Written By: Jen Klein
That’s more like it.
Beside me, Oliver’s right hand sails off the steering wheel. It lands on the compartment between us and opens the lid. Scuttles around inside.
We stop at a red light, and he reaches across me to open the glove box, which is crammed full of napkins and ketchup packets. “What are you looking for?” I ask over the music.
“Aspirin!” he yells back. “This is breaking my brain!”
I glare at him before touching my screen to kill the song. The light turns green and we cruise through it. “Ha-ha,” I say. “You’re hilarious.”
“No.” He says it with yet another of those smiles. “You’re hilarious. What is that screamo?”
“Screamo?” He knows nothing—nothing—about what constitutes good music…or good friends…or good anything. “It’s Alesana. Pop-metal out of North Carolina, and they’re actually amazing.”
“Amazingly shitty,” Oliver says. “It hurts my ears. It hurts my soul.”
“Their sound is rough, but that’s the point. It means something. It’s real—”
“Real awful. How do you even find stuff like that?”
“My dad turned me on to it.”
Oliver looks surprised. “Your dad listens to screamo?”
Of course it would be weird to someone who looks and lives like everyone else. “Yeah, he taught me not to just scratch the surface,” I tell Oliver. “It’s easy to find mainstream music. You don’t even have to look. It’s just there, in your face all the time, on the radio and TV. There’s no thought to it. No discovery.”
“You make no sense,” Oliver informs me. “Try getting beneath the surface of my music. Look a little deeper, be a little less obvious and you’ll see what’s underneath.”
“Underneath?” I practically explode. “There’s nothing underneath. Your music is overly produced and overly cliché!” I point a finger at him. “It totally makes sense.”
“How’s that?” Oliver still doesn’t seem mad. Only amused.
“That you would be into that. It’s manufactured and it’s fake!”
Oliver’s lips press together. He doesn’t look amused anymore. We drive a few more minutes and then he says, “Maybe we shouldn’t listen to music after all.”
“Fine,” I say. “We’ll suffer in silence.”
? ? ?
The next morning the score is as follows:
Suffering = 1. Silence = 0.
We haven’t even gotten to the highway yet and Oliver has made (almost) every sound a human body can make. He started with humming and moved on to whistling. After a little of that, he switched to clicking his tongue. It went on for at least a full minute and now he’s singing one of those power ballads under his breath.
I’m not sure why Oliver is trying to torture me, but he’s clearly enjoying the process. I close my eyes and breathe slowly. In through my nose, out through my mouth.
I hear a pop and my eyes fly open. Oliver is cracking his knuckles, one by one. He gets to the last and then looks at me. I scowl and he grins big.
I might kill him.
I close my eyes again and lean back against the seat, trying to envision myself anywhere but here. A snowy mountain. A desert at night. A sunny expanse of beach.
I hear a chomping sound and I can’t stop myself from peeking at Oliver. He’s chewing a piece of gum. With his mouth open.
I glare at him and decide I don’t even need the mountain or desert or beach. I could be happy in a pit of burning coals as long as Oliver isn’t there with me.
Oliver slides a second piece of gum from the pack. He pops it into his mouth. Chews. He glances over before adding another piece. And another. And another.
There’s one piece left in the pack. Oliver holds it toward me—an offer of faux generosity. I snatch it out of his hand and shove it into my backpack. I don’t want his stupid gum, but I surely don’t want to hear it in his mouth.
That only makes him smile more widely before turning back to the road.
Oliver cracks his gum. He blows a bubble. It pops and he reaches up to swipe the gum off his upper lip and shove it back into his mouth.
I turn to look out the window.
Thank God it’s Friday.
? ? ?
Even though I already know our planet is unique in the solar system, that it is nearly magic how we have water and oxygen and creatures that evolved from tiny one-celled organisms, I still feel awestruck in environmental science when Mr. Hollis takes us through the process of its creation. Since there are only twelve of us, we move along quickly and have plenty of time for discussion and questions. We get all the way through the Proterozoic era before we’re dismissed for break.
I’m heading toward the stairwell where Itch is waiting for me when I hear Oliver’s name squawked from the family sciences room. I guess if a class has “science” in its name or uses open flames, this is where the school puts it.
I slow down to make way for the kids trickling out the open door. Oliver is standing before Mrs. Alhambra’s desk. She wags her finger at him. “All you sports-minded boys are the same.” Oliver’s shoulders droop. He shuffles his feet. He doesn’t say anything. “You think you don’t have to work at anything. You think you can skate through life on your looks,” she continues. “Well, not here. You need a brain to pass family sciences. You need to use it!”