High School Dither

Girl standing looking through book in front of library shelves


Cole Parker


Gloria was sitting at a table in the library researching the Lewis and Clark Expedition. She had to write a paper with citations for her History class. Except she wasn’t researching and wasn’t writing. She was sitting with both elbows resting on the table, her arms upright and her face in her hands. She didn’t have much interest in Lewis, Clark, or even Sacagawea.

She was usually a fairly normal girl, perhaps not quite as dramatic as many of her 11th-grade female peers, but still a girl of 17 years. While it wasn’t generally like her to succumb to fits of depression, she was depressed at this moment. Prom was coming this weekend, and she hadn’t been invited. Junior Prom. It was a major spring event at her high school. A girl received social cred and status for being asked and going to the affair full throttle with a group in a limo, tuxes and gowns, fancy hairdos and expensive makeup—the whole schmear. Some kids, the more audacious ones, even reserved hotel rooms using their parents’ credit cards. All the popular girls had had dates lined up for months. The less-popular girls, which included the vast majority of the rest of the school’s population, had mostly already been asked. And Gloria hadn’t been.

Why not? That’s what she wanted to know. What was wrong with her? Okay, she wasn’t “popular”, but most girls weren’t. She was a little quiet. Not especially outgoing. But she had one of the highest GPAs in the school. Shouldn’t that mean something? It certainly wasn’t something anyone should hold against her, was it? She realized she’d have to have a far, far better understanding of the school’s ethos to answer that question.

She wasn’t movie-star pretty but pretty enough, in her unemotional, realistic estimation. Like so many other girls. Was it the slight Asian cast to her looks? As a quarter of the school’s students was of Asian descent and many of the girls had been asked, that seemed unlikely.

The less gorgeous girls got by on personality. Hers was fine, she thought. Okay, she was reserved. She owned that. So much of high-school-girl talk was insipid, concentrated on boys and clothing and especially other girls the group verbally butchered, often for absurd reasons. She didn’t hang with those crowds. But that shouldn’t prevent some obscure boy from asking her, should it?

He’d have to be obscure because she hadn’t been dating. She’d had a few dates in her freshman year and a few last year, too. But that well had dried for no reason she could put a finger on.

It hadn’t bothered her much, though. She enjoyed the schoolwork she did and was proud of being near the top of her class academically. She spent afternoons with her younger brother and sister so her parents didn’t have to pay any more for child care than they had to. So, she didn’t really have much to do with other students at school. Maybe that was it. Maybe no one knew her well enough. Hard to be asked to a dance if you’re unknown. Still, this was her third year at this school. She thought someone should have noticed her.

Well, she was who she was and wasn’t about to change, become bigger than life and force others to deal with her. That wasn’t who she was, wasn’t her nature; she’d be so uncomfortable, obviously uncomfortable, trying to do that, and it didn’t bear consideration.

Maybe she’d meet someone in college. Those kids would be more mature, wouldn’t they? But, damn it all, she still wished she’d been asked to the Prom. There were still a couple of days left. Maybe it would happen. Then, of course, it would be too late to find a suitable gown. They’d all have been snatched up by now. That was the way to think of it, she decided. It would be much better not to be asked.

- - § - -

She pondered this and finally decided moping was just wasting time. She did need to do this paper. Forcing her thoughts in that direction, she had to wonder: did Sacagawea date? Or did Native American women back then just let the men have their way with them? Another thing to research. Did the girl stay aloof with M. Lewis and W. Clark? She really had no knowledge at all of the girl. There had to be some information on her and her romantic adventures in one of the books here, or she could Google it. Better chance of finding that sort of information online than in the school library.

Gloria removed her hands from her face and sat up straight. She’d been so deep into her thoughts that she hadn’t realized that the table was no longer just hers. A boy was sitting at the table now. She was on one end of it; he was on the other side at the other end.

She knew who he was. He was also a junior and was in several of her classes. In fact, he’d gone through school with her since first grade, though they’d never spoken. Thinking about it, she’d never noticed him talking to anyone, not that she’d really paid attention.

The boys in this school were a different breed of cat, and she wasn’t much interested in them. But, looking at him now—his clothes, his posture—she suddenly had the thought that this kid might be shy. She herself wasn’t. She was quiet and reserved, sure, but if someone spoke to her, she had no problem looking them in the eye and talking back to them. This boy wasn’t looking at her at all, and she couldn’t see his eyes that were were focused on the book he had open in front of him.

He was in her History class, so he might well be looking up the same material she was. She smiled to herself. This might be fun. Mean, but no, she’d keep it from being that. But fun, sure.

She opened her cellphone, opened Google, and typed in ‘did Sacagawea sleep with either Lewis or Clark or both?’ She got several hits and quickly read them. Then she looked up at the boy, immersed in his book.

“Hey, you’re Evan, aren’t you?”

Evan turned his head to her. “Yes.” That was all he said, and he started to turn back to his book.

“You researching Lewis and Clark?”

She got the same laconic response.

Okay, no reason to prolong this, she thought. On with embarrassing the shy boy just for fun, but not too much. “I’d heard that Sacagawea was their mistress. That she slept with both of them. Have you read anything like that?”

Evan didn’t react immediately. Finally, though, he actually closed his book while keeping one finger on the page he was reading. He turned more than just his head toward her. “Where did you hear that? No, I sure haven’t seen it anywhere.”

“I looked online. Sacagawea was a teenager! She was also married to a trapper named Charbonneau. He treated her more like a slave than a wife, but he certainly had sex with her. She had his baby while on the expedition. And it also said she was in love with Clark, but it was more like an uncle-and-niece relationship than a sexual one.”

“Wow! Do you have the citation for that?”

“Yep. But Mr. Petergrew said to only use research material found in the library. I think he wanted us to get used to working here. So I can’t put it in my paper.”

She was surprised that he was talking to her without any sign of shyness. Had she misread him?

It was his turn to talk. She expected he’d return to his book, the conversation topic seemingly finished, but if he did, perhaps it wouldn’t be because of shyness.

He did as expected.

Darn, she thought. And then she had another thought. Well, why not?

“Evan, are you going to the Prom?”

He actually closed the book and set it on the table this time. Perhaps he figured he wasn’t going to get much done.

“No. You?”

“No. No one’s asked me.”

“So? If you want to go with someone, ask him yourself. Nothing’s stopping you. If he says no, you’re in the same position you’re in now, although perhaps with slightly hurt feelings. Who did you want to ask you?”

Gloria shook her head. “That’s the problem. I just want to go but didn’t have any specific boy in mind. I don’t want to go stag. That’s way too embarrassing. I’m really not into any one boy. It’s just a little depressing than none of you guys have asked me. Makes me feel like an outsider.”

“Well, not being interested in anyone does make it harder. But there’s no rule about having to have feelings for your date. And, on the good side, if you don’t feel that way about him, that at least suggests that there’d be no need for a reserved hotel room.” He grinned at her, and she decided that yes, he certainly wasn’t what she’d expected—shy was a label that didn’t fit.

Then another thought assailed her. “Well, what about you? You’re not going. You haven’t asked anyone. We could go together.”

“How do you know I haven’t asked anyone? Maybe I’m not going because I did ask, got turned down and now have a broken heart.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“I said maybe. No, I didn’t ask anyone. I’m, well, I guess I’m too chicken to.”

“Really? You’re 17, aren’t you?” She continued when he nodded. “Being chicken to ask a girl out is middle-school stuff. Not junior-year high school. You don’t seem shy at all. Ask her!”

“That’s the problem. It’s a he. And he’s not out, and neither am I. I think he’s gay. He feels gay to me. But he doesn’t really show it, just like I don’t think I do. Asking him to the Prom, though, that’s a whole big deal. If he’s straight and thinks I think he’s gay, he could be pissed off. Guys get punched doing things like that. Or, maybe worse, he might out me to the entire school. I don’t think he would. He doesn’t seem like that. He seems nicer than that. But if he did, I’d still have to be here for the rest of this year and all of next, living that down and dealing with homophobes.”

“Really? No one gets bullied for being gay here. That’s a capital offense. And there are a lot of out boys, and no one gives them any crap.”

“I know. I know. But it’s different if you’re not out. My parents don’t know. I go to the Prom with a boy, they might get a hint about something I’m not ready to discuss with them, don’t you think? It’s just a big deal.”

“So why are you telling me you’re gay, then? You don’t know me.”

“That’s not entirely true, you know. We were in middle school together, and now almost three years in high school. You keep to yourself. Don’t mix with others. You don’t seem to have any friends. You’ve always seemed nice to me. I don’t think you’d tell anyone I’m gay since I’m asking you not to. And lately I’ve been feeling the need to come out. I think I’m about ready to. Maybe this is a test for me. Just to see what it feels like.”

“So that makes me a test dummy?” Gloria smiled, showing she wasn’t really offended, then studied him, and he returned her look. Then she asked, “This boy you want to ask, you really like him?”

“Yeah. I think about him all the time. He’s in classes with me, and I can’t keep my eyes off him.”

“So, you need to ask him to the Prom. Just do it. Grow a pair!”

“What? Jesus!”

She laughed. “I love that expression but never thought I’d ever have the nerve to say it to anyone. Hey, I was teasing a little, you know? But the message is still valid. You need to gather the courage to talk to him. Not by asking him to the prom just out of nowhere. I mean, you could do that, but it would be a step too far for you and maybe even for him. Maybe he’s shy, too.”

“I’m not shy. I am reluctant to take this big a chance, though. He might be. He seems shy. I’ve never spoken to him.”

“So, let’s think about this. You watch him in class. How about other than that? Do you see him in the halls and cafeteria talking to a lot of friends? Eating with a large group at lunch? Hanging with the same group all the time? And does he spend any time with the jocks?”

“I don’t watch him all that much!”

She looked at him, inviting him to say more, but he looked away. “It’s not that difficult a question, and anyway, I think when he’s around, you do look. So, answer me.”

“Well, I haven’t seen him with what I’d call a group of friends. I think he’s what you thought I was: shy. Maybe that’s why I’ve noticed him; for some reason, I’m attracted to boys like that. He’s really cute, but he looks at the floor a lot, doesn’t seem to be part of anything. I don’t know where he eats; I don’t ever see him in the cafeteria.”

“Evan, you have to talk to him!”

“I can’t! My heart speeds up just looking at him. Facing him, trying to speak, I think I’d trip all over any words I’d want to say. It would be out of the blue, whatever I said, and, and . . . no, I can’t.”

Gloria paused. Then, “You said you share some classes with him. Is he in your math class?”

“Yeah. He sits right in front of me. I get to looking at his long hair and thinking about, about touching it, and, you know, and . . . and I miss half the lesson.”

“There you go, then. Okay, I’ll tell you what to do. First, what’s his name?”

“Why do you need to know that?”

“So I can make this advice I’m going to give you more personal.”

“I don’t even know you!”

“You’re right, you don’t, even though you just told me you did. You can trust me, Evan, and you already did by outing yourself to me. Look, I won’t betray you. I don’t get off on totally messing people around. I want to help. We’re in the same boat, wanting to go to the Prom. You actually have a chance to, and I’d like to be part of that. But I’ll make up a name so you won’t worry. I’m going to call your secret love Myron. I’m not aware we have any Myrons at this school. Here’s what you do. In class, when the teacher gives you time to do some of the assigned problems, tap Myron on the shoulder. When he turns to look at you, say, ‘Hey, Myron, I ended up daydreaming through what the teacher was saying. He drones on and on. What page are the problems on? And, while we’re talking, are you good at this stuff? I’m crap. I need help.’

“Then it’s up to him to respond. You’ve given him an opening. If he’s too shy to say much, it’ll be harder, but you should be able to tell from his response whether there’s something there for you to build on or not. If he shows any interest at all, it’s up to you to fan the flames.

“Or, another way. Use the same beginning, then ask, ‘Did you see how he did that problem on the board? I didn’t get that at all. I need help.’ Or something along that line. Use your own imagination.”

Evan was silent for a moment. Then he looked down. “Maybe I am shy,” he said in a lower voice.

“You don’t seem like it to me.”

“You’re easy to talk to. And you’re a girl. I’ve never had a problem talking to girls. Boys, cute boys—yeah, that’s always been a problem. I have a hard time looking them in the eye. I get flustered.” Evan ended up looking down at the table. Gloria could see he’d become a little emotional.

She gave him a few seconds to calm down, then asked, speaking more softly than before, “Are you going to do it? Ask him? The Prom’s only a couple days off.”

Evan shook his head. “I’m not going to ask him to the Prom. All I’m going to try to do—try to do—is talk to him. If that blows up, it’ll be your fault. I’ll never talk to you again.”

“Big deal. You never talked to me before.” She grinned at him, and he grinned back, then opened his book. They both felt an incipient friendship was there for them.

“Tell me how it works out,” Gloria said as she opened hers. She thought maybe she’d done some good.

Evan didn’t answer.

- - § - -

Math class. Mr. Hanson was droning on about quadratic equations. Seemed the variable in the equation needed to be squared to define the equation as quadratic. Evan understood that, even how to go about solving one, but guessed that some students would be confused. That was something he could easily pretend to be if he actually had the guts to talk to James. James, not Myron. Who was called Myron, for God’s sake?

Evan wasn’t sure that he did have the required guts. Just looking at James’ back, looking at him sitting there in front of him like he did in this class every day, was stirring his emotions.

Mr. Hanson was talking, and Evan was only half-listening. “On page 76, there are four quadratic equations for you to practice what I’ve been showing you today. You can spend the rest of the period working on them. It’s okay if you talk to each other if you need help or raise your hand if you want me to come to you. But stay in your seats, and if you talk, do so quietly.”

Damn! Evan knew this was his chance. Mr. Hanson was making it easy, so easy it was almost like he was being dared to act. Or maybe Mr. Hanson had spoken to Gloria! Evan wanted to do this. Really wanted to.

The hell with it, he thought, and tapped James on the shoulder.

James turned in his seat and looked at him. Evan forced himself to meet James’ eyes. He’d already decided on his first words. Not knowing what to say in advance would have ended in his being embarrassingly tongue-tied. “Hey, James, are you any good with this stuff? I don’t think I quite get it.”

Evan was meeting James’ eyes, but not for long. James quickly dropped his and blushed. Blushed! Gloria had told Evan he might learn things from James’ reaction. But just what did this mean?

It didn’t appear James was going to speak. Up to Evan again. He suddenly realized he wasn’t tongue-tied at all, and that James’ looking down and blushing had actually made this easier. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I just wanted some help. I’d love it if you could do it, but if not, I’ll see if I can ask someone else.”

Then he paused. And hoped. Fiercely hoped.

James looked up again and this time didn’t drop his eyes as much as focus them somewhere other than on Evan’s. Just off Evan’s, but not leaving his face. “Uh, yeah, I guess. I like math.”

“Oh, great!” Evan let his enthusiasm have free rein. “It’s awkward here, though. Could we do this somewhere else? I know. How about at lunch? We could eat together and talk then, and you could explain this to me. I don’t need all that much help. I understand most of it. But some help with quadratic equations would be useful. I don’t remember seeing you in the cafeteria. Where do you eat lunch?”

Okay, that was pushing him a little, but it seemed an innocent enough question.

James’ eyes flashed across Evan’s briefly, then settled on his ear. At least Evan thought that was where they were focused. “How do you know I don’t eat in the cafeteria?”

Evan heard the defensiveness in his voice. Defensive, not accusatory. Hmmm. Maybe his question hadn’t sounded as innocent as he’d meant it to. Or maybe James was simply ultra-sensitive.

Evan thought of an English expression he’d always liked: in for a penny, in for a pound. No point in beating around the bush here. This would either work or not. “Uh, well, you know, we’re all around each other all the time here in school, and we’re aware of each other. Some people we notice more than others. I’ve always thought I’d like to be friends with you. Something about the way you look just makes me think we might get along well together. I’ve just noticed that you’re not in the cafeteria at lunch, that’s all.”

“You were looking for me?” His voice didn’t sound confrontational; it was just a question, and it sounded like James was surprised.

“Hey, you’re embarrassing me,” Evan said, laughing and not really embarrassed at all but thinking this was a good path to walk down. “But yeah, I’ve looked for you. As I said, I’ve kind of liked you, what I saw of you. I thought of asking if I could sit at your table, so looked for you, and I noticed you’re never there.”

He was leaving it to James to respond to that, and hoped the response would be positive.

There was a pause, and then James said, “I don’t like crowds much. Walking in the halls is hard enough. The cafeteria is crowded and noisy and makes me uncomfortable. I bring my lunch and eat outside when the weather’s good, or Mr. Hanson lets me eat here in his classroom.”

This was looking positive to Evan. A distinct possibility. Maybe the strong possibility was that he could make a friend rather than find a boyfriend, but nothing said that a boyfriend wasn’t off the table later on. When they knew each other. First things first. That was fine with him.

“Could we eat lunch together today? Outside or in here?” He let the hope in his voice come through loud and clear.

James blushed again. He didn’t meet Evan’s eyes. He didn’t answer right away, but when he did, he asked, “How? You didn’t bring a lunch, did you?”

Evan grinned. “No, but I can get one on my tray and then walk out with it. I’ve seen kids do that and go outside, and today’s fine for that. You want to?”

James said that was okay. That was what they ended up doing.

- - § - -

Gloria was at the same table when Evan came in. This time he sat across from her. “Did you know Sacagawea was only 24 when she died and that William Clark took custody of her two children?”

“Someone’s been doing their homework.”

“Yeah, online. Much easier than here in the library.” He grinned at her. “I’m going to cite the sources, and if those sources aren’t in the library and I’m questioned on that, I’ll just say this is the modern way to do research.”

“Hope you get away with it. Now, the important stuff. Did you talk to Myron?”

Evan smiled. “Did anyone ask you to the Prom?”

“Hey, I asked first. But no. I guess I’m not going. I’ll live. Disappointed but alive. What about Myron?”

“Myron’s name is James. And I did talk to him. Then I ate lunch with him. He’s like a quadratic equation: shy squared. I don’t know if he’s gay but also don’t know that he’s not. It’s possible, maybe more than possible. He blushes a lot.” Evan grinned, knowing that wasn’t indicative of anything but to him at least was hopeful.

“We’re going to be friends. He doesn’t have any, or didn’t, but now he does. Me. I can tell he loved eating lunch with me. He still has trouble looking at me, but it’s early days. He does smile a lot when he sees me. That has to mean something. I think it may mean a lot. I tend to end up smiling, too. I have you to thank for this.”

“You did the hard part. I just gave advice.”

“Yeah, and it got me what I wanted. So, maybe I can return the favor. Will you go to Prom with me?”

Gloria smiled. Smiled so hard she seemed to glow. She nodded—and even flushed. “But I don’t have a gown!”

“Or probably a limo, but you don’t need either. I don’t have a tux and am not going to rent one. Silly way to spend money. I’ll bet you do have a nice dress. I have a sport coat, a dress shirt, a tie and good trousers. I’ll bet you won’t be the only girl there not bothering with an expensive, wear-it-once-and-forget-about-it gown. If anyone makes remarks about how you’re dressed, you know, like some of the girls might do—that kind of girl—just tell them they’re very pretty in their gown, but that you wanted to be comfortable and anyway, you’re saving your money for something that matters.”

Gloria nodded and grinned. “A compliment with a subtle sting attached. I can do that.”

Evan nodded. “The only thing left, then, is this: what color corsage do you want?


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