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I looked at my finger, wrapped in the Snoopy Band-Aid that the school nurse gave me. I understand she works at different schools, including the elementary school, but does she have to let it spill over into the high school? Never in my life had I had a cartoon character wrapped around my finger.
I shoved my hand in my pocket, feeling stupid that I needed a Band-Aid in the first place. I had been in Biology class working on an experiment when the beaker had cracked, then broken, slicing my finger as it went. Man, that had hurt.
It was kind of nice, though, the halls quiet as everyone sat in class. I watched the light from the window at the end of the hall, bouncing and twisting off the cracks and seams in the white linoleum, buffed to a shine. Lockers surrounded me on both sides of the hall, interrupted once in a while by a classroom door. I could hear the loud voices of the students in gym class coming up just at the end where I would turn to head back to class.
As I passed, I glanced over, stopping dead in my tracks. Haley stood in front of a weight machine, her arm draped over the bar as she spoke with Ryan, from the party. He was dressed in a tank and shorts, apparently both were in weight-lifting class. My eyes trailed to Haley. She also wore shorts and a tank, I could just barely see the straps of the sports bra underneath. I took in her entire body, legs long and supple from soccer in the fall, and then track in the spring. The clothes she usually wore, though fitted or even tight, belied the true shape of her body. Her arms were toned, the shoulders nicely defined, though not large. I imagined she had nothing of a stomach, either.
I was absolutely transfixed by the picture she set. She was stunning.
As my eyes drifted back to Ryan, I couldnt help but wonder what they were talking about. Haley was smiling and nodding her head as Ryan talked, gesturing wildly with his hands. Haleys head fell back as a loud spurt of laughter escaped her. It was a nice sound, high-pitched, but not shrill A contagious sound as I found myself smiling.
Watching them, I realized I was jealous but not jealous of Haley talking to the guy who liked me, or had to some degree at one point.
No, I was jealous of Ryan.
Shaking it off, I hurried off to class before anyone saw me.
* * *
I tried to avoid my booboo as I stuffed books into my locker, taking out my take-home quiz to do later, after work. Teachers were starting to pile up on work as Thanksgiving was only two weeks away, and finals would be a mere week and a half after it. I could not believe how quickly this year was flying by.
"Hey." Nearly jumping out of my skin, I closed my locker door a bit to see Haley standing behind it, a large grin on her face.
"Well, arent you in a happy person place." She grinned wider.
"Of course. Its Wednesday, hump day."
"Ah." I finished with my books, slammed my locker shut, sliding the padlock into place to snap it shut. "So why are you in such a happy person place? Hump day cant be all that exciting." I turned and started to head down the hall, Haley walking next to me.
"Well, no, but it is when you get a 97 on a physics test." I stopped and turned to look at her, my mouth open.
"I did," she squealed, turning in a circle, hands in the air. People walking by stopped to stare at her.
"Go you." I smiled, truly proud of her. She had done that one completely on her own. But then, wait a second. Suddenly I felt kind of sad. "Well, I guess my services have become obsolete." I gave her a smile, which I did not feel. She glanced down at me as we started to walk again.
"Well, I wouldnt say that."
"No. I dont just use you for your brain, you know."
"Oh, really?" I pushed her away from me. She grinned as she made her way back to walking beside me. "Would it make you feel better if I had a class that I suck at?"
"Oh, definitely. I want all the gory details." She rubbed her hands together as she leaned her head closer to catch my every word.
"Man, you just are not a nice person, you know that?"
"Yeah, yeah. Come on, out with it!" I grinned, shaking my head. What was she on, anyway? Part of me felt guilty as I walked and talked with her, as if I had been a voyeur earlier, and seen something that I shouldnt have. Granted, everyone in gym class today saw her, but they didnt stop and stare. I couldnt even really explain how I felt. I didnt like that very much.
"Well, in psych,"
"Youre taking psych?" Haley asked, her voice high and excited. I nodded. "Oh, yay! Ill help." I looked at her like shed just gained a third head.
"What makes you think that Id ask for your help? Or, that I even need help?"
"I know you wont ask, so Im offering. And, I dont imagine youd even bring this up if you didnt really need help." She looked at me with raised eyebrows. "Right?"
"Yeah, yeah. Anyway, it sucks. I have a project to do by Christmas break, and Im freaking a bit. I hate psychology."
"Girlfriend, psych is my specialty. Arent you a lucky girl?"
"Ye of little faith and analytical ability. Come on, Ill give you a ride home." We burst through the front doors to the school and headed toward the student parking lot. "You work tonight, right?" I nodded. "Okay, well I can t really get together tonight, I have plans. But, later in the week? Maybe even the weekend?" She looked at me to see my response. I nodded my head.
"Yeah, that sounds good. Oh, um, well, speaking of this weekend, you were asking me questions about Tae Kwon Do that one night, and well, Saturday morning is belt trials, so I was wondering if youd like to see what I actually do?" I looked at the passersby, not daring to look at Haley. I didnt want to see the rejection on her face, or annoyance in her eyes that I would dare ask her to do something so simple and lame.
"Definitely." Wait, what? I looked at her, surprised by the grin I saw there. "Id love to. Will you be fighting?"
"Yeah, but only as an opponent. I go for my next belt next year."
"Oh, well, as long as I get to see you in action. Oh, and promise me youll use your feet or hands or whatever to block all incoming punches or kicks, okay?" I glared.
"Funny." She dug her keys out of her purse, and unlocked the car. I quickly climbed in, the almost overpowering wind, which brought the general temperature down at least ten degrees, was getting the better of my hot bloodedness.
"You know, Andi, if you would wear a jacket to school that actually did something more than this thin wool thing, youd be much better off."
"Thanks, mom." With a chuckle she started the car.
The entire drive to my house consisted of me listening to Haley ramble on and on about the test, and how easy it was comparatively, and how grateful she was that I had helped her, and how she owed me big time. I enjoyed her excitement and enthusiasm. It was a nice change.
"So, Ryan asked about you today."
My thoughts came to a screeching halt at the change in topic, and choice of topic.
Haley glanced over at me. "Ryan? Ring a bell? Ryan Pritchard?"
"Yes, what about him?"
"Damn, where did you go? I said he asked about you today."
"What did he ask?"
"If youd died. Hes still interested in talking to you, getting to know you. I totally sang your praises today in weight lifting. Hes more interested than ever." She smiled at me, and I tried to respond in kind, but was having a bit of trouble with the corner of my mouth. "You dont seem so happy about this. Andi, Im trying to get you out a bit more, you know? High school is meant to be fun."
"Im enjoying myself quite nicely now." I almost felt angry, betrayed. What part of Im not interested was she not getting? I didnt need some angel to come down, tap me on the shoulder, and turn me into the cookie-cutter high school girl who goes gaga because some cute guy notices her. Now, how to put this without sounding like a bitch. "Haley, Im really not into dating right now, okay? I had my fun over the summer, and I certainly had enough stud stew to last me for a while. Ryan graduates this year, and hell be gone, and I certainly dont care enough to carry on a long-distance thing with him." I glanced over at her to see if I could possibly read what she was thinking. She looked straight ahead, chewing on her bottom lip. "Ryan was nice and very cute, but I didnt find him very interesting, nor could he hold much of a conversation about anything save for his car and sports." The tiniest bit of a smile curled up the corner of her mouth.
"I guess I should have figured youd need the book type." She glanced at me for a moment before turning back to the road. "Im sorry, Andi. I shouldnt have pushed the issue. Ill make sure he doesnt bug you." She smiled again, but it was a small, almost sad smile. Crap. Did I hurt her feelings? I wasnt sure, and it didnt matter now as she pulled into the driveway to my house.
Haley pulled the break, and turned to me, but said nothing.
"Thanks for the ride. To be honest, I wasnt looking forward to the walk. Its pretty cold out there."
"Yeah, it is." She looked out the window at the white wonderland that surrounded us, almost blinding as the sun beat down on it, but never with enough strength to really do any serious melting. "Well, have a good night at work."
"Thanks. See you later." She only smiled as I got myself out of the car. I waved, then hurried to the front door.
As I sat at my desk, trying to work on the quiz, I couldnt get Haley out of my mind, and my misplaced guilt. I had no reason, whatsoever, to feel bad, but yet I did. I imagine this was bothering me far more than it was bothering her.
I tossed my pen on the desk, rested my cheek against my hand. Why was I obsessing over this? Normally I was not one to dwell, but my thoughts were plagued. I didnt want to lose the new friendship that was being created between Haley and I. I mean, I was probably kidding myself, and she didnt think of me at all. Maybe I was just a distraction for her. Something fun to toy with for a while, to get her kicks off of.
Running my hands through my hair, I groaned. Those were horrible thoughts, and I really didnt think she was capable of such callousness, but I didnt really trust her kind. Her kind. What was she? A cannibal? Alien? Im losing my mind.
Deciding to do my best to not linger anymore on a subject that just didnt matter, and certainly I had done nothing wrong, I picked up my pen again and focused my attention on the quiz. Well, for the most part.
* * *
I tugged my backpack a little higher on my shoulders, the puffy ski jacket making it slide a little further every couple of steps. This weekend was supposed to warm up a bit, and that would be good. I loved the snow, and needed the cold weather, but this was getting to be a little ridiculous. Plus I hated to be all bundled up like Randy from A Christmas Story. The snow crunched under my hiking boots, a satisfying sound, as my breath came out in little warm puffs of white air, turned cold and crystallized before it even fully left my lips.
I glanced over my shoulder when I heard the horn of a car honk. Haleys black car pulled along side me, her leaning over the passenger seat, glancing at the road every few seconds as she slowly drove at my pace.
"Plan to get very far that way?" I asked, but kept walking. It had been two days since I had talked to or seen her. I had managed to keep my distance, not sure if she was still angry with me, if she ever was. I had realized how much I had missed her; it was nice having someone to talk to, a comrade at arms.
"Well, Id get farther if youd get in," she said, her voice just barely making it over the drone of the engine and howl of the mid-November wind. I stopped and looked at her. I had some shy, sheepish remark on the tip of my tongue, but decided to save it, and get in. At least it would be warmer in there. "Why didnt you wait for me this morning?" Haley asked as she pulled back onto the road, headed toward school. "It snowed last night." I shrugged.
"I guess I figured Id just walk today." I briefly glanced at her. She was looking at a group of kids who waited to cross the street at the upcoming corner.
"That wasnt the most brilliant move thus far in your academic career." She smiled at me to take the sting out of her chastise. "Andi, its two degrees out there with the wind chill. Why on earth would you go out in this?"
"Well, I didnt see you yesterday to ask you, and I dont have your phone number." Yeah, I know it sounded lame to me, too. I turned to see blue eyes boring into me. I figured shed see right through it, but to her credit, she said nothing else about it.
"So, what class do you have right before lunch?"
"How about you meet me in the cafeteria and we can start at least talking about your project. Cool?" I nodded.
"Okay, sure. How fast can you get there?"
"My class isnt far at all, so I can be there stat. You?"
"Well, as you know, Im quite a ways from it, but Ill run." I smiled. Haley pulled into the school parking lot, and turned the car off. There were tons of cars already there, and kids running and talking as they made their way toward the building. Ordinarily a lot of them stood around in the parking lot or outside the building until the first bell rang, but even the most dense of my peers had sense to get out of this weather. As we walked I saw Kelly standing and talking with Meghan by one of their cars as Meghan got her bag together. Kelly looked at us, her brows drawn in confusion. Well, it was nice talking with you, Haley.
"Hey, guys," Haley said, waving to them. Kelly raised her hand to wave back, a smile spreading across her face. To my utter shock Haley turned back to stare straight ahead and continued walking to the school. I looked at her, at them, then back at her, confused. "I cannot believe how cold it is." My attention was brought back to her voice as she hugged herself in an attempt to ward off the cold.
"Yeah, its definitely cold as hell." I agreed, my thoughts still whirling around my head like little flies, buzzing at my brain.
"So, are you excited about your sparring tomorrow?" Haley smiled at me, pulling the front glass door open, and holding it for me.
"Thanks. No, not really. I enjoy trying to knock the little ones down. I am the Sunbae Nim, after all." She looked at me quizzically.
"Senior member in the class, next to the instructor, of course. Hes our Sabum Nim."
"How long have you been kicking butt and taking names?" I grinned.
"Wow. Go, you." We walked to a point where wed have to go our separate ways. Haley turned to me, placing her hand on my shoulder. "See you later, okay?" I nodded, then stared after her for a moment as she made her way through the crowd; just about everyone she passed got a hello or good morning from her. The bell rang, and I hurried to my locker.
* * *
I think theres a reason why people who like English generally hate science, and vise versa. I hurried from my English class, shaking my head. Why on earth would I wish to take some dead guys work, then completely dissect it? Who cares what he meant by what he said in line 31 of paragraph 12. The dude is dead, and no one really cares.
Shaking my head, I made my way to the cafeteria, hoping that Haley and I would have a little bit of time before her friends showed up. I looked around as I entered the large room, and immediately saw Haley sitting at her table, munching on a bag of dried fruit. So typical.
"Hey." I plopped my backpack down, not having time to hit my locker. She looked up and smiled.
"Howdy. Want some?" I looked at the dried apple pieces she held in her fingers, and my nose scrunched.
"You know, the only thing that looks more gross than dried fruit is jerky. Every time I see it I cant help but think of King Tuts mummy." Haley glared at me.
"Thanks. I happen to love jerky." I smiled.
"Okay, so have you thought about this at all?" I sat, tugging the instructions my teacher had given to us for the project.
"No. Heres what it has to be." She took the packet from me, and began to read.
"So, she wants a comparison experiment of sorts?" She glanced up at me, I nodded. "Okay, well, I really dont think this will be too difficult, Andi. There are any number of different things you can compare and contrast from a psychological point of view. I mean, how about penis envy versus womb envy? Its an age-old debate that no one can, as of yet, decide on. Right?" I nodded. "Interested?" Again, I nodded.
"Youre going to help me with this, right?" Her face brightened, her body lifting as she sat a little straighter.
"Really? You want my help totally?" I smiled.
"Nut. Okay. You got it." The room began to fill with noise as it filled with kids, hungry kids. I learned a long time ago that you never keep kids away from food. The table vibrated as books and bags were tossed onto it. I looked around to see Haleys friends starting to sit down, or head toward the lunch lines. Kelly walked up to stand next to Haley, staring at me. "Hey, girl." Haley put an arm around Kellys waist and hugged her.
I gathered my books and backpack, and began to stand. I felt a hand on my arm.
"Stay." I looked to see Haley staring into my eyes, her arm still around Kelly. "Please? Join us?" I looked around at the eyes that stared at me, some curious, others just plain confused as they looked from me to Haley, and back at me. I really wanted to bolt, and badly, but looking into those blue eyes, there was just no way.
"Okay." I sat again, feeling like a microscope slide. She smiled, squeezing my wrist before letting it go. I felt like a stranger in a strange land, surrounded by natives that did not know my language, and I sure as hell did not know theres.
I realized my lunch was in my locker, but looking around me, I had lost my appetite. Haley pulled her lunch out of her backpack, setting it all out before her on the table. A container filled with something, most likely juice, knowing her, a sandwich, the empty bag from her dried apples, and a napkin. I watched as she prepared the sandwich, squishing it a bit with her palm before she looked up, her eyes meeting mine.
"What?" she asked, bringing the sandwich half-way to her mouth.
"Nothing. I guess I was just wondering why you were abusing the sandwich before you ate it." She shrugged.
"I dont know." She took a bite, smiled at me as she chewed. I tried to smile back, but Im not sure how successful I was. My entire body was jolted as someone flopped down on the bench next to me. I turned to see narrowed green eyes staring into mine. My blood froze in my veins, and I fought the urge to growl.
"I know you," James said, the crooked smile on his face that so many girls at Winston loved, and which I hated. "Youre the little twat that kicked me in the nuts." Haley coughed across from me, nearly choking on her sandwich as she looked at me. I glanced at her, then back at James Parker, the meanest asshole in the entire school. God, I had no idea he hung around with Haley.
"Yeah. What of it?" I looked him square in the eye, knowing that if it came down to it, I could squash him like the insect that he was.
"Yeah, Freshman year, you nailed me."
"Weve established this, James. Care to add anything else?" He sneered, looking me up and down.
"You havent changed at all. Dont most girls get cuter as they get older? Youre still a scrawny little bitch like you were then."
"Jimmy!" I could see Haley out of the corner of my eye, lunch forgotten as she stared at him.
"Go away," he said to her, not even looking at her, his eyes still riveted on me. "I should fuck you up for that."
"Well, maybe youll learn to pick on people your own size, next time."
"You little whore. What are you doing at my table? You dont belong here. Why dont you just go sit in your little dog pen where you belong."
"Gladly, you piece of shit." I grabbed my backpack, nearly shaking with a mixture of fear and anger, and of course, humiliation. My life wouldnt be complete without it in my day somewhere.
"Andi, please dont go." I didnt even look at Haley as I stood, slinging my pack on my back, and heading out of the cafeteria, calm and collected, just a ruse to hide the boiling blood just below the surface. I wasnt about to give those bastards the satisfaction of seeing how much James got to me. I wanted to hit a locker so bad, my hand twitching at my side.
I heard my name being called as I made my way into the hall, but I didnt care to stop. As soon as Id cleared the cafeteria doors, I broke into a run, needing to get as far away as I could, my boots pounding on the tile as I went, headed toward a little nook made by a section of lockers.
I tore my backpack from my shoulders, and threw it to the ground. God, why did I have to go through this? What was so wrong with me that I was to be the butt of everyones jokes? Most days I could just disappear amongst my fellow students, predators like James Parker never even knowing I existed.
"Andi!" I could hear Haleys steps as she ran down the hall. I didnt want her to see me this way. I quickly wiped at my eyes, which had quickly become wet. I sniffled, and brought the hem of my sweatshirt up to dry my cheeks. "There you are. God, are you okay?" My back was to her, as I wasnt ready to face her just yet. I still needed a moment to get myself under control. So, I just nodded. She stepped up behind me, her hand reaching out to touch my shoulder. "Im so sorry, Andi. I had no idea hed do something like that. My god, Im so stunned."
"You?" I turned around, giving her a weak smile. The look on her face just about broke my hears, like she was about to burst into tears. "He and I have a bit of a history."
"So I gathered. What happened?"
"First day of high school, Im sitting in Mr. Tanners class, and you know how he has those desks where the chair is connected to the desk?" she nodded. "Well, I was sitting in my seat, in the front row, minding my own business, and James comes up to me, stares at me, then gets that stupid little grin he has, and lifts the entire desk."
"Oh, Andi." I could hear the sadness in her voice.
"Im at a new school, unfortunately in classes with older kids, and idiots like that who feed on the fear and humiliation of others. My feet cant even touch the floor anymore, and the desk behind me is digging into my back, the other kids are laughing at me, so I told him to put me down. He only lifts higher, succeeding in knocking me backwards, my head pushing the other desk out of the way as I fall. The class erupts into laughter, fingers pointing at me, led by your buddy, Jimmy. So, I stand and walk up to him, and hes a pretty big guy." Haley smiles and nods. "I kicked him in the nuts."
"You really did that?" she asked.
"Hell, yeah, I did."
"He absolutely deserved it." Haley took me by the arm, and lead me to the lockers, and sat. I followed suit, curling myself up, knees to my chest, arms tucked into my body. I felt so vulnerable as I told her that story. "Im so sorry. God, I just feel like such a bitch."
"Why? You didnt do anything."
"Didnt I?" She looked at me, looking miserable. "Andi, youre not comfortable around my friends, understandably so with Jimmy, yet I keep trying to pull you in. You know, its like Im trying to kill two birds with one stone; spend time with you and them by incorporating you into my little group. Part of me feels like I have this duty to show you that life can be fun." She smiled at me, I smiled back.
"Believe me, I have enough fun on my own, Haley. I dont need to spend a fun-filled lunch with James Parker for that."
"Yeah, I guess you dont." She sighed, running a hand through her hair, pushing the dark strands behind an ear. "Im so sorry about today, Andi. It was completely unacceptable of him, and I just feel horrible to put you through that. I am really sorry."
"Its okay. What can you do, you know? I think were all created to fill certain roles, and the popular chick, I was not meant to be."
"It shouldnt be that way. I mean, not to sound like some poster for peace, but why cant we all just get along?"
"Because then life would be boring." She chuckled ruefully.
"Yeah." With a groan, Haley stood, wiping off the butt of her jeans as she did. She looked down at me. "Are you going to go back in there?" I shook my head.
"No. Anything I need is right here." I patted my backpack that lay not far from me.
"Okay. Well, the bell is going to ring soon, and I need to get my stuff from the cafeteria. Can I get you anything while Im in there? I mean, you didnt even get to eat."
"No. Im not real hungry."
"Okay." She just looked at me, and I wondered what was going through her mind. "Well, Ill see you after school when I give you a ride home. Got that?" I grinned, nodded.
The day went by quickly as I threw myself into my classes, using the concentration techniques that I had been taught for over a decade. James Parker wasnt worth my spit, let alone brain power. The day would end, and so would the week.
I slammed my locker shut, slinging my backpack over my shoulder, and began to walk toward the main hall when I caught Parker out of the corner of my eye. He was talking to someone, and he did not look happy. I was shocked to see that the person he was talking to was Haley. I took a few steps closer, dying to know what was being said.
"What the fucks your problem, Haley? Shes nothing. Damn."
"Youre a sick bastard, Jimmy. Why do you get off on other peoples pain? Andi is my friend, so dont you ever do what you did today again. You got me?" She poked him in the chest.
"Ow, what did I do?" She stared at him, incredulous.
"You need help." She muttered as she turned away from him, headed in the direction of her locker. He watched her go, then shook his head as he walked in another direction. My gaze searched for Haley in the crowded hall, but I had lost her. A slow smile spread across my face.
* * *
We had decided that Haley would meet me at the dojang since I had to be there so early. Sabum Nim Kyung had talked with us, giving everyone their assignment. Since I was one of the few not going for the next belt, I would be the main sparring partner among the higher ranking students.
"God, I hate these," Tracy said, adjusting her ti. Today she would be trying for her first degree black belt today, so this was a big moment for her. I knew she would get it, and had tried to be as supportive as possible.
"Charyot!" Everyone came to attention, lining up in our rows, bowing to the Sabum Nim. "Those of you in trials today, stay. The rest, go."
I stood, bowed, and headed toward the front of the massive room, deciding to warm up with some patterns, slowly easing into the more difficult, intricate kicks and punches. I always lost myself once I started, the world just receding away from my awareness so that all I felt was the energy flowing through me, matching my breathing with the slow pulse, eyes closed as I tried to feel my opponent.
I swung around, feeling my wrist come into solid contact with something just as solid. My eyes shot open to see Haley standing before me, holding her shoulder, eyes huge.
"Ah, jeez. Im sorry. Are you okay?" I hurried over to her. "Let me see that." She removed her hand, and I felt her shoulder. "I think youll just have a good bruise there." I grinned. "Do you walk out in front of moving cars?" She narrowed her brows.
"Well, thats essentially what you did just now. Dont ever sneak up behind a warrior."
"A warrior, huh?" She tried to hide her smile.
"Hey, dont laugh."
"Sorry. And sorry I scared you." I shrugged.
"My defenses were up, and you became the enemy that was already in my mind." She looked at me for a moment, as if she was trying to decide whether Id lost my mind, or I was serious. A smile spread over her lips.
"Thats kind of cool." She looked me over. "So, what is this thing?" She clipped the loose sleeve of my uniform.
"Well, this is called a dobok. This," I pointed to the patch that was sewn on over the left breast. "is my dojangs, which is this building, patch. Kind of like a Coat of Arms. This," I grabbed the end of my belt. "is called a ti. These gold bars here will tell the history of my success here. There are three, and I am a third degree black belt, thus the black belt itself." I looked up from my uniform to see her eyes on the belt, her face a picture of awe. Finally she met my gaze.
"Thats really neat." She smiled wide, obviously impressed. Neat.
I smiled, then noticed that the class had begun to gather around the mats that had been laid out earlier where the trials would be. The students were on their knees in a circle around it.
"I have to go. You can either just stick around here, sit on the bench along that wall, there, or you can join the circle."
"Thanks. Ill find somewhere."
I felt Haleys eyes on me as I hurried over to the circle, falling to my knees as things began. I would not be needed for a little bit, as the younger, less experienced students fought, but I had to be in the circle to support my classmates. Tracy knelt down next to me.
"Haley Corregan is here?" She eyed her, then looked at me with surprised eyes.
"I invited her."
"Oh." She turned back to the sparing, and didnt say another word.
The hour passed quickly, each student given a certain amount of time to prove that the have earned the opportunity to advance.
"Sunbae Nim." I hopped to my feet and entered the fighting ring. My opponent was Jeremy Handlin, six foot two, one hundred ninety- four pounds. As he walked toward me the room was deathly quiet, except for the "oh, my god" I heard come from toward the back of the room.
I grinned as I got set up for the fight. Jeremy was trying for his second gold stripe. Sabum Nim issued the call to begin. Jeremy gave me everything he had, but I was able to dodge every blow, being smaller gave me much needed speed with a much larger opponent. This guy had ten inches of height, and sixty-five pounds of weight on me. I had to admit, I was slightly intimidated, but that quickly waned. He was good, but I was better. Jeremy was a great guy, and I wanted him to get his advancement, but he was sure going to work for it.
He got behind me, determined to pin me. I grabbed him by the bicep, and pulled. The momentum his body had already been creating sent him hurling over my hip, and onto his back on the floor. I quickly pinned him with my foot on his chest. The order was called to quit, and I reached down to help him up.
"Nice one, Andi. Didnt even see it coming." Jeremy breathed, sweat covering his forehead. I grinned, slapped him on the arm.
"Thanks. You, too. You nearly had me, there." He smiled, bowed to me, I bowed back, and he joined the circle. I glanced over toward the back to see Haley watching, her eyes wide, as if shed been transfixed by what shed seen. She looked at me, gave me a smile and a thumbs up, then I turned to my next sparring partner.
It took nearly two hours for us to get through, and for everyone to be allowed to go. I hurried over to Haley, breathless from an hour straight of fighting.
"Hey." I grinned.
"Hi, there. Very impressive." She smiled, standing from the bench she sat on.
"Thanks. What did you think?"
"This is amazing what you guys can do. Wow. You are lethal, Andi." I felt so proud that she appreciated what I had worked so hard to do.
"Thanks. Well, Ill be right back. Im going to catch a quick shower, and get changed."
"Okay. Ill be here."
I ran to the back room, and stripped out of my dobok, which was saturated with sweat in some places. "Yuck." I stuffed it in the bag Id brought with me, getting my street clothes out. The water felt wonderful against my over-worked, over-heated skin and muscles. A few of the students had gotten some great whacks in there, and I knew Id be bruised by tomorrow, and sore.
I buttoned my jeans, and pulled the tank over my head, trying to hurry so I could at least say goodbye to Haley. I figured she had other things to do today, and was grateful she had taken the time out for me. Grabbing my comb as I stuffed everything in my bag, I zipped it up and slung it over my shoulder as I headed out to the main room. Tangles made me flinch as I quickly tried to get them out of my hair, finally getting it all smooth and back, away from my face. It amazed me how much darker blonde my hair was when it was wet. I could feel the wet ends tickling the tops of my ears, and my neck.
I stopped as I entered, seeing Haley looking at the technique poster, her back to me as she tried to imitate what she saw there. Sabum Nim had hung the poster up a few years back when an irate parent had come in after their precious little boy had gotten hurt, by being stupid. They wanted to know and be able to see everything that we did without having to take the time to actually stay for an entire class. I remember my teacher had been so angry, thinking the poster cheapened his dojang. He nearly kicked the kid out altogether.
Haley brought her hand up, staring at her palm as she looked back at the poster.
"That is the sonbadak." She swung around, startled. I grinned, as I walked toward her. "Sorry. I didnt mean to scare you."
"Oh, thats okay." She looked at me, eyes trailing over my tank and jeans. "You really shouldnt hide that." She said, looking back into my face. Confused, I looked down at myself, then at her, still no clearer.
"That body of yours. I know you say youre not interested in dating right now, which is cool, but wouldnt it be nice to at least be looked at? I mean, I had no idea, though I guess it makes sense with your Tae Kwon Do and yoga, and stuff."
I looked away, thoroughly embarrassed, suddenly very shy, and feeling quite uncomfortable. I wished I had a sweatshirt of jacket on about now.
"Um, thanks." I smiled weakly, crossing my arms over my chest.
"What, do you think Im going to stare at your breasts?" I looked at her, surprised, my arms immediately going to my sides. Haley had her hands on her hips, a quirky smile on her lips.
"No." She chuckled.
"Come on, explain this stuff to me." I walked over to her, still surprised. Only one other human being had ever noticed that I even had breasts, and I sure as hell didnt want to think about him. "What is this?" Haley pointed to the forearm of the man on the poster.
"That is called the palmok. You use it right here." I slapped my forearm to show her. "This is the yop joomuk," I slapped the side of my fist. "Ap joomuk," I pointed to my knuckles, "And finally, dung joomuk." I pointed to the back of my hand. Haley listened intently as I went through the body, explaining what each was called, and what it was used for.
"Wow," She shook her head. "How long did it take you to learn all that?"
"Not as long as youd think, but then I was six years old, and most children learn much faster than adults."
"Show me how you flipped that guy this morning." She said, a twinkle in her eye. "That was really cool, and Id love to see you do that to Jimmy." I chuckled, nodded, slowly moving myself in front of Haley, grabbed her arm, and down she went with a whoosh of air from her lungs. She stared at me from the floor, dazed. She blinked rapidly before her eyes focused up on me. "Oh." Chuckling, I reached down and grabbed her hand, helping her to her feet. She ran her hands through her hair, pushing it back into some sort of order, then turned to look at me. "Warning next time?"
"Sure thing. Thats how its done. Are you okay?" She nodded. "Im sorry. I just couldnt resist." I smiled, trying to not laugh, but it was slowly seeping through.
"Thats okay, its okay. Youll just teach me, and remember, Andi," She leaned in close to me, staring me in the eye, "paybacks are a bitch." She ran her hands through her hair again, and smiled at me. "So, hungry?"
"Great. Come on." She grabbed her purse from the floor, pulling the bags strap across her chest. "Why dont we drop off a car, it doesnt make sense to have both of them out, and then we can grab some lunch. Sound good?" I nodded, excited to spend some time with her.
We began to walk toward the door.
"Would you teach me some Tae Kwon Do stuff?" I looked up at her, surprised by the question.
"Sure. What do you want to learn?"
"All of it. I think its such a beautiful sport, well, I guess its a sport. Anyway, its just a good thing to know, too, I think." I nodded in agreement.
"How much time do you have today? We could begin."
"Well, lets see." She exhaled a deep breath as she thought. "Im free until tonight. I promised Id go with Kelly to her little sisters Thanksgiving play at the elementary school. Thats at seven, so before that," she shrugged.
"Ill see you at my house? Want to drive today?" I smiled.
"Yeah." I didnt get to drive that often, so I was pretty excited about it; it gave me a sense of responsibility and control to some degree. I had saved nearly every paycheck from the lab in the time Id been there, and my mom promised that shed match what Id saved to buy me a car this winter. I couldnt wait. It was to be my Christmas present.
Haley jumped into the passenger seat, and we got going from her house. She looked around the car, one corner of her mouth turned up in a sardonic smile.
"Gee, I barely remember the last time I was in this car."
"I bet you do. It was interesting, huh?" She glanced at me, and I smiled at her.
"Yeah, something like that. Andi, can I ask you a question?"
"Well, okay, but you cant get mad at me or defensive."
"Oh, boy. I just love these kind of question. Okay, I promise."
"So, youre not interested in dating, youve made that clear. But why? I mean, is it just high school guys, guys right now, guys in general, whats the deal?" I sighed as I thought about it, trying to come up with some sort of an answer that made sense, and that shed accept.
"Well, high school guys are kind of a turn off for me, for one."
"Why?" I smiled.
"Curiosity killed the cat, you know."
"And satisfaction brought it back, dont avoid the question."
I chuckled. "Well, I think theyre quite immature, interested in only one thing, and Ive already made that mistake." I felt her eyes boring into me.
"Have you been with a guy? Like, had sex?" I sighed again, nodded.
"No shit! I never would have guessed. Who was it? When did it happen? Were you guys dating?"
"Whoa. Slow down there, chick. You might hurt yourself. His name was Rick, and it happened last summer when we worked at the lab together."
"Rick what? Would I know him?"
"I doubt it, unless youve been hanging around New Mexico and didnt tell me. He worked there during college here, and graduated last spring."
"A summer romance. Wow. Was he cute?" I glanced at her as I turned into the parking lot of Carlos Pizza Heaven.
"Man, youre just full of questions, arent you?" She grinned like an idiot, nodding vigorously. God, how could I ever resist that? "Yes, he was a good-looking guy. Dark hair, bright grayish eyes. But, he was an ass, and was only after one thing."
"So, you were with this one guy, and he was an asshole, so automatically you assume every guy is like that?" We got out of the car, walked toward the building.
"Well, isnt every guy this age like that?" I asked her, pushing the door open, and holding it for her.
"Thanks. Yeah, pretty much." She chuckled.
"Alright, then." We walked through the restaurant until we found a booth, and sat down. "The thing is, I wasnt looking for a relationship, or anything even remotely serious, and I knew that I was a notch for him, but I guess Im just kind of mad at myself now, for not thinking it through." Haley looked at me as she grabbed a menu.
"What do you mean?"
"I gave him something that I can never get back, or give to someone out there that I love."
"Oh. I see." She handed me my own menu.
"Did you care about him at all? I mean, how did he get through?"
"Well, youre so stuck on the idea that guys suck, and are not datable because theyre under the age of twenty-five. This guy must have been in his early twenties. What was so different about him than anyone else? I cant imagine he and Ryan are the only guys who have tried to ask you out in your life." I shrugged.
"I dont know. I guess for a minute there I got lost in the idea that he was older, I mean, a whole whopping twenty-two. He was nice, cute, and we had a lot in common. Rick was very good at making you believe just about anything, you know? Making you feel like you are the most beautiful woman in the world, or some bullshit like that. You know the type, theyll tell you anything to get you into bed." Haley looked at me for a moment, looking into my eyes.
"Andi, you are beautiful." I just stared at her. "Guys can do that, feed you a line of bull just so they can get into your pants, and he probably was about some things, but not about that." I searched her eyes, and could see the sincerity.
"Wow. Thanks." She smiled.
"What can I get you guys to drink?" We looked up to see our waitress smiling at us.
"Actually, Im ready to order. Andi, are you?"
"Okay, what can I get you?" We ordered, and the waitress left, returning within a few minutes to bring us our drinks.
"So, what do you find attractive in a guy?" Haley asked, sipping her Coke.
"What do I find attractive in someone?" She nodded. "Hmm. Good question." I took the paper off my straw as I thought. What do I find attractive? "Well, I guess Id have to say honesty, fun-loving, good sense of humor, takes care of themselves. And, probably most importantly, they must have a brain. So few people in the world seem to, now days. What is up with that?"
"Yeah, smarts doesnt seem to be a big fixture with a lot of people. Who knows." She shrugged, then studied me, soda in her hand, but she didnt drink. It was almost as if she were having some internal conversation with herself about me. Shaking herself out of it, she brought the straw to her lips, and began to drink. "So, you sort of answered my question."
"What? I answered you."
"I want to know what you find attractive, you know, outside. What kind of guy, or man, in your case, are you attracted to. Physically."
Hmm. No generic answer for that one. Truth be told, I didnt know. "Well, I guess the type of person Im attracted to is someone who takes care of themselves physically. I love a nice body. I know that sounds horribly stuck up of me, but I take care of myself, and to me when someone does, it says something about that person."
"Well, that they care about themselves, their health, the way that they look. I dont want someone who needs a mirror every two seconds, in fact thats quite the turn off, but I dont want someone who sits around on their ass all day, either." Haley looked at me, cocked her head slightly to the side, and smiled.
"Do you realize you used just about every pronoun except he or she just now?"
"Yeah, you never said he. Andi, do you like guys?" I was quite taken aback by the question. Do I like guys, who doesnt?
"Yeah. To the extent that theyre likeable. You talk about me, why arent you dating? I know for sure youre asked out daily."
"Well, not quite daily, but often, yes. I just got out of a relationship with Brad over the summer."
"So? So did I, yet you seem to think its so odd that Im single. What about you?"
"Okay, okay. You got me. Ill leave you alone." She leaned in. "For now."
* * *
"Okay, so heres what Im thinking." Haley took a bite of her third brownie, chewing quickly so she could talk. "Make a chart, or a poster, and on one side make a big sign that says penis, and on the other side, one that says womb." I munched on my own brownie as we sat on the floor in the middle of the living room of my house. My mom and her boyfriend, Clive were downstairs watching a movie. Chris? Who cares.
"So, do you think pictures would go well in this? I mean, I could drag out my digital camera, and head out into the big, bad world."
"Yeah, I could see that. Just get creative, Andi. However, I do think some pictures would be best left out of it." She grinned, and I threw a pillow from the couch at her. "You could have bullets under each side with little flip up signs with information or questions underneath."
"Okay." Haley looked at her watch.
"Shit, I have to go. Drop me off?" I nodded, and gathered all my papers together, piling them on the coffee table for later.
"Thanks for all your help, Haley. I really appreciate it."
"Sure. No problem. I intend to keep helping with this, if thats cool?" I smiled.
"Yeah, definitely." She stood, grabbed her purse and jacket from the couch.
"Ready?" Keys in hand, we headed out. "Oh," she stopped at the front door, me nearly slamming into her as she dug into her purse to grab a small notebook and pen. "You said you didnt have my number the other day. Well, the top one is my home number, and the one below is my cell phone." She glanced up at me. "You know, just in case you felt like calling in the middle of the night, or something." With a grin she handed me the paper.
"Thanks." I tucked it into my pocket, and followed her out to the car.
* * *
I turned over onto my left side, pulling the covers up to my chin. Too hot. Pushing them under my arm, I rolled onto my stomach. No good. With a growl, I sat up, glanced over at the clock. It was nearly two in the morning, yet I could not get comfortable, nor fall deeply asleep. I saw the blinking light on my phone, then remembered that Haley had given me her number.
Pushing the covers off me, I found my jeans on the floor, and rifled through the pockets until I felt the folded paper. Getting back under the covers, I reached for the receiver, and dialed the numbers to her cell. I grabbed the impromptu tool from an earlier art project, where Id been using the holes in a potato masher to create a diamond pattern on the page. I had nervous energy rushing through me as the phone rang, once, twice,
"Okay, what did you forget, Kelly?" asked the sleep-deepened voice.
"Huh?" I was confused. "This isnt Kelly."
"Oh. Who is this?" She seemed to waken more. She paused for a moment, "Um, Andi?"
"Yeah. Did I wake you?" I began to beat the masher lightly against my headboard, my hand taking on a life of its own.
"Well, I just went to bed, what on earth is that noise?" I stopped banging.
"What are you doing over there? Are you okay?"
"Yeah, Im fine. I guess I just felt like calling you in the middle of the night."
"Oh, I see. And as for what youre doing?"
"Excuse me? Did you say banging?"
"Huh. This is interesting. Where are you?" I could hear her shifting in her bed. I did the same, scooting down to lay on my side, holding myself up with my phone hands elbow.
"Oh, so you didnt stay up, watching the clock, waiting for exactly," she paused, "ten minutes after I went to bed."
"Nope, no such luck. If only I were that talented."
"Well, you seem to be pretty talented with the whole banging thing. I hear you going at it, again." I smiled into the phone, the rhythmic tapping of the masher on the side table obviously amusing to her.
"I take pride in all my talents."
"As well you should. So, what is getting banged?"
"What makes you think its anything of consequence?"
"Well, I seriously doubt, and hope, its not a body part of yours."
"Nope." I brought the masher to my eyes, looking at it in the moonlight, the metal part shining in the darkness.
"What is it used for? Other than banging, that is." She shifted again, her voice dropping a bit as she got comfortable. I could almost picture her in her bed, staring up at the glow in the dark stars on the ceiling.
"Well, its used in the kitchen." I heard her chuckle.
"Oh, really? So, its hard, then?"
"Yes." I was enjoying the game, though quite surprised that I was engaged in it.
"Hmm. Lets see," I ran my hand all over it. "Its cold, generally. Well, that is, part of it is metal."
"Really? Arent we into the kinky side of life?" I chuckled. "Is this thing with you every night?"
"No. Only on special occasions."
"Really?" I smiled at the surprise in her voice. "And tonight was a special occasion?"
"Yes. Brought on by Mrs. Carusso."
"What? What does the art teacher have to do with it?!" I laughed out loud, then covered my mouth as I didnt want to wake my mom or Chris.
"Its a potato masher. I traced the design for a project tonight." I smiled at the laughter on the other end of the phone.
"Well, it certainly is hard enough to bang with." I covered my eyes with my hand.
"Oh, Haley." More laughter. "So what about you? Do you have anything special you sleep with?" Pause. "Haley?" Pause. "What is it?"
"Yeah, thats a crock. Spill it, woman."
"Well, its rubber."
"Its a rubber? You sleep with a condom?"
"No, no, its made of rubber."
"Really? Is it smaller than a loaf of bread?"
"Yes." I could hear her smile in her voice.
"Its a handful. You know what they say, anything more is a waste." Yet again my eyes found themselves covered. Oh boy. I heard the snap of rubber. It sounded just like one of our latex gloves in the lab. "What, are you into the five-fingered pleasure?" A low, evil chuckle met my ear.
"Maybe." My eyes bulged. "No, its a Koosh."
"A Koosh ball. You know, the round, rubber things with lots of little, limp spines?"
"Little, limp spines? Poor thing. It must feel so useless."
"I imagine so."
"So, um, were you huddled around this thing when I stayed over?" Pause. "You did, didnt you?"
"It was under my pillow."
"And all while I was in the next bed. How could you?" She laughed, then quieted.
"Can I ask you a question?"
"At this point you feel the need to preempt with can?" I smiled.
"Yeah, guess thats kind of unnecessary now, huh? Anyway, well, you didnt like Ryan, right?" I groaned, flopping over onto my back.
"No. Too boring."
"Do you like boys?" I paused, taken off guard by the question. "I guess that was a little forward, wasnt it?"
"Maybe just a tad."
"Sorry. But do you?" I laughed, hearing the smile in her voice.
"I think I need to go to bed. So do you, you nut."
"Okay, okay." She yawned, and moaned slightly into the receiver. "Im so comfy and warm." She sighed. "Well, you sleep well, Andi. Im glad you called." I smiled at that.
"Me, too. Im glad youre not mad." I brought the covers up just under my chin, the cold night air sneaking in.
"Of course not. Why would I be?"
"Well, its a bit unusual to receive a call at two a.m."
"Well, luckily for you Id just gotten back from going out with Kelly."
"So I gathered from your greeting." She laughed.
"Yeah, well shes known for forgetting things in my car."
"Ah. Well, sleep well, Haley. Ill talk to you later."
"Sweet dreams, Andi."
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