Monday, March 26, 2012
I suck at flirting, which is why right now, as I look into Will Connolly’s beautiful blue eyes, my inner monologue repeats my secret mantra: Be honest, but b nice!
“What’s your sanctioned artistic release activity?” He asks as he sips his green tea.
“I sketch, portraits mainly.”
“Very cool. How do you decide who is worthy of a Livvy Moore portrait?”
I giggle, in that flirty sort of way that Summer has tried to teach me because, as she says, boys like that kind of thing. It’s not entirely natural, but I’m actually enjoying my conversation with Will, so I give it a shot. He smiles, so I guess he buys it. “I don’t know,” I say. “And worthy is a pretty strong word. If I’m angry, I usually draw the person who’s angering me and add some sort of blemish. You should see how many portraits of my brother I’ve drawn with various ill-placed moles or a missing eyebrow.” This time he laughs.
“Maybe next time you’ll let me see one of those. I’d love to see Ben Moore with one eyebrow.”
I smile. Next time. I’m beginning to believe it myself, which is why I’m afraid to reciprocate the question. But it would be rude not to. “What’s yours?”
“I’m a bit of a portrait artist as well. Photography.”
“Very cool yourself. I’d love to see your work some time.”
“Actually,” he says, “I have most of it right here on my tablet.”
He wakes up the screen and slides it across the table, and I instinctively close my eyes, silently repeating the mantra, willing myself to like what I see. Then I open them and find myself looking at a picture of…shrubs? I scan through more of the photos, and they are all of the finely manicured landscaping that decorates all of the yards in our sector. “It’s shrubs,” is all I can say.
“Yeah. I’m fascinated by landscape design. There’s just such beauty in symmetry.”
I can’t do it. “You mean monotony? All our yards look exactly the same. All our houses are the same. The only way to tell the difference from yard to the other is by the number that’s over the front door. Where’s the beauty in that?” Just like that, the mantra is out the window, and I know there won’t be a next time.
I make it home before my parents, but before I can change out of my uniform, an incoming communication comes through on my tablet. The polite, female voice notifies me. Communication from Summer Taylor, April 4th, 4:27 p.m. Recording has begun.
“Livvy. Why are you home? It’s only 4:30!”
I think I would prefer the third degree from my parents. “How do you know I’m home?”
“I can see your pillow and bed post behind you! Come on, Liv. How could you mess this one up?”
“He takes pictures of landscaping. That’s his release activity. Shrubs!” I’m exasperated at this point. “You know I’m a terrible liar. I cannot feign interest in such a ridiculous activity.”
“Livvy, I don’t get it. You’re beautiful, but when you open your mouth, total disaster. Why do you have to be so judgmental?”
“Why can’t someone find honesty endearing?” I retort. I know she’s right, about the judgmental part. I can’t help it, though. If I think it, I say it, and this does not bode well on the dating front.
“Can we just not talk about this? I’ve got a ton of research to do before tomorrow.”
“Fine,” she relents. “For now. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Thanks.” Communication terminated. 4:32 p.m. Recording archived.
At dinner I have to face my parents. I can immediately read the disappointment on his face.
“Dad, I’m sorry,” is all I can muster. I know my parents know all about the date as I’m sure they’ve either read my communication log from Summer’s call, or they are able to connect the dots that I had an after school coffee date at 3:30 yet logged back in to the home security system less than an hour later.
Ben snickers, and I kick him under the table. “And you,” I say. “You just wait until next year when you have to start dating too.” This is hardly a comeback since, at fifteen, his tablet already loads up nightly with messages from the girls who can’t wait to be one of his twice-a-monthers next year.
“Livvy,” my mother starts, in a tone meant to reassure me that I’m not on trial when I know that I am. “We’re just looking out for your best interest.”
“I’m trying, Mom. You have to believe that I am.”
“Well, sweetheart,” my father adds. “You’re seventeen. It’s time to try harder.” He pauses to reset the mood. “So, how were classes for everyone today?” And just like that, the discussion is over. I should be put off by his unwillingness to hear me out, but I’m more relieved than anything.
I pick Summer up at the foot of her lawn the next morning. She decides to go easy on me.
“Let’s be single together,” she starts. "I’m gonna break up with Jackson.”
“Please, Livvy. He’s a biologist. I’m a physicist. It was doomed from the start.”
If only I could have it so easy, to be so picky. She could be a walking cliché with her long blond hair and flawless honey skin, but she owns it—the look, the name, all of it. I roll my eyes as we make our way past numerous front yards whose shrubs most likely hold a place of distinction in Will’s tablet gallery. The score for this month? First dates, two. Second dates, zero. Go me.
As we make our way toward the front steps of the Academy, I notice someone heading our direction from across the street. It’s a boy, and I don’t recognize him, which doesn’t make sense. Our eyes meet, and I just stop and stare. Summer must be a step behind because she doesn’t notice and walks right into me, knocking me to the ground. Thankfully I snap back to reality in enough time to catch myself with my hands.
“Livvy, what the flux?”
I look up at her with an eyebrow raised.
“What? It’s not profanity,” she defends. “I’m sorry, but why in the world did you stop walking?”
I look up, and he is gone. “I don’t know. I thought I saw something.”
“Can you be more specific? It must have been some thing.”
“No. I don’t know. Forget it. Can you just help me up?” She does, and we continue to our first class.
As soon as we sit down, the apparition reappears. He’s standing up at the front of the room with Mr. Pierce. His presence brings immediate silence, all eyes on him. I’m pretty sure I’m starting to sweat, though I know this room is always frigid. The calm he emanates is not entirely natural, and he looks like no other guy I know. His hair is the darkest black I’ve ever seen, cropped close to his head. The subtle stubble on his jaw indicates he has not shaven in a couple of days (completely against code), and his hazel eyes are fixed in my direction as Mr. Pierce introduces him. Again I’m staring.
“Class, this is Wes. He’ll be with us through graduation.” As hurriedly as he says it, Mr. Pierce ushers Wes to the empty table at the back of the room.
That’s it? No explanation? New students don’t enter the Academy. In fact, new people don’t enter the sector. Where did this guy come from?
Everyone’s eyes follow Wes to his table. He gives us a slight, closed mouth grin, tucking his hands into his front pockets. His forearm peeks out from his cuff, and I see what looks like writing on the underside. He must notice too because he instinctively pulls his sleeve back to his wrist as he sits down. My tablet chimes with an incoming message, from Summer of course. It says one word—tattoo.
I don’t see Summer again until lunch. She’s late and comes running to the table. “Livvy, that boy has a tattoo!”
I don’t have a chance to respond or ask where she’s been. She slaps the last bite of sandwich out of my hand.
“Seriously?” I ask.
“Shhh! He just sat down at the table behind you!”
I try to be subtle and turn around. Our eyes meet. Again, that same closed mouth grin. I turn back around.
“What was that?” Summer demands.
“I have no idea.” Thankfully, I’m saved by the bell. I won’t see Summer again until after school. I hope by then she’ll forget the familiarity in that smile.
She does. I don’t.
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