-This is a section of ‘Everything That Counts’ using my pen name Elizabeth Harris. I entered the edited section of Chapter 1 (with an update to 2015 vs. 2004) in a contest, but didn’t win, I still think it’s pretty good though. Enjoy!-
The Casanova of Annapolis
Homeroom was the place where the last vestige of freedom a teenager held was stripped away. Even the nurse was unavailable to me if I fell to the floor and had a seizure, unless I also had written authorization from a teacher to visit her. But, I followed the rules, because that’s how I would get a scholarship. Then I would appease my parents by attending GW, get my graduate degree from Berkeley, and become an astrophysicist so I study the ever-expanding universe.
At times all that space full of the unknown made me feel small, but we were all made of carbon, and that connected everything.
The stranger breezed into our class. A waterfall of hair the color of spun gold hung over one shoulder, she had dark outlined eyes. She wore jeans, and an orange t-shirt that, thankfully, looked as if it had been shrunk in the dryer. Before she even spoke, once I saw the silver loop through her belly button, I thought she was the most interesting girl at our high school.
Her voice was light as a hummingbird, “Hey, I’m Zoe Malone, is this the right home room?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Tanner straightened up in her dark pantsuit and took a slip of paper from the vixen’s hand. “Where are you from, Zoe?”
“Welcome to Cape Saint Claire High School,” The teacher’s eyes moved across the page. “It looks like you have a few classes and lunch period with Blake Morgan. You can sit next to him, and he can give you the grand tour throughout the day.”
My heart stopped.
Zoe turned to the class, “Umm, which one is he?”
“The tall one in the back, with the glasses.” Mrs. Tanner pointed at me.
The new girl’s hips swayed as she walked to the back of the class. The closer she got, the more my face burned. I slouched in the chair as if preparing for impact. The rest of our peers continued to talk, but the only matter in my universe was her. She consisted of much more than carbon.
“Hey,” The goddess sat down.
I tried to speak but instead started coughing, loudly.
“Are you okay?” Her dark eyes widened.
“Yeah,” I pounded on my chest, “All good.”
“I’m Zoe,” she giggled. “But, I guess you already know that.”
I wanted to say that, I was indeed the infamous Blake Morgan, and it would be my pleasure to attend to her every need until the next Ice Age. All that came out was, “Blake.”
“I like your hair.”
“Your hair just makes me want to…”
And that’s when it happened. Day became night, the sun went out, and black holes were no longer a mystery when she ran her hand through my hair. Up until this point I was unaware that girls like Zoe would ever contemplate touching a loser like me, much less do it. My confusion and excitement must have shown on my face when she pulled away.
“Oh, sorry. I’m just a hands-on kinda girl.” She shrugged as if that made it okay to run your hands through a stranger’s hair.
Which it totally did.
“So what do you guys do for fun around here, Blake?” She twirled a lock of hair around her finger.
“You mean like, me and my friends?”
The truthful answer was: quiz each other for Academic Decathlon, play video games, watch horror movies, or simply study in the same room. “We go to D.C. sometimes.”
“And do what?”
“Just you know, hang out.” At the Smithsonian, I should have added.
“Isn’t the Naval Academy nearby?”
“Yeah.” I almost dared to ask if she was aware that Annapolis was also the capital of Maryland. But, she was beautiful, therefore I thought better of it.
“So, there’s like a bunch of hot guys there, right?”
“I don’t generally check out the Midshipmen, but my friend Sophie likes to go at the end of school for plebes-no-more.”
I pushed my black, square framed glasses up the bridge of my nose. “The freshman, they call them plebes, and at the end of the year they have to traverse this pillar that’s over twenty feet high and pull a uniform dress hat off the top.”
“What’s so hard about that?”
“They grease it up, and tape down the hat with like, duct tape.”
Her eyes widened. “What’s the point?”
I shrug. “To not be called an underclassman?”
“And why does your friend Sophie like this?”
“You’d have to ask her, but she drags me there every year.”
“Will you take me this year?”
Her words did not make sense to me. “What?”
“Would you take me to check out the Naval Academy? You seem really nice and since we’ll see so much of each other I thought it would be fun. I mean if later you think I’m a freak you can totally back out and I won’t hold it against you. Or, whatever.” She shrugged.
I don’t know if I said it because I wanted a change or because I was completely enamored by this person. “Yeah, sure, sounds great.”
The bell rang and I ushered her to the photography lab.
At lunch I gravitated toward the table to the far left, the one Jasper had already claimed with his laptop and slice of pizza.
He didn’t lift his gaze from the screen, which cast an eerie green glow on his ebony skin. “Hey, Blake.”
I checked to make sure we were alone at the table then said, “Something weirdly awesome happened in homeroom.”
“That’s a paradox in terms my friend.”
“There’s a new girl in my homeroom, and she wants to hang out with me.”
“Did she mention any head trauma in her past?” Jasper raised an eyebrow.
“I’m serious, she ran her hand through my hair.”
“She touched you?” His arm froze; a soda can halfway to his mouth.
“Yeah, well my hair.”
“It’s a good thing you ditched the shellac. Her hand would still be in there.”
My choice to not douse my hair in gel did in fact turn out to be the right decision. I remembered the bubbly sound of her giggle, the curve of her hips, and her rose colored cheeks. “She’s really hot.”
“On a scale of Kate Upton to Lindsey Lohan, how hot are we talking here?”
“You have to introduce me to this illusive woman, Blake. Right. Now.”
“What illusive woman?” Sophie set her bag on the floor and a salad on the table with Lily following suit. They both had the long legs known to their kind: ballerinas. Although Sophie was the shortest girl on the dance team, her bright red hair made her stand apart from the rest of them.
A long mocha colored braid fell over Lily’s shoulder. She also wore the required uniform for a teenager in Maryland: jeans, t-shirt, sneakers. “Is it another online girlfriend for Jasper?”
Jasper turned to Lily who sat next to him. “She couldn’t have been my girlfriend, we never met. She was just a friend who happened to be a girl.”
“That sounds familiar,” Lily mumbled as her plastic spork punctured lettuce.
Sophie shifted in her seat next to me, and Jasper kicked me under the table. I kicked him back. “What the…”
“Dude,” Jasper nodded toward something behind me. “It’s Kate.”
My mind had never gone blank at school until the moment I heard my crush say, “Hey Blake! Is it okay if I sit with you guys?”
Before I could open my mouth I heard the guy I’d known since first grade yelped, “Jasper.”
“Huh?” Zoe had a quizzical expression on her face.
“Yeah, go ahead and have a seat.” On autopilot I sounded smoother than I thought possible. “Zoe this is Jasper,” I pointed toward a guy who’s longest relationship had been with a hard drive, and worked around the circular table. “Lily and Sophie. Guys this is Zoe.”
“Hey!” Zoe’s smile filled her oval face as she sat down next to me and turned her dark eyes to Sophie, “So, I hear you know where to find some really cute guys.”
Sophie’s face turned red as fire. “Where did you hear that?”
“Blake told me about the Navy guys climbing some statue?” Zoe twirled a lock of golden hair around her finger.
“I don’t go to find a boyfriend, but, yeah, it’s kinda cool.”
“Why not? Aren’t they cute?”
“Yeah but,” Sophie shook her head. “They’re in college.”
Zoe shrugged. “So?”
Sophie raised her eyebrows. “I’m still in high school.”
Zoe opened her mouth once more, but before words came out Lily asked. “So, why’d you move here?” Her flat expression told me Lily wasn’t interested in the answer, which didn’t bother me, since I couldn’t understand Zoe’s fascination with The Naval Academy anyway. She didn’t strike me as the kind of girl who followed rules as stringent as the military.
“My Dad’s parents are like, super old, and they wouldn’t move to Denver. But, everyone seems really nice here. I’ve already been invited to a party this weekend.” Zoe giggled.
“A party, huh?” I could hear Jasper’s mouth water as he spoke.
“Yeah,” Zoe spun her fork in bowl of spaghetti. “At this guy named Trace’s house. Any of you guys know him?”
We all did. Trace Allen was the most popular guy in school, now that my brother had graduated that is. An all-star athlete who had an on and off relationship with the captain of the dance team, Nina. Lily and Sophie both held an underlying sympathy for her since Trace got with every other pretty girl in school whenever he and Nina were on a ‘break’. He also cheated off my paper the entire fourth grade.
“Everyone knows, Trace.” I shrugged.
Zoe turned to me; “He said I could bring someone, if I wanted.”
“So, would you come with me, Blake?”
After the question left Zoe’s mouth I felt Sophie stiffen next to me. My best friend and I held our breath until I said, “Sure.”
“Awesome! Now I just have to go shopping…” She kept talking, but it was nonsensical to me.
“I have to,” Sophie stood up so quickly her books fell to the floor. She bent down and stuffed them back into her army green messenger bag. I picked up her AP World History book and handed it to her. “Thanks.” She hurried to the exit on the east side of the cafeteria.
“Hey, you left your food!” Jasper called after Sophie. When she didn’t turn back he shrugged and returned his attention to Zoe.
“Is she like, okay?” The object of my desire asked.
“Yes, she’s fine.” Lily glared at Zoe. “Just has a lot on her plate being top of the class, dancing all week.” When she turned toward me, her brown eyes became a slit. “And people that just don’t get it.” The brunette ballerina mirrored Sophie’s actions, minus the spill, and left the lunch table.
“Whoa, what is going on?” The vixen’s eyes doubled in size.
“Don’t worry about them, Zoe.” Jasper’s voice lowered an octave. “Now what were you saying?”
The party was the most surreal experience of my life. People I’d known forever surrounded me but, to them, it was our first meeting. Even though Jack Hudson had wet his pants in the fifth grade, I was the freak. Not to say that I felt superior to anyone in the home where the class President resided. My mouth refused to open the entire night. Although, Zoe didn’t seem to notice.
After approximately three minutes my ‘date’ turned to me and asked, “Beer?” Her long wavy blonde hair hung over one shoulder, she wore a tight black t-shirt, and jeans that were shredded at her knees.
I knew that my answer should be, ‘No thank you, Zoe. As you know I’m not the legal drinking age in the state of Maryland. And, I borrowed my parents car to drive us here after I swore to them I would never drink and drive.’
What I actually said was, “Sure.”
My mouth puckered at the bitterness of it, then I read the label, and realized why. Dad told me to stay away from Guiness after he gave me ‘the sex talk’ and a condom two years ago. It hadn’t expired yet, wedged between the bills in my wallet.
Some things about the party were like I imagined. Couples in various locations throughout the house, including the laundry room, having sex. A room full of people sitting on navy blue beanbags smoking weed. And an arm wrestling contest at the kitchen table next to the keg.
We danced. Or rather, she danced rocking her curves side-to-side, and I moved awkwardly around her holding an empty beer can. I tipped it back as often as Zoe did hers, and no one offered me another. With an hour left before my curfew, we left. I drove through the dark winding streets surrounded by trees praying that I did the math right when I calculated my blood alcohol level. The Toyota Camry made it to Zoe’s house without incident.
I put the car in park. “I can walk you to the door, you know. It’s what guys are supposed to do.” I pushed my glasses off my nose, and somehow knocked them off. I felt around for them, but stopped at something warm, Zoe’s thigh. My whole body froze.
She giggled, and put my glasses back on my face. The moment I saw shinning dark eyes outlined in silver glitter my hand returned to the steering wheel. Which wasn’t anywhere near as exhilarating as touching her. “Yeah, but you’re not like other guys.”
I took a breath so I didn’t stutter. “You’re not like other girls.”
“You’re right about that.” Then she leaned in, and kissed me, lightly on the cheek. “Goodnight, Blake.” She opened the door and darted up her steps. Once she entered the light on the porch went out.
Zoe was the second girl who’d kissed me, and although she smelled like beer, my whole body tingled. I pulled into my driveway before I got out of the car I threw a mint in my mouth and chomped on it. I checked my visage in the rearview mirror, ran my hand through my unruly hair, and adjusted my glasses before I strolled inside. A dim light flickered from the den that I knew was my father watching the news waiting for me to come home.
“Yeah, I’m going to bed.” I started for the stairs.
“Come in her first, son.” I marched, like a dead man walking, into the rose colored room.
“What’s up, Dad?” He gazed at me from over his wire-rimmed frames.
“I can smell cigarettes from here.”
“It wasn’t me!” I backed away in the hopes that he couldn’t smell anything else.
“So, you didn’t smoke?”
“You didn’t have anything to drink did you?”
I felt all the blood rush to my face. “Um, no, of course not.”
“Really?” My father might as well have tortured me for hours considering how quickly I gave myself up.
“Maybe. A little. One.”
He smirked. “I thought we had a discussion about that before you left with your mother’s car.”
Suddenly my shoelaces became very interesting. “I know, I’m sorry.”
“You sure it was just one?”
“What else happened?”
“You took a girl out, drank, and nothing happened?”
“No. I mean yes nothing else happened.” My father was the last person I wanted to tell that I’d gotten a kiss from the hottest girl in school, that particular conversation was reserved for Jasper at school on Monday.
“Just remember that it’s difficult to attend college next year, and raise a child.”
“I know, Dad.” I wanted to add that would be scientifically impossible, but that was yet another discussion I didn’t want to have with my father.
“And college will be less fun if you get drunk and run over a bunch of school children.”
“Dad.” Although I really thought it was illogical for young children to be playing outside past midnight. I mean where were these hypothetical children’s parents?
“I let you use the car because you’re responsible, Blake. I’m very disappointed in you.” Although his tone lead me to believe he was in fact angry, he winked at me. Letting my parents down always felt worse than if they did yell at me and grounded me for a lifetime.
“It won’t happen again.” I stared at my shoes. “I’m sorry.”
He waved his hand at me and I turned to the stairs. “And, Blake.”
“You’re a terrible liar.” My father turned back to the T.V.
I threw myself onto my bed and rolled over. My glasses were askew, and when I straightened them I saw glossy dark leaves reflecting the Moon outside the large bay window. They swayed in the wind and reminded me of my first kiss, five years ago.
It was the Fourth of July and my parents had a crab feast for the block. David insisted we invite Chris, which filled me with relief, because then I didn’t have to admit that my best friend was his sister, Sophie.
The younger kids ran up and down the street with sparklers while Sophie climbed halfway up the White Oak in my front yard. “C’mon Blake, you can see the fireworks better from up here.”
“I’m good down here.” I was never a big fan of heights. If humans were meant to fly, we’d have evolved wings by now.
“Why? Too cool to climb trees anymore?”
I sighed and pulled myself up to the same limb she sat on. From my new vantage point I could see David making out with someone who wasn’t his girlfriend on the side of the garage. “Jesus Christ.”
“You didn’t tell me there’s a perfect view of my brother and Jordan down there.”
“Where?” She giggled and turned her head side to side.
“Right there.” I pointed.
“Uh! I hate being so short.” She pulled up on my shoulder, until her face was parallel with mine. Her long red braid tickled my arm. “Whoa, I bet he knows what she had for lunch.” She sat on her knees so her eyes leveled with my throat, although she directed them to the night sky. “I can’t wait until someone kisses me like that.”
I shook my head. “Girls are so weird.”
She turned back to me. “Why?”
“Boys don’t think about stuff like that.” I knew it was a lie once the words left my mouth because I thought about it too. All the time.
“Oh, I forgot, I’m talking to the Casanova of Annapolis. So, what do boys think about?”
“I don’t know, stuff?”
She giggled then lowered her voice, “Like hunting, bowling, and beer?”
I laughed. “Yeah.”
She raised her eyebrows. “But, you don’t think about any of that.”
She exhaled the words. “Well, you must be right, because no one has ever thought of kissing me.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Because no guy has ever kissed me. I always thought I’d have my first kiss before I started high school.” She gazed at me with her big green eyes.
I don’t know what came over me since every action I took had always been carefully thought out. Maybe it was because I wanted to have my first kiss as well, or that I knew she wouldn’t laugh at me, or that her fair skin shimmered in the moonlight. My mind went blank when I craned my neck and pressed my lips to hers. She tasted like strawberries, sunsets, and honeysuckle. My first kiss lasted just long enough to wonder if Sophie’s mouth was made of flower petals.
For a while there was only the laughing of children running in the yard, the adults banter that grew in volume throughout the night, and the hooting of a distant owl, until I said.
“Now you don’t have to worry about it anymore.”
She opened her mouth and began to respond when an explosion of fireworks erupted. Red, white, and blue lit up the sky blocking out the stars and planets I loved so much. Neither of us ever mentioned the kiss.
But, we did hold hands until the display of perchlorate, copper, and sulfur diffused into the atmosphere.
Back in my bedroom, years later, I realized that I wanted to kiss her again. Maybe only her, forever. I reached for my phone and texted Sophie: Too cool to climb trees anymore?