Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Four

**New chapters posted here every Wednesday**

Apparently, I cared, because a week later, I had become practically obsessed with Porter Creed.
“You know, I think you may have a problem,” Eli said.
“Shhh.” I hushed him while we both sat unable to even pretend to eat the spongy macaroni and cheese that the cafeteria had the audacity to serve.
“Why shhhhh? It’s not like he can hear us from here.”
It was true: Porter couldn’t hear us halfway across the room and over the voices of every other senior at Roosevelt High. “I’m not worried about him hearing us, I just want you to be quiet so I can think.”
“Right.” He nodded and dared to take a bite. “Ugh,” he spit the mess back into its styrofoam bowl. “It is totally not fair that the powers that be decided to close the campus just as we were coming into our own.”
For years, Roosevelt had been combating an ever-increasing dropout rate—closing the campus at lunch was just the latest in their many, many desperate attempts to help the half-brain-dead plebes here to “STAY IN SCHOOL!” Basically, because twenty percent of these people were dying to fail so badly that they felt the need to hasten the process along by spending their lunch hour hanging out in each other’s basements and frying what little brains they had with uncontrolled substances, the rest of us were all made to suffer through the Monday Mac&Cheezie special.
As he had every day since my monumental failure to make conversation with him, Porter was making his move.
“Look,” I said, grabbing Eli’s arm. “There he goes again!” I sat back in my chair, exasperated by this blatant rule defiance. I glanced over at Henry, who yet again seemed clueless that Porter was taking off. It was unbelievable! “How does he get away with it? I mean, what, they haven’t figured out he sneaks off campus every day and doesn’t come back?”
“How do you know he doesn’t come back?”
I tried to change the subject. “You’re still coming over after school, right?” I asked casually.
“You didn’t answer my question. You’re totally stalking him.”
My face contorted into what I hoped was a believable mask of annoyed disbelief. “I am not stalking him. The mere observance of ‘hey, this person is at school,’ and then later, ‘hey, that person is no longer at school,’ does not constitute a valid stalking.”
“Okay, fine.” Eli raised his hand in surrender. “Have you found out anything about him online yet?”
“Nothing!” I said exasperated. “He doesn’t seem to have a profile anywhere.”
Eli jumped sideways in his seat. “AHA! Stalker. I told you,” he gloated.
I ignored him and rolled my eyes while he smiled, self-satisfied, and nodded at his own brilliance.

Later, at my house, while Eli rummaged through my refrigerator, I sat cross-legged at our coffee table with my laptop and turned my attention to Caged Karen. It had taken me a while to decide what angle my paper would take. Then, last week when I was helping out again in room 233, midway between the Peppermint Forest and Gumdrop Pass, it hit me.
“Maggie,” I said, “I’ve got it!”
She was busy counting out the squares between her first purple square and the next, so she didn’t answer me—but I didn’t take it personally. Instead, I got up, grabbed a sticky note off the teacher’s desk, and jotted down my epiphany.
My paper would be a comparison study. Karen was the perfect example of what happened when someone with a cognitive disability was denied the same life experiences and educational opportunities that Maggie and everyone else here in room 233 had had. Sure, Maggie wasn’t going to Harvard, but thanks to her work-study classes, she would one day be able to hold down a job.
Maggie would one day be a contributing member of society, while Caged Karen, lacking any sort of educational opportunities for most of her life, would be living in a hospital or mental health care facility.
It was perfect! Especially considering that I had firsthand, direct knowledge and experience with one half of my argument—Maggie.
Now, all I needed was Karen.
While Eli pulled out some salami and the loaf of bread from my fridge—“Do you want a sandwich?”—I moused over my email icon and hoped for good news. “Sure,” I said. “No mayo.”
“Extra mustard . . . I know,” he said annoyed that I should dare to remind him.
“Then make it right for once.”
My email opened: spam, ads, Viagra . . . yes. An email from the assistant to the director of Harmony House, the care facility one hour’s drive north on I-95 where Caged Karen was now a resident. Now please, please, please let it be a yes.
My eyes scanned the initial blah, blah, lovely greeting, thank you for inquiring, until—“YES!” I exploded from my sitting position into a victory stance.
A loud clang erupted from the kitchen. “What the hell?” Eli said turning toward me, a huge glop of mayonnaise sliding down the front of his sweatshirt. “You scared the crap out of me,” he complained as he reached for a paper towel and wiped at the oily mess staining his favorite garment. “Shit, that’s not going to come out.”
“Sorry,” I said reading the important part of the email one more time, just to make sure I had in fact read it right, before getting up and holding out my hand. “Give it here, I can get it out.”
Eli lifted the hoodie over his head, exposing his ripped abs for a second before his T-shirt dropped back into place. I had thought it before and I thought it again, Eli was going to make some boy very happy someday.
“It’s not going to come out,” he whined.
“Yes it will, stop being a baby.” I put my hand inside the sweatshirt underneath the stain and opened up the cupboard under the sink.
“So what’s all the excitement for?” he asked as he returned to the open-faced sandwiches waiting to be finished. I noticed he had, again, put mayo on both of them.
“I just heard back from the institution where Caged Karen lives . . .” I rooted around among the hundreds of half-empty cleaning supplies until I found what I needed. “They said I can come for an observation. They just need about a week’s notice and a letter from my dean verifying that the purpose of my visit is strictly educational.” I handed him the bottle of Goo Gone. “Here, open this for me.”
Eli twisted the top off and handed it back. “Well, that’s good news.”
I squeezed the toxic smelling liquid onto his beloved sweatshirt. “That is excellent news. Want to come with me?”
He hesitated by pretending to be busy making our sandwiches. “Um . . . maybe. When are you going?”
“Oh, come on.” I put the bottle of Goo Gone down and picked up the bottle of dish soap. “It’s only an hour away; he can totally make it.” I squeezed a giant puddle of blue soap on top of the Goo Gone and the stain and began rubbing the fabric together. “He” was my 1984 Buick Grand National GNX, aka, Vader.
As he piled the salami on the bread, Eli’s expression was doubtful. Ever since that time I was driving him home from his church retreat and Vader’s brakes went out, Eli has had zero faith in my classic car.
“There has been nothing, nothing since that one time.”
“Yeah, well, I think I have my gay camp thing that day.”
“I didn’t even decide on a day yet!”
“Well, whatever day you’re driving anywhere that’s a two-hour round trip in that death trap, I’m busy. Here,” he said, sliding one of the sandwiches across the counter to me. “It’s done.”
I turned on the sink, put in the plug, and started filling it with warm water. “You used mayonnaise.” I observed.
He looked at the plate, then looked at me. “That’s what you said you wanted!”
In the living room, my phone chimed. Someone had texted me. I pushed Eli’s sweatshirt into the sink to soak and dried my hands as I went to check. I figured it was my mom letting me know she would be working at the school late again, and to not worry about her for dinner. Other than Eli she was pretty much the only person I ever got messages from. But when I reached down and picked up my phone from the table, the name on the screen made me stop.
“It’s my dad.” I turned toward Eli, unsure of what to do. He looked as shocked as I felt.
“Does he think it’s your birthday or something?”
This was totally a possibility, so I didn’t say no. I wasn’t entirely sure my father could tell you what month I was born in—never mind the exact day. “Maybe someone died?”
“Maybe he’s dying,” Eli added around a mouth full of salami and bread.
“Maybe it’s not bad? Maybe he won the lottery and he’s going to give me some money.”
“Now you’re just being silly.” Eli swallowed and took another bite from his sandwich.
It could be anything—but Eli was right, it was highly unlikely that it was good. I had often wondered what would be worse, having no father at all, or having one who forgot you were alive ninety-four percent of the time.
Whatever the reason he was texting me now, it was apparently urgent enough to warrant a follow-up call because my phone was now ringing loudly in my hand. I just stared at it, not wanting to answer, or talk to him, and not feeling like I could just ignore him either.
“Ruth,” Eli said from the kitchen. “You have to answer it. What if something is wrong?”
He was right, of course. “Shit,” I whispered, and answered the damn phone.
“Ruth?” I heard my father ask. Of course he would have to ask. It had been so long since he used this number, he probably wondered if it was still good. I wouldn’t even begin to think about how sad it was that the man couldn’t even recognize his own daughter’s voice.
“Yes, this is Ruth,” I said, completely unable to keep the sarcastic edge out of my voice.
“Ruth, hello!” he announced. “This is Dad!”
His excitement immediately put me on the defensive. “And this is Ruth!”
He had definitely heard the icy edge in my tone. The last time we had spoken, like six months ago, this is what our parting argument had been about: my “crap attitude.” He actually had accused my mom, not to her face but to me, of “poisoning” my mind and opinions against him. Which had totally made me ballistic and launched me into anger space because, for one, my mother never, ever says one bad thing about my dad—even though there are so, so many things she could say. And two, as if I couldn’t come to the conclusion that he was a complete asshole all by myself? Please, that was just so insulting.
As the silence between us stretched, I could tell he was fighting the urge to get into it with me. Usually he would just bite my head off for being “snotty.”
He sighed and cleared his throat instead. “Well, hey,” he started again, completely faking a good mood. “I’m glad I caught you. You must be really busy finishing up your senior year.” This was his lame-ass way of trying to say without actually saying that the reason we don’t ever talk is because I’m really busy, and it has nothing at all to do with him.
“Yes, really busy,” I nodded and rolled my eyes.
“And Princeton! Wow, I mean . . . although you were always . . . I tell everyone, my girl’s going to Princeton. Did I ever tell you that I went to Harvard?”
I clenched my teeth to keep myself from saying anything because the only things my lips were dying to say were, My girl? Really? And, You’re seriously going to try and take any credit for my academic accomplishments? And, No one gives a shit where you went eighty years ago, especially considering it doesn’t even matter because whatever potential you did have was completely drowned in gallons and gallons of beer.
“Not that I could have kept going,” he chuckled uncomfortably. “Pretty hard to support a wife and a newborn and go to Harvard.” He laughed again, as if this was all ancient history that no longer bothered him—as if he was clearly so over having all of his life’s dreams shattered by an unwanted pregnancy and being unfairly yoked to a woman and a child.
Ha. Ha.
It was some kind of miracle that I managed to not say any of this; my mother and therapist would be so proud and use words like progress. But in reality, there were just so many things I wanted to scream at him about, it was too difficult to choose a single angle to attack him from. It wasn’t progress in my emotional maturity; I simply conceded defeat in the face of too many acerbic insults flooding my brain all at once. It was impossible to choose just one.
“Harvard? Impressive,” I offered flatly as if this were the first time I had heard this story instead of the hundredth.
More silence.
“Well,” he ventured again. “I suppose you don’t need to hear any of that from me now. You’ve always known how smart you are. Even when you were six. Just don’t go getting yourself pregnant and throw it all away.”
My face felt like it wanted to explode and I realized I had stopped breathing. I closed my eyes, tipped my head back, and filled my lungs with as much air as I possibly could. I wanted to slam my phone against a brick wall and watch it shatter into a hundred thousand splintery pieces. I considered it a great testament to my ever-growing self-control that I somehow managed to exhale, inhale, then ask a simple question.
“Is there something you want?”
“Well, actually I was calling to invite you to dinner.”
I couldn’t help myself. “Why?”
“Does there have to be a reason? Can’t I just take my girl out for dinner?”
I could actually feel my heartbeat pulsing in my temples. “Don’t call me that.”
My girl . . . don’t call me that.”
He sighed, as if the problem was me and he, once again, was having to deal with my unreasonable crap attitude and he was completely the victim here. He was the long suffering estranged father whose reputation had been sullied by the toxic efforts of his embittered ex-wife—he just knew it.
I in no way wanted to have dinner with my father, but I said, “Fine.” There was no use trying to dodge it. The embittered ex-wife, would just make me go anyway. In truth, she had been begging me for years to try and “mend fences” with my dad. Without putting it in these exact words, she held out hope that I would one day learn to forgive him for being him.
She completely believed this was possible for me because, apparently, she herself had managed to forgive him—eventually.
“You know, I’m not the evil incarnate you seem to think I am,” he said.
Just then, I heard the door to our garage open; my mother was home. I didn’t want to get into with him in front of her. “When and where?” I asked.
“When and where what?”
“Dinner,” I tried really hard to keep the knives out of my tone. “Where do you want me to meet you and when would you like me to be there?”
“Oh.” He was surprised I was letting the I’m-not-evil comment go so easily. “How about next week? Thursday? I can make reservations at Tony’s.”
My mother walked into the living room, leaning to one side to counterbalance the weight of her overloaded computer bag. She let it slide to the floor as she eyed me with a questioning expression. She saw Eli was standing in our kitchen stuffing his face, so she was trying to figure out who I was talking to.
“Sure, whatever. Just text me the time when you’ve made the reservation,” I said and pushed End before he could say anything else.
“Who was that?” my mom asked.
“Dad.” I stared at my phone in my hand, still unsure of what had just happened. Was I seriously going to be suffering through a meal with him, alone, in just over a week?
“Oh!” my mom said, and busied herself unzipping her bag and taking out her laptop. “Well . . . so it sounds like you’re meeting him for dinner?”
I sighed. “Yes.”
She didn’t say anything at first, just kept digging around in her bag like there was something super important in there that she just couldn’t find. When she finally stopped and stood up, she took a deep breath. “That’s good. . . . Did he have anything else to say?” She was trying to sound casual, but her lips rolled between her teeth, a sure anxiety tell.
“No.” I narrowed my eyes at her. “Should he?”
She pursed her lips and shook her head. “No, no. Just . . .” She looked to the kitchen. “Eli, are you staying for dinner?” She turned back to me. “We could order from King Luie.” It seemed to me like she knew something, something about my father that she wasn’t telling me.
“Sure,” Eli said, even though he had just finished both his sandwich and mine. He was a bottomless pit. “I’m always up for the King.” Eli, the traitor, had also sensed something wasn’t quite right with my mom. He was clearly helping her change the subject—I could totally tell. There was something not right about your best friend and mother teaming up against you. Lucky for them, restraining myself from unloading on my father had completely exhausted me. I didn’t feel up to interrogating her about what was going on—not right now, anyway. I would get it out of her later anyway. She was a total sucker for the, Mom, I really need to talk to you about blah, blah, blah. It was an occupational hazard of working in mental health—she always wanted to help. Everyone.
I reached down and picked up the remote. “It’s almost time for Jeopardy.”
“Perfect,” my mom said, relieved to have dodged whatever is was about my meeting with my father that was making her squirm. “Eli, you call your parents, I’ll order the food.”

 Thank you for reading chapter four of Affective Needs. A new chapter is posted every Wednesday. If you don't feel like waiting for updates, here is the link to my book page and all the vendors that carry my books. Happy reading!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Three

**New chapters posted here every Wednesday**

One week and a day after I watched the new guy get restrained and hauled out of the school by the police, he walked into the school library where I was working.
I had been sitting in the corner near the rows of dusty aging desktops, with my own laptop open. The first page of my honors thesis stared back at me, failing to inspire me to action, when movement near the double doors gave me an excuse to look up.
It was the Guy, the one from the AN class, and he was being escorted by one of the paraprofessionals I didn’t really know—Henry, I think. As they came in and made their way around and past the scatter of tables and chairs that seemed arranged more to keep people out of the library than invite them in to work, I realized he was coming over to work on one of the desktops behind me.
With my eyes glued to my screen, I pretended to not notice him, his dirty jeans, or the limp way his black T-shirt hung off his body.
I wondered as they passed behind me if he would recognize me from that day. The girl who had stood in the hall and watched the whole episode play out.
But he didn’t say a word—not that he would—and ended up settling at the computer in the farthest corner of the very last row.
Okay, so great. Now I knew he hadn’t gotten kicked out of school—not that it even mattered to me. Good for him, though, I supposed.
I focused on the words that filled half the document page in front of me. My senior honors thesis was supposed to “encapsulate the skills and tools” I had acquired during my years in high school while “focusing on a topic or research of personal interest.” In the spring, those of us in the honors program were to submit our academic papers and produce a public exposition that demonstrated our “superior scholarship and capacity for field work.” The idea was that the honors program evidenced to our prospective colleges our ability to demonstrate initiative, discipline, creativity, and resourcefulness.
Essentially, it was to prove that we were well prepared and groomed to leap through all the hoops that our future universities would place on the field for us—because look, we’ve already jumped through one that looks exactly the same.
I had been discouraged, several times, by my academic advisor from looking at this project with that particular, some might say negative, vantage point, but it’s not like it mattered. Regardless of your preferred perspective—this was an academic tap dance that prepared us to audition.
So to keep her from stressing her point that “this is an opportunity to really grow as an individual,” I picked a topic, mapped out the project, and decided to, for once in my life, keep my mouth shut.
My academic advisor was welcome to draw whatever conclusions she needed to about my personal growth that allowed her sleep soundly every night.
Meanwhile, I would keep jumping the hoops.
The topic I had chosen was Karen—or “Caged Karen,” as the media had dubbed her. Her real name was not Karen and had been kept confidential to protect her identity because ever since Karen was born, she had been raised in solitary confinement.
When she was found at the age of fourteen, she had lived almost her entire life in a single room. Deprived of practically all human interaction except when she was severely abused for making any sounds, Karen could not talk or understand language of any kind. When they found her, she still wore diapers and had difficulty walking. Researchers had estimated that, at the age of fourteen, Karen was functioning at roughly the same place as a typical one-year-old baby.
The case of Caged Karen both fascinated and horrified me. That her parents were monsters that beat her and locked her away because she was cognitively disabled was tragic—but I had no idea how I was going to turn her case into my honors thesis. Thus the mostly blank page staring back at me.
After five more minutes of staring and not writing a single word, I closed my laptop and packed up my things to go to my next class, calculus.
The Guy was still in the last row behind me, his computer screen completely hidden from view. I wondered what he was working on.
Unlike the elective classes I was forced to take with the Bellas and the Ashleys of the world, my calc class actually did have other kids in it with two thoughts to rub together.
Consequently, when I entered, everyone in this class already had work out, and they were busy glancing between the whiteboard, their open calculus books, and their furiously moving pencils.
It should be noted that no one in this class had pink hair, bragged about their weekends, or threw anything at other people.
Of course, the fact that there were only five of us in the class and that each of us occupied an entire sector of a room designed to hold forty kids might have had something to do with the diligent silence of this class. But the reality was that really none of us actually had any weekend adventures to speak of.
These people, while certainly more my speed in terms of intellectual capacity, were also not my friends. We were often thrown together in the name of a physics project, or gathered together to participate in those ever-dreaded extracurricular activities that everyone knew were important for college admission boards but no one really wanted to attend—like chess club. We were probably best described as coworkers.
The region I had staked out on the first day of class was the northeast section, front row, closest to the windows that looked out over the school parking lot. Like my coworkers who had arrived before me, I entered the class, sat down, opened my bag, took out my notebook, calculus book, sharpened pencil, and began copying the equation from the board.
The teacher wasn’t even in the room yet—but we were all well-trained hoop jumpers.
I was in the middle of the equation when I heard the door open. Since Mr. Thyen was the only person still missing, I assumed it was him—until I looked up and into the eyes of the Guy.
Inexplicably, my heart thundered in my chest and a rush of anxiety flooded through my body.
I looked down.
With my eyes staring at my paper but my brain not comprehending a single thing written there, I tried to look normal on the outside while inside my body a crazed circus erupted.
He was in the wrong class—obviously. I waited for him to realize this and leave, but a second later he was heading down the aisle behind me, and I heard the scrape of first one chair across the floor and then a second as Henry, the paraprofessional with him, took a seat as well.
Surely Henry realized they were in the wrong class?
The feel of the room had changed, like a “shift in the force,” as Eli would say. I didn’t dare turn around to look but I did glance sideways and saw that Helen Nyugen, in the northwest sector, had stopped working and was also looking at me with an expression that asked, What the hell?
I shrugged slightly and glanced back into the southwest section where Ryan Miller had also stopped working but instead of having the good grace to at least pretend like nothing was going on, had opted for the full body stare. Completely turned around in his seat, he sat gaping at the Guy. He even looked like he was maybe about to say something, but when Mr. Thyen finally walked in, he snapped his mouth shut.
Normally we all kept working whenever Mr. T entered with his extra-large vanilla latte, but today all eyes were on him—watching, waiting to see how he handled the interloper and his special-education handler.
He took one, two steps, then stopped. He looked around the room as if he were only now seeing us all for the first time this year, then smiled.
“My, my, so much attention for me today?” His hand moved to his collar and rubbed the fabric between his thumb and index finger. “It’s my new shirt, yes?” He turned sideways so we could see the back of his ultra-plain light blue oxford. “You like it? It was on sale.”
When we didn’t laugh, he smirked and proceeded to his desk. He lifted his bag and placed it and his latte on the top of his desk and looked out at us. “Not the shirt? Well maybe you’re all anxious to extend a warm Advanced Calc welcome to our newest student.” Mr. T gestured with his hand to the section of the room behind me where the Guy was sitting. This gesture gave us all the permission we needed—well, except Ryan Miller, who clearly had no issue blatantly staring—to turn and check the Guy out.
“Porter Creed, meet Advanced Calculus. Advanced Calculus, meet Porter Creed.”

“So what?” Eli asked me at lunch.
“So . . . it’s weird. Like a mistake or something. Admission clerical error, records tampering, transfer screw-up.”
We both looked at Porter Creed, sitting alone at a lunch table in the far corner of the cafeteria. He had finished every last scrap of the mostly inedible food on his tray and was now solving and unsolving a Rubik’s Cube over and over again—one-handed. Occasionally he switched hands.
“I think he’s left-handed,” Eli said.
“He solves it faster, every time, with his left hand.”
I stared at Eli with my face-melting glare—he ignored it.
“Isn’t he in special education?” he asked me.
“Affective needs,” I said, releasing him from my laser eyes.
Eli shook his head, “Not all of us have the school psychologist for a mother. What’s affective needs?”
I looked back at Porter. “Emotional problems.”
Eli snorted and took a drink from his Coke. “In that case, half the senior class should be affective needs.”
As if bored with it, Porter put the cube down on table and slouched even farther down in his chair until his head hung over the back. He let his arms hang at his side, giving the impression that he had been shot and was now waiting for CSI to show up and investigate a murder.
Henry, Porter’s adult handler, was sitting at a table nearby with two other paras. He glanced over, made sure Porter wasn’t about to freak out and kill someone, then returned to his conversation that apparently only required him to nod and smile.
I got up from my seat.
Only halfway through his lunch and not yet ready for our daily allotment of fresh air in the courtyard, Eli craned his neck up at me, “Where are you going?”
Where was I going? “I’m going to say hi to him.”
Eli made a face like I’d farted. “Why?”
I looked back at Porter. “Because when I don’t understand something, I investigate it . . . that’s why.”
Eli shook his head and took a bite from his pie-shaped, pizza-flavored cardboard. “Well if he stabs you, it’s your own fault. You’re not supposed to poke the bears through the cage, you know.”
I ignored him.
As I approached, Porter didn’t even stir, but I had the distinct impression that he absolutely knew I was coming.
When I was only a few feet from his table, he opened one eye and used it like a laser to scan and identify me, before disinterestedly closing it again. “What do you want?” he barked.
I stopped and involuntarily glanced at Henry, who was now watching us as he took bites from his sandwich. I really did feel like a small child reaching into the bear’s cage.
I took a breath. “I wanted to say hello—is that okay with you?”
At first, he didn’t say anything. He continued to lie there, like a broken hostage. Then, completely unexpectedly, a smirk played across his lips. He opened both eyes, and his foot reached out and kicked one of the chairs out a few inches—apparently his invitation for me to sit.
“It’s your life,” he said. He sat up a little straighter, folded his hands across his stomach, and continued to watch me, to wait for me to do or say something.
Seconds ticked. I sat down.
“Hello?” he finally said, as if he suddenly realized he was speaking to an idiot.
“You’re in my Advanced Calc class,” I blurted.
“Your ability to observe the obvious is quite stunning.”
“Yes, much like your capacity for being a dick, I see.” It popped out. Think it, say it. My insult hung in the air between us and I wondered if I had gone from poking the bear to punching it in the face.
Porter sat all the way up and leaned forward across the table. “What did you call me?”
My eyes flicked to Henry, who looked about ready to get up. I imagined my mother being called on her radio, at any moment now, to come and rein Porter in again—but neither of them would be able to get to me before Porter did.
This was a mistake.
“Nothing,” I said, dropping my eyes to the table. “I’m sorry. I have a short temper.”
His laughter surprised me. “You have a short temper?” When I looked up, Porter had leaned back in his chair and was nodding his head. “Right.” He closed his eyes. “I’ll remember that.”
I watched him breathe in then out—calming himself. Then he opened his eyes. “Don’t apologize, I am a total dick. Ask anyone who knows me.”
He was trying to be cool, but I could tell it was a show.
“So”—he forced his tone to change—“what do you want? Help with calc?”
“Ha!” I blurted. “Not likely.”
He raised his eyebrows in a silent, Well, what then?
What did I want? I wanted to know why: Why was Porter in my advanced calc class and in special education? Why was he here, suddenly, at my school halfway through our senior year? And, mostly, what had set him off last week? Why was he in such a rage that two police officers had to restrain and cuff him, but today, he was sitting alone in the cafeteria like nothing had ever happened, solving a Rubik’s Cube with one hand?
Of course I had no idea how to ask him any of this because, really, it was none of my business.
“You’re new here,” I said in another one of my pathetically obvious observations. “I’m Ruth.”
Porter sighed and looked at his wrist. He was wearing a watch. Who the hell wore a watch anymore? He stood up, “Look,” he said as he glanced around the room. “It’s been real nice chatting with you.” He looked over at Henry and gave him a huge fake smile, then turned back to me with a straight face. “But I have to go.”
I stood up next to him. He was tall, probably six feet at least, so I had to lean back a bit to look at his face. It occurred to me that it was actually fairly amazing that my mom had been able to keep Porter from bolting for as long as she did the other day. Given that she was hardly any bigger than me, and I was only five foot five, he could have totally tossed her out of his way at any time—the woman had some serious skills of persuasion.
He stooped over and grabbed his backpack from the floor and slung it over his shoulder. “See you around.” He smirked, and his tone suggested he didn’t actually expect to see me at all.
“Oh, well . . .” I muttered. His sudden departure rattled me. Like he was uninviting me from his space.
He walked away from me.
Shut down midsentence, I stood gaping and speechless. My eyes shot over to Eli, who was staring at me from under his questioning eyebrows. He waved his hand for me to come back. Honestly, I didn’t know what I was doing, so I ignored him.
If Porter was only heading out into the yard for the rest of the lunch period, why did I have the feeling his good-bye was more substantial? Like he was actually leaving school. He was halfway to the doors when I did something I never, ever do.
I acted on an impulse.
“Porter!” I shouted, causing several people at a nearby table, including Bella Blake, to turn and see what all the commotion was about. Well, that’s great; what wonderfully ludicrous gossip would this scene set in motion? Their sudden attention was almost enough to make me follow Eli’s wishes and just go sit back down.
But when Porter stopped and looked back at me, I ignored all of them and jogged to catch up with him anyway. “Wait a second,” I said. “I’ll come with you.” As I got closer, Porter narrowed his insanely blue eyes. His expression was not a happy one.
“What are you doing?” he hissed, looking over my shoulder at all the eyes, including Henry’s, that kept trying to pretend they weren’t staring.
Between his question and the eyes, I felt like an idiot, exposed. “What?” I said, defensiveness coming to my ego’s rescue. “Can’t a person be nice?” Which was a totally ridiculous thing for me to say because, had he been so inclined to ask, not a single person in this room would have ever used the word nice to describe me. Not even Eli.
Porter looked at me like I was insane, then shook his head. “Come on,” he said and started toward the door again. “Now that the entire room is a witness . . .”
I wondered what he was talking about as we pushed against the two double glass doors and exited into the yard. “Witness to what?” I asked, and couldn’t help the six or seven really horrendous thoughts that rolled through my brain with absolutely no effort at all. Roosevelt High showed the same school violence prevention safety videos every year: How to Identify a Predator followed by “Reporting” is not “Telling.” Was Porter that dangerous? Was he a shooter? Or a nut-job bomber? Was I, right now, walking into a situation with a psycho that would be broadcast all over the nine-o’clock news?
And why? Because I had an impulse to chase this obvious head case outside? Was I going to die because I didn’t like a special education kid sitting behind me in advanced calculus?
 Outside, Porter scanned the yard then cut a sharp left down the side of the building. Did he have a bag of guns stashed over here? I looked around for an adult but didn’t see one—of course. A panic fluttered in my chest but I kept following him. What would my mother do?
“Look, Porter, I don’t know what you’re doing, but can we talk about it for a minute?”
Now at the corner of the building, Porter stopped and turned around. His entire expression was crinkled annoyance. “What are you talking about?”
I swallowed. “I just . . . I want to help.” I shrugged. “If I can, you know.”
“No,” he said. “I don’t know, Ruth.” He turned away and kept walking.
Paralyzed, I watched as his long legs easily climbed the low hill that led to the parking lot. I thought about following him, but some invisible school boundary kept me rooted to the outer edge of the yard. Would he stop at a car? Was someone meeting him here? Should I go find my mother?
Porter didn’t stop anywhere, and no one came to meet him. On the other side of the parking lot, on the corner of Stanley and Elm, he looked both ways, waited for a mud-encrusted Jeep to pass in front of him, then casually jogged across the road to the other side before taking a right and heading up the street.
My heart hammered stupidly against my chest. As I turned away from his escape, my cheeks burned red hot from my own idiotic, impulsive imaginings. Porter wasn’t worried about people witnessing his shooting—he didn’t want them to see him ditching!
I was about to have a heart attack over ditching?
Call the police! Pull the fire alarm!
Thank God I hadn’t said anything more stupid than I did. Eli pushed through the doors, scanned the yard then saw me.
“Ruth!” He nodded at me then headed my way. “What was that all about?”
“Nothing.” I shrugged. “What?”
“Don’t give me that,” he shook his head, totally unwilling to accept my there’s nothing wrong with me it’s you act. “I can tell by the look on your face something happened. Did he hurt you?” he asked, looking around the yard, getting all defensive like his beta self was going to transform into a butch beast and go kick Porter’s ass if I happened to answer yes.
“No, and please. Like you could hurt a flea.”
His eyes cut to me and he pulled his head back like I’d insulted his male pride. “Oh, I can kick ass.”
Lunch was almost over. I walked past him and headed for the doors, “Mm-hmm. Come on, killer, or we’ll be late for class.”
He bounced up next to me, dancing on his toes like a boxer and weaving his head back and forth. “You don’t believe me. Well, maybe I’ll just have to kick your ass to show you.”
“HA! I’d love to see you try. But you better not try here because it would be so embarrassing for you when I make you cry in front of all these assholes.”
We pushed through the doors and Eli stopped bouncing. “Speaking of that.”
I felt it before I saw it. The eyes, furtive, questioning, dying to indulge in gossip. Then, like a wave rolling through the room it happened, bodies leaned in, mouths whispered. I heard the laughter. Laughter directed at me. 
I ignored them—or tried to, anyway. I kept walking with my eyes straight ahead and made a beeline for the hallway, thanking God for every step Eli took beside me. Once we were out of eyesight I turned to him.
“What the hell was that all about?”
“Well, honestly, if you had seen the way you chased after Porter Creed—a known sociopath, I might add—you’d probably be pretty tempted to talk about it too.”
“I hardly chased him down!” I turned on him.
Eli cocked his head and raised his hands in defense. “Okay, okay. I’m just saying, there was more than a hint of desperation on your face.” He made sappy doe-eyes at me.
“I swear to all that is holy, I am going to punch you in your face if you don’t knock it off.”
Eli started backing up with boxing moves and head weaving, “All right, now that’s what I was talking about! We’re going to get this ass kicking on!” He smiled.
If I didn’t love him as much as I did—I would seriously kill him. Instead, I sighed and rolled my eyes. I detested gossip of any kind, even when it wasn’t about me.
“Oh come on,” he said giving up the act. He put his arm around me and pulled me to his side. “Nothing will come of it. Bella and Darren will get caught screwing in the girls’ locker room again and everyone will forget that Ruth Robinson actually does have a beating heart and that they could swear they saw it beat out loud for a mental case.”
I shrugged him off me and walked away, “Get to class, Eli,” I said, and headed for my fifth-hour English Lit, more than a little mad at myself for stupid impulses and, even worse, for indulging in them.
Who the hell cared if Porter Creed was some kind of special education genius anyway?
 Thank you for reading chapter three of Affective Needs. A new chapter is posted every Wednesday. If you don't feel like waiting for updates, here is the link to my book page and all the vendors that carry my books. Happy reading!