Friday, March 4, 2005, 2:51 p.m.
‘Does he know you monkey around on pot?’ Dylan asks as Kathryn flicks the lighter, everyone tittering like a Three’s Company audience over the bong’s gurgle. The question bothers her enough to distract from the tubed smoke swirling into a cloud too heavy for her lungs to clear, which causes an eye-watering coughing fit.
Dylan had been Kathryn’s latest crush ever since they started sitting next to each other in spring semester’s English 301 class. Like all previous crushes, she had let an initial interest snowball to the point where his every word or move was molded into the narrative of a handsome partner who would solve all her problems and shock her with his selfless devotion, despite knowing next to nothing about him.
She had found the nerve to ask a few times if he wanted to join the half-dozen of them that ritually got high after class on Fridays (the presence of others padding the blow of any anticipated rejection). She invented half a notebook page of cool lines to pair with record album stares tested in a mirror, but froze up with her mouth open when he finally said ‘yes’.
His joke had come after someone brought up that tonight was Coach’s last game. Kathryn’s fellow Captain’s employee and friend Tiffany remarked that Coach loved her (drawing out the O’s in ‘love’ with jazz hands), which prompted Kathryn to mention that she had a pair of third row tickets Jerry had given her.
She had driven out to Tri-County Mall the Tuesday before to buy a dress and shoes for the occasion, and labored over a handmade card for Jerry she intended to pass him at game’s end. Dylan was the one she wanted to take with her, and she had crafted elaborate scenarios of how the night would be a precursor to their inevitable romance while she was making Jerry’s card and trying to think of a casual way to ask him. But now hearing him mock Jerry, she realized needle-to-balloon that he was an invention of her own imagination, and just another sleazy boy she had built up to be a prince.
Kathryn’s mind raced too much to pay attention to the rest of the circle’s conversation, her brain whirring so loud it drowned out their dialogue, aware enough of social cues to flash timely smiles and nods and say ‘I know!’ at the right moments, but counting the minutes until she could get away.
She left with a lie about an upset stomach and without offering Dylan her extra ticket, sobbing as she walked home through the stench of frying oil and stale beers that clouded the uptown Custerville alleyways. Feeling small and foolish, she was grateful for the drizzling rain that lowered the odds of male strangers who crossed her path noticing her tears and stopping to ask if she was OK.
‘Don’t worry about him,’ Jerry had said to her one morning during the innocence of freshman year, waving his hand as he pulled cash from his pocket, peeling off $10 more than the bill. ‘Worry about yourself.’
At the time it felt as if he was some sort of shaman reading her thoughts, but she’s come to realize over time that Jerry probably just noticed her eyes being drawn to the boy three tables away like magnetic north and understood.
‘Worry about yourself,’ she whispers to herself in the rain, which makes her sniffle and smile and shiver a little with hope.