Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Seven

**New chapters posted here every Wednesday**

Porter’s jacket looked weird in my house. A foreign object. An obligation. A direct connection to him that made me feel much more uncomfortable than it should.
I tried flinging it over the back of one of our kitchen chairs—like it was nothing. “It’s just a jacket, Ruth,” I said, out loud, to myself while I washed my hands in the kitchen sink. As if calling the heavy fabric out, labeling it so objectively, had the power to diminish the weight of having it in my possession.
While I dried my hands, I stared at the worn leather and pushed away the idea of slipping the jacket back on. Why would I do such a thing? What could possibly be the purpose of putting on a guy’s jacket—in secret, no less! But my mind kept returning to the memory of walking down a cold, windy street, and Porter pulling it off and handing it to me. Alone in the house, I shook my head at my own stupidity. Not only is it ridiculous, but kind of creepy, Ruth. If you really think about it. On the street it was cold—it is not cold inside your own house. Putting on someone else’s stuff, really? Someone you hardly know?
I folded the kitchen towel into thirds, hung it from the oven handle, and turned to leave the kitchen—and the jacket—and go up to my room. I had a ton of homework, I reminded myself. I had to plan out my trip up to Harmony House later in the week, I reminded myself. I had to prepare myself, mentally and emotionally, to eat dinner with my self-absorbed father on Thursday, I reminded myself. I would simply leave the jacket there in the kitchen, and grab it tomorrow on my way out the door so I could return it.
Who the hell cares about a stupid jacket?

In my room, with the door carefully shut and locked, I stood and stared at myself in the full-length mirror nailed to the wall next to my closet. I was wearing Porter’s jacket. It was giant on me: the seams for the shoulders hung way past mine, the sleeves swallowed my hands, and the bottom binding hung to the middle of my thighs. But I liked the way the weight of the leather pulled my shoulders down—physically forced them away from my ears, pressing me to relax even though I had no idea before I’d put it on that I needed to.
I turned my nose toward the collar and allowed myself the smallest of whiffs—it was the rich scent of old leather, yes, but also a warm, soft something that I knew was simply Porter. Safe, locked behind my door, alone in my own house, I closed my eyes and allowed myself to breathe in a little deeper.
It felt very much like something stupid Bella would do.
I opened my eyes and glared at myself in the mirror, more than a little disgusted at the sight of myself swaddled in some guy’s jacket and completely relishing the experience. “You are insane,” I whispered directly into my own eyes. And with that thought, I flexed my shoulders even lower and let the heavy jacket slip from my back and onto the floor.
Honestly, I didn’t have time for this nonsense.
Ignoring it like a neglected dog, I left the jacket piled in heap in the middle of my floor. That’s how much I cared about Porter Creed’s jacket.
On my bed, with the contents of my backpack spread around me like a protective wall, I opened my laptop, the document folder with my senior honors thesis, and leaned back against my headboard. After a few minutes of academic focus, I planned to have forgotten all about Porter and his jacket. Porter and his big hand holding that tiny little pencil. Porter, hunched over the library table working out that beautiful calculus equation—Porter proving me wrong.
Yes, I had been wrong. And when the awareness of that had hit me, sitting there in that library with our knees pressed together under the table, I had been mortified.
But that wasn’t all. It wasn’t even the most prominent emotion, I now realized. Watching Porter work that equation, scrawling down the margins of his crappy piece of paper—my God, did I want him? Was that what this swirling, sick pull lodged in my stomach was all about?
I closed my eyes and let my head fall back against the headboard behind me. “Crap,” I whispered, thinking of Porter’s eyes as he looked up from that page.
See? he asked me again in my mind.
Yes, I did see. But even more, I felt.
With my head still leaning back in defeat, I opened my eyes and found Porter’s jacket still curled up on the floor in front of the mirror.
I knew what was happening here, I wasn’t completely oblivious. But I didn’t want to like Porter. I didn’t want to like any boy right now. What I wanted was to hurry up and move on with my life. Finish high school, finish waiting for my real life to begin. Princeton, neuroscience—my future.
There was something about his jacket, the feel of having it in my room—it worried me. I wasn’t absolutely, completely, 100 percent in control of my emotions.
And I wasn’t exactly sure what to do about that.
The handle on my door rattled and made me jump.
“Ruth?” my mother asked through the door.
“Yes,” I answered, swinging my legs over the side of my bed and rushing to snatch up Porter’s jacket.
The handle rattled again, “Why is this door locked?”
My mother hated locked doors; she was always worried about what might be happening behind them. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a good reason, at least not one I wanted to tell her, for why the door was locked, so I hesitated.
“Ruth?” her voice nearing the high pitch of hysteria.
“I’m coming!” I shouted back trying my best to sound more annoyed than caught doing something I shouldn’t. Although what on earth she could suspect me of doing in here, I had no idea. I threw Porter’s jacket into my closet, slid the door closed, and rushed to let her in.
“I don’t like locked—” I opened the door before she could finish. “Doors.” Her eyes narrowed as she inspected my face and peered over my shoulder into my room. “Why is the door locked?”
I shrugged, “No reason . . . I didn’t even realize I had done it,” I lied.
I could tell from the way her eyes narrowed she didn’t believe me. “Is someone in there with you?”
“No, mother, I am not having unprotected sex in my bedroom in the middle of the afternoon behind a locked door.” I held the door open wide and moved to the side so she could see for herself. “Homework,” I held out my hand to my bed.
Her mouth twisted to the side as her eyes quickly scanned my bedroom. “I don’t like locked doors.”
I sighed and rolled my eyes. “You said that, and I know. I’m sorry, I won’t ever lock my door again.”
“It’s only because I worry.”
“You have nothing to worry about.”
“You would use a condom, wouldn’t you?”
“Oh my God, Mother.”
“Do you still have some?”
I stared at her in disbelief. Last year she had purchased five dozen condoms, the variety pack, from Costco and made me keep them under the sink in my bathroom. “You have to be joking. How could I have possibly used sixty condoms? Do you think I’m running a brothel in here? I haven’t even used one!”
She sighed and closed her eyes. Like this, I could see the bags under them and the wrinkles that radiated out like tiny fans from the corner of each eye. “I just . . .” She shook her head. “I just worry about you.”
“Well, don’t worry. I might as well be wearing a medieval chastity belt. No guy at our school would even dare come near me.”
She opened her eyes and looked into mine. “That’s not what I want either, you know. I want you to be happy. I do.”
Now it was my turn to sigh. Exasperated, I raised my hands over my head, “I’m happy! Early admit to Princeton, clearly going to be valedictorian, and dinner with my obtusely self-centered father next Thursday! Who’s not happy?”
Her shoulders sagged. Giving up she turned away from me. “What do you want for dinner?”
“Great. Tacos it is,” she said, and headed down the stairs.
I closed my door and rested my forehead against the wood. Six months. Six months and I would be living in a dorm with some other brainiac at Princeton, locking as many doors as I pleased and not using entire truckloads of condoms in private.
All this because I couldn’t stop myself from putting on a boy’s jacket.

The next morning, while my mother was busy loading up her computer bag with overflowing manila folders, I snuck Porter’s jacket out of my closet, down the stairs, and into Vader’s trunk.
My mother usually drove separately because she had meetings after school, but on rare occasions she would catch a ride with me. I didn’t want to take a chance on today being one of those days and her finding a man-size leather jacket on my front seat. Not that the truth was a big deal. So I met my calc partner after school at the public library and he left his coat. Except I didn’t exactly meet him after school, and apparently having some article of clothing that belonged to Porter Creed in my possession was making my emotional internal wiring go haywire.
My mother was extremely attuned to picking up on emotional weirdness. I didn’t want to take the chance of her picking up on some crushing-on-a-boy vibe I might inadvertently be putting out there. I just couldn’t handle another condom conversation right now.
“Bye, mom!” I called from the garage door.
Behind Vader’s black leather steering wheel, I allowed myself to breathe a sigh of relief before I set my brain to figuring out how exactly I was going to get an excused-absence slip from the attendance clerk before fourth period.
I knew of exactly one way, but it required me to sneak into my mother’s office and forge her signature on a pass.
With a loud sigh, I pushed the clutch, shoved the tight gearshift into reverse, and backed out of our cluttered garage.

Standing at my locker, Porter’s jacket in my hands, I jumped out of my skin when something loud slammed into the locker next to mine.
“Not forgiven!” Eli said.
“Are you trying to kill me?” I held my heart and gave him a dirty look.
“You should be so lucky! Do you have any idea . . . any idea”—he shook his hands at the ceiling like his dad did when giving a particularly emotional sermon—“how freaked out I was yesterday?”
“I said I was sorry,” I mumbled, while trying to decide if I should leave Porter’s jacket in my locker or take it with me to class or should I try to find him at his locker?
“Um, not good enough,” Eli shook his head.
“What do you need? A pound of flesh?”
He nodded. “That’s a start. Also a swear to God and all that is holy including your piece of crap car that you will never, ever, ever freak the hell out of me like that again.”
I sighed and raised my right hand, “Fine, I swear to Vader that I will never, ever freak you out like that again . . . ever.”
Eli paused like he was considering the legal viability of my sworn oath, then nodded once, “Okay. Pardon granted. Now tell me EVERYTHING.”
The first bell rang and I shut my locker with Porter’s jacket hanging from the hook inside. “Later,” I said, and lightly slapped his check.
“You’re killing me.”
“You’ll live,” I said as I pulled my bag over my shoulder and walked toward my first-period class.
“I have news too, you know! Juicy stuff!”
I raised my hand over my head, “Can hardly wait,” I said without turning around. The alleged news without question had to do with Jordan blatantly flirting with Eli when his father was not around. Eli probably needed to tell me that Jordan “gave me the look” or “put his hands on my shoulders.”
It couldn’t possibly end well—for anyone.
But right now, I was too distracted about the reality of my own spinning emotions to care about someone else’s.
Calc was second period, but I wondered what class Porter had first hour. Then, right as I was taking my seat in the back of English Lit, it hit me. Porter would be in the affective needs room first hour. All the special-education kids started their day with their case managers.
Stunned by my own epiphany, I stared blankly at the white board while Ms. Kline wrote the day’s assignment in blue dry-erase marker. My brain barely bothered to process that we were supposed to be doing something with chapters four through seven of The Outsiders; it was too busy worrying about the ramifications of falling for an affective needs student.
What the hell was wrong with me?
I was ready to bolt the second the bell rang. I wanted to be already sitting, deeply engaged in busy, busy work activity, before Porter walked in the door for second-hour advanced calculus. Like being there before him gave me some kind of home field advantage. Mostly it would just allow me to keep my head ducked low over my work while he entered the room instead of having to deal with him watching me enter—or something equally stupid.
For the hundredth time since yesterday afternoon, I wondered what the hell was wrong with me. 
The closer I got to the classroom door, the more my stomach twisted up into a giant knot of anxiety. I was shaking, actually shaking, imagining him already there, leaned back, long legs stretched way past the desk in front of him. His messy hair, blue eyes.
And that brain. God help me, but Porter’s brain was probably the sexiest thing about him.
I placed my hand on the door handle and twisted it. I could literally hear my heart pounding in my ears. Inhale, Ruth. Breathe, you idiot.
I pushed the door and kept my eyes glued to the tiled linoleum floor as I made my way across the front of the class to my sector on the other side.
Was he already here? Watching me, right now? What was he thinking? What did I look like?
I could feel every movement my every muscle made—my body didn’t feel like it was working right, every step I took suddenly awkward and ridiculous.
MY GOD, why is my desk so fricking far from the door?
When I finally reached it, I let my bag slip from my shoulder and dared a peek at Porter’s desk while I swung around into my chair.
He wasn’t even here. Ryan Miller was the only other one in the room and he was hunched over his spiral notebook working on something.
Idiot, Ruth.
I took a ragged breath and tried to keep my nervous system from breaking down. Seriously, was this what it was like to like someone? No wonder Eli sounded like such blubbering hot mess whenever he talked about Jordan—that’s exactly what I felt like.
Leaning back in my chair, I ran my hands over the smooth laminate desk surface until my fingers curled around the edges. I needed to steady myself, hang on to something solid, and get a grip because, really, what the hell was I going to do when Porter actually did walk through the door?
I pulled my hands back, digging my nails hard into my palms, and forced myself to start moving through the usual routine. I leaned over and unzipped my bag. Nothing has changed, I reasoned, pulling out my heavy calculus book. Today is no different from yesterday. I grabbed my spiral note book. Or the day before that. I opened the small case I kept my pencils and pens in and selected a black number two with a deadly sharp tip. Or the day before Porter Creed showed up at Roosevelt High.
I organized all these things on the desk in front of me, checking the space between my notebook and calculus book, making sure my pencil lay parallel to the edge of my notebook.
Everything was exactly the same.
Except . . . except I didn’t feel the same.
The class door opened and my heart accelerated, a rush of adrenaline flooded my limbs and left a trail of sickening anxiety along my spine. Reflexively, I hunched over the fresh, blank lined paper and picked up the pencil.
My name, I wrote my name, slowly, in the upper right hand corner.
When nobody walked past my desk, the way Porter would need to in order to get to his, I dared to glance out the corner of my eye without moving my head even a centimeter.
I was only Helen Nyugen.
A small sigh of relief—or disappointment, I didn’t know which—escaped me.
I forced my eyes to refocus on the paper in front of me, the date. What was the date? My mind, normally a fast-moving steel trap, couldn’t even come up with the right month.
January! It’s January, you idiot!
My hand, now sweaty and having great difficulty controlling the pencil, scratched January onto the page under my name.
The door opened again, and again—every time it sent my nervous system into overdrive. But every time it was someone else. Finally, after what felt like the longest passing period I had ever experienced, Mr. T. walked through balancing his extra-large latte in one hand while he swung the strap of his computer bag from over his head with the other.
The bell rang.
I turned my head, glanced over my shoulder, just to make sure. Maybe, in the middle of all my freakish anxiety, I had missed him walking in.
His seat was empty.
“Welcome, my little cognitive rock stars!” Mr. T smiled before picking up a green dry-erase marker and writing today’s assignment on the board.
Everyone began copying it down.
He’s late.
Fifteen minutes and two filled notebook pages later, it occurred to me that all my nervous jitters were for nothing.
Porter either wasn’t here—or he was in trouble again.

Thank you for reading chapter seven 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!