of this she sure as hell notices and for the first time feels a sort of intimidation when it comes to the project at hand. Perhaps not because of a project with books – it’s the books she can handle, but people… people, on the other hand, can be quite the handful.
And quite the surprise.
Fiery leaves twist and curl on the Autumn wind, their colors shining in the golden afternoon sunlight. It’s quite unfair for the library to have a wall of windows to showcase that just about everything outside is vastly more appealing and entertaining than anything in this school building. Dry and stale heat is pumped through the vents as well, making it stifling and suffocating to Adam. Dark brown leather jacket slung across the corner of the table, navy scarf fallen to the floor, white cotton sleeves pushed up as far as they can go, he’s practically chugging from his thermos that he filled with the lukewarm tap water from the library fountain.
He hasn’t even bothered opening the only mufti-subject spiral notebook he uses since Isabelle is typing rather rapidly into her Chromebook… which is kind of the only thing that makes this bearable. He hates the heat, he hates his peers, and he hates the not-so-quiet quiet with the hum of the computer bar behind them. But mostly? He hates that Isabelle practically stalked him to his locker and forced him to come to the library. Meaning he wasn’t able to get to his car on the far edge of the senior parking lot... meaning he wasn’t even able to have one freakin’ cigarette.
But, as he scratches at his temple, at least his doesn’t have to use his already aching hand to write. Ever since his accident at the end of summer, his thumb hasn't been the same and it’s just a constant pain that never seems to go away unless he’s asleep. Not that he would complain, slicing his hand open was his own fault, but Christ… he’s too young to be so old.
He blinks a few times, “Sorry?”
Isabelle’s hazel eyes are more green than brown today. Her long lashes are slightly lowered as she doesn’t look straight at him, rather at his left shoulder. “I was just asking if you think King Arthur And His Knights Of The Round Table would be suitable for this project. I believe most of our classmates will go for something by Shakespeare, probably Chaucer, maybe even Harry Potter since Misses Beaumont put J.K. Rowling on her syllabus.”
Leaning forward on his forearms he asks “And you don’t like Harry Potter?” a bit dramatically.
Taking him too seriously, she responds with a fluttered “Well, no – I mean, I love Harry Potter, don’t get me wrong. I grew up with Harry, like, just about everyone else in our generation. But, for the class,” she clears her throat a little, “we’re not getting to King Arthur until next semester so it might actually be…”
She finally smiles softly, “your word, not mine.”
He nods. “So it might actually be ‘impressive’ if we use something we haven’t covered yet?” And that’s the thing a lot of people don’t know about Adam, not only is he intelligent, he’s smart. He usually, generally, knows where a conversation is headed (sometimes well) before the other person gets there. Adam’s eyes drift out the window again. “Let’s go for a walk.”
“A walk… outside. They say fresh air is good for us, right?”
But it’s clear Izzy doesn’t quite understand his train of thought. Of course, she’s sweating through her under-wire in this ridiculously overheated library and of course, her knee has been bouncing since she sat down and of course, her eyes keep looking at how beautiful an afternoon it is – knowing there’s maybe only a week or two before snow comes, but there’s an unwanted and perhaps irrational irk from his statement. If she’s honest with herself, she wants her first thought to be that he was trying to hit on her, but her real first thought is that he must obviously want to go outside to smoke.
“How about we just call it a day? All we really needed to do was decide the subject of our paper and presentation so… seeing as that’s handled…. Well, we can just meet back here Monday?”
Attitude a bit blackened, Adam shrugs and stands. “Cool.”
Izzy didn’t mean to offend him or upset him in any way but when she opens her mouth to apologize, her hand reaching across the table, Adam already has his blue and grey striped scarf wrapped around his neck and he has turned to leave. Slumping back in her chair, she lets out the breath she didn’t know she was holding.
Would it have been so bad to just take a walk?
“Mornin,’ Papa!” Izzy calls from inside the kitchen as she hears her father enter from the garage.
He crosses the threshold from the den to the dining nook, lifting the Dunkin’ Donuts box triumphantly. “They had the ones you like so much! The vanilla covered ones! Finally, after what…three weeks of just glazed?”
She stands on her toes to kiss him on the cheek and rub his back slowly. “Did they have your favorite as well? The chocolate on chocolate monstrosities?”
He chuckles and gives her a one-arm hug. “But, of course! Can’t go a Saturday without it, now can I?”
She offers him a mock-serious face. “I’d think not! How would you survive?”
How they did survive, though, were moments like these. The special little routines and tradition they formed over the years. Left with just each other and their endlessly energetic dog, Chippy, Izzy and her father, Tony, had found comfort in their little home. A little cottage of a farmhouse on the outskirts of the town, just big enough for them, the cow, and the chickens.
Izzy had taken it upon herself to decorate the place, making it feel like the very few memories she had or the stories he told of her mother, Lindy. Somehow she had made the cottage feel like home and yet also like a place she longed to visit. Not only have the bookcases long given up on their job, countless books finding their way to simple piles on the floor, Izzy had made it an adventure to find items from antique stores, thrift shops, and yard sales to fill the space with even more stories.
Just because it is a little life, doesn’t mean it’s any less important or full. Yes, there’s so much more out there - like a student visa for a university in England as she plans to get to finish her bachelor’s after her AA – but if it wasn’t for the pillar of a man her papa is, if it wasn’t for having to overcome their loss, and if it wasn’t for understanding her own self (the good, the beautiful, the bad, and the ugly), all the rest of the world wouldn’t be accessible to her. Crossing an ocean will be impossible if she can’t even cross the stage for her diploma.
“Where’ve you run off to this time?” her papa asks with a smile, while wiping chocolate off his cheek.
“Thinking about graduation, actually.”
“Again? Don’t you ever let your mind rest? It’s the weekend!”
As he nudges her arm slightly, she tries to smile to ease his aggressive worrying. “It’s just that new project for my British Lit class… a third of my grade for the semester is riding on it.”
His tired eyes squint as he reaches for his glass of milk. “And that’s the one with the partner right?”
A huge bite of donut, she nods.
“Who are you partnered with, again?”
Cheeks like a hamster, she weakly holds a hand in front of her mouth, “Adam Benson.”
No recognition flashes across her father’s eyes. “Well, it takes more than good grades to get into an AP class. I’m sure if he’s there he wants this as much as you do.”
Izzy smiles in agreement, understanding the logic.
Though, in all reality, she’d much rather do the work of two people than deal with an unhelpful and rude excuse for a partner.
"Oh! Hey, Adam. I didn’t expect to see you today.” Martha looks across the small office at him.
“Just dropping off that paperwork from the doctor… you know, since Andrew is up my ass about the whole worker’s comp thing,” and within two strides he is in front of her, holding out the almost bare sheet of white paper.
The elderly woman’s eyes glance down at his hand and her voice softens in a grandmotherly way, “And how are you feeling? Any progress?”
A small lift of a shoulder and he pushed his free hand through his messy hair. “Well, we all kind of knew my hand would never be back to normal. I can still do a lot with it…but,” and he pauses before letting himself talk about the pain and soreness and stiffness, “but, uh, I’ll never be able to do tree work again, that’s for sure. I do have an interview at Dillard’s for their receiving and stockroom and stuff though.”
Her face saddens. “The library thing didn’t work out?”
Adjusting his scarf, Adam doesn’t look at her. “Nope. Apparently they want someone with a degree. There’s a Barnes And Noble in the city, of course, but that’s a bit of a drive for an after-school job.”
“Well, as long as you find a job inside, that’s good enough, hmm?”
He nods and slowly backs up. “Right you are, Martha. I’ll see you, Monday?”
But, it’s in the moment she doesn’t answer right away that Adam can tell something’s wrong. Martha not only shifts in her seat, looks at just about anything but him, but also clears her throat with a little cough. This makes it abundantly clear to Adam that the inevitable has finally come. With mercy, he sighs, “Ah, don’t worry about me…. I’ve got plenty of options right? Young and mostly able… I’ll be fine!” Hand on the door handle, he nods curtly. “And it’s my senior year anyway… some more time to focus on school would probably be a good thing.”
Which isn’t wrong but also isn’t right. His family unit needs to be a two-income household and now it’s down to one. As Adam braces against the frosty evening air, he realizes how much he hates money. If nothing else, money is the root of all evil because not having enough can make a person drown, barely able to gasp for air.
And having it means you get to be a freakin’ witch about it and just because you don’t like an in-law, your grandchildren get nothing.
The echo of the final bell jumps around the crowded halls, barely audible over the sound of conversation, laughter, and even some hollering. Most of the students of Kingsbury High are in the school colors of scarlet and gold for Pride Day. The last football game of the season is this Thursday and the dance is on Saturday so the whole week is dedicated to supporting the team and having school spirit!
Not at all enthused with the concept but trying to participate, Izzy walks to her locker with Phil in the only red clothing she owns - a v-neck, faux wrap, velvet dress with a mid-thigh length skirt and cap sleeves. Phil, on the other hand, is dating one of the football players and is wearing his back-up jersey. The owner of the jersey, Larry, meets them about halfway down the hall totally oozing excitement. And to Izzy’s unpleasant surprise, his best friend is just a step behind him.
Captain of the football team, one of the most popular (if not the most popular) guys in school, son of the man who basically owns half the town, Gideon Evans is a handful. Tall, dark, handsome… overly confident, overly egotistical, just… simply overbearing! Loud, crude, rude… says something mean but backs it up with, ‘I’m just kidding’ (as if that makes it better), and really someone Izzy doesn’t like. And yet, in all his bull-headed pride, he has been insistent on pursing her after she was voted, ‘A True Natural Beauty’ for senior superlatives at the end of junior year.
The description as to why, and what all her friends insist on, is not just that she’s really pretty but more importantly, that she’s also a truly good person, a genuinely nice and caring person. But, Gideon being that idiot he is, takes it – literally – at face value.
The fact that he not once shared an advanced, Honors, or AP class with Izzy and knows he’s going to a state university only because of being so athletically inclined, says enough about their differences and how utterly incompatible they are - at least, in Izzy’s mind. And so, when he leans against the lockers next to hers, she becomes very fixated on her books and messenger bag.
“So, Izzy,” he draws out the y with multiple eee’s. “I think it might be easier for me to spot you in the stands if you wore my Letterman jacket.”
Eyes wide, she can’t help but stare into the tiny metal rectangle in front of her.
“Well, and,” he continues obliviously, “a tiny girl like you is bound to get cold, even with all the cheering.”
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Izzy knows she can’t just say she’s not going (as much as she wants to not go) because Phil made her promise to join him. And, if she’s going with Phil, then Larry will know exactly when they’ll get there, where they’ll sit, and if they leave early. Which, of course, means Gideon will know as well. After slowly finishing with her locker, she’s really at a loss how to respond.
Over the months of his fixation, Izzy has tried to be nice, to be gentle. She’s also tried the very straight-forward method of a ‘hell no’. Yet, for every rejection, Gideon has a new idea for her, for them. Just as she opens her mouth to try and give him an opened ‘maybe,’ she spots Adam making his way out the double doors.
“Excuse me,” and she rushes past Gideon and down the hall, hand tight around her bag strap.
Peacoat still draped over her arm and scarf still tucked in her bag, Izzy is a bit unprepared when she’s hit with the frosty Autumn wind. Bangs and skirt fluttering against the chaotic gusts, she keeps her eyes on the back of Adam’s dirty-blond head and weaves through the crowd to keep a tight follow. Her black pantyhose have stopped helping and her choice of Oxfords over her normal knee-high boots are now screaming how terrible an idea it was. Legitimately cold, she now realizes she doesn’t have any sort of plan for when she does reach Adam.
She saw him and felt it reason enough to escape Gideon. Her heart rate picked up and she knew she was out of breath for a completely different reason than rushing across the parking lot. Adam notices the flutter of Isabelle's chest and the pink across her cheeks. He also notices that she’s not at all bundled up even though there are goosebumps across her skin. For the first time, possibly ever, he notices the actual shape of her petite frame and now understands why she was in such close quarters with Captain Douche-nozzle in the hall - a trope if he ever saw one, the popular jock and the beautiful bookworm – Victor Krum and Hermione.
Leaning against the driver’s door, Adam holds the flame behind his hand while lighting his cigarette, lifting his eyebrows to her. After a deep drag he exhales, “Yes?”
A particularly drastic change in the wind throws Isabelle’s long chocolatey hair over her shoulder. Realizing simply tucking her hair behind her ear is an utterly hopeless endeavor she just holds her hair out of her face. “Are you busy?”
He flicks some ash away, “I am kind of in the middle of something, yeah.”
He notices the way her nose scrunches ever so slightly before she rolls her eyes. “After you’re done killing yourself, then?”
“Actually, I have a job interview I need to get to. Why?”
Pulling her bundled coat across her stomach, Isabelle’s extremely expressive face becomes unreadable. “Just the project.” She sighs. “See you tomorrow?”
Adam tries to smile, “Bright and early.”
Her eyes seem to linger on his face, making him wonder if the smile really came out more as a smirk. There’s another gust of wind, however, and it seems to shake Isabelle into reality; she nods, starts unfolding her coat. Thinking the whole interaction is done, Adam is more than a little surprised when she leans down to his not-quite closed door and says, “Good luck on the interview!” before walking back towards the school.
The crawl of cars trying to leave the school parking lot is a Monday through Friday afternoon staple. No one honks, no one tries to cut anyone off, there’s a sort of communal understanding that everyone just wants to get home but the design of the roadways are garbage. There isn’t enough room for all the faculty and students in the school parking lot, so the church across the street lets students park there, which means the barely two lane street has cars turning in in both directions. Most kids try to rush to their cars to be part of the first wave out, the rest are just stuck in line, but there are a few – Izzy and Phil included – who just wait it out on the benches in the courtyard.
In the summer, the large trees give plenty of shade for those who wait, but now it’s a hit or miss situation and on particularly windy days such as this, the chance of getting sun in their eyes is more likely than not. Properly bundled now, Izzy has knotted her hair with an elastic, and holds a hand over her eyes. “Maybe it would be faster if I walked home.”
Phil snorts but doesn’t look up from his phone. “You always say that.”
She smiles and nudges him in the arm. “Well, maybe it’s true. It’s not like I’ve ever tested that theory. Even when I stay late it’s Papa who picks me up.”
He peers down her crossed legs to her heeled shoes. “Your feet would die. Com’on, just a couple more minutes, then I’ll drive us home.” After bushing his auburn hair out of his face, he gestures out, “See? Most of the cars are gone.”
Letting out an exhale akin to a sigh, she turns back to her book. “All right… all right.”
Maybe it’s the stir of the wind, the sound of the birds squawking, or the fact that the blue skies had almost instantly become a solid mass of grey, but something in Izzy didn’t sit right. She isn't one to listen to her gut often and after the loss of her mother, anything remotely religious has lost any value, but as her legs itch to move, the impulse is too strong not to notice. She gets up without realizing it and starts putting her book away. “Com’on, let’s at least get the car warmed up.”
Confused, Phil takes a bit too long. Gideon, with the dutiful Larry trailing behind, walks up and spreads his arms out widely in front of him. “Ah! Izzy, we meet again.” When he’s too close for comfort, his hand on her coated elbow, he lowers his voice, “Seems fate wanted us to see each other, no?”
Her smile is weak, her voice tight. “Phil and I were just leaving, Gideon.”
Disregarding Izzy’s words all together, he moves next to her, curling on arm over her shoulders and dropping the other to reach for her book. “The Hobbit? That’s those movies with the dragon, right? Haven’t you seen them?”
Carefully taking it back so their fingers don’t touch, she clears her throat. “Well, if you must know, the book is actually quite brilliant. I particularly love J. R. R. Tolkien’s voice – in this and the trilogy after. Plus, as we all know, there’s so much more in the books than the movies….” In the split second she found herself talking about what she was reading, she got excited. But, in that split second, she also realized Gideon didn’t give a rat’s ass.
Totally missing the point, Gideon leans into her. “If you like the story so much, why don’t you come over and watch the movie with me? My geek of a little brother has the Blu-rays of all those movies.” And somehow he managed to start them walking in the opposite direction of Phil’s car.
With her next step, Izzy swings herself out of Gideon’s arm. Clutching the book to her chest, she takes a large step backwards. “Actually, I really must get home. My father needs some help today… so really, I should be getting back.”
She takes the lead and heads for Phil’s car and if he doesn’t follow she realizes she’ll just walk home, blisters or not. Her father does really need help with his latest renovation – a two bedroom home for a lovely couple from South Carolina who really like Izzy’s eclectic style. (They’d only asked that she help decorate when they were looking through Tony’s portfolio and all the designs they loved, Izzy had had a hand in. Once Tony mentioned that, they were insistent that Izzy be there for every step of the process.)
And, with how fuzzy her thoughts are… how distracted she’s become, the last thing she needs is some long, drawn-out headache of a conversation with Gideon.
As Autumn dies, the transition from day to night is not always cotton candy skies and a picturesque sunset. Sometimes when the sun cannot be seen it just goes down…. Leaving the solid layer of clouds to seem like they’re glowing and the rest of the world turns black and grey. The only color is the floating orange of the streetlamps which flicker by as Adam drives home from the mall.
Interviewed and hired on the spot, having filled out all the paperwork and programmed his training schedule into his phone’s calendar, Adam can rest knowing everything will be okay… even if it’s just for a little while. One hand loose on the bottom of the steering wheel, the other hand’s just on the edge of the door with a half-finished cigarette, and for the first time in months his chest feels lighter.
Mind not consumed with anxiety, he finds that his thought processes are wandering into the realm of miscellaneous: a new Disney movie that his sister may like, whether or not he should do another play-through of Witcher 3 or Borderlands 2, seeing when his buddies will be home from college for Thanksgiving, or even the quickly upcoming Homecoming dance.
Unsurprisingly, during Homecoming weekend, the dance is actually the Saturday night instead of Friday after the game. Granted, the dance was not being held in the gym like previous years, but instead at the so called ‘ballroom’ of the only hotel in town, so there was probably some sort of scheduling issue. The manager he’d met with at Dillard’s is the one that sparked the thought of the dance because she kept reminding him that she makes sure all the Kingsbury High students who work there get the night off.
Adam is an a-typical teenager, sure, but he’d gone to all the dances just the same because of his friends. With his friends the barely decorated gym actually seemed special and all the time they spent together in formal wear while bowling after or drinking after-after, was worth it. Their Junior Prom (his sophomore year) and their Senior Prom (last year) were nights to remember as well. But… now that they are not only across the state but also across the country, a little dance didn’t seem so… special.
Like most things, Adam came to realize it’s not the activity that’s special; it’s the people he’s with. Maybe if he had a date? But who could he even ask…. He maybe knew a handful of girls in the whole school.
Cigarette long since gone, music turned off for some time now, Adam found himself just idling in his driveway. His mind was doing that sort of subconscious problem solving thing where everything goes quiet and he stares blankly ahead. The thing that brings him out of his trance is a message notification dinging on his phone.
In the driveway means close-enough to home that he has WiFi, means that he actually can use his smart phone smartly. He recognizes, as he reaches for it, that it’s Facebook Messenger… but, it’s a request. Squinting, he taps it slowly.
From Isabelle O’Hara:
Hey Adam, it’s Izzy. I couldn’t find your number or email from the school directory but I managed to find you through the Kingsbury High Seniors FB page. (I’m a little surprised you accepted the invite from Sabrina… I almost didn’t lol) I hope you don’t mind me reaching out. I thought this might be helpful with the project… How’d the interview go, btw? I really hope it went well! And if you have to work nights and weekends, again I thought this might be helpful. Talk soon!
Going through the motions of turning off the car, getting inside, taking care of dinner, it still takes him another twenty minutes on top of that to write a message that doesn’t make him sound like a complete idiot or asshole.
From Adam Benson:
Hey Isabelle, thanks for reaching out. Interview went great, actually – first day of training is a couple hours Wednesday evening then another couple after school on Friday. This works for the project or we can meet after school tomorrow? Also, it’s a bit easier for me to text: 110-022-1991, if that’s cool with you?
Almost instantly the message is marked ‘read’ and then he has a new text message from a number he doesn’t recognize.
Hi! It’s Izzy.
This is okay then?
Of course! Whatever is easier for you.
I just don’t have a lot of data.
I totally get that.
My papa and I share and I usually have mine turned off.
Absolutely refreshing to hear of someone in the same predicament as him, finally finding someone who doesn’t have unlimited everything, Adam eases against the pillows of his bed and smiles. As tough as the last couple months have been… well, as tough as the last couple years have been, Adam actually feels that seed of hope, that things’ll get better, bloom into something tangible.
Raindrops rhythmically fall against the library windows, loudly enough to be noticed but softly enough to be comforting. With the thick, charcoal gray clouds moving like waves on the wind covering the skyline from horizon to horizon, there hasn’t been sunlight in hours. The autumn air cold enough as is, now something close to freezing, Adam and Isabelle are really glad to be in the shelter of the heated library.
A full table to themselves, there’s books behind Isabelle and an empty table behind Adam. Maybe because of the weather, or maybe because of the Spirit Week ‘carnival’ in the gym, there are a lot fewer students in the library this afternoon. This explains the lack of computers in use, the lack of whispered conversations, and the lack of shuffling around in fall coats and boots, leaving the area oddly and actually quiet. The vaulted ceilings mean the lighting is a bit dimmer, but the warm yellow light is glowing in an almost cozy aesthetic.
Messenger bag on the chair next to her, after setting up her Chromebook, Izzy pulls out her left-over Pop-tarts from breakfast in the car, a half-eaten can of Pringles from study hall, and the freshly made hot cocoa made using the coffee machine in the teacher’s lounge (courtesy of Misses Beaumont). Balling up her scarf after picking up off the floor for the third time, she shoves it in the corner of her backpack. Huffing and tossing her hair over her shoulder, she looks to Adam, “All ready?”
His smile looks to be him struggling not to laugh. He tosses a hand at the snacks, “Planning to be here all night?”
“Oh, totally,” she giggles. Uncapping the thermos, she uses the lid as a cup and offers it to him while glancing at the food, “Be my guest.”
To her surprise he takes it and slips out a strawberry Pop-tart without hesitation. “These are my favorite.” After finishing the first of the pack off, he takes another sip of the hot cocoa. “I thought you might want to push off our pow-wow today once you realized it’s that Spirit Week thing in the gym. Everything this week is practically mandatory, isn’t it?”
Her shoulders lift slightly, “Oh… you know me, ever the rebel.”
His laugh is like a burst of thunder that settles into a chuckle. He sweeps his hand across the table, “Oh clearly! No food or drink in the library, the sign says.”
She laughs with him but gets rather fixated on her Word doc. “Speaking of practically mandatory things, are you going to the football game on Thursday?”
Adam notices the way her forefinger pad moves softly across her long thumbnail, the way her eyes almost lazily follow the words across her screen, and the way one loose curl the falls just next to the corner of her eye. He wishes the meaning of her words or what information she was actually seeking is as easy to spot. “I take it you’re attending?”
There’s a sort of twitch in the bridge of her nose and she leans back. “Phil made me promise,” she says in a way that’s an auditory representation of an eye roll.
Phil who is her best friend. Her best friend who in one of the few out-and-proud gay kids at school. The gay guy who is dating Captain Douche-nozzles’ henchman.
There’s a tension that spreads through Adam’s muscles, almost a full body twitch of agitation. There’s a flash of a thought that he’s glad he doesn’t have social media other than Facebook, which he barely uses so he doesn’t have to see pictures of them – of Isabelle and Douche – together all over the place (like popular kids tend to be). There’s another flash of a thought, though, of ‘Why isn’t Isabelle helping the cheerleaders and the football team and whoever else in the gym’? But mostly his thoughts circle the basic of ‘Why would she be with him’?
Such a kind woman, a gentle woman. A woman who moves like a ballerina, who is soft spoken but when she speaks she has something to say that should be heard. Beautiful, of course, too… with her fair skin, salt and pepper freckles, hazel eyes… unpainted lips, unpainted face. It’s her smile that makes a difference – a bigger difference than makeup could ever make. A smile that Adam had spent a little too much time looking at while they’re together and from her few tagged photos on Facebook.
As if the words strangle him, he clears his throat and utters, “Would be good for you two to go support your boyfriends, yeah? Isn’t that how relationships work?”
Mid-type her hands stop and then lower slowly. Eyes unseeing, her chin shifts an inch toward Adam. Brows knot and as if she doesn’t mean to say it aloud she sort of mutters ‘“Support our boyfriends’… wait,” her eyes snap up, “What?”
“Gideon and Larry, I think he name is?”
Brows even lower her eyes are sharp, “Gideon?”
Confused, Adam tilts his head, “Yeah?”
An inhale big enough to lift her whole torso, Isabelle presses her temple. “You… you think I’m dating Gideon Evans?”
Obviously realizing the mistake, Adam leans forward on his forearms. “Yeah, I’m -”
But she cuts him off with a slam of her Chromebook. “You think I! I would freakin’ date Gideon Evans?”
“I’m s -”
But she cuts him off again but the crash of her chair. She’d risen so quickly, it’d fallen backwards. Laptop in bag, bag over shoulder, navy coat haphazardly over that, she starts laughing in that way girls do when they’re pissed. “If that’s really what you think of me, Adam Benson, you are truly the asshole people talk about. Here I was trying to invite you to go to the game with me because I was foolish to think maybe if you were there I’d, I don’t know, have a good time?
“Jesus Christ!” she screeches while the hot cocoa she’d been trying to twist the cap on spills all down her white button-down. “Damn it! Forget it. Oh my God,” and before storming off she gives one last glare at Adam. “Thank you so very much,” and she was gone.
After sending her an emoji of flower bouquet, Adam texts:
I thought about bringing your real flowers
But then I realized I didn’t know where you live.
Plus, it’s now like 9:30
Which would probably upset your father.
It’s 9:37, actually.
Feeling a sort of urgency, thinking if he doesn’t type fast enough she may very well start yelling at him again or even block him, he does the best he can to say the right things.
I’m really sorry I made such a stupid assumption.
I should have never believed you’d date a guy like Gideon.
He’s kind of a conceited boar, yeah?
You’re too good for him, definitely too smart for him.
I’m really, really sorry.
Adam looks back and confidently thinks she over-reacted, but maybe only a bit rather than a whole lot. He tried to put himself in her shoes, tried to imagine how he’d react if someone thought he was dating someone like Gideon. He’d get mad – that’s for sure. Though Adam is more of an insult and fisticuffs kind of person rather than yelling and storming off.
Plus, the fact she’d been trying to invite him to go with her echoed in his mind and it make him feel worse than a fool. But! He really does like Isabelle and realizes if he was to smooth things out, get them back to normal – or better than normal – he’d really need to express how sorry he was.
Why did you even think that?
Is that what people are saying or something?
Somehow Adam could hear the change in her tone, hear her inflection through the text. Maybe because of all the discussions in their classes, or the few times he’s been near her and Phil, or even the very few times they’ve been one-on-one, he could clearly imagine her. Her shoulders would have dropped, her face softened. She’d start pulling at a loose thread or mess with the ends of her hair. Her voice almost sad, worried. Not because she cares what people think but because it would be such a huge lie, it hurts.
Gideon is a misogynistic pig who won’t leave me alone.
He thinks he can get whatever he wants, no matter what.
I’ve dealt with his bull shit for months now.
I just don’t know what I’d do if he was telling everyone we were dating.
Totally missing the tinge of fear Izzy is feeling, Adam sends a fast response.
I just saw him by your locker the other day.
I don’t know… it was just a stupid assumption.
And if the offer is still on the table,
I’d like to come with you.
Come with me?
To the game?
Are you still going?
Yes, with Phil.
Are you sure you want to come?
Truth be told, having Adam there would make her feel loads better.
She knows she overreacted but really appreciates that Adam can be the bigger person and apologize. She just hates Gideon so much that it makes her blood turn to lava and she just can’t stand the idea of being even in the same room with him let alone actually being close to him. The way he looks at her like she’s some piece of meat or toy he wants only for himself.... She didn’t think people like that still existed but there he was…. It wasn’t until she reacted so poorly over a minor miscommunication with someone she didn’t really know too well that Izzy realized one of the reasons she’s so upset is because she’s actually afraid of Gideon. Afraid that he will not take ‘no’ for an answer.
Maybe Adam’s not as muscular as Gideon, but he’s just as tall and broad in the shoulders. There’s an edge about Adam that makes Izzy believe he totally knows how to handle himself in a fight. Not that anything should come to that, but just in case they did.
There’s so much back-light behind Jerry that Adam has a hard time seeing him over Skype. He sure as hell can hear him – him and the glory of his California surfer drawl - though and it’s so good to be talking to one of his best friends again. Like, actually talking to them, not just random texts or messages through Facebook.
“Have you ever thought that maybe dating someone wouldn’t be such a terrible thing?”
Adam rolls his eyes. “Hey, I dated that one girl at the end of Sophomore year!”
“For, like, a minute! Com’on man, I know… well, a lot changed that winter of eighth grade. I know that your priorities changed and you had to grow up pretty much instantly but things are settling down, don’t you think? Even just a little?”
Looking into the screen, Adam can see how honest Jerry is trying to be. No hidden joke, no amount of snark, no random innuendo. Slumping back against his computer chair he sighs. “I guess? Dad’s job is solid now; he’s even getting that promotion at the end of the year. I have that new job at Dillard’s which will be more than enough. Bitty is really coming into her own. Four and a half now, can you believe it? Wicked smart and such a good kid.”
Rubbing his face softly he tries to think about his life with the idea that it truly is his life and he gets some sort of choice. “Isabelle’s really something. Probably the most intelligent person at the school and the way she talks about anything she cares about – books, movies, helping her dad – she just cares so much. She’s so passionate.”
Jerry laughs before opening a third beer. “A real spit-fire from what I can tell… exploding like that in the library.”
Adam’s smile is one of fondness, “To be fair, Gideon is a piece of shit. Do you remember Becky?”
“Rebecca Kyles? Screw her, man. She was the human equivalent of the bubonic plague.”
“And how would you feel if Sarah had assumed you’d been dating Becky.”
His head shakes, the golden blonde shag shifting back and forth. “I would have broken something, I bet. God…,” he groans, “I truly loathed Becky.” After a grimace and a shimmy, he sips at his drink. “Back to the point, though, you’re going to the football game with Isabelle?”
“You think that’s a terrible idea?”
He responds with a really exaggerated shoulder lift, “No. She invited you. That’s reason enough for you to go. And you made it sound like she doesn’t really want to go either. But a football game? Com’on man. That’s literally the exact opposite of everything you love to do.”
Realizing it might have been better to ask their other best friend for advice Adam looks to see if David is online. He is and doesn’t even ask Jerry if he should add him to the call. It takes a few rings but then David is there.
Adjusting his John Lennon glasses, David blinks a couple times. “Yo! Adam and Jerry in the same call, what did I do now?”
There’s shared laughter then Jerry waves at the camera, “Our boy Adam here is having girl problems.”
“Aw no, what’s going on with our sweet Bitty?”
Jerry snorts and corrects him before Adam can, “No, my friend, real girl problems. Woman problems, if you will. He likes a female human he goes to school with and said female has invited him to the Homecoming football game.”
“Oh! Is it that pretty girl who yelled at you in the library? I totally cyber-stalked her and she seems really cool. Did you know she’s current