By the time I pulled Vader into the Roosevelt High parking lot Monday morning, there were three text messages, all from my father, being ignored on my phone. The first had been cordial, even if it was a complete lie.
Great seeing you the other night! Derry really loved meeting you!
There was no way Derry loved meeting me, I had gaped at her unborn child like it was an abomination of nature and then proceeded to say almost nothing for the rest of dinner. When I didn’t reply, his next text switched tactics.
I know I sprang some pretty big news on you, but I thought you would be excited about finally being a big sister.
Was he insane? No, scratch the question mark—he was completely out of his head if he thought for even a fraction of a second that I would be excited. And what the hell, who was he trying to convince with the finally being a big sister. As if I had been pining my entire life for the opportunity to babysit his probably halfwit spawn—for free!
But it was only with his last and final text that his true self, the dad I didn’t know and maybe didn’t even love, shed all the bullshit and got right to the point.
You can ignore me all you want, but you should know I’m trying, and it’s your crap attitude that is getting in the way of us having a meaningful relationship.
And there it was. It was almost a relief to get back to the reality of our existence. Him being a complete ass and making it perfectly okay with me to continue writing off the idea of any kind of relationship with him.
Whatever you say. I texted him back and shut off my phone before I shoved it to the bottom of my bag. I didn’t feel like dealing with him or his issues today.
There was only one objective for today—talk to Porter.
And since it was twenty-two degrees outside, give him his jacket back, of course.
I lifted it off the hook and slammed my locker door. This time, I was taking it with me to class—I didn’t care what anyone thought about me having it. Or maybe I wanted them to think something about it? Whatever, either way, Porter wasn’t slipping past me today without me using his jacket to get some answers.
He was so smart; how could he just not care about failing calc?
Sitting in class, I was ready for him to walk in the door. His jacket was right on top of my desk; he couldn’t miss it and would have to talk to me in order to get it. As the minutes in the passing period crawled around the clock hanging over the door, I waited. Worried that maybe Friday was a fluke and Porter wasn’t going to show up again today. Everyone was already here—except him.
I was contemplating just how insane it would be to stake out the elementary school where I had seen him Friday when he walked in the door—with Mr. T right behind him.
Porter was headed straight for his desk when his eyes landed on his jacket piled in front of me. His eyebrows rose in surprise, like he couldn’t figure why I would have his jacket, but he simply stopped at my seat and mumbled a thanks as he picked it up and continued on down the aisle.
“You’re welcome,” I said too late. Crap! I had missed my chance, and now Mr. T was already blathering on about double integrals and line integrals in the plane. I would have to wait until he gave us time to work on our projects.
Only he never did. “I trust you are all finding time after school and during your precious weekends to make some serious progress on your group projects.” Mr. T raised his eyebrows high over his wide eyes as a hint-hint-if-you-are-not-doing-this-you’re-going-to-be-totally-screwed reminder to not waste time and make sure we were getting this project done. “Remember, one-third”—he wrote the simple fraction on the board with a red dry erase marker—“of your total grade for the semester.” He turned back around to face us. “And like the real world, there are no second chances on this. No extra credit’s going to save your butts. Consider this your final warning, pre-adults.”
We all slouched in our seats and worked hard at looking bored, but the reality was that Mr. T knew exactly how to strike real fear into every one of our overachieving souls. Sure, all of us were already heading to great schools and all of us were in the top one percent of our class. But only one of us could be number one, and we all had our sights on being counted, and remembered, as the person who graduated in that number one position. The best of the best.
Just thinking about standing on the graduation stage in three short months and having my name called out as the head of our entire class ignited that flame of competitive desire in my gut. It made me want to intellectually trounce every other single person in this room. We all wanted that, we all wanted to be publicly declared “better” than everyone else.
We all wanted it—except, I realized, Porter Creed.
The bell rang, and this time I was ready. I was packed, out of my seat, and through the door before anyone else. In the hall, as the sound of loud voices, locker doors, and cell phones erupted all around me, I stood waiting for Porter to come out.
Leaning against the weight of my too heavy backpack, I crossed my arms over my abdomen and tried to look about eighty times less nervous than I felt. The door opened and closed twice before Porter pushed through it and started heading into the herd of laughing, shoving, and texting students rushing off to their third-hour classes. Just seeing him, his tall frame, shaggy hair, lanky walk—I almost changed my mind, almost didn’t move.
As he headed down the hall, the mass of other people closed in around him. If I waited even one second more, I would have to make a scene, rush and shove, in order to catch up with him. I took a breath and started walking fast.
“Porter,” I dared to call.
He either didn’t hear me or was ignoring me because he didn’t stop or look back. But some ponytailed sophomore did glance up from her phone to make eye contact with me before allowing a smirk to play across her lips. Ugh, a direct witness to my desperation. I shoved my shame down and then made it much worse by jogging several steps and reaching out to touch Porter’s arm. “Porter, wait a second.”
He stopped dead, looked at his arm like he was maybe going to have to kick someone’s ass for daring to lay a hand on him, and then turned to look at me. It was subtle, but whatever defense he was preparing to take melted away almost the second he realized whose hand was on his arm.
“Ruth?” he shook his head. “What do you want?”
Good question. And one I didn’t really know how to answer. My hand was still on his arm, well past what was reasonable in order to get someone’s attention. I pulled it back. “I wanted to talk to you,” I finally managed.
Someone slammed into my shoulder and knocked me forward into Porter, who managed to get his arms out in time to keep me from falling to the floor. “Watch it, you asshole!” Porter barked at the JV football jerks that had been walking backward down the hall throwing a tennis ball over the heads of everyone in the crowded hallway.
The buzzcut blond turned. “Who you calling an ass—?” But the words died on his lips as soon as he looked up into Porter’s angry face.
Still in Porter’s arms, I could feel his muscles tense up as he lifted me away from him and positioned me behind him. His entire frame seemed to expand and his chin lifted toward the junior jock who was now obviously desperate to find an immediate escape route. Porter had only been at Roosevelt for a few weeks—but after the incident in the hallway with the cops, his reputation was legend.
The guy held up both his hands. “Look man, sorry. I didn’t mean to knock your girl,” he explained while taking a step backward.
Porter’s brow wrinkled up. He looked more confused than angry now. I imagined he was trying to decide if he was going to kick this guy’s ass because he was a klutz, or because he had dared to assume that Porter and I were a couple. After a few more hot seconds while everyone waited to see what would happen next, Porter turned around and walked away. Not a single word, not to the JV jock who looked like he’d won the cosmic lucky-day lottery, and not to me.
Porter left me standing there, wondering if I should run after him and say thanks, or give him some space because he was clearly on the edge of another one of his tirades.
The safe bet was obviously to let him go. Leave him alone. Give him some time to cool off.
I ran after him anyway.
“Porter!” I called.
His long legs carried him away even faster than before, and while I had to dodge and swerve through the mass of other students swarming the halls, everyone parted, like the Red Sea, for Porter to pass. Everyone could sense his presence, like a tsunami storming down the hall, and they leaped to get out of his way.
I wanted to yell after him again but my fear of making a complete ass of myself kept me from it. He clearly knew I wanted to talk to him and was now hoping to get away.
What the hell was I doing?
I picked up my pace, jogged a few steps, and finally caught up to him at the end of the hall when he had to slow down for the stairs.
The bell for third-hour rang and any stragglers left lingering in the hall quickly slammed their locker doors and either headed to class or ducked into the restrooms so they could try and ditch.
Porter was halfway down the stairs and obviously had no intention of going to his third-hour class.
“Porter?” I asked, now right behind him.
He either heard me or chose to stop ignoring me, because he finally stopped. His shoulders slumped and he turned around. “What, Ruth?” he looked up into my eyes. “What do you want?”
“I . . .” Even with his black, swollen eye and split lip, Porter Creed’s direct stare made my breath catch in my chest. “I want to talk to you.”
“So I gathered,” he said as he turned and continued down the stairs. “Make it quick. I’m on my way out.”
“How?” I rushed down the stairs beside him. I had to hang on to the rail to make sure I didn’t go crashing to my death trying to keep up. “They’ve got cameras on all the doors. It’s not like leaving at lunch, they’ll have a record of you ditching.”
Porter shook his head and laughed. “And?”
“And you’ll get detention!”
He stopped again and looked at me like I might be just a little bit insane. “You’re serious?”
“Yes, I’m serious,” I said as he started back down. “Maybe even suspended!”
Porter raised his hand and nodded. “I’ll take my chances.”
We were just about to pass my mother’s office door. She wasn’t there, I knew, she had third-hour up in room 233.
“Can you at least stop for a second so I can talk to you?”
“No. You want to talk, then you’ll need to come with.”
If I wanted to talk to him, I would have to leave campus—again. I didn’t think. “Well if we’re doing that, let’s at least be smart about it.”
At this, Porter stopped and looked at me again. “You’re coming?”
“Yes, but I’m not going to just walk into trouble like an idiot.” On my left, I reached out and opened the door to my mom’s office. “Come on,” I said.
Porter looked around, and then followed me inside. “What the hell are you doing?” he whispered, and shut the door behind him. “And people think I’m crazy . . . this is school psych’s office.”
He would know that; I’m sure my mother saw him several times a week in this very office for counseling. “I know,” I said, but I stopped short of telling him why I knew. For some reason, I didn’t want Porter to know that the school psych was my mom, not yet anyway. My mother kept her hall passes in the top right-hand drawer of her desk. I pulled it open and removed the pink pad of slips.
Porter stood next to me with his hands shoved deep into the front pockets of his jeans while I grabbed a pen and filled out two slips, one for Porter, and one for myself. I ripped them off, handed Porter his, and replaced the pad inside my mother’s desk. Porter stared at the pass in his hand while I moved around him and opened the door. “You’re not exactly the Miss Innocent I took you for,” he said.
I stuck my head out the door and checked the hall for security. It wasn’t likely they would say anything to me if I was by myself, but if they saw Porter they would probably get suspicious enough to stop us and ask some very pointed questions about what we were up to.
And I didn’t want to lie any more than was absolutely necessary.
“Come on,” I said.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” Porter held the slip I’d given him up in the air like a tiny pink flag.
I grabbed his arm and pulled him out the door. “If anyone stops us now, I will just tell them that Ms. Carrie Ann asked me to come pull you from class. Tomorrow, take it to the attendance clerk and tell them you were with her for whatever classes you miss today. They’ll change your unexcused absences to excused.”
When I looked sideways to see if he was listening, there was a distinctly impressed arch to his eyebrows and shape of his lips. “Hmm,” he said as he carefully folded the slip and placed it in his back pocket.
I didn’t tell him that I had done this very thing, legitimately, probably a hundred times, for other kids that my mother needed escorted from one place to another. Sometimes even for other teachers. But those were sanctioned because my mother and other teachers trusted me—implicitly. What I was doing right now went completely against that trust.
Certainly I had my issues, but being a rule breaker was not one of them. In all honesty, it made my insides squirm.
“But pink paper doesn’t solve our problem of how to get out of the building without being seen on camera,” I said.
“Leave that to me,” Porter smiled.
I followed him to Roosevelt’s bottom floor, down an obscure hallway I had never seen, through a door into a maintenance storage room, and finally out a back door that led outside. I came to the conclusion Porter Creed knew exactly how to case a joint for the best escape route. As we left the building, Porter pointed up to the walls outside the exterior maintenance door, “See, no cameras.”
He was right, of course.
It wasn’t snowing, but it was still freezing so I reached into my bag and pulled out my sweatshirt with my keys. “So where now?” I asked.
Porter heard the jangle of my keys and eyed them in my hand. “You have a car?”
I shrugged as I slipped my arms through the sleeves of my sweatshirt. “Yes.”
Porter turned and faced the parking lot, looked at his watch, then turned back to me with an expression that was so unfamiliar on his face, it almost made me laugh. Porter Creed looked . . . hopeful. “Any chance I could get you to take me somewhere?” he asked.
Thank you for reading chapter eleven 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!