If you haven’t had a chance to check out the first chapter of Connection, this one’s for you 🙂
1. la retrouvaille (the reunion)
I was eight years old when I started speaking fluent French with the new girl at the Boys and Girls club. I’d never said a word of French before that, but no one would have believed me. Now that we were juniors in high school, Anna and I still spoke French, when we spoke at all. But that wasn’t easy to do when we hardly even looked at each other any more.
As I roamed the halls, avoiding teachers who knew I was supposed to be in class, I hoped Anna would hear me out. We weren’t in the same Composition class this year, so our little mind connection wasn’t helping me out. Last year, even after we stopped talking, I knew all about Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway simply by being in the same room as her. Yeah, it didn’t make sense, but I’d gotten used to it after nine years. Mostly.
I needed this connection, though. My grades were slipping, and my parents were complaining.
And okay, I kind of missed her, too.
I just hoped she wasn’t off with her boyfriend somewhere. I didn’t want to see him.
After visiting the vending machines, I found Anna in the library, of course. Her dark hair was pulled into two French braids, and she was whispering with her friends. Kaylie and Sam. I still couldn’t believe how much prettier she was than them, even Sam, who I’d dated for a few months.
I took a deep breath and approached the table. My mind cleared, like a radio breaking free from the static as it found a station. Anna’s presence settled in my mind like that’s where it belonged.
“Hey,” I said.
The conversation stilled, and Sam blushed red. Oh, geez.
“Hi, Aaron,” she said.
I gave her a small smile and looked at Anna. “Can I talk to you for a second?”
Anna looked at me, her expression blank though her mind was full of emotion. She was unsure why I was here, wary of what I wanted, disapproving because she knew I should be in class. All those things that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. She shrugged a shoulder and said, “Sure.”
She didn’t make a move to stand up, so I motioned to some nearby bookshelves. “It’s kind of private.”
Sam gave Kaylie a loaded look. Good god, I’d broken up with her four months ago. What was with her?
“Okay,” Anna said with a sigh. She stood up, and we walked a few bookshelves over. She crossed her arms and turned to me. “What is it?”
“I. . .” Maybe it would be easier in French. I slipped into the language easily, taking all the knowledge I had to from Anna. “I need your help with something.”
“Well, I have a D in Composition—”
Anna swore, her annoyance flooding over me. “Aaron, I’m not doing your homework for you.”
“I don’t need you to. I just need some help. We don’t even have to talk, you can just sit there.”
“It has the same purpose.”
I knew she’d be difficult, but couldn’t she do me this one favor? “My parents want to kick me out of the band if I haven’t started to ‘show an effort’ by Spring Break. And they want Cs by the end of the year. Bs would be better, of course, but they’re willing to settle.”
Anna hesitated, shifting her weight. “What other classes?”
“US History and Government.” The lamest class of my schedule, even worse than Composition.
“What about Chemistry?”
I shrugged. “I can get it, I just have to do the work.”
She didn’t ask about my math class since I was in Trig. She paused, staring me down. She thought herself kind of superior to me. Like I just wanted a free ride. Like I just wanted to use her. And no, that wasn’t what I thought, I knew she was thinking that. It came with the territory of being us and having the weird mind connection that I already mentioned made no sense.
“Come on, we used to do this all the time in middle school.” I thought of punching her in the shoulder or something, but stopped myself.
“We were friends then.”
“Well, you do it all the time in Band.”
“I do not!”
“Yes, you do.” I put my fingers up to my head and moved them around like spiders. “I can feel you in here trying to figure out your part.”
“Fine,” Anna said. “Composition 3 and US History and Government. That’s it. Only until Spring Break, and then you’ll have to get it together yourself.”
“Spring Break is only two weeks away.”
Anna narrowed her eyes. “Don’t push your luck. We’ll see once Spring Break rolls around.”
I grinned. “I knew you’d come through.”
She was weirded out about that, though I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why. How was it I could pretty much read her mind but she was still the most confusing girl I knew?
We arranged to meet a couple hours a week, and she gave me her new number. She’d had to change it when she and Jordan broke up. I hated thinking about all of that. “Thanks.”
“You owe me,” Anna said, backing away.
“Owe you what?”
Anna shrugged and switched back to English. “We’ll see.” She smiled before she went back to her friends, and my mind went fuzzy again.
I sat down and rubbed my temples. Leaving Aaron usually gave me a headache for a few minutes.
“What did he want?” Sam asked, leaning across the table toward me.
I watched Aaron walk out of the library. His brown hair was getting long, almost to his ears, and that white and blue t-shirt was a hand-me-down from his brother Mitch. He glanced over his shoulder at me and gave a small wave.
I looked at Sam. “It wasn’t about you.”
Sam frowned. “Well, what was it about?”
I had to fight not to show my annoyance. She’d only gone out with him for two months at the beginning of the year, but she was still obsessed with him.
“I’m going to tutor him in Composition class,” I said with a shrug. We had the same class and teacher, but different periods. He should have been in class this period, actually. How did he think his grades would improve if he skipped class?
Sam looked at me in confusion for a moment, then back toward the door through which Aaron had left. “Oh. . .well, why did he ask you?”
The real answer to that would have both of us sent to the loony bin. What was I going to say? I had a weird telepathic connection to the kid? Since Sam had moved here last summer, Aaron and I had hardly talked. She got here after we’d fallen out, after everything happened with Jordan.
“We’re old friends,” I told her. “I used to help him with English class in middle school.”
Sam nodded, looking confused. Aaron obviously hadn’t told her much. I couldn’t decide whether I liked that or not. I hated thinking about Aaron and Sam together, because Sam was my friend and I was kind of protective over her, especially when they’d been going out. But it annoyed me to think he hadn’t even mentioned me. Which didn’t make sense, really, I know, but I couldn’t easily describe how I felt about Aaron.
“Guess who just started following me on Twitter?” Kaylie asked, and I was grateful for the change of subject.
The day passed slowly, and I kept wondering if I should tell Steven about me tutoring Aaron. I knew they didn’t like each other, but Steven wouldn’t mind me tutoring him, would he? If things went according to my plan, we wouldn’t even have to talk. Although I knew it’d help Aaron if I was concentrating on the stuff with him. Steven would think we were talking, anyways.
After school, I went to my locker and grabbed my things. My mom would show up in about fifteen minutes. Yes, I was one of the only juniors who was still picked up by her parents. Not by choice, but my family didn’t have a car to spare. I knew I shouldn’t complain, but my mom wouldn’t even let me get rides home from friends. She actually got off work to come get me. Maybe if things with Jordan had happened differently, she’d trust me more. Or my friends and peers. I really didn’t know who it was that she didn’t trust.
I walked to the student parking lot and looked around for Steven. He was leaning against his truck, talking with some other lacrosse players. I joined them, smiling.
Steven put his arm around my shoulders. “Hey, gorgeous!”
“See you later, Steven,” his friend Jacob said. He and Nick smiled at me as they left.
“When will your mom be here?” Steven asked me.
“Ten or fifteen minutes,” I said, looking at my watch. “You’ve got a game tomorrow, right?”
“Right. Are you coming?”
On Thursdays, my mom worked late, so it was just me and my sisters at home. I usually ended up making dinner because Ginger could burn water. “If my sisters are all right with coming,” I said. “Well, I know Ginger will love going to a high school game.”
“Right. Just call and let me know.”
I nodded. “Hey. . .Aaron asked me to tutor him in a few classes.”
Steven stiffened. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah, I think we’ll meet like once a week on Mondays.” I had to hold myself back from adding, ‘If that’s all right with you.’ I didn’t need his permission. “So, I don’t know, I just wanted to let you know.”
“Sure.” He ran a hand through his light brown hair. “You’ll be cool with him? I mean, he’s not going to do anything stupid, is he?”
I furrowed my eyebrows. “What do you mean?”
“Well, I mean. . .Jordan’s not going to be there, right?”
“Of course not.” I shifted my books for want of doing something with my hands. “No, it’s just tutoring. It’s just gonna be me and Aaron.” I winced, aware of how that sounded. “No big deal.”
“All right, good,” Steven said. “Call me tonight?”
I nodded, and he kissed me softly on the lips. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said.
* * *