Tuesday was a sunny day despite the cold of October. Little birds sang among the trees and lots of students filled the high school again to keep on with their usual schedule. However, there was something more coming up; a day that all of them were waiting eagerly: Halloween, the tradition that had become a horror circus many years ago, with the arrival of costumes and candy for the kids and not-so-little ‘kids’. But for all the youngsters that roamed the classrooms, it only meant one thing: let’s party!
Every year, the members of the Student council convinced the Principal and his counselors to grant them the privilege to use the gym and the running track for the event. And every single year their wish was granted, but only if they respected the terms: everything should be as clean as a whistle the morning after the party. That alone required a big amount of help due to some idiots that never respected the rules, nor had empathy for their peers. Luckily, the council counted on several volunteers that also dragged their friends into helping the cause. And Pooja was one of them.
“B.B.! Mar!” She came running to us when we arrived at the entrance.
“Ready to party? It’ll be very soon”.
Mar and I shared a look.
“I suppose you won’t ask us to clean the mess like you did last time…”
Pooja joined both hands into a begging pose and smiled.
“Pretty please, girls. Help me out or they won’t let us do it again next year”.
“You always say the same», Mar complained.
“But it’s true”. Pooja stared at her with sad puppy eyes. “C’moooooon, pleaaaaase… will you help me?”.
I smiled, more because of Mar’s face than Po’s clownliness, but, as good friends, we couldn’t let her down, so I spoke on behalf of both when I answered: “Yeah, Po. We’ll help you out”.
“Thank you B.B.!” She hugged me as tall as she was and I felt small by her side. “You’re the best!”
“And what about me, huh?”, Mar groaned.
Pooja joined her into the triple hug.
“Seriously, girls. What would I do without you both?”
“It ain’t over yet”, I replied. “You still need to convince Rita”.
“Yeah… Oh! By the way”, she added. “Did you study for our Spanish test today?”.
“I’ve been doing it for weeks now”, claimed Mar. “And if it wasn’t for what happened yesterday, I’d already passed it”.
“Well, I sure was glad to skip it for one more day. to be honest”, I added with a laugh.
“Also, did you see the new videos on Viewtube yesterday noon?” Pooja readjusted the strap of her bag.
“You mean the ones about Majorette?” Mar guessed. “Sure I did”.
“Yeah… me too”. But of course... I thought in concealment.
“Who must be that guy?”, Pooja insisted while walking to class.
“The Jongleur dude?” Mar and her entangled in a conversation which I preferred not to join. “No idea, but he seems quite like a noob for what I saw on the Internet”.
“It might be the case, though. In fact, this time, Majorette didn’t seem to control the situation either. Don’t you think?”
Thanks, Po; I wanted to reply, but I shut up.
“But you gotta admit he’s quite hunky”, she insisted. “Did you see those biceps?”
“He must be one of those ’machos‘ with no brains”. That was Mar’s opinion followed by a laugh. “You just need to look at his clothes. He looks like a clown…”
At that instant, Alexander appeared from the back and overtook us in a hurry. He nearly knocked Mar down.
“Hey! Look where you’re going, you idiot!” shouted my friend.
A clown? Says the one that wears torn jeans just because they are in style!
I stepped into the classroom, wanting to kick the door. I had come across the girls by coincidence at the very moment they were gossiping about Jongleur or, most precisely, me. I shouldn’t have paid attention to a single word, but I couldn’t help it. With a small part of that conversation, I’d had enough to understand what they thought of my ‘alter ego’: an exhibitionistic pea-brain.
What did they know? If my biceps were developed, it wasn’t my will but the result of my training. I had been practicing everyday with the silk ribbons ever since my parents had died and it was normal for my arms to be kinda brawny. In fact, I didn’t want anybody to see them so I could obviously avoid stupid questions. That’s why I always wore sweaters in winter and t-shirts in summer, when I could stay home for the holidays, surrounded by my precious books, cool lemon tea and a nice fan to renew the air in my room. I needed nobody to notice my physical appearance; that’s for sure.
I sat down on my usual chair and grabbed the Spanish workbook for a last-minute review before the test. However, I couldn’t concentrate because the three blabbermouths arrived just in time to continue their gossiping.
Rita greeted us with open-wide eyes and grinning from ear to ear. Something difficult to believe because I knew her well and she used to lose her cool before an exam. Seeing her so happy was a surprise and I told her.
“You know we have a Spanish test in the first hour, right?”
She waved her hand to belittle the matter.
“Don’t worry ‘bout that. Did you see the ginger on the Internet?”
“We were just talking about him when ‘someone’ almost ran over me”, Margaux stated, fixing a furious look on Alexander, who didn’t want to take the hint.
Rita didn’t pay the slightest attention to him.
“He’s a hunk. Isn’t he?”
The three of us stared at our frizzy-haired friend with our eyebrows so lifted that they could have been mistaken for bangs. At the same time, I didn’t notice that Alexander was quiet and still, spying on us from the corner of his eye.
“A hunk?”, Mar repeated in skepticism. “What the heck are you talking about? He looks like a small fry”.
“What?” The other one accused her with a stare. “Are you blind? He’s so hot!”
I don’t know why I meddled in, but words escaped from my mouth before I could stop them.
“He’s not that hot”.
Rita looked at me as if I had said something absurd, but didn’t rebuke me and simply replied: “And that is your opinion”.
Despite the warning, my tongue got its way again.
“You haven’t even seen his face properly”.
“Oh, and have you?”. She shut my mouth with that one, but didn’t stop there. “What do I care ‘bout his face? I’ve seen enough to know he’s hunky. I don’t need anything else”.
“Rita, Rita…”, Mar gave her a pat on the shoulder to make some peace and sat down behind Pooja. “I just hope you won’t end up marrying some male chauvinist”.
The other one burst into laughter and massaged her knuckles.
“You ain’t need to worry. Nobody will beat this queen up. I assure you”.
“Oh! By the way, Rita”. Po turned to her with an angelical smile. “Halloween’s party’s next week and we need somebody strong to help us dismantle the platform when it’s over. Would you lend us a hand? Mar and B.B. are also in the team”.
Rita gave us a twisted smile.
“You fell into the trap again, didn’t you?”
Margaux shrugged her shoulders and our mutual friend sighed.
“Fiiiiiiine. I’ll do it”.
Pooja let out a triumphal cheer and, at that moment, the teacher arrived.
“‘Siéntense todos’. We begin the exam”.
The test was easier than I expected and I finished in barely three quarters of an hour. Once I gave my sheet to the teacher, he let me out and I went to the cafeteria to buy myself a snack. I had left home so fast that morning that I’d forgotten my sandwich in the kitchen and I knew my stomach wouldn’t approve of fasting until lunchtime.
When I entered the canteen, I saw Alexander taking away a cup he’d been served. I didn’t recall him getting out of class before me but I guess the test had no secrets for this guy. I’m sure he had studied more than anybody.
My eyes followed him as he walked to a distant table at the back, alone as himself and far away from any undesired contact.
I stepped to the counter and I ordered Olga —the canteen lady— a ham and cheese sandwich. I waited a couple of minutes, gazing at the Halloweenian pumpkins decorating the cafeteria and she quickly gave it to me: a crispy, warm sandwich with such a delicious smell that I nearly bit it before time.
I could then have gone back to see if the girls had finished, but there were still ten long minutes left for the next class and my eyes were fixed on Alexander’s lonely silhouette again.
I knew he wouldn’t want to be disturbed, but I was still upset for the way he had talked to me the last time and, to be honest, I didn’t know if he’d begun to work on our essays as he was supposed to. That last part seemed like a good excuse to me, so I got closer, ready to start a conversation. Already there, in front of him, the scent of his lemon tea stole my sense of smell. He didn’t even lift his gaze until I took a chair and sat before him.
Our eyes met and I restrained from smiling when I checked how fast his eyebrows turned into a frown.
“Hi”. I innocently greeted him. “How did you do on the test?”
“I’m not going to answer such an absurd question”, he replied with no consideration.
Boy, you are so difficult, I thought, getting ready to pull in the other subject.
“Well… how is it going with our assignment?”
“Our assignment?” I noticed the scorn in his voice.
“Yes, ours. It’s not my fault that you decided to ‘free’ me from doing my part”.
He gave me a long stare and then turned his head to spit the words “bah. If I had let you do it I’m sure there’d be lots of mistakes”.
“If you had let me?” I was surprised. “Does that mean you already finished it?”
Alexander looked at me and answered politely for once.
“Yeah, I did. I’ll give it to Bukowski next time we have Philosophy class”. But he didn’t deprive himself from adding: “Now get lost and leave me alone”.
He then went back to his book to ignore me. However, even with all that arrogance, I wasn’t going to let him be. Not yet.
“Why are you always this rude? Aren’t you tired of being hated by everybody?”
There I got him to close the book, but it was so sudden that I startled. Then, he struck back my question with another one.
“And has nobody told you that you’re as tiresome as Tolkien’s descriptions?”
I had no idea who that Tolkien guy was, but I wasn’t pleased with the comparison. I put my sandwich aside, arms on the table, and looked him in the eyes before answering: “I challenge you, Alexander Jedynak”.
He raised an eyebrow, probably surprised, and I believe I saw a slight curve in the corner of his lips.
“What’s that about?”, he asked, perhaps out of curiosity.
“I’m sick of you treating me like I’m a waste of space and I can’t stand that smart-ass attitude of yours, so I want to propose a deal. If I win, you’ll treat me like an equal and stop ignoring me”.
My words seemed to amuse him.
“And may I know what you have in mind? Whether there’s anything in there”, he added.
I evaded his hurtful comment and let my eyelids droop while smiling: “I’m going to socialize you”.